Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Starting Off in One Direction, Ending Up in Another

I thought I was talked out. After what must have been 6,000 words on Garbage Theatre and memories of the 70s and 80s, I was hard-pressed to come up with today’s topic.

Coming back from a fine dinner tonight (Pacifica’s “El Toro Loco” – are restaurant names put in quotation marks? – hole-in-the-wall with great Peruvian and Mexican food), my wife made a suggestion I write about gender inequality in the theatre. I’ll do that – but I won’t …

The provoking incident is my upcoming interview about a possible directing gig with a local theatre. As part of the interview, the producer asked me if I had any shows to pitch. And indeed I do; I always do. Probably two dozen of them. The biggest problem is fitting the script to the theatre.

To be frank, the shows I’m going to pitch probably aren’t ones they’ll be interested in. Looking at their current season, the shows they’ve chosen aren’t without interest, but they’re not really adventurous. This isn’t meant to be either disparaging or a criticism. If you’re a producer, you’ve got an audience that needs to be served and you need to give them the kinds of shows they’re likely to come out for. The wise producer – in my opinion, anyway – will try to wean their audiences into accepting newer or more interesting/daring scripts, but sometimes you’ve just got to accept the hand you’re dealt. If your audience packs the joint for musicals from the 60s but leaves the theatre empty when you try a gripping drama from the 00s, well, you know what you’re going to program.

The biggest problem with the scripts I’ll be pitching is that they’re male-heavy. I don’t know how it is for other directors, but, over the past few years, I’ve found it difficult to get enough men at auditions (as I’ve mentioned, this is something I’ll be facing with “The Farnsworth Invention”). They’re great scripts, all of them – but one has nine men and no women, one has four men and no women, and the third has five woman and two men, but big technical issues.

When the talent pool is unlimited, or when you can afford to pay actors what they’re worth, or when the script is especially attractive, there’s generally not a problem; you can somehow find the actors. But in too many circumstances, I’ve got to scrounge and make phone calls and go online and otherwise dig up enough men to fill out the cast. I’ve had a couple of cases in recent years where they didn’t even have to act. They just needed to show up and be breathing and they were in. (And I didn’t even need both of those qualifiers.)

There’s almost always something “wrong” with a script. Not from a literary standpoint. By the time a script gets to me, most of its textual problems have been licked or just can’t be fixed. But for smaller theatres, there’s always something: Too many men; too many women; outdated references; technical challenges; the need for actors who can handle stylized or elevated language; difficult music; script length; expensive rights. Or it could just be that a producer doesn’t like a script or doesn’t think it’ll appeal to his or her audience.

So it seems like, if I really want to see these plays done –not just those three, but the many, many others that I think are worthy and would draw an audience (and this leaves out the ones that I’d love to do, but for which I know there’s no audience – for example, the one that’s outwardly about the search for Scarlett O’Hara for “Gone with the Wind,” but is actually about the love-hate relationship Americans have with authoritarianism) – the only solution is to produce them myself – but that’s a whole other can of worms, having to do primarily with budgets (producing plays is fucking expensive, and there’s next to no chance you’re going to break even), but there’s still the casting issues, finding spaces for rehearsals and performances and scheduling them, making sure the rights are available, lining up designers and staff, buying props, etc., etc. etc.

A couple of years ago, I thought I had the perfect script. It was adapted from a movie and was rich in language, mood, and possibilities for settings. When I started to investigate it, it even looked like the script had somehow gone into the public domain. I have a great cast and designers in mind. I have the production concept in my head. I know just how to approach the material, and I think it would be highly successful – not just in San Francisco, but around the country, if not the world. When I started to really dig, though, I discovered that no one really seems to know if one of two or three studios hold the rights or not, and to discover if it is indeed in the public domain would cost thousands of dollars, with no guarantee of a happy outcome at the end. (This project will go unnamed in the hopes that one day I can work out the details.)

So it seems like there’s no way to win. I do have something in mind, though, that I think would draw actors and audiences, but would be so expensive to produce that I’d have to involve another entity – and once you do that, you’ve lost some measure of control and the project will face compromises.

I’m not saying that I have to have complete artistic freedom – I’ve been a contractor too long – but when one gets to tackle a dream project, one wants to do it on your own terms.

And, after all that, I’ll probably end up with either “The Mousetrap” or Shakespeare or something in between that I’ll get wrapped up in, even if it’s not something I’ll be utterly passionate about.

1 comment:

  1. I was just talking to a producer last week about the Scarlett O'Hara play you mentioned. I can't remember if he'd said he did it or he was considering doing it but two references in a week is something!