retiring as director of the Courthouse Follies

I recently emailed an announcement to some 80 members of the Courthouse Follies community — supporters and performers. In substance, it reads as follows:

I write to let you know that I am stepping down as director/writer/producer of this noble project. As a result, there will be no further Follies unless and until someone else steps in to take my place.

If any of you who are employed at the SDNY are interested in taking over the direction of the Follies, please contact me as soon as you possibly can. The show has been scheduled for December, with rehearsals starting in November. I apologize for the short notice.

It is extraordinarily hard to find words to express my gratitude to everyone for all your participation and support, and for making our Courthouse Follies possible for so many years. I can honestly say — if you’ll forgive me for betraying my woeful lack of ambition — that my involvement in the Follies has been one of most meaningful and rewarding things I’ve ever done.

I’d like to share a few more observations about the Follies and about my decision.

The Courthouse Follies has been an annual tradition in 24 of the last 25 years. It has always been a pretty ragged affair, thrown together by non-professional (though in many cases quite talented) performers, with the barest minimum of rehearsal, in a large meeting room — i.e., a venue better suited to conferences and PowerPoint presentations than to musical theatre. But — to be completely immodest about it — the Follies has also been extremely funny and entertaining.

As a source of much-needed comic relief, it has also fulfilled a vital function. Federal court is probably one of the most formal institutions left in American culture. Judges, lawyers, court reporters, interpreters, and all manner of support and administrative personnel are expected to keep their masks firmly attached at all times. In many if not most cases, the nature of the business at hand is not particularly pleasant:  people in disputes over money, or people trying to convict other people of crimes. And of course, beyond our Courthouse there is a world of bad things happening every minute. So the Follies, by inducing laughter, has not only entertained but performed a valuable mission. I’m proud and honored to have had something to do with it, and I’m enormously grateful to all who contributed to making it happen.

So, why this decision to quit? A little history is required in order to provide a proper answer. Initially, the Follies was directed by our beloved, legendary Nancy Festinger. She died in 2012, which not coincidentally was the one year since the inception of the Follies in which the show did not go on. The following year I took over the primary responsibility because somebody had to do it. And I am well qualified for the task in some ways, but not in others. I come up with some funny ideas, and I love to perform and give encouragement to others. On the other hand, I suck at details and organization, and I suck at delegating — a bad combination. We’ve managed to pull it off in each of the past four years, thanks to the collaboration of a number of individuals, but the burden has nonetheless burned me out.

Another factor is political. The Follies has pushed the satirical envelope since day one — that’s what we’re about. Yes, judiciary employees (especially judges) are duty-bound to uphold a certain standard of public conduct, and rightly so. On the other hand, I don’t care. For me, comedy trumps propriety and that’s how we roll. (Bad dog!) The atmosphere in our Courthouse, however, has become rather less indulgent of this enfant terrible stuff, making it harder to write the show.

On another level, the political reality has become so extraordinarily ugly that it’s become really hard to be funny about it. Of course, that makes the need for somebody to do satire all the more urgent. Thankfully, there are heroes out there doing a fine job. It just doesn’t have to be me who’s doing it. I should add that Steven Statsinger, co-writer of the Follies for more years than I can count, is also putting down his quill for similar reasons.

Coming to this decision has not been easy, but here it is. If others are able to step up and take over, either now or in some future year, wonderful. If not, we can certainly console ourselves with the knowledge that we had a great run, and it was fun while it lasted. Really fun.

David Mintz
September 2017