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The Return of Communal Emotion


Welcome. At a 7:15 p.m. screening of “Zola” at a Brooklyn movie theater on Sunday, there was at least one empty seat between each party. Masks were worn in the cinema’s lobby but quickly dispensed with once people had taken their seats. Otherwise, things were — and it’s hard to say this without ironic quotation marks — normal.

The part of normal that felt the most exceptional? Laughing with strangers. You could hear the laughter start with one person, others steadily joining in, almost as if given permission by their neighbors to let it out. I missed that communal, nearly collaborative, emotion. It’s convenient and comfortable to stream movies at home, but you’ll never get the experience of 100 people laughing or gasping or sitting together until the end of the credits.

I’d like to watch the new season of “I Think You Should Leave” in a group. James Poniewozik calls it “blisteringly funny” and the first season certainly was. Get some friends together if you feel comfortable doing so and stream it on Netflix.

Speaking of hotly anticipated shows, the trailer for the third season of “Succession” dropped yesterday. The show is returning to HBO in the fall.

Take five minutes and fall in love with symphonies selected by the actor Alec Baldwin, the composer Angélica Negrón and others. Dorie Greenspan will make you fall in love with oeuf mayo, a simple dish so beloved in France that there’s a society to protect it. And Tina Jordan fell for some new thrillers; check them out for yourself.

  • I spent some time with NPR’s Joy Generator and, well, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Give it a try.

  • Emily King was the last musician I saw perform live before lockdown. Here she is performing “Can’t Hold Me Now” in Central Park in 2019.

  • This fascinating episode of the podcast “99% Invisible” traces the history of the song “Who Let the Dogs Out”: “It tells us something about inspiration, and how creativity spreads, and about whether an idea can ever really belong to just one person.” Have a listen.

If you’ve been getting out more, what specific things, like laughing with strangers in a movie theater, have you been surprised to discover that you missed? Maybe it’s smiling at passers-by without a mask, or seeing a once-desolate playground filled with people. Tell us about it: [email protected]. Include your full name and location and we might feature your story in a future newsletter. We’re At Home and Away. We’ll read every letter sent. More ideas for leading a full and cultured life, at home and away, appear below.


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These Drama Students Trained for Years. Then Theater Vanished.


Linnea Scott, who majored in theater at an arts magnet high school in Denver, found herself living in what had been her little sister’s bedroom — her sister had taken hers. She wrote, did yoga and hung out (outdoors) with high school friends. “I remember having this intense feeling,” she said. “Did the last four years even happen?”

The scramble for some kind of work, some kind of income, was full-on. Abigail Holland, an aspiring director, took a job at an animal hospital. Patrick Monaghan, while making comedy sketches to post online, is doing construction. Chase Dillon, always a bit of an entrepreneur, trades cryptocurrency.

“I’ve been doing accounting work,” said Emma Davis, back home in Boca Raton, Fla., “which is hilarious, since I have a B.F.A. in acting.”

Nannying, more in demand during a pandemic when many schools went virtual, became a popular pursuit. Scott had a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old under her care in Denver, while Kate Pittard looked after six kids in Brooklyn. “I’ve been sculpting with clay, painting, dancing — things I thought I was quite terrible at,” she said.

Health risks and shifting local protocols led some graduates to cycle through jobs. Trey Fitts, who as a senior had starred as Melchior in “Spring Awakening,” worked at Target, but quit after his stepfather got Covid, and started driving for Grubhub; Johnson switched to Grubhub after working in landscaping and driving trucks.

“Nothing is going on in the industry,” said Jon Demegillo, who is teaching Shakespeare at a summer camp. “What am I going to do with this degree?”

By early last summer, five members of the class of 2020 were holed up together in Arkansas, where Gabriela Slape’s family had a lake house.


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Dilip Kumar, Indian Film Star Who Brought Realism to Bollywood, Dies at 98


Mr. Kumar’s love life also made news; he had relationships with the actresses Kamini Kaushal, Madhubala (they made the 1960 blockbuster “Mughal-e-Azam,” about thwarted lovers, long after they broke up) and Saira Banu, whom he married in 1966 when he was 44 and she was 22. In the 1980s, while still married to Ms. Banu, Mr. Kumar married the socialite Asma Rehman in secret. The news was quickly outed and it became a scandal, but Ms. Banu stuck with Mr. Kumar, who ended the second marriage. He is survived by Ms. Banu.

Professionally, Mr. Kumar’s record was spotless, with films that have not only been successful but have left a lasting impact. Films like “Naya Daur” (“New Era”) in 1957, “Yahudi” (“The Jews”) in 1958, “Madhumati,” also in 1958 and “Ram Aur Shyam” (“Ram and Shyam”) in 1967 are still remembered today.

In the 1970s, Mr. Kumar found fewer roles as younger, more agile actors were cast as heroes, and he took a break.

He returned in 1981 with a blockbuster, “Kranti” (“Revolution”), that reshaped his screen persona as the older moral center. He had similar roles in star-heavy mega-productions like “Vidhaata” (“The Creator”) in 1982, “Karma” (1986), Saudagar (“The Merchant”) in 1991 and especially “Shakti,” when he was cast for the first time opposite the reigning Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.

