By Suzy Evans
We may not have the Tony's, but the Joseph Jefferson Awards, named for the famous 19th century Chicago actor Joseph Jefferson III, are a big deal around here. The awards are given out twice a year - for Equity and non-Equity shows - and the nominations for the 41st annual awards for Equity productions were released last week. Not surprisingly, Ruined at the Goodman and then Manhattan Theatre Club, received acting, directing, music, best play, and best new work nods. However, starkly missing from the list of nominees is Robert Falls' Desire Under the Elms. Falls and the Jeff Committee don't see eye to eye, according to the Tribune.
Although I haven't seen many of the nominated shows, I'm happy to see acting nods for Linda Gehringer from the Goodman's The Crowd You're in With (a great new play by Rebecca Gilman), Mattie Hawkinson for Victory Gardens' Blackbird, Jon Michael Hill for the Steppenwolf's The Tempest (the company's first Shakespeare production), and Jake Cohen for Up, also at the Steppenwolf. (While I didn't care for Up, Cohen did a nice job.) Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of The Arabian Nights, which played for its third time - second time in Chicago - at Lookingglass, was nominated for best ensemble, costume design, and best play. The awards will be given out on October 19, and you can see a full list of nominees here.
Monday, August 31, 2009
By Suzy Evans
Friday, August 28, 2009
By Suzy Evans
Here in Chicago, we have almost as many improv and comedy groups as we do theaters. Okay, there might be more theaters, but with the prolific work of The Second City and other notables like the iO (ImprovOlympic) and Annoyance Theatre, Chicago definitely has its name on the comedy map.
Earlier this week, I saw the latest Second City mainstage production America: All Better and my companion posed an interesting question: Do theater critics review comedy shows in Chicago? While I wasn’t reviewing this show, I do cover shows by Second City and other improv companies. (The site I write for doesn’t have a comedy specific writer; however, I think we’re looking for one so maybe that arena will be taken from me.) Chris Jones, at the Tribune reviews the comedy fare but Time Out Chicago gives theater and comedy different categories. Writers can crossover between the sections though.
But aside from being a live performance in a theater, in terms of dramatic flow, are sketch comedy and theater really all that similar? Second City revues are scripted, but there’s not usually a plot. Instead, the show comprises a series of sketches relating to a general theme. In America: All Better, it’s the tongue in cheek idea that President Obama’s election erases all our problems. I suppose this is similar to the structure of any theatrical revue, but other comedy groups can put on a night of different sketches by multiple companies with no common thread. Or one company can improvise the entire evening. Is this something that can be categorized as theater?
We do have enough theaters and improv clubs in Chicago that putting them in separate categories might insure more press coverage. But at the same time, some comedy shows are closer in structure to “basic” theater than others. So where do you draw the line? Or does the line even need to be drawn?
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Hardly important enough to break my blog-cation for, but...
The most famous fish story on Broadway reached its conclusion on Thursday after an arbitrator found that Jeremy Piven did not violate his contract when he withdrew from the revival of “Speed-the-Plow,” citing a case of mercury poisoning.More of the breaking news from NYT.com.
See y'all soon!
By Steven Leigh Morris
One of L.A.'s most enduring musical hits is going on the road, on a national tour, with the aim of sliding into Broadway at some point. (As you can tell, details are sketchy at this point.)
About this time last year, I posted here on Playgoer about the musical, with an on-stage jazz band, based on the life '50s-''60s entertainers Louis Prima and Keely Smith, writer-performer Vanessa Claire Smith and Jake Broder's Louis & Keely, Live at the Sahara. I adored and trumpeted the show when it opened in June, 2008, directed by Jeremy Aldridge, at the intimate Sacred Fools Theatre in east Hollywood -- as did my colleagues. The show soon transferred to a small venue on the Melrose strip, The Matrix Theatre. Film director Taylor Hackford, best known for his bio-epic on Ray Charles, Ray, took an early, keen interest in the project, and in late February of this year, word had leaked out that a re-written, re-conceived version of the show was transferring west or to L.A.'s own, imagined “uptown”, to the Geffen Playhouse's second stage. It opened to the press there in March and its fifth extension through September was recently announced.
Reviews of the transferred show have been strong, but I was deflated by Hackford's tinkering, and said so. The original had been a pristine memory play, seen through Prima's coma-induced ravings. The music was sublime, and each of songs had offered a reflection on partners Louis and Keely's crumbling marriage. I appreciated how it could be upbeat and harrowing in the same breath, and even included a kind of Beckettian close. It had also been theatrically taut, focusing on the duo with some of the band filling in with supplementary roles.
Under Hackford's influence, however, new characters and new actors were added – Frank Sinatra, parents, and others. In case we didn't know what New Orleans looked like, Hackford provided slides to show us. The rarefied theatricality of the former yielded to a cinematic melange. Some of the more ruminative ballads were swapped out for more of upbeat scat songs.
It was an awkward thing to say in print, given how Broder and Smith had agreed to host the L.A. Weekly Theatre Awards, one month later, which I produce. But the duo were, and remain, consummate pros.
During those awards, Smith told me that the show is a work-in-process, and that the co-writer-performers felt the need to try out new ideas. Last week, she reiterated the same theme. Hackford will not be involved with the tour and a new director has yet to be announced. Smith did mention that the duo have chosen to reinstate aspects of the original script.
Given the tenacity of their commitment to this project, and the sheer delight of the music, I'd find it hard to believe that this show won't arrive in New York within the next two years.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
By Suzy Evans
The Goodman Theatre set the Guinness World Record for the largest number of people wearing Groucho Marx classes at the same place and time. Tribune critic Chris Jones confirmed this on The Theater Loop.
