Monday, August 31, 2009

Julia Jordan on the Glassberg-Sands Study

Adam Szymokowicz interviews Jordan in his I Interview Playwrights series. Here is part of her response to question of why there aren't as many women playwrights being produced.
Okay so here's the deal. We can prove bias is at work. It's been proven over and over and over again in many different fields. When respondents believe work, or a resume, belongs to a male they rate it higher, are more likely to produce or hire than when they believe it to belong to a woman. Men and women both hold this bias, though possibly, I think probably for different reasons. In Emily Sands' study of theater, she only found bias by women. This doesn't mean that she found that men don't hold bias. Not finding something means little to nothing in economics. You can't prove a null hypothesis. Bias is easy to hide. Finding something however means that there is AT LEAST as much as was found.

What Emily found was that the female respondents rated scripts purportedly by women as having overall lower value, but it was entirely due to their belief that others would discriminate against the work. They rated the artistic excellence the same whether they thought the script was written by a man or woman. They thought however that audiences wouldn't buy tickets, that awards committees wouldn't honor the work and that the theater would suffer financially if they produced scripts by women (and specifically scripts they thought were by women that had female protagonists) so ultimately they said that though they would like to produce them they would not. This has been entirely missed in the media... They reported women hate women.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Boston Superheroine Meets the Original

Shawna O'Brien of The Superheroine Monologues meets the lovely Miss Lynda Carter, the original Wonder Woman in Boston.

The Superheroine Monologues is making a return engagement at the Boston Center for the Arts. It opens in just a couple of weeks. Tickets are on sale now. The show in the Spring sold out.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Rise of Credentialism

99 Seats (Emphasis is in the orginal):

I think, in the last fifteen years, especially with the rise of the grad program as the sine qua non for playwriting, we've cut ourselves off. It's part of a rising, creeping tide of credentialism.

But it's credentialism with a twist. What we prize are playwrights who don't know what they're doing. The whole push toward "theatricalism" and "inventiveness" (usually for inventiveness' sake) is moving us away from a playwright saying, "How do I want to attack this story?" We're venerating the unconsicous parts of being a playwright and downplaying the conscious acts of an artist. And we don't even want to talk about it. Talk about what that means, and how it affects our theatres, the audiences, the work.

From an institutional standpoint, it's making our theatre narrower and narrower, because as the audiences move away to more engaging forms of art (not necessarily more challenging, but more engaging), the main audience becomes the funders. The rich fat cats and the non-profit staffs and boards who are going to be affected by what they hear about in the Times than what is actually happening on the stage.

I see all of this happening without a robust critical life happening.

The "Should See" List - Tastes Like Medicine?

Enough discussion of an artform eventually will produce a shameful admission that one has not seen, read or heard a work that is considered central to the canon.

The loquacious cineaste will admit to having never seen Citizen Kane or The Passion of Joan of Arc. The witty MA of English will cop to never having cracked the spine on Moby Dick.

Of course, nobody can see or read everything. Harold Bloom said, "we may read for pleasure, we may read for enlightenment, but, in the end, we all read against the clock."

We now have the "1001 Must-See-Before-You-Die" series of books, which are as unhelpful as they are inclusive. 1001 is quite a number, even when talking about movies; one movie a week from the list, at an average of two hours, will start to push you out 20 years. (And people made fun of Adler's 10 Year Reading Plan!) I can't imagine the gargantuan task of actually seeing even a fraction of the world's greatest paintings or buildings. In fact, these challenges have spawned a spin-off cottage industry: books about attempts to experience everything on a list or to conquer a literary work that is regularly read by millions. Thus we are inundated with stories about middlebrow Ivy League grads actually (deep gasp of awe) reading the whole Bible! Or (drumroll) attempting to read Proust!

Nature being what it is, the lists continue to grow as we progress.

Theatre has always presented a unique challenge for its audience. The texts of most classics are readily available, but actual productions of famous or central works can be limited. For instance, somebody can read Lope de Vega's Fuenteovejuna in junior high school Spanish class, but never have an opportunity to see a local production.

Last year, I published a list of upcoming productions of works that would be considered canonical if not seminal or essential to theatre.

I thought I would repeat the excercise. By nature, the making of lists is an argument waiting to happen, but I feel confident that this list provides a good start for any theatregoer hoping to make penance for a shameful admission.

