Tuesday, April 15, 2008

TCG Books! Wha...?

So I was thrilled to get my TCG Books catalog in the mail yesterday, especially since book orders for next semester are due today and I wanted to use some plays TCG publishes (I plan to use August: Osage County in my play analysis course, for instance). So I turn to the "New Titles" section and find August: Osage County, and I turn the page to see other books and there is Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio. Hmmmm. A twenty-one year old play being re-released. I wonder why? So then I read the blurb:
Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio -- his breakthrough Public Theatre hit that was made into a film by Oliver Stone -- was revived recently in a "mesmerizing" (Newsday) production on Broadway, with Liev Schreiber playing the role of the late0night shock jock that Bogoisan himself originated...
So let me get this straight. The reason that the TCG, the publishing arm of the Theatre Communications Group which was formed to support the non-profit theatre in this country, has republished this play is because there was a Broadway production? Now, I could be totally wrong about this, but I'll bet that there were productions of that play in regional theatres across the US. But the reason it is being published now -- with a picture of Liv Schreiber on the cover -- is a Broadway revival.

And I find myself wondering: is there no publisher or media outlet or organization that takes as its inspiration the regional theatre? Is there nobody, including the regional theatres themselves, that aren't being wagged by the NYC tail?


RLewis said...

Hey Scott, please don't blame us here in nyc for your issues with TCG. Maybe blame those LA folks who made Liv into a recognizable name and image (TCG didn't put a photo of the Bway theater on the cover, did they?). Name recognition and image ID are big parts of marketing, so I can't blame the earned income arm of TCG for capitalizing on what LA has made of Liv - a selling point. I'm not a big fan of capitalism, myself, but it's not all our fault, and, barring WWIII, appears here to stay.

Scott Walters said...

Hey RLewis! I'm not blaming NYers, but I am drawing attention to something that perhaps goes unnoticed most of the time. And I think that the TCG, of all organizations, should be a bit more aware of that issue!

I'm not a huge fan of capitalism either, but I DO appreciate the focus on innovation that capitalism generates. Would that the theatre would be as focused on it!

nick@ said...

"Is there no publisher or media outlet or organization that takes as its inspiration the regional theatre? Is there nobody, including the regional theatres themselves, that aren't being wagged by the NYC tail?"

TDR, PAJ, and Theater are theatre journals that often take their inspiration from regional theatre, in both its national and international instances. Most of the grassroots ensembles you hold up as example of community centered theatre have been documented more than once in one or more of these journals. Of the 85 books PAJ has published, few were "wagged by the NYC tail." They are the plays and theatre subjects the editors find important to the art form.

Editors of TCG Books and American Theatre magazine would claim an independence from their TCG parent. They both appear to make many commercial or popular choices about what they publish. Bottom line choices on what their “readers” want. The regional theatres seem to evolving similarly. That’s how they both have become what they are.

There have been (and still are) many small publishers of plays and theatre essays out there, not to mention academic publishers. But print and the model represented by it is steadily becoming an anachronism to our age.

Scott Walters said...

Nick -- I worked as an editorial assistant at PAJ Publications for two years. Neither Bonnie Marranca nor Gautam Dasgupta, who are both wonderful people, have much interest in or knowledge of the American regional theatre. They are focused either on international playwrights (mostly European) or on the NY downtown arts scene. When I worked there, we were visited by Robert Wilson (whose office was just down the hall), Heiner Muller, Richard Foreman, and other avant-garde artists of that nature. Never during my two years was there an article about a regional theatre artist or production, to my recollection. It's not their thing.

TDR is an interesting case. Much of their focus is on non-Western, non-traditional theatre and performance. I am not well-enough acquainted to make a generalization, but from what I know of their orientation in the past, I wouldn't say that the traditional regional theatre is of much interest to them, either, although they are interested in community-based theatres.

nick@ said...


No one knows sin better than the repentant sinner. Since you worked for a New York devil, I defer then to you on what is or is not PAJ’s thing. But even by your description, Europe is the tail wagging New York for PAJ.

I'm never sure what you mean by “New York,” except that it is that Sodom you need for your rants. And here I don’t know what you mean by “traditional regional theatre”. Isn’t that what you have been so recently railing against? And now it's place for inspiration.

Below from the Guthrie's PR. Not sure how this is different from the New York devil in your mind.

Called "a 21st century dream factory" by Time Magazine, the new Guthrie boasts three stages, a full-service restaurant, pre-show dining, numerous bars and some of the best views of Minneapolis to be found in the city.

Scott Walters said...

