Pervasive in commentary on every major political campaign is the use of the word “theatre” to describe acts made for show rather than substance, and it perennially has those who love and respect theatre a bit riled. Meanwhile, I read and watch political coverage and have come to think that instead of resembling objective news, campaign reportage takes on the trappings of sports. As a result, in this election season, politics, sports and the arts have bled into each other in my mind, as follows.
“That’s it for the weather, and it sounds like it’s going to be a great weekend. Now it’s time for our nightly arts report, with everyone’s favorite cultural chronicler, Biff Lefkowitz. Biff?”
It’s been a crazy 24 hours in local arts, especially on the theatre scene. The Springfield Stage Company, riding high on the success of their Shakespeare series, stumbled today when it was revealed that their Prospero and their Miranda were heating up the Equity cot between shows. We all know that one has to suspend the imagination when we go into the theatre, but now that nobody can picture them as father and daughter, there’s lots of inappropriate laughter on the line, ‘The isle is full of noises’.”
“Sounds a bit too close for comfort, Biff.”
“Apparently not for the enthusiastic couple, Elise, but for everyone else. The front office is going to have to get control of this before it damages the rest of the season, because all of this publicity is going to give Shakespeare a bad name, and turn off the essential soccer mom audience. It’s going to be tough, because there’s some compromising footage making the rounds on YouTube. Steamy stuff.
Meanwhile, Springfield Theatre Works is jumping on that gaffe as an opportunity to poke a sharp stick at their cross-town rivals, hustling their production of Oedipus as the steady, reliable and proven option for explorations of intra-family affections.”
“Biff, isn’t that an underhanded campaign on the part of Theatre Works?”
“You know what they say, Elise, in art and politics, what’s fair is foul and foul is fair. But there’s no question that the Stage Company folks are tearing their eyes out right now over this Oedipus thing.
When it comes to momentum, you’ve really got to hand it to the upstart Little Theatre of Springfield, with their rotating rep of Yasmina Reza plays. Though leavened with laughter, her bleak view of human relations is resonating surprisingly well across almost every demographic during this time of economic uncertainty.”
“But I hear the pundits have mostly given the shows a thumbs down, Biff.”
“You’re right Elise, but while the professional naysayers have been trotting out their usual canards about the absurdity of French female playwrights being translated by an Englishman for American consumption, exit polls are showing that for all the carping in the press, audiences see that commentary as nothing more than a plain white canvas, devoid of any real meaning for Joe the Certified Public Accountant and Jane the Corporate Lawyer. And that’s who comes out in force for the arts.
The Little Theatre is also benefiting from a comparative wave of support from outside interest groups, like the Springfield Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. This kind of extra-community money can really tilt the playing field, giving this tiny company a louder voice than ever before.”
“Let me jump in here for a moment, Biff. I’m hearing rumors that The Little Theatre is benefiting disproportionally from their robo-telemarketing calls, funded by a private foundation that isn’t required to disclose the size of their gift.”
“Yes, Chuck, I’ve heard that as well, and it seems like the phone rings 12 times every night at my house touting this play or that. We won’t know the actual amount of money being expended until it’s time for the company’s tax filing, and that comes long after the season is over. But there’s no denying that private money is now the name of the game in the arts, and it’s starting to look like whoever gets the most these days wins.
Elsewhere, the post-performance discussion at the Springfield Theatre Lab got a little heated when an audience member accused the company’s artistic director of regularly trotting out too many canned talking points each season and not allowing for enough spontaneity. But this outburst won’t even last one news cycle, after the Lab’s dramaturg explained that all theatre is scripted. You really have to wonder what that person was doing in the audience in the first place.
Finally tonight, it looks like the expected Broadway transfer of the Springfield Players’ terrific production of author John Q. Populist’s comedy A Little Something For Everyone isn’t going to happen. Like so many shows that have a common-sense message that rings true for so many, it’s being crowded out of the field by productions with big names and songs to sing. The Players team has waged a scrappy campaign that resonated with lots of folks, but they just can’t get past the entrenched wisdom which says that without a sharply defined target audience of die-hards, you just can’t break through in the big leagues.”
“Thanks for that report, Biff. Are you seeing anything tonight?”
“Well, Elise, I’m going to go home for a bit, just so I can hang up on some telemarketers. Then I’ll be heading to the Springfield Cinema to see the NT Live screening of This House, their new drama about British politics in the 70s. I doubt I’ll understand much of what’s going on, since I can barely follow our own elections, but ya gotta love those accents.”
“And that’s it for us here tonight. As we leave you, enjoy this clip from the Luxembourg Zoo of three newly hatched penguins. Because, after all, while we may not agree on politics or theatre, we always have time for adorable animals. Good night.”