The Playgoer: Arts & Leisure watch: 8/21

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Arts & Leisure watch: 8/21

okay, so it's Tuesday already, sorry...

At least some food for thought this week. Though I question the premise of each major article.

Jesse McKinley's reporting on the apparently sudden relucatance of producers to put on revivals of big musicals says... what? First of all, wasn't it just yesterday respectable outlets like the Times were bemoaning the plethora of revivals? (There's no paragraph here investigating whether this could be a boon to new work.)... So why are musical revivals poison now? Who knows, and who cares! As long as a piece like this limits itself to the small parameters of Broadway then all we're getting is an article about...the biz. To try to make some artistic trend out of it all is silly. But, according to the Times, I guess the business of theatre is still business.

Which leads right into Charles Isherwood's lament for the "failure" of his beloved Virginia Woolf revival. Let's leave aside how good this production was in the first place. (See below for my review. Personally I felt it tried too hard to play in the commercial arena, and so we should hardly be surprised to see its tactics backfire.) The question he poses, as a problem, is simply: why didn't more people want to see this? He runs through all kinds of theories, but never mentioned are such factors as, uh, it cost over $50 to sit in bad nosebleed seats?...Also unconsidered are the economic factors going into what it takes for a show to run these days. I'm sure Virginia Woolf does just fine every night--but these days if you're selling under 90% capacity, you're in the red. So maybe we need to look more closely at our terms "success" and "failure" to begin with. (Isherwood, of course, provides no statistics here or much in the way of specific data of any kind.) Maybe it speaks well of the Broadway wasteland that the production has run as long as it has!

And by the way, let's not discount the fact that when you ask comfortable rich people to shell out that kind of money to watch a bourgeois marriage disintegrate... they may not leap to the occasion? Isherwood brushes past this issue, but isn't it central? Personally, I felt the production got watered down in this way, as if afraid to alienate its (target) audience. (Exhibit A: a radio advertisement featuring "The Broadway Sisters" two yenta aunties, reassuring us that the play "is funny! really!!!" Hat tip, PoetBabe.) Again, the ticket prices dictate your audience, so isn't it unseemly for Isherwood to lecture them on what they should want for their buck?

The bigger--and much more interesting-- question we hopelessly wait for the NYT to address, is namely: have the economics of Broadway finally made serious drama impossible there? (at least in any reliable way--i.e. Glengarry's success aside). As I, in fact, opened with in my Glengarry review, I feel it's increasingly, objectively clear that Broadway is less and less compatible with and hospitable to the aims of serious theatre. These clap-happy, star-fucking stagings of Mamet and Albee classics are typical of well-meaning producers' last-ditch efforts to give Great American Plays a home there. But if non-profits could put on better productions, at lower prices, would we even care how long it ran--i.e. how commercially successful it was?


Anonymous said...

Good comments on the biz and the biz of the biz, as usual.

Serious art on Broadway will continue to be an intermittent bonus. Serious theater and theater are two different things for most people, the latter being the only one they know of and want. Profit lies one way, art another. Such is life, alas, more often than not.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Playgoer.

Together, the articles feel like one long lament about the lackluster investment climate today on Broadway.

Not exactly news--even if both pieces had appeared where they belong in the Business section. (Incidentally, the business writers tend to do a better job with this kind of piece.) But these are supposed to be the Arts pages for crying out loud!

Anonymous said...

An addition because I thought of this post when reading

Aaron Copland declared in 1941: “The composer who is frightened of losing his artistic integrity through contact with a mass audience is no longer aware of the meaning of the word art.”