Thursday, August 30, 2007

What Do We Do? - It's Still In Previews!!


A couple of things have been brought to the surface over the last couple of days. And they are somewhat tied together.

Playwright George Hunka wrote a very scathing review of 100 Saints You Should Know, which is a production at Playwright's Horizon. Here is just a taste:

100 Saints You Should Know, a play which can only be described as
earth-shatteringly mediocre, opens the Playwrights Horizons 2007-2008 season; one can only call it "a meditation on spiritual life in 21st century America" because, like ill-disciplined meditation, it meanders and hews left-to-right, its dialogue as naturalistically drab as any that has come out of an MFA playwriting program and new play development workshop.


And that's just the nice part. But, the paragraph that has sparked a little debate is the following:

Poor 100 Saints, perhaps -- workshopped within an inch of its
well-intentioned but pale, weak life. I left at
intermission
, I'm afraid, not compelled to return by the
tree-injury ex machina that closes the first act...


At Matt Freeman's Blog On Theatre and Politics, he asks about "walking out" on shows. Have we done it? Why? Is it right for reviewers to leave a show? The comments are humming.

However, Leonard Jacobs at Clyde Fitch was the first to point out another ethical condideration about George's review:

I have no opinion regarding the fact that George Hunka isn't exactly
giving burnin' love to Kate Fodor's 100 Saints That You Should Know at Playwrights Horizons. But I do have an opinion about the fact that he
published a formal review of the play on his blog, and the play doesn't open until September 18. Talk about breaking the embargo!.....

Now, let's be clear: if a print and Web journalist like myself did
that, oh my God, the walls of Jericho would come crashing down, Lucifer would be salivating to get his claws into me, Dick Cheney would be cackling monstrously and cranking up the burning fires of hell and everyone in the blogosphere would rake me over the coals and attack my ethics and call me names and wonder why my
ancestors didn't burn in the Holocaust. But it's ok for a blogger to publish a formal review before the official opening?


It is a very good question. Apparently, as the fallout of this continues, we are learning that Playwrights Horizon sent an invitation to many bloggers to come and see the show and the only understanding was that they "blog" about what they saw. (Not review.)

We are still getting information, but this seems like a marketing ploy gone horribly wrong for the folks at PH.

I did an experiment yesterday. (You can try this at home.) I went to the Playwrights Horizon webpage, went to the 100 Saints page, went to the online ticketing service, and chose tickets for tomorrow night's performance. I did everything but actually purchase. Now, nowhere along theway did anything mention that the show was in previews, mention the official opening night, and I couldn't really deduce any type of discount either.

Leonard Jacobs claims the opening for 100 Saints is September 18th, but the website and ticketing just mentions August 24th - September 30th. So, opening night is taking place more than halfway through the run? Isn't this the same type of shell game the commercial producers of Merlin tried about 20 years ago?

Just last week Brendan Kiley published a review of the Seattle tryout of the Broadway show Young Frankenstein:

This isn't a review of Young Frankenstein. It's not supposed to be, since Young Frankenstein (adapted from the 1974 Mel Brooks movie, now in a pre-Broadway test production at the Paramount) has been in previews for two weeks and will only be officially open and subject to reviews for one week, starting August 23.

It must be said: This preview situation is tilted toward obscurantism. Reviewers aren't allowed to write about it for most of the run, so people have to guess whether they want to spend $25 or $100 or $0 on their tickets. The producers' argument is: This is a work in progress, we're changing things as we go, it's not fair to review that. That's fine, except ticket buyers aren't told they're paying for previews—unless they look very carefully, they don't know they're paying for a "work in progress." That's disingenuous.


The press may not have access to previews, but my credit card does, so it bought a ticket and brought me as its date.


Playwright's Horizon appears as if they were trying to whip up some hype during the long run of previews, and they were somewhat relying on bloggers to....what? I don't know really.

Maybe they thought bloggers would be enthusiastic supporters . Perhaps they thought that even if a blogger didn't like the show, maybe the blogger just wouldn't write anything at all, being grateful for the tickets.

I don't review that much, and when I do, I think I have always published the review after opening night. (If I ever did differently, it was because I wasn't aware that there even was an official opening night. ) Most of the time though, I see productions either on opening night or well into the run anyway.

As far as walking out on a show:

I have never walked out during of any live performance while it is actually being performed.

However, in all of my theatregoing, I have left a few shows at intermission. This is very very rare, but I have no regrets about doing it. I have only left a show at intermission when there is absolutely nothing in the first act that gives me even a shred of hope that the second act is going to get any better.

From reading the comments on Freeman's post, some people are very noble in their conviction that decorum requires us to stay at a performance, no matter how bad, until the very end. They proudly proclaim that they have never walked out of a show at intermission. I do applaud them.

But when somebody tells me they have never left a show at intermission, my inner smart ass wants to say, "Oh, you just haven't met the right show, yet."

The conversation continues at the blogs mentioned.
I will be moving this weekend, getting ready for the fall semester and I am already into the onslaught of the hiring season for my recruiting job. So my posting will be spotty over the next week or so.
If you want know what is going on in Boston, check out Larry Stark's Theatermirror, Thomas Garvey's Hubreview and Bill Marx at the Arts Fuse.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Citi Scrutiny Bumps Up To A New Level

The Citi Center for the Performing Arts is being looked at by Attonrney General Martha Coakley. And she's not the only one.

