THE AЯTS: The beautiful, bold and Constitutional case for public funding

The Culture Wars in America began on May 18, 1989, according to a new show entitled “THE AЯTS” that launches the new season at La MaMa, when Senator Al D’Amato of New York ripped up an art gallery catalogue on the floor of the Senate, and Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina called artists jerks.

They were attacking individuals such as performance artists Karen Finley and David Wojnarowicz, and photographers Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, because the National Endowment for the Arts had funded their provocative work.

“Something happened to us after that,” says Kevin Doyle.  “We’ve forgotten the bold, beautiful arguments that created the NEA and the NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities] in the first place.”

Doyle is the playwright and director of “THE AЯTS,”  a theatrical documentary collage that makes the case for public funding for the arts by looking at its history and the lasting effects of the attacks.  The “R” in the title is backwards, Doyle says, “because we’re talking about the precarious position artists are in, and how we got here.”
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NEA Gives Grants to Dozens of NYC Theaters. Then Trump Proposes Eliminating It

President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposes ELIMINATING the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

(To send a letter of protest to your Congressman, and other suggested actions, click here)

A few days earlier, the NEA announced grants of $24 million (full list here), including some three million dollars for 149 theaters, dozens of which are located in New York City, for shows such as the ones above.

To give a sense of what the NEA does, below is a list of those New York theaters and what the money is for. The grants range from Bedlam’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion ($10,000) to Lincoln Center’s production of My Fair Lady ($35,000) which is based on Shaw’s Pygmalion.

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Broadway Resists, With Light and Love. BroadwayCon Glitch. Week in NY Theater

The theater community in New York and across the country countered a depressing week coming out of Washington D.C. (#potentialgrizzlies, #alternativefacts) with events signaling resistance but full of hope.

The Ghostlight Project saw people gather outside theaters in all 50 states – including 50 in New York City, plus Times Square – to shine light, literally, against what many fear is the coming darkness.

The Broadway stars who performed at the Concert for America  at Town Hall expressed optimism from the very first song — Kelli O’Hara sang Cockeyed Optimist from South Pacific. Brian Stokes Mitchell sang America the Beautiful, Billy Porter a bluesy version of Edelweiss, with the lyric “Bless our Homeland forever.” Betty Buckley Peter Gabriels’ song “Don’t Give Up.” All the performers sang “What The World Needs Now Is Love,” and, as the finale, “Let the Sunshine In,” from “Hair.”

And Chita Rivera — celebrating her 84th birthday today — sang and danced “America” from West Side Story

“We, this day, with song and dance and performance, are consecrating this day with hope,” said Cornell Brooks, the president of the NAACP, one of five social justice organizations that will receive the proceeds from this concert and what organizers Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley promise to be subsequent similar monthly events. (The others are the National Immigration Law Center, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, the Southern Poverty Law Center.)

Natalie Douglas at

Natalie Douglas at “Inaugural Ball” at HERE

Not all was sweet. At the (counter) Inaugural Ball, which inaugurated Sanctuary, a month-long series of new plays at Here Arts Center, Natalie Douglas sang a stirring “Mississippi Goddam,” Nina Simone’s angry Civil Rights Era anthem. But then Douglas followed that song with “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell:

We are stardust, we are golden
We are caught in the devils bargain
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden

from the March on Charlotte. Someone knows their Mary Poppins!

from the March on Charlotte. Someone knows their Mary Poppins!

Scenes of Resistance


Staged Resistance – A look at how the political resistance of theatre artists is playing out on and off stage in New York, with a focus on the new plays presents in The Resisters Project. “We gathered together for catharsis and community,” says Ashley Jacobson, Artistic Director of The Dirty Blondes, the five year old “feminist theatre company with a taste for provocation” that put together The Resister Project.

