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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Congratulations to Paul Mullin

posted by on October 28 at 3:55 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.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Shitstorm: Tonight!

posted by on October 27 at 2:58 PM


And what is Shitstorm?

A few years ago, people used to gather at the Rendezvous for raucous, quarterly pub forums on special topics in theater. It was a crucible for ideas—fun, productive, generally tipsy, and occasionally harrowing. They called it Shitstorm. They're bringing it back. Stranger theater editor Brendan Kiley will briefly discuss his "10 Things Theater Should Do Right Now to Save Themselves" article and moderator Matt Richter will lead a public discussion. Booze will be plentiful and cheap.

Shitstorm happens tonight at Seattle Repertory Theater, 155 Mercer St, at 7:30 pm. Admission is free.

The Drums of Doom, Confirmed

posted by on October 27 at 10:56 AM


The Seattle Rep has just officially confirmed that it is canceling the last week of The Three Musketeers due to financial constraints.

From spokeslady Ilana Balint:

When we were planning this season we had an optimistic and aggressive outlook for the sales on this show so we built in an extra two weeks on this show. We normally run shows for 4 and a half weeks, and with The Three Musketeers we had an extra two weeks built in. Unfortunately, due to the economic downturn of late, our sales have not merited an extra week of performances. So, we painfully decided that it would be fiscally responsible of us to cancel the last week of performances.

For those commentors on the previous post who thought the Three Musketeers was "not exactly the canary in the coal mine"—it should've been an easy sell for families and the summer-blockbuster demographic: a familiar story, sword fights, etc. Whether or not the production worked (we didn't think so), it should've been able to float on name-recognition and single tickets. Moreso than, say, Purgatorio or even The Imaginary Invalid.

The fact that it didn't makes it very much the canary in the coal mine.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Drums of Doom

posted by on October 26 at 8:06 PM

Due to financial stresses, the Seattle Rep is closing its Three Musketeers a week early, according to a source affiliated with the theater. The new close date is November 9.

This is the first in what will surely be a litany of closures, cancellations, and upheavals in Seattle theater for the next several years.

Just a few days ago, Rep managing director Ben Moore told me that by next year, the Rep would be a "different organization." He said he has been in the theater business for 40 years, and that "people who should be in the know" say this is the worst economic forecast they've ever seen.

He suggested that if the Rep could make changes to its organization and production schedule now, it would. But, being in the middle of a season, it has to make good on its commitments.

Looks like things have worsened in those few days.

Incidentally, Jane Zalutsky, the president of the Rep's board, is a vice-president at the newly bankrupt WaMu.

Letter of the Day

posted by on October 26 at 10:48 AM

Tonite I witnessed an amazing rendition of The Laramie Project by some very talented high school actors at Ingraham High School. I think that this play should be mentioned somewhere in the theatre section under upcoming events. If not, please tell everyone on the staff they should try to make it to one of the shows.

-A Person Who Is In No Way Affiliated with Ingraham High School But Was Extremely Moved

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

ISO Conservative Playwrights

posted by on October 22 at 10:33 AM

From the National Review:

Alison is a 48 year old Harvard graduate who is now director of American Revolutions (snazzy title that!) at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland—one of the largest repertory companies in the country, which produces 11 plays a year.

“You cannot tell the story of the United States without including the story of conservative political and social movements,” said Alison Carey told the New York Times.

You're not looking very hard, Alison. Didn't David Mamet just shift his allegiance from "brain-dead liberal" to half-baked conservative? (Or was that just a late-career publicity stunt?)

Neil LaBute might count in a classical Hobbesian, war-of-all-on-all kind of way.

Other than that, you're out of luck. Conservatives who love theatrics either work for Fox News or the clergy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

For All of You Sending Me Email about Bart Sher Accepting a Full-Time Job as Resident Director at Lincoln Center...

posted by on October 21 at 11:04 AM

...this press release seems to indicate otherwise:

SEATTLE— Intiman Theatre announces the addition of Shakespeare’s Othello, directed by Artistic Director Bartlett Sher, to its 2009 schedule. This will be Sher’s first production of Shakespeare’s tragedy and his fourth production of a Shakespeare play at Intiman, where he has been Artistic Director since 2000.

But Sher's exit strategy, intentional or otherwise, has been masterful. Rumors about his departure have been greatly exaggerated—and they've circulated so many times that when it finally happens, people will barely notice.

In other news: The Seattle Rep suggested I host a public forum on the contentious 10 Things Theaters Need to Do article. It'll happen Monday Oct 27 at 7:30 pm. The format is old Shitstorm style, for those of you who remember those tipsy, occasionally harrowing pub meetings at Rendezvous—I'll talk for a few minutes, someone will rail against me for a few minutes, and we'll open the floor for general discussion. Booze will be plentiful and cheap. People will shout. People will have their feelings hurt. And everyone will leave a little bit wiser.

UPDATE: I am a fucking moron who apparently can't read a press release:

In addition to his continuing leadership of Intiman, Sher has also recently been named Resident Director of Lincoln Center Theater, where he will consult with LCT Artistic Director Andre Bishop on artistic matters and direct one LCT production each year.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Steppenwolf Receives $1 Million Grant

posted by on October 16 at 12:01 PM

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is to receive $1.075 million over five years from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to create programs aimed at younger audiences and foster more partnerships with other stage troupes.

The rest of the winners are:

Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation (New York, NY), to explore a new model of online patron engagement for its celebration of African-American heritage through modern dance.

Center Theatre Group (Los Angeles, CA), to explore new subscription and producing models resonant with young audiences.

Cunningham Dance Foundation (New York, NY), to transition to a post-founder legacy period as it furthers the work of legendary choreographer Merce Cunningham.

