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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.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Outrageous Fortune Chapter 2

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.

UPDATE.

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.

9 comments:

Scott Walters said...

As far as anonymity goes, we've discussed this in the theatrosphere, and everyone except me has been very firm that they will write nothing that might possibly offend somebody who would employ them in the future. While this seeming lack of courage has baffled me, it has been universally applauded by everyone else as practical. The reason that OF is so disturbing is that people are saying what's on their minds, rather than whitewashing it for distribution. It would be a very different book, and a much less effective one, if people were quoted directly.

ukejackson said...

I can't really respond to Matt's post, not having read the book/study.

However, Scott, I apparently am the unknown blogger as much as the unknown playwright. (That's probably due to the fact I haven't been blogging for very long, and I can't expect everyone to have read all my posts.)

Nonetheless, I have no problem offending people in positions of theatrical power:

http://aplaywrightspeaks.blogspot.com/2009/12/critical-thoughts.html

And here's a brief post that takes on the entire notion of power in the theater world:

http://aplaywrightspeaks.blogspot.com/2009/10/two-links-two-attitudes.html

Scott Walters said...

Good for you, Uke! You are a minority.

Freeman said...

I think that there are good reasons for anonymity at times, and also reasons to put your name out there. Outrageous Fortune grants blanket anonymity in order to get people's honest responses, I'm sure. But there's a point at which, as a reader, it became distracting for me. That's all I'm saying.

I don't (ahem) traffic almost exclusively in hyperbole. This is a nuanced issue.

I am entirely sympathetic to professional concerns about reputation. I don't view it as cowardice. I just wanted to see some more variety in what's on the record and what isn't.

In terms of the real issues, this is the least of them. The book has some really important and challenging things to say, and my attribution quibble is barely worth debate.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

"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?"

Ugh, I hate that BS from so-called liberal douche-bags. This doesn't surprise me. Excuse me for being a South Asian, Muslim female playwright and trying to get my plays produced. How dare she! I guess I should pretend to be white.

Joshua James said...

I've certainly written many a provocative post under my own name, Scott, as you well know ...

One must be, though, mindfully of others ... I've certainly not been able to write about a number of things simply out of deference to the people involved (especially with screenwriting) ... and while I've put my own name to my theatre posts, I've often not named theatres, directors, etc who I am painting a rather non-rosy picture of ... it'd be easy enough to figure out, of course ... but the point isn't always to name names, I think.

That being said, I write on a blog ... with a book, in particular a resource book, it would be cooler things were sourced ... and in ways I think it should be.

ukejackson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ukejackson said...

As someone who thoroughly enjoys the use of hyperbole, especially to tweak the noses of powerful figures, I took exception to today's piece in the Times about OF, which fails to mention the blog-driven aspect of the conversation about this book.

In my own small way I attempt to give some credit where its due on my "WTF" post today: http://www.aplaywrightspeaks.blogspot.com/

(edited for typos)

RVCBard said...

Ugh, I hate that BS from so-called liberal douche-bags. This doesn't surprise me. Excuse me for being a South Asian, Muslim female playwright and trying to get my plays produced. How dare she! I guess I should pretend to be white.

You and me both. In the meantime, have you considered staging your own tragic and all too early death?