Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday meanderings

I know I haven't been blogging much lately, primarily because I've been doing a lot of writing elsewhere. It certainly hasn't been because I haven't been seeing show or because I have nothing to say about theater.

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

Request for Help

I'm working on a story for the LSJ about how to keep the arts in your life during hard economic times--when your budget is tight and spare cash hard to come by.

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

If anyone else has any suggestions or tips, those would also be welcome.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Have something to say?

For those who would like to express an official opinion on the layoffs of the Lansing State Journal and the entire NOISE staff and what that is going to mean for arts coverage in the area, you might want to follow this link.

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Memory Jog

I need a memory jog.

Someone once told me about a group of women who get together for lunch every week and talk about theater. Does anyone reading this blog know who any of those women might be?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tribute to Mike Hughes

The voice of arts and entertainment coverage in Lansing since 1974 has been, without question, Mike Hughes, the arts and entertainment writer for the Lansing State Journal. Nor could we claim him as simply our own. The articles he wrote on all angles of popular culture were picked up by wire services and run in newspapers around the nation. When I told arts writers from around the country that I freelanced for the Lansing State Journal, Mike was always the name they knew.

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

Dance concerts

For each of the past two Sunday afternoons, my family has gone to a dance production--both very different from each other and both equally rewarding.

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.

The Nutcracker

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.

Two Hours

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.