Geek Bars Are a Thing Now

WBEZ has an article on their website about a Kickstarter to create a geek bar in Chicago. (thanks to Anna Tarkov for tweeting about it.) This is a bar for “geeks” to enjoy geeky pursuits like playing Magic the Gathering or discussing The Lord of the Rings or debating if Anne Frank or Lizzie Borden would win in a fight.

The article quotes Tony Nilles, who owns a geek bar in Milwaukee:

“You have a demographic where if they go to other bars and clubs, they don’t feel comfortable, they feel like they are an outsider or outcast,” Nilles said. “When you get them around other people that are just like them, they feel this sense of belonging and you find that you have these really nice, kind people that are able to express in ways they weren’t able before.”

It almost sounds like geek bars are analogous to gay bars.

That’s the problem with this concept. It feels like “Aw, the poor geeks. They don’t feel comfortable at The Violet Hour, Big Chicks, Simon’s or some Billy Dec place. We should give them a place to feel comfortable. We’ll give them a geek bar! It will be a safe space!”

The difference between a gay bar and a geek bar is that gay bars are there for gay people to interact with other gay people–and now straight women who want gay best friends. It is a place where they can flirt, pick someone up and feel safe doing so. The quote from Nilles makes a geek bar feel like it’s a way so geeks don’t have to interact with people who aren’t Star Wars obsessives.

I happen to enjoy some things that would normally result in me being a geek. I read comic books, play video games and watch Star Trek, Game of Thrones and Doctor Who. I also occasionally enjoy anime, but with all of these things I’m not an obsessive. I can’t give you a complete overview of Superman’s mythology, debate which Final Fantasy games are superior to other games and I don’t speak Klingon or Dothraki. This might mean that I’m not a geek, but I enjoy “geeky” things. When I walk into a bar I feel very comfortable. Then again, I can carry on a conversation with people about things I’m not geeky about. I’m not going to walk up to some stranger in a bar and talk their head off about health care policy.

What seems even more surprising about this is I’m curious if a geek bar is really necessary in the age of the internet. It’s really easy to find people who share an interest with you. Although going to a bar is a unique experience, if you really want to be around people with a similar geeky interest with you without feeling awkward at a bar you don’t feel like you fit in at, you can go on a subreddit and drink a beer in your apartment.

I also find the quote from David Zoltan, the man behind the concept, about where he got the idea from to be very interesting:

“I thought, I don’t have cable. I’d like to watch the show with a bunch of my Whovian friends and other Whovians from the rest of Chicago,” he said. “(But) while I can throw a stone out and reach a half dozen sports bars in Chicago, there isn’t a place for the geek.”

The thing about this is that you could put together a viewing party at your place or a friend’s place. I know people who don’t have HBO and watch Game of Thrones at a friend’s place. Although going to a bar to do something like watch a football or hockey game is a unique experience, a viewing party with close friends is a great experience. You can eat water chestnuts wrapped in bacon and TARDIS-shaped cookies, or sugar cookies decorated to look like Ood.

But perhaps this ends up being a good idea. It’s promising that this is for people who are geeky about all things, something I don’t get from the Milwaukee geek bar. It seems as though I could walk into this bar and start spouting opinions on mass transit in Los Angeles and it would be okay. Still, it feels a bit discouraging that people feel the need to create bars for geeks to be geeky when it’s seems like it would be relatively easy for geeks to gather in this day.

On Paying for Theater Reviews

I love Charles Isherwood’s theater reviews.

I don’t always agree with him and there are moments where I do think, “No, Charles. That was not a good move,” but overall, he is my favorite theater critic currently writing in America.

Isherwood, as it turns out, writes for the The New York Times, which allows for ten free articles before you hit the paywall. If you were to read just Isherwood’s reviews, not even Ben Brantley’s reviews, you would quickly hit the paywall, particularly in April when everything seems to opens on Broadway. I have a digital subscription to the Times as well as grab a physical copy on campus sometimes, so I don’t really have to panic about not getting to read every delightfully pithy thought Isherwood pens.

