The Playgoer: March 2009

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Never Leave Michael Riedel a Voicemail

Michael Riedel, this is Terry Kinney. You wrote an article about my play today that is absolutely full of bullshit and lies, and I have no idea what you are talking about.

We have canceled two performances TWO performances! because of my and [actor] Steven Pasquale's shooting schedules. We were trying to take a look at, which we were always planning to do, whether we wanted to keep some monologues in the play from off-Broadway or take them out. We tried it both ways, and we tried it with and without an intermission to see which worked better.

We're just working on our play, man. Nobody's walking out of it. It's not in trouble. I don't know who your source is, but it's a terrible source, and I want you to correct this because, because we're having people jump to their feet at the end of this play.Have you seen it? Have you seen this play? Or are you just going on hearsay?

You're very corrosive to theater, and this is absolutely uncalled for.

If we had cut a chunk of a play out and made it one-act, then you could call it the 'impressionism syndrome' or whatever the fuck you want to call it. But we didn't do anything like that. We've always meant to do this in front of an audience, this work. And people do it all the time. Have you ever heard of something called REHEARSAL?

It's ridiculous and it's corrosive and it's misleading for a little play and an unknown cast, for you to try to kill it in this way, so quickly, without any evidence of what you're saying.

You're going on a very bad source. You're full of shit and--

-Actor/director Terry Kinney, as transcribed by Michael Riedel...from his answering machine. (Before Kinney was unceremoniously cut off.)

I must say I agree that reporting on "trouble in previews" is among the least useful and most hurtful branches of theatre journalism. Which is why even on my irresponsibly unedited and unprofessional blog (or so I'm told) even I rarely if ever feel it worth indulging in. It makes good gossip, sure, and us theatre folk eat it up and pepper each other on the street and in bars for more skinny. (Favorite moment in Shakespeare in Love: before opening night of "Romeo & Juliet" one groundling whispers to another: "I heard they had trouble with this one.") But I've never found such stuff contributes much to discourse about what counts in the theatre. I'm sure I've posted an item here and there, and I'm more likely to reference back to such stories after the fact, when looking at a production in context.

I'll save that for the wild-west chatrooms and the well-paid professional journalists.

Meanwhile, at the risk of sounding hypocritical, that's one delightful rant and I'm glad to read it. Go Steppenwolf!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Actor Rebellion

The actors of Chicago's American Theater Company have up and left, in protest of changes proposed by their new AD. Apparently what once was an actor-driven (and actor-founded) tightly woven ensemble has become just another 501(c)(3) with a Board.

The Trib's Chris Jones reports:

In many ways, this parting of the ways is an extreme manifestation of the tensions that can exist between longtime ensemble members who come and go—but also have strong (and emotionally intense) views on their theater—and the visions of those formally charged with day-to-day artistic leadership, especially when that leadership is new. Such issues often intensify when it comes to the choice of material, the selection of directors, and which ensemble members are hired as actors.

American Theater Company now has an annual budget of about $1 million. A majority of the board of directors has lined up behind Paparelli, who was hired about 18 months ago, said member Jeff Morof, a Chicago attorney.

"The bottom line is, we brought PJ in a year and a half ago, and we knew he had a different artistic mission and wanted to diversify the company," he said. "The board has made it very clear that this is the direction in which we want to go. Change is never easy."

[...]

The unhappy ensemble members now have to form their own, separate organization in a different building from the one many of them helped construct, with their own hands, on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and West Byron Street.
Maybe this is a naive question, but...How do a bunch of actors who founded the company get overruled by their own board of directors?

In Jones' telling, the AD may have some worthy goals in changing the company--such as culturally diversifying the acting ensemble and play selection. But still, kinda makes you wonder whether you and your actor buddies really want to start your own theatre. (Or maybe the problem is being too successful.)

Reminiscent, by the way, of the last days of the old Jean Cocteau Rep, whose core actors splintered into the current Phoenix Theatre after the new leadership morphed it into the current Exchange.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

If the Arts are Dessert, Do They Make you Fat?

"Actor Tim Daly, co-president of The Creative Coalition, said it was his mission 'to make America understand that the arts are part of our cultural and economic main course, they are not dessert.'"

-"Recession means hard times for struggling artists," Associated Press, 3/26/09.


