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?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Great Halloween Yard Display

This fellow was sitting outside a house in Salem. I passed by while I was handing out fliers for our ghost stories on the Friendship.

Friday, October 24, 2008

G to "g"

The Boston Globe launched a redesign today. The most significant part for my readers is the consolidation of arts coverage into a 6 day a week tabloid insert called g. The general agenda of the content can be found here. This is a big expansion of the previous, limited Calendar-type inserts.

g, according to the Globe's intro on the front page of this morning's paper, will "focus on arts, entertainment, people and lifestyle." This, of course, means quite a lot will be put into the magazine's pages.

Launching on a Friday is the natural move, with multiple movie releases you can really pack it, and the section does come in at a hefty 48 pages. Movie coverage, including cinema listings and capsule review of recent releases, takes up 16 pages. (17 if you include the cover, with Jolie, natch.) T.V takes up another four pages; comics, crosswords and advice takes up another six; and there are two full page ads. This leaves 18 pages for everything else.

Oh, one more thing: Alex Beam's column about taxes and redistribution of wealth seems weirdly out of place now that it is off of the broadsheet and pasted on the opposite side of the astrology forecast and the comic strips. Mmmm. Let me think about that.

The layout for the Louise Kennedy review of the latest ART production bodes well for the future. Production photos can be printed in color and appear in larger sizes. The tabloid format allows greater convenience with most of the stories and reviews contained to one page, or, at the most, two opposing pages.

However, as opposed to the broadsheet format of the past, I think that navigation may actually be hampered. For instance, previously the front page of the A&E section would include photos and the start of several stories: Theatre, Visual Arts, People. The cover of g has a clear listing of stories on the left hand side, but no visuals or teases. Opening up the first page, we get an abbreviated extension of the contents on the first page, but, once again, nothing to really guide us visually or textually.

I'm an online reader of the Globe, but I thought I would check out the launch today. I was a loyal print reader until about 3 years ago or so.

On the inside back page of g they have a large photo of a rehearsal of Lieutenant of Inishmore, reminds me of my new feature that called for "At Work" photos. :)

Trouble for the Home Team

An Egyptian critic covers the Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre. She talks of how the festival is highlighting the homegrown fringe of the host nation, but her pre-festival piece gave this warning:

It is possible, of course, as some pessimists cynically maintain, that this is all a show staged for the benefit of our foreign guests to peddle to them the idea that the Egyptian system and its cultural policy makers encouraged free expression and non-governmental initiatives. To corroborate their view, those pessimists could quote the mortifying item in the festival statute which stipulates that for any independent troupe to be allowed into the festival at all, even as a fringe performance -- let alone to be considered for the international contest -- it has to mask its independent identity and present itself under the name of a state theatre company or any government-affiliated organization.

In her second installment, we find out that she was right:

I would not have believed it possible that a festival which chose the alternative theatre as the theme of its central international symposium and organized a special roundtable on the independent theatre movement in Egypt would have the cheek to blatantly ignore the only two performances which represented the movement, and ones that had been especially recommended by its appointed selection committee too. But it did happen, and for two days the young artists in both troupes were dazed and kept wondering what had happened and why they had been so unfairly ignored.


Dalia El-Abd too had a taste of that rudeness. When she contacted the festival's office to inquire where she could perform, she was flippantly told to 'go and play at Al-Hanager'. The person who told her this did not bank on her taking him seriously. Though Al-Hanager has been gutted out and is currently unfit for human use, El-Abd and the members of the Wogooh troupe persuaded Huda Wasfi, its artistic director (who, unfortunately, was away in Germany for medical reasons while all this was happening), to take the person at the festival's office at his word and follow his spiteful, facetious advice to the letter. Wasfi and her dedicated staff are currently doing the best they can to make the stage at Hanager usable and put back the seats which had been wrenched out and piled up in a corner of the dusty auditorium.


Indeed, the symposium was better-organized and much more serious this year than ever before, simply because it had fewer speakers who, therefore, had more time and could present their ideas in some detail and argue them in relative depth. It was also better attended than in previous years, mainly because the members of the independent troupes in Egypt flocked to it since the kind of theatre they have chosen to embrace was the subject under discussion. Their enthusiasm and diligence were touching, and however engrossed I was by what the guest-speakers said, every time I caught a glimpse of a young, eager face, avidly attentive, I felt a sharp stab of pain and was stung with shame at the way their elders were treating them.

Here are all three installments:


They are quite lengthy, but worth a read.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Where We Would We Be

..without the New Yorker Theatre Pages.

