Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dirty Thirty

In recent weeks, especially in the Wasserstein dust-up in our comments section, there's been a lot of discussion about ageism and Youngblood's "under thirty rule" in particular. I've been thinking about these comments a lot. See, in one month and three days, I, your humble blog administrator, will turn thirty.

They won't give me the boot immediately, of course. I'll get to finish the season and you'll probably be able to see a few more warped brunch plays from me. But still, it's bitter sweet. Sweet: I've been in Youngblood for three wonderful years and in that time my writing has grown exponentially as have my chances at becoming an actual, factual, honest-to-goodness career playwright. I never went to graduate school, and in many respects I feel Youngblood (and running my own theater company for six years) was my graduate school. There's no education like a DIY education, I can tell you that. But bitter: thirty is young for a playwright, isn't it? Why can't I stay another five years? Or ten?

I know why.

Theater is not a place for young people. I see all sorts of problems with the institutions: racism, sexism, classism (the one nobody likes talking about.) But ageism? I can certainly see how the search to find the next great young playwright, as one commenter put it, could be annoying to somebody who found playwriting later in life. Even so, that's maybe one or two or a small handful of young playwrights. The rest of us have to wait until at least thirty or later for any modicum of success. And why? Because the whole industry is controlled by people who are middle aged or older and they want to do their own generation's plays.

I don't mean that as an insult. I like plays by writers around my age too (when I get to see them.) I just think it's disingenuous to say that ageism is such a big problem when you can barely get young people into a theater*. Unless you mean ageism against young people, but I don't think that's what these people mean. The reason there is no "over thirty" playwriting group is because THE WHOLE INDUSTRY is an over thirty group.

I'm going to miss Youngblood terribly, but you know what? There are tons of writers' groups in this city. I hope I'll find a new artistic home when I go, but I also understand why I do have to go. Although it may seem otherwise to some, a place for young playwrights to grow together is fundamental to the health of the art form. I'd like to be in Ma-Yi, but I'm not Asian. I'd like to be in the Public's Emerging Writers Group, but I have an agent and they don't allow that. This is okay. There need to be more groups like Youngblood, not less. Groups for queers, women, people of color, writers without MFAs...

Theater should be for everybody, shouldn't it?

*On that note, and this should be a whole other post, if you are interested in getting young people to your theater then you should do plays they want to see instead of using an edgier font on your marketing materials. Just a little tip from me to you!


Aaron Andersen said...

Is it an article of faith here that playwrights don't get better with years of experience, like most people in other careers do? Is it blasphemy to suggest that the gradual improvement of one's skill why more middle-aged playwrights are produced?

I'm not a playwright. But I am happily beginning to come to terms with the fact that even though I'm recently over 30, my skills have not peaked, and my career is not in a terminal phase.

joshcon80 said...

Aaron, no not at all. BUT you can't become a better playwright until your plays are produced. Readings will only do so much. And, while a playwright might get better with age, not all do, and certainly there are tons of plays by young people that are stage worthy now.

Not to mention young audiences should have the opportunity to see their own stories acted out on the stage.