The Playgoer: February 2010

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Photo of the Day

Judi Dench as Titania, Queen of the Faeries, in Peter Hall's latest Midsummer Night's Dream, currently on in London.

From Matt Wolf's NYT review:
I can report that I haven’t laughed so delightedly in ages as I did at the moment at which our heroine’s sexually reinvigorated fairy queen responds to a love-struck whinny from her adored Bottom (Oliver Chris), the weaver who has been transformed by the mischief-making Puck into an ass. Titania’s reaction? To let loose with an anticipatory neigh all her own, before she and her donkey-headed boy toy scamper off into the intermission to have — well, who can say precisely what sort of fun?
Ah, how casting changes the character.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Enron" as GOOD Investment

Who is Lucy Prebble?  She's the 29-year-old British playwright who decided to write an Enron play a few years ago and found someone to produce it--in London.  And now that it's a proven success there, of course, it's coming to Broadway.

Time Out NY's David Cote asks (in the online pages of a UK paper no less): "Why couldn't America produce its own Enron play?"  One doesn't have to be a cultural nationalist to say, good question!

Part of the answer may be in simply following Ms. Prebble's career, which has been blessed by luck, no doubt, but also a climate more conducive to simply getting work done at all levels.

Ms. Prebble graduated [college at University of Sheffield]. She wrote a play about a pedophile, which was staged at the Royal Court Theater in London and enjoyed a rapturous critical reception. Later, in the wake of a career slowdown that prompted her to consider law school, she was hired to dramatize a blog by a high-priced London prostitute. The series, “Secret Diary of a Call Girl,” is seen on Showtime.

In 2006, as she continued working on the show, she met with an associate director of a London theater company, Headlong. He told her it was looking to stage big, bold stories. As it happens, Ms. Prebble had been following the Enron trials. “And I said: ‘I have got this one thing. I’d love to do a really big, musical, kind of spectacular show about the fall of Enron,’ ” she recalled during a recent interview in a warrenlike basement of a pub in the City, London’s financial district. “We spent the next hour getting drunk and talking about it. It was one of those meetings where you go, ‘Yes, this person gets it.’ ”
Et voila.  It happened.

I wouldn't underestimate the importance in this story of just having an artistic director telling a playwright he was looking for "bold, big stories."  That's a helpful start.

It's also encouraging to see young London playwrights also go through dry spells and write for TV--and then come back to theatre with interesting projects.

As for the rest it all comes down to that ethic of production, production, production and whatever financial arrangements they have there that keep making it feasible there.  Not to mention a proper "dole" that keeps artists, you know, alive while they're unemployed.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Arts Teachers vs Teaching Artists

Arts education blogger Richard Kessler is alarmed about "outsourcing" arts education, at least based on an LA Times report about some Burbank school.

Ideally, arts education is delivered best by a powerful combination of certified arts teachers, classroom teachers, and cultural organizations, including teaching artists....Where there are not enough certified arts teachers available, it would be hard to fault a school that chooses to hire teaching artists as an alternative.
[But] An expansion of outsourcing as described by the LA Times piece will only serve to balkanize the arts education field.


The article was not very well put together, I am afraid. It doesn't really do much but give the impression that any actor can teach K-12. In that respect, it does a terrible disservice to the field of educational theater. It may very well be that the two actors that the schools have hired are highly trained, but there is no mention of that in the article. Each actor may be half the price of the licensed theater teacher (and yes, the article only implies that there were licensed theater teachers previously), but we have no idea about frequency of instruction or anything else.
Theatrewise, on the one hand, increased hiring of freelance "teaching artists" is good news for those actors who sideline as that.  On the other, I bet a fair amount of artists are also full-time (and "certified") arts education teachers in the school system and need those full time jobs with their benefits.

So let's hope even the reliable education jobs out there that so many artists subsist off of don't also get downsized.

Anyone with experience in this area want to weigh in?

Theatre's New Go-To-Guy in DC

Chairman Rocco has touched Minneapolis-based actor/director Ralph Remington for the post of Director of Theatre & Musical Theatre at the NEA. 

