Friday, June 30, 2006

Get With The Program!

Scott Walters motto: "If you like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less."

Local Playwright Geralyn Horton seems to be channelling Scott when she responds to an uppity literary manager on a playwrighting listserve:

I do often reply to Theatre mailing list posts.Today I chimed in on a discussion about the formatting of play scripts. A literary manager said to us playwrights on the list:"Frankly, I find "cute", "alternative" or "funky" formatting layout techniques in stage plays amateurish, arrogant, and patronizing---not to mention showing that the playwright doesn't take the craft of playwriting seriously....." To which I replied:"If you can afford the postage, send your funky format plays to theatres in the UK which do not share the US prejudice in favor of "professional" format. Some of the more notorious of them may even be said to have a bias towards plays that lay out the words as if they were poetry-- and an even greater bias towards scripts where the words Are poetry. When you hand over a pound or two for a photocopy of a play script in the lobby of an originating theatre in London, it is more likely to look like the MS of The Waste Land than like a product of Final Draft. I have a friend who brings back scripts by the dozen every year. Some of them don't even indicate who is speaking!

Good for her!

I would even go one further than Ms. Horton and say that theatres have more than just trouble with layout. Many playwrights complain that theatre companies have little tolerance for radical concepts and ideas. Some attribute this to the "staged reading," disease. Basically, this disease results in the symptoms of few if any staged premieres, but maybe a few festivals of staged readings, from which the ones with the best feedback may go on to be developed.

The result of this trend in "readings theatre" is that highly conceptual and non-traditional work is immediatley discarded as too difficult to get across in a staged reading. And by that there will also be no production.

This of course brings us to the great mission of 13p, whose motto is "We don't develop plays! ...We do them."
Do We Have A Friend In the State House?!

With the new ICA opening, and the old one sure to be demolished, we are actually losing another theatre space here in Boston. With The Calderwood's three new spaces, plus Zero Arrow, plus the Watertown Arsenal Center, the newspapers have trumpeted a gain of spaces here in Boston and surrounding environs. But with the loss of the BCA's Leland Center, and now the closing of the ICA Theatre, we could quickly even out as far as affordable spaces for younger or smaller companies goes.

We should reach out to Senate President Robert Travaglini, who represents Boston and Cambridge, because he seems to be willing to go the mat for the importance of the Arts. After all, as stated in this article today in the, Travaligni is willing to make darn sure that Pittsfield, MA gets their theatre restoration from state funds.

Travaglini, a Boston Democrat, was effusive in his praise of both the Colonial’s aesthetic and acoustic accoutrements. Although smaller in size, the Colonial compares well to popular Boston venues such as the Wang Theatre, he said.

“This is as beautiful as anything in Boston,” he said. “It’s a great facility.”

Travaglini said that the Colonial’s history and famed acoustics would draw top-flight performers to Pittsfield. He even promised to spread the word himself, citing music industry connections.

Perhaps more importantly, Travaglini suggested that he’d carry the torch for continued funding on Beacon Hill. In fact, he shrugged off a recent veto of some state funding for the theatre by Governor Mitt Romney. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, voicing confidence that the legislature will override the veto.

Don't Worry About It? Let's all e-mail Mr. Travaglini and see if he can use some of that State House pull closer to his district as well. We could ask him to protect or at least work on replacing the ICA Theatre.

Maybe we could also get him to work on some type of project similar to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Swing Space Project, in which artists can use temporarily vacant commercial spaces for projects or rehearsals. You can read more about that project here.

After all:

The senate president agreed, noting that business leaders and officials in communities across the state now recognize the importance the arts as an economic engine.

If you want to contact Mr. Travaglini just to thank him for his generous appreciation of the value of live performance, you can find his website here.
Have you heard?....Delsarte is all the rage in Borneo!

This from Brunei Direct this morning, under the hilarious headline, "‘Actors Should Be Appreciated, Not Antagonised'":

Bandar Seri Begawan - A basic Arts Theatre Intensive Workshop is currently being held at the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP)Central Library's Lecture Room in BSB.

