Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Spaulding Update

The CitiCenter has posted a letter in response to Geoff Edgers article in the Boston Globe about Josiah Spaulding's salary and bonus.

An anon commenter on my last post put it best: "It seems they're all prepared to go down with ship!"

Let's just take this paragraph from the letter:

What the Globe article doesn’t convey is that Mr. Spaulding’s compensation has already been reported by several Globe columnists in previous years, dating back to 2003. In fact, internal decisions to offer Spaulding the compensation reported in the Globe dates back to 2001.

Just like Mr. Spaulding's assertion that he was taking a paycut was really a shell game, this statement by the CitiCenter Board makes it appear as if the compensation was discussed in the paper and that it was found to be no big deal.

In fact, the article on Spaulding's salary that appeared in 2003 was definitely raising questions about the perceived excess. And it wasn't just the "Globe columnists" raising the question:

Spaulding's compensation package for the fiscal year ending in May 2002, the most recent available, was $536,159 a year. This figure was the first thing a group of nonprofit experts noticed when they were asked to review the Wang Center's Internal Revenue Service filings. They noted that he is paid far more than is expected by any established guidelines.

"Clearly, there's an issue here of executive compensation," said James Phills, director of the Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders at Stanford University's School of Business.


William Crittenden, a professor in Northeastern University's College of Business Administration, said that Spaulding's salary still appears to be "out of whack." "If I were a board member, I would question whether we need to compensate our director at this level considering our recent shortfall," said Crittenden.

In that article, (just as now,) the only people who seem to be defending the salary are the Board Members of the CitiCenter and Mr. Spaulding himself.

The other aspect of the shell game is that the letter from the Death Star wants to make it appear that this bonus was common knowledge. I don't believe the bonus has ever been reported, but I can't really confirm that.

Washington DC

I went down to visit a friend who was in the Capital Fringe Festival this past weekend. I didn't get to take in many shows, but I did get to see my friend in the Madcap Players entry, Local Story by Kristen Palmer.

I also caught an appropriately fringey entry by Infinite Stage, Hamlet, That is the Question!, in which 6 clowns deconstruct the Bard's masterpiece. It is everything you think it would be, but that is not neccessarily a bad thing. There are some inspired bits:

  • Ophelia drowns herself by sticking her head in a mop bucket.

  • The clown playing Polonius forgets his lines and so reverts to cracking open cookies to read the little fortunes.

  • When the ghost asks Hamlet to "swear," the clown prince cheekily lets rip off some four letter words while shamefully admitting, "it's childish, I know."
  • The rest of the clowns underscore Hamlet's internal debate with an a capella rendition of Queen's Under Pressure.

Mirror Duped! Boston Theatre Head Gets Bonus

Not long before the Citi Performing Arts Center decided to make drastic cuts to its popular summer production of Shakespeare on the Boston Common, its board agreed to pay president and CEO Josiah Spaulding Jr., a $1.265 million bonus

I have long taken sideswipes at certain directors of non-profit arts centers who earn massive salaries. I will confess that I don't begrudge anybody making money and making as much money as they can. What I do get incensed at, and when I usually make snide comments, is when these people resort to the corporate speak of greedy CEO's at large public companies.

Like when they are trying to make budget cuts, push out security guards, or freeze salaries, all while their income continues to go up exponentially. I have made more than my share of comments about Josiah Spaulding, CEO of the Wang Center, now the CitiCenter.

After my last little smart remark, I felt a little bad. In examining the massive cuts at the Shakespeare on the Common, I questioned his "ever increasing" salary.

On my thank you letter for a donation to the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Mr. Spaulding handwrote a note in which he expressed disappointment in my comments as he had recentley taken a paycut. (At about the same time, I received an e-mail that confirmed this.) I felt bad and issued a correction on this blog.

Well, Geoff Edgers' new article today reveals that while Mr. Spaulding did take a salary decrease of over 100K. He also, at the same time, took a 1.2 Million dollar bonus.

Read the article. It is interesting. For my part, I learned my lesson. I ain't taking the word of multi-millionaires anymore.

And yes, Thomas, in a way, you told me so.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Video Games As Art?...Or Bowel Movement?

Clive Barker recentley took on Roger Ebert's assertion that video games are not high art in a lecture. Ebert responds to some of Barker's statements:

Barker: "We can debate what art is, we can debate it forever. If the
experience moves you in some way or another ... even if it moves your bowels ... I think it is worthy of some serious study."

Ebert: Perhaps if the experience moves your bowels, it is worthy of some serious medical study. Many experiences that move me in some way or another are not art. A year ago I lost the ability (temporarily, I hope) to speak. I was deeply moved by the experience. It was not art.


Barker: "I'm not doing an evangelical job here. I'm just saying that gaming is a great way to do what we as human beings need to do all the time -- to take ourselves away from the oppressive facts of our lives and go somewhere where we have our own control."

Ebert: Spoken with the maturity of an honest and articulate 4-year old. I do not have a need "all the time" to take myself away from the oppressive facts of my life, however oppressive they may be, in order to go somewhere where I have control. I need to stay here and take control. Right now, for example, I cannot speak, but I am writing this. You lose some, you win some.That said, let me confess I enjoy entertainments, but I think it important to know what they are. I like the circus as much as the ballet. I like crime novels. ..."Spiderman II" is one of the great comic superhero movies but it is not great art.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Critical First High

Dallas Morning News asked some critics to talk about their professions, and their interactions with readers who disagree vehemently. Thor Christensen, the pop music critic says the following to a fan who wonders, "if he was even at the same show:"

Fans go to see their heroes in the flesh and to sing along to their
favorite songs with 19,000 fellow fans. They go to drink beer and throw their hands in the air and wave 'em like they just don't care. They go to have a ball. And who could fault them?

Call me a buzz kill, but I don't go to rock shows to have fun. I go to try
to make sense of a bunch of notes flying out of a wall of speakers at 110 decibels. I come to separate the innovators from the hacks, the fresh sounds from the hopeless clichés. I come to describe the show and offer readers a sober opinion on why it worked – or didn't.

I come not to bury Caesar or to praise him. I come to judge his guitar

More often than not, I do have fun. I'm a music fanatic, too – been one since age 13, when a Led Zeppelin concert taught me music isn't mere
entertainment: It's the elixir of life. Every night, someone else makes a
similar discovery at American Airlines Center or Smirnoff Music Centre or Nokia Theatre. And if my review is less than glowing, they send expletive-laced e-mails accusing me of being soulless, heartless and deaf.

