The Playgoer: January 2009

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bush's NEA: Dana Gioia's Parting Shot

Amidst all our speculation and discussion surrounding the future of our National "Endowment" for the Arts under our new president...let's not forget the old one.

You may remember back in December there was some buzz about the NEA announcing the death of the straight non-musical play. Well, not quite. But alarmist articles like this sure made people panic a bit.

Well here's the original NEA report. The overall tone of which is actually decidedly optimistic! For the nonprofit regional theatre in general, at least. After all, "All America's a Stage," says the title. And it's true, theatre companies have been proliferating in recent years--even in remote areas--far beyond what sanity would seem to dictate.

Plus, NEA's survey claims--in an unfortunate unintentional paraphrase--that the fundamental economies of the LORT theatres are strong! Of course, the small print reveals their biggest financial strength is in their "fixed assets"--like their land and their buildings. So, as long as they actually own those assets, it's good to know that if they ever really need the money they can just sell them.

But Mr. Gioia does eventually get around to the bad news:

There is one significant and persistent problem facing the American theater--attendance for spoken theater has steadily deteriorated. Since 1992, the percentage of the US adult population attending non-musical theater has declined from 13.5 percent to 9.4 percent.
Well personally I'm not crushed by a further decline of 4 points when it was already a whopping 13.4%!

But seriously, this shouldn't surprise us now, should it? Plus taking some kind of average of this seems misguided to me. The "outliers" sure are significant. The truth is we just had two smash hits of serious snob drama on Broadway--All My Sons and The Seagull. It helped that they were kind of star driven. (Although Kristen Scott Thomas isn't really a "star" and Katie Holmes isn't really an "actress" but more of a freak-celebrity.) Overall, seems to me audiences still come out to see "spoken theater" (cool neologism!) in big numbers--whether on Broadway or Off, in NYC or anywhere--when it's a famous classic and/or great, preferably famous actors. And surely the tried and true warhorses of the American repertoire--not to mention some guy called Shakespeare--still constitute the bread & butter of the average regional theatre's season. If for the school audiences if nothing else.

No, the more provocative statement came just after:
In a sense, the dilemma of nonprofit theater can be simply summarized--supply has outstripped current demand. The remarkable growth and professional management of theatrical organizations across the nation has not yet been matched by equally robust growth in audiences.
Actually, it's not clear in the original context that Gioia means this in reference to straight plays at all. Rather, here's how I interpret this: our nonprofit theatres have become such good little businesses, following all the corporate models on risk management, fiscal responsibility, and grow-or-die expansions of buildings and endowments...that it turns out there is no customer-base to support such overreaching, unecessary practices!

Or to put it another way--they were so busy "growing" their companies that they forgot the art that makes people wanna come see plays in the first place.

Here's some other high/lowlights in the report.
  • "The number of nonprofit theaters in the United States has doubled over a 15-year period." 1990-2005, that is. From 1,000-2,000.
  • In 1990 "earned income" (as in ticket sales) made up about 65% of all revenue for those companies. Today it's down to about 50%. "Contributions" has picked up the shortfall.
  • Of those "contributions" the trend over the last two decades is now demonstrably (not that you ever doubted it) toward greater individual and corporate giving and dwindling government funding. But look at this: Back in 1987 individual giving still was the highest source at 32% of total contributions. But federal/state/local government grants were a close second at 26%. By last count in 2002, the "individuals" piece of the pie is up to 40% and the government portion has sunk ten points (15.6%)--that's now fourth place, overtaken by "Foundations" (21.7%) and "Businesses" (17%).
  • Blaming high ticket prices for the decline of the audience? Nonsense! "Theater ticket sales do not appear to respond strongly to price changes. Statistical models predict that a 20 percent price hike in low-end subscription or single tickets will reduce total attendance by only 2 percent." Wait there's more, in the small print of a footnote: "Further increases in attendance per performance appear to be linked with increases in the highest ticket prices that theaters offer." Go figure. I guess it's the old "if it ain't pricey, it ain't classy" phenomenon.
So what have we learned today?