One of its facilitators, Hj Pawi Hj Tajuddin, recently stressed on the connection of mental attitudes to aesthetic postures and said that one's emotional state - is communicated by physical appearances. He said that an expert from France, Frangois Delsarte, coded his observations in a chart of gestures, which was subsequently used as a guide for expressions and characterisations by many amateur theatre companies.

Delsarte is generally known as the father of the cheesy melodromatic postures we conjure in our mind when we think of the type of theatre O'Neill wanted to "murder," the type in which his "father paraded around in."

However, this is apparently an unfair reputation. In the late 1800's Delsarte compiled some very good information on gesture, and though Delsarte never wrote a book, a secondhand disciple, Genievieve Stebbins did. The book, The Delsarte System of Expression was extremely well recieved. Then, according to this excerpt from Joe Williams' Delsarte Project Website, all hell broke loose:

BUT, the immense popularity of the subject had reached a virtual frenzy, and eager to meet that hunger, and also to reap the financial benefits of it, books by less studious/scrupulous “Delsartians” filled the stores. Anyone who had attended a lecture, or class, or read a book could insure their success by attaching the word “Delsarte” to their product, book or program. Special clothes for practicing “Delsarte” were being developed and sold. Designers could come to help you decorate your home, and plan your wardrobe for the best and most harmonious “Delsartian” aesthetic. Nearly every town in the country had a Delsarte club. Money was exchanging hands everywhere. A contemporary parallel might be seen in the popularity of yoga in major US cities now....By 1891, the “Delsarte” practiced across the country had degenerated into a culture of posing, as taught by the lesser teachers.

Of course, more realistic acting started to take hold again, and the principles of realism still dominate the craft today. Actors look at the posey photos of old and probably think of it as too restrictive. Although actors still have to be on the lookout for directors who wish to control them. As the esteemed Hj Pawi tells us:

"Unlike an orchestral conductor, a director cannot control actual performance," he said. Actors need to at least have the illusion that they are appreciated or have full artistic freedom, he added.

At least let them have the illusion.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Blogroll Additions!

Faithful Mirror up to Nature Readers,

I have, at right, added some theatre blogs which I have long been reading and have long been meaning to add to my list of blogs.

Since these people, known only to me by their postings and occasional comments, have been an inspiration and education for me over the past few years, I have decided to kind of list them out so that you get an idea of who they are:

Theatre Notes: Alison Croggon writes reviews out of Melbourne Australia and comments on theatre there and worldwide

Parabasis: Isaac Butler is a director in New York City and comments mostly on Theatrical Issues, but occasionally veers into politics or popular culture.

Lucas Krech: Lucas is a lighting designer who writes about theatre processes with the same erudition and complexity of George Hunka at Superfluities.

On Theatre and Politics: Matt Freeman is playwright who is currently enjoying acclaim for his play, "The Most Wonderful Love," playing in New York. Matt writes about a wide variety of things. One day, the rehearsal process for his play, the next day about Equity Codes, the next about NSC spying.

Freedom Spice in the New Mash-Up World: Dorothy P'tit Boo is a French ex-pat "Actor, Director and Super Hero Liason" living in Seattle. She writes mostly about theatre there, which is important to all of us, because Seattle is great theatre town.

Theatre Conversation and Political Frustration: MattJ is a director who questions and writes thoughtfully about theatre. Very infrequently writes about politics.

Zay Amsbury: He writes about the process of dramatic writing and theatre with great insight and care.

An Angry White Guy in Chicago: Don R. Hall is a cranky, outspoken director and actor from the Off Loop scene in Chicago. He writes about basically whatever is on his mind. I often forget to read Don for a while and then it is fun to catch up.

To my regular readers, please check out these blogs. I'll keep adding to the blogroll as the 'sphere keeps expanding.

Let's get a few more Boston Based Blogs up now!

Of course there are the bloggers I have spoken about regulary as well.
Top of the bill is Lynn Redgrave in a textbook example of what the theater means by “star power”: a once famous name entirely miscast.

-Mark Steyn on Peter Hall's
The Importance of Being Earnest
Canadian Taxpayers Demand Accountability!

Some citizen's of Canada are upset watching their goverment spend recklessly on a war that failed, and may even have been doomed from the start.

