Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Posts Tagged ‘theater

A Tribute to Terry Teachout (1956-2022)

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Terry Teachout, whose writing I admire a lot, was a student at St. John’s College (Annapolis MD) for just one semester. He was a musician at the time, and he said that the curriculum just did not allow him enough time to practice. I was director of admissions there, and I recall that he wrote a brilliant application for admission. (The admissions applicatioin form, beyond the usual name and address information, consisted of questions to which essay-type answers were required.) He was also an exceptional student, and I wish he could have stayed because I think he would have contributed a lot in the discussions through which classes and seminars were taught.

He did in fact contribute much to all of us over the course of his life. Ted Gioia writes:

I’d like to tell you how I first met Terry Teachout—who left us yesterday at age 65. He was one of our finest and most erudite critics, and also a successful dramatist, but Terry was much more than that. He touched many people’s lives, and in ways that were often hidden from view.

Let me share my story.

Not long after I left grad school, I began hatching plans for my dream vocation as a jazz writer. But I had no idea how to do this.

I was living in the thick of Silicon Valley, far away from any literary community—I didn’t even know a single jazz writer. My entire output as a music critic consisted of reviews for my college newspaper, supplemented by a few contributions to local periodicals.

At that juncture in my life, most of my time was consumed with a range of demanding projects for the Boston Consulting Group, then located on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park. In my few spare hours, I was working on a secret project, my jazz book—but it was a very strange book.

I had started writing it the day after I’d finished my philosophy exams at Oxford, scribbling furiously while seated in the Bodleian Library, my brain still on overdrive from two years of immersion in the Anglo-American analytic tradition. As a result, the manuscript was teeming with the most bizarre ingredients. Everything from Wittgenstein to Fellini showed up in its pages—I was searching for large life-changing meanings in the music, even what you might call wisdom. But as I read through my various drafts, I knew I had violated almost every rule of music writing.

That was soon confirmed for me, when my roommate decided to show a chapter of my manuscript to his old fraternity buddy from Dartmouth, now working at Knopf. My mind reeled at the very name Knopf—they had just published Toni Morrison’s Beloved, for heaven’s sake. And their litany of authors included some of the greatest authors of the century. With some trepidation, I handed my roommate a typewritten chapter of the book that eventually became The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture.

It took a while before the verdict came back from New York. The old fraternity buddy had passed my chapter around the office, and had some people who knew about jazz take a look at it. His response was sharp and unforgiving, but only two sentences long. “We looked at this, but it isn’t real jazz writing. Your roommate should learn from what the other music writers are doing.”

I was crestfallen, but I can’t say I was surprised. I already knew that I was an odd duck. I had no illusions I was following in the path of other jazz journalists. Even so, I had been hoping for some words of encouragement.

That’s when I encountered Terry Teachout.

I had never met him. I didn’t even know his name. But on a lark, I sent a chapter of my crazy book—unsolicited and wrapped in a plain brown envelope—to the general office of Harper’s Magazine, one of the oldest of the old school smart journals, making pronouncements on society and culture since 1850.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t really think that my article would be accepted, or that I’d even get a response—at this point, I was just willing to play the lottery of cold submissions to unknown editors. Many of you know the drill.

But in this instance, I got a lovely letter back, filled with words of encouragement. It came from a man named Terry Teachout, who was doing editorial work at Harper’s at the time. Mr. Teachout told me that the strange essay I submitted was absolutely unsuitable for the magazine, but he was very impressed by the quality of my ideas and writing. He wanted to commission me to write a feature article for Harper’s Magazine—because he knew I had the talent to do something special.

I was blown away. A New York editor had taken notice of me. This had never happened before. And he wanted to commission me to write an article, just based on my potential?

Terry also wanted to speak with me on the phone. I’ll admit, I was nervous talking to a New York editor. But the call was inspiring, almost as much a pep talk as anything else.

I can’t emphasize how much this came from Terry’s generosity of spirit—I was a nobody, who would never have any occasion to return the favor or help him in any manner. He simply wanted to reach out to me, because he believed in me, and wanted to play a role in nurturing my development.

As it turned out, . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

15 January 2022 at 10:09 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Jazz, Music

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How William Shakespeare and Duke Ellington are similar

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I had more thoughts on Octavian’s interview of James Shapiro about King Lear and Shakespeare, so I updated that post.  The similarities with Duke Ellington’s approach are probably the result of having to respond to similar creative (and business) pressures.

