Monday, November 07, 2005

"Our Own New Deal"

Zacharay R. Mannheimer, the Producing Director of the Subjective Theatre Company, posts a brilliant essay entitled "Our Own New Deal:Planting Roots for American Theater" over at the Brooklyn Rail blog. In it, he proposes that NY theatre artists spread out across the country, taking up residence in towns outside of Manhattan. His ideas about how to approach such a thing illustrate concretely what I have been calling for in my own posts on "regionalitis" on September 19, 20, and 22nd. To me, Mannheimer is someone who is thinking outside the box and trying to solve some problems. I highly recommend his essay.


Joshua said...

It is a well-written essay. I admire it.

There is nothing I would like more than to be able to move to a smaller town where I can have a bigger house (for half the rent) a car and a motorcycle, along with green grass on a lawn and much cheaper beer in the bar.


I want to write for a living. I don't want to be a weekend warrior, like the cover bands I've written about in "No More Covers" - driving a truck during the week and doing theatre on the weekend.

I'm from Iowa, I know people who do just what he's written about and while there is nothing wrong with what they do, it is not what I strive for, which is to be a working professional writer, of the theatre and perhaps more. I don't wish to teach, I don't wish to review, I wish to write professional theatre along film and television.

You cannot really do that from Witchita. Or Iowa. Not really.

That's the reason to live here in new york city. Besides Los Angeles, this is where the agents are. And the managers and eventually some producers.

I wish it were not so. I wish I could live in a small town, put up plays and have agents consider them.

But I know several, more than several, really talented writers who live elsewhere and have great difficulty with representation, finding it and keeping it and getting their plays considered.

So perhaps it depends on what a person wants to achieve. I don't know.

Anonymous said...

i guess the question I always have for people like Zach is... wel... why haven't they moved yet?

Freeman said...

I would say this: Zack is making a provocative statement in order to get us to think outside of NYC. Now, I came here, like most people, to find a place where financial support and an audience exists for this sort of thing, plus the prospect for a career and real connections (yes, I said connections.) I cannot find that in my hometown of Boyertown, PA, where baseball is the order of the day.

Should we think a little more about exporting theater, though? Yes, we should.

I'll write a bit more about this on my own blog tomorrow. But I love this sort of well-written argument for something that most people would naturally resist.

IdWizard said...

Well - I thought I would chime in here to answer some of the questions...

First off - very pleased that this dialogue is happening! Don't know you guys, except Freeman, so - nice to meet you!

As far as what Isaac asks - why have I not done this yet? - a very good question, yes. The idea is to do this in the next 2 years. I run a company here and we are in the process of dividing it up in order for some of to go to, say, Wichita, and for some of us to stay in NYC. I wrote this now in order to get some debate going on the subject, as I have been debating it in bars and wasting too much money on pitchers.

To respond to Joshua - I of course understand and respect the fact that most agents and producers are in the 2 big cities - and my idea is mostly based at companies - not individuals setting up camp in other places - but regardless, and this is the idealistic perspective - would the agents and producers not go where the talent is? Granted - it would take a mass exodus, to, say, Wichita, to lure them out there, and realistically I do not see that happening anytime soon - so - the alternative - I believe that taking your work and talent to a new part of the country is a sacrifice that will pay off in the long run.

People don't want to go and start a community, or even help an infant one or small one into adulthood. People want to go to where the community already is. And that would be the cities. But I would argue - what kind of community do we even have here? There are well over 10,000 of us fellow artists in this city - where is the central place to meet? Do we see each other's work? I only know Freeman because he came and reviwed a show of mine and we run into each other at functions and shows, etc...and I've just met Joshua and Isaac (at least virtually). The community here is disjointed and does not work. That's why I choose to start The Community Dish - which has 67 Indie Theatre companies in it right now - but even that has its extreme problems.

One of my main points that I would like to stress is that it is better to be a big fish in a small pond than vice-versa. It will be much easier to start a community like this in a smaller place than here - that will change the work - and most importantly - the way of life is much slower so that we may actually have time to see each other's work on a more consistent basis and comment on it and continue to grow as artists and get to know our audience better and so on.

But that will not occur unless we are actually there.

