Commentary: Yeah, sometimes the arts ARE boring

Joe Patti, Butts In The Seats blog, 8/1/11

Andrew Taylor once wrote he felt it was counterproductive for arts organizations to never admit any program supported by a grant did not perform as planned or better.

"It's an insight as old as theater - conflict, flaw, and tension are what make narratives compelling. And yet, read through most arts marketing materials or grant applications and what will you find? Perfection, triumph, success, and positive spin. Their performances are always exceptional. Their audiences are always ecstatic. Their reviews are always resounding (or mysteriously missing from the packet). Their communities are always connected and enthralled. In short, they are superhuman, disconnected, and insincere."

I would say the same is true with audiences. We advertise everything we do as the most exciting and seminal work they will ever see but never concede audiences may not be in ecstasy every moment they are in the theatre. As a result, audiences expect to be in ecstasy and may either decide there is something wrong with them for not feeling amazed or decide they have been had by a bunch of B.S.

One of my favorite episodes in Drew McManus' "Take A Friend To The Orchestra" program came about 6 years ago when Drew took the brother of WNYC Sound Check host, John Schaefer, to a concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Jerry Schaefer had never been to an orchestral concert before. One of the parts that impressed me the most was that Drew admitted that he often gets bored at times during a concert and that it was okay to be bored at times. I am not suggesting a full confessional after every performance outlining everything that went wrong. One common theme on this blog has been the idea that we need to speak about the arts experience in everyday life. Part of that conversation needs to be acknowledging that, yeah sometimes it is boring; sometimes is it bad; sometimes it is confusing, even for those of us with a lot of experience.


Commentary: "White producers who grow comfortable in their homogeny are lazy"

Robbie Q. Telfer, Americans For The Arts blog, 7/29/11

An important principal to the Encyclopedia Show is diversity. We try to get not only poets, but solo performance artists, visual artists, creative nonfiction and fiction writers, musicians, comedians, live animals, experts on the topic, jugglers, etc...Demographic diversity is also extremely important to us - and in hyper-segregated Chicago, that might mean more. A larger goal of our show is to replicate all human emotions, so we're trying to bring in all humans. The key to diversity, though, is not to tokenize people from outside my demographic (white guy), but to try honestly to understand the values of the different communities I am pulling from and featuring only excellent representatives. It makes for a bad show if you don't care how the non-white guy's pieces turn out just because you feel guilty about institutionalized racism. Also, tokenism is infantilizing and deeply insulting. It is worth it to us to work a little extra hard finding the best contributors we can from all backgrounds, and I feel that other white producers who grow comfortable in their homogeny are lazy. Artistic greatness lives in every community. That said, it is difficult as a white guy with white guy interests to diversify our audience. We're trying. There are a lot of pitfalls in live event productions, and many of them are much simpler than the high-minded, lofty ones I've outlined above. However, I feel that if you have your over-arching philosophies down, your ethics sound, and you make sure you have good people filling key roles, the small stuff takes care of itself.


Chorographer Bill T. Jones: TV's dance reality shows pervert the art form

The Hollywood Reporter, 8/1/11

Tony winning choreographer and dance world iconoclast Bill T. Jones may have appeared on "So You Think You Can Dance Canada." But he's no fan of the dance reality television genre. "You know, I don't like those shows," he told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour. Viewers will get an inside look at Jones' creative process in the PBS "American Masters" documentary "Bill T. Jones: A Good Man," about the making of the Abraham Lincoln stage homage "Fondly Do We Hope ... Fervently Do We Pray." His outspoken and unabashed personality was on full display for the media gathered at the Beverly Hilton for a question and answer session with Jones and the producers of the American Masters film. He did offer that colleagues in the dance world tell him that series like Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance?" exposes dance - an imperiled art form especially in a recession - to the masses. Said Jones: "That's good for dance, people say. But it's not good that dance is sport. It is not sport. It is a subtle art form." Reality television, continued Jones, perverts that art form. What if there was a show called So You Think You're Picasso? "When it's all souped up, so you can grade it, rate it...," said Jones. "Imagine that we're going to do a program [where] everybody is going to paint a canvas tonight? You would think we were crazy." Jones grudgingly acknowledged that the dance reality trend may be a "mixed blessing." But he offered an unequivocal final word: "I find them sometimes obscene."


Commentary: Sometimes, I think our culture has run out of ideas...

Jim McCarthy, Live 2.0 blog, 7/28/11

And when I see that the game Battleship is being made into a movie, it does absolutely nothing to make me feel better. This is a game, remember, with about as much complexity, personality or story as the keypad to your home alarm system. I thought making a movie based on Pirates of the Caribbean was stupid, but of course, by comparison, Pirates is incredibly rich material. After all, the Pirates actually say things, move around, and seem to have motives and certainly have a great theme song. This is important to me because the creation of original intellectual property is important to the life of the culture. It's an expression of who we are, what we want, what we're dreaming about, and what we're afraid of. This endless returning to the past to mine some existing character or concept has a "beginning of a dark age" feel to it. If this generation's dreams and imaginings aren't even their own, but simply an echo of the past, how are we going to get better? This issue is really important in the live entertainment business because of the inherent barriers to participation in live entertainment. The opportunity for the live entertainment industry to rule entertainment as a whole is sitting right there in front of us, but it depends on one thing: compelling, original intellectual property.


Commentary: Difficult children's theater is the best kind of children's theater

Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune, 7/28/11

Memories of most shows fade over time. But a very select few seem to stay with you forever. For me, one show on that short list is a production of "Korczak's Children," which I saw in 2003 at the Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis. This play about Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage in a Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, has stayed with me not because of the writing, acting or directing (although all three were excellent). Here's what I remember: a theater full of children, watching a deadly serious play and hardly moving a muscle. Now, it's a long way from "Korczak's Children" to "The Adventures of Pinocchio," the new daytime musical at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. [But] this show will surprise a lot of people. It's a million miles from the typical, chirpy kids show with a pop-oriented score. There are other, more traditional productions in town. Some kids and their parents will prefer it. Fair enough. And this is the middle of summer vacation. But I think kids can tell the difference. In my experience of watching kids in the theater, there are two kinds of shows. There are shows that deliver an expected experience - a safe, fun time, a tidy moral, optimism, idealism, melody. You can find a lot of those, here and on your summer travels. And then there are shows that deliver more of the world's complexities - yes, even Pinocchio is complex - and that do so by taking a few risks. Kids at those shows react differently.

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