Thursday, April 23, 2015

Put Your Head on My Chest - and I'm Mr. Success



Frank has his own definition -- as you'd expect

I have a feeling the seams are gonna show on this one, but go with me.


I arrived at rehearsal last Tuesday night just in time to hear part of a discussion about “success” in the theatre, and just what that word might mean. (I also heard my name being bruited about as a hashtag standing in for “not liking things,” but that couldn’t be more false. Why, just last week, I caught Sister Play at the Magic, and loved it. But I digress … )


I believe I’ve mentioned more than once that, at this point in my career, I have a pretty good sense of whether a show I’ve directed or am acting in is any good. (And let me qualify that; once we open and the finished product is in place, I have an idea. Many is the time I’ve come home from rehearsal and said that I have no idea of how it was going to go over – or been sure on the final Monday or Tuesday that we were as doomed as doomed can be, only to have the ship right itself yet again.) I can tell if I’m good or if the show is good, but is it a “success?” Boy, is that a can of worms.


There are just too many definitions for success. Is it financial? Is it a (sincere) standing ovation from the audience? Is it (appropriate) laughter or tears? Is it good reviews? Is it personal satisfaction? Is it knowing you got the most out of all the actors and characters? All of the above? Some of them?


I don’t know. I can be satisfied and delighted with something, but does that equal “success?”


This is the part where it’s going to get sticky. In my last couple of offerings, I’ve talked about the plan by Actor’s Equity to kill Los Angeles’s 99-seat plan. For those who came in late*, in brief, there was a waiver that allowed theatres with 99 seats or fewer to pay union actors less than scale (like, as little as $7 a performance) in order for them to do material that was more challenging or interesting or larger-scale or experimental than work for television or movies. (I also expressed a wish that we had something similar in the Bay Area – not because I think actors shouldn’t be paid, but because I think they should be able to work on whatever they want wherever they want.)



Equity members down there voted on whether they wanted to keep the waiver plan in place (with changes) or scrap it all together. By a 2-to-1 margin, they voted in favor of keeping the plan. It was strictly an advisory vote, so Equity’s New York offices announced Tuesday (as expected) that they’d be scrapping the plan and, basically, putting dozens of successful companies out of business and preventing the very actors they were claiming to protect from working. At least one company, the Long Beach Playhouse (worked there; did two good shows, two okay shows, and one that was one of the worst theatrical experiences of my life), announced immediately that they were going strictly non-Equity, and I heard of at least three cases where actors were literally physically prevented from auditioning for shows.

 The Long Beach Playhouse -- in business since 1929

Okay, what does all this have to do with “success?” A lot, I think. Consider the sides. The theatres in question? Mostly “successful” both artistically and financially. The way the vote went? “Successfully” for the actors. Equity’s take on what they’ve done? A “success” for themselves and their members. And yet, all three of them can be seen in just the opposite way. Those theatres? Well, not everything they did worked. (I mean, no theatre hits it out of the park every time. If they did, they’d have a formula that every other theatre would copy.) The vote? Well, about half of the 6,000 (yes, six thousand) Equity members in Los Angeles didn’t even vote, and Equity “lost” the vote. Where’s the success there? And Equity’s plan to kill the theatres is seen as a strong loss by the dissenters (my Facebook feed has been afire with outrage all day). Three events. Three successes. Three failures.


Getting back to the inciting incident (remember my walking into rehearsal way back up at the top of the page?), I was reminded of another conversation I’d walked in on, discussing a recent production some of us had seen. Some (like me) had liked it, others didn’t, though each side could understand the logic of the other. Was the production a “success?” It certainly was for me in that it succeeded (that word!) in illuminating the story and text it was trying to convey in an entertaining way. For others, it was a failure because the very nature of its story and text were fatally flawed. One production. One success. One failure.


To bring all of this up to the present, the rehearsal I was at was for Grey Gardens. It’s a musical. A very good one. (One might even call it “successful,” if one were so inclined.) It ran on Broadway for “only” seven months, so one could term it either a success or not. (And, no; I’m not being paid each time I use the word “success” … ) I think this production will be a very good one. The cast is marvelous (I exempt myself from this assessment) and we’re having a great time even though we’ve barely started. There are two things to discuss here, though. The first – and more germane – is whether it’ll be a success. I believe it will work artistically and will sell very well (get your tickets now!), so from those standpoints, it was be a success. Though for all of that, I have no doubt that there will be people who see it and think it’s putrid and the worst thing they’ve ever seen. They’ll storm out at intermission, angry at having that hour of their life eradicated. No success there – unless there’s a perverse success in not succeeding …


But on a personal level, I’ll be dealing with not just my usual struggle with lines (though these are – knock wood – coming reasonably easily), but I’ll need to add music, lyrics, and choreography to the mix, and other assessments will come into play. Will I move (I won’t say dance) as directed? Will I get those damn harmonies? Will I get the lyrics right? For my purposes, doing those will constitute success. Will I be good while doing it? I’ll do as well as I can and then judge whether I think the results are good. As with the rest of the production, I know there will be people who will roll their eyes and shake their heads at how inept I am.


