Friday, December 28, 2007

The Last Post of 2007

There were 321 posts on The Clyde Fitch Report this year.
My resolution for 2008 is to post more, and better, and more infuriating than ever.
What are your resolutions?

We're heading to the Berkshires until Monday night.
Happy New Year to all and to all a good night.

See you all in 2008.

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Did Jack Mackenroth Slam Self-Important Christian?

I know this is off-topic, but I just segued onto the blog of Jack Mackenroth, the designer from Project Runway who most unfortunately had to leave the show owing to a very serious staph infection. He really was, I think, one of the top two or three designers this season and I think he might very well have won if he had been able to stay.

Anyway, so I'm looking at his blog and I noticed he wrote a poem -- well, a variation on the lyrics to "Sister Christian" -- about fellow Project Runway participant Christian, who I frankly think is a poseur and not as gifted as he thinks he is, though I gave him props for slim-hipped swagger and audacity.

Anyway, take a look at the poem/lyric...seems like he's slamming Christian on the one hand yet rooting for him on the other. Maybe he's taking the "one day you're in, and the next you're out" ethos to heart.

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Invitation to a Mudsling

I almost never write about sleazy gossip, but this morning at the office I received an email that really made me stop and think for a minute. Essentially, it's an invitation to watch mudslinging:

Former Girlfriend Elizabeth Mazzocchi to Speak
Regarding Rape Accusation Against Actor Esai Morales

According to The Law Firm of Eisner & Frank, Elizabeth Mazzocchi intends to inform the public of previously undisclosed information concerning the actor Esai Morales’ alleged past acts of rape and sexual misconduct over the past twenty-two years. Liz hopes that by shedding light on these allegations, other potential victims of Mr. Morales will feel empowered to come forward to tell their stories as well. On advice of counsel, Liz will not be taking questions at this time.

Friday, December 28, 2007 at 10:00 AM

The Law Firm of Eisner & Frank
9601 Wilshire Boulevard
Suite 700
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Elizabeth Mazzocchi, former girlfriend and manager of Esai Morales,
Nader Pakfar and Jason Beckerman, Attorneys to Ms. Mazzocchi

Now, I'm not saying Elizabeth Mazzocchi wasn't raped or was raped or whatever she was. I do believe the California judicial system, having dispatched so beautifully such cases as the O.J. Simpson murder trial, will eventually reach a conclusion regarding Morales' innocence or guilt.

To me, there is just something so offensive about sending out an email to invite everyone to a press conference to talk about it all. Sure, if I was on the TMZ payroll, I'd be there and I'd care and it would be the most important thing in the world to me, with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto ranking somewhere below Britney's shaved cooch. But I'm not on the TMZ payroll, and this is just low-rent stuff.

It isn't enough to file a lawsuit or to work with a DA to launch a criminal investigation. Instead, the whole thing now has to become some kind of predictable performative exercise, and I bet any amount of money Mazzocchi teared up, right on cue, at some particularly gripping moment at the news conference. Sigh.

15 minutes of fame, baby
15 minutes of fame

Happy New Year.

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New Profile: Bob Saget

I wrote this profile of Bob Saget, who is in the about-to-close The Drowsy Chaperone.
Just my luck that the show's closing, right?
Still, he was a terrific interview and a very, very nice guy.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Review: Beckett Shorts

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50 Thoughts on Theatrical Criticism 6-10

6. As George Jean Nathan wrote in Passing Judgments (1935):

The quality of a critic is best to be appraised by the quality of his enemies. To analyze his worth it is only necessary to analyze the worth of those who detest him.

7. As John Mason Brown wrote in his Dramatis Personae (1963), the critic

...catechizes himself with such questions as the following, and finds asylum in the easiest answers. Is he writing to tell his public what happened and who was there? Is he only an audible member of the audience whose reaction are valuable mainly as they serve as a common denominator to what the town may think? Is he trying to help the actor and the playwright by constructive suggestions, or is he merely to describe them for prospective ticket buyers? Is he a middleman or an autocrat, a press agent or a synopsis manufacturer? Do his readers want to know what he thinks or learn about what they may like? Is he to parade his understanding or his adjectives, his knowledge or his enthusiasms? Is he to treat each production as an isolated unit, or judge it by comparative values? Is he paid to analyze technicalities or to amuse his public? Is he to turn crusader and fight for a play or a production or a group in which he believes, even when they are not ripened enough to warrant his praise, or is he to pass judgment only on the finished product? Is he to measure what he is asked to see by a general theory of the theatre, or come receptive, with his mind and body fresh for new impressions? In short—and this is more important than it may seem—is he to be a reporter, a reviewer, or a critic?

8. As Percy Hammond wrote in his But -- Is It Art? (1927):

Play reviewers are the most contented of men, although, as a rule, they profess not to be so. As you see them on first nights, sitting sullen at their machines, you fear that they are the repositories of most of the human woes. While others in the audience are indulging in applause, the critic remains grim and forbidding. He smiles not, neither does he clap his hands. Nevertheless, he is having a good time. If he likes the entertainment, he is enjoying it behind his gelid mask; and if he doesn't, he is happy in comtemplating revenge. His dejected exterior is but a part of his equipment, along with his stick, his spats, and his knowledge of Life and Aristotle. An ex-dramatic critic (Max Beerbohm, perhaps) has written that the most miserable of human beings is an ex-dramatic critic, excepting, possible, an unfrocked priest or an ex-senator of the United States.

9. As John Gassner wrote in his Theatre at the Crossroads (1963):

The proposal of those who periodically suggest that reviewers confine themselves to reporting instead of reviewing is impractical. A report also reflects an attitude (it is possible to summarize even Hamlet, as Voltaire once did, and make it seem pretty dreadful). The reader of the neutral report is unlikely to be sufficient impelling to rush to the box office. He may even construe mere reporting as a patent warning to stay away, for how could a reviewer remain neutral in encountering excellence? One solution, a producer's and press agent's dream, is that the drama critic contribute no neutrality but a contagious enthusiasm for dramatic art that will send readers pell-mell to the theatre. But the critic whose praise is indiscriminate will not hold his followers either, for no reader is likely to be subservient enough to take guidance for long from a reviewer who persistently overrates productions.

10. More from Gassner, after discussing how the critic interfaces with playwrights, directors, actors, and the like:

An effective critic ultimately commands the respect of these creators even when his criticism is negative. He earns the right to be listened to by the closeness of his reasoning, the scrupulousness of his analysis, and the interest and originality of what he has to say. It must be evident that his condemnation is not born of mere whim, prejudice or obtuseness. If his comments are astringent it is more probably that those he hurts will be in no mood to appreciate his uninvited censure. Its salutary effects are never immediately apparent; if his criticism has any vale it will be recognized only after the wound his closed. If the critic is not heeded by those who have some vested interests in the theatre of the present, he may instruct those who have none -- a new generation pressing close upon the heels of the old.

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Simply the Best Video Christmas Card Ever

Courtesy of Jen Ryan and Rik Sansone of Punch 59, whom we love dearly. Merry Christmas!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New Podcast: The Year in Review 2007

A little bit ago I recorded a podcast -- Episode # 182 - The Year in Review: 2007 -- for Martin Denton: click on the link to hear it as you might be amused, intrigued, provoked, infuriated and, well, maybe not infuriated, but you never know.

Here's the text from the nyblogcast blog:

Martin Denton hosts this look back at the highlights of the New York City theatre scene during the past 12 months. His guests are reviewer Michael Criscuolo and Leonard Jacobs, who is national editor of Back Stage magazine. (Michael is also the host of nytheatrecast’s Indie Theatre Life series; Leonard is launching the Leonard Jacobs Show on nytheatrecast starting in January 2008.)

The three, who reviewed hundreds of shows each last year, discuss many of the new plays, excellent performances, and interesting revivals that excited them during 2007. Dozens of shows are included!

Please send in your feedback about what you hear on the podcast, and what you think belongs on the list of the best of 2007 in NYC theatre.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Thursday, December 20, 2007

New Reviews: Doris to Darlene: A Cautionary Valentine

Here's my New York Press review of Doris to Darlene: A Cautionary Valentine.

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My New Monthly Podcast

Today I taped the first podcast of The Leonard Jacobs Show for Look for the podcast to be available toward the beginning of every month, starting in January.

And because I was far too much of a dolt to actually remember to say this "on the air," I'd like to give a big shout-out to Martin and Rochelle for being so kind to me and providing me with this opportunity. Thank you, thank you.

And the more I think about it, the more I think my first guest -- John Clancy -- is right when he suggests that I actually call the show "The Clyde Fitch Report." I just might do that going forward.

John was on the show talking about the League of Independent Theater, whose steering committee I'm on, and which is being promulgated by none other than John -- and especially Paul Bargetto.

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Arts Advocacy Update XXIII

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv.

