April 1, 2019: Nine years ago I was holding auditions for a staged reading of my musical In the Schoolyard at the Dramatist Guild. Most of the people were auditioning by appointment. But at one point a young man walked in and said he’d noticed our sign and would like to audition.
February 27, 2019: Seeing Roundabout’s revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along reminded me of two things. First, Sondheim, even at his worst is better than almost all of his imitators. And second, producers and directors would do well to stop reviving plays and musicals that weren’t so great the first (and sometimes second and third) time round.
January 27, 2019: The problem play is a form of realistic drama that developed during the 19th century. It deals with a contemporary social controversy. Its major proponent was the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen; A Doll’s House and An Enemy of the People quickly come to mind. But there’s also Alexandre Dumas, whose The Lady of the Camellias deals with prostitution, and George Bernard Shaw, who wrote about prostitution too, as well as religion, feminism and poverty.
June 9, 2018: Ask anyone for the funniest moment they’ve had in the theater and you’ll get a lot of different answers. Many scenes from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest come to mind. Others may think of spoofs like Spamalot or The Producers. For me, the funniest moment came years ago at a student production.
April 22, 2018 – Most of the time when the intermission is over, the house lights go off and the play resumes. But a while ago something unusual happened. Although the orchestra began playing, the lights stayed on as people filed back and found their seats.
It’s Ten O’clock, and Your Children Are Not in the Theater
The numbers are out and they’re not good. According to the latest number-crunchers, less than 10 percent of Americans goes to the theater. And some people want to get to the root of these appalling statistics.
Write a play about two middle-aged couples and a polyamorous co-worker (plus her two boyfriends) who welcome in the new year with an orgy. End act one with one of the couples’ 17-year-old daughter surprising them en flagrant déit. Critics will hail the work for its penetrating insight.
Best Seats In The House
Orchestra seats. We all want them. And many of us are willing to pay top dollar to get them. However, it’s remarkable how a $200 seat can turn into a fiasco, making us long for a more modest place in the balcony.
We all know what happens when a six-foot-three bruiser sits down in front of us.
Or how about when your next-door-neighbor takes up a seat and a half?
All those who suspected Hamilton, with it’s scarcity of tickets and huge prices for those who are lucky enough to get a ticket, is not exactly a show of the people, can now lay aside their fears. The show’s producers, in an effort to beat the scalpers at their own game, have kindly raised the box office price to a record $849 for premium seating to meet the price of those nefarious crooks.
As far back as Aristotle, plot was recognized as an essential element of a play. Plot, according to Aristotle, consists of clearly defined problems the characters have to solve. This is also known as conflict.
It used to be pretty easy to find the plot in a play. Hamlet has to figure out how to take revenge for his father’s death and kill Claudius. Tom has to find a way to extricate himself from his beloved sister with her glass menagerie and his mother with her idealized memories and her thwarted ambition. But nowadays it’s not so easy.
It’s Not the Audience
Who goes to Broadway shows? According to The Broadway League, about 70% of Broadway tickets are sold to tourists. Twenty-one percent of these tourists are from countries other than the United States.
Most of these visitors to New York City take in a show after a long day of ascending to the top of the Empire State Building, ferrying over to the Statue of Liberty and walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. In addition, international tourists may speak English as a second language. They are tired, footsore and a bit confused.
Years ago a well-known director (nameless here) told me that his was a “bullshit” profession. He pointed out that up until fairly recent times there were no directors. Playwright staged their own plays with the help of the cast.
None of this is to say directors do not and cannot make noteworthy contributions to a play. But, despite the recent glorification of directors such as Sam Mendes or John Tiffany, who make significant changes and original interpretations when plying their trade, they are not nearly as essential as the actors and the playwright.
Once upon a time, going to the theater was an event. People dressed up, mostly because the well-heeled patrons were more interested in seeing each other than whatever was onstage. Even when people started paying more attention to the show, the tradition of putting on one’s best still prevailed.
Today, people attend theater dressed in whatever they find comfortable or (in their minds) fashionable. This includes shorts and torn jeans. But let’s face it, those torn jeans are still filling the seats.
When asked, “What’s a critic’s job?” critic and scholar Martin Esslin responded, “A critic is a guide and a friend and a teacher.” That sounds pretty good, but the question remains, who is a critic guiding, befriending and teaching? Playwrights, actors and directors? Producers? Audiences?