Wednesday, April 30, 2008

New Podcast: Mike Daisey, How Theater Failed America

And now for something...different! The Leonard Jacobs Show is back, and my latest guest is Mike Daisey. Yes, I know, I know, I've tangled with him before in the various and hallowed halls of the blogosphere and the Internets, but this was a really terrific conversation and I'm deeply grateful to Mike for participating. And here's the link to the podcast: download and enjoy!

Also, here's a link to Martin Denton's review of Mike's show.

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New Review: Thurgood



In the New York Press. Here's the first graph of my review:

Thurgood, by George Stevens Jr., isn’t much of a play, but that doesn’t mean it lacks drama. It’s more of a history lesson, a majestic and commanding set piece for Laurence Fishburne to reincarnate the spirit and physicality of the late and legendary Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall.

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Alicia Hurley of NYU Amasses Her Troops

Well, Alicia Hurley of NYU -- she's Vice President for Government Relations and Community Engagement, otherwise known as the best friend of the wrecking ball -- is hurriedly sending out emails to those voicing their opposition to the demolition of the Provincetown Playhouse and attaching a slick (and likely misleading) PDF claiming that the demolition and reconstruction of the building will be the university's greatest gift to urban planning since Olmstead and Vaux proposed and built Central Park.

I have written this modern-day Cruella De Vil the following email. And thank God the emails and phone calls voicing opposition are still pouring in, despite today's article in the New York Times.

Nice bit of propaganda you're selling there, Ms. Hurley. Unlike Mr. Beckman, who promised he would send me, an alum of NYU, the PDF you've been sending to people voicing opposition to your plan to demolish the Provincetown Playhouse, I have obtained it through other means. Not that I was surprised to find Mr. Beckman untrue to his word.

What's disturbing is the choice of language in the email you're sending out: "So far you have been presented with only one side of the story. The attached material attempts to offer a fuller view." So much for your empathetic quote to the Times: "Our minds are open, our hearts are open." You're open to little more than your addiction to demolition.

NYU publicly agreed to exhaust all reuse possibilites before hauling out your precious wrecking ball. Just as Andrew Berman has rightly emphasized, you have not done so and the community -- more mobilized, more enraged than you may think -- will continue to battle your plans. You can foist as slick a PDF as you can devise upon the public, you can wear a bleeding-heart mask to the Times all you like. NYU has arrogantly abrogated its agreement to make reuse a priority and thus has spurned the trust of the community, the New York theatre, and the American theatre. How dare you demand such trust be given to you simply because you're NYU.

If it wasn't already terrible enough that you're addicted to a culture of demolition, now there's proof you're addicted to a culture of exceptionalism, too.

Leonard Jacobs

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Another Way to Consider How NYU Plunges a Knife into the Arts

When you have a moment, take a look at the names on the board of trustees of New York University. Here's a link to the list. Notice any artists on it? Notice anyone with any deep and abiding connection to any creative profession? There's not even a single alum of the Tisch School of the Arts on the list -- not a Martin Scorcese, not a Spike Lee. No wonder President John Sexton thinks he can demolish the Provincetown Playhouse with impunity.

On the basis of the emails I've seen going out, I can tell you that the campaign to block Sexton is heating up very dramatically. NYU will be stopped.

And the irony of all of this, of course, is that Sexton's son, Jed, is an actor.

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Gotta Love Her

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Monday, April 28, 2008

New Review: The Country Girl


Reviewed for Back Stage. Here's a tease:

What would attract Morgan Freeman, Frances McDormand, and Peter Gallagher to Clifford Odets' The Country Girl? Perhaps it's the meat of their characters more than the play itself. Indeed, forget all the gossip you've read over whether playwright Jon Robin Baitz, credited with "material revisions" for the Broadway revival, has tweaked the script a lot or a little — this isn't Odets' keenest work. But it is plainly a commercial vehicle, with a suspenseful backstage story and a predictable romantic triangle that has the ability to ensnare. Critics noted this back at the time of the original 1950 production, which Odets staged; even with Mike Nichols at the helm, the verdict on the drama remains unchanged. The Country Girl was also a big hit in 1950, so given the star wattage on stage at the Jacobs Theatre, it's likely to become one again....

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Arts Advocacy Update XXXIX

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of April 23, 2008:


Arts boom
Southern Voice, 4/18/2008
"Atlanta may never have the concentration of theaters of London’s West End, or a bohemian artist district like the lofts of New York’s SoHo. But in a slack economy heralded almost every day in the news, Atlanta’s art-centric businesses saw almost 20 percent growth in 2007. The Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs released a report this month showing 2,430 arts-related businesses employed 23,198 people in the city last year — up more than 18 percent over 2006. That combines with a report from 2007 estimating the arts generate $274 million in economic impact in Atlanta’s city limits alone."
When was the last time the writer visited SoHo? A "bohemian artist district." And here we are this whole time, thinking it was dying.


Richardson: Let's connect film, tourism industries more
New Mexico Business Weekly, 4/18/2008
"The state needs to find a way to partner tourism with New Mexico's successful film industry, said Gov. Bill Richardson, who addressed attendees at the Governor's Conference on Tourism on April 17 in Roswell. . . . Richardson also said the growth of the arts in small communities around New Mexico presents good tourism opportunities. 'Let's take advantage of artists moving into these small communities and promote the arts,' he said. The state is open to helping with projects for things like art centers and Main Street programs, he added. Richardson's office created a program to support the development of arts and cultural districts in towns around the state."
I wish he was a good a politician as his policies are good.


Study details cultural and economic impact of IU Jacobs School of Music
Indiana University website, 4/21/2008
"The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music helps foster Indiana's economic and cultural well-being. According to a study released today (April 21), the Jacobs School accounts for $120 million a year in economic activity in Indiana, supporting about 900 jobs and generating $4.7 million in state and local taxes. But the school's impact goes far beyond dollars and cents, says the study, which quantifies the ways in which the Jacobs School and its faculty, students and alumni play an essential role in the vibrancy of the state's cultural life."
Hello, Barack? Hey buddy, how are ya? Hey, do you think you could use this information on the stump? (Click.) Hello? Hello? (Click.) Oh...yeah, hi, Hillary. Grrrrr...


Arts Get a Little Play in the Presidential Race
WHYY (Philadelphia, PA), 4/15/2008
Top issues on the campaign trail are often the economy, abortion and the military. The arts don't usually get to share much of the spotlight. WHYY's Alex Schmidt reports that this year is different.
The link will lead you to an MP3 file. Very interesting stuff.


Campaign 2008: Where the Candidates Stand on Nonprofit Issues
Chronicle of Philanthropy, May 1 2008
The Chronicle of Philanthropy has compiled information about the contenders of the White House — and where they stand on the issues that matter to nonprofit causes — in a new section of its Web site. It includes summaries of Sen. Clinton's and Sen. Obama's platforms on the arts.


Cuyahoga County cigarette tax money helps local arts groups weather economic storms
Cleveland Plain Dealer (OH), 4/20/2008
"[E]ven as the mortgage crisis, population loss and the departure of corporate headquarters have put the squeeze on Northeast Ohio, some local arts groups report they're faring reasonably well. That's thanks in large part to county's cigarette tax for arts and culture, which is being credited as a crucial stabilizer for tough times." Also credited with helping some organizations is the Cleveland Foundation program to improve business practices called BASIC: Building the Arts Strengths in Cleveland.
So this is the only good thing about smoking, hm?


Massachusetts Cultural Council poised to get $150K budget increase
Boston Business Journal, 4/17/2008
The Massachusetts Cultural Council will receive a $150,000 funding boost in FY 2009 if the House Ways and Means Committee has its way. But the committee's budget "did not include funding for the landmark Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, which was established in 2006. . . . The MCC is working to file an amendment to include continued support for the Cultural Facilities Fund."
Oh, they'll work it out. My observation is that Massachusetts is actually pretty decent to the arts. Love those liberals up there.


Plan to use arts money for mines rejected
Arizona Republic, 4/17/2008
"It's not a good trade-off to use arts money to help fill Arizona's abandoned mines, a legislative panel decided Wednesday. The [Arizona] House Appropriations Committee rejected a plan that would have taken the money that goes into the state's arts trust fund and diverted it to the state's abandoned-mines fund."
So, in other words, no one is getting the shaft?

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

New Review: Cry-Baby


This review went up Thursday night at Back Stage.

Here's a tease:

If only Cry-Baby, the new musical derived from John Waters' 1990 film, was a mess like Good Vibrations or Lestat. If only, conversely, it was smart enough to make discussing the screen-to-stage transition meaningful. The high-energy, good-looking cast may work their hearts out to entertain, and Rob Ashford's choreography may be as impressively athletic as anything Michael Kidd once did, but when the blubber meets the road, Cry-Baby is aggressively mediocre.

And, by the way, blubber does not refer to fat. If you've never heard of blubbering, here's a definition for you.

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New Review: Our Town (the opera)


This review went up Thursday night at Back Stage.

