Monday, June 29, 2009

Joseph Epstein on Celebrity Culture

A 2005 essay in which Epstein talks about celebrity culture reaching academia and how the role of intellectual has changed:

Edmund Wilson, the famous American literary critic, used to answer requests with a postcard that read:


"Edmund Wilson regrets that it is impossible for him to: Read manuscripts, Write articles or books to order, Make statements for publicity purposes, Do any kind of editorial work, Judge literary contests, Give interviews, Conduct educational courses, Deliver lectures, Give talks or make speeches, Take part in writers congresses, Answer questionnaires, Contribute or take part in symposiums or "panels" of any kind, Contribute manuscripts for sale, Donate copies of his books to Libraries, Autograph books for strangers, Allow his name to be used on letterheads, Supply personal information about himself, Supply photographs of himself, Supply opinions on literary or other subjects."


A fairly impressive list, I'd say. When I was young, Edmund Wilson supplied for me the model of how a literary man ought to carry himself. One of the things I personally found most impressive about his list is that everything Edmund Wilson clearly states he will not do, Joseph Epstein has now done, and more than once, and, like the young woman in the Häagen-Dazs commercial sitting on her couch with an empty carton of ice cream, is likely to do again and again.

I tell myself that I do these various things in the effort to acquire more readers. After all, one of the reasons I write, apart from pleasure in working out the aesthetic problems and moral questions presented by my subjects and in my stories, is to find the best readers. I also want to sell books, to make a few shekels, to please my publisher, to continue to be published in the future in a proper way. Having a high threshold for praise, I also don't in the least mind meeting strangers who tell me that they take some delight in my writing. But, more than all this, I have now come to think that writing away quietly, producing (the hope is) good work, isn't any longer quite sufficient in a culture dominated by the boisterous spirit of celebrity. In an increasingly noisy cultural scene, with many voices and media competing for attention, one feels--perhaps incorrectly but nonetheless insistently--the need to make one's own small stir, however pathetic. So, on occasion, I have gone about tooting my own little paper horn, doing book tours, submitting to the comically pompous self-importance of interviews, and doing so many of the other things that Edmund Wilson didn't think twice about refusing to do.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

Boston Theatre Last Chances...Summer's Coming Edition


Yes, the sun is out a bit, and summer seems like it is finally here. Now, you don't think that the theater season is over do you?

But here is some of what you can catch before it disappears.

Last Chance:

Imaginary Beasts put on the difficult works of Frederico Garcia Lorca with their usual innovative stagings and costumes. Thom Garvey's review is here and Larry Stark has a quick review on the Theatermirror. I haven't seen this latest, but I am a big fan of the Beasties.

Mametfest continues at the A.R.T. with two of the playwright's early works. Sexual Perversity in Chicago and Duck Variations closes this weekend.

Dear Miss Garland takes a final bow at the Stoneham Theater.

Hair, (not the Diane Paulus one,) is at the Winthrop Playhouse through the weekend.

The musical version of The Color Purple has to move on from the CitiCenter next week.

Out in Waltham, the Reagle Players finish up a run of Hello Dolly! Rachel York leads the cast.

Wellesley Summer Theatre closes the curtain on the young lovers of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

There are many things going on out of town and in the Berkshires, but I'll catch up with those soon.

The Long and Short of It

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"My Reverend Fathers, my letters have not usually followed so closely, nor been so long. The small amount of time that I have is the cause of both. I would not have made this so long except that I do not have the leisure to make it shorter." -Blaise Pascal


Is it time to push away from the table?

After the Boston Theater Marathon and several other short play festivals, (including some in which I directed pieces,) I need to digest a bit.

As a friend to many writers, actors and directors in this town, I enjoy seeing all of them get a chance to be produced. As a director, I love working with playwrights, especially if the work is new.

As a playwright, I wonder if too much of this type of thing is bad for me.

The very first play I wrote was a two act drama about the fallout of a violent hazing incident on varsity team bus. The first play I produced on my own was a sprawling three-hour, two-act play about an intelligence unit on a ghostly and desolate training exercise. My IRNE nominated play was intermissionless, but ran at about 90 minutes.

Most all the plays I have written are two act, or longer. Currently, I am sketching out a three play cycle about the Big Dig.

