I could really use some explanation about why such a commitment -- a commitment to three plays, mind you, not something like a whole season -- is being portrayed as so financially risky as to be characterized as"knee-wobbling." Yes, knee-wobbling. The article makes it sound like the production of new plays is some heroic undertaking, as if doing new plays wasn't the norm until regional theatres got so wussy about it. The article explains
That risk — both financial and artistic — is the main reason more companies don't, or can't, follow the DCTC's lead. The artistic risk is three-fold: No matter the writer, just paying for a script to be written doesn't mean it will be worthy of being staged one day. So, many get written but are never staged.
It's also always harder to attract audiences to plays they don't know. And Thompson isn't playing it safe when it comes to content.
The financial risk is knee-wobbling. Thompson estimates it's one-third more expensive to produce a new play than an existing one. [my italics] So last year, the Denver Center board expanded Thompson's budget by $1 million, to $11.9 million — and that's when he was staging only one new play, Jason Grote's thrilling "1001." This year, the figure will be $12.6 million.
"When you are working with unknown titles, your risk goes way up," said Denver Center chief financial officer Vicky Miles. "A few years ago, we wouldn't have been in a financial position to take that risk."... The additional expenses only begin with paying writers to write. The playwright also must be present at design meetings, casting, rehearsals and performances. Marketing costs go up.
So let me get this straight. This incredible expense is the result of paying writers for their work, and for including them in the production process? That's the Big Deal? Doesn't that sort of seem like, I don't know, the cost of doing business? God knows what would happen if they had a resident playwright on the payroll, for crying out loud - they'd probably be wearing tights and a cape and be indestructible except for Kryptonite. And those marketing costs: what? Sometimes I think we believe that everybody in the audience has had theatre history. OK, they're doing Merry Wives of Windsor, which I suppose can be marketed as a Shakespearean romp or something, but do we really think that most of the general public has read the damn thing? The fact is that for most of the audience, it, too, is a new play. And while we personally may have seen dozens of scenes from The Seagull in our undergraduate acting classes, the idea that the general public is saying, "Look, honey, they're going to do one of those wonderful Russian plays of the lat 19th century that are so bittersweet and subtle...." I mean, please. Let's talk about the need for marketing.
In fact, this heroic posturing is undercut just a wee bit by this sentence, thrown in a few lines down: "Last year, [Jason] Grote's "1001" sold to a jaw-dropping 85 percent of capacity, while the simultaneous "King Lear" drew 81 percent." Yes, read that again: Jason Grote 85, William Shakespeare 81. Now, tell me again how risky it is to do new work.
But here's the kicker:
"The DCTC has even taken on the extraordinary expense of bringing in (and putting up) two entire casts ("Lydia" and "Our House") that are new to the company."What? They've BROUGHT IN two separate casts and have to PUT THEM UP. Let's compare this expense -- the expense of not having the sack to commit to a resident company and instead jobbing in actors from out of town (dollars to donuts: NYC) -- to the expense of putting up a single playwright for the production process. Remember that playwright who made the whole new play thing so knee-wobblingly risky? Yeah. Do some math and get back to me.
I'm sorry, but I am starting to think that people in the theatre don't know how to use numbers, or think that we the audience don't. Because this just doesn't add up.
So kudos to the Denver Center Theatre for supporting American playwrights. Truly. But can we not do that while reinforcing the myth of the risk of the new? Could we acknowledge that Jason Grote beat William Shakespeare's masterpiece? Can we think about what that might mean?