Here's a tease:

For their three-act opera of Thornton Wilder's immortal Our Town, librettist J.D. McClatchy and composer Ned Rorem have put the original play through a colander, straining out minor characters and leaving Grover's Corners hauntingly underpopulated. The authors clearly know better than to tamper with Wilder's modus operandi -- the omnipotent, saturnine Stage Manager (grim-faced, fine-voiced Alex Mansoori) who guides us through the tale -- but swaths of text and even some overall mood have been sacrificed to slim the piece to size.

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NYU to Demolish the Provincetown Playhouse? How You Can Help

On Sunday, I will be emailing out the following to approximately 1,000 people.

Dear Colleagues and Friends:

The history of the American theater is inextricably linked to the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village.

As I'm sure you've already heard, my alma mater, New York University, proposes to demolish it. (You can click on this link for more information. Back Stage has just published some reporting on this as well -- click here for the story.)

I am deeply ashamed of NYU President John Sexton and his eagerness to plunge a knife into the heart of American theater history. This is a quote from Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation:

"Although not protected by city landmark designation and modified several times over the past nine decades, the row of four buildings and the 170-seat theater have iconic cultural significance."

For this reason, I am joining Andrew's campaign to stop NYU from acting on this outrageous and insupportable proposal. It was disheartening enough when NYU, following its renovation of the Playhouse, removed it from the market for both commercial and nonprofit producers. To demolish it now would be unspeakable. Here's another quote from Andrew:

“There’s no reason to demolish a building that is so important to the history of the Village, New York City and the history of the theater,” Berman said.

In an April 18 letter to John Sexton, N.Y.U.’s president, Berman cited one of the N.Y.U. planning principles that calls for reuse of existing buildings before new development...."

Step one is to mobilize the NYC theatre community. I ask you to please call and email NYU President John Sexton at 212-998-2345 and john.sexton@nyu.edu and convey your views.

Please also cc Alicia Hurley (alicia.hurley@nyu.edu), associate VP for government and community affairs, and John Beckman (john.beckman@nyu.edu), VP for public affairs.

You may also show your support by cc'ing Mr. Berman at gvshp@gvshp.org. You can find a sample letter at www.gvshp.org/ProvincetownLtr.htm.

Please forward this email to anyone you know who cares about preserving the birthplace of the modern American theater.

On May 28 there will be a huge public gathering to coincide with a community board meeting on this proposal. In the meantime, I'll be providing updates on this blog.

The Provincetown Playhouse will not be demolished.

Sincerely,
Leonard Jacobs

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Friday, April 25, 2008

DEAR NYU: YOU WILL NOT DEMOLISH THE PROVINCETOWN PLAYHOUSE

There's already been an outpouring of fury and concern from the theatre community about NYU's proposal to demolish the historic and iconic Provincetown Playhouse.

First things first, though -- some of you have asked me where I got the information from. If you look at my first post on this, you'll see a link to the article that got this going.

However, here is the link one more time: http://www.thevillager.com/villager_260/nyuwoulddrop.html

Meantime, my friend Sean Cullen, who in addition to being in the cast of South Pacific is the founder and president of The American National Theatre, is one of a slew of people who have already contacted NYU Demolisher-in-Chief John Sexton. His letter is exquisitely written:

Dear President Sexton,

I just read online the article in The Villager's April 23rd edition that reports on NYU's plans to raise the building which houses the Provincetown Playhouse, so that another building -- with theatre included -- can be built in its place. I'm sure the rich and important history of the Playhouse is very well known to you, so I won't reiterate or belabor that here.

However, I will state my belief that your school, as one of the primary landholders in both the East and West Villages -- indeed, throughout Manhattan -- has a duty and burden of stewardship not only to your institution and students, but to those neighborhoods and communities where its properties exist. I'm sure you realize this, of course, and the forming of the "Community Task Force on N.Y.U. Development" would seem on first sight to be a recognition of it.

I wonder, though, what the recommendation for the existing MacDougal St. building might be of a hypothetical group called the "N.Y.U. Task Force on Community Development." The hypothetical shift in name is a small one, but substantial, and I think it puts N.Y.U.'s relationship to its home neighborhoods and home city exactly where it belongs at this point in time.

I urge you and the other key decision makers at N.Y.U. to reconsider uses for 133-139 MacDougal St. as it exists today, uses that will both serve the University and preserve an important theatrical and cultural American landmark. In fact, I strongly encourage you to make the Provincetown Playhouse available for shared usage by the school and the public once more, in order to restore the Playhouse as a fully working, living and vital theatre -- and so help to restore the artistic vibrancy of the West Village. (A partnership, for instance, with Manhattan Theatre Source at Washington Square Park might accomplish this very well.)

Finally, I believe that such a step would serve the community and public relations of N.Y.U. extremely well, while sending another clear signal to New York and its other land-owning institutions that your university recognizes the importance, literally, of and to its place in our city.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Sincerely,

Sean Cullen
Founder & President
The American National Theatre, Inc.


In addition, here is an amazing letter that was just sent to Sexton's office via fax.

Now, today I have been spending part of my day emailing my entire list, for step one in this process must be to rally the theatre community in its entirety. I ask you, therefore, to please call and email NYU President John Sexton at 212-998-2345 and john.sexton@nyu.edu and convey your views.

If you agree that the demolition of the Provincetown Playhouse is no less than crime against the American theatre, let this man know what kind of fury he will be unleashing.

In addition, I am announcing that I am joining Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and his campaign to stop NYU from acting on this outrageous proposal. It was disheartening enough when NYU, following its renovation of the Playhouse, removed it from the market for commercial and nonprofit producers. To demolish it would be absolutely unspeakable.

I quote from the article cited above:

"Andrew Berman, of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said he opposed the project.

“There’s no reason to demolish a building that is so important to the history of the Village, New York City and the history of the theater,” Berman said.

In an April 18 letter to John Sexton, N.Y.U.’s president, Berman cited one of the N.Y.U. planning principles that calls for reuse of existing buildings before new development...."


If you like, when you email John Sexton (and please don't forget to call, too), please signal your support for this effort by cc'ing Mr. Berman at gvshp@gvshp.org.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

NEW YORK UNIVERSITY TO DEMOLISH THE PROVINCETOWN PLAYHOUSE

You read it here.

The university that is systematically destoying and defiling Greenwich Village plans to take a wrecking ball, with as much malice as NYU President John Sexton can summon, to the history of the 2oth century American theatre. That's right: malice.

How dare he. What an animal that man is.

Well, this will not stand.
Indeed, so help me God, this will be stopped.

First thing: tomorrow, please call and email NYU President John Sexton to register your outrage.

Tel: (212) 998-2345
john.sexton@nyu.edu

More action will be forthcoming. For now, please, please call!!

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

New Review: The Walworth Farce



For the New York Press.

Here's the first graph, just to tease:

Enda Walsh’s The Walworth Farce is well worth your time. Produced by the acclaimed Irish company Druid, it’s a superb example of how to grip a creaky genre by the lapels and massage it until it resembles one so different, so transformed, it can only be characterized as the opposite of the one you started with. In this case, Walsh turns farce—a mechanical, wildly entertaining dramatic vehicle—into an engrossing family drama. Under Mikel Murfi’s masterful staging, there’s enough bloodshed for even the most fervent fans of Martin McDonough’s plays to leave with fiendish, satisfied grins.

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Did You Ever Want to See All the Numbers from the Fringe?

If so, read the letter below. It was sent out yesterday by my friend and colleague Elena K. Holy, and it provides an excellent peek into the financials behind the New York International Fringe Festival. The numbers are interesting, impressive and provocative. Discuss!


Dear Friends,

In celebration of Earth Day 2008, The Present Company is proud to present our 2007 ANNUAL REPORT – now entirely online. It is a small thing, but we’re making an effort to print as little as possible this year. We wanted to provide an Annual Report that would capture the energy of our programs and volunteers – as well as our eternal gratitude to our supporters – without having to use paper and energy for distribution of a printed version.

We hope we’ve done that via our interactive, web-based report. The 2007 Annual Report will remain accessible via this link until the 2008 Annual Report replaces it at this time next year. We do hope you’ll take a few moments to peruse the following link, at your leisure:

http://www.fringenyc.org/ANNUALREPORT/

Warm regards,

Elena

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Ignition of the Drama Desk Hysteria

For those of you who are not members of the Drama Desk -- and I'd assume that most or many of you are not -- I cannot tell you what the last few days have been like in terms of my poor, woebegone email box. Ever since Michael Riedel's column came out last week reporting on Tony Phillips' letter about Said Chair -- accusing her of all kinds of things, many of which could be, in the hands of the New York State Attorney General, perhaps legally actionable depending on the bylaws of the organization (which remain under lock and key), the unceasing onslaught of emails that have been sent to me has been awful.

These emails, you see, contain letters of support for Said Chair, and are being sent out by the Drama Desk president, through a surrogate. I mean, letters from this one and that one and this one and that one, all of them going on and on and on in email after email about how terrible it is that Phillips' wrote what he wrote about Said Chair, and, indeed, voicing unstinting support for "beloved" Said Chair and glorifying Said Chair and canonizing Said Chair. But frankly, the more emails I get, the more I think it's The Lady Doth Protest Too Much. If there was no truth to what Phillips wrote -- not even the tiniest sliver -- and if the whole thing is one spurious and slanderous lie, why dignify it with endless emails harping on the fact that Said Chair is innocent of all charges and nothing more or less than a perfect human being?

