Friday, February 29, 2008

On Critics and Criticism

I've debated for about a month now whether to blog about the February 2008 issue of American Theatre, which was fashioned loosely around the idea of theatre criticism -- its antecedents, its current currency, its future. I was sort of hoping TCG would post the articles on line, but the only one I can find is this Q&A called The Critic as Thinker, with Roger Copeland moderating a trialogue between Robert Brustein, Eric Bentley, and Stanley Kauffmann, who combined have 4,500 years of experience between them. And who, while making great points and offering great advice, insight, and a sweeping sense of retrospection, managed to depress the daylights out of me in the process. That these men are the totems -- that these men, I ought to say, remain the totems -- makes me terribly nervous about the future of theatre criticism. Which is largely what the American Theatre issue is all about.

Sure, sure, Mark Blankenship wrote about his "controlled experiment" in another piece, the well named Should You Take a Critic to Lunch? (the answer is yes), featuring critics and artists from Denver, Nashville and San Francisco, and investigated how, and to what extent, the two interact. Nice work from Mark, although I'd have preferred to have seen, in addition to his piece, a more philosophical think piece that would investigate why such interactive dynamics between critics and artists are seen in our current theatrical marketplace as anomalous -- given that, once upon a time, it was commonplace, perhaps even expected, for there to be casual and professional symbiosis between craftsfolk and those who criticize their work.

I was reminded of this the other day when I wrote about Mike Daisey's essay. Among other things, there's something very wrong with an art form that leaves critics no other choice, if they should want to communicate with artists, but to do so via blog. Not to rag on blogs, mind you; I already did enough of that earlier in the week and clearly have my own talents for unvarnished bloviation.

My point is, I could have of course sent Mike an email directly, but the blogosphere seems to be the current equivalent of the town pub or the theatre lobby -- and so that's where I choose to convene. It also seems much more inevitable that critics and artists will interact in places like Denver or Nashville or even San Francisco because the size of the theatre communities there are so much smaller than places like New York, which I know is integral to the arguments of Scott Walters and Zach Mannheimer that we should take our surplus of artists and haul them, by the train to Dachau if necessary, to those parts of the nation that are theatrically underserved. To me, this argument is weak because articles such as Mark's are proof that folks in Nashville don't need folks in New York telling them what they need.

The critic-artist dynamic is also inevitable in smaller market because critics are, more and more, also functioning as the feature writers and the writers of advance pieces; bloggers are helping to expand coverage of those markets, and bloggers, so far as I know, are more likely to be theatre folk themselves, or at least feel freer about commiserating with theatre folk.

I was particularly interested, too, in what TCG Executive Director Teresa Eyring wrote in her monthly column, to which she gave the title This Art Is Mine:

Theatres and critics stand at an electrifying place in time. More people want to play. And there are more tools to play with, both in terms of content and technology.
And that brings me to another piece in American Theatre: a long essay by Randy Gener that eluded me at times but intrigued me. It's called Notes on Heart and Mind: Or, the Promise of Theatre Criticism in the Republic of Broken Dreams.

Randy's piece partly considers the effects of media consolidation on theatre criticism specifically and arts criticism generally, and there's an understandably sad, lamenting tone to it. Like Randy, I was a fellow at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's Critics' Institute (him in 2003, me in 2004) and I, too, am somewhat alarmed by the various trends in the field, none of which are especially positive. I teach at the O'Neill every year now, and the prospects for the fellows after leaving the O'Neill are terrible. Yet these writers soldier on because they must.

I should add that there are great blog posts about Randy's article: one from Stage Matters and one from Jay Rasknolnikov; the latter's post has the provocative title "Do We Have the Theatre Our Critics Deserve?"

Jay's includes a few quotes from Randy's piece, and I'd like to post some thoughts about them. The first quote is:
The vast majority of critics languish somewhere in a floating middle, grateful to have managed for so long, their work perennially underpaid, their value in both the theatre an journalism professions constantly under-minded, and yet still in love with the theatre. Over time, some of these long-practicing critics ease into the mind-deadening habit of writing 250-to-500-word capsule reviews, or they con themselves into believing that the seasonal doldrums, come awards time, amount to theatrical sizzle. . . .
I suppose this is true, but let's also be blunt: most critics aren't all that stellar at what they do to begin with. Seriously, from a literary point of view, read some of our critics sometime and see if you can ignore the strain to be clever, to dance merrily with the well-turned jibe, dig, or pithy and cutesy ha-ha-ho-ho-hee-hee.

Part of the problem, too, is that most critics have no practical experience on the stage. That's why, at the end of my response to Mike Daisey, I made sure he's knows that I've written plays and staged lots and lots of plays by others; that I've produced more than my fair share of beer-bust fundraisers; that I've whacked more than a few rusty nails into stolen flats and two by fours; that I've gone into hock on behalf of cockamamie plays I didn't believe in and on behalf of plays I'd have given over my life for; that I've played to four people in the theatre, six people in the theatre, eight people in the theatre, no people in the theatre, and been ignored by the critics regardless of attendance; that I've starved and I've celebrated, done brilliant work and crappy work and I've done enough theatre to understand the goddamn difference.

There is a part of me that finds it incredibly ironic to be known mostly as a critic now because it was the last thing I intended to pursue professionally. Until 1999, I was working temp jobs and developing new work and struggling. I turned 30, directed my 40th play, went to the ATM machine and nothing came out. I was done. Well, sort of.

And I am grateful: having done theatre informs my criticism. That's not a new statement I'm making, nor am I making it particularly insightfully. But my own experience is why I'm not at all convinced that all 500-word reviews are, to use Randy's word, mind-deadening: 100 words is as deadening as 1,000 or 10,000 words if the critic's writing is deadening in the first place. Indeed, I'm on the fence as to what degree the real issue in contemporary criticism is word count. Not all theatre is created alike: is 2,000 words really going to be necessary to review Boeing Boeing, the 1960s play that's coming to Broadway this spring? I mean, ok, maybe it'll be some far-out, revelatory and phatasmagorical paean to free love, gag comedy and potheads, but more likely I think 500 words will furnish readers with enough of a sense of story, plot, casting and value to go back to reading Gawker.

Are there differences between criticism and reviewing? Of course. And there should be a place for both -- and the fact there isn't much of one, as my archenemy George Hunka suggested once, is unfortunate. But I don't think, as George also suggested once, that's because American critics aren't capable of writing long-form criticism, either in book form or in periodicals. I'm not sure critics actually pitch such books in the first place.

And that brings me, more generally, to a little bit of obviousness. We critics lament the lack of space, especially for long-form writing, but we take it for granted that the average reader wants more verbiage. I'm not even sure theatre people want more verbiage. One reason why column inches are cut and cut and cut and cut and cut and cut is because survey after survey indicates that readers don't read criticism that's too long, however one defines that. I know this because I've seen such surveys.

Randy also writes:

American critics are trained to be witty aesthetes, quip-happy gatekeepers who see every play as an invitation to outshine the murk being evaluated. Frequently they are hit-seekers rather then theatregoer; they look fully animated and alive only when discussing a show's commercial possibilities. Will it sell? If it won't why not? Being better read, better educated and better exposed to theatre than most Americans doesn't always ensure that critics see the purpose of criticism, its mission or potential. Why aren't critics arguing that a healthy arts-critics scene is vital to the establishment of a free and advanced society?

Gosh, if only American critics were trained to be aesthetes. Not true. If they were aesthetes they wouldn't laud crap. Period. And insofar as the purpose of criticism, we shouldn't bully ourselves into thinking there's but one philosophy for criticism out there. Indeed, in the Brustein-Bentley-Kauffmann threeway (picture that at your own risk), a reference is made to a phrase Bentley coined: consumer guide. As Bentley is a Marxist (or was, or something), his point is reviewers ought to function as verbal Zagats for the masses. I, however, don't see this is the purpose of criticism (or reviewing). But here's another thing: Bentley is a Marxist (or was, or something). Kindly name a critic who is known in a large way in terms of his (or her) political beliefs and who, owing to that, demonstrates through criticism the manner by which their beliefs infiltrate and determine that criticism. What is gone is the nexus between politics and theatre in terms of criticism. Thank God it's still on the stage.

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New Review: Passing Strange

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Quote of the Day: Phyllis McGinley

In times of unrest and fear, it is perhaps the writer's duty to celebrate, to single out some of the values we can cherish, to talk about some of the few warm things we know in a cold world.

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Bring Out the Models!

I am getting into the new model discussion very late -- so late that I fear there's already a kind of orthodoxy around this subject that I am obviously flouting by engaging in a discussion (there's the word -- engaging!) with Mr. Daisey.

I should note that Mike and I exchanged emails privately today, and despite areas on which we are likely to agree or disagree, I was actually personally gratified by his interest in getting to know me and, later in March, getting together and breaking bread (and hops). As per my usual policy, I won't get into the content of my emails or of my private discussions with people. But I feel very good about what I've said and done, I think he feels very good about what he's saying and doing, and all of that, in the end, is about getting off one's ass.

Meanwhile, I decided to allow the publishing of a comment by Scott Walters, even though his first sentence asks whether...ugh, I'm too tired at 12:15am to find it to quote it precisely...but basically whether I want everyone to hold hands and sing. No, Scott, I don't want everyone to hold hands and sing. Because if you're holding hands, you're not doing something about problems in the American theatre. And if you're singing, well, Ryan Seacraft wants to check your bulge.