Jacob's Pillow Dance (Becket, MA), to extend its impact as the longest-running dance festival in the United States by using technology to become a national resource and model.

Misnomer Dance Theater (New York, NY), to develop new relationships between technology and dance that build on its work as a pioneer in online expression and marketing.

National Black Arts Festival (Atlanta, GA), a year-round cultural celebration of the contributions of artists of African descent, to expand the audience online for the art and performance work of education pertaining to Africa and the African Diaspora.

Ping Chong & Company (New York, NY), to explore a new financial model by franchising a community-organizing experimental theatre project.

SITI Company (New York, NY), to establish this ensemble-based theater company as a resident New York City organization with relevant partnerships and support.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company, (Chicago, IL), to explore new modes of producing and engaging young audiences, including partnerships with other arts groups and universities.

The Wooster Group (New York, NY), to explore a new producing model, pursue partnerships, and take on a new educational role in contemporary theatre.

Those are mostly great choices: this city's best choreographers have been to Jacob's Pillow, Center Theater Group produced the world premiere of my beloved Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, the Wooster Group is a great root for companies like Elevator Repair Service, Merce Cunningham is a Seattle dance hero, etc.

(SITI company is played. But I've got beef with the legacy of Anne Bogart—she's very pleasant, very intelligent, very talented. But Viewpoints is her Frankenstein's monster, and it's been the shield and excuse for a mountain of bad theater.)

Anyway: Congratulations, everyone. And three cheers for crazy, rich, dead Doris Duke (who accidentally killed her interior decorator and legally adopted an adult Hare Krishna, believing she was the biological reincarnation of her dead infant).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

O They Will Know We Are Youth Theater Directors...

posted by on October 15 at 2:26 PM

... by our plea bargains.

A former Mercer Island youth-theater director who was accused of raping a teenager has pleaded guilty to two reduced charges involving assaults on a girl and her sister. The charges filed last year, however, alleged that Keylin had inappropriate contact on several occasions with the 16-year-old daughter of a friend. He also was alleged to have raped the girl's older sister, who was 18 at the time, according to the charges.

...Keylin had been hired [by Youth Theater Northwest] in 2003 after serving as a teacher and school superintendent and most recently had been marketing director for Empty Space Theatre in Seattle.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Three Musketeers at Seattle Rep

posted by on October 13 at 2:52 PM

It’s hard to fathom why a major theater like Seattle Rep is doing The Three Musketeers right now--unless its total irrelevance to the outside world, the reprieve it offers from contemporary anxieties, is the point. If so, one expects a richly imagined, temporally transporting, violent, romantic, swashbuckling escapist fantasia, with funny asides thrown in. But it is none of these things.

In order for it to hold anyone’s attention--what with the gripping theater that is the election/economy swirling all around us--these French guys would really have to go after each other with those swords, really sweat and fight and bleed. But the fencing is exciting none of time and the hand-to-hand combat is embarrassing, with huge windows of air between puncher and punchee. The costumes are fine, but the set reverberates with the message: We didn’t have the money to do something nicer. In the absence of rich escapism, director Kyle Donnelly has settled on a slapstick gloss. There is, painfully, only about one laugh for every ten the actors are made to really go for. Not even the good actors involved (Hans Altweis as Athos) can save it. You want swashbuckling, for a lot less money? Turn on MSNBC/CNN/Comedy Central.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

10 Things Theaters Need to Do Right Now to Save Themselves

posted by on October 9 at 11:34 AM

Brendan Kiley has 10 pieces of advice for theaters that don't want to die. Here, randomly, is number 7:

Build bars. Alcohol is the only liquid on earth that functions as both lubricant and bonding agent. Exploit it. Treat your plays like parties and your audience like guests. Encourage them to come early, drink lots, and stay late. Even the meanest fringe company can afford a tub full of ice and beer, and the state of regional-theater bars is deplorable: long lines, overpriced drinks, and a famine of comfortable chairs. Theaters try to "build community" with postplay talkbacks and lectures and other versions of you've spent two hours watching my play, now look at me some more! You want community? Give people a place to sit, something to talk about (the play they just saw), and a bottle. As a gesture of hospitality, offer people who want to quit at intermission a free drink, so they can wait for their companions who are watching act two. Just take care of people. They get drinks, you get money, everybody wins. Tax, zoning, and liquor laws in your way? Change them or ignore them. Do what it takes.

The piece has been up for less than 24 hours and commenters are already losing their shit. To wit:

Brendan, this is the only thing I've ever read that you've written, so this is a reaction to this article; not your entire body of work. That being said, your writing indicates strongly to me that you are possibly a pretentious, self-important know-it-all . . . Do you, by any chance, wear horn-rimmed glasses and intentionally muss your hair several times per day? Just asking.

Get in on the fight over here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Gone Are the Days of 27 Plays

posted by on October 7 at 1:28 PM

ACT and Theater Schmeater have announced their new seasons. Schmeater's looks more exciting overall (including a new play by Tim Crouch, who just performed has haunting England at the Henry Art Gallery a few weeks ago) but ACT is staging Rock 'n' Roll, Tom Stoppard's epic about Prague Spring, a Marxist professor in England, Syd Barrett, the Plastic People of the Universe, Vaclav Havel, the Rolling Stones, and 1968 in general. That sounds exciting. Kurt Beattie will direct.

