Tuesday, January 17, 2012
I came to Boston in 1962 to begin theater design studies. The last generation of the classic Boston Brahmins was still very much in control of a lot of the culture, including the office of Censor. Yes, everything that was published, or books that were sold, or plays put on a stage in Boston went through the Censor’s office and changes that the Censor dictated were made or the work was banned.
The 60s and 70s saw a huge sea change in Boston culture. One by one, various taboos fell. The Censor was dismissed, partly as the result of a famous interaction with Edward Albee over the Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf script. The "Banned in Boston" sticker no longer appeared on books, breaking the hearts of book retailers nationwide who knew it meant huge sales. Desegregation of the schools caused massive civil trauma, but remade the social, artistic and political order. Then the Blue Laws fell one by one--including some that had been on the books for close to three centuries.
More recently, the Catholic Priest pedophilia scandal severely undermined the Church’s ability to dictate local morals and mores, as well as quite a bit of local law. Through it all, Academia, an omnipresent and influential presence in Boston, galvanized the region and flooded it with a strong presence of young people, a large number of whom come to school here and then stay, spreading a liberal political bias. I am one of thousands in that regard.
When I arrived, Boston was a dreadful theater town. Other than the frequent pre-Broadway tryouts (which don't exist any more, with very rare exceptions), there were a few small, underfunded companies working out of difficult spaces and always on the brink of going under, which many did. Boston now has a goodly number of well-established and funded theater companies where excellent work is being done.
As for opera, Sarah Caldwell’s legendary Opera Company of Boston would still be with us had she been willing to trust competent professionals to run the business side of the operation which eventually collapsed in chaos. Caldwell's financial irresponsibility scared and angered the inner circle of Boston banking known colloquially as The Vault; its members retreated from arts funding for many years following their experience with brilliant but unruly Caldwell.
The Boston Lyric Opera, which developed out of Associate Artists Opera (for which I was the resident designer), has been around a long time and may well be the one company that could achieve permanence. The Boston University Opera Institute (founded by renowned soprano Phyllis Curtin) gives good productions of stimulating repertory and produces singers who have had significant careers. The two Conservatories (New England and Boston) also do highly respectable stage work. Emmanuel Music presents one 18th or 19th century opera in concert every year.
I currently design for Intermezzo, the New England Chamber Opera Series. We produce modern and brand new work (about 40% of what we do) in English, designed and directed like theatrical productions. An opera for which my husband and I wrote the libretto was premiered last May and we have a second libretto commissioned for production in 2013 or -14. There are several other small companies that do serious, well produced work.
The survival suit makes the person look like at Ptavv, which is even more creepy!
Thanks for the brief history of the Boston performing arts scene. We lived there for a few years until '82; his explains a lot of what I saw.