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

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.