Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Is San Diego Theatre Too Conservative? Read the Interview with playwright Kevin Six to find out.

Kevin SixWhat is the state of contemporary theatre in your opinion?

Scared.  Maybe scared and wounded.  In the national picture, I think there is a closing in of ranks.  It might be a stronger, leaner and hungrier American Theatre that emerges from this economic meltdown but right now it has an odd combination of movies-turned-musicals and plays with dark subjects.  People are trying to make a buck in this business, as with any other, and with fewer bucks out there, that means turning to established stuff, stuff that's been vetted.  So it's probably natural to turn to movies; after all, they have research and development departments and millions of dollars for production and marketing.  And then there are the established playwrights Mamet and Shepard who have created a genre of dark anger and expletive.  And most of the playwrights being produced have this darkness to them: Tracy Letts, John Patrick Shanley and Martin McDonagh to name a few.

It seems like we either get a happy, fairly mindless musical or a dark, cringe-inducing night at the theatre and not much in between.

Who is your favorite contemporary playwright?
Unfair!  Just one?  How does one qualify this one choice?  I have great playwrights as friends right here in San Diego, including my wife Jennie Olson, Kristina Meek, Jacqueline Goldfinger, Craig Abernethy and someone called Paola Hornbuckle.  I also find my own stuff pretty good. 

Luckily, I determined long ago that favorite is not something that stays with you forever but evolves with you so I've never felt stuck in my choice.  My favorite playwright, currently is Adam Bock.  Easy choice since I recently got to perform in his "Swimming in the Shallows".  A few critics missed the boat on this, thinking that it was just too silly.  So what's wrong with silly?  Especially in these dark times, audiences need to be reached on multiple levels; once in the funny bone and once again in the heart.  Then Bock got the audience a third time: politically.  The play is about so many things: consumerism, homosexuality, and acceptance; but in the main, it's about how people act in the beginning, middle and end of relationships.  The fact that Bock himself said his whole premise in the beginning of his process was writing about a man in love with a shark is what makes him such a good writer and my current favorite.  He took this impossible premise and and made it funny, touching and a larger look at how dangerous it feels getting into a new relationship -- and then he wrapped a number of crazy though fully realized characters and situations and came up with a masterpiece.

Some have commented that San Diego Theatre is too conservative. That they tend to stay with the "traditional and safe" plays. Do you agree? Why do you think that is?It is difficult to do envelope-stretching theatre anywhere and at any time.  History (especially the history of the liberal arts) is full of critics and audiences hating what we now consider classics, sometimes unto the act of rioting.  Audiences, like mobs, are only as smart as their least intelligent member and that is an important point for artistic directors to understand.  Shakespeare understood this intimately.  He wrote thoughtful plays with spectacular events experienced by fully realized characters who reacted like most people would in the same situation.  The beautiful words for educated and the rhyme schemes and physical comedy for the groundlings only work if they are folded into good stories.

San Diego audiences and, more importantly, San Diego donors are what's on the mind of many a producer today.  And people want to see their name on successful, inoffensive work.  That just doesn't sound like a great kettle in which to create great theatre.  The best organizations have found support from audiences and individual donors instead of government agencies or corporate giving programs.  It is easier to explain one's vision to people than organization.  There are large, conservative organizations and large liberal organizations in San Diego who are both experiencing financial difficulty.  There are risk-taking organizations flourishing and traditional programmers making good money.  In short, there is enough for everyone, I hope. 

But until a great show has the ability to run long enough to become profitable there will be a problem in San Diego.  Every theatre here is kind of stuck in this 70s notion of the regional theatre (with a set season and set runs for its plays) but audiences have evolved.  Wouldn't it be nice if there was a nice large, centrally located, theatre available to pick up hits and let them run their course like they do on Broadway?  This is what a lot of theatres aim for - if it works in other places then why not here? Why not let the shows run for as long as audiences come and support them?

Is there a place for early-career playwrights in San Diego?So far no.  The scared and wounded theatres are not looking to local un-produced playwrights for salvation.  Too bad, though.  I keep remembering that Wit, which won just about every award in theatre, was found in a stack of submissions at a regional theatre.  Someone took a chance on that play and it paid off in the extreme.  How many more plays like that, or even better than that, are there sitting in the stacks of plays in the desks of literary managers throughout the nation and right here in San Diego.  My recurring fantasy is accepting my Best Playwright Tony (or Pulitzer, I'm not picky) and telling the TV audience that "I will keep writing plays as good as this but I will only submit them, under assumed names, to theatres that accept unsolicited manuscripts from individual playwrights."  In my fantasy, literary managers all over the world read every play looking for mine and find... lots of good work.

I also think that it is a crime that local theatres do not do new play workshops.  It is about the easiest thing in the world to do.  I know because I've been involved in a number of them.  Easy!  Solicit for playwrights, chose plays, directors and actors (there are hundreds in this city who would do it simply to have their work presented on the stage of a well-known theatre).  Then produce these plays in repertory on dark nights.  Why don't theatres do this every Monday night?  I think it would build an audience hungry for new work and allow artistic leaders to discover talented San Diego actors and directors.  It would also provide a place in San Diego for early-career playwrights.

Kevin Six bio  
Kevin Six is the Playwright in Residence at Swedenborg Hall and his play Love, Unrequited, in Three Galleries was the 2008 winner of The Scripteasers’ Script Tease of Short Plays. His play The Cake Women was published in 2008 in Smith and Kraus’ The Best 10-Minute Plays of 2007.  Kevin’s play, Love Negotiated was a finalist in the 2006 Diverse Voices Playwriting Contest sponsored by the Hinton Battle Theatre Laboratory and was produced to critical success in 2008; it will be published by Next Stage Press in late 2011.   As a director and an actor, he has appeared at Compass, Intrepid Shakespeare, the Old Globe, Fritz, the Marquis, Swedenborg Hall and San Diego Junior theatres as well as on several industrial and commercial film projects.


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