Saturday, December 20, 2008
Nutcracker and Holiday Music
This time of year is filled with events. Theater is about as busy as usual, but other things ramp up--choral concerts, dance concerts, and instrumental concerts. I've felt extremely blessed this year to be able to attend many events. As I wrote earlier, I saw the Nutcracker for the first time this year--and I've gotten to see it twice. Both productions were gorgeous and both were quite different from each other. It is impressive how much work and preparation goes into putting on a production that is made to look so effortless.
I was also able to attend the Home for the Holidays concert sponsored by the MSU College of Music. It was a delightful evening filled with performances by the Men's and Women's Glee Club, the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, and the MSU Children's Choir.
Hymn and Carol
I also truly enjoyed BoarsHead's Christmas play. It was a quirky piece that brought together individualized scenes and beautiful singing It was reminiscent of a Christmas cantata. There were some complaints that the musical was too religious. It's a complaint I find a bit odd given that the topic was Christmas. It is, after all, a religious holiday. I would find it odd if I went to a play about Ramadan and found it to be secular. So why would we demand that a play about a Christian holiday be secular?
Religion has always been a topic that art treats upon. If we suddenly decide that religion belongs only in the churches, then we've invalidated a large percentage of art through the ages. Art should help us explore religious topics just as religion should encourage art. If the two aren't twin siblings, they are at least cousins. Art and religion both help us to explore the unknown, to examine the human soul, to determine what it means to be human. They also both challenge us to think about what we believe in and why. They offer us ideas that we may disagree with and challenge us to think about why we disagree.
So needless to say, it didn't bother me that the play had strong religious overtones or that it told the Christmas story. Whether you agree with it or not, it's still an amazing story.
A co-worker of mine attended the show the week before I did and he pointed out that while he enjoyed many of the sketches, he didn't feel that they tied together well. As we talked about the show, we kept mentioning the things that we liked--the satire of Harod's spin doctors, the detached power of Shariesse Hamilton's monologue about her dead child, the rapt expression of Mary (Lara Bidus) in the dress shop, and the amusing comic sketch about the prophets. When it came down to it, though, he said he thought that the parts added up to more than the sum. He liked all the pieces, but wasn't sure what he was left with when it was all put together.
Well, Christmas errands call, so this blog entry is going to end. If I can, I'll be back to write about some of the other shows I've seen including Starlight's Christmas Belles.
Friday, December 12, 2008
I'd like to be able to interview someone who has been or is unemployed and continues to visit art galleries, attend concerts, go to shows, etc. If this describes you or someone you know, and if you (or the person you know) would be willing to be interviewed and to share tips on how to continue to have the arts in your life during hard economic times, could you please contact me? You can leave a comment on this blog or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If anyone else has any suggestions or tips, those would also be welcome.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
And here are the guidelines they provide:
Letters must be 175 words or fewer. Include address and telephone number for verification purposes only. Letters are subject to editing.
Letters to the editor, opinion and Viewpoints columns, and articles submitted to the State Journal may be published or distributed in print, electronic or other forms.
Viewpoints: Do you wish to write a 500-word opinion on a topic of general interest? Send it to Derek Melot at email@example.com.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Yesterday, Gannett had another round of massive layoffs and Mike Hughes, their veteran reporter and a driven and prolific writer, was let go. Along with Mike, the staff of the NOISE was also let go as were others.
When I first arrived in the State Journal newsroom back in the early 90s, I was focused on news and was only vaguely aware of Mike. As a member of the copy desk, my work day started after his ended. But I knew who he was because his was the desk piled high with papers. I would learn over the years, it was because Mike's beat was pretty wide and his desk was full because his work load was tremendous.
After I left the LSJ and slowly became a part of the theater community, I became more and more aware of Mike as he was one of the few voices consistently covering the arts. His passion was obviously for television and movies, but he knew the theater community and was a constant and consistent voice for them.
He was also very enthusiastic about my writing a performing arts column and was always supportive. While Robin did most of the coordinating, Mike and I would talk occasionally about who would write about what and he was always a big advocate of groups getting more coverage. He has a very generous nature and even after 30 years remained curious and interested about local arts and art organizations.
Mike was also the chair of the Thespie Committee. More than that, it was his baby. He selected judges, determined the process, and was a living memory of every Thespie meeting. He was also our tie-breaker. It was during these meetings that I had the opportunity to meet Mike on a personal level and during which my respect for him grew.
Mike was not only one of the most productive and prolific local entertainment writers, but he was also the most upbeat. He is constantly cheerful, always has a smile, and could burst out with one of those great laughs that made you want to join him.
I know that arts and entertainment writers are being culled from newsrooms around the country. It's short-sighted on the part of corporate news companies who consistently prove how very out of touch they are with the next generation, which they seem to think are interested exclusively in beer and fashion.
I don't know what will happen with the arts coverage at the Lansing State Journal. What I do know is that the loss of Mike Hughes as their arts and entertainment reporter is a blow to the entire community.
Mike, I wish you well. It has been an honor to work with you and I hope to continue to see you around town.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Beyond the Borders
Two weeks ago, we attended the Habibi Dancer's Beyond the Borders concert which was a fundraiser for Riverwalk Theatre. They were one of the first outside groups to perform on Riverwalk's stage when they first opened, so the 50th anniversary committee wanted them to come back again for their celebratory year.
For that concert, Habibi and guest choreographers chose to stretch beyond some of their more traditional fare and to take risks with some more unusal dances. In each case, it paid off. There was a fantastic number in which a solo dancer came out with a picnic basket and proceeded to dance atop three glasses. It was an impressive feat made all the more enjoyable by the dancer's delightful stage presence in which she flirted with the audience and engaged in an entertaining storytelling dance style.
The troupe's artistic director also danced a fascinating number with a large, live snake. It was mesmerizing to watch and the snake never missed a step. ;)
As always, I was struck by the diversity of the Habibi dancers--diversity expressed in so many different ways. There were dancers of all ages, colors, and sizes and all of them were beautiful in their own way.
For many people, seeing the Nutcracker is an annual tradition. Many of the dancers I've interviewed over the years have said it wouldn't feel like the holidays to them if they weren't participating in The Nutcracker in some form or another.
