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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Theater, The Unavoidably Political Art Form In the U.S., "the largest new subject for theater is the complex of issues related to 9/11 and homeland security, in plays that have percolated through the development pipeline for three years. Arriving now, they inevitably impinge on electoral politics. But theater always does this: No matter how much it aspires to the 'universal,' it is grounded in real life, which pushes it toward politics." Is theater right now any more political than usual, or is it just the audience that perceives it that way? Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 09/30/04

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Is A Revolution Brewing In The West End? The world of British theatre has been taken with the theme of rebellion against authority for some time now. But 18 months after the British/American invasion of Iraq, "polite skepticism and goofy satire are shading into something closer to wall-to-wall paranoia." From multiple plays which deal blatantly with current global events to a revival of One Through Over The Cuckoo's Nest, the productions currently on display in London's West End reveal a distinctly dark and seditious mood that is obviously striking a chord with the UK's theatregoers. The New York Times 09/30/04

Festivals May Saturate Market "The festival idea ... has almost irresistible selling points: There is strength in numbers. There is spice in variety. There is built-in word-of-mouth. There may be more outlay, true, but there may be more revenue." But are there simply too many festivals?
Back Stage 09/28/04

Neeson To Belfast: Keep Theater Open Liam Neeson has joined those fighting to save one of Belfast's oldest theaters, the Group Theatre, where many of Northern Ireland's leading actors got their start. BBC 09/29/04

Monday, September 27, 2004

SoCal's Little Big-Time Theater The list of cities that can count themselves as "springboards to Broadway" is brutally short: Chicago, Boston, maybe Atlanta. And yet, a string of small playhouses in Southern California has somehow become a favorite of the New York crowd over the years, and claimed its place as one of the top regional theaters in America. 40 years after its birth in a hardware store, South Coast Repertory has given birth to "Pulitzer Prize winners like Margaret Edson's 'Wit,' Nilo Cruz's 'Anna in the Tropics,' and [South Coast co-founder Donald] Margulies's "Dinner With Friends." The New York Times 09/27/04

London's Most Unassuming Impresario Bows Out Neil Bartlett is leaving his post as artistic director of London's Lyric Hammersmith theater after 11 years, having "put his own name to no fewer than 10 translations of plays by Racine, Marivaux, Genet and Labiche, while a new version of Don Juan will be his third Molière... He has also devised, designed and even appeared in his own shows. The one string missing from his bow is that he doesn't seem to sell the ice creams." Still, Bartlett has never been much of a self-promoter, and his tenure at the Lyric, while undeniably successful, was surprisingly low-profile. The Telegraph (UK) 09/27/04

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Do Edgy And Popular Have To Be Mutually Exclusive? Minneapolis-based Illusion Theater is one of the theater-rich Twin Cities' edgiest and most innovative venues, and yet, in an area which embraces modern art and modern music, Illusion can't seem to draw a crowd. "This 30th season finds Illusion mulling its identity and wondering what it takes to get people in the seats. Among [local] theaters its size, Illusion cuts the slightest swath through the public's consciousness." The company faces an array of obstacles to creating a more prominent regional identity, but with such a high percentage of the Cities' theater community pulling for it, some observers are saying that it's time for Illusion to do more to help itself. Minneapolis Star Tribune 09/26/04

Tony-Nominated Playwright Caught Plagiarizing "A prominent criminal psychiatrist and a writer for The New Yorker have accused the English playwright Bryony Lavery of lifting parts of dialogue, structure and characters from their work and using them in her drama Frozen, which closed on Broadway last month and was nominated for a Tony Award. [The accusers] say that they have found at least a dozen instances of word-for-word plagiarism in the play, as well as thematic and biographical similarities to a 1997 New Yorker profile... and a 1998 book." Independent comparisons clearly bear out the claims, and Lavery isn't commenting. The New York Times 09/25/04

Friday, September 24, 2004

Standup Comedy, Now With 85% More God! "Christian comedy" might seem like an oxymoron, but the genre is gaining steam in clubs across America, attracting not just devout churchgoers, but also audiences who prefer their entertainment G-rated and can find little to enjoy in the mainstream world of sex-obsessed standup. "What frequently categorizes the humor in Christian shows is its avoidance of racist and sexist jokes, vulgarity, and making fun of people in the crowd." The Christian Science Monitor 09/24/04

Thursday, September 23, 2004

A Bumper Crop Of Plays On Broadway In recent years, the paucity of straight plays on musical-happy Broadway has been a simple fact of life. This season is different, with 10 plays and only three musicals scheduled to open before January. But even when big names are attached, plays have a tougher time making it on the Great White Way. USA Today 09/22/04

