Age-ism, Classism, and the Future of New Play Development or “Watch The Throne”

My grandfather used to say, “Change is the only constant.”

With that in mind, I’m gonna completely shift gears in sentence two of this article and talk about something else entirely (but don’t worry, I’ll get back to change and the elderly very soon).

A year or two ago I was lucky enough to hear one of my playwriting heroes give a talk on playwrights rights in relation to copyright law. I won’t name names, but this particular playwright has had an incredibly long career, full of plays that are amazingly written, well-known, and produced often. Just for fun, let’s henceforth refer to him as “Jay-Z.”

“Jay-Z” started his talk by telling us a story about how a successful network cop show stole a very famous line of dialogue from one of his scripts. “Jay,” not one to take things lying down, took legal action. His lawyer thought there was a case... but oops—CSI or NBC or CBS had more expensive lawyers and thus, “Jay” wasn’t gonna win this case, cuz as The Wu Tang says: Cash Rules Everything Around Me. Thus, there was no recourse and “Jay” had to accept theft from a big bad corporation, aka “the establishment.”

He then told a different story about artistic theft.

He mentioned a case wherein famous musical theatre composer “Kanye West” had some of his unreleased musical notation uploaded to the Internet, without his consent, by a fan, who obtained it via however you obtain those sorts of things over the Internet (and trust me, there are ways).

In the music industry, this is what’s called a “leak.” And “Jay-Z”’s concern seemed to be that this leak would hurt “Kanye’s” bottom line (i.e., his wallet). Which, sure, it might. “Jay-Z” then told us— a room full of early career playwrights, who were easily twenty to thirty years “Jay’s” junior—in no uncertain terms, that piracy is a big bad boogey man, and that we all have to fight it, cuz itz gonna take all of mah moneyz.

And to his credit “Jay” is partially right here. But otherwise, he mostly sounds like this cartoon version of Lars Ulrich from Metallica talking about music piracy from thirteen years ago.

Being that I’m a music super fan and that this very discussion regarding piracy has been going on in the music world (in a very heated way) since 1999 if not before—I raised my hand and told “Jay,” despite my absolute reverence for his work: “Um. The music industry tried destroying piracy about thirteen years ago, and not only failed to do so uncategorically, but also lost all of its profitability as an industry in the process. And this fact is widely documented. So, isn’t it time to start accepting piracy—and the fact that the public is clearly disinterested in paying for art—as a pseudo-normal phenomenon (aka fact), instead of fighting it?” (or something like that).

“Jay-Z” looked at me as if I had three heads, because he very obviously hadn’t even the foggiest concept of what the fuck I was talking about, and continued his Metallica-esque rant about the evils of Internet piracy. Which frankly, I found really disturbing as a young artist meeting one of my heroes.

Cuz here’s the thing about Internet piracy that “Jay-Z” doesn’t get: no one steals an album from the Internet (or posts demos of a famous composer’s unreleased work) because they are interested in hurting the artist.

They’re doing it for the opposite reason: because they love an artist, or because they want to learn more about an artist.

I’ve stolen literally tons of music from the Internet, as has everyone my age and younger. Why? Because I’m a broke-as-shit artist who loves music and I want to be a part of the conversation. And in order to be a part of the conversation, people have to have access to the art. And there is already a lot of stuff in this world that is distracting people from being a part of any artistic conversation whatsoever, (but that’s a much bigger conversation, isn’t it?), thus, why make people feel like criminals when they just wanna see what your deal is?

Now, how has the hip-hop world combated this? Well, rappers have released tons of music for free via the Inter webs. This is known as a mixtape. It has launched the careers of basically every major new rapper of the past decade—from mainstream sensations like A$AP Rocky and Drake, to underground phenoms like Action Bronson and Danny Brown.

OK, maybe they’ll see your live show, or talk you up to their friends, or post about you on social media (cough) or write about you in pseudo-scholarly articles that are supposed to be about playwriting (cough), and eventually the word of mouth will spread to a point that you as an artist have notoriety and eventually, maybe, someday, money.

Mixtapes
Mix up, Mix Match: Piracry or creativity? Photo by Pepper for Creative Market. 

The theory is: release one album (sometimes more) for free to the Internet, hopefully gain a fan base and some press. From there, release another one and charge money for it, and if someone steals that anyway, OK, maybe they’ll see your live show, or talk you up to their friends, or post about you on social media (cough) or write about you in pseudo-scholarly articles that are supposed to be about playwriting (cough), and eventually the word of mouth will spread to a point that you as an artist have notoriety and eventually, maybe, someday, money.

Don’t believe me? How do you think Lil Wayne got to be as famous as he currently is?

The ironic reality of this conversation is that, as an early career playwright, this is literally already common practice! Fuck man, I wouldn’t have three-fourths of my résumé if I didn’t work for free! Except unlike hip-hop, theatre can’t be accessed on the Internet. Our product is the live show.

Now if you’re a playwright like me, who doesn’t have an agent, your production opportunities are very limited. A majority of the theatres that pay money and give commissions openly refuse to accept submissions of your work. Which means, that in order to get a production, you must submit to contests, storefronts, and younger companies—all of which rarely have the resources to pay writers. Or, self-produce (which is expensive, but you know that). Worse, if you somehow get a production, you are in some cases ineligible for second productions due to the fact that your play is no longer a world premier because in many cases, for non-“Jay-Z” level theatres to get money for new play development, they must produce plays with no production history.  Wu Tang wasn’t lyin’ about cash were they?

As far as I know, the above phenomena are mostly not the case when you’re working at “Jay-Z”’s level, but obviously, I’m hardly an expert.

So, then how do you work at “Jay-Z”’s level?

Well, if you’re a playwright who comes from a working middle-class family (ya know those things that news-people say have been drastically shrinking as a result of the recession?), you move to a big city and/or get an MFA.

Only—eek! What if you’ve already heaped up student loans?

I certainly did when I exited undergrad. And, being an informed artist with basic math skills, I realized that long-term, debt was gonna kill my playwright dreams.

So, I lived at home for three years and worked as an accountant, paid off my loans, and wrote plays in my spare time. From a financial standpoint? Best decision I could’ve ever made. From an artistic standpoint? Character-building as all get out, and since I want to eventually make my living building characters, that’s another home run decision. From a professional career standpoint? ...it unfortunately seems to have held me back.

Instead of being in a bigger city, making connections, after college I was at home in Baltimore, where the playwriting scene has no inroads to larger professional opportunities and the major regional theatres do not produce local playwrights.

I recently finished my MFA (one wherein I was on scholarship, cuz fuck living at home and being an accountant for another three years…) but, unfortunately getting an MFA in my late twenties as opposed to my early twenties meant that upon graduation, I was too old for the thirty and under writers’ groups who help get the attention of “Jay-Z”-level theatres, and not critically vetted enough for bigger name writers’ groups whose admissions are incredibly competitive.

To be clear, I’m not complaining about my circumstances. I’m beyond fortunate to have supportive parents and college degrees (and even more fortunate that I wasn’t forced to sell cocaine like the REAL Jay-Z did).

