Theater and Politics: Election Week Debates

Times Square on Election Night. Mixing Theater and Politics.

Is New York City, or New York theater, completely back to normal?
Hell no.
Because of all the canceled performances, Sandy cost Broadway about $8.5 million and the effect continues. Opening date for Glengarry Glen Ross starring Al Pacino, for example, has been pushed from November 11 to December 8, with the producers citing Sandy as the cause of the delay.

Still, Annie opened this past week (see below) and three shows WILL open on Broadway this coming week:
The Mystery of Edwin Drood on Tuesday, November 13
The Performers on Wednesday, November 14
Scandalous on Thursday, November 15

Whether because of the election, or post-traumatic reaction to the storm, or just because they had more time on their hands, theater people seemed to have more debates than usual this past week, about theater, about politics, about theater and politics – and about whether theater must be clear; whether the public has any taste; whether theater smells. And a new study asks: Do the arts make people more political?

Sunday, November 4
Morgan James (@MorganaJames): My first album comes out a month from today
Jonathan Mandell (@NewYorkTheater): Any Sondheim on it?
Morgan James: Nope. It’s a celebration of Nina Simone.

Louis Botto, ‪Playbill columnist for 40 years, theatrical encyclopedia and a very lovely man, died today at age 88.

Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812: Phillipa Soo and Lucas Steele

Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812, a must-see example of immersive theater by the greatly talented Dave Malloy ends November 17 at Ars Nova – an extension from its original closing date. See it! This is a show that is mandatory for anybody who has read “War and Peace,” and sure to inspire many who have not read it to pick up Tolstoy’s great novel.
Lest that sound intimidating: “Comet” is not school; it is a party! Full review

Monday, November 5

The rumored Broadway musical about Kurt Cobain? “There will be no musical,”says his widow Courtney Love.

David Yazbek (@DavidYazbek):  Thank Fucking Christ

Love is losing out on what have been a lot of money. Mamma Mia has made ABBA an estimated $6 billion, more than from their concerts or records. Jersey Boys: about $2 billion for Frankie Valli

Artists came to rescue unbidden of Sandy-damaged The Kitchen and many other arts groups in the city.


The Whale at Playwrights Horizons

My review of The Whale

The main character of “The Whale” is 600 pounds, but one of the many pleasures of this funny and affecting new play by Samuel D. Hunter, being given a splendid production with a universally first-rate cast at Playwrights Horizons, is the realization that the title, like the play itself, turns out to be about much more than just Charlie’s morbid obesity. Full review

Wendy Rosenfield ‏(@WendyRosenfield):  OMG, love that show. Samuel D. Hunter is the playwright laureate of the coming apocalypse. Him & Peter Sinn Nachtrieb.

Tuesday, November 7, 2012


I’m SICK of sports metaphors in election coverage:slam dunk,Hail Mary,ground game. I asked for suggestions for theater metaphors instead, and raised the curtain on this new approach:

Campaign 2012 has felt longer than the preview period for Spider-Man

This is Ohio’s Hamlet moment. Will it result in a bloodbath?

We’re waiting for definitive results from Ohio. As for Florida, we’re probably Waiting for Godot

Barack Obama Gets An Encore

(Note: CNN showed election results in the theater district, not in Yankee Stadium.)

More theater political metaphors


I’ve seen several shows recently that seemed deliberately to obscure – Alone – and others that were full of metaphors and resonance but made sure to be accessible on the surface – such as The Whale.

Clarity and accuracy are priorities in journalism. Where do they fit in theater? How important? Depends on type of show?

 William Akers:  On stage, clarity is king, but accuracy should never distract from the story.

Jason Capelli @NYgalavant Are you talking about storytelling or actors’ diction and elocution?

 Jonathan Mandell: Both! If it’s never OK for an actor to be unclear, why is it all right for a playwright or a director?

Tony Campbell ‏(@tonytones87): Haha! Precisely!

