Having studied at 2 of those 7, I can tell you, they are ivory towers, yes. But as Malachy points out correctly, not everybody there was rich and Malachy and I were in the same class at Columbia and write very very differently from each other and from the others in our class.This is all unbelievably, importantly and unerringly true: not everyone who goes to these schools are from the upper classes, or walk out with a free ride into fame and fortune, not all are turned into whimsy-writing automatons who sneer at naturalism, only concerned with the problems of the upper class audiences they entertain. That is a truth.
Also it should be said, each of these 7 are churning out 4-10 people a year. Very few of these playwrights are part of the national conversation. So the homogenization you refer to is only among those that you've heard of. The successful ones may have picked up the same tricks. But also, the tricks may be why they are successful. Part of grad school is seeing and reading lots of theater and learning what is already going on across the country.
It is also true that, as The Prof points out in a very excellent, long post, many of them have enjoyed subtle privileges that don't seem apparent, and, as the upcoming study appears to show, the graduates from those programs enjoy career benefits and favoritism and that favoritism appears to come at the expense of other playwrights, who, while talented, don't have the pedigree to get in the door.
Both of these things are true. Both matter. And I think we can still have this discussion holding both of these things in our minds.
What becomes frustrating for all when class enters the picture and enters the story is that it becomes personal. In the same way in the old realism vs. experimentalism battles, it becomes personal. I think Adam's perspective is incredibly useful and important and should be reminder to all that it's not actually about the playwrights themselves. If I start talking about how much our financial system sucks, is unfair and tilted towards a bunch of rich, fat cat i-bankers who are getting rich off of all of us poor people, The Wall Street Journal or the New York Times can trot out a dozen hard-working men and women from meager beginnings who have worked hard, try to play fair and don't deserve to be strung up by their thumbs until we get our $700 billion back. Personalizing this discussion takes the focus away from the problem: an unfair system. Systems are made up of people, righteous people who behave in perfectly human and understandable ways, but, in the end, it's the system that's the problem.
Adam is totally right: we're talking about a grand, whopping total of maybe 50 playwrights, maybe 100. Out of...Lord knows how many. The real problem is that there are 4 slots available for young playwrights. And the demands of our system of theatre-making mean there have to be gate-keepers and shibboleths at every step of the way. If you don't have the right password, in the immortal words of a certain wizard, you shall not pass. And sometimes, even if you do, you're not getting by.
I'm in a similar boat as Adam; I went to grad school. I got my MFA, not from one of the Great Seven, but from a school that in the next couple of years might just make it into their ranks. I'm saddled with mind-numbing debt. My MFA hasn't given me a good teaching position. I have a day job and bills just like most of the playwrights I know. A playwriting friend of mine, who was considering grad school at the same time as me, opted out, didn't go and has a demonstrably better career than I do. There are a lot of factors that lead us both to the place where we are. But one of them is the system, the standard model, the way theatre is being made in America right now. That's the matter of concern.
The playwrights who scrimped, saved, worked and bled to go to those schools to get an education aren't too blame. The playwrights who couldn't aren't a bunch of bitter also-rans, having a pity party, though, either. It's a system that's skewed and disproportionate and out of whack that's the issue. Making assumptions about either side doesn't move the conversation forward. I just wanted to say that now, before we get bogged down in imaginary fights.
*Cf. (I changed the link here because the other one was...well, nuts.)