Congratulations to Duluth! Our friends on the north shore will soon have a new performance space: The NorShor Theatre. Hey, this is the second week in a row that I've been able to tell you about a new theater space coming soon. I like this part of my job!
The building is a former vaudeville stage and movie house (and, more recently, strip club), but it has been stuck in development hell since the Duluth Economic Development Authority bought it back in 2010. Plans were finally announced earlier this year to begin renovations, but since said renovations were supposed to start in April, it doesn't seem like it got exactly the running start they were hoping for.
But not this time. (Hopefully) The money has been raised. The plans have been made. The wheels are in motion. Let the renovation begin!
(And, just a word of advice for when the place gets up and running: be careful about what dangerous chemicals you keep around your theater.)
Much politics! Many feels!
Last week on News and Notes, I waxed on for waaaay too long about the giant ongoing pageant to select our next Dear Leader. I hope you were all thoroughly terrified, because, apparently, the engine of democracy runs on only the finest highly distilled fear. If news reports are to be believed, our deep, unrelenting anxieties are truly our nation's most valuable natural resources.
However, over at the Chicago Tribune, theater critic Chris Jones had an epiphany while overseas watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. (A feat that you mere peons may actually be able to manage now: the entire run of the show was supposedly sold out, but producers have miraculously conjured up another quarter million tickets out of thin air. How? Magic!) In his musings, Jones realized that this play (along with Hamilton, because those of us who write about theater are all contractually obligated to mention Hamilton every time we write now) achieves something more than our recent political conventions could ever dream of. In his words: "you feel like the human species has finally reached a more enlightened place."
It's just too bad that when the play finally hits American shores, this election will be long past us. In the meantime, please make sure to do your part: get out there and needlessly fret. For America.
About your casting…
OK, guys, I thought we went over this already. More than a few times. If you're doing a show in which the race of a character is important to the show, you should probably do the legwork and find a performer of that race. Remember last year when there was that production of The Mountaintop that cast a white guy as Martin Luther King, Jr.? Or also last year when there was that production of Jesus in India that didn't have any Indian people? We did all talk about this, right? This isn't just some weird dream I had. Right?
In the absence of a licensed version of Hamilton for other companies to perform, Porchlight Music Theater in Chicago decided to cash in on the Lin-Manuel Miranda craze by putting up a production of Miranda's previous Broadway musical, In the Heights. So far so good. They announced the cast, which was referred to as "unusually authentic" by the Chicago Sun-Times' Hedy Weiss. OK, that wording is a little weird, but otherwise everything seems OK. Then someone pointed out one small problem: the guy playing the lead was not latino.
In a musical that's all about a Dominican neighborhood in New York, and specifically about a lead character who is the first generation son of Dominican immigrants, that's a pretty big oversight. Since the guy they did cast is of Italian descent, it not only reminds me of West Side Story casting (Natalie Wood was Puerto Rican, right?), but also of the "crying Indian" Iron Eyes Cody. Neither one of those references is a good thing. Seriously, guys, I thought we talked about this kind of thing.
Now there's a big damn uproar about it in Chicago; a city, I might add that is over 20% latino. It's been further exacerbated by the critic who wrote that "authentic" article about the cast, Hedy Weiss, who keeps stating that you should all just get over it. (This is the same critic who last year referred to the graffiti artist characters in a play all about graffiti art as "urban terrorists" and doubled down on that when challenged, saying that no amount of "political correctness" would make her change her mind.)
I mean, I'm not crazy, right? We did talk about all of this stuff, right?
Now we're settling in for the inevitable slew of opinion articles angrily telling Americans why this kind of thing is not OK while Porchlight presses on ahead as if it is OK, blithely ignoring the fact that Lin-Manuel Miranda already told you point blank that authorial intent matters when it comes to the racial makeup of a show; and what do you think his authorial intent was? For crying out loud Porchlight, you're also doing The Scottsboro Boys in your season; so you should know that, yeah, the race of the person playing a character of a certain race matters. Imagine casting a white guy as one of the lead roles in that musical. Now stop imagining that, because that is dumb.
We should all know that by now, right? I swear to god we had this conversation like a million times before.
So, because producers continue to not think about this sort of thing, we have to have big angry uproars about everything to get them to even notice. Recently DreamWorks has been working on adapting its animated film The Prince of Egypt into a Broadway musical. They got a theater company to host a trial run concert performance of the music, and they even gave it away for free. Then someone noticed that most of the cast for the performance was white, and you know the rest. There was a lot of angry Twitterbating, and then the concert was canceled.
We could be having a discussion about nuances and the degrees of different between this production—a concert performance of the music from an incomplete musical in which the historical characters do not map onto our modern conceptions of race and ethnicity—and the previous shows we mentioned—which they are very clearly written to represent people of certain races in a current racial context that we should all very clearly be able to recognize.
But we can't have that kind of nuanced conversation, because the standard way of doing things seems to be: (1) theater producer does something patently and unbelievably stupid
(2) everybody screams at them until they scurry away
(3) we somehow forget that any of it ever happened and proceed back to (1)
Maybe someday we'll get to (4). What is (4)? I don't know. I'm starting to forget. Did we talk about this before?
It's almost time
I was reading an article in The Guardian about how surprise is the secret to theatrical success, which then proceeded to talk about nothing but plays and musicals that have been done over and over and over again. I was then reminded of how much I love the Minnesota Fringe Festival, and how much of it, year after year, continues to be a surprise, because so much of it is new and different than what I saw last year.
The festival is beginning this Thursday, and I hope you are prepared, because things are a little bit different this year (as things often are). Make sure to remember that the day pass wristbands are now a thing, and it is a different thing from what you had last year. This is all OK. In fact, this is awesome. You now have even more freedom to find whatever you didn't know you were looking for. And, trust me, everyone's got advice for you on what to see and how to go about seeing it.
Like, for example, this fun map the Star Tribune put out to show you where all the venues are. It's made even more fun by the fact that it lists all of last year's venues instead of this year's. Isn't it fun how sometimes things are different than they were last year?
But I can't heap too much shame on the Strib for that oversight. After all, Graydon Royce just gave us a nice look at why the Fringe is important to the community, to the arts and to theater itself. Personally, I happen to think that it's the most important theater thing in town, but I'm biased, since I'm embarking on my 13th year in a row doing a show at the Fringe (lucky!), and, obviously, my show is very, very important.
Last year for Fringe I went deep undercover at Fringe central (in that I sat in a bar, talked to people and then just wrote what they said. Journalism!). Next week I will be writing from inside the Fringe as well. Hopefully you weirdos will have something interesting for me to write about.