“Resolutions For NYC Producers”
So 2021 has finally arrived and with it, both opportunities and obligations. The theater community has been challenged by Covid in ways we never anticipated and there have been some admirable attempts to overcome those limitations, some quite successfully. We should applaud them because none of this has been easy but then again why should it be? As a historical and cultural force, theater has always risen out of our needs, our crisis, our failures and our determinations, so why should the New Year bring us anything different?
Well, yes and no, it really depends on who you talk to. When I speak to young actors, it’s pretty clear they’re hungry for new opportunities in performance. When I speak to young writers, it’s obvious they want productions, venues where they can get their voices out and be heard. When I hear from young directors they’re all about staging new work and bringing new forms to life but support for this notion seems to be lagging.
That brings us to the producers and I’m sorry to say it but you guys really are the problem. Why do I say that? Well, because I’ve been in touch with you guys as well and what I hear from you is you’re all in a holding pattern, waiting for the vaccines to distribute so you can get back to business as usual and until then, you’re sitting back biding your time. Now I may lose a couple friends for saying this but I think you guys need to take this period of inactivity to reset, refocus and make some New Year’s resolutions for 2021. In the spirit of holiday giving, I’m going to make a few helpful suggestions that will fit neatly in your pipes for smoking, in what I hope will be careful consideration.
Resolution #1 — Stop thinking of theater in terms of the “Great White Way”. What does this mean? It means stop making pseudo-intellectual theater for guys who live on the Upper East Side since they’re only going through the motions anyway and are largely counting the minutes till Post-Theater drinking and dining. They don’t care about theater, it’s only a pastime for them so why gear it in their direction?
Resolution #2 — I would also stop making popcorn theater for Middle America, which in many ways is far worse as those guys are only star watching from the tenth row and not much else. Sure, they fill out ticket sales but with each production geared to that crowd, you lower the artistic bar inch by inch closer to the floor. What’s the big idea for the 2022 season? “Iron Man, The Musical”?
Resolution #3 — Stop thinking in terms of 500+ houses in general, since that thinking inevitably takes you down the Road to Excess and not in any William Blake sense. Listen, David Brown and Spielberg took Hollywood down a dark road when they created the “Summer Picture” with Jaws and many would argue that the American Cinema has never recovered from it. The American Theater is on a similar path, stop it while you still can.
Resolution #4 — Find new venues that don’t cost a fortune and look for new projects that can thrive in them. Why? Because when you walk in the front door of a Broadway house, you’ve automatically priced yourself out of so many creative options it’s not funny. You can’t take chances on anything when you’re carrying an 800-pound gorilla on your back. Not on a new writer, not on new actors, not on a new anything! And what are you left with? The same tired old material, the same tired old actors, the same tired old everything. Notice anything different here? No, me neither.
Resolution #5 — Get some new blood in the theater by supporting young writers and giving them a real chance! Listen, I know pretty much all the writers in NYC with Broadway credits and damned few of them are under the age of 60. That’s too old a mean average for creative people, it’s really time to invest in younger generations. One of the great things about producing in smaller venues is that it gives you the freedom to work with new scribblers and new ideas. Sure, the financial return might be smaller in the short run but when you get a hit, you can always move it into a bigger house for a larger return. And you will have given the art form you profess to love a much, a much-needed transfusion.
Resolution #6 — Stop looking for reasons not to produce something and look for all the reasons that you should! Audiences are ravenous for new material and new forms, the success of Hamilton should have made that abundantly clear. Sure, Lin-Manuel’s material was brilliant but one of the major reasons why it resonated with audiences so strongly was that it was a new piece of work that broke with traditional norms and forms. That’s what you should be looking to produce in this new year and I don’t mean “Hamilton 2″.