I do, however, want to respond to Scott's terse four-point plan, presented as a comment on a different blog, for how to take a half-century of the regional theatre/nonprofit/institutional theatre business model and chuck it out the window. It is more than likely that some of these thoughts have been expressed elsewhere and better, so please forgive any redundancies. Please understand that if you already know all or any of this, or if you've discussed any or all of this, or if you just want to blow up the carriage containing the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary so as to foment a World War and therefore don't care about any or all of this, that's ok. I do.

And my goal in this case, I might add, is not to refute, really, so much as to elaborate. Scott writes:

1. Decentralization. Get out of the major cities and gather somewhere else that isn't already choked with theatre. No drive-by guest artists from Nylachi.
So the problem is that regional theatres job in actors, writers, directors, etc., from elsewhere? That's fair, I think, if we're talking about regional theatres like the Intiman or the Wilma or New Rep or the Guthrie or the Arden or the Woolly Mammoth or ACT. But I'd gently -- gently, bloggers, very gently -- point out that there are differences between these groups and nonprofit presenters. In fact, here -- take a break from your rabies foaming and visit the website of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. While there is obvious overlap between the business models of the groups represented in APAP and, say, the membership of TCG, fundamentally they are after the selling of different kinds of products. Performing arts presenters aren't really in the business of generating new work but presenting work already created elsewhere. And no, my darlings, I don't mean E-I-E-I-O Repertory Theatre's Kabubi-style revival of Arsenic and Old Lace. I mean stuff like Matt & Ben. Now, regardless of what you think of such things, these organizations employ many, many, many artists -- indeed, many of the same artists who are, on other occasions, jobbed in from elsewhere to the regionals that are held in such low esteem. So when we say "no more drive-by guest artists from Nylachi," could it be too general?

Also, while I support the idea in theory -- and while I admire my buddy Zach Mannehimer for having the guts to put his money where his mouth is and shlep all over the US and land in Des Moines, I believe there is something vaguely paternalistic about this theory, too. And Zack knows that, and time will tell whether my concern is validated or not. (And if not, that'll be a good thing.) Now, perhaps it really is the case that red-state America requires a strong dose of blue-state-generated paternalism. But the idea that there are too many theatres and artists in Nylachi and therefore we must persuade people to go off and tell all the citizens who aren't in Nylachi that they should need our surplus artists, they should want our surplus artists, oh, they should welcome us, "they'll greet us as saviors," etc., is a little on the presumptuous side.

Quite frankly -- and here I speak as the national theatre editor of Back Stage -- there are far, far more artists in the areas beyond Nylachi than you think. Did you know Nashville is a booming theatre town? And booming with real-life Nashvillians? If it wasn't late, I'd actually do a list. Des Moines isn't on it, but I am constantly shocked by where there's theatre, and where there's theatre people fighting the good fight. These people are rightly infuriated by the NEA paying Shakespeare companies to come to their towns -- towns where they've already been making theatre, including Shakespeare -- as if they don't exist. That's paternalism, too. If this first theory is to be put into practice, I simply ask that we do some due diligence -- much on the Zach model, actually.

Note that I'm not bashing the theory. Just concerned about its sweeping nature and about the method(s) by which it may or may not be put into practice.

Scott writes:
2. Localization. Form an ensemble that will stay together for a while. Preferably with at least one resident playwright attached who writes plays for the ensemble. Become an active member of the community. Listen.
Fair enough. This is all predicated on economic viability, of course, but I have no problem with the ensemble method of creating theatre. I worry that people would impose it on vicinities in such a way as to make it seem that it is the only way to make theatre, but these things have a way of finding their own way in any event. After all, everyone thinks they want to suck Harold Clurman's teat (and Harold, as we know, only wanted to suck Stella Adler's), but the Group did not last all that long. What it did was birth a new generation of theatre artists. But again, it did not birth a long-term ensemble.

3. Tribal economics. Pool income. Take out what you need to survive. Each member brings more to the table than their theatrical specialty. Ensemble controls ancillary income. Everyone does everything.
Well, this is back to Zach's philosophy, and I'll let Zach speak to that if he wishes. I'm not convinced this is realistic -- I mean, what do you do, point a gun at people and tell them that unless they're willing to do When We Dead Awaken in Phoenix you'll starve them to death -- or make them serve Hamburger Helper for a week? I mean, fine, ensemble means ensemble, ok, we get it, lovely. But how, in this day and age, are you going to actually persuade people to start doing this? That's what I mean by DOING something. Presenting oneself as Karl Marx doesn't tell Lenin how to overthrow the Tsar. Well, actually, the Communist Manifesto does, ok, scratch that. But you see what I mean. Hopefully.

4. Education. Teach young artists the entrepreneurial and collaboration skills needed to control their own artistic lives and truly co-create.

Yes, yes, ok, but where? I mean, seriously, are we proposing a communist theatre? I ask that question not as a political red-flag, pardon the pun, but how does one make this happen in a capitalist system?

OK, done. Go ahead and yell at me some more for daring to question -- or even support with questions -- your orthodoxy. I hope it's not so precious that one cannot question it.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mike Daisey Refutes Me...

Mike Daisey's written a response/rebuttal/parry/thrust/whine regarding my earlier post -- and perhaps that's because, in this verbalicious world of blogging and fisking, he had to do both (very Isaac Butler of him). Having been out of the sandbox for awhile, I wanted to jump in before Daisey raises the moat on his sand castle and gets eaten by crocs.

In his response, Daisey fisks my post, lamenting that he was "lumped in" with my thoughts on Marsha Norman's essay on how to make more and better plays a la August: Osage County. This was partly to illustrate my point that there's no unanimity in American theatre theory anymore, aesthetically or otherwise, and while perhaps that's not an anomaly from a historical point of view (at all), what Norman seems to be advocating and what Daisey seems to be advocating are fundamentally at odds with one another. Perhaps Daisey only wants to be viewed in some sort of hortatory political-aesthetic vacuum. It would have helped if he'd taken Norman on, read her essay, thought about it, and -- key word -- engaged with it.

Anyway, due to Daisey's

growing concern for the state of things as I saw them, combined with MANY late-night drinks with actors, staff, board members and artistic directors, as well as TCG conferences, statistic-reading, hard research and emotional stories
he's created his new piece, How Theater Failed America.

That's fine. I have no problem with creating. But please allow me to suggest that Daisey (who I should note does compliment my writing) may be unaware that I, too, have had many late-night drinks -- and lunches, breakfasts, coffees, and phone calls -- with actors, staff and other industry folk. That's part of my job. That's what I did when I was a reporter for five years; that's what I still do as I oversee a lot of Back Stage coverage (even though most of my bylines are attached to my work as a first-string critic); that's what I do as I write for various other publications. I want to add that I don't feel the need to get out there, wave the flag, and scream "I made that story happen, I made that story happen," mostly because editors don't usually get the credit from the outside world for what they do. That's fine, and I'm not after that. But I do want to be sure that Daisey (and you, the reader) are aware that he doesn't have a monopoly on information.

And byline or no byline, I've been reporting on the state of the industry for years. No, it has not involved attendance at TCG conferences (although I've been invited, my company didn't budget travel for it until this year), but it has involved many interviews, on and off-the-record, with TCG executive directors (I had lunch recently with Teresa Eyring), plus familiar faces from ART/NY, plus artistic directors and managing directors at major, minor, and utterly unheard of regional theatres; plus relationships with full-time, name-brand arts advocates across the nation -- organizations that theatre people don't necessarily talk about but are key to its survival, from Americans for the Arts to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

I have reported extensively from the factual, statistical and anecdotal points of view on the state of the American theatre and I am proud of my record.

Daisey writes:

So when Leonard rhetorically asks:"But what is Daisey doing about it?"I am doing my job as an artist--I am responding within my form to events as I see them, and trying to bring a conversation that is utterly UNKNOWN to audiences and board members out into the light. I think there is inherent worth to that, and I hope that my efforts will rise above dogma and rhetoric to create art that spurs real conversation, especially among people to whom this conversation (as blase as it may be to Leonard, to the point that he's sick of it) is utterly unknown to general audiences, as naturally theaters do their level best to insulate themselves and their board members from anything like it.What does Leonard think I am doing?

You see, I don't know that it's an artist's job to respond to events as he sees them, but I do feel it's an artist's opportunity to respond to events as he sees them. Not having seen his piece yet, I cannot agree or disagree that there will be a conversation "unknown to audiences and board members" that he's trying to bring "out into the light." But if it's a monologue, I ask you, where is the dialogue? After the play? Ah, I see: it's about what "spurs" real conversation after the presentation of the art. I get it. Well, that's ok, I guess. But wouldn't it be even more powerful if the conversation occurred during the presentation of the art? If the art itself was the conversation? Invent a second character and debate it, Mr. Daisey. Possible?

In my prior post, I went on to write that Daisey "despises the nonprofit business model (that has undoubtedly hired him to perform)..." He writes,

I'm going to have to blow the whistle on this here—this is sloppy. I haven't ever said that I have some issue with the nonprofit business model. I specifically (and I think it's very clear) have an issue with corporations, the fact that corporations have the rights of people, and the effect (corporatization) that this has on organizations ruled by corporations.

