Wednesday, December 31, 2008

At Work - Christmas Carol


Getting Ready, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

Dan Grund (Jacob Marley) and Amanda Good Hennessey (The Spirit of Christmas Past) apply their makeup between scenes at The Trolley Christmas Carol. The actors play multiple roles in multiple locations across the city of Salem, MA.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hubreview Top Ten & Sad News

Thom Garvey posts his end of year roundup and mentions the sad news about the struggles of some of the producing companies of his top ten.

You can read about North Shore Music Theater here in Playbill.

Bridging the Theatre Cultures

Kevin Spacey and Sam Mendes talk about their new venture of staging classics in repertory, with a mixed company of American and British actors.

Trying to protect jobs for their respective members, the American and British stage actors’ unions, collectively known as the Equitys, have not always made such bridges viable. A reciprocity arrangement introduced to improve the situation has become, Mr. Spacey said, “a bit of a star system,” leaving out “a lot of people who don’t qualify under the heading of international stars but are nonetheless brilliant, seasoned actors.” Instead of a true melding of sensibilities, the result is often what Mr. Mendes called a “shotgun marriage” that devalues American actors; in film, he said, “no one bats an eyelid if there is a mixture of Americans and British.”

Mr. Spacey agreed. “I’ve always found it strange that a director can hire any designer he wants from any country,” he said. “But if he hires a foreign actor, it’s like he’s stolen the crown jewels and run across the river with them.” This is especially so on the American side, where many fear that if the bridge were opened, traffic would flow in one direction only.

Pretzel Award -

Given to the Atlantic Monthly reviewer Caitlin Flanagan for valour in trying to remain hip/academic/feminist while declaring her unexpected crush on the Twilight novels:

Twilight is fantastic. It’s a page-turner that pops out a lurching, frightening ending I never saw coming. It’s also the first book that seemed at long last to rekindle something of the girl-reader in me. In fact, there were times when the novel—no work of literature, to be sure, no school for style; hugged mainly to the slender chests of very young teenage girls, whose regard for it is on a par with the regard with which just yesterday they held Hannah Montana—stirred something in me so long forgotten that I felt embarrassed by it. Reading the book, I sometimes experienced what I imagine long-married men must feel when they get an unexpected glimpse at pornography: slingshot back to a world of sensation that, through sheer force of will and dutiful acceptance of life’s fortunes, I thought I had subdued.

Boston Theatre - End of Year Lists

Louise Kennedy:

What's striking is that a lot of the year's best work was done by smaller companies. Perhaps because they're driven more by artistic interests than by the need to appeal to a broad audience, or perhaps because they're more tightly focused and more passionate, or perhaps just by chance, the city's smaller troupes this year, by and large, outshone their larger siblings. From the sweeping two-part presentation of "Angels in America" by Boston Theatre Works last season to this fall's hauntingly spare "In the Continuum" by Up You Mighty Race and Company One's incisive "Voyeurs de Venus," big ambitions paid off for small companies.


Carolyn Clay's roundup is here.

The Edge Theatre roundup for 2008 is much more extensive, and ranges more into the fringe than either Clay or Kennedy. For example: Gurnet, Image, and Counterproductions are on the list.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hilli-Ho! Old Fezziwig


Hilli-Ho! Old Fezziwig, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

"Yo ho, my boys!" said Fezziwig. "No more work to-night. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer. Let's have the shutters up," cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of his hands, "before a man can say Jack Robinson."

You wouldn't believe how those two fellows went at it. They charged into the street with the shutters -- one, two, three -- had them up in their places -- four, five, six -- barred them and pinned then -- seven, eight, nine -- and came back before you could have got to twelve, panting like race-horses.

"Hilli-ho!" cried old Fezziwig, skipping down from the high desk, with wonderful agility. "Clear away, my lads, and let's have lots of room here. Hilli-ho, Dick! Chirrup, Ebenezer."

Clear away! There was nothing they wouldn't have cleared away, or couldn't have cleared away, with old Fezziwig looking on.



Tonight is the my last performance of the season playing Old Fezziwig.

Monday, December 22, 2008

If You Are Interested

in such things as how this whole online journalism thing is shaking out with regards to institutional blogging, local reporting and the consolidation of news, you should check out two recent controversies.

Matt Yglesias, an institutional blogger, made a criticism of a third party with which his parent institution has positive relations. The CEO of the institution asked to put a "guest post" on Matt's blog to reiterate that Matt doesn't speak for the institution. You can follow the story here.

More interesting, and more important, is Dan Kennedy's reporting on the Gatehouse News/New York Times lawsuit.

Why A Broadway Blithe Spirit?

Ken Davenport, Broadway Producer, talks about his decision, in the current climate, to produce another show...a Noel Coward comedy with Angela Lansbury and Rupert Everett:

There are always winning stocks in every market. And there are always winning shows in any season. Do you think all the people in the financial industry just stopped going to work when the market plummeted? No. The lifers looking for a career and not quick money, reassessed what was working, what was failing, and got back in the game, smarter than before.

It's my job as a Producer to do the same thing as a mutual fund manager - to try and determine what shows are working now, and what will work in the future, both for myself and for my investors, and make recommendations accordingly.

And I believe that classics, comedies and stars with a dash of a "once-in-a-lifetime", must-see event is what will stand out to the ticket-buying public.

To be honest, if you had asked me ten years ago if I ever would produce a revival of a 1941 Noel Coward comedy, I would have told you that I wouldn't even go SEE a Coward comedy.

But times change. Tastes change. Markets change.


Whatever his reasons, it's always fun to see Noel Coward.

Non-Prof's Get A Herald Slap

The Herald does a thin article, basically saying what we all know already: Boston is home to some of the largest Non-profit executive salaries in the country. The usual names and institutions are on their hit list.

Geoff Edgers does much better reporting on this stuff, but the fact that the Herald is ginning this up around Christmas, and year-end donation time, tells you something about the climate we're in right now.

What gets me sad, after reading these articles, is thinking how this is probably the time of year in which many of these organizations are sitting down to have chat with the employees.

Somewhwere, a young 27 year-old marketing assistant at one of these non-profits is having a meeting with his or her manager. This young person is probably struggling like hell to afford some type of apartment in the city, working 90 hours a week, hanging on by the skin of his or her teeth, trying to pay their student loans and wondering if they will be able to afford working in the charitable sector anymore.

"We're so sorry," this person will be told by a manager who lives on an estate in Weston, "but with the economic climate being what it is, we just won't be able to provide raises this year."

As the young person leaves the office they will hear the manager get on the phone with a spouse, trying to iron out the details of their Christmas trip to Paris.

And, somewhere else in Boston, an Equity actor, who has been performing steadily for decades, who is still living in a studio apartment, who can't afford to get his or her car repaired, will get the contract for the next gig and find that the pay is same amount as ten years ago.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"You Have Never Seen the Likes of Me Before!"



"By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty heavily; and as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets, the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and all sorts of rooms, was wonderful."

Quote of the Day

"Isn't all mankind ultimately executed for a crime it never committed? The difference is that all men go eventually, but I go six o'clock tomorrow morning. I was supposed to go at five o'clock, but I have a smart lawyer."

-Woody Allen, Love and Death


I watched it recently.

Empty Seats

The NEA released a report on the state of straight plays in the United States. The vitals are not encouraging:

Audience trends are flat or in decline. The percentage of the U.S. adult population attending non-musical theater has declined from 13.5 percent (25 million people) in 1992 to 9.4 percent (21 million people) in 2008. The absolute size of the audience has declined by 16 percent since 1992.

