Friday, September 30, 2005
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Monday, September 26, 2005
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Psst, She's Melting
With its melting witches, flying monkeys and gallons of green paint, "Wicked" relies heavily on visual pizazz. But a new device called D-Scriptive makes it possible to enjoy the experience even if you can't see it, by delivering real-time narrations to sight-impaired theatergoers. In the past, that service was performed live by individual narrators, but the process was cumbersome and all but prohibitively expensive.
The recorded D-Scriptive narration, however, is ready to go at every performance. The system works through the same computer that handles a show's lighting and sound cues, said Carl Tramon, director of special services at Sound Associates, which developed the technology. Each of the more than 500 brief descriptions is triggered when a light or sound technician punches in a particular cue, so the narration keeps pace with the action onstage.
Mr. Tramon said he watched the show a few dozen times - sometimes with his eyes closed - and compiled a narrative describing some sort of visual effect, from set changes to pyrotechnic displays to dance sequences, every 5 to 10 seconds.
The next step was finding the right narrator. After auditioning several actors who took it upon themselves to reanimate Elphaba, Glinda and the rest of the cast, Mr. Tramon cast himself. "They're doing a great job of bringing it to life onstage," he said of the "Wicked" cast. "All you have to do is convey the information."
Buoyed by the response from sight-impaired audience members (and from their companions who are relieved of description duty) since the "Wicked" D-Scriptive made its debut in the spring, Sound Associates unveiled a "Mamma Mia!" recording over the Labor Day weekend, with "Hairspray" due in the next few weeks.
Friday, September 23, 2005
It's love's passion harnessed via prop
Published September 23, 2005
Appearing in: "Kiss," Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
Tobin Del Cuore and Cheryl Mann of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago know firsthand about the meaning of that little two-word maxim, "love hurts." To remain airborne for a pas de deux called "Kiss," choreographed by Susan Marshall, they are suspended from ropes attached to leather harnesses--harnesses that help them fly but also inflict a little pain.
To get custom-fitted for the harnesses, the two went to Paul C Leather, a Chicago shop (since moved to 6410 N. Clark St.) owned by Paul Christensen, who creates fetish devices and also designs theater costumes. The dancers' harnesses have a wide leather band that wraps around the hips and straps around each thigh.
"The owner lifted us off the ground by our harnesses and bounced us up and down, to give us a sense of what it would feel like when we were hanging from a rope," Mann recalls. "I felt like I was in one of those carriers that mothers use to have their babies sit in front on them. It was very surreal."
The harnesses were custom designed for each dancer's body and are lined with padding--but that doesn't mean they're comfortable. Del Cuore says the straps sometimes pinch his thighs and Mann has a scar on her hip where the harness rubs against it. Oddly, the harness has also helped ease her back problems.
For the seven-minute "Kiss" routine, the dancers wear the rigging in full view over jeans. "I think Susan opted not to hide the harnesses because it's not about creating an illusion," says Del Cuore. "It's more about the emotion of the dance."
Learning to perform the choreography while suspended from a 15-foot long rope was a challenge. "We have to prevent ourselves from going with the flow of physics," explains Del Cuore. "We have to throw our weight around to direct the movement because if you do anything wrong you could go spinning off. . . . Sometimes on stage the moves don't go the way they are supposed to and we just have to deal with it."
The choreography of "Kiss" might be seen as a reflection of love itself.
"I think these are two people who know they will be together no matter what," says Mann, "even though their relationship is difficult and exasperating at times."
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Wed.-Thu. Sept. 28-29 and Oct. 1-2, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St., $20-$75; 800-882-4275, www.hubbardstreetdance.com.
Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune
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Thursday, September 22, 2005
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Whatever it is, 'Urinetown' is a hit -- and it's wickedly funnyElizabeth Maupin
Sentinel Theater Critic
September 16, 2005
It's the show with the horrible title.
Urinetown. The Musical. Yikes.
