Good news, everyone!
Good lord, what is that bright, burning ball in the sky?! It's making all the snow in my yard melt. And, what's this?! The air outside is not making my eyelids freeze directly to my eyeballs! Is this one of those fabled "mild winter days"? Why, it's enough to make a person feel positively positive inside! You know, up until the point where the next horrendous snowstorm whips through and brings the whole mood crashing down again. Kind of like this column. But, since I'm feeling in such high spirits today, let's kick things off with a round of good news!
Congratulations to the 33 Minnesota arts organizations taking home NEA grants! Performing companies Ananya Dance Theatre, Children's Theatre Company, Guthrie Theater, History Theatre, Minnesota Opera, Mixed Blood, Park Square, The Playwrights' Center, and Ragamala Dance will each get a chunk of the $937,500 in federal funding that is finding its way back to Minnesota. You can take a stroll through all of the winners, listed by state to see how the NEA is distributing its dollars across the nation. (If you're one of those interstate rivalry sorts, yes, we're beating Wisconsin.) You can argue about whether we should have more winners or more dollars than some other states, but can we all at least have some sympathy for Mississippi, which is receiving only one $10,000 grant across the whole state?
The Southern Theater is under new leadership. Give a hearty welcome to Janette Davis, who has come on board after a many-many-months-long search. Davis has a history of working at other performing arts organizations, including the Guthrie and American Conservatory Theater of San Francisco, and she takes over from interim Executive Director Jamie Schumacher with the title of acting Executive Director. The Southern has made it from "interim" to "acting" in this move, which means they'll still need to move through "mostly", "mainly", and "primarily" next before getting to the ultimate goal of "yes, actually fully Executive Director." Davis has got some work to do in order to keep the space afloat, but she'll be a welcome addition to a theater community that has been installing all kinds of new leaders these days. (By the way, have you applied to succeed Richard Cook at Park Square yet? Better get on it.)
Actors Equity recently came out with a new regional theatre report that identifies the best regions for live theater in the country. And, guess what, Minnesota?! At the top of the list is… oh… sorry, it's actually central Florida. But, hey, we're there on the list. It's nice to be included.
After the recent school shooting in Parkland, the only good thing that has come out of it so far is the group of incredibly outspoken students who are willing to take on all the usual political punters. For the first time, it actually appears that there may be some real social movement on the issue of reasonable gun control, and it's all thanks to a group of teenagers who are disarmingly forthright and well spoken. How did they get to be that way? Perhaps it's because many of them are theater kids. (By the way, if you want to start putting that theater training that you paid so damn much for to good political use, it's not too late to sign up for Arts Advocacy Day at the state capital.)
Not so good news, everyone
So, now that we in the entertainment world are apparently serious about exposing and addressing the shitty behavior by men in positions of power, it's becoming a weekly ritual to find out what great person you used to kind of respect was actually a terrible person all along. At first, it was shocking, then, as this horrible parade kept rolling, it was shocking how completely not shocking it had become. For example, the head of Disney Theatrical is now facing accusations, and I all I can think is, "yeah, that makes sense".
Of course, this means we're now entering the time when people are asking if this movement has gone too far. I understand the unease. The process of creating new norms is difficult and messy, and while I understand that there is a substantive difference between your boss telling a sexist joke in the break room and your boss forcing you to twirl in front of him so that he can ogle your body, the fact is that both behaviors spring from the same well. And no matter how many ways that detractors claim that this is all a bunch of hooey, that well continues to pour out the same terribly polluted water.
Exhibit A: As reported in The Clyde Fitch Report the formerly Chicago-based group Dream Theater Company was home to years of harassment, abuse and just plain bizarre behavior visited upon female performers by its artistic director, Jeremy Menekseoglu. If you're still confused as to what the #metoo movement is really fighting back against, please read that article thoroughly.
At first blush, the behaviors detailed in the CFR article are reminiscent of the notorious Profiles Theater expose from 2016, right down to the incredibly unsafe "real" stage fights, the constant badgering for gratuitous female nudity, and the alpha male AD who covered his continuing sexual harassment in a veil of "true art". However, there are other even more strange and off-putting details, including testimony from former actors at the company like "Jeremy continues to email me from about 10 different addresses, with marriage proposals, suicide threats and pictures of his dick." And lest you think this was just the work of one lone whacko, it appears that much of the behavior was aided and abetted by Menekseoglu's wife.
I wasn't able to find a website for Dream Theater, and their Facebook page has apparently disappeared recently (I wonder why?), so, if you go out there looking for more information or a place to vent your rage, just be careful that you don't land on the wrong page by accident, like, say, on the similarly-named Dream Real Theatre Company, also in Chicago. Harken back when Harvey Fierstein was confused for Harvey Weinstein by some overzealous commentators and make sure that you get your spelling correct before you start hurling invectives. And definitely don't head to the page for progressive metal band Dream Theater, because then you'll be really confused.
The lack of information about the company is doubly unhelpful, because the Menekseoglus have decamped to Atlanta, where they are reportedly attempting to relocate their company. In the past, it would have been possible for someone to run away and immediately start pulling the same old tricks in a new community. That is no longer possible. Thanks to people everywhere being willing to speak out, actions are actually starting to have consequences.
Now if we could just address the fact that, somehow, despite everyone bandying about the phrase "year of the woman" again, the number of female protagonists in films actually went down last year and our major theater institutions are still mostly run by men.
But don't worry. David Mamet wrote a play about Harvey Weinstein. That's just what we need at this moment.
Actually, you know what we need at this moment? How about playwright Leslye Headland's response to hearing that her former boss David Mamet wrote a play about Harvey Weinstein: "A Broadway producer shouldn’t be asking an old white guy who doesn’t believe rape is a thing to write a play about Harvey Weinstein."
We had much better final sections to articles back when I was a kid
OK, so this last bit isn't really about theater. It's from the YouTube channel Toy Galaxy, where they usually just geek out about vintage toys; but the most recent episode is all about how people allow themselves to get trapped in the "back in my day, things were better" argument. It's the one YouTube video I saw this week that I keep thinking about, and I'm pretty sure it has relevance to just about everything we do in the arts. Today, I leave you with "The Poison of Nostalgia".