It's been a while since Theresa Rebeck surfaced. I've been checking her blog for months now and nothing. But thanks to the Lark Play Development Center's blog, she's back and, well, talking about the same stuff. Which is all good. Seriously. I totally get what she's talking about and, frankly, I agree. But it goes both ways.
When I was in grad school, my writing program was run by a venerable playwright. One of my classmates was working on a broad, over-the-top, satirical farce about the art world. It clearly befuddled the venerable playwright, who was used to writing lyrical dramas. He spent the better part of a year trying to wrestle this play into a nice, contemplative lyrical drama. His notes on craft were good and sensible, but he completely missed the entire heart of the play.
In the comments at Upstaged, that's what I was alluding to, and what I think the real problem is. I don't think it's a matter of experimental theater or different approaches to storytelling. There is a style that is currently the standard. A certain kind of play is "in fashion." I actually don't think Theresa or Rajiv are talking about "experimental" theatre. When I look at the plays that are touted most, they often fit into a certain style: a bit lyrical, something magical-ish, not a lot of plot or forward action, full of "theatrical" moments that, often, ape movies or television, but all with a patina of irony. When you're writing some other kind of play, your play is old-fashioned, stodgy, "talky" or (ironically) "too much like television."
Again, it's hard to talk about this without naming names, and I don't want to leave people with the impression that I don't like some of these plays and playwrights. Because I do. But they're becoming like kudzu: they're choking out the oaks, maples and cypress trees, at least here in New York. The grad schools are churning out more and more of these writers and not all of them are as good as the good writers. But they're the ones getting the productions.
Rebeck hits a more sensitive note when she basically calls us all out on our classicism (and K Lin in the comments follows up beautifully). Because, yeah, basically, there are a lot of young, highly educated artists (whether they come from the upper middle classes or not originally) looking down their noses at the "low-class" tastes of the aging audiences. It's a hard thing to hear, but it's true. I watch these plays and it feels like the authors haven't even met a person from a different socio-economic class, much less a minority, in their lives.
It's a frustrating situation. And it certainly isn't changing any time soon. Even when plays with rock-solid structures do well, it doesn't change the whole scene. Because for every one of those, there are ten of the other kind coming down the pike. Maybe the pendulum will swing back, maybe it won't. But it shouldn't be about trends and what's hot and who's teaching where. Ideally, our theatres should be full gardens of all kinds of plays: lyrical, poetical dramas, earthy, gritty kitchen sink plays, comic farces. But they're not. And that should make us all sad.