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THEATRE - December 2001

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Monday December 31

IRISH CONNECTION: London's West End is full of Irish theatre at the moment. "A London theatregoer might be tempted to look for a movement, a tradition. But 'We are likely to see connections between Irish playwrights with a kind of visitor’s logic, whereas they will see the differences'.” The Times (UK) 12/31/01

Sunday December 30

ROAD SHOW: The Full Monty is a hit on Broadway. But plans for a national tour took a dive. Now new producers for the tour have been found, and everything from the ad campaign to the way the show looks and loads and travels has been changed. Will it work? Los Angeles Times 12/30/01

SHAKING UP THE WORLD: England's world of non-profit theatre has been static for 20 years. But a series of events coming in the new year promises to transform the theatre world and determine its future course. The Observer (UK)12/28/01

IN APPRECIATION: Theatre critic Urjo Kareda has died at the age of 57. He was a critic at the Globe & Mail and the Toronto Star, and exerted an enormous influence on Canadian theatre. Toronto Star 12/30/01

Friday December 28

ANGELS IN AFGHANISTAN: "Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul is no less current than the daily reports from the war in Afghanistan, even though the play was four years in the writing and finished before Sept. 11. After a brilliantly wrought first act that manages to embody the confusion of the West, along with its obsession about Afghanistan, within a single monologue, the play unwinds in a tangle of cross-purposes, in which nothing is as it seems." Christian Science Monitor 12/28/01

Thursday December 27

OUT WITH A BANG? Several of London's top theatre directors are stepping down from their institutions in 2002. "But what’s the best way to say goodbye to a top job in the theatre itself? With a bang, a whimper or something in between? Is there a temptation, especially if one has been financially embattled, to blow one’s annual grant on a self-indulgent splurge of spectacularly improbable work?" The Times (UK) 12/27/01

KAREDA PASSES: Legendary Canadian theatre manager and critic Urjo Kareda has died in Toronto at the age of 57. "Mr. Kareda was a former theatre critic at The Toronto Star and literary manager of the Stratford Festival as well as artistic director of the Tarragon Theatre for the past 20 years." Toronto Star 12/27/01

Wednesday December 26

SIR NIGEL HAWTHORNE, 72: The actor died at home. "Sir Nigel achieved world-wide fame as the bumbling yet suave civil servant Sir Humphrey in the TV hit Yes Minister, but was a classical actor with a wide repertoire ranging from Shakespearean leads to raw comedy. It was once said that he spent the first 20 years of his distinguished career being ignored and the rest of it being discovered." The Guardian (UK) 12/26/01

Monday December 24

OFF-BROADWAY'S BIG YEAR-END: From November to early March, Broadway is blah as far as new productions opening. Why? It's all about jockeying for Tonys. Off-Broadway, on the other hand, has had a very productive end of the year... New York Post 12/23/01

THE ART OF SCIENCE: Time was the arts ignored the fields of science and math. No longer. "The new math-sci drama cluster has justifiably been hailed as a welcome trend. By investigating this terrain, one can address all the standard passions — love, competition, jealousy, benevolence, evil — while tackling issues of philosophical and social importance. And maybe teaching us a little something to boot." Seattle Times 12/23/01

Sunday December 23

THE COWARDLY WEST END? Playwright Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore, "a brutal satire on terrorism and undoubtedly the best and most talked about new play of 2001, has still not been given a West End transfer, despite opening to ecstatic reviews at Stratford in May." McDonagh says it's because West End theatres are cowardly about presenting controversial work since September 11. The Guardian (UK) 12/22/01

Thursday December 20

KUSHNER AND KABUL: Tony Kushner's play Homebody/ Kabul is the most awaited play of the year. "Homebody/ Kabul, directed by Declan Donnellan, is Mr. Kushner's first major work since the lightning bolt that is Angels in America struck nearly a decade ago. As a whole, this tale of cultural quest still has its own journey to make before reaching the level of Angels (which went through many years of gestation before reaching Broadway). But it definitely has the potential to get there." The New York Times 12/20/01 (one-time registration required for access)