Remington, 47, a 1984 graduate of Howard, moved to the Twin Cities to pursue acting. He founded Pillsbury House in 1992 and ran it until 1999. He has acted at the Guthrie, Illusion and Pillsbury House theaters in Minneapolis.
Why should you get to know him?
He will manage the NEA's grantmaking for theater and musical theater and develop partnerships to advance the theater field. He will lead large-scale theater projects such as the NEA's new-play-development program.
Nuff said.

My two cents: nice to see someone in that job whose experience is more arts than administration, and with experience actually running a small theatre co.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why oh Why oh Why oh did they ever Close the Ohio

Yep, Ohio Theatre is indeed closing. This August.  The reprieves have run out, negotiations are over.

No update on the website yet, but a release has gone out, including an invitation to any "alums" to contribute to what sounds like a terrific archive in the making:

To mark this traumatic event, the Ohio Theatre will be providing a space on their website,, where artists and audience members will be able to post their thoughts, memories and experiences at the theatre. Robert Lyons goes on to say, “There will also be a place for artists who have performed at the Ohio Theatre to post production photos. We especially encourage those with pre-digital photos to take the time to scan and post them. Literally thousands of theatrical events have taken place at the Ohio over the last 29 years and we would like to have them ALL represented. We also encourage people to make a donation to help us through what promises to be a difficult transition.”
the current season continues, including preparation for Ice Factory 2010, as well as plans for a MAJOR dance party some time this summer.
At least they'll go out with a blast.

Cell Phone Announcements: Getting too Cutesy?

And still not even effective!

“Everyone hears the announcement, but no one thinks it applies to them,” said Seth Sklar-Heyn, the associate director of “A Little Night Music."
Catch the Our Town story at the end.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Quote of the Day

"The RSC says that it plans to store its Park Avenue Armory theater "probably in the U.S." at the end of its 2011 residency, and that it will be reused for other productions here and in England....

I have a different idea. The Actors' Shakespeare Project in Boston, American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis., Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., the Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington, D.C., the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey—these regional companies and others like them are performing precisely the kind of classical repertory that New Yorkers need to be seeing on a regular basis, and doing it with freshness and originality. So why not leave the stage in place and invite them all to act on it at Lincoln Center Festival 2012?
The obvious reason why this won't happen is that Lincoln Center Festival is for all intents and purposes in the business of bringing foreign artists to New York—and that American regional theater, unlike British theater, is devoid of the made-in-Europe snob appeal that goes over so well in New York."

-Terry Teachout, weighing in on the whole RSC/2011 deal, and putting a word in for the countless classical rep companies in this country (some of whom, gasp, may not be in New York).

Critic-o-Meter 2.0

Critic-o-Meter is now StageGrade.  The little blog with a dream, founded by our friends Rob Weinert-Kendt and Isaac Butler to keep a record of all major NYC reviews of new openings quickly became an invaluable resource.  And now it's all spruced up, sponsored and monetized!

Congrats to Rob and Isaac on putting all that work into such a successful and worthwhile endeavor.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tony Award Bizarro Logic

Did the role of Eddie Carbone's wife Beatrice in A View from the Bridge somehow get smaller in the last twelve years?  According to the folks at the Tonys it apparently did:

[S]ome of the producers on “View [from the Bridge]” are said to be a little frustrated that a Tony Awards committee decided last week to place the actress Jessica Hecht, who plays the wife of Mr. Schreiber’s character and the aunt of Ms. Johansson’s, in eligibility for a nomination in the best featured actress category instead of the leading actress category.

The producers had hoped to give Ms. Johansson a clear shot at a featured actress Tony nomination for her performance, and Ms. Hecht a shot at leading actress, which was the category that Allison Janney was nominated in when she played Ms. Hecht’s character, Beatrice, in the 1997-98 Broadway revival of “A View From the Bridge.”
Yes, the producers are of course "gaming" this to maximize possible awards and avoid having actors cancel each other out.  But still, with the 1998 precedent, they have a case, no?


-Who is Peaches?  And why is she being barred from performing her one-woman Jesus Christ Superstar?  Fight the power, Peaches!

