Category Archives: Events

DAVID HARE: COVID-HIT UK THEATRE NEEDS A JOHN OSBORNE-INSPIRED REVOLUTION ·

(Lanre Bakare’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/8; Photo: Jimmy Akingbola and Simon Harrison in a production of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger at Jermyn Street theatre in 2008. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

Playwright mulls mass appeal of Osborne, who is being honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque

British theatre must take inspiration from John Osborne and make itself essential to a mass audience if it is to thrive in a post-Covid world, according to David Hare, who says the artform is in need of a “revolution”.

Osborne is being honoured with a blue plaque from English Heritage, which will be placed at 53 Caithness Road in Hammersmith, west London, where he wrote his seminal play Look Back in Anger, which was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre 65 years ago on Saturday.

Hare, who was heavily influenced by Osborne’s acerbic brand of social realism, said British theatre once again needed to find voices that reached beyond its usual audience, as Osborne did.

“Two plays – Look Back in Anger and [Shelagh Delaney’s] A Taste of Honey – are words that the whole country knew about … I don’t know of a play in the 21st century that people know about in the same way,” he said.

“[Jez Butterworth’s] Jerusalem is probably the most successful play of the 21st century, but I doubt if anyone who isn’t a theatre hobbyist has heard of it.”

In August, Hare’s play Beat the Devil opened at the Bridge Theatre and detailed his experience with Covid-19, during which he lost 8kg in a week before recovering.

Hare says the pandemic has provided British theatre with an opportunity to refocus and the honouring of Osborne – whom he describes as writing in a “hot, warm, passionate voice that was quite un-English” – could not be better timed.

“I think it’s very timely because we are, as it were, inevitably about to reinvent the British theatre,” he said. “It’s very important to remember that all revolutions are created by writers, and John Osborne invented the modern play, and it hasn’t really been superseded.”

Hare said Osborne’s influence was such that established authors such as Muriel Spark and Doris Lessing began writing plays because they could see what impact a play could have. “Do I think that’s happening at the moment? No, it hasn’t happened in the British theatre for a very long time,” he said.

“Certainly, it’s very hard to think of playwrights under 50 who can fill theatres. And the danger is that we become feebler and feebler because we’re talking only to ourselves.”

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BROADWAY IS REOPENING. BUT NOT UNTIL SEPTEMBER. ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/5; via Pam Green; Photo: Broadway, a powerful economic driver of New York City, will begin to reopen Sept. 14 with full-capacity shows.  Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

Even as New York City begins to reopen this summer, Broadway will not resume performances until Sept. 14. Here’s why.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says that most pandemic capacity restrictions will ease in two weeks. Mayor Bill de Blasio says he wants the city to fully reopen on July 1. But Broadway, a beacon for tourists and an engine for the economy, is not quite ready to turn on the stage lights.

Most shows are not planning performances until September or later. But there are signs of life: Mr. Cuomo said Wednesday that Broadway shows would start selling tickets for full-capacity shows with some performances starting Sept. 14.

Why the four-month wait? With as many as eight shows a week to fill, and the tourists who make up an important part of their customer base yet to return, producers need time to advertise and market. They need to reassemble and rehearse casts who have been out of work for more than a year. And they need to sort out and negotiate safety protocols.

But the biggest reason is more gut-based: individually and collectively, they are trying to imagine when large numbers of people are likely to feel comfortable traveling to Times Square, funneling through cramped lobbies and walking down narrow aisles to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers. Most Broadway shows lose money even in the best of times, so producers say there is no way they can afford to reopen with social distancing, given the industry’s high labor and real estate costs.

“We’ve never done this before,” said Victoria Bailey, executive director of TDF, the nonprofit which oversees the TKTS ticket-selling booth in Times Square. “The last time the theater industry opened from a pandemic, Shakespeare was still writing new plays.”

Broadway’s emerging timeline, which is constantly being re-evaluated, serves as a reminder that New York’s rebound from the pandemic will be slow and gradual. Edicts from elected officials are only one factor in reopening: every economic sector will have to figure out when and how to restart, and every individual will have to figure out when and how to re-emerge.

Broadway, home to 41 theaters, drew 14.6 million people who spent $1.8 billion on tickets in 2019. The coronavirus pandemic forced them all to close March 12, 2020, and reopening is clearly going to be far more complicated than shutting down. One of the biggest challenges the industry faces is the dearth of tourists, who made up roughly two-thirds of the Broadway audience before the pandemic struck.