Yes, the Dark Lord Sauron and his Orc army proved too much for our Frodo, as the Lord of the Rings musical, fought ferociously against commercial influences and the laser-guided observations of critics, but will now close, taking its guidon to the West End.

Of course, their change of address won't get the Wringwraiths who are seeking payment off their back. And it appears that the their little Hobbit legs may have trouble outrunning the Canadian Government, who fronted our little hairy-footed friends and their producers, the Mirvishes, to the tune of 3 Million Dollars (US).

The provincial government still expects to be repaid its $3 million loan to The Lord Of The Rings, Gary Wheeler, a spokesman for Ontario Tourism Minister Jim Bradley, said yesterday.

You know things are a little stressful when the spokesman for the Tourism Minister fields the calls. Well, the conservative party is sweating the loan a little bit, but apparently the Canadian Government is still a stakeholder in the production when it travels to the West End.

Of course, things like this are a perfect opportunity for tax watchdogs to sharpen the knives, and the Toronto Sun's Christina Blizzard obliges in her attack on the failed project.

Why would the province throw money at one of the most successful theatrical producers in the country -- the Mirvishes --to put on such a $23-million production?

Look, I'm a big fan of the Mirvish family. They've done more for arts and culture in this city than any other family I can think of. Not just that, they give away free turkeys to the poor at Christmas. (I guess we should look on Lord of the Rings as a turkey giveaway for the well-heeled.)

Well, government subsidy for theatre will be always be debated, but after this I am not so sure that subsidy for blockbuster musicals will be able to put up much of a fight.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Become a Certified Susan Lori Parks Distributor!

George at Superfluities is having the usual weird feelings we playwrights have around the marketing and producing end of the craft.

But George, you should really cast off that trepidation and join the...

Susan Lori Parks investment vehicle!

Yes, Playgoer points us to the Public Theatre's project of presenting 365 plays that Susan Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog) wrote recently, (one-a- day for a year.) The Public can't produce them all at once, so they trying to recruit theatres to help in the endeavor!

This is best marketing an individual playwright has ever done!

The branding goes as ubiquitous and as deep as the Microsoft Windows/DOS/Desktop revolution.

No theatre without a Susan Lori Parks Play!

Can't you see the commercials?

"And forget Amway, with the Susan Lori Parks System, royalties will just be rolling in! I'm going to try and get in on this as soon as possible?"

After all, the marketing and branding alone that is attached to being a Certified Susan Lori Parks Distributor could reap untold fortunes.
Perhaps we could have an SLP University where theatres could learn exactly how to properly present a Susan Lori Parks project. The tuition could be written off as business expense.

Some Frequently Asked Questions from our users:

"Once I have the SLP module installed, will it be able to interface with my other applications?"

"Will I be able to do joint marketing ventures using the Susan Lori Parks Logo?"

"The play Susan Lori Parks wrote when she had the flu and was dehydrated last December isn't really working for us, can we get a different one?"

Call Today!!!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Regionalitis Revisted

Terry Teachout's column regarding the disrepect for the Regional Theatres is all over the blogosphere today, starting with Playgoer, and continuing right on to Scott Walters.

It should ignite quite a bit of debate. Although Playgoer points to the Guthrie in a later post, I am not so sure that following through to investigate the Guthrie's season makes me any more confident in the regional theatre's ability to save itself.

I was surprised to find The Real Thing and Lost in Yonkers on the slate for the Guthrie. Oh well, regionalitis dies hard.

Teachout points to the New York Arts writers for their insistence on ignoring the regional theatres. On the Huffington Post today, Bill Barol gives a little more insight as to why this might be. Apparently, they are spending their time writing repeatedley about aging rockers.

