From the Blogroll XXV: “Butler and His Servants” Edition

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At 99 Seats, there’s obseqious shilling for Isaac Butler. (Update: Apparently people don’t like my characterization of the shilling as obseqious. So let’s just say there’s shilling.)

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At A Poor Player, there coverage and commentary of the fiscal problems at Shakespeare & Co., plus the realization that many Shakespeare companies would give their eye teeth to be fretting over the kind of numbers Shakespeare & Co. is grappling with. The American theater is economically stratified! Stunning! And it goes on and on.

At the African-American Playwrights Exchange, there is information on three revivals of the play The Great White Hope and the probability that President Obama will posthumously pardon boxer Jack Johnson. Also, a good interview with Nashville theater critic Martin Brady.

At Adam Szymkowicz’s blog, Adam Szymkowicz adds to his extraordinary series of Q&As with contemporary and emerging American playwrights. These include Mariah MacCarthy, Mike Batistick, Patrick Gabridge, Kristen Palmer, Jenny Schwartz, Winter Miller, Liz Duffy Adams, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Adam Bock, Libby Emmons and Kara Manning.

At Adaumbelle’s Quest, Adam Rothenberg has been on fire! There’s a review of Avenue Q Off-Broadway (there are no littler shows, just littler puppets), an interview with Lane Bradbury and an interview with Chad Kimball (starring in the Broadway musical Memphis).

At An Angry White Guy in Chicago, Don Hall talks about the second reading of a play with Edward Hopper’s name in the title. Part of me hopes it could be a trilogy: the second part involving a skipper, the third part about a jumper. Hall also writes about his interaction with conservatives after seeing Michael Moore’s new flick. Finally, there’s a piece Hall wrote in response to something Isaac Butler wrote. Unfortunately, Butler’s musings makes it hard to follow Hall’s reaction. Butler wrote:

What if we really went back to that most basic of things… desire. Let’s for a moment abandon all questions of career or making a living. What if we only worked on plays we wanted to work on, went to see plays we wanted to see regardless of level of social obligation, supported and thought about and discussed the work that we actually desired? And what if this didn’t stop with artists?… What if artistic directors only programmed the number of plays they actually felt like doing that year and felt were worthy and could be executed well? What if reviewers only saw plays that interested them– particularly as far as Broadway is concerned? The New York Times Book Review doesn’t review every book that is published by Random House, why does Ben Brantley go to every play Jeffrey Richards produces? What would happen?

Hall wrote:

OK. This gets me where I freaking live.

My personal answer – because it is pretty much exactly my approach after doing the Equity route, the starving artist path, and the resident theater producer highway – is that it’s freaking bliss, man. Perhaps I’m just the luckiest fucker on Planet Art, but I found a day job that fulfills me on a number of levels that I look forward to every day AND I only work on shows I want to work on. Granted, I still see shows out of social obligation from time to time, but for the most part, the shows I see, I see because I want to see them. Living in Chicago, circa 2009, there are far more shows that I want to see than I can see, which is just an embarrassment of riches.

What if, Isaac? The Life of Riley, my boy.

I say:

Ben Brantley sees every play Jeffrey Richards produces because there are only 40 or so Broadway productions during a season, and he’s paid to review and write about the theater full-time for the New York Times. To compare Brantley to the book review section of the Times is comparing apples with the orchard. Indeed, since when does Brantley, one man, constitues a section, a staff? Aren’t there thousands of books published in the U.S. every year?

Meanwhile, when Butler writes, “Let’s for a moment abandon all questions of career or making a living,” I have to sigh. I mean, I suppose one can do that when one has a trust fund. More to the point, hypothetical questions may be fun for those who live their lives in states of floating dream-awake, but for the rest of us, reality is far more sobering and more worthy, by the way, of exploration. Theater makers, presenters and producers cannot, should not and must not be governed solely by their ids, which is at the base of Butler’s hyperactive hypothetical. A theater universe in which “artistic directors only programmed the number of plays they actually felt like doing that year and felt were worthy and could be executed well” sounds like one in which the artistic director also gives the audience the finger. It implies that artistic directors — a demographic I’d be very, very careful about categorizing in broad brush-strokes — believe in their hearts that some percentage of their programming is unworthy, that some percentage of their programming isn’t executed well. But this may or may not be the case. From the viewpoint of artistic directors — again, a group I’d be careful about characterizing as a monolith — Butler assumes they intentionally program and mount substandard work. All right, then! How about Butler call artistic directors of major companies around the nation and ask them if they believe some percentage of their productions are unworthy, that some percentage is executed in substandard style. How many affirmative responses might he receive?

