And How I Saved American Theater

In case you were curious, that’s pretty much what it’s like when I take off my clothes.

TV and play related experiences over the past year have led me to develop this theory as to how playwrights and theaters can be happier, healthier, and money-er. I have yet to figure out how to also keep large important theaters and agents happy in this equation, but let’s leave this out for a minute.

Let’s say you’re at the point in your playwriting career where you’ve started to transition out of the thing you did for a dime post-college or grad school. You’re no longer barista-ing or temp-ing or tutoring, instead – you’ve got a part time teaching job, or editing job, or something. You’re living off of that $ and whatever $ that ends up coming in from royalties, commissions, etc (which can be anywhere from none to A Lot, varying year to year.) Because you’ve transitioned into part time work so you can be available for rehearsals, etc – SO MUCH PRESSURE is put on every new play, in terms of getting it produced, and where it will be produced. The delicately / desperately emerging playwright NEEDS the big production to get the most $. And so, when offered premiere productions by smaller companies: the playwright (rightfully, encouraged by the agent) oftentimes says no. And then the play never gets done. OR: if the playwright is lucky, the play is picked up by a larger company – that is, these days, if the theater can find a famous person to star in it – which can distract the audience and critics from the play itself, and focuses all attention on the celebrity – which can ruin the play. So why did the production even happen, even? Sure, you’ve gotten your advance against royalties, good for you, but who’s the say that the smaller company, who sure, coulda paid you nothing, couldn’t have done a better job, with less need for celebrity, and more focus on innovation?

Sometimes I get real angsty about theater, guys. But it’s only the business side of it. The ‘professional’ side of it. As for the actual writing of it, I love and will continue to love it. Nothing makes me happier in the entire world than sitting in a tiny theater seeing something of mine realized, and realized well (see: Mine at the Elephant Lab and Oohrah! at the Steppenwolf Garage.) I made no monies from either of these productions. I had such a spectacular time writing for TV that I really think that every playwright should do it (caveat: I had a particularly spectacular time, and I know not all writer’s rooms are the same.) Having steady income removes financial pressure off our productions, and allows us to give world premieres and / or regional premieres to smaller theater companies. More caveats: I’m not saying it’s totally easy to get a job in TV (it seems to be like this really intense game of musical chairs where definitely not everyone gets a seat, I’m lucky to have gotten even one) and I also don’t think being a part of a TV room is right for everyone, personality wise. I’m saying we should all stop pretending like we can make a living from the theater and find something else that supports us financially, and let any monies from the theater be some sort of miracle, or gift.


Leave a Reply