Archive for the ‘Theatre’ Category

Service of Can You Go Home Again? Do Revivals Work for Businesses Like FAO Schwarz or the Playboy Club or Comedies?

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018

Photo: Pix11.com

I’m intrigued by the concept of revivals. Two once successful businesses that closed are attempting them now–FAO Schwarz and the Playboy Club—and a prominent theater critic wrote in his Neil Simon obit that they don’t work when it comes to comedy.

Charles Passy covered the Schwarz and Playboy stories in Wall Street Journal articles, “FAO Schwarz Is Set to Return, And It Needs People to Dance on the ‘Big’ Piano– Midtown Manhattan store will be staffed with demonstrators, magicians and men and women playing costumed roles, including toy soldiers” and “Playboy Club Returns to New York, Bunnies and All, but Will It Hop? Industry experts question if the club’s concept will still work, as it comes back to the Big Apple after a three-decade absence.

Hugh Hefner and bunnies. Photo: Oldlarestaurants.com

I have memories of both. On a visit to FAO Schwarz with a first grade classmate and her mother the girl pointed to Santa and reported to my six year old self that he didn’t exist. I attribute happier recollections of the store with gift reconnaissance for my nephews. As for the Playboy Club, it paid bunny wait staff four times what other jobs I’d applied for after college offered. The reaction I’d expected from my father—he’d had a fit when he learned I’d modeled fully clothed for an art class—was only one of several good reasons I didn’t pursue the opportunity.

Terry Teachout’s Neil Simon obituary began “All comedy dates, and every pure comedian sooner or later becomes passé—even one as beloved as Neil Simon.” After “Lost in Yonkers,” wrote Teachout in The Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Simon would never again write a full-fledged box-office smash, and none of his plays has since been successfully revived on Broadway save as a star vehicle. His last bow there as a playwright, a 2009 revival of ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ directed by David Cromer, closed after nine performances.”

Photo: Playbill

Teachout observed: “And while his plays remain popular with amateur troupes and smaller companies elsewhere in America, most of the major regional theaters tend to steer clear of his work.”

In an op-ed piece in the same paper associate editorial features editor Matthew Hennessey wrote that theater today is “dominated by crowd-pleasing jukebox musicals and adaptations of popular movies. In the last few decades of the 20th century, Simon, who died Sunday at 91, was a household name.” Broadwayworld.com proved Hennessey’s assertion. A headline last week was “Jerry Zaks will bring Mrs. Doubtfire musical to Broadway.”

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Hennessey continued: Simon’s “domination of the Great White Way from the 1960s through the ’80s has no contemporary comparison. The current toast of Broadway, ‘Hamilton’ creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, has staged two original hit shows in a decade. In 1966 Simon had four plays running in Broadway houses at the same time.”

Do you think that FAO Schwarz and Playboy Clubs will/can fit today’s customers? What about revivals of once popular comedies–do they all become passé? Perhaps “Mash” and “Honeymooners” fans, or those who tune in to the TV version of “The Odd Couple” –derived from Simon’s play–don’t buy tickets to Broadway or major regional company theaters because they are simply too old or too poor? Or maybe laughter is out of fashion on the Great White Way?

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

Service of You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me

Monday, August 24th, 2015

Bus with Selfish Passenger

This post is similar to “Service of Chutzpah” that I wrote this winter: In spite of the greatly improved weather and beautiful long summer days, the clueless, thoughtless bug is still in the air.

Bus Stop

I was on a bus when an able woman in her 40s entered with a marketing cart bulging with purchases. I empathize: I don’t have a marketing basket but after a visit to Trader Joe I often carry two heavy shopping bags. On the style of bus we were on that day, I’d head for the connecting area between the two sections where there’s plenty of room to stash bags, suitcases or a marketing cart—on the metal floor in the photo above.  

If you look carefully, you can see her shopping cart hogging the aisle in the front of the bus. The subsequent logjam resulted in frazzled nerves and delays. When the bus driver asked her to move the cart, she didn’t budge until she got out four stops later.

I don’t have that kind of nerve.

The Show Must Go On

Here are two early July head-slapping examples involving members of NY theatre audiences.

Patti LuPone ripped the phone out of a woman’s hand without missingShows for Days a beat as she played a diva, Irene, in “Shows for Days.” She’d been texting throughout the star’s performance at Lincoln Center. According to Beckie Strum in the New York Post, her co-star Michael Urie said her performance, “…was good and it didn’t disrupt the momentum of the play.” Lupone told Playbill that the LED smartphone screen disrupts audience members and actors alike. She was particularly annoyed because earlier that day the matinee performance was punctuated by ringtones and the screech of a faulty hearing aid.

Before a performance of “Hand to God” at the Booth Theatre another audience member jumped on stage to try to charge his cell phone on what turned out to be a prop that wasn’t plugged into an outlet. Robert Viagas wrote on playbill.com, “It’s nice that people feel at home at Broadway theatres — but perhaps they shouldn’t feel this at home.”

