Black History Month begins bittersweet, with the death last week of Cicely Tyson, an actress whose electrifying portrayals of resilient Black women served as inspiration for many. The new August Wilson Commemorative Forever Stamp is now available at the post office. A new online exhibition Amplified Dignity, drawings of black dancers (including Judith Jamison) by Al Hirschfeld. Watch below a discussion of black poet Robert Hayden’s most famous poem, read by Bill Murray, Moses Ingram and President Joe Biden
“We’re in 1,000 different rooms that become one room for one hour,” Mike Birbiglia exults about…yes, Zoom, a platform he resisted, along with every performer and audience member. During most of the pandemic, many theaters have created digital programming noncommittally — largely, according to a new study by TRG (summarized by American Theatre), in “an effort to remain tethered to their subscribers.”
But at the same time when everybody involved in theater is thinking about the return of physical stages in myriad ways and trying to push it along (see the Week in Theater News below), the truth is theater makers and theater lovers are leaping online. As I point out below in my weekly calendar of theater openings this week: Something has apparently clicked as we near a year of shut-down stages.
Given how many theater advocates are calling these days for “a new Federal Theatre Project,” this newly-published book about the first one is, if nothing else, well timed. In The Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939: Engagement and Experimentation (Edinburgh University Press, 256 pages), Rania Karoula provides a useful reminder of the government agency’s aims and accomplishments as well as its shortcomings.
The Week in Theater Reviews
Book Review: The Federal Theatre Project, 1935-1939: Engagement and Experimentation
The Week in Theater News
Voters of the 74th annual Tony Awards have been called to submit their ballots between March 1 and March 15. The Broadway League and the American Theater Wing, sponsors of the Tonys, say the ceremony announcing the reopening will take place “in coordination with the reopening of Broadway.” In other words: Who knows?
The Tonys, which were initially scheduled for June 7th, 2020 at Radio City Music Hall, announced nominations on October 15, 2020.
Theatrical unions IATSE and Actors Equity, as well as the Broadway League, are among those in the entertainment industry offering their “venues, workers and resources to federal and state governments to aid in distributing vaccines across the country.”
“We are a ready workforce, and we will remain so as long as it isn’t safe for large numbers of people to gather indoors,” Kate Shindle, president of Actors Equity, wrote in an article for Deadline. “The more we all pitch in to accelerate vaccine distribution for the most vulnerable among us, the sooner our arts workers – and, equally important, our audiences – will be able to get back to doing what we do.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that indoor dining will return to New York City at 25 percent capacity on Valentine’s Day
Little Island, a public park built on pilings over the Hudson River that is aiming to open in the Spring, has created long-term residencies for theater makers Tina Landau, Michael McElroy and PigPen Theater Co, as well as the tap dancer and choreographer Ayodele Casel, building the arts programming from the ground (water?) up.
Jujamcyn, the owner of five Broadway theaters, is switching from Ticketmaster to SeatGeek, which is significant in that the ticketing company deals not only with paperless tickets but other technology that would help usher in a contactless future: “the technology could be used to allow customers to order food and drink, arrange transportation, purchase merchandise and get other information.”
Also anticipating the future, the “Vertical Theatre Group” of London and Hong Kong-based Stufish Entertainment Architects has revealed a new concept for a socially-distanced Vertical Theater, representing a “new era of performance venues”.
“This freestanding tourable structure, has a roof to protect the audience and stage from the elements, with optional open sides to allow for optimum airflow and natural ventilation. The audience sits in balconies which can accommodate groups between 4-12 people or designated ‘social bubbles'”.
Alexis Soloski, a theater critic for The New York Times, has been named winner of the 2020-21 George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. Soloski’s articles about theater during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic “transcended the limits of traditional reviews” and showed “insight, empathy, and wit.” Here is the essay cited in the award (“With real theaters closed, our critic unlocked handcuffs, tried to land a plane and accidentally scalded herself, all while attempting immersive performances from her Brooklyn apartment.”) She used No Proscenium immersive theater guide to help book five remote online experiences.
The Fourth Annual Women’s Day on Broadway will take place virtually on March 12th beginning at 1pm. The event’s theme will be “Reflecting Courageously, Transforming Collectively,”
The Jimmy Awards, the high school theater competition, will be presented online on July 15.
“New York is Dead. Don’t Come Back” billboard in L.A., banner in Miami are the Brooklyn-based art collective called The Locker Room’s way of sending “a love letter” to those who’ve stayed and a Bronx cheer to those who left NYC. They plan a new sign in NY subways: “No Broadway, but plenty of characters.”
Why COVID won’t kill cities. The telephone didn’t in 1876 or the computer in 1971, neither did 9/11, although that was the prediction each time.
Rest in Peace
Cloris Leachman, 94. Her remarkably varied 8-decade acting career featured an Oscar ( for Last Picture Show) nine Emmys (including for Mary Tyler Moore Show) and 10 Broadway shows. from Shakespeare & O’Neill to Rodgers & Hammerstein
The Week in Theater Videos
Janet Yellen was sworn in as 78th Secretary of the Treasury; the first was Alexander Hamilton. To honor the connect, Dessa (Hamilton Mixtape alumna) composed Who’s Yelen Now!
A song from last week’s Birdland fundraiser
Those Winter Sundays from Theater of War productions, read and/or discussed by Bill Murray, Moses Ingram, President Joe Biden and everyday New Yorkers
Here’s Robert Hayden’s complete poem:
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?