Saturday, June 30, 2007

On Isaac Butler's "Some Splaining to Do"

I am going to begin this post with the following paragraph. I will also end it with the same paragraph.

You don't have to like me, and you don't have to like my phrasing, and you don't have to like me not being as "measured and sensitive" as some of the precious and delicate flowers in the blogosphere expect me to be or wish I was. But when I was reporting, I didn't have to do those stories, regardless of what you think of them. I was in a position to raise awareness, and there is nobility in raising awareness, and I take second place to no one in my belief that dialogue, not the big gaping silence that greeted the Lee announcement, is what yields a better society.
Just got home from seeing Old Acquaintance at Roundabout and then doing the three-hour Accomplice: New York for an essay I'm doing for New York Press. Just read Butler's "Some Splaining to Do," and in the interest of fairness, I ought to do the same. But first:

I'm very amused by the commenter who feels my posts aren't "measured and sensitive"; I've been called many things, but never someone tightly snug in the mantle of "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." And I'm very dismayed that some believe, with a degree of piousness apparently unrivaled in churches across America, that my use of the phrase "What up yo?" in response to the Spike Lee announcement constitutes racism. As noted in the earlier post today, Jon Stancato and I had breakfast this morning, and I don't think he'll be upset with me when I tell you what he said: "But it's in the vernacular." Now, are you saying the vernacular is racist? Have you never used the word "yo" to communicate with someone?

Devore contacted me directly when this started, and since he has outed himself by posting a comment on Isaac's blog, I can tell you that he's the friend of Stewie that I referred to in my earlier post. I imagine a number of you folks would like to know what Devore said to me about your collective viewpoints, but I'm going to let him speak to those directly. He certainly did make me feel that I had not said or posted something terrible.

Let me go a little further with this. I am on record, at Back Stage and elsewhere, supporting the casting of Sean Combs in the Raisin in the Sun revival. If any of you read Larry Getlen's recent story on stunt casting, you would have read the passage where I am quoted thus:

"There’s a scene were Walter Lee Younger has to cry,” recalls Jacobs of the “Raisin” revival, “and Kenny Leon, the director, had Combs turn his back to the audience, because he understood that there is no way Sean Combs can believably fall into a crying jag and sustain it within the dramatic veracity of the play. Is that something you have to observe, note, criticize? Absolutely. Do you then say he should never be on a Broadway stage? Well, no. Because then there are other moments where he was very interesting to watch.”
I find it difficult to believe that a racist, or someone trading in the coinage of racism, would be looking for ways to find a silver lining in Combs' stunt casting.

With regard to what some of the commenters have said about the problem of the American theatre's very, very whiteness, are yours the voices I somehow didn't hear when Margo Jefferson was contributing regularly to the Times? Or did I perhaps miss your collective concern for the lack of critical voices of color in American theatre criticism when she stopped being the second-string critic, regardless of what you thought of her work, because your voices weren't raised at all? What are you doing about racism in the theater, if it is of such importance to you?

Why hasn't it occurred to anyone that part of the problem with persuading Spike Lee to direct on Broadway is that perhaps that opportunity, if the idea is to bring more people of color into the theater, ought to go to someone real and proven chops. For example, Robert O'Hara, the director of In the Contiuum, who I identified for the first time in my March 7, 2003 review of his Booty Candy, printed here in full:

Playwright-director Robert O'Hara is determined to push buttons. What they are seems unimportant—if the 10 short plays in "Booty Candy" don't prick results from the audience, drawing blood, he's unhappy. He needn't worry. He does.

An intermissionless romp, "Booty Candy" largely succeeds because so much playwriting fails to dare—or dares to fail. O'Hara, however, dares to dream: In "Dreamin' in Church," a pastor unmasks his sexuality during a sermon, donning wig and high heels before a higher power. In "Cluck," a Malapropping black woman, having misinterpreted a TV program, sues a white woman for slavery reparations. In "Genitalia," overlapping phone chats lambaste what a young black mother wants to name her child. And in "Scenework," a young non-black actress argues with a fellow actor over using Mama's monologue from "A Raisin in the Sun" as audition material.

Sense a trend? Quite so: O'Hara's best barbs are directed to black culture, history, and mythology, for which he is unapologetic. Yet this isn't self-hatred, but self-deprecation, and in that self-deprecation is an honesty and fearlessness that, however zany and zinger-filled, also transcends color and class.

That is not to say that all the plays succeed. "Dirt," about a college student who takes a commencement-day speaker hostage, is such an about-face tonally that it collapses under its political weightiness. "Movie," a Schnitzler-esque piece about five people on cell phones outside a cinema, is utterly unmoving.

Ultimately, "Booty Candy" (itself a scene about black genitalia) is rescued by "The Beauty in Queens (Jackson Heights)," which imagines a family awaiting a call from "Mr. Shubert" about a Broadway "house."

O'Hara's actors—Richarda Abrams, Melody Bates, Chad Beckim, David Bennett, Hasani Issa, Sam Marks, Maurice McRae, Tiffany O'Hara, Molly Pearson, Lloyd Porter, and Joey Rich—clearly relish executing his satirical savagery. And the streamlined sets and costumes (by Dawn Robyn Petrlik) and lighting plot (by Colin D. Young) make perfect partners.
Did any of you ever see it? Hello?

The point is -- yes, that's right, I'm a critic, and before that I was a critic and a reporter. I'm not in a position at the moment, like you, to write plays with actors of color in mind, or to hire a director of color, or to choose plays that speak to the diversity of American ethnicity. You are, and perhaps there are ways in which you address the racial issues in our culture, and in our theater. As a journalist, however, there are ways in which I can do my part. For example, who among you has heard of the Harlem Victoria? Anyone? If you have, you might wonder why it was on my radar. Here's one article from Back Stage, printed in full:

Harlem's Victoria Facing Dethroning?
March 10, 2005

Built as the United States was leading the way to victory in World War I, the Loew's Victoria Theatre, a former vaudeville house and movie palace on Harlem's West 125th Street, stands at the center of a civic debate: How should old theatres be redeveloped?

At stake is not just an elegant venue sporting a 1917 Renaissance-inspired design by Thomas Lamb, or a prime spot down the street from the legendary Apollo Theater. What is at stake is the kind of development preferred by Harlem residents as the area's economic revitalization continues unabated. Should a redeveloped Victoria once again serve the arts? Or should it be demolished, as some propose, in favor of retail shops, a luxury hotel, and/or new condominiums?

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and the Harlem Community Development Corporation (HCDC), its subsidiary, offered a walk-through of the Victoria last October to any real estate developer interested in taking a look. Two months later, a "request for proposal" (RFP) was issued, and seven proposals were received. While the RFP stressed that "interesting proposals that will contribute to the street life, cultural offerings, and economic health of Harlem are greatly encouraged," community concern—and organized opposition—is growing.

It isn't difficult to imagine why. Reportedly, only two of the seven proposals preserve the Victoria as cultural space, while the rest advocate everything from razing the structure to carving new, profit-centered uses out of its interior. Some community residents have become so alarmed that a grass-roots effort, the Haarlem Victoria Restoration Group (HVRG), is spearheading an opposition charge, including a petition drive, town-hall meetings, and the submission of a competing proposal.

Deborah Wetzel, an ESDC spokesperson, disputed published accounts in The New York Times and the Amsterdam News that the HCDC's chairman, Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright, is unhappy with the process: In the Times he called it "plantationism at its best," and in the Amsterdam News he warned that whatever happens to the Victoria, Harlem must have "a major, major stake" in the outcome. After a call to the HCDC was referred to Wetzel, she stated, "The HCDC is an equal partner in this process and their board has final approval" over which proposal is chosen.

The Times also reported that two of the proposals, by the RD Management Corporation and by a partnership between Integrated Holdings and the Related Companies, include the housing of a jazz museum. Another proposal, by Danforth Development Partners, aims to house performing-arts companies such as the Classical Theatre of Harlem, the Bill T. Jones Dance Group, and the Harlem School of the Arts, in addition to a 90-room boutique hotel.

The HVRG's proposal, meanwhile, claims to have access to a $40 million fund to purchase the Victoria. But, Wetzel confirmed, the HVRG's response to the RFP was not received on time and is therefore not under consideration.

Back Stage tried to contact Ethel Bates, the HVRG's project coordinator, but received no reply by press time. Yet statements on the organization's website offer insight into the group's focus on preserving the venue for cultural uses, including the group's "reaching out to the community and businesses to come together and save the Victoria Theatre from developers who want to destroy this historic building and keep just the facade" and the formation of "strategic alliances" with such entities as the New York City Landmark Conservancy.

Wetzel disclosed that the winning proposal will be chosen "in two to three months" and further cautioned that "any substantial work on the Victoria will still have to go through the New York state Historic Preservation Office to determine the effect of the change and the appropriate mitigation if required." The building has not been granted landmark status.
And if I may, let me continue. How many of you have been to Harlem and know what's going on up there in terms of theaters being built and work being created? No, I'm not just talking about the Classical Theatre of Harlem. Here's this story from Back Stage, reprinted in full, from October 2003:

Building, Renovating, Surviving
Both Alive and in Planning Stages, Harlem Nonprofit Theatres Suit Up
October 24, 2003

To Gertrude Hadley Jeannette, the use of the term "Harlem Renaissance" to describe the upswing in uptown theatre is apt, but her guard is up. The award-winning actress, playwright, director, and producer—she received Actors' Equity Association's annual Paul Robeson Award in 2002—has seen it all during her many decades in the industry, ever since coming to New York from Little Rock, Ark. and studying with the legendary American Negro Theatre. If there's one thing she knows, it's not to take for granted the idea that a Harlem theatre renaissance—or one in any of the arts, for that matter—is underway and here to stay. Still, she's cautiously optimistic—and she has reason to be.

