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Thursday, August 28, 2003

Shakespeare's New Houses Shakespeare gets ever more popular. New theatres devoted to the Bard are being built in Europe. "In the past month an Italian version of London's Globe theatre has sprung up in the Villa Borghese park in the heart of Rome. In Poland, efforts are underway to reconstruct a Shakespearean theatre that thrived in the Baltic port city of Gdansk almost 400 years ago, but has since been replaced by a carpark." The Guardian (UK) 08/28/03

Plays - Just Slipping Away "Playwrights have shuttled between Hollywood and the theater for decades. But the commute is looking more attractive lately, with the poor economy affecting the arts, and mass media growing in influence. With the economy not exactly booming, now is not a great time (if there is one) to be trying to earn a living from the theater, note observers - making Hollywood look all the more appealing. In New York, for example, several theaters that focus on new works are doing fewer plays than they did 30 years ago, dropping from two dozen a year on average to six or eight today." Christian Science Monitor 08/29/03

Welcome To The Skypit In the national touring company of the Broadway smash The Producers, the orchestra is huge, by Broadway standards and that is creating a problem in many theaters outfitted with tiny, ancient orchestra pits. But rather than employ the controversial 'virtual orchestra' concept, The Producers hires a full 23-piece orchestra, and the players who don't fit in the pit are placed in dressing rooms, backstage nooks, and wherever else they, their instruments, and a microphone can fit. In Boston, the harp, percussion, and cello sections are all located remotely, connected to the conductor only by a video screen and an audio monitor. It's not ideal, but the musicians, knowing that the alternative would likely be their replacement by synthesizer, aren't complaining. Boston Globe 08/28/03

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Broadway's Back After a dropoff in audience because of the blackout a few weeks ago, Broadway has rebounded with a robust end of summer... Backstage 08/27/03

O'Neill, King Of Broadway This summer's biggest Broadway success story wasn't some cutting-edge musical featuring agressive tap-dancers, and it wasn't a provocatively-titled, fast-paced romp from the mind of one of theater's hot new stars. No, the king of Broadway this summer was none other than the late Eugene O'Neill, whose four-hour play, Long Day's Journey Into Night, has garnered rave reviews and standing-room-only attendance in its 5-month run. Some of the success of the revival can be chalked up to star power and savvy marketing that pandered to the 'serious' theatregoer. But some see it as a sign that Broadway crowds are ready to be challenged. New York Post 08/27/03

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

London's New Asian Influence Asian actors have more of a presence on London stages than ever before. "Two major West End productions with all-Asian casts wouldn’t have happened even five years ago." But some worry about the kinds of roles Asians are landing. The Scotsman 08/26/03

Theatres - Revenue Up, But Also Deficits The good news for American theatres is that attendance is up 17 percent in the past five years. Contributed income is also up - an astonishing 52 percent above inflation ove the same period. The bad news is that for the first time in the Theatre Communications Guild survey's 28 years, "more than half - 54 percent - of surveyed companies ran a deficit, a 24 percent increase in the past two years." San Francisco Chronicle 08/26/03

The Cult Of Adapting Movies For The Stage Want to produce a hit play? Then find a cult movie that has a following and adapt it. "Don't worry too much about slickness or professionalism - your audience will be largely composed of young people who seldom go to the theatre, and never to a musical, and have no standard against which to measure performance. What they seek is authenticity, fidelity to the spirit of the cult. Deliver that, and you're well on your way to establishing a hit." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 08/26/03

Monday, August 25, 2003

Scottish Theatre On The Rocks Scottish theatre is in disastrous shape, "haemorrhaging some of its greatest talents to better-funded companies in England. Its great companies are lurching from one catastrophe to the next, and a long dreamed of national theatre, which was meant to symbolise the reawakening of a new, dynamic Scottish identity, has slid into limbo.
Theatres are only producing half the work they did in 1990. That this impoverishment has come at a time when Scotland has produced the most exciting generation of playwrights in a century" is a tragedy.
The Guardian (UK) 08/25/03

Direct This! "Willful directors can either enliven or distort. Enliven, if they accept the gulf between a playwright's time and immediate intentions on the one hand and the sensibilities of today on the other, and set up a critical dialogue between past and present, text and audience. Distort, if they just lay a simple-minded, ideologically monolithic interpretation on a multi-faceted play. The temptation to distort is particularly powerful in a climate that discourages the new, like commercially cautious Broadway or the West End today." The New York Times 08/24/03

