By Barbara & Scott Siegel
The theatrical season is well under way, and many of our colleagues are already in a big sweat over the plethora of plays they are obligated to see. So far, however, the Summer and early Fall have not yielded a big harvest of hits.
So far this season, there have been about half-a-dozen truly outstanding shows: Oslo at the Mitzi Newhouse, Privacy and What Did You Expect at the Public, Butler at 59E59, A Day by the Sea at The Mint, and Auberjine at Playwrights Horizons. There are others, of course, that we enjoyed, including the new Cirque du Soleil production on Randall’s Island, Kurios. But Kurios and Privacy, for that matter, while theatrical in their presentations, aren’t really plays.
The point is that there is an awful lot of mediocrity out there. Rarely do we see outright bad performances – there are enough good actors in New York to supply the world – but there is a terrible dearth of good plays and musicals. And there is a reason…
Back in the 1920s, a show – a Broadway show — would generally break even if it reached a mere 100 performances. Playwrights and composers were allowed to fail. And learn. And fail again, and learn. And then, maybe, with a little luck, they would have a modest hit, and maybe fail again, but if they were considered to be talented, they could keep coming back to try again. But here’s the most important part. If they were a hit, they stayed. They continued. Sure, when Hollywood beckoned in the late 1920s and 1930s, Broadway folks went west, but many stayed, and many returned, and still others like Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster, and others, went back and forth between Hollywood and the theater with reassuring consistency.
But today? When it might take a dozen years to bring a musical to Broadway, and God forbid if it fails? What do our talented writers do? Most of them flock to TV or the movies as fast as they can to make a living. And most of those who remain are the ones who are failing, and trying to learn. But even at that level, you aren’t allowed to fail. And people who might have made a contribution are pushed aside. They need the chance to fail.
We are too often kept alive in New York theater by English theater, coming to save our season with productions given good reviews in the UK by the NY Times.
If you look at that list of plays in the first paragraph of this column, however, you’ll notice that the preponderance of the good work being done is happening Off-Broadway and by theater companies that nurture talent, giving them the chance to take a chance, to grow, to change, to learn.
So, as the Broadway season heats up – most of the big shows that will suck up the advertising, and the space in theater reviews and columns (including this one) – remember that quality rises out of failure. Give Off-Broadway your time, your money, your support. Because some of those writers and composers may just stay. We need to hang on to as many of those talented folks as we can.