Information Technology and Playwrights

I make my living as a computer programmer and freelance web developer. It is simply impossible to make a living writing plays. Without a single exception, all professional playwrights are making the bulk of their income from teaching or writing for television or the film industry. If you read the book How I Did It: Establishing a Playwriting Career by Lawrence Harbison you will discover that every single one of the writers profiled is making a living as a television writer. I seriously wonder if that book is meant to be some kind of sick joke.

If Shakespeare were alive today I think he would be a computer programmer as it is the best career for a genius. Seriously though, the Information Technology sector is now vast and it has sucked up all the talent in the world in terms of intellectual prowess. As the options for writers, especially freelance journalists, have dried up writers have been going into IT instead. During a mass layoff of freelance journalists there was quite a controversy on Twitter as snarky trolls advised these poor souls to “Learn to Code”. Personally I thought that was hilarious. It is actually not bad advice but unfortunately these journalists have been writing misinformed articles for years on outsourcing in the Information Technology sector so most of them are convinced that learning to code is a bad idea. But many writers do find their way into the Information Technology sector. It could even be said that the Information Technology sector has unwittingly been poaching talent from the humanities. That was the topic of my full length play, The Poaching Of An Aesthete which imagines the muse performing a rescue operation to get someone back on on course to fulfill his true destiny.

When I need to give my characters a profession I naturally gravitate to computer programmer. For me this is as boring a profession as accountant, although it might seem exotic to someone in the theater community. It is a very commonplace profession in this day and age although it would have been unusual in the 1950s up to the late 1970s. Making my protagonist a computer programmer suggests a very obvious conflict, the conflict between a STEM career and a Liberal Arts career. Most of the decision makers in the theater community will have chosen a Liberal Arts career. A STEM career appeals more to the analytical thinker, the logical mind, the severe realist, the scientist. A Liberal Arts career appeals more to the dreamer, the creative individual, the idealist, the inspired soul, the artist. My protagonists often experience the inner conflict of being a profoundly inspired and somewhat irrational individual forced to make his living in a strictly logical profession. Needless to say, this is an inner conflict that I myself experience. I don’t think my chosen career gives me any opportunity to put my real talents to use. I am not well suited to be a computer programmer. For example, I cannot express my thoughts or feelings in my code. My imagination is not put to use in writing code. My favorite way of expressing this is to bitterly advise people to “Write code, not poetry”. I always mean this ironically but it offends people when they take it literally.

There are some advantages to my situation. A playwright should not be too focused on the theater community because it will make his plays seem self indulgent or too self-referential. The general public does not want to go to the theater to see endless plays about actors, directors, and playwrights as this makes the theater seem like an insular community with no interest in the greater community. For the general public, professional actors are exotic creatures you are never going to encounter “in real life”. Theater directors are also outside of most people’s social circle. And a professional playwright might as well not even exist because in actual fact there aren’t any! As I pointed out above, my profession gives me a ready made conflict and a set of themes. The gradual drift of our society into ever increasing technological sophistication has not been touched upon in the theater. Contemporary theater is too hopelessly mired in the concerns of the Liberal Arts and the humanities to take much notice of these technological changes. There are starting to take notice because social media is now seen as a key factor in world elections. The enormous and pernicious influence of Silicon Valley monopolies can no longer be ignored by the political activists in the theater community. We are also seeing society divide into the haves and the have nots based on the technological skills a person possesses. Someone like me is doing quite well for himself while somebody who has chosen a life in the arts is probably starving. Often this is a factor in my plays. My protagonist is not some sad sack stuck in a small town who laments that his dreams will never come true. Frequently my computer scientist protagonist will have gone on lavish vacations to Europe. I’m beginning to suspect that the theater makers who read my plays resent how I’ve been flaunting my worldliness and financial success even if my characters are unfulfilled in other respects.

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