Also up: something to be announced, the break/s (a sort of dance/hiphop/video solo show by Marc Bamuthi Joseph), Das Barbecü (a Wagner parody ACT trots out whenever Seattle Opera performs the Ring cycle), Runt of the Litter (the season's second solo show—I can haz budget crunch?—this one by Houston Oiler Bo Eason), and an adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

At Schmeater: Act a Lady (by native playwright Jordan Harrison, whose Museum Play at WET was a dreamy, Sarah Ruhl-esque success), When the Messenger Is Hot (based on short stories by Elizabeth Crane), An Oak Tree (by the aforementioned Tim Crouch, Maria/Stuart (a Suburban Gothic), The Creation of the World an Other Business (Arthur Miller's satire of the Book of Genesis), and At Home at the Zoo (Albee's first play, Zoo Story, and the new prequel).

Hey theaters: Recall that 20 years ago, in 1988, Annex Theater produced 27 plays, 16 of them world premieres—and hang your heads in shame. This season, Annex will produce 10 plays, four of them world premieres, which is still pretty good. Washington Ensemble Theatre will only produce three plays, one of them a world premiere. (A kinda, sorta world premiere: It's a re-imagining of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus.)

What else happened in 1988? Nirvana started recording Bleach—and played a concert at Annex Theater. By the next year, Nirvana was on their first world tour.

The lesson: Produce enough new plays and Kurt Cobain will come back from the grave and play your house.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Seriously, New York Times?

posted by on September 30 at 3:24 PM


Your review of Twyla Tharp's new works at Pacific Northwest Ballet seems a little... disengaged. You spend most of your words on describing how the choreography looks but not what it might mean.

Tharp's choreography has always been thick with ideas (about gender, about youth culture, about art both haute and pop, about sex and death) and to not wrestle with the ideas (or lack thereof) in two brand-new ballets by the reigning queen of dance seems a little weak. Maybe even a little irresponsible.

(The ballets: Opus 111 is a florid, ballet/kitchen-sink fusion set to Brahms; Afternoon Ball is maudlin tragedy about fucked-up street kids.)

The closest you get is in the final paragraph:

Of the pair, “Opus 111” may be the work that survives in its present form, but there is a sense that, with “Afternoon Ball,” Ms. Tharp has not quite finished exploring the dark side. Her cautionary tale points to a subject larger than dance. If Ms. Tharp is worried about the slipping away of grace and tradition, so should we all be.

You must have ideas about Tharp's ideas—what does it mean, for example that the woman who rocked the dance world by fusing pop with avant garde with ballet has positioned herself as the defender of grace and tradition?—but you veil them.

And that "may be the work that survives in its present form" is an oblique way of saying that, in some respects, the ballet fails. Why don't you state that plainly?

Is it because you feel an obligation to defer to an artist of Tharp's stature? Because you've taken on Pacific Northwest Ballet and its young, imaginative director Peter Boal a pet project? Because you have to justify flying across the country to your editors by making the work seem more important than it is?

What gives?

For comparison's sake, here's The Stranger's review, which will be out in this Thursday's paper:

All Tharp
Pacific Northwest Ballet
Through Oct 5.

Twyla Tharp was once a daring choreographer. Four decades ago, she structurally reorganized the dance world by bringing low-falutin’ movement to high-falutin’ stages. The paradigmatic example: Deuce Coupe, a 1973 commission for the Joffrey Ballet set to the Beach Boys, with graffiti artists painting upstage during the performance. It was the world’s first ballet with a pop soundtrack.

But both of her world-premiere ballets that opened at PNB last weekend—Opus 111 (set to Brahms) and Afternoon Ball (set to minimalist Vladimir Martynov)—seem like burlesques of Tharp’s old glory. In the first dance, Tharp trots out samples from her myriad influences, presenting a Tharpean pupu platter: Broadway skips, jazzy jumps, playful gymnastics, cross-armed kicks redolent of Hungarian czardas, syncopated steps borrowed from tap dancing, and florid ballet. Opus 111 is an airy, insubstantial thing that slides right off the retinas, barely leaving an impression.

Afternoon Ball is more striking, a maudlin tragedy that casts a double gloss—one jaundiced, the other piteous—on youth culture. Three youngsters tweak out in what seems to be an alleyway. (Black walls on the stage give the piece a claustrophobic feeling.) One is a punk/metal hybrid in cutoff cargo pants, one a grunge boy in flannel. The lone girl wears fishnets and Daisy Dukes—a New York punk circa 1985. These are afflicted children: They throw punches, slip and fall, beat their heads on the floor, worm along the ground, and lapse into mindless, mechanical movements.


A fancy couple in black formal wear occasionally dances upstage, oblivious to the small apocalypse below. The lights dim, the punk/metal kid shivers and—spoiler alert!—freezes to death. (Or something.) In Tharp’s world, the kids used to be all right. Not anymore. Afternoon Ball critiques its aloof elites, but also condescends to its shivering, cartoonish urchins. (The evening’s third piece, Nine Sinatra Songs, is a series of ballroom vignettes from 1982. It is easy-listening dance. People love it.)

How crotchety. Time was, Twyla Tharp was an artist doing double duty as a radical critic, bringing Promethean fire to cold, sterile stages. But her new work feels remote and cynical—she has forgotten how to burn. BRENDAN KILEY


(It's been a Tharpapalooza around here for the last two weeks: You can read The Stranger's occasionally tense interview with Tharp here. And listen to it here.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Like Shrek, Only Awesome

posted by on September 24 at 2:00 PM


Broadway producers are working on making American Psycho: the Musical a reality. I think this is a great idea, and I hope they bring the trial run to Seattle, as they've done with Shrek. Also, I hope they can somehow convince Christian Bale to reprise his film role. His performance made American Psycho, in my opinion, one of the few book-to-film adaptations that completely blows away its source material in terms of quality.

Tonight at Laff Hole

posted by on September 24 at 10:03 AM

James Adomian, a Los Angeles comedian who made his name doing extemporaneous question-and-answer sessions with audiences at George W. Bush.

