For more than a year, the Detroit-based experimental theater company The Hinterlands has been staging what they call “µTopian Dinners” – literally preparing and sharing a meal with guests. The company sees the project “as a kind of a laboratory to investigate the cultural values that are reinforced through eating, meals, and cooking. … Implementing this process of non-textual translation via food practices carries a kind of power in the fact of it being a non-verbal form of communication, but one that nonetheless is extremely culturally specific.”
“Breathless and behind schedule, Dr. Linda Dahl rushed into the waiting room of her office on East 56th Street in Manhattan where two patients, handsome men with chiseled physiques, waited. ‘Someone once asked me, ‘What’s with your patients? They’re all gorgeous,” she said later with a laugh.”
The ticketing operator said Get Me In! and Seatwave – two of the UK’s four largest reselling sites – will be replaced by a new fan-to-fan ticket exchange service. The decision has already been hailed as a major commitment by the industry to combat online touts, which use secondary marketplaces to resell tickets for entertainment and sports events at highly inflated prices.
Or maybe it is if you’re Mike Birbiglia, whose new play is called, well, The New One. Current trends in play-naming are contradictory: “banality and protractedness.”
Theatre itself can be activism, of course, through subject matter and through subtle casting changes or donation asks at the end of the play or musical. But “public service” – part of most nonprofit theatres’ mission statements – shouldn’t end at the theatre doors.
The designers asked them to, in an open letter from their union to American Theatre: “When ATM denies credit to designers while simultaneously highlighting photos of our work, they minimize the role designers play in a production. Not crediting our work diminishes designers’ contributions to a production, denies them publicity and exposure that is rightfully theirs, and further minimizes the value of good design to theatre producers, directors, playwrights, and other theatremakers.”
Even politicians are getting involved: “Rep. Jerrold Nadler and officials from the Public Theater pleaded Friday for the FAA to divert helicopter traffic from Central Park because the noise keeps interrupting Shakespeare in the Park, which is currently staging Twelfth Night.”
Should the audience play dramaturg? “It’s certainly true that theatregoers like the bragging rights that come from seeing artists and shows before they become big” – imagine those who saw Hamilton in its workshop process. But what’s the value in seeing rough plays in process?
“Stephanie Ybarra, director of special artistic projects at New York’s Public Theater, has been named the artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage. Ybarra will succeed Kwame Kwei-Armah, who wound up his seven-year tenure with the company in January and became artistic director of London’s Young Vic Theater.”
Okay, the shows at the Moulin Rouge, the Lido, and the Crazy Horse do include more than just the high-kick dance that dates back to 1889. Even so, writes Laura Cappelle, for all the resources and skill applied to these clubs’ shows (especially the Moulin Rouge’s), “the genre that was once the toast of Paris lost touch with the times in the last decades of the 20th century.”
Recently, theatremakers in the United States are asking this question in droves, as they try to figure out their roles and responsibilities in today’s current political climate. The answers remain varied, but a common thread can be seen: theatre as activism is one of the only weapons they feel they have to challenge the rising tide of partisanship dividing the nation.
Actor Stacy Keach writes about preparing for and performing the role of Ernest Hemingway in Jim McGrath’s one-man play Pamplona at Chicago’s Goodman Theater, where he’s resuming the run that abruptly ended last summer after 11 previews because of one very unfortunate event.
“Across the country, as actors and audiences endure rain, heat, and bugs to present and partake of free professional performances of the Bard’s classics, one group of designers has a special challenge: costume designers, who must conceive innovative ways to protect actors, their clothes, and the integrity of the story. How does the process of working al fresco differ from being in more enclosed venues, and how do costumers think sustainably to preserve their designs night after night?”
“A.L.Ex (which stands for Artificial Language Experiment) has been fed the subtitles from more than 100,000 films, from action movies like Deep Impact to the pornographic film Deep Throat. When someone talks to it, the system uses a tool called a neural network, vaguely modeled on the brain, to analyze similar exchanges in its database and compose its own response. [Creator Piotr] Mirowski made his stage debut with A.L.Ex in July 2016. It did not go to plan.”
