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Institutionalizingthe Blind Date The Theatre and The Playwright Anne Cattaneo Even a playwright as young as Michael Casale, whose second play Elm Circle opened at Playwrights Horizons this past May, recalls being "kicked out of rehearsals" of his first play's first professional production, and this was as recently as 1977 at the Guthrie Theatre. "It was strange: I thought they would want me there, but they didn't. So I just left the theatre." In the decade since, things have changed radically. In theatres throughout the country playwrights have been welcomed into rehearsals. They are invited to take part in the production planning of their plays. They are encouraged to rewrite in the rehearsal process-in short, new plays and playwrights are playing a larger part than ever before. But as theatres of all kinds have turned more and more eagerly to new work, they have all come to realize that plays suited to their theatre's artistic policy, performing space and audiences do not inevitably find their way into the mailbox of the literary department just as season planning is about to begin. Instead, theatres with a few years of new play production behind them-theatres ranging from the nation's large regional repertory companies to its small experimental groups-are now finding that they cannot wait for the new American plays to come in. They themselves must take an active part in finding and creating them. But even with this realization, the ways in which a playwright finds a theatre and a theatre finds a playwright today continue to be haphazard at best. Unlike the great decades-long collaborations in the history of theatre100 Shakespeare and the Kings Men, Moliere and his company, Goethe at Weimar-today's associations between author and company are more akin to blind dates, arranged even in the best of situations by middlemen: outside "matchmakers" such as agents (whose role in both film and theatre seems to grow more powerful from day to day) and the large national theatre organizations such as TCG. And usually these blind dates remain one-time associations. The playwright is brought into a new working environment , he or she has one or two months to adapt, and then after the premiere the writer returns home. In the rush of this often disorienting experience the play may inadvertently take a shape that might not have been the case had the play opened at a theatre where the working environment and artistic policy were different. For even now, American playwrights remain largely outsiders in their own theatre community. Most of the playwrights-in-residence programs of the 60s and 70s have been discontinued and, with very few exceptions, most writers are working in a void, without permanent associations with theatre companies. In fact, it is only a few of the most successful (Mamet, for instance , or Lanford Wilson or Shepard) who are able to work consistently with one group in a process they understand and are able to control. The rest bounce about from play to play, and this blind date style of producing has gone on for so long that by now it has become institutionalized. Under financial strain, theatres have fewer and fewer resources to help them find and financially support an in-house group of writers, especially if the writers are interested in exploring new and unfamiliar territory in their work. Instead, funding goes more and more to the middlemen: the matchmakers who make the blind date process easier. Countering this trend, one of the more interesting programs to have emerged recently is the CBS sponsored New Plays Program administered by the Foundation of the Dramatists Guild, a program now in its second year. Its interest lies in the fact that the program is conceived and administered by playwrights themselves (among them, Lanford Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, Sam-Art Williams, Romulus Linney, A.R. Gurney and Ted Tally). Not surprisingly its purpose is to get a large number of plays (FDG/CBS estimates nearly 4000 each year) to a group of theatres interested in producing them, without any intermediate screening process along the way. Most importantly , the program subsidizes the reading and screening of these plays by...


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pp. 100-104
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