WBEZ | Performing Arts http://www.wbez.org/tags/performing-arts Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Young actors: Step up to the plate http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-07/young-actors-step-plate-101033 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/merchant%20of%20venice%20first%20folio%20theater.jpg" title="Young actors just out of school play six of the 19 roles in First Folio’s ‘Merchant of Venice.’ (Courtesy of First Folio)" /></div><p>Wednesday night I trucked out to see <em>The Merchant of Venice</em>, at the annual outdoor Shakespeare festival presented by First Folio Theatre at Mayslake Forest Preserve in Oak Brook, Ill. I enjoyed this handsomely-designed and engagingly-acted production very much, until the show was cancelled at intermission due to approaching violent storms. Lucky for me, I know how the play ends.</p><p>Most Shakespeare plays require a large cast, and the program for <em>Merchant</em> listed 19 actors. Combing through the credits, I found that six of the 19 either graduated from university acting programs within the last two years or still are in school. None of the six yet has a union card from Actors Equity Association (which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year).</p><p>This is one of the finest characteristics of Chicago theater. Our Off-Loop and Off-off-Loop companies abound with embryonic talent; kids just out of school or soon-to-be. Our larger institutional theaters, too, often engage early-career actors. Once upon a time, I was one of those kids myself acting for peanuts in the seminal Off-Loop troupes of Lincoln Avenue, among them Kingston Mines Theatre Company, the Body Politic, Pary Productions and Del Close&#39;s Chicago Extension improvisational company.</p><p>Thinking of then and thinking of now, this is the<em> perfect</em> time to be a young actor. So, yeah, sure, the global economy sucks, we&#39;re in a depression (don&#39;t buy the nonsense that it&#39;s only a recession) and if the Eurozone totally melts down we&#39;ll really be in the crapper. But what the hell? When has it <em>ever</em> been a <em>good</em> time for a career in the arts? Actors are perpetually under-employed even in the best of economies &mdash; it&#39;s one of the occupational facts of life &mdash; and a sour economy does not substantially offer <em>less</em> employment or less opportunity for employment.</p><p>So go for it.</p><p>Fact is, electronic, digital, online and video media offer more employment for actors than ever before. From voices for video games, to the explosion of cable TV shows (just think how many actors the Discovery Channel and the History Channel employ), to self-produced internet programs and serials, to direct-to-disc movies, the entertainment industry is exploding with new ways for actors to act in addition to the familiar categories of commercials and voice-overs, TV, film and theater. Yes, much of it is shallow, formulaic and sometimes amateurish; and much of it &mdash; perhaps most of it &mdash; is not covered by actors union contracts (Equity, SAG-AFTRA), so the possibilities of being underpaid, exploited, ripped-off and/or sleazed are very real, but this blog column isn&#39;t a business lesson.</p><p>Compared to many of these, live theater may be the worst way to make a living, and I use the words &quot;make a living&quot; with great reservation. In Los Angeles, a newbie actor can appear at an Equity Waiver theater and earn nothing but car fare for professional work, often with established veteran actors. Difference is, the established veterans can afford to indulge their passion for live art, but the starter-out still is eating beans. On the other hand, a newcomer also can find himself/herself on a soap or a series making several thousand dollars a week.</p><p>The difference in Chicago is no one becomes rich here from any type of acting, whether you&#39;re working at Steppenwolf or the Goodman or a neighborhood storefront theater. Chicago is not the town where you make a killing or become a star; it&#39;s the town where you hone your chops, stretch yourself and practice your craft. And, with over 220 producing theater companies, the odds are <em>much</em> better here than in New York or Los Angeles of your landing a role and actually honing, stretching and practicing; witness those six young&#39;uns in <em>The Merchant of Venice</em>.</p><p>So, young actors, give it a whirl. No matter if you act for little or no money as long as shoes still need to be sold, hash still needs to be slung, dogs still need to be walked and temp work still is available. Keep in mind that the cost of living in Chicago still is considerably less than in NYC or L.A. Even more important, audiences here are sharper, more receptive to the new and better-informed than just about anywhere else. The lesson from that is to hold yourself to a high standard of craft and intelligence, and to take risks. If not you, who? If not now, when? If not here, where?