Tuesday, May 31, 2011

NEWS(ish): Hathos Alert

LOCAL: FreeWheels and the Crime of Bike-Riding

FreeWheels is a non-profit organization started in 2005 by people who had been arrested together while committing the "crime" of riding a bicycle in Critical Mass, an "organized coincidence" that meets in cities around the world on the last Friday of every month.

For years in New York City, the police acted as "chaperones" to Critical Mass, shadowing the ride on bikes and scooters, temporarily closing intersections as the ride meandered peacefully through the city. But during the Republican National Convention in August of 2004, when the city erupted in widespread non-violent protest, the NYPD adopted harsh measures to shut down dissent. More than 5,000 riders turned out for Critical Mass on August 27, 2004, just prior to the opening of the RNC. The NYPD responded in force, arresting 264 bicyclists and seizing their bikes as "evidence." Since the August arrests, Critical Mass has been the target of ongoing harassment by the NYPD, who insist the riders are breaking the law by "parading without a permit."

For more than 18 months, riders were arrested, handcuffed, put in a paddy wagon or police bus, and taken to a downtown precinct. FreeWheels met arrestees as they emerged from the police precincts, offering them food, drink, loaner bikes, and forms to fill out so that volunteer lawyers can help them get their bikes back more quickly.

Our legal challenges forced the police to scale back their harassment to ticketing for invalid charges such as "failure to keep right" or "riding outside of the bike lane." But in a move to repress not just bicyclists but ALL groups that dare to assemble without seeking their permission, the NYPD is attempting to label many common street and side walk uses as a "parade". If put into effect, these new rules will greatly suppress the right to assembly and expose peaceful protestors as well as regular people to arrest for things as simple as crossing the street against the light. Join FreeWheels and many other concerned New Yorkers to find out what you can do about it.

OPINION: Prince Philip, Racist Idiot or Oscar Wilde?

I'm still not sure what to think. Take, for instance, this amazing list of 90 gaffes in 90 years. On the one hand, you have:

36. "And what exotic part of the world do you come from?" Asked in 1999 of Tory politician Lord Taylor of Warwick, whose parents are Jamaican. He replied: "Birmingham."

On the other hand, you have this purely brilliant exchange:

49. Philip: "Who are you?"

Simon Kelner: "I'm the editor-in-chief of The Independent, Sir."

Philip: "What are you doing here?"

Kelner: "You invited me."

Philip: "Well, you didn't have to come!"

An exchange at a press reception to mark the Golden Jubilee in 2002.

Or this absolute GEM:

34. "If you travel as much as we do you appreciate the improvements in aircraft design of less noise and more comfort – provided you don't travel in something called economy class, which sounds ghastly." To the Aircraft Research Association in 2002.

I can't tell how much of this is just him saying stupid things because he can't stop himself, and how much is him being really sardonic about what it means to be the Queen's Consort in this day and age. After all, it really has to be the latter to say something like:

50. "No, I would probably end up spitting it out over everybody." Prince Philip declines the offer of some fish from Rick Stein's seafood deli in 2000.

51. "Any bloody fool can lay a wreath at the thingamy." Discussing his role in an interview with Jeremy Paxman.

RESPONSE: Memorial Day

But for the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began. By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. Among the first soldiers to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the 21st United States Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the city's official surrender. Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war.

The largest of these events, forgotten until I had some extraordinary luck in an archive at Harvard, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the city's Washington Race Course and Jockey Club into an outdoor prison. Union captives were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery.

They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, "Martyrs of the Race Course." The symbolic power of this Low Country planter aristocracy's bastion was not lost on the freedpeople, who then, in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track. A New York Tribune correspondent witnessed the event, describing "a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before." The procession was led by 3,000 black schoolchildren carrying armloads of roses and singing the Union marching song "John Brown's Body." Several hundred black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses.
Sometimes the facts do all the talking.

NEWS: If You Were Surprised...

If you were surprised by Arnold Schwarzenegger's post-Gubernatorial revelations, you weren't paying attention:

I hear that criticism leveled more towards the French regarding Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Monday, May 30, 2011

PRAGMATIC: Dedication to Silliness

I'm the sort of person who thinks culture should be very practical, should really move people forward or give them something that they didn't have before; I think that culture is how we increase ourselves or the world around us.

