Through Alison Croggon’s blog, I became aware of this symposium held between Eric Bentley, Robert Brustein and Stanley Kaufmann. Bentley and Brustein formed early guideposts in my theatrical (and more explicitly playwriting) development. Bentley of course was always there with Brecht, an early inspiration; and Brustein’s books of criticism also felt inspirational, though many years later their interest wanes. (I wanted to submit my first plays to American Repertory Theatre which he headed, but the company refused unagented submissions and I had no agent.)
I’ve watched a little more than an hour of the video, and may leave off. But a moment at 50:45 struck home with me, where Roger Copeland (the moderator) mentions the “impoverishing pressure on the young playwright who wants to see his or her work produced” but is met with too many restrictions. Brustein answers, “And if that playwright does produce that play, he or she is told, ‘We’ll give you a reading, we’ll give you a workshop, we’ll give you another reading, we’ll give you another workshop,’ they never get productions.”
At least it clarifies for me my own situation. By 2007 I had fallen away from theater, and the recession of 2008 effectively marked the end of hope, though it is only in retrospect I can see and say that. I missed hearing of this symposium, so far away from the ground my ear was. I had been unable to wrest even a reading (except for one I and some friends pieced together) much less a production, but I didn’t understand the reasons. I refused to restrict myself to four-handers (four character plays à la Mamet), but in Chicago there has been leeway for a larger cast, and that room only expanded during my tenure.
Brustein follows his comment with mention of a famous speech by Richard Nelson, also which I did not hear of at the time but which summarized my central dilemma: the need, and inability to get a production. If I had heard of it, I might have joined the chorus denouncing “the system,” but I was already embroiled in other, more significant turmoils of my own.