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01/04/2010

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Scot Augustson

Woo hoo!
The only point I question is when you talk about having to go to far afield to develop. I have found an abundance of whip-smart, uber-talented, non-diva-ish local (non equity) actors who have a passion for new work.
I know a lot of the folks you worked with early in your career are now outta town, and there is no shame in relying on old, trusted comrades. But, the pool here is quite lovely.

Paul Mullin

Point taken, Scot. And you certainly have a lovely pool circling around you. I'm about to poach some of them lovely fishies.

BTW: did you notice I quoted you on background? That was Heather's favorite quote.

Matt Sweeney

I *knew* it was Scot you quoted when I read it. Nicely done, Mr. Mullin.

Wes Andrews

Paul:

I think you're being unfair to Kate Whorisky. Check out "The Thin Place" in their new Season: http://www.intiman.org/defaultnews/10seasonreview.html

Looks pretty local to me.

-Wes

Paul Mullin

Ah yes Wes. I read about that in the Seattle Times: "Andrew Russell directs the one-actor, multicharacter work."

More on such pieces in my essay, "The One-Person Show: the Lazy Artistic Director's Best Friend"

Wes Andrews

Fair enough, but it is very local, exactly what you're accusing Whoriskey of failing at.

David Baum

Hi Paul,

For those of us who are not quite as steeped in theatre culture as you are, could you please (at some appropriate time) sketch a step-by-step outline of the infrastructure for new plays and playwrights that you would like to see in Seattle?

What is the model? What should we be trying to build?

Becky Bruhn

Locally grown ("slow") is one of the biggest movements on the economic horizon. How profoundly sad to hire a theatre leader who thinks "globalization" is the hot new thing. ("Ma'am, we've heard of it.")

You go, Paul! I feel my patriotic heart pitter-patting. Real working artists (like you and Kelleen and Dawson and Scot) in our town, in our lives, in our schools, in our pubs, and represented on our stages is just about the best thing we have going.

Paul Mullin

Wes, was she unfairly quoted in The Stranger? (Not impossible, I've heard) Because if she wasn't, I find her remarks openly contemptuous. And that's what I'm saying.

One local one-person play ripped from radio transcripts does not an in-road make.

Wes Andrews

I really don't think someone who is openly contemptuous of Seattle theatre would produce a new play by a local writer in her first year. You might think poorly of the work itself, or the genre, but it's a Seattle play, about Seattle citizens, in a "documentary" mode, much like "It's Not in the PI."

I would interpret her comment on globalization as pertaining to their new International Cycle, and her work "Ruined." If I was feeling very sympathetic, I could also interpret that comment as expressing a frustration that you have articulated--an endless stream of plays about Upper West Siders. A genre, I'll note, that is totally absent from their Season next year.

Mark Lutwak

The most specific piece of the puzzle: the official "mission" of a non-profit theatre (in any community). Non-profit institutions are given state licenses to serve their communities with arts services. That's the deal. If the state approves of this mission (and its attendant business support structures), then it gives the institution all sorts of stuff: the ability to accept tax-free donations, freedom from other taxes, entree to all sorts of other benefits.

So, theatres, by definition, are set up to be in dialogue with their communities. Bringing us back to your original point. The work needs to be meaningful to the audience that is actually attending. More often than not, that implies local, original texts. And when not -- in the case of a classic or other "national" contemporary work, a strong justification that this play has something to say to this specific community. Which, of course, involves the producer and other artists' "take" on the work.

Where this cuts the other way, is that artists must recognize that that is how institutions should be planning. If a writer (regardless of quality), is writing edgy, dark, passionate work that appeals strongly to the 19-26-year-old crowd, then he or she ought not to be surprised that a theatre serving the under 18 crowd, or the over 26 crowd, is looking elsewhere.

The institutions (theoretically) exist to enable and mediate the relationship between theatre artist and audience. 50-50.

Darian

I hear you Paul. And I say "huzzah". It makes me really want to dig into the idea we've been bandying about at RCP, the "pipeline". Perhaps together we can take the quotes off and build a pipeline for new, local, plays from small houses to big ones.

Any thoughts on SCT? They seem to do local fairly frequently.

