Friday, March 28, 2008

Another Interview with Myself

What, you again?
Yeah. Can we do another interview? A couple of my readers say I come across as more human in dialog.

Sheesh. When you have to talk to yourself to be human, I think I'd throw in the towel.

OK. What do you want to talk about?
American Theatre Magazine.

Yeah, what's up with that? I haven't read it for a while -- is it really such a bad magazine?
No, it is a great magazine! It is certainly the best magazine about theatre in the US, in my opinion. In fact, I've considered assigning it as a textbook for my classes, but I haven't figured out how best to do that yet.

Then why are you trashing it?
I'm not trashing it! I just want it to spread all that excellence around. With all the intelligence that comes through every month, it has such potential to really make a huge difference in our view of theatre in this country. They could really make us realize that it is valuable to make a career committed to working in the regional theatre, and that such a career is satisfying in itself and doesn't require building national fame.

Why is that so darned important to you?
Because I have strong objections to globalism.

Ahem. Maybe you oughta explain that non sequitur for all your readers who don't live in your particular twisty mind like I have to on a daily basis...
Globalism substitutes the global for the local. Things are shipped in from all over the world and are sold in place of local goods. You get the same thing no matter where you are in the country, which is comforting but boring and unhealthy. And I think that is as damaging to the theatre as it is to agriculture. We lose what is unique and particular in favor of a homogeneous "product" that has been wiped clean of all connection to a place, a relationship. The regional theatre was supposed to be the opposite of globalism.

So? You eat at McDonalds -- I've seen you.
Yes, I do. But only when I'm too busy to actually eat real food. And if the price was really high -- like the price of theatre is compared to, say, a movie from Netflix, which is the entertainment version of McDonalds -- I wouldn't eat at McDonalds. I'd look for a local place like 12 Bones Smokehouse or 28806 deli -- yum!

OK, but what does this have to do with American Theatre?
I think there ought to be a stronger focus on home-cooked meals, slow food. In other words, people who aren't migrants, but who actually commit to a place.

A couple people are criticizing your methodology for separating Nylachi articles from non-Nylachi articles. They're right, aren't they? Didn't you kind of cook the books?
I think the biggest objection is to classifying articles about regional topics as a Nylachi article if they are written by a Nylachi author.

Well, that is kind of stupid, isn't it?
I don't think so, but there is one part of it that has me on the fence. American Theatre has a staff, so is it fair to include articles written by staff members in the Nylachi count? Wouldn't that automatically make it mostly a Nylachi-written magazine? And maybe that is true, and not fair. But other magazines have bureaus in other areas -- why is the staff for American Theatre so centralized in New York? Wouldn't it make more sense, if your topic was "The American Theatre" to have some staff actually in other parts of America? Or at least, if all of your staff is going to be in New York, wouldn't you make an effort to balance that by publishing articles by really seeking out non-New York writers to write articles about regional theatres?

Didn't you just get the April edition of American Theatre in the mail yesterday.
Yes, but I haven't had a chance to look at it yet.

OK, well, let's do it now. How does all this shake out this month?
Let's start with the features.
  • Front & Center: "In Vino Veritas" -- dateline: New York City
Check. Labeled by the magazine itself.
  • "Writing About Sex" by Wallace Shawn. I don't think it would be too outrageous to say that Shawn is a New York writer, is it?
Sarah Hart seems to think this is about regional theatre because Shawn says one of his favorite productions of his plays was in Austin, TX.
Well, he's still a NY writer who is known because of his NY productions. I'm not buying that one
  • "The Playwright Nobody (and Everybody) Knows" about Wallace Shawn, written by Don Shewey who lives in New York City
  • "The Monte Spin," which has the subtitle "A Stone's Throw from NYC, Audiences Line Up to See Her Irreverent Staging of the Classics" -- isn't that interesting?
It is about Bonnie J. Monte, who heads up Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey. This could actually be seen as an article about a regional theatre artist who has committed to the regional theatre -- she's been the head of STNJ since 1990, and has done a lot of innovative things. So what's with the subtitle?

I'll bet people in NJ get tired of being seen as the bedroom state for NYC. Doesn't help that both of NY's football teams play in NJ, but still call themselves New York teams... Who wrote the article?
Charles Ney who teaches at Texas State University! Yay! Sounds like he's writing an interesting book, too, where he's interviewed directors across the US about directing Shakespeare.
  • Production Notebook: "The Bluest Eye" -- Hartford Stage / Long Wharf Theatre.
Those are regional theatres, right?
Indeed they are. Two regional theatres at once in this article. Not exactly ranging far from NYC and the northeast (so far, we have New Jersey and Connecticut), but OK. I love Morrison's book, and would love to see this production.
  • "Julie Marie Myatt: An American Longing."
This looks pretty cool. Is she a New York playwright?
No, she lives in LA. So I suppose officially she should be classified as a Nylachi playwright. But her plays are being done mostly by regional theatres scattered all over the place. So is she a regional theatre playwright? Is there such a thing? I don't know how to classify this one, but I'm inclined to put her in the non-Nylachi category. The article was written by Sarah Hart, American Theatre Managing Editor. So a New York writer.
  • "Craig Wright: Irons in the Fire."
This is an odd article. Take a look at some of the cut lines: "The playwright-screenwriter is thriving with one foot in Hollywood and the other on stage" and "Even with constant tension between artistic and commercial imperatives in Hollywood, Wright insists, it's possible for him to write satisfying scripts for TV." Wright is a playwright who left Minneapolis to write for TV six years ago, and the article seems to focus on whether it is possible to keep a foot in both art forms.

