Saturday, January 31, 2009

What Is a Critic? The Daily Gorilla Goes Ape

Lord knows I'm not the first to bloviate on how the definition of the critic is changing. Recently, I came across a Daily Gorilla essay, Demise of the Critic, that gave me pause. It is written by one of the site's primary primates, Thomas Garry, and his thesis is that the blogosphere, owing to the print media death-spiral, is not changing the idea of what a critic is so much as diluting it, and that quality standards, always a subjective measure, are falling in the process. "As newspapers and magazines lay off professional critics and young twentysomethings anoint themselves experts," Garry writes, "the review has fallen on hard times. As critics shift from being the sole educated authorities into a percentage point on review-aggregating websites, some fear the nuance they once brought has fallen victim to the nagging blogger."

Note the assumptions in Garry's statement: that critics can and, in fact, must exist in traditional media only; that all blogger-critics are self-anointed and therefore, by definition, are untrained, unscrupulous, unwashed; that no blogger-critic can possess the credentials, the education, the wherewithal intellectually to write criticism worthy of the term.

As someone who has worked in print and Web journalism extensively, and as someone who is a committed blogger-critic and whose writing, I think, meets any fair standard of good or great criticism, I feel that Garry is rather obviously neglecting to acknowledge the long tradition of mediocre, willfully ignorant critics in print; that so many of them have lacked and continue to lack the academic background or the training as a practitioner to develop and deliver criticism that is both informed and constructive to the artists and audience. There is a difference between criticism that artists may disagree with, due to varying aesthetic judgments, and criticism that is inadequate because the critic possesses only some of the tools necessary to do the job effectively.

To buttress his assumptions and burnish his thesis, Garry opens his essay by raising the specter of Tom Moon, a music critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer for 20 years. The "biggest difference between old reviews and reviews now is that in the past," Moon moans, "the critic’s job was to give readers a deeper sense of the work." Now, he says, critical standards are cratering because bloggers represent a "megaphone" culture that values amplification of bloggers' own views over any further investigation of the work itself.

Perhaps this is the case in music criticism -- it isn't an area of the practice I am well-versed in. But I do, however, resent how Garry uses Moon's view to imply that all criticism is wounded by the rise of the blogger-critic. My sense of the theatrosphere is the opposite: As so many theater critics in print are preoccupied with crafting phrases useful in posters and ads, and attempting to outdo each other with a consumer-is-king mindset, the theatrosphere's benefit is that it's critics do focus on the work critically. Dance-oriented blogger-critics may be fewer in number but their presence, no doubt due to the aforementioned death-spiral, is even more essential currently and thereby more beneficial. Art criticism, architecture criticism, even literary criticism are all vastly improved, I would argue, because print will no longer permit young talent to get their feet wet, to generate the storehouse of cultural memory that makes a promising critic into a good critic into a great critic over the course of a professional lifetime.

Indeed, Moon's issue, sadly, is age -- or as Garry phrases it, the issue is that as "wannabe critics turn to online publication, they no longer have to be deemed knowledgeable enough by an editor." Here's another assumption: editors are knowledgeable. In my experience as writer for more than 20 publications theater-related and otherwise through the years as a freelancer and a staffer, decision-making editors only know enough about various art forms and genres about 50 percent of the time. Meaning no disrespect, for example, to The New York Times, but when was the last time a decision-making arts editor came at their position after a period of immersion -- either as a journalist-critic or as a practitioner? Moon finally articulates the generational crux of the matter when he expresses resentment that "some 20-year-old trust-fund kid thinks that TV on the Radio sucks.”

Garry laments the passing of an era in which "a single critic, like New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael, could deliver a positive review and instantly propel a film into the general public’s consciousness." But I would argue that concentrating power in the hands of a few critics tends to encourage art-makers to cater to the known aesthetics of those critics, and that such slavishness tends to inhibit innovation and creativity. All critics have their likes and dislikes, of course, but when you focus power tightly, you can choke the air in the room where art wants to breathe.

And why doesn't Garry include theater criticism in his piece? Or do the monkeys of the Daily Gorilla prefer their second bananas simply on the boob tube?

Or the silver screen: Garry begins to bring his piece to a conclusion by writing about how "users are more likely to turn to websites like Rotten Tomatoes, a popular film-review aggregating website, and the Internet Movie Database, where movies are ranked out of 10 stars and all reviews are user-generated." Then he reinforces my earlier point: "If people can turn to the consensus of dozens of critics, why should they depend on only one?" Precisely.

As for Garry quoting J.D. Hoffman, the film critic -- “Internet users are more likely to check out Rotten Tomatoes than to read an actual review from a newspaper.... It’s so much easier for people to read the one pull quote they provide than to read an entire review" -- I'm not at all sure that's so. I think, more accurately, people aren't reading print as a whole the way they used to. And that's a bigger issue than what it is that we call a critic.

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What Bloomberg's Plans May Mean for the Arts

According to Norma Munn, chairperson of the New York City Arts Coalition, the bad news that Mayor Bloomberg unveiled yesterday vis a vis the city budget will certainly mean some pain for the arts, but perhaps, she says, not as much pain as we might have thought.

As per Norma:

Here is the preliminary budget from the Mayor for the upcoming budget year starting July 1, 2009 for the Department of Cultural Affairs. Please keep in mind that this is stage one; the Council will hold hearings starting in a couple of weeks. After their response, the Mayor will propose the Executive Budget in late April, and another round of hearings will take place, along with ongoing negotiations between the Council and the Mayor before a final budget passed in late June.

FY09: $153,050,000
FY10: $132,453,000 (proposed)

That is a decrease of over $20 million. There are no details provided within these larger numbers as to how this breaks down between CIGs and Program groups.

FY09: $823 million
FY10: $140 million (proposed)

Comparisons of current and proposed on Capital are not a good way to realistically evaluate what the City is doing. More important is a comparison with what is spent versus what is planned. From 2005 through 2008, the actual capital money spent ranged from a low of $102 million to a high of $212 million, so a projection of $140 million, while low, is not as drastic as the above numbers would seem to indicate.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Arts Advocacy Update, LXXIV

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of January 28, 2009:

We think: Arts center can bring jobs, transform downtown Orlando
Orlando Sentinel (FL), 1/25/2009

An Orlando Sentinel editorial argues that "local officials mustn't dawdle on securing financing for the Dr. P. Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center. It will be a great asset to this community," including creating 1500 jobs and $50.4 million a year in direct spending.
And give Disney some, er, competition?

City receives arts audit
The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), 1/28/2009
"An audit of arts programs and education within Lafayette Parish was released Tuesday.... Ultimately, the audit will be used to guide the Lafayette Parish School System’s development of a comprehensive arts curriculum to be implemented at all schools by 2010-11, per a state mandate passed in 2007.... Some recommendations based on the results include the formation of an alliance to promote arts in education; development of external funding sources; more training opportunities for teachers; a comprehensive arts curriculum; and increased public awareness of arts programming available in the community."
Numbers, please. But good for them! Very progressive thinking.

The Return of Cultural Diplomacy
Newsweek, 12/31/2008

"Americans have long believed that exporting movies, pop music, TV shows and other entertainment is both good business and good diplomacy. Is this belief still justified? Regarding business, the answer is yes. . . . Diplomatically speaking, however, the picture is mixed."
As Ambassador and Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs under George W. Bush, wasn't this what Karen Hughes was supposed to be spearheading? Before we debate it -- or do the "Party of No" Republican thing and trash it -- let's see whether it works. I bet it does.

An Old, Bad Idea for the Arts
Wall Street Journal, 1/23/2009

The idea of a cabinet-level office for the arts is not new, says David A. Smith. "The primary false assumption at play here is that more centralization is the best way for the government to address a problem and signify its importance. . . . Art is a type of human expression fundamentally different from the other activities carried on by people in society, let alone by a state. It is a far more individualistic enterprise and has to be conceived -- I almost am tempted to say jealously guarded -- as such. Similarly, the cultural programs carried out by the American government thrive on the individualism and energy found in their respective agencies. . . . To think of the government's widespread and variegated cultural programs as the proper responsibility of something as bureaucratically ponderous as a single department is, I think, a way to damage the way people ought to think about art."
This piece is a backward, dithering, fear-mongering mess. I have responded to it in an essay that will be on line shortly.

Arts Leaders Urge Role for Culture in Economic Recovery
New York Times, 1/25/2009

"In Congress the American Recovery and Reinvestment bill, approved last week by the House Appropriations Committee, includes a $50 million supplement for the N.E.A. to distribute directly to nonprofit arts organizations and also through state and local arts agencies. . . . Arts groups, meanwhile, are urging federal departments like Transportation or Labor to factor culture into their financing. A transportation enhancement program, for example, could pay artists for related public artworks; through the Labor Department displaced arts professionals could receive new training to stay in the work force. . . . The president is considering the establishment of an arts-and-culture portfolio within the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, according to Bill Ivey."
In the same essay noted above, I respond to this article as well.

