|What's "in the intersection," honey.|
How is it?
Well, disappointing. And I can't tell whether the people who put it together are in the end brave or cowardly - or just guiltily greedy. Are they brave for even trying to contain the commercial corruption of the not-for-profit theatre - or are they cowardly for so clearly not wanting to come up with a bold statement regarding same?
Or worse yet, is the whole thing just one long exercise in deflecting the blame for the situation they themselves helped create?
I'll have to ponder all that further before I write up a full post about it.
But in the meantime, I admit that "In the Intersection" (by Diana Ragsdale, published by the Center for Theater Commons/HowlRound.com) is kind of interesting in a gossipy sort of way. At the private little conclave the report records there were actually no members of the most corrupt not-for-(the public's)-profit theatres (as I like to call them now); so the conversational fireworks were somewhat muted and collegial. Still, fun little cat fights do erupt here and there, especially between Rocco Landesman and Robert Brustein, about the indiscretions, misunderstandings (or rather the willful blindness of Brustein himself), and outright deceptions that went down as the East Coast not-for-profit cabal tiptoed along the primrose path to - well, where we are today.
There is one particularly telling exchange which I'll quote in full, because it gives you some idea of how long the not-for-profit theatre has been in denial regarding these questions. The speakers here are: Bob Brustein, founder and former artistic director of the American Repertory Theater; Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director of the Public Theatre; Rocco Landesman, Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts; commercial producers Kevin McCollum, Sue Frost, and Margo Lion; attorney Loren Plotkin; Tony Taccone, Artistic Director of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre; Mame Hunt, dramaturg, Sundance Institute; and David Dower, Director of Artistic Programs, ArtsEmerson.
* * * * * *
Towards the very end of the day, Oskar Eustis hearkened back to the session on contracts with Michael David and his descriptions of the hands-off [contractual] approach of Dodger Theatricals [producers of Into the Woods and Big River, among many others, and led by Rocco Landesman, Des McAnuff, and other investors - TG] and (turning to other commercial producers in the room) said, “That doesn’t sound like what you guys have done or feel about it at all. Am I right about that?”
Kevin McCollum said that he would not want any nonprofit to violate its mission by working with him and that from his perspective it all comes down to the pre-production discussions. Landesman then also clarified (as he had the day prior) that Dodger Theatricals was not always hands-off. He shared that when Dodgers produced Into the Woods with the Old Globe “most of the elements were already set.” He described it as “a pre-Broadway run.”
Bob Brustein commented, “So you bossed the whole thing. You rented a theater.” Margo Lion weighed in saying that the deals are “not always like that” and Landesman replied, “But they’re sometimes like that.” Brustein then turned to his former student and current friend, Rocco Landesman, and said he wanted to ask a question about Big River. (Which Landesman produced, and which was developed at Brustein's theatre, the A.R.T., and Des McAnuff's theatre, the La Jolla Playhouse, and went on to a successful Broadway run. - TG). He reiterated that he never understood the production was a “deal” even though Landesman had suggested the director and the composer. Brustein then asked his question and the conversation took a few interesting turns.
B. Brustein: OK. While I was presumably leading this theater (the A.R.T.) were you giving notes to the director and … were you carrying on like a Broadway producer?
K. McCollum: We do carry on, don’t we? All we do is carry on!
R. Landesman: … Giving notes to the director? I was certainly having conversations with him. Michael David did as well. We were all part of the same group.
K. McCollum: You were making something together.
L. Plotkin: If Bob had wanted to fire the director could he have fired the director? If he thought he wasn’t doing a good job?
B. Brustein: Of course, I could have …
[Plotkin puts his hand up to Brustein as if to say, “Wait, Let Rocco respond.”]
R. Landesman: If he had wanted to fire him off that production he could have.
S. Frost: Well, it was his contract I would assume—
R. Landesman: I would have objected strenuously …
S. Frost: Sure, but—
R. Landesman: … Bob had the contracts with the director, with the actors, with all of them.
M. Hunt: Objected strenuously, and then what?
B. Brustein: Pardon me?
[Hunt repeats her question while Frost says over her …]
S. Frost: Objected strenuously and let Bob call it because it’s his contract.
B. Brustein: That’s all he could have done. He could have only objected strenuously. It would have tested our friendship …
R. Landesman: And then what I would have done is, when we took it on, I would have put the director back. And then our friendship was intact.
K. McCollum: Tom Sawyer got everyone to paint his fence.
S. Frost: Can I say, I find it hard to believe that it would be easy for a commercial producer to say, “Here’s my show I’ll be back opening night.” I think it would be very difficult, practically speaking.
B. Brustein: I didn’t know it was his show. (?????!; Brustein says this elsewhere as well. - TG)
S. Frost: No, no, no. But he’s speaking of a long history. … But it doesn’t mean that that relationship isn’t a positive one. When we did Memphis at La Jolla we were there the entire time—the entire time.
O. Eustis: And the director was the artistic director.
S. Frost: Correct.
O. Eustis: That makes a difference.
S. Frost: That made it a lot simpler.
O. Eustis: Just like Des [McAnuff] was [on Big River].
K. McCollum: Isn’t that worse?
T. Taccone: Better for the theater.
K. McCollum: Better for the artistic director.
T. Taccone: Better for the theater.
S. Frost: It’s better for the theater.
Unknown: How is it better for the theater?
T. Taccone: I’m not talking about the product. I’m saying it’s better for the theater when a staff member is the central artist, creator.
S. Frost: Absolutely. Totally. But it made it a partnership. It didn’t make it an “us” and “them.” … And I rarely carried on .… But what fun is it to not be part of it? You know?
R. Landesman: I was there at the time …
B. Brustein: I know you were part of our company. You had joined our company.
R. Landesman: I wasn’t part of the company but I was there.
B. Brustein: You were a collaborator and an adviser—
D. Dower: Let’s come back from our breakout groups . . .
* * * * * *
I admit I winced for Brustein - actually for all of them - as I read that sad little scene. How could Brustein have been so blind to what was going on right under his nose with Big River? And was he really so blind, or is he simply claiming to have been now?
Such unintentionally ironic exchanges only beg the larger questions - is there any way today to put the commercial genie back in the not-for-profit bottle - as these very people apparently let it out years ago?
Or was the genie never really in the bottle to begin with?
We'll consider these issues at further length in future posts here at the Hub Review . . .