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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Congratulations to Paul Mullin

posted by on October 28 at 15:55 PM


The Rep recently lopped the final week off their autumn blockbuster The Three Musketeers, saying it was too expensive to keep the show open.

Meanwhile, Paul Mullin (this year’s Stranger Genius Award winner for theater) just had his new play extended by two weeks at the Boston Court in Pasadena.

The Sequence concerns the race to sequence the human genome. Like many Mullin plays, is a marriage of scientific knowledge, the will to discovery, and the bizarre personalities and rivalries behind the knowledge. (Mullin is, essentially, a gnostic playwright.)

And people like it. Audience are buying tickets, the critics dig it, and to all you people at Shitstorm last night who argued that theaters can’t do new plays because audiences won’t come to see them: ha!

(p.s. to those of you who were there last night: Shitstorm was fun and somewhat instructive, but I was still disappointed to hear so much reactionary “we can’t do this, we can’t fix that, we’re doing just fine but it’s the critics and the lack of government handouts and the audiences and the culture that make our lives difficult.” Which is narrow-minded, entitled bullshit. There will be future Shitstorms—about unions, about the Fringe Festival—at which I hope to hear a little less whining and a little more problem-solving.)


Forgive me. I was a little hurried in my description of last night and now people in the comments who attended (and offered good ideas) are insulted.

Last night was fun and, like I said, somewhat instructive. I was surprised by the level of reactionary “we-can’t-do-this,” as well as surprised by the level of narrow-minded, entitled bullshit.

I was also surprised by the level of willingness to talk, to interrogate the 10 points on their own merits, and, at the very end, the concrete ideas people started to offer. And quite surprised that nobody threw a drink on me.

Sometimes I forget to accentuate the positive.

Mostly, thank you all for coming out last night, even you entitled gasbags. It was the beginning of what I hope will be many fruitful conversations.

RSS icon Comments


Ummm.... This is exactly what I was saying about the "canary in the coalmine." A tired-ass production is not it.

I haven't seen it, but I suspect that Mullin's play was far superior in most respects to "The Three Musketeers." That would make his play a potential canary, not the other way around.

Posted by Matthew | October 28, 2008 4:18 PM

Brendan, I don't recall anyone saying last night that theaters can't do new plays, or whining particularly. Most of us us are doing new plays. It can be risky.
It's not narrow-minded bullshit to say so. I would love to talk more about solutions and building audiences. Washington Ensemble Theatre is running a new play right now, it's gotten great reviews, and a lot of buzz, so why are we not selling out our measly 49 seats?
Without the ability to capitalize on name recognition alone, how do we get butts in seats? Frankly, I don't think the answer is booze or daycare. The answer lies somewhere within the black-hatted "audience member" who cares enough to come to Shitstorm but not enough to actually see any plays in four years. How do we make him feel invited? I'm very intrigued by Joe Audience Member.

Posted by Heidi | October 28, 2008 4:21 PM

"Entitled bullshit." That pretty much nailed what I was thinking more than once. To be fair, it seemed like there were a lot of people there who DO get it, but I definitely felt like there were several who had pretty damned elitist attitudes about what theater should be.

Posted by Dave Clapper | October 28, 2008 4:23 PM

Unions are fucking dumb.

Posted by Mr. Poe | October 28, 2008 4:24 PM

Do more gladiator and mime shows. Hey, it worked for the Romans.

Posted by Greg | October 28, 2008 4:29 PM

Admittedly, I came in late, but that sounds like a gross over-simplification of what I heard.

Face facts, Brendan, most of your new-fangled ideas, the ones that aren't already implemented (seriously, I'm still waiting for that list of three venues without bar service), or tried-and-discarded (what was that the guy from the Rep said about the success of their in-house babysitting initiative several years back?), or the sheer burn-out factor of trying to produce 20 new shows a year, etc., etc., aren't being dismissed because of some narrow-minded elitism, they're being dismissed because - they've already been tried and proven to be completely unworkable.

Sorry that makes you feel bad, but perhaps if you'd spent any time participating in the production of theatre, rather than pontificating from your second-story perch, you'd have a better understanding of what works and what doesn't, and MAYBE the people involved in actually making the work would give your ideas a little more serious consideration.

In fact, some of us were discussing this aftward, and we think this would be a terrific idea for a series of articles: Kiley spends a week or two in the company of real theatre practioners, engaged in the process of producing real theatre. Spend some time with a managing director trying to figure out how to pay the rent on a 1/5 full house, or a scenic designer attempting to create an arctic blizzard on a $150 budget, or an actor trying to juggle a 40+ hour per week day job with a 20 hour per week rehearsal schedule, just for starters. I think you'd be surprised to find the reality is very much different from your high-minded theoretical perceptions.