“It has done a lot for me,” says theatremaker Kieran Hurley, whose successes at Edinburgh include Beats and Heads Up, and who has Square Go, a collaboration with Gary McNair, at the Roundabout at Summerhall this August. But he is also troubled by the fringe’s dominance in launching careers.
Earlier this summer, Alabama Shakespeare Festival artistic director Rick Dildine packed four Southern playwrights into a minivan and took them on a 12-town, seven-state swing around the region, holding town hall-style meetings where they gathered local folks to talk about what being a Southerner means in 2018.
The actor was on his way to the West End for his performance on Saturday when he strained his calf, rendering him unable to kneel or carry Cordelia. The show was canceled, but to make it up to audience members as they queued for refunds, he took questions and spoke to them from the stage.
Several critics have objected to a scene in David Ireland’s Ulster American, now running at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in which two male characters talk about which well-known females they would rape. “The rape conversation is not just thrown in to give the audience a good laugh, it is there for a reason. Actually, many reasons,” writes Gardner. “It may be extremely discomforting to watch, (there were several moments when I realised that my jaw was hanging open) but I don’t doubt that everyone involved interrogated every single one of the decisions they were making. Very carefully.”
“Sinha, who has a Radio 4 show and is a regular contributor to ITV’s quiz show The Chase, labelled Scottish writer Kate Copstick a ‘sociopathic bully’ after she responded angrily to being refused entry to his show. The Scotsman critic wanted to see his show’s only preview night in the city.”
And we’ve got it: In Jamestown, NY, “the city is hoping to expand its reputation for humor with the opening this week of the National Comedy Center, a museum devoted to, as its website says, ‘telling the vital story of comedy in America.'”
There’s been a lot of art about this – and much more may be coming in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. “Acting’s demands are personal as well as technical. Actors often have to perform a role badly, over and over and over again, before they can perform it well, which is embarrassing and exposing. This conspires to give a director or teacher or coach a lot of power and an actor — unless that actor is a star — very little.”
He was trying to fix an issue with diminishing royalties from his novels, but when Guy Domville was produced in London, chaos ensued: “James made it backstage for the closing minutes. He heard both the sneers from the gallery and the enthusiastic applause from the stalls. When Alexander took his curtain call, Henry’s friends in the audience began shouting ‘Author, author!,’ and the unnerved actor took James by the hand and led him onstage. A civil war ensued.”
The study’s authors found that the average arts and culture organization in the U.S. engaged with 13.4 percent of its local population, either in person or online, in 2013. At the same time, the authors noted that their metric of “total touch points” does not reveal the duration, depth or quality of engagement each person has with the organization.
The word that came to mind as I watched each of these shows was dislocation – each seems to change the viewer’s place in the hierarchy of society and of theatre. Each work uses entirely different techniques and achieves different effects, but they serve as harbingers of how audiences entrenched in 20th century theatremaking may feel in 25 years.
American history and politics are centre stage at this year’s Edinburgh festival. Alongside five shows with “Trump” in the title, from comedy to musicals, several fringe productions are interrogating troubling aspects of US culture.
“As a new award seeks to give casting directors overdue recognition for their key role in shaping productions – not to mention actors’ careers – leading practitioners in the job tell Nick Clark what they believe makes a good casting director, how they started their careers, and what actors can do at auditions to impress them.”
“My takeaway was that there was great excitement, and almost a sense of relief, to see women being offered these roles,” Sara Bareilles says of “Waitress.” “And the most exciting thing is looking at the next generation of composers, book writers, directors and choreographers now that there’s this wonderful network of women in the industry.”
The Offensive Weapons Bill, which is currently going through parliament, includes a section that would make it an offence for a seller to deliver a bladed product to a residential address. Knives required by fight directors or stage managers as props for sets would no longer be able to delivered to these addresses, which he said would create difficulties for the industry.
Natasha Tripney: “It’s part of a critic’s remit after all to look at what’s before them actively and analytically. But if this discussion is to take place, it needs to be with the awareness that while an actor’s body is their art, their tool, it is also not something they slip off at the end of a performance like a dress.”