Friday, April 07, 2006

Friday: on the home stretch

Still plagued by a stuffed up head and raspy throat, and dosing and steaming myself.

Indulging curmudgeonly opinions, first on submission fees as the accepted costs of doing business for a playwright, to be paid out of income and deducted against taxes:

IF you take your play writing seriously, the Day Jobs you get, the ones you can write or do theatre around, are not the serious "career" kind, but hourly stuff that pays the rent on your humble flat. No vacation. No health insurance. This is the part of the economy that has been losing ground year by year as the rich get richer and the poor poorer. This is also why I get enraged at reading fees, and "benefit" receptions where playwrights can "Network" for $75 -- "less than dinner and a show, and it's tax deductable!" As if I or people like me ever HAVE "dinner and a show", or ever make enough money to be able to take anything other than the standard deduction: for anyone in the lower levels of the income distribution, charity comes
out of pocket, not out of taxes. The average professional published writer -- and damn few of those are playwrights-- makes $4000 a year! For heavens sakes, people, a $25 reading fee is four hours of labor at minimum wage. $75 is more than a week's groceries.
Did anyone read the profile in last week's New Yorker? Martin McDonough is a high school dropout from a working class family who wrote 9 brilliant plays by age 20, holed up jobless and living on the dole. He figured it was too hard to try to break into filmmaking, so he walked into a theatre with of couple of his scripts. I saw the Druid production of his first trilogy-- an astonishing production, thrillingly acted and directed-- in Galway in I guess
1997. Can anyone imagine this happening in the USA? Where? How? Why not? Set aside "fairness" to writers-- what does it mean for the art's ability to hold the mirror up to nature if credentials and connections and financial resources act as gatekeepers for what material is considered? Must our theatre be limited to being by for and about the upper middle class and its discontents?

So tonight I am a few minutes late driving in and the "secret" free parking spaces in the area around the theatre are all full. For a while it looks as if I will have to park in an indoor garage-- that and the cost of turnpike tolls will wipe out my entire paycheck from the show. But: a miracle! As I drive around I find a single empty space, only 6 blocks from the theatre, and my budget is out of the red!

And then on a theatre list member's complaint that there aren't enough right-wing playwrights....
"Has anyone seen a play affirming the right to spy on U.S. citizens without warrants? Or affirming the reasonableness of torture?

Both these positions are standard fare on TV shows. In police
procedurals warrant-getting is considered a hindrance that good cops
are forced to work around-- and of course the shows never dwell on
the harm caused to the suspects who turn out to be innocent, because
the plot follows the nailing of the bad guys by the hard working cops
and dedicated lawyers. Threats, lying, trading immunity or a
reduced sentence for testimony against another suspect-- are SOP.

Spy shows glorify torture or the threat of torture, and the "ticking bomb" justification is common. The most popular figures are those with the "guts" to break the law in the cause of a higher justice..... The names of playwrights whose work is humane and who have been listed as supporters of bleeding-heart causes show up in the writing credits for such shows. I assume that the threat plots are "the opium of the people" that reconciles the ordinary tired wage worker to the conditions under which we live, and have proven to be most compatible with the parallel narratives of the advertisements that underwrite their production.
(In fact a pro-torture play was read in my writer's group some months back. I was shocked and disapproving, but the other members were only interested in whether the details were arranged most effectively and the good-guy killer's triumph was plausible.)

Largest audience ever for "Talking To..' on Friday-- but a few did walk out after act I.

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