For instance, without them, I would never have realized that Sarah Ruhl is this nation's combination of Italo Calvino and Ovid, and I would have lived the rest of my life under the the childish illusion that Arthur Miller was anything other than the biggest hack in the history of the American stage.

Here Hilton Als tells the foolish that they should thank All My Sons director Simon McBurney for his conceptual stylings:

McBurney isn’t overemphasizing the play’s theatricality—he’s giving the production the only theatricality it has. Reading Miller’s works, one gets the sense that he didn’t approve of theatre per se; it was too frivolous an enterprise for him, so he had to kill the spectacle with meaning. By filtering Miller’s flat world through his own vision, McBurney gives us the distance we need from Miller’s agitprop; he also relieves the text of some of its finger-pointing.


What a pity that Miller had to write so many plays—a form that did not come naturally to him—in order to inspire our interest in his work in the one genre at which he excelled: the memoir.

Curb Your Campaign Coverage

Larry David on the current election cycle, and how he needs it to end soon:

The one concession I've made to maintain some form of sanity is that I've taken to censoring my news, just like the old Soviet Union. The citizenry (me) only gets to read and listen to what I deem appropriate for its health and well-being. Sure, there are times when the system breaks down. Michele Bachmann got through my radar this week, right before bedtime. That's not supposed to happen. That was a lapse in security, and I've had to make some adjustments. The debates were particularly challenging for me to monitor. First I tried running in and out of the room so I would only hear my guy. This worked until I knocked over a tray of hors d'oeuvres. "Sit down or get out!" my host demanded.


I can't subject other people to me in my current condition. I just don't like what I've turned into -- and frankly I wasn't that crazy about me even before the turn. This election is having the same effect on me as marijuana. All of my worst qualities have been exacerbated. I'm paranoid, obsessive, nervous, and totally mental.

Theatre Marketing - Think Again

From Mission Paradox:

Great marketing isn't just about a cool looking website, an ad in the paper or a nice direct mail piece.

Great marketing is about understanding the mental process people go through when deciding to see your art and doing everything you can to make that decision process easier.

So maybe instead of buying that print ad, you spend that money on a really nice person to answer your phone when patrons calls.

Or maybe instead of printing a big subscription brochure, you spend that money to negotiate a deal with that parking lot across the street to get your patrons free parking to your events.

That's marketing too.

Theatre's Razzle Dazzle

Lyn Gardner is starting to distrust dazzling design:

In recent years British theatre has been exploring form as much as content. It has taken on board the idea that it is not just what you have to say, but the way that you tell it that matters. Even where you tell it makes a difference. So does who you tell it to and who is doing the telling. As a result theatre has become more plastic, more willing to engage with new languages (dance and multimedia for example), more visually confident and more accessible. It's a welcome development, and I accept it also means that scripts may be skeletons that are there to be fleshed out.

But there are times when it makes me wonder if it also means that theatremakers and producing houses are sometimes getting away with a fast one simply on the basis of novelty. I've lost count of the number of times I've now stood in a disused warehouse or city centre apartment or stood with my eye glued to a peephole and had the niggling suspicion that I've been conned; or sat in a theatre and been overwhelmed visually but underwhelmed intellectually and emotionally.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Feingold Zingers

Here are a few from his most recent reviews of the Broadway All My Sons and Adam Rapps new play Kindness.

  • Some people can't leave well enough alone. Simon McBurney, who staged the new Broadway production of Arthur Miller's 1947 drama All My Sons, has built his directorial style out of fussing and overdoing; it calls so much attention to itself that snobs often mistake it for art.

  • All My Sons, which literally brings the violence of war into the bosom of the crooked arms manufacturer's family, doesn't need any audio-visual help in spilling its American guts; it was written for a tradition in which actors did that as a matter of course. Miller's story, with its corporate profiteering, deniability, and plea deals, is as up-to-date as Dick Cheney's desk calendar

  • He shouldn't be blamed, I imagine, for Katie Holmes's performance in the key role of the dead son's fiancée: Her mechanical line readings, getting hollower as the play's emotional pitch escalates, suggest that Broadway has at last discovered that long-held commercial producers' dream: the android actress.

  • The sheer neo-Romantic negativity of Rapp's vision saves it from being sentimental; his plays would be kitsch if cable TV offered a Deathtime channel.

Creepy House

Creepy House, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

On my way to tell ghost stories in Salem, I usually pass by this house. It is one of the creepiest looking places in the city. (And it doesn't need decoration.)

Blogging Bush

In case anybody is interested, there is an online discussion taking place over on Slate about Oliver Stone's film W.

The participants aren't film critics, but rather Bush experts and the filmmaker himself:

Oliver Stone, Ron Suskind, Jacob Weisberg, and Bob Woodward are debating W.

