Archive for November, 2005


Monday, November 28th, 2005

It’s important to distinguish when you are criticizing theater, far more so than when you critique a movie or a statue or a recording, all things that a person can then experience for themselves and contextualize. It seems to me that theater criticism today is largely about how a person feels when they are watching a show, “I liked it, it made me laugh, this was funny, this was riveting” that kind of thing. There is very little discussion of what people are doing, the ways in which one is acting or has been directed to act, and those are the things that theater seeks to celebrate.

I want to hold myself to that standard, while also telling people how it felt to be in the theater, since it seems that’s what people want the most.

Last night we went to see “Making Marilyn”, produced by The Bridge Theater Company. When the house opens, you have to wander through the performance space to get to your seats, with the actors already in their spots, already muttering to themselves, in sort of a dreamscape of images which is a perfect introduction to the evening, as is the opening song which crescendoes into a sort of madness, a young boy stumbling around playing a non-amplified guitar and singing to himself a song he can barely sing because of his nervous tics and, well, madness.

The play exists largely in the memory of this one character. It turns out his mother is an alcoholic whore. Also, he ends up having a rather lengthy sexual and romantic relationship with Marilyn Monroe who is also an alcoholic whore. But both of these facts are *literal*, it is a conceit of the play that this fifteen year old boy from Canada had a long passionate relationship with Monroe, to the point where we are led to believe she called him and was the last person she spoke to before she died.

There is a common artistic thread between the writing and the acting of the young boy, one of a lack of discipline. It isn’t just that we don’t need another play with Marilyn Monroe in it, that might be true but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that if you’re gonna have the actual Marilyn Monroe in the play, then you need to write a series of events that meshes with what we know of her, what we know of the world of the 40s and 50s, and what we know about celebrity worship. The sloppiness with which the subject matter is handled is matched perfectly by the unfocused and erratic performances of some of the cast.

Ashlie Atkinson plays Marilyn and the boy’s mother in this show. Full disclosure, she auditioned for a show we did and she also worked on the A-Train plays with us when we did them, and I was completely charmed by her in person and with the wonderful spirit she brings to everything she’s involved in. So, y’know, know that before I say anything… but her performance in this show is incredible. It’s specific, it’s smart, it’s disciplined and it is infectious. Whenever she wasn’t on stage, I couldn’t wait for her to get back.

Her Marilyn is exactly the kind of performance I love. She doesn’t act like Marilyn from the movies, she does a shaken down, distilled version, but with all the memorable sexuality. She plays every single second with a million tiny ideas in her mind, she rolls out some bizarre dialogue with perfect ease, with genuine understanding and subtext, and not an ounce of wasted energy.

Above all else, her performance is brave, and that’s not the kind of thing I normally give actors credit for. Ashlie is not your average beautiful actress, she made her name playing the title character in “Fat Pig”, and now she is taking on the gold standard of hollywood glamour and sexuality, and she does it without apology. Marilyn, in her, is not a wig and a familiar dress, she is literally Marilyn right down to her skin, and she shows you every inch. It is a startling and wonderful performance.

The director has the final credit and final blame for the things that were good and the things that were bad. The performances of the better actors were smart and articulate, but there was no sense that these people were all in the same play. The set design, which is also hers, was imaginative and evocative, see through dark and light screens that were evocative and scary, and I give her full props for that, but the play’s lack of focus and periods of spastic uncontrolled acting are her fault as well.

It’s very possible that one might enjoy this play much more than I did, transported by Ashlie’s performance and entranced in a certain amount of boozy parent hating. But when you start down that road, you’re asking to be compared to a hundred plays (the complete works of Tennessee Williams come to mind) that have already dealt with it. And if Marilyn is a main character, you’re asking for that comparison as well. It’s a trap that the playwright doesn’t navigate at all.

Hey Deb!

Friday, November 25th, 2005

Hi deb! I know you’re checking my blog, I just wanted to say hi!