He lent his talents to the latest Harold and Kumar adventure:

And here's an edition of Adomain's W video blog:

Bush impressions are tired by definition and not all the jokes work, but Adomain has an angry commitment to his schtick redolent of Bill Hicks. On stage, he's been known to slip into Latin and chew on the heads of doll-babies. He'll probably tear it up for the Laff Hole crowd.

Also tonight: locals Derek Sheen, Emmett Montgomery and Paul Merrill.

Laff Hole. 10 pm. Go!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Another First for Slog

posted by on September 18 at 11:23 PM

We are witnessing the invention of "blog theater," brought to us by the merry art pranksters of PDL. (Jen gives them some love for their Starbucks/Olympic Sculpture Park art mindfuck here, I write about one of their member's glass-headstone business here.)

In this post, from earlier today, PDL has taken over the comments thread and is posting the script of a play about George Washington. Sample quote:

I am aware that it would be difficult to burry yourself up to the neck in sand and cut your own head off with surgical precision.
Posted by Earl Yeager | September 18, 2008 10:20 PM 82

Who had the motive?
Posted by Paul Morrison | September 18, 2008 10:21 PM 83

Oh it is a long list Mr. Morrison. The Saudi’s, the Roman Catholic church, Hamas, Al Qaeda, a dozen private parties, hell the CIA. Lots of people have motive, but George had the best motive. If he is dead, it’s because George wanted to die.
Posted by Earl Yeager | September 18, 2008 10:21 PM

And thus a new art form is born. And you can jump in and be a part of it now.

Re: Selling Theater

posted by on September 18 at 1:47 PM

What is that ad trying to do?

Dunno. Inspire a whole new generation of tranny/Inspector Clouseau fetishes?

Selling Theater

posted by on September 18 at 12:58 PM

Hey, Brendan: If On the Boards is selling theater with sex, what exactly are the folks behind this campaign trying to do?



posted by on September 18 at 12:31 PM

We're suggesting the performance/dance/cultural clusterfuck known as Superamas at On the Boards today.

But Eric Fredericksen, director of Western Bridge and board member at OtB, took exception to our SFW photo of the show:

You're the only one who can save the day by sharing the awesome NSFWness of Superamas with your Slog audience. Do you know what happens when a newsworthy NSFW theater photo doesn't appear on Slog? Sarah Palin wins.

Right you are, Mr. Fredericksen. Selling theater with sex—works better than those goofy bus-billboards.

Here's one SFW photo of the show:


And a NSFW one.

Also, the Superamas performance rider lives online. It specifies: "1 bottle of whisky 'jack daniels' / show, mineral water, catering on working days for Superamas team, café, towels... "

Note: Avant-garde French dancers drink Jack Daniels.

Free Shrek Tickets

posted by on September 18 at 10:06 AM


Apparently, Shrek isn't doing so well—they're giving away free tickets, according to a reader who just sent me this email:

We are offering complimentary tickets to SHREK THE MUSICAL at The 5th Avenue Theatre (1308 5th Avenue) for the following performances:

Wed 9/17 at 7:30 PM – deadline to RSVP is Wed 9/17 at 12:00 PM noon

Thurs 9/18 at 8:00 PM – deadline to RSVP is Thurs 9/18 at 10:00 AM

Friday 9/19 at 8:00 PM – deadline to RSVP is Friday 9/19 at 10:00 AM

Sunday 9/21 at 7:00 PM – deadline to RSVP is Friday 9/19 at 10:00 AM

If you are interested please email and specify the performance, number of tickets (not to exceed 6), name for will call and the organization you represent. Tickets are first come first serve, and you will receive a confirmation. Tickets will be left at will call one hour prior to each performance and I.D. is required to pick up the tickets. Please know that this is an almost 3 hour, sit-in-your-seat production, and as such is not appropriate for really young children.

Not to exceed six? Giving away tickets—for seats that cost between $50 and $90—in blocks of six is bad news.

Still: they're free. This is your chance to walk out on a Broadway show at intermission and not feel like you've wasted your money.

You can read Lindy West's not-at-all-cruel-to-anyone-except-a-certain-theater-critic-who-wears-shawls review here.


The offer's off. From the emails the Shrek people are sending out:

Thank you for your email regarding Shrek The Musical. The private offer that was sent to select group of friends of the production and the 5th Avenue Theatre offering complimentary tickets was intended as a thank you to them for their work supporting the show in Seattle and was mistakenly posted on line for the general public. The "thank you" e-mail was never intended to be made public.

Sorry, everybody. I'm a ruiner!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wait—This Ad Is Supposed to Make Wanna Go See Live Theater, Right?

posted by on September 16 at 3:01 PM


Velocity (Finally) Signs a Lease

posted by on September 16 at 2:46 PM

Back in May, when Capitol Hill Arts Center left (or was kicked out of) the little brick building on 12th Avenue, some of us hoped that Velocity (which was getting kicked out of its Odd Fellows home by developer Ted Schroth) would move in.

It's finally official: Velocity is moving into the building formerly known as CHAC. Classes and performances begin Jan 1, 2009.

From Velocity top gun Kara O'Toole (whose 8-year-old son, incidentally, was dubbed "the Ideal Audience Member" by The Stranger back in 2006):

Velocity will be conducting a capital campaign to fund the build-out of its new home, for which it signed a 10-year lease (with a 5-year renewal option). Architect Colin Walker of nbbj is working with Velocity on a pro bono basis, and has created a space plan that includes two dance studios, one 100-seat theater and studio, as well as an office, storage, and lobby space for Velocity’s new facilities.