But I don’t have a digital subscription to the Times just for Isherwood’s reviews. For a long time, the Times has been my favorite newspaper in America and as a result I feel like it’s an essential read every morning. Additionally I have a digital subscription to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which is called JS Everywhere. Even though I don’t live in Milwaukee, I feel like the Journal Sentinel is an essential read if you want to know what’s going on in Wisconsin, particularly with politics for the past year. Additionally, I can’t think of a newspaper that has consistently done investigative pieces that are as moving and brilliant as the ones done by the Journal Sentinel. Giving Journal Communications $4.99 a month is a price I don’t mind paying for all of the great content they turn out.

So when the Chicago Tribune announced they would put columnists and theater critics behind a paywall, I understood the reason why.

Admittedly, I am part of the reason why the Tribune probably decided to put its columnists behind a paywall. I got an account with my email address just so I could read columns written by Eric Zorn, Mary Schmich, and Rick Kogan as well as reviews by Phil Vettel, Greg Kot, Michael Phillips and sometimes Chris Jones. I have met Tribune reporters, editors and members of the Editorial Board, and as a result, I reverence and respect for the staff and the publication. I will not stop reading the Tribune until it ceases publication.

When the paid “digitalPLUS” was announced I looked into what it included. According to the Tribune‘s website, paying $14.99 a month includes:

-“Unlimited breaking news stories.”
-“Exclusive reporting, including insider sports coverage of Chicago’s teams and access to premium stories from sources like Forbes, The Economist and Variety.”
-Newsletters
-Tribune e-books
-Digital version of the paper.
-Free access to Tribune apps, such as the RedEye for iPad, which is $1.99 a month if you don’t have digitalPLUS.
-“VIP access to Tribune event tickets”

If you think about that, that would be worth $14.99. You’re getting more than just the content in the paper. And, ultimately, $14.99 is less than what you’d pay to pick up the Tribune everyday. And while some people will disagree with me, the Chicago Tribune has some pretty terrific writers.

But the people are upset over the Tribune charging people to read Chris Jones’ reviews! Theater artist Coya Paz did a piece at The Paper Machette (where I did a piece on science back in March) about the paywall and pointing out that she really didn’t read the Tribune when it was free, except for the reviews. (Overall, it’s worth a listen.)

However, Howard Sherman, former executive director of the American Theatre Wing, wrote on his blog:

I urge those who have or would have paywalls to continue to treat the arts as a loss leader and maintain that coverage online for free or almost free, outside of local and national news, business coverage and sports. You’ll keep America’s arts healthy by providing the raw material of national conversation and you’ll make sure that we’re talking about you, too. Because you want to remain part of the conversation too, don’t you?

Hold the phone.

As someone who has written about both the arts in Chicago as well as non-arts things in Chicago, I’ll throw this out: What is going on in Chicago that isn’t related to the arts is infinitely more important to the more than 3 million people in the city than Chris Jones’ opinion on the latest non-Equity tour that is playing a Broadway in Chicago house.

In the past year in Chicago, the amount of people who have been murdered has increased, libraries have been closed for one day out of the week and then reopened, a U.S. representative has mysteriously disappeared before disclosing health problems, a state representative has been accused of corruption, a historic building’s fate has been in limbo, and a teacher’s union strike occurred. And those are just the highlights.

When a crime occurs, people can learn about it from the news. It was from the Tribune, which I read online, that I learned that a local business owner in my old neighborhood had been killed in a shooting not far from where I used to live. Ultimately, keeping the breaking news free, which the Tribune is doing, helps keep Chicago informed and it is the basic duty of a journalist to inform their audience. Sure, when Chris Jones reviews a show, he informs people of if a show is worth seeing. Same thing when Phil Vettel reviews a restaurant or Greg Kot reviews an album. But the value of that information is not nearly as valuable as the information that is disseminated through local coverage.

And while Chris Jones is the most influential critic in Chicago, he is not the only critic. You can still read Sun-Times theater critic Hedy Weiss for free before hitting a limit. (People did not complain about access to her reviews being diminished by a paywall, but I think I know why.) The theater reviews for Time Out Chicago and the Chicago Reader are free to read without any limit that would cause a reader to hit a paywall.