Returning to the idyllic notion, “What if reviewers only saw plays that interested them…?,” the truth is that Brantley gets first pick of what he wants to see or thinks he ought to see. Most first-string critics get that perk.

What would happen if theater makers, presenters and producers were governed just by their ids? They’d be wildly self-indulged, spoiled brats. It’s one thing to be selective about the theater one sees, as Hall is. It’s another thing to dream of becoming some kind of aesthetic amoeba.

At Americans for the Arts’ Artsblog, a garrulous Web salon on the subject “emerging leaders” and related topics has produced an avalanche of brilliant posts, mind-blowing debate topics, personal observations, inspiring ideas and general professional commiseration. There’s Kathi R. Levin’s “Redefining the Brand of Emerging Leaders“; a podcast interview with Ruby Classen, who is grants and services coordinator at the Greater Columbus Arts Council; Charles Jensen’s “From Academia to an Independent Nonprofit Arts Organization“; Ramona Baker’s “White Horses, Black Hats and Emerging Leaders“; Edward Clapp’s “Emerging Leaders in the Closet — Don’t Worry, I Won’t Out You“; Michelle Bellino’s “What Is a Leader, Really?“; Victoria Saunders’ “A Lonely Place to Be“; Ruby Classen’s “Where Has the Loyalty Gone?” (like the rest of Corporate America — out the window); Jessica Guzman’s “A Career Path“; and Mitch Menchaca’s “How Soon Can You Have a Mid-Career Crisis?” And those are just a few of the posts. Spend some time and read it all.

At Blue Avocado, Jan Masaoka ignites the rebranding debate anew with a post called “Are We Nonprofits, Charities or Just Awesome?” In other words,

Some days it’s not clear which is worse: using the term “nonprofit” to define our sector, or debating what we should be called instead.

In a New York-centric sense, this reminds me of the debate about the branding of Off-Off-Broadway. Some people still believe, and perhaps with a certain amount of reason, that all of the sector’s problems would vanish if everyone could just upchuck the term “independent” or “indie.” I’m fine with the nomenclature if that’s what people want to use, but in no way do I believe that nomenclature alone makes a panacea. It’s a parlor game, a superficial fix, more than a smart marketing strategy because the issue isn’t what it’s called but what it is, what value it delivers. Masaoka explores this concisely:

Maybe it would be harder to get us all lined up behind the same new term than it would be to live with the terms by which the public knows us. Or maybe instead of changing the name of our sector, we should just change the name of the OTHER sector: Instead of calling us the nonprofit sector and calling them the “for-profit sector,” what if we called ourselves the community benefit sector, and called them the “non-community benefit sector”?

At CultureBot, Andy writes about the PEN Prison Writing Program, thankfully from outside prison walls. And he posts an interview with Adam Huttler, executive director of Fractured Atlas. There’s also a post about Lifelogging, but the idea is so Warhol-Orwellian I can’t even bear to think about it.

At Curbed: Architecture, the Sheraton Tribeca is brown. I guess something has to be.

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At Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals, Chris Caggiano (who knew he was in town??) reviews the new Broadway musical Memphis. He also reviews the risible Roundabout revival of Bye Bye Birdie.

At Fragments (I Can Have Oodles of Charm When I Want To), the genuinely oodle-charming Monica reports on a podcast in which David Cote, theater editor of Time Out New York, contends that ushers should be retrained because they “aren’t really doing their jobs.” Certainly I appreciate Cote’s concern about the audiences’ comportment and what role ushers play in enforcing proper behavior — though it’s ironic that someone whose professional mien is pretty suspect should be daring to lecture other people. But the real question here is establishing what the usher’s job is in the first place. Note that I’m saying is, not should be. Let’s look at the usher’s union — IATSE Local 306. Not much information there, which is a shame. Meanwhile, Monica writes:

I’ve also heard from people about ushers who have been texting during shows (it’s not just occurring at the example I wrote about a couple of weeks ago), sleeping during the plays, whispering loudly during plays.

