Apparently It Isn’t Woolf They’re Actually Afraid Of

I’m still reeling a bit about a recent decision by the estate of Edward Albee re: a production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?:

According to sources, the estate of the late playwright, Edward Albee, demanded that a theatre company in Oregon, The Complete Works Project, who was producing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, fire the black actor playing the role of “Nick” and be replaced by a white actor or they would rescind the rights to the show.

I don’t know which wrongheaded defense to tackle first, not least of all because of the conflation of multiple arguments. So how about I break the arguments apart first, since my answers to some of them are different than my answers to others:

1) The Rights of the Albee Estate

I’m seeing defenses of this which cast this argument as one about the legal rights of the Albee estate. They assert the rights attached to production of the work, assert the law, and so completely miss the point that it’s no longer a point, but rather a round blunt object.

No one, including the theatre which complained about the decision, claims the Albee estate isn’t invested with the legal power to exert its rights.

Rather, people are following the standard trajectory of free speech: the Albee estate is fully entitled to make fucked up, racist decisions. And everyone else, likewise, is fully entitled to call out just how fucked up and racist those decisions are. You would think that anyone running the estate of a man whose work is rife with people calling each other to the mat might be able to recognize that pattern outside of a three act structure.

2) The Importance of Authorial Intent

As a writer, obviously I have a soft spot for authorial intent. When I write something, I’m attempting to evoke some range of emotions and thoughts in my audience.

However, I’m also well aware that what I want as a writer and what the audience of my work will take away from it aren’t the same thing. If it’s co-opted by a group whose ideology I find abhorrent, and if that co-opting happens in clear breach of my copyright, I have legal recourse to remove it from their use. I can’t, however, control what they think about my work, what they take away from it. The only art which isn’t a conversation is art which has no audience in the first place.

This is especially true in collaborative arts. Yes, the playwright is important. I’d go so far as to say they’re essential. They are not, however, the only aspect of their art. Again, unless a playwright is writing work which they never want to see performed, the nature of their work is to be adapted and interpreted through the lens of those other artists (actors, directors, designers) who attach themselves to it.

And unlike, say, film or television, live theatre is in constant intepretive flux. Hell, something as small as an actor’s mood on a given night can drastically shift a performance. Live theatre is at its core alive. That means it changes, it grows. If it doesn’t, it no longer serves a purpose.

Shakespeare wrote all of his work to be performed by exclusively male casts. He wouldn’t, at the time he wrote his plays, have even conceived of a performance where his female Ophelia was actually played by a woman. Nor would he, for that matter, have imagined the panoply of temporal and environmental backgrounds future theatres might use as the setting for his stories. Last I heard, however, no one’s spending much time grousing that Shakespeare’s intent has been bastardized by contemporary artists bringing new and different influences to bear.

Rather, the response by many is to praise Shakespeare for providing a template which continues to resonate and inspire, which ebbs and flows in a way that allows it to remain relevant, rather than proving itself a hidebound cultural dinosaur.

3) The Slippery Slope

Otherwise known as “Good God! Next you’ll say you want women playing men” and … probably?

Look. I am just the wrong audience for this kind of thing because I’m not seeing the problem here. Aside from my previous point re: Shakespeare, honestly, even if your show is explicitly “about” men, I still can’t think of a lot of instances where there isn’t something interesting an artist might bring to the work through variable gender casting, not least of all interrogating the notion of Man.

Also, let’s be honest, there are still painfully few acting roles for women with the same richness and variety as exist for men. Ditto actors of color and other marginalized identities. If it takes women in traditionally male roles and ethnic minorities in traditionally white roles for audiences and playwrights (or their estates) to stop making lazy, default cultural narrative choices about what constitutes a character of a given gender expression or a character of color or a character of disability or a character of a given sexuality or, or, or? Then I say re-cast the hell out of that shit.

4) “Historical Accuracy”

I’m sorry. I can’t even write that phrase without the scare quotes.

It took me a hot minute after entering “African-American professors 1962” in Google to have third party verification of what I shouldn’t have to prove to reasonably well-educated people: not only did African-American professors in the US exist in mixed race settings, but they’d been around for over a century already:

1849: Charles L. Reason is named professor of belles-lettres, Greek, Latin and French at New York Central College in McGrawville, New York. He appears to be the first African American to teach at a mixed race institution of higher education in the U.S.

That Albee couldn’t conceive of a scenario in the 1960s where such a character could exist without hopelessly straining credulity says a metric ton more about institutional erasure and the success of privileged narratives than it does about verifiable historical reality.

That those caring for Albee’s estate continue to be unable to imagine such a scenario in 2017, especially in a play where every other damn thing the characters say has two or three meanings and / or is elaborate fiction meant to stymie genuine interaction — where the primary actors go so far as to invent people who don’t actually exist but apparently it’s too difficult for the rights holder to imagine people who do — borders on intellectual failure of the sort that, come to think of it, deserves Albee-style disdain and mockery.


How Long Until Blue Cross Becomes Blue Crucifix?

