The Playgoer: February 2009

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Obama's Best Arts Policy, Leading by Example?

The First Couple take in some Alvin Ailey at the Kennedy Center earlier this month.

So suggests LAT's Culture Monster.
According to Katie McCormick Lelyveld, the first lady’s press secretary, the Obamas plan “a spectrum of activities,” both official and on family time: “Getting out to dinner when they can, getting out to theater when they can, and bringing arts inside the White House and using that as a tool for education.”
Omigod, she said theater!

And they actually have a track record:
In Chicago, theatergoing was at least an occasional Obama pastime. In 2002, officials of the Goodman Theatre say, Obama attended its production of “Drowning Crow,” Regina Taylor’s recasting of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” in an African American milieu. And in 2005, the Obamas journeyed to the Chicago suburb of Skokie for a Northlight Theatre production of Thomas Gibbons’ play “Permanent Collection.” The play, based on the real-life art-and-race controversy at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, starred Harry J. Lennix, a friend of the Obamas.
Now Northlight, that's hardcore. No glamor in Skokie.

DC Shakespeare king Michael Kahn puts it simply: "It’s just about [creating] an awareness that, if the first family appreciates and participates in arts events, it’s something that is part of American life. It sends a good message that the arts count."

God, let's hope so. Because the nation's bottom line will, to many, increasingly suggest otherwise...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

REVIEW: Fresh Kills

A quickie review of mine in the Voice of a negligible new play, Fresh Kills. But hey, what's a blog for if not clippings.

Gotta hand it to my editor for that catchy headline: my words, but his combination: "Fresh Kills' Facile Morality Tale Offers Cheap Laughs." Yeah, that about captures it.

If you're still interested, though, info on the play is here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Department of "You're Not Helping"

First we had the well-intentioned nonprofit version of a clueless "yay-arts!" campaign from Americans for the Arts. Now meet the slick and supposedly hipper Broadway media blitz. Financial emergency version.

Have you seen this man around the streets of Manhattan?

I have, on every phone booth and poster board midtown. And he scares me! I don't know if it's the stubble or the frighteningly white and sharp teeth he is clearly baring in a primal gesture of attack.

The imperative capition, "see a show... NOW!" doesn't help either. (Und you vill enjoy it!)

On the other hand, this aggressive and threatening posture does indeed capture how I've felt after many a Broadway show.

Oh, I see. The point is to show people--real, non-elderly people--having just a darn good time at the theatre. The Broadway theatre, that is. This ad campaign is for the Broadway League--formerly known as the League of American Theaters and Producers--i.e. the Broadway producers' trade association. It's called "I Love NY Theater!"

They must have heard there's a recession on and folks may be wondering why they should be spending $100 a pop to sit in a tiny seat, fend off crowds of cranky alter-cockers with walkers, and sit through three hours of over-amplified piffle.

Well this'll surely sell them!

I would have thought it impossible to make theatre any less cool in our culture. So Broadway League: well played...

Monday, February 23, 2009

It Begins...

"More than three-quarters of nonprofit theaters are being forced to alter their budgets this year because of the worsening economy, a new study found. Theatre Communications Group, an organization that promotes non-profit theater companies, surveyed 210 theaters in January. A full 77% of those polled said they were laying off administrative staff, freezing salaries, cutting travel or discounting tickets to help get through the downturn."

-from Crain's NY Biz.

Still looking for a link to the original TCG report. If anyone out there has it, feel free to post in Comments.

At least the "discounting tickets" thing sounds good!

(Or does that mean, they're cutting the discounts?)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

MFA's: You're on Notice!

If you're currently enrolled in a theatre MFA program (and paying for it) you may want to look away.

Mike Daisey vented a little while ago about the financial slavery such programs often enforce upon our emerging artists--or at least actors. And I think, as uncomfortable as it is to admit, this question needs some real soul searching in the American Theatre community. Especially in times like these.

In my recent conversations with theater artists, we often talk about the insane cost of MFA theater programs--future artists get saddled with over $100,000 in debt for many three year programs.

What makes this reprehensible is that there is no rational way for the VAST majority artists to repay this massive debt through the practice of their art. You would think that an industry would adapt to those circumstances, and that this would result in less MFA programs...but instead they're at colleges across the country, and their advertisements fuel our industry. AMERICAN THEATRE magazine appears to be supported entirely by ads for MFA programs.


