theater junk food
The plays (in order) were "Pool Boy" at the Music Theater Lab of Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, "After the Revolution" at the Nikos Stage of Williamstown Theatre Festival, "Murder for Two" at Adirondack Theatre Festival in Glens Falls and "Imagining Madoff" at Stageworks in Hudson.
World premieres are not rare in these parts. This summer there will be about a dozen new plays offered to area audiences. That has to be a tribute to area audiences who are sophisticated enough to understand work in its earliest stage of development. A dozen new plays are about ten more than Broadway usually offers.
Indeed, two of the plays had seeds planted here. "Murder for Two" was workshopped at ATF last summer through play readings where the work got feedback from the audiences. The playwright of "Imagining Madoff"had a short play in Stagework's Play by Play series of ten-minute plays. Her work was so impressive management sought out one of her full-length plays.
Musical Theatre Lab's mission is to nurture new emerging talent and offer full productions of work by young artists. They have been very successful sending several plays to Off-Broadway and to regional theaters. The Nikos Stage also has a history of providing Off-Broadway with material.
The success rate of the four plays helps to explain why year-round theaters find it too risky to do untested work. Two plays were excellent ("Murder for Two" and "After the Revolution"). Two were failures ("Pool Boy" and "Imagining Madoff"). A 50% failure rate will put a company out of business very quickly.
But that doesn't excuse never doing new work. If a company has five slots in a schedule it seems reasonable that the company take a risk on one of those shows. I'd settle for a regional premiere. Anything is better than the same tired titles that are trotted out year after year.
I often hear board members say "Our customer base won't support new or edgy work." Often that's the truth because any subscription-based organization that has nurtured an audience with the works of Neil Simon will not have people who will appreciate the plays of Martin McDonagh (a great playwright who doesn't even get a slot at summer theaters).
It's like a diet. Give your kids sweet empty calorie foods when they're young and guess what they will eat as adults? Too many theatergoers are hooked on junk food.