Here is Woodward:

Jacob, you make note of the scene in W. where Bush and his advisers debate whether to go to war. In it, the Colin Powell character makes his case against the invasion. The problem is, as best I can tell, no such meeting ever took place. The president never called the National Security Council and the top advisers together to have a real knock-down, drag-out, come-to-Jesus meeting. It gives Powell more credit than he deserves. This is the broad meeting that Bush should have had to hash it out among his advisers. Powell's plea to the president in August 2002, which he recently affirmed, was that the administration needed to look at the consequences of war, but he never argued openly to the president that he should not invade Iraq.

Mellon Foundation Antes Up

This from The New York Times:

With that in mind, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation recently awarded nearly $10 million to playwriting organizations and theaters in the hopes of getting more fresh voices before an audience. Although Mellon has regularly contributed to theaters around the country for years, the recent grants are a result of a three-year study into the particular problems new plays encounter, said Diane E. Ragsdale, the foundation’s program officer for theater and dance.

It turns out that developing plays is not the problem. Producing them is. New playwrights often get stuck in “workshop hell,” as Ms. Ragsdale put it. Supporting playwrights directly and creating long-term residencies at theaters were among the recommendations that emerged.

“We are more attuned now to some of the critical issues surrounding new plays,” she said, including the importance for theater groups to develop “strong, deep relationships with artists over time and involve them in the culture of the institution.”

There is much good and much puzzling about this article. For instance, one grant will try to bust the issue of "world premiere-itis". To quote Michael Robertson, director of the Lark Play Development Program, "three new plays are staged by four theatre companies around the country."

Here is the explanation:

“In contrast to a world premiere, producers commit to the notion that a play belongs in the American theater’s repertory,” Mr. Robertson said. The original producing company stays on board throughout the entire run, sharing information and advocating for the play. Each of the four institutions will get to call the production a world premiere.

That is fantastic, but only if the play really does belong in the American theater's repertory. This type of process will be a great thing for American theatre, only if it makes things tougher on playwrights' craft rather than easier.

The article makes vague references to how Shakespeare and Clifford Odets had " a base, a group or a place that supported them." Fair enough, but such a statement is an over-simplification of what went on both those instances.

If you read about some of the greatest dramatists you will find that their patrons and producers would have tough, pointed, sharply critical discussions with them. There was an ebb and flow to these relationships. It is true enough that producers would sometimes have more than a few commercial concerns they were trying to push, but not always.

Apparently, from the articles I have read, the grant is the result of a three year study of "the particular problems new plays encounter." I went to the Mellon Foundation website and could not even find the press release, never mind the results of the study.

To paraphrase a commenter on another blog: It just seems strange that in order to combat the development hell, the foundation is merely giving more money to some of the organizations that have fostered and perpetuated these development programs.

If anyone has a link to the 3-year study or its findings, please let me know

Roger Ebert's Painful Mea Culpa

Roger Ebert issues a mea culpa on his blog. He got caught up in the vanity of his own prose, and thought it would be witty to write a review of a movie that he stopped watching after 8 minutes, which he revealed in the review.

How wrong was that decision?

Here's Ebert:

What is the key lesson from all of this? I will never, ever, again review a film I have not seen in its entirety. Never. Ever. Laura was right: That sort of thing is seized upon as a practice, not an exception. Already you can learn here and there on the web that I support Creationism. (See my blog entry, "This is the dawning of the Age of Credulity.") Soon, I am sure, you will be able to read, "Ebert reviews movies after only watching eight minutes of them."

What have you done now? I have done what I should have done in the first place, and viewed the entire movie (97 minutes of film, 7 minutes of credits). I have appended my new review to the end of the original review, which I am honor-bound to retain in its original, uncorrected state. I have added a preface asking readers to consult my two blogs on the subject.

Your final thoughts? I must apologize to writer-director Stewart Wade, his actors and his crew. They did nothing to deserve this. For them it must have been like a drive-by shooting. Among the comments, there is one from a reader who spoke with a young woman after seeing the film. She loved it. I guess she was near tears. It meant a lot to her. "I have two moms," she said. I feel like a jerk. In even my negative reviews, I try to give some sense of why you might want to see a film even if I didn't admire it. Here, I failed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Be Careful What You Blog For

Kris Vire, at Storefront Rebellion, has been keeping on top of the recent case of an actor at Steppenwolf, who posted on the company blog about Tennessee Williams.

The actor's post, regarding the rehearsal process for The Glass Menagerie, has caused quite a kerfuffle, drawing in Martha Lavey and others.