There are no "corporate jobs" in the American theater that one can take for a few years to reduce that law-school-sized debt. [i.e. what law school grads and other professional school alums do to pay off debts while preparing for more non-profit and idealistic sides of their professions] At least there are none that don't involve leaving the theater entirely, or making it a nighttime career while you struggle at a day job, scraping up the cash needed to pay the massive debt you incurred, and closing the door on making it a viable career you could invest yourself in full-time.
I can just imagine some outsider to theatre retorting--of course there are high paying "corporate" jobs for actors, on Broadway! Somehow that's not quite the given entry-level lawfirm gigs are, is it?

Daisey refers to this as a "broken system." I agree. The problem is--as with so much in our capitalist Arts economy--the United States doesn't really get the tradition of the great European drama schools, which I believe have often been free. Based upon high-level admittance via scholarship, of course. This makes utter sense when you think of it since it would be unconscionable (wouldn't it?) to take huge amounts of tuition money from someone if there's no realistic expectation they might become a working actor.

But the truth is, as we all know, there are more acting students in MFA programs than there are acting careers in this country--or stage acting careers, at least. And more slots in those programs across the country, frankly, than there are truly gifted actors, I suspect. Which means that many of these programs are taking students they probably know are going to have a tough time making a career at it.

The other problem is tying acting training to the existing university system. The great academies of Europe were never meant to be that. And when you get down to it, it's the economics of university tuition that make the MFA so freakin' expensive. After all, if XYZ University charges $30,000 a year for a Masters in Business--why not for Theatre, right? It's all the same degree, ain't it?

We have had a tradition of acting schools outside of universities--from AMDA, AADA, and Neighborhood Playhouse in NY, to the what was formerly the independent "Goodman School" in Chicago, before it became yoked to DePaul. Juilliard still holds the promise of being an "Academy" in the old model. But even they have no blanket scholarship approach and students there--like at every university--have to compete for the few "free rides" there are.

My philosophy of grad school has always been--only go where they pay your way. (Or better, where they pay you to go.) The only training worth paying for as an adult is Apex Tech-style: free set of tools and a skillset for an always-in-demand profession. Or any profession that actually requires some kind of certificate of entry.

In case you haven't noticed yet, no piece of paper helps any actor--or director, or playwright--get a gig.

However, we shouldn't kid ourselves that at least some MFA programs still have benefitted their students. And the benefit is usually much more in the networking than the training. I don't even mean "networking" in a cynical way. Just working with faculty who are big professional directors, for instance, (or getting them to read or see your work) is a great way to meet them and get them to hire you later on.

But the truth is there's only room for a handful of such programs. Which is why my advice to actors interested in grad school is always: ok, apply to Yale, NYU, and Juilliard, if any of them take you and pay your way, go. Otherwise, stay in New York, get a sideline job, save money, and work, work, work.

Anyway, enough with my own sage advice. I hope Daisey's bluntness helps start the debate anew. The more provocative parts of his argument point the finger of complicity at those artists who have become teachers in MFA programs, who thus perpetuate the myth of the degree's necessity. I'm not sure about personal culpability here (and as Daisey says, it's the whole system we have to look at). But we also have to acknowledge that the only practical use of an MFA is to get you a teaching gig. So at least those folks are getting something out of it. Question is: are MFA programs doing more than training new teachers. Who in turn will train new teachers. And so on. And so on.

Daisey continues the thread on his blog here and here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Caryl Churchill's "Seven Jewish Children": "Corrie" redux?

So you may have heard Caryl Churchill was unveiling a new short piece in London protesting the Israeli strikes against Gaza. The 10-minute vignette, Seven Jewish Children, is now up and running at the Royal Court and is downloadable (free) from their website.

Well guess who enters the picture now? New York Theatre Workshop--still apparently reeling from the blowback following their 2006 decision to pull the similarly pro-Palestinian My Name is Rachel Corrie from their schedule a month before opening--is putting the feelers out on this one. Aside from repairing the damage from the Corrie fracas, at stake here also is, I assume, an attempt at rapprochement with Ms. Churchill, a playwright they've been proud to produce in the past before she basically broke with them over the Corrie affair. (And subsequently gave her next play, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You to the Public instead, after a string of successful NYTW transfers, including A Number and Far Away.)

