Thursday, March 29, 2012

There is No Freedom in Female Genital Mutilation

In Lynn Nottage's powerful 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning play, we meet a group of women in war torn Conga who are trying to survive after being Ruined - that is, raped and genitally mutilated. Ms. Nottage's play is based on first hand accounts heard during her 2004 trip to Congo; therefore what we see and read probably occurred. In the film Desert Flower (a somewhat more uplifting survival story), we meet real life Waris Dirie, who was circumcised at age 3 and sold into marriage at 13; Waris Dirie would later make her way to the UK and become a model, writer and activist. 

I was reminded once again of the destructive practice of female genital mutilation or FGM during one of the opening pieces in last weekend's Nimbaya! performance at Symphony Space. Nimbaya! is an all female percussion, singing and African dancing group from Guinea. The group is comprised of some 40 woman; however, only 13 were able to secure visas to visit the US for the current tour. 150 women are on a waiting list to join the group.  

Through their art, Nimbaya! has chosen to bring attention to FGM with the hopes of eradicating the tradition which supposedly (according to the talkback after the show) helps prevents girls from being "loose." In the evening's performance leaflet, a spokesperson for Nimbaya! writes that "FMG has no known health benefits," "it's about controlling women" and "3 million girls are estimated to be at risk of undergoing the procedures every year." 

There seems to be a decline (though small) in the practice of FGM. Some countries have even banned the practice. However, the tradition remains firm. But then again, so are the resolve of FGM activists.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Bloomsbury Group on the "Eternal Equinox"

Eternal Equinox
Meet a few members of The Bloomsbury Group - a tight knit group of English intellectuals: Virgina Woolf (writer), Vanessa Bell (artist and Virginia's sister), John Maynard Keynes (economist), Clive Bell (art critic/writer), Duncan Grant (artist), EM Forester (writer) and Lytton Strachey (writer). 

Now, let's see if I can get this straight. Virgina was married to Leonard Woolf and had lesbian affair with Vita Sackville West, who was married to diplomat Harold Nicholson. Vanessa was married to Clive Bell and had affair with artist Roger Fry and then later fell in love and had a child with gay artist Duncan Grant, who had an affair with John Keynes among others. John Keynes initially had gay affairs but then got married and settled down with a Russian ballerina. Lytton, who was gay, had a relationship with painter Dora Carrington, who shot and killed herself due a broken heart after his death. She was married to Ralph Partridge.

The small Bloomsbury Group produced an arsenal of intellectual ideas, art and literary works. But almost equally fascinating is the unheard of sexual freedom the group exercised and enjoyed in early 1900s England. Even by today's standard, this is surprising.

Now how does this all relate to the theater. Well, if you would like to observe a little bit of the dynamics of The Bloomsbury Group, now is a good time to do so. Currently playing on the NYC stage at 59E59 Theaters is Joyce Hokin Sach's Eternal Equinox which imagines an encounter between companions Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and Everest mountaineer visitor George Mallory in the fall of 1923. All I will say is - art will be made; affairs will be had.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ethan Lipton's "No Place to Go"

Having secured a job early during on campus recruiting, I confidently completed my last semester of college. By the time I started my career at the NYC arm of a regional corporation, I was shocked to see that the department I interviewed with was completely different. The department head was gone; only a few people remained. A month or so later, I was called into a conference room and told that the department would be disbanded. I could leave NYC and move to headquarters or I could stay through year end and receive a retention bonus for my commitment. I stayed and was fortunate to get a new position at another company. However, days before I started, articles in NY papers foreshadowed a 15% reduction in workforce at my new company. What a way to start a career!! 

Move forward many years later and I've seen layoffs at almost every company I've worked. I've seen corporate restructurings due to mergers, acquisitions, power struggles, outsourcing and offshoring. I've seen victims of quartiling. I've seen an anxious executive assistant tap the shoulders of devastated employees and escort them across the floor to receive their packages only 21/2 months after one of the most devastating events on US soil. 

