The Playgoer: December 2009

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

See You Next Decade

Playgoer needs a break. And it's the holidays, after all.

So tune back in January 1st or thereabouts, and I should be back in action.

Meanwhile, for those who need some more theatrical holiday punning--Rob Kendt gets the ball rolling. (Death of a Snowman--good one, Rob.)

Happy Saturnalia, all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Do Not Go Gentle"

In this week's Time Out, my review of the one-man Dylan Thomas show, Do Not Go Gentle.

Do not go.

Wednesday Roundup

-Sir Jean-Luc Picard! Patrick Stewart gets knighted. Fun biographical fact: "Directors feared his baldness could cost him parts. But he wore a toupee for auditions and promise 'two actors for the price of one.'"

-Michael Riedel dishes on out-of-town troubles for the Addams Family musical. My only concern is the fate of its directors Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch (of Improbable Theatre and Shockheaded Peter), who seem to be getting the blame. Another case in point of Larry Gelbart's adage that working on a musical out of town is punishment fit for Hitler.

-Lists galore! Playgoer will not be compiling any Top Ten lists this December--a) because I don't like doing them, and b) what's the point when we'll all be doing them again in May for the "season"! The ensuing overlapping lists are sure confusing! But should you need a fix, here's everyone else's: Times (Brantley, Isherwood); Time Out; New York Mag; NY Post (Vincentelli); Time Mag (Steady Rain? Really??). And Michael Feingold outdoes them all in the Voice with a best of the Decade!

Another Broadway Producer Goes to Jail

Heard of this guy?

The 85-year-old son of Brooke Astor, the longtime philanthropist and beloved doyenne of New York society, was sentenced Monday to one to three years in prison for siphoning millions from her before she died.[...] Lawyers for her son, Anthony D. Marshall, painted a different picture in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, that of a proud Marine who had seen combat at Iwo Jima; a distinguished former C.I.A. employee; a respected former diplomat; and a Tony Award-winning Broadway producer.
'Tis true. For the 2003 Long Day's Journey revival.

Classy, I'll give him that.

(Insert "Long Day's Journey Into Night" pun here.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Roundabout Woes, ctd.

In case you missed your NY Times today, Patrick Healy adds to the "What's Up With the Roundabout" pile-on. Of interest: looks like the company will end season in the red for the first time in two decades, and Todd Haimes admits an obsession with real estate.

Perhaps even more illustrative of their problems is that their big Spring show for the flagship American Airlines B'way venue is another one of those bloated revivals of a small Off Broadway play from twenty years ago no one much cared about the first time: Terrence McNally's Lips Together Teeth Apart. And with only minor-TV-celebrity leads. This is their ticket back to solvency???

Photo of the Day

Yep, that's the Fonz. Henry Winkler playing Captain Hook in a Liverpool "Panto." From an NYT story today that would be interesting if they bothered to educate US readers on what the hell British Pantomime tradition is.

Can any of you do a better job explaining it to us? Or at least provide a good link, other than Wikipedia? Much obliged.

To Walk or Not to Walk

This thoughtful piece by Nosheen Iqbal in the Guardian on the low "rate of return," if you will, of most playgoing experiences reminded me that one of theatre's biggest obstacles in finding a large audience in this day and age is the huge investment it requires of a patron. And I don't just mean money. The kind of time and attention theatre requires is substantially different than at films, concerts, comedy shows, and other entertainment events outside of the home.

No issue makes this contrast clearer than the question of walking out. I think most would agree it's somehow emotionally harder to walk out on a play than a movie. First, if you paid $100 as opposed to $10 you might want to get your money's worth. Also there's the perhaps unconscious respect for live actors, a feeling you might cause personal offense to leaving their performance (especially if your departure takes away, say, one-fifth of the total audience), as opposed to flickering images on a screen.