Nick -- Man, I must really write poorly if you don't know yet what I mean by NY! *L* New York is only partly a geographic term -- it is mostly a state of mind, a way of conceiving the role of the artist and the purpose of the theatre that emanates from Broadway and permeates much of the rest of the NY theatre scene and of late has infected the regional theatre circuit as well. NY is a shorthand term for the fame and fortune machine. NY is an attitude that if it is worthwhile it will come to NY, and if it doesn't come to NY it must not be worthwhile. It represents a certain chauvinism. Obviously, it isn't about individuals -- to be a NY artist is not to be condemned to develop these attitudes -- hey, some of my best friends are New Yorkers! Rather, it is a collective attitude and value system.

The "traditional regional theatre" IS a place for inspiration -- in its original impulse. Margo Jones, Zelda Fichlander, Nina Vance, Herbert Blau -- these were pioneers with a strong vision of a theatre separate and different from Broadway, one devoted to the highest potential of the art form rather than the capitalistic impulse. And the Guthrie is definitely not in line with those original impulses, and its new building is an abomination. I guarantee you that the cost of maintaining and operating that space will lead to even more artistic compromises the longer they are in it, and the idea that such a cold, postmodern behemoth will serve as a place for the community to hang out, no matter how great the views, is a ridiculous illusion.

nick@ said...

Scott, Thanks for the explanation.

But perhaps Nina’s Alley Theatre or Zelda’s Arena Stage with Artistic Director salaries at $246,00 and $210,00 no longer work as models for you. Then for a valid argument, you need to present us with a list of “traditional resident theatres” that media outlets should be drawing their inspiration from today.

The problem with your "ideals" or "state of minds," whether Gotham or Mayberry RFD, is that they just don’t exist in reality.

The Us/Them of your rants is a false dichotomy.

Scott Walters said...

I agree wholeheartedly that the Alley and the Arena today have abandoned those ideals, as have most of the regional theatres. That has been my point for a while now. It started almost as soon as the Ford Foundation came on the scene and started spreading money around in exchange for a corporate structure.

So I am not looking to the current regional theatre as a personal model. However, presumably the TCGdoes look at it as a model, since that its raison d'etre. If you have a mission statement, then your organization ought to exist to advance that mission. TCG exists to advance the non-profit American theatre, which is not Broadway, and which exists all over this country. It could be doing a huge service to the regional theatre artists by letting the Broadway plays and books be published by Broadway Publishers and instead focus on the plays and books that are being written by members of the non-profit regional theatre institutions.

As far as New York is concerned, we will have to agree to disagree. "In reality," each member of the marching band is marching a little bit differently and playing different instruments, but from the top of the stadium they are all still spelling out the school name.

Marxists would identify the spelling out as the superstructure that reflects an underlying "base" of power relations. Them that pays the fiddler calls the tune, and while the song itself may not reflect who paid for it, its choice was constrained nonetheless. The Italian neo-Marxist Antonio Gramsci called that hegemony: "The predominant influence, as of a state, region, or group, over another or others."

There can be little argument that Hew York exercises hegemony over the theatre scene in America, and that that hegemony can be described and revolted against. As an individual member of the NY band, you may refuse to march and play, but from the top of the stadium it still looks like I heart NY.

nick@ said...

“There can be little argument that Hew York exercises hegemony over the theatre scene in America, and that that hegemony can be described and revolted against. As an individual member of the NY band, you may refuse to march and play, but from the top of the stadium it still looks like I heart NY.”

Similarly the hegemony in theatre education as practiced by universities and academia can be revolted against. As an individual teacher you may refuse to march and play, but from the top of the stadium it still looks like I heart the safety of my tenure.

And when you continually stereotype those who live in the NYC community, you also force the reverse stereotype to activate. And you appear more and more like the sour grape case of a frustrated theatre career and life. “Those who can’t do, teach.”

Scott Walters said...

Well, Nick, that's...not a particularly original comment. Cranky, but not particularly original. Whenever somebody gets PO'd about something I write, they inevitably accuse me of being a professor. I stand convicted.

I would refer you to Travis Bedard's post "Omnibus Weekend Sinkhole" (http://frawst.blogspot.com/2008/04/omnibus-weekend-sinkhole.html) which when I first read it seemed an unnecessary defense, but which your comment has now made me remember is not.

So yes, I apologize for "being old and not in New York," and I apologize that I have tenure and health insurance and a regular salary, which seems to irritate you so. I happen to think it is pretty crappy that most artists do not have those benefits, and I am trying to devise a way to address that, but I am sure that is secondary to the fact that I, in fact, have them myself.

I happen to feel that the biggest threat to the development of this model is the free agent, one-and-done, fame and fortune orientation that is closely associated with the current system of theatre that finds its headquarters in NYC. That orientation possesses a huge gravitational pull, and the best thing I can do is create distance between myself and it. That involves identifying the characteristics, so future theatre tribe members recognize the pitfalls that await them.

I have nothing against artists in NYC; I am fighting to free myself from a system of thought that I think is pretty prevalent. You disagree, which is your right.

nick@ said...