  • LONG ROAD: "The play might well be called Passage to Afghanistan, in tribute to another influence. As in E.M. Forster's India, a woman is lost here as well. But while it's occasionally incoherent and overlong, Homebody/Kabul is a passionate and fascinating play, bubbling with ideas." New York Post 12/20/01
  • RUGGED TRIP: A play that's "like an overheated mind boiling over with multilingual opinions about the world. Unlike Kushner's longer and more sweeping Angels in America, Homebody/Kabul isn't roaring agitprop, even though it implicitly argues for consistent Western engagement with Afghanistan. His elliptical plotting and over-articulation finally wear you out. Even with last-minute cuts, the play clocks in at 3 hours 45 minutes - and where the sharp, entertaining Angels made its time fly, Homebody meanders." Washington Post 12/20/01
  • DAUNTING PROMISE: "The eerily timely work about Afghanistan, which runs almost four hours, is comparably mesmerizing and mournful, vast and intimate, emotionally generous and stylistically fabulist, wildly verbal, politically progressive and scarily well informed." Newsday 12/20/01
  • CAN IT OUTLIVE ITS MOMENT? "At a time when the usual quotient of skepticism regarding America's foreign policy has been muffled by an unofficial edict from above - America, love it or shut up - Kushner both loves it and refuses to shut up. Politicians, academics and telegenic pundits have weighed in on the current mood in America. But little has been heard from artists and playwrights on the order of Kushner." Los Angeles Tribune 12/20/01
  • GOOD TIMING: "The world is so convulsed over that recently departed regime that Homebody is probably the first U.S. play in decades to be able to traffic in the intricate history of a foreign country without the need to provide an audience with footnotes. We've got CNN instead." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/20/01
  • LONG ROAD TO KABUL: "In many ways, it is a prickly and flawed work. As Kushner notes in an introduction to the text, 'It was very hard to write this play.' Originally five hours long, it was cut back to a little under four hours before its opening, and even then, in performance, it sometimes has the print of an unfinished work." Chicago Tribune 12/20/01
  • HIGH AMBITIONS: "It is impossible to watch this play as a purely philosophical work. Nor does Kushner, an explicitly left-wing playwright, mean us to. He has done his homework, studied the internecine eruptions of Afghanistan throughout history, well before most of us (he wrote this in 1998), and he has his characters expound on the details at length. However, because we, too, now know some of these things upon entering the theater, we can focus less on the depths of Kushner's learning, more on what he makes of it, and conclude that, at bottom, Homebody/Kabul is thin stuff, as politics and as drama." Boston Globe 12/20/01
  • KABUL CABAL: It's a "wildly ambitious, if only partially satisfying new play." Chicago Sun-Times 12/20/01
  • NAGGING QUESTIONS: "This work, which lasts just under four (with two intermissions), reveals the writer's enduring infatuation with his own cleverness and consequent reluctance to edit himself. There are mesmerizing moments, but they are mixed in with ostentatiously cute wordplay and long-winded, pedantic speeches — including a climactic sermon, delivered by a Taliban minister, full of predictable pacifist propaganda." USAToday 12/20/01

WEST END THEATRE STRIKE? London's theatre workers have voted by a margin of 99.7 percent to reject their latest contract offer and voted 98 percent to authorize a strike. "The average hourly rate in the West End is £6.33, and many earn much less." BBC 12/19/01

THEATRE-AID: Some 150,000 tickets to New York cultural events are being donated to families who lost relatives in the World Trade Center. And "the League of American Theaters and Producers, backed by $1 million from New York State, is to deliver 3.4 million coupon booklets offering discounts on Broadway tickets, Midtown hotels, parking garages and theater district restaurants. The goal was to keep a flow of local audiences pouring into the theater district as the number of national and international tourists has dropped. A recent survey by the league found that since Sept. 11, half the Broadway audience has come from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, compared with about 43 percent last season. Over all, Broadway sales this season are about 85 percent of what they were last season." The New York Times 12/20/01 (one-time registration required for access)

  • Previously: THEATRE BAILOUT ANGERS THEATRE FOLK: New York City's plan to buy 50,000 tickets to Broadway plays in the new year as a way of boosting endangered productions has found some conscientious objectors. "Even as the measures to buffer Broadway were being announced, owners of smaller theaters across the city were increasingly upset about being left out. 'I think its boneheaded. There's a lot of insulted theater owners downtown right now'." The New York Times 12/19/01 (one-time registration required for access)

