Commentary: Is the future of Canadian theater cheap and easy-access shows?

J. Kelly Nestruck, The Globe and Mail, 7/6/13

Entering a jam-packed Thursday matinee at the Dunfield Theatre, it becomes clear pretty quickly why a retirement residence paid $1-million for the naming rights at this new theatre. Nearly every patron in the 500-seat theatre has gray hair. Big Band Legends has drawn this lively, older audience, people who happily buy 50/50 raffle tickets from ushers before the lights go down. Legends begins with medleys of hits by crooners, stitched together by a backdrop of videos and pictures of the singers. Then, bafflingly, comes a sequence called The Italians that includes the theme song from The Godfather accompanied by projections of prosciutto. That's when I decide I can leave at intermission. As I retreat to my car, I wonder: Is this the financial future of Canadian theatre? Make no mistake: Drayton Entertainment is one of [Canada's] biggest theatrical successes. Its circuit of not-for-profit theatres in southern Ontario has expanded to seven [and] this year, Drayton is expecting attendance to surpass 225,000 ...nearly [matching] the number sold by the Shaw Festival. All this is achieved on an annual budget of just over $8 million, 84% of which comes from ticket sales and the rest from donations and fundraisers. None of the budget comes from the public purse. Is Drayton helping create culture in smaller centres across Ontario? Or is it just franchising cheap and easy-access shows? There's a contradiction in the way [they] stress the "local" nature of their theatres, even as they take huge pride in Drayton's almost industrial approach to the inefficiencies of theatre-making. The Dunfield Theatre is a kind of factory for plays [with] five rehearsal rooms, set, props and costume shops, and even a 33-room actors' dorm. The plan is to centralize all rehearsals and production here, then ship shows out to the other Drayton theatres, all of them renovated to one of two standardized sizes. Drayton's business model spreads out costs and risks, with outperforming markets in any given season making up for underperforming ones. Mustakas has even started to tour his productions in the U.S. through a partnership with New York-based Columbia Artists Management.

 

Commentary: Creating new dance works for, and with, "the average person"

Eliza Bent, TCG's American Theatre magazine, July/August 2013 issue

By now most people are familiar with crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. But what about crowdsourcing the actual art-making?  Two dance companies -- Diablo Ballet in Walnut Creek, Calif., and James Sewell Ballet in Minneapolis -- did just that. They made use of the time-tested tradition of an improv show that asks for an audience suggestion -- but instead of one idea, they solicited hundreds. These ballet troupes are effectively taking the adage "good artists borrow, great artists steal" to a whole new level. Why crowdsource a dance at all? "I'm pretty sick of how I move," admits James Sewell, who has made some 80 ballets over the course of his career. "I'm way more predictable than I'd like to be." Part of Sewell's interest in creating Your Move, which bowed in April, was to snatch fresh ideas from interested audience members and use them as source material. For Diablo Ballet the impetus to create a crowdsourced ballet was tied to social media. "We did a Twitter night last year," says Dan Meagher, Diablo's director of marketing, [and it] brought in "lots of people who had never seen theatrical dance. Dance is so collaborative; we thought, let's collaborate with the world."  Both Meagher and Sewell expressed how their respective crowdsourced projects contributed to demystifying the world of dance. But does drawing from the crowd dilute the artistry? "Just because a move is cool doesn't mean you necessarily end up using it," says Sewell. "People have been making ballet with the same steps for many years. Sourcing from people was enriching. And the 25% that I created was essential for shaping the dance and giving it an emotional arc." Meagher drives home a point about art and democracy. "Shakespeare didn't create his plays to be enjoyed by just the royalty and wealthy. They were done for the average person. When did we lose that ideal?"

 

Commentary: Why don't we consider professional wrestling an art form?

Trent Zuberi, Heave Media, 6/21/13

It's an art. That's an answer I use frequently when people ask me why I love professional wrestling as much as I do. That answer leaves them confused at times. To the average person the words art and professional wrestling don't really belong together, but what they fail to realize is how much of an art it really is. Professional wrestling is performed on a stage for an audience, so why doesn't it get the same treatment [as theater]? The art of professional wrestling has evolved. Performers have to try harder and find those new bursts of creativity to keep us on our toes, and when done right, it's a magical combination. Compelling storytelling is a big part of the machine that is professional wrestling. This past week's episode of TNA Impact featured a match that hit that nerve for me. I've seen AJ Styles and Samoa Joe fight each other probably 50+ times, and it never gets old. This one had a different twist. AJ's character is in a completely different state of mind than the fans are used to. He's darker, more aggressive, less explosive and more methodical than ever before. This even isn't the AJ that Joe is used to battling, so he had to adapt as well. Joe is more systemized and calculated than before; he's breaking opponents down in a more concentrated way than I've seen in the past. This is where the art comes in. The match was set for a 15-minute time limit, and as we approached the final minute the race to the finish line began. Every move could be the last, but to no avail; the match ended in a time limit draw. Exciting to the last second, the two were pulled apart, and as they settled themselves they were engulfed by chants of "Let them fight!" and "Five more minutes!" from thousands of fans. The audience was on its feet. The equivalent of a standing ovation at a theater or a call for an encore at a concert, their audience wanted more. In fifteen minutes, two wrestlers that wouldn't be given the credit they deserve from the mainstream for the artists they are brought thousands of people to their feet demanding they continue their performance. That, my friends, is amazing storytelling. That is pure art.

 

Survey: Which are America's "Snobbiest Cities"?

Katrina Brown Hunt, Travel + Leisure magazine, June 2013 issue

When you browse Santa Fe's galleries, a love of art isn't necessarily enough. Ysmay Walsh makes a point to dress up when she gallery-hops along the city's Canyon Road. "I feel like I have to step up my game a bit, because I wanted to be taken seriously at the galleries," says the founder of residential guide MetroSeeker.com. "Without a certain appearance or air about yourself, gallery owners barely acknowledge you when you walk in." That attitude helps explain how the otherwise diverse and quiet Santa Fe made the top 20 snobbiest cities, according to Travel + Leisure readers. To determine which city has the biggest nose in the air, we factored in some traditional staples of snobbery: a reputation for aloof and smarty-pants residents, along with high-end shopping and highbrow cultural offerings like classical music and theater. But we also considered 21st-century definitions of elitism: tech-savviness, artisanal coffeehouses, and a conspicuous eco-consciousness.   The "winners" included cities with distinctive cultures, such as Seattle and Charleston, SC. Locals can be "snobs" about one local feature -- say, the music scene in Austin -- and then blasť about another (a casual fashion sense, also in Austin). Yet some cities show flashes of velvet-rope-style attitude. "In Miami, very few people initiate a hello," jokes Tandaleya Wilder, president of Florida public relations firm She Got Game. "After all, it's hot down here, and if you're not a celebrity, why waste your breath?"

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