Jul 31, 2009

Gone Fishin'

Today my son comes home.

Every word in that sentence carries huge, almost unbearable weight and joy: Today. My. Son. Comes. Home.

That worn-out poster caption, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life," has never felt as true for me as now.

Blogging will accordingly be light for a while, as I enjoy an intimate live performance of a different and irreducibly immediate kind. The fourth wall will be broken; the audience will be part of the action; the players will grow into their roles over many rehearsals, which will also all be the performance.

More in a few weeks! Stay frosty, blog-o-theatro-sphere.

Jul 22, 2009

(B)logrolling in Our Time

I'm on the verge of a likely blog hibernation due to the imminent arrival of b-a-b-y to the home. But the blog-o-theatro-sphere is in much more capable hands than mine in any case, based on my recent reading...

George Hunka returns from a trip to Wales with a fascinating and self-revealing post about his heritage and his personal sense of exile. Explains a lot, and yes, he's lost me by the last few graphs (and I can't even begin to scan his final sentence), but a bracing post nonetheless.

The oft-maddening, extraordinarily thin-skinned Leonard Jacobs likewise had an exceptional post recently about his career-building goals via his blog. Helps put some of his pique and snark in perspective, I guess.

Isaac Butler has been promoting his Honest-to-God True Story of the Atheist production in D.C. but still blogging furiously. There's still no one the scene with anything close to his energy and passion.

Garrett Eisler has been on something of a roll at Playgoer lately--even without a Rachel Corrie to gnaw on, Garrett is consistently on the beat in a way that feels both journalistically circumspect and yet idiosyncratic, personal.

Speaking of the line between journalism and blogging, along with everyone else I've been following Boston critic Thomas Garvey's exhaustive, tendentious takedown of Emily Glassberg Sands' study of gender bias in re: female playwrights (where is the long-awaited Part III, we wonder?). This strikes me as a kind of test case of blog journalism. It's longform, it's informed, it's passionate...and it also seems to me intemperate and, Garvey's protestations to the contrary, mean-spirited. I know what Matthew Freeman means here, but I also get why Isaac got so riled by the piece.

Which brings me to David Cote's nine wishes for NY theatre on the Time Out Upstaged blog. No. 5 is "Bloggers: Engage/enrage." He doesn't name names, but he cries for "more arguments, more dirt, more bloody knock-down-drag-out fights. Not just self-promotion, obscure manifestos and production diaries." Ouch, but a fair cop.

For myself, I prefer to take tip #9 to heart: "I wish that composers would dare to write beautiful, complex, slow and orchestrally rich music." That I'm up for, if not in the blog-o-theatro-sphere.

Jul 21, 2009

Trade You a Rosencrantz...

Genius marketing idea for a current Ojai production of Hamlet, directed by the estimable Jessica Kubzansky. Leo Marks is an inspired casting choice, by the way. If you're in or near Ojai, Calif., this looks like one to catch.

Baby, It's You

When it rains, it pours, don't it? I'm playing what was supposed to be my last gig before my son was born on Sunday, Aug. 2, at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO. It's going to be a great, chamber-y set, including some songs from the ever-upcoming Ed Wood musical, as well as a bunch of other new stuff.

Well, apparently my son Oliver had other ideas, and decided he'd like see the show, too. He arrived seven weeks early, and he's doing extremely well at the St. Vincent NICU--well enough that he might be taking his first cab ride home soon.

So, do I recommend trying to pull together an ambitious gig while your newborn son is about to move home? No. Do I recommend you buy a ticket now and come to see Oliver's dad in DUMBO? Yes.

Jul 17, 2009

River City, Oregon

(Gwendolyn Mulamba as Marian in The Music Man; photo by Jenny Graham)

My wife and I were supposed to go the Oregon Shakespeare Festival last month and see 9 shows in 5 days, but doctor's orders said bed rest was a better idea. Back in the early aughts, I used to make the Ashland pilgrimage a couple of times a year, and this would have been my first time back since, I don't know, 2002, '03?

I was particularly interested, of course, in seeing the ways ex-Cornerstone a.d. Bill Rauch has revitalized what was already, by my lights, a bracingly vital theater company--in part by importing artists I loved from L.A. theater, including his husband, Chris Liam Moore, as well as director Tracy Young and actors Kate Mulligan and Brent Hinkley, among others.

