Monday, December 20, 2010

Top Ten List Rules (Reprise)

The year is ending. Though most of the big guns have weighed in already, you can still dash off a top ten list that will have people tweeting their blue-feathered bottoms off! I thought that in this seemingly interminable time of yearly reflection I would reprise a post from last year.

Top Ten Tips for Creating a Kick-Ass Top Ten List:

1. No Apologies. Only wimps open with a paragraph about how these lists are really impossible to make with any fairness. But, of course, they then go on to demonstrate just how ruthlessly unfair they can be. Perhaps this type of apology is required if you have lots of writer friends who are slipping into irrelevance and depression. However, if you are a nobody, and you know nobody, be strong and remember that readers are looking for Christmas presents in crowded shopping malls and fairness is the last thing on their minds.

2. Title It Correctly. Don’t ever, ever use the title My Favorite ___________ of 200_. Please, leave "favorites" to the Facebook pages of 12 year olds and the blogs of unemployed English majors who are still wondering where the Dead Poet’s Society meets. Good Options: Most Important, Worst, Most Overrated, Most Underrated. But Best is still the ballsiest, and drives people bats**t crazy, especially if you rank the entries.

3. Don’t Worry If You Didn’t See, Read, or Attend That Much. If you only have only seen ten movies this year, make them your Top Ten Movies of the Year. It will be a far more interesting list than most of those out there.

4. Include Celebrities and Harry Potter. You can easily do this if you title the list Most Important, (see number 2.) Find a way to incorporate Sarah Palin, and then hope that she refudiates the mention through her Twitter Bunker. Harry Potter is not only a worldwide franchise, but is now taught in the literature departments of some colleges. So, in including Potter on your list, you get to appear middlebrow and highbrow, and the very best part is that you don't have to do it by attending those ridiculous colleges.

5. Stay away from Live Performances. Nobody goes out of their house anymore, except to the mall, but in this economy even that is curtailed. In fact, people may geographically be out, but they have actually secreted their house away with them. Their abode fits in the palm of their hand, enabling frat boys to text with the boys back at the house while a woman is naked in front of them at a strip bar, and loopy teenage girls to chat with BFF’s while the Jonas Brothers existentially contort themselves into peach-fuzzed Peter Pans, inches from their eyes.

6. Visual is Best. People love to comment on things that don’t take a lot of their time to grasp. The best lists rank images - The 20 Best Movie Posters of the Year. The 10 Best Book Covers is an excellent topic, especially during the Christmas season; everybody is at Border’s or Barnes and Noble, looking for crappy last minute gifts. This list has a two-fold effect: Your readers will experience the delightful freedom to finally judge a book by its cover AND they can feel like they know the first thing about graphic design. Avoid ranking viral videos until they start being taught at many colleges - probably next year.

7. Put a Surprise on the List. The best way to do this is to surprise yourself by including something you haven’t read, seen or heard! As a bonus, make it something nobody else has, or will, experience either. For a movie, you could scroll through the online programs of film festivals and just pick one.

8. Don’t Be Afraid to Kiss Up. For instance, in 2008 no reviewers or editors actually took the time to read all of Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering, but many reviewers and editors do have children they believe should go to Harvard.

9. Collage It Sexy. For your header image, find a hip, visual way to arrange your selections. The New York Times Book review always finds ways to photograph their top ten books of the year so that their bibliophile readers will immediately want to go to the bathroom. If you don’t have enough flesh on your list as it is, you could, say, put the top ten book covers onto t-shirts and then photoshop those shirts onto ten of Tiger Woods’ mistresses.

10. You Are Not As Smart or As Dumb as You Think. Don’t try to engage in actual criticism – you just aren’t that brilliant. Accepting this will be a great advantage in getting your list seen. Even some paid critics flinch when making a Best list, (see number one); this disability is brought on by the distracting voice in their head that reminds them that their sister or brother, who is a genetic scientist on a grant in Oslo, has always had more perceptive and frequent critical insights. However, you are far smarter than most of the celebrities and writers typing away on Open Salon and The Huffington Post.

11. Don’t Add a Bonus Slot. No ties, and no add-ons to the list. They aren't clever and they aren't necessary. Lists that are too long are annoying. Avoid making a list that reads like a mind-numbing 5 year-old in the back seat on a family Holiday sojourn, listing all the things he or she likes in the world. And the title Honorable Mention should be used only for contests where money is involved; this is an old capitalist trick used to rip the scales from the eyes of artists and make them want the prize money rather than the “honor.”

Hope these tips will help you create a great top ten list! Happy Holidays!

Bob Cratchit Hangs with Christmas Present

Monday, November 29, 2010

Faith Based Drama Criticism?

The current Broadway revival of Driving Miss Daisy has prompted a little bit of critical discussion, most of it centering on how well this seemingly sentimental "two hander" holds up.

You can read some of the reviews on StageGrade, which aggregates the critical consensus of Alfred Uhry's play into a letter grade of "B". Meanwhile, on Parabasis the play has few defenders.

I own a few volumes of sermons which the Reverend Peter Gomes has delivered at Harvard, and as I was looking through some of the Advent sermons this past weekend I just happened to come across this:

When in St. Lukes' Gospel Jesus is asked about his family, again, and whenever Jesus is asked about his family by his contemporaries, it is always with an edge because they know more than we would like them to know about Jesus's family. They ask the question that is designed to embarrass and humiliate him: they say, "Who are your people?" and he answers, "My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God and do it." That's who my family is, those who hear God's word and who do it. It is not my mother it is not my sisters it is not my brothers, it is not my great grandfather, it is not my great uncle Harry: family is now redefined in terms of those who hear God's will and who do it.

