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THEATRE - August 2001

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Thursday August 30

THE MEANING OF CHEKHOV: Chekhov is so popular in Britain he could be considered the country's national playwright. "Why this British love affair with Chekhov? Are there unusual similarities between post-war British and pre-revolutionary Russian society?" The Independent (UK) 08/28/01

THEATRICAL HIJACKING: "Sets, costumes and musical instruments for Caetano Veloso's Noites do Norte show were stolen when gunmen held up a truck transporting the equipment to the Rio de Janeiro airport." International Herald Tribune 08/30/01

Wednesday August 29

LOS ANGELES LOSES A THEATRE: Los Angeles' Shubert Theatre, for 30 years home to the big Broadway musicals, is being torn down to make way for an office tower. The touring business has been in a slump in recent years, so while the Shubert will look for another large theatre to occupy, it's not in the mood to build another. "The economics of big theaters are very difficult." Los Angeles Times 08/28/01 & 08/27/01

ANNIE CAN'T FIND AN ANNIE, AND CLOSES: Having taken off with Bernadette Peters, nearly crashed with Cheryl Ladd, then soared to new heights with Reba McIntyre, the revival of Annie Get Your Gun is running out of gas on Broadway. The producers hoped to get Dolly Parton to take over the lead. She said no. They're saying good-bye. New York Post 08/29/01

FAME OR THEATRE: Playing Star Trek's Jean Luc Picard made Patrick Stewart a household name. But it btook him away from his real love - the theatre. Now he's resolved to make theatre the center of his career - and he's a lot happier for it. The Guardian (UK) 08/29/01

Tuesday August 28

FOR THE BIRDS: How one Chekhov (and Meryl Streep) fan invests 36 hours, a looong bus ride, and sleeping out on the street overnight to score some "free" tickets to the Central Park star-studded production of The Seagull everyone's trying to see this summer. Is it worth it? How could it not be after such and investment? The Globe & Mail (Canada) 08/28/01

Monday August 27

GETTING IN TOUCH: The art of theatre "has for a while now, with rare exceptions, been stupendously out of touch" with popular culture. But if some recent projects are any indication, that may be changing. The New York Times 08/27/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Sunday August 26

REINVENTING THE GUTHRIE: Minneapolis' Guthrie Theatre is planning for a new three-stage theatre complex on the banks of the Mississippi. But it is also looking to reinvent itself - both in the region as well as on the national scene. Minneapolis Star-Tribune 08/26/01

BUSY SEASON: What's new on Broadway this year? Eighteen shows are definite, nine probable and 19 more possible for the 2001-02 season. Only 27 shows opened all of last season. Broadway Online 08/25/01

Friday August 24

LA TICKET AGENCY CLOSES: Ticketsource, a theatre ticket service in Los Angeles that was popular with small theatre companies, suddenly closed last week. "In the aftermath of TicketSource's collapse, sharply diverging accounts have surfaced about the company's structure and who's responsible for its demise." Backstage 08/23/01

THEATRE ON TV: A new six-part series on the history of theatre debuts on America's PBS. "Pursuing its own areas of interest, acknowledging its bias and incompleteness upfront, Changing Stages manages a tough thing. It is general enough to appeal to the masses (at least masses of liberal arts public television types), yet specific enough to rope in avid theatergoers." Los Angeles Times 08/24/01

BERKOFF IN THE DOCK: Playwright Steven Berkoff is considered a genius by some, a true original."This is the dramatist who recently declared that he should take over the National and fire all its existing staff. This is the dramatist who has caused stir after stir in the theatre, back in 1975 shocking Edinburgh by using the c-word 29 times in the course of a 90-second speech. Now Berkoff faces a damages claim for £500,000 from a woman, who cannot be named, alleging that she was raped, assaulted and racially abused by him." The Times (UK) 08/24/01

  • BERKOFF DEFENDS: Berkoff says the law should be changed so that men like him couldn't ne charged with rape. "It's the most terrible thing that's ever happened to me, but it will be resolved. It's ironic that it should happen now when everyone is finally beginning to see that I am sensitive." The Guardian (UK) 08/24/01