That's OK – I'm not offended: I've already had my life-changing concert moment. I won't begrudge you yours.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fame, Duration and Quality

Combining both Noveleye's question about lasting works and authorial identity, with Scott Walters' recent thoughts on entertainment and art, I offer up the following key observation from John Derbyshire in his rather lengthy review of Rudyard Kipling's poetry in the New Criterion:

Kim is a very fine novel, but I don’t know that it is superior to, for
Lavengro —yet who reads Borrow any more? Who— outside the academy, I mean—reads Meredith, a much better novelist than Kipling? The world is full of good books. For a novel to be still in print after a century it is necessary that the novel be good, but it is not sufficient. All but the most celestial literary quality needs assistance from its author’s name. The author must have done something else that keeps him in our mind, or at least must have been representative of something, or scandalous or controversial in some way.

The fact of Kipling’s name still being known to the general
educated public today rests on two of these props. In the first place he was representative of a cast of mind which later generations came to deplore. In the second place he was a great poet. The first is, to a large degree, consequent on the second, for it was through his verse that Kipling’s opinions became widely and generally known. Midcentury intellectuals seeking to disparage Kipling did not quote Kim or The Jungle Book; they whacked you over the head with “the white man’s burden” and “lesser breeds without the law.” Kipling’s fame, and his infamy too, rests above all on his verse. This is a tribute, and a back-handed one, to the power of that verse.


Just thought I would point out a great post by my friend at Noveleye, (a designer here in Boston.)

After attending the Hopper Exhibit at the MFA with somebody who claimed that they have never seen a Hopper painting, she looks at all the ways Hopper's Nighthawks has been reproduced in popular culture (Complete with images.)

Now, Nighthawks has been reproduced so many times that I'm a little sick of it. There's the one with James Dean and Marilyn...And doing a quick search, CSI, the Simpsons and Inuyasha and Edward Elric. Also, I'm told, one with characters from Cowboy BeBop, and many others I didn't copy.


As someone who creates things, what are we to make of that? What is the purpose of art--fodder for tomorrow's advertising (I remember my horror when I realized that Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies would be remembered as "Smurfberry Crunch is fun to eat.") Is it better that it be remembered at all?

Commonwealth Shakespeare Opens Tonight - You Can Help

Nothing has been more thrilling in the last few years than to see the throngs of people crowding the Boston Common to see the free performances by Commonwealth Shakespeare.

Geoff Edgers has followed up a report of a few months ago, with a new and more detailed report of the downsizing of the annual outdoor production of the Bard.

When I posted about this topic back in March, I was puzzled. The Commonwealth Shakespeare productions are major cultural events that draws over 100,000 people to see free Shakespeare. The fact that between corporate and private donations the cost cannot be offset is mind boggling.

I am greatly sympathetic, because I do not pretend to have ever been in a position where I have had to deal with such a project. However, looking from the outside I just think it's weird. It would be one thing if the shows were not attracting an audience, but anybody who has ever attended can attest to its popularity across the entire socioeconomic, racial and geographic spectrum.

I hope that they will be able to overcome these problems.

As I said in March, and I have reiterated several times, we can help. We can donate. I already have, you can do so here. If you attend the show, or have attended the show in the past, consider making a donation, it sounds cliched, but no amount is too small.

Let's not go backwards.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bank Benefits Boston Theatres

Citizen's Bank steps up again for Boston Area Theaters.

In profile about the Publick Theatre:

The Publick has a program that brings teenagers on board as professional actors who perform a “shadow production” of the theatre’s current play. Thanks to sponsorship from Citizen’s Bank, this also doubles as the teenager’s summer job.

Boston Theatre Friday Roundup

Company One's Mr. Marmalade with John Kuntz has opened and is getting reviews, here, here, here, and here. The notices are extremely positive. I saw the show opening night and it was hoot. (Full Disclosure: My wife in the cast.)

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company will open Midsummer Night's Dream on the Boston Common next week. There will be Open Dress rehearsals on Saturday and Sunday this weekend. Remember, this year the show will only run one week! And if you are going, or even if you can't make it, give CSC a donation, information is here!

Boston Theatre Works is running their BTW Unbound festival of New Play Readings this weekend. On Sunday you can see all of the plays in row! (I did this last year.)

Abie Philbin Bowman, an Irish comedian opens his fantastically titled show, Jesus, the Guantanomo Years, at Jimmy Tingle's tonight. The tagline: If Jesus Christ returned to earth today, He would be stopped by U.S. Immigration because "He's a bearded, Middle-Eastern guy, prepared to die as a martyr."

Closing Weekend for Queer Soup's Lost and Found Festival

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Theatre Tribes - Can It Work?

Scott Walters has been posting quite a bit about tribal community in the arts, and some have protested that the type of tribalism he is talking about cannot withstand reality.

And Leonard Jacobs, at his Clyde Fitch Report, had an interesting exchange with an off-broadway producer on his site, who said:

More to the point, you seem to be pretending to have forgotten that OOB was always a place of artists striving for something more, some step up the food chain. We all want to be Torchsong Trilogy and start out as three small plays in a basement somewhere (OOB), consolidate into a an OB, pick up and Obie, and then move on to B'way..

To both the OOB producer who is thinks we are all looking to score on Broadway and those who think tribes can't stand the test of time, I would say, let's look at the Annex Theatre, profiled by Josh Logenbaugh in the Seattle Weekly:

Annex's longevity is somewhat bewildering. Theater survival is usually a result of companies balancing new or experimental works with classics and crowd pleasers, building subscription-style loyalty with their audiences, and having artistic directors who boldly choose plays that set the aesthetic direction of the group. Annex has blithely ignored all such wisdom.


The most radically different aspect to Annex's success is how they choose plays: via a long company meeting which is affectionately known as "The Evening of Long Knives." Annex members read proposals, attend pitch sessions, and then involve themselves in a frenzy of artistic horse-trading, politicking, and arguing until consensus is reached. This sounds like the unholy love child of a socialist commune and a college-dorm bull session, but it works, and it has become a core value of the company.


Annex has survived this long not because of grants, sound business
decisions, or even exemplary work. They've survived because they know who and what they are: a scrappy group of misfits who aren't afraid to fight with each other when and where it's necessary. Long may they scrap.

OK, this is Freaky

Considering I just posted this the other day...

