Friday, January 29, 2010

Opening-night review of *Sylvia*

At the Civic’s Studio Theater through Feb. 21

You’ll be reminded of some simple truths and learn a few lessons during director Brooke Kiener’s production of A.R. Gurney’s romantic-doggy-triangle of a love-comedy, Sylvia. Sharing and self-sacrifice are important, for instance. Naysayers are no fun, but fun-lovers are lots of … fun, for a couple of others.
In a good but not-as-good-as-it-could-be production, pacing and tonal shifts are a problem. But the dog lovers’ fantasy -- a show with an actress playing a talking dog -- creates a lot of infectious energy, love and fun. There’s even some marital counseling and lessons in self-determination along the way.
Sylvia is a lovable mutt of a play, a mix of comedy and seriousness -- something to return to for reassurance and reminders.
And it’s a script that’s being served here by two exceptionally good performances — by Beth Carey as the dog and by Bill Forant as Greg, the man who finds Sylvia wandering one day in Central Park.
When called upon, Carey scurries and scampers and sniffs as Sylvia -- leaping into arms, hopping up and down, hugging Greg’s knees, nearly dry-humping a house guest. (She feels bad about that. She went overboard. Her features darken, she bows her head.)
Carey’s adoring eyes laser in on the man who saved her life; she kneels on command, but only resentfully. Her performance ranges from insecurity to mysteriousness, from sexy to resentful, from horny to child-like. Carey has a tomboy vocal quality, full of angry rumbles, that makes the show’s funniest sequence — Sylvia’s getting livid at the sight of a filthy stinkin’ cat — even funnier. For the comedy, Carey has clearly done her doggy homework; for the serious advice scenes, she relies on her own personal assertiveness. It‘s a performance with many facets, and it’s fun to watch. (Full disclosure: Carey formerly worked at The Inlander as a sales rep.)

In his Civic debut, Forant displayed the kind of puppy-dog, boyish energy and wonderment that you want to see in a guy who’s having a midlife crisis and just wants to get back to natural basics. He has a kind of hemming-and-hawing Ray Romano quality -- the self-deprecating drawl, the disbelief injected into conversational pauses and restarts.
Forant allowed the sentiment of the final scene to overwhelm him for a moment -- but he also carefully calibrated how to build up the sadness in the scene when Greg is forced to decide between his dog and his wife: with hunched back, eyes glistening, voice breaking, he presented a strong contrast to his earlier, puppyish, new-dog-owner self.

As Kate — Greg’s wife, who’s starting a new career and doesn’t really have time to have a dog running underfoot — Anne Lillian Mitchell has a thankless killjoy of a role. (You can just feel viewers’ sense of fun and anticipation when man and are running around and learning new tricks — and then The Voice of No enters the room.) But Mitchell breaks through the harridan’s shell and shows us a rounded character during at least two sequences, both involving the possibility of Sylvia’s departure or demise. Kate strides purposefully through this serio-comedy, intent on pursuing her academic dreams; but Mitchell, at times, softens the harsh exterior nicely.
Jerry Sciarrio contributes three small roles, and while his macho New Yorker and sexually ambiguous marriage counselor were well observed, he didn’t create much vocal differentiation at all for his Freudian-slipping socialite. Particularly on entrances and exits, however, Sciarrio shares a lot of well-observed characterizing details about the three figures he portrays. And watch for how much comedy Sciarrio extracts from such little things as a well-timed purse snap and a grimacing refusal to drink a glass of water.

From a directing standpoint, too many scene-changes dawdled; the dialogue often had dead spots. Switches from comic to serious need to be more seamless — and the energy of the physical comedy scenes, which are quite good, could afford to show up in the more lecture-like episodes. Greg trying to figure out the meaning of life, Kate planning for her new career — the onstage dog should yawn (and does), but we shouldn’t: Attack those with more intensity, and both the pace and joie de vivre will pick up. In addition, the final scene, full of nostalgia, sadness, and gratitude for the love of a dog, was handled with a bit too much back-slappy self-congratulation: The audience needs time to register all that’s just happened.
In at least one thrust-stage scene, director Kiener kept husband and wife rooted to the couch long enough for some playgoers to become over-familiar with the backs of heads. But she also directs Sylvia’s rambunctious scenes with verve, and she gets mileage out of a bit when Greg expresses his preference for manufacturing over trading currencies, for things over abstractions, and reaches out to touch someone who, for him, is as real as it gets: Sylvia.

