Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tony Kushner's Latest Play

In case you are interested, and you probably should be, Tony Kushner has a new play up at the Guthrie.

Reviews are out:

City Pages:

A thorough plot summary would send the cockiest writer at CliffsNotes crying to a psychiatrist. Suffice it to say that, in the course of three acts, matters concern prostitution, a failed doctoral thesis, artificial insemination, and a net of lies, strained bonds, and the disillusion of convictions. There is also, as one might imagine, a great deal of hollering.

Minneapolis Post:

To follow that thread, I suppose “Intelligent Homosexual's Guide ...” could be compared to Shaw’s “Heartbreak House,” a play that combines farce with broken hearts and self-absorbed characters and is highly admired while also being considered “difficult.” The characters in this play teeter between sharply drawn people and spouting didactic fountains -- so the rhythm of the play is a blend of speechifying, non-fake punch lines and aching emotion. For the most part, it’s a combination that keeps things moving along. You seldom tire of hearing these people talk.


The action is all naturalistic, with long scenes that play out as family drama, roaring emotion clashing with decades of unspoken resentment; the feints, parries and misdirection of contemporary communication are rendered in lavish detail.

To say Kushner is working at a high level is an understatement. Every passion in these characters' lives is a contradiction, each pleasure arriving with thorny conditions. And in fusing the thunderclaps of intense family life with the politics of labor (including the biological kind), the writer connects the mundane and the lofty with a scope that suggests an affectionate nod to English-language naturalists such as Arthur Miller.

Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Now the playwright can set his hands to clarifying his irresolute intentions, for Kushner has not yet discovered his own purpose in writing this play.

It is a very American work -- a dense rush of ideas and diatribes about the working man, wealth, spiritual unease and meaningful purpose. Gus finds his exaltation in union wages and justice rather than sales commissions, but he lives only a subway ride away from Willy Loman.

Pioneer Press:

The most notable aspect of the play — receiving its world premiere at the Guthrie Theater as the capstone of the company's Kushner Celebration — is how conventional it is. The man who twisted time and circumstance in "Angels in America" and who made appliances and the moon sing in "Caroline, or Change" has constructed a rudimentary kitchen-sink drama overlaid with speechifying and political pedagogy. A mash-up of Arthur Miller and Clifford Odets with a sprinkling of "On the Waterfront," "Intelligent Homosexual" struggles as much as it strives.

Playwright Jeff Key , Speaks Up

The Gay Marine, whose solo show is playing in Boston right now, sits down with Bay Windows:

"As we do this interview, there’s a young gay kid right now seriously contemplating suicide," he says, sitting outside of J.P. Licks in Mission Hill wearing a black "Iraq Veterans Against the War" t-shirt. "The people who claim that homosexuality is an abomination are the same people who perpetuate the atrocities currently happening in the Middle East. Just last week in Afghanistan our bombs burnt the skin off innocent women and children," Key says, with tears welling up as he speaks.

"This whole bizarre concept that they weave together as being the righteous position which includes bombing innocent people and oppressing gay people is something right out 1930s Germany," he emotes. "When will it end?"


"Gay marriage is a great lightning rod because it poses a simple question: Are we Americans like everybody else or are we not? It’s so peculiar that gay men are labeled as weak, that we’re the ’weaker sex.’ When we ban together, there isn’t a stronger group. If all of the alphabet groups, all of the LGBTQs out there in the world, stick together ... there’s no stopping us."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Los Angeles Equity Waiver Wars

Rob Kendt has the first part of his article on the explosion of the theatre scene in Los Angeles during the late 80's and early 90's.

Indeed, by 1980, according to a study by Scott Henderson, the number of small theaters had increased to 124 theaters and 41 independent production companies from a mere 45 in 1970. Many ensembles and artists that are fixtures on today’s L.A. theater scene trace their beginnings to this first decade, from the Matrix to Colony to the Victory. And a few that had already existed in non-Equity form, such as East West Players, Company of Angels, and the Odyssey, were given new life and legitimacy by the Waiver.

Curiously, L.A.’s midsized theaters-hence theaters offering paying Equity contracts-also began to thrive in the ensuing decades, as the Taper achieved national fame in mid-1970s, the Westwood Playhouse opened in 1975, and the Pasadena Playhouse made a second entrance in 1986.

H/T Matt Freeman.

The Prof Has a New Home on the Web

Scott Walters, who has contributed to the blogosphere from his weblog Theatre Ideas, is now starting a new blog, to go with his new project.

The NEA has given a grant for Scott to explore his Less than 100K Project. And so his thoughts can now be read at the <100K Project blog.

Congratulations to Scott Walters. And for everybody who still says there are no actions or results to come from the discussions that go on in the blogosphere....well...let's just leave it that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Billington on Sky Arts Televising Plays

Michael Billington writes a column on SkyArts upcoming season of half hour, live televised plays.

He is hopeful overall, but a little dismayed by the fact the project completely snubs actual playwrights, instead opting to commission novelists to write the playlets.

And one more thing raises his brow:

One other aspect of the Sky package dismays me: the prospect of each play being prefaced with behind-the-scenes-rehearsal footage. This is an idea that has been done to death on television: viewers, in fact, are more familiar these days with the process of making art than with the end product. We are more used to seeing directors poncing about or conductors haranguing the second violins than we are to seeing and hearing great plays and symphonies.

More on the Sky Arts project here.

Boston Theater News

Today Around the Hub

At the Theatermirror Stuart Kurtz reviews the Lyric's Grey Gardens. And Beverley Creasey gives another look at the same show.