However, as an admirer of “Jay-Z,” I found it really disturbing that a fellow playwright was so totally ignorant to the current circumstances of what it actually takes to be a new playwright in 2013. Especially considering he was essentially asking me—and a room full of other emerging writers my age—to protest the Internet, even though he is clearly rich enough to hire lawyers who can sue CBS or CSI or NBC (or possibly all three at the same time)?

And if ya ask me, that’s about as politically correct as a 1 percenter soliciting votes to defund food stamps.

If I didn’t post my previously produced plays for free on the Internet, what the hell would I do with them? Despite having worked on them for years, despite their proven success, they’d sit on my hard drive gathering dust. At least if someone pirates them, there’s a possibility of getting produced. And if that’s not the case, at least someone cared enough to want to read them.

Now, if you’ve already balked at this whole discussion, or my casual cursing, or my insider allusions to hip-hop, or, worse, have drawn the conclusion that my points are invalid, I really hate to break this to ya, you’re likely of “Jay-Z”’s ilk, or The Old Guard to put it into terms that are perhaps more familiar to you, or, (I’m sorry for this one)—“the establishment.”

And I’m sorry that that is the case. But, I certainly don’t hate you for it. You obviously can’t help the time or circumstances in which you were born. I’m simply asking for acknowledgment of the basic facts about the world we live in together as artists.

I’m not asking you to change your tastes, or start smoking pot, or listen to Kanye, or read Pitchfork on a daily basis (although, I’m not not asking you to do those things either), I’m simply saying that, Hey! Hi! I’m from a different generation than you! Even if we’re the same age! I do things pretty differently than you! And I exist in your playground too! And I know you’re older, and that age gives you experience and power and stuff, but there are really serious things that you fundamentally don’t understand about the world, or the future of our art form that you should probably know! Cuz I sure know 'em! And things are changing just as constantly as my grandfather said they would!

Because the indisputable fact is, you guys are in charge, and I’m not. You guys work for the organizations and theatres, which are in a position to not only help me and other new artists from my generation, but essentially give us our starts.

And how can you even begin to do that, if you know nothing about all of the stuff that my generation likes and says and does, or worse think those things are not only trivial and stupid, but something to actively fight against?

I certainly don’t know. All I know is that I’m here. And I have important and funny things to say about the world, just like you. And I don’t intend on going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, I am entirely intent on succeeding as a writer by damn-near-literally any means necessary. And I think it’d probably be easier and more pleasant for everyone involved if it was with you than without you.

But this loud-mouthed whippersnapper has yammered on long enough. So… Anybody else wanna talk about their feelings on “Jay-Z”?

 

 

Bookmark this page

Log in to add a bookmark

Interested in following this conversation in real time? Receive email alerting you to new threads and the continuation of current threads.

subscribe

Comments

72
Add Comment
Newest First

Ira,

I actually sat and read all the comments before sending my comment, not certain why I'm commenting and how it will be taken. There are specifics to the issue that I'm not well versed in, a few aspects that I would need to do more research and investigation on. I had a strong mental and emotional response to the initial post, thinking Ira was pretty much coming off as bratty and entitled, but after reading the comments felt a bit more capable of appreciating him as a vital, 3-dimensional, complex human being with his own conditioning, defense patterns, hopes, dreams, aspirations etc etc just like the rest of us. I'm an older playwright, and like Jon feel there are certainly prejudices to contend with in having your work read, especially when you don't have an MFA. I didn't start writing until my late 50's. I've had One Act's produced [and won some awards] and a very low budget black box of a full length in NYC. I can't imagine anyone being brazen enough to want to make a career in theatre as a playwright. The writers I know do it because they love it enough that they put up with the struggles and barricades, and hope for the best. But I digress from the post. Bottom line for me is I suppose the following; Stealing is stealing, it's just gotten more sophisticated in how to go about it. In my youth if I didn't have an album I'd work extra hours to get the cash to buy it or go over to a friends house who owned it. I'm no saint, but it seems to me that many people these days are all to willing to rationalize their behavior of self interest. Just because something can be gotten away with does not mean it's in our best interest to get away with it. Just because other people do it does not make it right to go ahead and do it. That kind of belief and attitude is what contributes to chaotic, self absorbed, ethically depleted behavior. But hey it's a sign of our times so it's best to wake up and get with the program. I don't think so. The program that most counts, has always counted, despite the glamorous contrary picture the world may paint, is integrity. The integrity of one's actions, those little everyday actions, are what accumulate to a life that's possessed of value and meaning, or one that has been cheapened and wasted.

So let me set both you and “Jay-Z” straight.

First, what “Jay-Z” is talking about in the first case isn’t piracy at all. That’s just good old-fashioned copyright infringement by a big corporation with more lawyers than you. It stinks, but that’s been going on forever.

But the second example he gives – that’s real piracy and there is no bigger problem in theater today.

Piracy means that fans across the globe are so hungry for what you’re making that they’ll do anything they can to get their hands on it – even if that means BREAKING THE LAW. That sounds like a perfect description of today’s theater fans (that’s what you call them, right?) to me.

Everywhere I look I see fans destroying theater with hard drives full of plays by Jon Robin Baitz, Annie Baker, Donald Margulies…you name it – all downloaded from TPB for free. I was in Newark a while back and a guy was selling copies of ALL of Richard Nelson’s Apple Family plays on the street – this was six months before the last one was even produced.

Just the other day, Cappadonna came over to my house and all he could talk about was how excited he was that he had downloaded the score of “The Last Five Years” and he didn’t have to pay a cent. I explained to him why this was wrong and made him send a check to Jason Robert Brown.

So Ira Gamerman, do you want to kill the theater? Keep advocating piracy. Otherwise, you theater writers need to find a way to keep your rabid worldwide fan base from exploiting and destroying you.

I would just like to point out that this is THE MOST discussion I've seen on a HowlRound article. Well done to Ira on writing something so many people responded to - whether they agree with him or just think he's crazy!

My point is you were scammed and don't know it. University MFA programs exist to fulfill a dream - the dream of the Professors who couldn't make a living as a playwright - nothing to do with their talent, it's just that a play costs over 200,000 to produce even on a small scale and there's just not that many theater companies out there relative to the number of Playwrights. So your 80,000 of student loan debt - went to support your professors. I'm sure you had a meaningful and educational experience. But you're likely never to get produced. - you're likely never to see any play of yours put up in any recognized Lort B or other letter theater. Why? Because unless you're a playwright of color with some kind of "brand" no one knows who you are and you don't sell tickets and your name doesn't raise grant money. You're not famous. And you're never going to be. Not as a playwright -- Theaters are broke organizations. They don't make money from ticket sales, but from donations. Yes, you love theater, so do I, it was my religion (and probably still is if I'm completely honest with myself) but I'm not going to make a living as a playwright - at regional theaters if you get your play produced you get $15,000 royalty if you're lucky. If you get one production a year, you've won the lottery. There are some plays that get produced over and over - like "The Mountain Top" - the rest? Do yourself a favor and check out what is getting produced at theaters that pay playwrights. You'll see. Playwrights just hope for people to read our plays - and then do a staged reading, omg, that would be wonderful. One theater I know of (my friend is on the board) gets over 500 plays submitted per year - who reads all those plays? Do you think every person in that theater company is trained to recognize a brilliant play? Seriously?