And Mr. Poe, shut the fuck up, and get back to work - and no, you don't get a fucking coffee break, lunch break, overtime, paid vacation & holidays, or weekends off.

Posted by COMTE | October 28, 2008 4:51 PM

Oooh, an embedded theater reporter. I like it.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 28, 2008 4:57 PM

Dear god, last night was frustrating in ways I can't even begin to list! Brendan, you are a braver soul than I.

Posted by Chris B | October 28, 2008 5:10 PM

There's still a Fringe Fest?


I thought it had disappeared ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 28, 2008 5:11 PM

Awesome! Brendan can figure out where to put the daycare facility in a three-room theater -- on stage, in the dressing room, or in the bar?

Posted by Lola | October 28, 2008 5:13 PM

Why is it about the reporter? Is he really what's wrong with Seattle theater? Really, really? I'd agree that Kiley's original ideas aren't the be-all end-all, but I do respect highly that it got the conversation going at a level beyond a couple people crying into their beers.

So let's assume that the ten ideas aren't workable to fill 49 seats at WET. What IS workable? (And frankly, I'm stunned and saddened that a company producing quality work so consisently can't fill 49 seats.)

Kiley as embedded theater reporter is cute, sure, but would it really change anything? If not, what would?

I'll still make the argument that a big part of the reason a theater like Annex is still going after 22 years is that they regularly embrace new people, not just at the audience level, but at the working level, too. John Sylvain, Allison Narver, Jim Chesnutt, Weir Harmon, Jillian Armanente, Paul Giamatti (etc., etc.) aren't there anymore, but Annex continues on. Part of that is because of the great plan Chesnutt put in place (that Allison detailed last night), but I'd argue that the bigger reason is that when any of those other folks left, there were other people waiting to step in.

What happens to WET when its founders are either too burn out to continue on or have moved on almost exclusively to better-paying gigs?

Posted by Dave Clapper | October 28, 2008 5:14 PM

I vote for the bar.

Bottles are fun for kids to play with, and they can pretend they're kids on Mad Men ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 28, 2008 5:16 PM

Comte, that's one of the things George Mount pointed out before you got there; there are a hell of a lot of people who come in with all kinds of "new" exciting ideas to fix theatre, who don't talk to those who've been producing shows here for 30 years, so they never find out that those ideas have been done, and most of the companies doing them have either fallen by the wayside or gone back to the tried and true, instead of the tried and failed.

As I've said before, I don't disagree with a lot of Brendan's points, but I think a hell of a lot of them do show a certain naivete about the realities. I like the idea of him being embedded with a couple local theatre companies for awhile. I do think it's a good idea to know a good deal about the field you're critiquing, whether it's arts, engineering, what have you.

And I'm still snickering over the guy who pointed out one of the problems with childcare in most small venues - do you put 'em in the same room with the chop saw?

Posted by Geni | October 28, 2008 5:20 PM

@2 Forget that guy. I don't believe that anybody who actually remotely cares would be dense enough to show up and suggest that the biggest problem is that theaters haven't "set up a website" to promote what they're doing and when. Not when that information is one click away on this site, not to mention at the websites of Weekly, the Times, the P-I, NWsource, SeattlePerforms, et al. That guy was either just after attention or deliberately obtuse.

Posted by mge | October 28, 2008 5:33 PM

I'm with Heidi. I didn't hear "narrow-minded entitled bullshit" last night. I heard some opinions I strongly disagree with, but that doesn't make them "narrow-minded". Brendan, I thought you invited us all there to widen your horizons.

I also am disheartened by the "ha!" line that accompanies your Slog story about Paul Mullin's success in Pasadena. Did you come away from the Shitstorm thinking that producers who have struggled to break-even on new plays are HOPING that new plays fail to validate their plight? I don't think the discussion was that childish.

Why is Mullin's play such a radical story? Isn't ACT producing a new play in Seattle right now? Didn't Strawshop sellout the last two weeks of an original play this summer?

I don't know many people who think new writing can't sell tickets, and I don't know ANY people who are rooting for playwrights to fail. That's a mis-characterization of what we were talking about last night.

I'm disappointed that's what you got out of last night, Brendan. I feel like you wrote a piece that was adventurous and have spent a couple of weeks being educated. I thought that was one of your goals. It's like going to the Mariners with a 10-Step plan for winning that includes sign the tallest, most expensive first baseman available. You might have the best of intentions, but you can't be offended if the people on the inside tell you that they tried that already, and it doesn't always work.

