For me, it was Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother (ticket stub: Apr. 9, 1983), seen when I was not quite 15.
I might have chosen the first straight play I ever saw, John Pielmeier’s Agnes of God (ticket stub: Dec. 29, 1982).
Somehow, though, I still feel that Norman’s play, which I wrote about extensively for The Clyde Fitch Report back in 2007, has to be the winner.
What am I talking about?
I’m talking about the play that changed my life.
Why am I talking about it?
Because the American Theatre Wing, the nonprofit organization comprising one of the two groups overseeing and bestowing the annual Tony Awards, has created an online essay contest tied to the publication of The Play That Changed My Life: America’s Foremost Playwrights on the Plays that Influenced Them, which comes out, courtesy of Applause Publishing, on Dec. 1.
Here is a little boilerplate about the book — and about a contest you yourself might want to enter:
The Play That Changed My Life shares the stories of 19 playwrights talking about work that had a great influence on them and ultimately their careers. But whether you work in theatre, hope to make your life in the theatre or just enjoy being in the audience, surely you’ve had that same experience: a single play (or musical) that you saw at some point in your life that had a profound effect on you, be it a childhood production of Cinderella in a school auditorium featuring an older sibling, a parent’s appearance at the local community theatre, a Broadway spectacle like Les Miserables or The Phantom of the Opera, a journey to a small out-of-the-way theatre that told its story with a minimum of technical tools. Frankly, it could be any production, and that’s what ATW wants to hear about: what show had the greatest impact upon you, when you saw it in the course of your life, and most importantly why it meant so much to you. Entries (limited to 350 words) will be judged based on their creativity, their clarity and perhaps most importantly, for how they convey your passion for the theatre.
Contributors to the book include, among others, Jon Robin Baitz, Nilo Cruz, Christopher Durang, Horton Foote, Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, John Patrick Shanley, David Auburn, Charles Fuller, A.R. Gurney, Tina Howe, David Ives, Donald Margulies, Sarah Ruhl, Regina Taylor and Doug Wright.
If your story is picked, you’ll win an autographed copy of the book and — here I’m quoting — “other theatrical books” from Applause Publishing. You enter the contest at www.americantheatrewing.org/contest.
The contest entry period is from now through Sun., Nov. 29. A panel of “experts” is judging the submissions and there will be, per the publicity information, “additional prizes…based on voting by the general public, which will continue through Dec. 11.”
Selected bloggers have been given an opportunity to tease you, dear reader, with exclusive quotes from famous folk in the book. Mine are from Daryl Roth and Geoffrey Rush:
I don’t know that I would say it changed my life, but it opened my eyes to what the magical parts of theatre can do for people and their souls and their psyches, and that was Angels in America. Definitely. I can’t imagine recapturing how I felt about it when I was sitting there watching it for the first time – and I of course have seen it many times since that first viewing – but it just expanded me on so many levels. It expanded my mind, it sort of brought into focus issues of gay identity, it brought into focus the theatrical magic that can happen – both physically and in our own minds, how we interpret what we’re seeing – on so many levels it just felt to me like an adventure that I was really lucky to be having.
In terms of a musical, it was probably seeing Oliver! in Brisbane, which was the national touring company of the main musical production house — J.C. Williamson it was called. So I must have been in about year ten at high school. But prior to that the theatre impacted on me in a big way when I was about seven, because I caught the very tail end of some traveling vaudeville shows before television started in 1959, so I was about seven. And these tents were made out of canvas, and they had a proscenium arch like The Palace or like Drury Lane, built into this 800-seat tent, you know, and they’d travel around the Outback. So that was huge in my mind; that stimulated my childhood play, sense of play.