Sunday, January 31, 2010

Looking Ahead: How is the Economic Downturn re-shaping The State of the Arts?

There is a tendency to think that art and economics have little to do with forming one another, but anyone with extended study into the matter knows that such a view is a flimsy left-over from the culture wars that put artists on one side and business people on the other.

Given this reality, a timely question is now being raised across artistic mediums regarding what effect the economic downturn will have in shaping the state of the arts.

You can catch a glimpse into the answer(s) to this question by taking a look at
this thoughtful article up this morning from
The New York Times on how the economic downturn has begun to affect the way that Broadway sets are being slimmed-down and streamlined - even in the genre which would seem most averse to such a move: the musical.

(The photo at right is from the Broadway run last fall of "A Steady Rain," with Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman. It was a show which was not only mostly about its stars, but where the set was profoundly minimal - and it's not alone in that respect across Broadway.)

Full Article Here // Excerpt Below

For the big Broadway musical, surviving the recession often means that the sets are rarely stars anymore.You don’t hear many audible gasps these days when the curtain rises, or when scenery transforms to reveal a theatrical vision.

You don’t hear many audible gasps these days when the curtain rises, or when scenery transforms to reveal a theatrical vision.

Not like the oohs and ahhs of audiences at Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals like “The King and I” in the 1950s, Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince productions like “Follies” and “Sweeney Todd” in the ’70s, or later spectacles like “Starlight Express,” with its roller-skating apparatus, and “Miss Saigon,” with its helicopter — neither of which, to be sure, was for everyone.

Instead, this season on Broadway some theatergoers and critics have been asking whether musicals have become increasingly cost-conscious with their visual artistry, and with mixed results.

The four major musical revivals so far this season — “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Ragtime” and “A Little Night Music” — were panned in some quarters for stage design that seemed thinly conceived or even flimsy.

Even the most commercially successful recent productions of musicals — “Billy Elliot: The Musical,” “Hair” and “West Side Story” — lean to the stripped-down, partly in hopes of highlighting the choreography and plot.

The drift toward smaller-is-better Broadway musicals will continue to be scrutinized through the spring, as producers and directors weigh whether scaled-down productions like “Hair,” which recouped its $5.8 million capitalization in five months, are a smarter way to go in this economy than extravaganzas like “Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark,” which delayed its February previews because of difficulty raising money for its estimated budget of $50 million.

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