It’s true! It’s true!

As you may have already heard, I’ve won a Bradley Prize. Here’s part of what The Wall Street Journal had to say about it:

We’re delighted to report that our colleague and artistic polymath Terry Teachout has been named one of the winners of the 2014 Bradley Prize.

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, based in Milwaukee, offers the awards each year to as many as four individuals for their distinguished contributions to American institutions, free enterprise and other causes that the late Bradley brothers championed. The recognition comes with a cash prize of $250,000 and will be presented in Washington, D.C., on June 18. Additional winners will be named in the coming weeks.

Our readers know Terry as our drama critic and cultural essayist in his biweekly “Sightings” column. He is also a man of many artistic parts, as a playwright, biographer and opera librettist. “Satchmo at the Waldorf,” his first play, is currently running at New York’s Westside Theatre. His books include “Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington,” “Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong” and “The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken.” He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2012 and has served on the National Council on the Arts.

“Terry Teachout has distinguished himself, not just as a first-rate journalist, but as a supporter of the arts,” said Michael W. Grebe, president and CEO of the Bradley Foundation. “His work as a biographer and a playwright is critical to advancing and preserving America’s artistic and cultural tradition.”…

Read the whole thing here.

I’m flabbergasted–and humbled. And, yes, it’s true: Mrs. T and I really have decided to use part of the prize money to buy a new toaster. We need one.

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Snapshot: the making of Peter Grimes

From a 1945 British Pathé newsreel, preparations for the premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

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Almanac: Isaiah Berlin on received opinion

“Isaiah told a long story about the death of the Spanish poet Lope de Vega. Assured that he was now finally at death’s door, de Vega was able to confess one final (for a poet) sacreligious thought: ‘Alors, Dante m’embête’–‘Well, then, Dante bores me.'”
Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin: A Life

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Lookback: on being edited

From 2004:

I worked as a magazine and newspaper editor for many years before becoming a full-time freelance writer, and on one never-to-be-forgotten occasion I edited a piece so extensively that had it been a screenplay, I would have received an on-screen credit. When the piece won a major magazine award a few months later, I smiled wryly, as did my colleagues, yet it never occurred to any of us to blow the whistle on the writer. He “wrote” the piece, and that, so far as we were concerned, was that.
One reason why I kept my mouth shut is that I’ve been the beneficiary of superior editing on innumerable occasions, never that extensive but at times…well, quite substantial.

Read the whole thing here.

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Rounded with a sleep

97690103_134847046100.jpgMost people outlive their parents, but few anticipate doing so. Even when it was agonizingly clear that my mother was dying, I never said to myself, Soon I’ll never see her again. It may be that the finality of death is harder to grasp than any of life’s other hard realities. Whatever the reason, I didn’t expect the sharp jolt that briefly shook me when my sister-in-law e-mailed me a photo of the twin graves in which my parents are buried, marked by a single bronze tablet that shows, for the first time, the dates on which they both died.
My mother, who occasionally visited the cemetery where she now rests, once confessed to me that it made her sick to her stomach when she first saw her name on that tablet, which my father had prudently purchased long before the fact, arranging for the two of them to be buried next to his own mother. I have no such well-laid plans: I intend to donate as many of my organs as can be usefully harvested, and I don’t care what happens to the rest of me after that. But it was important to my parents that they arrange in advance for the disposal of their remains, and being basically conventional people, they did the customary thing.
I wonder if either of them guessed how often I’d think about them after they were gone. Not surprisingly, I did so when my first play opened in New York, knowing that the occasion would have meant the world to them. But it’s the routine occasions, not the special ones, that mean the most to me. I think of my mother, for instance, whenever I take a cab down to the theater district to see a show, that being the time when I usually called her–as I did most days–to chat about whatever might be on our minds. I think of my father, by contrast, whenever I happen to see Perry Mason on TV, for he loved nothing more than to guess who did it midway through each episode, if not sooner. (He usually got it right, too.)
713.jpegToday is my beloved brother’s birthday, so it stands to reason that our parents should be on my mind. It is a source of ceaseless pleasure to me–as well as a modest amount of friendly envy–that David and Kathy now live in the house where the two of us grew up. While our shared childhood wasn’t perfect, it was mostly very happy. We owe that happiness to Bert and Evelyn Teachout, who spent the whole of our time in that house doing all that was in their power to prepare us for whatever life might hold in store outside it.
I’ve been reading Michael Ignatieff’s biography of Isaiah Berlin, who made this observation thirteen years before his death in 1997:

As for the meaning of life, I do not believe that it has any. I do not at all ask what it is, but I suspect it has none and this is a source of great comfort to me. We make of it what we can and that is all there is about it.

We are such stuff/As dreams are made on, and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep, says Prospero in The Tempest. My parents made of their little lives what they could, and they didn’t ask what it meant, either. Perhaps it was because they already knew the answer: they built a house and raised two sons whom they loved with all their hearts. That was dream enough for them. I would never pretend that every night I slept under their roof was free of shadows, but I never doubted for a moment that they loved me. Nor do I doubt that the new owners of 713 Hickory Drive feel the same way.

