Why New Work?

Hi, friends! Hopefully you know by now we’re opening a wonderful show later this month. It’s called Like Drowning, by Brian Petti, and you can read more about it (and buy tickets!) here. What makes this show really special is that it’s a regional premiere of a new play we first brought to you as part of our Rough Draft Reading series last year. To talk about why new play development matters–plus what’s so great about this play in particular–I turn the blog over to Jason Olson, our Literary Manager and director of Like Drowning.

Love, Blair (Artistic Director)



For years now, as I’ve struggled off and on with my own writing, there has been a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that it’s all been done. Why bother to write anything, when all the stories the world could possibly need have already been told in one form or another? It is true that there are a lot of plays already out there. If I read ten plays each day for the rest of my life, I couldn’t even come close to scratching the surface. Besides, when would I have time for the theatre?

Bob Dylan once said that the world doesn’t need any more songs. He said, “There are enough songs. Unless someone is going to come along with a pure heart and has something to say. That’s different.” Dylan is right. There are enough songs. There are enough films, and books, and plays.

But we writers strive on, hoping to create that one story that will change everything. If something I wrote had the ability to change the way someone feels or thinks – even if it was just one person – I would consider myself a successful writer.

Why new work? Because I truly believe that each new play has the ability to affect someone out there in some way. Whether it’s an actor seeing the script for the first time, or a director who gets inspired with a vision of how to bring it to life… Maybe it’s someone on the crew, or someone in the seats. Maybe they don’t feel it until the final bows, but somebody somewhere is going to have a profound response to the work. That alone is worth it. It’s worth reading through hundreds of submissions, working through weeks of rehearsal, and pouring out blood, sweat, and tears on the set.


Brian was one of the first writers to answer our call for submissions. We had just created the submissions page of our website and, by chance, we popped up on his radar.   I kept coming back to the title. It was intriguing. Later, when I asked Brian where he got the idea to name the play Like Drowning, he confessed that the inspiration came from an unlikely source. He said, “I looked up ‘unrequited love’ on the Urban Dictionary, which is what middle-aged playwrights do when they want to know the current ‘lingo’ and appear cooler than they are.  One of the entries was: ‘It’s like drowning but you don’t f*ing die.’  I loved it and it’s been the title since.”

Once I read the script, I was hooked. The characters were richly written and the drama came from something real and relatable.  Richard’s cancer was just the beginning. The tumultuous, decade-spanning relationship of these two men – and the agony of unrequited love – added something so deep to what looked – on the surface- like a play about cancer.  I was relived to find that the play was original, and moving, and unique.


In a typical rehearsal, you’ve chosen to produce a published script that countless other institutions across the world may have already put on. There’s a range of preconceived notions of the show based on its history. The directors and the actors all have an idea about how it should be done. The script, in most cases, is set in stone. The chance to talk to a writer about what they were thinking or why the story takes a certain turn… for most, that’s a mere fantasy.

Meanwhile, in a workshop such as ours, the writer is a crucial part of the process, and we get to do something new together. And because it’s new to everyone, there’s no bias. There’s no worrying about how some other company did it, or how certain actors played the roles. This is the first time these actors are seeing this script, and the first time an audience will encounter the story. Not many actors, directors, or writers get an opportunity like this. We get to ask Brian questions about character, setting, and plot and he gets to make edits and adjustments to the script during the workshop. The script has not yet been published, and – if you will forgive me a metaphor – the clay is still wet.  We get to sculpt it as we go, and to build it up together. Each rehearsal tests the material deeper and deeper, and makes for a more polished production. We are all thrilled that we get to take this journey together and we are honored that we have the privilege of bringing this great new play to life for our audience.

-Jason (Literary Manager / Technical Director)


Like Drowning runs February 19-March 5. Click here for tickets.


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