From the Blogroll XXII: “Someone in a Tree” Edition

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At Adam Szymkowicz’s blog, Adam Szymkowicz continues his illuminating (seriously!) series of Q&As with contemporary and emerging American playwrights. These include Rehana Mirza, Jeff Lewonczyk, Gus Schulenberg, Bathsheba Doran, Mat Smart, Trista Baldwin, Samuel Brett Williams and Caridad Svich.

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At Adaumbelle’s Quest, the increasingly journalist-like (!!) Adam Rothenberg interviews a slew of marquee-name folks, most recently Billy Stritch.

At Adventures in the Endless Pursuit of Entertainment, Sarah B. describes the open house for the final dress rehearsal of the new Metropolitan Opera version of Tosca, which, alas, brought the director some major boos.

At An Angry White Guy in Chicago, Don Hall bares his teeth again, this time in reply to another post involving how Chicago theater people, working at a certain level, disdain commercial theater to their core. True, the topic here is the Chicago thespian mindset, but Hall’s harangue is worth an excerpt:

The bias I feel…is against Corporate Run Theater. And against theater that makes lots of tourist money by importing talent in from somewhere else yet somehow still wants the same street cred as real Chicago Theater. And Corporations who think they can come in and claim that they have the bead on “Off Broadway in Chicago” (c’mon, you fucking leechy, carrion birds of prey — how about you leave some little bit of Chicago theater to the homegrown theater artists not out to make a buck but to take those very artistic risks that made the ground fertile for your exploitative squatting in the first place…?)

At Arts Marketing, Chad M. Bauman (who covers the kinds of jobs that Don Hall believes is sack of steaming poo, but Don is wrong — some might even say whoppingly ignorant — about that) considers “The Problem of Silos,” a dilemma that isn’t just emanating from the arts, but from every manner of corporate situation:

…I started to think about a common structural problem that many organizations encounter — the problem of silos, particularly silos between the marketing and development departments. As non-profit arts organizations became more and more sophisticated, there began to emerge two distinct entities: a marketing department tasked with maximizing earned revenue streams and a development department responsible for overseeing all contributed revenue streams. It can be said that “marketing” departments have existed for much longer, and that even for major arts organizations, development departments are somewhat of a recent development (Arena Stage hired its first development director in the late 1980s). With two distinct departments tasked with being responsible for all revenue coming into an organization, all too often, the strategies devised by each department are done so with minimal thought to how they will affect or interact with the strategies of the other, causing the silo effect. As a consultant, I see this with many of the clients I work with, and it makes it difficult for an organization to make the best overall decision on how to move forward strategically.

In the last decade, many organizations have experimented with the “external affairs” model where one large department, housing both development and marketing, is tasked with revenue management. The problem with this model is that in most cases, although the department is united under one leader, there still exists marketing and development silos under the external affairs banner. Again this creates a problem because it doesn’t allow an organization to view a complete picture of the customer as one side will look at a customer from a ticket sales perspective while the other will see his potential as a donor. Given the experience of the external affairs director, many times one division is stronger than the other depending upon the director’s history….

I haven’t always agreed with Bauman, but this piece is particularly good and insightful. I highly recommend it.

At Between Productions, Robert Cashill weighs in on the race for New York City Comptroller, and in so doing acidly bitch-slaps candidate David Yassky around. Ouch, baby. He also calls the Emmys a bore.

At Blank New World, Diane Snyder explains why she’s excited about the upcoming Broadway revival of the musical Ragtime. On a personal note, I think “Wheels of a Dream” is even better than the opening number. On the other hand, I think a fair bit of both acts sag right in the middle.

At Broadway Abridged, the suddenly-laconic Gil Varod illustrates what he thought of the Philip Seymour Hoffman Othello by Photoshopping, apparently, his ticket.

