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Essential Theatre Bits/Pieces/Retractions/Reflections

A round-up of a few theatre items that caught my eye, accompanied by appropriate references to previous blogs

GOING LOCAL? (see May 15, 2008, How Theatre Fails St. Louis) A very recent article in the NY Times, concerning Peter DuBois, artistic director of the Huntington
Theater Company in Boston, the city's largest non-profit regional theater, and like so many around the country, one dealing with shrinking audiences and revenue. His
solution? DuBois says, “To thrive, we need a theater with work and audiences that
look more like the city of Boston in terms of class, age, race, background. And you have to talk to people here to learn how to do that.”
DuBois is forging relationships with Boston-based playwrights to provide new and more relevant work to his theatre and his community. One of those playwrights, Lydia R. Diamond, has just had a new work open at Huntington's new South End theatre. She said, “I've noticed that there's always been a frustration among artists about a lack of access to big local institutions. Huntington is interested in trying to reorient its identity through its own community.”
The effort is gathering good reviews. Paula Vogel, Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist and chairwoman of the playwriting program at Yale, said, “ The best way to make Boston a vibrant theatrical town is to nurture the community of writers who live there. There is no
better way to forge a conversation between the stage and audience than to have writers who live in the community talk back and forth with the community audiences.”
And Barbara Grossman, chairwoman of drama and dance at Tufts, said, “From casting Boston-area actors in Huntington productions to staging the work of promising young playwrights, it's inspiring. Their cultivation of new playwriting voices and new audiences is something to watch.”

Hmm. Casting local actors. Reaching out to local playwrights. Connecting to the community. From the resident non-profit theatre. What an idea.

SPEAKING OF THE THEATRE COMMUNITY (see Sept 30, 2008, Mamet Speak) This from the recent book, FREE FOR ALL; Joe Papp, The Public, and the Greatest Theatre Story Ever Told, an oral biography by Papp and Kenneth Turan. The book is
must-reading for anyone interested in the history and future of theatre. Papp's courage and bravado in building the Public in New York City serves as an inspiration for all.
In the book, there's a great story about Wallace Shawn, now an acclaimed playwright, and film and stage actor. In 1975, the Public was producing one of Shawn's early works,
OUR LATE NIGHT. Papp ran into Shawn on the street, asked what he was up to, and Shawn said he was working as a shipping clerk in the garment district. Papp asked how much Shawn was making ($125 a week), and Papp told him to quit, that'd he pay him that much to work on another play. Shawn was thrilled, of course (and here is the relevant part of this) and I quote Shawn:
“I started writing plays in 1967, and during those eight years until that play opened in 1975, I had had the fantasy that the theater was this real world that you could enter and be a part of. And if you were to be so lucky enough as to succeed into breaking into the real professional theater, that was comparable in some way to passing the bar and becoming a lawyer, in the sense that you would then be a member of a profession that would have its own dignity and would actually pay you some kind of living.
It was really only when my play opened that I think I actually understood that there was no theater, that theater is a hobby and an amateur activity, something that certain people who have a certain character defect enjoy doing together, for pleasure. It isn't really an institution in American society, as I imagined it to be.”

Hmm. A member of a profession. Dignity. A living. What a concept.

WHY DO IT? Steven Soderbergh is directing a documentary film on Spaulding Gray,
entitled AND EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE FINE (it premiered at Sundance recently). Soderbergh knew Gray well, and had directed the film of Gray's monologue,
GRAY'S ANATOMY in 1996. Gray was in a terrible car crash in Ireland in 2001, which led to numerous physical woes, and eventually, Gray's presumed suicide in 2004.
Soderbergh spoke of Gray's “precarious equilibrium,” and how Soderbergh was fearful the crash and subsequent injuries would “weaken his ability to sort things out in the way that he always did, by working.”
Soderbergh admitted he shared something with Gray (and this is the relevant part of this):
Gray's need “to keep making art in order to get out of bed in the morning.”

Hmm. That's generally why I get out of bed.

RETRACTION (see Aug 31, 2009, Beach Reading) Writing about my favorite summer authors, I wrote of a new film based on James Lee Burke's IN THE ELECTRIC MIST WITH THE CONFEDERATE DEAD (shortened for film to IN THE ELECTRIC MIST) with Tommy Lee Jones. I was not fond of the movie, and sort of blamed Jones, who for some reason or other, I thought was the director. It wasn't. It was Bertrand Tavernier, who's directed a number of acclaimed French films, and though this was based in Louisiana with its French traditions, the movie was a mess. Sorry for the mistake, Tommy Lee.

REFLECTION (see Jan 23, 2010, Mr. President & Aug 31, 2009, Beach Reading). I was at the Downtown Library (soon to be closed for renovation), standing in line to check out some books. Standing in front of me was a black kid, he looked about 14. The librarian told him he couldn't check out the book he wanted; his parents had a restriction on his card, and there were certain level books he couldn't check out. The kid took it calmly, and went on his way. I noticed the book he was trying to check out – it was a book about the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Now I'm sure his parents were trying to do the right thing, trying to keep him from books he shouldn't be reading at his tender age. But how did this one get caught in the crossfire?
At his age, I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis. I think it would have been a good thing for him, and for the future of our country, if he had been allowed to check that book out.


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