The Playgoer: March 2011

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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Of course, the idea of audiences choosing is an illusion in any case. Just as everything about certain high street shops is designed to discourage middle-aged frumps such as myself from darkening their doors, so theatre-makers constantly send out messages about their work that will encourage particular audiences to book. When the Fierce festival chose 'Live Art. Collision. Hyperlocal. Supernow' as their banner, it's clear that its intended audience is probably not the Les Mis crowd. Theatre is constantly pre-selecting its pool of potential audience members on the basis of context, timing of performances and venue. We have all experienced performances that mean different things in different contexts.... [O]ther kinds of performance require a particular audience to reach their full potential. That may be particularly true with relational art (check out this brilliant YouTube clip) when the boundaries between artist and audience have dissolved and the audience is a participant, and in some cases a collaborator. It leads El Khoury to wonder, in a thoughtful blogpost born from her experience of creating such performances, 'whether some shows just don't work for specific audiences.' She adds: 'At the end, if it's really a relationship, it needs to work for me too, not only for them.' In which case, perhaps choosing your audience makes complete sense."

-Lyn Gardner, Guardian

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vintage Wooster

Wooster Group has really been tech-ing up their website, including lots of video clips from current and past productions. Web-streams of full performances from their archive are available for a hefty rental fee, as well.

Here's a couple of samples: the (in)famous LSD: Just the High Points (their unauthorized riff on The Crucible) and Brace Up (aka Three Sisters.)

from the archives - L.S.D. (...JUST THE HIGH POINTS...) - 1985 [02.09.11] from The Wooster Group on Vimeo.

from the archives - excerpt from BRACE UP! DVD - 2003 [02.10.11] from The Wooster Group on Vimeo.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Can "The Road" save The Regionals?

Philly Inquirer tells how the Walnut Street Theatre has had some recent success with an old fashioned, honest-to-god tour of one of their productions.  No, not just a co-production with another regional theatre, as is common today.

[Walnut's] producing artistic director Bernard Havard met with Marc Baylin, head of an Baylin Artists Management in Doylestown, which represents many touring enterprises in music and dance, including Philadanco. They decided that The Glass Menagerie - which the Walnut would present on its intimate third-floor stage to an 80-seat audience - would recoup its preproduction costs in Philadelphia and could then go on the road. They also received backing from Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, supported by foundations and some state money to give funding to venues seeking to book tours.

Baylin scheduled six weeks of touring, much of it one- or two-night stands, that took Menagerie to small theaters run by colleges and arts centers. Nashville was the largest city it visited. The tour cost the Walnut a little more than $30,000, says its managing director, Mark D. Sylvester, and the theater hopes to add $50,000 to its cash stream when all accounts are settled. 
This reminds me of a model I've been daydreaming about in the wake of the decline of our National Endowment for the Arts. I believe the best hope for public/civic arts funding is at the state level. (Well, certain states, at least, in these days of budget-slashing.) And one way a strong regional theatre could bolster their case to a governor is to take on the mantle of truly being a "State" Theatre, serving lots of audiences outside of its metropolitan home. So--to take the Walnut example--maybe Walnut could produce year-round at its "permanent" Philadelphia theatre, but also send out touring versions of its productions (perhaps scaled down a notch) all over Pennsylvania? Either during the otherwise dark summer season, or even during the year when the home base has moved onto the next production.

Yes, this wouldn't make sense for some states. And, yes, many states have fine theatre companies operating in multiple cities already.  But, hey, why not two or three "State" theatres--serving different geographic regions. In California, ACT could serve the pacific north, while South Coast Rep tours SoCal.  Or...forget the healthy theatres that are doing fine already and give the State touring grant to little upstarts who are already producing on a lower-budget and could really use the funds?

Anyway, something to think about that could help give not only certain shows, but the artists (especially actors) involved, longer runs on a quasi-state payroll.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Beckett meets Atari

Perfect for a lazy Sunday....Waiting for Godot: The Video Game.

Actual game platform here. But I still can't figure out how to "play" it. Unless the joke is...there really is "nothing to be done" and whoever can best stand the boredom wins.

Naturally the young gamester has already received cease-and-desist letters from the Beckett estate.  More here.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tony Turmoil

"A lot of these people put money in shows for two reasons -- the opening night party and the Tonys. And you don't write a check for $500,000 to sit in the balcony [for the awards]. There will be screaming."

