Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Scene for November 28, 2008

Since Thanksgiving will close everyone down on Thursday, and some people are looking at a long weekend, I'm putting out The Scene early for those who want to add theatre to their holiday weekend.

Have a happy Thanksgiving.

the reviews

Mary Damiano reviews Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for MiamiArtzine. Like most of us, she remembers the movie quite well;
That awe was back as I sat in the audience at Broward Center Wednesday night, watching that tricked-out car with a mind of its own take flight.
But there's more to the show than the car, even though the car is the title role:
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is very entertaining, even during the scenes when the car isn't flying. It's also gorgeous to look at--the lighting and scenic design gives many scenes a 3D look. The musical's first act bounces along breezily, with terrific numbers like "Me Ol' Bamboo" and "Toots Sweet." Situations turn dark in the second act, which gets bogged down with a few numbers that do nothing to move the story along.

But that's quibbling. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a good time, and is designed to bring out the kid in all of us.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts runs through November 30.

I saw The Seafarer at Mosaic Theatre last week, and so did Christine Dolen. She reviews it for the Miami Herald.
The opening moments of Conor McPherson's The Seafarer, a recent Broadway hit being given an extraordinarily fine new production by Plantation's Mosaic Theatre, hardly seem to hold the promise of a fable rich with humor, spiritual exploration and redemption. Yet that's exactly what the gifted young Irish playwright provides in his most oddly uplifting play yet.
By way, click the link and make sure you read the entire review; her description of the top of the show is worth the read. It's obvious she likes Conor McPherson's script (with good reason!), but she did like this particular production for its own merits:
From Richard Jay Simon's intricate direction to those five terrific performances to the beautifully detailed work by Mosaic's design team (the set is by Sean McClelland, costumes by K. Blair Brown, lighting by Jeff Quinn and sound by Matt Corey), The Seafarer is as good as South Florida theater gets. Which really is quite wonderful.
Brandon K. Thorp saw the same show, and his review appears in the Broward/Palm Beach New Times: and as always, he says it as only he can:
It is impossible to overstate how gorgeously McPherson realized all of this or how brilliantly the cast sells it. At no point during The Seafarer will one be jolted out of the story, point to something onstage, and say, "Oh, that there, that's acting." McPherson's dialogues rolled off his printer with the cadences of real speech, and the cast has picked up their rhythms, utterly subsuming themselves beneath the gorgeous cascades of the playwright's words.
This was certainly the quality I found notable about this show. And Brandon has more:
There are decades of intertwined history to be read in the way Dennis Creaghan, who plays blind, besotted Richard, hems and haws as he berates his brother, just as you can read years of self-loathing and repressed violence in the way Gregg Weiner, playing Sharky, casts his eyes down and takes it. Then Weiner might flick his gaze up for a moment, at the end of a particular word during one of Creaghan's particularly stinging rebukes, and you wonder: What is it about that word? Has something similar been said before? The ensemble performance in The Seafarer is a masterwork of tiny gestures, flowing together to create a world indistinguishable from our own. If you were standing onstage, beside these men, the uncomfortable intimacy couldn't feel any more real.
And realism is all well and good, but this theatre, is it not?
The astounding realism of the performance dissipates only with the appearance of Ken Clement, Lord Satan himself, whose arrival onstage is heralded by the smell of sulfur. He is monstrously merry, all thunderous belly laughs and grins so big they could swallow you. His joviality seems boundless, until he is left alone for a moment with his quarry (whose name I won't give away). Clement stares him down over the poker table, and his grin is suddenly frozen and awful, like a primitive tribe's carving of a cannibal god. His face reddens, then purples, and I suddenly realize that affable, Scotch-swilling Clement, with whom I have exchanged a dozen friendly post-show handshakes, is the scariest person I've ever seen. The visage couldn't have been any more frightening if his eyes had burst into flames — which, for a moment, I expected them to do.
Mosaic Theatre's production of Conor McPherson's The Seafarer runs through December 14 in Plantation.

The venerable M-Ensemble opened Joe Turner's Come and Gone, by August Wilson, and Christine Dolen reports on the results for the Herald:
Opening night, the cast was still reaching for lines and trying to settle into the rhythms of the play. The final scene, however, is already intense, shattering and moving. If Pryor and company can make what leads up to it tighter and more powerful, Joe Turner's Come and Gone can yet become another in M Ensemble's impressive productions of Wilson's plays.
The venerable M-Ensemble production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone plays through December 21 in Miami.

Kevin D. Thompson reviews Caldwell Theatre's production of She Loves Me for the Palm Beach Post:
For any romantic comedy to work, there has to be a palpable chemistry between the two leads. Schrader and Brennan certainly have it as their relationship morphs from mutual disgust to head-scratching confusion to head-over-heels love.

The colorful set almost gives She Loves Me a Disney-esque feel. Which is appropriate since all Disney movies end happily ever after with the boy getting the girl
She Loves Me runs through December 14th at the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton.

The New Vista Theatre opened their production of Enter Laughing; the Musical, a play based on Carl Reiner's autobiography. Mary Damiano reviewed it for Miami Artzine:
New Vista's production is delightful. The cast is clearly having a good time, and it radiates from the stage. As David, Larche is charming and likable, and he carries the show effortlessly. Michael H. Small delivers sweet and funny as David's boss, while Gary Marachek is in all his glory as a scenery-chewing narcissistic actor. Bondi milks the Jewish mother routine for all it's worth. The leads are backed by a capable ensemble that gets their own hilarious moments. All in all, the stage is filled to the brim with its exuberant 14-member cast, plus three musicians who remain on stage throughout the show give the score a rich, full-bodied sound. Enter Laughing isn't his art but it is terrific entertainment.
Enter Laughing: The Musical runs through December 7 at the New Vista Theatre in
Boca Raton.

openings years ago, the Jupiter Theatre made the mistake of opening EVITA on Thanksgiving Weekend. But since it's a long weekend, most of the critics go off to visit family. Not one was going to come to review the show. So the producers brilliantly talked them into coming to the first preview, even though it would only be the second time the cast and crew ran it with full tech and costume. Talk abot a turkey!

The rest of the Theatre Community is, thankfully, much smarter than the late executive producer of that incarnation of the Jupiter Theater. For about the first time in a year, no plays are opening this week.

still playing

The Gates of Choice plays at the New Theatre through December 14.

She Loves Me runs through December 14th at the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton.

Smokey Joe's Cafe plays at the Stage Door Theater in Coral Springs through November 25.

Lucky Stiff runs through December 7, also at the Stage Door Theater, in Coral Springs.

last chance to see...

Dirty Business closes this Sunday, November 30th at Florida Stage.

A Moon for the Misbegotten at Palm Beach Drama Works also closes November 30.

The Naked Stage production of Nerve is also closing on Sunday.

Avenue Q at the Kravis Center closes November 30 in West Palm Beach. (But it's at the Broward Center in January.)

for kids

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at The Playground Theatre.

