The Playgoer: January 2010

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Friday, January 29, 2010

Roundup

-New statistical study of the Off Off Broadway scene (e.g. budgets, demographics, general "state of the field") now available from NY Innovative Theatre Awards.  Haven't had a chance to look over it myself, but will soon.

-Speaking of which, the Off-Off community is actively lobbying for a tax-break to their landlords. A good idea, and might be getting somewhere.

-As for their higher-profile cousins Off Broadway, another good ticket deal following up the "20/20" deal from last week: "On the House" which offers 2 for 1 on many top-drawer shows throughout February. (My recs, sight unseen, would be: the new Sam Shepard "Ages of the Moon"; an old Sam Shepard, "Lie of the Mind"; new English play, "The Pride"; new American play about Shakespeare "Equivocation"; "Measure for Measure" from TFANA, starring Jefferson Mays; the "new" Kander & Ebb musical, "The Scottsboro"; and a new musical from the Zellnik brothers, "Yank".)

-Is the solution to vanishing arts journalism getting your student interns to do it?  Sad, perhaps, but maybe it means some qualified people might be covering the arts for a change.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Get Some Quarto

Dig this: Quartos.org!

The Guardian explains:

Funded by the UK Joint Information Systems Committee and the US National Endowment for the Humanities, the Shakespeare Quartos Archive (www.quartos.org) is a free resource that will in time reproduce at least one copy of every edition of Shakespeare's plays printed in quarto before the theatres were closed by the Puritan parliament in 1642.

Currently, there are 32 copies of Hamlet available to view – all contributed by the project's partner institutions, which own the majority of pre-1642 quartos: the Bodleian, the British Library, the University of Edinburgh Library, the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Huntingdon Library and the National Library of Scotland.

The website offers far more than just a photographic reproduction of these rare texts. [...] Features that would be impossible to replicate even by traipsing off to university libraries all over the world include the facility to overlay a speech from one edition on top of the same speech from another.
Yes, that means you can compare line by line the famous "bad" quarto of Hamlet to all other editions.  For instance see if you spot anything, er, odd in the bottom left monologue below:



Yes, those immortal words: To be, or not to be, I there's the point!

Lost forever is the Dramaturg's script note: "Lovely solil., Will.  But might not Hamlet say "question" instead?  Always questing, better journey, thinkst thou not?"

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Smoke Smoke, Bang Bang

Colorado theatre folk--particularly Denver's Paragon and Curious co's--continue their quest for some smokin' theatre in spite of a state court ban.  LA Times is on the case.  The "case" being the one Denver's Paragon & Curious companies hope to bring to appeal the state ruling, all the way to the plantation of "Big Justice", the US Supremes, if needs be.

But aside from the legal tanglings, what about the aesthetics?  Paragon claims the supremely, laughably lame fakeness of blowing talcum powder through some rolled paper is ruining their production of Agnes of God, in which smoking is referenced regularly and explicitly. (I don't know if real cigarettes is all you need to save that play today, but okay, go on...)









The Colorado law is especially strict (as opposed to other states with public places smoking bans) in not allowing a theatrical exemption, not even for herbal substitutes.  In the article a spokesperson for Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights argues against the need for such unusual standards of realism in theatre: "They aren't allowed to use real guns. There's no reason they should be allowed to use cigarettes."



To which Curious Theatre's Chip Walton has a pretty good reply:

"No, you don't shoot a gun, but you don't shoot a toy water pistol from Kmart, either."
Well actually, I'm sure we've all been in some shows that resorted to water pistols, painted black of course.  But he's right:  that would be silly.


But now that we're talking about guns, isn't it worth saying that (and I'm sure I'm not alone on this) that the effect of gunplay on stage is very much like nudity--you've suddenly punctured the illusion, the ol' suspension of disbelief.  When the character strips down, it's immediately apparent you're looking at the actor's body. (And no matter how sophisticated, most in the audience have a first response of: oh that's what he/she looks like naked.)  When the costume comes off, so does the "mask."

