The Playgoer: I'll See Your Pultizer and Raise You $190K

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I'll See Your Pultizer and Raise You $190K

So any thoughts on the Steinberg Charitable Trust's decision to outdo the Pulitzers twentyfold and dole out a $200,000(!) playwriting award--and to give the first to Tony Kushner?

I agree with the stated sentiment: "“We want people to realize the theater is important, and that a playwright who gets the award is important to our society and our culture." But what exactly is this award for? Unless I missed it, Kushner hasn't premiered a play in the past year. More money for theatre artists is a good thing in any form--but I'm not sure what we need right now are more "lifetime achievement" awards. You know, for just being.

The rationale for Kushner: "the committee wanted to pick a person who would be 'universally recognized in the theater community as the right choice.'" Yeah, but talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Thankfully they're balancing this only bi-annual prize with smaller $50,000 grants (still bigger than the Pulizter) to playwrights "just starting out." But let's hope they look beyond the already famous for that, too.

Also, is it churlish to question whether venerating so much capital upon one "genius" individual is really the solution in the arts of the 21st century to restoring theatre to the center of the culture? What about opening it up to a director or an ensemble? The future of theatre in America may not just be in literature.

14 comments:

Andrew said...

"Also, is it churlish to question whether venerating so much capital upon one "genius" individual is really the solution in the arts of the 21st century to restoring theatre to the center of the culture? What about opening it up to a director or an ensemble? The future of theatre in America may not just be in literature."

Hear, hear! Yes, PG!

Anonymous said...

“We wanted to make a splash,” said William Zabel

Shouldn't the comment read

"We don't want to do any work, so we went with a household name for 1 big play that got all the attention in the late 80's"
We here at the Charitable Trust only know the names of folks spoken at our cocktail parties.

Now my question is:

Does Mr. Kushner need it ?

Will he give it back ?

Will he PRODUCE something with it (yes artists can wear more than one hat).

As for Wall Street, I think we need a few of these theatrical houses to come down, especially if we have Theatre Artistic Directors running around with 6 figure income checks.

Will the Selfish Baby Boomers please leave the building.

Former Lehman Bro.

Anonymous said...

Oskar Eustis, the artistic director of the Public Theater and one of the judges, said that while there were many extremely qualified candidates, the committee wanted to pick a person who would be “universally recognized in the theater community as the right choice.”

So why not Arthur Miller ?

It might have made just as much sense.

Anonymous said...

Jeez. Yes. VERY CHURLISH. Sure, Kushner needs it. He might be famous, but playwriting doesn't make anybody rich. And he's an excellent playwright. The $$ just might give him more time to write plays instead of having to take gigs teaching and writing for movies (both of which he does well, but it would be great to have something new from him for the theater.) Have a little perspective, PG. And a little generosity of spirit. Yes, there are other - and likely better - ways for a foundation to support the theater, and let's hope -- and pressure -- some to do so in a variety of ways. But how bad can it be to make a splash about a serious playwright who writes ambitious plays and isn't afraid of ideas, emotion, politics . . .
Stop carping, fer godsakes.

Anonymous said...

He might be famous, but playwriting doesn't make anybody rich.

Um - I'm sorry you did see he works in film, right ? The guy isn't broke.

Former Lehman Bro

Anonymous said...

Should we just give the next batch to Tarell McCraney and Sarah Ruhl NOW, or do we need to wait a year?

Anonymous said...

Does Tony Kushner really need $200,000? Can't he live on his royalties from Angels in America?

As a writer myself, 200,000 would allow me to support myself comfortably for a good 5-6 years.

He better write some damned good plays.

Anonymous said...

I would also point out the unseemliness of Mr. Eustis being one of the "deciders" of this award. His career has been hitched to Mr. Kushner's star for so long, the act of granting 200K to his friend just doesn't look like a magnanimous gesture for the theater.