What's odd, though, about this story today, as reported by Patrick Healy in the Times, is why would NYTW even want it known they're "considering" producing the play if they're not yet committed to it? If they now decide not to do it, aren't they inviting the same criticism all over again of pulling a play they want to do but can't muster the political courage to see through?

Perhaps they're not the ones feeding the story. (NYTW's AD Jim Nicola is a "no comment.") But then who would be? Is the Times really that interested to initiate this inquiry? (They haven't breathed a word of the London run of the play so far.) The only other force behind this I can imagine is Churchill herself (and/or her agents) who might be pressuring either NYTW or The Public (also identified in the article) into committing.

Aside from the NYTW angle, though, the play itself is worth pondering for a moment.

Having read the script and read some of the London reactions, I can say this has the potential to be even more controversial than Corrie. If only because it is a much less conventional "play." While Corrie lionized a controversial real-life activist figure, the character of Rachel came off as a likeable heroine of a fairly straightforward "monologue play"--complete with classically tragic dramatic ending. Seven Jewish Children is much harder to pigeonhole. It consists of seven scenes/chapters/monologues/what-have-you, without clear indications of who speaks them and even how many actors speak them. (Let alone how it is to be staged.) So one's reading of these speeches (not assigned to any delineated dramatic "character") could depend entirely on the tone, casting, and staging of the speakers.

The segments seem to proceed step-by-step through Israeli history: from the Holocaust through liberation, through the various Arab wars, concluding with the recent Gaza conflict. While it is hard to "sum up" Churchill's elusive prose-poetry in any narrative way (which is why you're better off reading it for yourself), it's fair to say what she's depicting is an increasing hardening of Israeli resolve, a journey from victims to persecutors. The "children" of the title refers to those children to whom we must always decide what to tell when we do things that will affect their future. (As in "what will we tell the children?") In the course of the seven episodes, the "characters" constantly waiver in what to tell their children, or more specifically their daughters (Churchill only refers to "her")--from hopeful visions of protecting them from the genocidal fate of their forebearers to vengeful vows to defeat the Arabs who threaten their future.

In short, I believe this is a complex and poetic, multi-voiced text, not a simply stated op-ed. But knowing Churchill's beliefs--and the context in which she unveiled the play as an "intervention" and is donating proceeds form the Royal Court production to a Palestinian charity--one becomes quite aware that the piece is written in anger and outrage at the Israeli government and, yes, the Israeli citizens who backed its retaliation in Gaza.

Many, many commentators, of many political and religious persuasions (including Jewish) have at least questioned the "proportionality" of the Israelis' military response to those rockets hurled by Hamas into Jewish territory. So it seems to me, such an urge to protest is hardly beyond the pale.

Where Churchill has riled many beyond the reflexive AIPAC right-wing, is in her unflinchingly harsh depiction of Jews' justifications for the recent militancy. The two lines that I've seen get the most attention are "tell her I laughed when I saw the dead policemen" and "tell her we’re
chosen people" which out of context could strike many as demonizing Jews in general, not just Israelis.

I don't doubt that Churchill herself may feel that angry at Israeli defenders--and Jewish defenders worldwide--of the attacks. But taken in context, these lines are clearly outbursts resulting from tortured soul-wrestling of these disembodied voices. Take the opening of Part 6, for instance:

Don’t tell her
Don’t tell her the trouble about the swimming pool
Tell her it’s our water, we have the right
Tell her it’s not the water for their fields
Don’t tell her anything about water.
Don’t tell her about the bulldozer
Don’t tell her not to look at the bulldozer
Don’t tell her it was knocking the house down
Tell her it’s a building site
Don’t tell her anything about bulldozers.
Don’t tell her about the queues at the checkpoint
Tell her we’ll be there in no time
Don’t tell her anything she doesn’t ask
Don’t tell her the boy was shot
Don’t tell her anything.
Again, if you believe Israel is justified in its recent actions, then you'll have many arguments to pick with these points. (Like insisting the checkpoints and bulldozers are needed for security.) But for myself I can say there are no implied charged here I haven't read in, say, The Nation. My point is I find nothing in Churchill's text that isn't already hotly debated on both sides of "the Israel question." The objections seem to be to her unashamedly judgmental tone.