Yesterday, I finally had enough. I mean, truly, enough. The whole thing is terrible as it is -- what is the Drama Desk leadership trying to prove by bombarding us with these emails?

Of course, what I find interesting is the revelation that a show has to run at least 17 performances before the Drama Desk will consider it for a nomination. That gives the lie to the DD's slogan that it considers Bway, OB and OOB equally. Um, no, not equally at all. Meanwhile, I received from a source I'll keep as anonymous the actual text of Phillips' letter. I'll let it speak for itself. Among other things, though, it does say that Said Chair rammed the 17-performance rule through the DD board. So the question is whether the organization's bylaws demand that the membership be told of such a rule change. If the bylaws do -- or did -- then this could be a matter for legal intervention. Plus there's the whole question of whether Said Chair actually said that there are lots of other things the membership doesn't know about. As a nonprofit, the DD is a public trust. If the public's trust has been betrayed -- and can be proven -- then legal action is necessary. Maybe that's why the DD leadership is hysterically sending out emails.

Anyway, here's the text of Phillips' letter. You decide what to think.

April 15, 2008

Dear Drama Desk Member,

After several years as a voting member, the last two of which were spent as a nominator, it is with regret that I tender my resignation to the Drama Desk. During my years on the nominating committee, I watched with growing alarm as nominating chair Barbara Siegel covertly steered this organization away from its mission of honoring excellence in not just big commercial enterprises, but the totality of New York theater, right down to the smallest off-off Broadway house.

She burned through budgets, time and personnel cloaked in a veil of secrecy not seen this side of the Cold War, and all the while resisting efficiencies as basic as the eeting agenda. Our once a month meetings swelled to two, three, four and five meetings per month and Barbara kept talking, wasting tremendous amounts of time on your dime. I tallied the mounting body count as she squeezed out any form of dissent from the committee and established a voting block Reflective not of the general membership, but rather her own personal taste. The fact that she did this just one season after running the committee into the ground last year is astounding. Now that I find myself among the casualties, I can say that this year's nominations will not be worth the paper on which they're printed.

On March 27, Barbara Siegel summoned me to a 10am meeting with Drama Desk President Bill Wolf. Neither one would say what the meeting was about until I was across the table from them. When I sat down, Bill informed me they were severing my ties to the nominating committee. When I asked why, they both accused me of leaking information from internal proceedings. When I asked for proof, they admitted they had none, but 'just knew it was me.' When I informed them that this is not the way things work in the country I woke up in, they quickly changed their tune. 'It's not just the leak,' Barbara said, 'It's a lot of things.' Again, when pressed for specifics,
they had nothing. I ended this kangaroo court of a meeting shortly thereafter.

I have knocked myself out for this organization over the past two years, seeing on average ten shows a week and keeping the running tally of our shortlist, a document that swelled to over 50-pages last season. I happily shouldered more labor than any other committee members combined, but was assigned this duty two years running because Barbara doesn't believe in cross training. Rather, her agenda is to install people in specific tasks that best further her own agenda, which is not generating a ballot for the membership to vote on, but pulling as much of that ballot into her own hands as possible. Has anyone kept track of the increase in non-voted special awards on her watch?

In an email dated March 19, Barbara Siegel wrote to the committee, "Bill and I each received a call from a publicist at The Karpel Group because he heard we have a new video/projection category and he has a show that he believes fits right into it. Bill and I were both disturbed to know that our internal business had leaked to a publicist. The only way the Karpel publicist could know that we are planning on this category is if one of the nominators leaked the information to him. This new category has not been announced."

The following day, in another email, Barbara released the name of the show, "(RUS)H", and added, 'Neither the show nor its publicist are at all to blame in this matter. This is an internal Nominating Committee issue.' My dealings with Karpel on this show were as simple as sending an email to book it and receiving a one-word confirmation back, so I paid no further attention to the matter. I absolutely did not leak internal information to a publicist.

As I was now sitting across a table from two people accusing me of doing just that, I took out my phone and requested that we call the publicist at Karpel together and ask him what happened. Again, they balked. Bill Wolf finally said it came down to my word against Barbara's and he chose to believe her. Five days later an email went out soliciting member nomination suggestions. Video/projection was nowhere on that form. I'm sorry, but why has this category, which Barbara told us was approved by the board, still not been announced? Shouldn't you, as voters, know what you should be looking for while you're actually seeing it? And shouldn't you also know what category is being killed off to make way for video? And shouldn't you have some say in the matter?

The same day they threw me off, Bill sent around an email to the rest of the committee stating, 'I wish to inform you that, for various reasons and the need for smooth functioning of the Nominating Commitee [sic] going into this crunch period of intense deliberations, Barbara and I met with Tony Phillips this morning and informed him that we were severing him from further service on the Committee. I was also informed that this email went out to the Drama Desk's list of theater publicists. I sat quietly by while Barbara Siegel railroaded nominators off the committee last year, invalidating all the short-listing we did for the entire season and I am not about to repeat that mistake now when not only my reputation, but the integrity of the entire organization on the line. Here's some things you should know: Last season, Barbara Siegel forced two nominators off the committee before the season ended, replacing a third after the season concluded. Her tactics ranged from badgering one of the nominators at his place of employ and scheduling meetings on religious holidays the other was observing. We were all told that these nominators walked off the committee in the crucial week before our ballot was due, but I now believe they were forced out in a secret meeting just like I was.

After what she claimed was their abrupt departure, Barbara demanded that all the remaining nominators write an email to Bill detailing the infractions she perceived on the part of these two nominators, which were essentially holding her to the once a month nominating meeting. She dictated a laundry list of charges to us and also added that we would need to send the email to her first so she could have more input before it was sent to Bill.

As I had already detailed my disappointment to Bill in a meeting about the manner in which I was told these two had departed, I refused to send the email since I felt Barbara's demand to vet it was unreasonable and not the way any other organization operates. I also felt the reasons why these two left went totally unexplored, but Barbara made it clear my continuing as a nominator depended on sending this email. I called her bluff and was reappointed the following year anyway.

That same year, last season, during the overnight deliberations at which our ballot is cobbled together, one show got on for best musical by legitimate vote. Once the best musical category was complete, Barbara took a look at the entire list and told us this show, "Twist" was a "potential embarrassment for the Drama Desk," so she simply replaced it on the ballot with "Mary Poppins." It was at this point that I knew that Barbara Siegel was corrupt and an imminent danger to the integrity of this organization.

But she didn't stop there. This current season is littered with shows that weren't even evaluated by the committee because they didn't dovetail with her own personal aesthetic. There's Justin Bond's show"Luster" at P.S. 122, which was suggested by another nominator and deemed ineligible because somewhere on the P.S. 122 website they'd used the word 'cabaret' to describe the show. It's a good thing Kander & Ebb got "Cabaret" off the ground before Barbara's unusually long term on the committee.

As "Luster" was suggested by another nominator, I went to see it, and didn't find the verboten word anywhere in the Playbill, but I quote from the P.S. 122 website as follows: 'Heat up your winter nights with Ethyl Eichelberger Award recipient and Tony Nominated performer Justin Bond and friends as they serve up a heady mix of Glamour, Gender Queer Cabaret, and Sexy Provocation.' Ask yourself, how the hell would you describe a Justin Bond show? I've struggled with it myself, but because of some desperate marketing, Bond, a perennial nominee, went unevaluated by this year's committee.

When unable to find a single word with which to hang a downtown show out to dry, Barbara resorted to legislation. She proposed and got by the board a new rule: the 17-show minimum. Haven't heard of it? That's by design. After Barbara instigated and saw this rule through board approval, the theater publicists were informed of its existence mid-season. I asked her if she felt that our membership shouldn't also be informed. 'We make a lot of rules the members don't know about', came her reply. She said this in an open meeting.

And when shows increased their runs to make sure they hit the 17-show minimum, they still went unseen. "R(USH)" the show she kicked up such a fuss over regarding the information leak, is a perfect example of this phenomenon. This show cared so much about our award that they went to Equity and got a waiver which is practically impossible—to extend by one show to hit our minimum. They even scheduled this extra performance at 10:30pm so as not to overlap with eight o'clock shows. The result: Barbara remained silent about the extension, yet booked it for herself, only to cancel last minute.

These are not the actions of someone who is operating on the organization's principles of scouring Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway for the best of the season, but rather someone who is willing to exercise an economic apartheid against downtown theater as she tries to single-handedly rechart our course. But let's look at the upside, at least she didn't leak any information, like the fact that a show one of the nominators had recommended was now eligible for consideration and should be seen by all.

I still remember an East Village performer telling me this season that he hadn't paid his rent for three months in order to put on his show. Extending to meet the minimum meant skipping another month's rent, but he happily did it anyway. Sadly, his show also went unevaluated despite recommendations from two of the nominators. The artists that care the most about this award are getting screwed. They are also all working with gay-themed material. You do the math. But it's not just the East Village type skipping rent that's operating on unsound financial principles; Barbara has also consistently demonstrated wild fiscal irresponsibility for a non-profit; calling a record number of nineteen meetings by the time I left this season.

