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December 19, 2009

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Lucas

Radical but radically flawed.

First of all it makes an assumption of similarity between a mathematically based assessment tests and art. Wrong. All plays "above a certain level" are not only not equal, they are radically disparate, different and unequal. And that is a good thing. The analogy does not hold. A truly brilliant play and a good play are totally different experiences. One is art and one is a entertaining diversion.

Secondly it takes human agency out of the planning process. Since his post is about making sweeping generalizations about big thinkers, I'll do the same. In "Get Back in the Box" Douglass Rushkoff makes a well reasoned stance against the mechanized unthinking modes of production. It is individual expertise that is central to success. He argues that this form of mechanization is what has been destroying the soul of many corporations. Perhaps taking the managing directors out of the loop and putting the literary managers more directly in the loop could potentially solve the issue, but that is a guess at best.

Third it still, at its core, holds the fundamental class and race bias through the initial selection process. There is no guarantee that the person(s) tasked with reading the initial pile of scripts would have any better discernment than someone selecting an individual play from the pile. And it would take discernment unless the process was wholly mechanized(which he appears to advocate).

Fourth it would increase diversity. But it would do so through a diversity of mediocre plays which are at least above a "certain level." This would further drive audiences towards other modes of entertainment.

Back to the second point, the whole idea of choosing a play by rubric is as terribly flawed as when business people take over as artistic directors and apply formula's to pick seasons. Art by committee fails and choosing plays by some mathematical guideline may work for an academic season where artistic integrity is placed second to "learning" but it is an awful idea for an artistic institution.

Fifth, it destroys any attempt to make the work local and specific. Institutions which bias local plays and artists in an effort to build a local community would find themselves producing plays for which they do not have the right talent. Available acting pools would not necessarily be able to support the work now commissioned without any guarantee of finding comparable talent to perform the piece that does not entail shipping artists in from out of town, thus negatively impacting local talent pools and community even further.

Of course these are only a few initial thoughts on the idea. Perhaps my thinking would change with more time.

Jack Worthing

Thank you, Lucas. I think we all want to hear as many stories as we can, but Walters etc. are so desperate for 'diversity' that they'll practice tokenism in order to achieve it. Minority playwrights coming to the top of the pile just because of who they are? Pardon me? Let's replace one flawed credential-based system with another, then. Walters' post also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how plays are evaluated. Yes, it's pretty easy to separate the cranks and illiterates from the submission pile. But from the rest, it often takes until page 50 or 60 to figure out what the writer is attempting and how successful they are at it. So Walters wants 'competent' minority work -- evaluated from a 'rubric' (to hell with patience and reasoning, does a writer tick my boxes??) -- to be given greater weight. And I'd assume that he'd prefer the 'competent' play to be produced over, say, the new Richard Nelson. And I must ask:

HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW THE PLAYWRIGHT IS BLACK, GAY, FEMALE, ASIAN, HANDICAPPED, OR FROM MARS?!

Let's say the play is about an elderly Japanese-American war veteran and his lesbian caretaker. The playwright's name is Leslie Wilson. How many points does it get?

Story is not a reliable indicator of background. Have Walters and his bunch thought of that? Or do they cling to liberal orthodoxy so hard that they take a black writer aping Philip Barry (hello 99) as a betrayal of his 'people', and chuck him in with the caucasians?

Sometimes I think that Walters etc. would prefer all stages to look alike. They want to make the theatre business (and, I fear, the creative process) a democracy. For all its flaws, I thank God it's not. I like taste, and I like a defined aesthetic. George Devine advised us to choose our theatre like we choose our religion, and I stand by that. If Walters cares so much about getting under-represented voices on stage, he should raise money and do it. I want to produce good work that I believe in, no matter the source. Walters comes close to saying that we should give everyone a chance and a trophy. That's shameful.

Josh James

What Lucas said.

And again ... sigh ... isn't this idea more than a bit condescending, anyway?

Why not choose actors for casts in the same way, pull their name out of hats ... why not choose directors the same way? And designers ... and audiences? Why not have audiences "assigned" to a show?

If we remove choice from the arena of artistic craft, is it still art? Is it still work?

It seems to me that when you restrict choice, you restrict diversity ... if you want more diversity, you offer more choice and more opportunity ... just my opinion.

Scott Walters

Well well well. This is rich. I want every theatre to be the same? As if that isn't the case right now? As if whatever play happens to be blessed by the NY critics isn't done across the country the following season? Everyone sits around kvetching about the crappy system, but nobody actually suggests and alternative.

So, let's start with Lucas. No one has said that every play above a certain level is equal -- only that the differences may not be as evident as those below a certain level. As far as objections to a rubric is concerned, let me ask you something: when a literary manager for a theatre is reading through the slush pile, whether conscious or not he or she is using a rubric -- we need a comedy with four or fewer characters and one set: that's a rubric. Going further, exactly what characteristics makes a play excellent? Since the instances of the same play being rejected by well-known producers and then becoming a hit when picked up by another, the process is currently reliant on individual taste. And where does individual taste come from? Usually, it is based on what has traditionally considered "good," what people were taught in school, i.e., the Aristotelian tradition. The result: Homogeneous theatre. And when people are all channeled through the same graduate programs, the homogeneity is reinforced. As far as local flavor is concerned, if that is what you want, make it a priority -- every theatre makes its own choices about what kind of plays it is looking for, and when it gets to the random selection part of the process, you can put in extra slips for plays with local themes. Each individual theatre is in control.

