Thursday, February 14, 2008

The new play squeeze

Above, a viral marketing video for Love-Lies-Bleeding.

A few recent posts on other blogs - and some emails that have wound up over here at Hub Review - indicate a rising issue in the local theatre community: we're churning out new work, but no one in the press will cover it. Over at The Mirror Up to Nature, blogger and playwright Art Hennessey points out that the recent IRNE nominations for "Best New Play" included two plays that, well, weren't really all that new (both had premiered elsewhere a year or two ago). The point is of course valid, although I wince a bit at its target - Larry Stark, the driving force behind the IRNEs, is perhaps the most devoted playgoer in Boston, and has probably seen more new plays this year than the entire staff of the Globe, Herald, and Phoenix combined. Larry has posted Art's email on his own site, the Theater Mirror, but so far has made no reply. I was pretty much outside the IRNE Nominations process this year, due to my involvement with Blowing Whistles, and I've never really been that much of an insider, so I don't have a dog in this particular fight. In fact, I think it would be too bad if it degenerated into a "fight" at all.

But Art's question is an indication of a growing problem in the city - one that's also reflected in my own e-transom. I constantly get almost begging emails from folks putting on new shows in town, at such places as the Piano Factory space (whatever it's called now) and Boston Playwrights, or the Black Box at the BCA, or the Charlestown Working Theater. What's most touching are the ones that essentially read, "I know you're the meanest critic in town but you're also the only one I think will take me seriously," which sort of belies the idea that theatre artists only want praise; like everyone, they want to be rated honestly, too.

I can't honor all these requests (I really should try to get to more small shows), but I'm struck by the desperation of many - and, of course, by the fact that many of the shows I do get to prove to be quite worthy. We have a "thriving" fringe - the only problem is that it "thrives" without any critical attention, or, therefore, much of an audience, and therefore will only thrive as long as its participants have money to lose. (Elsewhere on Theater Mirror there's a letter from Jon Myers lamenting the fact that his new play got no reviews from anyone at all.) And if you imagine that somehow this has no artistic impact on the city, ponder that Don DeLillo's latest play, Loves-Lies-Bleeding, is being premiered by a fringe company, Way Theatre Artists, at Boston Playwrights this weekend. That's right - not the A.R.T., not the Huntington, or even the Lyric or the New Rep. Don DeLillo is on the fringe.

So what's the solution? Well, of course one obvious solution - a blog on the Globe or Phoenix - is essentially, for reasons unknown, a non-starter; think of the train wreck the Exhibitionist has turned into and you'll see what I mean (Howard Stern, anyone? No? Then how about the BSO - they're a struggling but feisty little group that could sure use some publicity!). It's clear the fringe will have to get by without any help from the tunnel-visioned mainstream media. Some, of course, have managed successful viral marketing campaigns, and have actually found audiences. But the dearth in critical response creates a discouraging gap. Can theatre learn to survive without the critics? It may have to.

2 comments:

  1. The list could go on too.

    A little theatre in Fort Point put up the Boston Premiere of Psychosis 4:48 (A play that sold out BAM just a year or two ago.) And I think only the Dig reviewed it here. (Well, I did too.)

    Love Lies Bleeding may have tough go of it with reviewers due to the two week run time. Back when I was producing a lot more I remember the cutoff for most reviewers was a three week run. But hopefully the fact that it is Delillo, and the fact that Way has some hot talent that has been noticed by many reviewers, will result in them catching a break.

    Sadly, I think the loss of Will Stackman (Rest in Peace,) is being felt as well in this regard.

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  2. You're quite right about the loss of Will Stackman - another indefatigable playgoer, who may have ruffled some feathers, but who always cared about what was onstage in this town. There are fewer and fewer like him.

    And it's interesting, isn't it, that despite the Internet's seeming promise to give everyone a shot at recognition, the actual amount of attention being paid is in truth shrinking. Everyone may be famous for 15 minutes, but only to 15 people, apparently.

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