The Goodman made the attempt at the outdoor screening of Duck Soup in Grant Park on July 21. 4,436 people wore the trademark glasses.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
By Steven Leigh Morris
Oscar and Grammy Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz’s new (and first) opera, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, will have its world premiere, Sept. 26 at The Granada in Santa Barbara. The music and libretto were both written by Schwartz; his son Scott Schwartz (Bat Boy: The Musical, Golda’s Balcony, Tick,Tick . . . Boom) will direct.
New York City Opera star Lauren Flanigan leads the cast which also includes baritone Kim Josephson. Other principal roles will be sung by Hila Plitman, John Kimberling and Craig Hart. Information here.
CTG Announces 2010 Season
On Friday, the Mark Taper Forum announced its 2010 season.
Feb. 21-March 21: a revival of David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow, directed by Neil Pepe.
April 25-May 30: a transfer of Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo from the Kirk Douglas, where it premiered last year.
April 28-May 16: (at the Ahmanson): Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps
July 11-Aug. 8: Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore (dropped from last season for financial reasons)
Sept. 12-Oct.17, 2010: Judith Ivey in the Long Warf Theatre production of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie
Nov.21-Dec. 19: A world premiere musical (details to be announced)
Interestingly, on the L.A. Times' culture blog, Center Theatre Group's artistic director Michael Ritchie conceded that the unambitious program is a concession to economic times.
"The economy definitely affected this particular season; it forced a show from last year into this season," Ritchie said. "However, in this  season we have some large-scale shows, 'Inishmore' and a new musical, and we believe we weathered the worst of the economic crisis by being extremely proactive, cutting back on our administrative costs and offering our 100,000 tickets at $20 to spur audiences to get in the doors, and we managed our expenses very well."
(CTG announced announced another company-wide round of layoffs a few months ago.)
This sounds very much like the reasoning by newspaper publishers, on the heels of gutting classical music, books, dance and theater sections over the past three years. It also lends support to Mike Daisey's sardonic postulation in his one-man show, How The Theater Failed America, that the main purpose of arts institutions (and of newspapers too, it would seem) is self-preservation. Unlike CTG, however, a newspaper harbors no illusions of functioning under some non-profit umbrella. In many arts organizations, that distinction has grown increasingly irrelevant.
Sacred Fools Announces New Season
If you're looking for something a little more adventurous on L.A. stages, you need – as usual – to turn to the smaller players. Here's the upcoming 13th season from one of the funkier survivors of the economic downturn, Sacred Fools Theatre Company, situated in East Hollywood.
Sept. 18 – October 24: Savin’ Up for Saturday Night, a world premiere country cabaret dance hall, directed by Jeremy Aldridge, with music and lyrics by Richard Levinson and book by Jeff Goode.
November 19-December 19, Hamlet Shut Up, a world premiere of a “silent comedy with commedia dell'arte, music, slapstick multimedia and sharks,” By Jonas Oppenheim, directed by
Sean Kinney, in collaboration with Ten West.
January 15- Feb. 20, 2010, Bertolt Brecht’s Baal, translation by Peter Mellencamp, Jan. 15- Feb. 20, 2010. Directed by Ben Rock.
March 19 to April 24, 2010, Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, West Coast premiere of Jennifer Haley's play, set in a subdivision with identical houses, where parents find their teenagers addicted to an online horror video game set in a subdivision with identical houses. Directed by Jaime Robledo.
May 21 to June 26, 2101 Forbidden Zone: LIVE in the 6th Dimension! A world premiere adapted from “one of the greatest midnight movies of all times . . . featuring the music of he Mystic Knights of the Oingo-Boingo!” Directed by Scott Leggett, adapted by Michael Holmes from the screenplay by Richard Elfman & Matthew Bright, et al.
Monday, August 24, 2009
By Suzy Evans
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre brings international theater artists to Chicago each year through its World Stage Series, and this weekend, French troupe Ilotopie performed atop Lake Michigan by Navy Pier to crowds of audiences, hungry for free theater. Ilotopie's Water Fools showcases live entertainment with large floating objects, like cars, and fire. Although the lake magic was postponed due to weather conditions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday served it up with a bang. There was no shortage of excitement on Saturday night as an ignorant boater charged for the floating stage at the beginning of the performance causing a round of cops to break up the madness.
Here's a little taste of the international entertainment:
Friday, August 21, 2009
By Suzy Evans
Kris Vire, Time Out Chicago theater editor, started an interesting conversation on his personal blog this week about the role of theater critics. While not a new topic by any means, the debate gains interesting perspective in the recession. (However, it doesn't change anything.)
Vire’s post responded to a comment on Chicago Tribune theater critic Chris Jones’ review of Route 66’s High Fidelity, the Broadway flop based on the John Cusack movie and Nick Hornby novel. Although I have not read Jones’ review (I have yet to write my own), I assume from the comment that he did not recommend the show. Commenter “allison” wrote that in a time when theaters across the country are suffering, critics should champion theater in their communities to help save art. However, Vire had something else to say:
Part of what a Chicago theater critic is charged to do is to support and encourage good theater in this town. It does no one any good to encourage bad theater…The absolute WORST thing we can do as critics is to be soft on a show we didn't enjoy because people worked so hard on it.Just because we’re in a recession doesn’t mean critics should promote and congratulate poor theater - that would simply exacerbate the problem. Audiences would go to these “bad” shows, and subsequently, they would get mad at the critic for recommending they spend their hard-earned money on something that wasn’t worth it. As a result, these audiences would lose trust in the critics, who would eventually be out a job. Journalists and critics don’t have the greatest job security at the moment either. In fact, Vire wrote an earlier post on his blog about how arts journalists aren’t any better off than actors, a scary but truthful insight.
