Commentary: Why waiting months to review Spider-Man makes sense

Charles Isherwood on the New York Times' ArtsBeat blog, January 6, 2011

To review or not to review?  Or rather, when to review? That is a question lately debated in reference to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the exhaustively discussed, exhaustingly delayed new musical that began previews in late November and has postponed its opening date [four] times.  If a critic's job is to assess the total merits of a work of art -- or at least a gaudy chunk of entertainment -- reason also argues the entertainment should be allowed to achieve the completed form its creators had envisioned before judgment is rendered. Works of theater are, thanks to the preview process, vulnerable to early public assessment. But they are in need of extended gestation. They don't properly live until their metabolism has been tested and tweaked by interaction with a live audience. Spider-Man is an exceptional case.  But if you break precedent because a show has previewed for what is deemed an unduly long period, or because a show has reached a level of media scrutiny that blurs the lines between reporting and criticism, the future starts to look even blurrier. How many previews are too many?  How much attention might warrant another episode of rule-breaking?


Related:  What about indie plays which don't have luxury of long previews?

Playwright Matthew Freeman on his blog, January 6, 2011

The primary reason Charles Isherwood cites for not reviewing a production is that theatrical performances need a chance to find their footing in front of a live audience. His arguments are pretty straightforward and sound.  But, Mr. Isherwood's standard for when a play should be reviewed made my eyebrows go up.  For hundreds of plays all over New York City...the small, uncommercial works, the weird stuff, the "Indie" theater... that standard does not apply.  [These] plays will receive a run of... 25 performances?  If the Times [reviews] them, they will come to the first or second performance. Whatever benefit small productions might receive from months of extra work before a reviewer check them out is not in the budget.  I'm not decrying the treatment Off-Off Broadway productions receive.  I am highlighting this disparity to challenge the notion that those in previews have an unassailable right to create their "art" unmolested by the judgment of the press.  In fact, they have purchased that "right."


Commentary: To see a show at its best, wait a month until after it is reviewed

Rupert Christiansen, writing in The [London] Daily Telegraph, January 10, 2010

Just before Christmas, I went to the Almeida to see Ibsen's The Master Builder.  The production and the acting drew mixed reviews when the show opened in November.  But what I saw six weeks after the critics was positively electrifying.  I suggest The Master Builder became a substantially different show in mid-December than it had been in early November, and raise the question of what happens to a production after the first night.   How long does it continue to develop?  Are alterations made in the light of critics' verdicts and audience's responses?  Is a fixed routine ever achieved, after which the actors simply go through the motions mechanically?   In the theatre, the general view is that productions continue to evolve for about three months following opening night, after which autopilot kicks in until there are cast changes. This doesn't necessarily mean that the whole thing goes cold, but it does tend to simmer.  Actors will also tell you that, after a weekend break, a Monday performance tends to be a bit slow, and that a peak is hit in the evening after a midweek matinee. Come Saturday, and they're flagging.  My happy experience of The Master Builder suggests another general rule: to see a show at its best, always wait at least a month after opening night.


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Nonprofit arts orgs are invited to participate in a State-of-the-Sector survey

From the Nonprofit Finance Fund's website

NFF invites you to take [an] anonymous survey about your organization's financial challenges and opportunities in 2010 and 2011. This 10-15 minute survey will be used to generate widespread awareness of the real-time challenges nonprofits face as they work hard to bring services to their communities.  This is the third year of [this] nation-wide survey of nonprofits. The 1100+ responses received in each of the last two years provided robust data that was studied in detail by dozens of funders.  Your participation will allow [NFF] to share with media, foundations, government and nonprofits an accurate, aggregated snapshot of the state of the sector, showcasing the smart decisions nonprofits are making to cope and adapt, and how current conditions compare to the previous two years of financial turmoil.  Given how many funders used these results to inform their understanding of organizations' needs, [NFF hopes] you'll take a few minutes to zip through this one.  You can view results of NFF's 2010 and 2009 surveys here. 

Complete the 2011 survey here


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Remembering the Off-Off-Broadway pioneer Ellen Stewart

From The New York Times, January 14, 2011

Ellen Stewart, the founder, artistic director and de facto producer of La MaMa Experimental Theater Club, a multicultural hive of avant-garde drama and performance art in New York for almost half a century, died Thursday. She was 91.  Ms. Stewart was a dress designer when she started La MaMa in a basement apartment in 1961, a woman entirely without theater experience or even much interest in the theater. But within a few years, and with an indomitable personality, she had become a theater pioneer.  Not only did she introduce unusual new work to the stage, she also helped colonize a new territory for the theater, planting a flag in the name of low-budget experimental productions in the East Village of Manhattan and creating the capital of what became known as Off Off Broadway.  Few producers could match her energy, perseverance and fortitude. In the decades after World War II her influence on American theater was comparable to that of Joseph Papp, though the two approached the stage from different wings. Papp straddled the commercial and noncommercial worlds, while Ms. Stewart's terrain was international and decidedly noncommercial.   Her theater became a remarkable springboard for an impressive roster of promising playwrights, directors and actors who went on to accomplished careers both in mainstream entertainment and in push-the-envelope theater.

Watch: 1979 TV interview with Ellen Stewart on the origins of La MaMa

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