This from the story in the Globe:

Coakley's office isn't alone in questioning the operations of the center,
which last year paid its president, Josiah Spaulding Jr., a $1.2 million bonus despite years of budget deficits and a recent decision to cut the run of the organization's popular, free production of Shakespeare on the Boston Common from three weeks to one.


State Senator Jack Hart of South Boston, whose sponsorship led in part to $350,000 in state allocations to the Center in each
of the last two years, said he was disturbed by the recent Globe reports, particularly to hear of the decision to pay Spaulding the bonus for completing his contract."I'm concerned that the money that we are spending, and the money I advocated for, is being spent inappropriately," Hart said. "If it's being spent inappropriately, then we have a real problem."


This week, the board of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which has provided the Citi Center with more than $1 million since 1989, voted to require that leaders provide more information about the organization's finances and programs before receiving a $60,400 grant the council allocated for this year.

"I think it's fully appropriate that if questions and concerns are raised around an organization we are funding, we want to make certain the public has confidence in our investment of tax dollars," said Anita Walker, the MCC's executive director.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Who is a Writer?

Writing is more than a profession, it's also an affectation adopted by those who do not write, or write very little, yet enjoy believing themselves to be artists. Here you are marketing your second unsold 100,000 word novel and some guy who's written two bad prose-poems for his creative writing class exercises is also telling people that he's a "writer."

-Tom Piccrilli, best-selling horror author.

Development Hell Never Looked So Good...

The Chicago Tribune has another story of a youthful playwrighting prodigy launching from a play at a major regional house's new works festival to star status? Not quite...

A year ago this week, 25-year-old, Wilmette-raised playwright Marisa Wegrzyn made a splash at the Steppenwolf Theatre's First Look Festival of new American plays. It was a bit of a bloody splash. Wegrzyn's pitch-black comedy, "The Butcher of Baraboo," was a piece of Upper Midwestern Gothic featuring gore, eccentricity, small-town intrigue, a possible murder and a prominently wielded meat cleaver.

Demonstrably, the play needed a lot more work. Nonetheless, it was clear from Dexter Bullard's premiere production that Wegrzyn -- who had graduated from Washington University in St. Louis only a couple of years earlier -- was a promisingly fearless new theatrical voice with a delightfully quirky sensibility. New York quickly came calling. Second Stage -- a prominent off-Broadway company that has hosted pre-Broadway runs of Mary Zimmerman's "Metamorphoses" and "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" -- almost immediately committed to doing the play in its season. Second Stage even hired Judith Ivey, a well-known, Tony-winning actor, to direct. Even though Second Stage was no stranger to risky new writing, Ivey's involvement surely ratcheted up the stakes for an unknown playwright.

The play opened in New York in May.

"It was my first time even being in New York," the shy-but-droll Wegrzyn said over lunch the other day, recalling what you might be thinking is shaping up as the heartwarming story of a precocious young playwright's thrilling trajectory toward stardom.

Not exactly.

New York critics butchered "The Butcher of Baraboo."


An interesting article that raises a lot of questions.

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

Orfeo Group's presentation of Jose Rivera's Marisol runs for just this weekend at the BU Studio 210. You can read company member Daniel Berger Jones's spirited interview with the Weekly Dig here.

Catch Whistler in the Dark's Fever Fest this weekend as well. The festival of new plays is at the Cambridge Multicultural Arts Center just through Saturday.

Another brand new theatre company comprised of Boston University alums, Spontaneous Theatre Project, is opening their production of Neil Labute's The Shape of Things at the Bernard Toale Gallery this weekend.

If you are in the solo mood, trek out t0 Boston Playwright's Theatre for the Free Cookie and Theatre Feastival.

Skating phenom, Sasha Cohen has been attending the ART/Moscow Art Summer program and the Globe has the story. The story has a video component addded to it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Direction of LA Theatre

It comes as no surprise to hear that much of the LA theatre scene is actor driven. Charles Mcnulty, a critic for the LA Times, suggests that a problem on LA stages may be a lack of strong and visionary direction:

Sometimes it's the more memorable aspects of a production that sharpen your regret over the lack of directorial finesse. At the end of "The Women of Lockerbie" at the Actors' Gang last spring, I sat for a while in my car, unable to drive out of the parking lot. The soul-mauling shrieks of Kate Mulligan, who played a distraught New Jersey housewife whose son was killed in the 1988 Pan Am flight brought down by terrorists, and the persevering compassion of the Scottish women who were witnesses to the shocking tragedy, left me emotionally wrecked.

After I was able to consider the production with a cooler head, however, I remembered my frustration at the scattershot staging. The playing area was ill-defined, the actors never threaded into an ensemble, and there was little effort to find a compelling imagistic life for the piece. The pathos of Deborah Brevoort's powerful though problematic play managed to come through -- it's a devastating subject -- but the jerry-built production seemed cobbled together by a committee rather than guided by an assured, integrating sensibility.


(...)

With the rise of the director's theater, which exploded after the
breakthroughs of Artaud and Brecht, the new interpretive artistry became for certain auteurs not a means to an end but an end in itself -- a development that only exacerbated the rising tension over whose show it was anyway. Were directors now assuming authorship? Many playwrights bitterly complained that they were being rewritten, while actors often bristled at the way they were being trampled by despots who were more concerned with creating dazzling stage images than with nurturing human truth.

