August 01, 2007


Scott Walters



Thank you, Mac, for your rigor and your persistence. You make us all proud. I hope you'll repost some of the questions you've posed so that we can discuss them here.

Here are some of mine, inspired by your reasoning:

• Is it acceptable for someone to critique theater in a geographical area based solely on selected “scripts and articles” rather than direct exposure to the performances? In that discussion, what weight should be given to the views of people who live in the area and see theater performances regularly?
• And, following up on that: does a person who moves to New York to live and work immediately relinquish their previous regional identity and sympathies? Is there a reason to believe that people who live in New York would be less sensitive to the regional sensibilities they were raised with? Why would this be true of New York but not of other locations?
• Do trendlines in contemporary theater (in this instance, regarding generalities and stereotyping) hew to the same model as film and television or are there differences? (In particular, one voice who claimed there were no differences also endorsed the Salon article that claimed theater should learn a thing or two from television. That opinion seems to imply that there are differences.)
• Is it intellectually honest to use quantitative terms (like “most of x is like y”) when presenting personal opinions? Are people who insist that the person presenting unverified statistics explain how they gathered these numbers simply being distracting or pedantic?
• At what point does repeating unverified quantitative speculations become, as Mac posits, “telling lies”?


Two Open Questions:

1.) Is any of the response/"debate" purely axe grinding, from previous topics?

2.)If Scott's statements are so preposterously ludicrous, why is such a vehement defense necessary. Ex. if I was to proclaim CATS to be the greatest theatrical achievement in the history of civilization--I would simply be laughed off.


Myself I see some truth in both sides of the argument, though hurt feelings seem to be ramping up the rhetoric and clouding what could be a fruitful discussion.

Joshua James

I left this over at Scott's blog, but now I'm not sure if I can keep going back there . . . his comment that OUR position, as NY theatre bloggers, is that there is no racism in America, that he believes that's what WE'RE saying, is insulting beyond what I thought possible . . .

Scott stated:

"When African-Americans insist that America is still a racist and prejudiced society, white people tell them, "Oh, no. That's not happening. Things have changed. You're imagining things. You're exaggerating. Why don't you just calm down?""

I responded:

Scott, this is why myself, and I'm sure others but I don't speak for them, get frustrated with you.


See Alison's comment on the post previous to this: You keep changing what you think we're fighting about.

What we have stated is that there is NOT one NY Arts ideology which practices a determined discrimination against the arts cultures of the rest of the country . . . and that an analogy comparing those of us in the arts in New York to bigots enforcing Jim Crow laws is insulting to us.

You bet there is racism in this country, you bet it exists in all worlds, I'm sure there are racist people in New York, and I'm equally certain there are racist people in Carolina and Iowa . . . but YOUR argument that New York Arts Community is the media / entertainment equivalent of the Klan is not only ridiculous (because you can't back it up with verifiable fact) but insulting not only to those of us you accuse of said bigotry, but insulting to those who are victims of REAL bigotry, and I say this as a man in a mixed marriage, about to have a son in a mere six weeks.

Scott, seriously . . . you are WAY off track and I'm actually beginning to get concerned for your health . . . take a step back and breathe, would ya?

That's what I left there, and I like to think I was pretty civil.


Thanks for the link. Floyd-Miller has many interesting things to say, and I the bit about balance in Darfur depictions was particularly striking.

Mark, these are excellent questions. As to the second one, I grew up in North Carolina, and went to college there. My experience in New York is that we Noth Carolinians light up when we meet each other... unless we support opposing ACC teams! I haven't shit-talked NC once in the ten years I've lived in New York. Living there wasn't what I wanted for me personally, but many of my friends do and some are returning there, because it's such a great place to live. When visiting my parents in Greensboro, I often go to see theater (I saw a wonderful production of MASTER HAROLD... AND THE BOYS last year at Triad Stage) and sometimes I get to talk to theater artists like Kim Cuny, who devised a puppet theater adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk drawing on Appalachian history (http://nctyp.uncg.edu/season.php) about their work.


Hi Tony! Thank you for those excellent questions, and I'm sorry I called you Jay Raskolnikov the other day when you actually have a name of your own separate from the name of your blog.

