Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tweet Seats - Just Another Realignment in Shrinking Arts Coverage

In this morning's Boston Globe, an article appeared which has Facebook on fire with condemnation.

Apparently, some theater companies are trying to find ways to assimilate the lifestreaming creative class into the quiet of the performance hall. Or at least that is one way you can read the article.

Indeed, the outrage in the comments following the Globe piece, and on Facebook, focuses on the  obvious potential disturbance of lighted smartphones and the accompanying tapping sounds on touch screens or keypads. The technological barbarians, it would seem from reading these statements, are at the gate! And theater organizations, beaten down by a seige-like convergence of dying older subscribers and disinterested younger demographics, appear to be willing to hand over the keys.

However, it seems that what this story is really about is the continuing decline of arts journalism and theater coverage. Finding the normal conduits of reviews and advertising in the Arts and Entertainment sections of traditional mainstream media outlets shrinking, an arts organization might imagine that the prospect of anybody who can bring a "following" of 10,000 people or more would be enticing. The official twitter account of the Boston Globe Arts Section has only 4,808 followers.

For instance, a desired demographic for many theater companies in Boston might include people who read Slate, Salon, Huffington Post...Gawker? Try finding consistent coverage of local theater at those addresses.

Twitter can solve that problem to a certain extent in that the service hits the desired demographic and can function simultaneously at a local and global level. Though a new problem arises in the fact that the feed quickly consigns tweets, providing that they aren't posted on a blog or some other location, to the archives. Twitter's search function only gives results from a certain time period anyway. The term "yesterday's newspaper" was never as relevant as it is today.

Theater companies are, of course, trying to exercise control of the situation. The authorized tweeters will most likely be hand-picked to provide the type of tweets the Globe used as examples from the Palm Bay Orchestra production of Madame Butterfly: “Cio-cio san is telling it like it is! #pbobutterfly’’  This is the type of thing that many theater companies might tweet themselves, some already do.


Some companies, like the Boston Ballet and the Huntington are taking a reasonable path, which mirrors the way many theater companies approached us bloggers "way back" in like 2005, or so.




I don't think we have too much to fear from glowing screens for now. Although I should say that I have already encountered several smartphone-sized incidents of the "indiglo effect" over the past year or so.  Now that fewer patrons are wearing watches,  a particularly long performance produces larger illuminations when a restless theatergoer needs to check the time.




Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Video From My Elusive Friend



Actually, that's me as the elusive Lord Somerville. The video was shot and edited by Brad Kelly. That's my voice as well.

We made a couple of these for the Somerville Community Access Television station.

It is made for the local audience so things like the subway shuttle buses being instituted for the weekend won't make much sense, unless you are trying to get to the Actors Shakespeare Production of Merry Wives of Windsor in Davis Square.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Guirgis Likens Production of his Play to a Minstrel Show

In case you haven't seen it, yet, playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis wrote an e-mail to the Hartford Courant about seeing the Hartford TheaterWorks production of his play: The Motherfucker With the Hat.

Guirgis has been making people aware that the casting process may have excluded Latinos from auditioning for characters that were specifically written to be Puerto Rican. Apparently the director had pretty much pre-cast the two lead roles with Caucasian actors he knew from New York University.

Guirgis's reaction to the production is, well...

The experience of being in the theater and watching two Caucasian actors pretending to be Latinos for an audience compromised entirely of Caucasian theater goers was disturbing and surreal to me. I felt like I was in a time warp. I honestly felt like I was witnessing something that I had only read about in history books(...)what I saw felt to me very nearly a minstrel show.


Read the whole Courant article here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

First Time I've Done Live TV -Local Access

My friend Brad Kelly produced a live, hour- long show for Somerville Channel 3 tonight.

My wife Amanda and I helped by writing many of the scripts and we had some funny actors from around Boston to help out.

That's Amanda as the Blonde anchor and I played a liberal pundit on a political cooking show.

It was the first time I had done a live television show. It was very interesting. We didn't have a lot of notice about it, so many of the scripts were made on the fly and we would strategically place them around set just in case.

It was a blast. It will rerun throughout the month and then will go online.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Sondheim On Critics

Stephen Sondheim isn't as terrified of the internet as Michael Kaiser.

Heck, Mr. Sondheim finds a certain optimism in the passion of the online exchanges about theater, even in internet theater chatrooms.

This from an excerpt, (in the Guardian,) of his upcoming book:

For me, a good critic is a good writer. A good critic is someone who recognises and acknowledges the artist's intentions and the work's aspirations, and judges the work by them, not by what his own objectives would have been. A good critic is so impassioned about his subject that he can persuade you to attend something you'd never have imagined going to. A good critic is an entertaining read. A good critic is hard to find.

Then again, to a certain degree, good critics are no longer necessary to find. The phrase "Everybody's a critic" has taken on a universal cast. The internet encourages people to share their opinions with the world. In the theatre, the buzz created by chatroom chatters has become increasingly important to a show's reputation before it opens. There are thousands of critics tapping away their opinions to whoever will listen – so who needs a paid pontificator to tell you what your opinion should be?

Showbusiness chatrooms reveal that the need to criticise is insatiable. They also reveal that there are still people who are enthusiastic about the theatre, who want not only to go, but to talk about what they've gone to. The diffidence and short attention spans that pervade so much of our culture were nowhere evident in the lively chatrooms I looked at, although I soon learned not to keep logging on for the same reason I learned not to read my reviews: every group of compliments about my work that started me preening was soon peppered with potshots that unpreened me. And for every piece of thoughtful observation about other people's work, there was a piece of mean-spirited snottiness – some of which, I regret to say, made me laugh and wish I were young enough again to participate in those kinds of exchanges.



Thursday, November 17, 2011

Is There a Theatrical 1%?

Theater Costs

Scott Walters, over on his Theatre Ideas blog, publishes the first in what he is promising to be a multi-post series called "Occupy Lincoln Center."