And guess what? Ticket prices don't seem to be a major factor.

Overall, the report can be summed up this way: Theaters have undeniably become full of robust administrators, marketers and fundraisers, but audiences don't seem to care. I think the executive summary could be attached as a coda to Mike Daisey's monologue How Theatre Failed America.

There is already talk around the web about the report:

Alexis Soloski, writing in the Guardian:

The NEA already sponsors some theatre outreach, but why not launch a Big See? The endowment could partner with hundreds of communities to encourage attendance at theatre productions and ensure that all schoolchildren have access and exposure to plays, developing a new generation of audience members.

In Response, George Hunka sighs:

Telling people that theatre is "necessary" to their lives is transparently false. Besides, is "empathy" or "interpersonal exchange" all that theatre is about? Can people not get that elsewhere? Or could it look more deeply at our condition, as an art that uniquely places the speaking body at the center of our
consciousness?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Quote of the Day

"I don't think film criticism is dead. What makes me sad is that so few people even know what it is."

-Film critic, Jim Emerson, writing about how Dark Knight supporters, (not content, apparently, with how The Dark Knight is wildly successful comercially and garnered many positive notices,)now are declaring war on film critics who won't put the film on their "Best Lists" or give it critical awards.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Nutcracker and Snowflakes


Nutcracker and Snowflakes, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

Panto Anyone?

Alexis Soloski, a New York critic writing on the Guardian Arts Blog, is seasonally green with envy over the dearth of Christmas Panto in New York City.

Instead, each December brings a variety of performances that tend toward either the mawkishly sentimental or the ferociously unfunny.

A sampling of this year's coal in the stocking: a one-man-show version of It's a Wonderful Life, making its ninth annual appearance; Naked Holidays NYC, a programme of short plays in which no nudity occurs; Home For the Holidays, your chance to "join the Tuckaberries in singing, jigging, and juggling as they try to soften Granny's Grinchy attitude and help her get into the holiday spirit"; Blizzard the Wizard; Simon Green Sings Coward at Christmas; The St Ignatius First Annual Hannukah Pageant; and Playing Dreidl with Judah Maccabee, a drama about a game only marginally more involving than curling.

Like a snowflake, each is unique. Unlike a snowflake, all seem horrid. Should any appeal, do keep in mind that they're all extravagantly low-budget, as in please-God-let-the-theatre-have-a-space-heater-or-two low-budget. That's fine most of the year, but around Christmas one wants a dollop of glitter and tinsel.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

American Musical Theatre in San Jose Closes

Michael Miller, AMT's CEO and executive producer, said the nonprofit suffered a $1.7 million dollar loss from a deal with Theater of the Stars in Atlanta that was doing a Tarzan musical based on the Disney production. The show was scheduled to come to San Jose in February.

Miller said in a press release that the Atlanta group used the funds "for other things."

"In essence, they canceled the show without giving us any warning, and we discovered that the funds we had paid for `Tarzan’ were spent on another production of theirs, which lost a significant amount of money," Miller said.


More details here from the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Snark of the Day

Michael Feingold gets a little too Grinchy:

The only artist who comes off without reproach is the dead one whose name has been nailed to the title, for this is, officially, Irving Berlin's White Christmas. That's a mercy. People are more suicide-prone at this time of year, and the thought of, say, Elton John's White Christmas, added to our economic woes, might have been too much for holiday theatergoers to bear.

"It's More Than a Speculation - It's a Prediction !"

There is something magical that happens when a good actor doesn't realize he or she is in something schlocky. When an actor tries to go against the grain of the project it can create moments of unexpectedley high camp.

Such a joyous combination happened in 1978.

Irwin Allen's The Swarm had Michael Caine as its marquee star. And if you have a few minutes, you can enjoy some his historical histrionics in the following clip assembled on You Tube.




Amazingly, the above clip doesn't even include ALL of the fun from The Swarm. For more Swarm goodies, I have attached a second You Tube clip, which contains some of the funniest dialogue ever uttered on screen.

Witness Richard Widmark's character pondering how history will record his military command.



Just a taste of the dialogue:

MAJOR BAKER: Can we really count on a scientist who prays?

GENERAL SLATER: I wouldn't count on one who doesn't.

Hollywood Ethos

George Hunka writes about American drama:


As American dramatists have internalized the Hollywood aesthetic and ethos, the imaginations of these dramatists have become spiritually and voluntarily crippled: the unending call for "good" storytelling (what preconceptions lie in that modifier "good," and where do those preconceptions come from?), the requirement that even our darkest plays contain some measure of "entertainment" (a weasel-word, allowing us to define it in whatever way we choose), the emphasis on audience as collective, the facile psychologizing of characters rather than an incisive exploration of their spiritual and physical conditions, the purpose of theatre as an arena for ameliorist progressive politics and "hope" or "courage," whatever these are (and however little these abstract and falsely-comforting qualities have to do with the human truths that the theatre can uniquely exhibit). These are all questions that speak to the social and cultural ends of theatre, and represent a ruling, oppressive ideology both above and beneath their surface.

Oh Boy - This Again

Don Hall points us to an outrageous case of a critic leaving a play at intermission, and then, astonishingly, the critic publishes a review without mentioning that fact.

Even stranger, the way the editor and the reviewer decided to correct the problem was to have the reviewer ad a postscript in the comments section of the review:


I need to add as a postscript that I was not able to attend all of this performance; unfortunately, this review is based on the first act alone and I apologize for presenting it otherwise. Obviously it’s impossible for me to comment on the second half, and I regret having relied on friends’ testimonies about the second half without being explicit about it.


As Don says:


And when you were discovered, instead of UPDATING THE REVIEW ITSELF, you and your editor decided to declare the review as horseshit in the COMMENTS SECTION???

This ain't print, boys and girls. HTML is incredibly easy to revise. How about adding a disclaimer in red type just before the first sentence:


Once again, for review, and discussion:

1. If you are an audience member who has paid for a ticket to a live performance, you have every right to leave at intermission, and you shouldn't even feel the least bit guilty about it. We all have a hard expiration date on this planet and the tricky part is that we aren't ever allowed to see what it is. We only know that in most cases it is sooner than we would like. So you needn't feel bad about choosing to exit a situation that eats up that valuable time.

2. If you have received a complimentary ticket to see something, you should feel an obligation to stay, even if you are having a bad time. It is good form, and it speaks to generosity, gratitude and other intangibles that will, in the end, help enrich your short time here on earth. (Remember, that expiration date.)
*There may be exceptions to this rule in the case of excruciating experiences.

3. If your job or professional assignment is to review a production, you need to stay. This is about discipline, this is about penance, this is about the hard part of your job. What? You can't take it? There's no crying in baseball, and when a professional quarterback is getting beat 57-10 he can't just leave the field with 5 minutes left and keep his job. And just think how much more righteous indignation you can pour into your bad review if you waited through till the end.

If it helps, try some mantras that might be appropriate: "What doesn't kill us, only makes us stronger!" "Pain is just weakness leaving the body."

Theatre Finances - The Coming Storm

This from an article in the Providence Phoenix:

"Since the market crash," says Curt Columbus, artistic director of Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, "we've watched our ticket sales, which had been doing well, hit a wall. Almost like a cartoon animal — splat. Then we started pushing the discount ticket sales and things started to move again."

In September and October, Trinity's The Dreams of Antigone played to 90 percent capacity, Columbus says, but that was driven by the sale of discount tickets. Audience members seeking bargains seem to be the reason previews of A Christmas Carol have sold out — an unusual occurrence — but more pricey seats during the regular run remain. The result is that revenues are down. Trinity is hoping contributions — which, Columbus says, "are holding with last year's level" — will help make up the difference.

