Thursday, July 17, 2008

A New Fiscal Year, A New Blog

Every June 30th, non-profit theatre companies across the country are scrabbling to get their books in order, close outstanding debts, and finding creative ways of covering up the "Boardroom expenses" inherent in running a non-profit arts organization in this, our 21st Century. In a sense, July 1st represents the New Year for theatre companies - the time when the theatre goes dark as an homage to the passing season providing a solitary, if brief, respite before launching into a new season campaign. What better time to start a theatre blog than the end of FY 2008?

The purpose of this blog is to serve as a medium for an overly-opinionated theatre zealot to share his unedited observations and opinions. Much of what you read in this blog won't be pretty, but neither is the state of much theatre. Although, you will find this blogging mostly acerbic, often downright bitchy, understand that the words always flow from a place of love. I truly love the theatre. And like a Momma Rose of the oft-described "dying" artform, I feel it is my obligation to point out every flaw or, in the words of corporate consultants "opportunity" for theatre to do better by the art. In a phrase, this is my chance to scream at the theatre of America, "Sing Out Louise!"

So, let us begin with a brief eulogy to the season of 2008 in Boston. As it was my first year in Beantown, I was impressed, depressed, and overwhelmingly pressed for time to take in as much theatre as humanly possible. And I saw a lot of good things! Some of my favorite memories of the season include Arthur Nauzyciel's ground-breaking production of Julius Caesar at American Repertory Theatre. It was one of those truly brilliant theatrical moments where half the audience (certainly the ones who studied J.C. in High School and were hoping for togas and laurel wreaths) left at intermission while the rest of us theatresnobs and avant-seekers stayed to soak up every moment. I suppose I can agree with the Shakespearean purists who deemed it "Eurotrash," but this blogger loves Europe and trash. And who can resist a 57 Cadillac dangling from the fly rails over bright red carpeting?

Also exceptional this season was Lyric Stage of Boston's production of the Pulitzer-prize nominated play Dying City by Christopher Shinn. This heartbreaking drama by one of America's most promising young, realist dramatists was quite possibly one of the most underrated productions of the season. Not under- or over-rated was Speakeasy Stage's production of The History Boys. The strongest season closer (to an overwhelmingly soft season), this play sold out not only its run, but an extension for good cause.

Also passing this season is the artistic directorship of Nicky Martin, now former Artistic Director of the Huntington Theatre. As a newbie to the scene, I understand the great gifts Mr. Martin has brought to the Boston theatre scene; however, judging by this season, it is time to say bye-bye. The Huntington season was overwhelmingly mediocre including the made-for-Broadway, yet shipped-from-England Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps. This was probably the most entertaining of Huntington shows, but displays the habit of regional theatres to play to the lowest common denominator, namely the dinner theatre crowd. This, too, was reflected in Mr. Martin's direction of She Loves Me which, though a popular success, left this theatresnob running for the vomitoriums at intermission.

Other passings this season include Gideon Lester, the interim artistic director at the American Repertory Theatre. I have to admit I'm biased based on the fact that Mr. Lester is HOT. However, I think he served the theatre well in its interim and we hope he sticks around Boston (and if he does, would someone, please, give him my number). Also, Boston Theatre Works closed their final curtain with Angels in America. Despite good reviews and full houses for this show, the theatre succumbed to financial difficulties which led the Globe to wane poetic on their work. However, based on their Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Angels..., this theatresnob had no tears left to shed. Good riddance and here's hoping someone with artistic leadership and progress steps into their vacancy.

After the bittersweet good-bye of 2008, it is now time to welcome a new Fiscal Year and a new era in the Boston theatre scene. With all of the changes in artistic leadership, I don't feel that I'm waxing too poetic to say we are entering a new era of theatre in Boston. At the forefront of our change are Artistic Directors Peter DuBois and Diane Paulus of the Huntington and American Repertory Theatres, respectively. Mr. DuBois comes to us from the Public Theatre where, word n the street has it, that he may not be the best director, but favors well with funders and Board members. Ms. Paulus comes from the opposite side of the gamut with many directorial successes, but no artistic leadership under her belt. It will be exciting to see how each of these leaders fare in their positions and one can't help but wonder will artistic or fiscal leadership win out?

Likewise, there are many exciting shows on the roster for Boston's theatre scene. Lyric Stage begins and ends its season with musicals that appeal to theatresnobs, but not their typical blue-collar, average audience. This theatresnob can't wait to see what they do to Sondheim's much maligned and overlooked Follies while rounding out the season with on of Broadway's most recent artistic (though not popular) successes, Grey Gardens. Likewise, Speakeasy has opted for the critically acclaimed, though not popular, Light in the Piazza for starters and serves the decadent Jerry Springer:The Opera for dessert. Having seen all of these shows in their Broadway or regional productions, I can't wait to see what Boston talent has to offer for these delectable shows.

It proves to be an interesting season of firsts in Boston and I will be there, my ticket in hand and playbill at the waistside to provide all I can to ensure that this art that is the theatre does not die before FY 2010. After all, it is all a space odyssey...

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