Because of that consciousness, because of Jesus's redefinition of the family, I always cry in the last scene of the movie Driving Miss Daisy, one of my favorite films. Think of those two antagonists, for that is what they are, from different worlds, thrown together by the circumstances and necessities of life, and bonded, as we watch this film evolve, by an unspeakable love which neither of them can or dares enunciate, a love that transcends their earthly stations and relationships. The family is absolutely useless, bumbling son and obnoxious daughter in-law. It's the chauffeur who in the end is family, and in that last scene we see them sitting together in the nursing home, he feeding her pie and she taking what small pleasure she can in it and in him. You see, it becomes clear here that family is not a function of blood or of heredity or kinship, but rather of call and response. Relationships are no longer static or defined by status: they are dynamic and transforming, and it is called love.

The above quote is from the collection of sermons There Is A Plan! It is the sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Secret Envies of Drama and Food Critics....

Brendan Kiley, theater critic for Seattle's Stranger, gets philosophical about being trapped in a bad theater experience:

Most people seem allergic to the idea of the theater critic bailing before the show's over: It's a critic's job to watch the play, no matter how bad, and he should see every last minute of it before rendering judgment. But why? Is the food critic who sits down to a plate of black, slimy lettuce required to eat the whole thing before she can authoritatively judge that salad unfit to eat? Of course not. Don't be ridiculous.

Some will object to the food-critic analogy on the grounds that it's remote. But only the theater critic and food critic have their consumption of the "product" publicly scrutinized. The book critic can privately skim a bad novel on his couch, the art critic can choose to look at an object for one minute or one hour, the rock critic can pop in and out of a show. The film critic with her stack of DVDs has the divine gift of fast-forward. (Screw invisibility and flight. As a theater critic, I want the superpower of fast-forward.) But the food critic will either finish her plate or not; the theater critic will either sit through the whole thing or bolt. And everybody who cares to know will find out.

Some will object to the food-critic analogy by arguing that rotten theater isn't as poisonous to the mind as rotten food is to the body. But those people are wrong. Bad theater is bad for you. Expert witness: Epictetus, writing sometime around A.D. 100.

That's Refreshing

The Globe has a pre-show piece on the Huntington's production of Vengeance is the Lord's and its playwright, Bob Glaudini:

For him, the writing process begins with an image in his mind. In the case of “Vengeance Is the Lord’s,’’ it involved two characters, one of whom says to the other something that can’t be printed in this newspaper. Glaudini then follows the characters to find out what the story is.

“I don’t use an outline, and so that’s hit-and-miss. There are plays that are definitely misses that no one’s ever gonna do,’’ he said, adding that he nonetheless wouldn’t know how to take a different approach to writing.

That's some refreshing candor about the limitations of the just-follow-the-story-as-you-write method.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Grey Day For a Trip to The Grey Lady

Mel Brooks on The Artist and Critic

Critical Responsibility?

Waffle Blogging

Several bloggers and critics have been posting briefly on the role of the critic. This is hardly new territory in the blogosphere, but if you are interested in the practice of criticism it is always an attractive subject. Some people are not interested in the practice of criticism, which is OK, - some people are not interested in major league sports or politics, either.

Isaac Butler asks, very plainly, "What is a critic's responsibility?" He raises this question after reading Ben Brantley's piece on the aesthetic challenges faced by very intimate works (Driving Miss Daisy, A Life in the Theater) when they make the move from Off-Broadway to Broadway.

Issac is "infuriated" by the piece:

There's a prime opportunity to educate the public here going completely to waste. The Death of Commercial Off-Broadway (which is what Brantley is really bemoaning here) is a topic that's been floating around in the arts journalism ether for some time . He pays some lips service to these ideas, but doesn't investigate them or think about them in any critical or interesting way. Wouldn't it be good for one of the nation's supposed foremost experts on the art form to actually discuss this issue in a way a little bit deeper than the equivalent of a tossed-off blog post?

Of course, I guess it all comes down to what a reader believes the responsibilities are of someone in Brantley's position. If one sees his job as simply seeing-something-and-then-saying-something, then really, this Critic's Notebook is just fine. But if one believes-- as I do-- that a Critic's Notebook should actually cast a critical eye on something as a way of enlightening the reader, then it's a total failure.

To me the most troubling part of the Brantley piece, (or at least the most eyebrow raising,) is that he considers Gatz to be "the great theatrical event of the season so far." (But that's a different post.)

Issac sees a missed opportunity, but isn't a critic's first responsibility to the art? Brantley concedes right up front to incontrovertible economic reasons. Like Isaac, I would have appreciated even a listing of those reasons, but is that really a critic's responsibility, even in a "critic's notebook" entry?

The trouble, it would appear, is really in shrinking column space. Theatre arts feature articles are increasingly devoted to pre-show publicity-driven profiles, so much so that when critics occasionally have room to stretch their thoughts, we all will most likely have ideas as to how they should proceed and what are worthy topics.

Bill Marx, over at the Arts Fuse, laid into Globe critic Don Acouin's review of Albee's A Delicate Balance, calling into question, Acouin's critical acumen. On this point, Tom Garvey agreed, (will wonders never cease!), but pushed the discussion further, positing that even the critics with the "chops", so to speak, usually are using them to reinforce the cultural assumptions of their readership rather than taking occasions to challenge them:

"What you think already." That really should be the tagline of the Globe's arts section. For the paper's writers are hardly engaged with the art they supposedly cover - instead they're engaged with their audience, and what they think that audience can understand and will pay to hear. In a word, they're mirrors, not windows. It's true that some of the mirrors are smarter than others - but they turn that intelligence into a sharper picture of their readers, not the art they're supposedly writing about. Because, in a word, that's where the money is.