Jeannette—affectionately called Ms. G by her friends and admirers—created the H.A.D.L.E.Y. (Harlem Artists Development League Especially for You) Players almost 25 years ago. She is a true survivor in a part of town that has witnessed more than its fair share of socioeconomic ebbs and flows. She remembers when Harlem jazz clubs ruled the scene with their infectious, rhythmic élan; when such immortal figures as Duke Ellington, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes stood at the crest of a massive wave of creativity that energized every art form, including the theatre. She also remembers the years when urban decay took its toll—and all the years that politicians and community leaders promised a new Harlem renaissance would rise and how those promises, however well-intentioned, ultimately failed to live up to the dream.

But facts, of course, are facts—and with four not-for-profit theatre groups either up and running in Harlem, or on a fast-track to development, there is no question that this era is one of the busiest—and most promising—in memory. Besides the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players (which just opened its silver anniversary season with a revival of Jeannette's play "A Bolt From the Blue" and a gala featuring Broadway songwriter Micki Grant and actress Rudy Dee), the Faison Firehouse Theatre, a professional performing arts complex being built by Tony-winning choreographer-director George Faison, is getting close to its grand opening. Nearby, a state-of-the-art proscenium stage has been announced by Ken Wydro and Vy Higginsen, whose long-running musical, "Mama, I Want to Sing," is enjoying a 20th anniversary revival, soon to be followed by a national tour. And also nearby, the Obie-winning Classical Theatre of Harlem has just begun its fourth season.

"You know, some people say I'm a pioneer, but I don't think so," Jeannette says. "Groups like the American Negro Theatre—those were pioneers. After it closed down, because they had done so much for me professionally, I didn't want the name to just go away, so I asked if I could take over their space and they allowed me to use their name for a while. Eventually I started the H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players, and from the day I started, I have felt we have been riding on the backs of those who really were theatrical pioneers.

"Back in those days—this is the Roosevelt era," Jeannette recalled, "Mrs. Roosevelt would come to Harlem and the press would come up with her. She had a newspaper column, you know, and she would write about what we did on a shoestring."

Jeannette is one of the last veterans of that tight-knit configuration of playwrights, directors, actors, dancers, singers, and designers, and she was one of those who helped to make it a real hothouse for talent. When producers set out in 1946 to mount an all-black revival of Aristophanes' "Lysistrata," Jeannette recalls how a casting director came to Harlem and "discovered" a young man named Sidney Poitier, who went on to make his Broadway debut. While downtown audiences were soon entranced, little did they know that Poitier had already appeared with the American Negro Theatre for two years.

Why the disparity? Because even then, she says, "It was hard to get audiences to come to Harlem. In the Depression, when we all started out, we had good people working with us—good teachers, too—and they came because although they had the knowledge, there were no jobs for them. They brought their expertise. Then, after Mrs. Roosevelt's era passed, people suddenly said they were afraid to come to Harlem." It took, she says, until the Clinton administration designated Harlem an economic empowerment zone—one specially created to encourage businesspeople to make uptown investments—for things to begin to change. So to her, the resurgence of theatre in Harlem is not so much news as it is the fruit of a long period of waiting, of disappointment, and of hope.

The Why for Wydro
"The backstory of our new theatre really starts with 'Mama, I Want to Sing,' particularly after we lost our lease at [Off-Broadway's] Heckscher Theatre," says writer-producer Ken Wydro. "In the story of 'Mama,' in one of the final speeches, the narrator says that the girl, the lead character, did what so many people say they are going to do—she went back, she gave back to the community. And that's what we're doing. It also crystallized in the mid-'90s when we did 'Mama' at The Theater at Madison Square Garden with CeCe Winans and we realized that we really needed a home. We really needed—and wanted—a space in which we could create the next 'Mama, I Want to Sing' and, more than that, a place to teach, promote, present, and preserve African-American music from the mid-20th century."

This dual mission led Wydro and his wife, Vy Higginsen, to use some of the profits from "Mama, I Want to Sing" to create a nonprofit foundation that would serve the Harlem community. At around the same time—"either by design or by cosmic design," Wydro says—a West 126th Street brownstone came on the market that just happened to be the very structure that Higginsen grew up in, the site where so many of the scenes in the show take place. Then the adjacent brownstone came up for sale, and through the auspices of the foundation, they bought them.

It was not a moment too soon, for Wydro and Higginsen had been looking in vain for pre-existing Harlem spaces only to learn that the community is, "while receptive, too cautious in its approach. We tried retaining spaces like churches and auditoriums, but we could never get a real commitment. Some boards of directors were slow, and they were uncertain whether they should have theatrical work or musicals in their church. We would ask them in January if we could come in with something in October, and suddenly it would be August and we'd still have no answer."

The brownstones now acquired, Wydro and Higginsen "ran the idea of building a new theatre inside of them by a couple of state agencies, and everyone from the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to the Chase Foundation felt it was a great idea to build and create what we believe will be the only true Off-Broadway theatre in Harlem. An ESDC grant enabled us to do a feasibility study, and we learned it would be possible to knock down the walls between the brownstones and extend a theatre into the backyard—that we could, indeed, create a modern, state-of-the-art theatre and lecture hall, a community event space seating between 250 and 300 people."

The venue's projected dimensions are impressive by any standard, beginning with a flexible stage spanning up to 45 feet wide and extending nearly 100 feet deep. Raked seating that goes below grade will ensure that "every seat is a great seat," and of course there will be classrooms for the teaching of music—gospel ranking high on the priority list.

Part of Wydro and Higginsen's "honest and authentic desire to give something back to the community and to create an opportunity for artists" is to respect the economic buying power—and limitations—of their audience. "Our revival of 'Mama' lets you sit in the front row, center seats, for $35. Or, if you have a group of 20 or more, you can sit in those same seats for $30. You can go across the street to a restaurant and have a full meal for $11. This theatre will be like that—a place you can bring your mom, your kid, to a show that is simpatico with your culture, a place where you can have a good time and not be broke when you get back home."

While Wydro sees the activity in Harlem as a kind of renaissance, he thinks this one will ultimately outstrip the last one. "I think what's happening now is much more than the old Harlem Renaissance because the old one wasn't a renaissance, really. It was more of a literary or cultural banner that was waved. With George Faison's place, Ms. G's company, our new place, so many other places—like Jimmy's Uptown, which has a Sunday gospel brunch, or the Lenox Lounge, which is hip and hopping—this is a time when everyone can be here. Has there ever been a time when someone like our 19-year-old daughter can find an open mike somewhere every night of the week?"

Faison Sees the Future
Unlike the Mama, I Want to Sing Foundation, which has received tens of thousands in grant money from private and public sources, George Faison has spent nearly $1.5 million of his own money to convert a four-floor 1909 firehouse—which had been abandoned for 30 years—into a 12,000-square-foot, six-story performance and rehearsal facility.

Officially, the Faison Firehouse Theatre is a project of the American Performing Arts Collaborative, a nonprofit organization the director-choreographer created in 1997. But in practice, he says, the laborious process of getting city and state agencies to come through with their financial commitment to the space—here he names Gov. George Pataki and U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel—has left him with little choice but to not sit on his hands.

Quibbles notwithstanding, the names of the individuals behind the project read like a who's who of contemporary African-American culture and philanthropy, from Maya Angelou, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, and Bill and Camille Cosby to Roberta Flack, S. Epatha Merkerson, Phylicia Rashad, Oprah Winfrey (through her Oprah Winfrey Foundation), and Sue Simmons. Their largesse is being put to especially ambitious use, for the Faison Firehouse will be loaded with features: one 140-seat theatre and one 80-seat cabaret theatre; three rehearsal studios (of 500, 950, and 1,200 square feet); conference, training, and dressing rooms; an artist/student lounge; outdoor terraces; two floors of administrative space; a guest artist penthouse apartment; a performing arts library; and up-to-the-minute wiring for high-speed telephone and Internet as well as digital cable.

Why would Faison, who in 1975 became the first African-American choreographer to win a Tony Award (for "The Wiz") and who has run theatre companies, dance companies, and worked all over the world, want to take a ramshackle structure—that didn't even have floors when he first stepped into it—and build a performing arts complex in an economically sketchy part of town? Because Faison, like Wydro, like Ms. G, aims to give something back. After all, when he came to New York from his native Washington, D.C. in the late '60s, he worked first in Harlem and has maintained his ties to the community ever since.

"The theatre has been good to me—if it hadn't been so good to me, I wouldn't have the ability to spend what I have spent to create this space," Faison says. "Also, I wanted to create this place because I feel like there just is no place for theatre anymore—no vibrancy, no life, and we can't have that. Our kids today are totally out of sync with who we are, with where we've been as a people—they just don't know. Nobody cares about these children culturally. Where do we get this perpetuation of who [we] are? At a community-based professional theatre. I think people are entitled to theatrical projects that are relevant to them; young artists are entitled to a place where they can hone their craft, a venue where we, as minority artists, can be employed and where we can make a living."