But I have to admit, as I get older, and see more and more plays, I feel a little less bad about walking out. I never used to, but I've "ankled it" twice in the last year, at pretty major productions: "Distracted" at the Roundabout, and "Up" at Steppenwolf. (There are other shows that shall remain nameless that I sure would have liked to jump ship on, but either had no intermission--damn those!--or else I was "on a job" or obligated to someone personally to see it.)

Both were new plays and I found myself just flat-out bored by them at halftime. I had no curiosity about where the plot was going, and while the performances and productions were adequate, I had seen enough to get a sense of the actors', directors' and designers' work. One was a free ticket, the other was just a $20 rush seat; so I guess I didn't feel any economic obligation. And I remember in the case of the one I paid for feeling perfectly justified that I had paid for the right to walk out! And that I'd be perfectly willing to write off that twenty bucks as a loss, spend another $20 on a good bottle of wine and get home an hour earlier, where I can enjoy a much better TV show than the one basically being attempted live on stage.

I won't get into the merits or lack thereof for now in the two particular shows (though I'm happy to debate them in Comments if you wish), but these experiences were kind of liberating. We don't have to take it, I thought. Theatre is not school.

And let's be frank: if you rent a movie and don't like it twenty minutes in, you turn it off. Don't like what's on PBS? Switch to Comedy Central. Don't like that book you're reading? No one will ever know if you just put it down, donate it to a library, or actually drop it in the trash! But walk out on a play...tsk tsk.

I'm not saying all theatre artists have an obligation to entertain me or any and all individual playgoers, personally. But theatre must accept the consequences. There is no such thing as a "captive audience"--especially now. (Unless, perhaps, Soho Rep where one must literally cross the stage to exit!) I think the fear of being a captive audience against one's will is what keeps a lot of folks away from theatre, especially when easier alternatives avail themselves. They fear that they'll spend all this money, all that time getting to the theatre, and then find themselves sitting in a very uncomfortable seat for three hours of unescapable boredom. And then have to get home.

That's the fear, not necessary the reality, I know. (It's more likely to only be 90 minutes of boredom these days.) But that fear is out there. I wonder what we in the theatre can do to disabuse people of that? Earlier curtain times? Better seating? A different marketing and cost-structure plan for short intermissionless plays vs big classic three hour events? (Pay by the hour?) I recall that producer in Chicago standing in the lobby offering refunds at intermission to dissatisfied customers, and I hate the idea. But if it works...

Then again, maybe I'm just getting cranky. And maybe when you find yourself sitting through not just bad new plays, but simply "ok" runthroughs of classics, counting down the scenes you know are left (ok, we got the mad scene, the sword fight, that last soliloquy...how many left?)
maybe it's just time for a vacation.

Bah Humbug.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Monday Roundup

-No Summer Play Festival in 2010. The six-year-old annual offering of new plays by new writers is citing the unavailability of space at the mid-renovation Public Theatre as reason for hiatus.

-Chairman Rocco announces recipients for his first round of NEA grants. The big theatrical winner is DC's Arena Stage, who gets to administrate the $280K New Play Development program.

-Speaking of state funding, New Jersey's new incoming Republican Governor has already (somehow) ordered a freeze in all "discretionary spending"--which, according to NYT means, "$12 million for about 200 arts groups — including grants of up to $600,000 for 26 local theaters that are crucial to their financial health."

-Steven Soderberg is trying his hand at the stage. In Sydney, Australia of all places. (Thanks to an invite from the AD there, someone called Cate Blanchett.) According to statements: "The show, 'Tot Mom,' is a mixed-media work with 10 actors in multiple roles. A mirrored backdrop forces the audience to watch itself watching the media frenzy whipped up around the case of Caylee Anthony, the Florida toddler who went missing in June 2008 and was later found dead." Of course, one could argue this is not his first foray on the boards...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Why Does Fox News Hate Children?

Thanks to Parabasis for drawing our attention to a Fox & "Friends" attack on the Pig Iron Theatre.

