If you are an aspiring playwright, it is important to analyze, as objectively and dispassionately as possible, why any theater company should want to produce a new play. After all, producing a new play carries considerable risk. It takes a lot of time, money, and effort to prepare a new play for the stage. You are not entitled to all that just because you have a dream. And there is no guarantee that a new play will please the audience. It is a lot safer for a theater company to just produce well known plays which are sure to satisfy their audience.
To understand why a theater company would take such a huge risk, it is important to consider the nature of the creative spirit. In many ways, the theater is a poor environment in which to satisfy the creative spirit. Theater artists tend to interpret existing work instead of creating new work. For example, a production of any play by Shakespeare is not going to be seen as contributing anything other than yet another interpretation of the great play. True, the theater company may try to be very innovative in their production. They could do the play in modern dress or use non-traditional casting. But even that has been done many times before and doing it yet again is unlikely to draw any special notice from the world.
Doing your interpretation of the classic plays may be very satisfying, but eventually it is going to seem like a hollow accomplishment. The theater company that only does the classics is like a cover band in the rock music world. No musician would like to perform in a cover band for their entire career. Any musician with real ambition would prefer to do his or her own songs or the songs of the band. You just can’t replace the prestige of creating new music with the technical perfection of doing cover songs perfectly. A musician would feel like a failure if he never moved on from playing in cover bands.
So too, the theater artist should not be satisfied with mere interpretation. Every creative artist wants to bring something new into world. Every creative artist wants to feel responsible for bringing something new into world. Every creative artist wants to get the credit for bringing something new into world. Every creative artist wants to feel some degree of ownership for something great that was brought into existence.
The theater offers limited opportunities for the creative artist. For example, the actor has to be given a role. He cannot create a character out of thin air. Actually, he can, and this is called the one-person show, or solo performance. But for the most part, the actor is only required to provide his interpretation of a character. This requires some creativity and provides some scope for originality but not much. The director is also constrained in his creativity. He can arrive at a very original interpretation of the play but he cannot change a word in the script. The director produces a complete work of art from a script, which was essentially just a sketch. But this won’t be a wholly original work of art unless it uses a wholly original script.
A new play offers the actors and the director the chance to establish the original interpretation of a play which has never been seen before. This gives them the opportunity to be even more creative and to get credit for it. The credit they receive for this is often enshrined in the contract made with the playwright in that the publication of the script may require notes on the original production. This can often be seen in published plays. And when a play moves to Broadway there is often a requirement that the original producing theater company be given formal acknowledgment in the program and all the advertising. You can judge how important this credit is by noticing the uproar that occurs when credit is not given where credit is due.
The actors and director will always feel a sense of ownership for any new play which they introduced to the theater. It will not matter if the show only plays for a few nights and leaves behind nothing that endures. They will forever be associated with the appearance of this new work and its author. And if the play does become a classic this ensures immortality to the original cast and production team. This small measure of immortality is important in the ephemeral world of the theater where a great performance will only be seen by handful of people, doomed to fade into nothingness with their failing memories.
The theater is a collaborative art form and every theater artist is required to be something of a talent scout. I’m not sure that this is properly understood. But if you are struggling to establish yourself in the theater community it is certainly something you should strive to understand. The aspiring playwright is often shut out of the established theaters. And the new theater company will also not be considered by established playwrights. David Mamet will not be submitting his new play to your student theater company which does plays in a church basement. A new theater company must find the up and coming playwright whose work will rise in the world and carry their theater company with him or her by association. And the aspiring playwright must find the new theater company which will take a chance on his new play. Both parties are required to recognize the potential in each other. The aspiring theater company must recognize the talent and potential of the aspiring playwright. The playwright must recognize the talent and potential of the aspiring theater company. Unfortunately, neither party does a very good job of this in practice. Playwrights send their scripts to theater companies without doing any research, regardless of the reputation or artistic statement of the theater company. And theater companies fail to establish relationships with rising playwrights because they aren’t looking to do that. But in a collaborative art form like theater your associations are vitally important. A theater company which does not have any relationships with great writers will never be in a position to introduce new work. Its contribution to theater will never get beyond the level of interpreter of existing works. And of course, the playwright who never establishes a relationship with a great theater will never get anywhere since his work will simply never be produced.