The Playgoer: June 2010

Custom Search

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Burqas: The Musical!

Onstage satire is alive but not well in Pakistan.

“Burqavaganza” is a love story in the time of jihad. A young couple struggle to form a relationship as societal forces try to keep them apart. The satirical play, which was recently banned by the Pakistani government, doesn’t sidestep any of the country’s problems: a creeping radicalization, terrorism, government corruption, and interference by Western nations, especially the United States.

Everyone in the play, both men and women, wears a burqa. In the drama, the veil is a metaphor for hypocrisy in a “hidden nation.” But the script also mocks the burqa,  a sacred symbol in Pakistan.
Before the March ban, the play had run three times at the National Art Gallery, a prized venue in Islamabad.
But the Pakistan National Council of the Arts and the Ministry of Culture banned the play after the head of the women’s wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, the nation’s largest Islamic party, wrote a letter to the prime minister condemning the play.
A senior official at the Ministry of Culture said the play “pollutes young minds” and “should not be shown anywhere in Pakistan.” The Senate’s cultural committee concluded a venomous debate by issuing a recommendation that “plays not hurt the feelings of anyone.”
I'm glad the senate used such lame words "hurt feelings."  For that's all these tussles are usually about, aren't they.

And can you imagine our own US Senate, if confronted with a play satirizing some sacred Christian ritual practice, reacting really that differently?

An indepth video report (with fascinating clips of the how) here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Another Troubled Palestine Play

I had seen the news about the brand new Artistic Director of Chicago's Next Theatre--an enterprising outfit that premiered the recent Adding Machine musical, amongst other notable projects--but thought nothing of it.  (Yes I know it's in Evanston, but still Chicagoland.)  But now Chris Jones of the Trib reveals that it was all about yet another controversial Israel/Palestine play.

Ah, but not for the reasons you're thinking.  The problem was author's rights, not human rights.

Long story short--and do read Jones for the long version--Next's new AD was intrigued by something he saw in Tel Aviv: an adaptation by an Israeli writer (Boaz Gaon) of a novel, Return to Haifa, by the long deceased Palestinian activist, Ghassan Kanafani.  That the play got on at all in Israel--back in 2008--was a kind of miracle, given what Goan had to do to get permission from Kanafani's estate and persuade Israeli audiences to come.  (Part of the controversy involves alterations/additions Goan has made to the original story to make it more "balanced.")  The essentials of the novel are as follows:

Penned in 1969, "Return to Haifi" is the story of two couples — one Israeli, one Palestinian — that ignites during the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, and it involves the Jewish couple raising a Palestinian baby, abandoned and forlorn in the wartime strife, as their own. In the play, the Palestinian couple returns to Haifa after the opening of the borders, following the Israeli victory in the Six Day War in 1967. They find their child fighting in the Israeli army, as well as the Jewish couple who were once themselves refugees and who surely saved the child's life.
So the play goes on in Tel Aviv and is a big success.  So far, so good.  Nice to see theatre reaching out and building bridges amidst violent conflict.

But then there's the conflict of lawyers, estates, protective agents and careless artists!

Sutherland--rightly--senses a hot property for his new perch and begins trying to secure rights.  Problem is, Kanafani's family only authorized Goan's translation of the play--into Hebrew.  Both Goan and the Kanafanis objected to a second-degree English translation of the previous translation.  And the rights for translating the Arabic into English were not exactly being given away.  Still, not deterred, Sutherland took a gamble and proceeded to plan, rehearse, and actually perform an English version in Evanston (to decent reviews and reception) without ever securing the English language rights in writing.  An attempt to enlist a new playwright to take credit for what was claimed to be an independent work has not convinced the principal players. 

Faced with threatened lawsuits and all kinds of actions, Next dismissed Southerland and issued an apology.

So, no protests, no picketing.  Just an AD who apparently shot himself in the foot. 

Though in his defense, I can understand the pressures he felt under.  Many an AD, I'm sure, can understand (if not condone) this chain of events laid out by Jones:
Southerland insisted that American practice was to announce a title and then get the rights. "Foundations," he wrote, "need a long time to approve funding for projects." He suggested that he announce the show for the Next Theatre season "subject to final approval from the Kanafani estate." And that's what he did.

Gaon was appalled. "I cannot grant permission to any production," he wrote, "until I hear from the Kanafanis." In his e-mails, he started using all capital letters: "YOU DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHTS."

Southerland replied that Gaon was not understanding "how it works quite often in the U.S." He told Gaon he had talked to New York producers interested in an off-Broadway production — and that he already had been given a grant to go to Israel to work on the project.


Southerland had put "Return to Haifa" on the Next Theatre season. Initially, the announcement included Gaon's name as adapter. But after Gaon's protestations, Southerland turned to another tack. He hired an Evanston writer, Margaret Lewis, to pen her own version of "Return to Haifa."

"We are not currently staging an adaptation of Mr. Kanafani's story," he told the estate in an e-mail. "(Lewis) wrote an original work inspired by the idea but also by dozens of other works. The play bares little resemblance to Mr. Kanafani's story."

That was hardly the case.
So I don't know what to conclude from all this other than you should never, ever proceed with any kind of adaptation before knowing you have the rights.  (As a writer, you shouldn't even waste time writing such a thing without being sure of that.)

But I'd like to think this also shows the potential for the material itself.  Luckily none other than Ari Roth of DC's Theatre J, who was briefly involved in the early negotiations as a possible co-producer (is there any Jewish theatre controversy that man is not involved in?) plans to import the original Cameri Theatre Production next season.  In the original Hebrew, of course.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Those UK Budget Cuts

In case you didn't hear, Labour is out and the Tories are back in at 10 Downing Street.  And the combination of Conservatives in power and fiscal crisis--the new PM David Cameron has already called for draconian cuts across the board to save the national treasury--could lead to a convenient open season on Britain's traditionally generous arts (esp. theatre) funding.