Movie Production Incentives Are Said to Help New York
New York Times, 1/27/2009

"Costly state incentives to lure film production and jobs may be paying off, at least in New York. A study of New York’s tax breaks for movie and television production suggested that a 30 percent credit offered by the state, with an additional 5 percent offered by New York City, could be expected to keep or create about 19,500 jobs while yielding $404 million in tax revenue, at a cost of $215 million in credits. But the benefits were heavily weighted toward New York City. . . . The city collects about 6.4 times as much in taxes from film as it spends on incentives...
I'm not surprised and of course very pleased. Other states that jumped on the tax-break bandwagon should take their cue from New York in terms of how they market themselves to the film industry. Because that's an integral part of making this kind of thing work.

Obama Team Convenes Arts Leaders
Musical America, 1/21/2009

"Weeks before he took the oath of office, Barack Obama and his administration were laying the groundwork for sweeping changes -- even in the arts. On Thursday, Jan. 15, Bill Ivey, the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts who now heads Obama’s transition team for arts and culture, convened a meeting of about 20 arts-service organization heads at the Presidential Transition Team Headquarters on Sixth Street in Washington. . . . 'We didn’t begin by answering Bill’s question about the NEA,' says [LAO head Jesse] Rosen. 'I started by describing the surprising amount of commonality across disciplines and institutions about the challenges we face.' Those include understanding the new audiences they must attract, wanting to be closer to their communities, taking advantage of the new opportunities technology affords. 'There was a sense that our models and ways of doing business needed to be reconsidered and possibly redone or adapted. . . . 'Bill said at one point in the meeting that he was really surprised; he thought we were going to come in waving the banner for more money...."
And the great thing is that here we have a president who may actually get it.

Stimulus Package Includes Millions For The Arts
NPR's All Things Considered, 1/27/2009

The current economic stimulus package includes $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and $150 million for infrastructure repairs at the Smithsonian. While some disagree that such funding is the best way to stimulate the economy, Bill Ivey, former chair of the NEA and a member of the president's transition team, points out that "a healthy arts community is important, especially during hard times. 'We're not going to be able to think about happiness and quality of life only in terms of the next vacation or the bigger house or the new car,' Ivey says. 'Once we move away from a consumerist view of a high quality of life — once we're forced away from it — arts and culture, creativity, homemade art, those things can begin to come to the fore.' Ivey hopes government will play a role in making sure that happens."
Sure, ok, yeah, but this isn't Ivey's strongest argument. The strongest argument remains economic impact and jobs and he -- and the other arts leaders, such as Teresa Eyring at TCG -- have a moral responsibility to pound and pound on that information. They're doing a tremendous amount, but it's not enough. All talk is cheap when no Republican votes for the stimulus.

Unleash the arts -- 1 percent of the stimulus package
Mansfield News-Journal, 1/25/2009

The board chairman of the DC-Based Institute for Policy Studies calls for WPA-style support for the arts to be included in the stimulus package now before Congress. "The Institute for Policy Studies recently launched a petition calling for 1 percent of the stimulus package to be spent on the arts. This arts stimulus initiative wouldn't just boost funding for public programs. The money could create workplace arts and reading programs, increase fellowship and scholarship support for artists, foster cultural exchange programs with other nations and support artist- and writer-in- residence programs in schools and public libraries, and more."
Nice sentiment, but ain't gonna happen as long as no Republican votes for the stimulus.

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New Review: Cornbury: The Queen's Governor

For Back Stage. Yep.

Here's the tease:

As he minces, flounces, and flits, watching David Greenspan as Edward Hyde -- history recalls him as Lord Cornbury, the cross-dressing colonial governor of New York and New Jersey from 1702 to 1708 -- is a trés gay fey treat. The play is Cornbury: The Queen's Governor by the late Anthony Holland and William M. Hoffman; the idea behind Theatre Askew's whimsical production is that something meaningful and contemporary can be gleaned from this fantasia about a footnote in the annals of sexuality.

Directed by Tim Cusack, one might call this a Ridiculous fantasia, for the cast includes Everett Quinton, inheritor of the mantle of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company from the late, legendary Charles Ludlam. Playing Pastor Cornelius Van Dam, one of Cornbury's political enemies, the lip-curling Quinton snarls and cavorts as if in a fine Restoration comedy.

Indeed, Hyde would be the perfect character for that genre. In Calvinist times, he was sexually adventurous. He regularly raided the public coffers. Bribery meant little to him if it improved his wardrobe. He used his kinship to his cousin Queen Anne of England to perpetrate moral high jinks upon his people.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New Review: The American Plan

For New York Press.

Here's the tease:

Sometimes she's still, but no doubt she’s listening. Sometimes she’s hard on a cane, but sturdy enough that you wonder if she needs it. Sometimes her eyes grow and her eyebrows arch so high they recall the design of an ancient Roman viaduct. These are among the more remarkable and memorable qualities of Mercedes Ruehl as imperious, impetuous Eva, a mercurial and cyclonic life force in The American Plan, Manhattan Theatre Club’s revival of the 1990 Richard Greenberg play. Yet mercury can be neutralized; cyclones fizzle into clouds. When that happens, what remains is a play less smart, clean and wise than it seems.

By 1960, when The American Plan mostly occurs, Eva, who escaped Hitler’s Germany, has opted for a variation on the assimilation standard of many postwar Jews: She summers in the Catskills, but in her own home, not at the Concord, the Nevele or Grossinger’s. Evoked wispily by Jonathan Fensom’s scenic design, Eva’s home sits across a lake from one such hotel; it’s by swimming across such a lake that a squarejawed Adonis, Nick Lockridge, played by the enviably cheekboned Kieran Champion, arrives at the dock. There he meets Lily, Eva’s striking daughter played by Lily Rabe, but their dialogue is less cutesy than weird.

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The Afternoon Report, January 28, 2009

This information, called The Afternoon Report, is provided by a daily email blast from the publicity firm of Boneau Bryan-Brown, which maintains this blog. This feature doesn't run daily but whenever The Afternoon Report seems to point out articles of interest.

Theatre Producers Strategize To Ensure Their Shows Go On

“Behind every good theater show is a producer who was willing to shell out the money. “Producers raise money, they find the property, they staff the property, they get the people who are going to direct and choreograph, they get the set designers, the light designers, they rent the theater,” says playwright and attorney Cheryl Davis. But that job is getting tougher to do these days. Grant money from the state has been slashed, and while wealthy donors continue to fund the arts in general, some say such contribution amounts are decreasing. “We need to change our model to some extent. We can’t depend on funding the way we used to,” says Bob Ost of Theater Resources Unlimited, a non-profit group that focuses on the business side of the arts. Recently, TRU hosted and all-day workshop in Greenwich Village to teach producers how to ask for money in a climate of cutbacks and belt-tightening. “Theatre people are not just creative, they’re also business people,” says Davis, “and it’s developing their skills as business people that will enable them to have a career in this industry, and not just be a one-off.” Both commercial and non-profit theater groups of all sizes rely heavily on investors and donors to get shows off the ground. Larger groups can make money through sales, while smaller groups often struggle. But across the board, if the start-up money is not there, producers say there could be some major changes to the way New York shows are produced.”
Great clip, but couldn't some Broadway producers have been spoken to as well? No offense to TRU, but TRU isn't really geared toward the Broadway scene, and the clips implies Broadway-level producing, whereas TRU is geared toward more traditionally Off- and Off-Off-Broadway not-for-profit work. Not reflexively, just in general.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike, 1932-2009


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A New Review of Historic Photos of Broadway

Steve Weinstein of the Edge group of websites has written a review of Historic Photos of Broadway that has me floored. I apologize for glowing today, but please let me quote:

Leonard Jacobs uses his first photograph of the Booth family as a running symbol of American theater. Like everything else in this fantastic, invaluable compendium, the choice reflects the archivist’s consummate taste, intelligence and encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.

Unlike so many critics, as much of the theater as an observer. This book represents a long time spent in the stacks of the Billy Rose Collection. As someone who himself has sat for many an afternoon on the top floor of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, I can attest that this collection
presents a treasure trove of theater memorabilia.

….The photo of Junius Brutus Booth and son Edwin perfectly sets the stage. Judging from Edwin’s age, the photograph was taken sometime around the Astor Place Riots, the deadliest anti-immigrant street fight in the nation’s history. Just to show the primacy of theater in the mid-19th Century, the cause was a British and American actors’ interpretations of "Macbeth."