I nearly fell out my chair when I took the Book Quiz and it turns out I am....

You're Confessions!

by St. Augustine

You're a sinner, you're a saint, you do not feel ashamed. Well, you
might feel a little ashamed of your past, but it did such a good job of teaching you what not to do. Now you've become a devout Christian and have spent more time ruminating on the world to come rather than worldly pleasures. Your realizations and ability to change will bring reverence upon you despite your hedonistic transgressions. Florida will honor you most in the end.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

It gets weirder, considering I went to Austin Preparatory School...

Austin Preparatory School was founded by the Augustinian Fathers of the Province of St. Thomas of Villanova in 1961 and opened to students in September 1963. Austin is, in fact, an abbreviated version of Augustine, so our name does carry on the legacy and acknowledges our debt to St. Augustine and his followers, the Augustinians. Saint Augustine is the School’s patron saint, and we strive toward the Augustinian ideal of: “One mind, one heart, intent on God.”

Tolle Lege! Go Cougars!

Brustein Bows At Boston Theater

Boston theatre audiences will get the first gander at Robert Brustein's new play The English Channel when it opens at Suffolk University this fall.

The details at at Geoff Edgers' Exhibitionist Blog.

Hat tip to Geoff.

Boston Theaters Beware Summer Cabaret Offerings

The Boston theatre scene is currently offering up two little musical compilation concoctions for the summer. Side by Side by Sondheim is playing at the New Rep. And A Marvelous Party is going on at the ART.

However, the Boston Metro reviewer is not amused, as indicated by the headlines:

"Side by Side Stinks"

"Not So Marvelous"

In the ART review "he hopes these types of shows are not becoming a trend."

Next summer, the theaters will probably hope he'll be on vacation.

Harry Potter and Harold Bloom - Harry Harold and Hunka

When even George Hunka is writing a post about Harry Potter, I thought I might post something also.

Isaac Butler at Parabasis the other day posted a link to Matt Yglesias, a blogger at the Atlantic, who said this:

The publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows might be a moment of opportunity for a literary critic. A chance for someone with the requisite chops to publish in the popular press an article that said something about the Potter books as literature, something smart and insightful that made me think "hey, this guy has smart things to say about books!" Something that would situate the books in some kind of context vis-a-vis the much larger cultural sweep of the novel. Something that might get an intelligence person who enjoyed the Potter books interested in some larger, more highbrow segment of the literary enterprise. Instead, the publication of each Potter book seems to herald the publication of a bunch of stuff like Ron Charles whine in The Washington Post which, to me, makes Charles -- and through his role as a stand-in for the larger enterprise, all the literati -- look like sneering losers who've decided to elevate their idiosyncratic hobby above everyone else's in order to look on the rest of us.

There are interesting comments on Isaac's thread, but really the call for a critical stamp of approval on popular entertainments is nothing new. But I have to say, the request Matt Yglesias issues seems bordering on absurd. In a comical way it is almost like some type of hostage negotiation: "All right highbrows, there are millions and millions of Harry Potter fans that could be introduced to all of the great literature that you deem worthy, but...here's the catch,... you have to tell them that Harry Potter is one of those works!" It's the Kobayashi Maru test for the "literati."

If somebody with the "critical chops" starts mentioning works of literature in "the more highbrow segment," such works, more than likely, would always be positioned within comparative situation in which Harry Potter would not fare that well.

Harold Bloom, gasbag to some, but certainly somebody with "critical chops," has written twice about the Harry Potter books. In 2000, he wrote the following:

The ultimate model for Harry Potter is "Tom Brown's School Days" by Thomas Hughes, published in 1857. The book depicts the Rugby School presided over by the formidable Thomas Arnold, remembered now primarily as the father of Matthew Arnold, the Victorian critic-poet. But Hughes' book, still quite readable, was realism, not fantasy. Rowling has taken "Tom Brown's School Days" and re-seen it in the magical mirror of Tolkein. The resultant blend of a schoolboy ethos with a liberation from the constraints of reality-testing may read oddly to me, but is exactly what millions of children and their parents desire and welcome at this time.


One can reasonably doubt that "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is going to prove a classic of children's literature, but Rowling, whatever the aesthetic weaknesses of her work, is at least a millennial index to our popular culture.


Perhaps Rowling appeals to millions of reader non-readers because they sense her wistful sincerity, and want to join her world, imaginary or not. She feeds a vast hunger for unreality; can that be bad? At least her fans are momentarily emancipated from their screens, and so may not forget wholly the sensation of turning the pages of a book, any book.

His tone is sufficiently snobby throughout, but not as harsh as one would expect. He treats the novels influences with some degree of seriousness, but really can't be bothered. The idea that there are better things somebody, child or not, could be reading, (including himself at that moment,) really gets under his skin. But he does at least try to conform to the template laid out in the above request, and tries,( looking down his nose though he is,) to be understanding.

However, after Stephen King was awarded the National Book Foundation's annual award for distinguished contribution in 2003, Bloom went bananas. This time not only pissing off the incredibly huge Harry Potter audience, but also the massive King fanbase. Taking aim at the horrormeister, Bloom also revisited his review of Potter from 2000, this time describing the experience in less understanding terms:

I was incredulous. Rowling's mind is so governed by cliches and dead metaphors that she has no other style of writing. But when I wrote that in a newspaper, I was denounced. I was told that children would now read only J.K. Rowling, and I was asked whether that wasn't, after all, better than reading nothing at all? If Rowling was what it took to make them pick up a book, wasn't that a good thing?

It is not. "Harry Potter" will not lead our children on to Kipling's
"Just So Stories" or his "Jungle Book." It will not lead them to Thurber's "Thirteen Clocks" or Kenneth Grahame's "Wind in the Willows" or Lewis Carroll's "Alice." Later I read a lavish, loving review of Harry Potter by the same Stephen King. He wrote something to the effect of, "If these kids are reading Harry Potter at 11 or 12, then when they get older they will go on to read Stephen King." And he was quite right. He was not being ironic. When you read "Harry Potter" you are, in fact, trained to read Stephen King.

Well, Mr. Yglesias, there you have your suggestions for further reading, but not quite positioned as well as I think you want them. J.K. Rowling, like Stephen King, needs no defense, no stamp of approval, yet we feel like we need it.