In America, the director's theater has been in decline since its heyday in the '60s, '70s and '80s with Andrei Serban, JoAnne Akalaitis and Peter Sellars, to name just a few. Stage directors of every stripe have been implicitly on parole ever since, though of course everyone in the theater community just adores them and would love to join them on their next project, kiss, kiss. Send a script and maybe they can rearrange that voice-over.

This back story may partly account for the attitudes and animosities that continue to charge the rehearsal hall. It may also help us better understand the bias of a largely actor-dominated theatrical landscape. Is there any city in the world that has more artistic directors that are actors? And is there any major theatrical capital that treats the art of directing as such an afterthought?

My thinking on the subject is fairly straightforward: Playwrights and actors constitute the building blocks of theater, but directors guide the art form into the future. Without their innovative influence, the stage tends to revert to its trunk of shopworn tricks. What's more, as the team commanders of synergy, they provide a basic check on the delusion that any one contribution is greater than the collaborative whole. I really don't want to sit through another unresonant directorial shuffling of Shakespeare (a "Macbeth" with UFOs, a Hamlet as a ganja-smoking Jamaican dude, both of which I've suffered though), but I have even less interest in seeing an uncaptained ship of actors perform O'Neill, Shaw or one of the other canonical playwrights "straight."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Josiah Spaulding and CPAC Board Meet The Sharp Cereal Professor

"Nope, nothing wrong here."
Perhaps the most nihilistic of Stephen King's novels, and one that is often overlooked, is Cujo. I remember reading the book in my adolescence and finding it ripping, relentless and thoroughly depressing.

In his memoir/advice book On Writing, King reveals that he wrote Cujo in a periodof alcohol and drug abuse, and admits that he can't remember writing it.

Of course, the idea of a large Saint Bernard going rabid and attacking people was an especially tangible nightmare for me. We had two of these huge dogs in our neighborhood, Lance and Tina. Lance was always dirty, roaming the streets and wearing large bare patches of skin where he had been hit by cars.

But, more indelible than even the image of Cujo, the image of the Sharp Cereal Professor lingers as my introduction to the idea of corporate image and marketing.

In a subplot of the novel, kids are crapping and vomiting the dye from the "Red Rasberry Zinger" cereal they are eating. (Read Frankberry Cereal.) The Sharp Company is in a major crisis, and as kids continue to get sick, the company runs commercials with a genial character called The Sharp Cereal Professor who tells the kids: "I know they are good for you and your parents know it too." The professor then eats a scoop of the cereal, smiles and adds, "Nope, nothing wrong here."

As the Globe reports today, the Citi Performign Arts Center has sent a letter out to their donors and the media, (I received one by e-mail from the PR Firm Weber Shandwick) You can read the complete text of the letter at Geoff Edgers Exhibitionist blog here.

I have read the letter and, basically, all the CPAC Board would like for you to know is this:

"Nope, nothing wrong here!"

Well, driving into work this morning, I did hear a report on WBUR that the Massachusetts Cultural Council, (of which Josiah Spaulding used to be the Chair,) has found at least something wrong here as they are making a 60K payout to the CPAC conditional. The report didn't really elaborate on the conditions, and I haven't been able to find a supporting print story and there is nothing on the MCC website.

The battle may be over though, Weber Shandwick, the PR firm that sent the letter on behalf of the Citi Board is a worldwide powerhouse in Public Relations and so CPAC will be getting the very best. Got to be willing to spend money to make money right?

Here are previous posts and links regarding this story:







Friday, August 17, 2007

Equus Posters - Iconic Puzzle Imagery

Garrett at Playgoer is asking people to submit their favorite theatre posters.

Though seemingly obvious, one of my choices would be the original Equus poster design by Gilbert Lesser.

The simple, black and white, puzzle-piece arrangement is now iconic. The straight line of the neck, accentuated by the repetitive perpendicular rectangles that make up the mane of the horse, runs into the awkward presentation of the top view of the horse's head. This allows both of the eyes of to see us.

We are also unsettled by the mouth which is contorted with anger...Pain?

This is the puzzle box Equus. The mind play.


Contrast this to the poster design for the current West End stage incarnation with Daniel Radcliffe.

The black and white theme is given a nod, but the puzzle becomes less a geometric jigsaw; not only more human, but, (quite Madison Ave like,) more sexual.
The centaur imagery which permeates the play is flipped around.
But the poster still manages to capture the mystery.


New Boston Theatre Company

The Orfeo Group is a new company and they are presenting Marisol, Jose Rivera's play about a battle in heaven which has come to earth at the BU Studio 210 for only a few nights.

I am all for talented people getting together and the cast of Marisol is impressive in that it is filled with some of the more notable talent in the city right now:

Liz Hayes, Daniel Berger Jones, Risher Reddick, and Georgia Lyman are all in the cast.

Through Sung Musicals

Larry Stark talks about why he doesn't feel the need much anymore to review such musical powerhouses as Miss Saigon...

I hate, detest, and abominate "through-sung" anything. Richard Wilbur's translations of Moliere are not only lyrical, they rhyme --- but intelligent actors find expressive advantage in running around or over the rhymes when everyday details arise. That's a little hard to do when a composer has forced upon a phrase like "Hi, how are you?" notes and rhythms that, contractually, cannot be ignored. I call such sprecht-stimmer "WRETCHED-tatif" and I say the hell with it.

