The good stuff
Before we head off into the festering pit of darkness hiding at the core of this week's edition of News and Notes, let's take a moment to appreciate the good things around us, shall we?
First of all, congratulations to all the Minnesota artists who are taking home state arts board grants. If you ever get down about the state of our state's art funding, just remember that the state arts board alone distributed almost $16 million in this past cycle, while the state arts council in my birth state of Illinois distributes about $800,000. While Illinois has almost 2.5 times as many people, Minnesota manages to put almost 20 times as much money into funding the arts. I think we got a good thing going here.
2017 was quite the year for small theater spaces turning over in the Twin Cities, and 2018 is already looking up. Let's welcome into the the fold the latest new space, Art Box, brought to you by the fine folks at Off-Leash Area. the grand opening is this weekend if you'd like to drop by and dream.
Two weeks ago we ran down the collection of "Best of 2017" lists for the Twin Cities, and, goshdarnit, wouldntcha know, here's a few more! If you like your judgement and praise decided by a single person, go to Basil Considine's unranked list at Twin Cities Arts Reader. If you like your top critical appraisals decided by a passionate group of dedicated theater goers, check out the Twin Cities Theater Blogger Awards. And, if you like your top accolades decided by whomever can motivate the greatest number of anonymous internet denizens to vote for them, then there's always the Broadway World Minneapolis Awards.
Another storm in Houston
2017 was a bad year for Alley Theatre in Houston. The widely-renowned company was flooded out by Hurricane Harvey hot on the heels of completing a long and expensive remodel. (Not to the mention that the Tony-winning company had already been flooded during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.)
But they weathered it, and they survived. This kind of revival is often attributed to a strong sense of community thoughtfully commanded by a strong and caring leadership. It's the kind of feel-good story that you'll watch trotted out at your local TED conference about every three months.
Then last week the leader that saw the company through both of those disastrous flood, Gregory Boyd abruptly retired. The official word was that Boyd had originally planned on leaving last year, but had stuck it out to oversee the hurricane recovery. The usual celebratory goodbye pieces started to be written, citing his accomplishments at the company in the three decades he had been there. But something about the situation didn't make sense. Boyd had just signed a new five-year contract in 2016, undercutting his claim that he had planned on leaving in 2017. Alley Theatre hadn't been searching for a new Artistic Director or preparing any kind of transition plan, indicating that they hadn't been expecting him to leave. When asked directly why Boyd was leaving so suddenly, neither he nor Alley's board could give anything but the vaguest answers.
Needless to say, this sudden job opening was very confusing to the local community. Questions continued to go unanswered until local media got ahold of a leaked memo from the company instructing Alley employees not to talk to reporters about anything. Then the company hired a crisis management—er, I mean "communications"—firm to announce that Alley was "forming a committee."
As one Facebook comment I read put it, "It looks like he's retiring in order to spend more time with his lawyer."
So, what's the deal? Thankfully, one thing you can count on in this world is that when reporters hear that someone doesn't want them to know about something, they immediately go out and find out about that very thing. Within a few days, former actors and employees at Alley came forward to detail several decades' worth of toxic, abusive behavior at the theater, all courtesy of one Mr. Gregory Boyd. And it didn't stop there. As more people came out of the woodwork with their stories, it seems that the bullying and screaming of expletives from Boyd was also accompanied by a few heaping helpings of sexual harassment.
Did I mention that Boyd had already been accused of sexual harrassment in 1996 and nothing came of it because the board never looked into it and the accuser suddenly, mysteriously recanted her statement? A lot of people probably should have mentioned that, like, say, in 1996.
Remember that time oh so long ago (back in the halcyon days of 2016) when we thought the sleazy behavior at Profiles Theater in Chicago was just an aberration? Unfortunately, as we keep finding out, this kind of behavior from men in positions of power in the theater world is not an aberration. Unfortunately, the companies that these men lead staying quiet while their boards keep everything nice and hushed up is also not an aberration. (Remember the troubles at Rochester Civic Theater?) It's been baked right into the culture of the performing arts world, where so many people are clamoring for so few slices of fame and fortune that they are willing to simply shut up and endure the abuses visited upon them by tyrannical gatekeepers.
But that system is currently in the process of cracking up. And I say good riddance, even though it threatens to take down certain people that you may have liked and respected. (Dammit, James Franco!) And as that system falls apart, the people who benefited greatly from it will fight to hold it together. They will bemoan the destruction of their "culture". They will blame victims. They will lash out. They will claim that they are the victims of a "witch hunt," completely misunderstanding what that term means. They may even briefly get elected President. But in the end, that system is still going down.
I'll leave the last word on this subject to one of my favorite blogs, Bitter Gertrude. The much-celebrated and long-respected theater critic Robert Brustein was latest in a string of Old White Guys to throw out the "witch hunt" comment, and Bitter Gertrude was there with an eloquent response on what our old theater "geniuses" don't understand about consent.
The family-friendly Civil War
Years ago, I drove out to the Great Smoky Mountains for a long hike down the Appalachian Trail that ended with me in an emergency room. Before the emergency room part of this adventure, I drove past the little town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where I caught my first glimpse of the sequined glory of Dollywood, Dolly Parton's amusement park in the foothills of the Appalachians, which is somehow a real place and not a punchline. After the emergency room part of this adventure, while I was waiting on x-rays to come back, I picked up a brochure for the strangest part of Dolly Parton's Pigeon Forge empire: Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, a dinner theater spectacle (a la Medieval Times) wherein the Civil War is playfully reimagined as a friendly rivalry of music, dancing and horse riding instead of an ugly, brutal conflict born out of centuries of racism, resentment and ignorant factionalism. They have restrooms labeled "Northerners Only" and "Southerners Only," and I will remind you that this is a real place that really exists.
I never made it to Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede, even though I was insanely curious as to how this theatrical event squared toe-tapping fun and down-home cooking with the most destructive social rift in American history ("Now that was some fine trick riding those boys were doin' out there, wasn't it, folks! Never forget that hundreds of thousands of people died horrible deaths violently defending one of the worst examples of Man's inhumanity toward Man! Now, go ahead and dig into that cornbread!")
But times are changing. Even at Dollywood. They've taken a good, hard look at the state of America and finally decided that some of what they are doing may be in poor taste, which is why they took the revolutionary step of dropping "Dixie" from the name. But don't you fret, folks! Their website still promises that you can, "Celebrate as the North and South join together in a patriotic salute of Red, White and Blue featuring COLOR ME AMERICA, written and recorded by Dolly herself."