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Friday, July 30, 2004

West End Woes "London's theatrical business is enduring a summer of ennui. But is it a seasonal slump, or a sign of long-term decline? In the last couple of months, a slew of West End shows has closed early, many within weeks — or even days — of opening." Toronto Star 07/30/04

A Line From Shakespeare To Clinton? In watching this week's Democratic National Convention, Anna Deveare Smith is struck by the theatricality of the political show. "Four years ago, I would have pooh-poohed the notion of politics as theatrical. If theater is anything, it is life made urgent. We don't waste words, gestures or time on stage. But politicians can learn from us and we can learn technique from them. In this election year, none of us can waste a moment. The theater could afford to be more political and politics needs to be a lot more theatrical." The New York Times 07/30/04

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Scottish National Theatre Gets Its First Director Vicky Featherstone has been named the first director of the Scottish National Theatre. "The appointment of an Englishwoman will raise some eyebrows, but it was welcomed by many in the arts community as a sign that the new theatre would be as ground-breaking as they had hoped. The 37-year-old beat other more established names with stronger Scottish links, including Kenny Ireland, who ran the Royal Lyceum theatre in Edinburgh for more than 10 years." The Guardian (UK) 07/30/04

  • The National's Bold Choice Choosing Vicky Featherstone as the Scottish National Theatre's first director is "about as bold and challenging an appointment" as could have made. "Young, brilliant and not remotely Scottish, Ms Featherstone, at just 37, represents a young generation of British theatre talent that has completely recast the old pattern of relationships between London, where her current company, Paines Plough, is based, and the rest of the UK; and which tends to regard Scotland as being in the forefront of new developments in British theatre." The Scotsman 07/30/04

From Screen To Stage (A Threat?) More and more movies are being turned into stage productions. "The trend has some critics concerned about the commercialization of theater, where public appeal is a key to recouping costs. But it also suggests a gradual shift in the flow of American storytelling. It used to be that Broadway supplied fodder for films. Today, the flow is the other direction, thanks in part to the popularity of movies." Christian Science Monitor 07/30/04

Jefferson Out As NYT Theatre Critic Margo Jefferson is out as theatre critic at the New York Times. "Earlier this summer, the Times announced that Jefferson—a Pulitzer Prize winner for her book reviews— was "on leave" in order to write a book. Many in the theatre community, however, suspected she would not return to the theatre beat. The Times recently named Patti Cohen to the new position of overall theatre editor. Cohen will oversee the daily and weekend coverage of the theatre. Cohen confirmed that Jefferson had stepped down." Playbill 07/29/04

Philly Theater Gets A Cash Infusion "The Philadelphia Theatre Initiative, an annual program funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, has awarded $530,000 in grants to 12 Philadelphia-area theaters and three theater artists... The largest sums, $80,000, will go to three major Philadelphia theaters: the Arden Theatre Company, the Philadelphia Theatre Company, and the Wilma Theater." Philadelphia Inquirer 07/29/04

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Saving Scotland's Oldest Theatre Theatre Royal in Dumfries, Scotland is 212 years old, but badly in need of repair.
"The theatre was built in 1792, and is considered the oldest extant theatre in the country. But the cost of repairs and modernisation, and the demands of safety and disability laws, were threatening to close it down." Now the government is stepping in with money to save the day.
The S 07/29/04

Edinburgh Fringe Takes On Politics "On the subject of conflict between the West and the Arab world - in all its forms, from the war in Iraq, through the growing nightmare in the Middle East, to its impact on this autumn’s American presidential election - passions are running so high that the theme seems to pervade the Fringe programme like a leitmotif." The Scotsman 07/29/04

Harlem Apollo Deal Under Strutiny "A new deal to help renovate Harlem's Apollo Theater has come under scrutiny from federal development officials, who are concerned the financing may violate the rules of $4 million in government grants the famous venue has already received." Yahoo! (AP) 07/28/04

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The New Producers A new generation of London theatre producers is changing the business. "These new-style producers are not just moneybags, but are intrinsic to the creative process. They represent genuine producer/practitioner partnerships. The behind-the-scenes efforts of this new generation, who often work in non-traditional theatre spaces, are changing the face of British theatre beyond all recognition and making the mainstream sit up and take notice." The Guardian (UK) 07/28/04