The Real Drama

Friday, November 18th, 2005

I’m doing my usual weekly routine of spending a half hour or so catching up on blogs and checking out what’s being reviewed, and it occurs to me that, even in the most legitimate papers, there seems to be a lot of discussion of the personalities of those *making* the theater, as much as the theater itself.

For “Bach at Leipzig” there seems to be no end to the Stoppard comparison, and every single review mentions that Stoppard wrote the introduction to the published play. I understand why it’s important to compare one’s work to the giants upon who’s shoulders your standing. It’s more than just an intellectual exercise, once you’ve established context and you know directly the pieces that inspire this piece, you can better get a sense of where this artist or set of artists fits into the world.

But how relevant is it that Stoppard wrote an intro to the published version of the play? A produced play is the opposite of a published play. The published play is a distillation of action into word, the produced play is the word expanded into performance. What does it say that Stoppard wrote an intro? I mean, I think I have an answer, but I’ll get back to that.

“Woman in White” can’t be reviewed without two things. One, making reference to several other Andrew Lloyd Weber plays, and a discussion of how much those plays are liked or disliked, and two, a reference to the fact that the leading lady just underwent breast cancer surgery and made it back to the stage almost immediately. I can understand a certain amount of contextualization when refering to his other works, but why slam them? nd what difference does it make that a person recovered from surgery so quickly, when reviewing the actual play?

I went to see “The Ark” for three reasons. One, my mom is friends with the people who wrote it. Two, I have a friend who’s singing swing in the show, but Three, mostly I just went because it’s a musical that’s opened off Broadway and it would do me good to see what other people are doing. I didn’t like the show, and I’ll explain why in a minute, but every review I’ve stumbled upon mentions that the artists who were making this show are practicing Mormons. It’s an old testament show, there’s even a joke in the show that memorizing the bible as it is would only be four pages long, there is absolutely nothing in the show that gives a clue to the religion of the creators.

So. Here’s the reason we have to read through all the personalities while we’re reading the reviews. Theater, like everything else, is a cult of personality. Gideon has made the mistake of going into every project declaring ourselves to be the creators of the things we’ve created up to this point, but that body of work is just that – plays. We’re not tying ourselves into anything juicy. People really like our plays, and for that we’re grateful, but more than that people like us. There are “Mac Rogers” fans out there, but they are largely fans of him, as a guy. There are people who adore Jordana and who laugh at my jokes, but we aren’t building a fan base because of our theater. I guarantee you, everyone who likes my work or Jordana’s work or Mac’s work has spoken to us in person. They probably have our email addresses.

There has to be some kind of human interest in New York, something that seperates you. A lot of times, it’s hanging your hat on the famous person who’s taken you under his or her wing. Tony Nominee Melissa Hart stars in Fleet Week, that kind of thing. If I said “Melissa Hart” you might wonder if I meant Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Maybe we would have sold more tickets, who knows…

But Fleet Week sold because it ran at The Lortel, our next show will sell because it’s going up at Theater Row. The Ark will sell to people who are interested in seeing what practicing Mormons are telling our children. The Mormons have managed to make themselves seem far less creepy now than they were twenty years ago, they’re the guys who help you change a flat tire on the side of the road, not the dudes who won’t let blacks hold the priesthood and believe in plural marriage. The Ark isn’t theater, it’s Christian Theater, with a capital C.

“Woman In White” will sell more tickets because people want to see what ALW is up to, and they want to see the cancer survivor. “Bach At Leipzig” has basically announced its playwright as the heir apparent to Stoppard. He is the Sondheim to Stoppard’s Hammerstein.

This does feed into my earlier posts on the problems with producing. You need something extra-theatrical, by which I mean outside the bounds of simply theater, to promote your show with. There might be a story in the sick relationship Mac, Jordana and I have, but I bet you anything if we started spreading the rumor that the three of us had a fucked-up open marriage gay tryst kind of thing, regardless of how sickening the idea of poor Jordana getting double teamed by the twin mongloids that Mac and I are, we would probably sell more tickets.


