Want world-wide appeal? Look at what appeals to the world.

If you’re a friend on Facebook, or follow me on Twitter, then you know that last week I spent three days in Galway, Ireland, speaking at the Irish Theatre Forum.

It was a fascinating few days.  I learned a lot about Irish Theatre.

I also learned that in Ireland, it doesn’t get dark until about 10 PM and sometimes there can be a hailstorm in the middle of the day that looks like God dropped a huge box of ping-pong balls.

I was asked a bunch of compelling questions during my sessions, but the one that stuck with me the most was from a journalist who asked, “If a goal of a playwright is to get their work to NY, London, and the entire world, should that playwright refrain from writing about extremely localized issues, characters, environments, etc.?”

In other words, should an Irish playwright who wishes to have his work seen by the world refrain from writing about Irish characters dealing with Irish issues in a small Irish village?

My first answer was somewhat simplistic. I said that if the story is a great one, if the characters are unique enough, then it doesn’t matter where or when the story is set.  It’ll work wherever it’s performed, and in whatever language.

I advised the playwrights in the room who were looking to create a piece with reach that extends beyond their locale to think about other works that have achieved that kind of success and examine their individual elements.

What makes Romeo and Juliet still exciting today in whatever language it’s performed?  What makes Ibsen work in Norway, and in Japan?

But go beyond plays.  Look at other pieces in other mediums and find the common factors.

Ask yourself . . .

What is it about Jane Eyre that gets it on reading lists all over the world, hundreds of years after it was written?  What is it about Emily Dickinson?  Citizen Kane?  What is it about Harry Potter?  (My answer: fairy tale fantasies will always be popular, we all went to school, and everyone likes to root for the underdog)

If this is the kind of success that you want, then you’ve got plenty of case studies on the screen right in front of you.

Because no matter what language you speak, where you grew up, or what kind of hail you have, we are all human, and our hearts are touched by similar themes.


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  • Qaoileann says:

    “Irish characters dealing with Irish issues in a small Irish village”
    surely the definition of one of Irish theatre’s most successful exports, Druid’s productions of Martin McDonagh’s work?
    *removes tongue from cheek*

  • I agree that we are all touched by similar themes and they tend to be the themes that are relevant to i) survival, ii) individual creative expression and of course iii) love…

  • Jon says:

    Plays about localized issues/characters/events are successful when the core of the play is a universal theme. This is why when Fiddler on the Roof premiered in Japan, the producers wondered if it had been successful in America, because it was “so Japanese.”

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