The highbrows appear to be shoring up their defenses, but can you blame them? In the "Everything Bad Is Good For You" moment we are experiencing, the rush to anoint things as genius or high art can sometimes seem very dizzying, if not eventually dulling. A good example can be found in the blog post of local reviewer Thomas Garvey. He was examining the critical rush to embrace the movie Pan's Labyrinth as on a par with certain other great films:

I knew somehow that one day I’d grow out of comics - and whaddya know, I did. In fact (dare I say it?) I found in the realm of genuine art a depth and power that made comic books seem obsolete. But today, that assumption – in fact, that reality – is seen as somehow false; if I’d been true to myself, I would have resisted the siren calls of literature and drama and cinema, and clutched Doctor Doom ever closer to my chest. Or better still, I'd have made comic books with pretensions to art. I have a sneaky feeling this cultural current is what the critics are doing obeisance to; surely none of them (not even Stephanie Zacharek) really believe that Pan’s Labyrinth is up there with The Spirit of the Beehive, much less Forbidden Games. But the idea of a comic book movie masterpiece, a “graphic novel” with the depth of a real one, has become a kind of holy grail of our cultural assumptions – so when one doesn’t really come along, we have to invent one.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bad Theatre and Blogging

Michael Feingold writes about an epiphany during the dark times of Xanadu on Broadway:

Posters on theater chat sites may proclaim it as the end of the world and the death of the American musical, but Western culture has always cherished a streak of theatrical inanity like this, running wider or narrower according to the times. We live in lousy times, that's all. The week I saw Xanadu, I'd been reading a collection of late 18th-century after—pieces, the silly diversions theaters put on following Hamlet or The School for Scandal in the pre-television era, when
people expected an evening at the playhouse to be a long one. A few of the writers had some wit, but mostly the scripts were far stupider than Xanadu, and not nearly as amusing. Of course, you got Hamlet for your money too, but the evils of capitalist distribution are not a drama critic's concern, though it's worth noting that Marxism, like other movements toward violent revolution, arose just when the theater was at its most trivial, concentrating its efforts almost
wholly on diversion.

Ross Douhat at the Atlantic says the following about Blogs:

The flip side of this is that blogging is the enemy of literary craft and intellectual depth. Arguments over tax policy and the proper interpretation of Knocked Up find a natural home in the blogosphere; attempts write a great novel or compose a paradigm-shifting philosophical treatise do not. If you want to be the next George Will or Paul Krugman, you'd be well-served to take up blogging now, because it'll make you a better pundit. If you want to be the next Ian McEwan or Philip Roth, or the next Alastair McIntyre or Richard Rorty, I'd advise you to rip your internet cable out of the wall now, before it's too late.

To which Andrew Sullivan agrees, but replies:

So why am I still here? Because the medium itself is worth pioneering, and in my eighth year of daily blogging, I've decided to give in to the impulse and take it where it wants to go. This kind of innovation only happens once in the lifetime of a writer, and to be there at the creation is too good an opportunity to miss. I keep telling myself that at some point, I'll retire from all this, drag my poetry and philosophy and history tomes back from the shelf and think some more, and write, you know, maybe a long, well-researched article a year or a book every five years. And let myself have an unpublished or unexpressed thought, or allow it to gestate for a while, or simply kick it around in my head before kicking it around in pixels.But the lure of tens of thousands of daily readers, many of whom know much more about any particular subject than I do, is irresistible.

I would like to make a more coherent, well-thought, article-length post about how this all ties together ....but...I just don't have the time.

Sarah Kane and Howard Barker on the Boston Theatre Scene

Over at Superfluities, George Hunka has several posts about Howard Barker's work.

In the coming months you will have an opportunity to see see the Whistler in the Dark's Fever Fest, in which the works have been inspired by the following Howard Barker aphorism:

“Kiss carefully – not an admonition about kissing,an act of banality/an act of terrible depth,but about the kissed one.”

Death, the One and the Art of Theatre,
Howard Barker

In September, you will get to see 4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane. The play is considered to be Kane's most mature work, at least by some, and is not performed very often. It is written almost like poem, with really no stage directions.

Kane is aligned with Barker by many, and her legacy is complicated by the fact of her suicide, something that her work Psychosis cannot seem to escape yet.

Boston Theatre Leader Wanted

Thanks to an anonymous commenter, I have a link to Albert Hall Associates, Inc. Albert Hall Associates is a search firm with a niche in arts institution staffing and their website includes the job description for the Artistic Director of the Huntington Theatre Company.

While most of the description is about the Huntington itself, there is some talk of the roles that prospective candidates would need to assume:

The successful candidate will recognize the opportunity that vests in
enhancing the Huntington’s relationship with Boston University, both for the organizations and the community as a whole. The potential exists to explore a number of initiatives that will benefit both a university determined to expand its role at the heart of the city and a theatre company invested in encountering and impacting on students who will ultimately become the next generation of theatre professionals and audience members.

The board is seeking candidates with vision, passion and commitment. The successful candidate must embrace the opportunity to share his/her vision with the community and be an effective representative of both the art of theater and, most particularly, the Huntington Theatre Company. The committee will consider applicants who are stage directors, producers, and/or artist/producers. Candidates must be capable and committed to developing a constructive partnership with the Board, Managing Director, and staff to plan and budget seasons that balance artistic and educational programming with available resources. Finally, the successful candidate must exhibit an ability to assume a visible leadership position throughout
the greater Boston community.

Community, as I have highlighted, is mentioned a number of time in the above sections. In one instance, the candidate must "embrace" the opportunity to share a vision with the community. In another instance, the candidate must have the ability to assume a "leadership" position throughout the community.

These are not easy positions for which to recruit as leadership is a very amorphous thing to assess. What are the general qualities one looks for?

When I am presented with a search that calls for leadership I take a little more time to make sure the client and I are clear and tracking on what leadership means to them. As far as candidates go, I always do my general assessment based on a little book that John C. Maxwell put out a number of years ago. "The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader."

I have bolded some of the qualities that appear to be emphasised, explicitly or implicitly, in the Huntington Job Description. (Yes, I have also included Mr. Maxwell's somewhat cliched taglines after the listings.)