"The New York Times is serving its readers spinach for dessert."

-Jodi Kantor, 2003, embarking on that famous Arts & Leisure "makeover" six years ago that made the section what it is today.

And we wonder how arts funding got devalued...


Interesting footnote: "Then–executive editor Howell Raines gave his approval to hire Ms. Kantor [as Arts & Leisure editor] in January [2003], one of his last moves before the Jayson Blair scandal."

Quote of the Day

"People said I was preaching to the converted—everybody who goes to the theater in New York is already liberal, so shut up. I thought, That's so stupid. Because what am I supposed to do? Book myself magically into the Republican National Convention? Or not talk about it?"

-Christopher Durang, prepping his new play, Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them for an opening at the Public in April.

Indeed, the twin cliches that political theatre must both a) lead to action, and b) not address itself to the likeminded...well they kind of don't work together often, do they.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Oh, man, are they? Shit."

The Onion reports on the latest attack of...participation.

PITTSBURGH—Audience members at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts are reporting that, oh God, no, approximately 20 extremely enthusiastic actors are approaching the edge of the stage and appear determined to continue their current musical number in the main seating area.

"Oh, man, are they? Shit," one audience member was overheard saying as the energetic ensemble began filing down previously unseen stairs and past the front row. "Shit, shit, shit."

[...]

While it remains unclear how long this horrifying breach of the fourth wall will last, or why the actors worked so hard to create a fictional distance between themselves and the audience if they had no intention of maintaining it, past productions suggest there are still five minutes left in the current number. Some predict the cast will return to the stage before the song's conclusion, but others fear they may stay in the aisles, making unnerving eye contact and blocking all available exits.

Thus far, the actors have ignored audience members' squirms and anxious expressions, opting instead to clap in an effort to get everyone to clap along with them.
No, it's not about Hair.

Livent Trial Verdict: Guilty

Before there was AIG, there was Garth Drabinsky.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Some have been saying for some time that the arts were overbuilt in the boom of the 90s when America built some $25 billion worth of new theaters, concert halls and museums (the 90s were the largest expansion of the arts in American history). So maybe a little market adjustment is in the making for the arts. The recession could cost us some of our oldest and most venerable arts organizations. And most certainly, the arts' middle class will take the biggest hit. Mid-size arts organizations always have the toughest time; they're too small to have the deep-pocket resources of large institutions, and too big to be able to cut to nothing as the small groups can often do."

-Douglas McClennan, of ArtsJournal & Diacritical.

On the brighter side he also lays out some of the extra potential perks for the arts in the stimulus package--including community block grants and, yes, extended unemployment benefits!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cherry Lane Expands

Nice to see some Off Broadway spaces actually opening these days instead of closing. But unfortunately in this case, Cherry Lane's new space is only made possible after Westbeth kicked out the Peccadillo company.

Sam Thielman has the story in Variety.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Last Weekend for Chagall @ Jewish Museum


I couldn't agree more with Helen Shaw that thou must get thee to the Jewish Museum pronto to see the remaining two days of their "Chagall & Russian Jewish Theatre" exhibit.

There's actually relatively little Chagall and lots of Russian Jewish Theatre. And that means lots of not only classic Yiddish Theatre (extensive production materials famous titles like The Dybbuk, The Golem [pictured above], God of Vengeance, as well as fascinating lesser-knowns) but also some amazing images and relics of 1920s constructivist-style design and mise-en-scene. (Including work of Vakhtangov as well as some genius named Aleksei Granovsky, who to me was the real discovery of this exhibit.)

So it's a cool exhibit for any theatre lover or Yiddish Theatre buff, but a must for stage designers and epic-minded directors. Some of the images, set models, renderings, and--yes--films will blow your mind. And while many of the items are photographs you can see in the catalogue, what photographs they are. And everything displayed is either from collections in Russia or Israel, so not stuff you'll get to see often.

Plus, admission is free all day today (Saturday). Closes tomorrow, Sunday. If you can't make it, the website itself offers a good tease and has some useful resources. And a pricey catalogue with all the good stuff.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"How Conveeeeeenient..."

Here's the response some folks are getting when inquiring about those free tix to the NYTW reading/discussions of Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children:

Due to an overwhelming amount of interest from NYTW Members/donors and family of artists, at the moment there are no tickets available for the general public for the three nights of readings of Caryl Churchill’s SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN.