Which brings us back to Isaac's question about a critic's responsibility. Must a critic go deeper than the art that is presented? It would appear that Isaac and Tom would both agree on that they should. But what is the line between journalist and critic? Is there one?

I know many of my readers will disagree, but I do feel fortunate, in some way, to have the Boston Globe arts pages. Without them, would we have such stories as the CitiCenter for the Performing Arts or the American Repertory Theater backstage dealings? But these are the product of reporting and some serious legwork - Arts Editor Geoff Edgers is instrumental in this. However, to Isaac's point, sometimes I have felt that the Globe's critics have seemed strangely removed from the reporting of their own arts pages.

More independent critics - Garvey, Marx, Larry Stark, Sandy MacDonald (a stringer for the Globe, but also a freelancer) - seem more ready to openly challenge the marketing frame that is set forth by the theatre institutions. Whereas, I have often felt that the Globe critics seems much more ready to engage works on the field that that the marketers have staked out - even as their paper may be penetrating some of the marketing myths. (To this I will add that Jenna Scherer at the Herald is more than ready with a pin to pop a conventional balloon as well. Though her space becomes more and more limited.)

Meanwhile John Kuntz sees this critical assessment of critics by critics to be a net win for artists!

And, frankly, while we all deny it: there is NOTHING more entertaining than a bloody, ruthless, crucifying review.

As long as it’s not about us.

So, if someone’s going to get ripped to shreds, let it be the critics!

Let ‘em eat each other!

It’s their nature, after all.

Telling a critic to stop being mean is like telling a piranha not to snack between meals.

It’s just who they ARE!

Let them be free!

While it may be true that, (as John maintains a little later in his post,) making waffles is harder than maintaining a blog, it is also true that independent critical voices may be very necessary right now. I may be a generally optimistic guy, but I hold out little hope for mainstream criticism to persist in the coming years. When WBUR summarily executed its arts pages years ago, I was convinced that there was little hope for critical discussion, as well as cultural argument in mainstream outlets.

The web presences of theatre institutions, small and large, have increased dramatically over the past few years, and this is welcome. But at this rate it will soon overpower any independent critical voices. It won't be a question anymore of whether or not an online critic (or even a mainstream one?) is right or wrong, it will be a question of whether or not they are relevant.

There may be a tendency for we theatre artists to say, "good riddance," but let's remember that just a few months ago, the drumbeat that many critics online had been pounding out about the direction of one local arts institution turned out to be the same tune many artists, some of them prominent ones, were practicing themselves in private.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

On Annie Baker and Chekhov

Thom Garvey on Annie Baker's Body Awareness at Speakeasy Stage:

Is being politically correct kind of like being autistic?

That's the implied thesis of Annie Baker's Body Awareness, now at SpeakEasy Stage as part of a three-part Baker festival running through November. (I gazed into another side of this theatrical triptych, Circle Mirror Transformation, here, and will see the final panel, The Aliens, later this week.) Though close enough in style to form a family, these theatrical triplets aren't quite identical; if one watched them in the sequence of their composition (that is, Body, then Circle, then Aliens), my guess is one would perceive Baker becoming more and more self-conscious almost scene by scene.

For she is a dramatist all but obsessed, like many millennials, with not being overly "dramatic." Indeed, in the notes to Body Awareness, the playwright expresses pain over even being heard: "Speaking is a kind of misery," Baker (probably) whispers to her interviewer. "We're all kind of quietly suffering . . . trying and failing to communicate to other people what we want and what we believe." She goes further about her own methods of revision: "If I can hear [myself] writing, like if there is thinly-disguised exposition or a nudge to the audience or some kind of obvious point made, I go back and change it."

I was surprised, then, to discover that Body Awareness is full of rather obvious points. Indeed, despite Baker's mania to never seem "stagy," I often perceived melodramatic mechanics operating beneath the surface of her script; people enter in tears, or break down while on stage, etc.

Dan Rebellato on Chekhov in the Guardian:

But also, I think, Chekhov is a mystery. There are some playwrights who are so busily present in their work that it's like you have the author beside you murmuring comments on the action. Chekhov is different; what does he think of his characters? Does he admire them or pity them? Ask us to examine or ridicule? It's never obvious. Chekhov's characters tend to let their mouths run away with them (Gayev in The Cherry Orchard fills a silence with an idiotic hymn of praise to a bookcase that, even as he's saying it, he must regret). It's almost as if Chekhov lets silences form in his play, which his characters nervously fill and thus reveal themselves.

For me, this is why Chekhov continues to be an important model. We've turned away somewhat from "messages" and "thesis plays"; the contemporary preference is for authorial blankness, not of style but of commentary; we like stark juxtapositions and moral emptiness, the responsibility placed on the audience to make the judgment. Chekhov is rightly admired for the complexity of his characters and the extraordinary elegance of his narratives, but beneath that it's the dark, dark irony and pitiless gaze that make him truly our contemporary.

I find these discussions interesting.

Chekhov, of course, was a moralist. And I am not so sure that "we like moral emptiness."

Friday, October 29, 2010

New Play Shuffle - Boston - New England Edition

Patrick Gabridge crunches some numbers for Boston:

So, at ten Boston theaters, we have 11 world premieres (out of more than 50 productions), though BPT skews the average a little. Of those 11 world premieres, 6 are by Boston writers (only 4 out of 10 theatres are producing work by local writers). If you take BPT out of the mix, since they exclusively produce new work by BU alums, that leaves us with 4 full-length plays written by Boston writers getting professional productions in town.