That in the past two decades the number of total theatres have doubled and government funding has shrunk basically in half. So there's now less to go around to fewer theatres. Oh, and fewer ticketbuyers, too.

That raising prices actually improves ticket sales & subscriptions, at least from rich folk.

That the contributions (financial and, ahem, otherwise) you get from your individual donors and your corporate/foundation supporters are way, way more important than the diminishing amount from public financing and the community.

And that if you produce a musical they will come, but a play not so much.

Good lessons for our Artistic Directors and boards at a time like this, huh?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

REVIEW: Leaves of Glass

Charles Isherwood loved this, so I guess I'm wrong.

They call this "in yer face?" More like, pain in my arse!

I mean literally. From sitting through such inertia for two hours-plus, sans intermission.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Speaking of Obama's NEA...

Perhaps it's a done deal, and perhaps Caroline Kennedy's still in the running (she was mentioned as shortlisted in previous articles, and she is kinda free now).

But who would you pick as your NEA chair? Have fun with that--after all, you're not president.

Obama's NEA

“In these difficult economic times, it is easy to forget about the arts as a part of the American economy. That would be a grave mistake. The Great Depression gave rise to the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which provided meaningful and constructive employment to tens of thousands of artists, musicians, writers, actors, and others working in the theater. The WPA provided the nation with a wealth of art and culture we still enjoy. As we work to avoid another depression, the NEA — with the right leadership — could play a vital role."

-Paul Almeida, president of the Department for Professional Employees of the AFL-CIO, parent union of AEA, SAG, and other artist guilds.

Obama doesn't have an NEA plan yet. The post is still open. Dana Gioia (the best we were going to do under a Republican) stepped down in deference to the new administration. And thankfully Obama accepted his resignation.

So in crisis, opportunity, eh?

Happily, he's put the NEA right at the center of the current stimulus negotiations. And not surprisingly, it's the first provision House Republicans point to crying "waste!" and irrelevancy to the economy. But it's heartening to see more economists out there trumpeting arts subsidy/investment as a bona fide job builder.

Meanwhile, Allan Jalon of the LA Times Culturemonster blog broke the story a couple of weeks ago that the top candidate right now is one Michael Dorf, a big player in the Chicago civic & arts scene. (No, not the indie music impresario and Knitting Factory founder.) No wispy arts enthusiast he, Dorf--according to his bio--is actually a high-powered lawyer who seems to have developed arts-law as a specialty in his work for congressmen and 1980s Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.

He may play the bassoon, we are told, but the guy's a very well connected corporate macher. And I say that not sure it's such a bad thing. Why not have someone in there with DC savvy and clout.

And it doesn't hurt he comes from a very theatre-friendly town, whose theatre scene greatly benefited from the "Cultural Plan" he spearheaded under Mayor Washington.

Plus, Jalon reports, he has already won over the artist union reps, including AEA, who were introduced to Dorf through a carefully orchestrated conference call at Obama transition HQ.

Still--do we vest too much importance in this position? Over the years, the size of this national arts "endowment" goes up. goes down, always by pennies, it seems. The truth is, it will never, never reach the per-capita levels of the most meager European culture ministries. I'm afraid it will always be a somewhat ceremonial post.

Some now suggest the remedy is to think even bigger--a cabinet-level Secretary of the Arts! There's even a petition. But I fear the last thing we need at the national-patronage level is Senate Confirmation hearings and other processes that will just force arts policy to keep waving in the political winds every new administration.

Or, like with Interior, HHS, and HUD, when arts-indifferent Republicans take over they'll just stock the department with incompetents.

Yet much as I still fantasize what good an American "Minister of Culture" could accomplish, I find myself now thinking smaller. What I mean is: it's all about the states now.

