Monday, November 12, 2007

Go East, Young Writers?

Not sure what to make of this Charles Isherwood pep talk to striking West Coast writers: Go East, Young Writers, for Theater!

But writers today may see no benefit in continuing to fail toward success as playwrights when an easy living as a writer on a television series seems within reach. Young writers who win some acclaim for a first or second play will probably continue to head west before they have had time to develop, which means the theater is potentially losing important voices before they mature.

-Charles Isherwood
I read a fair number of NY Times reviews, and it's no secret to the theatre blogging community that Charles Isherwood isn't, exactly, the most supportive of critical voices in the realm of new plays and new/young playwrights. I can't defend the validity of his criticism first hand (I'm not seeing those productions), but you have to acknowledge the culpability of the NY Times of driving talented young writers into the warm and moneyed embrace of acceptance and a fat paycheck on the other coast.

The flip side of this is: well, a writer has got to take a drubbing, and if she really wants to write, she'll keep doing it. A writer has to move on after getting spindled and mutilated by critics who just want to dish a solid zing. But a snarky, dismissive review -- and Isherwood has thick portfolio of these -- will slam many doors so hard on writer's face, the cartilage in her nose will crunch, and she will bleed down the front of her shirts. A few shirts. The bleeding lasts more than a day.

It's difficult to value the sage wisdom of a man who refers the realm he lords over as a "dinky kingdom" -- and, yes, I know, he's trying to be amusing. He's trying to be funny. He's trying to be a good read. But it's that attitude that may prevent a very talented and very-willing-to-fail-in-order-to-mature writer to pack the U-Haul and head West.

This is a round-about letter of affection to the critics out there who are consistent and reliable evaluators of new work and young writers. They exist. I'm not arguing a bad play should be coddled by critics, but if a critic truly wants to nurture the writer, if not the play, she or he should fan that faint spark of talent instead of squashing it like a cigarette butt under a glib foot.