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September 11, 2008

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RLewis

I’m glad to see that you’ve taken a sec’ from your hyperventiPalin’ to make another important theater point. I agree that we in the theater are not as good at diversity as we’d like to accuse other career fields of not being… or something like that. I also believe that it will be up to those offended to be the change they seek. Men just aren’t hardwired to acquiesce or even share well – please beat them senseless when necessary.

But I wonder whether there are any numbers’ breakdowns on the amount of applicants for these production opportunities in question to answer: if 500 male and 100 female playwrights applied, should there ideally be 50 plays of each that ultimately get produced? It is hard for me to understand and use the “12.6% of women” figure, if I don’t know what the relative overall pool numbers are. And the same question stands with regard to minorities.

Also, I know some straight men feel women playwright’s pain when they wonder why that gay dude’s play gets produced, and the answer comes back, well, he hangs out on weekends with the gay dude that runs the company; but I guess we just lump straight males and gay males into one undiscriminating pot.

I'm just saying that I think we need more numbers, more broken down, to get the best understanding.

Mark

There are no playwright "applicants" for Broadway and off-Broadway productions. Plays are chosen by artistic directors and producers not from a pile of aspirants, but from the body of work of every playwright they are familiar with.

I bring this up not only to point out that there is no such thing as "applicant statistics" in this case -- nor is there any anecdotal evidence whatsoever for the inference that most playwrights aspiring the high-level productions would be men -- but also to note, in general, that cold submissions are a fool's errand.

Joshua James

A lot of my work is, I guess, "multi-cultural" . . . THE MEN'S ROOM deals with homophobia and homosexuality, even though I'm straight (and I've written a lot of other stuff) . . . much of my other work has many people of other cultures featured, not just their background but their stories, something of no small interest to me.

I think I've told this story before, but I'll share again.

One of my first agent's read my play TALLBOY WALKIN', which has five characters, two of which are black.

He told me that it was a great play but there's no market for it because "black people don't go to the theatre." He said the reason there were so many gay plays is because "gay people go to the theatre".

Privately I thought there were more "gay plays" because there were a lot of gay agents, including the one standing in front of me at that moment (he was gay) and I didn't know of a single straight black theatre lit agent.

Plus, Tallboy is not what I would call a "black play", it's about a lot of things and two of the characters are black.

Anyway, I parted ways with that agent.

The thing is, that I realized, is that no one does YOUR play because it is great or unique or YOUR play. They (and by THEY, I mean the ADs, or producers or whomever it is that choses) chose a play or playwright based on what the PLAY does for them.

If the play shows off their skills as a director, they'll pick it.

If it brings the right type of political heat and publicity, they'll pick it (I mean, Daisey's profile went up after he had a glass of water dumped on him . . . not that he wasn't having shows done before, but after that, a lot of folks were talking about him, and he doesn't really WRITE plays, that I understand, he creates bullet points and then talks) . . . folks pick plays for what it can offer THEM, not because it's the greatest thing they've ever read or even because an audience may enjoy it . . . I don't even know that it matters, some of the time, about the audience. Seriously, I've met some people that don't even care about doing a work that will pack them in, they're more interested in what "name" the brand is, etc or it will show off their director skills or there's a perfect part in it for them, etc.

Obviously not everyone is like this, but I think there's a more than we think. A lot more.

Just my opinion.

Kerry Reid

I already got all logorrheic (sp?) on this subject over at Mr. Freeman's joint, but I just had a couple other points to make. One is to reinforce that lack of representation is NOT the fault of the underrepresented groups. However, when I talk about improving networking opportunities, etc., I do so out of the hope that it puts a personal face on the artist, allows for those one-to-one interactions where people can get a better handle on each other's tastes, temperaments, ideas, etc., and that such an environment may lead to healthier working relationships and dialogue, rather than feeling impotent and frustrated that nothing ever changes. I may be completely wrong on this, of course.

However, I also recognize that the ability to schmooze is not one that all artists have in equal measure, or at all, and that it's also discriminatory to artists who don't particularly like making the social rounds, or talking at length about their work in conversation, to put the onus on them for getting their name out there in a social context (as opposed to the old submit-submit-submit-scripts-scripts-scripts pattern). What would be great is if all of us could sort of "adopt" a few writers and artists that we feel are underrepresented and start talking up their work to other people and each other.

Maybe a thread on "Who's writing plays in your town that you want other people elsewhere to know about?" would be a start. I dunno.

Just wanted to make it clear, again, that I am not, by a long shot, saying "Well, if women and minorities wanna get produced, they've got to hustle more!" Because I know it really, really isn't that simple and I don't mean to insult anyone who has been on the hustings trying to get their work produced and is feeling down about it.

RVCBard

What would be great is if all of us could sort of "adopt" a few writers and artists that we feel are underrepresented and start talking up their work to other people and each other.

What's stopping you from starting now? I'm right here.

RVCBard

sorry for the lack of formatting.

Kerry Reid

Here are a few women playwrights I know and like in Chicago:

Tanya Saracho
Marisa Wegrzyn
Mia McCullough
Emily Schwartz
Nambi E. Kelley
Lydia Diamond (not really in Chicago anymore -- but started out here. Now in Boston)

Those are just a start top of my head. Anybody wants more, I can easily provide a few thumbnail ideas of what I like about them.

Ken

The theater world increasingly seems to be a series of cliques. Depending on what area of theater you're interested in working in (commercial Broadway, Off and 0ff-off, regional, etc.), you've got to convince the cool kids that you're worthy. And that means, as Joshua said it above, your play has to fulfill THEIR needs. It doesn't have to be great, it just has to have a use. Not that anything I've written is necessarily "great," but from the wonderfully complimentary rejection letters that I've received over the years, I get the idea that they have liked a lot of things about my work, but ultimately it didn't fit in with what they think they should be doing (whether that means it wasn't hip or cool enough, or wouldn't show off their particular talents enough, I don't know). A guy can only receive so many rejection letters that use the words "compelling", "well-crafted", "gripping", "great characters", etc., without realizing that quality has little to do with whether someone picks your play. So, it's no wonder that female writers, and writers of color are underrepresented. However, that may change when it becomes hip to do their work, but then it might change back again just as suddenly when the winds of theatrical fashion shift, and the prevailing theater clique grows bored.

RLewis

"...the prevailing theater clique..." i'm soooo confused. I don't have a problem with strawmen or strawwomen, but, specifically, who are these people? And just what are they prevailing over?

Ken

I'm not saying there is an organized cabal, and I don't want my post to just seem like my own private sour grapes, but whoever is choosing what plays any particular institution produces should be open to some kind of questioning about why they choose what they choose.

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