Why Wouldn’t You Want People Discussing Your Play?
Anthony J. Piccione
Much has been made now of David Mamet’s displeasure with the Outvisible Theatre Company in Detroit, and their desire to hold a talkback of Oleanna following their production of it. He even threatened to issue a $25,000 fine on such theaters who attempt to stage any sort of post-show discussion of his work. Awhile ago, our Editor-in-Chief – Chris Peterson – wrote extensively on this site questioning the merits of this decision, and months later, it’s a topic that other playwrights – as well as other news outlets such as the Guardian – are still debating and discussing.
To be clear, I have enormous respect for Mr. Mamet as a playwright, and I am a staunch believer in the rights of a playwright to protect his or her work in whatever way they see fit, and it is certainly within Mamet’s rights to make a decision such as this.
Having said that, I also believe this is an extremely ridiculous decision for him – or for any playwright – to be making. I believe this for a variety of reasons, but primarily because of one reason that comes to mind.
I’ve always believed that some of the greatest plays being done today, and the greatest plays that have been produced throughout history, are the ones that people are still being discussed, debated and interpreted long after it made its world premiere, or even long after the death of the playwright. I find it incredibly baffling that a playwright would be disgusted – rather than honored – with others having such an open discussion of their work, much less that they would try and punish those who tried to do so.
Consider this: How many plays are still being produced several years after the death of the playwright, despite not having sparked any sort of critical thinking, discussion or analysis of any kind after they were produced? Slim to none would probably be the correct answer.
The plays that stay in the minds of others – whether it was because it made them laugh hysterically, left them crying or on the verge of tears, or got them thinking more about an important or controversial subject – are the ones that are still remembered 100 years later, and the reason they are still remembered is because people not only kept thinking about them, but kept talking about them afterwards, long after they saw it produced with their own eyes. I would have thought that this would be common sense to most playwrights, or for that matter, to most people in theatre at all. Apparently, however, that is not the case.
Again, it’s within Mamet’s legal rights to prevent theaters from holding a talkback after productions of his work, and as some people have pointed out, perhaps some of the opinions expressed in such a talkback may have less merit than others. I’ve always been a hard-liner on the issue of the playwright’s rights, and yes, such an action certainly falls under these rights. Still, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
Indeed, another point that is worth considering is that whether or not it is in a public setting, that isn’t going to fully stem the sort of discussions that I assume are the reason for not wanting talkbacks, in the first place. People will still find ways to discuss plays after seeing them, perhaps even among large groups of people. Artists and theatergoers alike will still be thinking about the play in whatever way they otherwise would have, and they will still be finding ways to express whatever those thoughts are even if it’s not in a talkback. As long as we still have the First Amendment here in the United States, there is nothing that the playwright can do about that.
By trying to stop it from occurring in a public setting, literally the only thing that accomplishes is that it ensures that it doesn’t occur in one setting, as opposed to another. If anything, for the reasons I mentioned above, it might be better to have such discussions in a theater, rather than elsewhere. It may or may not have crossed his mind, but in a way – while his work is still highly likely to be produced over and over for years to come – making such a decision might be hurting him as a playwright more than it is helping…unless, of course, he doesn’t care about people even thinking about his plays, which is even more ridiculous.
So to any of my fellow playwrights who may be reading this, and that would include Mr. Mamet, on the off-chance that he finds this article and reads it: At the end of the day, people will decide for themselves whether they will talk about your work, even if it’s not in a public setting. Furthermore, if they do end up talking about it after the show, keep in mind: That’s supposed to be a good thing. It’s nothing to be mad about. It means you wrote a great play, and it only increases the odds that you and your plays will earn a spot in theatre history. It’s the playwrights who create something that people aren’t still talking about that eventually fade away into obscurity, and whose plays are ultimately overlooked and forgotten.
Anthony J. Piccione is a playwright, producer, screenwriter, activist, critic, essayist, poet and occasional actor based in New York City. Most recently, Piccione’s one-act plays “The End of the Line at the End” and “The Personality Play” have been produced at Manhattan Repertory Theatre, while his one-act play “Two Cousins and a Pizza” was produced at the Hudson Guild Theatre as part of the NYWinterfest. Next up, his new children’s play “An Energy Tale” can be seen this summer at the Midtown International Theatre Festival (https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/975011). Piccione’s work has also been presented at Connecticut venues such as Playhouse on Park, Hole in the Wall Theater, the Windsor Art Center and Windham Theatre Guild, and his short comedy “Ebol-A-Rama” is scheduled to be published this year by Heuer Publishing (www.hitplays.com). He has also previously worked as a teaching assistant at Hartford Children’s Theatre and New Britain Youth Theater, in addition to his work with On Stage. He received his BA in Theatre from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2016, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. To learn more about Mr. Piccione’s recent and upcoming productions, please visit www.anthonyjpiccione.com and be sure to follow him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and Instagram (anthonyjpiccione).