  1. Character: Be a Piece of the Rock
  2. Charisma: The First Impression Can Seal the Deal
  3. Commitment: Separates Doers from Dreamers
  4. Communication: Without It You Travel Alone
  5. Competence: If you build it, they will come.
  6. Courage: One Person with Courage is a Majority
  7. Discernment: Put an End to Unsolved Mysteries
  8. Focus: The Sharper It Is, The Sharper You Are
  9. Generosity: You Candle Loses Nothing When it Lights Another
  10. Initiative: You Won’t Leave Home Without It
  11. Listening: To Connect With Their Hearts, Use Your Ears
  12. Passion: Take This Life and Love It
  13. Positive Attitude: If You Believe You Can, You Can
  14. Problem Solving: You Can’t Let Your Problems Be A Problem
  15. Relationships: If You Get Along, They’ll Go Along
  16. Responsibility: If You Won’t Carry the Ball, You Can’t Lead the Team
  17. Security: Competence Never Covers for Insecurity
  18. Self-Discipline: The First Person You Lead Is You
  19. Servanthood: To Get Ahead, Put Others First
  20. Teachability: To Keep Leading, Keep Learning
  21. Vision: You Can Seize Only What You Can See

Oh, and regarding yesterday's post, the job description includes the following:

Huntington Theatre Company is an EOE and encourages women and persons of color to apply.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Boston Theatre - Sonia Flew Still Flying?

As an update to a previous post about Sonia Flew, I have heard, very briefly, from Broadway Producer Randall Wreghitt.

He indicates that he is still working on bringing Melinda Lopez's Sonia Flew, which premiered at the Huntington Theatre Company, to Broadway.

Boston Theatre Search Commitees

The Los Angeles Times reports on Sheldon Epps, the Artistic Director of Pasadena Playhouse and his reception of an award from the James Irvine Foundation:

The citation noted that Epps, "one of the few African American artistic directors of a major regional theater in the country," has succeeded since 1997 in engineering a "remarkable renaissance" in which the Pasadena Playhouse has increased its audience while diversifying it by age and race.

Here in Boston,our two anchor regional theatres are currently searching for new artistic directors. Both the American Repertory Theatre and The Huntington Theatre Company will need to fill the top spots very soon.

Is there a possibility that either theatre could come up with a person of color, or a woman, on their short lists?

With regards to these two areas, our artistic leadership in Boston, while showing some bright spots, is still mostly a white man's game. Jacqui Parker as the Artistic Director of Our Place Theatre Project and Kate Snodgrass's helming of Boston Playwright's Theatre are just some of those bright spots. And there continue to be, in the fringier and smaller theatre ranks, people like Akiba Abaka of Up You Mighty Race Theatre Company and Rose Carlson at the Devanaughn.

But is it, perhaps, time to see things change at the big houses?

I fully expect to hear the chorus of very legitimate arguments that, "it shouldn't be about black, or woman, or diversity, it should be about the best person for the job!" I am fully willing to hear those arguments, but be prepared to explain what the "job" is.. On the weblog Parabasis, run by Isaac, the question about what artistic directors are doing great work was thrown out, and a commenter stated, " I think it's an interesting question, because I'm not exactly sure what an artistic director's main function is supposed to be." She then went on to list artistic directors who were successful in different ways.

The missions and visions of the ART and the Huntington are, of course, up to their organizations. And I am sure they are looking diligently for the right person to achieve their goals.

But still...couldn't that person be of color or a woman? And would that have an effect on the community which those two institutions serve?

Any comments on this are welcome, along with any suggestions people might have.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Fringey Theatre Math

It's the Fringe Festival season, and in The Guardian, fringe producer Richard Wray fills out the ledger for us.

The two overriding numbers that he illuminates are the following:

In the incredibly unlikely event of a full sell-out throughout the run, gross sales - excluding concession tickets - would be roughly £12,300 of which, in theory, the production "company" would take just under £7,400, assuming all tickets were sold through the venue.

And after going through all the costs associated with the venture:

So that's a grand total of just over £9,000 before we even set foot in Scotland.

But anybody who has done a fringe festival can tell you that it is a blast.

While reading accounts like this, part of me gets the tension that all producers develop when undertaking such a wild venture. On the other hand, I get the jealousy as well, because it is at times like this that you are so alive with other people who all have the same goal.

Have fun this summer, fringers!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Boston Theatre Roundup - Friday

The Publick's Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw is up and running. The Globe take is here.

Another outdoor take is Chelsea's Theatre Zone which is presenting The Visit by Friedrich Durrenmatt in Mary O'Malley park on the waterfront. (They have Spanish language performances during the run as well.)

The New Rep is singing Sondheim for the summer. At EdgeBoston there is an article about one of the players, Jonathan Colby a DJ for WERS. The reviews for the show here, here,

The Herald has no Boston theatre news, but does have this AP article, of which the title should tell you all: "Virgins offered free tickets to New York off-Broadway play."

Company One Opens Mr. Marmalade this weekend. (My wife is in the cast.) And they have a bunch of pre-show hype. No less than three interviews with local actor John Kuntz. (The Phoenix, Edge Boston, Bay Windows)

For those of you who can't get enough of Will LeBow's marvelous singing talents, (His lounge-lizardy style rendition of Shakespeare's "Come Away Death" in Twelfth Night on the Common a few years ago still stays with me,) he opens this weekend with other Boston notables at the ART's Noel Coward cabaret.

Anybody who is hungering for some new work might want to check out Queer Soup who continues their run of Lost and Found series at the Boston Playwright's Theater.

If you want to head out of town, Shakespeare and Company is playing Blue/Orange and Tom Stoppards' Rough Crossing. Along with Midsummer Night's Dream.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

For Playwrights - Theatre Writing Do's and Dont's

Do Silence Your Inner Critic While You are Writing: This is the voice that continually shouts in the background, or quietly whispers in your ear, that you are a failure and that you should give it up and be happy with your day job.

Don't Silence Your Inner Editor: This is the constructive voice in your head that will encourage you to work on that scene a little more, cut that monologue to get to the climax faster, work on that part that sounds too much like the playwright talking to the audience, etc.

Theatre of Genius?

From the Working Group Theatre Blog...

I think everyone in the theater wants to be a genius. I've never really met a theater artist who thought people were better than them at their particular field. I've met the best director in the world 20-30 times, the best playwright twice as often and the best actor? I meet him everyday. And even those of us who are humble, deep down have a belief that what we personally do is "true art" it's "real theater" and so in the rehearsal room we believe it should be respected. So, you often end up with a room of people who think they know more than the others around them and are saying "prove it to me, that you're so good" in every note session.

True. And we could take this as a template and lay it down over almost any other aspect of our lives. I can say this about business, academics, non-profit organizations even working out at the gym.

