Last week on News and Notes, I decided to stay positive. I even said some good things about the Guthrie. Then the Star Tribune decided to one-up me and say even better things about the Guthrie, especially about the new crop of people who are leading it under Joseph Haj. So, now, I am in the awkward position of trying to one-up this one-up. How about I do a whole article about how sales and attendance are up at the G now that Haj's new vision for the theater is fully taking hold! That'll show 'em!
What?! The Strib already published that article?!. Dammit!
OK, fine! Last week I also talked about Minnesota exports that are making a big hit across the country. How about we up the ante and talk about Nice Fish, which was first developed here and went on to be performed off Broadway and London's West End. I'm proud to be the first to inform you that… dammit, the Strib would like to tell you that Big Fish has been nominated for a prestigious Olivier Award for its run in London.
Curse you, Star Tribune, and your arts reporters who do this kind of thing for a living!
Nevermind the positive, here's the Trump
You may have noticed that last week while I was trying to stay positive I didn't have a single mention of our current pretender king, Donald Trump. That's not a coincidence. Since I'm no longer painting sunshine and roses, I assure you that, yes, he is still occupying the White House, and, no, it hasn't gotten any better.
But, hey, at least political satire is seeing a new renaissance under Trump. Everybody's feeling compelled to make their own local version of The Daily Show. At least we can laugh while we're crying. Send in the clowns.
But, as necessary as satire and laughter are, they will not be enough. As I have so often said before, the only way to really affect the governance of the nation is to get involved. Pointing fingers from the outside simply isn't enough, even if you're snickering while you do it.
Despair definitely isn't going to cut it, either. A recent opinion piece from The Hill has been winging its away across il Libro delle Facce, giving an overblown obituary of the National Endowment for the Arts. While I appreciate the dark humor (and while I myself warned that some conservatives are always serious about cutting the NEA), we should all know that rumors of the NEA's death are greatly exaggerated.
No less than Sheila Smith, head of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, took to her Facebook page recently to post "Nobody should be writing obituaries for the NEA. Stop it." Instead, she urged you all to jump over to MCA's site for help in contacting your elected representatives in the ongoing effort to reassure them that we do not want organizations like NEA to disappear.
You've got to advocate for yourself. You can never completely count on politicians to do the right thing unless they feel like you're standing behind them (or even pushing them). And you especially can't count on anyone connected to Trump to act as the good angel on his shoulder. I'm pretty sure that Donnie's better angel lies dead and buried under the shoddy foundation of Trump Tower, like a tiny Jimmy Hoffa.
Whither goest thou, critic?
It's never been easy to be a professional critic, and, today's world has made that job even harder. Between cutbacks, consolidations, and the newfound ability for anyone and everyone with an internet connection to gin up consternation about anything you write (especially when your otherwise positive review dares to offer actual criticism), it's really a wonder that anyone wants to do it anymore.
Alex Ross, a music critic at the New Yorker, recently wrote a piece about the eroding industry of the arts critic. While, he mostly spoke about music criticism, he expands his argument to encompass all professional arts criticism, noting his worry that the internet's "clickbait culture" will eat away at the general populace's ability to think deeply or critically about anything.
Here in the Twin Cities, we have a weird sort of theater criticism immortality, where a critic can "retire", yet never seem to leave, so it may seem kind of strange that professional criticism might disappear entirely. But, I suppose if the New York Times' Charles Isherwood can suddenly be fired for reasons that no one can fully explain, then, really, no one is safe.
I've still got some leftover good cheer from last week's attempt at staying positive, so I'm not going to ape Ross' more despairing moment. Instead, I would like to point back at what I said last year about the rise of non-professional bloggers and reviewers. I would also like to point you toward a new website that hopes to do for theater what Rotten Tomatoes did for movies.
Even if there aren't well-paid, high-class critics, there will still be criticism. As Ross said at the end of that New Yorker article:
"Perhaps the profession is destined to fade away, but others will have to take up the critic’s simple, irritating, somehow necessary job: to stand in a public space and say, 'Not quite.'"
I don't think there's any "will have to". It looks like they already are.
Before we go, let's wing it over to Britain and see what our pastier cousins are fretting about. What's the big argument of the day in London theater? (Or "theatre") Eating.
A West End production recently banned the audience from eating while the show is going on, which is going to be kind of awkward for them, since the theater itself sells food in the lobby and has been allowing its patrons to eat in the house for years. Of course, it didn't take too long for a critic to jump on this stodgy bandwagon, because, as we've learned over and over again, there's nothing more helpful to keeping theater alive, vibrant and attractive to prospective new audience members than telling them they're a bunch of grubby rubes.
I guess if you're hungry and want to see a show in London, make sure Kit Harington is in it. At least he supports your right to chow down.