If yesterday's Arts & Leisure snoozer on Ozzfest felt a little familiar to you, congratulations -- your memory is better than The New York Times's. A little digging in the archives reveals that The Gray Lady has done this story four times in the last ten years:

Iron Man Slows, And So Does The Industry (June 2006)

Rock's Bad Boys Grow Up But Not Old (September 2002)

Grandfatherly Rockers Smooth Out The Wrinkles (February 2002)

Second Acts for Aging Rockers (February 1996)*

I don't know what it is about this story that makes the Times go
all twitchy every 30 months, on average.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Look Who's Getting Defensive-
or Too Little Too Late

The Mainstream Critics are still trying to get a handle on just what it is that bothers them about the rise of internet criticism. It sounds sometimes like they are floating trial balloons, like politicians trying to get their talking points solidified. Thanks to Playgoer for pointing me to this article in the Globe regarding the demise of the perched vulture of the highbrow critic. The main subject of the article is the popular internet movie site of Harry Knowles. Here is a sample:

But as the blurby, slangy, barely-considered Ain't It Cool style becomes the lingua franca of film criticism, we should cherish the last of our old-school film writers. The curmudgeon confronting the screen, perched hawkishly in his seat, his pen over his notepad like a cocked talon, represents a high principle: He expresses the vigilance of civilization against inanity.

How much information or atmosphere, really, is communicated by this line in a recent review of ``The Da Vinci Code" by the young, syndicated writer Luke Y. Thompson (in the Dallas Observer): ``The very final scene is nice, but the endless Rosslyn Chapel bit gets interminable"? ``Nice"? I'll take the nonagenarian musings of Stanley Kauffman (b.1916) over at The New Republic, as he struggles-at another screening of ``The Da Vinci Code"-to stay awake: ``Three or four times in the last half-hour, I thought the film was over, only to be jarred by more of it."

Ahhhhrgg. While I completely agree that there are editorial and stylistic concerns with New Media, it seems the writers of articles like this are getting it completely wrong.

The danger is that Internet Critique lacks negativism?!!! Or wit?!!! Come on.

Well, I'll see you your Stanley Kaufmann quip, (which is actually executed much better by an IMDB reviewer commenting on Death Tunnel.) and I'll raise you the following from Harry Knowles:

"If you liked the first two X-MEN films – and know the comics –then for the vast majority of the film you’ll notice how clumsy things like deaths are handled, how emotional beats are handled like a disobedient toilet with a plunger in its mouth."

Customer reviews on IMDB or Amazon can be playgrounds of eloquent snarkiness, far surpassing the style and wit of even some of the major reviewers this article holds up. And by the way, I am not advocating the replacement of Stanley Kaufmann with Harry Knowles. But I would advocate the replacement of Luke Thompson with Harry Knowles. By that I don't mean Harry Knowles should be writing for the Dallas Observer, I mean that people who are reading Luke Thompson should spend that time on-line looking for better reviewers. Go to Rotten Tomatoes for instance.

Knowles problem is that his reviews are interminably long and by that they include endless cliches. This is an editorial problem rather than an insight problem. The Globe article zeroes in on the populism of writers like Knowles, without mentioning the most obvious conflict...Knowles is now an industry insider. He has appeared in actual movies, and he is very often flown places to attend special screenings. However, he never seems afraid to call a piece of junk a piece of junk, even if he has been flown out, put up in hotel and given a private screening room to see the work before anybody else. Interestingly enough, this doesn't stop studios from continuing to extend these offers. Why? The answer is simple: Knowles' influence. His website is extremely popular, studios are willing to take a chance at a Knowles knock because they could get a Knowles nod.

Who is reading the Dallas Observer movie reviews, when there is so much out there on the web? Reviewers like Kauffman will die in readership only because they are not taking advantage of the medium. Go to Roger Ebert's site, and the companion blog of Jim Emerson, and you will see that Roger Ebert's reviewing style and his wit have not changed, but his site and his delivery method is built for this century. (Emerson just started an Opening Shots Project that has readers e-mailing in their favorite opening shots, while Emerson breaks down some famous and not so famous opening images and how they relate to the larger canvas of their respective films.)

I am a subscriber to the New Republic and I enjoy the criticism of Stanley Kaufmann and Christopher Orr, but I wish their interface was something more. I wish I could access past reviews more quickly, I wish they had something of a home page of their own.

Scott Walters, the blogger behind Theatre Ideas has adopted a new motto: "If you don't like change, you are going to like irrellevance even less." While mainstream theatre critics seem to have missed the boat on blogging, the NPR gang seems to have leap-frogged over us bloggers a bit with Podcasting. (WBUR, our local NPR affiliate has been doing a great job with this by way of their Artscasts.)

