The debate about if and when to use them has the theatre community deeply divided. These new type of audience advisories warn of specific plot points that may provoke psychological trauma in some audience members. But some theatre professionals worry these warnings strip theatre of its power to provoke an emotional reaction and are a form of self-censorship.
Theatre on and for military bases has a long history in the U.S. “‘Entertainment for the soldier, by the soldier’ has been part of the US military since the American Revolution. Following the camp shows of the Civil War, military-based theatre was borne during WWI with the involvement of Irving Berlin, who, as a soldier, wrote and performed in Yip Yip Yaphank, an all-soldier musical tribute to the Army. Berlin continued his support of the military during WWII with This Is the Army.” But can it survive in an era of streaming?
Look, theatres … you have to get permission to gender-swap roles (or make any of a number of other changes). So now a woman is playing a role that was written as male – but as a man, not as a woman, which is how the actor started playing the role. “The problem is that in the contract, it says that we can’t change pronouns,” the theatre’s business manager said.
Lauren Yee, who wrote the new musical Cambodian Rock Band, explains why it works so well. “Cambodian music is not just covers of American or Western music. It’s really this modern, distinctive sound that is found nowhere else. It is kind of all these influences, from traditional Cambodian music, French New Wave, some of the Vietnam War-era radio. It is so ingrained in the culture in a way that I just find incredibly unique.”
Here’s a journey that starts 100 years ago: “A remarkable centennial few are paying attention to is the premiere of the first meaningful American opera to have any real national success: The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Charles Wakefield Cadman’s ‘Shanewis (or The Robin Woman).’ The 1918 opera is about a Native American singer who leaves her reservation in Oklahoma to study voice with a Santa Monica socialite at a ‘bungalow by the sea’ (I’m not making this up).”
Every generation re-evaluates the art it has received and decides whether or not it is still worthy and relevant to their interests, but it feels like we’re in a moment of particularly intense scrutiny right now. Maybe it’s important to remind Shakespeare-lovers that much of Shakespeare’s work is deeply problematic. But if we’re going to force people to confront Shakespeare’s problems, then what is the point if we’re not allowed to then say, “Actually, you’re right, this is incredibly offensive, hopelessly out of date, and I want to walk out of this play/stop studying this subject/decide never to watch, read, or produce Shakespeare again.” I think that’s a legitimate response, but not the one, I suspect, that people who are most precious about censoring Shakespeare would support.
“Although representatives of first-rank Israeli companies, such as the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv, argue that their organizations do not shy away from controversial work, American artistic directors whose companies have become havens for marginalized Israeli playwrights say otherwise. Groups such as [Boston’s] Israeli Stage and, even more prominently, Mosaic Theater Company in Washington consider themselves outposts for Israeli dramatists who find it increasingly hard to get a hearing in Israel for their most political works.”
The Oscar- and Tony-winning actor, now 82, returned to the stage two years ago, after a 23-year career in the UK Parliament, playing Lear in a modern-dress production at the Old Vic. Rather than bringing that staging to Broadway, she’ll be performing next spring with an entirely new creative team and cast assembled by lead producer Scott Rudin.
Peter Tate and Anthony Biggs write about how they launched The Playground Theatre in a former depot near the recently-burned Grenfell Tower in London, how they decided to configure and equip the empty building, how they connected with audiences in what may be the most diverse area in the entire UK, and how they raised the money to pay for it all.
Former Shakespeare Theatre Company associate director Ethan McSweeny has been named to run the 30-year-old American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va., beginning next week. The Blue Ridge troupe performs in the Blackfriars Playhouse, a facsimile of the indoor theater used by Shakespeare’s troupe.
“[Disney Theatrical Productions] invited its longtime puppetry collaborator, Michael Curry (The Lion King), to experiment with ways the shaggy creature might be represented onstage. He tested two-performer pantomime before deciding to fashion a full-scale figure that could wordlessly engage with the unfolding plot — that could act — when brought to life by a single actor within. The resulting reindeer has become one of the most popular characters in the show, getting entrance applause and even a cameo on the Tonys.”
Using a revival of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem as a hook, Michael Billington offers his choice of the best stage dramas written and produced in the UK since that play’s 2009 premiere. (He includes a couple that didn’t go down nearly as well when they made it to the States.) Let the arguing begin!
“On Tuesday, Theatre Philadelphia, which administers the Barrymores, announced it was switching to gender-neutral awards. Instead of a best actor and best actress, there will now be awards for best performance in categories that used to be gender specific, and two awards will be given.”
Leigh Goldenberg: “Theatre Philadelphia now recognizes a change like this one is more than just about nomenclature, and is certainly more than a question about language or even about a shiny statue handed to a select few. It’s about who we lift up and who we leave out in the process.”
Sarah Berger, who directed the first-ever Kyrgyz translation of “the Scottish play” at Kyrgyzstan’s national theatre: “I worked with 30 Kyrgyz actors who spoke no English. I don’t speak Russian or Kyrgyz. To add to the mix, I took two British actors with me, Claire Cartwright and Steve Hay, who performed in English with the rest of the cast speaking Kyrgyz. … There was also a fully Kyrgyz performance that was filmed and screened on state TV. So I had to deliver three different versions of the production in just over three weeks, as we performed four premieres with the cast variations.”