-In case you missed last weekend's Sunday Magazine, NYT's Alex Witchel catches up with director David Cromer, post-Brighton Beach Memoirs. (He's back in NY, Off B'way, with a new Australian play.)

-Carrie Fisher is trying to sue her producer on her one-woman Wishful Drinking play/memoir over rights to the show.  What, you thought her producer was the nonprofit Roundabout Theatre Co., who presented her at the their Studio 54 Theatre in their subscription season?  Well...kind of...but that's not the sense I get from this article.  (Which would mean two of Roundabout's shows this season are basically commercial rentals.)

-Theatre artists anywhere in New York State (and I imagine there are a few of you) who want to do something to try to stop Albany from cutting state (and, hence, much city) arts funding, can go to NYS Arts Advocacy Headquarters to write legislators and such.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Last Affordable Spaces in Manhattan?

"There are lots of spaces, particularly on side streets, that are loftlike, large, clean and very affordable — great opportunities for arts organizations, many of them nonprofits....It’s centrally located and relatively close to the theater district."

-Robin Abrams, of Lansco Corporation brokers, talking up the Garment District where a bunch of nonprofit arts groups have recently found reasonable office and even performance space.

That is, if you have any discretionary income at all these days...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"All You Can Eat" Subscriptions?

In the era of the diminishing subscriber base, Seattle's ACT (as in "A Contemporary Theatre") may be on to something:

The spacious building [ACT's downtown home] houses four different stages. But ACT doesn't have enough money to produce plays on more than one stage at a time. [Carlo Scandiuzzi, ACT's Executive Director] says the obvious move was to invite other local arts groups to share the space.
Scandiuzzi: "What was perceived in the community as an albatross turned out to be the best asset we can have. Without the building, we couldn't do what we're doing. We could not do the programming that we're doing."
ACT has teamed up with everyone from dancers and musicians to smaller theater companies. It also started a new works series. Those initiatives helped the company increase artistic offerings from 12 shows in 2006 to 45 last year. Adding so many performances freed up ACT to try something new on the business side of the operation. In addition to its traditional season subscriptions and individual ticket sales, ACT launched a membership program. For $25 a month, members can see anything at ACT, as often as they like.
Scandiuzzi: "Like a gym membership. What it does, it appeals to a younger constituency that wants flexibility, doesn't want to be tied to let's say, I have to be here every other month. It frees them, they can call the day before, see a play, a dance, whatever."
It's like an all–you–can–eat art buffet. 350 people have become members since July 2009, when the program started. The company would like to bring in a total of 1,000 members by the end of 2010.
Yes, it means they're basically renting out the space a lot more, increasing turnover but also potentially letting go of responsibility and quality control over what performs there...but it also means they're making the venue into a performance "destination."

You can listen to the whole KUOW radio piece here.  (hat tip: Artful Manager)

"Gym membership" model or not, the key indeed is combining convenience, flexibility, affordability, and, of course, value.  Audiences can be pretty forgiving on at least one of those elements if the other three are satisfied. 

Problem for NYC nonprofits is: how many of them, as they exist now, could promise three of those four things?  (I imagine all you can eat at the Roundabout would be like a binge at Applebees: you're eating tons of stuff that looks like good food, but somehow still leaves you unsatisfied, sick, and poor.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is RSC 501(c)3?

Quick follow up to last week's discussion on the big RSC-NYC visit.  A reader who works in Development graciously shared the following revealing info on that 40% of RSC fundraising dough that comes from the States:

The RSC uses an American 501(c)3, RSC America, to raise funds here. Am I the only one wondering if the IRS intended the non-profit status to be exploited by overseas charities that are already MASSIVELY SUBSIDIZED by their own government? In the private sector, when a foreign corporation enters the American market with help from its own government, the US Congress takes steps to level the playing field through tariffs and other trade treaty provisions, and everyone agrees that that's fair and square. Jobs are jobs, whether you're harvesting timber or playing Hamlet. Let's take some steps to keep American philanthropy in American non-profits, and shut down 501(c)3s for overseas competitors.
Now let's not get out the pitchforks and demand "RSC America" be stripped of its nonprofit status.  But it is yet another case of the old code not serving theatre interests well.

