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New Ways to Make New Plays With its first book,TDF sounds a battle cry for the new American play
By MARK BLANKENSHIP

By the time it hits the stage, a new play has been tended by many hands. There are playwrights, of course, but also artistic directors, marketing staffs and dozens of others who join forces to make a script successful.

This creates a complicated system of new play development and production. Driven by its commitment to the new American play, Theatre Development Fund conducted a six-year study to learn exactly how that system works.

The results were surprising, troubling and almost always enlightening. They needed to be shared.

That's why TDF is publishing its first book, Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play (available here). Written by Todd London and Ben Pesner with additional research by Zannie Giraud Voss, the book uses surveys, interviews, panel discussions and raw data to spark an honest conversation about the art and business of American playwriting.

By frankly addressing topics like royalty payments, the quality of new work and the sense of community in regional theatres, Outrageous Fortune makes an urgent declaration: America's new play system is in trouble, and it needs help right away.

"Many of the issues in the book have been looked at or written about or alluded to in the press," says London, who is artistic director of the playwright development center New Dramatists. "But there's never been a study that collects the experiences of theatres that produce new plays and playwrights who write those plays. To me, the comprehensiveness is the story."

When readers see all that information in one place, they may start a fresh discussion about new plays in America. For Victoria Bailey, executive director of Theatre Development Fund, that would be ideal. "One of the things I think the study makes clear is that there's a tremendous desire on both the part of the artists and the part of the institutions to make changes," she says. "But there's no conversation about how to do that. They're not talking to each other. They're not saying, 'Maybe we should embark on this together.'"

Bailey, who was involved in the production of new plays at Manhattan Theatre Club before joining TDF, has been deeply involved in the research for Outrageous Fortune, and she says it has allowed her to rethink many of her own assumptions about what works and what doesn't. "I've realized there are no villains in this," she says. "But there's a building sense of something being broken despite everyone's best intentions."

Of course, a book can't fix anything by itself. Both Bailey and London stress that Outrageous Fortune should be just one part of an ongoing effort.

"We believe that with the right material in front of them, everyone can take stock and work together to address the problem," London says. "The problem is not specific, and it's not local. It's general. Everybody has to participate in the solution, and the first step is, 'Let's all look at everything together.'"

For more information on Outrageous Fortune, and to purchase the book, go here.

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Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor