"I was sitting at T's Bar, down the street from the theater, with Bill Lattanzi, a local playwright, brainstorming about how we could raise the visibility of writers in Boston," says Kate Snodgrass, producer of the Boston Theatre Marathon. "I had this idea that we could create a festival, and hook up each playwright with a producing theater. That way, we could make connections for the artists within the theater community and at the same time, introduce audiences to new voices. 'You should do that,' Bill said, 'and you should do it the day before the Boston Marathon.' A little bell went off in my head, so I decided to try."
It sounds like a pretty modest beginning to the hottest theater ticket in Boston. Last year, the Boston Theatre Marathon was sold out for all ten hours and all 40 plays, and this year is likely to see the same response. But Snodgrass is familiar with taking big risks: for ten years she has been the producing director of The Boston Playwrights Theatre.
Founded in 1981 by Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, the BPT is dedicated to providing both new and established writers with the opportunity to collaborate with other theater professionals in an intimate studio setting. BPT alumni have gone on to national recognition with the National Hispanic Playwrights Project, The Kennedy Center, the John Gassner Award and Off-Broadway productions. Snodgrass, who also teaches playwriting and dramaturgy at Brandeis and Boston universities, is herself the winner of the prestigious Heideman Award from the Actors Theatre of Louisville.
Producing great theater on a tiny budget is all in a day's work for Snodgrass, but the festival was much bigger than anything she had done before. "I really felt I needed the support of the community," she admits. "I could never have attempted it otherwise." So she took her idea to Stage Source, a local alliance of theater professionals. "They were having a big producers meeting that night, and I showed up and asked them, 'If we did this, would you be interested?' They all said, 'Sure.' That gave me enough 'yes' in the community to forge ahead."
Snodgrass received 170 entries from local playwrights in the first year. With a grant from the Boston University Humanities Foundation, the Boston Theatre Marathon was launched.
Community seems to be a key word whenever you talk about the Marathon with Snodgrass. The Playwrights Theatre has always been at the service of area writers, a place where connections are formed and frequently where longtime collaborations are begun. And so I asked Snodgrass what was involved in keeping the Marathon a community effort, rather than a star turn for one producer.
"It's lots of work. I do a great deal of telephone outreach. It's usually the last thing a theater wants to do in April--most are getting next year's season together, and they don't have the time to take on anything else, not even a ten-minute play. I did a great deal of work last year getting theaters involved. They pick a play and offer rehearsal space and support in whatever form they can. Most do it themselves, but sometimes I'll find a director and put a cast together for them," explains Snodgrass. "This year it's gotten much easier, because we've all seen what an exciting and successful event last year turned out to be. Everyone is more calm about it."