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THEATRE - September 2002

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Monday September 30

ACTORS TO ABANDON SCOTLAND? While England has pledged another £25 million for theatre next year, Scotland is freezing its expenditures on theatre. Critics claim theatre talent will drift south. "Actors have suffered very low wages, but any rise will significantly add to costs. This could only mean a reduction in the amount of work produced. The other option is that Scotland does not implement the wage rise, in which case there could be a drift south." The Scotsman 09/29/02

Sunday September 29

NY/LONDON - A MATTER OF RISK: The biggest difference between New York and Lon's theatre scenes is the way non-profit theatre behaves, writes Clive Barnes. "Here, the subsidized state theaters play it safe. Since they heavily depend on subscription audiences, they proceed with great caution in whatever they do. In contrast, the London non-profit arena, free from the need to accommodate (some might say pander) to well-heeled and conservative audiences, provides a more edgy, risk-taking menu." New York Post 09/29/02

BOSTON'S BIG NEW PLAYER: Word that Boston's Opera House will be renovated and used primarily as a home for big touring Broadway shows has big implications for other Boston performing arts venues. Although the contract allows Sarah Caldwell's Opera Company of Boston to use the theatre for dates over the next 20 years, Caldwell is unlikely to make it happen, and the opera company's lease will be null. Meanwhile, the Wang Center, the city's other touring house, has got to be nervously looking over its shoulder, writes Terry Byrne. Boston Herald 09/27/02

LAST MINUTE SUBSTITUTION: It's a director's worst nightmare - just days before the show is to go on, your star has a heart attack. It happened earlier this month at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre. And such a catastrophe triggers a whole series of decisions that have to be made - none of them pleasant. How to find someone to step in at the last minute? "It's hard to explain the chemistry of what's appropriate for a particular role in a particular production. It's like having a musical score and choosing a flute, sax or clarinet for a solo." Chicago Tribune 09/29/02

WHERE'S LA'S LATINO THEATRE? Los Angeles' huge theatre community produces more than 1000 productions a year. But despite the region's large Latino population, there is relatively little Latino theatre being produced. There's a shortage of Latino theatres and the area's mainstage theatres have a sporadic record of producing Latino-oriented productions. Los Angeles Times 09/29/02

THEATRE MAGS - ONE NEW, ONE ON THE WAY OUT: "In the world of theater periodicals, the life expectancy is sadly short. Theater history is littered with the bodies of publishers of failed magazines that had a theater or theater-friendly bent: In Theater, Show, After Dark, Plays and Players, Theater Week. The list goes on." So another such publication looks ready to go out of business - the tiny Show Music, the musical theater magazine, began 20 years ago. But on the good news side, "there's a new magazine out this week called Show People, about the theater world, that tries to be more mainstream than previous periodicals." Hartford Courant 09/29/02

Friday September 27

WEST END FIRE: A big fire in London's West End threatened to spread to the 200-year-old Theatre Royal, where actresses Maggie Smith and Judi Dench were rehearsing for a new show on Thursday. BBC 09/26/02

ON THE FRINGE: Melbourne's fringe festival turns 20. "Every spring our independent arts community explodes with an avant-garde celebration of creativity and freakishness, nudity and performance art, excess and outrage, risk and diversity. It throws up events and images that challenge the way you see the world, shows that are luminous with brilliance, and productions so lame that if they were a horse, you’d have them shot. That’s the beauty of Fringe." The Age (Melbourne) 09/27/02

CLEAR CHANNEL'S NEW CLOUT IN BOSTON: Mega-entertainment company Clear Channel is planning to do a $30 million renovation of the 2,500-seat Opera House in Boston, and use it for big touring Broadway shows. "But the increased muscle of the for-profit Clear Channel - the largest producer, presenter, and promoter of live entertainment on the planet - leaves some Boston producers and promoters wary." Boston Globe 09/27/02

Thursday September 26

THEATRE REVOLUTIONARY: Joan Littlefield, who died last week, was one of the most important people in English theatre since World War II. "Her achievements have resonated throughout British theatre: she broke up the fabric, revolutionised the way that plays were presented, the way that they were written, and the way directors and actors and writers collaborated. Her revolution, and her propagation of the notion of 'popular' theatre has been as enduring as the Royal Court 'revolution' of 1956." The Guardian (UK) 09/25/02

