Friday, September 21, 2012

Who's Included in the List of Most-Produced Playwrights?

The online arm of the Theatre Communications Group is giving a sneak peek at the list of America's Most-Produced Playwrights that will appear in the October issues of American Theatre. They note that a) they don't include Shakespeare in the count because he slamdunks everybody else, and b) this is not a complete list compiled from all the plays performed anywhere in the U.S., but instead comes from only those TCG member theatres which self-reported their seasons by press time for the October issue of American Theatre. How that limits the discussion is also interesting as a topic of conversation, but for the moment, let's go with the list they have.

The TCG list includes the following playwrights and the number of productions they have scheduled at TCG member theatres in the 2012-13 season:

David Lindsay-Abaire (19)
Matthew Lopez (15)
David Mamet (15)
Donald Margulies (15)
Bruce Norris (15)
August Wilson (14)
Katori Hall (13)
Brian Yorkey/Tom Kitt (13)
David Ives (11)
John Logan (11)
Ken Ludwig (11)

TCG is commenting on the lack of diversity on the list, which certainly jumps out at you. Eight of the eleven playwrights listed are white males.

There has been a long conversation about the paltry number of productions for female playwrights in the U.S. and how that does not reflect either the population in general or the population of playwrights. In the past few years, women like Annie Baker, Yasmina Reza and Sarah Ruhl had broken into the ranks of the most-produced playwrights, but all three have vanished from the list for the coming year. In fact, Katori Hall stands alone as a women on that &%$# list.

Locally, we're seeing plays by Constance Congdon (Tales of the Lost Formicans), Rebecca Gilman (The Glory of Living) and Naomi Iizuka (Anon(ymous)) at Illinois State University, while Barbara Lebow (A Shayna Maidel), Shelagh Stephenson (The Memory of Water), Debbie Horsfield (Red Devils) and Dolly Parton, along with 9 to 5 collaborator Patricia Resnick, will appear on Illinois Wesleyan's schedule. Melanie Marnich (These Shining Lives) is playing right now at Heartland Theatre, and Eve Ensler (The Good Body), Katori Hall (The Mountaintop) and Lynn Nottage (Fabulation) are part of New Route Theatre's season. Community Players has one musical (25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) with a book written by a female (Rachel Sheinkin) and one straight play (To Kill a Mockingbird) written by a man (Christopher Sergel) but based on a book written by a woman (Harper Lee).

Over in Urbana, U of I will offer a version of Dracula adapted by Liz Lochhead and Nilaja Sun Latrelle Bright's No Child..., while the Station Theatre has Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive and Or by Liz Duffy Adams on its schedule.

That's pretty good, considering what most theatres nationwide are doing, but still... There's room for improvement. There's room to include Julia Cho, Kia Corthron, Lisa Dillman, Lisa Kron, Deborah Zoe Laufer, Suzan-Lori Parks, Tanya Saracho, and dozens more playwrights who are out there writing plays that are valuable because they're so very different from each other.

Speaking of different from each other, what about playwrights of color? Except for August Wilson, who is no longer with us, Katori Hall is all by herself in the landscape of African-American playwrights, and Matthew Lopez is the lone Hispanic name on the list. That seems decidedly odd when you consider that Lynn Nottage and Quiara Alegría Hudes have each won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (in 2009 for Nottage and this year for Hudes), Rajiv Joseph, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Kristoffer Diaz are recent Pulitzer nominees, and Yussef El-Gundi won the covered Steinberg New Play Award last year.

Where are the productions of their plays?

If you're wondering what the people on the list are all about or why they're there, well, David Lindsay-Abaire wrote Rabbit Hole and Good People, currently playing at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre; Matthew Lopez wrote The Whipping Man, about a Jewish Confederate soldier and his slaves; David Mamet is the idiosyncratic voice behind much-produced plays like Glengarry Glen Ross, November and American Buffalo; Donald Margulies will be banking on Dinner With Friends for years; Bruce Norris wrote Clybourne Park; Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt created the musical Next to Normal; David Ives is responsible for All in the Timing, an incredibly popular program of short plays, plus Venus in Fur and School for Lies, an adaptation of Moliere's Misanthrope; John Logan scored big with Red; and Ken Ludwig is best known for farces like Lend Me a Tenor and his newer Fox on the Fairway.

Of that group, only Hall, Ives, Logan, Lopez and Ludwig have not won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Whether that means the Pulitzer is good for marketability and Hudes's day is coming, or that the Pulitzer committee tends to like the same people that play selection committees do... I don't know.

I keep coming back to something Tanya Saracho said about why she writes what she writes.

"I do what I do because I don't see images of myself onstage. I want to complicate the image of what a Latina woman is without standing on a soapbox. I'm dedicated to telling Her stories -- to letting us look at life through her eyes. Politically and socially we have gone voiceless for so long and that is obviously reflected in the American Theatre. We have so much to say; I'm making it my job to make us listen."

I want to listen, Tanya. Please keep writing.

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