Friday, May 30, 2008

Arts Advocacy Update XLIV

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of May 28, 2008:

Two more cities designated Maryland arts and entertainment districts
Baltimore Business Journal, 5/27/2008
"Annapolis and Havre de Grace could become Maryland's next hot spots for arts and entertainment. . . . The program works to foster the designated districts through income tax breaks to artists living in the area and property tax cuts for developers who construct residential and commercial spaces for artists. Entertainment venues in the arts districts are also exempt from paying the state's admission and amusement taxes. . . . The addition of Annapolis and Havre de Grace bumps the number of arts and entertainment districts in the state to 17. . . . Hagerstown was also approved for expansion and recertification."
Oh, Becky Kemper, where are you?

Artists seek royalties for 70 years from grave
Times Online (UK), 5/27/2008
"Britain's artistic community is battling against leading auction houses and dealers to bring in a law forcing the payment of a royalty on artists' works for 70 years after their deaths — in line with writers and musicians."
I'm dead. Pay me.

States Race to Woo TV and Film
Wall Street Journal, 5/22/2008
"An arms race has broken out among states hoping to lure big-budget movie and television productions with financial incentives. In the past month and a half, at least four states -- Georgia, New York, Mississippi and Michigan -- have increased the scope of tax credits, cash rebates and other incentives to encourage spending money in the state and hiring local workers. They are competing with nearly 40 other states and U.S. territories that have incentive programs on the books, some with established film- and TV-production infrastructure, including New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. . . . The latest incentives bill, now in the California state legislature, faces long odds."
Great story. Not newsy, but very timely.

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Can Anyone Help the New York City Arts Coalition?

I received this note today from Norma Munn of the New York City Arts Coalition. Can anyone help?

The Arts Coalition's lease will not be renewed at the end of July, and I am really becoming very anxious.

I have been looking for space for two months, and find brokers uninterested because the space is so small, and we don't have a lot of money. We need about 550-600 sq feet of useable space and we need some of that space to be private office space. However, I am as flexible as we can be.

Locale: flexible, but anything that is on the western side of Manhattan is far easier transportation for everyone working here.

I need to keep the rent around $1600-1800 per month, unless it includes cleaning and security, in which case I can go a bit higher.

A two - three year lease is OK. We have been subletting since 2000, and we are accustomed to sharing. (We make good neighbors.)

This is a real plea for help. All efforts deeply appreciated.

Norma P. Munn
New York City Arts Coalition
351-A West 54 St.
NYC 10019 212-246-3788

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New Profile: Edward Albee

Albee Seeing You
At 80, the iconic American playwright discusses the state of his art.
May 30, 2008

By Leonard Jacobs

There's no one in the American theatre like Edward Albee. As a playwright, he's known as much for the ambiguities in his plays as for what's revealed. Consider the hysterical pregnancy in 1962's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the symbolism of 1964's Tiny Alice, or why a terror-filled couple visits friends in 1966's A Delicate Balance, which won Albee the first of three Pulitzer Prizes.

That leaves 50 years of work to mull — playful lizards interacting with humans in 1975's Seascape; one woman split into three parts in 1991's Three Tall Women; the drama of a normal man falling in love with the titular creature in 2002's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?. And how could 1998's The Play About the Baby have been anything but the play about the baby?

As a man, there's no one quite like Albee either. His reputation for not suffering fools gladly is deserved. He has refused to explain his work as metaphor or allegory — a goat-loving man, he says, is a goat-loving man. Still, he's anything but cold. In conversation, he's witty, giving, charming, wise, warm, generous, curious, and magnetic. Albee has enjoyed a valedictory season on the East Coast, starting with Second Stage Theatre's production of Peter and Jerry, an update of his 1958 one-act The Zoo Story that shuttles the original play to Act 2 and adds an Act 1 zinger, showing Albee at the peak of his prowess. Next came the world premiere of Me, Myself & I, a cauterizing cartoon of the self, at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, N.J. Back in New York, Albee directed a revival of two of his early one-acts, The Sandbox and The American Dream, to acclaim at Off-Broadway's Cherry Lane Theatre. And now the season ends with Occupant, Albee's penetrating 2001 play about artist Louise Nevelson, starring Oscar and Tony winner Mercedes Ruehl.

Back Stage: I went back to the 1960s and read interviews with you. It seemed you had a Bob Dylan-ish side — a toying-with-the-media, try-figuring-me-out tone.

Edward Albee: Oh, why not have fun with them? Once, I was interviewed and asked who my favorite living playwright was. I said me. When it was printed, it read, "When asked who he thought the finest living playwright was, Mr. Albee said himself." Was that bad mishearing on the part of the journalist or intentional? That's why I prefer live radio and television…. I like to keep journalists on their game.

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Video Tributes to Harvey Korman

Been watching the coverage of Korman's death on the blogosphere. God was he loved! Check all this out. I've been laughing.

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House-Hunting Photos

Just a few. For fun.

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Harvey Korman, 1927-2008

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Article: Giving Up the Ghost

For New York Press. Here's a tease:

After much teeth-gnashing, I have come to realize that I cannot review—nor see, I guess—the Public Theater’s upcoming revival of Hamlet at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. To be clear, it’s not the casting that swells me with terror—certainly not with the stunningly gorgeous Lauren Ambrose playing Ophelia as a follow-up to her dazzlingly insightful Juliet in the Public’s Romeo and Juliet last year. And the idea of seeing the legendary Sam Waterston—who played the title role in the Public’s last Central Park revival of Hamlet over three decades ago—in the role of Polonius is undoubtedly going to be a thrill. And I can imagine what the stupendously gifted Michael Stuhlbarg, who devastated both the heart and the mind in Martin McDonagh’s play The Pillowman on Broadway a few seasons ago, will do with the title role.

But at the moment, I am acutely suffering from a medical condition caused by too many Hamlets. It’s true that there have always been too many Hamlets. In fact, if you look on the Internet Broadway Database, as I did in my research, you’ll see there have been no fewer than 64 productions of the play on Broadway alone, not to mention thematic variations like Tom Stoppard’s nifty Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead or Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet, which some say cures my illness better than tea.

But lately, my condition has gotten worse. I can hardly walk, talk, eat or sleep without a bit of Hamlet somehow crowding my thoughts. Last year, I had to see the Wooster Group’s Hamlet over at the Public Theater downtown, a fanciful multimedia homage to Richard Burton’s famous 1964 revival of the play. And then there was a straightforward Hamlet at off-Broadway’s Pearl Theatre Company, where an ensemble member named Sean McNall (who just won an Obie for his acting) took the demands of the Dane in stride. Then there was a piping-hot Hamlet delivered by the Gorilla Repertory Theater Company, which is mostly known for producing free Shakespeare in city parks during the summer; but for this show, they took things inside for a three-hour, no-intermission whack at the play. For that show, director Christopher Carter Sanderson, an old school chum of mine, openly encouraged the audience to simply walk in and out of the play-space between bathroom breaks or whenever boredom began bearing down. And then there was a Hamlet performed by the puppeteers of the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theater on a carousel in Dumbo. Naturally.

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Want Some End-of-Season Broadway Statistics?

You can get'em right here, courtesy of the Broadway League. Personally, I think a chorus of "Don't Cry For Me, Charlotte St. Martin" would be pretty much in order.

The Broadway League Announces 2007-2008 Broadway Theatre Season Results

The Broadway League has released end-of-season statistics for the 2007-2008 Broadway season, which began May 28, 2007 and ended May 25, 2008, showing a slight decline in both paid attendance and grosses.

Thirty-six new productions opened on Broadway during 2007-2008 (eight new musicals, one musical return-engagement, four musical revivals, 11 new plays, and 12 play revivals). This compares to 35 new productions (12 new musicals, five revivals, 11 new plays, and seven play revivals) in the previous season.

Paid attendance and grosses dropped slightly in the period ending May 25, 2008, in large measure due to the 19-day Local One Stagehands work stoppage that shut down Broadway in the fall of 2007.

1. For this 52-week period ending May 25, 2008, paid attendance at Broadway shows was 12.27 million, down 0.2 % from last season (12.3 million).

2. Broadway shows grossed approximately $937.5 million, compared to the previous season’s record of $938.5 million (includes estimate for “Young Frankenstein”).

League officials estimate that had the strike not occurred, all-time records for both box-office grosses and attendance would have been set with an estimated $975 million in grosses, and 12.9 million tickets sold.

"While we are disappointed that we didn't exceed last year's record-breaking season, we are confident that in the coming season, with such big name shows on the horizon as Billy Elliot, Shrek, West Side Story and Equus, to only name a few, that we will have the best season in recorded history," commented Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director, The Broadway League.

