Saturday, March 27, 2010

Corpus Christi, Texas

I've been following a story on Joe.My.God about Terrance McNally's play, Corpus Christi, and its controversial presentation at a small college in Texas. A student was set to stage scenes from it for a directing class at Tarleton State University, until people all the way up to Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst started screaming about "the blasphemous gay Jesus play." Way to stay busy there, Dewhurst.

And congratulations are in order, because all your screaming got it canceled.

This is RIDICULOUS. Here's a quote from a Dallas News article about the school's president, F. Dominic Dottavio, defending the student's free speech. Of course, the prez makes sure we all understand he finds the play "offensive, crude, and irreverent" as he does so. There's a resounding support of students' academic pursuits for you. But I digress. See the quote below.
"Like every citizen of the country, the student who chose to direct excerpts from the play enjoys his right to free speech," wrote President F. Dominic Dottavio in a letter published today on the Tarleton State University Web site.

"This right is protected by law even if the speech is offensive to others."

He emphasized, however, that the university did not endorse the decision by student John Otte, 26, to present Corpus Christi as an assignment for an advanced directing class.

[...}

The performances are for students only. They are not open to the public, or to the news media.

"The play is a project for a class. It is not intended for the public any more than a student’s math assignment," Dottavio wrote. He noted that all actors are volunteers, and that no student "who finds the material objectionable" will be forced to attend.
The student wasn't even presenting the whole play. He was one of four classmates staging excerpts from different pieces, and now apparently none of the students get to present their work, even at 8 AM on a Saturday, which is how the class's professor first tried to respond to the controversy. RIDICULOUS.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

LAWeekly on Why Theater Matters

Steven Leigh Morris writes for the LAWeekly about "how local theater can play a national role." He says a lot of things that need saying. There's a lot of good stuff here, but I wanted to pull out some of my favorite bits.

It's easier to embrace the familiar, but it's also more shortsighted. This obsession with the familiar — familiar plays and playwrights, even new playwrights familiar to those who occupy our play-development fortresses (Emphasis mine)— is too often mistaken for prudence. Prudence is too often mistaken for a good thing in the theater, when in actuality, vision and courage are the qualities that have always propelled the arts forward — as well as the sciences and industry, for that matter. Prudence, without courage, leads to the plight so many of our theaters now find themselves in, as they wonder where their young audiences have gone, and why they can't pay their bills.
[...]

Until our Equity contracts change, we'll always be the farm team. And that's not so terrible, and not such an indignity, once we recognize our value as a theater laboratory, as a generator of new plays, new musicals, new forms and, most importantly, new ideas.

With the possible exception of off-off-Broadway, New York doesn't do so much of that anymore. They import chunks of their product from London, Chicago and Seattle, and a fraction from L.A. Those numbers should change: Why isn't Los Angeles a premier supplier of new theater? With the talent here, and the resources, this is inexplicable at best, shameful at worst. We could generate more works for the national and even international markets were we not so fixated on presenting TV stars in the West Coast premieres of plays by Adam Rapp or Martin McDonagh or Neil LaBute.
My only quibble is with this bit:

It's a very good producer who plucks a hit, like, say, Avenue Q or Urinetown, from a fringe festival and starts building investment and cachet around that project to see if it can survive off-Broadway, on Broadway or, with the help of the Internet, on tours around the country. There's a sort of salvation for the art form in that kind of thinking.

Or in the kind of thinking by Center Theatre Group's Michael Ritchie, who took an unknown play by an unknown writer, Doug Steinberg's Nighthawks, based on the Edward Hopper painting. Ritchie's literary manager brought it to him, he read it and put it on at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. It was a decision based almost entirely on impulse and personal conviction, and whether or not the play was commercially or even critically successful is irrelevant to the blood-and-guts motive of putting it on, of letting conviction drive the engine, and letting marketing concerns sit in the back.
Morris has brought this up before, and I can only respond by mentioning that I've never understood how a writer like Steinberg -- one who has 20-odd years in the television industry, an NEA playwriting grant and a residency at South Coast Rep under his belt -- could be considered an unknown writer. If I can find all that out by using a search engine, surely the theater had some inkling. And if memory serves, they took full advantage of opportunities to capitalize on this experience in their press.

I don't bring this up to be cynical or to devalue the play or its selection -- I didn't see it -- but it's not really correct to suggest that this guy was a nobody who got plucked out of the slush pile, either.

Either way, the article's a good read. I particularly appreciate the stats on Los Angeles new play production. They're higher than you'd think!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Portrait of Jason

The Outfest Fusion Festival is this weekend, and Brandy and I headed over to the Egyptian to check out their Legacy screening of the 1967 documentary, Portrait of Jason. This movie's completely new to me; although it apparently has a certain reputation, it was mentioned that screenings of it are rare, and it doesn't seem to be available on DVD in the States.

Portrait of Jason is a 100-minute monologue by Jason Holiday, an aging hustler who proceeds to drink his way through cocktail after cocktail until he finally gives up on the highball glass and picks up the bottle. It's a wild ride; one that kind of traces the peaks and valleys of a night of heavy drinking. Shirley Clarke, the filmmaker, tries to be unobtrusive, but Jason's friend, Carl Lee, who's heard but never seen, is less successful, eventually berating him for withholding information, for play-acting for the camera, for his dishonesty. It's as much a meditation on an attempt to capture the essence of an elusive subject as it is a potent character study. It's also a stunning document of a pre-Stonewall gay experience.

Click here for a nice essay on the film.

Jason's amazing -- a natural raconteur and performer, wicked, wry, tough, and sad -- and I'm thrilled to have found a couple of clips from the movie online. See below.




Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My friend

Stuart is blogging about his experiences on the Equality Ride, a bus tour across the country that seeks to engage with universities that have discriminatory policies against GLBT students. Their first stop was at Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville, PA. Here's an excerpt:
We had been informed the day of our arrival that students were warned by the school that if they came out to talk to us, they would be expelled. And so, at the end of the rally at the park, we stood in vigil as close to campus as we could get, and sang songs of hope and love, and just prayed that they knew we were there and that someone loved them.

After awhile, we finished up and began walking to the bus, then saw several students standing behind a glass door far away from us on campus - their hands on the door, pressing out but unable to push through the barrier created by the school's threat of expulsion. They waved.

They waved!
They're still in need of donations to continue their work. You can check out how to do that here.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Thanks L.A. Theater

Over the weekend I went to a play at a 99-seat theater somewhere in the Valley, and as I was finally settling into my cramped, half-broken seat, I used my cell to post a Twitter/Facebook update, since that's what all the kids are doing these days.
The advertised start time is 7. it's now 7:15 and the house just opened. thanks l.a. theater.
Then just the other day I was looking on bigcheap and learned my play didn't get picked for a 10-minute festival only because of a casting notice for the festival featured on the listserv. Such lapses in etiquette don't even phase me anymore, and as for the 10-minute fest, I didn't really have high hopes or feel terribly concerned about it.

Still, the phrase again chimed in my head: "Thanks L.A. theater."

Has my blog found its first recurring post, some 5+ years into its existence?