Friday, January 29, 2010


I just got a call from my dad pointing me to this article, detailing news that a beautiful old theater in my hometown is closing its doors. I wasn't closely involved with the Playhouse (I was, for a short time, an usher), but it makes me sad to think of it not existing.

It looks like they're pausing to re-assess rather than just giving up the ghost entirely, and I hope that's true. It really is a phenomenal old space and, playing optimistic, this may give them the opportunity they need to think about how they can build a more sustainable model, and better serve and represent their community. If they want a mustachioed young director with ties to the community to come help out, I will say this: I'm cold. Pasadena? 67 degrees. Wind: Calm.

Arts-business heartbreak quote:

Eich said the playhouse had pinned its hopes on finding a donor who would give $5 million to have the 684-seat main stage named in his or her honor, but that never materialized.

Emphasis mine. (Hat Tip: LRN)

Thursday, January 28, 2010


This is super smart, and gets at the true democratization of criticism (rather than a republican, or "senatorial" model) that is possible and underutilized in the internet age. The critic's entire ethical legitimacy is derived from his or her position as an audience member - I really, really believe that. What gives me the right to review a show? My ticket, and that I used it. Surely, what makes Kris Vire a good critic is that he "knows something", but even more that he can communicate what he has experienced - what was done, how it was done, and whether it was worth the doing - but it's not his intelligence or his expertise that validates his position, it's where he was sitting last night.

This descriptive methodology of criticism, though, changes when a readership is removed from the equation. The more voices present in a conversation, the less "responsibility" an individual voice has. It is certainly true for me that what I say to a friend about a show (or write here) is different from what I write for TOC. There are technical reasons (word limits, decorum, evenhandedness, etc.) but also there's a fundamental generic discrepancy between a theater review and a theater response. The former is an act of analytical expression, the later is an instance of extroversion. We live in an extroverted world, in more or less than 120 characters at a time we bombard our every acquaintance with our thoughts and - this is what's new - reasonably expect an audience. Talking to yourself on the street is still strange, but talking to yourself on a computer - with hundreds more witnesses - is as natural as drawing breath.

What Oracle is doing here, then, is in encouraging extroversion, directing extant extroversion toward a desirable topic, and forging a campaign of ambitious multiplicity in an overwhelmingly disparate and hyperactive marketplace. I'm excited to see how it goes.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Couple of articles around the web you should peruse...Full Storefrontal on Backstage and new Time Out review of I Am My Own Wife at BoHo.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


A final note apropos of this. The geniuses at TimeOut compile a list. Good news all around.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fugard Chicago Update

It keeps getting better.

Winter's Tale

It's a balmy 31 in Chicago today and the weekend may creep as high as 45. Nevertheless, one of my favorite companies, New Leaf, is continuing their Treehouse Reading series with The Winter's Tale directed by Jessica Hutchinson (with a little scripty help from me) and featuring a really delightful cast. It's at 1pm on Saturday (tomorrow), more info here and here.

I'm really excited to hear it in that space...and free coffee!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Irony et al.

I'm delighted to say that Terry Teachout responded to my earlier post so:

Er, I think he was being ironic...

As there can have been no reason for posting it at all other than in recognition of the irony, I assume what Terry means to point out is that he's in on the joke, which is not actually surprising but is pleasing, I suppose.

I'm sure Mr. Techout does not recall - and I don't fault him for it - but part of the reason I started this blog was on his suggestion. I sent him an essay I thought he'd like, and he suggested that I get one of my own going. I don't think it was meant to be a vote of confidence, but anyway I took it as such and here we are.

But as one who is non-ironically young and eager, I found it profoundly difficult to get too worked up over this. And believe me I tried. Of course I think it's incredibly interesting, and we all want to know what it could mean that a certain number of plays get produced more than any other, what connects them, what - I suppose - we can do to change it or what we can do to replicate them and their success. That said I found both of the responses I linked to (Mr. Teachout's and Mr. Kissel's) to be more programmatic than explicative.

Terry is upset at his perceived lack of classic plays. But the problem with "Classic" plays is that there are so damn many of them. My gut says there were plenty of "classic" productions just not more than 22 of any given one. How could that be a bad thing? Sure if every theatre around the country all did a given play in a given year and if everyone went and saw it, what a congress that would be! What a proclamation about our shared inheritance! But it won't happen, and anyway: how could we decide?

That said I like old plays and would love to see more of the ones that don't get done often. I appreciate criticism as advocacy, I think it's the most honest way to do it, but analysis as advocacy is a little trickier.

Kissel's response suggests without mentioning a real problem in the theater today. Indeed, the saddest and most unsustainable facet of American theater is the education but not really in the way he means. I had the pleasure of helping an Eastern European friend prepare her CV recently and was amazed to learn that she went to the only degree-granting theater program in Hungary. Every year 2,000 kids apply and between 12 and 20 are chosen (14 her year). But anyway even most of them can't actually make a living doing theater. In America, education is big business, and so people will continue to dole out degrees to the young and eager in exchange for a cool $40,000 or even to as much as $160,000, putting thousands of hopeful theater-makers in more debt than they can ever, ever surmount. That is, in fact, why they go to Hollywood. If it were true that the joy of writing were including as many characters as possible I'm sure we'd see a lot more plays like that, and if it were true that writers write for television so they can finally see some good acting I imagine there'd be a lot less horseshit on TV.

I think Kissel is more correct that the emphasis is on plays that are "cool," that seem new without being so, that are remarkable for being well-known. But this neither upsets nor surprises me. Sell tickets, everyone needs to, then build the rest of your season.

I'd also like to point out that the one play Mr. Kissel hasn't heard of (Drawer Boy) is the one that didn't pass through New York on its rise to the top. The impact of New York is larger and more complicated than a lot of people – New Yorkers, Chicagoans, and all Americans – want to talk about. First, as Chicagoans have disturbingly become aware, Broadway means more to Chicagaons in terms of selling tickets than does the idea of Chicago. When the touring production of August: Osage County arrives in a few months it will do so without any mention of Chicago in its publicity information. A way a lot of regional theaters sell tickets is by counting Tonys and Pulitzers and even Obies, I promise none of the materials for August will talk about the Jeffs it got.

But there's another facet to the New York impact on American productions: performance rights. If a New York show is in the works, most of the time publishers will freeze the performance rights for the rest of the country. When Broadway does American Buffalo, Perseverance waits. How much of an impact this has made I can’t really quantify, but it’s enough to make an impact.

Anyway, much ado about nothing in my book. The most produced play on the list: 54. 5.4 productions a year. In 50 states. Sure I wish it were Three Penny Opera or, hell, The Symposium, but it wasn't. Eh. We did 7 Macbeths in Chicago last year. I think it's going to be ok.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Spent last week in California with my family. Flew back to Chicago with this gem:

Mom: You should try using a beard trimmer, Benno.
Me: I tried Dad's once, but it was the most painful thing I ever did.
Mom: You know it's for your face right?
Dad: Can I get a new beard trimmer?

It's that easy, folks.

The sound of my brain screaming

Terry [Teachout], for whom my admiration and affection are enormous, is young and eager.

Posted by this man about this man.

(Hat Tip: Thomas Cott)