The Playgoer: America's Favorite Plays

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

America's Favorite Plays

Or, at least, our "most produced" plays announced in the current 2009-2010 season at professional nonprofit theatres across the country--according to American Theatre Magazine.

boom (9)* by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb
The Seafarer (8)by Conor McPherson
Speech & Debate (8)by Stephen Karam
Dead Man's Cell Phone (8)by Sarah Ruhl
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (7)by Rachel Sheinkin & William Finn

Around the World in 8o Days (7)adapted by Mark Brown from Jules Verne
The Glass Menagerie (7)by Tennessee Williams
Opus (7)by Michael Hollinger
Our Town (6)by Thornton Wilder
Shipwrecked! An Entertainment (6)by Donald Margulies
Souvenir (6)by Stephen Temperley
Yankee Tavern (6)by Steven Dietz
Black Pearl Sings! (6)by Frank Higgins
Boeing-Boeing (6)translated by Beverly Cross from Marc Camoletti

(*=number of announced productions this season, presumably including co-productions?)

Some off the cuff observations:

-What is boom??? I have to admit I'm ashamed I never heard of the most produced play in America!

-Note that David Cromer's hit Off Broadway revival of "Our Town" is not one of the 6 productions indidcated, since it is a commercial mounting in a non-TCG member theatre. (The production's debut in Chicago last season could have counted--but Our Town didn't even make the list last year.) So, aside from this always being a popular play, did Cromer's production spur even more (perhaps less creative) revivals?

-American Artistic Directors really like Sarah Ruhl; Eurydice had 11 productions last season.

-Is Steven Dietz America's most popular playwright never produced in New York?

-Subscription audiences will never, never get tired of Glass Menagerie. (9 productions last season.) And theatre companies will never tire of its 4 characters and one set.

-Glass Menagerie, 4 characters; Opus, 4 characters; Seafarer, 5 characters; Speech & Debate, 4 characters; Souvenir, 2 characters; Shipwrecked, multiple characters, 3 actors. Playwrights, do the math.

18 comments:

David Cote said...

BOOM was a very clever three-person play about evolution and mythology at Ars Nova last year. Got reviewed by TONY and the Times and elsewhere.

Rob Kozlowski said...

Next Theatre in Evanston has BOOM up right now. I haven't seen it myself, but it's actually been critically eviscerated 'round these here parts.

Mike said...

BOOM is phenomenal. I directed a production this summer, and I firmly believe it is one of the best and - yes, I'll say it - most important plays to hit the scene in recent years. Peter Nachtrieb is a writer to watch, mark my words.

Anonymous said...

One more observation, which bears being said aloud, doesn't it: only 1-1/2 of the most-produced plays are by women; as far as I know, none is by writers of color.

Robinette said...

Oh, boo-hoo, Anon.

Somebody always has to barge in with something nearly irrelevant, because they can't feel valued unless everyone else feels guilty.

Instead of shaking your finger at everyone, why don't you go ahead and write a play?And then submit it. And then get rejected. And then submit it again. And again. And again. And again.

Get the idea? That's how this industry works.

Anonymous said...

Whew! Robinette, please hold the hostility. There was no boo-hooing, finger-wagging or guilt-mongering intended. Simply an observation (from a white man, btw) about who still lands on top most often in our industry -- and it's not because white men are the only people writing worthwhile plays.
I wouldn't want people to feel guilty about that -- but do think it's worthwhile to ask some structural questions from time to time, which I, for one, do not find irrelevant.

(btw, I feel perfectly well-valued, thank you very much, and am succeeding just fine.)

Monty said...

YES, Anonymous. Minority playwrights sometimes don't get produced and that's because they...don't submit their plays? Is that your poignant point...? And Anonymous was just making a worthy point that this is the current trend. Tarrell Alvin McCraney is being produced a lot and as mentioned, Sarah Ruhl is always popular. boom is a love story at the end of the world.

Anonymous said...

from the nyt, this summer:

'To sort out the findings, it helps to look at the research. Ms. Sands conducted three separate studies. The first considered the playwrights themselves. Artistic directors of theater companies have maintained that no discrimination exists, rather that good scripts by women are in short supply. That claim elicited snorts and laughter from the audience when it was repeated Monday night, but Ms. Sands declared, “They’re right.”

In reviewing information on 20,000 playwrights in the Dramatists Guild and Doollee.com, an online database of playwrights, she found that there were twice as many male playwrights as female ones, and that the men tended to be more prolific, turning out more plays.

What’s more, Ms. Sands found, over all, the work of men and women is produced at the same rate. The artistic directors have a point: they do get many more scripts from men. '

http://bit.ly/ptPvJ

Jason Zinoman said...

Playgoer,
Analyzing this always surprising annual list is a very good idea, since it reveals much about the theater scene. This is not the first time that a play with few characters that many people have not heard of got the top slot. Remember The Drawer Boy, most produced of 2003?

Simkhe said...

The Sands research was pretty soundly taken apart as shoddy and unreliable by a (male) theater blogger at the time it came out. I think Playgoer may have linked to them. If so, PG, please do so again.
The major playwriting MFA programs - Yale, NYU, Brown, CalArts, etc. -- have at least as many female students as male, usually more.
Artistic directors at the theaters studied get more scripts from men because they do not take unsolicited manuscripts, so the filters -- of agents, directors, etc. -- have already played a role.

The Playgoer said...

Thanks for all the comments. Too much to respond to!

Jason Z--the wha boy??? thanks for reminding us

David C & all "Boom" fans--indeed I feel bad now for having missed it, and never meant to doubt its quality. How did it get SO many productions after a pretty low-profile run? Is it the same production traveling around?

