A friend of mine who works in the play publishing business told me that he was reading Outrageous Fortune. I asked him what he thought about it. He said that he thought it was odd that they don't seem to fully address issues of supply and demand with in the book. I asked him to elaborate further. His thoughts were this:
The #newplay sector suffers pretty seriously from an overabundance of supply in terms of what the current demand is. First off, there appears to be in many areas more theatre on supply than there is demand for it. Second, there are more good plays worthy of multiple productions and a "life" than there are opportunities for them to have that life.
I thought about what he was saying, and I think he's right. Even if we fixed the problems outlined in Outrageous Fortune, the truth of the matter is that there would still probably not be enough production opportunities to give good American plays (And their writers) their due. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to fix how new plays are done in this country, but it's just worth noting.
Look again at those numbers that TCG publishes of the most produced plays in upcoming seasons. The top scorers on that top ten aren't getting that many productions, when you think about it. America has fifty states in it. TCG has 700 member theaters and organizations. The top produced play in TCG theaters usually gets around thirteen to fifteen productions. That's not really a whole lot of productions and even that top scorer isn't reaching that many people a year.
Or...to take an example of a successful and well regarded writer... I'm in the midst of reading all of Lynn Nottage's plays that are published by TCG. And you know what? I really like six of her plays. Two of them (Por'knockers and Las Meninas) I don't really connect with, but Ruined, Crumbs From the Table of Joy, Intimate Apparel, Fabulation and Mud, River, Stone are all really good. A couple of them are capital-g Great as far as I'm concerned. But because of how our system works, you're probably only going to see Ruined and Intimate Apparel. I'm not saying anyone should feel bad for Lynn Nottage's earlier plays or anything, I'm just saying that if you fixed this so that her other plays were also getting their due, you'd be taking away slots from other worthy writers and plays.
In many areas, there is barely the audience to support the current amount of theater. I've sat in enough houses where the number of paying customers was quite low to know that in New York, we produce a lot more theatre than there is demand to justify it*. And there aren't enough production opportunities out there. There just aren't. There will always be heartbreakingly underserved, underrecognized, undersupported and underproduced artists and writers. We can't fix that. We should try to come as close as possible, I really believe coming closer to that goal is quite worthy, but we should at least be humble enough to know that there are some limits.
* (I can hear scott writing the post where he talks about how there's plenty of areas with demand and little supply and I don't disagree with him but he's the expert on it, so i'll let him talk about that so long as he promises not to impugn the motives of people who don't want to live in small towns.)