Okay, the analogy may not be exact.  But with guns, my problem is when they go off.  I'm going to admit something very sissyish of me.  Whenever a gun is pulled on stage, I brace myself for one of those really loud scary blank-shots that deafen you in a small space especially.  So the whole scene I'm now waiting for that and only kind of listening to the dialogue.  It's not only the sound that takes me out of it, though: it's the realization that suddenly comes to you that, well obviously any shot that comes out of that gun is fake, they're not going to shoot real bullets into that actor!  If a shot doesn't go off I'm terribly relieved.  If it does, then all I'm hearing is a blank, not a bullet.

Hey, I'm not saying don't get naked or don't shoot blanks onstage.  (And I'm certainly not saying, don't smoke.  Fight the power, Denver guys!)  It's all about "illusion" and the game you're playing with your audience regarding that.  And the productions that most effectively employ guns and nudity are more expressionist or epic.  So it is fascinating to me the effect these acts have on the naturalist aesthetic.  (And I say this as a fan of Naturalism.)  Perhaps things like this are why Naturalism is kind of an unattainable goal in the theatre: the most intimate moments expose it.

Back to smoking, I must say someone lighting up a real ciggy on stage never takes me out of the illusion.  But when one of those "herbals" come out you can smell it.  And while I can get past that myself, what ruins it is the reactions of folks around me who start sniffing away and whispering amongst themselves it must be pot!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ontheboards.tv

You know that digital revolution some have been talking about coming to theatre?  Well: it's here.


OntheBoards.tv offers high-quality videos of full-length performances by some of today’s most provocative artists working in dance, theater, music and other forms that defy categorization. By pointing several high power cameras at a show and offering the results online, fans of contemporary performance finally have better access to high-quality videos of the artists they want to see regardless of where they live or their busy schedules at prices they can afford. Participating artists and venues share all profits, offering artists not only a new method for reaching broader audiences but a new revenue stream as well. We believe OntheBoards.tv will help encourage people to go see live performances and participate in the ongoing dialogue about exciting new art and ideas.

The inspiration for OntheBoards.tv came in part from our success over the past 6 years offering online resources that accompany our live season presentations including performance review blogs, artist interviews, podcast lectures and other media. During that time participation in these online activities markedly increased, setting the stage for an online performance initiative that greatly improves the out-dated documentation practice of focusing one camera from the last row of a theater at a live performance and tucking the result into a library or archive with limited access. With lead support from The Wallace Foundation and additional support from DanceUSA, we are able to work with talented filmmakers, camera operators, editors, web designers, programmers, data crunchers and amazing artists to pilot and evaluate OntheBoards.tv over the next 3 years.
Quite a notable development, if they can make it fly, for many reasons--one of which is just the influence of new media on contemporary theatre practice.  Note the role that more everyday "online resources" played in the hatching of this plan.  And so while the impulse to record theatre on film is as old as the cinema itself, it took interactive technology and internet distribution to make it happen (potentially) in an accessible way.

Claudio La Rocco has more on it in the Times.

So, for instance, you say you didn't catch Young Jean Lee's The Shipment last season, one of the most buzzed shows downtown?  Well I didn't, and now I'm delighted I can watch it in what looks like (from the "trailer") a pretty damn well filmed & edited version.  Reports La Rocco, "The Shipment was recorded by four HD cameras and a sound technician during its run in October at On the Boards and edited, with her input, under the direction of Matt Daniels of Thinklab, a Seattle production company."  Pretty sweet.

The personnel seem especially savvy about the value of what they're doing:
“What our culture cares about, it tends to record and distribute,” Mr. Czaplinski said during a recent panel discussion at Performance Space 122, a New York partner of OntheBoards.tv. He pointed to sports and pornography, to titters from the industry crowd. “The live artist in a theater is still paramount. But we’re in a shifting world.”
[...]
“What we’re doing is creating the live-art equivalent of a museum catalog,” Sarah Wilke, managing director for On the Boards, said. “The world is definitely moving toward a wider view of experience. I think the arts are in danger of losing market share if we don’t provide a parallel experience.”
They're right in saying, basically, if you're not online these days you're not happening.

But what they're also onto is: if you can't reproduce, distribute and sell your product beyond the 99 seats in your theatre for two weeks, your artform has little future economically.

These may sound like sad observations.  And perhaps the concern with "market share" may dismay some theatre lovers.  But here's a case where it seems some folk are doing smart things without sacrificing the art.