Wednesday December 19

THEATRE BAILOUT ANGERS THEATRE FOLK: New York City's plan to buy 50,000 tickets to Broadway plays in the new year as a way of boosting endangered productions has found some conscientious objectors. "Even as the measures to buffer Broadway were being announced, owners of smaller theaters across the city were increasingly upset about being left out. 'I think its boneheaded. There's a lot of insulted theater owners downtown right now'." The New York Times 12/19/01 (one-time registration required for access)

SADLY, BROADWAY CARNAGE MAY BE AVOIDED: "It appears we may never get to see Stephen Sondheim and Scott Rudin go mano a mano in the courtroom.Though neither side is commenting, word around Broadway is that Sondheim's camp is putting out settlement feelers to Rudin's. The two Broadway giants are locked in a deliciously nasty legal battle over the rights to Sondheim's unproduced musical 'Gold!'" New York Post [first item] 12/19/01

A MIDDLE-EAST BARD: An English Shakespeare company takes Hamlet and Twelfth Night to the United Arab Emirates. But it's hardly a cross-cultural experience. The production is staged in the Dubai Ritz Carlton for the (mostly) American and Brit tourists. And there aren't even many of them - tourism in the Middle East being what it is post-9-11. The Independent (UK) 12/19/01

NEA RELEASES SOME HELD-UP GRANT MONEY: "After holding back its initial approval, the National Endowment for the Arts has decided to give the Berkeley Repertory Theater a $60,000 grant for a production of Tony Kushner's new play on Afghanistan. The endowment's acting chairman held up two grants last month at the very last step in the approval process, a move that generated discussion about the NEA's procedures and the artists' work... Officials at the NEA have steadfastly refused to discuss the rationale behind the scrutiny since the acting chairman's action became public almost three weeks ago." Washington Post 12/19/01

Tuesday December 18

LIVE-AID: The City of New York has announced plans to buy 50,000 tickets to Broadway shows in January. "The 50,000 tickets will cost the city's administrations about $2.5 million at a time when New York city is trying hard to cut its greatly overspent budget. But the city's leaders argue that by propping up Broadway, one of New York's most famous attractions, as much as $12 million could be generated in revenue for struggling businesses." BBC 12/18/01

WILLY-WORLD: Developers have unveiled plans for a new Shakespeare theme park in Stratford-on-Avon. "Details of the multimillion pound plan to build Shakespeare's World, which would cover a 30-acre site and would target tourists and daytripping families, have been circulated this month to surprised Stratford councillors." The Observer (UK) 12/16/01

Monday December 17

MY FAIR PROFIT: The West End revival of My Fair Lady has recouped its costs in record time for a lavish musical, breaking even in just 18 weeks. Advance sales of £10 million helped break the previous record for the musical Oliver!, which needed 35 weeks to make back its money. BBC 12/17/01

NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE: Australian producers proposed to charge $100 for a play featuring a (briefly) nude Elle Macpherson (hey - naked celebrities are a big draw on London's West End). But after slow sales, the play was postponed. "Producers say that rather than being gripped by a new prudishness, theatre-goers are so blase that even the promise of a celebrity appearing naked isn't enough for them to rush the box office. Meanwhile, the audiences who see live theatre only once or twice a year would rather spend their money on tried and tested family fare such as The Wizard Of Oz, which continues to do great box office business in Sydney." Sydney Morning Herald 12/17/01

REBUILDING THROUGH THEATRE: For years drama classes at Sacramento's Luther Burbank High School were "a dumping ground, the place for kids who needed an extra elective or some last-minute English credits." But a new principal who believes students ought to have the experience of the arts "issued a decree - part of a plan to make the campus shine again - that drama would return to Burbank..." Sacramento Bee 12/16/01

CAMPAIGN FOR LIVE MUSIC: The British Musicians Union is mounting a campaign to protest the use of recorded music for live Christmas pantomime shows. "The pantomime season traditionally provides extra employment for musicians in theatre pits, but the MU says that there is a growing trend for productions to use pre-recorded tapes instead of live music." BBC 12/17/01