Despite the multitude of shows that I attend each year and despite having a husband who loves the ballet and used to treat me on Valentine's Day with tickets, I had never actually seen the Nutcracker. Not until this past Sunday, that is.
On Sunday afternoon, our whole family headed off to the Wharton through the snow-bedecked skies to where the Children's Ballet Theatre was performing Tchaikovsky's classic ballet. It was an amazing experience and I was enchanted and moved. Indeed, there were points I was so swept away by the beauty of it all that I was moved to tears. Nor was I the only one in my family who had that experience.
Afterward, I found myself wondering what a different world we might have if everyone were able to experience live something of such breathtaking beauty for at least two hours every week. We often consider the arts as a luxurious expendable. Something "extra." Certainly that has been our civic policy.
Yet, few will argue against the benefits of art and research continues to show new benefits to art--whether it is that those who listen to classical music regularly live longer and have healthier hearts or whether it is that high school students who participate in a single school theatrical production are substantially less likely to be racist than their peers.
So as people continue to predict that the economic times are going to worsen, what can we do to keep arts alive in our lives? How can we make sure that as we meet our physical needs that we are also meeting our emotional and spiritual needs?
The arts enrich our lives. They are not, though, a luxury.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
- Belly dancing
- Health retreats
- Elementary school dancers
(And yes, I did cheat in that some of those bullets refer to more than one event.)
Monday, November 17, 2008
There is a performer that I have seen multiple times over the years. She's quite skilled and is willing to take risks and be big. However, more often than not, her performances have annoyed me because no matter what the role she's had, she's always played it so that the focus was on her, regardless of the story. When there was a choice to be made, the choice was always made for the cheap laugh rather than for the more authentic storytelling that can have a deeper effect on the audience.
What I saw her perform this weekend was the best that I'd ever seen her do. She took all of her wealth of acting skills and talent and performed in a disciplined fashion. By cutting back and doing less, she put in a powerhouse, memorable performance.
Much of the credit for this goes to the actor herself, but I would also guess that one of the reasons she blossomed in this show was because she had the benefit of a very strong director, one who worked with her and helped her to perform as a part of the play rather than simply be amused by the bits and business that this creative performer was able to produce.
It is said that stage is an actor's medium whereas film is a director's medium. Perhaps so, but even on stage, directors are able to make incredible differences in individual performers when they are skilled at teaching and the actor is responsive to the direction.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
It's one of those interesting plays that you don't see done much. I find it curious that it is so rarely done given that it is a single-set show, is very well written, is a fascinating character study, and deals with issues of employment that many people can relate to.
If I had to speculate on why this show, written in 1986, is so rarely done, perhaps it is because people are uncomfortable with the idea that the work they do could be compared to the work done by prostitutes. Or perhaps it is because these prostitutes tend to defy the usual stereotypes. They aren't all tragic and they aren't all alike. They aren't all hardened and each of them have very distinct personalities. Nor are they all mass produced from the "prostitute with a heart of gold" mold.
There were several themes in the show, but the one I found most interesting was the exploration of why people stay in a job that is soulless, exhausting, and dangerous. The reasons were different for each of the five girls and the madam, but they were ones that are by no means restricted to the profession of prostitutes. One was addicted to shopping and material things, one thought she was in love with one of the customers, the other had a child to support, and the madam was intoxicated with the idea of success and glamor.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the play was how it did not deliver on the expectations that the audience has about a play set in a whorehouse. The types of drama and tragedy were very human and not the type of tragedy that we expect when sitting smugly in our respectable jobs. Rather, they were the same type of dramas and struggles that any worker in any type of position must deal with.
Because it was a dark night production, the second company had to work with the set of the mainstage show--which in this case was the basement apartment of "All Childish Things." Richard joked that it was going to be a play about the best little whorehouse on Tatooine. Thankfully, one pretty quickly looked past the set. The main challenge was something that Richard said he came to love--the fact that the only entrance was up and down a flight of stairs. While it made the play a very aerobic workout for the actresses, it also created in a dramatic, unspoken way the sense of how exhausting their work was. Yes, they tell you that they are servicing 37 johns in a night, but the constant pounding up and down the stairs reinforced it.
While there were solid performances put in from everyone, I was especially impressed with the honest performance put in by Lara Bidus. She was cynical, but not hardened; aggressive, but not harsh. She also portrayed a vulnerability that only occasionally slipped out.
Knowing that Meghan Nystrom was recovering from mono and was still struggling with nose and throat issues, made the strength and energy she put into her performance particularly impressive.
Nor could the madam have been played more perfectly and with more strength than what was done by Cassie Little. She could have given any corporate executive a run for their money when it came to personnel management techniques, competitive motivational manipulations, and strict control of time off, pay, personal calls, and workplace rules.
I enjoyed the play that night and would have liked to have seen it Election Night if I wasn't already booked for Frost/Nixon (which was also an excellent experience, but you can read about my views on that show here.) I do believe that the reason this show is not staged more often can be tied to the fact that it is simply too uncomfortable for most of us to find so much similarity between the choices we make in our workplace and the choices made by working girls.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
All Childish Things:
- Ken Glickman's review in the Lansing State Journal
- Don Calamia's review at Encore Michigan (scroll down a ways) (This is also the review in which I most frequently found myself nodding in agreement. Perhaps because we went on the same night.)
- Len Kluge's review at the City Pulse
- Jim Fordyce's review at Michigan Entertainment
- Kate O'Neill's review in the Lansing State Journal
- Robert Bethune's review at Encore Michigan (scroll down)
- Yana Levovna's review in the City Pulse
- Jim Fordyce's review at Michigan Entertainment
All Childish Things
There was so much about this show to love. Yes, it helps that I was a child of the 70s and 80s and remember the thrill of these shows coming out. The four characters on stage are my contemporaries and it is easy to relate to them and to their passions (even though I never was a collector, believing that toys were for playing with).
I know I just compared the last BoarsHead show (Permanent Collection) to this musical, but bear with me as I do the same to this play. I was reminded (for a different reason) of Avenue
Q again, even though the what is a major theme in the musical is a secondary one in All Childish Things. In both productions, the characters are wondering what has happened to their lost idealism and whether there is anything but cynicism in their future.