Given those numbers, you wouldn't know that we have a wealth of playwrights living in or near Boston, whose work has been widely produced.

And for New England:

To sum up: 24 professional theatres of various size in New England (not counting Boston) are staging 16 world premieres (by 11 theatres). Quite a few musicals. Only six of the writers are from New England. Not exactly great numbers if you're a New England playwright (okay, they're kind of depressing). It'd sure be nice to see an average of at least 1 new play per theatre, and a lot stronger commitment to New England writers. (I'm not sure about where the teams from Goodspeed are from, so there could be a few more New Englanders in the mix.)

If you add the Boston numbers from yesterday's post to the mix, you get 34 theatres staging 27 world premieres, by 12 local writers.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dressed for the Theater...

Dressed for Work...., originally uploaded by arthennessey.

Those who follow this blog know that I spend October telling ghost stories and scaring people up in Salem, MA.

I wear this costume for the introduction to the current show I am in. I perform two to three monologues, manipulate puppets and control other effects - all in the span of twenty minutes.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup -

As Thomas Garvey points out on The Hub Review - this is a very busy theatre season, and some good theatre is going fast and furious, (I missed Young Jean Lee's The Shipment and will miss Fraulein Maria as well.)

Last Chance

You can revisit Wyoming with the team who created the original Laramie Project in The Laramie Project Residency - only until Saturday.

David Mamet's Boston Marriage ends this weekend at the New Repertory Theater in Watertown.

How fast can you spell "closing"? Lyric Stage presents final performances of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee through Sunday.

The all too short run of Fraulein Maria, (I won't get my chance to see it,) presented by ArtsEmerson, yodels out as well.

Keeping in tune through this first weekend of October is the goal of Stoneham Theater's Perfect Harmony.

The final whistle is getting ready to be blown for The Complete World of Sports (abridged)at the Merrimack Rep.


The Dirty Rotten Scoundrels keep scheming up at the North Shore Music Theatre.

The exploits of "The Smartest Guys in the Room" are played out theatrically in the play Enron at Boston Center for the Arts, presented by Zeitgeist Stage.

Speakeasy Stage's production of Sarah Ruhl's In The Next Room, or the vibrator play keeps humming along in the Roberts Theater.

Amanda Palmer will continue mastering the ceremonies in Cabaret at the American Repertory Theatre's Zero Arrow Space.

The assorted travelers of Inge's Bus Stop can still be found waiting at the Huntington Theatre Company's Boston University Theatre.

You can fall down the rabbit hole with the A.R.T. production of Alice vs. Wonderland.


Actors Shakespeare project takes on both parts of Shakespeare's Henry IV at the Midway Studios in Fort Point.

Michael Towers' play Five Down, One Across opens the new season at Boston Playwrights Theatre.

It is October, after all, and the folks at 11:11 Theatre Company present Poe; a fever dream at The Factory Theater.

Limited Engagement

Another Country presents another SlamBoston on October 4,5 and 6th only.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Public Art and Parking

Signs and Dunes

While Tom Garvey and Greg Cook take on public art in their respective corners, talk radio hosts are making hay of this article by Jen Thomas on the Wicked Local Cambridge blog:

Starting this week, the city of Cambridge has been handing out redesigned parking ticket envelopes that feature a revamped method of receiving a parking citation. Part of a public works project called “Crossing Non-Signalized Locations,” the envelopes adorned with yoga poses are an attempt to bring out the poetry in parking enforcement.

“The idea is to take something out of an interaction that has some sort of tension to it and give those kinds of communication an alternative quality to them,” said Lillian Hsu, the director of public art at the Cambridge Arts Council.


In addition to the envelopes, the installation includes three other components, all meant to bring warmth and wonder to the world of parking regulations.

“I found the parking officials here to be very extremely smart, grounded and really interesting. And it’s those qualities that were missing from the world of parking enforcement in which they worked,” Peltz (the artist) said.

As part of this project, six new street signs were installed around the city. The signs, written and designed to appear like a regulation street sign, are meant mostly for pedestrians and play off the poetry Peltz found in his reading of the city’s parking code.

“The idea is that people stumble upon them and wonder about them and find them puzzling,” Hsu said.

For example, in response to an existing sign on Inman Street that reads, “If you’re reading this sign, You’re biking the wrong way,” a new sign continues the poem with the phrase “If you’re reading this sign, You’re reading this sign.”

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard

Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

"Going Places"

Here in the Hub, Victorian America gets the dramatic treatment by two of America's most bankable playwrights.

Above, Debra Wise, Melissa Baroni and Jennie Israel in David Mamet's Boston Marriage at New Repertory Theatre (Photo by Andrew Brilliant/ Brilliant Pictures)

And Sarah Ruhl's take on Victorian ladies coming face to face with the advent of electricity opens this weekend at Speakeasy Stage. Below: Anne Gottlieb and Marianna Bassham in a scene from IN THE NEXT ROOM (or The Vibrator Play). (Photo by Stephen T. Meyer.)

Below is my team's entry into the 48 Hour Film Festival a few years ago - Time Share revolves around three Victorian women and a modern day Victorian scholar. Written, filmed and edited in 48 hours and had to include certain characters props and lines of dialogue. (Amanda and I wrote the screenplay.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Looks for Fall

Nathaniel in Autumn

Guess I'm not the only one who has rearranged their corner of cyberspace.

The Arts Fuse and The Hub Review have new looks as well.