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IRELAND: ALL THE WORLD IS A VAN: SHAKESPEARE IN A TIME OF COVID ·

(Patrick Freyne’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 5/5; King Lear in a Van: Arthur Riordan as King Lear with Karen McCartney as Cordelia and Matthew Malone as Kent. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw.)

King Lear in a Van is a clever way of bringing theatre and drama to the masses

If you were loitering around Ely Place in Dublin recently you may have heard some worrying bellowing from the car park/loading bay of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). Don’t worry, it was just King Lear, sitting on a yellow Ikea throne in the back of a converted van having it out with his daughters Cordelia, Regan and Goneril.

“Where we’re rehearsing today is the first time we have had good acoustics,” says Matthew Malone who plays Goneril, Regan, Gloucester and Kent in this production of King Lear in a van. “And Arthur is booming.” King Lear is played by Arthur Riordan. “It’s been a while since I’ve heard that. It’s like the Abbey, this car park.”

King Lear in a Van is the new offering from Festival in a Van which was devised at the outset of the pandemic by regular Irish Times contributor Gemma Tipton. King Lear is on the Leaving Cert this year and the team are available to perform at schools with help from the Bank of Ireland/Business to Arts Begin Together grant. Tipton has form with festivals. She ran the Kinsale Arts Festival and the Backwater Opera Festival. “I’d been writing about festivals closing down, talking to people who didn’t know when they were going to work again,” she says. “I thought, well, is there a way to do live performance safely?”

She had an epiphany and woke in the middle of the night saying: “Festival in a Van!” She enlisted production manager Rob Furey and production manager and health and safety expert Pete Jordan and, with financial support from Creative Ireland, they bought a van, hired two more vans and built sets that could be unfolded from them in just 10 minutes. “To start with,” she says, “I thought, ‘Oh, people won’t want to be in a van.’”

She hadn’t reckoned with how hungry performers were to perform and how hungry audiences were for live performance. They’ve worked with storytelling group Candlelit Tales, opera singers like Gavin Ring and drag performers like Avoca Reaction and arranged performances at schools, care homes, direct provision centres and housing estates. “One of the things that’s been good about Covid is the forgotten spaces have been looked at again,” says Tipton. “Who cared about care homes and direct provision centres?”

‘Heartbreakingly gorgeous’

She is now aware of a “map” of isolated care homes scattered all over the country and thinks there could be scope for projects like this to continue beyond the pandemic, bringing art and music to people that don’t always have access to it. Some of the experiences they’ve had, she says, have been “heartbreakingly gorgeous”. Furey recalls an 84-year-old former session musician moved to tears experiencing live music from the van. Tipton tells me about a letter she received from a woman who runs a care home after a performance by Gavin Ring. “She wrote saying ‘This is the only nice thing that’s happened in 12 months’, which also makes you realise how shitty it’s been for them.”

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OLYMPIA DUKAKIS DIES: OSCAR-WINNING ACTRESS FOR ‘MOONSTRUCK’ WAS 89 ·

(Bruce Haring’s and Erik Pedersen’s article appeared on Deadline, 5/1; via Pam Green. Photo: Olympia Dukakis in ‘Moonstruck’Everett Collection.)

Olympia Dukakis, who won an Oscar for her supporting role in the 1987 hit Moonstruck also starred in Away From Her, the three Look Who’s Talking films and Mr. Holland’s Opus, died today at her home in New York City. She was 89 and had been in ill health for some time.

“My beloved sister, Olympia Dukakis, passed away this morning in New York City,” wrote her brother Apollo, who confirmed her death on his Facebook page. “After many months of failing health she is finally at peace and with her [husband] Louis [Zorich].” The cause of death has yet to be determined.

Her other film credits include Steel Magnolias (1989) Look Who’s Talking (1989), Over the Hill (1992), I Love Trouble (1994), Picture Perfect (1997).

Michael McKean, Bradley Whitford, George Takei & More Pay Tribute To “Brilliant, Strong, Hilarious” Olympia Dukakis

Her television credits include the 1993 transgender drama Tales of the City and its 1998 sequel, which earned her an Emmy nomination. Dukakis also appeared in Netflix’s 2019 revival, titled Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

Dukakis was a theater veteran who struck gold in the film business later in life. She was 56 when she played Cher’s sardonic mother, Rose Castorini, in Norman Jewison’s classic romantic comedy Moonstruck. Her portrayal of a woman overly involved her daughter’s love life earned her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA nomination.