Tamara Winters ‏(@tamaraneo): As a director, I say it isn’t ok, ever. Even (especially) alternative storytelling requires clarity of voice/purpose.

 Billy Flood (‏@Bflood28): Depends on your intent

Andy Mientus ‏(@andymientus): Art isnt always literal. Actors must be clear in intention but a play can elicit a reaction in more ways than literal clarity

Katherine Mitchell ‏(@Kat_Mitchell01): Playwrights are never unclear, merely ambiguous 😉

Alison Farina ‏(@alisonfarina): There is much elegance and skill involved in What Is Left Unsaid as opposed to Overwriting To Hide Imperfection.


The Museum of Art and Design is presenting The Art of Scent,1889-2012. 1st exhibition “to recognize scent as a major medium of artistic creation” Nov 20-Feb 24

We have lighting designers and sound designers, even projection designers. Why are there no scent designers in the theater?

Sean Bryan ‏(@seanjbryan):  The company I work with has previously employed a scent designer and  the cooking consultant on our latest show is also doing that. Margaret Fulton: Queen Of The Dessert, a new Australian musical about one of our national living treasures

Jonathan Mandell: 1. Do you mean “dessert” or “desert”? 2. Is this the first Australian smell-o-musical? 3. Are you kidding me?

Sean Bryan: No,  no, dessert. Absolutely serious. Opens in previews next week friday. Some national buzz . We may be the first Australian smell-o-musical. It’s an angle we haven’t used for marketing…maybe we need to.

Jonathan Mandell: How does the scent design work?

Sean Bryan:  It’s a small house [in which we]  strategically place cooked food- onions, garlic, a red wine sauce etc

Here in the United States, smells seem restricted to the movies. “The use of scents in conjunction with film dates back to 1906,” reaching apotheosis in 1960 Smell-o-Vision’s “Scent of Mystery”

Meryl Wheeler (‏@MamaMeryl):  Not to mention John Waters’ “Polyester,” filmed in “Odorama.”

Howard Sherman (@HESherman):  Many would argue the apotheosis was John Waters’ POLYESTER, in Odorama.

 Jonathan Mandell: Others that it was the nadi

Howard Sherman: In any event, we’re grading on a rather narrow range of achievement.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

No surprise: Sandy wreaked havoc on Broadway box offices, with ticket revenue and attendance plummeting more than 30 percent.

“Storms will not stop us..Theater’s one of the oldest art forms known to man and it will continue”~producer Barry Weissler

Signature Theater celebrates the 32-year career of playwright David Henry Hwang with two revivals and Kung Fu, about Bruce Lee.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


In an interview with Time Out theater critic David Cote in Theatermania, Cote says: “‘Public taste’ is sort of an oxymoron”

Jonathan Mandell: Did you really say this?

David Cote (@DavidCote): That’s ultra reductive,  (I admit a “zinger” which I supposedly pooh-pooh), but what I mean is, taste is very subjective and  large masses of people don’t have a unified taste, even if certain movies or songs or plays are huge hits

But what I also mean, in a way, is that the work that appeals most is often the worst, or most tastele

Jonathan Mandell: Appealing to the “largest common denominator”automatically makes something bad?

James Sims ‏(@SimsJames): In my opinion, often

David Cote: Not automatically, no. But let’s make a distinction between things that are commercially successful versus canonical. Sondheim is canonical, but why has PHANTOM run for 26 years and not SWEENEY TODD?

 Jonathan Mandell: Isn’t it “the public”and “commercial success” — over a long period of time — that *make* works of art canonical?

David Cote: I guess I mean the canon of critical respect and perennial academic interest, not just popular stuff. Then again, kitsch & trash have been subjects of academic inquiry four years. Even upholding standards makes me sound reactionary

 Jonathan Mandell: I think the dichotomy between “popular” & “critically respected” only makes sense with current works untested by time

James Sims: That’s a tough one. Can you point to some examples?

Tyler Moss ‏(@TylerJMoss): I feel like one can find examples in both.

