Allow me to respond, sir. This is a comment I received last week on my “Tips For Young Playwrights” post. It’s by Angry Gamer. He writes:
Writing a theater play to me seems so oh I don't know... so 1500s.
I don't mean this as a slam or anything. I am saying this seriously. Why do a play in a time when TV and Film is getting overtaken by new media?
All of these might be relevant back in 1562 when Bill was being born. But today?
Spiderman The Play! is a cautionary tale and it's interesting someone already commented on it.
Perhaps I am too cynical but why would anyone really spend the time and effort to gestate a play to be appreciated with the polite applause of a few hundred? When that same creative talent could be projected to millions via new media?
I am a bit biased I DO work in technology... But still the best advice I ever got about being obsolete was this pithy statement: "You never want to be in the buggy whip business when a Henry Ford turns 20."
Okay, my first reaction is: “Really? You really have to ask? You really don’t know?”
Here’s the short answer: The day that human beings are obsolete is the day we’re all in serious trouble. Worse than DUCK DYNASTY being a hit television show.
No technology can match the experience of being in a theater watching actual people perform live. When it works the audience and performers feed off of each other and it takes the experience to a whole higher level. It’s thrilling. It’s magic. For all the impressive special effects and scope, no one has ever been transported by MEN OF STEEL.
Only a live performance can create such a feeling. And it’s that feeling that is its own reward for all involved – the audience, the actors, and the playwright.
I’ve been extremely fortunate. I’ve written hundreds of episodes of multi-camera shows – all performed live for a studio audience. Yes, it’s great that 20,000,000 people will see it on TV, but not nearly as exciting as hearing 200 people laugh loudly at the taping. I mean, if you want to write material that is meant to be performed, don’t you want to be there when an audience is seeing it performed? Peering over someone’s shoulder when he’s watching on an iPad Mini does not stack up. If you are trying to move people or make them laugh, don’t you want to be in the room to see your objectives realized? Yes, you get that to a degree if you go to a Cineplex and see your movie on the big screen, but it isn’t the same. It just isn’t.
The line is attributed to Larry Gelbart – he may or may not be the person who said it – but someone supposedly asked him if you could make a living in the theater. His response was: “You can’t make a living, but you can make a killing.” If you write a big hit play or musical it’s a gold mine. But that’s like winning the lottery. Most playwrights know going in they’re not going to make gobs of money. That’s why most, for practical reasons, gravitate to TV and film. I did. There’s way more money in Hollywood (although not as much as there used to be). And yes, more people will see one episode of DADS than all the productions combined of your off-Broadway play even if it runs five years.
But that’s not why we wanted to become writers… or actors… or directors. So if I write a play that really transports an audience, even if it’s only 49 people in a small theater, I’m happy.
I also think it’s easier to challenge an audience in the theater, to have your words resonate long after your show is over. The goal for most television shows is to keep you in front of the screen for the next commercial.
Low technology means no animated promos in the bottom of the screen, no annoying trailers to sit through, and a play never pauses while it’s being re-buffered.
The other perk for a playwright is that the stage is the only medium where the word is king. No one can change your dialogue without your permission. A director can’t trample it, a studio can’t replace you, actors can’t ad lib. After years of network notes, standards and practice notes, mandatory changes based on testing, it’s liberating to write what YOU want, to write from your heart not your testing data.
And actors like to act. Unless you’re a big star or on a hit series, how often do you get the chance to practice your craft? Thank God for the theater. And thank God for actors who choose roles based on the part not the medium.
And finally, don’t knock 1562. I wrote some very funny one acts that year.