Thursday, April 30, 2009

Beckett - The Language As Obstacle

J.M. Coetzee reviews Samuel Beckett's letters in the latest New York Review of Books:

One of the recurring questions about Beckett is why he turned from English to French as his main literary language. On this subject a revealing document is a letter he wrote, in German, to a young man named Axel Kaun whom he had met during his 1936–1937 tour of Germany. In the frankness with which it addresses his own literary ambitions, this letter to a comparative stranger comes as a surprise: even to McGreevy he is not so ready to explain himself.

To Kaun he describes language as a veil that the modern writer needs to tear apart if he wants to reach what lies beyond, even if what lies beyond may only be silence and nothingness. In this respect writers have lagged behind painters and musicians (he points to Beethoven and the silences in his scores). Gertrude Stein, with her minimalist verbal style, has the right idea, whereas Joyce is moving in quite the wrong direction, toward "an apotheosis of the word."

Though Beckett does not explain to Kaun why French should be a better vehicle than English for the "literature of the non-word" that he looks forward to, he identifies " offizielles Englisch," formal or cultivated English, as the greatest obstacle to his ambitions.

Freelance Nation

Wendy Rosenfield is blogging from the American Theater Critics Association Annual Meeting:

As I mentioned yesterday, this year's attendees are mostly freelancers, though they didn't all start out that way. Even ATCA's chair, Chris Rawson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, took a buyout recently and now writes for his paper as a freelancer. Rawson said he took the buyout when his union's rules regarding former staffers became more freelancer-friendly. Before, if you took the buyout, it was goodbye forever; now, well, if they did that, it would be goodbye forever to the paper as well. Used to be that freelancers were viewed as industry scabs; now we are the industry.

Wanna Be a Producer?

Ken Davenport tells us just how things break down behind the scenes, while dispelling some common myths:

While the average smaller investor in a big Broadway show is probably about $25,000, I have seen many shows where investors were able to get in for as little as $10,000, and even a few where the entry point was only $5,000! There are a lot of publicly traded mutual funds that don't allow you to get in at that level. These lower investment thresholds are very common in the Off-Broadway arena.

What determines the lowest investment level? Here's how it works. Capitalizations are divided into 'units', just like shares of a stock. What defines a unit is up to the Producer. Some Producers like to have a round 100 units per show, regardless of the capitalization. Some like to pick the lowest amount they can accept as an investment (some shows are limited to the # of investors they can have). Some just make it up arbitrarily.

Here's a tip. If you're considering a show and you get sticker shock when you hear the price of one unit? Ask for a partial. Splitting units ain't like splitting an atom.

Why NOT a Capital Campaign for Artistic Staff?

Over at 99 Seats, they are discussing "human" capital campaigns:

In my experience, staff expenses always come from general operating costs and these are the hardest funds to raise. A lot of theatres and
organizations assign part of dedicated funds for gen op, but getting someone to give you money for staffing needs seems impossible.

So we raise money for things from people who prioritize things. They want their name on something, want something they can point at and say "I built that." Hiring a staff member, that won't do. The big question is why do we want that money? Could we find people who want to support purely artistic work and get the money from them? Or even can we negotiate? "Sure, fine, you get naming rights on this column and on this developemental program." That would at least
be something.

Boston Theatre News

Today's buzz about Hub Theatre:

Larry Starkthinks the end of this season is very strong. (He makes special mention of the Publick's Humble Boy and Apollonaire's Men of Tortuga.)

Merrimack Rep's Moon for the Misbegotten gets reviewed in the Boston Globe.

The Hub Review peruses the new season brochure for the American Repertory Theater, and finds some things missing.

In the Phoenix, Chris Farone previews The Caitlin County Hemp Wars, a new musical. The Cambridge Chronicle also has a pre-show piece.

Meanwhile, Providence Phoenix brings us word of a panel discussion about "success and failure" in America. The article tells us, "The discussion, as always, will center around an underappreciated date in American history. This week, it's '1949: Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman First Produced.' "

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Tampa Actor On Todd Olson

Mike Daisey publishes a letter from a Tampa area actor about the recent back-and-forth between Daisey and Todd Olson, Artistic Director of American Stage Company.