</p></p> Fri, 20 Jul 2012 06:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-07/young-actors-step-plate-101033 So, you think you're a critic? http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-06/so-you-think-youre-critic-100062 <p><p>&quot;Everyone&#39;s a critic, Jonathan,&quot; someone at the station said. &quot;No, they&#39;re not,&quot; I replied firmly. &quot;Everyone has an opinion, but that doesn&#39;t make him a critic.&quot;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/DaumierCritic.jpg" style="float: left;" title="Honore Daumier’s ‘The Critic’" /></div><p>Of course,<em> I am</em> a critic. I know this because (a) people tell me I&#39;m a critic, (b) I define myself as a critic and (c) for many years people have paid me money to be a critic, which seems to confirm (a) and (b). Whether or not I am a good critic is for others to judge.</p><p>The difference between mere opinion and criticism is knowledge based on continuing study and research, and discrimination based on diverse and continuing experience. Criticism is personal opinion, but it is supposed to be <em>informed</em> opinion, perhaps even erudite opinion on occasion. This applies to any field of endeavor, and my particular field happens to be theater.</p><p>In part, my job is to point out that the emperor has no clothes. I flatly declare that not every big Broadway musical is a great show just because it is big and Broadway, even though many people think so. You may pay $100 or $150 for a ticket to a production but that doesn&#39;t mean it&#39;s good, yet many people equate price with merit. At the other end of the scale, not every shoe-string store-front show deserves praise just because it&#39;s staged by sincere and eager young kids. The time to nip their bad artistic habits in the bud is when they are young.</p><p>The job of the critic is to be frank, professional and neutral. It&#39;s easy to be smart-ass and witty when lambasting a show (&quot;And then I tore her heart out and stomped on it,&quot; we like to say), and sometimes it&#39;s fun, but it rarely makes for good criticism although it frequently makes for lively writing. Neutral does not always mean nice, but the voice of the reviewer (in print or on-air) never should sound like personal attack or a sermon, whether of the soapbox or high pulpit variety.</p><p>Of course, every critic has personal views on politics, religion, education, art, etc. and it&#39;s worse than disingenuous for a critic to claim that his/her reviews are unbiased. It&rsquo;s equally false for a critic to strike an omniscient attitude. When interpreting a play with strong themes or ideas a capable critic should state or reveal his/her biases and limits, commenting on the play in terms of his/her own life experience. Theater is, after all, one of the humanities and not a science.</p><p>Over the long haul, the best service a critic can render the public is consistency of perspective. Those who follow a critic over a period of time easily should come to know if he/she is liberal or conservative, pro-choice or anti-abortion, religious or not, a fan of Mozart or rap, vegan or omnivore, pro-military or anti-war (although one can be both) and so on. From this, an individual reader or listener can make up his/her own mind about a particular production.</p><p>For myself, I rarely declare any show to be either &quot;Don&#39;t Miss&quot; or &quot;Stay Away.&quot; Theater almost never is all-black or all-white but is some shade of gray, just like life itself. My job is to point out what works in a play or production and what doesn&#39;t work, and to take what I see and hear at face value. If I understand it, I will say so; if I don&#39;t understand it, I will say so. In either case, I will try to explain why, and to convey my emotional and/or intellectual reactions.</p><p>All of this comes to mind because the American Theatre Critics Association is holding its annual conference in Chicago June 13 through 17, during which reviewers from Seattle to Sarasota, from Palo Alto to Pittsburgh, from New York to New Mexico will see up to eight local productions and meet with local artists and directors, and gather reams of information from the League of Chicago Theatres and the Chicago Office on Tourism and Culture.</p><p>The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) is the only nationwide professional organization for theater critics, with several hundred members across the country. The principal purpose of the annual conference is to gain a deeper understanding of the theater industry in a particular locale. Chicago is the only city which has hosted four ATCA conferences, the last in 2002. Chicago also is the only city in which five theater companies have received the annual Tony Award for an outstanding regional theater. It&#39;s not a coincidence, as ATCA participates in the selection process for that award.</p><p>This Friday June 15 on <em>Eight Forty-Eight,</em> my Dueling Critic colleague, Kelly Kleiman, and I will be discussing the place and role of theater critics in a changing media world. Our notable guest will be Terry Teachout, theater critic for the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>.