It finally occurred to me – takes me a while, sometimes – why, with all of the new works that I see and read, I’m so seldom moved.
It has to do with the Warholization of America. Like my new word?
It has to do with the proliferation of that higher-education cash cow, the MFA.*
It has to do with the zeitgeist: since we can all type things and send them out via the Internet, we think that what we say automatically has merit.
Listen up! People! Just because you’re taking a class or attending a theater group or own playwrighting software, it doesn’t mean that you have anything to contribute! And if you’re not actively trying to add to the sum total of human knowledge, if you’re not creating something potentially transformative for someone other than yourself, why not keep it to yourself?
On the zeitgeist (look it up, it’s a useful word) question, perhaps my ranting about this sort of thing stems from my feeling entitled to being worthy of your attention.
You don’t have to read this, just as I don’t have to read new plays or participate in the play-making process by attending readings, workshops, and productions. I can still vote with my (metaphorical) feet.
However, we are still a society, we are still all connected, and the way I was raised, one supports one’s colleagues and friends in the most significant way: by showing up.
Hence, this plea: if you’re retelling an oft-told-tale (and at its root, what tale isn’t oft-told?), even if you’re writing it well, please consider what you’re adding to the canon before you put your work out there. Consider whether the attention you crave in this arena isn’t the be-all and end-all of this arena for you.
If you’re writing for the theater, you are participating in the ultimate team sport and the audience is part of that team. Don’t use the audience. They’re paying, they’re taking time out of their lives and money out of their pockets to support that theater and the artists practicing in that theater, and you want them there just to be your audience, to hear your words coming out of other people’s mouths, to stroke your ego? NO. NO. NO.
Playwrights more than any other artists owe an enormous debt to those we ask for participation. And that debt must be paid in transformation, in the gifts we give in exchange for others’ attention. If your work, even in a raw state, doesn’t at least move or provoke an audience, don’t submit it until it does. I’m not talking shock-value (how many plays get produced because they contain nudity? “bad” language? violence/guns?), I’m talking the making of new synapses, the formation of new empathies.
Theater nowadays is so often a substitute for bad TV, a pat on the back for getting out of the house. No wonder theater as we know it is dying.
* Despite Seth Abramson‘s protestation that the MFA is not a cash cow, per his statistics, a FULL 2/3 of the MFA programs in America do not support their candidates, rather, schools charge top-dollar for the buying of that terminal degree.
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