I can see for someone like Coya Paz, who really only read the Tribune for theater coverage, that everything one gets for the price is not really worth it just to read the theater reviews. As for someone like Howard Sherman, I can see that someone who maybe isn’t interested in everything else going on in Chicago that the price is hard to justify just for theater reviews. But to suggest that arts coverage is maybe more important than local coverage or even business coverage takes cajones the size of Texas.

When the Journal Sentinel or Tribune run an investigative story into things that truly endanger the lives of hundreds, thousands of people it is to say, “This is wrong” and initiate change in how things are. A greater case could be made that an investigative story should never be put behind a paywall than arts reviews because investigations can get people to want to change the status quo.

So if you want to read theater reviews on newspapers with paywalls, pay up, let the paper know you disagree with what they’re doing by emailing them, or read someone else. There are plenty of print critics in Chicago that can be read for free to keep the conversation on arts going.

Todd Rosenthal Built the House

There were some awards presented at tonight’s Jeff Awards that felt like someone was robbed, such as Jennifer Lim not winning for her outstanding performance in Chinglish, which was one of the things I actually liked about Chinglish. But the most egregious snubs were given to THE GREATEST PRODUCTION OF OUR TIME (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Steppenwolf) for not winning anything, particularly the following categories:

-Production of a Play—Large
-Actor in a Principal Role—Play (Tracy Letts)
-Scenic Design—Large (Todd Rosenthal)

Through this, the Jeff Awards continued to confirm the irrelevance of the award to Chicago theater by not recognizing the outstanding production or Tracy Letts’s magnificent performance as George. There are not enough words to do justice describing his performance, so I’ll just say that you must see the production when it opens on Broadway next year. This is a production that I still talk about with my mother because of how wonderful it was.

Now I need to watch this video to cheer up. (Language NSFW)

Goodman and Steppenwolf, Or, Crowning a Theatrical King

Yesterday I posted a quote on my Tumblr discussing “What Would Be America’s National Theatre?” and then proceeded to say, “The Goodman Theatre is not better than Steppenwolf. Also, Chinglish was overrated.”

Then I got some positive remarks on Twitter and angry emails from various people. Mostly because I said Chinglish was overrated and referred to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as THE GREATEST PRODUCTION OF OUR TIME.

Here’s an elaboration to my post because that post was on Tumblr and I like to be concise there.

Continue Reading

The Negative Connotations of “Community Theatre,” or, Theatrical Elitism

I was recently reading a Facebook status that a friend of mine in Cedar Falls posted about the low attendance at a production of The Sunshine Boys he just directed. The production was at Cedar Falls Community Theatre and since I haven’t seen The Sunshine Boys and I generally like what my friend directs, I would have been interested in seeing the production. On his status, another friend commented that “community theatre” has a negative connotation and that might be turning people away.

After living in Chicago for six months and talking with people that work in theater in Chicago, I have to agree with that point.

I know a lot of people that sneer at community theater, even though some of those people do what is basically community theater. They don’t get paid for what they do. Instead, in Chicago, these productions are called “non-Equity,” which is a term that refers to any production that isn’t unionized; a number of them do not pay their actors at all. To the people that sneer at community theater they view it as bunch of ho-hum productions of Larry Shue, Ray Cooney, and mediocre musicals. The acting is stilted and the performers are obviously amateurs. (Their ideas, not mine.) Community theaters would never encourage new work or have avant garde designs. The plays will be fun for the uncultured locals, but true fans of the theater would never enjoy them. (Again, their ideas, not mine.)

There is a huge problem in this idea: I have seen plenty of productions in Chicago at both non-Equity and Equity companies that fit this idea. Except that the actors have theater degrees, their designers have theater degrees.

But so do some actors at community theaters in Iowa and many designers that I know at Iowa community theaters.

I have seen plenty of productions in Chicago that have made me wonder why on earth I go to the theater because of the bloated, pretentious, or flatout awful productions out there. The acting can be stilted, the design poorly thought out, and the scripts are so poor that you wonder why they chose it. I’m sure Larry Shue is produced in Chicago and maybe Ray Cooney. Some would feel as though Proof might now be only community theatre worthy, but a theater company in Chicago just did Proof in September.