Now, Jack: the plays are read blind; once the first cut has occurred, they are matched with their names and identified according to whatever demographics you want to consider: race, gender, geography, sexual orientation, class, or whatever you want to emphasize.

Now Joshua: I think actors, directors, designers, administrators, publicity managers, or whatever COULD be hired this wayFurthermore, there is, of course, choice in the first portion of the process. What it prevents is cronyism -- Paula Vogel calling the literary manager to move one of her students' plays to the top of the pile.

Finally, look around: how many years have we been complaining about the lack of diversity in the regional theatre, and nothing changes. How can anyone argue that the status quo provides diversity?

I am not saying that this is The Answer. It is a low-cost, simple way to change the landscape a little.

Troubador

I think Scott has presented a compelling argument for the immediate introduction of a lottery system for academics.

Josh James

The choice made in the first part is no different than what's being done now ... scripts are always being divided into piles, you're simply dictating the terms of said pilings to your own specifications ... but it doesn't mean MORE choice, in fact, it means far less.

Less choice, less diversity, less opportunity ... and again, the reason people do / see / talk about art is because of the choices that are made ...

you're trying to turn an art system into a Henry Ford assembly line ... the actors / directors are assigned blindly, and the audience goes without choice or reason or regard for their tastes / needs.

It demonstrates once again that you really have little-to-no idea why it is so many of us do what we do and why.

I write because I NEED to. People produce because they NEED to. Audiences see shows because they each have an individual NEED to go.

You're suggesting that we remove that need ... the need to write / produce / direct and SEE material / plays / events that speaks to us personally and intimately and do it randomly just because it will make things "more diverse" ... though there's no real evidence that it would make things more diverse ... it could also make things "less" diverse, too.

More numbers do not guarantee the result you seek, per se.

Sorry, but I think your proposal is a bit ridiculous.

99

Josh, how is randomly selecting plays submitted making an assembly line? Isn't the same play being produced at various theatres all across the country more of an assembly line? Because that's what we have: ten theatres producing Rabbit Hole or Boom or Opus, as opposed to something more homegrown. If the theatre mandated as part of the rubric that half the plays in the kitty had to be of local provenance, they would be upping the quotient as it stands. Already people are going to the theatre (when they go) without regard for their local tastes or needs.

Regardless, this has nothing to do with why anyone writes. I write because I need to. Some theatres produce the work they feel most strongly about. Many, many theatres are producing work they think will be successful, whether they like it or not. Given that reality, random selecting the plays is virtually the same as selecting the plays based on the New York reviews. Plus it's fairer.

Josh James

99, I don't have any disagreement with you regarding all the theatres producing the same play, I would prefer that lit managers / artistic directors showed more vision / courage - I'm not saying that there is not problem ... just that forcing them to pick plays at random is not the solution, pulling it out of a hat, per se. It's not going to solve diversity problems ... pulling actors names out of a hat isn't going to solve it, either, and as I keep saying, removing choice restricts diversity rather than the other way around.

Am I offering a solution? No, I am admittedly not, it's a sticky, thorny problem ... but that doesn't make forcing theatres to do shows they don't want to do or have any connection to any less ridiculous, in my opinion.

99

The key part, though, is the pre-part: plays are still read, still given consideration, but the ultimate selection is up to a random choice. Every year, lit offices read hundreds of plays (thousands, if they take unsolicited scripts) and only have an opportunity to produce two or three. Right now, the system works by having those two or three plays being chosen, largely on the basis on reviews from some other place (i.e. New York or London), either for the play itself or for the writer. If the theatre winnowed down the number of scripts they'd like to produce to, say, ten. Ten plays they feel are good, produceable and worthwhile. I actually think any lit manager or AD can pull ten good scripts, read blind out of a pile of submissions with ease. That's the point that the random selection goes. Any of those ten scripts can be produced, already selected by the staff. If all the blind submissions went into a hopper and the three that came out were it, then, yeah, that would be untenable (though also an interesting experiment.) The blind submissions are read and evaluated, to get to the core of produceable plays. That's the key feature of it.

It's not a perfect solution, and certainly not a long-term solution (for some theatres). But does it beat the current system in providing more opportunity? I think so.

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Thanks for the constructive feedback :) regarding the Overworld limitations and linearity, I only felt it limited in the sense that you aren't truely able to 'explore' fully in the way that could in other Zelda games - remember the underground caverns you could once find? - and quite frankly I miss that and it is basically linear in the sense that your destination is already chosen, yes you are still exploring and in a wonderful new way but this Overworld 'Transport' also highlights the limitations of what Nintendo can do with a 3D Zelda game on the DS but what they 'have' achieved is still impressive and I do acknowledge that fully.

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