Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Picking nits

When I write a review that is restricted to 300 words or less, I rarely include much except the main points of the production. What most worked? What didn't? What was the overall impression of the show?

I often think this is a disservice because there are many things about a production that can be worth talking about even though they are not the main thrust of the show and even when they don't effect the overall quality of a show.

Sometimes I think some of the more interesting moments in a show are the small ones that go by quickly. They can be great moments, or they can be horrible ones. When they're bad, mentioning them seems like an exercise in picking nits. They can be interesting to discuss, but really shouldn't effect whether someone goes to see a show or not. Sometimes the little things are matters of interpretation--one person wondering whether a slightly different choice might have been more effective. In the latter instance, the overall performance may have been quite good and it can be demoralizing to raise a question in a review.

At other times, the nits do matter. Sometimes the lack of attention to a small detail can take the audience out of a production and make the overall show suffer. Sometimes the jarring detail or moment can indicate a sloppiness on the part of the actor, crew, or director (depending on what it is).

I've been bothered lately by one of those small details I saw at a show--a detail that would likely go unremarked upon in a review because there were so many more important things to comment on. And yet, that detail told me a lot about the show and about the actor. In the play, the actor is complaining about how cold it is and how frozen he feels with a lack of proper heating during a winter month. He's wearing a scarf and a sweater and would rub his hands to keep warm. Yet he had his sleeves pushed up to his elbow. It immediately told me that as an actor, he wasn't paying much attention to what he was saying. He wasn't feeling the cold. He wasn't thinking. I couldn't believe what he was saying because if he were really cold and shivering, he'd pull his sleeves down rather than leave his bare arms exposed to the frozen air.

Does that minor point of costuming matter compared to the other elements of the show? Only in that it informed my thinking about the other problems that show had and what might have contributed to them.

Monday, March 29, 2010

In the Blood review

Here is my review of MSU's "In the Blood." It's posted at Michigan Entertainment.

It was a powerful show and I hope to be back to talk about it some more--after talking about Enchanted April.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What a weekend!

Theater has the power to move, the power to change lives, the power to challenge us to re-examine our ways of thinking.

This weekend the theater I took in left me almost out of breath by the end of it with plenty of themes chasing themselves around in my head during today's car trip to the west-side of the state for a family birthday.

Friday night, Richard and I went to see Romeo et Juliette, the opera put on by the MSU College of Music. It is the operatic version of Shakespeare's play, sung in French, then set in Miami, Florida during the 1980s.

On Saturday, I went straight from MSU's "In the Blood" to Everett's "Rent." I'll be writing more about the MSU show as it was strong, powerful stuff. Speaking of that, I need to go finish my review of it for Michigan Entertainment. So I'll write more later.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Balance of appropriateness

Earlier this month I attended a production of the musical Spelling Bee at the Ruhala Performing Arts Center. As with most productions there, the performances were superior and the young performers did an excellent job. Not only are they talented, but more importantly, they have put in a lot of hard work.

While their production was charming and wonderful, there were several times I found myself distinctly uncomfortable. Discomfort during a theatrical performance isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is a sign that there is something to think more about.

When I first saw The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, all of the characters were played by adults--including the kids. This added a certain humor factor to it. It also gave us even more of a feeling of looking at the kids through adult eyes.

Spelling Bee is a fun musical that takes a very authentic look at the real struggles of junior high kids--especially those who are outcasts for one reason or another. If stage shows were rated, this would would probably get a PG-13, with one song about the young man's "unfortunate erection" making it push the edge of an R rating. There is also a fair amount of language which is both vulgar and profane.

If I acknowledge that nothing in the show is outside of the language, thoughts, or conversations of junior high aged students, is it hypocrisy to be uncomfortable when I see actors as young as age 12 performing it?

After much thought, I've concluded that the answer to that is no. Ultimately, it is a parental choice whether it is appropriate for their child to participate in musical or dramatic pieces with adult content. For myself, I would not have my child perform in a musical like The Spelling Bee. There is a difference between knowing that children use certain language and joke about certain subjects and having an adult demand that they do so and having them perform it in front of audiences.

When you teach math, you don't ask students to attempt trig before they've learned how to multiply and divide. So it is with other subjects. Students of life shouldn't have everything thrown on them at once. When we respect the learner, we allow the learner to take things in stages and steps without dumping things on them before they are ready. So it is with issues of sex. I'm all in favor of open, honest discussions with children about sexual topics--and in letting them lead the way when determining what they are ready for and what they are not. However, we already live in an over-sexualized society in which messages about sexuality are far from healthy. I'm not eager to push my child to explore topics of physical desire when he is still working out more basic social and decision-making skills.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A full weekend

It was a good weekend for theater and I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend of seeing double. Everything went off as planned--I saw Waverly High School's "The Canterbury Tales" with Cast Canterbury on Thursday and Cast Southwark this afternoon. On Friday, I saw "Enchanted April" at Riverwalk and on Saturday night I saw the same show at Meadowbrook. The review of the latter show is posted at Encore Michigan.