Below is a link to the original post, with the comment trail. The passage that has prompted the inquisitive comments is an ambiguous reference to William's morality:

If Tennessee Williams is in heaven (which I doubt knowing the troubled life he led), mayhap he’ll hear the gentle strumming of his words, from our lips to his ears. And if he is in the other place (which is more likely knowing the troubled life he led) mayhap the music will be so clear he won’t be able to escape it, even there.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup


November, the play that supposedly turned David Mamet into a Republican opens at the Lyric Stage. (For reference, this essay shows how the play doesn't really support Mamet's explanation of his conversion.)

The Central Square Theatre opens a play about the feisty wife of Richard Nixon's Attorney General. Martha Mitchell Calling is produced by Nora Theatre Company.

Trying to shake out the bad spirits of The Onion Cellar that still haunt the Zero Arrow Space, the ART presents The Communist Dracula Pageant, by Anne Washburn who wrote The Internationalist.

Jose Rivera's latest play Boleros for the Disenchanted opens at the Huntington's Calderwood Pavillion.

Ongoing :

Edward Albee's three act version of Seascape continues at Zeitgeist Stage at the Boston Center for the Arts.

The wacky characters continue their search for Miss Margaret Larue in Milwaukee at the Boston Playwrights Theater.

Gutenberg, the Musical, at the New Rep's Downstairs theatre, is still pressing on for another week.

Carrie Fisher keeps imbibing in her one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, at the Huntington's Mainstage.

Last Chance:

Up You Mighty Race has launched their residency at the Boston Center for the Arts with the almost universally praised In The Continuum. Your last chance is this weekend...if you can get tickets.

The Light in the Piazza, the second best received show of the Fall, so far, also loads out this weekend.

Paula Vogel's play, The Baltimore Waltz, caught the attention of many critics when it first premiered. Holland Productions is presenting the show at The Factory Theater through this weekend.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Spirited Challenge

To dovetail slightly with Thomas Garvey's examination of solo verbatim theatre, I thought I would link to blogger R. Winsome's spirited dissent on Milwaukee Rep's current production of I Am My Own Wife, Doug Wright's play.

I can't find any compelling creative reason that Charlotte's story (or actually Doug's story) is best told by one actor playing all the roles. It could be argued that this choice mirrors the many lives Charlotte herself played in life, or that somehow the transvestite themes are aided by all the characters (mostly male) being played by a man in a dress. Actually, my experience is the opposite. Having one actor play all the roles dulls any edge that transvestism might have. Every time the actor switches character we are reminded that this person is onstage and wearing a costume. The potentially transgressive image of a man in a dress is constantly replaced by the perfectly acceptable even traditional image of an actor cross-dressing for his role.

I believe these decisions are motivated by economy not creativity. Wright secured the financial success and marketability of his play when he decided to make it a one man historical biopic.When economic necessity leads a theatre artist to write, perform and otherwise create a solo show because the show is self produced and rehearsal time is shared with a day job, a job whose vacation time is spent taking the play from fringe festival to fringe festival, then the one man show is a testament to that artist's dedication to his work. When a one man play is clamoured after by large cost-cutting mismanaged regional theatres it looks a lot more like exploitation.

When politically charged content like Nazism, Communism, East-West relations and transsexual identity are replaced by a historical biography of a "greatest generation" figure, it looks a lot like pandering to the aging population of traditional theatre patrons.

When a playwright puts a character, himself even, on stage as a tool for talking about themes rather than simply portraying them, he's lazily spoonfeeding an audience he assumes is to unsophisticated or inattentive to critically engage with the characters.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tone Deaf Musical Discussion

In The New Republic Dave Hadju reviews the new Lennon biography, and in the process, takes on that strange creature that sometimes rears its head: The artist biography that is completely uninterested in the art.

There are four thousand holes in John Lennon: The Life, and the one in most dire need of fixing is the absence of illuminating discussion of the creative work that makes Lennon matter. Norman, who has done books on Buddy Holly and Elton John, in addition to his writing on the Beatles, is the rare biographer of musicians who has little evident interest in music itself. He concentrates on the events of his subjects' lives with an eye for personal details (John liked to conjure a romantic mood, lighting a candle by the bedside, before sex) but not much of an ear for the songs they devoted those lives to creating. When he does take up a specific work, Norman tends to characterize the song by the style or the quality of its lyrics. Thus he describes "If I Fell," the gorgeous Lennon ballad that the Beatles performed in their first film, A Hard Day's Night, tersely as "plaintive." Yes, the words are simple and direct; but the music is luxurious and complex, with harmony parts that purl around the melody. Song after song from record after record goes without much attention, as if John Lennon started a band called the Beatles just so he could imitate a paralyzed person on stage and kick a friend in the head after the show.