The SF Show That Closed Before It Opened It's the quickest opening and closing of a commercial theatre show in San Francisco history. The press was invited to "V", a Vegas-style variety show in a 275-seat theater at Pier 39, renovated for $1 million. But before the show even opened to the public the next day, publicists were calling critics to say the show has been "postponed" indefinitely dued toi disagreements among the show's backers... San Francisco Chronicle 07/27/04

An Equitable Deal? Of Actors, The Union And Road Shows The recent agreement between Broadway producers and the actors union promises a truce in disputes over non-union touring shows. But don't expect the issue to completely go away. "As long as customers are willing to pay the same amount to see a non-Equity tour as a fully unionized one, producers will continue to see nonunion tours as a way to ensure profits - and Equity will continue to fight them." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 07/27/04

Dallas - Looking For The Mainstream Dallas theatres seem to be making a rush to produce "mainstream" theatre. "The premise seems to be that a lot of theatrical material has ventured away from the concerns of average folks. The trouble is, there's not a lot of consensus about where the mainstream is. What seems like the broad channel to some might be a stagnant eddy to others." Dallas Morning News 07/27/04

The Phantom Lives In Vegas A production of the mega-musical Phantom of the Opera is taking up permanent residence in Las Vegas. "Clear Channel Entertainment, a unit of Clear Channel Communications (CCU), will produce a 90-minute, $35 million version of the Tony Award-winning musical, set to open in the spring of 2006 at the Venetian hotel-casino." CNN (AP) 07/24/04

Monday, July 26, 2004

Being Yourself Onstage At The Edinburgh Fringe "This year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a host of non-actors is taking to the stage, with journalists and musicians, cartoonists and restaurateurs spilling beans, not about their personal lives, but about how they earn a living." The Observer (UK) 07/25/04

Living The Living Theatre "Founded in 1948 by Judith Malina and Julian Beck, the Living Theatre is so much a part of American theater history that many people are surprised to learn it's still active. It is, though. The company that pioneered off-off-Broadway performance in the '50s, and became an icon of experimental techniques and radical anarcho- pacifist commitment in the '60s, is still going strong -- in both Italy and New York, where it's building a new theater, and conducting political-theater workshops all over the world." San Francisco Chronicle 07/26/04

Sunday, July 25, 2004

A Direct Theatrical Assault on Guantanamo "British judges rarely inject themselves into politics. Even more rarely do they directly attack foreign governments. But on Nov. 23, 2003, Lord Justice Johan Steyn, Britain's third-highest ranking judge... delivered a blistering attack on what he saw as the 'arbitrariness' of the detentions and procedures involving international individuals held by the United States military at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba... At the time, the judge had no idea that, in less than six months, his words would be turned into the moral center of an intensely provocative, artfully conceived and rapturously reviewed piece of modern political theater, written, rehearsed and produced all in a matter of weeks." Chicago Tribune 07/25/04

More Than Just Clowning Around As a theater town, Chicago may currently be unrivaled in the U.S. But it's a fair bet that even the savvy Chicagoans have never seen anything quite like 500 Clown, a three-person (yes, only three) troupe dedicated to presenting serious theater with serious, well, clownage. The company's first show was 500 Clown Macbeth, which turned Shakespeare on its head and wowed the critics in the process. "With a manic brio, the show challenged past assumptions about the limits of on-stage violence and what director Leslie Buxbaum Danzig has dubbed 'clown-theater,' with equal emphasis on both words." Chicago Tribune 07/24/04

Friday, July 23, 2004

West End Story Attendance at theaters in London's famous West End are at a record low point, and at least one British arts executive is blaming the district's overly careful and conservative selection of shows. But the problem may have as much to do with a lack of consistency at the theaters, and with the fact that few shows are being given a chance to dig in and establish an audience base. The Guardian (UK) 07/23/04

Thursday, July 22, 2004

RSC Won't Demolish Theater The Royal Shakespeare Company has abandoned its plans to demolish its theater in Stratford-Upon-Avon as part of a major renovation project. The 72-year-old Royal Shakespeare Theatre had been slated for possible demolition under the RSC's initial plan, but public opposition convinced the company to backpedal. BBC 07/22/04

  • Previously: Does The RSC Really Need London? The Royal Shakespeare Company has been looking for a London Home. "But why does the RSC need a London base? Partly because it is the will of the Arts Council that the company has "a regular and sustained presence in the capital", and partly because the management finds it difficult to persuade agents to sign their actors up for a Stratford season unless a London transfer is part of the deal. These are not altogether cogent reasons." The Telegraph (UK) 07/21/04