I could write a lot here about how I do feel about non-profit and for-profit theater, but that will wait until another time—I'm not an essayist by nature. The long and the short is that I despise the coporatization of American theater, just as I despise the coporatization of American life—and my issues with the regional theater system do not derive from their non-profit status, though many of their internal structures are obviously shaped by that choice of business model.
But in Daisey's original essay, he deliberately picks apart the nonprofit business model. How does the following NOT criticize the nonprofit business model:

....Literary departments have blossomed over the last few decades, despite massive declines in the production of new work. Marketing and fundraising departments in regional theaters have grown hugely, replacing the artists who once worked there, raising millions of dollars from audiences that are growing smaller, older, and wealthier. It's not such a bad time to start a career in the theater, provided you don't want to actually make any theater.

The biggest reason the artists were removed was because it was best for the institution. I often have to remind myself that "institution" is a nice word for "nonprofit corporation," and the primary goal of any corporation is to grow. The best way to grow a nonprofit corporation is to raise money, use the money to market for more donors, and to build bigger and bigger buildings and fill them with more staff.
I mean, Daisey writes that I'm "sloppy" for analyzing his essay as a take-down of the nonprofit business model, but it's Daisey who mentions "raising millions" from a dying demographic, who has to "remind" himself that " 'institution' is a nice word for 'nonprofit corporation'." He actually wrote -- have to post this twice:

I haven't ever said that I have some issue with the nonprofit business model.
Really? Anyway, Daisey goes on:

I'd argue that I loathe the coporatization of the American stage, period—"over" implies that there is a level of corporatization that I would ever be happy with. :)

Here we see the Happy Worker charge—since many theaters are corporatized, and I work at some of them, I must approve of their ways and means...I should shut up and be a Happy Worker. This is a Chomsky-esque argument—taken to its logical extreme, I should be living on the side of a mountain in a yurt to ensure that I don't use anything made by a corporation, since I don't approve of their place in our society.

That's bullshit. Some do that—more power to them. Enjoy the yurt. I'm a monologuist and a theater artist, so I need to reach people for my work to exist, and I work in the theaters of America. I work with corporations every day—I pay them to have an internet connection, I pay them for my phone, I receive money from them...they are woven into every part of my life, just as they are in all our lives. I've chosen, as many have, to engage with them, and seek out ways to call them to account in ways large and small.

If I'm uncomfortable with with my relationship with these organizations, and the way theater is run in America, I should probably do something about that. I could start by talking about it. Perhaps even on stage in some way.

...oh. That's right. That's exactly what I'm doing that made Mr. Jacobs question whether I should be speaking at all.
The following is directed to Mr. Daisey.

Mr. Daisey, please allow me to directly introduce you to Minnie Maddern Fiske. For the last part of the 19th century and until her death in 1932, she was deemed one of the most audacious and forward thinking and artistically progressive actresses on the American stage. Like you, she had a real problem with the corporatization of the American stage -- as exemplified by a commercial entity called the Theatrical Syndicate, also called The Trust. Look it up if you want to research it.

Well, the Trust controlled virtually all live regional theatre in the US, and great swaths of the theatre in New York. Period. No exaggeration. Next to Mr. Rockefeller's Standard Oil, it was one of the largest pure monopolies in America. You worked in their houses, you played by their rules and you didn't complain. There were no unions. There were no other theatres. And none of it even remotely favored actors, writers -- anyone.

For reasons you can also investigate, Mrs. Fiske decided not to play ball. At all. Period. True, she enjoyed the benefits of being wedded to Harrison Grey Fiske, publisher of the New York Dramatic Mirror, a broadsheet, but that was neither here nor there. She challenged the Trust and almost immediately she had a problem -- no place to play. At one point, Mrs. Fiske was shlepping not just herself but her own company of actors around the nation, playing in barns, tents, out in the open air -- anywhere that wasn't run by the Trust. My God, a yurt would have been like Trump's Mar-a-Lago to the woman. So when I suggest that, if you really have issues with the corporatization (whatever that means) of the nonprofit theatre world, you should think about performing somewhere else, it's not such an unfathomable or radical idea. What all of this is is the continuation -- and repitition -- of history, almost exactly 100 years later, with names and some of the circumstances different today. Virtually by herself, Mrs. Fiske managed to take down the Trust through her actions and her bravery. And it took years. Indeed, there were zero financial incentives for her to do what she did. But she did what she did because she elected to put her money where her mouth was.

Let me add: I'm all for engagement. But the idea that nonprofit theatres are going to decorporatize (whatever that means) is unrealistic. First, I know at least as many artistic directors and managing directors as you do, and even off the record I've never had a single one talk about devil's bargains with board members and feeling shackled. Good nonprofit governance, they have told me time and again, is about acquiring board members who support the artistic goals of the institution, not bring their own agendas to bear. So unless you're suggesting that you have proof that company after company is being sundered to the evil agendas of board members -- and if you do, how about some specific names, hm? -- I fear there's something agenda-driven, in fact, about what you may have in your piece.

OK, back to the third person.

As a critic, I engage daily with works whose philosophies, construction, and/or aesthetic I may or may not cotton to. By opting to perform in nonprofits, Daisey may or may not be undermining his greater argument. If he's a monologuist, he could certainly perform anywhere, couldn't he?

Yet Daisey doesn't like it when I accuse him of swatting with his "all-seeing, all-knowing, all-generalizing hand the efforts of thousands of people who I think frankly do terrific work in regional theatre more often than not." Well, this is NOT an "I Hate People charge," as he puts it. I'm suggesting that it's unfair and a little bit nasty and hasty to take down an entire group of people because he doesn't like the fact that they're not producing enough new work to satisfy him; or because, in his view, nonprofit theatres are top-heavy with administrators (most people believe nonprofit theatres are grotesquely understaffed). In his original essay, Daisey said that he hopes, regarding the play Nickel and Dimed, that

the irony will reach up and bitch-slap the staff members as they put actors, the working poor they're directly responsible for creating, in an agitprop shuck-and-jive dance about that very problem.
Wow. He does everything but use the phrase "coon show," doesn't he? All actors feel this way about this play -- or about regional theatre? You mean to tell me that the hundreds of actors who have been interviewed -- or have written in the first-person about regional theatre -- have been lying to Back Stage?

Near the end of his response, Daisey writes:

....I wouldn't presume to preach to my peers
And I'm sloppy? Oh, come on. Sure he would. Sure he would. Just practice whatever it is you preach. Just practice whatever it is you preach.

Last note, directly for Mr. Daisey: I would join you anytime, anywhere, in pursuit of effecting real and positive change in the American theatre. You write, "Mr. Jacobs, I know you are passionate about such matters—let me know if you're interested in participating." My thought is: I am already participating. But if you wanted to work with me, or to have me work with you, I'd jump at the chance. Because that's dialogue, too.

And regardless of whether you think I'm a total jerk for calling you on some stuff, at least you are indeed well off your duff and really doing something. That's 10,000% more than most people babbling on like brooks in the bibbity blogosphere. And believe it or not, I really do respect you deeply for what you do. I stopped doing theatre in 1999 for reasons not unlike your friend in Seattle -- after directing 40 plays in New York, running two nonprofit theatres (I hated to fundraise and sucked at it), and writing about 10 plays. I still consider myself one of you, not one of them. I felt for you in your essay and I felt for your friend. If nothing else, I hope you know that.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Endless and Boring Bashing of the American Theatre

I'm going to say this and let all of you slam me as you always do.

Everyone who blogs, it seems, seems to have fingers capable of typing all kinds of pissy rants on the American theatre -- regional theatre, I mean -- and everything that is wrong with it. But with the exception of the Zach Mannheimers of the world, I don't see very many people getting off their computer chairs and doing all that much about it. You've got Mike Daisey penning his misty and elegiac boo-hoo, The Empty Spaces; Or, How Theater Failed America, lamenting a system that would allow a "fantastic actress, one of the best" in Seattle, "with an intelligence and precision that has taken my breath away for years," to give up on her career, the human waste of an industry that would let someone talented feel "the fire go out of her from the relentless grind of two full-time jobs: one during the day in her cubicle, the other at night on a stage." And then Daisey plays -- and not without a certain amount of strong justification and ammunition -- another round of America's favorite pastime: the blame game. Oh, it's Actor's Equity's fault; it's the fault of the cruelly overgrown weeds of the institutional-theatre system; it's the evil nexus of arts administrators and the "increasingly complex corporate infrastructure"; it's "the removal of the artists from the premises"; it's ticket prices (and the apparently innocuous unwillingness of theatres, already battered financially, to cut them); it's the fear that the "oldest, whitest, richest donors...will stop supporting the theater once the uncouth lower classes with less money and manner start coming through the door" as a result of cut ticket prices; it's that corporations "make shitty theater"; it's dyed-in-the-wool liberals see no irony in being part of a dysfunctional aesthetic and fiscal dynamic while proferring "another Bertolt Brecht play." Omitted from this list, I'm sure, are all kinds of things, but I'm busy making sure I have enough armor to join the latest class war. Good thing there aren't any lunch counters I can't sit at.

But what is Daisey doing about it? He's creating more and more one-person shows because he knows he can and does make a living -- however much of a living it is, and I'm quite certain it's not what he ought to be paid -- doing such shows. He even admits as much in his piece. So he despises the nonprofit business model (that has undoubtedly hired him to perform), he loathes the over-corporatization of the American stage (that he undoubtedly paid for many of said performances and their development), and he dismisses with a swat of his all-seeing, all-knowing, all-generalizing hand the efforts of thousands of people who I think frankly do terrific work in regional theatre more often than not -- and yet he still solicits and takes their bookings, doesn't he? Here's what I think: STOP PERFORMING IN NONPROFIT VENUES. Will he do that? Will he guarantee that he will never, ever perform in a nonprofit venue of any kind again? How about it? How about putting one's money where one's mouth is. And, at the same time, offer some concrete alternatives to the byzantine and corrupt system he rails against.

