Thursday, May 31, 2007

Profiting from Nonprofits

If you are unable to read Arts & Economic Prosperity III, which Americans for the Arts released while I was busy getting ready to whoop it up in Chicago (see below), you should read this nifty recap of the main points of the report in the Chicago Reader. Very smart of Bob Lynch, who is terrific guy and an excellent interview, to go with the title "The Arts Mean Business."

Among other things, I would like the community -- in particular the nonprofit Off-Off-Broadway community -- to spend some time absorbing the ramifications of some of the things contained in this report. For example:

By every measure, the results are impressive! Nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity annually—a 24 percent increase in just the past five years. That amount is greater than the Gross Domestic Product of most countries. This spending supports 5.7 million full-time jobs right here in the United States — an increase of 850,000 jobs since
our 2002 study. What’s more, because arts and culture organizations are strongly rooted in their communities, these are jobs that necessarily remain local and cannot
be shipped overseas.

Our industry also generates nearly $30 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments every year. By comparison, the three levels of government collectively spend less than $4 billion annually to support arts and culture — a spectacular 7:1 return on investment that would even thrill Wall Street veterans.

Arts & Economic Prosperity III has more good news for business leaders. Arts and culture organizations — businesses in their own right — leverage additional event-related spending by their audiences that pump vital revenue into restaurants, hotels, retail stores, and other local businesses. When patrons attend a performing arts event, for example, they may park their car in a toll garage, purchase dinner at a restaurant, and eat dessert after the show. Valuable commerce is generated for local merchants. This study shows that the typical attendee spends $27.79 per person, per event, in addition to the cost of admission. When a community attracts cultural tourists, it harnesses even greater economic rewards. Nonlocal audiences spend twice as much as their local counterparts ($40.19 vs. $19.53). Arts and culture
are magnets for tourists, and tourism research repeatedly shows that cultural travelers stay longer and spend more.

Whether serving the local community or out-of-town visitors, a vibrant arts and culture industry helps local businesses thrive.

In the post below about tourism and Broadway fiscal health (artistic health is a whole other matter), I said something about the post-9/11 view on things, how it was no sure thing that things would approach any kind of normalcy again in the American commercial theatre. That remains true; what I find interesting, however, is how the arts advocacy community, which I reported on extensively from late 2001 until late 2005 for Back Stage, has finally begun to speak loudly and coherently about the dollar-for-dollar impact of the arts on the rest of the economy. It's not that this argument-slash-discussion is particularly new; it wasn't new in 2001. It's that you can sense some critical mass -- it is clearly why the House of Representatives, for example, is considering boosting NEA funding by $35 million. It's not that that $35 million will necessarily give everyone a chance to mount their kooky Kabuki Hamlet; it's that every dollar of public funding generates economic activity by, as noted, a factor of seven.

If you want to have a voice in this, I suggest calling the office of Representative Norm Dicks, Democrat of Washington, who chairs the House Interior Subcommittee, which provides the NEA funding.

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The League Announces 2006-07 Season Results


Well, you know the League: reading a press release from those good folks is like taking a spin class where you body never moves, yuk yuk yuk.

But here are the facts, as they've spun them:

1. Paid attendance was 12.311 million, up 2.6% over the 2005-06 season; it's the second time Broadway ticket-buying has topped the 12,000,000 mark.

2. Playing weeks (if 10 shows play 10 weeks, as Otis Guernsey used to phrase it, that's 100 playing weeks) was the second highest ever -- 1,509, up from 1,501 in 2005-06. (Oh, if ONLY Losing Louie and The Times They Are A-Changin' had run longer...NOT!)

3. Grosses were $939,000,000, up 8.9% from $861 million last season. Of course, $839,000,000 was spent on Wicked tickets, but shhhhh!

4. What's interesting to me, though, and maybe because it's a throwback to when I was still reporting news, is that tourist attendance has really made a recovery from those awful post-9/11 days. Everyone acts as if, of course, sure, tourism has come back, as if there was never any question that it would. But five, six years ago, it was far from a sure thing.

What is also interesting to me is that the League doesn't present (and may not even collect) any metrics on advanced sales. And by this I mean that ticket-buying patterns and practices also changed post-9/11 -- consumers no longer wanted to plan things two, four, six months in advance, but rather two, four, six days in advance, and that has made it exponentially harder to figure out how to market and advertise and, in general, to economically plan a run.

