FlyOver: February 2007 Archives
The Montana Newspaper Association has sent out its entry forms for its 2006 Better Newspaper Contest. There are 41 categories for entries -- everything from Best Agriculture Reporting to Best Process Color Ad.
There is no category for entries even remotely related to arts coverage.
I'm thinking of entering some arts stories in the ag category, just to make a point.
Call it the curse of topicality. The week that North Carolina's Council of State is forced to vote on changes in lethal injection protocols, a regional company stages Dead Man Walking. Read about how this all came together, here.
There's a fun interview with poet Andrei Codrescu at the Idaho Statesman site; check it out here.
Apparently Monet plays well in the outback: the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors bureau announced that "the Monet in Normandy exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art injected almost $24.3 million dollars in tourism revenue into the Wake County economy - more than double the initial projection." Just think....with all that money, maybe they could buy a Monet of their own! Anyway, read about it here.
Arts advocates in Kansas were relieved to learn that Gov. Matt Blunt has included money for the arts -- a little over $8 million -- in his annual budget recommendation. Though it's a pitance, some had feared the gov was going to stiff the arts completely. Read more here.
Floridians, apparently, love Florida -- Richard Florida, that is: "The Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has picked Tallahassee and two other communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers, Charlotte, N.C., and Duluth, Minn./Superior, Wisc., as the launch sites of the new Knight Creative Communities Initiative. It's a partnership with social theorist Richard Florida, author of 'The Rise of the Creative Class,' and Leon County's business, education and government leaders to enhance the area's economic base beyond government and education." Read more about it here.
Finally, at risk of self-promo, here is a review I wrote of the most recent performance by the Missoula Symphony Orchestra. I've gotten notes of thanks and praise from members of the chorus and the audience; I've also gotten angry letters telling me I need to show "fealty" (!?!?) to the orchestra and that reviews like this "will shut down this valued institution." So I guess a mixed-bag performance inspired a mixed-bag review which resulted in mixed responses!
From Bridgette Redman:
Theater people talk a lot about how theater builds community and makes their home a better place to live. It's that sense of community that is felt viscerally when tragedy strikes.
I'd skipped over the front page of the newspaper this morning on my way to work to get to the arts section. So it wasn't until an e-mail arrived pleading for sets, costumes, and volunteers that I heard the news that was on the front cover.
Owosso is a town of 16,000 people. Its downtown has many cultural landmarks including a castle built by a famous novelist. But the community's heart is found in the spotlights of the Lebowsky Theater, a historic building where the Owosso Community Players draw huge crowds every year with their musicals. The building was erected in 1926 and Players purchased it in 1991, making them one of the few local groups to own their own performance space.
At least, that was true until fire ripped through it Wednesday, destroying the auditorium, the stage, their equipment, and all of the sets and costumes for "Beauty and the Beast", the musical that was to open next Friday.
It's difficult to describe the death of an arts space. No matter what happens with rebuilding or insurance, there is a loss that can't be replaced. All the hopes and dreams poured into the space, all the work, all the laughter can now be sought only in memory and ashes.
When I last made the hour drive out there it was in 2005 to see Motown's Martha Reeves perform in a Motown Revue alongside singers from the community. My father tells a story of his childhood how his first trip to a "big city" was to Owosso and what was then the movie theater. Each year, the Owosso Players have put on more and bigger musicals and shows, making themselves a source of pride to their entire community. Now they are homeless.
The Owosso Community Players plan to open their musical next week on schedule. They don't know where and they don't know how, they just know that they're not going to let tragedy stop them from doing what art does best: bring people together.
Reuters reported Wednesday a study showing that investment in the newsroom will actually help newspapers make more money. This commonsensical conclusion came from researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia, who spent a decade scouring financial data to find that newsroom quality affected the bottomline more than advertising and other departments.
The findings emerge during a growing trend in the industry to eliminate jobs in order to boost profits. According to job outplacement tracking firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the number of planned job cuts in the U.S. media sector surged 88 percent to 17,809 last year, Reuters reported.
"If you invest in the newsroom, do you make more money? The answer is yes," Esther Thorson, an advertising professor and associate dean for graduate studies at the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, said in a statement.
While some may see the study as cause for celebrating, given the anxiety currently besieging publishers over declining circulation, stock prices and relevance to young readers, Philip Meyer, a professor at the University of North Carolina and author of the book "The Vanishing Newspaper," told Reuters he won't be holding his breath.
"I don't share the authors' confidence that the industry will appreciate the importance of their result and act on it," Meyer said. "Too many owners are more interested in harvesting than investing."
Two days later, Georgia Public Broadcasing reports that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the largest paper in Georgia whose national stature has grown as the Southeast has grown, announced it will cut back on its circulation. It will no longer distribute to Alabama, South Carolina and Florida. It will also scale back in-state circulation to 66 of Georgia's 145 counties. The newspaper had previously delivered to 145 counties.