Shorter plays are an interesting form to me, but it was quite a while before I even attempted one. I have written only a handful.. Several were finalists in the Actors Theater Louisville’s National Ten Minute Play Competition and have won other contests. I don’t send them out very much, and I have never submitted to the Boston Theater Marathon. (Quick shameful admission: I often remember the deadlines too late.)

Putting aside these few ventures into the miniature, my natural address on the length axis seems to reside somewhere past the full-length point.

However, after attending a short play festival, I do get the fever. Immediately, all the index cards and my notebooks for larger projects seem like millstones. If I finish them before I die will anybody even be interested in producing them? What about after I die?

Those ten pages seem tantalizingly accessible. And there are so many festivals out there. My mind does a crude calculation with regards to the effort exerted compared to the possibility of production.

Of course, this is silly thinking. A good ten minute play takes a lot of work, too. And there are a lot of great playwrights out there writing really good short plays.

What I am worried about is my commitment.

I heard a piece of writing advice a while ago that I will paraphrase here:

If you are in the final throes of wrestling with your light comedy of manners, and you decide you need a break, don’t go see Schindler’s List. And if you are at a breakthrough point in writing your tragic story of betrayal, don’t go take in a well-received production of Noises Off. In either case, most likely you will return to your keyboard wondering what the hell you are doing with your life.

I recognized that feeling after seeing so many short plays – some of them very good. It made me a little less enthusiastic about muscling through the structural and thematic demands of a larger canvas.

And I am quite sure there would be a reverse feeling if I had several short plays going in my head while attending all of Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia.

Anyway, I think I'll be ready to attend the Boston Slams in August

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hey, Somebody Woke Up Salon

The Emily Sands Gender Bias report prompted the Broadsheet to write a non-Tony focused article about theatre.

There is an interesting comment from an Eric Samuelson, who "teaches playwriting at a major university,"

In my experience, there are plenty of lousy male playwrights and terrible female playwrights, and, at the student level, lots of terrific playwrights of either gender as well. In my seminar, for example, I had two real superstars--two kids who wrote terrific stuff consistently, both female. Then there were four kids who were just a tiny bit below them, what I might call second-tier stars--two male and two female. But in the weekly script conferences for the local theatre I work with, the guys dominated. The two second-tier male writers got a lot more of their work produced, because in those meetings, where decisions got made, they were more assertive. Not obnoxiously pushy, but just a little more vocal, a little more willing to voice strong opinions. Meanwhile, the best playwright in my class, a fabulous young Hispanic woman who wrote with intelligence and wit and was just consistently smart and tough and real, she kind of shut down. I had to intervene to get the company to re-read her play; when they did, they ended up going 'man, you're right, that's way better than we initially thought.'

I've seen this a lot. As a playwright, I almost never get produced based on simply sending a play out for cold reading. Most of my professional productions have resulted from networking. Something in our culture rewards men with hustle skills, and discourages women from pushing themselves aggressively. Getting work produced requires more than just writing really well.

Amusing Side Note from the Gender Bias Study

On page 62 of Emily Sands' study Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender:

After merging the two books' lists of theaters, I restricted my sample from the full list of appromixately 600 theaters to the 455 theaters with an e-mail address published in either or both of the sources. Of the 455 email addresses published in the Dramatists Sourcebook and the Dramatist Guild Resource Directory 203 emails were undelivarable. In all, then, survey recipients numbered 252. Perhaps the theaters that list valid email addresses are fundamentally different in some ways from those that do not; if so, this study's results are best applied only to theaters that publish valid email addresses for electronic submissions.


Emphasis is mine. Maybe TCG should start offering the Sourcebook at half price?

What do you think?

The full study is available on Jodi Schoenbrun Carter's Off Stage Right Blog.

The Lecture As Performance

After reading so much about Emily Sands' presentation on her research into gender bias, I was amused to see this item in the Guardian about how lectures attract quite an audience:

Even the highbrows now have established performing names, guaranteed to draw a good crowd. Lectures by Slavoj Zizek - the celebrity Leninist who resembles a cross between a giant bear and Latka from the sitcom Taxi - sell out far faster than any of his philosophy books. And for those who prefer their politics served with more earnestness and less ideology, there is No Logo author Naomi Klein, a warmer, more inclusive speaker whose performances can sound as if she is thinking out loud.

