I missed this back in December—Hugh Grant declaring theater a waste of time:
"I personally find going to the theatre is enjoyable about one time in 20", he told World Entertainment News Network (WENN) last week. "The other 19 you're just going, 'Oh, come on. Let's get to the end of it and have a drink'".
... one of the reasons he says he declines to tread the boards? He "can't quite justify it ... because I know what misery it is for the audience". Recognising the limits of one's own talents is rare in moviemaking; for that alone we should forgive Grant everything he made in 1995.
Just because the stone-thrower lives in a glass house doesn't mean his rock can't fly out and hit its target... or something.
Meanwhile, over at the Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout digests some data from Theater Communications Group about the most-produced plays of the decade (not counting Shakespeare or seasonal plays):
1. "Proof," by David Auburn (54 productions).
2. "Doubt," by John Patrick Shanley (48 productions).
3. "Art," by Yasmina Reza (45 productions).
4. "The Drawer Boy," by Michael Healey (36 productions).
5. "Rabbit Hole," by David Lindsay-Abaire (33 productions).
6. "Wit," by Margaret Edson (29 productions).
7. "I Am My Own Wife," by Doug Wright (26 productions).
8. "Crowns," by Regina Taylor (26 productions).
9. "Intimate Apparel," by Lynn Nottage (25 productions).
10. (tie). "The Glass Menagerie," by Tennessee Williams, and "The Laramie Project," by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project (23 productions each).
It's a surprising list. Most of the plays are serious and philosophical, none of them is a musical—and, barring the Williams, most of them are contemporary. No Brecht, no Miller, no Shaw, no Wilde... American theaters and audiences, according to the numbers, prefer new and newish plays to the classics.
But you wouldn't know that from the bitching of most contemporary playwrights—or, um, me.
(Another way somebody—Hugh Grant maybe—is sure to read the data: Audiences don't like new plays and theaters wouldn't be in such trouble if they produced more museum pieces. But that reading doesn't work. Financially broken theaters have their bureaucracies and institutions, not their art, to blame. And it neglects the success of relentlessly contemporary theaters and companies like Steppenwolf, On the Boards, the Public, the Wooster Group, etc., etc.)
The TCG lists, broken down by season, also tell us that Seattle is seeing pretty much what the rest of the country is seeing. Between ACT, Intiman, and the Rep, we've gotten all the Nottage and Ruhl and Martin McDonagh that everyone else gets. It's almost like they're colluding...
Which tells us that our theater culture might be more nationally homogeneous than we thought. Over on his blog, local playwright (and Stranger Genius Award-winner) Paul Mullin has been banging a gong for cultivating more locally produced plays. His essay "Theatre Takes Place: Why Locally Grown Plays Matter" is long, passionate, and gutsy. A taste:
Over the last fifty years, the model of the auteur director serving as the alpha and omega of dramatic endeavor, imposing his or her “concept” on new play and classic alike— a model borrowed from and encouraged by the film industry— has grown increasingly infectious in American theatre. You need not look beyond Seattle with Dan Sullivan and Bartlett Sher essentially running their respective shops like Triple A feeder teams for the Broadway big leagues. (We can expect more of the same from the Intiman’s newly appointed Artistic Director, Kate Whoriskey. Hand-picked by the beatified Sher, she is sure to serve mostly as his marker absently placed in a book he may or may not return to some day.) [Ouch.] Hell, the fact that the recently introduced TPS Gregory Awards has a category for Outstanding Director but none for playwright is a crystalline example of how far this trend has gotten out of hand.
The new TCG data bears Mullin's discontent.
"Theater Takes Place" is the first of a 13-essay cycle called "Towards a World-Class Theater" that Mullin is threatening to complete. (It's part of a larger threat he first made publicly from the stage at the Genius Awards, challenging everyone in the room to make Seattle a "world-class theater town" within ten years.)
Say what you will about Mullin's arguments, the man's got some fire in his guts.