The Playgoer: The "Slow Death" of New Plays

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The "Slow Death" of New Plays

"Dramaturgs kept asking me: ‘Sarah, what did you learn from this reading?'...And I would silently think: ‘I learned that if I keep re-writing this play for chairs, it will die a slow death before ever being what it was meant to be.'"

- Sarah Ruhl, on the development hell her now-celebrated play "Eurydice" had to go through, along with many other notable, though less fortunate new American plays.

Part of a terrific survey of the problem by Kate Taylor in the Sun.


Malachy Walsh said...


Anonymous said...

I had just read this, a few paragraphs into the Sun article--

"many people in the theater are worried about whether the next generation of playwrights is getting the production experience necessary to reach their artistic potential."

--when an idea jumped out at me. One way for playwrights to get theatrical experience is by working in a theater. They (we? I'm writing a play myself) don't have to learn only from productions of their/our own plays. Seems to me I read long ago in a biography of Ibsen that he worked in a theater for a while and profited from it.

The next problem, I suppose, is that getting a job in a theater is probably no easier than getting a production in a theater...

Anonymous said...

Most MFA programs require playwrights to work in/for at least two different theatres to earn their degrees.

They also often make you work on other people's thesis projects that often include productions.

Almost every theatre writer I know has worked on someone else's production somewhere along the line.

Anonymous said...

Carter: Good to know. What I was thinking, though, was more like actually having a job for a while, in production management, stage management, literary management, maybe even house management. (A house manager, after all, sees a lot of theater, and has more contact that I might've guessed with the people who are making it and the processes involved.) I guess my idea is that, in this way, playwrights would understand how plays work before audiences, not just understand how their own play works before an audience.

Anonymous said...

I guess what I'm saying is, most playwrights I know do know from experiences working in theatres in jobs that you describe. (I worked in stage management, a lit dept and for a private producer.)

Though it would be nice to see more playwrights actaully going to theatre.

Actors, too.

For some reason I seem to know a lot of writer and actors who've stopped going to see theatre. Which I find sad and disturbing.

Ken said...

Yes, we playwrights can learn a lot from acting, directing, stage managing, running lights, etc. I've done all of that, and have found it no easier to get plays done. Whatever we learn from those activities can't be shared with anyone if the plays that result from it aren't produced. Too often theaters think they are in some other business, rather than the play-producing business. Sometimes they think they're in the grant-receiving business, where they tell foundations that they "develop" new plays, the foundations drop a bunch of cash on them, and the theaters decide that the best way to make that cash last as long as possible is to do as many "readings" as possible and as few productions as possible.