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Monday, January 31, 2005

Scots National Theatre - Maybe (Just Maybe) It'll Turn Out Alright There's been no shortage of worry in Scotland about how the new National Theatre would take shape. Maybe that's because of the many years it took to get the idea off the ground. "But now that the National Theatre of Scotland is beginning to take shape, even the sharpest critics of the idea are being forced to concede that those fears may have been misplaced. For one thing, the organisation is being set up on an innovative commissioning model designed to ensure that the NTS works through Scotland’s existing companies, investing its budget in developing world-class new projects with them, and helping them to raise their game with every new production." The Scotsman 02/01/05

Breaking Even - A Rarity Off-Broadway These Days "Burdened by ever-higher costs and increased competition from Broadway and beyond, the successful commercial Off Broadway play is a rarity these days, producers say. Long considered a cheaper, more viable alternative to the high costs of Broadway, the average Off Broadway production now regularly runs more than $500,000 to produce, with some costing nearly $1 million. Predictably, those higher costs have been passed on to the consumer; good seats for Off Broadway shows now commonly run more than $50, with some shows asking $65 or $75." The New York Times 02/01/05

Aussie Theatre In Decline Theatre is on the decline in Australia - few audiences and fewer productions. "When they are young and starting out, writers hone their skills on the theatrical fringe. But these fringe companies are disappearing. The number of new works being staged around Australia dropped by more than a third in the past 20 years. More specifically, there has been "a jaw-dropping decrease" in theatrical activity in Melbourne in the decade to 2003 - down by 20 productions to 36." The Age (Melbourne) 02/01/05

Another Down Year For Ontario's Shaw Festival "Despite an increase in ticket sales over last season, the Shaw Festival has announced a significant deficit for the second consecutive season. At the festival's annual meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., on Friday, organizers revealed that the 2004 season ended with a deficit of $2.37 million, resulting in an accumulated deficit of $4.4 million." CBC 01/31/05

The West End's Best Year Ever London's West End theatres had their best year ever at the box office in 2004. "Almost 12m people attended a West End show in 2004, generating receipts of £341,758,566. The arrival of big musicals including Mary Poppins and The Producers is credited with pushing up ticket sales." BBC 01/31/05

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Theatre Critics' Lament Any theatre critic who's been on the job for a while starts to see the same weaknesses over and over. "Repeated weekly exposure to the legitimate stage, although occasionally resulting in an exquisitely attuned creature like John Lahr, for the most part creates individuals who are primarily aware that a lot of the same mistakes are being made in a lot of different places." Back Stage 01/29/05

The Schiller Phenomenon - Making It Big In London (After 200 Years) Schiller was one of the great German dramatists. Yet his work has never played well in Britain until now. But now he's a popular money-maker. "The idea that Schiller, shunned for the best part of two centuries by the British theatre, was now big box-office marked a historical watershed. So what has changed? And why is Schiller no longer box-office poison?" The Guardian (UK) 01/29/05

Friday, January 28, 2005

Esbjornson Named To Lead Seattle Rep David Esbjornson, the 52-year-old, New York-based stage director, has been named artistic director of Seattle Repertory Theatre. Esbjornson has numerous Broadway and off-Broadway credits, and close ties to such major American playwrights as Edward Albee, Arthur Miller and Tony Kushner. Seattle Times 01/28/05

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Cirque's $200 Million Gamble "Kà is the latest and most grandiose project from Cirque du Soleil. Indeed, it is probably the most grandiose piece of live theatre ever undertaken. The figures only hint at the ambition of the endeavour. Each show features 158 stage technicians and 75 performers. It cost $200 million to create and needs $1 million a week to keep running." And what do you get for all that money? The Guardian (UK) 01/27/05

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Same Role Next Decade It's common for musicians to return to works of music throughout their careers; an old conductor's Beethoven is decidedly different from the young. Such relationships with a work of art are rarer in the theatre. So what's it like to play the same role in a play separated by decades? The Guardian (UK) 01/26/05

