Politicizing Theatre Coverage | The Meighen Forum 2019

(dramatic music) (audience murmuring) (audience applauding) – Good morning. Applause for getting to our seats without tripping on the
side of the stage, step one. Good morning, my name’s Anita Gaffney, and I’m the festival’s executive director. Before we get started, I’d like to acknowledge
the indigenous peoples that came before us. I’d like to thank the Huron Wendat, the Haudenosaunee, and the Anishinaabe for their stewardship of this
land that they share with us through the Dish With
One Spoon wampum treaty. Today is our final installment
in our New York Times series. We’ve so enjoyed having
a number of sessions with participants from the New York Times. It’s really brought some great depth to the discussion. Today we welcome three of their most we’ve really stacked the panel today (panelists chuckling)
(audience chuckling) with influential arts writers, thinkers, opinion leaders from the New York Times, and we’re talking today about
politicizing theater coverage. Today’s event is being livestreamed, so I’d like to welcome
our virtual audience from around the world. We are very pleased to share
with you our discussion today. We’ll begin with some
introductions of our guests and a moderated discussion, and of course will be time for questions. Our ushers will hand out
some cards and pencils, and collect up those questions so that we can ask those
questions later in the discussion, and for our Livestream audience we’re also accepting questions. Simply pose them on the conversation feed and we’ll do our best
to bring those forward. Our conversation today is being recorded for possible broadcast on CBC Radio Ideas. Please join me in welcoming
one of the producers of Ideas, and our moderator today, Philip Coulter. (panelists applauding)
(audience applauding) – Thank you, and I want to begin by saying what a wonderful
privilege it is to be here today. As a producer with Ideas, I just want to acknowledge the fact that we’ve had such a
wonderful relationship with the Stratford Festival
for many years now, but particularly over the last seven years we’ve been recording events like this, and broadcasting them for the nation and for the world to hear, so it’s a great pleasure
for me to sit in this seat. Normally it’s the host of
the program who’s here, and I’m up in the sound booth recording. Having said that, I feel like I’ve spent
half my life in this room. (panelists chuckling) The paleness that you see is because, like a lot of theater people, you never do get to get outside and see the sunlight too often, but anyway, it’s a great privilege to share this stage
with these three people, not least because they are
print media journalists, and this is a shout-out for print media. We had a conference call about
this session a few day ago, and I was pointing out that in our family we’ve gotten rid of all of our
print versions of newspapers. Everybody get everything
online these days. The one print journal we still get is the Sunday New York
Times, and anybody who gets the Sunday New York Times
(audience applauding) realizes that you are constantly reminded that newspapers are one of the last places where you actually learn things you didn’t know you needed to learn, and that, of course, is the
essence of what makes us human, which is the connection of all kinds of unfamiliar pieces of activity
– Oh yeah, the mic, a bit closer.
– The microphone. – Not on? – [Man] Closer. – Is that better? Okay. So anyway, it’s a pleasure to be on the stage with the three of them, and of course anybody who is
familiar with the Sunday Times, or most editions of the Times, will realize that you already know who these three people are, virtually, if not in fact, and we’re on the stage with them today. Beginning at the on your right, or the stage
left, is Scott Heller. Scott is the theater editor
for the New York Times, and in the middle is Cara Buckley. Cara is their arts and culture writer. She writes about film, primarily, but also theater and other issues, and on my immediate left is Jesse, who is, Jesse Green, who is their
co-chief theater critic. I like to think of him as being one of the joint chiefs of staff, (panelists laughing)
(audience laughing) which has a kind of slightly
nervous quality to it, so you know, if you don’t
piss off the chiefs of staff, if you do you get bombed, and if you piss off the
joint chief theater critic the same thing can happen. Anyway, having said all of that, today’s session is about
theater and politics, and many of the events that the three of them have taken part in over the last few days
cover much the same ground, which is, what is that relationship between the small-p politics and the big-P Politics of our time, and also what it is that theater is doing, and what is, specifically,
theater criticism doing, and theater writing doing? I remember, as a gullible, green-behind-the-ears, wet-behind-the-ears teenager
growing up in Dublin, and very entranced with theater, seeing, it was a touring production of the Black Light Theater of Prague that came through at a time when the political scene in
Czechoslovakia was very fraught, as you may remember, and they were touring, doing this amazing black-light
theater production, and they were interviewed
in one of the local papers, and they were asked about, “What’s the relationship
between what you’re doing “and the horrible, very
conflicted politics “of your country?” and the artistic director
had a very short answer. He said, “All art is political,” and for me, as a gauche young man, I was kind of smacked
across the head by this, and I thought that was
the most amazing thing I’d ever heard, and of course it’s true, and I’ve remembered it to this day because it’s a very hard
idea to get out of your brain once you get it into your brain, so that’s part of what is behind
our discussion here today, and I wanna start with this idea of all art being political, and specifically all
theater art being political, and we go back as, let’s go
back to the ancient Greeks. That’s always a good place to start. We have good evidence
of the kinds of things that the ancient Greeks were looking at, and when you look at those plays, it’s hard to escape your attention that in the art of that time, the theater art of that time they’re talking about
the same kinds of issues that we’re talking about today, so you’re telling a story, but behind that story is a sense that it connects to the
real political lives of the people in the audience, and I want to start with that question to each of the three of you. What, specifically, do we
think it is about theater that makes it such a
rich and fertile ground for the discussion of
big political questions, and let’s start with you, Scott. – Well, I would frame
it slightly differently in that whether or not you’re talking about
big political questions, I think that what makes
theater inherently political is that it’s an art of conversation, and it’s an art of watching, being in a room watching
people talk to each other and work issues out, and that is inherently political, and I think that that’s why, unlike digital forms or
other visual art forms, there’s something small-p political about being involved and watching theater that leads you to think big-P Politically in that the art of theater is the art of people negotiating, and that, to me, therefore, immediately leads to sort of larger ways to think about politics. That’s, I think, fundamentally
why people in a room watching other people work
issues out makes theater one of the most powerful and
exciting political art forms. – So to pick up on that for
one before we move on to Cara, and that is I made reference to small-p politics and big-P Politics, and maybe we should riff
a little bit on that, and how you would interpret
that small-p/big-P Politics. What are we talking about here? – Well, I think it’s sort
of what I was saying. I think small-p politics, as practiced in the best possible way, which is not necessarily
how it’s being practiced in many parts of the country, this country, our country,
or in the world right now, is about people figuring out
ways to understand each other, get along, and come to some sort of sense of agreement on common mission, and what the kind of values of
a community or a society are. I think that theater, at its best, helps reflect back, and almost model how that can be done, so that’s where I think
the connection comes. – Cara, let’s pass to you. – So my coverage has
been primarily of film, so I’m gonna just sort
of shift a little to that because when we were talking
about the connection, I think one of the things about film that can be so powerful
is, especially these days, is it’s a, you know, like, you, an audience sitting together in a darkened place having
a common experience, and what happens on that screen is so important for the audience, in terms of if they see
themselves, and how they relate, and for me, I remember, in covering film, seeing a film with Meryl Streep about the suffragettes, and I had never seen
so many women on screen doing smart political things that I was kind of taken aback, and that it was, I think it was 2013 or
’14 when that came out, and that it took to that time for me to just have that
experience as a woman, just speaks to me the
need for representation, which is political, and having different voices because the effect on
the audience is profound when you see yourself
and don’t see yourself being reflected back
to you by your culture, and it’s very profound on
young people growing up, and this is maybe a top-down
way of looking at it, in terms of the performing
arts and what they mean, but I just think of studies out there, like young people watching television, so when you expose young
children to television the youngsters who feel
best about themselves are white boys, and then, okay about
themselves are white girls, and then black girls, and then black boys feel
the worst about themselves about watching television, so to me that’s a very, it just shows how important it is to have this representation on screen, and that’s something I
look at it in my coverage, and I think about it a lot in terms of who’s creating this content, and who’s allowed in the room
to do it, so that’s, yeah. – Want to get back to a lot
of these themes in a moment, but just to kind of ask the question about the parallel between
these two art forms. They’re both performing arts forms, one that happens to be live on stage, the other is on the celluloid or digital. Do you see any great
distinction between the two in terms of their communicative ability and the kinds of themes that
can be dealt with in film, as opposed to theater? – Right, I mean, I feel like, I feel like theater can
be a lot more nimble. I mean, film, it takes forever
to get something produced, and so by the time you see it, I mean, and it’s like the
studios take a long time to make something, and when you get down to theater, it’s just, it’s happening in real time, and there’s no substitute for that, and the immediacy of it, and especially film is so, and TV is sort of in
the middle of the two, because you can, it can react
a little bit more quickly, but in terms of the immediacy of theater, and then just the blessed relief from being in front of a screen, (panelists laughing)
(audience laughing) and feeling like a human again,
there’s just no comparison. – Jesse.