The Guardian's Lyn Gardner says it may not be as bad as feared since the UK Arts Council can apparently "draw on almost half of its £18m reserves."  (Wait, an arts surplus???)  Nevertheless she urges vigilance:

I think we have to accept that while culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, a man who clearly knows the value of money (he once claimed 1p against his expenses for a 12-second phone call), and the Tories talked the arts talk before the election, and did their best to argue that the Tories were not the nasty-to-the-arts party, they don't really understand that they are not supporting the arts but investing in them. They will understand, however, when the VAT receipts, which from London theatres alone are greater than all Arts Council subsidy to theatre, start to dry up. This is because the talent has not been supported and nurtured to make the shows. Or they will when our export of theatre talent to the rest of the world is lessened. Or when Nicholas Hytner has to close the Cottesloe [National Theatre's third space] like one of his predecessors, Peter Hall, and there are boarded-up theatre buildings across the country.
Stay tuned...

Sunday, June 27, 2010


A surprisingly diffident David Mamet goes on The Colbert Report to hawk his book, his play, his children's book, and talk about why directors are unnecessary and the theatrical equivalent of carbohydrates.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
David Mamet
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

Small detail, but note how his gesture for "turning on the tv" is still a knob, not a remote control.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Attention California

Hey I'm a New Yorker and I don't drive.  But if I lived in California I might consider this unusual way to get arts funding on the road again...

Over to you First Lady Maria Shriver:

Californians have an incredible opportunity to support the arts through the Million Plates Campaign for the Arts coordinated by The California Arts Council.

If one million California drivers purchased an arts license plate, we would raise $40 million. That's $40 million dollars that would go directly to more than 300 groups across our schools and communities.

Think about what our re-commitment to the arts would mean - not just to our children - but to our economy. Creativity and innovation are part of California's fabric, and we can all honor and further that legacy....

The Million Plates campaign launches Monday in Los Angeles. But plates are available right now by simply going online to 
While I'm not sure about her celebration of her husband's bodybuilding as "a form of art, self-expression and communication," Madame Schwartzenegger seems onto something about this.

Can this really work, Kally-fawn-ians?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Photo of the Day

photo: David Hou, Stratford Shakespeare Festival

Christopher Plummer and Julyana Soelistyo as Prospero and Ariel in Des McAnuff's new staging of The Tempest for this summer's Stratford Theatre Festival.

Soelistyo seems like great casting.  And, no, she is not photoshop'd there.

Dreams of a Rep

It's such a given fact of New York theatre life that we rarely discuss it:  this is the only world cultural capital without a first-class, well-funded permanent repertory company.

One could argue that Broadway once served that purpose by accident, with great stars and great production teams routinely turning out viable selections from The Repertoire.  But for all the carping about "revivals" on today's Rialto, let's not forget that most of these--if not imported from London--are threadbare, cynical exercises usually built around an ill-suited tv actor.

The Voice's Michael Feingold has been on this crusade from time immemorial.  Here's a bit from his latest salvo, injecting some much needed historical perspective:

Apart from small and constantly struggling troupes like the Pearl, we have no resident theater company in New York, no band of artists prepared to test its mettle against classics and new plays in equal measure. Such companies have always had to fight for survival against New York's flood of marketing and fashion trends: Eva le Gallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre was largely ignored; Orson Welles and John Houseman's Mercury Theatre succumbed to the lure of Hollywood; the APA found itself caught in the Broadway time-warp through its success with nostalgic Americana. None survived to become a permanent institution, but while they lived, they gave New York theater a substance and meaning that mere catering to the market could not provide. They also gave it Chekhov, Shaw, Molière, Pirandello, Marlowe, Giraudoux, Dekker, Ghelderode, Marc Blitzstein, Susan Glaspell, and George M. Cohan. And they did this, not as single elaborate events, but as what it is: the normal day's work of a theater.

I don't claim that this is possible in our time. I do know that some small groups are trying it, and that its existence would benefit everyone involved: testing actors, challenging directors and designers, setting the bar high for playwrights to extend their reach. And I know, too, that if made affordable (but how?), it would benefit a New York audience that has long since given up going to the theater, an audience not interested in fighting its way through ill-mannered tourist crowds to see old musicals redone cheaply and stars that it can see for free (or the cost of a Netflix download) on its home screen. The audience is ready; the artists are ready. What will the theater do?
It's true, New York has never been particularly hospitable to a European-style (or even Ashland, Oregon style!) multi-stage permanent company.  And I suppose commercial Broadway will always take up all the media oxygen and will always continue to allegedly be "synonymous" with American Theatre no matter how outdated a themepark it becomes.  And when you can't beat Broadway for that attention and dollars, many nonprofits decide to effectively join 'em, by staking their fortunes on "enhancement" money and transferring to if not buying Broadway houses.

I've never thought erecting some contrived idea of a "national theatre" in a country with no "national" culture made sense.  (And especially not in a city that, as we love to say, is an island off the coast of America.)  But, as Feingold reminds us elsewhere in the article, we do already have the kinds of institutions in place that could do this in our larger nonprofits.  There's still time for at least one of them to step up to this mission, should they choose it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Quote of the Day

Although both the size of the audience and the number of plays have increased prodigiously in the United States over the past forty years, most of the population is still extremely reluctant to participate in this kind of amusement....