But perhaps the biggest talk event happens next month, when an American organisation called TED holds a four-day conference in Oxford. Up to 60 lecturers will speak for precisely 18 minutes each on subjects ranging from the eastern European mafia to whether solar-powered aeroplanes will ever (ahem) take off. Tickets are going for £2,750 each (although the hard-up get a £1,225 concessionary rate) and only 30 of the 700 are left.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More on the Gender Bias in Play Production

Thomas Garvey weighs in a bit on the Hub Review.

And Jodi Schoenbrun Carter has the powerpoint of the presentation last night, as well as a brief rundown of the evening.

Journalists May Want to Talk To Actors

Kris Vire, Theater Editor of Time Out Chicago relays this observation:

My friend Andrew Huff, the proprietor of Gapers Block, told me that two or three people had separately suggested to him in recent weeks that the future career model for journalists might be a lot like that of actors. That is to say, only a fraction of a percent of those who go into the profession will get steady jobs (staff positions/TV gigs) or achieve high incomes (columnists/celebrities); the majority will go from gig to gig or project to project, and guaranteed employment for journalists will become the exception, not the norm. Those stumping for full-time staff writers at publications will come to sound like evangelist outliers, much as those who campaign for resident repertory ensembles do now. The majority of people who try to make a go of it as working journalists will do so, like those who go into acting, because they're driven by a passion for the work. Many will likely work for little or no pay in hopes of establishing a career (Non-Equity/bloggers? And if we're talking bloggers, isn't this already the case, cough cough?) [Please note none of this is necessarily my opinion, but me relaying and expanding upon what was laid out by others.]

The Charge of Discrimination Against Female Playwrights Now Has a Harvard Pedigree

From the Culture Vulture blog at New York Magazine:

Why are the majority of plays produced written by men? Why do even the most talented female playwrights seem to have a hard time making their way to Broadway? Artistic directors say they tend to receive more scripts from male playwrights. Yet female playwrights say they submit work frequently and it’s often neglected.

So who’s right? Maybe everybody, according to a study released today, "Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender," by Princeton graduate Emily Glassberg Sands. (Sands will present her findings tonight in a town-hall gathering for members of the industry at 59E59 Theaters.) Sands’s senior thesis shows that female playwrights are, in fact, discriminated against, which may be one reason why fewer women are writing plays.

Sands, who was just scooped up by Harvard for a Ph.D, is no ordinary undergrad scholar. Her mentors include Freakonomics author Steven Levitt; Cecilia Rouse, an Obama appointee to the Council of Economic Advisers; and Alan Krueger, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s second-in-command for economic policy. "[Sands] provides convincing evidence that female playwrights are not being treated equally," says Rouse, who also found gender bias in the selection of musicians by orchestras in her own groundbreaking 1997 study. "It suggests this sector is not as productive as it might be and the right plays aren’t getting to audiences.


Lynn Nottage leads off the article by wondering why her play, Ruined,which won the Pulitzer Prize and other prestigious awards can't make it to Broadway.


Hat tip to Isaac.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

North Shore Music Theater Has The 1000 Yard Stare

Leonard Jacobs on the fate of several theaters who look like they may survive after having stared into the financial abyss:

Consider North Shore, for example. Carol LaRosa, the venue’s public relations manager, said the company is still trying to raise $2 million in donations by July to be back in business. Artistic director-executive producer Barry Ivan and the board “are continuing their fundraising efforts,” she said, and a plan remains in place for the company to embark on a series of co-productions with other houses.

“But if the board and Barry aren’t able to finish raising the $2 million by next month,” she added, “they’ll continue their efforts to try to present a season in 2010.” Does that mean things aren’t far along? “No, not necessarily,” she responded. “But I don’t have any specific numbers at this point-I’m not sure if Barry…[does], either. The question of momentum is one I don’t think I-or they-can fully answer.”

Espada and the Theatre

Interesting little item about New York state senator Espada, who is suddenly the subject of so much attention:

Espada successfully ran for state Senate in 2000 even as he was tried for siphoning $221,000 from an HMO to cover campaign debts. He was acquitted after arguing that he legally could do whatever he wanted with such funds.

Among the smaller schemes where the Espada name popped up was a hustle where a crony obtained a $95,000 state grant for a Puerto Rican heritage theater group to pay its rent. The money ended up in Espada's health care organization and campaign fund. The theater group was evicted for nonpayment.



Classy.
The Denver Post highlights smaller theaters that know their audiences and feed talent to the larger metropolises:

Colorado's five oldest companies share few commonalties. They play in towns as big as Arvada and as small as Evergreen. Annual budgets range from $50,000 to $1.3 million. They draw anywhere from 4,100 to 40,000 a year.