Oh, wait. That's right. He's performing a new piece. Yes, I know. And how nice of the nonprofit Public Theater to help him along. Doesn't anyone find some cognitive dissonance in this?

Meanwhile, we've got Marsha Norman writing a New York Times piece called Playwrights and the Theater, lauding the extraordinary August: Osage County as proof positive that the idea of the resident playwright is still viable -- indeed, must br viable -- for more plays of that caliber to be written. Here's the graph:

If we wanted to do one single thing to improve the theatrical climate in America, we’d assign one playwright to every theater that has a resident acting company. People wonder why so much great work came out of Actors Theatre of Louisville in the early days. I was there, so I know it was simply that you had everything you needed: actors who wanted to work, empty stages ready for plays and an artistic director who gave everybody a chance to do whatever they wanted as soon as they could think of it. Playwriting in America has suffered a devastating blow from the development process that keeps writers separate from the rest of the company, working on the same play for years. What playwrights want is what Steppenwolf has given Mr. Letts: a way to get a new play done, see what works, and then go on to the next one. “August: Osage County” is way more than a wonderful play. It is how we get back to having American plays on Broadway. We get them written for actors who want to do them, then producers get on board and start selling tickets.
Funny thing, this, because to make it happen, we would need to actually burnish, financially and aesthetically, the nonprofit business model for the regional theatre system in the US. Hard to do that when we're bitch-slapping people for being insufficiently leftist to revive Brecht.

And what drives me nuts is how the bloggers react: "Yeah, go for it, Mike Daisey!"; "Yeah, Marsha Norman's right"; on and on. You know what the problem is? There's no unified theory of anything in the theatre anymore. Everything seems predicated on rallying around who can be the most ballsy-sounding, who can be the most petulent, who can weave together words to bring forth the necessary tear, who can sound most revolutionary, who can seem most maverick, who can jockey for position with whom, who can be the biggest twit. (Include me, thank you.) There's just no unanimity anymore -- well, there never was, I guess -- but today it's all far worse. What does the blogosphere stand for? Seriously, what is being accomplished beyond a sort of collective vomiting of dissatisfaction without having to present solutions? Oh, overthrow the commercial theatre system and the nonprofit business model and replace it with...what, exactly? Plays that are written or directed by, oh, I don't know, the bloggers? THAT'S what it's about, folks. It's all about jealousy -- well, maybe not all about jealousy, but there's an element of it. It's "Why did Sarah Ruhl's play get produced while I'm still working in some crap-hole?"

You'll notice, by the way, how craftily Norman blames it all on the critics. Yeah, that's right, it's always the critic's fault. Bubonic plague, the deaths at Masada, the temptation of the snake -- all the critic's fault. No, no, it's never, ever because the script was weak or the direction unimaginative -- or because the director encountered a playwright who thought because they authored the play, knew absolutely everything about everything about the play absolutely, wouldn't engage. No, they wouldn't discuss, wouldn't consider, wouldn't ponder, wouldn't go off somewhere and think that perhaps they might learn something about their play they didn't even know. That perhaps they wouldn't genuinely explore whether the director -- or actor, or anyone else -- might not have a legitimate point about their precious, Antiques Roadshow-ready piece of priceless dramaturgical pottery. I came across this line in Norman's essay that made me nuts:

Once in the theater, playwrights have a much better sense than the critics or the general public of who did what in the production. Quite often, we’ll see a play the critics hated, and realize that the direction was actually the problem. Directors rarely get more than a sentence in reviews, but at least we’ll know what the deal was and can say something to the writer. Sometimes we’ll see a play the audience likes, but we don’t respond to. That’s usually fine with us. Critics, however, don’t seem to know the audience is even there, and rarely mention how it responded. This strikes us as odd, to say the least. In any case, we take it all in when we go. We can usually tell by chatting with the ushers whether or not a piece is going to have a long run. We read the Playbill to see if any of the actors were in plays of ours, and we always see people we know, and almost always have a good time, regardless of our dinner or our companions — another respect in which we differ from the regular audience.
You know what? Critics cannot fully appreciate the directors work because playwrights don't want them in the room. They put up those terrible and morally insupportable walls, and then they whine, "I'm misunderstood!" Mind you, I'm not suggesting critics should be in the process to voice public opinions or to inappropriately butt into their brilliance, but let us, at the same tme, not indulge in ahistoricism gussied up as a pity party: Critics in the first half of the 20th century were regularly and fearlessly welcomed into rehearsal rooms and readings because they were considered fully legitimate, constructive, essential, objective partners in the act of dramatic creation. What Norman's prattling on about is based on fear, on the "Don't touch my baby" theory of drama that makes directors, for example, sometimes want to leap off a roof.

Bottom line: what is Marsha Norman DOING to change things? To change anything? What?

I loved August. I just loved it. Like my colleagues, I gave it a ringing endorsement and I will gladly shout it from the rooftop of your choice (preferably not, though, the rooftop of the director feeling suicidal). However, there's a risk is suggesting we tie umbilical cords from resident acting companies to playwrights -- that somehow we will standardize the manner in which new plays are developed. Many playwrights prefer to write alone. Many prefer writing for specific actors in mind. Many prefer being surrounded by a multiplicity of voices. Yes, let's have more resident acting companies -- if we don't murder arts administrators, that is -- but let's not get seduced by the assumption that it's the only way to birth a play.

Or maybe we should ask Mike Daisey how to do it better.

Or maybe those who launch criticisms should get off their asses and do something about it. To be honest, that's why John Clancy has so much of my respect. (Speaking of the lack of a unified theory of theatre, you can read John's take-down of Steppenwolf here.) You can agree or disagree with his take on theatre, but he goddamn does something about it and doesn't give a shit what anyone thinks. That's a lot braver, in my view.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Joy and Rapture of Dana Gioia

I'm a little late in writing about this, but I read this Wall Street Journal interview with NEA head Dana Gioia. Here's a salient quote or two:

"My objective has been to insist that there are things in our society that are neither right nor left," Mr. Gioia says. "What I sought to do was to take arts and arts education out of the divisive and destructive rhetoric of the culture wars."
"We set a simple goal at the NEA," he says, "which is to serve all Americans." That necessitated an activist stance, he says, because "if you only wait for the applications to come in to you, they come overwhelmingly from established arts organizations."

"See, I'm an artist," he says, "and so my primary goal is really bringing the transformative power of great art to the broadest audience possible. And I'm a business person, and I had a day job for two decades, and it taught me that there are ways to take a good idea and make it more effective and more affordable."

But his strongest influence, he says, is his childhood in Hawthorne, Calif., "a working-class neighborhood populated mostly by immigrant families." There he saw lives -- including his own -- changed by art, but also how elusive access to the arts could be.

Mr. Gioia says he wanted to tackle the problem in a systemic way. "We're thinking in terms of the whole society," he says. "Most artists in the United States are underemployed. They can't get work all year round. Most arts organizations run a deficit. Most presenting arts organizations in the United States don't own their own facility. That's the supply side.

"On the demand side, most smaller and midsize communities have very limited cultural offerings. And most students have never been to the symphony, a play, an opera. The idea is to help make it possible for people to present good works to communities and groups which would never have access to them. It's not simply to help the supply of art, but it's to match the supply and the demand."
I certainly respect Gioia for everything he has done, but I take issue that the NEA is serving all Americans. it isn't, that much we know. Indeed, when Gioia talks about supply and demand, he acknowledges as much. I think, though, that when he says "there are things in our society that are neither right nor left," that's a little, well, unfortunate. He's had to navigate difficult waters and to do so in a way that offends neither left nor right, but that's because of everything that's wrong with the right. To me.

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Arts Advocacy Update XXXI

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

Protest Group Assails Eli Broad Art
New York Times, 2/14/2008
"The Guerrilla Girls, a group that protests what it calls 'sexism and racism in politics, the art world, film and the culture at large,' sent an open letter to the philanthropist Eli Broad saying that female and minority artists are inadequately represented in the exhibition at the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and in the collection of Mr. Broad’s private foundation. In a posting on the group’s Web site,, the organization claims that of the 30 artists in the inaugural exhibition at the Broad Museum, 97 percent are white and 87 percent are male. Similarly, the group says that of the 194 artists in the collection of the Broad Foundation, the nonprofit organization that acts as a 'lending library' for Mr. Broad’s art holdings, 96 percent are white and 83 percent are male."
My question: What will the Guerilla Girls do if nothing is done?

Maryland's art industry generates megamillions
Baltimore Examiner, 2/15/2008
"More than $1 billion. This is the phenomenal amount 228 arts organizations in Maryland generated in fiscal year 2007, according to a report by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. . . . Every dollar of direct spending in the local arts industry generates $2.13 in expenditures on goods and services in Maryland, noted the report. All organizations evaluated in the study were nonprofits that received grants from the Maryland State Arts Council."
Most states develop (and should be developing) reports such as this. It's a very powerful politican weapon -- and superb ammo for arts advocates. Great to read.