Jenna Scherer reviews Eyes of Babylon in the Boston Herald.

David Mamet's Romance is examined by Nick Dussalt in the Metro.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Do the Arts Make You Better At Math and Science

Researchers say... not as far as we can see:

Much of the research into the arts has centered on music and the brain. One researcher studying students who go to an arts high school found a correlation between those who were trained in music and their ability to do geometry.

A four-year study, conducted by Ellen Winner of Boston College and Gottfried Schlaug of Harvard, is looking at the effects of playing the piano or the violin on students in elementary school.

Winner said she was skeptical of claims that schools offering fine arts had seen an increase in test scores and a generally better school climate. She said she had examined those assertions and found that they couldn't be backed up by research.

The study Winner is working on has shown that children who receive a small amount of musical training -- as little as half an hour of lessons a week and 10 minutes of practice a day -- do have structural changes in their brains that can be measured. And those students, Winner said, were better at tests that required them to use their fingers with dexterity.

"It is the first study to demonstrate brain plasticity in young children related to music playing," Schlaug said.

About 15 months after the study began, students who played the instrument were not better at math or reading, although the researchers are questioning whether they have assessments that are sensitive enough to measure the changes.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Case For Stoppard

From the Independent in London:

What will endure from the plays of the late 20th century? Already, the theatre that caused the greatest fuss at the time – the in-yer-face shockers by Mark Ravenhill, Martin McDonagh and friends – look flashy and shallow and strangely dated; only Sarah Kane's psychological slashing seems to have survived from this flashing pack of playwrights. Yet one genre seems to have solidified as the decades pass into bona fide masterpieces, and will perhaps define that period: the play of ideas.

It looks now like the theatre from the 1980s and 1990s that tried to dramatise the great intellectual mudslides and forest fires of its time has thrived better than any other – from Michael Frayn's Copenhagen to Caryl Churchill's Top Girls to Terry Johnson's Insignificance. Using the old theatrical forms of the comedy or the thriller, they ask the most profound questions – what is human life for, and how it should it be lived? Standing above them all, making the case for the entire genre, is perhaps the greatest play of its time: Arcadia by Tom Stoppard.

Kushner 24/7

The Guthrie Theatre has made a significant investment in their Kushner festival. How do you calculate the success of such a project?

Dominic Papatola takes a go at assessing it in the Pioneer Press:

They've tied up all three stages for the better part of the spring with the work of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. They've provided time, resources and shelter to allow him room to wrestle his newest play into shape: The kid-glove treatment includes a week's delay of opening night and a down-to-the-wire rehearsal period that had actors reading from scripts during preview performances 48 hours before opening night. There are Kushner seminars, Kushner speeches, Kushner continuing legal education seminars; everything but Kushner knishes at the theater's restaurant.

Tonight comes the capstone of all this Kushner-mania: the world premiere of "The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures," a drama set in Brooklyn but peppered with Minnesota references and centering on an unorthodox family reunion. To say the world is watching is an overstatement, but in the world of American theater, this is a big deal.

Guthrie officials declined to put a public price on the festival's cost, but the endeavor easily runs into seven figures. How does that significant investment pay off for the theater, the playwright, the local community and the national theater scene?

Spoiler Alert?

Critic Wendy Rosenfield ponders the advantages and disadvantages to reading a script before reviewing a production:

Yesterday, I had a conversation with my editor about the practice of reading scripts ahead of a performance--a performance I'm supposed to review. Lately, I've been trying to make that a regular practice, but also lately I've discovered I'm having trouble bottling a sense of spontaneity in my reviews. Coincidence?


Today's review, of the Wilma Theater's production of Terry Johnson's Hysteria, begins with a direct comparison between the script and its staged counterpart. In this case, I felt the comparison was absolutely fair. After all, if a play jumps off the page, it ought to similarly jump off the stage. I discussed the issue some more with my editor, who concluded that reading the script beforehand might have caused me to cut the production some extra slack. So what to do?

Join the Conversation!? - New Age of Critical Warfare

I noted last night that the Globe review Pirates had about 19 comments as of midnight.

This morning it has about 25. Unusually active for a review on the Globe site.

Then I see that on the Huntington blog, Michael Maso, Managing Director, has ordered his troops into battle:

In over three decades of producing plays, I have never felt such a disconnect between the experience in the theatre and the reflection of a critic. Louise's first line displays her anger at the fact that the audience was responding with cheers and laughter throughout the evening, and her condescension to the audience and artists alike is breathtaking.

So if you have seen our production, I would appreciate it if you do two things. First, please post a comment about her review, which you can do by scrolling to the end of the article once you read it online. Posting now will have the greatest impact, but if you cannot do so before the morning I hope you will do it tomorrow.

Filer Under - Did They See The Same Show

Jenna Scherer writing in the Boston Herald:

Riding the wave is“Pirates! (Or, Gilbert and Sullivan Plunder’d),” which gets the big-budget treatment from the Huntington this month. It’s a willfully silly mashup of two already silly swashbuckling yarns: Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1879 operetta “The Pirates of Penzance” and the modern-day “Pirates of the Caribbean” film franchise.

If you think that sounds like a dicey proposition, prepare to have your timbers shivered. In a near-flawless production from director Gordon Greenberg, “Pirates!” is the kind of pure, giddy entertainment springtime stages are made for.

