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January 13, 2010

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Terry Teachout

Interesting, but what is the sampling universe? Year-round professional companies only, or are academic productions and classically oriented summer festivals included? What size are the theaters? Who is doing the musicals--mainstream regional theaters or companies that produce only musicals? Incidentally, I, too, have noticed exactly the same effect with respect to Odets: suddenly "Awake and Sing!" is hot after having been done on Broadway a couple of seasons (which is related, albeit peripherally, to my original point).

Tony Adams

wait is that right? Wilson 146, Shakespeare 1,163? sweet jebus.

mirroruptonature

Incidentally, I, too, have noticed exactly the same effect with respect to Odets: suddenly "Awake and Sing!" is hot after having been done on Broadway a couple of seasons...

I think over the next two years we will see a similar thing with All My Sons.

Scott Walters

It might be interesting to break these into categories: Contemporary (plays of, say, the past 10 - 20 years), 20th century, and Classic Canon (prior to 20th century). Here is how that shakes out (not vouching for accuracy -- done quickly):

Contemporary: 698 (23.9%)
20th Century: 671 (23%)
Classic Canon: 1547 (53%) ((I disagree with putting Shakespeare off to the side -- those are productions, aren't they? Without Shakespeare: 384)

Looked at another way: Contemporary vs The Rest:

Contemporary: 698 (23.9%)
The Rest (20th century and classic canon): 2218 (76.1%)

So what are we seeing in the "head" of Chris Anderson's "long tail"?

1. A whole lotta Shakespeare.
2. Half of the plays were written from 1900 unti now.
3. Not many non-Shakespearean classics.

In a a 5-play season, the generic would like something like this:

1 contemporary play
1 20th century classic
2 Shakespeare
1 Classic canon

I suspect that taking the Shakespeare festivals out of the mix might subtract one Shakespeare and replace it with a 20th century classic (guess).

Which actually sort of looks like the generic regional theatre season, doesn't it?

The question is: can we build a strong contemporary playwriting art with one slot a year? Dunno.

But I might say this: as much as I, as a former Illinois Shakespeare Festival Associate AD, love Shakespeare...maybe we need to give him a rest for a while. I mean, he only wrote 36 plays, so it isn't as if we're dealing with Lope de Vega.

David Cote

I posted this over at Wicked Stage too:

As a critic who believes that supporting good new playwrights, directors and companies is one of his duties, I find this hand-wringing over our neglected heritage dispiriting (if not insulting to artists who have taken a virtual oath of poverty for an art form they love).

Living playwrights are being produced around the country in large numbers; how is this not a good thing? (Yes, I know one problem addressed in Outrageous Fortune is the fact that too many theaters draw from a limited pool--Ruhl, Auburn, Nottage, Mamet, etc.)

But we will always have Chekhov, Williams and Shakespeare—which is to say, we will always have mediocre productions of the same 12 classics. Could we perhaps discuss why the same classics are done over and over and not more obscure works by the same authors?

mirroruptonature

Scott,

Following up on your suggested categories, I went into my spreadsheet and labeled the first 160 or so entries. I'll continue to do so.

I did except Shakespeare.

Already, here is what I have:

12 Classic Canon
39 20th Century Classics
116 Contemporary Plays

Terry Teachout

Expanding on what I posed at Wicked Stage earlier today:

Number of non-Shakespeare classics done this season by:
Arena: 0
Arden: 0
La Jolla: 0
Hartford Stage: 0
Court: 0
Two River: 0
Great Lakes: 0
Portland Center Stage: 0
Main Street, Houston: 0
Dallas Theater Center: 1 (“Death of a Salesman”)
Triad Stage: 1 (“Picnic”)
Asolo Rep: 1 (“Life of Galileo”)
Cincinnati Playhouse: 1 (“Three Sisters”)
Huntington: 1 (“All My Sons”)
Goodman: 1 double bill (“Hughie”/”Krapp’s Last Tape”)
Steppenwolf: 1 ("Endgame")
McCarter: 1 ("She Stoops to Conquer")
CenterStage, Baltimore: 1 (“Earnest”)
Long Wharf: 1 (“A Doll’s House”)
Arizona: 1 (“The Glass Menagerie”)
Guthrie: 2 (“She Stoops to Conquer” and “Streetcar”)

99

Is that this season to date? Since we're in the middle of the season (and some of those theatres might have not announced yet), is that list operative?