In answer to the first, yes, there is axe-grinding left over from the past. Scott has slandered New York theater artists before. This is an example:


Now I ask you, Tony, genuinely, not rhetorically: For Scott to write something like this

"But the fact is that, when the rubber meets the road and the actors meet the stage, the people of the blogosphere don't give a damn about beauty and meaning and pleasure and dignity..."

wouldn't he have to at least know something about the plays the various theater (not just New Yorkers, in this case) bloggers are writing, directing, producing, designing, and performing in? Even if he hasn't read or seen the plays, shouldn't he at least know *something* about them? I'm asking you, Tony, not Scott. He uses the phrase "when the actors meet the stage," so he can't be referring to what we write on our blogs. So what he's saying here is that plays created by active theater bloggers at the time of that post are bereft of beauty, meaning, pleasure, and dignity. Does that seem like an appropriate statement to make, Tony? Is it one you would make, to which you would attach your good name?

So this is the leftover baggage that you astutely discerned here.

I know what you mean by your second question. Quite often people get angry when someone strikes a nerve. But I'd respectfully like to ask you to consider the possibility that people can also be made to be angry even when there is no underlying truth to an accusation. Imagine the following dialogue:

BIG BAD TIM: Hey Jay Raskolnikov! Your mother hates Jews and says they secretly run the world!

JAY RASKOLNIKOV: Actually, Big Bad Tim, my mother doesn't hate Jews and has never said anything like that - and that's a terrible thing to say about a person if it isn't true. I'd like you to retract that comment.

BIG BAD TIM: You know, Jay, I find it very revealing that your first instinct is to defend your mother instead of the Jews.

Is there a chance that the Jay Raskolnikov character in this scenelet woul be justified in getting very angry even if his mother had never had a bad thought about Jews in her life?

Now, I don't claim that regions of the United States and the world aren't sometimes or even often depicted in a reductive fashion. I think that does happen, and that it's an issue worth discussing. But I also think that that discussion can take place without slanders or lies, in a context where all parties acknowledge the need to back up controversial factual claims. Perhaps we can do that here, or elsewhere.

Have I answered your questions satisfactorily, Tony? Do you have any other questions? I appreciate you taking the time.

Scott Walters

Mac and all -- I hope that you will permit me to calmly, reasonably, make a couple points.

First, Mac, it is very cool that you are from NC -- my stepson was in the BFA acting program at UNCG, so I am acquainted with Greensboro. And I have no doubt that you haven't talked trash about NC except about rival ACC fans (my wife is a Carolina fan, whereas I lean toward Duke, which, as you note, can cause certain...tensions). I seem to remember Joshua trashing Iowa rather vehemently in another discussion long past, but that is his right as an Iowan with certain experiences. I am from Racine, Wisconsin -- a heavily industrial town just south of Milwaukee, and I avoid going back because I find it personally dispiriting and claustrophobic. I have much fonder memories of Minneapolis, where I went to school and lived for 10 years, and Normal, IL where I got my master's degree and worked for another 10 years at Illinois State. All of which is to say, first, that I am a northerner myself who didn't notice any of these stereotypes until I moved to the south, and second that I am not accusing anyone one of personally trashing the south or rural areas, or actively working to propagate stereotypes.

The reason that I posted a while back about the distinction between prejudice and racism was to make the distinction between personal and systemic behavior. The problem that I am trying to draw attention to is systemic, not personal. It is not overt and aggressive, but rather subtle and buried. Individual prejudice, whether about race, gender, sexual orientation, or geographic location is fueled by misinformation or a lack of information, and thus my focus on cultural representation.

I have never, ever implied that NYers in general, or NY bloggers specifically, deny the existence of racism or are similar to the Klan. That is a misreading. I have contended that prejudices operate similarly, regardless of the specific nature, and that the mechanics of systemic discrimination are also similar.

My observations are the result of a combination of personal experience and research into the workings of prejudice and racism. I spent all of June teaching a class 5 days a week on the Harlem Renaissance, and W. E. B. Dubois' fervent belief that racial relations could be improved by changing the way African-Americans were perceived, and he saw the arts as the most powerful way to do so. I don't think his beliefs were sui generis. I think they have applications beyond Harlem in the 1920s.


Hey Mark, here's something I've been wondering about with regard to your question about generalities and stereotyping in TV and film: where are the stupid, racist farmers? I've heard that farmers are being attacked in mass media, and I was totally willing to concede that, but then I started thinking about it and realized that I could only think of three farmer characters in recent film:

- The Kevin Costner character in "Field of Dreams"
- The Mel Gibson character in "Signs"
- The Billy Bob Thornton character in "The Astronaut Farmer"

All three of these characters are smart, heroic, and admirable. At least two of them are still farmers at the end of the movies (I haven't seen the third), and one is specifically depicted as a better engineer and scientist than the city-slickers from NASA (according to the trailer for "Astronaut Farmer"). This is anecdotal, of course, but do we really have a Farmer Problem in our media?