Written by Leisureguy

2 October 2021 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Art, Business, Daily life, Jazz, Music

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James Shapiro on King Lear

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From Octavian Report:

William Shakespeare is rightly regarded as the greatest playwright in the English language. King Lear, his searing meditation on family, political life, and sanity, is considered by many to be his crowning work. The play was written in a miraculously fertile year for Shakespeare, 1606, when he also wrote Macbeth and Antony and Cleopatra. Renowned Shakespeare expert James Shapiro — whose book The Year of Lear is essential reading — here explains the play’s enduring power and examines what forces shaped and spurred on that singular moment in the Bard’s career. 

Octavian Report: What sparked your interest in Shakespeare?

James Shapiro: It’s probably easier to say what first turned me off of Shakespeare. I went to high school in Brooklyn in the early 1970’s and, like many others, was force-fed Shakespeare in a deadening way. I didn’t get it, didn’t get what the big deal about Shakespeare was, didn’t even get the dirty bits that some of my classmates picked up in Romeo and Juliet. I never really got interested in Shakespeare, never took a Shakespeare course when I went to college. My interest only developed later in the 1970’s when Freddie Laker was flying people back and forth across the Atlantic for $199 round-trip.

My brother and I went backpacking around Europe, found ourselves in London, and I found myself at the theater, seeing Shakespeare. It must have cost 50 pence to see a really great production and maybe another 50 pence to sleep in a youth hostel or church basement, and I was hooked. It was like a drug. I would hold down some job as a medical secretary or selling Guatemalan handicrafts for the first part of the summer, and then head over there every summer of my late teens and early 20’s for 20 or 30 days and see 20 or 30 plays. I kept doing that, and I probably saw, at that really formative time of my life, 200 productions, most of which were spectacular, and all of which were Shakespeare. That really has determined in a way probably different from most academics how I think about and respond to the plays.

OR: Is it more important to see the plays staged or to read them?

Shapiro: It is a choice, and there are really brilliant critics, like Harold Bloom, who brag about not having seen a play in a half-century. These were written to be staged, and the more I study and teach them — and I have been doing that at Columbia for 30 years — the more crucial it seems to me to see them realized on stage or at least to encourage readers, whether they are fourth-graders or college students or inmates at Rikers Island, to see them staged.

OR: What’s the best production you have seen?

Shapiro: Richard Eyre’s production of Hamlet, starring Jonathan Pryce, in the early 1980’s. Pryce played both Hamlet and his father’s ghost as a dybbuk or force within him: he was possessed by his father’s ghost. I remember the entire audience levitating when Pryce first spoke the ghost’s lines. It has stuck with me. I remember every line of that production. Almost everyone I know, when asked that question, will describe something that they saw in their late teens or early 20’s, and it is really important to see a memorable Shakespeare, early on. That was it for me.

OR: Whom do you think is the greatest Shakespearean actor?

Shapiro: There are a couple that rank at the very top of the game. One is Ian McKellen, who has been extraordinary. I saw him in Coriolanus in the 1980’s, and really never need to see Coriolanus again. My favorite, although my preference is shaped in part by my knowing him pretty well and getting to talk with him every once in a while, is Simon Russell Beale. His Richard III was as brilliant as any. His Thersites was probably the greatest since Shakespeare’s day. He has gone on to play Lear brilliantly.

Ian McKellen and Simon Russell Beale are the finest in the U.K. There is an also an American style of Shakespeare, and that is a little different. For my money, F. Murray Abraham was the greatest Shylock, and I have seen many Shylocks. John Lithgow played a brilliant, brilliant Lear at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. But there is a lot of talent out there, and this is only the tip of the iceberg.

OR: Are you a purist when it comes to questions of textual fidelity and production design?

Shapiro: One of my responsibilities at the Public Theater is . . .

Continue reading.

Full disclosure: I find it interesting to consider that the plays attributed to William Shakespeare (whose estate at his death included no books) might have been written by Emelia Bassano. See also this post. And it seems significant that much of King Lear concerns the way a father mishandles his relationship with his daughters. If you read the plays with the mindset that they were written by a woman of that time, you see different things in them. (I do agree that it’s much better to see the plays than to read them.)

Update: One interesting passage reminded me strongly of Duke Ellington, who knew so well the strengths and weaknesses of the musicians for whom he wrote his music. Ellington once remarked that one musician had five good notes he could play, and Ellington wrote for him music that used those five notes. Here’s the passage:

Shakespeare was never paid for writing a play. He made his money either from being a shareholder in this company or as a part-owner of the theater that they obtained in 1599, the Globe, and then a second theater, Blackfriars.