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Benefit Alert: NEO3

A Celebration of Emerging Writers in Musical Theatre
Benefiting York Theatre Company



MONDAY JUNE 11th, 2007

The award-winning York Theatre Company (James Morgan, Producing Artistic Director) is proud to announce that Bobby Lopez (composer/lyricist, Avenue Q) and Ann Harada (Les Miserables, Avenue Q) will host NEO3, a benefit concert celebrating emerging musical theatre writers. The benefit will take place on Monday June 11th at the Theatre at Saint Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue (on 54th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenues). Following a 7:00 pm “Summertime Soiree” supper and silent auction, the show will begin at 9:00 pm and will feature the voices of many of today’s top musical theatre talent. Seating is extremely limited; the event sold out in its first two editions. A dessert reception featuring Taittinger Champagne with the evening’s writers and performers will end the evening.

TICKETS to NEO3 range from $125 to $500. There are a limited number of $40 seats available by walking up to the box office, cash only For more information and reservations, please contact the York Theatre box office by phone at 212-935-5820 or you can print out reservation forms directly from the website at The box office is open M-F, 12-6pm.

Bobby Lopez is the Tony Award winning composer/lyricist who co-wrote Avenue Q. Ann Harada is currently playing Madame Thénardier in Les Miserables, and originated the role of Christmas Eve in Avenue Q.

“NEO” (an acronym for “New, Emerging, Outstanding”) celebrates some of the songwriters primed to pen the next generation of musicals, and supports the York’s work with new musicals and their creators. Since the first NEO concert four years ago, musical theatre fans and York supporters have eagerly anticipated each new incarnation. The writers for this year have been selected. This year’s NEO concert will include songs by many new writers including: Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Lisa DeSpain, Leslie Arden, Stephen Cole & David Krane, Jim Colleran, Rick Crom, Miriam Daly, Jeremy Desmon & Vadim Feichtner, Harris Doran & Arthur Lafrentz Bacon, Michelle Elliott & Danny Larsen, Adam Gwon, Tim Huang, Tom Kenaston, Paul Libman & Dave Hudson, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul, Kyle Rosen, Laurence Holzman & Felicia Needleman, Joy Son & Steve Routman, Robby Stamper & Arianna Rose.

Scheduled to appear: Tituss Burgess (The Little Mermaid), Matt Cavenaugh (Grey Gardens), Adam Heller (Caroline, Or Change), Megan Lawrence (The Pajama Game), Kate Reinders (Wicked), Seth Rudetsky (Broadway Chatterbox), Chip Zien (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)…and more to be announced as casting continues.

For ticket information visit or call 212-935-5820.
THE YORK THEATRE COMPANY in Saint Peter’s Theatre,
54th Street Just East of Lexington
E train to Lexington Avenue or 6 train to 51st

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Catching Up

I have been completely overloaded with stuff to do since getting back from Chicago. Yes, it was my first trip there. Pathetic, right? Yeah, I know. Been all over the place and managed to avoid the third-largest city in the United States (and what a wonderfully blue, is, I might add).

Speaking of which, my friend Brian Scott Lipton of just emailed and asked me how the trip went. I still have to go get a new thingy to download the 50 or 60 photos I took -- mostly on the architectural river cruise in the pouring rain -- but here's how I summed it up:

You MUST get yourself to Chicago and see the Seurat. It was the first thing we did -- smooth ride, hotel room ready at 10:30am (!)...and then, to be in front of it -- finally, finally -- was just extraordinary. I didn't cry, but yes, I got pretty darn weepy. It's just beautiful, really, and you also start thinking that Seurat must have been a little bit psychotic as you observe the monumentality of the thing. The colors are vivid, and, you know...all those dots. So you stand there and think: Connect, George, connect. That's when I started getting teary.

Smartly, Kenny stood 10 feet away, letting me having a moment. The rest of the Art Institute is excellent, too. Mostly the impressionists, but lovely reliquaries, too.

And let's see:

Went shopping at Marshall Field (now Macy's, ick); did the Frank Lloyd Wright house and office tour, plus the Oak Park walking tour; did a riverboat architectural cruise in the rain; had brunch with Mr. Abarbanel and his very lovely mate, Dan (major and unexpected bonding all around); had dinner with friends of Ken's (major and unexpected bonding not just with Andrew and Jeff but their very lovely dog, Bobo); cruised a fair amount of Halstead Street in Boys Town; had a 6-hour al fresco dinner at a steakhouse with Ken's college roommate, Deb (the last friend of his I had never met); bopped through at least some of the Gold Coast; went antiquing in River West; learned that the phrase "Chi-town" is considered touristy; took rides on the Green line and the Red line and somehow managed to avoid homeless people; slept one whole block from the International Men's Leather Competition; managed to avoid the concurrent Grabby Awards elsewhere in town; saw where Oprah films; walked through Millennium Park but failed to get to the Navy Yard, where the statue of Bob Newhart is; shot 60 photos; and slept.