Fifty-eight percent of Rhode Island arts organizations report selling fewer tickets and 72 percent are seeing a downturn in contributions, according to a survey of 31 arts groups that the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) conducted in late October. Small and medium-size arts organizations (with budgets under $1 million) are even more heavily affected, with 89 percent saying that contributions are down.

Boston Theatre News Links

Carolyn Clay, Louise Kennedy, Thomas Garveyand Jennifer Bubriski review The Mystery of Irma Vep at the the Lyric Stage.

Thom Garvey also reviews Merrimack Rep's production of David Hare's Skylight.

Remember I mentioned Reverend Phelps and his trip to protest The Laramie Project at the Boston Center for the Arts? Killian Melloy lets us know about a counter-protest program.

The Cambridge Tab has an article about how the economy is affecting local arts groups.

Trinity Rep's Christmas Carol gets a review in the Projo.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Man for this Season?

Brooke Allen, writing in the New Criterion, reviews a couple of recent revivals of middlebrow Broadway hits:

The fact is that Broadway musicals, even the mediocre ones, can still do what they do better than TV or movies can. But straight plays are another story. To succeed, they must deliver something that is not attainable on the screen—which is what makes it so interesting to look back on a Broadway hit from the days when playwrights did not yet have to compete with television.

Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, first produced in 1960, is a case in point, and this year’s full-scale production mounted by the Roundabout, starring Frank Langella as Sir Thomas More, gives us the opportunity to measure how far we have come, and in what direction.

Having always heard the play mentioned with reverence, I was stunned by how boring it proved—boring, easy to predict, morally static (hence not very dramatic), and “worthy” in the worst sense of the word.

(...)

Perhaps it’s we as an audience, as a culture, who have been re-educated to see political virtue as dubious under any circumstances. Or maybe the nature of More’s virtue is no longer meaningful to us, at least not as it is presented by Bolt. The playwright eliminated all the elements of More’s character that made him so attractive to his peers and so interesting to posterity, such as his sophisticated philosophical and political ideas, his slyly subversive fable Utopia, and his revolutionary intellectual openness. Stock references are made to Erasmus and Machiavelli, but no real sense of the mental world More moved in is captured. No mention is made, needless to say, of his aggressive persecution of Protestants during his time in power.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ebert - Critics Are Just the Canaries in the Coal Mine

Roger Ebert, unleashed:

Why do we need critics? A good friend of mine in a very big city was once told by his editor that the critic should "reflect the taste of the readers." My friend said, "Does that mean the food critic should love McDonald's?" The editor: "Absolutely." I don't believe readers buy a newspaper to read variations on the Ed McMahon line, "You are correct, sir!" A newspaper film critic should encourage critical thinking, introduce new developments, consider the local scene, look beyond the weekend fanboy specials, be a weatherman on social trends, bring in a larger context, teach, inform, amuse, inspire, be heartened, be outraged.

At one time all newspapers by definition did those things on every page. Now they are lascivious gossips, covering invented beats.


(...)

Perhaps fearing the challenge of reading a newspaper will prove daunting, papers are using increasing portions of their shrinking news holes in providing guides to reading themselves. Before the Chicago Tribune's new design started self-correcting (i.e., rolling itself back), I fully expected a box at the top of a page steering me to a story lower on the same page.

The celebrity culture is infantilizing us. We are being trained not to think. It is not about the disappearance of film critics. We are the canaries. It is about the death of an intelligent and curious, readership, interested in significant things and able to think critically. It is about the failure of our educational system. It is not about dumbing-down. It is about snuffing out.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Facing Page

As the fate of the book is debated in our digital age, much column and opinion space is devoted to critiquing the presentation of the page by electronic devices.

I was driving home last night and heard Jeffrey Hamburger, Kuno Francke Professor of German Art and Culture at Harvard University, lecturing on WBUR's World of Ideas broadcast. He talked about how, often, what is left out of discussions about the still-to-be-improved-upon design of the traditional book is the idea of the FACING page.

The basic visual unit that structures our experience of the medieval book is the opening. From the origins of codex as a medium in late antiquity, and in contrast to the scrolls used in the ancient world, the confrontation of the verso and recto provided the visual field within which scribes and illuminators operated. Openings also made possible the visible elaboration of the word with figurated initials, frames and full-page miniatures.


You can hear the lecture here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Theatre Roundup

This thanksgiving weekend there is theatre going on all over town. Take in a show after your turkey hangover wears off.

Tom Stoppard's Rock and Roll, continues at the Huntington Theater Mainstage.

Take the kids to see Wheelock Theatre's Saint Joan, which closes this weekend.

Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice runs at the Midway Studios.

You have the weekend off from work? Check out the office satire The Thugs at Appollinaire Theatre Company. It closes this weekend also.

The devil invites you to a game of cards. Speakeasy's production of The Seafarer is still playing at the Calderwood Pavillion.

Whistler in the Dark keeps an invitation open to attend Mary's Wedding, a new play at the Boston Center for the Arts.

At the new Central Square Theatre you can see Underground Railway Theater's Einstein's Dreams.


David Hare's play Skylight runs at the the Merrimack Repertory Theatre.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reading Between the Lines

Isaac at Parabasis pretty much took the words right out of my mind after I read this NYTimes item headlined "Public Theater Puts Off New Guare Play."

Isaac says:

Reading the NYTimes post on the subject, however, I was struck by something: There's no replacement show, or talk of a replacement show. Combined with the talk of the "down economy" etc. isn't the buried lede here that the Public can't afford to do their full season this year? Or am I misinterpreting the story? BEcause it seems to me "The Public Can't Afford Its Full Season" is a much bigger story than "The Public Postpones John Guare Play".

The Two Cultures

Thom Garvey reviews Einstein's Dreams, and talks a bit about why artists often fall short when creating works that try to push into scientific realms:

The trouble with its larger ambitions, of course, is the same problem that has always dogged the "two cultures" debate: the scientific illiteracy of most humanists. True, many scientists, engineers, and techies in general can seem culturally, or at least socially, retarded; still, a lot of them have read Shakespeare, many more dabble in conceptual or technological art, and most are avid, and sometimes even superb, musicians. They're more than halfway over the "bridge" to the humanities. But try to think of an actor or painter or writer who could hold his or her own at a particle accelerator. You see the problem? The vast majority of our "intellectuals" can rattle on ad infinitum about the mind/body problem or Cartesian dualism, but ask them about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and you'll almost certainly get a blank stare.

Quick autobiographical note:

My theatre company, Essayons, began as a collaborative ensemble, (actors, directors, writers, tech people,) where we would take issues and ideas, discuss and research them, build characters and events around them and then pull them together into a play form.

In 2000 we created Live Hostage Crisis!, a multimedia meditation on isolation, technology addiction, growing corporate power and the business of nostalgia. It sounds horribly pretentious, but it really wasn't. It was a lot of fun, but very disjointed. Here is a review of our first performance of the piece.

That performance took place on the campus of Harvard University, and opening night, a blizzard hit. We were a little relieved, thinking, "Well, nobody will really come to see it, so we can work out some kinks."

Little beknownst to us, the news of this multimedia show that dealt with technology had circulated onto the MIT campus, and we played to standing room only audiences all weekend. And what happened after that first performance took me back a little bit.

As creators of the show, some us were backed into a corner, literally, by MIT students who were fascinated with the ideas we were presenting. However, I have to admit, their conversations and questions were soaring over our heads. I remember the director and I being surrounded by five or six men and women who were asking us about artificial intelligence, etc.