Rockefeller Foundation Announces First Award Recipients of NYC Cultural Innovation Fund
Reuters - PR Newswire, 12/7/2007
"Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin announced today the first award recipients of the Foundation's $2.6 million New York City Cultural Innovation Fund. The Fund celebrates innovation and the creative sector through grants for trailblazing initiatives that strengthen the City's cultural fabric. . . . A major impetus behind the Rockefeller Foundation's creation of the New York City Cultural Innovation Fund was a 2005 report, prepared by the Center for an Urban Future, entitled 'Creative New York,' which presented troubling evidence that new economic pressures may result in New York City losing its traditional creative and competitive edge as a global cultural leader."
Kudos to The Civilians and to The Field for being among the recipients.

Film Festival Scores Victory for Free Speech
Reuters, 12/7/2007
The Ann Arbor Film Festival (AAFF) scored a key victory for free speech and artists' rights by successfully challenging and removing unconstitutional state arts funding restrictions with a federal lawsuit. As one of the oldest film festivals in the world, this Academy Award-qualifying festival is internationally renowned as a champion of artists and films that are bold, pioneering and artistically-inspired. These disputed state restrictions included a ban on funding art that contained 'depictions of flag desecration' and 'displays of sex acts.'"
And now, lots of films of burning flags and sex acts? Still, good for them!

Consultant advises Thousand Oaks to invest more in the arts
Venture County Star (CA), 12/8/2007
"The city of Thousand Oaks should invest more heavily in the arts and use general fund money to subsidize the Civic Arts Plaza, according to a consultant hired by the city. . . . In calling for more arts spending in Thousand Oaks, the consultants unveiled a comparison with nine other cities in California. It found the average total arts spending was more than $1.7 million a year, or about $24.47 per resident, or 1.5 percent of the city budget. Thousand Oaks currently spends $476,808 a year, or about $3.74 per resident, or 0.3 percent of its annual budget."
So, in other words, people, please give up four choco-loco-maka-lattes and you can have more arts.

Grants from cigarette tax revenues likely within a year
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), 12/12/2007
"Some Cuyahoga County artists and performers will likely get their hands on a chunk of the county's cigarette-tax money within a year. Trustees for Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, the agency created to administer the tax of 1.5 cents per cigarette, met Tuesday and said they expect to have a plan for doling out about $500,000 in grants to individual artists by late 2008."
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Kaine's budget leaves little extra for the arts
Richmond Times Dispatch (VA), 12/19/2007
Virginia's governor is cutting earmarks for arts and culture organizations in his proposed 2008-2010 budget. "So, unless the General Assembly restores the funding, such organizations as the Richmond Ballet, White House of the Confederacy, Theater IV, Valentine Richmond History Center and Barksdale Theater will get no state support."
In a state, mind you, that's had it's share of arts (specifically theatre arts) issues in recent years. C'mon, Kaine, we know you're able.

Obama gets arts nod from state commissioner
Nashua Telegraph (NH), 12/14/2007
"U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s New Hampshire campaign announced his platform to support the arts today. According to the release, as president, Obama, D-Ill., will: 'Invest in arts education to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made America great and that it will take to compete in a global economy. Support increased funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Promote cultural diplomacy to encourage American artists, performers and thinkers to represent our best values and ideals throughout the world. Ensure that artists have access to health insurance and are treated fairly under the tax code.'
Hello? New York anyone? Sounds great to me? Barack to the future.

How Groups of the Rich Diverge in Philanthropy
Washington Post, 12/6/2007
"Amid what some call the golden age of philanthropy, as high-tech entrepreneurs and financiers amass extraordinary wealth and emerge as philanthropic players, a study to be released today reveals specific behavioral patterns and motivations among the nation's wealthiest donors. The study's authors randomly surveyed 1,400 of the country's most affluent households -- defined as those with an income above $200,000 or a net worth higher than $1 million -- and discovered distinct philanthropic characteristics among donors grouped into 12 profiles. Researched and written by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and sponsored by Bank of America, the report, titled 'Portraits of Donors,' is believed to be the first quantitative study of high-dollar philanthropists." Among the findings is that "'Dynasty' households, in which fortunes are passed through generations, give the most to arts and cultural organizations."
Great report. Shame they don't list addresses, phone numbers, and sexual predilections. I have debts.

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The Visual Art of Tommy Tune

I met Tommy Tune for the first time outside the St. James Theatre when I was 15. He was in My One and Only with Twiggy that year, 1983, in a musical he had more or less created out of the Gershwin songbook, and he really was, in so many ways, the toast of the town. As for me, well, I was ravenous for autographs in those halcyon days, and believe me, when I wanted an autograph, I wanted it -- I used to chase some of those poor actors down the street. I'd say half of them were the various women from the original Broadway production of Nine, beginning with Anita Morris. OMG OMG, may she rest in peace. (In fact, in a post earlier this year, I wrote a little tribute to her.)

Anyway, I came up to about Tommy Tune's fingertips -- he's six-foot-eight or something like that. And what's odd is I was thinking about him just the other day, lamenting the fact that he hasn't directed a musical in years (speaking of Nine). I did see him on 42nd Street during the summer...he seemed sort of out of it, but then, at that height, that's probably natural.

And then, yesterday, I received an email press release. I'm pasting it below. But before I do, the email contained a long note from the man himself -- pasted in above.





Having been in the planning stages for several years,, the new virtual home for the sale and viewing of the artwork by the artist Tommy Tune, has officially been launched – the announcement was made by Tune and Peter Glebo, the gallery’s art director, from the artist’s studio high above Manhattan.

Tommy Tune, the nine-time Tony Award-winning director/choreographer/dancer and star has been a formidable painter throughout his legendary Broadway career and his art has been sold to numerous collectors and at auction over the years. Now, with the opening of, fans everywhere will have access to Tune’s vivid paintings that have been meticulously reproduced as limited edition lithographs.

Most importantly, all of the art is reasonably priced. In a message on the gallery’s website, Tune writes, “My intention is to provide art for everyone – affordable art.” Indeed, the 34 distinct images that introduce the gallery are each priced at $20. (For a limited time Tune will also personalize these lithographs for the buyer).

In this first collection of work, the virtual gallery visitor will come across some of Tune’s unique creations, evocative of his trademark visionary style: homages to Broadway, a series of animals from the “Dr. Doolittle Collection,” self-portraits (yes, in top hat and tails), and father and mother – “The Perfect Pair,” among others.

While the artist will continue to direct musicals on Broadway (there are several projects in the works), will finally give the public easy entree to Tune’s other creative body of work. In the gallery site greeting, Tommy continues, “I’ve tap danced thousands of steps in my lifetime, and I am sure each step has been matched by a corresponding brushstroke…”

To purchase art, for further information and for other inquires, go directly to

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

NEA Funding Rising, Potentially, By the Biggest Percentage in 24 Years

Isn't that good news? Depends how the money is allocated, of course, but I've got my hopes rising a bit.

Here's a press release I received yesterday from Americans for the Arts:

Americans for the Arts Applaude Major Funding Increase
To National Endowment for the Arts
$144 Million Approved for FY 2008

Washington, DC — December 19, 2007 — Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert L. Lynch gave the following statement on the preliminary Congressional approval of $144.7 million in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA):

“This week Congress is taking steps to approve a $20 million increase for the National Endowment for the Arts in its FY 2008 Omnibus appropriations bill. I applaud House Subcommittee Chairman Norm Dicks (D-WA) in leading the fight for this significant increase.

If this funding level is maintained by the Senate and signed into law by President Bush, it will represent the largest increase in 24 years. The agency, currently funded at $124.4 million has seen increases of under 3 percent for the last several years.

The NEA funding allocates specific amounts for the following programs: Direct Grants, National Initiative: American Masterpieces, State Partnerships, and Challenge America. While this budget will increase funding to direct grants to arts organizations, we will continue to work with our Congressional supporters to increase funding for the Challenge America program, a fund that supports artistic programs that reach underserved populations throughout the country. Challenge America received a slight cut while most of the program funding was directed to National Initiatives.

Our cause was championed earlier this year by Chairman Dicks as he held, on Arts Advocacy Day, the first hearing on arts funding in 12 years. Americans for the Arts was proud to be called on by Chairman Dicks to organize the hearing and present the panel of witnesses to testify in support of a significant increase to the NEA.”

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Rob Kendt Takes Down Hilton Als

And he does it far more nicely than what I do when I take down that awful, convoluted poseur, George Hunka. But that's neither here nor there. Read Rob's reaction to Als' review of August: Osage County in this week's New Yorker here. There's also Rob's reaction to John Lahr's profile of Harold Pinter in the same issue that he's still working on.

PS I read Lahr's whole piece. It really is that good.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Watch a Patriot on the FISA Bill

Caught this on Daily Kos. Brilliant. Watch from 3:40 on.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Are You a Sissy?

Click here to read all about -- and I do mean all about -- The Advocate's annual Sissy Awards.

Just to tease you, winners for 2007 include bathroom sex, Pope Benedict XVI, Paris Hilton, the Hollywood Reporter and, of course, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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Benefit: Alive in the World

I received an email press release today on this event.

