NO SERIOUSLY! THE NEW GAY THEATER IS NOT POLITICAL!!!

"I want to have sex with you. I just don't want to do it in a way that could be construed as political." Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

From Neil Genzlinger’s review of “Yank!”:

“Yank!,” with music by Joseph Zellnik and book and lyrics by David Zellnik, his brother, of course has an added resonance because of the current debate over whether to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. But this is hardly a political show. Its subtitle, “A WWII Love Story,” encapsulates its main aspiration: to depict a same-sex couple as so many heterosexual couples have been shown over the years, struggling to capture the elusive thing called love against a backdrop of grand events.

If by “a backdrop of grand events” Genzlinger is referring to the social pathology of homophobia that unfairly punishes gay people for being gay and uses the mechanism of government to manipulate gay people’s lives, to deny their very existence, and to prevent them from even developing loving relationships with the people they want, then NO, SO MANY HETEROSEXUAL COUPLES HAVE NOT BEEN SHOWN THIS WAY OVER THE YEARS. OR EVER.

This “hardly political” love story literally cannot exist outside of politics. It takes place within a political system. And it is a condition that is enforced on gay people by heterosexuals who participate in the homophobic establishment. Am I taking crazy pills? If not, please point me to the nearest pharmacy?

OMG THE NEW GAY THEATER IS TOTALLY NOT POLITICAL

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

So yeah, business as usual around these parts. And, of course I’m chiming in on something gay-themed, as has been the pattern of recent.

So, umm, I don’t know if y’all read Patrick Healey’s little piece on the “NEW GAY THEATER”! Look out! Apparently, it’s not political. And it’s also about how the gays are exactly the same as the straights, and also totally not.

For the sake of brevity, I’m just going to re-post a comment I made on the Facebook page of the Gay & Lesbian Review (which, btw, is a great publication you should all read; that includes you too, straights). So here goes. Have fun. And comment if you feel like it:

OMG, this article is very problematic. It argues that these new gay plays are showing us that gay love (and all which that implies) is “no different from their straight variations,” but then quotes Daryl Roth as saying he wanted to produce “The Temperamentals” because “I’ve always wanted to learn more and understand more about gay life, and think others have the same curiosity.” If there is no difference between the gay and straight experience of love, then where does this “curiousity” come from? While the experience of love may be essentially universal, the experience of love in the world is not necessarily universal. It can be different, and it is quite different for gay people. Gay love is political–whether we like it or not–because it occurs within a world that suppresses it. That’s kind of the bottom line, isn’t it? I’m “curious” to know what others think.

BTW, the title of the photo from The Times–that is, the title their photo editors gave it–is “23gay-yank-popup.” So subtle, and also sounds fun!

It Is Written

As some of you may know, I have been hard at work on a new opera over the last few months. It is now finished and had its world premiere this past weekend at the Mt. Tremper Arts summer festival in the Catskills.

With my ensemble, Collective Opera Company, we created SCARLET FEVER, an evening-length operatic adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s iconic novel, The Scarlet Letter, which is a book that everyone thinks they know or remember, but in reality, no one knows or remembers much or any of it.

At any rate, while the work (I believe) is strong, and each performance was met with a wonderful audience and some amazing feedback, I was discouraged (I am only human, after all) not to have received really any listings from the NYC classical music and opera media (although we did get this amazing preview in “The Times” – The WOODSTOCK Times, that is…).

This frustration, I’m sure, is no stranger to those who pursue careers as artists. I’m sure the party line is not to give a relationship with the media too much power over you. I agree that this is probably a healthy point of view. But forcing oneself to “not” feel this way does not alleviate all the angst and frustration one may feel for feeling overlooked by the press.

I also don’t believe—for the most part—in invoking mind over matter, when matter has a very real effect on our lives. In this specific case, press coverage (and I’m not even talking about reviews here, but simply getting cultural event listings) effects the number of opportunities people have to find out about your work, which effects how many people will actually come see your work, which effects the opportunity for people to talk about your work, which also promotes your work. Press coverage is real (in this way), and really can have a significant effect on things like ticket sales, and the general awareness of the arts community to your work.

So, yes, I felt snubbed, and annoyed that the NYC classical music media complex ignored (whether intentionally or not) what I believe to be an important event in the larger conversation of opera, classical music and theater.

I’ve since done a little research, and was happy to find out that in at least one instance, that the neglect was basically bureaucratic.

But this is also part of a larger and very personal relationship with one’s work and the media. What is that moment of throwing something out into the canyon of the world, then straining your ear out to  hear the echo? It is natural to want this. It is natural to feel let down when the echo does not bounce back. Some might say it is an immature, arresting neediness (or narcissism) on the part of the artist. But there may be no way to eradicate these feelings, and personally, I’d rather spend my energy working around, over and through it, than razing it.

I also feel that if this sort of principal is having an unfairly and excessively negative effect on emerging artists (since press coverage does tend to favor the established venues/organizations), then we should be addressing it head-on, and not just wish it away through self-help.