There will be a waiting list for cancellations. Remaining Tickets will first go to NYTW members on the waiting list and any remaining tickets after that will go to the general public on a first-come, first-serve basis. The lobby will open at 6pm for the general public to form a line for any available tickets.

Ticketing Services Department
New York Theatre Workshop
Well, a nice cozy little discussion that promises to be, with all those "friends of NYTW."

Dramatists Guild: Changing of the Guard

Attention playwrights: your new leader is...Stephen Schwartz!

Or at least he's been elected the new prez of the Dramatists Guild.

His administration?

  • VP: Peter Parnell
  • Secretary: Doug Wright
  • Treasurer: Theresa Rebeck
Ok, so Schwartz may be a "wicked" songwriter (ha!) and not a playwright per se, but between him and these others, I guess it's not bad to have some successful heavy hitters carrying your flag, no?

Or no? Tell me, scribes.

And tell us if the Guild is even living up to its name these days.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Charles Dutton as Willy Loman

Yale Rep just announced Death of a Salesman for next month with an all-African American cast headed by Charles Dutton.

The idea of an all-black Salesman is not a new one. And the play has indeed been done all over the world with actors of all races and colors. (Most documented in Miller's own staging in China.) But it's also a kind of "Exhibit A" for color-blind casting that August Wilson took aim at in his famously controversial 1997 polemic against the practice.

To mount an all black production of Death of A Salesman or any other play conceived for white actors as an investigation of the human condition through the specific of white culture is to deny us our own humanity, our own history, and the need to make our own investigations from the cultural ground on which we stand as black Americans. It is an assault on our presence, our difficult but honorable history in America, and an insult to our intelligence, our playwrights, and our many and varied contributions to the society and the world at large.
Of course, Wilson does/did not speak for all African Americans. This famous argument of his was inexorably linked to his own project of writing a very ethnically specific body of work for a distinct people.

So it's interesting to see Dutton--a definitive August Wilson actor if there ever was one, one whose career jumpstarted on the backs of Wilson's tormented male protagonists--taking on this role. At the same time, we must add, that Wilson's masterpiece Joe Turner's Come and Gone arrives on Broadway directed by Bartlett Sher. That Sher is white shouldn't matter other than it recalls Wilson's own adamant insistence on black directors, which derailed the filming of his play, Fences back in the late 1980s.

I confess I've always had some sympathy with Wilson's argument. Part of it was driven by practical goals for black artists in the profession itself--i.e. by insisting on black directors he made sure many were hired. (And many black theatre directors today, I'm sure, owe some of their earnings to the August Wilson plays they are routinely booked to stage around the country.) And it also needed to be said, at the time, that, no: simply casting black actors in Death of a Salesman cannot mean theatres can "check off" the "black play" slot. It does not mean you have done anything to foster a more diverse theatre at its core.

But in recent years, Suzan-Lori Parks, when asked to define "a black play" quipped: "The Glass Menagerie is a black play." Speaking of Tennessee we have also seen a boffo all-black Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway that survived tepid reviews due to huge African American audience turnout--an audience that had not turned out since more "genuinely" black plays as Color Purple and Raisin in the Sun. The sheer presence of James Earl Jones and Terence Howard might indeed have made Williams' play "black enough" if I may invoke that awkward debate.

So, speaking of that refrain, is our theatre in the age of Obama becoming "post-racial"? Obviously the term itself is absurd. But it's interesting to look for signs of something Hollywood is grappling with: that with a black man in the White House, "minorities" can no longer be considered just "supporting roles" anymore. Will the casting process in the theatre reflect this, too? And has Wilson's mission now given way to different times?

As for Dutton's Loman, whatever the arguments for or against, I say never give up an opportunity to see a great actor in a great role.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Audiences are composed largely of brainwashed egotists who cannot be bothered with anything that is not fashionable."

-Brooks Atkinson, Broadway (1970).

And who said bloggers invented snark.