This country is just way too damn big to effectively administer any kind of national arts agenda. Plus, with all the yahoos and religious tools still wielding considerable regional power for the foreseeable future, we don't need yet more "culture wars" over the next time someone wants a grant to produce Corpus Christi or Angels in America or Laramie Project with (heavens!) "taxpayer dollars." The Age of Obama will not put an end to that throughout the land.

No, I'd rather put my trust in the state rather than The Nation-State. I trust each state (and local/city/municipal governments) to calculate the value of their arts orgs' contributions to their economy, tourism, and public image. Local government arts "czars" can be more responsive to individual arts institutions--and can even attend them!

Yes, there's state programs now. (And in New York NYSCA is already a big deal.) But think how much further that could go. I've personally had it with dreams of some "National Theatre" in the US--but I really like the sound of, say, "The Michigan State Theatre"!

I raise this now knowing full well it is the state funding of the arts that's really going down the toilet in this recession/depression. And that's a big shame. The best thing the NEA could do right now, for my money, is to simply inject its relatively healthy national budget into all these state agencies in a kind of blood transfusion.

Isaac over at Parabasis has been airing thoughts about this topic as well, having just worked for Obama's "arts council" during the campaign--including an intriguing thought experiment finding room for supplemental arts funding in other agencies (like HUD). He also points to a thought-provoking essay calling outright for a resurrection of the WPA and a "New New Deal," echoed in the quote above.

Depression measures for Depression times.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Because Zombie/Vampire Musicals Do So Well!

Talk about reviving the corpse of Broadway...

In times like these, is optioning Michael Jackson's Thriller as a mega-musical a case of go-for-broke genius, or just plain desperation?

Producer James L. Nederlander says he has acquired the rights for a stage version of Mr. Jackson's iconic music-video spoof of horror films. The show will include songs from two of the pop king's best-selling albums, Thriller and Off the Wall.

"The Nederlanders and Michael Jackson represent live theater and musical excellence, so let the music begin,'' a spokesman for Mr. Jackson said Monday, in a statement.

"I love the idea of making Thriller a musical. Girl meets boy, they fall in love, boy has big secret, now what?'' said Mr. Nederlander, head of the company that owns nine Broadway theaters.

Hard to say which of these press releases is more ridiculous.

Have Broadway producers finally found someone of even lower moral authority to do business with?

Would this be the first Broadway musical based solely on a video? Doesn't seem like a good strategy, when the original's available for free...

Caryl Churchill on Gaza

The Royal Court will put up a brand new 10-minute one-act about Gaza by Caryl Churchill, and will make the text available to the public through perhaps the first ever mass downloading of a new play by a major writer:

The Royal Court Theater will stage the world premiere of Caryl Churchill's "Seven Jewish Children -- A Play for Gaza," a 10-minute work written in response to the current humanitarian crisis that examines the history of the state of Israel....

The script is being made available for free download beginning Feb. 10 from the websites of the Royal Court, publishers Nick Hern Books and Churchill's agents Casarotto Ramsay. No charge will be made for performance rights on condition that a collection is made for Medical Aid for Palestinians.
Meanwhile, My Name is Rachel Corrie comes to New York again in a small revival at yet another timely/untimely moment. Funny story: it's going up at the little Kraine Theatre, 85 E. 4th St. What's next door at 79 E. 4th St? New York Theatre Workshop, who nixed the play 3 years ago over fears that Hamas' election made it in bad taste. So much for waiting out those bumps in the mideast peace process.

Gee, do you think all performances of all these pro-Palestinian plays should be suspended while we all cool down from this Gaza thing?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Holy Shit, Ohio Lives!

False alarm I guess the first time.

But, then again, it's just a six-month extension of their lease.

They oughtta learn from other panicked theatres, get themselves a website with a tip-jar and cry, Save the Ohio!!!

Worked for Magic.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Quote of the Day

"I'll tell you one thing. I am absolutely convinced that a nonprofit and a commercial management should not be co-producers. Ever."

