Mike Daisey on how theater fails America still. New Season Announcements. #Stageworthy News of the Week

Fifteen years after Mike Daisey created a show called “How Theater Failed America” he provides a blunt update in the essay below: Nothing has changed and, after COVID, former theatergoers “have left the building.”

It’s true that theaters across America are living through grim times. The Public Theater ended its Under the Radar Festival after 18 years. Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave festival this fall, announced this week, will have only seven programs, compared to 31 in 2017, most of them running for only three days.  LA’s Mark Taper Forum just canceled its 2023-2024 season, prompting the LA Times to observe:

“The hard lesson learned — during closures that in some cases lasted close to two years — is that audiences won’t quickly return in nearly the numbers needed to make budgets.

“The result is a painful, and unprecedented, contraction of regional theaters nationwide. Vibrant, essential leaders of the industry including New York’s Public Theater, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Dallas Theater Center and San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, among many others, are experiencing various levels of pain — fighting to keep doors open despite dwindling ticket sales, increased production costs and hesitant, recession-wary donors. The result: drastic cuts to programming, layoffs, candid pleas to subscribers about an industry-wide emergency.”

But in New York City at least, a new performing arts center two decades in the making, PAC NYC at the World Trade Center site, has announced its inaugural season, and longtime Off Broadway theaters soldier on — Signature, Second Stage, and Atlantic each announcing exciting-sounding works for their 2023-2024 seasons. Details below, after the week in New York theater reviews, and the week in theater-related anniversaries.

The Week in New York Theater Reviews

Days of Wine and Roses


The Doctor


The 11 Tony winners of 2023 you can still see — 4 of them, be quick!

The Week in Anniversaries

Watch The World Celebrate Bloomsday 2023

Fathers on Broadway

Watch Juneteenth on Broadway: Celebration and Contemplation

The Week in New York Theater News

World Trade Center’s PAC NYC Announces Inaugural Season

In the works for more than two decades, the performing arts center at the World Trade Center site, now known as PAC NYC, will open in September. Its first season highlights include
 a “Pose”-like CATS play
a new play by the creators of  Reservation Dogs
a solo play by Laurence Fishburne 
a new opera by David Henry Hwang about a Chinese-American solider
a “genre-defying exploration of justice” by Bill T. Jones

Signature season

Sunset Baby, by Dominique Morisseau, January 30-March 10, 2024

East New York, Brooklyn. Nina’s estranged father Kenyatta, a former black revolutionary and political prisoner, reappears to obtain a coveted piece of her late Mother’s legacy.  While Kenyatta had visions of changing the world, his daughter became everything he feared.

Orlando, written by Sarah Ruhl, featuring Taylor Mac, April 2-May 12

An adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel about a character who begins as a young man, who serves as courtier to Queen Elizabeth and travels through many centuries, becoming a 20th-century woman trying to sort out her existence.

Three Houses: A New Musical, written by Dave Malloy April 30 – June 9, 2024

Susan is in Latvia. Sadie is in New Mexico. Beckett is in Ireland.  Three strangers come together for a post-pandemic open mic night parable about magic, madness, and the end of the world.

Second Stage season:

“Spain” by Jen Silverman. Two filmmakers make a documentary on Spanish Civil War, funded by the KGB.

“Appropriate,” 2014 darkly comic American family drama by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins coming to Broadway in December.

A new play (as yet untitled) by Paula Vogel, coming to Broadway in April 2024

“It’s 1962, just outside of D.C. and matriarch Phyllis is supervising her teenage children, Carl and Martha, as they move into a new apartment. Phyllis has strong ideas about what her children need to do and be to succeed, and woe be the child who finds their own path. “

Atlantic Theater’s season:

Infinite Life, a new play by Annie Baker, starring Marylouise Burke snf Kristine Nielsen, running August 18–October 8 with opening night set for September 12. Set in Northern California, the play centers on five women holding a philosophical conversation in the open air as they grapple with suffering and desir

Buena Vista Social Club, a musical by Marco Ramirez, directed by Saheem Ali (Fat Ham), running  November 17–December 31, with opening night set for December 12.  Inspired by the Grammy winning 1997 album of the same name, the musical tells the story of the artists involved in the album’s recording while featuring the Cuban music, with music produced by David Yazbeck (The Band’s Visit)

BAM’s 40th Next Wave Festival, October 19 – January 13, 2024

Geoff Sobelle’s FOOD (NY Premiere ) Nov 2—18:       
an intimate dinner party performance where acclaimed theater maker Geoff Sobelle
uses smell, taste, touch and audience instruction to feed a meditation on the ways and whys of
Lynette Wallworth’s HOW TO LIVE (after you die) (US Premiere) Dec 7—9:          L
Lynette Wallworth spent her early adulthood like any average person—acting as a Bible-
interpreting prophetess in a radical Pentecostal community in Sydney. In her BAM debut, the
Emmy Award-winning Australian artist deftly shifts her work from film to stage to share an
incisive and deeply engrossing morality tale for our times—one in which she just happens to be
the protagonist.