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MABOU MINES: ‘LEAR’ (WATCH NOW–THROUGH MAY 5) ·

MBOU MINES
LEAR
BY William Shakespeare
ADAPTED AND DIRECTED BY Lee Breuer
PREMIERE: Triplex Performing Arts Center, NYC January 9, 1990
Ruth Maleczech with Greg Mehrten and Karen Kandel, photo by Michael Cooper.
“It’s rude, it’s radical, it’s outrageous. And it’s one of the most powerful Shakespeare productions I’ve seen in a long time.”

Visit Mabou Mines:
Ruth Maleczech, photo by Jonathan Atkin.
“Lear (Ruth Maleczech) could be a Tennessee Williams Big Mama. Her evil sons Goneril and Regan are bourbon-swilling good ol’ boys who have their way with the bastard Elva (nee Edmund), a hot number in tight leather jeans, in the back seat of a convertible. The fool, a transvestite wearing a tatty fur coat and wielding a dildo instead of a coxcomb, is divine, if not exactly Divine. The music of Hank Williams and Elvis competes with the chattering of crickets for dominance of the fetid night air.”

– Frank Rich NY Times
Isabell Monk, Ruth Maleczech, Karen Kandel and Greg Mehrten, photos by Beatriz Schiller.

SPAIN: ‘NOVIEMBRE’: EXPLOSIVE MANIFESTO TAKES THEATRE TO THE STREETS ·

(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/24; Authentic and earnest … Óscar Jaenada in Noviembre. Photograph: Album/Alamy.)

Actors roam Madrid, springing provocative performances on passersby, in Achero Mañas’s vibrant faux-documentary

Can theatre change the world? Not, you suspect, if it’s a ticketed performance watched from a red velvet seat with a glossy programme and an ice-cream. The guerrilla theatre-makers in the 2003 Spanish film Noviembre, directed by Achero Mañas, have a 10-point manifesto for the revolution they’re staging on the streets. All their performances are free and available to all, they accept no private or public subsidies, and only original material is presented. If you’ve acted for TV or film then forget it – you’re banned from Noviembre.

The group is led by Alfredo (Óscar Jaenada), who arrives in Madrid from Murcia in the late 90s to attend drama school. Alfredo auditions with a piece he has created for a homemade marionette but comes to believe it is his fellow actors who are treated like puppets by their tutor, Yuta (played by veteran Argentinian theatre legend Héctor Alterio). He resents Yuta’s expectation that actors will divulge their most personal secrets in service of a performance. Damning that approach as group therapy, he drops out to seek a more spontaneous relationship with the audience, who he believes should interact with the performance, not sit in the stalls like statues.

Mañas presents the film as if it is a documentary, with older versions of the main characters appearing as talking heads, reflecting on the ups and downs of the company who live together in a squat that they aim to turn into a cultural centre. This is not a mockumentary – we are never invited to laugh at their exploits. If anything, the tone is earnest and the company’s performances are named, dated and shown in lengthy episodes with the older actors’ reflections alongside. The documentary format invites us to seriously appraise the art of their street theatre and implicitly suggests that the company has left a legacy.

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BROADWAY’S CAPITALIST MODEL ISN’T PERFECT, BUT HERE’S WHY IT WORKS, AND WHAT CAN BE FIXED ·

(Chris Jones’s article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, 4/22; Photo:  Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo during a shutdown. Olivo has since left the cast. (Matthew Murphy via AP/AP)

The anti-capitalists are gunning for Broadway.

In a recent article in American Theatre, the editor Rob Weinert-Kendt opined that regional theaters had “fallen short in a lot of ways by following a similar, Broadway-focused industrial model.” In the same online magazine, Brandon Ivie, the associate artistic director of the Village Theatre of Issaquah, Wash., wrote: “I’m looking ahead with an understanding that capitalism is the real enemy.”

And in a recent Instagram video announcing her departure from the show “Moulin Rouge!,” the Broadway artist Karen Olivo advocated for actors dropping their affiliation with Actors Equity, the traditional labor union for theater workers, as part of a decommissioning of what she sees as a corrupt system.