Now, that’s not to say that critics should shell out heartless quips just so people will read them. Of course it’s fun to write and read a slam, but an unmerited critique isn’t helping anybody. The relationship between a theater artist and a critic should be symbiotic, as Travis Bedard, an Austin, Texas-based artistic director, eloquently pointed out on his blog in response to Vire.
It is in my best interest to have as rigorous a review of my work as I can get. I may discard some of it as not useful to my future work or as an outlier in reference to this work. But if it’s all going to simply be treacley appreciation for “how hard I tried” I will never be one whit better tomorrow than I am today.Nicely said.
As critics and journalists, we want to know what we can be doing better too. If you think a newspaper is doing a bad job, do you buy it just to save journalism? No. So if you don’t like a show, should you praise it just to save the arts? We’re all trying to make it in a tough economic climate and compromising our values wouldn’t be helping anybody.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
By Steven Leigh Morris
This weekend, Open Fist Theater (a 99-seat venue in Hollywood) premieres two one-acts by Neil LaBute. The world premiere of The New Testament is to be directed by Bjorn Johnson: “On the eve of a Broadway production, a writer and his producer try to recast an important role in a new play, much to the chagrin of the original actor.” It performs with Helter Skelter, which LaBute is directing, as part of the theater's “First Look” series – though Helter Skelter is not a new play.
Over at the Pasadena Playhouse (a Broadway-style house that sent Vanities: The Musical to New York, and has a reputation for having Broadway on the brain), artistic director Sheldon Epps directs Charles Randolph-Wright's new play, The Night Is a Child. It opens next week and performs through October 4. “A mother's search for peace and absolution unfolds a midst the sensual sounds of Brazilian music in Rio de Janeiro.” Opening November 4 and playing through December 13 comes a new musical by Iris Rainer Dart, Mike Stoller and Artie Butler, Laughing Matters, directed by Leonard Foglia. “. . . about three generations of Jewish women and the history, humor and music that binds them together.”
At the Geffen Playhouse (also a Broadway-style house), opening Septeber 8 is Blair Singer's new play, Matthew Modine saves the Alpacas, a satire “that parodies celebrity humanitarianism, Hollywood and hand sanitizer. Eighties heartthrop Matthew Modine was 'A-List' all the way. But now, a couple of decades later, he's not on any lists. He needs to get back in the limelight – he needs . . . a Cause.” It stars – three guesses, time's up! -- Mathew Modine, along with Peri Gilpin, French Stewart, Mark Fite and Mark Damon and one actor who hasn't yet been cast.
Down in Costa Mesa, South Coast Repertory presents one new play in its fall season, with two more slated for the spring. September 28 to October 18 is Julie Marie Myatt's The Happy Ones, about a fellow in suburban OC who suffers a “devastating blow, leaving Walter with no reason to put the pieces of his life back together . . . until he gets an offer of help from a Vietnamese refugee. . ."
The rest of their fall season looks like regional theater standard fare: Sondheim's Putting It Together (September 11 to October 11), and the West Coast premiere of Noah Haidle's Saturn Returns (October 23 to November 22).
Spring season brings the world premiere of Howard Korder's devastating In a Garden (if it's even half as good as it appeared in a workshop earlier this year, this should be a play that deserves national attention -- about a B-List American architect who's commissioned to design a gazebo-of-Eden in Iraq during U.S. bombing runs there. I found it to be a grimly funny and poetical work. Also in the spring, a new coming-of-age play, Doctor Cerberus, by the young Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, about a gay kid obsessed with comic books as a window onto his life's plight.
Final note: Last year, SCR's then lit manager grumbled about critics writing on the plays-in -development in the theater's new works Pacific Playwrights Festival. The critics were invited by the theater's press rep to these productions, being performed as rehearsed readings or workshops in front of a paying audience. (Charles Isherwood and Variety's Bob Verini also covered the festival that year, in print, and the lit manager said she furious about that, too) I got a similar complaint this year from the agent of one of the playwrights (for a friendly, mixed assessment of a work-in-process), but I did just notice that the theater used a pullquote from Verini's writeup on the workshop of Doctor Cerberus on its website, for marketing purposes. Some of us still harbor the illusion that because we're more than an extension of a theater's marketing department, that doesn't make us enemies of the state.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
By Suzy Evans
So, I was going to create a fabulous list of all the Chicago-centric shows that are opening on Broadway this season, but Chicago Sun-Times theater critic Hedy Weiss beat me to it. (And it's much better than mine would have been.) Here's Weiss's preview of all the shows that will be hitting the Great White Way: Keith Huff's A Steady Rain, David Cromer's Broadway directing debut doubleheader, Tracy Letts' new play and the Chicago pre-Broadway engagement of the new Addams Family Musical.
Read Weiss's article here.
She also provides some great insight on why so many Chicago shows make it in New York, including some interesting commentary from The New York Times critic Charles Isherwood.
In New York you can have immediate rewards -- a role in a TV show, a movie -- but that's not necessarily artistic development. The economics of the real estate situation for theater also are still better in Chicago.Producer Scott Morfee of the Barrow Street Theatre, where Cromer's Our Town is currently playing, thinks Chicago provides greater artistic freedom for this reason. And by bringing work from Chicago, the flavor of Off-Broadway is becoming less Broadway-focused.
You just find a space, the union is not always on your back, and it costs less to develop work over a longer period. The result is really good work. That organic way of working exists in New York, too, but then you lose the space where you're working, or there's not enough time to move a show or extend it. It's a real estate issue.Steppenwolf Executive Director David Hawkanson spoke about how more new work happening in Chicago. Chicago theater company The New Colony also wrote about this on their blog in response to Time Out New York theater editor David Cote's wishlist for New York theater.
Chicago is one of the greatest cities for innovative and exciting new ideas. New artists are welcomed openly here. We want the new blood. We don’t make it hard to start working here. There really is something for everyone.
