This was supposed to be a clever post — one that I thought I’d renew annually — in which I assessed the track record of several major DC theaters with regard to how often they produce DC-area playwrights. I started to do the necessary research, however — looking up the 2011-2012 seasons of all the major theaters in DC and scanning the names of the people who wrote all the plays being produced — but I was immediately dismayed by the abominable early results.
Let me get to the bottom line. I reviewed the following theaters: Arena, Constellation, Folger, Ford’s, Forum, Olney, Rep Stage, Round House, Signature, Studio, Theater J, and Woolly Mammoth. I wanted to do more than that, but (recent personal events aside) disappointment sapped my strength. Of the 66 plays that will appear on those dozen stages, only three were written by playwrights who live in the DC area, as far as I can tell. That’s less than 5%. If it’s accurate, it seems tragic to me.
If I’d started to look at the smaller theaters — the devised work companies like Bright Alchemy, for example, or my own cadre of Taffety Punks, or the groups producing in the Fringe Festival — the numbers would surely get better. But the theaters I did look at, in the main, are our biggest stages, the places in which we collectively invest our most valuable resources and attention. And they aren’t returning that investment: not even close.
I am very happy to note the two exceptions to this finding: Arena Stage (which is producing two of the three locally-grown plays) and Theater J (which is producing the other — and which has commissioned an additional five). I’ve written and tweeted about both theaters for some time now, praising them for the work they’ve done to develop plays with artists who live in our community, and I’m not surprised by the fact that they continue to stand out in the crowd.
So… what to do about this, playwrights? Do we start boycotting the theaters that don’t produce our work? We need to do something, frankly, because the system is broken, and it’s not worth playing along any more.
I’m open to suggestions.