Theatre reviewing in the major papers only holds its sway because the internet alternatives have generally not provided a consistent source of reliable reviewing yet. Theatre is too expensive for a freelancer with a website to attend on regular basis, unless they are getting comps.

Most of the theatre blogosphere is still populated by artists and playwrights who are heavily active in the scene. Doing shows, directing and/or writing, provides little opportunity for us to see enough of a sampling of productions out there. When a show is commented on in the blogoshpere it is generally in the context of three things:

1. We have a friend involved in the show.

2. We are being paid by somebody as a freelancer to see the show.

3. We really are a fan of a show or playwright and we willingly went to see it, and usually find something to write about in it.

Rarely do we have to spend three or four nights a week going to shows to which we have no connection, or really no proclivity towards, or passion for. In this respect, we lack that empathy with the grind of the traditional "reviewer."

There are internet alternatives though. Locally, Larry Stark and Will Stackman are two exclusive internet reviewers, and they see just about every show in town. Norm Gross for PMP Network is another local theatre reviewer who covers many, many shows.

Of course, the biggest problem for the transition of theatre journalism to to an online prescence is the same problem facing theatre companies. The consumers/audience of both are graying rapidly. The subscription audiences are less and less likely to be using on-line or podcasting to get tied in to theatre reviews. However, the exciting thing is that perhaps if theatre uses New Media it can connect the younger audience to actually start atteninding theatre.

(Speaking of the New Republic, where is theatre critic Robert Brustein lately, I honestly miss him. Does anybody know if he is all right?)
*Update: Alison Croggon who runs the Blog Theatre Notes out of Melbourne, Australia writes to remind me that she reviews 1-3 shows a week. She receives comps. Which reminds me...there are so many blogs I regularly read and need to add to my links on the right. (Alison included.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Word of the Day - From High Fashion

This from a NY Times article about The Devil Wears Prada, a new movie coming out with Glenn Close and Anne Hathaway.

"But she is so ensorcelled by Miranda, Runway's harridan editor, that she now uses it when harm befalls a set of accessories. In all of this her father finds great cause for lament."

Merriam-Webster defines ensorcelled as "enchanted," or "bewitched."

*As a side note, the theatrical trailer for Prada is interesting in that it is essentially just about 7 minutes of the actual movie, and it draws you in effectively. Even more interesting is that I saw it before United 93. (Very disconcerting to say the least.)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Locally Connected Playwright Gets Into New Dramatists!

Terry Byrne reports that Kristen Greenridge, boston native, has nabbed a coveted spot at New Dramatists.

Also, for those of you who don't know, Melinda Lopez's Sonia Flew will be produced at Steppenwolf this coming season. Perhaps Boston is getting closer to that Pulitzer Prize Ed Seigel wants to see.
Young? Entrepeneurial? - Let's hope

The Globe introduces us to a talented and entrepeneurial 22 year-old actress/director this morning.

I give her all the credit in the world. She creates her own opportunities and this is what theatre people should be doing.

But, as reader's of my blog know, I always am amazed at people's insistence on constantly reviving mediocre works. Here is a quote from Ms. Hammel:

"I really wanted to do this part and I didn't know anyone who was doing this play, so I decided to produce it myself," said Hammel, adding that she only recently realized that she's repeating her trick of founding a production to get a role."

The play is Neil Labute's The Shape of Things, and the part is Evelyn, the sexy grad student who seduces a hapless and dorky undergrad and does a kind of a Pygmalion on him. I like Neil Labute, but actually find his films far more interesting, artistic, and edgier than any of his dramas. Aside from the coup de theatre in the end of The Shape of Things, I always feel, when watching LaBute's plays, that there is no reason I couldn't get the same experience watching this same type of thing on a movie at home. (By the way, you can watch it at home.)

Though I think two local productions of Shape of Things in the last few years, (Speakeasy, and Theatrezone,) is quite enough, perhaps there is value here. Ms. Hammel is a young and connected actress and perhaps she can infuse a little interest into the local theatre scene by people of her own age.

She talks of wanting to interest "the parents" of the children she has in her theatre projects. I'll make a modest suggestion that she try to interest people of her age, also. That is the magic pill we are all looking for. Find out what they would like to see. I'm not that age, so maybe they would like to see Shape of Things.