My point is, most of the university system is geared to supporting the Professors and the University - Universities are a business - just like General Motors. And now you have $80K in debt. I'm sorry for you, but you, as you likely know, need to pay that back and to do so you need to get a job that pays enough to support yourself and your debt - which could have bought you a house. It's not unfair, don't default on your debt - nurses have to pay back their debt too, if you default they will have to pay yours and theirs through the tax system. You should have taken classes in something that helped you earn a living.

You were sold a bill of goods - that you will become an amazing playwright and get produced by getting an MFA - but I don't know about the first, and the second is remote (for all of us, not just you) The university system is a scam. And your attitude about people who suddenly take up playwriting at 45 years old - you feel that is not as valid as a person who devoted 3 years of study - is just not true. That 45 year old may be an ex-actor or ex-dancer or current actor (Look at Amanda Peet - she's getting her play produced right now - The Commons of Pensecola -i s she less valid than you because she doesn't have an MFA? -- she is famous is what she's got. Same thing with Zoe somebody's daughter. Those playwrights - Amanda and Zoe - sell tickets and their plays get "developed" - they may be better playwrights than you. Or not. Or their plays may be better because they spent time living, and then writing about their experiences, whereas MFA students who are 26 years old can only write about 26 years of life experience and being in school - an admittedly rarefied protected and precious world - and you are 80K in debt.

Actually I'm sure you are a lovely person. You're probably really nice. But I doubt you are a world class playwright yet. You have to keep working until you're 45 and have some life experiences to write about. But sadly you'll never get produced because you're not famous. You'll get workshops maybe, and grants - that are open to MFA people - but my point is - you were scammed. The rise of the "Theater University Industrial Complex" is bad for all of us. MFAs - because you are stuck in that rut and spent 3 years learning to write when living might have been better and now you have all that debt - and the programs set up for you keep you in a ghetto really. And for the non-MFAs, we may or may not be brilliant playwrights - but we're shut out of the MFA ghetto, so we feel resentful. But we shouldn't want to be in it - because it's fake - it rarely leads to a full scale production.

And all of us Playwrights should go find other things to do. Rajiv Joseph isn't even writing plays anymore as far as I know -- I think he went to Television. But his plays at least helped him pay off his student loans - he's lucky. He's also a person of color he says, and that's super helpful in today's world as a playwright. Being a woman is kind of helpful.

Please pay off your student loans. and go write for TV? Please tell all of your friends not to get an MFA in playwriting unless you can get it for free? Because it is a scam. You can take cheaper courses at ESPA Primary Stages and LIVE in New York while writing. And you will still never get produced - the result is the same for less money.

All of us will get our ten minute plays produced. Sometimes. BTW this has nothing to do with talent - you may be an incredible writer for all I know, but you got ripped off - you paid for a three year expensive degree and you only supported your professors and the corporation of the University is my point. If you are talented go write for TV. TV has money to pay you to live. Theater produces Shakespeare because he sells tickets, he's famous.

Whoa - so much to unpack here! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I should clarify that my total debt is cumulative and includes acting conservatory training on up through my MFA, so I can't blame all of that debt on grad school. I also really enjoyed my training, and I am pursuing teaching - I'm not really down to give that up yet. And contrary to your promise that I will never get produced, I have already had plays produced. I have also produced new play festivals and have worked as a literary manager at a handful of small and mid-sized theater companies. So, I'm scraping along. And I don't think an MFA is a necessary component to becoming a playwright, only that it is one way to go. I don't think I'll ever stop writing... I don't "expect" fame and fortune - I just want to work in my field, to write, get produced, and teach and live a life that isn't impoverished (and there are many ways to count up poverty). But I'm not resentful or angry about the fact that I'm not getting produced on Broadway or in LORT houses - I honestly probably haven't written a "Broadway" play yet. I think success comes of what you write, who you are, where you land, and who you meet along the way. And TV is totally a good way to go if you've got the chops. There are a lot of things we playwrights can do to pay the bills while we continue to follow our passion. But I think it's a bumpy road whichever route we take.

Lacks perception and insight until the highly appropriate use of "yammering."

You do not know something that Tony Kushner doesn't as a gift of your benighted youth. Having pirated music does not make you uniquely qualified to talk the next generation of playwriting; it just makes you cheap. (Hello, Spotify.)

Unfortunately, you're going to have to do what Tony Kushner did to succeed on that scale -- work hard, get lucky, repeat. It's comforting to think that the work will change so quickly that you'll just be left holding the keys.

Frankly, reading this shouty, strident pseudofesto, I hope not.

MARK E. SMITH???? MAN I LOVE YOU!!!! "THIS NATIONS SAVING GRACE" IS ONE OF THE BEST ALBUMS OF THE 1980s POST-POST-PUNK SCENE.

(Sorry for the easy joke. Unless you're actually Mark E. Smith, in which, case I mean all of those things whole-heartedly).

I actually sorta do know things that Tony Kushner (it wasn't Tony Kushner, nice try though) doesn't if I sighted actual historical data at him and he told me I was wrong.

Have you read much about the music Industry from 1999-2013? I've been following it pretty closely. And though I may not always pay for albums, (which is earnestly a phenomenon that really only started in the last few years when I just couldn't afford to), I still frequent concerts and do other things to support musicians I like.

It's VERY funny you mention Spotify though actually:

Spotify is terrible for artists. It pays them pennies while essentially giving their music away for free. You know where most of the revenue that Spotify makes goes? Back to Spotify. Back to it's CEO. Who is fairly rich.

Now, Spotify is not run by some piss-ant shouty playwright, it is a legit technology corporation.

And yet, what is it doing but exploiting artists and essentially treating them as if their music is valueless?

And I hate to tell ya this: but on a cultural relevance level- Music is WAY more pop-culturally relevant and wide-spread than theater is.

Thus, it's now pretty much industry standard practice that artists get paid ZERO for their intellectual and creative property.

So, I'm not saying that not-getting-paid is correct. I'm an artist. I wanna get paid. I know the terrible soul-crushing things you have to do as an artist if you don't get paid for your work, and I'm not so interested in heading back that way. But the industry that "Jay-Z" came up in, that can actually pay artists simply doesn't exist anymore.

Isn't that something we should be talking about? Am I crazy or am I just Yammering again?

Also: ya know who Spotify and their lack of paying artists hurts most?

NOT older artists who came up during the heyday of music industry pay outs.

YOUNGER artists who are still struggling to get a fanbase and finances.

David Byrne and Thom Yorke have written fairly extensively on this recently. Worth checking out.

I agree with a lot of what you're saying (and as former college radio employee I'm loving the music industry parallels/jokes).

I printed this quote and put it up on my wall:"You guys work for the organizations and theaters, which are in a position to not only help me and other new artists from my generation, but essentially give us our starts"

As a young aspiring arts manager/producer, I know that this is so important to remember. Someday I hope to have the resources to discover new artists (and I definitely won't start out by criticizing them for putting their work online.)

I hope young/emerging/struggling playwrights realize they're not on their own- there's a whole generation of soon to be producers, designers, actors dramaturgs, etc out there fighting to make a living of it. The sooner we connect with each other the sooner we'll start get noticed by those with resources-- or develop work that can stand on its own without their help.