Photos will be posted in the next day or two.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Who's Getting Pretentious Now?

Just did another terrific podcast with the crew over at This one features participants in the Pretentious Festival at the Brick.

Check it out.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

And another break!

Quite a week -- finished two papers for class and various and assorted other things. Off to Chicago for the long weekend, back on Monday -- when I shall be alerting you to the most FABULOUS YouTube video ever!

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Slight Break

No, I'm not parodying Pinter's A Slight Ache. I have two papers to finish for my tragedy class, and then I'll resume. Probably tomorrow.

MUCH to tell y'all, btw.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Thank You Mac Rogers

You made my day.

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New York University Wants to Take Over the World. Rats Scurry.

Would you check out this posting on Gawker about NYU's plans to turn to fertilizer what parts of the Village is hasn't done that to already? (NYU is my alma mater...I can say whatever I want about those greedy bastards.)

For the full text of the press release, click here.

And then there was the story about the guy in the alumni office who called me at work and fed me some line about a mandate from the president of NYU to reach out to prominent alumni, to find out how they are and where they are and how we can all work together. Sure, I'd be happy to meet, I said. And I did meet this very nice guy. Nice chat, everything going swimmingly -- even the part in which he admitted that only 10% of graduates actually give money seemed to be genuinely admitted. Can I, he asked, give a princely sum? No, I cannot, I said, but I'd be open to giving something, especially if the university is really interested in bonding alumni together. Did I ever hear from him again? No. Not even after emailed him to say hello, to continue the conversation. Like I said, greedy bastards. Let'em rot.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is a Trap Being Sprung on Spring Awakening?

Update: I was going to write a respectful rant (is that oxymoronic?...) about Peter's column on Wednesday on Spring Awakening, but upon re-reading it, I'm taking a different tack. Really, I am not going to change anybody's opinion, at least insofar at the criticisms of the score go. And heaven known it's not like I'm screaming at psychotic athiests who communicate in CAPITAL LETTERS, right?

So here are some thoughts, only for the heck of it. When Peter notes what's been stated "freely" in the playbill ("The play is set in a provincial German town in the 1890s"), and when he uses this "admission" to assail the lyrics, it seems to me he's really assailing the fact that the playbill says "The play is set in a provincial German town in the 1890s." For it takes him several more paragraphs to really address what it is he really dislikes about Sater's lyrics: "I went through Spring Awakening's CD booklet and examined the printed lyrics for incorrect rhymes. I found 59 of them! 59!" Now, that's fair and fine: I agree that musical-theatre lyrics should be rhymed perfectly. But to me, Peter makes a quantum leap when he suggests that because audiences "have a harder time understanding the lyrics of a song if they don't have perfect rhymes and right stresses to guide them," leading audiences to feel "alienated from the show," this is the reason why "Spring Awakening isn't a box-office smash: "because too many attendees didn't quite catch what the characters are singing..." I can think of lots of musicals in which rhymes are perfect and not every word is understood. For among other things, it seems to me that being able to understand lyrics at all has as much to do with the actor/performer, and, alas, with the sound system -- or, heaven help us, the lack of one! Also, I've never located any bit of empirical evidence corrolating perfect rhyming to successful marketing. "I know this sounds like quite a stretch," he writes of his theory; I'm glad he knows that. The fact is, there are criticism in his essay that far more efficiently reasoned. For one, when Peter talks about the use of mikes and how he "got" the concept for their use in the show ("that when the kids pulled mikes out of their pockets and sang, they were expressing their innermost thoughts), writing "Yes, I got it. I just don't like it" is honest, I'll give him that. And people should always have different tastes. That's what makes a critical ballgame.

Let me add one thing, though, about the mikes. Like Peter, I've seen Spring Awakening three times, and something has changed recently in the show -- maybe I've just noticed it. At the Atlantic, when the kids pulled out the mikes, they did so slowly; there was something furtive and flirtacious, even something sexually daring about it. Now they sort of whip the mikes out: the effect is even less enjoyable for those of us who know about the using of the mikes because we expect them in the first place. While I agree with Peter that the SA cast is wonderful, they may really need someone (hello? Michael Mayer?) to just sharpen things up a little bit. Nutty as this sounds, those mikes needs internal lives of their own -- they really need to be extensions of the characters. (Again, if you hate the idea to begin with, you'll hate my reasoning equally.) I'm just saying this because if there's no intention, no purpose to the way the mikes are revealed, or if the intention or purpose is imprecise, then, yes, it can become a total gimmick, and that would be unfortunate.