Even Little Sally, the show's wise-beyond-her-years waif, thinks the title is bad.
"That could kill a show pretty good," she says.
So how do you tell people about Urinetown?
"My parents down in their retirement community in Stuart want to say to people, 'Hey, my son's in this show,' " says Eric Pinder, who plays the show's narrator, Officer Lockstock, in Mad Cow Theatre's upcoming production. "But they have to explain what it is."
What it is, in fact, is hard to say. It's a Broadway hit. It's Fringe. It's parody. It's melodrama.
"It's totally implausible and ridiculous," says Alan Bruun, who is directing the show for Mad Cow. "But what's glaring at you is that it's plausible, and it's not ridiculous at all."
Imagine yourself in a New York-like city in the middle of a drought so bad that an evil corporation has taken control over all toilets. To pee, you have to pay -- and if you don't pay, you're shipped off to Urinetown, a penal colony so indescribable that no one ever comes back.
No wonder the bravest among you decides to lead a group of poor people to revolt against the power structure -- and, at the same time, tries to woo the woman he loves, the daughter of the richest man in town.
Ridiculous? Sure -- so ridiculous that Urinetown, which started off at the New York International Fringe Festival in 1999, is the only show in that festival's history to have made it to Broadway.
Now Urinetown is spreading to Central Florida, first in a couple of school productions this summer, and now at Mad Cow Theatre, the professional theater in downtown Orlando.
Pinder first saw it on a trip to Broadway in the summer of 2002.
"I fell in love with it instantly," he says. "And the part of Officer Lockstock -- I thought, I have to play this part."
So much so, he says, that he was working on a letter to try to wangle rights to produce the show at the Orlando Fringe until he heard Mad Cow would be staging it.
It turns out that Bruun had seen Urinetown about the same time.
"I just sat there with a big, goofy grin on my face for the entire show," he says.
What attracted him was Urinetown's wicked sense of humor -- a sense of humor he calls "subversive" and "guerrilla."
"The nature of corruption isn't something we're unfamiliar with," says Bruun. "Yet it's taken to a wild degree."
In Urinetown, Officer Lockstock is an enforcer for the bad guys, but he also explains to the audience what's what -- on several different levels.
"Welcome to Urinetown," he says at the start of the show. "Not the place, of course -- the musical."
The place is something else.
"It's kind of a mythical place," he says. "A bad place. A place you won't see until Act Two."
You see, Officer Lockstock is part of Urinetown, and he's outside it, just like his waif friend Little Sally.
"You're too young to understand it now," he tells her, "but nothing can kill a show like too much exposition."
"How about bad subject matter?" she asks.
It's, well, hard to define
For Mad Cow, which has delighted in shows that comment on their own theatricality, Urinetown seemed like just the thing. It follows a string of such plays, from Bertolt Brecht's The Life of Galileo to Thornton Wilder's Our Town, which closed the theater's eighth season in July.
It's theater that introduces itself as theater, "which is Brechtian if you're into theater," Bruun says -- and like The Ed Sullivan Show if you're not.
More than that, it's a picture of a world that's terrifically funny but doesn't know it -- like "putting your tongue only so far into your cheek and no farther."
At the same time, the score spoofs and celebrates just about everything that has played Broadway, from West Side Story to Threepenny Opera and Les Miserables to Fosse.
"It has its Bernstein moment, its Gilbert and Sullivan Act I finale that goes on and on and on," Pinder says. "It makes fun of musicals, but with a love for the form."
And it has a style, says Bruun, that's both ultra-serious and ultra-satirical -- hard to define and harder to play.
"Anything that reeks of style can turn on you in a heartbeat," he says.
Melodrama and parody
In rehearsals, his 16 actors have been trying things out -- "just lobbing tennis balls up in the air" -- and this production's style will come from them.
"Now it's about finding that declamatory, no-sense-of-humor, that's-why-it's funny style."
