If you travel to New York for theatre, you shall know about Lesser America.
That’s not meant as a gentle “gosh, you’ll probably hear about them one day, I hope”. It’s a mandatory command: Seek them out! NOW!!
Because the guys (and girls) at Lesser America are putting the hair back on the chest (or legs) of upstart small space American theatre, a form which has never been a dying breed in New York but is becoming scarcer than a wooly mammoth riding a purple unicorn out in the hinterlands.
Lesser America is young guns (and younguns) doing real theatre – language theatre, plays with texts, written by playwrights. Which is not what a lot of other younger makers are doing these days. And these are good plays, made for a sharp young audience. They rip. They are 100% free of theatuh.
In the American theatre landscape of today, there’s a hideous gaping void between, on the one hand, small authentic premieres that too few people see, and, on the other, mass-produced mega shows that take over the country like kudzu and too many people see. Even when the industrial shows are good – even when they’re great – it’s mono culture. It’s not good for America or any individual theatre’s own brand if everyone is doing the exact same show each year. That’s an unthinking, top down system. How can you bill yourself as a leader or original thinker if you’re doing the same show 30 other American theatres are doing this year? That’s what followers do.
Every time most regional theatres decide to produce “the hot new thing”, they all too often pick the way, way, way over done thing that’s about as original as an Olive Garden menu. Meanwhile numerous new plays like WYOMING hit New York and are seen by entirely too few people. Adventurous producers should be jumping on these lesser known shows and bringing them to small theatres around the country.
Now if it so happens that you are headed to New York in the next week or so, you could be one of the very, very few who get to see the world premiere of WYOMING by Brian Watkins. I read it, and it’s pretty damn stunning. Here’s a review. Woops – it’s almost sold out. So even getting to New York may not be enough.
Here’s the problem. The experience that those few hundred New Yorkers get who troop down to Theater for the New City on First Avenue and watch the lights come up is what the rest of us lie in bed awake at night waiting for. Something new. Something real. It’s just not fair that the show is a) only on for such a short time (three weeks – producing theatre in NYC costs) and b) so far away.
And C) what is the deal with this NYC explosion of new American plays about the west – but they don’t ever get out to the actual west?? Hello? That’s just wrong. What about us in the west? In case you haven’t been paying attention to the “New York does the west” theme this year, there was the dazzling THE ESSENTIAL STRAIGHT & NARROW from the Mad Ones back in June. And then The Debate Society’s massively successful JACUZZI last fall. And now here comes WYOMING. Three world premieres. I saw the first two. Big, big stuff. A hint to western playwrights who are getting scooped by New Yorkers: this is your wakeup call.
So what should happen here? Those three New York companies should pack their junk in a bus a la March Fourth and tour the west incessantly this summer, stopping off in every town along the way, doing their three shows three nights in a row. Would anything in the world be better than that? Three nights in a row, three new American plays about the west. Wow. That would be more fun than just about anything I can think of.
Places the western theatre dream team tour could hit (in no particular order) include: Telluride, Jackson, Laramie, Boulder, Denver, Santa Fe, Bozeman, Missoula, Sun Valley, Salt Lake City, Ashland, Eugene, Portland, Seattle, Mazama, Crested Butte, Boise, Aspen, Flagstaff, Austin, etc. etc. Take it to every mountain town with a pavilion, every high plains intersection with a gymnasium, every big city with a black box. Because western audiences want to see these stories.
You with me? Discuss.
If you got the momentum going and maybe combined with some existing music festivals, this thing would rock. Someone needs to get on that. Pronto. Come on, people. What New York theatre company wouldn’t want to spend the summer touring the west doing their new play to sold out crowds? Get on it. And then of course once you do it once, you build the network to do it again…
Meanwhile, if the full tour sounds like too much work, here’s a plan b, Portland producers. Find a great small space (The Headwaters would be perfect), get Brian Watkins on the phone and do WYOMING next fall, right here in PDX. It would be a hit of the season, and you will get serious cred for actually bringing a real new American play to town. One that almost no one has seen.
In a nutshell, smaller theatre producers should be breathing down the necks of small New York theatres like The Debate Society, The Mad Ones, Lesser America, and so many, many more (see this handy list!) and jumping on new plays as soon as they come out. And if these plays are about the west? They may be of even more interest to theatre audiences in western states.
Out here on the frontier, we already know that the west is the best. But lately it’s been all New York writers reminding us why that’s the case.
Time for a road trip.