It's a brand new year of the same old stuff
Welcome to 2017, friends! How are we ringing in the new year? Some very industrious soul out in LA used the cover of night to change the famous Hollywood sign to read "HOLLYWeeD”. That's someone who's really dedicated to changing the world, and it just goes to show you what one properly motivated person can accomplish. How's your New Year's resolution going?
Last week on News and Notes, we took a second look back at 2016. This week, we will douse 2016 in kerosene, light the match and walk away calmly, maybe putting on some cool sunglasses in slow motion as the inferno explodes behind us. It's time to put this whole mess behind us and move forward, tall and proud.
In that spirit, we boldly ended the first full week of the new year with Broadway giving Hillary Clinton several rounds of applause. Wait a minute… that's not moving forward at all. Dammit, guys, we just talked about this.
It's just business
Those out-of-touch New York theater elites must be making some new connections somehow. Broadway just clocked the biggest box office week in its history and more and more New York theaters are bringing back the old practice of "standing room" to deal with increasing sales.
All of this money rolling in can't just be the fault of everyone's obsession with Hamilton. (And trust me, there are people who are astonishingly, painfully obsessed with Hamilton.) Broadway has experienced something close to a Renaissance in the past few years, with more new works making it to the big houses and more diverse casts making it to the big stages. Of course, there's still a long way to go in both regards, especially the latter, but the theater scene that everyone looks up to for some reason is finally starting to get hip with the times.
Will it manage to keep going in that direction? You should ask Oskar Eustis. The New York company that he heads, The Public Theater, is responsible for shepherding both Hamilton and Fun Home to the big stage (and, way back in the day, A Chorus Line). Eustis and company have made this kind of new development a cornerstone of their practice, and it is paying off in a stupid amount of dividends. Public's 10% stake in Hamilton alone will keep them flush for years to come, and both shows will be pulling in royalties all over the country for a generation. (By the way, parents, please prepare yourselves for many, many, many high school renditions of Hamilton; some of them are already trying, copyright law be damned!)
If that's what you want to see more of from the theater world, then you can't just rely on one Artistic Director at one company to accomplish it all for you. (Eustis did famously pass on the new musical adaptation of Spring Awakening; his judgement ain't perfect.) You've got to demand it and reward it with your dollars, because, at the heart of it, that is what most producers really understand. Lin-Manuel Miranda already told you flat out that he was not going to try to top himself, so you've got to go looking elsewhere for up-and-coming talent. If the audience doesn't pay attention and demand that sort of thing, then some producer looking to make a quick buck will do something inane like give Jimmy Buffett a chance to turn "Margaritaville" into a full-fledged musical.
What?! That is happening?! Why do my reductio ad absurdum arguments always seem to become reality? Oh my god, am I bending reality? Am I like the little kid who wishes people into the cornfield in that episode of the Twilight Zone?
Unfortunately, no. I just tried to use my powers to do some good in the world, and Michael Bay is still making Transformers movies.
Getting in touch with ourselves
The LA Times just collected a whole bunch of essays and opinion pieces into an exhaustive examination on if and how the entertainment industry has lost touch with America. After all, the Hollywood and Broadway elite went all out for Hillary, and she lost, as Donald Trump will remind you every time his aides let him near his phone. Well, I guess I should say "lost", since there is that matter of pulling in 3 million more votes than her opponent. (Democracy!)
That's why it's probably wrong to think that Hollywood has "lost touch with America". As Meryl Streep gracefully and elegantly stated in her recent Golden Globes acceptance speech, the room she was in that night represented a much larger cross-section of America than a frothing Trump rally in "real" America. In the classiest, most graceful way possible, she exhorted her fellow Hollywood types, journalists and America's citizens—a majority of whom voted against the coming political regime—to hold Trump and his cronies to account. If you haven't watched Streep's speech, it's probably the most important thing that a Hollywood type has said in years. Go see it.
Of course, it elicited another Twitter baby tantrum from our soon-to-be president, which helped distract most of the media and the general populace from all the other things Trump and company are doing that you won't like one bit, which is exactly the opposite of what Streep was telling everyone to do.
So, what do you do in the face of all this? How do you move from merely frothing at the mouth to actual action? You can join up with a group like Writers Resist or you can participate in a symbolic act like The Ghostlight Project, but for my money, nothing works better than good, old-fashioned bugging the hell out of your elected officials. It's one thing to write a scathing remark on Twitter. It's quite another thing to make the people who make the laws look you right in the face and stammer out their positions with their own mouths. Don't just take my word for it; just ask a congressman.
So, to that end, I invite you to join us for Minnesota's annual Arts Advocacy Day on February 28. Not only do you get a chance to visit that fancy-schmancy newly-remodeled capitol building, but you also get the chance to put the new Republican-controlled state congress on notice. As an added bonus, you may get the chance to meet some of the many, many new leaders of Minnesota arts organizations.
Sure, the recently-announced delay in arts board grants is due to decreased consumer spending, but I bet you dollars to donuts that our new congressional overlords will find ways to make more "delays" appear out of thin air the first time they think we're not looking. So, don't ever let them think you're not looking.
In the meantime, please enjoy this other fun form of protest: Mark Hamill reading one of Trump's tweets as if it came from the Joker. This is the state of our country now. You better have some fun with it.