Thursday, July 28, 2011

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup


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.)


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!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Shakespeare is Looking Scarce...At Shakespeare Festivals

John Moore of the Denver Post looks into the the interesting statistic that "only 37 percent of the productions offered by the 10 leading Shakespeare festivals in North America were written by their namesake."

He talks to some of the leaders of several of the festivals. It seems some of these artistic directors are struggling with anxiety over changing demographics.

That's the perpetual challenge every artistic director at every theater faces: how to turn young people like Merrily Hill Smith into lifetime patrons. She's 34, a savvy theatergoer and a Denver Center Theatre Company subscriber. And she admits it: She just doesn't dig Shakespeare.

"I love going to the theater, but I don't get excited about Shakespeare," she said. "Sometimes it's hard to follow, and I like to see more contemporary shows I can more easily relate to."

She called the Denver Center's "Ruined" "the best thing I have seen in my life." Her favorite Shakespeare play is "A Midsummer Night's Dream" — and she's not alone. The Denver Center's February staging was seen by more than 20,000, second only to last season's "A Christmas Carol." At May's Denver Public Schools Shakespeare Festival, 114 of the 400 short scenes performed by students were from "Midsummer." Colorado Shakes' 2007 staging remains the biggest-selling production in Artistic Director Phillip Sneed's four years in Boulder — "and by a huge percentage," he said.

Puck and company are clearly the gateway for turning young theatergoers on to Shakespeare.

But, as the article points out, you can only do so many productions of Midsummer.

H/T Playgoer

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Andrew Sisters Re-Mixed

Today, Tom Garvey reviews Stoneham's production of Sisters of Swing: The Story of the Andrews Sisters.

Back in 2007 the pop star Christina Aguilera did a rearrangement of the Andrew Sisters's famous hit "The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company C." While the lyrics are a little raunchy, the video is a hell of a lot of fun. And at the end of the track, according to Wikipedia, Aguilera holds a High E for ten straight seconds.

Monday, July 04, 2011

How Long Until The Shaggs Hit The Regional Circuit

Last week, two of my fellow bloggers were latecomers to the new musical play The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World, which just wrapped up a run at Playwrights Horizons.

Boston playwright John Kuntz was in New York and caught the play, while New Yorker Rolando Teco saw the penultimate performance and praised it on the Extra Criticum blog.

Both enjoyed the play very much, and both wondered why the play didn't find more success. Indeed, The Shaggs wound up with a C+ average over on Stagegrade.

It seems that reviewers posting mixed to poor notices believed the material was a bit too depressing. This dreariness, in their opinion, overwhelmed the quirkiness that many of the positive notices praise. Some just thought the idea of making a musical based on supremely untalented musicians yields just the kind of results you might expect.

I have to say, I've heard very positive things from word of mouth about the show. Hopefully, as John Kuntz muses, we'll get a chance to see it here soon enough.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Can An International Festival Boost A City's Profile?

Toronto Skyline

Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune takes a look at Toronto's Luminato Festival which just concluded:

But for all the lofty artistic aims spoken at Luminato, which claims to be the largest multi-arts festival in North America, one message here rings the loudest and the clearest: This festival was created to promote its home city and build its cultural prestige around the globe. Or, as the manifesto of the co-founders puts it: “to shine Toronto's light on the world and the world's light on Toronto.” You can't say it much clearer than that.

Surely, there are several lessons here for Chicago, a city that desperately wants to improve its international reputation and currently minimal share of foreign tourists. According to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Chicago's share of international visitors to the U.S. actually shrank between 2009 and 2010: from 4.7percent to 4.5 percent, a share already below that of much smaller cities like Boston. In 2010, Toronto attracted roughly 2 1/2 times as many international visitors as Chicago.

(Photo of Toronto by Ilke Ender)

ArtsEmerson By The Numbers

Paramount Theater Boston

Right on the heels of the American Theatre article assessing the Diane Paulus transition at the American Repertory Theatre, The Boston Globe takes a look at ArtsEmerson, Robert Orchard's bold new initiative with Emerson College.

Aside from falling short of filling the black box for some of the more experimental pieces, the numbers looks pretty good for the initial season. However, there is one set of numbers that seems to surprise quite a few people:

There is one number from ArtsEmerson’s first season that Orchard called a “kind of mind-boggling revelation.’’ It comes from ArtsBoston’s Big List, a collective mailing list used by 40 area nonprofit arts organizations.

An analysis of ArtsEmerson’s audience found that 65 to 70 percent of its audience members did not appear elsewhere on the Big List. In other words, Orchard said, ArtsEmerson is the only one of those 40 organizations with which they have a relationship.

To Orchard, that means he is building and widening the Boston theater audience rather than, as he put it, “stealing from’’ other companies.

Read the whole article here.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Diane Paulus - Full Steam Ahead

In the new issue of American Theatre, Chris Wallenberg has a pretty lengthy article on the transition and transformation of the American Repertory Theater under Diane Paulus.

The article doesn't gloss over the criticisms she faced, although it also doesn't dwell on them. He does get a quote from Robert Brustein, the former Artistic Director and Founder of the A.R.T.

Brustein, for his part, says he believes that Paulus should have the space to spread her wings and pursue her own agenda as artistic director. In an e-mail, he praised her achievements: "Diane has been doing some remarkable things at the ART, and has managed to attract a whole new generation of spectators, primarily through the use of music (often rock-oriented) in her approach to classical plays and new work.... The most interesting thing about Diane's work is its unpredictability. A single season can be a cornucopia." He also commented, "It is true that Diane possesses a more populist aesthetic than previous administrations of the ART, and her work is sometimes less an alternative to Broadway than an extension of it. And, personally, I regret the loss of our permanent company of actors. But it is also true that as private and public support for theatre declines, many previously partly subsidized institutions are seeking out other forms of income in order to survive."

The final dismantling of the resident company seems to be a particular thorn in the side of Brustein and others. But the truth of the matter is that, under Woodruff, the resident company model had already been largely de-emphasized. An ensemble that had once numbered as many as 12 in the '90s was reduced to 4—Derrah, LeBow, Karen McDonald and Remo Airaldi—who were cast in three to five shows per year. "I didn't inherit an acting company," maintains Paulus. "The policy at the theatre was that there were certain individuals who were getting work—but they were not on salary. If ART really wanted to have a repertory acting company, that would have been another agenda."