</p><p>Very few theater critics are anything like Addison DeWitt, the tart-tongued narrator of the classic film, <em>All About Eve</em>, although I admit that some critics do deserve the murderous punishments handed out to them by Vincent Price in <em>Theatre of Blood</em>. The problem today is that the expanding number of media platforms makes it all-too-easy for any yahoo with an opinion, but without knowledge or discrimination, to declare him/herself a theater critic. The critical profession is diminished by such individuals as well as by the shrinking role of the daily paper, and the reduction of space allotted to theater news and reviews in most platforms.</p><p>Theater criticism may not be as important as the Euro crisis or the rights of Guantanamo detainees or protecting women from so-called honor killings, but it <em>is</em> symptomatic of educated opinion slowly drowning in an ocean of voices and messages put forward without editorial standards or intellectual rigor. It is something of value, and it&#39;s being lost.</p></p> Thu, 14 Jun 2012 21:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-06/so-you-think-youre-critic-100062 Act locally, think Broadway: Tax credits for big commercial shows http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-03-02/act-locally-think-broadway-tax-credits-big-commercial-shows-96896 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-March/2012-03-02/6710697131_d7e310a4e8.jpg" alt="" /><p><div class="inset"><div class="insetContent"><p><span style="font-size:10px;">Listen to Jonathan Abarbanel and Kelly Kleiman discuss tax breaks for theaters on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em>, and Chicago Fusion Theatre's 'Las Hermanas Padillas'</span></p><p><span class="filefield_audio_insert_player" href="/sites/default/files/120302 848 SEG B_0.mp3" id="filefield_audio_insert_player-126862" player="null">120302 848 SEG B.mp3</span></p></div></div><p>Late last year, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation granting extensive tax breaks to a pair of super-wealthy corporate entities (Sears and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange) in response to their threats that they would take their business elsewhere. This legislation, which turned even reformist governor Pat Quinn into a political whore, was widely reported and debated in the media.</p><p>What was not debated and little-reported was that the bill included additional provisions providing tax “incentives” (to use the politic word) for other businesses as well, one of them being Broadway producers of live theater, who now may be granted tax credits similar to those offered movie producers who bring feature film and TV production to Illinois.</p><p>The wording of the theater-related provisions is significantly odd. The preamble states, "It shall be the policy of this State to promote and encourage the&nbsp; training and hiring of Illinois residents who represent the diversity of the Illinois population through the creation and implementation of training, education, and recruitment programs organized in cooperation with Illinois colleges and universities, labor organizations, and the commercial for-profit live theater industry." It reminds me of my high school intelligence tests: “Which of these words does not belong in the group?”</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-02/6710697131_d7e310a4e8.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 463px;" title="(Flickr/Steve Minor)"></p><p>The bill goes on to state that tax credits for Illinois labor and production expenditures will be granted only to producers holding an “accredited theater production certificate,” and that said certificates will be issued only to shows spending $100,000 or more which are performed in theaters of 1,200 seats or more, and either are scheduled for Broadway within 12 months of playing Chicago or are scheduled for a “long-run” here, which is defined as more than eight weeks and at least six shows a week.</p><p>Whether benefiting Sears, the CME or a Broadway show, this bill is an egregious example of special interest legislation, and special interest legislation always is sleazy, sneaky, skanky, shady, greasy, garbanzo and Doc. One thing it definitely is not is Bashful. Each and every piece of it has its defenders and apologists, but the essence of it—literally by definition—is a denial of government of the people, by the people and for the people. Whether in Congress, state legislature, county board or city council, such laws rarely are debated, often&nbsp; are passed in the dark of night (such as being tacked on to some unrelated piece of legislation) and virtually never are transparent. Whenever a piece of special interest legislation is enacted, you can smell the political fat sizzling in the pan.</p><p>Yeah, but this one is <em>my</em> special interest legislation: it serves the industry I cover as a critic and arts business reporter and, if successful, it will make my work and Chicago theater-going a lot more exciting. Whenever our Downtown theaters are doing business, a helluva lot of others also do business: hotels, restaurants, parking garages, taxi cabs, etc. as well as stage hands, electricians, musicians, ushers, concessionaires, actors, etc. All of these service-providers, both individuals and companies, in turn pay their taxes to the city, county and state. The performing arts (and other arts) are a proven economic engine that returns far, far more to the city/county/state than any public dollars invested.