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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Here's Betting He Doesn't Call This One "Ilyitch" Playwright Peter Shaffer, best known for dramatizing the life of Mozart in Amadeus, is taking another crack at the classical music world, with another famously tragic composer as his subject. The as yet untitled play, which Shaffer has spent a decade writing, focuses on the life and (mostly) death of Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and the New York producer that first brought Amadeus to the stage is already licking its chops at the prospect of a sequel. New York Post 05/31/06

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Royal Shakespeare's Unconventional Shaplin Adriano Shaplin is an unconventional choice as writer-in-residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company. "These essentially conservative institutions, the National and the RSC, are now under new leadership and are looking around for the people who are making real ensemble theatre. It's great that they're turning to companies like the Riot Group and Shunt. The RSC has used the phrase 'blood transfusion'. It's so exciting." The Telegraph (UK) 05/30/06

Reality - Playwrighting Tough On TV More than 2000 people submitted plays to be considered for a UK reality TV show that would reward the winning entry with a West End production. "The contestants - including call-centre workers, chefs and supermarket shelf-stackers - were whittled down to 30, where the programme takes up the story. At the next stage, the remaining 10 writers were hot-housed by a team of theatre experts and had to produce their full-length play. Then it was down to the final three, one of whom would have his play staged in the West End." The Telegraph (UK) 05/30/06

Protesters Demonstrate At Opening Of Stratford Festival Monday night a group of 60 anti-poverty protesters gathered outside the opening of the Stratford Festival. "The protesting groups referred to the opening night crowd in their advance publicity as 'a who's who of the rich and vile' and condemned the festival as 'a playpen for the rich.' Despite vows by the groups to shut down the production, the show went on last night." Toronto Star 05/30/06

Monday, May 29, 2006

Why Wouldn't You Want Some Star Power? Critics have been clucking about celebrity casting. But so what? "If it takes a boldface name to bring out the crowds, so be it. Theatergoers aren't chumps. They know Denzel Washington, who played Brutus last spring in the Broadway revival of "Julius Caesar," is one of the best actors around, while Julia Roberts, who made her Broadway debut in Richard Greenberg's "Three Days of Rain" this season, is a bona fide icon who has more depth than her film roles have typically shown. The Tony nominating committee may have snubbed them both, but these stars' legions of fans couldn't care less about such geeky honors." Los Angeles Times 05/28/06

Art Of Broadway - Don't Give Up On The Musical "While Broadway is celebrating the most bullish season in history — both in attendance and box-office grosses — the gulf between the artistic and the commercial seems wider than ever, the former solely as the province of the not-for-profit theaters, the latter as so much fodder for Broadway. Yet as bleak as some critics may paint the musical's future — and they've been doing so for decades — there appears to be little hand-wringing these days among Broadway's cognoscenti..." Los Angeles Times 05/28/06

A Script Over Headphones Tim Crouch has an interesting approach to writing a play. "Instead of simply dictating a script, Crouch offers lines and directions to an actor over headphones and also performs himself in a moving story of a man who has lost control after killing a child in a road accident and then meets the father of his victim. Taking a different actor for each show, he 'rehearses' by chatting with them for an hour. He doesn't tell them the story, but prepares them with other practicalities. This lack of knowledge enables the headphoned performer to give a particularly open, pure response." The Guardian (UK) 05/28/06

Hard Ride - A Musical Making Them Walk Out "The Black Rider" is an unconventional musical now playing in Los Angeles. The piece has polarized reactions, provoking a rash of audience desertins in the middle of the play; they're walking out. "As playgoers continue to abandon seats costing as much as $95, a night with "Rider" has turned into the showbiz equivalent of red states versus blue, two camps seeing the same thing and reaching polarized conclusions." Los Angeles Times 05/28/06

Live-Ad - Come-To-London Comes To Pittsburgh The live theatrical ad for London comes to the stage of Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre. "We thought it was a joke at first. Then we told them we wouldn't do it unless they compensated us. They said tell us what you have in mind, we threw out a figure and they said 'OK.' They made it worth our while."The Post-Gazette sent its theater critic to watch a dress rehearsal, and I can report that, at just over five minutes, it feels long, and the acting is better than what you can only call the product placement dramaturgy of the writing. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 05/27/06

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Top Liverpool Theatre In Danger The future of Liverpool's Royal Court theatre is hanging in the balance after the collapse of Rawhide comedy club. icLiverpool 05/25/06