And then there's Planking. That's right, Planking:
Planking is the act of lying face down with arms to the sides of the body, in unusual public spaces and photographing it.

And more planking:

I can't explain exactly why it brings me so much joy to see this dedication to silliness. I mean, it's easy to just be silly a little bit, but it's damn hard to be this incredibly silly. Someone has died over this. People go out of their way to do it in sillier and crazier ways. There's no stopping it. It's a worldwide force for uselessness.

I can't pretend I know why we have this deep vein of silliness. I like to think it's the real antidote to Bin Laden or Ratko Mladic. Silliness like a cruise missile.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

ARTS NEWS: Kansas Loses the Arts Commission

Governor Brownback (yes, that former Senator Brownback) has vetoed the Kansas Arts Commission. For full coverage, tune in to Createquity's post on the subject.

There isn't much to say beyond the obvious: the people of Kansas -- all of them -- are worse off because of this. As ARTSBlog points out, it's the first state without an arts agency, and by extension that the first time a Republican government has successfully achieved their goal: they've divested any responsibility over investment in culture.

There's one aspect of cultural policy which is "how much should the government invest" and "how should the government go about investing it. Another aspect is, "Should the government be involved in cultural policy?"

Kansas is now the first state to answer that question with "No."

UPDATE: Barry weighs in with rage and sorrow:
It is you and I, as individuals, who did not make those $20 checks out to local advocacy organizations. Oh we meant to didn’t we? But we didn’t do it. It is those performance and exhibition based arts organizations who didn’t join those same advocacy groups and who didn’t (and won’t) hold benefit performances or exhibitions for that effort. It is those larger cultural organizations who see too little in it for themselves and for whom the whole of the sector simply isn't a big enough priority. It is all those foundations that have refused to fund advocacy efforts – even as benign as modest efforts to train our core in how to advocate – pretending, ever so conveniently, that they were legally prohibited from engaging in anything that smacked of politics (an absolute falsehood and simply not fact), and their timidity is partly to blame -- much as we are for clinging to the lie that we cannot lobby, and cannot support candidates with money (we can legally do both if we just set up the right structure and follow the simple rules). Let me just shout that again out loud in the winsome hope that it will finally get through - because some of you just refuse to accept the law - WE CAN LEGALLY LOBBY and SUPPORT CANIDATES WITH MONEY. YES we can - [not as 501 (c) (3)s, but as 501 (c) (4)s and PACs!] Of course you have to be careful and judicious how you exploit this kind of power on your behalf - but how you use power is a different question than amassing it to begin with.

ARTS ECONOMICS: He's A Faliure! (cont'd)

On the heels of Tony Kushner admitting he's not able to support himself as a playwright, another blow to the creative lifestyle:
When Tyler Cowen was 15, he became the New Jersey Open Chess Champion, at the time the youngest ever. At around the same age, he began reading seriously in the social sciences; he preferred philosophy. By 16 he had reached a chess rating of 2350, which today would put him close to the top 100 in the U.S. Shortly thereafter he gave up chess and philosophy for the same reason: little stability and poor benefits.
My god... if our nation's chess champions can't support themselves...

(P.S. If you're not detecting the tongue-in-cheek, I've got a tumblr you'd love.)

PERSONAL: It's Over 900!

Yeah, over 900 posts. Thanks for reading some of them.

Friday, May 27, 2011

ORANGE HATS: An Interview with our Founder / Format Experiment

A little late to the link, but here's a feature on Ben Lundberg, and the Orange Hats. It's a good overview of who we are and what we do. Here's a taste:

As far as larger experiential observations, Lundberg noted: "I don't think I would have become as interested in this project if I wasn't inherently somebody who engaged in criticism a lot." Because of the fact that he archives others' responses immediately after a performance, Lundberg does not get to engage with his own feelings. "What's interesting," he said, "is that it gives me at least twenty minutes of pause where I'm not obsessed with what I think about a show, where that's not my main focus. I have to listen to [others' responses], because we ask questions...because we're trying to open a conversation, so I really have to be part of that conversation, even though I'm a silent part."

Also, Ben is trying out a new format for Blessed Unrest's ArtCamp SexyTime FootBall. In addition to our usual edited video, he has released the raw interviews (divided person-by-person) shot during the evening. I'd love to hear what people think of the difference between the edited video and the raw video; comments here or there!