Scenes from The Crunch

The pretty successful and popular Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox, MA is taking drastic steps:

Shakespeare & Company is laying off seven employees, reducing two others to part-time, and instituting a 10 percent pay cut for the remaining 41 year-round staff as part of a restructuring plan to save $900,000. Theater officials announced on Tuesday that the company's budget will go from $5.6 million for the current fiscal year to $4.7 million for the fiscal year that begins on April 1. In addition to layoffs and payroll reductions, the three founders of the 32-year old theater group will each lose eight weeks of pay in order to prevent further layoffs and reductions, according to artistic director Tina Packer.

"We want the blooming thing to survive," said Packer.

Venice Saved: A Seminar

My friend David Levine is (rightly!) featured in this week's Voice along with his new performance piece opening this week, Venice Saved: A Seminar. I was privileged to participate in a workshop of this project a while back and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Basically, it's a kind of staging of an obscure Simone Weil play, which in turn is basically her own rewrite of Otway's restoration tragedy Venice Preserved. The text is already loaded with political tension--Weil was a victim of the Nazis--in addition to telling a story of tyranny, state violence, and martyrdom. So David and his collaborator, playwright Gordon Dahlquist, have taken it a step further by inviting the audience not just to spectate the play, but attend a kind of classroom seminar on political theatre in general, using the play as Exhibit A.

So come watch, talk, shout, debate, whatever. However it strikes you, it certainly will be unique.

Playing at PS 122 through April 5.

"Sushi-Gate" Update

"At one point, he cited the Obama administration’s warning about mercury pollution as a grave threat, and also quoted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — 'no lie can last forever' — in expressing confidence that his reputation would survive the conflict with the producers."

-Jeremy Piven, still fighting charges from his Speed-the-Plow producers of violating his contract when he bailed on their show.

Piven caught a break a couple of weeks ago when fellow actors sided with him on a convened panel to hear the case. He denies, by the way, that this was a "sushi" problem and vows to return to the stage.

If this statement is any indicator, I wonder if he's already preparing for his next role--Jesus.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Did We Just Get an Arts Czar?

Pointing to a little noted NYT weekend item, blogger Judith Dobrzynski thinks "the White House seems to have appointed an arts czar -- but no one seems to have noticed."

Or at least, as the Times put it, a "staff position in the White House to oversee arts and culture in the Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs."

His name is Kareem Dale.

Who???

All Yeats All the Time

Or close, anyway.

New York Irish Rep is going to have a go at all the modernist poet's theatrical oeuvre next month:

The Yeats Project's plays will be directed by Charlotte Moore (Rep artistic director) and CiarĂ¡n O’Reilly (producing director). ...The eight fully mounted Mainstage productions in two cycles will be (Cycle A) The Countess Cathleen, The Cat and the Moon and On Baile's Strand and (Cycle B) The Land of Heart's Desire, The Pot of Broth, Purgatory, A Full Moon in March and Cathleen Ni Houlihan.

The remaining 18 plays will receive "concert readings" in the downstairs Studio Theatre. These plays — At the Hawk's Well, Calvary, Deirdre, The Hour Glass, The King's Threshold, Oedipus Rex, The Resurrection, The Shadowy Waters, The Words upon the Window Pane, The Green Helmet, The Only Jealousy of Emer, The Unicorn from the Stars, The Player Queen, The Dreaming of the Bones, Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus, The King of the Great Clock Tower, The Herne's Egg and The Death of Cuchulain — will be directed by George C. Heslin, artistic director and founder of Origin Theatre Company.

The Yeats Project will begin April 8 and open April 15.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Ron Silver died?

Throat cancer at 62.

I always found him a fun, engaging actor, though perhaps limited in type. In short, great at playing jerks. Highlight--Speed the Plow, of course!

But I'm surprised getting no ink in his obits is his strange brief involvement with the premiere of the now-cult play, David Hirson's La Bete. Not to speak ill of the dead, but it was a weird story. Since this highly esoteric play--a Moliere spoof written in rhymed couplets--was opening directly on Broadway (this was back in 1991) producers needed a star. And since Silver had just won the Tony for Speed the Plow--who would be better to play a 17th century foppish French comedien than... Ron Silver!

He left the show unceremoniously out of town and the play limped into New York, closing just weeks later.

The other most notorious thing Silver will be remembered for amongst his fellow actors was his political activism, especially his abrupt turn from Mr Lefty to avid George Bush supporter after 9/11, when he went all Super-Jew and became a "security voter."

