Link Roundups feature articles and bits of internet goodness that our dramaturgy team digs up. If you find something you want to send our way, drop us a line on Facebook or Twitter!
Lisa Kron, left, and Jeanine Tesori accepting a Tony Award for best score, for their collaboration on “Fun Home.” Credit Sara Krulwich/The New York Times
The New York Times has a story about The Count — a study that tracks the number of female-written productions that are done each year.
Overseen by the playwrights Julia Jordan and Marsha Norman, the study, called “The Count,” is to be updated each year. Until now, besides a handful of older analyses, it had been unclear just how many female playwrights were seeing their work staged, according to Ms. Jordan.
“We wanted to create a baseline,” she said, “and to document the change.”
Judging from the numbers, the picture for women is rosier than a decade ago. A 2002 report from the New York State Council on the Arts found that 17 percent of productions across the country had female playwrights. According to the new report, that figure now sits at 22 percent.
The ongoing conversation about the way theatre critics handle race in their reviews is continued in this article by Diep Tran for American Theatre, which gives four ways critics can be less racist:
We theatre journalists are a marginalized minority ourselves: overworked, underpaid, and constantly fighting to justify our existence. We’re not all that different from the artists we claim to love. And if we really love theatre, then we need to find a better way to talk about the diverse people who make it. Because right now, we—whose job it is to tell the truth—are failing at it.
Staff Chat posts feature articles and news that the C1 team discusses as part of our weekly all-staff meeting. We’d love to hear your thoughts too — hit us up on Facebook or Twitter!
This week’s Staff Chat will focus on the conversation around the play This is Modern Art (Based on True Events), a Steppenwolf for Young Adults production co-written by Idris Goodwin and Kevin Coval. We’re looking at two reviews of the play and a few articles that examine the critical reception of the piece:
Kelly O’Sullivan (from left), J. Salome Martinez Jr., Jerry MacKinnon and Jessie D. Prez in the Steppenwolf Young Adults production of “This Is Modern Art.” (Photo: Michael Courier)
The play, inspired by a real incident, follows a group of Chicago teens who decide to cover the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing in graffiti art. In their reviews, critics Jones and Weiss briefly touch on the artistic aspects of the play (which they seem to praise), but spend most of their columns taking the show to task for its portrayal of graffiti artists. From Jones:
But here is what “This is Modern Art” barely even mentions: Graffiti comes at a price. It can be invasive, self-important and disrespectful of the property of others — and plenty of struggling folks have had to clean graffiti off something they own or love. Graffiti can be inartful, for goodness sake. More importantly yet, graffiti had the effect of making people feel unsafe in the city. It terrified people. It was only when public officials declared themselves determined to wipe it out that cities finally came back to life, with broad benefits.
You wanna go back to riding public transportation in New York or Chicago in the 1980s? I do not. You do not have to be conservative or somehow not down with youth to think it reprehensible that these issues do not have a place in a show for schools that is quite staggeringly one-sided.
Weiss continues this line of thought in her review, though she takes it even further, stating:
This play is a wildly wrong-headed and potentially damaging work — one that fails to call “vandalism” by its name, and rationalizes and attempts to justify that vandalism in the most irresponsible ways. It also trades in all the destructive, sanctimonious talk about minority teens invariably being shut out of opportunities and earmarked for prison in a way that only reinforces stereotypes and negative destinies. Counterproductive in the extreme, it deepens and solidifies racial and class divisions and a sense of hopelessness among those who need to dwell on possibility.
HowlRound hosts a weekly chat on Twitter called The Weekly Howl, which is an open discussion about a topic that relates to theatre culture and performance in today’s world. The Weekly Howl on January 16 was called “Critical Generosity and the Spectre of Niceness” based on an essay that Jill Dolan, who runs a blog called The Feminist Spectator, wrote for a journal called Public: Arts, Design, Humanities. In this essay, Dolan talks about how the term “critical generosity” means responding with specificity as to why a piece of theatre works and how it reaches its audience. It also means clarifying for the reader how much the artist and critic know about each other’s work, and this would allow the critic to comment knowledgably about the piece’s history in development.
In response, Polly Carl, the director and creator of HowlRound, wrote “A New Year’s Diet for the Theatre” where she lists five wishes she has for the new year in theatre. Number three on her list encourages being nicer this year, and she states, “There is a growing critical edge to social media conversation that is beginning to wear on me.” She, like Dolan, argues for more “positive inquiry” when analyzing theatre.
However, George Hunka, artistic director of Theatre Minima, argues that if we agree that “critical generosity” is not about being a bland cheerleader, “then we’re going to get our hands dirty and make a few enemies once in a while — it comes with the territory of criticism.”
Dolan responds to Hunka’s essay, defending and clarifying her thoughts around “critical generosity” versus being “nicer,” saying that when she teaches her students about writing critically, they automatically assume that means “be negative.” That is what she’s fighting against.
Finally, Hunka responds to Dolan’s rebuttal, saying that he does not believe that critics should be held accountable for the effects their criticism might have.
This is a link to the archived Weekly Howl conversation on Twitter. I’d also encourage you to read the essays that kicked off this discussion.