Monthly Mailbag : Tonys, Kelli O'Hara, Literature and Theatre Education

Chris Peterson

Every now and then I receive questions from readers, colleagues, etc, about various topics. Rather than answer them privately, in the interest of transparency, I like to post them here so that we all can benefit. So the following are a collection of questions I've received in emails, conversations or Facebook interactions. If you have have a question, please email me a

It looks like you stepped in some hot water over this theatre education debate. Do you regret your position?

What your referring to is the column where I suggested that if the budgetary choice came down between math and science versus theatre and the arts, I would have a hard time not supporting math and science, especially given our rankings in those subject areas. 

To answer your question, no I don't regret my position and I'm not surprised at the reaction its received. But many of those who disagreed with me, missed my point. My point was that cuts to any program should be an absolute last result when it comes to school budgeting. The first should always  been salary freezes and re-evaluating the quantity of school administrators. The next would be working with school and union officials to try to come up with a plan of spending that doesn't decrease the number of staff and does't diminish school services. The third would be going back and adjusting the collective bargaining agreements to see if funds can be freed up that way. The last option would be cutting staff and programs all together. 

Now people thought I was suggesting and supporting cutting the arts to save money, I'm not saying that at all and wouldn't want to see that ever. I'm suggesting in the specific situation of a school, whose students are failing in the math and sciences, who wanted to put more of their resources into those subject areas, and by doing so would take away funding from the arts program, while I wouldn't like it, I wouldn't protest it either. 

I agree that the arts can help a student with their academic courses. But that's not without having strong, comprehend able academic programs as well. There isn't and educator out there that can say honestly that having a strong theatre program and a weak math program will improve math scores.

Can the arts help science and math? Absolutely. I agree that creativity benefit both these areas. But math and science require absolute singular answers.  2+2 with always 4, what goes up, will always come down. While sparking the idea takes creativity, discovery takes skill. 

If a school says they want to put more funding into areas where students can learn those skills easier and more widespread, I can't argue against that and chances are, neither can you. 

I really want Kelli O'Hara to win a Tony, but I'm afraid it's not going to be this year. Who do you think will win?

Chita Rivera. For a couple of reasons: 1. It's her last time on Broadway, there is no chance Tony voters are going to let a living legend walk away empty handed. 2. She's very good in that role. 3. She's won the Drama League Award, which is a pretty good prognosticator. 

But I'm with you on O'Hara, I absolutely want her to win one. In fact she should already have one(The Bridges of Madison County), arguably two(South Pacific). But she will get hers someday, I hope.

You mentioned last week how there aren't more musicals based on pieces of literature, which I agree with, what are some you'd like to see?

Very good question. Not that there are but if there are any composers reading this, I hope it might spark some ideas. 

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

China Dolls by Lisa See

What's next for OnStage? 

Well we're coming up on our first anniversary which is very exciting. We're finishing up some of our ranking lists and making deals to bring on new writers. We've broken in areas like Texas and Boston in a big way, so I'm very excited about that. I'm also excited to announce that we're adding at least two writers from Canada, so it will be great to over what's going on up there as well.