What If?

What If?
What If?- our Musical Concert series at La MaMa E.T.C. - www.BriannaLaRoccoPhotography.com

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"The Timing of a Day" & "Holiday In Hell" find an Off-Broadway home

The Timing of a Day
Holiday In Hell

Mind The Art Entertainment has finalized a contract for these two plays for an Off-Broadway three week run each in Spring 2011 at Center Stage NY

The Timing of a Day by Owen Panettieri & Directed by Joey Brenneman was a hit at the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival, winning the critics award as best Acting Ensemble. The sold-out play garnered rave reviews from NyTheater, Backstage & Playbill and is excited to move into an extension Off-Broadway.

Holiday In Hell by Charles O'Hara and Directed by Jackie Bartone & Christian De Gré will be having its world premiere. Charles O'Hara is a respected playwright with a voice that cannot be equaled, with works that simultaneously deal with sensitive subjects as well as comedic philosophies. Jackie Bartone, a legendary acting teacher and director at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts has trained some of today's best actors and will be co-directing along with Christian De Gré, Artistic Director of Mind The Art Entertainment, and former student of Mrs. Bartone.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Responsible critic, et tu Brute? (Vol. 1)

by Christian De Gré, Artistic Director of Mind The Art Entertainment

Warning: The following article contains creative rantings and ramblings that may offend pretentious critics.

So I just finished composing the music for the renowned theater director Dario D'Ambrosi's new work Bong Bong Bong against the Walls, Ting Ting Ting in our Heads at La MaMa E.T.C.'s 2010 Puppet Festival. It was an incredible project that told the story of the genius of mentally handicapped children in a fairy tale puppet musical fashion. I was thrilled to be working on this piece and once we opened I was looking forward to seeing what the critics thought of this genius work directed by a man who has spent 30 years working with this subject matter. I couldn't have been more naive.

To not get into the gross details I will simply share the highlights of my experience reading these reviews. One reviewer, in the New York Times no less, forgot to mention that there was music in the piece, ignoring that he sat through a one hour musical of which 40 minutes were completely filled with songs and instrumental music. Another reviewer dared say that Mr. D'Ambrosi, who is recognized internationally as the leading authority on theater for the disabled, lacked perspective and insight in his subject matter. (Errr) Another reviewer presumed to build connections between the musical structure and aesthetic choices of the piece that he felt he had a great ear for but anyone with any musical knowledge would know he had no idea of what he was talking about. However the one that wins the award as the most irresponsible and lazy critique must go to the Village Voice who decided that they would publish, in a major city-wide publication, a review in BULLET POINTS with such creative insights as 'the origami frogs appear to be very well folded.' Well, thank you Village Voice for your incredible journalism skills. It is because of this wondrous critical experience that I have decided that it might be time for us artists to question those who question us.