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Shakespeare For Boys (Why?) What's the appeal of all-male Shakespeare? Is it about authenticity, seeing the parts played by men because that's who Shakespeare wrote them for? The Guardian (UK) 01/22/05

Road To Musical Success What makes a good musical? There's no set formula, as a look at musicals set to debut soon shows. "Every idea is improbable until it succeeds. People thought 'Pygmalion,' you couldn't possibly turn that into a musical. 'Cats' when it opened in London was considered a big joke." Yahoo! (Reuters) 01/23/05

Long-Lost (Gems? Duds?) "Lost plays have a romantic pull for theater people, especially for those in love with the past. Resurrecting a forgotten work is a bit like recovering a gold cigarette case from a sunken ocean liner: Wipe away the barnacles and who knows? You may find something that glitters. Of course there's also the possibility that the thing will simply come apart in your hands. That danger, too, is part of the attraction. And in the case of regional theaters that need to hold on to subscribers, to strike a balance between unorthodox program choices and seat-filling chestnuts, adventurism can come at a price." Washington Post 01/23/05

TKTS Begins Plays-Only Service The TKTS half-price theatre ticket booth in Times Square is starting a "palys-only" line. "Tickets to both Broadway and off-Broadway nonmusical plays will be sold at the play-only line, while tickets for both plays and musicals will continue to be sold at the other lines." The idea is to encourage sales of tickets to plays, which are a harder sell than musicals. Philadelphia Inquirer (AP) 01/23/05

That's (More Than) Entertainment "It's no longer sufficient, say artists and educators, for theater and other art forms merely to entertain. Nor is it enough for young people to come away from an art experience being able to articulate 'that was funny' or 'that was pretty'. Both society and entertainment are becoming more socially and culturally segregated (think red state vs. blue state) and academic achievement is being increasingly scrutinized under the cold, unforgiving glare of standardized testing. In that stratified environment, theaters for young people are reaching across the footlights and into classrooms — not teaching them what to think but rather how to think." St. Paul Pioneer Press 01/23/05

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Success = Risk What's the formula for success in the theatre, asks Michael Billington? "I've argued till I'm blue in the face that, in the arts, caution kills while risk ultimately pays off. It's an approach made possible only by subsidy. But if you look at which theatres have prospered in recent decades, it is invariably those that have been artistically daring." The Guardian (UK) 01/20/05

West End Considering Matinees (Is This Really Good For Theatre?) Producers in London's West End are considering adding Sunday matinees to their schedule. "This makes complete sense from the perspective of the public. Alongside retail and sport, all other forms of secular entertainment are now freely available on Sunday afternoons, when it's cheaper to drive into city centres and park. It's also better for families and older people to be on their way home by 6pm, it's nice not to have to rush straight from work, and you can easily eat before or afterwards. Broadway has been doing it for years, so why don't we?" The Telegraph (UK) 01/20/05

Checking Out Broadway's 2004 Numbers "Overall, according to the report, the past season generated the third-highest attendance in Main Stem history, rising to 11.6 million tickets purchased from 11.4 million during the prior season and nearing the all-time record of 11.9 million achieved during the 2000-01 season. The numbers can be analyzed another way, however: In a sign of just how difficult it has become to mount plays on Broadway, 10.02 million people saw a musical last season, a new record, versus the 1.57 million who saw a play, the lowest figure in almost a decade." Back Stage 01/19/05

How Did Shakespeare Die? "A study conducted by an infectious diseases specialist concludes that the bard likely had syphilis and that mercury, used to treat the disease, could have poisoned the playwright and contributed to his death." Discovery 01/19/05

Trump's Apprentice As A Musical? "Reality superproducer Mark Burnett and Donald Trump, executive producers of NBC's reality hit, are developing "The Apprentice: The Musical." Burnett is writing the book for the musical, which is under way, with several songs already written." Hollywood Reporter 01/19/05