I looked over at the director and we smiled helplessly as we tried to bluff our way through it.

"Washboard Abs, Without the Situps"

Mission Paradox on the painful work arts organizations have ahead of them:

The declining subscription numbers and aging audiences that are the status quo in the theatre world (and dance, opera, etc.) scares the hell out of a lot of people in the field.

What scares them is not the problem. It's a problem the more observant ones in the field predicted a decade ago.

What scares them is the solution.

Because the solution, whatever it may be for the individual orgs, is almost certainly going to be painful.

(...)

So to avoid the pain that would inevitably come with any serious, long term solution to the problem they do a fatally flawed thing.

They wait for somebody else to reveal the perfect solution in the hopes that they can copy it.

They want someone to take the risk and then hope they can swoop in and show the bosses the solution they "know" will work.

But that's the problem when it comes to alternative models to funding the arts . . . in the beginning, they all suck compared to the status quo.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Kerr - On Tuning a Play Out

The most earnest exhortation, repeated often enough, becomes as pat as a television commercial. After a while, because I know everything the man is going to say and even the tone of voice in which he is going to say it, I will very likely dial him out. This does not necessarily indicate a lack of sympathy, or a disagreement about social aims, on my part. On the contrary, it is possible that I have reached a state of almost total agreement with the playwright, that we have achieved a meeting of the minds so absolute as to induce a kind of conversational paralysis. I can anticipate every argument, every illustration, every conclusion he is prepared to offer (I am confident he is not going to come out in favor of lynching) and if I am ever going to be honest about it, I must admit that the good fellow bores me. He is on the side of the angels; so am I. He is going to develop his argument along certain lines; I know them. He is going to complete his charge to the jury in a burst of warm rhetoric; I can recite it in my sleep. I am all for him you understand. But we are such old hands at this game, the playwright and I, that, hearing he has brought off yet another new "challenge," I can send a check off to my favorite charity and stay home in perfect complacence.

I have seen this man's play perhaps a thousand times. And however much I may admire its integrity, its candor, and its passionate purposefulness, I don't really want to see it again. The meaning is familiar, the method is transparent. A play that I can anticipate in very mechanical detail is a play which no longer shocks surprises or delights me.

A few years ago my wife was having her hair done by a gentleman barber who had exhibited some interest in the theater. A new Lillian Hellman play,
Montserrat was due to open the following Monday, and my wife asked if he were going. He didn't say he wasn't. He simply lifted his eyes heavenward, raised one shoulder and murmured in weary pain, "Insurrections in Bolivia?"

A short descriptive phrase in the advanced publicity had made it perfectly clear to him that his presence was not required.


-Walter Kerr, How Not to Write Play




Kerr was writing this in the 50's

Subsidiary Rights

The controversy over playwrights owing subsidiary rights to the regional houses that produce their premieres - for life- has sprung up again.

Playgoer, Matt Freeman and Marisa Wegrzyn have takes on it.

This popped up a while ago, and looks like it is gaining traction again.

In What Case is Drama Restrictive?

In Africa, a city tries to use drama and poetry to reach conflict resolution. In examining the conflict, they find water to be central issue. The result of the project was a book of poetry, but it didn't start that way.

Q. You were known as a playwright what informed your driving of this project through poetry?

A. When I started reading and researching water, the first thing I did was a drama on water. And I discovered that drama, as a medium, is so restrictive for the subject of water. If you look at Wota Na Wota, as drama, you can go beyond the conflict resolution. You try to look at the plot line and the structure of the play. It's so amazing how poetry can accommodate diverse issues. You have freedom in the use of language in poetry. From my research on water, the best way I could accommodate most of the facts about water was in creating poetry on water.

On Holocaust Art

A.O. Scott, writes about the deluge of Holocaust/Third Reich films lately:

Shortly after the war the German critic T. W. Adorno declared that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” This observation has frequently been interpreted, aphoristically, as a fiat of silence, a prohibition against the use of the ordinary tools of culture to address the extraordinary, inassimilable fact of genocide. But those tools, however crude, are what we have to work with. And if Adorno intended a warning against representations of the Holocaust, it has been more quoted than heeded.

The perception that this catastrophe overwhelms conventional aesthetic strategies and traditions has led to the creation of a remarkable range of formally innovative work, including the lyric poetry of Paul Celan, the early prose works of Elie Wiesel, Claude Lanzmann’s epic documentary “Shoah,” Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” and Peter Eisenmann’s Berlin memorial to the Jewish victims of Nazism.

To describe these as masterpieces is not especially controversial, but it is also, as Adorno perhaps anticipated, somehow unseemly. If the Holocaust can inspire a great work of art, then it can also incubate the ambition to achieve such greatness, and thus open itself up, like everything else, to exploitation, pretense and vulgarity. Worse, the aura that still surrounds this topic — the sense that it must be treated with a special measure of tact and awe — can be appropriated by clumsy, sentimental and meretricious films or books, which protect themselves from criticism by a cloak of seriousness and piety.

London's New Arts Strategy - Don't Patronize the Youth

Mayor Boris Johnson, that very English-looking fellow you may remember from the closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, has unveiled a new Arts initiative. The Guardian has more:

In a report outlining his strategy, his chief of arts and culture strategy, Munira Mirza, argues that too much emphasis has been placed on making events "user-friendly".

She said: "Too often, it is presumed that young people will only like art that they can immediately relate to.

"Working-class students may be steered towards popular culture like hip-hop, new media and film on the basis that they will find older art forms such as opera or ballet irrelevant." Mirza said this was "extremely patronising".

She added: "There's been a kind of inverse snobbery about culture. I get the feeling some people would look at Shakespeare and say, that's a bit too intimidating for working-class people.

"If we achieve anything, I would like to help all people think that it is for them, or that the National Gallery, for example, is for them, that it belongs to you."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

critic-o-meter

Isaac Butler and Rob Kendt have taken it upon themselves to scan all NYC reviews and give an average grade to shows currently running.

The blog is called Critic-O-Meter.

h/t Playgoer.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Law and Order - It's About Craft

Whenever I see a critic start to talk about the artistic success of a network show, I tense up a little bit. The temptation to try and put some of that good old postgraduate seminar time to use proves too great for some, if not most.

Troy Patterson, writing in Slate, talks about the long running success of that old warhorse: Law and Order. It's a show I have always liked.

Mrs. Mirror and I have a pact that if we happen to be flipping the channels, and L&O, (in any of its incarnations,) appears on the television, we have to change it immediately if it is too late at night. The addictive nature of the program, combined with its availability on numerous basic cable stations, can do a number on one's sleep patterns.

Patterson, writing about flagship of the franchise, (the plain old Law and Order,) thankfully doesn't try to get postmodern or mythic on us. Instead, he focuses on the show's almost relentless adherence and mastery of the procedural craft:

And despite the show's excesses, its signs of deterioration and ossification, its laughable mannerisms, Law & Order still displays a singular feeling for pace. It's snappier than a procedural of its advanced age has any right to be.

(...)

While pursuing false leads is integral to every cop show, L&O has transformed the convention into a kind of institution. As the detectives fish for red herrings throughout New York City, the show brightens with local color, imagining Gotham as the land of prep-school boys in blue blazers, floozies with yellow hair, pink-cheeked yuppies, gray-faced burghers, purple-tongued aesthetes. The tensions of caste and hierarchy in the imperial city—the frequent throwaway bits about downtrodden assistants and dissipated heirs—are diverting, and the humble details of place are essential to the texture. Last week's best bit of stage business saw Bernard shove a park-based dope dealer onto a metal hobbyhorse mounted near a jungle gym. "Siddown," he said, and the horsy creaked.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Looking Back on Inishmore

Actor Karl Miller just finished a run of Lieutenant of Inishmore and he blogged some of his thoughts on the mysterious penchant some critics have for overanalyzing McDonagh's play.