Yes, Philly's acclaimed Pig Iron group, creators of the OBIE-winning "Chekhov Lizardbrain" (which, happily, is making a return engagement to NYC in January for "Under the Radar" fest.)

They're the new targets of the Culture Wars??? And why? Because the Arts Council of Philadelphia decided to give this physical comedy-based troupe some of that federal stimulus money. To keep these folks, you know, employed. And also to allow them to keep entertaining people in these dark times.

One reason they make a ripe target--as has the esteemed Minneapolis Childrens Theatre--is because it makes for cheap shot headlines like, as you'll see below, "Cash for Clowns?" If you can't accuse "Cultural Elites" of throwing money at Homos, then the next best/worst thing is silly puppet shows, right?

Forget the profound tradition of physical "clowning" and puppetry in the history of performance--one that has led to the family friendly boffo B'way "Lion King", among other hit products. Why would Fox want to attack a form of theatre that appeals to...children!

Witness for yourself the oddly comically fey Steve Doocy tries to indict all artists merely by repeating the words "Pig Iron" as if that were enough to close his case.

Bill T. Jones on Colbert

I think this may be some kind of milestone: a hardcore downtown director/choreographer on a majorly hip nationally televised chat show.

One of the benefits of Broadway, I guess.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bill T. Jones
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorEconomy


This was followed by an excerpt from Fela! itself.

No Strike

Broadway League and SEIU settle to avoid holiday season strike of theatre cleaning staffs.

The new three-year contract—which is considered tentative until it has been ratified—provides improved healthcare coverage, raises and pensions for the 240 members of 32BJ SEIU that work at more than 30 Broadway theaters in New York City.

[...]

Under the terms of the deal, beginning in 2010, Broadway's theater owners and producers will make weekly contributions to the 32BJ League Pension Fund, and continue to provide employer-paid family healthcare coverage. In addition, the workers will receive an additional dollar an hour, a 6.2% raise. The workers, who earn about $16 an hour, had initially asked for a $1.50 an hour raise.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thursday Roundup

-Envy alert, you US playwrights: "What's Britain's biggest growth industry? Playwriting, apparently. According to a recent report by Arts Council England, the amount of new writing produced by mainstream, subsidised theatre has more than doubled in the last six years." The Guardian takes you behind the scenes of the literary offices at the National and other UK producers, where there are still unread slush piles and economic challenges. But maybe they're doing something right.

-More Tony-Nom haggling. Playbill reports: "Burn the Floor Is a Musical, Wishful Drinking a Play"--a quite head-scratching headline for many reasons. (Both decisions are consequences of the elimination of the "Special Theatrical Event" category.)

-More B'way: Bloomberg's Jeremy Gerard has a good rundown on the bleak economic landscape. The current CW on the rialto? "If people don’t leave the theater thinking that they absolutely must make their best friends buy tickets right now, the show will fail." Gerard also reports that Oleanna only recouped 10%.

-How come Steppenwolf gets to import its original Chicago casts to Broadway, but Steady Rain didn't? Answer may be obvious, but still here's food for thought.

-I know some of you out there need another Colorado Smoking Ban fix, so check out how the state supreme court just reinforced the ban. Kudos to Denver Center Theatre's Kent Thompson for representin'. "There's a whole canon of drama in which smoking plays an integral part." As for those powdery things they're now forced to use instead: "The smaller the theater, the less credible the substitutes are."

B'way Strike Update

Crain's has a good overview of what's at stake in negotiations between the Broadway League and the local SEIU that represents the "cleaners, porters and matrons" that work the 30+ Broadway houses.