– Well, I was going to speak to the
liveness of live theater, particularly as opposed to film. There isn’t an art form that we have that is as immediate and
as public at the same time, the combination. You are, as in a movie theater, you’re sitting next to the
other people who are watching, but you’re also within spitting distance, often literally, of the actors, (audience chuckling) who are perhaps enunciating too clearly, and there is a feedback loop between the players and the audience that does not exist in film, and I find that very powerful as we move into a more
political theater once again. Your friend who announced
that all theater was political had not yet taken into
account boards of directors, and censors in some periods, and all kinds of obstacles
that playwrights and producers have either had to work around
to get their politics out, or have or have given into and not
tried to get their politics out. I feel we are moving into
a new phase in theater that perhaps we’ll get to discuss recently under extreme provocation. (audience chuckling) – We’ll talk about Trump later. (audience laughing) – Oh, I didn’t mean that. – Everything comes around to that. Your point about actors speaking clearly reminds me my colleague,
who was here last week, brought his two girls to their
first Shakespeare play ever. They saw “Merry Wives” and he asked them
afterwards, “How was it?” and they said, one of them
said, “Well, at the beginning “I couldn’t really
follow what was going on, “but as the play progressed
the actors spoke more clearly.” (panelists laughing)
(audience laughing) We are here, of course,
at a classic theater, where they do not only the classics, they commission and they perform
more modern plays as well. Let’s talk a little bit
about classic theater and the particular issues that
come with classic theater, and I think part of what
marks classic theater is that it is dealing with big fat themes, and there’s always the
temptation or the demand, with very great writers from the past, to take what they’ve done and refract it through our own times. Let’s talk a little bit
about that challenge for directors of classic plays. There’s always that impetus to make the play set in some other era, some other time, to make it relevant and
make a connection to today, what it has to say. Can we talk a little
bit about our own time and the politics of our time, and I guess all times think
that their politics are fraught, and maybe ours are just as fraught, although we tend to think
maybe they’re more fraught than previous times in world history, but we won’t know for a long time to come. However, having said that, the question really is, what
has changed in our own time? What is the challenge for
directors of classic theater and making that connection
to the politics of our time? What is the challenge, and how do we think they might actually go
about that challenge? Scott. – Well, I mean, the challenge,
I think, is splitting, well, first of all, it’s being true to your
sort of artistic vision as a director, and not wanting only to respond to a news cycle. I think that there’s
an incredible pressure to speak to the news cycle. Audiences are hungry for it, and yet I think what makes
these plays very, very rich is that there are many ways
to sort of dig into them, and many themes to explore. I think the other challenge is is to sort of step back, and to offer people a chance to be thoughtful and reflective, and a little more sober-minded. Theater can and can be a
space where people are, it’s not a space that
necessarily is gonna motivate you to wave a placard. It’s meant to, and what it’s so good at
is helping you understand, both the people you agree with and the people you don’t
necessarily agree with, and that, I think, is how to do that and respect that that’s in the text, and yet also feel like you’re speaking to
a contemporary moment is very, very valuable, and I think is getting
trickier and trickier to do. – Cara, let’s take another
take on the same question, I mean, specifically with film, which is what you write a lot about. Are there things in the
particular politics of our time, the chaos theory politics of our own time, that make it easier or more
difficult for film to deal with? What kinds of things pop up in film as issues that maybe we didn’t see before? – I mean, I think you’re seeing, I think that there’s almost an indirect, in my coverage I’ve seen
sort of an indirect, I’m gonna answer that a little indirectly. To me, you see things like, there might be, there’s a lot of pressure,
say, on the studios to hire more women, and there’s not a lot of women directors, and so you might see like one director, sorry, I’m losing the train
of thought a little bit ’cause I’m trying to weave it together. Can you rephrase the question? Sorry.
(audience laughing) I completely started on one
track I went off on another. – Yeah, I mean, when I go to
the theater I’m acutely aware, particularly with good directors, and with film you’re tending not to see productions of old classic
films or plays being redone, but in the case of theater I’m very aware that there is
going to be a political context to what it is I’m going to go and look at, and I’m just curious, I mean, I have my own opinions, but I’m curious as to whether, in film, there is a more overt attempt by directors to make what they’re doing kind of speak to the politics of the time, and given that they’re so chaotic. – Right, right, well, it
really depends on the director, like some people really resist it, and then you have
someone like Ava DuVernay who directed “Selma,”
and she directed “13th,” and she directed the
Central Park Five film, and so she is, she’s wedded
the two together very closely, and she’s become an
advocate for other women, so she has a show that she’ll
only hire female directors on, or you have someone like Spike Lee, like everything he does
can’t but be political. That’s just in his, you know, but I don’t know if the directors
of the Transformers movies are necessarily thinking about it, but then you have “Star Wars,” right? And you have, with the new
installments of “Star Wars,” they’re clearly trying to diversify. Like, look at the last “Star Wars” film. There was a female protagonist. There was a black costar, and then there was an Asian
woman in one of the lead roles who, by the way, was pilloried, like just absolutely, viscerally
assaulted on social media, just the most racist, sexist accounts, that caused her to deactivate
her social media accounts, so you have people trying to, or you have Paul Feig, who directed an all-female
version of “Ghostbusters,” and who was slammed for that, and Leslie Jones, who
was a black star in that, absolutely dealing with
all of this, you know, so you, it really depends on the director, and you can’t really
say, across the board, they are all doing it, they are all not, as you are in theater, but you have individuals,
when they do do it, are finding some success, and others are just getting trashed because there is resistance from audiences to seeing these new faces, and some studios will
just sort of forge ahead and continue to sort of stay the course, but I just wonder if there’s
a chilling effect as well, and certainly people who, like this young woman, Kelly Marie Tran, for kind of just appearing in a film, and then being absolutely trashed for it. You wonder how is that
gonna affect her choices in the future. – And what, we’ll get
to it later, I guess, but I’m wondering if, in some ways, film is forced to be more
subversive than theater. I mean, there’s less at
stake, quote-unquote, in theater than there is in film, and you know, you–
– Right, and it depends on the production level, – Yeah.
– right? I mean, once you get up to
the higher levels of studios and the big films like
“Crazy Rich Asians,” take that example. It had been reworked
so many times because, and they wanted to make it almost perfect because it was the first film in 20 years that had an Asian American cast, since “Joy Luck Club”
in the ’90s, I believe, and so it was like we can’t make this, we can’t let this fail. There’s too much at stake, so it got a lot of
attention, a lot of help. You had a studio head helping it, so that was an example of a lot of support being thrown behind a film that deviated from the normal films, but once you get down to the indies, there’s a lot more room to play, but then the trade-off is who’s, you know, are a lot of people seeing this film? Not every film is a “Moonlight.” “Moonlight” was this
lightning-in-a-bottle moment, and people try and follow those steps, but it doesn’t mean it’s gonna
get to a wider audiences, so studios are often
making economic decisions, which are why you get like
the “Transformers, Part 29,” you know?