So, what’s the upshot? That there’s no such thing as artistic success. It’s too objective and personal. I can be satisfied or happy (or neither) about whether I think I’ve met my personal goals for the role and my place in the show. Whether that’s a success or a failure will be in the eye of the beholder.


(*Completely, and literally, parenthetically, in the late ‘90s, I directed a production of The Night Boat. It was an okay production of a not-very-good 1920 musical. About 20 minutes into the show, three women called the “Plot Demonstrators” came out and did a number titled “For Those Who Came in Late,” which recapped the plot to that moment. About 20 minutes before the end of the show, they came out again to tell how it all ended, so that people who had to catch trains would know how things turned out [spoiler alert: happily]. It was that kind of show … )

"The Night Boat's" original production. That kind of show

Friday, April 3, 2015

I Don't Know Art, But I Know What I Like



I just got back from a week in Hollywood at the TCM Classic Film Festival. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s three and a half days of (mostly) old movies shown by the good people at Turner Classic Movies. From 9:00 in the morning until 1:00 or 2:00 the next morning, literally tens of thousands of people congregate in movie theatres on Hollywood Boulevard and fill them to see classic films on the big screen. (You wouldn’t believe how exhausting it is to do that, but that’s another story.)


When you can get more than 900 people excited to see The Sound of Music, fer chrissakes, you're doing something right.

Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that in a Facebook group for people who go to the Festival (and is there anything there isn’t a Facebook group for?), someone mentioned that his 82-year-old father couldn’t understand why people came from all over the world to watch movies they could just watch on TV, or if they did it at all, why it wasn’t free, since everything is so old (and, parenthetically, I’ll add that the movies ranged in vintage from 1902 to 1996, so there was really something for everyone).

Why do those thousands turn out and pay an arm and a leg to watch something they could watch for free on their televisions or phones or tablets or computers? It’s not like Cary Grant is suddenly going to do something different in The Philadelphia Story after 75 years. There’s comfort in that. In a sense, it’s like spending time with old friends, even if you know exactly what those friends will say and do every single time. (And this is not to say that every movie is familiar. Of the 18 movies I saw, I’d never seen 10 of them before – and hadn’t even heard of a couple of them.)


"You want me to do what?"

In the Facebook group I mentioned, there was a great deal of complaining when the schedule was announced. “Too many new movies!” was the cry. Not enough “classic” films! (Whatever “classic” means; to most, it can’t include anything that was made or done while you were aware of it.) It seemed like these people didn’t want anything in color – or even with sound.

Regardless of the reaction to the age of the films, the biggest takeaway for me is that people, under this circumstance, want something comfortable and familiar. We know the rules of movies made under the studio system and prefer not to be surprised. (I think this is the same reason we see so many remakes and franchises in Hollywood. People want to see just what they’ve seen before, just slightly different this time.)

As much as I enjoy old movies in general, and the TCM Festival in particular, I have the opposite reaction to live theatre. It’s understandable, though. Even if you could give the same director the same script, the same actors, and the same set, it would be different, even from night after night. And even if it were somehow possible to offer the exact same experience, why in the world would you want to do it?

Part of the excitement of being in the theatre is not just doing new scripts but also new productions of old scripts with different people. I’ve just started rehearsals for a new show, and have never worked with any of the other actors before. Given the caliber of the talent, I’m going to have to step up my game, though, and that’s as exciting as it is daunting.

Not to make this LA-centric, but, as I mentioned last time, in Los Angeles, Equity members are currently voting on whether to change the current 99-seat waiver plan. (In short, theatres with 99 seats or fewer can get waivers from the union to allow Equity actors to work in them at pay rates that are lower than standard – usually unpaid for rehearsal and anywhere from $7 to $25 per performance. You know; what we get here in San Francisco.) Equity, understandably, wants to get rid of the waiver and ensure that all union actors make at least scale.

