August Wilson Biography Causing Some Buzz

The Atlantic recently ran a piece by Imani Perry reviewing a biography of playwright August Wilson by Patti Hartigan. The book has been getting a lot of notice over the last few weeks. This is one of many reviews.

To some extent Wilson’s story is not unexpected or surprising. A child voracious for knowledge who is poorly served by the education system. A playwright who struggles to get his work seen because audiences aren’t interested in the stories he wants to tell. When he does become successful, he feels the conflict between staying true versus selling out and is criticized for making white audiences feel uncomfortable, but not pushing so far as to cause them not to see his plays.

It was interesting to read that Wilson and his collaborators may have among the first to pioneer using regional theaters to develop works before moving them to Broadway.

Not least, Richards took on the challenge of attracting a producer. “Serious plays concerning minorities … are not considered a good risk,” he observed,…Together, Richards and Wilson came up with an unusual strategy, and in the process helped inaugurate a new and closer relationship between commercial and nonprofit theater in America. Work was first staged in regional theaters, which were free of Broadway’s commercial pressures and able to take chances, and Wilson got the kind of “long development process” he knew he needed, revising tirelessly in rehearsals and in reaction to performances.

His 1987 play, Fences, was the one he liked the least and felt he had compromised on to please audiences and critics. It was Robert Brustein who was among those who criticized Wislon most strongly and suggested Wilson was being too polite with audiences.

“Brustein implied that Wilson’s work in general was calibrated to elicit white guilt without jeopardizing white acceptance. Any Black artist who has acquired a modicum of mainstream acclaim while sustaining a sincere interest in Black life knows this kind of criticism intimately. Wilson’s experience is an aching reminder that no amount of professional stature insulates one from it. In fact, quite the contrary.”

Fewer Non-Profits Engaging In Lobbying Advocacy Than 20 Years Ago

According to a story on the Associated Press, fewer non-profits are engaging in lobbying efforts than 20 years ago. The Independent Sector had commissioned a study that found less than 1/3 of organizations engaged in lobbying over the last five years versus nearly 3/4  of organizations in 2000. Given that there was a lot of advocacy for Covid funding, these results make me wonder if more people weren’t engaged in lobbying in the last five years and didn’t consider what they were doing to be lobbying or if fewer entities did a lot of the heavy lifting versus twenty years ago.

The survey results do seem to indicate organizations are unaware of lobbying rules or uncomfortable with engaging in lobbying and lack the resources to participate.

And even though nonprofits work on a range of issues that are affected by policy choices, such as funding for the arts and science and policies on hot-button issues like abortion and gun control, less than one-third of nonprofits said they were well-versed in how to legally conduct advocacy campaigns and how much lobbying they were permitted to do. Twenty years ago more than half knew the rules, the survey found.


Holding nonprofits back, Watkins said, was a lack of money to hire full-time staff with policy expertise and fear that taking part in debates on policy matters or providing voters with nonpartisan voting guides would put their nonprofit status in jeopardy.

Independent Sector plans to conduct studies to dig deeper into the reasons for the decline, but experts said many nonprofits don’t have the money to engage in policy debates. And some organizations may fear taking public stances on issues, given the heated political environment.

Sticking their necks out could make them targets of political opponents, they said.


A number of survey responses seemed to indicate people were concerned about running afoul IRS rules that prohibit investing a substantial amount of time and resources into lobbying. Substantial is apparently a much higher bar than people realize, though obviously the term leaves a considerable amount of gray area open to interpretation.

While Gorovitz allowed that the IRS regulations on nonprofit advocacy can be confusing, the guidance provided by the agency, he said, is often misunderstood.

“It does not mean ‘don’t lobby,’” he said. “It means lobby. It’s an express invitation in the tax code that says you can lobby.”

Broadway Books Babysitters To Bolster Attendance

Ken Davenport recently posted that the Broadway Production of Here Lies Love was working on lowering barriers to attendance by offering babysitting during four upcoming performances.

“Here Lies Love” has teamed up with the Parent Artist Advocacy League (PAAL), Broadway Babysitters and Open Jar Studios to offer free childcare services at the Sept. 23 matinée as well as three additional dates to be announced. Any ticket holder for the Sept. 23 performance is eligible to sign up for the complimentary benefit.


“After years of partnering with Off-Broadway and regional theaters to offer caregiver support, the historical significance of ‘Here Lies Love’ being the first Broadway show to offer ethical, accessible childcare to their caregiver theater patrons is not only incredibly exciting, but long awaited by our team,” said a representative of Broadway Babysitters in a statement.

As you may have noted in the quote above, other venues had been partnering with Broadway Babysitters, which is based in and around NYC and Chicago, to provide childcare in conjunction with performances. The PAAL website notes the off-Broadway show, “Mary Gets Hers” will be offering babysitting for the September 30 performance.

This reminded me of a post I did in 2009 on a company called Sitters Studio which employed performing and visual artists to provide childcare in a manner similar to Broadway Babysitters. I received a database error when trying to visit their website so I am not sure if they are still in business or suffering technical difficulties.

Will Dwindling Supply Of Trained Piano Tuners Also Threaten Arts Orgs

Caught a timely article from The Guardian about the dwindling number of piano tuners in Australia. I am fairly certain arts and cultural organizations in other countries are having a similar experience when trying to schedule piano tuners. Personally, I have been in a situation where we had a choice of two-three tuners which dwindled to one that lives a two hour drive away and covers a large geographic area.

I am not sure what the situation is in the US and other countries, but people interviewed for the article note that there aren’t a lot of training programs in the country and a lack of effort to make people aware that training opportunities exist. It isn’t a profession that is entered lightly.

“People think, ‘I’ll learn to tune a piano, I’ll do it in a year and that’s it’, but no, it takes 10 years to learn how to tune a piano, and 20 years to master it,” Kinney says.

The training takes even longer for piano technicians who do broader work on repairing and refurbishing pianos. Tuning can only do so much before the instrument needs a major overhaul.

By “good tuners”, Kinney means piano technicians. These are people who have undergone a year of training as piano tuners before developing their skills at international piano factories or with mentors, learning action regulation, voicing, diagnosis and complex problem solving.


When Scott Davie, an Australian concert pianist, has toured through Australia, he’s played regional shows where the pianos had been tuned but not properly maintained. When this is the case, he must work hard to alter the way he plays to finish the show.

“I’d be remembering which notes are going out of tune and which notes are really badly out of tune, and leaving them out of chords or trying to play them so softly that you couldn’t hear them,” he says. “But it gets to a point where it sounds horrible, if a piano is really starting to break down.”

This article made me think–we are hearing about all the arts organizations that are closing or having a difficult time, but there are other elements of the infrastructure that are probably being overlooked that may cause on going issues as well.