Mr. Kumar’s last film was “Qila” (“Fort”) in 1998. By then, his style felt “more than just outdated,” a reviewer wrote in India Today. “It’s prehistoric. Dilip Kumar’s long, drawn-out dialogue delivery is out of sync with the times.”

Mr. Kumar received the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s highest civilian awards, in 1991, the Dadasaheb Phalke, India’s highest award for cinematic excellence, in 1994, and the Padma Vibhushan in 2015. From 2000 to 2006, he served as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament.

But these honors from the Indian government consumed far less newsprint than the decision by the Pakistani government, in 1998, to confer on him their highest civilian honor, the Nishan-e-Imtiaz. Amid heightened religious tensions, Mr. Kumar was branded an anti-national by Hindu politicians who asked him to return the award to Pakistan. He did not. He said in his autobiography that returning it “could have only soured relations further and produced bad vibes between India and Pakistan.”


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Britney Spears’s Lawyer Asks to Step Down from Court-Appointed Role


A lawyer representing Britney Spears in the conservatorship that has overseen her life for the last 13 years requested on Tuesday that he be allowed to step down, becoming the latest party to resign from the arrangement after Ms. Spears called it abusive at a hearing last month.

Samuel D. Ingham III, a veteran of the California probate system, has represented Ms. Spears since 2008, when a Los Angeles court granted conservatorship powers to the singer’s father and an estate lawyer amid concerns about her mental health and substance abuse. Mr. Ingham was appointed by the court after Ms. Spears, who was hospitalized at the time, was found to be incapable of hiring her own counsel.

At a hearing on June 23, Ms. Spears vehemently criticized the conservatorship, claiming she had been forced to perform, take debilitating medication and remain on birth control.

The singer also raised questions about Mr. Ingham’s advocacy on her behalf, in part because she said in court that she had been unaware of how to terminate the arrangement. Ms. Spears informed the judge that she wished to hire a lawyer of her own.

“I didn’t know I could petition the conservatorship to be ended,” Ms. Spears, 39, said in court. “I’m sorry for my ignorance, but I honestly didn’t know that.” She added, “My attorney says I can’t — it’s not good, I can’t let the public know anything they did to me.”

“He told me I should keep it to myself, really,” the singer said.

It is unknown what private discussions Mr. Ingham and Ms. Spears have had about whether or how she could ask to end the conservatorship. Last year, Mr. Ingham began seeking substantial changes to the setup on behalf of Ms. Spears, including attempts to strip power from her father, James P. Spears, who remains in control of the singer’s $60 million fortune.

Mr. Ingham’s total earnings from Ms. Spears’s conservatorship since 2008 are near $3 million; Ms. Spears is responsible for paying for lawyers on both sides of the case, including those arguing against her wishes.

Mr. Ingham did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In his filing, he asked the court to assign a new lawyer to Ms. Spears but did not elaborate on his reasons for withdrawing. The filing also included the resignation letter of a law firm, Loeb & Loeb, which Mr. Ingham had brought on recently to assist him.

Mr. Ingham said he would serve until the court had appointed new counsel for Ms. Spears but it is not clear how a new lawyer would be selected or whether Ms. Spears would have a say in the matter.

The filing comes a day after Ms. Spears’s longtime manager, Larry Rudolph, also resigned. In a letter sent to Ms. Spears’s co-conservators, Mr. Spears and Jodi Montgomery, who is in charge of the singer’s personal care, Mr. Rudolph said that he had become aware that Ms. Spears had voiced an intention to officially retire.

Ms. Spears has not performed or released new music since 2018. In January 2019, she announced an “indefinite work hiatus,” canceling an upcoming Las Vegas residency and citing her father’s health.

In court last month, Ms. Spears said she had been pressured into those planned performances and a prior tour. She described being forced into weeks of involuntary medical evaluations and rehab after speaking out against choreography in rehearsal. “I’m not here to be anyone’s slave,” Ms. Spears said. “I can say no to a dance move.”

She told the judge, “My dad and anyone involved in this conservatorship and my management who played a huge role in punishing me when I said no — ma’am, they should be in jail.”

Last week, a wealth management firm that had been set to take over as the co-conservator of the singer’s estate requested to step down as well, noting the “changed circumstances” following Ms. Spears’s public criticisms. The firm, Bessemer Trust, said in a court filing that it had believed the conservatorship was voluntary and that Ms. Spears had consented to the company acting as co-conservator alongside her father.


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Processing the Pandemic at the Manchester International Festival


Gregory Maqoma’s highly varied choreography for these dancers (as well as Thulani Chauke on two large screens at the sides of the stage — a nod to travel problems during Covid-19) and Garratt’s ventriloquist skills were the best parts of the unevenly paced show, which meandered from one set piece to another.

Join Times theater reporter Michael Paulson in conversation with Lin-Manuel Miranda, catch a performance from Shakespeare in the Park and more as we explore signs of hope in a changed city. For a year, the “Offstage” series has followed theater through a shutdown. Now we’re looking at its rebound.