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

RSC's Plans For Stratford Unveiled The Royal Shakespeare Company has gone public with its revised plans for the historic Stratford theater it calls home, months after agreeing to renovate the structure rather than knock it down, as the RSC was originally hoping to do. The new design will incorporate a "thrust stage" which places the audience in the middle of the on-stage action, while maintaining crucial art deco elements of the room. The renovations will cost £100 million, and the RSC is planning to apply for significant governmental aid to assist with the project. BBC 09/22/04

Wasn't This Supposed To Be A Musical? The fall theater season has begun in New York - not that you'd notice. In fact, "between now and New Year's Day there is exactly one new musical scheduled to open" on Broadway, which could put a serious dent in the Great White Way's ticket sales. "It is musicals, particularly splashy new ones in nice big theaters, that are the engines driving Broadway's economy, drawing nearly $9 out of every $10 spent on tickets last season." Eight musicals are slated for spring 2005, but it may be a long, cold winter until they arrive. The New York Times 09/23/04

More Commercials = Longer Broadway Runs? "The new four-year Production pact between Actors' Equity Association and the League of American Theatres and Producers, according to two union reps, contains new fiscal formulas favorable to actors that will make it easier for producers to promote shows, keeping them running longer." Backstage 09/22/04

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Whither The Globe? With actor-director Michael Rylance set to leave the Globe Theatre, there is a definite opportunity for the company to head off in a new direction, a change which many high-minded critics might find welcome. But Rylance's positive effect on the Globe cannot be easily replaced. "Undeniably, Rylance has made it a popular space where audiences are prepared to put up with the inclement weather, bossy ushers and physical discomfort for the sake of a star performer... [Rylance's replacement] will determine whether the Globe continues to be an old-fashioned, actor-driven company or whether it opts for intellectually challenging, director-led reinterpretations of Shakespeare." The Guardian (UK) 09/20/04

  • Previously: Globe Theatre Head To Depart "Mark Rylance, who has worked as the artistic director of London's Shakespeare's Globe Theater since 1996 and appeared in many of its plays, is planning to leave the post at the end of next year." The New York Times 09/17/04
Monday, September 20, 2004

At Least They're Not Throwing The Cell Phones Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, who is spending part of his time these days as the artistic director of London's Old Vic, is instituting a series of recorded messages before performances instructing audiences to turn off their phones, stop crinkling candy wrappers, and just generally sit still and keep quiet. Such admonitions have become common in the U.S., but some in London's theatre world have a longer memory: "The behaviour of modern audiences is dramatically better than in previous centuries, when armed guards were frequently posted to stop the mob in the pit from storming the stage, and performers were sometimes knocked out by objects thrown from the gallery." The Guardian (UK) 09/21/04

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Fleeing The Fringe "Leah Cooper, who helped the Minnesota Fringe Festival become one of the largest such events in the country, will step down as executive director next August, following the 2005 festival. Cooper announced her departure after a four-year tenure in which the attendance has grown 72 percent. The 2004 festival hosted a record 902 performances of 175 shows at 24 venues, drawing more than 50,000 people. Cooper also was instrumental in professionalizing the management of the festival and in bringing stability to the fast-growing festival's financial organization." St. Paul Pioneer Press 09/16/04

Philly Theatre Cuts 3/4 Of Season Philadelphia's Freedom Theater has cancelled three of the four shows it planned to mount this season, citing the pressures of a $4 million debt. The company, which is "one of the city's foremost African American cultural organizations", has struggled to stay solvent while dealing with cost overruns on the construction and maintenance of its 300-seat theater, which opened five years ago. The theater plans to resume its full schedule in fall 2005. Philadelphia Inquirer 09/18/04

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Globe Theatre Head To Depart "Mark Rylance, who has worked as the artistic director of London's Shakespeare's Globe Theater since 1996 and appeared in many of its plays, is planning to leave the post at the end of next year." The New York Times 09/17/04

NY Fringe's Record Year The New York Fringe Festival had a rough year financially. But then, the festival opened and produced "record ticket sales for this year's 17-day, 200-production endeavor, up at least 20% from 2003. If the numbers hold, it would be a record high for the eight-year-old festival." Back Stage 09/16/04

