Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Modest Proposal 2

I issued a challenge (admittedly, somewhat inspired by Thomas Garvey's provocations) to those critics talking about the lack of diversity in the theatre (especially with regards to the playwrights) to find under-appreciated, and relatively unknown plays and playwrights they deem worthy of production and advocating for them whether their advocacy appears in print, on the blogosphere, or even on the stage. In the ensuing discussion both here and elsewhere, (such as on Guy Yedwab's blog, CultureFuture) I elaborated by noting how common it is for music writers to publish lists of bands, musicians, or recordings, "you probably never heard, but should" and suggested that theatre writers should consider a similar format.

Isaac Butler, whom I concede that I unfairly criticized on several points, did acknowledge in the comments section to my proposal, that while he primarily directs the works of new playwrights who are not part of the MFA system, he hasn't done much to promote those writers much on his own blog-- though in the essentials, we are largely in agreement.

Yedwab (who has since coined the term, "the Ian Thal method of diversity") notes, of course, that this proposal is not enough:

[I]f my friend the playwright isn't being performed, I may not know the right people to pull connections with to get them performed -- and if they don't get performed, I can't send anyone to go see them.
Part of the equation is precisely where a social media platform like BushGreen comes in as a place where new scripts can be posted and read. However, there's also what playwrights can do themselves.

One thing I have done over the course of this past year is realize that Total War was going to be in limbo for a long time if I waited for other parties come in to help develop it, and decided to take a proactive stance, and do it myself: recruiting actors, and presenting readings, and then writing a new draft (in fact, I just booked my next reading for March 28th, so watch this blog for more details.) Any writer can do this.

But I should point out that while I am agitating working around an institutional theatre industry that many seem to believe is not working to produce great new plays, there are some who haven't waited for my call to arms. As August Schulenburg of the Flux Theatre Ensemble pointed out in comments section at CultureFuture, he had already compiled his list of Plays that Need Doing in NYC and noted that
...blogs like Clyde Fitch, Visible Soul, CultureBot, Just Shows To Go You, and Adam Szymkowicz are doing yeoman's work championing lesser known artists through great interview series.
Of course, Szymkowicz' 100 playwrights include a few well-known names, and he does pose the same interview questions to each playwright. I haven't been a regular reader of the other blogs.

In my own community, Whistler in the Dark, a member of the Small Theatre Alliance of Boston, initiated their Whistler Wednesdays which are specifically for presenting staged readings to new plays and playwrights, where I recently attended a reading of Vladimir Zelevinsky's A Brief History of the Soviet Union

I also have to state my appreciation to Thomas Garvey, who not only showed up at the first staged reading of Total War, offered an extensive critique during the talk-back, encouraged me to rewrite the play, but then promoted the second staged reading on Hub Review. That's precisely the sort of advocacy I'm advocating.

Interestingly enough, as I reflect on these efforts, both my own and those of other cultural workers, I realize that this is a theme central to Total War: if the dominant culture is not providing you with a venue; you have to create your own.

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