Here, in the comments of the Isaac Butler's Parabasis blog, Miller, in response to a suggestion that he is working hard to "hate" the work he is doing, says the following :

I spent a lot of time trying to do my actor homework and get in the
mind of Padraic, only to find there wasn't much of a mind or soul to get inside. I think the play is better served by an instinct for bathos. Which is why it puzzles me to read so much faulty psychoanalysis about Inishmore.


I don't mean to condescend to McDonagh because I have a deep
love/weakness for farce and my friends tease me about it all the time. But for that reason, I find his "pacifist rage" to be a total crock (it's the sort of phrase Padraic would utter without irony). Inishmore is a shallow grave for shallow characters and that's perfectly fine as long as you don't try to exhume any meaning or moral.


Besides, farce doesn't need any higher justification -- it's good
enough to sit and watch our crazy excesses tumble out in the dark. It's extra fun to get to enact this excess every night, too. But when people start adding high-minded rationalizations for this, or try to imbue this story with an aura of bravery or courage, I get nauseous.

After Action Reviews

Pat Gabridge attended a symposium in Boston this past weekend. He talks here about a piece he thinks is missing in most productions:

However, when I spoke on Sunday, I brought up that one thing I feel is lacking in our process is a better formal (or at least semi-formal) process for when the show is over to assess how we did. It's extremely rare to be invited to a post-production post-mortem, where the entire group of people who were involved in the production gather to say, "the way we did this really worked for me." Or else that it didn't and why. Directors don't say to the actors, "how did this work for you, when I did so and so?" Or does the director ask the playwright, "How was our communication? How could it be better next time?"

An essential lack in our theatrical process is this conscious intention
to learn from our successes and mistakes, in order to intentionally mold the process that we use to create theatre. Effective collaboration requires more than just everyone dumping in ingredients when the soup is being assembled. Often folks are pressed for time and money and have already moved on to the next show, but our artform suffers for neglecting this final, crucial step. What I want is a theatre scene in Boston where audience members can't wait to tell their neighbors, "you must go see this show!"

Monday, November 17, 2008

Oh Boy, Man the Cultural War Battle Stations

This combination is going to be hard on the Arts.

We now have a minority opposition party whose desperate flailings during a failed election campaign pointed towards a super-amped revival of culture war rhetoric the likes of which we haven't seen in while.

We have very tight economic times coming, and legislatures will desperately try to find ways of increasing revenues without looking like greedy pigs.

A few weeks ago, Geoff Edgers brought us the news that the Mass Cultural Council was coming under scrutiny by the State Auditor. The Mass Cultural Council responded to the charges. (At the New Journal of Aesthetic research, there is an overview, with relevant links.)

This is just the beginning.

My fellow artists, get ready for the more stories like the following from a Houston television station. And let's hope we learned something from the last rounds of these things.

Art does come in many colors.

"We disseminate over nine million dollars a year, more than 250 grants," said (Jonathan)Glus (Houston Arts Alliance).

But we all know the color of money is green.

"It seems as if we've created a piggy bank that other people wanted to get their fingers in," said Houston Controller Annise Parker.

The Houston Art Alliance gets more than a million dollars in tax money just to make sure the artists who get grants spend the money properly and that we get art that brings in tourists.

"They do not get final payment until they have completed the work," Glus told us.

One guy did. Seventy-five-hundred bucks for a series of poems on how four city art pieces look during different times of the day. He got the grant in April 2007, got four checks, the last check in June of this year. But a year and a half later after getting the first money, not a single poem has been made public, even though the artist bills include $1,000 for printing.

"I haven't seen this and I want to look into this and I'll get back to you on it," said Glus.

It's hard to argue that theatres and museums and tax-supported festivals don't bring tourists to town. They do.

But a grant to boost lesbian puppet tourism?

"I can honestly say, Wayne, I've never heard of lesbian puppet tourism," Glus said.

We hadn't either, but it was Jonathan Glus who authorized the final payment for the puppet shows.

Oh boy.

Theatre's Transcendence

From the Hindu Times:

Sanjana Kapoor carries a big responsibility on her slender shoulders - running Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai, a family legacy she inherited from parents Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal. But she says she enjoys it thoroughly and is confident that theatre will outlive technology.

"I'm surprised that most of the audience patronising the Prithvi Theatre Festival in three venues in the city comprise young people who are used to interacting with each other through SMSes, MMSes, e-mail and e-mail chats. So watching a live-action play is a revelation to them and therefore they are enjoying the experience. Mark my word, theatre will outlive technology," Sanjana told IANS.


Perusing the Prithvi Theatre Website it is interesting to find that, unlike the critics at such esteemed publications as, say, the New Yorker, the community, audiences and staff at the Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai still find relevance and inspiration in the works of Arthur Miller and Henrik Ibsen.

Here is a NYTimes piece, written in 2000, about the Prithvi and the theatre scene in Bombay.

Chicago Theater Database

Nick Keenan, who runs the Theatre for the Future weblog, and Dan Granata of I-Humonculus, have been working on the Chicago Theater Database which will be an open source, comprehensive listing of ALL Chicago theatrical productions: past, present and upcoming.

Here is the explanation from the FAQ page:


The Chicago Theater Database seeks to be a comprehensive repository for the who, what, when, where, and how of the theatrical community: a reference for the present, a record of our collected history, and a sustainable resource for building the next stage. By giving artists the ability to organize and analyze their information through online collaborative systems, we believe that we can make the business of making theater easier.


The project is still in a beta form, but you can see a tremendous potential.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

Last Chance:

Huntington Theatre Company's <Boleros for the Disenchanted closes on Saturday.

See November, the comic election farce that supposedly converted David Mamet to conservatism at the Lyric Stage through tomorrow night.

Body pieces fly through this weekend only, Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore closes at New Rep on Sunday.

Opening:

Tom Stoppards intellectual rock journey opens at the Huntington this week. Appropriately titled: <em>Rock 'n' Roll.

Whistler in the Dark opens their new season with Mary's Wedding, a Boston Premiere.

Conor McPhereson's play The Seafarer has been praised heavily by my friends and colleagues who got to see it in New York. The Speakeasy Stage production opens this weekend at the BCA.

Ongoing

Albee and Pinter hold court at the Charlestown Working Theatre in the Theatre on Fire production of The American Dream and One for the Road.

Wheelock Family Theatre continues their well-received production of Saint Joan.

Faith Healer continues at the Boston Center for the Arts as the Publick Theatre's indoor performance for the season.

Shylock gets his pound of flesh at the Midway Studios in the Actors Shakespeare Project's production of The Merchant of Venice. (Hey, check out the ASP's new website! )

Company One has got some very nice notices for Voyeurs de Venus, Lydia Diamond's new play. And it continues at the Boston Center for the Arts through this weekend.

The Oil Thief, local playwright Joyce Van Dyke's latest play, is at the Boston Playwright's Theatre.

If you are in the mood for some sci-fi radio drama Counter Productions is piping in the sounds of the old x-1 series, live on stage at The Factory Theatre.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"For Boston, For Boston..."

From the Herald:

BC spokesman Jack Dunn said the school was “very selective” when it agreed to let Victoria’s Secret sell BC sweatshirts, sweatpants, T-shirts and flip-flops as part of the racy chain’s youth-oriented Pink line.

