Saturday, November 26, 2011

Three Kinds Of Impossible

When Gary and I were flying back from Janis and Dustin's wedding in Texas, I was reading through my copy of Outrageous Fortune for blog inspiration.  This book, which investigates the prevailing "dysfunctional" relationship between theaters and playwrights, has lately been a topic of discussion behind the scenes at the blog.  That’s how John Yearley beat me to a post about it last week

Gary and I were stuck in the plane aisle when a woman leaned over her seat and poked at the book in my hand. "I hope you’re not an artistic director," she said.  "That's not gonna cheer you up."  Of course she was right – she turned out to be an artistic director herself.  No one has much of anything nice to say about the status quo in the world of new plays, and almost everyone interviewed takes the opportunity to gripe about it in this detailed study.  But since no one likes listening to me complain, I ultimately chose this passage describing the problem from a writer’s point of view:

"The state of playwriting is healthy, most writers agree, but there's a failure of the imagination on the part of theatres, an inability to make sense of emerging voices and new work.  Theatres, this common critique goes, lack the vision to realize those voices in production, and woefully underestimate their audiences' ability to appreciate challenging material.  At the same time, they fail to educate these audiences about unconventional dramatic forms.  Through the eyes of the playwright, the obstacle of unconventionality is symptomatic of a widespread failure of imagination."

As a producer, I'll admit that I often read plays with a wary eye towards impossible ideas.  By impossible, I mean ideas that are either simply unstageable with our budget or that contribute needlessly to downtown theater’s reputation for being pretentious and/or incomprehensible. Come to think of it, let’s say there are three categories of impossible:
  • BORING AND IMPOSSIBLE: Car chases. Climactic gunfights. Enormous country-style breakfasts.
  • INTRIGUING BUT IMPOSSIBLE: Thermonuclear explosions.  Singing alien plants.  Journeys to the Heaviside Layer.
  • TOTALLY BANANAS AND IMPOSSIBLE: Characters vomiting mythological creatures. Giant thumbs that bleed abstraction. Talking Jewish lobsters.
Does my resistance to unconventional ideas such as these represent a failure of imagination?  Or am I just doing my job?  I want to explore this idea with our commission playwrights:  Won’t you please tell us about a time when your "challenging" and "unconventional" experiment never made it to the stage because some director or producer shut you down?  What happened next?  And who was right?

- Kyle Ancowitz 

No comments:

Post a Comment