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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Playgoers Eager For Homework: Must Be Stoppard Fans "The audience, as much as the play, is worth the price of admission as it wrestles at Lincoln Center with 'The Coast of Utopia,' Tom Stoppard’s beguilingly complex resurrection of Russia’s 19th-century intelligentsia. ... Between the acts, overheard snatches of audience dialogue burnished the evening as characters were plumbed or at least kept straight. 'Who was Alexander Herzen, precisely?' (Ah, the playwright’s tease: Come back for the next two parts to see Herzen dramatically intuit the terror of a revolutionary future.) 'I guess I’ll have to read Isaiah Berlin’s essays on these guys.' (Homework, gladly self-assigned, the ultimate compliment to Stoppard.)" The New York Times 11/30/06

Cash-Strapped Temple Tries Sure Moneymaker: Theatre The Actors’ Temple, a Manhattan synagogue, is turning to theatre to help make ends meet. "Recently — say, oh, during the last half-century — this temple, with a declining membership and a vanishing budget, has not been doing so well. So starting with an official opening night tomorrow, the Actors’ Temple, for the first time in its 89-year history, will be moonlighting as an Off Broadway theater. ... The first show, 'The Big Voice: God or Merman?,' is about a Roman Catholic from Brooklyn and a Baptist from Arkansas who find spiritual solace in musical theater and each other." The New York Times 11/29/06

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Head Of D.C.'s Biggest Black Theatre Troupe To Leave "Jennifer L. Nelson, the founding artistic director of African Continuum Theatre Company, announced yesterday that she is stepping down from the top job at [Washington, D.C.'s] most visible black theater group. With the theater moving into a new phase with a permanent home, Nelson says its stability and visibility are giving her a chance to pursue her own creative interests." Washington Post 11/29/06

When Is A Revival Just A Rerun? Should a Broadway revival that's nothing more than a carbon copy of the original show be eligible for a Tony Award? The reemergence of A Chorus Line and Les Miserables in stagings that look identical to their originals has many in New York's theatre world asking the question, and the producers may not like the answer. New York Post 11/29/06

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Still, You Know It Had To Be A Tense Room As anyone who's ever tried to co-write anything can tell you, collaboration can be more trouble than its worth. So why would anyone even try to write a play with four other people? "The playwrights were initially wary... Two things, however, won them over. Firstly, there were the social opportunities, [and] secondly, there was curiosity to see how other people write." The Guardian (UK) 11/29/06

It's The Architecture, Stupid "The truth is that it is not the current raft of musicals that are killing the straight play in the West End but the theatre buildings themselves, most of which were built in the 19th century and are entirely unsympathetic for contemporary drama. Modern audiences raised on the intimacy of TV and film are entirely correct to be disinclined to spend £37.50 to see a live performance that from row P in the stalls appears to be taking place in another county. ... As for the straight play, well it's alive and well, it is just happening in places other than the West End - in the subsidised sector and in studio and fringe spaces." The Guardian (UK) 11/23/06

Getting The Theatre We Deserve (Musicals, That Is) "Last week, audiences hyperventilated over the latest [musical], Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Sound of Music, while at Amy's View there was appreciative but reserved applause. It is not all disaster for straight drama: Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll is still doing okay and it will be a real surprise if Peter Morgan's Frost/Nixon does not at least run its course. But they are not doing anywhere near as good business as the musicals - and producers, in their more pessimistic moments, talk about straight drama being an endangered species in the West End. Perhaps we get the theatre we deserve. Straight drama will close unless people go and see it." The Guardian (UK) 11/22/06

Monday, November 27, 2006

No Turkey Hangover On Broadway It was a dynamite Thanksgiving weekend for Broadway, as several shows saw record ticket sales. "'Wicked' took in a mammoth $1.7 million, a new all-time Broadway record... Another record was set at the August Wilson Theatre where 'Jersey Boys,' the Four Seasons musical, grossed $1.18 million." Washington Post (AP) 11/27/06

Based On A True Story (Emphasis On "Based") Do plays based on historical fact have a responsibility to tell the whole truth? "If not for the sake of historical accuracy, they're at least bound by their audiences' prior knowledge of the real people. In one sense, that limits the artistic parameters available to the actor. But by narrowing the options, it can also open new creative opportunities." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 11/26/06

