Monday, July 30, 2007

Theater, Schmeater

Just noticed that Theatreforte has linked to an online Q&A at the Onion's Ask the A.V. Club that discusses why the Onion doesn't publish theater reviews. In the interest of full disclosure, I was in negotiations with the Onion a few years ago about writing some reviews and features, mostly because I had become acquainted with someone I thought was a high-level advertising executive and wasn't, and wasn't, in fact, destined to have his job more than another week. That said, the way they treated me, knowing none of this, left something to be desired. When you read the text of what they said about this, below, you'll notice the soft phrasing, the oh so gentle sorry-but attitude, which is gracious of them. If only it 'twere twoo.

Bottom line: no economy of scale:

We absolutely do not have a "theater is irrelevant" editorial policy. The lack of extensive theater coverage is entirely a practical concern. The problem is that theater is time-and-region-specific. The Onion is currently published in 10 cities; every single one of those cities will have The Transformers playing in it at some point, and every single one of those cities has stores where you can buy the books and albums and video games and DVDs we're covering. (Even if they didn't, for some reason, you could still acquire those things online.) So when we review these things, we can run the reviews in all of our print editions, and online, and be relatively sure that they'll be relevant to all our American readers, at least. There's an economy of scale operating there that lets us keep our staff small and spread out over many cities.

Those reviews will also stay relevant for years to come in the archives, since the films we're reviewing today will mostly be out on DVD eventually, and most of the books and albums will remain continuously available—through the secondary market, if nothing else.

A stage play, on the other hand, is by nature ephemeral; once a given production folds, it ceases to exist, so reviews have no staying power, and they wouldn't mean much long-term. And the plays you're seeing in your city aren't the same plays other people are seeing in theirs; even when a huge show like Wicked is touring while also playing simultaneously in New York and Chicago, it's being put on by different crews and different sets of performers, and a review of one show can't necessarily stand in for a review of the other. So each city would need its own complete set of reviews, which couldn't be used anywhere else, and could only be used for a limited time.

Then add in the fact that we'd need an extensive staff in each city to handle coverage. On average, each city has a single editor managing local coverage; even if they saw a play every night (which would be impossible anyway, given how many shows only go up on the weekends), they wouldn't even make a dent in the larger cities' theater scenes. It'd be like just having one film reviewer for the whole paper, instead of the five we currently have covering the cinema beat.
But, of course, the Onion would still like theater-makers, not to mention theatergoers, not to mention everyone they know, everyone they do business with, and everyone they interact with, to pick up the Onion and patronize its advertisers. What would happen if the industry mobilized so as to attempt to deny the Onion -- and its advertisers -- their patronage?

I know, I know...won't work, won't work. I heard it all at the Community Dish meeting last night. "We're weak, we're woosy!" they cry in their biers (and beers). "We have no power, no muscles to flex. We'd rather get trampled on, ignored, condescended to. We'd rather whine and bitch and moan about the lack of media coverage of theater than to do something about it. Waaaaaaaah!!"

If so, you deserve what you get, kids. Enjoy Transformers.

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New Piece -- Not So New -- in The Sondheim Review

I honestly didn't realize that my cover Q&A with Donna Murphy was sitting on the website of The Sondheim Review. This is a little old -- the interview was done just as Donna was going into rehearsals of LoveMusik -- but having just discovered this, I thought I'd give it a link.

My 3,000 word (!!) analysis of the historical impact of West Side Story, I am told, will be going out to the publication's 5,000-odd subscribers in the next few days. That's, like, 1.66 words per subscriber, right? Heh heh.

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On Matt Wolf On Ben Brantley On Matt Wolf On Ben Brantley

Talk about meta. You've got Matt Wolf, a perfectly good critic, on the Guardian's blog blogging about tailing Ben Brantley of the New York Times who is tailing himself, in essence, by blogging about his trip to London on the Times' ArtsBeat blog -- 27 shows in 21 days, and suffering from food poisoning, thus preventing him, it seems, from checking out the 47th revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

But it does make me wonder about something...if it is so significant that Brantley is in London reporting on West End theater for American audiences, why aren't there prominent U.K. critics here doing the same thing for their readers? Does it say something that they, at the moment, are not?

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

More Media-Theater Madness

Got home a little bit ago from the Community Dish meeting. Not sure whether I did any good or not. I must either look like some sort of cockeyed idealist or some sort of brilliant rabble-rousing theoretician. Either way, I was alarmed that the conversation veered away from my central point so much -- that if OOB is so concerned about the depth of press coverage, it must act in a proactive way to effect change. One person actually said she feels OOB doesn't have trouble getting press, which frankly shocked me. Whatever.

Anyway, coming home I read Mark Adams' piece in New York on the upcoming revival of Grease. This is a classic case of snark masquerading as journalism -- and putting a bad face on the theater, which is already besmeared with the reality-TV nonsense behind this show in the first place. (To those of you who would now attack me for prejudging the show, drop dead.)

Anyway, here's the story. And here is the paragraph that just made me want to wretch, concerning something Kathleen Marshall, who is directing the revival and appeared on the reality TV program that found Max Crumm and Laura Osnes, did:

Marshall rushes to her stars’ defense when the question of their validity to play these roles is raised. “When people say, ‘Won’t this reality show take away from actors who’ve paid their dues?,’ I’m like, they’re 21, how many dues are you supposed to pay to play a high-school student?” she says. At the same time, she was clear at lunch that for them to soar, she was going to have to push them out of the nest. Soon. “Once we open, I go away, and you guys have the hard part,” she told them. “You don’t just have the responsibility to deliver from 8 to 10:30. You have the responsibility of leading the company.”
Stupid, reductive apologist for having degraded the American theater. I mean, "I'm like, they're 21, how many dues are you supposed to pay to play a high-school student"? Doesn't she realize there are plenty of 21-year-olds that have paid their dues -- who, by dint of sweat and training and skill and networking, are far more qualified to play the leads in Grease than a few media whore kids? I'm siding with the casting directors on this one.

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Martin Denton Gets Dissin'-Ginia-s

Kudos to Martin Denton for his brief, modest but nonetheless appropriate takedown of Ginia Bellafante, who, in her review last week of Tom Crean: Antarctic Explorer, writes:

At two hours the play is certainly long enough to accommodate the inquiry, but Mr. Dooley indulges in narrative where he ought to supply analysis. (No one-man show should exceed 90 minutes unless the one man performing it is Will Ferrell or Jesus.)
But here's the thing...while Martin is good enough to acknowledge that Ginia is just being jocular, and while he is correct to make the point that the joke, such as it is, is insulting to the rather long list of solo performers whose pieces are more than 90 minutes and all the better for it, the real problem here is the Times' reliance on critics that they've pulled off of desks from elsewhere -- like Bellafante from, I hear, the fashion desk. She's unqualified to write theatre criticism -- or if she is, she should know better than to be so reductive and shallow and stupid.

In about an hour, I'm going to be heading into town to visit with the attendees at this month's Community Dish meeting, and this is what I'm talking about when it comes to the community thinking about how to act like a community to demand something better than low and crappy criticism such as this. Bellafante probably thinks she's writing good copy; hell, from the point of view of the average theatergoer reading the New York Times, I suppose it is good copy. But the Times is allowed to get away with employing unqualified and ignorant critics like Ginia because we, collectively, do nothing to raise an objection to it. And that's what I mean when I say that I think we have to take action.

I know, I know...what we can we do? We're powerless, right? We have no recourse, right? The Times is untouchable, right? I just don't believe that's true. What Martin has hit on is something very important. Or at least I think so.

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Stolen Chair Steals the Show

Finally got to see the Stolen Chair Theatre Company's new piece, Commedia dell'Artemisia, on Friday night, as part of The Undergroundzero Festival at Collective: Unconscious. There's a lot to be said about it, especially given the fact that the piece is all of 40 minutes long.



Before I go on, I should do some full disclosure. I wrote about Stolen Chair in the pages of Back Stage about a year ago (for my Now Playing weekly column), and in addition to the fact that Jon Stancato has become a very good friend and the additional fact that I recently made a modest donation to Stolen Chair's coffers, I happen to be, on an aesthetic and critical level, an unabashed fan of the company and its unique mission.