THE AL HISCHFELD THEATRE: Artist Al Hischfeld, 99, is having a theatre renamed after him on Broadway. In a career spanning 76 years (so far) Hischfeld has drawn caricatures of Broadway figures. "Mr. Hirschfeld will become the first artist to have a theater named after him and one of the few people not directly involved in acting or producing ever so honored." The New York Times 09/26/02

Monday September 23

THEATRE RETREAT: The leaders of Atlanta theatre companies rarely see one another as they go about their jobs. So a forward-thinking foundation decided to get directors of five of the city's theatres out of town to spend some time with one another. Over a few days in New York, they talked about their common challenges and about how they might work together... Atlanta Journal-Constitution 09/22/02

GARBO MUSICAL BOMBS: A new musical based on the life of Greta Garbo opened this week in Sweden, and its creators hope to later take it to London and New York. But not with the kind of reviews the show was greeted with. Calling it sterile and predictable, no one's predicting a long life: "I would be surprised if it goes on for a long time even here. But that might happen if the interest in Garbo is bigger than the demand for good musicals." BBC 09/22/02

Sunday September 22

AS LONG AS EVERYONE'S LOSING MONEY ANYWAY... Not that the theater-going public cares, but Broadway is undergoing a sea change in the philosophy of the behind-the-scenes money men who bankroll the shows on the Great White Way. "Right now we seem to be in the end game of a decades-long shift in how Broadway shows are produced. Nonprofit theater companies are making their presence felt ever more strongly on Broadway. People have been worrying about this for decades... [but] what's new is the actual physical presence of the nonprofits in Broadway theaters, through long-term leases or outright ownership." The New York Times 09/22/02

JOAN LITTLEWOOD, 87: "Acclaimed theatre director Joan Littlewood, who broke new ground in stage acting, has died at the age of 87. Born in 1914 Littlewood was one of the most controversial and influential theatre directors and drama teachers of the 20th Century... Radical and outspoken, she was said to have been feared by the authorities, and snubbed by the Arts Council. But for many Littlewood was a woman ahead of her time." BBC 09/21/02

THE NEW SURREALISTS: "Surrealism is alive and well in Toronto, and not just in the disproportionate number of light-bulb jokes on the Internet. Instead, the wild art has been experiencing a renaissance with a group of artists under the banner of Recordism." What-ism? Well, according to the web site of the International Bureau of Recordist Information, the movement is about non-standard expression, the blending of sound and art, and the artistic bliss of breaking free from typical constraints of what is pretty, normal, or expected. Sounds plenty surreal to us. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 09/21/02

Friday September 20

RUMOR CENTRAL: It's autumn in New York, which can mean only one thing - time for all that Broadway gossip to really heat up. Among this season's hot topics: 1) Is Take Me Out, Richard Greenberg's play about a gay baseball player, really ready for the big time? 2) Does the Roundabout Theater Company plan to cancel all of its productions, or just the three it's already scuttled? 3) Are the people in charge of Little Ham really choosing their curtain-raising times by consulting astrological charts, and why does no one think that's odd? Ah, theater people. What would we do without them? The New York Times 09/20/02

Wednesday September 18

PLANS FOR A NATIONAL AFRICAN AMERICAN THEATRE: Kenny Leon, formerly director of the Alliance Theatre Company in Atlanta, the largest resident theater company in the Southeast, says he plans to establish a national African American theatre. "Leon said he would like to put on three productions in 2003 in Atlanta; two of them would come to Washington. Leon hopes he might also get a run in New York." Washington Post 09/18/02

YOUTH APPEAL: This season London's National Theatre made a major push to appeal to young people, reconfiguring its performing space and presenting 13 new plays. The numbers show some success: "Just over half the total audience has been under 35. It is striking that roughly a third of the audience has been in that most elusive of all age-groups, the 25 to 34-year-olds, usually reckoned to be tied down by children and mortgages." But was the season an artistic success? There the record is a bit more murky... The Guardian (UK) 09/16/02

BROADWAY IN BRAZIL: Theatre in Sao Paulo has mostly been the province of TV and film stars taking a break from the screen. But Broadway musicals are catching on big in Sao Paulo, South America's largest city, playing to packed houses and critical acclaim. "I don't know about the other countries, but here in Brazil we could be seeing the birth of a new theatrical tradition, thanks to these musicals." Yahoo! (AP) 09/17/02

Tuesday September 17

TUESDAYS AT SEVEN: A group of Broadway theatres is floating the idea of moving curtain time up by an hour on Tuesday nights - to 7 PM. "Called Tuesdays at Seven, the new curtain time - probably starting the second week in January - might give a box-office boost to the night most in need of it." Nando Times (AP) 09/16/02