And if you don't think three or four meetings a month instead of one concerns you, consider the 30% increase in member dues accompanying her tenure as chair. And if you don't see another increase to cover this season's whopping expenditures coming like a bus down Fifth Avenue, you're just not paying attention. Barbara Siegel is hell-bent on having your lunch and eating it too. She even purchased a laptop for the organization and gifted it to one of her pets on the committee, who check emails with it during these $28/head minimum lunches.

I could go on, but this letter is essentially to inform you of just some of the dirty dealings she's been allowed to play out season after season. No one ever talks about it after they're forced out and that’s why these gross improprieties are allowed to perpetuate. It's hurting us as an organization and it’s hurting the theater we're supposed to be honoring.

When I met with Bill and Barbara, I told them that even after being accused of something I did not do without any proof, I was willing to put differences aside and fulfill my duties for the season. They still told me to ankle.

I was leaving at the end of this season anyway. I was recently awarded a Goldring fellowship to study and teach at the Newhouse School this June, but they threw me off regardless, more concerned about covering their own hides as they steer this organization away from its mission statement into some wan, doddering second-rate mock of the Tony Awards. I only hope you, as members, don't wait until the general membership meeting to do something about this reign of error. It will be too late. The entire nominating process is broken and needs to be fixed before our reputation is irrevocably tanked. I'd like to leave you with a DD Nom Suggestion: Barbara Siegel has got to go.

Sincerely,

Tony Phillips

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Monday, April 21, 2008

A Marx Brothers Place Update!

Got this email today (see below) from the fabulous Susan Hefti, who is bravely leading the charge to have a Marx Brothers Place created uptown on East 93rd Street. So help me, this force of nature IS going to succeed. And I'm posting this, too, as I didn't know anything about the Irish Times piece, which is a great read. Yet where, may I ask, is the Jewish Forward in all this? Out to lunch? An unleavened story would be fine by me, folks.

For generations, Marx Brothers Place in Carnegie Hill NYC has been an internationally famous destination spot, attracting tourists from all across the globe. Visitors continue to make regular pilrimages to Historic East 93rd Street just to catch a glimpse of the brownstone that built America’s most beloved Comic Geniuses. Listed in countless Walking Guides to NYC, Marx Brothers Place remains an enduring International Superstar!

Welcoming visitors from a vast number of countries to Marx Brothers Place every week infuses the neighborhood with a palatable pride of place. The joy recorded in tourist & fan photographs can also be felt in countless moving tributes published by the International Press. These newspaper articles continue to memorialize the rich cultural history that is Marx Brothers Place !

Please click on the link below and enjoy reading one such article about Marx Brothers Place which appeared in the Irish Times:
www.karlwhitney.com/journalism/irishmans27august2007.html

The 93rd Street Beautification Association appreciates your continued interest in its efforts to help protect this incomparable historic NYC block !

We all hope the City of New York will soon move forward to include Historic 93rd Street within the Carnegie Hill Historic District, and will also officially co-name the block Marx Brothers Place, in order to protect this remarkable collection of 19th century homes and the cultural history it so proudly evokes !

For more information about the 93rd Street Beautification Association and its efforts to help protect Marx Brothers Place, please visit our Blog at:
http://savemarxbrothersplace.wordpress.com.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

How Hillary Can Win

I'll let this speak for itself.

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Robert Falls Has a Bold Plan for the Goodman

But why, after I read this article in the Chicago Tribune, did I think to myself, Well, isn't this just about making the Goodman a presenting house as well as a production company? Absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course, but what's different about this? Or is it merely different for Chicago?

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This Talkinbroadway.com Policy Surely Doesn't Apply to George Hunka

Read about TalkinBroadway.com's new policy on certain kinds of posts here.

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On Ken Davenport and Comping

Interesting post from my colleague, producer Ken Davenport, on the subject of comping. Read it and definitely respond. My questions below are probably going to earn me his enmity, but I ask these questions in the spirit of professional discourse; I hope that's the spirit in which they'll be taken. OK, here's an interesting excerpt from Ken's post:

....It would not be unheard of for a Broadway show to have 10,000 comps during the first year of a run (think papering for previews, trade deals, etc.)

That's $5k - $10k. That's some expensive paper, isn't it?

So what if we took a lesson from mail order companies that offer FREE products as long as the customer pays for the "shipping/handling"?

Here's my proposal that I'm going to institute at my shows this week: Charge $1 processing fee for each comp to cover your costs. And, if you can get that fee up front, you'll also get a stronger commitment from the consumer to actually show up for the show, as comp ticket attrition is one of the biggest problems with papering....
My first question is: Would this include critics? I'd assume not, but believe me, people bitch about having to dole out a few hundred comps for critics, such as Tony and Drama Desk voters, too.

Frankly, though, it's hard for me to summon up the necessary boo-hoo at a show like Young Frankenstein, where you know the capitalization is larger than the gross domestic product of Vanuatu. Thus, my second question: Isn't this really about trying to preserve Off-Broadway as a viable playground for commercial production?

If it is -- and if we're talking about just $5-10K -- given the size of Off-Broadway budgets, my third question: Would a processing fee would really make a difference, and if so, a difference to whom? Would actors see that money? Would it enable commercial producer to take bigger risks on bigger casts? Isn't this really about commercial producers covering their asses? If the margins are that tight, isn't the Off-Broadway commercial producing model...fucked?

More generally, if it is not unheard of for a Broadway show "to have 10,000 comps during the first year of a run," my fourth question: Doesn't that suggest there's something even more dysfunctional about the marketing models for commercial theatre in New York than we even know? Will a processing fee really address them meaningfully? How?

My fifth question: If it is not unheard of for a Broadway show "to have 10,000 comps during the first year of a run" -- and the show is huge monster hit -- why should anyone feel sympathy for the commercial producer having to subsidize those tickets up front? True, that's always going to be a small minority of commercial producers, but couldn't one simply argue that that's simply the cost of doing business? And if one wants to drum up business by "papering for previews, trade deals, etc.," doesn't it suggest that commercial producers want to have things both ways -- to reap all the benefits and take fewer and fewer of the risks?

That's more questions than Passover. I know, I know. Discuss.

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Someone Give John Heilpern a Passport?

Reading John Heilpern is a guilty pleasure of mine -- or, I should say, it's reading The New York Observer, which publishes Heilpern's exquisitely crafted reviews. The reason why I think he's one of the finest critics at work today -- and I disagree with him often -- is that the craft of the writing never shows. You can create prose that's easy, breezy and queasy, but it takes a lot of skill.

Check out his review of the Off-Broadway musical version of The Adding Machine. I mean, yes, he's a little late on this, given that the show opened 37 light years ago in NYC theatre time, but it's nevertheless a very good read.

Just one thing, though (you knew there was a "but," right?). I do wish he'd be more adventurous in his theatregoing -- or at least in the theatregoing he writes about. His Adding Machine review is prefaced with rather a long harangue against revival culture -- that is, our current culture of commercial production that tends to favor revivals -- and then, in the fourth graph of his piece, he writes,

It’s safe to say that revivals are safe—a much safer bet, anyway, than the shock of the new. Who takes real risks any more? Who courts danger? There are a handful of idealists and independent producers who still believe in creating theater for its own glorious, uncompromised sake. They thrive on new work. They even believe in the innate intelligence of audiences. They must be mad.
This is the one thing that makes me wildly uncomfortable. Plenty of people take real risks and plenty of people court danger. I didn't exactly see John, for example, at Thomas Bradshaw's Purity a year and change ago, which received all kinds of attention, good and bad (my mixed-to-negative review in New York Press can be read here), but so far as I know, it didn't receive his. Perhaps part of the issue is the New York Observer readership -- people who make in a week what I hope to make by 70. But you can't -- or at least you shouldn't -- publish graphs like the one above when there's so much work that arguably fits the definition of "risk" and "danger" here in town, in the Indie Theatre world. Could Heilpern be referring strictly to the commercial theatre (The Adding Machine is a commercial run)? Oh, gosh, let's hope not. Could it be that he regards himself as above having to be adventurous? Oh, gosh, let's hope not, too.

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Follow Up to the Hillary Post

LOL, and LOL, and LOL. I received a comment with regard to my Hillary post from earlier today and while I chose to reject publishing it (this is my blog, after all), I thought it was hilarious what the person said, so here it is anyway:

You're an idiot. Chelsea has NOTHING to do with her Father's indiscretions. You know that. AND to lob in the "Where's Bin Laden" crap is utterly stupid. THEY ALL know where he is and always have. Grow up.

Now, here's the thing. I didn't say Chelsea had anything to do with Bill's indiscretions directly. But she is, after all, her mother's surrogate on the campaign trail; questions about Monica strike me as entirely germane insofar as they reveal character. And equally germane since Chelsea has decided the whole business is none of our business. Well, once again, I submit that the thing is utterly our business -- my government, the government I pay taxes to, was held hostage by long and protracted political crisis, culminating in an impeachment trial, on the basis of a blowjob. To say that the events of a decade ago didn't affect our foreign policy, among other things, is in fact idiotic, because we all know it did.