Hello. My name is Tony Kushner and I am an Emerging American Playwright from the 20th Century. Several of the thoughts posted here by "Ira Gamerman" seem to implicate playwrights such as myself as part of the "establishment," or "Jay-Z," as I am referred to in this article. I guess that means "Angels in America" is the equivalent to "In My Lifetime... Vol 1-3."

I don't know. Life is hard for everybody. I grew up in a well-to-do household (we even had a maid and everything) and my parents were smart, well-working people who brought me up in an environment where I could afford to do as I please, which meant going to prestigious universities and write for a living. Oh, the joys of good environments!

But I try, dear readers, I try so very hard to be supportive of the younger generations, what with their twitterings and their Facebookings and their Tumblrings and whathaveyou. IT IS HARD FOR ME!!! I AM OLD!!!! I remember when we had rotary telephones with cords! CORDS!!!! Sometimes I would sit in my kitchen, twirling the cord of our telephone in my hand, listening to the gentle tones and wonder what my life would be like if I had grown up in Spain. But, I digress, as I am prone to do.

I had to google a lot of the references this young emerging playwright mentions and I find it hard to relate to them as my favorite band is The Beatles. Maybe the younger playwright could re-write the article to be understood more clearly by us "Jay-Z-ers?"

Is this really Tony Kushner? If so: HOLY FUCKING SHIT MAN, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. IT'S SO COOL THAT YOU READ THIS. THANK YOU.

Your Free Adaptation of "The Illusion" is maybe one of my all time favorite plays and there's no shame in lovin' The Beatles.

I would also maybe equate "Angels" to "The Blueprint" (and that's totally a compliment).

The possibility that it could've been him was the most exciting thing on the planet for about 4 hours. All in all this is the second or possibly third best prank that's accidentally backfired into something momentarily awesome for me. Thank you. It was sincerely great to live in that world for a sec.

I'm with you on this. On another playwright site someone was making some teens remove a video of them performing a monologue from a monologue book by said playwright. This playwright felt righteous making the teens remove the video. Most of the other playwrights commented that this was piracy and blah blah blah and the playwright had every right. I was the only one saying - post links! Have the kids post links to your book on Amazon. Win win! And everybody got cranky with me. Thanks for this article. It's a new level of atmosphere for connecting peeps to the work, We gotta share these pockets of air.

The fact that you won't actually name names is troubling to me. If you're going to criticize someone, then just do it, don't make up nicknames and then cause cognitive dissonance in your readers because you're not literally talking about what you're talking about. (It is also a sign that you are not willing to stand behind your own story.)

For the record: I'm a playwright too, and I'm older than you, and I don't have an agent, and I make it a point to PAY ARTISTS when I want to listen to their work, because I would like to be paid myself. I have posted samples of my own work online and might consider putting it all online as well if I thought it would make a difference. But I also would not let a play of mine be produced for nothing, even if it was a symbolic payment of 50 dollars or something. Giving content away for free just sets up the expectation that content should be free.

Thanks for your comments. I hear what you're sayin'. But I'm not Julian Assange, ya know? I don't want to go into playwright extradition. Howlround urged me not to do or say anything that'd hurt my career. And I really thank them for doing that, cuz I'm bad at navigating politics.

Also: My second reasoning for saying rapper names as opposed to playwright names is because I think in 2013, theater should be aware of Rap music. And it isn't. And it should, cuz it's awesome and maybe the most culturally relevant music on the planet right now.

That's incredibly Awesome that you pay artists. I wish everyone made as much of a point to do that as you do.

There's a romantic part of me that loves the work. And really cares about the work. And doesn't particularly care about money. But I'm 31 years old, ya know? I realize from a career-y standpoint, I gotta get paid at some point if I realistically wanna continue doing this and not doing things I don't wanna do.

And from where I'm sitting, I'd rather take an opportunity that doesn't pay me than do nothing. Cuz I figure at some point down the road, the folks I work with will somehow come back and/or be in some sort of a position to pay me. I trust in the universe to come back around in that way.

A lot of really amazing things that I love were released for free. XXX by Danny Brown for instance and that's an album that I love DEARLY. I can't put a dollar amount my love for that.

But the realist in me is like "gotta make a living somehow", ya know? You gotta walk the line some how. I don't know what the answer is.

Curmudgeon: The fact that you won't actually name names is troubling to me. If you're going to criticize someone, then just do it, don't make up nicknames and then cause cognitive dissonance in your readers because you're not literally talking about what you're talking about.

Gamerman: But I'm not Julian Assange, ya know? I don't want to go into playwright extradition. Howlround urged me not to do or say anything that'd hurt my career.

But isn't that a problem we need to address in our industry? We can't voice a disagreement with an established figure on issues of copyrights, intellectual property, compensation, and the internet (or really any other issue that pertains to the creative economy) without potentially hurting our careers?

I totally get what you're saying. But I think this is where writers in our industry have to get creative and address this stuff without addressing this stuff directly. It's sort of a challenge. Kinda like the way Arthur Miller addressed Mccarthyism with The Crucible. How can we say it without saying it?

But the McCarthy era was two generations ago. Arguably, First Amendment rights are probably better respected and better enforced than ever before-- but there is a perception by many within this industry that one can get blacklisted for stating certain views, not only about specific productions, but about issues facing theatre today.

Oh totally We have the freedom to talk as much shit as we want insofar as we're allowed to say whatever without risk of being thrown in jail or murdered (ya know, theoretically)- but, that doesn't mean we wouldn't still be dicks for saying some stuff, ya know? It's important to approach people with some level of respect. Theater people are incredibly sensitive. And from the little bit that I've been an artist, people would much rather work with somebody who's really excited positive and supportive instead of somebody who's negative and cuttin' shit down on a regular basis. it's a small industry. It's so small. bafflingly small. Which doesn't mean we shouldn't address problems or issues- we NEED to have a dialogue about a lot of stuff. I think just figuring out a way to have a respectful one is always really important. People are much more apt to listen to you that way. In terms of Blacklists- I'd like to think that IF those still exist- and they well might, I haven't seen that far behind the curtain- the people who've made the blacklists are eventually gonna be the ones who get hurt in the long run when they're stuck with subpar talent and the REAL talent succeeds anyway. Miller was on a blacklist, so was Odets. So were a lot of playwrights of the Mccarthy era. And 50 years later, who looks like the dipshits- the people on the blacklists or the Mccarthyists?

How far does one have to go before one is seen as "negative and cuttin' shit down on a regular basis"? Openly addressing wage disparity at a large institution? Treatment of volunteer labor? Writing sincere criticism of a given play, trend, or paradigm popular in today's performing arts?

For instance while it's not so controversial to voice the opinion that Tony Kushner is one of the greatest living playwrights working in the English language-- if you voice a strong agreement with his position that the arts degree might have a negative impact on artists' development into intellectually well-rounded, thinking beings, and that this could have long-term consequences for the arts in America-- unless you already have the fame of Tony Kushner, you're being "negative."

That I totally don't know. I mean, the stuff you mentioned is important to discuss and speak out about. I think like most things it's about how and when and to whom you speak your mind to. Unfortunately we live in a world that is risk averse. That doesn't like to hear dissenting opinions. And that even holds true in creative fields like theater. So, you're always kinda putting your reputation on the line by speaking out.

