Rock on in Little Rock

Congratulations to John Miller-Stephany! The former Associate Artistic Director of the Guthrie is leaving Minnesota after nearly 20 years, and moving on to become the new Artistic Director of Arkansas Repertory Theatre. For most actors around town, Miller-Stephany was the real public face of the Guthrie, since he was the one constantly out and about seeing everyone else's shows (not to mention being the main casting guy at the G).

Now that we've had him for 19 years, Minnesota is sending one of its big names out in the world to take up the helm at another regional LORT theater. So, why, you may ask, should this bit of news lead off an article to whose title I deliberately added the word "controversy"? Well, it's not a an actual controversy around John Miller-Stephany. He's a great guy that we all love, and Arkansas is a perfectly lovely state that we mostly tolerate, I guess. It's just that, immediately after reading this news, I then read an interesting article in HowlRound about the incredible imbalance in minority and female leadership in America's regional LORT theaters, and I couldn't help but notice that this new job change isn't going to change that balance at all.

Again, this is not to knock John Miller-Stephany. Back in the day, it was really refreshing to see that someone over at the Guthrie actually gave a damn about what was going on in his own back yard. Hopefully, he will bring that same spirit to whatever the hell is going on in Arkansas (sorry if it seems like I'm now unnecessarily knocking Arkansas, but the state's Wikipedia page does use the phrase "shiftless hillbillies" more times than it's probably necessary), and I'm sure he'll do right by them.

But I look at statistics like those presented in the HowlRound article—74 LORT theaters; 54 of them helmed by white men—and I can't help but think that the folks behind the LORT system really aren't working too hard to change, are they?

At any rate, good luck, John! Watch out for those shiftless hillbillies, and you should be fine.

Brown enough

Speaking of folks who aren't working too hard to change, remember a few weeks ago here on News and Notes when we spent most of an article trying to remember if we had talked about the importance of being conscious of racial casting when the race of the character is actually important to the message of the show? I think we talked about that. I'm almost sure we did. Many times.

Back then, if I remember correctly, we were specifically talking about Chicago's Porchlight Theatre, and their casting of an Italian guy as the lead in Lin-Manuel Miranda's Tony-winning musical (not that one; the other one) in which the whole point of the show is to show how the son of Dominican immigrants lives in a predominantly Dominican neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, that stirred up a whole bunch of controversy. Apparently, though, it's a big damn surprise to Porchlight's artistic director, which, at this point, shouldn't surprise any of us.

I swear, I remember that we talked about this kind of thing, like, a lot.

So, I've either entered into my own personal Groundhog Day (which, by the way, is now a musical), or artistic directors around the nation simply don't read the news about their fellow theater companies, because a completely different theater company is doing the same damn thing as Porchlight. This time, the offending group is Phoenix Theatre in Arizona, who went out of their way to cast as many latino actors as possible; but when it came time to cast the lead, they figured, "Eh… Iranian is close enough."

So, they scoured Arizona for latinos and came up short. I guess Joe Arpaio has been a little too effective.


Speaking of Lin-Manuel Miranda, I have completely run out of clever ways to segue between sections. Also, he's involved in some other news. Now that he's no longer burdened with performing in Hamilton, Miranda has turned his limitless passion from theater to defeating robots. No, this is not the start of a hip-hop infused Pacific Rim sequel. Miranda, along with New York senator Chuck Schumer, is helping to push federal legislation to crack down on scalpers who use bots to scoop up online tickets before the public has a chance to buy them.

Miranda has been understandably pissed that scalpers sheared off over $15 million from ticket resales to his last 100 performances in Hamilton, which jacked up the price of a ticket to Miranda's last performance to almost $15,000. That's $15 million extracted from the paying public with absolutely no improvements, services or amenities added; essentially, it's money for nothing (but, I'm sorry, Dire Straits, it is not also "chicks for free"). If you're a Chicago School acolyte, then this is just the free market doing its thing to find the correct price of an undervalued product. If you're a normal person, then this seems absolutely insane. (But, to be fair, this statement tends to be true whenever any economist talks to a normal person about any subject)

Ticket reselling laws vary widely from state to state, but there has been a definite trend over the past decade of states relaxing or repealing their laws. Minnesota did this about ten years ago, and, aside from the proliferation of guys standing around downtown Minneapolis screaming "GOT TICKETS!", has it really affected people all that much?