  • Direct Line - Now That Would Be A Revolution Michael Feingold writes that it's time for the role of director to be redefined. "I'm afraid it's time for the theater to get rid of directing. Now don't panic. I said directing, not directors. I'm talking about a specific kind of directing, fairly common these days, that functions only as an interference to the work being performed. It's become a fashion in Europe, and in certain academic circles, where various theoretical excuses have been made up for it. And, as lovers of great theater music know to their dismay, it's widely prevalent in opera—so much so that directors coming onstage for their curtain call at premieres are shocked when they don't get booed." Village Voice 07/30/03

  • The Cult Of Directing "That directing has, for a time, replaced writing or acting as the primary force in theater is only an understandable phase in stage history. Soon it will undoubtedly have run its course. While the phase lasts, we can relish its virtues and groan over its defects. But that the director should replace the performance as the object of interest is a physical impossibility, since that would make the whole occasion lose its point." Village Voice 08/06/03

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Feeding On The Fringe New York's Fringe Festival has become a theatre-feeder. "When the fringe began in 1996, it was a countercultural event. Now, it's a risk-free development workshop for theater producers, not to mention development types in film and television. And in turn, a lot of shows have hired publicists to exploit their properties and build attention. 'There's a total new focus on exploring the fringe. It's all about buzz - which shows are going to rise above the crowd.' The New York press has a lot to do with that. And since the Fringe Festival operates during the dull, dog days of August (arts-wise), there are plenty of editorial holes to fill." Chicago Tribune 08/24/03

Stepping Up To Support Edinburgh Fringe? Scotland's new culture minister says more support for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival might be on the way. He "said the Fringe was a product others would kill for and could be enhanced by strategic funding of its infrastructure. In a clear shift in the Executive’s position, Frank McAveety acknowledged an investment in the bricks and mortar of the event - its venues, accommodation and transport - was something which could be pulled together".
The Scotsman 08/24/03

Scotland To Get National Theatre? After years of delay, it looks like the Scottish government is ready to fund a National Theatre. "This is a very significant moment in Scottish culture. There is a paradox in Scottish culture, which a national theatre can bridge. On the one hand, the Executive have been supporting events like Scotland at the Smithsonian, which took Scottish culture to America. But almost immediately afterwards, we stage these great festivals which offer no real focus. If the Executive is serious about presenting Scottish culture, it needs a champion like a national theatre." The Scotsman 08/24/03

Friday, August 22, 2003

Time To Politicize Politicl theatre has made a big comeback at the Edinburgh Fringe. "A lot of this much-vaunted new political theatre has, admittedly, suffered from the problems that administered a lethal injection to the genre 20 years ago. Way, way too much of it has been designed solely to massage the lazy prejudices of its audiences. One more routine about how Americans are all obese imbeciles, and I think my head might have burst; one more person howling at some smugly inactive audience that "children are dying, children are dying", and I might have lapsed into a coma. But from this sea of predictable, knee-jerk tedium, two stunning (and very different) new voices have risen." The Independent (UK) 08/22/03

Thursday, August 21, 2003

BBC To Broadcast Play Live The BBC will broadcast a performance of Richard II live from London's Globe Theatre. "It is thought to be the first live screening of a theatre play: while operas and concerts are often broadcast live, the theatrical community is far less willing to let in the cameras." The Guardian (UK) 08/22/03

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Why Our Theatres Are Empty? "With virtually every one of our companies — big and small — facing a distressing number of empty seats, it make sense to ask why the under-35s aren't more devoted playgoers. I think it comes down to two things: For most of them, conventional theatre costs too much and means too little. It's not that they hate the art form. Far from it. All you have to do is hang out at the Fringe or Summerworks to encounter hundreds of people who wouldn't be caught dead at Stratford, Shaw or CanStage." Toronto Star 08/21/03

London's West End On Sale "London theatre is succumbing to a frenzy of price-cutting wheezes that don't so much offer customers a healthy, free-market range of bargains as lead to a muddle, which will confuse everyone as to the real cost of a ticket and create resistance to the standard price." The Telegraph (London) 08/20/03