I will say this, for what it's worth: I do believe a Jewish writer probably would not have written this text. Some of the language, and the unrelenting cataloguing of offenses without mitigation probably goes further than most Jewish writers would feel comfortable with. There is not much empathy expressed (unironically, at least) for Jews who might still instinctively sympathize with the Zionist project in the abstract. Indeed Zionism itself seems to be the focus of Churchill's invective here. To her, it has gone horribly horribly wrong.

But to this I say, so what? Should only Jewish writers be permitted to write about Israel? Sensitivity is one thing, but I also understand why Churchill is angry. You can argue all you want how the images on TV and in the papers of dead Palestinian children are somehow staged and selective...but that doesn't lessen the horror. Seven Jewish Children seems to me a completely understandable response of a non-Israeli partisan, to these unfolding images of unnecessary death. And living in a free society means having to allow and listen to those kinds of perspectives, at least occasionally.

But back to theatre.

If anyone out there in the New York theatre truly wants to do this play and is ready to support it through whatever controversy ensues, I say more power to them. I don't think a producer presenting it is required to "endorse" all of Churchill's beliefs. But they better be prepared to defend why we need freedom of speech on this issue, even if people hate the play--which they will.

In other words, I don't recommend embarking on this project lightly. Or assuming you can hide behind the cover of: "Oh look! We've got the new Caryl Churchill play! Didn't you love Cloud 9!"

For one's not really even a "play." How do you go about staging a 10-minute seven-voiced prose-poem? It kind of ups the stakes if you invite ticket buyers to show up and pay for that. (People grumbled enough over having to pay full price for Churchill's Drunk Enough at the Public, all 45 minutes of it.) And if you don't make people pay for it and you go the Royal Court route by having them donate to charity, are you going to go with the "Palestinian" charity? Or something more "balanced"?

The Royal Court decided to stage it as an "afterpiece" following select performances of their current mainstage offering The Stone a new German play by Marius von Mayenburg which seems to be about what happens to a piece of Jewish-owned property in Germany through World War II and after. So perhaps this pairing made sense in addressing Jewish themes yet offering requisite balance (in reminding audiences of crimes against Jews).

So that's their solution. I have no idea what NYTW or the Public could offer at this point. The former has no play schedule till May: Naomi Wallace's "Things of Dry Hours" and it's about Depression-era Alabama. The new Craig Lucas play coming to the Public, The Singing Forest , appears to have a Holocaust tie-in, so we'll see. But if either theatre waited till, say, the fall, wouldn't the whole point of immediacy be lost? And the play could seem all the more harsh and inflammatory so long after the events.

Personally I can't help wondering whether such a piece would be better off not in a "legitimate" theatre, but at a rally, or a "slam", or on a bill for a "benefit" along with other allied causes. Because, frankly, as "drama" I'm not sure it deserves to be staged as one. At the very least, doing so could really, really confuse audiences about what to expect. Which would only make controversy worse.

So my suggestion to the Public, for instance, would be to put it in Joe's Pub, and turn that cozy cabaret for one evening into a real hotbed of political dissent. Or for NYTW, rent the KGB bar next door.

I have to say in this case, though, that just because something is written by a playwright doesn't make it a play. And theatres are not necessarily obligated to give an open mic to all playwrights if they can't get behind the project in good faith.

For London reax to Seven Jewish Children, there's this overview from the Guardian, also Billington's rave review, and a sampling of political criticism from a columnist for the Spectator.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Quote of the Day

"January and February are traditionally the toughest months for the theater industry, and off-Broadway could use a boost more than ever. More than 25% of the once two hundred off-off-Broadway theaters have closed in the last five years, and theater executives estimated that another 25% will disappear within the next 16 months because of the economic crisis."

-Crain's NY Biz.

Hence a new professional campaign, On the House--touting a bunch of 2-for-1 ticket offers--aims to give our smaller theatres a little stimulus.

Here's an idea for an promotional campaign: "Off Broadway: It's cheaper. And probably better."

Arts Funding Honor Roll

According to yesterday's Times, here are the key House supporters who kept those Arts provisions in the final stimulus bill:

  • Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, co-chairwoman of the Congressional Arts Caucus
  • Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Washington, chairs subcommittee overseeing the NEA
  • Representative David R. Obey, D-WI, chairs House Appropriations Committe.
So if you see them, give them a hug today.