A Christmas Carol, The Musical, plays on Saturdays at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. Through December 27.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Cracking the Golden Egg; Omelette or Mess?

Theatre League of South FloridaI was one of the attendees at the Theatre League's 'Town Hall' meeting to discuss the Carbonell situation. It was held atSixth Star Studios, the home of the Women's Theatre Project. About thirty to forty area theatre professionals of all stripes met to discuss the proposed cancellation of the 2009 Carbonell awards, and to come up with some possible solutions to offer to the Carbonell Committee. those of you who have not followed the news, last week,the Carbonell Committee blindsided surpised the South Florida theatre scene (I mean everyone, not this blog!) by announcing that they would be taking a year off from the awards "to regroup." Reasons cited in the press release included gas prices, the loss of several theatre critics, including death of long-time board member - and founder - Jack Zink.

And farther down, they barely hinted at the real reason:
"In the current voting process, panelists are not required to see all productions."
As it turns out, this is really what brought everything to a head. I will explain the process, as best I understand it. Anyone who finds factually errors, please post a comment below. It's necessary to understand this part so you can understand how everything came to a head.

the process

There are two categories of panelists: nominators, and judges. The nominators do not have to see every show, but the shows they select as being worthy of being judged must be seen by all the judges. Six nominators see the show the first weekend, so that the judges have time to see the show for judging.

The nominators have a ballot they fill out, and it lists all the categories for the award. Beside each category is a box. Checking the box nominates the show for that category. To be considered eligible for judging, at least four of the judges must select the show in any one category. If four judges like a show for best actor, the show is eligible and the judges will see it. HOWEVER, and this is a sticky part; if all the judges select it for one or more categories, but none of the categories receive a total of four votes, the play isn't eligible.

But that's not the worst of it; to save tabulation time, each ballot ALSO has a box labeled "not eligible for any category." It was intended to save time in the tabulation. If three nominators checked that box, the show is ineligible; after all, if you need four votes, but only three voters are left in the pool, it's a moot point.

This process was put into place because the prior system produced so many nominations that judges had difficulties making it to every single eligible production.

But the current system has resulted in too few nominations; some very excellent shows fail to get four in a category, although every single nominator have nominated their show for something.

Several theatre producers were furious that they could put time and effort into a show, have everyone love the show, critics rave, and even the nominators applauding it, and then learn that no judges would be seeing the show because it didn't score high enough. One theatre, although they had a few nominations, elected not to come after seeing 95% of their season - and the best of their productions - go unrecognized.

the crisis
Jack Zink was the embodiment of the awards; some years it was the force of his will alone that got them to the day of the ceremony. He was its human face. He was also its heart, soul, and brain. If you had a problem with something involving the process, you'd speak to Jack. He'd calm you down, or promise to take action, whatever. Producers and actors would go to Jack, he'd go to the Committee, and then he'd go back to the producers and actors or whoever. Changes may or may not have resulted, but people felt listened to.

And then Jack died.

He had started the website, and it may have been under his personal ownership; shortly after his passing, the site came down. Jack may have been the only one to have the authority to update or access it. "Might have," because he might have put someone else's name in but forgot to tell them. Or they forgot that they have the account numbers and passwords; no one knows for sure.

And since no one can call Jack anymore, and no single person was identified as taking over for him, people with complaints started calling members of the Carbonell Board directly. Suddenly, instead of Reasonable Jack mentioning that some adjustments needed to be made, there were angry people, vehemently insisting that the awards were hideously out of whack. They complained about how long the ceremony was, or that aspects of it were completely inappropriate. And mostly they complained long, loud, and hard about the unfairness of the nominating process, and demanded an immediate solution.

At least one producer threatened to bar voters from even entering their theatre. And since one major theatre was conspicuously absent from last year's ceremonies, the Committee took it seriously. If things were this bad, they reckoned, they'd better close down before a massive boycott developed.

So the Carbonell Board decided to announce they'd take a year off to fix things, and published a press release that they figured would quell the complaints from participating theatres.

They could not have been more wrong.

the aftermath

The nominators felt blindsided, as did the judges. It was never discussed with any of them in advance. The first notice they got was the press release, and it falsely intimated that they, the judges, had been the force behind the "hiatus" proposal.

The members of the Producers's Forum were also caught off guard; they'd been complaining, but they figured that there'd be a meeting of the minds to work out changes that would benefit everyone and address at least some of the problems.

Most of the people working in South Florida theatre felt betrayed; not because the awards validated them, but because the Awards call attention to the fact that there's a lot of theater going on down here. A lot of theatres made it into the public eye by winning their first award, or by garning the most nominations - or awards. A few years back, the City of Coral Gables even touted the fact that the combined theaters in their town had more awards than the rest of the region combined.

No one is happy about the prospect of a year without Carbonells.

the 'town hall' meeting

First, you have to understand what the meeting was NOT. It was not a meeting with anyone who had the authority to re-instate the awards. No one from the Carbonell Committee was there, although a couple of past members were there. Their insights were invaluable.

Nor was it a meeting about the awards ceremony itself. Pointless to discuss a ceremony that had no awards to give out, and many of the most common complaints are slowly being addressed anyway. (Sorry, Jean-Ann. We didnt' mess your dancers this year. Not even a little.)

Bill Hirschman has taken the lead in addressing the problems, and had approached some members of the Committee, and asked the crucial question: what would the Committee need to hear from the Theatre Community to change their minds and move ahead with holding a 2009 season?

Their reply: an agreement to run the Carbonells as is, without any changes, for the 2009 season. One or two of them said that "really minor tweaks" might be possible, and suggested immediately to lose the "not recommended" box from the ballots. A suggestion followed that it might be possible to change the qualifying number from four to three.

It's important to note that these tweaks would significantly increase a production's chances of being nominated for judging, while not requiring any change in the composition of the panels, nor the criteria by which they judge.

The caveat is that the Carbonell Board meets in the first week of December, and then they're done for the year. So there's not a lot of time to come up with solutions. There's only about ten days, as of this past Sunday.

The room began to discuss these tweaks, to see if they could be refined, or if there were similar small tweaks that could be made.

and then Joe Adler showed up...

He had missed the beginning of the meeting. But he swept in, apologized offhandedly for being late, and then said his piece. And as best as I can recall ( and those of you who taped, feel free to correct me, and I will update as needed) this is what he said, or at least the gist of it:
"I was one of the theatres who threatened to boycott. I'm formally withdrawing that threat: I won't boycott the Carbonells. I was out of town, and then I got the call that November wasn't going to be eligible, and I said "fuck'em. Count me out!" Me, who's won more awards than anyone; who the fuck am I, right?

I was mad; but this is too important. I say 'go ahead with the Carbonells.' And I say go ahead without any changes, because frankly, there's no fucking way to change anything at this point anyway. It's too late. There's no time.

In fact, this whole thing is fucking waste of time: I don't know why I came up here. They're not going to listen to you. They don't give a shit about anything we have to say, anyway. I'm not staying. Fuck it, fuck you, I'm taking my ball and going home!"
And that's exactly what he did.