ARTS IN MAINSTREAM: The Economist's Narrative Needs

I love this line in an op-ed by The Economist:

The worthwhile, boring, essential parts of war and life do not make good television. They do not even make good narrative: David Foster Wallace's posthumous novel tries to sanctify boredom (and if I ever manage to slog my way past page 56 I'll let you know if it succeeds; he's a great writer, but come on, I'm only human, I have my narrative needs too), but otherwise writers and filmmakers wisely steer clear of the subject.

I think that's a pretty good summation of the average open-minded person's relationship to narrative. Non-narrative can be good, but it's also hard, and sometimes people have needs.

P.S. I also really love the Economist website's trending topics visualization.

ARTS ECONOMICS: Pay What You Can Dining!

Alright, it's the culinary arts, but here's what Panera is doing:

After a year, Panera Bread's experiment with "pay what you can" restaurants seems to be working. The cafe chain now has three locations using the donations-only model (Clayton, Mo., Dearborn, Mich., and Portland, Ore.), out of its nearly 1,500 locations nationwide.


Most patrons, it finds, drop the entire retail cost, or more, into the voluntary donation box, in essence subsidizing a meal for someone who can't pay the full amount. Panera says about 60 percent leave the suggested amount; 20 percent leave more; and 20 percent leave less. The largest single payment so far? One person paid $500 for a meal.

Two important things to note, before you run off and try this yourself:
  • Most people pay the retail cost because, I would guess, they know what the suggested price is and know that it's within reason.
  • The person who paid $500 probably did so because he felt like this was an important venture, and he wanted to cast a big vote for it succeeding. The more saturated your market is the less likely someone will feel that compulsion.

RESPONSE: Error Bars

This is basically how I explain "Experimental Theater":

PRAGMATIC: The Future of Art in the Web

Artist Aaron Koblin gives a great TED Talk overviewing his use of web design and collaborative digital spaces as art:

It's important as the internet moves forward that the people who invest in building the platforms people inhabit digitally continue to invest time and effort into thinking about the aesthetic aspect of their work, in terms of creating homes for culture.

What I find heartening about Koblin's talk is not just that he was able to create great things himself, or that he was able to exploit platforms like Amazon's Mechanical Turk, but that a company like Google invested time-- across multiple teams. Hope for the culture of creativity.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

GLOBAL NEWS: Moving Slowly Towards Justice

It's slowly coming to an end:

PARIS — Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb general accused of war crimes including masterminding the massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, has been captured in Serbia after more than 15 years as one of the world’s most wanted fugitives.

This is three years after the government of President Tadic, shortly after their election, captured Radovan Karadžić:

Karadžić had been hiding disguised under the alias Dr. Dragan David Dabić (Драган Давид Дабић) offering his services as a doctor of alternative medicine under the company name of "Human Quantum Energy".

Even more than Bin Laden, Karadžić was hiding in plain sight in the country's capital. But when a pro-EU government rose to power, he was found and sent to the Hague, and now Ratko Mladic is following him.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

ARTS ECONOMICS: Tony Kushner Is A Failure!

I mean, not from an artistic standpoint. But here's what he has to say about his personal economics:

I make my living now as a screenwriter! Which I’m surprised and horrified to find myself saying, but I don’t think I can support myself as a playwright at this point. I don’t think anybody does.

(h/t Playgoer)

ART NEWS: Adding Insult To Injury

Time Out Chicago brings us this update from the Netherlands;

You might call Czech artist Jirí Kylián the Christopher Nolan of dance: Only an infrastructure developed over a century (the state-supported European concert-dance system, or “dance’s Hollywood,” as I’ll call it) allows him to create as big as he thinks (dances such as Bella Figura and 27'52" are akin to The Dark Knight and Inception).

In this analogy, the world-renowned Nederlands Dans Theater, based in the Hague and Kylián’s artistic home for more than three decades, would be Warner Bros.

It faces an uncertain future: The cultural council of Holland recently proposed cuts of up to half its annual budget. (The Dutch National Ballet, the country’s largest dance company, faces a 26-percent amputation.)


NDT may also be downgraded to “regional amenity” status. Its tours to Buenos Aires, Chicago, Melbourne and other cities, where fans fill the largest opera houses available, would take a back seat to appearances in Dutch suburbs such as Rijswijk, Voorburg and Wassenaar.

Well, if you need an up-to-date reason not to want arts to be directly controlled by governments, that seems like a pretty good indication as to why.

