The Second Letter

Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 00:36:31 -0800

To: "Mary Pat"

From: (Dwain Edwards)

Subject: risks




Several months have passed since I sent you my tirade on the death of theater. Many factors contributed to this conclusion, but not the least that I was worn out, broken-hearted and broke (actually in debt), trying to bring to an indifferent public the magical words, the voices alive and brilliant, of the playwright; women and men that dig deeply into spirit, heart and mind of us all; that create out of the void, a tapestry of ideas and emotions that in the immediacy of the theater, touch one as nothing else can. I received many moving replies from all of you. Some of you know that what I said is true, some of you know what I said is true - and still choose to carry on - some of you try to deny its truth and some of you simply wish it was different. Yes, so do I. Please, if you care, read these wonderful, moving and revealing replies. I have posted many of them on the Stolen Fire web page: (

So where do I go from here? The separation of time does not necessarily make me more "clear-headed" about theater. Quite the contrary, I more than ever, am convinced that it truly is a dead art. The real question is whether it is worth carrying on "the good fight" for a dead art?

When I was a teacher, a parent gave me a poster to hang on my wall when exhaustion and disillusionment set its heavy hand on my shoulder. It went something like this: A man was walking along the beach one morning when he saw a boy picking up starfish that had been washed ashore the night before. He watched as the boy threw a starfish back into the water. The boy then proceeded down the beach and picked up another starfish and threw it back into the ocean - and then another, and another ... Soon the man caught up to the boy and told him, "The beach is covered with starfish. You can't possibly hope to save them all. What you're doing doesn't matter." The boy looked up at the man and smiled. He looked at the starfish in his hand and said, "but this one I can save; to this one it does matter." He then turned toward the ocean and threw it into the water.

Latin is a dead language. Does that mean that one shouldn't study it? No, not necessarily, but now that you've learned Latin, with whom do you communicate?

I would encourage every playwright to consider directing his art and craft to other media - television, film, books and magazines. Find a way to compromise your art without cheapening it. Consider the purpose of your art - to communicate - and then consider: as a playwright with whom do expect to communicate?

Because Stolen Fire's mission was to produce new works that would engage an audience member emotionally, intellectually or spiritually (preferably all three), I knew that we would have a very difficult time attracting audiences.

The reason was two-fold.

1. The typical theatergoer does not want to be engaged or challenged on any level. His or her preference is to be "entertained", usually with plays that they've seen before, or those that they know will whisk them away from reality and allow them to escape into a Garland/Rooney feel good mode of gee isn't life wonderful. The last thing they want is to try something new. Riskiness is not their forte. New works, even if they are the feel good mentality, are simply too scary for them. Their preference is cream cheese. Their drug is soma. Edginess is to be avoided like a woman's revealed thigh or the streak of sweat, damp on a man's belly.

2. Those to whom the new and provocative could be appealing are off to see new and provocative movies or renting new and provocative video tapes or dancing, dancing provocatively to rhythmic, pulsing music, stroking revealed thighs and licking matted, sweaty belly hair. The LAST thing they want to do is go to the theater, sit still, be stupid. Theater is scary business. You can't simply get up and take a pee. You're stuck there in your chair until intermission. Can't hit the pause button. No boogiing. No popcorn. And besides, only old farts go to the theater. Thanks, but no thanks. I'll wait 'til it comes out as a movie.

At every final dress, for every play that Stolen Fire produced, I would tell the cast and crew something like this:

"People don't like to take risks - and going to a new play is very risky business. Some performances may have only two or three people in the audience. But I refuse to let that matter, and it shouldn't matter to you. The words need to live. If but one person is in the audience, it is your job, your obligation to give her or him the same performance as if the house was full. You have the opportunity to bring life to these wonderful words that the playwright has written. You have the opportunity to share these words, to affect others, even if it's but one person. The words matter. That one person matters."

And so it goes, and comes around, and goes.

And so where does Stolen Fire go from here?

I wrote the following just before Christmas of last year. In January, I was involved in a car accident. I was on my way home from seeing a production "Collected Stories" starring Pat Van Rhyn and Laurel Barnett at the Pewter Plough Playhouse in Cambria, CA. A drunk driver entered the freeway by way of the off-ramp. Barely avoiding a head on collision, the cars smashed side to side. Fortunately, my passenger and friend, Judith, was unhurt, but my heel was shattered. I haven't walked since the accident, but hope to someday. Using crutches and a wheelchair, I've missed only two weeks of work.Ironically, the drunk was unhurt and ran off. He was later apprehended in the morning and has subsequently pleaded no contest to felony drunk driving with injury. He'll be sentenced to four years in prison later this month. I am now able to sit down and finish what was to be sent two months ago. Although the time-frame has somewhat changed, my ideas and intentions have not.