Pumping Up Stratford And Shaw Ontario's Shaw and Stratford Festivals have been hit hard by a decline in tourism in the past two years, what with SARS and a surging Canadian dollar. So the Ontario government is stepping in to help, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in promotional assistance. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 07/22/04

The Cole Porter Effect Though he's been dead for 40 years, Cole Porter has continued to have a huge influemce on music. "In a sense, Porter has never been away, though his reputation rests mainly on songs he wrote between the late 1920s and late 1940s, and he died in 1964 at age 73. He's remained an icon in cabaret music and gay culture by virtue of both his music and his glamorous, if contradictory, lifestyle." Chicago Tribune 07/22/04

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Does The RSC Really Need London? The Royal Shakespeare Company has been looking for a London Home. "But why does the RSC need a London base? Partly because it is the will of the Arts Council that the company has "a regular and sustained presence in the capital", and partly because the management finds it difficult to persuade agents to sign their actors up for a Stratford season unless a London transfer is part of the deal. These are not altogether cogent reasons." The Telegraph (UK) 07/21/04

Vietnam's Bad Hair Day Vietnam has passed an edict banning wild haircuts on stage. "Regulation 47 bans 'hairstyles which inflict horror, painted or dyed hair, shaved heads or long, uncombed hair' The ban, announced by the ministry of culture last week, also tackles 'revealing performance outfits'." BBC 07/21/04

Sondheim On Track "Those who keep their culture in tidy boxes have a problem with Stephen Sondheim. For 47 years, ever since he jetted to attention at 27 as lyricist of West Side Story, Sondheim has walked both sides of the track and straight down the middle. He plays in commercial theatres and state opera houses, in am-dram and at the Kennedy Center. All his life he has defied categorisation as high art or low, common entertainer or lofty public edifier." La Scena Musicale 07/21/04

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Sondheim On Sweeney 25 Years Later When Sweeney Todd first opened in London 25 years ago it was not well-received. Sondheim has always been hurt by this reception. "It was my love letter to London." But now, he thinks he understands. "A friend of mine, the playwright John Guare, said that it was as if the British had come to the States and done a serious musical of I Love Lucy. "And we would think, Don't they know that's a silly comedy? Well, I think maybe, with Sweeney Todd, people thought that the Americans were taking a melodrama just too seriously. How pretentious! " The Telegraph (UK) 07/21/04

Monday, July 19, 2004

Guthrie Theatre's Blow-out Good Year "Buoyed by popular plays and musicals the theater increased the total audience for its main stage, Lab and touring productions by nearly 30 percent, drawing 417,528 patrons compared with 319,888 last year. It was the theater's highest overall attendance figure since 2000. The attendance news, announced Monday at the annual meeting, was compounded by an upbeat financial report that included balanced books, improved revenues and increased fundraising." The Star-Tribune (Mpls) 07/20/04

Looking For Ethnic Ambiguity Talent agents, casting directors, and talent management firms are receiving more requests for actors who are 'ethnically ambiguous,' of 'mixed ethnicity,' or have a 'global look,' especially for commercials, films, and television shows. "There is more opportunity for actors who are ethnically mixed than ever before. I often get requests for actors who are biracial. Sometimes it's very specific, like African-American and Caucasian; other times, the request for biracial is broadly nonspecific, leaving it wide open. The breakdowns for many musicals now include 'all ethnicities, unless otherwise noted.' " Backstage 07/19/04

Duncan: Broadway Is Broken Sandy Duncan despairs over the state of the Broadway theatre business. "Once an industry run by producers with vision and heart, she says, Broadway has devolved into a business now run by 'money men who don't have an eye for the product. It used to be that producers would make a profit, with the idea that they would put that money into a new show. Now, they want to make a killing, and so they're flogging these shows into 10-, 12-, 14-year runs. It hurts the whole creative community'." St. Paul Pioneer-Press 07/19/04

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Why The TV Star Got Fired From Sondheim Play Why did Saturday Night Live alum Chris Kattan get fired from Stephen Sondheim's "The Frogs" on Broadway? "The departure of Kattan from 'The Frogs' could be turned into a sort of morality tale — or fraught disaster movie. After all, what could have been more promising and foolproof than to be summoned, as he was, from Hollywood to Broadway by some of its most dazzling citizenry — multi-Tony winners Stroman and Lane, not to mention Sondheim? They invited him to take his first role on the stage." Los Angeles Times 07/18/04

O'Neill Theatre Director Resigns "In an unexpected move, J Ranelli has resigned as artistic director of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center a little more than half a year after he was named to the post at the 40-year-old Waterford, Conn., institution." Backstage 07/16/04