We'll see, I guess.  But for a $50 Netflix-like annual "subscription" to the service, I think I might give it a try.

(Compare also the pay-per-view option to real life theatre tickets: $5 to rent one "streaming" viewing, $15 to download and buy the video outright.)

Twitter me Kindles!

Just a reminder that you can now follow Playgoer on both Twitter (for free) and Kindle (for 99 cents a month).  Just check out the links in the upper right margin.

Happy to announce we've just passed 100 Twitter subscribers and...wait for it...5 Kindles!  (Not bad, I guess, for people willing to pay for something they can get for free.)

My deepest thanks, then, to all 106 of you.

The Full-Price "Preview"

Before Ellen Gamerman's WSJ piece degenerates into standard internet-rumor-mill bashing, she does rightly bring up a long standing question--what's with charging full price for alleged "previews" performances (i.e. before the official press opening?

The term is becoming downright anachronistic.  On the Broadway of old--as evident in old movies from "42nd Street" to "The Producers" plays truly "opened"--i.e. premiered--on "Opening Night" (after perhaps some open/invited dress rehearsals).  Then by the 1960s, tickets would be available--at a DISCOUNT--for two or three pre-opening performances as a warm-up.

Off Broadway this didn't matter much I suppose since you were lucky to get the NY Times critic to come at all, let alone to your first night.  But now, not only does everyone do "previews" but when the run is already limited and you control the schedule, some nonprofit companies have specialized in delaying official "opening" as long as possible so that if reviews are bad, the show will already be closing and thus unaffected. In other words, the preview period has been longer than the official "run."  (I think Joe Papp pioneered that practice to get around critics.)

I don't find anything wrong with selling tickets to previews, to a show that may still be going through changes but wants a live audience to try it out on.  (After all, that's what Boston and New Haven used to be for.)  But audiences are right to expect some compensation for seeing something that might not be a finished product.

Gamerman's lead example is actually not the best case to make, but still typical probably:

James Wilson took his orchestra seat at a preview of the Broadway show "Fela!" expecting to see the story of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti unfold on stage. Instead, he spent most of the performance watching the show's creative team across the aisle as they pointed to problems on stage, held flashlights over their notes and, in the case of one staff member, whooped her arm in victory after many dance numbers. His ticket, purchased as part of his season-long $300 Public Theater subscription, seemed to be for a rehearsal, not a Broadway show, he says.
Well, first, maybe by getting his ticket as a Public Subscriber perk the guy took his chances.  Second, I'm not sure this means anything else but that Bill T. Jones should probably not take primo orchestra aisle-seats to do his note sessions.  (Isn't that what the back of the stalls are traditionally for?)

Anyway, I'm sure many of you can supplement your own preview-horror stories that are better than the ones found in the article.  (Such as the "View from the Bridge" actor's accident--indeed that could happen any time.)  What are you saying to your audiences when you pay the same amount for a "work in progress" than the "ready for Ben Brantley" finished product?  That's like charging the same for a reading as a full staging. (Oh wait, some already do that.)

I believe some Off Broadway nonprofits do offer discounted "preview" packages for subscribers who book early perf's.  Good idea.  Those of you not doing that now really, really should.

The bigger point should be that it's time Broadway producers and theatre owners finally just fessed up and offered 20-30% off any and all performances before the press opening.  Why?  A) because it's, you know, honest; B) it would sell!  Do you guys want to fill the house at times like these or what?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ask the Ish

Ever wanted to ask Charles Isherwood a question?  I thought a few of you might...

So quick, hurry to NYT.com by Friday for this online Q & A the Times' second stringer is submitting himself to.

One noteworthy tidbits from Day 1 today is the clarification of what shows the Times feels obligated to review:

The Times reviews all Broadway productions and all the Off Broadway productions from established not-for-profit companies. When it comes to Off Off Broadway things are trickier, since it’s a universe unto itself that is sometimes hard to navigate. The theater editor, currently Stephanie Goodman, in consultation with the critics, determines which shows to cover using various criteria, generally related to the prominence of the artists involved and the reputations of the companies. And sometimes downtown buzz lets us know which new companies and unknown (to us) artists to cover.
Good to have that on the record finally.  I imagine Press Rep's can also be influential in putting certain shows on the editor's radar.

