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Another thing that's interesting to me about midcareer writers such as yourself and Chris Durang, is that I've noticed a lot of questioning of the role of the theater and the business of it in your writing. You talk about turning to novels and Marsha Norman saying you all do it. Do you think that's a product of where you are in your career or do you think that's a product of theater having a little bit of an identity crisis right now, despite Broadway having one of its best years in decades? In The Understudy it seems to show how much you love the community theater creates and the joy in performing. In some way it brings to mind Waiting for Guffman. There's such a giddy happiness, despite this crushing bureaucracy and the realities of making a living in television or film versus the theater.
For me there's a central question that every theater artist has to ask themselves and that is, how do you stay in this world and be happy. Because the thing itself is so beautiful. You know, actually Justin [Kirk, who plays Harry in The Understudy
] said to me, that being out there and doing this play was like heroin. This play is very close to my heart, I feel very powerfully like [The Understudy
] is an achievement for me. I like being at the theater and I feel a little unmoored when I'm not there. I think that's maybe why I lost those 70 pages [while copyediting Twelve Rooms with a View
]. And all three of those guys say there is something remarkable and spiritual happening out there—that feeling of joy and the craziness and the delight of playing that play. The core of the action is surrounded by a lot of very dysfunctional elements. In fact, the people who control the community, they all know that we're heroin addicts and that they've got us. [Laughter.] There's a lot of unhappiness in the community about how plays get selected, a lot of people feel like the best plays are not being selected.
I actually think it's an interesting time because I don't think the critics have as much power. There is more of a communal response to things because of the internet and that's making a lot of people happy and a lot of people nervous because they feel like they can't control the audience as much, but controlling the audience hasn't done anything for anybody. I think that the mistrust of the audience is something that's always concerned me. It's true that these are people who watch TV and film, but these are also people who get it together to show up at the theater and pay a lot of money. So I don't understand why we think that we need to look at the audience with contempt. I think that's a huge mistake, which I do not make and most of the artists that I work with do not make. Also there's very few people in New York who control the stages, which makes it a very political situation. The rest of the country so completely looks to New York for what is happening in the American theater and that's not necessarily the best, that's very much a bottleneck situation, it always has been, for as long as I've been working with it. So there's this tremendous anxiety about getting those very few spaces to work. People are hungry for the work. It makes for a kind of crazy political situation surrounding something that's quite great to do. Sometimes people say to me, "Why do you do it? They don't pay you? You could be writing in Hollywood for money." And I think, "Really? Really? You think the only reason to write is for money?" Because that's the assumption, that the only reason you would write is for money. But that's not my assumption.