Paul Mullin

Mark, thank you so much. And great points. So good to hear from you. My best to Y.

Darian, you know I'm all about the pipeline. Let's absolutely rip the quote marks off it and make it real. I'm working with Tom Jacobson in LA to get things going from that side. I think Seattle and LA need to be the start of something on this Coast, though I bet Portland could offer a lot as well.

Also, D, you're not the first to mention SCT's absence from this piece. I sort of left them out because children's theatre has such a different play development model, so dependent as it is on adaptation.

John Longenbaugh

Hey Paul:

Provocative and multi-faceted essay. Well done.

One thought though: there's a fundamental problem with our larger theatres producing plays by local playwrights, and it's this: new plays, and by this I mean world premieres, do not as a rule sell as well as established plays with buzz. No it's not fair, no it's not right, but it's the way it is. When I ran Theatre Babylon we featured no less than four world premieres in a six show season. The only one that sold out every night was Lauren Weedman's, and not only was our space roughly a third the size of her regular home at The Empty Space, but she had the long-established reputation to carry it off.

The fact is, a new play by you or me or Scot or Dawson or Colleen, no matter how good, is probably not going to sell as well as another show that's won a clutch of Tonys, or at least gotten a lot of good press elsewhere. It's even debatable whether a new play by a real heavyweight--and here I'm thinking about David Esbjornson's noble but doomed first season at The Rep, including original pieces by Ariel Dorfmann, Ping Jong, and Jeffrey Hatcher--will pull in audiences like a revival or whatever took home the awards on Broadway last year.

Does this mean that they SHOULDN'T do world premieres of work by local playwrights? Of course not. But it's not productive to ignore the financial difficulties of producing these shows.

Instead, I think the argument has to take it as a given that a slot by a local playwright isn't going to be a money-maker, but will be good for the institution for the reasons you note in your piece (and others). During the last 15 years I've been watching Seattle theatre, I've seen the big houses produce plays repeatedly that they knew were not likely to make money--to promote dialogues with various ethnic communities, to stay true to the cultural mission of the theatre, and sometimes just as a favor to a friend. What we need to say is that while we can't guarantee boffo box office, what a play by a locally produced playwright will give the theatre is cultural prestige and an increase in loyalty and support from Seattle's artistic community.

And we also need to admit that in these cash-strapped times, this might not be a strong enough argument to convince an artistic director to hand over a slot in their season.

Geoff Spelman

Recalling from my college days, you seem to be putting forth a normative question, you argue that the local large houses ought to better support local playwrights and theater resources. Yes they should. But normative question seldom find a place beyond the boundaries of universities and TV and radio screaming matches. One has to fight fire with fire. The community needs to be more creative and more energetic and pull in an audience that is now glued to Facebook and Twitter. Theater sports, theater competition, theater with music, short theater, whatever draws them in.

Wasn’t Off Broadway a response to the boredom of the same old stuff and the exclusion of new talent and new vision?

If Ms Whoriskey is correct and we are not just competing with New York but Hong Kong and Mumbai, then we have to raise the stakes and create theater crafts that flys off the shelf. Meanwhile the large houses must look with great trepidation at the age of their audience and donor base. They certainly spend a considerable amount of time and energy chasing down the offspring of the well healed to help preserve the cash flow. But this town has a lot of young money. Compete. Find new money for new works. Find a Medici from Medina that has issues with her father. Build something interesting and they will come.

Tom Elliott

I think that you need to go for the boards if you want to get institutional theatres in step with the "grow local" movement. As long as local board members are dazzled by out-of-towners who play into their provincial low self-esteem, there can be no sense of local artistic ownership at the top. Boards will keep bringing in carpetbagger artistic directors unless they start to understand that there is a certain appeal to audiences in seeing the same artists develop over time, and that unlike film and TV, theatre is ultimately not a commodity but a communal experience that benefits from local relevance.

And the blackballing quote is priceless.

Carl Sander

You’re not having sex with me if you’re thinking about somebody else while riding my heat. Asking to be loved never works. Juicy language makes them week in the knees. Being desirable on your own terms is the key to power. Go Paul Go.

Jim Jewell

Glad to see someone else mentioned SCT, because I was going to, though in a different light.

