The Five- How to Pretend to Know Anything About the Pulitzer Prize for Drama

Anthony Miller, making your life just a little bit easier.

Hey you guys, I’m sure a lot of you are super stoked for Hamilton winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Sometimes it seems like organizations are inventing awards just to create an excuse to get the cast to perform on their show, while some are highlighting awards no one previously knew existed (I’m looking at you, Grammy Awards). Before we go running into the streets once again to celebrate Hamilton as the savior of American theater and the greatest thing since the last greatest thing ever, ask yourself, “What is a Pulitzer Prize for Drama anyway?” Funny you should ask, because I’ve got you covered. I’ve compiled a handy list of Pulitzer Prize for Drama trivia that you can wow your peers with at your next fancy theatre party, or at the bar. And wouldn’t you know it, there are five.

How Do You Win?
The criteria has changed over the years, but one thing remains, it must be an American play. The official criteria (as listed on their website) are as follows: “For a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.”

Are Winners Rich?
The winner gets $10,000. The first winner, Why Marry? by Jesse Lynch Williams in 1918, got $1000. So no, not really.

What Other Musicals Have Won?
There have been 8. Of Thee I Sing by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind and Ira Gershwin (1932), South Pacific by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, and Joshua Logan (1950), Fiorello! by Jerome Widman, George Abbott, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick (1960), How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying by Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows (1962), A Chorus Line, by Michael Bennett, James Kirkwood Jr., Marvin Hamlisch, Nicolas Dante and Edward Kleban (1976), Sunday in the Park With George by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine (1985), RENT, by Jonathan Larson (1996), and Next To Normal, by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (2010).

Is There One Every Year?
Even though there are nominees every year, there is not always a winner. The following years had no official recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama: 1917, 1919, 1942, 1944, 1947, 1951, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1986, 1997, 2006.

Has Anyone Won More Than Once?
Eugene O’Neill has 4: Beyond The Horizon (1920), Anna Christie (1922), Strange Interlude (1928), and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1957). Edward Albee has 3: A Delicate Balance (1967), Seascape (1975), Three Tall Women (1994). August Wilson and Thornton Wilder both have 2. You can also mention that this is not the first time Lin-Manuel Miranda was nominated: In The Heights was a finalist in 2009 but lost to Ruined by Lynn Nottage.

Anthony R. Miller is a Writer, Producer and a Big Theatre Nerd, keep up with his projects at www.awesometheatre.org and on twitter @armiller78.

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Everything Is Already Something: Writing the TBA Awards or How the Sausage Gets Made

Allison Page, bringing you the sausage.

If you’re a theater person in the Bay Area, you probably know the Theatre Bay Area Awards show was this past Monday. You may or may not know that I wrote the script. As in, the script for the 2+ hours that is the TBA Awards Show. Last year I wrote a recap of the awards show for the TPub blog, and this year, since I’m looking at it from an entirely different angle, I’ll give you some idea of what is was like putting things together.

STEP 1: OH THIS WILL BE FUN
When I was approached to write the script, I accepted because it seemed like such a strange experience. How could I say no to that? What other chance will I have to write the script for an awards show, until Neil Patrick Harris uproots me from my tenderloin apartment and takes me away from all this, of course.

STEP 2: THERE’S A LOT OF THIS, ISN’T THERE?
Just setting up the structure of the script (which I wrote in Final Draft) took many hours.

There are 27 categories, most of them with three tiers of recipients. There are 4 unique awards — three Legacy Awards and one Charles Dean Award. The regular awards do not receive acceptance speeches, but the Legacy and Charles Dean Awards do, so they look a bit different in the script. There were also 4 musical acts and two host monologues. The script skeleton, without ANY dialogue or lyrics, was 38 pages long. All said and done, it was 116 pages. YEAH. Each segment needed stage directions. Where are people entering? Do they cross to the podium? Do they have a body mic or a handheld? Which handheld? What are the finalists doing? Where do the recipients enter? Where do they exit once they’ve received the award? Where is the band? Does the screen come in? Does the screen go out? Is the iris open? Are there sound cues? Light cues? Curtain cues? Chairs? Tableaus? Does the host introduce the presenters? Or does the announcer do it? Because those are two different people. Where does the musical act come in? That was an exhausting list, right? It’s not even everything that needs to be considered.