For what it's worth, in the NYT obit Silver's brother reveals Ron did return to the fold and vote for Obama in the end. And in this rare recent TV appearance (hoarse and chemo-shaved) he tells David Frost he has no regrets but still considers himself a liberal, just a hawkish one.



(video via LA Times)

"Seven Jewish Children" at NYTW

Yes, they're doing it.

As a reading, followed by discussion.

(Why does Arthur Kopit's great title End of the World: with symposium to follow keep coming to mind?)

Interesting choice. Basically with a 10 minute play followed by a full panel discussion (moderated by Tony Kushner, btw) sounds like the event (or events, 3 readings seem schedules) will basically aspire to be a teach-in with Caryl Churchill's playlet as a spring board.

In other words, this sounds pretty much like what NYTW proposed doing with Rachel Corrie and the stated justification for their announced "postponement"--i.e. they needed time to line up enough panel discussions to "contextualize" the issues for the audience.

So--will NYTW's attempts at reasoned controlled time-limited discussions erupt into shouting matches anyway, given the passions stirred by anything Gaza? Who will show up to these free readings--the pro- or anti-Palestinian peeps? And how many will actually go home afterwards and follow the link published in the program to donate to the pro-Palestinian charity Churchill stipulates in her rights contract? (Read the article to see the clever way around that one.)

Tune in next week when all this goes down.

Meanwhile--any hopes NYTW had of offering the NYC premiere (after US premieres have already happened in Cambridge, Chicago, and LA) has been stymied by the more outwardly activist Theatres Against War tonight! It's at Brecht Forum and also involves the "Rachel's Words" people who will be on the bill as well, presenting their own compilation of Rachel Corrie's writings.

As that performance tonight reminds us, the Palestinian cause has quietly become over the last few years a very active issue for the organized radical left in this country, from The Nation on down. You won't get a whiff of it in the NY Times or from the Democratic Party. But among those that are more actively organizing and protesting against globalization and human rights internationally, protesting the Israeli government has become non-controversial. (Hence why a failed student uprising at NYU recently could site various gestures to Palestinians in their list of demands--not that the undergrads themselves cared, but it was de rigeur for their co-organizers from SDS.)

I say that as preface to applauding NYTW for now engaging the issue. Since if you want to stay current with what the new generation of the left is fighting for, you better take notice of this. Gaza ain't going away.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Quote of the Day

"I don't know too many actors who'd pass up an easy $150,000 to $200,000 for a two-week extension, but as a person close to Ferrell says, 'The money doesn't matter. He gets $20 million a movie.'"

That's Ferrell as in Will, of course.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Will Theatre Outlive The Newspaper?

NY Times today wonders, "which will be the first big city without a large newspaper, but there are candidates across the U.S." (Cuz obviously we're just fine, ha!)

So my question is: how will (and I say "will" not "would" since it is now accepted this will happen) the disappearance of serious daily newspapers in major cities affect the life of the theatre in said cities?

And I don't just mean critics.* I mean without the newspaper itself. So not only no features, but no listings, and no ads.

These regional theatre folks better get web savvy real fast...


*To their credit three of LA's big Artistic Directors' sent a joint letter to the LA Times protesting the laying off of a number of the city's critics and theatre editors.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

B'way Tax Nixed

Governor Patterson and the NY State Senate just announced the new "emergency" budget will not--I repeat, not--include any new taxes on Broadway show tickets.

The Executive Budget would have imposed a sales tax on entertainment-related consumer spending, including but not limited to, movie theaters, live theatre, concerts, golf, skiing, bowling and others. This proposal is no longer recommended.
So it's not just the Broadway lobby that's happy today.

Well there goes that idea.

What did Ted Haggard Think of "This Beautiful City"?

You know, because he's like...in it.

Time Out has the answer. Well, not really. ("They were the first people out the door.")

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Another Rep Bites the Dust

Say good bye to Madison Rep this time, of Madison, WI. Quite a visible theatre in the upper Midwest, I've always sensed.

But don't expect tears from the local critic; he says they had it coming. "The Rep has provided a template on how not to run a theater company."

Any "cheeseheads" out there know what he's referring to?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Do We Really Have to Know What Shakespeare Looked Like?

