By Isaac Butler
May I present to you, Upstairs-Downstairs Abbey:
This blog has (mostly) stayed out of the contretemps surrounding Arena Stage’s play submission policy (short version: they’ve stopped taking new play submissions, sort-of, for the long version read on below). There’s been two posts here on the subject, one linking to David Dower’s letter to Hal Brooks explaining the policy and one linking to Hal Brooks’s response. That second post noted that I leaned towards Hal on this issue.
This is going to be the third of these. Apparently, there has also been going on a loud a fairly angry conversation about it on other parts of the internet. Polly Carl discusses that conversation at great length here, and you should check that out.
One of the reasons I’ve stayed away from the conversation for awhile is that I wanted to resist the natural blogging tendency to provide more heat than light, to opine without really considering what’s going on, without talking to the people involved. While the instantaneous nature of blogging is one of its great assets, there are times when it can be confusing and less than helpful and in my odd hybrid role of writer/commentator/semi-retired-director and friend of many of the people involved in this story, I could wait, ask some questions and think.
Here’s where I am as a result of that. Before we begin, I should note that Arena Stage’s David Dower whom much of this controversy has centered on is a friend. He’s not only a friend, but he has also hired me to do freelance writing for Arena in the past, for which I was compensated a small amount and given travel to and from Washington, D.C. twice. That was when we met and became friendly, although we had been corresponding on the internet before then for some time. David’s not the only friend of mine involved in this, but since we have also had financial dealings in the past, it’s important to note in interests of full disclosure.
I have to admit, exploring this issue, it was hard for me to get my dander up in any direction. I read tweets from playwrights saying they felt personally hurt by Arena’s “new submission policy” and could not understand what they meant. For me, this question is a wonky one: What is the best policy for Arena to pursue vis-à-vis submissions given the new American play mission they're building out, their values, their goals, the institutional priorities and history, what the field needs and the realities of limited resources and man hours?
After talking to David and following the conversation for a while, I am fairly convinced (but open to discussing it) that the policy Arena is following right now is the right one. I don’t think they’ve done a fantastic job of explaining it, and confusion over what the policy is and how we got here is one of the reasons why the conversation has gotten so heated. So I’m going to try to explain it as best I understand it now and explain why I feel they’re making the right choice. Or should I say, a right choice, given the circumstances (there are probably others). It’s been difficult to even see what that choice is, however, because of three major points of confusion.
Confusion Point 1: PlayPenn
Let’s start where this conversation started: PlayPenn, a new play development conference held in Philadelphia. According to Hal Brooks’s post, Dower:
“began speaking by putting the playwrights in attendance on notice: they only have five years to get their plays produced. The landscape is changing. Funding will no longer be heading towards (singular) playwrights and instead is shifting towards groups who create devised work. David seemed to be saying, `You’d better get your plays produced now, or you won’t have a chance.’ It felt like a dire, stern warning.
Did I hear him right? Does David really believe that theaters are going to stop producing plays written by the singular playwright? (I’ll stop using the term “singular playwrights.” Let’s call them playwrights.) Are developmental conferences like PlayPenn, Ojai, BAPF, the O'Neill, Sundance, Cape Cod Theatre Project, Seven Devils, and JAW West completely obsolete? Is playwriting the horse and buggy of the new millennium?”
Over the phone, I asked David about this. He told me that he was surprised at Hal’s reading of his comments until he talked to more people who were at PlayPenn and learned that many people in attendance came away with the same interpretation. “I was having part two of a conversation that they weren’t at part one of,” he told me, “There had been a dinner prior to the panel where all this stuff got layed out. The question I was asked then was about an actor wanting to know if they had to wait for playwrights. Should [Play Penn] be making space for devised work at the festival and could I talk about it?”
As a result, “people did mishear me. Actually, they probably heard me, but what I meant to communicate wasn’t communicated.” Dower was trying to diagnose what was happening on the infrastructure side of the new play field as a way of motivating playwrights to “capture” the New Play resources. “The attention of these resources is moving towards devised work. There is fatigue [in the funding community] for focusing on playwrights and that is what concerns me… I’m worried the spotlight is going to move from the playwright at a time when those resources haven’t been captured.” Citing the birth of the regional theater movement—a birth Arena Stage was part of—David said he was trying to alert people to the need to “build the infrastructure for playwrights to stand on now and into the future… Right now we have the resources and we’re spending it all on ourselves. Can we build and sustain a more rational network of opportunities for writers?”
