Last night, I finally got the opportunity to read David Dower's Gates of Opportunity report to the Mellon Foundation, which was release in November. For those of you who haven't read Outrageous Fortune, my recommendation is that you read this at the same time. It provides a needed corrective.
Outrageous Fortune, to me, is sort of like reality TV. Todd London has brought together a group of playwrights and Artistic Directors, locked them in a house together for a month, and we get to watch the sparks fly. Like reality TV, we get a lot of opportunities to hear the different voices of the participants express their opinions, frustrations, and often blame each other, or just a likely, blame the audience. The result is dramatic in a voyeuristic sort of way. All those statements about how the book is "disturbing" is the direct result of this quality -- an unfiltered immediacy. As you can probably tell from my postings on the book, it makes me squeamish and more than a little irritated. Nevertheless, it provides a valuable reading of the level of frustration within the theatre community.
Gates of Opportunity, on the other hand, is the POV documentary that was made from the same material. It incorporates some quotations, yes, but there is a much higher degree of organization and summary. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the emotional chaos of Outrageous Fortune, Gates of Opportunity left me feeling as if I had a handle on some of the problems, and more importantly, made me feel as if there were next steps that could be taken to better the situation, which to me makes it worth its weight in gold.
Dower, who is the man behind the Arena Stage convenings, clearly values the give-and-take of conversation. He notes that one of the problems obvious in some of the places he met with artists is that the artistic community is unaware of itself -- that there is very little conversation or discussion of how cooperation rather than competition might lead to a healthier artistic climate. He suggests, for instance, that it might be possible for foundations to fund a single individual leader within an arts community to undertake the coordination of such coooperative ventures and bring some order to a chaotic scene, an idea which makes a great deal of sense.
Gates of Opportunity is filled with many very practical suggestions for making the new play development system work more smoothly and productively. In my opinion, Dower does more in a couple dozen pages to advance the situation than Outrageous Fortune accomplishes in many times the length.
My recommendation: by all means, read Outrageous Fortune, but then read Gates of Opportunity as the antidote.