Culture wars

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Culture wars

  1. 1. Wednesday, 4/2
  2. 2. • “Broadway” has become a marketing and business term as well as a geographic one. A “Broadway theatre” is a commercial theatre in Midtown Manhattan that has more than 500 seats. • Broadway became a venue for drama and story-based musicals over the course of the 1920s, having previously been home to vaudevilles, revues, melodramas, and minstrel shows. • What is conventionally called the Golden Age of Broadway extended from 1943 (premiere of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!) until the mid 1960s. By the late 1980s, Broadway was dominated by foreign musicals; productions of new, non-musical works had become rare; and Times Square was associated as much with pornography, prostitution, and strip clubs as it was with theatre.
  3. 3. • “Off-Broadway” is a business term, denoting houses in Midtown or Lower Manhattan that seat 100-499 people; “Off-Off-Broadway” denotes a house with fewer than 100 seats. • These terms are also associated with the Off-Broadway Movement of the 1950s and the subsequent Off-Off-Broadway Movement of the 1960s. • Off-Off-Broadway, in particular, was also a major incubation ground for work by members of identity groups that were excluded from mainstream theatrical culture—non-white Americans, LGBT people, and practitioners of countercultural lifestyles.
  4. 4. • Caffé Cino (1958) Café in Greenwich Village where Sam Shepherd, John Guare, Lanford Wilson, and Tom O’Horgan (director of the original productions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar) got their start, performing alongside pioneers of postmodern dance and performance art. • LaMaMa Experimental Theatre Club (1961) Founded by Ellen Stewart as a venue “dedicated to the playwright and all aspects of the theatre.” Continues to be one of the world’s most notable venues for new experimental theatre.
  5. 5. • Playhouse of the Ridiculous (1965) Associated with the works of John Vaccaro and Charles Ludlum. Located in a basement on the same block as the Stonewall Inn, and was similarly a center for the Greenwich Village gay community. • INTAR (1966) Venue primarily for Latin@ and Chican@ playwrights; home of famous playwriting workshop run by Maria Irene Fornes • The Performing Garage (1968) Home of the Performance Group and its later offshoot, the Wooster Group, led by Elizabeth LeCompte. • Wow Café (1980) Major venue for female (especially lesbian) theatre and performance artists, including Split Britches, Carmelita Tropicana, and Lisa Kron.
  6. 6. “People don’t get the radicalism of Joe’s vision. There was an absolute commitment to a revolutionary relationship between life and art, and a mistrust of anything that compromised that.” --Tony Kushner “It’s very strange, in that theatre, everyone has to be very polite; looks like going to church.”—Papp, criticizing audiences at Lincoln Center.
  7. 7. • The list of major New York Theatre artists who died of AIDs-related illnesses is depressingly long; the gay community and the theatre community in New York had been closely linked to each other for decades. • Kramer’s play The Normal Heart, produced by Papp at the Public Theater in 1985, was the first major play staged in New York to address the AIDS crisis directly, explicitly attacking the apparent apathy of the city government, local newspapers, and major medical and public health institutions. • William Hoffman’s equally political AIDS drama As Is premiered the same year. • Two years later, Kramer founded AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), which organized mass protest events, including mass performance events called “die-ins.” • By the time Angels in America opened on Broadway in 1993, a whole subgenre of “AIDS plays”—many of them explicitly politically activist in tone—was developing. Notable examples include Terrence McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart (1991) and Love, Valour, Compassion (1994); Paula Vogel’s The Baltimore Waltz (1990); Nicky Silver’s Pterodactyls (1993); and the musical RENT (1996).
  8. 8. • “Culture War” has become a term for the acrimonious debates about public morals, “political correctness,” and government sponsorship of the arts that took place in the US during the 1980s and ‘90s. • The central, iconic events during this “war” were the congressional debates about funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Protests against the NEA centered largely on controversial gay and lesbian artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Tim Miller, and Holly Hughes, who had received NEA grants. • Repeated cuts in arts funding, often on ideological grounds, have significantly harmed non-profit and experimental theatres in the US, and the threat of further cuts remains an ongoing concern. • Kushner himself has always been an avid “culture warrior”—many of the contemporary cultural references in Angels refer to figures or controversies associated with the American “Culture War.” "There are in this country political traditions - from organised labor, from the civil rights and black power movements, from feminist and homosexual liberation movements, from movements for economic reform - which postulated democracy as an ongoing project, as a dynamic process. These traditions exist in opposition to those which make fixed fetishes of democracy and freedom, talismans for Reaction. These traditions, which constitute the history of progressive and radical America, have been shunted to the side, covered over in an attempt at revisionism that began during the McCarthy era.“ -Kushner, “Some Questions on Tolerance”
  9. 9. A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

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