Unlike Mark Twain’s famous line about the weather, everyone talks about the lack of new plays in the theater, but Boca Raton’s The Playgroup LLC is doing something about it.
“We’re really a bunch of writers,” says the company’s executive director and founder, Joyce Sweeney. “We started out as a playwrights’ reading group and we then evolved into putting on plays. Our brand basically is local playwrights, drawing from Palm Beach and Broward counties.”
The Playgroup meets monthly at the Glades Road Branch Library, reading and workshopping scripts by the organization’s members. For the past three years, since becoming a resident company of Boca’s Willow Theatre in Sugar Sand Park, it also mounts three full productions a season.
This month, from Nov. 3-12, The Playgroup will present Todd Caster’s Broken Angels, a courtroom drama based on an actual case from the 1920s, in which a Virginia law on eugenics led to a sterilization process to weed out the feeble-minded was challenged all the way up to the Supreme Court.
The play has quite a history with The Playgroup. “This is a sentimental play for us, because way back seven years ago when we were still doing staged readings – when we had no money at all – we did Todd’s historical play. It got our one and only standing ovation, and we have always meant to get back to it some day with a full production,” explains Sweeney. “That day is now.”
Asked about other plays that have been well-received, Sweeney mentions Scenes From a Chinese Restaurant by Tom Andrew and a couple by Joe Feinstein, The Last of the Aztecs and Better Than Money. No, you probably have never heard of them yet, but one day, who knows?
The company’s early years were nomadic, performing at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage and other make-do spaces. The Playgroup turned a corner three seasons ago when The Willow, a municipally owned and operated playhouse, invited it to take up permanent residence.
Sweeney is pleased with the space and the arrangement with the governmental landlord, though she is aware that other companies have chafed at the relationship.
“We’ve never had a play of ours out-and-out vetoed, but we have heard those stories from other groups,” she says. I don’t think of it as censorship, just a little financial caution. The county acts as a producer, not wanting to lose money because a play did not appeal to the audience. It’s more of a negotiation, with no one interested in going beyond the audience’s taste in plays. I’ve found the relationship to be very good.”
Sweeney calls the group’s financial health “great,” noting “our attendance dipped during the last election cycle. I guess our audience had something more dramatic to watch on television, but we are confident that we can draw them back.
“We had donors in the beginning, we really don’t currently. All of our income is from ticket sales.” She laughs when asked what she spends on a typical production. “This is going to sound very low compared to South Florida, but we come in under $2,000 per show. A lot of it goes to the cast.”
Sweeney says The Playgroup could use “more money, more audience and both of them come with more visibility. We think we have a great mission and we think we have a good product. We’re very proud of our work.”
BROKEN ANGELS, The Playgroup LLC at the Willow Theatre, 300 S. Military Trail, Sugar Sand Park, Boca Raton. Friday, Nov. 3 through Sunday, Nov. 12. $25. 561-347-3948.