And wasn't the original point to cover the last ten years? Doesn't it make sense to use data that's already set?

Terry Teachout

No, that's the current 2009-10 season as announced. And I think we're still groping toward the most meaningful way of breaking down the universe of plays under discussion.

As Isaac commented earlier today on The Wicked Stage, "What are we to call something that isn't a new play and isn't a classic? It seems to me that if New Play and Classic are deserving of their own categories, there has to be a third category that captures everything else."

I agree. It strikes me on further reflection that this discussion really ought to be about three kinds of plays: new/newish plays, "contemporary" plays written since 1985, and significant plays written before 1985. You can quarrel about the exact cutoff point, but I think everybody understands the difference between "Bad Dates" and "Endgame."

99

I think those designations make sense. And I think we are moving towards an understanding on what the universe of plays looks like.

However...as Ed Sobel noted at The Wicked Stage, the Arden is producing Romeo & Juliet as well as Sunday in the Park with George this season.

99

Sorry! Just saw the "non-Shakespeare" bit. My bad.

Where does something like "A Christmas Carol" fall?

Terry Teachout

As of this year, American Theatre is specifically excluding seasonal plays from its lists, so I did the same thing.

Terry Teachout

Also, I decided on further reflection that including musicals in this discussion complicates it needlessly, not least because there are so many companies that don't do anything but musicals. And as much as I admire "Sunday in the Park" (I'm planning to review Arden's revival of it!), I don't really think they can properly count that production in the "classic" column.

99

Good to know about the seasonal plays. And musicals are a bit messy, I agree. But what of theatres that ONLY do new work or ONLY do classics? Do they cancel each other out? From Art's survey of Boston theatre, Merrimack's mission is to produce new work. Does that skew the results?

mirroruptonature

Just to be clear...

Merrimack's explicit mission is NOT "to produce new work" nor is the Huntington's. In other words, they are not exclusive to that, like, say, Playwright's Horizons would be.

We do have an entity like that in Boston - Boston Playwrights Theatre only does new plays.

I can tell you, after now labeling Scott's categories on around 400 entries in my spreadsheet - here is what I am getting:

32 Classic Canon
107 20th Century
281 Contemporary

It isn't even close.

Just to be clear: I am trying to be real distinct about contemporary. In other words, if it was produced in 2000 but its first premiere was in 1982 it falls under 20th Century not contemporary. If it was produced in 2008, but its premiere production was in 2000 then I am calling that contemporary.

Jump

What would happen to these numbers, I wonder, if you removed the most frequently-produced play from each writer's oeuvre? In other words, what happens to each playwright's number if ART no longer counts for Reza, CROWNS no longer counts for Taylor, PROOF no longer counts for Auburn, etc. I bet you'd be looking at a very different list. Whereas if you pull, say, FENCES from August Wilson, he will still make the list without any problem.

Are these the major writers of the time? And are theatres really behind this group? ... Or is the list of writers really just the list of plays that are guaranteed sellers? Does the theatre community no longer get behind writers in that way? ... Or do larger companies just not want to mess with a good thing? Why push Auburn to write something new when you know that everyone will have a nice time at PROOF?

Just a thought experiment. That said, I could watch Shakespeare (done well) forever and be just fine.

Kris Vire

I'm loving this discussion, but just to throw a wrench into the works in re: Art's first comment: All My Sons was produced at the beginning of this season in Chicago (and quite well, by TimeLine Theatre), but a handful of companies had been clamoring for the rights for some years, dating back well past the recent Broadway revival. Another more gorilla-sized company had been sitting on the local production rights before finally giving them up.

Donatella

This conversation is absolutely fascinating and thrilling, but instead of using TCG's search engine to determine the number of professional productions per play, why not ask the licensing companies? I realize, however, that such an investigation would ignore plays not in copyright and the licensing companies may not want to release such information.

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