Well, You Know How Hard It Is To Find Unionized Blue Men The popular and quirky Blue Man Group show is headed to Toronto this week, and the Canadian Actors Equity union isn't happy about it, and is organizing a picket lin to protest the group's lack of union participation. Blue Man Group's non-union status has never run afoul of the American version of Actors Equity, because "their show doesn't have a book (script) and consequently wouldn't fall under our jurisdiction." Blue Man's organizers are reportedly stunned at the objections of the Canadian union. Toronto Star 01/19/05

So It's Not A Good Show, Then? Dodger Theatricals has a history of mounting some of the worst flops on Broadway, and Michael Riedel says that Good Vibrations, the company's latest baby-boomer-magnet of a show is headed down the same path. " Two telltale signs of trouble emerged last week. The director David Warren was brought onboard to help bail out his friend, John Carrafa, the 'official' director and choreographer of the show; and the opening night has been pushed back a week... Poor Carrafa is already getting most of the blame what one Broadway insider calls 'the worst show ever booked in a theater.'" New York Post 01/19/05

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Humana Chooses Festival Plays The Humana Festival has chosen the six plays for this year's festival. All the dramatists whose work appears in this year's festival arrive with accolades already in hand, and many have NYC connections. Back Stage 01/18/05

Toronto's Theatre Sound Like A Shopping Directory Toronto's theatres are taking on corporate names. The latest is the New Yorker Theatre, which is becoming the Panasonic Theatre. The company reportedly paid $4 million for the deal, spread out over 10 years. "The theatre's lobby alone will be equipped with $250,000 worth of state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment from Panasonic, including its latest 65-inch high-definition plasma TV." Toronto Star 01/18/05

Broadway's Record Week Broadway scored a record week at the box office in the last week of 2004. "During the week between December 27 and January 2, the 31 shows on the Great White Way took in a total of $22,069,502. That topped the previous record, set during December 23 to December 29, 2003, by $718,869." The Stage (UK) 01/18/05

Thief Robs Theatre, Leaves Tsunami Relief Collections A man burst into the box office of the Town Hall Theatre in Galway, Ireland and took the evening's ticket receipts. But "on his way in and out of the theatre, he pointedly walked past the bucket of money in the foyer, donations which had been collected for the tsunami disaster fund before each matinee and evening performance." The Stage (UK) 01/18/05

Artistic Differences, And Behold, The Phoenix Rises Members of New York's venerable Jean Cocteau Repertory Company were dismayed when a new artistic director took the theatre in a direction they didn't like. So they quit and built a new theatre company - the Phoenix. Its first run sold out to critical praise. But can the company sustain itself as a going concern? The New York Times 01/18/05

Monday, January 17, 2005

When In Doubt, Blame The Oldsters The baby boom generation is stifling Australian theatre, according to the younger directors and writers struggling to worm their way into the business, and one prominent playwright is calling for nothing less than a revolution. "We have lost the notion of a 'whole' Australian theatre, one in which each component part has a vital yet interdependent function... This has been the most serious casualty of Anglo-New Wave disaffection. We have lost a sense of overarching identity in our theatre. And we need to get it back." Sydney Morning Herald 01/18/05

Lloyd Webber Selling Off Some Assets Andrew Lloyd Webber, who dominates London's West End theatre district not only with his music but with his ownership of eleven venues, is reportedly in talks with a mystery buyer to sell off four of his theatres. The Guardian (UK) 01/18/05