I have enjoyed reading your correspondence with Todd Olson -- producing artistic director at American Stage Company in St. Petersburg, Florida -- and honestly, I see solid points made on both sides, as I think you do.

However, one important fact has been obscured in the dialogue: When Olson says his theater is "fully AEA," he means he has a contract with Actors Equity -- NOT that all of the actors he hires are Equity members. I'm not sure what contract he is on now, but he can and does use a fair proportion of non-Equity actors. Such obfuscation is not uncommon among small theaters with Equity contracts, as they rely upon the misperception that Equity = professional and non-Equity = non-professional to puff up their stature with statements such as "fully Equity."

Why does this matter? It matters because many of Olson's points are predicated on the assumption that all of his actors are Equity. Talk of how his actors have access to health insurance, of the struggles of finding a way to pay actors more than scale, of the comparatively low pay to his staff, or of what he considers silly ancillary Equity requirements (breaks, cots, etc.) is disingenuous, given that many of his actors have no insurance, are paid well below Equity scale, and are not entitled to most Equity protections -- although they do share in the breaks, and I suppose no one would object if they fainted onto the cot.

Read the whole letter and I think you will agree that the situation for actors in Florida mirrors that of many regions across the country. This includes Boston, where many actors choose to avoid Equity if they can.

I've Been Everywhere Man....

Terry Teachout feels another New York Critic isn't giving enough due to the regional productions of great plays that go on all the time:

Why am I going on about this? Partly because I'm proud of the
exhaustingly hard work that I put into covering American regional theater, but mostly because it disturbs me that The Wall Street Journal is the only national general-interest publication that bothers to cover plays outside the New York area with any regularity. Yes, the Broadway transfer of the Old Vic revival of The Norman Conquests is big news, and I strongly recommend that everyone reading these words go and see all three installments. But it's also big news that the Milwaukee Repertory Theater has already revived The Norman Conquests, not just once but twice--and the biggest news of all is that equally great revivals of equally great plays are taking place from coast to coast, not once in a while but week after week.

That's the stop-press news about American theater. You don't have
to go to New York to see first-rate shows. You can see them in the place where you live, or in a city not too far from your home town--but save on the rarest of occasions, you can't read about them in Time or Newsweek or the New York Times.

Boston Theatre News

Today in Boston Theatre News...

Carolyn Clay reviews Underground Railway's Life of Galileo, Zeitgeist's Spring Awakening and New Rep's Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

Thom Garvey notes that even in this economy, the arts seem to be finishing strong this season.

The Globe can't print the full title of the Gold Dust Orphan's new show, Willy Wanker and the Hershey Highway, but Louise Kennedy reviews it.

Kay Bourn profiles local actor and medical doctor, Brian Richard Robinson, who can be seen in Speakeasy's Jerry Springer, The Opera.

Trinity Rep's Shapeshifter is reviewed in the Providence Journal and previewed in the Providence Phoenix.

The Providence Phoenix also reviews Perishable Theatre's The Thing That Ate My Brain...Almost.

Todd Williams, at the Huntington's blog, points out some major construction going on outside the Boston University Theater. He also has some set construction news for Pirates.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Marketing Performances - Amusing Anecdotes

Since participating in the blogosphere, I have heard several anecdotes about how Irish performers seem to have something tenacious in their blood when it comes to promotion.

Don Hall, the Angry White Guy From Chicago, once blogged about running into an Irish solo performer who was actually cold calling residents in the area of the theater about his show. The actor told Don, "The alternative is, I starve, eh?"

Last night, a student in one of my classes, (he is from Ireland,) told of how an Irish performer he knew got booked into a theater here in the states for a six week run of his solo show.

All well and good, but when the performer happened to see the marketing the theater was putting out - "Six Week Engagement!" - he was amazed.

"What are you doing?" he asked the theater management. "You don't say the show will be running for SIX weeks! You say that it is 'TWO WEEKS ONLY!' Then, you keep 'EXTENDING' it by 'POPULAR DEMAND!' "

It was as if this was the most basic thing in the world.

