Monday, November 2, 2009

Pot? Kettle here. I have news...

I should probably never say I'm going to be taking a break because, whenever I do, I always find more things to post on. Oh, well. You're stuck with me.

Via The Playgoer, Howard Kissel at the NY Daily News weighs in on the closing of Brighton Beach Memoirs:

This news has been attributed in some quarters to the death of The Neil Simon Audience.There is some truth to that, but I fear the problem is much larger. It has to do with the death of The Broadway Audience, which disappeared some time ago.

The Broadway audience, which highbrows condescended to, especially when it was at its height, in the decades after World War II, was certainly centered in New York. It was middle class (with significant exceptions both higher and lower on the social ladder.) It had a higher percentage of Jews than the population at large.


The tourists who come to New York have, I'm afraid, are not really an audience. Their idea of entertainment is more likely a rock concert than an evening of theater. Seeing a Broadway show is one of the things they're supposed to do while they're here, like visiting the Statue of Liberty or riding the subway.

The Broadway Audience was thought to be narrow minded, smug, provincial. On a number of occasions I have heard Edward Albee rail against them in such a way.
"Narrow minded, smug, provincial," eh? Condescended to, you say? Unlike the current audience, right, Howard?
The New Theater Audience consists of Trendies, people who have to be up on The Latest Thing, people who derive status from being able to say they saw a play The Paper of Record praised highly. It's not really an audience. But I'm afraid that's what we have.
I see. So Broadway never fails, it is only failed. Like conservative philosophy. And Steely Dan.

The Playgoer goes easy on Howard, but I think it's pretty awful. More easy, simply snobbery about the degradation of audience tastes and nothing about the structural changes in the way Broadway works. He even throws in a little dig about some future non-profit hosting a Neil Simon revival, as though it were such a come-down. Yep, getting a big show at a non-profit is just a terrible thing for a playwright.

I'd love to go to the Broadway that Howard is going to, where Trendies and hipsters are lined up to be seen at the new play that got a great review in the Times. It must be in some other city. Some magical land where ham, bacon and pork chops come from the same mythical animal.

An article like this is just indicative of the disconnect between the older segments of the theatre "intelligentsia" who lament that plays are turning into rock concerts and the younger segments who are actively trying to turn plays into rock concerts. Kissel laments that the middle-class audiences of his youth have fled Broadway and instead slum it at the non-profits, while we're all trying to figure out how to get the blue-hairs out of the matinees. That kind of tension doesn't bode well.

As I said, I didn't see it, but enough people I trust have said this was a great production. It should have had a longer life. Despite what some might think, I don't want good shows to close, especially not prematurely. This is a bad outcome for theatre and for Broadway, but it's not the audience that's to blame here. To act like it is makes the problem worse.

It's hard for me to take the naked classism of a piece like Kissel's, not to mention ageism and whiffs of "It was better when the theatres were full of Jews." The world, the city, and the audiences have changed. As long as producers, for- or non-profit, refuse to acknowledge that, the more bad outcomes we'll have.

Update: Accidentally made half of this post invisible. Thanks to Ian for speaking up!


Ian Thal said...

99- I don't know if it's intentional but the last half dozen paragraphs or so (the main body of your rebuttal to Kissel)are invisible unless one does a "select all."

99 said...

Ack! Thanks for the tip, Ian. Don't know what happened there!

Ed said...

Fear and Hope
(Found poetry of Howard Kissel)

I was saddened
I fear
a little boy in Milwaukee
I'm afraid
I have heard Edward Albee rail
But I'm afraid
I am particularly sad
Nothing else lingers
a wrenching experience
I'm afraid
I hope I'm around
and I hope