In America, nothing sucks the oxygen out of the room with more deadly force than financial success. Musicals are booming, so that is where all the attention and money is streaming, a sweet spot that magically unites commerce, branding, and universities. This is not to say there have not been terrific songfests over the past 25 years. Just that it explains why our most talented stage practitioners are not writing plays, but working hard at scoring with the latest lucrative singing/dancing sensation.
“The Angel Shadows — three dancers and two puppeteers — are one of the most remarkable elements about this Tony Award-winning production, directed by Marianne Elliott. Through intricate choreography and cues, the Shadows are responsible for propelling the Angel into the air and operating her heavy wings.” Gia Kourlas talks to the designers who came up with the idea and some of the performers who enact it.
Last week, during a Los Angeles performance of Shakespeare’s Henry IV starring Hamish Linklater as Prince Hal and Hanks as Falstaff, an audience member passed out from dehydration. As paramedics were stabilizing the patient under the seating risers, “never breaking from his tragicomic role of Falstaff, Hanks addressed the crowd and even started pulling people on stage.” (includes video)
“A group of theater artists visiting St. Louis for [the Theatre Communications Group] conference … booed in unison during an excerpt from the musical The King and I. … Demonstrators objected to the portrayal of a character from Burma (now called Myanmar) by a white actress. They also decried other parts of the show as displaying inappropriate cultural appropriation.”
“Maverick director Milo Rau has relaunched NTGent as no less than the ‘City Theatre of the Future’, sealed with the Ghent Manifesto, 10 commandments for making new theatre, Dogme 95-style, covering everything from authorship and language to casting and touring. Given Rau’s track record, this is no glitzy euro-branding hashtag exercise. He means business in changing the way we think about theatre. But there’s already a lot of flak coming his way.”
“‘It was beautiful. You brought your own character to the role,’ Sasson Gabay is telling Tony Shalhoub, who recently won a Tony for starring in the musical The Band’s Visit. Gabay is the Israeli actor who originated the character of the stern and melancholy police officer Tewfiq, playing the role in the 2007 film from which the musical is adapted. ‘I stole your performance,’ Shalhoub replies genially. ‘Acting is thievery.’ … We got the two Tewfiqs together to discuss why such a small film has had such impact and what the actors have learned, and can learn, from each other.”
“Bryan Fonseca, who founded the Phoenix Theatre in 1983, is leaving the organization after 35 years of serving as the group’s principal director and main artistic force … The stunning move comes in the midst of a major transition for the theater, which just moved into a newly built, $11 million downtown facility.” A press release quotes Fonseca as saying, “The board of directors believe that the institution now needs to redirect its energy to a solid fiscal focus, that there are other leaders more capable of putting their energies into meeting the [company’s] remaining financial demands.”
“The pop singer’s estate, along with Columbia Live Stage, said Tuesday that it had agreed to develop a stage musical about his life, aiming for Broadway in 2020. … The book is to be written by Lynn Nottage, a playwright who has won two Pulitzers, for Ruined and Sweat. And the show is to be directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, the artistic associate of the Royal Ballet in London, who won a Tony Award for An American in Paris.”
Sean Douglass: “I think we have to accept that the former critic and blogger landscape is gone, because there just isn’t enough interest to sustain it. … While many blogs may be gone, the social media that has replaced them can be a far more powerful tool for reaching people than what we’ve ever had before. Let’s not lament the migration to social media and theaters-as-content-distributors. Let’s embrace it.”
“[Leonard] Blavatnik’s company Access Entertainment, headed by Danny Cohen, the former director of BBC Television, announced it had purchased the Theatre Royal Haymarket for an undisclosed sum. … The theatre has an interesting history going back to 1720. It opened in its current John Nash-designed grade I-listed building in 1821 with a production of Sheridan’s The Rivals followed by a season which included Edmund Kean as King Lear.”
Tommie Muhammad, a 72-year-old actor and director, has been trying to find a home for African American theatre in Stockton since 1983. He “still wants to produce black plays, but it’s proving more and more difficult as time passes. Every so often, he gets the opportunity to put on a production, but not with the consistency he had hoped for.”
May Adrales, who has been a director and collaborator with Qui Nguyen and his play Vietgone for several years, is just finishing up a season as an associate artistic director at the Milwaukee Rep. What has she learned? “It’s hard to initiate change, and it’s hard to start to reframe things differently.”