But back to Peter's complaint about the anachronistic music and lyrics. Smart of him to mention Godspell, Pippin, Superstar and Joseph insofar as modern man not having much of strong sense of how music sounded in Biblical times or during Charlemagne's reign (I suspect musicologists specializing in medieval and ancient music might, however). What bothers me -- and what I at last realized is the crux of my gentleman's disagreement with Peter -- is that there's no mention of the audience's part in the process, its suspending of disbelief. I'm not at all certain that every song in Oklahoma! necessarily echoes precisely the sounds I would have heard at that time in Oklahoma; I'm not at all sure the music in Act I of Sunday in the Park with George, set in 19th century France, is what I would have necessarily heard in 19th century France. The music in those examples, just to stay on them for a moment, evoke sounds, are redolent of sounds, that one might have heard. But by Peter's reasoning, it wouldn't matter: "the real music that was heard in 1890s Germany bears no relationship to what Duncan Sheik wrote." So the score, to fit his standard, would need to sound exactly like the sounds of 1890s Germany? What relationship does the score of Les Miserables bear to "France: Digne, 1815; Montreuil-Sur-Mer, 1823; Montfermeil, 1823; Paris, 1832" (the settings of the show according to IBDB).

This can go on all night. I'm just saying that there a little bit of sophistry in some of this, and stronger arguments in other parts of this. In my opinion.

I mean, as Peter says, more or less, to each his own, right
Just read Peter Filichia's take-down of Spring Awakening on, not so much a take-down as a post-Tony-nomination preemptive attack. I'm a little short on time this morning, but I'm formulating a response, as I think there's a certain amount of quibbling that ought to be done with what he wrote.

Let me add before I do, that Peter, personally, is one of the most cordial, professional and genuinely warmhearted theatre critics I know, so I'm going to write what I write with nothing but deep respect for him -- and, of course, his mastery of musical theatre, which readily outstrips that of pretty much everyone else. What I also know about Peter is that I won't be likely to get a pissy and petulent email from him, like I got from a certain someone else, using phrases like "from the likes of you" to describe me as if I was nothing more than primordial slime.

More later. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Touch Me in the Brobdingnagian, Then Just Walk Away

Brobdingnagian -- well, it's not the usual word I might use, although this evening, while appearing on a panel sponsored by TRU (Theatre Resources Unlimited), the word kept popping into my head. Perhaps it should have been part of a phrase in my head: Brobdingnagian out of a molehill. Or maybe, better yet: Brobdingnagian bitterness. You'll see why all this nattering adjective-as-noun nonsense in just a wee moment.

It was an interesting panel that featured my critic colleagues Andy Propst and Adam Feldman, my PR colleagues Susan Schulman and Judd Hollander, and playwright Jeffrey Sweet. Jeff was, of course, a very welcome addition to the gabfest: he is a prolific playwright, has taught playwriting (and written about it from a craft perspective for Back Stage), has worked as a critic, and for the Best Plays series now headed up by my friend Jeffrey Jenkins, has been a contributor, editor and commentator. Bob Ost, one of the TRU co-founders, led the discussion, and I must say all of us bucked up under the airless heat of the room quite well. And props to Propst for making sure I knew when it was time for me turn over so as to get my other side roasted. (All right, he didn't really...but I did ask him to.)

We talked about how theatre artists ought to get press and how (and when, and why) they ought not to get press -- all the usual stuff, and certainly valuable information for anyone in the room who didn't know various aspects of this already or who wanted to get into it with more specificity. I ended up mentioning some of the please-please-please-review-me swag I've gotten in the mail of late, including a press packet from the Andhow! Theater Company that included a fake press badge using my IT Awards photo as a negative (foreshadowing?). Some people in the audience, I think, mistakenly got the impression that stunt packaging and bribing me with swag either gets me to the show more quickly (or at all), but what I was doing was just making a point about how (and when, and why) a theatre artists ought to get a critic's attention. Later, in reply to a question that suggesting taking critics to lunch or dinner, I hurriedly backtracked to make sure everyone understood that I am not at all advocating bribery. Could you imagine ABSCAM for critics? CRITSCAM? The tempo of this story now suggests that a joke or a pun would follow, but I'll just continue, as I still have to finish my paper tonight for Glenn Young's class on tragedy at Hunter College, as the push continues for me to finish my master's before I'm older than Eric Bentley.