Sunday December 16

ACTING AS ARCHAIC ART: What's it like being an actor in Canada? "Being a stage actor is kind of like pursuing an archaic art, in the way people perceive it. Sometimes it feels as if you're a member of a medieval guild still making horseshoes. Here it does feel a bit odd at times to be an actor, especially a stage actor, because people don't really get what that is. People always have to say, 'Well, have you done any commercials?' so they can place you somehow." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 12/16/01

TV'S ERODING INFLUENCE: So much post-war drama owes its roots to live stage forms. "But today music hall, variety and revue are all virtually extinct, which means that writers have no popular bank on which to draw. TV, with its endless dreary round of soaps, quizzes and celebrity-led self-improvement shows, is our inherited common culture, giving dramatists little to work on." The Guardian (UK) 12/16/01

THE GLORY AND EGOS BEHIND TANTALUS: Tantalus was an $8 million, 10-hour drama which debuted at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in October 2000. It "was one of the landmark theatrical sensations of the last decade. It was also, as we soon discover in a new television documentary about its creation, a nest of backstage tension, tears, uncertainty, battered egos and stubborn wills." Chicago Tribune 12/16/01

FIRST STOP - CHICAGO: Chicago is becoming the city of choice for trying out a play before heading to Broadway. Why? Well, it's far enough from New York that "you can get work done." And the city's homegrown theatre tradition is strong - it's a city that recognizes and appreciates good theatre. Chicago Sun-Times 12/16/01

Friday December 14

DEATH BY DEFUNDING: Twenty-five year-old Australian puppet company Handspan may go out of business because the state of Victoria has discontinued its annual $100,000 grant to the company. The company, which has an international reputation, says "the decision will almost certainly mean the company's death. Its board will meet next week to decide whether to fold, or struggle to exist on project funding." The Age (Melbourne) 12/14/01

A FUTURE FULL OF $480 TICKETS? So is anyone buying those $480 tickets to The Producers on Broadway? Evidently - "so far, the primary target audiences for these tickets are corporations that want to entertain clients or hotel concierges." And the idea has been successful enough that a company wants to expand the super-premium idea to other hot shows. Los Angeles Times 12/14/01

Thursday December 13

FIGHTING THE L.A. THEATRE CLICHE: Los Angeles has a big theatre scene. But there are clichés about how and why theatre exists there, that it "exists in the shadow of the real reason people are in Los Angeles — movies and television. The result is that a lot of talented people are honing their chops on the stage, but they’re also constantly asking themselves, 'Is the HBO guy here tonight? And can he help me'?” LA Weekly 12/12/01

Wednesday December 12

DISCARDING THE GUTHRIE: Minneapolis' Guthrie Theatre is getting a new home. So what should happen to the old one? "On November 9, the Minneapolis City Council voted 8 to 3 to grant a demolition permit to the Walker Art Center, which owns the theater. Ten days earlier, a city-council subcommittee rejected a recommendation from the city's Historic Preservation Committee that the 38-year-old building be spared the wrecking ball." Historic preservationists are fighting back. CityPages 12/12/01

WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK: "Actors come in two types - those who read reviews and those who read them but tell you they don't. Whether your notice appears in the Uttoxeter Bugle or the London Evening Standard, the possibility that you're being heralded as the next Lawrence Olivier is simply too much to resist." The Guardian (UK) 12/12/01

A STRONG OPINION IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE SHOW: Actor David Soul (from Starsky and Hutch) wins a case in British court against a critic who claimed that Soul's play was 'without doubt the worst West End show' he had seen." Turns out, the critic actually had never seen the show... The Independent (UK) 12/12/01

Monday December 10

WHEN DIRECTORS STEP ON PLAYWRIGHTS: Playwright David Grimm was looking forward to seeing his play produced at Washington's Studio Theatre's Secondstage three weeks ago. But he walked out at intermission, angry at the wholesale changes the director had made in his script. Soon rights for producing the play were withdrawn, and the production has closed down. "The reason it is copyrighted is that it is the property of that author. You can't make changes to the play without the author's permission. It's as simple as that. And theaters violate that all the time." Washington Post 12/09/01

