Hey, everyone. Today's my birthday. Of course, by the time you read this, it will no longer be my birthday. That's how the linear progression of time works, so don't bother wishing me a happy birthday now. It's already so much dust in the wind, dude.
But for now, for me, as I write this, it is, in fact, my birthday. So, before I go out to Merlins Rest and really put their promise to give you two-for-one pints on your birthday to the test, I figured I would sit down here and comb through the news for some bright, shiny bauble that I can pretend is just for me. Come on, theater world, what piece of news can I call my birthday present?
Let's see… Looks like Hamilton is now officially on the schedule to come to Minneapolis. That's pretty cool, I suppose, but considering that prices start at over $350 and you needed to already be a season subscriber to Hennepin Theatre Trust last year to get a shot at buying non-scalped tickets, it's probably not going to do me any good.
And, yeah, I guess the fact that Minnesota spends way more money per capita on the arts than any other state is pretty cool, but, come on, we already knew that. It's only news to people who don't live in such a cool state.
So, let's travel across the country, looking somewhere else for my very special theater news birthday present…
In sexual assault news…
I probably shouldn't have started here. Why did I do that? OK.... A bunch of performers in Sleep No More were groped by audience members. I know it's hard to believe, but letting a crowd of half-drunken strangers in depersonalizing masks run amok in a darkened labyrinthian warehouse largely unsupervised while having free rein to interact at will with a sex-charged nudity-filled performance piece somehow resulted in some of those audience members getting all gross and handsy. I'm shocked! Shocked! Well, I'm sure that the producers of this non-union production that is currently making money hand over fist will be more than willing to institute strong measures that protect their performers, since the safety and security of performers has for so long been the major concern of theater producers and attendees.
In political news…
Well, that was demoralizing. What's on the next page? What's this? The new Republican tax plan sucks even more for working artists than anyone even knew? I guess that fits right in line with Trump's newest proposed budget, which once again proposes to slash the NEA and all other federal arts and culture programs. But don't worry, folks! It's all part of a master plan to increase budget deficits by $7 trillion while simultaneously cutting all the things that Americans actually want and need, which, now that I think about it, actually seems like a terrible idea all around. It's so hard for me to square this current irresponsible behavior with the rash, ignorant blowhard who once referred to himself as "the king of debt". Wait. No, that actually squares quite nicely with what I already know about Donald Trump. Who elected this guy?
Meanwhile, in dumb, racist backlash news (which, sadly, is now also political news)…
In Ithaca, NY, a high school production of the musical version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame ran into some problems when they decided to cast a white performer in the role of Esmerelda. This led to some outcry from students of color, which the school responded to by canceling the show, because nothing teaches kids a better lesson than avoiding that lesson entirely. This is too bad, because there is a good discussion to be had about what proper representation looks like in this case. Victor Hugo's original novel made the character half Roma and half French and didn't describe her in terms that made her seem physically different from other French characters; the Disney version drew her as darker skinned than other characters (including the eponymous Hunchback, who was also Roma in the novel); the modern stage version that the kids were attempting to do has placed women of color in that role in multiple productions since its inception in 2015. It's not surprising to me that older folks would perceive Esmerelda as being white while younger ones would not. Is this just a generational thing that got blown out of proportion? Does the Roma experience in Europe map on the experience of being non-white in America? Does it actually matter all that much? I don't know, but now no one can have that discussion, because the school shut it down. It's like how a really good soccer coach deals with his players arguing by throwing the soccer ball over an embankment and stomping off the field. You know, really modeling responsible adult behavior.
Unfortunately, the bad behavior modeling didn't stop there. After those warm, fuzzy folks at Breitbart got ahold of the story (and no, I would never link you to a Breitbart article), it got passed on to those open, cheery white supremacists at Stormfront (and, hell no, I am not sending traffic there, either), which resulted in numerous miserable wretches masquerading as functional adults sending racist memes and death threats to high school students.
Oh, hey, look! More racist backlashing! Against adults! This time it's in response to a theater company casting a black woman as Joan of Arc in Saint Joan. From the mountains of vile comments hurled at the company, one would think that the casting of a woman of color in this role was a radical act, a line that no one had dared cross before, except, hey, here are pictures of Diana Sands playing the same role in 1967!
Boy, it's almost as if all these people throwing racist shitposts at random theater productions are not actually regular theater patrons or know anything about theater history whatsoever.
Meanwhile, in Shakespeare news…
OK, this one's looking up. Researchers, with the help of software that is commonly used to spot plagiarism in papers, were able to identify a 16th century document that William Shakespeare apparently went to for a lot of his inspiration. Using pattern recognition, they were able to identify key words, phrases and concepts that show that Shakespeare was greatly influenced by a piece of writing contemporary to his time. That's the first actually new and interesting thing I've heard anyone say about Shakespeare in decades!
Unfortunately for the concept of nuanced discourse (which is in desperately short supply these days), many journalistic outlets decided to spin this as OMG! Shakespeare was totally a plagiarist, you guys!, because the research paper had the words "plagiarism" and "Shakespeare" in it, and editors apparently do not read past the first paragraph when concocting headlines. It's too bad, because, as much as I believe that Shakespeare should be taken down a peg or two hundred (no, fawning fanboys Billy did not invent 1,700 new English words), I do believe that he was a brilliant writer for his time. I just can't seem to find anyone else who's willing to sit with me in the middle ground between Shakespeare being "YAWN! ANOTHER BORING OLD WHITE DUDE" and "ABSOLUTE ALL-TIME GENIUS WHO TOTALLY INVENTED THE ENTIRE ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND PROBABLY PANCAKES WHILE WE'RE AT IT!" I have a hard time buying the modern conception of the "genius", wherein a single, brilliant person completely revolutionizes humanity through his own inherent awesomeness. That's just not how art, society, or plain old human beings function. So, thanks to Slate for publishing the one piece of journalism on this subject that properly pays homage to the idea that genius is not born in a vacuum.
Meanwhile, on YouTube
Well, I'm back home, putzing around on the internet, which is how we kill time these days between bouts of instagramming our food and waiting for the next awful thing to tumble out of the President's mouth. Bleary and sodden from two-for-one Black and Tans pints and way more steamed mussels than any one person should ever eat, I pop open YouTube and get a notification. What's this? Why, it's a new video series from the channel Crash Course. What's the subject that they're going to teach in a long series of videos? Theater! The first video in the series is entitled "What is Theater?" and it includes a discussion of the "-re" and "-er" spellings that comes to the conclusion that there isn't a functional difference, and that there are more interesting things to talk about.
I think I just found my birthday present!