(Last updateSeptember 12, 2002)


Opinion and Reply

For more opinions, check out Death of the Theater.

From LeeWochner@aol.com (Jan 1 - Jan 6, 1997) Posted with permission.

I can see from your listing in Market InSight that you aren't ever interested in mounting previously produced plays (unless I've misunderstood). May I ask you why that is your policy? I can understand such a policy if you were to limit it to 2nd productions in your area, or if you were an established and well-known theatre, or if you were in a major metropolitan area, but it seems surprising for a 32-seat house in Grover Beach. I'm disappointed because I really like the message behind your statement as to what you're seeking and I would love to send you a play or two, ones that have not been staged frequently, but have been performed in New York and/or Los Angeles.


In reply to your questions:

Yes, at this time, all we are producing are previously unproduced plays. Yes, we know that there are many deserving, excellent plays out there that should be given a wider audience that have been previously produced and if our situation were different, we would produce them as well. Unfortunately, at this time, we can't, although I think that to be honest, it would be more appropriate to say that we can't, because we choose not to.

Here's the situation from our point of view. I don't want to sound defensive, so please try to bear with me.

1. We have limited resources and therefore we must draw a line at what plays we will produce.

a. Money. We are not a not-for-profit organization. This is our choice. We choose to stay independent. We don't believe that theater must become an elitist venture to survive. At least we hope not.

b. Time. We can only read a given number of scripts in a year. By limiting the scripts to previously unproduced, we hope to cope with the influx of scripts. We pay our readers only $5/script. That $5/script does add up though; however, we don't ask nor expect a playwright to have to pay a reader's fee. We don't have any way of recouping that outlay of money except with a successful run of a play. In the same way we don't make any money on the radio plays we produce. We do it because we can.

c. Venue. We are very fortunate that The Excellent Center allows us to use its gallery for our productions. In return, we try our best to live up to the Excellent Center mission. Currently, the Excellent Center is gracious to allow us 3 productions a year, thereby limiting the number of plays that we can produce. At this time (and in the forseeable future), we cannot afford another venue.

2. We really do believe that the playwright is the most important aspect to any production. Without his or her words, there is no play. We have, I think, complete respect for his or her efforts. We also feel that it is very difficult to get a play produced, in any venue; that, if we had to choose (and our current circumstances dictate that we must) between the work of a playwright that hasn't had the opportunity of being produced, despite the strength and merit of the work, and an equally excellent work that has already had a production run at a different venue, we will have to choose to support the unknown work. This is a personal stance, and should not be construed that there is any inherent worth in "world premiere" verses a "regional premiere". I have worked with playwrights whom I respect. I have seen them struggle to get their work produced anywhere. What to do? Deny them the opportunity? We don't tell them to not submit their work elsewhere. We want them to have the success they deserve. If every excellent script was picked up by the "big city" producers, and all we received for submissions was dreck, and therefore all we could serve up to the public was dreck, we would certainly look at "2nd production" (or 3rd or 4th) plays.

[As an aside, but perhaps a thought that we should consider, I believe that one could draw a parallel between love and having a play produced. The old sage has been noted for having said, "It is better to have loved and lost than to have never have loved at all." I've always believed that he/she either has never loved or has never lost. There is NOTHING worse than losing love. Nothing. And I don't believe that the memory of the joy of love can ever overwhelm the sorrow of its loss. If anything, the rememberance of the joy intensifies the loss; that only forgetfulness brings relief. Perhaps it is better to not produce the play. Perhaps, to do so would only set up the playwright for a fall to where he or she would ever be unsatisfied because the work is not being produced elsewhere. Would such a disappointment be greater than never having been produced? I don't know. Are we, by producing the work for the first time, doing more harm than good? Is it getting so late that as I type this, my brain has begun to wander down pathways of near craziness to the edge of sheer madness?]

3. I feel that we are stuck between a rock, a hard place, and the ever increasing pressure of continental drift. Stolen Fire pays $250/script. Stolen Fire charges $5 admission/person. The Excellent Center holds 32 - 40 people (an intimate theater space that won't hide dishonesty - and also allows us to not ever feel the emptiness of a barely sold house, that often accompanies new play productions [a sad but true fact - and that includes large metropolitan areas]). Actors and tech crew are paid out of the box office net. Stolen Fire pays reader's fees at $5/script. Stolen Fire pays $10 + $5/performance for radio plays. Our average outlay for set and props and promotion is $700/production. In the meantime, we try to present new plays of quality that will engage the audience. We try to pull our audience as much from the general public (non-theater goers) as well as the "established cultural elite". It is important for us to carve out a niche to survive. Presenting previously unproduced plays allows Stolen Fire to remain unique in this geographical area. It is the way that we have chosen to meet our obligations to the playwright and public.

4. Finally, another reason that we have chosen to produce 1st run plays is that we insist on including 1st performance rights in the performance license - although the exact terms are negotiable. In the event that the play does move onto a larger venue or format, we would like that work to help subsidize other productions in the future. Is it likely this will happen? Probably not, but to not insist upon these rights is to potentially deny other playwrights and actors and audience the opportunity to present or experience by engagement of heart, mind and spirit, new plays.