In a follow up e-mail, David clarified further that what he meant by captured was captured “into any sustainable, permanent improvement for the lives of playwrights… they have been captured into one-off things like `some new plays have been developed, some playwrights are on salary, some new festivals have sprung up’ but none of this lasts beyond the period of interest of the funding community.” David’s chief concern, then was that when funders lost interest in new plays and moved on to, say, devised work that everything that had been built up in the past twenty years would vanish.
Clearly, this is not how David’s comments were heard. Instead, what many at PlayPenn perceived was a one-two punch of the suck: Here was Arena’s New Play guy, the founder of the New Play Institute, author of the gateways of opportunity study for the Mellon Foundation, telling them not only that they had five years to make it before the money dried up but that a major institutional player—Dower’s own theater!— was no longer taking submissions.
People who I spoke to about David’s talk additionally complained of a third problem: Arena Stage artistic staff did not attend the actual presentations of work at PlayPenn. From their point of view, Dower had declared that funding was going to move away from playwrights and that the way to get work done at Arena was to get your work seen by Arena and then had high-tailed it out of town without seeing any work. The fury grew from there.
Confusion Point 2: Submissions and Arena’s Submission Policy
But does Arena really not take submissions anymore? This is the main issue in the conversation, but having read the comments on Polly, Hal and David’s posts, there seems to be a big confusion about what the word submission even means. Part of the confusion is right there in David’s “Letter To Hal Brooks.”: David is mainly talking in his post about opensubmissions—the policy of a theater taking any script sent to them by anyone and logging, reading and reviewing them. Hal is pretty clearly talking about professional submissions, which are submissions to a theater done on behalf of a playwright by agents, literary managers at other theaters, artistic directors of New Work festivals etc.
No one I know who works regularly in the mainstream American theater system cares about open submissions for a theater the size of Arena. Heck, most of them don’t care about them period. I’ve written about this before here at Parabasis: very few LORT and TCG theaters take open submissions seriously, even if they have an open submissions policy. Playwright development organizations like The Lark and New Dramatists are a different story, but they have a different mission. Open Submissions are a way for theaters to placate playwrights, funders and audiences. They’re a way to make it seem like institutions are more open than they actually are and pretty much everyone working in that circuit knows it and will cop to it off the record if you ask them.
David himself cops to this in his “Letter To Hal Brooks,” it just happens to not be what Hal was actually asking when he said “how do we get our plays to you?” He meant (to paraphrase) “How do I, Hal Brooks, who runs new play festival theaters and other likeminded profressionals get my writers to be read and noticed by you?”
Because of this confusion, it appeared that Arena is not reading scripts anymore period. It appeared they were taking the Guthrie route (the Guthrie officially takes no submissions from anyone) even though they do more new work than the Guthrie. It felt to many I spoke to that Arena was throwing out a flawed-but-formal system and replacing it with a policy that was entirely social in nature: get someone at Arena to like you or somehow convince them to come see a reading and maybe your work will get produced there. It felt, in other words, like an enshrinement of the kind of nepotism that can corrupt a theater.
Having read the conversation back and forth, I was confused about this issue too, so I put it to David. He gave me some backstory on the new policy (which has actually been in place since 2009). Recounting a conference call he had with a group of agents, he said he first came clean about what Arena was doing with all the plays they were getting, “the literary manager is allocating these plays to interns, back come their reports, they get logged, a letter gets written, I sign it. Honestly, that [was] the process.”
The people he spoke to were, as one might suspect, both appalled and confirmed in what they thought was really going on the whole time. After noting that this system existed simply because Arena was getting too many scripts to operate in any other way, he hashed out a new policy. What they discovered is that, “playwrights wanted to have a conversation with the actual person who read the play,” and that Arena wanted people “to send us plays that they thought [Arena] was looking for.”
This lead to a new policy: First, open submissions were done away with entirely. Second, for professional submissions—those from agents and other professionals in the new play sector—David asks that they “send me or Molly or Edgar or Amrita an e-mail saying `this playwright is working on this play. We think it’s related to what you’re doing.’ We will read that e-mail and if there’s something there, if we think they’re right, we’ll get them to send it. Sometimes we say yes. Sometimes we say no and explain why. So it becomes a dialogue with them about submissions.”