Several films in recent years have also depicted layoffs. We've seen the headcutter's perspective in Up in the Air. We've seen the dedicated Tom Hank get laid off due to lack of college degree but then reinvent himself in Larry Crowne. We've seen a trading floor sweep in Margin Call. And we've seem the arrogant Ben Affleck humbled in The Company Men

Today, as NY's unemployment rate resides at 8.3%, audiences can experience playwright/ songwriter Ethan Lipton's topical and understated fusion of monologue and song No Place to Go cabaret style at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater. Lipton's part time job as an information refiner at a publication company is moving to a place that might as well be another planet. He is entitled to no severance. He says goodbye to his coworkers, rashly considers moving in with his parents and lets us in on his three tear plan to "cry then weep then bawl." All of this is done with wry humor, an eclectic mix of tunes and the support of a capable band boasting a sax, guitar and bass. Check out the music video for Ethan Lipton's Three-Tear Plan below: 

Now, you don’t have to be business minded to understand the rationale for downsizing (euphemistically rightsizing in consultant speak) even though in some instances there can be alternatives. However, the human side can hurt. In a TONY interview, Lipton's speaks about how he developed the idea for No Place to Go - an "ode to the working man." After getting a commission to develop a musical narrative piece for Joe's Pub, he learned that he was going to lose his job. He says: 
I was anxious and nervous and bummed out and angry about it. I had some things to say here.
Yes, he does, but I promise he won't bum you out in the process. No Place to Go runs through April 8th.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Ranking of the Greatest Plays - Daniel S. Burt

Since lists are still on my mind, here is Daniel S. Burt’s The Drama 100: A Ranking of the Greatest Plays of All Time.

Daniel S. Burt is the author of several books, including The Literary 100, The Novel 100, The Chronology of American Literature, and The Biography Book. Disagreements are encouraged by the author

One reviewer - a "Tony Fleming" - recommends The Drama 100 because it can introduce you to dramas you may not know about and oh yeah - "you can sound knowledgeable about them" especially in trivia games.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

One of My Worst Experiences Attending the Theater

Frustrated Theatergoer
In The L Magazine, David Callahan gave the Broadway version of Venus in Fur a negative review. However, he qualifies his review with the following:
To be fair and above board, the night I saw the play someone in the audience had a radio of some kind playing faintly throughout the entire performance, with the barely perceptible sound of a choir followed by waves of applause, which didn't help anyone's concentration. In fact, it has to count as one of the most maddening experiences of not just my theatergoing life but my life in general, and if you think I'm being overly dramatic, well, you weren't there—or I hope you weren't. But that's the peril of live theater, and I know that there was higher emotion among audience members looking desperately a round for the source of that noise than there ever was on stage.
Ironically I had a similar experience at a matinee performance of How I Learned to Drive at Second Stage Theatre last month. As the 90 minute performance with no intermission began, music could be heard playing faintly. I immediately scrambled and look in my purse to see if I had accidentally turned on my MP3 player. Whew, not me! However, the music continued throughout the entire performance. Audience members looked around trying to identify the culprit to no avail. At pivotal moments in the performance random tunes blasted. I left the theater frustrated and disgusted feeling like I had just squandered $40 in cash. I did not enjoy the performance of Paula Vogel's masterpiece. It had to be one of the worst theater experiences I have ever had. The culprit was either seriously hearing impaired or the most inconsiderate person I ever experience at the theater – right above the jerk who read emails throughout a matinee performance of The Lion King and the young couple with multiple facial piercings who held a conversation throughout the entire first act of a recent matinee of Carrie. Do I need to stop attending weekend matinees? Or is the communal experience of live theater on the New York City stage deteriorating? 

Related Posts:
Men, Beware of Mysterious Women Who Arrive At Your Door in the Rain

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Theatrical Monologist Mike Daisey Invokes Dramatic License and Fabricates Without Telling the Audience

 In Terry Teachout's October 2011 WSJ review of Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs (check out script here), he writes:
The trouble with "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," as with all theatrical journalism, is that Mr. Daisey is in essence asking us to take his word for it. He hasn't brought back pictures or named names, and the artful anger with which he tells his tale inevitably makes it still more suspect.
Well, Mr. Teachout was on to something because Mike Daisey is now rightfully coming under fire in the press for fabricating some of his China encounters and personal experiences in his successful one man show. Check out details of fabrications at the retraction on The American Life, the public radio program that broke the news here

Should Mike Daisey have been more clearer about the "dramatic license" taken with regard to the show? Yes!! He certainly would not be in this situation today. Should this take away from the issues surrounding the working conditions of Chinese workers? Definitely not!!!!!! 