Well, the peripatetic Terry Teachout has a glowing report of at least one show I wish I hadn't missed:
Bill Rauch, the company’s artistic director, has done what I thought impossible: He’s turned his back on tradition and given us a high-concept “Music Man” in which every detail has been rethought and refurbished. Yet Mr. Rauch’s innovations never obstruct our front-row view of Meredith Willson’s sweet salute to turn-of-the-century American life. It’s as though a faded painting had been scrupulously restored and hung in a brand-new gallery. Yes, it’s still the same old show, but you’ll see things in it that you didn’t know were there...

...The point of Mr. Rauch’s endless ingenuity is to remind you of something that you may well have forgotten, which is that “The Music Man,” far from being a fallen corn soufflé, is actually one of the finest musicals of the 20th century. It’s as evocative of small-town America as “Our Town,” and by taking it seriously instead of staging it by rote, Mr. Rauch has brought off a feat of theatrical alchemy similar to that performed by Charles Newell in the equally fresh and personal small-scale revival of “Carousel” that he staged for Chicago’s Court Theatre in 2007. This is the way that Broadway musicals ought to be done.

Teachout closes by hoping the show rides East. For reasons both selfish and un-, I hope so, too.

Jul 14, 2009

Critics Off Tony Reservation

I'm not an awards show fan, so the news that critics have been disinvited from the esteemed, honorable, graft-free ranks of Tony voters doesn't bother me as much as it bothers Time Out's Adam Feldman, but I do appreciate his rock-ribbed defense of critical value:
Critics are among the voters least compromised by conflicts of interest, and most likely to vote objectively and fairly for the work they judge to be best. (The others are liable to have greater personal, professional and financial stakes in the outcome.) The excision of this voting block represents a step backward in the seriousness of the awards.

Seriousness is, of course, relative with any awards show. For me, apart from all-out parties like the Obies or the LA Weekly awards, most awards shows hover in a vaguely nauseous zone between trade show and state ceremony, with the attendant mix of glitz, self-importance, and boredom. Then again, we all need our rituals. I'm more behind Adam's closing point, though his last sentence strikes me as a tad hysterical:
It also represents another regrettable step toward the marginalization of critics within the New York theatrical community. It is true that critics do not vote for the Oscar or Emmy Awards; but theater is an inherently more local and personal industry, in which critics have historically played an important role. (Not for nothing are Broadway theaters named after Walter Kerr and Brooks Atkinson.) But critics, and indeed criticism, are inconvenient to the modern theater marketer: Old-fashioned in our insistence on quality, unreliable in our support for expensive projects and less necessary in light of the diffusion of information in the Internet Age. We can expect to see more such gestures of exclusion in the future, each chipping away, as intended, at the status of critics within the theater world.

Chips ahoy!

Two Coasts, Two Codes

Emilie Beck has a thoughtful response to my two-part series on the history of L.A.'s 99-seat theater plan, essentially coming down against the idea of actors working for mere gas money. I met a lot of young theater professionals in L.A. over the years with exactly her spirit, and I salute it, but I have to quibble with one of her central contentions:
Actors who want to be showcased are not engaged in theatre. They’re engaged in a prolonged audition. There’s an ongoing complaint in LA that theatre lives in the shadow of TV and film. Well, clearly we’ve made it that way. If actors are doing theatre just so they can break into celluloid, then yes, we’re directly in the shadow. Of course, we know that there are actors - and all kinds of other theatre artists - who are dedicated to making theatre here, and they’re not only getting a bad rap from being associated with the showcasers, but they’re often subjected to working with these showcasers, which downgrades the entire experience, both for the artists and the audience. Theatre in its purest, most righteous form is about give and take. The narcissistic act of showcasing is all take. (As in, you took away two hours of my life.)

In my experience, the talent pool in L.A. is a mottled soup of people doing theater for any number of reasons: to work with friends on a play they believe in, to keep their craft sharp, to get in front of industry guests, or just to do something other than wait for a callback. I'm not sure theater in its "purest, most righteous form" exists anywhere, but I know it doesn't exist in L.A. And that's OK. A lot of my favorite theater artists tell the story that they came to L.A. from New York or Chicago or Seattle to seek film and TV work and to give up their bank-breaking theater habit, only to find themselves sucked back into working onstage by the huge network of similarly would-be-former theater artists plying the trade in L.A. And nearly as many theater artists I know would love to get some film and TV work, but they know that doing theater is often the last way to get there.