Masterpiece Theatre Gets Their Game On

Seems like Desperate Housewives has been muscling in too much on Masterpiece Theatre's demographic. The runaway series about the women from Wisteria lane generally does millions more in the ratings on Sunday nights.
According to a Globe Article, it seems that while people hold the PBS show in high esteem, they feel it is not for them...

It is that perception that "Masterpiece" producers decided to tackle about a year ago. With a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, they hired
a firm to interview executives from PBS, CPB, and various PBS stations, as well as members and viewers. They found that viewers like the programming once they watch it, but the series's reputation is an obstacle. Some people referred to "Masterpiece," Eaton said, as a "dusty jewel that's hard to find" or a series made for "horny older women."

While the research found that "Masterpiece" has a female audience base, it found "millennials, too," said Margaret Drain , WGBH's vice president for national programming. "It's women in their 30s who love costume drama, who are Jane Austen freaks. And Jane Austen is undergoing a enaissance right now. There's even a Jane Austen action doll."

Jane Austen to the rescue!!! Why not? Harold Bloom has said that Austen is one of best creators of character after Shakespeare.

They are even on the hunt for a new host. Isn't Rosie O'Donnell looking for a new gig?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Emerson and Theatre - Boston from New York on Amtrak

Scott Walters points to an article by Tom Burrop in which he takes the Acela to Boston from New York City. I am frequent business traveler on that route myself.

The article is about community arts development, and touches on how most of our cultural development methodology in the past has resulted in more of a distancing of art from the people of a community. It is the difference, he points out, between bondind and bridging:

In "Better Together," Putnam and Lewis Feldstein's 2003 book, they take traditional arts institutions and practices to task for their contributions to the decline in social capital. "Traditionally, however, arts institutions have done far more bonding than bridging … the system of financing and presenting the arts traditionally has reinforced entrenched patterns of exclusion." While illustrating several outstanding examples of programs that do the opposite, they
say, "we are becoming a nation of arts spectators more than arts participants, and this trend is likely to accelerate…"

It called to mind this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson in his Essay, "Art":

The fountains of invention and beauty in modern society are all but dried up. A popular novel, a theatre, or a ball-room makes us feel that we are all paupers in the alms-house of this world, without dignity, without skill, or industry. Art is as poor and low. The old tragic Necessity, which lowers on the brows even of the Venuses and the Cupids of the antique, and furnishes the sole apology for the intrusion of such anomalous figures into nature, — namely, that they were inevitable; that the artist was drunk with a passion for form which he could not resist, and which vented itself in these fine extravagances, — no longer dignifies the chisel or the pencil. But the artist and the connoisseur now seek in art the exhibition of their talent, or an asylum from the evils of life. Men are not well pleased with the figure they make in their own imaginations, and they flee to art, and convey
their better sense in an oratorio, a statue, or a picture. Art makes the same effort which a sensual prosperity makes; namely, to detach the beautiful from the useful, to do up the work as unavoidable, and, hating it, pass on to enjoyment.

It should be said that part of Emerson's jumping off point is his revelation, when going to see famous paintings in Naples and Rome, that the great works of art, no matter what culture they come from, are surprisingly un-exotic when you actually witness them.

Musharaff and His Dancing Elephants - Political Theatre

One review of the Frank Rich book The Greatest Story Ever Sold, pointed out that Mr. Rich's background as a drama critic gave him a unique skill to "critique" and analyze the very adept way in which the Bush Administration would stage elaborate performance pieces for optimum effect.

Politica has a long collaboration with the concept of theatre. Ian Maxwell Mackinnon's Manifesto "Elect Better Actors," begins this way:
The first theatre was a coronation pageant for a guy high on a platform above a crowd...In ancient Greece, Solon the legislator asked Thespis the Actor if he was ashamed of telling so many lies in front of people. Thespis said there was no harm in pretending to be somebody else in a play. According to Plutarch, Solon replied, "If we honor and commend such play as this we may some day find it in our business-" that is, politics.

And from Rediff today we get a commentary on how Musharaff of Pakistan is very adept at this new age of political theatre on a grand scale:

After years of observing the deft General Pervez Musharraf I must admit a sneaking feeling of admiration for the way he has navigated the minefields of, to mix metaphors wildly, dancing with three elephants: Saudi Arabia, the United States, and China.

He is simply peerless in his ability to put on diplomatic theatre, and he has an unerring instinct for how to induce the willing suspension of disbelief that is the centrepiece of all theatre.

Musharraf has assiduously cultivated the fiction that he is Louis XIV of France, who said in all seriousness, 'After me, the deluge.'

I couldn't help but remember Edward Albee, at the recent Ford Hall Forum, recalling the first theatre performance he attended-- Jumbo, in which Jimmy Durante starred with an Elephant.

Theatre Rests in the Summer?

Todd Williams at the Huntington Blog gives a little inside look at what really goes on during the "darkness" of the summer season at a major regional theatre:

Meanwhile my staff, who have also been getting some much deserved R&R, will be working away on The 39 Steps. By the time I'm able to post again we should have some construction photos to show you. I can't believe rehearsals start in about FIVE WEEKS!

We've got prelim drawings for Brendan due any day now, as well as a design visit from Streamers director Scott Ellis and scenic designer Neil Patel with the set model.

Somewhere in there I'll chat with scenic designer Ralph Funicello (The Cherry Orchard) who will be designing our sets for Third. I'll be wrapping up details for Shining City which is coming to us from our
friends at
The Goodman Theatre in Chicago, directed by Robert Falls, with the New York physical production designed by Santo Loquasto, Kaye Voyce, Chris Akerlind and Obediah Eaves. The Cry of the Reed and She Loves Me will have to wait for some of my time in August. Nicky is off to Williamstown very soon to direct The Corn is Green with Kate Burton so there is time yet.

Huntington Presents projects for next season, such The Atheist (with Campbell Scott) and a couple of others which I'm not quite sure I'm supposed to mention yet (ok, here goes - Judy Gold in her 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother - and the living cartoon lip syncing origami-ist Ennio Marchetto), will be the subject of a 10AM meeting on my first day back. ...

...Oh - and we're doing some renovations in the BU Theatre Lobby, some HVAC work at the Pavilion, and I have a bunch of job searches open at the moment. I may shoot the next person who says"it must be nice and slow in the summer"!

Company One You Tube's Its Theatre Marketing

Company One has a video preview of its upcoming production of Noah Haidle's Mr. Marmalade. It opens this week, (Full Disclosure: My wife is in the cast.)