N.M. film industry touts $1.5 billion windfall (NM), 2/19/2008
"According to the New Mexico Film Commission, production companies have spent more than $486 million working in the state since 2003. . . . The state has offered some generous tax incentives for movie makers, who get a 25 percent break shooting movies in New Mexico."
Good story.

Plan to measure creativity
Times Educational Supplement, 2/15/2008
In the UK, "[s]chools could soon be required to evaluate how creative pupils are. The Government is investigating ways to measure creativity to ensure children are proficient in areas that are not appraised by existing tests, such as imaginative thinking. Assessments would go beyond creative subjects such as art and music, with teachers expected to look at how pupils adopt a creative approach across the curriculum."
Good grief. I'm a liberal and this is weird even for me. I mean, I understand the desire to want to measure creativity, but this idea that we can somehow try to quanity, numerically, creativity...ugh. It's enough to want to leave every child behind. Well, some of them, anyway.

EU suggests singers and musicians should earn copyright fees for 95 years
International Herald Tribune - AP, 2/14/2008
"Singers and musicians should earn royalty fees for 95 years — almost double the current 50-year limit, a European Union official said Thursday as he promised to draft new copyright protection rules. . . . People are living longer and 50 years of copyright protection no longer give lifetime income to artists who recorded hits in their late teens or early twenties, he said."
Assignment: draw Miley Cyrus at 106 years old. Ready, go.

Grants feed growth of creative economy
Boston Business Journal, 2/14/2008
In Massachusetts, grants totaling $5,571,500 will be awarded to cultural organizations, thanks an investment of $7 million in the Cultural Facilities Fund by the Legislature in October 2007 as part of a FY2008 supplemental budget.
Good news!

Is PBS Still Necessary?
New York Times, 2/17/2008
As President Bush proposes drastic cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's 2009 budget, Charles McGrath muses whether public television, with its shrinking audience, still fills a need. (Public radio's listenership is growing.) Much of public TV's problems stem from the success of cable TV, he says, which offers "the kind of stuff that in the past you could see only on public TV, and in at least some instances they do it better. . . . Considering how much it costs to create new topnotch programming, the best solution to public television’s woes is the one that will probably never happen: more money, not less."
Or maybe we need to look at why public radio's listenership is increasing. Good article but some of the premise strikes me as agenda-driven.

Missouri’s arts funding improves ranking
Springfield Business Journal (MO), 2/14/2008
"After sinking to dead last in the country four years ago for its lack of arts funding, Missouri has improved its ranking to No. 14, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. . . . In his fiscal 2009 budget, [Governor] Blunt has recommended $14.6 million to the Missouri Arts Council – the largest appropriation to the Missouri Cultural Trust Fund in state history, according to the release. He also is recommending a $4.5 million increase for other Nonresident Athletes and Entertainers Tax cultural partners, including the Humanities Council, Public Broadcasting, Historic Preservation and State Library Networking."
California, are you listening?

Outdoors tax or not? You decide on Nov. 4
Star-Tribune (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN), 2/14/2008
"Minnesotans will be able to decide whether they want to increase the state's sales tax to help fund outdoor programs, the arts and the environment, legislators decided Thursday. . . . If voters approve, the proposed amendment to the state constitution would eventually generate about $276 million a year for groups as disparate as deer hunters and public TV."
For deer hunters? What funding do they need? Sigh.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

You Mean...Reality TV Isn't Real?

I don't blog about food much, but this "expose" in the Village Voice about Iron Chef fascinated me and, perversely, made me absolutely roar. Having interviewed Mo Rocca, a frequent judge on the program, last year, I wonder what he does during the apparently interminable breaks and set-ups and break-downs that are, in part, at the heart of this piece. Crack jokes? Order a sandwich from Subway?

Here are some choice bits from the piece. Seriously, why hasn't something like this been written about other reality shows? Because of airtight contracts? Really? Really? Or maybe it's because the fourth estate is in on the joke to some degree?

Anyway, some choice bits:

"....As far as I could tell from the monitors, it didn't matter where the guests sat, since you can't see their faces anyway, enveloped as they were in fog. Only occasionally did a sweeping shot reveal the vague characters on the edges of the room, intended to make it seem like the stadium is thronged. As a TV viewer, I was under the impression that the fog was used only at the start of the show, but the fog machines kept cranking throughout the taping, concealing all sorts of details the network might not want you to see. As the taping progressed, we felt more and more like we were viewing the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls aside the curtain and the wizard's tricks are revealed...."

"....I sat worrying about how fresh the dishes would taste to the judges, who seemed in no hurry to get the judging started. Eventually, after 45 minutes or so, they took their seats for the next part of the taping: Kelly Choi, the statuesque host of local TV show Eat Out New York, wearing an astonishing quantity of make-up; John J. Nihoff, who is described on the Food Network's website as "Professor of Gastronomy" at the Culinary Institute of America, though the institute's website styles him an associate professor of liberal arts; and Ted Allen. It was announced to the audience that the tasting of dishes for each chef would take about 45 minutes, and, I wondered, wouldn't this give the Iron Chef—whose dishes would be tasted first—a tremendous advantage?...."

"....When the champion was announced, Morimoto prevailed. As I watched the show one year later, I learned that the contest had been a rout, with Morimoto receiving 59 of 60 points, including a perfect 20 for taste. Poor Nicotra got only 51 points; he hadn't even come close. That afternoon in the studio, Iron Chef Morimoto stood impassively to receive his award, as if he couldn't wait to get the hell out of there. The audience was never given the actual scores. Instead, it was ushered out immediately and unceremoniously, since a second Iron Chef contest was about to be taped."

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You Want to Talk About Patti LuPone? Read This

My friend Paul Haber -- actor, writer, editor, filmmaker, blogger -- posted this great short piece on his blog over at today about being invited to a run-through of the Broadway-bound Patti LuPone Gypsy. Read it and turn green with envy. I know I did. I'm SO jealous.

It's no secret I think LuPone is the finest musical-theatre performer on the American stage, and one of our most vastly talented (and under-cast) actors overall. If anything, I fear she's been all rather pegged as a musical-theatre actress for so long that people actually forget this woman can do plays with exquisite meticulousness and meaning.

OK, so here are two reviews -- first my review of the John Doyle Sweeney Todd from 2005, in which she starred with Michael Cerveris, and then my review of Gypsy from last year's Encores! series. For those unaware, that is the same revival, more or less, as the one Paul saw deliriously up close yesterday.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Three Cheers for Howard Blau

I received this press release yesterday. Howie is a good friend and I'm very happy for him.

Announces Change in Board Leadership

Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU), a supportive network of producing organizations, announces a newly-appointed president of the Board of Directors, Howard L. Blau, effective January 14, 2008.

“This is a watershed moment in TRU’s twelve year history, an opportunity to bring in new leadership, new vision and new energy to propel us to a new level of service for the producing community,” stated TRU co-founder Bob Ost.

Howard L. Blau is a long-time TRU supporter, board member and an attorney in New York City with more than 37 years of practice in a wide array of legal matters. He has a special interest in helping not-for-profit organizations and has served as legal counsel to hundreds of artists and cultural institutions through a division of his company, Legal Services for the Performing Arts.
“I welcome this opportunity to serve the theater community, both not-for-profit and commercial. During the upcoming year, I plan to increase membership in TRU by 50% and to raise TRU’s profile,” Mr. Blau said.

Mr. Blau replaces Bob Ost as board president. Mr. Ost, who has served as president since TRU’s incorporation in 1995, will continue to serve as executive director and will also assume the title of Chairman of the Board.

“We welcome Howard’s expertise and leadership in his new role at TRU. This transition is an effort to stave off ‘founder’s syndrome.’ Too many worthy organizations fold when their founders need to move on and we want to make sure now that this won’t happen to TRU in the future,” said Mr. Ost.

The transition comes following an auspicious period of growth for TRU, which was founded in 1992 to promote a spirit of cooperation and support within the general theater community. Over the years, TRU grew into an information and resource conduit and began to offer a variety of entertainment-related services and resources that strengthen the business capabilities of producing organizations, individual producers, self-producing artists and other theater professionals.

Last year, TRU received funding for 2007 and 2008 from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs for the first time, and the company increased its operating budget by nearly 50%. In November, TRU hosted an immensely successful benefit at Sardi’s featuring appearances by theater legend Elaine Stritch and Tonya Pinkins, among others. In addition, producers Ken Davenport, Kristin Caskey of Fox Theatricals, Lauren Mitchell of Dodger, Stewart Lane, Randall Wreghitt, and Cheryl Wiesenfeld signed on as mentors in TRU’s Producer Mentorship Program, founded to guide career-path producer proteges with their current projects. The program currently has more than 35 active mentors who are producers and general managers working on and Off-Broadway.

TRU’s core program is a series of monthly seminars on a wide range of subjects important to theatrical producers and directors conducted by panels of experts from both the commercial and not-for-profit segments of Broadway, Off-Broadway and the motion picture industry. The seminars are open to the general public as well as TRU members. The company also publishes a bi-monthly newsletter and a monthly email newsletter update. In addition, TRU served as the umbrella organization for a co-production by several of its member companies as a part of the first annual New York Fringe Festival. From that experience, the organization expanded its production efforts by creating the TRU VOICES Annual New Play Reading Series and the TRU VOICES Annual New Musicals Reading Series in which TRU underwrites developmental readings of new works for theater. In 2001, TRU began giving annual scholarships to The Commercial Theater Institute, to encourage the development of aspiring producers; and in 2003, started an annual audition event to offer casting opportunities to TRU member producers.
Programs of Theater Resources Unlimited are supported in part by public funds awarded through the New York State Council on the Arts and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, as well as generous support from the Friar’s National Foundation Association.

