"We have received over 300 calls and notes in the last three days," founding director Dan McCleary wrote in an email announcing that his Tennessee Shakespeare had been awarded a $25,000 matching grant from The National Endowment for the Arts, through ArtsMidwest and the Shakespeare in American Communities Initiative.
Another anonymous donor has also issued a $5,000 matching challenge for the month of July.
The final vote has come and gone, and the City of Germantown has chosen by a 5-0 budget vote, not to restore the $70,000 in funding that supported the Tennessee Shakespeare Company's educational programing.
"This vote will have devastating consequences on our ability to provide education programming for students in our community," TSC's founding director Dan McCleary wrote in a prepared statement. "Its impact will be felt immediately as we begin to re-program our upcoming sixth season, which we hope to be able to announce to you shortly. Its impact also will be felt this year as we undertake a review of our organization's long-range planning."
Publicly-assisted arts organizations are easy targets in budget battles, and the recently cut TSC is, at least, in good company. The Iris Orchestra, helmed by conductor Michael Stern, was birthed at GPAC in 2000 with the help of a $200,000 grant from the City of Germantown. In 2007 the IRIS Foundation was established to transition into the private sphere. And the beat goes on.
Obviously this isn't good news for a scrappy professional company that has, in its short history, produced shows, deployed teachers, conducted camps, and developed all the trappings of an institution with staying power. If the company's last gala fundraiser is any kind of indicator, there is quite a bit of private support for McCleary's troupe, and a hero in this saga may yet emerge. Also, to play Devil's advocate for a moment, and with all due respect for Mr. Shakespeare, $70,000 is a fair chunk of change for a city to spend in the service of any one author, primarily. It's also difficult to determine what kind of branding value the inclusively-named Tennessee Shakespeare Company provided, especially with many of the company's recent performances drawing audiences, and their loose dollars, to locations inside the I-240 loop.
So, does this budget cut represent the end of the world? Maybe for TSC's education program as it exists now, but McCleary ends his note with an encouraging word: "Onward."
It's helpful to remember that the new $14.5-million-dollar Playhouse on the Square was built with zero city assistance, and in all likelihood POTS's long capital campaign will finally come to a close at the end of this month. It's possible that, as this massive effort winds down, new sets of fundraising opportunities will be created.
On a related note, with a million promised by the City of Memphis, it will be interesting to monitor the progress of the new Hattiloo Theatre, which broke ground earlier this month. In the meantime, TSC's McCleary, and Hattiloo's founding director Ekundayo Bandele might want to get together for a drink.
I'd also be interested to hear what interested and concerned parties think about what's happened, what it means, and what's next.
This weekend The New Moon Theatre Company opens Endgame, Samuel Beckett's tragicomic meditation on mortality, tyranny, servitude, and the cycles of nature and necessity that bind us together in mutual discomfort. Beckett knew his plays weren't easy. He called them his "monsters," but they're well worth the extra effort.
The New Moon's Endgame features Ron Gephart, a Eugart Yerian honoree for lifetime achievement in Memphis theater, as Hamm, the fading lord of all he surveys, now blind, and confined to a wheelchair. Here's what he had to say about the character's condition, and what it takes to wrestle with a "monster."
Intermission Impossible: Beckett's writing is so rich with Metaphor. Obviously Hamm the tyrant is nearing the end of life, but I've often wondered if his sight actually failed, or if, at some level, he just forgot how to see. And to walk. I've wondered if these troublesome degradations of aging were, in some regards preferable, or protective. Not that that's the case, I'm just thinking aloud and wondering what kinds of questions you've asked while working on this character.
Ron Gephart: “The New Republic” recently had a cover story about the debilitating effects of loneliness, not just on the mind, but the body as well. I was struck by how this might apply to the characters in “Endgame.” The script makes it pretty clear that faculties are lost as they are not used. So, yes, I can accept that Hamm is really blind and cannot stand. Also, in the absence of much life left on the planet it’s a struggle to hang on to the essence of the human experience: relationships built on shared stories. Hamm and Clov desperately cling to each other for survival because if their relationship ends they are both doomed. I don’t necessarily think the game ends in stalemate but I do think there are no winners.
Intermission Impossible: Plays like Endgame require so much physical restraint and precision. How hard is it, sitting in the wheelchair being served?
Ron Gephart: It’s a monster of a role. It’s a bit odd getting out of the chair at the end of the evening because you really do accept the conditions of the play and the restrictions are daunting. I’m just now opening my eyes behind my dark glasses a bit. I used a blindfold for a few rehearsals.
Intermission Impossible: Hamm's one of those roles like Hamlet, or Lear—- or like Willie Loman who you played not so long ago. It's considered to be a test great actors measure themselves against. How are you doing so far?
Ron Gephart: Trying to memorize the lines I haven’t had much time to become a Beckett scholar in any sense. I’d only seen the play once and I don’t remember ever reading it. As an actor I figured I’d be best off to learn the lines and make them true to Hamm. It seems to be the kind of play New Moon should be tackling. When Eastern was having difficulty casting the role, I agreed to step to the plate. The downside is that he lost about a week of rehearsal while trying to get it cast. Since I’m retired I could devote quite a bit of time to learning the part and I think we’ve come through with a decent production.
Directed by Eastern Hale
June 21, 22, 28, 29 & 30, 2013
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Last Sunday, June 30 at 2:00 pm
Tickets: $15 Adults, $12 Seniors, Students & Military
Today, Saturday, June 8, 2013, The Hattiloo Theatre broke ground on a new, multi-purpose theater space in Overton Square. In the same moment Overton Square, already home to Playhouse on the Square, The Circuit Playhouse, and TheatreWorks, officially became Memphis' theater district.
"It's a glorious day," said Ekundayo Bandele, the Hattiloo's founding director.
Blank became the performing arts writer and theater critic for The Commercial Appeal 2001 and continued on in that role in a freelance capacity after he was laid off in 2009.
More recently Blank, who will no longer freelance for the CA, has produced feature stories for WKNO-FM, and cultivated a Memphis-area performance club.
"I'm hoping to add some sort of critical element to the station's already great attention to the arts," Blank says. "[I] don't know what form that will take yet. An arts blog? A group of regular theater patrons generating commentary? I think we can find way to pay extra attention to the art that knocks your socks off."