And, yes, Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Even if it did take some last minute lobbying from an uber Hollywood Liberal:

One would be hard pressed to argue that a call from Robert Redford to the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, helped salvage money for the arts in the economic-stimulus bill last week. But it certainly didn’t hurt as arts-friendly members of the House and Senate struggled to preserve $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts in the final version of the recovery package, approved by both houses on Friday.


In his conversation last week with Ms. Pelosi, a California Democrat, Mr. Redford said, he drew on his film experience to argue for the arts as an economic engine. “Ticket takers or electricians or actors — all the people connected with the arts are at risk just like everybody else is,” he said in an interview. He said he also reminded Ms. Pelosi that his Sundance Film Festival brings more than $60 million to Park City, Utah, each year.

Well, Ye Olde Regional Theatre Playhouse can't quite compete with that. But, hey, rising tide, lifting boats...let's hope it trickles down. Nudge, nudge.

PS. To the list also add Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, who will actually hold hearings this Spring, calling actual artists and arts experts to testify as to the "usefulness" of the arts to our fiscal and educational health.

Perhaps Rep. Miller will draw upon his experience directing The Road Warrior?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Good Night "Twelfth Night"

Dear Public Theatre:

I cannot go see your Twelfth Night in the park this summer.

Over the years I have been subjected to two Twelfth Night's already at the Delacorte dominated by celebrity stunt casting. I've suffered through Michelle Pfeiffer and Julia Styles. And now you ask me to wait in line for hours to see Anne Hathaway???

It doesn't help of course that I am sick of this play. Isn't this the most frequently performed Shakespeare? Which is a shame since out of all his works it's the one that seems to deliver fewer and fewer rewards upon repeated viewings. Or maybe that's just the fault of the shallow directors that constantly strain to prove to me how funny grabbing your crotch while singing "hold thy peace" can be.

Most unfortunate of all is how the role of Viola has been deemed the Shakespearean role most suitable for a limited pretty starlet to prove her stage chops in. (Too bad it's the most difficult and richest part in the play.) Not only did we have the unintentionally deadpan stylings of Ms. Styles, but don't forget how Helen Hunt singlehandedly brought down an otherwise beautiful production by Nicholas Hytner at Lincoln Center ten years ago. While Dan Sullivan, helming this summer's production, is a fine director, not even he can tempt me to sit through yet another evening with an amateur ingenue and the lame "antics" of Sir Toby Belch & co.

It all seems just so, so...tired.

Quote of the Day

"[T]he global economic crisis is showing how wishful was the notion that large-scale amelioration of drastic conditions--poverty, illiteracy, infant mortality--could be achieved by freewill offerings from well-intentioned individuals, even if those individuals happened to be billionaires. Like consumer capitalism, which relies on more and more people buying more and more things, philanthropy is an unsustainable model. Even in flush times of humongous returns on investments and much exuberant throwing about of cash, it could never do the jobs asked of it. In a downturn, nonprofits suffer along with the rest of the economy. Easy come, easy go."

-Katha Pollitt, The Nation.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Advice to the Players

I like very much what Times classical music critic Anthony Tommasini says in an online Q & A when asked to give career advice to young musicians.

I think the same goes for actors, directors, you name it. So you make the substitution...

The musicians I knew back then who have managed to have stable careers are not necessarily the ones who were the most talented or the most ambitious. They were the ones who seemed the most content being musicians. The pianist always willing to play the first performance of a new chamber piece by a student composer, happy to have a work-study job accompanying the students of a voice teacher, ready to learn the piano part to the Hindemith Tuba Sonata (which is hard, let me tell you) to help out a tuba player preparing a degree recital. Young musicians who have that kind of contentment with their work, even while struggling, tend to fare well, in my experience. Whereas I have known other young musicians, sometimes formidable talents, who unless they saw a path to Carnegie Hall and a touring career became so frustrated that the pleasure of being a musician went away. Some just gave up.
Either you get a break and get famous quickly. Or you do what you have to do to make it a profession, and all that entails.

Moreover you have to, on average, genuinely enjoy (or at least be "content" with, in Tommasini's words) the strictly professional gig, being the hired hand. Because that's going to be over 75% of the work you get.