With this new policy, Arena is still reading scripts. Between the artistic staff, Arena covers roughly three to five hundred scripts a year sent by agents and other advocates for playwrights.
On the phone with David, I likened this to a query letter system in publishing (many magazines take letters detailing a potential article or essay or review before looking at the review itself). “The big difference,” he said “is that we are unable to respond as much to individuals writing on their own behalf. We’re trying to do two things simultaneously. We’re engaging in authentic dialogue with advocates for plays and we’re putting ourselves out there in the world, in the physical world at conferences and the festival world and scouting new work and also through online discussions.”
In other words, Arena doesn’t have a no submissions policy. The answer to the question Hal was asking is a simple one: “write me an e-mail when you think you have a script that’s right for Arena.” But due to confusion over what the questions even were and what were the issues at stake, this became difficult to see.
If people want to discuss and argue over the policy articulated above, I’m all ears (and eyes). Having talked to David, I think it makes sense. But there may be problems with it I am not seeing.
Confusion Three: Arena, New Playwrights and New Plays
A few years back, Arena announced the formation of the New Play Institute. The launch of the Institute coincided with a lot of other activity in the New Play Sector including the publication of Outrageous Fortune, and Arena’s administration of a new grant in new play development and production funded by the NEA. Under Molly Smith’s Artistic Direction, Arena Stage has been reshaping itself into a theater devoted to American Plays and the American Experience specifically (for those of you who didn’t grow up in DC, when I was a child Arena was the place you went to see Strindberg and Arthur Miller) and the Institute was part and parcel of that.
It felt to many people that perhaps the doors of Arena were opening to new writers as well as new plays. They weren’t. Or rather, they were, but not in the way people thought.
The New Play Institute is not a producing body. It does not develop, nor does it produce plays, nor will it. The NPI’s job is to study the landscape of the American Theater and determine new ways to help new plays flourish. It’s not part of Arena’s producing mission. To use a political metaphor, it’s essentially an infrastructure and civic planning policy think tank. This is the door that’s open to emerging playwrights. While there’s been some controversy over the closed door nature of the convenings, the NPI invites a pretty broad range of people down to talk about new play issues and they’ve been quite engaged with internet conversation.
That said, Arena stage never has been and never really was going to be a home for producing new plays by emerging playwrights. They were never going to be the kingmaker. That’s not their history, that’s not their mission and it’s not what their staff or spaces or board are really set up to do.
This, again, might bug you. I’d definitely be interested in reading someone making the argument for why Arena specifically should be focusing more on earlier career writers. I’m just saying that would be a fairly radical break with what they do. It’s also in my opinion not what the DC theater community needs. DC already has one of the country’s best new play theaters in Woolly Mammoth, Studio is moving into the New Play sector as well, it now has a playwrights support organization in Inkwell, many other theater companies like Forum and Roundhouse are doing new plays.
There are many other institutions whose history and legacy and mission and identity centers more on finding emerging writers, on launching new voices to a larger stage. Many of those theaters have abandoned or cut down on that aspect of their producing as they’ve gotten shinier, more expensive new buildings and as people close to the mission of theater on their boards have been replaced with corporate fundraisers. This problem was really the fuel that burned within us first and second gen theater bloggers, this problem created 13P. And while there’s been some improvement on many fronts,Outrageous Fortune shows us how much work is left to be done. According to that book, mid-career playwrights are underserved by the funding community in particular ways that are different from newer writers and require their own solutions. Someone trying to tackle that problem doesn’t bother me, although I join Hal in hoping that one of the residency slots at Arena could go to someone a earlier in their journey as the kind of producing help, financial backing and knowledge the residency supplies would be of greater benefit to someone who hasn’t been produced that often.
By Isaac Butler
There's something going on in our culture where we want to find common ground with people. Particularly people with whom we disagree. The greater the disagreement, the greater the search for common ground.