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Zimbabwe Cracks Down On Playwright Playwrights in Zimbabwe say they are being targeted by the government. "Nervous that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change is getting ready to launch a violent campaign to end his 26 years of rule, the head of state has targeted poets, playwrights, satirists - even nightclub stand up comedians - and branded them all as “enemies of the people." TheStage 05/24/06

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Stake Through Lestat's Broadway Heart After only 33 regular performances, the Broadway vampire musical "Lestat" is to close. "Lestat — which is said to have cost more than $12 million — was the Broadway debut of Warner Brothers and involved creative best sellers like Elton John, Bernie Taupin and Anne Rice." The New York Times 05/24/06

Ads Come To the Theatre Movie theatres have been running ads for years. Now live theatre is getting them. "The advertisement, which is itself advertised as the world's first live theatrical commercial, is a creation of Visit London, a tourist organization. There have already been performances of the live commercial on stages in Dublin and Hamburg. 'They're a captive audience. They can't switch channels or change over or walk out once the thing is started'." The New York Times 05/24/06

Anti-Poverty Activists To Protest Stratford Opening Protesters are planning to demonstrate at the opening of this year's Stratford Festival. "The protesters are demanding the Ontario government raise welfare rates by 40 per cent. The groups have said they are targetting Stratford's black tie event because the opening night gala usually draws both prominent government officials and business and community leaders, 'a Who's Who of the rich and vile,' says a notice on the OCAP website." CBC 05/23/06

Delay Of Home For Washington Shakespeare The Washington Shakespeare Company is "scheduled to lose its longtime home in the unglamorous but spacious Clark Street Playhouse. The company was supposed to move into a kind of time-share in Signature Theatre's old Shirlington space (along with Classika Theatre and perhaps others), but construction delays on Signature's new theater mean the company will need its old venue next fall." Washington Post 05/24/06

Monday, May 22, 2006

Drama Desk Awards Handed Out "The Drowsy Chaperone was chosen best musical of the New York theatre season, and The History Boys was named best play in awards given Sunday by the Drama Desk, an organization of theatre journalists and critics... Lead musical performance prizes went to John Lloyd Young for playing pop star Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, and Christine Ebersole for her work as both a mother and daughter in Grey Gardens, a look at two eccentric Long Island relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/22/06

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Broadway Season That Didn't Deliver "The dispiriting quality of last Tuesday's nominations for the Tony award — including double-digit nods for "The Drowsy Chaperone" and "The Color Purple" — are hardly cause for celebration. True, bulletins on the musical's failing health have been posted with weary regularity since at least the 1960's. But in the Broadway season that just ended officially, this once lively art seemed finally to have crossed the border that divides flesh from ectoplasm." The New York Times 05/21/06

Chicago's Grand Old Shubert Gets A Facelift "For longtime Shubert attendees, the newly glorious auditorium will be a jaw--dropper. Over the years, the finer details had become obscured. Relighted and freshly and exquisitely painted in a rich, dark red-and-gold theatrical palette, the moldings, leafing and other decorative elements that had been present for 100 years now pop with astonishing new vivacity. 'All of the incredible detail had been painted over in that beige and brown. Now people will finally be able to see it'." Chicago Tribune 05/21/06

Think Small - Why Twin Cities Theatre Thrives "A few years ago, we analyzed several comparable metropolitan areas that have solid theater reputations and realized that yes, we had the largest (by budget) regional theater in the country and the largest children's theater and the most-successful dinner theater. But the analysis showed that the healthy current of small and midsize companies was the secret ingredient that pushed the Twin Cities ahead of like-sized metros and made us competitive with the big guys. These smaller troupes provide work for actors, designers, directors, writers, costumers and carpenters. For audiences, they enrich the ecosystem's diversity." The Star-Tribune (Mpls) 05/21/06

Nothing Lost In Translation An off-Broadway play about two HIV-positive women - one in Los Angeles, one in Africa - has become an unexpected hit in Zimbabwe. AIDS is still a taboo subject throughout much of Africa, despite the devastation the disease has wreaked on the continent, and the characters in the play are plenty explicit about the events that got them infected, so no one was sure how the production would be received in Harare. But the playwrights and their work have been embraced by the Zimbabwean theatre community. The New York Times 05/20/06