For Pinder, performing in Urinetown means not walking a fine line between melodrama and parody, but playing both at once.
"You want to hit the comedy moments, but you can't look like you're hitting the comedy moments.
"You can't rest for a moment," he says.
People who are nuts about Urinetown tend to throw around words like Malthusian and deconstruction -- words that are guaranteed to scare other people away. But there's no denying that Urinetown has its serious underpinnings, its dark warnings about overpopulation and drought.
"What kind of a musical is this?" asks Little Sally. "The good guys finally take over and then everything starts falling apart."
"Like I said, Little Sally," Lockstock replies. "This isn't a happy musical."
But for Mad Cow, the way to be serious in Urinetown is not to be serious at all.
"The wrong way of going about it is to hit the audience over the head with it," Bruun says. "It's there. It's obvious. You have to leave it out there for them, not shove it in their face."
And he's not worried at all that Orlandoans might not take to this show with such a, well, unsavory name. With its parodies of theatrical styles, he says, it's an ideal show for Mad Cow.
"It fits very nicely in a company that hasn't made its name doing musical theater," he says. "For people who come to Mad Cow, they'll celebrate this."
Friday, September 16, 2005; Page C08
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Monday, September 19, 2005
Stagehands who work at Heinz Hall approved an agreement yesterday with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and also learned that their union has reached a tentative agreement with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which had canceled productions due to concerns over a strike.
PITTSBURGH -- Almost a week after scheduled performances of "Chicago" were cancelled amid fears of a possible strike, a local stagehand union has reached a tentative contract deal with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
The current contract with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local No. 3 expired Aug. 15. Negotiations had been ongoing since April.
A vote on the new deal is scheduled for Oct. 1.
IATSE stagehands work shows at the Benedum Center and Byham Theater.
If you wish to contribute to this important process, please put your comments into letter form including date and signature and submit to Sandy Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org
these were technically due Friday last. I am sorry it took me so long to think of putting this here. If you do something today it might still be considered. - ed
Sunday, September 18, 2005
An Allegory Unfolds in the Air
CLOVE GALILEE floats 16 feet above the stage at the NYU Skirball Center, her legs cycling gracefully, her voluminous white dress billowing. She is rehearsing her starring role in Mabou Mines' latest theatrical extravaganza "Red Beads," most of which takes place in midair.
Some families spend Sunday afternoon going to the mall. Not the artistic and biological family at the core of Mabou Mines. Ms. Galilee, a trained dancer who choreographed her own part, is being put through her dangling paces by her father, Lee Breuer, an intense man in a small cap and baggy pants. The performer Ruth Maleczech, who sports a vivid red mane and plays her real-life role as the Mother in the piece, is in the audience, observing the action, which resembles a cross between "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and a stark Cirque du Soleil. "It's incredible that I have the greatest gift a child can have, which is to grow up and have your parents become your mentors," said Ms. Galilee.
And then there is the extended family. Polina Klimovitskaya, who wrote the original fairy tale from which Mr. Breuer adapted this "performance poem," is also in the audience. Mr. Breuer first heard the story of "Red Beads" over 20 years ago, when Ms. Klimovitskaya, with whom he lived at the time, told it to their son, Alexander.
Along with a handful of others, including the puppeteer Basil Twist, they are in the midst of a technical rehearsal for the elaborate piece, which includes aerial choreography, Ningyo-buri-style puppetry, a live orchestra, choral singers and opera. The show, which has its premiere on Tuesday, requires 85 people (24 of whom are New York University students) to get off the ground. The music is composed by Ushio Torikai.
"Red Beads" is the allegorical tale of a girl's rite of passage to womanhood, a mysterious transition symbolized by her receiving a 13-bead red necklace from her mother. The story has obvious Freudian overtones; the rivalry with her mother for her father's attention is clear, and a major battle ensues before she manages to make the necklace her own. "Incest? Of course, it's about a transference of sexuality from the mother to the daughter at puberty," Mr. Breuer said.