</p><p>Maybe this thing actually is good for everyone, even though it directly benefits only a very narrow range of entitites. Who does it benefit? The voting and tax-paying public, in whose name this law was enacted and signed, has every right to ask.</p><p>The bill’s set of parameters could provide tax credits on the one hand for a pre-Broadway show playing here for three or four weeks (as did <em>The Adams Family</em> and <em>The Producers</em> for example) or, on the other hand, for the umpteenth repeat visit by <em>Cats</em> or <em>Mamma Mia</em>, providing they stayed here for at least eight weeks and a day. On that basis, the number of possible producers and production companies is open-ended.</p><p>Far more limiting is the bill’s requirement that an “accredited theater production” must be staged in a venue with 1,200 or more seats. In theory, this could benefit shows coming to the Rosemont Theatre, the Chicago Theatre, the Civic Opera House or Aurora’s Paramount Theatre, for example. However, the current professional theater landscape strongly suggests that the most likely candidates are shows coming to theaters under the Broadway In Chicago brand name.</p><p>Broadway In Chicago (BIC) is the local outpost of the New York-based Nederlander Organization, which owns a huge amount of theater real estate across the country and also invests money in Broadway shows. In Chicago, the Nederlander Organization owns the Oriental, Cadillac Palace and Bank of America theaters, leases the Broadway Playhouse (former Drury Lane Theatre in Water Tower Place) and also programs occasional theater attractions into the Auditorium Theatre, all under the Broadway In Chicago name. With the exception of the 500-seat Broadway Playhouse, all the BIC houses can host “accredited theater productions.”</p><p>BIC makes it money by renting out its properties, and by providing management and marketing services, so the more shows presented in its properties, the merrier all around. It should come as no surprise that BIC executives were among the movers and shakers who moved this bill along. They don’t like their theaters to sit dark and empty for weeks or even months at a time, as the Cadillac Palace and Oriental have been sitting recently (and will through most of the summer).</p><p>The BIC folks, and their bosses at the Nederlander Organization in New York, are nothing if not savvy and smart players. BIC theaters already have played host to numerous long-run attractions and pre-Broadway try-outs. <em>Jersey Boys</em> was here for over 18 months and <em>Wicked</em> for over two years. And pre-Broadway try-outs over the last decade include <em>The Producers</em>, <em>Jekyll and Hyde</em>, <em>Pirate Queen</em>, <em>The Adams Family</em> and <em>Sweet Smell of Success</em>. Now they want more such shows to come more often, hence the tax credit.</p><p>They want the market value of a blockbuster Broadway hit sitting down here for months or years, and they want the glamor of big-name stars trying out a brand-new show. Frankly, I want them, too. Both of these things would make Chicago even more important than it already is as a national theater center, and that would make Chicago’s theater critics—hey, that’s me—more powerful and prominent nationally.</p><p>However, it plays out, this new legislation already has greased the skids: a Broadway In Chicago executive has told me that Chicago will see a half-dozen shows in the next year that will take advantage of the tax credits, the first of them being the pre-Broadway <em>Kinky Boots</em> (with Cindy Lauper) coming in the fall, followed in December by <em>The Book of Mormon</em>, which will sit-down here for a multiple-month run.</p><p>But is there any direct benefit to audiences, to the folks who slap down the debit card to buy the tickets? Will the thousands of dollars in weekly/monthly savings be passed along in the form of lower ticket prices? Will the $100 dollar orchestra seat fall to $80? The $65 balcony seat to $50? The $40 second balcony seat to $25? Now, <em>that</em> would have direct and meaningful value to the Good People of Illinois in whose name this legislation was signed and sealed.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 02 Mar 2012 13:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-03-02/act-locally-think-broadway-tax-credits-big-commercial-shows-96896 Short plays settle for less http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-17/short-plays-settle-less-96504 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-February/2012-02-17/4610197524_15b3a653c5.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>It’s like global warming: a lot of the evidence is anecdotal rather than empirical. But over the last decade at least, plays have been getting shorter and shorter. Are playwrights at fault? Do they realize they can earn the same bucks (if they earn anything at all) for a 75 minute show as for one twice that length? Or are audiences with shrinking attention spans demanding shorter performances? Whichever it may be—and you’ll have my opinion by the end of this post—a good night out in theater almost always is briefer than it used to be.