It looks like Arizona House Bill 2625 is getting some Tumblr attention, and while the sourcing that indicates this law just passed seems to be wrong (it was in fact enacted 2 years ago), the content of it remains disconcerting, perhaps not least of all because it was adopted two years ago without being caught up nationally by news agencies.

People are rightfully upset about the weird language which seems to indicate women of “religious objection” companies would have to submit proof from their doctors if they want to be covered for prescribed contraceptives being used for non-contraceptive reasons (acne and hormone control appear to be the common examples):

A health care services organization, employer or other entity offering the plan may state religious beliefs in its affidavit and may require the enrollee to first pay for the prescription and then submit a claim to the health care services organization along with evidence that the prescription is not for a purpose covered by the objection.

Things get jumbled up here, in that there’s a lot of weird language where “corporation” is being used. So far as I can tell, though, “corporation” is meant to be the insurance provider, not the company employing the women. The very next section makes it clear that an employer still doesn’t get to ask for your medical information.

Quick, knee jerk block: I still think this entire exemption on contraceptives is the stinkiest of cow dung. But before I get into the real nasty bits, I’m trying to get in a fact check on the “your employer can fire you for using contraceptives if he finds out you’re using them for birth control” stuff. So far as I can tell, this is between the employee, her doctor, and the insurance company (because the government shouldn’t interfere with a doctor and patient’s private health decisions; that’s the insurance industry’s racket). An employer insisting on medical records is still off the table, and violates all the same privacy laws it did before.

All that said, the thing I’m far more concerned about is this bit of the law:

Notwithstanding subsection Y of this section, a contract does not fail to meet the requirements of subsection Y of this section if the contract’s failure to provide coverage of specific items or services required under subsection Y of this section is because providing or paying for coverage of the specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs of the employer, hospital service corporation, medical service corporation, hospital, medical, dental and optometric service corporation or other entity offering the plan or is because the coverage is contrary to the religious beliefs of the purchaser of the coverage.

Emphasis mine, because folks, remember how I pointed out above that “corporation” was being used to mean the insurance companies? Given that, if I’m reading this right, two years ago, Arizona effectively declared that insurance providers themselves can claim a religious objection to providing contraceptive coverage.

Since the only requirement that needs to be met to get that exemption under this law is that “a written affidavit shall be filed with the corporation stating the objection,” all they have to do to get that objection is write a note.

To themselves.

And just in case we forgot, this law passed two years before the Hobby Lobby case. Who needs doors opened, when state legislators are willing to burn down the whole damn building for you?


There are a lot of points worth discussing in the ongoing debate about the minimum wage, especially as it relates to the nation’s fast food workers. But when faced with questions about wage policies, what’s the response of the company’s president?:

“I’ve been here 40 years.”

Let’s give the man the benefit of the doubt, and take his response as an actual answer. He must, then, be trying to let the 10 year employee asking the question know that the real income growth comes in the next 30 years. So, let’s see: our questioner is making $8.25 an hour. If we assume she’s actually getting a full 40 hours a week, that’s around $17,160 a year she’s making now.

According to Bloomberg, Stratton’s predecessor made a clean 2.15 million for a salary. It’s likely safe to assume Stratton’s making somewhere in the same neighborhood.1

So, good news, Nancy! Over the next 30 years, you should expect raises of about $71,000 a year. Amazing! Everyone needs to shut the stuff up about McDonald’s: they have the sweetest deal ever. Manage to make it through a decade in poverty, and you have super-awesome money just waiting. Jeff Stratton just revealed the real secret sauce.

(via Upworthy)

1. Given that Stratton has the advantage of that extra bit between the legs that earns someone about 25% more each year, he’s likely making more than his female predecessor, but for the sake of argument, we’ll pretend that’s not relevant

Public Visibility Isn’t Public Domain

Having been on something a tear about works that are or should be in the public domain, it’s probably right to balance out the end of the week by pointing out an instance of the opposite. Because, folks, just because you run into art online, doesn’t make it free for use or public domain. I have vague sympathy for younger folks who haven’t had a lot or exposure to it, but longtime businesses should know more than enough not to steal the work of independent artists. Unfortunately for artist Lisa Congdon, wholesaler Cody Foster has done exactly that:

I don’t care about the money. What I care about is exposing Cody Foster for what they have done and continue to do to independent artists. The people I want most to expose them to are the retailers who purchase from them. You see, Cody Foster is a wholesale company. Unlike other larger, public-facing retail companies who have been accused of stealing from artists, Cody Foster is hidden from the public eye for the most part. Except for a showroom in Atlanta and booths at gift shows designed to show their wares to retailers, they have a very limited public presence. Their products do not bear their logo. You buy them at your local gift shop or even some larger retailer. You might have Cody Foster products in your home, and you wouldn’t even know it. You can’t even view their catalog without having the login and password reserved for retail stores that purchase from them.

Making art is hard. It’s daunting. Putting it out in the world is dangerous enough to both one’s finances and soul. The last thing someone making a living from her art needs is having said art co-opted by greedy “entrepreneurs” who seem to think Google image search is the equivalent of product development.

