Welcome to the end of 2017, friends. We made it! Just barely, but we did it, nonetheless.
I would normally be doing a recap of the year during the last week of the year, but next week News and Notes will put the wraps on 2017 with guest writer Joy Dolo. One of my favorite things this year has been watching what these new voices bring to this aging enterprise. Laura vanZandt and Taous Khazem both made me think about issues in theater that I had not previously considered. Gregory Parks came in with a clarion call for everyone that I hope you all heard. I can't wait to see what Joy has for you next time.
Since I won't be seeing you all again until after the new year, I guess now is the time in which I look back at the year that was. That means that I have to wade through some 50 or so articles that I cranked out over the year—the majority of them tossed off half-crocked and half-drunk mere minutes before publishing deadlines—and try to figure out what the major themes of the year were.
I started off early in the year talking about how many small spaces in the Twin Cities were closing, opening or otherwise changing, and last week's News and Notes was one final trip down memory lane saying goodbye to another one. It was kind of a bummer, actually. Thank god we learned that the Hennepin Theatre Trust will be opening a new "theatre lounge" in downtown Minneapolis with a menu inspired by jerky producers Jack Links. Finally, Minneapolis theater-goers, you will have the sweet smoked meats that you have been desperately searching for.
This, of course, got me thinking about other exciting synergies that we could be putting together here in the theater world. It goes without saying that nothing goes better with theater news commentary than the delicious taste of fine, canned meat, so I am very excited to announce that starting in 2018, News and Notes will be coming to you in partnership with the fine folks at Hormel, a true Minnesota company (unlike some Wisconsin-based jerky places that shall remain nameless). After the new year, get ready to kick back, pop open a can of Spam and enjoy all the theater updates you can ladle across a piece of salty, processed pork parts. But, hey, don't stop there! Revel in the latest twists and turns of Broadway while downing some canned chicken breast chunks. News and Notes is the easy way to start your theater week, and Hormel's tinned chicken is "the easy way to add great-tasting, satisfying protein to your meals." Did you think you were going to be able to stop there?! Good lord, NO! Hurdle through the latest stupid casting controversy while stuffing your face with a 2.5 ounce can of Ground Formed & Sliced Dried Beef! Don't even bother with cooking it! Huddle in the dark around the dying light of your computer screen, gnawing on the shriveled cowflesh that refuses to submit to the ravages of time in defiance of all natural laws, while also laughing at the lighthearted foibles of those wacky theater folk!
So, I got that to look forward to. I'm gonna rustle me up a can of Hormel Chili. It's going to be the best damn partnership, and it deserves to be celebrated with the best damned canned chili on the market.
Speaking of salty, fatty, slimy chunks of oddly-colored meat, I did write the word "Trump" an awful lot this year. It's unfortunately hard to not do that, since his one true code in life is apparently trying to insert himself where he is definitely not wanted. The grease oozing out of the White House in this past year has splattered on everything. (Check out this writer at Slate being forced to re-evaluate the Broadway smash hit The Book of Mormon in the age of Trump if you don't believe me.) I could pick any number of dumb, greedy, ham-handed things that are connected to him that I have had to write about this year, but how about reminiscing on the dumbest: remember that time when conservative media when apeshit over a production of Julius Caesar?
Trump is too obvious, though. One of the things I didn't realize that I returned to again and again this year was the precarious state of your pocket book. Broadway smashed all kinds of record sales this year, but you would never know it, based on how hard it is for a lowly theater artist to get paid. It's such an anxiety-inducing state of affairs that any little change that Actor's Equity rolls out trips the panic switches immediately. Of course, the trickle-down wet dream of a tax bill currently being heaved through Congress makes sure that working actors of all stripes get shafted even harder, but at least the lucky few who wind up with million-dollar asking prices will be helped out, so, on average, everything's great, right?
But the big thing that I found myself talking about over and over and over again this year was ethics and trust, and about how those two things have been sorely lacking in some important places in the entertainment industry. This was the year I had to write an intensive, journalistic piece on how a local company splintered apart for want of those two things. This was the year we saw Rochester Civic Theatre start to come apart at the seams because their former ED couldn't tell the difference between "legal" and "ethical." This was the year that Harvey Weinstein's downfall blew open all the hatches and sent a whole lot of secretly terrible people scurrying for the exits.
It's really difficult to understate how quickly the culture of silence around workplace sexual harassment and assault has crumbled to dust in just the past few months. Women are coming forward, people are finally having difficult conversations that should have happened generations ago. I am, however, worried about what happens after the "me too" moment has passed.
A majority of Americans may be concerned about sexual harassment, but since when does merely being in the majority get you what you want in America? (It certainly doesn't guarantee you the Presidency.) A majority of Americans support universal background checks for gun sales, oppose the FCC's recent ruling on Net Neutrality and are seriously in hate with the new tax bill I mentioned above; but none of this stuff gets fixed based on public opinion polls. If an organization is serious about rooting out sexual harassment and truly making women at home, then just canceling a play because of harassment allegations isn't going to cut it. Serious organizational overhauls are required. There are advocates out there that can help, but you've got to want to change, not just give lip service to change.
As I've said many times in this column, women are woefully underrepresented in our industry, especially in positions of power. We all have to truly buy into the truth that women can be ambitious, assertive and effective; we need to get out of the way of these great potential leaders, or we'll be forever stuck in the same stupid cycles that frustrate us again and again, no matter what year it is.
If 2016 was "a dumpster fire", then 2017 was definitely when that fire spilled out of the dumpster and jumped to the other neighboring piles of refuse that have built up over the years. But this time, it looks like all your neighbors have finally gotten tired of the scent of wet, smoldering garbage. They've all realized that the brave firemen in the shiny trucks are not coming to douse this particular back alley conflagration. That means that the people standing around watching the flames are the only ones who can put it out. Some of you are organizing bucket brigades. Some of you are making long-term plans to keep your particular alley clear of all this useless junk in the future so that this massively stupid, monstrously destructive, and entirely avoidable crap doesn't happen again.
Hopefully 2018 will be the year in which we all get together and get that fire under control.
In the meantime, don't ever forget to advocate for yourself, and never, never, never, ever let the bastards who lit the fire and then never sent the fire trucks think that you're not looking. As Gregory Parks said last month when he guest-wrote this very column, "Our call time is now."