At Createquity, Ian David Moss helpfully updates everyone on the growing — and don’t say it isn’t growing, people — NEA controversy. Sat. night, Sept. 26, on a late-night show on Fox called Red Eye, there was a long segment in which host Greg Gutfield did a great job lying, distorting and otherwise demogoguing about the NEA, including linking the scandal to some of the visual art the NEA funds and how poor it is. The right is getting ready to launch a Jesse Helms-like assault on the NEA in an effort to defund it. Anyway, Moss includes a link to the entire transcript of the Aug. 27 conference call that started this mess; with apologies for cribbing, here is the excerpt that Moss included (passages of dubiousness in bold):

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MS. BAN: I think for the people that are on the inside of government to talk for a minute about Organizing For America and the differences between Organizing For America and Serve.gov and what we can do to help on critical advocacy issues like health care reform, cap and trade policy, if that should help move policies through the government, because this is a really important role that our creative community can also play.

MR. SKOLNICK: Excellent point, Liz. Do Nell or Yosi, do you want to take that question?

MS. ABERNATHY: Yeah, I can address that a little bit, and the reason only a little bit is largely because in my role at a federal agency, I’m precluded from going too far down the specific steps what people can do to advocate. But we have to, for these legal reasons, remain really separate what we do here from what OFA is doing and so they’re basically two separate goals with the same idea. We use the same techniques, organizing strategies, because basically they’re both run by people from the campaign. But Serve.gov and the United We Serve initiative is based on the direct service addressing needs through volunteering today bipartisan support ideas than OFA, which is obviously advocating for policy change on these specific issues. So if you’re interested in getting involved with OFA that’s run through the DNC now, I could probably put you in – I could help you with who to contact. I could get that information to Michael and he could get it out. We can’t sort of – as a representative of the corporation, I’m not capable of giving you more guidance than just sending you to the right person.

No, not terribly offensive, although if you’re on the rabid radical right, this is enough to start a new culture war. While that’s simmering, Moss’ take on Americans for the Arts’ report, Arts & Economic Prosperity III, is very long and very excellent. Finally, we appreciate very much the link to the Clyde Fitch Report’s first analysis of the situation…really, though, do you think we’d freak? Oy. I guess we would. :-)

At The Critical Condition, Mark Blankenship imports guest blogger Tray Butler to write about what we should call this — sorry, peeps — awful, horrific, death-strewn decade. The “Roaring Aughts” isn’t really Butler’s cup of oolong; he prefers the Ohs. But there’s a good case to be made for the “aughts”:

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    1. We aught to have impeached the Rehnquist Court for appointing George Bush to the Presidency.
    2. We aught to have never given tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.
    3. We aught to have never attacked a nation that had nothing to do with Sept. 11 and instead focused on the people in the lands that did.
    4. We aught to have held George W. Bush responsible for lying to the nation — and the world — about those non-existent weapon on mass destruction in Iraq.
    5. We aught to have expected publishers and editorial leaders to have foreseen the rise of Web 2.0, and especially the blogosphere, and to planned for a new business model for news instead of allowing the advertising crash to decimate journalism.
    6. We aught to have expected Michael Jackson’s death — Anna Nicole’s, too.
    7. We aught to tell all the radical-right Republicans who keep saying “We have to stop looking backward and start looking forward” that if they hadn’t ruined the United States, we’d actually have a forward to look to.

At Dog Days, Dalouge Smith offers a take on the NEA mess, and specifically responds to CultureGrrl’s call for people to “move on.” Smith is right to write:

This is not going away. If arts supporters and champions of the NEA “move on” as CultureGrrl asks, no one will be looking for the next attack. This is not an isolated incident but the beginning of a sustained campaign.

If you’ve never told your Congressman what the NEA has done for your organization in your community, now is the time to start. Don’t wait for the next attack.

I have been screaming about this for weeks. When will people wake up? (Dalouge, by the way, how about some love for people who got to this first? Would it kill ya?) Dalouge’s analysis of Patrick Courrielche, by the way, illustrates why he is little more than a disgruntled radical-right shill.

At Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals, Chris Caggiano has a post on Diane Paulus and The Donkey Show that really should spur more debate than it already has. Despite my encomiums to Jordan Roth, who produced the show in New York, in a recent Clyde Fitch Report post, I never particularly liked the show. I always thought the very idea that the show is some libido-fueled adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was deliriously overblown, as fantastical as calling Starlight Express the musical version of Murder on the Orient Express. Caggiano writes:

Regular readers will likely recall my recent interview with Diane Paulus, the new artistic director of the American Repertory Theater, as well as the director of the current Broadway revival of Hair. In that interview, I was struck by Paulus’s impulses to expand the boundaries of theater, to empower theater audiences, and to bring the venerable-but-staid A.R.T. into a new phase of theatrical exploration.

The Donkey Show certainly accomplishes all three of those admirable goals, although apparently not everyone is pleased with that fact. In tracking down the artwork that accompanies this post, I came across a number of dismissive reviews of the show on ArtsBoston. It seems that some people consider The Donkey Show to be a cheap marketing ploy, an attempt to lure in crowds with promises of licentiousness. Well, what’s wrong with marketing? Furthermore, what’s wrong with licentiousness, or at least the portrayal of same? Paulus was brought in to shake things up, and that’s exactly what she’s done.

Full disclosure: Caggiano is a recent and increasingly good friend (why didn’t you email me when you were in town, dear? I got a direct note via Twitter but didn’t notice it until it was too late…), and his interview with Paulus (click on the link above, that’s why it’s clear) is pretty damn good. But when he implies that The Donkey Show is an emblem of Paulus’ desire “to expand the boundaries of theater” or “to empower theater audiences,” I sorta kinda wince a little. I mean, is measles the emblem of a virus?

With Paulus now at the helm of American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, there’s no doubt, however, The Donkey Show is likely “to bring the venerable-but-staid A.R.T. into a new phase of theatrical exploration” — indeed, how much checked and rechecked Chekhov can one theater community honestly stomach? With that assessment aside, though, exactly how does The Donkey Show expand the boundaries of theater? Could Boston-area actors jiggle their tits and asses and groove to disco before? How does The Donkey Show “empower” theater audiences? Maybe they’re drearily unempowered in Beantown because the pickings haven’t been as lush as they are in, for example, New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. My sense of the Boston theater community, in fact, has been for many years that it simply bursts with potential that regularly goes unfulfilled, largely because the artistic leaders in the area have their aesthetic heads up their collective bungholes. But I still find it hard to award The Donkey Show with the label of “empowerment.” Could the word “different” be a possible synonym? Again, Chris, please know I’m not ragging. I’ll now sing “He’s just…he’s just my Chris,” so you feel some love, too.

At Extra Criticum, Rolando Teco reminds the American theater community that the continued existence of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center — where I teach every year in the acclaimed Critics’ Conference — can sometimes be all rather a mixed blessing. Teco’s post, entitled “The O’Neill Center Achieves New Heights of Chutzpah,” is pretty much an indictment:

In a dazzling display of what can only be called unmitigated gall, the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center has sent out this year’s appeal to playwrights to submit. And let me tell you folks, when they use the word “submit” they mean it in every way imaginable. (full disclosure: I’ve been a finalist twice)

It is an open secret in the theatre world that of the dozen or so slots available each Summer to new plays at the O’Neill, all but 2 or 3 are pre-determined in backroom deal-making worthy of Tammany Hall. As if this weren’t bad enough, the O’Neill is one of the few playwriting competitions that still asks its “submitters” to fork over a hefty $35 fee for the privilege of landing in the slush pile. So given this context, it is hard to believe that the team that works there had the nerve to put this language in their latest appeal sent out to playwrights all over the world via email:

The O’Neill’s Open Submission process is unique in the field of developing works for the stage, requiring neither agent submission nor previous experience. This commitment to a truly democratic process has led to great discoveries of new artists and works, now iconic in American theater.

