Over the past few years, J.T. Rogers has had three plays produced in Salt Lake City. He is currently a playwright-in-residence at the Salt Lake Acting Company one of only 10 playwrights in the country to receive a theater residency from the National Endowment for the Arts this year. He is also a finalist for the American Theatre Critics Association's New Play Award (the Steinberg Award).
And this month, Rogers received yet another honor, the 2004 Osborn Award for an up-and-coming playwright, also from the ATCA. "The M. Elizabeth Osborn Award was established in 1993 to honor the memory of a distinguished author, script editor and mentor to playwrights. The award, chosen annually by ACTA's New Plays Committee, recognizes a writer whose work has not yet attained national recognition," said the ATCA in announcing the award.
Not attained national recognition? His work has been produced in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Miami doesn't that cover both coasts? And he is well known here in the middle of the mountains don't we count?
When you ask Rogers about it, he laughs and says that "nationally known" in terms of art means well known in Manhattan between 14th and 100th streets.
If that's the definition, it's good he got the Osborn Award now. In a few months his play "Madagascar" will be produced in two more theaters including one in the Adirondack Festival in upstate New York. His fame is getting perilously close to New York City.
Meanwhile, here in Utah, Rogers has spent the winter working on a new play and teaching playwriting. It is his first time teaching. He's benefited himself, he says, from having to articulate what you do when you write a play.
He doesn't see playwriting as an academic subject. It is a trade, he says. A craft.
He tells his students that if they are nervous about what they've written, they are probably on the right track. He tells them it is normal to be nervous about your play because you are doing something brand new. Your previous successes won't help you, he says. "If you are doing your job, the play you are working on is, as much as possible, nothing like the last play you wrote."
After producing his "White People" and "Seeing the Elephant," SLAC producers Nancy Borgenicht and Allen Nevins asked Rogers to write another play for them. As he worked on "Madagascar," he was so nervous that it wasn't turning out well that his wife had to physically restrain him from calling the producers and offering them their money back. But it turned out all his angst was for nothing because "Madagascar" is up for the ATCA's award for best new play.Currently, he's nervous about a script with the working title "The Overwhelmings." The play is set in Rwanda in 1994. Rogers offers this preview of a work that we, here in Utah, have a good chance of getting to see someday. "It's about an American family. . . . They get embroiled in things they wish they had not."