The strongest performance piece was, surprisingly, a film installation. In the vast Manchester Center (a former train station), flashing lights and a humming, breathy electronic surround sound (by Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Jon Hopkins) pierced the cavernous space before the start of “All of This Unreal Time,” a collaboration between the actor Cillian Murphy (“Peaky Blinders”) and the writer Max Porter, directed by Aoife McArdle.

Murphy and Porter have worked together previously, on the stage adaptation of “Grief Is the Thing With Feathers,” and as with that work, the text here is a strange and wonderful assemblage of narrative, reflection, soliloquy, myth and poetry. “I came out here to apologise” is emblazoned on the screen before we see Murphy trudging through a dark, dripping tunnel.

As he walks through the night, down dilapidated streets and past fluorescent-lit all-night cafes, Murphy’s character speaks of his shame, anger and fears as he confesses his failings as a man (“Sisterhood, now that’s a thing to envy”). “I’m sorry I took, and took, and took, and took, and took, and enriched myself without pause and left deep scars on the skin of the earth,” he says near the end, by which time he is walking through a field outside the city, the sky lightening, trains passing, birds flocking.

McArdle keeps the pace tight, the focus on Murphy, her cutaway shots fleeting and pointed. Seen on a huge screen, the sound swelling and waning like the echoes of nature itself alongside the musical rhythms of the text, “All This Unreal Time” (available to watch online) is a riveting, genuinely immersive journey that — like all good art — keeps the possibilities for meaning entirely open.


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In ‘What to Send Up,’ I See You, Black American Theater


At one point in the show, there is a symbolic Black death, tender though devastating, followed by an extended moment of silence. At another point, we were invited to write messages to Black Americans — they would join the scores of postcards with messages from other audience members that adorn the walls of the theater. Later we were asked to let out a collective, soul-cleansing scream — something I, an introvert, would usually pass on. But the mighty wall of sound led by Black voices — a great sound of exaltation and frustration and defiance all at once — invited me in, and my own voice, unsteady and hesitant, joined. It was like stretching a muscle I never realized existed; the feeling was overwhelming in its depth and release.

But, I wondered, can any such space truly and wholly be for a Black audience, especially when there are white audience members there, too? Some part of me was quietly policing the white people in the theater — how they responded to certain scenes and questions, if and when they laughed at certain jokes, if they seemed to hold themselves accountable, if they were taking up too much space.

As a critic and a reporter, part of what I do is read the room — how and why audiences react to the happenings onstage, and what that says about the work. But here, I didn’t want to care. In the show’s final minutes, non-Black audience members were invited to leave the theater and gather in the lobby. When I recounted this to a friend afterward, she asked what the white audiences saw, if anything, but I don’t know and — I know this is shameful to admit — I don’t care.

I am concerned only with how Harris’s play made me and the other Black people in that room feel. I noted how the couple from earlier clutched each other through most of the show. At some point, the woman left and returned wet-eyed with a handful of tissues. Her partner lovingly rubbed her back.

I also ended the show in tears, which I hadn’t expected — but among Black performers and audience members, I felt newly seen and safe. I had a fresh moment of realization, considering my duty as a Black critic. And as a Black poet, I had a moment of inspiration: I want more art like this.

Affirmations, exclamations of joy, moments of commemoration: I’ll skip the particulars of those last few holy minutes that were exclusive to the Black audience. I want to honor and extend the loving, communal Black space Harris creates in an art form that has so few of them. And I want to keep it for myself — and for that couple and for the Black woman who, earlier in the show, had said she wished for a future version of this country where she could feel more “human.”


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June Finch, Virtuoso Dance Teacher With a Humane Touch, Dies at 81


June Finch, a dancer, choreographer and teacher who specialized in the technique of the choreographer Merce Cunningham, imparting it to generations of students, died on June 18 in a hospital in Manhattan. She was 81.

The cause was lung cancer, her niece Amy Verstappen said.

Known for her sophisticated sense of rhythm, egalitarian spirit and fierce devotion to the Cunningham technique — a system of movement that Cunningham developed to prepare the body for his complex choreography — Ms. Finch began teaching at the Merce Cunningham Studio in Manhattan in the late 1960s.

Often one of the first instructors people encountered in their study of Cunningham’s work, she trained hundreds of dancers who passed through the studio, including many who went on to join the illustrious ranks of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. (Ms. Finch never joined the company herself.)

On March 30, 2012, three years after Cunningham’s death, as the school prepared to close, Ms. Finch taught the final class at its longtime home, on the light-filled top floor of the Westbeth Artists Housing complex in the West Village. About a hundred people came to dance and watch. “Thunderous applause greeted June when she entered to teach,” the choreographer Pat Catterson wrote in an account of the class for Dance magazine.

In the competitive environment of the Cunningham studio, where dancers were often vying for coveted spots in the choreographer’s company, Ms. Finch stood out for the attention she gave students regardless of their star potential. Ms. Catterson, who trained with Ms. Finch for decades beginning in 1968, said most teachers at the school did not offer individualized attention “unless you were company material in their eyes.”

