Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ken points us to this post by Marsha Norman An anonymous comment there struck me: I’m a playwright who has recently had a number of high profile productions. I’m considered a reasonably “hot” “emerging” talent. One play of mine was savaged by a reviewer in this this very paper just a few months ago. Not to be grousy or precious but I have in fact sacrificed an enormous lot for the American Theatre. I have virtually no security — financial or otherwise. I don’t have a permanent home. I live like a monk, basically. I endure routine humiliations in the development circuit, by Artistic Directors who foist lots of bad ideas on me - the list is pretty endless. So to finally get to the point where i actually GET a production — in a country that has virtually no support for the arts and a pretty paltry theatre culture overall — and then be flicked off like a bug by the only paper with “power” was enough to send me packing to L.A. — where critics actually have relatively little power, and you can make more than three thousand dollars per production (!). The critic may not be able to keep Journey’s End open, but he can sure disrupt the careers of the best and brightest talents out there: Itamar Moses, Rinne Groff, Anne Washburn, Francine Volpe, Lucy Thurber, Ann Marie Healy, Jason Grote, Jordan Harrison…and the list goes on and on. In another era or country these people would be the future of theatre — but we may never get to see their best works, because they’ll all be writing for movies and television. The system is broken and it is very sad. — Posted by X I can't help but agree. These people (and more) are the future of theater. And theater is a place where there is no longer even the hint of a living and where if you do finally get a play up, you are most likely going to be torn down in the paper of note. I have been very lucky in the reviews I have received, but I have not had a high profile production yet. I am hungry for such a production, but at the same time I'm dreading what I've seen happen over and over to playwrights, especially young playwrights. This is not something new. I've heard it said over and over. Playwright X could be almost anyone. And it is enough to cause you to pack it up and head to LA where it might be possible to feed and clothe yourself, maybe buy a house one day, have some money saved so you don't have to hustle forever.

6 comments:

Joshua James said...

I can only echo X, and say my experience with theatre is fairly similar, though I'm not as big as he is.

Malachy Walsh said...

While you might have better economic prospects in LA, you do have to hustle there.

Oh, yes you do.

Anonymous said...

adam,

i AM actually playwright X -- and we actually know each other, but i won't tell you who i am just to keep my playwright x mystique.

But dude, I speak the truth. The scary thing is that there is no rhyme or reason now to what the reviewers like. They often don't understand the plays they are reviewing and isherbitch hates theatre and loves to hone his discriminatory facility by smashing up playwrights who are barely getting off the ground in a country with no fucking arts funding!!! WTF??!?!

Then we have the loverly situation at the Roundabout where Todd Haimes wants to screw Craig Lucas out of 40 percent of his royalties for 10 years. The theatre ostensibly exists BECAUSE OF PLAYWRIGHTS -- playwrights don't exist because of Todd Haimes' old farty necro-subscriber base.

Anyway, I am just overwhelmed. this is something I've always wanted to do. I was willing to be poor doing it, but it isn't rewarding anymore, and I don't want to hate it AND be poor AND not have a family or health insurance AND have to deal with the pyschological torment of the Times, crazy monomanical ADs and their crazy star casting, prohibitive ticket prices, old sleepy subscribers who haven't napped properly prior to my show, dramaturgs always telling me about how my play is "almost there!" -- I'm just finished. I wish I still taught playwrighting so I could tell my students all this... nobody told me how dreadful and dead-end it all is. What a bum deal.

In any event, I now thank GOD for television and film. Yeah you still have to hustle, but you can actually make a living if you achieve some success. My "success" is kinda scary if this is what success is...yikes.

Adam said...

X,

If you are who I think you are, yours is a career I've been in admiration of. And if you are this miserable, then I don't know what I would have to look forward to. And I'm getting my feet wet in LA as soon as I can.

Because I, like you, love theater and have been writing plays for about 10 years now and feel like I'm getting nowhere. If I can get somewhere with my LA agents and if I can not be so poor, I guess i have to do that. Because there isn't enough support here.

And it makes me angry and it makes me sad and every playwright I know is unhappy.

And I wish I had known it would be so hard when I started writing plays all those years ago. I would have tried to do somethign else maybe. or maybe I had no choice, because I love theater. My focus is definitely turning to TV and Film now, but can I stop writing plays completely? I don't know.

playwright x said...

oh crap. now I feel bad - -i didn't mean to go off like that. as wilde said, each man kills the thing he loves. yuck.

i don't know if i am who you think i am, because i don't know if i am who i think i am.

but my feeling is you can be a playwright as a hobbyist and write them when you can and not commodify them or feel you have to pimp them for a "career" in the theatre...but responsibly, i have to say, yes, i advocate for a move to tv and film...I don't know what else to advocate!!! i wish i did. i guess if you are ok with a life of working another job and writing plays on the side and living poor til your dying day, then do only write plays. otherwise, do the la la thing. even brecht did it. and he was produced at the ROUNDABOUT son.

Adam said...

I'm sick of the day job and sick of being poor. I think I can do both. I write a lot. Like you. (If you are who I believe you to be.)

I like the idea of pimping in the little box and the big screen and doing whatever the fuck I want for the stage.