Van Hill Entertainment & Gorgeous Entertainment
Adam Pascal, Greg Naughton, Daniel Reichard, Lea Michelle
Paul Scott Goodman's
a Benefit Concert for the Twin Towers Orphan Fund

at The Zipper Factory
Sunday, January 13th at 7 pm; Monday January 14th at 7 pm

Directed by Kurt Deutsch

Adam Pascal, singer/songwriter Greg Naughton, Daniel Reichard and Lea Michele have all been confirmed for a special concert presentation of Alive In The World, by Paul Scott Goodman, which will take place at the Zipper Factory (336 West 37th St.) Sunday, January 13th and Monday January 14, 2008. The production will benefit The Twin Towers Orphan Fund. Kurt Deutsch directs. Music direction is by Jim Abbott. Musical staging is by Dan Knechtges, Herrick Goldman is lighting designer.

Alive in the World is a bold new musical theater work about living and loving in post-9/11 New York City. Six characters explore feelings of longing, loss, hope, fear and happiness.

The Twin Towers Orphan Fund was founded on September 12, 2001 for the sole purpose of providing educational and welfare assistance to the children who were orphaned (who lost one or both parents) by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The mission of the Twin Towers Orphan Fund is to provide long-term higher educational assistance and mental and physical healthcare assistance for (a) children who lost parents in the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, or onboard the four downed airliners, and (b) children of victims of future terrorist attacks.

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Does New York City Need an Architectual Overhaul?

As I can neither draw nor imagine myself drawing, the title of this post might be somewhat on the misleading side. I developed my strong interest in architecture about 15 years ago when I was the archivist for Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates for about two years. I quickly realized that while I have, as I say, limited visual talents beyond imagining amazing sets and intricate blocking patterns for actors, I am fascinated by architecture as perhaps the highest mode of human interactivity, for no one, even a person living in a hut in a jungle, can escape architecture and how it affects (or does not affect) our existence and experience.

Which is why this article in today's New York Sun struck me for some reason. It's a review of a new book, "Architecture or Techno-Utopia: Politics After Modernism," and it deals with the idea that the hegemony of architectural modernism in New York City is something of a fallacy. During the tough, anti-Communist middle years of the last century, when the lean, brutal yet ineffably gorgeous Lever House and Seagram Building, for example, were the all and the it, the determined absence of ornamentation and the keen eschewing of classicism, it seems, was far from embraced by all corners of the design world. Perhaps New York City, then, needs a bit of an architectural overhaul -- and a new way to see how its architecture evolved during the 20th century.

James Gardner's use of terms in the aforementioned article is a little on the heady side (here's another piece by him, by the way, on Frank Gehry and the IAC Building in Chelsea) but it's eye-opening reading nonetheless.

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New Profile: Theodore Mann

A few weeks ago I profiled Ted Mann, co-founder of Circle in the Square, who just penned his autobiography.

I first interviewed Ted when I was about 25 so it was great to meet up with him again. Give this new profile on Ted a read.

Some interesting stuff here.

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New Review: The Homecoming

Here is my Back Stage review of The Homecoming.

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New Review: Trumpery

In the New York Press (slight typo soon to be fixed).

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Quite a list of people on's 2007 People of the Year.

I would give particular shout outs to:

1) The Frigid Festival (specifically Erez Ziv and Morgan Lindsay Tachco of Horse Trade)

2) The Metropolitan Playhouse (specifically Alex Roe, who I have long had the pleasure of calling a friend, and where I have, from time to time, worked as a director and dramaturg)

3) T. Schreiber Studio (where I have moderated several panels and quite agree that Cat Parker's production of Sister Cities was a total knockout)

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Historicism

I just read a Nov. 26 post by Rob Kendt and felt like I wanted to respond.

In his post, Rob points to an essay by Charles McNulty published in the Los Angeles Times. It's rather the same story Charles Isherwood wrote in which he asked playwrights to return to the Great White Way from icky-poo California -- which in turn made Jon Robin Baitz, writing for the Huffington Post, a blogospherical warrior. McNulty's approach, however, was somewhat more kind that Isherwood's. Just look at the headline:

What are playwrights waiting for?
The issues underlying Broadway's shutdown are rife across the U.S.

In McNulty's piece, the end of one particular paragraph and the beginning of the one that follows it struck me as particularly salient:

And theater critics such as Shaw, George Jean Nathan, Kenneth Tynan, Eric Bentley and Frank Rich have never hesitated to remind artists of their higher mission.

Broadway, chockablock with tourist trash, hasn't been a particularly hospitable environment for trenchant social vision lately.

While McNulty is right about the former, he is not, I feel, especially right about the latter in the sense of the word "lately." Broadway has been unfriendly to the trenchant social vision for at least 40 years, and the exceptions are just that -- anomalies.

McNulty's problem with Broadway is really one of expectations: Because the nation has branded Broadway as representing the finest theatre Americans can create, we naturally expect that it will serve our highest goals and ideals. But fundamentally, Broadway is a business, not a social-service platform, and the result is that those goals and ideals are not prioritized as we might like them to be.

Let's also acknowledge that everything depends on the definition of "trenchant social vision." One might cite Angels in America from the early 1990s, but I'm not sure one could name five other Broadway plays from that period that unquestionably match Kushner's "trenchant social vision." August Wilson's plays might constitute such a vision, but what other plays on Broadway were contemporaneously as fervent and poetic, as -- indeed -- trenchant.

The question I have is why we demand of Broadway what Broadway, by its temperament and nature, is not likely to provide?

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Thoughts on Aaron Riccio's Thoughts on Theatrical Criticism

Aaron Riccio put a post up last Sunday on the ethics of critics changing their minds -- whether, in an age of blogposts that are easily published or unpublished, it is ethical to modify a review if a critic should experience a major change of heart. Aaron writes:

We've allowed John Simon to change his mind entirely about Sondheim over the course of 40 years (though the plays themselves haven't changed, only the times), so why not compress that and allow -- nay, expect -- that critics give themselves the room, even if only on the Internet to self-correct? Wouldn't that be an excellent use of blogging? The PR firms would still have their blurbs, and if the internet really is as shabby a tool as they think, any later corrections wouldn't really change those (not like the pull quotes are always honest, either).

Well, I have to digress a bit and say I'm not sure we've "allowed" John Simon to do anything, really, except degrade and terrorize theatre artists through the use of gorgeously styled prose for 40 years. Still -- and more to Aaron's point -- it's hard for me to imagine a blogger going back in 40 hours, much less 40 years, and changing the essential gist of a post. Were lightning to strike and a critic to experience a change of heart, it seems to me that writing a new post, one that might consider the ideas in the original post and explain how the change of heart occurred, what drove it, what inspired it, would be more instructive for the reader -- and for the critic, too.

I agree, meanwhile, that the great thing about the Web is having the ability to ameliorate grammar and spelling, or to use the form's real-time capabilities to engage readers -- letting ticket-buyers comment on critics' views, for example.

True, there's lots of this already -- in traditional media as well as, of course, the blogosphere. But there's actually another reason I mention this particular use of the Web. Before I reviewed The Homecoming the other night, I went into the New York Times archive and reread Walter Kerr's review of the play. If I may, I want to just share one of Kerr's most inert, obnoxious, eye-popping ledes:

Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming" consists of a single situation that the author refuses to dramatize until he has dragged us all, aching, through a half-drugged dream.

Yikes, guess he didn't like it.

Anyway, as I was researching, I noticed that the Times used to encourage people to write in with their criticisms of the critic's criticisms and would publish it -- I'm talking voluminously. And much of it was quite literate. Sure, the Times still publishes letters, obviously, but they're never long enough to indulge in the kind of deep engagement found in the pages of the Times 40 years ago -- ditto the comments one can sometimes post on the Times' website.

Well, that's what a blog can really do: forcibly insert the critic into a conversation.

Back to the question. To me, it seems that entirely changing the substance of a review -- that is, doing a true 180 -- leaves the critic vulnerable to charges of intellectual dishonesty. If you're a person who likes to attack Hillary Clinton as someone who arrives at her political views by wagging her finger in the wind, it's easy to imagine someone accusing a critic of doing the same thing, say, after reading what his or her colleagues think of a particular play.

Mind you, I'm not saying such an accusation would be fair. I'm just saying it could be made.

Which actually raises one other thought. Personally, I don't believe critics who say they don't read each other's work or discuss what they think. I think a fair number do -- probably well after the reviews are all out, or as it strikes their fancy.

And I do think it's a good thing in the long run if a critic is open enough to other views that their own thinking might evolve over time -- so we're back to Aaron's John Simon example.

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50 Thoughts on Theatrical Criticism: 1-5

I've been bitten by the list bug. Here's the first 5 -- on theatrical criticism.

1. The critic's responsibility is to ricochet intelligently and conscientiously between three distinct yet interrelated constituents: practitioners, readers/browsers, and the critics' conscience. Only the rarest of critics can interface with all three constituencies at once and with equal effectiveness, although that is the ideal.

2. In another sense, the critic speaks to the consumer (i.e., the ticket-buyer) with whom he or she may have no communion, or speaks to the artistic community, of which the critic is a part. Consumer-oriented criticism is fundamentally concerned with quantification. Aesthetic-oriented criticism is fundamentally concerned with qualification.