Anyway, I think Jeff was there so that Bob could raise ethics as an issue. Fair enough, fair game. Really, though, it seems as if Jeff is still carrying around, like a crown of bitter thorns around his intellect, this seething, toxic anger about what Hedy Weiss did in Chicago, what the Dramatists Guild far too rashly and self-righteously did about it, and how things ultimately reached some sort of unpleasant and unresolved stalemate. I would be remiss if I did not add that Jeff also blogged about the incident over at Back Stage's blog, and wrote some things that my executive editor, David Sheward, eventually made him retract. Personal agendas and the truth sometimes oppose each other, basically.

Anyway, there was just so much huffing and puffing about this that I was sure Jeff was going to blow the house down. Jeff's such a smart guy, but there's also just so much anger and bitterness there. And, you know, critics are a cheap target: sometimes attacking them strikes me as a way for people who can't come to grips with the fact that their work sometimes sucks to attempt to deflect the issue -- to create some Brobdingnagian smokescreen -- as if that will somehow serve to change reality. Thirty years from now, will Jeff still be fire-breathing "Hedy Weiss! Hedy Weiss! Hedy Weiss!"? Will it be like Gus Hall furiously banging his communist foot on a lectern somewhere for 14 people in the audience? Aren't there so many more fights in the world to be fought?

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ratings for Theater: Horrid Idea

Just took a peek at the new post on the nytheatre i and I am SO dismayed that anyone would even suggest ratings for theater. And to think my good buddy Jon Stancato, the man with whom I have consumed so much peaty scotch, even suggested this as a topic of discussion! (Jon, Jon, debate me, debate me, let me show you the error of your ways! Here...drink! DRINK!)

In all seriousness, critics have all the reasons in the world to totally reject the idea. Just because everyone else is jumping off the roof of the Empire State Building doesn't mean the street below is begging for your dead body. Er, let me think about constructing a different metaphor.

(Jon, are you drinking? DRINK! I'm sure I misunderstood...)

Anyway, it's impossible for me to see why it would be to the good to give ratings to a painting, for example, so why should we devise ratings for theater -- either as an industry-wide practice or on a single website or publication? Just to ease the financial transaction for the ticket buyer? True, popular music is the obvious counterexample to all this, and I'll let Tipper Gore, for better or worse, address that one. What I find most regrettable in our society is this impulse toward reductionism -- and it's regrettable that coming out against theater ratings is something that must be defended, as if it isn't already common sense. Thumbs up, down... what is the American consumer, a hopeless lemming? Um, maybe we shouldn't answer that. Let's try this instead: Critics must lead, not follow.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Superfluities and Critics

Terrific post on Superfluities, George Hunka's blog of which so much seems to be spoken and written every time I turn around. As I've noted several times recently, I'm still relatively new to the theatre blogosphere, so I'm discovering who the particular heavy-hitters are. There's a certainly lots and lots of gab-festing galore, but Hunka's analysis of Nick Hytner's analysis of the problem in contemporary criticism is damn smart.

I happen to think that the problem -- which I'm not sure has been convincingly defined in one digestable statement-- is almost too easily defined as "too many...dead white men." Obviously the theatre is not finding itself overwhelmed these days with critics of color or the fairer sex, but the theatre is also not finding itself with more critics, period: outside the blogosphere, the list of venues is shrinking, not growing. The newspaper industry contracted something like 12% last year, and in case anyone had any illusions to the contrary, the headcount reduction came out of newsrooms, not top-level management, and certainly not ad staff.

Critics and practitioners have a natural affinity for one another and also a natural antipathy. Fundamentally it is a question of what one believes the function of the critic should be. If you believe that the critic's function is to act as a consumer advocate for ticket buyers, then Hytner's criticism relates more to the problem of audience development than anything else; if you know anything about the current demographics of theatergoing in America, it's certainly a worrisome concern. But I don't believe the critic ought to be any kind of consumer advocate -- if I wanted to be Betty Furness, I'd do just that. I believe the critic in the ideal sense is the outside eye that is there during development, there during rehearsal, there during production -- the dramaturge whose views are communicated via public forums and read by a public eager to understand the work from the perspective of that insider eye. Now, please understand that what I suggest here is never going to happen. Contemporary journalism has neither a use nor a forum for this idea: As long as there is a commercial theatre, reviews/criticism will remain fundamentally all about post-opening ticket sales and marketing/advertising strategies, or, at the Off-Off-Broadway level, about just trying to get someone, somewhere, to put something about the piece in print so cash-strapped companies can get the word out.

