“According to management guru Peter Drucker, hiring an effective successor to a departing CEO is ‘the ultimate test of any top management and the ultimate test of any institution.’ When it comes to arts organizations, I’d say that the ultimate test is knowing when an institution is suffering from a case of creative and administrative sclerosis that is about to become terminal, then doing something about it…”
Archives for November 8, 2013
In today’s Wall Street Journal I review two much-praised New York shows, Julie Taymor’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Bruce Norris’ Domesticated, neither of which pleased me. Here’s an excerpt.
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After “Spider-man,” what? Julie Taymor, whose professional reputation was severely bruised two years ago when she was shoved out of the creative team that put together Broadway’s best-looking mediocre musical, has now returned to the green pastures of high art with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the inaugural offering of Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center. As befits the opening of a brand-new theater, Ms. Taymor’s production is a spectacular affair, not as budget-bustingly so as “Spider-man” but very much in its spare-no-expense vein. Actors fly through the air, disappear through trap doors, even grow 20 feet tall before your astonished eyes, all accompanied by the festively spooky Hollywood-style incidental music of Elliot Goldenthal, Ms. Taymor’s creative partner and real-life husband. I’ve never seen a Shakespeare staging in which more things happened in less time, and I wanted very much to like the results, which are nothing if not likable–relentlessly so, if truth be told.
What stopped me from doing so was Ms. Taymor’s near-exclusive emphasis on the visual. She has, as everyone who’s seen “The Lion King” knows, a singular ability to create poetic stage pictures, and her “Midsummer Night’s Dream” is full to overflowing of eye-popping images…
Therein lies the flaw in this production: It’s all about what you see and never about what is said. Nearly every speech is decorated with a corresponding piece of stage trickery, and it doesn’t take long before you lose sight of the play itself. It is, I suspect, no coincidence that none of the acting is memorable, or that Ms. Taymor stoops to cute Disneyish caricature whenever she pauses to characterize an individual player. Puck is Roger Rabbit, Oberon is Darth Vader, while the Rude Mechanicals come off like an updated version of the Seven Dwarves. The result is a staging that looks like a piece of performance art à la Cirque du Soleil and plays like a children’s show….
“Domesticated,” Bruce Norris’ new play, is just like “Clybourne Park,” which made him rich and famous. Only the subject matter has been changed, presumably to protect the author from well-founded charges of repetition: “Clybourne Park” is about race and “Domesticated” is about sex. Otherwise the two shows are essentially indistinguishable. Once again we are presented with a bad guy, in this case a politician with zipper disease (Jeff Goldblum, who is way too nebbishy) who commits an unforgivable sin (in a nutshell, he acts like Anthony Weiner, only worse). Once again Mr. Norris confuses the issue by briefly making the bad guy look sympathetic, after which he allows the good gal (Laurie Metcalf, who is formidable as Mr. Goldblum’s furious wife) to unmask him as a monster of carnal appetite. Once again the climax of the play is a catfight that fails to conceal the arthritic pacing of the second act. And once again it all adds up to a comprehensively phony piece of deck-stacked pandering…
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Read the whole thing here.
In today’s Wall Street Journal “Sightings” column I look at the high-art attendance crisis and draw a ruthless conclusion. Here’s an excerpt.
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Everyone who keeps up with the National Endowment for the Arts’ Survey of Public Participation in the Arts data knows that high-culture attendance numbers have been shrinking across the board for well over. Opera, theater, dance, symphony orchestras, even big-city art museums: All are drawing smaller crowds. So what’s the larger meaning of these figures? Three recent articles that view the problem from different perspectives come to similar conclusions:
• Says Jaime Weinman in the Canadian magazine Maclean’s: “The lack of funding for orchestras and opera companies may already be raising the question of whether North America has too many of them–or whether, as with other institutions, there should be more streamlining and consolidations….The Baby Boomers who are becoming the new generation of old people have grown up with rock music, and may not be very likely to invest in classical music.”
• Theater blogger Howard Sherman sees much the same thing happening in his area of expertise: “While in the first half of my life I watched the burgeoning of the resident theatre movement, which in turn seeded the growth of countless smaller local companies, my later years will see a contraction in overall production at the professional level; it’s already begun, as a few companies seem to go under every year and have been for some time.”
• Michael Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, writes in the Huffington Post that we may be “witnessing a major transition in the arts from regional organizations to fewer mega-organizations with the sophistication to mount large-scale productions, to market them well and to raise large sums of money….Does this spell the end of the mid-sized regional arts organization? Will it be increasingly difficult to build an audience and a donor base for a $10 million arts organization? Will boards simply give up trying to fund ever-increasing budgets? Will many of these organizations shrink, or disappear entirely?”
Here’s another question: Might it be possible that some of them should disappear?…
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Read the whole thing here.
UPDATE: In the first sentence of this column, not visible here, I originally referred to the Minnesota Orchestra as “strike-bound.” The orchestra is, of course, locked out, not on strike. My mistake–I fell victim to a fit of absentmindedness. (The Journal has corrected the online version of the column.)
“When will I ever learn? When will I ever understand that what’s astonishing about the number of men who remain faithful is not that it’s so small but that there are any of them at all?”
Nora Ephron, Heartburn