Check them out.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Back Further to the Future

Blogger and critic Alison Croggon has some thoughts on the age of the internet critic and the supposed Golden Age of print criticism:

Once upon a time (say, a decade or so ago), it was enough to work for an august masthead like The Age or The Australian to ensure a certain status. It didn't matter if your work was relentlessly mediocre, as were Leonard Radic's reviews in his three grey decades as Age theatre critic. The institution guaranteed status and respect. "Authority", in other words, was vested in an institution rather than in the quality of a critic's work. In the best circumstances, publications gain lustre from the quality of their critics (Michael Billington for The Guardian, Kenneth Tynan for the London Evening Standard). But in the worst, as so often has been the case in Australia, the situation has been the other way around: the critic has been important because of where she is published.

This assumption has seriously disintegrated over the past five years. What we have now is a noisy and merciless marketplace in which a critic's authority has to be earned in every piece of work he writes. And the evolution of serious, engaged and intelligent critical conversation has shown up many established print reputations as the shabby pretences they actually are.

You can read some of Alison's reviews and thoughts on her blog Theatre Notes.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jaws on the Big Screen

Just got back from seeing Jaws on the big screen at the Somerville Theatre. It is playing tomorrow night as well.

I hadn't seen it in a theater since I was a kid.

As you can see from the promotion above, there was plenty of good fun had by all. And I can report that Jaws still can make 'em jump!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Around the Horn - What to Read?

Willow Skies

During summer, it is easy to lay back and let things build up in the Google Reader. Here are a few things you may have missed, but might want to check out.

Helen Epstein has been quite taken with The Nibroc Trilogy out in Chester Theatre. She has reviewed all three plays for The Arts Fuse:

Hutton’s script rarely lets its actors or audience down. It’s fun, witty, moving, poetic. The Nibroc Trilogy builds from a chance encounter on a train between two passengers to a full portrait of a society in the grip of major changes.

Epstein reviewed Last Train to Nibroc, Rock City and Gulf View Drive.

Tom Garvey tries to preach some perspective on outdoor Shakespeare and also outlines several textual points about Othello that directors must at LEAST grapple with, before they cast the play, or get too far with a "concept."

Othello is not Denzel. Or Taye.

We like our modern Othellos to be not merely hotheads, but also hotties as well. An understandable matinee-idol impulse, to be sure. Shakespeare's Othello, however, is an old soldier, weathered rather than beautiful, and engaged in an obvious May-December romance. To be blunt, if he and Desdemona are the hottest people in the room, then a key point in Shakespeare's vision has been occluded. We should never, ever expect that they would fall in love.

Tom also has a couple of posts at the Clyde Fitch Report comparing Mamet's prescriptions for Theatre to the results evident in the Broadway production of Mamet's Race.

Guest blogger, Peter Zazzali, at The Playgoer has a series of posts about current state of American Acting Training. This is from part III:

Today the profession has become even more competitive as an increasing number of actors are entering an unstable job market. When the League of Professional Theatre Training Programs began in 1972 there were only a handful of university-sponsored acting programs, currently there are nearly 300. At the time, regional theatres contracted actors on a yearly basis thereby providing them with professional stability. As I mentioned in my previous blog, this situation began to change during the middle-1970s when external sources of funding for these theatres decreased. Nevertheless, university acting programs have proliferated ever since. From Alaska and Hawaii to Florida and Maine, BFA and MFA programs have become ubiquitous at America’s colleges over the past twenty years despite the fact that the professional demand is simply not there.

Terry Teachout posts about the Imagining Madoff affair:

Which brings us to the heart of the matter: Why on earth did Mr. Wiesel, of all people, threaten to drop the big one on Ms. Margolin and Theater J? Not only is he prominent and admired, but he is also a celebrated human-rights advocate who has famously declared that "indifference, to me, is the epitome of evil." Yet he has proved himself utterly indifferent to the rights of a serious artist and a well-regarded theater company to make art as they see fit, merely because their art portrays him in a way he doesn't like. I wouldn't go so far as to call that hypocritical—not quite—but I have no doubt that it's unworthy of a great man who ought to know better.

And Leonard Jacobs agrees, putting forward an idea to create a play about the whole affair.

On the "business of theater" front, Travis Bedard talks about social media:

What role is social media playing in regional theater? It is playing a very small role thus far. Like any good business Regionals are waiting for smaller, nimbler companies to create best practices and proofs of concepts around social media that ensure some stability before they risk time or treasure on it.

Also, Robert Weinhardt-Kendt at The Wicked Stage has been sending dispatches from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival including a review of Culture Clash's new show, which is part of a huge initiative for American plays:

Possibly even more striking is that this ensemble-created political comedy is the first salvo in "American Revolutions," a series of 37 plays commissioned by OSF from the likes of Robert Schenkkan, David Henry Hwang, Suzan-Lori Parks, Young Jean Lee, and many more. This is not business as usual for the classical rep company nestled anomalously in the Siskiyou mountain plain, to put it mildly. I look forward to more in this vein.

My inbox is starting to fill up with announcements about season opening shows around town, so blogging may pick up a bit around the blogosphere.

For now, I'll keep enjoying the weather.

I Do Occasionally See Movies, Too!

Some of you may not realize, but I do write some thoughts about film as well. I write about it over on another one of my blogs that is kind of strictly devoted to that art.

It is called Gate Dimension, check it out if you get a chance. I thought about including my film thoughts here as well, but I like to keep this mostly to performing arts.

Above is an image from Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket - part of a little photo essay on the film.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Shhh! Returns - For A Very Limited Time.

Extended or return engagements on the Boston Fringe theater scene are very rare, due to our limited space issues.