Allison backstage with Rob Ready, who was recording his theater podcast Born Ready in the green room all night.

Allison backstage with Rob Ready, who was recording his theater podcast Born Ready in the green room all night.

STEP 3: NOBODY’S A WINNER
Terminology. Everybody loves to specify their terminology. In particular, they customize it to make people feel cozy. In this case, you’re not a “nominee,” you’re a “finalist” and you’re not a “winner,” you’re a “recipient”. I get it. I definitely get it. But also, the collective brains of most people would never go to those words first, so you’ve got to correct people over and over when they say, “winner” because they’ll get it stuck in their heads and then everyone’s saying the wrong thing — or worse if you’re a writer who is easily bothered by things, which is to say if you’re a writer — inconsistently referring to people as more than one thing. If someone uses all of these words: winner, recipient, nominee, and finalist, now everyone’s wondering if there are different kinds of awards and if only they’d been nominated in that category, they could actually be a real winner.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 10.21.46 AM

STEP 4: WHAT WILL THEY SAY?
A cool thing about the TBA Awards is that they remind you just how large the Bay Area theater community actually is. Of the 20+ people I had to write things for, I knew…3 of them. And those three I didn’t even know very well. I will say I learned a fair amount about various theater companies and people because of all the necessary Googling and Facebook stalking I had to do. The whole thing made me paranoid to put words in anyone’s mouth that they wouldn’t say. For instance, I had some remark about “Oh I’m going to go home and drink some wine,” or some tame thing like that, and then searched through that person’s Facebook photos to see if I could find photos of them drinking a glass of wine, not to make sure they liked wine, but to make sure they weren’t sober after years of dealing with alcoholism and attending AA meetings because WOULDN’T THAT BE SO TERRIBLE?!? It would. It would be terrible. I did find photos of that person with wine and the horror of making a magnificent faux pas began to fade. Fade, not go away entirely. Strangely, it was stuff I would never have thought anyone could take issue with, that people would want to change. Humans love to tinker. That’s fine. If you’re going to take on a project like this, it’s best to be flexible because otherwise your head’s going to pop. That being said…

STEP 5: JUST SKIMMING IT
Oh boy. The most delightful surprise of this process was that people just do not read very carefully. I GET IT. We all have a lot of stuff to do. Shows to direct, sets to build, lines to memorize, all kinds of stuff. But the majority of things I had to take a second look at because someone had a question or request or complaint, weren’t even valid. It was just that they hadn’t read it properly. So I’m going back over the script with a fine, fine sifter looking for what they’re talking about, over and over again, and then ending up with “It’s already right.” Now 20 minutes of my life have died because they’ve been glancing more than reading. Like I said, I get that. Maybe I would do the same thing. After all, I’m the writer, so it’s my job to look at this damn thing over and over again anyway. They’re just presenting and there’s no reason they should be laboring over the thing like it’s grandma’s antique fine china.

STEP 6: SPEECHES THAT I CAN’T CONTROL
When Legacy and Charles Dean Awards are given out, there are two speeches: a speech by the person giving the award, and a speech by the person or representative of the person receiving the award. Clearly I don’t write those, because that wouldn’t make any sense, but it also means nobody knows how long they’re going to be. I freely admit to being obsessed with timing and shortness (despite the length of this blog). I’m the creative director of a sketch comedy company. I like 20 second sketches. 4 specialty awards were given out. That means 8 speeches. 4 to give them out, 4 to accept them. Let’s say each speech is 3 minutes, that would mean 24 additional minutes are added to the evenings events. And though I was wandering around drinking cocktails during most of the show, I can tell you I saw some longer than that. There was at least one acceptance speech that was very short because the recipient (RECIPIENT, SEE, IT’S IN MY BRAIN NOW) didn’t know she was receiving an award. So it was one of those great, sincere surprise moments of “Oh my gosh, thank you!” that tends to inspire brevity. Naturally, I loved that. It’s also just nice to see someone so thankful and surprised in real time. Then there’s the host monologues. The host flew in the afternoon of the show, so all of his stuff had to come together really quickly. He worked out all his own material for the opening monologue and mid-show monologue. It made the most sense to do that for several reasons. We didn’t know each other, he was flying in day-of, and we have completely different styles of humor. I’m more of a satire guy, and he’s more of a wordplay/pun/clown guy. Both are fine, but imposing one on the other without having the time to work it out together would be foolhardy and would have given him an awful lot of alien material to memorize when he’s already got his own stuff in his brain and there’s just 4 hours from his entering the theater until the show starts.