Faison's ambitious philosophy is more than matched by the list of projects currently lined up for production. There's "The Awakening," a musical adaptation of "Cinderella" set in the Caribbean; "Tilt," a musical adaptation of Faison's own ballet of the same name, but with songs written by Ashford and Simpson; an original theatre piece taken from the speeches of Frederick Douglass; and "Trucker Rhapsody," a new play by Toni Press-Coffman about Reginald O. Denny, the truck driver whose beating, live on national TV during the 1992 L.A. riots, shocked the nation. A hip-hop/soul adaptation of "A Christmas Carol," a two-hander about James Baldwin and Richard Wright, and a celebration of the songs of Irving Berlin are also in the works. And as the theatres get ready to open, Faison is especially proud of the institution's community outreach program, which brings in students from the tri-state area.

"I'd like to bring the world here, and I intend to," Faison concludes. "I want to bring our words, our music, our literature right here." Referring to the Frederick Douglass project and to other works-in-progress that illuminate chapters in African-American history, he calls it "an honor to start with the past and then grow. And if it seems like a tall order, it's because a tall order is what we need, especially in Harlem. I don't know if we ever own up to our history—to the traditions we remember but don't really practice. This is our time to do so. And we will."
When Isaac said "we still live in a society that is racist, sexist, homophobic and deeply class striated," he is, of course, quite right. But, you know, it goes both ways. Everyone seemed to just accept Stewie's use of the phrase "prissy horrified purist," but might it not be equally offensive to a big, screaming, flaming homosexual like me? (Oh, wait -- am I self-loathing now, too?) But I didn't find it offensive, in fact, because while I think the phrasing has a homophobic ring to it, I don't think Stewie was thinking in those terms. "What up, yo?" ditto.

And I don't think it's helpful for everything we say and everything we think and everything we post to fall under the microscope of the political correctness police. Even when Stewie printed his famous "religion is bad theater for stupid people" rant, I didn't question his constitutional right to say it or believe it, I merely questioned the positioning of such a comment in a review in which the thought would not be germane.

Isaac, if I offended you, I am sorry. For me, enticing Spike Lee to direct Stalag 17 on Broadway is just not good enough if we all believe there needs to be more representation by artists of color in the American theater. And I expect that we all agree on that.

I encourage you all to read my review of The Last Year of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as Devised by Waterwell: A Rock Operetta when it comes out next week, in which I wax rhapsodic about Rodney Gardiner in the title role.

GThanks to Matt Freeman for expressing concern over whether the racism label might hurt me in terms of future employment. That's very kind and much appreciated.

And now, I'll end this post as I began it:
You don't have to like me, and you don't have to like my phrasing, and you don't have to like me not being as "measured and sensitive" as some of the precious and delicate flowers in the blogosphere expect me to be or wish I was. But when I was reporting, I didn't have to do those stories, regardless of what you think of them. I was in a position to raise awareness, and there is nobility in raising awareness, and I take second place to no one in my belief that dialogue, not the big gaping silence that greeted the Lee announcement, is what yields a better society.

Sphere: Related Content

More Spike Lee Stuff

Mark Armstrong is questioning -- in a civil way -- my earlier post on the announcement of Spike Lee to direct the Broadway revival of Stalag 17. In fact, in the comments, Stewie writes,

"Broadway is a big place, relatively speaking, a commercial place, a place for tourists and trash and, yes, quality stuff. I think it can accomodate a film director who wants to try his hand at stage work. To react like prissy horrified purists about Lee directing on Broadway is just silly. There are plenty of directors on Broadway and Off who get by on mediocre work. I do agree that Lee's fame could be put to better use in an Off Broadway house. OB needs the publicity more than Broadway."

Beyond the fact that anyone who necessarily disagrees with Stewie is termed a "prissy horrified purist" -- always attractive to haul out the homophobia when the rhetorical advantage is not on your side -- what I was saying in the first place is that the lack of blogosphere discussion about Lee coming to Broadway was a little weird: If Spielberg or Scorcese were to announce a Broadway directorial project, I imagine there would have been more discussion. In addition, Aaron Riccio, in the same comments section, is quite right that the concern, even before Lee gets into the rehearsal hall, even before he gets his name on the marquee is that he appears positioned to be

OVERWRITING the existing play, aided in part by the surviving writer of the original Stalag 17. It's a slap in the face to the original work, and though playwrights have certainly revised their work before, the Gray Lady made it seem like this was due to pressure from the money-hungry producer and Lee's imagery ("More cursing!") instead.
It would appear -- and here I yield the floor once more to Aaron, who points out that there are real differences between the Times' account of what is going on and what Riedel and Playbill have written -- that Lee had to be lured on some level into working on the piece, and this was the price he extracted. When I posted originally, it seemed to me that a discussion about that was blogospherically missing, too, and I wanted to start it up.

Now, as far as my comment about P. Diddy and Howdy Doody, would you people please get a life? For me, wordplay is the sine qua non of discourse, provided there's an opportunity to ensure that the discourse is professional, which is what I am trying to do with this post. Nor do I intend to apologize for injecting levity into the discussion or debate; doing so would homage the Lord of the Flies groupthink that sometimes comes over all of us bloggers. Which brings me to Isaac Butler's comment on his blog:

I'll just come out and say [it]: Regardless of whether he means to or not, I think Leonard Jacobs is being racist. He is using specific racial signifiers to criticize the Lee decision and using his blackness (will he cast a rapper? What up, yo?) for the express purpose of mocking him. I think it's important to note that I don't mean that Jacos is a racist, which is to say someone dedicated to oppressing black people. I just mean that he's cracking racially charged jokes on his site, which is a racist thing to do. He should apologize for the posts.
Yes, I suppose that was a racially charged joke, but that would also mean that white people cannot, and do not, use the phrase "What up?" or "Yo" in everyday speech, and I hardly think that's true. Further, by posing the question of whether Lee would cast a rapper is not "being racist"; it's a legitimate question necessitated by the growing trend toward stunt casting. (Read Larry Getlen's terrific news story on this here.)

I got an email yesterday from a friend (who is a friend of Stewie's), and while I won't quote him directly (seeing as how Stewie got all homicidal when I quoted him), his email jokingly accused me of being a racist and then he said that he thinks this politically correct upset with my choice of words is just stupid. Racists are racists; they don't need wordplay to make their views known. I'm not a racist and that's that. If you believe otherwise, that's on you.

Jon Stancato just arrived for breakfast. Will post more on this later.

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, June 29, 2007

Broadway Tip-Toes into the 21st Century

Got this press release in the mail yesterday and -- surprise! -- I think the idea is very smart, if a long time overdue. I'm including the contact names and numbers at the top of the release in case anyone is feeling a little bit of real journalism coming in. I'm also including it because, a long time ago, I worked for Susan Lee, back when she was running her Leonine Entertainment. That was the company that developed Camp Broadway. Susan always thinks "big" and has a flawless sense of business, marketing and vision.

Of course, I should say this: Great, now the industry might have a model for rewards points for repeat customers. What is being done to lower ticket prices? Or is this program really a fig leaf for the continued abuse of the American consumer desiring to see legitimate theatre?

Susan Lee, Chief Marketing Officer, Nederlander
212.840.5577 x124 /
Bill Coyle / 917-279-6044


The Nederlander Organization is proud to announce the formation of an unprecedented business alliance with The Shubert Organization, Jujamcyn Theatres and members of The Independent Presenters Network to endorse AUDIENCE REWARDS as the industry’s official national patron loyalty program.

Consumers can enroll in the program at the official site,, where membership details are featured and existing members can log-into their own personalized account. In addition, the site serves theatergoers as an inclusive online information resource for Broadway, Off-Broadway, National Touring Shows and other live entertainment events. Additional featured content includes production notes for shows, links directly to the authorized ticketing company for each venue, information on how members can receive a variety of special benefits, and beginning this fall, the inclusion of earning points towards theatre tickets, merchandise and special experiences.

AUDIENCE REWARDS was introduced in September 2006 as a national appreciation program for Nederlander patrons. “The feedback from our patrons was very enthusiastic and our initial pilot program far exceeded our expectations in terms of audience engagement and ticket sales,” says James L. Nederlander, President, The Nederlander Organization. “We are delighted that other New York theatre owners, as well as presenting organizations from around the country, have accepted our invitation to work in partnership with us to expand the scope of the project. As a group, we can realize our shared vision of delivering meaningful benefits and services to Broadway’s national audience.”

Nick Scandalios, Executive Vice President, Nederlander, says, “AUDIENCE REWARDS provides its partners a national brand that promotes all our shows, enables individual theatres or producers to work together, and facilitates a direct two-way communication between venues and the consumers who deserve to be rewarded for their years of patronage. With our strong relationship with Ticketmaster, we can assure that all Broadway Ticketmaster theatres can participate in this program.”

In order to design a world-class “coalition” program that includes multiple independently owned/operated theatres, The Nederlanders engaged Bonfire Partners and, whose principals have vast experience in creating and managing loyalty programs for a wide variety of companies as diverse as Starwood Hotels, Delta Airlines and Visa.

“Over 75 million consumers in America belong to a one or more of the over 2,500 loyalty programs in the market today,” says Mark Lacek, Managing Director, Bonfire Partners. “AUDIENCE REWARDS is the first such program to unite the Live Entertainment industry. We believe this program will deliver a significant value to consumers and, in return, happy customers will help expand the business of Broadway. AUDIENCE REWARDS is truly a groundbreaking program for the Loyalty industry and we are very excited to play an important role.”

