A modest proposal to make the theater a ‘safe and special’ place

Written by

Or how to “Make Theater great again!”

1. Avoid plays that make people think, especially avoid plays that depict complicated conflicts from both sides. If you’re unclear how to do this – just pick solo shows.

2. Avoid plays that make people feel things they aren’t used to feeling.

3. Try to make your seasons as random and meaningless as possible. Avoid large ideas across plays or tackling an issue from multiple perspectives (see also “Multi-year planning” below).

a. When in doubt do a musical.

b. When in crisis do a revival.

c. Should no musical or random revival be available – present the work of others (applies to producing companies only. If you are a presenting company please see “Presenting for No One: how to waste money and squander audience at the same time!”).

4. Do not program specifically for your local audience. If possible offer them, like Home Depot or Chili’s, something generic that’s close to what they really need but not exactly right. Under no circumstances give voice to a particular local concern either in the past, present, or (worst of all) imagined future.

5. While the European focused canon (or frankly any cannon, we’re going to need supportive war imagery – different memo, apologies) is strongly encouraged, special funding available for mid-century German. NOTE: except Brecht. No Brecht!

6. You are allowed to program playwrights of color but only on a “token” basis and only if marketed either exclusively to your existing white audience or exclusively to an audience of a color (i.e. Latino playwright – Latino audience). Actual diversity should be avoided at all cost. Under no circumstance should the theater become a place to discuss different challenging views on race or diversity (or god forbid, model that diversity – see “Hamilton” clause below).

a. If, despite your best efforts, you find yourself with an accidentally diverse audience please deploy the “Meaningless Talk Back Strategy” discussed extensively in “Audience Engagement: grant-worthy lip service that keeps an audience from really caring.”

7. Multi-year artistic planning or thought is strongly discouraged. Try to have small ideas contained neatly (ideally by a single play and never mentioned again). Similarly, if you still have a “Developing New Plays” Permit (note: like the dreamers these permits will likely not be renewed) – please make sure to apply a random methodology to your selections and ensure that your work has as little impact as possible on the life of a particular artist, any community he (it will be a “he”) may represent, or any audience that intentionally or coincidentally congregates around a playwright.

a. Funders are cooperating – do your part!

8. Audience composition: you should pick either a blue state or a red state audience. Like with playwrights or actors of color, you are allowed to have several token audience members who vote differently than the majority of the audience but they should preferably be a spouse who was dragged there unwillingly. Preach to the choir (ideally: add a choir).

9. Collaboration. We appreciate that some degree of collaboration is unavoidable in the theater (though we understand you’re working on that – thank you). Under no circumstances should you collaborate or plan with another local theater. Ideally, schedule all openings on the same weekend so that the audience is divided and never reaches critical mass of any kind. Do not plan seasons with other arts organizations or recognize through lines across your community. That could lead to a larger, sustainable audience and that is verboten (oops, different memo) forbidden.

10. “Lear” clause: no productions of King Lear or any other play dealing with “an elderly man destroying everything as he rages against losing power to women.”

11. “Hamilton” aside clause: while we will be holding extensive workshops on how not to repeat the many errors of Hamilton (cultural currency, complex thought, expanding the form, diversity in casting and complicated representation, honoring ideals, . . . really the list is too long – suffice it to say there will be no more work like that by those people) it is important to address the incident that started this whole initiative. Under no circumstance should the theater, literally or figuratively, speak to the audience. If you’re doing a classic text that breaks the fourth wall (which we are going to rebuild and expand) please make sure that the actor is just sort of vaguely gazing in the direction of the audience (e.g. above their heads at an imagined dot).