It is far too soon to say the curtain is coming down on regional theatre, which over the last 35 years has proved resilient despite commentators continuing to write its obituary. But as Jonathan Church observed in The Stage last week, there are warning signs ahead, including the report of a drop in regional theatre attendance.
If empirical data can prove the arts positively impact biomechanical function, perhaps connections can be drawn to the indispensability of theatre as an art form. But is there another level of inquiry that can be engaged simultaneously, and in complement, with this scientific, top-down approach? If one has a tree whose branches are in ill health and whose leaves are withering, one’s first impulse might be to treat the leaves and branches. Another might be to look at its roots.
“[The original] production — which starred the unlikely combo of Jean Arthur as Peter and Boris Karloff as Captain Hook — closed in 1951 after a respectable 321 performances, but then essentially disappeared. … According to most sources, Bernstein was originally commissioned to compose only instrumentals, but became so enamored with the play he volunteered songs, for which he also penned the lyrics. Unfortunately, there was a hitch: Jean Arthur wasn’t much of a singer. This is likely the reason only Wendy and Hook have solos.”
Jamie Beddard, who’s playing Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man at Bristol Old Vic: “‘Blacking up’ has been consigned to history, while ‘cripping up’ remains de rigueur, and is often a shortcut to industry [awards]. The list of excuses for such lazy and offensive casting is pitiful. … I have expended far too much time and energy debating the problem with ‘cripping up’. But it is particularly pertinent to The Elephant Man, with its themes of the fear of difference, the gaze of others, medical and spiritual intervention, the interplay of pity and empathy, and how we reflect ourselves in others.”
Shakespeare’s Rose, which opens on Monday and has cost £3m, is Europe’s first “pop-up” Shakespearean theatre. The Bard “would totally recognise it”, according to producer James Cundall. The temporary theatre has been built in a car park in 28 days to a circular design, similar to those erected on Bankside in Shakespeare’s day.
There are a lot of “learning opportunities” out there in high school play and musical land: “High schools and colleges across the country license shows from an enduring catalog of stage favorites. Firing a gun, whether into the air or at the heart of a young lover, is integral to a surprising number of them, including ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Les Misérables’ and ‘Oklahoma!'”
Here’s the deal: The Earl of Essex and his buddies commissioned the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (you know who was in that company) to perform a play, maybe, or perhaps probably, Richard II (which concerns a monarch who was deposed), the day before they tried to rally London to support the Earl against Queen Elizabeth’s men. Whoops: “They will be accused of using the play to foment rebellion. One of them, Sir Gelly Meyrick, will be hanged, drawn, and quartered for his part in commissioning the performance.”
Hungary’s government organs embrace homophobia as a matter of course, in this case causing the opera to cancel 15 of the planned performances of the musical. “Zsofia N. Horvath said that the musical’s message of ‘Dare to be yourself’ referred ‘of course’ to being gay. ‘How can such an important national institution as the opera go against the objectives of the state and use a performance made for young people around 10, at their most fragile age, for such pointed and unrestrained gay propaganda?’ she asked.”
In America, nothing sucks the oxygen out of the room with more deadly force than financial success. Musicals are booming, so that is where all the attention and money is streaming, a sweet spot that magically unites commerce, branding, and universities. This is not to say there have not been terrific songfests over the past 25 years. Just that it explains why our most talented stage practitioners are not writing plays, but working hard at scoring with the latest lucrative singing/dancing sensation.
“The Angel Shadows — three dancers and two puppeteers — are one of the most remarkable elements about this Tony Award-winning production, directed by Marianne Elliott. Through intricate choreography and cues, the Shadows are responsible for propelling the Angel into the air and operating her heavy wings.” Gia Kourlas talks to the designers who came up with the idea and some of the performers who enact it.
Last week, during a Los Angeles performance of Shakespeare’s Henry IV starring Hamish Linklater as Prince Hal and Hanks as Falstaff, an audience member passed out from dehydration. As paramedics were stabilizing the patient under the seating risers, “never breaking from his tragicomic role of Falstaff, Hanks addressed the crowd and even started pulling people on stage.” (includes video)
“A group of theater artists visiting St. Louis for [the Theatre Communications Group] conference … booed in unison during an excerpt from the musical The King and I. … Demonstrators objected to the portrayal of a character from Burma (now called Myanmar) by a white actress. They also decried other parts of the show as displaying inappropriate cultural appropriation.”
“Maverick director Milo Rau has relaunched NTGent as no less than the ‘City Theatre of the Future’, sealed with the Ghent Manifesto, 10 commandments for making new theatre, Dogme 95-style, covering everything from authorship and language to casting and touring. Given Rau’s track record, this is no glitzy euro-branding hashtag exercise. He means business in changing the way we think about theatre. But there’s already a lot of flak coming his way.”
“‘It was beautiful. You brought your own character to the role,’ Sasson Gabay is telling Tony Shalhoub, who recently won a Tony for starring in the musical The Band’s Visit. Gabay is the Israeli actor who originated the character of the stern and melancholy police officer Tewfiq, playing the role in the 2007 film from which the musical is adapted. ‘I stole your performance,’ Shalhoub replies genially. ‘Acting is thievery.’ … We got the two Tewfiqs together to discuss why such a small film has had such impact and what the actors have learned, and can learn, from each other.”