STEP 7: THE OPENING MUSICAL NUMBER
So, because the entirety of the rest of the script was not enough work, I also wrote and directed the opening musical number, which was performed by Killing My Lobster, the company I’m co-creative director of. It was a parody of Willkommen from Cabaret, referencing various Bay Area theater stuff. It was really fun and complicated to put together. There were 12 performers, and only a few of them are singers and/or dancers. Mostly it was just funny people. Thank goodness the TBA Awards musical director came in to work with us on our vocals for an hour last week. But all said and done we got ONE rehearsal with the band, the afternoon of the show. The sort of psychological reaction of the performers when they walked out onto that big stage in that HUGE theater, was really interesting to me. It was a unique experience for them to be in a space that size. We’re used to performing in a house closer to 100 seats, and in that environment, we can totally dominate. But suddenly being in that grand theatrical arena really freaked them out for a minute. I had the sense that they hadn’t really given themselves permission to do it; that they felt they didn’t deserve it or something. After a rocky run with the band, there was a necessary pep talk in the dressing room, and once they took the stage for the actual performance, they killed. Or that’s how I feel anyway. Clearly I’m biased, but I thought it was awesome. The two most important jokes (to me) I wrote for that evening were in the opening number, and I was really proud that we got to do it.

Killing My Lobster performing the opening musical number...in their underwear.

Killing My Lobster performing the opening musical number…in their underwear.

CLOSING THOUGHTS
My goals taking on the writing of the script were thus: have a unique experience, work really hard at something no one I’ve ever known has done before, do the world’s fastest rewrites, be funny when I can, be real about certain issues within the theater community (again, when I can get away with it), make the show more entertaining and hopefully shorter than the previous year, have a good time, get a lot of drinks, wander around The Geary like I owned the place, recognize more companies/groups/people in writing and in person, and wear a cute dress. I accomplished a lot of those things. I didn’t write every single word that was said, it’s a big show and there are so many perspectives and ideas coming from everywhere that there’s no way anyone could put it together without input/ideas/edits/on stage improvising from other people. The amount of time and effort I put into this project was truly staggering. Day and night, piles of stuff building up in my apartment as I type for so long that my legs hurt from sitting. Not going places, or doing things because I have to write constantly to get it done. I couldn’t even tell you how many hours it took. A LOT. The show itself was still too long. It’s very hard to speed these things up because there are so many moving parts, but I think there are some things that can be done to make it faster the next time around. But, this is only the second annual TBA Awards ceremony and it can certainly continue to get better and smarter over time, like all things should. Like the theater community should. I’m always bored to tears when people want to talk about why they don’t believe in awards shows, or whatever their particular issue is with it. The funny thing about that is those people often have a lot to say about theater, and if they went to the awards, they’d probably notice there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of theater people all in one place on one night, and there is no better way to connect with those people and talk about what it is that we’re all doing, what we love about it, what we hate about it, what we can DO about it, how it can be better, what the future holds, and why we don’t see each other more often when we are, collectively, the present and future of the art form we care about. So, sure, you can sit at home and write an email about it or whatever ya like doing, but it’s got nothing on looking people in the face and connecting with them over your shared loving and loathing of art. Maybe you’ll even work together someday. Or at the very least, have a feeling that maybe some production choice that they made was inspired by something they really felt passionate about, and not something they were doing specifically to piss you off. Wild, I know. Listen, after all is said and done, I will have been a part of nearly 19 productions in 2015, 3 of which are even eligible for these awards, and none of which got any nominations. So that is certainly not why I go. Though someday maybe the stuff I do will count for that. We’ll see. But I go because I’m part of this whole big monster that is theater.

I have to say, the feeling of watching someone whose work you believe in take the stage, and getting to scream and shout “WOOOOOOOOO!” for them, is pretty amazing. Because you’re not saying, “WOOOOOOOOO!” you’re saying “YA’LL SEE THAT PERSON? YOU MAY NOT KNOW IT, BUT THAT RIGHT THERE IS SOMEONE YOU SHOULD BE WATCHING. WE LOVE THEM AND YOU SHOULD LOVE THEM TOO. CHECK US OUT. WE’RE OUT HERE WORKING OUR TAILS OFF JUST LIKE YOU ARE.” And that has nothing to do with winning or losing…sorry, receiving or not receiving.