The political calculus is plain to see: the country is paying for art which is (ostensibly) being consumed more overseas than by its own rural citizens. It seems as though previously, the group had an unquestioned role in bringing Dutch art overseas; now, the politics is pushing them to focus on their own people.

The article's author, Zachary Whittenburg, does make a bold claim:

Dance without the boundary-pushing creations made in Europe would be like film without Hollywood.

Is Hollywood good for film?

RESPONSE: Really? You Can't Find Young Men?

James Fritz at The Guardian's theater blog wonders aloud where all the young male playwrights have gone. I feel completely baffled.

I can't think of playwrights -- of either gender -- under the age of 18 because I don't know any playwrights under the age of 18. But when I think of the playwrights I know in the 18-24 bracket (which is my age bracket, and which I think we can safely call "young"), I can think of plenty of men and women. They're not exactly names you would know, because they're on the outside, but just a quick glance off the top of my head gives me the following male playwrights who've had productions in New York: myself (when I can be assed to write), Andrew Farmer, Evan Watkins, Jarret Kerr, Colby Day, Ben Forster, Andrew Butler, Alex Johnson, Alex Fast, etc. etc. (For women, there's Kristine Lee, Claire Downs, Erin McGuff, Lindsey Ferrentino, Maria Wilson, etc. etc.)

Most of them have been self-produced or produced by peer organizations, so I wouldn't be surprised that they haven't reached the sort of notice that Mr. Fritz seems to be looking towards. It takes a while to build up success. We haven't really built a system that catapults young geniuses to the top of the pile.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

INFORMATION: What An Arts Degree Gets You

NPR's Planet Money blog passes along the chart above from Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. For some reason, it smells optimistic to me, which in turn is pretty depressing. Doesn't seem to take into account what likelihood you are to get that full-time, full-year work.

RESPONSE: Because It Sold?

Rob does a capable job dismantling a pretty pithy Weekly Standard article about David Mamet's movement to the right. As someone who is pretty avidly interested in Brecht, I agree with everything Rob says.

Allow me to add a few points as well.
“His protestations [against capitalism] were not borne out by his actions, nor could they be,” Mamet writes. “Why, then, did he profess Communism? Because it sold...The public’s endorsement of his plays kept him alive; as Marx was kept alive by the fortune Engels’s family had made selling furniture."
Firstly, any close reading of Brecht makes it pretty clear that among communists, he was very much a populist. His plays sold because one of his central tenets is that theater needs to be popular, among the people, and communicate with them. Whether or not he was interested in the money is something I can't speculate on, but I can say that there's no need to cry "hypocrisy" there, because he truly felt that in order to be true to the people you needed to reach the people. "The proof is in the pudding."

Secondly, if Brecht was purely interested in self-advancement, he could have made some better choices. For instance, when the tides of German history turned against communists, and many communist artists were jailed or executed for their beliefs, he could have done what many others did -- become a Nazi. That could have made even more money. (By the way, if you want to see what that would look like, you should see another excellent play by a "lefty", Tony Kushner's Bright Room Called Day.)

And then, in the United States, when he was called before the House Un-American Affairs Committee and accused of being a communist, he could have done what other profitable artists did at the time (such as Elia Kazan) and walk away from any of his beliefs or associations that were inconvenient. Instead, he left the country where he had his greatest financial successes to go to a communist country (East Germany)?

Brecht comes across as a hypocrite if you read him as a strict ideologue; which, I imagine, more suits his critics than himself:

Although a cold-blooded—indeed bloody-minded—advocate for public ownership of the means of production and state confiscation of private wealth, he always took care to copyright his plays.

If you were to apply the adjective "cold-blooded" to anyone, Brecht would be a poor fit. He's incredibly hot-blooded; he yelled at himself in rehearsal, insulting his own work, he wrote fiery essays that were intended to stoke controversy, and he rebelled against the idea that human beings were internally consistent or had consistency of character.

His characters in his plays are not the ideal, communitarian communist drones that you can find in a communist play like most propaganda. Instead they're often drunks, rogues, people who play eccentrically with the law, who are selfish and look out for themselves and somehow do good for other people in spite of themselves.