The Matrix on Melrose; your basic waiver theatre.

As I also mentioned last time, I’m in favor of keeping the basics of the plan; in the thirty years the plan’s been in place, scores of companies have sprung up, doing all kinds of interesting work, with casts that can be huge – which is something that would be financially impossible if everyone were making even minimum wage, unless ticket prices went sky high, and, realistically, no one is going to pay that much. (We all love theatre, but it is can be pretty damn expensive to see it.) Even at the currently reasonable prices, it’s tough for theatres to always draw enough ticket-buyers to stay comfortably afloat.

And yet, the TCM Festival charges crazy amounts of money and turns people away from screenings.

What am I saying here? That theatres should jack up their prices unreasonably in order to become more financially stable and generously compensate actors for their work? That TCM should lower its prices? (Well, yes to that latter, but that’s not my point …)

No, I’m saying that the Festival is able to charge that much because they offer their patrons something different and unique and exciting. Something they can’t get anywhere else. Something that will have people coming from Australia and Sweden to see it. And that’s a lesson I think we all could learn. That while it seems that people want the familiar and the routine and what they’ve seen before, I think what they want is just the opposite: the chance to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience (and, as I said, every performance is completely different from every other) that is exciting, entertaining, and enlightening. Something that will make them delighted to pay for dinner and a sitter and parking next time.

Take my recently-closed production of The Imaginary Invalid, for example. I’m not saying it was a great show; I’m not saying it was even a good show (though it was both). What I am saying is that my cast knocked themselves out every performance, getting on a freight train and doing whatever it took to make the material work and entertain their audience. Our first few performances were sparsely attended, and nothing kills comedy like small houses. But, somehow, word of mouth spread and we were packed the last few weeks.

It doesn’t matter if it’s something original or a war horse or a revival of something no one but you has ever heard of. If you’re doing it with passion and panache – and if you’re not, what the hell’s the point, really? – if you build it, they’ll come. Good work will find an audience. Even if you’re charging thousands of dollars for a ticket. (As the old joke has it, “I only need to sell one …”)

Friday, March 20, 2015

What? And Quit Show Business?

The thing that’s foremost on my mind this week is the 99-seat kerfuffle in Los Angeles. I’m sure many of my constant readers are aware of the situation, but for those who aren’t, here’s a precis (as best I understand it). Back in the ‘80s, a plan was implemented in Los Angeles theatres to allow members of Actor’s Equity to act in theatres with 99 seats or fewer at pay rates below Equity minimum. This usually amounted to token payments (in the low single or double figures) for rehearsals and performances. The most contentious part of this was that Equity had to be forced into the plan because of a court order.

Now, I’ll stipulate that, in a perfect world, anyone involved with a theatrical production – actors, designers, directors, technicians, stage managers, running crew, front-of-house staff – would be paid a living wage, but anyone in this business knows that we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?  If we get paid at all, it’s a token amount that pays for gas or BART or Muni fare. And that’s fine. There’s an old saying that you can make a killing in the theatre, but not a living; none of us does this to get rich. It’s all about – or should be about – the creative process and the chance to do interesting work.

When I started auditioning for shows in Los Angeles in the late ‘70s, it was (for the most part) not good. The scene was filled with shows that were intended mainly as showcases for people to get agents to do film and television. There was some quality work – at The Odyssey, The Matrix, South Coast Rep; some other places – but most was middling or bad or featured TV and movie stars who wanted to tread the boards, to mixed results. (The Charlton Heston/Deborah Kerr Long Day’s Journey was particularly gruesome, but Dana Elcar, Donald Moffat, Ralph Waite, and Bruce French did an unforgettable Godot; the second-best I’ve ever seen).

Didi, Gogo, Pozzo 
 
Heston as Tyrone. *Shudder*

After the waiver was implemented, LA theatre bloomed and entered, if not a golden age, then an explosion of creativity. Companies sprang up and thrived as actors, both known and unknown were able (to use a phrase I hate) to “practice their craft,” be creative, take artistic risks, and find their own level of success, unhampered by undue financial concerns.

For the last twenty-some years, this system must have stuck in Equity’s craw, and in recent months, they’ve announced plans to get rid of the waiver and ensure union actors are paid, at the very least, minimum wage. Now in theory, who could object to that? Actors should be able to make at least as much as the kid at McDonald’s who runs the drive-thru (a job that actually requires him or her to act being friendly for at least part of a shift), but doing that will drive up production costs to ruinous levels (I’ve read between 5,000% and 9,000%) that will drive a lot of companies out of business – ironically depriving the very actors whom the union wants to be paid for working. It seems Equity’s position is that actual work at small compensation is preferable to no work at minimum wage.

