Parabasis: Young Jean Lee in The Nation:
Who says she's leaving theater? It doesn't say that anywhere in the interview -- she implies that not being able to pay people a decent living, and having the dominant institutions in our theater produce or program sentimental dreck that most people don't care much about -- is a recipe for creative brain drain. Would any reasonable person disagree with that?
She's also not kicking theater on the way out the door, she's engaged with it, cares about its future, and is 100% accurate in her criticisms. Speaking personally, the most convincing reason to keep writing plays is so that I'll have a competitive edge as a screenwriter. Does that mean I'm ready to throw the entire art form under the bus, or that I hate it? Not necessarily. Conversely, my desire to go Hollywood has a lot to do with the fact that success there could allow me more freedom as a playwright. But my love of the art has taken something of a back seat to cynicism and practical realities. One can only fight the system for so long before coming to the conclusion that the system might just deserve what it gets -- truth be told, despite the good game that most nonprofits talk, their values are not significantly different from Hollywood's. It's just that there's less money at stake.
As for Ken's comments, alls I can say is, no one ever said this was going to be easy. The average downtown superstar who tours Europe and the USA -- and these are people beloved by the NYT and who have been notable for over a decade -- is $30k a year, no health care or retirement fund. No big deal if you've got a trust fund, but otherwise untenable. The alternative for us working stiffs is to write the American Play (see http://threatqualitypress.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/how-to-write-for-the-theater1.jpg), but if I have to compromise my integrity that much, I'd much much rather be making TV money. I just got hired on a tiny independent film and they're paying me twice the largest commission I've ever made for a play (still not enough to live on in NYC, however).