Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Virtues of Fast Dirty Theatre

Contributed by Ken Urban

If I could change one thing about theatre, I would change basically everything. But if I could only change one thing, and it had to be one thing that might actually happen, then I wish theatre would get made faster.

Things take so long to make it to American stages these days that a play rarely ever feels like it is happening in the present, which is odd, since theatre has to happen in the present.

Part of the excitement about Mike Daisey’s monologue about the moral dilemma of our beloved Apple products is that it feels so “now.” The damn show opened right when Steve Jobs died. You can’t buy that kind of press. Unless Daisey killed Jobs and then I ask: what is he doing in theatre if he has those kinds of skills? And whether Daisey gets into serious trouble for writing a faction – a work of fiction and fact – and perhaps neglecting to mention that fact is irrespective. Rarely does theatre generate so much energy and chatter. He was on The Ed Show, for Christ’s sake.

Now, I don’t think that means all theatre should be social engaged or whatever academic term is in vogue. I admire the well-meaning people who want to change the word, but their plays are almost as fucking boring as the plays written by people who don’t believe in writing stories or characters.

Listen: I didn’t get into theatre because I’m a good person. But fast dirty theatre: now that’s why I started writing.

Back in the mid-1990s, when I was in college and spent time in London, Stephen Daldry was running the Royal Court and he programmed a season of brand new plays by unknown writers, running them for three weeks. His philosophy: if a show tanked, it didn’t matter; there would be a new show opening soon. Out of that season came from Sarah Kane’s Blasted, which, despite what you might think of its dramaturgical shortcomings, is a pretty exciting play.

We need a major theatre to show that kind of gusto. I never would have started as a playwright if my parents took me to Lincoln Center. If that had been my exposure to theatre, I would have hated theatre. What made me like it was being in London and drinking and seeing plays that were written by angry Brits wearing a lot of black.

I know, I know. This isn’t the UK. This is America, you pinko HOMO! And true fact, I am mos def an American writer. But we can make that happen here I know it. Yes, yes, I know that endless development is part of the problem. Then there is the economy. The Economy! But think about it: the plays that stick with you have a raw edge to them and development can smooth all that roughness away. Course, that roughness might scare away the occasional donor. But imagine Beckett’s Endgame after three years of development. Beckett might have written On Golden Pond instead. (Wait a second! That might have been awesome.) But I Digress.

So that’s my wish for American theatre. A faster theatre that is funded. Well funded. Cause I’m older now and I don’t want my play to be staged somewhere gross without a nice bar and café.


Ken Urban is a playwright. He makes music as occurrence and is one half of the band PorGee + Beth. He would like to encourage people not to name your band when you are “under the influence” and debating the merits of Mike + The Mechanics with your bandmate.

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