No one asked me but …
The Vom: A monthly diatribe, rant, provocation against the conventional wisdom
When picking your season, don’t choose to do the play that reads perfectly on the page. Don’t do the play where you can just feel the full impact of every word leavened by just the right amount of precious humor and pathos. Don’t do the play that tracks perfectly in your head. Go ahead and bind it in book form and sell it as-is in the theater gift shop or from behind the bar, but don’t waste actors on it. It won’t work on stage.
Don’t do plays that are “relevant.” Relevant to who? When? About what? Is it relevant when its in the headlines of the newspaper? Because they’ve clearly shown that they have their fingers on the pulse of America right now, haven’t they? Plays feel relevant when they’re good – regardless of whether they’re about the genocide in Rwanda or the relationship of those three sisters down the street. Do good plays, and they will be relevant. Don’t do “relevant” plays.
Don’t do plays to “raise awareness” or “inform” or “put a human face on a problem.” Do telethons to put a face on a problem. Write articles to raise awareness. Go door to door to inform. So, sure, yes, a play has been known, occasionally, to raise awareness, inform, and put a human face on a problem, they just aren’t usually very good when that’s what they’re built to do. Do plays that people care about, not plays that are intended to make them care about something that they don’t currently care about. You think that the theater is the first place they’re going to hear about it? Don’t do those plays. Let Ken Burns do the documentary instead.
And I don’t want to hear talk about bringing in a younger audience unless you’re willing to acknowledge that your audience’s age isn’t just a marketing issue. Why is theater the only business on the planet that expects to get a new audience with the same product? Do the same plays you’ve always done with the same dramaturgical rules if you want and market the shit out of them to an audience of twittering, facebookheads but none of them will come. They know what your theater does – it’s not a marketing problem – they don’t want to see it. (As Baby Boomer Bowie said, “They’re immune to your consultation. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”)
So, for god’s sake, don’t find young playwrights you like and workshop them until they're just like an old playwright you like (only young, and quietly judging you).
Don’t reinterpret a play because you think the play has gotten stale. If the play has gotten stale, little you can do will freshen it up. Reinterpret a play because you think the play needs only a little translation to work. You don’t need to teach the audience to see the play in a new way. Odds are good they never saw it the old way.
And, don’t give me that line about the need to do a familiar title or author. Unless you’re doing Hello, Dolly, the people who are most likely to recognize the title or author are also the ones most likely to come no matter who the author or what the title. Don’t pretend that you need to produce last year’s Pulitzer prize semi-finalist — regardless of whether you’ve read it or not and its yet another play about people who live in New York, usually on the Upper West Side. To the general public, there is little difference in fame between John Patrick Shanley, Václav Havel, and me.
Finally, for god’s sake – ah, who am I kidding, for my sake – don’t make me sit through another play where some character happens to be reading a book about science, or technology, or mathematics, or nature, or animal husbandry, that is – coincidentally – a perfect metaphor for the deepest truths of the human heart. Seriously? You’re going to read to me on the stage and then act it out? I’d rather hang out on Facebook, watch a Ken Burns documentary, and listen to the soundtrack of Hello, Dolly.❦