To those who do not know, theater survives largely because of reviews. The shows that make it to Broadway (usually after a painstaking 8 year journey) arrive because along the way someone gave them a star review in a major publication. If a piece gets a bad review it is almost impossible to recover, and ticket sales plunge if a major publication looks down on your work. Because we live in an information obsessed and media saturated society the people look to reviews to choose from the plethora of activities at their fingertips what they should do. They trust these reviews, put faith that these professionals know what they are talking about and then proceed to follow their advice. As artists we recognize the power that the press holds over our careers and futures. To quote the Artistic Director of La MaMa E.T.C. "you get a positive New York Times Review and you get to eat for three years." It is because of this fact that we, as artists and producers, become obsessed with getting press to our shows. So we embark upon a journey, we woo and bribe, we spend thousands of dollars on a pricey PR Manager and a Publicist, we dress up, we walk them to their seat, we almost literally do anything they want but prostitute ourselves (hopefully) in order to get them to our shows and do whatever is in our power to make them happy. These "journalists" then proceed to "evaluate" our piece and then share with the "common" people of the world, who are in theory much more limited in creative endeavors having not made a career of this, their views and recommend what people should or should not spend their hard working money on. We artists then sit ALL DAY and NIGHT by a computer and a newsstand, with coffee, whiskey and cigarettes in hand, waiting anxiously to see what these "trained professionals" have to say about our art. This is an excruciating affair, painful for all involved. Finally we see the listings pop up on Google and in print and we gasp, fear and excitement coursing through our veins, and we read. We read what these "great minds," who make quite a bit of money with the major papers, have to say about our bohemian poverty stricken creative endeavors. This moment for us in a culmination of not just however many years we have worked on a piece, or how many things we have sacrificed to make it come to fruition, but is a culmination of all our dreams and struggles since we were a fetus with a vision. And then we read... What do we get more often than not? We get rewarded with a half assed review written two weeks after they saw the show that talks about nothing in our piece but how well-folded the ORIGAMI FROGS ARE? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Surely this must be a one off event. This can't be the norm can it? Well, let us take another example. I spent 9 years of my life with my good friend and co-writer Paul Deakin, creating a musical Spellbound- A Musical Adventure. We opened this summer at the Ellen Stewart Theater as part of the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival and the show was produced with the Executive Producer of the Drama Desk Awards, Robert R. Blume with a Broadway cast. I have spent more than a third of my life on this piece and Paul, Robert, Mind The Art and I gave everything we had to the success of the show. We then, of course, proceeded to seek reviewers to evaluate the piece so we could move forward with our baby. At this time we were also locking an Investor who was willing to give us $25,000 to help cover the ever mounting Fringe Productions costs as well as put aside some future development money... Then the first review came out... The review, which tore the piece apart, was written by what I can only assume is a very bitter man. Now understand I have no problem if you hate my show, if you don’t like it, then don’t, that’s fine, write about it as the objective third party you claim to be and let me see through your eyes what I really have. What this man did however was an insult to art and social etiquette. The review written was nasty, mean, offensive and outright cruel to everyone working on the show. It was not enough to say that he didn’t like the piece or some performances, no it was necessary for him to tear it apart offensively, call some performances "nothing more than a wicked audition," and compare the piece to ridiculous and unrelated things like "Mountain Dew" (this last reference I still fail to comprehend, and I co-wrote the thing.) Well I was very angry at not this man's take on our piece but in the way that he "elegantly expressed" his opinion. I thought to myself, "Who is this beacon of knowledge that has the audacity to tear down actors as if they were community theater amateurs even though they have been in 6 Broadway shows? Who is this great thinker that has the balls to write in the most condescending manner available in the English language?" So I looked him up. First thing I see on his webpage is his face, blown up to fill the entire screen, in a pretentious looking sweater by a river. His head is tilted back arrogantly laughing at his surroundings. I kid you not he looked like a classic Disney Villain. Next I see his bio, and I quote "(Reviewer name) has been a frustrated out of work actor for the last 6 years. As a playwright his work has been on a number of regional stages and he now spends his time as a reviewer for (publication) where he also serves as their Human Resources Manager." Surely this must be in jest. I cannot conceive that I am having my life's work reviewed by a Human Resources Manager who hasn't worked creatively in 6 years. I have done 13 productions in the last year working in all aspects of the arts and I am being judged by someone who hasn't landed a job in 6 years?!? This is the highly skilled aesthetic eye that is evaluating my work. Well the story gets better. After I provided our Investor the account information for the wire transfer we are chatting and he suddenly says "I just looked up your show, and look here is a review..." Well after much useless pleading and reasoning on my part I could not convince this Wall Street Tycoon that this reviewer was not an entirely objective, impartial and reasonable journalist. Mr. Investor, or as we call them in our artist meetings this "Food Stamp Angel," pulled his money and left us because of this Disney Villains’ take on our piece. We now face a $16,000 deficit on the piece thanks to this sweater wearing laughing man by the river. Wonderful, thank you for your help Mr. Reviewer.

So these horror stories, and I have hundreds, are just the beginning of a larger set of questions. What does it take to be a reviewer? I have been asked by two publications if I would like to review, and while I now see that I am probably more qualified (I actually work in the arts) to do so I have declined because I don't see myself as a "responsible, trained and qualified objective journalist." Also what has happened in our modern day and age that we have given so much power to the reviewer? Why did we do this? Why must art be funded based upon the opinion of those who have more of an inclination to write a satirical or unnecessarily mean review over a proper critical analysis? Now there are a few responsible ones out there, of course, but even the best of them fall to this exaggerated hyperbolized tabloid style of writing quite often. My favorite quotes from these fine, established fellows include "the cast often performs with disillusion, as if they are attending a terrible Halloween party, dressed only in straightjackets and are forced to stay against their wishes," and "you could go down to your basement, eat two packs of cheese puffs in darkness and vomit, or you could watch this piece, the end result would be the same" and my favorite from the great Ben Brantley "You will have the occasion to learn that Romeo is not circumcised." Bravo! Is this the responsible, objective journalism we have all been waiting for? No! It's irony, satire, comedy, vulgarity and scandalized explosive commentary meant to amuse rather than inform. The great Joe Papp, founder of the Public Theater, comes to mind, screaming down the phone at a reviewer of A Chorus Line decades ago "Are you trying to fuck me? Why are you doing this? You will never set foot in my theater again, you pretentious dick! You fuck me again and I'll kill you."

So what is to be done? Is it too much to hope for someone to attend my show and see things objectively and whether they like it or not write appropriate thought out criticism? I guess it is. Meanwhile I guess I have no choice but to keep feeding the machine and keep searching for my New York Times Review that will feed me for 3 years. I suppose I just have to keep gambling and throwing up shows and eventually I'll get lucky. As you see I have realized it’s just a matter of luck, seeing as I see no logical way to put art up and expect constructive feedback in this modern age.

Hmmm... maybe if I give them cheese puffs and mountain dew at their seats they'll like my work more.

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs”- John Osborne (Playwright/Producer)