New York Theater March 2015 Quiz

How well were you paying attention to the New York theater news in March? Answer these 12 questions and find out.

Binge Watching on Broadway! Theater Critics DO Like Theater. The Week in New York Theater

The annual April Broadway marathon begins this coming week — 14 openings in 21 days, with two of these shows opening on the Tony eligibility cut-off date of April 23, 2015.

The shows opening in April represent two-thirds of the entire Spring 2015 Broadway season.

WilliamsBash3nycwtd-logo-hiIn the meantime, we celebrated World Theatre Day and Tennessee Williams’ birthday this past week,  and we say goodbye to some great Off-Broadway shows.

With the Nether closing at MCC Theater, here’s an interview with its author, Jennifer Haley, the first major playwright of the digital age.

Below: news of new casting, new cast albums, old shows saying goodbye, and the worst people in theater — and no, these are not critics. Indeed, scroll down for a couple of arguments (backed by some statistical evidence) in favor of critics. Forty-five percent of the reviews over the past ten years by the two main theater critics of the New York Times, Ben Brantley and Charles Isherwood, were positive, according to a recent calculation by Broadway producer Ken Davenport, who owns the review aggregation site Did He Like It. (The complete info graphic below.)

Also: Putting cell phone annoyance in perspective.

The Week in New York Theater News

TheFantasticks

The Fantasticks is closing May 3, after some 3,500 performances at the Snapple Center. It opened at the Sullivan Street Thetaer Off-Broadway in 1960, 55 years ago, closing in 2002, then reopening at Snapple in midtown in 2006.

TheFantasticks2

JasonAlexanderandLarryDavid

Jason Alexander will succeed Larry David in Fish In The Dark on June 9.

… Maria Irene Fornes, Adrienne Kennedy, Bill Irwin, etc.
Details here

On the 20th Century Gallagher, McGrath, Chenoweth, Linn-Baker, Karl

The cast album of On The Twentieth Century, recorded this week, will be released in May.

Patti LuPone and Bobby Cannavale star in The Acting Company’s The Rose Tattoo by Tennessee Williams, April 27th only, Samuel Friedman Theater

Week in Theater Articles

With 14 shows still to open on Bway (1/3 the whole 2014-2015 season), Gordon Cox of Variety assesses how the 2015 Tonys are shaping up.

Arts participation  is closely linked to civic engagement, says research by the National Endowment for the Arts

Eight theater podcasts recommended by Robbie Rozelle in Playbill.

Stage shows are most alive at the first preview

Joe Allen, Broadway restaurateur for 50 years, and the origins of the Joey Awards

Week in Previews and Promotions

something-rotten-marketing-broadway

Kevin McCollum is producing two shows the same season with “no brand” – Hand to God, and Something Rotten http://bit.ly/1BnHO2B
McCollum has history of putting “risky” shows on Bway – such as Rent, Avenue Q,  and The Drowsy Chaperone.

How three Broadway novices wrote Something Rotten

TheDemoComposers Ben Neill and Mike Rouse  @ben_neill & @mikelrouse created #TheDemo, musical about the moment that launched the digital age

“I had not been prepared for the power of a really good musical.” Alison Bechdel, says about Fun Home, the musical based on her graphic memoir.

The Week in Wisdom

Secret to creativity? Creative people say “no” a lot, using their time for their work, writes Kevin Ashton

Critics, not artists, should be responsible for “audience engagement,” writes theater artist Rachel Walshe.

The worst people in theater. e,g, The Bully, The Dictator Director, The Protector of Broadway.

Forty-five percent of the reviews by the two main theater critics of the New York Times, Ben Brantley and Charles Isherwood, were positive over the past ten years, according to a recent assessment by Broadway producer Ken Davenport, who owns the review aggregation site Did He Like It. Only 29 percent were negative, and 26 percent were mixed. Here is the info graphic, summarizing his calculations.

Did-They-Like-It-2

Cell phones are far from the first device that irritated theatergoers:

Knittingduringperformances1

The Nether Playwright Jennifer Haley: Merging Online With On Stage

JenHaleyJennifer Haley did not set out to become the first major playwright of the digital age, but that is what has happened.

