Anyone recall the phrase “on hiatus”?
It was a very popular euphemism in the television industry for shows that were taken off the air shortly after their debuts (in most cases), and likely never to be seen again (in all but a few instances). I haven’t heard the “on hiatus” spin in a while in regards to television; now shows are merely “yanked” off the schedule and everyone quickly admits they’re cancelled (except, oddly enough, for Rules of Engagement, which keeps getting resuscitated). It’s harsh, perhaps, but it’s accurate, and doesn’t leave the folks associated with the series tied up contractually and anxious or unduly hopeful about their fate.
I was pondering “on hiatus” because theatre seems to have developed its own euphemism: “indefinitely postponed.” In the past week or so, it has appeared in connection with two productions that were announced, then yanked. I’m speaking of the new Edward Albee play Laying An Egg at Signature Theatre Company and the revival of Funny Girl. Now I bear none of the artists or producers involved with these shows any ill will. There are any number of factors which may have derailed these shows, all valid. Producer Bob Boyett spoke openly with The New York Times about the Funny Girl decision, and perhaps Edward Albee was simply at work on a play that he decided wasn’t ready for prime time. Theatre requires both artistic and business decisions and, difficult as they are to make, the better part of valor is to pull the plug rather than waste people’s time and money.
But what of “indefinitely postponed”? “Postponed” on its own means delayed, and usually carries the implication that whatever has been put off will eventually occur. This can be reinforced with “postponed until” which can be date specific, season specific, or an amorphous “the future.” But “indefinitely postponed” seems a cop out, especially when there’s no language associated with it to give hope.
Now it may well be that Mr. Albee will continue to work on Laying An Egg and will sustain his lengthy relationship with Signature by insuring it premieres there. It’s likely that Bob Boyett retains the first-class production rights to Funny Girl for some period of time and that if there’s to be a production, it will be under his auspices. But the funny thing is, no rhetoric suggesting those scenarios was employed, and none has leaked out.
That the press is adopting the spin of “indefinitely postponed” is rather startling to me, since this language has inspired a more than healthy skepticism in anyone with whom I’ve discussed it. The sad truth is that these shows are off, likely not to be seen in any time period that we would accept as part of a postponement. Might they eventually reach the stage? Well surely someone will revive Funny Girl at some point and, if Mr. Albee completes a play entitled Laying An Egg, it will surely be produced. But for now, who’s buying this phrasing?
But having written just yesterday about the value of emotional truth on our stages and in our marketing, I can only recommend the same in our public relations. We are not dissembling politicians, whose actions are often derisively labeled as theatre. The creation of art, under commercial or not-for-profit auspices, requires risk, and there really is no shame if things don’t come off – especially when people are smart enough to put on the brakes before things go too far. For smaller companies, for younger artists, for students – it’s not such a bad thing to learn that theatre is unpredictable and at times goes awry. So perhaps it’s time to put “indefinitely postponed” on hiatus.