I didn’t like “The Ark” for a couple of reasons. Chiefly, the entire play takes place aboard the Ark, which is outside the realm of the real tensions that are in the biblical story. It doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been some really messed up shit happen, some of my favorite plays are when people are stuck in one place over a period of time, and that closeness forces them into dealing with stuff they normally wouldn’t.

But in the biblical story, Noah’s faith is tested as he builds the ark, and he is vindicated when the rain comes. Then, after they find dry land, they have to deal with repopulating the earth. While you are in the theater, the set makes it impossible to imagine that anything will happen not on the Ark, and you’re stuck in what my brother Ian calls “A Bathtub Story”, where the action of the story will take place in the bathtub and when the character leaves the bathtub, the story will end. Of course, they named it “The Ark”, so that’s a clue right there.

It’s just that the problems on board the Ark, that men don’t listen to their wives and that wives don’t know how to cook and love to shop… Good God. The bible is the richest piece of literature we have. There could be a musical about being on the Ark, one full of madness and resentment and faith, one where people provide strength for one another in surprising ways, one in which these few people show that they will be the beginning of a new humanity. But what we got in this musical was the most banal people, singing songs designed for easy digestion and one moment of religious conversion that comes out of nowhere.

And maybe that was my biggest complaint. If the show was made by believers in God, surely they would understand that a person doesn’t just drop to his knees for no reason and ask for God and God comes to him. Or… maybe that is how it happens. Maybe God does just come to people and I don’t have the right temperemant. Maybe one day I will, despite the personality traits I’ve exhibited for 35 years, drop to my knees and ask for God and He will come into my life. But if that’s right, then it’s no wonder this play meant very little to me.

Internet and Attention Span

Thursday, November 10th, 2005

I’m going to use this blog today in the manner that my brother Steve finds most suitable for me, I’m gonna respond to my brother Ian’s blog. Actually, I think Steve would rather my blogs had more links in them and less text, but I’m not nearly as interested in “fact” as I am in “my opinion”.

And I do have a solutions blog for the theater producing blogs I wrote, but that will have to be, um, later. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in an hour.

Anyway, my brother argues today about a generational identity and puts forth a really compelling argument for our age being the age of parallelism. It comes as no surprise to Ian that 17% of the time when I read his blog I actually hurt my brain rolling my eyes, and about 60% of the time I can tell he’s just trying to write something to keep the blog going, which I admire more than you might think. Then there is 23% of the time when he blows my mind right to the washer and nut that holds my neck on, and today is one of those times.

Although I do have some arguments with his post.

You should read his post, it will better serve the argument than any kind of recap I could do (and plus, it’s a blog, it’s easy reading) but the thing that stuck out to me is that we, as a generation, have the ability to separate fact from circumstance. There is an extra step you have to go through when you’re dealing with what is, and that step is interpretation. And, even more important, that interpretation is chaotic, never static.

This is definitely due to an increase in the consumer culture we’re surrounded by, and also by the endless streams of information we’ve got. You can’t just say “which is the better golf club”, you’ve got to say, “I have a tendency to hit to the left and I over-hit my putter, what are the best clubs for my circumstance?” Because we have so many options about what to buy, we’re able to say more than “I want a fridge” we can say, “I have a number of various situations where a fridge is needed, what do you have to offer me, and how flexible is it because my circumstances are in a constant state of flux?”

However, there is a fundamental point that I disagree with Ian about, and that is the idea of generational identity. I have nothing in common with the people I was born with than the luck of geology. Ian’s obsession with generational politics is as confusing to me as a thinking person’s obsession with astrology, although the latter makes even less sense to me. What he is talking about is a rather narrow parameter, having to do with money, race, political leaning and education. I have more in common with my nephew Sean than I do with a lot of people born the same year I was. But I’ll accept the term for now, I’ll accept that it’s a generation, just because it’s easier to use that word than to use eleven words to work around it.