So let’s make that the mantra of this city. Chicago is not New York. Nor will it ever be. Nor do we want it to be! Chicago needs to declare and solidify itself as America’s City of New Theater.
Amen. Bring us more new work! New York is watching.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
By Steven Leigh Morris
Here's what our Big Players are up to in the next few months. If you were napping in New York for the past decade, and you're planning a trip out west, it's an opportunity to play catch-up. At the Ahmanson, Monty Python's Spamalot runs through September 6. Steppenwolf Theatre Company rolls in on its heels with August, Osage County, September 8 to October 18; followed by Mary Poppins, November 13 to February 7.
Over at the Taper:, T.R. Knight (of Gray's Anatomy) stars in Parade, the Tony Award winning musical about Leo Frank's murder of Mary Phagan in 1913 Atlanta, September 24 to November 15 (This was on Broadway in 1999, a transfer from the Donmar Warehouse)
The most intriguing of CTG's three-theater slots appears booked for the Kirk Douglas Theater: Danai Guria's Eclipsed – which premiered at the Woolly Mammoth – about women caught in the crossfire of the civil war in Liberia. September 13-October 13.
Some of these look like great shows, but we've learned not to depend on our larger theaters if we're looking for discoveries. Also, I'm not the first to point out that there's been no locally created play on any of CTG's stages since 2006 that has much to do with Los Angeles (or anywhere else), despite a mission statement that asserts a commitment "to producing theatre that reflects and informs our own community. We hope to attract new audiences to our theatres through stories inspired on our own streets. . . "
(Perhaps to redress that lack, and as mentioned here on an earlier post, CTG has commissioned The Civilians to present a musical about L.A.'s porn industry here, on the same stage that hosted a transfer of Douglas Carter Beane's Hollywood satire, The Little Dog Laughed.)
I'll get to some other Big Players (and smaller players) on Thursday; in the meantime, pre-sale for the The Pee Wee Herman Show has been so huge that extensions have already been announced. Paul Reubens' ("and friends") act now runs November 8 to December 20 at the Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theater.
Finally, Haymarket books is releasing a collection of essays by Wallace Shawn called Essays, Sept 1. Shawn will be participating in promotional events on both coasts:
Sept. 1: Barnes and Noble-Lincoln Triangle, New York
Oct. 7: MacNally Jackson, New York
Oct. 14: Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
Oct. 15: City Arts and Lectures, San Francisco
Oct. 17: New Yorker Festival, New York
The newly minted chairman of the NEA will be heading to Peoria to beg for forgiveness. Or something. (Full background here.)
I don't have any problem with the thought behind Landesman's original remarks. (Obviously, he should have found a more tactful way to express that thought.) But I wish he'd singled out theatres other than the Steppenwolf and the Goodman for praise.
Everyone knows those two large, prosperous companies are capable of good work. And sure, they deserve funding.
But what about, say, The Hypocrites? What about Soho Rep? Every bit as artistically successful as the larger regionals, aren't they equally deserving of NEA support? Why aren't those companies on the tip of his tongue?
Nitpicking, perhaps. But Landesman professes to want to be a risk-taking NEA chief. So lets hope he's interested in great art wherever it's made. And that he doesn't equate artistic merit with public prominence when it comes to funding decisions.
As I'm sure he knows, there's plenty of serious, important work being done at institutions that don't have eight figure budgets.
By Suzy Evans
If you’re not a student, an industry member, a senior citizen or a child, finding cheap theater tickets can be tough. And with the economy perpetually whacking box offices everywhere, audiences need deals, as fellow guest blogger Abigail Katz pointed out. Some theaters have offered cheaper tickets for the recession weary, but new creative marketing strategies are popping up to attract audiences both during and beyond the economic downturn.
For their recent production of Migdalia Cruz’s El Grito Del Bronx at the Goodman, Chicago theater companies Collaboraction and Teatro Vista offered a money back guarantee on tickets. Audience members could receive complete cash refund after the show if they asked. The Richard H. Dreihaus Foundation, a Chicago-based granting organization, provided the funding to cover these refunds, but only about nine people asked for their money back. The concept was supposed to get more people to take risks on a show, without the financial burden.
The Steppenwolf tweeted a $10 ticket offer for its production of Up. The play was well-acted and meticulously directed, but the overall idea was a little bland. (Read my review here.) However, I’m guessing 10 dollar tickets would get more people to the theater; it’s definitely worth 10 dollars. Next to Normal on Broadway also used twitter to indirectly boost ticket sales. I’m not a huge fan of the show’s twitter feed (@N2Nbroadway), but according to The New York Times, its twitter tactic scored at the box office. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey are even writing a new song for the show based on the twitter performance, which will not appear in the production but a public performance and digital download of it is planned. This show’s definitely worth the big bucks so if they can get people to the show, why not?
In the 1990’s, Rent pioneered the Broadway lottery concept, which is still thriving. However, entering your name in a ticket lottery does not guarantee that you’ll receive a cheap seat to that show. Student and general rush, which are becoming increasingly popular, are not sure bets either. And while Chicago theaters haven’t reached the epic prices of some New York shows, everyone is still looking for a deal.
Katz challenged theater artists to “blow it up” and make the art worth the money; however if you go to the theater and hate it, would you ask for your money back? Or would we be more likely to take risks and see new shows if tickets were cheaper? How cheap?
I think theaters throughout Chicago should band together and capitalize on Martha Lavey’s idea of picking your own subscription series. If theatergoers could create a subscription series of shows at different theaters, it would help multiple companies instead of just the one with the “best” show.
Are there any other ways that you’ve seen companies creatively market themselves? What about different ways to offer deals on tickets?
