Results tagged “pittsburgh post-gazette” from Drama Queen

This being Sarasota, home of several Ringling Brothers and their circus' winter quarters, yesterday was steeped in the town's unique legacy. (At left, ATCA's esteemed leader, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Chris Rawson and several other highly credentialed colleagues get their clown on during a panel discussion about circus arts.) We toured Ca D'Zan (John and Mable Ringling's estate), visited the Ringling Museum of Art and settled in for a discussion at the Historic Asolo Theatre--not to be confused with Asolo Repertory Theatre (Long, confusing story)--before being wowed by Howard Tibbals' insanely detailed and extensive miniature circus. Blah, blah, blah, a swell time was had by all. 

But let's get back to that panel discussion, because its label, "John Ringling's Circus Legacy in Sarasota," is deceptive. We certainly learned about Ringling's philanthropic largesse and the circus' roots here. Mr. Ringling, it seems, is the font from which every Sarasota cultural institution springs. As Golden Apple Dinner Theater artistic director Robert Turoff noted during another panel discussion, "He is in everything we do, in our hearts and in our minds." Amen.  

However, we also heard about the schism between respect for the arts on Florida's "Cultural Coast" and circus somehow taking a backseat to that culture. There's irony for you.

Occasionally, as theater critics we're called on to review the circus. In Philadelphia, it's generally either for Ringling/Barnum/Bailey, Cirque de Soleil, or some circus-themed Fringe Festival event. Panelist Jim Ragona, managing director of Circus Sarasota, noted that circus arts seem to garner more respect in Europe than in the U.S., with 700 different circuses thriving in Italy alone (though I'd argue the form is maybe less prolific, but equally respected in Canada, Cirque's birthplace). Steven Smith, former dean of Ringling Brothers' Clown College and current guest director of the Big Apple Circus, who happens to have attended Chicago's Goodman School of Drama, also argues for Circus' parity with its stagebound cousin, and certainly Bill Irwin has crafted a solo career on the notion.

And yet despite all this on-site agitating for circus as an accepted, respected art form, the first Ringling International Arts Festival, a co-production of the Ringling Museum of Art and Florida State University, to be held October 7-11 2009, doesn't have a single circus-related act on its (nonetheless pretty compelling) roster. As a critic, I can't help but be critical of Ringling's decision (the institution, not the man). A circus legacy is the one thing Sarasota has to offer the national arts landscape that distinguishes it from every other metro area putting on a fringe-ish festival. Maybe this year the Ringling felt it had something to prove. Hopefully, next year they won't be too embarassed to put on the red nose and wear it with pride.

May 2, 2009 3:47 PM |

If you're wondering what goes on at a theater critics' conference these days, it's probably exactly what you'd expect: lots of shows and lots of fretting. The American Theatre Critics' Association's (ATCA) annual meeting here in Sarasota skews way, way older than, say, the median age at the NEA or O'Neill institutes, but the worries are the same, and tellingly, there are almost no full-time staffers here, but plenty of print freelancers and online contributors.

Yesterday saw a posh dinner at the Gulfside of home of Asolo rep's board president and a command performance from Florida Studio Theatre's improv and musical cabaret performers, who, to my surprise, bested the talents I saw at my recent visit to Chicago's Second City. Who knew. 

Today's events (thus far) have included a "Perspectives in Theater Criticism" lecture with New York Post theater columnist Michael Reidel. The Perspectives series began in 1992 with Clive Barnes as its inaugural speaker. So what did we learn this year? Well, for one thing, if you're a journalist, it helps to have your paper owned by Rupert Murdoch; Riedel's travel to the hinterlands to peek in on pre-Broadway tryouts is still subsidized by the Post, while everywhere else you practically have to run down the accounting staff in order to get reimbursed for tolls. Also, during filming for Riedel's The Norman Conquests opening night webcast, the show's producer, Kevin Spacey, was Twittering about it, a fact that's unsettling for both its satirical implications and cut-out-the-middleman directness

But we also learned that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette theater critic Chris Rawson pulled out a press release from that initial year, whose copy read in part,

"These are difficult times for theater critics, with space for theater coverage shrinking, papers relying more and more on part-time or freelance critics, and, in many cities, papers folding. Reminders of the importance and event he high honor of our calling are more necessary than ever."

Ah, the good old days.

Hopefully Riedel's full lecture will be on YouTube shortly, and when it is, I'll add the link in an update here.

Remaining today is another lecture about the state of theater criticism, and a visit to Asolo Rep to see G.B. Shaw's The Devil's Disciple.

April 29, 2009 12:48 PM |
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