Monday, August 22, 2005

Discuss

From an email that Larry Kunofsky wrote to me reprinted with his permission: I think that there's been a growth spurt in American Playwriting in the last ten years or so. It seems to me that Angels in America and even, perhaps to a smaller degree, Three Tall Women, helped energize the medium. When each of these plays won the Pulitzer, one year after the other, it seemed – at least to me - to be more significant than what the Pulitzer committee had been recognizing in Drama for years. I think these two plays and the cultural dent they made helped create avenues for political and aesthetic explorations in the theatre that had not previously been in the mainstream (to the extent that theatre can be mainstream in this country). It seems to me that real artistic expression kind of evaporated, for the most part, in American Theatre since the late 60's. Absurdism was embraced by all the "serious" playwrights of that era to the extent that it got really old really fast, creating a self-marginalizing effect, keeping American Theatre in a kind of museum-piece mode. It was stifling in the same way that "kitchen-sink-realism" suffocated theatre a decade before. The novel was a far more important medium throughout this time, and in the 70's, it seemed that cinema became the most "important' American art form. The 70's and early-to-mid 80's-era theatre was dominated by strong personalities such as Mamet and Shepard, but they abandoned theatre for film to a profound degree, and the late 80's and early 90's seemed to me to be a Dark Age for theatre, probably due to NEA-fallout and the Recession. It became increasingly improbable to expect serious artistic expression from commercial theatre throughout this time. I think now people are writing plays with no real expectation of commercial success, which is terrible for the most part, of course, but creates a kind of hopeful by-product, in that it actually separates the irrepressibly real playwrights from the hacks. 13P, I think, will prove to be an extremely important artistic and political phenomena in that it reflects in microcosm the serious playwrights are putting out there against the grain of - if not in direct opposition to - commercial or developmental theatre. I can only hope that similar groups will pop up in the near future. I also feel that a lot of the more interesting work that keeps springing up seems not to belong to any kind of "school" of writing and that original and individual kinds of theatre seems to emerge more strongly and distinctly currently than it has in recent memory. I also suspect that American universities strengthened their playwriting programs in the time since I left school. This is certainly true of graduate programs. From Chris Durang's time as a student up until very recently, Yale was pretty much it. But I think that even undergrad playwriting programs became a lot more relevant of late. I actually think that the importance recently placed on grad programs in the career and artistic development of playwrights is somewhat destructive. It prevents playwrights from poorer economic backgrounds from finding a career track, and probably confines original artistic expression, churning out a cookie-cutter mold of playwrights in much the same way that places like Iowa churned out one Raymond Carver-esque fiction writer after another for decades. Regional theatres have stopped discovering new talent independent from grad schools long ago. But in the short-term, the rise of the Playwriting MFA has produced a lot of interesting playwrights. Anecdotally, I hardly knew any other serious-minded playwrights when I was in school, but about five years after graduating, I seemed to encounter an inordinate amount of serious and seriously talented playwrights who were just a few years younger than me. I acknowledge that this could largely be a product of my own limited experience, but I've always kept my eye out for the real deal, and I remember a time where I mostly couldn't find it. And now it's all over the place. Does this make sense? l Adam’s Note: Larry is a 35 yr old playwright who has lived in NY all his life

5 comments:

Hikaru said...

Fascinating, though I fear that the pendulum is swinging the other way.

It reminds me of a scene in "Bullets over Broadway" where one character says "I'm such an artist, that no one can possibly do my plays."

Adam said...

what do you mean?

frank's wild lunch said...

This is interesting. I was actually trying to stimulate discussion about some of the points Larry raises in a Yahoo discussion group I've ventured into of late, but it started to make me tired. I'm not cut out for email debates, I'm afraid....

Adam said...

I hear you. partially it's all perception...is the theatre dying? is it rejuvenating? I really can't step far enough away to see but Larry's email made me think and I wanted to share it. I honestly don't know where theatre is going or where it stands. I do like to think though that there's exciting stuff happening. But I want it to be exciting. I want the bigger theatres to take the chances 13p and clubbed thumb are taking. Because I don't need to see naturalism on the stage--I can go see a film for that.

anyway, thanks for reading.

George Hunka said...

I get Larry's point about graduate MFA programs. Maybe I'm just being old and cranky and sucking on sour grapes (I've got ten years on Larry and am a little beyond grad school at this point), but I've noticed too a kind of samey quality to a lot of new scripts: brash and theatrical and "socially relevant" but a little hysterical and, I hate to say it, interchangeable.