The members of the union, 32BJ SEIU, are currently in closed-door negotiations with the Broadway League on their contract, which expires on Dec. 31. The workers, who earn about $16 an hour, want a $1.50-an-hour raise and a guarantee not to cut health insurance benefits.
Not clear yet how much a strike would impact Broadway, but:
Union officials said if they do go on strike, they would wait until the new year.
It's not yet known if a strike would shut down theaters. The owners could simply hire replacements for the cleaners, unless other unions decided not to cross picket lines. At yesterday's strike vote, the theater workers were joined by Broadway stagehands Local 1, which shut down Broadway two years ago for 18 days with its own strike.
I say, now that I've seen concessions being sold in the aisles before and during intermissions of Broadway shows...there's probably more cleaning up to do! So, if you ask me, they deserve it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Misalliance" at the Pearl

My latest Time Out review.

Don't get me wrong, I do like Shaw. But this kind of play is the reason why most today don't.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday Roundup

-Holiday Surprise! Another Broadway strike may be in the works, just in time for New Year's. The union representing the theaters' cleaning staffs has threatened to walk out. Who knows, some current Broadway shows may be glad to be put out of their misery.

-Speaking of misery, Crain's gives a detailed picture of the nonprofit Roundabout's current financial predicament.

-Film critic David Thomson pronounces the Reign of The Method officially over. At least in movie acting.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Roundup

-Something going on at Equity? First Exec Dir. John Connelly suddenly steps down to get back into full time acting at 60-something. Now Pres. Mark Zimmerman is gone. AEA spokes tells Variety, nothing to see here, keep walking.

-Helen Shaw has the enviable assignment of talking to the wonderful London stage actor Stephen Dillane for Time Out.

-Throwing cold water on some recent praise for the LA 99-seat theatre scene, Variety's Robert Hofler is disappointed.

-Lincoln Center debuts its very own TKTS-style discount stand, opening January. Keep in mind for all future Lincoln Center Theatre productions. But no word whether it will also sell those overpriced Summer Festival events!

Tony Time!

The Tony Awards Administration Committee has begun its bizarre yearly dance of adjudicating who can get nominated for what next May. Basically, because there are these silly rules about what it means to be "above the title" as opposed to below it, they always have to make exceptions for celebrity actors with top billing playing clearly "supporting" roles, and then lead actors who for one reason or another (not famous, part of an "ensemble") didn't literally have their name above the title in the opening night Playbill. There's also the question of whether every play that never technically opened on Broadway before is a "new play," as per the rules, no matter how old it is. So Oleanna has been deemed "revival" since it's been around. And so has Patrick Marber's After Miss Julie, since it's...well, basically a production of Miss Julie! (And I guess Strindberg's has been on Broadway before. Hasn't it?)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Shorter Broadway League Survey

Detailed summaries of the '08-'09 season survey here and here. Info on full report here.

-63% of the Broadway audience is now comprised of tourists, pretty evenly split between half domestic and half international. (Combination of foreigners on the rise and US economy dampening Americans' travel & leisure habits.)

-That makes the tourist/New Yorkers audience split about 60/40, with the latter split sort of evenly between almost 20% NYC metro folk and almost 20% suburbanites.

-Average number of shows a Broadway fan sees per season: 4.2 People who go to plays see more Broadway shows and say they count more on critic rec's (tell that to Brighton Beach Memoirs!). Musical-lovers go less often and rely more on word of mouth.

-As Variety's Gordon Cox puts it, on Broadway: "the average theatergoer [is] still well educated, well off, over 40, white and female." (Which might account for the runaway success of Nora Ephron's Off Broadway "show" as well.)

-Despite a holding-steady average age of 42.2 (yikes, something I'm scarily approaching myself!), the League is optimistic about the indicators for younger audiences: almost 16%(!) are now 25-34.

-Lastly, says Cox, more bad news for dead trees: "Ads that logged the highest awareness tally were those on the Internet (cited by 7.5% of people surveyed), although unsurprisingly, these were more effective with younger auds than older ones."

Friday Roundup

-As summarized by WaPo, an NEA survey has just concluded that folks really do like their internets. Not a problem--but will it affect the arts? "Americans are increasingly choosing the Internet and other new media to enjoy the arts, a new national survey has found. While many adults still like the intimacy of live theater, particularly musical theater, over the past year an estimated 47 million of them chose to watch or listen to music, theater or dance performances online at least once a week. ...[W]hile many arts disciplines remain popular, the mode of delivery is rapidly changing." I recommend theatre co's start looking at this model, and fast.

