You're the best around!
Nothing's gonna something something something… OK, I admit, I don't know the lyrics to Joe Esposito's finest work. I may have failed at being a child of the '80s, but let's not let that get in the way of celebrating bestness!
Most publications wait until the end of the year to tell you what the best things of that year are, but City Pages doesn't play by your rules, Mr. Calendar. They're out with their annual Best of the Twin Cities list, and performing arts people are there. Congratulations to the Jungle Theater (and their production of Two Gentlemen of Verona), actors Shelby Richardson and Randy Reyes, director Peter Rothstein, Sandbox Theatre, TU Dance, James Sewell Ballet’s Killer Pig, and choreographer Karen Sherman on being the best there is at what you do.
Wait a minute… Sandbox? That's my old company! So, a theater company gets to be the best once I leave it? Dammit, I have terrible timing!
It's so hard to say goodbye
While we're on the subject of people doing their best, the Minnesota theater scene had better get ready for a big change. After 29 years at the head of the company she founded, Michelle Hensley will be retiring from her role as Artistic Director of the much-celebrated theater group Ten Thousand Things. Hensley will be closing out her final season at TTT with The Good Person of Szechwan; fittingly, the very first play the company ever produced.
Hensley's work with Ten Thousand Things has been far too long and influential to sum up correctly in one short interview, and her legacy will continue long after she's gone. The TTT board will have to look long and hard to find someone who can fill her shoes.
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I have written many words. Many of them of them have actually strung together into coherent sentences. Some of those have even combined to form narratives that I have shared with you. A select few of those have combined further to gain a sort of dark sentience. One of those has grown in power and is preparing to tear a portal between this world and the next, quite possibly ending reality as we know it.
But let's skip back past those last two entries to the "narratives" one. The rest I can no longer control, and I'm sorry. I'm just so, so sorry. But at least the end of our world will be be quick and painless, or so the dark intelligence has assured me.
There are several narratives we have discussed before that didn't go away just because we stopped talking about them. Proceed ahead to be updated on them.
(1) Two weeks ago, we talked about Duck Washington's play being rejected by the Ames Center in Burnsville because of the word "mulatto" in the title. Now the Star Tribune is writing about it. The fact that the Strib is writing about it is really the only update. It just means that now the general populace outside of artsy people will read about it, which means that this article should generate the most fascinating and stupid comments imaginable, as is the norm for Strib articles.
What? There's no comments section on this one? Where am I going to find a local troll writing something about "tears of a liberal" now? I guess I'll just have to comfort myself with listening to a couple of sports talk radio guys fumbling their way through discussing it instead. (Skip to minute 44 in that audio link, and you'll soon be treated to Washington being referred to as "play guy".)
(2) We've been talking about Trump's plan to eliminate the NEA for what seems like an agonizing forever, but is actually only like a few months or so; and that pretty much sums up the Trump administration.
Another hallmark of our reality show presidency: careless, thoughtless actions tossed off in a grand show of looking busy that will have bad repercussions for vast swaths of people. MPR recently published a story on the effects that cutting the NEA will have on Minnesota arts, cheerfully titled "Minnesota artists brace for federal funding cuts". Esquire Magazine interviewed five major, award-winning American artists on their opinions on how cutting the NEA will hurt the country. And, if you think all of that is too much of highfalutin' city folk whining from their ivory towers, CBS News has an article on cutting the NEA will hurt small, rural areas (you know, the ones that are supposed to be integral to "making America great").
But, let's not make it all doom and gloom. Once again, cutting the NEA is not a done deal. As Sheila Smith, head of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts said on her Facebook feed: "I was on MPR this morning talking about the NEA. And NO, we are not "bracing for cuts." We are going to #SAVEtheNEA, dammit."
(3) Last year, I thoroughly lamented the untimely end of Emma Rice's tenure at the Globe in London. As we close in on the waning days of her last season, Rice has started sending her parting shots, this time in the form of an open letter to the board that cut her off at the knees for the high crime of doing exactly the kind of theater that she is famous for in the first place. And, yes, she is bitter: “I chose to leave because, as important and beloved as the Globe is to me, the board did not love and respect me back. It did not understand what I saw, what I felt and what I created with my actors, creative teams and the audience.”
Dominic Dromgoole, who served as the Globe's AD before Rice, also wrote his own open letter. You might expect Dromgoole, who disagreed with Rice's decision to bring modern tech into the Globe, to rebut her; after all, he is incredibly invested in the Globe and its mission, and he believed so much in the no-tech "shared light" philosophy that he spent two years touring the Globe's Hamlet to every corner of the earth. However, that would be a wrong assumption. As he wrote in his letter: “The fact that Emma has been stopped in fulfilling her ambitions is heartbreaking. It is also wrong… The only people who have the moral strength to get rid of you are the audience. No one else, not the board, not your supposed colleagues, not the vulture punditry, just the audience.”
(4) I have written in passing about the Tony Awards' elimination of Sound Design categories, usually buried inside other criticisms of the Tony Awards. (Katherine Horowitz went into more depth in her Playlist article on sound design.) Well, sound designers, you have finally won this fight: the Tonys are bringing them back in 2018.
But, what about 2017? Last week on News and Notes, I mentioned that the award show was having trouble nailing down a host. If you're the type of person who worries about this kind of thing, then worry no more: after many, many people turned down offers to host this year's awards Kevin Spacey finally said yes. In a statement he released after the deal was signed, Spacey also said, "I was their second choice for Usual Suspects, fourth choice for American Beauty and 15th choice to host this year's Tony Awards. I think my career is definitely going in the right direction. Maybe I can get shortlisted to host the Oscars if everyone else turns it down."
Turning the tables
There are many things that affects artists unfairly: Arts organizations have a lot of backward legacy practices; taxes for artists can be a nightmare because the tax code hates people who are self-employed contract workers; sometimes the police are called in to stop an angry mob from disrupting your play; sometimes the police are the angry mob disrupting your play. Don't you wish you could strike back, just once, against the powers that be?
Here's a story that should satisfy every embattled artistic director's revenge fantasy: the staff at Theatre Puget Sound, a nonprofit that advocates for theater in the Seattle area, got together and tried to fire their board of directors. For those of you who have never worked in the nonprofit sector, that's like a group of office workers firing their CEO. I don't know if this move is advisable or even legal, but, boy does it satisfy the angry id.