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I understand your frustration totally here. At the same time, I have no desire to work with toolbags or assholes. There are too many talented theatre artists to put up with that shit. What we want, I think, is to hit the sweet spot of someone who is good to work with, a good collaborator, honest but not a jerk who is ALSO a good writer. In my experience there are plenty of these.

Paul Mullin

Thanks, Issaac.

In a similar corollary to “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.”; the opposite of niceness is not assholery, but rather the willingness to confront everyone in the room (in this case a theatre) with the dark thing that is usually left politely unsaid.

No one would ever accuse Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, or David Mamet of niceness. This is not because they are innate assholes (and least not the first two) but because their very work undermines any accusation of pleasantry for pleasantry’s sake. From all accounts, Albee one-on-one is just the sweetest, most urbane gentleman you could hope to have a conversation with, but as soon as he knows an audience is listening out come the knives. Why? Because it is the opposite of our job to be nice. It is our job to say the things that cannot or will not be said in film or on television. It is our job to dig out the cancer. It is our job to tell society the truth, even when the truth is humiliating and/or embarrassing and/or disturbing.

If the best thing you can say about a playwright is that he is nice, you have just in fact said the worst thing you can say about that playwright.

Scot Augustson

Fuck you.

Keri Healey

Paul, is your criticism that Seattle likes its playwrights nice or that Seattle likes its PLAYS nice?

Scot Augustson

I was just trying to not be nice.

Paul Mullin

Oh, Scot, you're going to have to work harder than that to not be seen as nice. But do not despair, anyone who knows you and your work well cannot consider you anything other than a nasty son-of-a-bitch.

Keri, it's a great question, but I'll stick with my original assertion. New play development is the only time the playwright really plays a factor in this town. And for those all-too-rare occasions the Big House artistic directors, some of whom jealously nurture their own storied reputations for niceness, would rather have the nice, supple, pliant and familiar playwright in the room.

The fact that Seattle also likes its PLAYS nice is a related, but separate neurosis.

Keri Healey

I am curious, though, Paul: in the cases on your mind, were the "nice" playwrights also "name" playwrights? I would find it surprising that those who make such decisions at major houses would go with a play they found innocuous or weak purely because the playwright was a nice person. Surely, that playwright also had some other currency to offer, like a national reputation?

Paul Mullin

"...in the cases on your mind, were the "nice" playwrights also "name" playwrights?"

Sometimes but not always.

I have heard the niceness defense proffered in the case of "nationally known" playwrights as well as "up-and-coming" and my deepest concern is that when the defense is proffered it is done so as a potential argument-ender. As if to say, "Give it up. You can argue for cogent daring new work all you like, but ______ blank is nice, and niceness trumps all."

I suppose what I would like to see happen is the "niceness defense" removed from the playing field. Instead, what do these plays mean for Seattle? Is forgetableness forgivable? Is the fact that most of these "nice" plays by "nice" playwrights never move up the supply chain to say New York or London, but almost always simply bounce around the oblivion of the Starbucked and McDonaldized regional scene until they drop like rotten fruit from the canon, is that at all disturbing, or just something we're willing to live with since surviving is more important than thriving?


I gotta admit, if I were working on the level of being able to work with Edward Albee, I'd turn it down. Anyone who is on record as viewing both actors and directors as enemies of his work is not someone speaking uncomfortable truths but rather an asshole one should be wary of, regardless of how sweet he is one on one.

Paul Mullin

So help me out a little with some clarity, Isaac. Are you saying you would never work on an Albee play? Or are you saying you would never work with him personally? The reason I ask is that I think this goes to the heart of what I’m saying. With the rise of the director in the 19th Century and the rise of the Artistic Director in the 20th, theatre artists have become less and less comfortable working with actual living breathing (and potentially difficult) playwrights. I’m stilling jotting notes for a full essay I intend to write, tentatively titled “Preferably Dead”.

I know Albee can be caustic in the defense of his work. I’d be interested, however, to see the actual quotes you refer to as on record. The worst I’ve heard are things like what he said in his recent Village Voice piece:

“VV: What makes someone a good director of your work?

EA: To realize that the proper function of a director is to do an accurate translation of the play from the page to the stage. If the play is lousy, I suppose a director could improve it, as can actors. The better the play, the more damage they and the actors can do.

VV: So you're not a great believer in director's theater?

EA: Good God, no. We don't write plays to have them fucked over by other people.”

As a playwright who’s only been working for about half of the 5 decades that Albee has I can say I have struggled through plenty of instances where directors and/or actors have positioned themselves, whether willingly or not, as an enemy to my play. A playwright’s first loyalty must always be to the text he or she is offering because if he or she fails in that regard, it is highly unlikely that anyone else will take up the gauntlet later.

So, if you had a time-machine and proof-positive that Shakespeare was a out-an-out filth-spitting son of a bitch, would you refuse to ever work on another of his plays? Or just refuse the opportunity to work with him personally?

Darian Lindle

Hey, I'm nice. Where's my workshop?

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