Suppose Tony Kushner does use this money to write a new play (if he plans to live off 200 grand for the next couple of years, he'll likely need to scale down his lifestyle). Who do you think is going to get first crack at the new script? The Public/Eustis, maybe? Could this be the theater version of insider trading..?

Anonymous said...

True, the Eustis-Kushner connection gives this a fishy whiff -- but it's probably the case that any artistic director of any even middling-sized theater, would have a relationship with many successful contemporary playwrights.

More to the point: What a nasty, mean-spirited, envious community you theater people seem to be. Fair to question whether awarding a single playwright a big chunk of money is the best way to support the field; fair to detract if you think Kushner is a lousy playwright. But what personal bitterness is splattered at the man here. Do some homework, people; don't just make assumptions. Annual royalties on Angels wouldn't cover two months' rent on a studio in Bed-Stuy.
Artistic directors and managing directors of most major theaters make $200,000 EVERY YEAR. If you think this kind of money is scandalous, rail at that structure. Personally, I think it's kind of great that a proven, exciting, provocative playwright could have enough to live on for a few years in order to devote himself to writing plays.

Anonymous said...

Last anonymous is ridiculous. Tony Kushner is a multi-millionaire with multiple residences who has been writing screenplays for Steven Spielberg and Scott Rudin.

Anonymous said...

where are you getting these numbers? multi-millionaire? that is not accurate. nor is "multiple residences".

The Esocritic said...

Oh please. If Tony Kushner is not a multi-millionaire, it is not for lack of help. Forget the question of royalties and focus on film rights and residuals. Ask any Hollywood accountant--when they give you an Oscar, your stock goes up. And if you need concrete proof, walk into any Starbucks in Manhattan--he's bound to be there, blindly ordering "12 venti sizes of anything," then tossing them onto the floor to roll around in the puddle, laughing maniacally.

Keep in mind, though, that this is not an evil and envious screed against Tony Kushner. Few among us theater folk doubt his talent or influence. But the system in place right now is bad. It is evil. The moneychangers are in the temple. And to rail against that we must rail against any accolade that enriches famous people for, well, being famous.

Especially if Tony Kushner won't. He's very outspoken when it comes to the easy fights--AIDS, Republicans, war. But if he were the man he was in 1980, he'd be pissed off and nauseous too.

For decades great writers have split their time between their true calling and Hollywood-- Faulkner, Steinbeck, Rattigan, Laurents, and Miller just to name five. But Kushner is the first one to complain about his "survival" job and cry poor mouth on top of it.

At this very moment countless talented and intelligent artists of real worth are temping, tending bar, and waiting tables, etc., to make ends meet between gigs. So forgive me if I keep my violin packed away when it comes to Tony Kushner.

Theater folk have been conditioned and trained to see themselves as the underdogs in every situation. It is time to stop being fooled.

Anonymous said...

"He's very outspoken when it comes to the easy fights--AIDS, Republicans, war."

Easy fights.

You didn't flinch just a little when you typed that?

Plus: He didn't win an Oscar, you have a lot to learn about film residuals for writers, and I'm not sure what "The moneychangers are in the temple" is supposed to mean in this context, but it feels like an unseemly choice of words. I'm glad you explained that this wasn't an "evil and envious screed", though. Otherwise I would have been confused.

theesocritic said...

If you think the theater community would embrace Republicans, AIDS, and war if it weren't for Tony Kushner, then I understand the source of your confusion. With all due respect--and it is due--it takes very little courage to speak out against these things. It does take some courage, however, to bite the hand that is feeding you.

I stand corrected. I meant to say "nominated" for an Oscar. Apologies. This clearly means he has no clout in Hollywood.

As far as moneychangers in the temple, I was referring to an earlier post about nonprofit arts execs pulling in six figures and raising millions to fund new buildings on the one hand, while shortchanging the artists who work in those buildings on the other (Oscar nominated darlings aside). But Mike Daisey can speak to this far better than I can.