How are we expected to take this? To call their process anything including the word “open” is akin to promoting the democratic strides made by the government of Myanmar. I mean, really. Where’s the outrage?!

Yikes. Comments, anyone?

At Flux Theatre Ensemble, Gus Schulenberg does an incredibly altruistic thing, listing a bunch of plays that really need to be produced in New York — now. It’s a beautiful gesture. Hopefully he won’t mind if I reproduce the list below:

Lydia by Octavio Solis: This play has been done at Denver Center Theater Company, The Mark Taper Forum and Yale Rep, was featured in the December 2008 American Theatre magazine, and yet somehow has not graced an NYC stage. The ending of the first act is haunting; the end of the second, corrosively beautiful. I want to live in a city that does this kind of play first, not last; get on it, bigger NYC theatres!

Sans Merci by Johnna Adams: If you’ve seen the various readings, you know why I’m so crazy about this play. The mother and lover of a political activist meet to sort out the meaning of her violent death. It is sweet and hopeful, brutal and sad – the scene where they decide who gets to keep her last things is unforgettable.

Incendiary by Adam Szymkowicz: This play about a pyromaniac fire chief manages to be both screamingly funny and oddly moving; it combines the humor, speed and style of Hearts Like Fists with some of the awkward longing of Pretty Theft; this is the kind of play that could be a break out hit for any company smart enough produce it.

Ajax In Iraq by Ellen McLaughlin: You’ve already heard me rave about this play; so what are you waiting for, theatre-company-with-greater-resources?

Narrator One, by Erin Browne: Read all about it here. Erin’s play is the kind of romantic comedy that’s actually both romantic and funny. It also has a bitter undertow and some sparkling meta-theatrics to make your mind as well as your heart buzz and burn.

This Storm Is What We Call Progress, by Jason Grote: Speaking of making your mind buzz and burn, Jason’s dizzying dagger of a play looks at both the need and the cost of power. Read the take on our Food:Soul here, then read about Rorschach Theatre’s well-recieved DC production here. Then get producin’.

Lullabye, by Rami Metal: This rhythmic and lyrical play weaves three generations of a haunted family as they attempt to let go of various ghosts. The language of the play is both raw and poetic, and will need a brave and capable company of actors to make its moving heart sing. We just put together a joyous read-through of it, and maybe you should, too.

Miss Lily Gets Boned, by Bekah Brunstetter: A play about elephants, people and how loss and loneliness makes both species run a little mad; try to see it at The Lark, though I think the reading’s got a wait list yards long. It is a wild and funny piece of bewildered wanting.

Texas Toast, by Katherine Burger: Oh man I love this play! A loving liberal couple falls apart when the husband brings back a statue of Kali from Thailand along with the guilt of an irreconcilable secret. Their disintegration is hastened by the vitality and hunger of a charismatic and destructive Texan couple that befriends them. There are five beautiful roles in this unsettling and funny play for any company tough enough to take them on.

Blue Beard, by Matthew Freeman: This haunting and spare look at the classic myth of the Red Door has that rare gift some plays have of making an entirely new world seem real; it is a beautiful and brutal nightmare of a play that the right company could knock out of the park.

At Fragments (I Can Have Oodles of Charm When I Want To), Monica talks about the new Chicago Now blog called Off Broadway in Chicago. Well, “talks” isn’t quite right. Really, her focus relates to how Chicagoans perceive the theater and what constitutes quality:

…what is very interesting is that this seems like Chicago is being likened to Broadway in a Broadway season with a lot of shows transferring from Chicago. I think that Robert has hit the nail on this pretty well on his blog and Rob Kozlowski went and said what I was thinking but wasn’t quick enough to say.

In short, if you mean “Away from the Chicago Theater District in the Loop” then the term is “Off-Loop.” Which, for those of you unaware, happens to include three of the theaters that have shows that originated at opening on Broadway. If you mean “Off Broadway,” then we can go with Kozlowski’s literal meaning.

