Holy crap, it's 2018.
The last time we talked, it was still 2017. Now that year is dead and buried. We have trampled the earth over its grave with a thousand wild horses and diverted a river over its remains so that it may forever be out of the reach of mankind. Before we took those drastic steps, I managed one last look back at the year that was before I turned off the lights on the year, closed the door, lit the fuse and strained this metaphor way too far.
But before that happened, the other Twin Cities publications squeezed through the door and released their torrent of year-end wrap-ups.
The Star Tribune's Chris Hewitt released his list of the best plays of 2017, but the ol' Strib doesn't stop there in pondering the year that was. Runners-up for the paper's annual Artist of the Year include the Jungle's Sarah Rasmussen and writer/performer Kory LaQuess Pullam (though, as of this writing, I haven't seen the Strib publish exactly who did get that coveted top spot). And the train doesn't stop rolling there, either. The Star Tribune is also publishing a series of "2017 moments" for the arts, which includes, among other things, Ten Thousand Things founder Michelle Hensley's uplifting exhortations as she makes her exit from the theater world.
Over at City Pages, their list of 2017 Artists of the Year (not to be confused with their Best of 2017 list, which came out before the year was half over) is absolutely stuffed with theater types. They include recent Ivey Award winner Meghan Kreidler, previous Ivey Award winner Shá Cage, playwright Harrison David Rivers, Red Eye Theatre co-founder Miriam Must, performance artist April Sellers, choreographer Morgan Thorson, and (once again) Kory LaQuess Pullam.
But you don't have to be a big, fancy publication to make a list of what you thought was best of 2017. We have a small army of independent theater bloggers in the Twin Cities, and they are starting to roll out their "best of 2017" lists. Already out of the gate are year-end reviews from Cherry and Spoon and Single White Fringe Geek. I would also like to throw in here prolific theater photographer Dan Norman's year in review, where he shares his favorite pictures he's snapped of shows.
And, finally, I would like to give special thanks to MinnPost for not only releasing their "best of 2017" list, but also having the brutal honesty to make another list entitled "6 moments in the arts we wish hadn’t happened in 2017", because I feel I would be letting you down if I didn't get in one more cynical stab at the year before we left it for good.
The fight for the future
Now, friends, let us head boldly into the new year, which promises to be every bit the same dogged trudge through the same disgusting sludge that flowed over our shoes when Trump ushered in this new age of bloated, dogmatic, ill-informed kakistocracy. Of course, when I put it that way, it doesn't sound very fun, does it? We've already rode out 12 straight months of every pundit predicting the end of the world as we know it, and nobody feels fine. Why would you want to order up another round of that?
A lot of those people cited in the those "Best of" lists above are answering that call. The theater world, as I see it, has been shaking off the dust of a million thoughtless Tennessee Williams revivals and a billion rote reproductions of William Shakespeare and is starting again to do the things that Williams and Willie were doing in their own times: responding to their own times. Theater is stepping up to comment on these dark times for democracy and is repositioning itself away from being escapist entertainment and toward real human connection outside the cold, digital world. The industry as a whole has realized that its very reason for existence is challenged by the modern world and this past year has been a huge kick in the butt to get back up to date with the times. It is becoming more diverse, varied, challenging and interested in creating new things than I I think I have ever seen in my time in the theater world, and it's about damn time.
Evolve or die, as they say.
Among the other stupid, pointless controversies that Trump has opened up, he recently declined to attend the Kennedy Center Honors, something that literally every President has done since the damn thing started, no matter how much or how little said Presidents supported the arts. Left-leaning artists said all sorts of terrible things about Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, but those guys could still bring themselves to show up at the Kennedy Center; but our current presidency is built on a rotten foundation of narcissism and insecurity, and it cannot stand up to challenge. Trump and his acolytes are deeply afraid of artists, as all sad, subpar, wannabe autocrats should be. (Besides, the Kennedy honorees were not all that torn up about their great, tremendous and very smart President not showing up). This is why the arts always suffer when the demagogues are allowed to take free rein, as they have in Hungary, for example.
But I don't really think we're headed that way. This country has weathered authoritarian jackasses who rode waves of faux populism into the White House a few times before; we have swum over multiple waves of reactionary ignorance; and we're all still here to bitch about it. And though we haven't reached that mythic promised land of perfection as a nation, we've been slowly and steadily accumulating improvements in our 240 years that have made society and the people in it at least a little bit better every generation. We can keep doing it. We just have to want to keep doing it.
That's why I was happy that the final entry in News and Notes for 2017 was not from me, but from Joy Dolo, who made the 2018 resolution to do exactly that, to take up space and press on for the changes that she wants to see in the world.
Keep doing that, and you should be fine.
So, thanks to Joy for reminding me of that; and thanks to all the guest writers who have stepped in to News and Notes these past few months. One of the perks of letting new people get in on the conversation is that they often tell you something that you need to hear and that you had no way of properly formulating for yourself. As we head into 2018, I'm going to continue to make more room for other voices to populate News and Notes. If you want to step up and make your opinions on theater news (or just share news that's not being heard), here's your chance to get in on this game. feel free to contact me if you're interested in being a guest writer.