I was stunned to hear that there are 8,000 Equity members in the Los Angeles area. I don’t think there are 8,000 actors in the Bay Area, let along Equity members. (Of course, it seems like a good portion of the Equity actors working here live in New York … ) Now, obviously, not all of those union actors are working on stage, either fully paid or underpaid, but even if half of them were/are doing waiver shows, that half will soon be deprived of work, because the companies that have allowed them to do something with substance (or even something frivolous) won’t be there anymore.

As might be guessed, this proposal is causing large rifts in the LA theatre community, with plenty of actors – and plenty of them famous, if that makes any difference – pitted against their own union. (And let it be notes, the new plan has plenty of supporters.) While both sides are pretty adamant in their stances, Equity isn’t really playing fair, using phone banks to spread, if not misinformation, then incomplete information and deleting opposing comments from their Facebook and other web pages. And, on top of that, even though Equity members will be voting on whether to institute a new plan, it’s strictly advisory, and the union’s board will be free to dump the old plan and put in a new one. (And let me hasten to add, many of the people against the new plan acknowledge that the current one could stand some changes – just not the proposed one.)

Even Hal Holbrook is in favor of the waiver. (Hey, that rhymes.)

Now, even though I’m a member of two unions (which will go unnamed) myself, not only am I in favor of keeping the waiver in Los Angeles, I wish we here had something similar; not because I don’t want actors to be paid, but because the talent pool available to a lot of directors and theatre companies in the Bay Area would rise dramatically (no pun intended). I haven’t been a member of the LA theatre community for over 20 years, but from what I read and hear about it, it’s vibrant, experimental, bold, and, most important, open. Even though theatre space has always been at a premium in the Bay Area – now (when it seems like any building in mid-Market is being replaced by skyscraping condo projects) more than ever – I’d have to think that a move that allowed actors to work in so many venues and with so any company that met the criteria would be a shot in the arm and kick start the golden age of theatre that San Francisco’s been on the verge of for the last 20 years. #pro99

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Moliere: Made to Order “Wile-U-Wait”



I’m directing again. I enjoy directing. I’m not bad at it and the results are almost always worth the time it all took. There are, of course, occasional exceptions to this, but Dirty Work at the Crossroads and Damn Yankees will go unmentioned in these pages. (Though I will give you a full debriefing if you get enough alcohol into me – though there’s not that much alcohol in the world …)

But I digress.

I’m directing, and this time, it’s a unique experience for me because I’m directing my own script. Now, let me clarify that. It’s my script, but it’s neither original nor wholly my own. It’s an adaptation of Moliere’s The Imaginary Invalid, written in collaboration with, primarily, my long-suffering wife and, secondarily, the cast.

When I toured the theatre at the interview, I knew it was going to be a small-scale production. I could see I wasn’t going to be able to fly in chandeliers or helicopters, and my royalty budget was going to be minimal, so I started thinking of what I could do that would fit the budget and the space. That’s fine. In the last decade, I’ve become more of a minimalist, and do what I can to get by with metaphor and suggestion. I was given carte blanche on what script to select, and after some brief thought, I remembered how two of the funniest productions I’ve ever seen were of Invalid, and that it might be time for me to try some Moliere. And if I was going to do Moliere, well, why not do my own translation? I mean, there would be no royalties at all, so the script would say exactly what I’d want it to, and it could be fun. Regardless, it would push me out of a comfort zone and force my creativity into an unfamiliar direction.

 Pushed out of a comfort zone, or off a cliff?

Now, I know I’m not unique in this. Playwrights do it all the time – the proprietor here is a prime example. But there’s a lot to do. It’s not as complicated as acting in a show while directing it, but it’s no walk in the park. We’re three weeks into rehearsal (and I’m already on my third ingenue. Don’t ask …), and it’s a constant battle to watch staging, add business, and course correct while simultaneously wondering if something is phrased correctly, gets the point across, advances the plot, and sounds right. And, most importantly, there’s no writer to blame if any of those script factors are lacking.