The Shakespeare that really ought to balance out that fantasy of the romantic artist is an investor who worked very closely with his team of actors, who met with them every morning to rehearse that day’s play. Audiences required — demanded, really — that the company put on a different play every day, in a repertory that had 20 old plays and perhaps 20 new plays a season.

They worked on that play in the morning, stopped for a meal, performed from 2:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon, and then, when the other actors went off to do what actors do, to drink and carouse, Shakespeare had to read and write late into the night to generate two or three new plays a season. Issues of perfectionism, issues of artistry, and issues of genius have to be balanced out against the need to earn a living, maintain the status of the company, create new plays, perform them well, and avoid censorship to get around the dangers of play closures. It was a really hard, hard life, and he was working 15-hour days for a quarter-century.

He understood the limitations and strengths of every writer of his day, and I think that he understood the weight each word carried, and he was extraordinary at telling stories and at rewriting stories that others had told. He was a master, in part because he was a trained actor and a skilled one, of understanding what his fellow artists, his fellow actors, needed. When he is writing plays, he is writing something for actors whose abilities he knows, whose talents he is trying to stretch and take advantage of, and he is writing for audiences that are exceptionally sensitive to changes in taste and genre. He is challenging them, too, so I think that he was a very self-aware artist, and he is also working in a very collaborative environment, both with his fellow actors, sometimes with other playwrights, and always with his audience.

And another thing in the interview that reminded me of Ellington:

OR: Who and what were Shakespeare’s influences?

Shapiro: Everything that was written that he could get his hands on, and everybody who was writing popular plays that were pulling his audiences away. All you have to do is look at his career and see what’s happening when Shakespeare is in his 40’s: he sees that edgier comedies by Middleton or tragicomedies by John Fletcher are the big hits of the day. And what does he do? He sits down and starts collaborating on plays like Timon of Athens with Middleton; he writes three of his last plays with Fletcher because he understands that you have to connect with new voices. Shakespeare understood that as well as any writer ever has.

. . . If Shakespeare spoke to that with great insight, then they would go to see his plays. If, at competing theaters, Marston or Dekker or Jonson spoke more powerfully to their concerns, they would go to those plays instead. The pressure was on Shakespeare to speak to the moment, and he responded very well to pressure.

This responsiveness to the changes in public taste and to evolving cultural standards was something Duke Ellington faced as well. From a brief biography of Ellington:

Jazz’s evolution moved so quickly from 1920 to 1970 that if a band stood still musically for more than five years, it would fall behind the times and sound dated. Most ensembles of the 1920s were largely obsolete by the swing era of the 1930s and nearly all of the swing bands fell out of favor by the late 1940s when bebop had become the mainstream. However, Ellington bucked all of the trends and, whether it was 1926, 1943, 1956 or 1973, his orchestra ranked among the top five in the modern jazz scene of the era. No other ensemble sounded so fresh, relevant and groundbreaking for such a long period of time. Ellington did this by never fitting into a restrictive category or chasing musical fads. He simply created the music that he believed in, regularly rearranging his most popular numbers so “Mood Indigo,” “Take The ‘A’ Train” and “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” still sounded modern decades after they were composed.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2021 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life, History

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Identity and the Self in ‘Hamlet’

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Marilyn Simon writes in The Conversation:

“Who’s there?” These are the two words that begin Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It is primarily this question, and not “To be or not to be?” with which Hamlet wrestles throughout the play. The two words are spoken from one soldier to another; Elsinore’s castle guards are on the midnight shift, and on the face of it, the words simply set the stage for the time and place. (Shakespeare’s theatre had limited technology for special effects and set pieces, so atmosphere had to be invoked entirely with words.) But on another level, one that Shakespeare clearly intended, the question is an existential one, as is the more confounding response of the other watchman: “Nay, answer me. Stand, and unfold yourself.” This call-and-response poses a number of questions. Who are other people? How can we know that what others reveal to us is the real them? How do I “unfold” myself to others? Who am I, under my “folds”? Am I what I show others? Something deep within? Is my identity a series of socially constructed layers? Or do I create myself through the process of “unfolding” itself? Is there a real “myself” underneath the layers of the pre-existing social and biological conditions which constitute my material reality? If so, how do I know it when I see it, if not for the social expectations placed upon me to self-actualize by seeking myself out? “Who’s there?” That is the question. And it is not a simple one. On the contrary, it is an inscrutable question, and even those who claim to have the answer cannot communicate it because we cannot know whether what they’re showing us is the real them or merely a layer that they haven’t fully unfolded.