-Speaking of the NEA, I recommend they look at this report by British Equity, faulting regional theatres in the UK for doing smaller shows and hiring fewer and fewer actors per season. Memo to Rocco: if you're serious about the arts as an engine for employment, tie future NEA grants to actor-quotas. Incentivize bigger plays, for a change, not smaller.

-Buzz of the moment: Broadway-bound Addams Family musical "preems" in Chicago. Read the tealeaves in Chris Jones' Trib review. My only interest here is in the unusual choice directing/design team of Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch--a.ka., the Shockheaded Peter guys. Let's hope they survive the out-of-town tinkering. Meanwhile, Riedel raises a good point about Bebe Neuwirth's 11 o'clock number: "her dramatic crisis ("I'm getting old") makes no sense since Morticia is a vampire."

-Finally, for more on yesterday's Theatre District shootout, it's always good to go to the NY Post for the nitty gritty on stories like this. (One bullet shot through to the Marquis Theatre box office, and another "slammed into the window of the souvenir shop Broadway Baby, tearing through a 'Wicked' book.") And dig this eye-witness report!


By the way, come someone explain what is so dangerous about that "scam" these guys were running? Charge you $10 to put your name on a blank CD? This is so hard to resist??? Or have tourists really gotten that dumb.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Photo of the Day

photo: John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times
scene of the crime
Marriott Marquis Hotel, 12/10/2009

As if Broadway didn't have enough problems. At 11:15 this morning, on a chilly but bright and sunny Christmas season shopping day, there was a police shootout right in the busy drive-through of the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Broadway between 45th & 46th. (Site of the Marquis Theatre, currently home to, what else, Irving Berlin's White Christmas! ) A man fleeing from and shooting at police was shot dead. Details here.

According to the Times, the store window above seen shattered by bullets is aptly named, "Broadway Baby."

Hats off to NYT photographer John Marshall Mantel for that shot. Tells the whole story, don't it?

The old Times Square is back, baby!


Thursday Roundup

-Kudos to those tireless troopers David Pittu (Twelfth Night), John Douglas Thompson and Kate Forbes (Othello) for their recent AEA awards for classical acting this past season.

-And then there's the Henry Hewes Awards, which recognize only designers! About time. So kudos also to David Korins (Why Torture Is Wrong); Derek McLane and Jeff Sugg (33 Variations);Louisa Thompson, Tyler Micoleau, and Matt Tierney (Blasted) ; Clint Ramos (Women Beware Women); and Kevin Adams, (Hair). Having seen all these productions I can only second how dazzling and integral their sets, lights, sound, and/or projections to the impact of their productions. (Korins' design for the Durang play, for instance, was one of the few examples of a genuinely funny set.)

-Variety reports that one of the biggest hits on commercial Off Broadway is Nora Ephron's Love, Loss and What I Wore, which has already recouped after just 11 weeks. But what's the surprise!? Celebrity author, with a rotating-celebrity cast, reading monologues off music stands--so not only no overhead, but no real rehearsal. And they charge full price tickets. I fear this is a bad portent for the "professional" Off Broadway theatre.

-The Flea has commissioned one-acts from Thomas Bradshaw, Sheila Callaghan, Erin Courtney, Will Eno, Itamar Moses and Adam Rapp addressing The Great Recession. So at least we have something on stage now that--hopefully--addresses what's going on. Jonathan Mandell gives an extensive preview.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A New York Story

"My favorite theater in New York City was a weird place downtown called Collective:Unconscious, but they were evicted four years ago and the building was razed, supposedly to put up luxury condos. Then the landlord flubbed it and it has been an empty, vacant lot for four years, with no sign of life."

-from a recent letter published in Time Out.