Gerald Schoenfeld, Chairman of the Shubert Organization, says, “We are very pleased to join our colleagues at the Nederlander Organization in the formation of AUDIENCE REWARDS. Encouraging attendance at America’s performing arts institutions is vitally important and AUDIENCE REWARDS provides a way to acknowledge our patrons, and to meaningfully recognize their passion for the theatre.”

Rocco Landesman, President, Jujamcyn Theaters, says, “We are excited to be part of AUDIENCE REWARDS. This alliance, unprecedented in that producers and theater owners are joined together for an inclusive, nationwide marketing initiative, is a big step forward for the industry.”

Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director, The League of American Theatres and Producers, says, “As the representative of the commercial theatre, we believe that AUDIENCE REWARDS enables our members to work cooperatively to build a powerful marketing platform that will strengthen the industry. We are so pleased that Broadway now has a way to recognize, connect and reward our most important constituents— passionate theatergoers. This is a milestone that reinforces our belief that Broadway is the longest street in America.”

To establish AUDIENCE REWARDS as a national program, The Nederlanders invited members of the Independent Presenters Network (IPN), a group of performing arts centers and Broadway presenters, to join the coalition of New York theatre operators.

“The IPN was initially formed to enable theatres to invest in individual productions and secure performance dates,” says Al Nocciolino, Chairman of the IPN. “Today, the business of Broadway is not just about presenting good shows. Our local participation in AUDIENCE REWARDS is recognition that customer service, benefits and value-added experiences are essential ingredients in attracting and keeping our patrons.”

IPN members to join the coalition to date include: Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, Charlotte, North Carolina; Broadway Series South, Raleigh, North Carolina; Bushnell Performing Arts Center, Hartford, Connecticut; California Musical Theatre, Sacramento, CA; Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, Des Moines, Iowa; The DuPont Theatre, Wilmington, Delaware; The Fox Theatre, St. Louis, Missouri; NAC Enterprises, Buffalo, New York; Pittsburgh CLO, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Providence Performing Arts Center, Providence, Rhode Island; The Starlight Theatre, Kansas City, Missouri; and Theater of the Stars, Atlanta, Georgia.

Sphere: Related Content

New Review

My review of Gone Missing is out in this week's NYPress. There's a typo in the printed version, but the online version should be corrected tomorrow.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bravo to Aaron Riccio

...whose smackdown of the just-announced Spike Lee-directed Broadway revival of Stalag 17 on his blog, Metadrama, is right on target. Also, why has this announcement been greeted with almost no blogosphere reaction? Are people afraid to actually say, "What up, yo? What's he doin'?" Does no one think this idea is as nutty as that other announcement, earlier this year, that the all-black revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was going to kick 273-time Tony-winner Audra McDonald to the curb in favor of some more impressive thespian like Beyonce? I mean, great, Spike Lee wants to direct a play, but Stalag 17? How about -- as Aaron suggests -- a new play? Where's the outrage? Where's the shock? Where's the beef? Where's Susan Powter? Stop the insanity!

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

So CNN Asks: "Does 'Lil Bush' Go Too Far?

Apparently because raping the constitution and ruining the nation does not, in fact, constitute going too far -- or spying on Americans or lying to the American public into another war for oil.

Sphere: Related Content

Spike Lee? Directing? On Broadway?

Why is no one posting about Spike Lee being announced to direct the first-ever revival of Stalag 17 on Broadway?

Is there (with theoretical good reason) an automatic assumption that the show will be crap, or that Lee will crap out on the project?

Or is it summer doldrums?

Or are you waiting to find out whether P. Diddy and Howdy Doody will both be cast in it?

What up, yo?

Sphere: Related Content

A New Preservation Blog is Born

I was unaware of a very interesting website called until a few minutes ago, nor was I aware of its various blogs until about 30 seconds ago. But wow! Terrific stuff, especially for a preservation freak like me.

On the left is the Liberty Theatre in, of all unlikely places, Astoria, Oregon. The website has a gallery of beautiful (and beautifully restored and preserved) theatres, some of which could as easily sit in NYC or London.

Just stunning.

For those interested, the League of Historic American Theatres 31st Annual Conference, being held in Boston this year.

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

An Attack on Critics

This one from the U.K. Some interesting thoughts but mostly horse poo.

Sphere: Related Content

Old Man Nederlander Busts a Gut on How to Fix the Tonys

OMG! After spewing all this to Page Six in today's Post about the Tony Awards and how to fix it, I hope they gave Jimmy Nederlander oxygen.

Here are the salient parts of what he said:

In 2012, the Nederlanders mark their 100th year in the world of Broadway. James Nederlander owns houses all over - the Palace, Marquis, Minskoff, Gershwin, Nederlander, Brooks Atkinson, 46th Street - nine in New York. Three in London, two Detroit, four Chicago, two L.A., including its most famous, the Pantages. His father owned theaters before him. A longtime big-time Broadway producer who began in 1940 earning 25 bucks a week working the Shubert box office in Detroit, in terms of legit Jimmy ain't what you call an amateur.

So? So the man wants to off the Tonys. Not shake them up. Drop them, dump them, lose them, forget them. He says:

"They're old hat. Boring. Tired. Their telecast's lost all viewership. I'd get an outside producer, like a Lorne Michaels, who's experienced in TV, knows show business and razzmatazz and how to put on a big-time spectacle and what's needed to pull ratings. Not just a goddamn stale thing where somebody walks out and says thank you. A real show. It's crap the way it's run now. And if anybody's angry with me for saying this, I don't care. I'm too old to worry about it.

"I'd tie up top dress designers like Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, the biggest American fashion names so women would tune in to look at the clothes. I'd stick a reality show right in the middle like letting people try out for a particular part in a future musical. Have a major poll while we're on the air. I'd give Broadway history dating to the turn of the century. Anyone know how the Shuberts began? The brothers came from Syracuse without a dime and, as one once put it to me, "My crazy brother Lee bought all these joints like the Booth and Plymouth at a bankruptcy sale from the Astor estate.

"The Tonys have no imagination. How about bringing the road, which is theater in America, onto TV. Bring the stage to the whole country. Put up a few different cities each season, pipe in what they're doing. With everyone getting involved, everyone tunes in.

"And what the hell does 'Tony' mean anyway? The name's been around a long time so 'Tony' does have value, but that's owned by the American Theater Wing not us. We could have our own so-named awards. Call them the Broadway Theater Awards. And make new rules. If there's eight great dramas, then vote on eight. Why shut some out because nominators arbitrarily decide only five should be in contention? Get a new board of nominators. Nominators don't give the awards. Voters do.

"Everybody's afraid to step on toes, but if I get hurt I don't care. I care only for the theater."

Personally, I think Nederlander's on the money about a couple of things. Ignoring regional theatre is just dumb, and even though the American Theatre Critics Association recommends one theatre every year to receive the Regional Theatre Tony (yes, I vote on it), the presentation of the award is usually about 12 seconds or, like this year, barely televised. I think the whole comment about making the award show interesting to women by having them look at haute couture is a little, um, what's the word? chauvinistic?, but overhauling the nominating and voting process is a smart move. And if the Tonys had any guts at all, Off- and Off-Off-Broadway would be included. We know that'll never happen because both the League and the Wing is, in large part, composed of Broadway snobs, and there is, in addition, far too much money sloshing around for Broadway to leave itself vulnerable to work that is actually better actually winning an award or two.

As far as the name of the awards go, give me a break. Does anyone worry about who Oscar was?

Sphere: Related Content

Nosedive Dives In

Received this email this morning, along with everyone else, I'm sure, from James Comtois:

Starting this year, Nosedive Productions is going to actually do something it has never attempted in its seven years-and-counting of existence:

An honest-to-gosh fundraising and development campaign.

After seven years and 13 productions (not including numerous comedy/variety shows), it's time for us to start.

Nosedive has never produced a show with a budget exceeding $9,000 or received any grant money. Aside from doing two fundraising comedy show/parties a year and requests for small donations, the company has stayed afloat by keeping budgets low and rolling whatever box office we get into the next project.

The reason why this is changing is because our plans for 2008 and beyond are much more ambitious than previous seasons.

First off, we're hoping to take our play, "The Adventures of Nervous-Boy," to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the summer of 2008, which, by even the most modest estimates, will cost more than the company has spent in two years.

Second, Nosedive is also hoping to stage a new two-act play, called "Colorful World," in the late winter/early spring. Also, based on even the most modest estimates, this will not be cheap.

We'll also be staging two shows back-to-back at the end of this year: a new "Blood Brothers" anthology series in October (last year we did an evening of Grand Guignol horror, this year we'll be doing a series of pulp horror, written by Yours Truly, Mr. Mac Rogers and Mr. Qui Nguyen) as well as restaging "A Very Nosedive Christmas Carol" in December.

Our ultimate goal is to raise $45,000 (yes, my mind reels just typing that).

Our immediate goal is to raise at least $10,000 by the end of this year, and we'll need all the help we can get.

Coming up this summer, we will be throwing some fundraising parties (one in July, one in August) that I'll let you know about very, very soon.

Also, in the meantime, if you'd like to make a tax-deductible donation to the company online, you can do so by going here:

Thank you in advance for whatever help you provide in this endeavor.

James Comtois

Sphere: Related Content

Back in Action, and Buzz in DramaBiz

Sorry I haven't posted in a few days. I had a bit of a stomach issue over the weekend and also had to finish up a 3,000-word historical analysis of West Side Story for the next issue of the Sondheim Review. (You got it: "Something's coming, something very long.")