 “The dream of making art?,” Olivo said, referencing Broadway. “The moment we stepped into this capitalistic structure, that went away.”

Did it, though?

Consider, for example, the moment when the first Black president of the United States, Barack Obama, attended the Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun,” with the lead role performed by Denzel Washington, the leading Black actor of his generation. For anyone there that night, it was a stunning example of the capitalist sector of the American theater heralding racial progress and become part of a transformation that the author of the play, Lorraine Hansberry, surely could not even have imagined. Nothing quite like that ever has happened in the nonprofit sector.

Or consider the night at “Hamilton” when an entire cast of supremely talented, diverse actors summoned up the courage to directly address Vice President-elect Mike Pence, their guts and the size of their capitalistic platform immediately making headlines around the world and infuriating Pence’s boss, Donald J. Trump, who was just learning the power of Twitter. For anyone interested in progressive reforms or the activism of people of color, this was a night to remember. And it was capitalist down to the tips of its toes.

Or think about the remarkable artist David Byrne telling a rapt Broadway audience to “say their name,” a reference to all the Black lives lost to police shootings. And many hearing that for the first time.

What about the cast of “Dear Evan Hansen?” Were they not making art when they dramatized the pain of being a teenager struggling with the micro-aggressions of everyday life? What about the cast of “Hadestown,” when they found the political potency in Anais Mitchell’s lyrics to “Why We Build the Wall?” What about the artists behind “Moulin Rouge!,” anticipating the losses we were all about to share in the pandemic?

What about playing Jasmine in “Aladdin” and making a young person smile? Can you not produce an artistic act while working for the huge publicly held company known as Disney?

Sure you can. It is one thing to call for reforms in an industry, which, in all fairness, was certainly Olivo’s intention given that she was responding to the allegations against the producer Scott Rudin, whom an article in the Hollywood Reporter alleged had been a harsh and injurious boss. But it’s another to decry the one sector of the American theater that truly can support its artists so that they may live the kind of middle-class life that come so much easier to others.

The antipathy for the commercial sector of the theater, especially from the inside and often fueled by envy or elitism, is far from new. It was common in the 1990s for academics to look down on great commercial playwrights like Wendy Wasserstein, arguing without much evidence that working in a marketplace blunted their potential radicalism. And artists from the nonprofit sector long have railed against what they saw as compromises for popularity: Joseph Papp of the New York Public Theater famously hated the soppy Marvin Hamlisch song “What I Did For Love” in “A Chorus Line” and wanted it cut. Had that happened, far fewer people would have better understood the struggles of the dancer’s life. It was an entry point. It put a lot of dancers’ kids through college.

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‘WEST SIDE STORY’: THE REMAKE OF THE 1961 CLASSIC HITS THEATERS DEC. 10. ·

(Aaron Couch’s article appeared in the Hollywood Reporter, 4/25; Photo: Twentieth Century Fox.)

The first trailer for West Side Story danced its way to the Oscars on Sunday night.

Steven Spielberg’s remake of the 1961 classic stars Ansel Elgort as Tony and Rachel Zegler as Maria.

Spielberg directed from a script by his Lincoln and Munich writer Tony Kushner. West Side Story, which draws inspiration from Romeo and Juliet, originated as a 1957 Broadway musical written by Arthur Laurents with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and concept, direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins. It tells the story of star-crossed lovers torn between two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.

The 20th Century film wrapped in October 2019 and has been awaiting release after being delayed a year by COVID-19. It is now due out Dec. 10.

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IRELAND: DRUID’S NEW PRODUCTION EXPLORES THE MIND AND IMAGINATION OF EAVAN BOLAND ·

(Deirdre Falvey’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 4/20; One of Frances Kelly’s paintings, a portrait of her daughter Eavan Boland as a young girl. It features in the poster for Druid’s Boland: Journey of a Poet.)

Performance piece edited by Colm Tóibín will livestream one year after the poet’s death

It’s morning in California for Colm Tóibín, with sun streaming in the window; Garry Hynes is in Dublin as the dullish day ends. Technology enabling the conversation will also allow streaming of Druid Theatre’s latest project, Boland: Journey of a Poet, a new theatrical production about poet Eavan Boland, edited by Tóibín and directed by Hynes, towards the end of April, one year after Boland’s death.

