Monday, January 11, 2010

Most Produced Playwrights In Boston?

So, following up on my link to Terry Teachout's column about plays this morning, I learned through Isaac Butler that Rob Weinherdt Kendt has supposedly found a hole in Terry's reasoning.

Rob posts the following on his blog:

This is a misleading conclusion, for a number of reasons. For starters, TCG's Top-10 lists exclude plays by Shakespeare because it's not a fair fight; he handily beats the other playwrights, living or dead, year in and year out. Also, more to the point, Teachout has compiled a list of the Top 10 most-produced shows over a decade, but the way he's worded this litany, it reads as if American theaters have produced "no" productions by these authors at all. "No history, in other words."

There's one other problem: By listing playwrights' names, Teachout exposes another flaw in his data-mining. A thorough list of "most-produced" playwrights over the last 10 years would paint a different picture. Conor McPherson, Sarah Ruhl, and August Wilson would probably be on the list, for starters; so, I daresay, would many of the writers Teachout lists above. Because while each year's Top 10 reflects that year's hottest plays while they're white-hot, it fails to register the hardy warhorses and Streetcars that don't crack the Top 10 but, over the aggregate of 10 years, are likely to outrun the temporary favorites. It also fails to account for authors, new and old, who are too prolific to rise to the top with just one defining play; maybe no single Chekhov or Williams play had as many productions as Wit or Doubt in the 2000s; but I'm willing to bet Teachout a lunch that Chekhov and Williams received more productions than did Margaret Edson or David Auburn.

On my lunch hour, just out of curiosity, I started to go through the seasons of our companies here in Boston for at least the past few years...

In very short order it became overwhelmingly clear that Terry's data appears to bear out. Newer work dominates the last decade.

Rob's point is well taken, but it doesn't appear, at least on what I see for Boston, to be enough to offset Terry's main argument. The names he lists are very rare birds on our landscape in comparison to newer works.

The exception so far is Anton Chekhov. Aside from Shakespeare, Chekhov pretty much rules the last decade. I have only gone through a small number of companies, but he is already hitting almost a dozen productions.

Shaw though less, doesn't fare too badly either. However, Rebeck, Rapp, Jon Robin Baitz, August Wilson and some others aren't THAT far behind.

More to the point though - new and/or newer work is increasingly dominating our stages.

I'll work more on compiling the data as I can, but it may take some time.

As a side note: There are immediately things I run into that can throw things off though.

For instance, the ART had something of a Mamet festival last year, so suddenly you have 5 Mamet plays interjected into the data.

I started compiling the data in a spreadsheet, and I'll continue to do so.


isaac butler said...

I'm excited to see what you come up with. As I tried to clarify on my blog, it's not that I think terry's necessarily wrong, I just wonder about how other numbers might give us a fuller picture. Thanks for doing this with your free time!

Thomas Garvey said...

I remember there was a spate of Chekhovs last year - like three in a row. But who's been doing Shaw? Just curious!

Art said...

Hey Thom,

The Publick, Lyric, Huntington, American Rep and Wheelock have all produced shaw over the last decade.

Art said...


The ART was producing about one Chekhov a year for a while during the last ten years. That, combined with suddenly the Hungington, Nora, Trinity Publick, etc doing Chekhov's, bumps him way up.

Scott Walters said...

I'm curious: are you making any distinction between the size of theatres? For instance, are the big institutions as likely to do new plays? Also, are these productions on the mainstage, or second stages?

Art said...

Hey Scott,

I haven't been distinguishing between Mainstage and Second Stage. Some of the history doesn't have it.

The large LORT theatres actually do plenty of new plays. Not always premieres, but pretty new.

George Hunka said...

Chekhov makes a great deal of sense; it's no wonder he's on the list, since far more than even Shakespeare he (and Ibsen) have been profoundly influential in terms of dramaturgical form and content over the last century. Martin Esslin saw him as an essential precursor to Harold Pinter, for example: domestic situations and faux-naturalistic dialogue provide the basis of these plays' design.

Not that Chekhov's plays haven't been reconceived for different kinds of presentation, but I would wager that this isn't the case in most instances.