Louise Kennedy in the Boston Globe:

But for anyone who wants more than sitcom-level rewrites, broad yet toothless parody, and lots of tired pirate gags, it is the very muddle of a modern messed-up musical.

"Pirates!" (if that exclamation point gives you pause, come sit right here by me - and brace yourself, because every single song title in the program has one, too) is the brainchild of Gordon Greenberg, Nell Benjamin, and John McDaniel, who have taken the perfectly fine bit of fluff known as "The Pirates of Penzance" and updated, mashed-up, sexed-up, and topicalized it within an inch of its life. Apparently an evening of silly songs and light romance just isn't complete nowadays without gyrating pelvises, pounding drums, "political" jokes that don't actually have a political point, and onstage vomiting.

Interesting side note: The Globe review has about 19 comments attached to it already.

Worst Theatre Experiences

The Village Voice rounds up tales from some well known theatre artists.

Here is Charles Busch:

Years ago, I played Orestes in a homoerotic production of Jean-Paul Sartre's The Flies. All the guys wore extremely short Greek tunics and primitive G-strings underneath. Whenever I'd raise my arms to the Heavens, the tunic would rise and my bare ass would show. The giddy gay audience would hoot and holler. I shouldn't complain—when the actor playing the king was slain, his G-string slid, and he had to lie dead for the rest of the scene with both testicles hanging out.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Theatre Equivalent of Cannes

Roger Ebert continues to cover Cannes and talks about how the landscape is changing:

Cannes has become, in a way, the sundowner party of Day of the Locusts. There was once a world, much deprecated at the time, of patriarchal studios, star machines, genre movies, fan magazines, searchlights, and filmmakers who wanted their movies to play big to everybody all over the world. Now what survives of that old world, hunched and inward, is no longer show business but just--business. A screenplay is evaluated for its demographic appeal, its video game possibilities, its spin-offs, its potential for commercial tie-ins. The suspense of its premiere is diluted by pale, gnome-like creatures hunched over computers down in their parents' basements, busy as bees ripping off video copies of new films and posting them on the internet, to be downloaded by thieves who get more of a thrill out of stealing a film that by watching it.

The critics here are not on junkets. Many of them paid their own way, because if you're a movie critic, baby, this is where you gotta get your ass. Back home, most editors care more about Brad Pitt than Quentin Tarantino. That would be all right if they cared about Pitt for the right reasons. But the American press has been dumbed-down so much that some papers seem edited for an audience that does most of its reading off of TV screens. I ran into an old friend who has free-lanced for USA Today. "Yesterday, Lars von Trier's "Antichrist" was the big story," he told me. "USA Today featured coverage of Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge, arriving at the Carlton Hotel with Jenny McCarthy in a horse-drawn carriage."

Is there an event or festival to which a Drama critic better get his or her ass?

Also, I wonder, is Ebert giving Cannes too much credit?

Boston Theatre News

Jenna Scherer has an interview with Jeff Key the playwright/activist who has a one many play up at the BPT. He was a gay marine who served in Iraq War.

David Mamet's Romance and the Actor's Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing are reviewed by Carolyn Clay.

Classical remixing is the subject of Bunbury, and this review of the play by Thom Garvey.

Providence Phoenix looks at The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Playwriting Do's and Don't's - Reading Feedback Edition

Don't Underestimate The Usefulness of Feedback: Let's say you do a reading of your play. Afterwards, in the feedback session, it becomes clear that 80% or more of the audience doesn't understand or is outright confused by a particular element. You may, (MAY,) want to revisit it.

For example, after the reading, an audience member or one of your peers observes, "Now, I was lost as to why John suddenly leaves his wife." Then somebody else then chimes in and agrees, and you suddenly you see more than half the audience nodding their heads, you may, (MAY,) want to revisit that particular element.

If you don't revisit it, I can almost assure you that half the actors will be confused or lost the rehearsals, more than half the audience viewing the eventual production is going to be lost, and almost every critic who reviews the play is going to be lost about it as well. In fact, if the play has gone through a development process, the critic may well directly ask in their review, "It is a wonder why this wasn't brought up during all of the development."

Don't Overestimate the Usefulness of Feedback: Feedback sessions can be hijacked by somebody who has had a bad dinner or has just been rejected from a play festival for the fourth time in three years. Play reading audiences can get intimidated by the alpha feedbacker* and will start to contort any feedback they give you to conform the pronouncements the alpha has already sneered out.

People also may not understand something because that particular part is hard to follow in a reading environment.

Do Take Control of Any Feedback Environment: Always do feedbacks with a moderator. Even if it is a small gathering, get a friend to sit on stage with you as the moderator and to help you prepare some introductory questions that you would like the audience to answer.

Never, Never, Never, Never get in a feedback situation in which you are onstage, alone, and the audience is let loose on you to just fire off questions, suggestions and criticisms. This type of experience has the potential to be the biggest waste of time you will have in any development experience. Come to think of it, that time would be better spent putting a member of the audience onstage to get interrogated about your play by you.

*The alpha feedbacker in this example usually can be identified by their rapid response. When the moderator or playwright opens up the floor to questions, the alpha feedbacker is the one who immediatley says, "Well, I didn't get it and I didn't care for these characters and I think anybody who would care about this situation or these people is just... I don't know, I just didn't like it." The rest of the audience becomes paralyzed and cautious about venturing any sort of opinion. The rest of the feedback session is then spent trying to build comments around the latent desire of everybody in the roorm to bring the alpha feedbacker into the fold again - to convince them that the play isn't all that bad.