Verbatim Theatre

Thomas Garvey reviews Anna Deveare Smith's latest piece Let Me Down Easy, which is meditation on the theme of Grace. Along the way, Garvey discusses strengths and weaknesses of the form:

But then the great advantage of the form Smith created was the way it allowed her to transcend these limits by treating the utterances of her subjects as "text." Smith side-stepped the issue of impersonation by emphasizing that what she was doing was re-creating, on stage, the delivery of a particular speech - complete with every stammer and hesitation - rather than a particular person. This gave her performances a curiously haunting, post-modern quality: her speakers were both present and absent onstage - it was their perspective, rather than their person, which Smith was, in effect, "curating" into a kind of theatrical exhibit.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Tell You I Saw Him, Alive Again!

New Blog - MCC Artsake

The Massachusetts Cultural Council has a blog to keep you informed, and it's pretty good.

Check ArtSake here.

Sorry about the quick links lately, been busy with ghost stories and all.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Quote of the Day

"You know what the first sign is that an event bad for a writer? You have to wear a suit to it."

Itamar Moses
, The Four of Us

Friday, October 10, 2008

At Work

(Photos: Zeitgeist Stage technicians take sand from the back alley of the BCA and spread it around the set for the current production of Seascape.)

Are You There, NSA? It's Me, Art

Just a brief biographical note:

When I received my intelligence training in the United States Army, the instructors were pretty clear about one thing in particular.

In the first week of classes, the Marine Gunnery Sergeant, who would serve as our lead instructor, gave us the laws and codes for intelligence collection. He stated, in no uncertain terms: "If you ever, EVER, listen to a United States citizen's private communications, you will be thrown UNDER the jail."

Hyperbole? Maybe. Simplification? Perhaps. But the message was clear, and the laws we had to read and learn supported his statements.

Now, I read stuff like this, and I just shake my head:

Faulk says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of "cuts" that were available on each operator's computer.

"Hey, check this out," Faulk says he would be told, "there's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, 'Wow, this was crazy'," Faulk told ABC News.

Faulk said he joined in to listen, and talk about it during breaks in Back Hall's "smoke pit," but ended up feeling badly about his actions.

Now, as a soldier serving overseas, I did understand that my calls and contacts might be monitored from time to time. However, this type of juvenile and immature behavior by intelligence professionals wasn't what I imagined. Although, it does make perfect sense, and doesn't shock me at all. Unless you have done the job, it is hard to convey how mind-numbing it can be to listen to static for 8 hours. I heard stories from old-timers about how they would listen to juicy calls that CO's would make to their mistresses while serving in Germany during the 80's. (Possibly those stories are the Army equivalent of urban legends.)

I never personally witnessed the type of things described in the ABC story, and I think that most people will write these episodes off to the very dangerous FEW BAD APPLES theory that ended up giving much needed cover to systemic practices of torture.

The listening in on Humanitarian groups is an issue of more concern, but the overall atmosphere suggested by the story is what haunts me. The looseness that seems to come from a lawless environment.

And, from a purely operational point of view, one of the former soldiers in the article states it best, when she talks about how intelligence collection really did provide some good data that helped save lives:

Kinne says the success stories underscored for her the waste of time spent listening to innocent Americans, instead of looking for the terrorist needle in the haystack.

"By casting the net so wide and continuing to collect on Americans and aid organizations, it's almost like they're making the haystack bigger and it's harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful to somebody," she said. "You're actually hurting our ability to effectively protect our national security."

The Day Job Before the Storm

Sarah Pauley writing at the blog Extracriticum, muses about the decision she has made to take a day job:

Oh, I still take classes, memorize monologues and look at grant applications like they are some beacons of hope that will take me away from all of this office drudgery, but I can’t help but still feel guilty somehow. Like taking the day job and not being the starving artist anymore is somehow doing a disservice to my career. Perhaps what I am missing is this suffering of the starving artist that I used to be. I miss it…it was what I was used to. Everyday, I think about chucking all this stability and going back to my old schedule and am slightly cheered on by the decreasing values of others 401Ks that are dropping all around me.

