“Mammas, don’t let your babies grow up to be…….playwrights.”

Michael Scanlan is one of the three winners of this year’s New Works Festival. Wonderland by Michael Scanlan will be presented Friday, September 13th at 8PM. 

Cast of Teach, New Works Festival (2018). Photographer_ Matthew Schipper.jpg

If you have a compulsion to write, which is characterized by a combination of terror and arrogance, I have always thought it might be wise to be a novelist, poet, or essayist – not because these genres require less talent or less hard work, but because these writers have the benefit of working alone, and are offered a myriad of options to send their work out into the world: books, of course, but also newspapers, magazines and the great sprawling universe of on-line publishing.

A playwright, on the other hand, has only one venue: the theatre. His/her work is only the genesis of the piece, and cannot come to fruition without the participation of directors, designers, actors, electricians, carpenters, stage managers – the list could go on and on (and often does).

When I was younger and more insecure, I wrote the book and lyrics to an innovative musical (or at least I thought so) that was close to my heart. So when a professional theatre specializing in musicals offered to mount a staged workshop of the play, I was over the moon. (I should have stayed there).

The actors/singers were terrific; the lead was a Tony-award-winning woman of immense talent. However, the whole experience of working on the play was a disaster wrapped in a catastrophe (and I mean this in the true Aristotelian sense). The Artistic Director of the theatre over-identified with one of the characters and, in conjunction with the director, badgered me into making changes that did not serve the play.  I was young. I was stupid. I was terrorized by the fact that these were PROFESSIONALS who must know more than I. The workshop was entertaining to the audience, but devastating to me. I wanted to gouge my eyes (and ears) with needles.

After that, I determined that I would continue on my path of writing musicals and young adult theatre pieces which I would stage myself (that’s the arrogant part). I developed a connection with Samuel French who seemed delighted to publish my plays. This happy process might have continued, but on a sabbatical, I was infected with an idea for an adult play, which became WONDERLAND. I have worked on the play for almost twenty years, and I believe that I dallied because I knew that this play would need some kind of professional production and I was frightened to send it out into the world(I have some serious trust issues).

However, I am married – those of you who are likewise attached will understand – and my wife, who is very… persistent (yes, that is the word I am using because she will read this) finally wore me down by cutting out an article in the local paper which talked about Gulfshore Playhouse’s New Works Festival and posting it inconspicuously—on the refrigerator (which I visit more often than I should).

I had some knowledge of Gulfshore Playhouse. I have seen several of the productions directed by Kristen Coury. They were amazing, thoughtful, insightful shows which made me think that WONDERLAND could find a loving home there. I submitted my play, and thought no more about it, so you can imagine my delight when I was informed that it was selected for the Festival, and my joy when I was told that Kristen would direct it.

So, we are about to embark on a journey, and the best part (also the scariest – remember the musical) about writing a play is that you don’t travel alone. I am comforted and consoled by the fact that these wonderful people at Gulfshore Playhouse will accompany me. I hope you will too. 


For information about The New Works Festival go to https://www.gulfshoreplayhouse.org/event/new-works-festival/. 

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