The Week in New York Theater Reviews

Jitney 3


Eleven years after his death, playwright August Wilson answers Donald Trump’s bleak depiction of “inner cities,” with “Jitney,” the first play Wilson wrote in his ten-play American Century Cycle, but the last of the ten to be produced on Broadway, in a superbly acted and directed production that’s running at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theater through March 12…


Made in China

Wakka Wakka, the theater company behind Made in China, says the show is “inspired by true events.” I suspect the true part doesn’t include Mary and her neighbor getting sucked down her toilet and winding up in the People’s Republic of China, where a dragon eats them.

This puppet musical – equal parts surreal fantasy, bawdy romantic comedy, barbed political satire, and hilariously inventive visual spectacle — does include at least one true event, sort of. In a verified story that occurred in 2012, a New York shopper discovered inside the packaging of the boots she bought from Saks Fifth Avenue a handwritten note from someone seeking help, because he said he was a captive in a Chinese prison factory…

The Week in New York Theater News

BroadwayCon confetti at opening musical in 2016

BroadwayCon confetti at opening musical in 2016

BroadwayCon faces dispute with Actors Equity Association

One week before one week before the second annual theater fan convention “organizers have hit a snag: a labor dispute with the Actors’ Equity Association, who has asked its members not to perform, or even rehearse, for the event until an agreement is reached.”

Schedule of events for BroadwayCon, Jan 27 – 29


A report in The Hill suggests that the Trump Administration is looking to privatize PBS, and eliminate entirely the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities.


Broadway’s Musical Deluge “Nineteen new musicals and revivals have opened or are scheduled to open through April 27, the cut-off for Tony Award eligibility. That’s the biggest tally since 1980-81”

“Morning in America, Nov 9, 9 a.m.” 1-minute monologues in response to election Feb 18,19 Primary Stages at Cherry Lane


Seasons of Love, a tribute to Rent at The Cutting Room.
The concert will include songs from the musical, as well as stories from former cast members.

Watch: Rebecca Naomi Jones: Taking a Break from Musicals


David Bowie’s Unfinished musical

“As we left the restaurant, David’s assistant said, “I know I don’t have to tell you to keep this project a secret.” To which I replied, “Do you really think a musical about an alien, a dead Bob Dylan, and the work of Emma Lazarus is an idea someone is likely to steal?””


“Roe” by Lisa Loomer

 Can a Play Influence the Abortion Debate?

Saturday Night Live spoofed Kellyanne Conway’s ambition with a parody of Chicago the musical. Some would call this especially apt, since Orwellyan Conway murders the truth.

JFK and the Arts, 50 Years Later


“I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty.”JFK, May 29, 1917-Nov 22, 1963. There will be a memorial at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, where Kennedy was shot 50 years ago.

JFK50yearslater2President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago today, an event that will be memorialized around the country — a solemn ceremony in Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, where he was killed; at the JFK Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, where he grew up, and in the White House, where he served as the 35th president of the United States.  President Barack Obama will meet privately with members of the Peace Corps, which was established during the Kennedy Administration.
In New York, the Public Theater will debut “Regular Singing,” the fourth and final play by Richard Nelson about the Apple Family that take place “in real time” during seminal moments in modern American culture. “Regular Singing” is set on November 22, 2013 – today – the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death.

JackieKennedyandLeonardBernsteinJFK was a great supporter of the arts — some argue he was the last such president we’ve had. When he was killed Leonard Bernstein led the New York Philharmonic in Mahler’s Second Symphony, known as the “Resurrection,” and said “American artists have for three years looked to the White House with unaccustomed confidence and warmth,” Bernstein said that day. “We loved him for the honor in which he held art, in which he held every creative impulse of the human mind, whether it was expressed in words, or notes, or paints, or mathematical symbols.”

