Discussing Controversy

I found an article from the Rocky Mountain News noting that a local PBS station had chosen to air the controversial “Sugartime” episode of Postcards from Buster.

In case you have missed the hordes of articles and news stories on the subject, Buster is a cartoon rabbit who travels the country sending back reports as it were on different activities around the country. The episode in question depicted maple sugar making on Vermont farms headed by lesbians. Though there is apparently no mention or appearance of any sort of romantic relationship between the women, the Secretary of Education applied pressure to PBS to yank the episode. A number of stations have chosen to show it anyway.

What made this article so interesting to me was that one station on Channel 6 chose to show the episode at 11:30 at night so parents could judge whether to allow their children to see it. (There was an implication that it would air again at some point) However, PBS channel 12 (KBDI) which is apparently the other Denver PBS station chose to air it at 7 pm and follow it with a 90 call in panel discussion show.

Thinking that perhaps there was a lesson here for arts organizations to perhaps use controversy to move regularly scheduled talk back/Q&A sessions away from mundane questions like “how do you remember all your lines” to more gripping discussions, I visited KBDI’s website to see how the Feb. 9 experiment turned out. I figured being a PBS audience there might not be the explosive confrontations one would find on Jerry Springer and some good discussion might emerge.

There wasn’t any video footage to be viewed, but they did have a comments board. Most of the comments fall between Feb 9-11 (just so those of you visiting in a few months can get a sense of how far you may have to scroll down.)

The biggest lesson that one might derive from the feedback is that when hosting an opportunity for discussion about a controversial event so that you can convince people you don’t champion the causes of a perceived liberal elite — you should actually include people on the panel that represent both sides of the issue.

It is not entirely clear whether the host was berating people because of their views or if he was always like that and people who complained hadn’t watched the show before. It does seem like the views represented by the panel itself were decidefly one sided.

It is tough to be yelled at in ones own house to be sure. It seems to me that in an age where the public can change the channel to one that expresses the views of the niche to which one subscribes, there is an opportunity and perhaps duty placed upon live performance venues to provide a forum for intelligent discourse since their settings are not so easily escaped.

But–it needs to be well-balanced and moderated and I imagine that would be tough to do these days. When you see and hear people relentlessly berating each other on television because that holds the ratings, you think that is the way one engages in discussion about topics with which one disagrees.

I am sure our Founding Fathers were not as cordial in their dealings as we imagine them to have been. (Just think of how many must have muttered something about going Aaron Burr on someone’s butt) I imagine they might have held themselves to some level of civility though.

This could be a great service arts organizations provide to society. Live discussion doesn’t allow you the anonymity of the internet or a phone call in. Done with the proper respect and care, arts events could become a welcoming venue for people who don’t necessarily view themselves as arts intellectuals, but who crave balanced intelligent conversations about issues of the day.

Doesn’t this happen on college campuses one asks. Well, currently Ohio is considering a student bill of rights to ensure those with views that conflict with those of their professor aren’t intimidated into keeping quiet.

Besides, as much as tickets to arts events cost. It is still cheaper and more accessible to a wider portion of the population than paying for college credits.

Award for Most Organized Company Goes To…

In the spirit of my entry praising easy grant applicant processes, my award for the easiest, most organized company to work with this year goes to….Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.

Actually, I may be a bit too premature since they won’t arrive for another couple months. However, I have to say they are the most organized group I have worked with this year. Not only do I have the contracts and riders returned and signed, back in November they sent me a rooming list and a list of all those flying out so I can make interisland airline arrangements for them. They actually forgot they had been so efficient and in an attempt to be organized, sent me another copy this week.

Actually, truth be told, they are almost frighteningly well organized. They have been ready to have a discussion about outreach programs with me since the fall and have been eager to set up a call with their artistic director to make sure the outreach program suits my needs.

This is all rather annoying–I am used to be feeling smug and superior to the performers I have contracted by being more organized than they. I am usually the one asking for information and having people get back to me!