The latest example of this I've found was this article in the Guardian about Julian Baginni's quest to find common ground between atheists and religious people (mainly Christians) by, well, neutering religion. He's written out what he thinks some articles of a "reasonable faith" which include, amongst other things, agreeing that perhaps nothing supernatural has ever occured, that God is a metaphor for something else and that the Bible was entirely written by people.
Not suprisingly, no one has signed on to these articles, leading Baginni to write, " since the main purpose of posting my articles of 21st-century faith was to find out just how many could support them, the project is not worthless if we find out the answer is hardly anyone at all."
Now, it appears that perhaps the purpose behind Baginni's articles wasn't really common ground but instead to show that religious people are arguing in bad faith when they assert their problem with New Atheists is that they focus too much on "the supernatural aspects of religion" and thus "miss the point.":
...the rejection of the articles suggests that either most liberal religious commentators and leaders are inconsistent or incoherent; or that they ultimately do believe that when it comes to religion, creeds and factual assertions matter; belief that supernatural events have occurred here on Earth is required; religion can make quasi-scientific claims; and that human intellect and imagination are not enough to explain the existence of religious texts. If that is indeed the case then DiscoveredJoys is right that when it comes to belief: the middle ground is virtual deserted.
Which is all fine and good, I suppose, but I wonder why we need to find common ground between people who believe in God and people who don't. Or rather, why we'd search for common ground within the nation of things people believe. The common ground between Atheists and Religious people is not things they believe, it's secularism in government and the protection of religious freedom.
When you have two diametrically opposed groups, the common ground you are going to find is not going to be about the thing they're diametrically opposed to. It's going to be something else that's in their mutual self-interest. The problem (to loop around to politics for a moment here) with Obama and the Democrats negotiating strategy is that the Republicans have defined their self-interest as Democrats not getting reelected. There's no common ground to be had there, and thus tactics need to shift to extreme negotiating postures, hardball and hostage taking. And it just so happens the Democrats have two pretty damn good hostages at their disposal.
by 99 Seats
For various reasons, I have found myself surrounded by 20-somethings of late. I swear I'm not seeking out their company. They just keep popping up. Honest.
One way they've shown up in my life is through teaching. I've been teaching a section of Intro to Playwriting at NYU's Playwrights Horizons Theater School this fall. It's been a really fun and interesting experience. My teaching/mentoring experiences have generally either been with high schooler or with post-graduate semi-professional writers. It's been a while since I worked on the college level, so that took some adjusting. My particular group of kids have been...well, honestly? Great. They've been great. Smart, attentive, inquisitive, just the right amount of cheeky and disrespectful, diligent and unexpectedly passionate. I say "unexpectedly" not because they're young (they're mainly second-year students), even though they are, but most of them are not playwrights (at least not currently). They're young actors and, let's be frank, young actors tend to be pretty passionate about just one thing: being a young actor. These kids, though, have taken to the world of playwriting and the playwriting workshop with gusto. It's been pretty gratifying.
But now, I'm reaching a bit of a tender point: the post-mortem class. Our final session of the year, we're going to have a good old-fashioned "rap" session (Does anyone, anyone at all still call them "rap" sessions? Anyone?) and talk about the class, what they learned, how they experienced it, what I can improve on, etc. But I also want to talk to them about theatre, about the field they're heading into, the world they'll be heading into, what they can really expect. I want to talk to them about the absurdly high unemployment rate for artists in general and theatre artists in specific. The incredibly low chance of "material" success in the arts (however you want to define that) ahead of them. I've grown to think of the "If you love anything else, go do it" speech I'm pretty sure we all got at one point or another is a hoary cliche, but...I want to tell them something. I may not ever see any of these kids again and I want to give them something.
What would you say? What advice/counsel/words of warning or encouragement would you give a 19-year old theatre arts student who has just completed their first official playwriting course?
By Isaac Butler
Earlier this week, Michael Kaiser confessed to being wary of social media's abiltiy to open the doors and let the rabble into the marketplace of ideas. I don't think Kaiser's thoughts on this subject merit much consideration, but then again, I don't think much of anything Kaiser says is worth considering, which is why I don't read him. I already know what the consensus wisdom amongst institutional types is. In this particular case, even were I sympathetic to one of the most powerful institutional arts folks bemoaning the fact that less powerful people than he might have their voices heard, the truth of the matter is that ship has sailed and the question is not "should we be happy about it?" but rather "what's next?"