Isaac Butler - The Crossroads

For every story of a wildly successful theatre artist, who must now choose between staying in theatre or going off to chase Hollywood money, there are probably ten thousand stories just like this: (Read the whole thing - he outlines his specific circumstances - but here are some main points and questions.)

The year stretching roughly from March 2009-March 2010 will be amongst the busiest and most successful times for me as a theatre director thus far. It will including the following:

-- Being the SDCF observer on one off-broadway show

-- Quite possibly assistant directing another off-broadway show
-- Taking a show to the DC Fringe festival
-- Staging a showcase of a song cycle in anticipation of a summer 2010 tour
-- Directing a play regionally
-- Directing multiple readings and short plays at various venues
-- Guest teaching once or twice
-- Scouting plays for a regional theatre


So let's talk turkey. Or should I say, money:
- My total compensation for all of the above will most likely top out at $2500.


If I want to hedge my bets, I should probably start looking for a day-job now(ish). But doing so may very well mean that I will never make my living from directing. Now obviously, most people who call themselves directors don't make a living from directing, again I'm not complaining. But it would mean giving up on a particular dream-- the dream of being a full-time artist. (Not to mention the other thing: Taking a day job that I find meaningful and fulfilling would also probably mean taking one that leaves little time for trying to be an artist period).

Is it time for me to reconcile myself to that? Am I looking at taking a multi-year break for pursuing a full-time directing career only to try again when I'm in my late 30s?

The Art Throb - The Future Continues

The North Shore Arts community, spearheaded by a former print arts writer, has launched a site to cover the area's arts scene. The Art Throb.

They have a "cadre" of writers to cover a variety of beats.

Big welcome to them. You can check them out here.

They indicate that their funding comes from a combination of "sponsors, donors and grants."

Of course,as some earlier discussions on my blog and others have pondered the question remains: Where will critical thinking and writing fit into a mix such as this?

Boston Theatre News Of The Day

The Globe reviews Actor's Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and has a pre-show piece about the Huntington's Pirates.

Jenna Scherer reviews the annual Boston Theater Marathon.

Thomas Garvey responds to Ed Siegel's recent Op-Ed about Boston theatre's risk levels.

Norm Gross files a notice for the Vokes Players's The Lady's Not for Burning.

Will Lebow is interviewed at the Weekly Dig about his current role in David Mamet's Romance.

The Edge's Killian Melloy looks at Much Ado.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On the Subsidy Question

Tony, over at the Halcyon Theatre blog, says that the problem with what's on the stages of American theaters will not be solved by subsidies:

Subsidy or a perceived lack of one is not responsible for systematic programming choices. The problem with making an argument that increased subsidies will help is that the American Theatre is in fact heavily subsidized.


In TCG's Theatre Facts for 2007 the estimated revenue for the "UNIVERSE OF U.S. NOT-FOR-PROFIT PROFESSIONAL THEATRES" (1,910 Theatres) was $961 million (tax-free), with another $919 million in tax deductable contributions.

If you add up all of the revenue from all of the non-profit theatres over the last fifty years and figure out that potential tax-bill, along with all the tax deductions that donors received for giving money to arts organizations, it would be a staggering number. It also is the actual level of governmental subsidy of the American theatre.

Lost Oasis - At the Factory Theater

Lost Oasis, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

A few strangers meet in a secret place in the deep woods. Each has a reason for being there, each has struggled to find it , and each wants the other to leave. Who really owns this "place away"?

Find out the answer in Patrick Gabridge's play Lost Oasis, part of the Best of the Best Festival running at the Factory Theater.

Yours truly directed it. And it features actors Emily Culver, Dave Sanfacon, and Ashley James.

I hear there are still tickets for Thursday night.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Looking For Boston Theatre Marathon Coverage

You couldn't be more concise, funny and extensive as playwright David Schrag over at his blog The Schrug.

Yiddish Theater and Classical Music

San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas has been touring a project that explores his family's background in the Yiddish Theatre. Here he is the Boston Globe.

"In my father's line they were [cantors], then village entertainers, and then theater people, and then all this came around to me to be a classical musician," he said. "I think that I tend to recognize certain qualities in the music because of the nature of my family's background. Particularly, in the approach I've taken to Mahler, I hear so much village music, and situations arising from village music, in his big structures."

"I also think," he added, "that because I was raised in a family that came from a theatrical background, I do approach these things more from the perspective of being a director, in that I'm working with great performers [who are like] great actors. I'm trying to clarify for them the space in which they do what they do, and trying to help them be in character, to help them be the character."

The show is coming to Tanglewood this summer.

For Neil Simon - The Sundshine Boys Gets Closer to Reality

An Interview in the Oregonian:

INTERVIEWER: One thing that struck me while going back over your plays is that aging and an awareness of death were there from the beginning.

SIMON: That's because you can't avoid it. It's going to happen to all of us. When you're a kid you kind of laugh at it because it's nowhere near you, then suddenly you see your parents getting older and older and wonder what you're going to do with them, and then your brother -- because my brother is gone now. It's always there, so why not talk about it?

Swim With Your Own School

Swim With Your Own School, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

One of the actor's bags backstage at the Boston Theatre Marathon. I was in the play "Please Report Any Suspicious Activity" by Rick Park. The play involves two strange passengers who get on the Blue Line at the Aquarium stop.

Boston Theater Marathon

Boston Theater Marathon, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Cannes Winds Blow....

From Der Spiegel (translated in Salon Online.)

