Z Space is proud (and still, a little nervous) to present the second annual Problematic Play Festival.
The staged reading series will present two ambitious and provocative plays that have been deemed “problematic” by certain theater industry gatekeepers (producers, artistic directors, literary managers, funders) due to content believed to be too offensive or controversial to produce. Each staged reading will include discussions facilitated by Radhika Rao with the playwrights, actors, directors, and audience.
Throughout this process and festival, we are asking two key questions: What makes a play too “problematic” to produce? What do each of us (individually as audiences, artists, and producers) mean by “problematic”?
In 2018, the inaugural year of the festival, local dramaturg Maddie Gaw covered the event in this HowlRound article: What’s Problematic, the Play or the Process?.
In 2019, the second year of the festival, we are specifically interested in exploring comedy in theater. With recent governmental policies and practices that threaten marginalized groups, many theaters have trended towards work that responds, corrects, heals, or educates, “positioning themselves as first responders in a time of political and humanitarian upheaval (Washington Post).” Other theaters have advocated for absurdist and comedic work, arguing that “what we really need to do is take a step back to understand what is going on in the whole of society – and in ourselves. And it is theatrical comedy that opens up this way of thinking (Theatre Times).” How does comedy fit into this social justice movement? Who is allowed to laugh at something within the current political climate? Is there a privilege in the ability to joke? Can the act of joking make something more or less “problematic”?
The Process and Vision
The idea of the festival originated from discussions between Rose Oser and playwright Jake Jeppson about the tension that exists in the American Theater between wanting to create meaningful work that speaks to our society’s truths while also being wary of material that offends our sensibilities as practitioners and audience members alike.
To unpack that tension, we began asking what it means for work to be “problematic.” It turns out the answer isn’t an easy one to find. So then we had a second idea: what if we gathered plays that had been deemed “problematic” by the theater community and investigated what it was about those plays that caused gatekeepers to turn away from them in favor of other material.
Of course, we have faced our own complications throughout the process as we encounter the opportunities and challenges of producing “problematic” works. We are pushing ourselves as an organization while acknowledging the limitations of our company and our responsibilities as a non-profit theater. This festival is as much a scrutiny of our own systems as it is of any other.
The 2019 steering committee: Abigail Pañares, Radhika Rao, Rebecca Struch, Stephanie Wilborn, Jake Jeppson, Rose Oser, and Shafer Mazow.
If you have questions about the festival, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submissions are now closed for the 2019 festival. Stay tuned for next year!