Barbara Isenberg's article ("The Boom in L.A. Theaters: Will It Turn Out a Bust?" March 31) gives ample evidence of the enormous problem facing the theater, not only in Los Angeles, but nationwide, and it is this: the playwright, as a specific element in the production process, seems to have disappeared.
Susan Dietz is looking for "product," while Ron Sossi is busy "getting rights" and Franklin Levy is "looking at the catalogues."
As far as I know, only Bill Bushnell at the Los Angeles Theatre Center has made the commitment of time, space and personnel to develop playwrights.
Plays have to be written, but most theaters hope to get a play here, a play there, but cannot, in Dietz's words, "afford the dollars or risks involved in producing untried material."
But all scripts are, ultimately, untried material; every production of "Hamlet" is a new trial of Shakespeare's material. Theaters by their very nature, are risk-takers--or ought to be.
The Los Angeles Theatre Center has invested in the people who have committed themselves to writing plays; it has gambled, not on scripts, but on people who write the scripts, banking on the long-term literature of the theater rather than this month's hit.
Sam Shepard did not just occur; he evolved, in no small part due to the risks the Magic Theater chose to take. David Mamet, too, was allowed his failures and successes at the Goodman; Circle Rep gave Lanford Wilson opportunities to create.
The audience in Los Angeles deserves more than a few successful plays; it deserves playwrights of its own. It can have them, but it has to act like it wants them. LATC is acting that way by putting itself on the line. What other theaters will be that brave?
LATC Playwright's Lab
Part II of Isenberg's series will appear next Sunday.