3. Critics teach. Critics also learn.

4. Critics evaluate the present and contextualizes it with the past. Ideally, critics synthesize past and present into expectations and proscriptions for the future.

5. Practitioners can make ideal aesthetic critics. Aesthetic critics do not necessarily make ideal practitioners.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Here's a Great Idea for a Play

Here's a great idea for a play:

The intelligent and politically savvy ex-wife of an incumbent mayor of a midsize city announces she will form an exploratory committee.

The mayor may or may not be able to run again, due to term limits, but there is bit of political support for the city charter to be changed.

Meanwhile, the spectre of exes facing off against each other feeds the media machine. They're both Democrats.

This is already happening -- potentially -- in Albuquerque. Watch the video.

My guess is these two exes won't face off. But as I say, what if this is a play? Who'd win?

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Raising the Conundrum of an American Theatre

Not a long post on this, but as someone who admired Columbinus a great deal, I read with interest this Chicago Tribune piece on P.J. Paparelli and his American Theatre Company. Great name, of course, and redolent of the American National Theatre that actor Sean Cullen tried to start up a few years ago, recruiting me and everyone else on earth, I guess, to be on this or that committee.

Paparelli isn't saying that he wants to create a national American theatre, but what do we all think of the idea? It goes all the way back you realize, even well before Eva Le Gallienne, who I wish I could have met.

Some say our regional theatre system IS our national theatre. Yes? No?

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Led Zeppelin

My friend Jen Ryan (you'll recognize her from the various Bill & Betty sketches) is with her Mom attending the Led Zep concert in London. Click here and watch the video.

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150 (AND COUNTING) NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATIONS TO BENEFIT, the revolutionary new way to go to Broadway (and save the world!) has been launched; it was announced by Jordan Roth, Vice President, Jujamcyn Theaters. Tickets to most Broadway shows are currently available at

At, theatergoers can give and get (thus becoming “giveniks”) by getting discounted tickets to dozens of Broadway and Off Broadway shows and simultaneously giving back to charity as 5% of their ticket price goes directly to the not-for-profit organization of their choice.

With, the ticket buyer can save and support and charitable organizations that join can develop a novel, year-round fundraising mechanism.

At present, more than 150 organizations (and counting) have joined, from national groups to local chapters, and from arts organizations to educational institutions. Among them are Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Dress for Success, God’s Love We Deliver, Central Park Conservancy, People for the American Way, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Habitat for Humanity, The Dance Theatre of Harlem, local chapters of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, as well as numerous community PTA’s, public schools and temples., the first Broadway endeavor of its kind, joins the current movement of ‘cause marketing’ initiatives throughout all industries that foster the cooperative efforts of the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors for mutual benefit.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

New Reviews: Is He Dead?

My review of Is He Dead? is up at Back

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Terrible Irony of the Boy Scouts, Homophobia, and Pedophilia

I'm curious how many people read an article in Thursday's Times headlined "Boy Scouts Lose Philadelphia Lease in Gay-Rights Fight." In essence, the City of Brotherly Love decided to insist that the Philadelphia Council of the Boy Scouts of America renounce its discriminatory and hate-fueling policies against homosexuals or else face expulsion from a Beaux Arts municipal building that has been hailed, the article says, "as the birthplace of the Boy Scouts."

The Scouts' council refused, so the city told the council to go bye-bye -- that is, to get out of the municipal building which the Scouts' council has been renting for $1 a year since 1928. Oh, and the city owns the land under the building, so, indeed, it is out, out, out they will go -- evicted as of June 1, 2008.

Although I was in the Scouts when young, I hope those homophobes fall on their asses when they're booted.

In the article there's a great quote from a Philadelphia City Councilman, Darrell L. Clarke: " can not be in a city-owned facility being subsidized by the taxpayers and not have language in your lease that talks about nondiscrimination."

And a quote from a devil spawn named Gregg Shields (pictured): "Since we were founded, we believe that open homosexuality would be inconsistent with the values that we want to communicate with our leaders. A belief in God is also mentioned in the Scout oath. We believe that those values are important. Tradition is important. Our mission is to instill those values in scouts and help them make good choices over their lifetimes."

One of them is pedophilia, apparently, for there was this article, also in the Times on Thursday, about a scout leader "who once sued the City of Berkeley for challenging a national Boy Scout ban on members who are gay or atheist" being arrested on felony charges "that for at least five years he sexually abused young males in the troops he led." There are 19 counts in all. And one hell of a merit badge.

Good work, Gregg.

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A West Side Story Reunion

Also received this press release via email yesterday:




Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is pleased to announce the 19TH ANNUAL GYPSY OF THE YEAR COMPETITION will take place on Monday, December 17 (4:30 PM) and Tuesday, December 18 (2 PM) at the New Amsterdam Theatre (214 West 42nd Street). The GYPSY OF THE YEAR COMPETITION, which will be hosted this year by Jackie Hoffman (Xanadu), Bob Saget (The Drowsy Chaperone) and Mary Testa (Xanadu) is produced by and benefits BC/EFA.

This year’s GYPSY OF THE YEAR COMPETITION will be one for the history books as BC/EFA will create a special opening number in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the original Broadway production of West Side Story. The number, a medley of songs from the show, will feature two time Tony Award winner, Chita Rivera (Anita) and her original West Side Story co-stars including Mickey Callan (Riff), Carol Lawrence (Maria), Ken LeRoy (Bernardo), Jamie Sanchez (Chino) and Reri Grist (Consuelo) who debuted the now classic ballad “Somewhere”.

They will be joined by cast members from the run of the 1957 landmark production including: Genii Charnin, Harvey Evans, Marilyn D'Honau, Alan Johnson, Gene Gavin, Ronnie Lee, George Marcy, Liane Plane, Martin Charnin, Grover Dale, Bill Guske, Ed Kressley, Sandy Leeds, Tony Mordente, Carole D'Andrea, Frances Davis, Lowell Harris, Julie Oser-McLeod, Noel Schwartz, and Gina Tricones. These legendary gypsies will be joined by gypsies from currently running shows.

The original production of West Side Story, produced by Robert E. Griffth and Harold Prince, conceived and directed by Jerome Robbins, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim opened on September 26, 1957 ran for 732 performances, closing on June 27, 1959. Mr. Robbins won the Tony Awardâ for Best Choreography.

The GYPSY OF THE YEAR opening number, which will recreate the original Jerome Robbins choreography, is being staged and directed by Joshua Bergasse with musical direction by Ben Cohn.

The GYPSY OF THE YEAR COMPETITION is the event of fall theatre season as the New York theatrical community gathers to see “gypsies,” chorus members from Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, participate in a competition/variety show known as the GYPSY OF THE YEAR COMPETITION. The competition is traditionally the culmination of intense fundraising efforts made by the theatrical community. During the recent Broadway work stoppage, many Broadway shows’ fundraising efforts were interrupted.

Tom Viola, executive director of BC/EFA said, “We are thrilled that Broadway is back and we look forward to everyone coming together to celebrate Broadway at this year’s GYPSY OF THE YEAR COMPETITION at the New Amsterdam Theatre.

“During the work stoppage, we received an outpouring of support from our friends across the country to see what they could do. Broadway shows that weren’t affected by the work stoppage redoubled their efforts to raise funds. In addition, shows Off-Broadway, on tour, and among the country’s regional theatres reached out and joined in to do all that they could to help.

“Now that Broadway is back in full force, our friends across the theatre district have eagerly jumped back into fundraising efforts. On behalf of the staff and Board – but most importantly the thousands of individuals and hundreds of AIDS and family service organizations we support, especially The Actors’ Fund, we offer our most sincere and heartfelt ‘thank you.’”

Ticket information: VIP and Priority tickets ($350 and $200) and other tickets ($110/$40/$20) can be purchased online at, in person at BC/EFA, 165 West 46th Street, Suite 1300, by phone at (212) 840-0770, or at the door the day of the event.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) is the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fund raising and grant making organization. BC/EFA is the on-going, committed response from the American theater community to an urgent worldwide health crisis. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of this community, BC/EFA raises funds for AIDS-related causes across the United States. Since it’s founding in 1988, BC/EFA has raised over $140 million for critically needed services for people with AIDS, HIV and other related illnesses.

For further information, please call (212) 840-0770 ext. 268.
For more information, visit:

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What We Need is Young Blood

Or Youngblood, as the text of this press release I received yesterday will tell you.


Playwrights Lucy Alibar, Jesse Cameron Alick, Robert Askins and Steven Levenson are the newest members of Youngblood, Ensemble Studio Theatre's collective of emerging professional playwrights. Youngblood serves as the creative home for the next generation of theatre artists, providing peer support, artistic guidance, and a fertile production environment. Through year-round programs including their signature Mainstage production THICKER THAN WATER (recently published by Dramatists Play Service) and the acclaimed monthly YOUNGBLOOD SUNDAY BRUNCH series, Youngbood provides new writers with exposure to the public, the press, and the industry. The new additions bring the current Youngblood membership to 16, including such rising artists as Annie Baker, Amy Herzog, and Michael Lew.