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-17/4610197524_15b3a653c5.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 372px;" title="Caryl Churchill's 'A Number' runs a mere 55 minutes. (Flickr/TEDx NJLibraries)"></p><p>Right now in Chicago, you’ll be hard-pressed to spend even two hours in a playhouse, let alone longer. <em>American Idiot</em>, the Tony Award winning musical at the Oriental, runs 95 minutes. <em>Feast: An Intimate Tempest</em> at Chicago Shakespeare Theater is 75 minutes. <em>Punk Rock</em> at Griffin Theatre is less than two hours without an intermission. <em>dark play or stories for boys</em> (sic) at Collaboraction is 90 minutes straight through. <em>Race</em> at the Goodman, <em>Disgraced</em> at American Theater Company, Hesperia at Writers’ Theatre and <em>Love and Money</em> at Steep Theatre also are current attractions clocking in at 100 minutes or less.</p><p>One argument is that the attention span of audiences is shorter due to TV, internet, multi-tasking and our ability to absorb images more quickly; a proposition I firmly and adamantly reject. The vast number of theaters presenting three-hour-plus works by Shakespeare, O’Neill, Chekhov and other authors gives that argument the lie. Some of our most popular works are long plays, among them <em>A Streetcar Named Desire</em>, <em>Death of a Salesman</em>, <em>Angels in America</em> (either part) and musicals such as <em>South Pacific</em> and <em>A Fiddler on the Roof</em>. Audiences sit through these works with only one intermission typically.</p><p>What’s more, film patrons eagerly stay glued to their seats <em>without</em> an intermission for films running two-to-three hours in length. Some may take a potty break or hit the concessions stand, but most do not. Not so very long ago, the standard length for a movie was 90 minutes while theater <em>always</em> was two-and-a-half hours or more. It’s ironic that the profiles have reversed. The point is, however, that there’s ample evidence that audience attention span is NOT a compelling argument for shorter plays, so we must look to the playwrights themselves.</p><p>My colleague, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-16/brevity-soul-wit-96475">Kelly Kleiman, puts forward an economic argument in her current blog post</a>, and there’s some truth to it: generally it will be cheaper for a theater to produce a one-set play with two or three or four characters, which is the profile of shorter works for the most part (musicals such as <em>American Idiot</em> being an exception). Still, I say look to the playwrights. Beyond economics, it’s very, very difficult for a writer to sustain interest in only two or three characters over a stretch of two or more hours. Yes, Tennessee Williams does it in <em>The Glass Menagerie</em> and Albee in <em>Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?</em> and O’Neill in <em>Long Day’s Journey Into Night</em> but they are exceptions by master playwrights.</p><p>Conversely, it’s virtually impossible to create a play with 10 or 12 or more characters and multiple sub-plots in 90 or 100 minutes. An author simply doesn’t have time to develop that many characters and situations.</p><p>And here we must look at how playwriting is taught, as dramatic authors mostly come out of academic programs nowadays rather than materializing spontaneously. Writing exercises very often call for an author to create a two-character or three-character scene based on a particular situation or goal, but almost never are authors-in-training asked to create an eight-character or 10-character scene. Young playwrights are not asked to envision and outline larger works, say an epic history play in the manner of Shakespeare, or a three-act drama in the manner of Chekhov, or a multi-generational work in the manner of whomever. Those few writers who do just that usually come to such works after they’ve been writing awhile and often through mighty struggles. Tony Kushner worked on <em>Angels in America</em> for 10 years.</p><p>I could continue to discuss this subject at much greater length, and astute observers certainly could counter my arguments with numerous examples such as Sarah Ruhl’s ambitious <em>Passion Play</em> or the type of large stories the House Theatre of Chicago and Lookingglass often develop for, and within, their own ensembles. I’ve made my points, however, so this probably is a good place to stop. I’ll close with just one final example.</p><p>The ultimate reduction in playwriting so far may be <em>A&nbsp;Number</em>&nbsp;by award-winning British playwright Caryl Churchill. Produced successfully in London, New York, Chicago (at the Next Theatre Company) and elsewhere, this two-character play runs just 55 minutes but is sold as a full-length evening standing on its own.