All Childish Things is a very funny play, but it is also a very touching one. I was especially impressed how playwright Joseph Zettelmaier was able to use the Star Wars series on multiple levels. There was the overt, obvious way in which it was in all of the dialog, the plot, and the set. But there were also thematic and structural echoes with moments of predictability being used the same way they appeared in the films. It made for a brilliant script that was filled with secretive winks and invitations to listen even more closely.
I had a blast at the show. Yes, there was fine acting in it. Yes, Aral Gribble was at the top of his game and Jason Richards, Brian Thibault, Molly Thomas and Keith Allan Kalinowski also turned in excellent performances. Yes, the set was a perfect basement that brought smiles to geeks everywhere. But it was ultimately the fact that I was moved to feel hope and optimism, that I felt the playwright was able to reveal what mattered most in a materialistic and sometimes shallow world, that made the evening one I am grateful for. There were moments during the climax that made my eyes water because of how perfectly the play captured the importance of friendship, loyalty, and holding on to dreams.
Leaving Iowa was in many ways in the same vein as All Childish Things. It was also one of those plays in which you are constantly laughing--until it is time to cry. Unlike the BoarsHead show, though, this is a show I would recommend taking the entire family to. Yes, there is some minor language, but it is relatively rare and is more than made up for by the delightful family themes and interactions throughout the play.
I suppose it had particular poignancy for us this year because of both my grandfather's and my father-in-law's deaths this past year. It was a short trip to the reminiscences of past family vacations and on the drive home from Williamston after seeing the show, our son was regaled with tales from both of his parents of what family car vacations were like. Richard talked about how organized his father was with the AAA triptychs and every portion of the trip planned out. He was part of a large family and they would often sprawl out in the back of the station wagon on longer trips (this was in the days before children wore seatbelts). I recollected how we called every round haystack a "Snuffleofagous" and how my brother loved to count overpasses--especially when I was trying to read.
It was the beauty of "Leaving Iowa" that it brought out memories and gave our family something to share beyond what was seen on the stage. And for days afterward, our son would burst out with one quote or other from the play.
For the actors playing the two children, John Lepard and Teri Clark Linden, it was a return to a show they had done years ago at Purple Rose. Linden very nearly stole the show, she was so very animated and delightful to watch. She easily had the role that was the most fun.
Another powerful aspect of the show was the relationship between the father (Hugh Maguire) and Don (Lepard). Rarely did they speak directly to one another, but there was a bond of love, guilt, and affection that was almost visible. In scenes where Lepard's character spoke to his father's ashes, Director Tony Caselli placed Maguire on stage, silently watching and actively listening. It created a powerful, compelling mood.
Like all Williamston shows, this one paid attention to detail. The set was sparse, but it was the sparseness that made it rich in the imagination of the audience and allowed for them to create multiple locations with only a few chairs.
Leaving Iowa is very definitely a feel-good show, the kind that reminds you that good family theater extends beyond fairy tales and musicals.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I know there are many who feel that voting doesn't make a difference. There are those who say that because they don't like either candidate (even though you're voting for a long slate of candidates in many races), that they won't bother voting. There are those who believe it is all rigged and so their vote doesn't matter.
I would beg anyone who has fallen victim to cynicism to not become an object of cynicism. Don't be the disaffected, uncaring voter who is willing to let things go to hell in a handbasket because they "are going to anyway."
For more than 230 years, this country has led the way in peaceful changes of government. Be a part of that. There is no more important civic duty. There is no more important way to express your patriotism. You are the government of the United States of America. If you want your representatives to be good governors, then you must lead by example by showing up and casting your vote.
OK, lecture over.
I'll end with two thank yous:
Thank you to my employer who gave us two hours with pay off to go to the polls and vote.
Thank you to the Lansing School District for choosing today as a planning/professional development day. It let me take my son to the polls to wait in line and explain to him what voting was all about.
Monday, November 3, 2008
So, huge disclaimer out of the way...
Tonight and tomorrow the BoarsHead Second Company is performing "The Early Girl" by Caroline Kava. Lara Bidus chose this show about call girls in a whorehouse. It's a show that opened on stage the year I graduated starring Demi Moore, and I have to confess that I've felt a cringe here and there as it was referred to as a "period piece." I've barely adjusted to the 80s being "retro," much less the idea that a play set in 1983 counts as a "period" piece.
Richard is directing the show and cast members include Lara, Erin Clossen, Kristi Starnes, Kellie Stonebrook, Cassie Little, Meghan Nystrom, and Andrea Vesecky.
I've not seen even a minute of rehearsal (nor indeed, even met most most the cast). But I would encourage anyone (any adult, that is) who has a Monday night free--or who wants to escape the election madness Tuesday night (after you've voted of course!) to come enjoy this free show.
P.S. Because Dark Night productions take place on the set of the main stage show (and the current show is the excellent "All Childish Things"), Richard has been joking that the play takes place at the best little whorehouse on Tatooine.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
On a slightly different theme, it got me thinking about comparisons that we make between things which we've seen. It will surprise no one reading this that I prefer live performances to movies. Watching Born Yesterday this weekend and Caberet the weekend before that reinforced one of the reasons I have that preference.
Theater invites us to believe that there is more than one right way of doing things. Every time we go to see a stage production of any show, it will be different from the time we saw it before, whereas every time we see the same movie, it will be the same.
One of the challenges that modern live theater has is that whenever they produce a show that has been made into a movie, the performers are going to be compared to their silver screen counterparts. Indeed, for many people, the movie becomes the standard to which the live performance is compared. I've many times heard a person say they didn't like an actor's performance and when you engage them on the reason why, it is because they weren't like the person who created that role for a movie version.
Is it that the movie performer is automatically better? Or is it simply that the movie version can be returned to repeatedly and it is always the same?
One of the appeals that theater holds for me is that it is different every time. I've seen many productions of Macbeth and I always look forward to another opportunity to see it because I know it will be done differently than the other times I've seen it. There is no one right way that Macbeth must be portrayed, or Lady Macbeth, or any of the other characters. It depends on the vision of the show, what theme the director wants to explore, and how the individual actor is choosing to create the character.