The Puritans, who founded the American republics, were not only enemies of pleasure but professed a special abhorrence of the theater.  They looked upon it as an abominable diversion, and as long as their spirit reigned uncontested, dramatic performances remained wholly unknown.  The views of the founding fathers of the colonies on this subject left a deep imprint on the minds of their descendants.

Furthermore, the extreme regularity of habit and the great rigidity of mores that one finds in the United States have thus far done little to encourage the development of dramatic art.

Drama wants for subjects in a country that has never witnessed a great political catastrophe and in which love always leads directly and easily to marriage. People who spend every weekday making their fortunes and every Sunday in prayer do not lend themselves to the comic muse.

one fact by itself is enough to show how unpopular the theater is in the United States. Americans, whose laws authorize freedom and even license of speech in all matters, have nevertheless imposed a kind of censorship on dramatic authors.  Plays can be performed only when town officials allow. This shows clearly that peoples are like individuals.  They indulge their principal passions to the hilt and then take care lest they yield more than they should to tastes they do not possess.
-Alexis deTocqueville, Democracy in America (1840).

Included in the new Library of America volume, The American Stage: Writing on Theater from Washington Irving to Tony Kushner.

Ah Alexis, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, n'est-ce pas?

From Guerrilla Theatre to The Daily Show

Was the "Josh Fox" that Jon Stewart had on Monday night the Josh Fox--badboy wunderkind director of the International WOW Company?  Yes, indeed.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Josh Fox
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Good for him. What does a downtown director have to do to get on national tv?  Make an HBO muckraking documentary, of course!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Arena Stage Puts Playwrights on Salary

Well some playwrights at least.

Reports the hometown Washington Post:

Over the next three years, five playwrights will be part of Arena's American Voices New Play Institute, which was formed in August and financed by a $1.1 million gift from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The writers will be paid to write on any project they please during their three-year tenure, with the promise of a stage production and an additional pot of development money under their control. 
It's impressive is that Arena apparently factored this into the opening of their new three-venue complex, inviting (select) playwrights to fully contribute to the life of the entire institution for three years.  Perhaps even more impressive is that not only is there at least one production promised, but the writers are encouraged to use the residency to work on whatever they please.  (That "pot of development money" is described in the article as: "$15,000 budgets to spend as they see fit for the workshop phases of their creations")

Rare to have both subsidy and autonomy.

The five chosen writers for this phase range from the already prominent (Lisa Kron, Amy Freed) to the already "hot" (Katori Hall) to the lesser known nationally (Karen Zacarias and Charles Randolph-Wright) so at least the slots aren't being monopolized by the already over-awarded.

So we'll see what comes of this.  The article indeed credits the Public's new relationship with Suzan-Lori Parks as a precedent, so hopefully both these institutions (and others!) will continue to offer such support to future playwrights.

But there's a core issue addressed here that goes beyond the fate of new plays in America.  And that is the broader social and economic relationship of our performance institutions to our artists.  "Certainly, it has been noticed," one of the Mellon Foundation supporters tells WaPo, "that the administrators of these organizations are paid a salary and most artists are paid on contract."  Is that a sustainable discrepancy in this marketplace, in this cultural landscape?

Oskar Eustis puts it succinctly:
"What the theater says to playwrights is, Why don't you do television and movies, and when you are slumming, come do theater."
The universities can do (and have done) their part in subsidizing our theatre artists and writers.  But they can only do so much.

Photo of the Day

Hottest ticket in town this summer: Al Pacino as Shylock in Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare in the Park. (In rep with a Pacino-less Winter's Tale.)  Now in previews, performances thru August 1.

Tickets $175 in advance, or free at the door.

Just kidding.  "At the door" means seven hours before the show, plus the seven hours you'll have to wait on line before then.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tony Bump or Tony Hiccup?

Looks like the Tonys are not yet totally irrelevant and can still help ticket sales:

The two most important award-winners, Memphis—which won best musical—and La Cage aux Folles—best musical revival—had big boosts in ticket sales. 
A spokeswoman for Memphis said ticket sales for the show have increased a whopping 300% since Sunday night, though she wouldn't release a dollar amount. La Cage sold more than $250,000 worth of tickets the day after winning the Tony, more than twice the usual daily figure.
(Gosh, I wish an editor on that story queried the use of the word "important" in that first line, don't you?)

On the other hand, the winning nonmusical plays did not get such a bounce--but that's because they were sold out already!  Quoth Riedel:
"Fences," [is] still the hottest ticket on Broadway. Since it won the Tony for Best Revival, premium seats shot up to $400. But scalpers are getting $750 to $1,000 for good seats at most performances. "Red" also raised prices to capitalize on its win for Best Play. The show closes on June 27, and there are very few seats left.
Riedel's more skeptical of the picture being painted by the musicals' pr machines:
Hawkers wearing "Memphis" sandwich boards are all over Times Square offering steep discounts. There are plenty of "Fela" boards, as well. They're advertising the show's win for Best Dancing because, as one insider says, "The tourists don't know what 'choreography' is, and it's not a word that fits on a sandwich board."
The biggest bump may actually be going to the critically dismissed Promises, Promises, which Riedel claims surged in both current and advance sales.  I'm not surprised; between Sean Hayes hosting, multiple Kristen Chenoweth appearances, and a lengthy dance number it might have been the most plugged show the whole night.  And it barely even won any Tonys!