Anyway, my colleague Larry Getlen has quoted me wonderfully (and surprisingly extensively) in a new DramaBiz piece on Broadway stunt casting.

Here are some quotes, though, that I'm thrilled to see in cyber print:

Are celebrities such as Lawrence, Parker Angel, Barrino and Combs on the right side of that balance? Keeping in mind that another “American Idol” winner, Jennifer Hudson, just won an Academy Award, it’s notable that Combs, who played Walter Lee Younger in the Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun,” was nowhere near the disaster that some feared. His presence did nothing to diminish the magnificent performances of co-stars Rashad and McDonald, both of whom won Tonys for their roles, nor did it stop the play itself from garnering Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations for best revival.

Roth, who was quite taken with Combs’ performance, notes that you “can’t separate the actor from the vehicle” in that if everything else in a production soars, one less-than-stellar performance won’t ruin the entire experience. According to Roth, “They’ve gotta be really horrible to pull the whole thing down the tubes, right?”

That certainly proved true in the case of “Raisin,” which, in addition to its accolades, sold tickets like gangbusters. But that’s not to say that these castings happen without artistic sacrifice.

“There’s a scene were Walter Lee Younger has to cry,” recalls Jacobs of the “Raisin” revival, “and Kenny Leon, the director, had Combs turn his back to the audience, because he understood that there is no way Sean Combs can believably fall into a crying jag and sustain it within the dramatic veracity of the play. Is that something you have to observe, note, criticize? Absolutely. Do you then say he should never be on a Broadway stage? Well, no. Because then there are other moments where he was very interesting to watch.”

Thinking about the long-term effect of these sorts of castings, then, raises the question of whether producers risk indoctrinating new audiences into theatre by diminishing their expectations for great acting. “We have a bit of a conundrum,” admits Jacobs. “What you have to wonder is, do you take a position as a cultural critic that these things are bad, and therefore not incentivize hundreds or thousands of young people from going to the theatre at all? Is it healthy to have an Ashley Parker Angel in ‘Hairspray,’ and Vanessa Redgrave in ‘The Year of Magical Thinking,’ and Christopher Plummer in ‘Inherit The Wind,’ and a cute teenybopper du jour in ‘Rent’? I would argue yes, because I believe that if you can get someone to go see Ashley Parker Angel in the one, perhaps you can get them to go see the other. You’ve got to inculcate theatre-going onto a young person’s cultural diet, and at the end of the day, I don’t know if I care how it’s done, or with whom.”

But also, when casting people from Combs or Lawrence to Moore or Roberts, one can argue that it serves everyone’s purposes to give talented performers a chance to grow, especially if that person is a box-office draw.

“Julia Roberts was trying to stretch and learn,” says Jacobs of the megastar’s Broadway turn in Richard Greenberg’s “Three Days of Rain,” “and because of who she is, she can’t come to New York and do an off-off-Broadway equity showcase at a black box theatre.” “Just because somebody doesn’t have a lot of stage experience, you can’t punish them for that,” adds Mosher. “They come, they work for no money, and they do it because they care. That, to me, is a generous impulse.”>>

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Amazing Anita Morris

Anita Morris was one of the greatest and most breathtakingly beautiful women ever to grace a Broadway stage. I saw her in Nine on June 15, 1983 and will never forget her performance of a first-rate siren number called A Call from the Vatican. This bootleg video is obviously grainy, so it's going to be very hard for me to explain what it was like to see the original production of Nine, or what Tommy Tune's choreography and direction did to my brain in terms of demonstrating what musical theatre could do, and what could be done on the stage more generally.

This number is famous, too, for having been banned by CBS from being performed on the Tony Awards for being too racy. I just found this clip on YouTube, and more amazing than anything is that the fourth comment is offered by none other than Grover Dale himself, the legendary choreographer, who was also Morris' husband for 20 years and father of their child, the actor James Badge Dale of 24.

Morris died of cancer in 1994. But this clip will help to immoralize her forever.

Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Arts Advocacy Update IV

Here are links and assorted commentary following the receipt of my weekly email blast from the Cultural Policy Listserv.

But first, I implore all of you to read -- or at least glance at the main points of -- this very compelling new study from Americans for the Arts. VERY IMPORTANT STUFF ABOUT NEW YORK.

And now...

Bill would cut movie studio tax credit
The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), 6/13/2007
"Building a movie studio in Louisiana is about to get far less lucrative for projects not already under way, if a bill before the Legislature becomes law. House Bill 936, awaiting a vote on the House floor as soon as today, would keep a 40 percent tax credit in place for movie studio construction. But future projects would be capped at $25 million in total tax credits. . . . The changes were proposed by the state’s Department of Economic Development after concerns were raised by the Division of Administration. The state’s financial officers found a potential $1.5 billion loss in tax revenue if the uncapped 40 percent tax credit stayed in place."
Never mind that your state lost half a million people because of a hurricane and your economy is in the crapper.

Conn. lawmakers build on success of tax credit for film industry
Newsday - AP, 6/17/2007
"State officials believe a new tax credit program, which kicked in on July 1, 2006, is fueling the burgeoning interest for filming movies in Connecticut. And they hope a new bill will lure digital media and sound recording industries while encouraging everything from a sound studio to post-production facilities to build a permanent home in the state. . . .
Louisana, please meet Connecticut. Connecticut, please meet...oh, you know.

Rockefeller Foundation launches arts fund
Crain's New York Business, 6/13/2007
"The Rockefeller Foundation announced a new fund on Wednesday to support and promote cultural innovation in the city. The New York City Cultural Innovation Fund will issue awards annually from a $2.5 million pool, with individual grants ranging from $50,000 to $250,000. The fund will support initiatives that premier artistic works, engage in cultural issues, partner community-based organizations with the private sector, and that address limitations on the city's cultural expansion."
That sound you hear is the Off-Off-Broadway community screaming, "Gimme! Gimme! I want! I want!"

Sphere: Related Content

Poor Vanessa Redgrave May Get No Respect

But damn this is funny, especially "The Year of Magical Tinkling."


Sphere: Related Content

New Reviews

I haven't posted new reviews in quite some time. So here goes:

In Back Stage:
In a Dark Dark House

The Butcher of Baraboo

Life Is a Dream

In New York Press:
Fire Storm: Do We Still Need Gay Meccas Like Fire Island? (disclaimer: there's a factual error in my reporting that will soon be corrected...see if you can spot it)

Horizon, at New York Theatre Workshop

The Argument and Dinner Party (preview)

Crazy Mary, at Playwrights Horizons

Fitz & Walloughs (preview)

The Return of the Prodigal, at the Mint

In Clarion Reviews (books):
History of U.S. Television: a Personal Reminiscence

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Who is Clyde Fitch?

I knew you were asking. I mean, you didn't articulate the question, but I knew you were asking. Here is the precis I have been using for several years to reintroduce Clyde Fitch to the world.

Eighteen days after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in a box inside Ford’s Theatre—the date was May 2, 1865—William Clyde Fitch was born in Elmira, New York. The only son of a Union army officer and a gregarious, exuberant Southern belle, Clyde Fitch’s destiny was also the theatre. By his death in September of 1909, he was one of the most successful, prolific, popular, and controversial playwrights in American history.

During a span of 19 years beginning in 1890, Clyde Fitch wrote 62 plays—36 original scripts, 21 adaptations, and five dramatizations of novels. More than once, he had four plays performing on Broadway; on one occasion, he had five. Fitch wrote plays for most of the great fin de siècle stars, from Beau Brummell, crafted for the self-worshipping, Richard Burton-esque Richard Mansfield, to Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines, which crowned a 21-year-old actress, Ethel Barrymore, the Rialto’s reigning queen. John Barrymore (in his Broadway debut), Helena Mojeska (in a cross-country tour), and Herbert Beerbohm-Tree and Henry Miller (in London) all starred in Fitch plays.

Why does no complete biography exist of a man who was, all at once, decried by the critics yet deified by the audiences who made him an immensely wealthy man? Was it his wild, inescapable flamboyance—his dress, his tastes in the Oscar Wilde manner? Fitch’s documented romance with Wilde—and the fact that he was likely cast aside when Lord Alfred Douglas entered the scene—offers us a clue. Yet it is only a clue, for throughout his life, Fitch took pains to dampen whispers about his homosexuality, even as he stood at the center of a coterie of friends and colleagues—like Elizabeth Marbury, his agent, who brought Shaw and Wilde to America; like Charles Frohman, the master Broadway showman who produced most of his plays and died on the Lusitania—who were homosexual and unabashed about it. To understand Fitch, one must understand how he managed to hide his homosexuality in plain sight: A 1903 magazine profile couldn’t resist describing in detail his spectacular East 40th Street townhouse, an Edwardian showplace distinguished, in part, by abundant Greek male nude statuary.

Even as Fitch stood at the locus of a famous (and famously homosexual) artistic community, his circle was substantial and sprawling. His friends and colleagues included the first Peter Pan, Maude Adams; author and critic William Dean Howells; novelist Robert Herrick; actress-philanthropist Eleanor Robson Belmont (for whom Shaw wrote Major Barbara); feminist playwright Rachel Crothers; and Elsie De Wolfe, who would later be renowned as Lady Mendl, the founding mother of American interior design.