Boston Theatre News

Today in the Boston Theatre...

Ian Thal has details of the strange, lone picketer at the reading of his new play Total War.

Thom Garvey checks out the Boston Ballet's Sleeping Beauty.

Jenna Scherer reviews Merrimack Rep's Moon for the Misbegotten.

The Longwood Players' Nine and the Boston Conservatory's Showboat are reviewed by Carl Rossi in the Theatermirror.

The Edge's Killian Melloy takes in the new Gold Dust Orphan's show, Willy Wanker and the Hershey Highway.

Joyce Kulhawik will be honored as Stagesource's Theatre Hero.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spring -(er) is in the Air

The Globe has a pre-show piece about Speakeasy Stage Company's production of Jerry Springer, The Opera. They are expecting some protests.

Meanwhile, word comes that Ian Thal's reading of his play Total War was actually picketed last night. I'm sure Ian will have some details soon.

Maybe it's the warm weather?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Last Weekend!

100_4845, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

We have had a great run, with sold out houses and great critical response as well.

There may be a few tickets left for the Saturday Matinee. But otherwise, we are full to capacity.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Todd Olson Versus Mike Daisey

For those Mirror readers who may not be aware of it, below are links to an online dust up between Mike Daisey and Todd Olson, Artistic Director of American Stage Theatre Company.

Todd Olson sent an e-mail to Mike Daisey in response to Mike's monologue How Theatre Failed America, which has been playing around the country since last year, including a sold out run at the Public in New York.

Actually, Olson's e-mail seemed more of a response to an essay titled The Empty Spaces , which, reportedly, was a limited or condensed version of some of the things discussed in How Theatre Failed America.

Here is Olson's original e-mail to Daisey, with Daisey's point-by-point responses included.

And here is Olson's full reply to Daisey, (published in full on Isaac Butler's blog.)

They are both quite lengthy, but probably worth a read if you care about these issues.

UPDATE: Mike Daisey, has a response to Olson's email up on his blog now.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Seeing the Light?

Natasha Tripney talks about how lighting design is usually left out of the critical equation:

When the curtain went up on Michael Grandage's otherwise disappointing Madame de Sade a few weeks ago, there were gasps of delight among the audience. And it was indeed a gasp-worthy sight: the set simply shimmered. Why? Because it was brilliantly lit.


The lighting of a production is not always so striking; it doesn't always need to be. Often its job is not to distract, not to stand out. Perhaps this is why, when the various annual theatre awards are reported in the media, the winners of the technical categories usually merit only a brief mention. Lighting isn't a solid, physical thing like a set or a costume. It's a hard art to pin down; unless, as was the case with Madame de Sade, the critics are struggling to find positive things to note, it is rare for lighting to receive such emphasis in reviews.

Last Week for Superheroines - See What You're Missing

"Look in the Mirror"

Leonard Jacobs reports on actor Walter Brandes, who sent out an e-mail to fellow AEA members. The letter starts like this:

Hi All,

So I got my AEA election ballot in the mail and was really struck that all individuals nominated are Broadway people……basically…..these are people that are not struggling to get acting work. They have agents that can get them gigs backed by high-paying producers. Maybe one nominee has a showcase code as the type of contracts they have worked under.

This made me think that maybe my union is not properly supporting me because officers represent the successful 2% because they fall into that category. We need an officer who’s base makes up a majority of the actors. One who understands that it is to be unrepresented re agents and managers. One that spearheads efforts in their own company to CREATE ART!

I would like all AEA actors who get this to enter my name in the blank section of the ballot. ...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Not That He's Bragging...

But Rob Kozlowski would like to point something out...

For the second year in a row, a play that originated in Chicago has won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, according to The play is Lynn Nottage's Ruined. What does this prove, you ask? It proves that Chicago is better. Arguments from New Yorkers are null and void, since their responses can only be marked by the torment and anguish of seeing over a century's dominance over the American theater crumble into dust like Pompeii, lo, those many years ago

Can We Make Money Off This Blogging Thing?

