The Conversation

I’ve been having conversations with old friends over facebook, and I’ve had to explain how it is that I’m still producing theater when so many of them have given up. The short answer to that is simple, we’ve never made any money, we never will, and so it’s a lot like asking someone why they are still… I don’t know… watching football after all these years. I do it because I like it, and it doesn’t cost too much.

But, the long answer is more complicated than that. We have a wonderful built-in editing device in our company, we’re totally incapable of following through on a good idea. It sucks, and it means we’re not as prolific as we might be, but a good idea will hang around for a while before quietly disappearing. Mac and I had a post-apocalyptic musical, the three of us had some pretty good Mexican Wrestling ideas, and then there was Jordana’s “Lucretia Jones II, Lucretia Journeys To The Center Of The Earth”… all good ideas, but not *great* ones, and none of them lived past the shit-talking phase.

Now, the ideas that really make our nipples hard, the *great* ideas, survive for much the same reason that the good ideas (and the bad ones) show up at all. We’re having a conversation. We’re in the middle of a conversation, and it’s almost always our turn to talk. The New York theater culture is one of the voices that adds to the culture of America. The zeitgeist that pushes our corner of the world may take some time to affect all of America but… But Angels In America ended up on HBO. It happens.

And our culture, the theater of our city, is based on a very specific formula. You make a show, and I make a show, and our friends make shows, and people we hate make shows, and each of these statements pushes the next person to respond. Each performance, and, more importantly, each production is a small ingredient in a larger recipe. If I add baking soda, the cookies will puff up, and if I don’t, they won’t.

Now, the culture of our country is gonna keep happening whether we say anything or not. We don’t have a responsibility to make sure the wheel keeps turning, it’s gonna turn without us. When we *aren’t* producing plays, there are *LOTS* of people who are, and they don’t miss us for a moment when we keep our yaps shut.

But this conversation is our obsession, it is what keeps us doing the myriad other survival things we have to do with the rest of our lives. I see it in Mac and Jordana, I see them experience something and, almost immediately, begin to re-tell the story to themselves as a piece of theater. Understanding that our flaw is that we have no careers, and yes we know it, and yes we’re all, all of us, ashamed that we haven’t done more (even Mac knows he should be doing more, and he’s trying the hardest) – understand that, we still know that our passion for The Story Told trumps that.

And it’s in our plays, it isn’t in our reviews and it isn’t in our blogs or our theater-theories over cocktails. It’s in our plays. Would you like to know who we are? Then come see our plays. Come see our plays.

(Yes, I did, I just wrote in my blog about theater about the fact that our opinion about theater isn’t in our blogs. Yeah, I did that.)

And, here’s the thing. If you don’t come see our plays, then… I don’t know. What can I say? If you have a theory about culture, and you talk about it a lot, either in print or over cocktails, but you don’t come see our plays then you’ve stopped us from having a conversation. It’s a monologue. YOUR monologue.

If I can extend the ingredients metaphor, you aren’t allowing the baking soda to be added. And it’s possible that you don’t care about the baking soda, but you can’t know that without knowing WHAT IT IS. If you’ve seen my play, and you say, “This adds nothing to the conversation”, then I respect that. Believe me, I’ve probably said it about your play too.

But if you aren’t gonna come see my play… then WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME TO COME SEE YOURS? See, I can’t help but feel like you want me to come because you need to sell as many tickets as possible. If you send out a personal plea to *me*, and I buy a ticket and bring a friend, and I tell a lot of the people I know, then you’ll sell more tickets and you’ll have a better chance of covering your nut.

But if you haven’t seen my play, then I have to assume you aren’t all that interested in my opinion of what you do. Because you haven’t listened to my side of the conversation. You haven’t sat across the table and let me have my say. So, let’s take this to the next logical conclusion.

If you want me to come see your play because you’re worried only about ticket sales and not about my opinion, then that had to have factored into your decision when you were picking the play you produced. You can’t have been picking a play based on holding up your end of the conversation because you aren’t *having* one, you must have picked something you thought would sell tickets.

At this point… Look, it’s not that I want artists to starve or suffer. I don’t want us to be poor and miserable, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get paid for what you’re doing, especially if it is the devotion of your life. But if you’re making decisions based solely on tickets sold (or “units moved”) then why theater?

My GOD, there’s NO MONEY! We had a song in one of our shows called “The Same Twelve People” because the joke is that there are 12 people with $18, and on any given night, eleven of them are at the twelfth’s performance, they just keep passing the same ticket money around to the same people. THERE IS NO MONEY TO BE MADE IN THEATER. The overhead is ridiculous, the return on investment is miniscule, every single artist involved would get paid better if they worked in a different medium, and the product you created literally ceases to exist the very second it comes into being. IT’S A TERRIBLE IDEA.

The only reason to do this is to be part of the conversation. And the conversation matters ENORMOUSLY. What we say in a piece of theater today will affect the world in a matter of time. A fireman will pull you from your burning home and save your life, but six months later, having lost everything in the fire, you will walk into a theater a broken person, and walk out having been SAVED. And you will be saved by spending EIGHTEEN DOLLARS, because the saving is the reason, not the money.

I know you think you need to keep your head above water, but it would be better if you didn’t make plays at all. If you can’t be bothered to talk to the other kids, then why are you at the playground? If you’re just there to sell candy, believe me, the cool kids are gonna figure out REALLY fast, and they aren’t gonna bother with you. Drop your lollipops and get on the swings, man, it’s the only reason we’re all here.