Other controversies

Last week on News and Notes was all about controversies, so let's keep this party rolling, shall we?

Even though it was the subject I devoted the least amount of words to last week, I received the most feedback from the public about an impending lawsuit. I deduced from this that my reading public loves hearing about lawsuits that relate to theater, so here's another one: a group in Robbinsdale, MN has filed a lawsuit to stop the demolition of an old movie house. The controversy has put on hold the construction of a new Hy-Vee. On one hand, residents of Robbinsdale are being asked to sit tight and wait for the right opportunity to resurrect a blighted but historic landmark. On the other hand, the residents of Robbinsdale are also missing out on this week's unbelievable deals on candy at Hy-Vee. It is indeed a dilemma. An old theater could sit in development hell for a long time and then suddenly emerge as the centerpiece of a downtown redevelopment plan, like the NorShore Theater in Duluth. It could be a long-decrepit building that finds new life as a performance space, like the North Garden Theater in St. Paul. Or it could be a 30-year-long money pit that the city can't do anything with because of its historic status until it finally unloads it on a developer for a dollar, like the Hollywood Theater in Northeast Minneapolis. There are many options, they all cost a lot of money, and few of them result in insane deals on 10-packs of Orbit gum.

Monologuist Mike Daisey is out with his latest show exposing a megalomaniacal figure, this time focusing on part-time real estate developer/full-time bloviator Donald Trump. In a recent piece in American Theatre Magazine, Daisey takes great pains to both express his fear and loathing of this confusing, loud-mouthed, would-be messiah and his appreciation for the orange man's finely-honed stagecraft: "For while I loathe Trump personally and politically, I have to be honest and admit that I admire his work deeply. Whether I would like to admit it or not, our jobs are cousins to one another: We both speak to audiences and control the room." Daisey's analysis of Trump is pretty spot-on, which should come as no surprise, since Daisey is no stranger to making stuff up and pretending like it's true as long as it suits his purpose. I guess if you want to understand the mind of one liar, you should ask another liar.

It's been a while since I've told you anything about the ongoing battle in LA over the 99-Seat Plan. Since I know there's nothing you love more than to hear about some controversy in another town, let's press on with that again. If you still haven't chosen sides, I have two opinion pieces I came across this week that might help you. In the first one, the LA Times' Charles McNulty recalls the lives of two theatrical innovators and loosely ties them to the idea of compromise in this situation; and in the other, from Hoyt Hilsman writing at the Huffington Post, gives you the dire warning that Equity's new plan could result in the closure of many companies dedicated to women, minorities and the LGBTQ community.


Hey, everybody! Did you know that it was Women's Equality Day recently? August 26th was the 96th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, which finally recognized that woman are actually adult citizens of this country with the ability to make decisions and cast votes. Fully including women in society has led to many great innovations since then, most of which you don't hear too much about, because there's still an undercurrent of society that likes to imply that women are just unstable, hormonal bags of crying and nagging. (Or, you know, just explicitly says that.)

Nearly a century after we had to officially write in our constitution, "Fine, women are people," only 20% of our congress is female, only 12% of our state governors are female, and this year the percentage of women leading Fortune 500 companies fell to 4%. In a remotely fair society, those percentages would hover around 50% (or slightly higher, since women actually make up 50.8% of the American population), but instead we have 20%, 12% and 4%, numbers so low that the only way they can be celebrated is by the fact that they're higher than they used to be.

In the meantime, Liechtenstein casually blows us out of the water and Canada is right there high-fiving them. You guys, Liechtenstein. This is a country whose economy is based on castles and tax evasion, whose head of state is a "prince of the Princely House of Liechtenstein", and they are quietly kicking our asses in equitable representation.

Even in our supposedly liberal little conclave in the theater world, the power structures are still dominated by men. Literally every study done comes to the same conclusion. Seriously, every single one. This is not to say that men are plotting in back rooms to keep women out of the boys' club. As Bitter Gertrude eloquently explains, we are all still holding on to unconscious biases that heavily shape our treatment of women in our industry.

You see these biases play out in a thousand different small ways all the time, and in both men and women. A man feels perfectly empowered to heckle an improv performer over her weight. A woman frets over whether she's too old to play an ingenue. We laugh and cringe at the condescending interview Helen Mirren sat through back in the '70s while somehow not noticing that this exact same thing still happens all the time.

It's too easy to point at the behavior of a few egregious individuals, like the hyper-masculine antics at Chicago's Profiles Theater (by the way, Profiles is out of business, and an LGBTQ company has taken over their space). What starts the ball rolling on a culture of sexual harassment is the culture, and that culture is made up of all of our collective thoughts and actions, whether we examine them or not.

That means that it is incumbent upon all of us to examine how we behave; and, once we have had the problem defined for us by the people whom it affects, it is also incumbent upon us to not reject or ignore it because it's difficult or inconvenient. As Bitter Gertrude said in that article I linked to above:

"Fighting for social justice means fighting your unconscious bias all day, every day. It means continually examining your opinions and motivations. There’s no finish line where the crowd screams in envious joy as Rebecca Solnit and Michelle Obama pour gatorade on your head and hand you a NOT SEXIST trophy. This takes work. It’s OK to fail at it and keep trying. Just please keep trying."

So, keep trying; and remember that great women have always been a part of our history, and you should probably know more about them.

Saigon… I'm still only in Saigon

Since we're already social justice warring over here, let's get one more in.

Hey there, Don't Buy Miss Saigon Coalition. Sorry you couldn't make a dent with the Guthrie over their production of South Pacific. Even though you didn't get any concessions or apologies this time, hopefully the new Joe has heard you, and this last vestige of the old Joe will slip away for good.

However, it's time to get back to your original mission, because Cameron Mackintosh is definitely bringing Miss Saigon back to Broadway. Prepare for your greatest challenge yet.