Tag Archives: live theater

Here Is How Free Expression Is Valued In Those Wonderful English-Speaking Countries The US Should Be More Like…

In Australia

Australian Cardinal George Pell was convicted in Melbourne this week on five counts of child sexual abuse. This made him  the most senior official ever found guilty in the Catholic Church’s apparently endless child sexual-abuse scandals. The judge in the case, Peter Kidd, immediately subjected news of Pell’s conviction to a suppression order, the Australian equivalent of a gag order, on press coverage. Australian courts impose such orders to shield defendants from negative publicity that could prejudice future jurors in upcoming trials, and  Pell faces another trial next year on a separate set of abuse charges dating to the 1970s. Of course, the more the public knows about how many predator priests the Catholic Church has facilitated, covered up for, and allowed to prey on children, the safer it is. I am not convinced that this suppression of news isn’t a sop to the Church. Judge Kidd told defense and prosecution attorneys that some members of the news media are facing “the prospect of imprisonment and indeed substantial imprisonment” if found guilty of breaching his gag order

Never mind:  the web, social media and the Streisand Effect foiled the judge. Pell and the charges against him were quickly the subject of thousands of tweets and shared posts on Facebook. The posts included links to websites and blogs where the news was available, including NPR, the Daily Beast and the National Catholic Reporter.

The Washington Post reported the conviction, but the New York Times did not. The Times’ deputy general counsel, David McCraw, gave the excuse that the newspaper is abiding by the court’s order in Australia “because of the presence of our bureau there. It is deeply disappointing that we are unable to present this important story to our readers in Australia and elsewhere. . . . Press coverage of judicial proceedings is a fundamental safeguard of justice and fairness. A free society is never well served by a silenced press.”

So don’t be silent then.

The Associated Press and Reuters news services also did not report Pell’s conviction.  Both services have bureaus in Australia that could face potential liability. Tell me again about how courageous news organizations are.

In Canada…

Continue reading

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Ethics Poll: How Bad Does A Theatrical Performance Have To Be To Ethically Obligate A Refund?

Apparently audiences were unhappy with an allegedly subpar performance  of “The Wiz”  at the Brown Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky. An unusual number of customers called to call demand refunds, based on complaints ranging from botched lines to a bad Cowardly Lion costume (he looked like e bear) and to a cheesy projection of magical land of Oz  from a laptop projector.

“The Wiz” is the hit Seventies Broadway adaptation of the “The Wizard of Oz,” but with an all-black cast, rock-style music, hip-hop dancing and contemporary slang. It was made into a successful film starring Diana Ross and Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow.

Tickets cost between $35 to $65. Despite the complaints, Lavarious Slaughter, the show’s producer for Island Entertainment KC, of Kansas City, Missouri has said that there will be no refunds.

(Lavarious Slaughter? He sounds like an escapee from a Harry Potter book.)

It’s hard for me to tell just how bad the performance was based on second hand accounts. (I wouldn’t pay 65 bucks for the greatest production of “The Wiz” ever. The whole concept behind “The Wiz ” was cynical, and all-black casts are a divisive gimmick. How bad was it?

Helen Barnett was one malcontent who talked to the press. “It was terrible,” Barnett said. “Dorothy was wearing a Walmart dress. They forgot their dialogues … at one point Dorothy said she wanted to go back to Texas!” (In “The Wiz,” Dorothy is from Harlem while Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” is from Kansas.) Other complaint noted that the computer projected set kept  being uninterrupted by pop-up dialogue boxes.

Yeah, that sounds pretty bad.

But funny!

One of the actors, Kori Black, who played the role of the Good Witch of the North tried to explain, “The three o’clock show ended up being pretty much our dress rehearsal because we didn’t have enough time to do the show full-out at the venue before we performed it.”