 JFKartquoteBelow are some quotes by JFK about the arts, collected by the Kennedy Center of Arts in Washington:

“There is a connection, hard to explain logically but easy to feel, between achievement in public life and progress in the arts. The Age of Pericles was also the Age of Phidias. The Age of Lorenzo de Medici was also the Age of Leonardo da Vinci, the Age of Elizabeth was also the Age of Shakespeare, and the new frontier for which I campaign in public life, can also be a new frontier for American art.”
Letter to Miss Theodate Johnson, Publisher, Musical America, September 13, 1960

“I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”
On behalf of the National Cultural Center which would come to bear his name November 29, 1962

“To further the appreciation of culture among all the people. To increase respect for the creative individual, to widen participation by all the processes and fulfillments of art — this is one of the fascinating challenges of these days.”
“The Arts in America,” Look, December 18, 1962

“This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor.”
State of the Union Message, January 14, 1963

“I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”
At Amherst College, October 26, 1963

“I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty.”
At Amherst College, October 26, 1963

Scene from Regular Singing by Richard Nelson, set in (and debuting) on November 22, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Scene from Regular Singing by Richard Nelson, set in (and debuting) on November 22, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Playwright Mark Ravenhill: ‘Be new, a freak, challenging, disruptive, naughty, angry, irresponsibly playful’


Below is a transcript of  playwright Mark Ravenhill’s opening speech at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival — necessary because the BBC reports it this way: “One of Britain’s leading playwrights has said funding cuts could be “a good thing” for the arts because artists would be less “safe and well behaved”.

MarkRavenhillJudge for yourself if that is what he is saying:

Yesterday I woke up, checked my Facebook feed first off as I always do and read this status update from a young playwright:

“Dreamt I was arriving at a dinner with a family where the husband had arranged to have the wife killed. She knew it and had chosen to accept it. I was the only other person at the table who knew. But if I let on, I’d die too. Plus, the man had an empire of van rentals and I’d been told I could have one for the Edinburgh Festival really cheap. I woke up before I’d decided what to do. But it wasn’t looking good for the wife. I feel so bad knowing that the offer of a cheap van could weaken me to that point.”

Welcome to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This is a unique performing arts festival. Nowhere in the world is there such an enormous range of work performed in one city in a few weeks. And nowhere is there such an open festival: if you can find a space, anyone can perform here at the Fringe. In this way, it’s a democratic festival. And yet like all democracies, it’s incredibly hard work – enormously costly to be here, to find a space to perform in and live in and to promote your performance.

And so I’m sure the young writer is not alone in dreaming about the dilemma of a choice between murder or a van. And in your waking hours I’m sure you’ve faced – not maybe not the possibility of murder – but some pretty sharp practice to make sure that the show goes on.

Because that’s the curious paradox about being an artist, particularly one who decides to do something as reckless and rewarding as bringing a show to the Fringe Festival. At the same time, to be a good artist you have to be the person who walks in to a space with integrity and tells the truth. That’s what marks you out from the audience and why they’re sitting over there and you’re standing up there: you are the most truthful person in that room.

And how do you get to be there? Chances are by being a liar, a vagabond and a thief. Now, maybe as you get to be a bigger name, you can subcontract out the shadier aspects of the job. Liar? That’s what my publicist does for me. Vagabond? That’s what my agent’s there for. Thief? What else does a producer do?

But certainly at the beginning of your career you’re going to have to be – to use a well worn but suitably Edinburgh based metaphor – DR Jekyll (I’m the one who tells the truth) and MR Hyde (yes, damn it, kill your wife if it means that I get that deal on the van).

It’s a schizophrenic existence. If you allow any of the hucksterism, fakery and swindling to seep in to what happens on the stage then your work as an artist is compromised and so then why frankly bother doing the thing at all? But if you allow any of the honesty and integrity from the stage to enter in to real life then chances are you’re not getting that van, that venue, that audience.

The performing artist, I’d like to suggest, has got to slice their personality as neatly as they can right down the middle, just like a Bertolt Becht heroine. In Brecht’s play Shen Te, The Good Person of Szechuan, was only able to do good in the world because she was also able to disguise herself as Shui Ta who collected the debts owed to her and saw off her rivals I business. And Anna 1 was only able to survive in the world (and send her family in Louisiana the money to build a new home) because her sister Anna 2 inverted the seven deadly sins and insisted that each of them were necessary virtues for survival in the modern world. Although Brecht didn’t set out to write a survival guide for performers at the Fringe Festival, I’d suggest that you could do a lot worse than read The Good Person of Szechuan and The Seven Deadly Sins and use them as your inspiration for how to conduct your affairs.