....Jacobs gives us all of the other acting legends of the time: Duse, Bernhardt, Marlowe, Russell and O’Neill. But my favorite photo of the era is of the great impersario David Belasco directing. Belasco is another potent symbol of the theater’s hold on the popular imagination in a pre-electronic medium age: He bult theaters (including the still-extant Broadway house named for him), as well writing plays that included two that provided libretti for Puccini, "Madame Butterfly" and "Girl of the Golden West."

There are so many wonderful photos that everyone will have his or her favorite, but I have to point out a svelte, 22-year-old Ethel Merman with her Svengali, accompanist Al Siegel. There’s Alfred Lunt with Helen Hayes and Mary Boland (who achieved immortality as La Comtesse de Lave in the filmed version of "The Woman," much younger and thinner here).

Seeing Tallulah Bankhead in her most famous performance in "The Little Foxes" makes me regret (once again) that Hollywood gave Bette Davis the part in the film version. But seeing Katherine Hepburn with Van Heflin in "The Philadelphia Story," which revived her career, made me realize that Cary Grant, handsome as he was, was no match for the young Heflin, much prettier than his co-star.

There are, in fact, many reminders here of how gorgeous many stage actors were. Lewis Wallace, packed into his armor as "Henry V," looks as chiseled as a statue. If Wallace looks like a bas-relief in a Gothic cathedral, many years later, Robert Goulet, being armored for "Camelot," looks like he stepped out of a GQ shoot.

I'm really honored.

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New Article: Torch Song Trilogy

For New York Press.

Here's the tease:

Courtesy of Off-Off-Broadway’s Black Henna Productions, Harvey Fierstein’s Tony-winning play Torch Song Trilogy is running in Manhattan for the first time since its Broadway mounting ended in 1985. Playing Arnold Beckoff—a Jewish drag queen in the pre-AIDS New York City of the late 1970s and early ’80s—transformed Fierstein from a downtown doyenne into the gravel-voiced monarch of gaydom. For actor Cas Marino, who plays Arnold in this revival, the experience is about fate and big balls.

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Says Penthouse-Crazy Mark Martinez: If I Go Down, East 93rd Street Goes With Me!

The battle underway between an Upper East Side penthouse owner who wants to build a penthouse on top of a penthouse on top of an East 93rd Street building, and the growing chorus of activists and local elected officials in favor of including the block as part of the Carnegie Hill Historic District -- and against the penthouse owner's construction plans -- is heating up. And getting very dirty.

Today, the New York City Board of Standards of Appeals will consider whether the penthouse owner, Mark Martinez, despite a record of prevarication, should be given a zoning allowance that would, activists say, jeopardize the architectural integrity of the block and perhaps the structural integrity of the building itself.

Meanwhile, Martinez is employing diversionary tactics worthy of General Lee in the days before his surrender at Appomattox. Two confidential sources tell me that Martinez had his attorney call Kate Daly, executive director of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which may soon be taking the block's request for inclusion in the Historic District under consideration, in order to suggest that the LPC will, in fact, never do so, and therefore, in his view, the BSA should rule in his favor. The BSA and LPC are autonomous organizations exerting no legal influence over the other.

So the question is this: What influence is Martinez, through his legal counsel, attempting to exert over the LPC or the BSA?

What's great is how people on the block are responding. Below are two letters made available to me by the 93rd Street Beautification Association. I have redacted specific names and addresses out of respect for the identities of those who have written them.

Re: Objection to Application for Special Permit - Calendar Number
162-08-BZ, Property ID - 150 East 93rd Street, Block 1521, Lot 51, Manhattan.

Dear Madame Chair,

My family & I own a lovely historic townhouse at XXX East 93rd Street just steps away from the Carnegie Hill Historic District. We feel very fortunate to have bought one of the houses that make up the collection of brownstones that are older than any of the brownstones already in the CHHD.

And, as you may know, there is a pending and ongoing effort, supported by many of the city’s most highly respected architectural historians, preservationists and elected officials, to extend the CHHD so as to include our important block within its protective boundaries. The neighborhood supports this ongoing preservation effort.

In the meantime, it has come to my attention that the applicant in the above captioned case has submitted a preliminary shadow assessment, produced by Thomas A. Francis of Equity Environmental Engineering LLC in Flanders NJ, in an attempt to avoid having to do an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In light of the myriad environmental issues raised by this case, we feel quite strongly that an EIS is required.

Mr. Francis explains in his preliminary shadow assessment that he has not been to the site, and is projecting an opinion based upon his own broad theoretical calculations. Because the assessment was created in a vacuum, without the benefit of the relevant factors particular to East 93rd Street, it is wholly inadequate and must be disregarded in its entirety. Certainly, the preliminary shadow assessment submitted by the applicant can not be the basis for issuing a negative declaration in this case:

1.) The subject assessment assumes that 150E93 is surrounded by buildings of equal height which would theoretically intervene in shadows cast. But because Mr. Francis was not given all the facts, his assumption here is incorrect as 150E93 abuts a row of tiny and ancient houses. The assessment, therefore, fails to provide the basis upon which a negative declaration can be issued.

2.) The assessment fails to contemplate the undeniable shadow that would be cast upon our gardens here on East 93rd Street if the proposed addition of a 13th floor were approved. For the fact is, the long row of 4-story 19th century brownstones which 150E93 abuts, has an equally long row of contiguous gardens that run the course of the rear yards.

These gardens lose sunlight at a particular time of day depending upon the season. Since even the inadequate preliminary shadow assessment submitted by the applicant admits that the proposed addition would cast at least an additional 43 feet of shadow, a significant difference to the health of our verdant gardens and their resident flora and fauna, there is no question that the proposed addition and its attendant added shadow would impact the environment. The assessment, therefore, fails to provide the basis upon which a negative declaration can be issued.

We respectfully ask that BSA deny the applicant's request for a special permit to construct an additional story atop the roof of 150 East 93rd Street.

Respectfully submitted,
xxx and xxxx

cc: Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer
NY State Assembly Members: Micah Kellner & Jonathan Bing
NYC Council Members: Dan Garodnick; Jessica Lappin & Tony Avella
NY State Senator Jose M. Serrano
93rd Street Beautification Association
Carnegie Hill Neighbors
Brewery Hill Block Association

Re: Objection to Application for Special Permit - Calendar Number
162-08-BZ, Property ID - 150 East 93rd Street, Block 1521, Lot 51, Manhattan.

Dear Madame Chair,

We are the proud owners of XXX East 93rd Street, an historic brownstone on one of Manhattan’s most cherished and storied blocks. We strongly object to the application in the above cited case. Creating a 13th floor on top of the extant "penthouse", which created a 12th floor, would have a negative impact on the character of our neighborhood, and we respectfully ask BSA to deny the applicant’s request for a special permit.

The campaign to extend the Carnegie Hill Historic District just one short block east to include the very important collection of 19th century houses on our block continues on with the support of the neighborhood; many of the city’s most highly respected architectural historians; NYC’s highly respected preservation community and many of our elected NY State and NYC officials.

Quite recently, a powerful coalition of elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; NY State Senator Jose M. Serrano; NY State Assembly Member Jonathan Bing; NY State Assembly Member Micah Kellner; NYC Council Member Dan Garodnick and NYC Council Member Jessica Lappin wrote letters to Mr. Robert Tierney, Chairman of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, asking him to take up the matter of our block’s request and finally calendar our RFE for a Public Hearing. So, while the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission has not yet calendared our RFE, we are confident that the Commission will do so and grant our Request.

But all of this is really beside the point. For the only question before BSA is: "Would the proposed additional floor at 150E93 have a negative impact on the character of the neighborhood?" And the answer to that narrow question is a resounding, "yes".

For while the boundaries of Historic District designation provide another layer of legal protection against the ravages of overdevelopment, and projects contrary to our neighborhood’s character, LPC’s failure to act at this time in no way diminishes the facts of our block’s unique and well documented history.

LPC designation does not history make; it is the facts that make the history. And the facts about our block are both well established and historically significant. The experts from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture and Historic Preservation who guided, researched and wrote the surveys of our unique collection of 19th century houses for the RFE were fascinated by the historic facts they discovered about our block including: the row of houses that are older than any of the brownstones already in the CHHD (a row they consider the Rosetta stone to any credible development history of Carnegie Hill); a most unique stepped-down roofscape on both sides of the block; the beloved and world-famous Marx Brothers childhood home; two houses built and owned by the famous NYC Loew Brothers and a house that was owned by the well known New Yorker, William Orth.

LPC designation, or the lack thereof, can not change these facts which help to inform and define our neighborhood’s unique and cherished character. The proposal to build an addition on top of the addition that sits on top of 150E93 would have a negative impact on the unique character of our block.

