« Should We Stop Making Art? (#supplydemand) | Main | "Brown and Leggy" »

March 24, 2011

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Paul Mullin

Well, here in Seattle it certainly makes for an interesting thought experiment: if the many talented playwrights here simply stopped creating new works, would the Big Houses even notice? Seems doubtful.

I think the supply/demand rubric is dubious in the context of theatre. Let's face it. You are never going to reach a state of "pent up" demand. You'll be lucky if you reach a state of "demand."

So asking generative theatre artists to stop creating so much supply is tantamount to asking them to shut up and stop whining. To which I reply with a hearty, joyful "Fuck you."

("You" not meaning, you, Isaac, but those saying such poorly reasoned things.)

Ricky

I think a lot of the frustration comes from the realization that there is no "making it" because there is no money at the end of the journey. The most you can hope for (as far as real money--not rich people money, but money that would give you the opportunity to have a middle class life and a family) is a play that will get you some work writing for tv and film.

As far as what we can do about anything, I think it's a matter of agitating for more of a piece of the small pie. There are a lot of theaters out there that raise money on the notion that it's going to help emerging playwrights. How much of that money goes to playwrights? (There's a study I'd like to see.)

We can work to get rehearsal pay for playwrights.

We can work to encourage more new plays and less plays by dead playwrights. (Would love to see a campaign for that).

Paul Mullin

Hey, Isaac, I'm an idiot and meant my comment above for your later post. I'll place it there now.

Paul Mullin

Paul Mullin

(I posted this earlier on the wrong post.)

Well, here in Seattle it certainly makes for an interesting thought experiment: if the many talented playwrights here simply stopped creating new works, would the Big Houses even notice? Seems doubtful.

I think the supply/demand rubric is dubious in the context of theatre. Let's face it. You are never going to reach a state of "pent up" demand. You'll be lucky if you reach a state of "demand."

So asking generative theatre artists to stop creating so much supply is tantamount to asking them to shut up and stop whining. To which I reply with a hearty, joyful "Fuck you."

("You" not meaning, you, Isaac, but those saying such poorly reasoned things.)

PS I half disagree with Scot. Unlike poetry and prose, the acting of creating theatre is only complete when an audience is present. So living rooms and church basements etc. are fine, so long as there are people present in them to hear and see. So DEFINITELY enter the marketplace. After all the other word for "marketplace" in our current context IS "theatre".

Great art creates its own demand. No one wanted Van Gogh's pictures. No one wanted Beckett's first plays.

Paul Mullin

Goddammit! I did it again! Issac can you kill those? I'd be obliged.

Adam

I think the best thing we can do is help artists bypass the "system" entirely and create their own unique pathways.

As Paul mentions, the localized supply of people who want to create art will probably always exceed the demand of those who want to see it (and pay for it). I think that's just how it is. But just like having a glut of coffee shops doesn't necessary mean that YOU can't open a successful coffee shop . . . the nature of arts supply and demand doesn't prohibit individual success, it just makes it tricky.

What I think we must do is highlight those who are finding alternative paths. For example, I think any discussion of how to make it as a playwright that doesn't include a full, indepth discussion of Tyler Perry is invalid.

Why? Because the simple fact is that Tyler is one of the most successful playwrights that HAS EVER LIVED. People like to ignore that because his work isn't everyone's cup of tea (it certainly isn't mine) or because they prefer their models to be more Eurocentric but in terms of audience attendance, revenue generated, etc. he is at the top of the food chain.

And he didn't get there by following the system. He self produced, he leveraged, he got lucky and now he's reaping oversized rewards.

What can we learn from him, and other artists, who have found their own way? Why aren't we talking about these sorts of artists more?

Paul Mullin

Ricky, I'm with you. I remember a couple years ago an Associate Artistic Director at one of Seattle's Big Houses came to me with a proposal for doing some local play workshops using Equity actors and asked me in general what I thought, would I be interested?

I said that I'd be interested only if the playwrights were making as much as the actors in the workshop. My colleague laughed, and then abruptly realized I was serious. Then said, "Well, that's not possible of course."

RVCBard

Look harder.

It starts by asking, just like you do here.

SashaNaomi

I think it starts early on. I teach Creative Writing (and a little bit of theatre) to kids (3rd graders, middle schoolers, 9th graders) in public schools and nonprofit organizations in Manhattan and the Bronx. Often times parents, and sometimes even administrators ask, "Why do kids need to learn about the Arts?" And now that it's closer to testing time--thanks to No Child Left Behind--lots of my students are getting pulled out of class for test prep.
I had a discussion with my 3rd grade class: "Why do we write?" The responses tended toward things like "To pass tests." or "So we won't get in trouble." They're not coming up with thesee attitudes toward art on their own. It's what they're fed by their parents and our culture.
The few times I hear about public school students seeing theatre for free, it involves commercial theatre--places that can afford to give some free tickets and write it off their taxes later on. Very rarely are these commercial productions anything beyond spectacle. I applaud these theatre companies for providing free theatre for urban youth, but I wish the theatres that present meatier issues could afford to give away tickets.
Some of my students have the potential to make a career out of writing or acting. They don't have the training that fosters good technique, but they have the raw materials. Quite frankly, some of the stories I've read from 3rd graders hold my interest more than ones I've read from students in the MFA program I'm in.
So. . .the solution. Off-off Broadway playwrights, directors, actors, producers: Stop trying to connect with the big wigs. Don't make your ultimate goal getting in a season with a big theatre company. See your work as not entertainment that may one day be enjoyed by upper middle class citizens of Westchester, the UES, Long Island, and Connecticut (Thank you Broadway League), but as a way to communicate with the average person trying to get by. Read up on Boal. Make your theatre a necessity--don't market it as an accessory like cable television. Write for the groundlings, not the queen.
And then, get a really good grant writer.