Theatre Sucks, Even If You're Straight A few months back, Emma Barber suggested in an interview that "no straight man ever willingly goes to the theatre." Since the interview was published, Barber has met every straight man in the UK who enjoys the theatre, and one of them turned out to be her editor, who promptly assigned her to start going to some plays herself. Five evenings of theatre later, Barber is unmoved: "Where do you start listing what is wrong with it? The booking? The building? The queues for the loos? The surly bar staff? The undrinkable wine? The rip-off programmes? The torturous seats? These can all be summed up in the feeling that from the minute you embark on this excursion you have set yourself up for a sucker." The Observer (UK) 07/18/04

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Actors Contract Details are emerging about the new contract between actors and producers. "The pact includes an annual 3% wage increase over the contract's four-year life, along with "meaningful increases in health-fund contributions" to stabilize the fund "for the foreseeable future." The two sides have also agreed to experiment with a new tiered salary system for national tours. The current weekly minimums under the old Production pact are $1,354 for actors in a musical or play. For stage managers the minimum stands at $2,225 for a musical and $1,913 for a play." BackStage 07/16/04

Thursday, July 15, 2004

RSC Returns to London "The Royal Shakespeare Company is to return to central London in November for a six-month season at the Albery theatre in Soho... The company transferred none of its plays to London last year because it could not get enough financial backing from producers - the first time it had not had a London season since the 1960s." The RSC will offer special discounts to theatergoers under 25 at the London shows, in a bid to reinvigorate and expand its core audience. BBC 07/15/04

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Roadshow - Broadway Strike Averted Broadway actors nearly went on strike this week over something that didn't really have much to do with Broadway theatre. "The road is a far less certain bet than it used to be, as evidenced by the recent decision by the producers of "Avenue Q," the Tony Award winner for best musical this year, to opt instead for an open-ended run in Las Vegas. Each side recognized that there needed to be a new economic model. It was no great secret that the road had to be restructured. The question was how." The New York Times 07/15/04

Cervantes Play To Get World Premiere More than four centuries after it was written, Miguel Cervantes' play "Pedro the Great Pretender" is getting its world premiere, by the Royal Shakespeare Company. The Guardian (UK) 07/15/04

Contemp Theatre Fest Places American Character On The Table The 14th annual Contemporary American Theater Festival in West Virginia is all about character. "The menu at this year's festival, one of the few across the nation devoted entirely to new work, offers a variety of perspectives on a country divided against itself. From the racially driven pessimism in Lee Blessing's playlets to the terrorism-fueled paranoia of Stuart Flack's "Homeland Security" to the lighthearted culture clash in Richard Dresser's Little League comedy "Rounding Third," the writers invited to the campus of Shepherd University find their voices by tracing the fault lines in the contemporary American character." Washington Post 07/14/04

Monday, July 12, 2004

Broadway Union Agrees To Actors Deal Broadway actors and producers have reached a tentative deal on a new contract. "The deal settled most of the major outstanding contractual issues between the union, Actors Equity, and the producers, including the knotty issue of non-Equity tours, which threatened to sidetrack negotiations — and Broadway shows — several times." The New York Times 07/12/04

Actors Contract Talks Break Down Negotiations between Broadway producers and the actors union Equity broke down over the weekend. "No new negotiations are scheduled but Broadway and touring shows were not disrupted because the guild has kept its members working throughout the past few weeks of tense negotiations." Backstage 07/12/04

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Touring Theatre Moves On... The days of the sell-em-out touring mega-musicals is over and the business of touring theatre has changed substantially. Eight years ago Equity actors logged 44,000 tour-weeks of work. By last season it was 21,000. More shows are hiring non-union actors, and more venues are vying for the shows that are out there. It all makes current negotiations on a new union actors contract a dicey affair... Washington Post 07/10/04

Can Cleveland Theater Bloom Anew? The Cleveland Play House has fallen on hard times both artistic and financial in recent years, but the arrival of new artistic director Michael Bloom seems to be generating real excitement for the future of theater in the city. Bloom talks less about reinvigorating the Play House as he does about reinvigorating the city, with theater as a focal point. "There has been what I would call a 'standard repertory vision' that just kind of assumes people are going to know why you are doing a play. You can't assume that." The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 07/11/04