Brick & Mortar

Here's a blogpost making the internet rounds these days about the need for a business office in the 21st Century:

150 years later [after the Industrial Revolution] why go to work in an office/plant/factory?
  1. That's where the machines are.
  2. That's where the items I need to work on are.
  3. The boss needs to keep tabs on my productivity.
  4. There are important meetings to go to.
  5. It's a source of energy.
  6. The people I collaborate with all day are there.
  7. I need someplace to go.
  1. If you have a laptop, you probably have the machine already, in your house.
  2. If you do work with a keyboard and a mouse, the items you need to work on are on your laptop, not in the office.
  3. The boss can easily keep tabs on productivity digitally.
  4. How many meetings are important? If you didn't go, what would happen?
  5. You can get energy from people other than those in the same company.
  6. Of the 100 people in your office, how many do you collaborate with daily?
  7. So go someplace. But it doesn't have to be to your office. 
The author--marketing guru Seth Godin--is talking about more conventional "businesses" perhaps...but what do you think?  What about theatre companies?  Think of all the time, effort, fundraising and psuris that little nonprofits put into finding/building office space, and/or new bigger & better theatre buildings that have to be bigger to fit office space.

We know that many of NYC's downtown off-off companies basically operate out of the Artistic Director's apartment and a network of Starbuckses.  (Or, for the more committed and alternative, perhaps Think Coffee?)  And, yes, I guess if you're Oskar Eustis you probably feel a legitimate need to be at the theatre itself every day supervising your huge staff.

But what about the in-betweeners?  Ask yourselves: what precisely do we need an brick & mortar office for?  Board meetings? Well, how about renting a conference room twice a year--or better yet ask a board member to host.  Does the AD need to have a regular "receiving room" for artists and funders?  Great--but will a simple three-room office (one for receptionist, one for AD, one small conference room) suffice?

As for staff... well how big is your "permanent" staff?  Do your managing/marketing/development directors need to be right next door to you, AD's?  Or what if you know you can reach them by phone/text/chat/email instantly? 

But, ok, maybe those are your "core" or "senior" staff.  I reflect on my experience as a Literary Manager at a midsize professional LORT regional theatre.  I was not needed at my desk eight hours a day, I can tell you.  In fact, I would have given anything on most days not to be.  I would have been more productive reading scripts at home or at the coffee shop.  I could have used that time--imagine--to drive around the region scoping out new shows.  And I think many theatres have similarly "consultant"-style employees that also don't need to punch the clock factory-style.

Now many of you are already thinking about "downsizing" and staff/salary cuts.  And, yes, I know that Lit Mgrs and most theatre co. employees are already underpaid and we don't need to give Boards of Trustees any more reason to cut further.  But what I'm suggesting--perhaps naively--is to say: Fine, if you're going to pay staff members only 20K-30K a year, then at least don't force them to come in for 40-hour weeks.  If reducing on-site staff can save you office/real estate expenses, then hopefully you don't have to cut salaries.  And if the fates have decreed that if I'm a Lit Manager I'm going to be stuck making 20K-30K, then at least give me some of my time back to--god forbid--work other jobs to support myself, i.e. subsidize my work for your theatre.  I promise, I will still get the same number of scripts read (if not more) and, after all, your paying me for tasks, not hours, right?

Would reducing office space save theatre companies money in these hard times?  I guess if you already have an actual theatre building, where your office is basically off in the wings somewhere, then fine.  But maybe you don't need that massive "capital campaign" to build a bigger theatre or a separate workspace.  And if you do  build or annex yourself more space...maybe you can actually use it for, you know, performing.

But if you're a company already struggling with space--performance as well as workspace--and you're currently paying lots of rent on desks, water coolers, and a whole freakin' computer network... think hard. 

Let's all think hard about downsizing space instead of people and salaries for a change.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Colbert on the Tonys

"Last night, they held the annual Tony awards which honor Broadway's greatest achievements--for instance, that the Tonys still air on network TV."

Over to Stephen...
(for the first 1:30 at least)

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Who's Not Honoring Me Now? - Tonys & MTV Movie Awards
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

Very nice to "Fela!" to make it sound like it won!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Freelance Director Makes Good!

On the one hand I'm thrilled PBS's new news show "Need to Know"decided to profile a relatively unknown theatre director--Marcia Milgrom Dodge, the recently Tony-nominated helmer of the much-praised but little-seen Ragtime revival.

On the other hand, it's a disappointingly passe network-tv style up close & personal that goes straight for the "inspiration" and "triumph over adversity" narrative instead of tackling what's actually newsworthy about Dodge's story and casting a light on the impossible freelancing life of some of our most talented stage directors. (Which is, hence, a threat to the artform itself in this country.)

Still, her story is told, and if you're a freelance director you probably will indeed find it...inspirational.

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Quote of the Day

"I wanted to be a playwright, which is the financial equivalent of a crackwhore."

-comedian Lewis Black.

But Lew, crackwhores do make money, right?  (And no subsidiary rights!)

In same interview with Howard Stern he also confessed "he'd written 40 plays before turning to stand-up full-time: 'I had a play that was optioned for Broadway. 7 went to everybody. Mary Tyler Moore turned it down. Carol Burnett turned it down.'"

Let's find that play!

(hat tip: GothamistNo, I'm not ashamed to link to Howard Stern.  They just got there first.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tony Reax

First for the quantitative:

The annual celebration of the Broadway theatre drew 7 million viewers and a 1.2 preliminary rating among adults 18-49, according to The rating is down eight percent from last year's broadcast.[...] says ABC won the ratings race for the evening with a total of 12.827 million viewers, followed by CBS with 7.470 million viewers, NBC with 3.590 million viewers and Fox with 3.390 million viewers.
Last season's awards ceremony was viewed by 7.45 million people, a 19 percent increase from the previous season.
(NB: Playbill qualifies all of the above as preliminary "fast affiliate ratings.")

