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Play It As It Lays

Posted 8/16/2006

You know, this is not the first time that John Barry has complained that the same small cabal of playwrights gets produced over and over again in the Baltimore Playwrights Festival and insinuated that itís all due to some sort of conspiracy ("Sibling Rivalries," Stage, Aug. 9). I would humbly suggest that it has more to do with depth of quality of the submissions to the festival. Hereís a little secret: Some new playwrights donít know how to write plays. Strange, I know. But itís true.

For those who donít know, the BPF process works like this:

1) Readers read the plays without knowing who the playwright is, analyze the script based on many factors, and recommend whether the script is ready for production or needs more work.

2) Those scripts that have been deemed ready or almost ready for production by a majority of readers get a public staged reading. At this point the author is revealed, because he or she is expected to participate in a discussion critiquing the script.

3) Individual theaters select the scripts they want to produce based on their own individual selection criteria.

Is it a perfect system? No. But itís the system as it currently works. At the Capital Fringe Festival, thereís no real selection criteria other than whether you can pay the fee. Itís a completely different setup.

Last BPF season, I was one of many readers. And I was a particularly dedicated reader that year--out of 80 some scripts, I read about half. And out of that subset, the number of plays that I felt I could recommend for production? Three. Thatís a 7.5 percent return. Not good odds.

John, Iíd like to invite you to be a reader for the next BPF season. Read íem all. Without knowing who the playwright is. Make your recommendations. And then letís see how many of the scripts you recommend are by new playwrights and how many are by established playwrights. I may be wrong, but Iíd wager that many, if not all, of the works of the established playwrights will be in your "recommended" pile. And even if Iím wrong, I know the BPF would appreciate your help and insight. They can always use more readers. And other volunteers. And participating theaters. And playwrights.

Speaking of which, if youíre a Maryland playwright and think you can help improve the depth of talent in the festival, please, please, PLEASE submit your scripts before the Sept. 30 deadline. Go to the web click the submit button. Itís fun and itís easy!

Alex Willis

The writer is the artistic director for Mobtown Players.

Knocking It Down

Edward Ericson Jr.ís recent two-part series, titled "Collapse" (July 26 and Aug. 2), was a sloppy and misleading report, centered on a flawed premise. Whatís more, the reporter ignored crucial information provided by the city and presented perception and fear as fact. While I am used to reporters missing a fact or two, I strongly object to irresponsible journalism like this that fails to properly inform the public and perpetuates distrust and speculation among residents.

After reviewing a list of city emergency demolitions and talking to a handful of city residents, Ericson incorrectly concludes "the city has . . . fallen far behind in its demolition list, leaving thousands of Baltimoreans . . . vulnerable to injury and property damage." The unsound basis for the reporterís inflammatory conclusion seems to be that, when you weigh the large number of condemned properties in the city against the number of emergency demolitions it performs each year, the city is woefully inept and hopelessly behind schedule. Reality belies this overly simplistic and uneducated view. In fact, very few condemned properties ever become targets for demolition, because they donít pose an immediate threat to public safety or adjoining properties.

The reporter also neglected to mention several city efforts under way to better identify and track problem properties before they become a threat. For example, the city recently reviewed every one of the more than 4,500 properties on the condemnation list and determined that only 1,700 still qualify for condemnation. Each of those 1,700 properties is now reinspected every 10 or 30 days, depending on its level of risk. Efforts like this will help us better protect residents and properties.

In the end, despite Mr. Ericsonís jaded and inaccurate view of the cityís demolition efforts, residents should be assured that we are prepared to move quickly to demolish or stabilize any building that poses a threat to life or property.

Paul Graziano
Commissioner, Baltimore City Department of Housing and community development

Edward Ericson Jr. responds: So, does this mean there will be no more building collapses in Baltimore?

Nutty About City Council

In her Aug. 2 letter to City Paper, Aimee Darrow praises the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now for "the win for more accountability and downsizing of the City Council."

I think that ACORNís efforts in that direction were, at best, a complete waste of the valuable time of its members and, at worst, a cynical calculated diversion of what needed to be done in regard to the Baltimore City Council. By further dividing Baltimoreís six three-person councilmanic districts into 18 single-representative districts is the opposite direction to what should be done.

Minority constituencies are still poorly or completely unrepresented. What "minorities" am I thinking of? Latinos, gays, Koreans, Russians, Orthodox Jews, Native Americans, Republicans, and, yes, even socialists. Probably none of these minorities represents a majority in any one of the 18 new councilmanic districts. On the other hand, most of these represent 18 percent or more of Baltimoreís citizenry--effectively disenfranchised by geographically political lines drawn in the sand--as though to say that the only important differences among our citizens is where they happen to find a house or apartment.

ACORN would have more honestly fulfilled its presumed purpose by fighting for citywide proportional representative City Council elections. That way, each voter would have as many votes as the number of seats up for grabs. Voters could (in our current City Council) give all 18 of their votes to their favorite candidates or parcel their votes out through first choice through 18th choice. That would seriously disrupt the "old boy" (and girl) control, and the City Council could easily become more "cross-cultural."

At the same time, I would have liked to see ACORN, or even the Baltimore Green Party, organize around the assumption that every resident of Baltimore is a citizen of Baltimore and that Baltimore doesnít have any second-class citizens. That would mean that prisoners and felons would not be denied their inalienable right to vote. They do throughout Western Europe! (Bet you didnít know that!) It would also mean that city residents would not be denied participation in their cityís election simply because they were not naturalized U.S. citizens. Just think of those tens of thousands of new voters who could swell the ever diminishing electorate. At the same time, how about lowering the voting age to 16 and integrating it into the school curriculum. That could inspire serious high school study of Baltimoreís social problems and their solutions. Political candidates campaigning in our prisons and schools (often not much different) would be less likely to get away with avoiding the real issues as they do now.

Getting back to ACORN . . . Ever wonder why ACORN has never endorsed any of my candidacies? Because ACORNís leadership, many of whom privately claim to be "socialists," have never let me address its membership in their candidate forums. Makes you wonder!

A. Robert Kaufman

The writer is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate.

Editorís note: With this issue, we bid farewell to staff writer Christina Royster-Hemby, who is leaving the paper to take a position in public relations. We will sorely miss her effervescent energy and good vibes, and we wish her the best of luck.

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