An anecdote about De Wolfe offers us insight into Fitch’s aesthetic as a dramatist and director—a clue to understanding how critical he was to the rise of the modern American theatre as we know it. Aside from being Marbury’s lover, De Wolfe was an actress of maddening—well, maddeningly limited—proportions. In 1903’s The Way of the World, Fitch took note of De Wolfe’s distressing habit of waving to her friends from the stage. Yet rather than scold her about breaking character, Fitch quietly re-imagined the scene. Now, instead of De Wolfe crossing the stage on foot, she drove a car, thus freeing her to wave from the road—a gesture that would be both familiar to the audience yet one that would prevent De Wolfe from demolishing the fourth wall. Twentieth century critics dismissed Fitch as an aesthete, a dandy, a slick constructor of predictable, four-act, melodramatic pabulum, yet he was one of the first American dramatists to strive for an American response to the call to realism proposed by Emile Zola and others in Europe.

Controversy and criticism dogged Fitch in equal measure, but particularly the latter; his greatest flaw as a dramatist was unquestionably the astonishing speed at which he wrote, often at the expense of fully believable, resolvable plots, and completely realized characters. The crankiest critic of the era, William Winter, who wrote from 1865 until 1909, accused Fitch of plagiarizing Beau Brummell; despite the fact that Fitch proved otherwise back in 1891, Winter nursed his complaint until his died in 1916—certainly as long as he nursed his apparent homophobia. James Huneker of the New York Sun, complaining that Fitch was falling far short of his potential, once wrote:

“Go to Switzerland, Mr. Fitch. Forget all about your promises to Charles Frohman, your promises to your bankers, and think only of the artistic future of Mr. Clyde Fitch. You have one foot in the stirrup. Get both. And then gallop on to a hazard of new fortune and fame that shall be permanent.”
Fitch’s plays stoked legal fires: Sapho, adapted from an Alphonse Daudet novel, brought about a famous First Amendment case when Olga Nethersole—more press whore than actress—was charged with indecent conduct after playing a scene in a gown best described as generously diaphanous. After the scene, the hero whisked Nethersole offstage, the implication of impending sex quite clear—and an excuse for the vice squad to order a raid. As chaos ensured, Fitch fled to Europe—as he did every spring—while back in New York, Nethersole was acquitted.

Fitch’s plays stoked moral fires: In The City, Fitch’s last play—one which made quick thematic work of drug abuse and incest—Fitch aimed to counter longstanding criticisms that his work was woman-centric, that he could not, in the parlance of the day, craft a “man’s play.” Was this an attack upon Fitch’s sexuality? That much isn’t clear. This much, however, we know: His use of the word “goddamn” in The City marked the first time such an expletive was ever uttered on a Broadway stage.

Tragedy in the theatre is, of course, the kissing cousin to controversy. Consider, for example, the events surrounding Fitch’s best play, The Truth, which fared badly on Broadway but later proved to be a tremendous London hit. Clara Bloodgood, Fitch’s close friend and the actress for whom he wrote the play, shot herself before a tour performance in Baltimore, believing (perhaps with reason) that Fitch liked the performance of the British star, Marie Tempest, far more than hers.

By 1909, Fitch’s plays and reputation were going entirely global: The Truth was playing, or was scheduled to play, in nearly every European capital that year, and it had already been translated widely. In his memoir, The Clyde Fitch I Knew—the only document that approaches the quality of biography—author Archie Bell delivers a tantalizing recollection that tells us a thing or two about just how genuinely significant a literary figure Fitch was rapidly becoming:

“Several years ago, when it had come to the ears of Giacomo Puccini, the composer, that Fitch was a gifted poet, he sought him out during an automobile tour around Florence and asked him to write the libretto for an American opera which Puccini said he was anxious to compose… Fitch viewed the matter from various angles, and for a time was enthusiastic concerning the project…he later decided that when he wrote lyrical lines for the stage, it would be for his own drama, his masterpiece, which he hoped to give the American public.”
Yet for all his fame, wealth, and popularity as a boulevard-style playwright, Fitch’s success was, in the end, fleeting. His near-total fall into cultural obscurity not only in the years immediately following his death, but, indeed, nearly a century later leaves the narrative of his life riddled with questions. How did producer Charles Frohman coerce novelist Edith Wharton into collaborating with Fitch on the stage version of The House of Mirth? What became of a storied fortune which, among other things, financed a Greenwich, Connecticut mansion that later burned to the ground when owned by Alice Cooper? How could Fitch’s fortune—nearly $20 million in today’s terms—simply disappear?

Clyde Fitch died of complications from appendicitis on September 4, 1909, in Chalôns-sur-Marne, France, but his story does not end with tales of singing nuns guarding his body (true) and tales of his mother’s lonely, heartbreaking voyage across the Atlantic with the body of her beloved son (also true). Having died intestate, all of Fitch’s property—three mansions, hundreds of antiques, play royalties—required years to assess. In the interim, rumors ran rampant on Broadway about the size of his fortune and what would become of it. A deranged chorine, calling herself “Vera Fitch,” shot herself in the Hotel Astor, for example, claiming distress over the passing of “Uncle Clyde,” blissfully unaware, apparently, that Fitch was an only child.

Before Clyde Fitch, the idea of the “American playwright” was essentially oxymoronic: very few had ever made such a living, or lived such a life, creating work for the American stage. Fitch’s work bridged a critical span in the history of the American theatre—well-made plays, actor-manager stock companies, and creaky, melodramatic star vehicles on one side of the divide, and a growing belief in realism, naturalism, all the other 20th century “isms,” firmly on the other.

A biography of Clyde Fitch would serve to restore this oddly forgotten icon to his appropriate place in theatrical and literary history.

(Yes, I am writing one.)


Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Priority One is Not Making the Tonys Less Boring, Less Disaster-Ridden, Less Irrelevant, or Naming Triumph the Insult Comic Dog Next Year's Host

It's this, courtesy of a press release I got today. I mean, not that this isn't a good thing -- the sound designer for Journey's End deserved a Tony if anyone did -- but...huh??

And you know what drives me nuts? See the second graph: "Celebrating their 62nd Anniversary..." The Tonys is an it, not a their. It should be "Celebrating its 62nd Anniversary..." -- oh, and why is Anniversary in caps?? Sigh.


New York, New York (June 19, 2007) – The Tony Awards Administration Committee met for the first time this season to vote on the addition of two new competitive categories for future Tony Awards ceremonies. The newly announced categories for which the upcoming season’s productions will be eligible are Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Musical. With the inclusion of these new categories, there will now be a total of 27 competitive categories for which qualifying productions will be in contention.

Celebrating their 62nd Anniversary, the Tony Awards will be broadcast in a live three-hour ceremony on the CBS Television Network on a date to soon be announced.

# # #

The Tonys are presented by the League of American Theatres and Producers and the American Theatre Wing. At the League, Gerald Schoenfeld is Chairman and Charlotte St. Martin is Executive Director. At the Wing, Sondra Gilman is Chairman, Doug Leeds is President and Howard Sherman is Executive Director. For Tony Award Productions, Elizabeth I. McCann is Managing Producer and Joey Parnes is Coordinating Producer.

Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss/White Cherry Entertainment are Executive Producers of the 2008 Tony Awards. Mr. Weiss will also serve as Director of the 2008 Tony Awards.

Official partners of the Tonys include Visa, the exclusive card accepted at the Tonys and Hilton Hotels, the official hotel partner of the Tony Awards. The official Tony Awards web site,, is developed, designed, and hosted by IBM, an official partner of the Tonys. News and feature content is provided in cooperation with Continental Airlines and Sprint are official supporters of the Tonys.

Promotional and media partners for the 2008 Tony Awards include Macy’s, Playbill, USA Today, Van Wagner and Virgin Entertainment.

Sphere: Related Content


On today's issue of Browsing:

1) This article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune is one of the better calls I've read in some time on behalf of critics and criticism. Trouble is, there's still the whole print vs. Web business model to work out, plus the fact that no one likes critics...

2) Should Ian McKellen strip down to his skivvies -- or beyond -- when he plays Lear in Singapore? My instinct was to say, you know what Singapore? We're gonna take our Shakespeare and go play elsewhere. But the more I think about it, how much better is it to engage people than to disengage with them. So, Sir Ian, keep your booty unrevealed. Plus, we already know you have your, um, SAG card...

3) My pal Matt Freeman has proposed the idea of national premieres for plays. Actually, here's the link to the piece that got Matt thinking. This is very much in the vein of 365 Plays/365 Days, actually, and a nifty idea. What org. would coordinate? How would it work? To be discussed...

Sphere: Related Content

The Bloomberg Theory

Do we all know that Bloomberg left the Republican Party today?

Well, here's my theory. I don't think the 2008 election is going to be about the Dems and Repugs and an Independent, be it Bloomberg or otherwise.

I think it's going to be the Dems and the Repugs and two Independents.

I think Hilary will win the Democratic nomination, and we all know what that'll mean, good and bad, for the political process and for the nation.

I think Rudy or Mitt will win the Repug nomination, though not easily and not without a lot of nasty bloodletting and intraparty bruising. Especially if Rudy wins the nod, although not unlikely if Mitt does, I think the far right will bolt the party.

Meanwhile, once it's clear who the Dems and Repugs nominate, I think it's entirely possible that Bloomberg will get in, and even though he's pretty conservative, I think a Bloomberg/Hagel ticket would be pretty amazing -- and would divide the Dems and the Reps as well as attract the to-the-hell-with-everyone vote, a la Perot and, to a lesser extent, that evil Nader.

