If you build it and spend way too much, they’ll come and we’ll still lose millions – sound good? | PDC (and thus you, my faire citizen) prepares to up ante on Portland Center Stage Armory debt forgiveness to $4 million

It’s a good thing that many Portlanders wax grandiloquent at the drop of a beret about how precious art is and how much value it creates and how much it’s worth to them and how it should be supported by the government and even special taxes if needed.

Because according to a story in today’s Oregonian, Stumptown citizens are getting ready to watch their already significant subsidy for Portland Center Stage’s goliath Armory building tick up yet another $2 million in the form of additional debt forgiveness from the PDC. That’s on top of the $2 million the PDC forgave back in June. Who knows what the net number to date is of total public resources spent on the ill-conceived Titanic project. But it’s obviously north of $4 million.

There’s a much, much bigger story here that someone needs to write, one that goes all the way back to Vera Katz, and with luck real journalists are working on it. In a nutshell, the fantasy of what art is worth, and the soft spot developers have for empire building and “citadels”, as Mike Daisey calls them, are grinding across the reef of financial reality. And if people won’t pay what it costs in the form of buying tickets, who picks up the difference? Apparently the taxpayers.

Continue reading “If you build it and spend way too much, they’ll come and we’ll still lose millions – sound good? | PDC (and thus you, my faire citizen) prepares to up ante on Portland Center Stage Armory debt forgiveness to $4 million”

Who will advocate for THE AUDIENCE? | As traditional arts journalism craters, paid sponsorship creeps into editorial content

If you’re like me, you look forward to that weekly “On The Town” email from Portland Monthly every Thursday. It’s an indispensable source of picks and color on what’s happening as Portland heads into a weekend. Plus it looks great.

But scanning today’s email, you may have seen something a little different – something I don’t think I have ever seen before there: sponsored content (read: an ad) trying to look like an independent PoMo pick. I’m talking about that off key plug for Dreamgirls at PCS: “You’re gonna love Dreamgirls!”

When I first read it, I thought, “That seems a little forward and enthusiastic for PoMo.” Then I noticed the section was grayed to make it stand out. And then there it was above the section in small print: Advertisement. Pretty clever. Perfectly (almost) camouflaged to look like an editorial opinion, it’s simply an ad. I guess we should be grateful they they still bother to label it “advertisement”!

The takeaway: In an era of cratering journalism, expect to see the influence of paid sponsorship creeping more and more into editorial opinion. And if this is any indicator, you may need to look pretty darn closely to see it.

Remember that Sesame Street song?  "One of these things is not like the others."  What at first appears to be an editorial pick for Dreamgirls turns out to be a paid ad.
Remember that Sesame Street song? “One of these things is not like the others.” What at first appears to be an editorial pick for Dreamgirls turns out to be a paid ad.

If you click the Dreamgirls plug you arrive at a page of “sponsored content” on PoMo. Cleverly, the page looks exactly like one of PoMo’s normal stories – except there’s no byline. It’s basically a PCS press release.

It looks like a normal PoMo story.  But it's a paid ad.
It looks like a normal PoMo story. But it’s a paid ad.

There is a built in conflict of interest between theatres and the audience. Theatres want you to come. Audiences want to know what’s worth their time and money. In the middle are critics, media, and advertisers. Can the gray area of working for both the audience and paid advertisers be navigated? Sometimes.

But you have to really be on your game to tell the difference between critical, independent opinion on the one hand, and sponsored ads and boosterism on the other – especially in a small arts market like Portland.

The audience craves independent, accurate opinions they can trust. Advertisers know that – so the gold is getting their paid message to look like an independent opinion.

Media advocate for paid advertisers. But who will advocate for the audience?  In an ideal world – critics and editorial opinion.

caveat emptor

Shall I compare thee to an Olive Garden?

Thou art more generic and more boring.

Look around at a lot of big American regional theatres and their seasons. And what do you see? All too often, a horrifying blandness and sameness. A kind of lockstep conformity to the same approved franchised properties trucked around from coast to coast like so much frozen ham. Dull, listless menus of shows that take the audience for granted. The complete and total absence of art. Because to make art, you need artists.

In the era of local, many regional theatres didn’t get the memo. A strangely place-inspecific “you could be anywhere” ethos prevails. Except you are nowhere. Third rate productions of second rate scripts. Against such an ossified menu, the local Olive Garden starts to look cutting edge.

Why, in city after city, are America’s theatres at sush a loss for how to be different, genuine, influential?

Same stuff.  Different stages.
Same stuff. Different stages.

If you're selling bland, interchangeable experiences, make sure your visual design conveys that.
If you’re selling bland, interchangeable experiences, make sure your visual design conveys that.

Ship 'em in, truck 'em out.  And pretend it's exciting.
Ship ’em in, truck ’em out. And pretend it’s exciting.

How theatre continues to fail America: BO-NITA is 85 minutes of inane inauthenticity

BO-NITA by Elizabeth Heffron at Portland Center Stage

The emperor has no clothes. Supremely, incomprehensibly awful. Baffled silence of the room says it all: Is this really the best we can do? Embarrassing profanity. Tacky, stereotypical underclass characters. Wildly implausible “story” far below audience’s intelligence, sophistication, wit. Norris, closer to 40 than 13, miscast. Full review to follow.

2-stars

portland theatre scene review of Seattle Rep World Premiere

Thru March 16