BRUSTEIN: No, there's a plethora of good writers. Very few are in the pantheon with O'Neill, Miller, and Williams, although I think David Mamet is on his way to joining them. But many contemporary dramatists have great style and talent--Paula Vogel, Suzan-Lori Parks, Tony Kushner--and I'm becoming increasingly excited by young writers like Adam Rapp, whose Nocturne we're premiering next season. We always have good playwrights; what the American theater lacks is responsive audiences. Walt Whitman said that great poetry needs great audiences, and we haven't developed them. When it comes to new plays, audiences have failed us. I know it sounds elitist to say that, and it's much more politic and democratic to pretend that playwrights have failed the audiences, but I see an enormous amount of talent in this country that isn't getting the attention from audiences that it deserves.
TM: Why do you think that is?
BRUSTEIN: American audiences have turned off the theater because they have so many riches: movies, the Internet, television, DVDs. Technology has always been our gift to the world, but although we've contributed to feeding the body, we don't recognize the importance of feeding the soul. It's perfectly possible for us to sit in our living rooms and create an entertainment center with beautiful resolution and all the latest gadgets, but we're becoming moles in holes. Aside from the church and the synagogue, the performing arts are the only means we have to make contact with each other. When you sit in a theater, you feel the huddle and bustle of people; you're part of a society, responding to what you're watching. A spectator functions like another actor in the company, interacting with vocal and physical responses, but moviegoers are expendable. You can show a film without a single person in the audience; you can't perform a play that nobody sees, because the audience's response is vital.
TM: What would you ask of an ideal audience?
BRUSTEIN: I'd ask it to start supporting theaters rather than individual productions. Modern audiences only go to shows that critics tell them are worth their money--understandably. Nowadays you could buy a few shares in IBM for the amount you spend on a Broadway show, when you consider the cost of parking, restaurants, and the babysitter. But if people wait for a mega-hit before they buy a ticket, they no longer have an ongoing relationship with the stage. The best audiences are those who go to a theater where they've already seen other plays performed by many of the same actors. They understand the relationship between the plays, and they observe the actors growing--they become part of the process of theater itself.