-Elizabeth McCann. Co-producer of Hair with the Public Theatre. But not really, anymore.

Remember that plan the Public had with her to co-produce but without investing the money? Didn't really work out. Still, new lead producer Jeffrey Richards is stepping in anyway.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To Washington!

With all eyes on our nation's capital today, why not a word about the DC theatre scene!

Overdue here's an informative year-in-review piece I read in the City Paper when I was there over the holidays and have been keeping crumpled up in my travel bag. I think most non-NYC cities will relate to the complex relation described here between increased success and and budget anxiety.

Where things stand: For seven years, we’ve watched as Washington’s major theaters dreamed big and built bigger, erecting opulent venues (or expanding existing ones) to house increasingly elaborate productions. Budgets, ambitions and coffers swelled, and suddenly, happily, D.C. was a place where a working actor could live up to the title, finding enough steady employment to support herself without spending her days slinging hash, suds, or memos. There are more full-time actors in the city now than ever.
On the other hand...

Now let’s put all that in context. The average price of a theater ticket in D.C.—that’s across all venues, large and small—is now well north of 50 bucks. At the same time, the furious construction of the last decade means that on any given night there are at least 15,000 theater seats in D.C. that desperately need asses in them. When Arena completes its renovations next fall, there’ll be even more.

Understand that theaterfolk are a lithe, adaptable lot, and they do get it. They’re taking steps: discounting tickets more aggressively, pruning casts, corralling volunteers, cadging in-kind contributions from firms that can’t swing donations, building castles out of light when Styrofoam proves too expensive. They’ve also started taking a hard look at their schedules, with—how to say this delicately?—a renewed focus on the bottom line.

Actually the 15,000 asses in the seats part is pretty relevant in nonprofit Off-Broadway as well, as I covered here.

Some Theatre News

-Avenue Q finally decided what to do about its George Bush lyric. Sort of.

-Jeremy Piven fights back! No mere California Roll he.

-And a belated RIP to famed downtown director Tom O'Horgan, who passed away last week. A thrilling and yet sad life.

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's Magic! Magic Theatre Lives

The desperate pleas worked.

In late 2008, the not-for-profit announced on its website that it was $600,000 in debt and would shut its doors Jan. 9, 2009, unless it raised $350,000. The deadline was extended to Jan. 12 when an anonymous donor offered to match money that was donated. The total raised was about $450,000.

The donor who offered the challenge grant was an anonymous national arts supporter who wanted the theatre to meet and exceed its fundraising goal so that Magic "has the resources to continue its 43rd season and secure its future," according to Magic.

A good thing. But, man, don't be surprised if we start seeing more "emergency" fundraising appeals.

REVIEW: Wickets

In this week's Voice, my review of Wickets at 3LD, a high-flying reimagining of Fornes' modern classic Fefu and Her Friends, set on a super-70s 747.

I must have liked it, since it was really, really tempting to use the line: Get this motherfucking Fornes off this motherfucking plane! Yet I restrained myself.

Now I'm sure some might consider it bad form for me to hold up my review against another critic's, but bear with me a sec, since there's a larger point.

I was pretty struck (though not surprised, alas) that the New York Times review of this same production hardly mentioned the Fornes connection at all and made no attempt to explain how the source material was adapted in this radical deconstruction of it. It seems to me when a piece of theatre announces it's an adaptation of a pre-existing, somewhat well-known play, it's incumbent upon the critic to comment on that, and to elucidate the reader about the extent of the adaptation.

Full disclosure: I plead guilty to having never read nor seen Fefu and Her Friends when I was assigned to cover Wickets. I certainly had heard of it, though. And had seen some Fornes, saw some of her plays, and read some stuff about her--which is unavoidable if you really follow serious contemporary American theatre. Still, I knew that it would be part of my job in a review to assess basically how "faithful" or not the adaptation is to the original. I consider that an automatic, obligatory question to address in reviewing any "adaptation" of another work.