Roundup

-First, the bad news: "Cultural support in New York State would be cut $9.6 million under the 2010-11 budget proposed by Gov. David A. Paterson on Tuesday." NYT has more.


-The oh-so classy sounding Laurence Olivier awards--London's major theatre honors--are introducing a People's Choice-esque category!  You can bet the Tonys are taking note. (The next logical step after barring the critics.)

-Guardian's Michael Billington weighs in on Lady Antonia Frasier's new memoir and what it tells us about Harold Pinter.  Who is Antonia Frasier?  Why, Mrs. Pinter, of course.

-Brook is Back. At 84, Peter Book keeps tinkering with his latest piece, Eleven and Twelve (which toured NY a few years ago as Tierno Bokar) now playing in London.



-The "20 at 20" program is back: starting Monday, for 2 weeks, you can go to select Off Broadway shows at 20 minutes before curtain and buy remaining seats for, yes, 20 bucks.  Unfortunately, most of the offerings are the dregs of commercial Off B'way crap (e.g. Perfect Crime, Awesome 80s Prom).  But there's also the new David Ives play, this dark comedy "Smudge" I keep hearing about, and--best of all--the highly recommended (by me!) revival of O'Neill's Emperor Jones. If you haven't seen that yet, now's your chance.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How Bad Could a German Rock Musical about Obama Be?

Lede of the Day:

On Sunday evening I sat thumping my chair in a suburb of Frankfurt, accompanying Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton singing “Yes We Can,” and thinking No I Can’t stand any more of this.
Yes, that's Frankfurt, Germany, and yes, that's "Hope!" the new American-written, German-produced Barack Obama musical.


Michelle und Barack rock the haus.

Catherine Hickley's review for Bloomberg is a scream. A taste:
When a character called Money Mack shows up on the street in a white suit, hat and shades with his shirt unbuttoned to the navel, surrounded by thugs to challenge the young Obama, he has to sing “I’m a hustla, hustla, hustla, hustla, smooth criminal.”
And of course there has to be "a vampish Sarah Palin in a surreal number called 'Soccer Mom Pit Bull.' She’s surrounded by dancers skimpily clad in fishnet and tights with holes, as though pit-bull Sarah had taken a bite out of them."  Yes, I believe in German that would be" Die Soccermompitbull.

What does that look like, you ask?





And, yes, there's video:





You're welcome.

"A Culture of Asking"

"The history of arts organisations shows that success in fundraising often leads to the employment of more fundraisers, not more artists."

-Lyn Gardner, The Guardian.

If you don't believe her, look at the job listings in any issue of "ArtSearch" and count the number of entries under "Development," compared to "Artistic."

Gardner is commenting upon the rising Tory party's proposed arts policy for the UK, should it win the next elections.  (A high likelihood over there.)  Not surprisingly for conservatives, their solution is what they themselves are calling, "an American philanthropy culture," which they define as:

just as we could have a better culture of giving, we could have a better culture of asking, with major organisations building up their endowments as another pillar of income – America has £14bn[billion]-worth. Most organisations think that if they build endowments, their treasury budget would be cut. We would offer five years of funding in return for a commitment to build up endowment, so developing a philanthropy culture.
Here's what I love about conservative economists' approach to social problems: you come up with a fancy phrase like "culture of philanthropy" and all it means really is, hey,let's cut the budget so we can cut taxes and be popular, and we'll let some rich individuals handle the problem.

Just like "culture of personal responsibility" means, we want to cut welfare spending, so you're responsible now for your own poverty.

"Culture of asking", huh?  Great.  Why not call it "culture of begging."  And indeed, to return to Gardner's point about fundraising begetting only more fundraising, a culture of asking necessitates the hiring and prioritizing of well, "askers."  Which means you also spend more on the perks of philanthropy: the annual "gala," for instance, and the sheer marketing costs of such perks. (Christ, how much does BAM spend on those monthly "Friends of BAM" paper mailings!) 