For years, clever, culture-savvy sophisticates had two responses to the films screened in Cannes -- and that includes everything from Jean-Luc Godard's "Sauve qui peu" ("Every Man for Himself," 1980) to David Lynch's "Wild at Heart" (1990). They either loved them or hated them. Unfortunately today, many cinephiles couldn't care less. The days when curious young film buffs treated the films of François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, Wim Wenders and Lars von Trier like mysterious messages from the avant-garde and analyzed them down to the last detail, are gone -- and probably for good.

Auteur cinema has had its day in the cultural sunshine and now it's just another niche genre in filmmaking. As the fate of recent Cannes selections demonstrates. After the festival ends, many routinely sink into almost total obscurity. Many never even make it into movie theaters, going straight to DVD instead. Of course, there have always been films with artistic merit that the general public has spurned -- including Cannes winners like Luis Buñuel's "Viridiana" (1961), Andrzej Wajda's "Man of Iron" (1981) or Abbas Kiarostami's "Taste of Cherry" (1997). But then there were also films that did well at Cannes and drew larger audiences -- Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" (1976), Volker Schlöndorff's "The Tin Drum" (1979) and Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" (1994) among them.

However in recent years it hasn't been just the winners of Cannes' top prize, the Palme D'Or, that need to worry about turning toxic at the box office. A disturbingly large percentage of the selections at film festivals everywhere have not made any money.

Oh BTW, Is anybody going to see Angels and Demons this weekend?

Ticket Brokers and The State

Theatre Producer Ken Davenport noticed that Ace Tickets gets a prime ad space on the Mass Pike:

Yep, if my educated assumptions are correct, the state of Massachusetts sold advertising space (where there usually isn't advertising space) to an unofficial retailer of tickets to events like the Boston Celtics, The Boston Red Sox, and Broadway shows.

You probably would imagine that I pretty miffed at Mass, right?

Well, it bothers me a bit, but not because the Mass did it.
They needed the money and Ace was willing to pay it. Free market,
capitalism, blah-blah-blah. And frankly, local theaters, like The Wang Center and so on, couldn't pay for that placement in their wildest facility fee-filled dreams.

What bothers me is that many of us are still trying to fight these
brokers, screaming that they are the enemy of the state. Well, if the
state of Massachusetts is going to take a broker's money for advertising, if states like NY are going to repeal old scalping laws, and if companies like Ace are going to get huge write ups in the Boston Globe that includes quotes like, "If the Celtics made it all the way to the finals, his [Ace CEO] profits might be enough to put his three children through college," then the time has come to stop trying to throw pebbles at this problem.

Ken might not even be aware of the half of it. People who follow politics around here may remember that the cozy relationship our former Speaker Sal DiMasi had with the ticket broker lobby was one of the reasons for his downfall. Here is a WBZ story on the scandal:

Contradicting statements made both by DiMasi and his former accountant, Richard Vitale, Attorney General Martha Coakley said Vitale was paid $60,000 in lobbying fees by ticket brokers interested in changing the state's scalping laws. She said Vitale also communicated directly with the speaker and his top lieutenant, Speaker Pro Tempore Thomas Petrolati, before the bill passed the House last year.

Why is a Mission Statement So Important

From the Mission Paradox blog:

Think about it. Running an arts organization, hell . . . running
a life . . . is about making choices.

Should we perform at this venue or that?

That play or this play?

This dancer or that dancer?

That gallery or the other gallery?

Sometimes those decisions are easy.

Sometimes they are incredibly difficult.

If your mission statement is solid, it should be your guide through
those tough choices. That's why the vague, pointless mission statements that populate our field are so harmful . . .

They don't help you to make the hard choices.

Boston Theatre Marathon

Hey, your humble author is appearing onstage once again this spring in Rick Park's ten minute play "Please Report Any Suspicious Activity."

It is part of the Boston Theatre Marathon and it is on during the 2-3PM hour this Sunday.

What? You have never gone to, or even heard of the Boston Theatre Marathon? Well, click the logo below and you'll get all the info you need.

On a related note: This year the festival is incorporating staged readings of full length plays, which it is calling The Warm-Up Laps. Those take place on Saturday and include readings of new plays by Kirsten Greenidge and Theresa Rebeck.

Walcott Oxford Post Story Takes a New Twist

Derek Walcott's former Boston University accuser, Nicole Kelby, now says that people shouldn't factor that into his candidacy for an Oxford post.

But I have to say that I do not really understand what she is trying to say in this column in the Times:

As a mother, I can not tolerate the idea of a young woman being harassed. Sexual harassment is not about lust, it is about asserting power over the powerless.

However, while I believe that it is not appropriate to be sexual towards students, I also realize that it happens. Writers, by nature, have reckless hearts. Poetry is a passionate art. That is why it is crucial that institutions have strict policies against sexual harassment and are not too embarrassed to allow concerns to be heard. It is impossible to legislate behaviour, but to allow a student an opportunity to question behaviour in a safe and open forum is within our grasp. I believe that Oxford is capable of dealing with any situation of this nature.

There is more, if you want to read it. Basically, from what I can gather, she is saying the following:

1. Sexual Harassment of students is very bad.
2. Derek Walcott sexually harassed me. (Though she seems very careful not to come right out and say this.)
3. But it's all good, I mean, universities have rules for that. Because, you know, some teachers need to ride that edge in order to teach their subjects.

Anybody else get a different take from this?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

And Now for the Good News

On the heels of the news of budget cuts at the Mass Cultural Council, we now get the announcement that in 2009 they will be granting 12.5 Million from their Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund.