Thursday August 23

A LARGE PROBLEM: "When large characters do appear on screen, they’re more often than not depicted as loveless, over-eating objects of ridicule with flatulence problems. 'Overweight people are the last politically correct prejudice. Those actors have every right to create those characters, but I don’t think they’re as sensitive as they need to be.'" New York Post 08/23/01

BRUSH UP YOUR PORTER: If anyone can give Mel Brooks' Producers a run for the money, Cole Porter's sparkling Kiss Me, Kate, from fifty years ago, may be the one to do it. Los Angeles Times 08/23/01

Wednesday August 22

BOYCOTTING THE MAN: The American actors union Actors Equity is urging a boycott of a traveling non-union production of The Music Man. "While theatrical chestnuts like Cats often tour with non-Equity casts, that rarely happens with the first national tour of a new Broadway production." The New York Times 08/22/01 (one-time registration required for access)

EXPLAINING THEATRE: Playwright Alan Ayckbourn spends a week trying to explain how theatre works. "I reckon most people were surprised that the conjurer should be so willing to give away his tricks. But it is the mediocre artists who are defensive about the way they work. Only the great are unafraid to make themselves available." The Guardian (UK) 08/22/01

Tuesday August 21

BETRAYING THE PAST? So David Henry Hwang is updating Flower Drum Song to remove offensive stereotypes for a Broadway-bound production. "To remove every line left from the original book is akin to repainting a work of art or rearranging a piece of classical music. Taking another's thoughts and ideas and reworking them to suit your own agenda is not being 'politically correct,' it's a blatant attempt to go back in time and develop a new culture based on concepts that didn't even exist at the time the piece was created." San Francisco Chronicle 08/21/01

STARLIGHT DIMS: The London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Starlight Express is closing after 17 years. "Starlight Express, which opened in March 1984, is the second-longest-running musical in West End history, after Lloyd Webber's Cats, which began its run here in 1981. By the time it closes, it will have been performed 7,406 times and been seen by more than eight million people." Ottawa Citizen (AP) 08/21/01

Monday August 20

THEATRE AS EVENT: Some regular theatre-goers have a deep dark secret. "Deep down they are appalled at the ineptitude that often passes for theater these days and they hate themselves for continuing to support it. They are embarrassed that there are no 21st-century O'Neills, that Tennessee is long dead and that the theater they know doesn't measure up to the glories of the past. Yet they still go. Even though they hate themselves for doing it. And you know what? I hate them for it, too. Because in a real way they create a climate where there is no theater culture in New York, only theater events." The New York Times 08/20/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Sunday August 19

GOOD/NOT GOOD: "In a way, a book comparing Stephen Sondheim's career with Andrew Lloyd Webber's looks like an interesting and sensible idea. But, on reflection, it just shows how hopelessly slack any standards of judgment in this area are. It is a bit like comparing Mozart with Salieri. Sondheim, at his best, is the nearest musical theatre has come to producing a major imagination since Kurt Weill's American musicals. Andrew Lloyd Webber is just rubbish from beginning to end." The Observer (UK) 08/19/01

UNION WORRIES: The union fuss over a non-union touring production of The Music Man is more than just an issue of using non-union actors. "It's not simply that Equity is protesting non-union shows. It's worried that The Music Man - in skipping over the first-run, union tour - will set a precedent and other producers, thinking that theatergoers nationwide won't be aware or care if what they're seeing is an Equity show or not, will smell increased profits by going non-union." Hartford Courant 08/19/01

Friday August 17

BOYCOTTING THE MUSIC MAN: The American actors union Actors Equity is boycotting a touring non-union production of The Music Man. "Non-union tours of shows have increased over the years to fill a growing number of halls across the nation and their lucrative "Broadway" series, but in the past, the non-union shows have been scaled-down productions of Annie or Cats that followed tours under Equity contracts. The Music Man marks the first high-profile Broadway show to go directly on tour with non-union actors." Hartford Courant 08/17/01

NEW RODGERS BIO SAYS: Outwardly, Broadway composer Richard Rodgers, who died in 1979 at 77, seemed to have led a charmed life. But he was an alcoholic, and "the drinking increased throughout his life - playwright Moss Hart once saw him down 16 scotch and sodas in one sitting - and in 1957, he was hospitalized for depression and alcoholism at Payne Whitney, which the novelist Jean Stafford called a 'high-class booby hatch'." New York Post 08/17/01

