Results tagged “Jeremy Gerard” from critical difference

Amid the confusion of construction that has made a maze of Lincoln Center, the little tree-lined avenue that runs between the Metropolitan Opera House and Lincoln Center Theater might appear, from afar, to be an oasis. (Look! In the distance! Greenery!)

LC plaza view.jpg

That impression would be a mirage, and not only because the adjacent reflecting pool, where Henry Moore's "Reclining Figure" once basked, is drained and demolished for reconstruction, too. 

Lincoln Center drained.JPG
Nor is the main trouble the absence of the shady London planes that grew there in travertine planters, whose sides doubled as seating -- though I have mourned those trees, especially in wintertime, when the white lights of their snowflake ornaments used to sparkle after twilight.

The real trouble is the pair of horrid concrete benches that have been installed alongside the newly planted adolescent plane trees -- benches so repellent that Bloomberg's Jeremy Gerard yesterday described them as having "all the aesthetic appeal of an off-ramp on I-95." He was not employing hyperbole.

Lincoln Center off-ramp.jpg

The phrase that leaps to my mind, however, is "housing project," closely followed by "community college." This is seating so cheap-looking and lacking in elegance that it would fit right in, were Lincoln Center one of those public spaces where good design isn't even an afterthought. (No, I am not taking a shot at people who live in public housing or study at community colleges. I am taking a shot at the tradition of designing those places to be aesthetically oppressive rather than pleasing.)

When I first saw the benches, my immediate impulse was to hope -- irrationally, but such is the nature of hope -- that somehow they weren't finished yet. Surely these drab things couldn't be part of the same project that resulted in a breathtaking Alice Tully Hall? But there they are, lining the plaza from Avery Fisher Hall to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Lincoln Center purple guy.jpg

If objections to them were limited to their appearance, their presence on the campus would be bizarre enough. What makes it exponentially more bewildering is that these objects that look so terribly utilitarian aren't practical, either.

Lincoln Center sandpapery.jpg
For one thing, sandpapery concrete has a nasty tendency to catch on fabric. The first time I sat on one of the benches, I was wearing tights; they were instantly snagged. What about someone who's dressed up to go to a play or an opera or a concert -- particularly in the warmer months, when people aren't wearing coats? The benches, so convenient for awaiting a friend pre-show or formulating a plan post-show, will tempt them. But visitors' delicate clothing will be at the mercy of rough concrete, and they'll be left angry and embarrassed by snags and runs.

For another thing, the benches aren't holding up so well, after only a few weeks of use. Presumably, the durability of this seating, if not of the public's dress, was a significant consideration in its favor. So should Lincoln Center be asking for its money back, given that repairs evidently have been needed already? If the patching below is any indication, the future looks more than a little jagged and crumbly.

Lincoln Center repair 1.jpgLincoln Center repair 3.JPG

And, due to the benches' stain-absorbing surface, grubby as well.

Lincoln Center grubby.JPG

Standing under the trees on a sun-dappled afternoon, it's possible to understand what effect the grove might have been intended to have on the plaza.

Lincoln Center sun-dappled.JPG

But it's never going to happen. The benches make sure of that.
July 15, 2009 2:54 PM | | Comments (2)
Forty-three shows opened on Broadway this season, nearly 20 percent more than last season, yet paid attendance was down from 2007-08. That would be the glass-half-empty way of looking at the numbers for this year, and a perfectly legitimate one. But the way much of the media reported the news, one would think the glass was not just full but overflowing.

"Broadway Breaks Box Office Record for 2008-09 Season," reads the New York Times headline on a blog item that mentions the paid-attendance downturn in the eighth paragraph.

A Fox News blog post is positively breathless, trumpeting "some long-awaited positive economic news" under the headline "Broadway's Record-Breaking Year!" Though that item does quickly mention the 1 percent drop in paid attendance -- a decrease substantially larger than the .6 percent increase in gross revenues -- it then skates ahead to Broadway League executive director Charlotte St. Martin's contention that, in the reporter's paraphrase, "other industries could learn some money-making tips from Broadway." (No, St. Martin's advice isn't to make lots more product, keep hiking your prices, and attract fewer paying customers. It's to stay "in touch with what the consumer really wants.")

