“Seminar,” written by the creator of the television show “Smash” Teresa Rebeck, is running at the Philadelphia Theatre Company (PTC) until April 14. This is a return trip to PTC for Pulitzer Prize nominated Rebeck. Twenty years ago, she wrote her play “Spike Heels” as one of the first young playwrights in the PTC Mentorship Program.
“Seminar” is a comedy about 4 aspiring writers that paid $5000 each to take a writing seminar given by a famous author. Each of the writers has different and surprising reactions to the true, but cruel criticism from their tortured teacher. Many of them, in rotating combinations, found comfort in each other’s arms. Several are forced to deal with the truth and find their true writing destiny.
Pulitzer Prize nominated playwright Rebeck considers “Seminar” one of her most “precious” plays because it is about the “desperate courage and hope of all writers.” She denies that the play is autobiographical, but admits to adding bits of her experiences and personality to several of the characters. Leonard, the writing teacher, is partially based on a sadistic Manhattan writing teacher.
“Everyone thinks that I am Kate, the young feminist writer. I was a feminist, but not that militant. I have been a writing teacher. I was impatient but I just hope that I was not as cruel as Leonard. Like Matt, I was reluctant to show my work,” she said.
Rebeck, who won both a Peabody Award and Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award for her work on NYPD Blue, believes this the golden age of storytelling because advancements in technology have lowered the cost of telling a story.
She said, “You can now edit on your laptop. My friend made a movie for $15000 that was distributed nationwide,”
Rebeck encourages all aspiring writers to “create their own opportunity” by self –producing instead of submitting grant applications and facing possible rejection.
“I am not sure that art and corporate logic fit together,” she said.
Rebeck’s distaste for the studio system may stem from her very public firing as executive producer from “Smash.” Steven Spielberg recruited her to the show when he fell in love with her play, “The Understudy”.
“The show is good. Angelica Huston (who plays the tenacious producer) told me last week the show is not broken. It was going to hit its stride in the second season like “West Wing.”
She attributed her firing to “panicking by NBC executives” and “gender issues.”
“There were 10 guys and me,” she said.
Rebeck, who is one of the most successful women writers in the country, feels that she has hit the glass ceiling in the television industry . She points out that playwrights get to keep their own copyright while television and film writers get paid a lot of money but sell their copyright to the corporations.
"Play writing is a collaborative horizontal process while television writing is a vertical process. Corporations stomp on you and your work and then steal it. Male writers have said to me that they do it to us also. But it is not the same thing. They have had one play on off Broadway while I have long of writing credits."
Her creative differences with NBC resulted from their requests to have the characters on "Smash" do things that they or the actors would not do.
"They wanted to make "Karen" the main character, mean. I said that she could get drunk or angry but would never be mean. They wanted Angelica Huston's character to do icky things which Angelica would never do. She is a lady."