Thomas Garvey says, keep dreaming...

Back in its early days, when adolescent rhetoric was the lingua franca of the faithful, people simply assumed the Internet would be economically empowering, that it would somehow usher in an economic utopia. Several stock crashes and a zillion bankruptcies later, with libertarianism in ruins and capitalism on the brink - and with Web 2.0 enterprises like Facebook still unable to make a dime - we should know in our bones that's not the case.

In fact, people are finally beginning to come to terms with the way in which the Internet actually destroys value rather than creates it. Indeed, the web may be the most efficient wealth-destruction machine ever devised. This was always the flip side of its immense efficiencies; the Internet made economic processes far less expensive, true, and cut out middlemen hither, thither and yon; but it also undercut the physical framework that made "value" possible.

The Secret Is Out

How to write for the American theatre.

In flowchart form.

H/T Isaac.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Lois Lane Says, "Don't Wait To Get Tickets!"

The Superheroines have been filling the house every night. We have this weekend and then next week.

After that, the heroines will be back on the one dimensional pages of comic books or the flat, distant screens of television and movies.

Get your tickets now, and you can see them up close, in 3-D! And be privy to their most intimate confessions and hilarious foibles.

By the way, that's me in the Superman suit. The far-off look I have is me planning my next costume change. Don't worry, I won't let my lovely wife, (Amanda Good Hennessey,) drop to floor.

For Playwrights - A View From the Other Side

Tony, the Artistic Director of Halcyon in Chicago, gives us an idea of what it is like to try and put together a season:

Needless to say I'm behind on my reading. We've gotten around 450 submissions since August. That's not including published works folks recommended and festival submissions. At my best I can usually average a script a day with everything else and the day job. When it rains it pours I guess.

I'm reading as fast as I can, and probably have some pissed off some playwrights. Well at least one, as we passed on "a play that was optioned for Broadway, simply because they thought it was one of the most important plays of the last decade." Or something like that. He was quite angry.

Due to the amount of submissions we have adjusted our selection policy to a rolling basis as well. We are no longer considering plays for production times based on when we received them. We also found that we've received far more great plays than we can produce in any given year. So for plays that are still being reviewed they are still under-consideration, even if not for this next year.

The one thing we want to make sure of is we are not giving playwrights short shrift, simply to get through them quicker.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Is Your Theatre Applebees?

From our Angry White Guy in Chicago:

Go to an Applebees. Order the Buffalo Chicken Strips Appetizer and the Orange Chicken Entree. What you will get is five turd-shaped pieces of breaded chicken with some buffalo sauce and blue cheese followed by the same damn chicken turds smothered in orange sauce on rice. If the theater you create is nothing but a breaded chicken turd and you throw money at it to create the unique sauce, it's time to let the life cycle of your company pass on to the annals of history.

The symptom with theater is only a problem of perception. When enough of us (and with the economy dwindling in the shitter, the DIY aesthetic of the little gypsy theaters will grow) cease to perceive theater as a means to establish permanence and lifelong security and embrace the only aspect of it that matters - immediacy - the pendulum will swing.

Norton Nominations

The Elliot Norton Award Nominations are announced. You can see the full rundown here.

No huge surprises (good or bad) although my standing questions, about how they determine which shows and performances are in which categories, remain this year.

The Norton's keep the program very lean compared to the IRNE's, which are more inclusive and incorporate, (as their name implies,) a larger geographical sweep of the area.

One small (nice) surprise was the nomination of Wizzin' for Best New Script.

Another interesting note: If it wasn't for Endgame, the ART wouldn't have made much of a showing.