With just three days' notice before seeing Wickets, I wasn't able to read--or even get my hands on--the text of the play. But I figured the least I could do is go on the Internet to get a summary and read up more on Fornes in general.

Long story short--I was really glad I did. Because it's the kind of adaptation where you really have to look for traces of the original. What may seem like a Tony and Tina's Wedding-style audience-participation romp (as framed by the kitschy 70s signposts, as well as everything that's always been ridiculous about commercial air travel), turns out to take the text of Fefu quite seriously. But you wouldn't know that if you didn't realize someone like Fornes wrote all this odd, beautiful dialogue the stewardesses slip in and out of without warning from their usual routine.

In fact, in the day and a half I had in between seeing the show and filing the review, I then made sure I got the Fornes script and skimmed it over, just to confirm that indeed Wickets was following the outline--and much of the specific dialogue--of the play. With only 200 words(!) at my disposal, I obviously wasn't getting into any fancy exegesis. Just enough, hopefully, to communicate the artists' strategy and how well it worked.

So my beef with Claudio La Rocco's Times review is just that it seems like reviewing Donkey Show without actually discussing the parallels to Midsummer Night's Dream. Is Fornes' work as famous and canonical as Shakespeare's? Of course not. But she is kind of an important writer.

I hesitate in picking on La Roccom, though, since the choice is really editorial, isn't it. To his full credit, my Voice editor, Brian Parks, insisted on an extra sentence in my draft summarizing Fefu. (Even extending the word count, eeking out one more precious parenthetical!) Maybe this is just because Brian is aware that Fornes is very much part of the Voice's heritage, and that Voice readers know her work. So: what does that say about the New York Times, and how it views their readers?

Whether the critic and/or editor knows anything about Fornes or not, the point is, a) it's not hard to find out, and b) I suppose it doesn't even matter if you're only interested in covering theatre as entertainment. They're right to assume that an audience/readership oblivious to the history of Off and Off-Off Broadway might not know or care who Fornes is. But I guess they're really making clear now that is who they want their readership to be.

I know the Times could make the case of, hey: if the audience at Wickets isn't expected or required to know their Fornes, then shouldn't we represent what the experience is like for them. Fair enough. Yes, I'm sure the creators of Wickets know full well not everyone--perhaps very few--will be "in on the joke." (Especially since they're marketing it for as wide a young downtown audience as possible.)

But when the program features extensive director's notes explaining the concept and its relation to Fefu in detail, it seems like they do care.

Finally, the question comes down to an eternal one in theatre criticism: Should the critic take the view of the "layman" or uninitiated audience, the vox populi? Or is knowledge and expertise beyond the common actually what is needed from a critic, to discern the truly great from the okay, the stinkers from the noble failures. Wickets poses a perfect case study in this question since it really is two different plays depending on whether you know Fefu or not. And it certainly is a much richer experience if you do know it. If I went in knowing nothing about it, I probably would have considered Wickets pretty trivial.

For the record, by the way, I think there is plenty of room for both kinds of criticism: the vox populi and the expert. Funny thing is, I didn't realize the New York Times has now opted for the former. I thought that was the province of those uppity bloggers.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Patrick McGoohan

I must pause to honor the memory of Patrick Magoohan the star and co-creator of the milestone super-mod series The Prisoner, who died Monday. The Prisoner was a mainstay of my youth and probably more than anything else made me the paranoid curmudgeonly outsider I am today. So thank you, Number 6.

And who knew: he was born in Astoria! And died in LA.

Not completely off topic since he did start on the British stage in the 50s, and even appeared on Broadway in the Hugh Whitmore 1985 spy-drama Pack of Lies, in which Frank Rich called him "ideally cast" as "an icily silver fox of an intelligence technician." (Despite Rich's review, I found it not a bad little play when I read it years ago.)

Full details, of course, on the official fanclub--"Six of One"--website. (No, I'm not a member.)

