Monday, February 11, 2013

ART ECONOMICS: Just When You Thought Artist Pay Could Go No Lower...

... it goes negative! Performers in Hair paid a $495 enrollment fee to perform.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

TV: The Dysfunctional World of Sports Broadcasting

If data-driven web-series are the future of television, then the horse-and-buggy is probably sports broadcasting. The content is every bit as desirable now as it was in years past, but the model is bizarre. For example, because of rising licensing costs, people who don't watch sports have to pay for it on their TVs:
Time Warner Cable subscribers in Southern California will eventually see their monthly bills increase thanks to an impending $7 billion deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, believed to be the most lucrative for any sports team in history. DirecTV, the country’s most popular satellite service, and Verizon FiOS have started adding a $2 to $3 monthly surcharge in markets like New York and Los Angeles to pay for regional sports networks.
And on the flip side, if I want to watch anything online, I typically can in a legal format -- except sports, because I don't pay $75/year for ESPN or other sports networks on my television.

LOCAL2013: State of the Borough Address

On Thursday, I attended Scott Stringer's final State of the Borough Address as Manhattan Borough President -- although really, it also served as a campaign event for his run for comptroller. (Since I've been asked five times since Thursday, the Comptroller controls the city's finances).

The event looked back on seven years of Stringer's term as MBP and gave him a chance to reflect on his accomplishments -- working to lower property-tax on vacant properties, working to support gay marriage, etc.

A few thoughts:

What was fascinating to me, however, was the accomplishment that Stringer chose to highlight through the keynote speech. The keynote was delivered by Sade Lythcott, CEO of the National Black Theater, which was on the verge of being shuttered due to four years of lawsuits with Applebee's. Stringer had stepped in to mediate the dispute between both parties, which prevented the National Black Theater from being closed.

There was a lot to brag about in Stringer's package, but that's the narrative he decided to make the centerpiece of the evening: how an important cultural institution was protected from being closed.

Now, during Stringer's term, plenty of other theaters did not make it, so it's worth putting it in the larger perspective, but for those of us who have despaired that politicians would ever value the arts and their integral part of society, at this event it wasn't even a question.

I was tracking how people were talking about the arts and culture over the course of the evening. The gentleman from the Met described Sade as "Creative. Entrepreneurial. And dedicated to her borough." Sade said that "Harlem is what it is because of its arts and culture. And Stringer himself said that his goal was to make New York a "Vibrant and creative city," and wanted it to be a home for "creative class jobs" to make New York a "Financial and Creative Capital" in the world.

The first two sections of the Performing Arts Platform deal with getting underutilized made available to artists to help increase the artists' access to inexpensive rehearsal or performance space, as well as the need for affordable housing. Stringer, while MBP, authored reports on how underutilized space could meet affordable housing needs -- not too dissimilar to the proposals we've outlined. The same can be done for the arts; especially as it comes to city property which is underutilized.

TECHNOLOGY: Terrifying Fact of the Day

You have to read this Salon article about how House of Cards is a new frontier of creating content based on what producers will think we like -- only using hard data rather than guesswork:

For at least a year, Netflix has been explicit about its plans to exploit its Big Data capabilities to influence its programming choices. “House of Cards” is one of the first major test cases of this Big Data-driven creative strategy. For almost a year, Netflix executives have told us that their detailed knowledge of Netflix subscriber viewing preferences clinched their decision to license a remake of the popular and critically well regarded 1990 BBC miniseries. Netflix’s data indicated that the same subscribers who loved the original BBC production also gobbled down movies starring Kevin Spacey or directed by David Fincher. Therefore, concluded Netflix executives, a remake of the BBC drama with Spacey and Fincher attached was a no-brainer, to the point that the company committed $100 million for two 13-episode seasons. 
“We know what people watch on Netflix and we’re able with a high degree of confidence to understand how big a likely audience is for a given show based on people’s viewing habits,” Netflix communications director Jonathan Friedland told Wired in November. “We want to continue to have something for everybody. But as time goes on, we get better at selecting what that something for everybody is that gets high engagement.”
During last night's blizzard, I watched the first episode, and I felt kind of let down. Spacey is Spacey, the way he always is; some of the lines came across as ridiculous, and honestly Lincoln did a better job of pacing a story about legislation and political intrigue. But it's a bigger story -- can entertainment be created by data?

We'll see.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cool Fact of the Day

The Brooklyn Nets are not the first professional basketball team in Brooklyn. The Smart Set Athletic Club were. Because the Negro Basketball League counts.