That said, a few months ago, after I finally bought a Macbook (and subsequently coined the phrase “There is no Art. Only Mac.”), I wrote a little ditty about this desire to be noticed by the New York music critics, and the sadness I feel (well, not the “someone died” kind of sadness, but sadness nonetheless) when the papers turn their cold, silent shoulders to my work.

I’ve inserted the track above (with a fierce new music sharing service, soundcloud, which should allow listeners to actually make comments on the track) and you can read the lyrics through the comment clouds.

Call it art as criticism; art as protest.

Call it a song.

Killing The Family To Build The House

So, crap.

Friday, Dan Wakin reports that our dear Brooklyn Philharmonic has canceled all of its concerts for this season, as well as “all of next season’s subscription concerts”. Ironically, the educational programs will still continue, since they still have funding from the government.

This is the kind of crap that drives me insane.

It’s part and parcel of this idea that the arts organizations have to offer “educational” and “outreach” initiatives, separate from the actual art, in order to receive federal dollars.

To regard education and outreach as separate from art is simply asinine. Art is education. Art is outreach. Great art already imparts knowledge and offers experience. Anyone who has been spiritually and intellectually moved by art knows this to be true.

And how does it make sense to fund education about an industry that the government resists directly supporting, in fact, has allowed to collapse? Sure kids, learn to play the clarinet, but try not to dream about playing for your local orchestra, which may or may not be there when you grow up. It boggles the mind.

Second–and not unrelated–Dan Wakin, on the same day, wrote this piece about how ye olde New York City Opera has pretty much looted one third of its own endowment to pay off past expenses and to cover operating costs, because they have no money.

Umm…didn’t NYCO/Lincoln Center just get a $100 Million gift? Oh, wait, that was a capital gift. So, while it’s fabulous that the State Theater will be a better theater for opera after the Koch-sponsored renovations are done: What good does it do IF THERE ISN’T ANY OPERA TO PRESENT?

Claudia La Rocco touches obliquely on this in her article about small performance venues going into debt to launch capital projects, sometimes at the expense of programming.

La Cieca is reporting that some kind of “uprising” may happen this week at NYCO.

God help them. You know we tried.

Grab Bag

A few things worth noting…

Right now, there’s a pretty raging debate over the use of animals in performance over at L. Ro.’s Performance Club. C.C. is like “umm, dogs can’t consent to making art,” and others are like, “well, he’s having fun, so chill the fuck out!”

People are also commenting about other aspects of National Theater of the U.S.A.’s latest offering at P.S.122.

Also, here’s a little lag-time for you.

After C.C. posted this piece of arts news gossip here, and this one here, The Times decided to cast the official seal of approval on these days later.

Here’s Dan Wakin’s take on the Brooklyn Philharmonic “belt tightening.”

And Roslyn Sulcas confirms our blind item about 3 dancers being “fired” from a major NYC modern dance company, which turns out to be Merce Cunningham.

I guess when The Times reports on something stat, it’s breaking news. But when they drag their heels it’s responsible journalism.

Letter to a Young Musician…from an Old Critic

Seriously, though, this is pretty amazing, the latest from T-Bone’s Talk to the Newsroom.

Although, can we make 30s the new 20s?… (You’ll get it if you read on.)

* * *

A Word to Young Musicians

Q. Times are difficult for young musicians, especially in this economy. Gigs can be few and far between, competitions can be cutthroat, and there’s always the looming, dark shadow of doubt that can plague any musician, especially one with such a long road ahead. What would you say is the most crucial piece of advice a musician in his early 20s could receive, either personally or professionally?

— Andy Jurik

A. Thanks for writing to me, Andy. I take your question to heart and wish I could offer some real answers. Times have always been hard for young musicians, and right now things are hard for almost everybody. So I can imagine your frustration.

First off, I’d say always remember how fortunate you are to be gifted and skilled enough to pursue a career in music. Still, I know how hard the struggle can be.

Every time I heard someone talk about the long, difficult road to becoming a doctor — with medical school, residency, grueling hours, no sleep and more — I get very impatient. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a long tough road. But a medical student travels that road knowing that without question it will lead to an immediate place in the profession.

Contrast this with aspiring musicians, who go to school, take out loans, study and practice, and practice and practice, and do so without any certainly that this will lead to anything. Now that is really difficult. Continue reading

Talk to the T-Bone

tommasini_in-nomine-jesuDream come true #2!

Anthony Tommasini (or, T-Bone, as he goes by around these parts) is the featured writer this week at The Times’ “Talk to the Newsroom.”

Yes!

Finally, the answers to all our classical music questions will come pouring forth from the great and wise T-Bone.

Okay, so, question #1:

In your profile, you are quoted as saying this:

“…having been a performer, I know how hard it is, which makes me, I hope, a more sensitive critic. I’ve been there.”

Why treat classical music sensitively? And why use an affinity of experience to sensitively shade criticism of current practitioners?

Couldn’t this open up critics to apology and punch-pulling when artists aren’t quite up to snuff?

xoxoC.C.