Velocity, which won the first-ever Stranger Genius Award for organization, will have a fuck-you-and-goodbye performance in their Odd Fellows theater next weekend. The old Velocity favorites will be there: KT Niehoff (cofounder of Velocity), Molly Scott, Dayna Hanson, Amy O'Neal and locust, and Mark Haim.

We should all be very, very happy that Velocity—which has fostered Seattle's best dancers and choreographers—has found a place to be.

New (Enormous) Playwriting Award

posted by on September 16 at 10:07 AM

A writer who wins a Pulitzer Prize gets $10,000.

An architect who wins a Pritzker Prize gets $100,000.

But a playwright who wins the brand-new Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award gets a whole $200,000.

Just Saturday night, at the Genius Awards party, wasn't somebody opining into a mircophone that playwrights—unlike actors and directors—can't make a living at their art? That they have to teach or go to Hollywood to pay the rent?

You would think Tony Kushner would be an exception. But no:

Surprised and thrilled to be the first recipient of the new prize, Mr. Kushner said, “Playwriting is in a lot of trouble now,” adding that even someone who has “a string of successful plays cannot make a living at it.”

Mr. Kushner pointed to himself as a case in point, since he now divides his time between New York and Hollywood, working on a screenplay about Abraham Lincoln for Steven Spielberg, and another about Woody Guthrie. The screenplay for Mr. Spielberg’s “Munich,” written by Mr. Kushner and Eric Roth, was nominated for an Oscar.

Mr. Kushner said that he planned to put the money away “to buy me time to work on plays,” which he hopes to do full time when he finishes the two films.

The big prize is awarded every other year. In off years, the Steinberg panel will give two $50,000 awards to new playwrights. The first will be named next year.

Read the rest of the NYT story here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

He's Baaaaaack

posted by on September 15 at 6:51 PM

Haven't had a chance to Slog this yet, so you may already know, but...

Daniel Sullivan, the Seattle Rep's artistic director of 16 years and Seattle's golden boy, is returning in an advisory capacity while Esbjornson jumps ship.

(Esbjornson is jumping ship pretty much immediately, and not sticking around through 2010, like he said he would after declining to renew his four-year contract with the theater.)

Sullivan seems to be pulling a Susan Trapnell: like Susan returned to ACT to help it though its financial crisis, Danny S is returning to the Rep to shepherd it through an artistic—and perhaps identity—crisis.

The Age of Sullivan was before my time, so I don't have much to say about his work. But here's a list of his awards and nominations:

1972 Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Director - Suggs
2001 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play - Proof

1989 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play - The Heidi Chronicles
1989 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play - The Heidi Chronicles
1992 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play - Conversations With My Father
1993 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play - The Sisters Rosensweig
1993 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play - The Sisters Rosensweig
2000 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play - Dinner with Friends
2002 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play - Morning's at Seven
2006 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play - Stuff Happens
2006 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Play - Rabbit Hole

And here's a distribution map of Daniel Sullivans across the United States:


Funny. I thought there'd be more.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Fly: The Opera

posted by on September 9 at 3:15 PM

The Fly began its life cycle in 1957, as a short story in Playboy.

It pupated into the 1958 film starring Vincent Price, then matured into David Cronenberg's 1986 freak-out that probably did extremely weird things to Jeff Goldblum's sex life:



Now, apparently, it's decaying as an opera in LA, composed by soundtrack guy Howard Shore (who wrote the music to the 1986 film as well as the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Naked Lunch, with Ornette Coleman), directed by Cronenberg, and conducted by Plácido Domingo.

The critics are stomping it—but in a way that makes me want to see it:

Hwang emphasizes the superman element -- turning Brundle into a messianic figure who proclaims his fusion as the beginning of "the new flesh" -- and even gives him an aria about insect politics. Veronica, a science reporter who falls for Brundle and is impregnated by Brundlefly, sings an abortion aria. But the music, alas, never quite rises to these odd occasions.

Yeah, sure, the music doesn't do it—but an abortion aria? I'd just like to hear what that sounds like.

Next up at the LA Opera: Puccini, directed by Woody Allen. No joke:

Allen: "I said I would years ago, because these things are planned years in advance. I figured, 'Eh, I'll be dead before it happens. I'm 72. I'm never going to make it to the opera.' But it came around, and next Monday, I start rehearsal."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Somehow I Missed...

posted by on August 30 at 10:38 AM

...the high school Tony Awards.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


posted by on August 28 at 10:51 AM

If you haven't seen The Nexus Project yet—and if you're content to watch Obama on every blog in the goddamned country tomorrow morning—tonight's your night.

The Nexus Project is a bunch of short plays by (mostly) good Seattle-affiliated writers: Paul Mullin, Elizabeth Heffron, Mike Daisey, Scot Augustson, Marya Sea Kaminski, Waxie Moon, Stephanie Timm, and so on. (My review here.)

From director Mark Jared Zufelt:

tonight I wanted to make you aware of a very special talkback we're having with NEXUS playwrights MIKE DASIEY (author of 21 DOG YEARS), PAUL MULLIN (2008 Stranger Genius Award-Winner) and SCOT AUGUSTSON (author of the delightfully adult Srgt Rigsby puppet shows). Admission is free, with the purchase of a ticket to NEXUS Program B, TONIGHT (7:30PM) at Richard Hugo House.

Normally, I'm against "talk-backs" always and everywhere (I can't even write the word without scare quotes).

But Daisey, Mullin, and Augustson are three of the best talkers I've ever met. They're all funny, gutsy, and fast on their feet. It doesn't matter whether they're talking about theater or Swedish meatballs—you should go.

(And it won't be rebroadcast on every blog in the goddamned country tomorrow morning.)