Recently, someone asked me to describe what Stolen Chair does, and while I could naturally refer the person to the company's mission ("dedicated to the collective creation of imaginative new work and original adaptation of classical texts...[F]using high theatricality and playful dramaturgy with traditional storytelling..."), that's really just grant-getting gibberish (sorry!) when you're sitting in a social setting and people just want to get to the point relatively quickly. I, therefore, tend to describe Stolen Chair's work as the result of putting genres into an aesthetic supercollider and pressing the trigger. Just as contemporary subatomic physics is all about what happens when you smash protons, neutrons, neutrinos and all kinds of indescribably small objects in order to simply find out what makes them tick, Stolen Chair will take genres you don't necessarily think of as inextricably wedded -- in Commedia dell'Artemisia's case, Moliere, commedia and the rape trial of Renaissance painter Artemesia Gentileschi -- and link them up, smashing them together to see what, if anything, happens, and what we can learn about what makes each of those genres/styles/elements/aesthetics tick.



I think Kiran Rikhye's script, in addition to being supple, smart, and with regard to this play, almost always well rhymed (I'd have to scour the script to see if there are any Spring Awakening-style imperfect rhymes), is also pretty daring in the sense of taking a celebrated rape trial and satirizing it. (A play I reviewed in 2002, Lapis Blue Blood Red, dealt with the subject far more seriously, and was quite memorable.)

One of the difficult things, too, about what Stolen Chair does is Stancato gently insists upon a sense of uniform style even as the play necessitates the taking of different genres and styles and smashing them together. In other words, if you're doing Moliere, you're doing Moliere; if you're going for classic commedia, you're going for classic commedia; we know what is expected of the actors performing in such works. By contrast, once you smash together the two, you're unsure of how much commedia to infuse into the rhyming Alexandrine couplets -- so the actors are effectively left to perform without a net.

In the last piece I saw, Kill Me Like You Mean It, "an absurdist film noir for the stage" mixed with a dose of Genet, the actors were similarly forced to decide in performance (and I thought mid-performance) what mixing noir and Genet really means.

Last point: I don't think Jon Stancato has a bottom line for why the company prefers to mix and match genres and styles and aesthetics. I think he does it because he believes that, as with subatomic physics, there are important things to be learned by engaging in said smashing.



As you can tell from the press photos, the production also involved some gorgeous mask work. My own mask is off to the cast, including David Bengali, Cameron J. Oro, Layna Fisher, and Liza Wade White.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

New Reviews



Here's my NYPress review of Surface to Air.
And who'd have thought Jerry Portwood would use my name as a cover line?
Anyway, this is the story that earned me that cover line.
I have to say, though, that I don't really get the cover image. Is it a reference to Beckett's Happy Days? Or am I just not getting it?Anyway, I'm happy to see my name on the cover!

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More of Bill and Betty

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Arts Advocacy Update VIII


3 Nonprofit Groups Get a Manhattan Deal: $1 a Year
New York TImes, 7/18/2007
In New York City, three non-profits, including a comprehensive poetry library called Poets House and a branch of the New York Public Library, are being given spaces to rent in Battery Park for $1 per year -- until the year 2069. "Whenever the Battery Park City Authority puts an undeveloped parcel of land up for bid, it requires developers to include public amenity space in their proposals. . . . [A]t Riverhouse, a residential development under construction in Battery Park City, the authority has leased all of the public amenity space in the building to outside cultural institutions."
No theatres in any of this, but the background information is important to know about...


Poll: Residents want new arena, arts center, upgraded stadium
Orlando Sentinel (FL), 7/24/2007
"A just-released poll found that just over half of Orange County residents support a plan to build a new Orlando Magic arena, performing arts center and renovated Citrus Bowl. . . . Pollsters found that after they told respondents about the economic impact of the venues and the types of events they would host, support increased to 68 percent and opposition fell to 28 percent."
For the record, though, studies show that performing arts centers, not sports arenas, are the true and impressive economic drivers. Still, the results of the poll does speak volumes about the importance of making sure people have proper, full, and appropriate information when you're asking them to comment on public policy.


Bloomberg Announces Plan to Shore Up Arts in Schools
New York Times
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced yesterday that the city’s Department of Education will require all schools to maintain arts programs, and that principals will be rated in their annual reviews on how well they run those programs. The announcement came just months after the department infuriated arts groups by eliminating a multimillion-dollar program to finance arts education. Under a new set of city standards, the arts curriculums will be judged for comprehensiveness, and potential pay bonuses for principals could be affected."
Gosh, you know, it's as if Bloomberg is reading everybody's mind. Good for him. Now let's just make sure he enforces this, too.


Blanco OKs ‘Broadway South’ bill
The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), 7/20/2007
"Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed into law Thursday new tax credits for the proposed 'Broadway South' program. Senate Bill 218 by Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, creates tax credits to attract new musical and theater productions to the state similar to the existing film industry tax credit program. The new tax credits provide incentives on infrastructure construction and renovation, production costs, transportation, payroll taxes and training programs."
Excellent idea, and obviously designed to help New Orleans get along. I'm a little surprised the media isn't picking up on this, but perhaps it doesn't comport with the "no one is reporting on New Orleans" meme.


Calif. tax-credit plan still in limbo
Hollywood Reporter, 7/23/2007
"The state Senate on Wednesday will resume deliberations on a state budget that sets aside $75 million in film and TV production incentives -- with even that modest tax-credits provision causing sharp controversy. . . . [Governor] Schwarzenegger has said that he favors crafting appropriate film and TV production incentives for California to stem the tide of runaway productions lured from Hollywood by lucrative programs offered by states including New York, Louisiana, New Mexico and others."
A few years ago, who'd have thought that runaway production would be referring to production outside of California, as opposed to production in Canada? If Gov. Schwarzenegger doesn't sign the legislation, he's an idiot. It's so obvious.


Cultural leaders want property tax revenue set aside for the arts
Buffalo News (NY), 7/23/2007
In Erie County, NY, leaders of the cultural community are asking that "3 percent of annual property tax revenues be set aside for the arts. That projects to about $5.4 million, based on current sales tax receipts, or roughly the amount currently allocated to the arts. Cultural groups say the time is right for dedicated public funding because, as recent studies underscore, the arts are important to the local economy, and because their role as an engine of development is certain to grow as cultural tourism draws more and more visitors to the area. . . . Leaders will testify with backing from County Executive Joel A. Giambra, who in late May submitted a bill designed to permanently lock in a predictable level of county funding for years to come."
I predict that within five years, there won't be very much counties in the country at all that haven't had an effort toward arts funding or arts incentivization. This is terrific news, and it'll put all those anti-arts Republicans on the run, where they belong.

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Very Busy, Folks

Sorry I wasn't around this week, folks. Been burning the candle at both ends working on "the book" (remember, I'm not discussing "the book" in depth until copy has gone to the publisher) as well as some other things.

However, I'll be catching up this weekend.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Praise the Lord

Bill and Betty are comin' to town!

More information very soon...

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Back from the O'Neill

Got back late last night from the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut. I teach every year in the NCI -- National Critics Institute -- which is always terrific fun and interesting and a very, very good excuse to get out of town. I'll have a full report on the trip later today, but that's why I haven't been online as of late.

Meanwhile, just for your funny bone's delectation, check out this link to bizarre things overheard at the theater. Courtesy my friend Jen Ryan -- and you should check out her blog, too.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Comments on "Some Thoughts on Theater Coverage"

As that great poet, Britney Spears, once sang, "Ooops, I did it again." Personally, I prefer that parody of a few years ago, but anyway, I have been amused and nearly amazed by the various comments posted in response to my "Some Thoughts on Theater Coverage" post. I guess my role in the blogosphere, as Jon Stancato told me the other week, is to play the provocateur. All anybody ever does is hate my guts anyway, so I might as well do something constructive with all that energy.

Here are the comments -- and I'm putting them in this post in the hope of spurring additional conversation. I should also note that Tim Errickson asked me if I could stop by and speak at the next Community Dish meeting, and I will be there.

Anonymous said...
Well... I run a pretty well-respected OOB theatre company and I can tell you: 1. I've spent the entire Spring listening to new board members and funding professionals talk about other OOB as "your competition" and 2. y'all media types can be very jealous of each other - I've been told to my face by a senior VV editor that I haven't gotten an Obie in my decades of work because the Village Voice doesn't like the fact that my company's so well-covered by the Times and usually favorably... he said we had become, after early interest from the Voice "too uptown." So, I wish it were as easy as banding together with my OOB sisters to take down The Man but... this is the Big City and we're... competitors? What would you have us do, Mr. J - multi-company subscriptions? What if my audience tells me they just don’t like some other perfectly valid OOB co.'s works? Shall I not… rejoice therefore? I’ll expect unified enlightenment from the OOB world when such wonders as spell-checking in a blog comment window occur…Yours, Lucretia

Leonard Jacobs said...
Thank you for your whiny post. The first thing you might do is stop hiding and quivering behind a cowardly pseudonym and state who you are. The second thing you might do is realize that the problem is that too many of you are hiding behind pseudonyms and whining about bullshit like not getting your Obie because someone at the Village Voice doesn't like the fact that you're covered in the Times. The third thing you might do is realize that, to some extent, I wasn't directing my comments toward you but toward OOB brethren who can't get the Times to even recognize their existence. The fourth thing you might do is understand that the problem is one of groaning self-interest -- everyone talks a good game about OOB as a community, but when push comes to shove, everyone is really out for themselves, and anyone with a leg up on anyone else can just go to hell, and the result of that is that it only perpetuates the problem of media outlets going out of their way to ignore OOB as a whole, and increasingly so, in favor of huge Voice stories about films from 30 years ago. Waaaaaaa, you didn't get your Obie, waaaaaa. Your poor dear. Either acknowledge that you have it better than a lot of people or shut up.