Though Hamlet himself is often criticized (most frequently by disenchanted high school teachers) as having the “fatal flaw” of indecision and inaction, he is in fact an incredibly dynamic character, constantly shifting in his relationship to his own sense of self. The play begins with Hamlet taking a decidedly modern position on his relationship to himself. It is one that resonates with our current cultural moment of gender identities, defined as “the deep and intimate feeling a person has of themselves.” “O that this too too solid flesh would melt, / Thaw and resolve itself into a dew,” Hamlet says in his first soliloquy (1.2.129–30). Hamlet is asking for a release from his “solid flesh”—that is, his body—so that he can instead become “dew,” which is something pure, uncorrupted, and ethereal. He feels constrained by his body. Who he is on the inside, his “deep and intimate feeling,” is what he wishes to become. Curiously, the word “solid” in this passage is one of those funny words in Shakespeare that is different in three versions of the play. The earliest versions of this play, those we consider “authorial,” spell this word differently: one is “solid,” another “sallied,” meaning attacked or assailed, and another “sullied,” meaning polluted and defiled. We cannot know, of course, what single meaning Shakespeare intended, or even—a trick of the bard—if he intended all three. The point is that Hamlet does feel constrained, degraded, and assailed by his body. He finds his physicality to be a hindrance to his inwardly held value. His “solid flesh” exists as an arbitrary and unfortunate limit to his innate feeling of himself, his felt essence. The world as it is, by contrast, is a fetid and soiled place. “’Tis an unweeded garden,” he says, “That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature / Possess it merely” (1.2.135–37).

Hamlet is, as we all know, a prince. Much of what he rejects as “rank” and offensive is his social status, both the privileges and the responsibilities that come with it. (He’s basically a Prince Harry who finds that royalty cramps his style.) Hamlet’s life is predetermined, his role entirely socially constructed. “His greatness weighed,” Laertes says, “his will is not his own, / For he himself is subject to his birth” (1.3.16–17). Once again, I’m struck by the contemporary resonances of Hamlet’s angst. Socially constructed roles, those instilled in us from birth, form us and condition us, curtailing our wills, molding our identities. We are all “subject to our birth” to some degree. And often this subjugation is an affront to our innate and intimate feelings. It restricts us, and makes our wills not our own. Hamlet is entirely on side with our progressive values of rejecting such constraints. He was there before us.

The irony is, though, that Hamlet’s push to be and act “authentically” paralyzes him, and he isn’t able to act at all. Hamlet’s dead father tasks the young prince with avenging his murder, repairing his mother’s virtue, and restoring health to the entire country of Denmark. None of this was chosen by Hamlet, who wants to instead continue his university studies in Germany. For the first half of the play, Hamlet wrestles with the pointlessness of doing anything if nothing is chosen by us. We live assailed by the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” under the tyranny of cause and effect. The rage Hamlet feels during the first three acts of the play is not directed towards Claudius (though he does hate his uncle/stepfather), but rather towards Fate, towards the “strumpet fortune” who has her way with us, regardless of our personal feelings. “Our wills and fates do so contrary run,” the play says, “That our devices still are overthrown; / Our thoughts are ours, their ends none our own” (3.2.199–201). What we are, what we want to do, what we think and believe are all irrelevant. We live instead in a world where, to be blunt, shit just happens. We are creatures of contingencies. At best, we make it through life by dodging fortune’s slings and arrows. It is the word “still” that strikes me in this passage. It connotes something that occurs continuously, that is both unmoving and ongoing. We might believe ourselves now to be beyond the threshold of such contingencies. Contemporary ethics seems to value the innate feelings of an individual more than a sense of duty or submission to one’s socially constructed or biologically determined role. Hamlet shares our frustrations. He embodies them. At every turn Hamlet rails against his birth, that primal and unchosen event which determines all others. And though there is a large part of him that wants to kill Claudius, Hamlet finds that he can’t. Hamlet’s thoughts instead tend towards killing himself, doing away with his suffering through the ultimate act of self expression by finding his “quietus” with a “bare bodkin.”

