One of the nice, tidy little lies we tell ourselves is that literary managers are out there, making decisions about which plays are being produced based solely on their personal tastes. That's only true for a small group of theatres. A lot of the major theatres, the ones less interested in new plays, are programming based on an already complicated rubric, one that involves whatever got the best recent review in the NY Times. Basically a lottery in and of itself.This lie is a lie for two reasons, the first being what 99 explicates here, and for anyone who wants to all be like "yeah, that's just a bunch of assumptions and hearsay" I will simply say this: One of the ways I make my living is by writing a monthly column for The Drama League about what's opening in regional theaters. So once a month, my browser goes traipsing across America to see what's on offer.
Much of it feels like it might-as-well-be random, or at least programmed by algorithm. Honestly, if you put a gun to my head and the seasons of the Huntington, Trinity Rep, Long Wharf and a few other similar theaters and asked me which season belonged to which theater, I couldn't begin to tell you. There's plenty of theaters around the country whose bread and butter is whatever (a) their artistic director likes that (b) did well in new york last year. 50-75% of their season will be made up of that, with a couple of outlier shows thrown in.
But there's a bigger lie/myth in 99's quote-- that literary managers pick seasons. They don't. They frequently act as gatekeepers that work has to progress beyond before it gets to the artistic director, but a lot of the decision making power generally rests in the AD. Portland Center Stage proved this last year... when the economic downturn hit, they eliminated their literary department.