Theater cuts in Britain, and Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey and Haydn Gwynne in "Richard III" Kevin Spacey and Haydn Gwynne in "Richard III" at BAM in Brooklyn. Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

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Linda Winer Newsday theater critic and arts columnist Linda Winer.

Winer is chief theater critic and arts columnist for Newsday, which she joined in 1987. ...

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Off-Broadway's insanely productive March will soon crash into the annual April madness on Broadway, which ends with the cutoff for Tony eligibility on the 28th.

So it feels like a relief, almost, to take a break from the local turmoil, step back and take a longer look at the tensions grinding away at other places -- especially the ones that bring us such quality theater from London.

 

British national arts cuts

Yes, England still clings to the ideal of subsidized theater and a meaningful Arts Council, which goes a long way toward explaining the astonishing productivity, gutsy adventure and stylish acting that has enriched so many of our seasons here.

At least that used to be true. American artists stopped expecting even a gesture from government long ago, and that is unlikely to change any time soon.

But English artists have been in understandable shock since 2010, when a historic 30 percent cut to the Arts Council budget was passed.

And now, the effects are becoming tangible. A new theater report has just been released. It was instigated after the culture minister told a Writers' Guild event in London in December that new plays and playwrighting were "thriving," then challenged the theaters to gather evidence to the contrary.

The result is a survey named In Battalions, referring to Hamlet's line, "When sorrows come, they come not single spies/But in battalions." Don't you just love the Brits?

The research from 26 English theaters call the effects "shriveling." Two-thirds of them have canceled productions, half are producing fewer new plays and, when they do make commissions, they insist on plays with small casts. Compare this to such epic National Theatre wonders as "War Horse," which was developed from scratch in that theater in far more supportive times. Nicholas Hytner, the National's artistic director, says in the report that he worries most that the cuts mean "fewer risks, inadequate development of new work, a substantially less interesting theatrical environment. ..."

If all this alarm seems very far away and more than mildly sky-is-falling, please notice that, except for the commercial hit musical "Matilda," Broadway will not have had a single London import all season. One Web headline, half-joking, recently brought the troubles closer to home: Without the long, impeccable training and nurturing of English actors, "Who will star in Hollywood movies now?"

 

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Kevin Spacey is ours ... wasn't he?

Although most people probably think Spacey lives overlooking the Pacific, the actor took over as artistic director of the legendary but threatened Old Vic Theatre across the pond in 2003. He is a patron of the Shakespeare Schools Festival, which gives kids in the United Kingdom the chance to perform Shakespeare. When he starred as a galvanic Richard III at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last year as part of the British-American Bridge Project, it was a toss-up whether he was representing their country or ours.

Whatever flag he flies these days, he did something intriguing on Twitter last month. On Feb. 16 -- just a day before he posted a scintillating inquiry into "how is everyone spending their Sunday?" -- he asked this more useful question:

"What book or movie do you guys think should be made into a stage production?"

Now I am not suggesting that creative artistic directors should program their seasons by asking people in line at Target. And, though I wouldn't go as far as a writer in London's The Independent newspaper who called this "an inspired use for Twitter," it is an interesting party game.

At this writing, he had 124 retweets and 90 favorites. Someone suggested "Working Girl." Another wants "Under the Volcano." I rather like "Kevin Spacey: the Musical."

I find it depressing that the suggestions are so dull.

Hey, here's an idea -- how about an international arts festival in New York?

Yes, another one. Just in case New York had a week or two in the entire year when there wasn't an unofficial or official arts festival, here comes the new Cherry Orchard Festival to celebrate May 30-June 9.

The mission and backing are a bit vague. The festival is an outgrowth of Maestro Artist Management, an American company that represents international artists in the United States. Maria Shclover, president, was born and raised in Moscow. Although she has special connections with Russian artists, Shclover tells Newsday that their broader intention is to "make international arts more accessible."

But the inaugural year begins with a splash -- John Malkovich as the aging Casanova in the U.S. premiere of "The Giacomo Variations." The play, fresh from its opening in Austria, runs May 30 through June 2 at New York City Center. The script is based partly on Casanova's 1790 memoir and partly on scenes from Mozart operas, and it includes an orchestra of 45 from Vienna.

The Gesher Theater from Israel presents the U.S. premiere of "Enemies, a Love Story" June 6-9 at Lincoln Center's Rose Hall, and Russian pianist Olga Kern gives a recital at Alice Tully Hall.

By then, the New York Shakespeare Festival should be starting, followed by the Lincoln Center Festival and the Fringe Festival and, what do you know, we're back into the Broadway fall season.

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