But, dropping that point, the thing I really want to nitpick with is the idea that the internet somehow is gonna foster a single-mindedness in our upcoming generation. The truth is that his parellelism is actually a series of obsessive single-minded-isms, that our generation spent three months in love with Led Zeppelin before finding The Cure. In a perfect world, that parellelism would cycle so fast that you could obsess over both Led Zeppelin and The Cure in such a short span that you pretty quickly see the similarities.

And that’s what we had, in the 70s and 80s. Despite the need for VH1 to assign some arbitrary idea to each year and each phase, the truth is that we were being steered by, strangely, Viacom to accept any different zeitgeist they wanted us to. Would we listen to Lita Ford in 1983? Yeah, probably. Would we still love The Jam in 1989? Yeah, we would, but we didn’t get the option. Because by the time 1988 rolled around, the endless loop of Madness’ “Our House” had been replaced by an endless loop of “Paradise City” by Guns-N-Roses.

Where do kids go for their videos? The internet. Where do they get to research their daily obsession? The Internet. MTV doesn’t even show videos anymore, they’ve dropped the pretense and now play half hour commercials for youth culture mixed up with thirty second commercials for youth culture. I spent a year obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe, if I had had the internet I would have done a Google search and been done with it in a month. Right now, kids are downloading songs and finding new bands at a rate that I can’t even imagine. When I find out what kids are listening to, I’m astonished at the breadth of their sophistication. Kids are listening to Radiohead and Sondheim and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The internet is not producing a single mindedness, it’s furthering the momentary obsession. The internet culture is a celebration of instant gratification and a dare to the long attention span. Instead of a year obsessed with Poe, I’d have spent three hours reading condensed bios of him and then spent a month in the library reading his poetry and short stories. What I actually did is swim through acre after acre of boring semantic biographies of Poe and then, defeated but gratified. read his poetry and short stories.

Even this blog is too long. We live in a world now that demands we say what we mean, and quickly, so that those obsessed with what we’re talking about can digest it and move on. I might be wrong, but I believe we are just entering the age of parellelism, where people can truly understand all sides of something, and at the same time take it both seriously and with a grain of salt. Our kids will get the chance to be a hundred times smarter than us (and hopefully in my case, even more) and that to me is thrilling.


Thursday, November 10th, 2005

It’s not exactly the death of the modern musical, but Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is closing.

Here’s the thing. I would probably not have liked this play. It’s not my cup of tea. Would you like to know how I know this? Because they frickin’ named it Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. There.

If you came and saw “Fleet Week The Musical” and you were pissed by the leaps in logic, I have a clue for you, In the future, don’t go see shows with names like “Fleet Week, The Musical”.

Oh, and if you’re as interested in seeing “Snakes On A Plane” as I am, let me know, I’ll go with you. Y’see, I’d like to see a movie where snakes are loose on a place and Samuel L. Jackson has to fight them. I know that’s what the movie is, because they named it Snakes on a Plane.

Producing Problem Part Two

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005

So, this won’t be quite as long. I really don’t have the time to write, but I want to get this down while it’s fresh in my head.

Why Producing Theater is Bad Economics

I know that I said in my previous post that theater was inexpensive to produce, and there for there was maybe too much for us to be able to be discerning as audience members, but there is a difference between the idea that theater is inexpensive to produce, and the idea that it is bad economics

The cost of making a play

I’m gonna divide this arbitrarily, but this will give everyone some idea of the bare bones economics that we go through to make a play happen. I’m gonna set down the ground rules for producing at this level because they are the realities we deal with. We’re gonna assume that we’re talking about a play that you are either given the rights to for free, or a play where the playwright is dead, and on top of that we’re gonna asssume a Showcase code contract running three weeks.

