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Deadlines = Dead Air

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, I’m deep into a series of features and reviews for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and sadly haven’t had much time for blogging. However, I hope to catch a break tomorrow. In the meantime, read this weekend’s New York Times Magazine article by contributing writer Ann Hulbert about arts education and its relevance–or irrelevance–to the election, and, for that matter, to education. I’ll be discussing it then, while trying not to lose my cool.

Mopping Up

So it’s all over for us. As the eyes of the nation turn west- and south-ward, Philly can ditch the political drama and go back to plain old murder and mayhem, right? Not quite. The Theater Alliance of Greater Philadelphia‘s listserv was burning up in the weeks leading up to the primary, and now, in some sort of exquisite water torture for liberals, the vicious debate will be laid out onstage for all to see Saturday, May 3, 8 p.m. at Second Stage at the Adrienne.

A few things astonished me about this heated back-and-forth.

  • First: there are conservatives among drama professionals, like, real red ones. Though I can’t quite figure out what could possibly be in it for them other than an inherited bias, they are vehement and as convinced of McCain’s relevance to their lives as any hedge fund trader or military engineer. 
  • Second: People actually “went there” on Clinton, making pantsuit jokes and the like. Theater people. And I don’t think these posters were even the gay ones, who could get away with it. 
  • Third: No one really wanted to go there on Obama, which, I guess, is at least one positive sign. Maybe we can credit Rev. Wright for serving as the receptacle for this contest’s racial enmity and diverting it from the candidate himself. This effect even seems to have spilled over into the real world. Remember in New Hampshire when those dudes yelled, “Iron my shirts!” at Hillary? We never saw a corollary pair of douchebags running around in blackface at an Obama rally (I’m sure they were somewhere, of course, just not out in public). So thanks, Rev. Wright, at least for that.
  • Fourth: The listserv’s, er, discussion had remarkably little to do with the candidates’ relationship to the arts, which was, to me, distressing. There was even a brief flare-up about abortion, but nothing, NOTHING about the issue that most directly affects everyone on TAGP’s e-mail list. Business-owning republicans won’t shut up about taxes; shouldn’t arts professionals be slightly concerned about their candidates’ approaches to arts and education? Hello? Anyone?
  • Fifth: Show folk will find an excuse to argue about almost anything. 

I’d love to see the Second Stage event used as a means to discuss the issues surrounding our careers and the candidates’ potential effect on them, or perhaps to galvanize the theater community into advocating that the arts and arts education take, if not center stage, then at least a supporting role during this political season–something I’m hoping every listserv member can agree upon. Though rehashing the old political divides will no doubt provide the same entertainment value once offered by the Romans to their people in the form of bears and slaves, moving forward with a November game plan has far more to do with creating an actual theater alliance.

Gladiator v. tiger

Passion Play

After my radio appearance, where I feared that I sounded completely incoherent, it turns out may be I wasn’t such a disaster after all. Ellis Henican used a bit of our conversation in his Sunday Newsday column, and it reads about right. I apologize in advance of your reading it that I sound a bit crass–after all, hasn’t there been enough political bloodletting already?–but frankly, I happily anticipated walking into a voting booth for once with my head held high, and now, it appears, I’ll be entering as usual, holding my nose.

It’s a bit distressing to be playing Candyland with this primary when we ought to be deep into Stratego. Ultimately, we will either witness the creation of a whole new government-subsidized industry that brings about some good to our economy and the world in the form of a “green collar” job corps (sorry, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin) or we will dig ourselves so deeply into debt and international disdain that I fear we may never recover–and as someone who has an awful lot invested in housing prices returning to their former effervescence, I quake to imagine 100 more years of investment in the Iraqi infrastructure.

Candyland riots

And then, of course, we have the issue of humanism vs. militarism. Please visit my Pennsylvania Primary Arts Voters Guide alongside my analysis of John McCain’s position on the arts just so you’ll know what you’re up against come November. I still can’t tell you who will get my vote tomorrow: Clinton, for her specificity or Obama, for his idealism, but I can sure tell you that once the Democratic party’s decision is made, if you care about the arts and education in this country, you’d better pull that lever for whomever gets the nomination. 

However, if you happen to be in the first congressional district, one candidate I wholeheartedly endorse is Rue Landau, who is running to be an Obama delegate. I’ve known her since we were children, and she has devoted her entire life to righting political wrongs. As an attorney for Community Legal Services, she’s well aware of Philly’s economic and social needs. She’s a supporter of the arts and a tireless worker for social justice. Nice to know that once in a while, election season offers up a candidate who is actually worthy of a democracy.