As The Globe Turns... When American actor Sam Wanamaker first conceived of the idea of rebuilding Shakespeare's famous Globe Theatre on the banks of the Thames, many scholars, actors, and theatre folk sneered. But nearly a decade into the new Globe's existence, it has carved out an important niche for itself. And this spring, a symbolic milestone was reached, as one of the initial naysayers took over as the theatre's new artistic director. The New York Times 05/20/06

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Look Back, Then Turn Away It's been 50 years since John Osborne's much-lauded play, Look Back In Anger was published, and many in the theatre world are falling all over themselves to celebrate the classic. But is Osborne's work really worth celebrating? "Even taking into account Osborne's physical and emotional suffering at the hands of women, his misogyny was extreme... A defective, even disgusting, personality doesn't rule out the creation of great art; many artists can leave theirs in the unsatisfying world of real life while they get on with creating a better one. This is not the case, however, with Look Back in Anger, which is weakened not so much by misogyny as by immaturity." The Independent (UK) 05/18/06

This Year's Brit 'It' Girl The Tony nominations are always received with great excitement in London, where an impressive array of nominations can indicate that a British theatre star has truly arrived on the American scene. This year, the Brits have plenty to celebrate, particularly the ascent of producer Susan Friel, whose revival of "Faith Healer" garnered four noms. The Guardian (UK) 05/19/06

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

What Happened To The Promise Of Black British Theatre? "Today's theatre houses several outstanding, award-winning young black playwrights, such as Roy Williams, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Debbie Tucker-Green. But two decades since I was first inspired by British theatre, the black presence is little more than marginal." The Guardian (UK) 05/17/06

The End Of London's Theatre Museum? "The proposals on the table are hopeless. Either the museum is to stay in its current premises until its 22-year lease expires, bolstered by some undefined partnership with neighbours such as the Royal Opera House. Or the Covent Garden premises will be vacated, and exhibition space for the collection shoe-horned into the V&A's South Kensington site. Such blinkered thinking has dogged the Theatre Museum ever since it was first mooted in the 1950s." The Telegraph (UK) 05/17/06

Snubbing Julia The most notable snub among yesterday's Tony nominations was Julia Roberts, who was shut out of the best actress category. But how you view that snub likely depends on who you are. "If you're, say, a muckety-muck at Creative Artists Agency, which represents Roberts, you're in a foul mood these days, ranting about 'out of touch' nominators and 'pathetic' critics who are making Broadway inhospitable to movie stars. On the other hand, if you're a member of the American Theater Wing, the nonprofit organization that holds the Tony copyright, you point to the snub as evidence that the nomination process has integrity and doesn't bend to industry pressure to celebrate stars." New York Post 05/17/06

The Boring Business Of Broadway Everyone bitches about Broadway, and a glance at the history books will tell you that everyone always has. And while it is true that the quality of New York theatre probably isn't as low as everyone says, it is also true that "there's a technical problem with Broadway in the new tourist era: It's mostly boring." It also doesn't seem to have anything to do with New York, being mainly a concoction to lure free-spending tourists; nor does it have much to do with quality, with everything from orchestras to stage crew being squeezed to keep the profit margin up. In fact, to find really interesting theatre with a New York flavor these days, you almost have to look Off-Broadway. Village Voice (NY) 05/15/06

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Tony Awards Skew Purple This year's Tony Award nominations scored a few surprises. "The musical The Drowsy Chaperone earned the most Tony nominations on Tuesday when it garnered 13, but the biggest surprise was the 11 earned by The Color Purple, the musical adaptation of Alice Walker's novel that has earned tepid praise but has been well-attended." Backstage 05/16/06

  • Teachout Predicts Want to know who should win this year's Tonys? Terry Teachout's already handicapped the field... AboutLastNight (AJBlogs) 05/16/06

  • Tony Awards - This Year's Surprises? "In most cases, the notable absences are within categories, not entire categories themselves. But an exception is the brand-new award for best performance by an actor or actress in a recreated role, which was expected to go to either Jonathan Pryce for stepping into "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," or Harvey Fierstein for recreating the role of Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof." To the surprise of many, no award will be given this year in this category." The New York Times 05/17/06

Idolotry - Broadway's New Farm Team? " 'American Idol' has absolutely become a big deal here in terms of finding new talent. Watching this show has become another way to locate incredibly talented people — it's like a televised open call. I watch it, and certain people on our staff have to watch it. Our inside joke is we root for our favorites to lose so that they can become available to us..." Los Angeles Times 05/16/06