Meanwhile, congrats Number 6. You finally got off the island.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Off Broadway Deathwatch: The Zipper

Time Out's Adam Feldman has the scoop on the latest real estate casualty: The Zipper.

Personally, I'll miss the leather car seats.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Taxing Theatre, cont.

The victims of the imminent Broadway ticket tax go beyond the audience. Try AEA members' pension funds.

Reports Riedel:

For many years, New York City imposed a 5 percent "amusement tax" on theater tickets. But in the 1970s, with union pension funds practically insolvent, producers persuaded the city to rescind it. In exchange, the producers agreed to kick 4½ percent of ticket sales into the pension funds. Those funds fattened up nicely during the economic boom of the last 10 years, when Broadway posted yearly grosses of $1 billion or more.

But in the current economic climate, "the notion we can afford both the tax and the pension contribution flies right in the face of people pulling in their budgets," says [producer Tom] Viertel.

I guess this doesn't just mean actors, but directors, designers and stagehands as well.

So save up, people!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Celebrity Casting Update

Punsters, start your engines.

"A Tony for Tony!"
"A real 'hit'!"

Yes, expect all this and more Soprano-rific cringers while we await the Broadway debut of one James Gandolfini.

To his credit, though, this ain't no "Bronx Tale" turn. He's co-starring in the US premiere of the latest Yasmina Reza play! And the ensemble is filled out by real, may I say, "pros": Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and Marcia Gay Harden. Director is the Brit Matthew Warchus, Reza's official English-language interpreter.

Perhaps Mr. Gandolfini will also need an interpreter.

Oww! Bada-Bing!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dancing Pinter

What does it say that the most interesting theatre critic at the Times these days is turning out to be the Dance critic?

Alistair Macaulay wowed me last month with a uniquely insightful take on Billy Elliot, and today he offers one of the most original Pinter postmortems so far. It's on how the playwright's creation of haunting silent tableaux, his idiosyncratic manipulation of bodies on stage, contributed as much to the Pinter magic as the language. Another reminder that theatre--as an artform involving live people in space--is essentially dance, and vice versa.

The fact that Macaulay's a Brit does inform both these columns about British theatre. But what also stands out is some downright intellectual curiosity and rigor, as well as venturing to think in categories beyond the obvious.

I guess such intelligence is valued more in dance journalism since (like the visual arts) it is has always been considered high art in this country. Unlike theatre, still associated with chorus girls and carnival barkers.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

PBS Can't Handle King Lear's Schlong

The good news is PBS will broadcast the much-ballyhooed but little seen Ian McKellen-Trevor Nunn King Lear that toured the country and the world last year.

The bad news?

the coming PBS broadcast of “King Lear” will avoid offense to delicate sensibilities by omitting a nude scene by Ian McKellen, who plays the title role, The Associated Press reported. Though Mr. McKellen regularly performed the scene in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of the play, a taping of “King Lear” that PBS will show on “Great Performances” on March 25 will omit it.
My concern is not that of some perv who gets off on old men's willies. My concern is...isn't that little "scene" the storm scene? Like, the most famous in the play?

So are they just blurring his naughty bits, or actually cutting the storm scene from Lear?

(You may recall Sir Ian getting naked dogged this production for most of its original run. And now it still can't, um, shake it. We sure have come a long way in the 21st century haven't we.)

UPDATE 1/10/09: Lo and behold, the Times corrects itself. When they ran the above item in print the following day in the Friday "Arts, Briefly" column (my original link was to the Thursday posting on their "ArtsBeat" blog) it was rewritten to say PBS was merely "hiding the nudity in a scene" and that the broadcast will simply "avoid showing him naked." Someone must have brushed up on their Shakespeare.

I Did Not Know That

"UTR [Public's Under the Radar series], as well as Here's Culturemart and the Coil Festival at P.S.122, is pegged to the annual conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters—producers and artistic directors who shop the festivals looking for pieces to bring to their theaters."