If You Can't Join 'Em, Make 'Em Come To You Latino actors face an uphill climb finding roles in an American theatre and film scene dominated by white culture. In Los Angeles, the problem is particularly egregious. But two local actors are looking to turn the situation around, renovating a vacant theater and launching a new company with the aim of demonstrating to Hollywood the untapped talent that exists in its own backyard. Los Angeles Times 11/26/06

When Critics Miss The Mark The Chicago Tribune is asking its critics to write about a review they wish they could have back - an instance in which their immediate reaction, expressed on deadline, came to seem incorrect with the passage of time. Theatre critic Chris Jones knew immediately what he would be writing about - his failure to recognize the talent of playwrights Sarah Ruhl and Neil LaBute, now two of America's leading dramatists, the first time he saw their work performed. Chicago Tribune 11/26/06

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Those Have To Be Some Awkward Conversations Tom Stoppard's plays have never made for light, easy theatrical evenings. So it's no surprise that his latest has resulted in a few early walkouts in New York. But Stoppard is genuinely interested in what audiences think of his work, to the extent that he has begun quizzing those leaving the play after the first act. New York Post 11/25/06

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Big Role For Theatre "We are living through yet another period of strife prompted by certainties and doubts about religion. As a result, debate about the justification of religious commitment is increasing in volume and heat. Theatre is uniquely placed to explore such questions, as it can show audiences what such differences of opinion mean in the context of human lives." New Statesman 11/27/06

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

As TV Credits Roll, Look For Your Favorite Playwright "Theater buffs often get a secret little thrill as they surf TV's hour-long drama series: The opening credits frequently include the names of some of America's best playwrights," including David Mamet, Jon Robin Baitz and Eric Overmyer. Theater critic Lawson Taitte and media critic Tom Maurstad discuss the reasons for the crossover trend and its implications for both media. Dallas Morning News 11/18/06

RSC Reduces Shakespeare, Orders New Works "The Royal Shakespeare Company, keeper of the flame of the greatest playwright ever, plans to 'knock Shakespeare off his podium', according to artistic director Michael Boyd, by increasing the proportion of new plays it stages to half of its total work." In addition to commissioning plays, "writers will be 'embedded' within the company. The first of these, Adriano Shaplin, will be working with the actors who are preparing Shakespeare's history plays, all eight of which will be in the repertoire by spring 2008. The idea is for authors to write plays with a specific ensemble in mind, just as Shakespeare did." The Guardian (UK) 11/21/06

Trinity Rep Names Executive Director "Michael Gennaro, who announced last week that he would be leaving his positions as president and chief executive of the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J., will become the executive director of Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, R.I. He is to succeed Edgar Dobie, who is leaving in January to focus on his duties as executive producer of the new musical 'The Pirate Queen.' " Gennaro's move to Trinity means a reunion with his former Steppenwolf Theater Company colleague, Curt Columbus, now Trinity’s artistic director. The New York Times 11/21/06

Culture Project Leaving East Village For SoHo "The Culture Project, the 10-year-old downtown nonprofit theater that specializes in political drama, has found a new home: the space now occupied by the Manhattan Ensemble Theater." The New York Times 11/21/06

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Cloud Over Korean Theatre "There is a double pain in contemporary South Korean theatre; an anguish about the absence and suffering of their compatriots in the ruined North, and a mourning for the victims, many of them leftists, of the South's right-wing military dictatorship, which fell in 1988." New Statesman 11/20/06

Burstyn: Acting Needs Help Actress Ellen Burstyn, co-president of the Actors Studio, says the craft of acting is in trouble these days. "Acting? I think it needs some help. TV has lowered the bar. With quicker schedules everything is rushed, so the quality gets lowered." Back Stage (Reuters) 11/20/06

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Which Mary Poppins Was That? Mary Poppins is an iconic figure. But which Mary? The movie and the Broadway musical have different women in mind... The New York Times 11/20/06