But there is one thing: "All five companies have pinpointed their audiences, says Little Theatre artistic director Tom McNally, "and they know what they are about."

The Little Theatre is about preparing students from Colorado's premiere performing arts college, the University of Northern Colorado, for careers in Los Angeles, New York and everywhere between. Denver theater buffs know well names like Marcus Waterman, Cameron Stevens, Michael Stricker, Megan Van De Hey, Alex Ryer, Andy Kelso and Beth Malone. Mark Rubald won the 2008 Denver Post Ovation Award winner for best year by an actor.

There are so many Little Theatre alumni in the Denver theater community that in Greeley, they refer to the capital city as "UNC South."

Some Prices Are Out of a Theater's Control

And article in the Tribune looks at how organizations are dealing with increases in parking costs:

A block west at the Goodman Theatre, executive director Roche Schulfer gets similar feedback. The theater negotiated a discount evening rate at the Government Center Self Park at Clark and Lake Streets; it was $13 when the garage opened in 2002 and is $19 now.

"Certainly in this economy, we're very sensitive to ticket price increases," Schulfer said. "But you don't have any control -- or very limited control -- over parking prices. They go up, and they go up, and that's it."

He added: "If you want to walk a few blocks, you probably can get better rates, but many people don't want to walk a few blocks at 10:30 at night in the Loop. Certainly all of our actors and creative personnel are parking a few blocks away."


I know that many lots around the Huntington the price has gone up to 19 dollars as well. Still, that's pretty good for Boston. The South End area has many metered spots, but you have to get there early, and remember that the meters go to 8PM.

The T is still the best way to get to the downtown venues though.

Twefth Night; "Summer Camp for Hollywood Actors"

Linda Winer in Newsday:

Our theater has taken a chance on stars - winning some, probably losing more - over the years. One need only look at the achievements of the famous names on this past Broadway season to recognize the bold line that separates stunt casting and ingenious matchups.

But is there something about "Twelfth Night" that works as a magnet for high-gloss names? Perhaps it is the strong female characters, alas, not often a given with Shakespeare. Viola/Cesario offers an extended chance to play both female and male, romantic and foolish. The play has enough comic knaves and related bumblers to challenge the best in character actors. The mysterious island lets directors imagine any time period.


Of course, directors can play around with the setting of Twelfth Night, but I always think of The Tempest as having the mysterious island.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Boston Theatre News

Thom Garvey takes files a late review at Mamet's Romance at the ART, and, yes, he goes there.

Stud Terkel's Working, being performed at the Cambridge YMCA by Metro Stage Company is reviewed by Larry Stark and Beverly Creasy at the Theatermirror.

Lillian Hellman sued the City of Boston for banning her New York hit The Children's Hour and lost. Kay Bourne reviews the African American Theater Festival's production of the play at the BCA.

Judy Garland is on the Stoneham Theatre stage. Well, actually, it's an impersonator. Louise Kennedy and Jenna Scherer file their notices in the Globe and the Herald.

Jenna Scherer also has an interview with LaToya London of American Idol fame. London is in the touring production of The Color Purple.

Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate is playing at Hartford Stage and Carolyn Clay took the drive to review it for the Phoenix.

Meanwhile, the Providence Phoenix's Bill Rodriguez takes in Children of the Dnipro at the Perishable Theatre.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Mass Culture Makes Your Thinking Smaller

The guy who invented flash mobs is interviewed by Salon about the viral culture. Most of it isn't terribly new, but I did like this at the end:

There are probably people who will happily surf the Internet hive mind for as long as it keeps on going. And I wouldn't begrudge them that. I'm more trying to speak to people like me, who on the one hand are really viscerally engaged with the online culture, who understand rightly that it really is the locus of almost everything exciting that's going on in the culture. You can't ignore it. But on the other hand we feel that being constantly plugged in is taking too much of a toll on us.

I would say that if there's one thing that's causing the novels of the world from getting written right now, it's surfing the Internet. I do think that a lot of creative people want to be working on their craft, they want to be thinking big about what they should be doing and my belief is that the culture is encouraging them to think small.


Emphasis mine.

Some Data on those Free Ticket Nights

The San Francisco Chronicle covers the results of a second year survey about the Bay Area's Free Night of Theatre.