His first post is a comparison of the income inequality issues raised by the Occupy Wall Street movement to the disparity of contributions and grants in the nonprofit arts arena:
At the end of October, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy issued a report entitled Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change. Holly Sidford, who wrote the report, researched philanthropic giving to arts organization across the US. What she discovered is as disturbing as the Occupy Wall Street facts about income disparity. Sidofrd found that nonprofits in the arts with budgets over $5M, which she says represents just 2% of all arts nonprofits, receive 55% of contributions, gifts and grants. Let's break this out in the way we did with national income above.

If there were 100 nonprofit arts organizations dividing a million dollars, it would look like this:
2 organizations would split $550,000 ($275,000 each)
The remaining 98 organizations would each get $4591
The ratio is a about 60:1
In other words, the income disparity between nonprofit arts institutions is nearly twice as bad as the income disparity in the economy as a whole. If the arts are supposed to hold the mirror up to nature, it is a magnifying glass.
You can read the whole post here, and add your comments if you like.

Back in 2006, I wrote about a similar thing here on this blog. I looked at the sizable gap between the top and bottom of the Mass Cultural Council's grantees in the Theatre category.

The three top recipients:
Huntington Theatre Company $52,000
North Shore Music Center $52,000
American Repertory Theatre $42,330 Things drop off precipitously after this.
The Western Mass summer companies get a nice change, (Williamstown-$31,790.00 Shakespeare and Company $25, 120.) but then we start going down almost completely into the 4 digit territory.
I understand spending has been cut drasctically, but consider the ratios:
The combined grants to New Repertory, Lyric, Merrimack Rep,Company One, Speakeasy Stage, Sugan, Theatre Offensive, and Stoneham Theatre company.... $35,350.00!
All those 8 companies combined, get far less Mass State cultural money for theatre than the Huntington, ART and NSMT get individually.
Just to make things little more concrete, the $2000.00 grant Company One gets would not even pay the rent for one of their runs as Resident Company of the Boston Center for the Arts.

I had written about a very similar thing back in 2006. I looked at the sizable gap between the top and bottom of the Massachusetts Cultural Council grantees in the Theatre category: I went to see how things are stacking up today, but it might take a bit more digging. The Mass Cultural Council's website makes finding the data a bit harder now. They don't archive it there and the info for the current year is listed by county rather than statewide by category.However, it looks like most of these numbers hold very much where they were five years ago. Company One now gets $3000 instead of $2000, etc. And Sugan and few others no longer exist. Now, as then, I'm not really sure what to do with those numbers.

The Flavor Graveyard

The Flavor Graveyard by arthennessey
The Flavor Graveyard, a photo by arthennessey on Flickr.

On the tour of the Ben and Jerry's Factory they told us that the worst flavor disaster might be Sugar Plum, which was so bad that distributors sent it back by the truckload.

In fact, pigs wouldn't eat it and most of the stock had to be incinerated.

I took this photo in the Flavor Graveyard, which is the final resting place of beloved and little known retired flavors.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Michael Kaiser's Grandfather is Scared of the Internet




Today in the Huffington post we find another lost column by Michael Kaiser's grandfather. It is nice of Mr. Kaiser to type these up for us, as they were probably handwritten before word processors.

Kidding aside, this time the screed is about the scariness of online critics. I'm not kidding, he uses that word.

In theater circles alone one can visit talkingbroadway.com, broadwayworld.com, theatermania.com, playbill.com and numerous other sites. Many arts institutions even allow their audience members to write their own critiques on the organizational website.

This is a scary trend.

While I have had my differences with one critic or another, I have great respect for the field as a whole. Most serious arts critics know a great deal about the field they cover and can evaluate a given work or production based on many years of serious study and experience. These critics have been vetted by their employers.

Anyone can write a blog or leave a review in a chat room. The fact that someone writes about theater or ballet or music does not mean they have expert judgment.


The problem here, and one that I've talked about for almost ten years on this blog, is that Kaiser conflates EVERYTHING out there into one big scary Internet monster. And then, unsurprisingly, can't even fully articulate what makes it so scary.

Meanwhile, the Pulitzer Prize winning play Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris is making the regional rounds. Its New York run garnered it a solid A- on Stagegrade, and most regional critics have pretty much confirmed that grade. The play also looks to be going to Broadway.

But if you are interested in two interesting regional dissents you can find them only online.

Don Hall, The Angry White Guy in Chicago, saw the Steppenwolf production:

The result is that none of the second act characters have anything to say. They're all very two dimensional and the tension is non-existent. If Act One was Norman Lear, Act Two was like ZOOM meets a bad SNL sketch. Each character is assigned a position and then shrilly pontificates it throughout. There are virtually no class distinctions (everyone in Act Two is affluent upper middle class) and the issue of race is forced. Further, one of the games in this act is a volley of competing racial jokes (might've worked if any of them had been genuinely funny because then the indictment travels to those in the audience laughing at them - but they weren't funny, just blunt).

With the first act so smart and pointed, the second act deficiencies make the play feel a bit like a squandered opportunity. Sure, the message that "The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same" is fine but we know that already.


And Boston's own Tom Garvey at The Hub Review recommends the Trinity Rep production, but also finds problems with the disparate halves of the play:

What bothers me about the exercise here is that it's simply beside the point; there's interesting cultural work to be done, based on Norris's premise, but the playwright refuses to do it. That the white family knows a nasty joke about black people, and the black family knows one about white people, doesn't really tell us all that much about life in the millennium.

(...)

Clearly there's a lot there to unpack, but Norris can't be bothered - and why? Well, I imagine because it might make his play truly controversial. And he doesn't want that - we're all supposed to agree in the theatre, remember? The playwright is expected to pour his scorn onto somebody else, somebody who isn't actually in the audience. So Norris diverts his action into shared laughter over outrageous dirty jokes. He parodies "hysteria" a second time, but refuses to dig beneath it, into its actual causes.