Set and lighting designer Peter Hardie has created a lovely NYC skyline as backdrop for the Cole Porter love-longing of “Every Time We Say Goodbye.”
I don’t want to say goodbye to my memories of Gurney’s script any more than I ever want to say goodbye to my own dogs.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why _don't_ you go to the theater?

American Theatre magazine's Facebook page asks why ...
It's hardly a scientific sample, but it appears to suggest that money and time (especially the former) are big concerns.

Bobo's gotta sympathize with Bill from Montana.
But seriously, folks -- some kind of market research on what keeps people from attending might be useful for local theater marketeers.

[ image: from ]

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

*Sylvia* at the Civic

A.R. Gurney's comedy about a man, his wife and his dog opens this Friday at the Civic's Studio Theater and runs through Feb. 21.
Directed by Brooke Kiener
with Beth Carey as Sylvia (the dog), Bill Forant as Greg, Anne Mitchell as Kate, and Jerry Sciarrio in multiple roles

Our video preview of Sylvia is here.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

OK, about that *Curtains* review ...

Posting a cryptic blog note two days beforehand absolutely was self-promotion. But the details of presentation on the page: photos, headlines, subheads, captions, lede, even placement within the paper and whether the eye falls on what comes right after the second or third drop cap in an article -- all those aspect of "sell" are often extensively debated here at Inlander HQ.

My point being: For any theater article, the point is not to appeal to my fellow theater ho's on the one hand — or to theater-haters on the other — but always to middle-of-the-road, lukewarm-about-theater readers.

The "sell" in this case is that great close-up of Maureen Kumakura, splashed large-size on the page ... the three footer photos with the whodunit? captions were the idea of our art director, Chris Bovey (himself a thesp) ... and the headline was my alternate choice ... and the subhed was mine ("an insult to critics everywhere ... out for revenge"), which is cheeky but chosen precisely because I get the most feedback on reviews ("really liked your review") when they're _negative_.
Not the most comfortable thing about human nature — do we REALLY watch auto racing mostly to see someone crash? — but still the truth.

The review has two weaknesses (others will find plenty more, I'm sure): It's a curve ball, and it's all about me. It's a curve ball because it _seems_ to be entirely negative — until the end. And it commits the error of being more about the writer than what he's writing about.
I decided beforehand that in this special instance (a murder-mystery musical), those weaknesses could be compensated for.

Of course I knew that "What Kind of Man?" pokes fun more at the onstage characters than it does at critics. The four of them sing about how critics are morons and idiots, until just one of the critics says a teensy little positive thing about their show — and suddenly all critics are geniuses.
The satire is aimed at them.
Of _course_ I wasn't offended by the song — I just used the lyrics as an excuse to have some trumped-up "motive" for wanting "revenge" against each and every cast member. It was just a comic set-up.

But the real question here is: Why do we allow critics to have so much power over us? (In a bloggy, tweety era, it's a bit silly, really.)
That is, if the one poster is right, and it was "borderline cruel" to make the poor actors wait two days to find out what the Big Bad Critic had to say, then actors are way too concerned with one guy's opinion.
Yes, Bobo gets to splash his opinion in 50,000 copies. (It's a responsibility and a privilege; I don't forget that.)
And yes, I've been a theatergoer in Spokane for nearly 20 years, a critic here for more than nine years, and I wrote a dissertation that was (partly) on Shakespeare, and I've acted and directed a few shows. So my opinion ought to carry some weight. But it's not definitive. Far from it.

What I want to say to local actors and directors is: If you've worked hard and _you_ know that you've developed a good performance, really what difference does it make what I say? It's a factor, but only one out of many — chief of which ought to be the joy of working with others, the pleasure of perpetuating a theatrical tradition, the fun of collaborating in a work of art, and so on.
I think reviews are worth reading — I love reading old ones, even of production I could never have seen — but they aren't the last word.
I've had some recent opportunities to observe rehearsals, be a part of rehearsals. And every time, it reminds me how much good and intelligent work goes into "just a little comedy" or "just a community-theater musical" around here.

