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THEATRE - November 2001

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Friday November 30

A PIECE OF THE LOOT: Everybody in the theatre world has been talking about the Producers producers' nerve of charging $480 a ticket for some seats to the show. Now they're also talking about how all that extra revenue is getting split up. How does it figure in percentages and cuts for various unions and other interested parties? New York Observer 11/28/01

FINALLY, SOME JUICY BROADWAY GOSSIP! "For a musical that has yet to play a single performance on Broadway, Stephen Sondheim's "Gold!" is causing one juicy backstage brawl, pitting the celebrated theater composer against one of the entertainment industry's most powerful producers, Scott Rudin." New York Post 11/30/01

Thursday November 29

THE UNION LABEL: In an attempt to "shame the Arts Council into properly funding the development of new musicals, the most popular working class theatrical entertainment" the Trades Union Congress is "helping pay for the development of the first big rap, ragga, gangsta and banghra musicals. For the time, the TUC is becoming a patron of the experimental arts." The Guardian (UK) 11/29/01

THE STRANGEST AWARD IN CANADA: Has it really come to this? Is the provincial government of Ontario really handing out cash awards to theatre groups as a reward for doing the best job of raising money from non-governmental sources? Yup, that's about the size of it - best bowing and scraping performance wins the day. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 11/29/01

THE ACCENT CANNA TAKE ANYMURE, KEPTIN! An Edinburgh professor has released a tutorial for actors wishing to learn a Scottish accent, perhaps the most-often massacred dialect in Western film. The biggest challenge in teaching Americans and Brits the Scottish sound, it turns out, is getting them to stop trying to talk like Scotty from Star Trek. BBC 11/29/01

THE SWEETEST SOUNDS: In 1926, Richard Rodgers had two hits running on Broadway at the same time. He was 23. His later collaborations with Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein seem to be the stuff of Neil Simon plays. In fact, they were more the stuff of Eugene O'Neill. Chicago Tribune 11/25/01

Wednesday November 28

CIRQUE DU SAME OLD SAME OLD: Has Cirque du Soleil gone stale? "A multi-million-dollar international business, with seven shows running concurrently on four continents, Cirque du Soleil is as challenging and innovative as a chain of McDonald's. It's a pleasant enough package, but once you've tasted one, you've tasted them all. It likes to promote itself as avant-garde, but this circus takes no risks." The Guardian (UK) 11/28/01

Tuesday November 27

NOBLE DEFENSE: Royal Shakespeare Company director Adrian Noble is under siege for his plans to reinvent the company. But he says he won't back down. "These views mask snobbery and the belief that publicly subsidised theatre should never mix with the West End. I happen to believe that's complete bollocks." The Observer 11/25/01

NO WONDER SAM MENDES WANTS A BREAK: He won three Tonys a couple years ago with Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing; his first movie, American Beauty, brought him the 1999 directing Oscar; he's finishing up his second movie, The Road to Perdition, with Tom Hanks and Paul Newman; his Broadway revival of Cabaret is a hit, and this season he'll be directing all-star casts in Twelfth Night and Uncle Vanya. Then he plans to quit his day job. Newsday 11/27/01

Monday November 26

IN DEFENSE OF CRITICS: "In the past six years, more and more people have told me not only that theatre reviewing is half dead, but that all newspaper criticism is in danger of becoming irrelevant. Who needs to know what critics think when your chat group's opinions are available on-line? Who cares what critics may write when the real news is the star's recent breast job? Apparently, the age of global culture and digital democracy has little place for critics. It's self-interested, of course, but I think these trends have been overstated." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 11/26/01

LLOYD-WEBBER FOREVER: Andrew Lloyd Webber is at the place in his career where some are writing his professional obituary. But though his last show flopped and some of his long-running vehicles have closed, he's full of energy for the future. "I have got more tunes sitting around at the moment than I have ever had in my career. If anybody wanted a tune, I could write it. I have two or three of the best things I have ever written in my little locker." The Telegraph (UK) 11/26/01

