More Community Theaters Should Be Producing New Plays
Anthony J. Piccione
- OnStage Connecticut Columnist
A few months ago, I wrote a column entitled More Colleges Should Be Producing New Plays. In that column, I laid out the case for why colleges are a great place for new playwrights to have the opportunity to hone their craft and see their work come to life, and how it’s a great place for theatergoers to have the chance to see something new that they might have never experienced at other theaters.
But of course, college campuses aren’t the only great venues for new plays to be produced…
At the time in which I am writing this column, I suspect that many local community theaters have already started to decide what shows they may produce for their 2016-17 season. For those groups that may still be making those final decisions, I’d like to make a suggestion: Instead of sticking with the so-called “tried and true” shows that have always been done by community theaters in the past, how about reaching out and seeing what some local talented writer might have to offer?
Just as colleges are obviously the best places for student playwrights to gain experience, any playwright who is a bit older also needs a place where they can potentially see their work come to life. I recently came across a comment in a Facebook thread challenging the idea that young playwrights are the sole key to the future of theatre. That person was absolutely right, and if we are serious about welcoming as much creativity and artistic diversity as possible into the theatre community, then older playwrights deserve to have the chance – whether it be through a full production, or at least a staged reading – to see their work seen by an audience, just as younger playwrights do.
Consider this: Playwrights today are far more likely to see their work produced on stage today because they found out about a play submission opportunity posted online by some theater they’ve never heard of, as opposed to finding success through an agent that sent their script to a Broadway producer. There are many local theaters out there – mostly regional theaters, based on what I’ve seen – that already post such announcements calling for new play submissions. It would be great if more community theaters did exactly this, and opened their doors to such playwrights who are eager to see their work performed on stage.
But it’s not just the artists who would benefit. There is reason to believe that audience members – and potentially future audience members – would benefit from more new plays being produced at the community level.
Of course, I know there are many people who would be quick to disagree with that notion. More often than not, the excuse I’ve heard for community theaters being unlikely to accept newer works is because audiences will be far more likely to go see a show that they’ve already heard of, and are far less likely to see an unknown play by an unknown playwright.
However, as I pointed out in my last column on this topic back in March, when my short one-act play was performed at my college as part of a series of staged readings, the event sold so many tickets that it was standing-room only. Furthermore, I’ve also participated in many events in Connecticut that were simply 24 Hour Theatre festivals, in which the names of the plays weren’t even known until 12 hours before the show. Yet those events – despite very little promotion – often sold similar numbers of tickets. These facts that I’ve witnessed firsthand seem to contradict this point that I’ve heard from certain cynics far too many times.
Furthermore, I believe there is an appetite out there for different styles and genres of plays which don’t get produced very often, at least not at the community level. Indeed, one reason not everyone is rushing out to buy tickets (which, by the way, aren’t that expensive at the community level) to their local theater’s latest shows is because musical theatre – as much as the rest of us may feel differently – isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. As long as the show is marketed effectively to the right audience (a topic I plan to discuss in my column next week), then I have a hard time believing that newer shows can’t be just as successful – if not more so – than the classics, if they are produced at the community level.
Don’t get me wrong: I love seeing many of the older plays and musicals that community theaters have become accustomed to producing over and over again. However, as I’ve alluded to in past columns, sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. Yes, community theaters ought to be working as hard as they can to fill up as many seats as possible on each performance night. However, to say that the only way to do this is to pick older, more popular shows is a truly regressive way of thinking that I reject. I honestly view it as a school of thought that – if accompanied by good marketing – would be proven invalid at any point that a community theater decided to challenge it.
So for anyone reading this that may be involved in the selection process of shows for the upcoming 2016-17 season – and if you’ve already decided for this season, hopefully you’ll keep this in mind for when it’s time to decide for the 2017-18 season – I hope you’ll consider everything I’ve just said, and that maybe this coming season or the season after that will include more new plays being performed on your stage, not just for the sake of playwrights, but for the sake of the overall future of theatre.
This column was written by Anthony J. Piccione: Playwright, producer, screenwriter, actor, poet and essayist currently based in Connecticut. To learn more about Mr. Piccione and his work, please visit his personal blog at www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com. Also, be sure to like him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), follow him on Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and view his work on the New Play Exchange (www.newplayexchange.org/users/903/anthony-j-piccione)
Photo: Wright State.