I mean, Yvonne Johnson and Troy Nickerson — how they corral 30 people into a work of entertaining art, I don't know how they do it. I sure couldn't.

Read the reviews, maybe even ponder them a bit. But take satisfaction in your own work. Forget the damn critics. Everybody knows they're all morons anyway.

[ image: from; the poster from the original L.A. production ]

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Audition for *Love, Sex and the IRS*

Thursday, Feb. 4, at 7 pm
at the Blue Door Theater, 815 W. Garland Ave.

Performances on March 12, 14
Director Aaron Waltmann seeks 5m, 3w (20s-60s)

*Love, Sex and the IRS,* by Billy VanZandt and Jane Milmore, is a farce in which Jon has been filing tax returns indicating that he and his roommate Leslie are married. Then the IRS comes calling, along with Jon's mother and fiancee and Leslie's ex. Hilarious high jinks ensue.

Part of Ignite! Community Theatre's Booklight Readers Theater series

More information:
Call Rebecca Cook: 999-4984

[ image: from an April 2009 production at Hammond Community Theater in Indiana ]

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Monday, January 25, 2010

I don't know what Willis is doin' ...

...but_somebody's been skipping their court appearances.

With Avenue Q coming to the INB Center (Feb. 11-14), this wire story provides a sad footnote. Coleman has led a sad life, but he has also been willing to poke fun at himself (though he has threatened to sue the Avenue Q creatives*). And don't forget that in the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election, Coleman came in eighth out of 135 candidates.

* at the 2007 New York Comic Con

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

cast list for *Steel Magnolias*

by Robert Harling (off-Broadway, 1987; the movie premiered in 1989)
directed by George Green

Kelsey Strom as Annelle Dupuy Desoto (played by Daryl Hannah in the movie)
Bethany Hart as Shelby Eatenton Latcherie (Julia Roberts)
Melody Deatherage as M'Lynn Eatenton (Sally Field)
Molly Parish as Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton)
Wendy Carroll as Clairee Belcher (Olympia Dukakis)
Kathie Doyle-Lipe as Louisa "Ouiser" Boudreaux (Shirley MacLaine)

Harling's script for the movie also introduced nearly a dozen other roles, four of which were played by Janine Turner, Dylan McDermott, Tom Skerritt and Sam Shepard.

In a small town in Louisiana, six women frequently gather at Truvy's beauty parlor to share stories and friendship. M'Lynn's daughter Shelby is getting married, Annelle is the newcomer to town, Clairee and Ouiser do a fair amount of bickering, and the action extends over three years.

Performances at the Civic: Feb. 26-March 21

Ben Brantley's 4/14/05 New York Times review of a Broadway revival featuring Delta Burke as Truvy, Marsha Mason as Ouiser, Christine Ebersole as M'Lynn and Frances Sternhagen as Clairee is here.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Random comments and oversensitive critics

We all form impressions of plays from a variety of sources: previous reviews, audience reactions, word of mouth, press releases and previews, eavesdropped comments, little quirks and accidents in performance, whims and prejudices about matters both trivial and important. And something like that happened to me with Curtains at the Civic. 

Lyn Gardner's comments in The Guardian about critics not working in a vacuum may be relevant here. Her point is that critics are not unbiased and objective; they're unavoidably forming preconceptions about an upcoming show (just like everybody else) from the moment that a production is announced.

Bobo happened to attend Curtains with Dannie, Long-Suffering Wife of Bobo; I reminded her beforehand not to start issuing opinions at intermission or even after the show, because I know from experience that even comments made in passing have disproportionate effects on how I form my own opinions.

But of course there was the drive home, and after two hours in the dark, the topic's kind of unavoidable, and so she let drop that the mystery, as such, was up to the standards of an average mystery. (Red herrings scattered about, lots of suspects; and the writers cheated a bit by revealing a couple of details so late that you could never have realized, but ... all in all, a typical mystery that would satisfy fans of the genre.) This was in response to my saying that it felt like more of an homage to show business than like a classic, well-constructed mystery.
My point: Almost without realizing it, I felt reassured that mystery fans would not scoff at the mystery in Curtains as too simplistic. A couple of days later, when I sat down to write my review (later than usual; life intervened), I overrode my sense that the mystery was on the slim or cheesy side, and had sort of internalized what Dannie, L-SW of B, had said.
And so I didn't criticize the murder-mystery side of the show in the way I would have if I had gone to the show alone. 

