Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yes, even the nonprofit sector is losing jobs...or will soon

The economic recession hits jobs in all sectors, including the arts and should be included in the National Economic Recovery Plan which is going before Congress now.

The arts are essential to the health and vitality of our communities. They enhance community development; spur urban renewal; attract new businesses; draw tourism dollars; and create an environment that attracts skilled, educated workers and builds a robust 21st century workforce.

I'm sending this email to my congressmen. You should, too. Go here now.

As Congress considers the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, urge them to include the arts and culture so that they can continue to help revitalize America's economy.

(Besides, should the banks get all the money so they can save their own butts?)

January 28, 2009

The Honorable Maria Cantwell
United States Senate
511 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4705

Re: Support the Arts in the National Economic Recovery Plan

Dear Senator Cantwell:

As Congress considers the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, I hope they will include the arts and culture sector. It is thoughtful economic policy to invest in our nation's arts infrastructure.

There are approximately 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations, which spend $63.1 billion annually. Without an economic stimulus for the nonprofit arts industry, experts expect about 10% of these organizations (ranging from large arts institutions like museums and orchestras to small community-based organizations in suburban, urban and rural areas) to shut their doors in 2009 - a loss of 260,000 jobs.

For those arts organizations that do not go out of business due to the poor economy, it is expected that, on average, the remaining arts organizations will experience up to 20% in budget cuts in 2009, resulting in losses of approximately 468,000 jobs.

Then-NEA Chairman Dana Gioia issued the following statement prior to his departure, "Arts organizations have been hit enormously hard by the current recession. They've seen their support drop from corporations, foundations, and municipalities. This infusion of funds will help sustain them, their staffs, and the artists they employ. We are hopeful that Congress and the new administration will support this important investment."


Dennis Schebetta

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Get 'em While They're Young

So I’m just reading my news on CNN.com and then I see this:

Army using video games to tempt recruits

Can I just say WTF!?!

It’s bad enough I have to sit through this crazy MTV style “Citizen Soldier” ad every time I go to see a movie up by my home, but now the US Army is spending our tax money for what is essentially an Armed Forces video game amusement park?

I don’t even know where to begin to comment.

Is it because it’s in Philadelphia?

(Why Philly? Are they going for working class? Middle income or lower income?)

The fact that they call it an “experiment”.

(Hey, give me $12 million and I can do some experimental theatre and it will last a lot longer than a few years and reach a lot more youth then just teen-agers in Philly.)

But nope, I think it’s just the fact that they are wasting 12 MILLION DOLLARS so that teenage boys can play shoot ‘em up on a videoscreen, which, duh, THEY DO ANYWAY.

It’s money that could be used for education (I’m sure the schools in Philadelphia could find a use for it).

I’m not a banker, but that money could probably bail out a hundred people’s mortgages right there.

It’s money that could fund a major nonprofit theater for two years.

Heck, it’s money that could go to protecting the lives of the soldiers who are currently getting shot at in Iraq.

Or it’s money to pump into the VA…

And on and on…

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Historic Inauguration

"This is the meaning of [America's] liberty and our creed -- why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath".

Regardless of your politics, you gotta admit, this is one of the most historic political events in American history.

Happy New President!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Theater Begins with the Artists

"Theater begins here"
Motto of The Playwrights Center

This article, written by Polly Carl who heads up The Playwrights Center in Minneapolis, is possibly one of the best articles I've read about how the way new plays are selected is "seriously flawed".

My favorite quote is:

"If we start with the idea that playwrights and artists are what drive the theater--that they are indeed our greatest asset--and work backwards from there, it's amazing to think how this will immediately alter our practices."

I wish every Playwright, Literary Director and Artistic Director in the country could read it.

No, screw that.

I wish every actor, director, stage manager, costume designer, scenic designer, lighting designer, box office manager, board member, donor, congressman, patron and maybe even the plumbers should read it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

If I could see only one show in NYC right now...

It would be THE SHIPMENT by Young Jean Lee.

Partly because its Young Jean Lee, who is just a brilliant and young playwright. But also partly because it deals with racial issues that we all want to pretend don't exist. I think we're going to find that even though we finally have elected our first black president, that not everyone is okay with that.

Okay, maybe we already know that. But I think we're going to see more actions from people that not everyone is okay with that.

We're definitely going to see more plays about race. In fact, if there isn't a production of Othello happening in your neighborhood this year, I'd be surprised (there are three slotted for the Seattle region, fyi).

Anyway, The Shipment just had a glowing review in the NY Times which called it "subversive" and "seriously funny" as well as "provocative but never polemic".

Here's the description from the press release:

Known for her provocatively satiric performance works, writer/director Young Jean Lee presents the New York premiere of THE SHIPMENT. For this piece, Lee gave herself the most uncomfortable challenge she could imagine: to make—as a Korean-American—a Black American identity politics work. In collaboration with an all-black cast, Lee takes the audience on an awkward and volatile roller-coaster ride through the absurdities and atrocities that arise when trying to discuss the black experience in America. Ludicrous, honest, and devoid of truisms, THE SHIPMENT dares to ask embarrassing questions and to seek solutions to impossible problems.

THE SHIPMENT is also made possible in part by a grant from the Ford Foundation and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Ensemble Theatre Collaborations Grant Program.

