Friday, February 27, 2009
Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggen and Josh Logan is a naval play first seen in 1948. It was based on a novel and then later turned into the famous film with its Broadway lead, Henry Fonda, starring.
Speed-the-Plow, David Mamet's play which has had as much backstage as onstage heat in its recent Broadway revival.
Indulgences by Chris Craddock. A review from Warner's staging at her former home, Dad's Garage in Atlanta, called the play, "a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for the improv-theater generation."
Opus by Michael Hollinger is about the backstage machinations of....a string quartet! Charles Isherwood said the following of the New York production.
"Some of the liveliest exchanges in the play, believe it or not, are arguments over the interpretation of the Beethoven quartet (Op. 131) the group has chosen for its television gig."
Hot Mikado by David Bell and Rob Bowman is an adaptation of the 1939 musical The Hot Mikado, which was an all black version of Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado.
2.5 Minute Ride by Lisa Kron.
boom by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb is an apocalyptic three-hander. Variety said this about the play last year: "All three characters exist at the mercy of forces larger than they are, and each one holds on to a hope that, put gently, seems improbable. Jo hopes to return to the world as it was; Jules hopes to become the new father of the human race; and Barbara hopes she can make the play last forever."
The Santaland Diaries and A Christmas Carol round out the announcement.
The Rainmaker closes up shop on Sunday at the Worcester Foothills.
Wheelock Family Theatre runs Suessical through this weekend only.
Charlestown Working Theatre closes their adaptation of The Odyssey on Saturday Night.
Tir Na Theatre Company brings Swansong/Bottom of the Lake two new Irish one-act plays to the Boston Center for the Arts.
Bunnies, aliens and Elvis impersonators populate the very fringey sounding production by Unreliable Narrator. Their new offering, Paranormal, opens at the Factory Theater this weekend. (Photo above right.)
Georgie and Linda are still trying to get up a stake at Machine, The Gold Dust Orphans continue their spoof Of Mice and Mink.
Cat On Hot Tin Roof keeps up at the Lyric Stage.
Speakeasy Stage unfurls secrets and lies in their production of David Harrower's Blackbird.
dark play or stories for boys, continues at the Apollinaire Theatre in Chelsea.
Exits and Entrances brings Athol Fugard to the stage of the New Rep, with local acting legend Will Lyman.
Centastage keeps running The Last Carusoe, a new play.
Come see the end of the world! Samuel Beckett's masterpiece, Endgame keeps playing out on Brattle Street.
The psychological thriller Tranced twists and turns on the stage of the Merrimack Repertory Theatre.
You can still see A Raisin in the Sun at Trinity Rep for another week.
Cabaret runs for another weekend at the Concord Players.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
He began by asserting that I was “not a theater critic at all, but just a radio personality,” purporting to be surprised that I’d also spent seven years reviewing for the Reader. He offered a critique of my “persona” on the Dueling Critics segment: “I understand you and Jonathan have your roles; he’s the intellectual and you’re the ignoramus, Joanne Theatergoer, I-don’t-know-anything-about-theater-but-I-know-what-I-like.” He then characterized certain of my comments as “stupid” while observing more generally that the review consisted entirely of “not very funny one-liners” and was “dismissive of the work of people who’ve thought about this for years.”
But the encounter was unpleasant and intimidating, as it was clearly intended to be. Personal confrontations with critics are considered unprofessional because they always backfire: “Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.” But they’re also frowned upon because they put personal dynamics, and unwonted personal concerns, in the way of professional judgment. Who wouldn’t be inclined to pull her punches a bit, just to avoid a call like that in the future?
(H/T Storefront Rebellion.)
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The year 2007 was a banner one for British theater. The nominees for the Olivier Award for best new play included Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll, which was about Syd Barrett and the 1968 Prague Spring, Peter Morgan's Frost/Nixon, which was about the title duo and Watergate, and Conor McPherson's The Seafarer, which featured no less a character than — yes, Church Lady — Satan.