The problem here is that Hillary -- and remember, I proudly voted for her (at the time) in the New York primary -- has been so busy laying waste to the Democratic party and possibly giving the election to the Repuglicans with her self-serving, dishonest politics that all bets are off, and, given the source, so are the gloves. When Chelsea tells people "it's none of your business," it just goes to the heart of the scorched-earth politics-as-usual meme that is the Clintons' raison d'etre.

Mind you, I didn't call anyone an idiot. That person who sent the comment -- who didn't have the guts to sign his/her name -- is an idiot. Have the guts to sign your goddamn name, woos.

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On the Nonexistent Cartilage Between LA Theatre and NYC Theatre

NOTE: I'll probably be revising this essay for sense and for typos.

One of my projects this weekend is to catch up on a lot of articles, posts and links that I couldn't think about seriously or otherwise address during the few weeks I spent being buried one final time in my infamous book. (We're currently waiting for one more fact to be fact-checked, by the way, and then off to the printer it'll go. So everyone, please, please, I ask you: cross your fingers, your toes, your legs and your eyes and intone, um, 126 Hail Marys.)

Anyway, the first piece has been gnawing and tugging at my conscience since it was published: Steven Leigh Morris' article in LA Weekly, "Continental Divisiveness: New York and L.A. Theater."

Let me say that I'm far from ideally conversant in LA theatre; my counterparts at Back Stage West have that market close at hand and heart, and, of course, they have a deeper investment in enabling the scene there to flourish that I naturally would

That said, generally speaking I think -- even more now that I’ve read and re-read Morris’ article -- that there's an undercurrent between the theatre communities in New York and LA that hopes or wishes for a rivalry regardless of whether one does or does not exist. This cuts to the heart of Morris’ piece. He begins with a quote from a Michael Feingold's essay in The Village Voice from 1998 "about the cultural lurch toward mediocrity" and proceeds to suggest the obvious: there are differences in the cultural and aesthetic tastes and standards between the two communities. This is true, sure, though I’d argue no more or less so than the cultural and aesthetic tastes and standards between any two geographically disparate communities: San Francisco audiences will respond to Shopping and Fucking far differently than audiences in the Carolinas. Or not.

Morris goes on to point out how much new work is done in LA that comes to New York, citing the musical Curtains, Richard Greenberg's The Violet Hour (part of the playwright's longstanding relationship with South Coast Rep), plus Another Vermeer, which Off-Broadway's Abingdon Theatre Company just mounted with Austin Pendleton, and Athol Fugard's Exits and Entrances. This list is selective at best, but it’s an efficient gateway for Morris to then cite three New York Times reviews of various productions that originated in L.A., and to assert, "when an L.A. production is New York is well-received, the originating city is rarely mentioned, but when such a show is attacked, critics salivate at the opportunity to skewer L.A. as well."

The problem with this assessment is its inherent shallowness; the examples he cites could easily be refuted with a little bit of research. Also, for Morris, it’s also a question of someone once again ascribing power and influence to the Times that more and more people are fairly certain has begun to ebb. Indeed, it’s the frame of reference of someone who doesn’t know the New York theatre -- who assumes that beyond the Times and Michael Feingold, there are no other critics in New York -- and yet someone who is writing about the ignorance of New York theatre folk of the L.A. theatre scene. Nowhere in Morris’ piece does he outline the huge dimensions of the community; I happen to know one recent statistic suggesting that there are more full theatre production in L.A. on an annualized basis than there are in New York, counting Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off.

There’s another element of Morris’ article I find disturbing: the question of relevance. In other words, how is it relevant that Curtains originated in L.A. beyond the fact that that's where it received its initial production? The piece wasn’t written in L.A., so far as I know, prior to whatever work was done on it immediately leading up to it’s L.A. premiere; it could just as easily have been produced in another city, in fact, as well. What I'm getting at is that when we see "L.A. theatre" and "New York theatre" being tossed around as terms, as bits of cultural identity, do we mean theatre made by nonprofits that are immersed in, and indigenous to, the community, nonprofits that develop work made by artists living in the community and using indigenous talent? Or are we talking mostly about the commercial marketplace? To me, L.A. theatre should mean work coming out of L.A. that bears at least a few of the hallmarks of the cultural aesthetics and tastes of the L.A. theatre scene, if, indeed, there is one. I don’t know if there is one. If there is one, Morris should articulate what it is. If there isn’t one, Morris should articulate why there isn’t one. None of that has anything to do with New York theatre or New York theatre critics.

I find it interesting that while Morris quotes New York publicist Rick Miramontez as saying "The NYC bias against L.A. is real, and it's bad for business," he quotes Charles Isherwood of the Times as saying that he "doesn't believe that the New York theater community has any collective perception of L.A. at all, good or bad." So at least the piece is balanced in that sense.

Me? I agree with Charles in that I think so much of Morris' piece actually means to stir up enmity between the communities, and that’s because the L.A. theatre community has a problem: it’s fundamentally insecure, far from unself-assured, deeply circumspect and thoroughly taken in with the same fantastic branding of "Broadway" as the apogee of dramaturgical greatness when the way it should be is that quality work is quality work, geography be damned.

Well, again, this is at least the case when we're discussing the nonprofit sphere. If we're talking about the commercial sphere -- well, yes, we are talking about New York, because New York is where the money is made. Or at least it’s one of the places where money in the commercial theatre is made. Moreover, if L.A. is a place where money in the commercial theatre can be made, then wouldn’t it behoove Morris to delve into that, to explain it, to take the community there to task for not branding itself and promoting itself sufficiently and thoroughly?

Again, Morris complains that New York theatre critics don’t cite the city of origin of a piece in their reviews, and I don’t know why that’s relevant. For one thing, a good look at the current state of column inches would suggest that most critics -- including those at the Times and Feingold at the Voice -- haven't unlimited space, and I can’t imagine citing the city of origin of a piece is more important that the critics’ assessment of it.

I know people are going to take issue with what I’m writing on this; Morris is well liked in L.A. and a really spectacular writer; I first met him when I was editor of Theatermania.com back during in the year of the flood and we had a swell lunch together. But when Morris cites my good friend Rob Kendt -- who said, "My initial feeling is that L.A.'s just not on the radar at all out here, and I have to pick the times when I want to argue about that -- that there really is theater in L.A. But for the most part, you have to nod along with the perception that it isn't there. It doesn't come from hostility, but from ignorance." -- I kind of grimace.

Why do I grimace? Well, I'm not at all sure any of what Rob says is accurate, but for purposes of this post, let's just agree with him. The question is: What can L.A. do about it? It seems to me, for example, that just as major Chicago theatres have made efforts over a long period of years to form deep, lasting relationships with New York theatres, the same thing has to happen between theatres in L.A. and New York.

Consider, for a moment, all this blogospheric yibber-yabber about the Equity Showcase Code in New York and how it should be modified to resemble the 99-seat Code in LA. Why, for example, is there no loud and strong support for this coming from a single LA-based theatre company? Wouldn’t an increase in cross-pollination between NYC and LA theatre groups be in everyone’s best interest?

Ah, but if New York theatre folk are ignorant about L.A. theatre, why does Morris not address the question of the same being true the other way around? He quotes from an actor here, a playwright there, about how much easier it is to work in L.A. -- to get new work done, and so forth. While integrating into his article no hard numbers on how much money, for example, playwright Bruce J. Robinson made from having his work read or workshopped "at theaters ranging from the Norris in Palos Verdes and Theatrical Botanicum...to Beverly Hills' Theatre 40," Morris chooses to include a quote from Robinson, who said, with regard to "the fringier off-off-broadway...it's vital if you're not interested in making a living."

Wait a minute. You’re telling me that Robinson is in development hell in L.A. but he's making such a great living off these readings and workshops? I mean, Morris actually says that one of his plays “has even been produced” -- and he’s making a living from this activity alone? Really? Bull crap -- if he’s making a living, it’s not from having reading and workshops of his plays. That Morris blithely consigns Off-Off-Broadway to irrelevance only shows the ignorance he accuses New York theatre people of perpetuating.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hill, You're Going to Lose

Please stop running these over-parsed BS ads. You've already lost your shot at POTUS and VP, what could be next? The destruction of the Democratic Party? Shame on you!!

Oh, and Chelsea? How dare you tell people that asking about Monica is nobody's business. The President of the United States was impeached on the basis of a blowjob. It distracted the nation from far more important business -- and who knows? Maybe we would have stopped bin Ladin more effectively if your father wasn't busy defending himself against the Repuglican twits. You act like what happened 10 years ago was no one's burden but those of your family. And that's what's wrong with your family. So as long as you're campaigning, we're going to keep asking.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

On the Truthiness of the Drama Desk and Certain Individuals

No doubt many of you arose this morning and rushed like mad, mad fiends to your computer to read what Michael Riedel had to say about critic Tony Philips' rant regarding the nominating commmittee of the Drama Desk, which Tony sent to him and which Michael, dear Michael, has graciously reported on and partially published. Specifically, it's what Philips has to say about the current chair of the nominating committee, whom I shall hereafter refer to as Said Chair, that has many people in the organization quivering.

Now, I don't know Philips and I've never met him, and I've had at least one experience with him in which I had to question his ethics -- he was telling press agents he was the theatre critic for the New York Press, when I am in that position. My editor, Jerry Portwood, had to call Tony to tell him to stop it. But whatever, I can't get involved in that.