Sunday, January 16, 2005

London's Theatrical King Du Jour Nicholas Hytner's tenure at the head of the UK's National Theatre has not been without difficulty, but at the moment, he is presiding over an institution widely thought to be at the top of its creative and popular game. "In the last financial year he made a small profit, even with a slash in ticket prices, instead of the $900,000 loss that was predicted. He has filled 90 percent of the 2,300 seats, many with first-timers (as credit cards receipts attest). And he has staged new, risky work and venerable classics - from "Jerry Springer - the Opera" to Euripides' "Iphigenia at Aulis" to David Hare's "Stuff Happens," a docudrama about the Iraq war - while sometimes dazzling audiences and critics." The New York Times 01/16/05

Minority Fest Gains Status In Boston Boston's African-American Theatre Festival has been around since 2001, but it's barely registered as a blip on the radar screen of one of the country's top theatre towns. But "this year the festival has gotten a major boost in visibility and cachet. The Huntington Theatre Company is hosting the festival in the larger of its two new theaters at the Calderwood Pavilion in the South End." Boston Globe 01/16/05

Friday, January 14, 2005

Broadway 2005: Serious Star Power, Seriously Goofy Musicals It's a bit early to be declaring 2005 the Year Of The Anything, but a look at the upcoming Broadway schedule does make a few trends abundantly clear. If all goes as expected, this will be the year that the Broadway musical regained its footing (likely on the back of the Monty Python blockbuster Spamalot), and the year that the Great White Way threw in the towel on new plays, opting instead for a host of revivals of classic stage works featuring big-name stars to draw in the tourists. The Christian Science Monitor 01/14/05

  • Getting Ready To Rumble Conventional wisdom says that Broadway only has room for one smashingly successful blockbuster musical per season. But this year, Spamalot will be going head-to-head with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, with plenty of star power, Hollwyood glitz, and industry buzz on each side. Michael Riedel can't wait to see who wins: "At this point, I'm not betting on either combatant. I'm just looking forward to the struggle. Let's hope it's bloody, with dashed hopes and dreams all over the place." New York Post 01/14/05

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Royal-Shakespeare-In-A-Can The Royal Shakespeare Company is building a temporary 1,000-seat theatre in a car park in Stratford-upon-Avon, using a technology more commonly associated with oil rigs... The Guardian (UK) 01/13/05

Study: Broadway Audience Is Out-Of-Towners "Confirming many long-held beliefs, a new demographic study shows that 6 in 10 Broadway audience members do come from outside the city and its suburbs, and that the single most important factor in ticket buying is "personal recommendation." The study, conducted by the League of American Theaters and Producers, a trade group, found that during the 2003-4 season only 16.7 percent of the Broadway audience came from inside the New York City limits, with an additional 22.9 percent coming from suburban areas in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. About half of the 2003-4 crowd came from the rest of the United States, while a little more than 10 percent consisted of international tourists." The New York Times 01/13/05

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Redgrave's Return To RSC Canceled Vanessa Redgrave's much-anticipated return to the Royal Shakespeare Company after 43 years has been canceled. "Redgrave, 68 this month, was to have opened in a new version by Tony Harrison of Euripides' tragedy Hecuba at the Royal Shakespeare theatre on February 17. Rehearsals for the play's chorus began in London last week. The run has been scrapped to give her time to recover from an operation." The Guardian (UK) 01/13/05

Playwright Speaks Out Against Sikh Protests Of Her Play Playwright Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti says her life has been upended by the controversy surrounding the cancellation of her play last month at Birmingham Rep after Sikh protests. "My play, Behzti, has been cancelled, I've been physically threatened and verbally abused by people who don't know me. My family has been harassed and I've had to leave my home. I have been deeply angered by the upset caused to my family and I ask people to see sense and leave them alone." The Guardian (UK) 01/13/05

Chorus Line Back On Broadway Sixteen years after it closed a record-setting run at the Shubert Theater, Michael Bennett's landmark musical about the lives of Broadway dancers is to be restaged with the help of three of the original production's creators: the composer Marvin Hamlisch, the designer Robin Wagner and the choreographer Bob Avian. The New York Times 01/12/05