UPDATE:

We have contact!!! Click on the link. We’re the 4th question down. And T-Bone totally gives us an awesome, thoughtful, and loooong answer! He even admits that our question “got to [him]“. Now I’m blushing.

But seriously, our question was sincere, and came from a point of view that sees the need for classical music discourse to be less sensitive. Not that it should be genuinely disrespectful, but that the attitude one can take into the concert hall can be more than just quiet respect.

Props to T-Bone for taking us seriously, and navigating the complexities of criticism like a pro. We may tease over here, but ultimately, we care.

Open Blog Post to Michael Kaiser and Anthony Tommasini

Dear Messrs. Kaiser and Tommasini:

I know that both of you are aware of my campaign to become the director of the New York City Opera. Mr. Kaiser, I have spoken with your assistant and sent you two emails, both of which have received no reply from you. Mr. Tommasini, you replied in an email to my campaign manager, confirming that you had seen my fifteen page (single spaced) proposal for a New York City Opera recovery.

So, I guess I’m kind of wondering, like, why I haven’t been appointed yet? And why I haven’t received a media endorsement from The Times?

I’m pretty sure my proposal totally rocks. It may need some fine tuning; currently there is no mention about how to handle renegotiating union contracts, but I have someone advising me on this now. And I know that all my ideas probably, realistically (but who am I to take up the torch of realism?) cannot all be enacted immediately. I’ve also received a lot of amazing feedback from the nearly nine hundred people who have read the proposal, and have allowed these responses to shape my outlook moving forward. So while my proposal may be imperfect, it is organic, adaptable, and defining itself with each passing day: With each day that New York City Opera is left without a director.

My campaign has also picked up endorsements from L. Ro and Andy Horowitz, two prominent figures in New York’s performance culture; L. Ro as a critic and advocate; Andy as a producer and adorable teddy bear. Not to mention the thumbs-up of approval from a bunch of Counter Critic friends and readers, and a small but spunky community of peeps on Facebook. So why has the establishment of classical music reportage not recognized our grassroots groundswell?

My feeling as that neither you, Mr. Kaiser, nor you, Mr. Tommasini, is bothering to take us seriously.

If that’s the case, I mean, Wow, that hurts, you know? I’ve/we’ve put all this hard work and effort into devising a plan to save a major cultural institution, and neither of you, as leaders in the classical arts, can really care to weigh in on our ideas?

It kind of reminds me of when I gave my mom a copy of The Gospel of Thomas, Continue reading

Clive Barnes (1927-2008)

This just in from the New York Times.

Here is the only review of Clive Barnes that C.C. covered, mainly because we pretty much ignore the NYP.

Proposition 8 Remainders: All this backlash is giving me whiplash

So…

First, Proposition 8 passed and there was a wave of gay-friendly outrage, most of which was aimed at the Mormon church, and some of which was, apparently, leveled at the African American community. Now there’s a backlash at the gays who have appeared–to some–as a pack of wild, fornicating racist assholes. The back and forth is a somewhat unprecedented, and due mostly to the fact that other than Will & Grace and the handful of TV shows and movies that have featured gay characters (or gay themes, like Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model), America has not yet had the BIG GAY CONVERSATION. Even after AIDS, our country has a lot of growing up to do in terms of our discussion of queer politics. Although, it may actually be happening, like right now.

If feel obligated to revisit the issue of gays and race since part of the inspirational email I blasted out to my friends (and posted here) addressed the supposed “Obama factor,” which was a theory that the high turnout of African American voters who would turn out to support Barack Obama would generally, and to a larger degree than the general population, oppose gay marriage, which would have spelled disaster for Proposition 8.

Here’s what I wrote in my missive:

Ironically, it looks like the big African American turnout in California hurt gay rights. We cannot ignore the fact that the community overwhelmingly voted for the measure. But this should be looked at as an opportunity to really ramp up outreach within the black community, not as some kind of inevitable factor that can never be overcome. It only points out how much work there is to do to solidify equality for gays in all American communities.

I can’t see anything factually wrong with what I wrote. There was a big African American turnout in CA, and many of them did vote for the proposition, and at a rate higher than the total average. Although, I suppose my wording, “the African American turnout…hurt gay rights” [ital new], suggests blame, or at least may have led one to believe that I was trying to say that Prop 8 wouldn’t have passed without the black vote. In no way did I intend this as a scapegoat. I included this as a note of interest that reaffirmed what I already thought I knew about queer politics and race, which is that minority communities are said to be less tolerant of gay individuals within those communities (we’ll get back to this). I’m also pretty sure my conclusion was that our response to the perceived statistics should be one of responsible outreach, not divisive blame, and that we should not succumb to a belief that change within the black community is not possible.

Since I wrote this, one friend sent me this link to a response from Kathryn Kolbert, President of People for the American Way, who warns “white gay activists” against “blaming” African Americans for the passage of Prop 8. Then statistical superhero Nate Silver posted this. And now everyone’s like, gays are just pissed off and looking for people to blame. Continue reading

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