It also makes me wonder who indeed is giving to "RSC America." I bet these are not $25 and $50 donations.  In other words, these are people not donating to rescue the arts (the UK government takes care of providing the company's subsistence).  These people are paying for access.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

RSC's "Bridge" to Nowhere?

I imagine some out there are a bit aghast at Charles Isherwood's pronounced Anglophilia in today's Times, celebrating the much ballyhooed New York season the RSC will play here next summer.  (That's 2011, folks, so take it easy.)  I myself can't wait for the spirited letters that hopefully the Times will publish tomorrow from the Public, Theatre for a New Audience, and The Pearl rebutting Isherwood's claims that NYC has no company devoted to classical repertory.

Not to mention, his clear implication throughout that Brits just do Shakespeare better (he suggests the RSC actors perform the public service of "teaching artists" while they're here) and that we need to create something modeled on the RSC.

Getting past the effrontery of those comments, I do sympathize with some of the impulses motivating  the essay, such as

for heaven’s sake, people, it’s not every day that somebody wanders into town and — presto! — builds a classical auditorium from the ground up. The heavy lifting, construction-wise, has already been accounted for. Let’s seize the day.
And, yes, it is kind of head-scratching to realize NYC does not have quite the equivalent of not only the government-subsidized RSC but also merely nonprofit American counterparts in other cities, like Chicago Shakespeare and DC's Shakespeare theatres.
If you lived in Washington, this season alone you would have had the opportunity to see “As You Like It,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Richard II” and “Henry V,” as well as productions of plays by Shaw, Corneille and Ben Jonson — all at the Shakespeare Theater. No major New York company comes close to doing the same, and the city’s theatrical culture is the poorer for it.
Well let's be fair, Charles: you might not get to see all of them in the same place.  Or literally in the same season.  But over, say, two or three seasons? I'm betting these plays have been done somewhere in NYC.

But--he's right if he means New Yorkers won't see them all as highly produced as at the DC Shakespeare Co., with its large budget and beautiful new venue. We certainly do have companies devoted to classic revivals (broadly meaning Shakespeare and others pre-1945, which is what Chicago and DC do, in truth).  The difference, most of those doing that here are doing it on about .001% of RSC's budget!  I'm thinking not just of Theatre for a New Audience (which doesn't have its own home, and might be especially interested in that faux-Globe RSC is leaving behind) and the Pearl (which barely affords sets and costumes) but also, Classical Theatre of Harlem, Irish Rep (no Shakes but plenty of 19th cent), and a bunch that may not do Shakespeare but lots of early 20th century fare: Keen, Pecadillo, and Transport Group.  I'm sure there are even more companies I'm leaving out. (Please tell us who!)

What Isherwood is really proposing is basically a "National Theatre" in the sense of Classical Rep (not one devoted to nurturing American plays past and present).  And we've all had this debate before, about why NYC does not have one and whether it's even a good idea.  In fact, it reminds me... one of my first ever Playgoer posts was on this very subject.  It was a rather, if I may say, snarky rebuttal to a Time Out story(!) advocating for one.  Looking back on my rant, I must say I certainly still agree with this:
Why set up another boring, safe institution. How about supporting what we have?
And I'm afraid what Isherwood is yearning for in theory would, in reality (in this town, at least), quickly turn into, yes, another boring safe institution.  Don't we have enough of those?

(Let's call it: "Presitigious $500 Subscription Theatre with VIP Lounge." And speaking of such, Lincoln Center's about to get a club of their own: a $100 million restaurant adjoining LCT's Vivian Beaumont theatre.  Quoth Lincoln Center's Prez: "'There is the issue of 'the V.I.P.’s,' Mr. Levy said. 'There are 12 constituencies with 500 board members. They have spouses, children and parents. There are corporate sponsors, foundation benefactors, donors. They will want every courtesy extended to them at the restaurant.'” )

But I'm afraid Isherwood is imagining just that.  He gives it away in citing the BAM so-called "Bridge Project" as a model, daydreaming that the RSC could "be a partner and participant in the new venture, offering advice and expertise as well as presenting visiting productions — making for a more ambitious, formalized version of the Bridge Project, Sam Mendes’s partnership between American and British actors on classic plays."

