If you’re a playwright or care about the birth and life of new plays, you HAVE to read the recent posts at Parabasis. Check it out….


Here’s some of the meat:


–Consider themselves one flop away from folding

The following statistics are self-reported, and are probably somewhat skewed due to the selection-bias of the survey (i.e. they only surveyed theaters that produced new plays):
— New plays account for 45.6% of offerings on our stages
— 23.8% are world premieres
— Fewer than 2 shows a season are 2nd productions

–Prevalent emphasis on world premieres are helping to strangle the new play system

–1 in 5 theaters regularly seek new plays that have already premiered

–As a result: the writer/agent want to get as big a world premiere as possible if they want the play to have a future life. This drives them back into the big institutions that they find problematic in the first place

–Culturally specific theaters have to compete with large theaters for multi-cultural grants and frequently become “farm teams” for the artists who will be included in the “multi-cultural” slot at larger theaters

–Expectations have been downsized. Small spaces, small casts.

–How do plays move through theaters? How do good theaters shepherd this process?

–Lack of Artistic Director access is frequently discussed. It is playwrights’ biggest perceived problem

–Pass-blocking of admin staff, particularly lit depts.

–Most ADs agree that access is the key… so… “how can writers + ADs build relationships?”

–How much do agents help? (this part is tricky, data-wise, i’m gonna try to get it right):
-62% of playwrights had at least 1 play produced from direct submission to theater.
-83% have had 0-1 produced from agent submission
-Only roughly 5 agents are well regarded

–55% of playwrights think formal difficulty is the thing that is most likely to sink their plays

–ADs, on the other hand, rank cost and production demands as highest factor

–“Everyone wants the same 10-20 playwrights, and those writers are backed up with commissions”

Axe of Kindness

Last August, I was deep in the process of writing Bluer Than Midnight, a weird, noir-insprired two-act about The Blues, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Afterlife (no, really), when, taken with a wild notion, I went and bought a guitar because I figured, well, how can you write about the Blues from the inside without trying to play it? A quaint notion, but still….

Anyway, after a year of struggling with my Strat, I finally managed, this weekend, to play a Blues song above my usual profound level of lameness such that I enjoyed myself. It’s “You Gotta Move,” a Fred McDowell tune that the Stones covered on “Sticky Fingers.” I’d looked up the tabs on the Internet, but the key was a challenging one for me, so I actually, honest-to-God transposed it to a key I could play (that’s “A” boys and girls), and the pieces came together. Plus, the song’s within my extensive, five-note vocal range; so I could actually sing the goddamn thing without hellishly embarassing myself.

Afterwards, I kind of sat back in a fugue state, my left hand aching like hell because I ended up playing it nonstop for about a half-hour, and thought: “Damn…I really did it. I’ll be go to hell. I feel incredibly high.”

And then I tried to play something else and was immediately humbled.

The play’s more or less finished until it goes on to the next stage–a workshop or public reading–and I’m happy with it and looking forward to seeing where its journey next takes it. But whether it lives or dies, it’s given me a moment I’ll always remember.