I don't even have a dog in the fight that Brendan Kiley's pulled me into here, but I think I might have to rent one.
Me on Face Book yesterday
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Before I retired from theatre nearly two years ago I liked to write essays about the art form’s problems (“On Institutional Arrogance”), and what made it great, (“How Can I Talk About the Borrowers?”), but I never did manage to write all the essays I wanted to. By the end, I had a whole file full of titles I would never flesh out. I even wrote an essay about that (“Surplus Titles”). One of my favorite leftovers was “Better Dead”, under which I intended to provide an explanation to the uninitiated that despite the image they might hold in their minds of playwrights being central to the making of theatre in modern America, the fact is, our absence is the usual and preferred state of engagement, and if we can manage to be dead, preferably for a long enough time that our work is in the public domain, then we are even more popular among our non-playwriting theatre colleagues.
Corey McDaniel Okay....so I'm going to go way out on a limb here…. No theatre that I know of, especially in Seattle, can pay their bills on tickets sales alone. As producers, theatres are looking for Great Plays, Great Artists to work with, and "angels" to help pay the bills. If you can get all three in on person, why on earth is this a bad thing?...
My response, after much back and forth including many other parties:
Paul Mullin Because, yeah, what sort of qualifications DO you need to write a play? It's not like acting or directing or designing or, you know, disciplines that require talent, experience and training.
Let me be clear for the sake of brevity. I care less about the current “patron-as-artist” model in use at ACT and more about the fact that many directors and actors in Seattle seem to think it’s no big deal for someone to buy their way in as a playwright (or, in fairness co-playwright) (Read Kiley’s article for details. I can’t really bear to rehash them). Why this willingness to throw playwrights under the patronage bus now? It’s really no mystery to anyone who has spent more than a few years as a playwright, or has brought anything to full production as one. Most actors and directors, and really all theatre professionals, spend most of their careers without a playwright in the room. To them, we are a magical species. Everyone loves a unicorn! You would never want to watch a unicorn die; but neither would you want to bank your livelihood on keeping one alive. Actors, directors and designers will only really give a shit about rich people buying away their roles in the theatre when rich people threaten to do exactly that. And who knows how far away that day may be?
First they came for the playwrights, and I said nothing, because really, what the fuck? How hard could it be?
Honestly, when I told Brendan Kiley I thought the situation was “laughably corrupt” I begged him to emphasize the “laughably” part. I honestly think it’s hilarious. If I were still writing plays I would be deeply tempted to write one about a rich CEO who thought he could write a play aggrandizing his own hero’s journey, and “leave the theatrics” to be provided by the theatre folks. It’s just such a richly absurd commentary, all by itself, on the state of our art form that it really doesn’t need much embellishment. And if I could think of a nastier way to curse the rich than saying, “Come on and fall in love with this amazing self-debilitated art form and let it bruise your soul as deeply as it has mine”, perhaps I would. I’d be in good company. Jesus cursed the rich. But Jesus was a better man than I am, and could afford such luxuries. Instead, I will simply wish the rich well, and genuinely hope they can do more than I ever could to save my beloved former art form from utter museumification.
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And now I need to say something on a more personal note. I love John Langs. I don’t just love him as an artist and collaborator, who gave me some of the best productions of my plays I’ve ever had; I love him as a brother. He is a friend that I will always admire and hope to always enjoy a regular happy hour with. But sadly, even John spends less time with new plays than he should. And while my good buddy holds absolutely zero blame for my retirement, the fact that I saw and worked with him way less after he landed his job at ACT is part of the reason it’s easier for me to walk away. If I can’t work with the likes of John Langs—the best in the business—and I can’t, then I really don’t want to stay and play. (And it’s not John’s fault. I am not blaming John. I can’t say that enough. It’s just the way things are.)
So to my dear (former) colleagues in the theatre, my friends who are actors, directors, designers, stage managers, producers and every other function that anyone performs to realize this great art form, I say to you, in the event that a rich person decides they want to pay to play at what you do, please know that you can always come cry on my shoulder. And to my (former) fellow playwrights? What can I say to you, my poor unicorns? Get busy getting rich, or get busy dying; ‘cuz those are the ways you make friends in this business.