(Update: For the record, I don’t think that Broadway in Chicago is an evil corporation. It does annoy me that some people see Chicago theater and all they see is Broadway in Chicago. However, as I have stated previously on this blog, BiC is bringing some shows that I am looking forward to. Like “In the Heights,” “The 39 Steps,” “Billy Elliot” and “The Addams Family.” (Is there anyone not excited for that?) I really did enjoy “Spring Awakening” at the Oriental, but I’m now finding myself really annoyed by the rhymes in that show. And, yes, I do roll my eyes at the fact that “Cats” is still touring and, as you can tell, there are plenty of shows I’m not going to rush out to get tickets to see. (Also, it’s not that I’m not excited for “August: Osage County” coming back to Chicago, I’m just probably not seeing it in Chicago.) But, really, if Broadway in Chicago is an evil corporation, then all cities with touring Broadway series have evil corporations that are looming to destroy theater.)

At Full Force Theater Musings, Cara Joy David writes an incredibly funny slash-and-burn review of The Retributionists, the new play by Daniel Goldfarb at Playwrights Horizons. (My review is here.) She begins the review by ragging on another play, Sarah Schulman. Oh, what the heck — here’s an excerpt. There’s nothing sadder than any angry critic, that’s all I can say:

Seven years ago I attended a play at the Julia Miles theater called Carson McCullers (Historically Inaccurate) by Sarah Schulman. It was embarrassing for everyone involved, especially Jenny Bacon who had to get down on her knees and say strongly “but I’m a boy!” Years later author Sarah Schulman would write a letter to those involved in another one of her horrible plays that shouldn’t have been produced (which received horrible reviews, of course) saying basically “the male critical establishment is trying to get me down” and I would think two things 1) how can i get involved in the lynching? and 2) i think Linda Winer is a woman. But, regardless, I share this with you because i have often thought back to how uncomfortably bad that play was. And it was co-produced by Playwrights Horizons, who has produced some good stuff over the years but also some really, really horrible stuff, as I suppose can be said of any company, though they’ve seemed to have more than their fare share of the horrible. As much as I have disliked some of the stuff Playwrights has put on since then, I believe they’ve finally outdone themselves in the embarrassment department with THE RETRIBUTIONISTS.

Geez. Just imagine if she was a prosecutor at Nuremberg.

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At Gratuitous Violins, Esther wonders whether 90 minutes is the “holy grail” of theater, linking to a think piece by Chris Jones on the topic as well as to the writings of other writers, musers, thinkers, philosophers, ponderers and high priests of consumer culture. My view on this is rather like Esther’s: it depends. But I’d add, gently, that the connection of ticket price to performance length as a value determinant is a deeply flawed canard. Here is the press release for Gate/Beckett, a celebration of Samuel Beckett programmed as part of the 2008 Lincoln Center Festival. Liam Neeson was in Eh Joe; Ralph Fiennes was in First Love. Not exactly C-level celebrities, right? Well, the running time of Eh Joe was 30 minutes, First Love ran 55 minutes. Here, direct from that press release, is the information on pricing:

    • For priority seating for performances between July 16 and July 25, purchase tickets to all three plays between March 28 and April 28: $150, 225, 270; remaining single tickets go on sale April 28: $50, 75, 90
    • Tickets for same-day marathons (July 26 and 27): $150, 225, 270

Do the math — these are very high prices for very short pieces — and the reviews were nothing less than rapturous. So I think it’s efficacious to decouple price from performance length and value. (Remember, the New Group’s hellacious revival of Mourning Becomes Electra earlier this year ran four hours and 10 minutes and wasn’t cheap, either.)