Broadway Battles Over Who Owns What "The copying of Broadway productions -- or, more precisely, what constitutes the copying thereof -- is a suddenly prominent issue that pits the economic interests of theater directors and choreographers against the interests of writers and composers. Right now, it's the writers and composers who get the bulk of the royalties when Broadway shows such as 'Urinetown' or 'The Producers' are licensed to other producers. But... directors are now after a piece of that lucrative pie." Chicago Tribune 11/19/06

Live And On Stage: Virtual Shakespeare "In 'La Tempête,' the much buzzed about French-language production of 'The Tempest' from the Montreal's 4D Art, are 10 actors. Four of them (those playing the roles of Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand, and an Ariel/Caliban hybrid) appear live. The six others are virtual characters, their video images (with sound) projected onto the back wall; at times, projected off curved mirrored surfaces, they look three dimensional. The high-tech wizardry is as cool as it sounds." New York Sun 11/17/06

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sarah Kane: Brilliant Or Overrated? Sarah Kane is a polarizing playwright. Some call her great, while others link her high posthumous profile more or less directly to her suicide. In any case, there is "the creeping correlation of Kane's suffering with her talent (pace Plath). ... There are kinds of plays you can't say you find lethal without people assuming that you loathed them because they were too visceral, too truthful for you. And I suspect critics are increasingly afraid of being thought uncool if they express disgust with brutality on stage." The Guardian (UK) 11/16/06

Taking Woolf From Page To Stage, Ill-Advisedly "'Writing one's mind' was Virginia Woolf's own description of her experimental 1931 novel, The Waves. But how do you put on stage an extended prose-poem made up of a group of interior monologues? ... Like Woolf's book, this version traces the inner lives of six characters from childhood in 1893 to early middle age in the 1930s. In the process, the production uses a variety of devices: speech, sound-effects, video-images, even rhythmic dance-movements. But although fragments of the solitude and discontent of the sextet emerges, there seems to me something extravagantly pointless about trying to give Woolf's words a physical reality." The Guardian (UK) 11/17/06

Bill Blass As Radical, By Way Of Paul Rudnick Fashion is not only invading television and museums; it's on the New York stage, too, in the form of Paul Rudnick's play, "Regrets Only," whose central character is based on the late designer, Bill Blass. Rudnick says he's surprised by the public's fashion savvy -- but should Rudnick have been a little more savvy about who Blass was? Cathy Horyn, who edited Blass's memoir, seems to think so. The New York Times 11/16/06

Thursday, November 16, 2006

So Much For The 'New South' Actors Delta Burke and Leslie Jordan were scheduled to appear on a local TV talk show in Nashville this week to promote the plays they are starring in. But once the show's producers realized that the plays (both of which have won several prestigious drama awards) contained gay themes, the stars were told not to bother showing up. The station explained that its viewers are "very conservative," and it didn't want to risk offending them. TMZ.com 11/16/06

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Play A Day (Until The Doubts Creep In) Suzan-Lori Parks' 365-plays project has launched. "But in spite of the group-hug dynamic, doubts about the artistic coherence of the whole project have crept in. With low or non-existent production budgets and truncated rehearsal times, there's no guarantee that every production will be as good as the next, or that it will be what Parks intended. Then there's the issue of how audiences will perceive the playwright's work." The Guardian (UK) 11/15/06

Who Owns A Lighting Cue? A dispute has sprung up between the creative team behind the Broadway production of the award-winning musical, Urinetown, and presenters of separate productions of the show in Chicago and Ohio, over the use of staging, set design, and lighting elements that the Broadway team says belong to them. "[The] arguments concern a controversial area of intellectual property: creative input into a production beyond the script and music. While choreography is specifically protected by law, the situation for stage direction is not as clear." The New York Times 11/15/06

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Play As Tool Of "Cultural Genocide"? "The Theatre of Neptune In New France," considered Canada's first play, premiered on the water in a Nova Scotia harbor. "Now, four centuries later, a controversy has developed about whether the play -- written by colonial lawyer and historian Marc Lescarbot -- is simply a quaint if valuable historical precedent or whether it's an implicitly racist tract aimed at subverting aboriginal peoples, the native Mi'kmaq." The Globe and Mail (Toronto) 11/14/06