One of the most obvious impacts of this proposal would be that we would clearly see this addition from the street. While from certain angles, applicant’s extant "penthouse" is currently blocked from view by the "penthouse" that sits to its east, simple geometry dictates that if applicant were allowed to add yet another floor to his extant "penthouse", that 13th story would clearly protrude up above even the easterly penthouse and would easily be seen throughout the neighborhood, most especially on historic East 93rd Street.

Please deny applicant's request for a special permit to construct an additional floor on top of the structure that sits on top of the roof of 150 East 93rd Street.

Respectfully submitted,

Cc: Manhattan Borough President, Scott Stringer
NY State Assembly Members: Micah Kellner & Jonathan Bing
NYC Council Members: Dan Garodnick; Jessica Lappin & Tony Avella
NY State Senator Jose M. Serrano
93rd Street Beautification Association
Carnegie Hill Neighbors
Brewery Hill Block Association

Stay tuned.

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When Will the GOP Crank Up the Democrat = Pro-Abortion Machine?

I do not know the answer to this question, but my guess is that it's just a matter of time, given their philosophical bankruptcy, before the GOP begins cranking up the various instruments of the 1990s culture war in order to keep their troops in line and in order to divide, yet again, the nation. Expect lots of antigay code words to fly, and anti-arts rhetoric to come from their foot soldiers, and then there's that old standby, the abortion question.

While I know this video has received more than 262,000 viewings, I had never seen it before this morning. I am not aghast at the idea of these fervent folks being so pro-choice -- that's their choice, as Constitutionally protected, even though they would deny woman their choice. But notice how many of them are really willing to put some teeth behind making abortion illegal and punishable. They want the first but can't seem to stomach the second. What they lack is not belief. They lack guts.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

The Return of Broadway Bears

As per Boneau Bryan-Brown:



Broadway’s cuddliest friends kick off a new year with the 12th annual BROADWAY BEARS auction on Sunday, February 15, 2009 at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill (237 West 42 St.), in support of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Sure to out-do last year’s collection, 40 one-of-a-kind BROADWAY BEARS – each dressed in original, handmade costumes representing some of the theater’s most legendary performers and/or performances – will be put up for auction.

Once again this year’s BROADWAY BEARS will be hosted by Bryan Batt (“Mad Men,” La Cage Aux Folles, Beauty and the Beast, Jeffrey) with long-time Sotheby’s auctioneer, Lorna Kelly.

This year’s BROADWAY BEARS auction celebrates its 12th year with a stellar cast of cele“bear”ties representing recent Broadway hits like A Chorus Line, A Man For All Seasons, Avenue Q, Billy Elliot: The Musical, Boeing-Boeing, Equus, Gypsy, Hairspray, In The Heights, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, Legally Blonde, The Little Mermaid, Mary Poppins, Shrek The Musical, South Pacific, Spamalot, Spring Awakening, Wicked, Xanadu, Young Frankenstein, along with bears from Broadway classics like Beauty And The Beast, Camelot, Cats, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mame, My One and Only, Peter Pan, The Producers, The Sound of Music, Starlight Express, State Fair, West Side Story, The Who's Tommy, The Wiz, You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.

North American Bear Co., Inc. has again graciously donated the “bare” bears which were then handed over to top Broadway design teams who meticulously research, design, fit, sculpt, shoe, armor, hat, paint, dress, nip, tuck, tattoo, bejewel and feather the “bare” bears into true one-of-a-kind works of costumed theatrical art.

The entire Broadway Bears XII collection can be previewed online at

VIP Tickets $150 each include an exclusive private preview of the Broadway Bears along with a cocktail, hors d’oeuvres and dessert reception from 6PM to 8PM as well as reserved priority seating for the Auction

General Admission Tickets $35 each which include a cocktail and dessert reception and display of the Broadway Bears from 7PM -8PM as well as unreserved seating for the Auction

Reservations may be made by calling BC/EFA at (212) 840-0770. For those who cannot make it to the auction, but want to take part in all the excitement, live telephone bidding will also be available as are pre-registered fixed bids by calling (212) 840-0770, extension 268. Internet bidding is available by visiting

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS is the nation’s leading industry-based, nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grants making organization. By drawing upon the talents, resources and generosity of the American theatre community, BC/EFA raises funds for AIDS-related causes and other critical illnesses across the United States. Since its founding in 1988, BC/EFA has raised over $150 million dollars for critically needed services for people with AIDS and other serious illnesses.

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Got Brains? Einstein Tuner in Concert, Benefit for Harpswell Foundation

As per publicist extraordinaire Dale Heller:

John Bolton, Peter Buchi, Gregg Edelman, John Treacy Egan, Alison Fraser, Maya Goldman, Joanne Lessner, Laura Osnes and Kate Shindle

to perform in
A New Musical

Benefit concert performance one night only February 23, 2009 at Symphony Space in NYC

Broadway stars John Treacy Egan ("Little Mermaid"), Gregg Edelman ("Into the Woods," "Passion"), Alison Fraser ("Gypsy") and Kate Shindle ("Legally Blonde") will be featured in the cast at a benefit concert performance of the new musical EINSTEIN’S DREAMS-- based on Alan Lightman's best-selling novel -- for one performance only on Monday, February 23 at 7:30 p.m. at Symphony Space (2537 Broadway at 95th St.) in New York City.

The concert will benefit The Harpswell Foundation, an organization created in 1999 to provide education, housing and leadership training to children and young women in the developing world, notably in Cambodia, where Harpswell provides schooling and a dormitory facility at a leadership center for college women in Phnom Penh in the effort to help restore the educational system that was destroyed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Harpswell has already purchased the land for a second educational facility in Cambodia.

EINSTEIN’S DREAMS is a new musical with book by Joanne Sydney Lessner, music by Joshua Rosenblum and lyrics by Joanne Sydney Lessner and Joshua Rosenblum. The February 23rd concert will be directed by Jen Bender. Musical director David Loud leads a six-piece chamber orchestra.

The musical EINSTEIN’S DREAMS-- based on Alan Lightman's 1993 best-selling novel which imagines what the physicist may have been dreaming about prior to the publication of his Special Theory of Relativity in 1905 -- finds a young Albert Einstein trapped in an unhappy marriage and an unhappy job well-beneath his intellect. The musical, like the book, places Einstein in a dreamscape that conjures up an array of theoretical realms of time, all of them visions that probe the essence of time, the adventure of creativity, the glory of possibility -- and the siren call of a beautiful, elusive woman named Josette.

This musical adaptation of EINSTEIN’S DREAMS had its world-premiere in 2005 at Lisbon's oldest, most respected theater, Teatro da Trindade.

Joshua Rosenblum (Music and Lyrics) is the composer and creator of the smash Off Broadway hit musical revue "Bush is Bad," which spawned two regional companies and was proclaimed "a sensation" by Variety. He is also the composer and co-lyricist of FERMAT'S LAST TANGO and contributed music for THE JOY OF GOING SOMEWHERE DEFINITE (Atlantic Theater Company). He has conducted 13 Broadway and Off-Broadway shows including HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, MISS SAIGON, WONDERFUL TOWN, ANYTHING GOES and FALSETTOS. For the concert Hall he has written pieces for trumpeter Philip Smith of the NY Philharmonic and flutist Kathleen Nnester of the NJ Symphony, among others. Several of his vocal and instrumental works can be heard on the new cd, "Sundry Notes" (Albany Records).

The musical's librettist and co-lyricist Joanne Sydney Lessner is the librettist of the cult hit musical FERMAT's LAST TANGO, which had its Off-Broadway premiere at the York Theatre Company in November 2000 and recently had its European debut in Lisbon. Other projects include: CROSSING LINES, chosen for the O'Neill Playwrights Conference; CHESS SET (Drama Dept.); CRITICAL MASS, a play about music critics; and FIVE STARS, a one-act musical (York Theatre). As an actress she has appeared on Broadway in CYRANO: THE MUSICAL, and Off-Broadway in COMPANY, ROMEO AND JULIET and THAT'S LIFE!

Musical director David Loud was music director on Broadway for CURTAINS, RAGTIME, STEEL PIER, A CLASS ACT, THE LOOK OF LOVE and the revivals of SHE LOVE SME, COMPANY,THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSEand SWEENEY TODD. Off-B'way, he created the vocal and dance arrangements for AND THE WORLD GOES' ROUND.

Director Jen Bender is currently the Resident Director for THE LION KING on Broadway. She was the Assistant Director on Broadway for AVENUE Q, THE WEDDING SINGER, and STEEL MAGNOLIAS. Other credits include City Center Encores!, Roundabout, Birdland, Carnegie Hall. Jen is a founder of the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

Gregg Edelman has been nominated for three Tony Awards for his performances in INTO THE WOODS, 1776 and CITY OF ANGELS. He has also appeared on Broadway in A TALE OF TWO CITIES, WONDERFUL TOWN, PASION, ANNA KARENINA, FALSETTOS, CABARET, ANYTHING GOES, LES MISERABLES, OLIVER! and CATS.

