UPDATE: Tomorrow I'm heading out to Arizona for a week-long vacation with Pam's family (and Pam of course), so, more than likely, I won't be updating until next Friday.
I invite everyone to use my comments section to hammer things out; to read Slay's posts on the subject (like this new one) and comment over there.
I've received a few e-mails at this point from interested companies (which is wonderful and thanks to all who contacted me) and I invite more. (Mattfr at gmail.com). Slay's also invited interested parties to contact him, so I suggest that as well. I'm sure he and I will compare notes.
I hope that other bloggers chime in (especially Art, who was a part of the initial conversation and really helped spark the idea) and that readers connect companies they know with this concept. Let's see if we can turn conversation into action.
Well the "theatrosphere" has become a very active place, no? After the Tonys, there was a fury of postings about theatre and television and how they compare. I posted this, which sparked some fantastic comments which brought to the fore, for me anyhow, the idea of simultaneously opening a single play, on the same day, all over the country.
Read more about this, and a great distillation of the discussion, here.
Here's the reasoning:
One of the challenges of theatre is that it is an art that takes place at a single place, at a single moment, with live performers. That is its strength, but it is primarily a technological challenge. Film and television can distribute their work on multiple platforms (theaters, in your home, on DVD, via rental, downloads, iPod, Netflix) and plays simply don't work that way. How, then, to create a sense of national awareness and national conversation about a single production, outside of the niche of theatre fans and New York-o-files?
What currently happens, for the most part, is that a play opens in a single location (New York for example) has its run, and then either tours afterwards, or is picked up by individual companies. This happens in a very traditional way: the playwright tries to use reviews of the initial run to garner interest in other companies. This work means that productions after the original require a sort of repeated effort each time on the part of the playwright to get a production to happen.
Here's how a National Premiere might work, and help to move theatrical distribution of new works to a more modern model:
A series of smaller budget theater companies, who work at a professional level but have, say, less than 99 seat houses, agree to open, on the same day, a single work by a single writer. Let's say March 1st, 2009. Each company would pool resources for marketing, but essentially mount separately cast and directed productions of the single work. That means the resources these companies usually put into any given production would remain the same, but they would be a part of a national event, announcing a new work to the country, as opposed to their region. In some ways, it mimics the model of film distribution.
Why not larger institutions like The Public? Frankly, it would take years for companies of this size to come together with other companies of comparable size. They benefit from having a World Premiere in a variety of ways, but in terms of clout and finance. The sheer number of lawyers it would take to get the Goodman and the Public and the Guthrie to share a premiere would shut it down relatively quickly. That's my assumption, from the outside.
Furthermore, smaller companies are just more agile. They can make decisions like this more quickly, gather resources more quickly, and a loose affiliation is probably a more easy way to make a National Premiere work.
The playwright in question, of course, would have massive benefit. If each company paid standard royalties (which they would do if the show was not a part of this type of model anyhow) then the playwright would be looking at a substantial royalty check at the time. The playwright would also be seen by more eyeballs in the event of a single-month run at one time, than they likely would be in a six-month run in a single city.
Smaller companies would benefit from having immediate access to the cutting edge work, and also be a part of something that would raise not only awareness within the theater community of their work, but also potentially bring new audiences to their doorstep.
It's an idea, I think, that has legs. The problem, of course, is that there is a large gap between online activity ("That's a great idea!") and action in the real world. So...what would need to happen?
First of all, I, personally, would be happy to hear from any company that would find this interesting. I would also be happy to contact companies myself on the recommendation of others. Basically, this is the starting point... connecting companies with one another and gauging actual interest. Speaking to artistic directors about how possible this is.
All the real logistics would come afterwards. Which play, what date, how many companies. The first step is interest.
The make it simple, I'd like to focus on these areas:
That's a start. I'd love to hear from at least ONE company that's interested (or about what company that should be informed) from each of those states. If that can happen, I think it might be possible to add more. If you're not in an urban market, that's just fine. If you are, sweet. It would be fantastic to be able to post a series of companies that have specifically raised their hand to say: "I want in."
E-mail me at: Mattfr at gmail.com
Love to hear more thoughts and more ideas. I've read that some think colleges should be involved. I've read the idea of a "dinner theater" model that brings standard programming to a variety of cooler art spaces. Sort of a franchise version of this idea. There's been discussion of existing networks that do this, on some level, already. Could those networks be used as the framework to make this happen?
Exciting stuff. Let's see where it might go.
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.