Barrymore Judges on The Barrymores: An Interview with Erin Washburn | Theatre Philadelphia
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Barrymore Judges on The Barrymores: An Interview with Erin Washburn

Apr 9, 2019

Current Theatre Philadelphia Intern Ang Bey sat down with some of our illustrious Barrymore Judges to discuss their thoughts on theatre, Philadelphia, and everything in-between!

Today, snippets from an interview with...

Erin Washburn (Pic: First on the Left)

(she/her/hers)

Flash Facts:

  1. If Erin wasn’t an artist, she’d be a critic (or “hibernate forever”).
  2. In Philly, the first show that "really affected" her was The Aliens at Theatre Exile directed by Matt Pfeiffer.
  3. Right now, Erin’s passionate about Shrill on HULU.
  4. And she recommends to always pee before a show. Always. Just do it!

Ang: Want to do a quick introduction?

Erin: Sure! I’m a dramaturg and producer focusing on new plays. The majority of my work has been with InterAct. I started there as an intern in 2012, then I was an apprentice, then I worked for free doing dramaturgical research, and then I was their part-time marketing and development assistant, and then I was their full-time literary manager and marketing development assistant, and NOW I’m their full-time literary and producing services manager. I was also the producing associate for Orbiter 3 -- Philadelphia’s first producing playwright’s collective.

I’m not the kind of person who wants to be… centered. The reason I’m a dramaturg is because I don’t really wanna, like, make the thing. I wanna help you make the thing.

Whether that’s like, “I have these questions about your play”, or whether it’s like, “How do I curate the patron experience so that people go into the play open to what you have?”. That’s how I want to support work.

Ang and Erin discussed how a comprehensive understanding of theatre would not only inspire people to fill unlikely positions, but foster important dialogues about what it takes to bring a show from page to stage. In the Philadelphia theatre community, we both agree there should be more transparency between all departments.

Erin: If every playwright could sit in on a season selection meeting. If people could see what goes into making the thing. Like, I don’t know what it’s like to draft a lighting design. I have no idea the effort that takes. I have no idea how to map that. And if I did, were I a director, I wouldn’t be like, “And then the lights-- KABOOM!”. I wouldn’t ask for things that are impossible or assume that someone can’t do it. I think there’s a level of insight that can go into all of these systems. And transparency about that helps with both like, “Actually that’s not the way the system has to work. It’s just the way it is working”, or, “Oh I didn’t realize that’s why that happens”.

In this city, too, there a lot of people who wear those hats. A lot of artists are self-producers. They have their own companies or they produce their own plays. And so they have that mindset. But there’s something about what it means to be an individual, a group of individual artists, and then a company that has to hire people. How do we have people feel empowered to be in those positions?

They talked about the Barrymore adjudication process too. Ang asked Erin what she would like to see change about the awards (if anything).

Erin: Unlike the Tony’s, it’s not like when you win a Barrymore Award, you can see the show. So, in theory, it’s meant to actually advocate for those individual artists and companies. Right? Like, for a playwright to win a Barrymore Award, outside of the city it’s like, “Oh wow! Look at that award they won from their city!”. That’s cool! That’s a big deal for that individual artist. Is that what it’s for? To be like, “Hey-- Philadelphia does theatre”? In either of those cases, what’s the impact outside of Philadelphia? Outside of all of the strife, and all of the love and effort that we all put into ourselves, how does it resonate out?

I do think it’s good to have a system in place within the city to, like, lift up artists and companies whose work is excellent because it resonates outside of the city, or it could. But if not all companies have access to being lifted up, then what’s the point?

They discussed how art-making can, should, and does exist outside of adjudication. A Barrymore Award can be an important career milestone but the nomination and/or receival of the award should not undermine the work of those that do not participate (for one reason or another). This is especially true of emerging artists and companies within our community. Established artists should strive to disseminate knowledge and empower those looking to advance our careers. Symbiotic relationships undercut competition and emphasize the celebratory spirit of the arts.

Ang: What is the best piece of advice a mentor has given you?

Erin: Kittson O’Neill was the artistic associate at InterAct. She was someone who really empowered… like a dramaturg can be forthright. We think of dramaturgs that are always been like really “self-effacing”. But Kittson is, like, “You can be a supportive dramaturg and still assert that you have worth. You and your opinions matter”.

Seth [Rozin] at Interact has been an incredible mentor because he really believes that it is important for people to know the different sides. And he’s really invested in younger artists. I mean, I’ve been there since I was a baby, so it’s hard not to be like, “Art Dad!”. And, you know, both Catharine [Slusar] and Mark Lord were both, for me, really helpful people in being like, “There’s a whole history and zeitgeist around you. And so, as an artist, you tap into that whether or not you want to”.

Ang: What’s the best piece of advice that you can give to an up-and-coming artist and/or advocate of the arts?

Erin: Run.

Ang: Away, or toward?

Erin: Both. You’re passion doesn’t have to be -- if you don’t end up making money in the arts -- in arts admin or as a working actor: you find another way to make your money; you find another way to survive. That’s okay!

 I hope you get paid for your passion, but your passion isn’t invalidated if it’s not profitable. Like, we don’t work in a very profitable field ‘cause we’re dummies.

Also, there are other careers besides acting and tech. My friend who’s a production manager at the Kennedy Center, she went back to our high school to do Career Day for all the theatre kids and was like, “You can do other things in theatre! There’s so much more you can do! Like, you don’t have to be onstage!” 

Interested in being a Barrymore Judge? There's still time to apply Click here for more information. Applications must be submitted by April 21st!

Learn more about the Barrymore Awards

On February 18th and 22nd, 2019, Theatre Philadelphia held community forums to help provide feedback on the Barrymore Awards adjudication process and brainstorm potential paths forward. Read the community forums recap!