</p><p>The Churchill play is NOT a full evening, no matter how you slice, dice or julienne it. Even though the Next Theatre production was extremely well-done (far better than the New York staging), it should have been part of a double bill of two one-act plays. If Churchill insisted by contract that it had to be staged as a stand-alone work, then she should be drummed out of the business. Simply put: it is exploitive capitalism at its worst to extract a full ticket price from audiences for less than a full evening of theater. Then again, <em>caveat emptor.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Feb 2012 17:50:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-17/short-plays-settle-less-96504 Christine Provost named new chief of actor's union http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-11-09/christine-provost-named-new-chief-actors-union-93879 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-09/5143096520_147db05f05.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-09/5143096520_147db05f05.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 300px; height: 300px; " title="(Flickr/Seth Anderson)">It will be a smooth transition for the <a href="http://www.actorsequity.org/aboutequity/central.asp">Chicago office of Actors Equity Association</a>, with long-time high-level staffer Christine Provost named to succeed Kathryn V. Lamkey as Central Regional Director/Assistant Executive Director, effective January 1. Lamkey is retiring after 25 years with the union of actors and stage managers.</p><p>Provost, who has a law degree from Northwestern University, joined the Chicago office of Equity in 1996 after earlier work in litigation with a large law firm. She began as a business representative, was promoted to senior business rep and assumed responsibilities for supervising all contractual matters in the Central Region, which is headquartered in Chicago. She assisted Lamkey in the management of the office, trained new hires on Equity policies and procedures and served as second chair in national, regional and local negotiations.</p><p>As Central Regional Director, Provost will oversee the administration of all categories of Equity contracts for the region—which covers 15 states from the Dakotas to Ohio and Louisiana—and serve as Chief Negotiator for several of them.&nbsp;She will supervise a staff of 20 and be responsible for the overall operation of the Central Regional office. At the national level, as an Assistant Executive Director, Provost will be an integral part of the union’s executive team to develop strategies and standards consistent with Equity’s vision, mission and goals.&nbsp;</p><p>In addition to her post at Equity, Provost serves as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Chicago Entertainment Industry Labor Council (I’ll bet ya’ didn’t know there was one) and guest lectures at Columbia College.&nbsp;</p><p>The good news here is that Equity has promoted from within rather than bringing in a non-Chicagoan to take over this very important office, a mistake the union made in the past. Those with long memories—me—recall the Central Region chief brought in from New York in the 1970’s who was too inflexible to create Equity contracts, or adapt existing ones, that would nurture the then-nascent Off-Loop Theater movement. His successor (and Lamkey’s direct predecessor), Tad Currie, did precisely that, creating the first Chicago Area Theatre (CAT) contract about 30 years ago; an agreement that allowed extensive unionization of Off-Loop Theater and became a model for numerous similar contracts across the country.</p><p>The CAT contract remains the heart of local theater vigor, being the collective bargaining agreement used by the Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Victory Gardens and Lookingglass theater companies as well as dozens of smaller troupes. Year in and year out, it provides more Equity work weeks than any other contract category and serves as the main barometer of local theater industry health.</p><p>Largely because of the CAT contract (although not exclusively because of it), the Central Region always generates work week totals out of all proportion to its percentage of Equity members. Equity, which celebrates its 100<sup>th</sup> anniversary in 2013, has 49,000 members nationwide of whom only 8%-9% live in the Central Region. Nonetheless, the region generates between 14% and 16% of Equity’s annual work weeks.</p><p>The Central Region also has some of America’s most important regional theaters, among them the Guthrie (Minneapolis), Milwaukee Repertory, Actors Theatre of Louisville, American Players Theatre (Spring Green, WI), Cleveland Playhouse, the Kansas City Repertory and the Goodman.</p></p> Wed, 09 Nov 2011 13:25:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-11-09/christine-provost-named-new-chief-actors-union-93879 Postcard: Dancing in Lake Michigan http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-06-29/postcard-dancing-lake-michigan-88544 <p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/25797570?