So – you’re a playwright. That’s what your signature line says anyway. You’ve had some success, but breaking into the big leagues is proving tough. The financial and career screws are tightening down, and your ship is approaching that ever perilous passageway between the Scylla and Charybdis of children’s theatre on the one hand and academia on the other. And lo – getting through there looks even narrower than you expected.
What you really want to do though is write real plays, big plays that engage with the larger society on the most important issues of the day. Plays that offer an intelligent, sophisticated audience plenty to think about. Plays that even the President of the United States will want to come see because they speak directly to her.
So what’s it gonna be? Keep doing those stories about talking rugs and time travel to Antarctica, omniscient genius kids and blue-streak swearing gutsy seniors? Keep signing petitions about how nefarious conspiracies are secretly organizing to keep you off the world stage?
Or – start creating dialogue that the audience is hungry for, is ready for. Start creating the plays America cannot live without. Plays that change the audience – and the world.
For any American playwright (and especially if you’re a woman) looking for that once in a lifetime breakout opportunity, it’s headed your way in the fall of 2016. Which is just about enough time to get a play written.
Don’t forget about timing. On stage and off, it’s all about the timing. Marketers know that when you have an already existing massive social force building in strength, you tap into it, you use it. If you know how to position yourself, you can catch a draft from the winds of powerful audience behaviors and motivations that are already out there that you could never hope to create on your own. In this case, you don’t have to create them. Because the best marketers in the world are going to be spending literally billions of dollars doing just that.
Unless something goes terribly terribly wrong, Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to be the next President of the United States. And as big as we thought the election of Obama was, this one is going to be far bigger. Far bigger. This one is offering more than half of the country the chance to put someone in office that they can identify with directly. At the end of the day, gender is a much bigger divide than race. That’s why on stage gender has always been a much more volatile and subversive element to use than race.
All over the world, men of every race under the sun are doing a pretty bang up job creating planet-destroying chaos and violence, right? Let’s give the women a chance. I’m betting they’ll do better. Here come the women. This is their moment.
Remember back to the fall of 2008 when a little known playwright named Beau Willimon (yeah, that Beau Willimon) launched a gem of a play called FARRAGUT NORTH at Atlantic Theater? It opened just a few weeks before the election, and the story was about the sharp-elbowed politics of running a Democratic presidential campaign not unlike Obama’s (Willimon had actualy worked on Dean’s 2004 campaign).
It’s a pretty darn enjoyable play. But what made it really exciting in 2008 was the timing. When every channel and airwave is already focused on something, and along comes a sharp and snappy play on that topic, you don’t need a marketing campaign. You are tapping in to the zeitgeist. It’s just there.
So picture this. It’s October 2016, and one of the most anticipated new American plays in years is about to open at New York’s Public Theater. In fact, it’s already sold out before the first preview, and a Broadway run is planned starting in January 2017. You know – kinda like the HAMILTON story.
The play is written by a woman, has a cast of 20-30, and is a five hour epic telling the story of women in America leading up to the election of America’s first female President.
You with me?
It doesn’t have to be (probably shouldn’t be) a biographic rendering of Clinton’s actual story. But someone like her. This is a huge story. It touches absolutely everything. WWD (what would Wendy do)?
To do this, you will need to set aside those normal American theatre expectations you’ve gotten used to. This isn’t a one person show. It’s not 85 minutes long. There is no music. Actually there might be some music in the scenes from 1970’s consciousness raising campouts around the campfire.
Think London. Think David Hare’s BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS or Mike Bartlett’s KING CHARLES III or Richard Bean’s GREAT BRITAIN. Think of what happens when a show takes over a world capital and becomes the must see event.
Think epic. A play that shows what the future could look like. A play that helps to create that future.
Are you a woman – or maybe related to one? Any idea what life has been like, is still like, for women in America in the 20th century? Here it is, the best opportunity there will ever be to go big with the story.
I see lines down Lafayette of people waiting in the rain, hoping to snag a ticket for standing room only. I see people (and yes, like the theatre audience itself, a group skewed strongly toward women) of all ages and stations turning out to see this incredible thing they feel invested in. The story of their time. Our time. A story that writers will be debating endlessly in the pages of America’s media. Because it’s not just theatre. It’s real. It’s a social conversation about real issues.
Opportunities like this one come along once or twice in a generation.
Everything I just described is eminently doable. It’s sitting right there just waiting for you to pick it up – like a bag full of money on the subway.
You only have to do one thing: write a great play. Not a good one. A GREAT one.
Scratch that – two things: write a great play AND call Oskar Eustis.
But if the play is good, EVERYONE will be calling Oskar Eustis telling him to do it. I’ll call him for you.
So here’s your chance.
If you’ve got the chops, this is your wakeup call.