My point is not new, and I won't bore you with chat about Shaw and Walter Kerr and on and on. My reference point is what Peter Brook writes in The Empty Space:

"[The critic is] part of the whole and whether he writes his notices fast or slow, short or long, is not really important. Has he an image of how a theatre could be in his community and is he revising this image around each experience he receives? How many critics see their job this way?”

“It is for this reason that the more the critic becomes an insider, the better. I see nothing but good in a critic plunging into our lives, meeting actors, talking, discussing, watching, intervening. I would welcome his putting his hands on the medium and attempting to work it himself.”

So the issue for me is not whether critics are dead white men, but whether they are people who are sufficiently interested, schooled and skilled in order to fulfill -- or even consider -- Brook's dictum. Most of the time the answer is no: the only theatre John Simon would work in is the one that allows you to watch through a plexiglass window as cynanide pellets are dropped on those horrible homosexuals. But some critics are prepared, in this sense. I have done a lot of theatre, and I plan to again in the future. If you've never done it, I just don't think you have a right -- or a fair reference point -- to write about it. And that's not about color, necessarily, or gender, so much as thinking about how we ought to characterize, and how we ought to reshape, the critic-artist relationship, or maybe (worst-case scenario) whether it can even be reshaped at all. In the critical community, I can tell you that Margo Jefferson's tenure as the second-string at the New York Times was not looked upon favorably -- critics had problems with her style, her lengthy citations of text, and her seeming inability or unwillingness to reduce her reviews to easily quotable thumbs-up/thumbs-down bits of text. But as a black woman, I thought it was totally refreshing. Margo and I have been friendly, and I suspect she didn't care for the grind all that much -- the contemporary critical superstructure struck her as unhelpful to the theatre. I'd be curious to know what Hytner would say about that.

Anyway, the interesting thing about blogging to me is that they are neither critics, singularly, nor artists, singularly. That cross-pollination fascinates me.

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A Secret Bit of News

I won't reveal it, but a little bird has just informed me that a major announcement is going to be coming out of the OOB community this weekend regarding the Equity Showcase Code.

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The trouble with some bloggers is...

The trouble with some bloggers is they fling words around without a sufficient understanding of what words do: how they can point and injure, how they can menace and maul. Let me put it this way: If your words are going to have the effect of pointing, injuring, menacing or mauling, shouldn't one first be able to fully appreciate how such words possess such properties when one uses them? Would you drop a nuke without having any clue as to the damage it would do?

I use words with emphatic, unapologetic passion -- and, like David Cote (though less offensively in this one case -- and see, David, I used your bloody name; hope you're happy), I use them to generate and provoke discussion, passion and even disagreement. I believe that a theater that lacks dialogue is complacent, dangerously attenuated to the status quo. This seems a no-brainer to me. Or, as Steven Sater wrote in Spring Awakening, "Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah."

Anyway, I'm relatively new to blogging about theater or anything else, and my apparent enemy seems to believe the best way to get attention to himself is to characterize things as he wishes they were, not as they are. Because today I called out David Cote for the inappropriateness of his comment, "religion is bad theater for stupid people," this enemy is now suggesting that I am "backpedaling" -- that I am shrinking sorrowfully away from my anti-Christian beliefs, at least as he sees it as a result of my Mike Daisey posts.

Except that I haven't any anti-Christian beliefs to shrink away from in the first place.

What I was, and what I remain, is vehemently opposed to the religious right foisting its belief systems and morals on anyone else -- inciting, overtly or covertly, a societal atmosphere that makes the act of pouring water on someone else's art an acceptable form of public discourse.

And I am against anyone who is themselves against the idea of "To each his own." And I am against anyone who is against religious freedom -- of the freedom to possess no religious beliefs at all if that is what they choose. Doing so does not make me anti-Christian. Doing so makes me utterly (and constitutionally) American.

I am not anti-Christian -- unless you believe than an anti-Christian is someone:

...who criticizes Christians, or anyone, who believes they have the right to foist their morality upon anyone, at any time or place or manner of their choosing;

...who believes Christians, or anyone, possesses the right to desecrate the art of other people;

...who believes Christians, or anyone, have the right to impugn, to violate physically, the freedom of speech of any American whose spiritual beliefs do not comport with their own.

