I have been fascinated by the recent trend of playwrights turned screen/TV writers. For the longest time I thought of the world of theatre and television as distinctly different, which they are, but to the overlap in intriguing. I first took interest in this trend when I stumbled across an article about playwright Tanya Saracho’s big move to LA. I could go on about my obsession with Tanya Saracho’s writing, but I think it’s most important for you know a little about who she is.
Tanya Saracho was a graduate of our very own Boston University. Through the connections she made here enable her premiere three of scripts here. Tanya is best known for her stage adaptation of the book The House on Mango, which was produced in Chicago at Steppenwolf. As a Latina playwright her work on the book is incredibly rhythmic and flavorful. If you haven’t read the script or youtubed interviews about her work, you should. You need to know her work. While living in Chicago Tanya created a name for herself, by starting her own theatre company Teatro Luna, and working in various arenas as a theatre artist. Now she has moved to LA to produce the West Coast Premiere of El Nogalar, an interpretation of the Cherry Orchard that is focused on a Mexican families way of life being threatened by encroaching drug cartels. In the mix of this premier she has landed a manager and TV writing agent, and is making her way in Hollywood.
When I consider the oeuvre of Tanya’s work it’s not entirely far fetched that she would be encouraged to make the transition to TV writing. Although she has a distinct Latina voice, there’s nothing too avant-garde about her work, that can’t be filtered through to commercial television. I am actually insanely excited to see what sort of splashes she makes in the TV world, because they will undoubtedly be colorful—in all senses of the word!
On the contrary, I was a little shocked when I heard about playwright Jason Grote making his move to TV writing with his involvement in the new TV series ‘SMASH,’ which is essentially a more mature version of GLEE—so you know I’ll be tuned in! (It is really actually incredible.) I first encountered Jason Grote’s play Hamilton Township, during an independent study with Ilana Brownstein. I remember being entranced by the fictional community he created, and found myself digging up these evocative images of the world of the play. He is known on the East Coast as an experimental writer in the Theatre, so how did he get to be on staff for a new hit television show, created by Steven Spielberg?
In the Los Angeles Times he writes this interesting article that talks about his arrival. What I loved about the article is its honesty. Jason candidly reveals the struggles of being a playwright, and openly shares about the technicalities of his transition. For those that are staunchly against commercialism, they might view Grote as a sell out. But I say more power to him– hopefully Smash will give him a chance to sustain his family and room to continue to write the next great piece for the American Theatre. His involvement in Smash will not deduct from his work in the theatre. Grote is a phenomenal playwright, so I can’t wait to see where this opportunity takes him.
With a few of the leading forces in the American Theatre dabbling in television right now, I think there is the possibility for change in Hollywood. Better scripts. Better actors. Better entertainment.