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You know who is cool? Jonathan West

So I'm sitting here at the office with my pupils wildly dilated, not because I'm on some drug but because I just got back from the opthomologists' office for my yearly check-up. Everything is as it was last year, except the pressure in my eyes went up a little bit, after going down a little bit. There's a history of this in my family (thanks so much, Dad, and for the baldness, too), but the doctor checked the optic nerve and everything is normal. I just have to be vigilant, especially now that I'm -- gulp! -- friggin' middle-aged and all.

Anyway, last night was the community board meeting about the Provincetown Playhouse, and I'm going to be posting on that very soon. What I didn't post about -- well, there's a lot that I haven't posted about lately -- was the panel that I was on two Sundays ago at the Barrow Street Theatre, hosted by Mike Daisey and in connection with his monologue, How Theater Failed America. As you, dear reader, surely know, I've mixed it up here and there with Mike, but as I consider him a friend now as well as a colleague, and especially as I think I better understand, courtesy of his monologue, where he's coming from with regard to how we create theatre in this country, I imagine my future posts on all things Daisey will be less hostile and more hortatory. (Side note: Isn't the word "hortatory" fun? It's like Dr. Seuss made it up, but it's really a word.)

Anyway, I just came across what my buddy Jonathan West had to say about Daisey's panel from two weeks ago, which you can -- and really should --read at his blog. He says not much about me and that's cool, other than reassuring his loyal readers that if they want any dish or dirt on me, he's got a barrel full sitting in his backyard. But that's not why I think he's cool. Actually, here's a little history -- and no, he doesn't know I'm writing this. I thought Jon West was cool from the moment I met him, which if memory serves was about 20 years ago when I was working full-time (and rather unhappily) as a receptionist in the NYU undergraduate admissions office on Washington Square North; he was one of a slew of kids that led campus tours. Jon directed the first real play I ever wrote, and he's one of very, very few people I have ever met who I would consider a clear theatrical natural. We did go through a whole bunch of years without being in touch, but ever since we got back in touch two years ago, I have been so very glad of it -- glad for how he has both changed and not changed.

So I'm reading Jon's blog, and he wrote something that, because I knew him way back when, really made me ponder this curious arc we call life:

So it was me and a bunch of New Yorkers and one dude from Boston with a British accent. I felt a little out of my element going into the night, to tell you the truth. All of my anxieties about my career -- or lack of career to be more accurate -- were being tested by having a place at this visionary chit-chat. I have great respect and admiration for all the people I’ve listed. They get into the ring and battle everyday. Me, I left New York after college, never really giving my young rebel a chance to shine on the streets of challenge and change that are New York. I drove back to the Midwest and bought a house and did plays away from a twisted real estate market and kinetically competitive artistic environment like the one found in New York. I felt going in like I should have been sitting at the kids table, but somehow I was just tall enough to take a place at the adult table, so I would need to jump in and swim in the conversational pool.

I was nervous. But all these artists and the ever-gracious Mike Daisey seemed nice enough, so I was committed to putting myself through a possibly humiliating professional experience since I was feeling a little like I had no professional experience when compared to the others in the group. I also have loads of dirt on Leonard Jacobs from our college days together at NYU, so I knew I’d at least be able to put him in a corner if things got out of hand.

But my attitude about my place on this panel and the state of the American theater really started to change almost from the moment I showed up at the Barrow Street Theatre. Magical started to happen that made me realize that, yeah, the theater is broken, and maybe it always has been, but there’s really nothing quite like it. And in terms of the people the theater attracts right here and now in the every unfolding national story of that art form, I can think of no other group of aging enthusiasts, young dreamers, and mid-career battered and leather-tough practitioners to lead the charge towards making sure that future generations of theater fans and makers will understand how to jiggle the handle on the toilet that is American theater and make it work as best as it can.
When Jon writes about leaving New York after college and never giving his young rebel "a chance to shine on the streets of challenge and change that are New York" (gorgeous phrasing!), I have to say that I completely remember when Jon left and how, quite frankly, heartbroken I was. I had visions of Jon and I being a writer-director team for the ages, darers of derring do and don't who would put together theatre experiences that would smash doors and crash walls and bash all the idiocies and platitudes that Leonard, at 20 or 22, felt were so important to bash. I don't want to make this posting needlessly gay (I'll stop laughing yet?), since it was always clear that Jon is heterosexual and I am not, but I loved him then, truly loved him, for his talent and for his genius and for his strength and for what I think was a really marvelous case of self-actualization -- he was certainly more wholly endows with a sense of who he was and is far, far more I was at that time. And so in my heartbreak -- in my inability to understand why on earth Jon would leave the Big Apple for home in Wisconsin -- I was a little angry, too. Or at least a little mystified and disappointed and unable to understand something that's very, very key in terms of what he posted on his blog about the panel.

Jon returned to Wisconsin and really did do everything in the professional theatre that anyone in New York could do -- acting, writing, directing, and getting his union membership; founding and operating a successful nonprofit theatre; holding one, if not more, prominent positions within an institutional nonprofit theatre; plus forging friendships and relationships and having a family and buying a home and doing all the things that theatre people too often forget to do or wait too long to do as they operate in pursuit of a life on the stage. Because Jon did all this and did it so well, it tells me, as it should tell all of us, that the theatre world is not only about New York, and that I was a fool to think it was. Indeed, what a fool I was to have such a shallow, cloistered worldview at the time (and I did!).

As a result of everything I've mentioned up above, I therefore think there's no question that Jon totally had a place on Daisey's panel. In fact, I'd go even further and suggest that his place was indispensible to Daisey's efforts -- and point. As for Jon's inner rebel, I think by moving back to Wisconsin and choosing the life path he's chosen, he's been most rebellious -- I mean, he totally eschewed the conventional wisdom about a theatre artist's life happening only in New York or Los Angeles or even Chicago; he proved it can be done anywhere and elsewhere.

So, Jon, don't you ever wonder whether you were "tall enough to take a place at the adult table." You are an inspiration to me, my friend. And part of my education, too. I'm so glad that you are, and always were, my friend.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

New Podcast: The Inexplicable Dumb Show

While I was attending the Humana Festival in Louisville, I met a couple of guys, Tee Quillin and John Mauldin, who are major theatre folk (actors, teachers, writers, and entrepreneurs) who are podcasting with high velocity and great relish via their website, The Inexplicable Dumb Show, which has to be one of the single greatest names for anything I've ever seen in my life. Tee and John are also all hooked with up with my friend Mark Cabus' Nashville-based theatrical ventures, although when Mark says he has 36 years in this business, he lies: he's just 29.

Anyway, Tee and John had me on their podcast the other day to talk about the Provincetown Playhouse and NYU and whether being a fiery rabble-rouser screws up your digestion or your blood pressure. Here's the link to the podcast!

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Punch 59 is Back!

Here's the 411:

PUNCH 59 SKETCH COMEDY is back with Saturday night shows in June featuring a one-act from Tony-winner Thomas Meehan

SAT. JUNE 14TH, 10pm
SAT., JUNE 21ST, 10pm
Gene Frankel Underground
24 Bond Street
New York, NY
Cost:$10 (no drink minimum)

The June 14th performance will feature “Movie, Movie,” written by Tony-winner Thomas Meehan (The Producers, Annie, Young Frankenstein, Cry Baby). Originally published in The New Yorker, "Movie, Movie" features the characters Bonnie and Clyde, who meet “in Coney Island; in shadows and fog,” and their ensuing dialogue consists only of movie titles.

With sketches like “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Confused Actors,” “I Woke Up Racist,” and “Interfaith Understandings from Rev. Bill and Betty,” PUNCH 59 is sketch comedy the way it should be: funny. Featuring a rotating cast of 11 of New York’s most talented actors, including Jen Ryan (FringeNYC Outstanding Performance Award), Rik Sansone (Summer ’69) Jill Butterfield, Rachael Marie Shaffer, Ray Chao, Noel Hunter, Adam P. Murphy, Johnny McCarthy, and Melisa Breiner-Sanders.

Thomas Meehan received his first Tony Award in 1977 for writing the book for Annie (1977), his Broadway debut; he subsequently won for The Producers (2001) and Hairspray (2003). He is the writer of the Broadway versions of Cry Baby, Young Frankenstein, I Remember Mama, Ain’t Broadway Grand and Bombay Dreams. Mr. Meehan is a longtime contributor of humor to The New Yorker, an Emmy Award-winning writer of television comedy, and a collaborator on a number of screenplays including Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs and To Be or Not to Be.

Tickets for all performances are available at the box-office day of show. Industry comps are always available. Please email us at

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Monday, May 26, 2008

We Went House-Hunting This Weekend...