Listen: I spent twelve years of my life seeing plays in Iowa, four of which were spent reviewing plays. There are plenty of “community theaters” in Iowa that can go toe-to-toe with the biggest theaters in Chicago and possibly produce a better play. I’ve seen plenty of productions in Iowa that were better than the last play I saw at Steppenwolf, which generally does a lot of terrific productions.

Although a majority of community theaters in Iowa might not be representative of the community theaters in the rest of the nation, the problem is that ultimately turning up your nose at community theater is elitism. A theater company could still remove the word “community” from their name, but if they identify as being a community theater in their about section or on their home page on their website, they are still a community theater. I speak from experience after I was mentioning something about Theatre Cedar Rapids when someone in Chicago theater asked me for more about them. While I was speaking, they were looking up TCR’s website on their phone, only to see on the home page the words “community theatre.” The person sneered and told me that I needed to see more theater in Chicago since I felt as though a community theater could be so great. (It should be noted that Chicago is the same city that is hosting a symposium on how Chicago is the “theatre capital of America”)

A community theater can be great. I haven’t seen a single musical in Chicago that came close to Waterloo Community Playhouse’s Into the Woods or Buddy! The Buddy Holly Story, Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s Kiss Me, Kate!, or Theatre Cedar Rapids’ The Producers. While Animal Crackers at the Goodman Theatre was good, I still could look back and say I had seen better productions at community theaters in Iowa. (Note to self: See Porgy and Bess at Court.) I’ve also seen a lot of lousy plays in Chicago, some of which were new works, some of which were not.

But how many people would turn their noses up at a theater company in Chicago because they’re non-Equity and don’t pay their artists? They don’t identify that in their name, so for some people it might be difficult to know what is and what isn’t an Equity production. Maybe if community theaters identified as non-Equity they wouldn’t be ostracized. After all, in Iowa, you have Dreamwell Theatre, which has a similar mission as at least five theaters in Chciago. Waterloo Community Playhouse is along the same lines as at least three theaters, Cedar Falls Community Theatre about four, City Circle Acting Company about six, and the only thing separating Theatre Cedar Rapids from the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens, and Court is that Theatre Cedar Rapids is a community theater. Actually, a union contract is all that separates Theatre Cedar Rapids, Waterloo Community Playhouse/Black Hawk Children’s Theatre, and Cedar Falls Community Theatre from the Equity theaters of Chicago, especially since Theatre Cedar Rapids will be holding a New Play Festival later this year.

And, no, not everyone on the stage in a community theater production is someone with a theater degree. But ultimately they’re hard-working people that want to make a production that people will love, enjoy, and remember.

I fail to see the difference between a community theater and a non-Equity theater that doesn’t pay their actors. If someone would like to make a convincing argument, please do because I can’t come up with any ideas other than the name.

Yes, community theater does have a negative connotation because of stereotypes and that there probably are community theaters in America that aren’t that great. But currently, theaters all over the nation are hurting. It might be that theaters need to work harder to draw in their audience and and connect with new people. But this problem isn’t limited to community theaters; it’s hitting big Equity theaters in this nation. So it seems as though it’s time for theaters, regardless of if they’re community, non-Equity, or Equity, to collaborate with people and the community. After all, collaboration is the heart of theater.

Not the Big Evil Corporations

By now, you are probably sick of this Chase Community Giving thing. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s currently being done on Facebook where non-profits try to get you, the Facebook user, to vote for their non-profit to receive at least $20,000. The annoying thing about this if you are Facebook friends with people that are ensemble or staff members at a theater or are a “Fan” of a theater company, particularly in Chicago, is that you end up getting your wall spammed with pleas for votes.

I will be honest, I have voted for some theater companies to receive money. However, the theater companies I voted for I would give money to and they did make a good case as to why I should vote for them other than, “Hey, we did [show x] last season and it was awesome.” I even donated money to one theater, Strawdog Theatre, long before I voted for them.

And there are problems with this approach to funding. By asking on Facebook “walls” for votes and sending messages, you can eventually alienate potential artists and patrons because someone like me might be a “fan” of several theater companies competing for this. Some have suggested that by just asking for a vote you’re not actually making a connection with the audience. (Kris Vire wrote a piece for last week’s Time Out Chicago about the pros and cons of the Chase Community Giving.)