Things got a little out of kilter for a while after that: Joe has that effect on people. Someone got all riled about politics, Obama was mentioned for reasons I still don't follow. Grumblings came up about the composition of the board, about the backgrounds of the nominators. Someone else griped about the ceremony and was quickly overidden as the meeting came back to a focus.

A motion was eventually made to proferr a resolution to the Carbonell Committee that the theatre community (or at least those of us attending the meeting) that we would find it acceptable to continue with the current system as is for the 2009 season, providing that a process to re-vamp the system was initiated in the first quarter of 2009.

The measure passed, with two abstentions.

"I abstain - courteously!" said the one artistic producer.

The Theatre League selected some members who would form a comittee to meet with the Carbonell Board to discuss the results of the Town Hall meeting. Overall, it was a positive meeting. The message was clear amongst these participants: better to have flawed Awards than no awards.

some thoughts...

A couple of people worried that too much was being made of the awards. "I don't do it for the Carbonells," complained MadCat artistic director Paul Tei. "I do if for the art. And so do all of you. If there were no awards, would you stop doing plays? Hell, no! And if you would, fuck you!"

I agree that the Awards do not really decide who puts on better plays, or who is the best actor. That's nonsense. It's like arguing that Apples are 'better' than Oranges, or Chocolate is 'better' than Vanilla. No, the Carbonells do not validate our work. They never have. They were never meant to.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the true value of the Carbonell Awards is that they give us an opportunity to discuss our plays, and our work.

Look at it this way; right now, you can generally get three news stories about your plays in the mainstream press:
  1. When you announce your season.
  2. As a promotional story before the play opens.
  3. When it gets reviewed.
The Carbonell gives you at least two more opportunities to be in the news:

4. When it gets nominated.
5. When (if) it wins the Award.

And of course, even though Carbonells don't validate your work, it's still nice to able to brag about them: "from the theatre that won 8 Carbonells!" " Featuring Carbonell Award Winning Actor!"

Another observation: this fiasco was created, in no small part, to the fact that the Carbonell Committee doesn't seem to have its finger on the pulse of the South Florida theatre community. If they had, the problem with the nominations could have and should have been addressed much earlier, but even if that still got missed, they should have been aware that cancelling the awards for a year would have been unacceptable.

It's not the first time the Carbonell Committee has made an egregious error in judgment; two years ago, they gave Arnold Mittelman, the most reviled man a very unpopular producer in South Florida theatre, an award. The next day, his theatre closed. Not a great day in Carbonell history.

Some people are calling for the entire board to step down. I'm not. First, I have no place to do so; after all, I couldn't do what they've done for so long. Second, there are some very good people on the board, even though I believe they'd made some terrible decisions, I think that it comes not from lack of competence or intelligence, but simple ignorance. I think they've kept their contacts with the South Florida theatre community minimal; they know the critics, maybe a couple of producers, but they haven't really spent any time with any of us.

The Carbonell Committee ultimately needs to hire an executive to actually run the thing; someone who will make the effort to know how every producer feels about the process, make sure that the Board knows what's going on in the community, and finally, that the entire process is transparent so that there are no questions about how the voting takes place. I'm sure every board member does their best, but every board member has a full-time occupation all ready. The Carbonells need someone who's only concern is the Awards, 24/7. And they'll only get that by hiring someone to do just that.

Jack Zink served in that role voluntarily. But he worked a job that ultimately supported such a role; he was in every theater in South Florida on a regular business. With the way newspapers are being gutted, that's not gonna happen again. At least, not in the near future.

Yes, changes need to be made, from the top on down. But in the meantime, let's not miss 2009. Or any other year.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Last Night at the SEAFARER. (NOT a review)

THE SEAFARER by Conor McPhersonI went to see The Seafarer at Mosaic Theatre last night. I've never been out there, and Ken Clement keeps growling at me about never seeing the best plays he's in, so I was overdue. Factor in recent press, and the fact that I had the next day off, I headed out to deepest, darkest, Plantation.

And it was dark on the American Heritage High School campus that is home to Mosaic; most of the exterior lights seemed to be off. I would hope that this was an unfortunate lapse as opposed to the status quo.

But I made it to the black box, picked up my ticket from the lovely Liz, and met Richard Jay Simon. We've exchanged an email or two, but never actually met. Introductions, then I had to get to my seat for the show.

It's a nice space to see a show; intimate, but with adequate risers so you can see the show. It was reasonably full on a Saturday. A marked contrast to Still the River Runs at Promethean. The night I saw that there were a total of eight people in the house.

I don't review plays, and I'm not going to start now. But I will say I enjoyed it immensely. This is the kind of acting I enjoy; the kind you can't see. It didn't feel like we were watching a play, it felt like we were peeking into someone's life. A comically shabby life full of colorful characters, but a real one.

As a set designer, I was enjoying the set: it's the kind of thing I like: a space crumbling into ruin, but still desperately trying to be habitable. It made wonderful use of found items, and surface textures. I had to laugh when I recognized the wood-burning stove as one I built a few years ago for a show. High praise indeed, to see it incorporated into a set with such high production values. The table next to the easy chair came from my mother's farmhouse in Virginia. I know which props departments they've been raiding!
soap box
This sort of drives home a point that I've made about the theater community: there's a necessary level of connected-ness. We must share resources; designers, technicians, and performers as well as props and set pieces. Oops, let me step off this soap-box.

I know most of the people in the show, although this is the first time I've seen Dennis Creaghan or Christian Rockwell. Creaghan is rock solid as the irascible and easily irritated Richard. Greg Weiner, as his younger brother Sharkey, delivered a solid performance, as did John Felix. Rockwell's Nicky was irritating; but Nicky's an irritating guy. At some point, you realize Nicky's poncing sycophancy is actually as sincere as Nicky can be. And Ken Clement, was jovial as the affable Lockhart right up to the point where he was suddenly terrifying.
"Ooh, I've been waiting for you, Sharkey..."
By intermission, I was wondering when I'd get to read the reviews, and I vaguely remembered that it had just opened. Then I realized that Christine Dolen was in line at the concession stand directly in front of me; we were both retrieving our credit card receipts. She was with friends, so I didn't intrude.

After the show, I congratulated Richard Jay, and we discussed the Carbonell situation. And then he introduced me to Brandon K. Thorp. Some people seem to believe I have it in for Brandon, but I actually really enjoy reading his reviews, although, obviously, sometimes I think he gets distracted. We had a great conversation,and he graciously introduced me to his mother, who had come to see the show with him. "Hey, Mom - this is Chris; you know, South Florida Theatre Scene!" he said. I guess I've been a topic of discussion in the Thorp household, once or twice. But the Thorps seemed to recognize in me what I have always recognized in Brandon: a love of theatre. also talked a bit about the Carbonell situation, and also about theatre blogs. He asked if I'd be writing about Seafarer, and I said that I would, but not as a reviewer. We talked a moment about endorsing a show without reviewing, and I brought up Still the River Runs. He asked if I'd enjoyed the show. I had to confess that I didn't, but as an actor, I find it hard to blame the actors - live performances are fueled by the audience, and these guys were sucking dust. They were valiant in a dire situation. I wish I'd had a chance to see it with an audience.