But what Tony describes in his rant, insofar as the behavior of Said Chair, comports highly with reports I've received from other people over the years. For example, I've heard before that Said Chair will indeed pressure nominators into nominating what Said Chair wants nominated, even if it violates the express preferences of the seven-member nominating committee as a whole. In my own personal dealings with Said Chair, I can only suggest Said Chair is one of the least ethical and most emotionally imbalanced individuals working in our theatre today -- an embarrassment to sense and sensibility. Among other things, everyone knows Said Chair and Said Chair's dear husband hire the same people that they review in cabaret shows and on Broadway to perform in their concerts at Town Hall - and that many of these performers feel obligated to participate in those concert so as to ensure continued good reviews in other endeavors. Said Chair and Said Chair's husband, in their bio, say they've written 47 books -- but does anyone ever seem being sold anywhere. Well, I just did an Amazon search. Here they are.

I won't even discuss the antics and mentally imbalanced hooliganism engaged in by Said Chair and Said Chair's husband when my former boss fired them as cabaret critics for Back Stage. But to be sure, it was wildly unprofessional and personall unfair to me, as I didn't hire them or edit them or have anything to do with them.

I'm not saying Tony should or should not have been removed from the nominating committee of the Drama Desk; I wasn't there and can't speak to his own comportment. But insofar as his view of Said Chair, he's at least, we know, in the ballpark.

And when Riedel reported Philips saying that Said Chair "regularly engages in 'witch hunts' to ferret out committee members she suspects of leaking information to theater press agents," I've heard about that, too. Indeed, I suspect that if Said Chair gets wind of this post, Said Chair will have one of Said Chair's allies post a comment. We'll see if I accept it.

Meanwhile, Said Chair's propaganda campaign in response to this Philips flap has kicked into gear. Apparently she persuaded the head of the Drama Desk to release the following statement, below. Please read with several grains of salt, ideally poured into an open wound.

Dear Drama Desk Members and Production Team colleagues:

Tomorrow's NY Post will carry a Michael Riedel column reporting on a hysterical blast by Tony Philips in retaliation for our dismissing him from the Nominating Committee. He gave the Post a copy of his long resignation rant he plans to send to our membership. It is full of lies about the nominating process and is a vicious personal attack against Barbara Siegel. I'm giving you this heads up, and sending you the following comment that I have given Mr. Riedel in response to his request for one:

The unprofessional attitude that led to our dismissal of Tony Philips from our Nominating Committee is reflected by his telling the press of his resignation before sending it to the Drama Desk.

His attack on Barbara Siegel, the chair of our Nominating Committee, is outrageous and filled with untruths. I have worked with Barbara closely and have found her to be the most competent, dedicated, efficient and principled leader one would ever hope to find. Like the other dedicated nominators, she serves voluntarily. Because we cover Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway in competition in the same categories, the level of theater-going throughout the season to see more than 400 shows is a huge effort that also requires many discussion meetings by the nominators, especially as we get closer to the end of the season.

The nominators sacrifice much of their time in the spirit of carefully evaluating each show seen and are warned of this intensity when they agree to serve. Shows are short-listed by vote all season so they are kept to the forefront. It turned out that Philips couldn't or wouldn't cooperate to the extent needed and had been non-compliant since mid-winter. We hoped his attitude would change, but for the sake of smooth operation of the committee, dismissed him a few weeks ago as he was becoming increasingly uncooperative. He accuses Barbara Siegel of bias in evaluating shows. This is absolutely not the case but just the opposite. She is scrupulously fair in making certain that all decisions are taken by vote according to our long-standing nominating procedures. I know from personal experience on the committee last season that Tony's accusations against Barbara are total nonsense and patently false. All decisions are made according to votes within the committee.

Given the necessity of the frequent meetings, it is our policy that the volunteers be served an appropriate lunch when they meet at mealtime. We have a fund for that sort of thing, as well as to pay for necessary equipment, and all is done with approval by our Board of Directors. I am confident that Philips' long, hysterical letter to the membership will be seen as a biased and a disgruntled rant. I not only give a full vote of confidence to Barbara Siegel but salute her for her leadership.

I am also confident that when the Drama Desk nominations for the 2007-08 season are announced at the Friar's Club on the morning of April 28, they will reflect the hard work of the dedicated nominators arrived at by the most meticulous of voting procedures and dedicated theatergoing.

William Wolf, President, The Drama Desk

By the way, name the last Off-Off-Broadway show that actually won a Drama Desk Award. OK, I'll give you a minute. An hour. A long day. Well, time's up. You can't, because it almost never happens. So when Wolf boasts about Broadway and OB and OOB competing together on a level playing field, he's full of crap. I've got a rant to write about this that I'll save for some other time.

Why do I remain a member of the organization? Because I hope to create some meaningful change from within. I haven't commented on Drama Desk activities in years, but Philips' breach of etiquette is an important signal to the community that the organization is very dysfunctional.

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New Article: Untitled Mars (This Title May Change)


This is from the "Now Playing" column I write in Back Stage every other week, which is now showing up on the Backstage.com blog. Fair enough.


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Broadway Goes Green for Earth Day

For once, green on Broadway doesn't mean some producer charging obscene prices for a ticket. Here's a press release I received earlier today:

BROADWAY SMASH HITS
XANADU, SPRING AWAKENING, AND LEGALLY BLONDE THE MUSICAL
team up with GREENDIMES to ELIMINATE JUNK MAIL on EARTH DAY, April 22nd

Theatre-goers can do their part for the environment by attending Broadway hit shows on Earth Day & taking control of their mailbox

New York, N.Y. (April 17th 2008)--GreenDimes, the largest, most trusted full-service company that gets rid of junk mail today announced an Earth Day campaign to give away a FREE GreenDimes premium subscription to every one who sees Xanadu and Spring Awakening on April 22nd and Legally Blonde The Musical on April 23rd.

Broadway lovers attending shows on those days will be given a gift certificate at their seat for GreenDimes “Premium” service which retails for $20. They can redeem it and become GreenDimes members by logging onto www.Greendimes.com and typing in a special Broadway password. In addition to stopping junk mail and catalogues, the “Premium” service continues to monitor your account every month, making sure you remain off direct marketing and catalogue lists. This service also allows unlimited household names, automated removal, and does all the work for the member. At the same time, to offset the junk mail still being produced, GreenDimes will plant five trees for each “Premium” subscriber.

“I am thrilled that our fans can do their part simply by attending our show on Earth Day and signing up for GreenDimes. Junk mail is an everyday problem that is not only a nuisance but is also harmful to the environment,” said Xanadu Producer, Tara Smith. More than 100 million trees are chopped down each year for unsolicited mail in the U.S. and a shocking 5 percent of the waste we send to landfills is junk mail, 44 percent of which gets thrown away unopened. The average household receives over 100 pounds of junk mail a year, constituting the majority of household waste--GreenDimes reduces a whopping 90 percent of that.

“Everyone gets junk mail and no one likes it. We’ve created a simple solution to help every household make a positive impact on the environment,” said GreenDimes Founder, Pankaj Shah. Since it’s inception in 2006 GreenDimes has stopped nearly 4 million pounds of junk mail, stopped 624,388 catalogues and planted 1,062,200 trees. These numbers are updated in real time on the user friendly site’s running impact counter.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Crimes of NYU President John Sexton

Buried in this week's New York, in addition to John Heileman's puffy profile of John "I Haven't Macaca'd Yet, But I Swear I'm Gonna Macaca Soon" McCain and Adam Platt's four-star review of Momofuku Ko (where one must ask, "is it ok to suduko in Momofuku Ko?") is a superlative piece on John Sexton, the current president of New York University. You can and should read the article here, which focuses on Sexton's plan to create what amounts to a carbon copy of NYU in Abu Dhabi, courtesy of the same petrodollars that arguably, in other hands, beget terrorists and, one fears, the destruction of the American way of life. But the purpose of this post isn't to put a hex on Sexton -- the article does an excellent job outlining his outlandish and unspeakable megalomania, and should give the trustees of NYU, if they had any balls, reason to sit Sexton down, extract a curt resignation letter out of him, and send him to the George W. Bush Center for Egotistical Twits, which opens for business on January 21, 2009. (The trustees, by the way, include CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo, Barry Diller, and former New York Stock Exchange head Richard A. Grasso (he of the bloated golden parachute), but not one artist or creative person. As we all know, NYU will pimp out their Tisch and Gallatin people for recruitment purposes but will one of them enter the sanctum sanctorum? Stop dreaming.

No, the purpose of this post, in addition to bringing attention to the fantastic job Sexton has done destroying Greenwich Village via the voracious, mean-spirited over-development of real estate, is to relay a personal story. Perhaps 18 months ago or so, I got a call out of the blue from a fellow named Eric Riley, an alumni office associate. The intent of the call, I was told, was something of an alumni reconnection project -- and he got my name by happening upon it on the Back Stage letterhead and then doing some Internet research. Fair enough. Let's meet for lunch or coffee, said he, and it all seemed rather innocent enough.

