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    I’m Obsessed With ‘Old.’ The Twist: I Won’t See It.

    M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie has a trailer that eerily resonates with our strange times; and that’s enough for me.Let me say up front that I do not expect to see M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie, “Old,” which arrived in theaters last week, for no other reason than that I am traveling and haven’t set foot in a theater in almost two years. But in the past few weeks, I have watched its trailer over and over, enthralled by its combination of existential horror and unintended humor. The trailer introduces us to some people who become trapped on a remote beach, where they begin to age at an insanely accelerated pace. Naturally, they try to figure out what’s happening, floating theories and freaking out. This being a Shyamalan film, the trailer promises they will spend a lot of time looking confused and concerned — the same facial feat Mark Wahlberg sustained across the running time of “The Happening” — and yelling at one another, demanding explanations.This is a familiar, Manichaean, Shyamalan-ish universe: A diverse group of bewildered souls, alone in a menacing void, earnestly playing out whatever endgame logic the scenario dictates. (It’s as though the director were compelled to continually make big-budget versions of “Waiting for Godot” — you think he can’t go on, but he’ll go on.) So we see a family on vacation, headed to the beach. The cast is soon filled out by others: a couple, a 6-year-old girl, a woman in a bikini making smoochie faces at her phone, two more men. Soon enough, the kids find things in the sand: rusted items from their hotel, cracked sunglasses, late-model iPhones. A young bleach-blonde corpse bobs toward a boy in the water. (She did not die of old age, but will decompose in hyperlapse.) Then the real aging begins. Parents confront their kids’ sudden adolescence. The 6-year-old girl grows up, becomes pregnant and gives birth on the beach. Some greater force is afoot, be it fate, God, time, Facebook or nature. Whatever it is, it clearly doesn’t care how many travel rewards points or memory-making family vacations you had in real life.Near the start of the trailer, Vicky Krieps’s character dreamily tells her impatient children: “Let’s all start slowing down.” Then everything starts speeding up. At some point she turns to her husband and exclaims, “You have wrinkles!” (The horror!) But of course “Old” will not be an allegory about the importance of sunscreen. What we’re being shown here looks far more like a meditation on mortality wrapped in a cautionary tale about our accelerated lives — about the scariness of time flying and kids growing up too fast, of bodies going to hell and the inescapability of death, and about the ravages we’ve visited upon the Earth, which will remain blanketed in all our fancy garbage long after it has turned us to dust.Part of what’s so captivatingly strange about the trailer is the way it takes a movie that compresses life into a couple of hours and then compresses that into a galloping two-and-a-half-minute highlight reel. Its breakneck, parodic pace calls to mind Tom Stoppard’s “15-Minute Hamlet,” in which all the most famous scenes from Shakespeare’s play are crammed (twice!) into a quarter of an hour. (In a film adaptation I once saw, Ophelia drowned herself by plunging her head into a bucket.) The title alone reduces the existential horror of the premise to a midlife freakout.The graphic novel from which this movie is adapted — “Sandcastle,” written by Pierre Oscar Lévy and illustrated by Frederik Peeters — was inspired by Levy’s memories of childhood holidays. “He used to travel a lot to a beach exactly like this one, in the north of Spain,” Peeters told the comics site CBR. “Later, he went back with his own children, and one day he had this idea.” The beach could serve as a microcosm of Western society, “with some of its strong basic figures.” This was not a thriller, Peeters said — “it’s a fable.”It takes a movie that compresses life into a couple of hours and then compresses that into two and a half minutes.Shyamalan may be best known for his last-minute twists, but this was an option the “Sandcastle” authors ultimately decided against. According to Peeters, Levy had written a resolution to the story, a final twist — “but we finally decided it was useless, and would have destroyed the frightening dimension of the book.” The frightening dimension, of course, is that there is no escaping time, or death — and neither is there any simple revelatory twist in life that will explain what you’re meant to be doing with your time here.Anyone converting this source material into a movie has a choice to make: Either you embrace the terrifying meaninglessness of our short lives, or you try to offer consolation with a resolution to the story. The trailer tips its hand that Shyamalan has chosen the latter: The last words we hear are Gabriel Garcia Bernal’s character saying, “We’re here for a reason!” Maybe we are and maybe we are not, but my time on Earth is limited, and any story that attempts to wrap up the problem of life will feel like a waste of it.As I watched this trailer over and over, I was also, coincidentally, in Spain, where I lived for many years while growing up. I am writing from my brother’s new apartment in Madrid, which happens to be next door to the childhood home of a childhood friend. Walking my dog past her building, then meeting with her later, I find myself dwelling on the trailer, on the nature of time passing, on how compressed and accelerated it can feel. It’s strange to sit across from people you met in elementary school but haven’t seen in years. It makes you feel like the couples in the trailer, watching their spouses transform into their future selves. Time seems to pass at an accelerated rate when you return to a place periodically, over a long period, with large gaps in between.During the past year and a half of paralysis — this remote, isolated, slowed-down time, during which some of the most privileged among us were able to isolate in safety and comfort — it could seem as if the future were on hold. (It was not.) Time felt endless and slow until, for me, it accelerated significantly. I lost my mother suddenly. After 18 months of not traveling anywhere, I came back to the city where I lost my father, where my nephews were born, where my parents’ still-living friends have become elderly. It is funny to see how much has changed, and which things never change. I met a friend at a gallery opening and mentioned on arrival that I’d forgotten to iron my dress. He seemed happy to hear this: “You’re still you!” he said.Perhaps, for some of us, last year felt like a pause. But there was no pause. There never is. You look away for a moment, and your kid is tall. Your dog is old. Friends move away. You begin to wonder where this is all going. What’s the twist? When will it arrive? And then maybe you realize where you are, which may be a very old city — old to you and old in history, though not as old as some — and here you are, repeatedly watching a trailer for a movie, feeling a strange feeling.Carina Chocano is the author of the essay collection “You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks and Other Mixed Messages” and a contributing writer for the magazine. More