He asked about Theatre Scene readership; and while I'm happy to report that you faithful readers have been increasing steadily, I average only about 100 readers per day. It's about ten percent of my blog Man, Or Maniac? but respectable nonetheless, considering that it never gets any national traffic like MoM. Those of you who read find it to be useful and informative, and that is my goal.

Richard Jay Simon's first words to me last night were "I love reading your blog!" And that's all the ovation I could want.

All in all, it was a nice night out.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Sightings: Richard Jay Simon

Christine Dolen wrote a terrific article about Richard Jay Simon, the founder and artistic director for The Mosaic Theatre in Plantation. Its location and artistic mission are no accident:
'I got a grasp of the theatrical landscape. I asked a million questions. I had a map of Dade and Broward in my bedroom, with pins in it representing every existing theater, so I could figure out what was missing. There was nothing in West Broward, and there weren't many theaters doing Off-Broadway plays.
This may be case of 'quid pro quo;' a little while back, Simon published an interview with Dolen on his now-defunct blog, Tiles, which was part of the Mosaic website for a little while. He graciously allowed me to re-publish it in South Florida Theatre Scene. CLICK HERE to read that interview.

Richard is a man of many talents, and the recognition of his success is well deserved.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Raisin in the Sun

Conundrum Stages Playreading Series presents Lorraine Hansberry's
A Raisin in the Sun
What happens to a dream deferred? Join us as the Youngers chase the American dream in this timeless classic that still provokes the age old question: How far does one go to pursue their dreams?
Saturday, November 22, 2008 @ 2pm
Broward County Library - Northwest Branch

Raisin Logo

Come celebrate our fourth anniversary as we once again read one of our great American classics. Almost fifty years later, A Raisin in the Sun will touch your heart, mind and soul. Please join us as we bring this wonderful story to life.

Directed by Rachel Finley
Featuring Will Barnes, Yvone Christiana, Crystal,
John Fell, Devounte Hohing, Kevin Johnson,
Dorothy Morrison, Gary Simpson,
Me'lissa Smith and Keith Wade
I-95 North or South to Copans Road exit,
Go East to Next light after Wal-mart on Right, then make the right.
Go past 2 four-way stop signs and library is on your left.
Conundrum Stages is an organization presenting showcases of various fields in the performing arts. Conundrum's goal is to promote local performance artists and unite them with audiences under one accord, to strengthen the local arts community. Our mission is to enlighten audiences through intimate presentations of performance, while promoting our resident talent in the Southeast Florida region and beyond.

The Scene for November 21, 2008 (Updated 12:00)

The weather's been pleasantly brisk in the mornings, and the Carbonell Committee's given all of us the cold shoulder, but things are still cooking on the South Florida Theatre Scene.

the reviews

The reviews this week start with Kevin D. Thompson's review of Noises Off at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre for the Palm Beach Post.
If the top-notch cast of Noises Off had any difficulty bringing Michael Frayn's bawdy backstage sex farce to life at The Maltz Jupiter Theatre, well, it sure didn't show.

While slamming doors, falling down staircases, dropping their trousers and suffering through pesky nosebleeds, the cast hummed like a well-oiled comedic machine on cruise control.

Noises Off is chock full of physical comedy: one of the actors was injured last week.
The accident, although unfortunate, was, in a way, rather apt. Noises Off, after all, is about a bumbling (and inept) acting troupe and the wild backstage antics that are more entertaining than the actual show.

Noises Off is staged in three acts on an impressive two-story set that rotates.
The play follows the troupe through the life cycle of its tour: Act 1 has us onstage, where the cast is exultant if inexperienced. Act 2 puts us in the wings, where we can see how the relationships have changed, and Act 3 shows us, well, the bitter end. Or as Kevin puts it:
Noises Off, which The New York Times once called "the funniest show on Broadway," is now one of the funniest shows in South Florida.
Noises Off plays at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre through this Sunday; this show doesn't get done much, so don't miss the chance to see an outstanding production of it. You might have to wait another 25 years to see it. That's how long it's been since it played at the old Florida Rep in West Palm Beach.
The New Theatre opened The Gates of Choice last week, and we have two reviews out:

Christine Dolen reviewed it for the Miami Herald, and found that Rosenfarb's script, which began as a short story, and followed a course of evolution that included a screenplay, was impressed:
The Gates of Choice is an involving, entertaining, enlightening play that manages to be fair to its combative characters even as it details their conflicting values and desires.
Dolen recaps the story, a lot, but eventually gets back to the review:

Staged fluidly by director Ricky J. Martinez on a weathered set by Dudley Pinder and Jesus Casimiro, the premiere production also succeeds because of its strong performances.

Izarra, with her big brown eyes and reddish braids, makes Mehira empathetic even as she's causing trouble. Ditto Schwartz and Turnbull, who convey the love behind their edicts and pronouncements, as does the more prickly Ehly eventually. Sirois tries to differentiate his roles by playing Moishe as a nerdy goofball, making it an unfair contest when it comes to whether he or the dashing Ori-Ben will win Mehira's heart.

Bill Hirschman, writing for the Sun-Sentinel, wasn't quite as taken, but he did find it a worthwhile endeavor.
This heartfelt cry to allow people to choose their destinies is frequently moving, lyrical, funny and always insightful -- which makes it well worth seeing. But it is also predictable, uneven and sometimes strafes close to pedestrian.
And it's not just the script he's talking about:
It's true of both the script and the production. Ricky Martinez's directs a cast that sometimes mesmerizes the audience, sometimes seems to be repeating lines from a script -- sometimes in the same scene.
It's not all bad, according to Hirschman:
Some lines are incisive but would sound hollow in other actors' mouths. Not here. When Izarra asks "what is worse, being dead to your father or yourself," it is not a rhetorical question; her character is agonizing over the choice.

Hirschman ultimately advises us to keep an eye on fledgling playwright Michelle Rosenfarb:
Promising playwrights like Rosenfarb grow in front of us and The Gates of Choice signals someone whose work we'll likely savor as she evolves over the next decade.
The Gates of Choice plays at the New Theatre through December 14.

Mary Damiano reviewed She Loves Me at the Caldwell Theatre for the Sun-Sentinel. She wasn't impressed:
Caldwell's production of She Loves Me is a disappointment. It's devoid of charm and sparkle, the very things needed to make implausible plots work. Leading lady Amy Miller Brennan has two settings, flat and shrill. Leading man Benjamin Schrader tries to channel Jimmy Stewart -- he probably researched the role by watching The Shop Around the Corner -- but fails.
OUCH! She does find some more positive things to say:
Supporting players Oscar Cheda and Bruce Linser fare better, but the most energetic moments of the show belong to Jose Luaces in his second act opener Try Me. Laura Hodos only begins to hint at her potential during her final number and award-winning performers Angie Radosh and Lourelene Snedeker are relegated to the background ensemble.
She Loves Me runs through December 14th at the Caldwell Theatre in Boca Raton.