And the Olivier went to . . . David Harrower's Blackbird? A play about a confrontation between two desperate nobodies and . . . well, I'm not going to tell you quite yet what it's about. Suffice to say that Boston will have had the luxury of seeing all four plays this season, thanks to Broadway Across America (F/N), the Huntington Theatre Company (R&R), and SpeakEasy Stage, which got the rights to both The Seafarer and Blackbird.
Here is one important and interesting one:
Produce the show. Anywhere. Anyhow. Produced shows have more value. I don't care if it was up at a community theater, a black box on the lower-east side, or in your college dorm room. Get it up, and tell me that it was up, and show me some good reviews. A few random quotes from a Philadelphia paper is what got me interested in the book writer of Altar Boyz's work. Without those quotes, he and I never would have met, and the show wouldn't be the same.
We both thought of ourselves as full-service, one-stop film critics. We didn't see why the other one was quite necessary. We had been linked in a Faustian television format that brought us success at the price of autonomy. No sooner had I expressed a verdict on a movie, my verdict, than here came Siskel with the arrogance to say I was wrong, or, for that matter, the condescension to agree with me. It really felt like that. It was not an act. When we disagreed, there was incredulity; when we agreed, there was a kind of relief. In the television biz, they talk about "chemistry." Not a thought was given to our chemistry. We just had it, because from the day the Chicago Tribune made Gene its film critic, we were professional enemies. We never had a single meaningful conversation before we started to work on our TV program. Alone together in an elevator, we would study the numbers changing above the door.
The interesting part of the los Angeles time article is the Taper's explanation that they had already taken one large cast show (Uncle Vanya) and replaced it with a the Mamet two-hander Oleanna.
This gels with the TCG Fiscal Snapshots released earlier this week.
Here is another key statement from the article:
In planning his 2010-11 season, Ritchie admitted he faces new challenges. “Finances are playing a bigger role than ever -- I have to pay more attention to that as I plan my season,” he said. "It’s more complicated than it’s been in the past. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever really been an issue before.”
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
There is, however, at least one response possible, although it's cold comfort to the students involved: MFA programs keep theatre and theatrical traditions alive past the validity of their economic model. In short, students' tuition is sacrificed not merely to the bank accounts of their professors, but to the preservation of the art form. Now there are those who feel art forms simply should not outlive their economic models - it's an interesting moral quandary, though, for those who feel otherwise, whether or not to exploit the finances of students in order to perpetuate, say, large-scale productions of the classics.
But then there's Daisey's other point - that MFA programs actually harm rather than preserve theatre, by forcing those deep in MFA debt from the very profession they trained for! This argument is less easily disposed of, even though it's worth pointing out that the bills for MFAs don't actually affect the theatre audience, which would have to be the prime mover in any theatrical renaissance.
Friday, February 20, 2009
The two main speakers were Dominick Cooke, Artistic Director of the Royal Court, and director Katie Mitchell.
Dickson reports that the discussion really seemed to consist of Cooke and Mitchell outlining their different ideas about how to approach creating theatre.
So far, so … sigh. What I couldn't quite believe was that both had so little to say about audiences, ostensibly the point of the whole debate. For Mitchell, the folk on the other side of the footlights seemed, while not irrelevant, somehow too complicated to think about. "I'm not sure you can talk about the audience," she said, wary about the idea of confronting all those human responses, infinite in their variation and complexity. "They're much more sophisticated than me." Cooke was even blunter: "Work that's led by an audience is show business," he said. His theatre's job is to choose what to put on, then market it so the right kind of people turn up (sometimes, he admitted, the Royal Court has targeted its advertising in specific communities because they seem relevant to the themes of a play).
While you can see what they're saying, it's difficult not to see both opinions as a kind of evasion – and, in their different ways, cringingly paternalistic.
Zeitgeist Stage has Bad Jazz riffing through the BCA through this weekend.
At the Boston Center for the Arts, Speakeasy Stage presents the Boston Premiere of Blackbird.
Enter the the online world of dark play or stories for boys at the Apollinaire Theater at the Chelsea Theaterworks.
In their latest creation, The Gold Dust Orphans take on John Steinbeck in Of Mice and Mink.
Athol Fugard's Exits and Entrances opens at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown.
Centastage moves into the BCA as The Last Caruso, a new play, opens under the direction of Joe Antoun.