Writing in response to this post, Howard Sherman mentions that he and WaPo reviewer Peter Marks have "met" via social networking and become friendly conversationalists about issues involing theater:
Peter Marks of The Washington Post and I have struck up a series of impromptu, friendly debates on Twitter on a variety of theatrical topics, all in the limited forum that Twitter provides to explore any idea at length or in depth. I think these discussions take on a greater meaning in light of a Huffington Post blog from earlier today by Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser, in which he bemoaned the fate of the professional critic and confessed to being scared of the cacophony of individual voices making their opinions known online.
I happen to think what has sprung up between Peter and me — and the various people who follow or join our conversation — is almost an ideal of what social media can achieve and proof that the barrier between critic and audience, amateur and professional need not be stringently maintained — as if it could be.
I have many thoughts on this. But the first one is this: Howard Sherman is not an actor slaving away in the indie theater circuit in, say, Cleveland finally happy that his concerns can be taken seriously by the media and theatrical elite. Howard Sherman is the theatrical elite. His bio includes stints as the head of the American Theatre Wing and being executive director of The Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center in Waterford, CT. If Howard Sherman wanted to talk to Peter Marks, he doesn't need twitter, he could just pick up the phone or shoot him an e-mail.
I agree with Howard that there's great things going on in terms of social media putting people in touch. In fact, Terry Teachout wote a piece on this very subject in the Wall Street Journal over five years ago after he saw a play that George Hunka and I collaborated on that he learned of only because we talked about it on our blogs. Parabasis has been enormously instrumental in my own career and life. There's tons of people on all levels of the industry that I only know because of this blog, and I'm grateful for it.
But I'm not sure the ideal of social media w/r/t the arts is to help people network. And I'm very sure my personal ideal isn't that it help well established powerful people in the industry network. That's not opening any doors, and that's not what Michael Kaiser is so scared of.
UPDATE: For more of a response to Kaiser, see Jeremy's take at Culturebot.
By Isaac Butler
Matt Yglesias discusses how the United States basically relies on patriotism to us from falling into the kind of interstate financial issues that are holding up European recovery measures:
Kentucky (population 4.3 million) and the San Francisco / Oakland / Fremont Metropolitan Statistical Area (population 4.3 million) do share a currency. They do this despite the fact that Kentucky has a longstanding lack of competitiveness relative to San Francisco. Eighty-seven percent of San Franciscans have high school degrees compared to just 80 percent in Kentucky. Forty-three percent of San Franciscans have bachelor’s degrees to just 20 percent of Kentuckians. Not surprisingly, San Francisco’s workers are much more productive, earning a median household income of $74,000 to Kentucky’s $40,000.
The way this is made to work is by long-term, sustained, open-ended financial transfers to Kentucky. Overall taxation in the United States is not very redistributive because state and local governments use regressive tax bases. But that means that federal taxes and transfers — i.e., the ones that matter for the SF/Kentucky relationship — are highly redistributive. Hard work, prudent investment, and human capital development in San Francisco are taxed to support indolence in Kentucky. And note that it’s not just poor people in Kentucky who are winning out in this arrangement. Kentucky is full of doctors and hospital administrators who think of themselves as hard working, highly educated professionals working in the private sector. But they’re living in a dreamland where their customers can afford their services thanks to taxes paid in San Francisco. Absent Medicare and Medicaid, health care professionals in Kentucky would see their incomes plummet with secondary consequences for the people who those professionals buy goods and services from. Nor does San Francisco demand any kind of conditionality for this assistance. Kentucky is not, to my knowledge, doing anything on the structural side to ameliorate its fundamental lack of competitiveness. What’s more, the structure of San Francisco to Kentucky transfers is perverse. If Kentucky implements new bad anti-growth policies, it will get moretransfers from San Francisco. If it improves its policies and finds a way to grow, the transfers will diminish.
And yet, while there of course are people who argue for making the tax code more regressive, for cutting Medicare, and for cutting Medicaid there’s nobody who runs for office by objecting to SF/Kentucky transfers as such. What we have is a classic left-versus-right dispute about progressive taxation and income redistribution. That’s because Americans, whether in San Francisco or in Kentucky, generally conceive of ourselves as all living in one country. We act either on behalf of narrow personally selfish claims or else broad idealistic concerns about what’s right and proper for the country as a whole. But if that spirit broke down, the whole national economy would have a very different feel.
