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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

This Just In: Shakespeare Was... Enough with the theories on Shakespeare's life and motives. A new book "claiming Shakespeare for the Pope stirs up intense indignation among those who regard him as the most humanist of writers, notably thin on religious references, sentiments, ideas or ways of thought. Shakespeare scholars just sigh and consign the book to the great pantheon of 'revelations' about the real Shakespeare." The Guardian (UK) 08/31/05

LA Times Welcomes Its New Theatre Critic "It's been mortifying to go so long without a chief theater critic," said Bret Israel, the Sunday Calendar editor, who supervises arts coverage, and hired Charles McNulty as the paper's new critic after three years. "But as I've told many people who didn't always believe me, the main reason for the delay was the very high standard the paper sets for its critics, who are the soul of our cultural pages." Los Angeles Times 08/31/05

  • When A Major Paper Doesn't Have A Critic "In the more than three and half years that L.A.’s largest newspaper has been without a lead drama critic, tension has mounted throughout the L.A. theater community, to the point of enragement. Most saw it as “insulting” that the paper with one of the largest circulations in the country did not fill the slot in a timely fashion. It was disillusioning even for those associated with the city’s landmark theaters, like Gordon Davidson, founding artistic director of the Mark Taper Forum." LAWeekly 08/31

Broadway As A Transitional Tool Everyone knows why Broadway producers covet the addition of Hollywood stars to their shows: fame = box office. But why are so many stars equally keen to abandon their pampered L.A. lifestyles and outrageous film salaries for the cutthroat and (comparatively) low-paying world of Broadway? The answer usually lies in the murky world of PR: put simply, an actor needing an image overhaul can do a lot worse than establishing himself in what continues to be known as the "legitimate theatre." New York Post 08/31/05

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

LA Times Hires A Theatre Critic Three years after theatre critic Michael Phillips left the Los Angeles Times for the Chicago Tribune, the paper has hired a theatre critic. He's Charles McNulty, a senior editor at the Village Voice, who used to work for Variety. LA Observed 08/30/05

Sunday, August 28, 2005

What's Happening To Minority Theatre In Southern California? Orange County has a huge Hispanic population. For 25 years, South Coast Repertort Theatre's Hispanic Playwrights Project nurtured writers such as Jose Rivera, Octavio Solis and Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz. "Then last year, after nearly two decades, the program was cut. A second blow came last spring when the Center Theater Group of Los Angeles dropped several development programs, including the Latino Theatre Initiative. Since HPP's demise, South Coast Rep has programmed nothing by Latino authors other than its long-running Christmas show, La Posada Magíca." Orange County Register 08/28/05

America's Greatest Living Playwright? Lindsay Posner nominates David Mamet. "His plays are challenging and uncompromising, all the more moving for their lack of sentiment. He has an uncanny knack of catching the zeitgeist." The Observer (UK) 08/28/05

Shakespeare Wrote In Political Code? Clare Asquith claims in a new book that Shakespeare embedded "dangerous political messages" in his work. "She argues that the plays and poems are a network of crossword puzzle-like clues to his strong Catholic beliefs and his fears for England's future. Aside from being the first to spot this daring Shakespearean code, Asquith also claims to be the first to have cracked it." The Observer (UK) 08/28/05

A Rarity - Woman Wins Prestigious Comedy Prize For the first time in 25 years, a woman has won the Perrier Prize for Comedy. "Laura Solon, 26, won the £7,500 prize for her show Kopfrapers Syndrome, in which she plays eight different characters. She was one of five acts shortlisted." BBC 08/28/05

Friday, August 26, 2005

Lennon Struggles To Hang On Now that "Lennon" has been critically thrashed after its Broadway opening, what's next? "The producers of the critically battered jukebox musical — which, around Shubert Alley, is known as "Yoko's Folly" — are desperately trying to keep the doors open for at least another two months. At that point, according to production sources, they will acquire the international rights to the show, which may be the only hope they have of getting back some of the $10 million they've sunk into the production." New York Post 08/26/05

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Broadway Invades Vegas Avenue Q opens this week in Las Vegas, the first of several big-nman eBroadway shows to take up home in the gambling mecca. "In investing heavily in Broadway theater, Vegas hoteliers such as Steve Wynn, whose deal bars Avenue Q from touring in North America, are banking on the notion that at least some of the city's 40 million tourists a year will embrace entertainment with plots, characters and — gasp! — life lessons. Wynn hopes the change of pace will mature the town and 'add another dimension to the entertainment menu'." USAToday 08/25/05

