Feb 8, 2016
commented on Erin Pike and That'swhatshesaid Went on Despite Cease and Desist Order, Legal Ramifications Remain Uncertain
Everyone who's commenting on this without having seen the work in question is foolish; making broad, absolute declarations in response to second-hand descriptions is just dumb. (It's especially dumb because the first two conclusions drawn by @33 follow clearly from those second-hand descriptions.)
Calling this censorship is debatable, because Samuel French doesn't actually care about the content one way or the other -- they would probably have sent the same letter even if this had been some kind of revue celebrating the plays in questions (keep in mind that Samuel French sent the letter in response to the playwright's agent's complaint; in all likelihood, the playwright himself has no idea any of this is going on). But a cease-&-desist letter is a contemporary corporate intimidation tactic, issued to avoid incurring the legal expenses that would follow an actual lawsuit, sent to strong-arm people that the corporation knows (a) can't afford to pay them anything even if the lawsuit was settled in favor of the corporation and (b) can't afford to engage in a lawsuit to fight back, regardless of the strength of their case (because even if the poor folk win the case, that doesn't necessarily mean the decision is going to require the corporation to pay their fees, and the notion that the U.S. is swimming in pro bono lawyers eager to take up every case like this comes more from Hollywood movies than reality). Basically, this comes down to legal intermediaries protecting their income, not a playwright who feels his work is being stolen.
"That'swhatshesaid" has a clearly articulated sociopolitical criticism of the works in question; I don't know whether one would call it 'parody' or 'satire', but it clearly -- if you saw the show, read the program (which cites all the works in question, there's no attempt to claim authorship of the excerpts), or read any of the published interviews with the creators -- falls under 'fair use'. The legal notion of 'fair use' exists because it's been recognized by our society that rigid, absolute copyright is not the best way to serve the life-blood of culture, which is an ongoing conversation as much as it is a series of one-sided presentations.
@30: Collage is a longstanding and accepted form of art, sometimes done for the purposes of criticism, sometimes for purely aesthetic reasons. What's original here are the specific juxtapositions of the text -- which alter the meaning of the original materials to make a sociopolitical point -- and all the aspects of the production, which include Erin Pike's performance; the set, costume, light, and sound design; and the conceptual context, which makes clear that these words are not original but are being reframed with a particular goal in mind. You can find examples in visual art, music, literature, film -- this isn't even unusual in its technique, though it's uncommon in theater. Trying to dismiss this as not-art is just ignorant.
All of this applies whether the work in question is any good or not. I happen to think "That'swhatshesaid" is very good -- engaging, dynamic, sharply comic, articulate in its goals, and ultimately successful in getting its audience to question their assumptions about the representation of women on the stage. But even if it were a sloppy, half-assed piece of work, it would still be 'fair use' because we live in a society that's decided there needs to be a balance between creation/ownership, and critical response. It's a balance that corporations (Disney, in particular) are working very hard to tilt in their direction, under the mask of protecting creative artists. All they really want to protect is their stream of income.
Sep 10, 2015
commented on A Performer Quitting a Production During the Run Can Be a Theater's Worst Nightmare
This article is frustrating, because it conflates a lot of different circumstances as if they were all equivalent. Dropping out of a show before rehearsals, or early in the rehearsal process, is entirely different than dropping out of a show that's in performance. I've had the latter happen to me as a director/producer, and it really sucks. Dropping out before things start, that's not only okay, it's respectful -- I'd much rather have an actor who didn't want to be in a show drop out at a point where I can pursue other options. But dropping out during the run of a show, that's a shitty thing to do.
The theaters we're talking about are usually losing money on every production until closing weekend. An actor bailing on a show in performance to take a bigger paycheck is putting his/her ambition above the well-being of the theater and above the artistic efforts of everyone else involved in the production (director, actors, designers, as well as the audience members who'd bought tickets).
Actors can do this -- no one in this situation has the money to sue anyone for breach of contract, and who wants to spend a chunk of their lives in court -- but I'm really astounded by actors who want to be free to do this but don't want to be called out about it. Who think that it's okay to break their word, but it's wrong for anyone to say "Hey, you broke your word."
Opportunities don't just "come knocking" -- actors have to seek them out. Actors have to choose to pursue an opportunity that, if they get it, will require them to break their commitment to a show that they're already in. Because by the time you're in performance, it's been a couple of months of pre-production and rehearsal. So this didn't just "happen" -- whoops! -- the actor sought it out with full knowledge. The actor made a choice. I understand that this choice comes out of fear of scarcity -- "If I don't grab for every possible opportunity, I'll never make it" -- and while I can sympathize with that, it's still a shitty thing to do to everyone else involved and I have no respect for it.
Feb 25, 2013
commented on Sound and Fury: The Controversy Over "A Piece of Work" at On the Boards
Just to clarify, for anyone who doesn't click through to FB (which, I'm assuming, is most everyone): I didn't say 'A Piece of Work' was meaningless, I said it was flimsy -- a decades-old notion carried out with new technology but less invention or wit than when the Dadaists did it with a pair of scissors and a hat. I don't question than you can draw meaning, poignance, and humor from randomly generated text, but I don't see why you'd want to sit in a theater to do so. It would have made a fine interactive website.
Feb 2, 2010
commented on The Bash for Bart and the Fight over Local Theater
The whole local/national argument confuses two different things: One is a sort of absolute notion of quality, the idea that there is 'greatness' that stands above all other concerns, that there are works of art that are simply more profoundly moving (emotionally/intellectually/spritually) than others and performers who are simply more talented (and therefore naturally rise to national prominence).
The other is a completely different value system, wherein intimacy (of place, of sensibility) and a shared frame of reference create a different but just as powerful impact. That even though Scot Augustson (to use the example cited above) may not be obviously writing about Seattle, his work is shaped by the multitude of factors that shape my life (everything from city politics to the county's racial/cultural mix to regional cuisine to the affect of the weather on our moods) and therefore his writing addresses my life in a thousand tiny but significant ways that the work of, say, David Mamet cannot. Similarly, Marya Sea Kaminski is swimming in the same cultural water as I am, and so her performances have nuances that speak to me in a way that those of an actor jobbed in from New York cannot.
Saying "All that matters is working with the best people to produce greatness" is like saying that because Conan O'Brien and Craig Ferguson are smart, witty, and charming, I no longer need to talk with my friends. You can have both, but you need to value each for their own worth.
(And I'm not saying local artists can't be "great" -- Shakespeare, Sophocles, and Moliere were all, to their communities, local artists. "Greatness" is a dumb thing to pursue because really, you're talking about endurance over time, and you can't know what's going to hold up when you're in the moment. In Shakespeare's day, he wasn't considered any better than Beaumont and Fletcher, who are now forgotten by all but academics.)