Monday, December 28, 2009

Diversity IV: Ways That Work

Those who support Isaac Butler's "sue the theaters" idea (which I don't think he was honestly advocating) or Scott Walters' "numbers out of a hat" idea (which was serious, if ill-received), do have one sharp retort to those of us who criticize: If not these ideas, which ideas?

Well, I certainly don't want to sit around sniping all day, so... some ideas that work.

Firstly, Thomas Garvey (who I stopped reading the same day I stopped reading Clyde Fitch) reacted last Monday to the Butler/Walters proposals in a post that goes between putting forward the same criticisms I made and some other points I don't know if I agree with. But it ends with:
To be fair, when "diversity" is the problem, maybe real diversity is the answer. But that doesn't mean chance is the answer. So count me unconvinced, although if Scott Walters can dream up more ways to undermine the system of privilege in this country, I'm all ears.
I want to repeat something I said at the time, which is that I think Scott Walters has discovered one of the better methods of encouraging diversity in this country, which is his attempts to decentralize our theater industry with the project formerly known as the Less Than 100,000 Project (I forget what it's called now -- sorry Scott!).

  1. The only way in which it is possible for 7 MFA programs to be the gatekeepers of success is because playwrights are all fighting tooth and nail to break into NYC. There's a limit of number of theaters, which are all being absolutely inundated by submissions (as we've seen by the behind-the-scenes looks at literary departments).
  2. It is much harder to get your work seen in a community that isn't yours, that doesn't share your background and your history. Many of the best works of art surface locally first, before they break-out in a wider realm. If there's no local market, it's much harder to take that first step.
  3. If we developed local-grown theater, then those under-served communities would have a lot more theater-saturated audiences, which in turn develop more artists to begin with.
That's why I felt comfortable dismissing the names-out-of-a-hat idea -- because this idea seems so much more likely to work! I'm a firm proponent of that idea.

Secondly, there's a post by a blogger Ian Thal (who I hadn't read before, but now I will follow) on the subject which puts forward another proposal:
So now for my mischief: I challenge you critics, producers, and artistic directors who should be advocating for great theatre. Find an underappreciated, underproduced, perhaps unknown playwright who should be appreciated, produced and known. Better yet: find six, eight, ten, and advocate for them.
Obviously, this only works to a certain degree if you're inside the gates -- after all, I would love to give a diverse number of playwrights beautiful prizes for their work, but I'm still working on paying my rent with theater myself.

But on my theater company's blog, I authored a post about how producing is about love:

It turns out that a producer is just someone who falls in love with projects that aren't their own -- falls in love so hard that they have to fight to make the project.
If you put diversity in your mind, and prepare to fall in love with a diverse range of productions, and fight for others as hard as you'd fight for yourself, you can make things happen.

I have two projects for that company commissioned (for no money -- I said I was poor); I don't want to talk about them until they're done, but it happens that both are from playwrights of communities whose voices are missing. I didn't select them because of that, but at the same time, they had a voice that I couldn't possibly provide, something new that I knew no one but them could give to the world. It would break my heart not to see it on floorboards soon.

Anyways, that's the post: solutions that I think work. There are almost certainly more, but it's good to hat tip when you see them.

(Updated: I keep mis-numbering my own series. Fixed.)


Ian Thal said...

Thank you for the link. I'm still developing my thoughts on this proposal through the dialogue that is emerging on my comments section.

One thing that comes to mind is that it's not uncommon for music writers to pen lists of "The best [bands/albums] you never heard of but should" and it seems to me that theatre writers (both the print journalists and the bloggers) could be doing something similar.

CultureFuture said...

Yeah, that's certainly a simple but helpful solution. There is the problem though that it's harder to champion playwrights that you like but haven't broken out than it is to champion bands you like but haven't broken out, simply because if my friend the playwright isn't being performed, I may not know the right people to pull connections with to get them performed -- and if they don't get performed, I can't send anyone to go see them.

Then again, your website suggestion does provide a solution to that system.

Ian Thal said...

Essentially, there hadn't been the social media infrastructure until the Bush Theatre opened up their BushGreen project earlier this month. But as you point out, it's not exactly easy to just catch a show by the unproduced playwright on a critic's recommendation. This gets us discussing what the playwrights need to do: which is to proactively arrange their own staged readings on a semi-regular basis. I've been using this technique since this past spring.

Seems like I have the beginnings of a follow-up post.

August Schulenburg said...

Ian and Culture Future,

I did a little of "The Best Bands" idea over on the Flux blog back in the fall, posting Actors I Want To Write For:

And Plays That Need Doing In NYC:

It's a small thing, but one Artistic Director wrote to me to ask for a script I'd recommended in the second post - I wish I could report other direct results from it, but this playwright and AD would be a great fit for each other, so I'm hopeful...I feel like I know so many artists and plays worthy of attention that Flux simply can't get to them all!

Also, blogs like Clyde Fitch, Visible Soul, CultureBot, Just Shows To Go You, and Adam Szymkowicz are doing yeoman's work championing lesser known artists through great interview series.