Like most of Mabou Mines' pieces, "Red Beads" fermented for a long time. It was first performed as a straight play in Seattle in 1982, before having workshops at the Walker Arts Center and Mass MoCA several years ago. Mr. Breuer said the multi-layered work was one of Mabou Mines' most complicated creations. "I wanted to find this meeting ground where the symbolist take of Edgar Allan Poe that goes all the way back to these wonderful high camp ladies on mountains, with ravens on their shoulders and stuff like that," Mr. Breuer explained, in his intense staccato. "You know, this is Freddy in 'Friday the 13th,' when the father comes up with the pick and spade and pulls his daughter down into the grave. So in a way it's a Tim Burton kind of spoof, in a way it's camp, as well as being a very serious operatic statement."
Audiences expect no less from Mabou Mines, which began its experimental work 35 years ago, when Mr. Breuer, Ms. Maleczech, Philip Glass, JoAnne Akalaitis and David Warrilow founded the company and named it after a town in Nova Scotia. (Mr. Breuer's artistic collaboration with Ms. Maleczech goes back nearly 50 years, to when they were both studying at U.C.L.A.) Mabou Mines has done avant-garde work ranging from a sex-reversed version of "King Lear" (1990) to a lyrical "Peter and Wendy" (1996). Their most recent new production was "DollHouse" (2003) an interpretation of Ibsen's classic, in which the men were played by "little people," under five feet, and the women were unusually tall.
Mr. Twist's history with Mabou Mines goes back at least a decade. But it was in 1998, when Mr. Breuer saw Mr. Twist's cult hit "Symphonie Fantastique," an abstract aquatic puppet show, that he decided to ask him to be an artistic and conceptual collaborator on "Red Beads."
"At first Lee wanted to do it underwater, and it was like we need a million-gallon tank," said Mr. Twist. "And I advised him against it. And so after mulling over different stuff, we thought we'd try it with air. We wanted to get the fabric to have that kind of abstraction and weightlessness and lusciousness, just without the water."
Hoisted by the "fly team" backstage, Ms. Galilee is moved from stage left to right, on one of five separate tracks by the team's "lifters and travelers." "Three days before she was 13, the Child came down to breakfast, combed and clean, to find her Father going upstairs with a copper tray," whispers a disembodied voice. Behind her, a graceful double, Zoe Phillips, who is strapped into a similar harness, does the return trip. Meanwhile, the Father, played by Rob Besserer, is doing a Spider-Man number on the back wall of the stage.
As he climbs the wall on a vertical track, Ms. Galilee watches, moving her hands and arms like a marionette. She developed her character's movements based on the Japanese dance form Ningyo-buri, which she studied last summer in Japan. When she is not flying across the stage, she is carried and positioned by "master puppeteers." "It's very 18th century backstage," said Mr. Besserer, a Martha Clarke alumnus who did his own choreography, referring to all the people manipulating ropes and pulleys.
Equally challenging is the onstage manipulation of the fabric. While the aerial choreography is quite an eyeful, Mr. Twist's artful fabric puppetry gives "Red Beads" much of its visual magic - like "Symphonie Fantastique" but in the air and on a much, much larger scale.
"Working in air is totally different. It took us a while to find just the right kind of fabric - silk - and the right kind of fans to use," said Mr. Twist. "We ended up using very lightweight ones that could be angled like you would a flashlight at any point you want." In addition, Mr. Twist has incorporated large objects - stairs, a bed - that are placed under the fabric so that "they sort of melt and morph and everything remains fluid."
Up on the stage, Ms. Galilee continues her flight as Mr. Breuer directs this family parable. "It's critically important that I worked with the mother of my child and my child," he said. "I couldn't have done the piece the same way with other people where I did not have these references." Ms. Maleczech agreed. "There is a ground base of trust," she added. "It's in the air and it's going somewhere and you can trust where it's going." Not unlike "Red Beads."