One of the things I’ve wanted to do during this process was to give the actors a literal voice; to make sure that not only are their ideas implemented, but that my deathless dialogue feel organic to them. (I can’t really call it Moliere’s deathless dialogue because A) it’s not in 17th century French, B) it’s not in rhyming Alexandrines, and C) I’m pretty sure Moliere never included references to Monty Python, the Marx Brothers, or Taylor Swift.) That’s the beauty part; even though Moliere’s point was that all doctors are quacks and frauds, and that none of them are to be trusted (which is ironic, because this is the play in which he suffered a fatal seizure while performing), we’re able to take his basic characters and situations and make them do whatever we want. (And, of course, since Moliere himself was adapting commedia archetypes and making them say and do whatever he wanted, I feel no qualms about doing that to him.) In my case, it means ribbing both “natural” medicine and hard-core evangelicals, among other targets. Given the time, and a desire to stick to the basic structure of the play, I wasn’t able to take it as far as I wanted to, but I neither wanted to really insult people nor lose the lightness of the original. It’s a dumb comedy about a rich hypochondriac who gets fleeced by con men, and that’s the story I wanted to stay with. All the rest is layering and dressing.

 That whirring sound? Moliere, spinning in his grave

The thing this whole experience has pointed out to me is how back to basics it all is. It’s not quite “two planks and a passion,” but it’s not lavish. Jeebus knows that none of us do this for the money, but this is an extreme case of that. We’re taking a story and telling it in a fun and light manner. We don’t have much in the way of sets or costumes or props; we’re not skimping, but it’s not a show about the trappings. It’s a show about a company getting together, playing multiple parts, and entertaining an audience, and maybe giving them the slightest of messages to take home with them. 

Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush. Not in Moliere's original

It’s something I’d recommend to any director. Sure, it’s a privilege to work with big budgets and be able to get anything you want, but it’s truly bracing and challenging to have limited resources and make your creativity work rather than writing a check.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Taking Offense at Taking Offense




Two news stories jumped out at me this week. They’re similar in theme, but point toward a bigger issue, I think.

The first was the story that the Raleigh Little Theatre cancelled its production of the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson because of fears that Native American groups in the area would be offended by the content. The show, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is an emo-rock musical by Michael Friedman, and Alex Timbers that tells the story of our seventh president, who came to power on a platform that was equal parts uncontrolled mob populism and Native American genocide, something the show not only presents, but revels in.

That depiction isn’t enough for the Raleigh Little Theatre, though. Apparently, the show was chosen without reading it, seeing or, or even listening to the cast album because the producers seem to be laboring under the impression that it glorifies both Jackson and his actions. I saw the show in New York and loved it, and have to say (as I said on my Facebook page) that anyone who was at all familiar with the show and didn’t come away thinking that Jackson was a genocidal yahoo either wasn’t paying attention or was too stupid to have an informed opinion. There was a bit of a debate in the thread, with some claiming that it was a responsible action by the theatre, in that it’s stupid and insensitive to deliberately offend portions of your audience. That stance reminds me of a quote from 1776, one of my favorite musicals: “This is a revolution, dammit! We’ve got to offend somebody!”

Now, two disclaimers here. One is, I’m not calling for setting out to deliberately offend people (though there’s something to be said for that – in some cases), and two, I’m an old white guy, so I’m speaking from a position of some sort of privilege; it’s easy for me to say. Okay. That’s out of the way.

The other night, I was listening to a 1967 interview with Dame Gladys Cooper. Cooper was born in 1888, and had a long and distinguished career as an actress and producer (something that I can’t imagine was easy for a woman in the 1920s and ’30s). At one point, she’s asked what she thinks of the then-current theatre; whether she likes plays that are in-your-face, more or less. She answers “no;” that she thinks the theatre should provide a nice story and not deal with social issues. Have I got a theatre for her! (Hint: It’s in North Carolina …)

Gladys Cooper in her youth.

While I don’t mind seeing “a nice story” myself, I also think that, if you’re not taking the chance of offending someone, you’re not doing it right. What has happened to us that we’re so terrified of – or even offended by – having our preconceptions and beliefs challenged? I read a rant on Facebook that took on the thugs who murdered the Charlie Hebdo staffers by saying that if their god was so weak that he would be offended by some stupid cartoons that he wasn’t worth worshipping – and certainly not killing for. In a much, much lesser sense, if your opinions and tenets are too weak to stand up to challenges, perhaps they, ironically, need radical rethinking and reexamination.

Quoted in the story was an op-ed by playwright Rhiana Yazzie of the New Native Theater,   who wrote "The truth is that Andrew Jackson was not a rockstar and his campaign against tribal people … is not a farcical backdrop to some emotive, brooding celebrity. Can you imagine a show wherein Hitler was portrayed as a justified, sexy rockstar?"

