The History of America-in-Play
By Lynn M. Thomson
America-in-Play [AIP] began in January 2006. Sixteen playwrights as well as artistic staff--including
myself, two dramaturgs and Associate Artistic Director Dominic Taylor--gathered for the first of four
workshops to explore America’s theatrical past. We also began the process of writing with the
inspiration of that cultural grounding. We examined American comedy before the Civil War and discovered
enduring character archetypes; we pondered the music, text and performance of minstrelsy; we quickly
surveyed late 19th century American comedy and followed threads dating from the Revolution.
In our second season, 2006-07, we continued our study with four additional workshops: these included a
private tour of The Shubert Archive, as well as a discussion of American comedy after the Civil War.
America-in-Play commissioned ten-minute plays from each writer. In spring 2007, for my project as an
artist-in-residence, we presented stage readings of these texts over three evenings at Tribeca Performing
Arts Center (TPAC). The project involved not only all the writers, but also nearly thirty actors, in
addition to dramaturgs, stage managers and other volunteer staff. Our project came to the attention of
The New York Times, and an article about our work was published.
In our third season, 2007-08, I continued to develop AIP as part of my residency at TPAC. I devised an
original project, which we dubbed a "mediated carcass," an integrated piece that merges an old play with
contemporary writing and music from our artists. The result was No Song, No Supper, which we workshopped
and read on March 31 and April 7, 2008 as part of the Work & Show Festival at TPAC.
During that same season, we inducted a new group of writers that also included a video artist and composers.
We expanded our commitment to reach not only theatre artists, but also artists from other disciplines within
and outside performance. This new group participated in four workshops.
Now, in our fourth season, the artists who joined us the previous season are doing four more workshops. We
have divided the artists into two subgroups and each is fashioning a "mediated carcass." Both groups are
working with the 1848 comedy A Glance at New York by Benjamin Baker. We will workshop each piece and present
stage readings, called Exchanging Glances, on March 23 and March 30, 2009. We will also present an evening
of Exchanging Glances at the Tenement Museum on May 21.