The Mystery Play That Sold Out Before It Opened Ticket-buyers don't know what Mike Leigh's new play is about (or even the title) but it's sold out its run at London's National Theatre. "The truth is that no one but Mike Leigh and his actors know what his first stage play for 12 years is about. But that has not hindered its performance at the box office. The new production, which is currently going by the intuitive title of A New Play by Mike Leigh, has already sold out after theatregoers snapped up more than 16,000 advance tickets. The only clue is the play's publicity poster, a black-and-white shot of a solitary palm tree against a backdrop of sand dunes." The Guardian (UK) 08/25/05

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Denmark: Get Politics Out Of Theatre What's holding back Danish theatre? Politics. "Theatres will always be obligated to focus their work with politicians in mind. That makes it quite difficult to create interesting new ventures, because you have to negotiate with politicians who don't necessarily know much about theatre. And that is a catastrophe for theatre in Denmark," Denmark.da 08/23/05

Shades Of Gray Monologist Spalding Gray has inspired a generation of solo artists paying homage. "The man who turned the most intimate details of his life into the stuff of brilliant solo storytelling becomes the haunting presence in the lives of a whole new generation of actor-writers. As it turns out, it's not all that easy to come to terms with an artist who inspired them (directly or indirectly) and then, at the age of 62, committed suicide." Chicago Sun-Times 08/23/05

Shakespeare - How "Authentic" Do You Want? "For 10 years, London's Globe, an obsessive facsimile overseen by Mark Rylance, has specialised in conjuring a theatrical time-warp. Its latest experimental project in the education of London's theatre audience is a staging in OP (original pronunciation) of Troilus, starring David Sturzaker and Rylance's daughter, Juliet, in the title roles. Some will complain that this is a pointless exercise in the pursuit of a will-o'-the-wisp - authenticity - that adds little to our understanding of Shakespeare. In practice, however, there's no loss of clarity in the switch from RP (received pronunciation) to OP, though it is momentarily disorienting." The Guardian (UK) 08/21/05

Monday, August 22, 2005

Shakespeare On The Range "Now in its 33rd year, Montana's Bozeman Shakespeare in the Parks theater company was created to bring free productions of such classics to rural, underserved communities that dot the northern Rockies. Since its creation in 1973, the company has traversed more than 250,000 miles of dirt and paved roads and performed before a cumulative audience of more than half a million people." Los Angeles Times 08/22/05

Olympic Comedy Chicago is home to the granddaddy of sketch comedy troupes - Second City. But Improv Olympics, ecelbrating its 225th anniversary, would like some credit too. "So is I.O. a cliquish training camp with too many mediocre shows or a unique, bonafide, overlooked Chicago cultural institution? Maybe all of the above." Chicago Tribune 08/21/05

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sundance - Not Just For Movies Anymore It's become the hot place where creative teams go to put their plays together. "Every July, seven or eight playwrights, similar numbers of directors and dramaturges, and a few dozen actors, converge on Robert Redford's rustic, wood-built compound on the lower slopes of 11,750-foot Mt. Timpanogos." Los Angeles Times 08/21/05

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Art Of Advertising Broadway How do you advertize a Broadway show? "Theater has lagged behind other industries in tapping ways to attract audiences. The reason it is slow is because there's a ceiling on how much money we can make. The rule of thumb for what a Broadway show should spend each week on advertising is about 10 percent of a production's weekly potential gross. For "Wicked," which has a gross potential of more than $1.15 million each week, that would translate into more than $100,000." Yahoo! (AP) 08/18/05

A Free Night At The Theatre The Theatre Communications Group is coordinating a free night at the theatre in three cities on October 20. One of theatres' "biggest concerns was how to reach people we can't now reach. Subscription patterns are at a perilous moment, in part because we don't live that way anymore. We thought, 'What can we do collectively to bring in new audiences?' That's when someone said, 'How about a free night of theatre?' "
Backstage 08/18/05

Comedy - Dumbing Up The Fringe Has comedy dumbed-down the Edinburgh Fringe, ruining what used to be a great theatre festival? Stewart Lee (writer of Jerry Springer, The Opera)says not: "Comedy can respond to events with a speed that theatre cannot match. And even apolitical absurdity is an appropriate response to mass panic. We laugh in the face of death." New Statesman 08/22/05

