This article is so right on. I have few answers. (Just lots of commentary which includes curse words and inner crying emojis – not pictured here.) And also more questions.
From the title: Where will the next ‘Hamilton’ come from now that so many playwrights are in TV? Why is Hamilton always the standard? Hamilton is a good show. But not the greatest show EVER. It is also what I call the “Gucci handbag” of theater. It’s a status symbol. “I can afford to see this show and post about it. Now I’m cultured.” It’s incredibly obnoxious. It’s also not the best made handbag. But also, is it good in some way for theater to be a status symbol…? Maybe. Probably.
From the article: One of the directors in that reading gave the script to Bill Simmons at The Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis. He liked it and gave it to Chris Handley at The Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo. Theatre makers, why don’t we pass along new scripts we like to others? We have to do this more! (I need to do this more!) Playwrights, we need to pass along scripts we like to our contacts on behalf of other playwrights.
Also you see these little regional theaters sharing work? Doing the WORK? Believing in unproduced playwrights? That’s courage. Damn. That’s belief in your artform, and not just your perceived status platform. That’s belief in a story! And that is pure, and utterly vital. Regional theatres just can’t pull the “good works new works” from Broadway and Off-Broadway as a weird sign of “regional theatre status” (that their audiences mostly still won’t recognize anyway.) Regional theatres whose mission is to produce new works also have to ACTUALLY PRODUCE NEW WORKS (not just the A- to C+ works produced in the past 5 years – like actual new works – you know, like premiers) and they have to believe in new playwrights. I feel like theatre curators and honestly many theatre artists are much more inclined to say, “Of course, this play (or this person) will be shit.” Rather than, “What if this script is great?! How great could this script be?” (Of course, I am also guilty of all of these pitfalls myself in the past. But I am growing, ya’ll.)
From the article: “That’s what keeps me up at night,” he said. “Because it is people of a certain age who are coming to see theater. And the kind of theater that we are doing is truly not something that they probably are interested in.” Handley, one of only two full-time employees at Alleyway, said the theater’s survival is dependent on grants and an annual production of A Christmas Carol. How do we fix this…?! Damn. All I know is that theatre has to MAKE ITSELF RELEVANT. (And not just through better marketing. Leave the poor overworked marketing folks alone.) I also think we need to stop saving theatre for theatre’s sake. (Ouch!) By feeding the mediocre we deprive the extraordinary. (Yeah. I wrote that.) Who should decide this? Shit. Right now in regional cities it’s funding boards and critics who often have no real theater education, and think mediocre theatre is good theatre. (Because they haven’t had real theatre training or even experienced enough theatre in NYC or abroad to know the difference.) Or audience members and critics who “like theatre” – as in a musical Christmas Carole – or like some kind of celebrity element that makes them feel cooler. (And we are back to Gucci handbags.) And then there are just people who think buffet food is good food – and there’s nothing you can do to convince them otherwise. Oh man, oh help.
From the article: That’s because there’s not a lot of money in regional theater, especially for those stages that take risks on new work. The pandemic shutdowns made things worse as audiences dried up; two longtime incubators for new play development closed: The Sundance Theatre Lab and The Lark. Yeah. How do we make new play development incubators? How do we make people care about new play development? I’m not totally sure. But I think, partly, we need to unveil it. Invite more people into the process. But also man, I don’t know. This is hard. People are busy.
From the article: But Fleming said Actors Theatre of Louisville is still committed to new work. “It’s rooted much more in the community and rooted much more in [the community’s] comprehensive health,” he said. One example: The Clinic, founded by nurse and choreographer Tara Rynders, conducts resiliency workshops for healthcare workers. Nurses throughout Kentucky have been participating. This is cool. Have ya’ll heard about my play “IN OUR TIME/ Stories from the Front Lines of the Medical Fields?” Inspired by my interviews with female ICU physicians on the frontlines of the COVID pandemic, and Ernest Hemingway’s groundbreaking World War I novel? Check it out. https://hiawathaproject.org/shows/in-our-time/
From the article: Theater critic Jones said that many of them are looking elsewhere. “I think one of the most under reported phenomena is the detrimental effect television has had on the theater,” he said. I mean, every time I look at credits for a TV show, I see one of my favorite playwrights,” said Jones, “and when they’re writing a TV show, they’re not writing a new play.” Television was supposed to kill theatre about 120 years ago. That was after cinema was supposed to kill theatre. But then again… if you steal all the good playwrights or all the playwrights leave…then…well…is the well…going to eventually… dry up? Nah. There will always be holdouts. The desert lovers. But certainly…the town won’t flourish if the well is dry.
From the article: One of those playwrights-turned-screenwriters is Tanya Saracho. She’s unequivocal. “The American theater doesn’t support a living for a playwright,” she said. Shit. Yeah. Man.
From the article: The National New Play Network, of course, hopes Terry Guest keeps writing plays for regional theatre. The Network even gave him a special award for The Magnolia Ballet: $500.
Jesus Christ. See above.