LOCAL2013: League of Independent Theater Meet The Candidates Forum

If you have ever said that you create "socially engaged work," read this whole post.

If you have ever expressed frustration that public officials don't care about the arts, read this whole post.

If you want to know how to have a political voice in the 2013 city-wide elections, read this whole post.

The League of Independent Theater, of which I am a member, has just launched the publicity for a Meet the Candidates event, March 12, 7PM. From the press release:

Members of LIT will get to vote on the candidates they think will best serve the indie theater territory. LIT's Political Research and Outreach Committee has created the Performing Arts Platform below. Candidates from every city race are being invited to participate. 2013 is an important year in terms of New York City elections. We hope you will be able to attend this event. Your attendance and passion can have an impact.
 Here's the platform:
As a pro-performing arts elected official, I will work to: 
1. Create access to low-cost and/or no-cost Community Facilities Spaces that are currently available and remain unused throughout the City through the creation of a Community Facilities Space Database.
2. Create access to empty and unused City property to be re-purposed as temporary rehearsal, office and (if appropriate), performance space.
3. Include non-profit performance venues in the favorable electricity and utility rates enjoyed by religious institutions and the VFW.
4. Implement a proposal that would reduce or eliminate property tax assessments for those non-profit organizations that have an artistic mission and/or rent performance space to similar non-profit performing arts groups with artistic missions of their own. This proposal was unanimously ratified by all twelve (12) Manhattan Community Boards.
5. Secure affordable permanent low-cost housing for working artists. In addition, work to provide access to affordable healthcare for these artists, depending on the status and reach of the Affordable Care Act at the time of negotiations.
6. Support the commission of an economic impact study for the independent theater territory.
7. Work with the Department of Cultural Affairs to expand the Cultural Institutions Group to include the independent theater sector’s anchor venues.
8. Install plaques at sites of historical import and rename streets after the founders of the independent and Off-Off Broadway community.
Here are the candidates who have confirmed so far:

Tom Allon (Candidate for Mayor)
Julie Menin (Manhattan Borough President)
Letitia James (Public Advocate)
Corey Johnson (CC Manhattan 3)
Yetta Kurland (CC Manhattan 3)
Mel Wymore (CC Manhattan 6)
Cheryl Pahaham (CC Manhattan 7)
Angel Molina (CC Bronx 8)
Matthew Silverstein (CC Queens 19)
Kimberly Council (CC Brooklyn 37)
If you want to go, which you should, you can RSVP here.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

LOCAL2013: Manhattan Round-Table... Cares About The Arts?

I wish I could embed the video, but this NY1 gave me a spit-take -- a political consultant talking about small businesses in Manhattan (in context of the Manhattan Borough President race) mentions that 30% of local performing arts spaces have gone out of business... as a campaign issue.

If you're wondering what the spaces are, Off-Off Blogway has rounded up the losses. It ranges from theaters I've never heard of, to notable spaces like the Ohio and Horse Trade's Red Room.


I don't write reviews about work in progress, so I will just say that I saw Soldier X by Rehana Mirza in development at the Lark Play Development Center, and that it was quite good and gripping. I hope the development continues so we'll see it fully realized soon.

REVIEW: The Fire This Time Play Festival


The best thing a short play festival can be is a sampler plate of excellent talent. For those who try to dodge diversity by saying it's hard to find the right talent, you'll find a stern rebuke in The Fire This Time, a festival of ten minute works by people of color. Fantastically, there's not a bad apple in this bunch.

Two brothers spar over a will, left behind by their recently deceased father, and old wounds from earlier contracts and legal documents. The characters are well-rendered, both in their moments of tender humanity, and in their moments of outsized grandiosity. Flor De Liz Perez carries the comic moments well as the slightly batty lawyer presiding over the proceedings, and Bjorn DuPaty and Shawn Randall knock the two brothers out of the park. Between the three of them, they capture the ways in which families can love each other so deeply that the love can suffocate each other.

POOR POSTURING, by Tracey Conyer Lee
Somewhat more metaphorical in tone, an A+ student, Demetrius (Chinaza Uche -- previous reviews here and here), is trying to get to the bottom of why his professor Sara Thigpen has picked him out of the crowd for abuse. On the face of it, it's an issue of posture: the way he sits forward with a furrowed brow, or slouches back in his chair. But really, it's about the way that the prejudice changes the way we see each other, and how the creeping racism under the surface forces higher expectations, and how people adjust to the rules of institutions. It reminded me strongly of Chris Rock's sermon on C students. Like Favored Nations, it mixes humor and exaggerated scenarios with real emotions and real implications to tell it's tale; in this case, however, it goes straight for the root of the nastiest side of people, and refuses to pull punches.