With all of the talk in the blogosphere of business, theatre, and the like, this is refreshing. Let's just hope that she isn't seduced by the commercial theatre's idea of "edgy." And let's hope that her vision of a "lot more shows," succeeds.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Truth in Advertisting?

Theatre is sometimes just as guilty as your average multi-billion dollar conglomerates when it comes to shearing the sheep we have all become as a consuming public.

We have all experienced sexy advertising for plays such as Miss Julie, or Twelfth Night, or any number of classics or new works, only to find ourselves trapped in our seats watching another serviceable, but safe and reserved production.

Brandon Kiley of Seattle's Stranger hits the nail on the head when he writes of a "controversial" production of Oedipus, (Seneca's version,):

"The play begins with the chorus singing a creepy, complicated Russian folk chant while Oedipus dances naked and couples with Jocasta in the dark. It's exciting and a little shocking. Then the lights come up, the actors start talking, and everything falls apart. The production's surrounding details are good—the gabled house, the wheelbarrow full of old shoes (from plague victims), the choral music with its haunting, tense, Eastern European sound—but the conviction the company radiates when they talk about the project never makes it
onto the stage."

This is something that happens with commercial projects, Lort B non-profits, and even with smaller companies, (I am not making exceptions for some of my own productions by the way.)

I have some unformed thoughts on why this is. Basically, I think the core of the problem is that creating a sexually charged, edgy, powerful production is...well...hard work. Yes, all productions are hard work, I know that and I have lived that. But creating something truly incendiary takes more hard work.

My thought is this, (some of this from my own experiences.) You start off with this fantastic concept or edgy idea or vision. Suddenly, the clock starts ticking until opening night. The cast gets nervous, you get nervous, post cards need to be printed, programs need to be ordered. The lighting needs to be coordinated, there are electrical problems in the theatre. A cast member suddenly can't make a week of rehearsals. You find out that your idea for a set design can't work. (Anybody who has ever put on a show should know what I am talking about.)

When all of this happens, suddenly, just getting the show up seems like an accomplishment, and there has been no time to take the extra rehearsal time to let the actors get comfortable, to have them explore the weirder or more physical aspects of the scenes.

I am currently teaching an acting class and two talented actors have been doing a three minute scene from Waiting for Godot. They have brought it in for the last three weeks, and last night was the first time I felt that they were really tapping into the sadness and the comedy and able to mine it for its richness. It has taken time for them to absorb and learn to take their time with the stillness and the inner life. It is hard work, this art of theatre.

Talent is an aspect in this formula. Try to surround yourself with talent because talent can seek out the target and start to bracket it with much more precision. When I was on the football team at Boston College, I learned something invaluable about talent. (Asided from the fact that I didn't have any.)

What I learned was that: Natural Talent Recovers Faster. Watching the defensive backfield practice, I could see that the more naturally fast and naturally agile players were able to recover and regain control of a misstep in coverage. The less talented players could be left in the dust by a misstep, possibly even costing them a touchdown.

In theatre, I have found much the same thing. It is more complicated and subtle, but talent still recovers faster. Experience? Well of course experience helps, but, like anything else, what type of experience are you talking about? If an actor has never done Beckett, is he the right person for your production of Godot? He could be, if he is talented, and has the right skills. Remember, some quarterbacks can't run the option.

After talent and skills though, there is still the hard work. If you want to generate a heat on stage, you have to take the time to dry out your kindling first. Now, you can always build a nice pyramid of wood that looks like the perfect start to bonfire, but if you make it out of a bunch of green and sticky pine branches , good luck trying to get a raging inferno.

Just some random thoughts of mine. Brandon Kiley ends his article with this warning to all of us in theatre:

"After pointing out the emergency exits and reminding us about cell phones, the dutiful curtain speaker always says, "If you liked the show, please tell your friends. Word of mouth is the best advertising." It is, at least, the most accurate. And a little more honesty in the marketing strategies ("A lackluster comedy—for friends of the cast only!") might improve the art form, restore some integrity, and woo back the confidence of an already wary public."