Otherwise, you're just eventually gonna give up.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Brother, Can You Spare a Dollar?...for the Ohio

The beleaguered downtown fixture the Ohio Theatre has launched a micro-donation campaign for lean times through the Network for Good. If you've seen great theatre there over the years and want to see more, then please consider giving, even if just a buck, and tell your friends. If enough bucks come in, maybe it will help.

On Second Thought--Yes, Tax Broadway

Last week the NY Times editorial page took a stand against the proposed "Broadway Tax" being floated in Gov. Patterson's new emergency budget cuts.

Bully for them.

But upon discovering (after a quick archive search) that they had not run any editorials protesting Patterson's outright arts funding cuts for nonprofits, the cynic in me has to wonder: is this a favor for those Broadway League producers who are among the paper's last loyal advertisers willing to shell out for those glossy full-page Sunday ads? The League, understandably, is going into overdrive to lobby against this measure--which threatens to increase those $100 Broadway ticket prices another 8% potentially, on top of the already who-knows-what percentage for their profit margins.

The Times laments:

Showbiz does cost a bundle, but live theater gets little support from the city or the state — even to subsidize the price of tickets so that less-wealthy theater lovers could afford to go.
Hear, hear! Support "live theatre"! Subsidize tickets!... Oh wait, you're only talking about Broadway?

So this got me thinking: why not. Why not tax Broadway. BUT only if the money then goes to the nonfprofit theatres, to make up for the budget shortfall and their arts funding at least at their current levels.

Yes, I'm suggesting robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or at least robbing the Shuberts to pay the Public.

Think about it: even at 1% that's a dollar for every orchestra tickets at a Broadway show that goes into a fund for the New York nonprofits. And said fund is explicitly designated for paying artist salaries at nonprofit theatres (not for building a new lobby, for fundraising parties, or even for advertising). The point is to keep artists working through these tough times, both on Broadway and off. The more stable a career actors, directors, and designers can have Off Broadway, the more available they'll be to work "on." And with the odds working against long Broadway runs now, the Rialto can't be depended on to support the massive NYC talent pool.

And with nonprofit theatre budgets shrinking next season, expect lots of monologue-shows and two-handers, unless someone comes up with some operating expenses for these companies.

A modest proposal? I'd like to think so. Unfortunately it's all too radical for our corporatized arts scene. Even though Broadway will now continue to poach--I'm sorry "enhance"--from the nonprofit world more than ever as developing their own "product" becomes increasingly unfeasible.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Teaching Artist Survey

After ragging on Americans for the Arts last week, it's only fair I point to one of the good things they've been doing, too. Like their "Teaching Artist Research Project."

There have been remarkable advances in arts education, both in and out of schools, over the last fifteen years, despite a difficult policy environment. Teaching artists, the hybrid professionals that link the arts to education and community life, are the creative resource behind much of this innovation.
So if you in any way count yourself a "teaching artist" take a look, participate, and represent!

Some Reading

-Alisa Solomon takes on the recent Mamet revivals and the man himself in The Nation. ("Like a corporate logo one can easily identify without ever using the product it adorns, Mamet's iconic status seems to have overtaken the work.")

-"Artist representation in the work force is more than a thousand times greater than their representation in the stimulus package." So argues Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress thinktank. If you're still in need of "talking points" to defend arts funding in the stimulus, look here.

- And in case you forgot what an arts stimulus would really look like, Jeremy McCarter fights the good fight over at Newsweek, reminding us about that WPA.

-The Public has announced the second season of its helpful "Lab" series, of $10 new-play workhops.

-And a nice NYT slideshow showing off the renovations to Ford's Theatre, including the most (in)famous box seat in American Theatre History.

Friday, February 06, 2009

New Links

Check out the Blogroll for some new additions to the "News & Resources" list highlighting some no NYC activity: LA Stageblog (run by the LA Stage Alliance) and Minnesota Playlist.

Also, I'm glad that Andy Probst's American Theater Web has added a special page just rounding up all the theatre-related headlines he can. An invaluable service.

Happy weekend reading!

Policing NYT Policing Copyright Dispute Regarding Policing Blanche DuBois

Isaac has a good fisking of Patrick Healy's NYT article yesterday about the unfortunate copyright fight going on over the new downtown show, Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire.