I think the one-act, 90-minute trend is really about the patience level of the audience, that’s all. But, indeed, if a show is good, audiences will stay for literally any length of time, no matter how mind-boggling. Esther cites August: Osage County and The Norman Conquests; I’d add that it wasn’t too many years ago when audiences sat through the Philip Glass-Robert Wilson Einstein On the Beach, which is not only rarified work but a chasm-like five-and-a-half hours long, or sat through Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata, which ran nine hours — here’s Frank Rich’s 1987 review. I have no doubt that audiences would sit through those pieces again if afforded the opportunity.

At Jamespeak, James Comtois launches a barrage of missiles at Thomas Garvey of The Hub Review, which hasn’t been making many friends in the blogosphere of late. Boys, boys, crazy boys.

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At Ken Davenport’s The Producer’s Perspective, Ken Davenport, who apparently believes there isn’t anything about anything he doesn’t know, writes an instructive post called “Who Was the First Broadway Discounter?,” a man named Joseph Leblang. Davenport points everyone to a great article on Leblang, but I would add this information, so well written in Brooks Atkinson’s landmark history, Broadway:

At theater time, when many of the theatergoers were wearing evening dress, the combination of streetcars and taxis made the traffic sluggish. Most people walked. Theaters were built close together because pedestrians were accustomed to shop from theater to theater. Out for a good time, they provided some sort of audience for the plays that were not hits. So did Joe Leblang’s cut-price ticket office in the basement of Gray’s Drugstore in the Broadway block between 42nd and 43rd Streets. Theaters that had not sold out by six o’clock sent bunches of their tickets to Joe Leblang’s shop to be sold at half-price. To theatergoers who were not committed to attending only the hits, Joe’s shop was a bonanza. Joe was a nice guy and his wife was a friendly person, and that made the shop all the more inviting. They also represented a romantic bit of American folklore, for Joe was an immigrant from Budapest. At the age of twenty, he established a neighborhood tobacco shop at 30th Street and Sixth Avenue. One of the perquisites of such places was a pair of free passes to balcony theater seats in exchange for displaying show posters in the window. Joe sold his passes; it was a profitable and harmless racket. After a while, he sent his brother on a bicycle to similar shops in the area to collect their free passes, which he also sold. Soon Joe was in business. He moved closer by setting up his ticket racks in a shoeshine parlor just off Times Square. When the space he had there turned out to be inadequate, he moved into the basement under Gray’s Drugstore, on the corridor to the subway. When the proprietor of the drugstore protested the number of cut-rate ticket buyers who were pouring through his store and downstairs, Joe bought the drugstore. Eventually he and his staff were selling around 3,000 tickets an evening, mostly for balcony and gallery seats. Twenty or thirty theaters sent their unsold tickets to Joe’s shop every evening, and pitchmen barked the various attractions as if the shop were a midway. In 1931 the agency sold about five million tickets, and Joe’s gross was between seven and eight million dollars. It was all honest and exciting, and of enormous comfort to theatergoers who could not afford more than fifty or seventy-five cents to see a play or musical.

The basement trade saved not only such shows as Abie’s Irish Rose and Tobacco Road, but Odets’ Rocket to the Moon, with Morris Carnovsky, Luther Adler, Art Smith, and Sanford Meisner in the cast, and the dramatization of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome with Pauline Lord, Ruth Gordon and Raymond Massey. In an emergency Joe was good friend to producers who were in trouble and loaned them large sums of money, often with no written contract. Apart from the ticket business he became a big real estate operator. He bought the Fitzgerald Building, in which his agency was located, and eventually owned, among other buildings, the Cort and 48th Street theaters. When he died in 1931 at the age of fifty-seven, his associate, Matty Zimmerman, and his widow carried on the business with the same informal goodwill. The cut-price ticket business lasted until a few years after World War II when it went to pieces, partly because the supply of tickets was becoming limited. There were 123 ticket brokers in the theater district and in hotels and clubs. (There was seventy-eight in 1967.) McBride’s, at the corner of 43rd Street and Seventh Avenue, was the honest one. Among the other conveniences was an unroofed out-of-town newspaper stand on the sidewalk on the north side of the Times Building. It was a miraculous institution. Not only newspapers from all the big cities but newspapers from many small communities — like Catskill — were on sale there. The attendants knew where every newspaper was located and waited on the trade with an expert dispatch to raise the tempo of Times Square. Visitors from out of town were known as “farmers.” Broadway people thought their manners were good but their tips ludicrous.

