Friday, July 31, 2009

In Which I Frag A Bit

I'm not normally the fragging sort (well, kind of), but I wanted to point this out. Isaac writes an interesting, substantive post (in response to an interesting, substantive post by Matt Freeman) and ends with a good, intriguing question: what delusions, like the delusion that a play taken in over the transom (as they used to say) has a snowball's shot in hell of being produced, are we collectively clinging to? Good stuff and a good place to start a substantive conversation about how we're approaching not just our work, but the business of our work. Way back when, I'd written some stuff about that, too. These kinds of little lies pile up and pile up and turn our whole field into a hypocritical pig pen of mud and effluvia. And we all wallow it and wonder why people treat us like we smell. But I digress.

I don't mean to trash Isaac's commenters, most of whom I like and generally agree with, but look at the comments there. Not much in the way of discussion about delusions, collective or personal, about the way our business works. In fact, the thread avoids all of that to talk about the ins and outs of Isaac's anonymous theatre company and other similar companies. Eventually, it turns into a conversation about the open submissions policies. Maybe it's just me, but we all know that they're kind of bullshit and generally useless in getting that particular play to be produced. In a way, that's the whole point of both of Matt's piece and Isaac's piece. Isaac expands on it, from a director's point of view, at the end of his piece. And no one picks up the ball.

I wish we would. The one thing that I find incredibly frustrating about our community is the veil of silence over so many things. I think we're all dealing with so many conflicting messages and impulses and trying to navigate tricky waters and we get used to going it alone. We help maintain these hypocrisies by not calling them out, speaking their names or even just admitting when we fall into them.

Here's one I think a lot of us early career people can and should talk about more: loyalty. One of the big canards is that we should all be looking to find good people to work with and then work with them as much as we can. Get to know them, build a real rapport and mutual understanding. It's also supposed to help us build our careers together. I hear of it working for other people...sometimes. Particularly writers with a strong style. But mostly, in the real world, theatres are always eager to have you dump your collaborators. Almost immediately. I've been on both sides of that one.

When I was in grad school, I wrote a short play and worked with a cast on it for a couple of years. We had a performance at the end of school that went over pretty well and a small theatre co. approached me about putting it up. The very first thing they wanted was to dump the cast. I was young, not even really out of grad school and eager, so I went along with it. They put up a casting notice which happened to be in the same space my original cast was putting up a brief remount. My director was suitably upset and I explained to the theatre co. that it was wrong to put that notice up before I'd had a chance to talk to my director or my cast. Maybe I was a little too impassioned about it, but I never heard from them again.

Years later, when I was on the producing end of things, a festival I was working with was putting up a workshop of a new play. The playwright had an actor he'd worked with several times before in mind for a central role, someone who understood his work. This particular festival prided itself on being a bit starry and name-y and had a star-ish person (i.e. someone who'd done a lot of tv) in mind for that role. The playwright was unsure, but was finally swayed. You can tell the rest; in the end, the starry actor wasn't quite right and the play suffered for it. It was events like that that left me feeling like I was doing more harm than good working in theatres.

There is such a gap between our rhetoric and our actions and, I think, as theatre people, we think we're covering it up so well. But it's widening further and further and sooner or later, it's going to swallow us.


joshcon80 said...

I didn't mean to avoid the question on Isaac's blog. I guess I just zeroed in on that because it seemed like it was a reasonable place to start. What can I say? I'm a playwright and I have tunnel vision.

To me, as an outsider pounding my head against the "legitimate" theater's rough exterior in an attempt to gain entry, it seems the whole institution is made up of lies and hypocrisy and a sort of lazy, toxic inertia.

Frankly, I'm not sure where to start. You know that old saying about not being able to see the forest through the trees? Well, I can't see the trees for the forest.

If you want the question discussed more thoroughly I guess I would then turn the question on you. What lies do you see?

Tony Adams said...

But isn't the bulk of Isaac's post about submissions? The question about delusions was tacked on at the end.

99 said...

Isaac does talk a lot about the submission process, but it's really more of an example of a delusion we all share: that blind submissions get a chance. The discussion of that particular delusion is important, but there are other ones.