You really need to move to New York. You’ve heard that, right? I don’t live in New York City; is my playwriting career doomed? Sometimes, it seems that way—or at least seems as though others feel that way. Recently, on a panel of six playwrights, the five before me all introduced themselves, “I’m First Name Last Name. I live in New York.” And then it was my turn: “I’m Donna Hoke. I live in New York—Buffalo, New York.” There was a laugh, of course, but it becomes clear in those moments that the perceived place to be a “serious” playwright, or at least to forge a serious career, is New York. I’ve had conversations with New York theater people where I’ve talked about what I’ve got going on and received enthusiastic encouragement, followed by “Is there no way you can move to New York?” Sigh. I am, and will remain, for the foreseeable future, a Playwright Living Outside New York (#PLONY).
I don’t deny in any way that being in New York, or having easier access to it, could help—perhaps a lot. There are writers groups and residencies I can’t apply to, theaters I feel would be a good match that I can’t get to with any regularity, people I can’t socialize with, etc. Hard truth: this is and always will be first and foremost a business of relationships, and a lot of the people with whom playwrights should be having relationships are in New York. It’s no coincidence that the vast majority of big-name playwrights live in New York; even the Kilroys lists contain a disproportionate number of New York playwrights. Yes, the quality of the writing matters, but if you’ve spent any time on the New Play Exchange, you know that there are a lot of good writers: the relationships matter more. And because regional bias exists everywhere, including New York, New York playwrights are going to get produced more in New York, which still happens to have the lock on perceived legitimacy. No doubt: in an ideal world—or at least one where teleportation were possible—we’d all be able to ply our trade in New York City.
But this is a real world, not an ideal one. Even for New York playwrights—and none of this in any way is meant to disparage them—nothing is guaranteed, and it’s still hard work to get noticed. And even though there is willing acknowledgement that great work happens outside New York City, and that great writing can happen anywhere, we’re probably not going to see a change in theater culture perception any time soon (there’s a reason people ask, upon hearing you’re a playwright, if you’ve ever had anything on Broadway). But there are solid efforts.
The Dramatists Guild, which for years was a New York-centric organization, recognized the need to acknowledge the myriad playwright members who live across the country. The regional rep program—now with 30 reps serving—has expanded the Guild’s reach and made those playwrights feel part of the greater playwright community; I’m so proud to be part of that not just because the Guild rocks, but also because I believe in empowering playwrights in any way possible. The Dramatists Guild conferences also serve to connect us, and in many discussions with playwrights at the recent Dramatists Guild conference in July, I confirmed several things on this topic:
1) Not all of us are in positions to move to New York. I’ve done my time there, but now I have responsibilities and commitments that preclude it, not the least of which is a partner who’s a musician in the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; that’s not a job you can just pick up and leave and expect to find another. I travel to NYC when necessary–even in and out on the same day–but I can’t live there.
2) Even if a move to New York is possible, not everybody wants to live there. Living in New York means committing to a certain lifestyle, one many won’t take on, even if it means the possibility of furthering their careers (the fact that it’s only a possibility is often the clincher).
3) We have to redefine our notions of success in a business where success is too often equated with New York productions and the reviews that accompany them. While playwrights I talked to agreed that we would of course love to have New York productions (because again, those are the rules of the game), we also acknowledged that given the realities of #1 and #2 above, we’ve made peace with the improbabilities (not impossibilities!), and have found satisfaction in reaching other goals, and redefining what we call success for ourselves (even as, yes, of course, we continue to reach for the New York stars as best we can). That was the overwhelming idea that came up in discussion with Playwrights Living Outside New York, so much so that I thought I might submit the idea for a panel at the next Dramatists Guild conference—a suggestion that was enthusiastically encouraged.
So, in thinking about such a panel, I mentally listed playwrights I know who don’t live in New York City, and who do pretty darn well for themselves despite their geographic limitations. I came up with several names, and then thought, “Why wait? Why not talk to them now?” I sent a few emails, and, inside of an hour, I had four enthusiastic yeses to start with.
And who better to kick off with than Eric Coble, who, by the way has had a play—VELOCITY OF AUTUMN—on Broadway, despite living in Cleveland. I’ve got several other impressive folks lined up as well. (But if you have other suggestions, please send them along.) I hope they will inspire all playwrights (this is not an us vs. them thing) with their wisdom, fortitude, and success! As I said above, I don’t think we’ll see a change in success perception any time soon, but I hope this series is a step in that direction both externally in how others view Playwrights Living Outside New York but, more importantly, internally—how we view ourselves.
To read more entries in this series, click here or #PLONY in the category listing at upper right.
Playwrights, remember to explore the Real Inspiration For Playwrights Project, a 52-post series of wonderful advice from Literary Managers and Artistic Directors on getting your plays produced. Click RIPP at the upper right.