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Spamalot - This Year's Big Hit? (The Reviews Are In) Sure, the Pythonalia is all there. But it all has undergone a drastic sea change, too -- crossbred with a century's worth of Broadway conventions, and with bits of additional genetic material lifted from Las Vegas and Super Bowl halftime shows, from pop music sound bites and the trans-Atlantic trills of Andrew Lloyd Webber. A wacky hybrid (with Broadway proving to be the dominant strain, especially in the show's second act), it has arrived with such a blindingly bright sheen -- and at the same time with such a sense of the loopily quirky teamwork that made the original Pythons who they were -- that you don't know whether you should sing ''Hail to the Queen,'' ''The Star-Spangled Banner,'' ''Havah Nagilah'' or ''YMCA.'' Chicago Sun-Times 01/11/05

  • Spamalot - An "Agreeable" Evening "With book and lyrics by Python co-founder Eric Idle and music by Idle and composer John Du Prez, "Spamalot" hits and misses for much of its first act but ultimately makes it home on sheer comic goodwill. It's nice to be in the hands of comic professionals, and "Spamalot" has a few. I liked it, even when it seemed to be the work of a bunch of highly talented Python fans re-enacting scenes from a cherished film and making up some highly variable songs to go with it." Chicago Tribune

Monday, January 10, 2005

Looking For The Great Scottish Musical "Sir Cameron MackIntosh has joined the Scottish Executive in funding the Highland Quest, a competition to find a piece of musical theatre to mark the Highland Year of Culture in 2007. The winning entry will be staged at a new 250-seat studio venue at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, which is undergoing a £15 million refurbishment, before going on tour, possibly as far as London’s West End." The Scotsman 01/08/05

Sunday, January 9, 2005

British Theatre - Ready For Some Big Themes? Last month's Birmingham Rep Sikh protests proved that theatre still matters. But what to do with that energy? "New writing in British theatre seems at a real crossroads, facing a choice between bite-sized, narrative-dominated star vehicles or a renewal of the kind of large-scale statement that is thought to have perished under Mrs Thatcher's tank tracks but has clearly re-emerged in the past 12 months. The re-creation of a culture of large-scale new writing in British theatre won't just happen - without Monsterism, minimalism will triumph." The Guardian (UK) 01/10/05

Broadway Of The Midwest Five years ago, it seemed that the out-of-town pre-Broadway trial run was dead, the victim of high production costs and increasingly devastating critical reaction. But these days, nearly every big-budget Broadway show is getting a trial run outside the Big Apple, with Chicago having replaced the various Northeastern cities that used to host tryouts. "With a metro area of about 9 million, it has the requisite population base. It has a sophisticated theater audience with a track record of interest in new work. It has an ample supply of technical crew and stagehands who, due to union concessions, come considerably cheaper than their counterparts in New York." Chicago Sun-Times 01/09/05

Or You Could Just Rent The Movie For $4 How popular is Chicago's pre-Broadway run of the Monty Python-inspired musical Spamalot? Tickets are going for as much as $450 on ticket-swap web sites, and the best way to get a decent seat may actually be to get a pricey hotel room for the night, and then leave your ticket order in the hands of a professional concierge. "In its first seven-performance week, the show did $778,599 in business, selling virtually every seat." Chicago Tribune 01/09/05

Nobody Cares If They Can Act, Right? "It's been a rough couple of years for Broadway musical revivals, with a series of high-profile financial failures, including Gypsy, Man of La Mancha and Wonderful Town. What each of those shows had in common were stars like Bernadette Peters, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Donna Murphy, all of whom had respected theatrical résumés but lacked lasting box office punch. Theater fans might have cared, but the general public, it seemed, did not." So the producers of two of this year's most anticipated revivals are going outside the traditional theatre world for stars, hiring jazz singer Harry Connick and sitcom actress Christina Applegate in an effort to boost ticket sales. The New York Times 01/08/05

