Wednesday, February 13, 2013

NYCPlaywrights online

I've been getting a lot of inquiries lately about people wanting to "join" NYCPlaywrights and attend meetings. Probably thanks to the February Play of the Month and my posting photos from the reading review of the semi-finalists last week.

I'm tempted to start up the meetings again, it's nice to see such enthusiasm... but then I remember the bad old days, and I don't mean just when the founders of Playsmiths, who were members of NYCPlaywrights, decided to start their own playwrights group by attacking me on Facebook (for reasons that have never been clear to me other than that I didn't agree with them on the quality of some plays) and then absconding with the NYCPlaywrights mailing list.

No, it isn't really that because that kind of thing only happened once in the 11-year history of the NYCPlaywrights membership/meeting period, and it certainly didn't hurt NYCPlaywrights membership - if anything the membership started growing even faster after that.

The real problem as I've blogged about here previously is the old man issue. Retired men were on track to becoming the majority of NYCPlaywrights members, and it was awful. It wasn't only that they wrote plays I hated - all genders and age groups write plays I hate - it was that their plays were hate-able for the very specific reason that  their attitudes about race and gender had stopped evolving by about the early 1970s.

There was one old guy who wrote a play with the favorite old-guy theme of an old guy getting involved with a much-younger woman. That was annoying enough, but then there was a never-ending scene where the old guy lead character explains how he made a bundle in numismatics. To this day a former member of NYCPlaywrights has only to say the word "numismatics" to get us both laughing.

And every single time we did a reading of that numismatics scene, he always got feedback where people told him that they were bored senseless. And he would go home, change one or two sentences, make us sit through the scene yet again, and then wonder why he got the same feedback.

And then there was the old guy who wrote a play with a character who was basically a Stepin Fetchit. He was mystified by the negative response he received for that character.

But it isn't only old guys. What old guys had in common with almost everybody else who was a member of NYCPlaywrights was that they didn't do readings to improve their plays - they did readings so that everybody would tell them how great their plays were. And some of them were truly shocked when they got feedback that wasn't 100% positive - because all the play readings they'd ever done before had received 100% positive feedback - from audiences that consisted entirely of their friends and family.

I used to talk myself blue, suggesting that when member playwrights had readings, they sit in the back and observe the audience. This is the best form of honest feedback - Jeff Sweet wrote a very good article about it. But invariably they sat in the first row, slack-jawed, staring at the actors during the reading, and then asked for verbal feedback afterwards.

I finally realized what a huge waste of time and money it was for me to rent space on a weekly basis for people who couldn't write a decent grocery list. People would actually suggest to me that I "get better writers" to join the group. Well people always have advice for situations they don't know the first thing about - there are very few good writers anywhere, and then NYCPlaywrights was charging a fee, which was expensive for younger people struggling to pay rent in Manhattan, but very cheap for retired old men from the suburbs of Long Island and North Jersey, looking for a hobby and a chance to imagine that the young female actors who showed up to read might be impressed by their old-man plays and offer to become their mistresses.

No, I don't think I'll put up with that again. NYCPlaywrights can stay as an online phenomenon.