Yes, yes, maybe two weeks is more realistic, but I’m trying to show how money can be cut back and possible money coming in can be enhanced. Just let me stick to this.

Artistic Stuff and The Rooms Art Happens In

We’ve got a play that has six actors in it, and we’re gonna rehearse for three weeks. Normally what happens is that you offer each actor either a monthly metro card, which helps them get to and from rehearsal on the train, or the fiscal equivalent. These actors maintain “day” jobs, which often are at night, in order to survive. The director and the stage manager are offered the same, and no-one makes more than the actors.

8 X $76 = $608

The rehearsal hall is around $20/hr. You rehearse four hours a day, five days a week for three weeks.


The performance space is around $2000 a week. No, that’s not a typo, that’s 6 grand. Which is why most people do two weeks. I’m doing three, I’ll scale it back to two when you see how insane this is.

You are just over


Cool Shit That Makes Your Project Competitive

Look, the fact is, we go see a lot of crappy theater that is actually lovely, it just looks crappy. And it looks crappy because of that number just up there. The thing that makes your show cool and competitive is that it has a singular vision throughout, the writing and casting and directing are good, let’s say, but then you need a set that looks like it all comes from the same world, you need costumes that all come from the same world, you need a way in which the story is told that remains consistent from beginning to end.

5 Characters at $100/character – $500 Costumes
Set that becomes all the locations in the play – $1000
Sound design/ Fight choreographer/ choreographer – $76 each, per union rules.
Props/Disposables (A prop is a plate, a disposable is a sandwich) – $500

You are just under


Before I go any further, this is a bare bones production, but it is certainly quite grand. Anyone who is reading this is laughing and saying “how come you don’t do the book rehearsals at someone’s apartment? Why would you hire a sound designer?” and yeah, I think the same thing. I’m giving the budget without corners cut.

So, what you have here is a show you can be proud of, one that has given a tiny bit of employment to a group of people, and provided the team you’ve assembled is capable and inspired, then you’ve got a show now that is about to open and everything has been paid for.

Butts In Seats

So, if this is all you do, and you send out some emails to your friends that your show will open, and your grandmother brings her bereavement group, then you will sell about 75 tickets. Which is unacceptable. Figuring you have 60 seats in the theaterl, you have five shows a week for three weeks, then you have 900 seats to sell.

Advertising? Well, where? You can focus your attention on the print media and online media that feature the same subject matter as your show, and I’ll return to this in my “Solutions” blog later, but these ads cost money. You can try to get reviewed, but the only shows that get reviewed are show that run longer than four weeks, you simply can’t send out a press release and expect to get attention.

Theoretically, the best way to get your show noticed is to hire a PR firm or at least a publicist. All of this cannot be covered in a single blog entry, or in a complete years long blog, or even in a large book, so I’m gonna just add some costs on here.

Publicist (cut rate) – $2500
Advertisements – $2500
So, this part comes to


So you’re at $15,000, which is the close to the limit the union wants you to spend on a showcase code show.

Of the 900 seats, 100 of them need to be held aside for industry and reviewers. The math of this is non-negotiable, in order to sell any seats at all, you have to have reviews, 900 seats would be impossible for a Broadway show if they didn’t have a single reviewer.

More important than a review is a popular young director who’s working on two other projects, or an awesome older singer who has fifty students, or a grande dame who’s having a dinner party the next night. These are the people that need to be comp’ed. These are the people who are gonna sell more tickets than any online snotty theater zine.

But look at the numbers. If you sell out your 800 tickets at $15 a piece, you’ve brought in $12,000.

But let’s be honest.

Your budget is actually $7200 less than the budget I quoted here, because there’s no set designer, no costume designer, no publicist and no ads. Your costumes are all clothes out of the actors, or your, closets, the set is your couch you dragged on stage, your black box will stay black, your lighting design is whatever you and the stage manager, who is also running the lights, can figure out. Your show looks like crap, but your actors are dedicated and the play will be more or less letter perfect to the script.