Anyway - looking forward to hearing other responses and - Joshua and Isaac - what do you guys have going on? Anything I can go and see?

Joshua said...

"would the agents and producers not go where the talent is?"

Short answer - no.

The media coverage is still mostly based on two areas that count for entertainment - LA and New York. Some Chicago writers do fair (and I've thought of moving there) but many have local chicago agents who find their hands tied getting their clients into big theatres here. There is a lot of talent in Chicago, and occasionally someone there will get major coverage in their papers, enough to translate into a transfer to NYC or LA - but still, for the most part - the theatre money folk stay close to where they are. nyc and la.

Case in point - nyc fringe festival - gets a lot of ink (deservedly or not) - now there's been a similar festival running in edinborough for a loong time (and the direct inspiration for the new york fest) but is it covered here? No. Are agents that excited about any shows in Scotland? No. Is any producers here trying to transfer a show from there to OB? No. Why? Cause it's in fucking Scotland, man, and the producers and media are here.

wish it weren't true, and there are instances where a piece will be developed and discovered regionally (Kentucky Cycles is one) but for the writer of theatre - unfortunately - you'll have more trouble making a splash.

I want to write for television eventually, and that means moving to LA. 90% of the tv writing is done there, and so is the hiring. That's how it is, I wish it weren't so, but wishing won't make it true.

Joshua said...

I forgot to add, Zach, that there are people outside new york who are doing great theatre - you just don't hear about them - but it's true, there are groups of people doing their thing all around.

As an example, I cite No Shame Theatre ( which is where I started as a writer, back in Iowa. It's all over the country -

When I lived in Lincoln Nebraska, we did original new work there that was quite exciting.

There are many others doing the same thing in other places. The problem is, except locally, nothing much happens once the show is done.

IdWizard said...

In terms of why the producers and agents and whatnot do not go to those places, you are absolutely right. There are exceptions, of course - like Clancy Productions (John Clancy, who founded NYC Fringe) has left the world of NYC fringe or not, and taken his work to Scotland year after year, and won the awards and got the press and more importantly, the audiences, for his work - and year after year, it has not been written about here on a mass scale, but there are groups taking his work from Scotland and presenting it here next year. But yes, an exception.

The problem I see is the reliance upon this system - we are artists, we are not ruled by agents and producers and paychecks. Yes, of course, money is important and we need it - but there are other ways to make it. You want to write for television - it may be easier in LA to do this - just like it may be easier in NYC to do theatre and get noticed - but who are you really affecting - and what are the odds that you will hit it big, no matter how talented you are? Not too good. So why not go to a smaller place and do a show from scratch on a local station that will give you airtime once you've established yourself there in the community? Where you are making your work as uninhibited by producers and agents as possible?

I guess what really matters is what kind of tv do you want to write? Do you want to write for the masses only to get your work stepped on left and right so companies will purchase airtime to sell things - or do you want your art to be yours? Idealism is really all we have left at the end of the day, why not keep chasing it?

I will check out noshame - thank you for the tip. My knowledge of the regional world on all levels is beginner at best, so I've got lots to learn on that front.

And yes, that's the horror of it, all this work and effort for one show and then it closes and is dead. Such is theatre, sometimes. But we must do more to make sure this does not happen. The RATS are a good example, though I find that they are much more about theory than practice, perhaps that's because they got so big, I don't know. Regardless, once we are communicating with each other in different parts of the country instead of the same part of the country, we can then start a network so our plays do not die. We trade theatres - Boise goes to Memphis, Memphis goes to Lincoln, Lincoln goes to San Diego, etc.....right now we would be lucky if we had Lower East Side go to Upper East Side, and UES go to Dumbo, and Dumbo go to Inwood, etc...

Additionally, in terms of money, in a community that is smaller and you get to know your audience on a personal level and they care about your work, you are all the more likley to receive city funding or personal funding because your work is vital to the community. In NYC - all of that money has been sucked up by groups much older than mine. Nothing wrong with that - they just got here first - so what am I supposed to do and the other 1000 companies as well?

Anonymous said...

Zach, what do you mean you don't know me? We almost did the LC Director's Lab together!