Jordan Levin reviewed 1,000 Homosexuals for the Miami Herald. It's being produced by Camposition at Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
Despite the title, 1,000 Homosexuals, the powerful new play by Michael Yawney ... is a portrait of Anita Bryant far more than of the gay men she campaigned against in 1977. But Yawney paints such a sympathetic and in-depth picture of Bryant -- brilliantly portrayed by Mary Jo Cortada -- that his play is ultimately a terrifically resonant portrait of the corrosive power of stereotypes.
Levin also noted the technical elements of the product:
Sheldon Decklebaum's supple direction and Octavio Campos' spare production, with a single mobile platform and a few props doing multiple duties, and campy choreography, keep the play moving.
1,000 Homosexuals plays at Arsht Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opened Tuesday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, and Bill Hirschman was there to cover it for the Sun-Sentinel.Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The stagecraft that makes the roadster fly in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is pretty close to magical even if you have a good idea how they do it.
Yes, this is a live version of the movie we knew as kids. It opened with thunderous fireworks* in London, to thunderous applause on Broadway, and now it's on tour.
Director Ray Roderick and his creative team have scaled back the scope for logistical and economic reasons, but they have significantly rewritten the script and deftly refocused the tone to create a fairy tale to seduce the emotions rather than overwhelm the senses.
It had to be downsized to go on tour; most Broadway tours do.
But the producers have not cheaped out: A cast of 31 sell the new script, new direction and new choreography; a razzmatazz band plays new orchestrations, and finely-detailed sets and costumes evoke Rube Goldberg and Ruritania.
Bill doesn't mention the children, who were all cast locally. That's right, this tour absolutely has South Florida performers onstage, albeit young ones.
The cast solidly inhabits this world convincingly. They aren't three-dimensional characters, but even the intentionally clownish villains don't strike you as cartoons. Steve Wilson brings a fine voice, unswerving earnestness and endearing awkwardness to the father.
Christine Dolen reviewed Chitty for the Herald. She did note some technical problems:
Director Ray Roderick's revised version of the 2005 Broadway production is, at this early point in its touring life, still finding its artistic wings in terms of performances, scattered technical glitches and sometimes ear-splitting sound levels.

But the one sure-fire element is the beguiling Chitty herself.

Despite the technical glitches - and no doubt with credit to Chitty - Dolen enjoyed the production:
There are a few scary, racy moments once the action moves from England to Vulgaria. The ominous Childcatcher (Oliver Wadsworth) is creepy. And one of choreographer Joanne Hunter's biggest numbers, set to The Bombie Samba, is cartoonishly sexy. But Chitty truly is a family-friendly musical.
She doesn't get around to the performers until the very end of her review:
(Dirk) Lumbard and (Scott) Cote provide welcome music hall-style comic relief, but (George) Dvorksky and (Elizabeth Ward) Land's over-the-top comic villains are far more interesting than the Caractacus/Truly combo. And the accents (which maybe wouldn't bug you, but they do me) are all over the place.

Still, the voices are strong, the dance numbers are splashy, and though the carnival backdrop looks like it was made with a giant Lite-Brite set, the scenic elements are effective.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts runs through November 30. And this is one you'll want to bring the kids to. And if you're a kid at heart like me, go see it. The songs have never sounded so good: the new score is exceptional.

*there are no pyrotechnic effects in this production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.


The venerable M-Ensemble opens Joe Turner's Come and Gone, by August Wilson. It plays through December 21 in Miami.

Mosaic Theatre is opening Conor McPherson's The Seafarer this weekend, and runs through December 14 in Plantation.

The New Vista Theatre opens Enter Laughing: The Musical. Based on Carl Reiner's semi-autobiographical novel, its script is by Joseph Stein, with music by Stan Daniels. It runs through December 7 in Boca Raton.

still playing

Dirty Business runs through November 30th at Florida Stage.

Smokey Joe's Cafe plays at the Stage Door Theater in Coral Springs through November 25.

Lucky Stiff runs through December 7, also at the Stage Door Theater, in Coral Springs.

A Moon for the Misbegotten plays at Palm Beach Drama Works through November 30.

passing through

1,000 Homosexuals at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. This is a new play produced in partnership between the Arsht Center and Camposition. Plays tonight through Sunday, November 23. Read more about it in The Herald.

last chance to see...

MixTape by Mad Cat Theatre plays at the Miami Light Project in downtown Miami through November 22.

The Soul of Gershwin is playing the Parker Playhouse through Sunday November 23rd.

for kids

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at The Playground Theatre.

Charlotte's Web has public performances on Friday, November 21, at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts,

Saturday and Sunday, the Fort Lauderdale Children's Ballet Theatre presents Cinderella at the Broward Performing Arts Center.

plays this Sunday as part of the Family Fun Serieas at the Miniaci Performing Arts Center in Davie. You can catch it on Monday at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

A Christmas Carol, The Musical, plays on Saturdays at Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre. Through December 27.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Carbonell Post

I missed the first announcement about the Carbonell Fiasco. I was working on the Two Playhouses story, and then realized I was late to The Poker Game. Game has had many iterations over the years; players have come and gone. The current version features me, Character Actor, Young Actor, Stage Manager, Musical Director (doesn't actually play), #1 Theatre Fan, and Drummer. The drummer is the Character Actor's neighbor, but he has played in pit bands, so he fits. And #1 Theatre Fan used to work in the Box Office. Some nights we also get Lighting Designer, Hipster Actor, Poker Snob, The Dirty Old Man, and the Australian Shark. (Her parents ran a casino Down Under, and she usually cleans our clocks.)

This is all actually irelevant to this story, but it gives me an excuse to slide in a "dogs playing poker" picture.

I'm late to the game, and as I buy in, I apologize to the table for my tardiness, explaining that I was working on a blog entry that had taken a bit of research.

"Oh," says #1 Theatre Fan, reaching for his crackberry to read the blog (I love this guy!), "so what do you think about this Carbonell thing?"

I'm not pleased. Not at all pleased.'ll be the first to admit the Carbonells are flawed. I've got seven drafts of posts about the flaws, about shows and theatres that have been cheated out of awards and even simple nominations.

So yes, the Carbonells need fixing. But canceling them outright? Very. Bad. Idea.

Folks, like virtually every business in America, theatre is in trouble. They were struggling even before the economy smacked into the ground like a turkey tossed from a circling helicopter. I believe that a large part of this is due to dwindling media coverage. Even before Hap left the post, and Jack Zink passed away, the newspapers in the area have been cutting back on their coverage of local theatre. If you page through this blog's archives, you'll find that although there are numerous plays every week, only one or two actually get reviewed in any given paper. Some plays might never be reviewed. And even if they are, newspapers no longer have a dedicated spot for them: you have to want to find it, because the incompetent hacks editing your newspapers are prone to stick them in any section of paper.