RIGG LASHES OUT AT NATIONAL: Actress Diana Rigg has slammed London's National Theatre's facilities, describing the dressing rooms as "battery-hen hatches". She said: "As actors, we don't expect to be pampered, but we have to be in top form to go out there and do it. The conditions are absolutely ludicrous for a theatre built from scratch and it makes me cross every time I enter the building." The Independent (UK) 08/17/01

  • FRONTRUNNER DUCKS NATIONAL: Stephen Daldry, touted by many as the best candidate to take over London's troubled National Theatre after Trevor Nunn departs, has taken himself out of the running for the job. "An impresario and nurturer of new talent as well as a gifted director, many were convinced that only he could drag back the young theatre-makers and audiences who have deserted it." The Guardian (UK) 08/16/01
  • A SHORTER SHORTLIST: The National's board has a shortlist of four names to take over from Trevor Nunn. Neither Daldry nor another frontrunner, Sam Mendes are on it. BBC 08/16/01

Thursday August 16

NEW STRATFORD STAGE: Canada's Stratford Festival is adding a new stage. "The 250-seat thrust stage, a theatre of classical origins where the audience will sit on three sides in a replica of the Festival Theatre, will be Stratford's fourth producing venue. It will join the 1,800-seat Festival, the 1,100-seat Avon and the 500-seat Tom Patterson — and will be the first such addition to the facilities in 30 years." Toronto Star 08/15/01

SADDAM ON STAGE: Zabibah and the King, a best-selling novel in Iraq, will be transformed into a big-budget stage play in Baghdad; it is rumored that a 20-part TV version of the story will be filmed as well. Saddam Hussein himself is believed to have written the original story, which is perceived as an allegory of the relationship between Iraq and the Western world. Salon 08/15/01

Wednesday August 15

PLAYING YOUNG: London's National Theatre is making some changes to appeal to younger audiences. "The season will employ a range of devices - new work, affordable seats, a party atmosphere - to pull in new punters and seduce high-profile practitioners turned off by the National's current spaces. There is more to this than the notion of cheap beer and expensive DJs swinging into the early hours." The Guardian (UK) 08/15/01

  • PLAYING AT THE NATIONAL: Trevor Nunn's last season at the helm of the National Theatre is a mixed one. Does it recognize the problems inherent in the institution? Does it take any chances? Not hardly. International Herald Tribune 08/15/01

Monday August 13

REMEMBERING JOHN GIELGUD: "Now that Gielgud, who seemed immortal, nevertheless died in 2000 at the age of 96, a century of Anglophone theater seems to have gone with him. Partly because theater has changed, the dashing romantic leading man à la Olivier and the sensitive, musical-voiced protagonist à la Gielgud are seldom called for nowadays, even in Shakespeare." The New York Times 08/12/01 (one-time resistration required for access)

WHAT WRECKED BRANDO: Marlon Brando was poised to be one of the great actors of the 20th Century. But his contempt for his profession and the way Hollywood was set up to accomodate him made for the unraveling of his career. The New Republic 08/13/01

Sunday August 12

STAGING GROUND: Theatre in Los Angeles is a troubled lot for an actor. "Pay is low, if there's any pay at all. Competition can be surprisingly fierce. And the city's sprawling, polyglot theater scene, while arguably the nation's most diverse and prolific, hasn't attained the same recognition as New York's or Chicago's." Then there's the lure of Hollywood, and many see theatre as a stepping stone to the big screen. Still, it's now possible to make a career as a stage actor here... Los Angeles Times 08/12/01

THE FEAST/FAMINE SYNDROME: The new Broadway season has officially begun, but there are few new plays opening. Compare that to a five-week span this spring when 13 shows opened. "Why do we have this famine/feast pattern on Broadway? It's called the Tonys. Producers rush their shows in just under the Tony deadline so that they will be fresh in the minds of Tony voters. Oddly enough, these coveted Tony awards don't really mean that much. Who won the major awards in 2000, or 1999? To be honest, I'd have to look it up myself, and I'm in the business. They are not the commercial tool they once were." New York Post 08/12/01