Sunday, May 14, 2006

New Scottish National Theatre Scores High In Awards Scotland's new National Theatre picks up 11 nominations in the annual Scottish Critics Awards. "The first few months of the National Theatre of Scotland has proved to be both a popular and critical success. It is in line with its innovative model that all its nominations are the result of partnerships and co-productions with the existing talent pool." TheStage 05/12/06

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Lloyd Webber: Playwrights Need To Take Risks Andrew Lloyd Webber, testifying before the House of Lords, says playwrights need to take more risks. "We are not really seeing the young writers, or risks being taken in my particular area." He also called for "the same sort of tax advantages that are given to film and television, to be extended to commercial theatre". BBC 05/11/06

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Broadway To High School: Chicago's OK After All Students at a high school in the Bronx were told this week they will be able to stage a production of "Chicago" in their school after all. The Broadway producers of the show had originally said rights for the show would not be granted because the school was too close to Broadway. "No one within a 75-mile radius of the New York production can get the rights. Those who violate the rules could face hundreds of thousands of dollars in litigation." Backstage 05/10/06

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Creating Billy Elliot (Again. And Again.) "Billy Elliot made a phenomenally successful transfer from screen to stage last year. On Friday, Stephen Daldry's production celebrates its first birthday, and the three original Billys - the cast works on a rotation system - will return for a special gala." And this brings up an interesting question: where, exactly, do they keep finding new Billy Elliots? As it turns out, there's a factory for that... The Guardian (UK) 05/10/06

Spacey & Old Vic Soldier On With New Season Kevin Spacey, who has come under fire from the London press recently for his management of the city's struggling Old Vic, has unveiled a new season that he hopes will get the critics (and the public) back on his side and into his theatre. "After the critical bruising the theatre's recent output has received, the forthcoming productions include some obvious crowd-pleasers... But the programme does include some more adventurous choices." The Guardian (UK) 05/10/06

Acting Healthy Could acting lessons help the elderly to keep their minds sharp and stave off cognitive decline? A husband-wife teaching team at Elmhurst College in Chicago thinks so, and they've begun offering such lessons. "The National Institutes of Health has awarded the Noices two grants to fund research on improving brain function in older adults. With the first grant, they trained seniors who lived independently. With their most recent grant, they are teaching acting techniques to seniors who live in government-funded retirement homes." Chicago Tribune 05/09/06

Defending Genocide May Be Hazardous To Your Career A prominent French theatre company has cancelled a production of a play by Peter Handke after learning that the playwright, who has long been known for his support of the Serbian government, attended the funeral of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, known as The Butcher of the Balkans. The company is being accused of censorship by some, but its chief executive equates Handke's support of Milosevic, who led a brutal campaign against Bosnia in the 1990s, to support for Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. The Guardian (UK) 05/09/06

Next Thing You Know, Pepsi Will Be Buying Time At Stratford "What is billed as the world's first live commercial will be performed on stage in Dublin next week, promoting London's West End to international theatre-going audiences. Six actors, including Pauline McLynn, who appeared as the housekeeper, Mrs Doyle, in the comedy TV series Father Ted, will enact the advert. Their three minute slot will be at the Gaiety Theatre on May 16 before the evening production of Saturday Night Fever. The advert will later be staged during plays in Hamburg, New York and Pittsburgh." The Guardian (UK) 05/09/06

Edinburgh Plans Stage Shocker The Edinburgh Festival is apparently hoping that a dose of controversy will boost ticket sales, announcing that it will stage an adaptation of Michel Houellebecq's controversial and explicit novel, Platform, directed by Calixto Bieito, who was last seen inserting an oral sex scene into Hamlet. Kate Bevan isn't impressed: "Doubtless Bieito's Platform will sell many tickets, and critics are surely already practising their choicest phrases of outrage... Yet somewhere along the line the consumer (and the critic and the commentator) will have been taken for a fool... To assume that we need grotesquerie to make us take notice of what they say is to assume that we can't hear and understand for ourselves." The Guardian (UK) 05/09/06

Monday, May 8, 2006

England's Most Intimate Theatre Company For 25 years, Cheek by Jowl has been one of Europe's most innovative and challenging theatre troupes, and has become a mainstay at festivals across the continent. Now, as the company prepares to settle down for a three-year residency at London's Barbican Centre, its founders are reflecting on what has kept the group's work fresh over the years. "Togetherness is this company's calling card, an intense yet informal rapport between actor and actor, actor and audience, and ultimately the symbiotic relationship between Declan Donnellan the director and Nick Ormerod the designer, British theatre's savviest couple." The Telegraph (UK) 05/08/06