Artistically Yours At The New RSC Yes, the Royal Shakespeare Company has revived its fortunes in the space of a season. But the best things about the revived RSC under new director Michael Boyd, are artistic. "The best thing about his plan is its intellectual coherence. He took over a company which was fitfully brilliant, but which lacked purpose. While this year's season of Shakespeare's tragedies and Spanish Golden Age drama has been artistically diverse, it has given the company an identifiable style, conspicuous for its narrative and linguistic clarity." The Guardian (UK) 09/15/04

  • Previously: The RSC's Fine New Life The turnaround of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the past year has been amazing. Artistic director Michael Boyd was visibly jubilant at the company's most successful Stratford season in 10 years, the slashing of the crippling deficit he inherited - and above all confounding the advisers who warned him Middle England would stay away from his current season of 17th century Spanish plays: "I'm glad my optimism about human nature has been rewarded." The Guardian (UK) 09/15/04
Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Preview: Open Before It's Official The theatre preview is an odd beast. "Like so much, good and bad, in British culture, the preview is essentially an American import. The American theatre economy can sustain this lengthy period of what is effectively public rehearsal because it has a huge subscriber base. But why on earth should audiences be asked to watch something which in some sense is not deemed ready for public consumption? At best, they run the risk of being short-changed, especially if preview tickets are charged at the same price as those after the official opening." The Telegraph (UK) 09/16/04

Blame Game At The Abbey Dublin's Abbey Theatre is hurting: "For its 100th birthday the Abbey announced a sprawling yearlong program of plays by unfurling an enormous banner that spans the width of its facade - almost a whole city block - asking the public, "What will you see?" Judging by the affairs that now threaten to obscure the theater's centenary, the answer has clearly been "not much." Much of the blame for the Abbey's malaise has been laid at the foot of its artistic director, Ben Barnes, who designed the centenary program and has been criticized for an aloof and distant management style. He has made public his desire to leave the theater and move to Canada when his contract expires in December next year." The New York Times 09/16/04

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Wrong Way For The Abbey Dublin's Abbey Theatre has dug itself a deep hole. "The theatre, which produced playwrights from Sean O'Casey to Brian Friel, has seen the centenary of its foundation by WB Yeats marred by the disastrous box office of its anniversary programme, a deficit of almost €2.5m (£1.7m), a sudden plan to axe a third of its staff, and a decaying building that is a health hazard. A bitter email by its artistic director, Ben Barnes, has stoked tensions." The Guardian (UK) 09/15/04

  • Blame Game - Abbey Director Apologizes Ben Barnes, artistic director of Dublin's troubled Abbey Theatre, has found himself in yet another emergency meeting, this time over an e-mail he sent to international colleagues, distancing himself from his theater's difficulties. But, having apologized for and retracted the criticisms he made of the theater's board in the e-mail, he remains in his job. Ireland Online 09/13/04

The RSC's Fine New Life The turnaround of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the past year has been amazing. Artistic director Michael Boyd was visibly jubilant at the company's most successful Stratford season in 10 years, the slashing of the crippling deficit he inherited - and above all confounding the advisers who warned him Middle England would stay away from his current season of 17th century Spanish plays: "I'm glad my optimism about human nature has been rewarded." The Guardian (UK) 09/15/04

The Compleat Shakespeare (First Time) For the first time, the complete works of William Shakespeare are to be perfomed in a single season. "As well as his well-known plays, the Complete Works of Shakespeare Festival will feature his entire collection of sonnets, poems and other works. The seven-month festival will begin in April 2006, with performances at Royal Shakespeare Company theatres and other venues in Stratford-upon-Avon. Visiting theatre companies from across the globe will also take part." BBC 0914/04

A New Model For New Plays? The National New Play Network aims to make it easier for playwrights to get new work produced. "The economics are very challenging, and looking for national attention is part of everyone's goal. We're trying to find the best way to share and maximize resources. We're using the model of the new Europe instead of a feudal system where companies build walls around themselves." Miami Herald 09/14/04

Monday, September 13, 2004

Fans Pack Times Square For Free Broadway Preview Fifty thousand fans pack Times Square for a free preview of the new theatre season. "The 13th annual "Broadway on Broadway" concert featured musical performances from 16 shows, including "Mamma Mia!," "Avenue Q" and the new musical "Little Women." The outdoor show prompted some to line up as early as 8 a.m. for the chance to catch a glimpse of their favorite performers." New York Daily News 09/13/04

Shakespeare - The Man Behind The Myth "How did Shakespeare become Shakespeare? Apart from the poems and plays themselves, the surviving traces of Shakespeare's life are abundant but thin. The known facts have been rehearsed again and again for several centuries." But the issue has never been settled. Will it ever be? New York Times Magazine 09/12/04

