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February 02, 2011


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Yeah, but isn't Norris a professional douche in the Mamet/Armond White vein? Like his profession's contrarianism.

Jack Worthing

Bruce is a nice man who's severely neurotic and self-obsessed. He would've been good on Seinfeld. His plays are about liberal hypocrites because he secretly knows that's what he is, and he hates himself for it. Martha Lavey is a nice enough woman - though a real luvvie, I never understood how she got on with that act in Chicago - and she's been on the throne far too long. Her grip on it is tight, too. She drives brave, talented people like Ed Sobel out the door and has little connection to the real world. Look at the deeply uneven Steppenwolf programming for the last 10-12 years.

Jack Worthing

For anyone listening I might suggest we discuss at some point how long an Artistic Director should stay in the job. In England it's rare to see anyone stay in the job more than 7-10 years. I'd say this is enough time to build a vision and push it to its hilt. Any longer and rot sets in, whether it's fatigue, repetition, being in the board's pocket, etc. Yes Martha, yes Lynne Meadow, yes Emily Mann, yes Carole Rothman, yes (to an arguably lesser extent) Bob Falls, yes Des McAnuff at La Jolla, yes yes yes...

Pondering It All

So basically that article is stating that regardless of the play, you have to KNOW someone. Otherwise, they aren't likely to take a chance. In other words (I'm guessing many baby boomer generation artistic directors)I'd rather go with a play that's "OK" written by someone I have a relationship with, than something that might be similar that I don't know. Am I misinterpreting ? I don't mean to sound bitchy, I'm just bummed by that article and how it might represent many other artistic directors. - Sam

Scott Walters

I should have stuck with your summary...

malachy walsh

It's news to people here that knowing people helps you get produced?

Whatever else one thinks about the interview, what Martha says in the last comment seems like common sense.

Martha: You know, if someone sent me a Bruce—okay, you know I would recognize your writing but —it’s because I know and trust you. But some of the plays, let’s say one of your earlier ones we did—The Pain and the Itch, well that’s a little dicey, right? If some anonymous person sent that to me, I would probably feel I don’t know if we should stick our neck out for this. But if it’s you, with whom we have an ongoing relationship, of course. I mean, in other words, knowing the writer makes one, makes the theatre brave.

Pondering It All

Hi Malachy, I guess I'm a little slow and naive but what's behind the "trust factor" if the piece is good?

"it’s because I know and trust you"

The Pain and the Itch by Known Bruce is no different than The Pain and the Itch by Unknown Bruce.

Martha knows Bruce, the audience is subjected to the same play regardless of relations. It's about the audience and their ticket money right?

I guess that's over simplifying maybe ? Please let me know your thoughts. I appreciate your perspective.

malachy walsh

In and out of theatre, most people hire/work with people they know. Fairly or unfairly. (And often it's unfairly, to be sure.) Thus, it's about relationships. And good or even great work can help you start a relationship, but it doesn't always translate into doing more work.

Here's a real world example. I work in advertising by day. My portfolio is full of award-winning work (inducted into the NY MoMA, featured on NBC's TODAY SHOW, etc). Often people in the industry look at it and say, Hey, nice work. But this is usually nothing more than a calling card for meeting someone, a first step in the process of knowing.

And figuring out if you can trust someone.

But the good work and 1st meetings don't always translate into jobs. Why? Because often someone who has met me once or twice and likes my work has also actually worked with someone else that they know better or longer. In the moment when they must make a choice, it's between the known, the less known and the unknown.

Generally, the human mind, even with a risk-taking bent, will veer towards the more known/trusted.

This is not always the way I'd like it to be, but these, for me anyway, seem to be the terms of the world as I've found it.

And it's why success of any kind requires more than just talent. It requires true commitment and perseverance.

Of course, that's not to say walls don't need to be broken down. And the Wasserstein prize for instance is important in that process - by awarding it to someone, that person becomes more known than before. And the process begins...

Does that help?

malachy walsh

The other half of your question: Martha knows Bruce, the audience is subjected to the same play regardless of relations. It's about the audience and their ticket money right?

Yes. And no. In part, the audience pays for the cultivation of plays/work that they trust Martha to do.

And she was chosen by a group of actors/company members based on their knowledge of her, as well.

As you can see, it's a cyclical thing. And, as implied by the Wasserstein part of the above answer, there are ways to break into/break this cycle. But the game is still knowing, no matter where you generally enter it.

Pondering It All

Much appreciated ! - Sam

Ian Thal

I haven't been at it for long, but so far this is how it has worked for me: You write something that you feel is better than much of the work by already established playwrights of your generation are doing and you send your sample pages around. You get a few solicitations and send in a script and then you wait. A few lit managers and artistic directors invite you to meet them for coffee, they discuss your script, and then ask about next script and if they can see that when it is done: so yes, forming the personal relationships are important but folk are willing to get to know you if they think you are interesting. You don't have to be their BFF, they just want to have some degree of back-and-forth with you before they commit their resources to something long term.

So I'm still unproduced, but given the solicitations and coffee invites of the past year, I'm doing okay.

joy meads

Agree with it or not, the concept that the best work is developed within the context of repeated relationships is at the core of Steppenwolf's mission as an ensemble theatre. I think the work bears that out. It's about more than just the script itself: it's about knowing how a writer will approach the development process, how well that writer communicates with/understands the theatre's artists, staff, and audience. In a larger sense, it's about building community.

I've often read comments at this site rightly complaining about the relative lack of power artists have at most institutions. I would argue that Steppenwolf provides a good counter-example: the members of the ensemble and frequent collaborators like Bruce Norris have genuine institutional power. A core message of OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE was the inscrutability of artistic offices to artists and the desire of many playwrights to have an artistic home. I would argue that relationships such as Bruce and Martha's is an example of success on both counts: and, in fact, the theatre is singled out for praise within the book itself. But such a model is incompatible with a blindly democratic "every script is equal" approach.

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