If the music is what is really carrying the emotional weight of the
show, that music better be damn good, and well-wedded to everything the words themselves are saying. The secord or third time I saw "Evita" I managed to ignore the score (Sir Andrew, in my mind, is an artistic excrescence propped up by Tim Rice and his other his lyricists/librettists) and I listened to The Words. And what I heard was a powerful "play with a couple songs thrown in" that could have been Brecht for the new century --- except for the pseudo-Puccini histrionics slathered on top.

And unfortunately I had the same experience with "Miss Saigon" [It was my THIRD production there, too!]: there were good, gifted performers singing their hearts out (and Still Acting! That's my definition of excellence in musical theatre.) --- and I was sitting there thinking, "Now, how would that actor say those lines if she didn't have to Bellow Them at me over the orchestra?"

This reminds me of what I, and several other reviewers found so frustrating about the musical Parade back a couple of months ago; the idea of singing the book.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Rhode Island Gets TV and Actors Go Ga Ga

The Globe today has a story about how the Showtime series Brotherhood has brought well paying gigs for Boston-based actors who are fortunate enough to land regular supporting roles for the Providence, Rhode Island-based shoot:

That's a welcome boost to a life that can be challenging, financially
and logistically. Roles in local theater productions generally pay poorly; one "Brotherhood" actress said she tends to get $300 or $400 a week for stage work. Many actors teach, or find side jobs to pay the bills, or cobble together a living making commercials and corporate videos. Many leave town for regular work. Tom Kemp, who plays a morally-compromised union rep named Marty Trio on
"Brotherhood," leaves his home in Milton for five months every year, to rent a room in a friend's house in Los Angeles and play roles on TV series.


For a union actor, a speaking part in a film or TV show like
"Brotherhood" pays a standard fee -- about $750 per day, before overtime. Now, between "Brotherhood" and a leading role on the never-aired CBS series "Waterfront" -- which filmed several episodes in Providence last year before production shut down -- Kemp has been able to spend more time at home. In his living room in Milton, he has been training local stage actors to hone their auditions for film and TV. ("Be. Don't show me. Just be," he says, meaning, You
don't have to project big emotion with a camera in your face.)

A Boston Theater is Going... Going....?


The history of Boston theatre always includes references to the Wilbur Theatre, but soon the Wilbur could be an office space or condos or who knows what.

The Boston Globe has an article about the uncertain fate of this old "gem," which is currently up for sale. Combined with the recent articles about the Wang, (including Thomas Garvey's discussion of the Wang's possible future,) this could spell the official end of that two block area's claim to being the "Theatre District."


At right is a recent projected vision of that Wilbur corner in development, complete with Times Square type billboards. Funny thing is that now with the Wilbur going, and the Wang dark most of the year, it is going to be a lot of neon for fewer people.

The Wilbur was the site of Boston tryouts of many famous plays, Streetcar Named Desire being only one of them.

In just the past ten years I have indelible memories of certain moments in the following shows: Faye Dunaway in Master Class, Simon Russel Beale's Hamlet, Nicholas Martin's Observe the Sons of Ulster, Marching Towards the Somme, Rebecca Hall in As You Like It.

You'll notice in the list above, there aren't many musicals mentioned, and that could be a contributing factor to the theater's fate in our new high- wattage, musical landscape.



Catherine Peterson, executive director of ArtsBoston, a performing arts service group, said it's unlikely the Wilbur will continue as a theater. "It's a near-perfect playhouse for the spoken word, just a gem," she said. "But the days when plays toured the country with their original stars are gone."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Bird that Flew Away

Remember the smash hit play Bird of Paradise? You remember, right? It made a huge fortune, was influential in plagiarism legislation, and was very important to the integration of foriegn dance and music into American Drama.

Theatre criticism often casts a suspicious eye on financially successful plays, but in a 2005 issue of Theatre Journal, Christopher Balme examines just how it can happen that incredibly successful commercial theatre projects can disappear almost completely from the indexes kept by theatrical historians as well.

Using Richard Walton Tully's The Bird of Paradise, Balme tracks the gradual vanishing of almost any record of the play in theatrical annals.

The fact that it has disappeared can only be explained by theatre
history's undue reliance on what historians have termed "modernism's master narrative of culture," which means a history of culture focused on "artistic production, individualism, originality, genius, aestheticism, and avant-gardism." In this narrative, only those works that programmatically defy commodification find a place in the archive.

That theatre historians have internalized modernism's master
narrative of aesthetic progress can be demonstrated by the entry on Oliver Morosco, the producer of
The Bird of Paradise, in the Cambridge Guide to the Theatre. The authors note that Morosco's own plays were "all undistinguished," and close with the following sentence: "The Morosco Theatre, however, took its place in history in 1920 when Eugene O'Neill's first full-length play, Beyond
the Horizon, was presented there as a matinee." Although hardly a major work, Beyond the Horizon
nevertheless ensures Morosco a place in history. A minor work by a modernist master ultimately rescues a key theatre figure of the early-twentieth-century American stage from obscurity. This perspective is a major cause of why and how theatre history forgets. Its frames of reference are still conditioned by a definition of theatrical canonicity in which attention is focused on the aesthetic component defined by the players themselves.

In case you don't want to read the whole article, (it is only free for a short time,) I will point out that Christopher Balme is very VERY clear that he not arguing for a critical reappraisal of the work, and he is also not lamenting the play's exclusion, critically, from the theatrical canon.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Quote

"The trick is to learn the difference between the impossible and the merely never-been-done-before-or-imagined."