But remember, I said the far right would bolt. Look for the far right to put up a candidate of its own as an independent candidate -- perhaps under the auspices of the same Independence party that Perot ran under. Who would be the standard bearer? Bizarre choices, frankly, like Tom Tancredo or maybe even Ron Paul.

So it would be, for the first time since 1968, a real four way race. In 1968, that four way race gave us Nixon. Prior to that, there was a four way race in 1948, and that gave us Truman.

Any thoughts?

Sphere: Related Content

Chicago Photos, Part 2

Here's some more. If there's anything I could do other than theatre, it would unquestionably be architecture.

Sphere: Related Content

Chicago Photos, Part 1

Here's a whole bunch of images from my Memorial Day trip to the Windy City. Do you recognize any of these images and structures?

Sphere: Related Content

The Unforgivable Sin of Mel Brooks

I am excited beyond all measure about Young Frankenstein coming to Broadway in the fall -- although I do have serious concerns regarding the ability of Mel Brooks and Tom Meehan to strikes gold again the way they did with The Producers.

But that's not what particularly fires me up today. What has me hopping offended is that Brooks has cast Andrea Martin, who I adore in anythng she does, as Frau Blucher, not Cloris Leachman, with whom the role is forever going to be identified.

Now, you may or may not have been following this story in the papers, but apparently Brooks, who will be 81 on June 28, felt that Leachman, who is already 81, would not have the wherewithal to perform eight times a week. Supposedly there was something about Leachman's audition for the role that confirmed this fear in Brooks' mind. However, Leachman was apparently suffering from a cold when she auditioned, and now there's a whole back and forth between Brooks and Leachman about the matter.

I think it's a sin, an unforgivable sin, what Brooks has done. Here are some links of stories on this you might want to check out.

The bottom line: Mel Brooks, how dare you, you scallawag. For shame! For SHAME!

As a result of this, I am starting a protest campaign against Mel Brooks, who is co-producing the show only with Robert F.X. Sillerman -- by advocating that everyone email Sillerman here. We must defend the glory of Cloris!

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, June 15, 2007

I Know Not Everyone Found This Funny, But...

...I did!!

Sphere: Related Content

I Had a Ball

Just really want everyone to love this clip as much as I do.

Sphere: Related Content

Camryn Manheim Cover Story Out

For those of you who would like to read it, here's a link to my Back Stage cover story on Camryn Manheim.

Sphere: Related Content

Arts Advocacy Update III

Another label I like is Arts Advocacy Update.

Here's the one for this week. Two sources -- finally catching up with everything at, and my weekly blast from the Cultural Policy Listserv.

No Problem, Neither Do We
Times of London
Kevin Spacey says he doesn't care about his film career. Hence, "No Problem, Neither Do We."

Reports spar over economic impact of the arts
Savannah Morning News (GA), 6/8/2007
"...the author shares criticism of such studies from the Rand Corporation's 2005 report "Gifts of the Muse": "Such studies claim benefits that are inherently difficult to measure. They assume money generated by the arts is a net addition to the local economy, when it's more likely to be a replacement for other kinds of spending. Moreover, by focusing on the economics of the arts, they do little to help the long-term goals of arts groups, namely, to create a public that values the arts. The Rand report recommends, that arts advocates should stop emphasizing the quantitative aspects of the arts, such as economic rewards, and instead focus on individual experiences, including enlightenment, emotional reflection and personal well-being."
Wow. Them's fightin' words.

Legislator aims to promote American way via films
Reuters - Hollywood Reporter, 6/7/2007
"Rep. Diane Watson, D-Calif., thinks that wider worldwide screening of classic Hollywood fare will help convince people that the American way of life is not evil. Watson, who chairs the House Entertainment Caucus, has introduced legislation that seeks to have movies screened in U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide. The bill, H.R. 2533, known as the Public Diplomacy Resource Centers Act of 2007, establishes a film series in honor of Johnny Grant, Hollywood's unofficial mayor."
There's a House Entertainment Caucus? Do you know what kind of comic possibilities that has?

A soft spot for the arts
Kansas City Star (MO), 6/11/2007
The Kansas City Star profiles ways in which some local small businesses are "finding ways to participate in the current boom in visual and performing arts to raise their community profile, reward employees and attract a creative work force."
See, I think it's little things like that that make me think the hegemony of conservatism may be waning. That's a very liberal attitude. I guess money does talk.

Arts funding released with severe cuts
Detroit Free Press (MI), 6/9/2007
"The good news for Michigan arts and culture groups is that on Friday Gov. Jennifer Granholm lifted the two-month moratorium on funding that threatened to take $7.5 million out of their pockets. The bad news is the Legislature followed through on a $3.6-million cut in arts funding for this year. When the dust settles, arts groups will receive only about $6.5 million of the $10 million they were promised from the state arts council for 2007. State arts funding in Michigan has now fallen 73% from its peak of $24 million in 2000."
No wonder Granholm has never been especially popular.

ArtsVoteNH: New state arts primary project calls candidates to action
Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, NH), 6/10/2007
Arts supporters in New Hampshire are working on "a new bipartisan campaign called ArtsVoteNH, a pilot project that could be a model for other states in next year's primary elections." A collaboration between Americans for the Arts Action Fund and New Hampshire Citizens for the Arts, the purpose of the campaign is to get "the next president and other powerful national figures to understand how the arts are essential, how they are part of the solution to the important issues they care about and prioritize."
Sign me up. About time, baby.

Landrieu calls for other tax credits
The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), 6/12/2007
"Louisiana should take a cue from its successful film tax credit program and target other areas that could boost the state’s cultural economy, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu said Monday. . . . The film industry success is why Landrieu said his agency is pushing tax credits in other areas, such as, for artists, individuals in the food industry and historic preservation. The impact on the film industry has grown from $30 million to $700 million since the tax credit program began in 2002, he said."

Pennsylvania might boost incentives
Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA), 6/8/2007
Pennsylvania lawmakers may boost its production incentives for filmmakers, raising the tax credit from 20% to 25%, and lifting the $10 million cap for available grants. The current program is so popular that "the $10 million state pot already had been spoken for by the first few weeks of the fiscal year."

State's arts spending ranks near the bottom
Capital Times (Madison, WI), 6/12/2007
"Wisconsin ranks near the bottom of the nation when it comes to per-person spending on the arts, according to a new study showing that segment of the U.S. economy which drives billions of dollars and millions of jobs. Reflecting from the study's statistics, Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton said today that Wisconsin's ranking of 44th is cause for action and that she will soon announce proposals to correct the disparity. For every dollar spent per person per state, Wisconsin spends 44 cents, compared to the $1.67 spent in Minnesota."

Sphere: Related Content


So I've been working on how to come up with little categories for the things I do with this site. Lacking focus groups and the ability to test-market, I won't be able to research whether visitors to The Clyde Fitch Report identify and engage more positively with a category labelled "Rant" or "Arrrggggggggggggghhhhh" -- or whether "Arrrggggggggggggghhhhh" would be somewhat more pleasing to experience if it had one fewer g.

But, for example, I get emails for benefits all the time and unless I'm asked to go or there's some compelling reason for me to pay and go, I tend to skip them. I mean, they're benefits: giving me a ticket means, in theory, that it's one ticket they're not selling. I think people asking for comps when they're not reporting are mooching. So I really want to be able to do something with these press releases, so I post "Benefit Watch" or "Benefit Alert" as the name of the post. Seems easy and it's free advertising, I guess, and doing a good deed. In case you're wondering, I have not decided on "Benefit Watch" or "Benefit Alert" yet. Lacking focus groups and the ability to test-market...

Anyway, I'm creating one called Browsing." Little things I find amusing or want to respond to.

To wit:

1) An unexpected and warm tribute to me, of all people, at the distinguished Rat Sass. I had lunch with Nick almost two weeks ago and I've been very remiss about reporting about it. I'm weird, when I meet someone new that I particularly like, as I liked Nick, it's more fun to sort of not blog about it. But let's just say that he's very smart, very opinionated, has led what I'd call a very cool bohemian life (and who uses that phrase nowadays?) and I'd definitely hang with him again.

Oh, one thing Nick: It's Jacobs, not Jacob. Although supposedly the original name in Dutch, in Amsterdam some 200 years ago, was de Groot.

2) Theatreforte has an excellent bit about that awful David Mamet acting book. I reviewed it 10 years ago and hated it then and hate it now.

3) My friend Jon Stancato (of the much-touted Stolen Chair Theatre Company) is so f***in funny.

4) And now I want to meet Tom Garvey: his comment about the photo of the new a.d. of North Shore Music Theatre was very funny. I mean, nothing personal, it was just funny.

Sphere: Related Content

I Mean, It's Not Like We're Prejudging...

Please, please read this article on

Here's an excerpt:

"London's Daily Mail reports that Lloyd Webber's new kitten Otto has managed to destroy the music he has penned for the upcoming sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. The six-month-old cat somehow climbed into the frame of Lloyd Webber's digital Clavinova piano, which features a built-in computer.

The award-winning composer told the London paper, "I was trying to write some new music; Otto got into the grand piano, jumped onto the computer and destroyed the entire score for the new Phantom in one fell swoop."


Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Thank You, Variety

Great article by my good friend and colleague Mark Blankenship at Variety. He's writing about blogging and bloggers, and the blogosphere and blogging, and blogging about blogging at the blog-heavy blogging event at the Brick. I am honored!