By Nina Metz
Special to the Tribune
Published September 9, 2005
WITH ITS SELF-SERIOUSNESS and new-age spectacle--plus a conspicuous lack of animals--Montreal's Cirque du Soleil has revolutionized the very concept of a circus show. Here in Chicago, in the years since the Cirque phenomenon hit critical mass, Lookingglass Theatre has been the primary troupe to incorporate circus tricks--including high-wire and aerial work--into its productions.
But nothing thus far compares in scope to the ensemble's newest work.
This month, Lookingglass takes on circus whole-hog with "Hephaestus: A Greek Mythology Circus Tale," which is in previews this weekend. The play illustrates the life of Hephaestus, a lesser-known god who was born weak and crippled. Disowned by Hera, his mother, he is tossed out of the heavens and tumbles down to the ocean, where he is adopted by a group of sea nymphs. He becomes a metal crafts-man, forging beautiful pieces of jewelry for the nymphs.
A 9-year-old narrator guides the audience through the story, which is illustrated through circus acts. The sea nymphs, for example, dangle and elegantly twist their bodies around yards of nylon fabric suspended from the ceiling, an apparatus known as the silks (and for this production tie-dyed in greens and blues to resemble kelp and seaweed).
Their act includes the pulse-quickening trick known as the "monster drop," in which their bodies hurl to the floor in an explosion of unraveling fabric.
Though many aspects of the show have much in common with the artistry of Cirque du Soleil, there is at least one element of "Hephaestus" that co-creator Tony Hernandez hopes will be different. Cirque shows, he says, are ostensibly built around a storyline, but "I always leave scratching my head and a little frustrated."
He's not alone. Of all the things Cirque does well, a well-executed narrative is not one of them.
In "Hephaestus," however, storytelling is just as important as dazzling. Hernandez calls it a melding of circus and theater. "It's not Ringling Bros., it's not the Goodman--it's a cross."
He knows of what he speaks, having spent five years touring with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus during the 1990s, starring in his family's teeterboard act.
And while the Cirque empire has some detractors, Hernandez is quick to point out that it has reinvigorated what was fast becoming a dying art form. "A lot of us have a career because of Cirque, either directly or indirectly."
In fact, he says, "a lot of circus people are doing production for Cirque. They've all moved to Vegas. They're calling it the new Sarasota"--the Ringling Bros. winter headquarters in Florida. "They're doing the technical work, the rigging."
"There are very few actual circus people in Cirque," he says with a rueful look. "They're mostly dancers or gymnasts that they train in a specific skill."
Raised in the circus, Hernandez says his parents first brought him on stage when he was just a few months old. "We have pictures of it, actually." By the age of 2, he was pummeling off the teeterboard, a full-fledged member of the act. When he was 6 years old, he was interviewed by TV's "Captain Kangaroo" for a segment that focused on circus performers.
Suffice it to say, Hernandez, a compact, graceful athlete who portrays the show's title character, has major circus cred.
So does nearly everyone he recruited. They are among the world's top circus performers, including Olga Pikhienko, the lithesome Russian contortionist who starred in Cirque's "Verekai," seen in Chicago two years ago.
In "Hephaestus," she will portray Aphrodite.
"What better than for the goddess of love to be a contortionist," Hernandez says. A naughty grin spreads across his face.
The circus community, it seems, is a small one. Lijana Wallenda-Hernandez, wife of Tony, is a 7th-generation member of the Wallenda family, also known as the Flying Wallendas, famous for their high-wire pyramids. She will play Hera, the mother who abandons Hephaestus, as well as a sea nymph.
The lineup also includes yet more Wallendas--Nikolas and Erendira--in addition to Lauren Hirte (the title character in "Lookingglass Alice"), Rick Kubes (Redmoon Theatre), Almas Meirmanov (a Ringling Bros. veteran known for his hand-balancing act), Brent Roman (a Cirque alum), Dallas Zoppe (whose act involves several hula hoops) and local actor Rani Waterman.