For the record, ABC had the NBA finals.  But, yes, we did beat NBC!  At least for part of the night, according to the TVbythenumbers folks...
The 64th Annual Tony Awards managed to beat a repeat of Losing It With Jillian during the 9pm hour. It could only tie a repeat of Last Comic Standing at 10.
There's a "losing it" joke somewhere in there, but I'll leave it to you...

And check out the fluctuations, which clearly demonstrate dwindling interest over time and/or better viewing alternatives emerging later in the evening: 

The half-hour by half-hour ratings of the Tonys follow: 8-8:30 PM (1.2/4 rating with 7.590 million viewers), 8:30-9 PM (1.1/3 with 7.337 million viewers), 9-9:30 PM (1.1/3 rating with 7.193 million viewers), 9:30-10 PM (1.1/3 rating with 7.007 million viewers), 10- 10:30 PM (1.3/3 rating with 6.820 million viewers) and 10:30-11 PM (1.1/3 rating with 6.077 million viewers).
Maybe folks tune in for the opening number more than anything?

(The internal stats show the other main competitor aside from basketball was a 9:00 rerun of "Family Guy" on Fox.)

So, yes, the headline is: ratings are down.  Not that anyone expects the Tony broadcast to ever reach Oscar levels...but just in case you're curious, this year's Oscars drew 41.3 million viewers.  (The Grammys? A mere 26 mil.) Just a point of comparison...
But one has to wonder whether--as with all live televised events--how much are people today are watching on their Nielsen-wired cathode ray tubes and how many on their handhelds.  Or how many aren't "watching" at all but following updates on twitter and such.  (And, hm, perhaps some blogs...)  If ever an event were made for "narrowcasting" it was the Tonys.

Now onto substance.

No surprises, of course, in the actual winners.  And that in itself casts new light on the main question going into the event--would the elimination of critics and other press voters skew the awards more commercially.  I guess maybe "Fela!" would have beaten "Memphis" if critics voted (in the tradition of "Avenue Q" and "Spring Awakening" beating out bigger cash cows in the past).  But I'm not so sure.  Overall, I personally didn't sense an overwhelming shift in tone among the awarded.  The classy stars (Denzel, Zeta-Jones) won as always.  Local favorites like Katie Finneran still got their due.

Maybe the "critics bloc" was always a small one.  After all, what chance would they have stood against the phalanx of "Memphis" producers who mounted the stage for their award at the end of the night.  That must have been a good slice of the vote right there!

Some interesting critic reactions from David Cote, addressing Guardian readers across the pond on the ol' subject of that ol' transatlantic rivalry:
This time, it was the British who schooled Broadway. London's Menier Chocolate Factory and Donmar Warehouse loomed large over the night's festivities, netting 10 of 26 possible awards: six for the Donmar's Red; one for A Little Night Music (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and three for La Cage aux Folles, both of which originated at the Menier. Most of those were in the major categories: two for directors, two for leading actor and actress, and one each for best play and best revival of a musical.
But what do we really mean when we talk about British versus American work? Is Zeta-Jones's win for A Little Night Music a feather in the UK's cap? The film siren belongs as much to Hollywood as to Swansea. Hodge is a delight in La Cage, but surely its success has something to do with the local actors – including TV star Kelsey Grammer – who occupy the other dressing rooms? American producers become attached to English productions and then groom them for the Great White Way; that collaboration surely alters the chemistry.
Charles McNulty in the LA Times finds little to herald:
This year, let me reverse course and congratulate Tony voters for their dogged consistency. In a world that has become violently unpredictable, "Broadway's biggest night" never fails to live up to its staid reputation — so what if it poisons the creative well for the next decade.

Now it might seem commendable that the best musical Tony went to the winner for both best book and best original score (a category in which, depressingly, only two musicals were eligible this season, neither of them any good). But if these building blocks are so dear to the hearts of Tony traditionalists, you'd think the pooh-bahs among them would find a way to include these categories on the CBS telecast instead of relegating them to the "creative arts award" ghetto seen only on the Web.

Fat chance for a show that's so desperate to prevent viewers from clicking away that it fires a blitzkrieg of name-brand talent in the first 20 minutes, parachuting Green Day into a lineup of musical acts that went by like some kind of "Saturday Night Live" parody.[...] What demographic target Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and tightly preserved pin-up Raquel Welch were supposed to lure remains a mystery, but it looks like the publicity machine of Broadway doesn't yet know its indiscriminate strength.
Indeed I'm sure I wasn't the only one wondering if the announced introduction of a "New York Jet" onto the stage was some West Side Story reference.

At least LA Times TV critic Robert Lloyd condescends to appreciate the freakshow for what it is:
Oh, Tony Awards, for the 64th time you have come and gone, still the least celebrated but always the most rewarding of the big awards shows — the liveliest, the classiest, the best-dressed, the least prone to embarrassing moments and long dull patches devoted to some Big Idea that doesn't work at all. (You are not glitch-free, especially when it comes to microphones, but that is quite in the spirit of your real-time art.) [...]

Oh, Broadway, with your dramas and your comedies and musical-comedies and musical dramas, though you are, to no small degree, a theme park operating in the vicinity of Times Square, you are also, in the public mind and in the words of the people who work there, a "community" where Hollywood is an industry, and I feel that through your Tony Awards.

Indeed, it is only through this annual broadcast of the Tony Awards, that some of us will ever know you, but that is part of the service you perform. (Winner Katie Finneran, movingly: "I want to talk to the kids at home watching. I was a kid and I watched this show and it seemed so far away from me…. With the world being so fast, I want to remind you to focus on what you love, because it is the greatest passport, it is the greatest road map to an extraordinarily blissful life.")