Sunday November 25

TEN-MINUTE TAKE: Theatre is not an immediately reactive art form. But Soho Theatre had an idea to make it more so. "Each morning one of the Soho Theatre's chosen writers turned up at 10am for a meeting with the appointed director. Armed with the newspapers, they decided on a topic for that day's play. The writer spent the morning hammering out a script. At 2 pm the actors turned up for a rehearsal. At 5.30 pm the play was presented in the bar of the Cafe Lazeez downstairs in Dean Street. For 10 minutes or so, people ceased mobile-phoning, chattering or drinking to listen." The Guardian (UK) 11/24/01

Friday November 23

GOLD STANDARD: Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman have filed a $5 million lawsuit against producer Scott Rudin, claiming he is trying to kill a musical they have been working on for nearly 10 years. GOLD! was scheduled to open in Chicago next year, but the pair say legal threats by Rudin have scared off the director and the theater operators." Nando Times (AP) 11/23/01

PLAYING YOUNG: New York's annual Young Playwrights Festival plays older than its participants. "The festival, founded by Stephen Sondheim, is 20 years old. The competition for inclusion has attracted as many as 1,500 entries from writers 18 or under; past winners include Kenneth Lonergan and Rebecca Gilman." The New York Times 11/23/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Thursday November 22

BACKSTAGE ETIQUETTE: What should you say to your friend the actor when you go backstage after the show? Careful, It's "a diplomatic minefield. In fact it's a nightmare. What should you say? How frank should you be? Speak honestly? Lie through your teeth? Or adopt a middle way, seasoning your praise with a few genuine observations in the hope they'll be helpful? Like, "The more you can smile, the better it is." My advice is to lie through your teeth. Actors require only one thing - to be told that they were superb and that the piece as a whole was a life-changing experience." The Guardian (UK) 11/22/01

Monday November 19

TAKING THE BARD TO THE HOME OF THE BARD: Shakespeare is the most-performed playwright in America. Now, for the first time, an American company has been invited to perform at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Stratford home. "Exchanges like this are a good way of overcoming the purely artificial prejudices which say that Americans can’t do Shakespeare.” The Times (UK) 11/19/01

STRATFORD AT 50: Canada's Stratford Festival is 50 years old. It runs on a $30 million budget, employs 800 people, and is a Canadian favorite. "One of the crazier aspects of the original Stratford scheme was the whole idea of starting a festival of classical theatre in a country not exactly known for its vibrant theatrical life." Toronto Star 11/19/01

Sunday November 18

FINDING A NEW NICHE FOR THEATRE: No corner of the arts world has suffered since September 11 to the degree that large-scale theatre productions have. And although ticket sales are beginning to rebound from their disastrous slump, tourists are still staying away from the big shows in New York and London. Does this mean that theatre will finally turn away from the sort of big-budget, flashy spectacles designed to draw out-of-town rubes, and back to serious displays of acting? Maybe, but the industry has to get through the winter first. Boston Herald 11/18/01

A PASSION FOR AMERICANA: For some reason, the British love American theatre, perhaps more than most Americans do. "You could, if you were a dyspeptic American theatre critic, attribute this to schadenfreude on the part of the British public, ever eager to extract solace from writers who have found cause to question the sanctity of the American Dream, but you would be entirely wrong. First of all, far from being cynical about American culture, for more than 50 years the British have had a love affair with it." The Telegraph (UK) 11/17/01

Thursday November 15

PUBLIC DOWNTURN: New York's Public Theatre has laid off 20 percent of its staff to balance its budget. "The theater's endowment is now down to about $23 million from $40 million, largely because of its two consecutive Broadway flops — On the Town, and The Wild Party, which together lost $14 million — and the closing of successful Public productions on Broadway like Bring In da Noise, Bring In da Funk." The New York Times 11/15/01 (one-time registration required for access)

NEW DIRECTOR FOR GUTHRIE THEATER: "The Guthrie Theater has hired Susan Baird Trapnell, executive director of the Seattle Arts Commission, to be its new managing director. When she takes the post on Feb. 1, Trapnell will become the first female managing director in the theater's 38-year history. She replaces David Hawkanson, who resigned in July after five years." Minneapolis Star-Tribune 11/15/01

STRASBERG AT 100: Acting teacher Lee Strasberg is a legend (and still a living one). "Because of the on-camera success of so many of Strasberg's students - Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Dustin Hoffman among them - he gained a worldwide reputation as the father of modern film acting." On the other hand, "The estimable director/critic Robert Brustein once labeled Strasberg a 'highly overrated cultural icon,' and Marlon Brando wrote that it wasn't Strasberg who taught him to act but Stella Adler and Elia Kazan." Backstage 11/14/01

