The Prof's big idea got some tongues a-wagging. The conversation has been...interesting. And apparently focused on the question of quality. It's the thing that often bedevils these questions about diversifying our field.
Let me leave aside the implication that we're talking about the bad ideas of affirmative action and the implicit assumption that work from outside the mainstream system will necessarily be of lower quality. That's annoying and offensive enough. I'm having the most trouble with the circular logic of the argument.
When we were talking about the MFA system and the barriers it puts up to diversity, the counter-argument came that MFA programs were important for quality control (see Anonymous' comment here). The "elite" schools, went the argument, were places where serious, talented playwrights went to learn their craft and become better playwrights and they should be considered before a playwright who didn't because they were objectively better. The MFA was a seal of approval as a good playwright, some folks argued. Their hard work shouldn't be held against them because it produced objectively better plays. (Malachy Walsh, yes, I'm looking at you.)
But now that Scott is suggested that there is a standard level of "good play," an objective barrier, now the same folks are saying that saying there's an objective level of good is antithetical to artistry. You can't say that plays are all equal or can be measured objectively and therefore Scott's idea of using a lottery to pick your season is art-killing and mechanical.
So...plays from an MFA are objectively better than plays by non-MFA playwrights, except there is no objective measure of playwriting and you shouldn't treat plays as equal.
Huh. It's almost as though they don't want to surrender any part of their privilege, isn't it?
Like Isaac's rhetorical, theoretical idea about suing theatres, I don't necessarily think Scott's idea is practicable, but it does show us some of the implicit problems and assumptions in the way we select plays for production. Let's just be clear: as far as I can tell, that's what Scott is talking about. The way we pick plays for production. Which is already about two steps away from random. It's just random within a very small set of plays and playwrights.
One of the nice, tidy little lies we tell ourselves is that literary managers are out there, making decisions about which plays are being produced based solely on their personal tastes. That's only true for a small group of theatres. A lot of the major theatres, the ones less interested in new plays, are programming based on an already complicated rubric, one that involves whatever got the best recent review in the NY Times. Basically a lottery in and of itself.
What about the question of quality?, you ask. What about it? I'm sorry, I missed the memo where theatres only produce perfect plays. Did that suddenly happen? Sometimes you set out to produce a play and it turns out well. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you think it turns out well and no one else does. There's always an element of chance in what we do. A while back, Don Hall quoted a Broadway producer who said, in essence, "If I'd produced all the plays I didn't and didn't produce the plays I did, the outcome would have been the same." Theatres pass on plays that go on to great success all the time. What's the fear? In fact, it takes some of the pressure off. A theatre spends three or five years developing one play, putting it through its reading/workshops/studio production paces, finds summer development programs to host it, raises money and then finally, after all of that, it's a dud. Now you can just say, "Well, that's the play the barrel turned out. Next one might be better."
Why not embrace the randomness, the chance and oddness of what we do? By arguing that there isn't some objective standard of what's good or not, but insisting that the theatres act as though there is, leads us down the same path we're on. And that one isn't going anywhere.
It's an extreme solution, yeah, but what else do you suggest?
(slight update for clarity)