Going Public

A new vision for America's flagship theater pays homage to the past

One Big Tent. The Public has always been at its best when it is bringing the most diverse groups of artists together to rub shoulders, Shakespeareans and experimentalists and new-play folks and foreign companies, and now, thanks to the brilliant success of Joe's Pub, an unending stream of some of the most exciting musicians in the world. We need to take advantage of our real estate: Five theaters and the Pub under one roof should allow for a constant, rich variety of work, brought together to deliberately create exciting and surprising combinations. Rob Marx said there was one thing I should remember when I took over this building: It was built for high volume and fast turnover. We need to build an organization that has the vitality and quantity of work necessary for the kind of calamitous syntheses that create great and unexpected art. For the last three years, we've provided a home for Labyrinth, a wonderful theater company whose ideals and work I completely support. How can we do more of this?

A Home for Writers. Slowly and passively, we in the American theater are allowing the most talented generation of writers we have ever had come to believe that they can only make a living in TV and film, and that the theater will more and more become a frustrating and expensive hobby. The long-term effects of this will be catastrophic; not only will writers lose faith that they can make a living in the theater, but they will despair of making a life in the theater. We need to provide the kind of financial and artistic resources writers need to make sure that any writer whose talent we believe in and who believes in the values of the Public can find a home here. Shouldn't we have endowed chairs for playwrights? Great research universities figured this out long ago: They give chairs to scholars and researchers as a way of telling them that simply doing their work is of great social value. The salary and benefits are meant to free them up to do that work, along with some participation in the life of the university. Shouldn't we do the same for playwrights at theaters? Provide salaries and benefits to our greatest writers—not enough to get rich, certainly, but enough so that they won't have to work in the electronic media simply to pay their rent. Beneath that, of course, we need a whole series of commissioning and development programs to give opportunities and access to writers of all levels of experience.

Development of Artists. This has always been an oral profession, training handed down by the laying on of hands, one generation of artists working alongside and teaching the next generation. A great theater like the Public has to take responsibility for the development of new generations of artists who are interested in the values and mission of the Public. Accessible, American Shakespeare performed at the highest level of excellence; radically engaged new plays; work by artists who reflect the tremendous diversity of the American landscape: None of these values will survive unless we nurture the leaders and artists who are interested in them. We have a long-standing, informal relationship with NYU, and I have a faculty appointment there: None of us knows exactly how, but there is a feeling within the Public and NYU that there is some way of combining forces that can make each organization stronger and better able to fulfill its vision. The continuity of our theatrical tradition can only be preserved by careful nurturing of the next generation of artists.

This list, as general and ill formed as it is, is what I am thinking about now.

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