One of the more delightful fringe offerings of the last few years was New Exhibition Room's Shhh! And it is returning late night tonight, after their current production of Candyland at the Boston Playwright's Theatre. After tonight, you'll have to go down to the New York International Fringe Festival to catch it.

Details here.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Who is Anis Shivani?

Book Critic

If, two weeks ago, you took a look at the Huffpost Blogger profile for Anis Shivani, not much would have stood out to you. He submits many posts of the typical style for the Books section of the site, and, at most, they have generated maybe around 100 comments in total.

That all changed Saturday morning when Shivani unleashed his photo slideshow of The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers.

It is now Sunday and there are over 1000 comments and the story has been shared over 5000 times on Twitter and Facebook combined.

Here is just a taste of his introduction:

The academy is ruled by "theorists" who consider their work superior to the literature they deconstruct, and moreover they have no interest in contemporary literature. As for the reviewing establishment, it is no more than the blurbing arm for conglomerate publishing, offering unanalytical "reviews" announcing that the emperor is wearing clothes (hence my inclusion of Michiko Kakutani).

The ascent of creative writing programs means that few with critical ability have any incentive to rock the boat--awards and jobs may be held back in retaliation. The writing programs embody a philosophy of neutered multiculturalism/political correctness; as long as writers play by the rules (no threatening history or politics), there's no incentive to call them out. (A politically fecund multiculturalism--very desirable in this time of xenophobia--is the farthest thing from the minds of the official arbiters: such writing would be deemed "dangerous," and never have a chance against the mediocrities.)

The MFA writing system, with its mechanisms of circulating popularity and fashionableness, leans heavily on the easily imitable. Cloying writers like Denis Johnson, Amy Hempel, Lydia Davis, Aimee Bender, and Charles D'Ambrosio are held up as models of good writing, because they're easy enough to copy. And copied they are, in tens of thousands of stories manufactured in workshops. Others hide behind a smokescreen of unreadable inimitability--Marilynne Robinson, for example--to maintain a necessary barrier between the masses and the overlords. Since grants, awards, and residencies are controlled by the same inbreeding group, it's difficult to see how the designated heavies can be displaced.

Shivani is an author of fiction, with at least one book on Amazon. His profile, interestingly enough, lists just about all of the players in the insular world of literary fiction and the Academy:

His fiction, poetry, and criticism appear in leading literary journals such as the Boston Review, Georgia Review, Harvard Review, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, Agni, Threepenny Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Iowa Review, Antioch Review, Colorado Review, Pleiades, Boulevard, London Magazine, Stand, Times Literary Supplement, Meanjin, Cambridge Quarterly, and elsewhere.

He lists prizes he has won and he is also a graduate of Harvard University.

At the moment, he promises to follow up with his lists of "underrated" contemporary American authors, to be followed by the most overrated and underrated global authors. You can bet many will be watching for those posts.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Typical Multiplex - 12 Screens, Nothing to See!

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

Shakespeare At Dusk

Last Chance

The Happy Medium Theatre Company will close its Family deValues at the Factory Theater this weekend.

F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company's production of the musical Violet closes this weekend at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.


On the Boston Common, Shakespeare's Othello plays out under the stars in Commonwealth Shakespeare's annual outing.

Over at the Central Square Theatre, Watson and Sherlock Holmes keep searching for the mystery behind The Hound of the Baskervilles

The unemployed denizens of an city on the verge of apocalypse still have to worry about finding a job in New Exhibition Room's premiere of Candyland at the Boston Playwrights Theatre.

Fully Committed keeps Gabriel Kuttner busy playing 40 characters. The play is outdoors so check the website and the weather.

Company One's wolves, princesses and other fairy tale characters are still haunting the stage in Grimm.

You can take a drive up to Beverly to check out Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the North Shore Music Theatre.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Buy Local?

Chris Jones, writing in the Chicago Tribune, looks at the different approaches to finding artistic leadership at theater companies in Chicago:

When Dennis Zacek, the artistic director of the Victory Gardens Theater, announced his retirement this month, he did not take the usual tack of demurring as to who should be his successor. In several candid interviews, Zacek said his associate artistic director, Sandy Shinner, should immediately ascend to the top artistic job. Shinner has worked in the Chicago theater for more than 30 years — Zacek asserted that that was a key qualification for the job. Yet the chairman of the Victory Gardens board, Jeff Rappin, insisted that due diligence required the theater to conduct a national search for Zacek's replacement. There were howls of dissatisfaction from many of those associated with the theater.

Meanwhile, the board chairman of the Next Theatre has come out in favor of hiring locally. As the Evanston-based theater moves to find a replacement for its short-lived artistic director Jason Southerland, who came from a Boston theater, Judy Kemp said the directors plan to look only in the Chicago area for Southerland's successor. Southerland was fired after a scandal involving his not securing the rights to the play “Return to Haifa.” Next was burned — almost fatally — by an out-of-town hire. It has circled its wagons. And it doesn't plan to take that chance twice.

Indeed, many of the recent out-of-town hires in the Chicago theater have proven problematic, at least in terms of the city's culture.

In Boston we have had several changes at the top spots over the last few years. Most of them have come from out of town. Trinity Rep, The Huntington Theatre Company, American Repertory Theater and New Repertory Theatre all went outside the Boston/New England area for replacements. It has become pretty standard operating procedure here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Partly Cloudy with Some Triple Deckahs


There is a lot of Sherlock Holmes onstage lately. In London there is The Secret of Sherlock Holmes and right here in the Hub is a stage version of The Hound of the Baskervilles at the Central Square Theater.

With all this stage activity, I realized that I have never actually read A.C. Doyle's famous works - apart from several of the short stories in collections such as Dorothy Sayers' The Omnibus of Crime.