The question, Mark, is why you didn't talk about your own blog. :-)

Sphere: Related Content

My Tribute to the Christian Right

Courtesy of Punch 59 and my dear friends Jen and Rik.

Sphere: Related Content

Hamlet at the Shakespeare Theatre in DC

Saw it last night, courtesy of a junket designed to promote the production, which stars Jeffrey Carlson (who I'll be interviewing later today). Had a great dinner last night with Michael Kahn and more or less every board member (and the other journalists attending), then this morning there's a breakfast with the great Mr. Kahn, then a tour of the Shakespeare Theatre' new $85 million facility.

Will return to NYC this afternoon.

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Remembering Anne Pitoniak

Today was the memorial service for Anne Pitoniak, and it was a beautiful one, at the Music Box. If you're unfamiliar with her, please read this, but I'll assume you are.

Annie died in April and I have not blogged about her because she was special to me in a way that I felt would make it somehow disrespectful if I did. I first met her on April 9, 1983. I was exactly one month shy of 15.

Something that you should know about me is that I don't come from a theatrical family -- very much the opposite. My father was a sign painter for 40 years and my mother was a secretary (they are now retired). My father certainly didn't know much about the theatre, and while my mother grew up seeing shows, we didn't have the money to go, so we didn't go. When I was in 5th grade, I met a kid named David Stefanou, and we got on like the proverbial house on fire. I was rather a lonely kid, too smart for my own good (imagine that) and not exactly athletic, so I was more or less the outcast. David was rather the oddball, too, but his parents had been actors, so he was growing up immersed in all things Broadway, which meant that very soon I wanted to do the same. My parents financial position, then precarious, wasn't necessarily changing because I wanted desperately to see, you know, 42nd Street (at a $35 top), but eventually my Mom took me to see my first Broadway show, Ain't Misbehavin, on December 9, 1981. For some reason, I always thought it was December 7, the 40th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, something that I felt was rather symbolic. But I just checked my ticket stub and it was December 9.
My next show was a year later, on December 29, 1982: Agnes of God. Unlike Ain't Misbehavin', for which the tickets has been purchased as a twofer (are those things still around?), the tickets for Agnes of God were purchased through TDF. I think they cost $9; I remember David and I went together, as opposed to my mother and I. I should add that I am an only child and in those days Manhattan was as bad and terrifying as everything you might imagine, to say nothing of the subway, so persuading my mother to let me go into "the city" with David to see the play was a big victory. Now, I ask you: What kid sees Agnes of God for his first play?

Next, in March 1983, came A Chorus Line -- I think David and I waited on TKTS -- and then a few days later, Mom got another offering for a play called 'night, Mother. You have to realize that, with all due respect to Kathy Bates, who played the daughter, she was not what we would think of as "Kathy Bates" at that time. Indeed, the names Marsha Norman and Tom Moore and Anne Pitoniak were unfamiliar to me, and I remember how David and I did not remotely know what to expect as we sat in the third to last row of the rear mezzanine at the Golden Theatre. And again I ask you: What kid sees 'night, Mother for his second Broadway play?

It would be silly for me to describe what that matinee was like. Honestly, I had no sense at all, really, of what theatre could do. I can remember watching the play, watching these actresses hurling words and hurt against each other -- this mother character desperately trying to stop her daughter from committing suicide. For 80 minutes the back and forth continued, and on and on, these horrifyingly stalemated emotions, the idea slowly sinking into my head that this poor mother would not be fated to win this battle; that it was, too, a battle already quite lost for the daughter. The sounds of the pots and pans being sent, with a violent and shocking wave of the older actress's arm, across the width of the Golden stage; the gunshot exploding from behind a door; the cries, the shock, the resignation, the fade out, the anguished and weeping silence in the dark. And applause, too, and David and I sitting there, utterly unable to move. I wish I could say I was exaggerating, but honestly we did not move. We just sat there.

More than the theatre bug had bitten us -- especially me. And when we finally pulled ourselves together and left, there was no question we wanted to get autographs. You know, I say all kinds of things about those ding-dong All That Chat posters, and I imagine those people are many of the same people that stand in front of stage doors, which is something I haven't done in 20 years or more. But once I was very much one of them. To reach the Golden Theatre's stage door, you have to walk down a long corridor -- it's between the Golden and the Milford Plaza -- and back then you could easily access it; there weren't doors and buzzers and security and so forth. The same alley also features, to this day, the stage doors of the Majestic and the Royale (now the Jacobs). Kathy Bates came out first, and she was carrying a little dog. Her autograph is the first one in my book. And then we waited for quite some time. Finally the stage door opened, and a man with sky blue eyes asked us if we were waiting for "Ms. Pitoniak." (I'll never forget the way he said "Ms.") We responded in the affirmative, and soon the door opened again, and there she was. I wonder what it must have been like for her -- two fans of 15 and 14, when here she was, age 61 and making her Broadway debut in a play about suicide. She asked us our names and we had a lovely chat and then she asked, unsolicited, if we would like to tour the set. Well, you could have just picked our jaws up off the floor.

Two weeks later, we were invited to attend another Saturday matinee (comps on Annie, of course), and then go backstage again for the tour. It was the first time I stood on a Broadway stage. We were advised not to run around and touch things, but also advised that everything on the stage was "practical" -- I think Annie said, "Everything works." We had another long chat, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship. During the rest of the run of 'night, Mother, I went backstage a lot -- I became friendly with the doorman, Mel Richards, and was completely enraptured with the idea of a life in the theatre. I found every excuse to come to Manhattan -- interviewing James F. Ingalls, the lighting designer of the play, for my school paper, for example -- and saw the play and heard it again and again. Annie and I had lunch or coffee or just had a chat, and if she couldn't see me, always left a note -- I remember once she found the listings for all the Jacobs in the Queens phone book and called my home. I still have all her letters and notes through the years.

I have so many memories of that time. I remember the 1983 Pulitzer prizes being announced on a Tuesday, April 18, 1983; the next day, a Wednesday matinee day, I was there and I vividly remember seeing the commotion and the look on Marsha Norman's face and the astonishment and the excitement. One time, I decided to pay a visit to the Golden and I hadn't let Annie know in advance that I was coming. She turned out to be on vacation or some such, but Kathy was in, and as I had gotten to know her a little bit too, I thought I'd say hello. Now, there was another doorman at the Golden, a rather tall fellow who had what I would charitably categorize as a hearing problem. He asked for my name and I told him, "Leonard Jacobs." He promptly went upstairs and knocked on Kathy's dressing room door and said, "Bernard Jacobs is here to see you." Then he came downstairs and said I could go up. God help me. Poor Kathy answered the door with what looked like a mudpack on her face -- thinking I was Bernard Jacobs, the head of the Shubert Organization -- and then, realizing it was that 15-year-old friend of Annie's, said in her kindest and, I should add, subtlest drawl, "Oh, honey, could you come back later?" It's all true, I swear.

So many memories...I remember when Annie told me that her grandson, Angus, was born. I remember my parents and I seeing a play somewhere and how we all, beforehand, paid Annie a visit -- no one has ever been kinder and more gracious than she was to my parents that day. In 1991, when I was having a play of mine being read in the back of an East Village bar/restaurant, I invited all the people I knew in the professional theatre at that time, including Annie, but I certainly didn't expect her to attend -- after all, she was off doing Steel Magnolias or TV or film or a reading somewhere. But, to my everlasting gratitude, she was. Later, I interviewed her for a variety of different publications and we always had terrific lunches in the West Village or at a pretty good Indian restaurant just down the block from her apartment on West 95th Street. The last time I saw Annie, which was a few years ago, her arthritis was bad. She told me that what she liked about our friendship was that it was low maintenance -- that we could go a year without seeing each other and then just pick up where we left off and what a pleasure that was and how much she treasured that fact. And she was unstintingly supportive: when I was young and wanted just to write plays, like that play that was read in the bar/restaurant, she was there, cheering me on, offering advice, and smartly and delicately asking all the right questions. When I wanted to direct -- and I ended up directing 40 plays from 1990 to 1999 -- she came when she could or else she sent a note, and sometimes she even sent a check. When I went seriously into journalism, she even dealt beautifully with the idea of me as a critic. She was the embodiment of pure love.

Anne Pitoniak gave me many gifts. One gift was to demystify the theatre while at the same time introducing it to me in a special, intimate and personal way, letting its magic cast a spell over my 15-year-old self, all wide-eyed and naive and hopelessly in love with the stage. She gave me the gift of friendship, of course, and a mix of maternal and professional love that she conveyed with effortlessness with only her eyes. She gave me the eternal gift of kindness -- the first kindness ever shown to me by anyone in the theatre. I am eternally and deeply grateful for the 24 years I knew her.

Last thing. I have been feeling guilty since she died because I did not know she was ill; sitting at the memorial service today, beside my friend Judith Hawking, and near Marian Seldes and Jack O'Brien and a stone's throw from Kathy Bates and Marsha Norman, I felt almost as if I shouldn't be there. After all, who remembers that 15-year-old kid when there's family there, artists that Annie worked with, all the lives she blessed with her touch. But then I remembered many of the things Annie said to me over the years -- and that comment about the friendship we had. The theater may subsist on venom and ridiculousness, on petty feuds and egos, but for Annie it was none of those things. It was about truth and honesty, about goodness and giving, about joy and work, about soul and salvation, about foundation and family. So in the end, I sat there content with my memories and secure in them. Annie knew how much she meant to me, I know that.

Sphere: Related Content