So, I have come to the conclusion that the reason why audiences behave badly is because the ushers allow it. And not only do some allow it, but they also behave just as badly. (I’m not sure if any ushers at Broadway theater behave badly.)

Before I respond to Monica’s conclusion, let’s revisit the New York City law banning audiences in places of public gathering (but not sports stadiums) from using their cell phones. Here is a story about it from 2004, for example. I can’t fathom who on earth wrote it.

The bottom line: Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the ban (which the City Council then overrode) because the ushers are not legally empowered to enforce the law. Indeed, if an usher sees someone using their cell phone in the theater during a show — or for that matter taking a photograph of an actor or committing some other kind of illegal and/or disruptive act — they lack the legal authority to arrest that person or to remove them physically from the premises. I’m not at all saying it doesn’t happen. I’m saying that legally that are not empowered to do so, a position Mayor Bloomberg still maintains. So, if an usher’s verbal admonishment of an audience member proves ineffective, he or she must go outside and find a cop and ask that cop to come into the house and order the citizen to cease their action, and then, if that fails, make the arrest. Why don’t you see this very often? Well, just imagine the kind of disruption this might cause.

Now, back to the comportment of the ushers themselves. If they are behaving badly, I have to say that I personally haven’t seen it. At. All. I go to the theater two and four times a week and I’ve never seen it. Ever. I would therefore say to Monica that if she has heard that ushers behave badly but has not seen them for herself, can she really arrive at the same conclusion as Cote?

At Interchanging Idioms, Chip Michael raves about Renee Flemings’ new CD, Verismo. There’s great coverage of Thomas Hampson’s work as the first artist-in-residence of the New York Philharmonic, and a two-minute piece for orchestra.

At Jamespeak, James Comtois offers not one or two but three posts on reviews and criticism. There is so much good material here that I’m going to take some time and walk people through it. First, it’s extremely important that theater practitioners develop and express not only their views on critics but, ideally, have relationships with the critics who express views about their work. Expectations should be expressed, too, and debated and decided. We must always be asking “What is a critic?,” “What is an artist?,” “For whom does the critic write?,” “For whom does the artist make work?” We must always strive for moments of clarity.

Comtois begins the first post by admitting that the loves film critics in particular, citing Roger Ebert then apologizing for his citation. Good grief, I think most people would rather know that you admire the criticism of Roger Ebert than that of Armand White of the New York Press, a writer so enamored of his own voice you can practically imagine him singing his own prose in the shower.

Comtois also talks about White, and when he does, he nails it:

….when someone who writes in an academic and elitist “voice” writes positive reviews for Transformers 2 and G.I. Joe but writes negative reviews for Wall-E and The Wrestler, you know (as a reader and filmgoer), you’re being played.

He ends his first post by suggesting that criticism is in trouble. (Here’s a secret: criticism is always in trouble.)

In the second post, Comtois talks more about Ebert but segues into a discussion of Ben Lyons, who personifies:

…the epitome of the problems arts criticism is facing. It’s not the stars, grades, or thumbs that cause the problem; it’s so-called critics like Lyons. He’s appallingly unknowledgeable about film. He has no passion for film (his negative reviews are soft and weak). He’s a quote whore. He’s been suspected of being a shill (due to the multiple celebrity photos he likes to pose for and product endorsements he’s done, I think these suspicions are correct).

In his third post, Comtois further explores why he likes writing reviews, and acknowledges a certain level of “jealousy” of those who see films or plays and write about them. He also explains what, for him, constitutes a critic in terms of the number of films and plays viewed and reviewed. All in all, it’s a remarkably well-done series of posts because it doesn’t trade on pedantry. It trades on personal observation and a kind of ruthless self-awareness. Most critics, quite frankly, lack that gene entirely.