Legislatures get talked into repealing these anti-scalping laws by lobbyists who paint rosy pictures of of us poor common folk who just want to make a few extra bucks on the weekend by selling off a ticket or two; but the actual effect, as the Star Tribune discovered after a deep dive into this issue, is that organized outfits have been able to game online ticketing systems to snatch up large numbers of tickets before us poor common folk even have a chance to see that they're on sale. The use of bots to automatically buy up huge swaths of tickets is already illegal in a dozen states (including Minnesota and New York), but that has not stopped it from occurring. Strangely, simply declaring something illegal isn't enough to curb the actual behavior. There's apparently something called "enforcement" that states haven't been too keen on doing.

In the meantime, if Miranda and the other producers behind Hamilton are serious about stopping their tickets from being scalped, there are a few things they could do on their own. A Chicago School economist would tell them to just raise their own prices until they are commensurate with what the public seems willing to pay for this limited commodity, thus finding the "true" price of the commodity and eliminating the niche in which middlemen can operate. (Translation: "If someone's going to get $15,000 a ticket, it should be you, fool.") They could crack down on their own, like the producers behind Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, who have started refusing to seat people who show up with resold tickets. (Moral stance, or method of dealing with the 250,000 extra tickets they magically conjured out of thin air? You can decide.) Or, if Miranda is actually serious about making this great work of art that he has created as widely and fairly available to the public as possible, he could turn it into a movie. I'm just kidding! They're not done making money off this thing yet!

So, instead the option they're going with is making something that was already illegal, um, more illegal, I guess?

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Speaking of me having absolutely no transition at all this time, let's finally get around to an issue that I've been putting off talking about, because I doubt that anyone will trust me to address it fairly: this lawsuit against the Fringe Festival. Let me be up front with you: my girlfriend works for the festival, I'm friends with just about everyone on staff, and, I freaking love the Fringe Festival, so I'm pretty sure everyone out there on Facebook that's been incessantly screaming "CENSORSHIP!" is about to smugly disregard anything I have to say on the matter. If you're one of those people, you might as well skip this section and head straight to the comments. I'm hope you've got a good zinger for me.

Let me just say this: I agree with XKCD's explanation of what is and is not censorship, and that informs a lot of my thinking on the subject.

Honestly, we shouldn't even be having an argument about censorship at all. According to the complaint filed in the court the plaintiff isn't bringing a case about censorship or infringement of his free speech, because under both a legal and an XKCD definition, this is neither of these things. He's bringing a civil suit about deceptive trade practices, which is going to be a difficult case to argue under Minnesota's formulation of those laws. It's going to be even more difficult to argue that a presenting organization can somehow be prevented from having any oversight whatsoever as to what it presents.

But here I am getting wonky when all you want to do is get OUTRAGED. I know that many of you want to take absolutist positions that have no room for nuance or reality (we do live in the age of Trump and Bernie); but I would like to ask you all to try to keep your sense of perspective, and try not to speculate too much. So far, you have literally only heard the plaintiff's side of the story, and it might just be that he has some sort of bias.

Also, if this is the biggest thing we have to worry about with our local Fringe Festival, then I'll take it, because it can be so much worse.

An amazing investment opportunity

Speaking of deceptive trade practices, here's something that I'm sure we can all agree actually is a deceptive trade practice. It also happens to be one of the crazier scams I've heard of lately. A former theater agent in New York was recently arrested for bilking his friends and close associates out of $165,000 to fund a play featuring Lupita Nyong’o that did not exist at all. So, this guy was able to convince people that Lupita Nyong'o was in his show, but he was only able to drum up $165,000? He really wasn't a very good agent, was he?