But then it took a turn into something that I’m personally even more interested in: the absurdly long lead-time in theater, which I believe is behind all the “is theater relevant?” discussions:
If I read an interesting news story and I want to write a play about it, chances are it’s going to be, at best, two to three years before that play sees the light of day. In that time, there will be a Law & Order episode, a CSI episode, an SNL skit, a 30 Rock reference, a novel, a YouTube video and a feature film all about the same thing.
Exactly. And this is what leads to situations like with my friend who wrote a play about the mortgage crisis, which would have been fantastically relevant and cool if a theater could have gotten it up right away, like Caffe Cino might have done back in the day.
(For example, Caffe Cino produced 11 plays between August and December 1966. Four months; 11 plays. You would have to assume at least one of those was pretty timely, having been written, what, a couple weeks before it went up?)
Instead, the best case scenario for my friend is that his play gets into some development festival next summer, where it’s seen by someone who wants to slot it into their season the year after that, and three years from now it gets staged as a period piece.
I’m convinced this is a big reason why so many great theater writers head off to TV. (Money is probably the main reason, but you’d be surprised how often playwrights write about their TV job being way more creatively fun than theater was.)
They write something and a few months later it gets produced. And people react to it and engage with it while it’s still timely. How could slow-moving theater ever compare?
The key may very well be for playwrights to seek out small and nimble theatre companies run by people you admire. Maybe you’ll give them a play you’ve just written and the A.D. will say, “Great. Let’s do it next season.” Which is pretty much how my next production came to be.
Anyway, it’s a good, quotable post, especially when it gets to “theatre’s popular culture gap” and misguided attempts to reach a youthful audience by “having a bunch of references to Lady Gaga or Lindsay Lohan.” Which I mention just because I want to end with this quote:
In general, theatre sometimes acts like a high school principal trying to connect with the students by wearing his cap backwards and dropping references that are three years out of date.