Despite the recession, new plays are popping up all over the city.
With the economy in a downward spiral, you might expect theaters to abandon risky work in favor of light, familiar fare with a greater chance of box office success. This isn’t the case in Philly, where the area’s companies have been producing an impressive number of daring new plays.
According to the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, approximately 87 new play events were scheduled by Alliance members for the 2008-’09 Philadelphia- area season. Of that number, nearly half are world premieres. In fact, all 35 of the area’s companies are staging new events. The figure doesn’t include the 22 works staged at the 2008 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, which, according to marketing director Robin Barnes, featured 12 world premieres, five U.S. premieres and five Philadelphia premieres.
Four new plays that debuted in February—dubbed New Play Month by the Theatre Alliance—reflect the current unpredictability of the marketplace. Aaron Posner’s widely hailed My Name Is Asher Lev recently became the top-grossing world premiere at the Arden Theatre Company. And InterAct Theatre Company Artistic Director Seth Rozin reports that The Rant became the sixth-largest-selling show in the organization’s history. (Rozin says five out of six of the company’s best-selling shows were world premieres.) But The Day of the Picnic at People’s Light & Theatre Company and Resurrection at Philadelphia Theatre Company fell victim to the recession and wound up short of their projected goals.
Nevertheless, the theater community continues to take chances. Beginning March 5, 1812 Productions (whose entire season consists of new comedies) is staging the world premiere of Philadelphia playwright P. Seth Bauer’s The Karma Cookie. Part of 1812’s Independence Foundation Series, dedicated to developing new work by local artists, Bauer’s play is an especially risky enterprise. An existential comedy by an unknown playwright, Cookie focuses on two British brothers who use fortune cookies to direct them on a journey of self-discovery. Difficult to define and market, it’s the sort of project that gives a company’s accountant heartburn.
A veteran of 20 world premieres, 1812 Artistic Director Jennifer Childs understands the risks associated with presenting new work in a world where money is tight.
“People have less disposable income and they’re going to be choosier about what they spend that income on,” says Childs. “Our tickets are about $30, which is less than most theaters. However, if you’re talking $60 for a couple plus dinner, parking and a babysitter, that’s an expensive night out, and you want to make sure you’re going to see something that you’ll really enjoy.”
Childs insists that the risk is worth it.
“Part of 1812’s responsibility is to promote new work from local artists,” she says. “We don’t need to do Twelfth Night. Shakespeare’s comedies are getting plenty of play at other theaters. I’m more interested in presenting new comedies that experiment with the form.”
Childs isn’t the only artistic director who believes developing new plays is vital. Sara Garonzik, producing artistic director at Philadelphia Theatre Company, calls new plays “an essential part of PTC’s mission.” And like Childs, Garonzik feels a responsibility to foster pioneering new work. “We owe it to our audiences to push the boundaries, engage their intellects and connect them with a larger world beyond our own borders. Producing new work helps to do this.”
Perhaps the most compelling reason for producing new plays is offered by the Theatre Alliance’s executive director Margie Salvante. “All great plays tap into universal themes of human experience, [but] only new plays can help us fully process the immediate circumstances we’re living in.”
The movie industry has seen an increase in audience by producing films that provide an escape from our current economic circumstances. The challenge for local theaters is whether financially beleaguered audiences will embrace new plays that explore reality rather than run from it.
Regarding Christopher Wink’s recent story about a woman’s death due to the slow response of a private ambulance service: Ok! Now it’s time to tell what happen that day. Yes we are received a call from Mr. Glikman father. But he did not tell us everything. That day a temperature was low (19 degrees F), and we have a problem with start. But we are arrived at scene in 20 min., and second call from Mr. Glikman was at his residence. We found Adelina Glikman laying on a floor in a perfect supine position, with a bruise on her forehead. She was unconscious and unresponsive. I started one man CPR when my partner jump to the truck for BVM, when he return he take a turn and I call 911 about “code blue.” The 911...