99Seats weighs in on chapter four of Outrageous Fortune (New Plays Onstage: Producing in the Real World) here. There's a lot of good stuff there, I suggest you read the whole thing, and I'll try not to overlap too badly.
The theme of the chapter is "Premiereitis"... the slavish desire and orientation around premieres taking place in the American theatre. Or, as one artistic director puts it on page 167 "If one whole thrust of this survey is, How can we get more worthy plays to be produced at all? Another side of it is, How can those worthy plays that do get produced, get produced again?" This theme runs through each sub-section of the chapter. Every time we seem to be headed off in a different direction, we snap right back to premiereitis.
And let's be clear: We call it "itis" for a reason. It's a sickness that's poisoning the American theatre in all sorts of ways. Writers, knowing that their play is unlikely to get subsequent productions without a big (and critically acclaimed) splash and a major theater, hold on to their scripts and end up having them produced at the very theaters that they feel uncomfortable working with. Theaters, knowing that they can get grants for first productions, don't look at plays that have had premieres elsewhere, regardless of merit. According to pg. 178 of the study, "Half of the theatres surveyed seldom or never even request scripts that have premiered at other theatres. Only one in five regularly seeks scripts that have been premiered elsewhere."
I would say another problem is the perversion of our language. As 99 talks about in his post, what is a "premiere," and what is "new" have become totally fungible to suit the needs of whoever is using them. The numbers reported on page 145 and the huge caveats that underline them show how loose this language really is. We saw it here in New York, where Blasted was given its US Premiere.... after having been produced several times in smaller markets and much lower profile theaters. I certainly know when I see the term Regional Premiere on a season, that generally means Play That Was A Hit in New York That We Finally Got The Rights To. And, in a rather creepy way, there's lots of talk about "popping the cherry" and "revirginating" plays throughout.
One interesting question about premieritis is this... Do audiences actually care about whether something is world premiere or not? Here, it seems that there is some disagreement. Or, as London says, "premieres don't automatically increase ticket sales". And that therefore, premieres are more about (a) branding, (b) making marketing easier, (c) appeasing funders and (d) raising a national profile with the press and within the industry than they are about the audience (or the artists). Keeping in mind that, generally, "audiences" and "artists" are the two groups theaters are supposed to be serving, and you see why this might all be a problem.
It seems to me that part of the issue here is about a breakdown of trust between theaters, press and audience when it comes to new work. Essentially, theaters no longer have the rep to say "this is a play we believe in, now let me explain why" and be listened to. Jason Grote's comment to this post, where he sites Woolly Mammoth is a good illustration of what happens when you have the opposite. Howard has built up a certain level of trust with his audience that lets them know "Woolly's doing this crazy ass play, you should come see it because Woolly is doing it!" and people come, and even if they hate it, they come back. Not every play Woolly does is super-daring or crazy-adventurous, but they do still push the envelope within their theatrical community (with mixed artistic success, I'd add) with some regularity, and have a devoted following.
In the absence of that trust that a play is probably going to be worth going to, you have to find all sorts of other ways to justify it. It being a premiere is a really, really sexy one.