I've mostly been neglecting this blog because I was busy maintaining the Youngblog, and that sort of become an obsession of mine. Now that I'm transitioning out of Younglood and into being an official, grown-up member of Ensemble Studio Theatre, I've passed on the Youngblog to playwrights Patrick Link and Meghan Deans, who I know will keep it alive and thriving.
The nice thing about Tarhearted is that I don't just have to write about theater. I can write about other things I love like punk rock, politics, obscure movies and comic books. That said, this entry is about theater.
I just returned from my first trip to London, where I was part of the Old Vic US/UK Exchange. Basically, seven British playwrights, directors and producers came to New York for a week and did a ten minute play festival at The Vineyard with about fifty British actors. While they were here they stayed with American buddies and took meetings/did workshops with top American theaters. A couple of weeks later we switched places and the Americans went to London and did our ten minute plays at The Old Vic.
It was an amazing experience. I can't tell you how thrilling it was to see my work on The Old Vic stage. The meetings my English buddy had when he was here were meetings I could only dream about: Manhattan Theatre Club, The Public, St. Anne's, Ars Nova... The reverse was true as well. I took meetings with The Hampstead, The Old Vic, The Old Vic Tunnels, Soho Theatre, The Royal Court, The National, Theatre 503, The Bush and Pains Plough among others. I came away with some key differences between our two counties.
The obvious difference is funding. All of the the spaces I met with received government funding (I think, though sometimes it didn't come up.) This allows them to take risks that American theaters just plain can't take. The Hampstead, for instance, has a new downstairs space that only does fully realized productions of new plays. Here's the kicker: they don't allow the press. They want to give new plays the chance to come to life before they are battered around by the press. It's a really, really appealing idea for me as a playwright. A theater of their size in New York couldn't do one of my edgier plays because if it didn't do well they might have to shut their doors.
Another thing I noticed: the theaters seemed to love playwrights. I was invited to come and write in at least three or four of the theaters. They basically said, "We have this lobby or this cafe or this empty room etc. so we encourage writers to come here, hang out and just write." It was so nice to hear and I wish some New York theaters would do the same. Perhaps some of them do, and I'm just not on the inside track? I don't know. A lot of the theaters, too, have "attachments" where they even give playwrights a little money to hang out and write for a week or two, which is another benefit, I presume, of government funding. I hate writing at home because it's not neutral enough, but I also don't like the distraction of a coffee shop. It would be really lovely to write in, say, The Public Theater's beautiful lobby.
Another thing: the Brits seem to love young playwrights. I mean really, really love them. The Royal Court is doing a play by a 19 year-old. They did her first play at 17. I heard a lot of complaints about this from the British playwrights on the exchange, who seemed to feel like there was always an emphasis on the work of very young, middle class white girls- who also happen to have hip, beautiful headshots to go with their bio. That, I think, is really interesting. The reason Youngblood is so important is because there are so few opportunities for young playwrights in America. Theater administrators, audiences, etc- at least in my perception for the past few years- are largely baby boomers or older and not particularly interested in programming work by or for young people, who can't afford their shows anyway. Now that I'm thirty, we'll see how my perception changes. I feel really conflicted about this. Can't we find a happy medium?
The last thing I noticed, and this is hard to put my finger on or understand culturally, almost all of the Brits' plays in their showcase were naturalistic and almost none of ours were. I wonder why that is? Is it just random, or is there some sort of cultural significance.
Anyway. London is amazing, and it was cool to meet my contemporaries, both British and American. That said, I'm happy to be back in bad old Brooklyn where I belong.
Me, christopher oscar pena, and Jonathan Caren in a London cab. Photo by Janine Nabers. BFFs.
P.S. to my Brits: your bacon is not bacon. Get it together.