And so it goes. I hope I have provided you with some answers to your questions. I know that much of what I have written probably in the light of gleaming clarity won't shine very brightly, but what has been written is sincere and hopefully no more than the general average of 95% bullcrap.

I think that I do understand the frustration of the playwright who needs his/her play to continue on, from venue to venue. I wish we had the resources to produce every deserving play (new or 2nd or 3rd or whatever). Although it can't compare with the playwright's frustrations, we too are very frustrated by our limitations.

Thank you for taking the time for your inquiry..


Thank you for the time you spent to answer my questions.

I think we're going to have to respectfully disagree here.

I certainly applaud your intelligence, earnestness, and goodheartedness --- but I hope that at some point you'll reconsider your policy.

Sifting through your reasons, they seem to me to come down to one reason and one only for why you don't do second productions: You just don't want to. Which is perfectly okay --- it's your theatre. Believe me, I understand how hard it is to start a theatre (and how harder even it is to keep it going); your theatre had better reflect your personal dispositions or you'll soon find that you resent the hours you put into it.

I applaud your eagerness to give first-time playwrights a production. I'm all for it. I don't at all understand your economic argument that, somehow, producing 2nd productions costs more money (???). I've been running a theatre for five years and your logic remains a mystery. If you keep your royalty a flat $250, as you say, then there is no difference economically between doing world premieres or 2nd productions. The difference comes in at the box office (which play sells more tickets) and that has nothing to do with the number of previous productions it had, unless you would calculate it to the ADVANTAGE of previously produced plays, which, after all, would come in to you with good reviews you could use to publicize your production (and therefore sell more tickets).

The basis of my argument (and I use the word in the sense it is used in debates or in logic textbooks; obviously I can't argue with you in the vernacular sense because, as I said, it's your theatre and it's a free country) is this:

Each play will get only ONE world premiere. That world premiere should be one that will help that play along in the world --- and that means to future productions. I would think, then, that a playwright would rather have that world premiere done at a place in the country where he might engender reviews from a newspaper (or radio station or television station or magazine) of some import and reputation, a newspaper that would by virtue of its reputation assist in the furtherance of that play (and its writer's career) when a good review arrived. I'm thinking of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the New Yorker, Variety, the Village Voice, the San Francisco Herald... you get the idea.

With absolutely no disrespect intended toward you --- as I say, I'm dismayed because you sound like a fine group, one to which otherwise I'd like to send a play or two and encourage others to do so, also --- I think that many playwrights will be less inclined to send a play to a suburban or rural non-Equity theatre that does only world premieres and also asks for future profit-sharing than they would to other theatres, ones that perhaps do second productions, or are in large metropolitan areas, or some combination of both.

If I am mistaken about Grover Beach, my apologies; I was unable to find it on any of the maps I consulted.

Again, I wish you well, and again, thank you for your reply.

It was a week ago, November 23, 1996, that the "Pacific Light Opera Theater" (formally, the "Pismo Light Opera Theater") gave up the ghost, selling off the last of its holdings and donating what couldn't be sold to a local thrift shop. All that's left is to put the nails in the coffin and plant it six feet under.

For many of us, it was a very sad occasion. This writer's first on stage performance took place in a PLOT production of "The Sound of Music". It came at a very crucial time in my life. It instilled in me what would eventually become a passion for theater, and although I haven't been part of a musical in any capacity for several years, my initial stage and directoral experience was by the good graces of PLOT and the many talented people with whom I worked.

There are many reasons for PLOT's demise, not the least of which was the loss of its venue in the old Pismo Beach City Hall, the lack of direction that resulted in the loss of several board members, and the theft of its funds by a trusted member who should be named, if only to protect other theater companies, but will remain nameless for now.

Other theater companies will inevitably fill the musical theater vacuum left by PLOT. (It has already begun, with the formation of "Chameleon Productions" and the scheduling of more musicals by the "San Luis Obispo Little Theatre", not to mention the extravagant productions done by the "Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts", who want you to know that they do REAL theater, as opposed to every one else who I imagine does ersatz theater, but will be staging a world premier production of Brad Carroll's musical, "Robin Hood" this season, so they can't be all bad.)

As bits and pieces of costumes, flats, and props were removed from the storeroom, bits and pieces of my past vanished, leaving behind a whisper of memory and a lingering sadness. (It didn't help that Stolen Fire's production of Eric Petersen's "Smoke and Mirrors" was closing that evening after a very successful run.) This past year "Stolen Fire" gave PLOT $100 in donations and advertisment fees. One could be cynical and exclaim that that was $100 flushed down the toilet, especially in light of the fact that "Stolen Fire"'s working budget is always this side of crimson and that not one person from PLOT (except for the honorable Dave Linfield), past or present, has ever shown an interest in "Stolen Fire"'s goals.

Maybe so, but that $100 was a small payback for PLOT's gift of the theatrical experience that gave so much to all of us. When we cast coins in a wishing well, is that money thrown away? Or are the wishes affirmations that there but for the Grace of God go I?

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