Several weeks ago in the 2amt Twitter stream, Bries Vannon of The Nine asked the following question of playwrights:
“Would you be content if each of your plays had a worldwide lifespan of two to four productions?”
My immediate and enthusiastic answer was yes. I’m of the considered opinion that America would be better off if we produced and watched more new plays, and if plays were made for more specific and local audiences. The only way this could happen would be if plays were written to be performed no more than a small handful of times.
Actually, what I said exactly what this: “I feel Buddhist about it. Plays should be flowers: they should bloom, beautify the world, and die.”
Two retorts to my perhaps overly clever metaphor caught my eye. First, Monica Reida suggested that if I was really Buddhist about it, I’d expect plays to be reincarnated, wouldn’t I? Smart question, but no, I don’t think so. What I expect is for memes—the genetic stuff of which plays are made—to be reincarnated, in the same way that genetic information isn’t lost when a person who has children dies.
Next, Travis Bedard suggested that no matter what, we’d still end up with perennials. He might be right at that, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it, or that I think such an inevitability is desirable. Plays that get programmed over and over again are sometimes speaking to universally-important questions across the country, questions we’re all considering in the zeitgeist; chestnuts, however, get programmed and re-programmed for what largely seem to me to be nostalgic and sentimental reasons, and we’d be better off without most of them.
My concern is the urge to very quickly deify a particular story; that sort of thinking has gotten us into great trouble throughout history, time and time again. A culture of new stories appearing all the time would prevent that from happening, or at least make it very, very difficult.
Some objected that setting out to write plays that will be produced a mere handful of times is a very different thing than writing for posterity. Frankly, I think writing for posterity is a rather shallow ambition, and I would be embarrassed to claim it for myself. Superficiality aside, it’s also probably a fruitless endeavor: in time, the grave of obscurity will even close over Shakespeare himself, I am sure.
Since that’s the case, let’s write for the here and now, for the short-but-bright lifespan of a few years, and not worry about the future. Yes?