Here at TCG Books, we’re always interested in great playwriting from across the globe. And when it comes to international writers, we often get by with a little help from our friends. TCG is the exclusive U.S. distributor for several international publishing companies, including Playwrights Canada Press (based inToronto), and Nick Hern Books, Oberon Books, and Aurora Metro Press, all of which are based in London. Simply put, we trust these international publishers to find and publish the best of their country’s dramatists, and we offer those books to interested readers on American soil. (And don’t worry – British and Canadian readers have access to your favorite American playwrights, too. TCG has reciprocal relationships with Playwrights Canada Press and Nick Hern Books, who distribute our titles throughout their respective nations.)
Recently, our international publishing allies have demonstrated a particularly keen eye for bringing their countries’ finest plays from the stage to the page. If We Were Birds (Playwrights Canada Press) and its author Erin Shields just garnered one of Canada’s most prestigious prizes, the 2011 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. This is nothing new for Playwrights Canada Press, which has published seven of the past nine winners. But it is a triumph for Shields, who has risen to prominence since this play caught fire at SummerWorks 2008, an annual Indie Theatre and Arts Festival in Toronto. If We Were Birds is a harrowing retelling of the myth of Tereus, Procne and Philomela, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It’s a no-holds-barred, relentless account of the horrors of war. Does it make for a comfortable viewing or reading experience? Not so much. But Shields uses this classical story to provide a visceral, resonant, and terrifyingly contemporary commentary on violence, revenge, and the rules of engagement. It’s a vital reminder that the most important theatre isn’t always the most pleasant.
When it comes to award-winning books, Playwrights Canada Press hasn’t put all their eggs in one basket, either. In addition to If We Were Birds, three of their other titles were nominated for the Governor General’s award: Jonathan Garfinkel’s House of Many Tongues, Donna-Michelle St. Bernard’s Gas Girls, and Lenin’s Embalmers by Vern Thiessen (who won the prize in 2003 for Einstein’s Gift.)
Meanwhile, across the pond a bevy of hot new titles are lighting up the United Kingdom. Playwright Richard Bean has had a banner year, with two new plays, both published by Oberon Books, consistently landing atop lists of annual favorites. The Heretic, Bean’s dark comedy about climate change theories (and their proponents and opponents), is a topical, provocative play that asks big questions even as it offers up hilarious one-liners. And One Man, Two Guvnors, a riotous slapstick comedy, seems to have reduced much of England’s population to fits of convulsive laughter. After an acclaimed run at the National Theatre and a sold-out tour, it has moved onto the West End. Now, it has set its sights on Broadway, where it will enjoy a run at the Music Box Theatre in spring 2012. One Man, Two Guvnors is based on Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte classic The Servant of Two Masters, but Bean has updated the action to 1960’s Brighton, where an unsuccessful skiffle musician attempts to work for two small-time crooks at the same time—without letting either realize that he’s doubly employed. Just this week, Bean’s two very different comedies were named the joint recipients of the Evening Standard’s annual theatre award for Best Play.
Nick Hern Books has scored recent hits with a trio of plays shortlisted for the Evening Standard Theatre Awards. Nina Raine’s Tribes (which joined Mr. Bean’s comedies on the shortlist for “Best Play”) is a stirring family drama about a young deaf man who falls in love with a hearing woman. It will cross the Atlantic this February, when it premiers off-Broadway at Barrow Street Theatre. London Road (shortlisted for Best Musical) takes on a bold and unconventional subject for the world of musical theatre: the real-life 2006 murders of five sex-workers, and the tragedy’s effect on the local town of Ipswich. Vivienne Franzmann, a former schoolteacher, garnered a shortlist nomination (for “The Charles Wintour Award for Most Promising Playwright) for her debut play Mogadishu, about the fraught relationship between a teacher and her troubled student. It’s exciting to see these sorts of substantive, thought-provoking stories in the national—and international—spotlight.
These award-winning plays are just the tip of the iceberg. TCG partners with eight active publishers (PAJ Publications, Playscripts, Inc., The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, and Padua Playwrights, in addition to the four mentioned above) who combine to bring us more than 200 new titles a year. With their help, the breadth and depth of our catalog is continually expanding. So pick up a book and see what you think—you might just help a great play to transcend the borders of its origin!
Zach Chotzen-Freund is the Publications Associate at TCG. He has worked at The Public Theater, Second Stage Theatre, and at Actors Theatre of Louisville, where he assisted (direction and dramaturgy) on seven Humana Festival world premieres. He is a director, playwright, dramaturg, and the co-founding artistic director of an exciting new theater ensemble that has yet to be named. Ask him about it. He lives in Brooklyn and holds a B.A. in English and Drama from Stanford University.