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    Vladimir Menshov, Surprise Russian Oscar Winner, Dies at 81

    His “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears” was named best foreign-language film in 1980, beating Truffaut and Kurosawa. U.S. critics demurred.Vladimir Menshov, a prolific Soviet actor and director whose film “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears” won the Academy Award in 1980 for best foreign-language film, surprising the many American critics who had panned it, died on July 5 in a hospital in Moscow. He was 81.Mosfilm, the Russian film studio and production company, said the cause was complications of Covid-19.“Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears,” a soapy, melodramatic crowd-pleaser, attracted some 90 million moviegoers in the Soviet Union even after it had been broadcast on television, not long after it was released theatrically in 1980. Its theme song, “Alexandra,” written by Sergey Nikitin and Tatyana Nikitina, became one of the country’s most beloved pieces of movie music.Even so, when “Moscow,” only the second film Mr. Menshov had directed, won the Oscar, many moviegoers and critics were taken aback, given the competition that year. It was chosen over François Truffaut’s “The Last Metro” and Akira Kurosawa’s “The Shadow Warrior” as well as the Spanish director Jaime de Armiñán’s “The Nest” and the Hungarian director Istvan Szabo’s “Confidence.”“There was more condescending good will than aesthetic discrimination behind the Oscar voted to ‘Moscow,’” Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote when he reviewed the film, which was released in the United States after its Oscar victory.The film follows three girls quartered at a Moscow hotel for young women in the late 1950s as they hunt for male companionship, and then revisits them 20 years later. It starred Vera Alentova, the director’s wife and the mother of their daughter, Yuliya Menshova, a television personality. They both survive him, along with two grandchildren.From left, Aleksey Batalov, Vera Alentova and Natalya Vavilova in “Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears.”SputnikMr. Arnold noted that Mr. Menshov’s movie “revives a genre Hollywood has failed to sustain, reliable as it would seem: the chronicle of provincial girls, usually a trio, in pursuit of careers and/or mates in the big city” — a genre that ranged chronologically at the time from “Stage Door” (1938) to “Valley of the Dolls” (1967).Vincent Canby of The New York Times conceded that the film was “decently acted” but wrote that at two and a half hours, it “seems endless.”“There are suggestions of social satire from time to time,” Mr. Canby wrote, “but they are so mild they could surprise and interest only an extremely prudish, unreconstructed Stalinist.”While he considered it understandable that “Moscow” was one of the Soviet Union’s most successful films, Mr. Canby concluded, “One can also believe that portion of Mr. Menshov’s biography (contained in the program) that reports he failed his first three years at the Cinema Institute in Moscow and wasn’t much more successful as an acting student with the Moscow Art Theater.”He added tartly, “I assume we are told these things to underscore the lack of meaning in these early failures, which, however, appear to be summed up in his Oscar winner.”Vladimir Valentinovich Menshov was born on Sept. 17, 1939, to a Russian family in Baku (now in Azerbaijan). His father, Valentin, was an officer with the secret police. His mother, Antonina Aleksandrovna (Dubovskaya) Menshov, was a homemaker.As a teenager, Vladimir held blue-collar jobs as a machinist, a miner and a sailor before being admitted to the Moscow Art Theater School. After graduating from the school in 1965 and from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in 1970, he worked for the Mosfilm, Lenfilm and Odessa Film studios.He had more than 100 credits as an actor, including in the hit “Night Watch” (2004), and was also a screenwriter. He made his debut as a director in 1976 with the film “Practical Joke.” More

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    Avignon Festival Forges Ahead, Despite Virus Restrictions