More wisdom from Gardner:
philanthropy is no quick fix for the arts: it doesn't take five years to build up endowments, it takes 20 or 30 years of sustained effort. And how would that sustained effort fit in with Hunt's [Tory "shadow" culture minister Jeremy Hunt] desire for organisations that are leaner and meaner and spending less on admin? [....]What's more, although a few bankers might be persuaded that public redemption lies in grand philanthropic gestures or conspicuous compassion, there's a danger that the boards of arts organisations often become over-dominated by givers who use their financial muscle to gain a say. Completely unselfish giving of the "coins in a bucket" variety becomes a far rarer phenomenon when we're talking thousands or millions.
Indeed, once "giving" gets into the five- or six-figure range, it's no longer just a "gift."

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Outrageous Fortune"

Lots of theatre folk are talking about this book, a meaty study on just what is going on with playwrights today. Written by a team headed by New Dramatists chief Todd London and published by Theatre Development Fund (TDF) it's called: Outrageous Fortune: The Life and Times of the New American Play.

Its thesis? "The relationship between playwrights and theaters is essentially broken."

That's the way TDF head Victoria Bailey bluntly put it to the Times, at least. A theme familiar to blog readers everywhere, but now it's in print!

I haven't gotten around to reading it myself yet, but hope to soon. Meanwhile, if you have, you might want to participate in the veritable reading group Isaac has formed at Parabasis to hash out every detail of the thing, chapter by chapter.

Meanwhile, more highlights from the Times summary:

Playwrights say artistic directors are obsessed with selling tickets in spite of their nonprofit missions and with pleasing board members by favoring world premieres or playwrights who are already admired by critics.“We heard from artistic directors who admitted that they’re all going after the same 10 playwrights to produce their work, which is largely about getting prestige in their field,” said Todd London.
Maybe that helps explain this phenomenon.
According to the study, the average playwright earns $25,000 to $39,000 annually, with about 62 percent of playwrights making less than $40,000 and nearly a third pulling in less than $25,000.
Hm. Don't those numbers seem optimistically high?

David Adjimi is chosen as a probably good example of a representative "successful" early-career playwright:
David Adjmi, an award-winning playwright whose drama “Stunning” was produced Off Broadway last summer by Lincoln Center Theater’s program for emerging writers, said he earned as much as $40,000 from his plays in some years and as little as $5,000 in others. Mr. Adjmi said he had never had health insurance and lived with his mother in Midwood, Brooklyn, for a time in his early 30s to save money. “I was unable to write plays for two and a half years because I was temping to pay my rent, and money that I did make from playwriting went to fill a bunch of cavities that I’d let build up,” Mr. Adjmi said.
But then Oskar Eustis chimes in with some really disheartening "realism":
he said, playwrights need to understand that theaters have serious business concerns that limit their ability to favor playwrights over audiences. “There is always room for artistic risk taking and experimental theater, but if we’re going to have a theater that matters, we have to make theater that people want to see,” Mr. Eustis said. “If as a field we resent that criterion, we’ll doom the field to oblivion.”
But if The freakin' Public can't afford to "favor playwrights over audiences" then who can??? Too big to fail, I guess.

Christ, can't someone at least get into the business of just putting on whatever they believe in without caring if anyone likes it? Anyone???

Roundup

-London edition: Matt Wolf wonders if we are seeing the last of a great generation of British stage actors. And Ben Brantley is off on another NYT assignment, keeping an online journal.

-Interesting conflict brewing over the new B'way bound Twyla Tharp Sinatra musical--the American Guild of Musical Artists claims it should continue to represent the cast of actor/dancers as it did in the show's Atlanta premiere. Actors Equity disagrees.

-Interesting new anthology out now collecting some of the more prominent new work by Arab-American and MidEast-American playwrights.

-And good news for the little Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit--their donor-list now includes a Mr. and Mrs. Barack Obama.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Biggest Plays of the Decade, ctd.

Isaac at Parabasis has done a thorough job following up on the Terry Teachout list of Top 10 Produced Plays of the Decade--including mixing up the criteria more to create a perhaps more accurate picture of not just which plays, but playwrights are being produced.

The question arose when Teachout noticed only one "classic" play made the top 10, "Glass Menagerie." (And even that was tied for #10 with Laramie Project, so arguable it's #11.) So he was concerned that American theatre companies were abandoning our theatrical heritage. But instinctively we know that ain't so, right?

