Neil Simon is worth $49,328 of the City of Seattle's arts budget for 2000, according to a press release faxed out by the Seattle Arts Commission last week. The fax announced the numbers for SAC's Resident Producing Institutions program, the part of SAC that goes to supporting projects by Seattle's largest arts institutions. I like to read these releases as a sort of report card on how much city government values each of our major groups, though the figures have more to do with budget sizes than with the merits of the institutions or their proposals. In any case, by my tendentious reading, the Henry Art Gallery and On the Boards are sucking air (17K and 13K, respectively), while the Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Seattle Symphony continue their streaks as the most highly subsidized local arts groups, with cash infusions of 172K, 150K, and 144K.
A Contemporary Theatre snagged a mere 49K (second behind Seattle Rep out of the city's theaters), specifically for their proposed production of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple (you may remember the play, movie, and/or TV show by that name). Simon is described by his publisher as "America's most prolific and successful playwright," which leads to my question: Isn't the whole point of Neil Simon that his plays make gobs and gobs of money for people?
I expect to see Neil Simon plays produced locally; the Rep already has the other Jewish-memoirist-humorist cash-cow playwright locked up in Wendy Wasserstein, so the Intiman and ACT are forced to rely on someone like Simon to fill the moneymaker slot in their highly programmatic schedules (something old, something new, something musical, something ethnic, something that'll rake in the bucks).
But why do they need help to do so? Here again, my trusty SAC press release is helpful, listing the various arguments advanced for the merits of various monies requested by the various institutions. Pacific Northwest Ballet will "offer... an arts program for schools"; Seattle Opera will "give the community an opportunity to discover exciting new talent while taking advantage of lower ticket prices"; and Seattle Symphony, in its Pops series, will "provide accessible entertainment with a view to attract first-time concertgoers." Seattle Art Museum, with a healthy 107K, is a nice break in this pablum, promising only to mount a great show (the first major West Coast exhibition of work by John Singer Sargent) by a great curator (Trevor Fairbrother, a Sargent expert).
Anyway, ACT's argument for Simon is that the production will "showcase Seattle's comedy talent."
Does this mean Pat Cashman and John Keister will be able to supplement their severance pay from the cancellation of Almost Live!? Gordon Edelstein, ACT's artistic director, says no. And, doing Simon "isn't as cynical a decision as you think it is. The impulse to do Odd Couple came from looking for opportunities to showcase one of Seattle's local treasures: comic talent." Said talent is conceived of as longtime Seattle stage actors, including John Proccacino, Peter Silbert, and David Bichette. As part of his long rant (boiled down here), Edelstein suggests that Simon's early work may belong in the pantheon of great American comedy alongside Kaufman and Hart, and he wants to find out for sure with this production. I'm sold, but I also feel like Edelstein could convince me to respect Titanic, if he wanted to.
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Is artsEdge over? The festival of local emerging arts is taking a year off so as not to compete with the opening of the Experience Music Project, its biggest sponsor. Now, according to a letter from Seattle Center Director Virginia Anderson, "I will be asking you to help us figure out what comes next for artsEdge." While thinking about the festival, she has learned that "there is enormous talent and energy" here, that "audiences, while not huge, were enthusiastic" (allow me to quibble: audiences were small, and enthusiastic's a stretch), and "to do the festival justice takes considerable time and resources." So expect -- no, pray -- for Seattle Center to radically rework or cancel the fest completely, replacing it with something else designed to capture a young, hip audience.
While I'm waiting for Ms. Anderson's phone call, I'll list my own ideas for how to fix artsEdge: (1) triple the budget; (2) seek out national grants; and (3) charge an admission fee -- all so they can (4) pay all participating artists; (5) hire active curators, rather than passively requesting proposals and hoping good local acts turn up; (6) bring in some established, non-local -- but still "edgy" -- acts as draws, and to inspire locals. Obvious choices are John Zorn, Orbital, Five Lesbian Brothers, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Melt Banana, Ben Marcus, Jason Rhoades, Billy Collins, Charles Long, Marisa Monte, De La Guarda, Tom Ze, and Dumb Type. If they want any more suggestions, they'll have to pay me. And finally, (7) come up with a less dopey name.
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