“We thought it was a tasteful line of clothing that college students wear,” he said.

He said the college had no knowledge of Eagles-emblazoned “short shorts” that were selling next to the hot-pink BC tank tops.

“We never authorized undergarments,” he said, though other colleges have their names printed on panties in the Pink collection.

Falstaffe's Crew

Brendan Kiley makes a request while reviewing a production of Henry IV.

Just once, I'd like to see Pistol, Nym, and the gang played like hard men at a dive bar—who laugh only when there's something to laugh at—instead of buffoons.

Play Descriptions and A New Genre?

I love reading through the summaries from The Dramatist Play Service and Samuel French Catalogues.

Let's see, for a night at the theatre, you could see this:


At a crash site somewhere in the Midwest, investigators Miranda and Erik stand amongst the wreckage. Middle-aged colleagues relatively new to each other, they tentatively begin a relationship. Although Miranda initially rebuffs Erik, it isn't long before the two have tumbled into bed together. The resulting vulnerability they both reveal and a subsequent encounter with a survivor of the crash shed light on the fragility of life and love.


Or you could see this:

THE JAMMER resurrects that greatest of American entertainments, the Roller Derby: half sport, half show, all action. In just over an hour, THE JAMMER packs multiple roller-derby sequences, a riot, a roller-coaster ride, vomit, spit, blood, sex and love. In short, THE JAMMER is the King Lear of roller-derby plays.


You could see this:

It's now 1939, and storm clouds are gathering over Europe. Having inherited Bagshot House, Colonel Charles Craddock has converted the property into a hotel for the discerning visitor. Soon Inspector Pratt arrives once again at Bagshot House, bearing grim news for Colonel Craddock. But that's just the beginning — who is the strange Polish Count? Is Henrietta really an army captain? And where does the flamboyant thespian Cardew Longfellow fit into the picture? When Joan Maple's sister Cynthia arrives to stage a murder mystery evening, it's not long before Pratt's visit turns into a chaotic nightmare as the bodies pile higher than ever!


Or this:

Both a science play and a love story, intellectual and romantic sparks fly when geologist Sonia Milan, a brilliant Ph.D. candidate, tracks down her mentor, Lawrence Blanchard, in seclusion in the desert Southwest. She's at a professional and personal crossroads, and wants to play a role in explaining a rapidly changing planet. He wants nothing more to do with climate science, but she persists. When the wine, firewood and night are all gone, Sonia has made unexpected discoveries, and Lawrence has confronted the past. Their world has changed, and they have to decide what to do about it.


By the way, two of the above descriptions fit a style of play that has kind of become a genre in itself. For instance, here is the description of Joyce Van Dyke's new play The Oil Thief, which is playing at the Boston Playwright's theater currently:

The Oil Thief explores the geological rift between lovers unexpectedly in crisis - Amy, a petroleum geologist, and her long-time partner Rex. The emotionally charged triangle between Amy, Rex, and Aleksi, a young translator who pushes into their lives, leads Amy to question her own ideas of freedom and responsibility in the world—both personal and global.


Has anybody coined a term for this genre yet?

Political Playwrights Caught Napping?

Dominic Cavendish, in the UK Telegraph, takes in the new David Hare play Gethsemane. Hare's play, he tells us, has the same flaw that many left wing political plays seem to have...it tries to pin most of the problems on a "loss of idealism."

But to many of us, idealism has been precisely the problem. There has been too much cavalier self-belief, too much succumbing to the messianic credo of "social justice". Many of my generation, not Sir David's, want less fervour and more common sense - and want fiercer material from our playwrights to puncture the complacency of those baby boomers at the top of the tree.

Gethsemane is inadvertent proof that British theatre has been caught napping by the credit crunch. If it is not to look out of touch with the debt-laden masses, it is going to have to work harder to understand how things have gone so badly wrong.

If we want a state-of-the-nation play that goes for broke, what we need, at the very least, is a leading Left-wing playwright prepared to hold a mirror up to the aspirations of his tribe: to confront the awkward fact that maybe it's not that the Left could do better that's the problem, but that the idea of "doing better" itself is freighted with inconsistencies.


UPDATE: Michael Billington responds in the Guardian:

I would concede there may be some truth in Cavendish's third point. We certainly need more plays that deal with the bread-and-butter issues of health, education and finance. It is 21 years since Caryl Churchill wrote Serious Money, which examined the impact of de-regulation on the City and all the computerised spivvery and reckless gambling that followed it. Clearly it is time for another play that analyses just how we got where we are today. But, to deduce from this that plays like Gethsemane about the corruption of Labour's soul and the compromises of office are irrelevant, strikes me as absurd.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Doubt Trailer




Interesting, I didn't notice any New York accents in the trailer.

The Weinstein Company, not Miramax, is going to produce August;Osage County, another recent Pulitzer winner.

As an added thought, I just think there is something heavy handed about the trailer. The black bird on the branch and perpetually overcast skies seem a bit much. I'll be interested to see how the film works.

The Change/Spam Tipping Point?

Dahlia Lithwick, at Slate, writes about the continuing e-mails from the Obama campaign asking for money:

It's sort of like being asked to keep planting the victory garden, years after Armistice Day. Even having achieved the presidency, Barack Obama is still counting on little old me for financial help? What's next? Dear Dahlia, Joe Biden and I have a bunch of great ideas for fixing government. And with your $100 donation, we can ensure that the S-Chip is fully funded and that the spotted owl remains on the endangered-species list. Please watch this video and consider a contribution.

America's unprecedented showing of financial and emotional support helped the Obama campaign win the Oval Office. It was a beautiful thing. And I really am going to miss seeing "Barack Obama" in my inbox three times a day. But it's high time for us voters to get back to panicking about our 401(k)s. So please stop e-mailing to ask for money. You're president-elect now, Barack. Consider yourself cut-off.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Korea 1994


Korea 1994 , originally uploaded by arthennessey.

That's your humble author on the left. Thanks to my friend on the right for the picture. He still serves to this day.

The Race Is On...

What do you think?

Will Boston get a production of Osage County before the movie comes out in 2011?

Anti-Gay Pastor Coming to the BCA

In the Globe and Mail today we get a story about a counter-protest against Fred Phelps, the "god hates fags" minister:

News that U.S. anti-gay campaigner Fred Phelps is encouraging followers from his Westboro Baptist Church to travel to Vancouver to protest against a production of The Laramie Project, has met with outrage. In response, a cast member of Fighting Chance Productions set up a Facebook page on the weekend calling for support, and within 36 hours had 1,200 members interested in a counter-rally.


Well, the itinerary of the Westboro Baptist Church also shows a New England tour, ending on December 12th with stop at the BCA to protest The Laramie Project being produced by Boston's own Bad Habit Productions.

Here is a link Bad Habit's production blog for The Laramie Project. Anybody hear about a counter rally, yet?

On the Novel's Progress

Zadie Smith, reviewing Netherland, by Joseph O'Neill.

Yet despite these theoretical assaults, the American metafiction that stood in opposition to Realism has been relegated to a safe corner of literary history, to be studied in postmodernity modules, and dismissed, by our most famous public critics, as a fascinating failure, intellectual brinkmanship that lacked heart. Barth, Barthelme, Pynchon, Gaddis, DeLillo, David Foster Wallace—all misguided ideologists, the novelist equivalents of the socialists in Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man. In this version of our literary history, the last man standing is the Balzac-Flaubert model, on the evidence of its extraordinary persistence. But the critiques persist, too. Is it really the closest model we have to our condition? Or simply the bedtime story that comforts us most?