Jan 11-13:          Huang Ruo’s Angel Island (NY Premiere)

Oct 19—21:        Gregory Maqoma and Thuthuka Sibisi’s Broken Chord (US Premiere)
Oct 27—29:        Rachid Ouramdane’s Corps extrêmes (US Premiere)
Nov 2—4:           Trajal Harrell’s The Köln Concert  (NY Premiere)
Nov 28—Dec 2:  Okwui Okpokwasili and Peter Born’s adaku, part 1: the road opens (NY                                                        Premiere)

There were 4.12 million Tony viewers this year,  down slightly from last year (Hollywood Reporter)

Deeksha Gaur,co-founder and general manager of Show Score, has been appointed the new director of Theatre Development Fund, succeeding Victoria Bailey, who is retiring after 22 years.

Under pressure from the Biden administration, ticketing companies like Live Nation and Seat Geek say they will make it easier for consumers to see the full price of tickets they want to buy, including the fees that can often add more than 30 percent to the total cost of an order. (NY Times)

Mike Daisey, above, in his 2008 play “How Theater Failed America” (NY Times review.) Mike Daisey below on how theater continues to fail America (from his Facebook post):

Fifteen years ago, I made a show called “How Theater Failed America.” In it, I traced my own journey through the theater and why it has inspired me…while also talking about the dream of the American regional theater and how it had failed.

There was the show, and the conversations around the show, both formal and informal. If I was going to take a swipe at boiling down the biggest ones, they’d be:

1) Theater administration has grown and displaced artists as the center of the theater. Artists exist as a necessary evil, because some art does have to be made, but the focus of American theater is increasingly arts administration and the ‘real estate’—both literally, in terms of the building, and metaphorically with ‘the work’ being replaced with ‘the building’.

2) The theater has grown increasingly out of touch with its existing audiences and allergic to cultivating new ones. This happens because those in charge like things as they are. Even when they do wish for change, there’s a paucity of imagination about how that might happen, and no appetite for bold moves.

3) Ticket prices keep rising, despite everyone agreeing they are too high—because those in charge are addicted to old models, and don’t want to find a way to disrupt the idea that a high price means high value, as theater is still a passtime of the upper middle class. They don’t want lower ticket prices.

4) Theater is a passtime of the upper middle class (read: rich) not just from the audiences, but from the artists—no one else can afford to do it—to the administrators to everyone. No one acknowledges this is part of the story, and I would argue might be the whole story.

Nothing has changed in the last fifteen years.

I know it feels like some things changed—like Covid, which has managed to bring many of these growing issues to a head. But in truth all Covid did was accelerate a process that has been going on as long as I have been in the theater. It gave many audience members who stayed away a few years a chance to reflect on if the theater they see moves them enough to come back—now that it cost what it costs while also having a chance of giving them the plague. 

We know their answer. Numbers are off by at best a third, and often closer to half. This isn’t an analysis piece, so let’s just say they are off “a lot”. And theater have now had a full season (some have had almost two!) so it’s clear—the chance to win back those people is gone. They have left the building.

I went to an arts happening last week where some of the intelligentsia of the American theater made an evidence board, addressing the ostensible question of what has happened. There was some great thinking on display, and some interesting connections—it was successful as art. I don’t see anything like that happening from the leadership of the American theater, where in a healthy ecosystem it would be. 

I made my own version of an evidence board fifteen years ago. And after all the talking and late night drinks and loud invectives, and some very sincere and real tears for this form we all love…I watched it keep walking down the road it is walking now. 

If they had started in earnest fifteen years ago, maybe things would be different. We’ll never know.

In Memoriam

Glenda Jackson. 87, actress and politician, Oscar and Tony winner, six-time Broadway veteran

Actor Treat Williams, 71, six-time Broadway veteran starting with “Grease”), best known for the movies Hair and Prince of the City , after a motorcycle accident.

Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre to Dim Lights in Memory of Tina Turner, June 21

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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