“June was not like that,” Ms. Catterson said in a phone interview. “She was really there to teach everyone in the room.” That approach continued through her recent teaching at 100 Grand, a loft in SoHo where Ms. Finch offered Saturday morning classes until March 2020, when the pandemic forced her to stop.

The dancer Janet Charleston, also a respected teacher of Cunningham technique, attended those weekend classes, where no dancer was too seasoned to learn from Ms. Finch.

“It was so nice, after studying that technique for decades, that someone would still have this eagle eye and could give very, very experienced dancers really valuable feedback,” Ms. Charleston said. “She watched people like a hawk. She was just completely involved.”

In a concise letter of recommendation dated Jan. 9, 1989, Cunningham himself expressed a similar sentiment, summing up his esteem for Ms. Finch in a single sentence: “To Whom It May Concern: June Finch is a fine teacher, with a rare and direct concern for the individuals with whom she is working.”

June Gebelein was born on June 13, 1940, in Taunton, Mass., the youngest of three siblings. Her mother, Roberta (Seaver) Gebelein, did volunteer work for families in need. Her father, Ernest George Gebelein, ran a factory that made bags and boxes for silverware and was later the president of a bank. (His father was George Gebelein, a famed Boston silversmith.)

From ages 4 to 17, Ms. Finch studied ballet in Taunton and Provincetown. She also took piano lessons and, from her great-aunt, learned a bit of country folk dancing.

She attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dance, studying with the revered dance composition teacher Bessie Schonberg. She began training at the Cunningham Studio in 1965 and within a few years joined the faculty. From 1969 to 1977, she danced in the company of Viola Farber, a distinguished founding member of Cunningham’s company, who started her own troupe in 1968.

She married Caleb Finch, a scientist who also played fiddle in a bluegrass band, in 1965. Ms. Finch — whose deep, melodic voice was a hallmark of her classes — occasionally sang with the band. She and Mr. Finch, who is now a prominent researcher of human aging, divorced in the early 1970s, when he accepted a job in California and she chose to keep dancing in New York.

From 1977 to 1982, she created work as the artistic director of June Finch and Dancers. Reviewing an evening of her choreography at the Cunningham Studio in 1979, Jennifer Dunning of The New York Times called it “a program of fluid and elegant dance, performed by an equally elegant company of eight men and women.”

One of those women was the choreographer Elizabeth Streb, who first took a class with Ms. Finch in the mid-1970s. Ms. Streb said in an interview that students flocked to Ms. Finch in part because of her ability to get to the root of a technical problem, in a rigorous yet humane way. “She knew what part to fix that allowed everything else to come into line,” Ms. Streb said.

Ms. Finch also reached dancers outside of New York, teaching and staging Cunningham’s work at universities around the country and internationally. She spent summers throughout her life on Cape Cod, where she developed a small but dedicated student following and organized performances in Provincetown.

A dancer of small stature and impressive power, Ms. Finch performed with choreographers including Margaret Jenkins, Meredith Monk and Jeff Slayton, in addition to her work with Ms. Farber. Ms. Jenkins, who also taught for many years at the Cunningham studio, described Ms. Finch’s dancing as “wild and clear at the same time.”

As a teacher, Ms. Jenkins added, Ms. Finch was deeply loyal to Cunningham’s aesthetic but, within that loyalty, “inserted her own wit and precision and rhythm that was uniquely hers.”

Ms. Finch is survived by her sister, Peggy Sovek, and her brother, Robert Gebelein.

Jennifer Goggans, the program coordinator for the Merce Cunningham Trust and a former member of Cunningham’s company, recalled the inspiring, almost daunting force of Ms. Finch demonstrating movement in class. “I remember her going across the floor and bounding through space,” she said, “and thinking to myself, ‘How am I going to do that?’”

Students were also drawn to Ms. Finch’s nuanced musicality, which infused the exercises she taught.

“A rhythmic phrase, when it’s right, has an inevitability to it,” Ms. Catterson said, “and she really understood that.”


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Hot Vax Summer? Falstaff and Shakespeare in the Park Are Ready.


That laughter only increased in late June, when a state directive eased some restrictions. The Delacorte, which had been capped at 18 percent capacity could now operate at 80 percent. When she heard the news Watson took a victory lap around the rehearsal room. “I’ve been in that audience so many times,” she said. “You want the whole crowd to be there.”

Guaranteeing that the whole crowd sees something wonderful, after so long away, creates a kind of stress. “There is pressure to deliver not just good acting, but to deliver something that people can bounce joy off,” Ming-Trent said.

Ali tries not to think about the pressure too much. Bioh just hopes the Senegalese woman who braids her hair likes it. Eustis bet that the production would have a secret ally in the audience. “Because we’re going to be celebrating each other,” he said.

And the creative team trusts that a production centered on the African diaspora will make the audience think about which communities we typically celebrate in the theater and beyond it. “We’ve been talking so much about how theater is going to be different when we come back,” Ali said. “In some radically subversive way, this play and this community and this particular production contribute to that conversation.”

After a year centered largely on Black pain, Bioh wants to offer a theatrical alternative. “Joy is a part of our experience as well,” she said. “So I’m glad people get to come back and laugh. It should be a good time.”