The Nether,” which imagines a future where people lose themselves in a virtual world, will close a successful run Off-Broadway March 29th; the play has won for her all sorts of attention and awards, such as four Olivier Award nominations (including best new play) for the West End production, seven Ovation Awards (including playwriting) for the West Coast production, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and the Francesca Primus Prize, which she received this week at the ATCA conference in New Orleans. “The Nether” is just one of her plays to explore the blurring line between cyberreality and reality. An earlier play that debuted at the Humana Festival in 2008, “Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom,” she describes as “a horror story about suburban video game addiction.” She is developing “Froggy,” about a woman who travels through a video-game universe looking for her boyfriend — which she calls a noir thriller inspired by graphic novels,  and featuring interactive video design.

Haley’s own blurring line between two worlds — online and on stage – began inauspiciously. “I was working at a small theatre in Austin in the mid-90’s when I became aware of the Internet,” she told me. “I had a distant friend who was already getting into web design, and I actually remember thinking she was foolish for jumping onto a fad!”

Ben Rosenfield, Sophia Anne Caruso  and Merritt Wever in The Nether

Ben Rosenfield, Sophia Anne Caruso and Merritt Wever in The Nether

Haley began writing plays in college. “I was a Liberal Arts and Drama major at the University of Texas at Austin, and was generally frustrated with the roles I was getting — the female roles didn’t seem half so interesting as the male roles — so I decided to write cool stuff for myself and my friends. I kept acting and writing for several years, then figured I’d rather be really good at one of them than pretty good at both. I chose writing because I still loved being on the generative end of the process.” She eventually studied playwriting with Paula Vogel at Brown’s MFA program. (“I went to graduate school with talent; I came out with talent plus craft.”)

TheNether6RosenfieldandCarusoFour years after first learning about the Internet, Haley was working in a theater in Seattle, “and I got to be a part of a program that trained artists and employees of arts non-profits in web design. I learned HTML and Photoshop, and continued working part time with the company while I built up my business as a freelance designer. That work was my bread and butter for thirteen years while I was trying to turn writing into a career.”

“There was no direct connection between becoming a web designer and a playwright. After years of doing both, they simply started to merge…”

JenniferHaleybShe came up with the idea for “The Nether” in 2010, when she recalled one of the major lessons she learned from Paula Vogel five years earlier: “write what you hate.” Haley hated television police procedurals, so she imagined a detective interviewing a suspect who had committed crimes online. The crimes are pedophilia and child murder, but the crimes are virtual — the “child” is an avatar; the real person behind the man is a 65-year-old man. In the play, though, the child is meant to be portrayed by a child actress. “I spent a month trying to decide if I should rewrite that part,” she told the critics in New Orleans. She understood that it was shocking, even though the young actress does nothing more graphic than lift up her dress over her head (the dress is just the outer layer of a multi-layered Victorian garment.) Haley decided to keep it as is — “Having a child in the play made the play warmer” — and she was surprised and gratified that “people are willing to produce it, people willing to watch it, and people willing to talk about it.

The Nether at  the Duke of York's Theatre in London.

The Nether at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London.

“The hardest thing to learn is that a piece of work usually takes its own time. But the Nether was a quickie; from the time I started it to the time it was produced was three years.”

“The Nether,” which premiered at L.A.’s Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2013, is slated for yet another production at the Wooly Mammoth in D.C. in April, 2016.

She doesn’t want her plays to be seen as anti-tech, but rather as explorations about how we use technology to “play out our own neuroses.” As she has said, “the danger lies in spending so much time online that you neglect having a life and relationships in the real world.”

The cast of the MCC production of The Nether: Merritt Wever, Peter Friedman, Sophia Anne Caruso, Ben Rosenfield, Frank Wood

The cast of the MCC production of The Nether: Merritt Wever, Peter Friedman, Sophia Anne Caruso, Ben Rosenfield, Frank Wood

Today Is World Theatre Day — How will you be celebrating?