Kate Shindle was last seen on Broadway as “Vivienne” in LEGALLY BLONDE. Additional Broadway credits include: CABARET (“Sally Bowles”) and JEKYLL & HYDE (“Lucy”). Other NYC credits include: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Helena), THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS and the World AIDS Day Concerts of CHILDREN OF EDEN, PIPPINand THE SECRET GARDEN. Kate recently wrote her first novel ("Crown Chasers"), and was crowned Miss Americain 1998.

Alison Fraser recently ended her role as “Tessie Tura” in the critically acclaimed revival or GYPSY opposite Patti LuPone. Other Broadway credits include: THE SECRET GARDEN (Tony and Drama Desk nomination), ROMANCE / ROMANCE (Tony nomination), TARTUFFE: BORN AGAIN, and THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD.

John Treacy Egan is currently appearing in the role of “Chef Louis” on Broadway in LITTLE MERMAID and has previously appearedas “Max Bialystock” in THE PRODUCERS on Broadway. Off-Broadway, John created roles in Howard Crabtree’s WHEN PIGS FLY!, and was also an original cast member of BATBOY, THE MUSICAL. He can be seen in the upcoming film LAST NIGHT with Keira Knightley and Eva Mendes, and the film version of THE PRODUCERS.

The Harpswell Foundation is an American-based 501c3 tax-exempt organization. In May of 2007, the Foundation became an officially registered Nongovernmental Organization (NG) in Cambodia.

Tickets to the benefit concert performance of EINSTEIN’S DREAMSare $101, $61 and $21 (includes a facility fee) and can be reserved by calling Box Office: 212-864-5400 or going online:

For more information about the musical, visit

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

So the GOP Wants Obama to Succeed?

I watched John Boehner, minority leader of the House, on Meet the Press this morning and began experiencing last night's lovely dinner in honor of our friends' 20th anniversary rising back up through my esophagus and begin choking me with its well-digested foulness. The guy says he's all for helping the new president succeed, but, as is his wont as the supposedly loyal opposition, he notes how he and his cackling caucus have "problems" with the stimulus package as presented. What he means -- since GOP-ers tend to corrode good policies in code -- is that the GOP will do anything it can to derail the efforts of the new administration, and if that means the American people have to starve, suffer, or, God help us, die, that's just ducky with them.

Here's a headline from the Washington Times: McCain, Boehner oppose Obama stimulus plan. Big surprise. More pointedly, though, here is Boehner, looking gloomy and hardly statesmanlike, sending the American people gleefully into the economic gallows because all he knows is wrong:

To quantify what I mean -- that is, what's really at stake here -- look at this headline from a recent analysis posted by the Economic Policy Institute:

Without adequate public spending, a catastrophic recession for some

Let's burrow down and put some numbers on what the EPI means:

This analysis sketches a picture of how much worse we can expect things to get—both for the nation as a whole and for groups of Americans that are already suffering depression-level unemployment—unless the new administration and Congress act quickly with a recovery package that is big enough and well-targeted enough to counteract these trends. The authors recommend government spending on the order of $600 billion per year for the next two years to head off the otherwise inevitable catastrophe. Their analysis notes that without timely and adequate government intervention:

Overall unemployment, after peaking at about 10.2% in mid-2010, could still be as high as 7.6% four years from now.

Underemployment could reach 17.9% overall in 2010 (18.8% for women), affecting over 27 million workers.

More than one out of every three working Americans would experience unemployment or underemployment at some point during the year 2010.

Nearly one in five African Americans in the labor force would be unemployed (18.2%). More than half of all black teens would be jobless.

Hispanic unemployment would reach 13.1% overall, and more than one-third among teens.

Unemployment would reach a record high of 5.1% among the college-educated, 1.2 points above the previous high of 3.9% in the depths of the 1980s recession.

All families would experience wage declines because of weakened labor market conditions and reduced hours and wages. On average, middle-income families would earn about $4,700 less per year in 2010 than in 2007 (a loss of 7.7%) Low-income families would lose an average of 9.8%, or nearly $1,600, per year.
According to this story, even Rush Limbaugh agrees that it's better not to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs so the GOP can retake power. At least the pill-popping, wife-swapping treasonous liar is being truthful about it.

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Friday, January 23, 2009

From the Blogroll VII

At Adam Szymkowicz's blog, Adam Szymkowicz refers to Mike Daisey's recent post about the ethics of universities driving their MFA students into the kind of indebtedness that 18th century slave owners who indulged in the practice of indentured servitude (today, artistic and managing directors call it "internships"), would have readily understood. Szymkowicz's, though, isn't even sure about "encouraging new playwrights." Much commentary ensued.

At Artsy Schmartsy, Jonathan West initially previews the announcement that Madison Repertory is going the way of the passenger pigeon, the dodo, and the moderate Republican, then uploads a post that says, more or less, Holy crap, they're still going to close their doors, but they need $50,000 and to get some balls and make some really tough decisions or else, Holy crap, they really are going to go under. Henny Penny stops fretting about the sky as a result -- there's far more terrifying issues down here on the ground.

At Blank New World, the anything-but-blank new blogger, Diane Snyder, engages in some well-earned self-promotion tied to her profile of Gina Gionfriddo. (I spoke to Gina at Humana, and she's fab. Truly down to earth.)

At Butts in the Seats, Mr. Butts illustrates fascinatingly why "tough times bring not so strange bedfellows."

At The Critical Condition, Mark Blankenship coos over the hat Aretha Franklin wore to the Inauguration and goes on to reveal that Regina Taylor has invited him to perform in a revival of her play Crowns, about the hat African-American women wear to church, and to please play all the roles as times really are tough. To which Mark replied, "Mm-hm, girl," and Whoopi Goldberg got all messed up in the head.

At Dilettante, Mike Daisey uploads perhaps the funniest image I saw all week:

Mike also references a Gawker post about stunt casting on Broadway that is, to be blunt, a poor excuse for the writer of that post to call attention to his own ignorance and silliness and penchant for unclever whining. People, this is the theatre. It has always been, and always will be, utterly predicated on stars, at least at the commercial level. The truth is that if the dude who wrote that Gawker post had any history in his pocket, he would know that when Hollywood stars shun the stage -- as they have been wont to do in the past and shall, no doubt, be wont to do once more at some point -- everybody in the theatre will run up and down the avenues fretting about theatre not being hip and crying "How will we fill our seats" and asking "Why is the theatre so stuffy?" and on and on. The truth is that we should be encouraging film actors to do the theater thing and critics, moreover, should stop being adenoidal idiots about it when reviewing them. I don't mean giving film stars free passes, just to be clear. What I mean that it is in the interest of the theatre to have them visit, to critique them in a way that is constructive and encourages them to return. Diddy Combs did the theatre more favors when he did A Raisin in the Sun, his, um, questionable chops aside, than anyone I can think of in the last 10 years.

At The Hub Review, Thomas Garvey discusses Merrimack Rep's production of A View From the Harbor by Richard Dresser and asks, "Why is Boston Globe theatre critic Louise Kennedy a hater?" Then again, it was a bad week for any number of Kennedys.

At Interchanging Idioms, Chip Michael explains why 'Air and Simple Gifts,' supposedly performed live at the inauguration by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist Gabriella Montero and clarinetist Anthony McGill, was prerecorded: "The quartet recorded the piece and then made a decision, due to weather, to have the prerecording piece broadcast because it would be impossible for their instruments to be in tune. What benefit would have been served by having the performance something less than amazing? It's still a lovely piece of music, the musicians are tops in their field, and they did play what we heard - just what we heard wasn't quite the same as what they actually sounded like on the day." What Chip does not report is that the following day, the musicians reassembled on the platform and played the piece again, just to be sure there was no legal question about it.

At Lou Harry's A&E, Lou Harry reports on another theatre going under. But no one was in the forest, so no one heard it.

At Moxie the Maven, Moxie the Maven learns that actors are people, too. Except when they rip out people's hearts and eat them as a midmorning snack (credit for this idea goes to Seth McFarlane and the Family Guy team).

At Off-Off-Blogway, Ludlowlad still hasn't put me on his blogroll, but he does refer readers to the New York Times story about the Ohio Theatre getting a six-month reprieve.

At Parabasis, a certain unnamed blogger reposts a long memo on how the support the arts through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

At Scrappy Jack's World-Wide Theatricals and Dime Museum, John Clancy celebrates the six-month-minimum reprieve won by the Ohio Theatre and offers a long, highly personal narrative that dovetails beautifully with the news.