THE PURITY FACTOR: Directors reinterpreting plays in their own conception (and sometimes contrary to a playwright's expressed wishes) has become common on today's stages. Is a purist approach better? Or does a play need to adapt to stay vital? Philadelphia Inquirer 08/12/01

THE LEADING MAN PROBLEM: "Finding charismatic, vocally secure leading men for musicals is one of the toughest jobs in show business. Just ask the Broadway casting directors who have to scour the earth for candidates. 'The problem is that when you're dealing with leading men in their 30's and 40's who are talented, they can work in television and film all the time. Why should they commit to a year on Broadway'?" The New York Times 08/12/01 (one-time registration required for access)

THE ARTIST AS MUSEUM: Lincoln Center's recent Harold Pinter Festival was quite professionally accomplished. "The qualities that make Mr. Pinter a major playwright were all present: the fusion of restraint and violence, angst and brazen humor, silence and language that could be chantlike, raucous or percussive, naturalistic or purely sensuous. But they seemed embalmed here. There might as well have been a glass wall between the audience and the stage." The New York Times 08/12/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Friday August 10

CAN'T GET PAST THE P WORD: The Australian show Puppetry of the Penis is attracting enthusiastic crowds in Toronto, and the show has sold so many tickets its run has been extended. But there are no corporate sponsors for the show - perhaps because of the subject? Toronto Star 08/09/01

Thursday August 9

THE NATIONAL GOES FOR A YOUNGER CROWD: Britain's National Theatre will convert the Lyttleton Theatre into two smaller performance spaces, seating 650 and 100 people. At the same time, the prices for tickets and drinks are being lowered. It's an attempt to attract no only younger audiences, but younger writers and directors as well. BBC 08/09/01

Wednesday August 8

THE DOWNSIDE OF STARS: A famous Hollywood name on the marquee can draw crowds to Broadway. However, "adding movie stars tends to be a recipe for mediocre theater. Even with microphones, which compensate for a lack of vocal training, and an audience that may not know real stage acting when it sees it, movie stars on stage rarely rise above the gently damning reviews they tend to receive, which often say that they 'acquit' themselves or are 'credible'." Slate 08/07/01

Friday August 3

THE BOOMING WEST END: Tourism is down in the UK and some thought theatre ticket sales in London might fall too. Not so, though - sales are up 7 percent over last year. "Figures for April to June 2001, released by the Society of London Theatres on Tuesday, show sales rose from £2.4 million to £2.6 million in the same period in 2000." BBC 08/03/01

HE'S BAAACK: Twenty years ago actor Tim Robbins helped found LA's Actors' Gang Theatre. Movie stardom ensued, and four years ago, after piloting the theatre through "a long list of edgy productions" Robbins relinquished artistic control of the company. Now he's seized control again, provoking a rebellion in the company. Celebrity? Money? Conflicting artistic visions? LAWeekly 08/02/01

FREE - THE COSTLIEST TICKETS OF ALL: There's an all-star cast performing in Chekhov's The Seagull this summer in New York's Central Park, and amazingly, the performances are free. Or are they? People are camping out overnight in line to get tickets, and the experience is...shall we say, arduous: "It is a farce. These tickets are paid for with time. More money can be earned, borrowed, even won. But time, once gone, can never be reclaimed. These are, perhaps, the most costly tickets of all." Washington Post 08/01/01

Thursday August 2

LOST IN TRANSLATION: The movie musical is never as good as the Broadway original. (Well, maybe West Side Story came close.) But the prize for worst movie adaptation goes to On The Town. "The stage-to-film adaptation that most readers took pains to mention because it gave them pains was this 1944 Bernstein-Comden-and-Green classic that became a 1949 Bernstein-Chaplin-Edens-Salinger-Comden-and-Green non-classic." Broadway Online 07/31/01

BUT WHOM DO YOU WRITE FOR? "Indian critics still suggest that there is something artificial and un-Indian about an Indian writing in English. One critic disparagingly declared that the acid test ought to be, 'Could this have been written only by an Indian?' I would answer that my works could not only have been written only by an Indian, but only by an Indian in English." The New York Times 07/30/01 (one-time registration required for access)