PS: And I congratulate you on putting your money where your mouth is. I've always imagined doing something similar (only with Richmond, VA as the probably destination). I called it "The Exile Project".


Joshua said...


We are different people, evidently - artists have to pay the bills just like anyone else - to say that we are not ruled by paycheck seems a bit, I don't know, of a dodge. We should support ourselves, if we can.

I want to be compensated for my work, I deserve to be compensated for my work - my work is worthy of that.

I agree that the system is frucked up with its overreliance on agents from specific agencies, that. But I don't know that moving is a solution. It would be better if the work moved, you know? If a theatre in Scottsdale did work of mine and traded with a theatre in new york. If the work moved, it would help. So I like your idea of a network - that's a good idea. Move the work around. I don't know if the writer moving helps, unless the writer is sick of new york (which happens) and wants to get out.

And again, I come from the background you're talking about - I did theatre in Iowa and Nebraska, I came here to pitch in the big show. Hey, there's nothing wrong with people that was to be big fish in a small pond - but it's not what I, myself, want out of this life - I want to do it for a living. As Matt pointed out, you simply cannot do that from Bumfruck Iowa. You can't. If you could, I'd still be there.

And may I add, how do you know that I don't know my audience on a personal level? I think that I do - I've done enough shows and seen enough faces to know my audience. You can do that here, it's true.

I think that, and this is a side issue, that there is a disconnect between writers and theatres here in new york. A lot of theatres don't have relationshps with writers - they have them with directors and actors, but not often with writers. Writer's will get brought in for one show that a director likes, and that's it. No development of a person's work - fact, very little interest in new work to begin with - something that I've ranted on considerably. I think that's a bigger problem.

IdWizard said...


Mr. Butler! You reveal yourself! Didn't know it was you - there are, strangely enough, many Isaac's in these parts.

Exile project sounds good. Do you still plan on jetting?


Yes, it does appear that we are hitting this from different angles. Of course you deserve to be compensated for your work - but I simply see that compensation being different.

In any respect, yes, the larger problem here, concerning the writer, is exactly what you said - esp. in NYC - there are not enough relationships b/w writer and theatre, and certainly not enough of them getting paid. It's very much like what Scott wrote about in Sept. on here (which I just discovered last night) about stars moving from one town to the next, and that's all. We need a tighter community in order to address this problem as a whole...

I run The Community Dish, which is a consortium of now 67 Indie NYC companies who meet bi-monthly for dinner. Unfortunately, it's a bit of a crapshoot at the moment as we are trying to rebound from becoming too large, but it's still a viable community of artists all doing the same thing in the same place. I would, however, like to take on the issues you bring up and discuss them more fully - that way we can better address the problem and attack it as one group. Trying to figure out the best way to do this. Ideas?

Joshua said...

Ideas, hmmm. That's a challenge.

Okay, so you say you know 67 indie theatre companies. Here's the idea. They make a promise. They only do new work the next 12 months - no dead texts. That's a start. Find new and exciting and current work - not reimagined old texts, not undiscovered translations of some french plays, new work with a living and breathing author.

Here's the other idea - adopt a playwright. Each company adopts one or two or even three deserving yet undiscovered playwrights and devotes their season to that person's work. Much like the Signature does with one writer, each company finds someone who should be on the map and does everything in their power to put them there.

Now this may seem like it would only serve the writer. Not true. As I've pointed out, making a big discovery is what puts a company on a map. It works both ways. Urinetown made the nyc fringe festival, as I pointed out previously. Folks won't necessarily get thrilled if a company stages yet another great production of Three Sisters - but if the next Sam Shepard or Caryl Churchill or Rebecca Gillman gets discovered, then you'll see a huge movement of the masses.

Did the Magic Theatre make Shepard's career or did he make theirs? Pehaps it was both. They invested in his work and got a great return for it - plus, Shepard still goes back there to do new work.

This disconnect between the companies that put the work out there and those that author it to me is one of the biggest tragedies of our theatre times. Instead of looking for the next revival or the next shitty movie we can turn into a broadway musical, we should be looking for artists and stories that are thus far untold. If we don't, it will die, our community. It cannot live on relics.

Freeman said...

A few thoughts on Zack's piece are up on my blog, for those interested.