Because there’s little doubt that the Mr Hyde – the dark killer – aspect of our natures are going to have to be working even harder in the years to come if the shows are going to carry on going on.

Let’s say it again – because still it somehow doesn’t seem quite real in our bubble of existence – capitalism has experienced its biggest economic crisis since the 1930s depression, a depression which brought us genocidal dictatorships and world war. Our world, in ways that we can’t yet understand, is totally different from the one we were living in six or seven years ago. The paradigm has shifted and new ways of living and behaving are going to be needed if we’re going to make our way forward. There’s no possibility of pressing a restart button and going back to – when exactly? What about 2005? When it was all really lovely and that nice New Labour were in power and the economy seemed to doing splendidly and the arts were really, you know, valued. That’s a false memory of course and we’re not going back there. Any party that gets in to power in Westminster at the next election will be committed to the ideology (and plain wrong mathematics) of austerity. So we’re going to be making our art in increasingly tough times for at least a decade or more. We’re going to have to be complicit in more metaphorical wife murdering if we’re going to get the metaphorical van for our show.

But let’s look on this as a good thing. Didn’t the arts become safe and well behaved during the New Labour years? I think they did. I think they weren’t telling the truth – the dirty, dangerous, hilarious, upsetting, disruptive, noisy, beautiful truth – as often as often as they should have done. Why? Because most artists are decent, liberal, if only everyone were nicer to each other and let’s heal it with a hug sort of folk and so voted New Labour. And when New Labour came in to power there was much Gallagher brother greeting and talk of ‘creative industries’ and after a while for a few years a modest but real terms increase in government funding for the arts. And we artists were so grateful for that relatively modest bit of attention and money that we changed substantially what and who we were as artists.

Suddenly, we were talking about working in the creative industries, about the parts that the arts could play in urban renewal, about business plans and strategic thinking, about sponsorship relationships with the corporate sector that would allow us to fund educational work with our developing audiences, about the role that the arts could play in social inclusion.

What were you doing Mummy in the decade before the world hit the biggest economic crisis in almost a century?

Well, darling, I was learning not to talk and think like a grungy, angry artist but think and act more like New Labour cultural commissars and their friends in the banking sector.

Mummy, would they be the ones who got us in to the whole mess that I’m going to be dealing with for my whole life time?

Well, now you put it like that darling, yes I suppose they rather were.

And you spent a decade trying to be more like them, Mummy?

Well yes I rather did.

And wasn’t that a rather stupid thing to do?

Well, not at the time, darling, no; because you see I thought it would get me some funding and then I could build a career path for myself in the creative industries.

And did that work out for you Mummy?

Shut up and go a nick a can of beans for your tea.

In short, I think the arts sector as a whole went astray during the last couple of decades. Just as the Titanic was heading towards the iceberg, we were attending seminars and workshops, learning how to facilitate more effective refrigeration in our sector of the cultural industry when we could have been looking through the telescope and plotting an entirely different course. The bankers and the politicians weren’t looking ahead to spot the approaching iceberg. But neither were we: we were entertaining the same bankers and politicians at our latest gala, corporate sector friendly, socially inclusive performance evening.

As we were heading towards systemic collapse, the arts sector were teaching themselves to think and talk and act the language of the problem and not the solution.

Of course none of us were blessed with supernatural foresight – although there were plenty of signs that the economy that we were living in in the last decade of the old millennium and the first decade of the new was an unsustainable bubble. But let’s not regret what we did wrong then. But let’s look at where we are now. A moment in time when the political vocabulary is bereft of any other ideas than the barren path of austerity, with no major attempt to change the way the banking system or housing market or any other part of the system which proved itself to be so at fault. Politicians and a large part of the electorate are still playing that ‘bit of local difficulty, hang on for a couple more years then we can get back to 2005 again’ game.