This Loamy Excellence, by Mike Daisey.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Canary, Meet Coal Mine

posted by on August 25 at 6:24 PM

The Seattle Rep just dubbed Jerry Manning—an old man of the mountain in Seattle theater—as its acting artistic director. (How does the Puget Sound Business Journal always get arts-administration stories up so quickly?)

He's directed some good shows around Seattle. (A few: John Lennon's Gargoyle at Schmeater, Thom Pain at the Rep, the long-running Stones in His Pockets at the building formerly known as CHAC, the doomed production of Nocturne that ran for two seconds, and so on.)

The Rep is being cagey about whether Manning will slide from "acting artistic director" to "artistic director" once Esbjornson leaves. According to the swifties at PSB:

In his new position as acting artistic director, Manning will work side by side with Managing Director Benjamin Moore while the theater’s board evaluates its organizational model to determine the appropriate artistic and business-management structure.

The board will complete that process before beginning a search for a permanent artistic director.

Locals seems to be winning at the regional theaters lately—just what they've always wanted, right? Intiman hires Sheila Daniels (and, to be fair, some guy from Pasadena), the Rep hires Manning, ACT hires Carlo Scandiuzzi, and the shows running at Intiman and ACT? All local actors.

It's what theater folks have been clamoring for for years—except for the niggling feeling that theaters are doing this out of compulsion, not conviction. Because they can't afford fancy out-of-towners any more.

Now when they start producing local playwrights, then you'll know they're really in trouble. (That one's for you, Paul Mullin. And you, Scot Augustson. And all y'all.)

Anyway: temporary congratulations to the Rep's new temporary artistic director. (And apologies for my cynical reading of what is doubtlessly a well-deserved promotion.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Intiman Finds a Managing Director

posted by on August 20 at 5:30 PM

Intiman has been looking around to replace the steely, capable Laura Penn for months now. The search ended a few days ago, when Intiman found Brian Colburn, the 35-year-old managing director of Pasadena Playhouse for the last four years.

He seems like a good hire for a bunch of reasons:

One. Colburn is young, and all regional theaters want to do these days is youth themselves up.

Two. Pasadena Playhouse is a quality establishment, a lovely little Spanish mission-style building with a courtyard a nice fountain.


It lives in a smart community—Caltech people, NASA people, the Jet Propulsion Lab people—that also supports the Norton Simon Museum. The only play I've seen there, Orson's Shadow back in February, was quality. Nothing revolutionary, but quality.

(The play dramatizes real-life rehearsals where Orson Welles directed Laurence Olivier in a production of Ionesco's Rhinoceros, with New Yorker theater critic Kenneth Tynan working as a kind of dramaturge. It's a fucking disaster.)

Three. The Playhouse is in good financial shape. It brought in $9 million in revenue in 2006—the most recent year for which tax forms are publicly available—and ended the year with a $2.7 million surplus. (Intiman, by contrast, brought in $6 million in 2007 and spent about as much.)

Four. The Playhouse also hosts a fringe company—the Furious Theater1—something Intiman, and every regional theater in America, should do. Big theaters lending their resources to nimbler, more adventurous organizations can only help them.

ACT is already leaning in that direction with Central Heating Lab, which presents fringe theater, dance, burlesque, comedy, and other stuff you wouldn't normally expect to see in a regional theater. ACT wisely hired the Lab's founder, Carlo Scandiuzzi, as managing director a few weeks ago. (You can read the Theater News column about that here.)

So that's two promising managing directors in just two weeks—a bizarrely good streak for Seattle theater.

1Furious Theater, incidentally, produced the Los Angeles premiere of Back of the Throat, by local playwright Yussef El Guindi. That play had its world premiere at Theater Schmeater and went on good reception and reviews in NYC and LA.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Effortless Prescience

posted by on August 19 at 10:50 AM


This week, in my profile of burlesque/"boylesque" dancer Waxie Moon (aka Marc Kenison: Juilliard graduate, dancer for the prestigious José Limón Company, co-founder of Washington Ensemble Theatre), I wrote:

Waxie introduced something new to burlesque: pathos.

I was talking about a little pathos in her character, her peculiar combination of diva and busted ho.

Little did I know she was about to release this, which kicks pathos-in-burlesque to a whole new plateau.

Now that's what I didn't know I was talking about.

Read the rest of the story—which features a leather daddy, Waxie stripping for Cyndi Lauper and Fred Schneider, and Diana Ross acting like a total bitchhere.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Best Thing That Happened to Me All Week

posted by on August 16 at 9:58 AM

Last night, just before 11 pm, I was walking past the police station at 12th and Pine. As I passed the entrance, a man in a head-to-toe Carmen Miranda costume (complete with towering fruit turban) came storming out.

He looked at me and shouted, "THEY WOULDN'T READ ME MY CARMEN MIRANDA RIGHTS!"

I love a man who can really commit to a pun.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Smoke Farm

posted by on August 15 at 1:23 PM

You know what you should do this weekend?

Go to Smoke Farm, that raw, 360-acre wonderland just an hour north of Seattle that is slowly becoming the place where I want to die—down by the river, on a late spring evening—and let the coyotes chew on my bones.


(Briefly: Smoke Farm is a former dairy farm run by a few well-intentioned people—Stuart Smithers, a UPS philosophy professor; Craig Hollow, a local architect; others—where good things happen. It has hosted theater and literary retreats, education programs, medieval cook-outs with the best chefs in Seattle, and so on. There's a field where people camp, a river where people swim, a rustic kitchen where people congregate and meet and cook and drink: It's pretty much paradise.)

Smoke Farm's third annual performance festival begins tomorrow. It's $25, including dinner and camping. (Cheap!) The acts will vary: some of last year's performances were awful, one—by Implied Violence—was shattering, and the dinner was prompt, plentiful, and delicious.