For more information about TRU, including membership benefits, visit

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Monday, February 18, 2008

The Death of a New Musical

While everyone is flapping their gums and their wings worshipping Mike Daisey and his takedown of the regional theatre movement (I'm going to be weighing in very soon, and no, you won't like my view), everyone should read Chris Jones' analysis in the Chicago Tribune of the life and death of a new American musical at the Goodman in Chicago.

Gosh, remember when first-string critics in New York used to do reporting like this?

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And you thought Leni Riefenstahl was the last controversial not-a-Nazi Nazi?

Here's a great story from the Guardian about a 104-year-old Dutch cabaret singer who crooned for Hitler.

Just had to point this out. Maybe there's a play in this.

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Do obscure indie pop/rock songwriters just make better musicals?

Rob Kendt is asking this question in a recent post, particularly as he compares the attempts at musical theatre by superstars (Barry Manilow's Harmony; Paul Simon's The Capeman) versus stuff like Stew's Passing Strange or the various Groovelily ventures.

Personally, I think it's an interesting question. Here's a very well thought out graph:

I'm wondering if this has to do with the relatively smaller egos of "indie" musicians; with their band-bred familiarity with collaboration on the one hand, and their offbeat or outsider sensibilities, honed by their non-mainstream career path, on the other hand; the seat-of-the-pants ethos such artists find, and recognize very well, in the Off-Broadway and regional theaters where they develop a lot of their work. On the audience side, I wonder if being a huge pop star with a hummable hit catalogue is a disadvantage when you try to write a brand-new original musical; in a version of the old struggle between the artist who wants to play all the songs from his new record and the audience who wants to hear all the hits, I think that most fans of a major pop artist don't necessarily flock to a new show that happens to have music by that artist--unless it's a jukebox musical, and even then, it's a gamble. Theater fans, on the other hand, do tend to flock to shows that are supposed to be really, really good and fresh and interesting, and the name of the composer isn't what is going to get them in the door unless it's Sondheim.
I'd only like to add that I think it has less to do with whether the songwriter in question is a megastar or an indie-fringe person and more about whether the songwriter in question knows how to freight songs with the quality of narrative. Rob quite rightly submits Elton John as the exception to the rule -- but really, that's only recently, what with Billy Elliot and whatnot. Until now, I don't think Elton John has had much of a clue how songs function in a musical.

A couple of other thoughts. The Capeman has a great score; what killed it was Mark Morris not understanding anything about the function of narrative -- that of book, score or choreography, strangely enough -- in a musical theatre context. And aside from Mark Anthony and Ednita Nazario, it was completely miscast. If memory serves, The Capeman was also intermissionless -- that was about preventing people from leaving, not about some narrative superstructure, like that of A Chorus Line, where the intermission was needlessly hurt the emotional build.

Now, Groovelily is an interesting story. I know them, or at least I've met them, interviewed them and had an opportunity to spend a little time with them. At one point, back when they acted as if they wanted to be friends with me, we were even kicking around an idea for a musical for which I would write the book. But aside from such grousing, do not consider me one of the deliriously enchanted with Striking 12. I know, I know, everyone creamed over it, but ultimately I thought it was visually -- and narratively -- static, in the final analysis. Clever lyrics and neat tunes are fine for the musical theatre of yesterday, or chamber pieces like Striking 12 wants to be, and certainly I'm in the minority in terms of what I thought of it. But I just didn't come away convinced that this was anything but a very talented indie band giving off a frisson of narrative-writing ability. So, nyeh. (Actually, here is my 2006 New York Press review of Striking 12.)

Anyway, great post, Rob. Lots of food for thought.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Quote of the Day: Edward Albee

"In the two or three months that it takes me to write a play, I find that the reality of the play is a great deal more alive for me than what passes for reality."

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New Review: Crimes of the Heart

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Arts Advocacy Update XXX

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

Comcast Defends Role As Internet Traffic Cop
Washington Post, 2/13/2008

"Comcast said yesterday that it purposely slows down some traffic on its network, including some music and movie downloads, an admission that sparked more controversy in the debate over how much control network operators should have over the Internet. . . . Comcast argues that it should be able to direct traffic so networks don't get clogged; consumer groups and some Internet companies argue that the networks should not be permitted to block or slow users' access to the Web."
Should we be outraged by this? Oh, but that's ok -- people in red states, some of them at least, will still vote against their interests by electing Republicans who see nothing wrong with these kinds of clearly anti-American, anti-constitutional shenanigans. Shame on these idiots.

First Salinas arts congress strives to boost business, young minds
The Californian (Salinas, CA), 2/7/2008

In California, "[a]bout 100 of Salinas’ most creative citizens met Thursday to help generate and shape a vigorous future for the city’s arts. The Sherwood Hall event was the first-ever Salinas Arts Congress. . . . Citizens’ ideas included: A city-wide arts festival; Displaying art in vacant downtown buildings; A grant writer to get money to promote the arts in Salinas; A cultural arts center; An arts effort that is ethnically diverse and open to all. Those and other goals added up to a blueprint for action, which will undergo refinement and planning at the next Salinas Arts Congress, set for March 17."
Funny thing is, look how many of these ideas have NYC resonance -- art in vacant buildings, for example, makes me recall Chashama. This is encouraging stuff.

Giving the Arts More Room to Grow
Washington Post, 2/7/2008

"Cultural groups throughout the [Washington, DC] region are lining up for a new kind of casting call, hoping to be chosen by Arlington County to play a leading part in the county's transformation from a suburban bedroom community to an artistic mecca. Arlington County recently finalized a deal with a Rosslyn developer that will allow it to offer the former Newseum rent-free for 10 years, presenting arts organizations with the prospect of getting a world-class performance space."
Not to be negative, but this sounds a little pie in the sky, I fear. The idea is that the Newseum is kicking off this radical remaking of Arlington County? Really? Are the numbers there to assure this will happen, or this is along the lines of Build it and They Will Come? I'm just a little skeptical.

Bush's proposed arts cuts bring outcry
Akron Beacon Journal (OH), 2/7/2008
After describing President Bush's proposed budget for the arts, including cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Dorothy Shinn comments, "[P]erhaps worst of all, Bush asks nothing — not one thin dime — for the U.S. Department of Education's Arts in Education program in the 2009 budget, compared with the $35.3 million enacted appropriations in the 2008 budget. . . . Once again, the current administration fails to understand the valuable role of arts education in developing an innovative and creative society."
Well, Ms. Shinn, that's because we need every available dollar to ensure we murder more young Americans "surging" in Iraq. At least in Bush's post-Administration view of it, that is.

Statewide school for the arts awaits governor's signature
New Mexico Business Weekly, 2/11/2008

"A statewide public charter school focusing on the arts is inching closer to reality with passage of legislation now awaiting Gov. Bill Richardson's signature. The House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 34, sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Nava, D-Las Cruces, to create the New Mexico School for the Arts. The school is slated to start in 2009 and will be a residential public charter high school for students with promise and aptitude for the arts."

A Tight Grip Can Choke Creativity
New York Times, 2/9/2008
Joe Nocera discusses fair use vis-a-vis the case of Warner Bros. Entertainment and J. K. Rowling v. RDR Books, over RDR Books' plan to publish a Harry Potter Lexicon. Rowling "is essentially claiming that the decision to publish — or even to allow — a Harry Potter encyclopedia is hers alone, since after all, the characters in her books came out of her head. They are her intellectual property. And in her view, no one else can use them without her permission." Lawrence Lessig's Fair Use Project was born "to push back against copyright hogs like J. K. Rowling. No one is saying that anyone can simply steal the work of others. But the law absolutely allows anyone to create something new based on someone else’s art. . . . And that is what is being forgotten as copyright holders try to tighten their grip."
Truth is, this is about more than J.K. Rowling. Can you say "Disney" and "Mickey Mouse" and "Gershwin"?

City ready to boost the arts
Columbus Dispatch (OH), 2/8/2008

"Columbus [OH] City Council members are expected to announce financial support today for several cultural groups, including the struggling Columbus Symphony. The money, which would come mostly from higher-than-expected hotel-room tax revenue, is likely to be matched by Franklin County commissioners and corporate donors. . . . The arts support is part of up to $2.8 million in council amendments to Mayor Michael B. Coleman's city budget for 2008. The money would go to the Columbus Cultural Leadership Consortium, a coalition of 16 cultural organizations."
Also nice!

Rell Proposes Cultural Boosts
Hartford Courant (CT), 2/10/2008
"On Wednesday Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed a boost to culture and tourism in the state with a $3.6 million increase in grants, a separate $20 million bonding fund for capital improvements for arts, cultural, historic and tourism venues, and a new home for Hartford Symphony Orchestra rehearsal and performance. In announcing her revised, $17.2 billion state budget for fiscal 2008-09, Rell asked the legislature to increase grant money to the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism to total $10 million, an increase of $3.6 million. Last year the legislature boosted cultural and tourism grants to the commission by $4 million on top of the existing $2.4 million designated specifically to arts groups."
A particularly good thing about this is that Rell is apparently on McCain's short list for VP. Rell is that extinct species -- a moderate Republican. I tend to think she won't get the nod because of that, and that's fine. Let her stay in Connecticut and support the arts.