"I really wish," laments Isaac, "that Patrick Healy had focused his word count more on the intellectual property issues at stake here, as this case could actually make a good case study for educating readers of the Times about some of these issues."

Oh, how many times have I said so myself, Isaac. But you see, educating readers about theatre is not really the mission of the New York Times, um, "theatre" desk. If you want to do that go to school, man. Arts are dessert, not spinach!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

"Feed Your Kids the Arts!"

Forget Republican congressmen. The biggest enemy of arts advocates may be themselves.

Check out the web-"PSA's" Americans for the Arts just unveiled in their latest (no doubt professionally-commissioned*) pr campaign, "Feed Your Kids the Arts!"


This one's the best of the three, since at least it's cleverly produced. But, man, if there's one thing kids hate more than "the arts" it's nutrition!

(Then again, these are obviously aimed at the parents. First mistake.)

Perhaps this one intends to appeal to kids--sorta Dora the Explorer, but blander. And then it goes all Jetsons!

And finally, la pièce de résistance.

Whoever thought the best way to sell the arts in 2009 was to imply that all a middle-class black family needs to give their kids a better life is some dead white European male invading their home...Well, it's just not helping.

And, in the age of Obama, to close on the image of a young African American boy with a long white beard stuck on him...Fuck it, gut that NEA! Even I've had it.

Oh, and by the way, notice: lots of dancing, classical music, painting here. But no theatre.

*Website seems to say these were made in conjunction with Disney! There you go.


From The Onion.

Movies, theatre... same difference, right? So with that said...


Carbondale, PA—Local throat-clearer Leon Pollack, 32, confirmed with reporters Tuesday that he planned to see the [Saturday matinee] of [The Seagull] at the [Walter Kerr Theater] "I'm really looking forward to this [show]," Pollack said while drinking a large glass of whole milk. "And afterwards, I'm thinking I might—hurrrm…hurrrrrrrm! Excuse me. I'm thinking I might go to the reading room at the library for a couple of hours." After downloading a new "La Cucaracha" ring tone for his cell phone, Pollack went to pick up two of his friends, an 87-year-old woman who doesn't follow plotlines well and a colicky 2-month-old.
I think we all know this guy, don't we.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Directors to Watch

A worthy profile of two of our most reliable and versatile downtown directors: Anne Kauffman (The Thugs, God's Ear) and Ken Ross Schmoll (The Internationalist).

For my money, these are two of our best directors working in NYC (theatre capital of the nation, doncha know), I dare say the Alan Schneiders and Robert Woodruffs of their generation--i.e. the young directors whose work is sheparding the most promising new playwrights of the day. Yet here is how they eek out a living:

[D]espite the excellent reviews and occasional awards they've earned, they make only the most marginal living out of theater. Directing a new play, which can consume months, pays as little as $200 and rarely more than $2,000. Kauffman supplements her income with teaching; Schmoll does freelance editing. They describe earnings approaching $30,000 as "a really good year."
Not only have neither worked on Broadway, but i don't believe they've been invited to The Public!

Here's to the future of the American theatre.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Dominique Serrand

Interesting interview with Dominique Serrand, director of the now-defunct Jeune Lune company, late of Minneapolis. (From Minnesota Playlist.)

On why theatre artists are "migrant workers" and desperately need to be supported by salaries. (Like their administrators are.)

On why American audiences have a closer relation to art than to "artists." ("Art comes from artists, not from institutions.")

On why they couldn't attract the kind of mega-donors and philanthropists that could have saved them: "They give very generously to the institutions on which they could put their name. And Jeune Lune was not an institution you could put your name on. Because it was not about rooms and buildings and stone, it was about the work."

And about thirty minutes of other theatrical postmortem thoughts.

Some Reading

A round-up of stories and posts that caught my eye.

-Latest Broadway grosses are in. Variety says they're down, but I'm impressed, going into February, no one is under 50% capacity!

-SF critic Chloe Veltman asks, What makes journalists think that they can write well for the stage? Case in point: George Packer's "Betrayed."

-Environmental, site-specific theatre finally comes to the 4 train!

-Did you know there was a nice little theatre company in Horse Cave, Kentucky? Well with this economy, perhaps not much longer.

-And, finally, can you imagine a more toxic mixture than Andrew Lloyd Webber and the impeached Illinois gov? I give you, Second City's "Rod Blagojevich Superstar!"