FAILURE TO GRADUATE: It was a big hit in London, but despite some big-time hype and anticipation Down Under, The Graduate is closing early and canceling its Australian tour. The Age (Melbourne) 11/15/01

LITTLE THEATRE, NEW YORK STYLE: It might be New York, but most of the theatre going on is made by those who aren't in it for the money. Off- and Off-Off Broadway has a whole different set of rules than the big time. But that doesn't mean the big time isn't just around the next corner. Financial Times 11/15/01

Wednesday November 14

SAVING BRITISH STAGE DESIGN: "Whether this is a good or bad thing, there is little doubt that British stage design ranks as the best in the world. We regularly scoop all the prizes at international exhibitions and competitions, and our reputation for craftsmanship and resourcefulness is second to none. The downside of this success is that the profession has become hopelessly overcrowded." The Telegraph (UK) 11/14/01

TO BOOTH OR NOT TO BOOTH: The musical Phantom is considering selling tickets at the reduced-price TKTS booth on Broadway. To hear the other shows tell it, this would be a disaster for competing musicals. "Perhaps the most popular musical in Broadway history, Phantom does huge repeat business even at full price. According to one recent survey, nearly 50 percent of its audience had already seen the show at least once." At half price, it would suck up much of the tourist business. New York Post 11/14/01

A DRESSING ROOM OF ONE'S OWN: In the theatre, "getting your own dressing room is the ultimate status symbol. The two critical factors that denote the importance with which you're regarded by the management are how many people you're required to share with and how near you are to the stage." The Guardian (UK) 11/14/01

ROYAL SHAKESPEARE STRIKE: As the Royal Shakespeare Company gets ready to open its big new holiday show, "backstage staff at its London base at the Barbican have voted nine to one in favour of strike action which could wreck its final winter season there." The Guardian (UK) 11/14/01

Tuesday November 13

THE ONLINE PLAY: A new play debuts in London this week. It's been written online by the audience. "More than 200 theatregoers have made specific script contributions, over 1,200 have voted on plot twists and thousands more have tracked the development of the drama which has unfolded on week by week over the past two months." The Guardian (UK) 11/12/01

Monday November 12

PRINCESS DI ON STAGE: A new musical about Princess Di has opened in Germany. "This is only the latest in a line of art events based on or dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales in the four years since her death. It is performed in German for now, but will switch to English when it moves on a tour of the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The musical interprets the story of Diana's life from her first public appearances to her now famous interview with Martin Bashir to her last evening in Paris." BBC 11/12/01

LA'S NEW THEATRE FOR A STATUE: Los Angeles has a new opera house. OK, it was designed for the Academy Awards, and it's located in a shopping mall. It was also designed "with blind eye and tin ear." It's designed for TV and it's an "ungracious building" for a human audience. "Inside the theater, the assault never ceases." And the acoustics? A mess. Los Angeles Times 11/12/01

Sunday November 11

PLAYING ON: "What is the general feel of the West End since Sept. 11? Contradictory. The lobbies at first nights are as jampacked as they always were, the streets outside still teem with gawkers and autograph-hounds, and getting a taxi after a show is just as difficult and just as likely to lead to a vendetta on the sidewalk. Yet restaurants and pubs seem less busy in the early evening, meaning you can actually get a drink without breaking Britain's unwritten law against queue-jumping." The New York Times 11/11/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Friday November 9

THEATRE IN NEW YORK: A group of cultural leaders gets together to talk about the state of theatre in New York: "Theater-making is bracketed by the need for money and space, and the talks centered on such crucial issues as public policy, real estate, and the relations among theater, film, and television industries. A flurry of reports made clear that the events of 9-11 have exacerbated preexisting trends: people choosing stay-at-home entertainment, audiences hesitating to purchase tickets in advance, and government abandoning its support of the arts." Village Voice 11/06/01
  • THEATRE SINCE 9-11: "One of the panel's most salient points was the growing gap between Hollywood, which has moved on from the events of September 11, and New York, where artists are still digesting the effects of the attack and searching for meaning within their own work." Actors Update 11/06/01
  • WHO GETS WHAT IN NY THEATRE: It's a $13 billion industry. "Twenty-nine companies with budgets of $10 million or more, representing the largest arts organizations, account for 70.7 percent of the total revenue among arts groups. Meanwhile, at the bottom of this pyramid, 185 organizations with budgets under $100,000 constitute one half of one percent of total revenue." Actors Update 11/06/01

