I am really pleased that the University of Delaware was able to commission Teresa Rebeck to write a play specifically for its professional REP Company and PTTP students. But as today’s article in the NY Times makes clear, that commission cost a pretty penny — $50,000 to be exact. According to the NY Times this is about twice what a regional theatre might pay for a new play commission and, according to yours truly, five times what a less well-endowed university (my own) might provide to a playwright for a new work.
I worry, though, about the focus of the Times piece on the size of the fee and what it could mean for future new play commissions by universities. The article mentions the commissioning fee not once, not twice, not three times, but a total of four times. It must be important if they mention it so often. Should we who have less cheer that a new play is so highly valued? Perhaps. More likely, around the country, theatre department chairs who had been considering commissioning new work are throwing their hands up in the air and saying, “Oh well — can’t afford a new play now.”
That $50K is roughly the starting salary of an assistant professor of theater. Rebeck is not a starting assistant professor, and I don’t doubt that she regularly commands high fees with good reason. Alternatively, universities might consider investing similar amounts of money in a young-playwright-in–residence program — an annual salary for a new voice who could be a visiting faculty member for a year. Or, they might consider investing in 3-5 plays by new voices. On other hand, a program such as that, which exist in various forms at other universities and colleges, don’t net their universities large features in the newspaper of record. For their $50K commission, the University of Delaware netted more than double that (at least) in PR value.
I sure hope the play is worth its weight in gold!