Anonymous said...
True, I do have it much better than most. But, I got it largely by fending off the bullshit of my so-called OOB sisters. Can't tell you how many of them still owe me money for one thing or another or have stabbed me in the back when my back started to peek just a little above the horizon. More to the point, you seem to be pretending to have forgotten that OOB was always a place of artists striving for something more, some step up the food chain. We all want to be Torchsong Trilogy and start out as three small plays in a basement somewhere (OOB), consolidate into a an OB, pick up and Obie, and then move on to B'way. It is the dream that fuels our spirit. If we acknowledge each other as a community, we'll be forced to admit the truth: New York City just has more community theater than most places, and we're it. Mr. J, who in God's dear name would use their own real name in the "blogosphere" as you call it? Blogosphere? Looks like a kind of nasty, petty thunderdome to me. You people don't know how to just talk politely about anything. And with that I'll head on back to reality and talking to people face to face about things. My experiment is done here.Lucretia

Leonard Jacobs said...
I'm glad your experiment is done. Perhaps now you can go off and get an education, and learn how to properly spell Torch Song Trilogy. I haven't in the least forgotten, by the by, that OOB is place for some to graduate from, but your Pollyannish vision of doing plays in a basement, "consolidation" into OB (what does that mean?), winning an Obie, and then "moving on" to Broadway is probably the reason you're stuck where you are. Such fatuous dreaming that is, as if you had a clue about how this business works, which I thought, at first, you did.The one thing this "nasty, petty thunderdome" has going for it is the opportunity for dialogue, for disagreement, for constructive engagement, for change -- and it starts with being open about your identity. You won't admit who you are because you already know your cause is probably lost. Given your attitude, that shows the market pretty well doing its job. Best of luck.

parabasis said...
Hey Leonard,
Some interesting points here. I think people would be more willing to flex muscles if they (we) thought they (we) had any. What ways do you (or other readers) think OOB theatres could get together on this?

Tim said...
Leonard...I'm in agreement. Any interest in coming to the next Dish meeting and discussing it?

Leonard Jacobs said...
Hey Parabasis/Isaac, I think the first problem is the idea that there aren't any muscles to be flexed. It's an Alamo mentality that assumes the cause is lost. I think OOB has economic muscle, artistic muscle, muscle in numbers, and loud voices -- all must be used in order to affect change. The precise manifestation of those muscles is up for grabs. I just think people have to stop whining about the lack of OOB media coverage and start doing specific, credible and coordinated things in order to change the situation. All whining does is promote stasis.

Philucifer [aka Charlie Willis] said...
I know it's kind of silly to even bother, but I want to respond just for a moment to something Lucretia said, because it's endemic these days: "You seem to be pretending to have forgotten that OOB was always a place of artists striving for something more, some step up the food chain. We all want to be Torchsong Trilogy..." While I don't mean to imply this just isn't true -- I see it quite a lot -- not every company or artist who works in OOB has this mentality. And it drives me FREAKIN' NUTS that this is the common (mis)perception, not only from the outside, but quite often from the inside as well. Yes, OOB began with artists wanting more, but it sure wasn't a step up the food chain. How often has a production from La Mama been to Broadway? Was The Living Theatre out there to systematically take over 42nd Street one production at a time? And Joe Cino was, I suppose, working to be the next Nederlander, right? What they WERE doing was looking for a place to do work they believed in, with the freedom to do it the way they thought it should be done. One of the best things about this community, at least in my opinion, is that there's plenty of room for those who are practicing their craft with an eye on a more mainstream career, AND those who are digging in for a life-long residency of bringing stories to the public that are deep and challenging in both subject matter and presentation. Those kinds of stories -- by necessity, and quite understandably -- aren't going to appeal to a large demographic, except under very rare circumstances. Yet OOB is both large enough and diverse enough to accommodate both of these, and everything in between. And for God's sake, can we please stop using "community theatre" as something derogatory and dirty? It's insulting to your community -- the audiences and colleagues who work with and support you on a regular basis.
--Patrick Shearer
Nosedive Productions

Jen said...
Bubbe, you are correct --as usual! I hate to accuse mainstream media of being elitist (!) but that's what happens when the PR companies control what gets reviewed, and not the editors.

RLewis said...
As someone who spent the last 2+ years researching OOB's first 20 years can I just underline what Charlie noted - OOB did NOT come about as a place to develop future Bway shows. Quite the contrary, but times have changed, and there's nothing wrong with that either.And while I have no problems with VV, TONY or even NYT, I do lament the passing of a different kind of press. There have been publications like OFF and Other Stages that once covered the downtown scene - theater-specifically. And maybe they didn't get anyone an Obie, but they played a vital role in our community theater, and cultivated some of our better current critics.Theater-speicific small publications grew a wing of our community that is growing nowhere today, but online. I mean, we're all fortunate to have nytheatre.com (though we know their critics should be tougher on us), but there needs to be much more.The only other hope that I see are the bloggers. The talent is here, if not the attention-span. I wonder if a team of bloggers couldn't rule our community faster and easier than a nation-wide play production (though I know neither are easy). I'm just saying, if we're not allowed to whine, don't we have the tools and talent to begin solving this important issue ourselves?

Leonard Jacobs said...
Patrick -- I totally take your comment on community theatre. It is one of the various things that made me utterly, totally nuts over "Anonymous/Lucretia." I think he/she is a putz.

RLewis, everyone is allowed to whine, but if it is whining for the sake of whining, if there is no solution creation, then it is a waste of energy. And that's one thing I just don't support.

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Arts Advocacy Update VII

Betting on the arts to revitalize the city
Providence Business News (RI), 7/16/2007
The town of New Bedford, Rhode Island, is seeing growth of its creative economy, and "[d]evelopers, city officials, nonprofit arts organization staff, artists and gallery owners are hopeful the trend will pull the city out of its economic malaise." According to one official, "[t]he mayor does not want to see any resident or artist priced out of the New Bedford market" -- but some artists are already "feeling pushed out of the market."
I've always liked Rhode Island...hey, Zach Mannheimer, have you thought about New England yet? Yes, I know, you're stuck in Amarillo or some such...

Facing the Music: TMV, Governor Huckabee and Five Questions
The Moderate Voice, 7/10/2007
In an interview with presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas Governor says that the key issue for public education is to nurture creativity. "[T]he secret weapons for becoming creative and competitive are art and music, our 'Weapons of Mass Instruction.' It infuriates me when people dismiss the arts as extracurricular, extraneous, and expendable. To me, they’re essential."
I love it, except for the fact that Huckabee, being a fairly right-wing conservative, is something of a hypocrite. Since he has gone out of his way, well out of his way, to align himself with hyper-conservative doctrine, then surely he must be able to acknowledge that the result of creativity -- thinking freely and inquisitively, the questioning of authority -- is more than likely going to be counterintuitive to his own best interests. For conservatism is not the vehicle by which people are able to think freely, to think inquisitively, to question authority, but the vehicle by which people are kept in their own little boxes.

Actor gets the credit for tax break to lure film makers
Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA), 7/17/2007
In Pennsylvania, actor Paul Sorvino is credited with catalyzing a revision to the state's film tax credit that raises the cap to $75 million and covers 25 percent of cost of productions with budgets of at least $2 million -- provided that at least 60 percent is spent in the state.
Philadelphia, here I come!

Film companies lured by tax credits
Honolulu Advertiser (HI), 7/14/2007
"Hawaii has seen a surge in film and TV projects in the 12 months since the state began offering producers a refundable tax credit of up to 20 percent of expenses. Twenty-seven productions . . . have applied to take advantage of the new credits since they took effect July 1, 2006. . . . Tax credit critics question whether the state needs to stimulate the film and TV industry when the economy already is booming. There's also concern the credits are a bonus for companies that may shoot films and commercials in Hawaii anyway."
For those of you who are SAG members, the new issue of the union's in-house mag is in the mail, and there's a great two-page spread on the tax incentives in place in all 50 states -- or most of them.