So yeah, aside from all of the problems Rob pointed out about how odd it is to define Mamet in relationship to Brecht, it's revealing how much of the article is based on this notion of Communists as homogenous ideologues, who are somehow more popular than other ideologies. I'm sure being a communist in the first half of the century was the "easy" choice.

ARTS NEWS: A Tale Of Two Cities

One happy:
In a stunning admission, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said Thursday he was wrong in proposing “draconian” cuts to local arts projects in his 2012 budget.

“I often talk about the arts as it relates to recreation centers,” said Reed, who ran on a platform to open all of the city’s recreation centers and support local arts. “I want young people to have what I had. When I was growing up, I was greatly influenced and benefited from arts programs. But I lost sight of that.


Reed was given a standing ovation, which was a far cry from the mood last week when the cuts were discussed during Atlanta City Council budget meetings.


In Atlanta, nearly 8 percent of all jobs are arts-related. That number is higher than comparable cities like Charlotte and Nashville, but those cities award $3 million and $1.8 million in grants annually.
One sad:
London Councils had announced plans to cut £3 million financial support for the arts across the capital in December 2010, affecting companies including Theatre Royal Stratford East and Clean Break. In February, a High Court judge ordered that the decision process be rerun, quashing all of London Councils’ original funding cuts.

However, the new decisions are worse for the arts than the initial ones made in December. Not one theatre company will have its funding reinstated and the two strategic bodies that were going to be funded - the Independent Theatre Council and Audiences London - have also lost their support.


However, regarding the wider picture of London Councils’ decision to cut financial support to all arts organisations, [ITC chief executive Charlotte Jones] added: “There is something about the real loss now of recognition of the importance of culture."
As you can see, these decisions can be fluid. One mayor moved his stance towards the arts after hearing protests. Another set of councils moved away from the arts after being blocked by courts. Both are making clear statements about the value of culture in their cities.

Friday, May 20, 2011

LOCAL: An Alternative to the G?

If you're from Brooklyn, I'm sure I've got your attention. I'm sure you, like me, think the G train is just short of being worthless.

Well, New York Shitty has coverage walking of a ferry service beginning next month and walks away unimpressed:
As a Greenpoint resident— and while it might be nice to, say, be able to go to Governor’s Island— I cannot honestly see how this service is going to alleviate our transportation woes in any real, lasting way. What’s more, it is rather expensive. In the case of India Street in particular it does not seem to be very well thought out. As stated, the location of this stop is not close to public transportation, there really isn’t anything in the way of sites of interest to be found nearby and being rather desolate the concerns about security which were raised are quite salient. In this respect I found the prospect of having an automated machine selling tickets somewhat troublesome; I lay odds this device will be both vandalized and looted on a routine basis. Lastly, I found it rather telling that the stops for this ferry were placed at locations where the city wants to foster economic development. This would certainly explain why it doesn’t go to 14th Street (which I suspect a number of folks hereabouts would find quite useful). Sorry folks, I cannot get terribly excited about this.
I agree that the map of where it goes looks strange and wrong -- in a way, it kind of reflects the poor foresight that made the G line practically useless.

However, I'm a Williamsburg-ite and not a Greenpoint-ite, and therefore having a new alternative route to get to DUMBO (rather than taking the B62 and then walking through past the projects for maybe 20 blocks) would be kind of nice. I wonder how adjustable these ferry paths are, and how long it takes to travel.

(Apologies to non-Brooklyn folks who found this kind of boring).

The Curious Importance of Forms

The Consumer Financial Protection Agency has already gotten to work, and one of their first jobs has been to design a new top-sheet that would be standard across loans, allowing you to quickly assess what you will pay for a loan. This is to make it easy for people to understand the terms of their loan, and how it might change over the life cycle.

What CFPA understands is that the way that information is communicated is important. To that end, they're allowing people to vote between two different proposals and provide comments on the form.

As someone who currently works in the field of documentation, and someone who really believes that culture is the communication of ideas or knowledge, and therefore our forms are part of our culture, I think it's important that people weigh in.

Marketing and Meat

Ken Davenport says the best thing about In + Out is the secret menu. The secret menu would be worthless if the items on the secret menu weren't more amazing food.

Uh oh, did I just pull a Seth Godin and write vague business advice in two direct sentences? Boy, I really need to leave my office job...


Palestine does have to be contiguous. Here's a pretty good reason why.

I think it's a great step that President Obama has said that they need to go back to the 1967 borders as a starting point, and promise the Palestinians a contiguous land. It's exactly what we need.