At Visible Soul, Zack Calhoun wonders what would happen if theatre artists could respond to critics in print. Here's my response:
A: Editors, critics and publishers would never have the guts.
B: Theatre artists would never have the guts.
C: It would help the theatre immeasurably.
D: All else is cowardice.

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Are You Going Subterranean?

Either you’re above it (in which case: who wants you?) or you’re willing to go Subterranean. The following press release, courtesy of publicist extraordinaire Emily Owens, explains what I mean.

terraNova Collective
Thursday, Feb. 5, 10:00 PM

terraNova Collective is proud to present the second Subterranean, a new monthly party at the D-Lounge, a cabaret-style venue at 101 East 15th Street at Union Square. terraNova Collective strives to create a creative home for artists from a variety of different genre's. As the newest addition to terraNOVA's residency at the DR2 Theatre & D-Lounge, Subterranean presents a variety of monthly performances including spoken word, music, burlesque, magic, storytelling, short play readings, vaudeville acts, and DJ's."

The line up for Thursday, February 5 will include slam poet Roger Bonair-Agard, Maya Azucena & Vanessa Hidary performing excerpts from their show, Culture Bandit Soul, and DJ Popcorn spinning tunes for you.

Subterranean curator James Carter says, "We are happy to have Maya Azucena and Vanessa Hidary perform excerpts form their show Culture Bandit Soul, whose full performance was canceled due to the shuttering of The Zipper Factory's doors. These fierce women, along with National Slam Champion, Roger Bonair-Agard and DJ Popcorn of dancelikeforever fame, will blow the roof off the Daryl Roth Theater."

First Thursday of Every Month, 10:00pm
$10.00 Entry + 1 Drink Minimum
D-Lounge 101 East 15th Street, Just off Union Square

terraNova Collective is a vibrant playground for artists devoted to innovative new and original theatrical works. Its multi-layered development process, solo arts festivals, and productions serve to nurture and liberate our community.

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The Theatrosphere Welcomes

Received this press release today. (And you thought the only thing in Texas with the detritus of George W.!)

Two critics, more than 60 theaters and plenty to say about the arts scene in North Texas come together at, a new web site launching today.

Founders and co-editors Elaine Liner and Mark Lowry created the multimedia site as a direct result of diminishing arts coverage in daily papers, monthly magazines and broadcast media in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Lowry left his job as theater critic at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last year in a round of buyouts. Liner remains the theater critic at Dallas Observer, where she has covered performing arts since 2001. She has teamed with Lowry on to provide up-to-the-minute online news, reviews and commentary that will include video interviews, audio and video podcasts and other features that go beyond the printed page.

The new site’s name was inspired by regional theater pioneer Margo Jones, who started her experimental theater-in-the-round at Dallas’ Fair Park in the 1940s.

With the $350 million Dallas Center for the Performing Arts set to open in the fall, Lowry and Liner saw an urgent need for expanded and diverse media attention for the area’s many theater companies.

“Theater and the performing arts should be covered as vigorously and thoroughly as the Dallas Cowboys or the ever-changing restaurant scene in North Texas,” says Lowry. “ is the perfect way to let the world know about the incredible actors, designers, playwrights and other artists we have here. We want the world to recognize them for the talented stars they are.”

“We want readers to become as addicted to as they are to Gawker for showbiz news and Huffington Post for politics,” says Liner.

Among the features on Lowry’s reviews of new productions; Liner’s video interviews and short video feature stories going behind the scenes at local theaters; “Stage Whispers,” offering the latest audition notices, casting news, comings-and-goings and gossip; “Dead Ringers,” daring to cheekily expose rude theatergoers who interrupt performances; “Because You Said Macbeth,” an ongoing collection of real-life theater mishaps; and “Coy Stories,” a blog by witty actor-director Coy Covington.

The site also will provide comprehensive listings of current and upcoming theater productions, with links to web sites and maps.

Lowry calls himself a “proud drama geek” who studied theater in college before turning his focus to journalism at the University of Texas at Arlington. He was an original staff writer at Fort Worth Weekly, and was the theater writer for the Star-Telegram for more than 10 years. He is a member of the American Theater Critics Association and the Dallas-Fort Worth Theater Critics Forum, and was a 2003 fellow at the National Critics Institute at Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut. He won several Amon Carter awards for his writing at the Star-Telegram. In addition to, he writes for THE Magazine DFW, and, as well as 140-character critiques via his Twitter feed, TweetTheater.

Liner, a Dallas native, studied with Dallas Theater Center founder Paul Baker at Trinity University, where she earned a B.A. in drama. She has a Master of Liberal Arts degree from Southern Methodist University. Liner won Dallas Press Club Katie Awards for investigative reporting and commentary as a Dallas Observer writer in the 1980s. She then wrote media criticism for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and Toledo Blade for a decade, winning numerous awards from the Associated Press and Women in Communications. She was twice named Thurber Journalist-in-Residence at Ohio State and has taught writing and criticism at SMU and Collin College. She returned to Dallas Observer in 2001 and was a 2005 Critic Fellow at the O’Neill Critics Institute. She’s also a member of the DFW Theater Critics Forum.

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A Penthouse Tale

I came across a story this morning on the New York Daily News website about a "most extraordinary one-bedroom penthouse" on East 72nd Street, with rapturous details of its anachronistically high price, but more than that, it's throwback-to-Nixon-era decor. The thing is, it is a penthouse: it sits proudly and most attractively atop a building. It's a one-story structure. It fits the definition of penthouse as I know it and as I think most intelligent, honest people know it:

1. an apartment or dwelling on the roof of a building, usually set back from the outer walls.
2. any specially designed apartment on an upper floor, esp. the top floor, of a building.
3. a structure on a roof for housing elevator machinery, a water tank, etc.

I don't see anything else suggesting that a penthouse, by definition, represents multiple-story dwellings added to the roof of a building -- those would simply be additional floors. Indeed, the second definition above distinguishes between additional stories and "the top floor" of a building.

Yet on the Upper East Side, where the 93rd Street Beautification Association is engaged in a two-front battle -- to persuade civic authorities that the Carnegie Hall Historic District should be extended one block to include a gorgeous collection of historic brownstones; and to persuade many of the same civic authorities that this block should be called Marx Brothers Place to honor the building where Minnie Marx raised her legendary comic-hero sons -- a third front has been opened. As I covered in this post and in this post and in this post, a fellow named Mark Martinez has been hauling out every trick in the book, it seems, to receive permission to build a penthouse on top of a penthouse on top of the building he owns on historic East 93rd Street.

If I may, let me digress for a moment. In my view, the entirety of the Bloomberg administration has been about development, landlords and any law, rule or consideration that benefits them. It is undeniable and unquestionable that the Mayor believes the business of New York is business (Calvin Coolidge let me borrow his phrase!), and that such crunchy-granola considerations as historic preservation should be relegated whenever possible to the little plot of land out in the back where the hemp-smoking liberals are sequestered. (Consider, for example, the New York Times' great expose of Robert B. Tierney, Bloomberg's handpicked, apparently henpecked chair of the benignly neglected Landmarks Preservation Commission.)

So it is in this context that my friend and comrade Susan Hefti of the 93rd Street Beautification Association keeps in touch and demonstrates through her efforts that she will not shrink from a fight, and Mr. Martinez is her latest target. Mr. Martinez is surely aware by now that Hefti's army of supporters will not give up in their desire to prevent him from building a building atop a building, at least not until the last mad-dog has taken its last barking breath.

Mr. Martinez, a busy general contractor with an entangled history with some of the civic leaders judging his request, has filed with the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals to receive a special permit to do this penthouse-on-a-penthouse thing, but the point of this post is that it would seem there is no level, including prevarication, to which he will not stoop. The question is to what degree the Bloomberg-style antipathy toward historic preservationists has infected the decision-makers in this matter, to what degree the ethical issues swirling around Martinez and his powerful coterie can trump the demands of community activists and elected leaders.

Let me dive into specifics now, as per a recent email from Hefti:

Completely undaunted by restrictions of the zoning law or community opposition or the fact that [Martinez' building] abuts an historic collection of 19th century houses & gardens that are older than any of the brownstones already in the Carnegie Hill Historic District, [Martinez] has actually gone ahead and applied to BSA for a Special Permit to allow him the precedent-setting-privilege of towering up above the historic skyline and adding a 13th floor to an eleven story building.

And in this curious case, the penthouse in question is, in fact, not a penthouse at all. For, as it turns out, the extant penthouse at 150 E. 93rd, is actually just a concrete box that sits on top of the building's roof. In other words, the so-called "penthouse" at 150E93 is already one whole floor above what would ordinarily be considered the penthouse.

