British culture has become ridiculously hypersensitive, says Mark Lawson, and the UK’s theatre scene is becoming rapidly less relevant as self-censorship and a desire to please everyone become the norm. The religious-based campaign against the national tour of the Jerry Springer opera is only the latest example of the war being waged against creative expression. Worse, “while attempted censorship in the 1970s made artists more determined to speak out, there’s a risk in this mind-your-language climate of subjects becoming no-go areas for the arts.”
The Arts & Crafts movement began as a flat-out rebellion against an increasingly commercial world, and grew into one of the 20th century’s most successful arts philosophies. But even as the movement became an international phenomenon, it didn’t always work out the way its founders intended. “The sheer goodness of the movement, bound as it is to folk art and the quest for national authenticity, made it vulnerable to nationalistic exploitation.”
“Although there are some very good things being made, the craft world at the moment is set up to preserve something that can’t look after itself… Craft has lost its way and become precious; self-consciousness is one of its great cankers. Sometimes there are peevish voices in the craft world demanding respect from the contemporary art world. It is a bit like an Englishman in France shouting in English. If you want to be accepted in the contemporary art world, you have to accept its culture and speak its language.”
Buffalo’s arts scene took a big hit last week when the state legislature scrapped $1 million in county-based arts funding. The city’s largest arts groups will still get their money, but 42 smaller organizations are scrambling to find alternate funds, having already absorbed several rounds of cuts. “The county rollback will disproportionately affect grass-roots organizations whose educational programs serve primarily urban families… By halving the $5.5 million originally budgeted for the arts and radically altering distribution of the remaining $2.7 million, lawmakers called into question the future of the volunteer Erie County Cultural Resources Advisory Board, which was formed 20 years ago to correct inequities in cultural aid.”
Even by today’s low standards, the Milwaukee Symphony is struggling mightily at the box office and on the ledger sheet. A new management team has garnered early praise, but the coming season will represent a watershed moment for the orchestra, as it attempts to recoup recent sales losses and reconnect with the city. The desperation for a quick turnaround has led the MSO to program a season made up almost entirely of guaranteed classical hits like Beethoven’s 9th and “Carmina Burana,” to introduce “subtle theatrical elements” to the concert experience, and even to experiment with a video component. On top of all that, the orchestra is cutting ticket prices on a wide variety of concerts.
George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess is arguably the greatest American opera ever composed. But despite its popularity, the opera is rarely staged, either in the US or in Europe. The sticking point is the Gershwin estate’s insistence that all the roles in any production of the work must be filled by black singers. “At a time of widespread discrimination, the socially conscious Gershwins had no intention of undermining Porgy’s credibility by parading before their audience a white cast crudely disguised in blackface. Admirable as their attitude may have been, it has necessarily slowed down the entry of Porgy and Bess into the standard repertory. Though the situation is changing for the better, most opera companies still have limited access to black singers. Producing Porgy effectively means hiring a second company.”
Ever since the FCC “decency” crackdown began, US television networks have been slamming disclaimers on any program containing even mildly profane content or innuendo. Even PBS’s award-winning documentary series, “Frontline,” has run with disclaimers about language and content. What’s the point? Well, obviously, the disclaimers give the networks a bit of plausible deniability if the FCC comes calling, but more importantly, studies have consistently shown that viewers want racy, controversial programming, and the disclaimer might even cause a few pairs of eyes to stay tuned.
Lost in all the hype and glitz surrounding Hollywood is a sub-genre of the film industry that never seems to get any respect, and worse, never seems to get an opportunity to be seen by any but the smallest slice of the general public. “Short films can be found in such high-quality, low-glamour places as human rights and children’s film festivals. They also have brief, sometimes one-night-only runs in alternative movie theaters, libraries, museums and foreign cultural centers… It’s as if short-story collections were sold only at book fairs and independent bookstores on special occasions.”
“Patience Agbabi, a bisexual, radical-feminist performance artist with cropped hair and tattoos, has been called ‘the PVC poet’ by the British media because of the lesbian, sadomasochistic and drug themes featured in her poetry. (PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is used to make the shiny black material that is commonly worn by dominatrixes.) Ms. Agbabi earned this label during her recent, unusual assignment: writer in residence at Eton College, one of the oldest boarding schools in Britain, and almost certainly its grandest.”
Moscow’s historic Bolshoi Theater is set to close this summer for a major renovation which should have started years ago. “The Bolshoi, which comprises both an opera company and a ballet company, will be leaving its historic home for the first time in 150 years. Turmoil at the theater, political infighting and haggling over architectural plans and costs have delayed the project for years.”