Related Posts: 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Quote from Paula Vogel's "How I Learned to Drive"

Spoken by Female Greek Chorus (as Aunt Mary) in Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive.
...domesticity can be a balm for men when they're lost.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Broadway - Cabaret Style

From 54 Below website - Rendering by John Lee Beatty
While sitting at a cramped table of strangers being bumped by passersby and trying to get my waiter's attention so that I can satisfy a table minimum, I am reminded why I am not always fond of cabarets

Then Betty Buckley (actress/singer/cowgirl/teacher according to her Twitter profile) enters the stage and charms a room filled with theater lovers. Never mind the noisy shaker at the bar. Never mind the mediocre food. Never mind that I cannot check my bill in the dark to make sure that I have not been ripped off. Never mind the pain in my neck as I twist to see the stage. Betty is on at BB King Blues Club right smack in the heart of the city, and she is belting out Broadway tunes typically sung by men. This is the first time that I am seeing her perform and I relish the experience because I may never see the Tony award winner from Cats perform ever again.

In June, another cabaret style nightclub opens - this time below the famous Studio 54 in midtown. The club promises fine dining (we will see) and cover charges as high as $70 with table minimum of $30. Not cheap. But with an initial line up that includes the diva herself - Patti LuPone (June 5 - 16), Ben Vereen (July 10 - 21), Lea DeLaria (July 23-August 6) and the underrated Jenifer Lewis (July 24 - 28), who can stay away. 

I can't...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Unforgettable Productions of the Century - Ben Brantley

Greatness is far and few between. Looking at the current productions on and off Broadway, how many would you say are great - are unforgettable? How many will remain at the forefront of your memory? How many will you watch over and over? 

Here is how The New York Times Book of Broadway edited by Ben Brantley (2001) defines the 125 unforgettable productions of the century. 

But first, this lovely quote from the introduction: When the elements of a play or a musical cohere into surreally smooth symmetry or jangling novelty, an electricity starts flowing between the audience and the performers on stage and within the audience itself.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Twenty-five Productions That Defined the Century - Ben Brantley

The 25 productions that defined the century from The New York Times Book of Broadway edited by Ben Brantley (2001):

The Hairy Ape
Show Boat
Waiting for Lefty
Porgy and Bess
You Can't Take It with You
Our Town
A Streetcar Names Desire
Death of a Salesman
My Fair Lady
Waiting for Godot
Long Day's Journey into Night
West Side Story
A Raisin in the Sun
The Caretaker
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
A Midsummer Nights Dream (Peter Brook's production)
A Chorus Line
Sweeney Todd
Glengarry Glen Ross
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Angels in America (Part I: Millennium Approaches)
The Emperor Jones (Wooster Group production)

Monday, March 12, 2012

"Once: A New Musical"

The first time I attempted to watch the 2007 indie Irish film Once, I fell asleep. The DVD was later mailed back to Netflix, unseen in its entirety. Last year, when a musical version of the film was mounted Off Broadway at New York Theater Workshop to pretty good reviews, I attempted to watch the understated film (which was on countless Top 10 lists) again late one night. This time I did not fall asleep but was instead drawn into the world of an Irish guy and a Czech girl who connect while creating music in Dublin. I finally understood what all the fuss was about and could not wait to see the musical when it transferred to Broadway.

Had I not seen the film, I would think that Once: A New Musical is a pleasant production. And it is. It is funny (it has more humor than the touching film). The polished Steve Kazee (Guy) has a wonderful voice and a rock star physique (I could listen to him all night). And hearing the Academy Award winning song Falling Slowly performed twice in one evening is a complete treat. Those however who connect deeply with indie film, which was shot with a budget of roughly $130K, may find the Broadway production just a bit too theatrical...just a bit too polished. The working class and immigrant experience in Dublin is lost. Some of the passion of composing is lost. And Girl - more like a driven business manager on the stage - is missing some of her youthfulness and naivete.  