Having taken three months off, (only read one play in this time), and having read and reread the many responses that were sent to me, I must decide on the future of Stolen Fire. I hope to lay to rest Stolen Fire's debt by July or August. In order to so, I've been working 7 days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day for more than a month. I hope to be able to cut back to 6 - 6 1/2 days a week and still meet my goal of a debt free August. Gordon Osmond and Pat Van Rhyn have sent me checks (which I haven't cashed) for Stolen Fire to carry on while I work out the debt situation. Gary Carden has offered me the opportunity of producing both LAND'S END and THE RAINDROP WALTZ as benefits for Stolen Fire. These gifts of the heart are very, very much appreciated - I hug their warmth to my breast. In moments of simplicity I want to believe that I can continue; that it IS worth it; that it DOES matter; that even if all that has been done has affected but one life (and from your mail, I know it's been more than one) no amount of darkness can extinguish the light that cares and is willing to risk the shadows.

And so I've checked my resources. Got lights, got sound, can't pay the actors, but then I never paid them what they were worth - when I could find actors willing to dedicate themselves to the exhausting work of creating performances that few will bother attending, got a few scripts that I paid the royalties for, but due to scheduling, never produced, got myself. Unfortunately, while Stolen Fire was taking a nose dive into indebtedness, the FCC ripped the power from micropowered radio, threatening to put in jail all violators who would have the audacity of bring free community programming to those of us who were listening. Thus, Excellent Radio has been shut down and the rent on the Excellent Center has gone up to $1000 per month. Charlie Goodman, without whom Stolen Fire would never have been able to come into being, has said that Stolen Fire could still produce plays in The Excellent Center, but doesn't know when it would be possible, nor whether The Excellent Center will even continue to exist. The risers have been disassembled, the performance space has been pulled up, and what was once a gallery space is now being used to silk screen tee shirts. So, no venue. I could once again start looking for a new space. Although there are few of the same generosity and openness as Charlie and Trish, perhaps there is yet someone else out there who really cares, who cares enough to open up her or his space to edgy material that will no doubt not net them anything more than the gratitude of those few that care.

Besides the mail posted on the web site, there were others that called me stupid and a fool. Each said that theater was alive and well in their particular city. (Of course when one tells me that in LA they produced "over 1200 hundred productions this season. More plays made than movies in LA. More plays in LA than in NY and Chicago and San Fran combined", ... that's one million, two hundred thousand plays - shit, I knew they used a lot of cocaine in la-la town, but that's ridiculous - I must allow for their loose hold on reality.) Another accused me of whining because I was stupid enough to use my own money. I wonder whose money I should have used. Unless I accept that theater is bullshit and worthless and therefore can't support itself without sucking money from the tax-payers in the form of grants and "not for profit" status; unless I believe that theater is elitist and above "popular art", requiring government subsidies, because the government is in the business of defining what is "culture"; unless I'm willing to forsake my belief that THEATER is a legitimate art form of and for people (fat, smart, black, middle-class, country boy, female, lawyer, lover, blue-eyed, PEOPLE) and fall back on the (oh so very elitist) sensibility that the "masses" simply can't appreciate Thee-aye-tor, and besides why shouldn't the arts get some of the gravy as the corporate pig welfare fat-cats do ... well, there is something very wrong here. Something very wrong.

All I wanted was to give the playwright - those incredible women and men who create, out of nothing but their soul, plots and words, ideas and feelings - a birthing room for their new works. (Yeah, go ahead, push me to the edge, open new ideas and feelings in me, give me a glimpse into the bright light of good and the dark soul of evil and the unstable murkiness of reality's contradictions and the illusion of truth and the foundation of Truth.) Playwrights, now there is a breed of animal that God must have touched twice and the devil once (or is it the other way around?).

So what to do? I'll get out of debt. I'll try to find another venue. I'll try to find some way to ask for help.

There was a kid walking along the beach, beating the stranded starfish with a stick. The man said, "Hey kid, stop that, they have as much right to live as you". The kid turned to the man and said, "fuck off asshole, or I'll beat you over the head too!"

Ouch. And so it goes.

Best regards to all of you,



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