That I have seen none of your Tony-nominated productions does not impede my enjoyment of the television show that celebrates them. Possibly, it makes it more enjoyable, because I can take it as a series of discrete emotional moments, musical numbers and jokes, unfettered by liking or not liking a particular production. I am happy for everyone who wins.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tony Blogcast 2010

OMG the lead Memphis producer sounds so gay!  And I thought this was the compromise/consensus choice of the voters.

The winner gets to perform at the end??  What is this American Idol???

Hey the broadcast came in almost on time this year!

So Memphis is the winner they say...but lately the real contest starts the next day: when we see who did well at the box office the morning after...

g'night y'all

Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth--along with Kristen Chenoweth, earlier--seem to be cementing a new Tony tradition of big stars parading their humility over not being nominated.  Why not. I'm glad for any drama left on these shows.

Gosh, Catherine Zeta-Jones is so surprised!...And thank you, Catherine, for keeping us from sleeping tonight by actually reminding us you sleep with Michael Douglas every night.

"If you want to see a Democrat kiss a Republican every night, come to the Longacre Theatre"--winner Douglas Hodge tipping his hat to La Cage Aux Folles co-star Kelsey Grammer.

American Idiot--yes "subliminal mindfuck America" and "faggot America" have to get bleeped on the Tony Awards, just like Top 40 radio.

Only presenters to give a shout-out to the balcony: Helen Mirren and Billy Jo Armstrong.

Raquel who?

Best Play Revival Fences--they just played Carol Shorenstein-Hayes and Scott Rudin off! Do they not know who they're dealing with! Welcome to the for-profit world, Carol...

Best Play Red--I know and like Arielle Tepper, but be careful, Ari, in exhorting all artists to learn from what Red shows Rothko doing.  You mean, tell your money-men to go fuck themselves when they compromise your art too much?

A Glee tribute??? It's not on Broadway, it's not on Off Broadway.  But it's the only desperate hope the theatre industry has... (see this argument in today's Times.)

Bill T. Jones wins Choreography--Fela still in the running! (Unless it means all they liked was the dancing.  As Times dance critic Allistair McCauley wrote recently, it certainly is the show with the most dancing.)  I love how nobody in America knows what the hell Jones means by his shout-out paying tribute to Fela Kuti!  They still haven't said what the show's about...

Speaking of Fela, what went into that performance-excerpt choice???  I respect former Tony-winner Lillias White and all, but let's face it: the draw for the show is the Fela guy!  Sahr Ngaujah!  I haven't even seen the show and even I know the best number is that "blah blah Kay Kay!" moment with the lights flashing on and off.  (You know, that clip they used to show all the time.)  Really bad choice in marketing here.  What resulted was a weird medley of seemingly disconnected moments that just made the show seem...well, foreign.

Compare that to the Come Fly Away--they just put forward the gal jumping around in "That's Life", their best number.  End of story.  Ticket sales will soar tomorrow, mark my words.


Denzel Washington tells his (college-age) kids to "go to bed."  It's not even 10.

Jude Law a no-show!

NewslfashViola Davis thanks God and Scott Rudin--in that order!

Hey, Jay-Z woke up!  At the sight of Sean Hayes in an Annie dress apparently...

Just one more hour to go...

9:38 Send in the clips!  So there's the videos of plays--a two minute montage.  Pretty impossible for an audience not familiar with the Broadway season to follow, I'd think--unless they just like seeing Denzel or Hugh Jackman's face.

Nice to see I have competition again this year from the Times!  Watch Charles Isherwood pseudo-blog, with the help of reporter Dave Itzkoff...

Speaking of the Times, they revealed the other day that the Tonys are bigger than ever!  The physical trophy itself, that is. "It now stands at five inches tall," reports Erik Piepenberg, "up from three and a quarter inches, and weighs three and a half pounds, a two-pound gain." Part of the rationale, they say, is to make it easier for winners to hold aloft.  So...can you tell?

I haven't seen Memphis.  And many seem to like it.  But that excerpt sure looked lame...Let us note, too, that Bon Jovi's David Bryan did indeed win a Tony in the pre-show for Best Score for Memphis...Jay-Z didn't seem too into the excerpt either. Or very awake, for that matter.

Who got a bigger hand, John Bon Jovi or Ted Chapin?

The Directors: two Brits, Michael Grandage (Red) & Terry Johnson (La Cage).  Signaling something of a sweep for both shows in their respective categories. (And doesn't bode well for loser Bill T. Jones and his Fela!)

The Plays:  As for the new format...well, could be worse!  At least they spent more time on each play than the usual 2-second excerpts they used to play. (Ah yes, that immortal line from Coast of Utopia: "Indeed!" Summed up the whole nine hours.)  And it did allow a bunch of otherwise unknown stage stars to shine (Patrick Breen, Laura Benanti), or at least be seen (Brian D'Arcy James--saving his voice, maybe, for Next to Normal?). And actually describing the plots in detail might even help sell regional and school productions of the plays.  But a few video clips couldn't have hurt, could they?

8:40re: the first two awards, the "Featured Performances"--shall we say the Pretty People win?  Actually, Scarlett Johansson was indeed not bad in her stage debut.  And by not bad I mean, she didn't shrivel up on stage like most movie stars.  It was a totally stageworthy, almost self-effacing performance...As for Red's Eddie Redmayne, let's just say he's not the reason to see Red. (And neither is John Logan's script.  So you figure it out.)