At Ken Davenport’s The Producer’s Perspective, Ken Davenport writes about the price of the New York Times ($2) and how that figure has doubled in recent years. He writes,

According to HuffPo, the price of the paper has doubled in less than 2 years in an effort to make up some of the difference in the loss of advertising revenue and loss of readers.

Let me state the obvious:

Raising your prices to make up for a shortage in customers and/or an increase in expenses is never wise.

You want to raise your prices? You better increase your value.

Here are a few thoughts. First, the Times doesn’t want to raise its prices. No newspaper wants to because they know a proportionate drop in circulation will always follow. This is why the long war between New York’s two tabloids, the New York Post and the New York Daily News, makes so little fiscal sense. The owners of those papers, Rupert Murdoch and Mort Zuckerman, respectively, lose millions a year because they keep their newsstand prices very low — a quarter here, 50 cents there. This boosts circulation, yes, and often that boost comes out of the hide of the other. But none of this has to do with value or quality in the journalism printed within their pages. It has to do with two billionaires using their media entities as playtoys. So while undercutting one another’s newsstand prices causes higher circulation, it also causes a colossal hemorraging of revenue. In theory, Murdoch and Zuckerman have pockets deep enough to sustain this dynamic indefinitely — indeed, the tabloid wars in New York City have raged for far longer than Davenport has been producing or that I have been writing. Until recently, the Times was thought to have pockets deep enough to sustain dropping print circulation figures, mostly due to the mass migration of its audience to the Web. But the Times, unlike the Post and the News, also maintains a huge reporting staff — it was more than 1,000 people not long ago. This is what makes the Times the Times. This is what imbues the Times with value, along with more than a century of great journalism. The problem is, the mass migration of audience to Web-based news has not produced a concurrent surge in Web-based advertising revenue. To save print — a losing battle, we all agree — the Times has to raise prices or else speed up its own demise. None of this has to do with the value of the content. It has everything to do with the value — the sustainability — of a business model that is hundreds of years ago.

So when Davenport suggests that the Times should raise its value if it wants to raise its prices, it’s a little bit of a flop comment: no media unit, including the Times, has figured out how to extract as much advertising revenue from digital as they used to extract from print. The result is this pressure on newsstand prices. At the same time, Davenport may not want to ascribe such important to newsstand pricing — newsstand pricing never, ever supports the costs of writing and printing and distributing a paper. Shifting to magazines for a moment, that’s why your subscription to Vanity Fair costs just $12 a year. (And maybe that’s why Conde Nast is in the same pickle the Times is in.)

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Bottom line: I do understand why Davenport is gobsmacked by a $2 copy of the Times. But the reason for the rate is not about value, not about a shortage of customers, not about an increase in expenses. It’s about the fundamental reshaping of the business model of news. For the current one — again, this isn’t a news flash — is dead.

Davenport also gives props to blogger Patrick Lee for his contribution to the website BroadwaySpace.com entitled “50 Most Powerful People on Broadway.” It’s an interesting list, but bizarre in a number of ways. And entirely, inexplicably subjective. Just like Broadway itself.

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At Life Upon the Sacred Stage, Retta Blaney covers a new book called Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion, edited by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Roberta Green Ahmanson,

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a collection of essays that illustrate the scant attention American newspapers and broadcasts pay to covering religion, and the danger of that neglect.

….”We need journalists who can treat religion with empathy and also skepticism, quote people accurately, show respect for the lives of their sources, and stop mangling the technical, yet often poetic, language of religious life,” writes Terry Mattingly in the essay “Getting Religion in the Newsroom.” “Part of the problem is that many senior editors reach their posts by excelling as political reporters. They see church disputes and try to turn them into political stories. They see stories about the growth of new congregations and movements and turn them into stories about polls, statistics and trends.”

Mattingly says many newsroom managers, afraid that reporters for whom religion is important in their personal lives will try to proselytize for their beliefs, want reporters who are not only not religious, but who know little about the subject. He gives a shocking example about The Washington Post when it posted a notice for a religion reporter, seeking applicants from within the newsroom. It said the “ideal candidate” is “not necessarily religious nor an expert in religion.”

I’m glad Blaney writes about this book — she’s made me want to read it. Also, Blaney writes about the Roundabout revival of Bye Bye Birdie, which she agrees doesn’t take flight.