On a sun-strafed Monday in late June, with the seats too hot to touch, the cast gathered at the Delacorte for a first walk through of Beowulf Boritt’s streetscape set. Soberly, the heads of various departments outlined Covid-19 protocols, safety protocols, the code of conduct. An open manhole cover on the stage could constitute a fall hazard, one staffer warned. It had taken so much negotiation, testing and care to bring all of these people to the park, it would take so much more to deliver them to opening night.

But in that midday heat, those complications momentarily evaporated. Ali, in a baseball cap, shorts and a mask, leapt to the stage. He took in the hundred or so colleagues — actors, designers administrators, stage managers, house managers and compliance officers — arrayed below. And then, clutching the mic, he spoke. “We’re here,” he said. “We’re here. We’re here.”


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Richard Donner, Director of ‘Superman’ and ‘Lethal Weapon’ Films, Dies at 91


Richard Donner, the tough, single-minded but playful film director who made Christopher Reeve’s Superman fly, Mel Gibson’s deranged detective lethal and the young stars of “The Goonies” pirate-adorable, died on Monday. He was 91.

His production company and his wife and producing partner, Lauren Shuler Donner, confirmed the death with Hollywood trade publications. They did not say where he died or give the cause.

Mr. Donner was in his late 40s when he made his first blockbuster, “Superman,” reviving a comic-book hero who hadn’t been seen onscreen since the 1950s television series “Adventures of Superman.” The film opened in 1978, introducing Mr. Reeve, a relative unknown at the time, as the Man of Steel and some state-of-the-art special effects.

“If the audience didn’t believe he was flying, I didn’t have a movie,” Mr. Donner told Variety in 1997.

That megahit was followed by “Inside Moves” (1980), a drama about a man crippled in a failed suicide attempt (Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times that Mr. Donner had directed it “with a surprising gentleness”); “The Toy” (1982), with Richard Pryor, whose character finds himself hired to be the plaything of a spoiled rich child; “The Goonies” (1985), about misfit children on a treasure hunt; the first of four “Lethal Weapon” movies (1987), starring Mr. Gibson and Danny Glover; and “Scrooged” (1988), an irreverent comic take on Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” starring Bill Murray.

Mr. Donner attributed the surprise success of “Lethal Weapon” to his clean depiction of violence.

“I like to turn my head away in suspense, not in disgust,” he said in a 1987 interview with The Times. “Sure, there were a lot of deaths, but they died like they died in westerns. They were shot with bullets; they weren’t dismembered.”

He even admitted to having stolen some fight moves from a western: “Red River” (1948), which starred John Wayne.

Mr. Donner always said he had been hired for “Goonies” because Steven Spielberg, who produced the movie, had told him, “You’re a bigger kid than I am.” But working with actual kids (including Sean Astin at 14 and Josh Brolin, barely 17) was a mixed blessing.

“The annoying thing was the lack of discipline,” Mr. Donner told Yahoo Entertainment in 2015. “And that was also what was great, because it meant that they weren’t professionals. What came out of them was instinct.”

In a statement on Monday, Mr. Spielberg said: “Dick had such a powerful command of his movies, and was so gifted across so many genres. Being in his circle was akin to hanging out with your favorite coach, smartest professor, fiercest motivator, most endearing friend, staunchest ally, and — of course — the greatest Goonie of all. He was all kid. All heart. All the time.”

Richard Donald Schwartzberg was born on April 24, 1930, in the Bronx, the younger of two children of Fred and Hattie (Horowitz) Schwartzberg. His father was a Russian Jewish immigrant who worked in his father’s furniture business; his mother, a daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, worked as a secretary before having children.

Richard became fascinated by film when he and his sister would go to their grandfather’s movie theater in Brooklyn. But he had no specific career ambitions, Mr. Donner said in a 2006 Archive of American Television video interview. He grew up in the Bronx and in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and joined the Navy in his teens.

His first real attraction to show business came with a summer job parking cars and doing errands at a summer theater. Because his father wanted him to study business, he enrolled in night school at New York University but dropped out after two years.

He had some luck landing acting jobs in commercials and finally won a tiny part on the 1950-51 anthology series “Somerset Maugham TV Theater.” The episode’s director, Martin Ritt (who went on to a successful career directing movies like “Hud,” “Sounder” and “Norma Rae”), didn’t care for the young man’s attitude and offered a suggestion. “You can’t take direction,” he said. “You should be a director.”

Mr. Donner (he took his stage name from the infamous Donner Pass tragedy, observing its centennial at the time, and because Donner sounded like his middle name) continued to do commercials and helped found a commercial production company, which he and his partner later sold to Filmways. He got his big chance to direct prime-time series TV in 1960, with an episode of the western “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” starring Steve McQueen.

From the start he brushed elbows with stars. The golden-age-of-Hollywood star Claudette Colbert was in one of his first assignments, a 1960 episode of “Zane Grey Theater.” One of the six “Twilight Zone” episodes he directed was “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” in which William Shatner played a terrified airline passenger who sees a gremlin on the wing outside his window.