Happily the Collective: Unconscious company still lives, though sporadically and without a space, and they're doing a December stint at Walkerspace.

Roundabout finds a tenant

Roundabout has a taker! The new "tenant" of their multimillion renovated Henry Miller's Theatre is...Dame Edna! In his/her new Broadway collaboration with Michael Feinstein, Chris Durang, and Jerry Zacks.

Saith Variety:

With the "All About Me" move, Roundabout seemingly takes a step toward becoming a Broadway landlord, joining the ranks of theater owners including the Shubert Org, the Nederlander Org and Jujamcyn.

[Roundabout AD Todd] Haimes and company said they prefer to consider themselves programmers of the space.
Now it's true that nonprofit companies in this town have rented out their spaces to both other nonprofit and for-profit productions. (e.g. CSC, Signature, Playwrights Horizons, Atlantic)

But none of them have been able to do it in a Broadway house, which is what really now lets the Roundabout "compete" with those big boys--in the real estate business, at least.

There was some discussion of this in earlier comments on this topic, but can anyone further clarify what restrictions there may be on nonprofit institutions renting to commercial tenants?

By the way, it's worth pointing out in this context that the new Henry Miller's Theatre really is new. The outside facade and name were preserved in accordance with landmark provisions. But the inside was totally gutted. (With the backing of Bank of America, who included the space in their massive--and now probably bankrupt 42nd St. office tower.) So it is not the same theatre you might have seen Cabaret or Urinetown ten years ago. You now have to go several floors down into bedrock to sit in the orchestra, which means it takes forever to get in and out. Otherwise it certainly seems very nice, and understandably might become a hot rental property--should that become its main way of generating revenue for one of NYC's biggest nonprofit cultural institutions.

Wednesday Roundup

-The protests from activists for the seeing- and hearing-impaired seem to have paid off slightly. Producers announce that at least the understudy for Abigail Breslin in the upcoming Miracle Worker will indeed be legally blind.

-The Voice previews German auteur Heiner Goebbels's new "no-man show" inspired by the work of 19th century Austrian novelist Adalbert Stifter. "Stifters Dinge plays out its 70 minutes of music, light, water, and prerecorded voices without a single live performer." Sounds like an easy ticket!

-Want to know how to keep a small Off B'way nonprofit in business thirty years while still producing big impressive Shakespeare productions? Read about the most tenacious man in Show No-Biz: Theatre for a New Audience's Jeffrey Horowitz.

-Gatz Lives! Elevator Repair Service's epic staging of the complete Great Gatsby still can't come to New York, but it will play Cambridge, MA at A.R.T. in January. I reviewed the 2007 Philly presentation here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tuesday Roundup

-Pacino in the Park: Public announces Al Pacino will star in next summer's Merchant of Venice production in Central Park. Too bad I saw the movie already. But hey, I guess, at least he knows the lines. Oh, and speaking of lines...expect long ones to get into the show. (Other play will be Winter's Tale, starring the excellent Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Leontes.)

-Williamstow Theater Festival (or as I like to call it, "WTF?") will be seeking new AD starting 2011 now that Nicholas Martin has announced he'll step down after next summer.

-The first ever Zelda Fichandler award, given by SSDC (the directors' union) for outstanding contribution to regional theatre goes to...Jonathan Moscone, of California Shakespeare Festival. (He is also, by the way, son of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, gunned down with Harvey Milk in 1978.)

-It's about time someone programmed a whole festival devoted to the fine art of stage combat! Williamsberg's Brick Theater is doing just that with their "Fight Fest" featuring the work of leading practitioners like Qui (Vampire Cowboys) Nguyen. Time Out's David Cote shares video of what it's like to go a few rounds with these guys. (But David--don't forget, never talk about fight club!)

