Thursday, September 15, 2011


I read Wendy Wasserstein’s biography, it’s a pretty good read if you’re interested but one of the most minor things in the book really resonated with me. That is that Wendy wrote screenplays, none of which got produced and I am always hearing about screenplays that never get produced and how people are actually commissioned to write things for TV and film that never get produced and I know people write a lot of plays that never get produced but the difference is nobody pays them to do it. Playwrights always write on spec.

Then I got into a conversation about R&D and investment and capitalization in the arts and the idea that in other industries, in “for profit” industries – loads of people are paid to fail. How can we capitalize our industry so that we can pay to fail – I think there would be a lot more good plays in the world if we could pay for a lot more bad plays to be written (and read and workshopped and even produced). Does that make sense? Some of us can capitalize our organizations as a guard against failure, which gives us the ability to take risks. Some of us produce our work on as low a budget as possible so we can take those same risks. What’s the answer? As usual I only have questions. I understand that it’s the market – our industry doesn’t produce the kinds of profits that make it sensible to capitalize risk taking. Could we create something that invites investors at a different level – not when the plays are written and someone thinks they have potential but before they are written?



Jeremy said...

I think the question facing the NFP theaters is "what is an investor?" The definition is clear in film/commercial theater/etc, but in the NFP there isn't a clear analogy, as "donor" is a substantively different relationship.

Deb said...

Thanks for the comment Jeremy. Below is from Hank Boland who emailed what I thought were very interesting comments so I got his permission to post here.

I am going to step into Don Hall territory and piss some people off.
> Paying someone to write a screenplay is a business investment. Full stop.
> Yes, screenplays and stage plays are both scripted storytelling, but
> comparing the models beyond that is only going to lead to frustration.
> (Want to be frustrated.Here's a link to Movie box office numbers for
> last weekend:
> Number one movie last week , CONTAGION, grossed 22.5 million, was in
> 3,222 theatres, and they showed the same print over and over and over
> (one script, and one production that cost 60 million, production is
> completely done, and paid for, and everyone's already working on the
> next one).
> If you are talking 'from script to stage', theatrical production is a
> horrible business model. (Even farming has a better business model
> than theatre!) The labor and maintenance of theatre production is
> ridiculous, we all know that.
> Capitalism relies on mass distribution and mass consumption, therefore
> mass appeal, to allow for larger and consistent smaller returns on
> investments. Conversely, niche focus, with specifically higher returns
> on investments. Oh yeah, not to mention the annoying supply and demand
> thing.
> Sadly, I think the equivalent model to theatre is restaurants. You
> have a recipe, you have to pay for all the materials up front, you
> have to pay to have everyone show up to cook it, and serve it and
> clean up. Then you have to hope that everyone shows up to eat it, and
> when they do, you have to charge them enough to do it all again the
> next night. If they do not, you close your doors (and try again
> somewhere else, because food is your passion, and what you love, and
> the subject of those student loans you have to pay back).
> So, using that model theatres have to fall somewhere between Colonel
> Sanders and Charlie Trotter. They both have (or had, in Sanders' case)
> pretty awesome business models, and pretty hard working people at the
> tops of their organizations.
> Problem is, with theatre, we cannot reproduce the recipe because our
> ingredients are people.
> It comes down to 'who' is in it for 'what'?
> People who invest, invest in businesses for three reasons: 1) they are
> informed and know the risk will pay off, 2) they are ill-informed and
> hope the risk will pay off, 3) emotional support is translated to
> financial support (they have capital and know someone who needs their
> capital, and risk and ROI are secondary)
> I think I know why people start up business, but why do people go into
> theatre? I don't mean that rhetorically. I think understanding that
> is what will lead us to understanding how to 'capitalize' this 'risk'
> if there is any way at all..