-George Lucas

Look Out For Corporate Speak and Consultant Creep

Up is down, black is white, and the box we were thinking ourselves out of yesterday is the one we are stepping back into today.

Geoff Edgers follows up on the Citi Performing Arts Center's new strategic intitiative, which includes partnerships with other arts organizations. Read the article, but watch out for the Board's corporate-speak, which comes flying at you from every direction: "Mergers," "acquisitions," "wins." My favorite is this gem:


Spaulding said the Center has signed confidentiality
agreements
with groups it has approached for
mergers
and partnerships
, but according to sources at the organizations
involved, they include First Night, the Boston Cyberarts Festival, Lenox-based Shakespeare & Company, and Young Audiences of Massachusetts, a chapter of the national nonprofit that works to bring arts education programs into schools.

It is not that confidentiality agreements aren't perfectably acceptable in a case of strategic restructuring and partnerships, even for non-profits. However, in light of the biggest black eye that CPAC received from news in recent weeks, (the perception that their financial practices are somewhat opaque,) maybe they shouldn't be presenting the image of the kids from Young Audiences of Massachusetts signing a confidentiality agreement for the possibility of getting some of the cash that the Boston Foundation is promising the Citi Center.

From my experience, once the corporate culture invades an organization, its only a matter of time before its lazier twin brother, the consultant culture, comes calling. The consultant culture moves in with bluster and sweet promises of making more money by doing less with less people. Soon, everybody is pissed at you, the corporate culture leaves and you are left with the consultant culture, sitting on your sofa, eating chips and pizza on your dime.

Basil Fawlty famously proclaimed, "I could run this hotel perfectly well if it wasn't for all the guests." It appears CPAC is great at getting money, but has stumbled in just how to present cultural performances in a challenging environment. The solution? Keep getting the money, but get others to worry about the producing. It is the consultant's dream situation. The private sector equivalent is the Vendor Management Solution.

In that particular scheme, a large service provider gets so big and powerful that they can start going to major clients to offer the VMS. "Hey, sign an exclusive contract with us, give us the all of the orders for these services and we will cut you a good deal. And you don't have to worry about negotiating with 30 other vendors, you just have to deal with us."

Sounds great? Only if your are the VMS.

You remember those 30 other vendors? Well, alot of them are still going to be providing the services to that big major client, only now they have to go through the VMS, who dictates everything, has all of the power and takes a cut of what the other vendors used to get.

The promises of the bloated VMS are all in the marketing catch phrases:


"We're trying to make a permanent, stable platform for the arts here in Boston out of the turmoil of the last seven years," said John William Poduska Sr., chairman of the Center's board of trustees. "We've got so many balls in the air," he said. "We can't tell you
what's going to happen with mergers and acquisitions.
We do seem to be getting some wins."

See, the CPAC will be able to get Boston out of the mess it is in regarding the arts! They will be the "platform" providing the "permanence!"

The Boston Foundation handed out a portion of a grant with a stipulation that the rest of it would given once CPAC established partnerships. Give the money to CPAC, and they will deal with guests for you.


Joan Moynagh, one of CSC's cofounders and a Citi Center trustee until June, criticized the Boston Foundation for giving the Center the grant.

"I think anyone would rather see that go to a company that's actually producing something," she said. "Don't give it to [Spaulding] to pay his consultants to figure out a way to partner with smaller organizations. Give it to the smaller organizations. This virtual arts institution model, I don't think anyone gets."

Martha H. Jones, president of the Celebrity Series of Boston, also has
questions. For a decade, she and Spaulding collaborated to bring prominent dance companies to the Wang Theatre. Last fall, Spaulding told Jones the Center would no longer partner with the Celebrity Series for the project.

These are the voices of two people who have experience in CPAC "partnerships."
And if you think I am exaggerating about the corporate speak, I will leave you with the words of CPAC Trustee Robert Sachs:


"We think we've been totally honest with ourselves about our shortcomings and our needs, and we are taking steps to address those needs and to leverage our strengths," he said. "We feel we kind of have our arms around the issues and we've made some excellent hires over the last year. If anybody can accomplish this, we believe we have a team in place. It's going to take more work and continued commitment on the part of trustees and management alike."

UPDATE: Bill Marx has the breakdown and comparison of Boston Foundation funding for institutions at his Artsfuse.

Boston Theatre Friday Roundup

Boston theatre companies are starting to gear up for fall, but reviewers are still mostly out of town.

Terry Byrne liked Double Edge Theatre's performance of The Magician of Avalon out in Ashfield, MA. I have never been out to the farm where Double Edge works their magic. Everytime I read a review I pledge that I have to make a point to go, but I still have yet to go.

Shakespeare and Company opened Antony and Cleopatra and so far, the reviews are good for Tina Packer's Cleo. Louise Kennedy starts her review: "Let's just cut to the chase here. Tina Packer is a magnificent Cleopatra."

Pre-show hype for Craig Wright's play Grace in the Globe. Grace opens at the Chester Theater in Berkshires.

In Town:

The Publick's Romeo and Juliet is up and running. The Globe, Phoenix, Edge Boston , and Larry Stark all have reviews.

At the Cambridge YMCA, the Summer Play Festival opens tonight, featuring premieres from local playwrights.