Sunday, November 12, 2006

What Sunk Empty Space Seattle's Empty Space Theatre recently shut its doors after a 36 year run. "One wonders how a vital company went from announcing a next season one day, to closing up shop a couple weeks later. And why the recent emergency-funding drive didn't save it." Seattle Times 11/12/06

Too Much Stage Disney? "Whether you live in New York or Newport Beach, Berlin or Shanghai, you're likely to be within driving distance of at least one Disney musical in the next 12 months. All that competing Disney product has some observers predicting trouble. There is that question of whether the Disney (musicals) will cannibalize each other." Orange County Register 11/12/06

Hare Gambles On Broadway Playwright David Hare is bringing his new play straight to Broadway. But why? It is the only new play opening there this fall. "Though much of his professional success has been in America, until now - with Stuff Happens and The Vertical Hour - he has never felt comfortable writing about it. What he's most famous for are his dissections of British life, yet America has played a crucial part in his political - and theatrical - education." The Observer (UK) 11/12/06

Friday, November 10, 2006

This Is Why No One Ever Made A Musical Out Of Rambo Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, a major hit in both book and movie form, isn't faring as well on the stage. A recent trial run in Boston played to half-empty houses, and ticket sales are alarmingly slow for the Broadway production as well. "The problem, sources say, is that the show's target audience - straight males in their 20s and 30s - would rather be caught in a gay bar than at a Broadway musical." New York Post 11/10/06

A Play A Day, And... Wait. You Were Serious? "There are your everyday whims, and then there are the whims of a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. The writer in this case is Suzan-Lori Parks, who decided one afternoon in 2002 that she would write a play a day for a year. Ha! Neat idea. Well, four years later those plays are about to be presented in what may be the largest and most elaborate theatrical premiere ever, involving some of the most prominent institutional theaters in the country." The New York Times 11/10/06

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Blanchett To Run Sydney Company Hollywood star Cate Blanchett has accepted a position as co-director of Australia's Sydney Theatre Company, along with her husband, director Andrew Upton. "Blanchett revealed that both she and Upton were on three-year contracts, each of which has a three-month 'slot-out' clause in-built into the contractual arrangement, to allow either one of them to take three months out each year should they wish to pursue other activities." Sydney Morning Herald 11/10/06

A Kapital Idea "There is no wedding, no romantic interest and no plot to speak of. Instead the reader of Karl Marx's epic work, Das Kapital, is treated to a lengthy treatise on the division of labour and capitalist modes of production, offered up in long, convoluted sentences. Yet none of this has deterred a German theatre group from achieving the seemingly impossible: bringing the huge classic on economic theory to the stage." The Guardian (UK) 11/09/06

Think Twice, It Ain't All Right The Twyla Tharp/Bob Dylan collaboration, The Times, They Are A-Changin', which opened on Broadway to blistering reviews last month, will close November 19 after only 28 performances. "The first major casualty of the new theater season, it will lose its entire $10 million investment." New York Post 11/09/06

A Bit Of Inside Baseball At The Guthrie Minneapolis's Guthrie Theater, having just moved into a huge new complex on the city's riverfront, has announced a restructuring of its upper management. The job of managing director will be split in two, and longtime CEO Joe Dowling's position as top man at the Guthrie will be clearly codified. Star Tribune (Minneapolis/St. Paul) 11/09/06

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Tim Rice: Where's The New Generation Of Musical Theatre Talent? "Musical theatre has rarely been more buoyant in London, with 25 productions on show and reports of box-office records — such as Wicked earning nearly £800,000 in its first week. But while Sir Tim praised shows such as Billy Elliot and Blood Brothers, he said that there is no evidence of a new generation of writing talent." The Times (UK) 11/06/06

  • Tim Rice - Root Of All Evil? So Tim Rice thinks the new generation of musicals is lacking. "Indeed, Shaftesbury Avenue is so stuffed with nostalgic revivals, Disney spectaculars and ropey rock compilation shows that one is inclined to agree with him. Except, you have to wonder if Rice isn't at least partially responsible for them all." The Guardian (UK) 11/08/06

What Is It About Evil Women On The Stage? "In theatre, it sometimes seems that the only way women can escape their gender roles and the terrible burden of femininity is by plunging a knife into a male breast or taking aim with a gun and making damn sure they don't miss." The Guardian (UK) 11/08/06