At Michael Kaiser’s blog, Michael Kaiser asks a question much more insightful than when bloggers write, “Hey, want young audiences? Produce shows they want to see!” In this case, it’s Where is the Arts Programming at PBS? Here’s part of Kaiser’s response:

There is so much wonderful art being produced across the nation, but this work is not available often enough on national television. I would like to see the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company or the St. Louis Opera or Penumbra Theatre in Minneapolis — important arts organizations doing interesting work — featured on national public television. But the decision is left to the local stations, most without the resources to mount important arts programming.

Why can’t PBS be reorganized? Why can’t there be a mix of local and national programming? Why can’t the parent organization determine the best in American arts and fund its broadcast across the nation? I have to believe that a national programming effort would be extremely attractive to major national funders, who are now approached primarily by regional stations.

Kaiser also writes about his visit to Grand Rapids, MI, part of his 50-state tour of the nation. So here’s one more question: Will Kaiser’s tour of the nation dovetail or compete with that of National Endowment for the Arts chair Rocco Landesman?

At Moxie the Maven, Moxie appears to rejoice in Ben Brantley’s smackdown of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Bye Bye Birdie. Shades of schadenfreude?

At the New Jersey Arts Blog, there is coverage of a recent gubernatorial debate in which the Republican candidate, Chris Christie, extolled the arts as an economic generator, and the Democratic candidate, Jon Corzine, explained his cutting of state arts appropriations as part of the “hard” decisions he’s made during the Great Recession. Christie is a terrible candidate, but he does get points for getting this one right.

At On Chicago Theatre, Zev Valancy reviews Votes for Women! and a revival of Lillian Hellman’s Days to Come and then provides a preview of the now-distributed Jeff Awards. Are you all reading Zev? If not, you should. He’s dazzling!

At Parabasis, Isaac Butler’s series of posts on reviews and criticism is, despite his worshipping fan base’s reaction, a mixed bag. In his fifth post, he refers to Adam Szymkowicz’s posts on contemporary playwrights as “reviews.” Trouble is, they’re not reviews. They’re interviews, Q&A style. There’s a difference between a review, which offers subjective opinion, and features, like interviews, which are news stories eliciting information from subjects for the edification of the reader. Conflating these terms is bad. And just because we’re talking about the blogosphere isn’t reason enough to change the definition of these terms. And they’re not to be redefined because Butler decrees it so.

The real point of Butler’s fifth post, however, is to consider contextualization in a review. Here he’s more on target. He notes that for a critic to provide context in a review format is “harder than it looks.” True! However, good reviewers (I prefer the term critics) are also reporters; whether writing for old or new media, it’s part of their responsibility to have reportage skills and to use those skills to contextualize. A good critic reads a script beforehand if appropriate and/or possible; a good critic attempts to immerse in the subject or the company or the director’s ouevre or whatnot in order to situate his or her review within a context for the reader.

In his third post on critics and reviewers, Butler hits on another topic near and dear to my heart. In fact, if Butler was conscious of anything beyond his cult of personality, he’d know it. He writes:

How connected can a reviewer be before they compromise themselves? How much of a relationship can we tolerate between artists and critics?

The NYTimes has very very strict guidelines about all of this stuff. They spiked a review of my play In Public because Rob Kendt and playwright George Hunka were both bloggers who had, on occasion, corresponded (just to be clear, Rob and I had at that point neither met nor e-mailed, we met for the first time that night, and CoM was founded much much later). While on the hand, Martin Denton, who heads NYTheatre.com both publishes and reviews plays by people who also write for the site.

So the question becomes… which model is better? I guess honestly… I think it’s healthy that there’s a wide spectrum of level-of-interaction between artists and various reviewing outlets. NYTheatre.com is really far over on one side of the spectrum (in ways that do, in case you’re wondering, occasionally make me uncomfortable) while the Times is waaaaaay on the other side. In between, you have reviewers like David Cote (who has– for example– both worked on and reviewed Richard Foreman’s plays and who is a budding librettist), Alexis Soloski (who dramaturged for Alex Timbers while on staff as a reviewer at the Voice) and so on and so forth. Reviewers have different levels of connections to theatre in New York. I think this is a good thing. It creates a more vibrant and prismatic view on the scene.

