“Now, you might think good riddance – critics sometimes don’t do themselves any favours. But theatre should worry about criticism’s survival.” Why? Because criticism does a lot more than sell tickets (if it does that at all). It’s important for the history and future of the theatre itself.
Howard Sherman: “While I don’t look forward to watching plays while holding up my mobile phone (ringer off, of course) for two hours, technology is beginning to offer ways for companies to create more immersive worlds without the construction of physical scenery. As work increasingly bursts out beyond prosceniums, augmented reality may offer possibilities to performances anywhere people can congregate, but without the need for lugging scenery into parks and playgrounds.”
“Lee’s work is about wrongness: about being the wrong kind of man, woman, Asian; about saying the wrong thing; about getting other people wrong. Her characters are ill at ease in their bodies and in the world and, sometimes, in the very play they’re starring in. … With each production, she begins by asking herself, ‘What’s the last play in the world you would ever want to write?’ Then she casts actors and builds a play for them and with them, incorporating their feedback.”
These shows are important – but we can’t be uncritical of them. When an all-new Broadway version of West Side Story was recently announced that Ivo van Hove will direct with new choreography by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, its lyricist Stephen Sondheim said: “What keeps theatre alive over time is reinterpretation, and when that reinterpretation is as invigorating as [Ivo van Hove’s] productions of A View from the Bridge and The Crucible, it makes for something to look forward to with excitement.”
Producer Richard Jordan, citing Bartlett Sher’s current Lincoln Center Theater production of My Fair Lady: “While critics enthused over Sher’s new ending, referencing it back to the issues of today, watching it play before a regular audience you felt a sense that the musical no longer gave them a pay-off. Instead, it felt as though they had been waiting more than three hours for the ‘I love you’ moment only to then be denied it – it’s not how Lerner intended this scene to play and it was surprising his estate allowed it. We should be concerned about a growing attitude that classics can be ‘fixed’ to match today’s agenda – one risks changing the very essence of the work itself.”
The genre known as Karagyoz (meaning “black eyes,” after the trickster character at the center of the shadow plays) developed in the 14th century in the Ottoman Empire and became especially popular in Armenia in the 1700s. Now a troupe called Ayrogi is reviving the traditional art, often traveling through Armenia on horseback to perform in villages throughout the country.
According to a report from Britain’s Publishers Association using data from the industry group UK Theatre, “in 2016, adaptations took, on average, three-and-a-half times more at the box office and sold 4.8 times as many tickets as original productions. … A family musical based on a film attracts more than six times the revenue of an original show. Page-to-stage adaptations were also more successful than original productions, particularly when analysing plays.”
The new complex, which opens in October, will have 535-, 250-, and 100-seat performance spaces as well as a production area and a tech space that are each over 10,000 square feet. “The facility will house the REP, a professional theatre company; a theatre for young audience; and the students of Point Park University’s theatre and dance departments.”
“In exchange for free tickets to [the Cirque show] O and an upgrade to one of the VIP suites, [60 volunteers] agreed to be poked and prodded, and have their brain activity observed during a performance. Twice each night for five nights, Lab of Misfits techs” – yes, that’s the name of the neuroscience research firm – “wired six of us up with the headgear, and … they gave us iPads that prompted us throughout the show to answer questions about just how much awe and wonder we were feeling at that exact moment.”
“We have students presenting their own material, and you’ll see a poem about Phillis Wheatley by a 17-year-old student, and you’ll see a song from Abigail Adams’s perspective. Neither of them are characters in our story, but for some reason they spark for those students. And that’s my hope, that this is just an ignition for something much larger. As a mediocre history major and the brother of a sixth-grade teacher, nothing would make me happier.”
“We just sat in chairs and read the script,” said Mr. Scatamacchia, who is 63 and retired from the music-publishing industry. “‘What are you saying here?’ ‘What does this mean?’ I encouraged them to rewrite their dialogue in modern jargon. These guys are just talking to each other.” Both performances — one for the inmates and another for about 100 outsiders — were well received, despite the periodic interruption of a prison guard’s walkie-talkie. It wasn’t hard to imagine that some of the men were being applauded for the first time in their lives.
“Composer Richard Rodgers, of Rodgers & Hammerstein fame, used to say he wouldn’t open a can of tomatoes without first bringing it to Boston. … It’s been a long time since the Hub had that kind of clout. But now a major new player, the UK-based Ambassador Theatre Group, and Emerson College are pouring millions of dollars into making the Emerson Colonial Theatre a venue for pre-Broadway tryouts.”