Well the Bridge Projet is a very revealing example.  Because based on last year's debut at BAM it was, in my opinion at least, pretty bloody boring.  Those who saw Mendes' early classical work at London's Donmar in the 90s describe it as exciting and edgy, which I don't doubt.  But house him in some big impersonal institution like BAM (which by the way is still really a touring house, not a producer), throw him in a room with a bunch of actors chosen chiefly for some misguided ideal of seeing if American and British actors can really work together (like they couldn't? haven't?), and sure enough he turned out two stuffy productions of very familiar classics (Cherry Orchard & Winter's Tale) which had nothing new to say about either. 

Oh, and by the way, let's face it they were basically still British productions.  Mystical "bridging cultures" collaboration my arse.  Except for possibly Ethan Hawke's wild-west Autolycus, the Yanks brought nothing distinctive and in many cases, intentionally or not, actually put on RP accents just to blend in!  The shows reminded me, frankly, of the more boring imports that have visited BAM in the past from, yes, the RSC, but with a few mild indie-marquis names (like Hawke and Josh Hamilton) thrown in for marketing.  And let's not forget, it was no coincidence that both Hawke, Hamilton, and a third Bridger, Richard Easton, had all just starred in Lincoln Center's Coast of Utopia, NYC's biggest snob hit in years.  (Which was also a thoroughly faux-British inflected Stoppardian production, even though they were all playing Russians.)

The Bridge shows were also indistinguishable from Mendes' last visit to BAM which, that's right, paired a Shakespeare (Twelfth Night) and a Chekhov (Vanya) but with all British actors in a Donmar presentation. So BAM clearly decided: Mendes + "Utopia"=$$.  (Note that Stoppard was involved too; Bridge used his version of Cherry Orchard.)

Bridge strikes me as hardly a model; instead it demonstrates what's most wrong with the modern nonprofit "festival circuit" mentality (as Michael Feingold delineated it at a previous Lincoln Center Festival event).  The sterility of the Bridge shows must have something to do with the fact there's no real company there.  No shared experience, no artistic reason for being other than a marketing coup for a few big institutions The website describes the venture as: "a unique three-year series of co-productions by BAM, The Old Vic, and Neal Street devoted to producing large-scale, classical theater for international audiences." Well aren't fine companies around the world already doing that?  You know, touring? So maybe that's why Bridge has the whiff of the pre-fab about it--all the lamest things about big institutional theatre with none of the strengths.

(By the way in case, like me, you're wondering who "Neal Street" is, they are "the UK based independent film and theatre production company set up by Sam Mendes" after he left Donmar.)

I'm sure there's something one could say about how Late Capitalism and Neo Liberalism make such synthetic theatre inevitable, where multiple international institutions have to collaborate to make any large project possible in order to market it globally (and Bridge does tour globally), thereby sucking any life out of the endeavor preemptively...but I'll skip it.

Can you tell I have a problem with this Bridge Project thing?  Maybe it's better this year.  Is it?

To bring it back to the RSC, there's nothing wrong with visits from foreign companies at all, really.  As an embarrassingly lazy traveler, I'm so grateful to all the touring productions (starting by the way with RSC's Nicholas Nickleby in '82) that have come and shown me what theatre can be beyond Broadway.  But the goal one should hope for is to inspire us here to do new things--not necessarily the same thing.  The Moscow Art Theatre came to New York in 1924 for a similarly long "sit down" residency, performing many plays in rep.  When some young eager New York theatre rebels saw it, their eyes were opened by a kind of acting they had never seen before so they went and made a new company--The Group Theatre--that would learn from that.  But while inspired by Stanislavsky's example, they did no Russian plays nor anything written before 1930, and all by American playwrights.  And it changed the American theatre forever.