(audience chuckling) ‘Cause they keep on, and then that formula starts to fail, but the studios really, yeah, you, it’s a trade-off between. – I just wanna go back to combining that with something you
spoke of in the theater, about doing Shakespeare,
doing classics and revivals. One of the things that happens, because there isn’t a
great deal of money at play in the theater, unless you’re doing a
large musical on Broadway no one’s really going to get rich off of a revival of “As You Like It,” the Shakespeare estate
long having been disbanded. (audience chuckling) Therefore, the prerogatives, the influences on a
director are different, and yet, a director who is
directing one of these plays needs to make his stamp, so we get an ego issue as well: How am I going to
differentiate my production, my 4,000th production of this famous play that many people already know, and the people who don’t know it may not be interested
in knowing it, either, how am I going to both
get people to see it, and also put my stamp on it, and I think that does
tend to push productions into more experimental, more outre, more overtly political treatments than might otherwise be the case. When you have a stable audience, such as at the Stratford Festival, I think you can do a more even mix of classics done in the classic style and classics done with a political edge, but you don’t need to do “Julius Caesar” where Trump is Julius Caesar. – Which we’ll get to. (panelists laughing)
(audience laughing) – Two Trump delays so
far and counting, right? – Yeah, you only get three, three, yeah, three and I’m out, right? But I guess I wanna kind of
maybe rephrase the question. You see an awful lot of theater, particularly New York
theater, I’m guessing. Is it more or less, it’s a yes-or-no question,
which you shouldn’t do, but that is, is it a greater or lesser challenge now that the politics is
so chaotic for directors? Is it actually easier, from your perspective of what you see, is it actually easier
for directors to say, yes, I can take basically any play and make a straight connection with the politics of our time? – Yes and no. (audience laughing) It’s certainly easier to
sell yourself to a company to direct a production if you give them
something they can market, something that suggests a good image that they can put in their advertising. This is part of the theater
too, and has always been. The Greek plays we spoke of
were parts of competitions. Those playwrights had
ego investments as well. They wanted to win the
laurels and make some money, so when somebody goes
to the public theater with an idea for doing an all-penguin
version of such-and-such, (chuckles) that may, they may be encouraged
to do so by the fact that that will help get
them the attention they want and the production they want. That’s not necessarily bad, and it’s a problem for theater coverage that the people who write about theater, including myself and
the people who edit it, see way more than most people do, and what we may become interested in may not be the same thing as what people who are going once a month are interested in seeing. When I’ve seen so many productions of, let’s say, “As You Like It,”
or “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” oh, God forbid “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” (audience laughing) I’m absolutely going to
be drawn more to somebody who’s taking it even weirder and further than to someone who’s doing a fairly straight-ahead
classic version of it. – Same as an assigning editor. That’s absolutely right. Yeah, I would. That would make me more
likely to assign a story and try to figure out what
a director was getting at, but I do think in my job it’s
also important to recognize and make sure we’re not
only covering the new, and the highly politicized,
and the trendy, and not recognizing that
there’s still a lot of people doing great classical work, you know, great classic
takes on classical work, and also, actually, interestingly, I think one of the complexities, for me, and for the Times, and probably for a lot of culture editors and culture writers, is what the audience, our
readership, is interested in, and maybe even what your
audience is interested in, as opposed to what directors and artists are wanting to do with
these classic works. I think there’s a little bit of a I wouldn’t say a mismatch, but I think that audiences
are needing to be further, readers and audiences are
needing to be educated and brought along a little bit more. I’m sensing that, that there’s a little bit of a recoiling going on in some cases, where they’re being asked to take, to look at work, revisionist work, and sometimes they may
not wanna be looking at it through that lens. I’m sensing that a little bit. – Yeah, well, we do get lot
of blowback from readers when we get behind a radical revision of a classic work of one sort or another, and we get plenty of angry e-mails saying, “Why do people have to
change these things at all?” It’s not as if these works didn’t have political or
relevant content in them, even not transformed with
a new setting or whatever, but we are basically on the side of finding what is new in these works, so we’re always going, I feel, I’m always going to be
prejudiced in favor of those who are exploring new ways
of looking at the work. – Wanna pick up on
something you said, Scott. I was gonna get to it later,
but you touched on it, and that is the role of the
writer/critic/commentator, and how you interpret
your individual jobs. I mean, we were talking about this in the car coming down this morning, about what it is that the critic does, and how that has changed over the years, and time was, I think, particularly for a lot
of local journalists, and maybe even still today, the role of the critic
is to go to the play, and come back and say that
you loved the lead actor but you hated the play, or the set was awful and the lighting was, like all that stuff, and then go and see it
or don’t go and see it, three out of five, or whatever. That was the kind of basic criticism, you know?
(Scott chuckles) But obviously it’s all
morphed and changed, and our relationship as
commentators, shall we say, is constantly under review, and just you’ve given a
kind of snapshot, I guess, of how you consider your job to be. Do you want to talk a
little bit more about that, what it is you think your
job as theater editor is? What’s that strike zone? – Well, the role of the
critic, to put that aside, I think the point is to figure out ways to encourage conversation around a particular piece of theater, or particular work of art, that starts with the piece of criticism, but then goes beyond
the piece of criticism. I think that Jesse and his colleague, Ben, and, really, our whole staff of critics does a pretty good, not a pretty good job,
but a very good job of, sorry,
(audience laughing) (laughs) it’s being streamed, I know, does an unbelievably good job. I’m staring at the camera. – [Philip] 10 of 10. – Does a terrific job of
offering important context and making shrewd aesthetic judgments, and sifting and weighing what’s interesting about a new production in relation to other
versions they’ve seen before when they’re classics, but for an editor that
now can’t be the endpoint. I think the Times review
used to be the endpoint, and then you would move on, and now my job is to listen for other opinions out there, other writers, other
people who are making, who perhaps disagree or are taking issue, or are seeing a work of
art through another lens, figuring out how to surface
those commentaries as well, and also, frankly, and this is where Cara and I have talked, is figuring out ways to recognize that there are common themes
in what filmmakers are doing, what visual art-makers are doing, and what theater-makers are doing, just to name three genres, and find ways for the Times, if the Times is really gonna be excellent, it also needs to recognize and be able to surface those
kinds of themes writ large, and not just only write a
review, as excellent as it is, and then move on, so that’s really, I think, where the, that’s one of the pressures on me, and a related pressure is to
find younger and newer voices who, themselves, are
approaching the art form, coming, having, approaching an art form from, with their own various experiences, various takes on what an art form is even meant to do in the world, which has changed, I
think, generationally, so. – Jesse, I wanna jump to you next on this, with some purpose to this, but in terms like feet on the ground going out in the evening,
usually, to go and see a play, what kind of things are in your mind as to what you think
is the balance of stuff that you need to talk about? – Well, I consider what I
do a form of journalism. I know a lot of people don’t. I am reporting, but I’m
not necessarily reporting on who starred in the show. I am reporting on my own reactions. Now, it sound solipsistic, but if I can’t trust that I am in this position for a reason, and should give it my best, then I have nothing to say, so I go, and I try to have the clearest, strongest response to whatever I see, and to report truthfully on that, while also doing the business that the Times has always
done, of for the record. For the record, there was this play. It opened on this date. It was about this, and we do include that, although I tend to draw the line at the 19th ensemble member, and the you know, when we have