The La Cage excerpt was pretty awkwardly handled.  I'm sure many were hoping for Douglas Hodge's show-stopping "I Am What I Am."  (Especially since George Hearn was not allowed to perform it in drag for the original show's 1984 Tony moment.)  But no, that wouldn't include Kelsey Grammer--who American TV viewers have heard of.  "The Best of Times" is a sensible alternative, I guess, being probably the show's most famous number.  But it certainly didn't show the production in the best light.  Avoiding the ire of the homophobes was certainly not the thinking, since here you have the whole team of scantily clad "Cagelles" strolling down the aisles.  Speaking of using the aisles--pretty awkward television.  No matter how many close-ups of the Glee guy they show.  Ah if only they let Hodge lapdance Will Smith!

Kudos to Sean Hayes in his opening monologue for three gutsy moves. 1st: taking on the whole Newsweek controversy right off the bat by smooching with Kristen Chenoweth...2nd: welcoming "closeted right-wingers" to the Broadway community...and 3rd and most daring: opening with a View from the Bridge joke. CBS must just love having to broadcast a three-hour inside joke every year, huh?

Uh...were those Green Day banners supposed to look like Nazi flags?  Billy Jo and friends certainly got disproportionate air time compared the non-rock stars.  But with their appearance plus opening with an Elvis impersonator the Tonys have finally achieved their dream: to be a poorly produced Grammys.

Of all things, opening with Sean Hayes: concert pianist? Ok, that's odd....Awkward segue to Million Dollar Quartet--Welcome to your favorite PBS telethon, Those Fabulous Fifties!...Memphis guy has to recite lame "DJ" script adapting his character for the competing shows?  Poor actor...Kind of a diss to the actually nominated shows to mix them in with the also-rans, no? .... Boy, Fela sure left 'em silent, didn't it? Hope there's more to come...

Tonys 2010: And the First Winners Were...

Awards given out off the air from 7:00-8:00...

Best Book of a Musical
Memphis: Joe DiPietro

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Memphis: Music: David Bryan Lyrics: Joe DiPietro, David Bryan

Best Orchestrations
Memphis: Daryl Waters & David Bryan

Best Scenic Design of a Play
Red: Christopher Oram

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
American Idiot: Christine Jones

Best Costume Design of a Play
The Royal Family Catherine Zuber

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Fela!: Marina Draghici

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Red: Neil Austin

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
American Idiot: Kevin Adams

Best Sound Design of a Play
Red: Adam Cork
Best Sound Design of a Musical
Fela! Robert Kaplowitz

and the Special Tonys

Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre
Alan Ayckbourn Winner
Marian Seldes Winner

Regional Theatre Tony Award
The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, Waterford, Connecticut

Isabelle Stevenson Award
David Hyde Pierce

Playgoer Live Tony Blogcast Tonight!

Playgoer will once again be blogging the Tonys tonight, beginning with the official start of the CBS broadcast at 8pm.  (Goto for live feed of the first-hour "pre-show" of the "not ready for primetime awards." New Yorkers can also tune into NY1 for their version of a "red carpet" glitz-fest.  Although if Riedel is to be believed, the Tony red carpet will be a sorry and bitter affair this year.)  And now that we're on Facebook and Twitter you can have a number of options to follow along--even if you're (gasp) not watching the entire four hours at home!

Except last year, when I was stymied by technical difficulties, the blogcast has been a yearly Playgoer feature.  You can relive the good times from '08, '07, '06, and '05

Friday, June 11, 2010

Does NY Musical Theatre Fest Exploit Dramatists?

The Dramatists Guild is taking the unusual step of warning its members off of the New York Musical Theatre Festival--a popular fringe-like summertime perennial that has attracted increasingly professional talent.  But thanks to the success of such alums as [title of show] and the now Pulitzer-winning Next to Normal, the Fest wants to ensure a piece of any future action for its titles.

According to Backstage:

In a letter sent last week to members, the guild explained that NYMF's new contract entitles the festival to 2 percent of the applicant and author's gross "on all income received from the play in excess of $20,000 over 10 years." The guild maintains that with respect to future subsidiary rights, such claims are too high for a presenting festival that already asks participants to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket.

"It crosses a line, and it's a very serious matter for us," Ralph Sevush, the guild's executive director for business affairs, told Back Stage. "....As long as NYMF is going to insist on subsidiary rights as if they were producers without taking the risks of producers, without enhancing the way producers enhance the value of the author's property, then yes, we recommend against its use."
Well put, Ralph.

NYMF claims what they do provide in the way of support and publicity merits the subsidiary rights claim.  But they seem to be reconsidering.

But this is a good reminder to any creative artists and producers out there submitting to similar festivals to check your contracts carefully.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Apologies to Meredith Willson...

“If you have a show that speaks to a certain audience...then you need marketing to let them know that. But you can’t trick an audience—or not for long. What I believe in is product. Don’t waste your time trying to figure out how to get a young audience to see The Music Man. If you want a young audience, don’t fucking do The Music Man.”

-34-year-old Broadway mogul Jordan Roth.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Fans vs "Patrons"

Minneapolis-based Scot Covey has started a terrific blog-series on grassroots marketing and how to make it work for theatre companies.

