Theater Blog Roundup: Getting Around the Pandemic Wall. Rethinking Race in The Book of Mormon.

An actor on the autism spectrum writes about how theater is “a surprisingly welcoming place,” and you can see how some theater bloggers over the past month have been reacting to a year of isolation and deprivation by immersing in welcoming memories — of favorite plays based on real events, of a pioneering set design, of ragtime music. (“In memory,” one blogger quotes Tennessee Williams, “everything seems to happen to music.”) Others are looking ahead, to a better theater after the pandemic. And one confesses to being stuck in the present: “We will NOT get through this. But we will get around it….”

Terry Teachout, the Wall Street Journal’s theater critic, is active in a range of platforms, from Twitter to podcast (Next up: TikTok?), to which he links in his blog About Last Night. Throughout February, he offered a sprinkling of noteworthy quotations.

Tennessee Williams:

  1. “The theatre is a place where one has time for the problems of people to whom one would show the door if they came to one’s office for a job.”

2. “In memory everything seems to happen to music.”

Terence Rattigan on the difference between plays and novels: “Never forget that the spoken word is not twice nor three times, but five times as potent as the written word, so that what would occupy a page in a novel should take up only five lines in a play.”

Flannery O’Connor: “I come from a family where the only emotion respectable to show is irritation. In some this tendency produces hives, in others literature, in me both.”

In Bitter Gertrude, actor and playwright Cameron McNary writes a guest post, Acting with Autism, about being a theatermaker who’s on the Autism Spectrum. He makes the case that the character Henry Higgins in Shaw’s “Pygmalion” is on the spectrum,  then details how “the theater can be a surprisingly welcoming place to someone with ASD” (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and then offers as an example Anthony Hopkins.

In Broadway and Me, Jan Simpson writes about Black History Portrayed in Civil Rights Plays, describing 19 of them, from “All the Way” by Robert Schenkkan to “Waiting to be Invited” by S.M. Shephard-Massat

In Broadway Journal, Phillip Boroff details how Black actors in The Book of Mormon are pushing to change the musical’s portrayal of Africans. A letter the cast sent complained, among other issues, about how new actors “feel rushed to learn their music and steps, but have not been equipped with the information to know the difference between broad racial stereotypes and satirical storytelling leaving them unsure of their feelings on what they are asked to perform.” The producer and creative team promised to address the concerns expressed in the group letter “when it’s safe to get back into the rehearsal room again”

In two different blog posts (so far), George Hunka considers ragtime. .  In the first, Ragtime’s soundworld, he offers some history of the musical genre, and attempts to define it, not an easy task: To novelist E.L. Doctorow and fans of the 1973 film The Sting, “ragtime” meant solo piano compositions, occasionally orchestrated for the small instrumental ensemble. But these compositions emerged — like the vocal ragtime song, like the semi-improvised “ragging” of European piano music, like the music of banjo and guitar players and string and jug bands of the period — from a particular social and musical culture which all of these ragtime forms shared. In discussing ragtime, one is often forced to winnow the definition down to only one or two of these various forms, a process ultimately unfair to the others which have just as much call on the definition as solo piano music.”

In the second, he profiles ragtime composer Arthur Marshall (1881-1968), and includes his composition The Pippin from 1908

In JK’s Theatre Scene, Jeff Kyler continues his monthly series on favorite theater design by highlighting Mimi Lien’s scenic design for the Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

“….the shock of going from the austerity of that war bunker-lobby to the opulence of an art-covered, brass-railed space. It comes at you in waves, as you realize every seat is in the middle of the action, that the aisle right in front of you is big enough for dancing Russians to pass you snacks…or illicit notes.”

In OnStage Blog, Chris Peterson enumerates 5 Ways You Can Be a Better Director 
1. Select Different, Obscure or New Material
2.Be more diverse and inclusive with casting
3.Be organized
4.Take on different roles
5.Learn to give a little

And, in what feels like a follow-up, Anne Collin offers  3 Signs You’re Working with a Great Director — which are all about respect: for your time, for your person, and for your talent.

In The Producer’s Perspective, Ken Davenport writes “Hit The Pandemic Wall? You are not alone” and confesses he has too. He links to an article in the Washington Post on the subject, and gives something of a sober pep talk: “…we will NOT get through this. But we will get around it, if we take care of ourselves and each other.”

He also writes about 3 Things You Can Learn From Jeff Bezos To Apply To Your TheaterMaking, which are basically 1. “His customers (audience) came first. 2. He was relentless, 3 Amazon makes money in a variety of ways, just as theater makers should have ” a more diverse writer or director portfolio,” as a well as “another business or side hustle.”

Rev Stan’s Sunday theater question is: What is your favorite play based on real events? One of the answers given is “Enron” which indicates that this is a British blogger. (Confession: I LIKED Enron on Broadway, but few others did.)

In Theatre’s Leiter Side, Sam Leiter’s continuing posting of entries from his unpublished Encyclopedia of The New York Stage, 1970-1975, yields two gems.

Sizwe Banzi is Dead, “a collaborative effort by South Africa’s greatest playwright, Athol Fugard, and two Black countrymen of his, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, with the latter pair’s improvisations used as the basis of plot and dialogue.”

6 Rms Riv Vu, by Bob Randall,  “a moderately successful rom-com that reminded various reviewers of a typical Neil Simon play,” that starred Jerry Orbach and a youthful Jane Alexander.

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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