Why The Flick winning The Pulitzer is an example of artistic producing at its best.

Pulitzer Prize on DramaI would never have produced The Flick.

I will never produce The Flick.

I can’t.

You see, I’m a Broadway producer.  Not a theater producer.  I produce for a 10 block radius in the middle of New York City with a very specific audience.

And I don’t believe for a second that the Broadway Audience would support something like The Flick enough for me to be able to repay my investors.

So I can’t produce The Flick.

But Playwrights Horizons can.

And they did.

And yesterday, when The Flick won The Pulitzer, Playwrights showed us what non-profit producing and leadership is all about.

Last year at this time, people were walking out of The Flick.  According to this NY Times article, which described the controversy, Artistic Director Tim Sanford confirmed that 10% of the audience left at intermission of the first performance.  And word of mouth from those that stayed was something else entirely.  It was three and half hours long, “nothing happened,” and those were just a few of the complaints.  People were canceling subscriptions.  And in an unprecedented move, Mr. Sanford emailed 3,000 of the theater’s subscribers to explain why he chose to produce it.  Not to apologize.  But to bring his patrons into the process.

To many, choosing that play for its season looked to be a monumental mistake that was going to have an immediate effect on the theater’s bottom line.

And now . . . bam . . . choosing that play looks to be one of the smartest choices Mr. Sanford and his team could have made.

What I love about this story is that they produced a play that so many wouldn’t, and they produced a play that they knew many wouldn’t even enjoy.  But they felt it was important.  And they knew that it was the responsibility of their institution to produce plays exactly like The Flick.  Because if they didn’t, who would?  Certainly not me.

And now, get this, another gutsy guy around town, Scott Rudin, just announced he’s going to put the show back up at the Barrow Street this fall!

The team at Playwrights did something that all great producers do.  They stuck to their artistic guns.  They didn’t run for cover when the criticism came.  They stood up for what they believed in:  new, challenging, boundary bustin’ plays.  And boy did it pay off.  (Do you know how many more productions The Flick will get now?  And how much in additional royalties Playwrights Horizons will get as a result?)

Risks like this don’t always work out this way.  But when they do, it’s important that we stand up and say congrats.

So congrats to Annie Baker, Sam Gold, Tim Sanford and everyone at Playwrights for a producing job awesomely done.

[Want to read The Flick?  Click here.]


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  • ECP says:

    Yeah, recognition such as this inspires one to keep those artistic guns polished and loaded. The production was one of my faves from last season. As a “spectator” I felt totally immersed in the production. I enjoy my times at Barrow Street, so I’ll try to drag people to the restaging.

  • Mark Levine says:

    I believe the Pulitzer Prize Committee’s choices these past few years have been just terrible. No paying audience in their right mind would ever be able to say they got their money’s worth from seeing these plays. And this year’s choice is no exception says Mister Drama.

  • Stuart Green says:

    It’s good to see Tim Sanford and Playwrights Horizons is following in the footsteps of Wynn Handman and the American Place Theatre, who and which did the same thing starting almost 60 years ago. With talkbacks to the audience they asked the audience to experience the world of the play and not the plot, “Letting It Happen to You.” I’m glad you picked up on it too, and it will be interesting to see who else follows the leaders/leaded.

  • Ellen Orchid says:

    Interesting discussion.
    I read that an early production of Chekhov’s masterpiece “The Seagull” was a terrible “critical” disaster and people booed it and walked out. The playwright, devastated, left Moscow and fled to his home in Yalta, where he decided to quit writing. Fortunately, a later production proved to people that the play was indeed worthwhile and Chekhov lived to see his play succeed. I hope to see “The Flick” one day and get my own impression of it. I can say that Annie Baker’s work “Circle Mirror Transformation” was a marvelous experience. Congrats to all at Playwrights Horizon.

  • Carol says:

    One could argue that Tim Sanford’s letter gave agency to the Pulitzer committee to support this play more than they might have been inclined to do without an industry controversy. I didn’t see the play so this isn’t a comment on its content or merit. I found Tim Sanford’s letter to his subscribers rather hurtful to the field and anyone who writes a play over 90 minutes. He did indeed apologize for the plays length and shouldn’t be praised for his letter, which at best was a problematic communication, at worst cowardly, and at the most cynical, a strategic move to stir up controversy.

  • Wend says:

    I loved this play, one of my favourites of last year. Yes it was longer than I realised going into it and wish I had eaten beforehand, but it didn’t feel long whilst watching it, despite the fact that not a lot happened and there were numerous parts without dialogue or much action. I thought it was great and very engaging and enjoyed both the play itself and the after show discussion with Sam Gold and Annie Baker.

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