- 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.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
George Hunka is the original gangsta of theatre bloggers.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Second, in a recent blog post on Theatre Ideas, Scott Walters says:
Recommendation: The NEA ought to confine itself to providing seed money for theatres in underserved communities.
If you've followed Scott as long as I have (years!) this sounds like a reframing/continuation of his belief that too much focus is placed on urban environments and that public and private dollars tend to be in theater hubs like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. I'd also add Minneapolis (well funded indeed and well-loved too) to the list of big theater towns. So, under this recommendation, it's clear that the NEA dollars would effectively disappear from New York and Chicago and LA and other "well-served" communities. Scott says it himself at the end of his post: "Serve everybody, not just middle-class urbanites."
For me, I agree that the NEA should do more outreach to smaller communities and theaters. I don't see why we need to rob Peter to pay Paul though: why should large theatrical institutions surrender their public funding to pay for smaller ones? Shouldn't the goal be to increase funding across the board and add initiatives?
In my day job (which is for a religious institution) we talk a lot about scarcity models versus abundance models. When we talk about taking money from one thing (urban, cultural institutions) to give that money to rural communities, we're acting as if there is one small pot of money, scare resources, and we have to refocus those dollars one way or another.
But, instead, we see that when Americans prioritize something (say...war) money strangely materializes in sums that dwarf the entire budget of the NEA tenfold. There is money out there, and we should expect it and ask for it. I believe that both the urban theater communities and small rural communities should expect funding. The problem isn't that one group is hogging all the money.
The problem is that the funding is too low, not that funding is misdirected. We need funding to branch out in lots of directions. Arts funding shouldn't look like a fire hose, it should look running water in many, many different faucets.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
Read all about it:
Blue Coyote Theater Group announces new grant program for playwrights
Groundbreaking New York City Theater Company Celebrates Its Tenth Anniversary with a Deepened Commitment to the Future of American Theater
New York, New York March 25, 2011 – Blue Coyote Theater Group, celebrating ten years as a leading producer of downtown New York theater, announced today its commitment to new plays and emerging playwrights with the Coyote Commission Project, a multi-year grant program that promises to nurture the development of groundbreaking new works for future production.
The inaugural recipients of the Coyote Commission Project are: Robert Attenweiler (All Kinds of Shifty Villains at the Krain); Boo Killebrew (The Play About My Dad at 59E59 Theaters); Kristen Palmer (Departures at Blue Coyote); Christine Whitley (The Goatwoman of Corvis County at Shakespeare & Co); John Yearley (Another Girl at Naked Angels reading series); and David Zellnik (book writer and lyricist for Yank! at the York Theatre).
In a joint statement, Blue Coyote founding members Kyle Ancowitz, Robert Buckwalter, Gary Shrader and Stephen Speights said, “Theater artists are still reeling from the continuing effects of the economic crisis. As a leading producer of new playwrights downtown, we must make decisive efforts to protect unique dramatic voices from consolidations and cutbacks in arts funding, and ensure the arrival of tomorrow’s classics. We are thrilled to be investing in the craftsmen who exhibit great promise in contributing positively to the American arts landscape.”
Grant recipients were selected with consideration of the following criteria: their excellence in choice of subject matter; their finesse in actualizing their ideas; their willingness to follow their impulse to challenge and provoke the status quo; their respective singular voices; and their ability to express themselves with both humor and insight.
In addition to a monetary award, commissioned playwrights create one play for a possible world premiere production with Blue Coyote Theater Group. Blue Coyote supports the playwright through a developmental process that includes public readings and ongoing dramaturgical support.
The New York Times has praised Blue Coyote Theater Group for producing “sprawling, entertaining drama[s] with…large cast[s] in a time when most downtown plays are intimate, pinched affairs.”
And Martin Denton, of nytheatre.com
The Coyote Commission Project is part of a series of Blue Coyote efforts initiated with the goal of illuminating the work of new playwrights in New York City. In conjunction with this project, Blue Coyote and Access Theater will host public readings of works in progress from additional playwrights at the Access Theater from March 30 through April 3rd. Blue Coyote plans to document the creative process on its Facebook page and newly designed interactive website, now under construction, at www.bluecoyote.org
Thursday, March 24, 2011
"For me, well, first let me say that it's definitely not a great recommendation for every market. New York is over-saturated in a way that few other places are. But still, there's something to this. I take this to be more of an invitation to figure out a business model that works for raising money for your shows (and scaling your work appropriately) rather than anything else. Of course at the same time if we waited around until we had created the ideal circumstances to do our shows we'd... never do our shows."