This from the press release:

CFF grants support Massachusetts nonprofit cultural organizations with building projects that increase tourism, create new jobs, leverage private funding, and expand arts and cultural activities in communities across the state. The latest round of CFF grants was made possible by a $6.5 million appropriation by the Legislature in July 2008 as part of the FY 2009 state budget, and a $7 million allocation by the Governor in April as part of a 2009 capital bond.

For theatre, the big news is Chelsea Theatrzone, (now Apollinaire,) with a $270,000 dollar grant.



Geoff Edgers tells us that in the new budget the cuts to the Mass Cultural Coucil aren't pretty.

Read it here.

I figured cuts were coming, but wow.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

How to Use Twitter if You are A Museum

Hat tip to ArtsBoston for this amusing, but also useful, list of suggestions for Museums on how to use Twitter:

1. Don't use Twitter to spam me about visiting. It's warm out so I should go to the zoo? Or it's rainy so you suggest I visit the museum? You are belittling my ability to plan my day without your helpful reminder about the weather and your institution's existence. If a company did this, suggesting that I come to Starbucks or REI every moment of the day, I (and hopefully you) would see it as a spammy intrusion. And do you really think there are people out there, sitting at home with nothing to do, waiting for Twitter to tell them where to go next? If such people exist, they are probably ZOMBIES and are not good for business.

Boston Theater News

Louise Kennedy reviews Theatre on Fire's production of Miss Margarida's Way.

Thomas Garvey reviews Speakeasy's Jerry Springer, and then goes across the bridge for Apollinaire's Men of Tortuga.

Jenna Scherer's review of the Lyric's Grey Gardens in in the Herald. Be sure to check out the comments section where two debates are happening. 1. The headline of the review doesn't match the content, in fact, it is almost the complete opposite. 2. A commenter admits that he/she left after the first act, and a later commenter claims people shouldn't be allowed to comment if they didn't see the whole show.

Scherer also has an interview with Boston Theatre's "power couple" Paula Plum and Richard Snee.

Trinity Rep's Shapeshifter and the musical Grey Gardens are given notice by Carolyn Clay.

The Providence Journal takes a look at the Gamm's Scarlet Letter.

Monica Prendergrast catches up on a month or so of Bosotn playgoing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Keogh Versus JPod

The Phoenix's film critic Peter Keough takes on John Podhoretz's assertion that film critics won't be missed because: "The more self-consciously educated one is in the field -- by which I mean the more obscure the storehouse of cinematic knowledge a critic has--the less likely it is that one will have anything interesting to say to an ordinary person who isn't all that interested in the condition of Finnish cinema."

Keough responds:

And so, tough shit for anyone who might have been entertained by, for example, the works of the hilarious and moving Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. Or, while we're on the subject of Scandinavian film, who cares about the upcoming delightful and genuinely audience pleasing film "O'Horten" by the Finnish director Bent Hamer? If people like John Podhoretz don't know anything about them, how can they be any good?

And never mind that Finnish director, Ingmar Bergman. Or was he Swedish? Frankly, no one is interested. As for anyone who might be interested in such nonsense, as Podhoretz wrote on the occasion of Bergman's death, "They [don't] admire the medium. They [are] offended by its unseriousness, by its capacity to entertain without offering anything elevating at the same time." They are, he concludes, "embarrassed by the movies."

These deluded, serious people who waste their time learning about the medium they are embarrassed by also claim to admire such uninteresting films as "Vertigo" ("silly," says Podhoretz), "The Searchers" ("turgid, wooden, boring, weird") and "2001" ("a crashing bore").

You Know It's Bad

From the comments section of a Salon article about how the internet may not be making our IQ's lower, but certainly is making it harder to concentrate:

I think I may have finally hit bottom today. I was watching an old episode of The Sopranos and looked up that episode on Wikipedia to find the name of an actress. Then I started reading episode information. At some point I realized that I had stopped watching the show entirely and was just reading the Wikipedia synopsis of the episode while the episode was still playing.

Our Lady of Good Voyage

Our Lady of Good Voyage, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

Gloucester, MA

Fiddlehead Theatre Moving

From the Boston Globe story:

Billed as the only professional theater operating between Boston and Providence, the award-winning Fiddlehead had its last performance in the Norwood Theatre, its home since 1996, last week. Meg Fofonoff, the company's founder and executive officer, said the Fiddlehead hopes to resume operations at a new venue to be determined.

Fofonoff said the company never really achieved the critical mass it wanted in Norwood.

"We never had the appropriate audiences our productions should have had," she said, declining to be more specific. "That's always been one of our big struggles, attracting a consistent audience."

Fofonoff said the theater's location in the suburbs also limited choices when it came to programming.

Boston Theatre News

What's Going On Around Town?

At the Hub Review, Thom Garvey gives a post mortem on Trinity Rep's The Importance of Being Earnest.

Carl Rossi gives a post mortem on The Miracle at Naples.

Whistler in the Dark's Bacchae is reviewed at the ArtsFuse by Bill Marx.

Louise Kennedy catches The Shapeshifter at Trinity Rep in Providence.

We learn that Fiddlehead Theatre in Norwood will be vacating its long-time home.

Jenna Scherer reviews Stoneham's Strangers on a Train and the Village Theatre Project's Better Off Dead.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Regional Is Over Local Begins

Adam at The Mission Paradox blog, talks about how dreams of becoming the next big regional thing are probably misguided...