Foundation Spending Patterns Driven by Multiple Factors, Report Finds
Philanthropy News Digest, 2/7/2008
"Foundation type, size, staffing patterns, and operating activities are the key factors that consistently drive foundation expense and compensation patterns, a new report from the Urban Institute, the Foundation Center, and GuideStar finds. Moreover, even under changing or volatile economic conditions, the administrative expense and compensation patterns of U.S. foundations are consistent and predictable. The report, 'What Drives Foundation Expenses and Compensation? Results of a Three-Year Study' (104 pages, PDF), presents the findings from the first large-scale, long-term study of independent, corporate, and community foundations' expenses and compensation."
I haven't read the study but I will. I recommend that all of us do. It's probably very interesting.

Knight Foundation announces $40 million boost for local arts groups
Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), 2/6/2008

"South Florida arts groups got a $40 million boost from the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which announced on Wednesday a broad range of grants designed to spur the region's cultural growth. The largest segment of the Knight Arts Partnership is a $20 million fund that will be made available on a matching grant basis to individuals and groups in Broward and Miami-Dade counties — from grass-roots to institutional levels — in a contest for 'innovative arts ideas' over the next five years."
I'm curious as to what "innovative" means and whether it will be connected in some way to the real estate slump. Just thinkin'.

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Last Call: Have You Ever Taken a Gay Cruise?

Thank you to everyone who responded to this. I'm posting this one more time just in case a few people didn't have a chance to get in touch with me:

If you have -- or if you know someone who has -- gone on a gay cruise, either all-gay or as part of a large group, I have some short questions for a freelance, non-theatre-related article I've been hired to write for a commercial website.

Questions can be put in the form of an email, and replies, if preferred, can remain anonymous.

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Quote of the Day: Norman Mailer

"I think it can be dangerous for young writers to be modest when they're young. I've known a number of truly talented writers who did less than they could have done because they weren't vain and unpleasant enough about their talent. You have to take it seriously."

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Arts Advocacy Update XXIX

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

Graying of arts audience a concern
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2/1/2008

"Graying audiences are a problem for nonprofit arts and entertainment groups nationwide, but the problem gets magnified in Allegheny County, the second-oldest big county in the country.... To tackle the problem, City Theatre and other arts groups are developing whole new ways to market themselves, using text messaging and other technology to reach young fans; devising ways to make arts experiences unique; and providing ticket discounts, networking opportunities and a splash of booze."
What is that, the Theater of Enabling? Shoot, sign me up.

Aspen short on money for the arts
Napa Valley Register (CA), 1/31/2008
"After seven public meetings and scores of surveys and in-depth interviews, some 700 people have had a hand in drafting a four-year plan for the arts in Napa County.... The draft plan got its final public airing Jan. 23 in a meeting that drew more than 100 people — including three mayors and a county supervisor — to the Napa Valley Opera House CafĂ© Theatre for a two- hour strategy session." The county’s newly-formed Arts and Culture Commission will meet on meeting Feb. 5 to begin the work: "prioritizing the many ideas included in the arts and culture plan."
Slippery slope? No, no, seriously, this is great to read.

Plan to boost California's arts budget dies in committee
Los Angeles Times, 2/2/2008
"The latest bid to get California's semi-starved state arts-granting agency off its five-year subsistence diet has died in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Backers said the bill would have secured $30 million or more each year for the California Arts Council, which has operated on $3 million to $5 million annual budgets since 2003 after peaking at $32 million in 2001."
This is so ridiculous. In San Francisco they could ask every homeless person for a dime and they'd raise this much money. Californians should be completely and utterly ashamed of their stupid and ignorant government. Man, Spielberg could spit from one corner of Hollywood and Vine to the other and raise this money -- or write a check.

Arts Groups Expect Pain, Seek Early Deposits, Donors
Bloomberg News, 2/1/2008
"[W]orried as the U.S. stock market continues to slide and the Federal Reserve tries to ward off recession," arts organizations around the country "are searching for new donors, convincing major supporters to contribute more, cutting costs and diversifying investment portfolios to protect their endowments. Donations to the arts trail gifts to religious groups and educational and health-care institutions. Arts groups fear the pain will be worse in a recession."
Smart move. Better to be prepared than caught unawares like during (and before) the last recession.

Bracing for Tough Times
Chronicle of Philanthropy, 2/7/2008
"The faltering economy is starting to affect a growing number of charities and the people they serve. In recent weeks, nonprofit organizations have heard from donors who are putting off big gifts, and some groups that rely mostly on small donations have also seen a falloff. . . . Giving to arts groups tends to experience bigger gains during good times and harder crashes during bad times."
Of course, this is rather than response to the link just above, isn't it? Funny how that dynamic works.

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New Review: Betrayed

This ran in the New York Press.
Forgot to put a post in the other day.

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Happy V-Day

Hey, kids. This is turning into another long week. At least it isn't filled with NYPL-generated tsuris. That's a relief. But then, the week isn't over. Saw Crimes of the Heart on Tuesday (look for my review on later tonight) and suffered through Macbeth at BAM last night (yeah, I know, Patrick Stewart, blah blah blah, but ugh). I may take a week or so off from this to get some other stuff done. Just so's you know's.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Quote of the Day: William Attwood

"Not all writers are artists. But all of us like the idea of somebody in the year 2283 blowing the dust off one of our books, thumbing through it and exclaiming, "Hey, listen to what this old guy had to say back in the twentieth century!"

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Monday, February 11, 2008

New Review: Grace

For Back Stage. The photo, by the way, is not from Grace, but from a blog I stumbed on. But it really captures Lynn Redgrave as she looks now. She is an international treasure. The play, well, not so much. But not bad, either.

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New Podcast: The Leonard Jacobs Show, Episode II

Well, the second episode of The Leonard Jacobs Show is now podcastable for your listening delectation. I do love this description of the taping of the podcast on the nytheatrecast blog:

Leonard Jacobs moderates the first of a series of podcasts to introduce the playwrights of Plays and Playwrights 2008. Meet Crystal Skillman (The Telling Trilogy), Daniel Reitz (Fall Forward) and Daniel Talbott (What Happened When) and gain some insight into these talented folk.

All three are members of Rising Phoenix Rep, a fairly new theatre company founded by Daniel Talbott. Leonard became acquainted with the company in his role as chair of the Honorary Awards Committee for the New York Innovative Theatre Awards which in 2007 bestowed the Caffe Cino Fellowship Award to Rising Phoenix Rep.

Extremely comfortable with each other, Daniel, Crystal, and Daniel have lots of opinions and thoughts to share with Leonard and the listening audience. Find out which one works on their plays early in the morning; which one doesn’t really do re-writes too often, and which one is the newest to playwriting.

Plays and Playwrights 2008 is the ninth anthology of work by emerging playwrights published by The New York Theatre Experience. Enjoy this podcast and there will be more to follow for a chance to meet the rest of the playwrights.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Have You Ever Taken a Gay Cruise? Either All-Gay or a Large Group?

If you have -- or if you know someone who has -- I have some short questions for a freelance, non-theatre-related article I've been hired to write for a commercial website.

Questions can be put in the form of an email, and responses, if preferred, can remain anonymous.


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New Articles: Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell of Sunday in the Park with George

This is my profile of Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell, playing the leads in the Roundabout revival (via the Menier Chocolate Factory in London) of Sunday in the Park with George.

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New Reviews: Two Thousand Years

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New Review: Applause at Encores!

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NY Innovative Theatre Awards -- Honorary Award Applications Now On Line


New York, NY-February 7, 2008: The New York Innovative Theatre Awards (the IT Awards), the organization dedicated to celebrating Off-Off-Broadway, is pleased to announce that applications for the 2008 Honorary Awards are now available online and are due by 5pm on May 1, 2008.

The Honorary Awards are:
The Artistic Achievement Award, presented to an individual who has made a significant artistic contribution to the Off-Off-Broadway community;
The Stewardship Award, presented to an individual or organization demonstrating a significant contribution to the Off-Off-Broadway community through service, support and leadership;
The Caffe Cino Fellowship Award, presented to an Off-Off-Broadway theatre company that consistently produces outstanding work. This award also includes a grant ($1,000-$5,000) to be used toward an Off-Off-Broadway production.

The Honorary Awards Committee, chaired by Leonard Jacobs, is comprised of people deeply grounded in the Off-Off-Broadway community. A complete list of committee members is available on the IT Awards website at,

The recipients of the 2007 Honorary Awards were Doric Wilson-The Artistic Achievement Award, ART/NY - The Stewardship Award and Rising Phoenix Repertory- The Caffe Cino Fellowship Award

"We're so proud to be a part of the independent theatre community and the New York Innovative Theatre Awards. Receiving this year's Caffe Cino Award meant the world to us, especially because it came from a group of our peers. RPR is an ensemble based endeavor in every sense of the word and the best thing about the award is that it honors every single person who helps to make our work possible--from the producing heads of the company, actors, directors, designers and playwrights down to our friends, family and volunteers who help us stuff programs, sweep floors and run the light boards." said Daniel Talbot, Artistic Director of Rising Phoenix Repertory.

About The New York IT Awards:
The IT Awards are given annually to honor individuals and organizations who have achieved artistic excellence in Off-Off-Broadway theatre. The New York IT Awards recognizes the unique and essential role Off-Off-Broadway plays in contributing to American and global culture, and believes that publicly recognizing excellence in Off-Off-Broadway theatre will expand audience awareness and appreciation of the full New York theatre experience.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Friday, February 08, 2008

Does a Marriage Proposal Ever Get Better Than This?

