Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Opposite

Guy Ritchie is the worst screenwriter in the world, but, to be fair, he is not the worst director. He is only the worst director of the people who actually get to make movies. As we speak, there are human beings walking the Earth -- perhaps as many as a half dozen of them -- with less directorial talent, but they've been safely diverted into other activities.

Perhaps the best use of "to be fair" I've ever come across. Burn a candle for never having your name in that sentence.

(Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Getting Hit, Cont'd

New Leaf looks to a renaissance financial and creative model. So why does it feel like a revolution?


Getting Hit

This is fun read, not for its long wander down a sort of unproductive analytical path, but as an example of getting hit hard by whatever the power of a remarkable aesthetic experience is.

There isn't really any explaining it. I got hit pretty hard a couple months ago here and I was no less restrained in my catalogue of overblown language. There's just something about great art that gets us, both exhausts and excites us. It's what keeps us going back to the theater or the movies or whatever. We want to be so struck.

Crouch does bring up another interesting point about theater today: it bleeds. A lot of theater works to incorporate every medium available, to incorporate into it every technology, but when it comes down to it, the difference is life and blood. Whenever people talk about 3-D movies I always say, "Like a play?" This rarely gets a laugh. Oh well.

(Hat tip: LRN)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Non-profit Accounting...Fun (Updated)

(updated: I changed the earlier title of this post in an effort to reduce the hilarious amount of profoundly disappointed web-surfers. - bn)


(Hat Tip: The Wizard)

Note that The New Leaf, producers of one of my favorite shows of the season, has the smallest operating budget by a rather significant margin (WNEP comes in second).

It's how you use it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Caught the closing of The Mystery of Irma Vep the other night at the Court in honor of my friend Jack's birthday. What a fantastic show.

I always like Closing nights in general - much more than opening - because they tend to feel like a party, rather than an audition. In fact, in the past year, three of my four or five favorite shows I caught on closing night. But, anyway...

Two really interesting things struck me about Irma Vep. First, for all the talk about making theater more like a Rock Concert, this show made it pretty clear: make it great. Really good theater, theater that grabs you by the neck, has the same visceral effect as rock music. That's it. You can toss in a lot of other nonsense that happens to be at rock concerts, but that won't do anything. Make the show exciting, unpredictable, fantastic, and most importantly: share your virtuosity. What makes Rock music or the Blues so accessible and so immediate is how evident their excellence is. When the form is simple, it's easy to shine. How do you know a great runner? He's the one you can't catch. How do you know a great golfer? I don't know: they all seem to be doing the same thing to me.

Theater is a remarkably complicated medium. There's hundreds of hours put into all kinds of things that in the best case, audiences will never notice, but highlighting specific, approachable excellences is what excites audiences.

The other intriguing thing about Irma Vep is its position as a classic. To a surprising degree, the director's art is really most evident when working with a classic text. This is why I suppose, a lot of serious directors spend most of their time working with classics, I imagine, though I doubt they'd admit it. If you already know Our Town, you'll be amazed when there's new life there. This is, by the way, the same reason that even in their own time writers like Euripides and Shakespeare were so astonishing. They were telling stories - we only thought we knew.

The funny thing about this is that the Court's production of Irma Vep situates it as a classic even though all that that entails - being widely known - is lacking. So Graney's astonishing work with the final scene is not received as directorial virtuosity. It should still seem like a tremendous coup, but Graney's a lot less likely to get the credit.

Well here it is, absurdly belated, and completely irrelavent: well done, sir. And to the cast and crew of and all of the unseen hours (you minding the ropes in act two), thanks for your virtuosity.

Monday, December 14, 2009


New Full Storefrontal up on WNEP. Also, if you don't, you should check out Don Hall's blog.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Minstrel Show

After a play this weekend I turned to the person next to me and was forced to ask, "who's going to be the last person to do a minstrel show?" I meant it as a rhetorical question, but her answer was simple: "Do you really think that will happen?"

Oh. Well. No. But why the hell not? On one level I suppose it will always be an underbelly of cultural differences for members of one culture to find it satisfying or entertaining to see members of their own culture "act like" members of another culture. I can see how maybe that's just a human instinct. And maybe even in the way it's "funny" for football players to act like nerds it's "funny" for a white person to "act black." The juxtaposition of cultures, a person will argue, is the entertainment, not actually the ridicule of a single group.

