Monday, February 15, 2010

Supplying Demand

Isaac has an interesting and thoughtful post here on an essential problem of the theatre, one that is often elided in discussions like the one we had about Outrageous Fortune. Here's the money graf:
In many areas, there is barely the audience to support the current amount of theater. I've sat in enough houses where the number of paying customers was quite low to know that in New York, we produce a lot more theatre than there is demand to justify it*. And there aren't enough production opportunities out there. There just aren't. There will always be heartbreakingly underserved, underrecognized, undersupported and underproduced artists and writers. We can't fix that. We should try to come as close as possible, I really believe coming closer to that goal is quite worthy, but we should at least be humble enough to know that there are some limits.
One of the knocks against the push for more new plays in more places is that it doesn't take into account the actual quality of the plays. Some (or many, as some think) new plays are actually no good, and that's the reason they aren't being produced. The playwrights who complain about lack of opportunity or access, the reasoning goes, are bad playwrights, whining because their plays are being overlooked.

Despite the obnoxious tone it often takes, that's a valid point. And the idea of supply and demand is part of it. There literally are only so many plays that any community can support. Even if every single theatre produced only new plays and play attendance was at 100%, there would still be plays not produced. Good plays, bad plays, even great plays get overlooked. It's the nature of the world. In his post, Isaac talks at some length about the work of Lynn Nottage and notes that she has a number of good plays that aren't as widely known as they deserve. Of course there are! Just like there are good plays by all sorts of writers that aren't seen as much as they should be. It's the nature of the beast.

Rejection, disappointment, failure, these are part of life and definitely part of art. As I spoke about here, it can be a powerful motivation. All of the fairness, affirmative action, access in the world can't avoid that. And I don't think many playwrights would want it to vanish. I certainly don't. And theatres shouldn't either.

One of the parts of Outrageous Fortune that I still don't think is talked about enough is the search for new Great Plays. The artistic directors want them. The audiences want them. And I think most playwrights want to write them. I know I do. But even if we do, there are no guarantees. They may not get produced. The real question I think we've been kicking around is how to get more Great Plays.

I know I'd be happy if blind submissions was the standard submission process. Let the plays stand on their own. It won't fix the supply and demand issue, but it would make the whole process more fair.


Louis said...

Blind OPEN submissions would make the whole process at least seem more fair.

It could also expose what people's true cultural biases are because decision making would not, theoretically, take into account playwright or play pedigree.

It's certainly better than the "lottery" someone called for at one point.

Of course, blind OPEN submissions is a pipe dream. But, then again, to someone feeling cynical, that's what the theatre traffics in.

RLewis said...

I can see how BOS's might find "other" plays, but I'm not sure how it helps the community to develop Playwrights.

Louis said...

RL, if the point is to develop playwrights, BOS won't work. But we're currently just (hopefully) coming out of an era when you heard the "I'm interested in this voice" as justification for sitting through readings of bad plays or giving away money to writers submitting plays the will never work.

BOS would certainly go a long way to fixing that, pipe dream that it is.