Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Play Development is to Playwright what Big Bad Wolf is to Little Red

Playwright development hell stories

I'm sorry, but I feel that deep down those poor playwrights who took someones money to commission a work and then have a less fulfilling product afterwards...

The playwright gets what they deserved. Not because they are sell outs or bad people or what have you. But, it appears that play development is the Wolf at the door even if the wolf really thinks it's grandma. In fact that is a great metaphor. Play development sits sickly in a bed that it has usurped disguised as the maternal nurturer that we all want, we show up with a basket full of goodies, and the wolf having played the role of grandma so long actually believes it has our best interests at heart, even as it's instinct kicks in a we hobble away missing a digit or a limb. So how many times do playwrights have to hear these stories before they realize it is at best, a Faustian bargain most of the time. It seems that playwrights who hope to make it (which doesn't mean have an impact on culture so much as live solely off of their writing despite is dindling audience, lack of market value, etc.)enter into it hoping it will enable them, and playwrights who have actually made it and now feel secure without feeling indebted openly critize DP.

Who out there has a story about going into development and actually coming out with a better play than when they went in, and getting someone to produce it with enough resource that it was worth the time, energy, and money invested. I have yet to hear that story.

I have heard lots of stories about playwrights who decide that they want to be paid as writers (they deserve it, I'm told, because what they do is hard and we should be paid for things that are hard, and they have kids and kids need to eat) so if they happen to be in the right place at the right time they get one of these development deals. Then hoping that they can get another one, they speak in diplomatic tones after the fact about how good the producing organization has been to them, even if the producing organization hasn't been all that good to the work.

I have no pity for these playwrights. For the past 15 years, I have had to work a day job (forbid!!!) to support my own writing, to produce my own shows, etc. etc.

In fact 95-99 percent of the people I know in the theatre here in Chicago have to work day jobs or the have a spouse that works the day job, or they make ends meet with significantly less from teaching or whatnot.

So when I hear about individuals who enter into Faustian bargains and the last magic bullet shoots and kills off the edginess or vitally or social relevance or risk of the script just before opening night...I dont get the shocked or downtrodden expressions. That is the risk you take when you take the devil's money.

It has nothing to do with your inherit right as a wordsmith or as a craftsman. It has nothing to do with how hard the task is that you have set for yourself. People who get paid have bosses that they have to answer to. So what the final product is ends up being the boss' decision. You can walk away or get fired. But, if you take their money, they are going to get to boss you until you stop taking their money.

I'm sorry but the playwright who makes a living writing plays is just about an extinct specie. When the few mastodons left expire then the only remining vocational playwrights will be best likened to lottery winners.

I don't like it. But, it is the truth. I except alot of people who read this will disagree vehemently with points in it. I'll just have to remember no one believed cassandra either.

We arent talking about the death of theatre or even the death of playwrighting. We are taking about a major shift in the art itself, in this country, due to economic obstacles.

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