More from Bridgette Redman in Lansing:
One-hander plays are becoming increasingly common. Partly this is because theater budgets are shrinking and the payroll strain is lightened when they have to pay only one actor rather than multiple ones.
I'm still undecided on what I think of the genre. When done well, they can be immensely entertaining to watch. While I didn't care for the script's conclusion (though perhaps it was meant to be more satirical than it came across), Michigan's Williamston Theatre's production of Fully Committed was highly entertaining (click here for a full review).
It was a show that did underline a characteristic of one-hander shows: They're often more about the skill and technique of the actor than they are about the story. They're fun to watch because of what the actor is pulling off. They rent a low-budget space on the plane of spectacle theater.
More from Bridgette Redman:
It's not the big budgets that make great art. In fact, I question whether big budgets can get in the way of great art. If art is all about making the sale, recouping the investment, and making sure box office sales are high, doesn't it lose touch with its creative power? Doesn't it become commercial rather than groundbreaking and expressive?
It's why I'm fascinated with groups that are creating compelling art with small to modest budgets. They have a certain freedom to pursue the art which speaks to them rather than the art which will sell to faceless masses created by marketing research composites.
In Lansing, Happendance is one of those groups that everyone knows. They're also a group that has had to be creative in finding ways to survive--especially after state arts funding was frozen in 1991. They're celebrating their 30th year and the story of their survival is one of commitment to their art, sacrifice by its founders, and the generosity of those who believe in dance as an expressive art form that makes our community a better place.
Mike Hughes chronicles that tale in this recent Lansing State Journal article.
The Montana Meth Project has earned more than a few headlines around the country for its extremely graphic television, billboard, and print ads. This week, a full-length documentary sponsored by the MMP is set to debut at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula (read about it here, and squirm). The doc will run on HBO next month.
And you thought there was nothing new in the theater...Just look what's happening in Louisville:
"While site-specific performances have become more prevalent, no company, as far as Louisville's Specific Gravity Ensemble can tell, has staged plays in elevators. Friday, the company premiered Elevator Plays: Ascent-Descent/Assent-Dissent."
Read all about it in Sherry Deatrick's review from the Louisville Eccentric Observer.
Several of the presenters at the recent NEA institute on theater journalism riffed on the importance of painting vivid detail in critiques of theater. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune told us he has a note posted on his computer that says: "Be Specific. Be Brave." Dominic Papatola of the St. Paul Pioneer Press asserted, "what we should try to articulate is the relative humidity in the room." Several others echoed that theme.
Perhaps it's illuminating to look outside of what we normally call theater criticism to find examples of such in-the-scene writing. Imagine, if you will, how a theater review would read if it took an approach more like this blog post, by Juan Carlos Rodriguez, about preparations for the Super Bowl in Miami. You can almost smell the pavement, the tensions...and the beer.
(Thanks to Mia Leonin for pointing us to Rodriguez's post)
It's usually the artistic directors, conductors, and other artistic staff that get the limelight in any performing arts organization. The administrative staff is respected and appreciated internally, but are rarely seen as anything but paper-pushing employees outside the organization.
Yet, an organization can live and die by its administrative staff. It's something that the Lansing Symphony Orchestra appears to have in mind when they selected their new executive director this month. David Gross, a percussionist for the Grand Rapids Symphony has been selected to be the next executive director.
He's a man who has learned from the administrative tragedies of others. As a professional musician he witnessed the labor disputes that caused the downfall of the Kansas City Philharmonic. Still a staunch union man, he's built a career by learning how to successfully negotiate contracts in ways that keep both musicians and the organization healthy and functioning.
In this story, Lawrence Cosentino of the Lansing City Pulse captures the importance of such skills to an organization in his profile of the incoming executive director.
At a time when arts organizations are spending more of their salary budget on administrative positions than on artists, it's always refreshing to see an organization that hires an artist who is also a capable administrator.
(Thanks to Bridgette Redman for pointing us to this story)
Looking over the entry categories for this year's Best of the West contest for journalists from the western U.S., I note what I've noted pretty much every year since I started as an arts writer: There's no category remotely related to arts. Even the "special topic column writing" category lists only the following as examples of such "special topics": politics, sports, food, television, or business.
Last year as I recall, the Montana Newspaper Association awards application still had categories for agriculture and natural resource reporting; but no arts category. This despite the fact that, according to a 2005 report by the Center for Applied Economic Reseach in Billings, there are more artists making their living in Montana than people employed by Montana's mining industry, wood products manufacturing industry, and building materials retail trade market.
What are we, chopped liver?
