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September 20, 2007


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I really hope the SPF is not defunct. I have applied for next year's festival, and I would hate to miss the opportunity of being turned down by them again.


The people running spf have good intentions - but they are looking for 'commercial' work and they suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of commercial theatre. The plays they choose are mostly quirky, light comedies or small-scale private dramas - the kind of writing that might work well on commercial television. The problem is that television doesn't share theatre's economics of scale and volume. A commercial play (nearly always) has to have larger-than-life character roles that will attract name actors, a cast-iron plot , and enough conflict and emotional intensity in the writing to energise the 1000 seat or more space it's going to have to inhabit to make its commercial way. The downtown-hip cute, wispy plays that tend to be championed by spf don't stand a chance.

malachy walsh

I love SPF. It's one of the things I miss most about New York.

One of the reasons I love it is simply because of the sheer volume of work that is done. And I love that I don't love all the work.

I get introduced to writers I haven't seen yet, don't know well, or just plain haven't heard of before. They don't produce writers they've already produced.

And they come with lots of great actors and directors.

For $10 you cannnot beat the experience of spending a month at Theatre Row and checking it out.

Some of it is very light. Some of it is wispy. Some of it is downtown-hip. But not all of it.

Madagascar, Pink, Mayhem, Arrivals/Departures are only a few of the quite substantial plays SPF has put up when no-one else in NY would.

Painting SPF as some kind of mono-voiced festival is unfair.

Ben Kessler

SPF provided me with a theater memory I'm sure to cherish till I'm old and grey: a play whose climax featured a half-naked man smeared with the ashes of his dead child, howling the Sesame Street theme song in a forest...then getting struck by lightning. Try topping that, Fringe Festival!


i liked 'pink' too - and i think you're slightly misunderstanding what i'm saying. i don't think spf is mono-voiced - but i think there is some pressure within the organisation to choose plays that are to some degree 'commercial', and that the qualities they see as commercial are those of commercial television, and not always of commercial theatre - so i suspect they may be excluding good plays, or including less-good ones on slightly spurious grounds... successful commercial work these days seems to be plays like 'doubt' or 'frost/nixon', not 'kitty, kitty, kitty'...

Malachy Walsh

I'm not always sure what makes a play "commercial".

And, as the many commercial failures show, many very smart producers haven't figured out a formula for it either.

For example, maybe "Doubt" is a considered commercial play, but if you described it to me in a brief sentence - a play about Catholic school molestation - I'm not so sure I'd think: Oh, that's a commercial play for sure; let's do it, we'll make a mint.

And I'm not sure I'd say that even after reading it. Instead, I think MTC's long relationship with Shanley had a lot to do with getting that show done. Had a newbie written it, well, other things probably would've had to have happened to get it done in NY.

And maybe that's a different discussion.

But it's definitely hard for me to see a play at SPF like, I don't know, Hartman's "Anatomy: 1968" and think anyone chose it because they thought it was commercial.

And there's "Indoor/Outdoor" (like "Kitty Kitty Kitty" - a cat play). I guess someone thought was commercial, but I'm not sure really is in the end. My guess - and it's just a guess - is that the play wasn't primarily chosen because it was thought to have tons of commercial potential. It was chosen because someone thought it was funny. And for some people, I know it was. That play is for them.

But it's not the only play - or the only kind of play - they did that year.

I.e., I feel like the folks over at SPF - from what I've seen at the festival - are choosing a lot of different kinds of plays with a lot of different POVs, styles and ideas. That's pretty great to me.


Let us not forget that the folks at SPF, whatever the ultimate judgment is of the works presented, give FULL PRODUCTIONS to unknown playwrights in nice venues and promote the hell out of them. I even saw a TV commercial for this year's festival A TV commercial! For an Off-Broadway play festival! You don't even have to have an agent to apply! Where else does this happen anymore? More power to them.


just in the interests of accuracy... The productions at SPF are technically "workshops", and are done with a medium showcase budget and very short rehearsal periods. THey're not *quite* full productions.


While you're technically correct, hell, I'll still take anything where the actors aren't sitting in folding chairs holding scripts. And the couple of shows I saw in this year's SPF had production values that seemed beyond the scope of a "workshop" as I understand the term (which, admittedly, is probably not very well).

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