For more than a decade, Jim Reyland has passionately pursued the life of a playwright—an endeavor that’s taught him plenty about fortitude and resilience in the face of disappointment. Ever determined, Reyland now draws on his own experiences as a dramatist to found Writer’s Stage, a new nonprofit theater company whose main goal is to serve as an advocacy organization for Tennessee-based playwrights.
“Writer’s Stage is about the playwright—an individual I totally understand,” says Reyland. “I understand the frustration, the bitterness, the politics of everything he or she runs into. I understand how they feel on a daily basis, because I have felt it for the last 10 years. I’m trying to take what I feel and say to playwrights, ‘Look, keep writing. Keep producing. Don’t let ‘em knock you down. Don’t let ‘em bowl you over. Don’t be mad, don’t be bitter—but instead write your best piece.’ ”
Reyland has had his share of encouragement and modest success. He’s completed seven one-act and full-length plays and three musicals. His first production was “Stuff” in 1999 at Nashville’s Belcourt Theatre. In 2006, his “Shelter”, a play about life among the homeless, was produced at Tennessee State University. On March 1, 2008, at Belmont University’s Troutt Theater, Reyland’s musical “21 Baker Road” receives a formal staged reading under the direction of noted actor Barry Scott.
But Reyland also knows the downside of the lonely playwright’s life, having pounded his head against the literary theatrical gatekeepers, and having received his share of polite, if only occasionally helpful, rejection letters.
“It occurred to me,” he says, “that there must be other writers in Tennessee who are in the same boat—looking for that developmental vehicle that allows them to get their pieces read, workshopped and maybe eventually produced. That’s the lifeblood of a playwright. If you can’t hear your play out loud, then it’s just a stack of papers. It’s a long, hard road, and anytime you can get a positive response—some note of encouragement, because someone actually read your play—those little victories make you want to sit down and write again.”
With a strong Web presence to help link the playwriting community through feedback and forums, Writer’s Stage—incorporated in Nov. 2007 as a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit arts organization—will also strive to lay a foundation for fundraising to support future projects.
“Ultimately,” says Reyland, “we’d like to position Writer’s Stage as a developmental theater—a farm system if you will—for new works. We want this to be a regular, ongoing thing, where new plays can be read on a monthly basis—with good actors and in front of an audience.”
Reyland also foresees Writer’s Stage entering into collaborative arrangements with other theater companies. “If we have this play, and it resonates, and we’ve read it and see its value, then we’d invite other theater companies to have a listen. We need to see if we can merge both the funds and the energy to help playwrights get off square one and take things to the next level.”
Reyland has co-owned a successful audio production company on Nashville’s Music Row for years. But the theater is where his heart is. “It’s the most exciting and compelling medium to work in,” he says. “It’s the last pure art form there is, and I really believe that. Everything else can be duplicated, everything else can be mass-produced and distributed and manipulated. But theater’s right there, it’s happening right in front of you—and when its over, you’ve been touched and you’ll never be the same.”
In the music biz, it all starts with a song. In the theater, the play’s the thing, and that’s where Writer’s Stage comes in. “I don’t want to lose playwrights because they don’t at least have a place to hear what they’ve done,” says Reyland. “Writer’s Stage is about providing that platform, or basic starting point, to writers, because I know how they feel, and I’m trying to use whatever background or connections I have to encourage their craft.”