The entire purpose of this blog is to create another opportunity for theatre to be visible to the community.
The Carbonell Awards, whatever their flaws, also created an opportunity for the community to become more aware that there's a lot of theater in our neighborhood. In fact, the fact that there's theatre important enough to have an awards ceremony does a great deal to enhance the perception of its quality.

But that's true only if the Carbonell Awards actually happen.

A few years ago, for reasons that have never been adequately explained, the awards went from being tied to the Theatre Season (which makes perfect sense) to being tied to the calendar year (not so much sense, since the cut-off is during the period when the season is at its peak). And as a part of this largely-unnecessary change of cycle, the Carbonell went a year and a half between ceremonies.

Now we're looking at a minimum of a TWO YEAR gap.

And then there's the way it was handled; capriciously, in this observer's eyes. Not one of the Carbonell judges was notified ahead of time, not one of them was asked for their input or advice. All the Carbonell participants found out about at the same time the rest of us did, and that's a very poor way to treat those who have been carrying out the mission of seeing all the plays in South Florida.

This is especially tacky when one of the reasons given could only have come from the judges:
“This year saw our tremendously dedicated volunteer judging panel pay $4 a gallon for gas,” noted Leslie J. Feldman, publisher emeritus of Playbill Magazine and Carbonell Awards, Inc. board president.
Well, it got close, maybe. And now it's way down. And all the judges said they were willing to keep going. The seven judges I spoke with were all irritated that this was one of the reasons cited, because for the judging panel, this was not an issue.

Other reasons given:
  • Jack Zink died. Yes, he did. And if he hadn't, this would have killed him. This is a very poor excuse to kill something he worked so very hard on for the last few decades.
  • The Media Pool is dwindling. Yes, it is. But it hasn't evaporated completely. And there are over two dozen judges overall. So the Post and the Sun-Sentinel have failed the public: why compound their failing?
  • The failing economy is reducing donations and ticket sales. Well, nothing dries up ticket sales and donations faster than canceling the event. Why should people support something that's not happening? And if the Carbonell Comittee doesn't believe in its own awards, why should anyone else?
Are the actual awards that expensive? Well, the ceremony isn't, at least relatively speaking. The biggest expense is probable the one that everyone forgets about: the endowments.
You see, the Awards are not the purpose of the organization. The awards are the by-product of raising money for scholarships. Ticket sales and donations from the event are used to underwrite the endowments. If there's no event, what happens to the scholarships that it is designed to support?

Yes, there is no argument that Jack Zink's death was a great loss to the Carbonell Awards. But it need not be a total loss. There are hundreds of people involved, and it's simply beyond belief that between all of them, solutions can't be found. Start by talking with them, instead simply sending out a "press release of doom."

Christine Dolen isn't pleased with the decision. She and Jack were close friends, although they worked for competing newspapers.
I can't help thinking that, given the fact that Jack worked right up 'til his death on trying to make sure the Carbonells could continue, this isn't the choice he would have made.
She has a poll up, and so far 82% of respondents believe that the awards should NOT have been suspended. And the comments pour in! It inspired a follow-up blog:
Monday's abrupt announcement by the Carbonell Awards board of directors that it was suspending judging of productions that open in 2009 brought a firestorm of reaction, most of it negative.
Theatre Row picked up the poll, and the story. Conundrum Stages suggests that it may be time to bring back the Curtain Up Awards, which was the King Mango Strut to the Carbonell's Orange Bowl Parade. A Carbonell Judge has suggested that if the Comittee can't do it, let's create "the Jacks" and start something new.

The bottom line is that outside of the committee, those of us who make up the theatre scene have not seen any reason that should compell cancelling the awards for a year. So here's a message to the Carbonell Comittee: TALK TO US. We're all in this together. Don't give us this shuck and jive: sit us in a room, and lay it all out. When the pickings are slim, you don't throw away the cookpot, you make stone soup.

And we've all got a few of those.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sightings: Trent Kendall

Trent Kendall was an intern at the Burt Reynold's Jupiter Theatre, back when I started my technical career in earnest. He's gone on to make quite a career for himself since then. You can read his resume on his very slick website.

Other interns in that group include Margot Moreland, who has continued working in South Florida Theatre, and Anastasia Barzee, who has worked extensively on Broadway.

Theater Mania reports that he's bringing his one-man musical, Picture Incomplete, to the Tampa Performing Arts Center this weekend.

Ticket information and a video can be found on the show's website,

BTW, the old Burt Reynold's Jupiter Theatre is now the Maltz Jupiter Theater. And there's your South Florida Theatre connection.

Reviews Just In: Noises Off and Gates of Choice.

I will be including these in this week's Scene, but I also wanted to get the links up so people can find them. Mostly because Noises' Off closes this Sunday.

Kevin D. Thompson of the Palm Beach Post reviewed Noises Off at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. By the way, there is a post performance discussion with the cast of the show on November 20.

Frederick/Philip (Donald Carrier) loses his trousers
in the production of Noises Off by Michael Frayn,
directed by David H. Bell at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre
Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni since I'm mentioning the days reviews, there are two reviews out for New Theatre's production of The Gates of Choice. Christine Dolen reviewed it for The Miami Herald, and Bill Hirschman reviewed it for The Sun-Sentinel.

Valentina Izarra as MEHIRA STEIN
in the New Theatre production of
The Gates of Choice, by Michelle Rosenfarb.
Photograph by Eileen Suarez

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Pair of Playhouses: Why are they Empty?

Coconut Grove Grapevine recently called for the Coconut Grove Playhouse to re-open. It's not a new request, although I'm touched that they were inspired to call for it after reading about all the regional activity here on the Theatre Scene.

I recently realized that the Royal Palm Playhouse up in Palm Beach is facing similar problems. Both were local institutions, both are fairly large, both have been closed for several years, and both have communities struggling to find a way to re-open them.


The Coconut Grove Playhouse was originally built as a movie theatre in 1926. Designed by the Ohio firm of Keihnel and Elliot, it was the eleventh Paramount owned movie palace in Florida. But it opened as the economy collapsed, and limped along for years. It was boarded up following World War II.

It was transformed into a legitimate theatre by Coconut Grove architect Alfre Browning Parker in 1955. It opened in 1956 with the U.S. premiere of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The show bombed, and may have set the tone for the future of the Playhouse, if not South Florida's appreciation for theatre. While it did have some successes, it's also know for some lamentable projects, such as its last attempt to send a show to The Great White Way, the critically unloved Urban Cowboy. Godot, on the other hand, went on to be a smash hit everywhere else it played, including Broadway.

It struggled with finances for years, and under the reign of Artistic Director Arnold Mittelman, it racked up the largest debt of any theatre company in South Florida's history.