So what the penthouse owner really wants to do here is to put a second concrete box on top of the first concrete box (the so-called "penthouse" in which he lives now)which already sits on top of the roof....

Never mind the fact that what this penthouse owner wants to do is prohibited by the NYC zoning resolution. Never mind the fact that, if approved, this 13th floor would constitute a precedent-setting breach of the historic skyline. Never mind the fact that the community is strongly opposed to this proposal. Never mind the fact that 150 E. 93rd abuts an historic collection of houses & gardens that are older than any of the brownstones already in the Carnegie Hill Historic District. And never mind the fact that the penthouse owner has not provided a structural engineering report to determine whether the roof of 150E93 could even support another floor.

Joining the 93rd Street Beautification Association in this effort are the following: Carnegie Hill Neighbors, CIVITAS, Brewery Hill Block Association and several nearby co-op board presidents, plus New York State Assemblymen Micah Kellner and Jonathan Bing; New York City Council Member Dan Garodnick and New York City Council Member Tony Avella, who chairs the zoning committee. All have written the BSA asking that it deny Martinez's special permit. The question, once again, is whether that bears any weight in comparison to the Bloombergian bargain with all the Mephistopheles' of New York real estate.

Adding fuel to this fire is the insinuation by Hefti that other examples of nattering nefariousness is raging. Before I continue, let me acknowledge that while I have not independently verified the following information, I feel there is sufficient reason to publish it on The Clyde Fitch Report; I do reserve the right, however, to amend this post should refuting evidence come to light. For now, it seems that Martinez's attorney, Fred Becker, did testify to the BSA that the penthouse currently atop 150 E. 93rd Street has existed since the building's construction in 1923; should this prove to be true, the argument might follow that the penthouse is, in actuality, merely the top story of the building. Yet, if this is the case, why did Martinez apply for a 2005 permit -- I refer you to Department of Buildings Job Number 103369196, line 4 -- to build a penthouse on top of the building? Is that not 82 years after the time when Becker claims the penthouse was built?

Here is a link to Martinez' application with the Department of Buildings. Notice the wording:


Was this 1923 too? What a terrific guy President Harding is! What's Mayor Hylan up to?

Becker's disingenuousness -- is prevarication a better word? -- aside, there are other elements in this matter that I am choose to omit from this post, pending further investigation. The point is that either we collectively start objecting to the encroaching, unchecked hegemony of real estate interests everywhere across New York, fighting each battle and helping each other out, or we are to blame for the city being aesthetically, architecturally and perhaps even fiscally doomed.

And no, that doesn't mean I'm anti-development. I am, rather, ardently pro-truth.

So I ask you to register your objection to this penthouse-on-a-penthouse plan in a neighborhood that you probably do not live in. I ask you out of civic duty, solidarity, should you be so moved.


Objections to the penthouse proposal can be made in person at the Public Hearing on January 27th (where each person has 3 minutes to speak) or sent in writing in advance of the Public Hearing by REGULAR MAIL: Ms. Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair, NYC BSA, 40 Rector Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10006-1705; EMAIL: By clicking on this link and filling in the fields - or FAX: 212.788.8769 (attention: Mr. Ron Rizzotti).

All objections must include the following information: BSA Calendar Number - 162-08-BZ, Property ID - 150 East 93rd Street, Block 1521, Lot 51, Manhattan.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Arts Advocacy Update LXXIII

The content below is from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, email blast of January 21, 2009:

Arts groups keep building through recession
Crain's New York Business, 1/14/2009

"Construction spending by New York City cultural institutions will have an economic impact of $2.2 billion and create 2,500 full-time jobs per year in the period from 2006 to 2010, according to a report released Wednesday by the Alliance for the Arts. The report, Culture Builds New York: The Economic Impact of Capital Construction at New York City's Cultural Institutions, also determined that the construction projects will generate around $28.5 million in local taxes for the city."
I referred to this report in an earlier post.

The New New Deal 2009: Public Service Jobs for Artists?
Community Arts Network Reading Room, December 2008

Arlene Goldbard explores ideas for public-service employment opportunities for artists. After surveying the WPA programs of the 1930's and CETA in the 1970's, Goldbard reviews three new ideas - The National Campaign to Hire Artists to Work in Schools; The National Green Arts Corps; and The Music National Service Initiative - and then shares four key lessons for going forward.
Oooooooh, this is just going to scare the bejesus out of the disenfranchised and mortified right-wing. Not only did they bankrupt the country, not only do they have the blood of American treasure running through their fingers on the basis of a war-inducing lie, but with stories and ideas like this one, there are going to be a lot more hyper-partisan, anti-Obama wingnuts screaming about socialism, as in this completely blithering article.

The New New Deal, Part 2 - A New WPA for Artists: How and Why
Community Arts Network Reading Room, January 2009

As a follow-up to her December essay on the idea of a "New WPA for Artists," this second essay by Arlene Goldbard "focuses on two new additional aspects of the topic: what a new WPA might look like, and a summary of strong public policy arguments for its creation."
I refer you, my right honorable friend, to the comment directly above.

7 ways to support artists
Toronto Star (Canada), 1/19/2009
"In Ireland, artists pay no income tax on earnings below 250,000 euros. In Scandinavian countries, artists deemed to have made significant contributions over the course of a lifetime receive special recognition – and income support – from the government. In Australia, legislation allows artists to average income over a five-year span, protecting them from the highs and lows of chosen careers that promise personal fulfilment at the cost of long-term security. In Canada, we have a lot to learn about how to nurture the people who help us define ourselves, say artists and experts who have studied their economic well-being." Bruce Demara offers seven ideas, ranging from income averaging for tax purposes to affordable live/work space to easier access to credit.
But will the right-wing go for it? Probably not. What they want is to silence artists and make their lives fiscally impossible. That gives them satisfaction.

Community Foundations and Arts Groups Ask for Economic-Stimulus Help
Chronicle of Philanthropy, 1/14/2009

"As Congress and President-elect Barack Obama grapple with how to structure their economic-stimulus measures, ...Americans for the Arts, an advocacy group, has proposed a package of measures to increase spending on arts groups.... The group proposed the stimulus measures provide at least $2-billion under the Community Development Block Grants program for projects to build and modernize arts facilities; and emergency funds to the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Institute of Museum and Library Sciences. It also proposed increased arts funds for a range of federal programs, including the Labor Department’s adult, youth, and dislocated worker programs; the Agriculture Department’s rural-development program; the Commerce Department’s economic-development grants; and the Transportation Department’s transportation-enhancement program."
I've also covered this in a previous post but this story is worthwhile reading.

Does U.S. Need A Culture Czar?
NPR's Morning Edition, 1/16/2009

"The idea of a Cabinet-level official for the arts has gotten some buzz lately. After all, many other countries have ministers of culture. High-profile artists such as Quincy Jones think it's necessary in the U.S., but not everyone agrees."
As of today, there are 181,226 signatures on the petition, but I don't think Obama is going to take this step. It's politically, sadly, too risky. But I think he may well appoint someone at cabinet level or near it to oversee arts policy, which would be far, far better than the snarling and benign neglect of former President Bush.

Ernst & Young: NM film incentives = good ROI
New Mexico Business Weekly, 1/16/2009

"The film industry and its supporters in New Mexico are most likely breathing a sigh of relief. The long-awaited study by Ernst & Young on the economic return by the state’s film and media incentives found that for every $1 extended in state tax credits, state and local governments received $1.50. . . . An earlier study by the Arrowhead Center at New Mexico State University, commissioned by the Legislative Finance Committee, found that New Mexico gets about 14.4 cents in tax revenue for every dollar it spends on a tax rebate for film productions. Critics, including Richardson’s staff, said the report was not comprehensive enough in reviewing the total economic impact of the industry."
Don't you love when politicians use phrases like "not comprehensive enough" as code for "it's politically impossible to endorse this"?

NEA in Recovery Package
artnet, 1/20/2009

"The vast $825-billion economic recovery package unveiled by congressional Democrats on Jan. 15, 2009, does have a tiny little boon for the arts: a $50-million budgetary boost for the National Endowment for the Arts. Despite the modesty of the request -- about 3/500ths of one percent of the total -- some Republicans have already taken issue with the allocation."
Of course, because that $50 million could be used to furnish jobs to good white supremicists who vote reliably Republican.

Obama eyes NEA head
Los Angeles Times, 1/16/2009

"[I]t increasingly looks like Michael Dorf, a Chicago attorney who has played key roles in shaping arts policy in both his city and on a national level, is the leading candidate to become chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts in the Obama administration. At least, he’s won the outspoken support of union leaders who represent workers in the arts and entertainment fields..."
Smart choice, I think. Certainly Dorf should be able to rise above partisanship.

