Picking up and Putting out- Outrageous Fortune comes to the Kirk Douglas

In Essays, Playwriting, The Daily Drool on February 8, 2010 at 7:28 pm

I attended a wonderfully interesting discussion today at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, hosted by CTG about the current state of theater.  The discussion (which has been traveling the country) is born of the recently published book OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE the Life and Times of the New American Play.  The book, which is a study of the state of (duh) New American Plays, laid out some very interesting facts and figures and while I haven’t yet read the book itself, the authors of those pages were very friendly in distilling it to into a one-hour presentation this morning as an invitation to discuss.  Persons present included artistic directors, literary managers, playwrights, and directors, among others.

And while I won’t even attempt to transcribe that discussion here, what I will say is that, being a burgeoning playwright and literary manager myself, it was most interesting to me to note the differences in philosophies amongst  those present- several spoke of the obvious matter, “How do we close this gap between merely applauding playwrights and actually producing their new works?”  And some people said that the solution was to “DO IT YOURSELF”

Which I thought was fascinating.

Especially when I mentioned that one of the things I felt most helpful was in just plain reaching out to new playwrights- in mentoring them and giving them a support base.  I know I speak from experience when I say that one of the things I find most difficult to navigate (as a playwright) is Where do I go for support now that I’m out of school and in the middle of this financially strapped industry? And sometimes just having a relationship with a theatre company where you can call them up or email them and say “Hey, I have a new script, are there any chances we could do a little reading and discuss it?” makes all the difference in the world… because it’s a step, a small supportive step, and a foothold.   Think of it as a mentorship- the theatre is investing time and some hours in the studio in you and your work.

But, and perhaps I didn’t word it all that fluently (I am under heavy cold medicine), there were some immediate reactions along the lines of “No one knows how to do it (be a playwright, get your work done, etc), you just have to go out and do it!”

blank stare.

blank stare.


Isn’t the topic of discussion here how we can increase the communication and cooperation between playwright and producing organizations?

But there are those who believe that since they’ve fought like hell to get to where they are, the last thing we at the starting line should be doing is asking for support…

And perhaps that’s an unfair summation of their reaction, but it struck me that this very little exchange is representative of two of the warring philosophies behind the many reactions to this study: How do we make this system better, and Well, yeah, that’s the way it is. (which is sometimes followed up with a So find a solution yourself, like I did.)

What is the solution for that disparity?

I think it’s in reminding oneself that theatre is at it’s core a community – it’s a miracle born of passion and fever; fever to produce something that moves us (to laughter, to tears, to actions) We find others who share this vision, this compulsion to create, and we pool our efforts in the hopes that we will find an audience of like-minded individuals… individuals who, if we’re lucky, will pay to watch us… pay for the catharsis of our story, the story we so passionately came together to tell.

And none of that happens because of “I” – it only happens because of “Us” – which is my uber corny way of saying that this study, to me, is a call to action for us to reach out to one another as we struggle to find new and better ways to produce new work.  That we need to rethink the old model, but that we need to think collectively.

In today’s economically impossible times, it’s very tempting to pull up the purse strings and protect one’s own above all else.  It’s easy to let fear steer us into self-preserving waters… but it’s exactly this train of thought that delivers us on the sands of some deserted shore, thirsty and longing for the days that we used to glide (perhaps hungrily) amongst the waves.

No, what we should do is continue boldly into the deep, uncharted waters of artistic expression -whatever that means for your particular organization – and extend our arms to the others entering those waters with us.

Because as someone so wisely said, you are your own best advocate.  Why not become OUR own best advocates?

  1. Your entry made me think of a few things. You mentioned rethinking the old model. Yes, please.

    I remember discovering “shareware” in the ’90s and not understanding it as a business model – giving away one’s products for free seemed counter-intuitive to me. But the more I thought about it, the more I was inspired. This was a genuinely new way of looking at the old model as these new-fangled computer people saw revenue sources I never considered. What if for one week a year all theater was free? I know theatre people are usually underpaid as it is, but it could be a small price to pay for the American Theatre community as a whole considering all the press and publicity that the national event would get that week. Or maybe all NEW plays could be free that week. But of course, this would rely on the “Us” that you mentioned.
    I’m curious if the discussion today included ways to build theatre audiences, starting with children. One story I heard on NPR about Brazil told of how coffee (one of Brazil’s largest national products) was losing its market share to other competing beverages. Obviously, a big financial problem for Brazil. So what did they do? Started making coffee available for FREE to middle school students, literally addicting them as adolescents. Why not do this with theatre? While coffee stimulates one’s nervous system, theatre stimulates one’s brain. That’s got to be a good thing.

    Anyway, as creative as theater people are, they don’t have a reputation for being terribly great business people. Maybe theatre programs in our colleges and universities should provide business classes? So that playwrights, etc. don’t graduate totally clueless and feel they must starve for the art they love? It seems like the “C” word (uh, that would be capitalism) has long been a dirty word in the artistic world, but any great artist from Michelangelo to Lillian Hellman knew that they had to put a roof over their head. There isn’t any shame in that. And doing theatre for a profit shouldn’t be shameful either. In fact, if it is to survive as an art form in America, it must be a financially viable business.

  2. What did that fortune cookie say? “You have executive abilities to use”!

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