And then I read Jim Kershner's review, which opens with three letter grades (and turned to be more critical of the show than my initially critical-sounding review) and thought that in some ways (not for the first time), he had reviewed the show more accurately and concisely than I had.

[image: food critic Anton Ego from Ratatouille, from ]

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Critiquing the play that's *not* in front of you?

Jonathan Jones may be discussing how visual art shows might be curated in different ways, but his comments parallel the situation with some theater reviews: It's all very well to hew to the safe line that reviewers should review only the plays that are in front of them, but what if — hypothetical case — a theater puts on a decidedly old-fashioned, clearly out-of-date production, with no attempt at updating or relevance, but simply to bank on ticket sales because of longtime name recognition?
I agree that it would be obnoxious to spend an ENTIRE review doing nothing but whining about how this show is being done instead of some other, more contemporary piece. But is it REALLY true that such a (hypothetical) review shouldn't mention the problems involved at all?

It's an extreme example, but The Merchant of Venice is simply not the same play after the Holocaust as it was beforehand.
Similarly, in the last 50 years, American attitudes toward race, sex, gender, consumerism, leisure time, education, smoking, evolution, drugs, science and so on have all changed.
Not every production has to a thesis or explicit relevance. But by the same token, doing a show simply because it was popular 50 or 20 or even five years ago is not, in itself, enough justification for choosing to produce a play or musical. And if there's zero attempt to link another era's artifact to the concerns of today, then critics ought to (briefly) comment on it.

[ image: Munkustrap from Cats, from ]

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Mangled *Macbeth*

Another theater-related piece in this week's upcoming Inlander, and more shameless self-promotion: a Last Word on people's memories of the plot of Macbeth, leading to predictably half-baked and hilarious kinda-sorta_recollections.

Hey, Bobo has taught these plays and supposedly knows something about them, and yet I messed up on the pop quiz about who dies in the fifth act of Romeo and Juliet (and by what methods, and in what order). You'll see the relevance if you follow the links online tomorrow at to the NPR story about the Nature Theater of Oklahoma — which are in the tag to the story. On newsstands tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

[ photo: Christopher Lambert as Connor "The Highlander" MacLeod in the 1986 movie ]

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cast list: *Amadeus* at Lake City Playhouse

Peter Shaffer's 1979 play premiered on Broadway in 1980 and won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1984.

directed by Jhon Goodwin

Eric Paine as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Damon Abdallah as Antonio Salieri
Janelle Frisque as Constanze Weber
Brian Doig as Joseph II
Old guys in wigs: Lanz Babbitt, Barry McConnell and Jim Duram
Venticelli: Marnie Rorholm, Ariel Cansino, Liberty Harris
Majordomo (Mozart understudy): Cory Williamson
Ensemble: Emily Nichols, Andrew Sorg, Kate Martinson

Performances: March 25-April 4 at Lake City Playhouse

Those who have played Salieri include Paul Scofield, Ian McKellen, Frank Langella, and of course F. Murray Abraham.
Actors who have played Mozart include Simon Callow, Tim Curry, Mark Hamill and Tom Hulce.

Check out Alex von Tunzelmann's skeptical view of both the movie and its historical accuracy (in The Guardian for 10/22/09).

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Fair warning on *Curtains*

I’ve really struggled with this review. I mean, that one song that calls critics “mentally sick”?
That’s going a bit far.
Sure, there’s a lot of talent on display in Troy Nickerson’s production, but I gotta tell ya, I’ve got some criticisms of several individuals in the show. Sorry.
My review will be out on Thursday.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Video preview: *Sylvia*

A.R._Gurney's comedy opens at the Civic's Studio Theater on Friday, Jan. 29.

The three-minute video includes a chat with director Brooke Kiener and with actress Beth Carey, plus rehearsal footage.

