Hello, friends. Did your enjoy your weekend? Did you find yourself reading some incredible, mind-blowing piece of news, only to find out about 12 hours later that it was a complete piece of fiction published by an otherwise reputable news source? Not me. Not this year. I made the conscious effort to avoid any and all news on April 1, because, as long time readers will know, I despise the sloppy, manipulative tradition of April Fool's Day in the news. We live in an era when fake news is far from a joke, so having an ordained day for news outlets to outright lie to us is in pretty poor taste. Good, genuine comedy is far too difficult and important to be left to amateurs; news organizations should stick to news and stop trying to play "Gotcha!" on this particular day. To that end, I instituted a personal media blackout on April 1. A world-killing comet could have hit the planet on that day, and I wouldn't have known it until the 1,000-foot tidal wave scoured Minneapolis from the face of the earth, but at least I didn't have to deal with some low-rent prankster smugly declaring, "Ha! Fooled you!"
However, there are fleeting times when reporters can get it right, so I would like to give a big shout-out to Twin Cities Arts Reader for publishing not one, but two April Fool's articles that I found genuinely amusing. As an added bonus, they admitted right in the titles that these were April Fool's articles, so they get extra points for being straight with us instead of treating us like rubes. Thank you, Basil Considine, for penning some genuinely amusing articles and not being a dick about it. Now I know that the Walker Art Center is actually a giant robot that battles kaiju and that the Ordway's White Christmas was updated with dinosaur battles, including "a climactic tap-dance battle between Dieter Bierbrauer and the Tyrannosaurus Rex".
Other local news
Now that we've waded past the sad morass of April Fool's pranks, here are a few local news items of note:
(1) Congratulations to Children's Theatre Company for getting a $180,000 grant from Building Bridges! This grant, sponsored by the Doris Duke Foundation underwrites efforts to create appreciation and understanding for the Muslim minority in the United States. I wonder why that would be an important issue right now? Anyway, enjoy the cash, CTC!
(2) As a former professional puppeteer, I am always delighted when puppetry gets treated as something other than entertainment for small children. To that end, I am extra excited about Open Eye Figure Theatre hosting a two-week puppetry festival. There's no jokes there. I am genuinely happy about this. Explain that to my psychiatrist.
(3) Not all news can be good news. We recently learned that Barbara Rose-Brown, local dramaturg and wife of writer/performer Carlyle Brown suffered a serious stroke that has left her in need of urgent care. Because we live in America, and not literally every other major industrialized in the world, Rose-Brown's continued health care is going to end up costing her and her family more money than a couple of artists can afford. To that end, the family has set up a Go Fund Me campaign to help deal with the costs of this unfortunate event.
A request from the reading public
Last week on News and Notes we discussed the cancellation of New Prague High School's production of The Foreigner, due to an unfortunately out-of-context picture of some of the cast in KKK robes being shared on the internet. I lamented a lot last week about the scourge of contextless information being able to drive people's actions in the hear and now, and now someone actually wants to do something about it. A few days ago, I received an email from a reader:
"When I heard about this, my thought was how can we get this seen? My reasoning is that these kids put a lot of work (one hopes) into it, and it seems inappropriate to cancel the performance because of a picture."
This reader went on to ask "Anyone have a theater space available for a weekend?" So, I put it to you, theater people of Minnesota: does anyone out there want to make a space available for these kids to do their play? I'll gladly serve as intermediary, if anyone is seriously interested. Please email me, and I will do whatever I can to contact interested parties.
The Neo-Future is now
Last December, I spent most of a column talking about the plight of the Neo-Futurists in Chicago, despite the fact that this site is dedicated to Minnesota theater, and I didn't get fired, so let's follow up on that story. As it turns out, Greg Allen's sudden, but not-actually-all-that-surprising-if-you-know-anything-about-him yanking of the famous "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" name hasn't stopped the company he founded from moving on. The original Neo-Futurist company in Chicago already announced plans to continue to the show under the title The Infinite Wrench, and the expansion companies in San Francisco and New York are in on the name change as well.