    The French theater festival’s Fringe offering is giving some respite from the pandemic, even as new rules to stop coronavirus transmission are making it harder to get to the shows.AVIGNON, France — It sounds like a virologist’s nightmare: 1,070 theater productions; 116 venues, most of them within Avignon’s cramped medieval center; and everywhere, festivalgoers sitting shoulder to shoulder in indoor spaces.Yet the Fringe offering at this summer’s Avignon Festival — which runs parallel to the main event, and is known as “le Off” — has forged ahead, even as the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus became the dominant strain in France.Is it problematic to enjoy excellent performances under the circumstances? With the rituals of Avignon, including unmasked performers handing out publicity fliers in the street, came a sense of normalcy. Still, a sneaky sense of guilt permeated conversations with theatergoers — not least when new restrictions were announced, shortly after the Avignon Festival began.Last week, the French government decreed that a “health pass” — a QR code proving full vaccination or a negative coronavirus test result — would be required from July 21 for all venues with over 50 seats. Restaurants, bars and trains will follow from Aug. 1. (The health pass requirement previously applied only to events with more than 1,000 audience members.)Frustration was palpable in Avignon in the days before the rule came into force. While roughly half of Fringe venues are small enough to skirt it, some companies opted to leave early, and bigger shows reported ticket returns and a drop in bookings. Last weekend, as widespread demonstrations against the policy swept France, protesters filled Avignon’s biggest avenue, shouting “Liberté!” (“Freedom!”)Marc Arnaud in “The Metamorphosis of Storks,” his one-man show at the Théâtre du Train Bleu.Alejandro GuerreroWhile the Avignon Festival’s official lineup (“le In,” in local parlance) went from bleak to bleaker in its themes, Fringe fare at least offered some respite from pandemic worries, since comedy has always been a prominent part of this less highbrow portion of the festival.Two original one-man shows, by Mehdi-Emmanuel Djaadi and Marc Arnaud, combine jokes and impressions with explorations of deep-seated inner conflicts. Djaadi’s “Coming Out,” especially, is an exercise in stereotype busting. The coming out in question is religious: The show recounts the 34-year-old comedian’s conversion from Islam to Catholicism.Support for his choice was scarce, as Djaadi tells it at the aptly named Théâtre des Corps Saints (Theater of the Holy Bodies). His family, of Algerian descent, felt he was turning his back on them; a priest explained that he didn’t want any trouble; in artistic circles, many were ill at ease with what they saw as the Catholic Church’s homophobia and conservatism.Yet instead of expressing the resentment he might have felt, Djaadi looks back on his journey, from teenage rebellion and drug dealing to a Catholic wedding, with amused affection. He points to contradictions on both sides, and France’s churchgoers come in for pointed satire, too.In “The Metamorphosis of Storks,” Arnaud focuses on a much shorter stretch of time. He and his wife went through the process of in vitro fertilization, and we meet Arnaud as he is about to donate a sperm sample — a process that brings up far more feelings than he expected.Morgane Peters as Effie in “Iphigenia in Splott,” directed by Blandine Pélissier at Artéphile.Blandine PélissierAs he stalls impatient hospital staff, his monologue covers his sexual education, his attempts at therapy and anxiety about parenthood. It’s a brisk, honest reckoning with the travails of masculinity, which packed the Théâtre du Train Bleu to the rafters (before the health pass requirement was implemented).Not that Avignon audiences were turned off by darker shows. At Artéphile, one of the few Fringe venues to also function as a year-round cultural space, the director Blandine Pélissier offered a stark and convincing production, “Iphigenia in Splott.”The Welsh playwright Gary Owen is relatively unknown in France, but his 2015 reworking of the Iphigenia myth — translated by Pélissier and Kelly Rivière — should prompt curiosity about his work. Here, the sacrificial victim is Effie, from the Cardiff district of Splott, a blaze of raging energy who becomes unexpectedly pregnant. This 90-minute monologue convincingly attributes the lack of support she encounters to social and medical service cuts, and the actress Morgane Peters takes the role from hard-edge anger to pain with poignant ease.Productions with larger casts were a bigger challenge this year, given that a positive coronavirus test among the company was enough to call a show off, and the director and actress Julie Timmerman downsized her show “A Democrat” as a result. Timmerman retooled this excellent production about Edward Bernays, the American nephew of Freud known as “the father of public relations,” for just two actors (Mathieu Desfemmes and herself). The result is adroitly written and witty, a worthy look at the dangers of Bernays’ techniques when they’re used for propaganda purposes.While the Avignon Festival’s official, curated lineup involves far fewer productions than the Fringe, it was hit with a handful of coronavirus-related cancellations. The artistic teams of two choreographers, Dada Masilo and Dimitris Papaioannou, were unable to travel to Avignon, while Eva Doumbia’s “Autophagies” saw its run interrupted when members of the cast and crew had to go into isolation after coming into contact with an infected person.Mathieu Desfemmes and Julie Timmerman in “A Democrat.”Roland BaduelTwo European productions that went ahead make a lasting impression. Emma Dante, of Italy, choreographs as much as she directs, and in “Misericordia,” theater becomes dance and vice versa. In it, three women raise a child, Arturo, who is described as mentally disabled and whose mother was a victim of domestic violence. Together, they form a bickering, complex family. The dancer Simone Zambelli not only captures Arturo’s twitching, disjointed body, he spins his physical vulnerability and moments of joy into poetry, knotting himself into expressive shapes.Avignon also hosted the stage version of “Pieces of a Woman.” Before it became a film starring Vanessa Kirby last year, the playwright Kata Weber and the director Kornel Mundruczo imagined it for the TR Warszawa playhouse in Warsaw, and the Polish cast delivered a gut punch in Avignon at the Lycée Théodore Aubanel.The play starts with the same lengthy labor scene as the film, but it covers less narrative ground after the central couple’s baby is stillborn. Whereas the screen version details the trial of a midwife who attended to the birth, this is only hinted at as a possibility onstage, and Maja, who lost her child, refuses to go through with it. Instead, the characters’ grief plays out over a long family dinner at the home of Maja’s mother.The result requires more patience on viewers’ part, but rewards it with a fully formed portrait of a family adrift. In that sense, the stage version of “Pieces of a Woman” completes Weber and Mundruczo’s puzzle: Let’s hope Avignon won’t be its only international stop.The cast of “Pieces of a Woman,” by the playwright Kata Weber and the director Kornel Mundruczo.Christophe Raynaud de Lage/Festival d’Avignon More