There’s no big stick here. The policy shifts have been enthusiastically and widely embraced and have been led by theatre companies themselves, in response to the #WakingTheFeminists movement and its research. WTF was responding to a distinctly male programme for the 2016 Waking the Nation initiative at the Abbey, and it woke a sleeping beast of its own, protesting against the lack of representation of women in theatre, the outcome of which has been real.
In an open letter first published by Quebec newspaper Le Devoir Saturday morning, a group of Indigenous actors, writers, activists and artists from across the province said they are fed up “of hearing other people tell our stories.” Lepage’s new production, Kanata, aims to tell “the story of Canada through the prism of relations between whites and Indigenous people.” It is being staged in Paris in December.
The most fascinating shows are easy to miss. VR companies like Oculus are already trying to take immersive theater to living rooms, but the best experiences still remain low in tech and very site-specific, staged in real-world places, and kept mostly phone-free (I turn off my phone during shows). In a year where I’ve seen a lot of attempts at making augmented reality become a magical thing, this theater piece was probably the best augmented-reality experience of all.
The difference between these current comedy avatars isn’t confined to their material about the shifting cultural status of straight men, although that’s a big part of it. Originality and craft are just as important. To put it bluntly, many of the most established, big-name acts in comedy, like Maher, Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Dave Chappelle, and (to a lesser extent) Chris Rock are either coasting or flailing. At worst, they’re regurgitating old styles and points of view and sounding culturally as well as artistically conservative in the process.
“The common misconception is that this trick involves the performer somehow ‘throwing’ their voice through a clever trick of the voice box.” But that’s not it at all. “‘Imagine you hear a loud sound, and at exactly the same time, there is an abrupt appearance of something. Then, automatically — because of the coincidence in time — you would tend to associate these two events as originating from the same cause,’ says [researcher] Salvador Soto-Faraco … ‘That is the inference that happens in ventriloquist illusions.'”
A pair of Belgian stage artists who are leaders of Europe’s institutional avant-garde, director Ivo van Hove and choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, will stage the first major American revival of the musical to make a complete departure from the model of Jerome Robbins’s original staging. (De Keersmaeker and her company have been regular visitors at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; van Hove has directed two Arthur Miller revivals on Broadway and won a Tony for one of them.)
“The number of women directing plays at [the Gate Theatre in Dublin] is up from 8 per cent between 2006 and 2015 to 80 per cent in the last 18 months … The number of women writers increased from 6 per cent to 33 per cent over the same period, set designers 26 per cent to 44 per cent, lighting designers 13 per cent to 33 per cent, and sound designers 1 per cent to 44 per cent.”
“Most UK theatres are run by people with the title of ‘artistic director’. But many taking over a building for the first time, even if they are not doing the job of chief executive as well, very quickly understand that being artistic is only one part of the job. … Lyn Gardner talks to those in the know and finds they all agree the overall experience of an audience is as important as the plays they stage.”
The Montreal International Jazz Festival closed the production, a “theatrical odyssey based on slave songs,” after only a handful of performances in the wake of an outcry over a majority-white cast portraying black slaves. Only two of the seven people in the show, directed by Robert Lepage and starring Betty Bonifassi, were black. While critics of the show have welcomed the closure as a necessary cultural reckoning, several leading theater directors in Quebec rallied behind Mr. Lepage this week, citing their concerns that closing a production by such an internationally acclaimed director could have a chilling effect on artistic expression in Canada. At least four theaters are proceeding with productions of “Slav,” even if that means braving protests.
“In the third episode of Lend Me Your Ears, host Isaac Butler talks to theater critic Helen Shaw, Yale English professor David Kastan, and University of Roehampton professor Clare McManus about the themes of unification, misogyny, and entitlement found in one of Shakespeare’s greatest works.” (podcast)
“[Steven] Hoggett … did not win the Tony. (That went to Justin Peck for the more traditionally dance-heavy Carousel.) But the recognition was well deserved: His choreography and movement direction for the two-part Cursed Child is no less meticulous and detailed than any dance number, and as important to the theatrical language of the play as the writing, by Jack Thorne, and the direction, by John Tiffany.”
“For over two centuries, since 1737, the Lord Chamberlain had the authority to veto new plays that they deemed indecent or that posed a threat to public order. … In the UK, we may no longer have ‘big C’ Censorship, but there’s also that with a small c, which can take the form of regulation such as film certification, or artists and organisations self-censoring due worries about public protest, sponsorship and its potential loss, media storms.”