[ photo: from ]

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Christopher Walken will make you hot

... when he reads Lady Gaga's "Po-Po-Poker Face." Check out the video under "Media" at the new Website that provides the inside dope on ... oh, yeah, that's why I started posting: there's a new Website for Martin McDonagh's A Behanding in Spokane.

[ Lady Gaga, at]

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

*Leader of the Pack* at Lake City Playhouse

from Jan. 14-31
Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sunday matinees at 2 pm
Tickets: $16; $13, seniors and students; $10, children (12 and younger)

Celebrate the swingin' '60s lifestyle of Ellie Greenwich, who wrote doo-wop tunes like the title song and "Chapel of Love," "Da Do Ron Ron," "Be My Baby," "Hanky Panky," "And Then He Kissed Me" and "Do Wah Diddy."

Lake City Playhouse, 1320 E. Garden Ave., CdA
(208) 667-1323 or

[ photo: The Ronettes (who worked with Greenwich and Phil Spector); from NowPublic ("Crowd-powered media") ]

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SOS for theaters

[ photo: Eliza Bent, in, from David Cole's Q&A with her in July 2009 ]

Eliza Bent's article in the January American Theatre makes several points:
1. Emergency fundraising campaigns can come off like "ransom demands."
2. The Great Recession isn't the only problem: "Miscalculated ticket sales, declining subscriber bases, shortfalls in contributed income, not-so-successful capital campaigns and accumulated debt ..." are among the potential pitfalls.
3. Be honest with your subscribers, your board, and all your stakeholders. Don't claim that it's an emergency if it isn't.
4. Get everyone in the theater to write and call thank-you's to contributors.
5. Don't cancel shows or reduce their quality; people don't write checks to theaters that aren't behaving like theaters.
6. Small donors (in the $100-$150 range) are key.
7. Get a board members to contact three local banks and get a consortium loan from all three of them (especially if they've turned you down individually).
8. Keep reminding everyone of specific ways in which your theater contributes to the community. Make your space available for non-theatrical functions.
9. Spread the word via Facebook. But don't treat Facebook as a panacea. And supervise the verbiage appealing on your behalf on Facebook; some may find it off-putting.
10. Write those grant applications. Seek cooperations and even mergers with academic theater departments.

With Interplayers changing plays and dates and suddenly holding fundraisers — and with Lake City Playhouse apparently doing better but still in debt and about to change artistic directors — such advice may come in useful.
Even the most stable of theaters in the most prosperous of times are creating art in the face of time limits and financial constraints.
When has there ever been a perfect time for theater? Like Sonya and Uncle Vanya at the end of Chekhov's play, we must work. And then we shall rest.

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On translating Shakespeare and keeping theaters alive

[ from "Totally Awesome Super Sweet Stuff / Fighting the forces of lame" presents the William Shakespeare Celebriduck ]

Two articles in the January issue of American Theatre magazine -- an issue devoted to vocal training for actors — caught Bobo's eye in particular:

pp. 94-99, John McWhorter's "The Real Shakespearean Tragedy," arguing that all that 400-year-old language needs to be updated in ways that today's theatergoers will find understandable
pp. 104-07, Eliza Bent's "Save Our Ship," on what marketing strategies should be followed by theaters that are in danger of dying a slow (or sudden) financial death (which I'll examine in my next post).

First, the Shakespeare. Using numerous examples, McWhorter points out that even people who are trained in Shakespeare don't understand Shakespeare anymore.
Beowulf, written 1,200 years ago, may be in English, but nobody denies that it needs translating (as in Seamus Heaney's great example), or else nobody but grad students would read it ever again. McWhorter's basic argument is that Shakespeare has reached the same point.
"Shakespeare is not a drag because we are lazy, because we are poorly educated, or because he wrote in poetic language," he says. "Shakespeare is a drag because he wrote in a language which, as a natural consequence of the mighty eternal process of language change, 500 years later we effectively no longer speak."
(The "500 years" is a bizarre mistake -- 400 is much closer to the truth. But that's a minor point.)