Well, I met with him and he was certainly charming -- very polished and good at laying it on, and so forth. We even talked about his husband and mine, and all that jazz. We even talked about the university's mentoring projects and programs, and would I be interested in participating. And I was flattered and of course said yes. Like a scientologist who woos with willowy words, the real reason he contacted with me, he said, was that Sexton is alarmed that so few alumni actually make donations. I don't want to misquote, but memory tells me the figure was something on the order of 10% or less, and Sexton wanted to know why. What was NYU doing or not doing wrong?

Well, I bit, and went ahead and told him a little of my story. For years I had dammed up inside of me not a small amount of anger, resentment and disappointment toward the university for a good reason -- namely, the quality of the attention and especially the academic guidance I received all those years ago. In the Gallatin Division (now the Gallatin School of Individualized Study), it sucked. My freshman year -- this is fall 1986 -- the academic advisor was so by-rote, so pro forma, so uninterested in any of the 20 (you heard me, 20) freshmen that I remember her shoving a piece of paper in front of me and saying, "Here's your program." I mean, they did that in high school, but this was college. This was NYU. This was appalling. (I'm withholding her name because I wish not to sully my fingers by typing it.)

At the time, the associate dean was a fellow named Albert Greco, an acclaimed scholar of the publishing industry, and he was, quite sensibly, all about the publishing industry, and that was the last thing I had on my mind. How I wish I knew then what I know now! If I'd known I would, in fact, end up a journalist and not, as I figured, making a living as a playwright and director, I'd have taken advantage of so many opportunities that Professor Greco could and probably would have provided for me. But it wasn't so -- I was all about theatre-theatre-theatre, and yet, even though I didn't know my ass from my gay elbow, I knew I didn't want the conservatory fine-arts approach that Tisch School of the Arts offered. I mean, I knew I wanted NYU, but it took me a good bit time to realize that in Gallatin, I was a total misfit. And frankly, not one of the Gallatin faculty really knew what to do with me. Nor did they, in my view, particularly want to know what to do with me -- which is why I think tenure is a terrible thing.

Now, the thing to know about Gallatin is that you really do design your own major -- and there was no core curriculum back then, either, so you were truly on your own in a structureless sea. Sorry, but I don't think most 18-year-olds have the presence of mind, intellectual wherewithal and simple wisdom to swim in the academic sea like that without a compass. So I fell right into the cracks almost from the start. Even when I pleaded for help, the university, speaking in a general sense, was a blithering, ineffectual and continual roll of the eyeballs. You know, people seem to act so shocked a year or two ago when all those poor kids starting throwing themselves off the roofs of various buildings at NYU, but I, frankly, wasn't surprised. Suicide is horrible. But the university is equally horrible -- and I suspect still horrible -- at making college life a good and genuinely personal experience.

It took me four years -- including the year I was out of NYU completely -- of academic drifting before I met a stunning, wonderfully kind and giving professor who, while not a practical theatre person, per se, got me, my interests, and starting helping me along. She is Bella Mirabella (scroll down for her bio) and she's the reason I finally graduated and escaped the morass. Mind you, I had more academic advisors before Bella than Mata Hari had lovers. One was an alcoholic. One was also a playwright and so temperamental that he decided it was appropriate to scream at me in the middle of Washington Place one day and was not only investigated by the university police but reprimanded by the Gallatin bigwigs. One time, I was given a list of people teaching in Tisch and told to call each one and ask them, cold, to be my advisor. (One was Michael Feingold and his turn-down was devastating to me at the time, but hilarious now that I think about it.) I recall one person assign to advise me actually told me that there was some question of whether he was actually affiliated with Gallatin or not -- and he was retiring, anyway. Never mind the fact that there wasn't enough grant money, or that my tuition built those dorms at Washington Square and environs, or any of the thousand natural pricks that make an undergraduate's heart bleed.

And never mind that NYU is where I came out.

I mean, yes, I could have transferred. I spent 18 months working full-time in the office of undergraduate admissions at 22 Washington Square North (that's how I paid for school); I knew kids transferred in and out of schools all the time. But because I came out when I did, and because of the personal problems that ensued for me as a result, I felt stuck, physically and emotionally and especially financially. Yet I was also determined to plow through; finishing the BA would prove that my life hadn't been a total waste. (These are the thoughts that, when left unchecked, can lead to suicide.) And so I guess my whole point is that my NYU experience was deeply dispiriting in myriad way. Except for Bella and a few others -- like Robin Goldfin, the excellent expository writing teacher who I treated rather brutally at the time, yet remains my friend today -- no one gave a damn about me academically. I mean, no one ever gave a damn. Until Eric Riley called me out of the blue more than decade after I'd said adieu to NYU, no one ever asked me how I felt about my NYU experience. So when Eric said Sexton was all about reconnecting with alumni and that Sexton cared and was concerned and that this reconnection effort was a big thing to him and on and on and on, I bought it all, hook, line and sinker. What I didn't realize is that, like the scientologist wooing with the willowing words I referred to earlier, Sexton is, even more fundamentally, really about flattering people into saying they'll give money -- something, anything -- and thereby enter the philanthropic loop.

After that coffee with Eric Riley, I never heard from him again. I didn't say whether I would give or I wouldn't give. I did say I'd like to continue the conversation. I do remember Eric saying that Sexton would like to convene a panel with a group of people -- and would I like to be on it. I did say I'd be honored. But I never heard from him again. And yes, I emailed him a few times -- to be friendly, to do the professional follow up, to thank him for spending the university's precious resources to pay for my mocca-licka-foamy-sludge. What I now understand, partly from New York's piece but partly from the Eric Riley feint, is this is Sexton's style: One must sweet-talk people into giving then and there, and if they don't cooperate -- if the Eric Riley's of the world can't seal the deal, can't convert the masses, or if there's even a whisper of exchange of values, thoughts, memories, hopes or ideals -- pack it up and run. Riley, I guess, is only too happy to sell the tonic; he's drunk well of Sexton's moonshine.

When I read New York's piece on Sexton today, I also thought, Well, I hope the SOB destroys NYU with his plan to build another NYU in Abu Dhabi. Or that he messes up the university with enough force to force the getting rid of him. What a loathesome, disingenuous son of a bitch. And I hope Eric Riley's post-cult deprogramming, whenever it comes, doesn't take him too long.

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New Review: A Catered Affair

Smart directors do far more than shuttle actors and scenery around the stage in the name of storytelling. The most unsung part of the job comes long before an audience sees the final product -- when directors goad and provoke writers into making the choices that make the difference between pure mediocrity and powerful achievement. We can't know each detail of director John Doyle's collaboration with Harvey Fierstein and John Bucchino -- authors of the book and score, respectively, of A Catered Affair, derived from the 1956 film written by Gore Vidal and the 1955 teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky -- but halfway through, you wonder if, in this case, the director's job isn't half done.

Reviewed in Back Stage.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Arts Advocacy Update XXXVIII

I'm so pleased that I'm finally caught up with these! Thanks for being patient with me, folks.

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of April 16, 2008:

New York Times, 4/12/2008
The New York Innovative Theater Foundation has published "what is intended to be the first of several studies of Off Off Broadway economics. . . . The foundation next wants to explore Off Off Broadway’s demographics and, after that, to develop an economic impact study."
I chair the honorary IT Awards and I couldn't be more thrilled that this study has come out. Read more here.



Creative incentives sought to entice creative types
MLive.com (MI) - Capital News Service, 4/11/2008
"Michigan's artists, painters and sculptors may find more green on their palettes if new legislation providing tax credits for artists and businesses that support them passess. Tax exemptions for art supplies, property tax breaks and incentives for landlords who rent to artists are all part of an effort to encourage creative types to stay in the state, according to John Bracey, executive director of the state Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs."
Am I the only person bothered by the use of the phrase "creative types" in the headline?



Porn tax bill to be pulled, claimed to be linked to film incentive legislation
Times Daily (Florence, AL), 4/10/2008
"The House sponsor of a bill that would tax pornography said Thursday he's pulling his bill because it was linked to film industry incentive legislation. . . . Williams said the linkage creates a potential conflict of interest for him because the film industry bill is supported by his wife, a University of Alabama film professor."
Um, yeah. Way to go, Alabama.



With an Eye on Connecticut, Filmmakers Get a Tax Break in New York
New York Times, 4/11/2008
"After watching neighboring states raise their film tax credits to lure film production, New York State has moved to triple its tax incentive — to 30 percent — under the budget approved this week by the State Legislature. State and county officials, as well as representatives of the film industry, cheered the increase, saying it put New York back in the running with Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and other states that had expanded their film incentives."
Race to the bottom, that's what I've always said about this. What we need is a standardized regional incentive system -- but not a national one.

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The White Barn Theatre is Saved!

I reported on this extensively in 2003 and 2004 for Back Stage, and I was thrilled to receive the following email (below) today. Click on the link to the Connecticut Friends School to see how the White Barn is going to be used -- and notice that little dig about having an alternative vision for the site. Good stuff!


Congratulations everyone—WE did it!

Yesterday afternoon papers were signed transferring 5.576 acres of the White Barn Theatre Property into permanent conservation easement—5.13 acres on the south and west of the pond, which is public access, plus an additional 4.45 buffer on the eastern side of the pond.