But much like his comments that Assad should have to go, we're left with the question: well, okay, what are you willing to do for it? The Palestinians have recently risked a lot: they've created a unity government to end their civil war (and therefore are no longer able to negotiate with Israel) and are planning on getting UN recognition in September.

So what is America actually planning on doing? Have we changed how far we're willing to push or apply pressure on Israel? Anything?

That's the problem with saying something correct and principled. It then obligates you to correct and principled action.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Numbers Make Me Sad...

... part of an ongoing series where I point you in the direction of the actual data being generated about the arts.

First up, Ian Moss has his usual fantastic update on the latest news around the country... spoiler alert, it includes a 66% funding cut to Wisconsin's Art Council, Pennsylvania's is facing 68%, and Republicans are mocking the names of silly sounding grants again.

Secondly, Scott Walters is updating us on the imbalance between the amount of grants going to New York, Illinois, and Los Angeles versus the rest of the country (45-69, despite a population balance of 13.6-86.4). Of course, if you want to be really bleak about it, the grant imbalance becomes increasingly more moot every year as arts funding slowly gets cut across the board...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Archive Your Productions!

If you made any theater this past year, please take a moment to fill out a form about your production. Preserve it for the future.

(And if you want to see another archive, you should go watch some Orange Hats)

Things I Am Ambivalent About vol. 323

On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Museum named a new board chairman, Daniel Brodsky, managing director of the Brodsky Organization, a company that owns and manages apartments throughout Manhattan. As the board leader of a major NYC cultural destination, Brodsky understands the value of the arts to his city and his business.

When asked why CEOs of real estate companies are chairing the boards of many of the major NYC cultural institutions, Brodsky said in the New York Times that they were “’very concerned about the viability of the city,’ which cultural activity contributes to, ‘so there’s a logical reason for real estate people to be involved.’”

Courtesy ARTSblog.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Circle Rules Football gets the Wired Treatment

My friends at the Circle Rules Federation have got an article in Wired:
Circle Rules, as it’s usually called, was invented in 2006 by Greg Manley, a student at the Experimental Theater Wing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. For his senior independent project — equivalent to a thesis, but for actors — Manley waved aside writing his own play or producing his own show like his classmates. Instead, he spent his time churning out ideas for the development of a new sport.

The project stemmed from his personal view that all sport is theater: dramatic, theatrical, viewed by an audience of millions. Based on this perception, Manley began to envision the foundation of an entirely new activity, one that highlighted the theatricality and drama inherent in all sports

Circle Rules Football: New York City from Scott Riehs on Vimeo.

My favorite response from the Twitter feed?
"If you're a member of an adult kickball league, you've just been ironically outflanked."

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Orange Hats: Queen of the May

I've done quite a few Orange Hats trips, but I have never seen an audience love a show the way they loved this show.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Depressing Arts Statistic of the Day

Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times:
The NEA found across-the-board drops in arts education, based on 18- to 24-year-olds' responses to a 2008 U.S. Census Bureau survey. Among children of a college graduate, 27% said they had never taken even one arts class, compared with 12% in 1982. For children of high school graduates, the number who'd never had any arts study rose from 30% nearly 30 years ago to 66% in 2008.
At least they acknowledge "the overall picture can appear bleak."

(h/t Arts Journal)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Orange Hats: We're Gonna Die

I wrote what I thought about We're Gonna Die, but here's the audience's take:

It's really worth noting that when you have a high quality production, the audience is much more articulate and interesting. I don't think it's because the show attracts a smarter audience, I really think it's because creativity is infectious.

Anyways, Young Jean Lee had a great audience to archive.

(Also: I don't cross-post everything that goes up on TheOrangeHats.com, so you really should go and check it out.)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What Arts Education Looks Like

This is what art's education should look like:

We had a student:

• Writing and performing his own guitar solo
• Creating a model out of wood of the Sears Tower
• Writing her own historical fiction short story
• Creating a Rube Goldberg machine
• Designing and creating a replica suit of Roman Armor (out of tinfoil and cardboard)
• Creating a how-to tutorial on baking a cake
• Painting a still life on canvas of a nature scene
• Writing and performing a one-man comedy act
• Researching and presenting on the concentration camps of the Holocaust
• Creating a video highlight reel of basketball moves and plays
• Building a model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
• Writing a biography of his favorite teacher Mr. Stumpenhorst (<-----ok, I made this one up!)
• Creating a video documentary of Innovative Day
• Building a model of Big Ben
• Choreographing and performing a dance
• Researching Walt Disney and creating a model of the Epcot Center
• Creating a model of numerous World War II battles
• Building a model of the Eiffel Tower
• Researching and creating countless Power Points, posters, and Photo Stories

Not just one day, but every day.