Cleveland Theatre Turning Point This fall marks a turning point for Cleveland theatre. "One of the most important such dramatic dialogues in Cleveland this fall isn't at one particular theater, it's at all our theaters. It's about the theater. What kind of theater are we willing to support? To what degree do we value our theatrical institutions and artists? Enough to keep them around and performing at the same level?" The Plain Dealer (Cleveland) 09/12/04

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Guantanamo In NY Gillian Slovo's play about Guantánamo detainees was controversial in London - so how would it play in New York? "For a novelist who has not previously written for the theatre, New York did seem rather unbelievable, and, it has to be confessed, not a little frightening. This is a play, after all, that centres on British Asians or British Islamic converts, people who had all got caught up in the events that followed the obliteration of the Twin Towers. How would Americans deal with it?" The Guardian (UK) 09/11/04

Is Theater The Liberal Answer To Talk Radio? British theater is unapologetically political at the moment, and plays satirizing the Bush and Blair governments are wildly popular with UK audiences frustrated by the unresponsiveness of their leaders to public sentiment. But so far, the newly activist theater community has coalesced entirely around one point of view - the liberal one - and no one in the theater community seems to have a problem with that. Still, with some theaters beginning to blend political fact with Orwellian ideological fiction, the liberal dominance of activist theater is sparking debate in critical circles. Financial Times (UK) 09/10/04

Defiant To The End Chicago's distinctive and aptly named Defiant Theatre closes its doors forever this week with a production of Anthony Burgess's classic of violence and societal manipulation, A Clockwork Orange. "Anyone who's been watching the distinctive theatrical work of Defiant -- the original bad boys and girls of the off-Loop -- over these last 10 years quickly gets [director Christopher] Johnson's meta-point. Defiant is over... The original people have gone soft, gotten married, acquired proper jobs. You can't keep churning out the old ultra-violence, as Alex would say, on a shoestring in those circumstances." Chicago Tribune 09/11/04

Friday, September 10, 2004

British Library Puts Shakespeare OnLine "The British Library is putting online 93 high-resolution digitised copies of 21 of Shakespeare's plays. The texts date from Shakespeare's lifetime and are pamphlet editions of plays prepared to be sold after performances had finished. The printed works show how the text evolved and cast doubt on the idea of definitive versions of his plays." BBC 09/10/04

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

National Theatre's Record Season London's National Theatre has had a record year at the box office. "The experiment of using sponsorship to slash ticket prices for half the seats in the largest auditorium throughout the summer paid dividends. Sceptics feared it would give regulars a cheap night out, but the season attracted 50,000 first timers. A third of those returned regularly, buying full-price tickets for other shows. Overall the National sold 750,000 tickets, an 11% rise on the previous year." The Guardian (UK) 09/09/04

  • At The National: Cheap Tickets Make Good Business "The National's success with £10 tickets reinforces a basic law of economics. As budget airlines found, passengers will fly to remote destinations if the price is right, so theatre-goers will fill the stalls. Yet theatres must reassure their audience that quality has not been discounted along with the ticket price, or risk suffering the fate of the Savoy Opera earlier this year." The Guardian (UK) 09/09/04

Republican Convention Defeats Broadway The Republican Convention was death on Broadway box office. "For the week ending Sun., Sept. 5, all but five of the 22 shows running on the Main Stem suffered significant shortfalls at the box office." Back Stage 09/08/04

Petition: Save Broadway Recordings Seventeen thousand people have signed a protest over the decline of the Broadway original cast album. "Original cast recordings are on the verge of extinction. More and more record executives consider cast recordings a waste of time and money, and have made it clear that the days of recording Broadway shows are numbered." Back Stage 09/08/04

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Lloyd Webber On the Comeback? Andrew Lloyd Webber's last two shows didn't do well. Now he's got another show opening and a chance o get back on track. "Whether something is actually any good is quite different from whether it is commercial. This time I have gone out as far along the operatic route as I have ever done, if not further. It's what I wanted to write at this particular point." The New York Times 09/08/04

Off-Broadway's New Palace Dodger Stages is "a gleaming new theater complex" on the edge of the Broadway theater district. It is "one of the most expensive Off Broadway theater projects ever - $23 million - and includes five theaters and a range of amenities not always found in the regions Off Broadway, including ample air-conditioning, big dressing rooms, three bars and - its owners proudly point out - "more women's bathrooms than you'll find in any space like this." The company hopes "the new complex would provide the company with an opportunity not only to produce theater without breaking the bank but also to regain some of the youthful energy of the company's early days." The New York Times 09/08/04