Sunday, August 16, 2009
by Dr. Cashmere
In case you missed them, it's worth catching up with the two meaty theatre articles in the Saturday edition of The Times.
There's a story about a casting director with a broken ethical compass (updated here). And there's a profile of Bill Rauch, artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, discussing some of the changes he's introduced at the festival:
He recruited Alison Carey, one of the founders of Cornerstone, to run a program called “American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle,” which will commission up to 37 plays about moments of change in the nation’s history.
Some of the writers chosen so far, like Suzan-Lori Parks and Lynn Nottage, have had their plays produced in Ashland before. Others, like the South Korean-born playwright Young Jean Lee and the Navajo playwright Rhiana Yazzie, have not. And a few — like Universes, a hip-hop-influenced theater ensemble, and Culture Clash, a Chicano performance troupe, whose play “American Night” will have its world premiere here next season — represent a fairly large departure from the traditional aesthetic at the festival before Mr. Rauch arrived.Mr. Rauch has also supported nontraditional casting in situations where previous artistic directors did not. The festival has long cast actors of varied races in Shakespeare plays and has also produced many works with predominantly African-American casts, by writers like August Wilson, Rita Dove, Ms. Parks and Ms. Nottage. But it has not cast nonwhite actors as frequently in revivals of American classics. Mr. Rauch is changing that.
Friday, August 14, 2009
By Suzy Evans
There are so many great shows coming up in the 2009-2010 season in Chicago, but if you could only pick five, what would you choose? Steppenwolf Artistic Director Martha Lavey posed this question on the theater’s blog this week, and I thought I’d give her an answer. I tried to look under the radar, but the big guys are putting up some great stuff next season so I’ll save the little guys for a later post. (I did successfully avoid the Arthur Miller saturation happening over at Raven, Eclipse, TimeLine, and Commonwealth, though.) Here’s my dream subscription series for 2009-2010:
Animal Crackers at the Goodman – The Marx Brothers musical opens the season for this Chicago staple, and I’m just as excited as everyone else. The musical actually came before the 1930 film, which immortalized the line, “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know." Here’s The New York Times review for the original Broadway production in 1928. (Sept. 18, 2009 - Oct. 25, 2009)
Man of La Mancha at Theo Ubique – Out of all five, I’m most excited for this show. Theo Ubique stages some of the best cabaret theater around, and this season’s Evita took the stage (and the Jeff Awards) by storm. Maggie Portman, who played Evita and was named a rising star by the Chicago Tribune, will be choreographing the show. (Oct. 18, 2009 – Nov. 22, 2009)
American Buffalo at Steppenwolf – Okay, I admit I really just want to see Tracy Letts on stage, but I’ve also never seen the play and feel like it’s a must-see. The show actually premiered at the Goodman in the 70's and is set in Chicago. Ensemble member and another August star, Amy Morton, will direct this production. (Dec 3, 2009 - Feb 7, 2010)
Trust at Lookingglass – David Schwimmer co-writes and directs this show, which explores the modern family in a digital age. According to the theater’s website, it will be “cutting-edge theatrical experience, combining project, video, photos, texting and live chat.” I’m interested to see how they incorporate tech elements and tell a topical story. (Starts March 10, 2010)
Girls vs. Boys at The House Theatre – I saw a workshop production of this rock musical at Northwestern University this summer as a part of the American Musical Theatre Project, and I was very impressed. The book and some of the lyrics need reworking, but the concept and the orchestration blew me away. It’s a show about teenagers and love except instead of going through emotional pain, the kids experience it physically. Kind of a modern day Spring Awakening with weapons. (April 8, 2010 - May 29, 2010)
by Abigail Katz
Thursday, August 13, 2009
By Steven Leigh Morris
Pee Wee Herman: Photo by Greg Gorman
In the event that you're traveling to L.A. in the next few months, you might want to check out The Pee Wee Herman Show, which marks Paul Ruebens' (a.k.a. Pee Wee) first major stage appearance in 20 years, in the wake of his humiliating arrests in 1991 and 2002, respectively for indecent exposure (inside a Florida porno theater) and for possession of child pornography (which he adamantly denied). Performances start November 8 at the Music Box @ The Fonda rock club. The show opens to the press November 19 and is slated for only 10 days more, closing November 29. Tickets here
Reubens has appeared on stage during the past few years at special event performances at West Hollywood's intimate Groundlings Theatre on Melrose, a performance/lab space for improv and sketch comedy, where Reubens first performed The Pee Wee Herman Show in 1981 -- created partly from the anger of being rejected for that season's Saturday Night Live. Reubens' act transferred for a five-month run at the Roxy nightclub, was broadcast on HBO, and Pee Wee Herman was suddenly a national representative of our infantile inner selves, perpetually at war with a mercilessly macho world.
Mom, Are You Okay?
Annette Bening will appear as Euripides' Medea at Royce Hall, UCLA as part of UCLA Live's fall season: Previews start September 18, the productions opens to the press September 23 and plays through October 18.
The production, with a 12-woman chorus and onstage musicians, is to be created by Croatian theater and opera director Lenka Udovicki. Bening and Udovicki approached UCLA Live's curator David Sefton with a proposal for this original production, and he said yes. UCLA Live is the West Coast equivalent of BAM, and Medea marks the first time in UCLA Live's brief but illustrious ten-year history that Sefton will serve as producer instead of presenter.
On the heels of my last post about Center Theatre Group placing its bets on theater companies rather than playwrights for the development of new work, Culture Clash's playwright Richard Montoya wrote me with a very good further distinction, that CTG's commissions of Culture Clash speculate not so much on his troupe, but on the audiences the troupe might attract.
It's an interesting point that ties commissions more closely to marketing than I'd thought of.
