It's been a long time, friends. For more than four years, I have been your cranky, underpaid guide through the world of theater news, and today that journey comes to an end. This is my last News and Notes entry for Minnesota Playlist. That's all there is. There ain't no more. So long and thanks for all the fish.
Way back in the hazy mists of history (otherwise known as 2012), I was a cocksure young 32-year-old who wrote my first article for Minnesota Playlist. John Middleton, who was acting as editor at the time, asked me to contribute something for a short series about catharsis, and I turned in an article with the bold assertion that "catharsis" is not a real thing and we should all stop talking about it. A few months later, the powers that be at Playlist foolishly offered me the News and Notes gig, and it's been downhill ever since. Case in point: I can't even find the first N&N entry that I wrote in 2013; at some point in the first few weeks of helming this endeavor, I attempted to rework my author profile, and my inept bumbling at figuring out the ins and outs of our website's back end seems to have caused those first few entries to disappear into the aether. However, I did drudge up a draft version of that original article from the depths of my hard drive, and I would like to share again my first words, warning you that you shouldn't trust me at all:
"I may be a bad choice to write a column about theater (or “theatre”). I can’t name anyone who won a Tony last year. I’ve never even been to New York. And I keep losing the betting pool about what shows the Guthrie will do next season. I don’t feel bad about that; I put my money on The Glass Menagerie and I stand by it.
"I’m a theatre (or “theater”) maker (or “makre”). And by that, I mean that I primarily make new work with an ensemble in a non-traditional format. I haven’t had a pre-written script in my hands or received blocking from a director in years, and I enjoy that.
"So, those are my biases. I feel the need to state them right off the bat because, as I said, I’m probably the wrong choice to write a column about theater (or “theatre”). I don’t approach it or understand it in a way that most theatre (or “theater”) people do. However, quite often, the wrong person on paper is the right person in practice.
"So come along with me anyway, and let’s talk about art (or “atr”), shall we?"
It's been a wild ride. A lot of things have changed in the 4+ years I've been at this. I can now name most of the people who won Tony Awards last year, and I'm intimately familiar with every Guthrie press release about their new season. (I'm still betting on The Glass Menagerie, though). I have still never been to New York City, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend, who thinks that I'm just being stubborn at this point. Maybe I am. Maybe I'm OK with that.
Back in 2013, Ol' Smilin' Joe Dowling was still in charge at the Guthrie, and the big G's seasons consisted mostly of classic chestnuts written and directed by men. Just a few days ago, the current incarnation of the Guthrie, headed by a completely different Joe, announced a new season with four major female playwrights and a brand new piece commissioned from Lynn Nottage. Of course, change is incremental: the Guthrie is on the receiving end of a sex discrimination lawsuit for the practices of its scene shop, this more woke and up-to-date season still comes chock full of chestnuts (including Noises Off, which another theater in town literally just closed), and, worst of all, this season announcement lazily includes "TBA – Shakespeare" on its roster, which is the theater-world equivalent of a shrug followed by a resigned sigh.
Change is hard, y'all.
Back when I started writing this column, the idea of a hip hop musical on Broadway was written off as a laughable pipe dream. Then Hamilton came along and plowed through the American pop culture landscape like a bulldozer on fire. Today, the surprise hit that conquered the Tonies is sweeping the nominations for London's award show and is so ubiquitously known that high school kids in Indonesia are ripping it off, copyright be damned.
In an age when the internet was supposed to put an end to all forms of in-person entertainment, theater is still finding a way to incite intense emotions. Remember when a bunch of ill-informed Trump voters got all hot an bothered about a production of Julius Caesar? Now imagine that magnified by about a bajillion, and you know have an inkling of what it's like to perform a musical about Slobodan Milosevic in Kosovo. Fat, lazy, inept, wannabe autocrats ain't got nothing on a guy who literally presided over a genocide; and theater is still a headline-inducing way to explore those politics.
Our industry is at a turning point where the past is rapidly crumbling in the defiant face of the present. The Millenial generation is simply not settling for "well that's the way it's always been," and the internet is facilitating a rapid expansion and decentralization of art and thought. It would have been suicide four years ago for a critic to admit that he or she ducked out of a play before it was done. Now, a critic can not only own up to it, but brag about it openly, and, personally, I think that's a good development. For far too long, we have held our art as too precious and important, too immune to the bigger marketplace of ideas, and that has led to a lot of boring theater that we begrudgingly tolerate out of a vague sense of fealty to "ART". I like the fact that the people are talking back. Even four years ago, a veritable god-king of the theater world like Andrew Lloyd Webber could have held sway with a flick of his finger. Today, he releases his supposedly long-awaited memoir, and the world is all like "meh". The new world has no place for old gods, and we'll all be better off for it.
I was born right in 1980, right on the dividing line that supposedly demarcates Generation X from the Millenials. It's pretty hip right now for people my age to claim that we're actually in this super cool, super exclusive intergeneration made up of only the finest bits of both generations, which means that we're still, like, totally relevant, you guys, and, by the way, the Saturday morning cartoons that we watched as kids are inexplicably important in a way that you could never understand; but, truth be told, I'm really just a cynical Gen Xer finally coming to terms with the fact that I'm no longer hip and with it. That's actually fine with me. Constantly being hip and with it is exhausting. It's a game for the young, and I am slouching toward 40 with a bottle of bourbon in my hand. I'm glad to be turning this column over to someone younger who can put in all the effort it takes to stay cool and relevant. I was never very good at it anyway.
But that doesn't mean that I have lost my lust for change. As a world-weary Gen Xer, I grew up with a well-deserved cynicism toward big, legacy institutions. I have always had a soft spot for the little guys who crank out one weird new thing after another, laboring in anonymity with only a few bucks in their pocket. I've never had much patience for multimillion dollar organizations complaining about what a hard time they're having getting new audiences while they prepare to remount the same goddamn show for the 127th time.
That's probably why I love our Fringe Festival so much, and why I am always eager to embrace whatever changes they decide to try out. All of a sudden, the Fringe has an Artistic Director for the first time, and they're trying new formats, while at the same time still offering the chance to all of us nobodies and yahoos to get our show on a professional stage. And, if that's not enough for you, the Twin Cities is absolutely lousy with festivals that are willing to give you your shot. Have you applied to the Twin Cities Horror Festival? Did you know that Arts Nest is looking for emerging artists to support? Have you checked out the Right Here Showcase? You have so many chances to do whatever it is that you want to do that I would be really suspect of anyone who says that they "just don't have any opportunities."
We live in a moment filled with opportunities. It's fundamentally different than when I first applied to a theater program back in 1997, when you were told to either move to to New York or just give up. Hell, it's fundamentally different than when I first sat down to write my first News and Notes article back in 2013, when you were expected to lust after a bit part at a regional theater or just give up.
Be bold. Do what's important to you. Have fun with it. But don't take yourself too seriously. As Oscar Wilde wrote in two completely different plays: "life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it."
And always remember, whatever you do, you're bound to regret it eventually. Or immediately.