So I picked up the 1000 plus page Bantam Classics edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes Novels and Stories, Vol 1. I am having a great time reading it and I am already about halfway through.

Holmes is such a fascinating character, mostly because of what I DON'T know about him. I have been making note of, and then collecting some of the great detective's observations or quotes.

"There is a strong family resemblance about misdeeds, and if you have all the details of a thousand at your finger ends, it is odd if you can't unravel the thousand and first." -Sherlock Holmes - A Study in Scarlet

It takes a little doing getting through the first couple of novels that introduced Holmes and Watson. A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four both take strange detours about two thirds into them. Scarlet suddenly moves from London to Salt Lake City, Utah and Four moves from a heart-pounding chase on the Thames to a narrative about an uprising in India. Both these diversions are interesting and gripping tales of their own, and provide backstory for the crimes facing Holmes. However, they also seem a little superfluous. While Doyle may have wanted to imbue the stories with more exotic flourishes, reading the stories now, I find Doyle's foggy London to be exotic enough.

Doyle's powers seemed to heighten when he was writing the collected stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. More focused and urgent, these shorter tales are a little addictive.

For summer reading, you may want to pack this bargain Bantam Classics book in your beach bag. It's quite a bargain at almost $7.00.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Critics Versus Advertising Dollars?

The Baltimore Sun's classical music critic, Tim Smith comments on the ongoing trial of Cleveland music critic Don Rosenberg versus his employer The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Rosenberg was allegedly removed from his beat because the Cleveland Orchestra complained that he was too rough on them - their music director, in particular.

Here is some of Smith's take:

For the last few decades, newspapers all over the country have been devaluing criticism. calling for more feature stories, trend pieces, news briefs, etc., and less actual critical thinking. Even before the Internet and the blogosphere it spawned, where anyone can take on the appearance of a critic, the place of the independent reviewer with actual credentials of education, experience and a clearly defined artistic value system has been on shaky ground in many papers.

I think some of this may have factored into what happened in Cleveland. If editors get the idea that critics are just glorified consumer reporters – you can trust this concert; don’t waste your money on that one – then what difference does it matter what "product" they cover? And if a “manufacturer” (especially one who buys ads in the paper) doesn’t like what the critic is saying, heck, just move him off the beat.

Likewise, music organizations have increasingly picked up on this notion that a critic is primarily a marketing tool, not a judge of artistic quality. My colleagues and I have heard all too often the line: “We need help selling tickets. Can’t you do a story?”

Hat Tip Wendy Rosenfield

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sunset Arch - Somerville Library

A City's Acting Employment Slide.. By the Numbers

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune highlights how the recession is affecting performing artists.

The article has quotes from several actors:

"I've never seen it this bad," said veteran actor Mark Bradley, who has been performing in the Twin Cities for decades and is currently appearing in "The Emperor's New Clothes" at the Old Log Theater. "The market for industrial films and corporate videos is bad. Commercial work is way down. All the things that we generally do to cobble together a living has been affected, so it's harder to live the same middle-class dream as other Americans."

Bradley offered himself as an example. In 1998, he earned about $72,000 through acting -- 36 percent from theater roles, 62 percent from commercials and industrial films and 2 percent from other things such as print modeling jobs. Ten years later, that income had collapsed. Of the $28,000 he took home in 2008, 45 percent came from theater, 53 percent from commercials and industrials, and 2 percent other.

He would not divulge his 2009 acting income because, he said, it was now so low "it's embarrassing."

Grown Men Weeping ... Miller's Power?

Ben Brantley sends in a dispatch from his London trip in which he takes in the new Howard Davies production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons.

At the end of his entry, he makes an observation that calls to mind what many reported seeing during the original production of Miller's Death of a Salesman:

Just before the curtain came down, the air was rent by the loudest, most convulsive sobs I have ever heard from within a theater audience. When I looked behind me, I saw a business-suited man the size of a linebacker, his head buried in his hands, being comforted by a petite blonde woman. My date for the show, who is as much in love with theater as I am, said of the sobbing giant, “That’s rather heartening, isn’t it?” I knew what she meant.

The Huntington Theatre Company produced an excellent All My Sons last season - the play still has an enormous power.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Moving Forward on Madoff

From the New York Times:

The original play, with the Wiesel character, was supposed to be performed at a theater in Washington, until that production was scuttled in May under pressure from Mr. Wiesel. Stageworks/Hudson is now producing the revised work, in which “Wiesel” has been replaced by a new character, a Holocaust survivor and poet named Solomon Galkin.


The Wiesel character in the earlier script was no passing contrivance. Ms. Margolin said she had seen the character as an ideal dramatic device, a name that would instantly connote moral authority. The central scene of the original play was an imagined conversation in which Wiesel pleaded with Madoff to invest his money. It also included a sexually tinged memory of Wiesel’s time in a concentration camp, as well as readings from the Talmud and meditations on repentance.

Wiesel spent much of the play cajoling and counseling Madoff, building up to a climactic moment in which the treacherous investor considered confessing his deceit to his wise and kindly companion.

The replacement character, Galkin, is described in the script as “80 years old, Holocaust survivor, poet, translator, treasurer of his synagogue.” But much of the original Wiesel dialogue has been retained and given to him, including the concentration camp memory and several provocative passages about morality and forgiveness.

For those who would like some context original, you can check out some posts at Isaac Butler's blog Parabasis, ( here, here and here) where the playwright and Theatre J people entered the comments.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pear Lime

Pear Lime, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

Boston Theater - Friday Roundup


Company One opens their evening of short plays based on twisted fairy tales. Grimm opens tonight at the Roberts Theater in The Boston Center for the Arts. Some of Boston's best playwrights have contributed. (Raymond Ramirez and Becca Lewis in Photo.)

