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Friday, May 28, 2004

A Really Big Show Producers are billing an Ulster-Scots epic "On Eagle's Wing," being staged in Belfast, as the biggest theatrical production in the world. The show "has a distinctly international flavour with a 100-strong cast and crew, as well as a choir of 300 and an orchestra. Featuring West End star Peter Corry and Scotland's Alyth McCormack, the musical traces the journey of the Scots-Irish to the US and examines their influence on American music and culture. More than 400 costumes will be worn during the show which is set on a three-storey, 4,800 sq ft stage, using one of the largest light sets ever constructed." BBC 05/28/04

Thursday, May 27, 2004

A New Broadway Tune The show tunes making the most noise during Broadway awards season are of a different variety than those your mama loved to hum. And these new songs are changing the theatre around them. "The desire for familiarity, for hit songs or pseudo-hit songs, can override narrative coherence without anyone's caring very much. The New York Times 05/28/04

Playwright Who Championed Workers' Rights Planning Non-Union Production A prominent playwright and director who "developed his theater company as a part of the farmworkers' labor movement, is planning to open a non-union tour of his signature production in San Jose in August. Luis Valdez says the `tremendous irony' of staging non-union performances at the Center for Employment Training throws a spotlight on the cultural, financial and political challenges faced by regional arts groups." San Jose Mercury-News 05/27/04

Nonunion Touring At Issue In Theater Talks "How do you solve a problem like nonunion tours of Broadway shows? The issue is at the center of the current negotiations between Broadway producers and Actors' Equity... The contract between the union and the League of American Theatres and Producers expires June 27 and the two sides have been meeting regularly since April 1 to resolve the touring matter and other issues, most notably, rising health-care costs. Equity still dominates the road but in recent years, nonunion tours, which are cheaper to produce, have been gaining strength... Last week, the union issued a strike authorization that it called 'part of normal negotiation practices.'" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (AP) 05/27/04

Maybe Something Was Lost In The Translation? The Producers may be Broadway's biggest smash hit in years, but apparently, the Mel Brooks musical doesn't hold the same appeal everywhere. Officials yesterday announced that the Toronto production will be closing after only nine months due to slow ticket sales. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/27/04

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Homebody/Kabul - The Play Of Our Time? John Heilpern revisits Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul and reaffirms his opinion that the play is the most important of our time. "Name me a better play of our time — for our time. Name me one that takes on the whole, wide, wonderful, fucked-up world." Kushner has continued to tinker with the play since it debuted three years ago "but I believe he’s come as close as he can to a fully realized Homebody/Kabul, unless he wants to drive himself mad." New York Observer 05/26/04

Purse Strings & Sure Things When economic times are tough, the temptation for theaters to get conservative is strong, and there's no surer way to make a quick theatrical buck than for a company to bring back a show that has already been a proven success for them. But the remounted productions don't always work out as planned, and sometimes, an audience's nostalgia for a great show can actually work against the new version. St. Paul Pioneer Press 05/26/04

Healing Wounds In The Auditorium Following an 8-year legal battle over ownership rights, Chicago's Auditorium Theatre is being folded into the operations of Roosevelt University, and the theater's new director "plans to more closely align the historic downtown venue with the educational institution that fought long and hard for the right to govern the Auditorium as it saw fit." Brent Batterson, a 45-year-old set designer turned arts administrator, has been brought on largely because he has no history with the Auditorium, and therefore no axes to grind in the various wounds that developed over the course of the court fight. Chicago Tribune 05/26/04

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Albee: I'm In Fashion, I'm Out... From a New York point of view, Edward Albee is solidly back. Yet, from his own perspective, he never went away. "You're in fashion, you're out of fashion. That comes and goes. I'll be out of fashion again.' He notes, however, that in the years the theater establishment regarded him as passe, he 'was performed everywhere except in New York. I was still writing all the time. My output has always been pretty steady, a play every year and half'." Philadelphia Inquirer 05/25/04