Fund for the Arts delivers the goods
Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 7/15/2007
Andrew Adler lauds the success of Louisville, Kentucky's Fund for the Arts, which this year raised $8 million for area arts organizations. Lead by an often controversial director, arguments also arise "about whether the fund is pursuing the proper goals and bolstering the proper groups. Should the fund concentrate exclusively on 'cornerstone' organizations or strive more aggressively to support emerging entities?"
Personally, I'd like to know more of the nuts and bolts of how this works -- and we should all keep an eye on this controversy, to the extent that it is one, is resolved.

Kresge pledges $6 million to metro arts programs
Detroit Free Press (MI), 7/18/2007
"Metro Detroit's arts and cultural community got a $6-million shot in the arm Tuesday from the Troy-based Kresge Foundation, which launched a new grant program that promises to funnel $2 million annually for three years to orchestras, museums, theaters and other groups in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. The news could not have come at a more critical juncture for local arts groups, which have struggled to raise corporate and private dollars in Michigan's stagnant economy and replace the millions lost to severe cuts in state arts funding. The Michigan legislature approved an additional $3.6 million cut in June, bringing state funding to $6.5 million, its lowest level in decades. State arts funding has dropped 73% since 2000."
Economically, Michigan isn't in great shape, so this is a particularly good thing. That factoid about arts funding dropping 73% -- that's not a joke. It's been very, very bad.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

NYTheatre.com Goes Mobile!

Just received this in my email...

First Announcement of the Mobile Version of nytheatre.com


The New York Theatre Experience, Inc. (NYTE) announces the release of mobile.nytheatre.com, an all new mobile version of nytheatre.com on July 1, 2007. This will be the first time that users of web-enabled mobile phones, blackberries, and pdas will be able to access nytheatre.com information specifically designed to work on mobile devices.

According to the DotMobi Mobile Web Developer Guide, one-third of the people in the world currently access the internet through a mobile device (and that number is quickly growing!). Our free, innovative mobile.nytheatre.com provides such users with quick and easily accessible information, all designed for the busy theatre lover on the go.

This state-of-the-art mobile version features in-depth venue information (including directions and accessibility information), the most recent nytheatre.com show reviews, ticket discounts and links, and our weekly updated Reviewers’ Picks consisting of 10 highly recommended shows. It is the perfect compliment to the more comprehensive, full-service nytheatre.com.

mobile.nytheatre.com is a product of The New York Theatre Experience, Inc., a nonprofit corporation that uses new and traditional media to provide advocacy and support for American theatre. Along with operating the highly acclaimed nytheatre.com, NYTE recently began producing nytheatrecast, the voice of nytheatre.com (the first regularly scheduled original content podcast devoted to New York theatre) and created the new website, indietheater.org (where you’ll find in-depth, independent coverage of NYC's blossoming independent theater scene).

mobile.nytheatre.com is made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

This new addition to the nytheatre.com family of websites can be accessed at http://mobile.nytheatre.com/.

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Browsing IV

I loved this story on the Capitol Fringe Festival. Back Stage covered the inaugural festival last year and I'm glad to see the Washington Post paying more close attention this year.

The passing of Charles Lane at age 102 really kind of bummed me out. Reading some of the various obits on him, I do wish they wouldn't call him hatched faced. I mean, what'll they say about Ernest Borgnine when he finally kicks it?

Naturally, the Canadians understand that artists vote, too. Hilary, hello?

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More Thoughts on Theater Coverage

I'm very glad my earlier post on theater coverage is gaining some traction, even if the pathetic anonymous commenter, Lucretia, made me want to go postal.

Just in case you're not trolling through my comments, Isaac Butler wrote (and quite rightly):

"Some interesting points here. I think people would be more willing to flex muscles if they (we) thought they (we) had any. What ways do you (or other readers) think OOB theatres could get together on this?"

My reply is:

"Hey Parabasis/Isaac,

I think the first problem is the idea that there aren't any muscles to be flexed. It's an Alamo mentality that assumes the cause is lost. I think OOB has economic muscle, artistic muscle, muscle in numbers, and loud voices -- all must be used in order to affect change. The precise manifestation of those muscles is up for grabs. I just think people have to stop whining about the lack of OOB media coverage and start doing specific, credible and coordinated things in order to change the situation. All whining does is promote stasis."

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Arts Advocacy Update VI

Only two salient items this week...

Cultural arts, organizations help build a better community
Tuscaloosa News, 7/9/2007
The president of West Alabama's Chamber of Commerce talks at length about the contributions of the arts and culture to communities, then encourages his fellow community members to participate in the "Culture Builds Tuscaloosa County" strategic process, which is designed to "tap [the community's] potential and translate [its] cultural assets and opportunities into a sustainable economic advantage."
Tuscaloosa's calling me but I'm not going? (For those of you who don't get the reference, click here.)

Artist Deduction Bills Continue to Gain Support
Americans for the Arts website, 7/9/2007
"The Artist-Museum Partnership Act (commonly known as the 'Artist Deduction bill') has been gaining co-sponsors since it was re-introduced earlier this year. The House bill H.R. 1524 introduced by Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) now has 50 co-sponsors. Additionally, the Senate bill S. 548 introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Robert Bennett (R- UT) has 23 co-sponsors. The legislation supports individual artists by allowing them to take a fair-market value tax deduction for tangible works they donate to nonprofit collecting and educational organizations."
Talk about patience. This idea has been around for the last few years and only NOW, with a Democratic congress, are we getting some traction. Finally!

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Patti LuPone in Gypsy Was...

...can't tell you yet, but I was at the opening tonight and am sitting here writing my review for Monday's Back Stage. Stay tuned.

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Some Thoughts on Theater Coverage

I know there's a lot of stuff brewing in the OOB community around the reformation of the Showcase Code, something that I wholeheartedly support, and as soon as I get my tush in gear enough to send another email to Paul Bargetto, apologizing for my inability to come to the event at CSC last Sunday (I had to write some reviews), I hope to be able to play some sort of formal role in the process, perhaps dealing with some research issues and the hoped-for development of economic-impact information that would show just how strong, in dollars and sense, the OOB community really is. (If you refer indie theater community, that's fine by me, but it's not at all a phrase I'd ever use. Moreover, I don't think the issue has anything whatsoever to do with either branding or naming conventions.)

Anyway, I was riding the W train home to Astoria the other night, and I had stuffed in my bag a copy of this week's New York Press (which I read for all the obvious reasons -- to read what I've written for that week and also to see what my friend Jerry Portwood is putting into the paper), The Village Voice (which I read...well, I don't really know why...boredom?), and the New York Observer, which is my weekly guilty pleasure.

Anyway (anyway), something the community had better start to think seriously about is not so much how difficult it is to get press, but what the community is going to do to persuade media outlets to wake the hell up to the community in some meaningful way. I don't know how many of you kept up this week with the Q&A the culture editor of the Times, Sam Sifton, was having on nytimes.com, but I frankly found his answers flippant in the most egregiously condescending way, and I hope some of you noticed that the Times didn't even bother to select many theater-related questions in the first place.

Here's another reason I'm thinking about OOB and media. Reading the Voice this week, I flipped forward quickly, as always, to the theater section...excellent piece by Alexis Soloski on Morning Star (which is probably the biggest piece the Peccadillo is going to get for this production); good coverage of a play at HERE, of Doppleganger at the 3LD Art and Technology Center, of James Rasheed's Professional Skepticism at the Abingdon, and of the Potomac Theatre Project's repertory (which I wrote about in Back Stage before anyone else did), plus David Ng on The Civilians' Gone Missing, if a few weeks late. To look at what coverage there is, I guess it's not bad, but our standards and expectations have fallen, too, let's remember. It just isn't remotely proportional to the amount of work that's out there, even in July.

None of this is revelatory; I know that. I mean, if I were from Butte or something, it might be seeming as if I'm leading up to something revelatory, but anyone who knows how much media coverage of theater has shrunk certainly knows that this was, comparatively speaking, a good week for the Voice. Then I flipped to page 57 and stumbled upon J. Hoberman's excellent piece on the Woody Allen film Manhattan. This is what journalists and critics of the old school would classify as a critical "appreciation" or a "reassessment" piece, and there used to be lots of them all the time, before advertising (or the lack of it) became such a great hulking behemoth as to vanquish such pieces 99% of the time.