I have mixed feelings about this, as a former professional theatrical producer and a long-time director and performer. There is no excuse for a badly rehearsed, done-on-the-cheap production that isn’t aimed at giving the audience genuine entertainment. On the other hand, one of the features of live theater that TV and movies lack is that nothing is guaranteed. Stuff goes wrong; things don’t work, actors botch line and entrances, costumes rip, props break, lights blow out. The show goes on. Going to the theater is the ultimate caveat emptor—“Let the buyer beware.” I’ve demanded refunds when projectors broke down in movie theaters, and I’ve given refunds or rain-checks to theater audiences when a performance couldn’t be completed. (Among the causes for those catastrophes: a power outage, a smoke machine that went crazy and blinded everyone, and a lead actor who got knocked cold on stage.) I’ve also had to open shows that were not as ready as I would have liked, but that is a common occurrence everywhere. You can’t give refunds for missed lines. Getting Dorothy’s home wrong is bad for sure, but if that ruins the show for someone, they weren’t going to like anything. One of the most popular and best reviewed productions I ever directed was Orson Welles’ adaptation of “Moby Dick.” One night, the actor playing Ishmael forgot the first line of the play, which is “Call me Ishmael”–one of the most famous opening lines in literature, and also the character’s own name. I got some flack, but the rest of the show recovered.

I fear that audiences are so unfamiliar with live theater that they expect movie-like special effects and the slick perfection that digitally created, multiple  take filming provides. Live theater’s imperfections are part of what makes it dynamic and exciting. On the other hand, those pop-up dialogue boxes sound like the work of a production staff just trying to make a quick buck off the locals and then get out of town.

My policy would be that if a patron asked for a refund, I’d approve it. In 20 years, however, not one of our audience members demanded one.

Now, your poll. Vote for as many answers as you like:

________________________

Pointer: Luke

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Give My Regards To Broadway

Broadway is officially irrelevant to American culture, and it’s their own damn fault.

A half-century ago, Broadway fare provided rich common content for Americans of all classes, creeds and ages. It was rare when a song from a Broadway musical wasn’t on the Top 40. Cast albums were found in most households. Broadway dramas provided the sources for a high percentage of non-musical movies.

Books could be written and have been about the forces that sent The Great White Way reeling toward irrelevancy, from popular music moving away from forms that told stories taking musical scores off the charts for good, to TV supplanting both movies and live stage as  the primary source of drama. Substantially, however, the problem is financial. Unions drove the prices of live theater to an unsustainable level, to the point where most American have no opportunity to see a professional stage show and no desire to spend their resources so recklessly if they did. Broadway shows are routinely priced at three figures, and even far away from Broadway, like near me in Arlington, Virginia, single tickets for musicals often top a hundred dollars. Well, as the Ancient Greeks and Elizabethans knew, live theater is important cultural connective tissue, permitting common experience, group bonding, and mass emotional release. It’s healthy for society, and was once thought to be essential. No more.

The Broadway League has released the results of its annual audience survey, which are being called “good news.” I call the results death throes. The survey already cooked the books by only surveying Broadway ticket buyer, which is a tiny and shrinking percentage of the public.

Among the findings:

  • That good news was that the average age of the Broadway theatergoer last season was 40.6, the lowest it’s been since 2000. 15% of all theatergoers are under 18 years old,, with the average age at a musical at 39,  51.5 at a play. Got it: more very rich people are taking their kids to see Broadway shows. Meanwhile, the family-friendly shows are not teaching new things or breaking new ground, for they are mostly re-hashes of movies the less affluent kids can see for almost nothing, and are better versions too.. Here are current shows deemed “family friendly”: “Frozen,” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “Mean Girls” and “SpongeBob SquarePants,” as well as the continuing runs of “Aladdin,” “Anastasia,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Hamilton,” “The Lion King,” “The Play That Goes Wrong,” “School of Rock” and “Wicked.” Let’s see: four adaptations of Disney animated films, an animated TV show, Harry Potter, two hit movie comedies about schools, teachers and parents, and a couple others.

So Broadway producers pandering to families seeking low-brow “culture” have succeed in masking the aging of the core Broadway audience.

  • The percentage of the Broadway audience made up of people from the New York area continues to rise, with 38 % of Broadway patrons were from the New York metro area, with 20% from New York City. Increasingly Broadway is a local phenomenon.

A question nobody asked: How many people from west of the Mississippi saw a Broadway show last year? Or wanted to? Continue reading

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Reflections On My Final Visit To “The Greatest Show On Earth”

The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus will bring down its metaphorical Big Top for the final time in May. Its business model simply does not work any more, as an executive of the arena entertainment company that owns it said recently—especially since the circus capitulated to animal rights activists and fired its performing elephants. (Ticket sales dropped by almost a third.) This was an iconic cultural institution vanishing, so I had to say farewell, and did so last weekend, when the circus came to Washington, D.C. for the final time.