The data seems to suggest that the large scale offering of free tickets does have a positive impact on future paid ticket sales.

However, the rest of the study may be chasing windmills:

The new study's other findings are less conclusive. Called "Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of the Bay Area Free Night of Theater Program," the pioneer study seeks to quantify statistically such intangibles as "emotional resonance, intellectual stimulation, spiritual value, aesthetic growth and social bonding."

Some of the findings are skewed by the size of the sample - 1,409 Free Night and 675 regular ticket buyers - and its voluntary nature. As the study reports, the "self-selection" of respondents tends to generate more positive results.

(...)

Most of the less tangible results are clouded by questions of definition: Does having seen a new form of work automatically qualify as "aesthetic growth"? How does one define the elements that make up the "spiritual value" of a performance?


As I have in the past, I will let you know what I find in when I get my hands on the full study.

UPDATE: Here is the link to the full report PDF.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Can An Encounter With the Work Ruin A Good Review

Jim Emerson asks the question:

I started off this post thinking about reviews of movies that are in some way "better" than the movies themselves -- that is, criticism that in some way elevates a movie, even if you or I are disappointed in the movie itself. I was thinking of Manohla Dargis's magnificent review of "There Will Be Blood," which captures the chill, the terror, the excitement, the coursing of blood in ways that fill me with awe. Every time I read it, it rekindles hopes that are only dashed by another first-hand encounter with the movie itself. (Cue Yukon Cornelius: "Nothin'.)

Habib Tanvir Pases On


One of India's theatrical giants, playwright Habib Tanvir, has passed away.


His theatre was a blend of tradition and modernity, and folk creativity and the modern critical consciousness that took shape during his early years with Left cultural organisations like the Indian People’s Theatre Association.

Charandas Chor, one of his many plays, won him international acclaim at the Edinburgh International Drama Festival in 1982. It was also the play that introduced Calcutta, at the time the Mecca of Indian theatre, to Tanvir’s work in 1981. Since then, he performed dozens of times in this city where his wife, partly Bengali, had roots.

Tanvir wore his political thinking on his sleeves. He wrote a play called Indra Sabha for the Congress when it was in its socialist phase under Indira Gandhi.

He had said: “We don’t have the gumption that we can change society with theatre but we have the conceit we can influence public opinion.”


Here is a good article from 2001 that covers his history and his methods and movements.

But I especially like this story from another theater artist:

I met the legendary founder of the Naya Theatre when we were both in search of an exit. Delhi’s English-language theatre was inundated with bedroom farces, and that evening’s comedy at the Kamani auditorium was unbearably bad. Sneaking away at interval, I found the front door locked—presumably by a director aware that there was no better way to retain his audience. A rumpled man with black-framed spectacles beckoned me over conspiratorially: “Look! We can escape from the side.”

With the brashness of youth, I told him why I thought Delhi theatre was terrible. He was gentle with my ignorance. “Try your luck further down the road,” he said, mentioning a play festival at Mandi House. He spoke of Alkazi, Girish Karnad, Badal Sarkar and then said, “I’ve done a little play writing myself. There’s one you might like, called Agra Bazaar. My name’s Habib Tanvir.”

Best Background for A CEO - Not Business and Not Law

Clarence Otis, Jr., CEO of Darden Restaraunts(which runs the Red Lobster and Olive Garden chains)in an interview in the New York Times:

Q. Anything in your background that, looking back, prepared you for the art of building a team?

A. The thing that prepared me the most — where the team was front and center — was theater, which I did a lot of growing up, in high school, during college, law school and even for a couple of years after law school. I would say that probably is the starkest lesson in how reliant you are on others, because you’re there in front of an audience. It’s all live, and everybody’s got to know their lines and know their cues and know their movement, and so you’re totally dependent on people doing that.

You could have your piece down, but if one person on the team doesn’t, you’re in trouble, and it’s embarrassing because people aren’t used to seeing errors in theater. Theater is seamless every night.

Monday, June 08, 2009

What's a Critic's Job? - Let's Check the Manual

Lots of talk about a critic's job around the web lately. It's always a good idea to revisit Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism. Here is just a stanza:


Some ne'er advance a Judgment of their own,
But catch the spreading Notion of the Town;
They reason and conclude by Precedent,
And own stale Nonsense which they ne'er invent.
Some judge of Authors' Names, not Works, and then
Nor praise nor blame the Writings, but the Men.
Of all this Servile Herd the worst is He
That in proud Dulness joins with Quality,
A constant Critick at the Great-man's Board,
To fetch and carry Nonsense for my Lord.



