The Playgoer: Rocco Roundup

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Rocco Roundup

Still lots of good buzz out there for the rumored Rocco Landesman nomination for NEA.

Oskar Eustis (quoted in WaPo) calls it "for the theater community...the most concrete evidence of Obama's brilliance."

LA Times' Christopher Knight first was "startled ...that the NEA was making any news at all. I’d pretty much forgotten the place exists." And praises the pick out of the belief that: "The NEA cannot be successful, whatever its format, unless successful people working full-time in the arts are addressing the powerful work of their most talented peers."

Elsewhere in LAT, Steven Lavine, CalArts president and an Obama arts advisor during the campaign, is optimistic Landesman can finally restore the NEA individual artists grants that were revoked back in the early 90s culture wars over the infamous cases of the "NEA 4."

“Just to have somebody who has produced Tony Kushner and August Wilson — he knows that it starts with the individual artistic voice, and if it’s not offending somebody ... it’s not doing its job,” Lavine said.
In same article Actors Equity head John Connolly also gets on board.
Connolly, the Actors’ Equity director, thinks that Landesman’s record of working on shows that began in nonprofit theaters, then transferred to commercial houses on Broadway, bodes well for his ability to bridge gaps between commercial and art-first sensibilities. Landesman has enjoyed noting in interviews that he’s championed not only shows such as the dramas of August Wilson and “Caroline, or Change,” Tony Kushner’s musical about race relations, that stood little chance of earning a profit but embodied the artistic quality Broadway needed to support, but also mass-audience crowd-pleasers such as “The Who’s Tommy,” “Jersey Boys” and “The Producers,” which he also helped produce.
This point is perhaps the most persuasive to me. The main challenge of any NEA administration is to shake off the "elitist" label without compromising good artistic tastes. And while we had a passionate theatre artist and advocates in the job before with actress Jane Alexander, Landesman brings the added virture of being a real showman. And, as Knight implies, it would be a victory in itself just to remind the public that the NEA exists. (Remind them in a positive way, that is.)

Meanwhile fellow blogger Isaac Butler--who also served on the Obama campaign Arts committee--reminds us of Rocco's downtown cred. I mean, the guy actually appeared on a Mike Daisey panel(!) where Isaac quotes him as saying:
"I realized when we were doing Caroline or Change on Broadway as a commercial production and a non-profit was doing Barefoot in the Park* that something was deeply wrong."
*While I applaud the sentiment, perhaps Rocco or Isaac's memory fails them. The Scott Elliot-directed Barefoot that played on Broadway in 2006 was, contrary to appearances not produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company, a frequent employer of both Elliot and frothy revivals. Perhaps he meant The Pajama Game.

As for Daisey himself, he approves, too, writing on his blog, "he's a tremendous choice, and his nomination is the highest-profile political moment for American theater in living memory."

Finally, for more on the man see this profile, a recent interview for the "Freakonomics" blog(!), and an extended essay Rocco himself published in the Times back in 2000 railing against, among other things, the fuzzy nonprofit/commercial divide.

(Hat tip to commenter "Aria" for the link to that last one. I noticed it was basically unloadable the day after the rumors of the nomination was reported. High web traffic, perhaps? Seems like some folk are already starting to search the paper trail...)

1 comment:

isaac butler said...

It was in fact The Pajama Game, I misremembered the quote. Thanks!