Today, CTG announced that it has received a $1 million, three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the development of new works that are non-text based. This is good news for those in the multi-media vis biz, but not particularly encouraging for playwrights. That's probably a good thing. Playwrights have been getting far too much encouragement lately.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
By Suzy Evans
Chicago theater is like one big family – which is great when everybody gets along but makes for some very public gossip when things go slightly awry. In the wake of American Theater Company’s HUGE FALLOUT earlier this year, the latest riff is happening over at Theatre Building Chicago, an organization that both provides a venue for emerging companies' work and produces its own, primarily musical theater. The Steppenwolf staged its first Chicago production there in 1979.
TBC’s board fired executive director Joan Mazzonelli, who had been with the company since 1985, because she wasn’t the person to take the company to the next level. This action set forth a slew of drama as longtime artistic director John Sparks stepped down in solidarity, and co-founder Ruth Higgins (who now lives in the Europe and hasn’t been involved with the theater for 10 years) sent a public letter to the board in which she argued for stability amidst the current financial crisis.
For all its longevity, Theatre Building Chicago is still fragile. Like all small and medium-sized arts organizations, its future is tied ideas, ideals and good people who make sure that the necessary work gets done. It does not take long for such organizations to fall apart. What a travesty to have 33 years of work become a parking lot.She then suggested the board members (most of whom are newcomers according to the Chicago Reader) resign.
Please, for the good of all, step aside and allow those who understand how things should be done, to get on with it. Your immediate resignations would facilitate this organization to continue its service without jeopardizing the work of so many. Make a responsible decision.The board responded, somewhat passive aggressively, to Higgins letter with an open letter of its own.
We are happy to see her renewed interest in the organization from which she has been absent for 10 years. It is our hope that even though she is far removed from Chicago in the Netherlands she will continue to support the organization beyond this current situation.The letter goes on to talk about how TBC “belongs to no one person” and “a call for a new board is not the answer.” However, Board President Craig Wilson, offered to step down if Sparks would agree to stay on. But TBC announced that Associate Artistic Director Allan Chambers would be taking over Sparks’ position last Monday.
Sounds like a big family feud if you ask me.
By Steven Leigh Morris
This Beautiful City?
Hello from L.A.
When Center Theatre Group announced last week that it was a commissioning The Civilians to develop a new work with music about the porno industry in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, it did give me a moment's pause. The musical is being developed under CTG's New Play Production Program (NPPP), which is described as a laboratory to create new work. This sounds grand, except CTG artistic director Michael Ritchie booted four play development labs out of his Mark Taper Forum upon his arrival in 2005. (These were the Other Voices program for disabled artists, in residence at the Taper since 1982, plus the Latino, Asian-American and African-American labs that had been around since the early-to-mid-'90s, under Gordon Davidson.)
In a kick in the teeth to local lab leaders such as Luis Alfaro and Brian Freeman, Ritchie said at the time that those labs weren't creating producible plays, and his mandate was to fill his three theaters (the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson theaters in downtown Los Angeles, and the Kirk Douglas on the west side in Culver City).
That was really code for, I want my own lab with my people, thank you very much.
The Civilians project has no title and no date set. The press release announced that The Civilians' artistic director, Steve Cosson, composer Michael Friedman and book writer Bess Wohl have “begun investigations in Los Angeles for an untitled porn musical.”
(CTG presented The Civilians' beautiful This Beautiful City at the Kirk Douglas Theatre last year in a co-production with NYC's Vineyard Theatre.)
The sea change at CTG is a shift from developing notoriously risky playwright-centered works, which the discarded labs centered on, to developing company-centered works, which are less risky? Back in 2005, Ritchie said that was his intention, and he got off to smart or lucky start by commissioning the L.A.-based Latino comedy-improv troupe, Culture Clash. Dramaturg John Glore and director Lisa Peterson helped develop company leader Richard Montoya's play, Water & Power, a poetical drama about twin brothers and the machinations of city politics in Los Angeles. It was a successful, collaborative effort which CTG premiered at the Mark Taper Forum in 2006. And though the development process resembled that at the Humana Festival or the Pacific Playwrights Festival at South Coast Repertory, where Glore is associate artistic director, Ritchie was placing his producer's bet on the reputation of Culture Clash, not Montoya.
And so it is with The Civilians. There's little doubt that Ritchie is also placing his bet on the salaciousness of the smut biz in the San Fernando Valley, where the porn is as high as an elephant's eye.
That Beautiful City
would be Ojai, California, about an hour north of L.A. in the rustic canyons of Ventura County, where the 12th annual Ojai Playwrights Conference is underway. On Friday starts three days of public presentations of plays-in-development by Stephen Belber, Bill Cain, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig, David Wiener, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori.
Both Cain and Wiener were in the Pacific Playwrights Fest down the coast at SCR this spring. Wiener is continuing work on the same play he developed there, Extraordinary Chambers, based on a visit he made to Cambodia.
It's a small world after all.
Monday, August 10, 2009
By Dr. Cashmere
Playbill has the lowdown on Arena Stage's new $1.1 million American Voices New Play Institute. Promising programs include three-year "living wage" residencies for playwrights (!) and annual producing fellowships focusing on new work.
Who could argue with that?
Even so, some of Arena's language about the initiative seems pitched to foundations more than the theatre community (e.g. "The Institute is 'a full-spectrum laboratory for testing and disseminating promising advances in the field; an incubator for practices, programs, and processes.'")
Let's hope the focus will be on empowering theatre artists and mounting new work rather than philosophizing.
Saturday, August 08, 2009
In American politics generally, he added: “The arts are a little bit of a target. The subtext is that it is elitist, left wing, maybe even a little gay.”Itals in original, btw.