What happened? Only a few seasons ago, Broadway was celebrating powerful and urgent new US plays on Broadway such as Eclipsed, Sweat, Clybourne Park and August/Osage County. It had been the same with a renaissance of powerful, groundbreaking, original and diverse US musicals such as Hamilton and Dear Evan Hanson. In contrast, all of this year’s best musical nominations were adapted from films – Mean Girls, SpongeBob Square Pants, The Band’s Visit and Frozen – with The Band’s Visit the closest to reflecting past developments and achievements in the art form.
“The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is moving into theatre producing with a touring show about cuts to domestic violence funding. Refuge Women is a collaboration between journalists and performers, and is inspired by real stories uncovered through investigations into the state of government-funded services for women fleeing domestic violence.”
If we are to create more theatres in London, what business models are they going to operate on if no public money is available? There is an intrinsic problem. Property developers want to give over as little space as possible for cultural provision, but to make a theatre work commercially, you need a certain number of seats and – preferably – a food and drink operation to bring in a secondary income.
Every year, the Academy Awards faithfully includes screenwriters in not one but two categories. And it’s not just the Oscars; the Grammys, Emmys, and Golden Globes all award the writers in their respective industries on the air. And yet it’s the theater that most esteems writers; we are generally recognized as the principal artistic force behind new work, and we even retain ownership and control over the material we create. Yet on the very awards show intended to celebrate our craft, we are effectively negated.
“Richard II is God’s anointed representative on earth, but by the end of the play that bears his name, he’s dead and his cousin sits on his throne. This is the story of how Shakespeare used English history to ask still-relevant questions about legitimacy, and about how a performance of Richard II played a role in the last aristocratic rebellion against the English crown.” (podcast)
“Artists in London and Gaza are to launch a series of simultaneous, live-streamed performances this month in an attempt to connect people living under severe blockade in the coastal enclave with international audiences in Britain. Performers will use video projection as a backdrop to simulate walking through each other’s homes and streets, and interact as if they were in the same room, even as they are separated by 2,000 miles.”
“By 2016 the Donmar, a tiny but high-profile theatre in Covent Garden [in London], had put on not one but three all-female Shakespeares, each with the great actor Harriet Walter, directed by [Phyllida] Lloyd and with an ethnically diverse cast drawn partly from ex-offenders. The trilogy – which includes [Julius Caesar,] Henry IV and The Tempest – has already been staged back-to-back in a large tent in King’s Cross and travelled to New York.” Says Donmar executive producer Kate Pakenham, “The Shakespeare trilogy has a feminist mission, a social mission, an inclusivity mission, an education mission. And that actually drove philanthropy and partnerships and funding that made the theatre richer in every way.”
“Planning permission has been granted for a block of men’s public toilets in Newport to be turned into a performance space. The Victorian building in Newport city centre is to become a 25-seat micro-venue used for monologues, site-specific works, magicians and other professional and amateur performances.”
“The origin story begins in 2007, when [Orin] Wolf took his wife, who was born in Israel, to the Other Israel Film Festival at J.C.C. Manhattan on the Upper West Side. There was a new Israeli film playing that they wanted to see — The Band’s Visit, a fictional story about an Egyptian police orchestra that gets stranded for a night in an Israeli desert town. Mr. Wolf was, at that point, a producer largely in his dreams.”
“The question for arts journalism is, what is the role of the critic in contemporary society?” Charles Whitaker said. “Critics are no longer the influential arbiters of taste that they once were. People are turning to Facebook and their friends to determine where to spend their arts dollars. The role of the critic has been democratized by the fact that everyone has an opportunity to be an influencer, via their own media channels.”
Ironically, in the musical devoted to their lives – A Chorus Line, of course – there often is no chorus. But Actors Equity wants to change what chorus members can achieve: “It’s petitioning the Tony administration committee to consider awards for not only choruses, but their counterparts in plays, known as ensembles.”
What a ridiculous idea. “These hoary hand-wringings are a cumulative canard bigger than the worldwide branding of Donald Duck (you knew I’d get to Disney eventually). They betray a lack of perspective for Broadway history and, most disconcerting to me, a bias against children and their predilections.”
“Michael Longhurst has been appointed as the new artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Longhurst, the acclaimed director of Amadeus at the National Theatre and Constellations at the Royal Court [and subsequently on Broadway], will take over from outgoing artistic director Josie Rourke at the Covent Garden theatre in March 2019.”