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    Skipping the Olympics Is ‘Not an Option’ for Many Advertisers

    Companies have spent more than $1 billion on ads timed to the Tokyo Games, which will take place in empty arenas as the pandemic lingers.The Olympics have long been an almost ideal forum for companies looking to promote themselves, with plenty of opportunities for brands to nestle ads among the pageantry and feel-good stories about athletes overcoming adversity — all for less than the price of a Super Bowl commercial.But now, as roughly 11,000 competitors from more than 200 countries convene in Tokyo as the coronavirus pandemic lingers, Olympic advertisers are feeling anxious about the more than $1 billion they have spent to run ads on NBC and its Peacock streaming platform.Calls to cancel the more than $15.4 billion extravaganza have intensified as more athletes test positive for Covid-19. The event is also deeply unpopular with Japanese citizens and many public health experts, who fear a superspreader event. And there will be no spectators in the stands.“The Olympics are already damaged goods,” said Jules Boykoff, a former Olympic soccer player and an expert in sports politics at Pacific University. “If this situation in Japan goes south fast, then we could see some whipsaw changes in the way that deals are cut and the willingness of multinational companies to get involved.”Panasonic, a top sponsor, will not send its chief executive to the opening ceremony, which is scheduled for Friday. Neither will Toyota, one of Japan’s most influential companies, which also delivered a blow to the Games on Monday when it said it had abandoned its plans to run Olympics-themed television commercials in Japan.In the United States, marketing plans are mostly moving ahead.For NBCUniversal, which has paid billions of dollars for the exclusive rights to broadcast the Olympics in the United States through 2032, the event is a crucial source of revenue. There are more than 140 sponsors for NBC’s coverage on television, on its year-old streaming platform Peacock and online, an increase over the 100 that signed on for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.“Not being there with an audience of this size and scale for some of our blue-chip advertisers is not an option,” said Jeremy Carey, the managing director of the sports marketing agency Optimum Sports.A United Airlines commercial featuring the Olympic gymnast Simone Biles will appear on Peacock.United AirlinesIn a Michelob Ultra commercial, the sprinting star Usain Bolt points joggers toward a bar. Procter & Gamble’s campaign highlights good deeds by athletes and their parents. Sue Bird, a basketball star, promotes the fitness equipment maker Tonal in a spot debuting Friday. Chris Brandt, the chief marketing officer of Chipotle, said that the situation was “not ideal,” but that the company still planned to run a campaign featuring profiles of Olympic athletes.“We do think people will continue to tune in, even without fans, as they did for all kinds of other sports,” Mr. Brandt said. “It’s going to be a diminishing factor in terms of the excitement, but we also hope that the Olympics are a bit of a unifier at a time when the country can seem to be so divided every day.”NBCUniversal said it had exceeded the $1.2 billion in U.S. ad revenue it garnered for the 2016 Games in Rio and had sold all of its advertising slots for Friday’s opening ceremony, adding that it was still offering space during the rest of the Games. Buyers estimate that the price for a 30-second prime-time commercial exceeds $1 million.Television has attracted the bulk of the ad spending, but the amount brought in by digital and streaming ads is on the rise, according to Kantar. Several forecasts predict that TV ratings for the Olympics will lag the Games in Rio and London, while the streaming audience will grow sharply.NBCUniversal said that during the so-called upfront negotiation sessions this year, when ad buyers reserve spots with media companies, Peacock had received $500 million in commitments for the coming year.“You won’t find a single legacy media company out there that is not pushing their streaming capabilities for their biggest events,” Mr. Carey, the Optimum Sports executive, said. “That’s the future of where this business is going.”United Airlines, a sponsor of Team U.S.A., scrapped its original ad campaign, one that promoted flights from the United States to Tokyo. Its new effort, featuring the gymnast Simon Biles and the surfer Kolohe Andino, encourages a broader return to air travel.“It didn’t make much sense to focus on a specific destination that Americans might not be able to travel to,” said Maggie Schmerin, the airline’s managing director of advertising and social media..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-uf1ume{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;}.css-wxi1cx{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}United’s campaign will appear in airports, on social media and on streaming platforms, including Peacock, but not on TV. Ms. Schmerin said the airline wanted to be “matching customers where they are, based on their viewing habits.”Ad agency executives said companies were regularly checking in for updates on the Covid outbreak in Japan and might fine-tune their marketing messages accordingly.“Everyone is a little bit cautious,” said David Droga, the founder of the Droga5 ad agency, which worked on an Olympics campaign for Facebook showcasing skateboarders. “People are quite fragile at the moment. Advertisers don’t want to be too saccharine or too clever but are trying to find that right tone.”Many companies advertising during the Games are running campaigns that they had to redesign from scratch after the Olympics were postponed last year.“We planned it twice,” said Mr. Carey of Optimum Sports. “Think about how much the world has changed in that one year, and think about how much each of our brands have changed what they want to be out there saying or doing or sponsoring. So we crumpled it up, and we started over again.”Visa, a sponsor, will not hold promotional gatherings and client meetings in Tokyo and will not send any senior executives, said Lynne Biggar, the company’s global chief marketing officer. The company’s commercial during the opening ceremony broadcast starts with a soccer game before showing Visa being used in transactions around the world.Visa scrapped plans for in-person Olympics events in Tokyo, but is debuting a commercial during the opening ceremony broadcast.VISANBCUniversal’s sports calendar also includes the Super Bowl in February, for which 85 percent of ad slots are already sold or are in discussions, the company said. Also on the lineup: the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in late 2022 and the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, both of which have put the advertising industry in a difficult position because of China’s and Qatar’s poor records on human rights.First, though, ad executives just want the Tokyo Games to proceed without incident.“We’ve been dealing with these Covid updates every day since last March,” said Kevin Collins, an executive at the ad-buying and media intelligence firm Magna. “I’m looking forward to them starting.” More