Dan Tarker

As a playwright, I agree you have to make your own pathway. And I do believe the key is self-producing your own work. It may be nice to have the support of a big, institutional theatre, but you don’t really need it. Plus, if you produce your own work independently, you have far more say in the process than handing your script over to a LORT theatre. I produce one full length and a ten minute play showcase a year that are both pretty well attended. So, I personally don’t have time for whiney playwrights. Get off your ass, find a space, put on a show, and sell some tickets. Now, I’m not saying this isn’t hard work – it is. I’m not saying it’s not risky – it is. But at least you get to work on your own craft on your own terms. And it is always a learning experience.

RVCBard

As a playwright, I agree you have to make your own pathway. And I do believe the key is self-producing your own work. It may be nice to have the support of a big, institutional theatre, but you don’t really need it.

I agree, but I have to wonder: is this admonition to self-produce an empty gesture? Is this advice based on what real playwrights are doing wrong, or is that an assumption that's being dragged into the conversation?

Josh

Dan, I'm a self-producer too (although I'm getting produced by other people these days as well) and while I agree with your overall argument, I do think that there would ideally be a pathway from self-production to the institutions. And I don't think it's whining to point out how gross and unfair any given system is. Hell, that's what most of my plays are about.

Tony Adams

I have to say that I find the false dichotomy between doing the work and speaking out about failures in the system to be a load of crap. They are not mutually exclusive.

Jack Worthing

Let us pause for the great Lanford Wilson.

Alejandro

I'm also a self-producer and it's not the easiest thing in the world. Sometimes I feel like my producer hat and my playwright hat are battling it out . . . especially at my desk . . . and that's not good. Perhaps I'm not the best producer because I believe producorial choices should always serve the art and not the other way around and I often just disconnect from thinking about the "business" to follow my own crazy-ass muse.

But I'm nearing 40 and I'm exhausted and it's very difficult to write every day, work a full time job to support one's self and also be part of a theater company with all the duties that entails . . . all while trying to have some semblance of a life with friendships and (ideally) a relationship, self care, a nice home, etc.

That said, I feel like several things would be nice in the world of the arts:

1. More hard core lobbying for government funding. Seriously. We sit back and let the NEA get pummeled and we don't do a thing. It should be in the US's best interests to preserve American culture. Along these lines, ARTS EDUCATION in the schools and getting kids to see more plays, go to museums, dance, etc. I was taught as a child to love these things and it's made a big difference in how I see their importance in the world.

2. More diversity in staffing at theaters. Diversity can take many forms, but I think given the low pay at non-profits, these jobs favor people who are young, marry well, come from money/strong parental support or god knows what else. It tends to ensure that certain voices get heard more than others. I know New Dramatists in their selection committee for members every year creates a diverse panel to select the writers--current members, alums and various theater professionals at different points in their career. They also are big on making sure cultural diversity is present. I think every year you see a very diverse group of writers who make it into New Dramatists, far more diverse than the writers one sees produced at major New York theaters year in and year out.

3. I think the larger institutions should have smaller theater companies in residence. My company did this with Classic Stage a bazillion years ago and it was very helpful to have office space and access to some resources as well as access to professionals working at a different level than we were.

4. Not-for-profits should revisit their mission statements and really work at honoring them. The goal doesn't have to be getting a play to Broadway, but serving one's community (I hope).

5. I'd love it that for every British import we get in NYC, we get to have a complimentary production in London. But that's just me.

6. Less readings and more workshop productions ala LCT3 or The Public Lab. I also loved the first season the Public Lab a couple years ago, that was a really diverse group of plays and voices and styles. It's sort of my ideal.

Alejandro

I would also like to add that the biggest barrier to self-production is space rental. I think there needs to be a way to address this. I have no idea how, but more affordable rehearsal spaces and theater spaces or ways to form collectives to share these spaces or just a magic theater genie would be nice.

isaac

Jack,

We're working on an obit of him right now. I woke up this morning feeling so saddened by the news!

99

I'm still wrecked by it.

RVCBard

I have to say that I find the false dichotomy between doing the work and speaking out about failures in the system to be a load of crap. They are not mutually exclusive.

Thank you!

Alejandro, you and I need to talk. I hate having people take residence in my brain.

Ken

I sometimes wonder if self-production (and by that I mean a situation where I alone am the "self" that is responsible for everything) is any more realistic and viable a way to go than sending your work off to an institutional theater. The fundraising, the search for a venue, the time spent casting and rehearsing--all fine, wonderful things, but someone tell me how I do them while working 40+ hours a week (actually more like 50+ hours a week) at a survival job. If I had anywhere near the disposable cash on hand to put up a decent production of one of my plays (and my work is pretty standard naturalism--plays that take place in living rooms, offices, restaurants, etc., not fantasy epics that take place on the moon or involve huge fully outfitted pirate ships rolling out on stage) I wouldn't be working this soul-crushing day job in the first place.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad

# of Visitors Since 11/22/05


  • eXTReMe Tracker