What I felt last night was a lot of camaraderie and a lot of passion and an invitation to the Stranger to get inside the industry and report the more nuanced reality of the situation.

Posted by rowlfdog | October 28, 2008 5:44 PM

Brendan, you invited me into a room with 130 other people for a loosely-structured three-hour meeting titled "Shitstorm." You allowed ninety of those minutes to be swallowed up in a near-pointless discussion of the value of producing Shakespeare. And you think the only reason we didn't develop a bullet-point(ed) plan of how to save American Theatre is that we're too fond of our "narrow-minded, entitled bullshit?" (emphasis yours).

Well ... that's pretty insulting.

You know what's a waste of time? Having someone discuss childcare "setting aside the issues of liability". Seriously? How does that make sense? In what fantasy world do I as a Managing Director have the time to spend thinking about "solutions" that are patently unworkable? Being a Managing Director of a theatre company is a lot like critiquing theatre - except you have actual responsibilities. Like, to your Board of Directors - the people who will be sued if you screw up badly enough.

I was invited to a "Shitstorm" - not a weekend-long working session with breakout groups to lay the groundwork for a city-wide theatrical infrastructure. And I'd rather not be insulted when I participate in what was obviously the spirit of the evening.

Posted by Stephen McCandless | October 28, 2008 5:55 PM

Why isn't my butt filling up a seat?

I've got bar conversation/hopping with friends, NY Times, Slog, video games, public television, DVDs, movies, summer picnics at the park, bike rides, concerts, books, weekends in Portland, Seattle Symphony, Bumbershoot, Wooden Boat Festival, etc etc etc for leisure and entertainment.

Theater is just another choice in a sea of entertainment choices, and I don't find it compelling, so my butt hasn't filled a theater seat since high school. (The only possible exception being comedian or improv theater seats.)

Based on the other empty seats, I have to guess that many people generally feel the same way.

Instead of fighting it (we don't care and we won't listen--we've got lots of choices), just accept it and work with whomever's left. Want to see a higher percentage of seats filled? Get rid of some seats. Merge if you have to. All this sounds like to me is an over-supply of theater.

Posted by Maxwell the Non-Audience Member | October 28, 2008 6:18 PM

The purpose of the "set aside logistics and liabilities" question was to figure out how many people thought it *would* be a good idea, if we could figure out how to make it work—like, whether it would be worth pursuing a solution at all.

But people got so hung up on the frame of the question ("WHAT?!? SET ASIDE LOGISTICS?!? WHAT?!?") that we couldn't get at whether people thought it would be a solution worth pursuing. A casualty of the shouty Shitstorm format.

Posted by Brendan Kiley | October 28, 2008 6:18 PM

Hi, I was the audience member there. And I wasn't being obtuse. I honestly didn't know what was out there as far as information for plays was concerned.

And, I'm sorry, but looking over the listings I'm still not finding the information I want, which I would have explained if I could have. It's not just a website or a flyer that I'm looking for.

What I want is to WANT to see a play again. I love theater. Truly. It's a part of growing up. You know that "little kid" y'all want to reach out and inspire? That was my childhood: encouraging parents, one good teacher (from a different school district, no less) who was a great introduction to Shakespeare, lots of regional and community theater of varying degrees of quality and success and oh man I loved it. I watched the Macy Thanksgiving Day parade so I could see the excerpts from the musicals.

But when I moved out here I saw one great play (Peter Brooks' Hamlet) and then a host of middling to trashy plays at a time when my money was very tight, so I stopped going for the most part. Since then, I haven't felt the compulsion to go. On those rare occasions I do, I look at those listings and see a lot of titles, a lot of times and not much reason to go.

The Henry IV listing here is a quote from the play. What's my motivation to go there, except that it's Shakespeare (which is, I think, Brendan's point)? Another, Black Gold, tells me that it's "Brechtian" and "metatheatrical" which doesn't mean anything to me and doesn't do much to intrigue me.

I want the passion I saw last night in the listings and the posters. I want someone to grab me by the eyeballs and say "Hey! Check this out!" I want a non-ironic trailer on YouTube showing me that if I can't make it, I will regret it! If that's too much give me something like a good back cover blurb.

"Four short plays by local writers including...." GOOD GOD! You lot were yelling and foaming at the mouth last night! Where is that energy here?

Make me want to see this. Give me a reason to decide to not buy a CD or a book. Because "We're here and we're relevant" isn't cutting it.

