You want to hear something constructive about theater marketing, you say? That's cool.
Y'all know how I feel about online marketing and social media, right? When used well, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr et al can be effective community-building tools that are inexpensive and labor-light enough to be implemented by organizations of any size. (For my money, Steppenwolf, the House and New Leaf, each at different budget levels, are three of the best examples in town.)
So I perked up when this announcement from DCA came across my desk today:
On Thursday, March 12, from 6 - 7:30 pm, the Chicago Department of
Cultural Affairs presents the Creatives at Work Forum “Social Media
and Marketing Strategies.” This panel examines how social networking
platforms enrich, complement, and expand the reach and quality of
artists’ relationships with their audiences. Moderated by Demetrio P.
Maguigad (New Media Manager of Community Media Workshop) this panel
includes Leah Jones (Natiiv Arts & Media); Katherine Raz, (The House
Theatre of Chicago); Rachel Thorne Germond (Founder, RTG Dance); and
C.C. Carter (Young Chicago Authors).
That's Thursday, March 12, 6–7:30pm in the first floor Garland Room at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E Washington St. It's free and open to the public.
Okay, it’s not as eye-searingly offensive as Rob Lowe and Snow White, but still. This is why people hate musicals. Dude, Baz, Top Hat was 74 years ago, and you’re using it as the basis of your argument that musicals are “back”?! Way to reinforce musicals’ outdated image. Plus, this “medley” is a hot mess. Layering Jesus Christ Superstar over Hairspray does. Not. Compute. And only 0.5% of the audience actually knows any of the non-HSM musicals you’re referencing, anyway. Also, Zac Efron looks like a dildo in that tux. You made Zac Efron less hot. FAIL.
This afternoon, I had a conversation about another TOC blog post I wrote a few weeks ago about arts marketing, and the way I think some theaters confuse their communications, mistaking Why Our Art Is Important grant-speak for the Why You'd Like Our Play messages that audiences need to hear. I mentioned my suspicion that there are some cases where theater artists don't know how to react to the reviews we write at TOC because we try to talk about theater not in hushed, reverent Art Tones, but in the same irreverent, pop-culture-riffing way we talk about movies or TV or music.
Later this afternoon, a comment came in on the Oscars blog post that read in part:
A fairer comment would be “this is why SOME people hate musicals”. Speak for yourself, sir. I disregard any posting with the word “dude” in it.
I spent three consecutive nights this week catching up with a few shows from the long list of those I didn't review for TOC but wanted to see before they're gone. Here are a few quick thoughts on each:
The Hairy Ape at the Goodman: I've been looking forward for some time to seeing what director Sean Graney would do with O'Neill's expressionist classic on a Goodman budget. (Full disclosure time: Among the reasons I didn't review this production for TOC is that Graney's assistant director here, Eric Hoff, is a close friend of mine.) If I were a Hypocrites virgin seeing this only because it's part of the Goodman's O'Neill fest, I might have been dazzled. But while there are some striking images on hand—the deftly achieved Yank-as-Pagliacci visual after the Wobblies scene is a wow—I couldn't help thinking Graney was recycling tricks I'd seen before. Still, there's merit in Graney's provocation, and Chris Sullivan's primal performance as Yank is nothing less than astounding. At only an hour and $12–$20 a pop, it's worth catching before it closes Saturday.
Don't Dress for Dinner at the Royal George: By coincidence of scheduling, the following night I saw the show that Sullivan stepped away from for Hairy Ape. Marc Camoletti's comedy is what it is: an enjoyable-enough French sex farce. It leans more heavily on the mistaken-identity trope than the slamming-doors trope (though my date did mention she kept waiting for Carol Burnett to show up, á la Noises Off). Don't Dress is mostly well-cast and well-timed, though I should note that at two hours, it's apparently 20 minutes tighter than when Brian Nemtusak reviewed it for TOC last November. Even so, I was a bit weary of all of these characters before the show was done. I didn't see Burn Notice star Jeffrey Donovan (he's been replaced by the capable Darren Pettie, most recently seen as Bill Clinton in the Off Broadway Hillary: A Modern Greek Tragedy), but that doesn't matter much. This is definitely former Neo-Futurist and Urinetown Tony nominee Spencer Kayden's show. I hear the current cast is likely to continue through the end of March, and the show may live on beyond that.
