Cricket's Notebook by Larry Stark - Tuesday 13 May, 2003 11:59 a m: "An Open Letter To City Councilor Michael P. Ross"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Tuesday 13 May, 2003 11:59 a m:
"An Open Letter To City Councilor Michael P. Ross"

An Open Letter To City Councilor Michael P. Ross
(and City Councilor John Tobin if I can find his address)

Hi Mike,
Glad to meet you at The Big Easy fund-raising bash Monday.

I must confess up front that I didn't pat the $25 minimum for a ticket to your show; instead I just bullied my way past the door-keepers and, luckily, you remembered a letter I e-mailed your committee and didn't throw me out. (Maybe I should have handed them my card and shouted "Press!" as I blundered by? I never was good at improv-theater!) In any case I was glad to see there not only Jeff Poulos, but Jason Sutherland, Eric Engel, Nancy Curran Willis, and Cy Spaulding and a representative of the Colonial/Wilbur who, along with myself, represented theater in an enthusiastic crowd of people actively supporting The Arts in Boston. I wish there were more of us, but I know that most people who make theater here --- most people in the arts, frankly --- like myself would have to think twice and maybe thrice to spend even the $25 merely to hear You ask Us for support and votes.

In the past, I'm sure that the Boston Arts Community was NOT the deciding factor in your election as Councilman, but any friend of The Arts is a friend of mine. But, even saying that, I am a bullet-voter and I wait eagerly to hear in exactly what ways THEATER here in Boston will benefit from your next term in office. If you or your staff can find the time to suggest two or three (or even more!) areas you feel you can help change for the better, put them into an e-mail to The Theater Mirror and I'll put it prominently before the 400 or so theater people who look in every day.

But let me say, personally, that as a bullet-voter, your no doubt sincere promise to do whatever might be possible "to support THE ARTS in Boston" sounds like empty political persiflage intended to please everyone and satsify no one. It reeks of the "one-band-aid-fits-all" that allows The Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs to oil the squeekiest voting block and then take credit for "advocacy" of the arts. Let me be blunt: if you can't think of at least one way the lot of theater will have IMPROVED by the end of your next term in office, you won't be worth my time, or my vote.

Let me offer a couple examples of why blanket support of "The Arts" is, to me, irrelevant:

Spiro Veloudos told me a story.
Years back, the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved several building projects. No doubt those buildings were needed, but many of them rose quite high on ground that had been occupied by theater buildings, and so the number of useful performance spaces in the city was shrinking. Spiro joined a committee that petitioned for a law that would demand that anyone demolishing a theater must incorporate in the building's plan a theater space of similar size. And oddly enough they got their way --- or nearly. When the law came through the sausage-mill it required a space "set aside for CULTURAL USE" --- i.e., the typical political big-tent compromise.
And so not a single theater-space graces any of those buildings.

And here's mine.
I gave you a copy of my gift to the City of Boston --- a guidebook to the ninety theaters active inside the Boston City Limits. When I had prepared the text I went to The Mayor's Office of Cultural Affairs because, as a retired deadbeat living in elder housing I couldn't afford to get it printed. I was received warmly, encouraged to look into xeroxing and to submit a proposal with costs --- which I think were about $500 (a bit less than my entire monthly stipend from Social Security). I told all my friends how easy it had been, how friendly and positive my reception had been --- and then the proposal was scrapped. The budget had been spent, they said, submit it again next year, and we'll.... An actor "day-lighting" as a xerox-manager for a bank ran them off "testing the machines" or that fairly useful little booklet would never exist.

I am not saying the Cultural Affairs budget wasn't well-spent, just as I understand that a City Councilor must concern himself with the Entire City, not just its theatres. But if you'd like us to care about you, give us some evidence that you care about us. You'd be surprised how eagerly grateful theater people can be for a little personal attention.

In my letter (reproduced below) I suggested you'd get the attention of a lot of people if you showed up at some theatres to make that "Please turn off all cell-phones, beepers, things that make noise" speech and maybe add a few sentences about yourself and your commitment to Theater. Jeff Poulos thinks that, rather than you asking them, they should ask you --- and if you just sit and wait for them to call, they never will.
So, this is what I can do:
I'll e-mail every theater group in Boston suggesting They invite You to introduce yourself to their audience.
But why don't you, to demonstrate Your commitment, tell me the borders of your constituency, so I don't bug people who couldn't vote for you anyway.
IF you want to try it at all, that is.

And my offer of space in The Mirror to outline your Boston Theater Program is genuine as well.

Until I know more about you, Mike, that's all I can offer.
In any case, as we say back stage, Break a leg!

I sent this letter to City Councilor Mike Ross on 30 April:

Dear Councilor:
Anyone active in government publicly defending the miserly pittance out of city and state budgets that encourages the arts is obviously a friend of mine!

