It seemed to us that the only way of knowing a good play from a bad was to apply the test of time. Our programme would be classical; only those plays would be chosen which had seemed, to discriminating people for several generations, to have serious merit, which had, in fact, withstood the test of time.Plays are finished in production. Period. I think just about everyone can agree with that. That's why this discussion matters. It's part of the Pursuit of the Hit Play, the perfect, unit set, small cast play about large themes and big issues that will run forever and provide subsidies for the original theatre in perpetuity. So much of our industry is oriented in this direction, it's like a black hole, pulling everything that has worked in the past to create just those kinds of plays and better ones out of whack. This is the insurmountable problem that I was talking about.
- Tyrone Guthrie
Writers should not be sending their first drafts...to theatres to evaluate, and then boohoo when they don't get produced."
- Anonymous artistic director, Outrageous Fortune, pg. 27
"Playwrights grow and get better and write the next better play because the other one was produced with all its flaws."
- Anonymous artistic leader, Outrageous Fortune, pg. 95
"In other words, production is development. It is the playwright's crucible, the play's forge. In the past fifty years of American playwriting, production has moved from the single means of new-play development to its last call."
- Outrageous Fortune, pg. 95 (emphasis in the original)
"Writers, as one playwright advocate point out, often find solutions to a play's questions in their next play. Theatrically, this kind of growth calls for continuity and the full realization that only production can offer."
- Outrageous Fortune, pg. 96
"I don't think we develop plays. [...] We're looking for properties, as opposed to developing relationships - which is much more difficult and much more time-consuming. It's much more effective, but it's much more inefficient, and exasperating."
- Anonymous artistic director, Outrageous Fortune, pg. 141 (with slight edit)
"Thanks, Jack, for saying part of what I'm trying to put over to these people. But the other part is an even tougher sell - they all seem to think that they're being silenced and judged, but actually, playwrights today seem to me to get more praise right out of the gate than they did in the recent past. These kids' hair would curl if they got a load of what John Simon used to dish out in the 60's and 70's. And as for Mullin's and Baker's posts about theatres that do new plays - in Boston, almost every company does more new work than anything else. I can only think of one group - the Actors' Shakespeare Project - that concentrates on classics, because, well . . . check out that name . . .
The real trouble with you guys' situation is that in the end, the audience won't risk seeing your work. It's not the critics, or the theatre management. It's the audience itself."
- Thomas Garvey, in the comments, just this minute
"My productions in my little basement theater may be small, but I'm proud of them. And because I self-produce in my own space all of my plays have been produced. Every single one of them.
Why should I wait for Rattlestick or Soho Rep or Playwrights Horizons or whoever to come around to my work? I know my work is good now, and writers don't ever get better by NOT producing."
- joshcon80, in the comments, yesterday
In these quotes, you can see the full effect of this thinking. According to Guthrie, we can only tell if a play is great if it stands the test of time. Throughout Outrageous Fortune, several artistic leaders bemoan the poor state of plays today, the messy, bad plays they get, the mad crush for just a few plays and playwrights who are deemed as being "important." Yet they all acknowledge that a play needs a production to be completed and that a playwright needs commitment to do their best work. These things, in our institutional theatres, are beyond luxuries. They're fantasies.
One thing that's only tangentially dealt with is the role of the critic in all of this. In his various comments here and other places, Thomas Garvey has typified the attitude that comes from a lot of the critical pages: it's not the theatres, but the plays that got small. If a play isn't worthy of instant addition to the pantheon of great plays, it's to be dimissed. He's caught in the same hunt for the Hit, but of a slightly different kind: the Perfect Play. Not in terms of structure or writing, but an instant Classic. Anything that's not has been weighed and found wanting.
A play that could be good, that could be made better by production never gets there. Playwrights get stuck in "development hell," desperately trying to fix things that would be best fixed in a rehearsal hall and in previews in front of a living breathing audience. But they can't. And the theatres sigh and go after whatever got the Good Review, thinking that's the Perfect Play, the play that will satisfy the audience and the critics. Critics like Thomas, who ignore all of the structural issues and difficulties facing a working playwright today, and expect that when a play hits the stage, it should be a Great Play.
And the system goes around and around. Unless, like Josh or Qui, you hop off the merry-go-round, write your plays and produce them. Spots, problems, mistakes and all. And learn. That's the way I'm going this year.