With the current times, I have to wonder where I am better off. Sure, art does thrive in chaos, but the problem is – my life feels like anything but chaotic anymore. Which feels awesome in some aspects, but definitely weird in others. For example, I can finally afford to see Broadway shows and take that cab all the way to Washington Heights every once in a while if I need to, but the rush and spontaneity of the biz are not as bright and shiny as it used to be. There must be more. I contemplate about having savings and find myself desiring more security in my future. However, I contemplate more about my career in theater and what sacrifices I will have to make to “make it”. It’s a terrible catch-22. Yes, I’m a member of a union, but given my job situation, I am limited in what kind of acting work I can pick up. So I stand on the sidelines near a big pool I want to swim in.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Big Women on the Boards

Imogene Russel Williams, on the Arts Blog at The Guardian:

Big women on the stage. By and large, they get a bum deal. If an operatic audience can translate a statuesque and well-fed soprano into a consumptive waif with tiny, frozen hands, and go home streaming snot and tears even though Mimi's build is more matronly than miniature, why should a theatrical audience not be asked to accommodate a curvaceous Cordelia, a jouncing Juliet, a delectably plump Helen of Troy?


Operatic suspension of disbelief does occasionally work in theatre - but usually it's for men. Simon Russell Beale can play Benedict, porcupine-grey and trundling in gait, and still be sexy. If plump little Ian Holm wants to strip off his kit as Lear, good luck to him. But big women tend to sell themselves - to have to sell themselves - not as young lovers or tragic heroines, but as "character" actors - the Mistress Quicklys, the bustling Nurses, the merry, buxom serving wenches on whose amply corseted bosoms you could rest a whole barful of tankards. My DD-cup runneth o'er. As Helen, the "plus-sized" heroine of Neil LaBute's Fat Pig, says: "Big people are jolly, remember? ... It's one of our best qualities."

At Work -Calling All Theatre Artists - New Mirror Feature

I want to try something new here on Mirror up to Nature:

At Work

The Mirror Up To Nature would like to occasionally post photos of theatre artists doing their craft. Hopefully these will be behind-the-scenes, candid shots of artists in the process.

The photos can be from any stage of the production process: rehearsal, first table read, load-in, load-out, light hanging, set painting, costume fitting, photo shoot, etc.

Of course, I would still like production photos,(Zeitgeist just sent me some great ones from Seascape,), and you can still send your pre-show publicity stuff. But for the At Work feature, only send me any shots you have of theatre artists at work.

Try to choose the best ones you can. You can e-mail them to me at the mirroruptonature (the email is up on the sidebar,) or you can post them to your own photo sharing service like Flickr and send me a link. In the subject line of the e-mail please write: At Work.

For this feature please don't send the following types of photos: cast party snaps, staged production photos or staged pre-show publicity photos, or photoshopped graphics.

I think this will be fun. And I want to show the world the work and concentration that goes into the shows.

All right, who is first?

Concentration Of An Artist

(Example Photo: Greg Maraio makes adjustments to the wig of actress Christine Powers.)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Marge or Jerry?

Roger Ebert takes a movie critic's view of the VP debate.

When she was on familiar ground, she perked up, winked at the audience two or three times, and settled with relief into the folksiness that reminds me strangely of the characters in "Fargo."

Palin is best in that persona. You want to smile with her and wink back. But who did she resemble more? Marge Gunderson, whose peppy pleasantries masked a remorseless policewoman's logic? Or Jerry Lundegaard, who knew he didn't have the car on his lot, but smiled when he said, "M'am, I been cooperatin' with ya here." Palin was persuasive. But I felt a brightness that was not always convincing.


Sometimes during a live performance you can hear an actor "going up." That's actor-speak for forgetting the lines. Laurence Olivier went up on an Oscarcast, after he was awarded an honorary Oscar. Whatever he said (the transcript shows it made no sense), the speech made an enormous impression. In an audience reaction shot, you could lip-read Jon Voight: "Wow." The next morning I went to interview Michael Caine. "Larry called me last night," he said. "He asked what I thought of his speech. I said it was wonderful, but I didn't have the slightest idea what he had said. He said I was exactly right: 'It's like during Shakespeare, when you go up and start blathering about being off to Salisbury on the morn.'"

I sensed that happening during Palin's response to the question about same-sex marriage and civil contracts. She was clear that she opposed same-sex marriage. So was Biden. I have no idea what she said about civil contracts. Neither did Gwen Ifil, apparently, because she concluded that Biden and Palin were in agreement. I knew what McCain (and supposedly Palin) really thought about the subject. I sensed that Palin had gone off to Salisbury.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Albee on his Threatening Lizards

Louise Kennedy interviews Edward Albee about the Zeitgeist Production of the Three Act Version of his Seascape. Albee cut a third act, which takes place under the ocean, before the opening of the Broadway production in 1975.