Neither of Mr. Donner’s first two tries at film made a big splash, but he directed big names: Charles Bronson in “X-15,” a 1961 drama about a test pilot, and Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford in “Salt and Pepper,” a 1968 comedy crime thriller.

The first Richard Donner movie that received headline attention was “The Omen” (1976), about a cold-eyed little boy who is secretly the Antichrist. Vincent Canby, unimpressed, described Mr. Donner in The Times as “a television director who has a superb way of dismissing any small detail that might give some semblance of conviction to the proceedings.” But “The Omen” became the year’s fifth-highest-grossing film; soon its director was offered “Superman,” which did even better financially. It was beaten at the box office in 1978 only by “Grease.”

Mr. Donner directed Mr. Gibson in two high-profile films in the 1990s: “Maverick” (1994), a comic western with Jodie Foster; and “Conspiracy Theory” (1997), an action thriller about a paranoid cabdriver, with Julia Roberts. In the early ’90s he produced and directed episodes of HBO’s “Tales From the Crypt.”

The last “Lethal Weapon” movie was in 1998. Mr. Donner’s last film, “16 Blocks,” was a 2006 crime drama starring Bruce Willis.

He met Ms. Shuler when she hired him for the 1985 fantasy “Ladyhawke”; they married in 1986. The couple eventually chose not to work together because it affected their relationship, Mr. Donner said. “I’m a 200-pound gorilla,” he explained. “She’s a 300-pound gorilla.”

But their production company, the Donners’ Company, founded in 1993, has been behind lucrative hits like “Deadpool,” “The Wolverine” and the “X-Men” franchise. (Complete information on his survivors was not immediately available.)

Like Alfred Hitchcock, Mr. Donner enjoyed making silent cameo appearances in his own projects; he was, among other things, a riverboat card dealer in “Maverick,” a police officer in “The Goonies” and a passer-by in “Superman.”

But asked in the Archive of American Television interview how he wanted to be remembered, he was unassuming. “As a good guy who lived a long life and had a good time and always had that lady behind him pushing him,” he said. His only boast: “I’m pretty good at meeting a schedule and a budget.”


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With Venues Reopening Across New York, Life Is a Cabaret Once Again


“Thank you all for risking your lives by coming out tonight,” Joe Iconis quipped, welcoming a socially distanced crowd to the June reopening of the cabaret venue Feinstein’s/54 Below in Manhattan.

Iconis, a composer, lyricist and performer beloved among young musical theater fans, was joking, but before diving into an alternately goofy and poignant set with the actor and singer George Salazar — a star of Iconis’s first Broadway production, “Be More Chill”he added, earnestly, “It’s the most incredible thing to be able to do this show for real human beings, not computer screens.”

Moist-eyed reunions between artists and fans have been taking place across the city as Covid-19 restrictions are gradually relaxing. “I hope you’re prepared for how emotional it will be when you’re onstage, because it will be emotional for us, supporting artists we love again,’” a fan told the band Betty. In the intimate spaces that house these shows, interaction between artists and those who love them is integral to what the downtown fixture Sandra Bernhard called “the in-the-moment, visceral experience.”

Storied establishments like the jazz clubs Birdland and Blue Note, newer spots such as the Green Room 42 and City Winery at Hudson River Park (which both reopened in April), along with the East Village alt-cabaret oases Pangea and Club Cumming are once again offering food, drink and in-the-flesh entertainment, as cabaret veterans — along with other jazz and pop acts, and drag performers — return to the work that is their bread and butter.

“To see people physiologically responding to music again — toes tapping, heads bopping — that’s almost better than applause,” said the pianist and singer Michael Garin, one of many who used social media to stay connected with fans during the pandemic, and among the first to resume performances for live audiences.

But, Garin noted, “It’s not like we’re flipping a switch and bringing everything back to normal.” Particularly in the spring, not everyone was ready to pick up where they left off. “There were some musicians who were ready to book as soon as possible, and others who said, ‘Let me see — I don’t know if I want to be in an indoor space right now,’” said Steven Bensusan, the president of Blue Note Entertainment Group.

The producer and host Scott Siegel, creator of the virtual “Scott Siegel’s Nightclub New York,” said that trepidation is still shared by some patrons: “Everybody’s hopeful, but I hear people say they’re nervous. There are also many who come in from outside the tristate area, and it’s more of an effort to get in.”

With regulations still in flux, both vigilance and adaptability are key. Before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s mid-June announcement that the state could almost fully reopen, Birdland had planned to return at just 50 percent capacity on July 1. Instead, all 150 of its seats have been accessible from the start, with returning variety-show hosts Jim Caruso and Susie Mosher featuring theater and cabaret luminaries such as Chita Rivera and Natalie Douglas in the first week back. (The club’s downstairs space, Birdland Theater, will remain closed until September.) The Blue Note, which reopened in mid-June at roughly two-thirds capacity, has since made all of its 250 seats available. Proof of vaccination against the coronavirus is not required at either club, though masks are recommended for the unvaccinated at Birdland.