Shakespeare’s insight here is astounding. Hamlet wants to be free of the “solid flesh” that encases his dewy essence, but it is his inwardness itself that is the problem. “Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space,” the prince says, “were it not that I have bad dreams” (2.2.252–54). Limit, the realities of external and unchosen constraints, are ostensibly what troubles Hamlet. Yet here he admits, almost as an afterthought, that the limit exists within him. Or rather, the limitlessness he fantasizes about experiencing is prevented by … what, exactly? His “bad dreams”? But what are those? Is it a dewy purity or a dark abyss that lurks within us? When Hamlet “unfolds himself,” what does he discover? It is one thing to have an intimate sense of who we believe ourselves to be, but are we really who we wish to think we are?

Hamlet insists that he is an authentic, genuine self. “Seems, madam?” he says to Gertrude, who asks him why he always seems to be so despondent, “Nay, it is, I know not ‘seems.’” It isn’t, Hamlet goes on, his clothes, nor the way he looks, nor his behaviour, nor even his own face that “can denote me truly. These indeed seem, / For they are actions that a man might play; / But I have that within which passeth show— / These but the trappings and the suits of woe” (1.2.76, 83–86). The problems, of course, for Hamlet are two-fold: on the one hand, whatever it is within us literally “passes show,” it is inexpressible. We all feel as though we have some innate sense of ourselves, of our value, our essence, our soul. But that inner self can always only remain on the inside. All we can do is attempt to show others our innate feelings by how we look, dress, and act, but those superficial things will always be inadequate. And the gap between who we feel ourselves to be and how we show others what we are will become a site of insufficiency, and thus anxiety. How can we ever measure up to the feelings we have on the inside? On the other hand, Hamlet admits that what is inside himself isn’t necessarily what he’d like to find there. What are these “bad dreams”? This, too, is deeply human; we are usually not as good or pure as we would like to believe. Perhaps it is the murderer Claudius, and not Hamlet, who gives full outward expression to his inner feelings.

It is the tension between knowing himself and having to live up to the social expectations that are not reflective of his inner choices which fuels Hamlet’s impotent rage throughout much of the play. In Act Four, however,  . , ,

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 May 2021 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life, Psychology

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Bob Fosse documentary

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And see also this New Yorker interview with Ann Reinking from May 2019.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2020 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Art, Movies & TV, Video

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The Dazzling Razzle of Ann Reinking and Where to See It

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Ann Reinking was a national treasure. (I’ll mention that All That Jazz is one of my all-time favorite movies.) New York has a fine article on her and her career and contributions with several excellent clips. Here’s one:

Written by Leisureguy

16 December 2020 at 11:24 am

Posted in Art, Movies & TV, Video

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‘They just told my story’: What happens when a play about union busting tours Rust Belt cities

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Peter Marks reports in the Washington Post:

Hunched over and weeping, Fred Kimbrew had to look away from the stage. He would say later that it felt as if he were seeing the pain in his own life being reenacted . And in a way, he was.

 The play was “Sweat,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama by Lynn Nottage about the racial animus aroused by busting a steelworkers’ union in a dying, blue-collar Pennsylvania town. In a one-of-a-kind event, New York’s Public Theater is taking an ensemble of Broadway and off-Broadway actors to 18 small towns and cities over 29 days in five Rust Belt and Upper Midwestern states — the heart of MAGA country — to foster the notion that the arts shouldn’t be classified as blue or red. Rather, they are red, white and blue.

“The difference the play makes to the people whose stories are being told is extraordinary,” said Nottage, standing in the makeshift theater in one of Erie’s poorest neighborhoods, where the “Sweat” tour was launched Thursday. “I think that what red and blue can recognize is that we all share the same narrative.”

It is unheard of for a distinguished theater company to look beyond America’s major cities and book a play such as “Sweat” — which had a pre-Broadway run at Washington’s Arena Stage and played for 129 performances on Broadway last year — into places like Erie; Ashtabula, Ohio; Saginaw, Mich.; and Hayward, Wis. And not just visit unconventional cities, but also unorthodox stages: “Sweat” on tour is being presented free of charge in union halls, churches, food pantries, even centers for men and women recently released from prison, like Climate Changers Inc., a social-service facility on hardscrabble East 11th Street in Erie.

Theater is often viewed as a diversion for moneyed classes of a progressive bent in cosmopolitan places. To Oskar Eustis, the Public’s artistic director, this tour attempts to redress the imbalance and seek out audiences in Donald Trump’s America. “One of the things that we have done is turn our back to half of America, in the idea that the riches of theater belong to the coasts, to the elites,” Eustis said. “The Public has done a commendable job of reaching out to urban populations, but we’ve said to half the country, ‘We got nothing for you.’ We have done the same thing to that part of the country that the economy has done: We’ve abandoned them.”