All this hit Bobo with resonance because he just had the pleasure of adapting The Comedy of Errors for Bill Marlowe's upcoming production in March.
Actually -- to back up a bit — I started modernizing the Errors script a couple of years ago for Michael Weaver and Actors Rep; Michael wanted to do a relatively simple, straightforward and funny Shakespeare in some upcoming, never-to-happen season (so that explains the choice of Errors) AND he wanted to reduce the cast down to just eight, or preferably six or seven, actors. I had the idea that the same actor could play both master-twins AND another actor could play both servant-twins (thus reducing cast size AND increasing the audience's confusion -- I wanted to put viewers in the same position as the onstage characters -- that is, of not being at all sure which twin was going to come through that doorway next.)
Alas, ARt went kaput and so did my Errors dream, until I noticed that Marlowe was going to direct it.
So Bobo set to work with several goals. First, I tried to persuade Bill about my twins idea, but at a community college, cast size is not a problem, so that went by the wayside.
More important, I set about
1. Cutting out the boring parts. I cut the script by about 21 percent. There are a lot of four-century-old jokes that just ain't funny anymore.
2. Modernizing the language: "reft" became "robbed"; "carcanet" became "necklace new"; "carriage" became "manners"; "situate" became "living"; "Diet his" became "Tend to his"; terms of insult got changed from "huh?" to slightly off-color disparagements; most of the "thee's" and "thou's" got thrown out, and so on.
3. Changing place names and character names. One of the main characters in the original is named Antipholus of Ephesus. Sounds like a disease. (Plus, Ephesus isn't remembered much at all today, outside the Pauline epistles, as a place of sorcery and magic.) In our production, he has become Sir Nicholas of ... a place you'll recognize. (Indeed, the place names have all been changed to Inland Northwest locales.)
Most of this needed to be done within the constraints of the 10-syllables-to-the-line requirements of iambic pentameter.

The point being: McWhorter's right. Perhaps especially in the comedies, we have to get rid of the "WTF?" moments and all the head-scratchers (and worse, all the words that we THINK we know the meaning of, except that Will used them in a completely different way). Comedy isn't funny until it's clear. We need to make The Comedy of Errors, written about 420 years ago, clear. It's come time to admit it: Shakespeare may be in English, but he still needs to be translated for us.

[ from Getty _Images_and_London's The Independent ]

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Audio slide show: *Curtains*

See what director Troy Nickerson and his Krazy Kids are up to here or here.

Curtains, the murder-mystery musical, opens this Friday at Spokane Civic Theatre and runs through Feb. 6.

The minute-long slide show features a voice-over by Andrew Ware Lewis, who plays the role of Lieutenant Frank Cioffi (the role played on Broadway by David Hyde Pierce).

You can view the Civic's self-produced video previews of Curtains and other shows from this season here.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Depoliticize the arts by de-funding them

CultureFuture had a post yesterday suggesting that, in large part, American governments haven't subsidized the arts in the way that many other nations do because Americans don't like political art — that we're uncomfortable with art that takes a political stance (somehow assuming that art, and journalism, too, should always and everywhere be "objective," as if that were desirable or even possible) and that we have conflated the two views: Keeping government out of the arts will somehow drain all the political content out of art — and that's a good thing, because we wouldn't want anybody portraying anything that might offend somebody.
I say, offend 'em anyway.
And first of all: why is someone who disagrees with me "offended"? Don't we just disagree? Have I done something morally objectionable by taking a position that a Republican might disagree with?
A case in point: Personally, I am strongly pro-gay marriage. I think it is a national embarrassment that this issue has not yet been settled at the federal level. I believe that even in my own lifetime, when I'm way elderly, people will look back and LAUGH at all those fools, circa 2000-2010, who somehow thought that pairs of married men (and women) would uproot our civilization.
Having said that, I would WELCOME a play that explored the attitudes of anti-gay marriage folks and (more or less) concluded that there was some merit to their beliefs. Would I be offended? No, but I'd sure be in disagreement.