Truth is, there's more likelihood a singe title will get multiple productions in a season when it's new. (And it had a big Broadway run and/or film version, and/or the rights have just been released.) On the other hand, there'd be no reason for, say, 10 theatres to all do Three Sisters the same season--while there might indeed be 10 different productions of different Chekhov titles, in a kind of rotating "classic" slot.

So with that in mind, Isaac combed through the data and came up with this list--which he cautions is still in progress--showing number of productions nationwide.

Counting down:

  • (10) Moliere: 68
  • (9) Ibsen: 69
  • (8) Noel Coward: 74
  • (7/6) Sarah Ruhl: 80
  • (7/6) John Patrick Shanley: 80
  • (5) Shaw: 82
  • (4) Arthur Miller: 112
  • (3) Tennesse Williams: 125
  • (2) August Wilson: 146
  • (1) Shakespeare: 1,163
Isaac counts all the way to 34 (Yay, Aristophanes!) so check the full list out, too.

Many possible (perhaps pat) conclusions to draw, but just noting the obvious:

-Sarah Ruhl sure got exposure fast. That ranking is helped by having not just one clear hit (Eurydice) but getting three more well received plays out there in rapid succession (Clean House, Dead Man's Cell Phone, and Passion Play)

-Shanley--how many of those are "Doubt" and how many the two-hander "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea"?

-August Wilson, the most produced American (not just African American) playwright of the decade. Impressive. Then again, he does have ten plays to choose from, year after year, and many of them have the added attraction of being new. (Thereby filling both the infamous "black slot" and the "new play" slot.)

Anyway, I hand the rest of the analysis over to Isaac who continues to do so in many more posts. (And then some.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

More Ragtime Fallout

The recent acclaimed Ragtime revival is just one of many recent examples of a Broadway show that was pretty well liked and enthusiastically reviewed yet could not eek out a review of more than two months--and even that at a heavy financial loss at that. It's, sadly, not exceptional anymore--after such well-received plays as Journey's End, Brighton Beach Memoirs, and Well. But for a popular musical I supposed this is news--as is the closing of the Finian's Rainbow revival, despite a last minute effort to save it by, of all people, the jailbound Garth Drabinsky.

(I didn't see Ragtime, but did see Finian's at Encores, which I enjoyed very much and found the 1947 musical totally viable.)

So without making any crusade about it, I do think there's yet more to learn about current Broadway's problems from the Ragtime case--the common factor between all these shows being, No Star.

But the Ragtime also displays a truly clueless set of assumptions about what it takes these days to transfer a nonprofit hit to the commercial venue of the "Main Stem." Michael Riedel last week laid the blame squarely at the feet of Michael Kaiser, the head of the Kennedy Center, which premiered the Ragtime revival and then fought to get it to Broadway:

Sources say a driving force behind this $8.5 million fool's errand was Michael Kaiser, the head of the Kennedy Center.

"He really wanted a Kennedy Center show on Broadway, and was very particular about it being billed as a Kennedy Center show, even though they really didn't put up all that much money," a production source says.

Kaiser unsuccessfully tried to raise $250,000 last week to keep the show afloat, sources say.

There were some old hands on board, including veteran producer Emanuel Azenberg -- "the only voice of reason in the room," says a source. But a lot of the producers were novices who fell for the usual nonsense about how "audiences are loving our show, we're getting standing ovations every night, we just need time for word of mouth to kick in."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Top 10 Most Produced Plays of the Decade

Terry Teachout has fun with the "American Theatre" website and aggregates the yearly figures to give us the top 11 titles produced by TCG member theatres around the country between 2000-01 and 2009-10.

I've taken the liberty of appending one bit of data to his list, though. The play's cast size. You'll see why...

1. "Proof," by David Auburn (54 productions). CAST: 4

2. "Doubt," by John Patrick Shanley (48 productions). CAST: 4

3. "Art," by Yasmina Reza (45 productions). CAST: 3

4. "The Drawer Boy," by Michael Healey (36 productions). CAST:3

5. "Rabbit Hole," by David Lindsay-Abaire (33 productions). CAST: 5

6. "Wit," by Margaret Edson (29 productions). CAST: 9 (but really 5 + 4 "extras", right?)

