Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

The Revival Reborn and a Big Hollywood Pricetag

Throughout my undergrad I was told that the revival carries a specific message. A show is brought back to life for one reason, and it’s not how eternal the material is. Shows (particularly on Broadway) are revived when the market is dying. Ticket sales are needed and a few people are in danger of pink slips (do they still use those?) because butts are not in seats. What do you do? You pick a show that everyone knows. You see this in particular with playwrights like Arthur Miller. Every grandma knew his relationship with Marilyn Monroe and every high school student read his work in class. As a producer, you can bank the audience will show up.

A few shows (particularly plays- yay!) are being revived at present. However, these shows are banking on some big star power to fill their houses. I once saw a production of You Can’t Take It With You and one production was all I needed. However, put James Earl Jones in a lead role? I would buy a ticket. And sure enough that’s what they did. The revivals are successes according to the NY Times and The Village Voice but at a cost. Big (Hollywood) names are attached to the projects, and we know they come with a big price tag.

With plays in particular being revived with Hollywood royalty (Scarlett Johansson in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof comes to mind) is theatre selling its soul to stay in business?

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3 comments on “The Revival Reborn and a Big Hollywood Pricetag

  1. torisharbaugh
    October 3, 2014

    Your question is reminding me of the live TV broadcast of musicals, most notably the Sound of Music on ABC (NBC is doing Peter Pan soon). Just like most arts organizations, audiences for theater are not as high as they could be and management teams are going through multiple strategies to bring in new audiences. Just like these theater revivals, casting big Hollywood names is the current tactic.. With the Sound of Music, ABC brought Carrie Underwood to play Maria. From the business end, bringing in a pop star effectively attracted different crowds and the viewing gained a lot of publicity. However, the amount of criticism I heard from the musical theater crowd was absurd. The theater audience complained about Carrie Underwood’s acting abilities (or lack thereof) and vocal strain. I am curious about the compromises the artistic team and management team make with these types of casting. I’m assuming tensions arose with the artistic team while working with a country star, a popular icon who was unfamiliar with musical theater. I wouldn’t go as far to say that theater is selling its soul, but the industry is definitely taking desperate measures to fill their seats.

  2. hgenetos
    October 3, 2014

    I’ve wondered about this. Some of those star powers are really not that great as actors in a play. They do fine in a movie format with special effects, good editing, and multiple takes to use. I am sometimes hesitant to see revival that features an all star line up. I did see Driving Miss Daisy with Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones. Frankly, it was amazing. I think my mom cried. But those are two phenomenal, well known for their true talent before there was technology to fake it actors. I’m not sure we could say the same for other revivals.

    My concerns are furthered when I see that a famous actor is replacing another famous actor immediately after their turn in a show. What would happen if an amazing theater actor actually filled that part instead of Hollywood next young thing? Would people stage a protest? No, because the performance will still be good, likely even better than the Hollywood star’s.

    An example of the reverse is looking at the recent movie version of Les Mis. They used a slew of Hollywood actors, some good and some terrible, to fill their cast, but they gave screen time to the London production’s Eponine, Samantha Barks, who did better than anyone else. One would think that people would notice when a part should be played by someone who has been training their whole life for this moment versus Russell Crowe.

  3. yaoge2016
    October 3, 2014

    I’m not really familiar with the situation in USA, but in China actors in movies or TVs can have huge difference from those in live plays. In movies and TVs, actors are require to convey subtle expressions and emotions, while in play, performers are more likely to be exaggerators and more powerful on the spot. Besides, movies/TV shows can be edited hundreds of times, while plays are displayed forthwith. In a word, the evaluation criterion of those actors are totally different. So I really cast doubt on if the quality of those plays with movie stars is guaranteed.

    If the existence of those movie stars doesn’t hurt the artistry of the play, I’ll say it’s a win-win strategy. However, if it does, the arts manager should consider if they give in their artistry criterion to the market.

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