...up in Columbia County. Third time we've gone a-huntin', but the first time I took some serious digital snaps. I'm probably going to upload a few just for feedback.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Arts Advocacy Update XLIII

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of May 21, 2008:

Engagement In Culture Events Key To Mental Wellbeing
Science Daily, 5/19/2008
"Experts held a number of workshops for Liverpool residents aimed at identifying the positive and negative effects of the projects. The research revealed that community events filled local people with pride and a renewed commitment to the city. . . . On the whole, Capital of Culture programmes have had a very positive effect on mental health; negativity towards events and initiatives only arises when communities feel they have not been considered in the development of a scheme."
This whole time I could have sworn that the theatre was driving me nuts. I guess I was wrong, hm?

Kaine Says Tourism Is Vital To Virginia’s Economy
Bristol Herald Courier (VA), 5/21/2008
"Tourism can play an increasingly important role in the region’s economy despite concerns about the state and national economic outlook, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine said Tuesday. Kaine kicked off a busy day in Southwest Virginia by speaking at the second conference on building a creative economy. He spoke to a crowd of more than 100 at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center in Abingdon. . . . 'To me, there are three kinds of tourism – historic, culture and natural beauty – and Southwest Virginia has all three,' he said. 'A creative economy is designed to supplement and expand the traditional economy.' Kaine, who spoke at the first such conference two years ago, praised local efforts to expand tourism by combining the region’s music, heritage and other cultural assets."
Smart guy. Too bad Va. can't elect a governor for more than one term. It's such a quirk in their system -- throw everyone out, good or bad, after one shot. Seems a shame.

London: A cultural audit
London Development Agency, 2008
This report is the first quantitative overview of London’s cultural environment, which it compares with that of four world cities – New York, Paris, Tokyo and Shanghai. It reports that the city employs more than 550,000 people in the creative and cultural sectors, adding £20 billion to London’s economy.Thanks to Dr. Andy Pratt for sharing.
My God, 20 billion pounds? Here is a link to the PDF if you want to download the whole document, which is more than 100 pages long.

Performing arts center still a question mark at ground zero
Newsday - AP, 5/17/2008
"When he created ground zero's master plan, architect Daniel Libeskind envisioned a performing arts center that would bring life to a site devastated by terrorism. The rebuilt World Trade Center, he believed, should be more than a place to work and grieve. More than 100 arts institutions applied for a spot on the 16 acres. Four were chosen. That was four years ago. Since then, three out of the four groups that were to have anchored the new performance space have moved on and the center's prospects appear to be fading."
I could have told you this four years ago. The whole thing was a George Pataki-led sham -- except for Libeskind, who I think should win an award for the abuse he's put up with. Bottom line: it remains consecrated ground.

Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights
University of California Press / 2008
From the publisher:"Bill Ivey, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, assesses the current state of the arts in America and finds cause for alarm. Even as he celebrates our ever-emerging culture and the way it enriches our lives here at home while spreading the dream of democracy around the world, he points to a looming crisis. The expanding footprint of copyright, an unconstrained arts industry marketplace, and a government unwilling to engage culture as a serious arena for public policy have come together to undermine art, artistry, and cultural heritage—the expressive life of America."
OK, OK, but what does "unconstrained" mean?

Louisiana's Investing In Culture
Forbes, 5/16/2008
Louisiana's Lt. Governor, Mitch Landrieu, writes about the Cultural Economy Initiative he launched in 2003. "The Cultural Economy Initiative encourages the organic growth of the cultural economy as a viable industry. The initiative has produced several programs including, arts in education legislation, cultural product districts, historic preservation grants, the Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation and the World Cultural Economic Forum."
Too bad Louisana's new governor is an arts-ignorant Republican twit.

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Announcements: PSAs for Arts Education

Check out the contents of this press release that I received today from Americans for the Arts:

Americans for the Arts, Ad Council
and the NAMM Foundation
Launch New PSAs Championing Arts Education

National Ads debut at The New England Institute of Art and will be promoted locally by more than 275 arts organizations across the country

The Advertising Council joined Americans for the Arts and the NAMM Foundation today to announce the launch of a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs) designed to promote the benefits of arts education. The PSAs, part of the award-winning “The Arts. Ask for More.” campaign, will debut at Advertising that Changed a Nation, an exhibit opening this week at the New England Institute of Art in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The arts provide children with life skills that are a foundation to their and our nation’s future success. According to key findings from a forthcoming report conducted by The Conference Board and Americans for the Arts, in partnership with the American Association of School Administrators, an overwhelming majority of school superintendents and employers (99 and 97 percent respectively) agree that creativity is increasingly important in the workforce and that an art training is crucial to developing creativity. However, according to the research, most schools in our country only provide arts training on an elective basis. Additionally, a 2005 Harris Poll reported that 40 percent of parents say they do not know how to get involved with promoting arts education.

Launched in 2002, the original “Art. Ask for More.” campaign was the first national PSA effort designed to promote the arts as a vital part of a well-rounded education for our nation’s children and promoted parental involvement in championing arts education both in and out of schools. Created pro bono by Leo Burnett, this second series of television, radio, print and Web ads feature a new creative strategy that encourages parents to “feed their children the arts” with a bowl of “Raisin Brahms” or a serving of “VanGoghgurt” for breakfast. The ads speak to the benefits of getting a daily dose of the arts, which include increased test scores, better creative thinking, patience, and determination, all skills that are fundamental to a child’s education and development. The PSAs end with the tagline: “The Arts. Ask for More.”

“We are delighted to continue our partnership with Americans for the Arts for this second series of PSAs designed to help parents recognize the value of the arts in their children’s lives,” said Peggy Conlon, President and CEO of the Ad Council. “This clever strategy of depicting the arts as nourishment will show parents that the arts are integral to their child’s development and an important foundation for their future.”

The PSAs direct parents to visit where they will find 10 simple ways on how to include the arts in their children’s lives, including registering their children for school and community programs, reinforcing the benefits of the arts in their conversations, and communicating the importance of the arts with teachers, principals and elected officials. The site also features an Online Resource Center to help parents, teachers, school board leaders, and advocates increase the presence and quality of arts education in the schools. All creative ads for the campaign are available for viewing on the websites of both Americans for the Arts ( and the Ad Council (

“Appreciation and involvement in the arts is an essential educational goal for the 21st century, and this campaign gives parents the tips and tools for providing more arts education opportunities for their children in both school and their communities,” said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts.

“We wanted to develop a campaign that displayed cultural insight in a way that reinforces the importance of the arts in a child’s life,” said Richard Roche, SVP, Account Director at Leo Burnett. “Our goal was to use our creativity to develop a clever strategy and transform human perception through a compelling series of ads that capture this message.”

More than 275 arts organizations across the country will help promote this campaign to their local media. The television and radio spots are localizable for every community. The campaign, its production and outreach have been made possible by a grant from the NAMM Foundation, which helped to leverage additional needed resources.

The television and radio PSAs are being distributed to stations nationwide in June, while the print and Web ads will be released later this year. Per the Ad Council’s model, all of the PSAs will air and run in advertising time and space that is entirely donated by the media.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Review: Good Boys and True

This actually came out in the New York Press at the top of the week. Hope you enjoy. This one, for some reason, was particularly tough to write.

Here's the tease:

"Sometimes critics can know too much about a play’s development: Good Boys and True, currently at Second Stage, is a case in point. Last summer I saw a workshop of the play at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut, where I teach critical writing. The O’Neill is one of our great play-development venues because it offers a safe environment for artists—safe from critics, that is. In exchange, critics are allowed to play an entirely informal role in the goings-on, mostly limited to drinking at the bar with artists after the show and offering advice when solicited. Otherwise, you keep quiet and assume the writer will fix the play’s problems before it moves on..."

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Arts Advocacy Update XLII

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of May 14, 2008:

Effort to boost not just attendance, but engagement
Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/8/2008

"The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance believes it can help double audience participation at area arts events over the next 12 years. And the Pew Charitable Trusts has put up $5 million to help finance an elaborate marketing effort - called Engage 2020 - to push for that goal, officials intend to announce today. . . . A key element will be the creation of what the alliance has dubbed the Cultural Engagement Index, which will seek to gauge regional cultural activity through periodic readings of such key statistics as audience size and diversity. Over time, the alliance hopes the index will measure shifting patterns of cultural behavior. The index will also serve as the measure of cultural participation, which the alliance is seeking to double by 2020. Participation is an expansive concept that goes well beyond traditional attendance - about 18 million attended cultural events in the five-county region last year, officials said - to encompass activities as wide-ranging as singing in church to collecting art for the home. In addition, a two-year study of demographics, audience likes and dislikes, and audience values will pull together a vast amount of data in 'a readable format' for leaders of cultural organizations."
Wow. Brilliant. Can New York do the same thing? You betcha. We just need political support for it.