ORCHIDS AND POLKA DOTS, by Nathan Yungerberg
It's hard for me to pick out my favorite of these pieces, but it's possible that Orchids and Polka Dots is mine. In the middle of our century (time an place unimportant), Dr. Gentry (Kristoffer Tonning)  is testing LSD on Mrs. Jordan (McKenzie Frye). The theory is that they're about to find out something about LSD, but in truth, they're about to discover more about Dr. Gentry, and Mrs. Jordan, and what's possible when we're completely freed of normalcy. It's poetic, and it rides on excellent performances by the two stars.

NIGHTFALL (excerpt), by Cynthia G. Robinson
This was the hardest piece -- partly, perhaps, because it was an excerpt from a larger work, and partly because it was a fairly realist look at rape and abuse by the Janjaweed during the Sudanese genocides. Because of the subject matter, there's a lot of screaming, crying, and begging -- all performed excellently, but because of the compressed time span it's hard for anything to move forward or progress very far. It's hard to criticize a piece about senseless rape and violence for feeling senseless, but I have a feeling that the piece fits better in context of a larger work.

THE SAD, SECRET (SEX) LIFE OF STEVE URKEL, by Eric Lockley (previous review)
This is probably the closest I've ever come to Steve Urkel porn (despite rumors that it's out there...), and probably the best way I could have come across it. The story: Steve Urkel (Larry Powell) has concocted a "love potion" to get Laura Winslow (Toccara Cash) in love with him. Except he didn't make a love potion, he made a lust potion. The short is hilarious and poignant, and it offers a quick snapshot into how unprepared we may be for the sexuality that we want to unleash.

WITHIN UNTAINTED WOMBS (excerpt), by Dennis A. Allen II
Philip K. Dick imagined new technologies to reflect upon our lives as people. Within Untainted Wombs does the same, imagining what it would be like if pregnant mothers could commune with the unborn children. And just as Dick imagines how technology reflects the worst parts of our souls, and the best, so does Within Untainted Wombs ask hard questions about how to raise a child when we're not prepared for it, and how that reflects in our children. It's smartly constructed and deeply moving.

ALWAYS (excerpt), by Danielle T. Davenport
The last piece was the most understated of the evening, but just as excellently crafted. Erica (chandra thomas) has written a best-selling book of "fiction". But the fictive nature of the book is up for debate when Malik (Peyton Coles) steps out of her past to confront her for writing about their time together in their work of fiction. I'm not sure where the fuller work goes, but this excerpt is rewarding and intelligent, and the two performers breathe life into the work in gratifying ways.

HOW WE MAKE THE CASE VIII: The Creative Placemaking Argument

NEA's Chief of Staff Jamie Bennett, in an interview with Barry Hessenius:
In creative placemaking, an entirely different trope is substituted: you begin with a shared interest – often a problem formulation – and you talk about what the arts can do to help achieve it. A common example is a community that begins with a vacant downtown or an abandoned warehouse district along its waterfront. The arts talk about the foot traffic that they can bring to an area, especially if you cluster arts organizations, since each has a different pattern of foot traffic. A theater has 1,000 people show up at eight o’clock and leave at eleven o’clock. A museum might have 1,000 people spread out over the course of an eight-hour day. A rehearsal studio might have 30 people coming and going every hour over twelve hours. You put the three different organizations in proximity to one another, and all of a sudden, you have a full day of positive foot traffic on a street – feet that belong to people who need to eat meals, buy newspapers, go shopping, and take public transportation. You have every mayor’s dream. 
And when you talk about the arts in those terms, resources start being invested in the arts. Not one of those organizations is being taken off mission, but they are highlighting their benefits to the collective good. People invest in them because they are part of a winning team (the abundance), rather than because they are needy (the scarcity). 
This is the framing that Rocco used as he went around to the other federal agencies. He didn’t go to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and say, “give me some of your budget for the arts.” Rocco, instead, talked with Secretary Donovan about their shared vision of helping to build complete, vibrant, sustainable communities that were welcoming and inclusive to Americans of all backgrounds and income levels.
I like this framing because it ties into the economics arguments that are effective, without being a dry debate about facts and figures. It's about the real impact that the arts can have in their community.

LOCAL: Hey, Sometimes There's Good News!

It includes: two jazz festivals and a conference, heating/venting/roof repair for a theater (converted from a bowling alley), helping a theater create reconfigurable seating plans, accessibility for the disabled at another theater, and more.