We don't want to federally fund the arts because the arts might get too political. But why shouldn't the arts be political? Everything's political. And conservatives will lament how all the plays would have a leftward bias. Well, sez I, write some damn plays. A drama about how gun ownership should not be limited; about the dangers of Big Government; about the benefits of the American troops' presence in Iraq and Afghanistan; about liberals don't know what patriotism means; and so on. I'd absolutely go. If theater is too liberal, then conservatives should write some plays to correct that bias -- and liberals should have the integrity not to exercise "political correctness"* and engage with plays that present views with which they might disagree.
(*A term I disparage, because there's just as much partisan, sanctimonious thinking on the right as on the left -- in some quarters, if you advocate increased government in any connection, increased taxation on anyone, any form of gun registration, any kind of government subsidies of the arts -- well, then, you're just a Commie pinko.)

As a nation, we are afraid of controversial topics in the arts, because the arts arouse emotion, and people get riled up, but they — we, most of us — have retreated into our little partisan enclaves (I listen to NPR and read the N.Y. Times and want to hurl things at the TV when O'Reilly and Hannity appear, so I'm guilty, too) .. but we ought to break out of those isolation chambers and engage with the other side. Why EXACTLY am I liberal? Why EXACTLY do I disagree with conservative positions on X, Y and Z?

I strongly believe in being aware of conservative arguments on lots of issues; better to know what they're up to, and not just to know how to refute them -- but also to help myself articulate my own views. That's why Laura Miller's advice at Salon to "read a book you think you'll hate in 2010" is good.

Fewer people have meaningful training in debate-style, arguing-on-both-sides discussion. There's too much black-and-white, partisan oversimplification going on out there. Theater that leads to discussion and meaningful, respectful disagreement could increase our civic engagement.

Now that I think about my headline for this post: It's just like Reagan's plan to reduce government by starving it. I think there are powerful people who would prefer the arts to just go away -- certainly the controversial kind. Better to have just nice, pleasant, inoffensive plays and books and paintings. Better not to rock the boat. Times are so hard, you know.

Dominic Maxwell's analysis in the London Times of the success of Lucy Prebble's Enron makes some of the same points that I make here, especially in the section entitled "Do Republicans love their children, too?" (And see the comments below.)

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Brian Doig resigns at Lake City

After the Lake City Playhouse season ends in June, Brian Doig will resign as the theater’s artistic director.

He will be involved with the Lake City board in the selection of his successor.

For personal reasons having to do with his family, Doig will be moving out of the area to another city in the western U.S.

“Actually, the Playhouse is doing well this year,” he says. “I would say we’ve made incremental progress as far as finances go, though we still have a tremendous debt.”

“I’ve gone back over decades of board minutes and financial records,” says Doig, noting that Lake City ‘tends to get into debt and then get bailed out. This is their M.O. They’d cut way back to a barebones staff, and the quality of the productions would drop.”

Lake City was “about $40,000 in debt when I got here” three and a half years ago, says Doig. “We are fiscally a little worse than when I got here,” he says — though some might say debt ballooning to $100,000 (as reported here on Nov. 5) is a lot worse — while adding that that’s due to “increased spending on things that are to our advantage.” He includes on that list such things as marketing, posters, programming, stipends and salaries. “The debt we’ve incurred,” Doig says, “is not because we have not been investing in ourselves.”

In two phone conversations, Doig claimed that over the past year, Lake City has retired somewhere between $5,000 and $12,000 in debt — “and we haven’t incurred any more debt,” he emphasizes. “We’re paying our current payroll, plus we’ve been able to retire some of our debt.”

As an indicator of the theater’s artistic progress, Doig points to what he thinks will be some of the likely casting choices for Jhon Goodwin’s March-April production of Amadeus. “We’ll have good people — people who have performed at the Civic and Interplayers — in that show,” he speculates.

“I’ve learned quite a bit over the past four years,” Doig says. “And I have developed great respect for [other artistic directors] in our regional theaters. Even though the task [of achieving success at Lake City] may seem daunting, it’s far easier to accomplish now than it was three years ago — if we can manage to keep the place open. But remember: It was scheduled to close four years ago.”

Doig has spoken informally with at least three people about succeeding him, but no one yet has committed to making an application.

Those interested in applying for the Lake City artistic directorship should send a letter of interest via snail-mail, directed to Doig’s attention. The board is evaluating some possible changes to the position’s job description. They hope to have someone in place by July.