Also someone held up a Black Lives Matter banner on stage and it was pretty great.

As a fun bonus, here is the entirety of the Willkommen TBA Awards opening number. (As performed by Jan Gilbert, Kyna Wise, Elaine Gavin, Ron Chapman, Sam Bertken, Justin Lucas, Griffin Taylor, Katharine Chin, Jeunee Simon, Melanie Marshall, Carlye Pollack, and Shaun Plander, with host Ron Campbell entering at the end. Two Rons, I know, you’ll figure it out.)

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
Breadbox, Lamplighters, Mime Troupe
San Jose Stage, It’s all of the rage
Custom Made Theatre
Can you see the stage?

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
At ACT
To TBA

JUSTIN. (spoken)
Oh it is so nice to see you! Good evening! Is Broadway By The Bay in the house? Oh good. Sorry about our singing. Except mine!

RON.
We Players is probably doing Hamlet at the Jack in the Box across the street. They’ll be back, they’ll be back!

ELAINE.
It’s okay it’s just a joke.

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
At ACT
To TBA

RON.
Leave your Bay Area Theatre Critic’s Circle awards outside!

KYNA. So you didn’t get as many nominations as you did last year City Lights? Hm? Forget it!

JAN. We have no troubles here. Here, life is beautiful! The Geary Theater is beautiful! Even Sean Kana’s band is beautiful!

Band is revealed.

Faultline, you’re brand new, welcome
There’s Old Hats like ACT and Magic
Cal Shakes AKA Hypothermia
Hillbarn did Funny Girl,
(spoken) Everyone did Glengarry Glenn Ross

Willkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome
There’s OMG
NCTC
and BRT

RON. So many acronyms!

JUSTIN.
And now presenting some of the nominees.

ELAINE. You mean finalists!

JAN. There are East Bay theaters and South Bay Theaters, or is it South Bay theaters and East Bay theaters? You know there’s only one way to tell the difference. Someone not from San Francisco will show you later.

KYNA. Get it, because we never leave the city!

ELAINE. You know one of my favorite things about seeing a show at Impact?

ALL. Pizza!

KYNA. Betcha they didn’t have that at the Globe.

JUSTIN. Suck it Shakespeare!

RON. And, of course, Just Theater’s amazing production of We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915.

RON passes out on stage. JUSTIN fans him, shakes him, and does various other business to get him up and moving again.

JUSTIN. He’s okay! Just keep going!

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
At ACT
(whispered)
Buy a drink, fluff your hair, smile
No win? it’s okay, screw it

ELAINE. Hello, Spreckles!

ALL. (still whispering)
Taste is subjective, we don’t even sing

JUSTIN. Enchante, Central Works!

ALL.
Here for the party
At PianoFight
(We’re cheap!)

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome!
One Man, Two Guvnors,
Pussy

We’re not just vulgar, that title is real
Happy to see you,
Please applaud with zeal

JAN. One more time!

Willkommen, bienvenue, welcome
To TBA
We’re KML
To T…B…

They are interrupted by Ron Campbell’s entrance.

RON CAMPBELL. KML? You’re Killing My Lobster?

ELAINE. Yeah!

RON CAMPBELL. You’re not even eligible for these awards, are you?

ALL. No/well not exactly/maybe someday/a technicality, etc.

RON CAMPBELL. How did you guys even get in here?

RON. Rob Ready left the door open.

RON CAMPBELL. Go back to BATS or Big City Lights or wherever it is you guys hang out. The Sketch Comedy Festival. I’ll take it from here. Come back when you do legitimate theater.

KML winces at the word legitimate.

JAN. Hey, we premiered Hunter Gatherers! We launched Peter Sinn Nachtrieb.

RON CAMPBELL. Yeah, 10 years ago. Go on now, scoot!

KML starts to exit, sadly.

RON CAMPBELL. Where did they leave off? Sean, play me my note.

Band plays very end of song.

RON CAMPBELL. To T…B…

KML turns around, runs/slides toward RON, and they all finish the last note together.

