Wednesday, April 02, 2008

wise words from Jaime

"We lament the demise of American theatre. American theatre is demising, if it is, because theatres are making safe, staid choices. It's not that exciting, brilliant plays aren't being written. It's that they aren't being produced. Because producers (again, I'm talking nonprofit here) are terrified of not making enough money through ticket sales to be able to continue to operate."


RLewis said...

"We lament the demise of American theatre." -- Just to offer another side to this article, I'd like to throw in that after building issues in the '90s, Off Broadway has more theaters doing more plays than ever; shows are lined up out of town just hoping for a Broadway theater to free up; and in the last 25 years Off Off Bway has gone from dozens to hundreds of theaters companys putting on thousands of shows. Also, when only a decade ago audiences were timid about venturing to the outer boroughs, now Brooklyn has an entire arts scene of it's own, and many theaters in Queens are bringing audiences out; Bushwick is the new underground; and, i don't have the facts, but i hope someone can surprise me with an up/down change in the number of theaters country-wide (how about that Theater of Note?!). So, I love being in this damn theater community that continues to surprise me with its growth, persistence, and even wider variety of options for every economic level. Theater is dead - long live the theater!

Adam said...

This is all true. I guess I'm discouraged because the exciting stuff used to be off broadway and now it's off off. the big theaters seem tamer and tamer. and there is so much good work going on--so many amazing plays being written that it seems a pity when only the safest get done on a large scale.

meeegan said...

Where is your audience?

This is my perpetual question to writers who believe that "big theatres" are "getting tamer and tamer."

Is the big-theatre audience, your audience? Does the audience you envision GO to the "big theatres"?

Adam said...

That's a good question. Unfortunately, I don't know if it's a big theater play until it's at a big theater and it either goes well or doesn't. Is there another way?

The audience I see at BAM is pretty young and varied. That's a large theater yet a lot of the stuff I've seen there is not what would come to mind when I think of what a large theater play is. Certainly not what one would think of as commercial except when a star is involved.

I mean I have plays that are small theater plays bacause they do better with a certain intimacy. People talked about Well like that--I saw it in the small space so I don't know if it lost something when it moved to Broadway or not, but it probably did.

But honestly I don't know where my audience is. And I don't know how helpful it is to write with an audience in mind apart from, does the audience understand this or is this clear. If you're worried about reactions, you can't write. The inner censor comes out and the censor and the creator can't both be there at the same time.

Do you think big theaters are not getting tamer? Or are you saying you agree but the reason is that big theater audiences want it that way.

RLewis said...

"Do you think big theaters are not getting tamer?"
First, ya got a problem with Off Off??? And, I second what Meeegan said, then...
Passing Strange is on Bway - not tame
John Waters is on Bway - may suck, but i dare you to call him tame to his face
Laura Pells Theater - there was nothing untame like it in the '80s
Roundabout underground - not tame yet
LCT3 - tba not tame
MCC in the Lortel - gosh, i remember when the boys were hole up in the upper floor of the Nat Horne - still not tame
S.L. Parks' 365 - odd, but wildly untame
Belluso's unfinished play at the Public - can an unfinished play be tame?
Lesbian Beebo in a commercial run - not str8 tame
God's Ear at the Vineyard - New Geo's untamed
Adding Machine musical - who'd a thunk it untame
Gone Missing - ensemble untame
4 hours of No Dice - intentionally untame
3LD & Chuck Mee - un-tech-tame
The Foundry & Aaron Landsman in your home - intimately untame
anything at the Culture Project - politically untame
anything Daryl Roth & family does - philanthropically untame
BAM - europeanly untame

Adam, that was for fun, and I know tame-ness has more to do with when/where you're sitting, but there's just so much great shit going on right now that I'd do anything to cheer up you blog folks.

Adam said...

Ha! thanks. I liked Passing Strange but I do think it's a little tame. Maybe tame is actually the wrong word. Watered down? Lacking substance? Sanitized and Borified. There are of course examples to the contrary. Theater is not dead. I'm with you on that. But I want more good work.

I definitely loved GOd's Ear and would like to see more like that--the vineyard is doing it. They did the internationalist not too long ago. They're bringing the off off to off.

I missed the Belluso but heard good things.

And you have lots of good examples. I want more. More, I say! More!

barton b said...

I get nervous when we theatre folk start throwing around words like “safe” and “tame” and “amazing” and “exciting” like monkeys flinging poo. It seems it often happens without any sense of subjectivity. Which, I know, I know, is a totally obvious point, but… Really. What do these words mean? What is an “exciting” play? Is it a play with non-stop action? Lots of blood and guts? Is it a play where there’s no linear plot and one character says all his sentences backwards and another character has a scene with her subconscious (portrayed by a two actors dressed up like a giant platypus, natch) and then Abraham Lincoln walks in with a Guitar Hero guitar slung around his neck and starts singing “Afternoon Delight?”
Is “tame” anything set in a living room?

What do we mean by “exciting” and “safe?”

Adam said...

yeah I know. For me I want something new that is wrestling with something difficult. A play that is actually about something instead of pretending to be about something but actually only scratching the surface. Or seems to be intellectual but is actually only faux intellectual.

But it doesn't have to be about something important if it is entertaining. And yes, safe things can be entertaining. But so can unsafe things.

mbh said...

Lament the demise...


The lament has been going on since the early 60's... lament all you want. Theatre may not be what it was 45 years ago, but theatre is still vital and there is a lot of good theatre still being written and performed.

Maybe the demise is real in NYC, but at the Humana (where I was last week), it is FAR from being demised (is that a word).