Meanwhile, its physical structure deteriorated through its span: built of steel-reinforced concrete, spalling caused by the use of beach sand in the original construction has virtually destroyed all the reinforcment in the walls of the building, and the concrete itself is crumbling to powdered in spots. Sections of the building were condemned years ago, and the Fire Department at one point ordered the building to stand 24 hour watch because of the poor state of its fire safety equipment. In the last few years it suffered terrible leaks in the roof, requiring plastic tarps to be deployed in the costume shop to prevent damage to the extensive costume inventory whenever it rained. It will cost tens of millions of dollars to make the structure safe, before any money is spent bring its technology up to current state of the art.

The Royal Poinciana Playhouse, located in Palm Beach, opened in 1958. It was designed by John Volk, a Palm Beach architect known chiefly for the lush mansions he designed for the wealthy of Palm Beach and the Bahamas.

The Royal Poinciana is structurally sound, but like the Coconut Grove Playhouse, requires a major upgrade of its technical facilities to bring it up to state-of-the-art: it lacks wing space, adequate fly space, adequate support spaces (dressing rooms, offices for touring management,etc.), and even an adequate recieving area for trucks. The last time I loaded a show in there, it lacked its own sound system and lighting package; we had to rent everything and bring it in. It may be lavish from the proscenium out, but there's not a technical director in the country who ever looked forward to loading in a show there.

Divergent Approaches

The Coconut Grove Playhouse currently is its own entity, a 501(c)3 organization run by its board of directors. The Board has been trying to find a developer to take on the challenge of rebuilding the theatre. In fact, that was their plan even before the Playhouse closed. Their initial stumbling block was that they didn't own the property: it had been turned over to the State of Florida. A few years ago, they managed to regain ownership, and created quite a stir in the militantly anti-developer Grove when they announced plans to have the entire site razed.

According to, a Coconut Grove Advocacy group:
...the developer who buys the property would create a master plan for the whole site, but the playhouse would own its own building and a 250-space garage, which would serve as a revenue source. The developer would own a garage, about 20,000 square feet of retail space and would be able to develop condominiums on the site.
Residents of Coconut Grove rallied quickly, and were able to have the building declared a landmark. That deal fell through, and two years later, the theatre went belly-up.

But that's the Coconut Grove Playhouse Board's approach to saving the theatre: if it doesn' work, try it again anyway.

The Royal Poinciana Playhouse is a different animal altogether. The Poinciana always privately owned. Its current owner is Sterling Bank, and they want to re-develop the entire site, much as the Coconut Grove Playhouse Board has been trying to do. They are opposed by the Palm Beach Theatre Guild, an organization created to save the Royal Poinciana from this fate. They are the diametric opposite of the Coconut Grove Playhouse Board. They recently succeeded in having the entire site designated as a landmark by the City of Palm Beach.

The Royal Poinciana was also a legitimate theatre from the get-go. While it never had the impact on national theatre that the Coconut Grove did, it had a lot more star power. And why not? Many of the stars vacationed in the toney resort, or had influential friends who wintered there. America's wealthiest families got to see the brightest stars perform for their amusement. Its history is replete with Broadway and Hollywood names, but short on premiering plays. The Royal Poinciana was always a reflection of legitimate theatre in the United States, but did little to shape it.

One Playhouse is in the hands of its Board, and they want to turn it over to developers: the other is in the hands of developers, and a group wants to take it over to become its Board.

Prognosis for the Grove

Still under the control of the Board of Directors that allowed the building to decay while amassing a record debt, the future for the Coconut Grove Playhouse doesn't look very bright. The Board has continually failed to conceive of a plan that does not involve selling out to a developer, which the community has always bitterly - and successfully - fought.

The largest problem is that with the structure so badly eroded, razing the building might really be the best solution. The project could use the European model of preserving the facade, and replacing everthing within that shell with a new structure.

The largest single hurdle for the Grove, however, is the lack of leadership. Its Board has never shown one lick of leadership, and has a long history of making poor and uninformed decisions.

Prognosis for the Royal Poinciana

In many ways, it's more hopeful than the Grove; the building isn't on the verge of collapse. But the group that would save the Royal Poinciana has no actual authority over its Playhouse; the property belongs to Sterling Bank, who acquired the property to completely re-develop it.

They also seem to be ignoring or overlooking the fact that the Playhouse is not up to current production standards: maybe they are, but have simply not posted anything about this aspect on their blog or website.

Guild President Patrick Flynn also accuses a major feasibility study of the Poinciana as flawed, claiming "“Webb management did not consider a change of use of the house from a theater that books-in rentals to a resident regional subscription theater."

Now that's my language: I have spent the last 25 years working in Resident Regional Subscription Theatre. And I got to tell you, I'm not sure that Flynn fully understands it, based on what I've read so far. Because in RRST language, 878 is about 528 seats too much.

The two largest (seating capacity) regional subscription theatres in South Florida are the Maltz Jupiter Theatre (550), and Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre (600).

The Maltz's production schedule of legitimate plays is actually very small: it's really more of a performing arts center than a regional theatre. Its runs are very short, but it books in other acts to fill in the rest of the schedule.

Actors' Playhouse is an actual producing theatre; they are in production 48 weeks of the year. Their average occupancy is 56%. The Grove did much worse, and was constantly struggling with the realities imposed on it by its high seating capacity.

Consider this:
  1. LORT (League of Resident Theatre Companies) Contracts for Actors' Equity, the stage actors' union, are determined by the weekly box office receipts; 878 kicks any participating company into higher salary tiers, even assuming only 40% occupancy.
  2. With dwindling press coverage, theatres rely on word of mouth to sell their shows, and that means running a production three or more weeks; the first week for people to see it, the second week for word to filter out, and the third week for the wave of single-ticket buyers to hit. The first two to three weeks of the run are supported by their subscribers, who carry them to the single ticket sales in weeks three and four. But at 878 seats, the local companies with the largest subscriber base would need those single ticket sales to hit the second week, as they would be seating some 90% of their subscriber base the first week.
Furthermore, the Guild had a major regional theater interested for awhile: Florida Stage, one of the area's most successful and influential theatres. Louis Tyrell is one of South Florida's savviest producers. And he backed out. Why?

It turns out that Palm Beach has a "town serving" law that requires that 50% of the theatre's patrons must be Palm Beach residents. Town residents, that is, not County. And that's the kiss of death. None of the rest of it matters.

The key to success in the performing arts is to maximize your audience: you want to get as many people in as you can, and you want to grow that number every year. By declaring that half the audience must live in the Town of Palm Beach, any chance at growth is immediately choked off.

This law is the kiss of death for the viability of an 878 seat theatre in the South Florida market. In one fell swoop, Palm Beach has ensured that the Royal Poinciana Playhouse will not be able to compete with the Kravis Center, The Broward Performing Arts Center, the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, or even the Lake Worth Playhouse, a community theater.