I assign it in the cultural journalism class I teach.

New Play Shuffle

Isaac Butler returns from the Theatre Communications Group conference with lots of data about the play development system.

He has two posts so far. One and Two.

Here are some tidbits:

-- Avg. playwright surveyed earns $25k-30K a year buuut...
- Over half of that income comes from non-playwright activity

-- Only 15% of income comes from prod-related activities
-- Roughly 3% of income is from royalties


--Plays are almost neve produced by the theaters who develop them.


And:

-- 1 in 5 theaters regularly seek new plays that have already premiered


-- As a result: the writer/agent want to get as big a world premiere as possible if they want the play to have a future life. This drives them back into the big institutions that they find problematic in the first place



Now, this last bit I quoted there is a part of the Second Production Hell meme that has been making its way around the theatre community over the last few years.

Basically, the story goes like this: Up and coming playwright snags a world premiere or two at a few large or mid-sized theaters. The plays are well received, but it becomes almost impossible for the works to find homes at other theaters because any subsequent productions won't be able to trumpet, "World Premiere!"

This argument has seemed to make sense, but this past weekend the NEA New Play Blog wonders if maybe this is something that seems like it should be true, but actually isn't as clear when we look at the facts:

We speak of a nationwide affliction called "premieritis", a condition which prevents theaters from producing second and third productions of works that have already given up their world premiere to someone else. The data on the topic in the TDF study is curious-- it seems to show that many, many more theaters claim to have produced world premieres than playwrights say have had premieres. It raises a question about whether there's a common usage of the term 'world premiere' being applied across the field, or whether organizations are misreporting, or perhaps there are plays receiving their world premieres that somehow haven't charted with the playwrights in the survey pool.

But I'm more concerned with whether or not we are actually suffering the sort of epidemic of premieritis that we seem to assume we are. Part of my concern about telling old stories is that they can be very hard to stamp out once they get going.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Plays for Reading

A New York Times book critic sits down to read the Tony nominated plays, admitting that he has seen "exactly none."

Let me start by admitting I’m as guilty as anyone of avoiding the bound versions of new plays. Scanning the list of Tony Award-winning best plays for the past five years — Doug Wright’s “I Am My Own Wife” (2004), John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt: A Parable” (2005), Alan Bennett’s “History Boys” (2006), Tom Stoppard’s “Coast of Utopia” (2007) and Tracy Letts’s “August: Osage County” (2008) — I’m embarrassed to realize I have seen only one (the fiery “August: Osage County”) and read none at all.

Theater is a social and collaborative art form, and a playwright’s work is no doubt most fully realized on the stage. But to encounter plays on paper is to encounter them in their platonic form. You’re glued to the playwright’s words, not sitting in Row K jostling for an armrest while gawking at, say, Jane Fonda (who stars in “33 Variations”), wondering if all her years of aerobics paid off. While reading, you can submit more perfectly to the author’s spell and, what’s more, you are your own casting director.



He goes on to give a quick review of his experience reading the plays.

I try to follow reviews of new plays from across the country. After I read about an interesting premiere, I will make a note to look for the play when it is published by Dramatists Play Service of Samuel French.

The cost can add up, but acting editions are still quite affordable and reading is necessary in this field. I feel I want to keep up with the latest in playwriting, but I certainly don't have a budget to go to New York and see shows there on a regular basis - or to Chicago, Seattle, Austin or Washington, D.C., etc.

Of course, I prefer a full production to be my first experience with a new work, but when will that be? Here in Boston it is sometimes impossible to wait. It could be sometimes take 4-5 years for even a very successful Off Broadway play to reach our stages.

The blogosphere has introduced me to some playwrights as well and I have made sure to put some of them on my reading list.

Here are just a few of the plays I have read in the last two months:

Apostasy by Gina Ilorio
When is a Clock by Matt Freeman
1001 by Jason Grote
Body Awareness by Annie Baker
Jack Goes Boating by Bob Glaudini

Wellfleet Gets It Again...

By that I mean it gets the Globe's attention again.  Hot on the heels of Ed Siegel's op-ed a few weeks ago comes Louise Kennedy's piece about the lightness of the summer offerings around the region.