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=b30000" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="601" frameborder="0" height="338"></iframe></p></p> Wed, 29 Jun 2011 21:30:30 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-06-29/postcard-dancing-lake-michigan-88544 'Anna Nicole' Brings Sex And Drugs To The Opera http://www.wbez.org/story/arts-amp-life/2011-03-02/anna-nicole-brings-sex-and-drugs-opera-83293 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/husband_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Sex, drugs, plastic surgery and celebrity are the backbone of the infamous British tabloid media. But they're probably not what you'd expect to see at the prestigious Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden.</p><p>This bastion of high culture has played host to many an operatic giant — Mozart, Monteverdi, Puccini, Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas, to name a few.</p><p>So it may have come as a shock to opera traditionalists when they heard about the latest addition: playboy model and reality TV star Anna Nicole Smith. Her turbulent life and tragic demise have been transformed into a new opera, <em>Anna Nicole</em>, which opened last month.</p><p>On its website, Covent Garden states that the opera is "provocative in its themes, exciting in its bravura style, and thrilling with its sheer contemporary nerve".</p><p>"I think they were slightly in shock at first," said librettist Richard Thomas, "but they came round to the idea very quickly."</p><p>Thomas is better known for <em>Jerry Springer: The Opera</em>, which was — confusingly — a musical.</p><p>"I love subjects which are easily dismissed. ... Most people would dismiss the story of Anna Nicole as, you know, 'This is fodder,' but I quite like these because along the way you find some lovely comedic gems and hopefully you stumble across some fantastic universal themes and truths," he said.</p><p>Smith was a Playboy model, actress, reality TV star, celebrity — and global brand. Her adult life was a public spectacle, played out in the media spotlight and spurred on by an international following with an insatiable appetite for celebrity.</p><p>She was, perhaps, best known for marrying octogenarian billionaire J. Howard Marshall II, who was 63 years her senior. After his death, she fought a long, costly and inconclusive legal battle over her right to his estate. She went on to star in her own reality TV show, and eventually died from an overdose of drugs in 2007 at age 39.</p><p>Thomas said there's something universal about her story.</p><p>"She gets a bit lucky and then makes some bad choices ... and that's it. I think it's a universal tale — made some bad choices, made some worse choices, then ran out of choices — that's a tale most people can empathize with," he said.</p><p>Their aim, agreed British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, is to win sympathy. For them, Smith was as much a victim of the industry she worked in as a manipulator of it.</p><p>"The opera's in memory of her, and we want to love her and be sad when she dies. ... It's not trashing her at all," Turnage said.</p><p>"I hope people will be sympathetic — we've failed in a way if you're not. If you come out of there thinking, 'Oh, she's just a cartoon character, she's a bit of an idiot,' then we've totally failed."</p><p>Thomas agreed.</p><p>"There are many versions of Anna Nicole — what's interesting about the character ... is it's very hard to pin it down. There are elements to her which are intensely dislikable and manipulative. ... But at heart there's something fabulous and eccentric about her, and once we'd decided that ... you've got a take on her, which is likable and sympathetic."</p><p>They did admit, though, that there is something inherently comical about a buxom 26-year-old with an 89-year-old husband.</p><p>Mix that with a pole dancing scene, some swearing (according to Thomas, it's not gratuitous, but there are "about 20 F words, one C word, and three bastardizations of the C word, which I've invented"), and juxtapose this with the setting of the Royal Opera House, and you have something quite unusual.</p><p>"Opera is an absurdly beautiful medium," Thomas said, "and it also soaks up extremities really well ... so a very swearing crazy opera singer is funny in the medium of opera in a way that it wouldn't be very funny as a play."</p><p>Those going in the hope of "something a bit different" may enjoy noticing details such as the head of Smith placed in a royal medallion above the stage, next to that of Queen Elizabeth.</p><p>But both Turnage and Thomas are adamant that what they have created will not be offensive.</p><p>"I think people will be surprised when they see the show," Turnage said. "The last part is very serious and very sad. ... It almost becomes like a traditional opera."</p><p>New operas haven't always gone down well. One success story was <em>Nixon in China</em> by composer John Adams, which followed Nixon's official meetings with Mao Zedong in 1972. But there have been a few flops, too — Princess Diana, Col. Gadhafi.</p><p>So what do the critics think of this one?</p><p>"The problem is, I'm not sure, to be honest, that Anna Nicole really earns her stripes as a genuine tragic figure," said Matt Wolf, theater critic for the <em>International Herald Tribune</em>.</p><p>"She's pathetic, and you feel for her because her life must have been ghastly, but pathetic and tragic aren't quite the same thing," he said.