His first salvo is spot on:

[T]he word "patron"...[e]vokes all the wrong attitudes. We should be looking for "fans." And it's not a mere issue of semantics: "patrons" pay you money to do your art, either to their specifications (a la medieval panel painters) or at your whim. There's nothing in that word which indicates they like what you're doing, let alone love it. I spent much of the late 80s and early 90s in the music business, working with indie bands, and we never talked about "patrons." Rock bands have fans—adoring, passionate folks who eagerly await your next piece of work, put up posters in their dorm rooms, will travel to other cities to see you perform, want to be your friend.  As much as you might protest, that doesn't happen in theater.
I would even venture there's a kind of unintended inverse reaction that happens: the more aggressively theatre companies focus on patrons (or are seen to focus on them), the true fan-base shrinks.  There's nothing more dispiriting for a true theatre fan than to walk into a space--or receive a mailing or email--that announces This place does not exist for meThis is all for the patrons.

When the overwhelming contacts I get from you, for instance, are addressing me as if I have no problem coughing up hundreds of dollars to be your "friend", that's not making me any more of a fan of your actual art. Meanwhile, those of us who are genuinely psyched about the work you do, and reliably pay $20/$30 a ticket or show up on standby lines...what's our reward?

Anyway, you can follow Covey's original diagnoses and prescriptions at Minnesota Playlist.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Tonys Broadcast Still Doesn't Know What To Do With Play Nominees

As CBS and the Tony peeps negotiate what goes on the air Sunday night, Variety reports yet another awkward compromise regarding lip service to nonmusical theatre:

In the play sequences -- always a tricky endeavor, since nonmusicals rarely play well on screen -- a slew of thesps are on tap for a "special presentation" of the nominated new plays and play revivals in which they appear. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, for instance, will talk up "Fences," while Justin Bartha, Anthony LaPaglia and Tony Shalhoub discuss "Lend Me a Tenor," Liev Schreiber and Scarlett Johansson talk about "A View from the Bridge" and Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne appear for "Red."
The exact nature of the presentation has not been confirmed, although it's looking like the sequences will resemble the 2008 ceremony, in which host Whoopi Goldberg talked about each play while the production's set was recreated behind her. This year, it's said the actors (rather than the host) will talk about their respective plays; they will not perform.
Yes, god forbid these master "thesps" would perform on the tv.

In related news, Green Day will perform on the broadcast--even though they don't perform in "American Idiot" on Broadway.

(But hey, neither did Dolly Parton, who somewhow showed up in the kick-line of Nine to Five on last year's show.  Maybe the musical closed when excited ticketbuyers discovered there was no Dolly in the Broadway version.)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Chicago Storefronts: Successful Theatre at Half the Price!

"...rock-solid leadership, a core group of actors and directors, reasonable ticket prices, and stages so intimate that the distance between actors and audience can be measured in inches."

That's how the Sun-Times' Hedy Weiss sums up the (not so secret) secrets of the success of "Storefront" theatre in Chicago.  And she profiles four very exciting sounding companies--all with annual budgets between just $80K and $250K!

Remind me why this is so much harder in NYC?  Is it just the real estate expenses?  Or are actors not able to make the sacrifices?  Or is too much oxygen and media attention taken up by Broadway and the more elite nonprofits?  Or is it even the Showcase Code?  (Chicago has its own AEA contract for such venues.)

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Handicapping the Tonys

In a year when nobody seems to care all that much about any show on Broadway, Riedel calls Best Musical for Memphis:

"Fela!" is in a tough race against "Memphis." If the press hadn't been kicked off the Tony voter list, I'd give the edge to "Fela!" -- since it's a favorite with critics. But the sense is that "Memphis" has more appeal around the country, so it probably goes into the Tonys with the support of the road presenters, who number about 100 (out of 700) voters.
Yes, no critics voting this year, remember.  Just those "objective" producers and showbiz folk.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Filling DC's Stages

WaPo's Peter Marks tells us:

In less than a decade, the architecture of Washington theater has undergone the most radical revision in history. Every sizable theater company has either moved into a new complex, extensively renovated or added to its capacity. The result has been some nifty new houses and a hefty uptick in the number of stages and seats. In 2000, just six of the companies that have built new theaters -- Studio, Shakespeare, Arena, Round House, Olney and Signature -- accounted for nine performance spaces. By the end of this year, they will be operating 16, in some cases having doubled or even tripled the seats they can sell on a particular evening.

While the physical expansion has given the theaters of Washington more flexibility, it has also upped the pressure, compelling boards and artistic directors to consider new methods of putting the spaces to work. In many cases, that has meant including in their seasons more plays by visiting companies.
Exhibit A: Shakespeare Theatre plays host to the touring production of Avenue Q.

Can the local talent really not fill these spaces?  Are these fancy new structures too expensive to rent?  Or did these companies just go on a building spree that way oversupplied demand?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

B'way Ticket "Fees" Bypass Artist Royalties

Nice idea the Broadway League had back in 2008 to start slapping an extra $1 fee on every ticket sold at the TKTS discount booths.  Not only was it more cash--but cash not accounted for under "box office."  That means when certain artists get paid royalties as a percentage of said box office... well, you get the picture.

Well thanks to the directors' union (Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, aka SDC), a labor arbitrator has ruled the practice illegal!

So the producers will have to come up with some other way of amassing "tax free" income.

One wonders, too--will they keep the fee?  Or would they rather give the dollar back to consumers than share it with artists?

Photo of the Day

photo: Herman Helle
Scene from Kamp, by Hotel Modern, playing this week at St. Ann's Warehouse's annual Toy Theatre Festival:
[Kamp] attempts to imagine the unimaginable. An enormous scale model of Auschwitz fills the stage, brought to life by thousands of 3” tall handmade puppets enacting the greatest mass murder in history, committed in a purpose-built city. The actors move through the set like giant war reporters, filming the horrific events with miniature cameras; the audience becomes the witness.
The even more disturbing video "trailer" is here.