"Most people in the show are family or really good friends," Hernandez says. It is because these performers are in such demand that the Lookingglass run is so short, wrapping up on Sept 25. Because most in the cast have been on the road performing, they have just two days of rehearsal before Sunday's opening.
Comparisons with Cirque and its intimate tent setting are inevitable, but the Lookingglass space is even smaller.
"People are going to be so close," says Heidi Stillman, who is co-creator and co-director with Hernandez. "The high-wire goes right over the audience." She turns to her collaborator. "It's going to be very intense when you walk over the heads of the audience. They'll be able to hear you breathing."
"A lot of the circus people are going to be blown away by how tight it is in here," he responds. "We're used to performing in places like Madison Square Garden. But in those places, you can't see anyone's face [in the crowd]. It's misery working in a three-ring circus and you don't know if anyone's watching."
It's safe to assume all eyes will be glued for the grand finale, a Wallenda high-wire pyramid.
"It's a huge trick and it's very dangerous," says Hernandez, who is also performing in the stunt. "My wife will be on the very top, sitting in a chair and then standing."
Hernandez is matter-of-fact about his fears. "I feel safer doing stuff like this than I do in a car." Stillman has a thought on why that is. "It's because you're in control when you're doing each trick." Hernandez nods. "It's scarier for me to think of sitting in an office all day."
Don't be fooled, this is serious business.
"Growing up in the circus, you have to learn to do everything yourself," Hernandez explains. "It's very old-fashionedy. You don't hire out people to make your costumes or build your rigs. You do all of that yourself."
The rigging, in particular, is a major concern.
"My wife will only let me or her father do her rigging," he says. A number of Wallendas have perished over the years because of rigging mistakes. Perhaps most famously, her grandfather, Karl Wallenda, died at the age of 72 while attempting to cross a high-wire spanning the air between two hotels in Puerto Rico.
And while Hernandez and Stillman want audiences to be wowed, they've added an emotional context, as well, something you don't often get when the circus decamps in large arenas like the United Center.
Or as Hernandez puts it, "This is going to be straight-up entertainment."
`Hephaestus: A Greek Mythology Circus Tale'
When: Through Sept. 25
Where: Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave. inside the Water Tower Water Works
Price: $20-$58; 312-337-0665
Lookingglass has set aside a block of $10 tickets for kids 16 and under to select "Hephaestus" performances. Discounted tickets will be offered: 6:30 p.m. Thursday; 3 p.m. Sept. 17; 6:30 p.m. Sept. 22; 3 p.m. Sept. 24; and 3 p.m. Sept. 25. Thursday and Sunday performances are followed by free post-show discussions where kids can meet performers.
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Musicians, restaurateurs bemoan loss of show
trust to resume talks
Stagehands union, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust resume talks
Stagehands union, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust resume talks
No razzle dazzle at the Benedum this week
Stage union to vote on contract with symphony
Friday, September 16, 2005
By MICHAEL RIEDEL
IT was the corporate giant that theater people feared would gobble up Broadway.
Clear Channel Communications, the global broadcasting and music company, became a powerful presence in the theater industry just five ago years after it snapped up SFX, an entertainment company that produced Broadway musicals and owned theaters around the country, including the Ford Center (now the Hilton Theatre) on 42nd Street.
Clear Channel expanded the SFX empire, opening theaters in Europe and America and pouring money into nearly every Broadway show of the last five years.
Independent producers chafed under Clear Channel's rule, complaining that the company, with its near total control of the lucrative road business, pretty much dictated the terms by which Broadway shows toured the country.
"They were bullies," one producer says.
"Thugs, actually," says a theater executive.
All that is changing.