The Abbey's Black Cloud Dublin's powerhouse Abbey Theatre is having a dreadful year. "Last week the incredulous staff were told that one third would have to go, the axe falling hardest on those engaged in bringing on new writers, which they felt was particularly unfortunate in an institution known worldwide as a "writers' theatre". The theatre's studio space, the Peacock, may be closed and its director sacked. To top it all there was an organisational foul-up about the dates for an ambitious run of "18 plays in 14 days" during the Dublin theatre festival later this month." The Guardian (UK) 09/08/04

Sign Of The Times: Downsizing Sweeney Todd "A 1989 Broadway revival of Sweeney Todd at Circle in the Square that used just 14 actors and a synthesizer band of three was wittily re-dubbed "Teeny Todd." Now a new cut-price West End version of this tale of throat cutting employs only nine actors and no band -- the actors double as musicians -- to become Teeny-Tiny Todd." Back Stage 09/07/04

Monday, September 6, 2004

Chilean Theatre Awakes After A Long Sleep "No one can underestimate the havoc wrought in Chile by the Pinochet military dictatorship from 1973 to 1990. 'Culture,' in the words of my dramatist friend Benjamin Galemiri, 'was seen by Pinochet as an act of terrorism.' Under the dual threat of state censorship and physical intimidation, many artists were silenced." But now, Chilean theatre is reawakening... The Guardian (UK) 09/07/04

A Scottish Theatre Crisis Scottish theatre has plenty of talent and produces much good work. But theatre is so underfunded, the country's theatres are starving for oxygen. "When dairy farmers are milking their cows, they increase their ration. If the cows do not get enough, they move on to their own body mass. That's the state of Scottish theatre. We don't have enough resources to maintain the body." The Guardian (UK) 09/07/04

Sunday, September 5, 2004

Pulling The Bard's Strings "This autumn, for the first time in its history, the Royal Shakespeare Company is to collaborate with one of the country's leading puppet theatres to present a marionette masque version of Venus and Adonis, Shakespeare's great, sensual poem... Over the past three months the puppets have been crafted in secret by experts from the Czech Republic, Germany and South Africa inside the Islington workshops of the puppet theatre. The miniature costumes are still being sewn together in the wardrobe department at Stratford-upon-Avon." The Observer (UK) 09/05/04

Fahrenheit 9/11 For The Well-Read Intellectual "Whatever the critics make of it, David Hare's Stuff Happens is undeniably one of the cultural events of the year - a remarkable dramatisation of the events that led to the war in Iraq." The critics, as it happens, have been finding the play overly simplistic and too willing to slosh around in "gray areas." But to the politicians, weapons inspectors, and other political insiders who lived through the runup to war that Hare has dramatized, Stuff Happens is a powerful reenactment of a divisive year in global relations, "the thinking person's Fahrenheit 9/11: much more sophisticated, but just as angry." The Guardian (UK) 09/04/04

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Ireland's Abbey Lays Off Staff Ireland's Abbey Theatre, the country's national theatre, is laying off a third of its staff. "The managing director of the Abbey, Brian Jackson, today said that the theatre cannot go on losing in the region of €800,000 a year, and that the company has taken steps to address what he has termed fundamental structural issues." Ireland Online 09/03/04

What Would Shakespeare Say? At the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Nicholas Kristof ponders what Shakespeare would tell the Republican National Convention and President George W. Bush. "The paramount lesson in Shakespeare's plays is that the world is full of nuances and uncertainties, and that leaders self-destruct when they are too rigid, too sure of themselves or - Mr. President, lend me your ears - too intoxicated by moral clarity." The New York Times 09/01/2004

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Avignon Fest Dispute Leads To Leadership Change "A disagreement at the Avignon festival has led to the departure of one of its founding fathers, the actor Alain Leonard. His resignation comes after a rift between his not-for-profit organisation, Avignon Public Off (APO) and Association de Lieux de Festival en Avignon (Alfa), a rival organisation set up last summer by the directors of 40 of the fringe venues." The Guardian (UK) 09/02/04

Ireland's Abbey Downsizing Ireland's Abbey Theatre - the national theatre - is facing a funding crisis, and is taking measures to downsize. "The Abbey employs more than 100 people, many of whom work on a fixed-contract basis. Sources close to the theatre say the literary department is likely to face the brunt of cutbacks with some of its functions transferring to the artistic director, Mr Ben Barnes." Irish Times 09/02/04

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