Behind the Curtain

And in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Pia Catton wrote “Phones Rankle Offstage, Too.” In just one example she described a typical incident. “Opera singer Jennifer Rowley, who performs at the Metropolitan Opera and London’s Covent Garden, said she once auditioned for a director who, exasperated by her chosen song, started out barely paying attention. ‘He immediately pulled out his phone and starting texting while I was singing,’ said the soprano, whose high notes ultimately proved more captivating than his screen. ‘When it got interesting, he stopped.'”

I can’t tell if these people—none of whom are kids–are stupid, feel entitled, are unconscious, suffer from extreme selfishness or come from a different planet. And you? Have you noticed or read about other such incidents of late?

Jennifer Rowley, photo: classicalvoiceamerica.org

Jennifer Rowley, photo: classicalvoiceamerica.org

Service of Arts Attendance

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

standing ovation

Alexander Forbes wrote “Why Falling Arts Attendance Has Major Implications for the US Economy,” in artnet.com. He based his arguments on the result of National Endowment for the Arts {NEA} studies.

Attendance at musical performances—jazz, classical, opera, musical theatre—as well as plays, ballet, art museums and galleries, all of which he called “benchmark activities,” have declined between 1992, where 41 percent of US adults attended at least one, and 20 years later, in 2012. That year, 21 percent visited a gallery or art museum and 33 percent went to any benchmark activity.

audience in the park 2Of those who attended an event, 73 percent “said their main reason for doing so was to socialize with friends or family, while 22 percent who wanted to participate in an arts activity but didn’t, say it was because they didn’t have someone to join them,” wrote Forbes.

So who is attending, according to the NEA? “Despite similar household incomes and education, people who call themselves middle-class were more likely to attend the arts than those who identified themselves as working class.” Forbes noted the obvious fact that people who define themselves as working class may be working on weekends and evenings when events take place and museums and galleries are open.

kids at concertHe reported that the misunderstanding by some that arts are “for elites by elites,” is worse than before. “Anti-arts rhetoric has become particularly malignant in the years since the economic collapse with many populist-leaning politicians worldwide attacking the arts as unnecessary luxuries that one percent-ers like to enjoy and make the rest of us pay for.”

So what do the arts contribute to US GDP? Forbes wrote $698 billion in 2012 or 4.32 percent of GDP. Note: He clarified that the figure included film, television and advertising industries along with the usual suspects.

Yet he didn’t point out essential information: What percentage of the $698 billion do TV and advertising represent? [I’m giving film the benefit of the doubt and determining that people attend movie theatres though clearly Netflix sales count in this number.] He compared the total to the construction industry with “only” a $586 billion contribution to GDP and transportation and warehousing–$464 billion.

museum visitorsForbes highlighted the trade surplus generated by the arts–$25 billion—which, given that we don’t export a great deal these days since we stopped manufacturing much, is significant. He also reported that “for every 100 new jobs created in the arts, 62 new jobs are created, on average, in other industries.” And: “For every dollar of increased spending on artworks, $1.98 of total economic output is created. In the case of museums, every new dollar of demand creates $1.76 of gains.”

Do you think that the impact on this country’s economy of fewer people attending “benchmark arts activities” will be as damaging as Forbes suggests should the downward slide continue? Do you attend such events to socialize? If nobody is free to go with you, do you stay home? Are there other potentially dire consequences of this downward trend?

dancers on stage

Service of Theatre Etiquette

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Theatre 3

Erica Martell, an avid theatregoer, proposed this topic based on recent experience in two New York theatres.

Sitting behind her in one was a woman with a nylon coat that made noise when she moved. It took her quite some time to settle down even after the show started. The crinkling was distracting–just writing about it makes me grind my teeth–and it began again farther into the show.

theatre 1In counterpoint to the coat chorus was a five minute period of sorting through her bag to find a candy and then the cacophony of the unwrapping. Erica said she’d had it and made a loud “shush” noise. At intermission a man thanked her for the “shush” as he was equally irritated.

But that wasn’t all. At a critical point in the final act Ms. Infuriating whispered loudly to her seatmate: “What time is it?”

Tweeting in audienceA week or so later at another Broadway show the woman sitting next to her mother texted throughout. Erica didn’t say anything this time. But we spoke about the man in a Florida movie house, about a month ago, who shot someone in the audience for doing just that.

When people tweet about the event they are attending–and are encouraged to do so in some instances–etiquette gets a blow. While the event producers encourage the buzz, they aren’t thinking about others around the person whose tapping on a smartphone or tablet—even the light generated by these devices–bothers neighbors. And what about the speakers confronted with bowed heads? Do you think that everyone is tweeting or posting rave reviews and updates on Facebook? I bet many are responding to texts, checking Tweeting in theatreemails or buying supplies.

I told another friend about Erica’s topic and she shared what happened to her. She had to call over the usher to quiet a couple who were speaking a foreign language nonstop after the curtain went up. She said. “Why would you attend something you didn’t understand?” People attend operas all the time when they don’t understand German or Italian yet they don’t have a pass to speak during a performance even if there aren’t any English subtitles.

Such lack of manners can also spoil concerts, movies and lectures. What causes such breaches of etiquette? Can you share examples and effective solutions?

Broadway

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