In other words, should critics “put their hands on the medium,” as Peter Brook strongly advises in The Empty Space, “attempting to work it himself”? I personally agree with Brook: I have written and directed plays, produced and been a dramaturg; I believe critics are made better by practical experience in the art form. That said, it’s very disconcerting to question which model is “better.” It depends on the critic, on the kind of practitioner the critic might be, on the company he or she might work with, on the publication (digital or print) the critic works for, on the community in which that critic and company operate in, and other factors. To ask which model is better is why Critic-O-Meter, while a cute idea, is flawed: it’s predicated on the dubious conceit that art and aesthetics can be reduced to mathematics. It’s my view that good reviews, good criticism, avoids reductivism. Good reviews, good criticism, situates the writer’s view in essay form because reading such a piece, like seeing a theater piece, is an experiential, brick-by-brick process of engagement. If the song gets a 90 because it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it, do I really need to hear the song?

I now wish to reprint three paragraphs I wrote for a post in November 2007:

Martin Denton has a great post today on the reasons why theatre critics do what they do. While we’re friends and colleagues, Martin wouldn’t necessarily know I became interested in theatre criticism well after I became interested in working practically in the theatre, which I did pretty consistently from 1990 through 1999. I considered criticism – reviewing – a sideline and I used to cringe when confronted with the idea of considering journalism my primary occupation and playwrighting and directing and dramaturgical blah-blah-blah secondarily.

I do have some thoughts on Martin’s thoughts. First, I’ve always taken Peter Brook’s advice in The Empty Space to heart – about critics “getting their hands dirty,” engaging in interactions with artists, or perhaps giving the old art form a try, if so inclined. The bottom line: Brook is not in favor of the Ben Brantley glass wall. It’s deadly. The critic may think their aesthetics are kept pure in this way, but all it does is alienate the critic from their very subject. Martin’s insistence upon interacting in various ways with artists is far more nurturing, whether the artists realize it or not.

Martin’s astute when he writes that “reviews are part of the Conversation about Theatre,” but I must say I’m not sure people look at reviews to “compare notes.” Some do, of course, just as the most conscientious among us do with anything – reading The New York Review of Books and The New York Times Book Review and then scrolling down down down to see what the wackos on Amazon.com are writing. I think Martin’s talking about a specific, all-too-rare theatregoer – it also depends on what kind of theatre we’re talking about and the venue for the distribution and consumption of reviews. People interested in Broadway are still going to be interested in what the Times thinks, unfortunately. I’m not saying there aren’t more channels from which to obtain and absorb information, just that old habits in the creative economy ossify before dying hard.

As my contribution to this discussion, I will be republishing my 50 Thoughts on Theatrical Criticism series this week. It’s time.

At Stage Synapses, Laura Hedli also provides a great post on theater criticism. Hedli attended a panel on criticism at SUNY Stony Brook and has concluded — insightfully — that there are three categories of critics:

1) Scoreboard keeper – This is the worst type of critic that I can imagine. Sadly, though, as we continue to whittle down our reviews to stars and thumbs, keeping score is becoming our reality. As the scoreboard keeper, I’m asked to objectify a subjective art form, and my creative license is completely stripped away. But I didn’t sign up to take a multiple choice exam where I’m instructed to fill in my scantron for the categories of acting, playwriting, and directing. Art is rarely extraordinary, but infrequently atrocious. How do I “bubble in” the middle ground without becoming redundant? Bottom line: I lose. You lose. And 2.5 stars becomes the norm.

2) Personal shopper – So let’s assume I get paid to write 300-400 word reviews for a publication of my choosing. (What an awesome alternate universe, right?!) Now say I write multiple reviews a week. In my limited space, I can’t say much, but as an avid reader of my engaging and witty blurbs, you get to know me – Laura Hedli: theater critic. You get to know what types of theater I enjoy, if I prefer to laugh or cry, if I like this actress or another. After a while, you know where your preferences line up with mine. I can recommend things about certain shows, but you take them in stride – you’ve got your own style after all. Still, I’m a consumer reporter. You want to know if you should pay your good, hard-earned dough to go to this-or-that particular show. You may want a brief explanation of why it suits you. But essentially, the question remains, “Does it fit?”