This year's roster has some promising folks:

Circus Contraption
Doug Nufer
Matthew Richter
Left Field Revival
and others

Dinner by Seth Caswell (formerly of the Stumbling Goat). Good weather by God.


More information here.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tokyo Freakout

posted by on August 14 at 11:53 AM

Here's a story for the folks who are constantly bitching about the lack of arts funding and think the government should just, like, pay for our theaters:

The Japanese theater world is currently in crisis over the question of to whom public theaters belong, since the decision by the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) to appoint new artistic directors for each of its three divisions.

The Japanese government lavishly finances the NNTT and, as a result, treats it like a government bureaucracy. Which is causing major fuckups:

Tadaaki Otaka, the new artistic director of opera, who is slated to succeed Hiroshi Wakasugi, first learned of his appointment when he read about it in a newspaper. Otaka himself had never officially accepted the job.

More perplexing is the replacement of Hitoshi Uyama, the current artistic director of theater, who was appointed only last autumn. Uyama's productions of "Yakiniku Dragon" and "A Japanese Named Otto" (which he also directed), were both well received by critics and the public.

Granted: It'd be peachy for American artists to have more no-strings access to government money.

But that just isn't going to happen.

Even if the American government sponsored theaters, it would try to control them more tightly—and fuck them up more badly—than the Japanese government does.

Why? Because we're a big, diverse country with a reactionary conservative streak 2,000 miles wide. And nobody, elected or appointed, wants to risk his or her cushy government job on a visionary artistic director. Or playwright. Or director. Or anything.

So we're stuck with foundations and individual patrons, whose donations will dry up as the economy gets worse.

Which leaves us with old-fashioned capitalism, of the DIY rock 'n' roll variety, where you just cobble it together and make it work.

All this "actors deserve get a living wage" rhetoric thrown around by actors' unions and regional theaters—and, famously, Mike Daisey, in this essay for The Stranger—is, I'm sorry to say, totally unrealistic.

Sure, actors deserve living wages (everybody deserves living wages) but they ain't gonna get them any more than most rock 'n' rollers will get living wages. The analogy isn't as specious as you might think: regional theaters (as we know them) are going down, just like record labels (as we know them) are going down.


And when the theaters crumble, they're taking the unions (especially Actor's Equity) with them.

Then the only people left will be the cockroaches—the people with true grit who want to make theater because they want to make theater.

Theater, again, will become a deep calling with no promise of financial reward. (Which, I'm sorry to say, might even improve the form as a whole.)

We'll never be like Europe. We'll never be like Japan.

So all you theater artists are going to have to do it for yourselves: Produce burlesque shows to subsidize your experimental dramas; live in warehouses (like these guys); learn a goddamned trade (like this guy); seek out your own private Medicis—I know, that's a tall order the West Coast, where the nouveau riche haven't figured out how to be art patrons yet. But somebody's got to teach them. Might as well be you.

(And please do not rack up debt by going to a grad school that will only teach you to navigate Hollywood and the doomed regional theaters. Unless you're planning on being an LA star, it's a waste of precious time and money. Just get out there and make work.)

You can mewl about "living wages" and "not enough arts funding" while your theaters burn, but that won't put out the fire.

Nothing will.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The End of an Era

posted by on August 13 at 10:30 AM

One sentence, written by Annie Wagner, has appeared in almost every issue of The Stranger for the last three years. That sentence is:

The real point is not the adult-catechism monologue, but the script's gaps, in which Sister Aubrey Manning dispenses tissues to cover salacious displays of flesh and kitschy prizes to reward the dumbstruck targets of her improvisations.

That is from Wagner's review of the long-long-long-running Late-Nite Catechism and has lived in the theater calendar since she wrote it in 2005.

It's an elegant sentence. It explains a lot—the show, its tone, its themes, its audience—in a few well-chosen words. It is also unassailable. I've tried to edit it many times for space, never to my satisfaction. Like most Annie Wagner constructions, it has an underlying logic of interlocking parts hidden by a deceptively smooth surface. It's both rigorous and pleasant.

The 11-year-old Late-Nite Catechism closes at the end of August—which is also when Annie Wagner leaves The Stranger, and Seattle, for Chicago.

(Chicago, incidentally, is the city where Late-Nite Catechism was conceived and originally produced.)

That is Seattle's tribute to Ms. Wagner. Without her, the Catechism cannot go on.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Stay Up Late Show...A Brief Recap!

posted by on August 11 at 5:14 PM

As I damn well warned ya'll earlier, I was a guest on The Stay Up Late Show with Rebecca Davis last Saturday night. What joy!

We chortled, we chatted, I managed to name all of the damn Golden Girls characters, first and last names (shut up), and I honestly answered more personal questions than I generally consider healthy.

We even discussed little things like Jean Enersen (and her pursuant rumors), the fucking Real World, Seattle (don't ask me why), and whether or not I’ve ever seen Dan Savage naked (um, no). I was on with an opera singer/philanthropist called Jeffrey Henry, and a cute shaggy-headed comedian from Last Comic Standing called Jesse Case, and it was all just too freakishly delightful. And I heartily urge you to catch the next one. Which isn’t until next month, so you’ll have plenty of to get your outfit together. So. Start now.

Ooh! How dazzling you'll be!

A Happy 33 Seconds for Brendan (And Theater Critics Everywhere)

posted by on August 11 at 4:00 PM

This performance is better than what you get on certain stages, no?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Is He Strong? Listen, Bub.

posted by on August 7 at 5:00 PM

New York magazine has a collection of head shots of actors who are trying out for the lead role in the (atrocious-sounding) upcoming Spider-Man musical. Is the new singing, dancing superhero to be found here?


