In the Huddle: Digital Strategies for Connecting Playwrights

by Seth Cotterman

in National Conference

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(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Theatre | Technology} blog salon, curated by Jacqueline E. Lawton.)

As the Director of Online Media at the Dramatists Guild, it may be shocking to say I’m not all that interested in technology – at least not as much as I’m interested in community. Maybe I never got over sitting by myself on the playground growing up, but I think as theatre artists we all crave to be with our tribe. We long to connect with other people through our art, our craft.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work the past several years with an organization built around community. The Dramatists Guild has long been a resource for writers around the country, providing tools and counsel while maintaining a bond between dramatists at various stages in their careers. The life of a dramatist can be lonely, which makes it all the more important we have a place of support, encouragement and understanding.

Whether at our National Conference or an event anywhere around the country, you see how eager we are as dramatists to exchange ideas, share our experiences, talk through questions and celebrate one another’s success. These interactions sustain us and keep us moving forward when we feel stuck.

With technology we can provide new resources – podcasts, live-streamed events, tools to help dramatists share their work, and actively seek submission opportunities that fit their projects – but we can also bring dramatists together more frequently to encourage what happens naturally.

As the staff talked about more ways to connect writers, we developed the “huddle.” A DG Huddle is an informal conversation held online that focuses on one particular topic of interest to writers. So far we’ve explored time management, the relationship between writer and director, how we each define success, raising money while self-producing and networking. The strength of the huddle is its accessibility; it doesn’t matter if you’re living in a rural town, big city or desert island, as long as you have Wi-Fi, a microphone and webcam, you can join in.

Twice a month we send out invitations to join a huddle and then select participants through a lottery system. Those selected receive an email confirmation with instructions on downloading Zoom (the software program we chose because of its user-friendliness), recommendations to ensure quality audio and video as well as a link required to open the call.

This medium limits us to twenty people per conversation, but having a smaller group makes the huddle feel intimate, personal and allows everyone a chance to talk about their experience and share advice. A staff member or special guest moderates through questions and prompts to incite discussion, making the huddle a conversation between peers rather than a lecture. Anyone who can’t join the huddle can watch the recording on the DG website, but the Guild also hosts multiple huddles on popular topics so that more dramatists have the opportunity to get involved.

At the end of the huddle, each dramatist leaves having met nineteen new people to share ideas with and gained new perspectives on a given topic. Though huddles have been successful at introducing one writer to another and providing a useful forum to talk about the challenges we overcome as writers, they also help to validate our individual experience. We’ve had several dramatists come into a DG Huddle just wanting to listen and are shy about speaking up, but inevitably they jump in and surprise themselves by the positive response to their contribution.

In seeking technology to bring artists together, we also stumbled onto a tool for empowering each writer. As we sit at our computers typing away at our scripts, we question ourselves, we question our work. We ask ourselves, is this good enough? Will someone like this? Can I do this? With simple tools like the DG Huddle, writers get to see the value in what they know and the impact they can have on those around them. We all understand the frustration of staring down a blank page, know the joy of seeing our writing performed and share the pride from hearing an audience applaud our work. If we can understand, even for just an hour-long online conversation, that our voice has power and there is something of significance in our experience, maybe then we can trust ourselves as we tell our stories both on stage and in life. When we can trust our voice and see value in what we have to offer, not only can we find a community to support and encourage us, but know we belong there.

cottermanSETH COTTERMAN is a graduate of Otterbein University where he worked with the Department of Theatre and Dance to incorporate new media in their marketing strategy. Seth is the Manager of Online Media for The Dramatists Guild and serves as a consultant to various organizations and individuals to develop a presence online.