In Arabia We'd All Be Kings at Steep Theatre: In Steep's comfy new Edgewater digs, director Joanie Schultz and a cast of North Side non-Equity all-stars give Stephen Adly Guirgis's kaleidoscope-view portrait of a pre-Disney Times Square dive bar a production that's probably better than it deserves. Or maybe not. Funny, I used to think I didn't care for Guirgis as a playwright, but this is the third time in a year I've been blown over by close-up views of his work (see my reviews of The Gift's Judas Iscariot and Raven's Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train). In Arabia is some of the best ensemble acting I've seen in a while, and it's extended through February 28.
I'm always fascinated by the arbitrary decisions that go into awards-show machinations. The Grammys often demonstrate the most entertaining pretzel logic, as they did last week with the Jonas Brothers' nomination for Best New Artist on the strength of their third full-length, or by lumping Kid Rock, Ne-Yo and James Taylor together in the "Pop Performance, Male" category. Hoops, consider yourselves jumped through.
Last week the Tony Awards admin committee decided that the three young actors who rotate in the title role of Billy Elliot would be eligible for a joint nomination as leading actor in a musical. The Times's Patrick Healy notes that the Tonys spokesperson cited precedent for joint nominations: In 1998, Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley received a joint Leading Actress nomination for playing the conjoined twins in Side Show (they lost to Cabaret's Natasha Richardson). That I remember. Even more amusing is this tidbit: "…all of the children in the 1960 production of The Sound of Music were nominated for featured actress in a play (even though some of the children were boys)."
I don't know the last time The Sound of Music was produced in Chicago, but Side Show has been here twice in the last decade. At the 2000 Equity Jeff Awards, Kristen Behrendt and Susie McMonagle were nominated separately for their roles as the Hilton twins in Northlight's Chicago premiere; they lost to E. Faye Butler for Dinah Was at the same theater. And in 2007, Vanessa Panerosa and Andrea Prestinario were nominated separately at the Non-Equity ceremony for Bohemian Theatre Ensemble's revival (which I reviewed here); because the Non-Eq rules at the time allowed for multiple winners, they both got the award.
While we're on the subject of awards shows, A Red Orchid Theatre is throwing an Oscars party this Sunday to celebrate ensemble member Michael Shannon's nomination for Best Supporting Actor in Revolutionary Road. The 7pm performance of The Unseen will be moved up to 3pm, and followed at 6pm by a viewing party with food, beer and wine. Admission to the Oscar party alone is $15, or see the matinee and stay for the awards for $30 total. Make reservations at 312-943-8722.
I was struck by Sondheim's comments about critics and musicals:
To start off the Audience Q&A period (audience members had to submit written questions before the start of the conversation to ushers), one audience member called Sondheim on a previous quote of his about theater critics reviewing musical theater: “Musicals are the only art form reviewed by ignoramuses.” “Few (critics) know anything about music at all,” Sondheim said to explain the quote.
Sondheim then asked Rich whether he ever felt out of his depth as a critic of musicals since he lacked a background in music theory. Rich simply replied, “I knew what I liked. I didn’t want to have any more information going in to see the play than the audience had.” Sondheim then revealed that when he was president of the Dramatists Guild, he asked the New York Times to send both a drama critic and music critic to musicals, but got turned down.
Okay then, full disclosure: I don't know music theory. I'm a devoted fan of musical theater, and I took enough music lessons as a kid that I can (sort of) read music and understand a little about keys and time signatures and whatnot, but I've never composed music and I'm sure there's plenty of theoretical nuance I miss in many scores.
But so what? I'm more than willing to grant that Sondheim's a friggin' genius, but doesn't Rich have a point in that he was there as a representative of a theater-savvy but non-musical-genius audience? Should critics of musical theater have a deeper grounding in music theory, as some critics of classical music or opera do? Or is this just a highfalutin' version of a playwright's claim that a critic "just doesn't get" his or her work?
Meanwhile, if only I'd had this link from Minnesota Playlist editor Alan M. Berks when we did the panel, I could have saved a lot of breath. Theater folks, read this before you send out your next press release. It's great advice, and distills much of what I and other panel participants tried to convey at Columbia in a bookmarkable form.