You need money to do theater and grants help provide that money. But is it worth participating in the social media equivalent of a student council election to get that grant? I can’t deny that $20,000 is a lot of money and sometimes you wouldn’t get that with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, for example. But with a grant proposal from an arts council or from the NEA, you have to write grant submissions and try to prove to those overseeing the grant awards that your theater deserves the money. Ultimately it is up to a theater company to decide if it is worth their time to participate in this.

But while there are the theater artists that look at the Chase Community Giving as a possible nuisance to audiences, there are others that are upset because Chase is a BIG EVIL CORPORATION! (I also realize that the blog I linked to no one should be shocked by the writer making those remarks.)

First of all, everyone that is virulently opposed to this really needs to be quiet or calm down because I keep hearing about theaters trash talking those participating in the program, even referring to those theaters as “whoring” themselves out. If you have a problem with this, which a lot of artists do, including myself, that’s fine. But bashing other theater companies is not cool and when you do that, my respect for you as a an artist and/or a theater administrator significantly decreases.

Now that is out of the way, I would like to get to the main point. I realize that Eastern Iowa theater and Chicago theater are vastly different things, but in Eastern Iowa, it is not that uncommon for a production to be sponsored by a corporation with local ties. The first play I was in, Nate the Great, was sponsored by John Deere, who has plants in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. Still Life With Iris was sponsored by Quaker, who has a plant in Cedar Rapids not far from the Iowa Theatre Building. I believe a production of The Music Man I worked on was sponsored by Wells Fargo and while it might not have major offices in that area, it still seemed appropriate that Wells Fargo would sponsor that show. Target, who has two distribution centers in Cedar Falls, has sponsored quite a few productions at the Waterloo Community Playhouse and Black Hawk Children’s Theatre. Sometimes local businesses are at least one of the producers for a play. Hansen’s Dairy in Hudson, which produces dairy products from the family cows—and operates my favorite ice cream shop in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area, Moo Roo—sponsors productions at the Cedar Falls Community Theatre, where one of the Hansens has performed in productions.

As a result of doing theater in Eastern Iowa for 7 years, I used to think that in order to do a play you had to have a company sponsoring the show. Does this mean that the sponsors were awkwardly worked into the play? No. They’re usually acknowledged in the curtain speech and on the posters. Sometimes at the Waterloo Community Playhouse, the sponsors will have tables set up in the lobby to let patrons know more about what they do.

And you know what? The theater companies in Iowa work really hard to get these companies to sponsor their shows. I know from first-hand experience that Danny Katz, who works for WCP, tries very hard to get sponsors and it’s actually pretty incredible to know how hard he tries.

As a result of this, if I was going to start a theater company in Eastern Iowa, I realized that I would have to court companies to try to donate money or sponsor a show. Does that mean I’m “whoring” myself out to corporate America or to even small businesses? No. It means that I’m trying to keep my theater company running. And most corporations and businesses want to do philanthropic acts. In essence, Chase Community Giving is philanthropy, even though the mechanics of the act are a bit debatable.

But as far as I know (and most of my knowledge comes from talking to Katz), these theater companies don’t just send out a Facebook message. They’re out there, meeting with businesses or at events in their city to try to get more audience members to at the very least see their shows.

Ultimately that is what theaters need to do: they need to make a face-to-face connection to get money or donations or an audience. Facebook is not a cure-all for our problems as non-profit theaters.

Theater Ransom Notes

It was recently announced that the Iowa City Community Theatre is in debt and needs $20,000 by the end of May.

ICCT has known for a while that they were in debt; this is not news to them, they almost canceled their production of Wonderful Town because of their debt.

I don’t remember when their production of Wonderful Town was, it might have been while I was still living in Chicago. Their production of Wonderful Town went on because of some last minute fundraising. An email that was sent out by board member Kehry Lane says this:

This past year has been a struggle. We nearly canceled Wonderful Town (due to lack of funding), which was saved by the extraordinary fund raising efforts of it’s production team. Due to their hard work, ICCT was able to proceed with the show, and make some money in the process.