Observations:

1. It is still an entertaining show, even though  the Ringling brothers would never have recognized it as a circus. Several of the acts were worth the ticket price (in our cases, about 75 bucks) all by themselves.

2. The Verizon Center was about a third filled for the final show of the legendary Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. The Center itself was sparsely staffed; it took 20 minutes in line to buy popcorn. Americans, as a group, don’t care about history, culture and significant changes in it landscape any more. The circus and its components gave us imagery, lore, metaphors—“walking a tight rope,” “three ring circus,” (this one is now a two-and-a half ring circus at best), “ringmaster,” “dog and pony show,” “the big tent,” “side-shows,” “clown act,” —and “The Man on the Flying Trapeze.” The nation is a little poorer and less colorful without it.

3. The public also increasingly sees little value in the mass audience experience. Live entertainment, especially family friendly varieties, were traditionally seen as an important and natural way to strengthen community ties, by bonding disparate members of society through a shared experience involving witnessing something transforming and memorable.

4. Assisting in the death of this experience is the trend of making sure all arena and stadium events  are filled with loud, never-ending, pounding electronic music that would make Phil Specter grab ear plugs. Once,  the circus’s dramatic  music consisted of drum rolls, bands and soft calliopes. If you watch the Cecil B. DeMille movie “The Greatest Show On Earth,” you will see spectators talking to each other during the acts, or shouting out to performers. Either is virtually impossible now. Conversation consists of screaming a few words repeatedly until your companion nods. This continues the cultural trend of making meaningful interaction with fellow human beings passe. How can this possibly be a healthy development for society?

I did see a lot of people texting….maybe to those sitting next to them.

5. Almost no venders were walking among the seated. A single snow cone from one of these cost $12.00.

6. This is how unintended cultural pollution takes place. The conglomerate that owns the circus also owns various ice shows, like Disney on Ice. To cut costs, it decided to employ performers from the ice shows in the circus too, meaning that instead of a sawdust path around the rings, the track around the performing areas are ice. Everyone is on skates half the time. It isn’t a bad effect: it’s faster than the old-style parades. But now the circus is an ice show. Continue reading

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Opening The Door, Tit-For-Tat, And The Drunk In The “Hamilton” Audience

opening-the-door

All right, all right, maybe this is the final word on the “Hamilton” controversy.

What do we make of this?

A supporter of President-elect Trump reportedly interrupted a Saturday-night performance of “Hamilton” in Chicago with profane shouts at the show’s cast. According to BroadwayWorld, somebody seated in the balcony shouted, “We won! You Lost! Get over it! Fuck you!” during the number “Dear Theodosia,” which is about Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr coming to terms with what being a father meant in the newly formed United States. The audience member was escorted out of the theater by security after a brief altercation.

Rueful thoughts: Continue reading

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I Can’t Decide Which Is Worse, That “Hamilton” Is So Greedy, Or That They Won’t Admit It

 

Hamilton

 

Producers of the smash hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” soon to sweep the Tonys in historic fashion, have raised the top premium seat price to a record-obliterating $849.

The previous high for Broadway show’s ticket prices was $477 for the best seats to “The Book of Mormon.” The producers are taking advantage of the fact that the show has reached mania status, something like the Dutch tulip craze. Waiting lists for tickets are months long. The show is a cultural phenomenon, but it is still a show.

This musical, reinventing the genre with a hip-hop score and an intelligent, challenging book, could be that rarity, a popular musical that matters, and one that draw young…even straight!…young people back to a genre that has been rapidly declining and increasingly irrelevant to modern popular culture. So given that opportunity,and already making money hand over fist, what does the production do?

Raise tickets to an obscene level. Ensure that the tickets to other shows will rise too. Make live theater, which is already too expensive for any family to attend not named Pritzger or the equivalent, even more elite and even more inaccessible to normal, working Americans. Continue reading

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KABOOM! The Dumbest, Most Unethical Broadway Audience Member Ever

exploding_head

This, among other reasons, is why I am leaving professional theater while I still have a head left.

In the middle of a performance recently, a Broadway audience member crawled up onto the realistic set of Broadway’s hit comedy, “Hand To God,” to charge  his cell phone using the realistic but non-working outlet on stage.

And yet there are people who oppose capital punishment….

The blog where I learned of this incident asks, “Sometimes, I wonder, is live theater is dying because the audiences are getting dumber every day?”

Yes.

______________________

Pointer: John Geoffrion

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