(...)

In an essay written half a century ago, Robbe-Grillet imagined a future for the novel in which objects would no longer "be merely the vague reflection of the hero's vague soul, the image of his torments, the shadow of his desires." He dreaded the "total and unique adjective, which attempt[s] to unite all the inner qualities, the entire hidden soul of things." But this adjectival mania is still our dominant mode, and Netherland is its most masterful recent example. And why shouldn't it be? The received wisdom of literary history is that Finnegans Wake did not fundamentally disturb Realism's course as Duchamp's urinal disturbed Realism in the visual arts: the novel is made out of language, the smallest units of which still convey meaning, and so they will always carry the trace of the real. But if literary Realism survived the assault of Joyce, it retained the wound.

A Theoretical Question?

Over at Roger Ebert's Answer Man column a reader asks an interesting question:

Would you support an accomplished screenwriter being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature? Say, for example, Woody Allen?


Ebert agrees that the consideration for such an award is long overdue, but points out that it should have first gone to Bergman.

Remind You of Anybody...

A Joyous Celebration of Political Doublespeak...

Theatre Reviewing - Honest Dialogue

In the Guardian, critic Lyn Gardner writes about the difficulty of pinpointing what went wrong in productions of new texts:



My wider point here, I think, is not that we should all beat ourselves up for getting it right or wrong, but that we need to create a more honest dialogue about what works or doesn't, why it works and where the responsibility really lies. If we are to do that then critics will have to be prepared to discuss our reviewing process more openly. Theatre-makers will have to be more honest too, not just laying claim to successes but also taking responsibility for what doesn't work - and learning from the experience.

It is important that we create this open dialogue because we are living through an era when both theatre-makers and theatregoers are fascinated by process.



Interesting, but I think Gardner goes off the rails a bit with this statement from earlier in the article:



What interests me is that as a critic – or, indeed, as an audience member – it is often possible to identify that a play is or isn't working, but it is considerably harder to identify exactly where the responsibility lies. However, we assign responsibility all the time, either as professional critics or as theatregoers. I reckon we are probably getting it wrong a great deal of the time.



No. I don't believe critics, or audience members for that matter, are getting it wrong "a good deal of the time." To be honest, most critics and audience members don't really spend that much time assessing new plays in those terms.

But the ones who do - the few who try to parse out and think about the text they have just heard and then engage their critical faculties toward reconciling that text with the production - well, they generally arrive at pretty solid conclusions.

Unfortunately, for the playwright, the natural and logical first step of handing out praise and blame for a new work is to examine the play itself. I say "unfortunately" because, in the case of a bad review, reviewers will often find themselves stuck in this first gear, grinding out a review that pins the entirety of the blame on the script. It is a rare occasion that a pan of a new play, in any way, tries to vindicate the text in the face on an incompetent production. An excellent example would be a comedy that is cast with a genuinely unfunny group of performers. Most critics have a hard enough time sorting this out with performances of classic comic texts, which they know from experience are hilarious.

Of course, this cuts both ways. Positive reviews of new plays rarely look too closely at the playwright's work. This cursory criticism can result in praise of a mediocre to below average script that, in reality, has almost nothing to do with the enjoyment of a particular evening at theater. This is unfortunate for a playwright who, perhaps, has some work to do on his craft. For instance, a talented actor or cast of actors can possibly put over a powerful and heart-breaking emotional climax that is undeserved by the text. Or a director can create an atmosphere so charged - romantically, eerily, grungy, etc. - that, providing the play is not too long, it can power the proceedings through the whole run time.

So, just to recap, with regards to Lyn Gardner's point: I don't think that people get it wrong most of the time, I just think they don't even try.



But want to know the real secret? The real secret is that in the case of most productions there isn't anything terribly wrong, and there isn't anything superlative. In the case of the large majority of theatre, most works are just O.K. I'm not making excuses for mediocrity, but I am just acknowledging its ubiquity.

There are many average works upon our stages, in our rehearsal halls, in our heads -yet to be written. But that is not our problem, it is just a fact that will always be. Our problem is that there are also many average critics and average audience members. The mediocre critic and the mediocre spectator are easy marks for marketing, into which dramaturgy has bled quite easily.

Like the special edition DVD, theatre marketing and dramaturgy can provide a powerful combination in the selling of a lackluster piece of entertainment. Paraphrases from press releases can be detected in reviews, and theater lobbies can transform into an aviary full of parrots, chattering with trivial notes from the playbill, or pull quotes from positive notices that have been pasted around the place. Like the emperor, we can walk comfortably naked through such an environment.

Harold Bloom is fond of saying, about our age of the world wide web, "Information is endlessy available to us, but where shall wisdom be found?"

As I was writing this post last night I found an interesting discussion about Content has sprung up at Tony's blog.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Right Wing Entertainment?

Terry Teachout asks why there aren't more conservative plays.

Leonard Jacobs answers him.

And Andrew Sullivan talks about the fate of Comedy Central in the post Bush era.

I did witness, the night after the election, how the first barbed Obama joke fell really flat on the Daily Show. To be fair, it wasn't that great of a joke. But the audience hissed a little bit too loudly.

Satire, it is said, has no real friends.

I believe Colbert, using the brilliant convention that he has created, will fare much better than Stewart in the intitial transition. Talk radio is already losing their collective minds with hyperbolic talk of Obama enslaving school children into reeducation camps. (This taken from Obama's projected policy of trying to increase community volunteering as part of public education.) Colbert will eat this kind of stuff up, along with tracking the Republican's moves towards getting back in power.

Elsewhere on CC, David Alan Grier's new show, Chocolate News, hasn't really panned out, yet. But that network will stick with shows for a while, so maybe Grier will be able to more consistently rise to the level of his very funny piece about Maya Angelou preparing a poem for Obama's inauguration:



As a side note: Though they haven't been posting since April, I will miss the little audio clips from the guys at Weekly Radio Address.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Corporate Circuit

This India Times article talks of how theatre impresarios in that country are tapping into corporate money:

Ashvin Gidwani typifies the phenomenon. Seven years ago, he was producing sex comedies in league with Bharat Dabholkar and though these plays were very popular , drawing full houses whenever they were staged, they never made much money. “I realised ticket sales are just not enough,” says Gidwani. “Left only to the box-office , even the most successful plays just break even. To make money, I needed to focus on corporate clientele.”

For starters, Gidwani decided to dump the bawdy sex comedies and find more conservative scripts, suitable to corporate tastes. Next, he began signing up actors from Mumbai’s film and television industry, whose names could be relied upon to draw audiences. Finally, he set up a marketing organisation that spoke the corporate language, selling his plays much like any other product. This was actually a fairly radical step, since most theatre companies are run by stars— creative people who might be uncomfortable selling their work to corporate executives.

(...)
De Cunha runs a theatre company called Rage and estimates that corporate theatre accounts for around 15% of his annual revenues — and 40% of his profits . “It’s a clean profit, irrespective of whether there are 100 or 400 people in the audience,” he says. “But we don’t actively market ourselves to corporates. They come to us.” Whether they have the resources to market themselves pro-actively or not, most theatre companies are now acutely aware of what will appeal to a corporate audience. De Cunha’s I’m Not Bajirao is a more popular (some would also say better) play, but corporates want Class Of ‘84 for its yuppie appeal. “Corporates want plays that show vignettes from Indian life, especially Mumbai life. This month, we’re taking Class Of ‘84 to Muscat, which is full of nostalgic NRIs from Mumbai.”