Thursday September 12

PROTEST POLITICS COME TO ZURICH: "In the Swiss version of democracy, almost every public issue is decided by referendum. Thus when Zurich's voters approved an increased subsidy for the city's main theater on June 2, its acclaimed artistic director, Christoph Marthaler, felt confident that he would weather a storm of criticism of his management. He certainly did not expect to read in a local newspaper just three months later that he had been fired by the theater's board. What happened next, though, revealed a different facet of Swiss democracy. A protest movement was born, backed not only by leading theater directors throughout the German-speaking world, but also by local admirers of Mr. Marthaler's distinct style of theater." The New York Times 09/12/02

Wednesday September 11

THE ESSENTIAL LAWRENCE: DH Lawrence's reputation hasn't aged well. "Now Lawrence's poetry is admired, his novels neglected, his paintings scorned, and his plays largely unperformed. What is more, he is reviled for his priapism, his fascism and his sexism. I can't think of Lawrence as being bound by any -ism; I still think of him as a fine novelist, a brilliant poet, and one of the very best (and least celebrated) of 20th-century English playwrights." The Guardian (UK) 09/11/02

LOST THEATRE COMES TO LIFE: Glasgow's Panopticon was the UK's oldest music hall when it closed in 1938. The likes of Stan Laurel and Carey Grant walked its stage. But the Panopticon has been abandoned as a theatre for 64 years, and now, even though "a shadow of its former self", it is still "the most culturally and architecturally significant theatre in Britain." Now the theatre is "on the threshold of a $4 million refurbishment plan to be carried out over five years." The Scotsman 09/06/02

Tuesday September 10

MAYBE THERE'S MORE TO IT THAN GLITTER: "France's educated elites have never disguised their disdain for much of what reaches French movie and television screens from the United States. Yet one American television show, Inside the Actors Studio, is quietly changing how some French view Hollywood by dwelling on the craft of acting rather than the glitter of stardom." The show has become a hit since it started airing on French television. The New York Times 09/10/02

STAR SEARCH: Hundreds of hopefuls auditioned last weekend for a chance to appear onstage in a production in London's West End. The show 125th Street recreates the amateur nights at New York's Apollo Theater, and "for one week only, each lucky amateur will get to join the professional cast and take the talent spotlight." Yahoo! (Reuters) 09/09/02

Monday September 9

GET ME REWRITE: Some artists, when they complete a work, set it in stone, never to be changed or revised. Then there's Tony Kushner. He's always "tinkering and tightening and tweaking and trying to get it right." Homebody/Kabul is no different. "I really thought I would churn it out and it would be perfect. I always tell myself that with every play, and of course plays are never like that, or least mine aren't. They tend to cling and cling and need more and more attention." The New York Times 09/09/02

THE SHOW MUST GO ON? Deciding whether to perform on September 11 is not such an easy question. A serious play could leave you more depressed. Light, entertaining fare might seem trivial. On the other hand, a serious production might help put things in focus, while a comedy might be a welcome distraction. What to do? New York Daily News 09/08/02

QUALITY POVERTY: Last week the LA Times ran a warm and sympathetic story about director Jon Lawrence Rivera and his Playwrights Arena theatre, which produces new plays and which is struggling to stay alive. Playwright Steven Leigh Morris praises the Times for its piece on Rivera, but wonders why a story about something in a field that almost never makes money concentrated so much on the theatre's financial fortunes. Is this an implication about quality? "How, then, do we measure accomplishment in a field that has never thrived without patronage or subsidy, or at a theater with no advertising budget?" Los Angeles Times 09/09/02

  • Previously: THE SMALL-THEATRE STRUGGLE: Los Angeles is home to formidable dramatic talent in all forms. But the city's playwrights generally have a hard time of it. One champion of the playwright is Jon Lawrence Rivera. "For a decade, Rivera's Playwrights' Arena has developed and produced nothing but new plays by Los Angeles County writers - 29 such shows by 17 writers or writing teams." But the enterprise has always been a precarious enterprise, one that these days, looks close to failing... Los Angeles Times 09/03/02

Sunday September 8

CROSS-POND GROUCHINESS: London's West End has been in a bit of a snit lately over the influx of big-name American actors showing up in leading roles. Clive Barnes doesn't see what the big deal is: "Perhaps Britain has some lurking idea that its function is to play Greece to America's Rome, and that a tacit superiority in the arts is part of history's deal. Whatever the reason, such a fuss seems odd after years of New York applauding such British stars as Alan Bates, David Warner, Alan Rickman, Lindsay Duncan, Emma Fielding and Henry Goodman - just some of our visitors last season." New York Post 09/08/02