Which is why the artists are needed more now than ever before. You’re the ones who have the freedom if you choose to use it to think of new possibilities, crazy ideas, bold, idealistic, irrational, counter-intuitive, disruptive, naughty, angry words and deeds. Because these are the only things that can adequately respond to such a huge meltdown in capitalism and the only way that we might find a way forward in to a different future.

Now is the time to ask the impossible questions and try out the wildest answers. What really is the value of love, of friendship, of work, of sex, of education, of gender, of ownership? Question them, destroy them, rebuild them. What is the value of money? And is capitalism as both practice and ideology the best way to live? The least worst way to live? The terrible but only thing we can come up with way to live? Something that we need to dismantle and start all over again to save ourselves and our planet?

Questions, questions. No easy answers. But we have to think that big if we’re going to catch up after the lost years of cosying up to bankers and politicians.

So thank god we’ve got a government in Westminster that we can properly hate and whole-heartedly attack. Because anger and hatred are some of the best fuel for the artist – strong enough fuel to maybe take us all the way in to imagining totally different ways of living our lives.

I said the freedom to think the impossible but of course the freedom to choose what to think is a difficult place to get to and often an economically costly one. The challenges before us all – particularly new, young artists from who we so desperately need our new ideas and new ways forward – are massive.

For a start there’s the real possibility that in the next decade we may see the end of all public investment in the arts – maybe not in Scotland if it goes its own way – but in the rest of the UK. I feel it’s worth saying this. There are lots of people I work with in the arts who won’t even think that thought ‘the possible end of all public investment in the arts’, as though if you don’t allow yourself to think it then that somehow makes it less likely to happen. But I feel we need to say it if we are going to come up with a full blooded concerted defense of public money for the arts.

But also I think we need to have a Plan B. What if the public funding of the arts, which has earned itself an unassailable position in some other countries, was a passing moment in British life? After all, it didn’t even begin until the 1940s, had its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s and has been eroded and shrinking since the 1980s. Historically, that’s a very short period of time. Business as usual would be the arts operating entirely within the marketplace with patrons and sponsors. Can you in any way see yourself making your work and speaking to an audience in that context? Or is that so abhorrent to you that you will enter in to a massive fight for public investment in the arts over the next few years? And if you are going to enter in to that fight – what are you really saying art is for to your community?

Because I think the message in the last couple of decades has been very mixed, in many ways downright confusing: we are a place that offers luxury, go on spoil yourself evenings where in new buildings paid for by a national lottery (a voluntary regressive tax) you can mingle with our wealthy donors and sponsors from the corporate sector and treat yourself to that extra glass of champagne but we are also a place that cares deeply about social justice and exclusion as the wonderful work of our outreach and education teams show. So we’re the best friends of the super-rich and the most disadvantaged at the same time? That’s a confusing message and the public has been smelling a rat. If the arts are for something, who are they for? And what are they doing for them? Does the Westminster government’s attack on the very poorest in our society amount to a class war? Might an artist have to choose what side she is on? In a society which has reached such a wipe gap between the rich and the poor as ours – as wide a gap as almost a century ago – then the artist can’t I suggest be for everyone and if we don’t do something pretty brave then we will be by default for the super-rich.

So it’s at least worth thinking: ‘no public money’. Would that mean all of the performing arts becoming safer and duller? Would I be able to choose to ask the impossible questions without public investment? Or maybe even would I be more able to ask the impossible questions without it? Maybe the artist free of any relationship with any public funding body is freest of all? If I didn’t have to fill in forms, tick boxes, prove how good, nice, worthy me and my project are to a well meaning gatekeeper maybe I’d make something better – more truthful, more radical? Anything and everything is worth thinking about and questioning.

But I would suggest that if anyone tells you to think and act more like the business sector, laugh at them and tell them that we tried that and it didn’t work and it meant us colluding with a system in collapse. And if you meet young artists here who use the words ‘this industry’ or ‘my career path’ or ‘ working on our policy document so that it fulfils all the criteria for the next funding round’ smile at them with sympathy for they are speaking a language that became redundant some five years ago.

