Here's a question for you playwrights out there (and anyone else with an opinion). Mia McCullough had an anecdote at the panel about a male playwright friend of hers who complained—somewhat tongue in cheek, but with a modicum of sincerity—that it was hard for him too, because all the festivals only accepted submissions from female playwrights or playwrights of color. Mia emphasized that it was in jest, but said she could see his point. (I'm paraphrasing from memory here, so if I'm mischaracterizing I hope Mia or Kerry or someone else can correct me.)
My thought at the time was, aren't festivals for female playwrights (or playwrights of color or gay playwrights, whatever) and "second series" and, you know, only running black playwrights during Black History Month—aren't these all forms of ghettoization? Festivals and workshops and second stages aren't the same as full productions on mainstages.
Reading the full text of the San Diego Union-Tribune piece that Kerry quoted at the panel (and it's worth reading the whole thing), I found this passage:
Annie Weisman, the extravagantly gifted comic writer whose "Be Aggressive" about Southern California cheerleader culture was a 2001 hit at La Jolla Playhouse, turned down the chance to have her work included in an anthology of female playwrights. She did not want to be ghettoized.
What do you guys think? Are festivals of minority under-produced factions of playwrights a good thing, or are they the equivalent of the kids' table?
As promised, a writeup of Saturday's panel at Chicago Dramatists. I was taking notes by hand so not much in the way of direct quotes, but there seemed to be a recorder on the table; if Dramatists puts up a recording or transcript I'll be sure to point it out.
The panel was entertaining and informative, if longer on statistics and anecdotes (both personal from the panelists and those cited by Kerry and Mia) than on solutions. But as I alluded to at TOC, Rome wasn't built in a day, and this problem won't be solved in an hour and a half on the set of Cadillac. Not to repeat myself, but the best way to address the issue is to keep addressing the issue.
That TOC blog post about the Jeffs that I pointed to in my last post erupted into a real shitstorm today. As of this writing, 14 comments, and it was one of the most requested pages on the site today. (And I got a lot of incoming clicks on my own post from various webmails, so at least one of you out there is mailing it around.) So far the defenders of non-Equity theater—many of them theater artists, many of them designers declaring that they're members of their own unions and work on both sides of the Equity divide—are outnumbering the non-Equity bashers nearly 2-to-1, but the bashers will brook no arguments. With statements like "Julie is completely correct. The example she chose (Goodman/Lifeline) is based on sound judgement and is unarguable," well, it starts to feel like you're debating gay marriage with Fred Phelps. I beg of you, non-Equity bashers, tell me who bought you that Hater-ade you're drinking?
In happier traffic news, I got to chatting with a young playwright on the bus Saturday after we'd both attended the panel on female playwrights at Chicago Dramatists that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. (I hope to have some notes from the panel up on the TOC Blog tomorrow.) Eventually I asked her how she'd found out about the panel: was it in TOC's listings, the Reader, maybe she's on Chicago Dramatists' mailing list—this is naturally something that interests me.
She thought for a second, and said, "Oh, you know, I saw it on Storefront Rebellion. Do you know that blog?"
Friday on the TOC Blog, Christopher posted about some changes being planned by the Jeff committee—most notably, to us, the retirement of the "Citations." The year's two award ceremonies will now be known as the Equity Jeff Awards and the Non-Equity Jeff Awards.
We thought this was a great move, but the first comment we got on the post was a hysterical accusation that the Jeff committee was "disrespecting" the "professional" theater companies by giving non-Equity awards with the same name. "There is nothing you can write that will convince me The Goodman Theatre efforts should be considered in the same playing field as (ex) Lifeline," the commenter wrote, and furthermore, "They should have done the exact opposite-more to separate the professional and non-professional theatres in this city."
While we've discussed this here before, it seems to bear revisiting. There's clearly a contingent out there that fervently believes all non-Equity theater companies might as well be community theater, as these same folks often fan the flames of this argument in the comments at The Theater Loop as well. I can't for the life of me figure out who these people are. I have a hard time believing they're theater artists. In some other city, maybe (and when non-Equity tours of Broadway musicals come through town charging Equity-tour prices [*cough*Rent*cough*], I hope Equity pickets those shows). But as far as our homegrown theater, Chicago is different. Equity even acknowledges that by the existence of Chicago Area Theatre contracts.