A sampling of some of the hissy-fits being thrown by the Broadway community at the thought of packing the audience for this June's Tony Awards into a house only half the size as the usual Radio City Music Hall. (i.e. The Beacon)

And as if that's not bad enough for Tonys, Inc....Bret Michaels is suing them!

Yes, that Bret Michaels.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lanford Wilson

Wilson's longtime director/interpreter/champion Marshall Mason made this announcement on his Facebook page yesterday:
To all friends and admirers of Lanford Wilson: Our great writer and my closest friend passed away this morning at 10:45. The doctors say it was a peaceful, painless end. I’m very happy that just a couple of days ago Jeff Daniels and Jon Hogan serenaded him in his hospital room, and that he had the pleasure of hearing his songs. Words cannot express the loss we all will feel, but we must be grateful for the bountiful beauty he bestowed upon us. His funeral will be in his beloved Sag Harbor, where he will be laid to rest Monday, March 28, only a two weeks before what would have been his 74th birthday.
I find it hard to imagine Lanford Wilson old and dead since for me his dramatic voice was always one of youth.  Or maybe that's just because he was such a looming figure in the American theatre of my youth. Growing up in the 80s, it seemed he was the most ubiquitous American playwright. Everywhere you turned--Broadway, Off Broadway, a school playhouse, the NY Times, Applause Bookstore...there he was. I remember TV commercials for Fifth of July on Broadway, the landmark Steppenwolf Balm in Gilead that came to NY's Circle in the Square, Tally's Folly winning the Tony Pulitzer, the production of The Hot L Baltimore that my drama teacher was crazy enough to stage in my high school! (I played Katz, the manager), and John Malkovich's crazy long hair in Burn This.

A child of the Caffe Cino world of the 1960s (the cradle of Off Off Broadway), Wilson's wider impact on American Theatre came years later. While we think of Mamet and Shepard as the dominant American playwrights of this era, Wilson was probably even more widely produced in the 1980s. (Especially from Talley's Folley in 1979 to Burn This in 1986.)  Maybe because his work, being less hindered by obscenity, nudity, or just weirdness than his contemporaries, was more palatable to the general public. But despite the wholesomeness that some mistakenly read into his depictions of the Ozark "heartland" he so often wrote about, Wilson was as attracted to seediness, torment, and depravity as anyone. (Any high school who mounts the perennial Rimers of Eldrich, for example, expecting an easy replacement for Our Town will be disappointed.)

I also grew up identifying Wilson as the exemplar of a kind of lyrical American naturalism that was the dominant strain of that era's mainstream drama. This made him enormously influential I think.  And of course, like all great "realists," there's always a surprising amount of magic, meta-theatricality, and overt contrivance just beneath the surface if you choose to look for it.

All in all, I suspect his work will be more and more appreciated by critics and the academy as his prime era of the 1970s - 1980s recedes even more into the past and becomes "theatre history."

Meanwhile, we've all had close encounters with Lanford Wilson plays in our theatrical coming of age. What's yours?

(NY Times obit here, as well as a tribute by B. Brantley--the first of many appraisals and remembrances to come, I'm sure. Check out the Times' "slideshow," too for indelible images of the moments Wilson has given to actors over time.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why Arts Blogs Are Necessary

"The Smithsonian is an institution that is an instrument of Congress. That's a very important thing. It's an institution that needs to engage people across the board. If you're a public museum in a city, you have an audience. The Smithsonian's audience is a nationwide audience...At the same time, we recognize that the Smithsonian is a place, especially as we move in new directions, where we're going to have controversy over our exhibitions....In making a decision at the Smithsonian, you have to consult as many people as you can. And that takes time, whereas the bloggers go to work right away. They can heighten and inflame an issue and it can get out of control before you ever have a chance to think seriously about what you're going to do."

-Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough on who to really blame for his decision to censor the National Portrait Gallery's "Hide/Seek" exhibit on gay artists through history--bloggers.

So bigoted culture-warrior congressmen and phony self-appointed community spokesmen, complain away! (After all, you are our "nationwide audience.") But if all you have is a Google account and you're on the left, then stop having a hissy fit and let the adults decide what is the "right" thing to do.

Yes, don't listen to people who want to "heighten and inflame" an issue beyond reason.  Listen to Bill Donohue!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spidey Updates

Riedel reveals that Neil Jordan of all people was the original book-writer for Spider-Man before he bailed, and adds this latest (and, of course, highly biased) gossip:

Taymor's pretentious and baffling script is being completely overhauled. "They're ripping chunks and chunks out of it," says a source. Whole scenes are being jettisoned, Arachne's being downgraded to a flying special effect and more aerial sequences are being added. McKinley's going to turn the show into a shorter, special-effects-driven family spectacle more suited to the world of Steve Wynn than Steve Sondheim. By the time "Spider-Man" reopens in June, we're going to be calling it "Circus, Circus."