Sunday, May 7, 2006

The One About The Giant Elephant It's hard to know where to place a story like this. Is it Theatre? Visual Art? Just an Idea? Well, whatever the category, it involves London's Covent Garden, a French theatre company, Jules Verne, several 40-foot puppets, and a giant wooden elephant. Oh, and according to one London critic, the extravaganza "is to street art what a glacier is to ice cubes." The Guardian (UK) 05/06/06

Broadway Cleaning Up With High-End Tickets "So far this season, Broadway attendance is up 4 percent from the same period last year. Total box-office receipts for the season are up 12 percent. You will notice a discrepancy here... There are several reasons of course, like a few hit musicals and a movie star or two on exhibition. But a large part of the answer can be attributed to one factor: premium tickets." The New York Times 05/08/06

Curtain Falls On The Guthrie This weekend marks the final performances at Minneapolis's famous Guthrie Theater, as the company prepares to move to a gigantic new complex on the city's riverfront. The old theater, which was built in 1962 and quickly became the centerpiece of the Twin Cities' cultural scene, will be demolished as soon as this summer, making Sunday's final performance as much a wake as a celebration. St. Paul Pioneer Press 05/07/06

Friday, May 5, 2006

Lestat's Fatal Bite? The Broadway vampire music "Lestat" is on life support. "A week after opening to some of the worst reviews for any show this season, Elton John's $10 million vampire fiasco finds itself on the critical list. Ticket sales are averaging about $50,000 a day, which simply is not enough to keep the show going for long. (Rule of thumb on Broadway: To stay in the black, a $10 million show has to take in about $90,000 a day.)" New York Post 05/05/06

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Lord of the Rings - Packing For London? The mega-expensive musical Lord of the Rings has not exactly been a hit with critics. But Andrew Lloyd Webber — "the undisputed king of mega-musicals as well as one of the wealthiest men in the world — made a 24-hour flying visit to Toronto last weekend just to catch the show. The upshot: Insiders say LOTR's next gig is likely to be at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane, owned by Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group." Toronto Star 05/04/06

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Chichester Festival Theatre - Chance For A Turnaround? "After years of surviving, and surviving handsomely, as a strictly commercial operation, the theatre is now one of the most generously subsidised regional theatres in the country, with an Arts Council grant of some £1.5 million this year. What's more, over the past three few years, the theatre, built by the public subscription of local citizens in the early 1960s, and so often derided by some of my colleagues as being irredeemably safe and middle-class, has been winning golden critical opinions." But the box office went wrong, the theatre's leadership resigned, and now there's someone new to try to fix things... The Telegraph (UK) 05/03/06

An Endangered Species Program For Playwrights The Pacific Playwrights Festival struggles to promote playwrights. "The American theater is losing too many talented writers. Aspiring playwrights are getting discouraged, especially as other development programs die off. Emerging playwrights, unable to make a living, are moonlighting in Hollywood and never coming back. Established playwrights are having trouble finding homes for scripts that lack commercial appeal." Los Angeles Times 05/03/06

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Is Michael Frayn Retiring? That's the rumor about the playwright, at least. "What seems to have happened is that Frayn, asked by a reporter the traditional question as to what he was writing at the moment, replied with an absolute honesty that honours both his old NUJ card and his hobby of philo- sophy: nothing." Not to worry, though. "A few weeks on, he is about to begin a screenplay of Headlong, his 1999 novel about an art-theft, but has no inklings of new books or plays, and is too scrupulous or superstitious to assume that they will come." The Guardian (UK) 05/02/06

Monday, May 1, 2006

Dromgoole Takes On The Globe Dominic Dromgoole hasn't distinguished himself as a producer of the Bard's works. And yet here he is running London's Globe Theatre. "For all his excitement, the idea of Dromgoole, 42, running the Globe is going to take some getting used to - and he's got a lot to prove. The role was previously filled by the sensitive actor Mark Rylance, who bashfully attributed the Globe's unexpected box-office success - generating an annual pre-tax profit of £1.5 million - to the ensemble effort rather than his own stellar contribution." The Telegraph (UK) 05/01/06

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