Company One's production of Noah Haidle's Mr. Marmalade at the Boston Center for the Arts closes this weekend. They are filling out the house, so if you have been meaning to see it over the five week run, this is your last chance.

Jesus, The Guantanamo Years closes at Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway this weekend as well. Thomas Garvey's Hubreview has an extended take here.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Crossed Messengers

The device of the letter is an important one in the business of dramatic writing, and it can sometimes hold very important threads together. In the hands of the playwright the epistle gains an awesome centripetal power depending on how it is wielded. Messengers can greatly affect the outcome by coming in too late, too soon or just in time. Here is Steve Vineberg in this week's Boston Phoenix:

Scholars have often debated whether ROMEO AND JULIET deserves to be called a tragedy or is only a glorified melodrama. (The linchpin of the latter argument is that if Friar Laurence’s letter to Romeo had not miscarried, his scheme to help the lovers escape Verona would have worked and they would have survived.)

I recently discovered that Zola Gale's 1921 Pulitzer Prize Winning Play, Miss Lulu Bett had an alternate ending which hinged upon the receipt of a letter.

In the text I originally encountered, an upbeat ending follows the unfurling of a serious social dilemma in the life of a protagonist living in a Midwestern town, but I wasn't reading the original drama Gale wrote.

In the original play, Lulu, a single woman, lives with her sister Ina and Ina's husband Dwight. Lulu gets her board in exchange for keeping the house for the married couple. At rise, we start to see that the long, slow grind of their condescending manner, pity, and irritation at any deviation from their expectations has just about done in Lulu.

However, an unexpected visit from Dwight's brother Ninian results in emancipation for Lulu through a fast courtship and quick marriage to this wealthy and handsome brother-in-law.

By Act II though, Lulu returns suddenly to the house, with a story of how Ninian, not wanting to live a life of lies with Lulu, reveals to her that he is married to another woman from whom he is estranged. Lulu can't take this and now has come home, but she finds no comfort there. Dwight and Ina try to persuade Lulu that possibly Ninian had lied and that he wasn't really married to somebody else. After all, Ninian showed no proof, and the scandal Dwight's brother in-law being a bigamist would ruin the family. Selfishly, they force Lulu to not push the issue and not discuss it with anybody.

This proves to be untenable for Lulu. If Ninian was telling the truth, Lulu believes he really cares for her and wanted her to know everything, if he was lying, he is a cad. She pressures Dwight to write Ninian, demanding proof of the marriage.

LULU. Dwight, you write that letter to Ninian. And you make him tell you so that you'll understand. I know he spoke the truth. But I want you to know.

DWIGHT. M–m. And then I suppose as soon as you have the proofs you're going to tell it all over town.

LULU. I'm going to tell it all over town just as it is–unless you write
to him.

INA. Lulu! Oh, you wouldn't!

LULU. I would. I will.

DWIGHT. And get turned out of the house as you would be?

INA. Dwight. Oh, you wouldn't!

DWIGHT. I would. I will. Lulu knows it.

LULU. I shall tell what I know and then leave your house anyway unless you get Ninian's word. And you're going to write to him now.

DWIGHT. You would leave your mother? And leave Ina?

LULU. Leave everything.

INA. Oh, Dwight! We can't get along without Lulu.

DWIGHT. Isn't this like a couple of women?...Rather than let you
in for a show of temper, Lulu, I'd do anything. ( Writes.)



Later in the second act, the return letter comes while Dwight and Ina are away, and the contents of Ninian's reply create the textbook case of an achieved objective creating a new obstacle. Her husband has provided proof positive of the previous betrothal in the form of newspaper clippings announcing the nuptials and a photograph of the bride. Lulu is ecstatic..Dwight and Ina are less so...

DWIGHT. You'd rather they'd know he fooled you when he had another wife?

LULU. Yes. Because he wanted me. How do I know–maybe he wanted me only just because he was lonesome, the way I was. I don't care why. And I won't have folks think he went and left me.

DWIGHT. That is wicked vanity.

LULU. That's the truth. Well, why can't they know the truth?

DWIGHT. And bring disgrace on us all?

LULU. It's me–It's me–

DWIGHT. You–you–you–you're always thinking of yourself.

LULU. Who else thinks of me? And who do you think of–who do you
think of Dwight? I'll tell you that, because I know you better than any one else in the world knows you–better even than Ina. And I know that you'd sacrifice Ina, Di, mother, Monona, Ninian–everybody, just to your own idea of who you are. You're one of the men who can smother a whole family and not even know you're
doing it.

DWIGHT. You listen to me. It's Ninian I'm thinking about.

LULU. Ninian....

DWIGHT. Yes, yes...Ninian!...Of course if you don't care what happens to him, it doesn't matter.

LULU. What do you mean?

DWIGHT. If you don't love him any more....

LULU. You know I love him. I'll always love him.

DWIGHT. That's likely. A woman doesn't send the man she loves to
prison.

LULU. I send him to prison! Why, he's brought me the only happiness
I've ever had....

DWIGHT. But prison is just where he'll go and you'll be the one
to send him there.

LULU. Oh! That couldn't be.... That couldn't be....

DWIGHT. Don't you realize that bigamy is a crime? If you tell this
thing he'll go to prison...nothing can save him.

LULU. I never thought of that....