But also, you don’t have three weeks, you have two, and you don’t have 60 seats, you have 50, and that’s plenty because you can’t sell 800 seats. You can sell 400 seats, if you put every ounce of energy you have into it.

And that’s what most producers have learned. Two week run. Three week rehearsals. Your couch on stage, The actors’ own clothes and a metro card for everyone.

Final Analysis

So, in the end, a person could make back their money, or at least not lose their shirts entirely. So why is this bad economics? Because, this production is a dead end. A movie, once made, can be shipped overseas for no extra money. The whole thing is done, it’s on a four inch piece of metal and plastic. An album, once invested in, can be enjoyed for decades, it lives on and on.

The producers don’t own the play, they own the production, and they can sell the production, but they don’t own the script. Investing in plays is a terrible idea. There are altruistic reasons for investing in plays, but plays are bad economics. Even if you hit big, your chances for hitting big are smaller than in any other art form.

Oh. Right. Yeah, don’t worry. I’ve got solutions. There are more kinds of investment than economic ones, and there are economic ways to be paid back.

Producing Problem Part One

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2005

I’ve got a multiple post set of theories that I want to get down, and this is going to be part one, which I’m calling “Why People Hate Seeing Plays”. In fact, let me see if I can get some HTML behind that.

Why People Hate Going To Plays

As you can see, I changed the title slightly, because I refuse to believe that people hate seeing plays, mostly just that they hate going to them. Here’s why


A play requires a several hour commitment, during which you have to behave a certain way. No, you can’t walk around during it, you can’t receive a phone call, you can’t open a piece of candy, you can’t discuss stuff with your neighbors and you aren’t allowed to pee. There is a strict call for behavior during a show that, in our world now, seems pretty outrageous. You can bemoan all you want about the current attention span or whatever, but you’re itching for a world that you’ve never actually known, so I won’t do that here. Audience members have a two-plus hour commitment to be in this theater, and during that time you are a prisoner to social consequence.

Think about it. If you were sick, let’s say, and your doctor said that he could make you well, but you would have to come to his office at 8 pm and spend two hours there paying attention to his instructions, and by the time you were done you would be well, you wouldn’t go. Right now, if you go to the doctor and have to wait half an hour, during which you are allowed to read or watch TV or talk on your cellphone, but that’s half an hour you’re giving up, you still complain.

We’re just not in a world now where time is something we are willing to give up. You work all day, and then you have a certain number of hours to rejuvinate, and then you have to sleep. Your rejuvenation can sometimes be going to the gym or whatever, but more often than not, we need something that we can be totally passive about. As an audience member at a play, you are expected to participate. I’m gonna address each of these problems later, for now, I’m just going one at a time.

Inconsistent Quality

If you sit down to watch a TV show, you pretty much know what you’re getting. And if you don’t know, chances are you aren’t gonna give something a chance. Again, bitch somewhere else about people needing to be adventurous, they aren’t, they’re never going to be, so I want to deal with what *is*. The fact is, we generally don’t opt for the unknown, we don’t think “Well, I’ve been working all day, I’ve been eating crap all day, I have an hour for dinner… maybe I’ll try that completely forboding unknown Vietnamese place on the corner where the waitresses are all in burkas…”

People have only so many minutes for their evenings, and they don’t want to walk away from something feeling worse than they did going in.

There is an important distinction here, and it might be the only insight that isn’t totally obvious, and that is that people aren’t willing to bet on the unknown, but they really enjoy the challenging, the insightful, the mature. If I were to stick with the sitcom model, then I would say people really enjoyed Cheers and, later, they enjoyed Frasier. Cheers had a tough first year, but the complicated relationship models, the strange characters with real back stories and the misery of constant romantic failure kept people tuned in, the same could be said for Frasier. People like difficult stories, and they like mature looks at the world, they aren’t scared that something will be difficult or unpleasant. They’re scared that it will be bad.