One production that’s come to be exceptionally popular on the corporate circuit is Chanakyashastra, a play about office politics, with well-known TV actor Rajendra Gupta in the lead role. Written and directed by corporate creativity trainer Sanjay Srinivas , the play has had 50 performances since it was premiered earlier this year and corporate clients include Kotak, HDFC, ICICI, Dell, Microsoft, Oman Oil and Ernst&Young .

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

Opening:

Radio plays on stage seem all the rage these days. Counter Productions is reviving x-1, a series of sci-fi radio plays from the 50's. The show opens at the Factory Theater this weekend.

Short Pinter and Albee works take the Charlestown Working Theater stage this weekend. The American Dream and One for the Road are presented by Theatre on Fire.

Joyce Van Dyke's new play about an oil geologist and her translator opens at the Boston Playwright's theatre. Melinda Lopez and Will Lyman are in the cast of The Oil Thief.


Ongoing:

Saint Joan is still on trial at the Wheelock Family Theatre. Bernard Shaw's play continues through the month.

The British soldiers of Stoneham Theatre's How Many Miles to Basra still trek the Iraqi desert.

Our national election may be over, but David Mamet's political satire November
continues at the Lyric Stage.

Boleros for the Disenchanted, the latest play from Jose Rivera is at the Wimberly for another week.

Lydia Diamond's play Voyeurs de Venus is continuing at the BCA under Company One.

The Public Theatre's indoor production of Faith Healer weaves its Brian Friel spell at the Black Box in the Boston Center for the Arts.

The Leiutenant of Inishmore hasn't run out of stage blood, and has gathered some nice reviews, too. The bloody Irish play continues at the New Rep.

Resurrection continues at Hartford Stage.

Last Chance:

You can still get outrageous at Theatre Offensive's Out on the Edge Festival for one more weekend.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Gen X and Obama - A Long Time Coming

Heather Havrilesky, the Television writer at Salon, writes an open letter from Gen X'ers to boomers, an apology for not really hearing them when they would try to relate the experience of living during the times of JFK and Martin Luther King.

It isn't a great piece, but it contains a few observations that I think are interesting:




And then most of us became mature, rational adults at the exact moment that a reckless frat boy boomer became our president. Just when we were starting to understand how to be a part of the larger world outside, Gore had the election stolen right out of his hands in Florida, and then the twin towers collapsed before our eyes. At first we felt moved to act for the greater good in the wake of that tragedy. But then the whole country seemed to implode in front of us, from our invasion of two sovereign nations to the rise of celebrity culture to tanning beds to McMansions to Guantánamo Bay to Hummers and a big,
faceless herd of humans in low-rider ass pants, chattering about whether or not to get Botox. ... Things were much worse now, worse than ever -- but we'd always expected that they would be, eventually. That's one of the few rewards of being
deeply pessimistic, of being trained to lower our expectations, of living in a constant state of distrust and learned helplessness.

Fringe Theatre - What's Old is New?

In the Guardian, Andrew Haydon reports on his latest trip to the Fringe of London's theaters.

He finds that the offerings are quite tried and true, if even a bit creaky and boring, (one is a concept-free Measure for Measure.) Maybe, he suggests, the radical type of work for which the fringe used to serve as ahome has become fully assimilated into the mainstream.

He muses:


On the other hand, perhaps staging old-fashioned work is now a radical gesture. It could certainly be argued that if the National and Royal Court are no longer interested in straightforward productions of Shakespeare or revivals of political drama from the 70s, there should be a place for those too.

And yet it rankles. I have sympathy for the arguments in favour of plurality and, while disagreeing profoundly, I do understand the point of view which suggests "innovation" and "experiment" are simply a set of fashionable conventions. I can also see how producers might be wary of losing money on too-radical programming. But it still bothers me that the fringe now often seems to be less forward-looking in terms of staging and material than the Lyttleton or the Gielgud. Its receiving houses are all too often home to productions by directors seeking to showcase their mainstream talents and its producing houses play it safe with solid revivals of tried and tested classics.

Know What You're Selling

Broadway and Off-Broadway producer Ken Davenport periodically makes calls to his third party ticket agencies, (Telecharge, etc.) in order to assess the service ticket buyers (his customers) are getting.

This time around, he noticed something he hadn't quite thought about before:

I pretended I was Joseph from Ohio (Yep, a Joe-The-Plumber reference), and that I was looking to buy about 8 tickets to a show or two for the upcoming holiday season.

I asked about price. I asked about performance schedule.

I asked if the operator would recommend the show or not . . .

The good news about this month's check up? No one hung up on me, and I got accurate information from all of the operators, even if it seemed a bit by rote.
The bad news? Of all the of places I called, only one person had seen only one of my shows.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Walmart Foundation to Non-Profs-

If there are too many of you, the population won't be served.

Thanks to Leonard Jacobs for pointing me to the article in our own Boston Herald.


Boston has too many nonprofit groups, Wal-Mart Foundation President Margaret McKenna said at a breakfast meeting yesterday.

And instead of fighting for survival in an economic downturn, these groups ought to be looking for ways to work together while continuing their mission, she said.

McKenna, the former president of Lesley College, made her comments during a well-attended Boston Harbor Hotel gathering sponsored by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

“The argument that ‘our organization will go out of business’ doesn’t resonate with me,” said McKenna, whose foundation distributed nearly $300 million in 2007.

What does resonate, she said, is, “Our population will not be served.”

So many ways to be disappointed in this. Apparently, foundations are not pleased with the current pace of non-profit closures. It needs to go faster. You know, for the good of everybody.

Yeah, if only these ignorant bleeding hearts had taken a few management courses, we wouldn't have to explain these market concepts to them. Jeez. Die already, dead wood, there are people who need help! Selfish bastards, clinging to your survival.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Finish a Play?

Thomas Garvey talks about the recent emphasis on new plays by regional houses. He uses, as examples, several of the recent premieres we have seen in Boston.
Indeed, one begins to wonder if 'development' is ever intended to end
for these plays or their playwrights; after all, why should an author go the extra mile and really "finish" a play when he or she can score a fully-mounted production with what's essentially a second draft?


(...)

What we don't sense is craft. Sometimes we even sense an unconscious contempt for craft. For when it comes to the hallmarks of integration that should mark a finished play - the modulation of pace, the sense of rising action, the sublimation of symbol into situation and character, the natural music of dialogue - all these scripts have come up short. Indeed, some have even made great, knowing sport of the fact that they were really immense skits
without any of these attributes.


Pair it with this post from Rolando at Extracriticum on the ever expanding role of the "reading of new plays":


These days virtually 90% of such readings are not followed by any group or public conversation about the play that has just been heard. In olden days, the "talk-back" as it is called, was a fixture at such events. Not so today. In fact, in New York City, the "talk-back" has come to be viewed with mild derision, and a general consensus seems to have taken hold among Artistic Directors, Dramaturgs and Playwrights alike that the "talk-back" does more harm than good.

(...)

I think the "talk-back" has been jettisoned by most companies lately because many playwrights and directors have had to suffer through comments that were not helpful. I am sure this is true. I've experienced this first-hand. However, the elimination of the public forum for feedback has not stopped those with an ax to grind and with less-useful suggestions at all because those are precisely the people LEAST shy about making a B-line for a playwright after a reading and offering their thoughts one-on-one.

Personally, I learn a lot from intrusive feedback on my work. When someone tells me something like "Does this character really have to die?" I think it's my job to read between the lines. When I hear these kinds of "rewriting the play" comments, I ask myself: What is this comment coming out of? What is it in my play that is inspiring this person to rewrite it in this way?