Tuesday, August 26, 2008

from this month's Dramatists magazine

FROM THE FRONT DESK of Gary Garrison In the May 15 E-newsletter, I detailed a trip I’d taken to Seattle that culminated in one of the most open, honest and frank panel discussions I’ve ever witnessed on large, named theatres producing (or not producing, as is often the case) unknown playwrights that live in the very communities these theatres do business in. Just to catch you up to speed, here is the original narrative: The Backyard Syndrome Like a lot of you, I’ve heard about the perpetual and perennial misting rain of Seattle, the we-did-it-first-Starbucks phenomenon and the almost legendary theatre scene that builds an uptown aura with a downtown sensibility. My Guild visit to Seattle this weekend was a tremendous success: yes, there was the steady rain; sure enough, there was enough coffee to float a small country (but isn’t that now true everywhere?). But it was the gorgeous spirit of the theatre community that just knocked my socks off. A dinner with the Seattle Rep Dennis Schebetta combined with a Town Hall meeting with local artists/administrators and passionate Guild members quickly articulated a common concern among a lot of our members: dramatists can’t get produced in their own backyards. I’ve heard this serious concern announced in Atlanta, Houston, Boston, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and San Diego. Let me be clear: it’s not about just getting produced in your own backyard, it’s about getting produced by one of the named theatres that’s in your own metropolitan neighborhood. What was extraordinary and different (and incredibly positive) about members talking about this issue in Seattle was the almost instant call – by representatives of the three large theatres: The Intiman, A Contemporary Theatre (ACT) and Seattle Rep – for playwrights to stop focusing on something that’s probably not going to happen for a variety of predominantly economic reasons, and instead to channel that passion and energy in to either co-producing (like 13 P in New York or Playwrights 6 in Los Angeles) or self-producing. To hear representatives of the three big theatres in town say in a straight-forward, no-nonsense but kind way: “Look, we love new writers. But we have twelve-hundred seats that we have to fill or we’ll go under. And base-line economics suggest big commercial names of plays and playwrights are going to sell those seats.” They said it. Out loud, even. They said what other theatres won’t or can’t or don’t want to say in a public way for a variety of reasons (that have to do with mission statements and grant writing, I’m sure). There was something liberating, for everyone in the room, in the truth being spoken out loud. More importantly, there was something very empowering in dramatists realizing that if they want their stories told to a local audience, they’d most likely have to figure out for themselves how best to do that. And they should. They should figure it out because every voice should be heard, and every story desperately needs to be told. Once that ice was broken, all the bigger questions came out: who are we writing for? Is our effectiveness as dramatists determined by the size of the audience and the theatre that serves them? Are we writing for the prestige of an association to a large theatre? To Broadway? To a published anthology? Or are we writing because we have a desire to change the world, be that in front of a crowd of fifty or five-hundred? Where do you want to be: sitting in a small, dark theatre where your story is unfolding in front of an appreciative audience or staring at your manuscript that won’t be produced by a theatre you’ve defined as worthy and successful? Hmmmmm. That’s a tough one. I know. I usually count on twenty or thirty members to always respond to my columns in the E-newsletter, depending on what area of craft, career or spiritual journey I’m writing about. When I receive over a hundred responses from members (like my column on agents, and then this Seattle column), I know that something in the content is resonating in a lot of people. More importantly, I know there’s wisdom, opinion, passion and argument to share with you. Here, then, were some of the responses: (omitted. Check the magazine for them.) I'd love to hear your responses, however. more here


mbh said...

I had let my membership in the DG lapse and then I read Gary's column... making me want to join it again because people like Gary in the DG are making it worthwhile for someone like me to plunk $95 for, effectively, a magazine subscription.

Gary's columns show that the DG does care about playwrights like me (some productions).

Producing my own work is something I've been leaning towards the past year anyway since local theatres are reluctant to produce new works (financial reasons... I understand that)... it goes with the 'you make your own breaks' theory.

The one thing in that reality, however, is the DG exists to protect playwrights. If I am serving as playwright AND producer, do I need protection?

I'm not saying the DG should find me productions. That's not their job. They need more people like Gary who are willing to take a stance, even if it's not pretty, and move playwrighting and the DG into a new mind-set, one that reflects the reality of modern theatre.

Adam said...

I think it's worht the 95 even if they aren't helping you with contracts. The guide and the magazine are good. And I think the organization is striving to be more every day.