to list the producers of a Broadway musical, it’s (audience laughing) it takes up all my space. I can’t say anything else, so in that sense I’m looking
to maximize my experience. I wanna go in in a good mood, if possible. I’m excited, still, every
time the lights go down. I like being in a theater, and these are the conditions in which I hope to see every play. Coming out of it, though, there are a number of gates to get over, and some of them are coming
from politics writ large, but some of them are journalism politics. We are, as Cara has written
about and spoken about, we’re very concerned about representation, about even small things, how
we refer to people in a play. You had an article recently
about transgender actors who were suing the Internet Movie Database over the way they were referred to. Maybe you can remind me of that. – Right, it was IMDb, which is this movie aggregate database that lists the production
credits of a film. It lists the reviews of a film, and trans actors were asking that their birth genders not be, or their birth names not be listed there, or to have the option of those
birth names not to be listed, so someone like Laverne Cox, who came to fame with
“Orange is the New Black,” would like to be known
only as Laverne Cox, that is her name, instead
of what her birth name is, which she feels like is not really a name that is dead to her, really, and it’s a mischaracterization
of her gender, but under the IMDb model
they won’t change it, and so trans actors have
signed on to this initiative to try and, well, it’s a legal action, to try and get IMDb to change that, so. – So we, when we write
reviews or write about people, we have to we have to look around every corner for possible ways in
which we’re participating in the problems that other people are bringing out in society, and we have to decide
how we, as a newspaper, are going to respond to them. We get style directives fairly regularly about what the new rule is
about using Mx., for example, as opposed to Ms. or Mr.,
or people who have only want to use only one name,
or various things like that. I know it’s a small issue, but it’s a version of the largest issue, which is how are we going to represent the changes going on in our society in the way we write about the world, and the theater is the world. – I want to pick up on
that, to go to you, Cara, and it’s a lengthy preamble
to the question to you. I mean, if you’re not familiar with Cara’s writing in the
Times, I wanna read you, you can go on the Times and
you can search Scott Heller, and you can see everything he’s written in the last X number of Times, – It’s just this much. (audience laughing)
– It’s interesting to do that. – I’m an editor, so I don’t
write all that much, but yeah. – But Cara, I want to read a partial list of some of the recent
things that you’ve written as they’re listed on the Times website. Goes like this: “A Bird
Show Spots a Rival, “and Bird-Watchers of Color Are Angry.” Two nature series with black
hosts debuted online recently. The makers of one say their rivals are playing into racial stereotypes. Another one: “Watching ‘Euphoria,’ “Two Young Recovering
Addicts Saw Themselves.” The women, now in their 20s and in rehab, said they recognized their own lives in the HBO show’s
portrayal of teen drug use. Last one: “Inclusion Rider?” question
mark, “What Inclusion Rider?” Nearly a year and a half after Frances McDormand
made the term famous, few Hollywood productions are
using this contractual tool. What strikes me about this little list, and everything, most other
things that you write about is that it’s almost like
you’re the mirror image of what Jesse’s doing. You’re starting with
some big social question, and you’re looking for
stuff in popular media that allows you to explore that question. Can you talk, if I haven’t already summarized
your job description, (panelists laughing)
(audience laughing) do you wanna talk a little bit about that? – Right, I mean, what my job is, is to cover diversity in Hollywood, which, it’s a tough word. I mean, Ava DuVernay said it’s sort of like algebra in Hollywood, like it’s just sort of
like, (sighs), diversity, and she wants it to, she would like it to be termed inclusion. We’re trying to track, how I first started covering Hollywood, I was a metro reporter for years, and then I went to Iraq,
I did different things, and then I jumped into covering
the Oscars for the paper, and in my first year covering the Oscars there was the controversy
of #OscarsSoWhite, in which all of the acting nominees for several years in a row were white, so this is a very lengthy
preamble to my answer, which I might forget by
the time I get there, so (panelists laughing)
(audience laughing) and one of the things
that really interested me, covering #OscarsSoWhite, was how the Academy, which
gives out the Oscars, responded was they were gonna really
diversify our membership. We’re gonna, you know, at the time, I think 70, 2/3, over 2/3 of the membership was male, overwhelmingly white,
overwhelmingly older, and they really have
made a push to diversify, asking more minorities and women, and people who weren’t American
into the Academy’s fold, and what struck me,
covering that, initially, was a lot of the
long-term Academy members, who tend to be older and male, were very angry about this, and they felt like standards
were being lowered, and one man said to me,
“We absolutely aren’t. “We feel like we’re
being accused of racism, “but it’s, you know,
we’re a liberal industry. “How could we be?” and, “We, “did we not give Sidney
Poitier the Oscar?” and I was like (laughs)
(audience laughing) That was, you know, in the late ’60s, and it’s true, but it just, it was like an ossified
mental version, like, it felt like they could
not see themselves, and because Hollywood
so frequently, you know, the stories, the studios, the stories are written by and for, oftentimes, unless, so
men often, white men, it just, Hollywood would,
like, would saw itself reflected back to itself, so people, the men often didn’t realize that their voice wasn’t everyone’s voices, and so, and when I
started to pay attention to films that spoke to me, or TV shows that spoke to me, or that found, you know, often there were women writers involved, or things that felt different. There might be writers of color involved, and so, as the Academy started to change, as people started to become more aware, and as there was more of an outcry about lack of representation, #OscarsSoWhite, one of the
reasons it became an issue was because of Black Lives Matter, so there was, there’s just
a complete interconnection. People were paying more
attention to this kind of thing, and so what I try and do is how do we track these microchanges, or these new shifts that
are happening in Hollywood? It’s such a huge and vast industry, and so I’m trying to, like Scott said, talked about tracking the new, tracking the different voices, seeing who is getting traction and some of the people who are dazzling with dazzling
results, like Jordan Peele, you know, his films have been amazing, how am I forgetting “Get
Out,” you know, that was just, it was amazing to watch that in New York and feel, as a white, liberal
audience member myself get sort of skewered, the stereotypes about me
being reflected back to me, and so what I’m trying
to do in my coverage is track how, you know, what different voices are
saying about Hollywood, and how different agents of change are making inroads in Hollywood, and why are they succeeding, and who helped them, and so it’s sort of like this
constantly shifting thing, and sometimes I have to look at the fact that maybe our readers don’t
want to read about things that are really small-scale
and granular so, that I’m interested in, like the really
super-behind-the-scenes things like, deep in the credits of a film, you know, if you’re sticking
around for the credits, and it’s like grips, key
grips, like key grips? What’s a key grip? And so I might dive into that and say what does that look like? Are there many women working at it? So I working in that job, and I did an article on how
few women were in that job, but our readers are like, eh,
like they don’t really care, you know, so we (sighs), they do, some do. The key grips definitely care. (panelists laughing)
(audience laughing) But it’s a real balance of, you know, interest in this granular thing, and then what do our readers want, and our readers often do want
interest in the blockbusters, so for us, when those
two things intersect, like “Wonder Woman” was wonderful example of a female director, a wonderful female-driven action movie. “Black Panther,” another example, and “Captain Marvel,” another example. That’s when it’s sort of like, sort of, for me, like
the money shot, in a way, because it’s those issues coupled with things that a
broad readership cares about, and hopefully there’ll be more
and more of those examples because it’s great when
that intersection happens. – I just wanna just drop in that, however digital we may have
become, we’re still a newspaper. We begin with what’s new. This is what’s new. We have to write about this, and news is always, journalism and art, has always been begun in
complaint and injustice. (panelists chuckling)
No, it, I mean, – It’s true.
– not just me complaining, Scott.