RON & KML. Aaaaaaaa!

Some of KML basking in the afterglow.

Some of KML basking in the afterglow.

Allison Page is a writer/actor/person who is slowly recovering from the insanity of the last week, with snacks and cleaning her apartment while watching Bob’s Burgers.

Theater Around The Bay: On The TBA Awards

Will Leschber is on his honeymoon, so we’re bringing you a special report on last night’s TBA Awards, by none other than Allison Page.

I’m kind of hungover. But the okay kind, where you get to just think “Oh, that was a pretty good time. Ha!” without danger of throwing up all over yourself when you get to the “Ha!” Last night was the very first Theatre Bay Area Awards ceremony. Much discussion has rippled throughout the community about these awards. From “OH, we need that!” to “Theater isn’t a competition, you can’t compare this to that!” to “Yeah, but are there drinks?” (That last one may or may not have been me, I refuse to confirm or deny it.) Such was the discussion of these awards that I felt they warranted an immediate reaction. From me. For some reason. Let’s go topic by topic.

The Venue
I can’t even pretend to snark about The Geary Theatre. It’s crazy beautiful. And it made us all feel very classy and elegant, which is maybe not something my crew feels all the time. We’re the black box elite, right? We live in small, dark spaces and create as much as possible with as little as we can. Sure, we like to crack open the champagne whenever possible, but we got that “champagne” for eight bucks and it has a picture of an animal on the front and came with a bag of Fritos. The venue gets 5 Stars for glamour, even though we were totally in the nosebleed seats. There was also a nice little photo place outside the theater, with a TBA background you could pose in front of. But it was literally on the sidewalk so people kept walking through everyone else’s photos as they arrived. Maybe a designated place in the lobby would make sense? It was a cool detail, definitely, but I’m sure I’m in at least six photos I’m not supposed to be. (And Carey Perloff is apparently in Paris, so it kinda felt like San Francisco theater was sort of Airbnb-ing the mansion of an eccentric millionaire who was off on vacation in Ibiza. I think she’s actually working on a show but, ya know, a feeling’s a feeling.)

"Errebody walking through our glamour shots."

“Errebody walking through our glamour shots.”

Refreshments
There was a bar. The bartender was really nice, kept the line moving, and the drinks jumped in size at some point which I definitely appreciated. My whiskey gingers were $9, which isn’t the worst thing ever. Did I long for an open bar at this fancy event? I mean, YES. But I always do. It would have been pretty amazing if our tickets all entitled us to one complimentary drink. Wouldn’t that be a nice touch? It would be a sweet compromise between open bar, and totally not open bar. And actually, after people have one drink, I would think they’d shell out the cash for the next one, but that’s just me. I’m sure the organization has a financial reason to not do that because obviously booze costs money, but I think receiving something apart from a program and a nosebleed seat would be cool. Oh and I bought some peanut M&Ms. The foodstuffs were nothing to go bananas about – mostly granola bars and candy – but I don’t think anyone was coming there to eat, so it seems like a non-issue.

Let’s get into the show itself, shall we?

The Hosts
Hosting anything is a terribly thankless job and almost always people are jerks about the hosts. It’s a tough balance to strike: you have to be funny, but you can’t be too mean. You have to be relevant to the event and audience, but you can’t pander too much. You have to keep things moving, but you can’t rush through what you’re doing. Will Durst and Marga Gomez were this year’s stalwart hosts. I like them both a lot as comics, but opening with “Who loves theater?!?” was maybe a not-so-strong choice. I thought they were fine and had a tough job. These awards have never happened before so the vibe of them is sort of undefined. There were points at which it felt like things were sinking a little, but maybe that could have been helped with…

Lighting
I can take no credit for this thought. The Honorable Costume Design Nominee From Tier III For Custom Made’s Production Of THE CRUCIBLE, Brooke Jennings, said it last night: Perhaps it would be easier to keep the audience’s attention if the lighting was demanding that we look in a particular place.

Allison and Brooke talking shop/posing.

Allison and Brooke talking shop/posing.