He frames it as "Should We Stop Making Art?" which I think isn't exactly the question posed. CATT seems to be saying to production companies: "Don't just do a lot of work if you can't afford it."
All of this is of a piece from the statement on the CATT that "Art is a profession; and artists who do not get paid are not professionals. Period." The CATT is trying to say, as far as I can tell, "The reason artists don't make any money is because they do not expect to, and if you undervalue yourself, and you run your business in an unsustainable way, it will not pay you and it will not sustain you."
It's not an attempt to call artists who have yet to be paid un-professional. They seem to be saying that if you want to be a professional, it behooves you to get yourself paid. It does not, it appears to me, seem to be a way to purposefully attack people who do unpaid work. It seems that what they're saying is: "You deserve to be paid." Not "If you can't get paid, you're just a hobbyist." I can see what the goal is here, and I understand it, even if I think it's sort of needlessly insulting (even if it's not intentionally so) to people who are struggling to find work in a difficult environment.
All that being said, I still find this all rather hopeless and it's my instinct to try to keep it in the background. Meaning: I don't think that market-based thinking is invalid; but I do think that if we suggest that it should drive how we produce creative work, we're losing our way.
Our goal should be to invite and encourage and foster as much creativity as possible, to celebrate and embrace it, and to try to find a way to (as I've said before) to reduce the market influences on artists. We shouldn't force our community to comply with principles of economics that, inherently, raise efficiency above beauty on the list of things to focus on.
Instead of labeling artists by their pay grade and trying to find ways to curtail the exposure of new playwrights (because if there's one thing I know about new plays is that they're overexposed), we should commit our energies to bringing new audiences to our invigorated and active stages. Maybe a population that loves theater would be less likely to defund the NEA; more likely to see the value in the arts. (Let's face it: it's rare to hear theaters trumpeting the amazing amount of new work and the multitude of voices out there. We're not exactly great evangelists for our own work. We sound, more often than not, like apologists.)
I fear we've begun to concede that the market is the arbiter of taste and that the market is the best gauge of success and failure. If you decided in your life to go work on the stage, some part of you has already rejected that idea. If the market had its way, anything that couldn't be streamed via satellite into people's homes would be thrown into a scrap heap; all chickens would be grown in test tubes; all prisons would be privatized. It's up to us to push back against the market; not to become more like it.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
From her post:
"But faster than you can say, "Mat, I think you might be blaming the victim a smidge," playwrights started to leap for Smart's throat. Some of it was quasihysterical, dismissive and emblematic of the kind of vanity Smart was attacking. Josh Conkel jumped to the conclusion that Smart is saying, "Minorities are poor because of LAZINESS," and he does this in a post titled "The Wisdom of Straight White Dudes." I have loved Conkel's work (like MilkMilkLemonade), but his posts on the Youngblood blog tend to elide real inequalities with the difficulties of getting a play produced. There's a mare's nest of interrelated injustice in theatrical production, but fairness is a slippery—sometimes aesthetically dangerous—concept in the arts."
I think Shaw's post is typical of her: clear-eyed, smart, formidable. I do think, though, that she sort of gives Smart a pass ("a smidge") for being provocative, but doesn't give those who he has actively provoked the same benefit of the doubt. They're no less outraged than Smart is, and, I would argue, for far more complex reasons.
I'm also skeptical of the idea that highlighting inequalities is the same thing as demanding fairness. I've never heard anyone seriously make a good case that people should ignore aesthetics in favor of some imaginary system of doling out productions by group or by quota. Does the fact that production opportunities will never be "fair" (whatever that means) mean that artists like Conkel should stifle their full-throated truth-telling about the importance of access? (I got all sorts of complicated feedback when I told a little truth about the wall between the un-Agented and the larger institutions, despite their public policies.) Is the answer, really, that everyone should shut up, get in line, and write better plays?