When you look at forms of entertainment, the ability for a person to be able to take in what you are dishing out is dependent on their state of mind. Theaters have theatrical lights and, almost without exception, uncomfortable chairs. These rooms are painfully hot, and the seats are terrible. I avoid seeing Broadway plays because the seats are so terrible. I’m talking about every Broadway theater I’ve ever been in.

On our level, it’s even worse. It’s often metal folding chairs, or sometimes it’s benches or pews. I love the idea of theater as church, but I really don’t want it dreaded as such. At least if you’re in a pew, at some point you might stand up or kneel.

As each show goes on, either the AC is running and the actors have to scream over it, or the AC is off and the theater is sweltering. It’s worse in the winter, when most of the theater going public is in New York, because buildings are heated to the point of loosening soldered joints, and every single person has worn eleven layers of clothes and brought their big ass jacket, all of which has to be kept on their laps. There’s even one theater that has solved this problem by freezing the theater, bringing the temperature down into the 50s, so that by intermission the theater is only slightly warm, and then they re-freeze the theater during intermission.


A large percentage of the people I know complain about how hard it is to produce theater, and about how it costs so much. This is true. We just found out that we lost far more money on our last two shows than we realized. Fleet Week, which was such a success? It will have ended up being the biggest money loser for us ever. And yet…

When compared to other art forms, it’s not that hard or expensive to produce theater. Imagine the money lost on an art exhibit. How much did it cost you the last time you went to look at sculptures and paintings? Each painting on the wall took that artist as much time to create as it took us to create a play, in terms of producing the work. And you walk into a museum or a gallery and there are hundreds of pieces of art, each a singular expression, each being produced at massive cost in terms of time and materials, and each not earning their producers a penny unless it sells.

Movies? C’mon. Our biggest money loss was somewhere around 7 grand. Can you imagine a filmmaker even thinking of the world in terms of $7,000? Ballet? A symphony orchestra? Think about how much money these people must lose.

(As an aside, it’s interesting the way small theater producers look at themselves. We see The Symphony Orchestra or The Ballet as these vaulted artistic worlds, whereas we’re mostly just trolls writing obsessed personal stories, but the truth is, all artists are trolls. I grew up with the symphony orchestra, these people are basically OCD-driven bastards with drinking problems just like we are. We’re all trolls.)

What this means is that a lot of theater is produced on our level. A lot. My mom was saying yesterday “I love going to the theater”, and I said, “It’s Tuesday, I bet there are about 180 shows going up in New York *right now*, and I bet you I could find a show that was less than two hours long that we could get in to for under $10. But you still don’t want to go…” This feeds back into the “unknown” thing. My mom’s answer “I would go, if you could promise me it would be as good as “Hail Satan””. There are too many plays being produced for any one of them to make more than a passing amount of noise.

The Big Hit Myth

Many of the people who are in the theater community in New York made a decision at some point about whether to go to New York or LA. I’m not just talking about actors, strangely, but writers as well. Directors.

As if the film industry, which New York is behind *several* other cities including Wilmington, and the theater community, which Los Angeles is behind most of the other large cities *in California*, are identical industries. As if they don’t require MASSIVELY different skills. I mean, as an actor one could argue that truth and motivation and whatever are required no matter where you are acting, but for writers? For directors? It’s absurd to think that a writer who’s medium is television or film, areas where your work is driven far more by visual language than dialogue, should be writing for the stage. Even more ridicul
ous to think a film director has anything even in common with a stage director.

But many sitcom writers are putting up theater here in New York. Many night-time drama writers are produced here. You go and see these plays and you think of how inspiring they would be to the right editor, the right film director.

Y’see, there’s nothing inherently better about writing for the stage. It’s a different craft, having the restraint and the inspiration to know where a picture will tell a thousand words. And there is a lot of visual language in the theater.

