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Month: July 2021

Theater Emerging

Theater Emerging

A year ago we were deep in the pandemic, and my best friend and partner, who works in the theater industry, was not able to work. All of the summer work that she had lined up in 2020 evaporated with the lockdown. She could have just stayed at home for all I cared, but she is too driven and needed to do something, so she ended up taking up a job as a census enumerator. This stressed me out a bit, as she spent the late summer and early fall wandering the area, visiting the homes of recalcitrant people. I mean, people who don’t do their census aren’t going to want to be bothered about the census, right? I thought she was very brave for taking on this job. After that gig ended, she worked for a high school as a Covid safety officer, which entailed patrolling the halls and making sure the kids were following protocols (they weren’t). That job ended with the school year.

Aileen Lynch McCulloch

Now it’s summer, and with the pandemic “over” – or at least “winding down” – she has gone back to work in her field. I’m glad for that, because she is clearly much happier. She just finished running a production workshop for teens, producing the musical Chicago: High School Edition. If you don’t know what this means: a production workshop is an educational program, like a summer camp, where each student pays a fee to participate. Chicago is a famous musical by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb which satirizes celebrity crime culture in the 1920s. “High School Edition” just means that the script is shortened and cleaned up a bit, so it is appropriate for younger people.

The fees the students pay cover costs like rent to the space, and the licensing fee to the rights holders. This latter cost is substantial – as in three figures – and depends on the number of performances. In this case, there were four live performances (as opposed to streaming online performances, which was a popular way to do it during the pandemic). Rehearsals started while there were still significant restrictions on group gatherings, so they were online at first. In fact, the auditions were all done by having the students submit videos. Note that every kid who auditioned was going to get cast (that’s kind of the point of an educational workshop), but auditions are still used to cast the specific roles.

Once restrictions eased, some time in June, rehearsals moved to the theater space. At first, many kids weren’t yet fully vaccinated, so everyone wore masks while rehearsing, and temps were taken. By the end of rehearsals, almost all of the kids were vaccinated. I got to see a couple of the dress rehearsals during tech week! If you don’t know what “tech week” means, it’s the final rehearsal phase when the lighting and sound is integrated into the show. Here’s a photo from dress rehearsal, of the merry murderesses performing the Cell Block Tango:

The show went up in early July, on the weekend after Independence Day. Audience members were required to wear masks, though the performers did not, except for two who wore face shields. Those were the two cast members who were not vaccinated. Some audience members refused to come see the show because masks were required. This was actually the desired outcome, and it was probably for the best, since the Delta variant is now spreading like wildfire.

Here’s a short review I posted after the first show:

It’s too bad there are only four performances of this show, since the cast and crew have pulled together a tight and energetic production, showcasing the talents of multiple young performers, directors and designers, and you won’t want to miss it. A teen production of Chicago HS Edition, on the heels of the pandemic, was a gutsy choice for director/producer Aileen Lynch-McCulloch, but as is usual for her, she has pulled it off. She demonstrates her knack for finding the perfect cast, and for translating a script onto the stage in a tight time window and with a shoestring budget. Minimalist set and costume choices, on a stark stage with smooth lighting, succeed in conveying the characterizations and the storyline, giving the talent the opportunity to shine. The director’s faith in the ability of youth and commitment to helping them find their voice have once again resulted in an amazing production. Get a ticket if you can!

I wrote this blog post to extol the talents of my good friend, Aileen, and to raise awareness of the challenges facing the theater industry as we emerge from the pandemic. This production of Chicago was slipped right in between the beginning of vaccinations and the surge of the Delta variant; it may have been a fortuitous occasion that can’t be repeated in the near future. In her role as Artistic Director at The Center Theater, Aileen would like to plan more productions, as part of her program called The Arts Bubble, “a healing project created to help audiences return to the live performance spaces.” But obviously this depends on the state of the pandemic.

I’ve been following Aileen’s work for many years, and it really is amazing to behold. She can handle all aspects of a production – directing, producing, costuming, set design, tech, PR, you name it. When she is working on a project, her commitment is total, and she seems to have an endless reservoir of energy on which to draw. But luckily she has people to help her, so she doesn’t have to do it all herself. She only needs to do three or four people’s jobs instead of ten or twelve.

She has people to help her because over her career she has built up a network of supportive friends, as well as young people who want to come back and work with her time and time again. Many of the teens and young adults who worked with her on Chicago have known her since they were children, when they first acted in a show which she directed. For a good time she ran her own theater company, Vagabond Acting Troupe, and she has also worked as an educator in schools and at other theaters. And she hasn’t changed her fees for over 30 years, while others around her have taken her approach and then raised the cost. Many of her students have gone on to Broadway tours, Cruise Ship entertainment and some have even started their own companies.

I mean, just the fact that Aileen was able to get large audiences to see Chicago and all willingly wear face masks is impressive. And if you think that wearing a mask is just “pandemic theater,” then I submit to you this thought: not wearing a mask is “pandemic theater.” Because everything we do socially, how we dress and how we act, is meant as a signal to others; it’s all a performance. Life is theater, and theater is life. As Shakespeare put it, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

So please join me in congratulating my dear friend Aileen Lynch-McCulloch on another successful theater production. And please get vaccinated, because if we don’t get this pandemic under control, we may all have to climb back into our cocoons, and wait another year before live theater can emerge once more.