"Youngblood is a challenging, fun, vibrant group, a great way to develop new writers," said EST Artistic Director William Carden. "Their continued growth is an important part of EST's artistic life."

The four new members were selected from over one hundred applications from playwrights across the city. After reading all the submitted scripts, Youngblood Artistic Directors Graeme Gillis and RJ Tolan interviewed 20 finalists before making final selections.

"We're always looking for the most individual voices," said Tolan. "Narrowing down such a great talent pool is always a brutal process, but eventually some folks just stick in your mind. It's the ones we keep thinking about that usually end up in the group."

"We want the Youngblood writers to have a diverse collection of backgrounds, different ways of seeing the world," added Gillis. "Each of the new members bring that to the table."

Lucy Alibar's plays include Juicy & Delicious (The Tank, Collective Unconscious); A Friend of Dorothy (Best of Montreal Fringe nomination, Avignon, Bath, and Edinburgh Festivals); Gorgeous Raptors (Young Playwrights Festival, Cherry Lane Theatre), and Home Baking Made Easy (Williamstown Theatre Festival). Lucy is an Affiliated Artist of New Georges, SLAM Theatre and SLANT Theatre Project. She was selected by The Dramatist Magazine as one of their 50 Playwrights to Watch in 2007.

Jesse Cameron Alick works as the Artistic Director for Subjective Theatre Company as Associate Producer for Smokin Word Productions and as Assistant to the Artistic Director at the Public Theater. His work has been heard at locations that include Cherry Lane Theater (Downtown Urban Theater Festival), Asian American Writers Workshop (co-produced by New York Theater Workshop), Collective Unconscious, Brooklyn Borough Hall, Museum of the City of New York (produced by Harlem Arts Alliance), CSV, Blue Heron, Bowery Poetry Club, The Poetry Café (UK) and Hip Heaven (UK).

Rob Askins is a playwright and actor from Houston, Texas. He has won awards for his playwriting in Texas, was published in North Carolina and has been produced in New York City. Rob has received commissions from the E.S.T./Sloan project and DiverCity Theatre as well as a visiting artist grant from Baylor University. This past summer Robert traveled to Prague where one of his pieces was performed on the Scenofest Stage at the Prague Quadrennial.

Steven Levenson's plays include Airless, The Play Room, and The Desert of Final Cities. His original musical Torah! Torah! Torah! was produced this past summer at Brown/Trinity Playwrights Repertory Theatre. His play The Language of Trees has been read and developed by New Dramatists, Ashland New Plays Festival, Temporary Theatre Company, and Sum of Us Theatre Company. Steven is a graduate of Brown University.

In the past year there have been over a dozen major productions of current Youngblood playwrights across New York City and throughout the United States at such theatres as New Georges, Naked Angels, Yale Rep, and Ma-Yi Theatre. Recent productions by Youngblood alumni have included Lincoln Center, the Atlantic Theater Company, 13p, the Royal Court Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the Mark Taper Forum. Since its inception in 1993, Youngblood has fostered over one hundred working playwrights including Zakiyyah Alexander, John Belluso, Amy Fox, Ann Marie Healy, Elizabeth Meriwether, Qui Nguyen, Christopher Shinn, Lloyd Suh, and Lucy Thurber.

Founded by Curt Dempster in 1971, Ensemble Studio Theatre (William Carden, Artistic Director; Paul Slee, Executive Director) is the premier developmental theatre in the United States, fostering the creation of thousands of new American plays. Its membership comprises the largest standing company of theatrical artists in the country, with 500 playwrights, directors, actors, and designers, including Pulitzer, Tony, and Academy Award winners.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Arts Advocacy Update XXII

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv.

This week, two announcements:

Americans for the Arts and Sundance Preserve Host Second Annual National Arts Policy Roundtable Americans for the Arts
You can find a good description of the most recent version of this event here. To my woozy eyes, it initially seems like one of those wonk-fests where people discuss what people should discuss. But, in fact, it's a fascinating topic: how can creativity be utilized to make U.S. industries more adaptable and competitive?

21st annual Arts Advocacy Day
March 31 - April 1, 2008, Washington, DC
This will include the annual Nancy Hanks lecture, to be delivered by Daniel Pink, the author of A Whole New Mind and Free Agent Nation. More information can be found here.

And now with this week's items:

Arts chief warns of cultural 'apartheid'
Guardian Unlimited (UK), 12/2/2007
In the UK, "Sir Richard Eyre, the distinguished director who led the National Theatre for 10 years, has warned that 'apartheid' in the arts is denying millions of people access to high culture. Identifying a chasm between those who feel the arts are for them and those who are disenfranchised, Eyre said failure to instill in schoolchildren an appreciation of theatre, art and classical music means the situation is deteriorating. The director is concerned that the next generation will turn its back on the world of classical art and entertainment."
The funny thing about this is, people get very upset when I illustrate a point -- say, about the received wisdom of a group of people, say, for example, at the Culture Project's A Question of Impeachment -- but somehow it bothers no one that Sir Richard Eyre would employ the term "aparteid." Another term that is a bit suspect in this context is "disenfranchised" -- in the sense that the millions of people Eyre claims are being denied "access to high culture" more than likely remain unaware they are being denied such access. Some are aware, of course. And the importance of instilling an appreciation for any kind of culture in the young is quite clear. I would also add, though, that the manner in which those schools that do instill this appreciation go about their work should also be under review. It's not just a question of the interest of our children but how we go about generating that interest.

EU funds research into roles for older female performers
The Stage (UK), 12/4/2007
"Global union the International Federation of Actors has won EU backing for a Europe-wide investigation into television and theatre opportunities for female performers over 40. Grant money of more than €150,000 has been awarded from Brussels for the research, which will examine what roles exist for older women and how decisions are made when casting parts which can be played by either sex. It will also look how women over 40 are portrayed in television and theatre."
And the U.S. component of that study will be headed up by...(sound of air escaping).

Stalled Brooklyn Arts District Regains Momentum
New York Times, 12/5/2007
The plan to transform the parking lots near the Brooklyn Academy of Music "into a cultural district reminiscent of the Left Bank in Paris" elicited both excitement and fear from "longtime Brooklynites of a Manhattan-oriented enclave, where local artists would be snubbed. A recent decision by city officials may help to quiet some of those anxieties — and may finally give the long-stalled arts district some momentum."
Specifically, this piece talks about Danspace and the beginning of construction for Theatre for a New Audience's new space. Would be nice if the latter happened, since the building is co-designed by Frank Gehry and my old boss, Hugh Hardy.

The art of education must include the arts
Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/29/2007
In Philadelphia, "[s]chool district administrators confirm there are literally no music or art teachers in the city's middle and high schools - even though music and art are core curriculum subjects with minimum standards for instruction. Those who care about arts learning in Philly schools are hoping that the School Reform Commission's new CEO, Sandra Dungee Glenn, will include art and music in her priorities. For now, organizations such as the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership and the National Endowment for the Arts are picking up some of the slack."
From the files of the Unfunded Mandate...

The Artist and Power, 2007
"This is an excerpt from 'Leading Through Practice,' a research paper by Anne Douglas and Chris Fremantle, published online in March 2007 by a-n The Artists Information Company. The full paper is an in-process presentation of the research gathered during the Artist as Leader program, which aims to understand artists' influence on shaping the role of creativity in culture, focusing on the concept of leadership. Say the researchers: “It opens up a new trajectory of thinking about leadership that is not predominantly management-based, in which the role of artist operating within the public realm is scrutinized for what it can reveal about creativity in general.” The editors of the paper invited four contributions — Linda Frye Burnham, Reiko Goto, Francis McKee and Tim Nunn — to demonstrate a range of perspectives. This excerpt looks at artists and the concept of power."
I would actually like to quote this particular section, as I think this goes to the heart of what my detractors have been harping on -- and perhaps why some people don't want me to leave this blogging biz. Even though this report is from the U.K. (you can download it here), I think there is much application for the American creative mind and spirit:

Artists who accept the relevance of leading through practice seem to have an ambivalent relationship with power. The leadership discourse in business is becoming more self-critical but still favours heroic or celebrity models:

“Leaders have been referred to as idols (The Economist, 2002), heroes (Bennis, 1997; Collins, 2000; Raelin, 2003; Shelton, 1996); saviours (Khurana 2002); warriors and magicians (Tallman, 2003) and omnipotent and omniscient demi-gods (Gabriel, 1997; Noer, 1994)” (Morris, Brotheridge and Urbanski, 2005).

These models stand in stark contrast to the qualities that Linda Frye Burnham has discovered over thirty-five years of writing and publishing community art practice. A good artist-leader is “a cultural animator building and participating in community life”. He or she is an analyst able to “read situations rapidly and accurately” (Arlene Goldbard) thereby acknowledging expertise in people about their lives. He or she is a collaborator who “motivates others to share a vision” (Lee Ann Norman), a connector, an organiser, a revolutionary, a good negotiator, an entrepreneur and a lover (John Malpede). Such approaches are consistent with emerging perspectives on leadership, particularly associated with the Lancaster Leadership Centre15, which stress that followership is an indispensable part of the leadership equation, and which questions many traditional top down practices.