Sunday December 9

THEATRE AS A LIFESTYLE CHOICE: Los Angeles has a thriving theatre scene, but it's an ongoing struggle for companies to survive. One small theatre is trying to Position itself as a creative community that both artists and audiences want to be a part of. "The Evidence Room's rising profile is due not only to its programming, but also to its status as a hangout, with a high-ceilinged space and a large lobby, where the social interaction belies notions that theater is of interest only to the over-50 crowd." Los Angeles Times 12/09/01

SUN SETTING ON LLOYD-WEBBER? "For the first time in many years, there is not a single Lloyd Webber musical touring. His latest musical, "The Beautiful Game," never made it to the United States, while its predecessor, "Whistle Down the Wind," had its world premiere in Washington, D.C., but folded before getting to Broadway. Are we approaching the final curtain of the Lloyd Webber saga? Don't bet on it just yet." The New York Post 12/09/01

Friday December 7

THEATRE CRASH: Losses to New York theatres since September 11 have been substantial, says a new study. And with an economic slowdown, things aren't likely to get better soon. "Using the information supplied by the 101 companies who participated in the survey, the report estimates that the direct loss of income for these groups was nearly $4.8 million through Oct. 31." Backstage 12/05/01

YOU CAN GO BACK: Three years ago the Twin Cities comedy troupe Brave New Workshop managed to scrape together $500,000 to move into a new home. But the larger theatre never really worked out, and the company has struggled ever since. So it's moving back to its old digs. "I'd much rather have a smaller, profitable theater than a larger, money-losing theater." St. Paul Pioneer Press 12/05/01

Thursday December 6

CRITICAL DIRECTIONS: Eight Toronto theatre critics changed roles last weekend, leaving the audience to direct short scenes from Canadian plays. "The theatre provided the venue and technical support. The would-be directors had final say over casting. In the interest of justice for all the poor, victimized theatre folk whose livelihoods and careers have been tragically affected by unfeeling pundits, it would be fun to report that the critics failed miserably at their new tasks. But the evening was both fun and enlightening." National Post 12/06/01

Wednesday December 5

OUT OF WORK AGAIN: You're an actor and your show has come to an end. When are you officially unemployed? "Is it when your final curtain falls? The next morning? Or the start of the following week? If you finish on a Saturday night, as I've just done, you should at least be able to afford yourself a Sunday without anxiety, but some actors I know are making frantic phone calls to friends and contacts even before the Sunday omnibus of The Archers has started." The Guardian (UK) 12/05/01

Tuesday December 4

THE STATE OF CANADIAN THEATRE: Canada has always struggled to create and sustain a thriving national theatre scene. Two new books highlight the quest: one an anecdotal history of Canadian theatre in general, and the other a history of the Stratford Festival, arguably the nation's most celebrated theatrical institution. The Globe & Mail (Toronto) 12/04/01

Monday December 3

BROADWAY DOWN - BUT JUST A BIT: Broadway's woes after September 11 have been well-reported. But halfway through the current season box office grosses aren't catastrophic. They're "just about five percent below the figure for the comparable period from last year. Attendance is slightly more downbeat: The figure through half the season — 5,372,640 — is down 6.9 percent from last year." MSNBC 11/30/01

STARMAKER: Jenny Topper is leaving as head of the West End's Hampstead Theatre. "After organising Europe’s first women’s arts festival and hanging out with the likes of the Beach Boys back in the multimedia fusion years of the early 1970s, Topper has always followed her hunches and evolved into one of British theatre’s most successful starmakers." The Times (UK) 12/03/01

Sunday December 2

THEATRE AFTER THE USSR: How has theatre changed in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union? As the system and patronage changed, so did the way of making theatre. And as the needs of the audience and the aesthetic of the time evolved, so too did the impetus behind making theatre. A group of Russian theatre artists discusses how their world has changed. The New York Times 12/02/01 (one-time registration required for access)

WHY CHICAGO THEATRE IS SO GOOD: Chicago is known as a great theatre town. But it's not just quantity or quality that make it great. "As varied as its theater scene is, there is something distinctive about it, too. Directors working here call Chicago's decisive acting style variously muscular, aggressive, no-nonsense, and substantial." Christian Science Monitor 11/30/01