Keep writing Adam... it will find an audience.

Adam said...

I'm glad Humana was good. Too bad Carly got trashed by Lady Grey.

I like plays.

barton b said...

I like plays, too.

Adam said...

do head over and see the whole thing Jaime wrote and also the comments to it if you get a chance.

Busby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mbh said...

n context the comments are less doom than they are as a stand-alone.

I saw a nice audience mix last weekend at the Humana... although ticket prices are better in KY than they are in NYC.

And Isherwood was downright harsh to Mensch in the NYT review

Adam said...

he sure was. I know that play. It has lots of humor, humanity. It didn't deserve a review like that.

RLewis said...

Adam, I swore that I would not come back to this - it's breaking my own rule - but one more occurred to me, and it seemed apropo, so here I go again...

Irish actors in the john in Central Park - definitely not tame! I'm so jealous of this show, and even more so that it sold out the entire before it opened (Anyone got a ticket to sell?). Amid all the clamor for cheaper tickets, this is one example of a show that undersold itself, and thus deprived the writers/creators a better precentage of royalties that could go into writing their next masterpiece.

The thing that this piece brings up for me is how it came together over several years and was written for where it was performed (a john, though not the one in central park). I believe that the way it came about is the precise reason for its untameness. So, my concern is that for so many young writers, drafting scripts and then sending them to theaters across the country, each with its own distinct mission, is an excercise in taming from the get go. How else would one play fit so many theaters?

I think the comments from others in the post have been excellent ("monkeys flinging poo" should be the wiki definition for blogging. lol), and I'd only add - hook up with a theater that fits your work. Write your plays that they birth. But if you're going all hollywood on us, we may be just be wasting our time here - Los Tameliness?

Also, In the Heights maybe tame, good tame, but if Passing Strange is tame broadway, I'll need an example or 2 of bway shows you consider not tame. And saying that bway only does tame is not an answer, it's a dialogue killer.

Also, bad title for this post; "wise words..." it is not. It's youthful words we all need to hear from time to time. We all said the same thing 10... 20... 30... years ago. "Originality is lack of information."

Adam said...

I haven't heard of this play. It sounds interesting. It's definitely got a gimmick.

I think you're right about this: "for so many young writers, drafting scripts and then sending them to theaters across the country, each with its own distinct mission, is an excercise in taming from the get go. "

But how do you find your theaters otherwise? Because hooking up with the theaters that like your work is exactly right but how else can you find them except if you start a theater yourself.

I don't think Pillowman was tame. Nor Well.

Adam said...

Rlewis--just to clarify--I'm not saying that off off is tame. Or bathrooms. What I'm saying is that there is more tame work off broadway than there used to be. I'm not saying there isn't great theater going on, and also there are off broadway and regional theaters without a doubt doing amazing exciting work.

I think HBO is more likely to shock someone these days than most plays off broadway. It's less safe.

And again, I'm not saying safe is always bad. Nor is shocking necessarily good.

RLewis said...

"But how do you find your theaters otherwise?"
Kiss a lot of frogs, i.e. Get outside yourself and see a lot of other people's shows, esp. company's doing the work of writers that you admire. Also, the Graduate Center has terrific panel discussions/receptions with leaders of some fine theaters =

Adam said...

Oh, I do that too. But if you want to get your stuff out there, you have to do both.

Gary Kline said...

"What I'm saying is that there is more tame work off broadway than there used to be."

Used to be meaning what? Thirty years ago? Ten? Two years ago? It's always so easy to say things like this while rattling a sabre, but do you know for a fact that it's true?

My theater-going experience goes back a few decades, and as far as my memory goes, there has ALWAYS been a glut of middle-brow, "safe" plays off-Broadway. Certainly as many as there are now. The more commercial institutional theaters have trafficked in that work for decades. It's what's kept their doors open for so long. They have a mission and an audience, and they stick to it. Whether you LIKE that kind of work or not is irrelevant. There's PLENTY of work out there to suit all kinds of tastes. There always has been.

Because along with those "safe" plays, there were also plenty of cutting edge and experimental pieces. Though in general we journeyed off-OFF-Broadway for the TRULY untame stuff. Just like we do today.

From my perspective, Off-Broadway has always been (at least going back to the 70's) a healthy mix of living-room naturalism alongside the less conventional. I don't see the dramatic shift you keep referencing. If you have any anecdotal evidence to the contrary I'd love to hear it.

Adam said...

You're right that I don't know for a fact it's true, though I'm not the first person to say it. And there is no way to prove tameness so the whole thing doesn't really stand up to debate. And I've only been in New York for 7 years though I have read many plays that went up in the 70s and 80s. From where you stand if it has always been thus, I cna't really tell you where you stand is wrong.

I guess where I'm coming from is seeing a playwright whose work I like and when they finally get to off broadway their work has become "middle brow." I've seen this a bunch of times. I'm so excited to see the new play by someone in a big space and then, oh, it's a play without any bite signifying nothing. And sure maybe that's why this particular play got through the mill or maybe they just got older. But still, it's dissappointing.

Gary Kline said...

Hmm, so it seems what you're really is saying is that it's the playwrights who are getting safer, not the theaters themselves. Interesting. And you're right that it must be a bit chicken-egg to ask whether these formerly daring trail-blazers turned middle-brow in order to get produced in a bigger theater, or whether the writers just went in a different direction (for whatever reeason) and THEN the bigger theaters got interested.

I guess I'm most curious to know what writers specifically you're thinking of. It's hard for me to talk in the abstract.

Interesting discussion though.