Monday, June 08, 2009

New Play Shuffle

Isaac Butler returns from the Theatre Communications Group conference with lots of data about the play development system.

He has two posts so far. One and Two.

Here are some tidbits:

-- Avg. playwright surveyed earns $25k-30K a year buuut...
- Over half of that income comes from non-playwright activity

-- Only 15% of income comes from prod-related activities
-- Roughly 3% of income is from royalties

--Plays are almost neve produced by the theaters who develop them.


-- 1 in 5 theaters regularly seek new plays that have already premiered

-- As a result: the writer/agent want to get as big a world premiere as possible if they want the play to have a future life. This drives them back into the big institutions that they find problematic in the first place

Now, this last bit I quoted there is a part of the Second Production Hell meme that has been making its way around the theatre community over the last few years.

Basically, the story goes like this: Up and coming playwright snags a world premiere or two at a few large or mid-sized theaters. The plays are well received, but it becomes almost impossible for the works to find homes at other theaters because any subsequent productions won't be able to trumpet, "World Premiere!"

This argument has seemed to make sense, but this past weekend the NEA New Play Blog wonders if maybe this is something that seems like it should be true, but actually isn't as clear when we look at the facts:

We speak of a nationwide affliction called "premieritis", a condition which prevents theaters from producing second and third productions of works that have already given up their world premiere to someone else. The data on the topic in the TDF study is curious-- it seems to show that many, many more theaters claim to have produced world premieres than playwrights say have had premieres. It raises a question about whether there's a common usage of the term 'world premiere' being applied across the field, or whether organizations are misreporting, or perhaps there are plays receiving their world premieres that somehow haven't charted with the playwrights in the survey pool.

But I'm more concerned with whether or not we are actually suffering the sort of epidemic of premieritis that we seem to assume we are. Part of my concern about telling old stories is that they can be very hard to stamp out once they get going.

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