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Just because: Rudyard Kipling gives a speech

A rare 1933 sound film of Rudyard Kipling speaking at a luncheon of the Royal Society of Literature for visiting members of the Canadian Authors’ Association. To read the text of the entire speech, go here:

(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday and Wednesday.)

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Cross-dress for success

In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the last three shows of the 2013-14 Broadway season, Casa Valentina, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Cabaret. Here’s an excerpt.
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Broadway’s new motto is “All Transvestism, All the Time!” In addition to “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” “Kinky Boots” and “Matilda,” three more shows in which cross-dressing figures prominently have just opened on the Great Sequined Way. Topping the list is “Casa Valentina,” a history play by Harvey Fierstein about the Chevalier d’Eon Resort, a now-defunct Catskills hideaway (yes, it really existed) that catered to straight men who liked to dress up as women.
Casa4.jpgIt’s been a long time since Mr. Fierstein, who now specializes in musical-comedy books, wrote a play, and longer still since he wrote a successful one. Given the subject matter of “Kinky Boots,” his most recent effort, and “Torch Song Trilogy,” the 1982 play about a drag queen that made him kind-of-sort-of famous, it would seem at first glance that he’s well and truly stuck in a velvet-and-tulle rut. But “Casa Valentina” ends up being a lot more interesting than it looks at first glance, for certain of the guests at the Chevalier d’Eon, though they all claim not to be gay, turn out on closer inspection to be something other than straight–a revelation that transforms what started out as a comedy into a full-blown tragedy.
Mr. Fierstein isn’t able to set a clear tone for “Casa Valentina,” which lurches awkwardly from take-my-wife-please one-liners to stilted sermonizing to blackmail-powered melodrama. Nor has he figured out how to bring the play to a convincing close, instead letting it trail off irresolutely. But it’s never boring…
Sixteen years ago, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” a 90-minute musical monologue by a gender-bent East German punk rocker with an iatrogenic microphallus (you can look it up), was an in-your-face piece of cutting-edge downtown theater. Now it’s a period piece, the proof of which is that it has finally opened uptown in a commercial revival that features Neil Patrick Harris, an openly gay, universally liked network sitcom star.
Mr. Harris’ winsome drag act reminded me of Alan Alda’s perfomance as Shelly in the 2005 Broadway revival of “Glengarry Glen Ross”: Though he’s got the moves down pat, you come away suspecting that this Hedwig had to learn some of the four-letter words phonetically, if you catch my drift….
alancumming.jpgThe Roundabout Theatre Company has brought back its sleazed-up 1998 production of “Cabaret,” co-directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall and starring Alan Cumming as a more-than-usually-androgynous Master of Ceremonies. Seeing as how the Mendes-Marshall revival of the 1966 John Kander-Fred Ebb musical about love and terror in Weimar Germany closed just 10 years ago, I’d call this re-revival an unabashed attempt by a non-profit theater company to mint some much-needed money. With the second Broadway revival of “Les Misérables” playing to near-full houses nine blocks south, though, why complain? It’s a business.
I don’t share in the general enthusiasm for Mr. Cumming’s overcooked performance, which pales in intensity when compared to the diamond-hard detachment that Joel Grey, who created the role in the original stage production, brought to Bob Fosse’s extraordinary 1972 film version, from which Messrs. Mendes and Marshall borrowed a thing or three. But Michelle Williams plays Sally Bowles, the shopworn diva of the Kit Kat Club, with a poignant blend of vulnerability and desperation…
* * *
Read the whole thing here.

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Just how bad is school censorship?

In today’s Wall Street Journal “Sightings” column I examine two very different events that both relate to the problem of school censorship. Here’s an excerpt.
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Spring is here, which means that it’s time once again for the American Library Association’s annual top-10 list of “most frequently challenged books.” These are the books that have drawn the largest number of formal complaints “requesting that materials be removed [from a library] because of content or appropriateness.” Each time it comes out, enlightened readers hasten to snigger at those benighted members of the booboisie who dare to suggest that “Of Mice and Men” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” both of which have previously appeared on the list, might possibly be thought unsuitable for consumption by youngsters….
These 10 books inspired just 307 challenges last year. That’s chump change in a country of 318 million people, a quarter of whom identify themselves as Republicans.
Furthermore, I’m struck by the fact that these books, as well as the other most frequently challenged titles of the 21st century, are for the most part–if I may say so–rather less than stellar in quality….
Do the classics get censored? Once in a while–but usually with different results. Consider, for example, the passionate protests that were inspired by the recent decision of New Hampshire’s Timberlane Regional School District to cancel a Timberlane High School production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” The school board, according to Superintendent Earl Metzler, was “uncomfortable with the script…We felt there were parts in there that just weren’t acceptable.” But virtually all of the protesters were opposed to the cancellation….
* * *
Read the whole thing here.

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