Now, don't get me wrong - Once: A New Musical is fresh (no big sappy ending here) and worth seeing. The thirteen actor-musicians do a wonderful job. However, when I hold up the film and adapted stage versions under a spotlight, the film wins over the current production on the New York City stage.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Diversity in the Theater - Part IV

When the study Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender was published by Emily Sands in 2009, it caused quite a stir. The study found that:
  • Plays written by women are less likely to be produced.
  • Plays about leading female characters are less likely to be produced.
  • When the same exact play is sent to artistic directors – under a playwright name that is male and under a playwright name that is female – the female penned play is considered to be of lesser quality. 
  • And surprise, female artistic directors are the harshest critics of plays written by female playwrights. 

If we take a look at original plays which according to IBDB opened on The Great White Way between January 1st 2009 and December 31st 2011, we now find that nine (~20%) were written by women. If we adjust this slightly for solo performances, this is roughly a 2.5% increase since Ms. Sands' study.  How is that for progress?
Related Posts
Part I
Part II
Part III

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Diversity in the Theater - Part III

Some time back, as I was standing on line to purchase tickets at a Broadway theater box office, I perked up when I overheard two women chatting about a Broadway play that I planned to see shortly - Tracy Lett's Pulitzer prize winning August: Osage County. Phylicia Rashad - a black actress - recently joined the cast to play the matriarch of a  (typically white) dysfunctional family. One woman (like me later when I later saw the play) had no issues when watching Ms. Rashad in the role of Violet; however, the other could not get over the color blind casting.  

On February 13th, David Henry Hwang moderated an Asian American Performer's Action Coalition (AAPAC) roundtable discussion at Fordham University. The purpose - To begin a discussion about making the theater more inclusive. According to the article - New York City Theater Community Convenes to Discuss Representation of Minority Actors - by Joanna Klimaski, the AAPAC released a report on minority casting on the New York City stage and here are some of the results layered with some census data:
% Casted
NY Census %
USA Census %
African Americans
Latino Americans
Asian Americans

While some progress has been made for African Americans (reminder - they've been struggling for years), little has been made for Latinos and Asian Americans - the two largest growing groups in America.

The positive - The AAPAC has started the conversation and that is how change begins. They ask - Why can't we all be just Americans? Why can't we have color blind casting?  I don't see why not. When Jean Doumanian, producer of August: Osage County, was asked by TONY magazine about the decision to cast Ms. Rashad, she simply replied, "Phylicia Rashad is a magnificent actress and that is what this decision was based on."

The negative - NYC theaters remain largely white owned, (I suspect) artistic directors are largely white, (I suspect) theater donors and members are largely white, and (I know) theatergoers (from Broadway League demographic statistics and from what I see every single week when I go to the theater) are largely white. This does not quite support the business case for why the theater industry should make any effort to be more inclusive.

What happens next? The conversation continues.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Diversity in the Theater - Part II

Quote by black playwright Ronald Milner (1938 - 2004) in Jet Magazine dated May 11, 1967:

Broadway doesn't want your blackness - she is a contented fat white cow. You can slip in and milk her, but you will be dancing on the grave of yourself and everyone else you love.

I do not know the context of Mr. Milner's quote; but I am sure that he is a child of his times, Radicalism is inevitable when there is inequality. Good thing is that Mr. Milner was eventually received on Broadway. According to IBDB, three of his plays - What the Wine-Sellers Buy, Don't Get God Started, and Checkmates - played on Broadway between 1974 and 1988. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, What the Wine-Sellers Buy was the first play by an African American produced by Joseph Papp of the New York Shakespeare Festival. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Diversity in the Theater - Part I

Which is it?

Non-whites do not attend Broadway shows because there is little diversity on the stage.


Broadway productions do not cast non-whites because there is little diversity in the audience.