The Effective Playwright — Jaz Dorsey — AAPEX

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Effective Playwright

Pay to Play(wright) Reality Check

In an ideal world, the moment you print out the last draft of your masterpiece, several Broadway producers will be knocking at your door begging to produce your play and presenting you with a check for royalties in advance which will finance both your pied a terre in Manhattan and that small farm in Ct. which is where you will do most of your writing from now on.

Bad news on this front - the only check on the horizon is a reality check.

I have actually known a few playwrights who believed this is what happens and the scary thing is that they were all NYC playwrights who had spent years "in the theatre." Hope springs eternal, I guess.

The fact is, the moment that you start working on your play, you might as well also open a special savings account and start putting money aside to cover the expenses of getting your play from the printer to the stage.

For instance, in 1988 The Lewis Carroll Society of North America invited me to present my musical ALICE IN AMERICA at their annual convention in NYC. What an honor, seriously. Just so lucky that I happened to have the bucks to make that happen. Not a bad investment, either, because that launched the NYC phase of my career and even eventually landed me a "real job" in the offices of Biggs Rosati Productions. But the bottom line is, I had to bear the costs of moving forward.

These days, the best opportunities for advancing one's "career" as a playwright seem to lie in one of the many festivals devoted to new works springing up all around the country, and it's a great thrill to learn that you have gotten in to a festival - BUT it is going to cost you a small fortune - especially if the festival is in, say, Atlanta and you live in Boise.

Not only that, but you will also somehow have to be responsible for making your festival production happen, which means finding your own director, lining up and paying for rehearsal space, blah blah blah - and on top of that you have to hope that you can TRUST the people on the other end. Good luck with that.

At least in New York the festivals generally can offer out of town playwrights the option of engaging the services of a producer who knows the ropes. Budget about $5,000.00 for that. In other cities you are pretty much on your own, so it behooves the serious playwright to learn absolutely everything there is to know about producing theatre because the bottom line is there is no such thing as a producer, at least not of the mythological kind of the Hollywood films of the 1930s and 40s. To the degree that "theatre" constitutes a business of any kind in the present day, the artistic sensibilities of individuals have been usurped by corporate structures and boards of directors. Broadway now is just an extension of Disneyland, and as for "artistic directors" I wouldn't be one. I guess I just have too much self respect to go around sucking up to all those people just to be a figurehead. And yet, we need those folks in those positions who are willing to do just that, so God bless them. But they probably aren't going to produce your play.

The American theatre as it has come down to us operates and is fueled by an almost pathological need for permission. Actors want permission to act from directors, directors seek permission from producers, producers from boards of directors and the boards from audiences; we all seek "permission" from critics, who need permission from editors, etc. And "serious" theatre people do not like folks who do not play by the "permission game" rules, so when you are pouring your own hard earned money into bringing your work to life, some folks who don't like you might get snarky and dismiss your efforts with the phrase "vanity production." To those people I say and always have said (excuse my language) "Fuck you and get out of my way. My vanity over your arrogance any day of the week."

Dilettantes & sadists...

And unfortunately these attitudes and prejudices are at the root of our academic training grounds, with their approval based and psychologically dysfunctional cultures rooted in professorial demagoguery. Personally I will never recover from the two years I spent in graduate school at Theatre VCU, but at least I was on my guard against the evils of artistic temperament when I hit the streets of Atlanta. And Atlanta taught me this:

The truth is, you HAVE to take the bull - and the bullshit - by the horns and if what you have has value, then that value will manifest only when the actors meet the audience and it's up to you, playwright, to see that that happens.

So open that savings account and if you have any questions on what it takes to be an effective playwright, give me a call

Jaz Dorsey
AAPEX dramaturg
The Nashville Dramaturgy Project

Jaz Dorsey is a compser/lyricst/playwright whose off off Broadway credits include productions of his musicals, ALICE IN AMERICA, CAFE ESCARGOT, BABBLEHAGGLE & VAN DER BICH, DON'T ASK/DON'T TELL and WAITING FOR THE E TRAIN.

National touring credits for Biggs Rosati Productions: EL BARBERO DE SEVILLA, MANANAS DE ABRIL Y MAYO, LE PETIT PRINCE, DON QUIXOTE and DER TALISMAN for which he designed various bi-lingual educational musical numbers.

Dorsey wrote the score and was co-lyricist for Bernice Lee's musical NELLIE which was produced at The Lambs Theatre on Times Square in 1999.

ALICE IN AMERICA was taken to film by Bonnie Comely and Ken Dashow and received the award for Best Song in the 2007 Southern Appalachian International Film Festival.

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