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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Machado and Nicola Sitting on a Stage ...
In the light of the speech by Eduardo Machado that was the talk of the theaterblogosphere this week, I got a weird frisson when I watched this weekend’s repeat of a 2005 American Theater Wing seminar about “Off-Broadway,” and discovered that two of the panelists were Eduardo Machado, representing INTAR, and James C. Nicola, representing the New York Theatre Workshop. (The others were Tisa Chang of the Pan Asian Repertory Company, Loretta Greco of Women’s Project and Productions, Virginia Louloudes of ART-NY, and Neil Pepe of Atlantic Theater Co.)

It started off well: The various artistic directors all seemed willing, keen even, to talk about money (I was particularly fascinated by Greco’s mention of the theater community’s unquenchable thirst for comps damaging companies' ability to plan), but that talk never really went anywhere. Instead, there were a lot of generalizations about passion and theater being about people getting together in the dark—and I have to say I blame Nicola for the move toward speechifying.

I’d never seen Nicola before, and I must preface the coming judgmental statements with the obvious proviso that I know I shouldn’t judge people from a 90-minute taped seminar. Yeah, right. He freaked me out! It seemed to me that either consciously or unconsciously he ignored any “real” conversation about money or the challenges of working with other professionals and instead launched into a series of odd set-piece statements that came across as anodyne up-with-people manifesto pledges. Worse almost, despite all the histrionic body language, he was depressingly inarticulate (and one thing you can usually say for artistic directors, especially ones who’ve held onto their jobs for a number of years, is that they’re indisputably articulate).

Take, for example, his speech after the moderator asked for panelists’ views on nontraditional casting (I urge you to check this out on tape, it starts around the 1:00:43 mark). He said:
Well, I think … I think [clears throat, shuffles in seat as though his piles are acting up] ... It’s interesting, in our process [another throat-clear] of casting in my time doing this, erm, what has emerged, is that every, almost every, with the exceptions you [Tisa Chang, who’d just spoken] talk about, where there are specific things [massive hand gestures] things to be achieved in a script … but in general we start with “any actors can play these roles,” and we bring in actors of all different … [pauses for so long, looking for the safe word, that the moderator takes pity and offers “backgrounds?”] yep, and erm, that has happened, and there’s often a lot of discussion around that, and I think this is an interesting reflection of contemporary life, that this is where we are and that we do find with our audiences that we are learning a new etiquette that will become unconscious, about when we’re supposed to notice the race of the person or not. Erm [clears throat] and it’s been very interesting to work with directors from other countries who have different ethnic and cultural situations and their perception of American culture, and for the most part, even the most enlightened and progressive people are very retrograde about this issue. [Swings head, triumphantly slaps thighs.]

Now, if you can tell me what the hell he was talking about there—except perhaps, “We’re really right on and a lot of foreigners aren’t”—good work!

In fairness, I should also add that later in the show, Machado made an unprompted tribute to the NYTW in which he praised the warm and respectful way they have treated him and other playwrights.

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