7. "I Am My Own Wife," by Doug Wright (26 productions). CAST: 1

8. "Crowns," by Regina Taylor (26 productions).CAST: 7 + 2 musicians

9. "Intimate Apparel," by Lynn Nottage (25 productions). CAST: 5

10. (tie). "The Glass Menagerie," by Tennessee Williams (23 productions) CAST: 4

& "The Laramie Project," by Mois├ęs Kaufman & Tectonic Theater Project (23 productions) CAST:8 (but flexible?)


Before we get to any analysis... The Drawer Boy??? Ok, I guess I'm stumped again. (I hadn't heard of the '09-'10 winner Boom either.) It's a Canadian play that got a boost in the US from a Steppenwolf Production back in 2001. Just further proof there really is a vital production circuit outside NYC.

So you see my point about the cast sizes, I assume. Teachout does, too. And to be fair, this doesn't mean all these theatres are only producing plays with 4 or 5 actors. These are just the plays that likely occupy the "new play slot" in a subscription series. (Except for Glass Menagerie, of course, which I would prefer to just bump down to #11 for argument's sake.) Companies will still splurge on a cast of 10 or 12 for, say, The Crucible--already downsized, of course. But remember that many theatres budget a season based on number of total AEA actors employed. So for every Crucible or Shakespeare you do, you have to balance that with a Proof. And it probably makes more sense in these calculations to splurge for the surefire popular favorite rather than on the new play no one's heard of. (In other words, if you want to do a big new play, like say Farnsworth Invention...no Shakespeare for you this season!)

So, yes, this is pretty depressing news for playwrights--or at least those who aspire to ever write more than multi-character solo shows or dueling-monologue plays. (Yikes, just had the shivering thought that A Steady Rain will be next year's biggest regional hit!) But I do believe a theatre will do a new play the Artistic Director feels passionately about no matter what the cast size--it's just a big hurdle to get over. And you might get it done at one theatre. But you'll never be a Proof.

Think of it like the R-rating hurdle for moviemakers. You can go ahead and release your movie with an R rating, but it will already be guaranteed to play in X percent fewer theatres and rake in y-percent fewer ticket sales than if it were a PG.

In other words, you take your chances.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

“No one’s going to be there that day. We’re just waiting.”

-Alan Cumming, prospective star of Julie Taymor's Spider Man musical, asked if the show was still planning on starting previews in six weeks (February 25) as announced.

Yeah, that would be a no.

Friday, January 08, 2010

"Internet Dramaturgy"

No, not just "phoning in" your script notes via Twitter.

From Tom Sellar's must-read Village Voice summation of NY avant-garde theatre in the "aughts":

SOS [by Big Art Group] points to a category of experiment under way in alternative theater, which might be described as Internet dramaturgy: live performances structured around nonlinear associations, a continual or escalating series of non sequiturs, or constantly regenerated narrative frames. These dramatic forms echo our now-daily experiences of clicking through multiple sites and toggling between realities. Stage compositions increasingly reflect structures and patterns from the Web, a development ripe with potential.

The admirably arty Radiohole could also be included in this web-of-consciousness heading, with company-devised pieces full of visuals and free association.
I think he's onto something, no? Not necessarily that this theatrical style comes from the internet, but that both the technology and the aesthetic are deriving from the same (to use the Raymond Williams phrase) "structure of feeling" in the culture, perhaps.

Another good point of Sellar's:
If New York wants to stay in the theatrical vanguard, it must encourage and embolden progressive artists to try projects that aren't strictly outcome-driven. Theatermakers' creative evolution may be stunted, however, by the city's notoriously conservative infrastructure. Few theaters or arts organizations commission or present experimental work on a large scale; even well-curated performance series, which could supply intellectual fiber and expand public tastes, remain rare.
I highlight that bit about an inherently conservative (i.e. profit-driven) infrastructure because what he really means is that the difference between New York and an actual hub of the avant garde theatre like Berlin is that there, in Europe, it is not unheard of to throw a lot of money at a production even if it has no promise of selling tickets. In other words, the have a fund set aside just for, you know, art.