On another front, Taymor, I'm told, is refusing to exit gracefully.Her friends and advisers are urging her to accept a lucrative settlement and run away to Mexico, where she has a gorgeous villa that she built with money from "The Lion King." She's got so much money, she could produce her version of "Spider-Man" at the local teatro amateur. But she's having none of it and is said to be hellbent on vengeance.

Arachne may be losing a lot of time onstage, but off stage, she's still wreaking havoc.
I can hardly blame McKinley.  Seems to me, if you're tasked with doing a Spider-Man musical it's a no-brainer that it's got to be a wham-bang 90 minutes of flyin' and rockin'.  As Jordan is quoted: "These comic-book stories are really quite simple and should make for a fun musical."

Meanwhile, the purging of Taymor's influence on the show continues with the replacement of her choreographer. I imagine, though, that the kind of "overhaul" Riedel is describing is going to be very limited by a) whatever legal agreements the producers come to with Taymor over her intellectual property rights, and b) the physical production she has put into place. Unless they can actually convince her loyal set designer, George Tsypin, to come back to work, they're going to either have to work within his existing designs or hire a George Tsypin-imitator to supplement his very distinctive style.

And even if the producers can make major design changes to the physical production, it will cost them a lot of extra cash way beyond the $70 million already flushed down the spider-hole, as it were. 

This is important because even though the design is not one of the perceived problems with the show, new librettist Roberto Aguirre Sarcasa is going to be severely hindered in his ability to create new scenes if he has to work within the already existing set, not to mention the lighting plot and the equally idiosyncratic Eiko Ishioka costumes. (I supposed Don Holder's lighting plot might be the easiest design element to tweak, but he--like Tsypin, a longtime collaborator of Taymor's--probably won't be tweaking it.)

The only thing that can be cheaply replaced is dialogue. But it is also cheap to cut and I bet the "overhaul" will mostly consist of that.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Protesting Arts Cuts with...Art!

One way people are speaking out against arts-funding cuts--in the UK, at least:

Theatre groups from across the country will unite this weekend to highlight the potential impact of spending cuts.
Eight playwrights, including Mark Ravenhill, have donated short plays that are being performed in venues from Edinburgh to Exeter.Some 80 groups are staging the works in theatres, pubs, libraries and private houses as part of Theatre Uncut.... The plays, each lasting no longer than 20 minutes, were made available for theatre groups to download for free. 
The plays were invited to address not just arts issues, but the effects of cuts to any of the social sectors about to be devastated by the new Conservative government's "Spending Review" policies.

But imagine here?  Who will write the first play about the life of an average Wisconsin schoolteacher?

What I might commission is a series of short plays, each dramatizing somewhere federal funds still will go: oil company subsidies, "abstinence-only" classes, ethanol farms, etc.  Expose the "budget austerity" hypocrisy and show the power of lobbying.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Madoff Play Back On in DC

You may recall last year a prominent theatrical dustup at Theatre J in Washington over Deb Margolin's topical play Imagining Madoff when Elie Wiesel didn't care for being represented in it, threatened action, and the playwright withdrew the work rather than cave to his demands.

Well it looks like playwright and theatre have made up now and the show will now go on at Theatre J, opening their fall season. But with the Wiesel character renamed and made more obviously fictional. (Margolin had agreed to that change last year, but objected to even her revised script being subject to Wiesel's approval.)

I guess we can't expect Elie to show at the opening night party, eh?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What's Happening in Berlin?

The New York Times sure spends a lot sending its lead critic to London.  But never Berlin--which many would say is now the true capital of European theatre.

Take it from the Brits, in fact.  The Guardian has thankfully sent their top man, Michael Billington, there to report back to non Deutsch speakers.

One of the secrets to German theatre's success?

It was the dominant design, however, that really hit me. But then everything about the Deutsches Theater is on a grand scale. It has no less than 60 productions in its repertory, spread over three auditoria, has a state subsidy of nearly €20m (£17.2m) and employs a staff of 282 people. In terms of funding, it is comparable to our National Theatre, yet one should remember that, in Germany's widespread theatrical culture, cities such as Hamburg and Cologne boast similarly well-endowed institutions.
Okay, not so secret, maybe.