[H]e called the current appropriation of $155 million “pathetic” and “embarrassing.” And he seemed to imply dissatisfaction with increases proposed by Congress and by the president, which both fall short of the agency’s 1992 budget of $176 million. “We’re going to be looking for funding increases that are more than incremental,” he said.And:
The new chairman said he already has a new slogan for his agency: “Art Works.” It’s “something muscular that says, ‘We matter.’ ” The words are meant to highlight both art’s role as an economic driver and the fact that people who work in the arts are themselves a critical part of the economy....As for the former agency slogan, “A Great Nation Deserves Great Art,” he said, “We might as well just apologize right off the bat.”And while in yesterday's official (perhaps White House-penned) statement the chairman effused...
I am eager to work with our many partners to bring quality arts programs to neighborhoods and communities across the country....his comments about small town America today will probably raise some eyebrows:
“I don’t know if there’s a theater in Peoria, but I would bet that it’s not as good as Steppenwolf or the Goodman,” he said, referring to two of Chicago’s most prominent theater companies. “There is going to be some push-back from me about democratizing arts grants to the point where you really have to answer some questions about artistic merit.”“And frankly,” he added, “there are some institutions on the precipice that should go over it. We might be overbuilt in some cases.”Gulp.
Well, an argument worth having, at least. How do we divide up an unfortunately small pie? Evenly amongst everyone? Or favor the most visible, investing in those with big futures, and hope the rising tide raises all boats?
All I'm saying is, I'd be nervous if I was AD of Peoria Rep right now...
The producers of Hair announced Friday that the Broadway musical has recouped its $5.76 million investment in just 18 weeks, becoming one of the fastest recouping musicals in history.
The revival of Hair, which originated with the nonprofit Public Theater and opened on March 31 to rave reviews, has sold out most nights and grossed more than $1 million at the box office many weeks. It has also become a must-see with the teen set, taking the place of the recently departed shows, Rent and Spring Awakening.
And well deserved, I say. Good show. Some times that's all it takes to get the kiddies into the seats.
I guess the low overhead of no set and no stars helps, too. (Still, it's a big cast of no stars.)
Friday, August 07, 2009
By Suzy Evans
Chicago’s had a good run with the theater elite recently. The past two Pulitzers have gone to Chicago-born shows, and David Cromer’s Our Town, which began at The Hypocrites, just got extended Off Broadway. And although the Tony’s ignored the Goodman’s Desire Under the Elms, it still received critical acclaim on Broadway. (And do I even need to mention August: Osage County at this point? Catch it on tour if you can.) So if you weren’t already looking to the Windy City for the “next big thing,” here’s an actor, a play and a company you might want to start keeping tabs on.
- Mattie Hawkinson – I first saw Hawkinson in the Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll at the Goodman Theatre. The play’s a little didactic but Hawkinson stood out among much senior actors. So after I read the rave reviews for her performance in David Harrower’s Blackbird, I knew I had to see it, especially since her name appeared above the title. She blew me away with both her maturity and raw talent. I have a feeling she might be one of those actors who stays in Chicago, but I hope she gets cast in something that’s transferred to New York because the world ought know about her.
- Sex with Strangers – Young blogger meets older writer and they hit it off. But will the Internet kill their real world connection? Sure it sounds like it’s been done before, and though I haven’t seen the show, which is sold out for its final weekend, Chicago critics seem to think they’ve found the next hit play. Laura Eason of Lookingglass Theatre, a great Chicago company, wrote the play, and it’s running as a part of the Steppenwolf’s First Look Repertory of New Work. I’m hoping it gets remounted soon unless anybody wants to give me a ticket for this weekend.
- 500 Clown – Okay, so they’ve been around for a little while, but what’s not to love about clowns with red ears? This company continues to surprise me with the work it creates, most recently with the Brecht-inspired 500 Clown and the Elephant Deal at the Steppenwolf’s Visiting Company Initiative. (I’m finding it hard to avoid the Steppenwolf when writing about good Chicago theater.) The “clowns” devise their shows starting with a classic work and use physical improvisation and circus arts to create the final product. If you’re interested, Clown Make Monster is a documentary web series that explores the company’s approach. Check it out.
Another August has arrived and that means time for Playgoer to take a little blog-respite to catch up on other stuff and generally clear my cache, if you will.
So for the rest of the month I leave you in the trustworthy hands of some super guest-bloggers, three returning champs and one new associate. I'm especially proud that this year I have reached out around the country so that this site will now be posting from three different cities.
- In New York: 1) the infamous Dr. Cashmere, and 2) Abigail Katz, associate artist with The Civilians, producer at Voice and Vision, and all-around dramaturg.
- In Los Angeles: Steven Leigh Morris, critic for LA Weekly and playwright
- In Chicago: Suzy Evans, who covers theater for Chicagoist and has also written for American Theatre & Theatre Bay Area
So please join me in welcoming our brave correspondents and egg them on with plentiful comments. I may even do that myself from time to time...
Meanwhile, I leave you with one more link, to Matt Freeman's tale from the playwright-rejection-letter trenches. Enjoy. Or maybe not.
"In the current environment, when young writers are being encouraged to stay away from anything 'conventional' are we perhaps falling in love with a kind of playwriting that frankly just doesn’t work? Are we judging too harshly plays that do work? And how does the audience fit into this discussion? Does it?"
-Theresa Rebeck, playwright.
(Hat tip: Cote.)
Thursday, August 06, 2009
I'll stay out of the latest When Bloggers Attack Bloggers saga, thank you.
BUT something unrelated did catch my attention in the Comments under Mr. Cote's post.