The letter below [ was, at the time ] reproduced in two places on THE THEATER MIRROR in an effort to mobilize the approximately 400-or-so lovers of theater who glance into The Mirror every day.

People active in Making Art of any kind are normally too busy "doing our thing" to get involved politically, but this is crisis-time.
I have received two snail-mail letters from struggling small theater companies begging Any Contributions that might counteract the short-fall of public funding. I have no idea what you Can do to hold back the tides of oblivion for borderline arts, but I am grateful for anyone in your position taking a positive stand.

Jeff Poulos is on vacation, so an e-mail I sent him making some suggestions for your campaign won't even be read till next week.
And I don't have a copy of it myself. (I'm seventy, and sometimes my fingers think for themselves and my stupid computer Does what I've told it to do!)

The one serious suggestion I can remember is that --- if you can spare the time --- you might consider visiting a few theatres to make that "Please turn of all cell-phones/watches/beepers that might make noise" announcement everyone needs at the beginning of their shows. That would cost you maybe three minutes, plus a quick plug for both the arts and yourself.
Consider that for maybe fifteen-minutes spent at the Boston Center for The Arts you could address THREE different audiences of various sizes.
And The Lyric Stage and The Huntington Theatre Company would offer larger audiences. If you do it, it could attract ink, and Joyce Kulhawik on the tube and the noon HERE & NOW program over WBURfm would probably think of this novel approach to campaigning as newsworthy.
Also think about asking to be interviewed on the every-Saturday STANDING ROOM ONLY program over Emerson Radio; it's wall-to-wall show-tunes and reaches a huge audience of theater-involved people. I think the box-office people at The Colonial has it on for all four hours every week.

Another idea I just thought of is an indispensable monthly newspaper called NEW ENGLAND ENTERTAINMENT DIGEST --- ; e-mail, P.O. Box 88 Burlington MA 01803 --- It reaches most of the actors in the six-state New England area. It is the Only complete source for casting-calls and production announcements in the region, and for that reason everyone who works on-stage or back-stage has to read it.
The paper also covers live music, both pop and classical, dance, and film production, so you get a big bang for the buck there.
A copy of the May issue just hit my mailbox yesterday.
I suggest you negotiate a full-page paid ad laying out your approach to arts funding, to appear in the September and October issues, and maybe even June. I'm sure it could help

One more possibility would be to involve yourself with the EMACT festival at Brandeis' Spingold Theatre on Sunday, 25 May.
This is a competitive showcase of Community Theater works held annually by EASTERN MASSACHUSETTS ASSOCIATION OF COMMUNITY THEATERS. A dozen different groups will present short works that week-end, of which a "final four" is selected for presentation Sunday night with a Best Play and dozens of other individual prizes awarded.
Though it is true that most Community Theater companies work outside the city limits, many of those involved do live or work inside the city, and Community Theaters can easily mobilize an exponentially-expanding group of minds because everyone involved in making a play has relatives! Again, you might ask for a few minutes on Sunday to tell people about the public funding crisis in general and one or two things you think they might do to change the picture state-wide, nation-wide, city-wide.

I may not attend your fund-raiser because, frankly, I don't have any money.
I'm a Social Security deadbeat living in elder/disabled housing, and come the end of the money, usually I have month left.
But I've seen about fifty plays this year alone, reviewed most of them, and since I retired I can do it "full time".
I hope we have a love of live theater in common....

As we say backstage, Break A Leg!
( a k a larry stark )

I Would like a response, but it might be better if you did NOT send me a lot of position-papers on anything BUT arts-funding.
I am a bullet-voter and I'd rather NOT know that you might be on the other side from myself on any other issue, okay?

I got this as a reply:

From: "Rosenberg, Stuart" To: "''"
Subject: Arts ideas
Date: Thu, 1 May 2003 09:44:09 -0400

Thanks for writing Councilor Ross and providing some ideas for assisting the arts. I plan to share these ideas with Councilor Ross and Councilor Tobin (who is also a big fan of the arts). Regardless, I'll make sure to keep you in the loop for future initiatives pursued by Councilor Ross to assist the arts. And we hope to see you on May 12th.
Policy Director for City Councilor Michael P. Ross

And this reply from Jeff Poulos:

Date: Thu, 01 May 2003 12:20:43 -0400
From: "Jeff Poulos" To: "Larry Stark's Theater Mirror"

Thank you for your suggestions and cc'ing me the letter you sent Mike Ross. I think your suggestion of having Councilor Ross at theatres for the curtain speech is a good one, but I think the invitation needs to come from the theatres. He cannot assume that he is welcome. I think the theatre community needs to step up its participation and inclusion of politically connected people. Thus, the impetus to have theatre people meet Ross at this event. Also, keep in mind that Councillor Ross's focus is Boston - so NEED might not necessarily be the best use of his advertising dollars - the same with EMACT, and again, it would be best if EMACT extended an invitation to Ross, rather than the other way around.
Thanks again for your comments.

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide