Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tempest in a Teapot of the Day

Snobbishness goes in all directions.

In a recent article in the New York Times about the difficulty Broadway producers are having finding capitalization for their shows, and the increasing number of shows closing in January, Nancy Coyne, head of the PR firm Serino Coyne made a remark that one might politely call really dumb:

“The good news is that so many straight plays are now coming in the spring, and I think New Yorkers will come out for them once the tourists go away,” Ms. Coyne said. “We’re horrible snobs. We hate tourists from Cleveland.”

The Times has a piece about the ensuing flap here. Predictably, the focus has mostly been on the last sentence--regarding the opinion of Clevelanders--and not the second to last, in which Coyne admits New Yorker's snobbishness. Tony Brown's writeup of the incident in the Plain Dealer has elicited the expected barbs towards 1) Nasty, wealthy, elitist New Yorkers who have no interest in the rest of the country and 2) Theatre, which on Broadway consists of nothing but frothy musicals, and which no real person cares about. Who says New Yorkers are the only ones with  judgmental views of those outside of their world?

I am a Clevelander who has frequently visited New York. I like to think that my tastes are not those of the stereotypical tourist (how many 16 year olds see Ibsen and Strindberg on one trip?) but I can not deny the lure of Broadway. To a certain extent this is because I, like many, grew up loving big Broadway musicals, and never have (and hopefully never will) gotten over that love. When done well, nothing is better.

Also, people in any major city can get tough, experimental shows at home. In Cleveland, Dobama, CPT, and many other places produce exceptional work that pushes all of the boundaries. What Cleveland doesn't have in the same degree is big stuff--yes, there are the touring Broadway shows, but in my experience those are generally poor substitutes for the real thing. Touring theatres are generally much larger than those on Broadway, and it makes a difference in the experience--being one of 1,000 in the audience of New York's Spring Awakening is certainly different from being one of 2,500 in Cleveland.

However, having observed a lot of tourists in New York, I can say that the criticism of them is sometimes valid: walking slowly and blocking pedestrian traffic, treating the city like a garbage can, and generally being inconsiderate is enough to drive the most patient person mad. And New York is not an environment that breeds patience. However, those who live in New York would be well advised to remember that tourism is a major part of the city's economy, and, especially these days, it might be wise to do everything you can to make the city welcoming to those few who can still afford to be tourists.

As for Broadway: yes, there is a lot of crap there, but it doesn't take much work to find stuff that is serious and interesting. Just among currently running shows August: Osage County, Avenue Q, Boeing-Boeing, Dividing the Estate, Equus, In The Heights, Pal Joey, South Pacific, Speed the Plow, Spring Awakening, The 39 Steps, and The Seagull all have something more than flash to recommend them. When you add in Off-Broadway, there is plenty to engage an audience with good taste.

Also, a word in favor of snobbishness: it sometimes just means someone who really cares about something and has trouble with the disrespect so many people have for the art. Looking at what is and is not successful in the world of theatre, I am not ashamed to be a snob.

Besides, I live in Chicago, which is obviously vastly superior to either Cleveland or New York.

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