If you're going to trumpet "go local," then point out the fact that our very own beloved local theatre artists can't get over the word "children" in SCT's name long enough to check out world-class theatre. Without doubt, SCT has the best international reputation of any theatre in town, and yet isn't mentioned as one of the "big houses" because even theatre folks don't take us seriously.

Granted, this first point goes against "local," but how many people missed the first visit by an Iranian theatre company to the US in 30 years because it happened to be at SCT? How many people missed the brilliance of Amy Thone as Madame Lafarge and stunning direction by Rita Giomi in "A Tale of Two Cities" because it was produced by SCT? And how many will miss Hans Altweis and David Quicksall's amazing aerial work in the upcoming "In the Northern Lands: Nordic Myths" because it is produced by SCT? And, this last work has been extensively workshopped locally and was written by AD Linda Hartzell and Torrie McDonald, both locals.

My point being that we shouldn't wrench our shoulders patting ourselves on the back, because we are all myopic.

I also take some issue with Louis Broome saying the Rep's real audience is its donor base. I've worked for Development at the Rep as well as Marketing, and am in PR/Marketing now and work closely with Development at SCT, and it is simply an unfair and inaccurate statement. The "big houses" (and we are one - look at the budgets and the union contracts) don't program for donors, but do in fact program for audience. That may not produce any better theatre in the end, but having worked in big houses as well as busted tail promoting little shows for nuthin', I don't like to let the myths perpetuate. Financially, it just doesn't make sense to program toward contributed income.

Great conversation you're hosting here, Paul - thanks!

Joshua Conkel

I wondered why Kate was chosen as Artistic Director of the Intiman Sheila Daniels. I loved "Ruined" but it seemed to me (from afar, granted) that Sheila Daniels was next in line.

A lot of my plays take place in a fictional version of Kitsap County. I have never had a Seattle production outside of Cornish. It's funny that my chances of getting one might be better as a New Yorker than somebody who actually lives in Seattle.

Paul Mullin

Wouldn't that have been nice, Joshua? For Sheila to have gotten the nod? Would've shown a lot of faith in the local talent.

But Bart Sher wanted his hand-picked viceroy successor, and a Broadway bedazzled board was going to give Bart whatever Bart wanted. Just like years ago when the Rep's board gave Sullivan that idiotic second space, the Leo K.

More on that bungle in my upcoming essay, "Good Friend for Jesus’ Sake Forbear and Never Build another Proscenium Stage."

Paul Mullin

Thanks to the anonymous commenter who pointed out" "Lenya wasn't married to Brecht--she was married to Kurt Weill. Brecht was married to Helene Weigel, who was the original Mother Courage."

Wish I could give you credit or run the original comment, but I'm standing by my no anonymous comments policy, even when they are kind and helpful.

I'll be sure to change the original piece to reflect the truth.

Noah

Nice essay! Really a pleasure to peruse your rabble rousing. I think for anyone in love with theater it should be a good read. I'm a strong believer in new work and local work. I think there is a contagious excitement when you get to be a part of a projects genesis. And that's huge when the only incentive you can expect for your work in theater is joy.

I get the other side too though (somewhat devil's advocate here). I understand why the Rep puts on Mamet and the Intiman does Streetcar. Those plays are part of a cannon and people want to be familiar with them because of the cultural capitol you will gain. "national" plays are fodder for conversation for a great many more people than "local" plays are.

At the end of the day I think what most people want is a good story told well. I think for people intimately involved with theater we've just heard the same freakin story sooo many times and it feels like nobody's gonna bother buying any new books.... See More

I was fortunate enough to see Tuesday when you guys put that up at annex and I remember feeling totally invigorated by the experience. I'm embarrassed to say it was somewhat of a revelation at the time to realize "national" theater wasn't the only place to turn for rich compelling layered complex stories. I think when more people have the experience of actually going to the theater and seeing new, local, work done well they'll realize there's a far richer cultural world to be found than the one currently offered at the bigger houses.

For my part I'd just be excited to see a play at the rep where half the audience was under 40.

לפרטים נוספים

Developing a new operate by a playwright manager of be aware and operate confirmed to switch to NY, provides no possibility. In Elizabethan Britain it was extremely hard for performs to be anything other than a community or state occurrence.

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