Dramaturgy Fellow Series: Clyde’s

Hi, I’m Lexi Silva, the Dramaturgy Fellow for UNC’s Department of Dramatic Art and PlayMakers Repertory Company! As part of that work, I am serving as an Associate Dramaturg on each production in PlayMakers’ 2023-24 season. In addition to providing literary and production support to PlayMakers, I’ll also be working with the incredible undergraduate-led and run Kenan Theatre Company this school year. In an effort to document and share insights from each production I work on, I’ll be crafting a series of process journal entries to accompany each play this season. You can find out more about this series on DDA’s blog here.

Now, let’s talk (sandwich) shop.

According to notable arts publications including American Theatre magazine and The New York Times, Lynn Nottage was the most produced playwright of the 2022-23 season in the American theatre writ large, with Clyde’s (2021) coming in as most produced play. PlayMakers is proudly contributing to the myriad of institutions who believe that Clyde’s is a story worth telling this year. A story about second chances, survival and sandwiches, Clyde’s is equal parts magical, poignant, hilarious, and dark. The play maintains a connection to Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Sweat (2015), by following life after the incarceration for Jason, a character whose story spans both works.

My first contact with the script began in Bloomington, Indiana, where I read the text just days before moving to begin working at UNC and PlayMakers. Once I arrived in the area, I met with Jacqueline Lawton, Production Dramaturg and Associate Professor of Dramatic Art (I recommend you check out her program note for Clyde’s!). In our conversation I gained valuable information about the script, and Jacqueline’s perspective on how dramaturgs function in the production process at PlayMakers. She encouraged me to be present, listen, and to let my instincts guide me when it comes to offering additional research or perspectives. As Associate Dramaturg for Clyde’s I have provided research support to the team, observed rehearsals led by director Melissa Maxwell and participated in table work—a stop-and-go read through of the script where actors and the artistic team are able to ask questions and openly discuss the play together. Maxwell, a decorated director, actor, and Co-Associate Artistic Director of The Great River Shakespeare Festival and Director of Professional Development at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting, lead an exhilarating, rigorous, and empathetic process for her team. In Clyde’s, Maxwell identifies a story not about good and evil, but about people working to elevate themselves in spite of the systems of oppression and cycles of violence that limit them. In addition to her leadership, I have noticed that the collaborative network of artists, designers and technicians here truly uplifts the production work at PlayMakers.

Early in-process, Associate Artistic Director, Jeffrey Meanza generously connected me with Jo Holcomb, the Developmental Dramaturg for Clyde’s in its first iteration, Floyd’s, which premiered at the Guthrie Theatre in 2019. (Aside: ISN’T THAT SO COOL? I THOUGHT IT WAS REALLY COOL!) In my conversation with Holcomb, we discussed the circumstances of the world premier production, foundational ideas in early iterations of the play and how it has evolved in the current script, and her approaches to new play dramaturgy. As rehearsals moved forward I was able to better understand the structure of the room and the process; it became easier to understand how to balance listening, observing and contributing in the rehearsal hall. As anyone might, I am always looking to my tools and experience to find my way through a process, but in my first project at PlayMakers it has been integral for me to understand how dramaturgy works here. In my introductory entry I discuss the mutability of the dramaturg. While I expect for there to be a learning curve with each new combination of collaborators, I feel that understanding the institutional systems at PlayMakers is necessary dramaturgical work, too. As a dramaturg I seek to find connection, analyze it, and translate it into accessible, and actionable information. In this way, institutional dramaturgy goes hand-in-hand with the artistic side of the role. In my experience, most theatre makers (not just dramaturgs) do this dance regularly.

I’d like to zoom out: Clyde’s, now the most produced play in America by double-Pulitzer-winning Lynn Nottage, was very recently a new play. The collaboration and collective investment in Nottage’s writing and new work means that a vast network of audiences get to experience Clyde’s. I know this is an exceedingly basic observation, but as a dramaturg with a deep commitment and belief in the power of new plays, this connection affirms me. In a moment in the American theatre when major headlines about the industry are almost exclusively about how it’s crumbling, it’s nice to remember that a new play (and yeah, I know it’s not just any new play, but still) can be met with great, widespread success. The success of Clyde’s is also subversive—the most produced play in the 22-23 season is about a population that America willfully forgets about. Nottage really DID THAT.

I’d like to wrap up by mentioning a few local resources in the area that correlate with themes in Clyde’s. The organizations and committees listed below advocate for individuals impacted by the criminal justice system. Some offer job training, counseling, and transitional resources to promote sustainable livelihoods post-incarceration and others are advocacy organizations looking to raise support and spread awareness.

Benevolence Farm (Carrboro)
Orange County Local Reentry Council
Reentry Center for Women (Raleigh)
The Center for Community Transitions (Charlotte)
Forward Justice and The Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted Peoples and Families Movement (Durham)