I think that saying "hey, it's more complicated than that" is not an argument that aesthetics don't matter. Acknowledging class is not an argument that fairness should trump talent. In fact, the people who care most about the quality of the work they see are often the same people who are decrying the challenges of the theatrical caste system. Conkel, himself, has loads of talent and works his ass off. If Smart is right...why does Conkel care so much?
It seems that all everyone wants is the best and hardest working artists to get opportunities. The question is: do we get to that goal by treating class and access as if they are just background noise, another part of the laundry list? Or by engaging with those issues with passion and intelligence?
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
"However, this is what I believe, with all due respect to my peers:
our general laziness,
inability to commit,
lack of talent,
and unwillingness to truly listen and change—
are the real reasons we—the “emerging” playwright—fail."
I love the "with all due respect" line. That makes it more respectful.
I actually find the post, to say the least, ham-fisted and frustrating.
Smart takes the stance that writers who complain about the obstacles they face should hold up a mirror to their own failings. Fair enough, I guess. I'd agree that talent and elbow grease are key components to a successful career, as well as a certain mental toughness. I'd also agree that in the social world of playwrights (such as it is) talent can often be the elephant in the room. It's a messy and subjective and weird and lends itself to tactlessness. People don't like to talk about it.
The essay, though, ignores the very real class issues involved in, oh, every aspect of American life. Smart also overplays the provocateur. Referring to his list as the "real reasons" implies that other, systemic complains are imaginary, excuses. He is saying that writers who do not submit to criticism easily, who protect their work too closely, who don't "fix" their plays, or whatever else...are artistically failing and it translates into failure professionally. It is, in short, a reassertion of the idea of a meritocracy.
Frankly, I don't see why there cannot be both lazy writers (I'm sure there are, but most of the one's I've met work pretty hard) and systemic roadblocks. I don't see why these notions need to compete with each other. One is no less real than the other. The work habits of individual writers seems to be an entirely different issue than whether or not racism or commercialism can frustrate people.
I imagine, reading this essay, that Smart has had long nights of merciless editing and on those nights, he feels a lack of sympathy for those recite a litany of external torments for their lack of success. He seems more intent on blowing off steam than constructing a careful argument. (What, for example, does the label "emerging" have to do with a willingness to be a ruthless editor of one's own work? Is he really intending to say that people who complain about racism should just work harder? Really?) I wonder if the real issue here is just tone. If he'd said "sure there are systemic problems, but you can also get in your own way if you don't look in the mirror," I think I'd object less. Regardless, give it a read. Love to hear what you think.
From the post:
"What I agree with
- There is too little attention paid to actual costs at every level of the “food chain.” Funders, presenters, generative artists, collaborators and audience members need to acknowledge the real cost of making art.
- The people in the production stream “at the bottom of the food chain,” in this case the artists, have a lot of latent power. [but see below: control of production is only one source of power]
- Artists – and their collaborators — should be paid a living wage by arts organizations.
- Artists should view themselves as entrepreneurs, and develop a business plan accordingly. A plan that considers all revenue sources, all budget expenditures, and realistically addresses the potentialities for the future is a necessity, even for artists who are full time employees of arts organizations. By thinking of it s a business plan rather than a personal budget, the artist professionalizes their activities. Which brings me to what I question…
What I question
- “artists who do not get paid are not professionals. Period.” CATT’s criterion seems arbitrary. Why measure one’s status as a professional by money, especially when money is so hard to come by. Let’s say, for example, that you are a painter. Eight hours a day are spent in the studio painting, eights hours a week spent on visiting galleries. Your professional business plan calls for diversified income streams that include a freelance graphic design business and the ubiquitous food service industry job on weekends. Your income stream is not generated from painting, but you enter the studio every single day and create art. You consider yourself a professional artist. Why should CATT say you aren’t? Was Van Gogh a professional artist? Even though he didn’t sell a painting in his lifetime? [I do agree, however, that there are instances in which incorrect notions of professionalism have been used as a veil for the exploitation of artists]
- Although artists have latent power in the production stream, control of the means of production is one of only several bases of power over supply. Others include control of information and control of resources. The artist controls neither of these.
