Biden’s Dog. Broadway’s Hope. Will the Arts Be Saved? #Stageworthy News of the Week

What will the election of Joseph R. Biden Jr as President of the United States do for the theater, and the other arts?

“The future of who we are lies in the arts,” Biden told Lin-Manuel Miranda in August during the week of the Democratic Convention. “It is the expression of our soul.” Biden brought up the subject unbidden in a conversation, presented by the Latino Victory Project,  primarily focused on the Latino community,  when he praised Miranda’s “Hamilton” as a “profound educational opportunity (see 13:20 in the video.)

He also had a “theater moment” at the end of his acceptance speech at that convention when he quoted from a play.

As a reporter noted in October,  “if Mr. Biden’s tastes run to 1967 Corvettes, Grisham novels and “Crocodile Rock,” he is, nonetheless, someone arts leaders say has always embraced the practical usefulness of the arts as an economic engine, political action trigger and community builder.” Biden is no JFK, or RBG, in other words, but he’s also no Trump.

“Joe Biden will be the most consequential president for the arts industry in a generation,” said a statement by Mary McColl, executive director of Actors’ Equity Association, which had endorsed Biden. “At a time when live entertainment is still largely dark because of the coronavirus, we will finally have a partner in the White House who will create a national strategy to bring the pandemic under control and put everyone in the arts back to work….”

But what will Biden be able to accomplish without a Democratic majority in the Senate?  The runoff elections of the two separate Senate races in Georgia on January 5 — the Democratic candidates are Jon Ossoff and the Reverend Raphael Warnock — will determine whether the Senate remains in Republican hands.

Matthew-Lee Ehrlbach

Meanwhile, arts advocates say the arts can’t wait until Biden’s inauguration as the 46th president or the convening of the 117th United States Congress; they are pushing for passage now of such bills as Save Our Stages. (Read a new interview about Save Our Stages with John Fithian, head of the National Association of Theatre Owners.)

I wrote about the various proposed arts relief legislation in September, in a post entitled Rallying to Save the Arts after talking to Matthew-Lee Erlbach, an actor and playwright who’s become an arts lobbyist (one of the organizers of Be An #ArtsHero) and bill-writer, the author of the DAWN Act. (Defend Arts Workers Now.) After the  Associated Press and all the networks called the election for Biden-Harris election over the weekend, I asked him two questions to follow up. His edited response:

What is the status of the arts relief bills?
Congressional leadership has signaled that there is movement to finally get something done during the lame duck session. We are hoping that we will achieve economic relief for both the physical and human infrastructure of the creative economy. We are urging Congress to pass an immediate and retroactive extension of FPUC (the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program), a 100 percent COBRA subsidy (extending health insurance for the suddenly unemployed) and an expansion of PPP (Paycheck Protection Program). The livelihoods of 5.1 million arts workers in red states and blue states need immediate relief.

Will the election of Joe Biden make a difference?

We feel a Biden administration understands the size and scope of the problem at hand and will act decisively. We are encouraged that President-elect Biden has consistently shown that he understands the socioeconomic value of the arts

Week in Theater Reviews

Conflict Review: A Political Love Triangle that’s Apt, Satisfying Distraction From Election 2020

Looking for a way to stop obsessing over the 2020 electoral count, I landed on watching this 1925 play about a fictional election.  I previously had resisted this Mint Theater recording because its plot sounded too frivolous for my pre-Election Day mood, but it seemed a fitting distraction now: In the Roaring 1920s, Lady Dare Bellingdon is secret mistress to Sir Major Ronald Clive, who is running for Parliament as a Tory, but then she meets his Labour Party rival Tom Smith, and there are sparks.

I confess I interrupted my viewing of this political love triangle with brief but frequent side glances at news updates. But “Conflict” turned out to be more satisfying than I had expected, as theater and even as politics

Lemon (Lili Taylor) narrating a conversation between Aunt Dan and her parents.

Aunt Dan and Lemon Review. Wallace Shawn’s play about Trumpism

Aunt Dan is hardly the typical Trump supporter.  The character portrayed by Kristen Johnston in the New Group’s online reunion reading of Wallace Shawn’s play was the youngest American ever to teach at Oxford University; sophisticated, sexy, free-spirited, full of gossipy stories of decadent Swinging London in the 1960s, she bowled over her best friends’ 11-year-old daughter,  whom she nicknamed Lemon, becoming like an aunt to her. It’s the adult, sickly Lemon (Lili Taylor) who is the narrator of “Aunt Dan and Lemon.”  Aunt Dan’s influence on Lemon, we come to understand,  helps explain how Lemon now admires the Nazis…

“Aunt Dan and Lemon” is meant to be a chilling and seductive analysis of how  civilized individuals, and by extension a society, can justify cruelty. “Do you actually remember feeling compassion?” Lemon asks, and answers; she doesn’t think compassion exists.

George Gershwin Bidin’ My Time, at 92nd St Y

What is the soul of America? It’s a question that engaged the composer George Gershwin nearly a century before it became a part of the 2020 American election, as we learn in this fascinating and lovely hour of biography and song, part of the 50thanniversary season of the 92nd Street Y’s Lyrics and Lyricists series...I may have started watching “George Gershwin: Bidin’ My Time,” which is available online through November 25th, as a way of, well, biding my time…a form of escape. I was hoping simply for some transporting music.  The music certainly transports, but the program wound up being something of a reaffirmation of American culture; yes, maybe even of American soul.

The Week in Theater News

Jeremy O. Harris Is Spending HBO’s Money on Producing Plays and May Be Funding the Revolution By Helen Shaw
“Most people know Jeremy O. Harris as the writer of Slave Play…. Harris, who is 31, has moved fast through the New York theater world…and he now has a contract with HBO, the much-anticipated film Zola in the can, and Hollywood at or near his feet. But he hasn’t dumped the old toy for the shiny new one. As part of his HBO deal, Harris has secured a discretionary fund for experimental-theater production, essentially a weird-art slush fund. So he’s now a producer, first donating $80,000 from licensing his own plays toward micro-grants for artists and then throwing a little of HBO’s Peak TV money behind works by his own coterie.
“Last week, he had two shows running simultaneously — a beautifully designed Zoom remount of Will Arbery’s Heroes of the Fourth Turning, andMichael Breslin and Patrick Foley’s livestreamed multi-cam experimental work Circle Jerk. Harris contributed mainly (a) cash and (b) hype…”

The Oscar Hammerstein Museum announces The Hammerstein International Youth Vocal Solo Competition, aimed at singers ages five to 23. First-place winners will receive a cash prize, have the opportunity to film their song at Highland Farm and receive a voice lesson with Broadway performers Justin Guarini(of American Idol fame) or Andrew Polec (Broadway’s Bat Out of Hell)

How VR could save theater

Laura Mallows explains how Theatre-in-Virtual Reality can reach those whose go-to artforms might normally be cinema, gaming or visual art.


Election Week Diary

Watch Broadway Election Day Videos (Phillipa Soo, Leslie Odom Jr etc) + Zach Timson, Willie Nelson’

Broadway Tweets: Keep Calm! Wait. #CountAllVotes



Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris’ Victory Speech Video and Transcript: “Democracy was on the ballot”

President-Elect Joe Biden’s Victory Speech Video and Transcript: This is the time to heal in America

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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