Yet the Voice, for reasons I cannot fathom, ran the piece. It runs 1,243 words -- and the reason for it is because there's a weeklong revival of the film (through July 19) at Film Forum. Now, I know Film Forum advertises, but it isn't as if you're going to find the theater section of the Voice devoting 1,243 words to anything -- not a new play, usually (Michael Feingold usually will mix reviews of two productions into one piece), and a quick cut and paste tells me that Alexis' piece runs 743 words.

So here's the thing: What do we do about a major alt-weekly which, like all newspapers in this worrisome journalistic time, undoubtedly measures the level of ink it can provide to its writers by the level advertising yet, at the same time, devotes an inordinate amount of column inches to a 30-year-old film playing in just one theater that you could just as easily order from NetFlix?

It seems to me that OOB has to figure out how to flex its muscles in such a way as to leverage better coverage out of such publications. That includes Time Out, by the way. I'm talking about banding together in such a way as to literally attempt to hurt publications financially if they do not change their editorial viewpoints.

I know my colleagues will read this and say I am committing professional suicide. But I don't think so. I think the problem is that OOB is too scared to demand change. Or is it?

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New Reviews

I've been away from the blogosphere for a few days taking care of stuff. One particular element of that "stuff" is a new project that I won't get into too many specifics about right now, but let's, for the moment, refer to it as "the book." It will be my major project from now until the middle of September -- and that's all I'm-a gonna say!

Now onto other stuff. Here's my review of Xanadu: The Musical.

And here's an advance story I wrote on the Summer Play Festival.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

New Reviews

Here's my review, which came out last week in NYPress, of The Last Year in the Life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as Devised by Waterwell: A Rock Operetta.

Also, here are two reviews of some new fiction I reviewed: Losing Amber-Lee and The Devil's Oracle.

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The Drama Desk Teases Us That It Cares About Off-Off-Broadway Once Again

The Drama Desk, of which I am a member, announced yesterday the names of the nominators for the 2007-08 season. Seems perfectly fine -- even some nifty names on the list, like my IT Awards colleague Dan Bacalzo, my Back Stage freelancer Gerard Raymond, and Richard Ridge of Broadway Beat -- but let's be honest: the Drama Desk makes all the pretense of considering Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway equally, but in reality, Off-Off-Broadway productions are generally not nominated, certainly aren't seen by vast majority of the voting membership, and they win almost nothing, ever. The situation used to be even more egregious a few years ago, and when I, not being one of the exalted, fawning fauns in the distinguished orbit of the nominating chair, dared to raise this as an issue on the Drama Desk's listserve, I was told to go take a hike. OOB should be worried about the lack of journalistic coverage out there, but it should be terribly upset by this as well.

Dear Drama Desk Member:

On behalf of the Drama Desk, President William Wolf and Nominating Chairperson Barbara Siegel are pleased to announce the 2007-2008 Drama Desk Nominating Committee. It is the mission of the Nominating Committee to cover the rich and varied offerings of the New York theater in an effort to nominate the season's most outstanding work To that end, the committee members meet frequently throughout the season so that shows seen at this time of year will be evaluated on equal footing with the productions evaluated in the Spring of 2008.

All of the nominators make an enormous time commitment in order to present a carefully considered slate to the full membership. There are three returning Nominators: Tony Phillips, Richard Ridge, and Chairperson Barbara Siegel and four new members: Dan Bacalzo, Robert Cashill, Celia Ipiotis, and Gerard Raymond.

The 2007-2008 Nominators and their affiliations follow:

Barbara Siegel (Chairperson), TalkinBroadway.com; TheaterMania.com
Dan Bacalzo, TheaterMania.com
Robert Cashill, New York Theater News; Live Design
Celia Ipiotis, Eye on the Arts
Tony Phillips, Edge New York
Gerard Raymond, Backstage; The Advocate
Richard Ridge, Broadway Beat TV

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Monday, July 09, 2007

TCG Releases "Theatre Facts 2006"

THEATRE COMMUNICATIONS GROUP PUBLISHES
THEATRE FACTS 2006: SHOWS CONTINUED GROWTH IN THE
NOT-FOR-PROFIT THEATRE FIELD’S FISCAL HEALTH

New York, July 2007 - Theatre Facts 2006, released by Theatre Communications Group (TCG), reports that 2006 proved to be a period of continued growth for the field's health over a 5-year period (although with a slight decline from 2005) as both earned and contributed income outpaced expenses. The report reveals that theatres continue to make tremendous contributions to the nation’s artistic legacy, to their communities and to the economy despite ongoing challenges.

For over 30 years, TCG has published Theatre Facts, which draws on responses to the annual TCG Fiscal Survey to offer an analysis of the attendance, performance and fiscal health of the American not-for-profit theatre field. Theatre Facts 2006 compiles information gathered for the fiscal year that theatres completed anytime between September 30, 2005, and August 31, 2006.

Teresa Eyring, executive director of TCG, commented, “Theatre Facts is an enormously valuable tool for our field, giving theatres the ability to compare their experience with national trends. Theatre leaders and trustees use this data in developing appropriate strategies for their organizations and in reaching educated conclusions about their performance. And as the only document analyzing the fiscal health of the national not-for-profit theatre field, Theatre Facts has a broader appeal as a vital advocacy and policy tool for trustees, foundation and corporation executives, policymakers and the national press.”

Written by Zannie Giraud Voss, Associate Professor, Duke University, and Glenn B. Voss, Assistant Professor, North Carolina State University, along with TCG staff members Christopher Shuff and Ilana B. Rose, the report examines unrestricted income and expenses, balance sheet, attendance, pricing and performance details and is organized into three sections that offer different perspectives.

The Universe section provides the broadest snapshot of the industry for 2006, examining an overview of 1,893 not-for-profit theatres—201 theatres that completed the survey and 1,692 theatres that filed IRS Form 990. Using an extrapolation formula based on annual expenses, findings include:

  1. Not-for-profit theatres made a direct contribution of nearly $1.67 billion to the U.S. economy through payments for goods, services and employee salaries and benefits.
  2. Theatres offered 172,000 performances that attracted over 30.5 million attendees.
  3. The majority of theatres’ employees are engaged in artistic positions, with an average workplace consisting of 62% artistic, 25% technical and 13% administrative personnel.
  4. 52% of total income came from earned sources and 48% from contributions.
The Trend Theatres section provides a longitudinal analysis of the 105 theatres that have responded to the TCG Fiscal Survey in each of the past five years. This analysis examines trends in earned income, expenses, contributed income and attendance figures. The trend analysis, although encouraging, also highlights areas of concern. Findings include:
  1. 65% of theatres ended 2006 in the black and deficits have been less severe in the past two years, while surpluses have been greater.
  2. Earned income growth exceeded expense growth, with earned income rising 8% in the past year alone and outpacing inflation by 17.8% over the 5-year period.
  3. Adjusting for inflation, contributed income rose 11.6%, total income was up 15.1%, while expense rose 6.2%.
  4. Average endowment earnings were at a 5-year high in 2006, increasing 33.5% in the past year and more than 600% over the five year period.
  5. Although total attendance declined 8% and subscription numbers continued to drop with 7% fewer subscription tickets purchased over the 5-year period, attendance and ticket sales were on the rise from 2005 with attendance increasing by 1.3% and single tickets sales rising 9%. Subscription ticket sales from 2005 to 2006 remained unchanged.
  6. Occupancy/building, equipment and maintenance costs increased each year, rising 34% above inflation over 5 years—the greatest percentage increase of all expenses.
  7. Working capital was negative in each of the five years and at its worst in 2006 indicating that theatres are carrying accumulated debt and are borrowing funds to meet daily operating needs.

The Profiled Theatres section provides the greatest level of detail for the 201 theatres that completed the TCG Fiscal Survey 2006. This analysis breaks down earned and contributed income, expenses, attendance, pricing and performance information by budget group and in aggregate. Findings include:

  1. On the whole, earned income financed 61.8% of total expenses and contributed income financed 46.9%, which shows that total income exceeded total expenses by 8.7%.
  2. Income from ticket sales represented 70% of total earned income and supported 43.5% of all expenses.
  3. The labor-intensive nature of theatre is evidenced by the fact that 56% of total expenses—$517 million—goes to compensation (including salaries, benefits and royalties to playwrights).
  4. Theatres received gifts totaling $135.5 million from individuals (the largest single source of contributed income), which supported 16.8% of total expenses and accounted for 36% of all contributed dollars.
  5. 52 theatres conducted capital campaigns that generated $82.9 million or 19% of all contributed funds.