I mean, for example- this VERY article I wrote- I feel like it was the right thing to say. And it's all true. And some good things have come out of it, so far. But long term? Who knows. Maybe everyone thinks I'm a jerk now. Maybe everyone thinks I'm dangerous. Maybe I'm on some blacklist somewhere.

But my feeling is, you've gotta be honest, otherwise what's the point of doing art? And the folks who get what you're trying to say and who are willing to listen are the people you wanna align yourself with. And the people who don't wanna listen will either eventually come around once they realize that you have a rational argument (and realize that the only thing that is preventing them from hearing your argument is the fact that it's not the "norm") and if they don't, fuck 'em. They're probably jerks. And you don't wanna waste time working with jerks.

Otherwise, I abide by this thing called the 500 foot rule, wherein I don't talk shit about anyone or anything until I'm 500 feet from the building. Ya never know who could hear something you say outta context ya know?

I just put all my plays online two weeks ago, against the advice of others, because I couldn't really think of a good reason not to do it. If you're not online, you may as well not exist. Not having your play available to everyone is just a barrier to getting produced.

I've decided I have to ditch the establishment and make my own opportunities. There is no institutional support for playwrights in my town, and I don't believe you have to move to New York to write plays. I've self produced most of my work (not as expensive as you think, and I've profited (slightly) from it) and gained a local reputation.

Maybe some day I'll get lucky and make a career of it, but I'm no longer sitting around waiting for someone else's blessing to be a playwright. I'm making it happen for myself.

Ageism is discrimination against someone for being an age that does not fit traditional or preconceived requirements. Theatre is a huge offender of this "ism." Really, most institutions would be sued. If they were corporations, they would be. The "theatre gods" of NY are guilty of ageism and do not take non-traditional life- , career- , and educational tracks into consideration for developing plays and playwrights. They are victims of the youth commodity and the notion that MFA's are more gifted. (They may only be more academic). I was a dancer first, and a playwright later. Even if I were to get an MFA, it wouldn't open any doors because I'm not 26. I'm double that number, looking a good ten-years younger because of my ballet training. But, no matter. I pursue a Master's simply because I love continued learning. At the age of 17 I moved to NYC from Smalltown, Ohio. I did not have my parents' money, support, or home to fall back on. Ever. For those options did not exist. My point is that I'm discriminated against in theatre communities on a continual basis because of my age and non-traditional life-path. On a different point: Millions of people my age pirate music. Piracy is not the purview of the young. That idea is nonsense. Jay-Z is greedy (or is he just too old to understand internet trends?). No one is forced to sell cocaine. Be a waiter, maybe, you know? Like, work? Pimping, hoing, drug dealing - that shit's a choice, like becoming an accountant or anything else. Third point: Artistic directors, lit managers, artists, professors, "the players...", have a VERY limited notion of artistic range. Ironic, considering how the "anointed" pride themselves in being liberal and open-minded. Age and non-traditional learning tracks are NEVER taken into consideration. Writers my age have more to offer and our talents surpass most MFA students who learn merely by the book and who are on an academic track and repeat and mimic the discourse of their professors. You see these young playwrights' work all the time: promising; creative; clever; autobiographical....writing one-dimensional characters because they lack the most important gift of all: long-term life experience, which no degree can teach and which is a privilege that deepens all forms of writing. In the meantime, broadcast yourself and your work on the net! We work for free and under sometimes unbearable conditions and face institutional constraints. It's a gift to let people read my work under any circumstance. Check out my website at jonspano.com. It's free!

Ageism is discrimination against someone for being an age that does not fit traditional or preconceived requirements. Theatre is a huge offender of this "ism." Really, most institutions would be sued. If they were corporations, they would be.

Actually, most of them are corporations, albeit, non-profits-- but some of the larger ones have assets in tens of millions (you can look up their tax-forms.) Nonetheless, standing up for the basic right to be treated fairly and with dignity is a good way to be labeled a "trouble-maker" or "difficult." Try raising the issue of how some of the more well-heeled organizations rely on free labor (or disrespect those who provide the free labor), for instance, and see how that affects your artistic career.

Ageism in the arts is a form of discrimination against artists (in this case, playwrights) typically over 40. Maybe even 35. As an artist who was a theatre dancer first and a playwright later, there are zero development opportunities available for writers like me. I did not follow the traditional career path. Even an MFA, at this point, wouldn't open doors because I'm not 26. I'm double that number, look a decade younger than my age, but that doesn't matter. I am completely 100% self-funded and self-financed since the age of 17 when I moved to New York from a very lower middle-class family in Smalltown, Ohio. I did not have my parents' money, support, or home to fall back on. Ever. For those options did not exist. My point is that I'm discriminated against in theatre communities on a continual basis because of my age and life-path. (At this point, my pursuit of a Master's is simply because I love continuing education). On a different point: Millions of people my age pirate music. Piracy is not the purview of the young. That idea is nonsense. Jay-Z is greedy (or is he just too old to understand internet trends?). No one is forced to sell cocaine. Be a waiter, maybe, you know? Like, work? Pimping, hoing, drug dealing - that shit's a choice, like becoming an accountant or anything else. Third point: Artistic directors, lit managers, artists, professors, "the players...", have a VERY limited notion of artistic range. Ironic, considering how the "anointed" pride themselves in being liberal and open-minded. Age and non-traditional learning tracks are NEVER taken into consideration. Writers my age have more to offer and our talents surpass most MFA students who learn merely by the book and who are on an academic track and repeat and mimic the discourse of their professors. You see these young playwrights' work all the time: promising; creative; clever; autobiographical....writing one-dimensional characters because they lack the most important gift of all: long-term life experience, which no degree can teach and which is a privilege that deepens all forms of writing. In the meantime, broadcast yourself and your work on the net! We work for free and under sometimes unbearable conditions and face institutional constraints. It's a gift to let people read my work under any circumstance. Check out my website at jonspano.com. It's free!

Wait, is the ageism being discussed in this article the author's constant reiterating that anyone older than him just doesn't get it, man, and if you don't immediately agree with everything he says you're too old?

Like most self-entitled youth who resent (yet appreciate the support of) their old parents for buying them Playstations, iPhones, iPads, computers, and all that other cool stuff they spoiled them with. And wind up living back at home because real life is too expensive.

I don't play video games. I don't own an Ipad. I bought my Iphone this year (FINALLY) (it's a 3G cuz they're finally affordable) after years of having a flip-phone. I bought my own computer with my own money that I made working a Collections job. My parents have definitely helped- again- they let me stay at their home free of rent for 3 years so that I could pay off my loans. But yeah, dude. No. I'm 31. My family is working/middle-class to the bone. Mom's a teacher. Dad's an Engineer. They honestly can't afford to help me very much. They've got debts of their own and a house (which isn't to say they don't try). A house is a thing I don't ever expect to own. So I don't exactly think that qualifies me "self- entitled". Did you your parents ever give you any money? Do you own a house? Who paid for your Playstation?

You can read my longer post below. And if you've done all that for yourself, I say congratulations for your success. Realize how successful you are w/o traditional theatre success. Sorry if I referred to you as self-entitled. You don't know how many young playwrights and students I've met who bitch and moan about theatre and have no clue as to how fortunate they are.

