“Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is 3,720 to 1!”
“Never tell me the odds.” – C3PO and Han Solo, Star Wars
I’ve never read Todd London’s Outrageous Fortune. This is not because I think it is without value. In fact, I have it on good authority that it’s excellent. I’ve also met Mr. London several times and found him to be a lovely person. He speaks with great passion about playwriting. He has devoted his professional life to helping and nurturing people like me.
And I will never read his book.
I’m usually a big “The truth will set you free” kinda guy. I’ve always felt I can handle anything if I just know what it is. In a tough situation my mind has usually conjures up something far worse than the truth, so even bad news usually comes with a measure of relief.
I don’t want to know the exact figures on how bad the state of the American theatre is. I know it anecdotally. I know it experientially. I know a friend of mine who was paid only $5000 to have his play produced at one of the country’s top regionals. I know several people in their 20s who have never even seen a play. I know how bad it is.
I don’t even want to know the glimmers of hope, whatever bright lights London sees on the horizon. Such news will only make me feel worse, like a girl who tells you how great you are just before she dumps you.
I don’t want to know these things because I need to preserve the safety of my little desk in the basement. At my little desk in the basement, I conjure. I invent people and scenes through my imagination and through words. It is arduous but incredibly rewarding work.
I work to please myself, and I am rarely satisfied. To get the pages to be anywhere near as good as it sounds in my head is hard enough. If I had to imagine my work’s fate out there in an increasingly disinterested world, I would simply cease to function.
I don’t recommend the way I handle this to anyone. I recommend all playwrights, indeed all people who are passionate about the future of the American theatre, to read Outrageous Fortune.
I never will.
- John Yearley