Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Looking Outside The Known

Michael Feingold in the Village Voice:

Today, when most Broadway producers, nervous for their investment, see their artistic future almost wholly in terms of hit shows from the past and hit movies that can be revamped into large musicals, I often wonder if that bygone audience's contempt for predictability might not itself be ripe for revival.


Digression has its virtues. One might say that today's producers, among their other failings, don't digress enough. And by "producers," I mean our nonprofit institutions as well as those vast phalanxes of backers whose names now make up a dense paragraph over the show's title on every Broadway playbill. Relying on what they think succeeded once to be successful again, they've become almost fixated on a very small number of play titles as salable. They don't see plays as a wildly varied assortment of choices, or authors as the creators of a substantial body of work. For them, the names to conjure with are the few that have been profitably conjured with before.

The result is a systematic de-education of New York's audiences. Not exactly a dumbing-down—you could hardly say audiences are being dumbed down when they're urged to see Mamet's Speed-the-Plow and American Buffalo, which will shortly be playing a few midtown blocks from each other. But these two excellent plays, though they happen to have been commercial successes, hardly constitute Mamet's entire artistic output. The management that dreams of expanding our audience's Mamet awareness by taking a risk on, say, The Cryptogram or The Shawl—plays that didn't get such rousing receptions the first time around—is an element our theater lacks.

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