Hey there, friends! We're in the waning days of my time here at News and Notes. I have seen some of you out there in the internet lands expressing sadness over this. At least that's what I think you meant. My understanding of emojis is rather limited, but I have noticed that people really like expressing their enthusiasm for eggplants. That's nice. They're healthy.
At any rate, I assure you that this is not a sad thing. It's simply a case of moving on. The world changes, and often for the better. You know the old saying: "When God closes a door, He clicks the lock back and forth exactly six times because of His crippling obsessive compulsive disorder."
There are many things that seem sad at first, but reveal a wealth of opportunity on the other side. Sure, it sucks to say goodbye to our own Intermedia Arts, but the building is up for sale now, and there's no reason it absolutely has to get bulldozed for more condos. Look at this group of women angling to buy a London West End theater in order to turn it into a beacon of change. Sure, this whole "internet" thing has rendered cherished traditions like playbills kind of wasteful and pointless, and now every dumbass with a smartphone can livestream your production against your wishes; but the internet is also enabling all kinds of platforms that theater artists never dreamed of before, like Audible's new foray into producing plays. And, sure, you're probably never going to get Hamilton tickets when the show is here in Minneapolis, but the fact that eager season subscribers crashed the Hennepin Theatre Trust website on the first day of sales, means that there is an immense wealth of opportunity for anyone with the creativity and gumption it takes to forge a hell of a lot of tickets.
So, in the spirit of moving on, today, let me share the stories of two guys who are definitely moving on to the next phases of their careers, for better or for worse…
The renowned off-Broadway company, MCC Theater suddenly announced that they are cutting ties with playwright Neil LaBute, including canceling the upcoming production of his newest play. LaBute was the playwright in residence at MCC for 15 years, and the company championed and premiered many of his works throughout that time, but his ouster comes drizzled in a syrupy shroud of silence. Both MCC and LaBute are saying nothin' about nothin' about this situation. Given the number of theater leaders and luminaries who are dropping like flies these days over allegations of sexual harassment, it was a pretty quick jump for people to start asking, "OK, how many women has this guy hassled?"
LaBute's body of work lends itself pretty easily to that assumption. Though he and his champions position him as a brave provocateur and satirist holding up a mirror to the ugliness in modern gender relations, there's plenty of room to argue that maybe his work is just plain old misogyny gussied up with witty remarks. He's also the guy who wrote the updated Wicker Man movie, which, on the one hand, served up a heaping helping of non-sensical woman-hating, but, on the other hand, gave us that golden moment of Nicolas Cage screaming "NOT THE BEES!!!!!". The guy's got layers, is what I'm saying.
Don't be so quick to assume the worst about LaBute, though. MCC cutting him loose may have everything to do with the #metoo movement and at the same time nothing to do with the playwright getting handsy, creepy or gross toward women in the workplace. Two of the three artistic directors of MCC also happen to run a casting agency which just so happened to formerly employ a casting director with a bad history of sexual misconduct. Since MCC has spent the past few years carefully courting $35 million in donations for the construction of a brand new space, they're probably hyper aware of how bad it is to even appear sexist in the current awakening we are having over the way women are treated in the workplace.
Or perhaps they found LaBute's vampire show on Syfy to be lowbrow, trashy and predictable. There are many possibilities, but none of them are probably good, considering how sudden the split was and how stonily silent everyone is being. If you listen carefully, you can hear almost the lawyers shuffling in…
But, don't weep for LaBute just yet. St. Louis Actors Studio is sticking by him, though even they admit they have no idea what's going on. That seems like it's going to end well.
While New York may be losing a LaBute, they are definitely gaining a Rauch. It was announced recently that Bill Rauch, the lauded long-time head of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, will be leaving his post in Ashland in 2019 to take the reins at the new performing arts space at the World Trade Center site.
If you haven't been following the trials and tribulations of this new building, I'll tell you it's been a wild ride. The feasibility of this new performance arts center has drifted in and out of focus in the past 15 years as various plans for the finished site were drawn up and hacked to pieces by every possible interested party. Last year, the whole project seemed doomed to forever exist in development hell when petty fights between local agencies nearly cost the project its federal funding, and construction came to a standstill. But now, it seems that all systems are go. Not only have they snagged Rauch as their new artistic director, they have worked out a new funding deal and signed a 99-year lease.
This is where I have to add my usual downer proviso that I believe that constructing giant, expensive single-purpose arts buildings like this is generally a bad idea that will almost inevitably lead to a giant, bloated organization constantly panicking about paying for its giant, expensive building. However, since they're going to do it no matter what I say (most people do), they couldn't have picked a better leader than Bill Rauch. In his time running Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Rauch has become a nationally-recognized figure leading by example in the push to create a more diverse and inclusive theater world; he has championed the development of new plays (something that many Shakespeare festivals find blasphemous); and through it all, despite the conventional wisdom practiced by many a nervous regional theater executive of needing to stick to the old canon in order to keep the lights on, he managed to grow OSF and its audience along the way.
That's going to be a tough act to follow, both for whomever follows Rauch as the new leader at OSF and for Rauch himself, as he will be navigating a veritable minefield of unreachable expectations and unreasonable demands at an expensive arts center located at the World Trade Center site. Fortunately, both of these people have a good template for leadership at an arts organization that was created by this guy named Bill Rauch.