If defending freedom makes me anti-Christian, this Jew says bring it on, baby.

Finally, when people toss around the word "anti-Christian" as if that moniker belongs to them, that it is somehow theirs and theirs alone to hijack and contort toward their own nefarious goals and agendas, that's when I worry about bloggers, because I frankly worry that such individuals have only a limited relationship with the reality of words -- what they mean, what they do. And that is why I raise my concern once again that this nation has some terrifying Fascist tendencies going on around its edges.

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Like a Child Craving Attention, II

It seems the author of the infamous review in Time Out is unhappy that I didn't actually use his name in my blog post. Now, I don't recall a check coming in the door to compensate me for being his publicist, and it seems to me he's already pretty expert at getting publicity without any help from such an utterly unimportant no one like yours very truly.

In his email to me today, said critic reiterated his point "that religion, from an artist or critic's point of view, is a debased form of theater. The review starts that way and wraps up with the kicker that has launched a thousand blogposts. (Well not so much). Now, if you want to act like my editor and say the kicker should have been the lede, that's a valid point."

Of course, I'm tempted to go into the history of theatre as an outgrowth of medieval religious practices, but given that my Jewish forefathers were no doubt hiding when that was going on, I'll just skip it.

Anyway, the email ended with a scold: "...if I'm going to get bad publicity from the likes of you, I'd like to have my name on it."

Gosh, you know, I am positively charmed. I never knew he cared!

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Outer Critics Circle Awards!

Check out the list. I'm particularly happy for Martha Plimpton and Karen Ziemba.

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Leave Donna Murphy Alone!!!

Whoever started posting on All That Chat today that something terrible had happened to Donna Murphy's husband...would you please leave the country? Or vaporize in a torrential downpour of your own unrelenting stupidity? Or -- hey, how about this -- just not participate in any kind of public dialogue anymore? Oh, it was just completely idiotic -- and yes, I know you want to know what the rumor was, and in deference to Donna, of whom I am personally fond (and who I just profiled for The Sondheim Review), I won't. Really, I'm only posting this because I'm so angry I could just spit. Plus the fact that she is out of LoveMusik, apparently, having caught a cold from Judy Blazer, is making the chatterati chatter that much more. Stupid nattering nabobs of narcissism. Ugh.

Yeah, so I'm a fan and I think she's utterly brilliant in LoveMusik? You got a problem with that?

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Props to Stolen Chair

You know what you guys should check out? I mean, it's on my list of Fitch pitches (look to the left!), but the Stolen Chair Theatre Company's blog is always interesting, and very often insightful and curious, even. Go there.

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Like a Child Craving Attention

My esteemed friend and colleague Rob Kendt has something interesting, slightly chastising and admirably concise to say about the end of this review in Time Out New York. Now, I am loathe to criticize my fellow critics, especially those that are very intelligent, often thoughtful, well-educated, and not given to fits or fusillades of unnecessary vituperation. But in this particular case, not only is the phrase "religion is bad theater for stupid people" blisteringly...well, stupid, but it is also incalculably reductive and dismissive and selfishly agenda-driven and pissily caustic and megalomaniacal. And it is also -- all right, here I'm probably going to get into trouble -- a kind of super-supercilious demand for attention; it's a baby-at-the-hi-chair statement that screams and caterwauls like a needy 2-year-old: "Look at me! Look at me! Pay attention to me!" Now, you just go ahead and shoot me if you don't like my characterization -- especially in light of some of the things I've said about the religious right in some of the posts down below -- but to diss religion is, I feel, as egregious and inherently immoral and ultimately pompous as to believe that religion should be used to malign and hijack our cherished American freedoms. If Stewie Griffin was a theatre critic, "religion is bad theater for stupid people" is the kind of statement he would make, except that it probably wouldn't be funny (heheheheheh, Lois). I also do not believe Stewie would have placed that statement at the end of the review, where it might not necessarily be read or fully digested, but would have had the temerity to put it up top where it could defended -- if you assume it really could be.

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Birthday Week

The other reason y'all haven't seen me post this week is that it was my birthday on Wednesday! Yes, it was the last birthday of my 30s, which is all at once terrifying and weirdly exciting. When the heck did I get to be this old? Or this...old?

Anyway, I put together a terrific little get-together dinner at Etcetera, and those in attendance included Brian Scott Lipton and Bill Entwhistle, Steve Malsky and Luis Cruz, Jen Ryan and Rik Sansone, Stephen Van Gorden and that very special man, Mario Ortiz, plus everyone's favorite Nurse Supreme, Paul Quinn (who is not, however, a member of the Supremes!), and my adorable and wonderful Lynda Sturner, freshly returned from seeing Deuce (and needing a cocktail on the quick!).

