13P, the innovative collective of 13 playwrights, is about to culminate the mission it set forth upon its founding in 2003: to produce one play by each of its members. Pulitzer Finalist, TONY Award nominee and MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship recipient Sarah Ruhl (P#13) is creating a new, chamber version of her Melancholy Play (2001) with the composer Todd Almond and Davis McCallum, who directed a version of the work in 2002.
In the play, Tilly is beautiful and melancholy. Everyone she meets falls in love with her. Then one day she is suddenly happy-and things get very strange. An unexpected story of melancholy in a post-pharmaceutical world, Melancholy Play is an irrational play with a highly rational string quartet.
The work will make its world premiere tonight, July 18 through July 27 at the Invisible Dog Art Center (51 Bergen Street, Brooklyn). It will not open for review. Performances take place tonight, July 18 and July 22, 26 and 27 at 7:00 P.M., with additional 9:00 P.M. performances on July 20, 21, 26 and 27. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased by visiting www.13p.org or calling 212.352.3101.
In 2003, concerned that the trend of endless readings and development programs was limiting the texture and ambition of new American plays, 13 midcareer playwrights banded together to try different model. Each playwright would serve as Artistic Director as the company-deciding the goals of the project, designing its process, and choosing collaborators-as it realized a full production of his/her play. The collective devised a sequence of productions in advance: Anne Washburn would be P#1, Winter Miller P#2, etc. After those 13 productions, the organization would disband.
Now, 12 productions later, 13P has garnered numerous awards and much acclaim. Its ImPlosion Season began with the world premiere of A Map of Virtue, for which Erin Courtney (P#12) and director Ken Rus Schmoll just won an OBIE. (Last season, We're Gonna Die, by Young Jean Lee (P#11), also received an OBIE. The company, too, has won an OBIE (in 2005), in addition to a sizable grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and other accolades.)
Ruhl decided to use her turn at the helm to revisit Melancholy Play after meeting the extraordinary Todd Almond, who had a vision of the play as almost entirely sung through with a string quartet. Although she has written plays with music before, she has never written a musical. Melancholy Play was always structurally a chamber piece, so she felt it made sense to go from a single cello (the play's first version) to an entire string quartet (this new version). Ruhl says, "There is something wonderful to me about the contrast between the rational mathematics of a string quartet and the irrationality of this particular play world."
Of producing the play with 13P, she says, "I am thrilled to finally be Artistic Director after a long ten years of waiting and watching my colleagues' plays with intense pleasure and admiration. While I am saddened by our coming implosion, I am happy to be part of celebrating a decade of anarchistic, loving consensus and art-making. I was at the first meeting of our little band at Veselka's over ten years ago, and it amazes me that the organization has run on so much good-will and so much volunteer work, and I do think we have changed the concept of development with our humble experiment. 13P's mission, I think, is to be unafraid of failure, and to attempt to give pleasure without a lot of fuss. I am proud to be the last artistic director in our anti-royalist dynasty, and I hope that new bands of younger playwrights fill in the breach after we close shop."
Of being Artistic Director, she reflects, "It is quite wonderful to be in a process that puts the means of production squarely in the hands of the writer, and it gives me great compassion and gratitude for every Artistic Director I've ever worked with, as I call my daughter's violin teacher and ask if she'd play first violin, or as I scratch my head looking at curious and often intractably untransformational objects like calendars and budgets."