These are only a few highlights from the findings reported in Theatre Facts 2006, which is now available free of charge on TCG’s website, www.tcg.org. For more information about Theatre Facts 2006, contact Chris Shuff, Director of Management Programs, 212.609.5900 x 248, or by email at cshuff@tcg.org.

THEATRE COMMUNICATIONS GROUP
Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for the American theatre, offers a wide array of services in line with its mission: to strengthen, nurture and promote the professional not-for-profit American theatre. Artistic programs support theatres and theatre artists by awarding approximately $3 million in grants annually, and offer career development programs for artists. Management programs provide professional development opportunities for theatre leaders through workshops, conferences, forums and publications, as well as industry research on the finances and practices of the American not-for-profit theatre. Advocacy, conducted in conjunction with the dance, presenting, music and opera fields, includes guiding lobbying efforts and providing theatres with timely alerts about legislative developments. As the country’s leading independent press specializing in dramatic literature, TCG’s publications include American Theatre magazine, the ArtSEARCH employment bulletin, plays, translations and theatre reference books. As the U.S. Center of UNESCO’s International Theatre Institute, a worldwide network, TCG supports cross-cultural exchange through travel grants and other assistance to traveling theatre professionals. Through these programs, TCG seeks to increase the organizational efficiency of its member theatres, cultivate and celebrate the artistic talent and achievements of the field, and promote a larger public understanding of and appreciation for the theatre field. TCG serves over 460 member theatres nationwide.

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Got Amex? Do Some Good for the World!

I also received this bit of encouraging propaganda from Theatre Communications Group:





THEATRE COMMUNITY COLLABORATES ON AMEX PROGRAM TO BRING YOUNG AUDIENCES TO LIVE THEATRE

Dear Friends:

We need your help! We need your vote today to Bring Young Audiences to Live Theatre!

We have just learned that Theatre Communications Group (TCG) in collaboration with the National Corporate Theatre Fund (NCTF) has been invited to partner on American Express’ The Members ProjectSM, an exciting new initiative that brings American Express® Cardmembers together to do something good for our world.

Selected among the Top 50 projects (out of 7,000 submissions) is one called Bring Young Audiences to Live Theatre. Should this project be voted as the final winning idea, TCG will serve as the “fulfilling organization,” and with NCTF, will support programs enabling more theatres to engage young people through free and reduced price theatre tickets, educational programs and other means. If this project is the final winning project, between $1million and $5million will benefit both NCTF members and the larger TCG universe of theatres.

American Express Cardmembers may vote for their favorite of the Top 50 projects through July 15! We are seeking to generate as much support as possible for Bring Young Audiences to Live Theatre, and ask for your help to spread the word to potential voters across the country and the world. These voters may be your audiences, staffs, trustees, donors, colleagues, friends… anyone who already holds an Amex card (or wishes to register for one).

In order for this project to advance to the next round, we need our community to be ready to vote now and often over the next month. The first round of voting goes only through July 15, at which point the projects will be narrowed to the Top 25. From July 17 to July 22, voting will begin to reduce the field to the Top 5 finalists, and from July 24 through July August 5, voters will select the final winning idea.

Following is a summary of the project:

Through The Members Project's Bring Young Audiences to Live Theatre initiative, the not-for-profit theatre community will collaborate on an effort to introduce more young audiences to the joy of live theatre through student matinees, family programming and other educational initiatives that make theatre accessible to children and families who would not otherwise be able to attend.

In addition, many theatres have developed special access programs aimed at encouraging college age and young adult audiences to continue their relationship with theatre. Reduced price access, special marketing programs, and other initiatives have helped ensure that young audiences don't lose the theatre-going habit as their lives get busier.

Live theatre helps build vital social skills in today's youth. Providing much more than just an appreciation of the arts, theatre exposes young people to unfamiliar cultures, new ideas, and diverse viewpoints while providing a pathway to self-expression, confidence and creativity.

Every day our world grows smaller. Tomorrow's leaders must embrace the very essence of tolerance and humility; they must develop heightened faculties of creativity, confidence, listening and debate. Live theatre and arts education programs are excellent ways of cultivating and strengthening these skills.

TCG and NCTF are uniquely positioned to access a national network of hundreds of not-for-profit theatre companies that can reach hundreds of thousands of American youth. But, we need your help to achieve the goal of providing more opportunities for young people to participate in live theatre at least once a year!

Please forward this email to a friend, an organization or group. In fact, distribute this email throughout your entire theatre community network and encourage them to go to membersproject.com, then Vote Now, then click on Arts & Entertainment and then vote for Bring Young People to Live Theatre, and help us effect positive change in young people's lives. Together we can do something good for our world and effect positive change in young people's lives!

For complete details on Theatre Communications Group and its participation in The Members Project please visit http://tcg.pmailus.com/pmailweb/ct?d=DSSB-wCJAAEAAADCAAFF8w.

For details on the National Corporate Theatre Fund, visit to http://tcg.pmailus.com/pmailweb/ct?d=DSSB-wCJAAEAAAFgAAFF8w.

Sincerely,

Teresa Eyring
Executive Director

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New Anthology of Mario Fratti Plays Announced

Lots of news today and not much commentary. That'll come later in the week.

For now, first up is an emailed press release I got this afternoon from Rochelle Denton announcing a book party in honor of a new anthology of plays by my colleague, drama critic Mario Fratti, and in honor of Fratti's upcoming 80th birthday.

Publication Event at Drama Book Shop on July 21, 2007

“Fratti's particular gift … choosing a dramatic situation, keeping it alive with sharp dialogue, drawing unequivocal characters and driving to a point. (Richard L. Coe, The Washington Post)

July 5, 2007 – In celebration of the 80th birthday of renowned playwright Mario Fratti. The New York Theatre Experience, Inc. (NYTE) proudly announces publication of Unpredictable Plays, a new anthology of works by Fratti.

Unpredictable Plays features 28 short works by theatre’s master of unpredictability, including several never before published plays and many that have been long out of print. A list of the 28 plays and other information is attached.

The book will be officially launched in a free public reading/book signing event at Drama Book Shop, 250 West 40th Street, on Saturday, July 21 at 4:00pm. The event will feature readings of three of the plays featured in Unpredicatable Plays by some of indie theater’s finest actors, including Arthur Aulisi, David Fuller, and Annie McGovern. Please visit http://www.nyte.org/unpredictable_dbs.htm for additional details about the event.

Mario Fratti is a playwright and a drama critic. He was born in Italy but has been living and writing in English in New York City since 1963. He has written more than 90 plays, which have been performed in more than 700 theatres in 19 languages. His most popular work is probably the musical Nine, which he adapted from Fellini’s , and which went on to win seven Tony Awards in 1982 and will be soon be a major motion picture.

The book is edited by Martin Denton, who has also edited NYTE’s Plays and Playwrights collections as well as the recent Playing with Canons: Explosive New Works from Classic Literature by America’s Indie Playwrights. NYTE is a nonprofit corporation providing advocacy and support for New York theatre. This book furthers NYTE’s mission of preserving important American dramatic work and bringing national and international attention to deserving works.

Unpredictable Plays is a trade paperback, 342 pages, ISBN 978-0-9794852-0-7. The suggested retail price is $20. It will be available for sale at Drama Book Shop and other bookstores, as well as online at amazon.com, bn.com, and stageplays.com. For more information about Unpredictable Plays, visit http://www.nyte.org/unpredictable.htm.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Tagged!

About a month ago, Rob Kendt tagged me and when I had coffee with him this past Friday, I told him I'd finally post a response. So the idea is to present eight random facts about myself, right? Well, here goes.

1) When I was a little boy (under 10), I used to save my pennies until I had 435 of them and I'd play a game called "Congress!" (and yes, it had an exclamation point). Heads meant Democrats and tails meant Repugs and I use to the flip all the coins and hope for a big liberal landslide. Alas, most of the time it was pretty divided government.

2) My last name is a fraud. According to my great-grandfather's sister (which would make her my great-great aunt), my great-great-great-great-grandfather was one of a group of brothers that were diamond merchants in Amsterdam. The original surname was De Groot, but the man from whom I am descended had a feud with the other brothers, changed the name to Jacobs, and his son, in the 1840s, moved to London. In 1990, I was actually able to locate this man, with the name Eleaner [sic] Jacobs, in the London census of 1851. He was then living with his wife Dinah and their first three children in the Whitechapel section of the city. I visited the street where they lived -- and where, in the summer of 1858, they left to come to America (Dinah was pregnant with my great-great-grandfather, Jacob Jacobs). Today, the small street has a nursing home that somehow made it through the blitz.