After a rough couple of years, Clear Channel, whose stock price has sunk from a high of nearly $100 five years ago to around $30 today, is preparing to spin off its live entertainment unit, which includes its theater empire.
One of the chief architects of that empire - a shrewd, tough, colorful visionary named Miles Wilkin - has been pushed out of the company.
In the 1980s, Wilkin helped transform a small Texas company called Pace, which specialized in tractor pulls, into what eventually became Clear Channel's global theater empire.
In a twist worthy of "All About Eve," Wilkin has been replaced by an underling he brought into the company and groomed - Michael Rapino.
Somewhat snobbishly, theater people note that Rapino comes from the world of rock concerts (which will be a big part of the Clear Channel spinoff company), not Broadway.
"I don't think he's very interested in what we do," says a theater producer.
Last week, Clear Channel laid off several people in its theater division.
More layoffs are expected.
Producers are buzzing about what all this means for Broadway.
The general view is that while the spinoff company (as yet unamed) will still have plenty of clout in the touring business (it still controls all those theaters), its presence and influence on Broadway will be greatly diminished.
"They were poised to really run things here," says an industry executive. "That never happened, and it's not going to now."
Clear Channel is being tight-lipped about the changes; executives in the theater division were not available for comment.
But theater sources say the spinoff company is going to cut back drastically on the amount of money it invests in Broadway shows.
In part, that's because the return on that investment hasn't been very impressive of late.
Clear Channel took big positions in a slew of money-losers, including "All Shook Up," "Dracula" and "Lennon" (which will close Sept. 24) as well as revivals of "La Cage aux Folles," "Wonderful Town" and "Sweet Charity."
It invested in hits, too. But its stake in shows like "Hairspray" and "Spamalot" hasn't been big enough to offset its losses elsewhere, theater people say.
One bright spot was Billy Crystal's "700 Sundays," which Clear Channel co-produced with the comedian.
The company made a tidy sum on that one, although a one-person show is not nearly as lucrative as a smash Broadway musical that spawns productions around the world.
Theater people think the Clear Channel spinoff company will produce more family-friendly extravaganzas like "Barbie" and "Dora the Explorer," which gross millions of dollars in giant arenas around the country, rather than Broadway musicals.
And there is a lot of speculation that the Clear Channel spinoff company may eventually unload its theater empire altogether.
"If the price is right, I bet those go on the block one day," says a New York theater owner.
But other observors think that after a period of retrenchment, the spinoff company may be able to claw its way back to a position of influence on Broadway.
It's developing a one-man show with Martin Short as well as musicals based on Bob Marley songs and the movies "Get Shorty" and "A Fish Called Wanda."
As one veteran Broadway producer notes, "All you need is a hit, and you're back in the game."
Copyright 2005 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
By ROBERT HOFLER
On HBO's "Entourage," pizza-boy-turned-manager Eric (Kevin Connolly) was asked the existential question: "What's the difference between agents and managers?" He finally answered, "The manager is the one who cares."
Whew! That settles it once and for all. And the theater world now is being swamped with those who care.
The manager biz exploded in Hollywood in the 1980s. In Gotham, however, only stage stars had managers. But with more competition for roles and less money, managers have become a hot commodity in the legit world, especially in the last few years.
"When I started as a manager in 1993, there were just a few people doing it," says Myrna Jacoby, formerly an agent with William Morris. "Now it seems like just about everybody is a manager. I've never seen so many people from different professional (backgrounds) doing it."
The equation is simple: There are more managers because there are fewer agencies.
"I started in 1972, and there has been a huge dropoff in agencies," says Johnnie Planco, a former William Morris agent who's now a manager.
"This is the fewest number of agencies I've ever seen. Agents used to handle 25 to 30 clients; it is more like 40 today," Planco says. Other agents and managers put the number much higher.
The nature of the remaining tenpercenteries also has changed. "The agencies have become so much more corporate," says one agent-turned-manager. "It's not about the actor anymore. It's about handling sports teams and poaching clients from other agencies."