Courtesy of the recently engaged Rob Kendt. I cried. WOW!

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Americans for the Arts Weighs in on FY 2009 NEA Funding

I received this press release today.

Americans for the Arts Responds to the Administration's FY 2009
Arts and Culture Funding Recommendations

Washington, DC—February 4, 2008—Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert L. Lynch gave the following statement on the release of the president’s budget for FY 2009:

“On the heels of signing the largest Congressionally-initiated funding increase for the arts in 28 years, President Bush has proposed a senseless $16.3 million cut for FY 2009 for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)—from $144.7 million to $128.4 million. After three years of minimal, but incremental, funding growth, we are sorry to see an attempt at this progress erased. Americans for the Arts calls on Congress to restore full funding to the NEA at its FY 1992 level of $176 million, which spurred significant economic growth, artistic achievement, and accessibility to the nation’s cultural organizations across the nation. The nonprofit arts industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity annually for the U.S. economy, supports 5.7 million full-time jobs, and returns $12.6 billion in income tax revenue back to the federal government.

In May 2007, the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, led by Chairman Norm Dicks (D-WA), approved $160 million in funding for the NEA—$32 million more than the White House’s FY2008 proposal. We applaud Congress for its continued and significant support of federal arts and culture funding.

It is also disappointing to see the Administration’s efforts to zero out funding for the eighth consecutive year to the U.S. Department of Education’s arts education programs budget. Arts literacy is as central to an educated citizenry as are reading, math, and science. The Administration needs to understand the role of arts education in developing an innovative and creative society.

Finally, the President has proposed a nearly 60 percent rescission cut to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), despite Republicans and Democrats in Congress having appropriated $400 million in forward funding. The CPB allows for public broadcasters nationwide to air a broad range of high-quality arts and cultural programming.”

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Monday, February 04, 2008

New Review: Hunting and Gathering

My review of the new Brooke Berman play, produced at Primary Stages and written for Back Stage, can be found here.
This is, by the way, my 400th post.

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Arts Advocacy Update XXVIII

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

Mellon Foundation Grant Gives Voice to Seven Plays in New Series
Playbill, 1/22/2008

"A $2.7 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will fuel a new-works series conceived and presented by The Public Theater in association with LAByrinth Theater Company between February and June. . . . The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation's five-year grant is one of the largest grants ever received by the Public Theater and will be used, in part, 'to allow audiences to see these important new plays for only $10, cheaper than the price of a movie ticket,' The Public announced Jan. 22."
Some people are whining that this won't be focused on new writers. While I'm not unsympathetic, what, precisely, is wrong with focuses on new plays themselves? And what does "new writers" mean, anyway? Isn't that, in certain quarters, just pissy code for "I'm not one of the usual suspects so I'm not going to get chosen"?

Mayor Seeks Arts District to Revitalize West Street
Washington Post, 1/24/2008

"Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D) has unveiled a proposal to establish an arts and entertainment district on West Street in hopes that it would revitalize the area and draw more art to the city. . . . The program would create a 100-acre swath on West Street in which art sites would be exempt from certain city and county taxes."
100 acres in Annapolis strikes me as enormous. This is major stuff, and very exciting.

Preserving arts spaces in Seattle
Seattle Times, 1/25/2008

"The crisis faced by small- and medium-sized arts organizations in Seattle comes down to two words: real estate." Roger Valdez opines, "The city of Seattle and King County's 4Culture services agency ought to develop more aggressive and innovative strategies to preserve and create [spaces for theater, music and dance] in Seattle" by (1) acquiring and redeveloping properties for cultural uses; (2) "zoning that allows more building height in return for on-site cultural use or payment for it elsewhere"; (3) expanding "the transfer of development rights for cultural use"; and (4) creating "an inventory of properties that present opportunities for preserving or creating arts and cultural assembly spaces, and support a program to educate and help arts organizations develop long-term facilities plans."
Um, does anyone think New York City could benefit from this kind of thinking? Maybe, instead of playing patty-cake and kissy-face with real estate developers and, in effect, waving a big middle finger to the small, struggling and homeless theatre groups that dot Manhattan like the measles, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn should, if she really wants to prove her mettle as a potential successor to Bloomberg, propose something just like this. I'm not holding my breath.

Copyright law should distinguish between commercial and cultural uses
Guardian Unlimited (UK), 1/30/2008

"Regardless of who wants to make a new Spider-Man comic, movie or other derivative work, that person has to hire a lawyer, have that lawyer call up Marvel Comics, set up a call or a face- to-face, negotiate a contract, sign it, pay a fee, and report on their ongoing uses, opening their books for auditing and inspection. Sony Pictures can do this. . . . But little Timmy can't do it. He never could. And yet when you talk to comic book creators, they'll tell you that they got started by drawing copies of other peoples' work. . . . [W]e need to establish a new copyright regime that reflects the age-old normative consensus about what's fair and what isn't at the small-scale, hand-to-hand end of copying, display, performance and adaptation. A diverse and extremely sensible group of people are doing just this: the Access to Knowledge (A2K) treaty is a proposal from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)."
Any thoughts on how this would effect theatre, if at all?

Arts & The 'Creative Economy'
WBUR (Boston), 1/30/2008

"As the economy slows down, Massachusetts lawmakers are banking on any sector that's poised to do well: biotech, renewable energy and the arts. Cultural tourism is a two-billion dollar industry in the state, and that's just part of what's called the 'Creative Economy.' WBUR's Andrea Shea reports on the Creative Economy's impact -- how it's measured, and who's reaping the rewards."
Two billion dollars? Good grief. Very impressive.

Arts Council gives 11th-hour reprieve over funding cuts
The Independent (UK), 1/28/2008
"It was set to be the bloodiest cull of the arts for more than half a century. But, in a dramatic 11th-hour reprieve, Arts Council England has been forced to reconsider potentially devastating funding cuts for for dozens of organisations."
And to think the Tower of London was all set for these idiots to be beheaded.

Barack Obama's Arts Policy
Community Arts Network blog, 1/25/2008

Forwarded from the Obama '08 campaign, this statement describes Barak Obama's platform in support of the arts. Planks include support for arts education; an Artist Corps; increased funding for the NEA; promoting cultural diplomacy; attracting foreign talent; and health care for artists.
This is very exciting, although, in a way, it's also a little safe. I think the most interesting part is the idea of an Artists Corps. Anyway, here's some of the more salient parts of Obama's platform.

Create an Artist Corps: Barack Obama supports the creation of an “Artists Corps” of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities. Studies in Chicago have demonstrated that test scores improved faster for students enrolled in low-income schools that link arts across the curriculum than scores for students in schools lacking such programs.

Support Increased Funding for the NEA: Over the last 15 years, government funding for the National Endowment for the Arts has been slashed from $175 million annually in 1992 to $125 million today. Barack Obama supports increased funding for the NEA, the support of which enriches schools and neighborhoods all across the nation and helps to promote the economic development of countless communities.

Promote Cultural Diplomacy: American artists, performers and thinkers – representing our values and ideals – can inspire people both at home and all over the world. Through efforts like that of the United States Information Agency, America’s cultural leaders were deployed around the world during the Cold War as artistic ambassadors and helped win the war of ideas by demonstrating to the world the promise of America. Artists can be utilized again to help us win the war of ideas against Islamic extremism. Unfortunately, our resources for cultural diplomacy are at their lowest level in a decade. Barack Obama will work to reverse this trend and improve and expand public-private partnerships to expand cultural and arts exchanges throughout the world.

Attract Foreign Talent: The flipside to promoting American arts and culture abroad is welcoming members of the foreign arts community to America. Opening America’s doors to students and professional artists provides the kind of two-way cultural understanding that can break down the barriers that feed hatred and fear. As America tightened visa restrictions after 9/11, the world’s most talented students and artists, who used to come here, went elsewhere. Barack Obama will streamline the visa process to return America to its rightful place as the world’s top destination for artists and art students.

Provide Health Care to Artists: Finding affordable health coverage has often been one of the most vexing obstacles for artists and those in the creative community. Since many artists work independently or have nontraditional employment relationships, employer-based coverage is unavailable and individual policies are financially out of reach. Barack Obama’s plan will provide all Americans with quality, affordable health care. His plan includes the creation of a new public program that will allow individuals and small businesses to buy affordable health care similar to that available to federal employees. His plan also creates a National Health Insurance Exchange to reform the private insurance market and allow Americans to enroll in participating private plans, which would have to provide comprehensive benefits, issue every applicant a policy, and charge fair and stable premiums. For those who still cannot afford coverage, the government will provide a subsidy. His health plan will lower costs for the typical American family by up to $2,500 per year.

Ovation TV Adds Cultural Partners
Broadcasting & Cable, 1/28/2008
"Ovation TV is partnering with a bevy of cultural institutions and organizations to develop content for the network and enhance marketing for the organizations. . . . The deal gives Ovation access to a vast amount of cultural content and people who are knowledgeable about that content. In return, the local organizations get marketing at a national scale."
Well, sounded very exciting until I read the piece. Then I thought ... same old, same old. Here's the paragraph in question:
Among the organizations participating: the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles Opera, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Harlem School of the Arts, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and P.S. Arts in Los Angeles.
I mean, does the Museum of Modern Art really need the exposure? Really?

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