Monday, January 29, 2007

chris shinn via mr. excitement

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as I start
a new play and look at my political plays languishing.

"Breaking these questions down into their component
parts sheds even more light on the task facing a
political playwright as she begins work on a new play.
Let us imagine her thought process in simple language:

-- What should I write about in my experience of the
world? Should I write politically?

-- What kind of audience is there if I write
politically; does it exist?

-- What kinds of theatres exist to put on my political
plays; will they be able to pay me a living wage?

-- How am I to make a living as a writer in Hollywood
given the concerns that I express in my political
plays; are there TV and film producers who will hire
me based on these plays, so that I can make a living

-- What kind of chance do I have that there are
regional theatres across the United States that will
produce a political play following its initial

-- Are there people who have financial ties to these
theatres that may not want to hear what I have to say
about certain political issues, and will an artistic
director be thinking about their concerns when
programming a season?

-- What kinds of people are out there who might
threaten or try to harm or kill me if I write
political plays?

-- Why should I write plays that put me at mortal or
financial risk?"


Joe W said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe W said...

my two cents:

i believe that as artists we cannot force ourselves to create politically, but we can allow ourselves to create honestly. that said, we have a responsibility to the word honesty, which does sometimes require a push of the envelope, encouraging ourselves to delve deeper and find more intense versions of truth. does this come at a cost? it may. but i believe that artistic directors, the best ones anyway, are most interested in curating seasons that will engage their audiences and subscribers in a dialogue. the best theatres are challenging their audiences to think in a different way. this doesn't mean that everyone should do the same play, since plays engage communities differently. audiences in chicago need somethign different than those in princeton.

In a speech that Camus gave at the Univ. of Uppsala, he spoke about "creating dangerously." I'm paraphrasing, but he said something like "artists must work to create in interesting times. and these are interesting times, so create dangerously."

noone can force themselves to be political, but they can ensure that they are engaged in the world and not backing away in fear.

(i had to edit the typos.)

Adam said...

hmm. I hope you will repost that. It was well said. Please let it be the typo that made you take it down.

Adam said...

Hi Joe, thanks for the thoughts. I wished for your reposting as you were reposting.

The trouble I think is that often the plays I see off broadway do not contain intense versions of the truth as you put it. I wish they did more often. I wish off broadway was more vibrant (and more affordable, but that's another post) Because it's where I hope to someday have plays produced. But the theatre is kind of conservative these days and so are the critics who control what succeeds in the theatre.

I'd like to think that that in no way affects my writing choices. I'm not sure how true that is, however.

Joe W said...

i can respect that sentiment. but i have to disagree, and for similar reasons that cause you concern.I have to assume that i'm working towards an off-broadway career as well, unless some other venue is born in the meantime.

Theatre is not a collaborative process that includes critics on its creative team. Critics are singular reactions to what writers are writing. Maybe its sophmoric for me to believe so, but i still believe in the power of art to change/educate. And I think there is a paradigm shift with critics moving in that direction. I am not a playwright that hates critics. They're just people that write about plays in publications. If we don't give them power, then they have no power. But right now (and i know this is another debate), shouldn't we be looking for another way to take back the reins.

You say artists are not writing as vibrantly as they should, that they are conservative -- well that's their own damn fault. And we have to be part of that change. But I disagree with you as well, I think there are great writers that are getting great productions in the world. I think that there is a new theatre emerging right now, one that I am very excited about. And I think audiences are as well.

I wouldn't say that i am a "political playwright." but I am engaged in the world. Those elements inevitably find their way into my plays. I'm not sure I have the constitution to revise them to satiate someone else's tastes. Maybe that's haughty or makes me difficult, but I would much rather be an artist that remains honest and aware of the person he is. I know that i say this, and tomorrow i'm going to get an offer and be like -- Yes! I will write a musical adaptation of My Little Pony meets Strawberry Shortcake in Candyland.

Audiences have gotten lazy, and that includes critics. So isn't it time that everyone dig their spurs into the horse and kick into a powerful gallop forward? Hopefully by doing so we can envigorate and enliven all the dead people that currently fill seats in the theatres, the same ones that would be thankful for somethinew new.

Adam said...

I admire your optimism, Joe. And I agree that exciting new theatre is happening. I see lots of it. But I see it off off broadway, with a few exceptions.

And I have nothing against critics either. But the big paper does have the power to keep something running or shut something down. and this greatly affects the amount of money a playwright can make and whether or not it is even conceivable to make a living.

As someone working a full time office job right now and hating it, this is something I'm thinking about, especially as I watch many of my favorite plays of the year get bad reviews in the paper of note.

There is a movement to take some of the power away from this paper here on the blogosphere and I hope it succeeds sooner rather than later.

P.S. I kind of want to see that My Little Pony meets Strawberry Shortcake in Candyland.