By contrast, at 54 Below, where the plan is to build gradually back to a full crowd of about 150, proof of vaccination is necessary, as it is in the 60-seat cabaret room at Pangea, still limited to 80 percent capacity. Both venues were among those that developed streaming series while shuttered. “We originally got into it to remain active, but it became a way to pay staff, and expand the audience,” said Richard Frankel, one of the owners of 54 Below, which will kick off the new series “Live From Feinstein’s/54 Below,” offering live streams direct from the venue, on July 11. “Right now we’re focused on reopening live, but it’s definitely something to continue exploring after the dust settles.”

Ryan Paternite, director of programming at Birdland, has been similarly encouraged by the response to “Radio Free Birdland,” though he added, “My feeling is that people are pretty burned out on watching shows on their computer or phone — especially if they have to pay for tickets.”

Artists generally remain bullish on the opportunities posed by technology. “I’m very pro-streaming,” said the Tony Award-nominated singer and actress Lilli Cooper, who is set to appear at 54 Below on July 28 and August 15. “It broadens the spectrum of who’s able to see things, and that’s so important.” Caruso plans to continue streaming his “Pajama Cast Party” weekly; he noted that the virtual program has allowed him to diversify both his audience (“It has become more colorful, literally and figuratively”) and his talent pool (“I’ve delved into TikTok and Instagram and discovered some thrilling new artists”).

Many are hopeful that diversity and inclusivity will be further emphasized in an art form that counts artists of color like Mabel Mercer and Bobby Short as historical icons. “My art is often based on what I’ve gone through, and being a Black man is part of that,” said the Broadway veteran Derrick Baskin, who packed R&B classics into his set list for recent dates at 54 Below.

Justin Vivian Bond, scheduled to reopen Joe’s Pub in October, said, “The brilliant thing about cabaret is that you can react, if you’re capable, to what’s going on in the world.” For Bond, the pandemic posed challenges as sobering, albeit in a different way, as those faced by the L.G.B.T.Q. community during another plague: “When AIDS was happening, even when people were dying, you could be with them. What we’ve just been through was a very isolating trauma. I don’t know if I’ll have any brilliant insights about it, but hopefully what I’ll say will resonate with the audience.”

Bernhard, who will return to Joe’s Pub in December for the annual holiday engagement she had to skip in 2020, still isn’t sure what insights she’ll be offering. “The head space that I’m in, I don’t even know what the next two months are going to bring,” she said. “I just want to perform, like everybody else does right now.”

Performers and fans will be greeted with renovations at certain venues, and other enticements. Birdland has reduced its ticket price to 99 cents in July, the fee when the club originally opened in 1949. 54 Below is offering a new menu, created by the “Top Chef” winner Harold Dieterle. The West Bank Café’s Laurie Beechman Theater is getting a “face lift,” said its owner, Steve Olsen — fresh paint, new carpet and bar equipment, upgraded sound and lighting — in preparation for a reopening after Labor Day. The Triad Theater also used its forced downtime to “improve the furnishings, repaint and get new equipment,” said the booking director Bernie Furshpan.

But it is the love of performing itself, and the perspective gained after a year of lost shows, that is driving many artists’ emotional responses to returning to the stage. Michael Feinstein, the multitasking American songbook champion and namesake for clubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as New York, believes “that anyone who is a performer is coming out of this in a very different place, with a deeper sense of connection and joy and gratitude.”

“I cannot imagine any artist now taking any moment of what we do for granted,” he added.


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Retooling ‘La Bohème’ for Pandemic Performances


LONDON — It’s an evening of drinking and revelry at Café Momus. A group of young men chatter away as a femme fatale tries to get their attention, jumping on tables and tossing undergarments. But the night spot is not as crowded as usual. There are few waiters in attendance, and by the windows in the back three patrons dine alone.

It is Act II of a pared-down production of Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the Royal Opera House. In light of pandemic restrictions, the orchestra has 47 players, down from the usual 74. The act opens with only 18 of 60 chorus members onstage, the rest singing from the wings, and 10 (not 20) children onstage. There are four, not 10, waiters in the cafe.

“The cafe scene feels less ‘bustling belle epoque cafe’ and more ‘lonely-hearts establishment’ at the moment, simply because there’s a limited number of people that we can have in the Cafe Momus,” Oliver Mears, the house’s director of opera, said a few days before the June 19 premiere. “It’s just adapting to the circumstances that we were faced with.”

Mr. Mears said opera is an art form that breaks every social-distancing rule, relying on “crammed pits,” large and dense onstage crowds, moments of intimacy between performers, singing (which can spread viral particles) and a sellout audience. “All of these things really work against us,” he said.

“If you were someone who hated opera and you wanted to devise a disease that hit opera particularly hard, then you’d probably come up with something rather like Covid,” he added.

The global coronavirus outbreak has had a drastic effect on the performing arts, and opera, which is expensive, has suffered hugely. Many of Europe’s major houses have received government help — in addition to annual taxpayer-funded grants — to avoid insolvency.

The Royal Opera House, which was closed for 14 months, received a government loan of 21.7 million pounds (about $29 million) in December, part of a recovery package for arts organizations. The house attracts an average of 650,000 people a year and presents films and screenings in Britain and in 42 countries around the world.