I don't know. What's it doing in a theatre magazine?

But doesn't it reflect the reality of the American theatre?
So I'm told. The message concerns me, though. Anyway, he's a LA guy. Article written by Kevin Nance of Chicago. Lots of Nylachi here.
  • "Mainstream Remix: Frank talk about casting, training, and presenting actors and works of color" -- this is a panel discussion.
Who's on the panel.
Zakiyyah Alexander, a playwright and actor who lives and works in New York City.

Check. Who else?
Daniel Banks -- New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

Uh-oh. Who else?
Debra Cardona, dramaturg for Classical Theatre of Harlem.

I can see what you're thinking.
Stephanie Gilman -- director and teach in Brooklyn.
Antonio Ocampo-Guzman -- based in Boston!

Eduardo Placer resides in New York City.
Tlaloc Rivas serves as an associate for a number of New York-based companies.
Elsie Stark, agent and casting director for Stark Naked Productions -- New York City.

OK, so that was pretty New York-centric, wasn't it. But it was a panel discussion, so it is cheaper to have everybody in one place.
True. Although in the day of Skype and teleconferencing, having a broader representation is pretty easy.

Then there's an "Antecedents" article about Dorothy Parker.

Dorothy Parker? Was she a playwright?
Well, she collaborated on a few plays; I wouldn't say she's a playwright. But whatever she is, she's definitely New York. Marion Meade, who wrote the article, lives in New York City.
  • Strategies: "Friends with Money."
This is a monthly feature about finance written by Editorial Assistant Eliza Bent. This month, it is about Victory Gardens in Chicago. So Nylachi, but it's nice to see Chicago in the mix.

And then a play by David Henry Hwang. Photos from the Public Theatre producti9on.Play opened in LA, then came to NY. Nylachi.

So what's the count?
Articles about New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago: 8
Articles about somewhere else: 3
The three non-Nylachi articles are about New Jersey, Connecticut, and I counted Jule Marie Myatt as a non-Nylachi even though she lives in LA.

What about the authors?
Articles written by authors in New York, Chicago, or LA: 9, 3 of which were American Theatre staffers
Writers from somewhere else: 1

Are there any articles that are about a non-Nylachi subject and written by a non-Nylachi writer?
Yes, one. The one about the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey.

OK, so what? I mean, that's the way it is, right? I mean, Isaac said it: Edward Albee in Houston was critical exile. "I might not like it, you might not like it, but there are no critics important to the national theatre culture at large in Houston, TX."
The argument there is that the media doesn't create reality, it just reflects it. Right?

Let me ask something. How is the "national theatre culture at large" defined?

What do you mean?
I mean who defines what is important in the so-called "national theatre culture"? Who decides what gets to be in it and what is excluded?

I don't know. It just sort of...gets defined.
Come on. Use your intellect. I know you have one -- it's the same one I have!

Sometimes you're a dick.
I know. And it gets in the way of my being taken seriously. I suspect it has something to do with my having tenure and health insurance -- makes me arrogant. But answer the question: who defines the "national theatre culture"?

I suppose...people who write about it.
But aren't there people who write about theatre in Houston?

I suppose so. They have newspapers there.
So why aren't they included in "national theatre culture"?

I know what you're trying to get me to say.
Then say it -- there's no way around it. They aren't included because they aren't in New York. New York writers define the "national theatre culture." When we use the phrase "national theatre culture" what we really mean is the New York Times, the Village Voice, and other NYC newspapers.

But what about magazines?
Exactly. That's my point. So: American Theatre, Theater, Performing Arts Journal. They could balance the New York media, broaden it a bit. Instead, they are focused as relentless on Nylachi as everyone else. American Theatre has the greatest potential to diversify the discussion, broaden it beyond the Hudson. That's why I care so much. They have a responsibility, according to their charter, to make that dialog open up to all 50 states. And every time they reinforce the centralized status quo by referring to Houston as exile, for instance, they marginalize all the important, creative regional theatres that are struggling to create outstanding work in the face of massive media neglect. They could do so much better.

But they're trying!
I know. It's not purposeful! I don't think Sarah Hart is twirling her mustache and trying to figure out a way to turn American Theatre into Variety. The focus on Nylachi just happens, slowly, inch by inch, until somebody actually looks at where we've come.

But what about what Freeman said: "So your goals are being met. So they're respecting you and responding. Not all discussions are about who wins. Sometimes, knowing that your concerns are even a factor in the decision making of the decision makers is a big step in the right direction."
I was very flattered that Sarah Hart responded at all, and appreciate her willingness to do so. But the response indicated to me that she still didn't see the issue clearly. To argue that Wallace Shawn is not a New York story because he says that his favorite production was in Austin TX and there are two pictures from that production -- well, to me, that says she doesn't quite get it yet, and I'd better be clearer. And if that seems impolite, then I guess it is impolite. If my concerns are going to be heard, I want to make sure that they speak in a clear manner. It's not enough to just be at the table, the issue have to be taken seriously. The numbers speak for themselves:
  • Articles about New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago: 8
  • Articles about somewhere else: 3
  • Articles written by authors in New York, Chicago, or LA: 9, 3 of which were American Theatre staffers
  • Writers from somewhere else: 1
  • Total number of articles about a non-Nylachi subject written by a non-Nylachi writer: 1
To me, that's pretty clear.

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