“I don’t think it matters if it’s a new play versus a classic or a well-known play, but it’s important that theaters produce new scripts with enough regularity that audiences are accustomed to the idea of seeing a play about which they know absolutely nothing.”
These words from playwright Jeffrey Hatcher ring true within the walls of The Rep. We share his philosophy — that new plays for the American theater are just as important as keeping alive the classics we have come to know and love.
“Because The Rep nurtures new plays from inception all the way through development to production, we get to know playwrights on a deeply personal level. In addition to Hatcher, they include Pulitzer Prize-winner and Milwaukee native Ayad Akhtar, Rick Cleveland, Eric Simonson, and Catherine Trieschmann,” says Artistic Director Mark Clements.
Over the years, The Rep has developed a strong relationship with Hatcher, producing five of his plays in the last two decades: The Turn of the Screw (1997/98); Work Song: Three Views of Frank Lloyd Wright (world premiere co-written by Eric Simonson, 2000/01); Armadale (world premiere, 2007/08); The Government Inspector (2009/10); and Ten Chimneys (2011/12).
This season, The Rep will produce Hatcher’s Holmes and Watson (November 14 – December 17), a new play which recently made its world premiere at the Arizona Theatre Company with productions in Tucson and Phoenix. Hatcher’s return to The Rep provides an exciting opportunity to catch up with the playwright and ask him about his personal approach to new play development.
A playwright’s perspective
Like many others who work in the theater, Hatcher started out as an actor, although he had always written skits and short stories.
Now several decades later, he has written more than two dozen plays, as well as several screenplays, including for the 2015 film Mr. Holmes, which starred Ian McKellen as the sleuth.
It takes Hatcher about three months to finish a first draft. After that, “work continues on a play until opening night,” Hatcher says. “So it can take another six months to a year or more depending on the theater schedule, the production schedule, and the difficulties of the individual play in wrestling it to the stage.”
While people often ask writers where they find inspiration, for Hatcher, “ideas come unbidden all the time. Our antennae are tuned to ideas. You overhear a conversation in a restaurant. You think to yourself could that conversation be the start of a play? You read a news item, find a faded photograph, or overhear an anecdote at a dinner party.
“To me the real question isn’t where or how we get our ideas, rather it’s how we test those ideas to determine which are stage worthy. What overheard snippet of conversation can be teased out into a scene and that scene be teased out into a full two hours? What tasty anecdote can develop into the structure of a drama as opposed to a one-liner you use over and over to dine out on. Getting ideas is easy; sorting them out and winnowing them down to the useable idea is what’s tricky.”
The Rep’s audiences
Hatcher is delighted to be returning to The Rep this Fall. “I’ve worked on a lot of plays in Milwaukee, new ones and older scripts. I know the Milwaukee acting community well, and it is terrific. But what I love most is the Milwaukee audience. It’s the audience a writer hopes for: engaged, enthusiastic, adventurous, and,” he adds, “good laughers.”
Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents the Midwest Premiere of Holmes and Watson, by Jeffrey Hatcher, November 14 – December 17, 2017. Tickets and more information at 414-224-9490 or www.MilwaukeeRep.com