Jonathan Mandell: Works that have lasted tend to be both popular and critically respected. Critics are not a wholly separate species.

James Sims: Ha. Yet, I would argue that a few critics fell of the evolutionary path a long while ago. Ergo, different species.

Howard Sherman: Good is qualitative and subjective. Popular is quantifiable and objective. Not mutually exclusive, though.


Storify transcript of Howlround’s hourlong chat on Twitter:  Politics and Theater

The first question was: How do you define political theater?

Mike Daisey (@mdaisey), the monologuist, answered basically: All theater is political.

Among other questions discussed:

How do you define conservative theater?

Why are there so few politically and socially “conservative” theatermakers? Is this actually true?

Is there any relationship between commercial theater and conservatism / nonprofit movement and liberalism?

What are some examples of political plays that are multidimensional and complicated, without a good and a bad side.

After the formal chat, there was more discussion:

Julián Mesri ‏(@enemyofthestage): Conservative theater has dominated for a while now.

Joshua Conkel ‏@JoshuaConkel Exactly. Plays are more “conservative” than not. How many naturalistic rich white people plays this year?

Julian Mesri: Ironically enough, theater today skews more to the demographic that lost this election than the one that won it

Jonathan Mandell: You guys are smushing together political views and lifestyles and demographics unfairly.

Pia Wilson (@pwilson720)How is theater not skewing more to the demographic that lost the election, especially in commercial theater?

Jonathan Mandell What does this mean, “the demographic that lost the election”? Obama could not have won without “rich white people”

Pia Wilson: The demographic that lost the race is overwhelmingly white, male and evangelical Christian. Theater is overwhelmingly geared towards the white, older (forgot to mention them), male, Christian audience.

Jonathan Mandell: The theater I go to regularly is in no way ‘geared to’ Christian evangelicals. That would be interesting, actually.

 Pia Wilson: Maybe not evangelicals but Christian. Judeo-Christian ideals are in the background of the majority of theater today.

Jonathan Mandell: What’s so scandalous about “Judeo-Christian ideals [being] in the background of the majority of theater today”

Pia Wilson:  I didn’t say it was scandalous (that’s your word). I said it’s the de facto. I’m saying those aren’t the only good ideals.

Anthony Warlow (Oliver Warbucks) and Lilla Crawford (Annie) in ANNIE at the Palace Theater

My review of Annie: Sandy is Sunny on Broadway

You could not count me an “Annie” aficionado before I saw its third Broadway production, which has opened tonight. “Annie” to me conjured up nothing but “Tomorrow” sung badly by generations of cloyingly precocious girls.  But then again Sandy meant something different then as well….James Lapine’s well-timed revival is shamelessly sentimental but also affecting;dopey but endearing;razzmatazz but blunt about tough times.. Full review

Friday, November 9, 2012
Matt Doyle (@MattfDoyle) SO SO honored and grateful to join the company of Book of Mormon as Elder Price.

 Tonya Pinkins (@tonyapinkins)  I’m collecting a list of favorite Music Theater Icons who act better than sing. Who comes to mind for you? Some of mine are Rex Harrison, Angela Lansbury.

Celie’s Two Fangas ‏@MsCeliez2Fangas Difficult question. Elaine Stritch?

Howard Sherman: Robert Preston

Jonathan Mandell: Nathan Lane?

Joe Allen ‏(@JoeAllenNYC)  Bea Arthur

Jonathan Mandell: Nathan Lane?

Tonya Pinkins:Ann Reinking. I think there are plenty. Most of my favorites

Denny Blake and Juliana Smith of “Isaac Babel and the Gangster King” at Kraine Theater

My  review of  “Isaac Babel & the Gangster King,”a Russian-Jewish Man of La Mancha, sort of (and a work in progress)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Storify transcript on TCG’s Fall Forum on diversity

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Do the arts open hearts — increase civic-mindedness, tolerance? A new study funded by the National Endowment of the Arts says YES

Study (pdf): Impact of the Arts on Individual Contributions to U.S. Civil Society

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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