Q. So the decision to cut it before the Broadway opening was for practical, financial reasons?

A. I don't remember now what made me change it. We cut the underwater scene, but I don't know why I changed the ending. I like the three-act version. I like the ending because it's tougher. There have been several productions of the two-act version that have been too soft. They don't seem to understand that the lizards are constantly threatening and dangerous. They become kind of pets, and that destroys the play.


Q. Why do you think people choose to see these frightening creatures as fuzzy, friendly dinosaurs?

A. I don't know. Because it's safer and easier.

Q. Is that something you run into fairly often?

A. I'm afraid I do. It reminds me of the situation of the finest American play ever written, which is "Our Town." It gets turned into a Christmas card. But what Wilder wrote was one of the toughest existential dramas ever written. I can't see it without crying, and I'm not sentimental.

Man and Super..Girl

Man and Super..Girl, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

Director Greg Maraio poses Eliza Lay during a publicity photoshoot for The Superheroine Monologues, a parody of America's greatest women crimefighters. (Full Disclosure: I will be appearing in the show this Spring.)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Chris Anderson on Free

Anything free in the atoms economy (traditional economy) must be paid for by something else, which is why so much traditional free feels like bait and switch--it's you paying, one way or another. But free in the bits economy (online) can be really free, with money often taken out of the equation altogether. People are rightly suspicious of free in the atoms economy, and rightly trusting of free in the bits economy. Intuitively, they understand the difference between the two, and why free works so well online.

Today the online world is a country-sized economy built of free. The most interesting business models are in finding ways to make money around free. Sooner or later every company is going to have to figure out how to use free or compete with free, one way or another.

Thomas Garvey on Rebeck's Latest Screed

In fact, one senses suddenly that feminism in its pure sense doesn't really mean much to her; for Theresa, feminism - or rather sexual politics - is simply a springboard, a steppingstone, to owning the culture (after Mauritius, she probably imagines she 'owns' American Buffalo). And by God, she is being frustrated in her objective!

Well isn't that too bad - although I have to confess this is where things get a little troubling for me. Because, you see, I don't want Theresa Rebeck to own the culture - in fact I'm very, very glad she doesn't. I could be down with a woman owning the culture in principle - just not Theresa. Because to be honest, I don't think she's a very good playwright - and not because she's a woman, but because she's superficial and derivative (though, I admit, clever and funny and certainly a craftsman - uh, craftsperson - in her way). I suppose she has as much of a right to be on Broadway as Neil Simon did - only I didn't want Neil Simon to be there, either! And I certainly didn't want him to own the culture.

Under the Sea!

This weekend, fans of playwright Edward Albee will get a real treat. The playwright has given special permission to Zeitgeist Stage for a production of his original Three Act version of his Pulitzer Prize Winning Play Seascape.

The 1975 play involves two basic Albee archetypes, (an aging WASP couple,) who encounter two human-sized lizards on the dunes by the ocean.

In 1975, the play which won the Pulitzer was presented with two acts, although a three act version played outside of the United States. The lost act apparently takes place under the water, on the lizards' turf.

The Zeitgeist press release recounts an interview Albee gave to the New York Times in which he gave the following reason for the jettisoning of the sea-bottom scene:

"It was... too fantastic and very hard to construct a set that could transform itself. It was turning into a play about set changes."

Una Chaudri, reviewing a recent Broadway revival of Seascape(the stunning picture above is from that production), mentioned the following:

"So far is Albee from wanting to abandon his animal characters to a reductively allegorical fate that he had originally planned to transport the entire play into their world: as he mentioned in a recent interview, the first draft of Seascape had three acts, one set underwater! Though later excised, this astonishing idea has left its mark on the play. For the inter-species encounter it stages is also a meeting of worlds, landscapes, ontologies."

Seascape will open tonight at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Boston has been a hotbed for Albee lately and it doesn't seem to be subsiding anytime soon. The American Dream, an early Albee one act, will be presented by Theatre on Fire in November.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Lifecasting the Lieutenant

Neat post by Steve Tolin on the New Rep's blog about the special effects involved in their upcoming production of Martin McDonagh's The Lieuetenant of Inishmore.

On the 22nd of September, I travelled to Boston for the first time in my life. I came to undertake the difficult task of lifecasting three actors, one after the other, and flying back to Pittsburgh in a single day.

Lifecasting is the process of taking an impression of a person’s flesh (face, hands, or some other body part) and creating a duplicate of them in a synthetic medium...

Check it out. (Complete with a photo of a plaster Curt Klump.)

Quote of the Day

Don Nigro offers some advice for playwrights: (H/T Adam Szymkowicz)

Never allow directors to intimidate you, but have some sympathy for them. They are professional cat herders and you are why they drink. Strive to be kind to actors, even when they're being impossible. They have a difficult life, and without them, you're a novelist.