In my town, I would put maybe 9 or 10 arts groups into the realm on regional, meaning that they are intended to serve audiences not only from Chicago, but from Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, etc.

As you can expect, these groups are pretty large and thus suck a lot of air out of the room.

So much air, in fact, that I don't see a scenario where another organization is going to come up and join them in that rare air.

It's going to be very, very, difficult for a theatre to go from a group of actors to the multi-million dollar gorilla known as Steppenwolf.

It would take divine intervention for a group of dancers to become another Joffrey Ballet.

That model, from small group to large institution has been done . . . and now it's finished.

You can't control a region anymore. Just like a network TV boss can't depend on the entire country watching anything he does.

Markets are way too fragement and way too broad to try and control them all.

You don't have that sort of money.

You don't have that sort of time.

What is possible, however, is to be powerfully local.

Boston Theatre News

In the Hub headlines and on the interwebs:

Speakeasy's Jerry Springer, The Opera gets a review in the Globe.

The Hub Review reviews O'Neill's Moon for the Misbegotten out at Merrimack Rep.

Spring Awakening at the Colonial and Speakeasy's Jerry Springer get the Phoenix treatment.

The musical Awakening also gets reviewed by Norm Gross at the PMP Network.

The Edge interviews the actors and the director of The Scarlet Letter, which opens this weekend at the Gamm Theatre in Providence. The Providence Journal has a pre-show piece as well..

2nd Story Theatre's Streetcar is reviewed by the Providence Phoenix.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

George Hunka on the Buildings Versus Artists Argument

George posts the following comment he left on the Guardian blog:

In more playful moments I think about the fictional PM Jim Hacker's approach to the bricks-and-mortar vs. money-for-performers issue. In an episode of Yes Prime Minister called "The Patron of the Arts," Hacker suggested the sale of the UK National Theatre building, the money therefrom to be put into a fund that would benefit all theatre artists across the United Kingdom.

If "The Hacker Plan," as we can call it, were to be instituted in the United States, several acres of very expensive New York real estate would be freed up. The Public Theater (where Mike regularly performs), the Lincoln Center Theatre complex (where one of Mike's immediate predecessors in the field of solo performance, Spalding Gray, regularly performed) – these buildings and the real estate upon which they sit, much of which is actually owned by the city itself, could fetch hundreds of millions of dollars.


On the other hand: Administration of this fund would still be required, whether those administrators are artists, managers, or some combination thereof. The questions of who would get this money, or how much, would still be determined by considerations of theatre and theatre artists "worthy" of this fund's support.
... Once again, the question would devolve into the political and aesthetic question of what consititutes "worthwhile," "relevant" theatre, and these would remain the central issues even if Hacker's modest proposal were put fully in effect.

Roger Ebert - Blogging Has Brought Him Closer to...Death

Roger Ebert has a beautiful meditation on the great beyond. Maybe I am sentimental, but it made me think that a solo performance piece of somebody speaking like this might be a bracing and stimulating evening of theatre.

Here is just some of it:

What I expect will most probably happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. Perhaps I have been infertile. If I discover that somewhere along the way I conceived a child, let that child step forward and he or she will behold a happy man. Through my wife, I have had stepchildren and grandchildren, and I love them unconditionally, which is the only kind of love worth bothering with.

I am comforted by Richard Dawkins' theory of memes. Those are mental units: thoughts, ideas, gestures, notions, songs, beliefs, rhymes, ideals, teachings, sayings, phrases, clichés, that move from mind to mind as genes move from body to body. After a lifetime of writing, teaching, broadcasting and happily torturing people with my jokes, I will leave behind more memes than many. They will all eventually die as well, but so it goes.

Small Theatre Companies - Making Money

Terry Byrne has a piece about Image Theatre, Jerry Bisantz's company...

By day, Jerry Bisantz is an optician, Ann Garvin is a school nurse, and Alex Savitzky is an IT manager. But by night, the trio team up to run the Image Theatre in Lowell, which, over the past four years has produced plays by more than 50 area playwrights.

"We are not community theater," Bisantz said during a rehearsal break for the company's upcoming production of "The Straight Line," which runs through May 9 upstairs at the Old Court Tavern on Central Street. "We pay our actors, playwrights, and technicians. Not only that, but we make money, and in this economy, that's nothing to sneeze at."

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Future Just Happened

The Weekly Dig’s Performing Arts pages have had tumbleweeds blowing through the archives for a while, and we just found out that Carolyn Clay has been let go by the Boston Phoenix.

We had a Stagesource Conference last year in which we, as a theatre community, discussed Boston’s prospects of being known as a "theatre town."

Now we are at a point where not even the alt weeklies seem to be interested in covering the scene here. Jenna Scherer, a young critic with a very sharp style, who was willing to engage with the fringe theatre community, decamped from the Weekly Dig to Boston Herald. Terry Byrne left the Herald and ended up at the Globe. I wonder where Clay will end up?

It is not as if we are suddenly braking from 60 to zero at the Phoenix though. Clay’s column space was condensed considerably a while ago, and she would try to cover up to three productions in the same space one show would formerly be critiqued. Stringers such as Liza Weizztuch, another young voice, appeared less often on the Phoenix’s pages.

The Edge does a very admirable job hustling around to cover theatre and Bay Windows remains fairly consistent, but obviously limited in scope.