"The Producers" And "The Return" Broadway's "The Producers" will keep its top ticket price at $100, rather than raise them when Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick return to the show. "Speculation that people would hold off buying tickets to "The Producers" until Lane and Broderick were back has turned out to be unfounded. That is largely because the show is playing to tourists, who have no choice but to see "The Producers" now, while they're in town. As for what will happen to the show after Lane and Broderick leave in March, that's a big subject of debate on Broadway right now. Some think the show will go over the cliff." New York Post 08/20/03

Ticket Maze (Or Price Gouging?) So you want tickets to the Goodspeed's new musical in Connecticut? Great. They'll cost you $47. Oh, but you're not a member? That's another $50. Or $500. What's going on here, wonders Frank Riszzo. "Are we in the Theater Twilight Zone? Is it a case of ticket price-gouging?" Hartford Courant 08/17/03

Irish Slowdown "During the past 10 years, Irish playwrights Martin McDonaugh ("A Skull in Connemara"), Maria Jones ("Stones in His Pockets") and Conor McPherson ("The Weir") have emerged on the world stage. But between 2000 and 2001, Ireland's volatile "Celtic Tiger" economy slowed from an annual growth rate of 11 percent to just 2.5. And the most predictable victim of any economic slowdown is arts funding. Ireland is coping with an 8 percent cut to its national arts council's budget, its largest in history." Denver Post 08/20/03

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

New Thinking About Musicals Can the musical be reinvented? That's a question for the Edinburgh Fringe. "Although it remains astoundingly popular, the musical suffers a strange reputation. Revered by the likes of Trevor Nunn, the classic American works of the 1930s-50s are seen as blue-rinse fodder, kitsch nonsense that has little appeal for young theatregoers. The 1990s saw a new trend for musicals tackling social problems - Rent dealt with Aids, and Ragtime was about racism in the US - but often these felt horribly glib. There is something about the form, about the way it forces characters to ignore the plot and break into song, that seems to demand silliness, irreverence and tongue-in-cheek charm." The Guardian (UK) 08/20/03

Monday, August 18, 2003

O'Neill's New Leader "Amy Sullivan, a leading Connecticut-based arts fundraiser, has been named executive director of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. She will replace Howard Sherman, who ended his three-year tenure in that position earlier this year." Backstage 08/18/03

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Why Are Our Best Plays About Losers? In a country known by the world for its pride of success, materialism and optimism, why are the most celebrated plays about what she calls 'losers'? Think about it. Willy Loman, Blanche DuBois, O'Neill's own barely disguised family. Even the most beloved commercial comedies - think about the schlumps in Neil Simon's earliest hits - are organized around types that, outside our boundaries, would hardly be identified as winning Yanks." Compare that to Hollywood movies and the heroes they portray. Newsday 08/17/03

On The Fringes Of New York "This year the festival is offering more than 200 different productions in 20 locations — to call them all theaters would be to stretch the definition of theater — and to judge from the number of invitations, both polite and pleading, that I've received lately, the commercial aspirations of Fringe show producers are accelerated. A lot more of the shows have press agents these days. And in terms of content, the camp, irreverence and cheerful potty mouth of its glam graduate are reproduced in healthy doses." The New York Times 08/18/03

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Playing On DVD Movies of plays have not always conveyed a satisfactory experience of the play. DVD's offer more. "In the last few years, several companies have begun issuing play collections on DVD, often with name directors and stellar casts. What distinguishes these collections is that, unlike a stereotypical Hollywood adaptation, there is as much respect for the original work as there is for the film's end result." The New York Times 08/17/03

Taking A Reading Readings of new plays have become an ubiquitous part of the process of getting a new play to the stage. "Readings have become, if not the name of the game, at least a very important part of the game when it comes to the art and business of the theatre. And the topic also raises the hackles of many playwrights and actors, who feel readings have, in many cases, become an abusive substitute for salaried rehearsals or even productions. At the same time, it's generally agreed that when done with proper intention, readings can be invaluable for writers and performers." Backstage 08/16/03

