The Playwrights' Center recently announced their 2017-2018 Jerome Fellows and Many Voices Fellows, and it looks like it's a good time to be a Twin Cities playwright. Local writer Jessica Huang won't have to worry about relocating in order to spend her requisite year in residence at the Playwrights' Center as a Jerome Fellow, and neither will newly-minted Many Voices Fellow Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay. In addition, local writer/performer Julia Gay will receive play development support as a Many Voices mentee. There are other people from out of town who received fellowships as well, but in a fit of senselessly overblown local pride, I am not naming them here.
Maybe you didn't win a Playwrights' Center fellowship. Don't beat yourself up. There are other opportunities to win fabulous cash and prizes. For example, this coming Friday is your last chance to apply for the next round of the St. Paul Knight Arts Challenge, the most ridiculously easy grant in the world to apply for. All you need is 150 words, and you could have a shot at having your most ridiculous ideas funded.
Remember when he said you'd get tired of winning?
Ever since the Loafer in Chief rolled out his "hard power" budget proposal last month, people have been worried. Millions of column inches of anxiety have spilled out from every corner of the information superhighway, as we all fretted about the demise of every single government entity that didn't make things go boom. In the arts world, that panic was centered around Trump's proposal to zero out what little arts funding the federal government has, in the form of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Last month on News and Notes, I told you that all this beleaguered perturbation was probably overblown. Historically speaking, Presidential budget proposals are what congressmen read when they need a really good laugh. The fact that the Republican party couldn't even pass a health care reform bill, despite finally achieving their 8-year-long wet dream of controlling all branches of the federal government, should have also given you some hope. But, still, we all went on feeling hectored and vexed, brooding over the notion that Trump's exceedingly unthought-out budget proposal might become reality. We felt so beset and agonized, bedeviled and hectored, that I was forced to go to a thesaurus to find more synonyms for "worry". I even began to worry that that this critical supply of substitute words might run dry. Think of all the think-pieces that might never be written without this necessary reserve of verbs!
But, after all the roundtable discussions we held, and all the symbolic resolutions we passed, the federal spending bill that the House finally drafted preserved all of those programs we worried about, and, in fact, slightly increased funding for the NEA, NEH and CPB. As added proof that Trump has not single-handedly ushered in the world of Idiocracy, key health and science programs were also boosted. (As an added "screw you", the compromise budget also specifically states that border security funds cannot go to his beloved wall.)
Obviously, seeing his budget proposal being torn to shreds, Trump swung into action, exerting every effort to harangue Congress into MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN… Ha ha ha ha! Sorry, I couldn't finish that sentence with a straight face. No, in reality, Mr. Art of the Deal did absolutely nothing, because, as it turns out, the the self-proclaimed "best negotiator ever" folds like a cheap card table the very moment it looks like he has to do any actual work. In the meantime, congressional Democrats and Republicans actually got together to reach an acceptable compromise instead of playing another apocalyptic game of chicken.
Make no mistake: the National Endowment for the Arts being saved was not done out of the goodness of Congress' collective hearts. It happened because of a bunch of folks like you took the time to organize and make their wishes known to their elected representatives. This year's Arts Advocacy Day at the Minnesota capital drew record numbers of people; the national Arts Advocacy Day in D.C. also drew larger crowds than normal. All over the country, people are suddenly waking up to the idea that sitting at home and unplugging from the mildly annoying task of participating in our participatory government is exactly what put a guy like Trump in office. Saving the NEA for another year is a small win, but it is real, and doesn't it feel good?
Can you imagine what would happen if we all kept doing this even after Trump is gone? (You might not have that long to wonder. Plan accordingly.)
Speaking of being lazy, did you young theater folk know that your elders think you're a bunch of lazy layabouts spending all your time lazing about in your laziness? Of course not. That would take work, ya buncha lazies.
I just spent too much time being berated by an opinion piece in the Washington Post telling me that Americans are just too dumb and lazy anymore to really realize the full, undying genius of William Shakespeare. Thank god those of you in the younger generations finally have an old white guy who is brave enough to talk down to you in an incredibly condescending manner about the choices you make with your stupid, inferior art you kids are making these days. That should really get you excited about old Billy.
In the meantime, across the pond, Dame Judi Dench went way off script in dedicating a plaque to an old, respected actor, veering off into a diatribe about today's young actors being too lazy to learn about their "artistic heritage". She also took the time to tell these young whippersnappers that they're too lazy to get "real" vocal technique. Apparently, she turned on the telly and saw young folks speaking quietly in their native dialects instead of exclamatory Received Pronunciation, and it's absolutely the death knell of theater. (As is my bastardized American spelling of "theatre")
OK… I respect Judi Dench as a great performer, so I don't want to get into tearing her down (though, Mr. Washington Post Theater Critic, you can screw right off). Instead, I want to take you into the world of standup comedy. Remember a couple of years ago when Jerry Seinfeld was whining about how colleges are too PC for "real" comedy? I dug up an opinion piece from that time from another comedian that had this rebuttal:
"Every comedian has a choice to perform at colleges. But don't blame college students for wanting comedy that fits their own sensibilities. Why should any audience have to change their comedy tastes to fit a comedian's act?"
With a few word changes, I could easily adapt that statement to speak about drama and theater, and about how what the older generation views as the younger generation being lazy and stupid is actually the older generation failing to keep up with the changing tastes of the subsequent generation that is rapidly rising up to replace them. It's like all those times your parents looked at your music collection and said something like, "Ya know, back in my day, we had real music," and you realized that what they're citing as "real music" is actually whatever was meaningful to them when they were in their teens and twenties, just as their parents chided them for not liking the "real music" of their generation; and when you think about it, this is a generational cycle that has gone on for at least as long as recorded history, and that all this complaining is actually more about how scary it is to suddenly find yourself standing on the outside of major, meaningful cultural trends instead of being the young, vital one who makes them happen, and you find yourself having no other recourse to preserving your personal sense of importance than to declare that, no, in fact, it is the entire world that is wrong, and not you, and if society would just wake up and realize that we had this all miraculously worked out in perfect harmony back in the day (only coincidentally when you were in your teens and twenties) and we could just go back to that, then everything would just be great again, and we wouldn't have all these "modern problems".
I mean, I could say all that, but that's, like, a lot of work, you know?
A legal matter
I can't find the News and Notes article in which I originally wrote about this, but at some point in the past, I shared with you the strange story of a former talent agent who scammed a bunch of people out of money by claiming he was producing a nonexistent Broadway play starring Lupita Nyong’o. Anyway, that guy finally reached a plea deal after almost a year of bravely proclaiming his innocence in the face of every conceivable fact.
However, the prize for legal theatrical hoopla this week goes to whatever the hell was going on with a failed attempt to produce a musical adaptation of Rebecca. The rancorous trial over this failed experiment has just begun, and the many ridiculous details of this sad saga already include the cancellation of the original West End production because they couldn't afford a collapsing staircase special effect, the death of a major investor who later turned out to be fictitious, and the publicist for the show actively working against it becoming funded. I can't wait until someone makes a musical about this attempt to make a musical!