Paulus Talks About the Upcoming ART Season

Carolyn Clay talks to ART Artistic Director Diane Paulus about next season at the American Repertory Theatre:

The Donkey Show kicks off one of three festivals that are the season's theme setters. This one, called "Shakespeare Exploded," also includes Best of Both Worlds, by Weiner and Diedre Murray, an R&B-and-gospel-infused "soulful re-envisioning" of The Winter's Tale (with a rotating roster of local gospel choirs), and the British troupe Punchdrunk's Sleep No More, which Paulus describes as "vignettes and themes from Macbeth told in a sensory journey through the lens of a Hitchcock film." Best of Both Worlds will unfold at the Loeb Drama Center, but Sleep No More, which invites audiences to wander as if through an art installation, will take place off site.

Neither of the works Paulus will direct contains a word actually written by Shakespeare, but she compares The Donkey Show with a trip to the Bard's stomping grounds nonetheless. "The audience, very much like in the Globe Theatre, is standing like groundlings, watching the action. There are VIP boxes, just like there were in the Globe, if you prefer to sit and watch. You have kind of royalty side by side with the working class, which was also very Studio 54. It was considered democracy on the dance floor; you could be a kid from Queens dancing next to Elizabeth Taylor." And you will get to dance at The Donkey Show. You will also get to drink, socialize, and text your digits off if you feel like it.

We will finally get to see Elevator Repair Service's Gatz and, strangely enough, a new musical about the Red Sox.

Most intriguing to me though is Clifford Odets' Paradise Lost.

There is also a festival called Emerging America, which will be a collaboration with the Huntington and the ICA.

North Shore Music Theater Turns to Co-Productions

Geoff Edgers, writing in the Boston Globe:

So far North Shore has raised about $400,000. In January, layoffs took effect for many employees, and North Shore began to come up with a new plan: to co-produce shows with other companies, thereby saving North Shore large sums of money spent on expenses for such things as travel, auditions, and lodging when creating a production on its own.

"Under this co-production model, I don't need as much money before we put on a show," said David Fellows, chair of North Shore's board of trustees. "The second part is I make sure I make money off every show I do."

Fellows is amazed at the outpouring of support, but also has an interesting observation in the article about large donors to struggling organizations.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Why Be Poor?

From a Nation interview with acclaimed playwright Young Jean Lee:

You have a deal to write a movie for Paramount. What does all this mean for you as a writer?

I worked for two years on The Shipment, and a few thousand people saw it. I don't want to stop doing theater--there is definitely something in the live-performance experience that could never be replaced by film. I was talking to Tim Etchells, from a company called Forced Entertainment in England, who's been doing this since the '80s. I asked him, "How do you become you?" He said, "You just survive. You keep making shows no matter what happens." Everybody of the older generation still making experimental theater today, they are such rock stars because they've weathered so many ups and downs. I'm almost 35, and all my life I've never cared about money at all. I made almost nothing--people can't believe what I live on--and I've never cared. And now I'm almost 35, and suddenly, for the first time, I don't want to be poor. That's how you lose people.

H/T Mike Daisey

Chicago Critics to AD's - Please Communicate

Kris Vire holds an intervention at Storefront Rebellion:

We aren't angry; we want to tell you this to help you, because we love you. But the thing is, Chicago theater community, you have a problem. You have an addiction to the same damn shows, and it's hurting us and it's hurting you.

We've tried taking you aside gently to explain how difficult it is to see you treating yourself this way—City Lit opening Old Times one week, Remy Bumppo opening Old Times three weeks later?


But what really hurts us are the signs that you've no intention of changing your ways. Mere months after the Triple Dracula incident, you announce a Hypocrites Frankenstein even while BoHo's Frankenstein is in the room? That's just hurtful. Not to mention the indignity heaped upon Quest's just-closed Into the Woods by Porchlight's announcement of Into the Woods. And Porchlight's forthcoming revival of The Fantasticks, to be followed a few months later by Promethean's forthcoming revival of The Fantasticks. (Poor Promethean, who opened Tony Kushner's The Illusion in a weird holiday slot that cost them a lot of reviews, only to be eclipsed by Court's announcement of Tony Kushner's The Illusion for next season. As if Promethean's production hadn't happened at all.)

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Wonder Woman Says, Join The Fight!

Buy Bonds, or....

Superheroine Tickets!

The show opens tomorrow night!