New York in Bulgaria
Sofia Echo (Bulgaria), 12/4/2007
Nu Boyana Film Studios in Sofia, Bulgaria, is creating a film set "designed to mimic the architectural style and layout of New York's Lower Manhattan neighbourhoods." Movies set in New York could then be filmed in Sofia for a fraction of the cost -- even taking into account New York City's "Made in NY initiative" that offers "15 per cent tax credits to productions that would complete at least 75 per cent of their stage work within New York."
Which streets? That's my first question. My second question is, Are there the same homeless people? Does the N train still suck? Does that apple still cost $4 at the Korean deli? Does that maccalaccachica coffee at Starbucks still cost $37 and your first-born?

Cuyahoga Arts and Culture prepares to distribute cigarette-tax money
Cleveland Plain Dealer (OH), 12/4/2007
In Ohio, "Cuyahoga Arts and Culture will distribute $15 million to nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in each of the next three years. . . . That's a bit short of the $20 million that had been touted during the campaign for the tax, but executive director Catherine Boyle said a recent state law banning smoking in public places already has lowered cigarette sales. The agency is predicting about a 7 percent annual decline in revenues from the tax, levied at 1.5 cents per cigarette, for the foreseeable future."
Seems to me we're going to have to find a new bad habit to parasitically hijack for the good of the arts. Transfats, maybe? The value of the commercials sold during episodes of "I Love New York." Speaking of which, if I had a kid, I could name her 14th Street. Then we could have "I Love 14th Street," in which you'd have to find the best $5 sandals possible.

NEA and Arts Education Funding Stalled
TCG Bulletin, December 2007
"Potential historic increases in funding for the NEA ($35 million, approved by the House in June) and Arts Education within the U.S. Department of Education ($3 million, approved by both Houses in their Conference Report) are in jeopardy as Congress and the White House face off over total spending for the current fiscal year."
In my earlier post I listed many of the companies receiving grants.

Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Awards $15.1 Million for Arts Initiative
Philanthropy News Digest, 11/29/2007
The largest performing arts grant in the history of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is a new $15 million grant to launch a national initiative called Leading for the Future: Innovative Support for Artistic Excellence. "The initiative will support up to ten leading dance, jazz, theater, and presenting organizations with grants of $800,000 to $1.8 million, plus technical and advisory assistance, in support of new programmatic, financial, and operational approaches designed to enhance their effectiveness, adapt to complex trends affecting the performing arts, and demonstrate what works to the broader performing arts field." It is part of new foundation efforts "to increase the flexibility of how its funds are used and will focus on bold new strategies and a holistic approach to how arts organizations operate."
Bravo. Sign me up.

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The Way the Winds Are Blowing

The way the winds are blowing is clear. In the next few weeks, most likely in a new format (typepad, perhaps?), I'm going to reorient this blog away from the New York theatre, per se, except for pointing out reviews and articles I may write, or trying to do some good for those who may care. Certainly I'm going to reorient this blog away from the theatrosphere and its various players, all far more intelligent, tactical and simply worthy of inclusion in that universe than I am. It's been an interesting ride so far, but I'm tired of intellectually dishonest twits and people who are just, well, dishonest. As the Schadenfreude Choir revs up in response to Isaac's take-down of me on his blog, I've concluded the best thing is to let all sing loud and clear and leave the scene. (Note: Isaac has deleted his post and I have agreed to delete mine.) It'll be better for the theatre in the long run to have me out of it. Please rejoice.

Certainly I'm going to reorient this blog away from critics and people who criticize critics and all of that.

The last week or so has taught me that the theatrosphere is about as unpleasant a playing field as I could have imagined. The level of self-congratulationing, doublespeak and dissembling can be unfortunate. I've inflicted my fair share of that, I suppose -- hence the majestic swaying of the Schadenfreude Choir.

The real watch-cry of this industry remains the same: trust no one. Please remove me from your blogrolls.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Casual Casuistry of George Hunka (Updated)

(NOTE I: There were some horrid typos and grammatical mistakes and just plain sloppiness in the original version of this post, so I have fixed those. I also removed a pair of passages that one person felt was somehow getting in the mud. I disagree, but as the offending passage wasn't all that germane, out it went.)

(NOTE II: The current count on this post is four private emails thanking me for writing this and one suggesting otherwise.)

(NOTE III: I fully expect certain people to rush to the defense of the person I'm discussing in this post. That's fine. Those who hate me will hate me anyway.)

My colleague Mark Shenton from London -- who I ran into at the Lincoln Center Cymbeline -- alerted me to a post from George Hunka on the Guardian's arts blog in which he gleefully draws and quarters American theatre critics, bemoaning the perceived lack of fine contemporary criticism. Oh, for the days when Bentley and Brustein were young! Oh, for the days when Gilman and Esslin were the it! Hunka's nose, I should note, must be profoundly brown from kissing the ass of critic Michael Billington of The Guardian, of whom he speaks in his post in worshipping terms. Funny thing, praising the critic of the paper paying you to post. Or pillar to post. Anyway...

Here's a quote from Hunka's piece:

When, as a teenager thinking about making a career as a dramatist, I read this criticism, I found critics who believed in a theatre and drama of profound significance to contemporary culture and society; at the same time, they considered 3,000 years of an art form that had over its history touched the deepest wellsprings of human fear and desire. These critics knew that history intimately, too, and engaged with it critically and with enthusiasm. They were as educative, and as inspiring, as reading the plays and playwrights they most carefully and brilliantly considered.
Theatre critics of yore "considered 3,000 years of an art form that had over its history touched the deepest wellsprings of human fear of desire" and now they do not? Really? Is that not a tad hyperbolic? Hunka decries -- as if the world is really desperate for more people to ascribe more power to the New York Times, so as to attack it -- the fact that Brantley has edited only one book and Isherwood written only one book (about a gay porn star). As if they're all we have to talk about in the realm of contemporary theatre criticism.

Hunka's sense of history has more holes in it than Gary Gilmore post-execution. First, let's be clear: there are a lot of critics beyond the Times' terrible twosome. He might have written, for example, about Michael Feingold, who hasn't written any book-length criticism that I know of (book-length criticism is apparently the sole standard of excellence), but does anyone question that Feingold has written more intelligently, thoroughly, and exquisitely on the theatre over the last 35 years than anyone else? Does Hunka believe Feingold does not, in his criticism, consider "3,000 years of an art form that had over its history touched the deepest wellsprings of human fear of desire"?

Hunka ignores the work of Julius Novick (active until recently), and reaching back a little bit, Walter Kerr, Harold Clurman, and Mel Gussow, all of whom, I think, wrote quite eloquently and often on the post-1945 American theatre. Ignoring Kerr is weirdly tragic: he wrote How Not to Write a Play (1955), Criticism and Censorship (1957), Pieces at Eight (1958), The Decline of Pleasure (1962), The Theatre in Spite of Itself (1963), Tragedy and Comedy (1967), Thirty Plays Hath November (1969), God on the Gymnasium Floor (1971), and The Silent Clowns (1975) all while at the old Herald-Tribune and, later, the Times (links courtesy of the dreaded Wikipedia).

Hunka ignores the work of Stanley Kauffman, and John Simon.

Hunka ignores the work of John Heilpern of the New York Observer, whose Conference of the Birds is an unquestionably important work, and whose recent biography of John Osbourne has been widely acclaimed.

(It also occurs to me that while Hunka decries the lack of book-length critical studies that are not from the academic marketplace (what an absurd measurement for what is acceptable criticism), we have, perhaps, some of the finest critic-biographers we've ever had. Anyway...)

Hunka ignores the pioneering criticism of Edith Oliver, who wrote for The New Yorker for 40 years -- no, she didn't publish a full-length book of criticism, but does any publication give its critics the latitude of The New Yorker, and did she not take advantage of it? Is Hunka unfamiliar with John Lahr, the current theatre critic at The New Yorker? People may cavil at his insistence upon revealing essential plot details, but his biographical profiles are essential reading for theater lovers -- and Lahr's book on Coward is exceptionally good. People may cavil with the opinions of Lahr's second string, Hilton Als, but not only is Als exceptionally perceptive and often persuasive, he's the only major critic of color in New York City -- and the fact that most people are unaware of it is a tribute to his skills as a critic and writer generally. Like John Lahr, Als won the George Jean Nathan Award for dramatic criticism. Here are some more George Jean Nathan winner Hunka ignores:

Charles Isherwood
Raymond Knapp
Trey Graham
Hilton Als
Daniel Mendelsohn
Laurence Senelick
Albert Williams
Michael Goldman
Alisa Solomon
Ben Brantley, Elinor Fuchs, and Todd London
Michael Feingold
Robert Hurwitt
Marvin Carlson and John Lahr
David Cole
Kevin Kelly
Jonathan Kalb
Steven Mikulan
Eileen Blumenthal
Scott Rosenberg
Robert Brustein
Gordon Rogoff
Jan Kott
Bonnie Marranca
Herbert Blau
Julius Novick
Carolyn Clay and Sylviane Gold
Sean Mitchell
Jack Kroll
Mel Gussow
Bernard Knox
Michael Goldman
No Award Made
Albert Bermel
Stanley Kauffmann
Jay Carr
Richard Gilman
John Simon
John Lahr

Well, let me correct that -- he does not ignore Jonathan Kalb. Good thing, that.