Well in case you were wondering, here's William Shakespeare:

Not what you expected? Well tell that to Stanley Wells, as eminent a Shakespearean as there is. And he has concluded that this is the Bard at about age 46, in or around 1610--which would be near the end of his playwriting career. (And 6 years before his death.)

No, I am not about to go off on another "Stratfordian" rant of mine. Since this is hardly relevant to authorship.

Still, we cannot but take note that Stanley Wells says this is the real deal. He's not one to skimp on the evidence:

The newly discovered picture has descended for centuries in the same family, the Cobbes. It hung in their Irish home, under another identification, until the 1980s, when it was inherited by Alec Cobbe who was a co-heir of the Cobbe estate and whose heirlooms were transferred into a trust. In 2006 Alec Cobbe visited the National Portrait Gallery exhibition ‘Searching for Shakespeare’ where he saw a painting that now hangs in the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington. It had been accepted as a life portrait of Shakespeare until some 70 years ago, but fell from grace when it was found to have been altered. Mr Cobbe immediately realised that this was a copy of the painting in his family collection.

The painstaking work of researching the picture has been carried out over the last three years by Mark Broch, curator of the Cobbe Collection. The research conclusively demonstrates that the Cobbe picture is the prime version of the portrait and establishes beyond reasonable doubt its descent to the Cobbes through their cousin’s marriage to the great granddaughter of Shakespeare’s only literary patron, Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton. In addition to the Folger copy, several other early copies of the Cobbe portrait have been located and no less than three of them have independent traditions as portraits of Shakespeare. In two cases the traditions date back to within living memory of the poet—providing compelling evidence that the identification of the sitter as Shakespeare was correct all along. The conclusion that the sitter is Shakespeare is strengthened by the fact that the original picture, the Cobbe portrait, was inscribed with a quotation from the Classical writer, Horace, taken from an ode addressed to a playwright.
Plus the carbon dating has brought the work within the timeframe of possibility as well.

What's odd about the link to that Folger Collection "fake" (known as "The Janssen Portrait") is that according to Folger's own curator, the only thing that has made the Janssen historically notable is that it's a rare contemporaneous painting (also dated c.1610) that was altered to look like Shakespeare.

So if Prof. Wells and Mr. Cobbe are correct, the Janssen portrait is a contemporaneous copy of a painting originally of Shakespeare, which was then doctored to look...more like Shakespeare? What am I missing here?

Here's the three variations side by side. First, a very poor photo (sorry) of the "baldy" Janssen (yes, that's how they tried to make him more "Shakespearean") as it appeared before the Folger's restoration:


Here's what I'll call the Restored-Hairline Janssen as it hangs today in the Folger:


And, last, here's the new Cobbe portrait once again.


All I know is I still prefer the ol' "Chandos" picture.


Truth be damned--he just looks so much cooler here! Not just the famous earing, but the casual modest clothes, all black, of course, like a true Elizabethan-bohemian, no doubt.

The Cobbe is way too Joseph Fiennes, if you know what I mean. Too pretty boy. Not to mention gawdy in that frilly collar and flashy constricting doublet. Perhaps Stephen Greenblatt--who paints Will as a kind of social climber in his Will in the World--might see such desperation to appear noble all too fitting. But to me that just looks like a writer who's sold out, man!

Plus the guy in the Folio engraving and the bust at the Stratford Trinity Church grave is on the pudgy side, if I may say. So Chandos gets points there, too--especially for a successful retiring scribe of 46!

I stared at the Chandos in the London National Portrait Gallery once for like an hour and I swear the man was speaking to me.

And not to get all phrenological/19th century racial science on you all, but I like to think there's also something a bit Jewy about the overbite. (Not to mention that hint of a sly smirk.) It's not just me: this "semitic" or "oriental" vibe apparently dismayed the establishment back in the day, who intially ruled it out as ill befitting the Bard. Nonsense of course, but for me, wishful thinking: I just like to think he's one of us.

Then again, some people think Shakespeare was a Jewish woman.

See how silly this all gets...

PS. Here's some video of the unveiling today...


Watch CBS Videos Online

Jane Alexander Represents

Illustrious stage actress and former NEA chair Jane Alexander gives an interview to CNN.com (hmm, why not on the air, CNN?) on the state of arts funding in the Obama age.

Make that the Obama vs Jindal age.