Trends and Future Prospects for the Arts Predict Changing Role for State Agencies
Rand Corporation, 2008

From the Rand website:
State arts agencies — key players within the U.S. system of public support for the arts — face growing economic, political, and demographic challenges to the roles and missions they adopted when founded in the mid-1960s. This report, the fourth and final in a multiyear study, looks at state arts agencies' efforts to rethink their roles and missions, reflecting on what the changes may mean for the direction of state arts policy. Drawing on readings, discussions, and analyses conducted for the study, the author concludes that if current trends and strategies continue, future state arts policy is likely to focus more on developing the creative economy, improving arts education, and encouraging a broader spectrum of state residents to participate in the arts. To achieve these goals, state arts agencies will likely become more involved in policy advocacy, coalition building, convening, and gathering and disseminating information than in grantmaking. The transition to this future poses some risks for the agencies and for the arts community, but it also offers the opportunity to more effectively promote the conditions in which the arts can thrive.
You can download a PDF of the full report here.

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More Evidence of Bush's Treasonous, Impeachable Betrayal of the Nation?

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

On the Unremitting, Unmitigated and Unbelievable Fury of Patti LuPone

Tonight I received an email from a friend and colleague, the monologuist Mike Daisey. He felt I might be piqued by a post he put up on his blog that features the now-infamous YouTube audio of Patti LuPone stopping dead in the middle of "Rose's Turn" to excoriate a shutterbug at the St. James Theatre. Oh, it's a caustic, cauterizing takedown by La LuPone, full of vitriol, exhaustion and the kind of monumental diva-thrashing that results from either an excess of adrenalin (she was playing Momma Rose, after all) but also a real excess of genuine annoyance that spills over into fury.

In his post, Daisey discusses how that annoyance can be manifest in any performative dynamic, from a cavernous Broadway house with the orchestra and production values pumping at full tilt, to one in which a monologuist sits with notes at a desk:

From my point of view as a performer I am sympathetic to Ms. LuPone's issues—I've had people take photographs at performances, and it is a pain in the ass. Since I'm not performing in a giant rock arena, photography really impacts—it's often painfully clear that it is happening, and it can be very disruptive.

For my money the biggest issue isn't flash photography, as most idiots know to turn their flash off. My bigger issue is AF-assist light, which is the orange light that comes on just before you take a picture—most people don't know how to disable it, and it shines right into my eyes when performing, and it sucks. I am hoping that cellphone cameras get better and better, WITHOUT AF-assist, so that when people take a picture it will be silent and inobtrusive.

But Daisey isn't playing Momma Rose (yet). Indeed, his roots in experimentation show clearly as he begins to form an ethico-historical -- I'm coining the phrase -- take on contemporary theater, on how see-it-now technology may force radical change in etiquette. More significant, Daisey is suggesting that see-it-now technology is already changing audiences' approach to theatre, how their expectations and investment in the memory of their immersion drives their behavior:

I may be different than other performers, but I have no issues with people recording my shows, both audio, still image, and video, so long as that recording in no way affects the experience of the room for me or for my audiences. I would further expect that if folks posted those materials to the net they wouldn't charge for them (duh) and that if I asked them to take something down, they would. I see recordings of live events like theater as fossil records—invaluable perhaps in generating a history, but ultimately frozen and lifeless and incapable of communicating what it was like to actually be there.
Forgetting for a moment that me-me-me-ness of LuPone losing it, Daisey takes Actors' Equity to task in the Gypsy context:

It is interesting to think about how this recording is not temporally bound, as theater is—now that GYPSY is over, the most enduring record of that experience exists at that YouTube link. It's the scarcity of the theatrical experience that makes it valuable over time, but in our modern age that scarcity of experience doesn't mean you can't find ways to communicate...

...but in fact, it does mean that. AEA regulations are complete straightjackets on recording live events, regardless or whether the recordings are used commercially or not, and it ends up killing the baby in the crib before we can see what the future might be.

It's also instructive how the tropes of the theater do and don't transfer to the net—in the YouTube comments a large number of people hold Ms. LuPone to task for her unprofessionalism. I'd argue that most of the talk in the theaterosphere considers other factors, like diva-hood and the rudeness of flash photography in performances—what interests me is how those tropes get flipped when folks from the outside world are suddenly inside the theater.
What I find interesting, in addition, is how all of this recalls a topic now considered so old hat that no one even thinks about it anymore: the ineffective prohibition against cell phones ringing in the theatre in New York City. I did a lot of reporting on this during my first few years at Back Stage, but as those stories are sequestered behind a pay-wall, let me refer to this article on from 2003:

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vetoed the bill banning cell phone use, which was introduced Aug. 15, 2002, by Councilman Phil Reed at New York's City Hall.

The Associated Press reports that Bloomberg's letter to the city clerk said, "We do not hesitate to shush. Some standards of conduct, not directly affecting public health or safety, can best be enforced not through legislation but through less formal means.''

Bloomberg said that the bill, which would make cell phone use illegal "any place where members of the public assemble to witness cultural, recreational or educational activities," would be too difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.

The City Council does have enough votes to override the Mayor's veto; however, it is unclear when such a vote would take place. The New York City Council's Consumer Affairs Committee had passed the bill — by a vote of four to one — Nov. 19, 2002.

Councilman Reed previously said, "A lot of people — most people, a majority of people — want to obey the law. It's like the penal code, the health code — there's no smoking in a restaurant, people don't do it. But right now, turning off a cell phone is a request; it's not a law. If it's helpful to the management of the theatre, that's a good thing — it's empowering to be able to say, 'You're violating the law, it's against the law to talk on the phone, turn it off.' And if you have somebody who's going to continue to talk and talk and talk, the management can insist they stop. They can say, 'I'm going to get a police officer.'"
Well, yes, of course you could get a police officer. But I know of no case in which a police officer has arrested or otherwise de-celled a paying patron. I know of no case in which a shutterbug, illegally shooting the star, has been similarly de-lensed.

In fact, here is a compelling follow-up from 2007:

The law states, in part, "No person shall use a mobile telephone in a place of public performance while a theatrical, musical, dance, motion picture, lecture or other similar performance is taking place." It was introduced by City Councilman Phil Reed, who at the time represented the Eighth District of Manhattan, and was backed by 20 other Council members, including current City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn. Though Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the bill at the time, calling it unenforceable, his veto was overridden by a Council vote of 38 to 5 on Feb. 13, 2003. The law went into effect 60 days later.

The victory, however, was apparently hollow. By almost all accounts, cell phone abuse in theatre has only increased. "I hate to say it, but no, things haven't changed," said Roy Harris, a busy stage manager who most recently worked on The Clean House at Lincoln Center Theater. "I asked Blair Brown, Jill Clayburgh and John Dossett [the stars of the show]. They all said no. One thing that is sort of different is other people are much more vocal toward other people whose phones go off. They express their anger."

....Even Reed, who left the City Council in 2006, had to admit that, on the surface of things, little has changed. He stressed, however, that the mere existence of the law has acted as a deterrent in unchartable ways; in short, that theatergoers now police themselves. "It's like when we got radar to detect speeding," he argued. "I happen to think there's more compliance because there's a knowledge of the law."

....Reed grudgingly agrees that enforcement is the Achilles Heel of the cell phone ban. "You have to find somebody to complain to about the cell phone," he explained, "and they have to come and someone has to witness the thing and blah, blah, blah." Surprisingly, though, he points the finger of blame not only at negligent mobile users but also at theatre owners and producers. A little-known section of the law instructs that "the owner, operator, manager or other person having control of any place of public performance" must notify theatergoers that cell phones are prohibited through a public announcement. Frequent theatergoers are familiar these pre-curtain addresses, but Reed says the responsibility is often shirked.

"Most of my experience is they don't make an announcement," he contended. "In terms of compliance, it's no more than 40 percent." Reed is also unhappy with the option in the law that allows producers who don't wish to make an announcement to notify the audience of the ban through posted signs or—as is more common—program inserts.
So what we really have is the actor's union checking out on audience-behavior issues because it lacks the heft and might of law enforcement to back it. Is this a labor issue or an aesthetic issue, a moral issue or a sociological issue? Truly there is far more at stake here than commerce: I can't imagine any sane individual condoning an audience member selling illegally taken images, audio recordings or bootleg videos. Moreover, Daisey is asking us to ask ourselves: Why does LuPone have to play the role of police officer? What other recourse could she have considered? And how do we address, as Daisey puts it, "the scarcity of the theatrical experience" to keep it "valuable over time"?

Here, by the way, is the LuPone video. You have to turn the volume way up to hear it properly. You might also take note of what Daisey writes regarding the number of people who have heard this audio as opposed to the seating capacity of the St. James.

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