Meanwhile, please notice that many of these critics are outside of New York. Surely Hunka realizes there are, in fact, critics elsewhere, yes? Why does he ignore Charles McNulty, formerly the theatre editor of the Voice, now the theatre critic for the L.A. Times? Or Gordon Rogoff (the link is to a list of books)? Or, back at home, some other NYC heavyweights: Alisa Solomon and Erika Munk?

Why does Hunka cast such a narrow net? Could it be to service his point, to position himself as some kind of cultural arbiter? Could it be that his hope is make the Guardian buy into it?

Hunka writes:
Theatre in America now doesn't produce such critics. When one reads most American drama criticism in newspapers and magazines these days, you realise that the reason for this lack isn't that these critics don't want to write books like Billington's. It's that they can't, even if they wanted to. And that says more about the health of American theatrical and dramatic criticism than it says about the health of theatre and drama in America.
..."because they can't"? Oh, rubbish. As evidenced by the links to the names of these critics, they can and do write books -- and for Hunka to suggest that "books about theatre right now are relegated to university or small presses" demeans the academy -- it demeans anyone publishing books about theater anywhere.

Perhaps the Guardian needs to know what else Hunka believes, a la the 100 Saints disaster.

Hunka writes, in his easily assailable and highly selective "State of the Union," as if it is he who decides what the state of the theatre blogosphere is. Or, to put it in Project Runway terms, if you're in, you're in, if you're out, you're out.

(NOTE: How curious that comments for Hunka's post in the Guardian are turned off.)

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New NEA Grants Announced

I received this press release yesterday:

CONTACT: Victoria Hutter,, 202-682-5692

National Endowment for the Arts Announces More Than $20 Million in Grants for the First Round of Fiscal Year 2008 Funding

Washington, D.C. -- In its first major grant announcement of fiscal year 2008, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced today that it will award $20.2 million to fund 908 grants. The Arts Endowment will distribute $19,189,000 in this round of FY 2008 funding to nonprofit national, regional, state, and local organizations across the country through the NEA's Access to Artistic Excellence category. Forty-two Creative Writing Fellowships awarded to individual writers total more than $1 million.

For the full press release plus grant lists by discipline and by state, go to

The National Endowment for the Arts also announces grant awards totaling $1,150,000 through the Challenge America: Reaching Every Community program. These projects were made public on November 15.

For the release and grant list, go to

And here is part of the list of theaters ( This is NOT the complete list, and it is very long. Very impresed by the specificity of the projects.

A Contemporary Theatre, Inc. (aka ACT Theatre)
Seattle, WA
To support the world premiere production of Beyond the 17th Parallel by T. D. Mitchell. The playwright will be in residence for development during the rehearsal period, and artistic director Kurt Beattie will direct the production.

Actors Theatre Of Louisville, Inc.
Louisville, KY
To support the 32nd Humana Festival of New American Plays, an annual showcase of new theatrical work featuring American playwrights. Artistic director Marc Masterson will program and oversee the signature event.

Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Inc.
Montgomery, AL
To support the Southern Writers Project Festival of New Plays. The festival will feature the world premiere production of Rocket City by Mark Saltzman and readings of new plays by Southern writers.

American Repertory Theatre (aka A.R.T.)
Cambridge, MA
To support a production of Cardenio by Charles Mee and Stephen Greenblatt, a new work inspired by the lost play by William Shakespeare. The production will be directed by Les Waters and performed at the Loeb Drama Center, with subsequent performances at the Public Theatre in New York.

Atlantic Theater Company
New York, NY
To support the commissioning, readings, and production of new works in the new play development and production program Atlantic Stage 2. The award-winning Off-Broadway theater will create an artistic home for emerging and established writers to develop new work and contribute to the life of the theater.

Berkeley Repertory Theatre (aka Berkeley Rep)
Berkeley, CA
To support the development of young, emerging, and early-career writers in the Commissioning and New Play Development Program, with accompanying outreach activities. Associate artistic director Les Waters and resident dramaturg/literary manager Madeleine Oldham will oversee the program.

Center Theatre Group of Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA
To support the world premiere production of Of Equal Measure, a new play by Tanya Barfield. The production will be directed by Leigh Silverman.

Chicago Dramatists
Chicago, IL
To support the Many Voices Project, a multicultural showcase of new plays in development. The program will offer developmental assistance to playwrights, culminating in public staged readings with professional theater artists.

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park
Cincinnati, OH
To support the development and world premiere production of A Sleeping Country, a new play by Melanie Marnich. The play was selected as the winner of the Mickey Kaplan New American Play Prize.

City Theatre Company, Inc.
Pittsburgh, PA
To support the development and world premiere of a new play by David Grimm about the life of American poet Hart Crane. Artistic director Tracy Brigden will direct.

Civilians, Inc.
New York, NY
To support the development, co-production, and associated community dialogue programs for This Beautiful City, a new documentary play by Steven Cosson and Jim Lewis, with music by Michael Friedman. Created through a long-term process of interviews and community participation, the play explores the influential evangelical movement centered in Colorado Springs.

Clubbed Thumb, Inc.
New York, NY
To support the Summerworks festival of new work The project will feature full productions of commissioned plays and a night of short works by various writers on the theme of legislation missing from the Bill of Rights.

Elevator Repair Service Theater, Inc.
Brooklyn, NY
To support the development and premiere of an ensemble work based on William Faulkner's novel The Sound and the Fury. Artistic director John Collins will direct the new work titled Present (April 7, 1928) at New York City Workshop's mainstage theater.

Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theater Center, Inc. (aka The O'Neill)
Waterford, CT
To support the National Playwrights Conference and the National Music Theater Conference. The project will include the creation and development of new plays and musical theater works.

Foundry Theatre, Inc.
New York, NY
To support the development and world premiere production of The Great Immensity, a new documentary theater piece by Steve Cosson with original music by Michael Friedman. The piece will be created from interviews and examine the topic of climate change.

Group I Acting Company, Inc. (aka The Acting Company)
New York, NY
To support the production and national tour of Moby Dick Rehearsed, a 1950s work by Orson Welles, adapted from Herman Melville's classic novel. The Acting Company production will be directed by Casey Biggs.

Guthrie Theatre Foundation
Minneapolis, MN
To support a production of Peer Gynt, adapted from Henrik Ibsen's verse drama by award-winning American poet Robert Bly. The production will be directed by Tim Carroll and will feature internationally acclaimed actor and director Mark Rylance in the title role.

Hartford Stage Company, Inc.
Hartford, CT
To support the development and English-language premiere of Zerlina's Tale, translated and adapted by Jeremy Sams from the story by Hermann Broch. The production will be directed by artistic director Michael Wilson.

Huntington Theatre Company, Inc.
Boston, MA
To support the Today's Artists, Tomorrow's Works Program. The project will include a playwrights' fellows program, the Breaking Ground Festival of new play readings, and a world premiere by program alumnus Sinan Unel.

id Theatre, Inc.
Brooklyn, NY
To support the Seven Devils Playwrights Conference. Emerging and professional playwrights will work with student playwrights from rural Idaho to develop new plays culminating in a series of fully staged readings with audience talkback sessions.

InterAct, Inc. (aka InterAct Theatre Company)
Philadelphia, PA
To support the world premiere of Efrat from Afar by playwright Larry Loebell as the centerpiece of a festival of new plays. Panel discussions and readings of new and contemporary plays that explore American perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will occur in conjunction with the production.

Irish Repertory Theatre Company, Inc. (aka The Irish Rep)
New York, NY
To support the creation and adaptation for the stage of Peter Quinn's novel Banished Children of Eve. Commissioned writers of Irish American and African American background will partner to adapt the work, to be directed by producing director Ciaran O'Reilly.

La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, Inc. (aka La MaMa E.T.C.) (Consortium)
New York, NY
To support the creation and premiere of Seven, a documentary theater piece. Produced in partnership with Vital Voices Global of Washington, DC, the piece will bring together the stories of seven women in developing countries around the world.

LAByrinth, Inc. (aka LAByrinth Theater Company)
New York, NY
To support the annual New Play Development Programs. Activities will include the Summer Intensive retreat, the Barn Series Festival of staged readings, and Developmental Productions of new works-in-progress.

Ma-Yi Filipino Theatre Ensemble, Inc. (aka Ma-Yi Theater Company)
New York, NY
To support the world premiere of The Children of Vonderly by playwright and co-director of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, Lloyd Suh. Artistic director Ralph B. Pena will direct the production at an Off-Broadway venue in New York City.

Mabou Mines Development Foundation, Inc. (aka Mabou Mines)
New York, NY
To support the creation and production of Finn, a digital and live action adventure based on the ancient legend of Finn McCool. Co-artistic director Sharon Fogarty will work with the Czech digital animation artists of Misha Films, Irish playwright Jocelyn Clarke, and Scottish composer Phil Cunningham.