Their locations are serendipitously appropriate, as Boland’s life and work had one foot in Stanford and one in suburban Dublin. The production explores the mind and imagination of one of Ireland’s great poets, melds her life and her work, as she did herself, “in the large, uncharted space between the lyrical and the political” as Tóibín describes.

Hynes and Druid were “looking at poetry, at a time where I think there’s a great need for the people to connect” and asked Tóibín to curate a series of poems over the 20th century. What started as one production – Coole Park Poetry Series of 10 actors reading 10 poems, from Austin Clark to Paula Meehan, broadcast during St Patrick’s Festival and more outings to come – grew into a second project.

Tóibín talks about “the two volumes of autobiographical essays, which are remarkable, which throw extraordinary light on the poetry, and on the life”.

“Slowly it emerged that, actually you could make a piece from that, using the poems and using the prose, and that they could throw light on each other, and you could make a narrative.” You could do that, said Colm. Could you do that, asked Garry. They both laugh now.

He came at it from a point of knowing Boland, having spent two periods at Stanford (in 2006 and 2008), where she led the writing programme, as well as return visits and many events and festivals, including Kilkenny, together. In Stanford, “she would call my office and say Colm, can I come up for a minute. We just talked poetry. She had an astonishing knowledge of what was happening in American poetry, and in Irish poetry too”.

She knew the poets personally, knew each poem: “I got an education from her. Hearing the voice I knew from the radio, in different contexts. I really found her tremendously good company as well. Very, very funny. She ran the programme and had an astonishing amount of power, which she used judiciously and kindly.”

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STEPHEN SONDHEIM & JOHN WEIDMAN’S ‘ASSASSINS’ GATHERS A KILLER ROSTER OF PERFORMERS ·

(Charles McNulty’s article appeared in the LA Times, 4/16; via Pam Green.)

Members of three “Assassins” casts perform “Everybody’s Got the Right” during the Classic Stage Company’s filmed benefit.

(Classic Stage Company)

“Assassins” is a hard musical to love, but maybe even a harder one to forget.

This show by Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman is built around a rogue’s gallery of infamous Americans who tried, in some cases successfully, to kill the president of the United States. As a description, “audacious” seems far too tame for a musical that searches for the pep in pathological and even makes treason tuneful.

Cognitive dissonance is built into a work that saves some of its prettiest melodies for the most murderous maniacs. Frank Rich, in his review of the 1991 off-Broadway premiere at Playwrights Horizons, called it “an antimusical about antiheroes.” The show was a hit off-Broadway, but it took 13 years for this disturbing vaudeville to make it to Broadway.

A planned 2001 Broadway production, directed by Joe Mantello, was postponed because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With the country still smoldering, how could audiences be expected to turn out for a musical that includes one attempted assassin who wanted to hijack a plane and crash it into the White House?

If history always seems to be bumping into “Assassins,” it’s probably because the dark cultural currents that give rise to John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and their copycat kind are continually being replenished in a nation that enjoys dividing its citizens into winners and losers.

The tumultuous history of “Assassins” is recalled in “Tell the Story: Celebrating Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman’s ‘Assassins,’” a vibrant recorded benefit for New York’s Classic Stage Company, conceived and directed by artistic director John Doyle, one of Sondheim’s most inventive contemporary interpreters.

Doyle was in rehearsal with “Assassins” last year when New York performance venues were forced to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The show will reopen the off-Broadway theater later this year, and this documentary (available till Monday) is both a salute to the musical and to the scrappy brilliance of theater artists, whose survival is being tested like never before.

How will the show play after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol? Possibly no longer as an exhibition of deranged, fame-seeking extremists but as a window into widespread American grievance. “Everybody’s Got the Right,” the musical’s opening (and closing) number, looks at what can happen when the government is blamed for standing in the way of a disaffected citizen’s pursuit of happiness.

In her preface to the documentary, Hillary Clinton calls attention to the dire situation of theaters, like CSC, which are struggling to resuscitate themselves after being dark for so long. If anyone has the right to be unsettled by “Assassins,” it’s the former secretary of State, senator and first lady, who, despite all the obstacles thrown in her path, came within a hair’s breadth of becoming our first woman president. But with the authority of someone who knows the dark underbelly of American politics, she makes the case for a musical that “dares its audience to see our country and assess our national myths through the eyes of our villains instead of our heroes.”

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