Two other thoughts
- We can’t really talk about the oversupply of artists, arts organizations, or artistic product without talking about the oversupply of training programs. Why are there so many MFA programs training theatre artists, dancers, and even arts administrators, if there is not viable employment for them? What are we [i.e. the academic arts community] teaching our students to do when they get out of graduate school?
- A performing arts ecosystem is a local ecosystem. It involves artists creating in a specific location for live audience in a specific location, often with locally or regionally generated funding. The CATT members write from a specific New York-centric perspective. (Since I once had that perspective myself, I readily recognize its presence.) There are people making interesting work in urban — and rural — enclaves throughout the country, but in each region or city, the arts “food chain” is unique. Artists who choose to live in a city like Phoenix, for example, must create a portfolio career to sustain their work, even when they are fortunate and talented enough to have part of their income derived from that work (CATT’s definition of a professional artist)."
Friday, March 18, 2011
"Yes, I am getting a bit bored by article after article about the injuries, and who is really in charge, and what the cast had for breakfast the day they found out Julie Taymor was out.
But the real reason I'm over it is that many members of the press (not all, mind you) and the public are constantly calling for Producers to risk more on Broadway . . . to push the boundaries of what Broadway is about . . . to stop thinking about budgets and pursue excellence, instead of just excellent economics.
Has anyone actually realized what just went down on 42nd St?
The Producers of a $70+ million dollar musical that has been plagued with issues since its inception, but has been grossing 1 million plus per week just said, "We're shutting the show down, because we think we can make it better."
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
These are the opening lines of the play, from the current draft.
Even though the world is a great stone that no one can lift, I believe in Jesus Christ. There never was an Atlas. Gravity is not alive. Nothing is alive. Still, there is and always was the Lord. We are far away from everything. We recycle air, we die. Then, we’re born. Nothing is made and nothing disappears. Stasis. Ice. Water freezes solid. The sun expands. Eventually, this will be the end. But still, I know that Jesus is my Savior. This whole world is just a shell, and when it burns away, what’s left, will be the Spirit.
He'll be missed. I hope he knew that I wandered off to write plays and live out some of the values that I saw him express.
It got me thinking: much of the general public appreciation for theater comes from public school. The high school musical. The production of Our Town or Arsenic and Old Lace. Whatever it is. And of course the high school curriculum includes some drama as well.
So...are there plays written in the last 20 years... meaning from 1990 - 2010 or so, that you feel should be added to the mix for high school students? (Maybe there are some that are already being include of which I am unaware...?) Obviously the challenge is not only what stands the test of time, but what is appropriate for that age group. Should Tracy Letts be taught alongside Arthur Miller and Eugene O'Neil, for example? Should David Lindsay-Abaire? Should Sarah Ruhl?
Another play that has only one word as it's theme and title?
What do you think?
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Order it today.
Monday, March 14, 2011
Not all things are properly valued by the market, therefore we should not let market principles dictate the behavior of all things. It's not that complicated. Economics is a single lens through which to view the world, and it's a lens based on efficiency and production. It's central principles are not beauty or truthfulness or even, necessarily, usefulness.
Could we please, then, discuss journalism and government and the arts on their own terms - in terms of what they exist for, which is not, at their core, to turn a profit? It should be our goal to try to remove or reduce, as best we can, market influences on those things so that they can more closely align with their central tenets; not to move them as much as possible into the private sector, simply to avoid paying taxes.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Monday, March 07, 2011
Friday, March 04, 2011
These are Rules for the Naming of Plays from 2007.
Thursday, March 03, 2011
The Death of King Arthur
When Is A Clock -(Make sure you read the really funny one-star "I threw this play in the trash" review on Amazon. I love that review!)
and stay tuned for
Rabbi Hersh and the Talking Lobster (formerly known as "Trayf")
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
To be fair, articles like the aforementioned are really just a part of the perpetual random content generator necessary to run sites that are all about ad sales and traffic. (11 ways to teach a cat to use the toilet. Five ways you'll know if your girlfriend has recently had a third nipple removed. Six uses for the common household house.) Still, though, I am not immune. I know that you want to read these little goddamn lists and chuckle to your impressive self about the foibles of others bipeds.
So, with an eye on content that leads to traffic, and also an eye on your endless need for simple advice, and an eye on the mirror (always) I shall provide you with...