The long hot day continues at the Pollit Plantation as the Lyric Stage continues their run of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Clov and Hamm are up to their tricks in Samuel Beckett's Endgame at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge.
Wheelock Family Theatre brings the good Doctor's creations to life in their production of Suessical!
Lorraine Hansberry's classic A Raisin in the Sun continues at Trinity Rep in Providence.
Another hot summer lingers out at the Worcester Foothills with The Rainmaker.
Merrimack Rep keeps up the suspense with the psychological thriller Tranced.
If you missed it at New Rep, you can still see Cabaret out at the Concord Players, this one is directed by Nancy Curran Willis, (co-director of last season's Angels in America.)
Thursday, February 19, 2009
For instance, he enjoyed Benjamin Button, but...
After leaving the theater, my friend Will wanted my take. "I loved the movie," I said, "but it bothered me that the hospital set and the dance recital set were the same."
"Whaaaaaaaat?" he exclaimed.
I said, "For a movie that clearly spend millions on sets, design, CGI and technology, I noticed that the same water fountain appeared in both scenes. It was clearly the same set, just dressed differently."
At this point, Will suggested I seek immediately counseling or, a new life.
After coming through the front door, I introduced myself to the first staff member I met, explained that I was the evening's feature performer, and ordered an espresso and a glass of water. It was explained to me that Ryan, the host did not normally show up for at least an hour, which was well enough as I needed a time and place to prepare before my set.
After stretching out down in the basement, changing into my costume and make-up, and practicing a few bits, I came up at the appointed time only to discover that the café was much the same as it was when I first went down the steps, except for the fact that a mime in greasepaint and spandex was standing in the middle of the dining room with no idea what was going on. Ryan had not yet arrived. I had no idea who had come for dinner and who had come for the show and no one was approaching the mime to explain the situation to him.
The whole post is a great story of a day in the life of a performing artist.
Theater Communications Group has released a "snapshot" of the fiscal situation of member theaters.
Interesting numbers from a quick glance:
-20% of theatres report that in dealing with fiscal issues they will reduce the number of productions.
29% say they will substitute a larger cast play with a smaller cast play.
69% will reduce or freeze salaries.
48% will reduce administrative staff.
28% will reduce artistic staff.
55% are decreasing budget in planning for next season.
You can read the details, and other snapshots, here at the TCG Website.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Garret Eisler and George Hunka are talking about the fallout on their blogs, and here is a link to a post in the Guardian.
But first, you can read the full text of the ten minute play here. However, in order to understand some of the arguments in the comments and the posts above, make sure you read the section about the performance rights.
The San Francisco city government is facing a $576 million budget deficit. Cuts have been proposed, some involving public health. For hours at a meeting of the city's Board of Supervisors, there were protests from advocates for homeless people, medical clinics that serve the poor, and many other worthy groups. So somebody proposed an alternative -- cut funding for the symphony and ballet. The matter hasn't been resolved, but would you like to be the opera representative, arguing to keep your funds, with people from endangered clinics in the room?
And what if those clinic workers and others like them say the arts have a lot of money, and that they largely serve an upscale audience? Arts advocates hate that kind of talk. It's not correct, they say. It's anti-arts, anti-intellectual.
But let's not underestimate how persistent those perceptions are, especially when reality at least partly seems to back them up.
The arts are going to need a better strategy. And in the end it's going to have to come from art itself, from the benefits art brings, in a world where popular culture -- which has gotten smart and serious -- also helps bring depth and meaning to our lives.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
As the economy in this country is violently shaken, money spent on live theatre is quickly becoming a rare commodity. Is there not a more important time to hold creative types to task? A critic must demand that creators avoid slipping into a Hollywood mindset of crafting flashy blockbusters; rather they carry forward the tradition of cultural enrichment.
A critic must stand alone, unaffected by any controlling interests or pressures to valiantly inform their reader. "It is only by remaining collected, and refusing to lend himself to the point of view of the practical man, that the critic can do the practical man any service," wrote Matthew Arnold.