Posted by Chris B | October 28, 2008 6:31 PM

Chris - call me at Annex Theatre (728-0933) and I'll set you up with tickets for our production of "Eating Round the Bruise." If you don't like it I'll buy you a drink at the bar.

Posted by Stephen McCandless | October 28, 2008 6:52 PM

Stephen, I actually meant to check your site out today but work swamped me out. I will give a call tomorrow when I'm not digging my way out of two night's worth of photos...

Posted by Chris B | October 28, 2008 6:55 PM

Actually COMTE, I do.

Posted by Mr. Poe | October 28, 2008 7:10 PM

*but work swamped me out*

Word, ChrisB. Works swamps everybody out. The people who make theater, the people who avoid theater, the people who (bless them) eventually make it to see theater. The ones I want to get are the people who FORGOT about theater, the people who FORGET about it every day...because they are swamped at work or broke or were bored by the last thing they saw or would rather watch the children idle in the workplace on Mad Men. Frankly, I'd rather watch Mad Men. And why is that?

I mean I'd rather watch it because I've watched it before and it's good, it's accessible, it's sexy, and someone turned me onto it. I'm a sucker for suggestion. Someone tells someone else who then tells me and I am so there. Even if I'm taking my chances...or their word for it.

Last night was fun because dialogues are fun. Even (or especially) when everyone disagrees, but are kinda entertaining in the process. There is almost NO public dialogue about theater around here except among artists and while that's cool after rehearsal some nights, it's mostly boring to people who are not artists.

I really dig live performance, but it's old technology and we can at least recognize that's why some audiences want to move on. Want to find something easier, cheaper, better (all subjective values, I know). We don't have to agree with that, we can be disappointed, but it's happening.

The real revolution that needs to happen won't happen in marketing departments, but on the street and on the iPhone. Here's the thing: most of us who are over 30 remember learning about one art form or another in school, even if we were never introduced to it at home. We were in choirs or took a regular art class. That ain't happening anymore. Most school kids in WA today are getting less than ONE HOUR a week of arts ed. So who can blame them when they go to college and head to the workplace not giving a shit about theater? There's our obstacle/challenge. It would be cool if we could figure out how to introduce theater to them as a new technology.

Posted by Keri Healey | October 28, 2008 8:50 PM

OMG. I am so relieved of any guilt regarding not attending Shitstorm '08 on account of Stephan's mention of the 3 hours o' meeting, and the 90 minutes o' Shakespeare navel gazing. That would really make me want to kill myself.

We can do this quick, without all the angst.

Here's my rewrite of Kiley:

1) Don't do Shakespeare for Shakespeare's sake. Only do it because it is artistically relevant. To you. As an artist. If it isn't, then don't. Ditto 3 Musketeers. Ditto Paul Mullin. Ad infinitum.

2) Tell us something we don't know. In every production. Of every play. Whether it is a world premier, or, well, Shakespeare. See above.

3) Produce when you have something relevant to produce. For some of you this means more. For some of you this means less.

4) YOUTH. Sure they should come. And others who maybe also have money to pay for it.

5) Some people have children. Those children go to bed at 7:30. Plays start at 7:30. Make some plays start at 8:30. Then I can put my twins sons to bed, have the baby sitter come over and watch my TV, and I can go to the theatre and drink. I really don't want to bring the children out at night. For three hours. Jesus.

6) Artist housing... sure, do it. Theatre spaces in condos... I'm skeptical.

7) Everybody has a bar. Everybody is near a bar. I don't want to hang out in the theatre lobby to talk about how bad the play was though... I'm going next door. The main problem with theatre bars is that they are too expensive. Make it happy hour. All the time. The bar shouldn't have to pay for the play, it should just make me enjoy the play.

8) Some theatre is interactive. Some isn't. Deal. Theatresports is interactive. Re-bar is interactive. Becky's New Car is interactive. Some people like it. Some people hate that shit.

9) Having a fun job often means you don't get paid as much.

10) Wait 5 years between undergrad and gradschool. Go back if you want to. Having more craft sometimes helps you be a better artist. Being an artist is not dependent on craft.

Done and done.

Posted by Smucker | October 28, 2008 8:57 PM

I heart you, Smucker.

Posted by Heidi | October 28, 2008 10:54 PM

Also, plays should have explosions.

Posted by Scotto | October 28, 2008 10:59 PM

Then Mr. Poe, you should get down on your unpadded knees and thank the unions - since you wouldn't have any of those things without them.

