And Then Jason Grote Turned Itself Inside Out:
While I am very pleased to see Salon covering theater, and agree to a great extent with much of what Peter Birkinhead has to say about its moribund state, much of his piece is flatly wrong. For one thing, it is not the American Theater Wing (the people who run the Tonys) who chose to run the awards show against the "Sopranos" finale, but the TV networks themselves. Mr. Birkinhead is certainly a good writer, but I do think that Salon could have found someone a bit more informed than a recently-retired "utility actor" living in Los Angeles. Yes, there is theater in L.A., and yes, one only has to watch a few minutes of the Tonys to see that "The Theater" (as in capital-T, institutional stuff) is long out of touch with what most people care about. But Mr. Birkinhead's proposed solution - basically a glorified form of privatization, in which theater "learns from TV," is precisely what got us into this mess to begin with. As a playwright living in New York who sees theater a few times a week, and sees theater in other American cities approximately once a month on average, I can say with some degree of authority that theater that looks like TV is in fact ubiquitous; but whereas a lousy episode of "Weeds" means falling asleep or changing the channel, a mediocre production of a Neil LaBute or Martin McDonagh play can mean an entire wasted evening and anywhere from $60-200 blown, not to mention the unique, squirming torture of having to sit politely through a live event that one is not remotely enjoying. This is not to say that TV is bad or that all theater (or just all avant-garde theater) is good, but that they are fundamentally different - theater is a live, public event, and TV is intended to be viewed in the home. The economics are fundamentally different - TV can be broadcast or distributed on-demand through DVRs and DVDs; theater can not possibly compete.