Just don't tell Michael Kaiser's grandfather. It's scary out there.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Blurring of Criticism and Publicity



What is an arts journalist anyway?

Many news outlets have critics who double as arts reporters, but most daily newspapers separate the duties of reviewing and reporting.

Of course, the arts beat isn't the same as the city desk or the Middle East bureau, and so it isn't as if lives are at stake. However, sometimes tax dollars, city planning and policy direction are affected by institutions falling under the jurisdiction of the arts editor. These are the cases for which numbers must be dialed, documents must be examined and shoe leather must be applied.

Then there is a large expanse of column space that is shared, sometimes equally, by reviews and publicity.

What functions do the Arts pages of a newspaper provide if not to tell readers:

A.) What is going on.
B.) Whether or not what is going on is worth their money and time.

It is usually easy to distinguish between and aesthetic assessment and a publicity piece, but sometimes it is trickier.

Take, for instance, the opening paragraph of this New York Times piece from last week about the new Theresa Rebeck play Seminar opening on Broadway next week. The play stars the actor Alan Rickman.

ARTISTS in general, and writers in particular, as everybody knows, tend to be sensitive creatures who receive criticism like body blows. So there’s considerable theater-of-cruelty entertainment in watching four fledgling novelists cringe beneath the blistering stares, scornful dismissals and disdainfully curled lips of Alan Rickman.


It reads very much like a lede for a rave review, no? Read on into the second paragraph, and you are told more about the plot. Then it is revealed that the play is in previews, and only after that do you finally get a quote from the playwright, Ms. Rebeck. In what follows there are other review-like sentences as well.

What a score for the Seminar P.R. team!

In all seriousness though, it did make me think about the blurring of the lines between marketing and aesthetic assessment.

As the online presences of arts organizations grow, will in-house created content slowly evolve to sound more like objective reviews?

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Our Kickstarter Campaign is So Close To Success!

The film I co-wrote screened at the Houston Comedy Film Festival last night and is on at the the Red Rock Film Festival later this month.

Our Kickstarter campaign to raise money to offset the costs of the festival circuit has been underway for a few weeks. Thanks the the generosity of people we are getting close to our goal.

We are entering the final days and any amount will help. Thanks to loyal Mirror Up To Nature readers who have already contributed!



Sunday, October 30, 2011

Zombies Make Great Kissers



My friend Erik Rodenhiser offers his services. Erik is owner of the Griffen Theatre in Salem where I spend most of my waking hours during October. We are coming down to the wire on Halloween season.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Boston Crackdown

Below is a video of the start of the Occupy Boston crackdown. The people being seized are Veterans for Peace, who put themselves between the protesters and the police.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Large Scale Foursquare

Me at the Pawtucket Vistors Center for the screening of our film at the 12th Annual Pawtucket Film Festival

Friday, September 23, 2011

Big Weekend for Our Short Film



The short film I co-wrote with my wife Amanda and made with some good friends is playing at two film festivals this weekend!

The Oblique Sector is an official selection of the 2011 Atlanta Underground Film Festival and we'll be screening on Saturday night at 11:30PM.

And, a little closer to home, we will be screening at the 2011 Pawtucket Film Festival in Rhode Island on Sunday, September 25th at 3:30PM

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

(Dan Roach in Next Fall at Speakeasy Stage Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo)

Last Chance

Exquisite Corps' production of Trout Stanley makes its way upstream and then closes this weekend.

The audience centered performance piece How Much is Enough; Our Values in Question ends its questioning Sunday at Arts Emerson.

The journey must end for The Journeying Ways, which is a co production of Charlestown Working Theater and Whistler in the Dark. They are presenting The Bacchae and The Odyssey in repertory, but only through Sunday.

The Boston Experimental Theatre Company closes the curtain on its rare production of Albert Camus' The Misunderstanding at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Ongoing

Next Fall , Speakeasy Stage Company's season opener, continues at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Huck and Tom keep floating down that Big River at the Lyric Stage Company.

The crazy kids at New Rep still won't pay the Rent and they've extended their stay.

The Hartford stage production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible keeps the accusations flying.

Annie Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation, a play about an acting class in Shirley, Vermont continues at the Gamm Theater in Providence.

The Huntington Theater Company looks like it is on its way to a hit with Candide!

Catfish Row keeps in tune at the American Repertory Theater's production of The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

The captives are still being held in Merrimack Repertory's Production of The Persian Quarter, a play about the Iran hostage crisis.

Trinity Rep's production of His Girl Friday keeps the wisecracks flying.

Sherlock Holmes keeps on the case in Central Square Theater's production of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Television Melodrama With A Classical Music Twist



The digital streaming service Hulu is allowing me to catch up on some Korean shows.

I served as a Korean linguist for the U.S. Army in Korea for years and got hooked on some of the dramas on television then. In fact, as part of our training at the Defense Language Institute, we watched the famous Chil Tu (Jealousy), which is considered the father of the modern trendy television soap in the R.O.K.

Currently, I am enjoying a very popular show from 2008 called Beethoven Virus. The plot revolves around the formation of a new philharmonic orchestra out of what is essentially a community music festival.

At the center of the drama is the handsome, volatile, but genius conductor Kang who is famous for walking out before performances because his orchestras are not ready to play. "I would rather offend this audience by cancelling than offend Brahms!"

Through the manipulations of a public employee for the Arts and Culture Ministry, (also a competent violinist,) Kang finds himself helping conduct an orchestra of mostly amateurs for a public music festival.

In this process, he meets a young police officer who plays for the community group, but is clearly a prodigy. Shades of a Mozart/Salieri musical rivalry hit the edges of the story, along with a love triangle involving the lovely violinist who is clearly attracted to both men.



However, the main reason to watch the show is to marvel that a popular television show could be so clearly about the place of classical music in the culture. The episodes explore such issues as how classical musicians make a living, the politics involved in public art subsidy and the music itself.

