Desk Of Roland Tec
Department Of Membership
The Shifting Ground Beneath Our Feet
The Dramatist-November/December 2012
"It's not uncommon these days for us to hear of theatres-particularly those that have championed new work-shutting their doors for good. But another less-talked-about change is in the air and I'm not quite sure what to make of it.
I can think of at least three regional theatres that have, in the past year or so, eliminated the position of Literary Manager. In most cases, the duty of reading scripts, however, has not been entirely shelved (officially, anyway) and usually someone such as the Associate Artistic Director is expected to pick up the slack. And if we are to believe the propaganda surrounding these changes, the elimination of this position is in no way indicative of a shift in attitude toward new work.
Make no mistake. If a theatre needs to trim administrative costs in order to continue producing work-any work, even 400-year-old work-we have something to be grateful for. There is one more theatre surviving these tough economic times. But the elimination of Literary Manager posts around the country also presents us with an opportunity for soul searching. Because, in the end, it begs the question: What were these woebegone Literary Managers ever really able to achieve for us in the first place?
The answer? Not much.
Most Literary Managers I know are swimming against the tide. They love new work. They spend their lives readng it and championing it. And yet, they have little power to determine what gets produced and what does not. This makes sense, of course, if one believes that the best artistic institutions are those run by a strong leader with a strong vsion, i.e. an Artistic Director. Most theatres are not governed as collectives; they are led from the top down.
And truthfully, my heart breaks a little every time I have a conversation with another playwright who wonders how to get anyone to just read her work, let alone consider producing it. Writing for an art form that's in decline is a thankless job; but someone has to do it.
No, really. Someone does.
Artists serve a purpose. It's often murky and difficult to articulate or encapsulate in 140 characters or less, but it's important nonetheless. And theatre is powerful and sometimes dangerous: when it's great. If we allow our theatres to be nothing more than echo chambers for what's on television and online, we are failing not only theatre, but humanity.
The funny thing is, human beings don't often recognize it, but we hunger for change. Sure, change is complicated and unsettling, but we seek it out in our daily lives and in our art again and again. It is only the living writer who can bring an audience to new vistas.
So, if I accept that I have a moral responsibility to drive the art form forward, what am I to do without a Literary Manager waiting patiently for my latest?
The truth is so obvious it sounds trite. Do the work. On our own terms. By our own means. Period. Ultimately, we need only a handful of ingredients: a captive audience, actors to breathe life to text and the time and space in which to make it happen.
When we do this-if even for an audience of ten or twelve-we are transformed. We cease being whining disappointed wells of need and instead we become activists, artists, leaders. As such, we are set free."