Should The West End Be More Like Broadway, Or Less? London's West End is in trouble, and the debate is on concerning the best direction to take London's theater district. Should the West End be imitating Broadway, where producers "take risks and maintain a buzz"? And should such buzz be more important than maintaining some gauzy image of theatrical integrity, especially if going Broadway puts rears in the seats? "What London needs is a stonking great hit." The Observer (UK) 07/11/04

Shakespeare In The Park Arrives At A Crossroads Poor reviews, philosophical disagreements, and controversies over preferred seating have plagued the New York Public Theater's famous Shakespeare In The Park series in recent years, and the troupe may be rethinking its strategy. Free performances may soon be a thing of the past, for one thing. Still, Public Theater is debt-free for the first time in years, and the company appears to have plenty of options. The New York Times 07/11/04

Friday, July 9, 2004

Janet Jackson To Broadway's Bombay Dreams? "The producers of the $14 million musical about Bollywood, which is hanging in there at the Broadway Theater despite some crushing reviews, have approached the pop singer and half-time flasher about joining the cast at some point, production sources confirmed yesterday." New York Post 07/09/04

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Spamalot Gets A Cast The new Monty Python musical Spamalot is due to open on Broadway in February 2005. "Based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it will star Frasier actor David Hyde Pierce, alongside Tim Curry and Simpsons star Hank Azaria. Python star Eric Idle wrote the book for the musical, and collaborated on music and lyrics with John Du Prez." BBC 07/08/04

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Politically Yours (On London Stages) London theatre has become very poiltical in the past 18 months. "In theaters all over London these days, debates rage about power and justice, about leadership and its abuses. From the National's production of Euripides' 410 B.C. Iphigenia at Aulis to the New Ambassador's up-to-date Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom, curtains rise on works that confront the morality of the coalition's invasion of Iraq and inquire into government's dubious motives." Village Voice 07/06/04

  • Greeks In London "In London, where theater often has a fraternal closeness to the morning's headlines rarely known across the Atlantic, the ancient Greeks are hot this summer." The New York Times 07/08/04

An Actors Strike? Will the actors union call a strike against American theatres? "The Production contract between Equity and the League of American Theatres and Producers expired last week, with tempers suddenly turning hostile at the last minute and both sides leaving the table." Backstage 07/07/04

Monday, July 5, 2004

The Enduring Chekhov A hundred years after his death, Chekhov still exerts a major pull on the theatre. What is it about his work that makes it endure? The Telegraph (UK) 07/05/04

Sunday, July 4, 2004

Shakespeare on the Mississippi The sleepy little river town of Winona, Minnesota is not a place where you would expect to find a major theater festival, but the founders of the new Great River Shakespeare Festival are banking on the allure of small-town America and its own no-frills approach to the Bard to draw a crowd ad build a lasting theatrical tradition. "It will take years of artistic nurturing, civic investment and theatrical brilliance to accomplish such goals. This first season is filled with education panels, discussions, music concerts -- a regular Chatauqua -- to energize the local population and lure the curious from around the region." Minneapolis Star Tribune 07/04/04

Youth, Enthusiasm, and Unfathomable Wealth Arielle Tepper is one of Broadway's youngest impresarios, "armed with the romantic notions of a stage-door Annie, the energy of youth and, not incidentally, a considerable fortune derived from the real estate empire of her maternal grandfather, Philip Levin, who died in 1971, the year before Ms. Tepper was born. In 2001, Ms. Tepper inherited a third of the family real estate portfolio, which Crain's New York recently estimated at $1 billion. Ms. Tepper has used part of her share to make herself into an eager new player in the treacherous world of theatrical producing." The New York Times 07/04/04

Friday, July 2, 2004

Actors Strike Would Mean High Broadway Attrition Broadway producers are anxious about the possibility of an actors strike this summer. Many show would close. How many? "Almost a third of the shows running right now probably would cut their losses in the event of a strike and close. That's partly because of timing. The musicians' strike occurred in March, so Broadway had plenty of time rebound during the robust spring run-up to the Tony Awards. But the summer is a lot dicier." New York Post 07/02/04

Thursday, July 1, 2004

Britain's New Cabaret Live performance and cabaret acts have never been so popular in the UK. "Welcome to Britain's Cabarenaissance. Across the country a new breed of night owl has sworn to bring the dressing-up, the decadence and the dandy back into after-hours debauchery. Clubbing is getting classy. For a growing number of people seeking to burn it at both ends, standing in a cramped stench-box listening to some trend-ophile play six hours of 'fusion grime' just doesn't cut the mustard any more." The Guardian (UK) 07/02/04

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