For instance, an older player explains to some of the younger hopefuls that a state sponsored musician will make 1300 a month. They are flabbergasted at how low that is, but he reminds them that they can tutor on the side and they will be eligible for a small pension because they would be government employees.

And who can resist a show in which the climax of an episode hinges on the proper execution of a musical notation in the William Tell Overture?



The conventions of these Korean shows takes a little getting used to. As anybody who has watched Asian horror movies probably knows, the more blatant sexier elements of, say, American television programs are replaced by daydream-like moments, complete with some cloying pop music.

In Beethoven Virus, though, these moments are just as often about an attraction to great music. As in the photo below where the young prodigy's mind drifts from traffic duty to orchestrations.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Who Wins the Playwright Money Matchup?

At least as far as Broadway grosses are concerned.

A post over at The Youngblog shows an interesting way to look at the "success" of certain playwrights over history using the The Broadway League website.

Check it out here.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup - Storrow Bridge Safe Edition



All the U-hauls have left our narrow streets, and the students will soon learn which bars they can get into on which nights.

This year, nobody won the Storrow Pool, which is a bet on when, exactly, a new college student will peel the top of his or her U-haul off on the Storrow Drive overpass. (See photo above.) No students harmed the bridge this year. However, a lumber truck did flip there a few days later.

So let's take this as a signal that the new theatrical season is officially underway! Indeed, most theaters are moving into high gear. The mid-sized and larger houses are sporting big musicals to usher in the Autumn winds.

And next week will add even more productions to the list, including the official start of ArtsEmerson's sophomore season, the opening of Speakeasy's new show and the return of Whistler in the Dark's production of The Bacchae.

Get out and see some theater. You're already behind!


Opening

A stripper, a Scrabble champion and a city dump all figure in Exquisite Corps' production of Trout Stanley which opens at The Factory Theater

New Rep presents the musical Rent out in Watertown.

Get your newsroom patois ready as Trinity Rep opens their production of His Girl Friday.

Leonard Bernstein's operetta Candide makes its bow at the Huntington Theatre Company.

You can sit in on the acting class of Annie Baker's Circle Mirror Transformation at the Gamm Theatre in Providence.

Sherlock Holmes is on the case and hot on the trail of The Hound of the Baskervilles at Central Square Theater in Cambridge.

Last Chance

The Fighting Over Beverly will cease this weekend at Gloucester Stage Company.

Ongoing

Huck and Jim keep traveling on the Big River at the Lyric Stage.

The witch trials continue as Hartford Stage presents Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

The American Repertory Theatre chugs into its near-sold out run of The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Theatrical Mindset List

Using the template of the famous Beloit College Mindset List, Howard Sherman has quickly put together a Theatrical Mindset List over on the 2AMT blog.

It is, in his words, " an unscientific traipse through the mindset of the theatrical class that will graduate in 2015, but who only started their journey of higher education in the theatre in the last week or so."

Below are a few of the entries:

2. Every theatre ticket they have ever bought or used at a professional venue has been in some way computer generated.

4. They’ve never seen the world premiere production of a Stephen Sondheim musical on Broadway.

8. Rent has always been in production somewhere in the world.

11. Edward Albee has never been out of critical favor and only infrequently produced.

20. Ben Brantley has always been the chief theatre critic of The New York Times.

21. Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Ralph Richardson have always been deceased.


If you have more to contribute, go ahead and post them over the 2AMT site.

Another Badly Drawn Homily From Father Pike...

Split Decision on Bess's Broadway Run?

The New York Post has a blind source column about the inevitability of the Broadway transfer of the American Repertory Theatre production of Porgy and Bess.

Michael Riedel reports that the Gershwin estate will have a big say.

For me, the more interesting part of the article is the power play between critics and producers/investors.

This "Porgy and Bess" mess is indeed a tricky one for the estates, the producers and the investors.

On the one hand, they'll be ceding too much power to Sondheim and the critics if they scrap the show.

"They'll do real harm to the title," says a veteran producer. "If the estates do not approve the Broadway run, they're basically saying Steve Sondheim is right and the only way to do 'Porgy and Bess' is to do the original -- a full-length opera."

Other producers believe the show should come in just to spite the critics.

"OK -- it's not my money -- but if they close, they're giving the critics way too much power," one says. "And we've finally gotten to a point where the critics don't necessarily have make-or-break power in New York anymore."


Apparently, Ben Brantley's New York Times review was a little unexpected for some involved in the production.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Arizona Critic Banned From Dinner Theater!

On the Stage Door Phoenix blog, theater critic Kerry Lengel of the Arizona Republic is sad, (sort of,) to report that "the workload got a little lighter."

Apparently, a local dinner theater had enough of negative reviews and sent off a dispatch to the editors:

“After receiving a very tough review of ‘Seussical' earlier this year that we feel was taken out of context and the recent omission of our theater in the Fall Arts Preview, the Prather family has asked the editors and Kerry Lengel of The Arizona Republic to no longer review our shows...Although we respect Kerry's opinion of the shows we produce, we can no longer afford unjust criticism of the time, talent and energy it goes into producing professional live theater year round in Mesa that employs hundreds and entertains thousands."


Here is Lengel, who seems more amused than outraged:

In theory, I could test the Broadway Palm's resolve by buying my own ticket and daring them to toss me out, but that is definitely not my style, and the theater is, after all, a private, for-profit company. If a major player like Phoenix Theatre or Arizona Theatre Company, which receive government funding, tried to ban the newspaper's critic, our reaction would be very different. But as a matter of general practice, if a local theater does not wish to be reviewed, I am happy to honor that preference.


Friday, September 02, 2011

Great Shots from Film - Eternalized


A tumblr blog with iconic little shots made into animated GIF's.

So often we have to either play and replay our favorite shots or moments from films. Or we have to observe the cinematography in still shots. (I collect some on my blog Gate Dimension.)

Gustav Mantel has put together quite a gallery of "cinematoGIFs". A few of them have actually been my movie shot of the week over on Gate Dimension.