Unfortunately, the money made on WT wasn’t enough to bring us out of the hole. We still find ourselves in need of a substantial amount of money, or we should seriously consider closing our doors. The target is $20,000.00 by the end of May. We’re hoping for 200 theatre lovers to contribute $100.00 each. If we meet this goal, we’ll be able to retire our debt, and start next season with some cash on hand.

So, they only did fundraising to put on Wonderful Town? They didn’t raise money to pull them completely out of debt?

The email continues:

We’ve assembled a line-up of shows (and directors) for next year that we believe will enchant and delight audiences. We’re planning on pursuing grants to help us sustain ICCT over the long term. We’ve got a strong slate of candidates for next year’s board. We’re moving in the right direction, and we need some brave, generous folks to contribute.

So they’ve already planned their new season and have a line-up of both plays and directors. I would like to know why they’ve planned a season if they’re so deep in debt that they can’t go on if they don’t have $20,000 by the end of May.

I then read Kris Joseph’s post on this same issue. This is brought about by a production of Blood Brothers at Gladstone Theatre that might close two weeks early due to slow ticket sales. (Which, I do have issues with.)

From what Kris has written, it’s being made out to be that if Blood Brothers closes early, it will be because YOU didn’t buy tickets. Which is blaming the public and a future audience and only pushing them further away.

DO NOT DO THIS.

This is what ICCT’s plea sounds like: We didn’t pull out of debt because not enough people saw Wonderful Town. (I didn’t even know it happened; I must have still been living in Chicago at the time.)

That is, of course, not my biggest problem with this. My biggest problem is that ICCT has known that they are in debt for quite some time and this is the first time that they’ve really done something major about this. Someone, a managing director or a board member, should have seen this coming and said something.

I do realize that this occurs with some theaters; some theaters are genuinely caught off-guard by lost revenue from a show or a project, especially with bad weather. But if a theater does this, they have to prove to me that they will stay out of debt. If you get press and you get attention and people donate, does that mean they will come and see the plays? Not necessarily. What will you do to keep this from happening again?

Theater is a business; money has to be earned in different ways to keep the theater afloat. I can personally say that fundraising is something that genuinely terrifies me when it comes to running a theater, but I realize that by courting businesses to sponsor plays or to do joint projects, it can keep my theater open.

There is a certain urgency to saying, “We need $x by this date.” It is, as Travis and Kris put it, a ransom note. But when you provide the facts, people that don’t have bleeding hearts might seem a bit skeptical.

Ultimately, it’s not over until the artistic director chains himself to the stage door.

If You Didn’t Like This Play, It’s Because You Didn’t Understand It

That’s a summary of what Chris Jones says in the Tribune.

The play in question is A True Story of the Johnstown Flood, which is running at the Goodman Theatre and is directed by Goodman artistic director Robert Falls. Chris Jones wasn’t too thrilled with the production in his first review. None of the critics were enthusiastic about the show.

But in this piece, Jones says:

I think “A True History of the Johnstown Flood,” which deals with the horrific events of 1889 when a man-made lake washed away an entire town, has some significant flaws. But I also think some of the people who don’t like this play haven’t understood it. It’s not easy to understand. And as one of my shrewder correspondents observed, you have to sleep on it a bit. And now that I’ve stared at the ceiling for a few nights, well … I suggest you go and see what all the fuss is about. I’m not sure I made that clear enough in my review.

My immediate question from this is how is the average theatergoer in Chicago supposed to understand this play if the mighty Chris Jones says that “It’s not easy to understand” and that he had to reflect on the show? Yes, I like it if the theater challenges people’s minds, but if the most influential, most read and best known theater critic in Chicago has a hard time understanding a show that either says something about the play or about the critic.

I have other problems with what Jones wrote, like that he says that the Goodman is “our [Chicago's] flagship theater” and that “Falls is Chicago’s most essential director. It is inconceivable that this town would be without his work.”

Wait? The Goodman is Chicago’s flagship theater? Not that theater on the North Side that uses mostly Chicago actors, has Tracy Letts and many others in their ensemble and doesn’t open plays intending to transfer to Broadway? You know, Steppenwolf?

And Robert Falls is Chicago’s most essential director?! Not Amy Morton, Charles Newell, David Cromer, Mary Zimmerman, Sean Graney or Nathan Allen, but Robert Falls? (p.s., that was a shortlist of Chicago directors that are probably more essential that Falls).