Sorry, that sounded jingoistic.  Not the point.  What I meant was: Americans have already been making Shakespeare their own for over two hundred years the histories tell us. (See: Riots, Astor Place.)  So what we need to nurture our American classicists is, yes, continued glimpses of how other cultures do him; but, no, not more "lessons" in how to stage large-budgeted safe productions we won't be able to stage more of anyway without a big cozy subsidized theatre of our own.  Let's acknowledge that the greatest Shakespeare productions we've seen in NY have usually been in small underfunded theatrea done Off Off Broadway on a Showcase code.  Julie Taymor's original Titus Andronicus for TFANA in 1995 was not much more high budget than that, in the little St. Clement's theatre.  And it was amazing. 

So if the RSC visit galvanizes us in any way, let's use it to celebrate those artists already working in this town who are making magic with Shakespeare with much less, who don't have nearly the number of American donors the RSC has.  If the Armory ever is convinced to stay open as a Shakespeare space, let's give that space to folks who will do something totally different than our visitors, not the same.

Otherwise, the RSC will just take up all the theatre oxygen in a town where that is so precious.  And having said that...maybe I should stop taking up so much blog-oxygen as well.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


-LA Times reports from the onstage final farewell to Pasadena Playhouse.

-Time Out's David Cote tells Lincoln Center Theatre what they can do with their fancy new blackbox space. (Seriously, he has suggestions.)

-London's Royal Court is expanding to--out of the theatre and into the mall!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

More Brit Envy

The official computer rendering of what the Royal Shakespeare Co. plans to build inside NYC's Park Avenue Armory.

One has to admit, the sheer physical challenge described in Playbill is quite impressive:
[A] full-scale replica of the company's intimate thrust stage Courtyard Theatre will be constructed to house the plays. The 930-seat theatre, which will take two weeks to construct, is being specifically designed as a freestanding structure to fit within the Armory's Wade Thompson Drill Hall.
And before seeing this image, I wasn't clear exactly which of the RSC's spaces was being recreated.  A question made even trickier by the fact that the company is still in the midst of a massive renovation (or "transformation" as they're calling it), after which they'll emerge with basically three brand new spaces.  At first the picture made me think of their lovely "Swan" theatre, (the "middle" space of the original three) modeled on a Globe-style Elizabethan playhouse.  But turns out the Swan is no more!  Instead, what will go up in the armory is a replica of their temporary space, the "Courtyard"--also Globe-like.  Meanwhile, the Courtyard is itself serving as the prototype for the new mainstage that will replace the old one--which will involve quite a significant change from a rather cold big proscenium house to a more intimate thrust still seating 1030 but "reducing the distance from the furthest seat to the stage from 27 to 15 metres." (Think The Globe, Supersized.)

Oh, and they're also building a new on-site nursery for the company members' children.  But, of course, they already had one, this is just bigger and better.

Aside from the construction aspects, the tour is huge because, Playbill reports, it involves bringing in about 70 people!  44 of them are actors, and 23 musicians

Can you imagine an American theatre company employing full time even half that many musicians?

Ah what one can do with permanent public subsidies...

Photo of the Day

Detroit's Michigan Theater, built in 1926 by movie-palace makers Rapp & Rapp, as it looks today.

According to Wikipedia: "The Michigan Theater was permanently closed and partially demolished in 1976. Due to problems with the structural integrity of adjoining office building, the main hall and lobby were gutted and converted into a parking structure."

Photo from a new PBS documentary on Detroit (via NYT).

For more sad documentation of decline, see the documentary, Preserve me a Seat.

Monday, February 08, 2010

British Invasion

Lincoln Center Summer Festival dropped a nice press bomb this morning...

the Royal Shakespeare Company will hold court in Manhattan in the summer of 2011 for an unprecedented six-week, five-play residency. The troupe will occupy a newly constructed theater inside the Park Avenue Armory as part of the Lincoln Center Festival
And given the Lincoln Center Fest's usual practices, we can be sure tickets will be hundreds of dollars and sold out well in advance to patrons.  Thanks.

What's in it for the RSC, you ask?
[RSC A.D. Michael Boyd] said that support and collaboration with artists and patrons in America was increasingly important for the Royal Shakespeare Company, disclosing that 40 percent of its annual fund-raising revenue comes from the United States.

Wait--40 freakin percent???   I wonder how many rich American theatre-lovers are giving more to troupes abroad than here at home?