12 Chicago-area Cultural Institutions Awarded Grants to 'Jumpstart the Conversation'
PR Newswire, 5/6/2008
"Twelve organizations in the Chicago metro area have been awarded 'JumpStart the Conversation' grants for projects designed to provide opportunities for older adults to contribute to the cultural life of their communities. The grants were introduced after a recent workshop at the Chicago Cultural Center, Engaging Older Adults Through Arts and Culture: Developing a Livable Chicago for All Ages. The workshop was the fifth of six regional workshops focused on creating livable communities for all ages. The workshops and grants are part of a national Aging in Place Initiative undertaken by Partners for Livable Communities (Partners) and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), with funding provided by MetLife Foundation."
Great idea. Actually makes a lot of sense.

One town uses the arts to revive after hurricane Katrina
Christian Science Monitor, 5/14/2008
In Bay St. Louis, MS, the arts are credited with "helping revive a town in one of the rare success stories of post-Katrina life on the Gulf Coast. . . . [A]rts mavens and tourists are returning, and homes and businesses are being rebuilt, helping to resurrect the economy and sharpen the community's identity as a cultural hub. The town, admittedly, has an advantage over many other communities along the Gulf Coast. Even before Katrina, it was a vibrant center for tourism and the arts – a Santa Fe of the South. Yet now artists from across the country are sending money and aid, which, along with infusions of federal cash, are helping the once-sleepy fishing village further reinvent itself and raising a provocative question: Can the arts rescue a town?"
Great question. Here's another: How will they vote in November? For the same people who left them to drown and die, or for people who would actually reform FEMA enough to take care of them if, God forbid, another Katrina were to come along?

Report shows that arts organizations are being “stifled” by a lack of facility space and diversity
Fort Collins Now (CO), 5/8/2008
"For some time, those in Fort Collins' [CO] arts and culture scene have said the lack of space and diversity in local facilities is keeping the city from realizing its potential. And after studying Fort Collins' cultural landscape for more than a year, a team of consultants has confirmed just that. . . . In the newly announced Cultural Facilities Plan final report, the study team determined that there is a continuing need for updating current facilities like the city-owned Lincoln Center as well as increasing the number and variety of local venues. In fact, they have recommended increasing the city's artistic fleet by five cultural facilities, five performance facilities and two infrastructural projects."
No offense or anything, but it took a year to study the cultural landscape of Fort Collins, Colorado?

Arts Council funding approved
KMEG 14 (Sioux City, IA) - AP, 5/12/2008
In South Dakota, "Governor Rounds has approved $1.1 million in State Arts Council funding. . . . Rounds says strengthening the arts is an excellent way to diversify the state economy."
Yes, that and making sure women aren't allowed to have abortions. That certainly is one way to make people more creative. Bastards.

Creative Economy Gets Access to State Tax Credits
WWJ (Detroit,. MI), 5/9/2008
"Michigan's creative business community will get a boost as a result of Gov. Jennifer Granholm's signature on a series of bills that would make creative businesses eligible for state MEGA tax credits. State officials say the bill, sponsored by State Sen. Jud Gilbert (R-Algonac), will have a significant impact on Southeast Michigan's efforts to develop creative economy jobs by broadening the definition of businesses eligible for MEGA credits to include those in the creative sector. . . . Businesses meeting these criteria will be eligible for high-tech or high-wage MEGA credits which are credits against the Michigan Business Tax. A high-wage business is a business that has an average wage of 300 percent or more of the federal minimum wage."
OMG, I'm in a high-wage business. Or maybe I'm just high. Sigh.

NEA Launches National Opera Awards
Washington Post, 5/14/2008
"Think of American art forms, and opera doesn't typically spring to mind. But now the federal government is setting out to change that. Yesterday the National Endowment for the Arts announced the four winners of the first annual NEA Opera Honors, the first new program of national arts awards since the Jazz Masters awards were established in 1982."
The opera ain't over until the fat lady...wins an award! Seriously, this is cool.

Perdue signs film tax-credit boost
Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL), 5/13/2008
Legislation signed by Georgia governor Sonny Perdue will more than double the tax credits for film production in the state. "Companies will now get a 20 percent tax credit on productions that spend more than $500,000 in the state, and another 10 percent credit if the production includes a short promotion touting Georgia."
Let us pray...that it brings them business.

San Antonio voters overwhelmingly approve visitor tax
Houston Chronicle - AP, 5/11/2008
"Voters in San Antonio on Saturday approved four proposals to use visitor taxes to fund $415 million in civic improvement projects for the area. Bexar County voters decided to extend a 1.75 percent tax on hotel rooms and a 5 percent tax on short-term car rentals to fund four separate propositions: improvements to the San Antonio River, new youth and amateur athletic facilities, renovations of arts centers and upgrades to rodeo grounds and arenas. . . . About 65 percent of voters approved renovation of arts centers."
And the other 35% was busy watching Lou Dobbs and figuring out whether artists and illegal aliens are really just the same thing.

Who will perform for the arts?
Los Angeles Times, 5/11/2008
"At a time when the California Arts Council is handing out only one-tenth of the grants funding it did a decade ago, and when the city's Department of Cultural Affairs will take a 6.1% hit to its 2008-09 budget, the race to succeed retiring county Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke is of intense interest to the local arts community," says local arts leader Michael Alexander. "That's because L.A. County government has become the chief public resource for local arts funding. . . . And it is Burke who has been the major driving force for the arts on the Board of Supervisors."
The person ought to be lobbying the California governor, too.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

New Profile: David Gilmour

I read a book a little bit ago called The Film Club, which I thought to be just excellent. I mean, really superlative. It's about a father and a son -- and, really, so much more. I was so pleased to be able to interview novelist and critic David Gilmour for

Here's my lede:

Jesse Gilmour hated high school. This worried his father, novelist and film critic David Gilmour (who, btw, is NOT the guitarist for Pink Floyd), who began doing his son’s homework, hoping someday Jesse would come around. Instead, Jesse announced he wanted to drop out of school—at the same time that David lost his job as a film critic on TV and couldn’t find work. Frustrated, frightened, exhausted, he shocked Jesse by agreeing to his request—provided he’d watch at least three films every week with him. Dubbed "The Film Club," the three years of movie-watching the father and son spent together is captured in Gilmour’s new same-name memoir.

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New Review: Top Girls

Alas, this review is not so new -- it came out some time ago, and I totally forgot to post about it. I reviewed Top Girls, currently at the Biltmore, for the New York Press, and here's a little tease:

The last time Broadway housed a Caryl Churchill play was 20 years ago, when the most unforgettable image in Serious Money, a satire of the 1980s bull market, was bare-chested Alec Baldwin making hay of the author’s rhyming couplets. Still, the hirsute hottie couldn’t keep the critically lambasted, misunderstood play alive, and so Serious Money closed after 15 not-so-serious performances. The British playwright then became, if no commercial theater darling, at least a writer of serious coinage, with productions at the Public Theater (The Skriker, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You), New York Theater Workshop (Far Away, A Number) and virtually any nonprofit where leftist politics and righteous drama easily converge.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Is Drama Desk President William Wolf Guilty or Just Having a Hissy Fit?

In response to the disturbing charges leveled in Tom O'Neill's 3,000-word expose about the Drama Desk Awards in the Los Angeles Times, Drama Desk President William Wolf sent out this screed to the membership listserv. Like all leaders who know they're probably guilty and are cornered, Wolf has chosen the cowardly response -- he has lashed out.

Here is the text of his letter to the membership:

Dear Drama Desk member:

Why should Barbara Siegel have all the fun? I’m happy to report that I have now been personally vilified along with Barbara, our dedicated and outstanding chairperson of the Drama Desk Nominating Committee, who has received a tremendous outpouring of support from the theater community and membership in the face of the scurrilous and false accusations leveled against her by a disgruntled, vengeful now former member Tony Phillips, whom Barbara and I dismissed from the Nominating Committee for not fulfilling his responsibilities and impeding the committee’s work. I’m not looking for the sort of accolades Barbara has been receiving, but I know that I must be doing something right as president to generate such fury on behalf of a few malcontents who have their own agenda and apparently would like to take over the Drama Desk.
Matthew Murray has posted on the chat board a sleazy column by Tom O’Neil who writes the Gold Derby blog on the Los Angeles Times website. O’Neil attempts to create a scandal where there is none—there are only the wild, baseless allegations of a few. Gold Derby? We know that all that glistens is not gold. Sometimes there is only manure.

Every worthwhile organization has at least a couple of self-serving embittered members, and one task of a president and an Executive Board is not to let them distract the organization from its basic purpose, which in the case of the Drama Desk is to nominate and award outstanding work in the theater and hold forums on important theater topics. In the guise of wanting to help the Drama Desk, Murray has deliberately gone public to dump on the organization just when we are about to announce and celebrate our awards.