RSC Might Change Stratford Plans The Royal Shakespeare Company is rethinking the redevelopment of its Stratford-On-Avon home after architects working on the project quit. The RSC has been planning to replace its current home with a "theatre village", but the plan has been controversial. BBC 05/25/04

Sunday, May 23, 2004

On Broadway: What The Little People Earn What does the average Broadway Joe make? "This season, the minimum salary for a Broadway performer is $1,354 a week, a figure dictated by the contract between the union and the League of American Theaters and Producers, the trade association for the commercial theater industry. The current four-year contract expires on June 27. The two organizations are negotiating a new one that could last until June 2008." The New York Times 05/23/04

Why The Tonys Are Guaranteed To Suck The fact that the Tony Awards exist to memorialize the best productions of the year of around a dozen New York theaters and absolutely no one else has always limited the appeal of the ceremony. But this year, the Broadway-only restriction could also prove embarrassing, after a season in which nearly every new production on the Great White Way was a disappointment, and the most innovative and engaging theatrical events in New York were occurring off-Broadway. The New York Times 05/23/04

  • Do The Tonys Even Matter? "Of the many odd aspects of the Tony Awards, one of the oddest is that the prizes rarely have any effect on a show's box office. Of course, this is related to another Tony quirk: many of the nominated shows have closed by the time the awards come around (this year, two of the four nominees for best play are already gone). But even winners that are still being performed may not benefit much from their prizes." The New York Times 05/23/04

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Theatre Up In Italy But Not Audiences The number of theatre offerings in Italy increased by 10 percent in 2001. But audiences didn't increase to keep up. In 2001, 26 percent of the country's residents attended the theatre. AGI Online 05/20/04

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A New BAM For Washington? Washington DC's Shakespeare Theatre has "just broken ground on its own performing-arts facility - the Harman Centre for the Arts, for completion in 2007. It would be absurd to say that the centre - which will consist of a new 800-seat theatre, the Sidney Harman, as well as The Shakespeare Theatre's current home, the 450-seat Lansburgh - will rival the Kennedy's concert hall, opera house and smaller theatres in grandeur. It will nonetheless provide America's capital with another first-class performing arts destination, much as in New York, BAM complements the Lincoln Centre." Financial Times 05/19/04

Fugard: Theatre Matters Athol Fugard represents the "conscience of his country." "I still believe theatre's amazing. It doesn't command the size audience that the movies do, or television, but I still think that somehow it's at the matrix of a society in a way that I don't think film and television ever are, certainly not television. Except of course when you get [a show] preceded by a stage production--something like Angels in America. And I think the impact of Angels in America on American society is going to be working itself out for many, many years to come." Backstage 05/19/04

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Off_broadway's Fearless New Generation "American theater always manages to reinvent itself at the worst of all possible times. The best of our new theater practitioners have already begun to imagine a set of goals and procedures in which perception requires no other justification than the beauty that entitles it. In this dramatic universe, theatrical high jinks are their own reward; and so it is with the new plays one is beginning to encounter these days in New York." Village Voice 05/18/04

Judge: Playright Owns "Stones" Authorship "A theatre director has lost her high court claim that she should be credited as joint author of the hit West End play Stones In His Pockets by award-winning writer Marie Jones. But Mr Justice Park, sitting in London, ruled that Pam Brighton, who claimed she had made an "extraordinary" creative contribution to the comedy, did have copyright in a draft opening script of the play." The Guardian (UK) 05/18/04

Scotland's Oldest Theatre Could Close "Owners of Scotland's oldest working theatre - the Theatre Royal in Dumfries - have warned that it could close if they are forced to abandon a planned multi-million pound renovation scheme. The playhouse, in Shakespeare Street, was built in 1792 and was saved from demolition in 1959 when it was bought by the Guild of Players. Robert Burns was a patron and JM Barrie was inspired at the theatre to write plays including Peter Pan. Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin were visitors."
BBC 05/18/04

