I'm excited to start this blog-thru through the Outrageous Fortune. Given the kind of summary feel of the first chapter, it's hard to kind of avoid the rest of the book and drill down into specifics. So let me first say this: to echo Matt and J, Outrageous Fortune is in a way totally unsurprising and in another way kind of profound. Unsurprising because I don't think there's much in this book that will be any kind of shock to people who work in or write about this industry. Profound because no one's bothered to set out and see whether the shit was bitch about on blogs-- or say to each other over pints at South's-- and see if it was just empty blather or an actual reflection of our industry. And now we have data! And charts! And interviews! And by putting them all together and interviewing both artistic directors and playwrights (not to mention other theatre professionals) we get a pretty comprehensive picture.
But what is it a picture of? Ah, there's the thing. This is a picture of a very specific slice of American Theatre. They're open about this, in fact they say it over and over again: Outrageous Fortune surveys roughly 5% of the American Theatre landscape (a landscape made up of over 1900 theaters). Their focus is on what gets called The Institutional Theatre system, which is to say what people think of when they say "American Theatre", the part that those of us in the blogosphere have been increasingly saying we should stop focusing on so much.
Anyway, the first chapter is about the profound disconnect between how playwrights and Artistic Directors see the system that's creating, developing, staging and producing new plays in America. Everyone agrees its broken, but their viewpoints on that system are so different (and the conversations between them so inauthentic) that how to move forward and begin fixing it is unclear. And it's worth noting: Everything does seem to have money at its core. Where is it coming from? How are we going to get it? What pressures does money create? Who gets it, and how much, and what do they need to do to get it?
There's a weird shadow-theme running throughout this chapter... it feels frequently like Todd London et al are hinting that if we could only have more honest conversations, everything would take care of itself. This strikes me as naive, which is probably why they don't come out and say it. Certainly, a more honest (and difficult) conversation between playwrights and ADs is necessary, but how will such a thing happen?
Also, I think there's a second issue with this authenticity point, namely... you mean to tell me that artistic directors don't know the playwright's perspective? I'm pretty sure they do know, but are largely dismissive of it, they believe it's inaccurate, whiny, narrow minded and lacks understanding of how difficult and complex running a theater is. And sometimes, they may be right. There's certainly stuff within this book that struck me as an artist asking for accountability-free money to do whatever they want. It doesn't happen all that often, but the sense of entitlement does creep in from time to time. If I was an AD, that attitude would frustrate me.
One thing that emerges is there's a lot of blame to go around. ADs say they want topical, big plays that boldly address the issues of the day, but only look at small cast plays and take so long to develop them that they're not topical by the time they're staged. Playwrights want each production to be treated as something special, produced in a specific way, but get riled up when theaters want them involved in the marketing process. Etc. and so forth.
Anyway, there's a lot of stuff in this chapter that's interesting to me, so what I'm going to do today is post the occasional quote, finding etc. and let the commenters have at it.
Over to you guys!
UPDATE: Gus weighs in at length here.