As I mentioned in the comments at TOC, the "brand audit" on which basis the Jeffs are making these changes was based on interviews with managing and artistic directors at theaters both Equity and non. In other words, this is based on what the theaters indicated they thought should happen.
And as I also said there, I have to believe that the people getting so hung up on "professional" and "non-professional" have a limited understanding of the way theater actually works in Chicago. The Equity and non-Equity designations are only an indication of the theater's status with the actors' union. Let's not forget that there are directors and designers in the mix as well. Take Dolly West's Kitchen at TimeLine, since I was at that premiere last night. The cast is all non-Equity, and the show will go in the Non-Equity wing of the Jeffs, but the production staff includes director Kimberly Senior, scenic designer Brian Bembridge, costume designer Christine Conley, lighting designer Charles Cooper, and sound designer Tamara Roberts, all of whom work regularly on both sides of the Equity divide. (Consider also that PJ Powers told Nina Metz in the Trib two years ago that TimeLine's budget had reached half a million dollars. Does that sound like community theater?)
Then there's the range of CAT contracts. Many companies that are in the Equity wing of the Jeffs (and that our commenter would presumably consider "professional") run under contracts like the CAT-N, and can have casts with the likes of one Equity actor to 15 non-Equity (to name one show I saw not too long ago). That's why non-Equity performers often get nominated for Equity Jeff Awards already, as with Sara Sevigny's win at last fall's ceremony for Porchlight's Assassins.
And of course don't forget that big theaters like the Goodman and Steppenwolf provide day jobs for untold numbers of young artists who are running their own non-Equity companies by night. It's not simply a dichotomy of "professional" and "non-professional" in Chicago; happily, there's so much more interplay among all the levels than folks like our commenter seem to realize.
So you see why I find it hard to imagine our artists having this vitriolic attitude towards non-Equity companies. Which leads back to the question: Who are these misguided people zealously defending the Goodman's honor? Where are they getting their ideas, and who's encouraging them to think this way?
"…it's like Apocalypse Now as penned by Diablo Cody." -Kris Vire, Time Out Chicago
This, as The Playgoer has informed us on more than one occasion, is known as a contextomy: removing the context of a negative remark to make it sound like a positive one. And I'm pretty sure it's my first. The quote in context:
…the real problem with all of them is that they speak not in dialogue but in epigrams. That’s fine for Oscar Wilde comedies or the Gilmore Girls, but considering where Gershenzon takes his play by the end, his writing feels awfully glib; it’s like Apocalypse Now as penned by Diablo Cody.
Not to spend all my time here promoting TOC, but this should be of particular interest to readers of the blog. The cover package in our new issue is all about the intersection of criticism and blogging (as well as other user-generated content sites like Yelp and LTHForum).
I moderated a roundtable discussion (in an online chat room, no less) with print critics and bloggers. Excerpts are in the magazine, but you can read the full transcript here. Check out the whole package here.
I also wanted to note that, after a long fallow period due to, well, nothing really happening in Chicago theater in the early weeks of January, we're back with a vengeance on the TOC theater blog, with posts about the Legally Blonde reality casting show, a tale of two Our Towns, and the possible multiplicity of Steppenwolf Tony nominations. Keep an eye on it.
At tonight's opening of A Red Orchid's production of John Clancy's Fatboy a blood pack popped wrong in a fight scene, and my notebook (and my jeans, and my hands) ended up covered in stage blood. My colleague from Centerstage, on my left, got some as well.
At least we were in the second row (and at A Red Orchid, that's the one against the back wall). The girl sitting in front of me got it right in the face. Thankfully it was near the end of the show. (Don't worry, the theater offered to pay for the dry cleaning of her coat.)
I think I can safely say this is the first time I've exited a theater with actual (fake) blood in my notes.
Check out my post today at the TOC blog for news of the latest reality-show casting stunt, this time for Legally Blonde: The Musical. Looks like the abortion that was Grease: You're the One That I Want didn't put an end to it.