Please read my longer post below. And if you've done all that for yourself, I say congratulations for your success. Realize how successful you are w/o traditional theatre success. Sorry if I referred to you as self-entitled. You don't know how many young playwrights and students I've met who bitch and moan about theatre and have no clue as to how fortunate they are.

Your story is pretty amazing man. I hope you keep making art no matter what. I get where your anger is coming from also. There's a lot of class-blindness, and people make a lot of assumptions (I sure do. I'm hardly exempt from judgement. I can be a brat). I think that's also the thing: People who are successful have a hard time realizing their success. I'm sure the folks in charge are just trying to feed their kids and pay their mortgage like anyone else, and themselves maybe don't feel successful. Anyway. Thanks for the thoughts and best of luck with everything!

Hi Annie. Believe me, I see and know. However I don't see or know very much about about you? It seems in this particular situation, you have more privilege (the privilege of anonymity) than I do because I've chosen to use my last name, talk openly about my financial circumstances, age, parents occupations, and say more than 2 sentences. Would you care to enlighten us before you throw stones?

Annie, I'm very sorry if my comments offended you. Despite whatever negative opinions you may assume about me from a random blog post about playwriting on the internet, I genuinely want to understand the point you're trying to make. I'm not being flippant or Ironic. I'm sorry if I came off like a jerk or rubbed you the wrong way or if I acted over-sensitively to your initial comment. Believe it or not, this is my first experience getting criticism and scrutiny from anonymous folks on the internet, and it's weirdly more difficult than I imagined it to be. I'm sure you're an incredibly intelligent person with legitimate points to make, and I'd really love to hear them and understand them. If a public forum isn't your thing, email's cool: iragamerman@gmail.com. Love to hear from you.

isn’t it time to start accepting comment anonymity—and the fact that the public is clearly disinterested in divulging their identity online—as a pseudo-normal phenomenon (aka fact), instead of fighting it or discounting a comment out of hand because you got successfully called out and have no genuine response?

Clever. To be clear I wasn't discounting Annie's comment, it's actually the opposite of that, I want to understand her position more fully, and I can't do that if I know nothin' about her.

Anyone can call names from a far. I'm much more interested in having a substantive conversation that gets beyond the surface.

May I ask: What did I get successfully "Called Out" on? Is it because I own an Iphone and a Laptop?

I have a ton of genuine responses. If you'd like to actually put some skin on the table and engage me with something substantive, perhaps I'll share some.

Like most self-entitled youth who "resent" their totally-supportive parents for buying them Playstations, iPhones, iPads, computers, and all that other cool stuff they spoiled them with. And wind up living back at home because real life is too expensive.

I was kind of trying to re-appropriate the term age-ism for the younger generation. Obviously Age-ism towards senior playwrights occurs fairly constantly- I mean what is Marie Irene Fornes's current health situation except age-ism (with a sprinkling of sexism). Feel free not to agree with me. I'm sorry if the above came out as bratty or disrespectful. I listen to a lot of Rap music and my heroes all play in indie rock bands. I'm sure I sound like a brat.

But Fornes was produced long ago when she was much younger, and I think her gender and ethnicity gave her a wonderful voice that fortunately for us worked in her favor. Were she only beginning to write plays within the last five years and beginning to write at her current age, she likely would not be produced because theatres wouldn't be reading her submissions among the thousands they receive.

I'm listening. My hearing might be going (I'm old), but I'm listening. Thanks for an enlightening (and amusing) post.

The truth is there are far too many playwrights. Playwriting has become institutionalized - you have to go the MFA route to get access to grants and fellowships and to development opportunities that those of us who didn't want student loans (a 3 year MFA cost approx 180,000 at NYU when I last looked into it) don't have. The university system benefits those who pay for MFAs. Those of us who are not in the system and eschewed the student loan shackles have extreme difficulties to even get our plays read. And yes - impossible to get an agent because there's no money for playwrights even in big theaters, so how does the agent get paid? So you have to have an MFA - it's pay to play. So you have to get an MFA. And MFA programs support playwrights who become professors and Artistic Directors at big theater companies become professors to make money / a living. The only way playwrights can make money is to buy into the University system by becoming a professor - but it's not morally right in a way, because students get big student loans and there's no jobs / real production opportunities. So they have to become professors too and milk the next generation of playwrights. And there isn't enough theater companies in the world to produce even one play from each of the 623 (and counting) playwrights that Adam Symcowicz (sp?) interviews on his "I interview playwrights" blog. So we need to think about other forms of writing. Seriously.

Totally spot on. I actually write for a couple of Podcasts. Some of which actually pay me! (To write Plays even!). Lemme tell ya, now is damn good time to get into the podcast biz as a playwright. But in general: in terms of my experiences in the "real world", creative skills are DEEPLY needed. People need writers. People need creative people to come up with ideas. So it's hardly as if our skills as writers are useless. We just kinda have to figure out how to Market them correctly.

I think there is some illusion out there - no doubt created to pit the MFA'ers and non MFA'ers against one another - regarding the presumed "easy street" access MFA playwrights have. I went for the MFA (and yes, those loans are painful) and I'm still a starving artist with a drawer full of plays that get read the same way as those by the writer who didn't get a degree: blind submission after blind submission. I graduated in 2008 and haven't been able to land a university job other than the occasional adjunct position here and there because ultimately universities are still more interested in what you've accomplished on a professional level than they are about that degree. Which, in essence, seems to argue even harder against getting an MFA in the arts, as those much-lusted after professor jobs are increasingly difficult to land. Meanwhile, those of us who went into hock for the degree are up to owing first born children to Sallie Mae, and working at The Gap in hopes of something better panning out someday. It's depressing either way you slice it.

Please. As a non-MFA playwright, I regularly encounter submission guidelines for development workshops, conferences, and other programs, that explicitly discriminate against non-MFA playwrights: They ask for institutional affiliations, recommendations from professors, et cetera-- all things that are irrelevant to judging whether the play and playwright deserve support.

Note, I am not talking about the hard-to-prove discrimination that occurs when a reader is turned on or off by the playwright's name (and all the assumptions one makes about ethnicity, gender, or religion as a result); I am talking about discrimination that is explicitly stated on the organization's website.

These programs are obviously in the minority, but since they operate as feeders into production opportunities, they skew the overall picture.

That's really interesting. I have encountered maybe a handful of programs that ask for recommendations, and the only ones specifying professor recommendations have been those that I was able to apply for while still in my MFA program because they were specifically designed for students. Suffice to say, the only encounters I've had requiring recommendations since I became a non-student were for "professional" recommendations - which is a whole different ball of wax. So I'm super curious (and I'm not being sarcastic because if there is are opportunities out there that I'm missing, I'd like to know about them) what these other programs are.

I'd also like to point out that this is a discussion being had all over the place by a great many voices who - young or old/indoctrinated or emerging - has been going on for quite some time to very little resolution. I don't think it's good for playwrights to be angry with one another over whether or not they gained an MFA along with supposed industry benefits. I have writer friends who are in the same boat as I am - the starving boat - whether they have an MFA or not. The problem is not us writers. The problem is, as you stated in your first post, that there are just too damn many of us, making the scarce opportunities in existence even harder to come by.