The Gascon's invade Chelsea as Apollinaire presents their annual summer bilingual production. This year it is Cyrano De Bergerac playing in O'Malley Park across the Mystic River.

Bring something to throw on the grill for another outdoor offering. Gabriel Kuttner produced and stars in Fully Committed at the Christian Herter Park in Brighton. The show is directed by Steve Barkhimer and opens tonight.

Harold Hill has come to Waltham with his 76 Trombones for the Reagle Players' production of The Music Man.

The Vagabond Theater group is in the Black Box Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts for One Weekend Only with the premiere of a play called Burning The Barn.


The fighter keeps punching away at the Boston Playwrights Theatre. Gurnet Theater Project presents Cherry Smoke.

Gypsy continues up at the North Shore Music Theater.

Out in Stoneham you can still catch Always, Patsy Kline.

Zero Arrow keeps the night life going at The Donkey Show.

Merrimack Rep Is Doing Something Right

Merrimack Rep today announced that the theater has finished its 5th consecutive season "in the black."

From the Press Release:

With the books now closed on fiscal year 2010, which ended June 30, the company reports that it has finished in the black for the fifth consecutive year and recorded a moderate operating surplus. This surplus has helped the theatre further reduce its mortgage on its Bagshaw Mills office/rehearsal/artist housing facility, and build an operating cash reserve. The challenging economy has impacted MRT, as unrestricted contributed income declined about 24% for the year. The number of theatergoers increased approximately 10% during the same period, however, and the number of season ticket holders increased slightly.

You can read the full release on their blog.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More on Auditions

Right on the heels of John Kuntz's musing about auditions yesterday, Chicago actor/playwright Josh Rollins types some thoughts on his blog - The Glass Bead.

Josh acted here in Boston for a while, and was, for some of that time, a part of Essayons Theater Company - the company I founded and ran with friends and my wife, Amanda.

He is currently in a successful, extended run of Suicide, Incorporated at The Gift Theater in Chicago. Here he talks about some of the necessary grind of the audition circuit:

The “look-see” is exactly what it sounds like. No lines. No wardrobe suggestions, sometimes, no discernible part. The casting director just wants you to talk into a room so they can take a picture of you. Yep. That’s it. And this process can take anywhere from 5 minutes to two hours of waiting waiting waiting. All to go in. Stand on an x. Look at the camera, and plead with your eyes to “hire me”.

The look see. Yep. Imagine going in for a job interview- sitting in the lobby, and having the boss come out, look you over and say “thanks for coming in”

Yet gigs behind look sees can pay in the thousands of dollars. and so we line up. and we do it. over and over again.

I kinda wonder if it would be inappropriate to just tell the casting agency they already have 4,032 digital pictures of me taken last month, and if they used one of those, it would save us both an hour out of my day.

But I don’t. Because that would take a back bone.

Two days, and two new blogs to add to the blogroll!

When You Can't View the Real Downfall....

This clever young man reenacts the classic Downfall clip - and plays all the parts. He really goes for it.

Check out his channel - he does a pretty good Woody Allen, too.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Friday, July 09, 2010

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup - In-City Edition

I don't have time to round-up all that is happening in the Berkshires, Cape & Islands and even Vermont.

However, there is still good theater going on in the city and surrounding areas this weekend - and there is even more coming up in the next few weeks.


Gurnet Theatre Project returns to Boston with James McManus's Cherry Smoke (Left: Jackie McCoy and Chris Graham) at the Boston Playwrights Theater.

Up in Beverly, North Shore Music Theater opens Gypsy with Vicki Lewis in the starring role.

Always, Patsy Cline opens at the Stoneham Theatre.

Last Chance (Double Header?)

Richard Dresser's Rounding Third plays its last weekend at Salem Theater Company's new space up in the Witch City.

And another show about our national game, Johnny Baseball, will end its run this Sunday at the American Repertory Theater.

Also, at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas sings through the weekend.


Over at Zero Arrow Street, The Donkey Show keeps bumping and grinding through the heat wave

Kevin Spacey and Peter Gallagher in Long Day's Journey

Thursday, July 08, 2010

NSMT Reopens, But New Works Will Have to Wait

The Boston Globe has a short feature about of the reopening of North Shore Music Theatre under the new owner Bill Hanney. North Shore's first show will be Gypsy. (above)

For now, NSMT is looking for proven hits, not gambles:

In the past the company has staged new musicals, including “Memphis’’ (in 2003), which won four Tony Awards this year. Hanney was in the audience at Radio City Music Hall last month when Broadway producer Randy Adams thanked North Shore Music Theatre for making “Memphis’’ possible.

“For me to now own the theater that has a place in Broadway history? I’m loving it,’’ Hanney gushes. “The next day the box office was on fire. Phones were ringing off the hook.’’

But developing new works is, at least for now, off the table. This year’s shows were selected for maximum hit potential, resulting in a lineup that stays in well-trod territory. Hanney, who is also a producer, points out that one clunker can break a whole subscription season. And subscribers are what North Shore Music Theatre needs. Since the company reached out in March to the 2009 season-ticket holders who lost their money when the theater closed, offering them the same seats, nearly 70 percent have renewed their subscriptions.

Another interesting note in the article: The full time staff has been streamlined from 57 to five.

Photo Credit: CATHERINE WALKER (Louise) and JAN NEUBERGER (Electra) in North Shore Music Theatre's Gypsy Photo by Paul Lyden