But, life is a lot more complicated than that. In fact, the very idea of "acting black" is a vicious cultural virus, and the even more fundamental idea of interpreting action as color is a remarkably perverse and destructive synesthesia.

So: stop it. Stop assuming you can make racist jokes to me and it will be acceptible because "we're not racist." Don't you understand that you are assuming a white audience? That's bad. Stop expecting a laugh after every time you say "Shaniqua." You will not get one from me. The next time I see a white guy "act black" even to illustrate how hopelessly uncool he is, I walk out. That's the deal.

Now let me complicate this further by saying: cultural differences are funny.

Part of the genius of this bit is that not only does Dave Chappelle have a "white" voice - like every black comic in America - he also has a "black" voice - like every white person in America - and his play with the two stereotypes is what keeps the grape drink joke so dynamic. He is not interacting with a strawman he is pitting two strawmen against each other. So he explores differences from a more complicated way even as he overtly identifies with the black character ("us"/"you"). Interestingly, Chappelle also assumes a white audience (watch his pronouns throughout), a receptive but foreign other, who can't understand him. His use of the n-word too is pretty remarkable: upperclass, yankee, liberals address him with the n-word all the time in his bits.

So, if you have something to say about race, let's hear it. Sober, comic, challenging? Bring it on. "Post-racial"? Bullshit. Stop assuming I won't hate your show for making me complicit in perpetuating the worst and most aggravating self-righteousness of our time, the ludicrously pious pride of your comfortably snide, snickering racism.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mabby Helps People

In the old days, the first son would take over the farm, the second son would go to war and the third son would go to the church. Times have changed, surely, and so my family sent one child to fix the world and the other to play dress up.

Mabby runs a Planned Parenthood clinic in Eagle Rock, California. Regardless of politics, this is an organization dedicated to public health and education, and one brave enough to dive into unpopular topics. Mabby helps people every day. When she goes to work, at the end of the day the world is better. Every day. We talk about the healing power of theater, we talk about its artistic position and its drive to shake the consciousness or change the world, but this isn’t an anxiety of Mabby’s: for her it’s as inevitable as her cup of afternoon tea or the throaty guffaw from her little, be-cardiganed body.

When we’re together, I spend a lot of time teasing her. And believe me, she’s strange, so she makes it easy. But the truth is, I love her and I’m proud of her every day. And no matter what she does next, I know it will involve helping people, because that’s who she is. She came out for Thanksgiving and bought me shampoo. Seriously. And conditioner. Who does that?

Today is her birthday and I hope someone does something nice for her.

Thickening Plot (Seeking Younger Audiences cont'd)

Still, who would have really thought this would be news? I mean if you landed your ship on earth and someone said to you, "As people get older they start paying $80 a night to see this other kind of music," wouldn't you be flabbergasted? Wouldn't you ask why?

(Hat Tip: Thomas Cott)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Cold Shower

From Thomas Cott.
· The [Newest NEA] report shows that since 1982, the number of 18-24-year-olds who said they had any music education in their lives has declined by more than a third.
· For visual arts education, the number has decreased by a half.
· One of the most surprising findings in the report was that people ages 45 to 54 -- who have historically been a significant component of arts audiences -- showed the steepest declines in attendance for arts events. Only 36% of those in this age group attended an arts event in 2008, versus 46% in 2002.

Whole article here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Fugard Chicago, Cont'd

An answer to this question, from Stephanie Kulke of Remy Bumppo:
We actually came up with FugardChicago2010.org after our companies announced our 09/10 seasons and we had all programmed Fugard in same season. This being a very cooperative theater community, in huge part to the League of Chicago Theaters, we quickly got together to brainstorm how to collectively market the productions and share our resources. The League kindly offered to sponsor design of our FugardChicago2010 website - so that it can be used by other theater companies in the future. Thanks for helping get the word out: Fugard and these 3 daring plays definitely merit the attention of theatergoers from Chicagoland and beyond.

I still love this idea. After all the talk about season planning and collectivity after the Macbeth smorgasbord of last year, these companies and the League have actually made steps to do something about it that still grants them artistic autonomy. I can't wait to see how this develops.