(h/t Butts in the Seats)

What Once Was a Victory

A couple days ago I posted a short news article about how the mayor of San Diego stood up for arts funding at the expense of libraries. I mean, it's a shame about the libraries, but at least a mayor stood up for the power of arts in the economy.

Oh wait, what's that? More late-breaking news from San Diego? Turns out Mayor Sanders really is cutting (some) arts funding:

The City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to suspend about $630,000 in public arts funding at the behest of Mayor Jerry Sanders, who says the spending can’t be justified when the city needs to close a $56.7 million deficit in its $1.1 billion operating budget.

The arts funding in question was a requirement that all major construction jobs have a public art component.

Sigh. What was that, Mayor Sanders, about the arts generating jobs?

Oh, and in case you think this is just one city:

His urging coincides with a similar request from Gov. Jerry Brown, who has suggested that public art be considered on a case-by-case basis as part of his efforts to rid the state of redevelopment agencies.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Another Two Line Post

A mayor in San Diego stands up for the arts... at the expense of libraries:

LD: Any cuts to arts and culture?

JS: No.

LD: Why no cuts there instead of libraries?

JS: Because we've cut them each year and they're responsible in arts and culture for about 20,000 jobs. There's a multi-ripple impact on that.

LD: Cuts to libraries each year, too.

JS: Right. But there's not the same job numbers.

Is Theater Destroying Robotics?

That's what I took away from this Matt Yglesias article. If waiters weren't so damn cheap, we'd have waiter-robots by now!

The Shame Of Theater: "Development"

Brooklyn Rail covers "The Shame of Theater". It's a pretty good round-up of all the problems in "development" programs in the world.

In The Annals of Checking Your Data Set pt. 2

Americans spend more on going to the arts than on going to the movies. Well gee, that sounds great! Except that more people are actually seeing movies; we're just charging arts patrons more.

On Narrative II: Flat Forms

You gotta read 99 Seats' defense of narrative. A sampling:

I've said it before, but I'll say it again: we often talk about the essential importance of theatre and of the work we do, it's connection to our most basic humanity...and bascially say it's like broccoli or brussel sprouts and our audience's palates aren't refined enough to truly savor it. They need to go to culinary school and learn why the things they actually like and enjoy are awful, awful, awful and this other thing is just so much better because they won't enjoy it. And then we're shocked to find little support for our institutions.

And Isaac provides some useful definitions:

(a) "An account of a series of events, facts, etc., given in order and with the establishing of connections between them; a narration, a story, an account."

(b) In literary criticism: "The part of a text, esp. a work of fiction, which represents the sequence of events, as distinguished from that dealing with dialogue, description, etc.; narration as a literary method or genre."

(c) In structuralist and post-structuralist theory: a representation of a history, biography, process, etc., in which a sequence of events has been constructed into a story in accordance with a particular ideology; esp. in grand narrative n. [after French grand récit (1979 in the passage translated in quot. 1984)] a story or representation used to give an explanatory or justificatory account of a society, period, etc.

As Isaac points out, the definition of narrative we are using is important.

First off, there are two separate questions.

The first is "Does theater need a narrative" in the sense of "Should there be an order of things and connection between them?" Even most non-linear playwrights probably answers that question with "Yes." That's how I feel, even though I tend not to work linearly (although I do write linearly).

The second is, "Does theater need a narrative" in the sense of "Should there be a unity of order and connection?" or, put another way, "Should there be a linear narrative?"

Aristotle had a very clear answer to this, which was yes there should always be a linear progression of time and events. In fact, Aristotle insisted on this to a degree that even the most ardent realists today probably wouldn't insist on today: he wanted the events to unfold in real time, in one place. I mean, there's no problem inherent in that - if I remember correctly, 12 Angry Men progresses that way.

It's undeniable that sometimes a linear narrative is soppy, or unintellectual, or reductive. It's also undeniable that some of the greatest works we have to date have a linear narrative.

