For a new theatre company, Orbiter 3 is getting a lot of press. The group of five intrepid playwrights, plus their Artistic Director Maura Krause, takes a cue from previous theatre-makers 13P in New York (the innovative collective of 13 playwrights who caused a lot of buzz when they “imploded”) and current DC-based troupe The Welders. All three companies are practicing a model of theatre started by 13P: bypassing play development cycles, plays are produced in full with the author acting as the definitive artistic decision-maker on the production.
In the midst of tech’ing a non-Orbiter 3 production, I had a great conversation with Maura, who – full disclosure – is a former Samuel French intern, and has also worked in creative/producing capacities for Woolly Mammoth, Interact, and National New Play Network.
So, what’s the genesis story of Orbiter 3? How did you guys start?
So, I had a producing grant with NNPN and Interact that started last year, and as part of that grant, I was running Philadelphia New Play Initiative. It’s a collection of resource for playwrights, things like a newsletter, social events, and informational events, for Philly-based playwrights. For example, we did an event with an intellectual property attorney and playwrights, to talk about how to protect your work, what rights you need if you adapt, copyright, things like that.
Ah, yeah, sounds kind of similar to Sam French’s #RightsWeek last summer.
Yeah, exactly. And as a result of that I thought, “I want to know as many local playwrights as I can.” So I started looking at some of the playwrights involved with the initiative and in short, I met a few of the orbiters and read their plays, and we all became friends. Over the summer, we worked on Philly Fringe show. Well, really, these playwrights wanted to mount a show and asked me if I would director. It was a really great experience and we started talking and discovered we had similar ideas about what should be next for Philadelphia playwright, how the playwriting in Philadelphia should evolve, and what the community needed.
So what were those ideas?
There are so many local playwrights, and playwrights on an emerging level especially, and there needs to be something that goes beyond PlayPenn (the Philly-based new play festival), who just focuses on development, and really advances the opportunities for playwrights in the Philly-area. In those early talks, we talked about 13P in New York and The Welders in DC, and did a lot of thinking about how the collective of playwrights in the Philadelphia area are even more “emerging” that The Welders or 13P, and what that mean in terms of production.
How is Orbiter 3 different than those models then? How have you adapted the playwright-as-producer model for emerging writers?
We’re different in a few ways: like 13P, we do want to implode, and transform into an online resource. But the online presence of our work is huge for us. In addition to our website, which we become as archive for our work, we’re working on a review platform, something like a “yelp” for theatre reviews, where everything can be reviewed and by everyone. We’re also hoping that when we go away we’ll turn into something else, like an online archive. Similar to 13P. We feel like once we are done, there are other playwrights in the Philly-area, or beyond, that can do the same thing, and use our records.
The other big difference is that Orbiter 3 also has me, or an Artistic Director, which is VERY different than 13P or the Welders. The Welders have Jojo Ruf, whose title, I believe, is Creative Director. The Welders model is focused on generations – all the playwrights in the current group will produce a play and then they’ll bring on a new generation. Jojo will stay on for the transformation.
When Orbiter 3 brought on our 4th and 5th playwrights, we decided that I should be the AD. It’s been easier for audiences, funders, those unfamiliar with the playwright-as-producer models. An AD makes sense for us as well, as we are interested in re-defining the role of AD to be more of a dramaturg, protector, and just sort of a continuing guiding force that isn’t doing different things. They defend the play.
That makes of a lot of sense. What have been your early duties as the Orbiter 3 AD?
Fundraising. I’ve been meeting with our Financial Architect.
That’s an amazing title…who thought of that?
We don’t really remember who thinks up most the Orbiter stuff…We refer to him that way ‘cause he’s onboard for three months and should be able to help us create a sustainable financial model and then he’ll step back.
So was participation in Orbiter 3 open call? Submissions-based? Or like 13P, did playwrights just show up at a meeting? How were playwrights selected?Initially it was the four of us: Me, Douglas Williams, Emma Goidel, and Emily Acker. We were the seed of the idea, really, but we wanted more playwrights and collectively decided six was a good number. From there we talked about who other Philadelphia writers we were really excited by. We wanted the collection of 6 to all be very different from each other, so we focused on playwrights who we felt were risky, subversive, and had very different voices than our own writing. We came to James Ijames and Mary Tuomanen. Both are known as actors, but James has a lot going on. His work has been at PlayPenn and the Wilma, and he had a play produced at Flashpoint Theatre. Mary I was working on a devised piece with and she told me that she’s written long form plays. I read them, and I was just blown away. I shared them with the groups and we were like, yes. This is it.
So, when’s the first play?
July of 2015, but we won’t announce until our Launch Party in November 2015.
But you guys do know…
Yes, but we want to keep some suspense going! Plus, we also want to make sure writers have the ability to change their work, and adapt if necessary.
Is there anything else about Orbiter 3 I may have missed?
One big thing: we are truly committed to being local. We part of a growing movement in Philadelphia happening to employ local artists and make local work, that’s about the community, for the community and really speaks to the community. We don’t want to hire directors from New York to come in and do a show, or actors from New York. I feel like, in a way, this was true of 13P and Welders as well; both those collective were very much about their communities and made work for their local audiences. We’re proud of bring Philly-made and Philly-grown, and tickets are going to be cheap. We want our work to be not only entertaining, but also a community-growing initiative as well. Art that’s accessible, casual, and low-commitment, but also something that new and can attract younger audiences, those new to theatre.
Sounds a little like a Clubbed Thumb show. I’m always struck by the “anything-can-happen” spirit Clubbed Thumb audiences have; it’s just about being shown something you’ve not seen before. Their pre-show lobby feels very much like a pep-rally for new theatre, with all the cool kids in attendance.
Well, the Fringe show we did, Safe Space, was conceived as a house party.
Oh my gosh, did you have it in a house?
Yes, we had it in Doug Williams’ house! It was like Choose Your Own Adventure. Everyone got a free beer with their ticket.
Philly not too far from NYC, so in theory, New York theatre lovers could travel to an Orbiter 3 show. You don’t have any issues with NY-theatre makers coming to your productions, correct?
Oh no, god. We having nothing against NYC, we all go there, some of our writers belong to groups there. It’s just that there’s a real “let’s look to New York” issue here – a lot of companies feel like they have to pull from that creative pool to be legit. We want to be truly local.
So why should New Yorkers jump on the train to see the first show? What can audience expect from the first Orbiter 3 play?
Without giving too much away, it will be amazing, risky. It’s a political statement that you’ll love or hate and we want to hear your opinion. We want you to engage.
Photo by JJ Tiziou.