I always try to be careful in writing these posts, Constant Reader. It would be incredibly easy to complain about the annoyances of the creative life, of pointless auditions or misguided productions, and get some measure of catharsis from sharing my pain – hopefully in some stylish prose that provides some measure of entertainment to others. No matter how artfully told my account may be, however, it would always run the risk of offending potential co-workers or collaborators who recognized themselves in my jeremiad. No, I can’t risk the potential blowback I might incur by making complaints on my own behalf.
It’s a good thing I have friends, then.
A friend of mine had a reading of a full-length play of theirs this past week. Given the nature of this week’s post I’ll refrain from saying who, or what the piece was, but rest assured it was a terrific play. And it’s getting an off-off Broadway production this coming spring, as it should; the company mounting that production held last week’s reading as a combination workshop and fundraiser. That is, of course, the way of theatrical productions – there’s always a reading or a workshop or some such thing in order to get the bugs out, make sure everything is ready before making the investment of time and money in a full production.
In fact, there’s inevitably more than one.
This particular piece had two additional prior readings – last year. All told, since it was written in 2018 – six years before it’s ultimately produced, as its writer intended – it’s had a total of five staged readings, and been a finalist or semifinalist in a dozen separate playwriting competitions.
I’m pretty sure they got the bugs out some time ago.
Which raises the inevitable question – just how much development do we need, anyway? It’s not that we don’t need it – I’ve certainly had my scripts benefit from workshop readings and table reads, in ways I’d never be able to anticipate ahead of time. But after a certain point, you know what you’re dealing with, and any further changes can only happen once you’re in a rehearsal room and your actors are on their feet.
Actors are empatically not on their feet in a developmental reading. In a contest they’re probably not there at all.
And the question becomes – exactly why do we all need to jump through quite this many hoops? Are we trying to prove that there’s interest, to mitigate any risk? My friend’s play, to use the popular metric of the day, has a whopping fifty-three recommendations on NPX thus far. He’s an award-winning writer with a recognizable name. How much risk can there possibly be?
Again, it would be churlish and self-serving if I were making this argument on my own behalf. But I’ve got enough friends who are better and/or more prominent than I am who are going through all of this to be able to say it’s not about me. It’s not about any one of us. It’s a broader system, and it’s unsustainable.
The reading was really good, though.