Thanks, Alexis Soloski.

No wonder things are so busy downtown for January.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Taxing Theatre Indeed

Well word travels fast about how well Broadway shows sold last year. NY Gov. David Patterson, faced with budget-balancing hell, has included the commercial theatre as an income-area ripe for taxation.

Reports Crain's today:

Included in [Patterson's] plan is a 4% tax on Broadway tickets, concerts and other entertainment. Officials at trade association the Broadway League believe if the state tax is passed, the city will add its own 4%, leading to an 8% charge for tickets.
I choose to think of it as a "sin tax" myself.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Some Theatre News

-Despite all the recent closings, Broadway was a billion dollar business in 2008.

-Mark Lamos, for years head of Hartford Stage and one of the busiest directors in LORT, is now taking over the little Westport County Playhouse.

-Turns out Harold Pinter was a showman to the end, dictating plans for his own funeral. Most movingly, he asked the great Michael Gambon to read a passage from his masterpiece No Man's Land, in which Gambon was starring on the West End when the playwright was dying.

The passage?

HIRST: I might even show you my photograph album. You might even see a face in it that might remind you of your own of what you once were. You might see faces of others in shadow or cheeks of others turning or jaws or backs of necks or eyes, dark under hat, which might remind you of others whom you once knew, whom you thought long dead but from whom you will still receive a sidelong glance if you can face the good ghost. Allow the love of the good ghost. They possess all that emotion trapped. Bow to it. It will assuredly never release them, but who knows what relief it may give to them, who knows how they may quicken in their chains, in their glass jars? You think it cool to quicken them, when they are fixed, imprisoned? No, no. Deeply, deeply, they wish to respond to your touch, to your look, and when you smile, their joy is unbounded.

And so I say to you, tender the dead as you would yourself be tendered, now, in what you would describe as your life.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Magic needs a Miracle?

Add to the endangered species list of theatres the famed Magic of San Francisco. Incubator for many noted writers it was home to Sam Shepard in one of his most prolific periods in the 70s & 80s.

Now, a call for help:

San Francisco's nationally acclaimed new plays theatre, MAGIC THEATRE, is on the brink of shutting its doors. Now in the midst of a staff shutdown, MAGIC may be forced to cancel the remainder of its season and close for good. To keep our doors open we must raise $350,000 by January 9, 2009....

The closing of MAGIC THEATRE would be a great loss for artists and audiences here and across the country. The second largest theatre in San Francisco, MAGIC employs 200 artists annually and touches the lives of tens of thousands of people. We need to keep our artists and our work on the stage!

Tough times to be a small Bay Area house, it seems. Shakespeare Santa Cruz just sent out a similar SOS call. (Happily, the outpouring of support helped them dodge the bullet for now.) Interesting that one is all new plays, the other old. So you can't say just one genre or the other is especially at risk--or at fault. As we've been hearing for so long, it's the mid-size companies that are going to be hit the hardest. Theatres with large professionaly expenses but small donor pools and no endowments to see them through rough waters.

Meanwhile SF critic/blogger Chloe Veltman asks an intriguing question on the personal side:
It's interesting that both of these organizations recently acquired new artistic directors among much media hooplah and the announcement of Bold New Artistic Horizons. I wonder how much information Marco Barriccelli, who joined Shakespeare Santa Cruz a year ago, and Loretta Greco, who arrived at The Magic in the summer, knew about the financial situations of their respective organizations when they signed their artistic director contracts? Were they kept in the dark, at least to some degree, about the bareness of the theatres' coffers when they signed on? Or did they somehow imagine that the red marks on the accounting ledgers would miraculously disappear in the wake of high quality productions, euphoric reviews and packed houses?

I ask, because no one in their right mind would uproot their lives from the East Coast as both of these highly-regarded directors did and travel across the country to watch their professional lives take this kind of wretched turn.

Well here's hoping it's not that wretched.

You can donate to Magic Theatre here.

Happy New Year!