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.”

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.

When Trying To Break Boundaries Threatens To Break Your Spirit

Last week on the Association of Performing Arts Professional’s (APAP) podcast, Emily Isaacson of Classical Uprising talked about some of the frustrating experiences she has had trying to advance her goal of changing the context through which classical music is viewed and experienced.

One of the biggest impediments she has experienced was the view that she isn’t a serious artists because she is a woman and a mother. She shared, apparently for the first time publicly, that a family friend whom she had known since she was a child asked her to partner on creating a music festival, but when they got together to plan their second season, he dismissed her efforts and professionalism.

“He started to call me randomly to tell me that I would never be taken seriously as a musician that because I was a mom, I was distracted that if I thought that my degrees were worth anything, I was kidding myself because real musicians don’t care about degrees,. That I made, I was making a fool of myself on the podium.”

She said the conversation got a lot worse from there. She said she has run up against similar sentiments regarding other programming she has done:

So people wanna label me as a woman conductor, and that’s my whole soapbox. The other thing is they say, “Oh, well, the fact that she wants to do, you know, Hayden’s creation in a park must mean that she’s really not that sophisticated a musician. She’s doing it differently because she can’t hang with the big boys and the old club and you know, this, that, and the other thing.”

Or like, “Oh, isn’t it cute that she wants to do things that are not just four kids, but intergenerational because she’s a mom and so focused on being a mommy and mommy music”, …

I’m advocating for a different way of presenting and producing classical music, so that it is more social and more interactive and more casual, in the way that actually it was originally conceived.

The other thing she says she runs into is the echo chamber type thinking among different organizations. She talks about how when she attended the 2023 APAP conference, she struck up a conversation with the representative of an organization promoting a Breaking Boundaries series. She was somewhat disappointed to learn that their concept of breaking boundaries was presenting works by female composers one year and works by minority composers the next year. This essentially mirrored what so many other orchestra organizations were doing.

I’m good quick on my feet, so I pivoted and I was like, “Another way that you could think about like pushing boundaries, is by thinking about like who we’re performing for, how we’re performing and what, what are the things that we include in the performance that make people feel either included to be there or more connected to the music than they did before?” And I start giving examples from my programs about, doing Flight of the Bumble Beer where you do music flights alongside five-ounce pours of beer or doing Bach Bends Yoga.

Like really, here’s some like con this is not lofty ideas. Here’s some concrete ideas and this person could just not understand what I was talking about. That was so frustrating for me because it made me realize that the national conversation and the conversation that I’m trying to have is just ships passing in the night…

You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript to learn more. Isaacson starts the episode so her story is easy to find.