Monday, May 17, 2004

Edinburgh Fringe Has NY On Its Mind The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is starting a new award, worth several thousand pounds, to pay for winning performers to take their show to a major New York theatre. After ticket sales increased by a record 10 per cent last year, the Fringe sees further opportunities to draw both American performers and audiences to the biggest arts festival in the world. It is also keen to offer a chance for performers from Britain, Europe, or even the United States to get their big break in New York." The Scotsman 05/17/04

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Tonys Signal Broadway Breadth The range of nominations for this year's Tonys give a good sense of the health of Broadway, writes Howard Kissel. "These nominations suggest that "mainstream" theater is now less easy to characterize than it was when, say, "Death of a Salesman" or "The Crucible" won Best Play or "Diary of Anne Frank" beat "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" for that award." New York Daily News 05/16/04

Guthrie - Return To Musical Theatre After a decade, Minneapolis' Guthrie Theatre stages a musical. So what? Regional theatres in America have largely avoided musical theatre for a long time... St. Paul Pioneer-Press 05/16/04

Chandelier Falls In West End Theatre, 15 Hurt A chandelier crashed to the seats in a West End theatre Saturday night. "Audience members ran for safety as plaster started to fall during When Harry Met Sally at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on Saturday. The show's star, Luke Perry, leapt off the stage to help people to safety." BBC 05/16/04

Defending the Tonys (Sort Of...) Last week's Daniel Okrent column in the New York Times about the Tonys in which he called the awards a sham had Broadway producers fuming. But on a couple of points at least, writes Simon Houpt, he had a point. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/15/04

Thursday, May 13, 2004

So Restricting It To A Single Street Isn't Exclusionary? Tony organizers are angrily rejecting claims by New York Times editor Daniel Okrent that the awards are exclusionary and "artistically meaningless." The Tonys are designed to reward the best performances on Broadway, they say, and the fact that Okrent seems to believe that Broadway itself is exclusionary doesn't have anything to do with the awards. BBC 05/13/04

  • Previously: NYT Editor: The Tonys Are A Sham! Why does anyone pay attention to the Tony Awards, asks Daniel Okrent? They are, he says "an artistically meaningless, blatantly commercial, shamefully exclusionary and culturally corrosive award competition. The awards are a real estate promotion, restricted as they are to shows put on in the 31 houses owned or controlled by the Shuberts, the Nederlanders and Jujamcyn, plus another nine thrown in by accident of geography or affinity to the idea of the Big Musical. Like the theaters, the voters themselves are to a large degree controlled by the Big Three and the touring company operators." The New York Times 05/09/04
Wednesday, May 12, 2004

A West End Crisis Is London's West End in decline? Last year 100,000 fewer people attended the theatre. "Cameron Mackintosh's profits fell by nearly 30% to £6.4m last year. The theatre impresario's empire also saw sales fall by 10% during the 2002-03 financial year as foreign visitors stayed away and the company's money-spinning musicals, Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera, began to show their age." The Guardian (UK) 05/13/04

What's Missing At This Year's Tonys There are curious omissions in this year's Tony nominations. "Not for the first time in a theatre culture that is at least as much about commerce as it is about art, the list of omissions has a drama all its own." The Telegraph (UK) 05/13/04

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Noble: My "Vile" Last Year At The RSC Adrian Noble speaks about his bumpy last year and resignation as head of the Royal Shakespeare Company: "Of course, there were things that went dreadfully wrong at the RSC, and I deeply regret them. The principal mistake was announcing everything at the same time. I did not leave the RSC in a mess. For one thing, the deficit was £1 million less than what I inherited in 1991, and all the big successes that have come to fruition in the last couple of years - the Jacobean season, Judi in All's Well - are the result of the changes I was setting up." The Telegraph (UK) 05/12/04

Monday, May 10, 2004

NYT Editor: The Tonys Are A Sham! Why does anyone pay attention to the Tony Awards, asks Daniel Okrent? They are, he says "an artistically meaningless, blatantly commercial, shamefully exclusionary and culturally corrosive award competition. The awards are a real estate promotion, restricted as they are to shows put on in the 31 houses owned or controlled by the Shuberts, the Nederlanders and Jujamcyn, plus another nine thrown in by accident of geography or affinity to the idea of the Big Musical. Like the theaters, the voters themselves are to a large degree controlled by the Big Three and the touring company operators." The New York Times 05/09/04