By the way-- that €20m (£17.2m)? That's nearly $28 million US.... And all of Germany is about the size of Texas.

P.S. For a good primer on recent German theatre and directors, see Marvin Carlson's recent book.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

If Baghdad Bob Were a B'way Producer

“On a scale of 1 to 10, we have a show that’s a 10 now, and it needs to be a 12, that’s all.”

-Spider-Man lead producer Michael Cohl.

One of many juicy tidbits in NYT's pre-postmorterm on the show in yesterday's paper.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Kennedy Center: Missed Opportunity?

Devastating takedown by Bill O'Leary in the WaPo of programming at our capitol's (if not our nation's) biggest and most visible performing arts center:

My favorite event this season at the Kennedy Center was probably the joint festival organized between the National Symphony Orchestra and the National Gallery of Art, the one devoted to the legendary 1889 Paris Exposition that electrified the avant-garde of Europe and changed the course of music and art. It was a logical collaboration given that the National Gallery is presenting a major show of works by Paul Gauguin, who was deeply influenced by the 1889 exhibition, and the National Symphony Orchestra regularly performs the music of Claude Debussy, who was equally impressed by the event.

Or perhaps it was the evening of early-19th-century theater scenes, read by local actors, and introduced by a scholar who is studying the role of race and revolution in early-American theater at the Library of Congress’s prestigious Kluge Center. Or the ongoing series devoted to the best international period instruments groups or even better, the festival of new one-act plays that took over the Theater Lab space where the endless run of “Shear Madness” finally came to an end.

If you missed any of those, don’t worry, because they did not happen. And that’s a problem.

Read on.

Oh, and Michael Kasier: call your office.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Like a Cold Hand on a Throat"

Names don't get more English sounding than Colin Tweedy (and the fact that his office is in "Nutmeg House" is just overkill), but listen to what this London arts fundraiser has to say:

I no longer believe the arts in Britain should be charities. I believe they will be stronger, will take better risks and have a better capacity to become the micro-businesses they will have to be - and some of them major businesses - if they are co-operatives or social enterprises. The model of corporate governance is broken....

When times are fine, it’s good. When times are bad, a risk-averseness comes into a trustee board and grips like a cold hand on a throat. We are seeing managements terrorised, marginalised and treated with contempt by trustees.

If we are to grow our cultural sector, we have to radically rethink the charity structures within which we work. 
I'm interested in this idea of the "micro-business." Think boutique publishing house, indie film company,  small record label. (Sh-K-Boom, anyone?)

No, live theatre can't sell its product via the internet or Amazon and can't sell mass quantities at once. But run a micro business as a cooperative, profit-sharing entity, and maybe there's a chance?

No one said the arts had to not be for profit. (The Broadway market served the American theatre pretty well for 50 years or so.) And indeed as Mr Tweedy says, nonprofits cannot be counted on anymore when times get bad. Especially under the rule of politicians without any civic bones in their bodies.

If even the usually "big government" Brits are now massively cutting back too, how can we count on our government for an "arts bailout"? (Ah, just think of that concept...)

(BTW, yes, the particulars he discusses about the British philanthropy system are probably totally different from ours. Still.)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Taymor Out?

While you may have been just catching up with Patrick Healy's update in today's Times about the possibility of Julie Taymor leaving Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the Daily News goes there (in a story posted at 4am today) and says it's done, she's out. While saying, "It was unclear Tuesday night if Taymor...quit or was fired" the story quotes "a source close to the production" confirming, "Taymor is out. She's left the building."

Healy--who has now updated his print story in wake of the News' scoop--will still not confirm the decision as final, but does concur about an apparent confrontation that occurred last night between the director and the Spider-Man lead producers, with the music team of Bono and The Edge finally taking the latter's side after standing by Taymor since the beginning. Healy quotes someone else claiming, "Ms. Taymor may well have quit the show on Tuesday night, yet might rejoin on Wednesday morning."

The issue at stake? Well, basically how to make the show not suck so bad. For those of you not following the saga, here we are one month after some devastating reviews of the show's eightieth-something preview performance and it doesn't seem like anything has been done to address the criticisms of what is almost unanimously reported as a confusing, boring, and needlessly lame script. Not to mention it's been nearly four months since "previews" began, when such sentiments about the musical's book surfaced almost immediately. The only major change publicized was the hiring of a new music arranger to apparently adapt the U2 frontmen's score more for Broadway ears--but that was hardly people's biggest complaint. (And truthfully, many musicals have succeeded with mediocre scores as long as the story doesn't bore people silly.)