Here's a good theatre-specific excerpt:

CNN: How did you personally get involved in this cause?

Alexander: As an actress who spent most of my career in nonprofit theaters, They began with the seed of an NEA grant back in the late 60s, most of them. Today we have about 450 nonprofit theaters across the United States. Back in 1965, when the NEA was founded, there were only about 23 of them.

CNN: Your forthcoming play -- is that being done for a nonprofit theater?

Alexander: Yes. It's another nonprofit called Primary Stages in New York City, a small theater. What people don't quite understand about theaters is that they never increase their size. They're bound by the number of seats within a given theater, and meanwhile there's inflation and the costs rise. So currently most theaters can never make more than 50 percent of their income from ticket sales. The rest has to be raised.

CNN: How's the company doing?

Alexander: It had a good play last year, "Dividing the Estate," by Horton Foote, which got a lot of attention but I don't think it made back its nut on Broadway. It transferred from the nonprofit to a commercial venue on Broadway. ...

In the film business, independent films are considered nonprofit in many instances. It's interesting to see that an independent won the Academy Award. Of course it was distributed by a major studio.

"Slumdog Millionaire" started off as an independent. It did extraordinarily well. ... Many of the commercial arts are fed by the nonprofit arts. And that's another thing most people don't fully understand. Where do you think the Tom Hanks, the Cate Blanchetts of the world come from? They come from small venues that are independent and are nonprofit usually and then they move into the mainstream.

CNN: What's your attitude about the future, under the Obama administration. Do you think there's reason for hope about the arts, or despair?

Alexander: I think there's reason for great hope. President Obama has said repeatedly and he's said it for a couple of years now, that he thinks arts education is vital for children of all ages, starting right away. We have the arts in nursery school anyway, but he believes in institutionalizing the arts so it's part of the curriculum for every child in America. ...

Everybody in all walks of life know people who are out of work presently or are about to be out of work. And the same is true for artists. I know so many artists -- for example visual artists, the gallery has closed or it's cut back. Theaters that are no longer going to do productions with more than five actors. And so on. So I know a lot of people out of work: costume designers, makeup people. And let's not forget all the ancillary jobs from having an arts organization in your neighborhood. That includes restaurants, taxicabs, whatever.

CNN: Gov. Jindal said he didn't think the arts money should be part of the economic stimulus plan.

Alexander: Well what he doesn't understand is that $50 million goes directly ... as a grant to organizations which employ people. It's quick and it's a system that works beautifully and it's done within a year.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Downtown Crunch Pow Wow

“Frankly, I think we need space before we need money."

-John Clancy, League of Independent Theater.

From what seems like a very extensive discussion held last week on the state of producing 99-seat style theatre in NYC in a Depression. In addition to Clancy, also present were Manhattan Borough Prez Scott Stringer, ART/NY, former TCG head Ben Cameron, and many Artistic Directors.

Check it out, as well as a new website (Arts Policy Now) touted at the event.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Want Some NEA "Stimulus" Action: Act Now!

Got an arts organization? NEA's got some cash and needs to spend it fast. Go for it!

But hurry. One deadline is April 2. The other is next week!

NB: As Ralph Lewis points out in Comments below, you apparently have to already be a previous NEA grant recipient to apply. Well that helps!

I Did Not Know That

Did you know that regional theatre staffs in the UK have a union?

And they're threatening to strike!

I don't think you'll be hearing about that at the next TCG conference...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Horton Foote, 1916-2009

IHow bittersweet that Horton Foote dies just as he enjoys, at 92, his third(!) ever Broadway success and was anticipating a major Signature Theatre retrospective of his "Orphan's Home" saga.

Then again, he must have been glad to live just long enough to see it all. And, as is the way with the artistic temperament, it might be no accident that he expired just after the rush of all the work over the last year.

You can read my own thoughts on Dividing the Estate in the upcoming Best Plays 2007-2008 volume. One of the benefits of working on that was finally getting to know a writer who so many of us in NYC have ignored. So I'm very much looking forward to the Signature marathon next year, for which Foote was still toiling away adapting up to the last.

UPDATE: Full NYT obit here. And a Charles McNulty LA Times "appreciation" here.

Churchill Gaza Play will Premiere in Chicago

...and not at Goodman or Steppenwolf.