Below is an example from the 1972 film Solaris.



For more examples, check out the whole tumblr blog, If We Dont, Remember Me.

Below is one more:



Bit tip o' the hat to Jim Emerson.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Nantucket Sentries

Nantucket Sentries by arthennessey
Nantucket Sentries, a photo by arthennessey on Flickr.

The Annual "Eat Your Theater Vegetables" List: 2011-2012

I'll get to that classic play eventually.

Instead of penning a memoir about how I spent a year seeing classics of the theater and learned how to get a book contract, I thought I would just post my annual list of canonical theatrical productions.

This list is not risky, but remember that it is being compiled by a man whose job in the military was making sure he never engaged the enemy.

We all have those shameful admissions, you know the ones I'm talking about, don't you? You hate all over Flaubert, but have never cracked the spine of Madame Bovary. You were supposed to read at least sections of The Illiad in high school, but you got the Cliff Notes instead, (younger readers may have even rented Troy, starring Brad Pitt as Achilles.) A DVD of Citizen Kane still sits in the shrink wrap on your bookshelf, and you downloaded the MP3 album for Don Giovanni, but you can't remember on which drive it resides.

This list is for you!

The ephemeral nature of theatrical productions provides added challenges to the already fragile self esteem of the cultural poseur. You can, of course, pick up a copy of The Misanthrope by Moliere, but it may be years before a production will come to the area. If you miss that one chance, your guilt may eat away at you for another five years.

Fear not! Below is a list of Boston area productions of canonical theatrical works that are coming up in the 2011-2012 season.

Some of these are very rare, indeed. For instance, Porgy and Bess is not produced all that often. However, some are staples of large and small theaters, (The Crucible, Chicago, A Streetcar Named Desire,) but if you haven't seen them, you probably should.

The emerging playwright of this list is Euripides! Boston audiences will see three stagings of his work in the upcoming season. Two of these will be by Whistler in the Dark.

Audiences will have two chances to see Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters, although the production at Yale Repertory Theater is subtitled "A New Version by Sarah Ruhl".

I have also included a new play on this list. Performing artist Laurie Anderson is an influential part of the late Twentieth century American theater and her new piece Delusion is at ArtsEmerson this fall.


So, here it is.

August: Porgy and Bess by George and Ira Gershwin at American Repertory Theatre

September: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett at Boston Conservatory

September: The Crucible by Arthur Miller at Hartford Stage

September: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard at The Footlight Club

September: His Girl Friday by John Guare, adapted from The Front Page by Ben Hecht/Charles Macarthur and Columbia Pictures at Trinity Rep

September: Candide Music Leonard Berstein. Lyrics Richard Wilbur, Book by Hugh Wheeler at Huntington Theatre Company

September: The Bacchae by Euripides at Whistler in the Dark

September: Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov (Translation Sarah Ruhl) at Yale Repertory

September: Delusion by Laurie Anderson at ArtsEmerson

September: The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein at North Shore Music Theatre

September: Tiny Kushner; An Evening of Short Plays at Zeitgeist Stage

October: Chicago by Kander and Ebb at MetroStage Company

October: Cloud Nine by Caryl Churchill at Emerson Stage

November Mabou Mines Dollhouse at ArtsEmerson

November: Lend Me a Tenor by Ken Ludwig - Longwood Players

November: The Balcony by Jean Genet at Boston Conservatory

November: Noises Off by Michael Frayn at Quannopowitt Players

November: Ain't Misbehavin' at Lyric Stage Company

November: A Doctor in Spite of Himself by Moliere at Yale Repertory

December: The Imaginary Ivalid by Moliere at Boston University School of Theatre

January: Fen by Caryl Churchill at Whistler in the Dark

January: The Play About the Baby by Edward Albee at Equisite Corps Theatre

January: The Real Thing by Tom Stoppard at Salem Theatre Company

January: Absurd Person Singular by Alan Ayckbourn at The Footlight Club

January: Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller Arlington Friends of the Drama

February: Medea by Euripides at Actors Shakespeare Project

March: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom by August Wilson at Huntington Theater Company

April: Boeing, Boeing by Marc Camoletti at Trinity Rep

April: Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill at New Rep

April: The Miracle Worker at Wheelock Family Theater

May: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams at Vokes Players

May: Anything Goes by Cole Porter at Longwood Players

May: Trojan Women by Euripides at Whistler in the Dark

May: Private Lives by Noel Coward at Huntington Theatre Company

June: Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov at The Footlight Club

So I should say that there is always some debate about this list. Some plays were enormous hits in their times, but maybe aren't really canonical, (as you can tell, I'm using that term loosely.) For instance, Bell, Book and Candle is on at Hartford Stage next Spring, but is that frothy Broadway smash of the 1950's really essential viewing? Then again, I have included the sexy farce Boeing, Boeing at Trinity Rep. I am not a fan of The Play About the Baby, but it is one of the few Albee plays on offer this year. Tony Kushner is not really known for his short plays, but when else are you going to see a whole evening of them, like you will at Zeitgeist Stage this fall?

The companies presenting these works range from large to small, and from professional to community to student. While I cannot, of course, vouch for these particular productions, I can say that all of the companies listed have done great work in the past. Boston has some of the oldest community theaters in the country, and you will often find some of hottest fringe actors from downtown at Arlington Friends of the Drama or at the Footlight Club in Jamaica Plain. In fact, directors from Boston's best professional companies are called upon to helm productions at the local universities.

By the way, I don't include Shakespeare on this list, because it goes without saying, I hope.

So, there it is, and let me know your thoughts, or clue me into anything I've missed - the comments section was invented for that kind of thing.



Monday, August 15, 2011

Boston's Publick Theatre Goes on Hiatus

Empty Theatre
(Photo Credit Mark Simpson)

The Boston Globe has the story.

Artistic Director Diego Arciniegas is stepping down.

