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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

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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.

 

John McCain Hates Shakespeare

So, on to Mr. McCain.

I’ll be blunt here: John McCain wants to eliminate federal funding for the arts. That’s right, ELIMINATE it. (This from bipartisan Vote-Smart.org.) Even that nice NEA “Shakespeare for a New Generation” program. Alas, poor Yorick. Olivier as Hamlet Whatever your feelings about government funding for arts and the strings attached, some funding, however fraught, is better than none at all. 

Long ago, McCain voted for the Helms Amendment, which hoped to deny funding to work considered “obscene.” Certainly, this amendment might have put a dent in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s current blockbuster, “Frida,” considering that it features obscenity central to the artist’s work such as this: Frida Kahlo 

In 1999, McCain voted with, among others, Sens. Robert Smith, Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, Sam Brownback and John Ashcroft (who believes dancing is an affront to God, a notion I find obscene) for the Smith-Ashcroft amendment. The amendment hoped to cut all funding for the NEA from that year’s budget. And here’s the introduction it received:

“In proposing the amendment, Smith explained that his objective was not to reform or restructure the NEA, but to close it down. He argued that federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is unconstitutional. Ashcroft joined Smith in speaking in support of their amendment.”

I’d love to list a point-by-point analysis of the Republican candidate’s current positions on arts professionals or funding, but, well, he doesn’t have any. (A quick search of “arts” on McCain’s website turned up Andrew McCain’s Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics. Congratulations!) And if you’re wondering how McCain feels about arts education, you can keep on wondering, because his entire education policy goes something like this: here’s your voucher; now go somewhere else or stop complaining.

If you’re of the mind that the cream rises to the top and eliminating arts funding will get rid of all the dross cluttering our artistic landscape, then you haven’t visited a school, theater, museum or arts festival lately, and you sure wouldn’t be reading this blog, because the idea for it grew out of a recent NEA fellowship I received.

Without federal money supporting these outlets, they will disappear. Subscribers cover only a portion of operating funds, and closing the NEA will close them down too. Once that funding dries up–and it just might if McCain wins the election–so will all those fancy new theaters dotting Broad Street, as will our festivals and museums. And once the Avenue of the Arts’ neon lights are dimmed, you can also say goodbye to everyone who bought Center City condos during the housing boom, the galleries, boutiques and restaurants that have sprung up around the city’s various arts scenes, and all those tourism dollars spent outside of the historic district. At least you’ll still have the war in Iraq… for the next 100 years. Take that into account the next time you say you’re voting your pocketbook.