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.”
“Vulture sat down with director David Cromer, book writer Itamar Moses, and composer-lyricist David Yazbek, and Lenk — are all nominated for Tony awards in their respective categories, added with another seven for the show’s total 11 nods — to talk about the process of translating scene into song and creating a number that is unlike anything most people, the creative team included, traditionally believe Broadway is supposed to be.”
Jennifer Bielstein has been named the new executive director of American Conservatory Theater (ACT). She is currently the managing director of the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. AT ACT, she will take over for Peter Pastreich, who will depart the theatre at the end of the 2017-18 season.
“Forum Theatre, the little company in Silver Spring that on a modest scale championed some of the most advanced ideas in modern playgoing, announced Wednesday that it would be closing shop for good on July 31, after 14 years of putting on adventurous shows. … Factors includ[ed] the crowded theater landscape in the region and [artistic director Michael] Dove’s desire to explore more esoteric kinds of theater than could be sustained by the company.”
“UK Theatre’ member venues, comprising more than 200 auditoria, took a reduced total of £469.8 million from ticket sales in 2017, down £1.9 million on the previous year. The total number of tickets sold was also less than in 2016, falling 1.87% from 19 million to 18.7 million. … This is despite a 2.9% increase in the total number of performances in 2017.”
“In an open nominations field, the category could be dominated by one gender at the expense of another.” Mark Shenton points out several examples of awards where the acting categories aren’t separated by gender – and where women have subsequently been outnumbered by men as nominees.
David Williamson’s The Removalists, written in 1971 and now a standard part of school curricula, was to receive its Chinese premiere as part of an arts festival in Beijing. The playwright says that the official reason for the ban – which comes as relations between China and Australia are at a low point – was “that the language was too salty and that the play was too violent … [But] there’s some speculation that that mightn’t have been the real reason. Because the play does depict police authority well and truly overstepping its mark, which is a sensitive issue here in China at the moment.”
“Apart from stray quibbles over which plays should and shouldn’t have made the list …, there has so far been extraordinarily little chatter, let alone pushback, about this audacious stab at canon-making. Ten years ago there would have been blog posts galore, perhaps a piss take in Time Out New York …, a snarky side-eye from Michael Riedel.” Rob Weinert-Kendt has a none-too-cheerful answer to the question.
E. Alex Jung surveys “a larger seismic shift that has occurred in the past few years: Instead of gay people trying to fit into traditionally heterosexual and male comedy spaces, they’re creating a gay paradigm. … What distinguishes it today is a queer sensibility. It’s queer comedy: stranger and more off-kilter than ever before, with a distinctly camp flavor.”