And while I don't expect our municipal or federal governments (especially in times like these) to make available such moneys, one would hope that at least some of the few enlightened philanthropists left might devote themselves to such causes.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Who the Hell is Key Brand Entertainment?

Nice to know someone is bullish on the future of Broadway:

Entertainment industry veteran Tom McGrath and his Manhattan-based private equity firm Key Brand Entertainment quietly built a theater empire Tuesday, by acquiring one of the industry's leading Web sites for $45 million.

Key Brand bought theater Web site Broadway.com and its group ticket-sales arm, Theatre Direct, from Hollywood Media Corp. in a deal that included $20 million in cash. The move comes just two years after Key Brand bought Broadway Across America, the theater division of concert juggernaut Live Nation Inc. for more than $90 million. Broadway Across America's touring mega-hits include In the Heights, Avenue Q, Chicago, Rent, Wicked and West Side Story, among others.

Funniest quote of the day comes from Key Brand spokes trying to allay fears of using the website as some company mouthpiece for their product:

“It would be completely useless if we opened our own show, then gave it a good review,” Mr. Gore said. “That would kill our relevance in a second.”

Ha! Indeed.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on Broadway.com.

More Prizes for the Already Successful

Nice that a new playwriting prize has been named for Horton Foote, and that it comes with 30-grand. But why set the requirements so unreachable for so many young playwrights?

The competition will invite 65 resident theaters to submit a play by an author who has written at least three original full-length plays that have been produced by professional theaters; selection committees will choose a short list of finalists; and the winner will be determined by a group of four artistic directors Mr. Foote worked with closely: Andre Bishop (of Lincoln Center Theater); James Houghton (Signature Theater Company); Michael Wilson (Hartford Stage Company); and Andrew Leynse (Primary Stages).
To have three plays already professionally produced doesn't make you necessarily a star, I know. And those writers could use the money, too, yes. But still--to get that far (three separate plays, mind you, not three stagings of one play) usually means you've already got some powerful folks pulling for you.

Just think how more the prize could help the playwriting profession if it enabled a one-show playwright to write his/her second play?

What's the point? To make it more clubby? Or just lessen the number of scripts these folks will have to read?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Standing Up For Pig Iron

Philly arts advocate Peggy Amsterdam reminds us why the last presidential election did matter, calling out John McCain's cheap shots at some NEA funding for two esteemed local troupes: Pig Iron Theatre and Spiral Q Puppet Theatre.

These arts organizations pay real wages and provide real health insurance to a group of people who face the same economic challenges as the rest of us. These are our neighbors, and they have mortgages, car payments, and college expenses. And their organizations' activities support other workers in the economy, such as plumbers, carpenters, lawyers, and accountants.

Artists need and deserve work, just as all Americans do.
That this Puppet and Pig Iron "scandal" became an official GOP talking point was evidenced on Fox News around the same time.

Working Theatre Company

Something I worked on over "the break"--a profile of an interesting little Off Broadway outfit, the Working Theatre, for (of all things) the Clarion, the official publication of the Professional Staff Congress ("AFT Local 2334"). So expect some labor lingo.

Ragtime Post-Mortem

Informative post-mortem by WaPo's Peter Marks on the underperformance of the hometown hit "Ragtime" on Broadway. Key points:

[T]here were sales advantages for "Ragtime" at the Kennedy Center that could not be replicated on Broadway: the institution's subscribers. They purchased 30 percent of the musical's tickets, providing a solid foundation of revenue, according to center President Michael M. Kaiser. "Plus, we have a marketing reach in a much less culturally dense city," he said. "We have an ongoing relationship to an audience. Whereas on Broadway, every time you start from zero. You have to build your single-ticket sales."

In a city with far fewer options for big-scale musicals, "Ragtime" may have had an outsize impact. When it moved to New York, it not only faced more intense competition, it also had to find a niche in a theater world that has grown more and more dependent on tourists, a negligible theatergoing category in Washington.
It still amazes me when folks wonder how something that was so "successful" in a nonprofit venue doesn't succeed in the same way in the thoroughly commercial environment of Broadway. It's two different worlds!

So tourists don't go to the theatre in DC, huh? Well, I suppose there are other tourist attractions there. Still--does any other city aside from New York count on tourist ticket sales as much for its theatre business?