Now, the very answer Lulu has sought, now prevents her from being with her lover. In the original production of the play, the third act brings another letter from Ninian. This missive is a little more depressing, not only was Ninian married, but the first wife is now reaching out to him:

LULU: Nobody must know. It was bad enough for the family before, but now... here it is: "... just want you to know you're actually rid of me. I've heard from her, in Brazil. She ran out of money and thought of me, and her lawyer wrote to me...." ... He incloses the lawyer's letter. "I've never been any good–Dwight would tell you that if his pride would let him tell the truth once in a while. But there isn't anything in my life makes me feel as bad as this...."
... well, that part doesn't matter. But you see. He didn't lie
to get rid of me–and she was alive just as he thought she might be!


Lulu, feeling free from the situation, decides to leave the depressing environment of her indentured servitude to her brother in-law. This ending, which seems to be the ending which was responsible for garnering the Pulitzer Prize for Zale, is reminiscent of other movements in the theatre of the previous decades. The New York Times, in a review of the Mint Theatre Company revival in 2000, called the play, "little more than an American provincial copy of A Doll's House."

However, to accommodate the outrage of the audience, this tougher ending was revised by the playwright shortly after opening. The devastating second letter is replaced with the return of Ninian in the last moments to herald the news that he has found his original wife is dead. In one stroke, all obstacles, perceived and real, are wiped away. Rather than a provincial Ibsen, we now have a Broadway cash cow complete with the happy couple.

When I first read Lulu Bette, I read the upbeat, revised ending. For a while I didn't realize that there had been the original version, and had always thought the Pulitzer seemed excessive praise for a play that dissolves into sentimentality so easily.

Many companies who revive the play stick with the original Nora-like ending, but Rogue Theatre company in Chicago recently decided to do both endings, alternating them on successive nights.

Hartford Theatreworks gets Blackbird

Hartford Theatreworks has a lineup of recent award winners:

Doubt by John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Steve Campo. November 9 through December 23, 2007

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Rob Ruggiero June 20 through August 3, 2008

Blackbird by David Harrower. Directed by Steve Campo April 11 through May 25, 2008. Blackbird won awards in London and, recentley, a rave from the times in New York. Although follow up criticisms were more measured.

That's two recent Pulitzer Winners and and Olivier winner. Rabbit Hole was seen at the Huntington, but Boston doesn't seem to have Doubt on the schedule for a regional production yet, although we did get the touring Cherry Jones show.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Life of a Sometimes Actor

A Day Not Too Long Ago:

10:58 AM

Cell Phone Rings and I answer, "Hello?"

"Art are you available for a commercial this afternoon. It's at the beach."

"Sure, wait, where is it?"

"Marblehead. Around 2:00"

"Yeah, I'm not at home, but I could get there."

They give me the road the beach is on. I ask about costumes, (good thing I did,) and they tell me to bring beach attire, flowered shirt, flip flops, bathing suit. I hang up and look at the clock. I have several things that need to be done, but I need to start heading there by 12:30 at the latest.

Of course, things take much longer than I think and I don't have time to go home, so I swing into a Wal-Mart along the way! They have a remarkably thin summer clearance section, but I race through the racks, pulling a few cheap things off. When I leave the store I have about 45 minutes.

The traffic is blissfully light, I arrive right on time at the beach. The director makes a quick choice on the options I brought. Make-up is applied and I stand with another male actor, leaning against an suv parked on the dunes, while they film us delivering our lines a couple dozen times.

A girl in an outfit that leaves very little to the imagination walks through the foreground of the shot. We lecherously watch her pass by and I get to utter my set-up line. To which my partner replies with the punchline.

By 3:30PM I am done. By 4:00 I am back in the rythym of the day as I had originally planned. By ten-thirty at night I have sent the invoice.

Two flowered beach shirts, seven dollars each.

Bathing suit, five dollars.

Flip flops six dollars.

A couple of beach hats, $2.50 each.

The chance, (for an hour and half,) to be paid to look like a comical middle-aged beach bum ogling a hot chick ...priceless.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Boston Globe Calls Theater Out

Hat tip to Bill Marx who caught the Boston Globe editorial regarding the Citi Performing Arts Center. I think times may be changing when a newspaper editorial is calling for somebody to step down from the post of a non-profit arts institution.

The editorial is well written and honest. It points out, fairly, that Josiah Spaulding's bonus was set up back in 2001 when times were better. But, (also fairly,) it doesn't let the organization or Spaulding off the hook for that fact. And the ed writers also point out that:

"The main challenge for the center is how it can prosper and grow. Even if Spaulding had turned over his entire bonus, the money might have paid for more weeks of Shakespeare, but it would not have shored up the center, which had a 2006 gross operating budget of $22.9 million. "

A few days ago, in the comments section of this blog, people were speculating about the details of the "new strategic initiative" that has been announced by CPAC in to the press. I did a quick search all over the CPAC website and couldn't find an outline of it.

Bill Marx can't either:

According to the report, the project will include setting up TV screens on the Boston Common that display live performances, providing kiosks where people can sign up for classes, and finding ways to use cell phones to order tickets. The article mentions no plans to create new cultural productions. (One easy step "toward greater transparency" for the CPAC — it should post a copy of the plan on its website.)

Why haven't newspapers taken a critical look at this scheme? Do we have to wait for the screens to be planted on the Common before anybody registers a skeptical thought?

