Nov 19, 2012

Katori's List

Katori Hall recently gave the keynote at TCG's recent Fall Forum, which I didn't get a chance to attend, so I'm glad to see that the speech is now up on the TCG blog. It's worth listening to in full, but a particular highlight comes around the 13:50 mark. Here are reasons, Hall recounts, that she was given for rejection of a play she sent around in 2009, from unnamed theaters:

1. "We don't know if we can find that many talented black actresses."
2. "We've already done an August Wilson piece this season."
3. "We don't know if our audience can relate."
4. "We've already done a play about a black lesbian."
5. "We've already done a play set in a barbershop."
6. "Our February slot has been filled."
7. "We've already done a black playwright this season who is not August Wilson."

As she bears down into the topic of diversity, she starts with excuse #1 to highlight one of the real challenges facing efforts to diversify American theaters, both onstage and behind the scenes: It's not so much a problem of recruitment but retention, not how to get artists and audience of color in the stage door, but how to keep them there. Retaining and rewarding talent strikes me as a trade-wide problem for theater, but it's clearly magnified in the case of artists and audiences of color. What's promising to me about this discussion, then, is that leadership on diversity, defined broadly along age as well as ethnic and other identity valences, might help rise the tide for all boats. One can hope, can't one? (The recent election's ratification of diversity, for example, points a way forward for all of us.)

Bonus: A Charles Isherwood diversion begins at 27:27.

Nov 16, 2012

"Bare" Back

Hartmere and Intrabartolo (photo by Linda Lenzi)
In 2000, a scrappy little rock musical—sorry, "pop opera"—called Bare became a sensation in the confines of Hollywood's Hudson Theater, the same place (though not exactly the same stage) where Reefer Madness had earlier been born. A coming-out love story set at a Catholic boarding school, it was intense and youthful and very crowded on the small stage; I remember there being quite a lot of lighting effects, amplification (in a 99-seat house!), and even stage fog (I may be misremembering). I wasn't as in love with it as some of my colleagues, but clearly Bare was something special, and marked the arrival of at least three theater talents to be reckoned with: Bookwriter/lyricist Jon Hartmere, composer Damon Intrabartolo, and director Kristin Hanggi (who would later make her name helming Rock of Ages).

It was something of a disappointment, then, when after sweeping the L.A. theater awards and garnering a lot of interest from New York producers—a deal was struck with MTV, the Roths, and the Public Theater at one point, but it fell through—Bare made it only briefly to New York in 2004 and got mixed reviews. A cast album was released in 2007, along with a licensed script, which has led to a jillion productions all over the world—a heartening development for the show's tolerant message, certainly, but not one that pointed to a future life for a show that may even have become a bit dated in the age of "It Gets Better" testimonials and a matter-of-factly gay Senator.

So it was with great pleasure and interest that I reported on a new Off-Broadway revival/revisal of Bare for the paper of record. As the piece details, the show has changed a bit to reflect the times—they've cut a gay-wedding fantasy scene from the original, since that's no longer so fantastical—but the core of its heartfelt message hasn't. My favorite quote on that is from Hanggi:
‘Bare’ is about the definition of God as love, and about erasing judgment, especially when we’re young and we feel surrounded by judgment, and the only light and divinity that can be found is in love.