Anon #1--You're absolutely right to point out how white and male this is. (I sympathize with some your points, too, Robinette, but please let's keep it civil?) I think one reason it skews that way is the presence of "classics" (or just OLD plays) and reminds us of a time when playwriting really was an exclusively white male occupation.

After, a little webcrawling, btw, I can verify that "Black Pearl Sings" is indeed about an African American subject, but, for what it's worth...the author is another white dude.

Still the subject matter still matters a lot though, since it tells us something about the AUDIENCE of these theatres. Even more remarkable for instance about this list is not just dearth of female playwrights..but how about female CHARACTERS. "Seafarer" is all men; "Opus" has one woman and four guys."Boeing-Boeing" has a bunch of gals on stage but it's hardly, er, a feminist play.

So, yes, from the perspective of the female and non-white playwright's PROFESSION the identity of the author is worth tracking. But also notice how the content of the plays themselves are skewering more male.

And I thought blokes don't even go to the theatre!

Ken said...

Isn't it strange that the most-produced play in the country only had 9 productions? With the size of this country, and the number of professional non-profit theaters, doesn't that seem like a really low number?

Robinette said...

How was I being "hostile" or uncivil? I guess I can cop to the idea that I was as rude as some others were hypersensitive.

Anon's quote was:

"...as far as I know none is by writers of color." That tells me Anon didn't even bother to check. A simple google search could have proven him right, but that seems secondary to his agenda.

The PG's original observation seemed to be that so many plays were popular in the country at large while being virtually unknown in NYC. That is interesting and new, and telling, as opposed to hijacking the conversation with yet another (yawn) guilt-based good intention.

Am I insensitive to the plight of women and minority playwrights? Not really, no. But I am much more sensitive to the plight of ALL playwrights.

And I am increasingly irritated by the effort to equate the theatre to a 9-5 corporate job. This something the aforementioned NYT story a few months ago helped to do. If anything, most of us can agree the industry has become too corporatized.

If a black woman hasn't had a promotion in 25 years of working at an insurance company, then yes, there is likely a problem. If she hasn't had a play produced in the same amount of time, well, then she is part of a very large and diverse crowd.

Besides, as PG pointed out, Sarah Ruhl was atop the list last year. Is the game considered fair only if your "team" wins every time? Please.

And finally (if you're still with me), can we stop with the tired refrain that theater has too long been the exclusive province of old white men? It's true, of course... unless you lived in Japan or China or India or any other nonwhite place with a long history of dramatic tradition.

Old white men didn't invent theater to keep out minorities and women... they invented religion and law and money for that (three things that have also been unkind to theater folk, historically). If you look at the content of the plays rather than the gender and pigmentation of their authors, I think you might find Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw, and O'Neill to have scrawled out a few things your world view could endorse. These old white men weren't trying to keep anyone down. they were just trying to work. Before we all started using the lubricant of guilt as a means to our narcissistic self-pleasure, that was considered a noble pursuit. And I simply applaud anyone--and i do mean anyone--who continues in that pursuit.

Now then... why doesn't anybody in New York know about "boom" again?

The Playgoer said...

Thank you for clarifying your views further, Robinette. By "uncivil" I wasn't referring to the content or even intensity of your opinions. I just prefer commenters don't personalize their remarks against other commenters. (You could have made your point without all the pointed "you" and "your" phrases that you made without knowing anything about that person.)

I won't challenge any of your points futher--but just a clarification. No, white males obviously did not dominate ALL dramatic literature and theatre practice at ALL times. I should have specified I was speaking of Western drama and US theatre specifically.

The blindness for a long time of American stages to works by non-western authors and even female playwrights OF the west (like Aphra Behn) is a whole other story. Fortunately that has changed in the last 20-30 years. But because that interest is so recent, it will take a while for that repertoire to attain the status of "classic"--no matter how old the works are themselves. (i.e. for audiences to become familiar with those authors & titles)

Robinette said...

I'm glad we're friends again, Playgoer. And no hard feelings, Anon.

But I wouldn't be the pest that I am if I didn't belabor the point. And so I should tell your readers that Aphra Behn was not an overlooked, victimized feminist author. Her work was popular in her own lifetime, she moved in elite literary circles, and was one of the first women to make a living as a writer at a time when the oldest, whitest, manliest men found that a challenge.

When she died she was buried in Westminster Abbey, where she remains today. Emily Dickinson she was not.

Why wasn't she joined by a league of other female authors? Probably for the same reasons that most people of the time avoided the stage, just as most people today do if they want to make a living.

Besides, I wonder how Sarah Ruhl would feel if people stopped doing her plays in favor of Old Lady Aphra's? We'd certainly be striking a bold blow for feminism... and a public domain one at that.

The Playgoer said...

Duly noted... But I wouldn't be the persistent blogger I am without, once again, clarifying that my point was about performances of Aphra Behn plays ON THE U.S. STAGE. And IN THE 20th CENTURY.

Kris Vire said...

I have yet to see the Chicago (or rather Evanston) production of "boom", and I'm not sure I'll be able to, as it closes next weekend. But I'll note that I heard from both Jason Southerland, who directed it at Next, and from my friend who's about to open the play's Philadelphia premiere at Flashpoint Theatre, that "boom" is actually getting 14 productions around the country this season. Apparently five of those producing companies, including Flashpoint, aren't TCG members.

And while we're at it, Cromer's Chicago production of "Our Town" last year probably wouldn't have been counted either, as I'm pretty sure that the Hypocrites aren't TCG members. No judgment implicit here, just a reminder that not all of the country's influential nonprofits are those covered in American Theatre.

Seth Christenfeld said...

To make a minor, belated correction--at least two of Steven Dietz's plays have been produced in NYC. Roundabout did Fiction in 2004 (with Julie White, Tom Irwin, and Emily Bergl) and the Barrow Group produced Lonely Planet about ten years ago.