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    Can I Go to See This Show? Must I Wear a Mask? It Depends.

    Vaccination and mask requirements vary by venue. It’s a weird pandemic summer for the performing arts.During its preview performances in June, New York Classical Theater was allowed to put on “King Lear” for only up to 75 audience members outdoors. Those patrons were socially distanced on picnic blankets, wore masks and could not eat or drink during the play.That same month, Foo Fighters played a full-capacity show inside Madison Square Garden for 15,000 vaccinated fans. Few had face coverings on; none were required to.As New York and the rest of the country begin the slow journey back toward something resembling prepandemic life, rapidly shifting protocols in the state and across the country have created starkly different environments at theaters, music venues and sports arenas as venue operators seek to balance lingering coronavirus concerns with their business plans and their customers’ desire for normalcy.The differing approaches at venues perhaps just miles apart has resulted in what some arts officials said has been head spinning confusion and a sense of whiplash.“There is frustration,” said Stephen Burdman, the artistic director of NY Classical Theater. “Things have not been communicated well.”In mid-June, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo lifted most of the state’s Covid-19 restrictions after 70 percent of New York adults had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, essentially clearing the way for most spaces to do as they please — at least as far as the state was concerned. The state does not mandate that a venue check a person’s vaccination status; and in all but the biggest indoor venues, the masking and social distancing policy is now left to the discretion of the people running performances.Many venues have sought to create an environment with as few reminders of the pandemic as possible. When Bruce Springsteen ushered in the return of Broadway last month, he played for a packed St. James Theater of 1,721 sparsely masked, vaccinated fans. At the al fresco amphitheater on Little Island, more than 600 people have been piled together onto curved wooden benches — few of them wearing masks.People attending performances at the Little Island amphitheater are not required to wear masks unless they have not been vaccinated.  Vincent Tullo for The New York TimesAnd at Feinstein’s/54 Below, officials pointed out that making vaccinations a requirement for attendance has had an additional benefit: Patrons do not need to wear masks as they enjoy drinks, supper and a show.“Safety is paramount,” said Richard Frankel, one of the owners of the venue. “After safety, we want people to be comfortable and happy.”Those wishing to attend the Off Broadway sound experience “Blindness” at the Daryl Roth Theater, for example, are no longer asked to fill out a health questionnaire or have their temperature checked. But the venue continues to require audience members to be socially distanced and wear face coverings while inside the theater.The Public Theater is among the institutions that have sought to find a middle ground.Officials announced in early June that they planned to allow only 428 people to attend each performance of its acclaimed Shakespeare in the Park, citing state rules as the reason they had to set such sharp limits on attendance. Then on June 24, the Public said it would significantly increase the capacity of the Delacorte Theater to 1,468 seats for its free performances of “Merry Wives” because the state had lifted its restrictions.“The governor’s decree to lift restrictions acknowledges a beautiful reality: We are finally starting to recover from Covid-19,” the Public’s artistic director, Oskar Eustis, said in a statement.Now the Delacorte has both “full capacity” sections for people who show proof of full vaccination and “physically distanced” sections for others. Everyone, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a face mask at all times to enter the theater and when moving around. But whether audience members must wear a mask while seated depends on which section they are seated in.Arts officials also have to contend with city and union rules created to ensure performances are safe. Though New York Classical Theater