Fun With Learning
I got a little carried away writing about Shakespeare and accidentally ate up most of my wordspace this week. However, there were three things I learned this week that I would like to share, even if I can't fit them naturally into the wordflow this time around:
So, enough learning. On with the show!
There's this playwright named William Shakespeare. You might have heard of him. He's kind of a big deal. For more than four centuries, his scripts have been performed, adapted, re-invented, parodied, and used as rights of passage for "serious" actors to mark their escalation to higher realms. They've also been used to make Ethan Hawke movies. Shakespeare is the only playwright that almost anybody can name, mostly due to the fact that at some point in your education, you were forced to study one or two of his plays, sometimes with silly costumes
Old Bill gets a lot of love, especially this year, which will mark the old man's 450th birthday. William's work is worshipped in the theater world to the level of idolatry, even though four hundred years of language shift have left his work a bit impenetrable to today's ears. Culture has moved on quite a bit since the days when watching a pack of dogs tear apart a bear in the street was considered normal entertainment instead of a sign of psychopathy, which is why it is easy for us today to write big academic papers about sexism, racism and anti-semitism in his plays. Of course, these are more reflections on the time in which they were written, but there are obvious obstacles in the plays for the present day where we are striving for equity and diversity. Bill's world is pretty much a man's world after all.
The theatre world has a weird relationship with the Bard. On the one hand, we're constantly trying to find new ways to idolize him. On the other hand, the constant cycle of performing and re-performing the same small set of plays leads productions down questionable paths in search of something new to do with them. Every few years, there is another call for a moratorium on Shakespeare, but few big companies are willing to walk away from the level of name recognition the Bard has.
Which is why I was so surprised to see a company like Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a company with the playwright's name right in the title, announce a new season that barely features any Shakespeare. Instead, the company has made room in its schedule for things like a new musical, a premiere by playwright Lynn Nottage, and an import from Taiwan. Patrons can still see The Comedy of Errors if they really want to, but the company is choosing to grow beyond its limitations as a "Shakespeare festival".
OSF isn't alone. Across the pond, the granddaddy of all Shakespeare tribute bands, the Royal Shakespeare Company, recently installed new artistic director Erica Whyman (*gasp* A female in Shakespeareland?), who has said her focus will be on new writing. Whyman has also put together a sub-season, dubbed "The Roaring Girls", a collection of Jacobean-era plays featuring strong female characters (The Roaring Girl, Arden of Faversham, The White Devil, and The Witch of Edmonton)
This is not to say that the theatre world should abandon Shakespeare (though, seriously, there's no reason anyone should do Two Gentlemen of Verona). Instead of blindly worshiping the man and his works, these companies are choosing to place him in the context of a pantheon of theatre gods that spans the centuries, rather than implying that wordsmithing reached its pinnacle during the plague times.
Last week, I stepped out of the realm of News and Notes and did some honest-to-god journalism with an article about what actors in the Twin Cities can expect to get paid for their stage work. The short answer is "not much". There are many factors at play, from an oversupply of actors to an undersupply of audience, and we could easily spend six hours with an economist on the issue, but suffice it to say, we aren't getting rich.
The business world long ago learned that it could capitalize on the starry eyes of hopeful youths by offering "internships" instead of "jobs" (the only real difference being that one of those categories gets a paycheck, and the other does not). The arts world has been no slouch in this trend, either. Taken to its full extent, you get something like the Flea Theatre in New York, which is getting a multi-million dollar new facility, but runs on the backs of 150 unpaid people who pay with their labor for the opportunity to be on stage.
How are artists to do battle against a world that clearly wants their work, but clearly does not want to pay for it? A recent article at Creative Infrastructure says that we should get well-versed in the magic word "no". (By the way, that article's author, Linda Essig, also did a followup about the power of saying "yes".) However, for my money, the award for best strategy goes to a presentation for Creative Mornings from Mike Monteiro (and his lawyer), entitled "F*** You, Pay Me". As you can guess from the title, your boss probably won't like you listening to it at work.
The Saddest News About Juggling
The sad fact is that the lack of money, respect and recognition drives a lot of talented people out of performing. For your long read this week, please enjoy this article that explores the question I'm sure you all have: "Why is the world's greatest living juggler making a living pouring concrete?"