The Playgoer: Why Steve didn't Show

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why Steve didn't Show

...and other Post-Tony tidbits from Riedel today.

On Sondheim's surprising no-show for his own lifetime achievement award (not to mention the feting of various shows of his):

Sondheim wasn't at the Tonys because he was traipsing through Europe.

I hear he found out about the award only when it was announced in the press. Nobody from the Tonys bothered to tell him beforehand, so he didn't change his travel plans.

Also, about that bumping of play-revival and musical-book awards to pre-show:

"The theater is an art form which is driven by writers," says [John Weidman, Dramatists Guild prez]. "Nothing exists before the script. So when theater awards are given out, it's appropriate that the writing awards should take first position.

"Even acknowledging the enormous time pressures on the producers of the Tony Award broadcast, Best Book of a Musical and Best Revival of a Play belong live, on the air."

Primacy of the written word? What industry do you think you're in, Dramatists Guild?

10 comments:

Dylan said...

I concur, Playgoer! Maybe I'm taking you the wrong way, but the trend of late is that writers and directors run the universe, and I wish that would change.

An actor can make theater alone... a script in a drawer or a really great idea in the head cannot.

I have the utmost respect for playwrights, and directors but so many awards have been created to "encourage" them, that it has gotten out of hand. We'll always have an overpopulation of actors, so I suppose they need no encouragement.

And anybody else notice how we are all tripping over each other to champion designers and make sure they get their due? We are such a low self-esteem industry, always afraid someone behind the scenes will be slighted for "glory."

If you ask me, that is one reason Hollywood keeps invading the stage like it is their plaything. Nobody in "theatah" likes Hollywood, but Hollywood doesn't care-- therefore Julia Roberts can star in a bomb, and it will still be a commercial hit.

And before you know it, the ultimate theatah deadbeats--dramaturgs--will usurp the industry from the current crop of Ivy-stroked artistes.

And yes, Playgoer, I know you're "about me" describes you as a dramaturg... no offense. But I'm sure you've met a few deadbeats in your discipline.

The Playgoer said...

Actually Dylan, I kinda was being sarcastic there, but I don't mind leaving it open ended. I'm torn, frankly, between the "sanctity of the writer" argument and the "theatre as performance" pole. Both need to coexist in our theatre if we are to have a vibrant one.

All I was trying to get across was how futile it is for the Dramatists Guild to have to argue to the Tony broadcasters the merit of the written word. If I were Alberto Gonzales I might even call it "quaint."

No offense taken either way.

Anonymous said...

"An actor can make theater alone."

Really? Without a script or direction? That's not theater, that's exhibitionism.

Dylan said...

Hey Anon,
I didn't say an actor should make theater alone, I just said he can. 5000 years of theater history (not to mention the whole improv phenomenon) prove it.

Besides, these days the line between theater and exhibitionism is increasingly blurred, no?

John said...

Two boards and a passion, right?

This is exactly the fault line between drama and theater.

Drama is subset of Literature, right there with the other red-headed step-child, Poetry.

Theater is a structured social event. Theater can't be printed and bound.

Drama can, and that's a good thing.

But we need to be focusing more on Theater these days, I believe.

Edward Einhorn said...

OK, one look at the Tony awards, or the Oscars, or any other awards show might indicate that the actor is not exactly undervalued. But I suspect that it might be news to some Broadway attendees that someone actually wrote the book to that musical. Thank goodness for people like Sondheim, who recognize that acknowledging other people's contributions in no way diminishes their own. Can an actor (who is not also a writer) stand alone onstage and do "theater" without the help of any troublesome words or structure or script of any sort? Sure, theoretically. Can an actor (who is not also a writer) stand alone onstage and make good theater like that? I've never seen it. You could also put an elephant onstage and observe it for a half hour and call that theater (not that I'm calling actors beasts...of course, as Mel Brooks says, have you ever eaten with one)

Listen, if it was just writers and directors, designers, and choreographers who were broadcast and the actors were summed up in a few minutes, I'd object to that. Obviously, the actor is valuable. But really, no one goes to a show and says--there were actors in that? It never occurred to me. The nature of performance puts the actors out front and everyone else behind the scenes. Which is why the industry needs to acknowledge those people.

dylan said...

Mr. Einhorn,

Obviously awards shows and the like value actors--especially if they are stars (see my previous point regarding Julia Roberts). But your definition of "actor" seems so qualified (not also a writer, not also an elephant) as to be nearly moot. I also find it telling that you cite Mel brooks in your definition, given that he just cut his actors' salaries in half. Valued, indeed.

That you state you've never seen an actor stand alone on stage and make good theater saddens me. I can only assume you've never seen some truly great actors. I'm of an age to have witnessed the likes of Peter Ustinov, Elaine Stritch, and Andy Kaufman (and before you google search to find that Ustinov was a writer too, take it from me that his acting was far better than his books or plays). Trust me, these three and scores besides, were/are capable of holding an audience rapt without the crutch of someone else telling them what to say and how to say it, thank you very much. Don't make me bring up Homer.

As far as recognition goes, if your audience doesn't know that someone actually wrote the book of a musical despite the credit being spelled out for them in the playbill, I don't think you need Stephen Sondheim so much as a literacy program.

I don't want to start a war here, but I object to the whole notion of "primacy" as Mr. Weidman put it. For those who need a sense of primacy, I offer this cheat sheet:

actor = stage
writer = books
director = film

Make sense?

Edward Einhorn said...

I've never seen Homer onstage, unfortunately, and I'm not actually sure he existed as a single individual, but what we do have passed on is his/their writing. I don't define an actor as someone who doesn't write, but I do think there are actors who can write and those who can't. Andy Kaufman wrioe his material. Elaine Stritch, I assume, wrote her one woman show. You can be an actor and a writer, but being and actor does not make you, perforce, a writer. And vice versa. There are some writers who are wonderful actors (Harold Pinter, Chris Durang, etc.) and some who aren't. They are separate skills, both valuable, and sometimes people are fortunate to have both.

Dylan said...

Homer was blind and couldn't write anything down. Not back in ancient Greece. He was an oral storyteller, and today would be comparable to an actor or performance artist. You think of him as a writer only because someone else wrote down his stories (or one version of them) and then peddled them to schoolchildren.

Even if he didn't exist, his works come from a long line of oral tradition--the roots of an actor-centered theatah.

There is no writer credited on Elaine Stritch's show, not even her. She is the "re-constructor," an awkwardly specific word, leading me to believe they went out of their way to avoid suggesting that anybody wrote anything.

Kaufman was a writer in the sense that he came up with his own material--but the performance would change from show to show--he certainly wasn't bound by words on a page. I don't think he took direction well, either, just so you know.

We should probably end this thread--I think we've scared/bored everyone else away. But I've enjoyed it.

Jeffrey Sweet said...

The only two elements you need to have theatre are actors and audience. Paul Sills established that vividly.

However, Second City and some other actor-driven pieces aside (and these actors usually have the benefit of a director who performs the writer-like function of selecting and helping to shape), the bulk of the pieces we talk about when we talk about theatre start off with a writer. It's good if the writer remembers he/she is serving actors (the results are usually better).