3) Matchmaker – Okay, so perhaps I’ve got to think longer on this term, but bear with me here. In an ideal world, my reviews would make you want to go to the theater. Maybe you want to see what I see, or perhaps you want to disagree. Either way. I would exist in order to foster a love between my reader and the art form that I hold most dear to my heart. Every time I take my seat, no matter the venue, I feel that I am home. I realize this is a bold statement, and I don’t make it lightly. It’s a privilege to be able to go to the theater once or twice a week, but I can think of few better ways spend my time. You, the reader, may not enjoy the same luxury, but I can bring the theater alive to you through my writing. If my critiques foster an organic connection between reader and theater, then I have done my job. I have opened the door to another voice, a broader discourse. I have perpetuated the dialogue – and by association, the art form.

At Stage Buzz, Byrne Harrison reviews the New York Neo-Futurists production of Laika Dog in Space. Harrison really zeroes in on what differentiates the Neos from many types of here’s-a-subject-for-stage-exploration companies:

From the moment doors open at the Ontological-Hysteric Theatre, the audience members find themselves onstage. Encouraged by the three performers, Rob Neill, Eevin Hartsough and Jill Beckman, they can explore Lauren Parrish’s interactive set. They can read about other famous dogs, learn a little Russian, send postcards, watch videos, and any number of other things. It’s like being a kid on a really cool field trip.

No wonder his verdict is Da.

At Steve On Broadway, Steve Loucks has been flying into New York from Minneapolis so often lately that security at the airports know his wardrobe by sight, down to the labels. Steve has reviewed Street Lights, the Ryan J. Davis-directed tuner in the New York Musical Theatre Festival; a revival of The Full Monty at the Ordway Theatre in Minneapolis (all right, so he hasn’t been in New York that much); Off-Broadway’s Love, Loss and What I Wore; the ravaged Roundabout revival of Bye Bye Birdie; and Chita Rivera’s new club act, which is said to be yow-firecracker-amazing-wow! Finally, a big, warm, wet, grateful bouquet thanks to Steve from yours truly, for being so helpful and sincere with advice, technical and otherwise, regarding the Clyde Fitch Report. Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson. :-)

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At The David Desk, David Sheward’s running commentary on Project Runway continues to be guffaw-worthy. As my intimates know, I’m an inveterate fan of the show, despite the blunder a few seasons back of beatifying Christian Siriano. (A waterboarded Helen Keller in a propofol coma would make a better designer.) In Sheward’s post of a week or so ago, he wrote,

Logan and Christopher are toast! For the second week in a row, the two pretty boys of Project Runway–one straight and one gay–were in the bottom three and the only reason theis asses were saved was because of their looks (just like in prison!) This is like season one when they brought back the hot sexy straight designer after he had been eliminated to “help” the remaining contestants. When the real reason was to provide eye candy for us gays and the ladies.

He also prognosticated that nancy-boy Nicholas would be turn out to be one of the final three. Not so! As of this week, the untalented twerp is toast.

At The Hub Review, Thomas Garvey appears even better at calling Isaac Butler an self-indulgent, faux-intellectual, pissy, self-satisfied windbag than I am. I hope Garvey will forgive me for reprinting a large swath of his post in reply to Butler’s post about how to get younger audiences to the theater. Garvey’s post is so on the mark it deserves coverage and praise:

….Isaac Butler has an amusing post up on his blog about theatres and young audiences, that his web posse has been doing back-flips over. And why shouldn’t they? Butler is expert at surfing the assumptions of his generation and class, and here he serves up an irresistible piece of liberal-arts-college Gen-Y bait. He calls the post a “no-brainer” (and it is pretty stupid), yet within it he claims to elegantly solve the problems theatres face in reaching young audiences.

