The good stuff

Hey there, Twin Cities. I like you. I just wanna put that out there. Don't get all embarrassed and awkward. I'm not fishing for you to say, "I like you, too." I understand our relationship. It's cool. I just think you're really awesome and stuff, and… what? Yeah, I've had a few beers. Why? No, I'm not drunk, I just… Look, it's taken me a while to figure out how to say this, so will you just hear me out? You're so smart and nice and cool, it's kind of intimidating sometimes, just knowing you, but, like, cool, too, you know? And… OK, this is going to sound forward, but just let me say it, OK? You've got really nice theaters. Like, just, really nice theaters. They're not huge—which I like—but I just can't stop thinking about them, and… OK, now it's awkward. I'm sorry. It's just, your whole theater scene is just… OK, let me just say four things about it, and then you don't ever have to talk to me again, OK?

(1) After roaming the wilds for a few years, Gremlin Theatre is back in business in St. Paul with a brand new space. The best part (aside from having a new small theater space in town) is that it's in the same building as a brewery. Nothing goes together like intoxicants and performance.

(2) I like it when theater companies commit to making new theater. History Theatre rolled out their upcoming season, and I'm pleased to see that almost everything in it will be world premieres (or at least regional premieres), featuring new plays from local playwrights.

(3) And speaking of new and local, the New Griots Festival has returned after taking a year off, and this time they've jumped up to the Guthrie's 9th floor.

(4) This last one may not seem like a good thing, but bear with me for a moment while I spin it. Twin Cities Arts Reader has rolled out a new series called The Curmudgeon, where their arts reporters snark about the terrible mistakes that people make when sending them press releases. However, to elevate this into the "good" category, in each installment they give good advice on what you should do to make a more effective and interesting message for the arts reporters you're trying to affect and interest. Think of it as continuing education for all the theater artists (like me) who never heard the phrase "press release" in our college theater programs.

Anyway, that's some good stuff about you, Twin Cities. The next time you look at yourself in the mirror, you should take a moment to appreciate those theaters of yours. They're pretty rocking. I hope you like yourself as much as I like you.

Wanna make out?

Critics gonna crit

Last week on Minnesota Playlist, we blathered on an awful lot about what critics should and shouldn't be doing anymore. But you know who we didn't really talk to much? Critics!

In the wake of the whole Hedy Weiss thing that I said I wasn't going to write about anymore, I've seen several articles coming across the wire in which critics try to explain/justify why they seem so mean sometimes. For example, Terry Teachout, the theater critic for the Wall Street Journal, got a lot of backlash for panning the very popular revival of Hello, Dolly!, starring the very popular Bette Midler and the very popular other people who who happen to be standing near Bette Midler on stage whose names I can't recall right now. After more than a few readers told Teachout that he must just hate theater if he doesn't jump to a standing ovation for whatever Bette Midler does, he wrote an article for Arts Journal called "The Purpose of Panning", in which had to remind everyone of what his job actually is:

"Bette Midler knows how to do plenty of things I can’t do. Alas, she didn’t do any of them very well on the night that I saw and heard her, and since the producers of Hello, Dolly! were and are charging a huge amount of money to see the show, I felt it was my duty as a critic to say so as clearly as possible."

In that same vein, over at Onstage Blog, Skip Maloney writes about why reviewers should take off the kid gloves when writing about community theater. In short, refusing to review something with a truly critical eye just because you're being "nice", ends up hurting the whole theater community in the long run:

"A local theatre patron reads a "nice" review, goes to the see the show, and assumes because the reviewer knew what he/she was talking about, that what they're witnessing is a good production, even if, in truth, they end up bored out of their skulls, anxious to get back out on the street and check for messages on their cell phones. And while the performers get to bask in the glow of the nice things said, they move onto the next production, secure in the knowledge that they're doing good work, when, perhaps, they're not."

In the meantime, those very professional critics at the Washington Post tried to write a sort of tongue-in-cheek article about all the things they dislike about intermissions, to which just about every theater person online responded with intense fits of pique and name-calling for some reason.

It's nice to know that, no matter how the times change, one thing remains the same: no matter what a theater critic says or does, there's a group of people who think they're a jerk.

All sales final

Earlier this year, we got the announcement that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus would be closing down after 146 years on the road. The end finally came in May, and now all that's left is to fold up the tent and walk away. (Metaphorically speaking, anyway; the Greatest Show on Earth stopped using actual tents in 1956. Oh, and there's also the matter of divvying up the goods.

The cars from Ringling's famous circus train are on the way to locations across the country for their second acts. Blue Unit clown car number 189 is going to the Circus World museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. A former Human Cannonball performer for Ringling will be turning one into a guest house at his home in Indiana. Other folks across the country bought them for refurbishments that won't preserve the Ringling legacy, but will at least keep them on the tracks. As for the sleeper cars that weren't purchased, one of them burst into flames while waiting to be processed at a scrap yard, so I'm guessing there's some sort of circus curse going on here. If only the good folks in the Mystery Machine would investigate.

Feld Entertainment (the parent company of the now-defunct circus) has another, trickier inventory to unload: lots of animals. The trained performing animals, including several species of big cats, have a lot more baggage attached to them than some defunct railroad sleeper cars. With the push still on in America to eliminate animal performances from circuses, there aren't going to be a lot of options for Ringling's non-human performers aside from being distributed to speciality sanctuaries where they can live out the rest of their lives. There's no profit in that, though, which is probably why Feld is seeking an exemption to the Endangered Species Act to sell them to circuses overseas.

Technically, you can only export protected animals if such a move will "enhance the propagation or survival of the species," which you wouldn't think would apply, since circus animals are not good candidates for breeding programs. However, it just so happens that the Endangered Species Act has a huge "pay-to-play" loophole in it, which essentially allows organizations to purchase and sell animals as long as they make nominal donations to wild breeding programs. I'm not here to argue the morality or merits of that particular bit of US law. I am here to stand in gobsmacked awe at the brazen ability of Feld Entertainment to squeeze every last penny out of the corpse of Ringling Bros.

Even without Barnum's old roadshow, you should know that the circus is not dead. It's just different now. Smithsonian Magazine recently ran an in-depth article about the state of circus arts in America today, and their conclusion is that it is robust and growing. In the meantime, Cirque du Soleil just bought up the Blue Man Group in its bid to break into the Chinese market. Two major cultural institutions joining forces in a business deal to corner the market and create an unstoppable entertainment juggernaut? Kind of sounds like when the brothers Ringling met Misters Barnum and Bailey.

Sound and fury, signifying nothing

Over at Arts Integrity, Howard Sherman sat down for a conversation with Assassins co-authoer John Weidman (the one who's not Stephen Sondheim) to talk about a concert version of the show that will occur in New York's City Center soon. Since they're talking about a show that depicts the various people who have tried to assassinate the President of the United States, and the current President of the United States is a thin-skinned ninny supported by a band of blind, shrieking harpies (otherwise known as Fox and Friends) who think that a production of Julius Caesar and the text of the Declaration of Independence are deep, personal threats against our Prevaricator-in-Chief, it's inevitable that the conversation comes around to what Assassins means in the era of Trump.

I would venture to say that the musical means what it has always meant: we're a volatile, reactionary group of people with easy access to firearms. Go USA!

If you're worried about whatever misinformed, violent reaction might come about because of that new play you're writing, then never fear! Here's a handy how-to guide for not writing your play.