7 Ways To Be Better At Dating Actors (Because You Are Not Blameless)
1. Praise Your Actor.
You know what people like (even people who aren't constantly judged on their looks and way of speaking)? To be told they don't suck. So if Your Actor says "Do I suck at acting?" or "Am I pretty?" very quickly just say "You are a good actor and you are good looking." Did that cause you irreparable harm? Did it take up time that you intended to use watching The Bachelor? Just get over yourself and be decent, you Martyr. Hint: This works for everyone all the time.
2. Stop treating Your Actor as if his or her career is unique and strange.
It is not some unique life goal to be an actor. There are millions of actors. Some of them become really famous and successful. Some of them achieve a moderate but impressive level of success and are extremely happy with that. (Not every financial wizard becomes Warren Buffett, but that doesn't mean they don't make a cent.) Regardless, if you would just stop rolling your eyes every time Your Actor tries to rehearse a monologue from Agnes of God, maybe you'd both get along a bit better. The same thing is happening just two apartments down. Trust me.
3. If Your Actor is in a play, and you don't like the play, it is not Your Actor's fault.
Before you met Your Actor on Match.com, maybe you never trucked your ass out to a black box theater far out on the elevated train to see people in all-white clothes enact Medea with no budget. Okay, fine. Maybe, even, seeing that particular version of Medea gives you a goddamned headache. Fair enough. Your Actor, though, did not write Medea or direct himself or herself to put on the duck mask and would also probably prefer to be in the latest Tony Kushner in Minneapolis. Just buy Your Actor a drink and be nice about it.
4. If Your Actor has a weird schedule, spend time with other people for a change.
So if Your Actor has a few weeks of rehearsal and it's hard to see Your Actor as much as you want. Maybe you should call up your pals and go have a drink and reconnect and stop being so needy all the time. Didn't you have more than one friend in college? Live it up. Your Dad would probably give his little finger if your Mother would just take a sewing class and let him watch TV a couple of nights a week, right? Could we get a little glass half full here?
5. Don't be such a @$$hole about Your Actor not being rich.
Is it possible that just because Your Actor cannot afford to take you to the nicest restaurant in town, that does not mean that Your Actor has made bad chocies? You know who else probably can't afford to take you to Chez Maxout CreditCard? School teachers. Social workers. People that work with the poor. If you want so much to have $18 cocktails on the Upper East Side before you drop a $100 each on a meal that is made up largely of lamb medallions, maybe you can pay for it yourself with your big fat wallet.
6. If Your Actor decries the aging process, remember that life is unfair.
Guess why Your Actor is constantly worried about turning 30? Or why he or she points at each wrinkle and/or gray hair and pouts. Because he or she will, more than likely, be punished for being normal and growing up. They are in a field where being young and pretty helps and being older does not. Maybe at your job, when you hit 35, you just get a raise or some shit. That is unlikely to be true for Your Actor, especially if Your Actor is a woman. Don't like it? Neither does Your Actor. Be sympathetic, for the love of God.
7. Stop judging Your Actor for being an actor.
There are lots of perfectly nice, sane, well-meaning, rational, totally great people who are actors. They are not nuts, they just want to meet a nice person (maybe you) and go out to the movies and have a laugh. Perhaps this is Your Actor. You'll never know if you keep behaving like such a square.
But in theater, old workhorses are largely seen as the only truly commercially viable prospect, and new plays are largely (not entirely, but largely) a non-profit proposition. New Play Development is somehow viewed as a grant-worthy public works project, and a re-imagined Our Town is more likely to be $65 a ticket.
New Movie = Run Out And See It Before Your Friends Do
New Play = A Solemn Public Good, Please Donate
Old Movie = Something That Needs To Be Preserved And Discussed In Graduate Programs
Old Play = Perhaps A Broadway Revival?
To say nothing of old TV shows, which disappear from the public mind with haste.
Certainly, one can find examples of why this is true. (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was put forth as hot and young and got swallowed, largely, but a commercial run. Chicago will never disappear.) Still, hard not to wonder how theater evolved to embrace the non-profit model so completely, that it's best prospects for exciting young audiences are largely supported by taxes and charitable giving.