Scott--You are not reading me very close.

I do not believe in the stereotypes about teaching. I am a teacher in one of my day jobs. I have worked closely with theatre professors throughout my thirty years in theatre. A theatre professor was one of the founders of my theatre. My theatre now has a theatre professor as one of the artistic directors.

I dislike the teacher stereotype as much as the stereotype you continually throw at New York theatre.

nick@ said...

Scott-- also to add to this, something I have said to you privately but that I should also say publicly. Thanks for leading the current important discussions in the theatrosphere. I tend to debate more than discuss. Know that when I challenge your ideas or world view that it is still with complete respect for your life and career in theatre as a teacher, academic, and artist.

Paul said...

The reason it's being re-released isn't Broadway; it's Liam.

This country's love of art is driven by its love of celebrity. Any time in recent years when a movie gets made out of a solid novel, from "Atonement" to "The Lord of the Rings", the novel gets re-released with a sticker and/or photos from the movie. Why should theater be any different?

And hey, if it gets people who didn't read a (debatably) good play from 20 years ago to finally read it, is that a bad thing?

Scott Walters said...

Paul -- Of course not -- any time a play is read, it's a good thing. But that isn't the point, nor does shifting the reason from Broadway to LA, nor pointing out that other people do it, mitigate the complaint.

The point is that TCG is a non-profit organization with a specific mission statement, one that is used, I'm sure, to justify fundraising -- and that is, to support the non-profit theatre in this country. That is what makes them different, that is their reason for being. Neither Broadway nor Hollywood are non-profit theatres, and I question whether the TCG should be taking their cues concerning what to publish or republish from them. It is time for the TCG to live up to its mission. You may not take it seriously, but I do.

Sarah McL said...

Nick! "Those who can't do, teach"??? Come on, dude, that's personal and out of line. And, as I'm sure you know, totally inaccurate. I am shocked.

RLewis said...

I recently attended a TCG forum for their upcoming "Free Night of Theater" event. Evidently, this has been going on in San Fran', Seattle and a couple of other cities for a few years, which they now want to include NYC. The thing that caught my ear in relation to this post was when the speaker refered to the percentage of member theaters that reside in the City - it didn't have a .(point) before the number; it wasn't a small percentage.

I wish I could recall the percentage, but I'd guess that there are more TCG members in NYC than in any other city. So maybe the problem is more with which groups TCG allows to be members. Like, maybe NYC theaters (include LA and Chi if ya want) should not be allowed to be members of TCG.

As long as nyc theaters are part of the group, their gravity will continue to overshadow less recognizable regional members, so wagging is probably unavoidable. This might be a difficult financial move for TCG, Scott, but I'm just trying to help think what it would take for you to get what you want. Wouldn't that solve the problem?

nick@ said...

Sarah, dude, nothing inaccurate in what I said. It’s a conventional and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image. It’s called a stereotype. Scott’s not a stereotypical teacher. I am not a stereotypical New York artist. So nothing personal in what either of us said about teachers or New York artists.

Paul said...

@Scott: So if --

a) TCG exists to raise money for non-profit theaters;
b) one of the ways that TCG creates revenue toward this end is through the selling of books; and
c) a book will sell better with a connection to a celebrity than not;

If all of the above is true and valid, then this decision (( in and of itself )) is not a bad thing. A better chance of selling means more money, means in theory more money for non-profit theater support.

I see your point -- regionals are once again placed on the second tier of a system that TCG was designed to serve. My point is, if Schreiber was putting this show up in a regional theatrical production, I think there's a good chance that TCG would be putting out the same book with the same cover. It's not Broadway that's selling it. It's the celebrity -- who happens to be performing on Broadway because that's where the money/fame is, which is a different kettle altogether. It's all interconnected, yes; but if the money and support go to the appropriate sources, then this issue is a non-starter for me.

I hope that made sense, because it's 4:30 and I need some ice cream. First 70 degree day in Chicago in almost 180 days.

Sarah McL said...

Oh, good grief. I think it was out of line.

Scott Walters said...

Paul -- I think we're in agreement on the motivation, and in disagreement on whether the ends are worth it. Would you say that's fair? I think the TCG would better serve the non-profit theatre by focusing its attention on the non-profit theatre, and not theatre in general. I think it is time to get past the "theatre is theatre" orientation.

Sarah -- I truly appreciate your defense. I think Nick was trying to make the point that my characterization of NY artists and his of teachers are equally fallacious. I missed the parallel myself, and don't really agree with it, but as someone who has had his analogies picked apart because of what some might have considered inappropriateness, I'm not willing to do the same to Nick.

So Nick, I see your point -- I don't agree with it, but I see what you are saying. And Nick, there is never any need to apologize for debating on this site -- that's the reason it's here.