Now, you may have seen all of these plays before, and if that is the case, this is not a list for you, except for you to suggest others or debate my choices. I have tried to include most of what would be considered masterpieces or important works of the theatre that are available for you to see locally, or least a couple of hours away. Please note, I have excluded Shakespeare only because the Bard's works go without saying.

The list is in chronological order of production dates:

September: The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen at Yale Repertory Theatre
September: You Can’t Take It With You by Kaufmann and Hart at The Footlight Club
September: Fences by August Wilson at
Huntington Theatre Company
September: Kiss Me Kate by Cole Porter at
Lyric Stage Company
September: Cabaret by Kander and Ebb at
Trinity Rep
October: Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim at
Metro Stage Company
October: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee at The Publick Theatre, BCA
October: Speed-the-Plow by David Mamet New Repertory Theatre
October: The Caretaker by Harold Pinter at
Nora Theatre Company
October: Our Town by Thornton Wilder at Arlington Friends of the Drama
January: Gatz at American Repertory Theatre
January: All My Sons by Arthur Miller at
Huntington Theatre Company

January: 4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane at the Gamm Theatre, Providence
February: One Flea Spare by Naomi Wallace at
Whistler in the Dark
March: The Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldini at
Yale Repertory Theatre
March: Master Harold...and the boys by Athol Fugard at
Portland Stage Company
March: The Adding Machine a musical based on the play by Elmer Rice at
Speakeasy Stage Company
March: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams at The Gamm Theatre, Providence
April: My Fair Lady by Lerner and Loewe at
Stoneham Theatre
May: Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward at
Lyric Stage Company
May: Hedda Gabler by Henrik Ibsen at
Vokes Players

This is as much as I could gather from looking at the seasons of many of the theatre companies in the area. Please use the comments for any suggestions.

The first thing I notice is that most of the works fall into the Modern or even Contemporary end of what might be considered a the "canon." Sophocles and company are out. And Shakespeare's contemporaries have gone missing. (Last year we had Webster at Actor's Shakespeare) Absurdist or experimental masterpieces are also noticeably gone. No Ionesco, Pirandello, Albee or Beckett? (Update, The Publick will be doing Virginia Woolf in October.) And, as I suspected, it is intensely Western in its focus.

There were some close calls this year. Mister Roberts is rarely performed anymore and it is at the New Rep this year. Also, the famous thriller Gaslight! will be at Stoneham in the Spring. I even debated adding The Odd Couple at Trinity Repertory. Is Speed-the-Plow important or major enough?

Two interesting shows that I included are Gatz and The Adding Machine. The production of Gatz at the American Repertory Theatre centers around a reading of the complete, entire text of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. While not a play per se, it couldn't hurt to hear such a fantasic piece of literature read aloud. (Though Andy Kaufmann beat them to it by a number of years.) And, if I remember correctly, the story did begin to form in Fitzgerald's mind as a play.

The Adding Machine at Speakeasy Stage is a new musical version of Elmer Rice's famous play. I have not seen this version, but I am told it contains much of the original, so I thought I would throw it on the list.

There is absolutely no risk in my making this list. I am hardly going out on a limb with any of these.

Feel free to suggest, correct, or add to this list. I readily admit that I haven't scoured every inch of the upcoming season. However, just remember that I am talking about productions in the Boston region, within reasonable driving distance -couple of hours at most.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Boston Theatre Friday Roundup!

The 2009-2010 Boston Theatre Season kicks off tonight with the opening of Diane Paulus' The Donkey Show at the American Repertory Theater's Zero Arrow space.

Gloucester Stage's production of Edward Albee's blistering comedy The Goat plays through the weekend.

The Jersey Boys
keep up the act at the Shubert Theater.

Things will really start to heat up soon, though.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer's Here!

100_5831, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

What A Difference, Indeed

Bill Marx deals with that weird column Ed Siegel penned about a revival in Boston Theatre:

What a difference two years make! In August 2007 a Boston Globe editorial called for CPAC honcho Josiah Spaulding to step down because of a huge deficit, a gargantuan bonus (1.265 million) for himself, and the uncertain fate of CPAC’s support for free Shakespeare and the CSC. At the time, CPAC, a non-profit, assured us via publicity releases it would be reinventing itself over the coming years, striking out on a “visionary” limb, offering “a new business model” that might become “a national model for other cities.”

