And that would surely be right. With #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and other epochal shifts rocking American life, theater has finally begun to speak openly about its fundamental and enduring inequalities. Sometimes the talk is only lip service, of course, as toothless claims on company websites attest. But more than ever, practitioners and critics are asking tough questions about how we make actors, how we make plays, how we make seasons, how we make money – in short, how we make theater.
It was time. For too long the industry has accepted all sorts of irregularities and injustices as the supposedly inevitable cost of greatness. He tolerated working conditions and wages that, in some cases, come close to Dickensian. In the interest of profit or what we glorify as the demands of art, he laughed as bullies like producer Scott Rudin terrorized their underlings, and winked at the sexual misdeeds of men like Harvey Weinstein. In the process, theater – like most other art forms but perhaps more intensely – has found a clever way of keeping its doors wide closed to those who, for reasons of race, class or connection, are not already part of the club.
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It was only recently that anyone was called to account, as a trickle of public allegations and murky repercussions sidelined playwright and art director Israel Horovitz, director Gordon Edelstein, casting director Justin Huff, actor Kevin Spacey and costume designer William Ivey Long. . In fact, Long, who has denied accusations of sexual abuse by at least two former aides, isn’t so sidelined; although he “parted ways” with the production of “Diana, the Musical” in 2020, his work on that show was nonetheless nominated for a Tony Award at the Achievement Honoring Ceremony at the theater on Sunday, June 12.
But perhaps in the wake of the Covid-19 existential crisis, when practices entrenched for decades suddenly came to a halt, we are finally approaching an inflection point. What’s on the other side of that inflection is worth pondering, including the potential benefits — and costs — of a fairer theatrical future that many are working hard to create. It is a future in which transparency and pay equity, humane treatment of workers, respectful training for all types of students, diversity in employment as well as in products are crucial elements of the image.
And in which the sacred monsters are not.
Still, if we’re approaching a Great Man Götterdämmerung – if these monsters, some of whom are superb at what they do, finally start to face the music – we’d better watch the melody carefully. What do we lose by banishing them? What do we lose if we don’t?
AS IT HAPPENS, the history of musicals is a good place to look for answers. Just as musical theater incorporates and exaggerates all the qualities (and problems) of non-musical theatre, so do the men we reflexively call the greats of Broadway music – the creators, directors and choreographers. behind classics like “Oklahoma!”, “Gypsy, “Chicago” and others – incorporated and exaggerated traits of Strasberg and his ilk.