So we already know NYC hearts RSC.  But the Festival sure is going the extra mile in setting up Stratford Upon Upper East Side:
[S]everal hundred thousand dollars would be spent to construct a replica of the company’s Royal Shakespeare Theater, which is being built in Stratford. The replica will be shipped in pieces to New York and assembled in the Armory’s monumental Drill Hall, which has 55,000 square feet of uncolumned space.
Funny thing is, the Armory is only a short walk away from NYC's, um, other summer Shakespeare attraction, the Public Theatre's Delacorte.  If I were Eustis & co. I would not ignore the Brits, but choose the same plays and directly challenge them to a Bard-Off!  After all, we already know RSC is bringing six plays (“Antony and Cleopatra,” “As You Like It,” “Julius Caesar,” “King Lear,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “The Winter’s Tale") so there's not much else even left!

Quote of the Day

"Essentially, any activity that requires us to travel to a venue, take a seat, and watch people performing in some disciplined fashion is not as popular as it used to be."

New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross (subscription required), commenting on this NEA survey from last fall.

True? Talk amongst yourselves...

Friday, February 05, 2010

Obama's Arts "Freeze"

It should obviously not come as a surprise that one of the exceptions to the President's proposed "spending freeze" beginning next year will not be the National Endowment for the Arts.  In fact the proposed NEA budget in his 2011 plan is $6 million lower than the current level (still a paltry $167 mil).

Three different takes on the fate of the arts in the coming budget adjustments:

-Americans for the Arts head lobbyist Robert Lynch says this is bad news, plain and simple, and that the NEA should still keep pushing for that $200 million mark.

-Washington Post says things are all good, actually.  (Translation: could be worse, and be thankful you're getting anything in times like these.)

-LA Times reports that the philanthropic community will probably give a lot less if Obama's tax increases on their bracket limits their deductions, as is proposed.

There goes Chairman Rocco's hope that he would be the first NEA head to score more funding, I guess.  He must be thinking: I left Jujamcyn for this???  For a measely $160 mil I could produce three Spidermans!

UPDATE: Please do check out the link to George Hunka's blog he provides in Comments.  It's a video excerpt from the great old Britcom "Yes, Prime Minister" where an entire episode seems devoted to how much to fund/defund the Royal National Theatre!  (This was 1988, btw.)  It's a dazzlingly clever and witty depiction of the government/arts negotiations.  But this being Britain, still, and they're simply debating how much to increase the direct federal subsidy to a massive rep theatre, I can only sigh...we should have such problems.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Spaceship Lands atop Lincoln Center Theatre


Welcome to the future--where apparently Lincoln Center will always be a balmy 70 degrees and patrons will all be smiling and somewhat medically sedated.
Actually, like a slick ad graphic, the focus here is not meant to be the surroundings but that little rectangle on top of what we know as the Vivian Beaumont of Lincoln Center Theatre.  It's the blackbox (or, should that be "whitebox"?) of the future! Or, in other words, the new home for "LCT3":
The new theater’s programming, called LCT3, will feature the work of emerging playwrights, directors and designers, and will be aimed at new audiences, with every ticket priced at $20. It has been a long time coming — AndrĂ© Bishop, Lincoln Center Theater’s artistic director, has wanted a black box space since he came to Lincoln Center Theater in 1992.
The new theater will seat 131 in a fixed configuration — no thrust stage or moveable seats. Mr. Hardy has surrounded the seats with a curved wood enclosure. The addition as a whole, at 23,000 square feet, will include a lounge, rehearsal space, dressing rooms and offices. The second level is to have a green roof and the terrace.
Don't rush over there with your new script just yet--constructing is only just beginning next month and it won't be ready to open till probably two years from now, in early 2012.

Well that's too bad about the fixed seating, I guess.  But otherwise, so far so good, I say.  The $20 ticket price is essential.  But I wonder whether LCT subscribers (or "members") will have first dibs.  I've come to believe that any big subscription theatre that wants a developmental space for new work should NOT include it in the mainstage subscription.  The new space is not just a chance to find new work, but a new audience--so why risk it by filling the house with the usual crowd that might be most resistant to new work anyway.  You risk the advance income from subscriptions, but--you gain much hipness when young folk can enjoy sitting around other young folk at the theatre for a change.  Make it a different "scene," man.