Those who demand transparency from the CPAC and other large nonprofit arts organizations must fight for it. For far too long local newspapers, for the sake of supporting the arts, have regurgitated publicity releases from cultural institutions rather than examine what is going on beneath the surface. Because the media has rolled over, it takes a conspicuous crisis to switch the focus from happy talk to serious investigation. Spaulding might have ducked any blowback for his obscene payday if he hadn't cut Shakespeare on the Common's customary three-week run to one.

If the Globe wants "a compelling and innovative nonprofit center for
the performing arts" it will take more than a new president, no matter how talented, to make it happen. Newspapers, bloggers, and the public will have to hold its feet to the fire.


P.S. I have added a Marx's Artsfuse, Ian Thal, and Bard In Boston (A Shakespeare Site) to my links on the side.) Check them out if you get a chance.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Over the Years, The Pulitzer Rule Changes


Original Pulitzer Statement:
Annually for the original American play, performed in New York, which shall best represent the educational value and power of the stage in raising the standard of good morals, good taste and good manners, One thousand dollars ($1000.00)



Statement in 1928:
For the original American play, performed in New York, which shall best represent the educational value and power of the stage. One thousand dollars.



Statement in 1934:
For the original American play performed in New York, which shall best represent the educational value and power of the stage, preferably one dealing with American life. One thousand dollars.



Current Terms of Pulitzer Award:
For a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.



-Information from The Pulitzer Prize Plays 1918-1934, Introduction by William Lyons Phelps
She is the New Woman! Society can no longer force females into wedlock --- so it is forcing them out...by the thousands. But what good will our disapproval do? They will only laugh at you. The strike is on. Few of the strikers have Helen's courage. But, believe it or not, the strike will spread. It cannot be crushed by law or force. Unless society wakes up and reforms its rules and regulations of marriage, marriage is doomed. What are you going to do about it? (Silence.) I thought so - nothing. Call them bad women and let it go at that. Blame it all on humannature, made by God, and leave untouched our human institutions, made by man. You poor little pessimists, human nature today is better than it ever was, but our most important institution is worse - the most sacred relationship in life has become a jest in the market-place....You funny little cowards, you're afraid of life, afraid of love, afraid of truth. You worship lies, and call it God!

-Uncle Everett in Jesse Lynch Williams' Why Marry? (Winner of the 1918 Pulitzer Prize for Drama)

Friday, August 03, 2007

Boston Theatre Blogging Getting Bigger, So Is Citi's Pockets

Bill Marx, (Former WBUR Critic,) is back blogging. And on a post at ArtsFuse, he discusses the recent articles regarding Josiah Spaulding's salary, but also links to an MSN article about a new program afoot at Citi Performing Arts Center (CPAC). Marx is wary:

But there are more ominous signs that the CPAC is about incubating
marketing techniques rather than funding the arts. On July 20,
MSN reported that CPAC is collecting money for a "visionary" venture. More cultural productions? You must be kidding…

Citi Peforming Arts Center is implementing a new seven-year strategic plan that calls for a new business model it hopes will become a national model for other cities, Citi senior management said Friday.

Under the new plan, the Boston-based organization, formerly known as The Wang Center for the Performing Arts, will focus on new technology and interactive and educational programming to bring the arts into the community.

The plan, which Citi management calls visionary, is a multimillion-dollar undertaking that includes setting up video screens in Boston Common that display ongoing live performances, providing kiosks for people to sign up for classes and purchasing theater tickets via cell phone.

"The market has told us we had to do this," said
Nancy Sullivan Skinner, recently brought on as the organization's new chief development officer. "The industry has undergone significant changes in recent years and the traditional operating business model that the former Wang Center was operating under was no longer sustainable."

The plan also calls for a shift in earned income to a greater focus on fund raising, said Skinner.

Citi Performing Arts Center heads said it will also continue
renting out the Wang Theater and other venues to increase earned income, and leverage internal expertise to offer theater management services.

The organization said it will look for strategic partners and sponsors to help implement the plan. It has about $1 million in funds so far.



Let me get this straight. This "visionary" program, inspired by the
command of the market, amounts to setting up screens in the Boston Common, putting up kiosks so people can sign up for classes, and developing ways to order tickets via cell phones. At this point, CPAC has collected about a $1 million. It takes all that money to do that? Those screens must be gold-plated. And isn't showing people "ongoing live" performances on screen contradictory? We want to get audiences away from their TVs. Why not also come up with a system where people can sign up for classes using cell phones? No doubt that prophetic idea will spawn another million dollar program. At the CPAC, fundraising is the name of the game — the arts are the window dressing to get the suckers into the tent.


Those outraged by Spaulding's obscene bonus, and perplexed that a
purported nonprofit arts organization is acting like a corporate greed machine, should keep a close eye on this scheme.

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

Boston Reviewers are mostly out of town right now:

Party Come Home at Williamstown is reviewed here, here, and Hunter Gatherers at Wellfleet is reviewed in the Globe and the Phoenix.

Speaking of Western Mass, Shakespeare and Company is opening Antony and Cleopatra. And they are reviewed by Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal this week.

There is an article about Greg Maraio and Rachel Hunt, who play four year olds in Company One's Mr. Marmalade, which still is running for a couple more weeks. The Weekly Dig Review (on the new Dig Website!) is here.

Monday night, Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway is hosting a sendoff for two productions that are heading on the great pilgrimage to largest fringe festival in the world. Appropriately, the evening is titled: It's a Long Way to Swim to Edinburgh!

TYG Productions continues their Family Beef with the new Truth Serum Edition.