Thursday, October 06, 2005

Evidence of the Confusion

In response to a supportive comment I left for Joshua James in response to his post concerning "cover" plays (see below), he said the following that ties into our discussion of regionalitis:

"That being said, the pinnacle of theatre work is considered New York, is it not? That's where the majority of media is located, that's where the publishers and producers are, that's where the agents are - so we come here for big time work - especially if you want to make a living at it, writing, it's much harder to do in Idaho than it is here. You can write novels and maybe make a living, but not plays."

A common refrain, not that different from what alwaysabridesmaid wrote about actors. The very next paragraph reads:

"I actually get treated better regionally than I do in nyc - I get paid well, they respect the work and love having a living playwright to talk to. There is a profound disrepect running in a lot of the theatre world for living playwrights, and I would accept it if the work being offered up instead were admirable - but mostly it's not - even on an Off-Off-Broadway level, where you think the playwrights would be welcomed, they are not. It's confounding, because the undiscovered playwright today could be the Richard Greenberg of tomorrow, but mostly we're told we're not important here."

When are theatre people going to realize that the myth of NYC does not match the reality? That we might be more likely to have a lively, fulfilling artistic life outside of the NYC rat race? Do we want to work, or do we want to dream about "making it"? Good God, it baffles me. It's the Lotto mentality!

1 comment:

alwaysabridesmaid said...

I am so enjoying/learning from this conversation!

The problem with the question "do you want to work, or do you want to 'make it'?" still implies that we are in NYC because we have dreams of our name in lights and Stephen Spielberg in the audience waiting with a contract in hand, rather than the fact that we are there in hopes that we will not have to do anything to make a living but create theatre.

What is "lively and fulfilling" artistically for you -- you obviously love teaching -- would not make a lot of artists feel that much different from serving food to strangers. And thus being in NYC is not about drinking Cristal in the back of limos -- it's the only chance for doing what we love and getting paid for it, unless we trade NYC for Chicago, or kill me now, LA.

There is only one non-musical based theatre in Asheville that pays a living wage (NC Stage Co.) They would have to base their entire season around the idea of casting me in order for me to make a living acting in Asheville, and I would still have to leave town in the summer to pay all my bills.

I know this speaks to your idea of resident companies, but that's just not feasible for a young company who, because they are paying living wages, cannot stage large cast shows.

(Hardly anyone can. Write for 4 people and one set, or you're out of the game these days.)

I think there are still a lot of communities where people expect theatre to be about that experience you wax rhapsodic about of seeing someone they know up there -- because a bulk of their theatrical experience is made up of piling into school auditoriums to see productions of The Music Man. They are supporting the "good for them for getting up there" mentality, rather than going to see how theatre will affect them. Therefore, they won't see anything they don't know anyone in, and they certainly don't want to pay a lot of money to do it. (It's their dentist up there playing Stanley Kowalski! They know he makes good money; they give it to him.)

This perception leads to the neglect of theatre artists as paid workers.

I am sorry Joshua James' experience is as an unappreciated writer in NYC: I work with two companies in NY -- the LAByrinth Theatre Co and the Lark -- who are all about new play development, so it is a different experience than mine. My friend Noah, 26, went from having us do his plays in a basement in SoHo in 2003, to an Off-Broadway theatre the next, and the Roundabout is doing his play Mr. Marmalade next year.

Why is that harder to do outside of New York? Though yes, of course, the shows turning up on Broadway might as well be high school productions of the Music Man, for all the mashed-potato-comfort-value they offer, (ooooh, Brooke Shields in Wonderful Town! Let's go!) New Yorkers are trained to go to the theatre.

I'm not saying it's the only place in the country where that's true, but I know where I grew up, in an Asheville-sized city in Central PA, my family only went when I was playing Daisy Mae at the high school or a Hot Box Girl in Guys and Dolls at the Dinner Theatre.

Now, the main theatre in town recently switched to an Equity theatre and my stepmother finally, after 50 years of living in that town, signed them up for a season subscription. Did she know that they had switched to a LORT-D contract and were now casting professionals (yes, mostly from NY)? No. But she did know that all of a sudden the plays they saw there got a lot better, now that our pharmacist/mayor wasn't up there trying to play Marc Antony.