There are eight cast members. Eight people on stage and just me sat watching them, wondering quite where to look, where to aim my eyes. When one performer stepped forward to deliver a monologue, my instinct was to meet his gaze but then I thought might prove distracting – so I settled on staring in a vaguely mid-torso direction.
Friday, February 13, 2009
To cap off the preshow dread, the ushers whispered as people were entering, "There will be two intermissions," which are the five least fortunate words in the history of live performance.
Personally, I don't mind two intermissions, or long shows. In fact, I sometimes wish there would be another intermission in some three hour shows.
Tony Kushner got it just about right. Each night of Angels in America runs close to 3 hours, but you physically don't feel like it is that long because there is an intermission about every 45 minutes to an hour.
The standard for longer plays seems to have become something like this: "ACT I will run 90 Minutes Long, ACT II will run 75 Minutes Long."
I know this sometimes has to do with Union regulations with regard to ending times, but sometimes I think two intermissions has become such a taboo that playwrights don't even consider it when thinking about the structure of their plays.
It is a very tricky thing to navigate. I read somewhere that Margaret Edson's W;t , originally had an intermission; the break was placed right after the professor's dissertation on the sonnet. Apparently, they were getting a lot of walkouts, so they decided to axe the intermission.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Today's Globe article about the current production of Endgame, with quotes from Robert Brustein on the famous Joanne Akalitis production, tells us that part of the deal for this production is that they will have to follow the script to the letter.
This time around, there will be no radical changes. In fact, the deal signed by the ART and Beckett's estate (he died in 1989) was that they follow the script to the letter: Every dramatic pause, every step and deep breath is scripted.
It's not easy to pull off, says Stern (Director,) who at first thought the directions would be limiting. But instead he says he finds it deeply challenging and exhilarating.
"It's very labor intensive and really exhausting," he says. "The task is really hyper-focused, but it's also very interesting getting the mechanics down. Normally it would be frustrating, but there is a great faith he's such a great writer that it will pay off to strictly adhere to his description."
This is a remarkable bit of pre-show marketing. Following the vision of the playwright is the risk?
It is a wonderful image here: Taking a deep breath, the ART says, "OK, we're going to try this thing. We've heard he's a great writer, I mean some people claim he's a genius, but let's hope that crazy old man knew what he was talking about. And don't say we didn't tell you so if doesn't work out."
How long does copyright extend today? According to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (also known as "the Mickey Mouse Protection Act," because Mickey was about to fall into the public domain), it lasts as long as the life of the author plus seventy years. In practice, that normally would mean more than a century. Most books published in the twentieth century have not yet entered the public domain. When it comes to digitization, access to our cultural heritage generally ends on January 1, 1923, the date from which great numbers of books are subject to copyright laws. It will remain there—unless private interests take over the digitizing, package it for consumers, tie the packages up by means of legal deals, and sell them for the profit of the shareholders. As things stand now, for example, Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt, published in 1922, is in the public domain, whereas Lewis's Elmer Gantry, published in 1927, will not enter the public domain until 2022
Funding for theater? Tim Robbins doesn't need money! Funding for art museums? Jeff Koons is rich! Funding for concert halls? Yo-Yo Ma is a superstar!
The glare of the celebrity spotlight obscures our view of the ticket-taker at Robbins' play trying to make ends meet, the preparator at Koons' museum exhibition struggling to put a kid through college or the education program coordinator at the concert hall where Yo-Yo Ma performs who has a pile of medical bills. Their jobs are at risk.
But they are anonymous, faceless. And of course, most artists are themselves obscure.
Hat tip Artsjournal.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Once you navigate up to the fourth floor and down the long hallway, you are informed that once you enter the space, you are not allowed to speak, must remove your shoes and coat, and that by entering, you are consenting to the actors touching you. God Bless You, Fringe Aesthetic!
Here he is on certain marketing practices:
I'll tell you another thing that I'm not a fan of: pretending things are sold out that aren't sold out. At a conference in NYC last year that I will not name, one of the keynote speakers was a "marketing expert" on Broadway and touring Broadway shows. The thrust of his whole presentation, believe it or not, was that your goal as a marketer was to create "perceived demand". In other words, if you make people think somebody wants your tickets, then those people will want your tickets.
