Why you should Produce/Write/Perform what you DON’T know.

There’s an old adage that doing “what you know” is the fastest way to success.

And I believe it.

If you have knowledge of a certain area, a certain character, or even a certain culture, working within that box is where you’re the most comfortable and therefore where you’ll be the most naturally effective.

But that may not be the fastest way to grow as an artist.

That’s why I encourage myself and others to produce what they don’t know.  Write what they don’t know.  Perform what they don’t know nuthin’ about.

It’s working within new genres, with different people, and with subjects that make you uncomfortable — or that you’re just naive about — that will teach you the most, and make you a more powerful theater maker and more well-rounded human in the process.

In other words, work outside your culture zone.

That’s why Deaf West’s Spring Awakening was one of the most incredible personal and professional experiences of my career.  If I hadn’t produced that show, I would never have had a conversation with a deaf person.  And that has changed my life.  And I will treat others differently as a result.

That’s why Once on This Island with its diverse cast had such an impact on my life.

That’s why I’m producing the revival of the unfortunately-still-timely Pulitzer Prize-winning The Great White Hope (hopefully on Broadway next season – with a little help from the Theater Availability Gods).

That’s why this khaki-pants and blue-blazer wearin’ New England boy is producing a musical based on the life of Entertainer and Activist Harry Belafonte.  And why I will be announcing a new musical about the Jewish experience in the next few weeks.

Honestly, I never set out to produce this way.  I’ve just been drawn to great stories.  But as I walked by the show posters on my wall the other day, I realized that the greatest experiences I’ve had . . . and will have . . . are the ones I knew nothing about.

So it’s now become a new mission.  To do what I don’t have a clue about . . . so I can learn.

It’s scary.  It’s uncomfortable.  And it doesn’t always make money.

But it’s also the most rewarding way to work live.

  • Fengar Gael says:

    Oh, I totally agree and it’s so wonderful to read your words about growing as artists in this fearful age of identity politics. A few years ago wrote a letter to the TIMES (which was actually published) explaining that as a struggling playwright often accused of appropriating other cultures, I have always taught that the great evolutionary triumph of our species is the capacity to reason and imagine, so for writers to define themselves strictly in terms of their race, age, gender or ethnicity is to be forever stranded on a smaller planet. When we allow anyone of any age to police our imaginations, to condemn us to writing plays only about people like ourselves, then we’re doomed as artists and humanists. The best thing about our capacity for abstract thinking is that it allows us to imagine what it’s like to be someone else (saint or sinner), and might help us become more empathetic. If I had to make every character in every play sensitive to the politically correct ideals of our time, then I’d be writing carpet slipper theatre that treads softly, offends no one, has no moral conflicts, and features characters who never make terrible decisions. Besides individual characters don’t represent an entire culture — only their unique conflicted selves. Fortunately, I’ve found a few brave directors and actors who believed in primacy of imagination and are willing to enter the mad worlds of my plays. Anyway, I hope your readers take your advice!! In the immortal words of Isadora Duncan said, “You were wild once, don’t let them tame you.”
    Fengar Gael

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