Instead, the CSC and Spaulding sever their relationship and CPAC brings in “Jersey Boys” and “The Color Purple.” For Siegel, this positions Spaulding as a potential hero, a contributor to a possible renaissance, which appears to mean helping to fill downtown restaurants. How much creative know-how or imagination does it take to bring in a touring production of a Broadway hit? Do you think any knowledgeable person in New York, Washington D.C., or Chicago would seriously believe that their downtown theater districts had been rejuvenated due to productions of “Jersey Boys” and “The Comedy of Errors?”

Is Edinburg Family Friendly?

Our local critic Thom Garvey gives his Edinburg recap here.

And today's Guardian has a column in which, after seeing several shows, the author and his family try to make some decisions:

The Pajama Men provoked a family debate. What makes a show appropriate or inappropriate? Sex? Violence? Drugs? Paedophilia? Verbal obscenities? Nudity? Outside the children's programme, almost everything at the fringe seems violent, disturbing or sexual in some way. That, I suppose, is what most good theatre is about. So we scrapped the appropriateness question and simply asked what might be interesting. Children this age are old enough to be challenged. Sometimes they positively revel in it. That does not mean they want to see Trilogy, with a stage full of dancing, naked women. It is not that their sensibilities need protecting, it's just that they would die of embarrassment.

Back From Vacation

100_5865, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard

Friday, August 07, 2009

What's At Stake?

George Hunka talks up a panel on Risking Innovation:

For there is much at risk. A denial of critical, professional or academic preferment; the horror of penury (the greatest, perhaps, in both of the post-capitalist geopolitical and personal spheres); similarly, the increasing difficulty of securing the wherewithal to produce the work one envisions; the fear of being thought intellectual and cold; the fear of allying oneself with the abject or the ridiculed; the terror of the communitarian, solitary, with silence as his only companion; the suspicion that there will be no compensatory laugh to undermine the tragic recognition; and, of course, one wants to be well-liked and fears the disapproval of the community. Risky behavior becomes suspect in the panopticon, subject to scrutiny, ridicule and punishment. And yet, what deeper experience and recognition can explore our entire condition if we do not take those risks? And what kind of art will be produced if, so tentative and frightened in merely our discussions of theatre, we are – and why shouldn't we expect this, given our fearful behavior and expression in the public arena – similarly tentative and frightened in the theatre we produce (ex cathedra, as it were)?

How Uninteresting!

The blogosphere seems to be getting all excited that Theresa Rebeck wrote a piece defending Theresa Rebeck plays.

Actually, I think the piece she wrote in LA Times back in April in defense of plot was better and more coherent.

However, in both cases she is almost painfully unspecific. And this opaque style leads to most all of the other comments on the article being painfully unspecific as well.

After reading the two columns, I come away with a distinct feeling that Rebeck is more and more discouraged by what she is seeing at the Lark, specifically.

But really, why this dance of "there are CERTAIN plays that are theatrical, but don't cohere..."?

Just come out and say: "Sarah Ruhl and company are getting grants and, now, Broadway productions? And much of the audience I sit with, at least, doesn't like or understand their plays!"

I know, people are going to say, "Hey, you don't know that's who or what she's talking about!" My point, exactly.

And I'm not picking on Theresa, here. This goes on all the time. I've been guilty as well.

Yes, I know the danger of naming one specific example; discussions about broader trends narrow very quickly to ideological defenses of the specific subject in question. But without more guideposts, such general pronouncements can become speculative excercises.

Read how quickly the commenters on the Rebeck piece start to attempt definitions of terms. Now, you may think this is just part of the process, a healthy discussion. I would say it is a waste of time. What commenters are trying to do is figure out what the author of the post is talking about. Meanwhile, in most cases like this, the author of the post knows darn well what he or she is talking about.

If we want a true discussion, it is up to the authors of the original posts to define their terms.

Note: I do realize Rebeck mentions Conor McPhereson's Saint Nicholas in her column, but this is unhelpful. Saint Nicholas, and the work of Conor McPhereson is all about conventional story telling. The fact that so many people showed up for a play with the powerful brand of Agatha Christie, as opposed to a relatively unknown playwright's obscurely titled work, isn't too big of a mystery, right?

She also mentions Constance Congdon and Mac Wellman, but, of course, she qualifies them as "exceptional."