An Emerging Values Consensus?

An Emerging Values Consensus?

You might look at that title – “An Emerging Values Consensus” – and think, are you kidding?? The Culture Wars and the partisan divide between liberals and conservatives (or the blue zone and the red zone) have been a fixture in our society for decades now. I’ve already written a series of blog posts on the topic, in which I concluded that we were experiencing a “Red-Blue” identity crisis as a society. Which way will we break? Or could we even break into two – split into two societies altogether, possibly violently? There is serious discussion of impending civil war out there.

You’ve probably seen the above map before. It’s from the 2000 Presidential election, and shows the counties that voted for Bush in red and the counties that voted for Gore in blue. It’s around this time that the red zone-blue zone idea came about – the idea that there were two different “values camps” with competing visions of what America should be. Baby Boomers were in mid-life then, and their values-orientation dominated American culture. Their passion and moral zeal is what made the divide between the two camps so deep and so unbridgeable, damaging our political system to the point that many now wonder if it can be repaired. Just think of the events of January 6th this year to understand what I mean.

Back around that time, on an old fashioned web site that I built, I attempted to list out the differences between these two values camps. The list is a bit over-generalized, a bit stereotyped; I can’t deny it. I’m sure many people believe a little bit from column A, a little bit from column B. But to some extent these differences do define the partisan divide, and the thing is, as the partisanship has just worsened and worsened, it’s gotten to the point that it doesn’t really matter what your particular “nuanced” belief system is. The political struggle has become existential, and you have to pick a side and stick with it.

Or not, I suppose. You could just not belong to either side. I have a feeling that many of my generation, Generation X, are in that particular “values camp.” It’s the camp of people who mind their own business and just want to be left alone. As the map below show, if non-voters counted in the electoral college (I know, that makes no sense) then “Nobody” would have been elected President in 2016.

This isn’t to say that non-voters lack values or moral beliefs, just that they might be having trouble finding a political party to fit into. As I already suggested, most people probably take their beliefs a little from the red side, a little from the blue side. It’s even possible to show that the country isn’t so starkly divided geographically as the “red zone-blue zone” maps suggest, by measuring both Republican and Democratic votes per county and constructing a “purple” spectrum map like the one below.

Red v. Blue spectrum version from the 2016 Presidential election.

All I’m trying to say here is that the neat division of values into two columns doesn’t necessarily reflect how people think. And now that Boomers are aging out of mid-life, being replaced by Generation X, moral righteousness as a guiding principal of politics is losing its shine. As I already blogged, Boomer moralism has rendered politics dysfunctional. Younger generations yearn for a practical approach to politics, one that can solve the many thorny problems facing our society. It is perhaps unfortunate, then, that the current mid-life generation, Generation X, which is known for pragmatism, also eschews politics.

I’m just rehashing what I’ve already written about before, so back to the title of this post and the idea of a values consensus. Assuming America is not going to split into two societies, we’re eventually going to settle for some version of “a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B” that works for the majority of us. This will grow more and more apparent as the morally righteous Boomers, who pretty much can’t ever have their minds changed, age out of public life. Those who disagree with these values, who reasonably can claim that there is no “consensus” since they disagree, will be relegated to the sidelines of public life. In fact, you can already see this happening. Isn’t that exactly what hashtag movements, cancel culture, de-platforming are all about? Effectively, if unfairly, enforcing a majoritarian viewpoint?

So what exactly is the consensus that is emerging? I actually tried to predict what it might be way back in 2002 when I first created the red values v. blue values page. Then I tried again and again around the time of the 2016 election. How exactly am I doing this? Well, my admittedly non-scientific approach is simply to monitor discourse on major platforms on the Internet to see what’s going on. I check the reddit hivemind, since I really do think that is the premier site where Millennials are forging a consensus using the tools of social media.

Now maybe this puts me in a bit of blue zone bubble, since all the red zoners are moving to alternate sites like Gab and Parler (so I’ve heard). But doesn’t the fact that red zoners are shifting to less mainstream platforms tell you which way the consensus is going? Honestly, I think there are only two areas where the red zone’s view still has traction, and that is in the two most contentious points of the Culture Wars – gun control and abortion rights.

So here’s where I think we end up:

  • Pro-gun rights
  • Pro-marijuana legalization
  • Equal rights for LGBTQ
  • “Counter-culture” mainstreamed (everyone has a tattoo these days)
  • Pornography accepted
  • Continued restrictions on abortion, though it will never be fully banned
  • Justice and police reform
  • Reform to improve the lot of lower economic classes, even if it’s “socialism”
  • Pro-environmentalism policies to deal with climate change
  • A path to citizenship for “dreamers,” but immigration otherwise limited
  • Acceptance of a multicultural, multiracial, multi-religious society, to the chagrin of White Christian Nationalists

So now that this Culture Wars crap is out of the way, can we end the filibuster already and get some Universal Healthcare?