On the Chicago Tribune's Metromix Page there have long been videos of fairly high quality that serve as previews of current and upcoming shows.

Boston Globe to Williamstown Theatre - "Get Me Rewrite!"

The Globe's Sandy Macdonald heads out to the border of Massachusetts for The Front Page. This is the whole Front Page, a three hour production of the original script in which, according to Macdonald, "most of its pre-PC racist epithets and misogynistic elements remain intact."

Macdonald can't get My Girl Friday, the film version from 1940 out of her peripheral vision. But she does give the production a fighting chance, which it seems to lose through a far too reverent approach:

"This is not so sacrosanct a script, however, that a bit more snipping and sidestepping would have seemed amiss. In fact, so familiar by now are the poker-playing, repartee-slinging conventions of the typical bullpen press room -- thanks, no doubt, to the period movies that "The Front Page" inspired -- that we don't even really need the gradual, atmospheric set-up established in Act One."

And yesterday, Garret Eisler at Playgoer talked a little about choosing works from the, um, mustier corners of the canonical closet:

Look, I'm as big a sucker as they come for dusting off the old American repertory. But the question here is not why do Old Acquaintance at all, but why devote the precious and enormous resources of the Roundabout "American Airlines" mainstage to

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

TCG Facts with a Bullet

Theatre Communications Group has released the Theatre Facts Survey and you can peruse it here.

Leonard Jacobs has the press realease at his blog. And Isaac is starting up discussion of it at Parabasis.

The Press release highlights some of the news, but here are some bullet points that also deserve some scrutiny:

  • Inflation-adjusted administrative salaries increased 14% and administrative benefits increased 36% during the five year period, leading to administrative salaries accounting for 1.3% more of expenses in 2006 than in 2002.
The TCG press release happily points out:

  • The majority of theatres’ employees are engaged in artistic positions, with an average workplace consisting of 62% artistic, 25% technical and 13% administrative personnel.

But couple that with this news:

  • Theatre's single greatest allocation for resources from 2002 through 2004 went to artistic payroll, and in 2005 and 2006 it shifted to administrative payroll. Average artistic payroll did not keep pace with inflation over the 5-year period...Artistic payroll as a percentage of total expenses has decreased each year since 2002.

  • Although growth in total ticket income over the past five years was 6.1%, it was not enough to keep pace with inflation; ticket income was down nearly 6% from 2002 to 2006 after adjusting for inflation.

  • Educational and outreach income increased steadily over the the five year period (2002-2006), rising nearly 13% above inflation. Despite this increase in income, fewer people are reached now by outreach and education activity than before.
The press release mentions the following:
  • Occupancy/building/equipment/maintenance costs increased each year, rising 34% above inflation over the 5 years.
But this is equally shocking:
  • Insurance costs escalated 61% above inflation over the 5 year period.
The press release ackowledges the following, but leaves out the point that though attendance went up 1.3 percent there are also more performances:
  • Overall attendance declined 8% while the total number of performances rose by nearly 2% over the 5-year period. Attendance slipped in 2003 and 2004 and regained some ground in 2005 and 2006.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Augustine's Agon With Art

Let not either buyers or sellers of grammar-learning cry out against me. For if I question them whether it be true that Aeneas came on time to Carthage, as the poet tells, the less learned will reply that they know not, the more learned that he never did. But should I ask with what letters the name "Aeneas" is written, every one who has learnt this will answer me aright, as to the signs which men have conventionally settled. If, again, I should ask which might be forgotten with least detriment to the concerns of life, reading and writing or these poetic fictions? who does not foresee what all must answer who have not wholly forgotten themselves? I sinned then, when as a boy I preferred those empty to those more profitable studies, or rather loved the one and hated the other. "One and one, two"; "two and two, four"; this was to me a hateful singsong: "the wooden horse lined with armed men," and "the burning of Troy," and "Creusa's shade and sad similitude," were the choice spectacle of my vanity.

Confessions, Saint Augustine (Translated by Edward Pusey)

"Too Many Chefs..." or "How many Artists does it take..."

In Wired this week, we have discussion of crowdsourcing in both Journalism and Art. The whole discussion, Assignment Zero, with over 80 interviews with academics, book publishers, artists, reporters, etc is very interesting.

Basically, the concept of crowdsourcing is simple: a project is given to basically anybody who wants to complete it.

An example on a journalistic level would be an independent news blog throwing out a proposed state budget online and having anybody with expertise in certain areas of that budget report on those respective areas. (The Pentagon actually engaged in crowdsourcing a few years ago when they released a great amount of Iraqi documents online so that they could get, literally, an infinite amount of eyes on them.)

Crowdsourcing in the arts can be used for written, visual and performance projects.

One of the biggest recognizable performance pieces of crowdsourcing happened about a year ago when, at a busy train station, hundreds of people started rocking out silently to whatever was playing on their i-pod.

On Matt Freeman's site, On Theatre and Politics, there is a kind of crowdsourcing going on regarding the concept of a national premiere network. You can see the discussion here.

According to the Wired interviews, the most successful examples of crowdsourced projects are "curated" or engineered very closely. The Wired article mentions why this is:

Q: What happens when they don’t work together so well?

A: I’ve seen crowdsourcing go awry when the wrong people start using the tools, and then it turns into a teenage mudslinging fest. There was one project I considered for the Apex show that was called
. Justcurio.us was a great concept: you just post a question and then the crowd answers it. You can ask any question in the world, for example, you can ask people to solve a particular equation, or maybe something more on an emotional level. So it sounds like a great idea, but then people started posting questions like “What size bra do you wear?” or “Are you wearing any panties?” and it turned into this pornographic and really base kind of site. I don’t know why it went in that direction and got used for such childish purposes. People had the option to email the Webmaster and report that the content was objectionable, as you can with a lot of websites, but I think that people got so sick of it…maybe just asking a question is too simple. Maybe there has to be more complexity.

Q: Or maybe more restriction. Swarmsketch had problems too, right? Before [the creator] Peter Edmunds put some parameters on the project and restricted how much each person could do, it devolved into a kind of chaos where people couldn’t agree enough to create anything coherent.

A: An individual’s contribution to Swarmsketch is literally like a
string of 5 or 10 pixels. It’s tiny. But then you have the opportunity to vote on other marks. I don’t now how [Edmunds] came up with that balance of individual and group contribution, but it works really well. A lot of the images are very compelling, and they’re not straightforward illustrations. They’re very evocative.