Because the truth is that you are already fantastic entrepreneurs but you just find that word for what you is a bit naff and rightly so. Who wants to be like some wanker off Dragon’s Den? You’re much better than those tossers who line up and try to get themselves a mentor for their business plan. You have raised, begged, borrowed, stolen the money to get your work here, you are pounding the streets day and night with your flyers in your hand talking your audience one at a time to come and see your show, you are sharing overcrowded vans and flats and working out how to build the most incredible teams to get your shows on. And you do all this using your own ways of doing things, using your own vocabulary. You don’t need to be more like those in the corporate sector. They need to be more like you: your inventiveness, your imagination, your ability to co-operate, to promote yourselves, to genuinely engage with the people who come to see your show.

You are artists. You are making art. You have your own language. You have your own unique way of doing things. You are making your own rules. You don’t want to put yourself in front of a panel of people who’ve been successful in this ‘industry’, who will turn their chair around if they like the sound of your voice, who will mentor you to do things in the same way that they did them. Do you want to be like the X Factorrunner up who speaks in today’s Guardian about his delight at being invited to perform at the Walmart shareholder’s convention? Delighted to sing cover versions for a bunch of arseholes who profit from scandalously low paid workers on zero hours contracts? Do you want to be doing your stand up routine at next year’s debt collector of the year awards ceremony? Sure, it might pay a few bills but it will another step deeper in to the shit when you could be finding a way that all of us might get out of it.

Don’t look for mentors, I would suggest, who are decades older than you. People like me – ignore us. Don’t look for business models from last year. Make it up as you go along. Do everything as if for the first time. As one of the most beautiful men who Scotland ever produced once sang: ‘Rip it up and start again’.

Because the audience here isn’t going to pay money to see you seeking a consensus, avoiding conflict, making do with the way things are right now, being nice and obedient, ticking the boxes that someone else has defined for you. The audience are paying money to see you be new, a freak, challenging, disruptive, naughty, angry, irresponsibly playful – whatever form telling the truth takes in your act. But always telling the truth.

So in a dream you’re sitting there knowing a man will kill his wife but you don’t want to stop him because then he won’t cut you a deal on your van for the Fringe Festival. What are the possible solutions? Yes, collude in the wife’s murder is an option and get your van. Stop the murder and lose the van and so carry your set by foot all the way to Edinburgh is another. That’s surely the most morally correct thing to do and like most morally correct things it’s incredibly hard to do. But if year after year you stop the murders and carry your sets for hundreds of miles you will have a free conscience and maybe that will allow you to make the best art. Or maybe all those hundreds of miles of set carrying will knacker you so much that you’ll produce terrible art. Are there any other solutions? I suppose become rich enough yourself that you own the van company or socialize van ownership so that we all own the van and share its use equally. Or carry a gun at all times and shoot the man before he can murder his wife and then steal the van and ask the wife to join you for an adventurous few weeks in Edinburgh. Many possibilities, many choices. But you’re artists – and the wonderful thing about being an artist is that any of those choices and many many more are choices that you can make. You’re our dreamers, our explorers of new possibilities and we’ve never needed you more than we do today.

Have a great festival.

Speaking Theater to Power: NYC political candidates address arts issues

John Clancy, executive director of the League of Independent Theater, which conducted its first ever political candidate forums.

John Clancy, executive director of the League of Independent Theater, which conducted its first ever political candidate forums.

The League of Independent Theater held its first political candidate forums last month, and is planning to make endorsements in New York City political races.

With some 50,000 independent theater artists in New York City, roughly 86 percent of them regular voters, the league’s executive director John Clancy says he is convinced that an organized voice can make a difference. Clancy is a founding artistic director of the New York International Fringe Festival, but his aim is to bring the concerns of the city’s theater artists in from the fringes.

Jonathan Mandell: The League of Independent Theater began in 2008. Why?

John Clancy: I realized that Broadway had a league, Off-Broadway had a league, but the traditional Off-Off Broadway sector of New York theater did not. We had no organized, politically active and aware organization to represent our unique interests and challenges.  And so, meeting with artistic directors and managing directors, venue operators, playwrights, actors, directors and stagehands, I formed the League of Independent Theater along with our Steering Committee.