– I know I (panelists laughing)
(audience laughing) but the world of complaint,
the world of complaints, the injustices that
artists have always taken as their subject, even in comedy, and so if we are going to be a newspaper and not just reflect
back, as you were saying, the same images of ourselves that we have enjoyed seeing in the past, we have to find, and listen
to, and try to do justice to what other people are now telling
us about what’s happening. – Wanna move on to some
more contemporary questions, but before we do, one
thing I would like to do, specifically with a
question for you, Jesse, but everybody can, of course, jump in, and that is on this question of classic plays and classic theater, of which you see a lot, I guess. Is there a contemporary
example that you can think of that you’ve seen, a play, a production of a classic play that pulls together some of these themes, the big questions of personal
politics, and larger politics, and the past, and the present, and pulls them together
into some coherent form? It’s always an imperfect thing. You never make everything work when you do a quote-unquote
contemporary version of a classic play, but give us an example of
something that you thought worked. – Well, I’m gonna give you
an example, a double example, of two classic plays, Shakespeare plays, that had many elements that
did work and some that did not. I think that’s a useful
kind of subject to look at. They were both produced
by The Public Theater, which is a leading theater in New York. Both of them happened to be in their summer home in Central Park, which is a supposedly
free theater experience at the Delacorte. That’s another subject. (audience chuckling)
Uh, free to me, anyway, which (audience laughing) which is not irrelevant. You know, I don’t pay for my tickets, so my perspective, it may
be different from someone who’s being asked to
put out a lot of money. Be that as it may, this
summer they did a production of “Much Ado About Nothing,”
which I wrote about, and it was set in 2020
in what appeared to be, I mean, it wasn’t explicitly stated because the text was not altered, but it appeared to be during
a presidential campaign in which the Stacy Adams, uh – Abrams.
– Abramson. – Stacy Abrams, who had run, mm, I’m going to forget the
politics here, she had– – Democratic candidate for
the governorship of Georgia. – Right, and she was
perhaps cheated out of a win in that race. There was, there’s some lingering question about how the Republican ended up winning. Anyway, in this production,
the director, who was black, imagined a few years hence this very popular young
politician running for president. It is set in an upper-class black enclave, and without changing a word the whole thing makes perfect sense, and yet post-#MeToo, post-Black Live Matter, the entire story seemed as if it had been
written to those issues. The way women’s power is limited by their fathers, and their
fiances, and husbands, the way the way the military is implicated in both changing norms of society and also retaining norms of society, all of this suddenly flowered out of a play I’d seen
dozens and dozens of times, and that is one of my favorites, in fact, but even its favoriteness began to cloy after a certain amount of time, so I was thrilled with it. Now, were there problems? Yes, but by the time at the end when the main character finally has, through a trick,
brought everything right, and she is about to turn and go ahead and marry the man that you think that she
has spent most of the play trying to avoid, you’re left with what will happen now to make this play end properly, and the director had her go up to him and slap him in the face, and the audience erupted
in some kind of relief that something we’ve been feeling, and perhaps many of us wishing
for in a general societal way (panelists laughing)
(audience laughing) was happening, at least on the stage, and for that, if for that reason alone, I thought it was a thrilling production. The other one I wanna mention, and we can talk about separately because it’s when we
finally do get to Trump, (chuckles)
(audience chuckling) is the “Julius Caesar”
that was done in the park, the same theater two years earlier. – Just on this thing about “Much Ado,” I went, I looked at your review, and I thought it’s worth
reading part of the opening just to kind of get a
sense of how, I think, ideally one pitches this kind of thing. It’s a review of a play, but it’s also something that
goes to a very deep matter, and here’s how it begins. “I think this is your daughter,”
says one man to another, indicating a young woman he hasn’t met. “Her mother hath many times told me so,” the second man retorts. Just as it must have in London in 1599, the line gets a big laugh in Central Park, where The Public Theater’s
production of “Much Ado” just opened, but surely that laugh
rings differently today than it did 420 years
ago, or even just one. What for centuries was
merely mild ribaldry now touches hot button issues: the question of women’s sexual self-rule, and the problem of male paranoia
passed off as pleasantry, and I thought that was wonderful writing because to my eye it balances
all of these things– (audience laughing)
– No argument here. Or maybe it was the skill of his editor. – No, I didn’t even edit it, in fact. – Anyway– – It’s a little wordy in
places, I thought, but– (panelists laughing)
(audience laughing) – You always say that. – Which brings us, by
a great circumlocution, to the Trump factor that
we’ve been talking about here, and that is, I guess, I’ve talked about the chaos theory of the politics that we have now, and how that influences
theater coverage, et cetera. What is that Trump factor, and how, and to what extent
has Trump politicized both the making of theater,
and the reporting of it, and the attendance of it? Scott. – Well, I think people are furious and wanna express their fury, and if a piece of art isn’t satisfactorily raising questions or challenging this administration or the state of the world right now, people are very, very quick to criticize. I mean, there is a feedback loop, which is sort of generated from Trump, and has now been picked up on social media by an audience which is always to be, to sort of be sort of shooting first and asking questions later, and I think that’s made
it harder and harder for critics, journalists,
and audience members to have reflective conversations. I think that’s one issue, and that has made all of our
jobs slightly more complicated, and maybe it’s productive, but it absolutely, the temperature right now
is really high, I think, and even for the New York Times, when we when people don’t like
what we say about a show, it used to be that, oh,
you just didn’t get it, or you don’t understand me, and now it’s that you’re sort of, the questions are raised about just what kind of person are you, what are your values, and I think that’s changed
the tone of conversation. Absolutely, that’s one point. What, I’m sorry, what were you gonna ask? – Sorry, no, just gonna say,
part of the chaos of this, I think part of what’s behind
my question is, you know, if you’re a theater artist in
Czechoslovakia in the 1960s it’s pretty clear what it is
you’re trying to write about, even if it has to be highly metaphoric, otherwise you’re gonna
end up in jail, and it’s or 1930s in Germany. It’s like you can see what, or at least we think we can see what it is that you’re trying to get at. I guess part of what’s behind my question is the difficulty of figuring out what it is we’re trying to get at when we’re getting at Trump
because it’s so chaotic. Anyway, I’ll pass it on to Cara. – Well, again, I feel a
little bit out of my depth talking specifically about theater. Well, as you were–
– Well, I would say, let’s not say theater,
let’s just say what it is in the film–
– I was just thinking as, I mean, these are very, I’m a reporter, primarily, not a, I’m a reporter, not a critic, so I really deal with what I’m seeing. I’m not extrap, well, I,
everything is through a lens, but I’m not doing an
analysis of the thing. I’m more writing about the thing. What I was thinking about as you were talking about, you know, representations of Trump,
and dealing with Trump, I was thinking about two recent shows. One is Ava DuVernay’s Central Park Five, which is a Netflix show that’s a narrative feature in a series on the wrongful conviction
of five young men in the Central Park jogging
rape case in the ’80s, and Ava was really coasting, really reminding, again, of
what Trump did at that time, which was he took a full-page
ad out in the New York Times, basically saying kill these animals, like it was just, or bring
back the death penalty, and just sort of she was using the medium just to remind us of one of
the roots of Trump, you know, one of the faces that he
was showing back then, and then I think about
Ryan Murphy’s show, “Pose,” which is set in the ’80s as well, about, it’s about the drag queen balls, which where voguing
came out of in the ’80s, and it reminds us how much, at the time, the world was besotted with
capitalism and with Trump, and it was, to me, that that was an interesting
depiction of Trump. He was revered at that time, and it was sort of like what
the show was reminding us is like we used to fall in love with the unfettered capitalism of this, like this was us back then, this was society back then, in love with this idea, and part of the reason for the balls was for impoverished black men of color to dress up and pretend
that they were rich, and with Trump being the ideal, and to me that’s an uncomfortable mirror of how we used to view, and how things are just so different now, and so I’m just thinking of those representations historically, how we’ve changed as an audience,
you know, looking at him. – Speaking of looking at him, I’ll just, I’ll mention anecdotally
that I sat behind him in the theater once
before he was president, and we were seeing “American Idiot,” the – (scoffs) Really?