The Time is Now?

New York theater producer Ken Davenport muses about the age-old question: Can a show benefit from a Broadway to Off-Broadway transfer?

Remember when we talked about the concept of a Broadway to Off-Broadway transfer?

Title of Show is as close to a perfect candidate as you can get for this experimental idea. Shoot, give me 24 hours, a u-haul, and a collaborative team (and unions) and I could have a version of that show up somewhere else in the city.

The one flaw from our original concept is that TOS hasn't benefited from any Tony publicity yet. And then there's the question . . . would they even be eligible if they downsized before the Tonys? Would they be eligible for Off-Broadway and Broadway awards (Broadway shows that have moved from Off-Broadway are eligible for both).

Ken is the producer of several Off-Broadway shows, including Altar Boyz, and is the producer of the upcoming Broadway production of Speed-the-Plow.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Ruhl's Fans Double Down

Chicago Blogger Rob Kozlowski has stated that Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play was "the worst play I've ever seen." (Here is his review of the play from 2007.)

Even Louise Kennedy, normally a big Ruhl supporter, seemed underwhelmed by the Yale Rep production of Passion Play. However, in an almost conciliatory gesture to the playwright, she concludes:

There's more - much, much more. "Passion Play" is lavish with incident, character, and imagery. It's so lavish, in fact, that it feels ungrateful to ask that it also add up to something bigger. But Ruhl, here and elsewhere, has shown herself capable of working theatrical miracles. Is it too much to wish for one more?

But nothing compares to the following paragraph from John Lahr's review of Passion Play in the current New Yorker:

Ruhl trades in verbal and visual irony; she uses comedy to draw the audience into her deep speculation about our Christ-haunted civilization. “More and more, it seems to me that the separation between church and state is coming into question in our country,” she writes in the program note. “We are a divided nation. And the more divided we are, the less we talk about what divides us.” Ruhl wants to offer the audience illumination, not distraction. Her terse scenes are studded with startling nuggets of lyricism, and her writing commands a special kind of imaginative attention: full of clarity, poetry, and mystery without psychology. “Passion Play” steers a course between the illusions of faith and the illusions of reason, travelling from a time when citizens felt protected by the benevolent hand of God to the time when (until last week) they felt protected by the benevolent hand of the free market.

Can somebody please parse that and tell me what Lahr is talking about? As a religious person and an avid playgoer am not convinced that I need to surrender reason, psychology or my senses in either sphere.

And I'll leave you with a compare and contrast. Emphasis is mine:

Here is Lahr:

Her style is a sort of mesmerizing, symphonic sidewinding. (“Passion Play” is three and a half hours long.) The power of the show is in its cumulative eloquence; themes, symbols, characters, and verbal motifs are rewoven, refracted, and turned back on themselves, transformed before our eyes into a larger discussion that embraces both faith and its bastardization.

Here is a Curtain Up Chicago Review of Passion Play:

Ruhl (whose Clean House also liked to stir things up) tackles many truths here—the unholy marriage of politics and religion, the disconnect between mortals' make-believe and their real motivations, and the self-fulfilling power of a play to alter everyone connected with it. But the overlong, cluttered and scattershot plot, directionless dialogue, quixotic symbol-mongering, kneejerk magic realism, self-indulgent side scenes, and aimless, lazy apostrophes to the audience take a cumulative toll.

Talk about two sides of the same coin.

Eck or Eh

Most of the reviews of the current revival of Equus on Broadway have been mixed, and most all of them have confessed to a slight nostalgia, (in at least some small way,) for the original production.

Most, though giving credit to Daniel Radcliffe's adept interpretation, seem to miss Peter Firth's portrayal of the haunted youth in some way or another. Many also think the lead role of the psychiatrist is miscast. Some, like local critic Thomas Garvey, did both.

And just about all are giving voice to the idea that Shaffer's play has some major problems.

Last week, Carl Rossi, a local Boston critic, observed that Stephen Sondheim's "Janus-like" back-to-back triumphs of Follies and Company, "caught lightning in a bottle" for the times in which they were created. He lamented that now that those times are past, the two shows are no longer cultural touchstones, but "mere musicals."

Michael Feingold, writing about the current Broadway revival of Equus, makes the following observation:

The cherries that grew in Chekhov's Cherry Orchard, the old butler Firs tells the younger generation, were formerly made into jam, but over the years, the recipe somehow got lost. I often think old plays have the same problem: The tasty condiment they once provided onstage now often comes out savorless. The recipe's disappeared, and nobody knows how to retrieve it.