Below are notes, provided by Bridgette Redman (Thanks Bridgette!), from the lecture by New Yorker theater critic John Lahr, given at the NEA Arts Journalism Institute on Theater and Musical Theater. We're hoping to eventually get an audio link posted for the lecture; but in the meantime, there's plenty to chew on here.
The #1 problem of drama criticism is that you see yourselves as reporters. No. You are storytellers. You tell the story of what the play is about and what you think about it.
The real drama of critical experience is not a thumb up or down. Judgment is a part of it, but the narrative challenge is the mind of the critic meeting the mind of the playwright. The critic should state the case for the play better than the playwright.
The challenge is one of vocabulary. You have to have a big word horde of critical language, a rich vernacular about different spheres of the art. Build it up--keep words, phrases, jokes, funny things you hear. Store it up. Every time you hear a great line, put it down. Keep a notebook. Filled with notes and information for yourself.
Certain ideas start to secrete. It puts your unconscious mind to work. It's an important way of building up. Write down notes in advance of seeing a show. You're then more receptive, you're ready for a conversation. You've prepared yourself.
When you have a pad in hand, you're not watching the stage. Get a script so that you are fully present for the event. Some critics are in the seats, but they're not there. Read the experience, not the person's words. Operate in an arena of intuition. Be litmus paper. IF you are not open and receptive, if your critiquing isn't an act of generosity and love, why are you there? What is your function?
Tell the story of community and where you are. You are there to interpret. Take this thing and place it in a larger context.
The plot is not the play. It's a codified experience of a fiction that allows the author to speak, so figure out what it is really about. It's where the drama of the playwright and critic come together.
The playwright will mention what the play is about in the first 40 seconds. A good playwright will tell you the theme. It happens in Hamlet, The Seagull, The Lute.
Bring the event to the reader. Put together the text and the subtext and create for the reader the sense of the expedition the playwright has gone on. Get people into the theater to learn something.
We are all members of the audience. Be as responsive and responsible as possible. Be more informed and communicate that information back to the audience.
Broaden your experience of the theater. Words are not the only language of theater. We are intellectual entertainers. Play with the play, enter it, enjoy it and critique it. Give the reader a sense of a theatrical dimension in it. Your job is to animate this memory. Give the illusion of what you've seen.
There is not an objective point of view.
Theater is important even if it isn't being seen by the masses. Where else do you get stories told by individuals to other individuals? Other stories are told by corporations to pick your pocket. The theater is where people are saying what they really feel.
There are reasons people don't come to the theater. The whole point of terrorism is to make people afraid of groups.
You mediate between individual voices and get its argument out.
I disagree with everything Mary McCarthy writes. But she writes well. Her interests are lofty. She makes an argument alive. I don't agree with her, but I admire her expression.
Polish your expressiveness. It's not your reporting skills; it's what resonates with you. The theater isn't so much a beat as the thing you use to express what you feel. Use theater to express who you are.
I hate the condescension critics get. They are all figures of fun in literature. I prefer the metaphor of the gaze of the mother and child. The gaze is the power of critics and the problem of critics. If it isn't lovable, clearn, and free of excess baggage, then it isn't properly nurturing.
Unlike film, theater happens in real time. It's different every night. You are a living response to it. Where's the record when it is done? The record is down to the review. The review has great importance to the art form. It has an historical as well as a personal import. That's why it is sad that the writing isn't better.
How do you put the play in the larger context?
Not every play needs to be reviewed. Seeing 100 shows a year is deadening. It hampers criticism. I find my tolerance for being bored is in direct proportion to my age. It pisses me off when they waste valuable hours of what's left of my life. I'll leave. If you know you're not liking it, why stay? It kills your palette. You have to stay fresh. Don't see everything.
Critics need to know more.
Some critics aren't psychologically aware. Theater is psychology translated to behavior. It's all the psychology of individualism, the losing of the self.
You have to be involved in shows. Make sure you can get to where you can see shows--New York, Chicago, or London.
Story. Drama. Word horde.
You want a sentence to pop, to empower, to get a lot of interest. It's simply syntax. The verb, subject, noun predicate. The closer you can get them together and end on the point, the better the sentence will be. Put clauses before the subject. Let the sentence fall on the idea you want to hit. Make it a straight, powerful drive to the idea.
Try to identify a way of speaking.
It's weird to have regular readers. You become intellectual wallpaper. They get used to your tone and attitude. You have to really be honorable. Write to them. People are waiting for you to explain what they don't get. If you do criticism correctly, you're creating.
Criticism is a life without risk. You must come to the theater with an open and humble heart.
It's not a play without an audience. The echo from the audience is a part of the play.
Try to think against perceived opinions and yield different ideas. So much of the story we're told is never tested. Come at it from a different angle. Change your questions and see what answers you get.
In the future, they'll look at our songs, stories, and styles. Insist on joy. Explore the concept that culture is threatened. Do your job better than you know how to do it.
