David J. Loehr is a playwright, co-founder and artist in residence of Riverrun Theatre and the online theatre site 2amtheatre (full disclosure: 2amt is a site for which I have written several stories). We sat down for a short discussion over lunch at Louisville’s Hillbilly Tea.
How long have you been coming to Humana?
This is my fifteenth year. I grew up in Florida in a town with only one stoplight. I spent my teen years/early 20s in Princeton. My then-fiancée, now my wife, graduated from her library school and got a job at Hanover College. I thought “I can write anywhere, and hey, Hanover has two stoplights, that’s awesome.”
Loehr started teaching and producing plays in the theater department at Hanover and eventually, he and Hanover theater department chair Jim Stark founded Riverrun Theatre, a professional theatre company in Madison, Indiana, in 2003.
How did 2amt get started?
[Riverrun] traveled around doing stuff in Chicago, D.C., Georgia, South Carolina, and Louisville, and through doing that, that’s kind of where 2amt started. I was traveling around and meeting people, and Twitter came along. [At first] I thought it was a promotional account, but I could actually have conversations. Then I thought, I have some experience, I could create a site and have a leg to stand on instead of just saying why don’t theatres do this?
How woud you define success for a new play?
The third production, fourth, fifth, sixth. If it gets into double digits, great. You’re not going to get a new play on Broadway unless it makes a lot of money. And even then it’s going to be a struggle. I don’t think N.Y. is the be-all end-all anymore.
There are a lot of new play festivals now of varying success and varying stature. This is the premiere festival in the country, certainly, and it’s nice to see everyone who comes here in the industry eweekends. People who can’t come want to know. They want to read the scripts; they want to see what you think. There are certain plays that strike a chord.
Personally, for me, success is people reacting, preferably in a good way. I learned a really great lesson in new play development a couple of years ago at Christmastime when a venue opened up at the last second. We had a month and a half if we wanted to do a Christmas show, so I went and wrote a play using the actors I knew we had.
It was a show that had four characters. One was only there for one scene, maybe two pages of business. Two nights before we opened, I realized I didn’t need the character. I realized how much better it would be without him, but I wasn’t going to fire him the week before Christmas. The audience came; we sold out the whole run; they gave standing ovations. The actors said it was good. That was when I realized we develop too much, and it takes too long.
The Neofuturists write new plays every week. Maybe it’s not Chekhov, maybe it’s not Shakesepare, but I’d rather see them, frankly. Five years for new plays to go from first draft to production, that’s too long. Why should we take that long? If it’s good, if it’s entertaining, let’s go with it.