Murray has been grumbling ever since he was not asked back on the Nominating Committee. He even told me he was hesitant about renewing his membership this past season because he was so unhappy with the Drama Desk. I’m sorry I didn’t encourage his hesitation. In contrast, each year so many people who know the value of the Drama Desk are eager to become members.

The essence of the accusation by Murray and his ilk is that Barbara and I are supposedly steering the Drama Desk nominations toward Broadway shows. One has only to look at the broad nominations this year, last year, and in past years to see how absurd this is. The situation is just the opposite; the letters of support from the theater community hail Barbara in particular as a well known champion of smaller shows. Likewise, the attacks on the nominating process are total distortions. I’m accused, along with Barbara, of “bullying nominators” into changing votes. This is a lie. The nominators, unpaid volunteers like the officers and other members of the Executive Board, work very intensively, going to shows nearly every day of the week all season long, meeting frequently throughout the season as they strive to honor the most outstanding productions and performances in 28 categories plus special awards. Everything is by vote. There is a practice of allowing every nominator to bring up for re-consideration shows that h ave not received a nomination thus far, or shows that have. There is discussion. That’s called debate. It is not a nefarious effort to force a change in the result. Nothing is final until the very end of the process.

Some 450 shows were seen among the nominators and evaluated this past season, still necessarily only a fraction of the hundreds more that are mounted each season all over the city. There has to be some standard for eligibility, otherwise coverage would be humanly impossible. Since the Drama Desk credo is to have Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off Broadway compete against one another in the same categories, we can’t divide the nominators into separate groups. Hence, the Executive Board decided as a practical measure that a show must have at least 17 performances for consideration. That applies across the board, including showcases, festivals, organizations like BAM and Broadway. There is no way that all shows can be covered. There has to be some limitation.

It has been my impression that most members have been delighted with the growth of the Drama Desk and the increased profile of our awards and activities and are pleased with the way things have been going. The media scene has changed so much, especially with the great importance that the internet has assumed amid the decline in print theater coverage, that it became vital several years ago to open our voting ranks to on-line writers. Ironically, Murray, on-line himself, wouldn’t be a member had we not taken that forward step.

The Drama Desk has been around and will be around longer than any of us, and I take pride in being able to lead the organization as others have done before me. There have been battles before, and this too shall pass. Constructive criticism or suggestions are always welcomed. But it is important not to let a few malcontents, abetted by the chicanery of columnists or bloggers who are always trying to stir the pot for their own aggrandizement, deter us from our function by smearing the work of the Drama Desk.

William Wolf,

Your bullying, only Broadway oriented, the hell with off-Broadway and of-off Broadway Drama Desk President

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Why We Should Be Suspicious of NYU's Plans for the Provincetown Playhouse

Please note the special appeal to Philip Seymour Hoffman.

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The Drama Desk Scandal Blows Wide Open

When Tom O'Neill of the Los Angeles Times interviewed me for an investigative piece on the dirty doings at the Drama Desk, I didn't anticipate it would be even nearly as comprehensive and as stunning as what Tom published yesterday.

First, here is the link to the article. Check out the first four graphs -- and just consider the fact that the piece runs nearly 3,000 words.

On the eve of its awards being presented this Sunday, the Drama Desk is engulfed in a growing scandal that erupted following the resignation of a member who was booted from the nominating committee.

Initially, president William Wolf pooh-poohed "the total nonsense and patently false" charges made by Tony Phillips of Edge Publications against Barbara Siegel, chair of the nominating committee, as "the biased and disgruntled rant" of someone who'd been fired, but now other prominent members of the Drama Desk have not only substantiated some of Phillips' charges, but evidence has emerged that Wolf may also be guilty of one of the most serious allegations against Siegel — bullying nominators into changing a legitimate award nomination that he didn't like.

Wolf and Siegel hold leadership roles of dubious legality since neither may technically qualify for membership in the Drama Desk organization. In the past few days Wolf — whose media outlet is his own website, — revealed that old bylaws are still in effect that don't recognize Internet writers. Siegel's media credentials are and Also in question is the legality and authenticity of this weekend's awards, which were voted upon by the many Internet-only writers in the Drama Desk.

Several prominent members describe Wolf and Siegel as kingpins of an entrenched leadership that rules forcibly, hides scandals and key issues from the general membership, and makes it difficult for rivals to become officers or members of its board of directors. Among controversies they're accused of hushing up: Last year there was such serious dissent over management of the nominating committee that two of its six members resigned in protest just a few weeks before nominations were to be decided.

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Provincetown Playhouse Productions

I was furnished with this extraordinary list of Provincetown Playhouse production by a colleague named Robert Blodgett who is working on the advocacy and anti-demolition project. Read this and tell me if you're not stunned.

Partial List of Plays and Their Opening Dates
Provincetown Playhouse, 133 MacDougal Street

*Denotes world premiere.

The Provincetown Playhouse at 133 MacDougal was inaugurated on November 22, 1918, with three one-act plays:

*Eugene O’Neill, Where the Cross Is Made
Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Princess Marries the Page
*Florence Kiper Frank, Gee-Rusalem

A sampling of other plays includes:

*Eugene O’Neill, The Moon of the Caribbees, December 20, 1918

*Edna Ferber, The Eldest, January 9, 1919

*Susan Glaspell, Bernice, March 21, 1919

*Eugene O’Neill, The Dreamy Kid, October 31, 1919

*Edna St. Vincent Millay, Aria da Capo, December 6, 1919

*Lewis Beach, Brothers, December 6, 1919

Wilbur Steele, Not Smart, December 6, 1919

*Eugene O’Neill, Exorcism, March 26, 1920

*Eugene O’Neill, The Emperor Jones, November 1, 1920 – Professional acting debut of Paul Robeson. “The play has been one of the sensations of the season,” according to The New York Times.

*Lawrence Langner, Matinata, November 1, 1920

*Eugene O’Neill, Diff’rent, December 27, 1920

*George Cram Cook, The Spring, 1920

*Susan Glaspell, Inheritors, March 29, 1921

*Susan Glaspell, The Verge, November 14, 1921

*Theodore Dreiser, The Hand of the Potter, December 5, 1921

*Edna St. Vincent Millay, Two Slatterns and a King, 1921

Susan Glaspell, Trifles, 1921

*Eugene O’Neill, The Hairy Ape, March 9, 1922

*Susan Glaspell, Chains of Dew, April 27, 1922.

*John Luther Long, Crowns, November 6, 1922

Sholom Ash, The God of Vengeance, December 20, 1922

August Strindberg, The Spook Sonata, January 5, 1924 – American premiere

*Eugene O’Neill, All God’s Chillun Got Wings, May 15, 1924 – Starred Paul Robeson. The play dealt with the marriage of a white woman and a black man and was incredibly controversial. When Mary Blair kissed Paul Robeson, she and the theater received death threats. The city barred the use of child actors, with the result that the prologue – in which the children were supposed to appear – had to be read rather than performed. The New York Times wrote, “From the moment the Provincetown Players announced the production of Eugene O’Neill’s play it was evident that we were in for a campaign of race hatred and bigotry.”

*Edmund Wilson, The Crime in the Whistler Room, October 12, 1924

Eugene O’Neill, S.S. Glencairn, November 3, 1924 – Combined four O’Neill one-act plays previously shown at Provincetown Playhouse

*Sherwood Anderson, The Triumph of the Egg, February 10, 1925 – Starred 19-year-old future movie writer and director John Huston. Time magazine wrote, “John Huston, a hitherto unknown performer, played up and down the tightly tuned wires of Mr. Anderson’s conception and made them vibrant with tragic tones.”

*Hatcher Hughes, Ruint, 7 April 1925

August Strindberg, The Dream Play, January 20, 1926 – American premiere

*Paul Green, In Abraham’s Bosom, December 30, 1926 – Won the 1927 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

*e.e. cummings, him, April 18, 1928

*Upton Sinclair, Singing Jailbirds, December 6, 1928

*Virgil Geddes, The Earth Between, March 5, 1929 – The New York stage debut of 20-year-old Bette Davis. Time magazine wrote, “The play has a certain intensity of gloom, but much of its force is lost in clumsy ambiguity. However, it permits Miss Bette Davis to do an effective bit of acting as the daughter.”

*Eugene O’Neill, Before Breakfast, March 5, 1929

*Edward Peyton Harris, Homecoming, November 16, 1942

*Horton Foote, Only the Heart, December 5, 1942

*William Saroyan, The Hungerers, The Ping Pong Game, and Hello Out There, August 23, 1945.

Federico Garcia Lorca, The Shoemaker’s Prodigious Wife, June 14, 1949

August Strindberg, The Father, August 1949

Luigi Pirandello, Naked, September 1950

*Sara Reavin, The Ivory Branch, May 24, 1956

*Hans Holzer, Hotel Excelsior, August 7, 1956

*Of Mice and Men (musical version), December 4, 1958 – The musical version of the John Steinbeck novel was staged with his support. It was adapted by Ira J. Bilowit and Wilson Lehr, with music by Alfred Brooks and lyrics by Bilowit.