It was lights up on the entire stage, the entire time. It was easy to get distracted. “Is that a guy at a piano back there? Nice suit, piano guy. Hey, why does the set look like shards of glass? The girl in front of me has a great dress. My new shoes are shockingly comfortable. I wonder what I’m gonna do for breakfast tomorrow…where am I?” Though I appreciated that there was enough light in the house for us to be able to move around, use our phones, and keep the drink-spilling to a minimum. Actually, it was important to have some light in the house way up in the balcony, because otherwise moving around up there would be kind of terrifying. I was initially worried about tripping and quickly tumbling out of the sky and into Betty Buckley’s waiting arms.

The Presenters
I enjoyed that the presenters for the evening were varied peoples from varied tiers and represented lots of different kinds of theater. I was particularly happy Rob and Ray from Piano Fight were presenting, even though Marga mispronounced their podcast Born Ready as Born Reafy. It happens. I thought the presenters overall did a fine job. I was, however, worried that the audience clapping after every nominee was read would add two hours to the event. (It didn’t, it turned out to be fine. There were points at which it felt long, but we got out of there at a reasonable time considering the number of awards given out.)

The Nominees
There are a few things to address here. Let’s start with how the nominees are brought out. They’re in a huge line, sometimes stretching all the way across the stage in a jumble which can be extra tough if some of them are from PEARLS OVER SHANGHAI and keep their absolutely gigantic costumes on for the duration of the evening and then try to squish between two people who probably get glitter and feathers jabbed into their corneas. It was fun to watch that happen, though, because I was really far away and didn’t get glitter or feathers in my corneas. Then comes the time to list all the nominees. Is it crazy for me to think they should stand in order of how they’re being announced? I couldn’t always figure out who was what while that was going on, because as it turns out everyone has their own way of identifying themselves when their name is called: some demurely bow, some just clap and look at everybody else, some stand still and smile which is also what people do when their name ISN’T being called. I realize that would require people to get their shit together enough to stand in a line, in order, but these are actors. Lots of them have probably danced in a single file line before, I think they can handle it. Mostly I’d just feel bad for the SM trying to organize them but selfishly, as an audience member I would like to watch it make sense. Then again, that would require that the nominees actually attend. Which brings me to my next point:

TIER I, WHERE YOU AT? Now, I know there were some Tier I people there, and I certainly didn’t count them or anything, but it seemed there were more of the other two tiers. I’d like to know why that is. Are they uninterested? Do they not want to mix with the riffraff that are the lower tiers? Are they just sooooo busy that they can’t come? This is a community wide event. That’s part of its importance, right? We’re supposed to be crossin’ streams over here. When we get down to nominees for Outstanding World Premiere Play and Stuart Bousel is the only playwright on stage and he’s standing next to the only people representing an Outstanding World Premiere Musical nomination (The Bengsons, for HUNDRED DAYS), then I start to wonder what all those other people are doing. And thank goodness Stuart and The Bengsons are the people who won, because it would have been sad if they were the only people who showed up in that category and they LOST. Along similar lines, I heard that backstage things were sort of disjointed among the nominees, in that it seemed like Tier I people talked to Tier I people, and Tiers II and III were talking to each other – because all of life is essentially a middle school cafeteria scene. I was’t back there, so I can’t say first hand, that’s just what I heard.

Special Acts
Am I the only grouch who thinks that if there are going to be a bunch of songs from musicals, there should be scenes from straight plays? The freakin’ Tonys do it. Yeah, they’d need some mics, but I’m pretty sure that can happen. That would be a good opportunity to see excerpts from the Outstanding World Premiere Play nominees that people maybe didn’t have the chance to see.

The Thing That Pissed Me Off
There was one point when I got pretty irritated. A woman (apparently a really generous donor who’s done a lot for various theaters) took to the stage to give a short speech. In it, she said something like: “If everyone in here invited someone to see theater, we would become something that people talk about.” And I kinda wanted to flip a table. My actual reaction, courtesy of my Facebook post 20 seconds after that happened, was “GIRL YOU ARE TALKING TO A ROOM FULL OF THEATER MAKERS, WE INVITE EVERYBODY TO EVERYTHING. WE INVITE *DEAD* PEOPLE TO THE THEATER. TALK TO THE OTHER RICH PEOPLE. YOU’RE PREACHIN’ TO THE POOR CHOIR.” I don’t know that I need to elaborate on that. I’m glad she’s such a supporter of theater, but the problem isn’t that the broke-ass actors in the audience aren’t inviting people. We’re inviting everyone we’ve ever known. Are you?