Posted by COMTE | October 28, 2008 11:05 PM

Oh, hell. Now I've been drinking. Here, let me add bullet point #11:
11. Don't give unsolicited advice if you want people to like you.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 28, 2008 11:24 PM

Chris B. - *grabbing you by the eyeballs*

We at Washington Ensemble Theatre would also love to get your butt in a seat for our current production "God's Ear". Call 325-5105 and you'll be set up. And then I'd love to hear your ideas for how to reach beyond our current pool of audience members.

And that goes for anyone here who has forgotten about theatre or isn't compelled to see theatre. This is a fucking good show so give a call and I'll buy tickets for the first 5 peeps that mention this post.

Posted by Jessica | October 29, 2008 1:50 PM

Re: "Narrow-Minded Entitled Bullshit":

I did not hear any narrow minded entitled bullshit from anyone except you, Kiley. What I heard was a community of artists coming together to address the issues at hand in a forum called "SHITSTORM" (it seems that the title itself is begging for larger conflicts and arguments than what actually occurred). There were many responses to your list...some pro, some con. But to insist that those who disagree with you are narrow-minded is laughable. Its like McCain advocating for change. Most of the responses against your list seemed to come from a desire NOT to be narrow-minded and a belief that theatre can be something other than your list. Your lists suggests that all theatre should pander to what YOU like and what you think you know. It leaves little to no room for people who think differently than you. THAT is what is coming across as narrow-minded. THAT is what is coming across as elitist. When you are frustrated that others disagree with you, it is ridiculous to call them narrow minded and elitist. Can't you see that? Come on Kiley, I know you're smarter than that.

Re: Quality:

There will always be shitty theatre. That will never change, nor should it. I love shitty theatre...I hate mediocre theatre, but that's me. We can challenge each other and create a stronger community, but we become divisive and exclusionary when we start calling for a ban on certain types of theatre. Theatre should be diverse. As much as I hate shit like Becky's New Car or Phantom or the Opera or even shitty Shakespeare productions, there is a place for it and an audience that loves it. Should an audience not have work created for them because Brendan Kiley says so and he made a list? Should all theatre be self indulgent Paul Mullin and Implied Violence (BTW I.V., that was done already 40 years ago and much better) just because it gives Kiley a hard on and there were some baby chickens and fake blood and its a world premiere? Its not what I am interested in, but so what. A lot of people love their work. What about everything else? What about different points of view. When you subscribe to one way of doing art, you end up with a boring homogenous scene and THAT'S how you kill theatre. When you suggest that some types of theatre are not worthy of the stage, you present an attitude of elitism. When you suggest that opinions other than yours are elitist, you are the one that comes across as the narrow-minded asshole. There needs to be a place for different types of work wether its a world premiere or not (Seattle Shakes, ACT, Seattle Children's, WET, Annex, IV, Paul Mullin...all of it WETHER I LIKE IT OR NOT). I'm all for having the conversation and I applaud your effort, but you can't be surprised when people strongly disagree with you.

Re: Pasadena:

So what if Paul Mullin had his show extended IN PASADENA! Good for him. Seriously, that's a wonderful thing, Paul and congrats to you. However, its hardly a "HA" moment. For starters, its a different market in LA, in case that isn't already obvious. As Narver put it, the scene here is not any more dead than it's ever been. One play extending in another city does not mean anything. What about world premieres in Seattle that do extend? There are plenty of examples. I didn't hear anyone saying that they DON'T want to do world premieres. The issue is excluding all other plays. What I heard were frustrations over marketing a world premiere. That's hardly whining at an event called SHITSTORM. No one was actually advocating for a ban on world premieres. I fail to see your point, or I think you failed to see the point unless you wanted to point your finger and say "SEE, LOOK, I'M RIGHT."

Now some mad props:

Kiley, wether you know it or not, you are an important part of this community and you do have a place in this ecosystem. That is why you received such strong responses to your article. No one would care if John LongenBLAH had said the same thing. We do care what you see, what you think, and there is a strong desire to have the conversation. Don't confuse that with elitism. Don't confuse that with blaming the critic. You agitate and encourage the conversation, which is admirable. I hope you can read the above with a bit of humor (you too Mullin and I.V.). Thank you for providing a valuable forum for the community to discuss the issues. It may not have been what you wanted, but the conversation got started and that alone is exciting. I would love us to challenge ourselves to create better work and to be more supportive and see more of what each other are doing. I loved hearing everyone's thoughts and I felt more connected with this community than ever before. Thank you.

Posted by Rand McNally | October 29, 2008 4:32 PM

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