I believe that live theater by its nature invites us to be more open-minded and to accept and embrace diversity. Not all audience members accept the invitation, but it is there nonetheless. It is difficult for static electronic media to issue the same invitation.
Monday, October 27, 2008
I have very definite ideas about the topic, but they're not always in harmony with what gets used as common parlance. For example, I would argue that there is not a single blog entry in "Front Row at Lansing's Theaters" that qualifies as a review. I talk about shows and things that capture my interest, but I'm not reviewing any of them.
Likewise, I would argue that what gets published in the Lansing State Journal is a review, but not a critique. I would make the case that some of the blog entries that Don and I wrote earlier this year about Doubt qualify as critiques.
However, there are textbook definitions and then there are reader perceptions. I find more often than not when I talk to people that they interpret my blog entries to be reviews--even though I don't bring the same level of rigor to most blog entries that I do to a review.
Is it a losing battle? Do most readers make distinctions between theater talk, theater reviews, and theater critiques? Or is that something that is done only in the trade?
Saturday, October 25, 2008
While I had studied and read the play a great deal (albeit nearly two decades ago), I had never seen it performed live, the way it was intended to be. It was for this reason that I was very excited to see the show in Icarus Falling's season.
Ibsen resisted calling this play a feminist play and I think he had a point. If you call it a feminist play, then it is pretty dated in 2008. However, when it is looked upon as a play about relationships, about growing up, and about independence, the play continues to be relevant.
I was able to see the IF show on the Saturday of their opening weekend. The space they were performing in at Olivet was beautiful and the auditorium was a cozy, comfortable, intimate one.
The somewhat spartan set (though certainly more of a set than what IF usually mounts--there were actually painted flats) underscored that the Helmers had been experiencing hard times for a number of years, hard times that might finally be at an end now that Torvald Helmer has secured a new, prestigious position at the bank.
The relationship between Torvald (played by Mark Gmazel) and Nora (Amy Winchell) is one that is far more complicated than its contemporary audiences would have believed for the first two acts. They are in many ways conventional. Torvald is patriarchal, and Nora is the devoted wife who hides her strengths away from her husband to protect him from worry.
Ah, and I'm lapsing into essay/term paper writing mode, aren't I? It's a huge temptation with this show because there is so much meat to be chewed upon in it. It's also a play that requires a fair amount of analysis--or table work--for the actors who are performing it as they must be able to capture both the outward appearance of the character and the deeper, more complex motivations.
Perhaps also my biggest issue with this play is that Torvald is so unsympathetic. Part of that is due to our modern sensibilities. We rightly cringe at a husband treating a wife like a child. However, that is a role that Torvald chose out of duty and love and that Nora encouraged and was a complicit partner in. What makes her choice at the end so compelling is that she recognizes what society at that point doesn't--that the relationship has kept her a child and that she needs to grow up if she is truly going to have a relationship filled with wonder, respect, and love. In this production, and perhaps without changing the script it is impossible to do for modern audiences, the unhappiness in the relationship seemed entirely Torvald's fault.
The majority of the storytelling falls to Winchell and Gmazel. Winchell creates a Nora who is blissfully and obliviously happy. She is completely unaware of her affect on others and is sometimes cruel in her carelessness. She is a delightful child filled with childish joys, innocence, and fears. She rarely leaves the stage during the three-hour production and her energy is the main reason the show flows so well and does not feel like a three-hour show.
Gmazel created a very consistent character who sometimes edged too close to buffoonery. His voice and manner captured well the patriarchal husband who was desperately in love with the ideal of his wife while being oblivious to his wife's real needs and character.
I do wish that in the final conflict that Nora had been placed further upstage. I wanted to see Torvald through Nora's eyes and not simply look at Torvald's back as he berated her. That was the moment that revealed the relationship for what it was--and revealed Torvald's obsession with appearances. It felt like a disservice to the audience that Torvald was looking away from them.
Another disappointing aspect of the show was Adam Bright's Krogstad. While he did very well to keep him from being the melodramatic mustache-twirler with a black cloak, he also failed to be at all intimidating or worthy of the fear that others showed him.
However, all of these observations are part of what engaged me in the show. It was an evening I thoroughly enjoyed and I've continued thinking about aspects of the show since then. What made it a great night of theater was that it inspired so many things to discuss afterward.
While I must get this posted as it has sat in draft for more than a week, there is plenty more that could be written about. Michael Hays did a fine job as Dr. Rank and he provided some of the most compelling emotion in the show. Jordan (ah, and I must go find my program and come back and edit this entry to stick in her last name) did a lovely job as the bright, beloved daughter of the Helmers. The costumes were beautiful--especially the Tarantella dress.
But for now, dinner calls and if you read this soon, there are still two performances you can catch at Woldumar: one tonight at 8 p.m. and the Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
If you're going to be in town this weekend, you have lots of theatrical choices:
- A Doll's House/Icarus Falling
- Born Yesterday/Riverwalk
- Under Milkwood/Riverwalk black box
- Dracula/Lansing Civic Players
- All Childish Things/BoarsHead
- Leaving Iowa/Williamston
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
There is a ton of theater going on right now. This past weekend I caught "Opal's Baby" at Starlight and "Dog Sees God" at Peppermint Creek. They were two vastly different shows--almost opposites. What I found encouraging was that both had large audience numbers. In fact, I think both of them sold to capacity. I know that PCTC had a waiting list and people standing outside hoping to get in. It was also encouraging in that the two crowds were very different. It was not the same audience going to both shows (which makes a lot of sense given how very different they were).
Personally, I find it encouraging that the Lansing area can support a diversity of theater that will appeal to different people and fill different needs.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
The script itself isn't one of Neil Simon's cleanest endeavors, but it is still a lot of fun and is filled with sufficient satire to keep the audience laughing. Indeed, laughter was a frequent noise in the theater when I went last Sunday. The performances were crisp, clean, and quickly paced.
The set and costumes were also stunning.