performs outdoors, it still had to abide by restrictions imposed by its city parks permit and by the actor’s union, which sets out the rules under which its members are allowed to work.Only the vaccinated can attend performances at Feinstein’s/54 Below.Justin J Wee for The New York TimesThe theater’s city permit for June preview performances set a cap on how large the audience could be, though city officials say that cap was lifted on July 6. The rule the theater followed on audience masking was set by the actors’ union, Actors’ Equity. The union said that rule was in place only until early June, though Burdman said he was not told of any updates to the rules until June 30.Burdman said he was disinclined to detail his pandemic-related rules for performance during an interview in early July for fear his understanding would be out of date by the time an article appeared.“Things are changing honestly so rapidly, I don’t want something to go to press and not be in compliance,” he said. “No one is totally clear.”Asked Friday about the current state of play, Burdman said the rules had finally become clear. Audiences no longer need to socially distance or wear masks, they can once again eat and drink during the performance and capacity limits have been restored to normal levels.Frankel said the speed of change had also overtaken Feinstein’s efforts to create a nice, highly organized safety manual. His staff began compiling it as early as April 2020, but it had to be updated so many times over the course of a year, that by the time it was printed, it was almost immediately rendered obsolete. “It was such a beautiful document,” he lamented.Big indoor event venues still must follow somewhat more stringent state guidelines. People who show proof of vaccination no longer need to wear masks or socially distance inside such venues. But unvaccinated people must show proof of a recent negative coronavirus test to be admitted and must wear masks while inside.“It’s a little bit overwhelming to be back with people again,” said Molly Wissell, 31, of Virginia as she waited to enter the Foo Fighters concert at Madison Square Garden last month. “Standing in line and not having our masks on makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong.”For its first full capacity concert by Foo Fighters, Madison Square Garden required that audience members show proof of vaccination. Nathan Bajar for The New York TimesOf course, the major caveat that comes with the current rules is the same as it has been for months: They are subject to change again as the pandemic continues to evolve.As of the mid-July, roughly 74 percent of adults in New York had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask.But there is growing concern about a highly transmissible Delta variant that has surged in hot spots around the globe and is now responsible for more than half of new infections in the United States. The spread has renewed concerns about the virus and prompted the World Health Organization to urge people — even vaccinated ones — to wear masks again.In New York City, the percentage of positive tests has doubled in the past few weeks to just over 1 percent.It is primarily the responsibility of venue operators and local authorities to enforce state pandemic regulations where they still exist. And some arts officials say that even after they have taken the time to think through and establish the rules for their venue, enforcing them uniformly can pose a challenge.At the Foo Fighters show at the Garden, staff members checked thousands of people’s vaccine cards with varying levels of scrutiny. Some asked for identification and attempted to match it with proof of inoculation while other checkers simply waved people through as they flashed their passes.One concert attendee packed tightly in the stands bragged openly about having gained admittance even though he said he had not been vaccinated.Roughly an hour earlier, Marianna Terenzio, 30, of Battery Park, said she was glad there were rules in place limiting who could attend the show.“I like that they are asking people to show vaccination proof,” she said. “I feel safer for sure.”Michael Paulson, Julia Jacobs and Jon Caramanica contributed reporting. More

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    Kennedy Center Taps Joni Mitchell and Berry Gordy for Awards