Q: You seem to be saying that people need a very specific task,
an assignment, for this to work. Part of what makes something crowdsourcing is that someone comes up with a task.

A: Right. Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher work on those assignments for hours to craft the language and get the right phrasing and parameters, and we did the same with NBTH. If you don’t anticipate every divergence and set up the lines very clearly at the beginning it’ll go all over the place and you’ll end up with a shapeless form, which is what happened when the British web developer Kevan Davis asked people to draw TVs and faces in an earlier experiment that predates Swarmsketch. The crowd could draw fonts and other non-abstract items, but it had a hard time with works that required an interpretation of some sort. People are always going to diverge from the task, so you have to keep the assignment somewhat narrow in order to end up with something successful.

They also talk a little about community and how that fits into the overall scheme of crowdsourcing.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Eckert on Eckert

If we fail to understand the poetic poser of theatrical art, its genius for transfiguration of the ‘chemistry’ of the sanctuary, if we lose faith in the intrinsic religious mystery of this gathering, if we fail to be thoroughly present and aware of the poetic power of the questions: Who are we and why are we here, we become second class story tellers holding the coat-tails of the contemporary giants of linear story-telling: the novel and its inspired child, the movie (not to mention that cunning little bastard TV and its brilliant cousin the computer)


Look, the difficulty with a theater that pretends to resemble the world, that sees itself as having a specific didactic function through the ‘confession” or “the little slice of life” or the “subtle morality play” is its apparent resignation to the status of subordinate to the larger theater it is bound to serve. Confessional, social, and political theater, prides itself on its lack of pretension, saying, in effect, ”this room is just the antechamber to the real theater which is out there in the world expressing itself as politics. The”real theater”, apparently is the unfolding story of justice and power. The best theater can hope for, according to this scenario is to do its job well as little life lesson or documentary or propaganda.

Rinde Eckhart, speaking as an alter Ego, on Geoff Edgers Exhibitionist Blog

Avoiding Health Insurance Premiums No Longer An Option

I am still meeting and talking to theatre artists who seem completely unaware of the new Massachusetts HealthCare Reform Law.

Everybody in Massachusetts over the age of 18 will be required to have health insurance by December 31st 2007, and you will need to account for this on the tax forms you file next year.

I know there are many actors and theater artists, (especially in people in their twenties and thirties,) who function without health insurance for a variety of reasons, but that will no longer be an option in Massachusetts.

Many aspects of the law are still being worked out, but the mandate is one thing that is definitely coming.

Artists can learn more about how this law will affect them, and about their options at the following link on the Mass Cultural Council Website.


Get schooled on it, it is going to be our reality very soon.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

In last year's dystopian film Children of Men, Clive Owen's character visits his brother who is the curator/Ministry of Culure at the Ark of the Arts in London, a huge complex (actually the Tate Modern,) into which have been deposited the rescued treasures of the world's masterpieces.
At dinner, the men dine in front of Picasso's Guernica while a young man plays ceaselessy with a video game. The sequence is an eerie evocation of many associations: fiddling while Rome burns, elite access to art, and the worth of art as the rest of life degenerates.

When they first meet, the men shake hands in front of Michelangelo's David, which has been "rescued," and looks a little worse for the wear in the left leg.

Having recently flipped through the book Rescuing DaVinci, (which is a kind of photographic companion piece to The Rape of Europa,) the film gave me visual and emotional connections to the story of the Nazi plunder of Europe's greatest art works.
I couldn't help but connect this idea of hording all of the great masterworks under the guise of "protection" to the way Hitler and Goering procured masterworks from Italy, Paris, etc,. Many of the great works of art that were stolen under these pretenses were destined for either Goering's residence at Carinhall, (at Right.) or for Hitler's projected Fuhrermuseum at Lisz (below) which bears an eerie echoe of the Ark of the Arts in the dystopian London of Children of Men.

There is an outstanding photo in the book Rescuing Davinci in which we see a beehive configuration bricks completely entombing the statue of David to protect it. Many of the great works, were, thankfully recovered by the Allies and returned promptly after being discovered and documented by the dedicated "Monument Men." (At Left, Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton inspect stolen paintings recovered at mine along with other artwork and gold.)

Slate's explainer talks about the job of a Ministry of Culture in the world today, and about our lack of one:

So, why doesn't the United States have a ministry of culture? For one thing, arts in the United States are largely privately funded, and the art world is less dependent on state support. A bunch of federal agencies perform the functions given to ministries of culture in other countries. That's not to say the idea for a ministry of culture—or something like it—hasn't been proposed. In 1859, President James Buchanan appointed a National Arts Commission, but it disbanded after two years. Teddy Roosevelt made a similar attempt 50 years later, and in 1937, during a fit of New Deal-fueled government expansion, a New York congressman introduced legislation to create a Department of Science, Art, and Literature, but the proposal never got beyond committee. Subsequent efforts to create a centralized cultural agency were hampered at least in part by negative associations with Nazi propaganda and "cultural planning" in the USSR.

That's the Spirit?

For a prime example of what happens when local officials are given the opportunity to control what others publish, consider the town of Marblehead. Hanging in Abbot Hall is The Spirit of ’76, Archibald Willard’s well-known depiction of two drummers and a fife player on a Revolutionary War–era battlefield, which he painted for the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876. The copyright expired decades ago. Willard also painted several other versions.

But the Marblehead rendition is considered definitive, and the
town selectmen have in their possession a high-quality slide. That slide is essential for anyone who wishes to republish the painting, since The Spirit of ’76 is shielded by a sheet of glass, and if you try to photograph it, the reflection will render it unusable.

You may not be surprised to learn that the selectmen are
extraordinarily protective of the slide and, well, selective about whom they will allow to borrow it. If you’ve got a nonprofit use in mind, or if you’re a textbook publisher, the selectmen might take pity on you and let you use it — usually for a $100 fee. If not? Well, forget it.

The selectmen’s policy has led to some truly bizarre decisions. Several years ago, they allowed Bob Jones University to borrow the slide for a textbook despite the university’s history of racial discrimination and anti-Catholic bigotry. Not that they shouldn’t have. But this past spring the selectmen turned down local historian Pam Peterson because the booklet in which she wanted to include it, Marblehead Myths and Legends, might (gasp!) make a little money.

Read more Instances of New England Infringements in the 10th Annual Muzzle Awards in the current Boston Phoenix.