Having the illusion that I am better than everyone else is the only bright spot of my day that makes all the crap I face tolerable! Damn them for stealing that from me!!!

Hee hee, this is kinda fun. Though it does occur to me that we haven’t discussed catering yet broaching that subject with them tomorrow will allow me to salvage a little arrogance.

In any case, the old adage that forewarned is forearmed is so very true when you are presenting performances. Knowing stuff like this so far in advance makes doing a show so much easier — unless you have no intention of providing what the performer asks for and like to take advantage of lack of organization to plead ignorance.

So far, DCDC is a model of organization and professionalism and I would recommend them on that basis alone. However, I will try to remember to do a follow up report on them in April.

…especially if you are watering his grass

The title of today’s entry is something of an addendum to the “grass is always greener…” saying. Today I found myself watering my neighbor’s lawn as I wrote a letter of support for a grant application.

The artist in residence for my theatre is the artistic director of a contemporary dance company We will be developing a new dance work for 2006 based on a Hawaiian myth. Right now he is applying for a Rockefeller Foundation grant to help underwrite the development of the piece. As one of the organizations involved with the work, I was asked to write a letter of support.

I spent about 4 hours on this letter polishing and honing it to sing the praises of the group with which I was going to partner. At around hour 3 I realized, much to my chagrin, that I had spent more time discussing the value of the dance company’s work in terms that were aligned with the foundation’s goals than I did on the last grant I wrote.

I don’t know if it was because I had a little more time to write than I did when my last grant application was due (and I didn’t have the budgetary questions looming ahead of me) or because as an outsider who doesn’t know all organizational flaws the dance company has it was easier to be effusive. Or maybe it just feels less sincere when you are writing about all the ambitious plans you have while there is a voice in your head that wonders whether you actually have the organizational capacity to pull it off.

On the flipside though, even though the money won’t go to me directly, I will benefit if the company receives the grant because I have a greater assurance that the show will be good if they aren’t focussed on fundraising.

And I will say one thing–this guy is good about lining up support early. In his playbill this past weekend, he had a flyer soliciting funds for the development of this piece two seasons hence, perhaps at the expense of his upcoming seasons.

Search for More Theatre Blogs

I have really been looking high and low for more people who blog about their experiences in theatre. I haven’t been terribly successful, but I will admit, the signs look promising. People seem to be realizing the potential for the blogs.

For example, a Google search found this nascent blog for The Playmill Theatre in Montana. You can’t actually get to the blogs from the theatre’s homepage. In fact, the home page itself is rather undeveloped at the moment. It just goes to show though that someone was thinking and wanted to get the cast and director (and perhaps the community) writing about their experiences.

I also found a very short, sparse attempt at a production blog for Aristophanes’ Acharnians.

The British seem to be doing the best job of blogging about their lives in the theatre. In addition to My London Life which I cited in an earlier entry, I have found yet another British director faithfully chronicling his experiences running his own company. (Yeah, I know, I could be doing more of the same myself. I suppose you all want to hear about my shopping trips to buy cases of water and soda for performers, eh?)

I also found a culture blog by a Brit who is something of a Terry Teachout of England (though not as prolific an author/journalist/everything)

I was very happy to see that a theatre in San Francisco was taking the idea of bloggers as the new critics to heart and offering free tickets to bloggers with a fairly significant daily readership who agreed to write a review within 24 hours. May have to follow up with them to see how well it worked.

I also found a blog in Portland, OR that does nothing but list upcoming shows and provide links to many of the local theatres. One might think that this might be useless since the local paper prints essentially the same information. And that may be so. However, the format for the listings are so simple that it is very easy to log on one Friday night and scroll back through a page or so to find out what is going on–or follow the link to a favorite performance group to find out what in particular they are currently doing.

More to come…let me know if you have a favorite arts blog out there that has gone unmentioned by me.