A Letter From Jordan Harrison
Dear Friends of Playwrights Horizons,
I want to let you in on a whiskey-tinged conversation I’ve had frequently with my fellow playwrights. Playwright X has just finished their new play. They’ve been working on it a long time; their sweat and tears are in it. And they’re trying to think of theaters where it might find a home. Theaters with a taste for exciting new work, but also the means to support the writer with something approaching a living wage. The list isn’t long. “Why can’t there be, like, ten Playwrights Horizonses?” they say. I don’t have an answer, so I order the next round.
Playwrights Horizons has stayed true to itself over the years, paradoxically, by changing and evolving.
It was a millennium ago (1999, to be precise) when I first walked through the door of Playwrights Horizons to interview for a literary internship. I was twenty-one and painfully green. Asked to name my favorite rising playwright, I struggled for a name: “Um…Is Tony Kushner rising?” I’m thirty-seven now, and looking forward to my third Playwrights Horizons production in the fall. But more importantly, I can now name a whole generation of Favorite Rising Playwrights – I’m proud to call it my generation – who have been launched there: from Anne Washburn to Annie Baker, from Sam Hunter to Lisa D’Amour.
Playwrights Horizons has stayed true to itself over the years, paradoxically, by changing and evolving. In the last year alone, the theater has launched an armada of game-changing programs, including providing smaller theaters with free office and rehearsal space and providing writers with health insurance and higher salaries. But this increasingly influential organization stills feels human in scale; it’s still the same place where, as an intern, I was amazed to see Tim Sanford agonize for days over a single rejection letter, because he felt his response should match the play in precision.
What’s so unique about Playwrights Horizons? It’s simple: They produce the plays that they love. And the artistic staff understands that to love something might not preclude being flummoxed by it, or shaken up by it, or a little scared of it. There are many non-profits dedicated to new plays and playwrights, but few that enact change in the most immediate way – with the work they put on stage. Now it occurs to me that the question, “Why aren’t there more theaters like Playwrights Horizons,” answers itself: The uniquely progressive, gutsy vision of this theater can’t be replicated.
If you’re able to support Playwrights Horizons this year, I can’t think of an organization where your dollar would be more shrewdly, gratefully, and impactfully spent. Ticket prices cover less than half of the theater’s operating costs, so community support is crucial. I truly believe that an investment in Playwrights Horizons is an investment in the health of the theater itself.
2015 Pulitzer Prize Finalist
Screenwriter for “Orange is the New Black”