I think that's a good point. I also have anecdotal memories of films that portray farmers as the salt of the earth, defending the family farm against the heartless big city moneyman who wants to come in and take it away. That's a fairly prominent archetype, so much so that (Playgoer pointed this out) the play Pig Farm lovingly satirizes the "save the farm!" plays of old.


Mac--good questions.

First off, I can't speak for Scott. I can only speak for myself, I would not use those words, but I also wouldn't say a lot of what I've heard from some in the other camp. Though, rest assured, I've been fired up and written things that a week later I wish I could unsend.

I am from a rural family that kept up every pretense to show that we weren't broke country folk. Growing up I was acutely aware of attitudes against hillbillies (read country folk), and how that related to my family.

I can go on and on with specific examples. But one joke may suffice: How so you circumcise a hillbilly? Kick his sister in the chin.

I have come to terms with it, and I no longer see my rural upbringing in the negative sense I did when I was younger. I can now see through the stereotype. But, I'm in a pretty unique position I think. It took knowing a Basque woman in Paris for me to see a different side of my upbringing. After growing up in Michigan, I have lived in Paris, and I now live in Chicago, and I still see the bias against country people, whether it is intended or not. It is not however something that is easily quantifiable or easily shown from a list, and often can be more omission than intentional bashing. For example, you mention you could only think of three farmers in recent movies, out of hundreds of them.

That being said I know a lot of people who don't think that way in London, in Paris, in Chicago, in NYC.

Funny (not ha ha but funny ironic) example you use. My mother is not racist and she does not hate Jews. Not something I'm proud of, but my father very much is, and does think that. Not because he comes from any certain place, he just is that way.

I think a lot is lot in communicating over the web, as opposed to in person, which can amplify rhetoric. I suspect much of what I read wouldn't be said to someone's face, or at least it would be worded differently.

Though it is not the fault of any bloggers or most artists, the current systems of theatre institutions do clearly favor NYC over the rest of the country, so there may be some misdirected backlash from that--though I can only speculate.

Two examples of this, often when a play is being produced in NYC (especially at bigger houses and Broadway) rights are locked down nationwide. No one else in the country can perform that play.

Another is the showcase code only applying to NYC. So all the good reasons that the code exists there, do not apply to other cities? With all the talk of revamping it, does anyone suggest expanding it to say, Chicago, where many actors and companies could greatly benefit?

I am not laying blame on any individual people, but no one is as perfect as we'd like to believe we are. And lets be honest, there are many times we as artists (and I include myself,) in our actions, do not live up to our words.


Sorry didn't realize how long that was till I hit post.

Joshua James

"Two examples of this, often when a play is being produced in NYC (especially at bigger houses and Broadway) rights are locked down nationwide. No one else in the country can perform that play."

This is not correct, in my experience . . . one can secure the NY rights for a play without domestic rights . . . it's all a question of how much you want to pay . . . there are many levels . . . CLEAN HOUSE played in about 20 regional theatres, I'm told, before it came to NYC . . .

It's really a question of the writer selling specific rights, which depends on the agent and / or the publisher . . . it's all different.

"Another is the showcase code only applying to NYC. So all the good reasons that the code exists there, do not apply to other cities? With all the talk of revamping it, does anyone suggest expanding it to say, Chicago, where many actors and companies could greatly benefit?"

Both LA and Chicago have showcase codes (it's been awhile since I've been in Chicago, but I remember there being one) . . . they differ from NYC's showcase code (their's is better) but NYC isnt the only place with an AEA showcase code . . .

In fact, if I recall, the movement to reform NYC's showcase code is primarily to make it more like LA's . . .

Kerry Reid

I've asked Scott in his own blog to clarify how exactly he reaches the determination that something is a stereotype -- an intellectual determination, not one driven by an emotional "Oh, that makes me feel uncomfortable" kneejerk reaction. I also asked him what would happen if a student turned in an analysis of a work based only on viewing a snippet of it (as he did with the video that started this whole clusterfuck). My assumption is that his academic standards would require him to chastise that student, at the least. He responded to other questions I raised, but remained silent on those two points. Make of that what you will.

