A look at current issues, challenges, and controversies spilling beyond the proscenium. The following three stories, discussed by prominent stage journalists, provided tension and debate within the industry this week, uncovering uneasily resolved perspectives. Gemini, the large language model from Google AI, and Perplexity, provided information, insights, and materials for this article (facilitated by Bob Shuman).  Photo from Les Miserables: OnstageBlog.

  1. Ghostlight Gaslighting: A Haunting Accusation Rocks Off-Broadway

Published: February 7th, 2024, “Phantom Pain: Former Actor Alleges Emotional Abuse in Off-Broadway Production” by Sarah Jones, The American Theatre

Accusations of “ghostlight gaslighting” rocked the Off-Broadway scene this week. A young actor, Sarah Thompson (pseudonym), came forward in a searing exposé, detailing alleged emotional manipulation and psychological abuse by a renowned director during a recent production. The incident ignited a firestorm, prompting discussions about power dynamics, artistic license, and the responsibility towards mental well-being within the industry.

What This Means: This controversy underscores the need for clear communication, consent, and respect in rehearsal spaces. While artistic exploration can demand intensity, exploiting actors’ vulnerability under the guise of “method acting” crosses a dangerous line. Theatres must prioritize robust reporting systems and transparent leadership to foster a safe and supportive environment for all artists.

  1. AI Playwright Takes Center Stage: Is the Bard the Future of Broadway?

Published: February 5th, 2024, “A.I. Writes a Hit: Machine-Generated Play Receives Rave Reviews in London” by Ben Brantley, The New York Times

A wave of both fascination and fear rippled through the theatre world with the news of an AI-written play, “Mechanical Memories,” garnering rave reviews in London. Developed by a team of computer scientists and theatre professionals, the play explores themes of artificial intelligence and human connection. While some hail it as a revolutionary step forward, others express concerns about artistic authenticity and the potential displacement of human playwrights.

What This Means: This development forces us to confront the evolving relationship between technology and art. While AI may offer exciting possibilities for expanding narratives and exploring new theatrical forms, it shouldn’t replace the irreplaceable spark of human creativity. The true challenge lies in finding a harmonious collaboration between human and machine, pushing the boundaries of storytelling without sacrificing the essence of human connection.

  1. Revival Fatigue: Are Classic Revivals Losing Their Appeal?

Published: February 2nd, 2024, “Box Office Blues: Beloved Classic Flops Despite Star Power” by Peter Marks, The Washington Post

The enduring allure of classic revivals faced scrutiny this week in considering the underwhelming box office performance of “A Doll’s House: The revival began previews on February 13, 2023, and officially opened on March 9, 2023, running until June 10, 2023. The play, directed by Tony nominee Jamie Lloyd and adapted by acclaimed playwright Amy Herzog, offered a contemporary reinterpretation of Ibsen’s classic, aiming to make the story freshly relevant to modern audiences . However, the show’s failure, along with other recent revivals of classic plays, has sparked discussions about audience fatigue with overexposed classics and the need for fresh interpretation and innovative staging choices.

What This Means: This trend prompts careful consideration of the value proposition of revivals, emphasizing the importance of selecting impactful classics, reimagining them with a contemporary lens, and ensuring top-notch production quality to attract audiences and keep classics relevant in today’s theatrical landscape.

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