Front and center again is Jeff Zinn and his Wellfleet Harbor Actor's Theatre:  




Of course, Neil Simon gets kicked around a bit as well.

But, just a question here, is the idea that summer theater is a more light so interesting?

Although it is important to at least confirm that flush economic times allowed for more daring on the part of consumers and artists alike. With more equity in their homes, along with increasing gains on their 401K's, audiences seem willing to spend a summer night watching a plot about the harsh interrogation of man who writes gruesome stories of the deaths of children. With more funds in the coffers, theaters will gladly take risks to increase their edgy rep for embracing the edgy.

But summer theater is traditionally a little fizzier and/or traditional. But comedic doesn't always equate with lightness of theme. In fact, as the Berkshire Theatre Festival's Kate MacGuire points out, the Neil Simon work in question, The Prisoner of Second Avenuee is at least a shade darker than his usual works, and Second Avenue tells the story of man who has lost his job in tough economic times.

The article also reveals that the Berkshire Theatre Festival will be doing Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts. Not too shabby.

I think the Kennedy directly addresses an even more interesting topic near the end of the article, the viability of new work altogether in this economy.

Friday, June 05, 2009

A Spring Hubbie Award! Like, What-EVER!


What-EVER! Cousin., originally uploaded by arthennessey.

Superman graciously accepts Critic Thomas Garvey's Spring Hubbie Award for the Superheroine Monologues. This year they are shaped like Michael Phelps.

Supergirl says, "Whatever...didn't Michael Phelps have a threesome with a couple of lapdancers? I mean...Ewww."

By the way, The Superheroines will be making a return engagement to the Boston Center for the Arts this Fall. Details to come!

Playwright Challenge

A challenge from local playwright Patrick Gabridge.

To those aspiring to submit works for the Boston Theater Marathon, Patrick presents these thoughts and observations:

I remember one time the Marathon, at the Wimberly, the first play of the day started with three rock climbers hanging from ropes suspended from the fly system. As soon as I saw it, I thought, "Wow, we never could have done this play at BPT." Or even in most other theatres. It was amazing.

This year, very few plays fully inhabited the space or made good use of sound and color on the stage (mine included--mine was originally written to be done in a tiny little space at the Factory Theatre, and takes place on the T). So often, we got a few people sitting or standing around talking. Very little action and movement. Little color. One big exception was in the final hour, Laying the Smack Down in Cambridge by Jonathan Busch (directed by Brett Marks, produced by Lyric Stage), which was able (improbably) to mix poetry and professional wrestling.

Anyway, the challenge I'd like to issue to my fellow New England playwrights is this: let's try writing some ten-minute plays that make full use of the Wimberly's breadth and depth. Let's use the fact that it's has actual wing space and a kick-ass sound system. Let's write plays where people move around the stage, across the stage, and actually do stuff. Let's risk writing plays that can't possibly be produced in on a 20'x10' space, but will jolt the audience awake at the Marathon with a sudden rush of lively energy. (Of course, they still have to be brilliant enough to get past the judges.)

Thursday, June 04, 2009

To A Young Person Feeling Like a Failure

Cary Tennis comforts a young person who has set out to do great things, is living abroad and is now depressed and disillusioned at how hard the going has been.

My guess is that being an American you were taught to go forth and beat the world into submission, bend it to your whimsy, make it your pet and drag it home as an ornament. So you set out to conquer the world with a master's degree and a backpack. Your mentors did not tell you that the world is muscular with dislike of us. The world does not wish to be remade. It resists us. We are baffled by its resistance. It seems to rebuke your very soul, your sense of who you are.

Your regular method, when you meet resistance, is to power through, scheme, conjure.

I suggest you try something different. Before you go back to America, spend a week in one museum. Contemplate one sculpture and think how long it took. Those who made great things had to stay in one place a long time. Their options were few. That is still the case. The plodders are still at it, invisibly making things we will briefly admire. Learn from them. Contemplate what it takes to make one halfway decent thing.

1000 Performances and Up

Ken Davenport tries to look at some of the data on long running shows, (musicals versus plays.) His baseline for a "long runner" is 1000 performances or around 2.5 years.

You can see that Golden Age for the long running shows was in the 60s and 70s. So what did we lose in the 80s and beyond that took a bite out of these totals?

Well, here's a hint . . .

In the 60s, 6 of the 17 long runners were plays.
In the 70s, 5 of the 22 long runners were plays.
In the 80s, 2 of the 11 long runners were plays.
In the 90s, there were ZERO long running plays.
In the 00s, there were ZERO long running plays.