I think this is the base issue that bothers me the most, and it continues to play out in attempts at dialogue with him -- he is continually asked "What do you base this on, and do you think that level of exposure is enough to warrant the sort of sweeping accusations you're making?" And he just refuses to answer the nitty-gritty questions, intent on positing himself as a victim of dark discriminatory coastal media elite forces (interesting, given that, as Joshua pointed out, a white middle-aged male tenured academic is pretty much a working definition of the privileged class).

As a theater critic, if I submitted a review based on a (very) partial viewing of a show, but proudly told my editors I didn't need to see the whole thing because I know crap when I see it, well -- my career would be over. As it should be.

Like many others here, I do believe there are regional rifts. I felt it when I first attended college (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) at the University of Missouri. An agriculture major from rural Missouri who lived in my dorm, upon finding out that I was raised Catholic, proudly told me that "Being Catholic is as bad as being a communist where I'm from." He didn't feel uncomfortable or apologetic about saying that to me. Does telling that story here play into stereotypes of prejudiced fundamentalist Christian rural people? Maybe. But it happened. My mother's cousin is a gay hog farmer in central Illinois. Does he have to be careful who in his community knows about his boyfriend in a way that he wouldn't if he lived in Chicago? Yes. No argument. That's not "a harmful stereotype." That's the reality of his world, and he shouldn't have to whitewash it so non-homophobic rural dwellers won't feel threatened by knowing that reality is out there. (For the record, I'd put Lee Blessing's play "Thief River," about the relationship of two gay men from a small rural town over a period of decades, on a list of works that deal with rural life in a way that is neither stereotypical nor overly sentimental.)

But I also had the experience of living in San Francisco and occasionally having to explain to people that the entity lumped together in their minds as "the Midwest" is a big diverse place and not everyone there hates black people or gays. My favorite story - and this is especially for Joshua and Paul Rekk -- was a profile in an alternative weekly of Ian Shoales and Duck's Breath Mystery Theatre, where the writer noted with palpable amazement "They all met at the University of Iowa (of all places!"). Because of course that would be a shitty place to find good writers. Tracy Letts just mentioned in a public talk a couple months ago that he has a chip on his shoulder that a writer from New York is a writer, whereas a writer from the South or Midwest tends to have that geographic location appended to their job description.

My point in all this muddled mess (sorry, Mac, but you've given us all a lot to think about here) is that certainly people in different regions harbor prejudices of those "not from around here." But are people from the South or rural communities actively prohibited from creating art about those worlds if they so choose? Of course not. And if they do, do they need to submit it to some sort of Star Chamber of fellow southerners/rural dwellers to make sure it doesn't go "off message" with negative images? Are artists not from those communities obliged to try to write from that point of view, no matter how false it might feel for them? I don't blame David Mamet for not writing more roles for women. I just think it's a kick in the pants for more women to write. Do women playwrights have a harder time getting produced? Sure. But that's not Mamet's fault, anymore than a "New York artist" (whatever the hell that vague term may conjure) is responsible for creating more positive images of farm life.

(Now I'm gonna go off and find people who invoke Al Capone when describing Chicago and get my knickers in a twist over it.)


Note to Kerry and Tony: we happily accept long comments on this blog, and there's no limit other than, I guess, what Typepad will bear. I can't get back to you right away, but I will read your thoughts in full shortly, and I'm very grateful to you for sharing them.


Los Angeles area AEA actors worked together to lobby AEA for their 99-seat code. New York AEA actors worked together to lobby AEA for the showcase code. Now, various members of the New York theater community are attempting to reform the showcase code along the lines of LA's 99-seat code, whichthey find more favorable. Many have cautioned off-off-Broadway producers that actors themselves must take the lead in these negotiations.

My understanding is that Chicago has no showcase code, in part because they have such a thriving non-Equity professional theater scene. The cities have just evolved differently--in Chicago, young actors sometime turn down opportunities to get their card, knowing that it means they will forever lose their chance to work with the non-Equity houses. If Chicago area AEA actors were to negotiate with AEA to develop a showcase code, I'm sure the union would be amenable, but the reason it hasn't happened is that most of the actors who would want that haven't gone Equity for the reasons I describe.

Unless you can cite other cities where substantial numbers of AEA actors lobbied to create a showcase code and were rejected, I think your assertion that the AEA showcase code is an example of New York receiving preferential treatment is demonstrably false.


@ Joshua:

from Dramatists' website

"Restricted means that the performance rights to a play may not be available to you. There are a number of reasons why this happens. For example, if a play is running either on or Off-Broadway or if it's enjoying a national tour, the rights are generally not available to any group, professional or nonprofessional."