I will try to get back to writing more about Rumors, but for now I need to get ready to go see Well at Michigan State University.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Thankfully, the weather is promising to be much nicer this weekend, the type of weather that encourages a visit to a park as well as a show. This is good, because Greater Tuna is worth seeing. It's an entertaining, fun show with a heavy dose of satirical wit. It is almost the mirror image of BoarsHead's Permanent Collection. It too deals with racism, but Greater Tuna is purely a comedy while Permanent Collection is a drama. Greater Tuna also has a slightly more dated feel as we hope we live in a world where what is portrayed on stage can now be seen as quaint and unacceptable. Yes, there are still people in the world who are like those who inhabit Greater Tuna, but the optimistic among us hope that they no longer exist as an entire town.
Last Saturday was the first time I'd seen any of the three Tuna shows. It's easy to see why this show is considered an actor showcase. It definitely showcased the talents of both Hays and Jones. They created characters that you managed to care about even when they were at their most reprehensible. Perhaps it was more accurate to say that you wanted to see more of the characters even though the show was a goodly length.
There were issues inherent in the script that make pacing difficult. The play is set in small-town Texas and both Jones and Hays provided strong Texas accents for each of their characters. The drawl and mannerisms build in a certain amount of slowness and then it is necessary for the characters to make major costume changes in very short amounts of time. Sometimes it seemed as though having an additional person backstage (and I have no idea whether they had no one or ten people) to help with the costume changes might have helped the pace pick up a little.
It was impressive that despite the small audience size, both actors were able to create a chemistry between each other and the audience. I didn't see Michael and Terry up there. I saw the numerous characters and the distinct relationships between each of them. They both had a strong sense of what to play to the audience and what to play to each other.
Some of the funniest scenes came when they were playing the feminine half of the Tuna population. Granted, simply having a man come on stage in a dress invites a level of guffaws, but both Hays and Jones were able to create female characters that were funny in and of themselves, not simply because they were played by deep-voiced men.
Last week, I wrote about why the play's opening was delayed by a week. The fact that Terry still has minimal vision in one eye and spent most of this summer lying face down so his eye could heal made his performance particularly impressive. He gave no indication during his performance that his vision was impaired and never missed a step or a move.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
I have an audio interview with Stephanie Banghart that I'm going to try to post later this week. I promised I would go through it first and take out anywhere that we got sidetracked into non-show related stuff. Stephanie was in the very first show that I ever acted in in this area--a show called To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday out at Bath Community Theatre Guild. She was still in high school then and I had just found out I was pregnant with my now 10-year-old son. She was wonderful to work with then, and I have to imagine that her cast has also discovered the joys of working with her.
One of the things that stood out the most about the show (other than the knock-your-socks-off voices of the two leads) was the great time that the audience was having. The energy created on stage rippled through the seats and everyone was audibly enjoying themselves. It's exciting to attend a show that goes from being a mere performance to creating an experience for everyone who was there. The musical was very much a two-way conversation between performers and audience members, the kind of thing that draws people to the theater and keeps them coming back.
Monday, September 15, 2008
- Little Shop of Horrors at Riverwalk
- Greater Tuna at Ledges Playhouse
- Rumors at Lansing Civic Players
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Permanent Collection doesn't preach. It doesn't make trite statements about racism or spout conventional wisdom. Instead, it provides one of the more honest discussions about the topic that have been offered for a couple decades.
In his book Boom! Tom Brokaw says that since the upheaval of the 60s, our society has been unable to have an honest conversation about race. We have too many hot buttons that keep us from tackling the problem head-on in a meaningful way. We talk about race a lot, but we're stuck in unproductive conversations that are simply a teeter-totter of accusations and denials.
Avenue Q came through Wharton last year and had an absolutely brilliant book. One of the songs in it is "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist." I couldn't help but think of the lyrics to that song while watching Permanent Collection. They sing the song in true muppet-style--upbeat, happy, and silly--while offering some extremely wise observations.
It left me wondering how different the outcome of the situation in Permanent Collection could have been if the character of Paul had been able to say to Sterling, "OK, I guess I am being racist. Help me to understand." and if Sterling had been able to respond without anger, arrogance, and smugness. What if both of them had been able to treat each other with compassion and respect and tackled the issue head-on rather than using the issue of racism as a further divider.
How would it change our conversations if we stopped arguing about whether we were or were not racist and instead said, "OK, what I'm doing is offensive. Let's work on it." and that people did not assume that because they were offended by something that the other person is automatically a bad, evil, or ignorant person?
I reviewed Permanent Collection for the Lansing State Journal here. This is one of those shows, though, where the discussion and interaction of it stretches far beyond a simple evaluation of performances and presentation. It's a show that asks a lot of questions and leaves it to the audience to work through them. It isn't educating or preaching, it's the start of a dialog that is important to all of us. In other words, it is theater at its finest.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
It was an extremely helpful process, even if it was a bit nerve-wracking. I took a lot away from those sessions, much of which I've continued to mull since then. One of the things that came up was that critics do a disservice to the art form if they are too kind. That's the job of arts marketers and art leaders, but not critics.
Sure, people who take great risks in putting themselves before others and performing would love to hear only good things about what they have done. However, reviews aren't for them. They already have a director and audiences to provide them with that sort of feedback. A critic should not be in the business of directing.
A critic is in the job of having an open, honest discussion with the audience and the public about theater. Reviews should be a part of the public conversation about why theater matters and why art is important. If a critic is constantly kind and doesn't speak openly about flaws, then they not only lose credibility, but they aren't being authentic in their conversation. Their role is not to advertise, it is to help make sure that the art is seen and heard in its true form. And sometimes that means pointing out where bad choices have been made.
This is a tough one for me, because my inclination is to be kind rather than harsh. And I know there are many people out there who think it is wrong to be critical or that an over-critical eye is an insult. It's a shame, because in truth, being willing to criticize is a mark of respect to the artists and to the art. It expresses a faith in the vigor and strength of the art. It also shows a deep respect for the audience with whom one is speaking.
I've talked to some people who don't attend live theater despite the fact that they have many friends who are involved. I'm always curious why those people don't go. One response that I've heard repeatedly is that they associate live performances with poor quality. Now, yes, those of us who attend theater frequently know that you're far more likely to see an outstanding show than an awful one. However, it takes only one to turn someone off live theater forever.