"It has been a funny evolution. What used to be a good agent is now a manager," says Planco. "Today, the agents try to get offers, and it is the managers who guide the career."
Needless to say, the agent-manager shift has affected both sides of the representation biz. "There are a lot more managers, and they're coming from agency ranks, so in some ways there is the agency psychology in management," says Heather Reynolds of One Entertainment. "Often it's, 'What's the deal?' -- as opposed to trying to create and implement a career plan for the client."
Curiously, one of a Gotham manager's major duties involves forcing a legit actor to go Hollywood. "If an actor gets comfortable in the (theater) arena, he will isolate himself and end up with a career that is nonexistent," Jacoby says. "He will be replaced by someone who has those film and TV credits."
Even nonprofit companies that perform in 200-seat theaters go for actors with a movie or TV pedigree. Prime example: Last season, little MCC cast Neil LaBute's "Fat Pig" with Jeremy Piven, Andrew McCarthy and Keri Russell.
Ironically, as the likes of Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington have begun to look for a little legit cache, the kind of secondary TV and film roles that used to supplement a legit actor's salary have diminished. Surprisingly, most managers claim the midrange salaries for actors on Broadway have held steady.
And on Broadway, much like Hollywood, the big fees go to stars who can fill seats.
Agent v. manager
Once upon a time, many agents wouldn't work with managers. When a client would ask, "Do you think I need a manager?" it usually meant the actor was unhappy. "If you said yes, you'd be admitting incompetence," says one agent-turned-manager.
And some agents still don't like managers. As one explains it, "If you have a longstanding relationship with a client, and a manager comes along, it is in that manager's interest to find the actor a new agent so that the manager has the longest, closest relationship with that client."
In today's more competitive market, however, the manager increasingly pre-dates the agent. "Actors used to sign with agents first and at some point hire a manager," says Elin Flack, who recently went from running the Duva-Flack Agency to being a personal manager. "Now, in many cases, the manager signs the actor first, right out of school, or during their first job, and introduces the actor to a selection of agents."
It's a sea-change in how careers develop. "In the early 1990s, you had a manager if you were a big star," says Anne Byrne of Vanguard Management. "Today, it is more understandable why relatively inexperienced actors would look for a manager: We can help you get an agent, which takes you that extra mile to getting an audition."
David Williams recently made the switch from agenting to managing. After eight years at ICM and 15 at Don Buchwald, "I thought I'd take a sabbatical and recharge, but former clients had other plans in mind." Longtime clients like Marian Seldes asked for continued representation, even though Williams now lives in Nevada.
"There's the obvious luxury of working with a much smaller list and thus having much more time to devote to clients you personally think are wonderful, without having to spend countless hours working on situations/clients for whom you may not have quite the same degree of enthusiasm," says Williams.
"Agents and attorneys do the nuts-and-bolts work of soliciting employment and negotiating, which leaves me more time to concentrate on developing projects for clients," he adds.
One Broadway producer dismisses the manager biz. "I can see it in film, where an actor goes from one big project to the next in the matter of months," he says. "But in the theater, it's different. Once the actor settles into a long run, it is all small details, the day-to-day activity of doing eight shows a week."
But according to Williams, somebody has to do the detail work. "Because of their hectic schedule, agents may not have the time or interest in resolving issues of costumes, hair, makeup, noisy dressing room neighbors, which can often be more easily resolved by a manager."
After 10 years as an agent, Frank Frattaroli started Widescreen Management in 2001. "I have never known the marketplace to be more competitive, even for mediocre material," he says. Which is precisely why managers tell actors they need the competitive edge of a manager.
On this season's final episode of "Entourage," uber-agent Ari is seen starting his own agency from the humble digs of a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. If it were Gotham, he'd be at Angus McIndoe, toasting his new career as a manager.
C 2005 Reed Business Information
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
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