When we turn our eyes online, the situation is hopeful, but not completely reassuring. Thomas Garvey’s The Hub Review is a consistent provider of critical coverage of the theatre scene in Boston. Larry Stark’s Theater Mirror keeps on chugging, but Larry has written much about his health and how he has found it very hard to write reviews. So, with Larry’s output slowed and with the sad passing of Will Stackman, the Mirror has lost its two lead work horses. There are still reviews being submitted, but many shows fall through the cracks.

Bill Marx started his ArtsFuse after WBUR pulled the plug on Bill and perhaps on the most forward-looking Arts Pages out of any of the city’s mainstream outlets. (And I say that with ALL seriousness.) However, The Arts Fuse is not, primarily, a theatre page - the last stage review was of the Huntington's Miracle at Naples.

Sandy MacDonald, sometimes freelancer for the Boston Globe, holds court intermittently at Theatermania. (Again her last review there was of <Miracle at Naples. She isn't really broad based though - I think six of her last eight reviews on TM were for Huntington shows.

There are other sites out there that do occasional reviews. For instance, Boston Theatre Reviews is a blog by Monica Pendergast and PT at Large cover theatre as well.

ArtsBoston has officially launched their new website, and it is impressive. More important to this discussion, it has a relatively active “Citizen’s Reviews” section appended to each show. Is this the future? Hard to say.

The landscape of theatre discussion, criticism and journalism HAS CHANGED here in Boston. It isn't speculation anymore; we are definitely on new terrain. And we probably have been for a while now.

I am interested in what people think will happen or is happening.

Boston Theatre News

In the news around the Hub:

Louise Kennedy reviews Whistler in the Dark's Bacchae and has a religious experience.

Speakeasy Stage gets a review in the Boston Herald for their controversial Jerry Springer, The Opera.

At the PMP Network, Norm Gross posts a review of the now closed Humble Boy.

2nd Story Theatre's Streetcar Named Desire gets a notice in the Providence Journal.

Friday, May 01, 2009

They Knew It Was Bad, but...

The WSU Theatre and Dance Department expected some cuts coming in the new budget.

The Daily Evergreen picks the story up here:

All the students in the Department of Theatre and Dance received notice of an emergency 1 p.m. meeting on Thursday at Wadleigh Theatre.

Knowing that the university’s budget was expected to be announced today, the students braced for possible cuts of various positions within the department.

Theatre instructor Ray Pritchard’s first words struck like a death blow.

“The College of Liberal Arts has completely cut the theatre and dance (department),” he said.

H/T Stage Thrust

Please Check Your Cell Phones...

Leonard Jacobs talks about the ineffective enforcement of the theater cell phone ban in New York City, as well as some other unruly behavior by audience members. He points us to an essay by a Denver critic about audience antics, which includes some anecdotes about how thespians have dealt with annoying patrons.

So, we have audience members interrupting performances with their cell phones and actors interrupting performances to chastise those with cell phones.

What about an actor interrupting a performance with his or her own cell phone?

This nearly happened to me during a performance. I had been on the phone until moments before the show, dealing with tickets and an audience member who was lost. (Ahhh, the joys of acting and producting.)

As I entered the scene, I realized that not only had I left my mobile phone turned on, but I had neglected to remove it from my pants pocket. My costume had a long outer jacket and so trying to reach into my pocket would have been very distracting. And my phone is the type that gives a burst of music when opened.

During the scene, I was trying to send ESP signals to my phone, ordering it to stay silent. I don't think I have ever broken, so quickly, in to so great a sweat under the lights.

I didn't miss a single line, and the phone didn't ring. However, once I got off the stage, I had to deal with something right away before my next entrance.

Well, wouldn't you know it! Ten minutes later, as I entered the scene again, I found myself thinking, "You, imbecile!"

Yes, I once again had left the phone on in my pocket, but by now I was a veteran of this particular predicament and kept my cool. I realized that if the phone went off I could cover it. It wasn't as if I was in a Shakespeare or Chekhov play, where a phone would be an anachronism. No, I was playing a present day physician!

I started to improvise a little scene in my head for dealing with a possible call, but before I got too far it was time to exit. Like a long distance driver who didn't notice he missed his exit until he is in the next county, I really can't remember going through that scene. After the show people told me that they thought I was really on in my performance that night.

I wasn't the only thing.

Boston Theatre News

Around the Hub in Theatre News

The Globe has a review of Spring Awakening - The Musical not the Zeitgeist production of the original Wedekind play, which is still playing at the Boston Center for the Arts. In the Globe review of the Zeitgeist Awakening, Terry Byrne reminded readers that the Tony Award-winning musical would be opening at the Colonial. However, Louise Kennedy, though she mentions the original 1891 play, doesn't remind readers that they could actually see the original if they would like. (Just a little pet peeve of mine.)

The Globe also has an interview with the actor taking on the role of Bruno in Stoneham Theatre's upcoming production of Strangers on a Train.

Jenna Scherer reviews the musical Awakening as well. (She mentions the original play is on at the BCA.) And she has a preshow piece about Speakeasy Stage's Jerry Springer.

Thom Garvey worries about The Opera House's facilities.

Ian Thal follows up with a description of what he learned at the reading of his play Total War.

Worcester Foothills Closes

From the Company Website:

Even in the best of times Foothills, like many non-profit theatres in this country, has struggled to survive. Now with the economic crisis that has engulfed our country making it tough for many people to enjoy even the simplest of pleasures, our audience has grown ever smaller as folks spend less of their dollars. This current situation arrives on top of several other things that have factored into our decision: longstanding debt, competition for entertainment dollars, and the imminent reconstruction of Citysquare which would force us to move our location, even if only on a temporary basis.