The long running play is dead, and it has been for 20 years.

That doesn’t mean that plays can’t be successful. The past two decades have produced financial and artistic successes like Doubt, Proof, and August. But these unfortunate statistics should be used to help manage expectations for Producers and Investors when planning a production of a play.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

David Cote Versus Terry Teachout

David Cote of Time Out New York tries to work out his feelings about Wall Street Journal Critic Terry Teachout:

This is a complicated issue, to be sure. Terry loudly and repeatedly identifies himself as a lone voice in the American wilderness, reviewing regional shows coast to coast while his colleagues in New York sit on their bloated buttocks in Broadway and Off Broadway houses, ignorant of heartland dramatics. We are the true provincials, apparently. Let’s ignore the fact that most communities where you can find regional theaters already have media outlets, making Terry’s peregrinations somewhat superfluous and touristy. Let’s also ignore the fact that there are probably many Off-Off and experimental shows here in New York that are denied Terry’s critical acumen. Did Terry see Blasted at Soho Rep? The Shipment at the Kitchen? Will he make it out to Cynthia Hopkins’s The Success of Failure (or, the Failure of Success) at St. Ann’s Warehouse? Seriously, I want to know. I suspect that he would hate every one of them on ideological grounds, but more on that later.

Otherwise, it’s true: Terry is the only New York theater critic I know who will truck out to Texas for Awake and Sing or Virginia to catch Stoppard. I don’t envy him all that time stuck in planes, trains and automobiles, but I do admire the wide-angle experience he amasses from watching so much theater around the country. Terry styles himself a passionate advocate for regional theater, for supporting stages in your own backyard. Who can argue against that?

Boston Theatre News

Today in Boston Theatre News...

Terry Byrne reviews On the Verge at the Central Square Theatre. Jenna Scherer also reviews the play for the Herald.

Louise Kennedy reviews Mother G at the African American Theatre Festival.

Counter-Productions' Psycho Beach Party at the Factory Theater is reviewed by Killian Melloy in the Edge.

The Providence Phoenix posts a notice on a Sinatra musical and a pre-show piece on Menopause, The Musical.


The Providence Journal also reviews My Way and features Menopause, the Musical.

Rob Kozlowski on Story

Rob sees Mary Zimmerman's The Arabian Nights and makes a few observations:

There are plenty of folks out there who decry traditional storytelling as something that somehow needs to be fixed, and that's only because today, the human population has been exposed to more stories than at any point in human history. So we're somehow thinking the Aristotelian model of narrative storytelling is passe. Bullshit, I say. The reason stories today aren't as good as stories of old is because stories of old didn't concern themselves with marketing all the damn time.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Where Theatre Has Failed

Thom Garvey and Mike Daisey had a little back and forth over the weekend.

Thom posted about the state of American Theatre and, more specifically, the financial plight of the actor in that ecosystem. The Post is labeled "Part 1", and he promises a follow up.

Here is part of his summary of what we know up to this point:

Most people (at least until recently, due to globalization) benefitted from their increased technological productivity by receiving higher wages. But again, in the case of theatre, little added productivity can be gleaned from new technology, so the cost of theatre to the consumer must rise proportionately with the actors' paychecks. And because the price of theatre was already skyrocketing because of rising rents, this was very problematic - which meant the actor got squeezed.

Thus outside of major tourist destinations (which can rely on an influx of disposable cash from elsewhere), theatre became a charity case, dependent on donations, and wealthy Boards and their largesse. And clearly this undercuts the power of collective action. Because in a word, it's hard to call a strike against people you're begging for cash from.


Mike Daisey has responded on his own blog here.

As a side note, the discussion comes at interesting time as the TCG conference is happening this week in Baltimore.

Take a look at the topics:

Many breakouts will include opportunities to celebrate the successes of innovative new programs, but we will also offer sessions like “Back from the Brink,” our popular session led by theatres who have survived the threat of closure; “Budgeting through a Crisis,” a session on the stories that our budget numbers tell about our priorities, and how we hold firm to our core mission; “Downturn Development,” a session on fundraising when the economy is weak; and many more that will help theatres respond to the times.

Hang in There


Hang in There, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

This sculpture hangs from the sixth floor window of a building in Binghamton, NY. I was there for a friend's wedding this past weekend.