At the Nonprofit Law Blog, Gene Takagi offers a list of 10 mistakes made in nonprofit governance. But if you read the post, and it’s one of Takagi’s customarily terrific ones, there are actually even more than 10 on the list. Check out the post for yourself, but here is an excerpt from the items on the list that appear after the first 10:

11. Recruiting and selecting board members without due care. We sometimes select friends, relatives, and business associates often because we believe that they will share our vision, support our views, and make meetings pleasant. And sometimes because we can’t find anyone else. We sometimes select influential and wealthy individuals because they will contribute substantial sums to the organization and connect us to their network of other influential and wealthy persons. All of this may be well and good, but only if we make sure that we select directors who are going to attend meetings, provide real oversight, and govern using their independent judgment.

12. Failing to educate and motivate board members. If we’re not in startup mode, we may be stuck, at least temporarily, with a number of directors who regularly fail to meet their legal duties of care and loyalty. Amidst all the media attention on cases involving intentional misconduct, we should recognize that the vast majority of directors simply don’t understand what they are supposed to be doing and believe that they will not be held accountable for their inaction. It’s up to the president, chair, executive director, and really each board member to correct this lack of understanding. While this may be an ongoing (and seemingly Sisyphean) process, we can make some quick fixes. Set up a basic orientation process. Invite a nonprofit-exempt organizations lawyer to present to the board (directors’ ears tend to perk up when they hear the word “liability”). Regularly send out information to the board about the organization’s major issues (it’s okay to be repetitive if the issues remain outstanding) and how board members might help. Have the board conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis on itself (not just the organization) and create an action plan based on the analysis….

At NYC Performing Spaces Blog, Emily Bowles promotes the New York Performing Arts at a Crossroads half-day conference that Crain’s New York Business is presenting on Sept. 30. Read all about it at this post (and on the Clyde Fitch Report).

At Off-Stage Right, Jodi Schoenbrun Carter directs everyone’s attention to a letter that Scott Walters has written Rocco Landesman, head of the National Endowment for the Arts. Walter, Carter says, included what I agree is a wildly startling paragraph:

Right now, almost 50% of the Theatre Communications Group member theatres are in six states, while there are an equal number that have none at all. The average population of the counties where TCG member theatres are based is 1.35M people, whereas 96% of American counties have populations under 500,000.

Carter’s analysis is expert, as always. Given Walters’ soapbox about bringing more art, of a local nature, to more small communities:

It doesn’t really matter where you stand in the debate about NEA funding being based on “quality” or “geography,” as theatre artists we are obligated to think about the relevancy and future life of the art form; as theatre artists we are obligated to train future artists; and as theatre artists we are obligated to nurture theatre audiences. (The fact is that the NEA has such a small budget that it can’t fix the problem and money is only part of the solution.) What can and will make a difference is if we as artists make a commitment to fulfilling our obligations.

Of course, where is Teresa Eyring, executive director of TCG, in any of this? Perhaps instead of instructing TCG’s head of publicity to print out blog items that aren’t flattering about TCG and give them to employees to dissuade them from fraternizing with critics of the organization, perhaps she should abandon her bunker mentality and actually engage with other human beings. Or, better still, answer the question: Is Walters accurate in his numbers? If so, why is it that “50% of the Theatre Communications Group member theatres are in six states”? Is it possible there is something amiss with TCG’s membership requirements?