So let's say that I go to a show that I think is mediocre or lacking in passion--a show that fails to excite me in any way despite my love and passion for theater and live performance. However, I know that people have worked hard and that they have day jobs, so I write a review that focuses only on the positive. I don't mention the lackluster singing or the inappropriate costuming that takes you right out of the story. I don't mention that the pacing is so slow that your butt gets numb in the seat. Instead, I write about the particular actor who does a great job despite not getting anything from his fellow actors. I write about the splendid dance number where the one actress brings incredible energy to the stage. I praise the script.
If I'm writing to people who are already theater folk, then no harm is done. There is great harm done, though, if someone reads the review who isn't a theater person and decides that perhaps they'll give it a try. They go and lose hours of their time that they'll never get back. They experience the disappointment of expecting something to be good and being greeted with mediocrity. Then what happens? What happens then is that they either decide that they're simply not fans of the art form--since this was supposed to be a good representation of it--or they take a cynical approach to all future reviews since this review sold them a faulty bill of goods.
Anyone who cares about audience development and getting new people into the theater have to be committed to an authenticity in their conversations, especially if they are talking to people who are undecided about the art--the people who make up the vast majority of the population.
Monday, September 8, 2008
--Stephen R. Covey, The 8th Habit
Friday, September 5, 2008
Then Terry Jones had to go in for eye surgery. Kevin Burnham, the artistic director of the Ledges Playhouse, reports that the surgery left him temporarily blind. The decided to postpone their opening to give Terry an extra week to recover. The recovery is going well, Kevin says, though he is still blind in one eye. He will be ready for their new opening date: Sept. 12.
Here is the media alert they sent out with the correct dates:
And so begins the morning on the radio in the third smallest town in Texas, where the Lions Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies. GREATER TUNA is a hilarious look at life in rural America, filled with characters you love to hate and hate to love.
Using quick change artistry two actors, local favorites Terry Jones and Micheal Hays, create 20 howlingly funny characters. Tune in to hear all the latest news from Greater Tuna and join Thurston Wheelis, Arles Struvie, Aunt Pearl, Petey Fisk, and all their friends for an evening of non-stop laughter.
Length: 2 hours
Monday, August 25, 2008
The secret of joy in work is contained in one word--excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.
--Pearl S. Buck
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
I'll be back in time for the Renegade Theatre Festival. There are a lot of exciting events going on in Old Town that are well worth attending. It should be a great experience.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
However, I am on a judging committee and the theaters are kind enough to comp my entry into the show. I try to honor that gift. I do so by trying not to attend on sold-out nights, but arriving at the show open and ready to receive what the artists have to offer, and being attentive and focused during the show.
So the question becomes, is it ever acceptable for reviewer or a judge to leave a show without seeing the whole thing. I tend to say yes because there comes a point at which you know things are not going to get better and staying for another act wont' help things any. Also, I think reviewers and judges have to respect their own time as well as the theater productions they see. There comes a point where if you see too much of theater done poorly, it becomes increasingly difficult to appreciate theater as a whole. It is too much of a bad thing that can make critics cynical and grumpy--two traits that no one likes for their critics to have.
I don't have a good answer for this question. I do know that I won't leave a show unless I can do it unobtrusively and in a way that is not rude. But I don't think I'm prepared to say that I'll never do it.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I had an awesome conversation with my family this morning. It reinforced for me why I love being a one-car family, not having a television, and attending lots of live theater together.
We were driving down
Showing off his video game knowledge (he’s been playing a lot of Sid Meier’s Civilization), he said that you could build railroads when the Industrial Age started. This got us talking about other things in the Civilization game, including why
D twice saw Julius Caesar this summer at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival. He was a little distressed to learn that Marc Antony went on to become a leader in
This then led into a discussion about how sometimes there are periods of anarchy that precede the rise of a new form of government. This he also understood from playing Civilization. He then asked whether our government would ever change. Richard and I were quiet for a moment and I then explained that Thomas Jefferson was of the belief that when the government wasn’t working, the people had a responsibility to overthrow it and form a new government.
D replied, “With all the wars going on, it must not be working.”
So we talked about the dangers of overthrowing a government if you don’t have another system to take its place. He then pointed out that in the game Civilization, you could hire entertainers to make citizens who are revolting happy again. He suggested that today, that entertainment would be video games. I laughed, saying that yes, television and video games were the great panaceas that keep people from fixing their governments.
We then had to end our conversation because I had arrived at work.
I love, though, that theater sparks such conversations between us and that they give us an opportunity and a context to talk about things that are important to society. It was a reminder to me once again of why knowledge is just as (if not more) important than skills.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Here are the rules:
RULES:* 1. Post these rules.* 2. Each tagged person must post 8 things about themselves on their journals.* 3. At the end, you have to choose and tag 8 people* 4. Go to their pages and send a message saying you tagged them.* 5. No tag-backs
Like Tony, I'll skip rules 3-5, though I welcome others to share their 8 either in comments or in their journals/blogs.
Here are my 8 things that perhaps some people don't know about me.
1. While clarinet was the instrument I played the most/longest, in marching band, I played tuba.
2. The summer I interned at The Grand Rapids Press, I tried to teach myself Russian, Italian, and Swahili. I failed at the latter two while having some modicum of success with Russian.
3. I used to be horribly afraid of trying to socialize in crowds (defined as groups of more than three people).
4. I think Michigan is a paradise on Earth.
5. I haven't owned a television since 1990.
6. My husband first gave me his class ring on the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded.
7. My husband is the first man I ever kissed and my high school sweetheart.
8. My father claims that the spelling of my first name is because they were under pressure from the author of the birth certificate while my mother insists that they spelled my middle name wrong. Is it any wonder I'm an editor?
Thursday, August 7, 2008
I'm looking forward to getting back into the groove. I'm also looking forward to having the time to read the two performing arts-related books that have arrived on my doorstep: Arts Marketing Insights and Invitation to the Party. What little I've read of both of them so far (about a chapter a piece) has been inspiring and exciting.