I also should clarify that while Equity officially views "showcasing" as the only way it can justify allowing its actors to work for next to nothing, that's as bogus a front in L.A. as it is in New York (that's why evenings specifically labeled "showcases" exist). Consider the recently revised "Showcase Code" in New York. The revisions are all in the direction of loosening, not tightening union protections: "Showcase" productions can now extend rehearsal period, run for six consecutive weeks rather than a mere four, charge more at the door, and claim more income. But nobody but Equity calls these productions "showcases"; the rest of us call them Off-Off-Broadway or "indie" theater.

Jul 10, 2009


Courtesy some frisky TCG coworkers, please enjoy the Cyborg Name Decoder and have a great weekend.

Jul 8, 2009

People I Know, Making Things

Not a lot of time for a busy new father to blog, but I thought I'd link to a pair of brief and interesting Q&As:

Eliza Bent, fellow associate editor at American Theatre, has a play up at PS 122, titled She of the Voice, and she sat down with David Cote of Time Out recently. Among other things, Eliza offers inspiration to any of us who read something in a national magazine and think, "I couldn't possibly get the rights to adapt that."

Nick Offerman, a powerful actor I first encountered at the Evidence Room at the turn of the century and most recently enjoyed on the so-so new TV show Parks and Recreation and in the local production of Adding Machine (as a replacement for the non-singing role of the Boss), is a busy woodworker and boatbuilder in his spare hours. When last we spoke, I was angling to get down to Red Hook to see a new canoe he was working on while on the East Coast, but this piece by the redoubtable Corn Mo is the next best thing to a firsthand visit.

Jul 6, 2009

Headlines on the Day of My Son's Birth

I may be among the last generation to buy the daily newspaper to mark momentous dates in my life, but that's just what I did last Friday when my son, Oliver Weinert Kendt, was born. (He was a full seven weeks premature, but he's a hearty 5 lbs. and doing extremely well in the St. Vincent NICU.)

The New York Times greeted the day, July 3, 2009, with this news:

Marines Land in Caldron of Afghan Resentment

A New Strategy On Illicit Work By Immigrants

Coffers Empty, California Pays With I.O.U.'s

Joblessness Hits 9.5%, Deflating Recovery Hopes

Pay-for-Chat Plan Falls Flat at Washington Post

and (wait for it...)

Neverland Never So Forlorn

I comfort myself in remembering that my parents were born during the height of the Depression, with WWII on its way, and they turned out just fine. (And beloved celebrities died in 1935, too.)

Jul 1, 2009

"The Avocado Monologue"

Laurie and Atkinson, in top Black Adder form, from a Comic Relief sketch.

It's Ragtime Again

Best. News. Of. 2009.

The Other Side of Summer

I'd heard rumblings about this from friends in SoCal, but Harold Meyerson's new piece puts it all together re: the economic devastation in my former home state, which looks ever less attractive as a possible future home state:
[Gov.] Schwarzenegger is proposing to end welfare, not just as we know it but altogether, and to throw 1 million children off the rolls of the state's healthy families program. But the consequences of closing the deficit simply through cutbacks will be felt by more than the poor.

That sucks hard enough, but here's the kicker that has more than one L.A. couple I know with young children looking for other states to live:
Already reeling from $15 billion in cutbacks that the state put through in February, many school districts, including that of Los Angeles, have canceled summer school this year. Scholarships that enable students of modest means to attend California's fabled university system have been slashed. Most of the state's parks may have to be closed as well.

Parks and public schools, who needs 'em? Before those of you with no stake in Cali's fortunes crank up the schadenfreude, consider Meyerson's larger point:
California is a special case simply because it's so big. Closing California's budget gap entirely through cutbacks in programs, as Schwarzenegger and the Republicans in the legislature propose, will deepen not only the state's recession but also the nation's. Fully 1 in 4 of the nation's underwater mortgages, for instance, are on California homes, and the effects of the governor's proposed cuts -- which UCLA's Anderson School of Business estimates will cause 60,000 state employees to lose their jobs -- will be to create a new wave of foreclosures and toxic assets on the banks' books. California accounts for 12 percent of the nation's gross domestic product and a disproportionate share of the federal government's revenues (and for every dollar that Californians pay to the feds, they get just 80 cents back in services)...It is not only Californians but also America that has a stake in their success. A California that decimates itself during recessions drags the rest of the nation down with it.