SO what can we do about it? Well, look at 13P - at what they were able to do by stretching their artistic abilities in directions other than writing. I'm not just a playwright, I'm a producer and a director - not because I'm the best producer or director EVER, but because it sucks to be a playwright who is always waiting for someone else to produce my work "Please, Universe, PLEASE!" So I've put on new play festivals - I partner with non-profits to add to the "more than about me-ness" and I recruit playwrights to write for the fests so that the opportunity I'm creating is extended to as many as I can extend it to. And the last fest I produced had only three MFA writers out of eleven because once you're out in the world you just find people whose work you admire and you stick with them - you don't stop to ask them for their pedigree first. And someday, if I'm ever financially sound enough to produce more than short festivals, I'll work my way up to producing new full-length because that's whee my passion is.

So, you know, I just want to clarify that I don't think there's really that big of a divide amongst us as, even though there sometimes seems to be. And I think that there are a lot of literary managers and agents and artistic directors out there who know that an MFA doesn't ensure awesomeness - it's just another way to vet a playwright... but that's why it would be really great for some of them to chime in because - like you - I'm only writing from my own perspective and experience here.

the only ones specifying professor recommendations have been those that I was able to apply for while still in my MFA program because they were specifically designed for students.

That's precisely the MFA-privilege I am talking about.

If the MFA programs are already out there, providing training and experience, why are there also additional non-degree programs and workshops also catering for them and locking out emerging playwrights (some of whom might be very talented) without an affiliation with an MFA program?

Oh, well - there really are very very few of those programs to be lusting after. I mean, think I entered two. One was a 10 min. play fest, the other is the Kendeda? I'm sure there are a few more, but really - in the scheme of things- they are few and far between compared to all the other opps out there that don't care if you're an MFA or not.

And obviously the person/people who created those opps just felt passionate about creating something for MFA students, just as anyone who creates an opportunity for a specific group of people does. Female Playwrights, Plays about Texas, Playwrights living in DC, Playwrights of Color... each organization creates the opportunity they see a need for. If you bang your head against the "Why can't I enter EVERY contest?" question for too long, you're just going to give yourself a bruise.

An opportunity for playwrights of a particular ethnicity signifies a commitment to promoting or exploring a particular cultural identity and issues that many theaters are not equipped to address. Opportunities for local or regional playwrights signifies a commitment to building a local artist community. Opportunities for female playwrights signify a commitment to address entrenched gender discrimination.

Unless the opportunity is specifically for young playwrights who are likely (but not necessarily) to still be in school, limiting a development conference to MFA candidates or recent graduates is just class privilege: it's not serving to redress institutional discrimination nor is it fostering some sort of local/regional/ethnic arts movement.

But isn't it all in how you look at it? That someone looked at MFA playwrights and decided that those were the playwrights they felt passionate about supporting is no less a valid reason for an organization to create opportunities than any other. The point is, they created that opp for a specific audience and that's why it exists. So why be mad at them? Are these the opportunities, should they be open submission to all, that would launch your career into the ether above all others? I sincerely doubt it. What specificity in script-calls does, is narrow the field of applicants to the pool that organization wants to pull from. If someone created a contest for specifically non-MFA holding playwrights, i would be about as insulted as a turnip - it's their contest and they can do what they want. Why hold these scant opportunities up as the "reason the whole field is skewed towards MFA playwrights"? There are other competitive grants and opportunities that only deal with playwrights who have had at least one professional production - why is that any different than a contest that prefers its playwrights have been vetted by a university? It's all about what that org has dedicated itself to. If you don't fit one organizations idea of "creative candidate", move on the the next!

And I will say that I take considerable umbrage with the idea that in supporting MFA playwrights, orgs are engaging in "class privilege". The assumption that MFA students must be from a wealthy lineage in order to attend school is a complete fallacy. They are, rather, artists who decide to dedicate 2 or 3 years of their lives to studying their craft through an institution of higher ed - most often with the mindset of "I'll learn more about my craft and graduate with a degree that allows me to teach." I come from a decidedly UN-middle class background and have paid for or taken out loans to fund my education all by lonesome. I am $80,000 in the hole for said education and I have zero financial support from my hard working parents, not because they don't love their crazy artistic daughter, but because they themselves cannot afford to rescue me anymore than they can rescue themselves. Getting an MFA is NOT class privilege. It is skewed to favor the wealthy only in that the wealthy have to worry less about taking out those loans - so do yourself and us a favor and disengage from this idea that an MFA program or a contest for MFA grads is "class privilege". The universities that charge such outrageous tuition should be challenged, and the industry of theater and its processes needs an update - but MFA playwrights and non-MFA playwrights are all fighting the same fight: To get their plays produced.

I'm not "mad" or even "angry."

I'm just pointing out the reality is that the MFA is a class privilege-- especially since, as you rightly acknowledge, they are far more accessible to those who come from wealthy families-- and that this is further underlined by the fact that many of the development conferences that do exist for early career writers explicitly discriminate against writers without MFAs.

Claiming that this is no different from companies that focus on writers from distinct populations or themes (such as those that focus on LGBTQ issues, female playwrights, specific regions of the country, or ethnicities) that place them out of the theatrical mainstream, is much like those who attend a university due to a legacy admission claiming that they are no more privileged than those who attend as part of an affirmative action program.

Furthermore, to claim that the MFA signifies not privilege but the meritocracy of "artists who decide to dedicate 2 or 3 years of their lives to studying their craft" discounts the years hard work that artists working outside of the MFA. If the MFA makes for a better writer, then the graduate should not need the extra help in competing against other writers for early career development conferences.

First- i am totally enjoying our discussion. I hope you are too - I think there have been a lot of really great points discussed and I think both perspectives are important/relevant and interesting.

Second, I think that there just a few fundamental differences in our POV's that won't be changed here: I am less inclined to analyze these pieces through competitive comparison, thus I disagree that artists who go the MFA route undermine or negate in any way the hard work of those who do not. I personally do not think that a 26 year old MFA playwright knows more about playwriting than a 45 year old non-MFA playwright does (as long as the 45 year old has been writing/developing his craft and voice these years and not a 45 year-old who just suddenly decided to write plays). What that 26 year old has done, rather, is front-load a lot of the learning by dedicating 3 solid years to developing and learning his/her craft, rather than having to fit said learning into an otherwise busy life here and there as they go. Does this mean the 26 year old "deserves" or "needs" a leg up over the 45 year old? No. I agree with you on that. But my argument is that those organizations and competitions and opportunities specifically geared towards helping MFAs are not necessarily about "fair" and what is "deserved" in the grand scheme of the world. They're about someone with means believing in continuing support for students. That organization wants to be part of the academic process by supporting a student's decision to be a student. THEY believe in the merit of helping MFAs, and that's okay because it's their time/resources to give. And those opportunities help soften some of the financial blows said students take in order to front-load the learning. Just because an MFA lands one of those opportunities does not mean that they have just achieved a free pass, because - again - there are still many other hurdles out there for everyone to cross.

