Recently, I wrote a rather long article in which I attempted a post-mortem of sorts for New Epic Theater's canceled production of Medea. At the time, I could not say for certain what the fate of the company would be, although it seemed pretty unlikely that it could continue. This week, we learned that the likely outcome happened and New Epic Theater has ceased to be. In a press statement that the company sent out, they said:
"Unfortunately, a troubled and too-short rehearsal period plagued with artistic differences and illnesses on the creative team, as well as a lack of adequate technical support, caused them to cancel their production of MEDEA. As a new and vulnerable company, this unexpected financial hit was lethal, forcing the Board of Directors to vote to cease operations. Consequently, NEW EPIC THEATER is entering into the process of dissolution with the State of Minnesota."
The process of dissolving a non-profit in Minnesota is not as straightforward as simply voting for it and walking away. There are still several steps to go before New Epic can be properly put to rest, including resolving the $18,000 in debt that the company still owes. For everyone's sake, let's hope that can be wrapped up quickly.
Two weeks ago we talked about the controversy over David Mamet trying his darnedest to stop producers from hosting discussions of his plays. (In case you didn't notice, my conclusion was that it's a real dick move on his part.) This isn't really much of an update on that, but I did want to share with you my favorite new opinion piece on the matter, courtesy of the Clyde Fitch Report: "God I Wish David Mamet Would Just Get Over Himself".
Some update that really shouldn't be
And then we come to last week on News and Notes, where the talk was all about that stupid moment where a bunch of conservative snowflakes got themselves all worked up into a petulant lather over the Public Theater's choice to dress up Julius Caesar like Donald Trump. I was hoping that one would blow over quickly, but, alas, the stupidity continues apace, even as Oskar Eustis eloquently defended the decision, and everyone pointed out that if you wanted to do a Shakespeare play that was actually a put-down of Trump, we have plenty of other choices. According to Jason Linkins, writing at Huffpost: "I wouldn’t put him in Caesar’s shoes. No, I’d feature him in the title role of Macbeth (Ivanka could be Lady Macbeth!) and I’d hire the most pornographically violent fight director that money could buy." As former NYT reviewer Charles Isherwood tells it, the Public's playing up of Trump as Caesar isn't really that intelligent of a criticism of Trump, even if you want to take it as such.
Unfortunately, the stupid has gotten stupider. Not only did a couple of jerks attempt to interrupt a performance of the Public's Julius Caesar (which resulted in the awesome moment after they were escorted away when the stage manager asked the cast to pick it up again from the line "Freedom. Liberty." and a standing ovation ensued); but now whiny know-nothings are sending angry, threatening messages to just about any theater company with "Shakespeare" in its name and to just about anyone who's doing any kind of Shakespeare in the park anywhere in the country.
This is normally where I would think of some ridiculous analogy to express the utter stupidity of this moment, but I got as far as "someone tripped on a crack on a sidewalk, so all his buddies are roaming the streets with sledgehammers, waging a war on the very concept of concrete"; but I realized, no, reality is now even dumber than that. Now the angry talking heads on the teevee are trying to somehow tie this up with the recent shooting of Congressmen on a baseball field as "proof" that leftwing violence is the real problem in the country (despite no actual facts supporting that assessment). Congratulations, America. You've lowered the bar once again. Facts don't matter. Nuance is dead. Reality is meaningless. Enjoy arbys.
Can someone pull me out of this well of despair before I drown myself in curly fries and horsey sauce?!
Oh, hi, Rural Arts and Culture Summit. I don't know if you solved anything or not, but it sure was nice to hear a bunch of people feeling very positive about the idea that art can bring people together.
Something that feels like news, but is actually yet another update to a long-running theme
Pour one out for Paula Vogel. Despite the fact that she's taking home the Hull-Warrener prize for her latest play, Indecent, the show is getting the ax. Despite taking home Tony awards for direction and lighting, the show will be closing on June 25, after only 79 performances.
And I guess you can keep pouring for Lynn Nottage. She may have won a Pulitzer for her play, Sweat, and that show may be one of the most prescient dissections of America on any stage right now; but she didn't win a Tony, so her play goes away on June 25 as well, after 105 performances.
So, mark your calendars for June 25, folks, because it's the day that the only female playwrights on Broadway right now get forced off the stage. Of course, there are a lot of reasons why plays disappear from Broadway. In general, they're not nearly as popular as musicals, so they tend to have a shorter life span, and it's usually only a big ol' Tony win for Best Play that gives them much life past a single season. Fair or not, Tony Awards can make and break plays. (We'll see how long Oslo can coast on that.)
But, Vogel and Nottage know exactly who they blame: the men at the New York Times. On the Twittersphere, both women knocked the white male reviewers at the NYT for their lukewarm responses to playwrights who are not also white males.
Fair or not, the old gray lady also has the power to make or break plays, and no matter how many awards (aside from Tonys) that a playwright stacks up (*ahem* Pulitzer), a middling review from the Times can still doom a Broadway run. And, in case you haven't noticed, theater criticism is an overwhelmingly white, male enterprise. Now, I can't say for certain that either play would still be running on Broadway if the NYT folks had slathered them in praise (Charles Isherwood, the critic whom NYT unceremoniously dumped earlier this year was a white man who had effusive praise for the off-Broadway incarnations of both Vogel and Nottage's plays), but it's hard to argue anymore that mainstream theater criticism has much going for it when it comes to diversity.
Let's pop over to Chicago to see that playing out. Chicago Sun Times theater critic Hedy Weiss may not be a man, but she is extremely white, and her casual dismissal of Steppenwolf's latest work, Pass Over, exhibited more than a little evidence of tone-deafness when it came to the issues of race addressed in the show. This led to a backlash from Steppenwolf and other supporters against Weiss' review and a petition for Chicago-area theaters to no longer invite Weiss to review their shows. If you just isolated this incident, it might seem like people are taking a single bad review way too personally. Many an internet commentator has chimed in to say something like, "She didn't like your play, so you're calling her a racist?"; but if you bother to look back at Weiss' full tenure, as Broadway World did, you begin to see a pattern of a critic who has limited tastes and extremely limited cultural awareness.
And that's the real problem. Not everything is meant to be for everyone, but the theater critics working at nearly every major paper come from an extremely limited cross-section of America, and they haven't done much to change that. Weiss and the boys' club at NYT don't consciously set out to dis plays by minorities and women; but their particular cultural experience is repeated over and over by most critics, which means that a great many things don't pass through that filter. It's an old problem in theater criticism, which institutions keep acknowledging and then not doing anything about.
I don't have an instant solution for this problem, except for this one bit of action: our own Star Tribune is hiring a new theater writer/critic. How about you send that link to their job posting to someone with a different perspective and background than what we currently have? How about you encourage them to apply? And how about you gently nudge the Strib to think about hiring someone different than they've ever hired before? It ain't the New York times, but it's a start. Shouldn't everything start locally?
Carefully crafted sexing
So, you want a sex scene in your play, huh? Better get yourself an "intimacy choreographer".
Actually, can I hire one of those for my real life?