3) I have been interested in theatre since I was 9 years old or so. This was during the bad years of the 1970s in NYC, when there were horrid budget cuts to the school system. Our teacher got a break of about an hour or so day, when we were tended to by a man named Ben Finn, a WWII veteran who, among other things, had written a slew of plays and musicals for kids. One of them, a 20-minute version of Isaac Bashevis Singer's Gimpel the Fool, was proposed to be produced, and I auditioned for some reason (I don't remember what on earth propelled me to stand up) and was rewarded with the lead role. We did the play for the whole school (grades K-6) about a half-dozen times or so. There were, I think, two evening performances and obviously my parents were there for both of them. I came off the stage and said to my parents, "I want to be an actor." Their response: "We'll talk about it." It was a long conversation, I assure you.

4) My favorite fiction author is Robertson Davies.

5) The first time I set foot in a gym as an adult was on Memorial Day, 2002.

6) When I was born, all four of my grandparents were alive (aged 51, 51, 50 and 48), and three of my great-grandmothers were alive (aged 73, 75 and 79) as well as many of their siblings. I've been a lot of funerals.

7) I worked for a year and a half full-time at the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at NYU -- after I dropped out of college (for reasons that are personal and will remain so), this was how I got myself back into school (as the university gave me tuition remission). I have a LOT of stories about that time -- just about everybody came through that office, from Cher (with Chastity Bono) to the wife and son of Javier Perez de Cuellar (then the Secretary General of the UN) to The Facts of Life's Mindy Cohn, who refused to fill out a simple form containing her address because she was afraid of being stalked. Anyway, one of the admissions counselors was Andrea Dukakis -- the daughter of the 1988 Democratic presidential candidate. He had just lost when I started working there; I think she started about three or four months after I did. The day it was revealed that Kitty Dukakis, her mother, was abusing rubbing alcohol, Andrea was already in the building. I was the front desk manager, which meant I was the first line of defense in terms of admitting students into the building (a townhouse on Washington Square North) for interviews. Andrea was the biggest sweetheart in the world and obviously having this news about her mother coming to light was just devastating. The media had figured out where Andrea worked and there were news crews outside the building. Andrea asked me to lie to the media about her whereabouts and I did and Andrea hid until everyone was gone. That was one hell of a day.

8) I am a distant cousin by marriage of the playwright Elmer Rice.

Now, am I supposed to tag people too?

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Browsing III

Terry Teachout, who I know the blogosphere is so enamored of, had a very good piece in the June 23 Wall Street Journal on Goldstar, the for-profit service that is working to put butts in the seats at small venues across the USA. Of course, he couldn't help but take a swipe at the idea of publicly subsidized culture with his comment about "you'd better scrap the cultural entitlement mentality that has long dominated the marketing of the arts in America and start trying out new business models that make sense to postmodern audiences."

Cara Joy David is perplexed by Philip Boroff's economic and trend analysis of the most recent Broadway season. Good call on her part, although having done a great deal of such writing myself, it is exceedingly difficult to cogently read the tea leaves of the entertainment world's most inscrutable industry. More to the point, if audience levels for plays is at a 20-odd-year low, what are we to do? I say open the Tonys to Off-Broadway. I'll be writing more about that in an upcoming post.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Radar Magazine Joins the "What Up, Yo?" Fray!

Actually, that's a little bit misleading -- Radar Magazine doesn't seem to know me from a hole in the wall. I know that because I actually posed as a hole in the wall at their offices not very long ago and I was promptly and summarily ignored.

However, this feature article at Radar made me laugh with regard to the whole "What Up, Yo?" controversy. Of the 50 things you should never say, check out #38. Guess that'll teach me a lesson, hm? Yeah.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Arts Advocacy Update V

Baltimore Observed
The Urbanite Magazine, July 2007
"The pace of redevelopment in the arts and entertainment district at Station North in Baltimore is quickening. "Will it become the mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood it aspires to be? Or will it go the way of SoHo" -- where artists "clear the path" and others "come in behind and reap the benefits"? The Artist Relocation Program in Paducah, Kentucky, and Artspace in Minneapolis offer models for how to retain affordable space -- and artists."
The issues here obviously resonate far beyond Baltimore...how do we ensure that artists who put in the sweat equity to gentrify a neighborhood have opportunities to "reap the benefits" of their work. The League of Independent Theaters is going to be dealing with this same issue, I hear, at the July 31 convocation at Collective Unconscious.


Some push for arts in core curriculum
Boston Globe, 7/1/2007
In Massachusetts, "[a]rts advocates are pushing the state Department of Education to make arts education a bigger part of recommended high school graduation requirements, which list music, art, and related subjects as electives. The state, for the first time, has been drawing up a list of courses it would like all high schools to require, at a minimum, though the final decision remains with the school systems. Most high schools generally do not require art and music for graduation, but art groups say they want schools to be forced to require more arts. Otherwise, the arts will be cut even further in financially strapped schools, the advocates say."
Bravo. Would that NYC schools were as fully smart about this.


A $150 million spending spree
Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/7/2007
"If City Council gives its blessing next week, Mayor Street will wrap up his two-term tenure by spending his final months in office sprinkling $150 million among dozens of arts organizations, as well as neighborhood business and cultural strips throughout the city. . . . [D]ecisions about the recipients of these dollars will be made this summer."
Read this story. It's not quite as simple as it seems. That said, if all the money were to be spent in a single fiscal year, that would mean more money was being spent on the arts in just the city of Philadelphia than the entire presumed NEA budget for next year.


Montana Enhances Big Sky Filming Incentives
Shoot, 6/29/2007

"The Montana legislature and Gov. Brian Schweitzer have passed a measure that improves the Big Sky on the Big Screen Act, an incentives program designed to help the state keep and attract filming business. The initiative continues to apply to varied forms of filmmaking, including feature, TV programs, documentaries and commercials."
And I remember a few years ago when the worry was that all the film production was rushing to Canada. Now, a majority of the states have some sort of film incentive legislation on the books.


Preservation Deal Uses $230M Fund
GlobeSt.com (New York, NY), 6/28/2007
"Shaun Donovan, housing commissioner of New York City, teamed with foundations and banks to create what is being called the first preservation agreement through the New York City Acquisition Fund for affordable housing. The agreement, which was created in collaboration with nine philanthropies and financial institutions, include the preservation of 283 occupied low- and moderate-income apartments. The acquisition fund is a $230-million initiative that is designed to both build and preserve 30,000 units of affordable housing over the next 10 years. Of the 165,000 units, 73,000 are existing homes that will be preserved as affordable housing."
Very interesting story. We should all be paying attention to how this project develops.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Gone Fishin'

Well, not exactly fishin', but Ken and I are off to Fire Island to visit our friends until Thursday night or Friday morning. Will post again on the weekend.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Rockefeller Foundation Creates New Arts Fund

You've got to have a $250K annual budget to qualify, and this is not theatre centric specifically, but everyone should be aware of this new project.

This is the link to the online application.

Here are some of the guidelines:

The Rockefeller Foundation is committed to contributing to the cultural vitality, energy and diversity that define New York, the Foundation's home since its founding in 1913. New York City is currently experiencing tremendous economic, demographic, and social transformation, opening new possibilities to enhance the City’s traditional role as a global capital of creativity, culture and diversity and to ensure the future vitality of its cultural sector.

To help ensure that the NYC Cultural Innovation Fund projects demonstrate a high potential for innovation and creative engagement, the Rockefeller Foundation has named three leaders from the fields of innovation and the arts to serve as advisors to the Fund:

*Lowery Stokes Sims, Visiting Professor at Queens College and Hunter College and former President of the Studio Museum in Harlem
* David Thorpe, Senior Partner and Global Director of Innovation, Ogilvy Worldwide
* Andrew Zolli, Founder, Z + Partners, a consulting firm specializing in analyzing cultural, technological and global trends, and curator of the annual Pop!Tech Conference

The goal of the Rockefeller Foundation's New York City Cultural Innovation Fund is to recognize and support programmatic innovation and new opportunities in the cultural arena that will strengthen and advance the role the arts play in the future of the City.

To qualify, organizations must meet the following criteria:
* An annual budget of at least $250,000
* Tax exempt or other charitable status

Two-year grants, each totaling between $50,000 and $250,000, will be made for projects that fall into one or more of the following categories:
* Programming and premieres of new artistic work that demonstrate innovation and can activate new directions in the artistic breadth and depth of institutions in the visual, performing and media arts
* Creative engagement with the issues shaping New York City’s future cultural and civic agenda
* Partnerships that bring cultural and community-based institutions together with universities and the private sector
* Interventions designed to confront longstanding bottlenecks and limitations on the expansion of cultural vitality with fresh approaches and solutions

Please note...
...that organizations awarded funds in the 2007 round will not be eligible for an award in 2008.