So, from my lens, it's important to acknowledge that an organization may choose its audience and participants based on what that organization is most interested in. Let me be very clear - I'm talking here about their choice to create and develop their mission as they see fit. I'm NOT evaluating their choices based on my - or anyone else's - values. In that regard, I don't see it as all that different from an organization supporting playwrights based on any other check-box category. If an organization wants to give preference to an MFA playwright first, that's their prerogative, just as if they wanted to give preference to seniors or playwrights from Kentucky - it is not always about finding the "Best writer out there!", so much as finding the "Best author working in the pool we want to develop"- and their determination of "best" is itself a completely unique set of factors owing to who on their selection committee is reading the scripts.

Lastly, your use of the word "conferences" has be wondering if you referring to scholarly panels/conferences (ATHE, for example) over playwriting events (like the O'Neil's). If so, yes, it would be difficult for someone who has not had a graduate level coursework to write a scholarly paper and present it at a conference.

What would be really, really interesting, would be a scientific analysis of just how many MFA playwrights are being produced/served by the multitude of development opps out there (not just specifically MFA opps) vs. non-MFA playwrights. Until that study is undertaken, however, it's all just feelings, impressions, and anecdotes.

I was referring specifically to play development workshops and conferences, neither scholarly nor conferences-- but those conferences that exist specifically for play and playwright development that explicitly place obstacles in front of playwrights who are neither MFA candidates nor MFA holders. Having attended the other types of conference, I do know the difference.

Nonetheless, I'll note that you have conceded to my points of actual MFA class privilege in the examples you provided.

Actually, you did concede a great deal about how the system creates unfair benefits for MFA playwrights that does not actually reflect ability or quality. The difference is that you're sort of okay with the system and resent having your privilege called privilege. We may all be in the same boat, but some of us are traveling in steerage.

Well, I don't necessarily consider my MFA a "privilege", so much as an accomplishment. And I don't look at other MFA holders as the theatrical 1% because I see plenty other MFA'ers down here on the bottom, financially speaking, trying to get noticed like everyone else. I worked my tail off achieving that degree, and I don't think that it's any more productive for a non-MFA playwright to make class assumptions about an MFA playwright, than it is to do the reverse.

However, I do agree that universities are overwhelmingly over-priced. Tuition has been rising with very little sign of it slowing. Were I looking to get my MFA now, I would most definitely only be able to apply to schools with super duper financial aid packages - so in that regard, I do think the universities are furthering what could be called a "classist" environment. But that doesn't mean that everyone earning their degrees are "privileged" or even that those who complete their degree are privy to some private "Opportunity Club". It may have - once upon a time - meant easy placement in a university or college faculty position, but those days are long gone. Additionally, the education system and the organizations providing playwright support are different organisms. When they work together, it is not in service to some upper elite purpose.

So yes, I am okay with organizations creating opportunities that meet their mission statements - whatever those missions may be. I am okay with them not running those opportunities by the entire playwriting community for "fairness" first. That's their prerogative. And I really don't see it as classist. But if you feel there is inequity out there, why not find a way to create an opportunity for specifically non-MFA playwrights? Playwrights don't have to just sit around and wait to get noticed. They are not powerless. Which is, I think, some of what was communicated in this piece- a sort of "You don't like the way the system works? Get out there and do something different."

I just don't see the "MFA's get unfair advantages!" argument as particularly effective or pro-active towards creating change in how playwrights get produced. I see it as a distracting and divisive point between playwrights, when what should be happening is discussion more in line with the original article. You're equating an MFA with a first class ticket, and that's really just an illusion. I'm saying that all of us playwrights are pretty much on the same deck until we write something awesome enough that catches the "right" person's attention... then we get to (hopefully) change cabins. The difference is that sometimes that "awesomeness" happens under the tutelage of an academic mentor, and sometimes it happens between stolen moments at the office.

But I stand by my earlier statement that until there is actual data out there on who is working and who is not, all of this is just opinion, anecdotes, and perspective. We're probably not going to reach any sort of consensus on the overall argument :-P

I kind of feel it's an un-virtuous circle -- and rather immoral. As you say Theater Companies use the MFA as another tool to vet playwrights. And likely the first gatekeeper - the Reader - at most institutional theater companies are people with an MFA in theater and they've got huge student loans themselves and are sooo lucky to be working at a theater (or they are a literary intern) so of course they feel that an MFA is something a playwright must have (and I have no doubt that in these rarified circles, though it doesn't feel rarified to those inside - that WHERE you've got your MFA from matters a great deal - I know it does in acting - if you're from Yale or Julliard and sometimes NYU, you're Golden, if you're from Rutgers -- even if the education is terrific - you better have a backup plan - this is true for actors in NYC - look at your playbill for the major off-broadway theaters - if someone is someone's daughter, ok, but if not, chances are that kid went to Yale, great training - but actors from other schools don't get agents - some MFAs in acting are more equal than others) So likely if your MFA is from non-NYU, non-Yale - you're out of luck. -- But Please note at all these schools the MFA professors are "theater professionals" - produced playwrights -- pay attention to this. Playwrights today can't make a living playwriting - unless they're famous. I mean really famous or old. The playwrights Lincoln center produces (Nicholai and the Others???) are out of touch with the planet and that play was more boring (though beautifully directed, acted and produced - the play itself was missing basic elements of drama and was BORING) -- I digress -- It's not your fault Lady Playwright - You got snookered in thinking you will get an MFA to become a great playwright - But no, you are really there to support the playwrights who came before you. And in order to make a living in the theater now you have to become a professor - and unless you become famous - ie produced at a name theater company in NYC, or are a person of color, it's super hard to become a professor as you've now noticed, because there's so many playwrights. The trouble is now you're saddled with student loans. It's the "Theater Industrial Complex" which is there to serve the professors. Who really wanted to become a famous playwright themselves, but didn't make it, so you provided a living for 3 years to them. Your loans are outrageous. But don't, please don't default because those people who went to school to be a lab tech in a hospital and are earning a living to support their families shouldn't be forced to have a tax increase when the government (which is us) "forgives" the student loans. You have an obligation. And if you're really good - get out of this theater industrial complex and write for TV - it's the golden age of Television right now. Theater for the most part - probably because of the the rise of the MFAs is really boring. There's so few good plays on Broadway this year, and Off-Broadway - most of it is dreck. I used to love to go to the theater, not any more. There's so many revivals, how many times can you pay 70 a tix to see Shakespeare over and over? With movie stars? bleh... As playwrights we compete not only with each other - but also with Shakespeare (who this season is produced far too much) and Tenn Williams (ditto) And who hasn't seen all these plays already? So yeah, unless you make your own theater company (and you need money for that, and it's super hard to ask for donations for "art" when there are children starving in this country and other countries) It's a scam, the MFAs, I'm glad I didn't do it, you can find out how to write from books, and put on readings, at least, or write podcasts, write books, write movies. write for TV. Because even playwrights who get produced have to become Professors. Sorry. 10 years ago a playwright who was produced all over the US could make a living. This is not true today. Even if your plays are produced everywhere, you will still have to become a professor. Or an accountant. Learn another skill so you can live well. Learn something people will pay you for. Or get a job writing for TV. Right now, that's where the excitement is.

Amen! I also feel the pinch as a director who isn't "in the right city." Much of the advice that is handed out at conference keynotes, or peddled in the pages of industry periodicals is dated. The way the old guard did it is steadily becoming impossible for the next generation, but they still hold the reins.