Samuel Beckett, Krapp’s Last Tape, January 14, 1960 – American premiere

Edward Albee, The Zoo Story, January 14, 1960 – American premiere

*Lee Kalcheim, A Party for Divorce and Match Play, October 11, 1966

*Frederick Feirstein, Harold and Sondra, 1967

John Guare, Muzeeka, April 28, 1968 – New York premiere

Sam Shepard, Red Cross, April 28, 1968

*Charles Ludlam, Caprice, 15 April 1976

Sam Shepard, The Unseen Hand and Killer’s Head, January 21, 1982

David Mamet, Edmond, October 27, 1982 – New York premiere

Charles Busch, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, June 19, 1985 – Ran at the Provincetown until 1990

Dario Fo (Italian playwright and Nobel laureate), Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas, September 20, 2001 – The play had its American premiere at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and then moved to the Provincetown. The performance at the Provincetown was presented by the New York University Steinhardt School of Education’s Program in Educational Theater and the American Repertory Theater.

Here are a few quotes about the Provincetown:

In 1978, Helen Hayes called the Provincetown Playhouse “the cradle of modern drama in America.”

In her 2006 book The Provincetown Players and the Culture of Modernity (Cambridge University Press), Brenda Murphy, Professor of English at the University of Connecticut (and a past president of the American Theatre and Drama Society), writes: “The founding of the Provincetown Players is an event that has grown beyond legend to assume the status of myth in the annals of the American theatre. Its significance is paramount because, as theatre historians have recognized, the Provincetown, with its nurturance of self-consciously literary American playwrights like Susan Glaspell, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Eugene O’Neill, has come to represent a new conception of the theatre in the United States. The Provincetown is now seen as the major progenitor of experimental non-commercial theatre in America, the pioneering group that taught theatre practitioners how to develop, nurture, and practice theatre as an art in a country where theatre had always been almost exclusively a business.”

Normand Berlin, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, writing in 2005 in Massachusetts Review, said, “The Zoo Story, first produced by the Schiller Theater in Berlin in 1959 on a double-bill with Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, made American theater history when the same double-bill came to the Provincetown Playhouse in New York City in 1960. A new, exciting voice was being heard off-Broadway at a time when Broadway – up to the ‘60s really a synonym for American theater – seemed to be stagnating, with the highest achievements of America’s three major dramatists (O'Neill, Williams, Miller) behind it. America needed a dramatic rebirth. Albee’s play, reviewed by the major New York newspapers, helped to give off-Broadway an importance that it would continue to maintain, with off-off-Broadway and alternate theaters throughout the land soon following.”

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Thank You, Mike Daisey -- Roundtable Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight

To my unalloyed delight, Mike Daisey has asked me to appear on the first of a series of post-show roundtable panels after Sunday performances of How Theater Failed America, which has just transferred from Joe's Pub to the Barrow Street Theater. This means tomorrow night, folks, so run run run, forget the babysitter, and come listen to me and a whole bunch of other sages and fogeys discuss how we're going to tear the American theatre a new one.

Here's the full breakdown of all six panels. May I add that in addition to being thrilled -- quite seriously, I really mean this -- to be on a panel with the great and legendary Robert Brustein, to also be on a panel with Jonathan West, my old buddy from the NYU glory days, fills me with joy and total apprehension -- because the dude is smart!!

Sunday, May 18: “DOWNTOWN, MIDTOWN, EVERYTOWN” with Robert Brustein (Founder of Yale Repertory Theatre & American Repertory Theatre), Gideon Lester (Artistic Director, American Repertory Theatre), Jonathan West (Milwaukee based actor, blogger), Emily Ackerman (actor, ensemble member of The Civilians) Leonard Jacobs (National editor, Backstage), Sheila Callaghan (playwright, Dead City).

Saturday, May 24: “DO-IT-YOURSELF OR BUST” with Greg Kotis (playwright, Urinetown), Jason Eagan (Artistic Director, Ars Nova), Erez Ziv (Managing Director, Horse Trade Theater), John Clancy (Founder of the New York International Fringe Festival), Scott Shepherd (The Wooster Group), Lisa Kron (actor, solo performer, playwright - Well).

Sunday, June 1: “YOU ARE WHAT YOU WATCH” with Jim Nicola (Artistic Director for New York Theatre Workshop), Mark Russell (Founder, PS122 & the Under The Radar Festival), Steve Bodow (Head writer, “The Daily Show” & Elevator Repair Service member), Morgan Jenness (Literary agent, former literary manager of the Public Theater), David Cote (Theater editor, Time Out New York), Isaac Butler (director & blogger).

Sunday, June 8: “FOR PROFIT, NON-PROFIT, NO PROFIT” with James Bundy (Dean of the Yale School of Drama, AD of Yale Repertory Theatre), Dan Fields (Disney imagineer & freelance director), Stephanie Weisman (Founder & Director of The Marsh in San Francisco), Dave Greenham (Executive Director, The Theatre at Monmouth), Tommy Thompson (veteran Broadway PSM) & Diane Ragsdale (Mellon Foundation).

Sunday, June 15: “ASSEMBLING ENSEMBLES” with John Collins (Artistic Director of Elevator Repair Service, The Sound And The Fury), Tanya Selvararnam (actor, collaborator with Jay Scheib & The Builder's Association), Colleen Werthmann (actor, Elevator Repair Service ensemble member), Heidi Schreck (actor, collaborator with The Theatre of the Two-Headed Calf, Seattle's Printer's Devil), Scott Walters (former Artistic Director of Illinois Shakespeare Festival, blogger), Hal Brooks (director, Thom Paine and No Child…).

Sunday, June 22: “THEATER IN 2033” with Rocco Landesman (Tony®-winning producer, Angels in America, The Producers), Gregory Mosher (Tony®-winning director, former head of Lincoln Center), Oskar Eustis (Artistic Director of the Public Theater), Richard Nelson(playwright, Conversations in Tusculum), Paige Evans (Director, Lincoln Center's new LCT3 program), Garrett Eisler (Village Voice theater critic, blogger).

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Arts Advocacy Update XLI

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of May 7, 2008:

Arts help culture, economy flourish
Poughkeepsie Journal (NY), 5/1/2008
According to a recent economic impact study by the Center for Creative Community Development in North Adams, Mass., Dia:Beacon, the contemporary art museum housed in a former Nabisco factory in upstate New York, "contributes more than $10 million a year to the economic development of the region."
Love the Dia: Beacon -- gorgeous, gorgeous space.

Bill to require P.E. eliminates arts electives
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (GA), 5/6/2008
"[A] bill before the Alabama Legislature could limit or eliminate choir and other electives from the curriculum in favor of more physical education time. The bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Ken Guin, D-Carbon Hill, seeks . . . to set minimums for the amount of daily exercise students will be required to have in school, with at least 200 minutes a week for elementary school students and 225 minutes for middle and high school students."
225 minutes of gym? Are we living in Sparta?

SNAAP Judgments
Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/5/2008
Princeton professor Stan Katz comments on the newly announced Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP), a longitudinal assessment of arts alumni to show, among other things, “how students in different majors use their arts training in their careers and other aspects of their lives.” The project has been developed by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research and the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University.
First, definitely go and read this PDF. Second, I'm not sure I understand how one gets chosen for this sort of thing, but it's a great idea for a project. I'd like to see a little bit more information on methodology, too.

Florida Legislature OKs cuts to cultural affairs, historic resources
Palm Beach Daily News (FL), 5/6/2008
"State funding for culture and historic preservation will fall sharply under the belt-tightening budget approved Friday by the Legislature. The Division of Cultural Affairs, which administers grants to cultural organizations, will get nearly $6 million — down from last year's $12.5 million — while funding for the Division of Historical Resources, which oversees grants for history museums and historic preservation, will drop from $7 million to nearly $1.2 million. That's a plunge from two years ago, when the state earmarked $32.7 million for culture and $18 million for history."
As usual, the Republican-dominated Florida legislature takes a bat to the arts and whacks it, repeatedly. Talk about a croc.

The irony here is art itself
New Jersey Star-Ledger, 5/3/2008
After reporting to New Jersey's Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee how much the arts contributed to the state economy, Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells then was faced with defending "the severe cuts in arts funding the governor had asked her to make," with arts and history funding "being cut anywhere from 25 to 100 percent from a variety of programs."
Poor NJ can't catch a break. First a gay governor and now cuts in arts funding.