Actually, I can. Not only theatrically (The Producers), but in real life. Hitler was despicable and deserves to rot in hell, but anyone who denies that he was charismatic isn’t worth talking to. Anyone who, in less than ten years, is able to rise from failed artist to former corporal to jailbird to absolute ruler of one of history’s most powerful military machines is a “rockstar,” or, at least, the 1920s equivalent thereof. And why shouldn’t we be exposed to that viewpoint? Is any sane person going to be converted to Nazism by seeing it? I’d much rather get angry at a show and have it spark an extreme emotional reaction to it than have it wash over me and leave me feeling “meh.” I hate hate hated Cats more than I’ve ever hated anything in the theatre, but have to admit that it provoked me into analyzing that emotion and gauging why I was so provoked.

You wonder why I hated it?

Now, speaking of being provoked, the other story of the week was the Academy Award nominations. Let me state my disinterest in the Oscars. Oh, I’ll watch them and liveblog them and disparage them, but don’t really care who wins or loses. (It took me a good 15 seconds to remember what movie won last year, and I’ll be damned if I remember what won in 2013.) It’s like any list of “the best” movies or plays or books – or anything, really. They’re all well and good, and if they coincide with my current feelings, that’s fine. But there’s no way that I’ll ever agree with Sight and Sound’s naming of Vertigo as the Greatest Movie Ever, especially when I don’t even think it’s even Alfred Hitchcock’s best film. (For the record, I think that’s North by Northwest – and that’s not even my favorite; that’s Shadow of a Doubt. Or maybe Foreign Correspondent … )

But there are plenty of people who think that the lack of nominees for the World’s Most Expensive Bowling Trophy who are either female or of color is a crime equivalent to anything Hitler ever committed. Another disclaimer. I, too, think the Academy should do all it can to encourage promotion and recognition of underrepresented groups. I just don’t think that it’s worth getting upset about.

My friend Steve Stoliar (whose memoir of his years as Groucho Marx’s secretary, Raised Eyebrows, is must reading for anyone even remotely interested in the Marx Brothers) summed up his own reaction on Facebook. I reprint his post with his kind permission:

If the members of the MP Academy got together and, amongst themselves, said, "Who DON'T we want to be nominated?" and then discussed it in a big room and then decided - in unison - who to keep OUT of the nominations - especially for some petty reason - THAT is a snub. But when each member marks a ballot in secrecy, based on his/her opinion - informed, intelligent, or otherwise - of who deserves a vote - always a subjective thing; there's no such thing as a film, actor, song, book, painting that everybody loves or everybody hates - THAT is not a snub. It is - wait for it - democracy in action, like it or not. When there are more Best Picture nominees allowed than for any other category, it is statistically impossible to have each Best Picture director also nominated in the Best Director category. The lack of inclusion does not mean that director did a shitty job or "the movie must've directed itself" (that tired, meaningless cliche), or that the Academy conspired to keep their names off the list. It means the others got more votes than they did, so they didn't make the cut. You can rail about not enough women, not enough blacks, not enough black women, etc. etc. etc. and you can see it as some shameful snubbing conspiracy that must stop THIS VERY MINUTE, but that is the simple truth. Whether you choose to extrapolate something more sinister from it is your choice.

Steve’s book. Free plug!

We all have choices about what to be offended by or where to see conspiracies. But I think it behooves us to remember that our tastes are not definitive; they work for us, and that’s that. For everything we find offensive or repulsive or delightful or mediocre, there is someone whose reaction is exactly the opposite.

Art is neither a democracy nor a dictatorship (it might be a plutocracy, but that’s another matter … ). Art is art, and we need to be exposed to all of it, the pleasant and the unpleasant, in order to grow, even in directions we might never have expected. I dislike few plays more than Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, but because I exposed myself to it. I found David Cromer’s production of it touching. I never would have thought an indie-rock approach to a section of Tolstoi’s War and Peace would be anything but intolerable, but Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 remains one of the great experiences of my theatergoing life. I hated every minute of The Lily’s Revenge, but forced myself to stay in order to make sure I was giving it a fair shake, as well as wanting to determine what it was about it that made me hate it so much. (Short answer: everything.) Similarly, I think it would benefit the protestors to actually see Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson as much as it would benefit the stodgy and self-important members of the motion picture academy to expand beyond their usual suspects. The worst that could happen would be that their artistic outlooks expand.