Sunday, June 04, 2006

And Speaking of Amusing Snark...

"I haven't had this bad a time in a theater since I stopped dating

The Stranger's Paul Constant, reviewing an all-female Hamlet in Seattle.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Internet’s Endless Pleasures of Amateur Snark

How You Might Get A Date With a Crappy Horror Movie

With regards to my previous post about the legitimacy of online criticism, I thought I would point out that, while the web can sometimes be the source of too much poetic and gushing praise, it can also be the source of some creative and humorous snark.

As I sat doing my bills one night, I saw a trailer for a horror movie that was playing on On-Demand. The movie was Death Tunnel, and it had a stylish and interesting trailer that made it look like fun, B-Movie trash with some neat, creepy atmosphere. ("5 Girls, 5 Floors, 5 Hours...5 Ghosts!")

I logged onto IMDB to check it out and then spent an amusing few minutes reading some of the more creative user reviews of Death Tunnel.

"5 Girls + 5 Floors + 5 Hours = 15 reasons to steer clear!"

"Some movies are so boring they make you sleep. Not this one. It's stuttered with screams and "horrific" images to keep you awake. In the end you just want to swear."

One reviewer was even moved enough to write an ode to the movie:

Death Tunnel, Death Tunnel, oh god end my pain, Death Tunnel.. How could
you be so terrible? You have so much going for you on paper:

1) Creepy setting

2) ...

OK, so you really don't have so much going for you, so why did I expect so much out of you?

Oh Death Tunnel, if only the people responsible for your excretion wanted you to be anything more than a pile of droppings... If only they could see that, as you are, you are so much dead weight around the shoulders of humankind, the yoke of Rushed Out Crap to DVD that is synonymous with other movies that fail as miserably as you do.

I know, I know, it is not that great, but it made me smile. Interestingly enough, some very early user reviews are quite positive. And later reviewers openly accuse these Death Tunnel supporters of being studio shills or members of the production crew. (This along the lines of Bill Marx’s fear that the relative of a playwright could post gushing admiration.)

This studio marketing in the form of reviews is a common occurrence on Amazon and IMDB, but, in the end, the negative reviews usually drown those phonies out.

But this is just the beginning of the Death Tunnel phenomenon. Death Tunnel, poorly imitating Blair Witch Project, launches a multi-pronged marketing attack with planted praise on websites and even blogs.

Apparently, like their film, the team behind Death Tunnel takes all of the worst and most obvious aspects of modern multimedia horror genre marketing to create their insipid buzz. As an example, I refer you to the Death Tunnel Blog. Note the post from a video store clerk who "can’t seem to keep the movie on the shelf!"

Death Tunnel even has a MySpace page. This is the place to go for Death Tunnel’s intimate information. For instance, the surprising fact that Death Tunnel has 523 friends may be explained by the fact that Death Tunnel's MySpace profile reveals that Death Tunnel is a "22 Year Old Female from Los Angeles California." Hubba Hubba, Guys!

Don’t bother looking for anything inspiring in the way of creativity though. The Death Tunnel on-line presence is cluttered, ad-heavy, awkward and downloads slowly.

So, single guys out there...if you play your cards right, you may have chance to date Death Tunnel.

In case you are wondering: No, I didn’t rent it... Yet. Thanks Internet!

Friday, June 02, 2006

"Absolutely the Most Towering Performance of a Subtle, Eye-Popping, Masterfully Lyrical, Epic-Proportioned, Destined-to-Be-A-Classic Text of a Veteran Emerging Playwright possessed of a Visionary Prescience that is only Surpassed by Linguistic Mastery. A Charming and Airy Delight that is also a Sobering Wake-up Call. Achieving the near impossible, it Seamlessly Blends Shakespeare and Beckett and Neil Simon. A Rollicking Farce in the Spirit of Moliere Imitating Jackie Mason Channeling Eugene O'Neill. In a Decade of Theatre Going, You Will Not See Another Show Like This. Go Now!"