STRETCHING THE FORM: "If there is anything new on the Broadway horizon this fall, it is the prospect of two artists from outside the theater, the choreographer Twyla Tharp and the filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, bringing their creative energy to the stage and expanding the definition of what constitutes a Broadway musical." Only in New York could two such luminaries be considered outsiders, but in the traditionally closed circle of Broadway, they qualify as virtual gate-crashers, and many devotees of that increasingly antiquated art form, the Broadway musical, are holding out hope that Tharp and Luhrmann will live up to the hype, and reinvigorate an industry which has been living off its own past for the better part of a decade. The New York Times 09/08/02

Friday September 6

SUBJECTS FROM WHICH TO STAY AWAY: "Our playwrights, from time to time, may shock us, but where are the plays that will challenge us? When playwrights deal with serious themes, they do so in a manner that allows us to distance ourselves from the social evils they portray, committed by characters who are mentally ill or not our class, dear. When those who govern us make a rare appearance on stage, it is as implicitly harmless figures of fun. One would think, from British plays, that their authors read only those pages in the newspaper that cover celebrities and crime, and only as many books as would fit in a suitcase." The Independent (UK) 09/05/02

Thursday September 5

WHEN BIG ISN'T NECESSARILY BETTER: Perhaps it's inevitable - the Edinburgh Fringe has grown so big and become so successful, more rules and regimentation are required. Also more corporate sponsorships and higher ticket prices. But perhaps all this success kills off some of the celebrated Fringe spirit - the rough, spontaneous acts of performance which invigorate those who encounter it. The Scotsman 09/05/02

Wednesday September 4

THEATRE AS TONIC (OR PALLIATIVE): "The theater's role as a social mirror in London can seem surreal to an American visitor, as daily headlines and onstage plot lines converge. At the moment the London theater, which has an intimate relationship with its public that New Yorkers haven't known in years," is providing a myriad of ways to deal with the stress of an uncertain world. The New York Times 09/04/02

ONLY IN A NON-PROFIT THEATRE: One of the hottest tickets at this year's Melbourne Festival is an improbable production that is guaranteed to lose money, and offers beds for audience members to snooze in. It's "14 hours from beginning to end, will cost audience members $150 each, and will include dinner, breakfast, a bus ride and a bed for the night. Even if each of the 10 shows plays to a full house, no more than 70 people will get to see the production live." The Age (Melbourne) 09/02/02

THE SMALL-THEATRE STRUGGLE: Los Angeles is home to formidable dramatic talent in all forms. But the city's playwrights generally have a hard time of it. One champion of the playwright is Jon Lawrence Rivera. "For a decade, Rivera's Playwrights' Arena has developed and produced nothing but new plays by Los Angeles County writers - 29 such shows by 17 writers or writing teams." But the enterprise has always been a precarious enterprise, one that these days, looks close to failing... Los Angeles Times 09/03/02

BROADWAY'S FIRST $100 TICKET: The play, Bertolt Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, stars Al Pacino and "will run for three weeks at a 750-seat Pace University theater downtown. It is being produced by the National Actors Theater, which is run by Tony Randall." New York Daily News 09/04/02

Tuesday September 3

A CAREER WELL-LIVED: When Christopher Newton began as director of Ontario's Shaw Festival 23 years ago he told an interviewer that Shaw wasn't a good enough playwright to build a theatre around. But over two decades he built the festival into "one of the most respected repertory theatres in the English-speaking world." His secret? For a festival with a $20 million budget that gets less than five percent of its income from governments, it must pull in the tourists. And it does, with "an admirable balance of art and commerce." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 09/03/02

Sunday September 1

STRATFORD STRUGGLES: Stratford's 50th anniversary season may have been a public success, but one critic says it felt awfully derivative. "It's sad to think that after 49 years, Stratford still has to look to Britain to see how it's done. But if the company is going to rise out of the artistic mire, it needs to build ongoing relationships with such talents, just as Toronto's Soulpepper troupe and the Shaw Festival regularly bring back European directors to challenge their actors. Trouble is, introducing guest artists into the Stratford machine is often difficult: The logistics of running a dozen large productions in repertory creates a tumbling schedule that can leave directors with insufficient or interrupted rehearsal time." The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 08/31/02