There are three shows going on this weekend. I'm planning to make it to two of them:
- Riverwalk's Raisin in the Sun
- Sunsets with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
- Holt-Dimondale Community Players' Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Would it work for a professional theater to have a morning matinee on either Wednesdays or Thursdays? It would be a show that would be specifically targeted at seniors, though anyone would be welcome. It could either start at 10 a.m., or, if you need to be kind to your actors, at 11 am. with a 30-minute intermission in which a light lunch was served (and extra would be charged for it, of course).
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
We still have some work to do to prepare it for final publication next week, but I will soon be able to start writing about other things. There's certainly no lack of things to write about. I saw Julius Caesar and All's Well That Ends Well again last weekend at the Michigan Shakespeare Festival and will be going to see Talley's Folly at Williamston Theatre this weekend.
I've also been reading two great theater books that I'd like to write about along with an entry about a group called Oberon Shakespeare Group.
So tune in, I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and will soon begin writing again.
Monday, July 21, 2008
All of which got me thinking. I'm betting there are other people out there that would be interested in seeing how a show grows. I wonder whether a package deal could be put together that could further engage audiences--especially those audiences whose only theatrical participation is as an audience member.
The package deal I was thinking of would look something like:
- A ticket to attend the show's read-through at the beginning of the rehearsal process. Ideally the read-through would include presentations by the technical staff on the show concept.
- A ticket to opening night.
- A ticket to closing night.
- A roundtable with the actors and director following closing night where people could discuss how things changed from start to finish and why.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
While I’ve wanted to write about Number the Stars and Ballyhoo, there simply hasn’t been the time to do so. It’s crunch time for the book that I’ve spent the past year working on. While I took off Independence Day to spend with friends, that and yesterday were the only days in the past 14 that I haven’t put in a 12-hour workday. I’ve even taken chapters to bed with me to try to squeeze in a little more editing before dropping off to sleep.
Thankfully, I have a husband who does insist on dragging me away from work after twelve hours, even when I plead that if I put in just one more hour I’ll be able to finish a chapter or sort out the endnotes.
So with all that, I must confess that I haven’t been thinking much about theater and thinking about theater is a prerequisite for writing about theater. There have been times, though, when my brain-weary mind has started to wander away from its work and indulge in silly fantasies to keep itself entertained. Some of those wanderings have attempted to drag the spa world into the realms of theater (or perhaps theater into the spa world--who knows?).
Two of those fantasies involved what sort of enterprise I would start if I had far more money than I do now. (Granted, I like what I do now, so it isn’t as though I’m actively searching for a new career. I consider myself quite blessed to do what I love doing.)
Here they are:
In the ancient world, particularly in
So my brain began to play with the idea—not in any sort of practical terms, but purely as a flight of fancy.
The spa would contain a large wet lounge with a pool of warm water infused with sea salts or other minerals. It would be a crescent-shaped pool with benches in it. At the end of the room (opposite the benches) would be a stage on which there would be daily performances of shows that encouraged contemplation, laughter, healing, and esthetically pleasing thoughts. Audiences would probably have to be limited to 50 to 70 people.
During intermission, we could offer chromtherapy for the guests who wanted to stay put. Or guests could visit the sauna or steam room followed by a cold plunge (if they wished). For the second half of the show, they could wear plush robes and sit in lounge chairs with a rose petal foot bath. Spring water infused with cucumber and fresh fruit would be served.
Special VIP packages would be available for each show (for a higher cost, of course). Up to six people could receive pre-show chair massages, a mini-facial at intermission (possibly with a masque being left on during the second half of the show), and a spa service before or after the show.
While there could be daily shows, the spa would also have rooms for classes and spa treatments. There would be yoga and Alexander Technique classes and Rolfing services would be offered as well.
(Note: The Alexander Technique is used by musicians, singers, and actors to increase awareness of their posture and movement. It’s a form of movement education that teaches people to become more conscious of how they stand and move. Frederick Matthias Alexander, an Australian actor, developed it in response to coming down with chronic laryngitis while performing. He watched himself in the mirror and was able to see that he was tensing the muscles in his neck while speaking. He began teaching his technique around 1910 and his students included George Bernard Shaw. And yes, you can read about this and more in a soon-to-be published textbook on spas…)
We could create an indoor/outdoor garden where a chamber orchestra could play and people could meditate. There would be an art gallery in the lounge and check-out area. Retail products would include scripts and recordings.
We could create package deals named after playwrights and invite the living ones in for a free day of treatments and to give classes.
This has gotten long and somewhat silly. I’ll save my other enterprise fantasy for another day.
My background is in theater and I began working in a day spa right after college in order to save up money before moving on to
to become a famous actress. After working in the spa for about a year at the desk, I realized how similar the spa employees were to the "theater people" I was used to working with. I had an easy, comfortable connection with them and also with the way that they could "communicate" to their guests through touch and movement. It all felt very similar to theater or art and I believe that is why I felt that connection. New York
–Sara Cruncleton, Ihloff Salon & Spa
Monday, June 30, 2008
The general therapeutic assumption made in the art and science of healing in the Asclepieia was that active contemplation and reflection on the beauty and harmony found in masterpieces of architecture, sculpture, and painting brought harmony and health to the individual. Enjoyment of the true, the good, the beautiful, and the divine are all important factors for elevating and enhancing human consciousness.
Friday, June 27, 2008
I absolutely love the imagery in this lead:
“The Girls in 509,” the latest Summer Circle production from Michigan State University, reminds us how much American satire has changed through the decades. Howard Teichmann’s script, published in 1959, is political and ironic but lacks the sharp teeth to be biting. Teichmann cuts the political tomato with a butter knife, broadly mashing this juicy subject into mass-appealing ketchup instead of slicing to its seedy core.That's some mighty fine writing. I applaud you, Paul Wozniak.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
His current blog reviews a book by Donna Walker-Kuhne called "Invitation to the Party: Building Bridges to the arts, culture and community." He brings out some fascinating ideas, primarily her "ten tools for building audiences."
He's convinced me that this is a book I want to read.
