I confess I haven't ordered a copy of Outrageous Fortune, the new book from TDF that purports to outline what's gone wrong with the new play development process - and I don't think I'm going to. Everything I've read about it - and bloggers have been working overtime in this regard - makes it sound just too obnoxious for words.
Some chapters, it is said, bemoan how difficult it is to get a first production; others bemoan how hard it is to get a second production because theatres prefer to give first productions. The audience is aging, aging, aging, but none of the young playwrights are themselves willing to go to the theatre. From what I've read, the book sounds like one long chorus of complaint - when it's not a chorus of counter-complaint.
Except, of course, when it comes to the quality of new plays.
But here's the rub - and I haven't dared say this till now - I think that the new play development process may have become too easy, not too difficult.
Gasp! How can I say that? Because I've sat through the plays. And to be honest, most of the new plays I've seen in the past five years have not been ready for production. I'd say, in fact, at best only 1 in 5 have been good to go. And I'm not talking little shows in basements here. I'm talking about the A.R.T. and the Huntington and Trinity Rep. Plays that have been in development for months, or years.
Nevertheless, what I've experienced, sitting in theatres for something like 150 nights a year for the past five or so years, is that an immense amount of time and energy and money have been expended on a product that hasn't really been worth it.
And I have a sneaky suspicion that that may be what is killing theatre. And to me, that's what is broken about the development process - not that it doesn't generate enough new plays, but that it's rarely successful in actually "developing" them.
How to correct the situation is the question. But does Outrageous Fortune even hazard an answer? Is there a way to increase the number of new plays, but also improve their quality? Because that is something I'd like to read.