I was tempted to title this post "Scott Walters Bait," and it, to some extent, is (Yglesias is clearly using "indolence" above as a kind of rhetorical trick, for example). I find that one of the odd issues facing the arts, one of the many many things that makes the arts different is that in terms of federal subsidy for urban or rural existence, the arts is somewhere where this formula runs backwards. Most of the dollars go to people in metropolitan areas and people in rural areas are underserved by federal arts largesse.
Or to put it another way, I think it's pretty much demonstrably true that people in populous areas particularly coastal ones are subsidizing less populous areas with their tax dollars. I am totally fine with this arrangment. I wish it were more a part of the national conversation. I don't think this is true when it comes specifically to the arts. And I'd be fine with reorienting our federal arts money to reflect that. More seeding, less sustaining, in other words.
By Isaac Butler
Kevin Drum draws our attention to this fascinating LA Times piece on the gradual mainstreaming of fundamentalist Orthodox Judaism (aka heredim) within Israel. Check it out!
By Isaac Butler
As "The 300" is a vile, talentlessly made hate crime of a film, clearly the only way to make it better is to just edit together all the homoeroticism the film itself is ashamed of and set it to a gay anthem from the 70s:
by 99 Seats
We're going to be seeing this quite a lot for a long time.
But let's not lose sight of this fact: brain fart aside, the idea that he's peddling is patently INSANE. And awful governing. On the merits, simply eliminating whole agencies for reasons that are completely unexplained or unexplored (thanks, CNBC, for the crackerjack moderating) is a bad, bad, bad idea. But, you know what? It's a fairly mainstream Republican idea right now. This is what passes for a solid policy idea from the right, pretty much the only one that doesn't involve making war or giving rich people more money.
Rick Perry's campaign is going to be over because he couldn't remember a part of a terrible, no-good idea that, if clearly stated, wouldn't have affected his campaign at all. Let that sink in.
Still. It's pretty funny to watch him stammer. Heh.
By Isaac Butler
So says Katherine Bradbury of the Boston Fed:
Using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and a number of mobility concepts and measures drawn from the literature, this paper examines family income mobility levels and trends for U.S. working-age family heads and spouses during the time span 1969–2006, based on a post-tax, post-transfer concept of income adjusted for family size. By most measures, mobility is lower in more recent periods (1995–2005) than in the late seventies and the eighties (the 1977–1987 or 1981–1991 periods). Comparing results based on pre-government income suggests that an increasingly redistributive tax and transfer system contributed to rising mobility into the 1980s, but that its impact has since waned. Overall, the evidence indicates that over the 1969-to-2006 time span, family income mobility across the distribution decreased, families’ later-year incomes increasingly depended on their starting place, and the distribution of families’ lifetime incomes became less equal.
One thing we can be thankful to Occupy Wall Street for is that stories like this are actually getting play as the media tries to figure out why an inchoate mass that ranges from anarchists to ex-Marines is touching such a nerve.
By Isaac Butler
I'll go ahead and just outsource this post to Jay Rosen:
He can remain as host of On the Media.
But if a freelancer for WNYC, Caitlin Curran, stands with Occupy Wall Street, by carrying a sign with a passage from the Atlantic.com about corrupt practices in the financial industry, that’s an obvious ethics violation.
And she must be removed.
Are we all clear now?
The above is an exact description of something that has transpired at WNYC, New York City’s powerful NPR affiliate. Follow me on this, and if you are having trouble believing it… click the links.
You read what the man said... follow him down the media rabbit hole!
I'm a big WNYC fan but guys, c'mon, if you have a standard, apply it consistently.
By Isaac Butler
I have a feeling this week is going to see me defending Arena Stage quite a bit.
Peter Marks pens a piece alledging some kind of shadowy wrongdoing on Arena Stage's part for closing their latest New Play Convening to the public and the press. Arena Stage bans media, public from new-play conference goes the sensationalist headline, and the text of the article ain't much better:
I would love to have been able to report on the quality of all of these exchanges, on the dynamic in Arena’s handsomely refurbished rooms, as some very smart people wrestled with an issue unequivocally central to the creative health of American drama. For it is in substantial measure the strength of the relationship between the nation’s nonprofit theaters — the heavy water-carriers of new-play development in this country — and the commercial sector that will determine in the broadest sense how much reach and impact original plays and their authors will have on the culture.