Internet Interloper Joins Critics Club

The esteemed New York Drama Critics Circle--the conclave of NYC-area print critics that give awards every end-of-season--has deigned to finally grant an online writer admission to their exclusive club. The fact that it's long time critic David Finkle, who just happens to write at Theatermania.com now, makes it not so radical a choice. But as Circle Prez Adam Feldman writes, "several members, particularly those who had been in the Circle for a long time, were reluctant to start down what they worried would be a slippery slope into the blogosphere." Yes Theatermania is indeed a kind of gateway drug to bloggy heroin, I suppose.

But, as Feldman admits, it's not like they haven't included online critics before--like John Simon who was, if you will, grandfathered in after he got booted from New York Mag and now has to make do with Bloomberg.com.

Personally whenever I hear of some rogue like Simon joining the Internet Critics Circle, I can only sigh, "There goes the neighborhood..."

Anyway, congrats to Finkle. And to the circle for finally letting go of some narrow categories of the past and embracing the future. I mean, how many "print critics" do you think you're still going to have in 5-10 years? Think forward, guys...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Today's Roundup

-Steven Suskin, writing in Variety, shows how despite the glories of the full orchestras on display in current revivals South Pacific, West Side Story, and Finian's Rainbow, the musicians-minimum on Broadway is still a shrinking phenomenon. This most affects the repertoire of "golden age" musicals, of course. But even a union man like me has to wonder if the theatre needs to adapt to new composers not necessarily writing in the old "symphonic" mode any more and being ok with smaller ensembles. Then again, I do hope the money will still be there for revivals and those who want to write (and orchestrate) in that tradition.

-Washington Post documents the significant impact of the Obama stimulus spending on the health of the arts--at least in the DC area. (Woolly Mammoth, for instance, got to re-hire their outreach director.)

-Attention Tennessee Williams fans: look for one of the more obscure Christmas releases this year, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond--a unproduced screenplay Williams wrote in the 50s, now a minor motion picture starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Ellen Burstyn. Check out the trailer....While they are still crediting Williams as sole screenwriter, I wonder if it's been worked on. (At least, I'm sure he wouldn't have approved of the uplifting Forrest Gump-music or the "In a world..." voice over.)

Quote of the Day

Kennedy Center's Michael Kaiser--usually a champion of the Arts Management side--has an epiphany:

Over the past 25 years, I have bristled when anyone says or writes that arts administrators have taken over the arts and that artistic initiatives are taking a back seat to financial concerns. I feel slighted. My work, and the work of my fellow arts managers, after all, is aimed at finding the resources necessary to allow the artists to do their work. If we are not successful, there will be neither the donors nor the audiences required to fund the artists.

But I must admit that the more I travel around the nation and the world, the more I realize that money concerns truly have begun to overwhelm artistic decisions in too many arts organizations. The fear that the organization will not survive has driven many arts organizations to produce safer, more accessible, and, unfortunately, more boring art, especially in this current economic downturn.

This is a deeply scary phenomenon. If arts organizations do not take risk, they cannot create the next great work of art. If not-for-profit arts organizations begin to think like for-profit entertainment companies, we will not produce the next generation of great playwrights, composers, artists and choreographers.

And inconclusion, lest you still doubt what he really thinks...
We need our artists to be thinking expansively, to be challenging themselves to be truly creative and to be challenging their administrators to find the resources required. But boards and administrative staffs have bullied their artists and dulled their creative impulses.

Maybe money is taking over the arts after all.
Amen, brother. Hope you can convince the rest of your field.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Today's Roundup

-Show with the buzz at the moment in NY is Cate Blanchett's visiting production of Streetcar Named Desire from her Australian company. Critic-O-Meter says? B+. Skim the reviews.

-San Diego's Old Globe adds a snazzy new 2nd space, education center, and restaurant. Not bad for lean times.

-Variety gives more details on the Oleanna closing. Bottom line: Bill Pullman and Julia Stiles are apparently no longer "stars."