But hey, nice at least not to have to go down to another basement.  Maybe the view will be nice.

Here's another rendering--with yet more of those spooky phantom patrons...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Too Big to Succeed?

Many of us rail against the functionality of the nonprofit business model in the theatre, but seasoned arts administrator James Undercofler has a nice provocative post providing an actual reasoned argument:

Is the traditional not-for-profit, 501(c)3 (NFP) so cumbersome in its structure as to actually impede the very promise of its original intention?
In the arts world, an odd personalization of the NFP has evolved that has accelerated their growth in numbers.  Creative artists from all areas want to create their own organization, so that they can create their art.  It's almost as if one step has to precede the other.  Yes, it likely grew out of the need to raise money, and a somewhat unfounded belief that no one would give to them without the imprimatur, but back to my initial premise, the creation of an organization before the art itself proves my point, that the NFP impedes its very promise.

While at the start-up level the NFP structure presents a visceral challenge, as organizations grow larger, the effects of the structure are more subtle, more insidious.  In larger NFP's, because of the need to raise larger budget percentages of contributed revenue, boards of directors become exceedlying large, as does the administration needed to service them.  These boards rarely universally possess knowledge of or passion for the mission itself.  At the very least they may understand a small portion of the mission's program activity.  With these large organizational entities, flexibility is lost, and mature organizations quickly move into decline, as they cannot address the changes presented to them in their communities, from their audiences, and external factors.  These organizations become "too big to succeed."
Hmm, remind you of any certain large but inert nonprofit theatre companies?

Indeed the whole 501(c)3 was created to help "charities" not art, right?  (Insert "art as charity case" joke here.)  So, not that this is a time to get anything changed in Congress, but...  how about a new tax code just focused on accomplishing what artists need most: the ability to attract donations and rent discounted space in exchange for not personally profiting.  That would be a start, at least.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

B'way Outsourcing the Shop?

Little nugget of interest buried in Patrick Healy's front page Times article yesterday on the downsizing of Broadway musicals:

For another major revival of his this season, “Dreamgirls,” which played at the Apollo Theater in the fall and is now on a national tour, [director Robert] Longbottom said he had the financial advantage of collaborating with producers in South Korea, where the show was created at a fraction of the expense of a New York production, which he estimated would have needed $14 million. (He attributed the difference largely to lower-cost construction and costume materials, and to the less expensive labor in South Korea.) “The costumes alone were $700,000 in Korea and would have been $3 million in New York,” he said. “And the quality is brilliant — it’s not done in sweatshops over there."
I can just imagine some Broadway bigwig spit-taking his or her latte yesterday morning upon reading that.

Or has Broadway already been doing this?  The Appollo "Dreamgirls," as you can see, was not quite a Broadway production, I believe, subject to all the same contracts, etc.  

Are there union contracts protecting, say, the Broadway costume shops where clothes are made?  Ditto scene shops?  Cuz if not....well hello foreign labor markets, "sweatshops" or not.

PS Decent article overall, though hardly news.  And the use of Billy Elliot as the teaser and lead front page photo is really misleading.  Yes, there's one scene with just the boy and the chair--but there's also a huge winding staircase that keeps shooting up out of the floor!  Ian McNeil is no minimalist.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Monday Roundup

-Coming attractions of note: director Ivo Van Hove and actress Liz Marvel team up again on another great diva role in The Little Foxes at NYTW; the all-female Queens Players resurrects a real rarity, 18th century playwright Susan Centlivre's The Wonder; Melvin Van Peeples is alive and well and adapting his landmark film Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song (yes 5 s's, I checked) into a musical for the BRIC Arts group in Brooklyn; and to follow up last year's greatest title (Rob Blagoyevich Superstar) Second City offers Rush Limbaugh! The Musical.

-Variety's headline says it all, "Lights Out at Pasadena Playhouse."

-Nice background to the writing of A View From the Bridge.

-A review of a new published history of South Coast Rep.  Headline asks if theatre is "a role model"?  Click and find out...