Overall Closing Thoughts
I’ll be the first to admit that I thought, “Awards? I don’t know if we need that. Do we need that?” but I was thrilled to 1) Dress up 2) Hang out with my friends 3) Get drinks and 4) Think about the thing we have all chosen to do with our lives. And to me, that last one is the real takeaway. I don’t think an award legitimizes someone’s art, and I don’t think the lack of an award means something wasn’t effective or important. But I do think a large gathering of the people who give a shit about theater in the Bay Area is a good thing, because it shows that we are invested in each other, even if that’s sort of bullshit sometimes. Being aware of all the people outside of my immediate circle who exist and do the things we do gives me a view of how large we really are. Sometimes it feels like there are about 25 theater makers in the general vicinity, but there are so many more than that. If we want to be relevant to the public, we should probably start by being relevant to each other. This is a step in that direction, I think. We’re not quite one big happy family but, shit, at least I know we EXIST.

PS. Ruby Skye for the after party at an additional cost? Yeah, we went to the White Horse and drank beer in a tiny room with a hotel ice machine in it and had a fabulous time eating free popcorn.

Stuart Bousel and Rob Ready enjoying the opposite of Ruby Skye.

Stuart Bousel and Rob Ready enjoying the opposite of Ruby Skye.

What did you think of the awards? Feel free to voice your opinion, as always, in the comments.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/director in the bay area, and her hair looked stellar last night. Congratulations to all the winners/nominees/balcony-sitters/people who pour their lives into theater each day without recognition or proper funding.

Claire Rice’s Enemy’s List: Money Talks and Bullshit Walks

Claire Rice, here to slap your new year in the face with some hard-hitting journalism. 

I won second place in a bullshit contest in middle school. I don’t mean the contest was bullshit, I mean that I was the second best bullshitter among thirteen year olds in New Mexico and I was given a medal to prove it. I didn’t win another award until college. It was an award for my performance in one of the main stage plays. I received the certificate during an assembly where scholarship awards were also being given. When I went up to shake the department chair’s hand and collect my piece of paper he pulled me close and whispered in my ear: “You should have gone for the money.”

These were my first lessons in how important awards really are.

Please sir, I need a little something to fill out my CV.

Please sir, I need a little something to fill out my CV.

There is big money to be had out there. More important than the Critic’s Circle or BroadwayWorld.com, the best major grants are awards that recognize past achievements and the potential of future achievements. This year the Andrew Mellon Foundation gave $3.7 million dollars for playwriting residencies all across the country.  Awards went locally to ZSpace to hire Peter Sinn Nachtrieb and to Cutting Ball to hire Andrew Saito.  I haven’t talked to the Mellon Foundation myself, but I can’t help but feel this award was given in large part because of the book “Outrageous Fortune” and the national conversation about the state of new play development in the United States.  If so, it was given in an effort to effect change on a national level.  Mellon was using its money to talk.

The Mellon Foundation is privately funded and isn’t accountable to the general public for its actions.  The National Endowment for the Arts, on the other hand, was founded by Congress.  Wikipedia said, at the time this article was written, that the NEA is the largest grant-maker to arts organizations in the nation.  That fact needed a citation so, it’s hard for this piss poor journalist to say.  What I can say is that someone had the balls to type that into Wikipedia in 2012 and no one had refuted it at the time of this writing.  So, we’ll say it’s true enough.

So, what is NEA money saying?

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The total budget for the NEA was $158 million dollars, which is about half of what the Washington Post says the Affordable Care Act’s website cost. The NEA keeps a wonderful search tool on all the grants it has given out since 2000 here: http://apps.nea.gov/GrantSearch/SearchMain.aspx. Since 2000 the NEA has given over 300 grants totaling over $6 million to just about 70 Bay Area theatre companies and supporting organizations. The smallest grant was in 2003 to American Conservatory Theatre for about $2000 for pre-production support for the world premiere of “Malaya” by Chay Yew, a play A.C.T. has yet to actually premier. The largest grant was made in 2013 to Berkeley Repertory for $75,000 to support Marcus Gardley’s play “The House Will Not Stand” which opens January 31.