Wicked Gets 10 Tony Noms "Wicked," a quirky and fantasy-filled musical about those folks who live along the Yellow Brick Road, picked up 10 Tony Award nominations Monday. "Assassins," the controversial Stephen Sondheim musical, followed with seven and four shows tied with six nominations apiece: "Caroline, or Change," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Avenue Q" and the Lincoln Center revival of "Henry IV." Backstage (AP) 05/10/04

Sunday, May 9, 2004

Broadway's Healthy Season "Pundits will tell you it hasn't been a banner year on Broadway. What they mean, mostly, is that there hasn't been a blockbuster musical that promises to run forever. Actually, much of the Tony Awards season that officially ended on Wednesday was quite healthy." Dallas Morning News 05/09/04

Changing Times, Changing Meaning "Classics don't change depending on the nightly news or the morning papers. Our perceptions change, not the playwrights'. Wartime, such as our own time, makes certain plays rattle around in your head a little differently. Often it's a war that places the play in the writer's head in the first place, getting the conversation going at gunpoint." Chicago Tribune 05/09/04

Where Is Black Music In West End Theatre? "Black artists are at the cutting edge of the music industry in Britain, but the West End has yet to play host to a show which celebrates their music. Some have blamed racism, others say that the black community are not theatregoers." The Observer (UK) 05/09/04

Saturday, May 8, 2004

Shaw, Stratford Festivals Hoping To Rebound It's been a tough couple of seasons for Ontario's Shaw and Stratford festivals. Attendance down sharply, revenues off, deficits mounting... But already in 2004, there are signs that the theatres may be bouncing back from their slumps... The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/08/04

NYT Foundation Theatre Initiative "The New York Times Company Foundation has announced a new grant-making instrument focused on not-for-profit theatres: The New York Times Company Foundation Fund for Mid-Size Theatres. As its first gesture, the foundations announced its first set of grants totaling $70,000 to 30 theatre companies.." Backstage 05/06/04

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Melbourne Nixes Funding Political Art The Melbourne City Council has voted to not fund any political art in the future after a controversy over a recent play. "We should fund art that the majority of the rate base don't have a problem with. I don't think political art is something that people want to fund." The Age (Melbourne) 05/06/04

Taking The Missouri Out Of Kansas City Rep Missouri Repertory Theatre has changed its name to the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. "Many trustees and others in the community had increasingly come to believe that 'Missouri Rep' did not fairly represent our many supportive patrons living in Kansas, and it was also apparent that the name didn't identify our location," Kansas City Infozine 05/06/04

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

UK Theatre Worth £2.6 Billion To Economy A new report says that theatre is worth an annual £2.6 billion to the British economy. That makes the £121.3 million in public money spent on UK theatre each year seem like a good investment. The Guardian (UK) 05/06/04

Shakespeare on the Lake "ShakespeareWorks, an organization that has brought the Bard's work to Toronto schools for several years, is raising $1.5-million to build a tent theatre at Ashbridge's Bay, in the east end of the city." The project is modeled on Vancouver's successful summer Shakespeare series, and the company's inaugural season kicks off in June. But concerns remain about promised federal funding which has yet to materialize, and the season will likely launch with barely enough cash on hand to meet expenses. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/05/04

Chicago Theater's Amateur Night "For the first time ever, Victory Gardens Theater's Chicago Stories benefit is sold out. A swank annual gala attended by some of the city's biggest power brokers, it has become immensely popular among philanthropists and drama mavens alike." The event features semi-autobiographical one-act plays by such local celebrities as basketball coach Phil Jackson and food writer/"Queer Eye" star Ted Allen. The results can range from embarrassing to hilarious, and the performances are now a bona fide hot ticket. Chicago Sun-Times 05/05/04

