When we think of plays and musicals, most of us immediately think of the big cities doing the big productions. What’s the new hit musical? What popular play will every high school and college want to do next year? Popular plays are great and they definitely attract large crowds, but why is this? People are drawn to the plays they know. This doesn’t leave much room to “broaden horizons” and “consider new perspectives.” We can’t just blame audiences either… (most) theatres are choosing pieces that they know will attract audiences. After all, people are going to buy tickets for Into the Woods or Noises Off before they see an unknown show, so theatres would be silly to pass up this guaranteed revenue.
Here’s my question for you… what if things were different? What if our society and culture decided over night that new plays are more exciting than seeing Wicked for the eleventh time? Regardless of what brings you to theatre, acting, design, directing, producing, or attending as an audience member, I want to convince you how new plays will benefit your theatrical experience.
Actors & Designers
This is one of the few times actors and designers are clumped together, but their experience with new plays tends to be similar. Whenever you find out your next show, you immediately research the show. You check for past productions, see how other actors played your part and see how sets and other technical elements were executed. This is a great practice in knowing what’s successful, but in a way you’re cheating yourself. You are taking away the creative power from yourself and relying on past productions.
Well known performers like Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel set the standard for the lead roles in Wicked. I can bet you’d be disappointed if you got tickets for Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda happened to be sick that night. We crave the originals. With new plays, you are the standard. Actors create the role and designers create the world. There is no greater challenge than a new play, but that just means there is no greater accomplishment.
Directors & Producers
You are the big dogs making the big decisions. Directors are always trying to find new concepts and new ways of presenting old plays and old ideas. What if I told you that you could present these same new concepts, but with new plays and new ideas? You might also be involved with the development of the play. Make a lasting mark on the theatre community by proving that your interpretation of a play is how every theatre will want to portray that same play.
Producers, you are so misunderstood in the theatre world. People think it’s all about money for you, but all the best producers are artists themselves. You are the biggest encouragers in theatre world. You listen to the people and you decide what they want, but are you always deciding what they need? I’m not saying you can’t still do Fiddler on the Roof next season. If you say your town will love it… I believe you. What I am saying is that you should consider adding some new plays to that season. There are thousands of plays and playwrights that would be a perfect addition to your season and they just need someone to believe in them and give them a chance. Without new plays, the future of theatre is doomed to reruns. Invest in the future of theatre and invest in new plays.
Playwrights & Dramaturgs
I didn’t mention you guys earlier because this article is dedicated to you! You are the gateway to our future and we need to have faith in you! Sometimes you’ll get one thousand rejections before that single “yes,” but that one yes makes up for everything else. People want to hear what you have to say and they need to hear what you have to say. Never stop creating and never stop advocating.
Alright theatre audience, I saved the most important one for last (don’t tell the others). First of all, thank you for making theatre happen. Without the audience, theatre doesn’t exist. Everything we do is for our audience, so you have more power than you think. Here’s what you can do, go see new plays. It sounds simple enough, but audience members find new plays to be a gamble. Which they are! New plays should be a gamble. If we kept doing the stuff we know will work, it’s not really new anymore is it? Then we’re becoming Hollywood. Poor Hollywood, they’re so afraid of change and progress that they’ve limited themselves to sequels, prequels, and remakes. Is there no imagination left in Hollywood? Maybe not, but that’s why new plays are thriving more than ever. People want the challenge and people want the newest ideas. Help keep the theatre alive and thriving. Seek out new plays and tell your theatres to seek out new plays!
Now don’t get me wrong. I love the classics. I myself have seen Les Miserables seven times, Phantom of the Opera four times, and almost every Shakespeare play. The classics should not be forgotten. But… and you knew there was going to be a but… each of these plays and musicals had their own start. Each of these plays and musicals started out small and worked their way up. You never know what gem you might stumble across. You never know which new classic is right in your backyard. Each new play has the potential to enhance careers, provide a new perspective, and most importantly… make a change. Support our future by supporting new plays.