Today I had planned on blogging extensively about the second chapter of Outrageous Fortune. I'll be a bit behind, unfortunately. There is just a ton of ground to cover in this chapter, and I haven't really digested it properly. Either I'll write a full post later tonight or tomorrow.
In short: theaters use the products playwrights create to write grants and pay salaries. Some of the most successful playwrights in the country earn less than $40,000 a year in this system, from a hodgepodge of sources, half of those sources unrelated to theatre.
That is, fundamentally, f*cked.
Okay. So here's a bit more detail.
The second chapter is titled The Lives & Livelihoods of Playwrights
It's packed. The subjects range from the prevalence of MFA programs; to gender and racial representation; to the nuts and bolts of income as a playwright; to What Playwrights Want (hint: its productions). I'm not going to even sort of attempt to summarize it.
I will make a few observations.
First, a big takeaway from the chapter is how the theatrical farm system focuses on young and new playwrights, not just new plays. This means that there's a sort of donut hole for mid-career playwrights. As long as you're new, or new-ish, or seen as fresh, there are grants and programs that want to train you and make use of you. After that, it's sort of "Good luck. Not famous? Considered teaching?"
Second, the chapter becomes absolutely weirdly flummoxed and apologetic whenever it discovers evidence that non-white writers are getting produced and even receiving decent commissions. I found it mystifying. The lady doth protest too much. It could be that dedicated efforts towards making stages more diverse are having a positive effect. That's good, right? What am I missing?
Third, the term "emerging" should be taken out and shot. Of course. No one likes it and no one wants to use it. The best observation was that the term emerging serves a purpose for more than grant-writing...it establishes the writer as a sort of unformed trainee in the midst of professionals who are here to help. If you are emerging, you are not yet a butterfly.
Fourth, playwrights are paid less than administrative assistants. Whoever is doing the budgeting is totally fucking up.
Fifth, I really wish this book did not rely so heavily on anonymous quotes. It is, in fact, full of them. To the teeth. There are no attributions. (There is a list at the end of the book, and you can play guessing games with it if you like.) I don't get it. In the New York Times, they try not to source anonymously, and if they do, they now insist on giving a reason ("speaking with the condition of anonymity because they did not want to put the President in a difficult position"). I would have preferred that. That's not really chapter specific so much as an issue with the style of the book itself.
Onwards and upwards.
- 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.