Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Note About New Plays

See them. Always. Or, at least, whenever you can. This country needs more, good, new plays, but theatres are reluctant to do them because of you, yes YOU. They are afraid you won't come. So, prove them wrong.
You might want to keep your expectations...reasonable. Shakespeare got 400 years of workshop and performance to get it right, the play you are seeing only got about 4 weeks. Think of yourself as a pioneer, or even better, as part of the development process. Because you are. Playwrights learn more about their play from you than anyone else.
I deeply believe if Boston is ever going to become any kind of first-rate theatre town, we have to originate work here and export it. We are going to continue to be on the sidelines if we let other cities take the risks, test out the new material, and get the glory. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I swear, if I see one more "Boston Premiere" of a recent-ish play from New York or Chicago or Seattle or Minneapolis or Atlanta...well, let's just not let that happen.


Jack said...

I'm curious where you see new work coming from currently or in future possibility. I'm aware that the ART does a lot of new work, but they don't exactly have a reputation for making it accessible to audiences, and well, I don't see audiences as having a responsibility to see work from producers that they have already been disappointed by.

I guess my real question is, do you think the room for new work is with young aspiring playwirghts, New York talent workshopping in other cites, Established Boston theaters producing new things, all of the above or something else entirely?

Turg Talker said...

The ART doesn't do a lot of New Work, actually. They tend to "reinvent classics" although, once a season they generally do a new play. I'm not quite sure what you mean by "accessible." One thing I really appreciate about the ART is that they don't talk down to their audience with their work. It's difficult, challenging work. There's a dark side to that, but for my money, I would rather see work that was too smart for me than too dumb. The Huntington does more in terms of supporting new work, but I don't see that they provide a lot of support to their writers in terms of developing that work (but I have no idea how they work, so I could be wrong, but the fact that they consider writers who have been working for 20 years a "new writer" is not hopeful for actual new writers).
Several local theatres have started "new play inniatives" but they don't lead to actual productions, its endless workshops and readings, where audiences say what they liked and didn't like. This is an excellent way to kill a play where it stands.
I think we need to pursue all avenues for new work. Very few theatre artists that live in New York are from there. Sure, its the Big City, but our country is large enough that each city should be host to hundreds of good writers. Broadway centricism has been one of the primary death knolls for the theatre...this is turning into several other posts, but to answer your question, we need to develop new and existing writers by providing them with production and support (dramaturgs?) The majority of really good TV & film writing comes from playwrights who want to eat, so funding is again an issue.
As for Boston, a quarter of the city's population are students. I can't think of a better source for new work, both in traditional playwright models and less traditional (ensemble, director, dramaturg, or designer driven work, for example.)
Finally, I think we are reluctant to think of audiences' having a responsibility in this country because we think of ourselves as consumers instead of participants. I think its clear what I think of that relationship. Personally, with some exceptions, I try to give Art and producers as many second chances as I can manage. But, ultimately, each of us has to find the work that speaks to us, that we like. Sometimes we are going to be disappointed by work at theatres that we have liked in the past. Art is very hard to get right, but if you think its important that people keep trying, you have to continue to have faith. Not easy but important.

Jack said...

Hmmm, I have to agree with you almost completely, but of course my text focuses on the one area on which i disagree, and that is that audiences should think of themselves as participants instead of consumers. Given that in our culture, to do the things we want, we usually have to shell out hard earned cash to do them; I think it is a big deal for people to make choices with that money. The privileged elite can always attend whatever they like, but numerically, for audience art to survive it needs to court and address the majority of folks. Folks who are going to go out, and might see live music, a movie, a sporting event or some other form of art. Theater has to showcase its value in what it is good at, as you so eloquently put in your subsequent post, and I don't think that making people uncomfortable because they don't get what is going on is a good way to win those dollars.

Now, i don't love that that is the way it is. Capitalism isn't exactly my favorite concept. But it is the foundation of the U.S. and as such our art is the art of a capitalist society, and thus it must draw people to succeed, and that which draws people is that which gets produced.

Now as for new work, i think people DO need to take chances there, and that our system in fact does make a lot of room for new ideas and fresh talent, and Boston would indeed be wise to embrace that.