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editorial The Writer in the Theatre Where does the American playwright fit in the scheme of theatre? This issue's dialogue with four playwrights addresses some of the problems writers perceive in their relationship to theatre and to the culture. Chief among them is the lack of feeling of a sense of place in the continuity of culture. (A second feature, "Tennessee Williams: The Catastrophe of Success ," forms an uncanny coda to the young playwrights' thoughts.) Other areas of questioning include the audience, the role of the economy, career goals, and non-profit theatre institutions. Playwrights are, rightly so, beginning to be bored with the notion of "developmental" and "emerging" playwrights that is part of the grant structure in America. At what point is a writer said to be no longer "developing" or "emerging"? Why, in the first place, is it only the playwright who is kept in the crib stage? More to the point, is there any value in encouraging writers not up to professional levels to seek careers in the theatre? This is done all the time and it hurts the real writers, but more than that theatre itself. In one sense, the non-profit theatre has created a situation that has run out of control. There aren't enough theatres to support all the thousands of writers-far too many-in the country. The field is over-professionalized by many writers for whom writing should be merely a hobby, not a public act. Too many grants go to too few daring, intelligent writers, without any real thoughtful, comprehensive planning. This has produced an insidious grant mentality in the theatre world. And finally, without a commercial hit, a playwright can't make a living without supplemental income. Playwrights themselves at times lose sight of the real life of writing in their obsessive need to plug into the culture machine. With the best of intentions , private foundations and granting agencies have helped to encourage the craze for media attention, the superficial building of a few chosen 4 writers' careers, and all the prizes, however fleeting, that that brings to a writer. But the whole system revolves around fads-the search for the new wunderkind, the "black" playwright, the "woman" playwright. Theatres, too, don't help writers when they demand less than the best from them in their desperate attempt to find "new" American plays. The growth of the dramaturg industry here is directly related to the ambiguous attitude of theatre toward the writer: the dramaturg is now poised to help legions of writers fix up their plays. Realistically speaking, the role of the dramaturg is unsuited to the structure of American theatre. For the time being we need dramaturgs in institutional theatres far less than we need brilliant writers and directors who can think through complex ideas, and theatres run by artistic directors in touch with the new possibilites of writing and staging. One of the areas where this kind of work has been seen over the last two dozen or more years is in the avant-garde theatre. Yet now it seems clear that this theatre has not generated new, younger writers. Aside from the few writer-directors who stage their own texts (Breuer, Foreman, Wilson, LeCompte), writers have not found a home here. The avant-garde has almost without exception produced only directors, technicians, and performers . And experimental spaces, such as the Performing Garage, have neither encouraged writers, nor been receptive to writing, contemporary or classic, which could be given radical new stagings and interpretations. This is a shame because the Garage is one place which could attract new, receptive audiences, on a reasonable scale. (We should be grateful to La Mama, the Public Theater, and BAM for their embrace of theatre in the broadest sense of the term.) Writers have to do their part, too. What we need is some raw-edge writing, writing unafraid of ideas and political vision, writing that reflects the new structures of experience in the world in a critical perspective. Writers have to stop writing for the requirements of institutional theatres and write instead for themselves. Let theatres and audiences adjust to their needs. The Editors 5 ...


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