</p><p>Wolf praised the production's critique of celebrity, but he's not convinced by Smith as a symbol of something rotten at the heart of American culture.</p><p>"I don't necessarily think that every single American who goes off the rails, suffers an unfortunate demise, or who has aspirations to glory and grandeur necessarily represents the American dream gone awry," Wolf said.</p><p>So is this a case of the British being anti-American — again?</p><p>"Some may think it's anti-American, but I don't anymore than <em>Jerry Springer: The Opera</em> was. ... You could say it's a tribute — here's this Brit Thomas who has given us Jerry Springer and now Anna Nicole, and you think, 'Who's gonna be next? OJ Simpson?' " Wolf said.</p><p>After all the hype and mystery, the British media have mixed feelings: At best, it's "flamboyantly vulgar and fabulously entertaining," from the <em>Daily Telegraph</em>, at worst, "Fright at the Opera," from the <em>Daily Mail</em>, or "two-dimensional," from the <em>Guardian</em>.</p><p>But whether critically acclaimed or not, there are definitely rumblings of a new, younger crowd on the scene. Tickets, which are cheaper than normal — between $6 and $120, according to the website — have sold out, and Thomas estimates that 30 percent to 40 percent of them have gone to operatic first-timers.</p><p>Even the great British actor Derek Jacobi, who confesses he's not a big fan of opera, said this particular story was a "wonderful" choice that could get him to the theater.</p><p>"As long as it's got some good tunes — I like a nice tune," he added.</p><p>It's too early to say if this popular appeal will lead to a revival, or a voyage across the Atlantic. But it has a lot of heads turning and people chattering.</p><p>Thomas has his own way of knowing the chances of success.</p><p>"One sure indicator that it's not going to be revived is when they burn the set," he said. "That's when you know it's over." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1299140831?&gn=%27Anna+Nicole%27+Brings+Sex+And+Drugs+To+The+Opera&ev=event2&ch=1008&h1=Theater,Europe,Pop+Culture,Performing+Arts,Arts+%26+Life,World,U.S.,Home+Page+Top+Stories,News&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=134195648&c7=1008&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1008&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110303&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=3&v21=D%3Dc2&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Wed, 02 Mar 2011 23:01:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/arts-amp-life/2011-03-02/anna-nicole-brings-sex-and-drugs-opera-83293 The PS22 Chorus Goes To The Oscars http://www.wbez.org/story/around-nation/2011-02-26/ps22-chorus-goes-oscars-83026 <p><p>The Academy Award show is Sunday night, and excitement is growing over what celebrities will wear, what they will say, and who will be the big winners. In addition, we can expect to hear some musical performances by Mandy Moore, Randy Newman and Gwyneth Paltrow (yes, she's singing).</p><p>But there is one group performing you probably don't know: The PS22 Chorus, a fifth grade glee club from Staten Island.</p><p>After discovering the PS22 Chorus on YouTube, Anne Hathaway showed up at their Winter Recital in December to personally invite them to perform at the awards show. Needless to say, there was a lot of screaming.</p><p>In 2006, musical director Gregg Breinberg started posting videos of the PS22 Chorus's rehearsals on the web, and when Tori Amos, Perez Hilton and eventually Oprah discovered these videos, they became an Internet sensation. Breinberg is particularly fond of arranging choral renditions of rock and pop songs. Their most popular video is of "Just Dance" by Lady Gaga, with almost 4.5 million YouTube hits.</p><p>Now Breinberg and over 60 10-year-olds are in Hollywood preparing for Sunday's performance. The PS22 Chorus will be singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit <a href="http://www.npr.org/">http://www.npr.org/</a>.<img src="http://metrics.npr.org/b/ss/nprapidev/5/1298728328?&gn=The+PS22+Chorus+Goes+To+The+Oscars&ev=event2&ch=93568166&h1=Monkey+See,Dance,Theater,Television,Around+the+Nation,Pop+Culture,Performing+Arts,Education,Arts+%26+Life,U.S.&c3=D%3Dgn&v3=D%3Dgn&c4=134080211&c7=1048&v7=D%3Dc7&c18=1048&v18=D%3Dc18&c19=20110226&v19=D%3Dc19&c20=1&v20=D%3Dc20&c21=7&v21=D%3Dc2&c31=93568166&v31=D%3Dc31&c45=MDA0OTc2MjAwMDEyNjk0NDE4OTI2NmUwNQ001"/></p></p> Sat, 26 Feb 2011 07:23:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/around-nation/2011-02-26/ps22-chorus-goes-oscars-83026 Legendary Dance Theater Taps New Leader http://www.wbez.org/story/around-nation/2011-02-16/legendary-dance-theater-taps-new-leader-82432 <p></p> Wed, 16 Feb 2011 11:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/around-nation/2011-02-16/legendary-dance-theater-taps-new-leader-82432 Spiderman Takes A Time-Out Before Broadway http://www.wbez.org/story/around-nation/spiderman-takes-time-out-broadway <p></p> Sat, 15 Jan 2011 07:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/around-nation/spiderman-takes-time-out-broadway