(audience laughing) – You write your own headlines. This is a cheap shot, but I did spend the entire show trying to figure out his hair. I thought of it as a civic duty, but I was never able to do it. – There is a deep dive. Have you read the deep
dive, like somebody, there’s like a 5,000-word essay out there. Someone found the original hairdresser who had a place in Trump Tower, and it involves lots of tying of strands of filaments onto existing,
and there’s grafts. Anyway, it’s out there on
the Internet if you’re. (audience laughing) – The Trump effect, I think
we should quickly establish that there’s a good and a bad to it. You know, our own health as a newspaper has benefited from the chaos you speak of. People, particularly in New
York, but around the country, who were shocked, felt
slapped in the face by this, his victory, let alone
what he’s done since then, but, you know, who had an assumption based on what they perceive to be the rightness of their values, that the rest of the
country would share them, had quite a comeuppance at that point, and were looking, on the one hand, for ways to understand it, perhaps to understand how they had failed to
see what was happening, but also to validate their anger, and to kind of act as a kind of a an oven for keeping that anger going, and there’s a great deal more
chaos that comes out of that, so you do sometimes have the feeling, as you’re covering plays that are addressing the
political moment directly, of danger, that you want
to explain the moment, want to explain what the play is doing, and as a human being, as I said, I’m reporting
on my own reactions, I also want to join in that response, but I’m leery of letting this wildfire get much more wild. It does feel, as Scott was mentioning, the kinds of responses,
even the Gray Lady, I mean, you know, we’re
unimpeachable, of course, the kinds of responses we get
are so vicious and personal I have to sometimes take
vacations from social media like Leslie Jones or whoever, uh– – Kelly Marie Tran.
– Kelly Marie Tran, because it’s too much for my dainty skin. (audience laughing) – There’s a bunch of questions coming in from the audience here, and a couple of them are leading us to one of the areas that, of
course, we need to talk about, and that is, I guess it’s
on the more small-p politics frame of what it is that theater does, and there are many issues that theater artists have dealt
with in contemporary times around colorblind casting, around gender swapping. Certainly in theater
this is being dealt with in a way that maybe film can’t, or has a different kind
of set of parameters that it has to deal with. Let’s talk a little bit about this. We’ve come through
colorblind casting, as I say, and gender swapping is now something that’s a lot more normal and
ordinary to see on stage, so I guess the question now
is what are the new frontiers? Where are the areas where theater has to catch
up with society by itself? For example, there’s a new
production of “Oklahoma!” where the leading actor
is in a wheelchair, and I think she won a Tony Award this year
– She won a Tony. – She did, yes.
– Supporting actor, the,
– Sorry. – Ado Annie.
– Ado Annie. – Ado Annie, sorry, which I guess is something
we all cheer for, and I guess I’m wondering is it easy to talk about
some of the other borders that we need to cross to make theater more
quote-unquote representative of the real world that we’re living in? – I just wanna get to
colorblind for a minute because I don’t think we’re
done with that by any means, and there’s several terms that are used that have slightly different implications, but part of the purpose
of colorblind casting is to correct a historical wrong in actors of color just not
having adequate opportunities compared to white actors, and to the extent that that continues, and it does continue, colorblind casting is by no means over. It needs to go further, but as it goes further we
learn new things about it, so in the first wave
of colorblind casting, this is all my theory and my language. Other people will talk
differently about it. Black and other non-white
actors were being asked to, often to play roles that were classically
or traditionally white, or that existed in societies
within the fiction, where it would have been more likely that that character was white, and often some of the
black actors I’ve spoken to felt grateful for the opportunity, but they were being asked
to play white characters. What’s beginning to happen
more, as in this “As You Like,” uh, this “Much Ado About Nothing,” is something that I call color conscious, where, yes, they are black actors, and they are playing characters that have been traditionally
played by white actors, but they’re not being asked
to play white roles anymore. They are now playing
themselves as these people, and it doesn’t take that much
imagination to get over that. I mean, honestly, I’m not
supposed to get on the pulpit, but this is something I
feel very strongly about. Like, get over it. There’s so much to gain from seeing what other
people’s lives bring to the lives that we already know about, so to that extent I think
we have a lot more to go, and a lot more education to do its, you know, to have a black
person playing a lead in an Arthur Miller play is still something that’s very hard for people to understand. – Although it’s happening
in London right now. I mean, there’s an all-black
“Death of a Salesman” that apparently is terrific, so– – Right, so that’s, you’re
asking where are we going? Where do we need to go? That’s one, and then, I
think, also, we’re facing, and trying to deal with
issues of inclusion, and of transgender people
on stage and in movies. It’s quite a live issues right now. – It is. I mean, there was just a big
sort of kerfuffle on Twitter. (panelists chuckle) I mean, there’s always a
big kerfuffle on Twitter. – That’s redundant, yeah. (panelists laughing)
(audience laughing) – Disney is doing another
live action remake, and it’s doing “The Little Mermaid,” and a young black actress was
cast as the little mermaid, and there was a kerfuffle over that, and to me–
– Because mermaids are white, obviously.
– Yeah, fish are white, (audience laughing) and to me, part of the
thing is colorblind casting, because it makes you
reflect on, well, why do I, am I thinking about this differently? Why am I thinking about this differently? Why am I experiencing this differently? It causes you to reflect on things that you don’t realize that
you brought in with you, but I think also what’s important, and this is different
from classical plays, but is a lot of actors
of color I interview, they’re so, they do get written
into stereotypical roles, so, you know, an actor, a black actor is playing a
young doctor on a TV show, and I was talking to one writer who was the lone writer of
color in a white writers room, and they said, “Yeah, why
don’t we make that doctor, “you know, he has a scar
from, like, a gang shooting,” and he goes, like,
“Why” (laughs) you know, and this writer of color, the lone writer of color in the room, he said, “I don’t know any gang.” Goes, like, “Why does the black actor always
have to be gang-adjacent?” and that was a very ossified white view of things, and I think that, so there’s also a question
of who’s writing the plays, you know, who, and for me, when I’m watching a show, often if the lines are written by women they ring more true to me, and I think that, instead of
slotting colorblind casting into roles that are
conceived of, written by, directed by one specific
race, one specific gender, having that mixed up, you know, different
race, different gender, having those voices, they make things ring
more true to the audience, and like you said, can make
it a lot more interesting. Like “Black Panther” is an example of a film that did
tremendously well because it, so many parts of it rang true with life as African Americans in America. You know, the director, Ryan
Coogler, is from Oakland, and he, his claim to fame
was “Fruitville Station,” which was about the shooting
of a young black man in a public transport
train in the Oakland area, and he really made sure that “Black Panther” was completely, he got complete artistic license with it. He was able to write in things that resonated so much with audiences, and was fresh to other audiences. There’s a lot of white audiences who hadn’t thought of things that way, and I think that that is also, you know, that’s where
Hollywood goes ka-ching, wait a minute, we might be able to get new audiences by bringing more voices in, and again, that is, for
me, very satisfying, to see the confluence of
something that Hollywood needs, which is, it’s never gonna
make enough money for itself, and new voices coming in. – That’s something that theater’s
having a harder time with. I mean, I think that the writing now, so much of the important
contemporary playwriting in the theater world is dealing with race and gender, and is written by non-whites and by women. The work is extremely challenging, and yet figuring out a way
to diversify the audience is really proving to be, to
me, the next real hurdle, and you don’t yet really
see good answers so far– – And to introduce the
white elephant in the room, also figuring out how to diversify the
critical establishment. You know, I’m white. My colleague Ben Brantley is white. Most of our theater colleagues are white. Most of the New York critical
establishment is white. We’re all white here on the panel, and I’m not suggesting a solution that involves my losing my job, but (audience laughing) but some people are, – Yes.