“It became clear to me that I needed to move on,’’ said Arciniegas, 51, who stepped down in tandem with Publick Theatre Boston producing director Susanne Nitter. “This is something we spent a lot of time talking about.’’

Both Arciniegas and Nitter will remain on the Publick’s board to help with the transition - a process that, he said, might entail spending a year or two interviewing candidates and redefining the theater’s mission.


The Publick, under Diego's leadership, has had some high times (Design for Living,9 Circles) and some troubled times (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which resulted in a conflict with the playwright Edward Albee ) in their recent years of residency at the Boston Center for the Arts.

As an organization, The Publick has weathered quite a few financial and executive shakeups. Both those columns were shifting in the sand a number of years back when Spiro Veludos made his departure. The Publick survived.

This seems like purely an artistic departure - the statement to the Globe insists that the Public is doing fine in the economic downturn. However, the final part of the statement does leave the future of the company a little ambiguous.

Last summer, the Publick's outdoor stage at Christian Herter Park (Photo above by Mark Simpson) served as the home of the ever-extending run of the Orfeo Group's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The T Plays - Now a Tradition

T Theater

Mill 6 Collaborative seems to have hit the sweet spot when it came up with its playwriting challenge called The T Plays.

Tomorrow night marks the opening of the third annual run of this unique mini-festival.

Seven Boston-based playwrights boarded the MBTA last Saturday morning, and by that night they had to have a draft of a ten minute play to hand into the festival organizers.

Within a week, the plays are staged with some of Boston's best fringe directors overseeing some of the Hub's talented actors.

Wondering what it's like for a playwright to be under such pressure? John Greiner-Ferris, one of the participating writers, chronicles the experience on his blog.

For those who have never attended before, I would advise getting tickets early The Factory Theater is a very small venue.



Thursday, August 04, 2011

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup

Opening

The Orfeo Group opens their production the 2007 Olivier Award-winning play Love Song at the Charlestown Working Theater. As a reminder, Thursday nights are free of charge at Orfeo.

Stephen Deitz's Shooting Star, a tale of lovers reuniting, starts a run at Salem Theatre Company.

The Sound Of Music will be heard starting this weekend at the Reagle Music Theatre in Waltham.

Last Chance

Tracy Lett's paranoid fantasy Bug keeps getting under the skin of audiences at The Factory Theater through Saturday night.

Gloucester Stage's production of Last Day will see its last day this weekend.

Ongoing

The Office star Mindy Kaling's comedy Matt and Ben about the early days of the Good Will Hunting boys continues at Central Square Theater.


Hit the Boston Common for your free outdoor Shakespeare fix with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's production of All's Well That Ends Well.

Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead continues to play alongside Shakespeare's Twelfth Night at the Roxbury Latin Summer Festival Theater.

The Arabian nights keep spinning on at the Boston Center for the Arts as Company One's production of Jason Grote's 1001 plays on.


(Photo Credit: Eric Laurits.)


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup



Opening

The paranoid, claustrophobic play Bug by Tracy Letts will be infesting The Factory Theatre, courtesy of Flat Earth Theatre.

Shakespeare's All's Well That Ends Well opens on the Boston Common this weekend. Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's production is free to the public, but get there early for a good seat.

The Bard will also be opening at the Roxbury Latin Summer Festival Theater. Shakespeare's Twelfth Night will be paired with Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which will be directed by New Rep's Bridget O'Leary. More information is in this Wicked Local article.

Carl Danielson's Unreliable Narrator production company brings the musical comedy Our Hideous Future to the Arrow Theater in Cambridge.



Last Chance

Over at New Repertory Theatre The World Goes 'Round, but only until Sunday!

Outside the Wire, a new play about the difficulty soldiers have reintegrating into society after tours overseas plays through tomorrow. (Video above.)


Ongoing


Those two local boys who've made very good in Hollywood get the satirical treatment in Matt and Ben at the Central Square Theater.

1001, Jason Grote's fast and furious re-telling of the Arabian Nights, keeps on spinning its web at the BCA

Gloucester Stage continues its production of Last Day.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

ACT In Seattle Institutes Another Pricing Option - Pay What You Can....Every Show

Theater Costs

Here is a little snippet of a Seattle Post-Intelligencer story back in 2003 about A Contemporary Theater (ACT) when it was on the brink of closing the doors:

"We choose to look at the theater's problems not as some unsurmountable monster mountain," Rappoport added. "We instead see these as a series of challenging hills we can get over, chunk by chunk. If we can amass a half-million dollars over the next few months, we can build momentum for the next chunk. We hope that when the big people see that the community wants this theater, then they'll come aboard too."

Before it can mount its next season, the theater needs to raise donations and pledges totaling $1.5 million, said Sheena Aebig, co-president of the board.

The 25 board members of ACT already dug into their own pockets and came up with $150,000 in donations to keep the theater operating. Another similar donation by the board members is expected to be part of the current support efforts, Rappoport said.


Eight years later ACT is still around, and news comes this week that they are instituting a pay-what-you-can rush ticket policy. By the way, that offer is for EVERY show.

Here's a short piece in the Seattle Times:

"We've talked with people in the community and there's this perception that theater is unaffordable," said Harley Rees, ACT's membership and audience-services director. By allowing patrons to name their own price at the box office, "we're just removing another barrier to coming to see a show."

According to Rees, ACT is not acting out of desperation, and the theater is doing relatively well in the current economic climate. He said sales of season subscriptions and ACT passes are up from last year.

But there are still unfilled seats. And, Rees noted, "In these tough times, a lot of people are struggling, and we want them to be able to see live theater. I think people need it more than ever these days."



This new policy is in addition to the theater's flexible membership option, which functions like a theatrical Netflix. If you pay a monthly membership, you can go to ACT shows as many times as you want. If you bring a friend, they get a half price ticket.

The Stranger's Brendan Kiley points out in the Slog that the announcement is close on the heels of a pretty heated discussion on theater costs prompted by another recent Slog post dealing with an ACT show.