Save Cranbury Association is thrilled that the community’s five year effort to save White Barn Theatre Property open space has been successful, culminating in the transfer of 5.575 acres into permanent conservation easement. Save Cranbury Association, a grassroots neighborhood group, was founded five years ago as a result of the threat of over-development of this significant property.

This beautiful open space—purchased, in part, through generous grants provided by the City of Norwalk ($250,000) and the State of Connecticut, Department of Environmental Protection($450,000)—is now available for the public to walk through, admire, protect and enjoy.

Save Cranbury is pleased that the Connecticut Friends School was successful in purchasing the adjacent property. They will make wonderful neighbors and will help with the stewardship of the property.

Both properties were purchased from Jim Fieber of Jim Fieber Development.

Save Cranbury Association and the Norwalk Land Trust will co-host an event to be held on the property on May 10th, starting at noon. At that time we will both celebrate the community’s victory and officially thank all the many individuals, elected officials, organizations and Norwalk and Westport groups who helped over the five year period to establish this open space, now permanently protected and secured for the enjoyment of the public. Please mark your calendars—see you there!

With sincere thanks,
JoAnne Jackson, co-director/founder
Gail Wall, co-director
Peter Hynes, co-director
Save Cranbury Association
www.savecranbury.com

The mission of the Save Cranbury Association is to preserve the historical, environmental landscape and rural quality of the neighborhood.

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In Tears at the Casa Rosada, Tricia Walsh-Smith sings "Don't Cry For Me, Shubert Organization"

But most of all, I want this woman's publicist.

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An Interview with Mike Daisey


Not mine, silly -- I'll just be meeting him for drinks on Friday and practicing putting on my boxing gloves in the meantime. No, this interview was conducted by one of my dearest friends, Jonathan West, over at his Artsy Schmartsy blog; there's also a podcast to listen to but the link seems down.


Pretty provocative interview.

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Google Maps and Marx Brothers Place

Gosh, you have to love these smart and determined people advocating for a Marx Brothers Place to be established. Today they sent me an email letting me know that, I guess, Google maps has joined the fray.

Good for them! Honk once for yes, honk twice for yes.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

50 Thoughts on Theatrical Criticism, 16-20

And you thought I'd forgotten about this. Nope -- just consumed with the book. And now trying to get back to lots and lots of things.

16. From Brooks Atkinson, writing in Brief Chronicles (1968):

Reviews written at top speed involve inexact phrasing. Although they communicate excitement, which is one of the theatre's most valuable assets, they are likely to be diffuse. If the reviewer does not have time enough to find the precise word to describe the play or the performance he habitually compromises on three: "Tallulah Bankhead gives a breezy, immensely comic and bridling performance." (That's bluffing.) "Knowledge, breadth of understanding and genius for writing." ("Genius" would have been enough.) "The style is simple, allusive and delightful." "The performance is warm, spontaneous and winning." "Meticulous, pertinent, fluent and funny." (Four adjectives!) Some of these words are pungent or colorful, but they are wild pitches at the target. It is only luck when one of them hits the bull's eye.

17. From the introduction to The American Theatre as Seen by Its Critics: 1752-1934, edited by Montrose J. Moses and John Mason Brown:

....For whatever else may be said against the dramatic critics -- and plenty has been said against them since the beginning of time -- they have at least done their playgoing in the theatre. Even when it is their recollections upon which they draw...it is clear that these memories are based upon the first-hand impressions of men who have gained them in the presence of the footlights. That matters immensely from the theatre's point of view, and gives to the most ephemeral of journalistic reactions, which have been formed in the same way, a documentary interest that time cannot dim for those who are interested in discovering what the theatre of yesterday, or of last season, or of a hundred and fifty years ago, was like when, in its own ephemeral way, it was attempting to cast its theatrical spell.

18. From the opening essay in George Jean Nathan's The Critic and the Drama, called "Aesthetic Jurisprudence":

Art is a reaching out into the ugliness of the world for vagrant beauty and the imprisoning of it in a tangible dream. Criticism is the dream book. All art is a kind of subconscious madness expressed in terms of sanity; criticism is essential to the interpretation of its mysteries, for about everything truly beautiful there is ever something mysterious and disconcerting. Beauty is not always immediately recognizable as beauty; what often passes for beauty is mere infatuation living beauty is like a love that has outlasted the middle years of life, and has met triumphantly the test of time, and faith, and cynic meditation. For beauty is a sleepwalker in the endless corridors of the wakeful world, uncertain, groping, and not a little strange. And criticism is its tender guide.

19. Elsewhere in Nathan's book, he quotes a great English theatre critic:

Arthur Bingham Walkley begins one of the best books ever written on the subject thus: “It is not to be gainsaid that the word criticism has gradually acquired a certain connotation of contempt…Every one who expresses opinions however imbecile in print calls himself a ‘critic.’ The greater the ignoramus the greater the likelihood of his posing as a ‘critic.’” An excellent book, as I have said, with a wealth of sharp talk in it, but Mr Walkley seems to me to err somewhat in his preliminary assumption. Criticism has acquired a connotation of contempt less because it is practised by a majority of ignoramuses than because it is accepted at full face value by an infinitely greater majority of ignoramuses. It is not the mob that curls a lip—the mob the lesser ignoramus at his own estimate of himself; it is the lonely and negligible minority man who, pausing musefully in the field that is the world, contemplates the jackasses eating the daisies.

20. And one from me:

Critics are gifts artists don't want, but which they'll happily regift to other, more unsuspecting artists, when the mood and the moment suits them.

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Arts Advocacy Update XXXVII

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of April 9, 2008:


Local group to launch Arts Census
Ypsilanti Courier (MI), 3/20/2008
In Michigan, "[t]he Washtenaw County Arts Alliance will launch an Artists' Census April 1 through May 17 to help determine how many artists live and work in Washtenaw County. . . . The findings of the census, which is part of the Washtenaw County Community Cultural Assessment, will be included in the Arts Alliance's cultural plan for the county. According to MartÌn-Barcelona, the goal is to repeat the census every 3-5 years to report the health of the arts community."
The more I think about this, the more I think it would make a great national project. State by state or at least city by city, the totals -- depending on how one would define "arts" -- might astound people. It could be as powerful a statistics as the economic impact of the arts.



Granholm signs bills aimed at boosting Michigan's movie business
MLive.com (MI) - AP, 4/7/2008
"Gov. Jennifer Granholm says Michigan's struggling economy could get a quick boost from legislation she signed Monday aimed at giving Michigan a bigger role in the film industry. . . . State film officers say they've received more than 80 scripts for potential projects in anticipation of the new law, up from the typical half-dozen received in a typical year. . . . But it won't come cheap. The key bill in the package gives film studios a refundable credit of up to 42 percent on production expenses in the state."
But didn't they do economic impact numbers before proposing the bill?


In troubled times, arts funding teeters
St. Petersburg Times (FL), 4/3/2008
"These are desperate times in Tallahassee. The Legislature has to deal with a shortfall of as much as $3-billion in tax revenue for the next fiscal year. Naturally the state's arts programs were among the first items on the chopping block. House Speaker Marco Rubio, a Republican from Miami-Dade County, declared that whole departments might have to be eliminated. One of the candidates for the ax was the Division of Cultural Affairs, which administers arts funding. This marked a new extreme. Not even in the uncertain economic conditions after 9/11 did anyone suggest doing away with arts funding entirely."
Leave it to an ignorant dumb-ass, send-men-and-women-to-their-deaths-in-a-war-sold-to-the-public-on-the-basis-of-a-lie Republican to suggest this. Go back to your cave, Rubio.



Poison pill
Times Daily (Florence, AL), 4/5/2008
"The Alabama Education Association is trying to attach a pornography tax to a film incentive bill that could derail the economic development package. . . . The Alabama Education Association, which opposes new incentives that don't replace revenue lost in tax breaks, has attached a bill that would add a 30 percent tax to most forms of 'pornography' sold in Alabama. As one legislator said, 'that's a sure death.'"
What the fuck is this about? Oh, right.



Thumbs down for live theater tax break
The Advocate (Stamford, CT), 4/3/2008
"For [Connecticut] state lawmakers trying to bolster funding for Stamford Center for the Arts, yesterday was not a good day. The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee passed a bill extending the state's film tax credit program to the music industry. But it did not offer the credits to live theater performances. Another bill passed by the panel would give municipalities a portion of the sales tax revenue from hotels. The Stamford delegation sponsored an earlier version that required the money be used by municipalities to fund arts organizations. But yesterday's bill did not specify how the sales tax would be used. It also would levy a 6 percent tax on delivery services to help the state make up for the lost revenue. The move, opposed by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, likely will kill the bill."
Does anyone know what's going on with the White Barn? Sounds like this was partially motivated by the need to save that structure.



Business-like arts a failure, says entrepreneur
Sydney Morning Herald, 4/3/2008
"Filling the boards of arts companies with business appointees has been a dismal failure that has stifled creativity. That is the view of the international arts entrepreneur Justin Macdonnell, who wants a radical rethink of the way arts companies are run. . . . This move had restricted the ability of arts boards to make informed judgments. Ironically, the funding agencies that had pushed their clients in that direction were now questioning whether the boards had the capacity to choose good artistic leadership."
Sounds like a rant for...Mike Daisey!

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