Interested organizations are asked to briefly describe their proposed project in the NYC Fund for Cultural Innovation Web-based project submission form.

The 2007 deadline for initial application is July 20, 2007. Applicants invited to submit a full proposal will be notified by August 20, 2007.

The deadline for submission of full proposals is September 14, 2007. The Foundation will announce the Cultural Innovation grants in November 2007.

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New Podcast

The most recent podcast I hosted for Martin Denton on nytheatrecast.com is now up and downloadable for your delectation.

It was a terrific conversation about The People vs. Mona, which is running at the Abingdon Theatre. The interview was with Jim Wann (composer & co-librettist -- you'll know his name from Pump Boys and Dinettes), Patricia Miller (co-librettist), and Kate Middleton (producer).



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On Reclamation

My friend and colleague Martin Denton, in a June 29 post on the nytheatre i, talks about the Mint Theater Company and what a really extraordinary job Jonathan Bank has done over the last decade or more to locate neglected but worthy plays (if I may appropriate the title of the company's published anthology of such works). I review the Mint's work regularly and while there will always be a certain amount of variation in script quality, Bank has one of the keenest eyes (and ears) I've ever noticed -- you walk into a Mint show thinking, well, what super-hoary chestnut has he dug up this time? -- and then you find out that he has really discovered, or rediscovered, a gem.

I am posting on this because this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I wish to add, for example, that there are two other companies in town that have been making similar strides working with this kind of material, and because the Mint has become such a big deal (however deservedly), it tends to suck a lot of dramaturgical oxygen out of the room. The two companies are the Metropolitan Playhouse (where I have been the dramaturge on two Clyde Fitch revivals) and the Peccadillo Theatre Company, which has an affinity for American work from the 1920s and 30s.

I began getting interested in Fitch in 1997 and in a future post I'll talk a little more about how that happened, as it is a terrific story. The point is, 10 years ago the whole question of theatrical reclamation was very much not on anyone's radar. And one thing I still would like to see is a real focus on 19th century American drama -- the Augustin Dalys and Charles Hoyts and James A. Hernes, all of whom were men of letters in the generations immediately prior to Fitch and who laid down markers on which much of the 20th century American drama was derived. (I know that Jonathan Bank has some differing feelings about that, and while I respect him for his view, it is true that everyone, even Jonathan, has the right to be dead wrong.)

To wit, Metropolitan is really the only company -- not the Mint -- to consider early American drama more of a priority than forgotten British drama, which is really Bank's bent. I say this not as a criticism but as an observation. In the late 90s, Metropolitan had a great run of it, reviving Rachel Crothers' A Man's World, Langdon Mitchell's The New York Idea, Ed Chemely's brilliant adaptation of Eugene Walter's The Easiest Way, and Roi Cooper Megrue's It Pays to Advertise, among other plays. These were great and early American classics all -- all representative of the distinctive and palpable evolution in playwriting that was in evidence in the years immediately before the first World War.

So as much as I admire the Mint, in the spirit of flag-waving that accompanies the Fourth of July, here's to neglected but worthy American plays, and the desire to see them reclaimed, by Bank or by whomever. And thank you, Martin, for the post.

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Thank you, Jay Raskolnikov

Great post this morning on Jay Raskolnikov's blog on the racism question raised by Isaac -- and now that we know something of Isaac's background, a question quite understandably raised. And while I know I said I had given my final word on this topic, Jay's post, which I'm excerpting below (with props to you, Jay -- oh, sorry, is "props" racist?), really made me think, and I hope it makes all of you thought police to do the same.

"After the fallout of Don Imus I've been thinking about it, and this latest flare up has me asking is racism the new communism? Has McCarthyism just taken on a new cloak? We don't need a House Un-American Activities Committee now; there are more than enough people to do it on their own. Many of the people named weren't communists, just people who someone had a beef with, e.g. for a homophobe, there was no need to out somebody when you could just call them a commie...

There were actual communists in the US in the 1950's. Most of the people who were blacklisted were not. Elia Kazan named names, that is largely forgotten when we talk of him as a director. Simply naming names didn't end communism. And it won't end racism, though it can ruin a lot of careers...

In an environment as charged as the one we currently inhabit, it's easy for a mistaken word to be misconstrued and blown out of proportion. It is easy to lose context. It's easy to throw kerosene on a fire. It is far more difficult to put out a fire...
Should we just blindly look the other way? No, but simply calling people out won't change anything either. This is not specific to Leonard or Isaac. I think before we call others out, before we name names, we should take a moment of self reflection. What do you do in your actions? In your work? That speaks far larger than words."

As for me, I believe I did my part during the five years I was reporting, and I believe that I am continuing to do my part as a critic today. I do not believe -- and nothing that you can ever say to me will persuade me, so help me God -- that the phrase "What up, yo?" constitutes racially charged language, nor does the use of the phrase "P. Diddy and Howdy Doody," which is about wordplay, as I've said before. And while some of you say that Spike Lee said he would not cast rappers, there's been plenty of ink spilled in the last week in which Spike Lee says that he does not know how he's going to cast the play -- and if the rappers in question have talent, that's all I care about. I just think this is stunt-director casting, I think it is hurting the cause of artists of color who actually work in the theatre and have theatre chops, and I think that the whole lack of discussion about the Lee announcement in the blogosphere in the first place shows just how out of touch all of you are, anyway. You're like Pavlov's dogs: wave the politically correct flag and you all start drooling. But let's just remember who called you all out on your lack of discussion in the first place.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Watching a Dog Consume Its Own Vomit

Very funny and very on-point article in the Guardian, issue of June 28.

Salient graphs:

There's a new recycling process evident in the arts: the decent film which spawns a lousy musical now spawns an ever more dreadful movie.
And:

All this is a little like watching a dog consume its own vomit. We have become a witless, disposable culture, and it shows most clearly in our popular entertainment. Bad enough that theatre should look to the pop charts for inspiration; that it should also go scrounging from Hollywood - where original ideas are rarer than full-fat latt├ęs - is little short of terrifying. How long before some enterprising young producer seizes upon the chance to make a movie of the musical of "Spamalot"?("This 'Knights Who Say Ni!' stuff...this is gold!") Or a musical re-telling of that sparkling comedy classic, "Legally Blonde"?

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Final Word on Hate

And if you don't want to look at my blog anymore, that's fine. Goodbye.

And yes, this is from Off-Broadway's The Mad Show (think Alfred E. Newman), 1966, with music by Mary Rodgers and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (in what, to me, is a foreshadowing of "A Little Priest" from "Sweeney Todd").

And yes, that's Joanne Worley. Full lyrics below the video.




We're gonna stamp out Hate, that's our creed.
Wipe out Violence, Intolerance and Greed.
We're gonna start right now, tomorrow is too late.
We're gonna stamp! Out! Hate!

We're gonna stamp out Hate, stamp it in the ground
And then take Happiness and spread it all around
We'll put an end to Grief, we can hardly wait
We're gonna stamp! Out! Hate!

We're gonna stamp out Hate, sock it in the eye
Shoot it in the stomach, yelling Die! Die! Die!
We'll pull its insides out, and look at what it ate
We're gonna stamp! Out! Hate!

We're gonna stamp out Hate, lash it with a switch!
Amputate its arms and legs and see how long they twitch!
We'll put its toes on hooks and dangle 'em for bait!
We're gonna stamp! Out! Hate!

We're gonna stamp out Hate, show it who's the boss
Take it up a lonely hill and nail it to a cross
Won't it be kicks to watch the blood coagulate?
We're gonna stamp! Out! Hate!

We're gonna stamp out Hate. Poke it with a pick.
Chill it til it's solid, then we'll sell it on a stick.
We're gonna stamp out Hate. Kill without a trace.
Stick a finger up its nose and pull it off its face!

We're gonna stamp out Hate. Lynch him with a rope.
Find a Nazi doctor who can boil him down for soap.
We'll pull his teeth right out and sell the silver plate . . . . .

(A door opens -- footsteps approach...)

(spoken) Ladies and Gentlemen. In these troubled times
I think there's a lesson to be learned from these dedicated young people...
(whispered "okay, get the door.") ...
getting together on a, uh, eh?
(whispered "hold him still.")

(The singers garrote the speaker, drop him to the ground,
and then walk away nonchalantly,
as they whistle the final bar of the song.)

We're going to staaaamp .... ouuuut .... haaate .....

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