Monday, July 18, 2011

How to Be a Playwright - Or... Why Would You Want To?

Two posts making the circuit today.

Both of them are about being a playwright in the Big Apple.

On HotReview, Barbara Hammond talks about the sacrifices one makes to keep at the stage writing game in New York City:

Learn how to cut your own hair. Adjust to Duane reading glasses when you really require a prescription. Take on boarders (don't call them roommates after thirty-five) to pay your rent. Find a way to earn your living in a way that is dignified, fulfilling and completely flexible to the demands of your writing (warning: bartending has a shelf life that diminishes with fertility). Give yourself one more year before you go to Los Angeles. Again.


Meanwhile, playwright Matt Freeman has a prescription of his own:

For me, what can I say? I work in an office. I've worked in offices since 1999. Temp work, permanent work. Currently, I actually have an office that overlooks the Governor's Island. I have a tie. I have business cards. I have a company Blackberry. I'm fine with it. In fact, I like where I work - they do good things here. I strive for success as a playwright, whatever that may mean. I'm undaunted by setbacks, I have publications and reviews, I feel like I have the respect of my peers. I aim for bigger stages, think big, believe in my talent and the importance of perseverance. I don't see myself wearing a tie forever, and I won't lie, there are mornings I wake up and look in the mirror and go "Again? Really?"

Then again, I've lived on next-to-nothing and let me tell you: it's fairly uninspiring. I didn't find it freeing and fun. I found it to be a constant weight on my mind and chest.


In the spirit of this soul searching, I would recommend a recent tongue-in-cheek column by New York Times editor Bill Keller, in which he asks: Why the hell would somebody want to write a book?

Every month, it seems, some reporter drops by my office to request a leave of absence to write a book. I patiently explain that book-writing is agony — slow, lonely, frustrating work that, unless you are a very rare exception, gets a lukewarm review (if any), reaches a few thousand people and lands on a remaindered shelf at Barnes & Noble. I recount my own experience as a book failure — two incompletes, and I’m still paying back a sizable advance with a yearly check to Simon & Schuster that I think of not as a burden but as bail.

But still the reporters — and editors, too — keep coming to sit in my office among the teetering stacks of Times-written books that I mean to read someday and to listen politely to my description of book-writing Gethsemane, and then they join the cliff-bound lemmings anyway.



How's that for an aggregation? I'm expecting HuffPost will be calling to offer me a job any minute!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Terry Teachout on Tony Kushner


Several bloggers, among them George Hunka at Superfluities Redux, have linked to a Terry Teachout essay in this month's Commentary.

Teachout, after seeing, (or enduring, as he might say,) An Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Captalism and Socialism with Key to the Scriptures posits that Tony Kushner's early mega-success of Angels in America had more to do with timing and proper politics than the perfection of the actual work.

However, the real thrust of his piece is to present evidence that Kushner's early triumph combined with a continued indiscriminate praise of his work may have rendered the playwright incapable of discipline in his writing.

Had Kushner trimmed away the proliferating subplots of The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide and concentrated ruthlessly on this theme, the results might well have been as exciting as the best parts of Angels in America. Instead, he has drowned it in a sea of rampant verbiage. The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide runs for three hours and 40 minutes, far longer than the average modern-day production of the longest of Shakespeare’s plays, and it does not profit from that added length. Most of the characters are talking machines who often sound like robotic replicas of one another, and the play’s promiscuous use of overlapping dialogue renders much of the second act all but unintelligible to boot.

Like all genuine artists, Kushner writes not as he should but as he must, and his diffuse discursiveness is undoubtedly in part a function of his temperament. Still, the success of Angels in America seems to have confirmed Kushner in the belief that the iron law of economy that governs traditional theatrical storytelling does not apply to him. Not only is The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide enervatingly long-winded, but his last full-evening play, Homebody/Kabul (2001), was an even longer monstrosity in which a genuinely provocative discussion of Islamic fundamentalism and its discontents was buried beneath an incoherent mélange of domestic melodrama and arch drawing-room comedy.


The length complaint is a hard one to parry in any duel, whether between artist and critic, or critic and critic. To be fair, I know it isn't the whole of Terry's essay, but it makes the rest of it a little harder to contemplate.

I guess I can't defend the actual length of Kushner's plays. How could I? They are long. In fact, they are very, very long. They are, when compared to most dramatic writing, exceedingly long. I will have to concede this.

Are they unnecessarily long? A harder question to my mind.

I will leave the debate over The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to those who have seen it. (It may be a while until we get a production of that play here in the Boston area.) However, I have seen three productions of Angels in America over almost 15 years, and my appreciation for that play grows with each experience.

While I'm open to suggestions that certain scenes or exchanges could be trimmed a bit, I'm not really on board with Teachout's main contention when he reviews Kushner's works.

The idea that Angels in America or Homebody/Kabul are really three or four plays that should be separate nights of theater, each standing on their own, is hard to support. Even Teachout keeps admitting that one of the major attractions of Kushner's work is the very scope and ambition of each project.

Kushner recently revealed that he is looking to write more for television.

In an interview in TimeOut New York, (an interview that spawned a lot of blogospheric reaction about the ability of a playwright to make a living wage,) Kushner said the following:

I make my living now as a screenwriter! Which I’m surprised and horrified to find myself saying, but I don’t think I can support myself as a playwright at this point. I don’t think anybody does. I’m going to start work on developing a series for HBO, because I’m naturally given to episodic stories of considerable length. And I won’t have to listen to complaints about how wordy and long my work is if you can watch it on your telephone on the subway: You can make it conform to your day as if it were a book. For people who write in long form, like me, that’s of serious interest, and I think we haven’t really taken that in yet. In a way, film and television are in the same sort of traumatic trance that print journalism is. The technology has outpaced our comprehension of its implications


So, maybe Kushner, contrary to what Teachout is suggesting, has indeed been able to hear those criticisms.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Attending the Nantucket Film Festival - The Basics





It was almost a year ago that we started making our comedic short film The Oblique Sector - a kind of homage to The Twilight Zone crossed with a comic cautionary tale about internet dating. I wrote the screenplay with my wife Amanda and made the film with our good friends Director Jason Reulet and Director of Photography Brad Kelly.