To land this desired demographic, Butler helpfully explains, a theatre merely has to:

(1) Do work they want to see.
(2) Endeavor to do it well
(3) Offer it at a price point they will find reasonable

Yes. Anyone paged Santa Claus yet about this? Anyone? Probably not, because the Butler posse has been too busy congratulating themselves (and him) on the manner in which he’s so succinctly rendered their wish list. But the idea that there are rather large problems with the plan (such as that “price point they will find reasonable”) in the unfortunate land called “reality” doesn’t seem to enter anyone’s heads. Indeed, none of Butler’s groupies bother at all with the sticky question of how a theatre can make ends meet doing shows for an audience that can’t afford theatre.

…I have to give entitlement-queen Butler points for actually reversing his own obvious M.O. and laying it at the feet of his “foes”; bravo! But what Butler seems to have never quite perceived is that most theatres are involved in a delicate balancing act: how to look like they’re attracting young audiences – because older audiences want to believe that they are – while actually hanging on to that older demographic, which pays the bills? I’m afraid that’s not a no-brainer; but if he figures it out, then he’ll have something to post about.

Like Garvey, I’m wary of anyone who claims the mantle of their generation and pimps themselves out in that guise. Is Butler the Whore of Babbleon? Garvey also wrote a very good think piece on the playwright Neil LaBute.

At The Playgoer, Garrett Eisler notes that the cheapest seats for the Off-Broadway Avenue Q is $66.50. Sounds just too good/bad/screwed-up to be true? Here’s Eisler:

….Talk about power of suggestion. (As if I’m supposed to go into a hypnotic trance and nod, “Wow. That’s a bargain.”) Are they aware what’s been going on in the news the last year, something about the economy? Well I guess they are since that’s why they moved. Maybe they feel it only affected them.

Also notice: as low as $66.50. That’s the lowest price. Which seats are they? Not the $89.50 seats, that we know.

And certainly not the $101.50 they are already charging for performances over the holidays, between Christmas and New Years…

Since we’re talking about Off-Broadway, which is supposed to be cheaper than Broadway, and since we’re talking about the Off-Broadway’s rising prices, does this remind anyone of anything in particular? I know: at Ken Davenport’s The Producer’s Perspective, Ken Davenport writes about the price of the New York Times ($2) and how that figure has doubled in recent years. He writes,

According to HuffPo, the price of the paper has doubled in less than 2 years in an effort to make up some of the difference in the loss of advertising revenue and loss of readers.

Let me state the obvious:

Raising your prices to make up for a shortage in customers and/or an increase in expenses is never wise.

You want to raise your prices? You better increase your value.

Well, what increase in value does the transfer of Avenue Q bring to Off-Broadway to justify higher prices?

At The Wicked Stage, Rob Weinert-Kendt, eager to criticize other critics but thin-skinned regarding criticism of his own criticism, gives props and pans to John Lahr of The New Yorker — for a Horton Foote profile and near-putdown of Roundabout’s Bye Bye Birdie revival. In the latter case, Lahr takes a lengthy detour into his personal tie to the tuner; while his recollection occupies far more column inches than a first-night review ought to, it does speak quite directly to Butler’s point about contextualization. What’s more contextualizing than a critic’s personal connection to a piece?

All of this, though, is no matter: Weinert-Kendt has an unhealthy obsession not only with Lahr, but Lahr’s number two at The New Yorker, Hilton Als. He’s had it for years. He hates the guy. He think Als is a scamp, a blowhard, a poseur. Ok, all right, enough. We get it.

Perhaps Lahr and Als are worthy targets because of the amount of space they get. It’s almost a crime how much space they get — and it’s also a crime how little theater outside of New York City they tend to cover, particularly when you compare them to the art and music critics at The New Yorker. And yes, as Butler noted, here is something to be said for blogger-critics using the unlimited column inches of the Web to pen long-form pieces to try and pick up the slack. However, in terms of the industry as a whole, in terms of the commerce of theater, in terms of the innovation of theater, of the evolution of theater, who believes Lahr and Als exert a level of influence proportionate to the amount of space in which they write? Weinert-Kendt has a fetish for calling me maddening. But what is more maddening than hurling Lahr and Als for years, it seems, up on some kind of altar and then stoning them to death? As Dot sings to poor George at the end of the Sunday in the Park with George:

Anything you do
Let it come from you
Then it will be new
Give us more to see…

At Theatre Ideas, Scott Walters praises theater bloggers. Yeah.