Bottom-line philanthropy
Boston Globe, 4/30/2008
Sacha Pfeiffer features the Social Innovation Forum, a program designed to "help nonprofits become more businesslike, understand the language of the private sector, and win the backing of influential, deep-pocketed donors." Each year the program selects six nonprofits through a competitive process, then "gives them free services like management consulting and executive coaching, and introduces them to potential donors" at an event where the nonprofits "make a formal, 15-minute funding appeal, complete with PowerPoint presentation and prospectus, to a large group of prospective funders."
Speak "the language of the private sector"? Shouldn't the private sector equally be incentivized to speak the language of the artists, too?

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Arts Advocacy Update XL

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of April 30, 2008:

State Arts Funding Grows in FY 2008 National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA)
Very interesting information here. I'm taking the liberty of publishing a tease that you'll find at this link -- but click through and read the full press release, too. It'll give you a great macro sense of where things are at. Meanwhile, the tease:

WASHINGTON, DC—Legislative appropriations to state arts agencies increased in fiscal year 2008, according to a study published by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). Between fiscal years 2007 and 2008, state arts agencies gained $9.5 million in state funds, an increase of 2.7 percent. Total legislative appropriations to state arts agencies currently stand at $359.6 million, or $1.18 per capita.

Fiscal year 2008 marks the fourth consecutive year of gains for the arts following three years of sharp declines during the recession. More states experienced increases in fiscal year 2008 than in any of the previous five years. Forty-five state arts agencies report appropriations growth in 2008, with a median increase of 8.9 percent. Three states reported declines, which were significant in Florida and Illinois. Excluding these two states, total appropriations among all other state arts agencies increased by 13.6 percent.

A Knight at the Opera: Big Plans -- Large Bills
Wall Street Journal, 4/24/2008 Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, "has managed to enchant both the masses and the elites" and vastly increase the Met's reach. But is he "overly reliant on gimmicks and buzz whose power will fade," as some critics think? The answer is important because other arts organizations are following his lead.
No, dude, you can't win.

Arts Attendance / Performing arts
Arts Research Monitor, April 22 2008
Four reports related to arts attendance, including an American study of the intrinsic impacts of performance attendance, a Canadian examination of the social impacts of performing arts attendance, a study of attendees’ motivations, abilities and opportunities to participate, and a report on the demographic and cultural factors involved in performing arts attendance in Canada. Articles: - Assessing the Intrinsic Impacts of a Live Performance - Social Effects of Culture - MAO-Model of Audience Development- Factors in Canadians’ Cultural Activities (Performing arts findings)
Nice work...ay?

Reach out and touch someone
San Diego Union-Tribune, 4/27/2008
"Theaters have a vested interest in drawing hard-to-reach audiences with 'pay what you can' shows - it's a 'worthwhile investment,'" says James Hebert. "Pay what you can" is geared to young audiences who "are weaned on the flexibility of the Internet and accustomed to defining and controlling their cultural experiences, from assembling iTunes playlists to racking up TiVo recordings to crafting avatars on games like World of Warcraft."
Great story. Not only is "pay what you can" an important audience-building trend, but it dovetails with the pending announcement from TCG of a "Free Night of Theatre" here in New York City, an extension of the very popular program that has been transforming audience-building nationwide.

Artist colony proposed for Patchogue
Long Island Business News (NY), 4/25/2008
In New York, "Patchogue’s rebirth could include a little slice of Manhattan’s SoHo. At least that’s what Patchogue officials hope will become of its 103,000-square-foot project planned for Terry Street, one block south of Main. Artspace, a nonprofit developer of loft-style live/work residences for artists and musicians, will build a 43-unit affordable housing project on the four-acre parcel."
Of course, I'd like to see an actor-centric and theatre-centric piece to this project as well, but this is pretty fascinating. And Patchogue isn't far from what we call civilization. Actually, it's in some ways far more civilized...

New N.E. database tallies culture’s fiscal benefits
Providence Business News, 4/25/2008
"Rhode Island’s arts and culture sector includes 1,750 nonprofits, businesses and professionals who pay their employees more than $350 million per year and contribute more than $750 million per year to the state’s economy, a new regional database reveals." A free service of the New England Foundation for the Arts, "CultureCount, New England’s Cultural Database,” was unveiled April 24 and is "the only regional cultural database in the country," according to NEFA.
Rhode Island -- what's it called? the "biggest little state in the union"? -- exerts much more economic influence regionally that even I would have thought. And culturally, too -- I mean, I friggin' love Family Guy. (I really do.)

Congress sees eye to eye on helping one immigrant group -- entertainers
Los Angeles Times, 4/27/2008
"With support from both sides of the aisle, the House and Senate are working to clear visa hurdles for fashion models, singers and pro athletes to enter the country. . . . The ARTS (Arts Require Timely Service) Act, sponsored by Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Valley Village), would give the Department of Homeland Security a 30-day window to process visas for performers and their crews. If it failed to meet that deadline, it would have to offer 15-day expedited processing free to artists invited by a nonprofit organization."
About time my government started dealing with this issue. What creatives from foreign lands have to go through to get into the country now is hurting us culturally -- and it's hurting stateside artists who want to travel overseas, which is perhaps equally if not more important. I'll keep an eye on this.

New Bills Would Limit Liability on Use of 'Orphan Works'
Digital Media Wire, 4/25/2008
"A bipartisan group of powerful lawmakers this week introduced legislation that would mitigate the legal risk and potential damages associated with the use of 'orphan works,' or songs, books or other copyrighted media where the creator or owner cannot be identified. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) are sponsoring the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008 in the Senate, while House Judiciary IP Subcommittee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and House Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced The Orphan Works Act of 2008 in the House. The bills would enable creators to use orphaned works after documenting a 'good faith' search for their owners, submitting a 'Notice of Use' with the copyright office, and providing attribution to any original owner."
Only problem here is one of the amendments -- to furnish "orphan Republicans" after the next election with legislative perquisites. Let us pray.

Group aims to aid arts via new tax
Reporter-Herald (Loveland, CO), 4/23/2008
"Dance, theater, natural history and science could create a driving economic force in Northern Colorado through tourism, supporters of a proposed Science and Cultural Facilities District said Tuesday. For three years, a 12-member steering committee has worked on the plans for the proposed district. The committee members’ work will come to fruition in November if they can gather enough signatures to get the district proposal on the ballot." Denver created a similar district in 1989, which in 2005 "distributed $34 million to qualified organizations, and the area brought in $387 million in outside revenue."
I read through this pretty thoroughly. We're talking $.01 in tax for every $10 in expenditures -- not including food -- adding up to about $20 per person per year. Seems fair.

N.Y. gives filmmakers bigger tax break for production in state
Poughkeepsie Journal (NY) - AP, 4/23/2008
"Gov. David Paterson is signing a bill that will triple the tax break [from 10 percent to 30 percent] for television and movie producers who decide to shoot in New York. . . . Paterson says New York has been losing out in recent years to other states that have offered their own tax credits, a trend he says has cost the state economy about $750 million."
What's so funny is how this decade began -- with everyone screaming about "runaway production" and asking, "When the states finally start competing?" Now the states are finally competing and it's turning into a race to the bottom. I'm not saying whether that's good or bad -- I'm not sure I know what the alternatives are -- but I find it ironic and amusing.

State deficit brings arts funding back to earth
Dayton Daily News (OH), 4/22/2008
"Especially when it comes to arts funding, what goes up is likely to come back down. The Ohio Arts Council, which made national news when it boosted support 11 percent last year, announced a 10 percent cut Tuesday, April 22, in response to a shortfall in the 2008-9 state government budget. Gov. Ted Strickland has directed state agencies including the OAC to find $733 million in savings because of a projected deficit that could go as high as $1.9 billion."
Sigh. Get used to it. The economy is tanking and this is going to be the meme on and off for the next 1-2 years.

Tourism money may be redirected to the arts
Winston-Salem Journal (NC), 4/30/2008
In North Carolina, "[t]he Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County would receive a significantly bigger portion of the county's hotel-occupancy tax if a resolution before the board of county commissioners gains approval at the local and state levels. However, the redistribution of the tax money is likely to lead to job cuts at Visit Winston-Salem, which is the city's chief marketing arm to visitors."
Courtesy of...the Robin Hood Foundation? Doesn't seem so great, this idea.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Here's Andrew Berman on YouTube -- About the Provincetown Playhouse

There will be several YouTube videos of me going up today and tomorrow. But for now, here's Andrew Berman:

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Friday, May 09, 2008

Happy birthday to me -- except from some people

Yes, I am 40 today. Four-oh. Any moment now Gary Merrill is going to come walking into my party while Marilyn Monroe comes up the stairs looking gorgeous and George Sanders waxes deadpan and lyrical. And, at the end of the party, as I stare into my fifth martini, I shall mutter the word "Liebestraum." Repeatedly.