Also, there is no showcase code in Chicago. I live and work here, I know. (There are lower tiers of the contract.) There is instead an extraordinarily vibrant non-equity scene which often surpasses the quality of equity houses--though Chicago is an anomaly in that respect.

@ Kerry: "As a theater critic, if I submitted a review based on a (very) partial viewing of a show, but proudly told my editors I didn't need to see the whole thing because I know crap when I see it, well -- my career would be over. As it should be."

It got a lot of buzz but didn't cost Hedy her throne when she did it. Maybe it's just tenure :)

I apologize for the above smiley face.

Joshua James


The Dramatist Guild is not a union, it has no legal enforcement of its guidelines for any members or non-members, one reason I no longer belong to it . . . one thing I know from having plays optioned and from writing up contracts for others when I worked at a theatre, one can do any contract one wants for a play, and quite often the rights include only the metro area for a play presented in nyc . . .

You can get the world wide rights to a play, but it will cost you. Again, it's dependent on the agent or publisher or author of the play, what rights you want to give up.

And I accept that Chicago doesn't have a showcase code, makes sense . . . LA does have one.

I do remember that Chicago's theatre scene is pretty awesome, I saw some great work there . . . in that I am in complete agreement.

And many folks wish we didn't have a showcase code here in nyc.

Scott Walters

Kerry -- Ironically, I just realized that I hadn't answered your question, and wrote a response to it before I read your analysis here. I hope you will examine it.

Also, this discussion isn't about me or anything I do. As you note, I am a professor, not a playwright, and actor, a producer, a director, or a designer. Now, that said, do you believe that I should be less concerned about an issue because it doesn't directly affect my way of life? This would seem myopic to me.


And by no means am I suggesting it is easy to make theatre in New York. I know of nowhere that it is easy. Though if that magical fairy land exists, I'd love to know where it is.

Scott Walters

One more thing, Kerry, and I mean this very politely: when you have experienced the sort of avalanche of comments that has been on my blog of late, where many, many people are leaving long comments filled with questions and points, you will understand how easy it is to overlook a question. I would also say that I, at least, often overlook the more general questions because they demand a more expansive response, which can't be accomplished while the avalanche continues. I would also remind my fellow bloggers that, in such circumstances, one must do a lot of responding very quickly, which means every i will not be dotted nor every t crossed, and as the onslaught continues, one's emotions tend to become a little frayed.

Joshua James


Mac left a help list of question on his blog before the avalanche began, most of which, if any, you still haven't addressed.

You could have simply pasted and gone done his list numerically.

I would note Mark did the same.

I think Gary had just one question for you . . .

Paul Rekk

Wow, lots to go through here!

I apologize for not being up to speed right now, I shall return (dunh dunh DUNH!), but a quick thought on your comments on the portrayal of farmers, Mac:

I don't know that I can come up with any racist farmer depictions of the top of my head, but I ask you to consider where you learned to equate Rural with Farmer. I spent 22 years in Iowa, all of which was without a doubt rural (my graduating class in high school was a whopping 37 people -- which was consider whopping by our standards), yet at no point during any of that time did any member of my family (even my extended family, come to think of it) support themselves by farming.

Just another snippet to think about.


Hi Paul! Thank you for the question.

Paul, I don't equate Rural with Farmer. I got the idea to think about depictions of farmers in popular media from these posts on Scott's blog, where he wrote the following sentences:


"It is time that people on farms, and people in the south should be able to see themselves represented in ways that make them proud."


"When was the last time you saw a farmer -- and I mean a contemporary farmer, not some historical 'Little House on the Prairie' farmer -- who wasn't presented as a hayseed?"


Paul - Mac did not pull up the category of farmer from an association in his mind. He was referring to a specific comment during this discussion that referenced negative portrayls of farmers. I'm sure he knows that there are many occupations in rural America.

Josh - My questions were intended as general questions for anyone who wanted to discuss them, which is why I posted them here at Mac's place.

Paul Rekk

Thanks for the response, Mac, and I apologize for aiming the question solely at you. Allow me to resubmit it as an question for an open audience, because I do think that The Farmer is a stereotype in and of itself, and while I don't take offense or even really much mind when it's used in reference to my upbringing, I definitely don't connect to it.

Seems to be an item of relevance in a discussion in which neither side wants to admit to falling prey to stereotyping.

God, everything I type today seems to come out sounding snarky! Not the intent, friends, not the intent at all.

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