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Broadway Aida To Close After almost four and a half years the Disney musical "Aida" is closing on Broadway. It's the first Disney musical on Broadway to close. "The Lion King," which has been running for more than six years, remains one of Broadway's biggest sellers. And "Beauty and the Beast" still draws sizable crowds after more than a decade. The New York Times 05/05/04

Monday, May 3, 2004

Trucker Theatre Comes In From The Road The Hull Truck players are Britain's best-known vagabond theatre company. But now it's time to settle down. "Named after the elderly lorry which formed their first base, the Hull Truck players are to move to a £13.6m arts centre, the designs for which go on display in the Yorkshire port this week." The Guardian (UK) 05/04/04

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Shakespeare - Washed Up At 40 (400 Years Ago Today) "So, 400 years ago today Shakespeare turned 40. The theatre is not kind to ageing talent. Contrasting his own autumnal face with the cruel energy of spring, middle-aged Shakespeare must have wondered whether he had passed his prime. In fact, he had. Shakespeare at 40 was already, like the Julian calendar, conspicuously behind the times." The Guardian (UK) 05/03/04

Audience Attacks Performers, Tries To Burn Down Theatre In Madrid, "the final night of a Spanish play entitled In God We Shit was in jeopardy yesterday after a week of controversy culminated in attacks on the performers and an attempt to burn down the theatre in the middle of the performance." The Guardian (UK) 05/03/04

That Sondheim Bounce That Matters Maybe it was predictable - Stephen Sondheim's "Bounce" wasn't a hit when it first played last year. "Though Bounce closed in Washington last fall with an air of failure, any show with a name as big as Sondheim's on it will have the shortest of stints in musical-theater purgatory. It's part of a death-and-transfiguration cycle that has been going on at least since the mid-1950s, when the Leonard Bernstein musical Candide went down like a rock, but whose original cast album became a classic that continues to inspire increasingly successful revisions. Failure? Success? Not for nothing is show biz mythology full of "Springtime for Hitler" instances in which failure and success are mere matters of perception that change from moment to moment." Philadelphia Inquirer 05/02/04

The Post-9/11 Musical, Written 10 Years In Advance Stephen Sondheim's gut-punch of a musical, Assassins, has finally made it to Broadway more than a decade after its debut, and the reception has been largely positive. But audiences have been reluctant to reward the actors with the usual standing ovation, and Frank Rich thinks he knows why. "If the old maxim has it that you should never yell 'Fire!' in a crowded theater, it's even worse to wave a gun in a crowded theater in New York City at a time when an Associated Press poll shows that two-thirds of Americans expect a terrorist attack before the election, with one-third expecting the political conventions to be a target." The New York Times 05/02/04

Shaw Looks For a Rebound Season Between the SARS virus, the blackout that left a good chunk of Ontario in the dark for an entire weekend, and the American invasion of Iraq, 2003 was not a good year for the Shaw Festival and its first-year director, Jackie Maxwell. "Tourists stayed away in droves and the end result was a deficit of $3 million, of which $2.5 million was attributable to falling attendances." The Shaw will look to rebound this summer, and Maxwell is looking to put her stamp on the festival's artistic image after a tumultuous first year on the job. Toronto Star 05/01/04

Noble Fool Meets An Ignoble End Chicago's Noble Fool Theatre Company has shut down, but the company's founder and board will continue to operate, hopefully reemerging as a more wide-ranging arts organization. In the short term, "Noble Fool will continue as the exclusive theater presenter at two new venues at" a local resort, and certain performances will continue as the company attempts to reorganize financially. Chicago Sun-Times 05/01/04

State Of The Theater: LA Edition It's the best of times and the worst of times for the musical theater scene in Los Angeles. On the one hand, the quality of local productions is way up in recent years, and there seems to be no shortage of work for the area's actors. But on the other hand, the cost of mounting such productions has gone through the roof, and there are even whispers that the business model may no longer be viable in the longer term. Still, in an era when many sectors of the American cultural scene are struggling to survive, L.A.'s theater crowd is learning to adjust to new realities. Backstage West 04/30/04

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