Broadway Star Pay Is Low How much do stars earn on Broadway? Not much. "If Arnold Schwarzenegger can make $30 million for the latest "Terminator" flick and cast members of television's "Friends" each pull in $1 million an episode, what is eight performances a week in a Broadway show worth? Let's start with the basics. According to the latest Actors' Equity figures, the minimum salary for a performer in a Broadway play or musical is $1,354 a week and it goes up from there. How high depends on how good a performer's agent is or how many tickets a producer thinks a star can sell." Backstage (AP) 08/16/03

Broadway Back After Blackout Broadway was closed Thursday during the blackout, but Friday was back to business. "Theater box offices were open, as was the ticket agency Telecharge. Ticketmaster was experiencing some technical difficulties. The TKTS half-price ticket booth opened as scheduled Friday afternoon. Lines of would-be ticket buyers snaked a block south of the booth, located on Broadway and 47th Street." Boston Globe (AP) 08/16/03

Thursday, August 14, 2003

LA's Theatre Entrepreneurs A couple of California investors sink millions of their own money into building their own new theatres in Los Angeles. The question is why? LAWeekly 08/15/03

Where Are London's Playwrights? Playwrights are all but invisible in London's West End. Now it takes celebrities to sell anything. "The author is dead in the West End. Particularly, as it were, the living author. In a talk at the Edinburgh book festival on Monday, Alan Ayckbourn railed against the dominance of celebrities - picking out Madonna and Ewan McGregor for particular bile - in theatreland, and the now near-impossibility of staging good plays with decent actors, without a Matthew Perry or a Jason Priestley to jolly the whole thing along." The Guardian (UK) 08/14/03

Minnesota Fringe Busts Records While many arts organizations are struggling to keep audiences and cash flowing, this year's Minnesota Fringe Festival - America's biggest fringe - turned out record numbers. "Marking its 10th anniversary this year, the Fringe sold a total of 40,500 tickets to the 162 shows staged during the festival, which concluded Sunday. The box office figure is 27 percent higher than last year's festival." St. Paul Pioneer-Press 08/14/03

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Phantom At 7000 - Bigger Than Star Wars... The musical "Phantom of the Opera" plays its 7,000th performance in London. The musical has "packed theatres the world over and grossed £1.6 billion at the box office - more than any other film or stage play, including Titanic, Star Wars and ET. Written-by Andrew Lloyd Webber and produced by Cameron Mackintosh, Phantom opened in October 1986 starring Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman." London Evening Standard 08/12/03

Fringe At Center Stage It used to be that the Edinburgh Fringe was an adjunct to the tonier Edinburgh Festival. No longer. "For the 250,000 odd who pour into the Scottish capital - a 50 per cent population increase - the chief draw is the Festival Fringe (August 3 to 25). Once a mere tangent to the snootier international festival, it is now the world's biggest arts event. Scorning fears of SARS, terrorism and war, hotel-room bookings are buoyant, ticket sales are robust and records have already been broken: there will be 21,594 performances of 1541 shows by 668 companies in 207 venues, the first time the number of venues has topped 200, 24 more than last year." The Age (Melbourne) 08/12/03

Monday, August 11, 2003

A Hit After Death Crowds are thronging to Jessica Grace Wing's new musical "Lost" "Ms. Wing's death so close to the production's debut — she was said to have finished the musical's final song just a day before dying — has created an unmistakable sentimental momentum for "Lost," which is based on the children's tale "Hansel and Gretel" and has a book and lyrics by Kirk Wood Bromley. Like the Broadway musical "Rent," which also started in the East Village and whose composer, Jonathan Larson, died just after the show's final dress rehearsal, "Lost" is selling tickets to those who knew Ms. Wing's work and those who suddenly want to discover her. " The New York Times 08/11/03

Sunday, August 10, 2003

A Life Wasted On The Fringe Critic Dominic Papatola takes in an orgy of theatre at this year;s Minnesota Fringe Festival, and comes away disappointed. "Consider my batting average: In one 36-hour period, I saw 13 shows. Two of them were quite good — the kind of thing I would recommend to friends and readers. Three of them were so-so; flawed but with enough merit to make them worth $10 and an hour of my life. But fully seven of those shows — nearly 60 percent, for those of you who like statistics — resided in the oozy quagmire between not-so-good and positively rancid: odious, smarmy, meandering exercises in precious self-indulgence that, even by the somewhat lower standards of the Fringe, were experiences that, at the end of my theater-going life, I will mourn as time utterly squandered." St. Paul Pioneer-Press 08/09/03