– you know, and that has to be thought about. – And I just–
– Well, you’re being, you’re being psychic here. There’s a question from the audience here about the whiteness of criticism, you know (chuckles) across– – And also the maleness as well. I mean, I just wanna jump in.
– And the maleness, yeah. – There’s been studies about this, too, so again, I’m going back
to my (mumbles) film, but 2/3 of the film writers in America, or the major ones, are
men, and 1/3 are women, and it’s sort of held at
that for a long, for a while, and male critics tend to rate male-directed,
male-led films more favorably, and so that has a skewing effect, and conversely women critics tend to review women-led, women-directed films more favorably, and so it’s just something to think about, like you can’t lose yourself at the door, and that’s definitely
affecting your output, even if you try your
darnedest for it not to. – Hm,
– There’s– – I’m going to have to
do some counting now and see how I’ve done on that score. – There’s a question here
I want to throw out at you, and it’s an interesting one, and that is, it goes back to Trump, and then we’ll move on to a couple of other things,
(Scott chuckles) but it’s an interesting question in that, I’m paraphrasing the question, but it is more or less that
Trump has created such chaos that even categories of good
and bad are now in question. He’s defining what he
thinks good and bad are, but it makes it a much
more uncertain ground for us to walk on, and I guess what the
questioner is asking is, since that is so much up in the air, does it make issues of quality more difficult for people
who are writing about art? – For me it does.
– (mumbles) the question. – Yes.
– It’s a great question. – So Scott referred to a recent thing that’s going on in the New York theater is the emergence of a new generation of younger, mostly black
playwrights, many of them women, who are producing works
that are very challenging, both formally, and also
politically, about race. When I say formally I mean that
the theatrical conventions, the use of the theater, is imaginative and
transgressive in various ways, and many of us are finding it to be the most powerful and interesting
thing to happen in theater in a very long time, as if a long-pushed-down set of voices had finally gotten access to a microphone, and it’s quite thrilling to watch, but it doesn’t mean that every
work that comes out of that is going to be of the same quality, and it’s very hard, in
the foment of the moment, ooh, to
(panelists chuckle) (chuckles) sorry, I
unintentionally rhymed, (audience laughing)
to to make certain kinds of judgments, and also, I have to admit, we use this word virtue signaling. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, where we get involved
in wanting to seem to be on the right side of history ourselves, and the way we write about it. That lead that you read of mine, you know, thank you for liking it, but I will admit, on hearing it I also hear myself posing a little bit, and that’s something that happens a lot because you don’t want
to be on the wrong side, and you don’t wanna
get those tweets at you which, no matter what you
do, you get them anyway, so that’s a long way of saying, as at any moment when a
new wave is coming forward, it is hard to distinguish, and you are thrown more and more back on your own first principles, and as Cara has been pointing out, your own first principles
may no longer apply, the older you get and
the more distinct you are from the people who are creating the art. – That’s a good, a very good answer. I mean, I, but, I’m sorry, what were you gonna say?
– No, no, no, just if you want to jump in. – Ask me another question.
– Okay. (panelists laughing)
(audience laughing) Since we’re talking about Twitter, it does lead on to another area that we probably should get into, and the chaos that’s going
on in Twitter and itself. This morning there’s a tweet from Scarlett Johansson, the actress, saying that as far as she’s concerned, as an actor she should be able
to play anything, anybody, even a tree or a stone. – She’s done that. (audience laughing) – No, no.
– Uh-oh, don’t check your Twitter account later. – From a journalist’s point
of view it’s a great question because there’s absolutely no answer to it that’s gonna keep anybody happy, but I’d throw it over to you. What do we do? This is one of the great
debates of our time, and of course we know what’s
implied by the question, which is where are the lines about should a non-trans person
be playing a trans role, and on it goes. We’ve had this one going around
the block for awhile now. Let’s just kind of grab that nettle. Scott. – What do you want? What? There is no answer. There really, there really is not.
– I actually might be able to – Yeah, okay.
– stumble towards something. – Cara. – So I did a story in last fall about a woman who, her name is Maysoon Zayid, and she tried to be an actress, and it didn’t really work, so she became a comedian, and she starts one of
her shticks with like, “If there was an impression
Olympics, I would win. “I’m disabled, I’m Muslim, I’m a woman, “and I’m from New Jersey,” (audience laughing)
and she always gets a big laugh, and what she explained to
me, like for me, when I see, and this is different from trans, but when I see someone like Eddie Redmayne playing Stephen Hawking
and winning awards, I mean, he did a beautiful job, like what’s the problem with this? She says, “We see somebody
clowning, like mocking. “No one can inhabit that
skin of a disabled person. “It is, for us it looks
like you’re mocking, “you’re making fun of, “and you won’t understand
that from our perspective, “but that’s what it seems to us, “and disabled actors have so few “opportunities as it is, “so hire us into the few
roles that you write,” and you know, what
Scarlett Johansson says, you know, sure, in an ideal world everyone should be able
to play everything, but when you have, and there’s been backlash about Tilda Swinton playing in one movie. I don’t see all the Marvel movies, but she was playing like a Tibetan mystic, and some people said, “Well, why is,” and this happened with Emma Stone playing a woman of Hawaiian
descent in another film, there’s so few opportunities for, you know, quote-unquote, minorities, or people of color on screen, white people shouldn’t be given that role. Now, if you’re financing a film, someone is going to be far more willing to pay up for a name
brand, a famous name than, so that’s, it is a conundrum, but someone responded to the tweet on Scarlett Johansson saying, you know, “When every person of color can, “when people of color “are able to only play
people of color roles, “or roles written for people of color “are not given to white people, “and all things are even, “that that would be great, “but we’re not there
yet by any stretch,” so. So there, Scarlett. (audience chuckling) – I think we have to distinguish between the level of outrage that these decisions sometimes produce on social media and elsewhere, which I think is modeled
from the president. I mean, I think that’s
how we’ve all learned to expect to have
discourse in that manner. Leaving that aside, I think
we have to distinguish between the reactions that
these decisions are met with and the validity of the
decisions in the first place, so there’s a tremendous amount of anger when we hear that a transgender actor is complaining that the lead
in the show “Transparent” is a cisgender, heterosexual man. Why is that happening? And people begin to respond to the anger about that fact rather than the merits of the case, and that’s another thing
that we have to sort out. – But it’s also out of that anger that you may, then, see “Pose” created. You may actually, it may prompt, it’s out of the disability question that you may see that young guy, Ryan O’Connell or McConnell,
who’s done that comedy. He’s done a comedy series, a
Netflix series called “Special” about being a gay man with
cerebral palsy, I think, so there is an artistic response, which is make the world you want it to be and then step into it, which, in theater, and in not in the biggest Hollywood scale, but in a smaller scale,
it is possible to do, – Although it’s interesting–
– or it’s possible to make progress, at least, I think. – And one sees progress, but the fact that we’re seeing it suggests that it isn’t
a great deal of progress because if it were a great deal
you would no longer see it, and I think it’s worth noting that that young woman you
mentioned, Ali Stroker, who uses a wheelchair, and won the Tony Award for this playing Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!”, when she won the Tony Award she could not get onto the stage. She had to be placed backstage because they had no ramps that she could use to get up there, so there’s a lot further
to go if that’s our goal. – I wanna get towards
the audience in a moment, and what it is we think audiences want, and your experience of
looking at that question, but before we do, I want to
kind of broaden the lens, as it were, a little bit, and put this in our discussion in a more international context, and all of you are acutely aware that you’re writing specifically for a North American audience, but of course it’s a big world out there, and particularly in the Western world, where there are,
quote-unquote, similar values, and I’m wondering, since the art of film
and the art of theater is quite different in
other cultures than ours, and their political experience