Compare that to New York, who’s theatre companies received almost 900 grants totaling over $25 million. TCG received the largest grants consistently since 2000 with the largest sum of money being $380,000 in 2000, 2003 and 2004. The Lincoln Center received $100,000 to produce “War Horse.” The smallest sum was $5000 to support Amas Musical Theatre’s production of “Four Guys Named Jose”. Chicago, on the other hand, has only received about 195 grants totaling just over $4 million. It’s smallest grant was to the American Theatre Company for a reading of a new translation. The largest grants were for $100,000 each for Steppenwolf and the Goodman Theatre, both were to support world premier productions. Minneapolis has been awarded just over 140 grants totaling almost over $3 million dollars. The smallest was $5,000 to Pangea World Theatre to support new works. The largest was $100,000 to Mixed Blood Theatre company to support two new works.

Of course, cities all over the United States received funding, this is just a very small sampling. Also, I’ve only looked at projects that were listed under Theatre. This does not include any of the other multiple categories that theatre companies might apply under for funding (including dance and music).

No one reading this will be surprised that New York also receives the lion’s share of the NEA pot. What this spot check shows is that the majority of NEA funding is indeed going to new works and organizations that support new works. It isn’t all world premiers either, there are rolling and regional premier. Apparently “Ragtime” didn’t make its way to Austin, Texas until 2012 so it counted as a regional premier according to the NEA grant. So, this writer feels that the NEA has been saying since 2000 that it supports new works and the creators of new works. If you look over the lists and lists and lists of grantees you’ll find all of the usual suspects, but the projects being funded are incredibly diverse. The NEA grants tell us that, yes, New York is still the center of American theatre. What they also tell us is that the NEA is so full of hope. The NEA isn’t thinking about risk. So often new works are associated with risk and trouble. “Will we fill seats? No one has heard of this playwright or this play.” But the NEA is saying it believes in new works and the artists and organizations creating them.

I encourage everyone to go and download these reports and create wonderful diagrams on gender equity, ethnic diversity, zip code funding disparity and anything else and everything else. It’s all right there for your to create beautiful charts and graphs to measure all kinds of things.

And while the numbers may tell you that the NEA has hope for the future, they won’t tell you the actual future.

Rocco Landesman stepped down as chairman in November of 2012. He was appointed by President Obama in 2009. Senior Deputy Chairman Joan Shigekawa is filling his role until a new Chairman can be appointed. President Obama has yet to nominate a replacement for Landesman. Also, Ralph Remington, the NEA Theatre/Musical Theatre Director, left in November. His seat is also still empty. The senate will vote to confirm Janet Yellen to the Federal Reserve on January 6. I’m sure finding someone to fill the empty seats at the NEA is totally on the to do list. Probably.

There is more to worry about than just a slow bureaucracy having a hard time catching up. After the government shutdown and a continuing power struggle, politicians on both side of the isle are considering what should be considered “necessary” funding. Writers like Rick Smith, who asks if America still needs the NEA since we now have Kickstarter, aren’t helping. The Washington Post found arts administrators across the board are feeling edgy about the vacancies “Without a leader who can champion its initiatives — or defend its mere existence — the NEA flails and tends to lose funding, experts say.” You can read the full article here.

The NEA is a common and easy target for Republicans, Social Conservatives, and budget cutters. And since theatre organizations are generally hinging their budgets on $10,000 NEA grants, it’s doubtful that there is a lobbying voice that will be able stand up for the NEA in Washington with any real power. And looking at the top lobbying clients, I don’t think any of them will stand up for us either. $158 million dollars isn’t a large piece of the pie when thinking about the national budget, and it’s possible that the smallness of the number is what makes it seem so unnecessary. Too little funds are spread too thin to too many places. American Conservatory Theatre received $30,000 for the production of “The Orphan of Zhao” from the NEA. It received $326,000 from San Francisco Grants for the Arts to support the entire season.

Go ahead and plan your Oscar Awards party and scoff at the ridiculousness of it all. I also look forward to sitting with you at a bar and complain about how BroadwayWorld.com awards are strange and meaningless. As Theatre Bay Area gears up for its first year of excellence awards, I look forward to the debates about how much weight a piece of paper or a plaque should be given. Only time will tell if new local accolades will mean increased funding opportunities. Where does legitimacy come from? What comes first: the accolades or the funding? Is there a funding source that carries more legitimacy than another?

Lastly, if the NEA isn’t seen as a legitimate way to spend government funding, how do we change that?

Should we give them an award?