Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Chris Chen: Risk-Taker

Earlier this month I had the extreme honor of standing alongside two artistic directors whom I love- Marissa Wolf of Crowded Fire and Amy Mueller of Playwrights Foundation- as we all three accepted the Glickman Award for best production of a new Bay Area play for The Hundred Flowers Project. I credit the Playwrights Foundation with single-handedly launching my playwriting career, so to accept the award with Amy Mueller and PF was especially meaningful to me. I couldn’t have imagined a more fittingly full-circled moment.

In my brief talk that evening, I talked about risk. I said that if I was to try and identify a Bay Area theater ethos, it was that we value risk; we tend towards work that takes chances. I said that I was the beneficiary of this ethos, getting green light after green light on all aspects of our production: Live video fed through iphones? Sure. Extra choreography, massive video projections, persistently shifting styles and fractured storytelling? Why not. I felt spoiled beyond belief. I finally mentioned in my talk that risk and newness is in our blood; the West Coast is the farthest American frontier, and the Bay Area in particular seems to have historically carried the frontier torch.

In fact, the deep reason why winning the award with Playwrights Foundation was so meaningful to me was because six years ago they took a risk with me. I was still in school when they chose my play Into the Numbers for the 2007 Bay Area Playwrights Festival, the event that really set me on my path. This was my first real effort at a full-length play and it showed; my script was very rough around the edges compared to the submissions of more experienced writers, and a concern of the selection panel (I learned later) was that it just might not be ready.

But in the end they saw enough potential in my voice to pull the trigger. They took a risk on me. To this day I am moved by their decision, by the inherent trust embedded within the risk they took. I made a promise to myself, inspired by this trust: I would keep taking risks in my work no matter what, and I would take risks on others as well.

-- Christopher Chen

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