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

When You Can't See the Play Through the Theatrical

Huntington Theatre Company Director of New Work, Lisa Timmell talks about how all the tools "modernism" has brought to dramatists sometimes can't allow us to HEAR the play:

Deported/a dream play has been through several readings and workshops recently. Director Judy Braha and the actors have been working with Joyce for about two years developing the piece, which has a stylistically expansive dramaturgy. There are songs; there are dances; there are objects and images of great symbolic importance. None of which I allowed in yesterday’s reading because I had the sense that the text was getting lost in the development process. Did I have any proof? Nope. It was a just a hunch. In any case, I needed to hear the text and I have yet to figure out how to listen to projections.

Ultimately, I believe it’s sometimes important to pay attention to the established structure and ignore the demands of the content as part of a development process. On the one hand, theatre seems like an almost endlessly pliable art form. It truly is whatever you want it to be, from guerrilla street theatre to Broadway. On the other hand, the satisfaction granted by an engaging, disciplined and familiarly drawn narrative is impossible to deny.

Boston Theatre News

Boston Blogs and Papers on theatre in Boston:

The Boston Globe and Bill Marx at the ArtsFuse review the Williamstown revival of The Torch-Bearers.

Thom Garvey is on the case of a blogosphere and the idea of conflicts of interest and editorial independence.

Ryan Landry is playing Oscar Wilde in the play Gross Indecency out in Provincetown. Joanna Weiss has a review in the Globe.

Jersey Boys is reviewed by Carolyn Clay in the Boston Phoenix. Bob Nesti has his notice of the show in EdgeBoston here.

In the Providence Phoenix, Bill Rodgriguez reviews that play in which the audience watches from their cars in an abandoned parking lot.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Theatre In the Car... and on the Wall

A theater company in Providence plays with site specifics and media. From a review in the Providence journal.

To catch the latest offering from Amber Kelly and her Theater of Thought you have to drive to a Pawtucket parking lot and stay there. In your car. In the dark.

You will then be instructed to turn your radio to 89.5 FM and soon you will hear two actors talking in a van parked in front of you. The sliding side door of the vehicle is open so you can see the goings-on from your car.

But this production is more akin to a live drive-in movie, where close ups are projected on a screen, or in this case a painted brick wall. Videos of flashback sequences are also seen on the wall.

One Night Only - SlamBoston

The SlamBoston is on tonight at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Unlike most short play festivals, this one is graded by judges and the style.

Slams draw a good, fun crowd as well as some great local actors, directors and playwrights, although the play selection is open to submissions from all around the country.

Tonight only.

Boston Theatre News

Here's the news around the hub today:

The unabridged Twelfth Night out at Shakespeare and Company is reviewed by Sandy Macdonald in the Globe.

Thomas Garvey is out at Williamstown to report on the new Noah Haidle play What is the Cause of Thunder.

Edge Boston interviews the boys who are the Jersey Boys which is playing at the Colonial.

Ian Thal talks about his experiences with the Open Air Circus this summer.

If you are attending the Breaking Ground Readings at the Huntington Theatre Company, they would love to hear your thoughts at the Huntington Blog.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Fever Fest 2009 Comes From Collaboration

This has not been a sleepy summer in the provinces.

Small companies have filled Boston houses with fun and, in some cases, challenging works. And that trend continues through August as some of those companies provide works in this year's FeverFest.

However, this season there is a significant change on the production end of the festival, which is normally helmed and administrated by Whistler in the Dark.

An alliance of small theaters has come together to work collaboratively to produce FeverFest09: Friction at the Factory Theater. The hope is that this collaboration, named The Small Theatre Alliance of Boston, will expand beyond this initial production and into the future.

Playwright John J. King's Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life is part of this year's Fest.

King explains in an e-mail:

Though still in very early-stage discussions of what shape and direction the organization will take, S.T.A.B. has already yielded mutually beneficial collaboration between some of its current member companies. Three S.T.A.B. members: Orfeo Group, New Exhibition Room and Bad Habit Productions have all been working together this summer to cross promote each other’s productions: exchanging postcards and free program advertisements. S.T.A.B. also maintains a website with a calendar full of all member events (we have the Monologues on there!). Clearly these are first steps. But though early on in its development, S.T.A.B. is becoming a catalyst for reaching out and cooperation among Boston’s small theatres. FeverFest09 is the first public and artistic display of this collaboration.

The show runs this weekend and next, but the Factory Theater has a very limited seating capacity, so if you want to catch the show, you better get your tickets in advance.