You gotta wanna change
Last week on News and Notes guest writer Gregory Parks gave a call to everyone in our industry to get up and do the things that need to be done to make the change that we all say needs to happen:
"We have to look at old approaches and adjust them or set them aside. We have to be able to listen to people inside our own ranks and learn about ways we have been under serving or ignoring specific, valid concerns for segments of our groups. With so many ways our implicit biases can mold our choices, there is a lot to reflect on and address inside our companies, our circles, and ourselves."
So, to that end, here's some local things that show the ongoing spirit of changing things up for the better:
(1) More than two decades ago, Michelle Hensley decided to heed that call and change how theater got to the masses, taking Ten Thousand Things's productions directly to those most disadvantaged and never talking down to them. Now that she's about to retire, people from all over the country have come to the Twin Cities to learn how she did it.
(2) In 2015, Sarah Rasmussen took over as Artistic Director of the Jungle Theater. In two short years, she has reimagined the play selection, casting and hiring processes at her theater, achieving the kind of gender parity that you will not find at almost any other theater in the US, all without losing audience members.
(3) Around the same time that Rasmussen came to town, Joe Haj took over at the Guthrie. After years of fearful stagnation at the G, Haj's new vision of increasing diversity both on and off stage and welcoming the community into that expensive blue building has resulted in a balanced budget and an increase in season ticket holders.
(4) Speaking of new leadership, look here at the new leaders of the Ordway and the Hennepin Theatre Trust putting aside a decade of bickering and grudges between the two organizations to actually share resources, collaborate and generally make things better for everyone involved.
(5) And I guess I'm still on this issue of new leadership, because the Minnesota Fringe Festival just announced applications for the 2018 festival, the first one steered fully under the leadership of new ED Dawn Bentley. There are a lot of changes from the past two years that indicate that Bentley has been listening to the feedback from audiences and artists alike. Maybe this will be the year that people don't have a bunch of petty complaints about anything and everything having to do with the Fringe Festival.
Ha! Just kidding! Some things don't ever change.
This week in abuse
It's been almost two months since revelations of Harvey Weinstein's sexually abusive habits finally came to the greater public attentions. Since then, the dam has bust loose, and torrents of accusations against men have come rushing forth. Victims seem no longer afraid, and the institutions that traditionally stood by those credibly accused men in the face of all evidence, have actually started to listen. Considering that just over a year ago, our country elected a President who openly bragged about being able to assault women because of his celebrity status (and, yeah, Mr. One Of The Great Memories Of All Time, you did say those things), this is turning into a very big, very fast cultural shift.
So, we're cleaning house. That's good. It'll be a long process, and considering how long the scuzz has been allowed to build up around here, this is going to turn into more than a few extra garbage bags sitting on the curb. The way things are going, we're probably going to have to order up half a dozen roll-off dumpsters before this is over.
No matter what part of the entertainment industry you're in, there's a man out there who you worshipped who's going down. You're going to have to deal with that, and it's going to suck. Watch Sarah Silverman wrestle with it over Louis C.K. and you'll see it's not easy.
So, which heroes are we finding out about now? How about playwright Israel Horovitz? Even his son believes the charges. How about conductor for the Metropolitan Opera, James Levine? That's from conduct that goes back decades. What about actor Geoffrey Rush? Sure, he denies the charges, but so does our very own Garrison Keillor, and MPR still decided to boot him.
In a recent editorial at Twin Cities Arts Reader, Basil Considine wrote about the tricky problems for an arts organization when it is confronted with accusations against one of its big shots. How does a board determine the difference between rumor and reality? I agree that you can't just go about firing people willy-nilly based on hearsay and innuendo; but a responsible organization does step up and do a real investigation when complaints are made. That doesn't always mean that someone is canned. Over in Chicago, the board of Writers Theatre hired an independent investigator to look into sexual harassment complaints made agains their Artistic Director, and determined that, while he may have made inappropriate comments, it did not rise to the level of a fireable offense.
And if your thorough investigation does confirm the charges, and you find them to be serious enough, then you do the right thing and get rid of the offender, even if it's a really famous person whose firing could cost your organization supporters and revenue (as Keillor's departure from Minnesota Public Radio undoubtedly will).
The point isn't just to take down some big guys, like we're a bunch of lesser Trumps posing with the corpses of rare beasts. Here's the point: Broadway casting director Justin Huff was recently fired for sexual misconduct. Huff is not a celebrity. Unless you were a real Broadway insider, you wouldn't have had a clue who he is; but until very, very recently he was protected by a culture of silence. Very quietly, behind the scenes, he was a person who could help make or break an actor's career. God knows how many brilliant people were turned away from our industry because of these quiet little gatekeepers leveraging their little bit of power to satisfy themselves. Taking down big guys like Weinstein and Keillor (after proper, judicial investigation, of course) sends the message to all those little men in the rest of the industry that they definitely won't get away with it, either, and that's what really needs to change.
What we've got here is failure to communicate
Want to watch what happens with an unstoppable force meets an immoveable object? Have a read of this email exchange between a theater's Artistic Director and a Trump-supporting patron who wanted a refund because of jokes about the President in a commedia show. No one learns anything, and you can spend hours arguing with your fellow theater folks about whether or not this was handled correctly. What fun!
As an added bonus, I learned that sometimes Trump supporters go to the theater for reasons other than protesting. Who knew?