For more info about her and her company, go here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Human Variable...or...Oh, the Horror!

"Computers are useless. They only give answers."
-- Pablo Picasso

Can a computer make art?

This is one of those existential questions philosophers have been tossing around since the computer's invention. It's up there with "can robots feel emotion" and/or "Do androids dream of electric sheep?"

(Thanks for that, Philip K. Dick).

Microsoft seems to think that an algorithm can make music. They have created a new program called Songsmith, where anybody, and I do mean anybody, can sing along to a drum track and this program will create a chord sequence, aka a song, to accompany you.

Not only is it like having your very own Karaoke back-up band, but its perfect for those fun projects like making elevator music and/or your very own backing music track to your home-made porn!

Seriously, it could be really fun, if you're ten.

Of course, GarageBand on the Mac does almost the same thing, except you have to actually make the choices yourself. It takes a little longer but the results are much better, and so is the music.

Here's what one genius decided to do on this program, matching David Lee Roth's vocals from Running With The Devil and plugging it into Songsmith.

Warning! This audio clip may damage your sense of hearing.

Friday, January 9, 2009

One of these Presidents is not like the other, not like the other...

White House Appoints Office of the Arts?

This just in from artnet.

"The transition team of President-elect Barack Obama is keeping a firm hand on any appointment news, but the buzz in art-and-politics precincts has the new administration seriously considering the idea of an official White House Office of the Arts, overseeing all things having to do with the arts and arts education. The new arts czar wouldn’t be a cabinet-level position -- too complicated and too limiting, say insiders -- but rather a liaison with the president with real access to funds and power."

In other countries, it's quite common to have a Ministry of Culture headed up by someone in the Cabinet who's sole job is to promote the heritage, culture and the arts of that country.

We are not that kind of country.

Yes, we have the NEA, but it was only created relatively recently in our country's history, in 1965, and operates as an independent agency of the federal government. Yes, funding comes from the government, but there is no person in the White House Cabinet who has the job of overseeing our arts and culture.

Why not?

Good question.

We like to spend billions of dollars on tanks and missiles and invading other countries, but for some reason, don't want to spend even 1/100th of that kind of money on the arts (or education for that matter). Because what's really important is blowing people up, not making art.

By the way, it's positively mind-boggling to me how enraged the general public can become over a small percentage of government funding that is used for what people deem as questionable art, like "Piss Christ", but nowhere near that kind of emotion when they realize that billions of your tax payer money pays for guns, bullets, missiles, planes and tanks that KILL people. What they don't realize is that when they cut NEA funding they are also cutting funding for public programs like free Shakespeare in the park, Shakespeare festivals, symphonies, music education programs, art supplies for schools, etc.

(Okay, I'm ranting again. It's been a busy week and I haven't seen the sun in a really long time.)

The buzz around Obama is that he is going to appoint someone. Now, there are pros and cons to this argument of whether or not he should. I will not pretend to be smart enough to understand all the economic and political sides to this equation. I don't know. We could be headed for another Federal Theater Project (which put a lot of theater folks to work) or other type programs that were popular during the Great Depression. Again, lots of pros and cons here.

And I know we have a lot of problems in the world today, most prevalent being our sucky economy. I know we have world health problems.

But art and culture is what differentiates us from animals and machines.

And I don't want to just be a healthy and wealthy automaton.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

So. This is Interesting

As if I don't have enough to do already...

I've been looking over the script to 7 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT and re-thinking some of the staging for the festival in February. I realize that the script is actually in really good shape and the real challenge will just be the new directing and production elements. I took a break and then did some internet surfing to find this contest called COWRITE.

I wouldn't put much stock into it but it is being sponsored by some legit organizations (including Benderspink, one of the best management companies finding new talent--they are behind the discovery of Juno scribe Diablo Cody, for one).

The contest is based around the premise of co-writing a script. First person writes the first 10 pages (and wins $3000!) and then people submit the next ten pages. There is a winner and then people used those 20 pages to continue the story...

Each of the 11 biweekly winners will win $3000 in cash and prizes, a meeting with management/production company Benderspink (A History of Violence, American Pie, Just Friends) and a shot at the grand prize: a $5000 paid rewrite!

I've seen experiments like this done by theater companies to write plays with different playwrights. It's gimmicky and fun.

Oh, and it's usually a dismal failure.

But hey, it's hollywood and who knows, could be a good way to make a movie...


It could be an elaborate way of finding new talent (and only having to read 10 pages of that new talent's work--trust me, most of the time 10 pages is all you need).

If it weren't for the fact that it costs money to enter, I'd be more enthusiastic. But the plus side is that they have the story already, so you just have to come up with the characters and set up. I know that's not easy, but at least its not starting completely from scratch.

Here's the premise:

Determined to be a high-level Jason Bourne type operative, an awkward teenager enlists the help of a mysterious, supposed ex-CIA agent in his hometown and finds himself entangled in a dangerous plot that is way over his head.

Oh, and by the way, have I mentioned in this blog that the first ten pages of any script, play or screenplay, is the hardest?


It is.

Because you have to know where the ending is to make the beginning work so well. Which is why this contest is interesting...because no one has written the ending yet.

I'll definitely have to keep checking back on it, just for the freak show appeal of the experiment.