Last October, it sold a 1971 David Hockney portrait of its former general administrator, David Webster, for £12.8 million (about $18 million). But even that was not enough to avoid cuts, and 218 staff members were let go.

Since the house reopened on May 17, it has been operating at roughly a third of capacity to ensure socially distanced seating — just over 800 spectators, down from 2,225, Mr. Mears said. He described the mood in-house as “enthusiasm tempered with caution.” (Pandemic restrictions are in place until at least July 19.)

The Paris Opera, which also incorporates a world-renowned ballet company, has faced similar threats in the pandemic. In an interview, Alexander Neef, its director, said the opera house had received €41 million (about $47 million) in aid for 2020, leaving it with a €4 million deficit.

This year, the Paris Opera is due to receive another €15 million in state aid, he said, to help offset a projected annual loss of €45 million.

“Everybody’s exhausted from more than a year of crisis,” Mr. Neef said. The Paris Opera reopened May 19, and since early June has required all audience members to show a “pass sanitaire” (health pass) proving vaccination, a negative test or one proving post-Covid immunity.

There was “great appetite when we reopened,” he said on June 22, but “it’s been a little bit flat now,” whether because of the health pass requirement or the good weather and the reopening of cafe terraces.

“There’s still a lack of perspective as to how this can actually come to an end,” he said. The hope was that by the fall, “we will be back to whatever this new normal will be. But there’s no guarantee for that right now. We don’t have visibility.”

Opera houses in the United States, which depend mainly on private philanthropy and ticket sales for survival, are suffering even more. The Metropolitan Opera in New York, which plans to reopen in September, announced on its website that it had lost $150 million in earned revenue because of the pandemic.

For the cast members of “La Bohème,” which ends live performances on Tuesday but can be streamed online through July 25, the pandemic has only compounded the art form’s challenges.

Danielle de Niese, who plays Musetta, the femme fatale, said in an interview during rehearsals that without a pandemic it was hard enough to do “the drunken tabletop thing” — having to hop from one tabletop to another in a long, heavy gown while singing at the top of her lungs. The coronavirus, she said, also meant having “to do all of our rehearsals with a mask on, and that is a killer.”

“It is incredibly challenging to sing into a material mask,” she said. “It basically kills your sound, and it feels like you’re singing into a pillow.”

Ms. de Niese, a soprano, pulled out her special opera-singer mask: a protruding face covering with an extra wire that ensured it wouldn’t “go up my nostrils” at each breath. Masks were worn throughout the rehearsal period, she said, and instead of the “natural camaraderie between colleagues” and between acts, performers had to sit on strictly distanced chairs.

Ms. de Niese said she was concerned about “singers who are just starting to get into it, who aren’t yet making the big bucks,” and who, struggling financially during the pandemic, had to take “a job packing boxes at Amazon.”

“We need to make sure that the next generation will still put their skin in the game,” she said.

The Royal Opera’s next big show is directed by Mr. Mears himself: a new production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” opening in the fall. In its favor during a pandemic? It has a small chorus.

Despite the prolonged shutdown and logistical and financial headaches, Mr. Mears said there was a silver lining to the difficulty: a regained appreciation for opera.

“We always thought that this was something that would always exist, and now I think there’s a tremendous sense of gratitude for the work that we are able to make,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll ever take opera for granted again, and that can only be a good thing.”


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They Resurrected MGM. Amazon Bought the Studio. Now What?


The producer Matt Tolmach, who has two projects in the works at MGM, including the horror film “Dark Harvest,” set for release on Sept. 23, said Mr. De Luca’s passion for good stories is infectious. “He read the script and he called me, and we had an hourlong conversation just about the possibilities and how amazing it would be and how we can push the boundaries,” he said of “Dark Harvest.” “That’s what he does. He makes your movie better.”

As Mr. De Luca sees it, the new MGM is about “treating the filmmakers like the franchise,” he said. When he and Ms. Abdy first joined forces, the duo compiled a list of 36 directors they were hoping to lure to the studio. In 15 months, they’ve nabbed 20 percent of them, including Darren Aronofsky, Sarah Polley, Melina Matsoukas and George Miller.

“We don’t mind taking big swings and gambling because I think it’s either go big or go home,” he added. “I think the audience rewards you if you are really original, innovative, bold and creative.”

In a shareholder meeting last month Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and executive chairman, called the reason behind the acquisition “very simple.” He said MGM had a “vast, deep catalog of much beloved” movies and shows. “We can reimagine and redevelop that I.P. for the 21st century.”

That runs counter to the approach Mr. De Luca and Ms. Abdy have primarily taken.

“Mike and I did not sit down and say let’s raid the library and remake everything,” Ms. Abdy said. “Our focus is original ideas with original authorship and real filmmakers, but you know every once in a while something will come up that’s fun and we’ll pursue it if we think it makes sense.”

Those ideas include a hybrid live action/animated remake of “Pink Panther”; Michael B. Jordan directing the third installment of the “Rocky” spinoff “Creed”; and “Legally Blonde 3” with Reese Witherspoon and a script co-written by Mindy Kaling.


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