"Broadway theatres defy recession," a BBC headline announces. That they wouldn't defy it was, of course, the industry's giant, lurking fear, exacerbated by the still-painful memory of tourists scattering in the fall of 2001. So there is understandable relief that, in the words of The Associated Press, "Even during a recession, Broadway managed to hold its own." That's newsworthy.

But did so much of the coverage occasioned by the Broadway League's release of 2008-09's official figures -- grosses of $943.3 million, up from $937.5 million in 2007-08, and paid attendance of 12.15 million, down from 12.27 million last season -- have to follow the lead of that industry group? Did so many journalists have to quote St. Martin so unquestioningly? Are reporters and editors really as math-averse as this would suggest? (Well, yes, they are. Most of them, anyway.)

As Bloomberg's Jeremy Gerard notes with his customary savvy, "The increase in sales represents higher average ticket prices, while the drop in paid attendance suggests that the tightening economy did frighten away some theatergoers. The attendance figures are especially notable because in the 2007-08 season, much of Broadway was shut down during a 19-day strike by unionized stagehands."

That season, unsurprisingly, paid attendance fell .2 percent, from 12.3 million the season before. So 2008-09 continued a downward trend.

Context is everything. When journalists take their cue from a press release, when they don't look hard at the numbers, when they mistake hype for reality, illuminating context has a nasty tendency to be missing in action.
May 27, 2009 4:48 PM | | Comments (1)
Or, as a friend suggested this morning, best-written play. Whatever the wording might be, the addition of a Tony Award that specifically recognized the playwright's work would right a wrong built into the current system: letting producers eclipse playwrights during their only moment of Tony glory, when the award for best play is announced.

That producers will ever be kept from mobbing the stage -- and hogging the microphone -- is pretty much unimaginable. But there isn't any real reason that the best-play and best-musical awards shouldn't recognize productions as a whole, just as the best-picture Oscar does in film. What's missing from the Tonys is an award for the authors of straight plays, which are especially plentiful on Broadway in these stripped-down times.

Given the direction in which the awards ceremony has been moving, such a change seems unlikely. As Dramatists Guild president Stephen Schwartz pointed out to the New York Post's Michael Riedel, two awards for writers, best book of a musical and best revival of a play, were left out of the broadcast last year. Those should be reinstated.

Might playwrights have an ally in one of the main overseers of the Tonys? American Theatre Wing executive director Howard Sherman was the executive director of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut before he moved to New York. The O'Neill is most famous as the home of the National Playwrights Conference, which during Sherman's tenure was run by James Houghton, the founding artistic director of off-Broadway's playwright-centered Signature Theatre Company. Sherman likes playwrights; he's a fan, in fact. Conceivably, he could choose to be a champion for writers on Broadway.

The Tonys' latest move suggests, however, that attention is being paid to exactly the wrong details. Bloomberg's Jeremy Gerard reports that the Tony Awards have dumped Lutz & Carr, the small accounting firm that's tallied their ballots for over half a century, in favor of accounting behemoth KPMG LLP.

The change was made in the hopes of bringing a higher profile to the Tony Awards telecast, according to Alan Wasser, an executive with the awards. ... Asked what difference the change would bring, Wasser said, "It gives the Tonys the imprimatur of credibility."

Uh ... what? That's the kind of move an organization would be smart to make if it had fallen into scandal, but that's not the case here. In a bad economy, when it's even more of a shame for anyone who's doing good work to lose business, particularly to a much larger competitor, it just looks cold. Also wrongheaded. When the aim is to make a show-biz publicity splash, the best game plan almost certainly has nothing to do with getting new accountants to add up the votes.

Writers probably aren't the answer to the question of how to make a splash, either. But if the Tonys are looking to enhance their credibility, they might try giving playwrights their moment in the spotlight.
May 21, 2009 1:18 PM | | Comments (1)
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