Yes, rest easy Public & NYTW. The burden of the US premiere* for the most controversial ten-minute play ever, Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children, will be taken on by the brave folks at Rooms Productions, a little outfit not only "Off-Loop" but way out west on the southwest side.

As for the challenges of staging the brief elliptical monologue-collection, I must say they've come up with a nifty solution, "present[ing] it as a performance installation at their gallery in Pilsen." Where it will play basically in a continuous loop.

As for the thorny issue of that pro-Palestinian charity Churchill mandates any ticket proceeds go to, yet another satisfactory solution I think.

In lieu of an admission fee, at the request of Ms. Churchill, ROOMS will setup a donation area where patrons can contribute funds that will go specifically to Medical Aid for Palestinians a British charity that operates in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
As I suggested in my original post on the trouble surrounding this piece, a conventional theatre setting (and conventional performance schedules) may not be the best way to go. Leave it to the "outliers," not the major institutions to put themselves out there and make it happen.

And, in keeping with Churchill's impulse here towards raw, immediate response to current events, it goes up next week.

(Via Playbill.)

UPDATE 3/5: I've been informed that this is NOT the US premiere since someone else just performed it last night! The Cambridge Palestine Forum in Cambridge, MA. My apologies.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

"If I Ran the NEA..."

LA Times went ahead and asked some artsy/entertainment folk.

From Robbie Baitz to Bill Maher, from Edward Albee to Tim Robbins, from Rachel Maddow to....Ann Coulter???

Oh well, check it out anyway.

And feel free to add right here: What if YOU ran the NEA...?

Monday, March 02, 2009

The "4-Ticket Buy"

Chris Jones explains why casting-by-reality-show may not have helped "Legally Blonde" on Broadway but still is delivering residual bonuses on its current post-NY "boffo" road tour.

The success of TV casting shows is well documented. "You're the One That I Want" did a lot -- financially, if not artistically -- for the Broadway production of "Grease." "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" did a lot for the London revival of "The Sound of Music."

But there was an important difference with the "Elle Woods" show. Styled as a search for a replacement rather than an original star, the show was broadcast toward the end of the New York run. It thus did little for the Broadway box office. But the timing has been huge for the road.

"It helped us become the thing everybody loves: the four-ticket buy," [producer Mike Isaacson] says. "The show has given the kids a huge knowledge base about the show. You can hear the whispering in certain scenes."

"Knowledge-base"? Really? About "Legally Blonde"???

Reverend Billy for Mayor!

For real.

I would say he'd be our first performance-artist mayor. But that would be forgetting Rudy Guilliani.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Scenes From The Crunch

From an AP report on struggling nonprofits and their useless endowments:

The North Carolina Symphony has all the money it needs. But in this economy, the orchestra isn't allowed to touch it.The value of its endowment stands at nearly $6.9 million, a fund the symphony planned to tap this year to help pay its musicians and put on concerts. But because of the slump on Wall Street, the endowment is worth less than the original donations that created it. That means, under North Carolina law, that the money is off limits.

[...]

Rules governing how nonprofits in North Carolina and 23 other states use their endowments date to the 1970s, when most states adopted a uniform law that prohibits withdrawing money from endowments that fall below their ''historic dollar value'' -- the money given to create the endowment, plus any later gifts.

The law is designed to protect endowments by preventing institutions from dipping into the principal. An endowment is supposed to be a perpetual source of revenue, with institutions drawing off only the earnings.

The rule affects newer funds most severely, since they have had less time to invest a gift and build the endowment's value.

[...]

Since early 2007, 26 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that give nonprofit organizations more flexibility in using money from endowments that are underwater. Because of the economic meltdown, 12 other states are considering such laws, according to the National Conference of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws.
So, any theatres experiencing this, you ask? You betcha!

The American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco has watched its endowment, with a historic dollar value of about $22 million, drop to $18 million. It decided to focus on raising money to rebuild the endowment, rather than draw it down to pay salaries.

Two theater employees were laid off in January and four other positions remain unfilled, said theater executive director Heather Kitchen.

''Making the endowment even smaller wasn't the key,'' Kitchen said. ''It might be worth $13 million when the recession is over, and it would take even longer to get it back where we want it to be.''

Am I right in inferring from the ACT example that a staffer may be more likely to laid off from a big company than a small one?