What does the league do?

John Clancy: The league articulates the needs of independent theater and fights for its strength and sustainability.  Practically, we offer rehearsal space for our members. We’ve drafted a Performing Arts Platform, and we’re working on a new Code or contract we’ll ask Actors Equity Association actors and stagehands to bring to their union.

What are the essential points of the performing arts platform?

John Clancy: Five of the planks deal directly with real estate issues, such as creating access to empty and under-used city property for rehearsal and performance space, and including our member venues in the favorable electricity and utility rates enjoyed by religious institutions.  We are advocating for affordable artist housing, since it’s difficult to make theater in a city in which you can’t afford to live.  We want plaques at sites of historical import for our community, so the citizens of New York can recognize and honor the extraordinary contributions of our sector.

What did you learn from these forums that you think it is important for New York City artists to know about?

 John Clancy: First, no candidate is anti-art or anti-theater.  They may not know about it or participate in it that much, but no one is against it.  What they need is for us to explain in simple terms how they can help us continue to enrich the civic, cultural and economic value of the city.  That’s what our Performing Arts Platform does.  I’ve also learned that real change takes real effort, follow-up meetings, strategy sessions, long conversations, accepting temporary setbacks and staying focused on the end result.

Below are videos of the league’s candidate forums. In parentheses are the races for which they are running. (CC means City Council) And beneath the videos is the league’s Performing Arts Platform

Panel 1
Kevin Coenen Jr. (Mayoral)
Robert Jackson (Manhattan Borough President)
Julie Menin (Manhattan Borough President)
Peter Vallone (Queens Borough President)

Panel 2:
Corey Johnson (CC Manhattan 3)
Yetta Kurland (CC Manhattan 3)
Ben Kallos (CC Manhattan 5)
Hill Krishnan (CC Manhattan 5) Did not show
Jenifer Rajkumar (CC Manhattan 1)

Panel 3
Panel 3:
Marc Landis (CC Manhattan 6)
Mel Wymore (CC Manhattan 6)
Mark Levine (CC Manhattan 7)
Cheryl Pahaham (CC Manhattan 7)
Angel Molina (CC Bronx 8)

Panel 4:
Laurie Cumbo (CC Brooklyn 35)
Kimberly Council (CC Brooklyn 37)
William Russell Moore (CC Bronx 18)
Matthew Silverstein (CC Queens 19)
Cathy Guerriero (Public Advocate)
Letitia James (Public Advocate)

Performing Arts Platform

1. Create access to low-cost and/or no-cost Community Facilities Spaces that are currently available and remain unused throughout the City through the creation of a Community Facilities Space Database.

2. Create access to empty and unused City property to be re-purposed as temporary rehearsal, office and (if appropriate), performance space.

3. Include non-profit performance venues in the favorable electricity and utility rates enjoyed by religious institutions and the VFW.

4.  Implement a proposal that would reduce or eliminate property tax assessments for those non-profit organizations that have an artistic mission and/or rent performance space to similar non-profit performing arts groups with artistic missions of their own. This proposal was unanimously ratified by all twelve (12) Manhattan Community Boards.

5. Secure affordable permanent low-cost housing for working artists.  In addition, work to provide access to affordable healthcare for these artists, depending on the status and reach of the Affordable Care Act at the time of negotiations.

6. Support the commission of an economic impact study for the independent theater territory.

7. Work with the Department of Cultural Affairs to expand the Cultural Institutions Group to include the independent theater sector’s anchor venues.

8. Install plaques at sites of historical import and rename streets after the founders of the independent and Off-Off Broadway community.

Theater Subscriptions: Does anybody subscribe anymore? What are alternatives?

Robert Falls, the artistic director of  the Goodman Theater in Chicago, recalls the way he was able to get good seats with his subscription to the Lyric Opera.

One day Danny Newman, who handled subscriptions for the Chicago opera company, called him: “You’re in luck! The Shapiros, long time patrons, died in a car crash and we can move you into their seats!”