 

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Alive and on ABC

Gibson/Stephanopoulos

One thing I did not get to discuss on Ellis Henican’s show yesterday was the way Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos were Rosencrantz-and-Guildensterned during the Philly debate. Sent on a fool’s errand, they concerned themselves with trivialities and minutiae (lapel pins), inflated with self-importance (regarding time, Gibson announced, “I’ll be lenient, but not permissive”), blind to the fact that they were mere cogs in a political machine. They’ve since been chewed up by that machine and spit back out. Yesterday the AP released a feature on the pair’s misguided role in the debate, as did seemingly every other news outlet. And mirroring the careers of R&G, they’ve gone from minor players in a larger story to the subjects of their own little drama. Congratulations fellas, you’ve been sacrificed for a greater purpose.

 

R&G coverR&G Hamlet

Clinton-Obama Drama

I know I said I wasn’t going to post, but just in case you’re looking for something to do this evening at around 6 p.m., tune into the Talk Radio Network. I’ll be interviewed by Newsday writer and frequent Hannity and Colmes visitor Ellis Henican about the dramatic elements of the Obama-Clinton debate here in Philly.

And for the record, I thought George Stephanopolous and Charlie Gibson made a smashing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

 

 

The Sadistic Seder

Since I’m gearing up to host a Passover seder for 13 at my house this weekend. (13 Jews at a seder? We know what happened at the last one… Someone better watch their back!) So in the interest of saving my sanity, I will suspend blogging until next week, but in the meantime, here are some suggestions for bringing drama to your seder table:

1: Bust out the  Bag of Plagues This has been a successful part of our seders for several years now, and my favorite element is the “blood” plague. Send one of the kids around to the guest wearing the fanciest outfit and have them squirt “blood” all over their silk dress or tie. It disappears, but they won’t know that! Watch them freak out and then make them feel guilty for not trusting you. 

2: When I was growing up, Maxwell House provided our spiritual guidance every Passover via their free haggadot piled up at the end of the supermarket’s Passover aisle. (The same went for everyone else I knew. Free + Jews = Tradition) But now hagaddot have gotten both more sophisticated and expensive. Want to alienate at least half of your guests? Try the Women’s Hagaddah. Want to alienate the other half? Go for the Men’s. Want to upset everyone? Explore a Messianic hagaddah. Want to start a riot? Use an Orthodox Haggadah written in Hebrew and don’t start reading until 6 p.m.

3: Get all fancy with organic kosher wine, but don’t buy any Manischewitz. I guarantee you someone at the table will be angry–no, ANGRY–about it. 

4: Start an argument about kitniot. Here’s your ammunition: Some Ashkenazi Jews follow the “no kitniot” rule, but none of it is considered chametz. And are you saying Sephardim are less Jewish than you? Do you think you’re a better Jew than me because you eat less during Passover? Once you get going, I’m sure the discussion will take off on its own. After all, you’re in a room full of Jews.

5: Add “and from the tyranny of occupation,” whenever the hagaddah mentions freedom from slavery or bondage.

I know these methods work because at one time or another (mostly during the years between mohawk hair and mom jeans) I’ve tried them all. Have a happy Passover and I hope you find the afikoman! 

Charlton Heston as Moses

A Cold Wind Blows from Europe

This morning on the BBC World Service, English National Opera artistic director John Berry discussed a work they’ll be premiering in England, and not–though they’ve been partnering with the Met in New York–here in the U.S. I missed the beginning of the piece, so unfortunately can’t say what it is (my guess is that it’s the operatic version of David Lynch’s Lost Highway that just opened at the Young Vic, but please correct me if I’m wrong). Anyway, the production isn’t really the point, although if it is the Lynch piece, it would certainly make sense as a U.S. opening.

What was striking about the conversation was Berry’s reason for a European debut: in London and around Europe there are many voices in the media weighing in on opera. In the U.S.–New York and Chicago were the examples he gave–there are one or two very opinionated voices. What this means is that a sour note from one of those few U.S. critics can pretty much sink a show, while in Europe, where the form is taken seriously by news outlets, new productions are treated as a valid subject for public debate and enthusiasm, and all those voices, while no less opinionated, are at least less concentrated.

If the decline in opera coverage in the U.S. has a chilling effect on producers, you can expect to see that cold wind blow across all artistic disciplines, as more and more papers and magazines lay off critics and staffers and cut their arts coverage in print and online. The situation at the English National Opera provides concrete proof of the public and economic good served by having a multitude of regular arts critics and journalists on staff.