The Playgoer: Death of the Playwright?

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Death of the Playwright?

One has to go all the way across the pond, to the Guardian (again, courtesy ArtsJournal), to a little side piece here on the current Edinburgh Fringe, to finally find someone writing about what could be the most drastic evolutionary shift in theatre today: the disappearance of the playwright. Yes, this is old. "Devised theatre" as such (contrary to the Guardian's cluelessness here) has been a downtown mainstay since the 60s; then there was the rise of "documentary" theatre in the 70s (preceeded by experiments as far back as the 20s); and now you could even put in this context the proliferation of movie adaptations on Broadway. (Does anyone care who wrote the book to Urban Cowboy or even Dirty Rotten Scoundrels?)

I predict theatre historians will look back on this as one of the most seismic shifts of our era. Has the deconstructed Death-of-the-Author finally come to the theatre? It wouldn't be so notable if, like in painting, individual artists only became valued in the Renaissance and now the pendulum is swinging back. With a lineage that goes back to Aeschylus, we have a 4,000 year-old legacy of individual playwrights going here....Do I decry? Let's just say something big is going on. And it's about time theatre writers caught onto it.


Anonymous said...

A quick comment, on time stolen from work: In principle, one can imagine the dethroning of all of the individuals who are typically involved in producing a show (each of the designers as well as the director) and their replacement with collective efforts. However, in practice, the replacement of the author in this fashion may be the most notable thing going on right now. I don't see enough to know.

Jason Grote said...

I think the opposite has happened, in fact; while this is probably all way under the radar of msot mainstream arts reporting, the 60s-80s trend of auteur- or ensemble-driven theater is starting to reverse... Or it is in downtown theatre, anyway, as I rarely venture above 23rd street...