Results tagged “theater” from critical difference
I love The Guardian. Truly I do. It has some of the best arts coverage on the planet. But this morning, the paper nearly made me hyperventilate.
It wasn't arts correspondent Mark Brown's story on the dismal representation of women in British theater, film and television, which I was glad to see (not the fact of the underrepresentation, but the stats, and the discussion). It wasn't the article's cheesy headline, "Leading ladies kept out of the limelight." It was where the story ran in the paper.
It's in the Life & Style section. You know: the part of the paper that has categories like Fashion, Homes, Gardens, Craft -- and Women.
Sigh sigh sigh.
The story is linked on the Stage page, in the Culture section, which is where I found it, but that's not where the paper's editors ran it.
Which, really, is pretty disgusting.
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, the director and choreographer of the Kennedy Center's hit revival of "Ragtime," is the hook for Peter Marks' feature in today's Washington Post, but the story's true subject is the paucity of female directors in big-budget musical theater. Dodge -- who, at 54, had been flying beneath the radar for decades before her D.C. breakthrough this spring -- is an excellent case in point. As Marks notes, "She happens to be the first woman to direct a major musical produced by the Kennedy Center." (It opened for business in 1971.)
It might be surprising that in 2009, women are still having to grope their way to the power seat in an artistic field such as theater. And the helm of a musical, with its complex and expensive working parts, is perhaps the most difficult and challenging position the theater has to offer. Yet for all the successes of a Julie Taymor ("The Lion King") or a Susan Stroman ("The Producers"), women even today only occasionally receive the assignment to direct a big-budget, big-showcase musical.
The irony is stark: In the rest of the culture, almost nothing is perceived as being girlier than musicals. But, again, that women seldom get the high-profile musical directing jobs is only surprising to those who haven't been paying attention. It was just 1998 when Julie Taymor became the first woman to win a best-director Tony Award for a musical ("The Lion King") -- minutes after Garry Hynes became the first woman to win a best-director Tony of any kind, triumphing in the play category, for "The Beauty Queen of Leenane." As The New York Times put it in its next-day coverage, "It took more than half a century for the Tonys to present its first directing award to a woman. It took five minutes to present the second one." (Bizarrely, this news was mentioned in the tenth paragraph.)
The floodgates have not exactly burst open since then. Producer Rocco Landesman, President Obama's surprising nominee to head the National Endowment for the Arts, explained in the Times in 2005, "On Broadway, progress is slow." He added:
But change is coming, however slowly. We'll get used to their styles (Watching Susan Stroman direct ''The Producers'' was a revelation; talk about velvet glove, iron fist!) and certainly, their successes. Nothing changes perceptions like a hit. The women directors I know have proved that they can get everything they want while still being decent to people. The famously bullying Jerome Robbins is just not the role model for them and the Broadway theater is better for it.
Change will come faster if more women are allowed into the directing pipeline, making their presence at the helm of a production less of an aberration, thus nudging producers and artists to envision them there when the list of collaborators is being drawn up. The more work they do, the more work they'll get. And with any luck, the most talented among them won't have to spend decades, like Dodge, building their résumés in relative obscurity.
Here's a piece of the puzzle that hadn't yet fallen into place when I wrote on Sunday about texting at the theater. In Tuesday's New York Times, John Tierney discussed the research of M.I.T. neuroscientist Robert Desimone, who "has been tracking the brain waves of macaque monkeys and humans as they stare at video screens looking for certain flashing patterns."
This is the key bit: "When something bright or novel flashes, it tends to automatically win the competition for the brain's attention" -- and even though we can override that impulse, it's a struggle.
"It takes a lot of your prefrontal brain power to force yourself not to process a strong input like a television commercial," said Dr. Desimone, the director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at M.I.T. "If you're trying to read a book at the same time, you may not have the resources left to focus on the words."
Reading a book when a TV set is turned on, watching a play when someone lights up the darkness with a glowing screen: Either way, our attention has just moved from what we want to focus on to something we have to fight hard to ignore.
There are topics we tend to shy from in drama as in life, and abortion is one of them.
The death of Bea Arthur, a little over a week ago, reminded us that this is now -- but wasn't always -- the case with TV series. More than 35 years ago, Arthur's iconic character, Maude Findlay, had "prime time's first abortion, in a two-part episode that aired two months before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal across the country," as Rebecca Traister wrote in Salon. Like mainstream movies, TV prefers not to tell stories like that anymore.
Theater seldom bluntly deals with the issue of abortion, either, even peripherally -- which is odd, when you consider both the strong emotions it incites and how common it is. Or maybe that's not so peculiar, given how seldom women wield the pen that writes the script.
Its scarcity onstage makes all the more striking the fact that two current off-Broadway plays do deal with abortion, their approaches to the topic as unalike as the shows themselves: "Ruined," Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about war and sexual violence in the Congo, and "Everyday Rapture," Sherie Rene Scott's bubbly, autobiographical musical, which she wrote with Dick Scanlan.
Abortion comes only briefly to the fore in each play, a bit ambiguously in one, unequivocally in the other, breath-catchingly in both, and for very different reasons. Both moments left me blinking back tears.
To say much more than that about them would be a disservice to audiences, who deserve to be surprised.
But audiences deserve, too, to have the fullness of human experience examined honestly onstage. A person doesn't have to be on a particular side of the abortion debate to recognize that abortion is a fact of life, and one that theater would do better to acknowledge.
It's the glow that kills the atmosphere: brightness surrounded by a seeping luminescence. In the darkness of the theater, it draws the peripheral vision of even the most determinedly focused spectators.
The source? Some jerk, text-messaging during the show.
Banning texting at the theater is a crucial extension of the prohibition against cell-phone use during performances, but I'd never heard a pre-show announcement forbidding it until last weekend, when I went to see the stageFARM's "The Gingerbread House" at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater in the West Village. When I wrote about it the other day on True/Slant, saying that if a device glows in the dark, it shouldn't be turned on during the performance, I didn't expect to hear someone I respect arguing for the other side, let alone suggesting general codes of behavior at the theater need some rethinking. Then I opened my e-mail.
"I'm not sure I care if people are texting or not," wrote a friend who works in theater, adding that he'd once caught students texting each other about the show during a weekday matinee. "That's not a bad thing."
I begged to differ, and thus began our little e-mail brawl, his part of which he's given me permission to quote here.
For my friend, texting has been a recent topic of staff discussions, in which people have been divided about how to deal with it.
"Why are we so precious about the way in which we view theater?" he asked me. "Does it always have to be quietly and in the dark? Why can't theater be more like baseball? I can talk, eat, hear screaming voices, see people moving around and watch the game all at the same time -- and not really miss anything. I think we have to shake things up a bit. Stop demanding human beings -- coughing, fidgeting, farting, eating human beings -- be themselves when watching a play."