is not identical to ours, I’m wondering, when you look at the art, the theater and film art of
other, say, Western cultures, are they dealing with the
same issues that we are, and that you are dealing with here, and trying to make the connection between what theater can
do to create some kind of, and film can do to create
some kind of understanding and reason in our society, versus the actual nature
of that society itself? Is it a shorter or a longer journey for people who are doing what you’re doing in other Western cultures? – Briefly, in theater, European theater has long been dominated by directors who are explicitly political, and who expect to be responded
to on political terms, so that’s something they’re quite used to that we’re only beginning to get used to. That’s my impression. I don’t get to see a great deal. – And a key example of that would be Ivo van Hove,
the Belgian director, who now has become a
mainstay in American theater, and is bringing some of that
sensibility to his work, whether it’s adaptations of films like “Network,” which
obviously had political goals, or even looking at classics like “A View From the
Bridge” and “The Crucible,” which he brought a very
strong directorial hand to, and was sort of, they were presented in more of, kind of with
a European sensibility, but there was a political
agenda in mind, absolutely. I think what you don’t see in America as, in the North America as much, or at least in the American context, is sort of the state-of-the-nation play, which is really a, is
considered a British thing that David Hare kind of anatomies of like the soul of a nation as told through a individual
character or set of characters, and that’s, it’s just interesting
that that’s not something that American writers
particularly seem to want to do. I mean, American tradition seems to be to write about the home space, the family, and then pull out from there. The closest, and the one play that, of the last few years that I think has split the
difference most effectively is a play called “The Humans,” which won the Tony Award, and which was really about a kind of downwardly
mobile American family grappling with the
biggest issues of the day, and yet it was all told largely around kind of
a dining room table, and it was very humane, but also there was a lot of sort of submerged fury in that play, and I thought that, and that’s one of the most
successful plays that, I would say, anatomizing the state of
the nation writ large, but it’s not, doesn’t
have that grandiosity of the British state-of-the-nation play. – I don’t know how it fits together, but of course in Europe a lot of the theater is
subsidized by the government, and here we have virtually no subsidy. Well, I don’t know about Canada, although I was shocked to learn how little Stratford is
supported by the government, and how much it depends
on people like you, and in the professional
theater in New York, there’s just a pittance
from the government, so you would think that that
would free people up more to speak to these larger government, you know, societal themes, and yet perhaps the need
to please the box office, and not count on that money, affects, is a countervailing force. – Last question because
we’re running out of time, and just very quickly around
the block on this one, and it’s got to do with
the nature of the audience, and what audiences want,
or at least say they want, and this gets to a column
that Scott put together a few months ago. I guess you had asked writers, readers to write in and
say, as theatergoers, what did they want from theater, and the column was a
fascinating collection of kind of 50-word answers from
a whole variety of readers, and I’ll read you a couple of them. “I want to see productions “where race, gender, creed,
or sexual orientation “is not a disadvantage “for the central character to overcome.” “I want to see theater reassume its place “as a community good, “works concerning the
treatment of immigrants, “veterans, trauma, and
reintegration in our society, “theater that continues
to prioritize works “that promote conversations
our community needs to have.” “I want a community that puts
new work at the forefront, “plays that end and you think,
‘Wait, was that a play?'” (Scott laughs)
“I want theater “made with an open heart.” So it’s a lot of very cutting-edge kind of comments in there, and I guess I wanna throw it
to each of you very briefly, just go around the block as, is this a good cross-section of what you think audiences really want, or is this what they say they want, and to what extent do you think
audiences have moved along, theater audiences have moved along in their understanding
of what theater can do? Scott. – I mean, I edited it, edited that, I mean, there were many more answers, and so those are the ones,
(audience laughing) I guess those are the
ones I liked the best in all sorts of ways, including that I believed
in all of them, but and those answers make me very hopeful, and I think they do speak to the goals of many, many theater-makers. Increasingly, though,
I’m sensing that there’s, if not a backlash, then there’s resistance to being told how and what to think, and this is happening
in the political realm. There’s a lot, even in the left there’s
a lot of divides now, and I think the theater-going audience tends to be sort of a liberal audience, and yet I think what
you hear there, in that, the idealism of those
statements, I’m sensing, is meeting up with a hint of kind of a halting sense of
let me make up my own mind, and audiences, where, if
they’re being brought into work, and they’re being told, or
made to feel, A, what to think, and B, and this is a
very complicated thing, and I think is a sub-theme of everything we’re talking about, but people are being asked to sort of to feel uncomfortable, and to pay a lot of money
to feel uncomfortable, and to pay a lot of money to be told that, as Jesse said, you believe you’re one thing,
but in the eyes of somebody, of many other people, you’re not, and that has made, I think, the formula and the
dynamic of theater-going, and really art-making and art, people who take in the arts right now, much more charged than it used to be, so. – Cara, very quickly.
– Yeah, that was amazing. Yeah, I mean, I think
that when it comes to film a lot of people, the same
responses that Scott got, will say, you know, I wanna
see something different. I wanna see new voices, but come summer people
just wanna chill out, turn their brains off, and go into a cool
theater and eat popcorn, and not be told what to
think or how to think, and so if that just means watching things blow up,
and go bang, and explode, and you don’t have to think about what color, race, gender the actors are, so be, you know, that’s great, and when the ones that
do hit, strike gold, like “Black Panther,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” something by Jordan Peele, I mean, that’s a very
happy moment, I think, for both, if you’re interested
in prescriptive stuff as well as the big popcorn moment, but I think that it doesn’t mean that everything new,
obviously, is gonna succeed, and a lot of studios have
banked on different fare from different movies that might be by and about
women or people of color, and they just don’t go anywhere, and so I think that, yeah, it’s the audience might indicate
that they want something, but they often just wanna revert back to something that
they’re comfortable with, which often tends to be
everything that’s come before. – Jesse.
– And I would just say that waves of change in technology have fractionalized the
audience for all arts, and it has been most
deleterious to the theater, so popular music changed from
something that everyone shared to something that you shared
with about 1,000 other people who liked your niche, and technology could address that, and now everyone expects to make their own personal playlists, and movies have learned how to promote themselves
to various markets. It’s much more difficult in theater, and the response that the
theater had for many years was to try to speak to everyone at once, and that works when you have a big musical of a certain type, but otherwise it doesn’t work, and what’s happening now, I think, is that theater-makers are
understanding the power of what the other art forms have done, and fractionalizing, and
speaking to smaller groups, whether to encourage them in
something they already know, or whether to show them something that they thought they
knew, but actually didn’t, and I think that’s where theater’s going, and it’s probably a healthy thing. – I think we’re done. A big thank you to Scott Heller,
Cara Buckley, Jesse Green. (audience applauding) – Thank you.
– Thank you. – Thank you. – Thank you, and thank you, Philip, for leading the discussion. Thank you to our guests. That was wonderful. I feel like we could talk
for another two hours, but we’re changing over
into a show in a moment. I just wanna remind you that
tonight there’s a reading of a new play by Anusree
Roy, called “Trident Moon,” so I would encourage you
to come back and see that to is a beautiful script, and CBC Radio Ideas, we do
a whole series with them, and the next one is “Freud
and After” on August 10th, so please return, or it
will be livestreamed, so you can watch it on
Livestream, or on CBC Radio. Thanks so much for spending
the morning with us. (audience applauding)
– Thank you. – [Panelist] Thank you. – [Panelist] That was fun. – [Cara] Thank you. – [Panelist] That was great fun.

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