In local news…
It's been a year and a half since former CTC actor Jason Mclean was named in a sex abuse lawsuit against the theater company. Mclean was more notable at that time as the owner of the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis' Dinkytown, and the Varsity has suffered mightily for for it. After local and touring artists pulled out of the venue the Varsity's schedule dwindled down to nothing as Mclean seemed to have disappeared from the scene. Well, it looks like he didn't entirely vanish. Mclean still apparently has corporeal form enough to finally sell the venue to an LA-based property management company. The company promises to get the Varsity back up and running again soon, which means you'll be able to get drunk at a concert in Dinkytown again with your moral compass still intact (or at least as intact as it was when you went in).
Earlier this year the Soap Factory cut the cord with its annual Haunted Basement event, spinning the high-concept horror show off as its own nonprofit organization. After several months of wandering, the group has found a new basement to dwell in at the old General Mills Research Factory. Now that they have a permanent home that they don't have to disassemble after Halloween is done, they no longer have to deal with the laborious task of scrubbing all the blood off the walls. Think of the savings!
I don't know if this is a new feature or an old one I was previously ignorant of, but the Minnesota Theater Alliance has a handy map of all their member theaters in Minnesota. As expected, there is a dense conglomeration of theater mask icons completely blotting out the Twin Cities. You basically have to zoom in on the map down to the neighborhood level to be able to differentiate them. (I suspect a map of all the trees in the Twin Cities would look similar.) I bring this up, because lately Twin Cities theater folk have been sharing an article from Paste Magazine (which my autocorrect keeps trying to change to "Pasta Magazine" for some reason) listing Minneapolis as one of the Best Theatre Cities in the U.S. So, hooray! Except… Oh, boy, I don't want to appear ungrateful by snapping back at someone who was sincerely praising us, but…
What the hell, let's do it! Let's be more assertive, Minneapolis! Yeah!
There are two major problems with what Paste writes about us: (1) They make a snarky remark about St. Paul, which is our job; and (2) they cite the non-fact of Minneapolis having "more theatre seats per capita than any other American city besides New York." In the article, they say "I didn’t even know anyone was counting," which shouldn't be surprising, considering that no one is counting. I've already tried running down this stat, as has Jay Gabler at the Tangential, and it has absolutely no basis in reality. As one of the last stubborn devotees to the antiquated notion of "facts=reality", I feel it is my duty to squash this misinformation as thoroughly as possible, even though very few people care all that much. It's a sad, lonely life. Now, shall we move on to the fact that Chicago isn't actually all that windy? What pedantic fun this will be!
Chill out, dude
Maybe I should just get off my high horse. The rest of America is going on a fact-free diet, and just look at the amazing results! Maybe I should just relax.
That's why I should probably hop over the pond and attend one the Royal Shakespeare Company's new "Chilled" performances, where audiences are not berated and chastised for getting up and going to the bathroom whenever they damn well please. The performances themselves will be exactly the same as "regular" shows, except that instead of demanding that audiences behave like religious devotees subject to arcane traditions and summary judgement, they're free to behave as autonomous individuals able to use their adult-sized brains to determine their own level of comfort. It's basically how people behave in movie theaters. Since the cinema long ago abandoned the idea of the intermission, and billions of movie tickets continue to be sold, I'm a little perplexed as to why this might be considered a radical experiment.
Last week on News and Notes, we briefly touched on that infamous Washington Post article in which theater critics gave a bunch of cheeky reasons for hating the arcane tradition of the intermission. In discussing that, I missed the fact that LA Times critic Charles McNulty also recently wrote an article about his dislike of intermissions. McNulty's writing, however, is a more serious and persuasive look at the issue, which does not come not from his own personal discomfort. As he says, "My concern is an art form that doesn’t always seem in sync with modern life."
Of course, you can find plenty of naysayers in the film world who advocate for the return of the cinema intermission, saying that "movies these days are just way longer than they used to be!" (They're actually not, but there I go again with my stupid insistence on facts); but having a "chilled" attitude for the theater audience may help alleviate the concerns that McNulty and the other whinier critics cite. At the very least, it will give them less to whine about.
Where my ladies at?
Recently, the literary manager at the Royal Court Theater was asked about playwright gender equity and responded with “Diversity [in terms of] men and women has improved so drastically during my time working in theatre it is almost laughable." First of all, yes, the literary manager at the Royal Court Theater is a man. Second of all, before you get all mad about one quote pulled out of its full context, you should know that the Royal Court's latest season has twice as many female playwrights as male. From his particular vantage point, it may very well seem like this old problem has been solved. Just like how we elected a black president, and now racism is dead.
So, kudos to Royal Court for taking care of their own backyard. I'm sure it's very nice. In the rest of the theatrical world, however, it takes about 30 seconds of looking around to realize that women aren't exactly equitably represented in theater. Part of this is due to the continuing insistence on the classics, especially Shakespeare's canon, which is a total sausage-fest; but it goes way beyond the faces you see on the stage. Over at HowlRound, Porsche McGovern just completed an exhaustive analysis of the gender breakdowns at America's LORT theaters. In this third and final phase, McGovern crunched the numbers on directors, designers and artistic directors, and that 2-1 ratio that Royal Court has going for it is completely flipped the other way. In America at least, men still dominate women in every behind-the-scenes job category except for costume design.
With only one show left on Broadway written by a woman, The New York Times recently ran an article looking at the push by women to break through this systemic failing. As the article says, "It is awkward, in a field that espouses liberal values, to point out the disparity between women and their male colleagues. But it’s pretty glaring. You don’t have to squint to see it."
I know I say this all the time, but it's pretty damn easy for a theater company to have a gender equitable or even female-dominated season if they really want to. They just have to actually want to, which I suspect may be the real problem. At the Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout recently wrote an article about how easily he could dash off a solid season of female playwrights for a regional theater. And, yeah, I know that this article is behind the WSJ's paywall. What? Do you expect a man to just give this stuff away for free?
Every once in a while, I like to offer my readers a simple test of their psychology by offering two different articles and telling them to pick one. Your choice says a lot about you, and I have gathered some great data over the years by watching what you do. "But I never signed up for a test!" you might protest, "How are you even tracking what I pick?" Well, readers, I can't reveal the exact methods by which you have been observed, since that might taint the data, but I can say that you can accomplish an awful lot in this life with enough willpower and a telescopic lens.
So, which will you choose?
Please answer honsetly. This is for science. Yeah, that's it. Science.