There have been vague reports about playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa--who actually likes comic books and has written some of the SpiderMan series, in addition to his sci-fi influenced word yet on whether any input from him has made it into the show.

Do note that none of the problems being talked about are purely technical or safety related. So the earlier party line that the team just needed time to "work out the kinks" turns out to be utter BS. They're finally, finally, admitting the show's deficiencies may be more earthbound than the high-wire act.

(My favorite part of the priceless SNL "Jacoby & Myers" spoof for legal aid for Spiderman victims is actually the last bit about "other," no less harmful damages besides physical danger that one could incur at the show, such as: "didn't like the songs," "confused by the plot," "insulted legacy of Spiderman," and, my favorite, "sucky title.")

Meanwhile, tonight the show reaches the dubious milestone of a 100th preview--a new record--and now it looks like there will be a lot more of them. You may recall that the critics decided to treat the fourth opening date of February 6 as official, disregarding the show's insistence that if they just had another five weeks, till March 15, they'd really, really be ready then, so please wait. Well guess what--March 15 is less than a week away and not much has been done about it. Word is that press invitations (including to those critics who promised to revisit the show) have still not even gone out.

The all but official story, though, is that there will now be another delay and a seventh opening night announced for June in order to finally incorporate all those fixes talked about. What's been holding them up? Not flying injuries this time. No, it must be just endless arguments with the director over persuading her to give up some of her sacred initial ideas. Those arguments seem to have now come to a breaking point. And Taymor may finally be facing the fact that on Broadway the only true auteur is the person with the money.

Or to put it another way, no Broadway director--no matter how lauded--gets "final cut."

It is interesting that the Spidey producers are not content to rest on their laurels. If they could only swallow their pride and ignore the constant humiliation in the press and amongst cognoscenti, they could just sit back and roll in the dough--about $1.25 million a week according to the Times. The show has indeed proved to be critic proof all these months, which has only encouraged them to put off an official opening as long as possible. Most shows need the press attention of a big opening, including the reviews, just to publicize the product. In this case, the reviews can only hurt them and they hardly have a problem with "brand recognition."

And yet the two unlikely lead producers--Rock Impresario Michael Cohl and Broadway tech-eminence Jeremiah Harris seem to actually care about the long-term quality-control of their product as they try to extend it beyond an oddity of the 2010-2011 season. Also, they're out to protect that massive investment of upwards of $60 million that would take eons to recoup even if the show were an unqualified hit. Notice that in delaying the opening past May they will make the show ineligible for Tonys this year. Reportedly, what they care more about is setting up a permanent Spider-Man presence both on Broadway and, more importantly, on tour. And they know that if they want to pull off a Cameron Mackintosh with this one, they can't drag this nearly three-hour mess around from city to city. At some point audiences will say the comic book hero has no clothes.

So while I always side with the "creative" over "commercial" personnel, and I still count myself a fan of Taymor's overall oeuvre... I must say I find myself here more on the side of the producer than director. Either Taymor should stand by her initial vision of the show and say to New York, take it or leave it, or , if she really had something more to offer with the project, why hasn't she been able to do that yet, after over three months and 100 previews? Instead, like a student constant asking for one more extension to make their paper as could as I know it can be she does indeed seem to be wasting investors' money. Sorry to be crass about it, but she does know she's involved in a commercial enterprise, doesn't she?

In the end, though, the sadder waste is of her talent. All these months, nay years of development, just to glorify a Marvel Comics brandname.  As I wrote before: "...but for Spider-Man, Julie? For Spider-Man???"

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Do you cut your arts program or your math teacher? It's not a choice anyone wants to make."

-A Middle School Principal in the Bronx, responding to the imminent teacher layoffs in the NYC Public School System. NY Daily News says that the number of arts teachers has already been reduced system wide in recent years.

So for those of you counting on that dayjob....

Monday, March 07, 2011

Talkin' Albee on the NewsHour

PBS NewsHour actually devoted ten minutes to a conversation with Tracy Letts and his director(!) Pam MacKinnon about the Steppenwolf Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Nice treat for those of us unable to get to Chicago or DC (where it is now) is the short scene clip at the halfway point.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Pentagon Playgoers

"There is an assumption that the arts and our men and women in uniform are from different planets. It's not the case. The arts can provide a means to discuss and explore and, in this case, learn about the history and culture of a very complicated country. It is tremendous food for thought."
- Douglas Wilson, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, US Department of Defense

The above is reported in Nicolas Kent's very inspiring article about presenting his company's epic The Great Game: Afghanistan in a command Washington performance for soldiers and officers from the Pentagon. This 9-hour cycle of plays about Afghanistan's history from the UK's Tricycle theatre had been touring last fall (stopping in NYC and Washington) when through some intermediaries it caught the attention of the "top brass."