Newman was the godfather of theater subscriptions, as I point out in my article on theater subscriptions for American Theatre Magazine, and spent three-quarters of a century proselytizing for them.

But now nearly every theater in America seems to feel, at best, ambivalent about theater subscriptions. This is because, like the Shapiros, theater subscribers are dying off, and they are not being replaced with an equal number of newer theatergoers. People are just not as interested in subscribing anymore.

I asked the Twittersphere: When is the last theater subscription you had and why did you stop?

David Loehr@dloehr) Never have had one. I’ve never found a full season I’d want to see, even ridiculously discounted.

Laura Burgos (@lauraebg) Never had one. Can’t afford one. Also: I choose by content & therefore prefer freedom to skip around

Elisa G. Schneider (@Corellianjedi2 I had a subscription to Portland Center Stage. I moved away so I stopped. Sad times.

Diane Wilshere (@petricat666) I currently have five, and one for ballet. One of those is a flex pass style; the others traditional model

Natalie Jankowski (‪@Natty_Lynn): I’ve thought about it and they’re usually too expensive. I prefer to travel around and see things I’m drawn to.

Howard Sherman (@HESherman) I bought my first-ever theater subscription last year, to Signature

Emily Sigal (@Stagemaven) I got a first time membership to the Vineyard Theatre 2 years ago because of the NHT gang’s lab

Vineyard (@vineyardtheatre) And we’ve been glad to have you ever since. We can’t do without our members

Daniel Bourque (@Danfrmbourque): Subscribe to the Met for years; almost ONLY way to get any kind of flexibility or lower pricing.

Charlene V. Smith@charlenevsmith): I had one to the Brooklyn Academy of Music because they brought in such great stuff from England. I traveled from DC for it. I stopped when I became a full time actor because I couldn’t afford trip to NY every other month

Ellen Burns (@StageElf) I’m a member of three, subscriber to three, flex for one, due to ease of getting/exchanging tickets. I prefer membership

Most of these responses are from theater-makers as well as theatergoers. It’s bracing how many don’t have subscriptions at all.

That is why many theaters are exploring new ways of engaging their audiences, alternatives or supplements to subscriptions. In the magazine article,  I write about:

ArtsEmerson’s memberships. For $60, theatergoers get one free ticket to this Boston-based theater company that is part of Emerson College, and then ability to buy tickets to all the theater’s other shows before they go on sale to the general public. Executive director Rob Orchard says: “I doubt there is any artistic director or managing director who would start a theater today with subscriptions as their primary model.”

ACT of Seattle’s flex pass; For 25 dollars a month, theatergoers can see as many shows as they want.

Mixed Blood Theater’s Radical Hospitality: The Minneapolis theater gives many of their tickets away for free

There are theaters who are doing quite nicely, thank you, with theater subscriptions, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Arena Stage in Washington D.C.

Romney versus Big Bird

Romney: “I love Big Bird.” But he would kill its funding.

Here is the part of the transcript of the first 2012 presidential debate that concerns Big Bird. Debate moderator Jim Lehrer had asked: “What are the differences between the two of you as to how you would go about tackling the deficit problem in this country?”


What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test — if they don’t pass it: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it. “Obamacare” is on my list. I apologize, Mr. President. I use that term with all respect.


MR. ROMNEY: Good. OK, good. (Laughter.) So I’ll get rid of that. I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That’s number one.

Bob Hanle of Madison, Wisconsin had this reaction, registered as a comment on Gail Collins’ column about the debate:

“Public broadcasting accounts for 0.015% (15 hundredths of 1%) of the federal budget. Big Bird may be tall, but he lives on chicken feed.”



PBS has issued a statement that says in part:

We are very disappointed that PBS became a political target in the Presidential debate last night. Governor Romney does not understand the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers to our nation….

For more than 40 years, Big Bird has embodied the public broadcasting mission – harnessing the power of media for the good of every citizen, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay. Our system serves as a universally accessible resource for education, history, science, arts and civil discourse.