This week's News and Notes keeps referencing democracy and voting and whatnot. You might recognize those things. They're what all the shouting and racist tweets are about.
But, all democracy is really about is getting people involved in what's going on around them instead of waiting to be told what to do. So here's a couple of ways to get involved, if you're into that sort of thing:
(1) The Sally Ordway Irvine Awards (or "Sallys", if you're into the whole brevity thing) are currently accepting nominations. That's right. There's no shadowy cabal deciding who can and can't be nominated. It's completely open to the public, which is just frightening.
(2) I've reported before on the development of the North Garden Theater in St. Paul. The project has been swimming along, but has now hit a snag. According to a petition on Change.org : "Sadly, we are facing some organized opposition to our efforts to restore the Garden Theater and bring forth a new venue that could serve so many artists, audience members, organizations, and individuals." There's no word on what, exactly, that opposition is based on, though, this is happening in St. Paul, so I would guess it's someone worrying that there will just be too darned many people coming to their neighborhood. At any rate, there is a public meeting about it tonight, so if you live in the area and want to support the North Garden, why not head on out and show that support?
So now that you've had your chance to get your democracy on, it's time to sit down, shut up and listen to everything I say, you filthy commoners.
The results are in, the ballots have been counted and America has spoken! What?! Oh, crap! Did you somehow fall into a coma and wake up on November 9?! If so, let me be the first to welcome you President Trump's America. The nation is now big, gaudy, loud, completely uninformed and utterly convinced of how great it is. It's actually not that big of a change.
No, it's not November yet, sillies. You still have plenty of time to pretend that you're going to move to Canada. (Their leader elbows people in the chest while in a physical tussle on the parliament floor, but he is very handsome.) I'm talking about the Actors Equity national council elections. 14 seats were filled in this latest round, giving those 14 people 4-year stints in helping decide what AEA will do in the future.
It was a peaceful, low-key election. Not a single person threw a chair or issued poorly-formatted death threats, which, unfortunately, is now our marker for an election running smoothly. It was so low-key, in fact, that only 14% of Equity members bothered to vote.
Only about 14% of Equity members actually make a living from performing, so it may be no surprise that such a vast swath of their membership doesn't feel invested enough to vote. On the other hand, we've been seeing more and more that the powers that be are actually quite afraid of the democratic process and the ideas that the public might bring in to it. An increasing number of people are becoming jaded to the idea that their voices count at all. Leaders seem to love democracy until the people don't vote the way they're supposed to, forcing the leadership to make "corrections." I am speaking, of course, of the clearest violation of democratic principals in my lifetime: the Boaty McBoatface debacle.
Oh, and I guess there was that time last year when Equity changed the 99 Seat Rule in LA, in direct opposition to how its members there voted. There's that, too.
Last week on News and Notes, I struggled mightily to not talk about a certain big awards show, and this week the struggle continues. It's now two years since The Award Show That Shall Not Be Named dropped the short-lived Sound Design category from its roster of awards. This state persists, and I don't get it. I mean, a bunch of people signed an online petition and posted their opinions on social media and everything. Why isn't everything a radical democracy?!
There seems to be some confusion among the overlords of a certain awards show as to whether Sound Design is a technical endeavor or a creative one. The Chicago Sun-Times recently talked with a sound designer to get his take on it. His response was that the job is really a mix of both technical and creative, which probably isn't helping the awards committee in their confusion. How do you even portmanteau that? "Techreative"? "Createchnical"? This is really complicated. Perhaps we should let the internet vote, and then reject whatever it is they vote for.
In the mean time, there are still major awards for Sound Design; they just don't happen in a ceremony that is endlessly bulked out with musical numbers.
The tapping of the screens
Last year, you were all very upset about people using their phones in theaters. This year is different. Now, you are very upset about people using their phones in theaters, and you know who to blame.
Don't worry, smart phone users. It's not you. You're just innocent pawns in a bigger game. The real culprit here is Broadway. According to a recent Huffington Post article that is being heavily circulated among the theater set, the reason we have such a scourge of phone use during productions is because Broadway theaters sell candy.
OK, that was too reductionist. Let me back up. For those of you who aren't going to read the article, the actual argument being made is that, in an effort to make more money and sell more tickets, Broadway theaters have been easing back on enforcing old decorous customs and have been opting more for making the theater a fun, casual place. They do little things that the public enjoys, like providing candy or encouraging patrons to share pictures and videos of themselves at the theater. This, of course, lends an air of casualness to the whole night and results in people mindlessly tapping away at their screens instead of paying attention to the very, very important piece of theater.
This lowbrow, self-absorbed rabble, of course, is just killing the theater. Broadway receipts last year plummeted precipitously up to a new record high.
Wait. This doesn't fit the premise at all. Even the worst play on Broadway in a generation made a ton of money. It's almost as if making a theater a fun, inviting, more casual and welcoming place helps encourage more people to go to it. Why can't these people understand that we want their money and their attention, but we don't really want them, those uncouth rabble with all their uncivilized customs? Isn't there some sneaky undemocratic way of robbing them of their true desires, as is the custom in western democracy? (Have you tried giving them more candy?)
The Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout proposed a solution back in February that you won't actually be able to read unless you have a subscription to the WSJ. Given that most of you are liberal arts types, I doubt there are many of you willing to venture past that paywall. Thankfully, Teachout recently shared the smartphone warning text he has been using for his own show in an ArtsJournal blog. Other than it being longer and delivered by whomever we are calling the star of the show, it doesn't seem that different from a hundred other "turn off your phones" messages I've heard. (Other than the David Mamet cell phone speech.) Teachout claims it's working, though, so who am I to question his methods?
The kind of guy who is drawn to this one Facebook comment on that Huffington Post article:
"If the show isn't engaging enough to pull people away from their phones, maybe the problem is with the show."
And isn't democracy really all about giving the people what they want?
Hey, Shakespeareophiles. I know we don't exactly see eye to eye on a few things, so I figured I'd give you a little something. The excavators digging up the site of Shakespeare's first theater found a bird whistle. Sure, I could say that humanity has been making water whistles for centuries, so what's the big deal about this one? But this is your boy Bill here, so I'll let it seem really special for you.
Also, there's outdoor all-nude production of The Tempest going on in New York right now. I hope the work of the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society satisfies your sense of grandeur.