Many Voices Fellows take Chicago

An important aspect of the Jerome Many Voices program at the Playwrights’ Center is the idea of outreach not only to theaters in Minneapolis, but also nationally. Recently the Center took Many Voices Fellows Sharif Abu-Hamdeh and Harrison David Rivers to meet with artistic leaders in the Chicago community (and see a lot of plays).

This is the second year for the Many Voices Chicago trip, which Many Voices Program Coordinator Christina Ham says “is about providing connections to help establish long-term relationships between the writer and the theater.” This year the Many Voices Fellows met with About Face Theatre, American Theater Company, Congo Square, Goodman Theatre, Silk Road Rising, Steppenwolf, and Victory Gardens.

Rivers said the experience reminded him that “everyone is trying to make it work. Every theater company that we met with is striving to be relevant—to engage an audience, to build a community, to survive another season. Each company hopes that the art they produce will mean something to someone; they want their art to change the world. This doesn’t mean that they’ve got it all figured out. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t parts of the system that don’t need to be recalibrated, re-tooled, re-conceived. Or, in some cases, overhauled. No one’s got it exactly right yet, but they continue to try. No one is resting on their laurels, or calling it quits, and that gives me hope.

Abu-Hamdeh says the trip “provided me with introductions to theater professionals I would have difficulty meeting otherwise. Jeremy and Christina worked hard to make sure that these sessions would be fruitful by sending out plays ahead of time, so the people we were meeting with would be familiar with our work. It also provided me with a lot of new knowledge about and insights into Chicago and its theater scene.”

Since the trip, Rivers says he has been thinking about how “not all plays are a good fit for all theaters, nor are all playwrights. We must do our homework. We must identify the people and places whose missions and sense of community align with our own. Instead of pursuing relationships willy-nilly (which I have definitely been guilty of) we must focus our energies on the institutions that reciprocate our affection. Those are the companies that, as Chay Yew eloquently said in our sit down, ‘you want to marry.’ Those are the companies you want a long term committed relationship with, a relationship that goes both ways—they are committed to your artistic growth and development and you are equally committed to theirs.”

Ham looks forward to continuing this tradition in future years. “It was so informative to have these candid conversations about how theaters assess their submissions and the type of plays that work best given their resources,” she said. “These lessons proved to be invaluable not just in terms of how it applies to the current fellows, but as we continue our conversations with these theaters beyond this fellowship year.”


Learn more about the Many Voices Program »
Learn more about Sharif Abu-Hamdeh »
Learn more about Harrison David Rivers »

Sharif Abu-Hamdeh and Harrison David Rivers, photo by Heidi Bohnenkamp