Thursday November 8

BARNUM, THE FATHER OF POSTMODERNISM? "The fragmentation of truth, the ascendancy of appearances, the fluidity of self, the breakdown of master narratives, the triumph of ironic detachment: all the tendencies that we loosely label 'postmodernism' are commonly assumed to be the products of mass-media technology and multinational capital." But look back a century farther, to the P. T. Barnum who observed that "The public appears disposed to be amused even when they are conscious of being deceived." The New Republic 11/12/01

ALBERTA THEATER LOOKING GOOD AGAIN: "Alberta Theatre Projects has emerged stronger and healthier after its recent financial crisis. Two years ago, the Calgary theatre company was on the brink of collapse, after losing donors and subscribers. Now the A.T.P. is boasting a modest operating surplus, and nearly a thousand new subscribers." CBC 11/07/01

ANTHONY SHAFFER, 75: Anthony Shaffer, award-winning playwright and twin brother of playwright Peter Shaffer, has died at his home in London. Anthony Shaffer's best-known work was Sleuth, which was a success in London, won a Tony on Broadway, and was nominated for two Oscars as a movie with Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier. Nando Times (AP) 11/07/01

Wednesday November 7

MAYBE IT'S JUST BAD THEATRE: West End theatre business is down 15 percent from last year. Eight shows have closed recently. But is the current crisis to blame? Nope. "Would an all-male Canadian play about an obscure Antarctic expedition have done any better in boom times? Would Ronald Harwood's ridiculous Hollywooden exploration of a composer's private problems - with dialogue like: "Hello Freud." "Hello Mahler"- have wowed them even if the midwest tourists had been arriving as usual? I can't think of a single show that doesn't owe its demise either to its own internal failings, rotten reviews, or the simple fact that it had exhausted its audience." The Guardian (UK) 11/07/01

Sunday November 4

"NO-BRAINER" GOUGING: Hike Producers tickets to $480 a seat? Why it's a no-brainer, say the show's producers. "These producers are only legitimizing unabashed profiteering, and the notion that the theater is for the privileged and that greed is good. It's as if those people who wait in line hoping for cancellations for every show were suddenly told, 'We're going to have an auction for these unused tickets right here on the sidewalk. Now what am I bid'?" Hartford Courant 11/04/01

BROADWAY AND THE ART OF HUMMING: Which is more important to the success of a Broadway musical - the lyrics and story or the music? Three current shows give contradictory answers. But a hint: "No one ever left a musical chanting the words rather than humming the tunes." New York Post 11/04/01

Friday November 2

IF YOU CAN MAKE IT THERE...: "Catharsis comes in surprising packages these days. Who would ever have thought three months ago that the most emotionally stirring shows in Manhattan would be a sincerely kitschy musical set to the songs of Abba (Mamma Mia!), an earnest story-theater rendering of Greco-Roman myths (Metamorphoses) and a dizzy, well-known romp like Noises Off? Strange times breed strange diversions, however. And what [those three] have in common is that they bypass that celebrated skeptical New York mind to go for the gut." The New York Times 11/02/01 (one-time registration required for access)

FOR $480, YOU GET THE UNDERSTUDY: "Nathan Lane, the Tony Award-winning star of The Producers, appears to have developed a polyp on his vocal chord and will be out of the hit show indefinitely, his spokesman said yesterday. News of Lane's ailment comes just one week after the producers of The Producers raised their top ticket price to a staggering $480." New York Post 11/02/01

  • Previously: CONTROL OR GREED?: Is Broadway only for the rich? Many are asking, after producers of The Producers jacked up prices for some seats to $480 a ticket. "The scalpers have snatched up and warehoused thousands of our seats. You cannot get good seats for at least six months because they are in the hands of scalpers. We are simply trying to regain control of some of our inventory." New York Post 10/27/01