We opened in Washington in September, and the production was warmly welcomed, but our fortnight's run was ignored by the Pentagon and Capitol Hill – until a few days before its end, when a congresswoman was asked by General Petraeus, in Kabul, to send him a tape of the plays. Then, on the last Saturday performance, General "Mick" Nicholson came. He was incredibly enthusiastic and asked to meet the cast. He was about to be posted to Kabul as head of operations for Petraeus, and thought it vital that more people from the Pentagon saw the plays.

Three weeks later, at 7.15 on a chilly October morning, I found myself standing outside the Pentagon, waiting for a military escort to take me to a meeting to discuss a special performance of The Great Game, to be hosted by the Pentagon. The original idea was to stage the plays in the Pentagon theatre – yes, it has a theatre, not to mention a drugstore, supermarket, a Blockbuster video store, and two shoeshine boys in its 17 miles of corridors. Sadly, the theatre was too small and, as it was located in the sub-basement, we couldn't have got our set down there anyway. What's more, it had taken me 20 minutes to penetrate security; the idea of getting the guns and explosives needed for the production through those doors seemed a challenge too far.
The Shakespeare theatre in downtown Washington came to our rescue, offering to host the plays for two days last month. The Pentagon were adamant that, though they wanted the production, they couldn't use taxpayers' money to fund it. The next few weeks were spent frantically trying to raise money. Finally, Bob Woodruff, a US reporter who was injured in Afghanistan, came to our aid with a grant from his foundation; the British Council kindly helped with most of the rest.
How's this for a cheerleading slogan for our artform: "If David Petraeus can huddle down in Kabul and watch a video of a play, you sure as hell can get your ass to the theatre!"

Also, by the way, how about that little Pentagon theatre space? Is it for rent???

Read the whole thing, it gives one hope. (For theatre, not necessarily for Afghanistan.) And while I'm always a little suspect of artists' biased accounts of their own audience's enthusiasm, Kent offers lots of compelling details of what it was like to perform for a full house of military personnel.

Also makes me sorry I missed The Great Game.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Photo of the Day

Robert Brustein--playwright, director, critic, and founder of both Yale Rep and American Repertory Theatre--receives the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama yesterday in a White House Ceremony.

Nice to see someone from the nonprofit American theatre who's not a movie star, and not a huge Broadway producer, receive such a recognition.

Also awarded in the Arts and Humanities categories: Van Cliburn, Sonny Rollins, Quincy Jones, James Taylor, Joan Didion, Harper Lee, Philip Roth--and one Meryl Streep who somehow couldn't show!

Full photo gallery here.

Odd moment in the Roth citation:
When he described the impact of literature, and mentioned Philip Roth's seminal "Portnoy's Complaint," Obama said, "How many young people have learned to think by reading the exploits of Portnoy and his complaints?" While the room rocked with laughter, Obama smiled and stared at his notes with an expression that read "did I just say that."

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

If Baseball Tryouts Were Like Auditions

Funnyman Fred Armisen does a spot-on spoof of a clueless casting director in my favorite new TV comedy, IFC's Portlandia.

His accomplice is Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

"Costume" Dramas vs Costumes

In standing up for Sunday's non-Oscar winning movie costume designers, the Guardian's Tim Walker speaks to the challenge of their stage counterparts as well. The dirty little secret being that the most challenging and costuming assignments are often the contemporary stories--not the attention getting period pieces, or "costume dramas."

The job of dressing contemporary characters has its advantages, but it has its challenges, too. In a period drama, let alone a fantasy, it's far easier to convince the average viewer of a costume's plausibility. Most will have no idea when the ruff went out of fashion, or when pantyhose first went on sale. They can spot, however, when someone is too old for a hoodie, or too posh for trainers.


The Costume Designer's Guild has its own awards each year, with one prize for contemporary costume design, another for period design, and a third for fantasy. Far be it from me to suggest the ceremony go on any longer than it already does, but surely the Academy ought to acknowledge the same distinctions?
File this under the old adage popular among all "behind the scenes" artists, both designers and directors-- "if the audience can see your work or becomes too conscious of it, you're not doing it right."

Actually, I personally don't mind some intrusive style myself sometimes.  But not a bad mantra.

What think you, costumers?