Everyone on the other side of the lake can sell as many tickets as they can, to whoever wants to buy them. The Royal Poinciana will have to jump through all kinds of hoops to stay within the bounds of the town law. They will have to match each out-of-town sale with an in-town sale. And not only will they have to DO it, they'll have to DOCUMENT it.


The Coconut Grove could succeed, but only if clear leadership - and major funding - came into play. Neither are on its horizon, however.

The Royal Poinciana can't succeed, even though the Palm Beach Theatre Guild has a reasonable game plan. They don't own the space, and even if they did, current town law will prevent it from competing with other venues.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What's with your Website?

This week, one of my co-workers was trying to check on a show date. In frustration, she finally asked me "if you have any influence at all, can you get these theatres to fix their damned sites?"

I don't know if I have that kind of influence. But what I can do is tell you how your website should work for you; the elements that should be there, in the order of importance. Website 101, if you will. Here's the thing: I look at everyone's website every week. And I got to tell you, for the most part, your websites suck. You leave stuff out, you put useless crap in, you forget to update, your updates are confusing, and it's hard to find anything at all.

So here's the very basics: the things that should be most important on your pages:

1. What's playing.

Well, I did say it was "basic."

The first thing we need to know is what show is playing at your theatre NOW. It should be very prominent. Of course, this seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many theaters have websites that don't feature the current show front-and-center.

Sometimes, it's a matter of updating the page. The Naked Stage tells us that its current show is "Coming Soon." Same for the just completed 24-Hour Theatre Project. (I know the webmaster for TNS is recovering from an accident {not to mention opening weekend AND the aforementioned 24-our Theatre Project} but old news doesn't tell us current events).

Women's Theatre Project tells us their "current show" closed two weeks ago. But it offers links to buy tickets for it. Clicking the link for their "2008-2009 Season" brings up an error message. Contrast this with Mosaic, which tells us they are currently dark, but that their next play is Seafarer, with a link to that show's information.

AAPACT's home page is three years out of date! You can't even tell that they currently have a play running unless you decide to click through to buy a ticket.

But if you're not running a show, why would we do that?

Would you buy tickets if the show being advertised closed three years ago? I hate to say it, Teddy, but the Miami Times has done you far less harm than you have done to yourself. Your website is your first opportunity to pitch your show to the public, and you didn't even bother.

Actors' Playhouse uses up about a third of the page with a banner that's full of confusing drop-down menus (eleven menus? What are you people sniffing?), a distracting moving image, and the first listing isn't even a show. The second listing is a children's show, and you have to scroll down in my viewer to see the MAINSTAGE show. It's worse when you try to SEE their Mainstage Season. The shows are mostly "below the fold".

No one cares about the press release from six months ago announcing the plays you are doing now. What maniac decided you needed not one, but TWO links to subscriptions? (Actually, THREE: these links are additional to the menu at the top of every page!) We don't even know what's playing, and you're shoving the rest of your season down our throats? Get real! Most of us aren't interested in "high school matinees, " whatever those are, and auditions do not generate revenue, unless you're a scam artist. We want to know about those plays! Tell me what's playing! You present plays, right? Tell me about them!

2. When is it playing?

Everyone puts up the run dates, but knowing that it plays for the next four weeks doesn't help us plan which night we can see it. For example, here's a snippet from the website of a prominent South Florida company:

Are we supposed to use our psychic abilities to know which Saturdays are "selective?" What does "selective" even mean in this context? Do you have to draw lots to attend? If you can't set it up definitively (i.e. '2nd and 4th Saturdays'), you're better off leaving it off.

You can never assume that we know what you're trying to say, so be as specific as possible. You can't assume that we know you run shows Wednesday through Saturday, and we won't assume that its the same for every show - unless you state it exactly that way!

Florida Stage is ahead of the curve: if you're running the iCal or Sunbird calender programs, you can save the play's schedule to your computer. by clicking a link on the show's webpage. You can also open the calendar in Google's online calendar. They are a step away from taking advantage of services like iCal Share, where you can post your calendar and interested parties can subscribe to it. As you update the calender on your website, users see the updates on their desktops!. (actually, it would if it weren't broken: the link is one listing extending 24 hours a day for the duration of the run. Not very useful, really. But that can be fixed; the idea is cool.)

3. How to get there.

This is one that frustrated my co-worker. She was trying to figure out how to get to New Theatre. The directions are there, somewhere. It turns out it was tucked away in a sub-menu.

It should be in a prominent, easy to find location, not buried in a menu somewhere. Again, while it's obvious to you why you put in under "About Us," GableStage found it just as obvious to place it under "Contact Us." Don't bury it, put it up on top. It's important.

And then make sure it's complete: there are four compass points, but New Theatre only give you directions if your are coming from the North, or from the west along Bird Road. I guess you folks in Kendall are outta luck. Take a lesson from Craig's List, and offer a link to a map service like Mapquest or Google Maps. It doesn't cost you anything to do, and it's easier for the patron to use the "get directions" tool for a custom set of directions that takes them door-to-door.

Palm Beach DramaWorks pulls it together nicely:

4. Help 'Spread the Word!'

The internet is the most powerful means for sharing information that has ever existed in the whole of human history. It's the best and cheapest means to spread the word.
And yet, most theatres barely put any useful information about their current shows on their sites. I can always find pictures of past productions: but finding promotional material on your current shows is extremely difficult.

Every theatre should do exactly what the Maltz Jupiter Theatre does: it puts its media packages on its site. And the link is right at the top of every page. I can find a collection of articles about the theatre, and I can find out about the cast, and even download pictures of the current production! EVERY THEATER SHOULD DO THIS.

Florida Stage goes a step further with its FurtherMore page:

This one is more for an audience member than the press, but that audience member can learn more about the plays, and send links to his or her friends about the play. "See? This is what I was talking about!"


With newspapers cutting back on coverage, it's getting harder and harder to get the word out. Each theatre must take the initiative in making sure information about their companies and about their productions are both easy to find and easy to distribute. That means that every effort must be made to keep your website current. If you don't care enough about your production to do something as basic as keeping your website current, you don't care enough about your production. It's as simple as that.

In communications it is the responsibility of the party trying to get the message out to make sure that the party receiving the message understands it. If we can't learn what we need from your website, the fault is yours. And you are the only one who can fix it.

Promotional photos are not to be treated as closely-guarded secrets. People are attracted to pictures. You want them on your website, your MySpace, Facebook, and even on blogs like this one. Pictures put a human face on your production, and that's what will draw people in. I got a news flash for you: the Sun-Sentinel doesn't give a crap about the arts anymore. And most people only page through free weeklies to clip the coupons. Your best press is going to be patrons emailing or blogging your show: so promotional materials need to be available on your site so they can spread the word.

Make your shows the most prominent part of your website, and then remember that sales follow interest: so before you pitch tickets or subscriptions, you have to tell them about the play, when it is, and where they can see it. Once you have our interest, you can sell us tickets. But it has to be in that order.

You're already paying for your websites; it's time to make them work for you.