The twenty-one playwrights offering their reminisces come from a variety of backgrounds. Some of them, such as Christopher Durang and Lynn Nottage, were taken to the theatre as children by theatrophilic parents. Others, such as John Patrick Shanley and Diana Son, had little early exposure to theatre and came to it on their own through school productions, television broadcasts, or by reading play texts. Two of the playwrights (Beth Henley and Sarah Ruhl) had mothers who acted in community theater productions but nobody is from a family of theatre professionals.
The book was conceived by Howard Sherman, who was at the time of the book's creation the executive director of the American Theatre Wing, the group that sponsors the Tony Awards and supports other theatre related activities. In the foreword, Sherman explains that the book came about because "I wanted to know about the people in my business -- what instilled a love of theatre in them, what sparked their passion for theatre, how did they come to be who they are?"
|The Rodgers & Hart musical Jumbo|
changed the life of Edward Albee
In a short introductory paragraph Edward Albee, arguably America's most eminent playwright, relates that his connection to the theatre was forged at age six with a visit to the musical extravaganza Jumbo, starring Jimmy Durante and an elephant, at New York's now long gone Hippodrome, in the mid-1930s. "I think what hooked me -- and this was long before I knew it had hooked me -- was the total unreality of the experience becoming absolute reality. The absolute suspension of disbelief which took my six-year old mind by storm," Albee says.
|Off-Broadway Cast of Fefu and Her Friends by |
Maria Irene Fornes, 1978
Later, when Vogel was a young dramatist starting out in New York, a 1978 Off-Broadway production of Fefu and Her Friends by Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes, in which the audience is divided into groups in order to watch separate scenes, reinforced Vogel's commitment to pursuing a life in the theatre. "I could feel every assumption I had about what made a play being shattered," Vogel says. "I left the theatre realizing that plays could be written that were not cognitively understood, but emotionally felt."
Here is a sampling of playwrights discussing the plays that changed their lives.
|Poster from the 1986 Lincoln Center|
revival of The House of Blue Leaves
|Poster for original production of David|
Hare's Plenty, London, 1978
|Mud by Maria Irene Fornes, Cutting Ball Theater,|
San Francisco, 2009 (photo courtesy of Tim Bauer)
As a student at Miami-Dade College in the late 1970s Cruz had what he calls a "second epiphany" when he directed a production of Mud, a surrealistic tale of a backwoods family, by Maria Irene Fornes. "I just adored the economy and rhythms of the language," Cruz writes. "I loved how cinematic Mud is, and the theatricality of the piece."
|Playbill from How to Succeed, 1962|
(courtesy of Nobody's Sweehart.com)
|Eva LeGallienne as Hedda Gabler, 1927|
(photo courtesy Yale University Library)
(Photo by Boneau/Bryan-Brown)
|John Patrick Shanley|
|Diane Venora as Hamlet, Public Theater,|
New York, 1982
|Playbill for Six Degrees of|
Separation, Lincoln Center, 1990
Hodges' life changing theatre experience was, as a teenager in 1990, seeing at Lincoln Center John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, the story of a young con man who ingratiates himself with Manhattan socialites by pretending to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier. Writes Hodges "Everything, including -- but not limited to -- race, class, and generational conflicts, bombarded my senses."
Here's more information --
Bomb Magazine. Interview with Maria Irene Fornes (Fall 1984).
Collins-Hughes, Laura. Review of The Play That Changed My Life. Critical Difference, 18 February 2010.
Healy, Patrick. "Falling, Fallling, Falling, for the Footlight Parade." New York Times, 28 December 2009.
Piepenberg, Erik. "Plays That Changed Your Lives." New York Times, 30 December 2009.