Manhattan Theatre Club, Inc. (aka MTC)
New York, NY
To support the development of work by emerging and established playwrights in the Artistic Development Program. Script evaluation, readings, commissions, and dramaturgy will further new plays and musicals toward full-scale productions.

McCarter Theater
Princeton, NJ
To support the world premiere of Edward Albee's Me, Myself and I. Artistic director Emily Mann will direct the newly commissioned play by one of America's leading playwrights.

Mettawee Theatre Company, Inc. (aka Mettawee River Company)
Salem, NY
To support the tour of an original play based on the The Book of Tobit from the Apocrypha. Artistic director Ralph Lee will direct and design the production with masks, puppets, and giant figures.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Inc.
Milwaukee, WI
To support the premiere of The Night Is a Child (A Notre E Uma Criancha) by playwright Charles Randolph-Wright. Timothy Douglas will direct the production, with accompanying educational activities.

Mixed Blood Theatre Company
Minneapolis, MN
To support the commissioning, development, and world premieres of Love Person by Aditi Kapil and Red Ink by Rhiana Yazzie and Native American playwrights. Artistic director Jack Reuler will serve as producer and Liz Engelman will serve as dramaturg for both productions, with accompanying outreach activities.

New Dramatists, Inc.
New York, NY
To support the development of new work for the theater in the Playwrights Lab. The core developmental initiative will support resident playwrights through writer-driven readings and a workshop series.

New York Shakespeare Festival (aka The Public Theater)
New York, NY
To support a production of The Bacchae by Euripides at the Public Theater. Based on a translation by Nicholas Rudall, the production will be created and directed by JoAnne Akalaitis and will feature original music by Philip Glass.

New York Theatre Workshop, Inc.
New York, NY
To support the New York premiere of Things of Dry Hours by Naomi Wallace. The playwright is a member of Usual Suspects, the theater's community of affiliate artists.

Ontological-Hysteric Theater, Inc.
New York, NY
To support the creation and production of I Wish It Were True, a new non-narrative theater work written and directed by Richard Foreman. The piece will utilize film tableaux as a continual backdrop for live performances.

Oregon Shakespeare Festival Association
Ashland, OR
To support a production of The Clay Cart directed by Bill Rauch. The piece is an English translation of a classic Sanskrit romantic drama adapted for the stage by A.L. Basham.

Paper Mill Playhouse
Millburn, NJ
To support a production of The Miracle Worker by William Gibson. Multidisciplinary project activities will include mainstage performances, a visual arts gallery exhibit, and educational outreach activities to promote lifelong learning.

Penumbra Theatre Company, Inc.
Saint Paul, MN
To support the production of Gem of the Ocean by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson, with accompanying educational and outreach activities. Founder and artistic director Lou Bellamy will direct the Midwest premiere production.

Philadelphia Theatre Company
Philadelphia, PA
To support the commissioning and development of works in the New Plays Project-Year III. The project will also support the world premiere of The Happiness Lecture by theater artist Bill Irwin, with direction by Nancy Harrington.

Pittsburgh Public Theater Corporation
Pittsburgh, PA
To support a production of Peter Shaffer's 1979 stage play Amadeus. Producing artistic director Ted Pappas will direct the production, with accompanying educational and outreach activities.

Playwrights Horizons, Inc.
New York, NY
To support the American Voice developmental program for theater and musical theater writers and the production of a play or musical in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. The program includes an open-door script submission policy, play readings, and musical theater staged readings.

Playwrights' Center, Inc.
Minneapolis, MN
To support the development of new work in the Ruth Easton Lab. Producing artistic director Polly Carl will direct the lab's play development activities that culminate in the Writer/Director Series and the annual Play Labs Festival.

Present Theatre Company, Inc. (aka The Present Company)
New York, NY
To support the New York International Fringe Festival. The festival will allow artists and arts organizations the opportunity to present work to a broad audience in a variety of venues.

Primary Stages Company, Inc.
New York, NY
To support the New York premiere production of Something You Did by Willy Holtzman. The production will play at 59E59 Theaters, a new theatrical complex on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Providence Black Repertory Company (aka Black Rep)
Providence, RI
To support the development and world premiere production of The Etymology of Bird, a new play by Zakiyyah Alexander. The production will be directed by Megan Sandberg- Zakian.

Quantum Theatre, Inc.
Pittsburgh, PA
To support the development and production of Yerma by Federico Garcia Lorca, directed by Melanie Dreyer. The production will incorporate the flamenco artistry of Carolina Loyola-Garcia into a classic folk tragedy about the power of women in a rural community.

Redmoon Theater
Chicago, IL
To support the development of Dream Masons, a large-scale, site-specific outdoor spectacle. The piece will be performed on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago's historic Bronzeville neighborhood.

Roundabout Theatre Company, Inc.
New York, NY
To support the revival and production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, adapted for the stage by playwright Christopher Hampton in 1985 from French author Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos's 1782 novel. Rufus Norris will direct the production, with accompanying educational activities.

Rude Mechanicals-A Theatre Collective
Austin, TX
To support the creation, workshop production, and world premiere of After Before, with accompanying educational activities. Founder and co-producing artistic director Shawn Sides will direct, and playwright Kirk Lynn will oversee the ensemble development process with the creative team of playwright Rebecca Beagle and directors Barney O'Hanlan and Carlos Trevino.

Saratoga International Theatre Institute, Inc. (aka SITI Company)
New York, NY
To support the development and premiere of a new SITI Company-created work currently titled Hemispheric Disturbances at Arizona State University. The play will feature company actors and the design team of James Schuette, Darron L. West, and Brian Scott.

Shakespeare Theatre (aka Shakespeare Theatre Company)
Washington, DC
To support the Roman Repertory project. A production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar directed by David Muse will be performed in repertory with a production of Antony and Cleopatra directed by artistic director Michael Kahn.
Signature Theatre Company, Inc.

New York, NY
To support the development and production of Paradise Park by playwright-in-residence Charles Mee. Directed by Daniel Fish, the production will be the third in a season-long exploration of the playwright's work.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Chicago, IL
To support a production of Carter's Way, a new play written and directed by ensemble member Eric Simonson. The production will feature live vocals and recorded instrumentation created and arranged by Darrell Leonard.

Studio Theatre, Inc.
Washington, DC
To support productions of The Brothers Size by Tarell Alvin McCraney and the 2006 Tony award-winning play The History Boys by Alan Bennett, with accompanying educational and outreach activities. Bosnian-born director/playwright Tea Alagic will direct McCraney's work, and founding artistic director Joy Zinoman will direct Bennett's work.

Target Margin Theater, Inc.
Brooklyn, NY
To support the development and production of a new musical adaptation of Aristophanes' The Frogs. The production will feature a new translation and an original score and libretto, and will be directed by artistic director David Herskovits.

Theatre for a New Audience, Inc.
New York, NY
To support a production of Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare, with accompanying educational activities. Darko Tresnjak, artistic director of the Old Globe Shakespeare Festival, will direct, with Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Christine Baranski in the lead role.

TimeLine Theatre Company
Chicago, IL
To support the development and production of The Odd Women. Playwright Kate Fodor will adapt the work from the novel by George Gissing.

Washington Drama Society, Inc. (aka Arena Stage)
Washington, DC
To support the Arthur Miller Festival at Arena Stage. The festival will feature productions of Death of a Salesman directed by Tim Bond and A View from the Bridge directed by Daniel Aukin, performed in rotating repertory by a single ensemble cast.

William Inge Festival Foundation (aka William Inge Center for the Arts)
Independence, KS
To support Guest Artist Residencies at the William Inge Center for the Arts. The project will introduce professional directors and actors to playwrights-in-residence to collaborate on readings, workshops, and the development of new plays.

Wilma Theater, Inc.
Philadelphia, PA
To support further development and production of Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl and a commission to choral composer Toby Twining. Co-artistic director Blanka Zizka will direct the production, with accompanying educational activities.

Women's Project & Productions
New York, NY
To support the professional careers of emerging women theater artists in the Developmental Theater Programs. Individual components will include the Directors Lab, the Playwrights Lab, and the Producers Lab.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Washington, DC
To support the continued development and world premiere of Stunning by David Adjimi, who will be in residence at the theater during the play's rehearsal period. Artistic director Howard Shalwitz will lead the dramaturgical team, with direction by regional and national director Anne Kauffman.

Wooster Group, Inc.
New York, NY
To support the development, rehearsals, and a work-in-progress presentation of 172 South (working title). Founder Elizabeth LeCompte will direct the work.

Yale University (on behalf of Yale Repertory Theatre)
New Haven, CT
To support the world premiere of The Evildoers by David Adjimi at Yale Repertory Theatre. Rebecca Taichman, associate director of Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, will direct the production.

Young Playwrights Inc. (aka Young Playwrights Festival)
New York, NY
To support the Young Playwrights Festival. Plays will be selected through a national open-submission playwriting competition.

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