This, right here, is what copyright is actually about. It protects the people who expose themselves to the world for the sake of their passions from the corporate equivalent of Yertle the Turtle. Please help protect it by spreading the word and keeping your own eyes open for more of the same.

(found via Ursula Vernon’s Twitter)

Cold Read Relationship Advice

Another day, another bit of filler pretending to be content. While that’s probably true of me, it’s especially true of Yahoo! I ran across this one t’other day:

How to tell if your honey’s being dishonest.

Is your girlfriend playing with her hair? Forget split ends: she might be lying! Did your boyfriend just compliment you? OMG: lying! is totally something you should suspect, and not the hours you spent trying to look amazing. Oh, and any change in the speed of your significant’s other’s response may be “a hint that something is up.” Forget about dragging after a bad day or excitement for what you’e about to do: lying! is the answer.

I. Hate. This. Nonsense.

Seriously, these sorts of articles seem to be far less about offering people advice for having reasonable, adult, responsible relationships, and far more about notching up the paranoia to increase sales in relationship-fixing literature.

“Is someone playing with her hair? No? Wringing hands? No? Hmmm. Sweating? Really? Okay: Now someone must have answered questions more slowly or quickly than you remember, yes? Ah! I knew it. The spirits talked to me … er, I mean, the studies. Yes. The studies.”

Argh. This kind of article, which just sort of throws everything at the wall, feels way too much like “Did someone in the audience lose a relative who’s name starts with D or P?” It’s basically the relationship version of a psychic cold reading. And it has about the same level of credibility.

Icebergs, Trees, and Art

via the Concept Co-Op Twitter feed, I ran across this article on pay expectations for artists. Specifically, the author (an artist who goes by Daarken) takes on what’s apparently a quite common offer for one-off corporate illustrations: $100.00. It seems like a nice little sum, until Daarken does a bit more breaking down:

Minimum wage in California is $8/hour. Let’s say it takes you two days to finish one painting, which is usually how long it takes me. Of course some more complex paintings can take anywhere from 5-10 days, but we will say it takes 2 days.

That means for two days of work you get paid a nice crispy $100 bill, although it isn’t in your hands just yet. Someone working minimum wage makes $128 in two days. Are you already seeing the problem here? That means someone working minimum wage is making more money than you are.

The above quote points to one of the most difficult elements of finances as pertains to the arts. There’s an inherent attitude, I think, that being able to produce art in any of its varied forms is something that kind of happens, via the magics of talent and an absence of view. Which, as most people who produce any kind of art will tell you, is a patent falsehood.

Yes, that speed-sketch over there might have been done in an hour. Of course, that sketcher has spent several times over that amount of time practicing just that kind of effort. That the end result is a picture in a relative heartbeat doesn’t eliminate the several thousand other heartbeats he spent honing, learning, preparing. All of that time should count in a real and appreciable way when you consider “how long it took” to make that sketch.

Ditto just about any improv performances you see. The only reason the musicians or actors involved can create a show out of nothing is because, surprise, it’s not really out of nothing. It’s out of hours of preparation and study and, again, practice.

That theatre you heard mounted a show in a week? No. That theatre you heard about had a week of official rehearsals. Which was preceded by much more time choosing the show, holding auditions and callbacks, meeting with production staff, allowing production staff to create the costumes and the sets, and more than a few things I’m quite sure I’m leaving out. Probably, also, it involved performers who were either already familiar with the material (either from having done the show before or from independent research) or who received rehearsal materials in advance of rehearsal proper and spent non-rehearsal time working it.

Music by request? Seriously, we aren’t even spending time unpacking that one. When’s the last time you learned a song after looking it over once?

And, yes, I’ll be selfish and shoehorn in writing. Sometimes composition is a quick thing. More often it’s not. But even that quickly shot off bit of snark? Like the speed sketch above, that’s there because the writer’s been doing this for quite some time.

I think I have more to say on this, but it tends to veer off in a few different directions. For now, then, I’ll just ponit out that, with art like many other things, you don’t get to be fast … well, fast. And if time is money, such time should be at a premium.

B.S. Required (Not the Degree)

What’s a young person to do with all this economic uncertainty and job worry? Well, lookee here: Yahoo! has just the answer to your prayers, without needing all that pesky college:

That would be the link text, anyway, for this article, which hasn’t nearly as misleading an a headline, although its sub-title starts with the hedge-betting “Earning a bachelor’s isn’t necessary…”

Of course, half of the jobs on the list do, indeed, involve “How to Prepare” segments listing bachelor’s degrees. So, you know, it’s not necessary. You might be able to find a way in without one. Sure, it increases your odds to have a higher level degree, because in a competitive job market where people keep stacking resumés, most employers are, unfortunately, likely to pick the person with the higher level of education for starting positions.

I’m all for creative writing, but maybe, when we’re pretending at journalism, we could strive for something more accurate and less misleading? Just a thought.