    Bette Midler, Lorne Michaels and Justino Díaz will also receive tributes at a ceremony that is expected to look much more like it did before the pandemic.The last Kennedy Center Honors aired on television less than two months ago, but on Wednesday, the institution announced a new batch of honorees, taking a step toward getting the program back on schedule after the upheaval of the pandemic.The recipients include the folk singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell; the stage and screen performer Bette Midler; Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown; Lorne Michaels, the creator of “Saturday Night Live”; and the opera singer Justino Díaz.Because of the pandemic, the 2020 honors were delayed until this year and the celebration did not at all resemble the event from prior years, when artists, politicians and other prominent figures packed into the opera house. Instead, the ceremony was split over several days, and television producers stitched together a combination of recorded at-home tributes and in-person performances that aired in June.This time, the ceremony, scheduled for Dec. 5, promises to look more like the Kennedy Center Honors of old, with the house at capacity and, if all goes well, President Biden in attendance. (President Trump was a no-show at the three ceremonies held during his time in office.)Throughout her career, Bette Midler released more than a dozen studio albums. Her starring role in the Broadway revival of “Hello, Dolly!” earned her a Tony Award for best lead actress in a musical in 2017.Sara Krulwich/The New York Times“It’s going to be the party to end all parties because we haven’t had one in so long,” said Deborah Rutter, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.The ceremony will air on CBS, but the date has not been set.The honorees, selected on the recommendation of an advisory committee that includes Kennedy Center officials and past award recipients, include two singer-songwriters, Mitchell and Midler, whose careers started to soar in the early 1970s, when they were in their 20s.Fifty years ago, Mitchell, 77, released “Blue,” her fourth album, which went on to have an enduring influence on singer-songwriters for decades to come. Mitchell, who helped shape an era of protest music with songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Woodstock,” said of the honor, “I wish my mother and father were alive to see this.”Midler’s debut album, “The Divine Miss M,” came out a year after “Blue,” and helped propel her into a career that spread to Broadway, television and film. Midler, 75, put out more than a dozen studio albums, and her run as Dolly Levi in the Broadway revival of “Hello, Dolly!” earned her a Tony Award for best lead actress in a musical in 2017.Berry Gordy, right, onstage in 1981 with Smokey Robinson, one of the many singers discovered by Gordy.Joan Adlen/Getty ImagesIn Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, the Kennedy Center is honoring the figure behind an entire generation of musical talent. Gordy, now 91, once borrowed $800 from his family to start the record company and then went on to discover and help ignite the careers of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and more.After announcing his retirement two years ago, Gordy said in an interview, he spends much of his time playing golf, tennis and chess.“Here we are 60 years later and Diana Ross and the Temptations are both coming out with new albums,” he said. “Motown’s legacy continues without me having to do anything.”This year is the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Center’s opening in 1971, more than a decade after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation creating a National Cultural Center. Shortly after the grand opening of the center, Díaz, then a 31-year-old opera singer, performed there as the male lead in Ginastera’s “Beatrix Cenci.” He played a villainous count and recalled handling two huge Mastiffs onstage during his first entrance.Now, at 81, Díaz, a bass-baritone who has performed for opera companies across the globe, will return to the opera house to see artists pay tribute to his career.Fifty years ago, Justino Díaz sang at one of the opening performances at the Kennedy Center. Now, he will return for a celebration of his career.Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan, via Getty Image“Little old me?” he said in an interview. He noted that despite his fame in the opera world, he is not a household name.“I say I’m an opera singer,” he said, “and immediately I have to follow with, ‘No, I’m not Plácido Domingo and I’m not Luciano Pavarotti.’”Rutter said that although the last ceremony was limited by social distancing requirements, there are aspects of it that she wishes to maintain. In particular, she said, there was a sense of intimacy in that celebration that had not been there before. At one point, she noted, as the artists mingled outside on a terrace, Rhiannon Giddens picked up her banjo, began playing, and Joan Baez started to dance.“It was spontaneous,” Rutter said. “The artists broke open their instruments and people started singing and dancing together.”(It is unclear whether the attendees this year will be required to wear masks, as they will be required to do for the Kennedy Center’s fall programming.)Michaels, 76, who created “S.N.L.” in 1975, was also forced by the pandemic to drastically rethink his show. In the spring of 2020, “S.N.L.” filmed sketches at its actors’ homes, allowing the audience to connect with the cast members in a new way. Now that they have returned to a live audience, they are thinking of ways to apply what they learned in quarantine.“Those shows had a strong homemade quality, which was part of their charm,” he said. “Once we went back to the audience, we kept pushing the limit of what we could do.” More

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    Andrew Lloyd Webber Delays ‘Cinderella’ Musical in West End