Theatre Ideas: Resource Review 1: Invitiation to the Party
Monday, June 23, 2008
It's easy to slam a show and easy to praise a show. What is far more difficult to write about are those shows which have their good points and have their bad points, but aren't all of either. That's pretty much how I would describe the Summer Circle production of "The Girls in 509." There was nothing about the performances that were wrong, but neither were they anything memorable or noteworthy. The play was entertaining, but not particularly thought-provoking or stimulating.
Michelle Meredith and Caitlin Inman both did fine jobs as the eccentric Republican hermits who had locked themselves in a hotel room so that they could isolate themselves from the influences of a Democratic president. Inman's Mumsie was particularly entertaining.
The character of the lawyer had the same problems that the coroner of the week before had. You paid so much attention to the device--in this case a strange voice and vocal manner--that you lost the story that was being told. It became annoying rather than amusing.
The David Lindsey-Abaire shows were, like most of his shows, rather bizarre. He's almost a playwright version of John Irving with the off-kilter ideas he conjures. Certainly they are memorable and vivid when it comes to bizarre. Both were skillfully presented.
Their final shows this week are Number the Stars based on the book by Lois Lowry and additional presentations of the late night shows Medea and Baby Food and The Other Person.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I continue to be impressed that they are able to solicit enough donations to be able to offer free outdoor theater while paying their actors. It's a great thing for both the students and the community.
Theater Professor Rob Roznowski directed The Red Herring, a show described as a comic film noir spoof. Written by Michael Hollinger, the play follows the antics of three couples as they struggle with loving each other. Every scene comes with its own plot twist and actors Kristen Barrett, Phil Ashbrook, Caitlin Inman, Hazen Cuyler Natzmer, Michelle Meredith, and Dave Wendelberger juggle multiple roles. All of them did a superior job.
I especially enjoyed Caitlin Inman as Joe McCarthy's daughter and Michelle Meredith as Mrs. Kravitz and multiple other parts. Inman was spot-on as the sweet Midwestern girl with too many secrets to keep. She was vibrant and handled well the intricacies of a role that required precise confusion (the actress had to be precise while the character was confused). Michelle Meredith had perfect comedic timing in the various roles that she played and each of them were completely different.
The only individual part I didn't care for was that of the coroner. He was too over-the-top in a style that didn't match the other characters.
I was also impressed with the ingeniousness of the set dressing and set piece. A single set piece on casters doubled as a dock, a bed, a couch, an autopsy slab, a boat, and everything else that was needed. It contributed to a quickly paced show and was highly effective. There was also an attractive backdrop painted in black and white with a jigsaw of scenes of varying relevance to the script. It was a very artistic piece of work.
I now look forward to the remaining shows!
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
- We returned from Indianapolis where we managed to miss both the storms here at home and the ones they had right before and after our arrival and departure..
- Richard auditioned for the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre.
- I met for lunch with the local classical music and theater critic, a colleague of mine from the NEA Arts Journalism Institute.
- My 30s are now officially over.
- We went to the Michigan Shakespeare Festival company picnic last night on our way home from the audition. It was great seeing everyone again including several faces familiar to Lansing: Tommy Gomez, Joel King, Jeremy Winchester, Mark Gmazel.
- The Thespies were published in today's newspaper.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Actually, the ruminations are on the approach actors take to their characters. I was struck in two different plays recently how much the actor's feeling about her character affected the final product. I suppose that sounds obvious, but it needn't. An actor can believably and passionately play an evil character without being in sympathy with that character's choices and actions. In the one play I saw, it took me awhile to figure out who the antagonist was. Eventually, by listening to the words of the script and observing the fate of the character, I knew whom the playwright considered the antagonist. It also became apparent that this character wasn't intended to be likeable or sympathetic. However, the way the character was portrayed was in a very sympathetic fashion. It was almost as though the actor had come to like the character so much that she couldn't bear to make her unsympathetic. It wasn't just an act she was putting on to fool the other people on stage, but it seemed as though the actress herself believed that her character was justified in all her actions.
A few weeks later, I saw a situation in reverse. There was a comedic character who was played in such a fashion that it was obvious the actress held little regard or respect for the type of person the character was. The portrayal brought out the humor not by any sort of authentic empathy with the character, but through an exageration of humorous stereotyping.
In both cases, the result was unsatisfying. In the first, it compromised the story and why the plot wound the way that it did. In the second, it seemed a cheap laugh when it could have been a heartfelt one.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
|All Night Strut|
|Mrs. Warren's Profession|
|Moonlight and Magnolias|
|Escanaba in Love|
|All in the Timing|
Holt-Dimondale Community Players
|Lansing Civic Players|
|The Desperate Hours|
|Social Security Scandals|
|Flowers for Algernon|
|Annie Get Your Gun|
|Lansing Community College|
|Back to Methuselah|
|Michigan State University|
|As Bees in Honey Drown|
|Arts OR Crafts|
|Six Characters in Search of an author|
|Babes in Arms|
|Recent Tragic Events|
|The Blue Room |
|I am My Own Wife|
|A New Brain|
|The Ransom of Red Chief|
|I Hate Hamlet|
|The Full Monty|
|The Best Man|
|Miss Evers Boys|
|The Sugar Bean Sisters|
|Maybe Baby It's You |
|Thunder at Dawn|
|Ruhala Performing Arts Center|
|Our Love is Here to Stay|
|Alice in Wonderland|
|Starlight Dinner Theatre|
|We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!|
|A Hans Christian Anderson Quartet|
|Sunsets with Shakespeare|
|Midsummer Night's Dream|
|My name is Rachel Corrie|
|The Ledges Playhouse|
|Scenes from an American Life|
Sunday in the Park with George
Guys and Dolls
Guys on Ice
|Every Christmas Story Ever Told|
|Maidens, Mothers, and Crones|
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Given that I have a vote in the Thespies, I'm not going to state my favorites. However, I'd love to hear from all of you, my readers. Who are your nominees for the following categories:
- Best play
- Best musical
- Best director
- Best lead actor
- Best lead actress
- Best supporting actor
- Best supporting actress
- Best new work
- Best ensemble
- Best costumes
- Best set
- Best lights
- Best sound
- Best choreography
- Any special awards
Depending on how many nominees I get in the comments, I'll create a poll from them that anyone can vote in. It'll be this blog's Reader's Choice awards.