A few questions circulating around the steamy theater streets:
WRITERS? WHAT WRITERS?
The Tony Awards wrapped nearly a month ago, but it would be a mistake to be lulled by the quiet. Jaws clenching and teeth grinding don't make much noise.
Most theater-watchers have probably stopped gossiping about the atypically mediocre CBS telecast that celebrated an unusually exciting season on Broadway. At least one group has not forgiven or forgotten, however, and that happens to include artists without whom these plays and musicals would not exist.
We are talking -- and theater people are still talking -- about the marginalization of the writers, the composers and the lyricists whose categories, along with designer and choreographer slots, were not considered sexy enough to warrant a prime-time place on the three-hour national broadcast.
On June 9, two days after the Tony show, Doug Wright, president of the Dramatists Guild of America, sent a strong letter to Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS. Wright, Pulitzer- and Tony-winning author of "I Am My Own Wife," said the writers' guild is "increasingly dismayed that the awards in the major writing categories have been presented off-camera." He contrasted this shabby treatment with the massive musical and literary heritage of Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, the Gershwins and Stephen Sondheim.
"Exciting new writers are joining their ranks every season on Broadway, but by failing to grant them visibility, CBS is regrettably erasing them from the historical record," Wright said. The omission has been especially conspicuous this year, when the exclusions included "Fun Home" composer Jeanine Tesori and writer Lisa Kron, who, in Wright's words, "made history when they became the first all-female writing team to take home awards" for best score, best book and best musical.
So what, if anything, has happened since CBS got the letter? In a recent interview, Ralph Sevush, the guild's executive director of business affairs, said, "We have gotten a lot of reaction from other writers and organizations" who are "incensed" about artists "having to sit at the children's table . . . The theater audience is an audience that should not be talked down to."
But there has been no response from CBS. When I emailed Moonves' office, a representative declined to comment. Asked for a comment, Tesori and Kron said that others have already said it better than they ever could.
Balancing art and commerce at the Tony show has always been a perilous act. We appreciate that many theater people are unrecognizable to the rest of America and that the telecast is a mass entertainment. From 1997 through 2002, PBS produced a wonderful preshow hour that covered the first 10, least obviously glitz-worthy categories. But that hour was not even run by a number of PBS stations around the country, which negated the purpose.
In 2003, Moonves and CBS decided to extend their Tony telecast from two to three hours, stopping the PBS show. And, though theater people have always been upset to have important awards relegated to commercial breaks, the exceptional quality of the programs -- at least until this one -- almost justified some of the omissions.
CAN YOU WIN AT LOSING?
As someone unfashionably resistant to our inescapable winning and losing mentality, I am full of admiration for the latest ad for "Something Rotten!" The Tony-nominated musical, which I didn't love as much as I wished I could, has had a terrific marketing campaign all spring. The latest celebrates the show's loser status, listing many of the little shows that also didn't win Tonys, including "West Side Story," "Gypsy," "Wicked" and my personal heartbreak, "Sunday in the Park with George" -- and adding "We're in great company!"
Coincidentally, the voting deadline is midnight July 5 for something called the Broadway Marketing Awards. Dreamed up by producer-blogger Ken Davenport, the semi-serious contest will announce the winners July 7. This season's competition, no kidding, is fierce.
HEY, MISTER, WANNA BUY A THEATER REVIEW?
Here's an idea that may not be as pathetic as it sounds. As professional arts coverage shrinks in New York and the rest of the country, an enterprising West Coast website has leaped into the abyss with a plan that's being closely watched around here.
BitterLemons, whose slogan is the lovable "Bringing Los Angeles theater together whether it likes it or not," believes it has a game-changer. For $150, a theater group or actor or playwright or director can buy what Colin Mitchell, editor in chief, describes as a "top quality theater review" of at least 300 words. The plan is called, with theatrical but not altogether overstated urgency, the Bitter Lemons Imperative.
The critic gets $125, the other $25 to BitterLemons for oversight and administration. Mitchell promises a "trusted, highly experienced, highly credited, well established theater critic," which means he has assigned himself the daunting task of evaluating contenders.
Is this a solution or just another problem? Can such a critic-for-hire maintain his/her independence, even if a negative -- or even scathing -- review could result in a loss of business for the website? How carefully and honestly can writers and editors be scrutinized for real or felt conflicts-of-interest?
Yet I am strangely touched that, if BitterLemons is to be believed, theater communities know they need serious theater journalism -- and will even be willing to pay a little (a very little) to be part of the critical conversation.