    The composer and producer blamed Britain’s coronavirus restrictions for the delay.One day before Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much-anticipated “Cinderella” musical was slated to open in London’s West End, and two days after a cast member tested positive for the coronavirus, the prolific composer and producer announced on Monday that opening night would yet again be delayed.“I have been forced to take the heartbreaking decision not to open my Cinderella,” he said in a Twitter statement. “The impossible conditions created by the blunt instrument that is the Government’s isolation guidance mean that we cannot continue.”Lloyd Webber’s announcement initially did not specify whether the production was closing for good or just being postponed, though a spokeswoman for him later clarified that the show’s opening was delayed, not canceled, and that they hoped to open the show “soon, but it’s very difficult under the current conditions.”The composer’s statement was likely an attempt to try and force the British government to change its rules on quarantine for actors and crew. Last month, he made newspaper front pages with comments promising to open “Cinderella” at full capacity “come hell or high water” — even if he faced arrest for doing so. He quickly pulled back from the plan after learning his audience, cast and crew risked fines for breaching British coronavirus rules.With its story and book by the Oscar-winning screenwriter Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”), the $8.2 million musical had been set to star Carrie Hope Fletcher in the title role, and had been in previews at half capacity at the Gillian Lynne Theater for about a month.Lloyd Webber, 73, has been pressuring the government for more than a year to allow theaters to open at full capacity. In an interview with The New York Times earlier this month, he said protocols that required a show to cancel performances because one member of the cast came into contact with someone who tested positive could be the death knell for a musical like “Cinderella.”“The trouble is, we wouldn’t be able to carry on,” he said. “We can’t carry on hemorrhaging money each week, because at 50 percent we do. It’s almost unthinkable, but there comes a time when you just have to hand in the towel.”A surge of coronavirus cases in Britain, driven by the Delta variant, has also been shuttering London’s other West End theaters after members of productions like “Hairspray” at the London Coliseum and “Romeo and Juliet” at Shakespeare’s Globe tested positive earlier this month. And London’s Riverside Studios announced that “The Browning Version,” which had been set to open next month starring Kenneth Branagh, has been canceled.Despite a rise in cases that has driven England’s daily average to 39,950 — approximately double the level just two weeks ago — virtually all social distancing and mask requirements were removed on Monday, prompting widespread “Freedom Day” celebrations.But for those involved with “Cinderella,” the news was grim.“Cinderella was ready to go,” Lloyd Webber said in the statement. “My sadness for our cast and crew, our loyal audience and the industry I have been fighting for is impossible to put into words.” More

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    Following Theater Graduates Who Were Left Without a Stage

    The Times’s theater reporter tracked drama students who emerged from a well-regarded North Carolina conservatory into a world with performance on pause.Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.I’m the theater reporter at The New York Times. But for more than a year, there was very little theater.So what have I been doing? Well, at least in part, I’ve been writing about the people whose lives, and livelihoods, have been upended by the pandemic-prompted shutdown.That means actors, of course, and fans, too. But I’ve also been intrigued, almost since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, by what the widespread layoffs and absence of productions would mean for aspiring theater artists,. That’s what led me to report the article that appeared in Sunday’s paper about a group of drama students who graduated last year from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.Over time, I was able to talk to 22 of the 23 drama students in the class of 2020, and they reminded me of so much that I love about journalism, and about artists — they were open and generous and self-aware, and sometimes uncertain about how to think about what this strange and unexpected time would mean for them. And it seems like the article has resonated with readers, for which I am grateful.I started pitching the story to The Times’s culture editors last summer. Then, in January, prompted by the annual what-do-we-want-to-do-this-year meetings, I moved it to the top of my wish list.But how to proceed? I started by reaching out to a number of leading drama programs in New York and around the country, and by talking with educators and students about what was happening with the class of 2020. I was just trying to get my head around what a story might look like.As I gathered reporting, my editors and I resumed a debate we have over and over: breadth versus depth. Was the best way to proceed to write in a sweeping fashion about the most interesting graduates from a variety of programs, or to go deep on a single program that could stand in for the larger universe?Once we decided to focus on one class, it was time to select a school. This is the kind of multiple-choice question for which there is no single right answer. We wanted a well-regarded program, but maybe not one of the schools right in our backyard, and we wanted a group of students with a variety of back stories and a range of pandemic experiences.The University of North Carolina School of the Arts appealed because it met those criteria, and I just had a gut feeling, after talking with the program’s dean, its communications director and a few of the students, that I would find the level of candor that might make a story succeed.As has been true for much of my work over the last year, the reporting was largely by phone — the students have scattered, with one in England, one in Australia and the others all over the United States and often on the move. But I did get to meet some of them.In May, I took my first reporting flight since the pandemic began, to Winston-Salem, to tour the campus and attend the 2021 commencement, which members of the class of 2020 were invited to attend, and two did. (One bonus: I got to see what a Fighting Pickle, the school’s mascot, looks like.)I visited with three members of the class. David Ospina, who is now working as a real estate photographer, met me for cold brew coffee on a very hot North Carolina morning; Lance Smith showed me around his mom’s apartment, where he’s been making music and self-taping auditions during the pandemic; and Sam Sherman joined Mr. Smith and me at a picnic table on campus to debrief the morning after commencement. And over dinner with the dean and several faculty members, I learned more about the school’s programs and how it had weathered the pandemic.It’s been great to start reporting in person again. It just leads to better conversations and richer material, and I’m so grateful to all the students for their thoughtfulness. As I sat with Mr. Smith and Mr. Sherman, one memory prompted another — the student production of “Pass Over” they worked on, the alumni panels they attended, the books they’re reading and the survival jobs they’re taking and the dreams they’re trying to hold on to. “I’m starving to be in a room with people, playing with each other, having fun and goofing off and seeing what works and maybe having a breakthrough one day,” Mr. Sherman said. Mr. Smith agreed. “I miss being in it,” he added. “I miss doing it.” More