At Parabasis, Isaac Butler, celebrating National Vacillation Week by writing about the NEA scandal, says he has

gone back and forth between talking about tactically what some of the considerations are for the White House and talking about my frustrations with this NEA “Scandal”. So let me just make it clear: Although I think I get what some of the considerations are, I find what’s going on with the NEA, and the administrations cave-in on it completely frustrating and infuriating. In other words, I don’t think we should just feed the NEA to the wolves but, given the lack of organized and concentrated political power by arts funding supporters, I understand why it’s being offered up like this.

What? Of course, Butler is decent enough to direct everyone to Ian David Moss’ analysis of the situation, but hasn’t the guts or the decency to direct everyone to mine. Or perhaps he’s still debating it. Meanwhile, Butler questions Rolando Teco’s indictment of the open submission policy of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s Playwriting Conference, more or less challenging Teco to defend his accusation of the O’Neill as engaging in “Tammany style deals.” I covered, by the way, the last scandal at the O’Neill extensively for Back Stage in 2003. You can read the story here.

At Rat Sass, the cranky and psychologically unstable (in my experience) Nick Fracaro questions the placement of the play directed by Isaac Butler, MilkMilkLemonade, on the Critic-O-Meter site. Actually, having checked the site, I felt it really wasn’t much of a conflict of interest — Critic-O-Meter is really about turning words into mathematical doodlings. I don’t love the idea of turning art into numerical glossolalia, but MilkMilkLemonade did get great reviews. It doesn’t seem to me that Fracaro’s post makes him the Ralph Nader of the American theater. I think it makes him more like the Ralph Kramden.

At Steve On Broadway, Steve has a nifty facts-for-fun piece on the 66 Hamlets that have graced the Great White Way, including the current one starring Jude I-Have-27-Children-By-87-Women Law.

At Technology and the Arts, David Dombrosky offers a must-must-must-read piece on why Net Neutrality is an arts advocacy issue. ’bout time!! Here’s an excerpt:

In the last decade, we have seen an explosion in the use of the Internet to create art, promote the arts, advocate for the arts, build community through the arts, and more. Our sector’s ability to participate in the Web 2.0 cultural shift is due in large part to our ability to access any tool hosted on the Internet with the same ease as any other Web user. Here are just a few examples of how this neutral access has fostered evolution within the arts community :

  • Artists have been able to choose from a wide array of online tools for distributing their work and reaching new audiences.
  • Artists have explored the use of the Internet as an artistic medium resulting in the genre of art known as net art.
  • Artists and arts organizations have leveraged the use of social media and social networking to further engage audiences before, during and after traditional performances and exhibitions.

Let’s say for example that a theatre company pays Comcast for access to the Internet. The theatre also has a nonprofit channel on YouTube where they post video interviews with playwrights, directors, actors, designers, etc. The theatre has successfully used these videos as promotional tools to raise interest in upcoming productions. What happens if Comcast decides to prohibit the theatre from accessing YouTube because Comcast is launching a video sharing site that competes directly with YouTube? Suddenly, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) is determining which online tools you may or may not use to pursue your arts organization’s goals and mission.

Does the idea that your Internet Service Provider would prohibit you from accessing certain sites sound preposterous? It’s not. On September 21, FCC Chaiman Julius Genachowski presented a speech at the Brookings Institute in which he states, “We have witnessed certain broadband providers unilaterally block access to VoIP applications (phone calls delivered over data networks) and implement technical measures that degrade the performance of peer-to-peer software distributing lawful content. We have even seen at least one service provider deny users access to political content.”

During last month’s National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture (NAMAC) conference, Craig Aaron from Free Press laid it out on the line for the audience, “[The federal government is] going to decide whether or not the Internet remains public and free.” Does that sound alarmist? It’s not.

I strongly urge everyone to read the rest of the piece — the opening graphs (and video) and the concluding graphs. If this doesn’t light a fire under our collective activist asses, nothing will.

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At The Hub Review, Thomas Garvey weighs in — to my mind, fairly — on the NEA brouhaha. Only Pollyannish practicing ostriches could fail to understand how much of a gift to the radical-right this situation really is.