The playwrights of the 2015 Around the World Chain Play, celebrating World Theatre Day

The 18 playwrights from 16 nations of the 2015 Around the World Chain Play, celebrating World Theatre Day

World Theatre Day logo

World Theatre Day logo

World Theatre Day, created in 1961, is celebrated annually on March 27. How will you be celebrating?

The author of the Message of World Theatre Day 2015 is the Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski!

 

nycwtd-logo-hiThe Staged Reading of the Third Annual Around-the-World Chain Play is returning to The Lark for World Theater Day 2015 at 7:00pm at The Lark Play Development Center (311 West 43rd Street, 5th Floor.) Attendance is free

The event will also be live streamed on innovativetheatre.org/live

Starting and ending in NYC, a play is being written as it travels around the world, making 18 stops with playwrights from across the globe. Each playwright is contributing one to five pages of text, moving the plot forward from where the previous playwright left off. Our playwrights are:

Kristoffer Diaz (NYC, USA)

Andrew Templeton (Canada)

Mariana Levy (Argentina)

Mariana Hartasánchez (Mexico)

Ross Mueller (Australia)

Sarah Treem (Los Angeles, USA)

Michelle Tan (Singapore)

Purva Naresh (India)

Vera Ion (Romania)

Natalia Antonova (Russia)

Najwa Sabra (Lebanon)

Deborah Asiimwe (Uganda)

JC Niala (Kenya)

Ogutu Muraya (The Netherlands) Lola Blasco Mena (Spain)

Oladipo Agboluaje (UK)

Ian Rowlands (Wales)

Qui Nguyen (NYC, USA)

Top 10 facts about theater, via the Daily Express 

1. Theatre as we know it began in ancient Greece with a religious ceremony called ‘dithyramb’ in which a chorus of men dressed in goat skins.

2. The word ‘tragedy’ comes from a Greek expression meaning ‘goat song’…

3. …and ‘theatre’ comes from a Greek verb meaning ‘to behold’.

4. Ancient Greek audiences stamped their feet rather than clapping their hands to applaud.

5. World Theatre Day has been held on March 27 every year since 1962 when it was the opening day of the “Theatre of Nations” season in Paris.

6. The longest continuous dramatic performance was 23 hr 33 min 54 sec achieved by the 27 O’Clock Players in New Jersey, USA, on July 27, 2010.

7. They performed The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionescu, a play written in a continuous loop and said to be totally pointless and plotless.

8. According to Aristotle, the plot is the most important feature of a dramatic performance.

9. Walt Disney World, Florida, has a record 1.2 million costumes in its theatrical wardrobes.

10. The oldest play still in existence is The Persians by Aeschylus, written in 472 BC.

Take a look at some of the photographs in my Pinterest collection of the world’s most beautiful theaters.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged

 

After Katrina: Saenger Theater, The Most Beautiful in New Orleans

Restored after Katrina, Saenger Theater — built in 1927, shut down by flooding in 2005, re-opened in 2013 after a $52 million restoration — is beautiful…on the inside.

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.

Tom Hanks Acts Out His Entire Film Career in 8 Minutes

SleeplessinSeattleWith the help of Tony-winner James Corden and lots of backdrops, Tom Hanks acts out the movies in which he has starred over the last three decades, from Splash (1984) to Saving Mr. Banks (2013). An auspicious debut for The Late Late Show with James Corden.

 

 

 

Tennessee Williams and New Orleans 2015

#ATCA2015

This year’s American Theatre Critics Association conference is taking place in New Orleans, to coincide with the 29th annual Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival, March 25 to 29.

It was in New Orleans where Tom Williams became Tennessee, after he moved there in 1939 at the age of 28. It was in a boardinghouse in New Orleans “where his literary adventure and his sexual coming-of-age” began, according to Tennessee Williams biographer John Lahr.