That's Shawna O'Brien as 1940's Wonder Woman and Terrence Patrick Haddad as Steven Trevor.

Your humble blogger plays numerous supporting characters with some pretty elaborate costumes. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Citizen Reviews

Are theatre artists prepared for it?

I have noticed more comments appearing after Globe and Herald reviews lately. And, of course, the ART bravely posts pretty much unfiltered audience feedback on its company blog.

But the new ARTSBOSTON website, still in beta, is getting active already with reviews from patrons. Check out the reviews of The Wrestling Patient.

Monday, April 06, 2009

How Do You Mentor a Young Critic?

Andrew Haydon in the Guardian:

It's curious that in Britain we appear to possess an almost instinctive understanding of what a "proper" review looks like. In fact, this is simply a matter of recognition, a largely unconscious absorption and reproduction of the current dominant model. That is to say: the snappy, attention-grabbing opener; the brief synopsis of "what it's about"; a paragraph on the production; a paragraph expanding on what it all means, and then a neat conclusion, all packaged in a piece of writing between 250 – 500 words long. Other desirable elements include: attending upon the event, noting a key detail to give an impression of the whole, attempts to evoke the acting and atmosphere and establishing a strong through-line on the piece.

Give or take, this is pretty much the standard model used across the papers and magazines that cover theatre. In a bad week, you can still see this construction through a critic's writing. But there is a problem with this form. On one hand, it's a perfectly adequate model and a useful mental discipline. On the other hand, it can quickly become a repressive tyranny.

When I was tutoring the BAC/Time Out young critics programme, I felt torn between telling them "well, this is pretty much how it's done", and not wanting to immediately slot their upsettingly acute minds into thinking of one model as a "proper review".

The problem is it feels that if one were to write in a different way, it might look like one had failed to understand what a review is meant to look like.

Wonder Woman In Training

Wonder Woman and Fan, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

Wonder Woman gives some pointers to a young Amazon in training at the Boston Comic Con this past weekend. We were at the Con to promote the Superheroine Monologues, which opens Friday!

Get Your Tickets, (They Are Going Very Fast,) Today!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Note For Young Companies

For those young theatre artists forming companies here in Boston, thinking about what plays to do, maybe start with reading some of those in this post by Alexis Soloski in the Guardian:

It's a source of frustration for most drama critics and theatre professors that some of our best-loved plays are rarely or never produced. High on my list of plays I'd kill to see: Karel Čapek's The Makropoulos Case, Antonin Artaud's Jet of Blood, John Ford's The Broken Heart (which features theatre's most gruesome wedding scene), and any number of French and English melodramas that have fallen from favour. I'm a sucker for spectacle and for scripts that pose great scenographic difficulties. How do you make that bosom teem with milk? How do you stage a wedding with a corpse?

Soloski solicits suggestions from her readers.

How about it Mirror readers? Any neglected plays you would kill to see here in Boston?

How the Audience Breaks Down

Over on Broadway World, Joe DiPietro writer of the book and lyrics for the new Toxic Avenger musical has an amusing breakdown of a typical theatre audience.

Here is a taste:

2 - THE PROVE-IT-TO-ME'S: These folks are all urban dwellers who have seen way too many shows in their lifetimes and have spent at least two hours of their lives in a deep conversation as to who was better in "Gypsy," Patti or Bernadette. It takes them a long time to start laughing at a show (hence, the prove-it-to-me attitude) but once they realize that what they're watching is not crap, they generally warm up and have a good time. As a side note, I've dated many of these people and they happen to be terrible in bed.


4. THE I'M-REALLY-ENJOYING-THIS-BUT-I'M-NOT-GOING-TO-LAUGH-SO-I-CAN-DRIVE-THE-AUTHOR-CRAZY CROWD: Okay, although I love ALL audience members, just as I love ALL critics, this group is not my favorite. They sit and watch and oftentimes they jump to their feet and applaud as soon as the show is over, but they barely react during the show -- just some limp laughing here and there. Then when they leave they say things like, "That was the funniest show I've ever seen." While I am glad that they're happy, I have died a little bit inside.