June 2008 - August 2008: Issue 27

From the Editor: The Writer's Life

This issue of Opening Stages is devoted to writers. I can say from personal experience that the writer's life is not an easy one. Writing is by its nature a solitary occupation. It requires discipline. But at the same time creativity can't be summoned by a command of the will. It comes and goes mysteriously. A writer takes the risk of exposing his innermost being and hopes that his readers or audiences will empathize, approve and applaud him. Too often he is met with rejection.

My rejection letters always read something like the following: "Thank you for submitting to____. Unfortunately, we were not able to accept your play. Our decision was particularly difficult this year, as we received____hundred scripts and read a great deal of fine work. Thanks for submitting. We wish you the best with this piece and your future work."

This kind of response signals to me that something is very wrong in the American theatre. The fact that there are always hundreds of submissions for every production slot pits playwright against playwright in a demoralizing competition. And if the theater's decision was difficult because so much fine work was submitted, then it must follow that the vast majority of that fine work doesn't get to see the light of production for no good reason. This is a tremendous loss for society in general as well as for the writers.

There are at least two solutions to this problem. First, our society needs to develop an audience that is hungry for new work. This can only be achieved by having good arts education in our schools and comprehensive coverage of culture and intelligent criticism of it in the press. Second, theaters need to be able to afford the capacity to satisfy that hunger. That requires increased government support, based on the conviction that the arts, like literacy, are too important to be left to the marketplace.

The current downturn in the economy makes me pessimistic that we will see these improvements very soon. But we writers keep writing because we have to: our need to communicate is so strong. And every e-mail and letter brings renewed hope that we will be heard.

Paul Kahn