Well, guess what. That only works if people really do want your tickets! You might manage to stimulate your already-committed base to action by putting part of the house on sale and then "selling out" and then putting another part on sale, but that's it. My counterpoint to this whole way of thinking is that if everyone took the energy they put into trying to generate this phony-baloney "perceived demand" and tried instead to generate ACTUAL demand, everyone would be much better off.
Monday, February 09, 2009
Theatre is hard, and there is a lot to learn. Failure will be constant, and should not be seen as anything but failure. You learn more from failure than success, but only if you look deeply at the failure and mine it for its treasure. There are thousands of years of theatre history. and theory, and criticism, and they need to be learned before young artists have the right to be taken seriously. And even then, there is more anthropology and psychology and philosophy and comparative religion to be understood before they have anything to say that will be of interest to anyone older than fifteen.
Our theatre is shallow, and it is because young artists emerge from their undergraduate and graduate experiences uneducated, unread, and unchallenged. If they read more than a couple dozen plays over the course of four years -- and I mean read the plays, not the on-line Spark Notes -- it is a rarity.
If we wanted proof of the mindlessness permeating the contemporary American theatre, we need look no further than the latest edition of American Theatre. In the midst of a massive social and economic crisis, one that not only will affect the arts but also one in which the arts could conceivably play an important role through the telling of a new story about who we are, Teresa Eyring, the titular head of arguably the most important organization on today's theatre scene, took to the bully pulpit, Marilyn Monroe-like, to gurgle a Happy Birthday to Facebook. Could we get a grown-up back in charge, please?
WaterTower Theatre has been one of the area's biggest artistic success stories in the 10 years since producing artistic director Terry Martin took over. Audiences grew steadily as awards kept piling up. There were even serious plans to build a much bigger space near the present one in Addison.
Last season ended in August with houses at 95 percent capacity. But ticket sales suddenly dropped by about 50 percent with the first two shows of the current season, which opened in October.
"If we're really lucky for the rest of the season, we could break even, but I wouldn't be surprised if we take a loss," Martin says. "If our season subscribers don't come back for next year, our second season in our Studio Theatre might have to go away."
I do wonder about the second stage building boom of the last decade. The good thing for theaters that built them is that they will probably still be able to rent them to smaller companies or traveling shows. But producing in them may not prove a profitable venture -less seats, but with some of the same costs as a mainstage production.
First, Bahan asks, (seriously, mind you,) if Frank Rich was not the last of the great drama critics?
Then she brings up a subject which, on the surface, would appear to be acceptable to all: A call for more journalism about the theatre community and the shows.
Local theater critics are journalists first. Journalists are
storytellers, and there are thousands of stories in this large and active theater community that just aren’t being written. Features about theater are often glossy, shallow puff pieces that are indistinguishable from reviews. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had someone say to me, after reading a feature story about a show that hadn’t opened yet, “Wow, great review in the paper today.” And the very sporadic stories that do get reported are disproportionately about money – or the lack thereof – and therefore focus on only the large theaters. Plus, because these stories are so sporadic and lacking in context, complex issues are boiled down to one line conclusions.
Sounds good, but look closely at the above paragraph and you can see Bahan's slight suggestion; by equating critics with journalists she is setting up the reader for what comes later.
She then goes on to energize her audience with examples of all the exciting "stories" that are out there in the theater community. Finally, she offers an example of "critic and journalist" Christopher Piatt of Timeout Chicago:
Piatt and his team are writing stories that would make me cringe as a publicist if their counterparts in the Twin Cities attempted them. But he’s doing them in a way that provides context and poses tough questions without seeming to pursue an agenda. His stories are fully reported and sourced – nowhere in his stories did I read, “Some say…” or “The theater community is buzzing about…” – both phrases used by journalists who have no sources to confirm their own opinions. Real arts journalism is informative and detailed and
interesting, and it makes theater relevant.
Notice again, Bahan conflates reviewing and journalism with the careful dismissal of "opinions."
In the conclusion, Bahan feels she has laid enough groundwork to just come out and say it:
So, as our local newspapers hemorrhage money and staff, I challenge our arts journalists to do something heroic on their way out the door. Stop writing reviews and focus your energy on journalism.