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

In Edinburgh - Not Enough Talent For Burlesque The Edinburgh Fringe is full of burlesque shows this year. "One of the problems in Edinburgh is that, with so many burlesque shows, there are simply not enough good artists to go round. Too many performers seem to think that if they have had years of practice taking their clothes off every night before bed, they won't find it so hard to take them off in front of lots of people and get paid for it. You only have to spend a couple of grisly hours down at the Cave of the Golden Calf at the Royal Scots Club to see that burlesque is an art form in which the talentless feel they can really make their mark." The Guardian (UK) 08/18/05

Minnesota Fringe's Record Year "The Fringe broke its own attendance record, selling 44,630 tickets, up slightly from last year's paid attendance of 44,189. The festival sold 15,465 attendance buttons this year, a fair estimation of the number of people who attended the festival and saw several shows." St. Paul Pioneer-Press 08/17/05

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

In The UK: Nice Return On Theatre Investment "Theatre in the West Midlands creates £264 million for the local economy every year, more than a tenfold increase on its initial public investment, according to a survey by Arts Council England." The Stage 08/16/05

Monday, August 15, 2005

From SASE To The Steppenwolf Stage Unsolicited plays never make it to the Steppenwolf stage, even though thousands of scripts get submitted each year. But John Wells' play did. "In a matter of months, Wells' play "Men of Tortuga" has gone from "self-addressed return envelope enclosed" to a gripping full production, currently running through Aug. 28 as part of Steppenwolf's new First Look Repertory festival in the Garage Theatre. There, Wells' first play sits alongside "The Sparrow Project" by the nationally established author Melanie Marnich and "A Blameless Life" by Joel Drake Johnson, a fairly prominent Chicago scribe known for his warm humanism. Actually, "Men of Tortuga" doesn't just sit. It blows its companion pieces out of the garage." Chicago Tribune 08/14/05

How One Of The "Worst-Ever" Shows Got To London's West End "Behind the Iron Mask" had some of the worst reviews ever seen in London's West End. "One theme running through many of the reviews was summed up by Sheridan Morley in the Daily Express: "How did Behind the Iron Mask get as far as a first rehearsal, let alone a first night?" How did a production that the nation's critics could see in an instant wasn't fit for public consumption end up doing battle on one of the theatre world's most fiercely commercial markets? How did a script littered with potholes end up being accepted at one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's theatres and how was anyone persuaded to work on it? The answer, according to one person close to the company, is with a great deal of money and naivety." The Guardian (UK) 08/15/05

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Anne Landers On Stage A new play about Anne Landers makes its debut, but the stars aren't the actors. "It's the darn letters. Many of the famous ones are here: 'Would it be possible for me to be buried in my 1937 Dodge instead of a casket?' 'I like to do my housework with no clothes on. . . . ' What could be more apt? Such is the dirty little secret of the advice biz. Pick the letters well, stick 'em in print, and people will flock to the column. After all, nothing is more soothing for the ego than reading about someone else's crisis. Oprah Winfrey and her post-Landers ilk, you could argue, merely take those Ann Landers-type letter writers and stick a camera in their faces." Chicago Tribune 08/14/05

Art Of Random Selection A couple of big festivals - one carefully chooses what art gets in as recommended by a jury. The other throws names into a hat and it's luck of the draw. It's not that one way is about quality and the other isn't. "The thinking is that a nonjuried show is the one place where everyone has an equal opportunity. The other thinking is that this is supposed to be something that gets away from this tradition of sitting back with arms folded and judging something based on its quality." St. Paul Pioneer-Press 08/14/05

Edinburgh Fringe May Cut Free Sunday Every year for 25 years, the Edinburgh Fringe has hosted a free Sunday, offering hundreds of acts and drawing 200,000 people. But costs have doubled in the past few years and organizers say they can't afford it. "We love Fringe Sunday. It's fantastic, a wonderfully inclusive occasion that gets a broad mix of people which you wouldn't see in theatres. But costs have risen from £32,000 in 1998 to £65,000, and are set to rise in years ahead, while income from catering concessions was less than half that figure." The Scotsman 08/12/05

Thursday, August 11, 2005

After A Criticism... A Fight (And A Public One At That) "Michael John LaChiusa, who has written serious-minded musicals like "Marie Christine" and "The Wild Party," committed what many in the industry consider an unforgivable breach: he published a scathing attack on many of his colleagues in the August issue of Opera News. The article, titled "The Great, Gray Way" began by declaring, "The American Musical is dead," and went on to assail a large percentage of the musicals that have played Broadway in the past few seasons, and their creators. That might have been that, had not Marc Shaiman's wildly popular show, "Hairspray," come in for particularly stinging criticism..." The New York Times 08/11/05

