The Playgoer: Arts & Leisure Watch 2/26/06

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Arts & Leisure Watch 2/26/06

What to say about the NYT's overexcited "Spring Theatre Season Preview." First: who knew theatre had a "spring season"? I would more accurately translate this as: that time of year when tourists come back and Broadway needs more free promotion. Hence, enter New York Times.

Yes, the calendar matters to Broadway, certainly. Spring means not just tourists but Tonys. Which explains the cluster of big commercial openings between March and May, coinciding with increased media attention accompanying said awards. So the term "spring season" can only be read as a purely capitalist category.

The cover page feature on "the true powers of Broadway" is typical of the bias here. I am definitely interested in learning more about the roles played in commercial theatre by labor unions, casting agents, etc. But the degree to which the entire analysis here is only about "the biz" is frankly nauseating. In Variety, fine. But it counts as neither arts nor leisure.

Imagine an alternative cover story: a big posed photo of all the Artistic Directors of the city's major nonprofits (Public, Lincoln Center, Manhattan Theatre Club, Atlantic, Playwrights Horizons, Roundabout, New York Theatre Workshop, even BAM) with "roundtable" discussion or breakdown of each's profile and play selections. Now that would be a true "season preview." Since those theatres plan what most theatre people consider to be the actual theatre season. In my memory the Times has never published such a piece.

Think of it: of the little that is of artistic note on Broadway, most of it comes from these theatres first! If not, then from London--check, already covered extensively by NYT. Otherwise, the random commercial ventures booked into Times Square theatres in no way constitute a "season" anymore.

The profit margin bias is even more explicit in the cool graphic taking us inside the books of Bug, the Tracy Letts thriller that was an Off-Broadway hit last year. Of course, it turns out not to have been a "hit" in the sense of making money, so in that way this is elucidating. But I'm floored by the failure of this piece to make clear the distinction between a commercial Off Broadway production and a similarly-sized nonprofit one. It would be an interesting comparison to line up the expenses of each kind playing in the same size 199-seat theatre. (The different union rules that may apply, any offsets of grant money, etc.) Again, such vitally important questions are outside of the purview of "Arts and Leisure." In fact, it seems the very term "not-for-profit" is not even in the lexicon over there.

Funny enough, the only article in this mega-spread to allude to the non-prof's at all is by... a playwright! You may notice a trend in all the theatre companies Allan Katz spoofs in his droll satire. Namely, they're all companies.

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