In fact, I’m begging you. Just tell the stories.
The irony is that while Bahan does see the way forward in blogs and online publications, she doesn't see that artistic success or failure of the productions theaters are putting on is still the IMPORTANT information. Unfortunately, yes, we sometimes have to deal with taste and reviewers who may not be that interested in theatre history.
Actually, the whole article reads like a Communication Director's dream. More feature stories about how great the show is going to be, and, then, more stories about how great the show is going.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
THE discovery that someone in your life is not as clearly defined as you once believed can be an illuminating, unnerving or disorienting experience. Devastating, of course, if the someone is a mate and the news involves anything in the lipstick-on-the-collar departmentAnd yet at the theater the revelation of new layers and unsuspected motives in the people onstage is a distinctly pleasurable sensation. What might appall us in reality — the unearthing of duplicity or betrayal — can delight in drama. It is not just a matter of simple surprise, titillating though a well-turned revelation can be. Nor is it that old reliable human failing, schadenfreude.
Hedda, a general’s daughter, is extremely spoiled and petulant. Ibsen, despite creating a razor-sharp character, only hints as to why this is. For the actress playing Hedda, the challenge is to color in the lines, to drop clues as to what makes her such a bitch.
Hedda only married a bland academic, Jorgen Tesman (a serviceable Michael Cerveris), whom she does not love, to toy with him. When Tesman’s erstwhile academic rival, Eljert Lvborg (a keen Paul Sparks), arrives, Hedda is orgasmic at the idea of making mischief, wedging herself between Eljert and her former schoolmate, earnest Thea Elvsted (a spasmodic Ana Reeder).
Were Hedda less enigmatic, Ibsen’s plot would make the play a potboiler.
Saturday, February 07, 2009
I will also say this, and it's something worth keeping in mind. We are at the very beginning of the post-NEA 4 comeback for arts advocacy in this country. We're in maybe like chapter two, with chapter one being Dana Gioia's rather clever tactical conservatism vis-a-vis new programming. I don't know that anyone who lived through the NEA-4 case would've thought that a decade after that case was resolved and the NEA's funding was shredded a guy would be elected President with a coherent and relatively ambitious arts policy. And now we've learned. It's gonna be harder than we thought. Time to get our heads on straight and fight the good fight. :
This should strike fear into the hearts of anyone who cares about the arts, because it reveals a truth that our arts advocates are too timid to state out loud and which the rest of us seem to have forgotten: when Republicans get cornered, they lash out at artists. And as for the reference to Roosevelt, read my Fox Forum essay -- I said this first. Bob Lynch, are you listening?
So, while the NEA may get its funding boost, all it'll do is stir the pot of anti-arts sentiment. (I mean, for heaven's sake, read some of the 100-plus comments my essay received on the Fox Forum. It's as if most of those people didn't actually read what I wrote.
"I hope he was arrested on charges of attempting to dj his own art opening. I hate it when people do that."
Toward the end of this largely unsurprising, uh, celebration of one man’s life and accomplishments, Mr. Bush, reincarnated by the comedian and movie star Will Ferrell, asks theatergoers to tell him their occupations, so he can give them the gift of his own pet names.
Occupational therapist,” called out one woman at the performance I attended. “Helen Keller,” answered Mr. Ferrell as Mr. Bush, without pausing to think. “Bike messenger,” said another person. “I’ll call you Lance Armstrong,” responded Mr. Ferrell. But the coup de grâce came when a voice (not mine) yelled, “Reviewer,” and the man onstage answered, with the impact of a thrusting sword, “Obsolete profession.”
And an article in the Times today tells of how six audience members have walked out of the show in a huff:
But they haven’t been leaving after a particular Ferrell quip.
They’ve been standing up, instead, after the projection of a supersize photo on the backdrop of the stage. A photo of a penis. Specifically, as Mr. Ferrell (who plays President Bush) leads the audience to believe, the president’s penis. Except that’s not quite right.
“It’s an anonymous but age-appropriate public domain Internet penis,” said Adam McKay, the play’s director. “We went on the Web and got a penis.”