Things I should have said
In all the hubbub around the Ivey Awards there are things I didn't get around to mentioning that I should have. Here they are, in no particular order (well, actually, in an extremely particular order, but one whose sequencing in space and time is so intricate and complex that few can even hope to grasp at its meaning):
(1) There's this whole other major awards show for performing artists in the Twin Cities. It's called the Sage Awards and like the Iveys, it's also in its 12th year. Unlike the Iveys, it has categories and nominations, and this year's nominees were announced recently.
(2) Other things have been announced, too. For example, the the lineup for the 2017 Right Here showcase.
(3) It's October, and that can only mean one thing! Terrible knockoff costumes! Oh, and it also means that the latest installment of the Twin Cities Horror Festival is almost upon us.
(4) Last week on News and Notes, we talked about the state of playwriting today, and I wish I had found this article by playwright Audrey Cephaly back then. In it, she gives some simple, practical advice to new playwrights: if you want to be produced, "write a play that's easy to produce."
The Phantom menace
The first French translation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's classic (and not at all plagiarized) Phantom of the Opera was all set to have its premiere this month at the historic Théâtre Mogador in Paris, in conjunction with the million or so other official productions of Phantom being kicked off around the world in time for the show's 30th anniversary (because Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn't have all of your money yet). Unfortunately, Théâtre Mogador caught on fire, damaging the set and stage to the point where the production has been postponed indefinitely.
Of course, this has only served to resurrect the tired old idea of the "Phantom of the Opera curse". Theater people do so love their superstitions. Not me, though. I freely shout "Macbeth" inside, whistle in the dark and say the last line of the play before opening night, and the only possible side effect I see is that I have absolutely no viable career as a professional actor. Other than that, I'm good.
I severely doubt there is any kind of curse on Phantom, unless you count being one of the most profitable works of art ever created as a curse. (In which case, please, somebody curse me right now.) Honestly, the only curse I see plaguing the theater world is that they will gladly welcome back a theater producer who served jail time for swindling people who invested in his theater productions. (By the way, the only way to ward off that curse is to leave the theater, spin around three times and recite the entire book of The Producers backwards.)
Because it sounds spooky and kind of fits with the theme of the show itself, the article about this fire that most people will pass around is the one that says "curse" in its headline. In the meantime, incidents about other shows that don't fit some preconceived notion go unconnected in the minds of the public. For example, last year the first black man to play the lead in Les Miserables died in a freak accident; that same year, the London production of Les Miserables caught fire during a performance; and just recently, Trump sauntered into one of his rallies to a song from Les Mis. There are just so many disasters associated with this show! I don't understand why no one whispers about Javert's vengeful ghost haunting the production. Sure, he was never a real person, but neither was the Phantom; people don't let reality get in the way of a good story.
Even so, I'll try one more time to let reality have the upper hand. Theater producer James Cundall, who specializes in taking big touring productions to Asia and the South Pacific, was asked by a Philippines newspaper if the curse was true. His response:
"The thing about live entertainment is that it’s live and when it’s live, things happen.”
The key to creating a really good superstition is to string together a whole bunch of anecdotes so that they look like a pattern. Your brain likes patterns, and it doesn't like doing a lot of work. Even as stat geeks warn "the plural of anecdote is not data", all you really have to do to sell someone on some idea is list a string of anecdotes and coincidences.
For example, did you know that we are currently cursed with a spate of theater closings? It's true! I Googled it!
In the last week, the off-Broadway company Soho Rep abruptly closed up shop. Soon after, the New York International Fringe Festival announced that they are taking next year off. That's just coincidence, right?
Well then, how do you explain the mysteriously-timed closings of a spate of theaters across the country (other than the fact that we're at the end/beginning of the traditional theater season and this is the most convenient time for most theater producers to do that sort of thing)?
Houston's Kaleidoscope Theater closed down after drowning in debt. In Des Moines, StageWest Theatre Company is teetering on the edge of financial disaster two years after moving into (and I am not making this up) the Kum & Go Theater. The Cider Mill Playhouse in Endicott, New York just lost its lease after 41 years. The city of Alhambra, California gave the Mosaic Lizard Theater the boot by selling their space. The State Theatre in Culpepper, Virginia ran out of money after grants and donations dried up. Here in Minnesota, Open Window Theatre just cancelled its entire season over a dispute with its landlord.
Do you see all these anecdotes? This must mean something, right? Quick, someone check to see if all those companies have produced Les Mis. This can only be the work of Javert's ghost!
And for the curse of all curses, we turn to the Minneapolis Theater Garage. It has been existing in a strange sort of limbo for the past few years. In 2014, real estate developers announced plans for an ambitious rebuilding of the entire corner lot the Garage has occupied for the past three decades at Franklin and Lyndale. This plan called for a high-density, mixed-use building with 85 apartments, expanded underground parking, restaurant space, and a brand, spanking new home for the theater. Unfortunately, local residents of the Wedge area (yes, folks, that part of town is actually the Wedge, not Uptown) managed to scuttle that deal because they thought the building would be too tall.
Now that project has been resurrected with the developer's recent announcement of a completely new plan that is five feet shorter and features a whopping 113 apartments! How did they pull of this miraculous feat? By cutting the theater, of course! Yes, you read that right: the project that is still officially called "Theater Garage and Marquee Apartments" no longer features the Theater Garage. Congratulations, residents of the Wedge; I hope those five feet were worth this terrible curse that you're contributing to.
Thankfully, we're not actually cursed with theater closings. All I did was search the term "theater closing". Because theaters close and open all the damn time, I was able to cherry pick a lot of data.
In fact, here at home Nimbus Theater is bringing a space back to the Twin Cities soon. There's only 10 days left in their Kickstarter campaign, and they're halfway toward their fundraising goal.
And I will give you, once again, my constant reminder that you don't have to have a "theater" to do theater.
Even if you think you're being censored, Michael Moore (you're not, by the way), there is nothing stopping a person who is dedicated enough to his art in this country from finding a place to perform, no matter how offensive it may be.
Forget curses. Make your own thing happen.
Extreme stunt casting
This struggling little production of Cats that's happening in New York will finally get some star power behind it. As the slow bleed of the internet into real life continues on unopposed internet star Grumpy Cat will be joining the show for one performance.