Blogger Christina Huschle has this to say on one of the ancillary topics:
[A]re theatre bloggers putting their careers at risk by being confrontational? I received a phone call from the president of the Broadway League, simply because she didn’t agree with an adjective I used in one of my blog entries for That’s Broadway. While I know I have the right to express myself on my own blog, I must admit it gave me pause before writing about the League again.While I could not get Christina to officially confirm whom she's referring to, I'm going to go ahead and assume that by "president of the Broadway League" she means none other than Charlotte St. Martin herself--being that the League has no "President" per se, but as "Executive Director," no one outranks her.
Now if you're Charlotte St. Martin, you might have a lot to focus on these days: one out of four of all Broadway houses dark; another big musical (9 to 5) closing in September; fighting off all the angry critics you just dropped from the Tony Voter rolls. So how much time do you really have to police the blogs every day?
Let alone blogs from...Dallas, TX! Which is where Christina's "That's Broadway" is hosted, by Dallas Morning News.
The issue at hand turned out to be a small one. Here's the "offending" post (of June 4), where Christina criticized the recent Tony Awards as the Informercial it is and referred in passing to, "The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing...tenuously shar[ing] the Tony Awards." It was the word "tenuous" she got called on by Mister/Madame "President," as Christine subsequently posted in her own Comments a week later:
In the entry above, I used the word "tenuously" when describing the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing sharing the Tony Awards. Wednesday afternoon, I received a phone call from the Broadway League informing me that the relationship is stronger than ever. Glad to hear it.I suppose bloggers should be flattered, eh? Normally such B'way Bigshots reserve such finger-wagging calls for the likes of Michael Riedel and other "real" journalists (i.e. gossip columnists dignified by appearing in a print tabloid like the NY Post). So shall we take this as a sign we finally belong? Belong on their shit lists, that is.
And if so...hey Charlotte, I write about you all the time! Right here in New York City. I feel so passed over. You don't have to reach across cyberspace all the way across the country to find some blogger to "correct."
-There'll be a new Culture Editor at the Times soon. Current man Sam Sifton is going to become the restaurant critic(!). (NYT statement here.)
-Drabinsky update (if anyone still cares). The real-life Bialystok is indeed getting jail time: seven years. Actually, it's 11, technically, if you consider there are two sentences he will serve concurrently. So much for his selfless "lecture tour" suggestion. Appeal is pending.
-Please note: the upcoming "Piven Monologues" at Joe's Pub will not--repeat, not--star Mr. Jeremy Piven himself. No, some smartalek theatre geeks are putting together a little readers theatre, shall we say, based on the Trials of a Sushi Addict.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Over in London, the Guardian's Lyn Gardner reminds theatres that in their constant search for young playwriting blood, the already "emerged" (or even those emerging past 30) should not be forgotten either.
[I]t has probably never been a better time for emerging writers to have their talent spotted. Such is the proliferation of new writing schemes, hungry like monsters, that need to be fed with ever younger talent to justify their own existence. But what happens after that first play, when the interest is not so acute? How is a career sustained for the long haul – particularly when so few new plays get a further life on UK stages?Gardner concludes, "It seems odd that an industry claiming to support theatre writers may actually have created a situation where it has never been easier to become a playwright, and never harder to sustain an actual career." Sounds the same as over here, no?
With some difficulty, is the answer according to my own conversations with writers. Arts Council England's Theatre Assessment report. published last week, also that noted that "there was much agreement that the emphasis on nurturing new and emerging artists resulted in fewer sources of support for those in the middle stages of their career. Writers, in particular, reported continuing problems in making a career, with less support for writers aged over 25. A number of artists, particularly writers, complained of continuing struggles to earn a living wage, and of more polarised earnings."
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Hate musical theatre?
Hate audience participation ever more???
Then you'll love being suprised one day by the "Break out in Song" folks, who have been staging "spontaneous" outbursts of singing and dancing in various NYC public spaces.
Here's a sampling of their recent work in the ritzy Time Warner center.
The individual "audience" reactions are priceless.
(Or are they plants, too?)
More outbreaks, in various locales, viewable on their site.
Monday, August 03, 2009
And why TV networks would rather not deal with them...
From today's NY Times exposee on the true secret behind Reality Shows' bottom-line success.
Long workdays and communication blackouts are largely the rule for contestants on reality shows, a highly lucrative genre that has evolved arguably into Hollywood’s sweatshop. Unscripted series now account for more than one-quarter of all primetime broadcast programming — and essentially the entire day on cable channels like Discovery, Bravo and A&E. The most popular reality series, “American Idol,” has commanded advertising rates as high as $1 million for a 30-second spot.But with no union representation, participants on reality series are not covered by Hollywood workplace rules governing meal breaks, minimum time off between shoots or even minimum wages. Most of them, in fact, receive little to no pay for their work.
It actually does remind me of what one reads about how all actors were treated in theatre pre-Equity, in film pre-SAG, and in TV & Radio pre-AFTRA. With nothing constraining producers from inhumane treatment to get the result they want, and actors desperate for work (as desperate as these "contestants" are for fame) the danger of gross exploitation is always present.
The rationalizations of some of the more successful participants could easily be said by many a hoofer taking a non-Equity tour gig, or thespians suffering through "semi-pro" summer Shakespeare fests.
Far from being disgruntled, many contestants — particularly those on the skill-based series — say the experience has paid off. Ms. Yemola, who finished third in 2007, says she does not regret her “Hell’s Kitchen” experience, which has allowed her to occasionally host her own local cooking show in Pennsylvania and has led to her being hired to perform cooking demonstrations.
Andrew Bonito, another contestant from the 2005 “Hell’s Kitchen,” said being on the series “helped me grow professionally.”“It definitely contributed to my success,” said Mr. Bonito, who is now a manager at a Manhattan restaurant, The Palm. “And I got an opportunity to be a part of popular culture.”
Ok, maybe it is more understandable to enslave yourself for network tv than "bus & truck" shows...