Scotland Outside Itself Is a play set is Scotland a Scottish play? And if it is a Scottish play, does that mean it doesn't travel well outside the region? "Scottish theatre, unlike Irish, is seen as regional. The London establishment think that we should have our own plays, but they don't think that they should have to listen to them. They think they won't be relevant to them." The Guardian (UK) 08/09/03

Broadway - Where Are All The Plays? When "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and "Enchanted April" close on Broadway at the end of this month, there will be only one play left running on Broadway. "Nineteen musicals will be around in September, but plays are never very plentiful on Broadway. Last season, though, was particularly dire for new work, and the coming drought is unusual." Chicago Sun-Times 08/09/03

Thursday, August 7, 2003

Regional Theatre - Taking It Easy What does the fall theatre season across America look like? Conservative. "The prevailing theme of the coming season is a tendency to play things artistically safe in this economically challenged climate..." Backstage 08/07/03

Looking For A Definition Of Black Theatre At the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, it's time for a question - what exactly is black theatre? "Ask for a definition of black theater, and no consensus really emerges. Some suggest it's theater that celebrates black people and the black experience, as do a plethora of shows here this week based on real lives..." The New York Times 08/08/03

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Minnesota Fringe Reflects Changing Times The Minnesota Fringe Festival, the largest in the U.S., is halfway through its 10-day run, and Dylan Hicks detects some subtle shifts in the focus of many participants. "With more shows than ever, the Fringe serves as a broader - if still skewed - zeitgeist-o-meter. In keeping with the tenor of the times, frivolity is somewhat on the wane. In terms of percentages, there appears to be a decline in shows trumpeting nudity, and while comedy remains strong, it's not quite the hegemony it once was. Either that or it's just lurking in odd places." City Pages (Minneapolis/St. Paul) 08/06/03

How To Jumpstart Your Broadway Blockbuster The original stars of Mel Brooks's Broadway smash The Producers, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, are rejoining the show for a three-month run next January, according to sources. "Yesterday, Broadway oddsmakers were predicting that Lane and Broderick's limited return engagement would be sold out before noon today." New York Post 08/06/03

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Shaw Fest - Where Did The Audience Go? Southern Ontario's Shaw Festival was in reinventing mode this summer. But "a host of factors ranging from SARS to the Iraq war has scared away a big part of its audience and made it impossible for new artistic director Jackie Maxwell to determine if her vision will succeed." Backstage 08/05/03

More Terror Than Comedy The self-styled "Comedy Terrorist" gained notoriety in the UK after casrhing Prince William's birthday party. Now he's at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He's dreadful - a "talent-free zone." "Throughout its tortuous, one-hour length, the show radiated this sort of laziness. The gags, most of which revolved around the conflicts in the Middle East, were too pathetic to repeat; the props smacked of a primary-school play. And then there was the delivery. Oh lordy, the delivery..." The Telegraph (UK) 08/05/03

Sunday, August 3, 2003

A Lament For The American Musical What's happened to the Broadway musical? Has it lost its ability to capture the imagination? Today's most succsessul shows are derivitive or revivals. "Even today's very few legitimate musical theater stars seem exhausted or ambivalent." San Francisco Chronicle 08/03/03

Edinburgh Fringe Opens "The 57th Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world's biggest arts event, is under way. Thousands lined the route as the traditional opening cavalcade snaked past the castle walls in an eruption of colour. The city's streets filled with festival goers, performers, celebrities, tourists and the media as the spectacular procession got into full swing. This year's three-week programme offers more than 1,500 shows across the spectrum of the performing arts." BBC 08/03/03

Turf War Raging At Houston Venue Miller Outdoor Theater is "one of Houston's most cherished cultural venues and home to dozens of free concerts and plays every year." But a power struggle between the theater's advisory board and the city's parks department may be jeopardizing the venue's legacy of providing Houstonians with free orchestra concerts, Shakespeare performances, and dance recitals. Miller board members set the theater's schedule and pay the performers out of the money garnered from a local hotel tax. But the parks department staffs the theater, and its financial contribution is crucial. With money tight in Houston, the parks commissioner has slashed the Miller's budget, and there is even talk of privatization, and that has board members up in arms. Houston Chronicle 08/02/03

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