Let's cut to the heart of what inspired this blog in the first place. In his keynote address to the NEA Institute mentioned in the first post, New Yorker senior theater critic John Lahr stated, with what at least appeared to be a straight face, "If it's not in the New Yorker, it doesn't exist in the culture." He went on to explain his belief that the New Yorker serves as the de facto publication of record for theater in America.
While it's true that the New Yorker consistently has some of the finest and most thought-provoking theater criticism in America, this assertion seems the exact kind of New York-centric thinking that is common in the arts world. If you're serious about theater, you go to New York. If you're serious about film, you go to Los Angeles. Yada Yada.
I, for one, would beg to differ, both in spirit and letter. For one thing, the New Yorker isn't exactly the most widely read publication in America; there are plenty of other newspapers and magazines that offer theater criticism (at least in some small doses) that reach larger numbers of people. The Los Angeles Times is but one example.
But beyond that is the implied question of whether art in other places really matters in our historical and cultural trajectory; whether serious and significant art happens in other places.
I live in Missoula, Montana, sharing a river valley with about 60,000 people. It's true that Missoula lacks the diversity of culture in New York. It's also true that the archives of the Missoulian newspaper aren't quite as widely or well preserved as those of the New Yorker (although that's changing as the paper's body of work online grows); so some things that happen in my city do become largely lost to history once they've passed.
Still, many of the artists I know in Missoula live here for reasons that are more about their art than about their exposure to the world: The mountains inspire them, fly fishing soothes them, etcetera. It's a quieter place than New York, and thus a great place for contemplation and focused creativity. There are important things that happen here.
And Missoula is just one place in a big, big country. It's a place that John Lahr himself visits on occasion, to fly fish. Surely he can understand why an artist might choose the big sky of Montana over the bustle of New York.
And in Missoula, I daresay our local culture matters more to us than what's happening on Broadway.
Welcome to art.rox, a blog about art in the American outback. This blog was created as a means for arts journalists and artists outside the major American urban areas to celebrate, discuss, critique, and simply share what they do.
My name is Joe Nickell; I'm the arts and entertainment reporter at the Missoulian newspaper in Missoula, Montana. As I write this, the third annual NEA Institute in Theater and Musical Theater is wrapping up in Los Angeles. I've been fortunate to be a part of this Institute; the energy, communion, and sharing of ideas that we've experienced in the past two weeks has been amazing. Life-changing, I would even hazard to say.
This blog is intended partly as a means for the fellows of this Institute to continue sharing ideas. But there are bigger hopes here: That this can ultimately grow to serve the larger community of journalists, artists, and institutions involved in the arts in America -- particularly those who reside in smaller cities and rural areas of the country.
This blog is currently co-hosted by John Stoehr, arts and culture reporter at the Savannah Morning News. He'll likely say hi soon enough.
Welcome. Say hi!
Art.Rox is a blog about art in the American outback. It was created as a means for arts journalists and artists outside the major American urban areas to celebrate, discuss, critique, and simply share what they do.
This blog is intended partly as a means for the Fellows of the USC Annenberg's 2007 NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater to continue sharing ideas.
But there are bigger hopes here: That this can ultimately grow to serve the larger community of journalists, artists, and institutions involved in the arts in America -- particularly those who reside in smaller cities and rural areas of the country.
Art.Rox is co-hosted by Joe Nickell, John Stoehr, Bridgette Redman and Jennifer A. Smith.
John Stoehr is the arts and culture reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga. He is a two-time Fellow of the Arts Journalism Institutes of the National Endowment for the Arts. He is also a book critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other publications.
Joe Nickell is the arts and entertainment reporter for the Missoulian newspaper in Missoula, Montana. Like John, he is a two-time Fellow of the NEA Arts Journalism Institutes. He is also co-host of Rox, an independent television series that was dubbed "the best TV show in America" by Wired Magazine and "the first television series broadcast in cyberspace" by Time. A former contributing editor at Res Magazine, Joe has written for publications including the New York Times, Salon.com, Wired, Outside, and Business 2.0.
Bridgette Redman is a freelance performing arts columnist and theater reviewer for the Lansing State Journal in Lansing, Michigan. She was a 2007 Fellow of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater. She is also a textbook editor and writer for the American Hotel & Lodging Association Educational Institute; the publisher of Book Help Web; a category lead for the book, newspaper, and magazine section of Epinions.com; a ghost writer; a freelance magazine writer; and a drama instructor for K-3 at a local Montessori school.
Jennifer A. Smith lives in Madison, Wis., where she manages the state's arts and culture Web site, Portalwisconsin.org. She is also a freelance arts writer whose work appears regularly in Madison's alternative weekly, Isthmus, and other publications.Â She is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was a 2007 Fellow of the NEA/USC Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater.