“The American theatre movement is nearing disaster.”
“Without an adequate sense of tradition or a sense of social responsibility, it is in danger of becoming a movement whose only purpose is self-perpetuation. This idealistic movement begun some generations ago has been unable to achieve a living wage for its actors, a livelihood for its playwrights; it demands that its designers accept 12 to 15 productions a year just to make ends meet, and forgoes its responsibility to train directors while permitting, under the heading of financial survival, the average income of its audiences to climb higher and higher, until this once bastion of social ideals and aesthetic concerns has become the plaything of the upper-middle-class and the very wealthy. How did this happen?”
Richard Nelson wrote these words 25 years ago as the opening to an essay about the state of American theatre and I’m not sure much has changed. Most American theatre artists in are out of work, and that was before the recession! It is still nearly impossible to make a living in the theatre, so artists subsidize their income with work in television and film. Those that can’t get work there, have the infamous “day job” which they pray will be flexible enough so they can go on auditions when they need to.
American Theatre Magazine recently asked 25 theatre artists “What do you imagine might happen in the American theatre over the course of the next quarter-century?”
Mike Daisy, monologist and playwright, had this to say:
“I look forward to the great work of the next quarter-century as a time of crisis and renewal. I hope we begin to take back institutions for artists, in cities and towns we don't hear from today. I hope that we will discover together a new theatre of the living moment, beyond the thumb of film and television. I hope we are making art that is like life itself: unrepeatable, illuminating and unforgettable.”
This is a far cry from his 2008 article “How Theatre Failed America” which has subsequently been adapted into a one man show and performed in such venues as The Kirk Douglas Theatre, Joe’s Pub, and The Woolly Mammoth Theatre. It is nice to see that he has some hope for American theatre after all.
Sarah Benson, artistic director, of Soho Rep, in New York City had this to say: “What will emerge is a more culturally connected and art-driven model that stems from the work, rather than simply sustaining self-perpetuating institutions. The most exciting work will be exuberant, uncompromising and handmade. It will be intimate, whether made for tiny or vast spaces, and yet large in scope. And it will utilize the strange theatrical principle of alchemy, by taking rough materials and using them as they are—to turn out something remarkable.”
Go Sarah! Remember when you and your friends all got together and created intelligent, passionate, heartfelt new work that was inspired by how you felt about the world and your place in it? That is where the future of American Theatre is headed! No more cookie cutter theatre where all of the regional theatres are doing the same thing over and over again without much original thought. New work is almost always a comment on the present time and we all need to grow the balls to write about it.
What would your new play be about?
Written by Che’Rae Adams for NOHOARTSDISTRICT.COM April 2009
by Che'Rae Adams
Producing Artistic Director of the LAWC