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Broadway's 20-Week Winning Streak The movies may be having a dreadful year at the box office, but Broadway has had 20 winning weeks. "According to the League of American Theatres and Producers, Broadway ticket sales and attendence for each of the past 20 weeks have bested the marks set during that time period last year." Yahoo! (Playbill) 08/10/05

Edinburgh Fringe - Does The Money Add Up? Has the Edinburgh Fringe become too expensive? It costs performers to stage their shows, and ticket prices are up. It all adds up to a lot of pressure to try to lure crowds... and that means taking fewer risks. The Guardian (UK) 08/11/05

Oh No, Yoko! The new musical based on the life of John Lennon has New York's theatre world all abuzz - but for the wrong reasons. Two directors have already left the production, and retooling has been constant and contradictory. "There are also complaints that the show... has become nothing but a Lennon whitewash job, turning one of the 20th century's most complex cultural icons into a bland, peace-loving hippie. His drug use is just hinted at; his bisexuality ignored; and his serial philandering only dealt with head-on in one scene. Backstage, the mood at Lennon is grim." So who's behind all the problems at what ought to be a blockbuster show? Why, it's Yoko Ono, of course. New York Post 08/10/05

Coveting The Geeks You might expect a show entitled "The One-Man Star Wars Trilogy" to attract a bunch of costumed nerds and one-track-minded sci-fi geeks, but... oh, okay, you'd be right. But though Charles Ross's tour de Force "may seem like just an oddball summer gimmick, it is in some ways the logical extension of where commercial theater is headed. The crowds at 'Spamalot,' a highly polished imitation of old Monty Python skits, laugh before the punch lines. And the many jukebox musicals - which, don't fool yourself, are not going away - preach to the converted. The element of surprise matters less than the comforting pleasure of seeing something familiar. The geek audience has become highly sought after by Broadway producers. And everyone else, if they want to be in on the fun, has no choice but to join in." The New York Times 08/10/05

Minnesota Fringe Gets Naked The Minnesota Fringe is the biggest festival of its kind in the U.S., boasting 25 venues and hundreds of performances in a single two-week period. And while many fringe festivals have embraced politics this year, the Minnesota Fringers have gone a different way. Specifically, a shocking number of this year's productions are focused, laserlike, on sex, which wouldn't be surprising in, say, New York, but which seems a tad out of place in the buttoned-up Midwest. The Fringe's director has an explanation: "A lot of it is the Teen Fringe. We don't censor the teens, and it turns out that when you let teens talk about whatever they want, they talk about sex." City Pages (Minneapolis/St. Paul) 08/10/05

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Sittin' In The Back Row... Critic Howard Kissel usually sits in prime seats when he goes to Broadway. So he headed for the balconies of popular shows to see how the rest of us live. "Given the sophisticated state of amplification, hearing is never a problem upstairs. But the fact that performers can rely on their body mikes means they do not feel a need to project their characters all the way upstairs the way they had to in the old days." New York Daily News 08/09/05

Broadway's August Busier Than Usual Six shows are closing on Broadway in the next few weeks. "All the departures will still leave Broadway with 20 shows (21 if "Lennon," which opens Aug. 14 at the Broadhurst, does well with critics and ticket buyers), more than usual in the summertime when it always has been the custom to see the total of legiters and musicals playing on the N.Y. boards reduced to a handful. (In years past there have been as few as 10 during the dog days of August.)" Backstage 08/09/05

Monday, August 8, 2005

Theatre Without A Script (Are Playwrights Disappearing From UK Drama? "Traditional plays are losing their dominance. And nowhere is this cultural shift more evident than at this year's Edinburgh Fringe. Flick through the Fringe programme and it hits you. Along with the familiar plethora of one-person shows and revivals of Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a whole body of British-based work that owes more to performance art, the circus and devised, physical and visual traditions than to text-based theatre." The Guardian (UK) 08/09/05

Now On Broadway (Whose Career Did I Steal?) Totonto actor Adam Brazier wins an audition and finds himself whisked off to England to star in an Andrew Lloyd-Webber production. Then he wins the lead in ALW's new "Woman in White" on Broadway. It's all a little difficult to imagine, he writes, "and if you see the guy whose career I stole, tell him I'm taking it to Broadway with me." Toronto Star 08/07/05

Sunday, August 7, 2005

A Theatre Showcase Pays Off "The first Playwright's Showcase of the Western Region, held in Denver last August, attracted 168 entries from 18 states, making the fledgling effort, which returns Friday to the Arvada Center, one of the largest of its kind in the United States - at least geographically." It's not nationally prominent, but there are plenty of success stories coming out of last year's showcase to pump up optimism for this year's event. Denver Post 08/07/05