Even With A Turkey That You Know Will Fold... Whose fault is it when a theatrical production bombs? Actors tend to blame directors, who have ultimate control over what goes on onstage. Directors fault bad casting, uneven acting, and lack of money for flops. And when all else fails, everyone can always get together and blame the writer. Minneapolis Star Tribune 01/09/05

Friday, January 7, 2005

Lots Of Spam To Go Around The hottest theatre ticket in Chicago? It's the Monty Python "Spamalot," which has opened in previews. It's the biggest show at the box office since The Producers. "In its first seven-performance week, the show did $778,599 in business, selling virtually every seat. (By contrast, the concurrent first week of the pre-Broadway tryout of "All Shook Up" did only $457,768.) Chicago Tribune 01/07/05

Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Broadway's Record Year Broadway had a record year of revenue and attendance. Still, "Broadway continues to be a very high-risk investment and continues to be challenged by enormous cost pressures. Many shows have enjoyed strong grosses; many shows have not. Those grosses don't invariably mean profits. Historically, one out of every five shows breaks even, and an even lower percentage make money. That trend continues. There's no change in that." Back Stage 01/05/05

  • Previously: Broadway's Boffo 2004 Box Office Broadway had a healthy year at the box office in 2004. Productions took $748.9 million, up from $725.4 million the previous year. One of the big reasons: "Overseas tourists are now back at the same numbers as they were prior to September 11. Overseas visitors accounted for 12% of ticket sales, double that of last year. BBC 12/29/04

An Unusual Rescue Plan For Tacoma Theatre Tacoma Actors Guild, which suddenly shut down last month, has bought a little time. A suburban Seattle theatre will take over the theatre's building for the next 2 1/2 years while TAG tries to regroup. Bellevue Civic Theatre, a semiprofessional compared to TAG’s fully professional status, will "hire actors and crew on a show-by-show basis. TAG’s staff might get occasional work, but will not be rehired." Tacoma News-Tribune 01/05/05

  • Previously: The Sad Story Of Tacoma Actors Guild Last month, after 26 years in business, Tacoma Actors Guild suddenly closed its doors. "By December, TAG had only $30,000 in the bank, enough to cover a single two-week payroll. But when the bank heard about the indefinite closure and layoffs in the newspaper, it froze the $30,000 against the $165,000 note. Staffers refused to work without pay, and the Christmas play ended abruptly, its set left standing onstage." Tacoma News-Tribune 01/04/05
Tuesday, January 4, 2005

The Golden Age (In 1905) The best year for theatre? How about 1905, suggests Dominic Dromgoole. "What made the plays of this moment hit the target so often? Historically, these dramatists occupied a unique moment, precariously balanced between traditional structures and modernism. Ibsen began a process of stretching and distorting the sturdy Victorian play, disturbing its traditional scaffold of strong narrative and regular crisis and resolution. Others took it further. The old form wasn't sufficient for expressing the miasma of little moments they saw and heard around them. They took the four-act form and filled it with the lazy chaos of life and the confused mess of the inner self." The Guardian (UK) 01/05/05

The Sad Story Of Tacoma Actors Guild Last month, after 26 years in business, Tacoma Actors Guild suddenly closed its doors. "By December, TAG had only $30,000 in the bank, enough to cover a single two-week payroll. But when the bank heard about the indefinite closure and layoffs in the newspaper, it froze the $30,000 against the $165,000 note. Staffers refused to work without pay, and the Christmas play ended abruptly, its set left standing onstage." Tacoma News-Tribune 01/04/05

A Venue As Big As NYC "The announcement that former Dublin Fringe director Vallejo Gantner has been named P.S.122's artistic director has quieted fears about the East Village institution's future. But what will Russell—one of the city's most visionary performing arts curators, the man who fostered the careers of John Leguizamo, Eric Bogosian, Spalding Gray, and Danny Hoch—do without a venue to program? Why, program the city, of course..." Village Voice 01/04/05

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