So When Does It Work And When Does It Not?
That's the real question. When does narrative work, and when does it not? That's the real question to solve.

Here's my attempt at an answer: when I stage managed for Moises Kaufman, one of the pieces of advice that he gave about building work was that when you have put a piece of work together, the different elements of the piece should not be working together to do the same thing.

If you have a straightforward, linear plot, the complexity should go someplace else. In 12 Angry Men, you don't need to have complexity in time and space; it's still not a simple movie because there's complexity in the 12 relationships on the stage (seriously, track from moment to moment the status shifts and relationships, and you'll realize that your brain is processing a lot), or the constant attempt to reconstruct a scene from scratch. The reason we find a straightforward and linear plot to be insipid is if it's populated by insipid characters, insipid dialog, insipid ideas, and insipid emotions.

Not all linear narratives are straight-forward.

The analogy I would put forward is to the idea of stereotype. In Anne Bogart's essay on stereotype in A Director Prepares, Bogart quite rightly distinguishes between stereotypes that have, as she says, "a fire lit under them," as opposed to flat, useless stereotypes.

The Movement Theater Company, for instance, had an excellent one man show called Last Laugh at La Mama. There were only two characters, played by one actor, and both were gross black stereotypes -- one was a Stepin Fetchit type, and the other was a prototypical "acting white" character.

Stereotypes. But the way they were used in opposition with each other, the use of the uncomfortable laugh, and -- really -- the humanity which Eric Lockley brought them to life lit a fire under them, and made them complex. Even though we sneer at stereotypes in terrible pop culture (e.g. the portrayal of women in James Bond, as a random example) and even though many of us will fight every day to make our characters not stereotypes, stereotype is still a powerful tool.

But to return to 99 Seats' original point: I do still think we should insist on complexity. I do still think we should stand up for the parts of the food we are giving our audience that our healthy. We should try to prepare it well (there's a huge difference between raw greens and greens that cooked well and mixed with other food people like). But I think we're theater bloggers because we want something more.

Another Gem from Fedblog

They also gave us this exchange:

Questioner: Six to one is the ratio of contractors to civil servants. Yet civil servants continue to endure public opprobrium. What is your position on the total force structure, and who should be doing the work of the government?
Mullen: Civil servants continue to endure what?

Questioner: Opprobrium. A lot of civil servant-bashing.

Mullen: A pogrom?

Questioner: Opprobrium.

Trust me, civil servants have it bad, but it's not pogrom bad.

(yes, that's the story of the town whose name I bear).

"Mission Accomplished" pt 3

I'm glad as I survey the web that I'm not the only one with a bad taste in my mouth about the post-Bin Laden triumphalism. I won't say much more on the subject, except to point out the photo above, which FedBlog reports as being what the National Security team getting updates on the operation.

That level of solemnity and tension seems appropriate.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Mission Accomplished" Cont'd

My mother contributed this passage from John Donne's No Man Is An Island:

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

More Sad News in the Arts

If you need it, there's a round-up at Createquity. It's not all bad news, but there's a lot of closings. For instance, the Philadelphia Orchestra, which is a case study in large and complex balance sheets (run-down here). No debt, over $100 million in assets, and it's broke.

At any rate, it's a reminder of how slowly this financial crisis unfolds. We're used to thinking of it as a single, sharp event -- Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, sudden halts, some bailouts, and then the jobs picture turns around in 2010 and we're in 'recovery'.

But nearly a quarter of mortgages are still underwater. At least 14 banks closed in 2011. And as the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Initman, and other closures or crises show, the damage is still creeping through the arts world as well.

"Mission Accomplished"

A look in the time-machine:

Now, I don't happen to think that Hillary or Dodd would have done anything differently. If you listen to Hillary, although she's criticizing him on the issue, what she really says is "of course, if we have actionable intelligence--" before casting the idea of intelligence into doubt, and also, "You may think that, but you can't always say what you think," which is a pretty bold statement of truth.

Anyways, I'm a little bit nauseated by the tone of triumphalism around Bin Laden's death; people continually quote Team America with no sense of irony. I think Obama hit the right tone: determined, acknowledging the progress that has been made, and acknowledging the pain and suffering that led to today. It's progress, but it's not a moment of joy. The moment of joy will come when something positive is built in the place of everyone that has died, everything that has been destroyed.