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Auditions for *The Spitfire Grill*

Monday-Tuesday, Jan. 18-19, at 6:30 pm, with callbacks on Wednesday (if needed)
on the Civic's Main Stage

Director Marianne McLaughlin seeks 3m (20s-40s) and 4w (20s-70s)
Cold readings; prepare a verse and chorus from a contemporary musical; dress comfortably; accompanist provided.

The Spitfire Grill, by James Valcq and Fred Alley, based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff
Music Direction by Janet Robel; choreography by Troy Nickerson

Performances: March 19-April 11

A young woman named Percy is released from prison and hopes to put down roots in a small Wisconsin town. A musical about community.

In the '96 movie, Ellen Burstyn played Hannah, the owner of the grill who takes Percy under her wing. Marcia Gay Harden played Shelby, the wife of Hannah's nephew Caleb and a much better cook than Percy.

The musical started previews (off-Broadway, at Playwrights Horizons) just four days before 9/11.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Love Letters, Angels and Art

Ellen Travolta and Jack Bannon will appear in an Interplayers fundraiser, in three performances of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters, on Friday-Saturday, Jan. 29-30. Tickets: $25.

Honky Tonk Highway has been replaced by Honky Tonk Angels, with revised performance dates of Feb. 4-20.

Casting for the March 10-27 production of Yasmina Reza's Art has been announced: Jack Bannon, Patrick Treadway and Roger Welch.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

CdA Summer Theater announces 2010 season

The_25th_Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
June 12-26

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella
July 3-17

Pump Boys and Dinettes
July 23-Aug. 1

Aug. 7-21

[ image: from Pump Boys and Dinettes — about four guys who work at a gas station in small-town North Carolina and four waitresses at a nearby diner — premiered in 1982.]

Cinderella and Hairspray had been previously announced. So let's see, that means Spelling Bee (after the national tour got snowbound a year ago and never made it to the INB Center) will now be performed  at CdA Summer Theater (June 12-26) — in a production that will then tour to Moscow and the Idaho Rep  (June 28-July 2) — and then again in Jan.-Feb. 2011 at the Civic in Spokane. We sure should know how to spell "weltanschauung" after all that.


Tuesday, January 05, 2010

audition for *Amadeus*

Sunday, Jan. 10, at 5 pm, and Monday-Tuesday, Jan. 11-12, at 6:30 pm
at the Harding Family Center, 411 N. 15th St., CdA

Director Jhon Goodwin seeks 12m, 3f
Cold readings; bring a list of conflicts.
Performances: March 25-April 4

In the court of the Austrian Emperor Josef, Antonio Salieri is the established composer. Enter the greatest musical genius of all time: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri has given himself to God so that he might realize his sole ambition: to be a great composer. Mozart is a foul-mouthed, graceless oaf, but he possesses what Salieri will never have: genius.

Lake City Playhouse
1320 E. Garden Ave., Coeur d’Alene
208-667-1323 (call Tues-Thurs 9-3, Fri 9-1)

[ photo from playwright Peter Shaffer in 2008; Amadeus premiered in 1979 and was filmed in 1984 ]

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Monday, January 04, 2010

A premature closing on Broadway

In the Washington Post, Peter Marks laments the demise of Ragtime.
Weekly running costs of $550,000; $127 a pop for premium tickets.
And Bobo read somewhere that the weekly running costs for A Steady Rain — Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig in a two-chairs-and-a-platform, talking-heads play with no special effects — were $350,000. 
The result? Producers have to hit it big — really big — to cover their costs. Huge extravaganzas that are "destination events" make it big on Broadway: Cats, Phantom, Lion King, Miss Saigon, Wicked, etc.  And are toured all over the country.  And are the predominant form of theater that gets exported to fly-over towns like Spokane. Which reinforces casual theatergoers' impression in towns like Louisville, Omaha and the 'Kan that theater equals eye-popping spectaculars and nothing more. Which is a losing proposition for live performance. Which means quieter shows like Spring Awakening and next to normal and Ragtime don't tour as much.
The rich get richer, and the poor get the impression that theater has nothing to offer them, that it's only for an effete elite.
That's a long way from verbal scene-painting on the bare boards of the Globe circa 1600. Give me good actors anytime, with appeals to the imagination in simple staging.

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