Monday, December 7, 2009


I've got a new Podcast up on TheatreInChicago.com. Basically I crashed The Plagiarists' auditions for The Wreck of The Medussa and talked to the producers and a few actors about the audition process. It's a really interesting talk with some surprising bits thrown in. Check it out here, and for a complete picture of auditioning check out Anne Nicholson Weber's podcast from a while back with Casting Directors.

Fugard Chicago

This is a fantastically smart idea. Kudos to TimeLine, Remy Bumppo, and Court for this inspired collaboration. I wonder if this was the idea all along or, if upon realizing that all three companies were producing Fugard they decided to chip in and cooperate. Either way, I love it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I have to say, I'm excited by this show, if for no other reason than I think, of all the shows on Broadway, this is the most likely to get the response "awesome" from a person on the street. Here's how it goes down:

You know that movie In Bruges?


The guy that wrote that? He's this crazy Irish dude who writes all these violent-ass plays - he wrote a new play, and CHRISTOPHER WALKEN is in it.

No shit?

Yeah. He's a guy with no hand. And Sam Rockwell!


Seeking Young Audiences

My spies tell me that this has been the abstract desire of theater administrators for at least thirty years. As a palpable fissure in generational interests and activities emerged so too did the anxiety that what we so long believed an inherent and unshakable good - the theater - would slip like nickelodeons into a background of irrelevance. Indeed, since the advent of cinema a certain kind of person has dreaded the whole-scale collapse of live theater.

The condition is famous. Theater audiences are old. They will keep getting older and then die, and if the storybooks are right, there's nothing we can do to stop them from dying. When they die, no one will take their place, the theaters will be empty and then close, and all that money will be spent on video games.

But, what is a young audience? Is it children? Is it twenty-three year-olds? Thirty-three? Forty-three? As a member of at least one of these groups I sometimes wonder, what's so great about us? Sure, I'd love to see more plays that I like, but who would have thought that every artistic director in the country also wants to do more plays that I like? I don't have any money. (n.b. we could solve both of these problems if you hire me to do your "youth programming," whatever that would mean.)

But children, to a certain extent, are covered. Children's Theatre is an incredibly potent idea and one that everyone should take seriously. We have companies dedicated to performing plays for children all over the city, and I imagine that there could be more. Moreover, though there should always be more money for arts education, there is some, and the institution of the high school play and (I suppose) the high school musical is strong enough that we need never fear its disappearance. So everyone knows that the theater exists. That's a starting place.

Then, the issue is not awareness, we might say, but something more like, "Remember theater? You're invited, it's for you!" And then, the game is making that true. And if we can convince the twenty and thirty year-olds that the theater is for them, and have that be true, and then they come, and they like it, and they come back, and bring their friends, and if we can do that every year for a good percent of these young people, we'll never have to worry again.

But if the question is only about awareness that the theater is for them, we could, on the other hand, wait until they're fifty.

Before people die, if all goes according to plan, they turn fifty. Think about it. If you could get enough fifty year olds to keep your company above water, would you still care if I come? Is what you mean Audience Development and age just seems the most easily conquered subset? Do you want me or my money? I don't have any money.

So if you wanted, you could just make your case to people - "Hey, remember theater? You're invited, it's for you!" - once they turn fifty. And the work, or the exercise or the game or whatever, of getting twenty and thirty year-olds into the theater could be "left" to groups like The Neo-Futurists or any of several other companies that do it really well, like theater for children is "left" to companies formed for that exact purpose. As they age and see theater they will look for theater speaking to their interests and then, perhaps, walk into your house.

My friend Gerald is a jazz pianist who talks about his desire to play for people his own age. I think there's something in that for theater-makers too. Also, new plays are likely to appeal to newer audiences (ex. Chad Diety), and so as a facet of new play development a theater is perhaps wise to cultivate a younger crowd.

So there are reasons you might want me in your theater, some of you. And I know I'm playing devil's advocate, but do all of you? Do you all need me? This strikes me as Last Theater on Earth thinking: a kind of theater that is endemic to arts organizations even at this moment of great collaborative energy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Silent Theatre

New Full Storefrontal up, this one is on Silent Theatre Company. It was a fun challenge to write this article both because John Beer already did a great piece on the company for TimeOut, and the Artistic Director Tonika Todorova dared me, implicitly, to write a piece on the company without any puns on silence, noise, etc. Enjoy.