Arthur Miller: Fear and Anarchy

It's fear. I know you're going to ask me what has devastated the theatre the most, and I'm  telling you it's fear. We can juggle a few more adjectives and a few more scenarios, but it will all ultimately roll down into simple fear--as if fear could be simple.

Any human being will attempt to remove from his life all or most elements of risk. This eases his mind, allows him more time to think of other things. It also makes him soft; makes him far more likely to wait for something that truly appeals to him. Wonderful attempts were made to improve the lives of workers in the theatre, and pay scales and benefits were guaranteed. Costs rose. It soon became impossible for someone like Kermit Bloomgarden, who was capable of and willing to write me checks that allowed me to live for months at a time, writing, and soon you had a table full of producers, all of whom had opinions, the importance of which was tied directly to the amount of money they had invested in the production. Risks are bad, you see, so caution entered the room. Marketing and promotion people soon joined the table. Then it was necessary to hire stars, to lessen the risk. All of this weakened the plays that were being written, and all of this made it impossible for Kermit or Roger Stevens or Robert Whitehead or any number of other producers to guide a play into a theatre with the aims of its writer of primary concern.

This was not only fear; it was anarchy.

Now we can't even afford--financially or otherwise--to produce plays within the New York area, so plays hopscotch all across the United States, and at each stop index cards are filled with comments and suggestions, all of it treated like holy writ. No one must be alienated. No one must be challenged. Everything must feel like something else someone else has seen done somewhere else.


The irony--and this struck me not long ago--is that there were real revolutions in the theatre: The Group Theatre; the advent of the Actors' Studio, and new ways of acting and directing and producing. We were casting off old ways and inviting in an entire new audience. We were, I guess, trying to rid the theatre of the middlebrow, safe, bourgeois people who wanted comfort and safety. And now? Those very people are sitting at that table, looking at the producer, mentioning the size of their checks or their position on the board of directors of some regional theatre, and looking at a playwright and saying 'Does the protagonist have to die?' or 'I hear the play is disturbing.'


©2013 by James Grissom
From the forthcoming book Artistic Suicide


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