I have been mulling over the Op-Ed by Bill Marx about identity theft of reviewers by overly creative marketing people. The BUR Arts Blog - Attitudes contains posts by sometimes freelance critic Thomas Garvey, who recently penned quite a rave for Love's Labor's Lost at the Huntington. Apparently, the Huntington has been using blurbs from that review in their advertising. Marx explains:

I didn't pen, "JUST PLAIN FUN! --" either, which
appeared in an ad for "Love's Labour's Lost" in the May 26th issue of "Metro."
Thomas Garvey wrote those words in a review posted on "Attitude," WBUR's online arts blog which encourages readers to sound off about New England culture via news, reviews, debate, etc. It is an interactive redefinition of the letters-to-the-editor section traditionally found in newspapers and magazines, where those concerned about the arts can exchange opinions and information. By identifying the quotes as coming from, the Huntington advertisements exploited an ambiguity -- the misleading implication is that WBUR's theater critic wrote those things about the production.

I agree with Marx that the practice is intentionally deceptive. He goes on to sound a cautionary note about the proliferation of online Arts Journalism and the increasing ability of publicists to pull blurbs from many different sources.

"Alas, publicists on the hunt for blurbs now troll the web because it spews out opinions with dizzying ferocity. Movie studios, theater companies, etc., are lifting hyperventilated praise for their ads from obscure or compromised online
sources. Someone somewhere (a relative of the playwright, for example) will opine that a production is a delight, when it is actually a total dud."

Mr. Marx is generally a supporter of the internet as a place for independent criticism, and his caution is understandable. Although, one would ask, "doesn't that happen with regular critics also?" We all know of cases where we ourselves have disagreed drastically with certain critics' pronouncements on everything from movies to books to plays.

I am interested in the question after I was initially a little taken aback by a commenter to my post on the Mal/Fin de Siecle of playwrighting and theatre. The nameless poster said:

"And while we're on the subject of credibility (Re: Ed Siegel departing) It might increase yours if you disclosed your own links to the Huntington in one of your effusive posts praising their work."

This was an interesting charge, and one that did cause me to step back and assess my post and any criticism or praise I give to certain theatre companies. I think I am negative just as much as positive about the Huntington, but what fascinated me was the suggestion that I was some type of shill. You can see my reply below. Basically, I stated that, by virtue of being a theatre person in Boston, yes, my paths and those of my wife and my colleagues cross with the Huntington quite often, but, just the same, they cross with many other theatres, small and large. (And, for the record, I have never questioned Ed Siegel's credibility, ethics or conduct.)
The combination of these two things, (Marx's article and the commenter's question,) is interesting and brings up questions as far as the balance between the blogosphere, independent theatre journalism, and the Mainstream Critics.

Much of the theatrical blogosphere is populated by actual artists, who work in communities in which we know each other. As some of these blogs gain inevitable visibility and name recognition, will they indeed be trolled by publicity machines?

Look at this post at George Hunka's blog Superfluities today. George talks about Sheila Callaghan's new play Dead City. Sheila is a part of the ever expanding theatrical blogging community. The post is a review, more or less, and it would qualify as a rave. And to my mind, George has every freedom to write it, (and I trust his opinion by the way.) However, the description is full of pull-quotable phrases , of the kind Mr. Marx points out that marketing people are trolling for. To make the situation more complex, George is actually a reviewer for the New York Times. (By the way, Thomas Garvey actually writes reviews for the Boston Globe occassionally.)

Now, here is the hard part...I have no conclusion on what we need to think or do about all of this. On the one hand, giving legitimacy to voices on the internet can free the public of the "thumbs up, thumbs down," shrinking column space of the current arts pages in the Mainstream Press. On the other, that same legitimacy opens a wide, wide, internet- wide door.

I remember reading an article from the west coast in which theatre companies were going to start giving comps to bloggers, the theatre companies then expected for the show to at least get mentioned on the blog.

Larry Stark' Theatermirror, (which was a kind of blog/message board before even there were such things,) solves some of these problems by usually posting many reviews from different people of the same show. (Dissenting reviews are posted as "Minority Reports.") Although, I guess that practice actually can also give publicity departments a virtual smorsgasbord to work with for their pull-quote expeditions.

Many reviewers have written before about how they try to purge their writing of pull-quote-able phrases, but they often find the attempt futile.

Does the fault lie with "cheerleaders" or those who manipulate the marketing text.