But these people are looking for The Big Hit. For Money. For Fame. For the thing that will get them out of this perpetual winter and into a place where the palm trees wave over your tennis court. That is NEVER GONNA HAPPEN IN THE THEATER. People come here and slowly they begin creating works that are funnier than the last one, more frought with sexual tension than the last one, more obnoxious than the last one because they actually want to land a deal with a network. My brother and Sister-in-law wanted to write for TV, so you know what they did? THEY WENT TO LA WHERE TV IS. Now, they’re gonna write for TV. They had about twenty amazing ideas for stories they wanted to tell, and they both knew the language they wanted to tell it with, and it wasn’t the stage.

So, there’s a better chance the play you’re gonna go see is a sitcom. But not a good one, because you don’t have the network deciding which one is good. There’s been no test for these shows, no sitting down and discussing the good and bad points. It’s a sitcom, produced for 3% of what a regular sitcom is produced for, and you’ll get some laughs, but not nearly as many as you will watching “My Name is Earl”. Which is really funny, by the way.


There is no theater community. Not on this level. You have friends, and you have friends of friends, and on top of that, you have people who owe you, but that doesn’t make a community. A theater community should be a group of people inspired by each other’s work and philosopy, not a cult of personality or a loosely affiliated smattering of people too terrified to express outrage or disgust at their friend’s work for fear of retribution.

You think we don’t know? Seriously? At the end of a show when someone comes up to you and says, “congratulations on all your success!” or “it must have been a lot of work to get that on its feet from the page!”, it sounds exactly like “one hears such notes and what can one say but… Salieri!” You are talking to actors and playwrights, words and subtext are our bread and butter.

God, what I wouldn’t give for someone to come up to me and say, “It feels unimportant. Yes, I was shocked, but to tell you the truth, I was hurt as well, and in the end I just didn’t think it was worth it. For me, you are swinging too blunt an instrument.” Or, even more, how much it would have meant to me to hear, “the lack of coherence made it hard for me to have as much fun as I wanted to.” God, anything is better than “congrats on your success.”

I want to be supportive of my associates, and I walk into every play trying to figure out what they are trying to do, and then I try to figure out if they did it. It’s a somewhat afterthought about whether or not I respect what they are trying to do, but I would love for that to be part of the discussion.

We have become a culture of critics, spending our hours in the theater trying to figure out what is wrong, then hiding it from the artists themselves while picking away to our associates from the outside. Meanwhile, around us the world continues, unaware of our theater and even more unaware of what we think of our theater.

Perceived Cost

This is the sum total of everything I’ve already talked about. It’s gonna take time getting to and from, and then there’s the two hours of sitting on my hands in an uncomfortable chair while the theater around me slowly goes from joint achingly cold to wetly, oppressively hot, all the while I am being forced to watch a hauntingly similar play to the one I saw weeks ago, where the producers have opted for light romantic 30 something comedy (who’s only message is that it’s tough to be in a relationship in New York) because they fear that anything other than “Funny” won’t bring in any audiences, all the while knowing that, in the end, I can’t discuss the play or its shortcomings with anyone because it just might mean that these same people will boycott my next play.

All for somewhere between $15 and $40. Unless it’s an off-Broadway or Broadway play, then it’s more.

Large groups of insects have learned to cross rivers, streams and even lakes by forming a giant ball. Most of the ball is underwater, but the ball is constantly rolling, and the insects that are underwater just hold their breath until the ball rolls to the point where they can breathe. This is what we feel like, producing theater in New York. Each show one produces means a loss of at least $2000, but every show you go to is a loss of $15 and an evening, and we are just desperately trying to con one another into coming to our show, into holding their breath and going underwater so we can breathe for a minute.

I believe there has got to be a better way. And, I can’t believe I’m saying this, your comments are welcome and encouraged.