I also find it interesting that he discusses the accusations of historical inaccuracy in a work of fiction. The only one that I’m immediately aware of is from Chicago Magazine (which is part of the Tribune Company), where it is discussed that an actor uses a zipper on his pants when the zipper wasn’t in existence at the time. I don’t care that it’s a work of fiction; that’s an error that a costume designer or a dramaturge, if it was in the stage directions, should have taken care of beforehand.

But ultimately my annoyance goes back to my original point: a critic should not need to write about a play a second time to clarify his point. And when clarifying a point, it is insulting to your readers and to your colleagues to say that they didn’t enjoy a play because they didn’t understand it. It is also baffling to say that a play is difficult to comprehend, that the critic had to think harder on it, and then suggest it.

Theater as a Community

As many of you might know, Saturday was World Theatre Day. In Chicago, there was a party at the Chopin Theatre, which I attended after seeing BackStage Theatre Company’s production of Orange Flower Water.

What was incredible for me to observe was the literal community in the Chopin Theatre. People were literally crammed into the theater. I would walk around and see someone that I knew, people I had interviewed, people I knew through Twitter. Through those people, I met other people and had great conversations with them. My friend Zev arrived there later than I did and he instantly saw people he knew and saw more people as he wandered around the Chopin.

It was amazing to see so many people socializing with people that had never worked with their respective theater companies. It brought a whole new idea to me as to what the Chicago Theater Community is. It was also interesting to see another critic be treated so well and received warmly. Although, that theater critic reviews tiny storefront theaters and the big established Equity companies without ever saying, “This would be great in New York.”

I realized that a real sense of community in the theater is lacking in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. You either support the Waterloo Community Playhouse or Cedar Falls Community Theatre. And with one of those theaters, you sure as hell better think it’s great theater and not support theater in Cedar Rapids. Rarely do you witness artists doing plays about both theaters. There are a few, but it’s not widespread.

Because theater artists can learn a lot from each other and from working with different theaters and different directors, shouldn’t there be more work between the different theaters? I have grown as an artist by working with different directors, even by auditioning for different directors because an audition is run differently. We can learn about how to approach an artistic process differently by working together, exchanging directors, actors, designers, in my opinion. It might be a bit Pollyanna-ish, but I would like to think that is the case.

If theaters don’t work together and they just have the same pool of artists that are always there to design, direct and act, why not ask them what type of art they want to create. It might not be something that can be pursued, but if there will be a reliable group of people to work on a show, their input should be given in the theater. You can’t have dilettante donors running a theater; people that actually invest time into the theater should help run the theater.

Why not collaborate, like theaters in the Corridor have done? Has theater become so stuck up in this area that you can’t collaborate and exchange ideas? Theater should seem fresh, not just “business as usual.” How do you keep your audience and artists engaged if what they experience and observe is stale? By working together and investing in projects as a community and in the community, you can get an idea of what audiences and artists want.

Otherwise, you will eventually lose your audience and artists.

Dear Young Adult Authors,

Yesterday, I finished reading Ash by Malinda Lo. Although the novel isn’t earthshatterlingly amazing, it is a well written novel with a strong lesbian protagonist. (The book has been described as a lesbian retelling of Cinderella.) It also took a good look at what true love is. In fact, this book is so well written, that Stephenie Meyer would cry because of how well written it is and realize how terrible of a writer she is. (And apologize to the world for writing Twilight. Now I’m just dreaming.)

I would even go so far to say that Ash is the best young adult novel I’ve read in a while. Interestingly enough, the last really good young adult novel I read also featured a gay protagonist. (That novel was Hero by Perry Moore)

But sadly it seems like a lot of young adult novels have shallow, underdeveloped protagonists, many of whom are female. And yet girls are the largest audience for young adult novels. They fall in love with someone for unfathomable reasons and the plot is utterly predictable.

The case only seems to be different for young adult fiction that has GLBT protagonists. And while I do like the existance of well-written novels with GLBT protagonists, I have this to say:

Would someone please write a young adult novel with a heterosexual female character that isn’t shallow and two-dimensional and sets feminism back fifty years?