“Sweat” seems a fitting vehicle to start changing that perception. Set in 2000 to 2008 in Reading, Pa., where Nottage did her research, the play is built around the friendship of two women, one white, one black, who work the assembly line in a metal tubing plant. The breakdown of their relationship and the tensions that escalate around them occur as the African American worker, Cynthia, is promoted to management just as the company locks out union members, recruits cheaper replacements from the local Latino community, and starts shipping jobs to a plant in Mexico. Seething, the locked-out white worker, Tracey, provokes a violent incident in the union workers’ favorite watering hole, with terrible consequences.

Watching a story so familiar, played out with such rawness, by actors on a makeshift stage barely an arm’s length away, is too much for some audience members, including those who have never been to a play before. “I’m from Aliquippa, Pa.,” Kimbrew said during the post-show discussion, led by the Public’s Chiara Klein, that follows every performance. “My grandfather worked in the steel mill for 40 years. When you took out the mill, out came the drug activity. So it was play ball, or sell drugs,” he added, choking up.

Asked afterward why he cried, Kimbrew replied: “You ever went somewhere and felt, ‘They just told my story?’ ”

In Ashtabula, on Friday night, 50 miles down Interstate 90 from Erie, Eustis was in the audience at a food pantry, where people came for the food and stayed for the play. “The audience was older and very quiet during the show — very few laughs, little sort of rumbles of recognition,” he said. “I was not quite sure how they were reacting. Then, after the show, they started talking, and every single person broke into sobs. I thought, ‘These are people who don’t know how to respond to theater, but it’s getting to them.’ It was about losing the town’s identity and their feeling of belonging not to the future but the past. Their reaction was powerful, but in different ways than I would have thought.”

Ashtabula County gave Donald Trump 57.2 percent of its vote in 2016, and Sawyer County in Wisconsin, where Hayward is located, awarded him nearly 60 percent. Trump even scored narrow victories in more reliably Democratic counties, like Saginaw and Erie. So in a sense with this tour, the Public Theater’s Mobile Unit — a company arm that traditionally brings Shakespeare productions to New York’s outer boroughs — was venturing into what might be regarded for a liberal theater troupe as politically hostile territory.

So intent was Eustis that the show not be perceived as one-sided that he added this note to the programs handed out every evening: “This isn’t a Republican or Democrat play. This play does what theater does best: it tells the truth about the lives of people who don’t normally get the spotlight, who aren’t glamorous or rich, but who are as heroic and deep and complicated as anyone.”

Erie, a city of 98,000 on the shores of Lake Erie, halfway between Buffalo and Cleveland, suffered from the same kind of deindustrialization that has afflicted communities across the Rust Belt. Since 1960, it has lost about a third of its residents, and at the same time has become a significant destination for refugees and immigrants. About 20 percent of the population is made up of what the city calls “New Americans.” In an interview in his downtown offices, Mayor Joseph Schember (D) recalled working as a teenager as a chipper in an aluminum casting plant in the city’s once-bustling industrial corridor. “You could walk down 12th Street and get five good jobs,” he said.

Now, the plants are closed and the city has been regrouping, with bipartisan efforts to lure innovative businesses and participate in federal community-development initiatives. As to whether the corrosive political battles in the nation’s capital have much impact in Erie, the city’s genial mayor observed: “I think we think more about what’s going on here. The leadership is working together like never before.”

Schember would show up Thursday evening at Climate Changers, but the question hanging in the air in the hours before the event was, would anyone else? A lot rode on the success of this first stop, as it would set the tone for a month’s worth of stops on the tour, a project underwritten largely by the Ford and Mellon foundations. “This is hugely different from any theatrical experience I’ve ever had,” said Steve Key, who was an understudy in the Broadway production and now plays Stan, the former plant worker who presides over the bar in which the play takes place.

Public staffers need not have worried; by 6 p.m., the space was filling up, with an audience about equally black and white — a rare occurrence in Erie, people were saying. “This event is very, very important,” said Patrick Fisher, executive director of Erie Arts and Culture, a local support organization. “The fact that you can use an art form for an impartial conversation — that is why the arts matter.”

By 6:30, the room had an overflow crowd of 125. Extra folding chairs had to be brought in, although the supply of free vanilla cupcakes at intermission seemed just about right. Even more important was the nourishment the main event was providing.

“It does take you into how things really are,” said Gail Mitchell, a longtime Erie resident who came with her husband, Arthur. Wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers cap, Arthur Mitchell was compelled to think about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 October 2018 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life

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