Congratulations on keeping on, you crazy Neos! In the meantime, Mr. Allen has been strangely quiet, which means that he got so excited about his incredible, fascist-fighting plans that he jumped the gun on pulling the TMLMTBGB plug; or he actually has no plans and this was another instance him being a petty, controlling, self-absorbed, vindictive tyrant. Either one. Or maybe both.
Yes, more Trump stuff
"Good lord, how is this show still on the air?"
I found myself asking that just about every time I heard some entertainment article mentioning Donald Trump's show The Apprentice. How many years could producers possibly milk the vapid, bloviating presence of Donald Trump before it became obvious to all involved that his actual business acumen was on par with a particularly dull blowfish? As it turns it, it was long enough for him to bamboozle his way into the White House, and now we're all dealing with it.
Artists are trying so hard to wrestle with that reality. (Aren't we all) In the meantime, Trump and his lackeys are charting a course to eliminate federal funding for the arts.
Yes, I know: We've talked about this a lot at News and Notes. A lot.. That's not just because of the specific programs that could be lost if the National Endowment for the Arts gets the axe. As an economic program, governmental support of the arts should be trumpeted by politicians as a shining example. Look no further than the $33 million in economic impact in just one region of Minnesota. Considering how little arts investment from state and federal organizations it takes to underwrite that, the return on investment makes it a much saner economic bet than any backward-looking support for old, decaying industries.
Judging purely by the numbers, the NEA performs near-miraculous feats. Considering the tiny budget it has to work with, its ability to leverage other dollars to create social and economic benefits may make it one of the most effective government organizations ever brought into existence by the stroke of a President's pen. In short, The NEA works.
No matter what so-called "budget hawks" tell you, cutting support for the arts is not about saving money. As the Chicago Reader recently pointed out, the damage from the fight over this relatively paltry line item in the federal budget cuts much deeper into American culture than a few $10,000 grants. As always, this is a political fight, not a rational one. For most conservative politicians, it's another chance to rile up their base and point them in the direction of "liberal elites"; it's political theater, and they really don't care as passionately about it as they make pretend for their hardcore voters. For demagogues in training, tough, it's a chance to eliminate opposition.
As an example of this logic taken to its absurd conclusion, I can point you toward the real-world example of Belarus Free Theater. I've written about this company's forced itinerant status before, and Playlist has been telling you about them since at least 2011. The deeply authoritarian and kleptocratic government of Belarus has been going to increasingly nutso lengths to take down this theater company because of exactly the kind of commentary and resistance to authority that our arts community takes for granted. (And yes, in spite of it all, they keep going.) Considering that our current President spends every Sunday morning trying to undermine Saturday Night Live for its "unfair" portrayal of him, the iron clampdown of the arts in Belarus is exactly the kind of thing he would work toward if he got the chance. I don't want to sound alarmist; we're not at that point yet. But the elimination and degradation of the arts by the federal government is a big step toward that world.
Fortunately, we have plenty of people still putting up a fight. We already had a record number of Minnesotans show up in St. Paul for the statewide Arts Advocacy Day, and now another large group showed up in Washington D.C. for the national Advocacy Day. There's still time to fight back against this radical change to America's culture. It's all in your hands.
In the meantime, make sure to keep making the art, and make sure to keep making it matter. Last week we chatted a bit about Lynn Nottage's Sweat and how it was perfectly timed to comment on the America of today. This week, the New Yorker called it "the first theatrical landmark of the Trump era".
Oh, to be so hated!
If you're not familiar with him, Howard Sherman is a prolific producer, administrator and writer about the arts. His long-running blog is responsible for pitching quite a number of dumb theater-related controversies my way (including the stupid fight at Tappan Zee High School over a production of The Producers that I referenced last week). Sherman, despite being a nebbish, white, cisgendered male has been proudly outspoken about issues of appropriation and representation in theater, most notably when it comes to things like condemning the use of yellowface in contemporary productions of The Mikado (or, really, the use of yellowface anywhere).
Recently, Sherman got to have the surreal experience of watching an Off-Off Broadway showcase in which he was name-checked several times for his relentless crusading.
So, now I have something new to aspire to: being made fun of onstage for things that I have written online. If you're looking for an idea for your upcoming Fringe Festival show, you have my blessing.