What's amazing is how many people are coming to my soiree tonight. Amazing, amazing group of people. And then there's a person who just called me on my cell phone -- a high-ranking member of the Drama Desk with whom I've never, ever actually discussed the Drama Desk -- telling me that she couldn't attend my party tonight because in her mind it would justify, condone, give credence to, and/or validate my post of a few weeks ago regarding the supposedly dirty doings occurring within the organization, in particular some actions of perhaps questionable legality by a person I referred to as Said Chair. How extraordinary that someone would call me on the phone to tell me that they couldn't attend a personal, private, social event -- an event that has nothing to do with the industry, nothing to do with the Drama Desk -- because I exercised my right to an opinion and dared to state it openly. How dare someone!

I know, I know. After speaking to several people about this, I agree with their assessment -- that Said Chair might well have instructed this person, or implied to this person, not to attend my party. Gee, will the Drama Desk mafia wack me tonight, too? (I didn't realize the script to Glory Days was so heavy.) Well, this is redolent of the way Said Chair coerces people, for instance, into emailing letter upon letter to the Drama Desk listserv singing her praises -- as if "The lady doth protest too much" wasn't already a well-known phrase by William Shakespeare.

Well, tell you what. If you can't attend a social function without needlessly hauling in outside and inappropriate business, then that's quite right -- stay away. After all, if you need the permission of Said Chair before attending a social event, that says more about you (and Said Chair) than any insult you can hurl at me. What it proves -- or at least suggests -- is that Said Chair does indeed operate by coercion, intimidation, subtle or outright threats, cajoling, stealth, or by the implied retrobution for refusing to cooperate with Said Chair's demands and expectations. I suppose the test will really come later this summer, when I send in my 475 clips to renew my membership in the Drama Desk. I can assure you it wouldn't be profitable for Said Chair to target me, but then, she's really so consumed with frothing vengeance that I imagine she will.

Said Chair wants vengeance not for what I posted on my blog. That only added fuel to the fire, I'm sure. In fact, she's been hungry for vengeance for years. If only I had taken Said Chair's side when Said Chair and Said Chair's husband were fired from the publication where I am employed so many years ago. I won't even get into the reason(s) they were canned because it was all quite silly. The point is, Said Chair holds a grudge against me for not publicly, avidly, fervently siding with them when that took place. Said Chair never cared to understand, so huge is her narcissism, that when she forced me into a position in which I had to choose between my job and the Said Chairs, for the sake of self-preservation I had to do whatever I had to do to keep my job.

What really infuriated Said Chair, moreover, was the fact that I said at the time that I was not going to take sides -- not the side of my boss at that time, and not her side. I had no dog in that fight. But apparently neutral = bad, and thus I've been on her shit list ever since.

I am loving my 40th birthday. Anyone else want to call and try to turn my day into something that's all about them? Y'all feel free to go ahead. For I know who my friends and colleagues are who are genuinely worth my time. I'll be seeing about a hundred or more of them tonight.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

New Profile: Joel Derfner

My dear Joel Derfner (I can call him that because, though we've never met, he's already quite dear to me) has written a fabu book called Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever. I did this Q&A with Joel for, and possibly for AM New York, if they pick it up. Enjoy! Here's a little tease:

"Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever" is a very funny new memoir by Joel Derfner, who has done it all—being a go-go boy, a cheerleader and a knitter (hence the book title). But "Swish" is also Derfner’s coming-of-age tale as a gay man. Writing with the nervous, breathless style of a David Sedaris, but with more self-empathy, Derfner, who teaches musical theater at NYU and leads aerobics classes for a living, includes on a chapter on going undercover at Exodus International, the organization that claims to cure homosexuality through Jesus Christ. We spoke with the author about all the highs and lows in his "Quest."

"On Knitting," "On Teaching Aerobics," "On Musical Theater"—are all great chapter titles. Are there chapters, though, that you didn’t write?
Twelve inches! Um, make it nine—I don’t want to be unrealistic. What were you asking?

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You Want Grants for New Playwrights? Here's Something For You. (Grousing Begins Immediately)

Just received the following press release:



New York, NY (8 May 2008) -- Manhattan Theatre Club (Lynne Meadow, Artistic Director; Barry Grove, Executive Producer; Daniel Sullivan, Acting Artistic Director 2007-2008) has announced that Bank of America has granted them $225,000 to support a new playwright commissioning program. The three-year program will support two commissions per year – one for an established playwright and one for an up-and-coming playwright. Commissions will be issued each June beginning this year. This program will be overseen by Lynne Meadow and MTC’s new Director of Artistic Development Jerry Patch.

“We are so grateful to Bank of America for this generous gift,” says Peter J. Solomon, Chairman of MTC’s Board of Directors. “Both Bank of America and MTC have a common goal – to invest their energy and resources in the future. This grant allows MTC to do that.”

“Our sincere thanks to Bank of America in helping us achieve our mission,” said Artistic Director Lynne Meadow and Executive Producer Barry Grove in a joint statement. “MTC has a long tradition of bringing new voices to the American theatre. With these Bank of America commissions, we will be able to continue to support contemporary playwrights by providing the resources needed to create new work – work that will be nurtured and developed and hopefully be presented on one of our three stages.”

“As a leading national sponsor of arts and culture, Bank of America believes in the power of the arts to create and sustain vibrant and economically healthy communities,” said Rena DeSisto, global arts & culture executive for Bank of America. “We are thrilled to partner with Manhattan Theatre Club on this innovative program to help provide opportunity for artistic talent and vision to flourish.”

First drafts of all commissioned plays will be given an in-house reading at MTC’s Creative Center, to be followed by feedback sessions between Artistic Development staff and the playwright. All final scripts will be evaluated for potential production at either MTC’s Broadway house, the Biltmore Theatre, or on one of their Off-Broadway stages at City Center.

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Andrew Berman's Letter to the Editor on the Provincetown Playhouse

This is a must-read for anyone trying to put together an op-ed on the Provincetown Playhouse:

To The Editor:

Re "N.Y.U. would drop curtain on O'Neill's Playhouse" (news article, April 29):

The proposal New York University is contemplating to demolish the historic Provincetown Playhouse would be a tragic mistake for the university and for the neighborhood.

The Provincetown Playhouse is one of the most iconic historic sites in all the Village. It is known throughout the country and world for the critical role it has played in the history of the Off-Broadway and alternative theater movement. It is a landmark in every sense of the word except
official designation, although the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and many others have been seeking to remedy that through our proposed South Village Historic District, which includes the site. Last year N.Y.U. agreed to support the designation of the proposed South Village Historic District; demolition of one of its key historic sites would not only damage the proposed district's chances of full adoption, but damage the university's reputation for keeping its word.

When N.Y.U. recently signed the planning principles with members of the Borough President's N.Y.U. Community Task Force, including G.V.S.H.P., it agreed to "prioritize reuse before new development," a principle that could not more clearly apply here. This is actually the first new project N.Y.U. is proposing under the commitments it made in the planning principles; so,
how the university does or does not adhere to the commitments it made will have a huge impact upon how this process is viewed.

By N.Y.U.'s own admission, its proposed new building is somewhat but not much bigger than the current Provincetown Playhouse building. So why demolish at all? N.Y.U. claims this old building (the underlying historic structure is nearly 200 years old) cannot support the kinds of uses it wishes to put in there. They have not substantiated that claim, but let's assume for a moment that they are correct. The building currently houses a theater, offices and residences - uses which it can clearly continue to house, and all uses which N.Y.U. needs. Therefore, any decision to demolish the building because it is not suited to N.Y.U.'s "needs" is not really one of necessity, but actually one of choice.

Further, N.Y.U. claims that because the facade of the building was altered almost 70 years ago, it is no longer a historic building worthy of preservation. Yet, in the 1990s, when N.Y.U. began a renovation of the building (with the same historic facade), it proudly trumpeted the building's history and its pride to posses this great piece of local and national history. Now, the university is choosing the "Poe House" method of historic preservation - demolish a beloved piece of the neighborhood's history, and then try to make up for it by tacking a piece or a facsimile of
it onto the new building. As we've seen, this approach just does not work.

N.Y.U. clearly wants credit for considering a building on this site that is neither as big nor as insensitive in its design as it could be or as many recent N.Y.U. buildings have been. But the loss of a treasured piece of the neighborhood's history is the price we would have to pay, while the
alternative G.V.S.H.P. has been urging - a sensitive reuse or renovation of the building, as the planning principles N.Y.U. agreed to seem to call for - would still allow the university to make very productive use of its property.

Hopefully, N.Y.U. will see the light. I strongly urge anyone who is interested to come to the Community Board 2 Institutions Committee hearing on the issue on Wed., May 28, at 6:30 p.m. (location TBD), to help make the case.

Andrew Berman
Berman is executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

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