The Playgoer: Albee

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Monday, March 05, 2007


Looks like I've fallen behind on the theatre blogosphere volleys about some provocative quotes Edward Albee gave the LA Weekly.


We have no paucity of good young playwrights, and good older playwrights; we don’t have the happiest environment for them to work in. Like in the art world and in literature, the theater’s just as trendy, as dangerous and corrupt. The big problem is the assumption that writing a play is a collaborative act. It isn’t. It’s a creative act, and then other people come in. The interpretation should be for the accuracy of what the playwright wrote. Playwrights are expected to have their text changed by actors they never wanted. Directors seem to feel they are as creative as the playwright. Most of these changes are for commercial reasons. I know a lot about it because I’m on the council of the Dramatists Guild, but of course the pressures are on all of us. I’m in the lucky position where I just say, ‘Go fuck yourself; if you don’t want to do the play I wrote, do another play.’ The forces of darkness would back down if everybody said that. Theater wouldn’t go away and Disney wouldn’t go away. It’s all
because people believe that entertainment has to be superficial.

I'll let Isaac Butler respond on the merits of the demonization of the Director.

But I'll agree with Albee that we'd be a better theatre if more playwrights actually said Go Fuck Yourself when being pressured to give in on writing a different play than they've written.

Then again, it is easier for Mr. Albee to say that these days than most, isn't it?

The interview is also notable for implying that James Mason and Bette Davis were Albee's ideal imaginary George and Martha!

I msyelf was grateful to the interviewer Steven Leigh Morris for elucidating this particular insight of the playwright's, regarding what has changed on Broadway since 1962:
[Albee:] I don’t know what inflation has done in the past 40 years, but it hasn’t gone up as much as the cost of doing theater: Virginia Woolf cost $45,000 on Broadway in 1962. It just cost a million and a half in London last year. The cost of living hasn’t gone up that much.

[Then adds Morris, in an aside]

[Statistics compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s Consumer Price Index support Albee’s assertion: In 1962, a $1 bill had the purchasing power of about 12 cents today. At this rate, the $45,000 it cost to produce Virginia Woolf on Broadway in 1962 should translate to a budget of around $400,000 today. The $1.5 million budget for the London production represents more than triple our national rate of inflation in the years between 1962 and 2006.]

Morris doesn't go into what the current revival cost on Broadway in 2005. But we can only assume similar. Or worse?

1 comment:

Terry Withers said...

I think you got your stats messed up. If a dollar in 1962 had the purchasing power of about 12 cents today then that would mean that in 1962 a dollar could purchase just about nothing. I think you meant that 12 cents in 1962 had the purchasing power of roughly a dollar today.