-Playwrights take note: "West London’s Bush Theatre has this week launched a pioneering social networking website which allows playwrights to post their work online for producers and directors to read and commission." Can it happen here? Should it? (The Bush, by the way, has the rep as one of the BEST London theatres for new writing.)

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Subsidized Actor Training

It's not an MFA program but the Portland Actors Conservatory can now at least boast substantial scholarships:

Portland Actors Conservatory is now authorized to disburse up to a projected $107,000 in Federal funding for students admitted to its Two Year Conservatory program upon completion of that FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). One year after the Board of Directors voted to begin the application process, the Conservatory has received its first disbursement of Title IV funds from Federal Financial Aid.

“Providing federal financial aid increases the accessibility of our Conservatory program immeasurably,” said Nurella Doumitt, executive director. “A fulltime study of acting is now possible for a great number of people for whom it would have been previously unthinkable.”

The projected funds allow for a financial aid award of up to $14,850 per student. This sum covers the $8,500 annual tuition, as well as living, travel, books, and other expenses.
Of course, the goal of an MFA actor should always be to get a "free ride" out of the school. But those offers are, of course very, very competitive. So this is an attractive alternative, especially for actors who already are or want to make a career in the Northwest.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Today's Roundup

-What a true Broadway hit in 2009 looks like: Wicked grosses $2mil in one week.

-Timberlake Wertenbaker accuses the London critics of being too drunk to appreciate her latest play. (Whether the play merited better or not, I do indeed try to abstain from booze pre-theatre if I'm reviewing. Save that for the writing.)

-The story behind the woman behind the play behind the musical behind the movie: read about Maurine Dallas Watkins, playwright of the original (non-musical) Chicago and So Help Me God, currently being resurrected by The Mint.

-Did you know the real life Fela Kuti died of AIDS? Funny that on Broadway, "Fela!" does not.

-The Obamas had their Joe Turner night. The Clintons--The 39 Steps??? Well it is pretty white. And kinda over. (Actually the reason is more random: "current 39 Steps understudy Nisi Sturgis’ grandfather is Bill’s former mentor." Check out Broadway Buzz's slideshow, too.)

Roundabout Rentals?

Michael Riedel today speculates that Roundabout may be giving up on original content even more than their usual "imports" have indicated. Might they have to simply rent out spaces to the highest bidder to keep things going? Have they been doing that already?

The Roundabout is in serious trouble, financially and artistically. The theater spent a ton of money fixing up Henry Miller's Theatre for "Birdie," and now it has to find a tenant for the spring to pay the bills. The Roundabout is already renting out Studio 54 to Carrie Fisher and her show "Wishful Drinking."

Which means the company is basically becoming Broadway's fourth landlord, after the Shuberts, the Nederlanders and Jujamcyn. I wonder if the nonprofit Roundabout, with its tax breaks and subsidies, can undercut its for-profit competitors on rental deals.

If I were one of the big three, I'd be asking some pretty pointed questions.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Always Be Closing

The Oleanna producers, who made news just two weeks ago announcing a January 3 closing, must have looked at the latest numbers and said, in a matter befitting Mr. Mamet himself: fuck it.

Producer Jeffrey Finn announced today that the first-ever Broadway production of OLEANNA, the provocative drama by Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet, will now complete its Broadway engagement this coming Sunday, December 6, 2009.
Just too "provocative," I guess.

Yes, that's this Sunday. As in: last 8 performances.

Roundup

Theatre buzz from around the web.

-Hey actors, want a job? How about being head of Actors Equity! John Connolly has suddenly stepped down before the expiration of his term. Yes, to spend more time with his family. But also, he says, to go back to acting!

-It was on, then off, now on again: the Irish Rep's worthy "Emperor Jones" revival is indeed transferring to the Off Broadway Soho Playhouse.

-Who will star in Martin McDonagh's new American-set Broadway play, "A Behanding in Spokane"? Why, Christiopher Walken, of course. Thus further strengthening my hunch that this is merely another stepping stone in McDonagh's quest to become a hot indie filmmaker.