Alas, my friend Judith Hawking couldn't make it -- she's busy earning plaudits in Rob Urbinati's West Moon Street.

And I must reserve a special place to talk about my sweetheart Ken, who puts up with so much from me...he's the best birthday present of all. Well, that and the Family Guy DVDs he gifted me with!

And I must reserve a very special place to talk about my parents, whom I love so much and without whom none of this would be written! Incidentally, I was asked recently if I posted anything on my father's condition. He is FINE! Just fine. Sorry if there was any doubt about that.

Also got a few EXCELLENT books, some amazing antiquarian playbills, a bottle of cognac (hiccup) and some serious love, among other things.

SO -- May 9, 2008 -- mark the date. I'll be 40 and there will be a party. A theme party. Probably something to do with reincarnation. Stay tuned.

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And Even More Reviews

Just linking, linking, linking:

Here's my interview with the formidably funny Mo Rocca:

And my review of Legally Blonde (with my favorite self-created headline of all time, "Of Human Blondeage")

And a DVD review:

And a preview piece on Passing Strange at the Public

I mean, enough of this!!

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And We're Back

Sorry to be away for the last week or so. It was the end of the Broadway theatre season -- truly, truly the end -- and I was writing, writing, writing.

Here's my review of Radio Golf:

And 110 in the Shade:

And Stairway to Paradise at Encores!:

And I also reviewing this production of A New Brain here in Astoria:

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

And More Reviews

Today I finally finished with the Broadway season. I won't avoid admitting it: I completely hate this time of year, when 48,975 Broadway shows open in the days immediately leading up to the Tony deadline and all I do is go from one thing to the next with absolutely no time to absorb, contemplate, deflate, or anything. Legally Blonde, Coram Boy (has anyone given any thought to pun potential of that title?), Deuce, Radio Golf, 110 in the Shade, LoveMusik...oy.

Anyway, here's my review of Deuce.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

New Reviews

Thought I'd catch you guys up on some new reviews.

Here's my review of Coram Boy on Broadway:

Here's my review of Biography at the Pearl Theatre Company:

Here's my review of Frost/Nixon:

Here's my review of Exposed: Experiments in Love, Sex, Death and Art (Annie Sprinkle's new, er, piece) at Collective: Unconscious

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Religious Right Fascists Strike Again

And in Ft. Lauderdale of all places. They want a civil war, it's a civil war they'll get.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Book Reviews

One of my cooler freelance gigs is that I review a good deal for a website called Mostly fiction, though sometimes memoir, historical fiction, and bits of nonfiction. Check out my most recent scribblings:

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May Day: Show Alert

My dearest friends Jen Ryan and Rik Sansone are doing a show. Here's the poop:

LionHearted Players present “AMERICAN MIDOL”
An emotional evening of Comedy, Music, Cannibalism, and Magic

Monday, May 21 @ 7:00pm, Broadway Comedy Club
318 West 53rd Street (@ 8th Ave.)
NO COVER (2 drink minimum)—reservations suggested - 212-757-2323
Complimentary Admission for Industry Professionals – call (718) 482-8790

Join The LionHearted Players as they present their latest twisted comedy /
variety show, featuring the New York City debut of Miami sketch comedy troupe PUNCH 59, “The Rob And Mark Show” (SpikeTV’s “Geek Ray Vision”) and out-of-this-world magical comedy with Magician Dave Cremin!

PUNCH 59 (1996-2001) was South Florida’s only sketch comedy troupe, logging
over 165 performances. The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel calls PUNCH 59 randy, rowdy, scathing satire" and the Miami New Times hailed them as "bold, original, sophisticated sketch comedy." After a large dose of electricity, PUNCH 59 is proud to be revived and performing again in New York City and features Jen Ryan (original PUNCH 59 castmember & FringeNYC ’04 Outstanding Performance Award), Rik Sansone (Summer ’69), Amir Darvish (Mercury: The Afterlife and Times of a Rock God), and Kate Stuetzel. PUNCH 59 alums have appeared in theatre, TV, commercials, films, and voice-overs, and include Jill Michele-Melian (MAD-TV & Reno 911!), Karen Gordon (Legally Blonde II), Larry Robinson (Sergeant Kabukiman) and David Brownstein (The West Wing).

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