||A director's notes on DramaCentre's production of Anton in Show Business
RELEASED: November 12, 2009
In these director's notes, Centre College professor of dramatic arts Anthony R. Haigh shares his thoughts about playwright Jane Martin, her play Anton in Show Business, and the state of the theater—past and present. The DramaCentre productions of Anton in Show Business will take place Nov. 18 through Nov. 21. Each performance will begin at 8 p.m. in Centre College's Weisiger Theatre.
DANVILLE, KY—As we sit here in the theatre, waiting for the play to start, we might be wondering who Jane Martin is. Perhaps we read the interview with her in Time? Or maybe we read her profile in the New Yorker? But we didn’t, because she doesn’t give interviews.
In fact, no one has met her. For a playwright who has produced more than 10 full-length plays, six one-acts, and numerous shorts; who has been nominated for the Pulitzer prize; and who has won the American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award twice, the silence about her life is deafening.
She has been called "America's best known unknown playwright." Former Actors Theatre of Louisville artistic director Jon Jory is the only person who claims to know who she is.
He has said that she is a Kentucky native who wishes to remain anonymous. When we realize that almost all her plays premiered at ATL when Jory was artistic director there, we might harbor suspicions that Jory and Jane are one and the same. Others have suggested that Jory’s wife, Marcia Dixey, might have had a hand in these plays—but who knows? Whoever the real author is maybe doesn’t matter. What does is that we have a fine body of well-crafted, funny plays to enjoy.
The upcoming play, Anton in Show Business, is a "play within a play" about a doomed production of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters in Texas.
But more than that—it is a satire about the current state of American Regional theatre as a whole. As it pokes fun at every aspect of the art and business of contemporary theatre, we might be tempted to see the hand of John Jory at work. Crazy producers, egotistical divas, villainous sponsors, eager ingénues, seen-it-all stage managers—every stereotype that comprises the contemporary theatre scene is present and suggests a playwright who has lived in that world for a long time. Even the audience does not escape her (or his) wicked, critical wit.
The Regional Theatre movement began to take off in America in the 1950's and 60's. Now, there are close to 400 producing theatres across the country. But this is a hard time for regional theatre. The downturn in the economy has hit all the arts, but the theatre is having a particularly bad time of it.
Kentucky has about seven professional producing theatres, two of which specialize in young audiences and at least two of which are in dire financial shape. Outside our largest city, the Commonwealth is not well-served with theatres. We have a strong university and college theatre scene, lots of dynamic amateur community theatres and a handful of popular outdoor summer theatres. But access to quality regional theatre in Kentucky is very limited.
Given this limited access to quality theatre, it seems churlish to criticize what theatre we do have. Jane Martin’s take on the current state of regional theatre—that it has "degenerated into dying medieval fiefdoms and arrogant baronies producing small cast comedies, cabaret musicals, mean-spirited new plays and the occasional deconstructed classic, which everyone hates"—may seem a bit harsh. The words may be said in jest, but they do warn us of the difficulties of sustaining quality producing theatre outside of the major cities.
Although the Theatre is generally alive and well—one company may fade away, while others are going through regeneration—any institution that can poke fun at itself, as the Theatre does tonight, has to be in good shape.
Jane Martin may be exposing our theatrical foibles, and those of us who have worked in the professional theatre may cringe at the barbs, but everyone can enjoy the wit and delight in peeking under the skirts of that thing we call—The Theatre!
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