“The first six weeks he spent in New Orleans he wrote about in his plays for the rest of his life,” says Thomas Keith. “It was one of Williams’ favorite places in the world, where he found a tremendous amount of inspiration.” — “Streetcar Named Desire,” “Vieux Carre,”  and “Suddenly Last Summer” (which Southern Rep Theater is performing this year at the festival) are all set in New Orleans, as are several short stories and some dozen lesser known short plays.

Even when he moved to New York, Williams returned to the Big Easy many times. “I need a soft climate and softer people,” Williams wrote in his diary in 1945, before one such extended stay.

Keith, a New Yorker who teaches both at Pace and at The Atlantic Theater Company Acting School. is making his 14th annual pilgrimage to New Orleans for the festival, which attracts thousands each year. He works at the festival: His duties this year include putting together and/or moderating readings and discussions involving cult filmmaker John Waters; playwrights John Patrick Shanley and Martin Sherman; actors Keir Dullea and Mia Dillon, and biographer Lahr. Keith will introduce the staged reading of a little-known Williams play “I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark On Sundays” and he’ll oversee a conversation about the playwright’s critical reputation and popular image.

But, Keith says, he will find the time to be a festival-goer as well. “I’ll go to the scholar’s conference, and the weekend panels and the Thursday night birthday bash” — Williams was born on March 26, 1911 — and….”I don’t need to do everything.”

 

 

WilliamsNewOrleansfestivallogo

Tennessee Williams

Sondheim, Lloyd Webber, and Other Theatrical Birthdays! Monk Giving Millions to Theater. Week in NY Theater

It’s March Madness for theatrical birthdays.

The Week in Theater News

Broadway ticketbuyers, says The Broadway League:

68% female

80% white

5% of theatergoers buy 35% of tickets

penn-and-teller-s

Penn and Teller return to Broadway July 7 – August 16, Marquis Theater.

The Obie Awards, the Off/Off-Off Broadway awards , now co-run by the American Theatre Wing, set for May 18th at Webster Hall

russell-simmons

Russell Simmons  developing The Scenario, a musical for Broadway using greatest hits from two decades of hip-hop

HudesandKron

Quiara Alegría Hudes (In the Heights, Water by the Spoonful) and Lisa Kron (Fun Homehave joined the “Residency Five” program of Signature Theater, which means three new plays from each!

Chilina Kennedy as Carole King

Chilina Kennedy as Carole King

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical will be made into a movie, with Tom Hanks as one of the producers. The timing has yet to be determined.

The Week in Reviews

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My review of The Heidi Chronicles

Wasserstein’s play was embraced as an insightful portrait of a generation of women facing old pressures and new challenges… watching “The Heidi Chronicles” feels too often like being trapped in a trend piece in New York Magazine.

Full review of The Heidi Chronicles

Full Cast

My review of Posterity

It was only at the end of “Posterity,” Doug Wright’s new play that imagines the real-life encounter between Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen and a sculptor doing a bust of him, that the point of it became clear to me (although the title should have been a tip-off): How will any of us be remembered? Are even great artists ever guaranteed immortality?…It’s a moving and intriguing scene. But it’s insufficient payoff for the too-static two hours that preceded it.

Full review of Posterity

The Week in Theater-Related Developments

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Powerball winner Roy Cockrum, a monk, plans to give bulk of his $115 million to theater. “Society is in trouble when culture is ignored.”

Twenty-six states, including New York, require arts credits for high school graduates

Week of Theater Wisdom

Michael Feingold’s essay on ethnicity and casting in the theater.

What Audience Engagement Means…and What It Shouldn’t Mean (Ageism)

Posterity Review: Ibsen, Hoping for Immortality (As Are We All)

Posterity2It was only at the end of “Posterity,” Doug Wright’s new play that imagines the real-life encounter between Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen and a sculptor doing a bust of him, that the point of it became clear to me (although the title should have been a tip-off): How will any of us be remembered? Are even great artists ever guaranteed immortality?

Hamish Linklater John NobleWhat finally brought these questions into focus was the last scene between the deep-voiced Australian actor John Noble as the majestic, cranky Ibsen and the sexy performer Hamish Linklater as the wild bohemian sculptor Gustav Vigeland. Ibsen expresses regrets, enumerating some of his (real-life) cruelties and misadventures. “Are these things your statue might confess?” he asks the sculptor, oddly…and with great pathos. It’s a moving and intriguing scene. But it’s insufficient payoff for the too-static two hours that preceded it.

Wright imagines that Vigeland hates making Ibsen’s bust and Ibsen hates sitting for it. Vigeland only wants to sculpt Ibsen to stay in the good graces of the city official who commissioned the work, in hopes that the city will also give Vigeland money to create what he really wants to do – a fountain with magnificent sculptures of everyday people. (The actual fountain is now part of the Vigeland Park in Oslo, the world’s largest sculpture park of a single artist.)

Ibsen’s motivations are less clear: He admires Vigeland’s work, and has sat for many other artists before, but he is over 70 now, prefers to be remembered when he was more hale, and resents Norwegian officials fawning over him now, after decades of their indifference, because of his success elsewhere.

“Two dozen plays! Apparently that’s insufficient to guarantee me a place in the public’s memory. No, I must be lionized in some god-forsaken park, where not the people but the pigeons will offer their accolades. This is what they call a tribute!”

So why has he shown up at Vigeland’s studio at all?

But then Ibsen changes his mind, after he has a stroke (the climax of Act I), when during his feverishness, he is visited by the devil who (as he recounts to Vigeland in Act II) told him that he will only be remembered “if the ills which enraged you, which forced you to pick up a pen, endure. Your best stab at immortality? If men remain greedy. If women remain belittled and enslaved by convention.”

Ibsen agrees to sit for the bust. But Vigeland’s assistant neglected to keep the clay moisturized so it is not useable. Vigeland simply pretends to be preparing the sculpture as Ibsen sits unaware.

This is surely somehow a metaphor, but it also neatly crystallizes the problem with the play. Unlike, say, John Logan’s “Red,” where we see the painter Mark Rothko energetically at work laying down canvas and spreading paint, “Posterity” has little action, and not much more than a glimpse into the artistic process: When the play begins, we see Vigeland putting his hand on the back of one of his two nude models, and then carrying the hand back to his sculpture of her. But that tantalizing initial gesture is pretty much all we get. Derek McLane’s promising set of an artist’s atelier winds up being a tease. There is also no special insight into Ibsen’s plays, nor even much discussion of them, and the tidbits of Ibsen biography often feel artificially inserted: Ibsen carries around a quote praising his work, for example, from a then-unknown student who happens to be James Joyce. There is little drama – the conflict between the two artists feels manufactured, much of the set-up improbable. “Posterity” is a talk show – one laced with intermittent humor and occasional intellectual heft, but not enough to keep consistently absorbing.

There are three other characters in the play. Henry Stram plays the sculptor’s agent Sophus Larpent, who arranged the meeting with Ibsen. Dale Soules and Mickey Theis portray two of Vigeland’s (fictional) models, one an old woman who was the agent’s housekeeper, the other the assistant who has dreams of achieving artistic success. All three have moments in which they, too, reveal their obsession — which, Wright makes clear, is everybody’s obsession —  with being remembered.

Full Cast

Posterity

Atlantic Theater

Written and directed by Doug Wright; sets by Derek McLane; costumes by Susan Hilferty; lighting by David Lander; music and sound by David Van Tieghem; dialect coach, Deborah Hecht

Cast: Hamish Linklater (Gustav Vigeland), John Noble (Henrik Ibsen), Dale Soules (Greta Bergstrom), Henry Stram (Sophus Larpent) and Mickey Theis (Anfinn Beck).

Running time: two hours and 10 minutes including one intermission.

Posterity is scheduled to run though April 5

 

What Audience Engagement Means…and What It Shouldn’t Mean (Ageism)

Anti-elderly billboard in Slings & Arrows, satirizing ageism in the theater (stAgeism)

Anti-elderly billboard in Slings & Arrows, satirizing ageism in the theater. (The caption reads: “Don’t Bother.”)

Melissa Hillman has written a new essay, The Lies We Tell About Audience Engagement, that is both inspiring and infuriating.

One of the smartest theater writers on the Internet, Hillman is the artistic director of Impact Theatre in Berkeley, and normally blogs as Bitter Gertrude, but this essay is part of Theatre Communications Group’s “Audience (R)Evolution” series.

Hillman first points out that “audience engagement” has no clear definition, meaning different things to different people. This won me over right away, since so much theater jargon is ambiguous. Indeed, at TEDxBroadway, Leslie Koch of Governors Island suggested eliminating the phrase “audience engagement” from our vocabulary. “Everyone talks about engagement but only consultants use the word ‘engagement.’ Real humans/audiences don’t use it, unless they have a ring on their finger, so you shouldn’t either.”

In her new essay, Hillman then goes on: “The only thing on which we all seem to agree is that it’s tied so strongly to attracting young, diverse audiences that it’s essentially now code for that.” But, she adds, when people talk about the inability to attract such audiences, they are leaving out an important fact: Such audiences are attending the “vibrant, thriving indie scene” that exists “in most American urban centers” — theaters that are too small and too poor to be included in the statistics.

The solution for any theater in getting more diverse audiences, she writes, is basic: “Tell the stories that audience wants to hear, all the time, charge realistic prices, and create a welcoming environment—one that truly values them rather than fetishizes them but otherwise treats them as unimportant.”

So far, so good.

Then there is this passage, which prompted me at the beginning to nod and at the finish to shake my head:

“The indie scene is dominated by women directors, and is much younger and more diverse than big budget theatre. As soon as theatre gets to a certain budget level, the women and people of color both backstage and onstage become much more scarce, and the audiences—and the programming– get whiter and older.”

She mentions “older” four more times:

“…older, well-heeled donors..”

“…the older, whiter community upon which [big-budget theaters are] inextricably financially dependent…”

and twice, “that older, white demographic.”

Here it is, yet another example of what I’ve called stAgeism: Anti-Elderly Attitudes In The Theater. Why must advocates for “diversity” (another word that has different meaning for different people) present older audiences as the enemy?  As I’ve tried to point out on numerous occasions:

1. “Older” doesn’t necessarily mean “whiter” — every ethnic and racial group has its own elderly. It also doesn’t necessarily mean “well-heeled,” nor does it exclude women. (Why is the gender parity of audiences not celebrated?)

2. Individual older theatergoers do not necessarily resist the kind of work that Melissa Hillman and others say attract a “younger, more diverse” audience. Ask people like Nella Vera, the director of marketing and communications for Theater for a New Audience (whose new home is the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn), and she will tell you that older audience members tend to be more open to new work.

As I wrote to Seth Rozin of Interact Theatre Company of Philadelphia, who in an otherwise similarly praiseworthy article, included what I considered a similarly dismissive passage towards older people, saying they eschew “riskier” work:
Let’s be specific. What I know is NYC theater. When I attend shows by the Living Theater; at BAM; by the Civilians; at The Flea; at St. Ann’s Warehouse (all theaters/theater companies that do new work often at the cutting edge) or at theaters like Repertorial Espanol or Abrons Arts Center (theaters that do work about different cultures often in languages other than English) I observe an audience made up of a mix of ages. It’s true that I’ve noticed the audiences seem to skew younger at The Brick, Bushwick Starr, and the Kraine, but is that because the art in these places is “riskier” or because they are newer and the accommodations less convenient and/or more physically uncomfortable?

As playwright Keith Josef Adkins, the artistic director of New Black Fest, has written: “I have heard dismissive and insensitive blanket remarks about the 60 and over crowd. In my observation, there is a fear and a frustration that a large portion of that demographic is not interested in younger, African-American, LGBT, Latino, women and/or Asian theater practitioners. Substantiated or not… it is how many feel and what they believe about the power of the elderly in American theater. So, yes, perhaps a genuine conversation about the future of theater and the upside and downside of the 60-and-over demographic is paramount.”

When do we begin this conversation? How about now, Melissa Hillman, before you yourself become older, and feel the sting of this casual ageism.

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