But for reasons that remain opaque, Arena decided to close all of the conference to the public with the promise that the company would, in time, publish a “white paper” summarizing its contents. (It hired theater academic Diane Ragsdale, whose theater blog “Jumper” appears on the influential Web site ArtsJournal.com to write up the conference.) And as a result, I think, a rare opportunity was squandered to bring this important colloquy fully into the light.
Nope! Not if you want the attendees to speak authentically, it's not. I've been an attendee at two of these convenings, playing the Diane Ragsdale role of paid chronicler, and both times I got to witness some very blunt and occasionally heated dialogue. To give one example, when the black playwrights convening occured, many playwrights shared stories of discrimination off the record for fear of being blackballed by the American Theater System.
Not everything needs to be 100% open all the time. Yes, many of the past convenings have had some public component, a reading or a panel discussion, for example.
But in this article, Peter Marks takes what is essentially a long kvetch about not getting the access he wanted and turns it into a larger philosophical issue, including this kicker paragraph:
But the most disappointing aspect of denying spectator status to others in the field may be that it sends an unfortunate message of exclusivity to the constituency that cares about this issue most of all: the emerging generation of playwrights and theater-company managers who desperately need to feel the encouragement of those in higher places. The 1 percent in that room are required with opportunities such as this one to fling open the doors to the other 99.
This is way way off base. While the decision-making processes of theaters does need to be more transparent, that doesn't mean that every single conversation had amongst colleagues about the state of the field needs to happen in the open. The most important thing to happen in the conversation about new plays in America in years was the publishing of Outrageous Fortune, a book that is 100% anonymous and based on private conversations. Theater is a small, very social industry. If you want to get something productive done, every now and then you have to insist on privacy.
Furthermore, without a full list of attendees-- something Marks as a journalist could've gotten his hands on-- I am not sure the 99%/1% analogy is even apt. At the convenings I've been to, people on all levels of the industry have been invited to participate. Even if this particular convening involved largely elites within the industry, most of the past ones have not. The diversity convening, for exmaple, included academics, people running community spaces, individual artists, household names and nobodies. Claiming the OWS mantle on this one is just absurd.
By Isaac Butler
So it looks like Democrats on the Super Committee are starting to float trial balloons about joining John Boehner to destroy Social Security. Of course, they won't say "destroy" they'll say "fix." But this is the thing, Social Security isn't really broken. It needs some very, very minor adjustments fairly far in the future. Kevin Drum outlines what they are here:
If we gradually raise the payroll tax from 6.2% to 7.2% and gradually raise the earnings cap from $100,000 to $250,0001 between 2030 and 2050, Social Security will be solvent forever.
Does that sound all that scary? No. We have to gradually fix it over the course of a decade, almost twenty years from now. If we wanted to make big changes to it, we could eliminate the earnings cap entirely and then lower everyone's rate and still solve the "problem."
This is one of the reasons why rhetoric matters. For years, Republicans (and some Democrats) have been talking about fixing the problems with "Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security," and we (and the media) have been leting them get away with it. But the problems are very, very different. Medicare is too expensive for our Government, but the steps to repair it are things like comparative effectiveness review boards and allowing the Government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices, things that make health care in general cheaper rather than cut the program. What's "broken" about Medicaid is that we don't spend enough money on it, so too few doctors accept it. Social Security has minor financing problems out in the distant future.
Lumping all three of these things together makes it easier to talk about cutting the social safety net. But Social Security is not driving our deficit. People who are working today and funding today's retireees are doing so under the assumption that they will be similarly taken care of. It's one of the few such contracts that undergird our society, that link us together in a common interest. I think it's a very, very stupid idea for Democrats to start floating the idea of tampering with that. Their gamble is that if they say they'll do it in exchange for tax increases, they'll never have to do it. But even allowing the possibility makes it easier for Social Security to be cut ten years from now.
(PS: Social Security is also a social safety net that it is particularly important to minority reitrees, and this is only likely to be more true as we trduge into the future)