Those who don't know about the upcoming Spider-Man musical, which will be directed by Julie Taymor with music by Bono and the Edge, can find more information here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

New Executive Director at ACT

posted by on August 1 at 4:11 PM

In the venerable tradition of releasing potentially controversial news on Friday afternoons—in the eternal hope that journalists will already be too drunk to report it—ACT Theatre has announced that its old managing director, Kevin Hughes, is stepping down after nine months.

Taking his place (with the title "executive director"): Carlo Scandiuzzi, an excellent choice.

Mr. Scandiuzzi—a bright, energetic Swiss-Italian who grew up in Geneva—has been deeply involved in Seattle's arts scene since the early days at the Empty Space, when he was an actor. (His first production was The Return of Pinocchio, playing alongside ACT's current artistic director, Kurt Beattie.)

He was a concert promoter in the 1970s (bringing Devo, Nina Hagen, Iggy Pop, The Ramones, John Cale, and other to town). In the 1980s, he collaborated with local performance artists like Jesse Bernstein.

Scandiuzzi went on to produce films, founded IndieFlix and become a philanthropist, throwing money at theater, dance, and the Central Library downtown, which named a room after him.

His recent masterstroke was starting ACT's Central Heating Lab, profiled here:

People have been calling for the death of regional theater since it was born. The regionals are moribund for dozens of reasons: exhausted economies, overhead and union costs that keep tickets prices high, an old and dying subscriber base, their inability to adapt to a younger audience (viz., its preference for buying single tickets instead of subscriptions), and, of course, their failure to not bore the shit out of people.

But ACT, one of the feebler regionals (it nearly died of debt five years ago), is showing signs of renewed vigor with something called the Central Heating Lab, led by Carlo Scandiuzzi...

The Heating Lab promises something vital, something regional theaters have conspicuously lacked—a nimble, populist wing that can absorb the best local theater, dance, and literature, and put it onstage. Its genius has been to yank off the "events" blinders and start subtly programming a kind of counterseason for a whole other audience: the younger kind that likes to buy single tickets and doesn't think Alan Ayckbourn comedies about middle-aged couples having affairs are all that funny.

Coming in the next few months under the Lab's rubric: comedy by Black Daisy, Dart-Mondo, and Andy Haynes; music by "Awesome"; dance by Julie Tobiason (of Pacific Northwest Ballet); and The Adding Machine, the first production by New Century Theatre Company (the fledgling collective started by actor Paul Morgan Stetler, playwright Stephanie Timm, Stranger Genius Amy Thone, et al.).

When asked what the hell was wrong with the old managing director, ACT board president Brad Fowler was circumspect: "We were pleased with Kevin, he addressed the things we needed to focus on as we moved forward," and so on.

Fowler parried for several minutes: "But why did he step down?"

"He thought he could serve better as a consultant."

"So what was he doing that wasn't so great?"

"We were pleased with his performance."

A master of elision.

Anyway, congratulations Carlo. And congratulations ACT.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Your New Favorite Theater Blog

posted by on July 28 at 12:08 PM

Is here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Goodnight, Nocturne

posted by on July 25 at 12:45 PM

I had high hopes for Nocturne, the famous show-length monologue by Adam Rapp that begins with the famously chilling opening:

Fifteen years ago I killed my sister. There. I said it.

Schmader reviewed it last weekend. He didn't like it:

"Fifteen years ago I killed my sister." So goes the famous opening line of Adam Rapp's Nocturne, laying out the central fact of this acclaimed solo play and leading into a characteristically Rappian flourish: "I can change the order of the words. My sister I killed 15 years ago. I, 15 years ago, killed my sister. Sister my killed I years ago 15. I can cite various definitions. To deprive of life: The farmer killed the rabid dog. To put an end to: The umpire killed the tennis match. To mark for omission: He killed the paragraph... To slay. To murder. To assassinate. To dispatch. To execute. You can play with tenses. Will kill. Did kill...."
Thanks to Rapp's relentless thesaurian pirouettes—the linguistic equivalent of treading water, prettily—his efforts are too often in vain. Saddled with a script so dense and flowery it makes Tennessee Williams look like a minimalist, Doescher is a winning actor in a no-win situation.

The thing is, I like Rapp's "thesaurian pirouettes"—not everyone's, just Rapp's. I became a Rapp fan four years ago, after seeing WET's production of Finer Noble Gasses (reviewed here), a disturbing, funny play about a small group of strung-out, vacant-eyed friends living in a trashy apartment.

One of the actors (Lathrop Walker, maybe?) had to take an extremely long onstage piss. Marya Sea Kaminski Finer Noble Gasses and told me at the time that it wasn't a trick—the actor was actually pissing in an actual bucket:

"I think he drinks like a liter and a half of water before the show," Kaminski said. "He's got it pretty well timed, but tech week was hilarious--stopping and starting the play, his bladder was in passionate confusion."

(I'm not sure I believe her, but I will always love her for saying "his bladder was in passionate confusion.")


Nocturne was supposed to run for three more weekends but, after Schmader's review came out, actor Craig Doescher emailed to say he was canceling the rest of the shows, but didn't blame Dave:

... in SUCH an intimate space (25 seats), it is a REALLY hard show to give/receive, no matter how much finessing, and in execution—no matter how well-intended—it just wasn’t achieving what the show could and should achieve. A darn shame, but I see it crystal-clearly, and feel responsible for people who come to my shows, so I made the difficult but necessary decision.

I don't know exactly what that means, except no more Nocturne. And that Craig Doescher has a rare, valuable sense of responsibility for his audience.