As Johnny Cash knew, foolish questions get a silly answer every time. In honor of the man in black, because when shouldn't we honor the man in black, here are a few bits of No-Duh headlines from this morning, ranked from most to least obvious. Some good articles in here—they just all start with the kind of who-cares news hook that editors love so much.
The sub-hed in this Los Angeles Times article asks, is the recent spate Broadway revivals "driven by fear-based economics or merely a desire to put a fresh spin on popular productions?" Well, duh. First of all, five plays opening within a few weeks of one another does not make a trend. The trend towards endlessly regurgitating classic material has been building for decades, and its roots are obvious. Mounting a show on Broadway is an exorbitant, perilous way to attempt to make money. When only one third of all shows recoup—when a show recouping merits a press release!—producers will do anything they can to ensure a hit. It's foolish to expect a Broadway production to be anything but safe—these producers already take plenty of risks with their bank balance.
In the Guardian, Lyn Gardner asks why people in theaters cough so damned much, but fails to provide any of the obvious answers for why we hear more coughing in a theater than a cinema. Theatergoers are older, for one thing. If a person weren't teetering on the edge of death he'd be out doing something exciting, like skateboarding or mocking skateboarders. Theaters are often larger than movie theaters, and nearly always full. Plays are quieter than films, and the houses are designed for perfect acoustics. Coughs and sneezes reverberate just as well as snappy dialogue, and are sometimes much more amusing.
I once saw a very modern, very excellent production of Carmen which was staged on an expanse of sand. Between acts, the set rotated around the sand—an amazing effect that also happened to throw huge clouds of grit into the audience, causing a coughing fit that kept me from my customary second act Opera Nap.
In the Chicago Sun-Times, Neil Steinberg asks the rather tired question, "should theater shock?", but keeps it interesting by playing the part of the jaded audience member himself. It's an engaging little article about why it's necessary to keep an open mind after a performance as well as before, and I won't say any more about it.
Laura Collins-Hughes, of the Boston Globe, has a must-read article about the state of non-profit theater, which uses Cambridge's American Repertory Theater as an example of the sometimes too-cozy relationship between regional theaters and the Broadway powerhouses who use them as farm teams. Her headline writer asks the question, "Are nonprofit theaters too closely tied to commercial producers?", suggesting the answer is a pat, "Well, duh." But as the article makes clear, the situation is more complex.
The news-peg for the Globe story is an impending report from the Center for the Theater Commons—thems the folks behind Howl Round, dontchaknow—which is supposed to be released later today. I imagine I'll have more to say about it then, but for the moment, read Collins-Hughes' article and consider this half-baked thought:
What could possibly be wrong with giving regional theaters an incentive to produce popular theater? If enhancement money is making up only a small fraction of the budget of a theater like ART, how is it corruptive? Far more dangerous than a regional theater making money off popular hits, I think, is a wholly static subscriber model, which attracts local highbrow types by making them feel obligated to support the theater, and feeds them mildly provocative tedium as a way of making them feel smarter than they really are. Theater, especially small theater, should be more entertaining than public television. But a regional theater tailored solely to its subscribers' desires is about as exciting as NPR.
Phew! Glad I got that off my chest!
Oh, and you remember last week, when I mused about how terrible it is that so many theaterfolk work for free, but that the situation is impossible to fix? Someone in Britain is trying to fix it. Go for it, kiddos.