Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pimping the Professor, Part II

I always knew there was something fishy about Diane Paulus.

I just never thought the facts would smell this fishy.

Suspicious types like me sensed from the get-go that there was something a little too neat about the importation of The Donkey Show, created by Paulus and her husband, Randy Weiner , into ART's Zero Arrow space last fall. The piece had been initially developed for night clubs (in New York and elsewhere) where it had run profitably for years. It was obviously a piece of commercial theatre (that paid undisclosed royalties to Diane and her hubby) sliding into what was widely understood to be a non-profit piece of cultural real estate. Unsurprisingly, due to its nearly-bare boobs and disco tunes, The Donkey Show was a hit - but people like me began to wonder, as it was extended over and over again, whether we'd ever see "real" theatre, or any performance risky enough to turn off the bachelorettes, at Zero Arrow Street again. After all, in its original locales, The Donkey Show had run for years.

(Note: we moved the NSFW graphic to after the jump.)

Will Harvard wake up to the ethics of Diane Paulus and her husband?

Meanwhile, of course, the press blithely applauded this obvious land-grab. As in the equally-dismaying case of Shepard Fairey at the ICA, the smarter print critics pretty much sat on their hands as the professors went pop (one local scribe whispered to me that Paulus was "middlebrow" - duh - but was too cowardly to say that on the record), while the dimmer bulbs did cartwheels; at last, high art had been obliterated (again)!!! And what do you mean, this all might be unethical? Diane Paulus is a woman, and she voted for Obama! She's one of us!!!!

Right. Or maybe she's a fembot with her eyes on the prize, as it were (which is how she comes off in interviews). At any rate, as in the case of Fairey, the Diane Paulus mystique may be about to look a little tarnished. Because now, in a Globe piece by Geoff Edgers, the picture over at Zero Arrow gets a good deal less murky, and a good deal less savory. It turns out that Paulus' husband has, indeed, been taking home a tidy royalty on The Donkey Show - a royalty which seems to include part of the bar tab. He even owns the "Club Oberon" trademark. To Edgers, this is "an unorthodox relationship [between a promoter and Harvard]." Others might use harsher words, particular when they read Weiner's babble about "What a show is, it's a promotion, like a wet T-shirt contest, it's karaoke, it's girls get in free. The genius of doing a show is that people will actually pay for that promotion. I'm winning on the promotion and I'm winning on the drink."

No, I didn't make that up - Weiner actually said that on the record. What's funny is the way Edgers buries this and other details in what could pass for a puff piece (is Edgers as clueless as he has often seemed, or is he clueless like a fox this time around? You decide!). To Edgers, there's really no issue in having a non-profit theatre space at our leading university host "a quiz show, a burlesque, and a conjoined-twin singer-songwriter duo," presented by (who else?) Amanda Palmer. But even he can perceive that the A.R.T. seems to be sliding toward Mafia-restaurant territory, where the husband of the artistic director is hawking drinks and pocketing the change, and the theatre's new producer, Diane Borger, has a son-in-law who in a very strange coincidence is one of said hubby's partners in his latest New York venture, "Caligula Maximus." Again, I'm not making this up - could the whole mess look more corrupt and money-driven if it tried? No surprise, then, that almost no one at the A.R.T. wants to comment on the situation.

Okay, I admit I'm laughing right now, and I'm wondering just when, exactly, Harvard will make its move to remove this big-ass omelette from its face. Of course Harvard hardly has an ethical reputation to rival Mother Theresa's; still, the situation at the A.R.T. pushes the limits of the plausible deniability that is the university's norm. The claim that The Donkey Show is, in effect, funding "riskier" work at the A.R.T., as A Chorus Line once did for Joe Papp, is debatable, I'd say - but if Harvard wants to go that route, it still pretty much has to move the dancing girls to a commercial venue (as Papp did with his hits) to make the argument hold water. If The Donkey Show were playing on Lansdowne Street (where it belongs), and held its own in the commercial sector, there'd be few arguments against it, even if Weiner and Paulus were throwing a few bucks Harvard's way. Of course it may well prove unfeasible to run Paulus and Weiner out of town on a rail (which, frankly, is what should happen), but Harvard owes it to its own reputation to at least move The Donkey Show downtown, and bring theatre back to Zero Arrow.