We finished the editing process just in time for the late deadline for the 16th Annual Nantucket Film Festival. We were overjoyed to be informed that we would screen as one of only 17 shorts in the program this year. The Nantucket festival prides itself on its focus on writing and storytelling, so our acceptance was a source of special pride for me.

What's it like to be invited to a prestigious festival? Well, it can be very stressful at first, if you don't have the pieces already in place. In our case, we had literally just come out of the editing room with the finished product, and suddenly we had less than two months to get ready to attend.

Fortunately, we have enough friends and colleagues who have gone this route before and who could advise us on what we needed to do. Here is just a select list:
1. Have a website.
2. Create an engaging trailer
3. Choose stills from the film
4. Get a good publicity photo and bio for the director.
5. Generate a quality exhibition copy of the film.
6. Poster, Postcards, Business Cards and other marketing materials.
7. Press releases.

All of these things involve decisions, time and money. So you can imagine that the lead up to the festival felt a little crunched. Along with these elements ,we also needed to organize a screening for the cast and crew, and begin the process of submitting the film to other festivals around the country.

Oblique Sector Posters!

Now, with those things accomplished, we were ready to hit the island!

Independent filmmakers probably tie in rank with theater artists for net worth, which makes visiting Nantucket a very pricey proposition. Short film directors screening at the Nantucket Film Festival must find their own accommodations. Mirror readers will probably guess from my occasional photographs that Amanda and I are fortunate enough to have family on Nantucket. However, the rest of our team needed to acquire some form of housing. This came through with the generous offer of a beachside house at a sharply discounted rate, allowing our director, producer and director of photography to enjoy our world premiere and share in the perks that attending the festival offered.

Another factor that makes attending this festival on the island of Nantucket especially hard is the fact that it's...well...on an island. You can't drive a car there, which puts the damper on the time-honored festival strategy of getting reservations at a cheap Best Western outside of the city limits. For the Nantucket Film Festival, you are left with only two options: flying or ferry.

Grey Skies For Nantucket

About a month before the festival I saw anEversave deal on Hy-Line ferry tickets to Nantucket - 2 first-class round-trip tickets for 50 dollars. I shared this with the rest of the crew and several of us pounced on it. When taking the ferry, you also have to factor in the cost of parking your car for days in a paid lot on the mainland. These lots can run anywhere from 12 to 17 dollars.

Normally, getting around on Nantucket is relatively easy. There is a pretty good shuttle bus service, and, if the weather is conducive, a bicycle can get you where you need to go. However, darting about to screenings, parties and events during a film festival can prove challenging. Brian Williams, a member of the Festival's Board of Directors, joked at one event that trying to get around to the various venues was like using the Underground Railway.




For instance, many films are screened at the 'Sconset Casino which is about a 15 minute drive from downtown Nantucket. Public transportation often won't cut it if a screening is running late and you need to get to the other side of the island in under ten minutes. Having a car is a bit extravagant, but will make your experience of the festival a lot better. Young's Bicycle Shop gave a us a great rate on our rental car because we were filmmakers attending the festival, and they were also gracious with our drop-off and pick-up schedule.

Dining regularly on the island is almost out of the question. Restaurants are very expensive - even burgers can sometimes cost 11 dollars. One of our first stops was the grocery store to stock up for the week. Although, there is some relief for filmmakers as the festival's receptions, parties and events often provide free food and alcohol!

So, what about those perks, anyway?

Artist Badge Nantucket Film Festival

The festival gives you an artist pass to use along with your tickets to screenings and events. You get one artist pass for your short film. Since several of the principals involved in our film were attending, we shared the pass and divided up the perks.

First, you receive tickets to screenings. Nantucket does not classify artists as pass holders when it comes to tickets. In other words, your artist pass does not entitle you to just sort of show up at any screening and enter with the patrons and sponsors, sans physical tickets. Your tickets to movies must be pre-selected and you will receive them when you first check in at the administrative office. One of your advantages is that you get to select your complimentary tickets before they go on sale to the public. I would advise any short filmmakers attending the festival to do this - certain screenings sell out very quickly once festivalgoers can buy them. We ended up very happy to have procured our admissions early.

As an artist, your free ticket priveleges do not include the opening and closing night films, nor do they include certain special screenings. If you want to attend these special films, you need to purchase tickets. I would highly recommend doing this as I found many filmmakers attend these programs, and the directors of these films are very approachable afterwards. Don't wait until you get to the festival to purchase these or you will end up on the rush line.

Lots of people to see the sold out Shorts Program II! #NFF2011


Of course, you also receive complimentary tickets to your own screening, and the festival programmer was very helpful in getting a us a couple of extra passes since our whole crew would be attending.

Next, you also receive admissions to a few of special events that are unique to this festival. Late Night Storytelling is a Moth Story Hour-type event in which authors, movie stars and Nantucket natives tell stories based on a theme. This event is hosted by Anne Meara and it draws an audience of celebrities. There is also a Screenwriter's Tribute, which this year honored Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby). And there is the All-Star Comedy Roundtable and the "Morning Coffee With..." panels. We received tickets to some of these events as well.

And, lastly, there are the parties and receptions sprinkled throughout the week. You get a couple of passes to each of these events and the festival provides a complimentary shuttle to some of them. Be prepared, the staff and guests of the Nantucket Film Festival party hard with great food and nice venues! These soirees are fun and they are attended by just about every luminary that is on the island. This is a festival where you not only meet Paul Haggis, but you run into him numerous times.

Next, I'll put up a post up about what our whirlwind time was like, and how our screenings went!