What Les Miz Meant To Musical Theatre "The cultural impact of 'Les Misérables,' a product of its time, arriving at the end of the Cold War when politics went global and superpower alignments began to thaw, was revolutionary, and not only because it depicted the aftermath of the French Revolution." New York Sun 11/08/06

Aggregating The National Theatre Audience To Make Money "Seven major regional theaters around the country — from Seattle, Wash., to Providence, R.I. — have put video monitors in their lobbies to carry information and advertising. Movie theaters and some nonprofit theaters have long had TV monitors in their lobbies, but the new effort is part of a move to develop a national video network for advertisers." The New York Times 11/08/06

Monday, November 6, 2006

Northern Ireland - In Search Of A New Drama Strategy "The five-year plan, due to be completed by February 2007, will be expected to 'establish a clear vision of the development of drama within Northern Ireland with priorities and key actions for the arts council to implement'." The Stage 11/06/06

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Taking A Look At Tony Kushner "Kushner is a world-class mensch. He's also one of the most ambitious contemporary playwrights around. But great theater isn't synonymous with great causes, and none of his other plays has come close to eliciting the resounding critical acclaim of 'Angels.' What's more, there are obvious costs to his public availability, exploited by journalists in need of a sound bite as much as by dogged documentary filmmakers. Simply put, if you're constantly holding forth on what you do as a writer, how can you protect the imaginative insularity needed to do it?" Los Angeles Times 11/05/06

A Samuel Beckett Birthday (So What!) "After the myriad tomes assuring us of his preeminence among postwar writers, it's not exactly clear how the strangely muttering voices filling the voids of his blasted landscapes speak to us today. What was once so radical — tramps on an apocalyptic heath, characters popping out of trash cans, an isolated mouth foaming verbal ooze — has become instantly recognizable, even familiar." Los Angeles Times 11/05/06

Colorado Stage Smoking Ban Is Dramatically Odd Last week a Colorado judge ruled that smoking onstage was not an "artistic expression." "Must it really be argued that smoking can reveal character or propel a plotline? Can you imagine a 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff' without Martha blowing smoke in George's face?" Denver Post 11/05/06

Silicon Valley Looks To Stabilize Its Theaters "The San Jose City Council voted 10-0 Tuesday to approve a $1 million loan to American Musical Theatre of San Jose. Two weeks earlier, on Oct. 17, the City Council voted by the same margin to bail out the more seriously financially troubled San Jose Repertory Theatre with a $2 million line of credit. The timing is not coincidental. The aid extended to the city's two largest theater companies is part of the city's new $4 million Arts Stabilization Fund." San Francisco Chronicle 11/04/06

Avast! Me Show Is Takin' On Water! "The Pirate Queen, a $15 million musical from the creators of Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, is listing badly in Chicago, the first leg of its voyage to Broadway. Local critics fired cannonballs at it - 'ill-ruddered' (Boom!), 'drearily predictable' (Boom!) - and Broadway insiders who trekked west to see it say it needs a massive overhaul. But is the creative team up to the job?" New York Post 11/04/06

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Toronto Actors Call On Mediator A mediator has been called in to try to avert a Toronto actors' strike. "ACTRA called for mediation last week to bring about a new indie production agreement after talks that began Oct. 23 collapsed when producers demanded actors take pay cuts of 10%-25% for minimum daily rates paid on film and TV productions shot here." Backstage 11/02/06

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Tharp Does Dylan - The "Worst Show I've Ever Seen" If "an unknown artist had stumbled so badly creating a new musical, I wouldn’t in fairness review it at all. But there’s an arrogance at work here, a cynicism that gives offense." New York Observer 11/01/06

UK Theatre - Failure To Offend British theatre is getting increasingly squeamish about offending. "A theatre culture that fears to give offence is a theatre culture that is bland and moribund, and pasting warnings all over a theatre suggest that managements fear that audiences may not be grown up enough to distinguish between real life and representation, between someone actually committing infanticide and an actor acting it." The Guardian (UK) 11/01/06

Never Read The Reviews A couple of high-profile Broadway shows have been getting rough treatment from the critics this week, and the big stars behind them are apparently taking the whole thing personally... New York Post 11/01/06

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