Edinburgh Fringe Opens The Edinburgh Fringe Festival opens with a parade through the city watched by 170,000 people lining the streets. Some 16,000 performers are taking part in nearly 27,000 performances in 300 venues until the end of August. BBC 08/07/05

In Los Angeles - A Better Way To Encourage Diversity? (Hmnnn) This summer Los Angeles' powerful Center Theatre Group eliminated four programs intended to help develop minority plays. Director Michael Ritchie says the programs weren't effective. But Margo Jefferson wonders what the theatre plans that will be more useful. "Talent is not an equal opportunity employer. It certainly isn't. Most of the plays produced by traditional mainstream theaters are written by white men; many of these plays are terrible. Quality isn't the barrier. Access is. Experience is. Exposure is." The New York Times 08/07/05

Naked Broadway "In the last decade, though, nudity on and off Broadway has taken a decided turn for the male. An informal examination of Broadway and Off Broadway shows and a survey of longtime theater industry people showed that over the last 15 years, there have been about 25 plays with full frontal nudity. In a count of the nude bodies seen in those shows, 40 or so belonged to men, and only about 10 belonged to women." The New York Times 08/07/05

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Long Wharf Managing Director Quits Michael Stotts is leaving as managing director of New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre because of conflicts with the theatre's board. Stotts declined to detail the conflicts other than to say there were "clashes between me and some board members. There is a culture of governance that made it very difficult for a managing director to do what that person was hired to do. I've been increasingly frustrated with these differences in the last few months and so it was time for us to part ways." Hartford Courant 08/04/05

"Unendurable" London Mask To Close Behind the Iron Mask, a three-actor chamber musical based loosely on The Man in the Iron Mask opened this week in London's West End to terrible reviews, and announced it will close. How bad were the press notices? "It's so bad that it is merely unendurable," wrote Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. "There's no insane flourish to its mediocrity, no sublimity to its awfulness. It is just relentlessly, agonisingly third-rate." The cast, he said, "perform as if they have been on a prolonged Mogadon bender". The Guardian (UK) 08/04/05

London Theatre Bucks Bombs, Posts Gains London's West End doesn't seem to have suffered much in the wake of the 7/7 bombings. Attendance at West End shows is ahead of last year's pace, and an immediate 6% drop in ticket sales in the days after the attacks was short-lived. BBC 08/04/05

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Outlook: More Theatre That Engages "Five years ago, if you had looked at the programme for the Edinburgh Festival, you would have been overwhelmed by the amount of "up-your-bum experimentalism". Now, though there is still an unconscionable amount of that sort of thing, plus a lot of other general silliness, there are also more plays than I can ever remember that engage with the big issues of the day." The Telegraph (UK) 08/03/05

Great Theatre vs. Middlebrow Tourism Ontario's popular summer theatre festivals are as vibrant as ever, and appear to have recovered nicely from an extended post-9/11 downturn. But what is the true mission of such festivals, exactly? Should Stratford and Shaw be focused on creating a nice vacation destination, or on presenting high art? At their best, the fests can serve both masters, but it's a delicate balance. Philadelphia Inquirer 08/03/05

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Where's That Vaunted British Sense Of Humor? British comedy has become increasingly darker, and one theory is that Britons are laughing less, losing their sense of humor. "A survey earlier this year by cruise company Ocean View even concluded that the amount of time we spend chuckling daily has fallen from an average of 18 minutes in the 1950s to just six minutes today. Traditionally, the English only peep out from their caves of national self-disgust to trumpet their alleged good sense of humour, their subtlety with irony, their readiness for laughter. Has our comedy become unfunny, and is our laughter on the brink of extinction?" The Guardian (UK) 08/03/05

National Black Theatre Festival Opens The National Black Theatre Festival opens this week in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. "The festival consists of more than 100 performances on 12 Winston-Salem stages between tonight and Saturday. Organizers expect the festival to draw more than 60,000 visitors to the area and pump nearly $15 million into the local economy." WFMY (Greensboro, NC) 08/02/05

Monday, August 1, 2005

A Small LA Theatre Gets Big (And Finds Trouble) LA's Colony Theatre was a small theatre that grew big and got successful. "Yet recently, the troupe has been involved in a bitter power struggle between many veteran company members and artistic director Barbara Beckley, contributing to the departures of more than half the actors in the group." Los Angeles Times 08/01/05

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