We then topped it all off by a family night out at the movies with our friends the Thompsons. We splurged and saw Alice in Wonderland at the iMax.

Tonight, I am tired, but in the next couple days, I hope to write the following blog entries:

  • A review of "The Watch List"
  • A comparison of the two Enchanted Aprils
  • A discussion on the delicate balance of what we ask children to do in theater
Meanwhile, I wish for all of you a wonderful week.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Seeing Double

I'll be seeing double this weekend.

Tonight I went to see the Canterbury cast perform "Canterbury Tales" at Waverly High School. I'll see the play again on Sunday with the Southwark cast. (The show has only eight characters and they were double-cast to give more people the opportunity to perform.)

Then Friday night, I'll be going to Riverwalk to see "Enchanted April." On Saturday night, I'll be going to Meadowbrook to see "Enchanted April."

A weekend full of seeing double.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Good weekend for theater

I may have to break my usual rule and write a review for "The Watch List" in my blog. It's a new work and it deserves to get attention. So I'm going to put some thought into it and once I get my other assignments done for the week, I'll turn back to "The Watch List" and write about it.

I also saw "Opal's Husband" with Jane and Mark Zussman, Winifred Olds, Dan Pappas, and Jan Ross in it on Saturday night. I sat at a table with the director's parents who were quite proud of the cute show that their daughter directed.

Earlier tonight I saw a wonderful production of "The Ingham County Spelling Bee" at the Ruhala Center. It was a cast of exceedingly talented performers.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Directors and Editors

Writers are told that when they fall in love with a sentence that they've written--when they think it is just the greatest thing ever, they should get rid of it. Sounds harsh, but writers with that kind of discipline are far more readable and effective than those who aren't. Granted, it often takes a good editor to kill the sentence that the writer is in love with.

There is a parallel to this in acting. Theater needs strong directors to sometimes tell the actor to get rid of something that the actor thinks is awesome.

Weekend of Theater

In less than an hour I'll be heading out for the start of what I expect to be a wonderful weekend of theater.

Tonight I'm going to "The Watch List" at Riverwalk. On Saturday, I'll be at Starlight Dinner Theater's "Opal's Husband," and on Sunday I'll see the musical theater ensemble at the Ruhala Center perform "The 25th Annual Ingham County Spelling Bee."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Daily post

I said I would post every day for a week, so here is today's post.

Eventually, I will get embarrassed if my blog entries continue to say nothing. Hopefully that will inspire me to create better content and not just stop writing here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Monday Movie Musings

Yesterday was the Oscar Awards ceremony. This statement will surprise no one.

We didn't watch it for a couple reasons. One, we haven't a television. Two, with our car broken down, we couldn't get to any of the various Oscar parties taking place around town.

I can't say that I minded missing it the way I minded missing the Olympics. Primarily this is because I see so very few movies. As a theater critic, I see a lot of plays. When I talk about the "theater," I'm talking about what happens on the stage, not the screen. Given that I also have a day job, a family, friends, and more than a few hobbies, this doesn't leave much time for movies. This year, when I've missed many of the plays that I wanted to see, movies were an even lower priority.

Of the few movies that I did see (and you should take "few" literally), none of them were likely to be nominated for an award. I have fairly plebeian tastes in movies. If I'm going to go to the theater, I'm going to go see something that I can't see on stage since I far prefer the live medium to the two-dimensionality, distance, and static nature of movies. I prefer to have my actors life-size rather than bigger than life on the silver screen or in miniature on the television.

This means most of what I watch is animated. Yes, I could give you the excuse that I'm a mom and I do it for family reasons, but really, it's because I like animated movies. One of my favorite movies of all time is still Disney's Mulan.

Feeding into this was that I was raised a Nazarene at a time when Nazarenes didn't go to movies. While my parents never enforced this--preferring instead that I come to a decision on my own--as I became more active in the church, I saw movies less and less. By the time I reached high school, I had given up going to movies entirely. During my first two years of college, going to a movie could have gotten me expelled.

While that restriction has long since been lifted, movies never became a habit for me or even something that I typically think of when pondering entertainment options.

Nothing profound

I have nothing profound to say today.

I realize I needn't be profound in order to write a blog entry, but there is a certain amount of internal pressure. If you take the time to find my blog and read it, then I want it to be worth your time.

However, I also want to form the habit of writing on a regular basis in part because that triggers me thinking about entries on a regular basis so that when I do sit down to type them out, it is a quick process.

I will share a few random quotes--not necessarily favorites, just ones germain to the topic of theater:

"I regard the theater as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being."
--Oscar Wilde

"I have a terrible feeling that, because I am wearing a white beard and am sitting in the back of the theater, you expect me to tell you the truth about something. These are the cheap seats, not Mount Sinai."
--Orson Welles

"It is one of the tragic ironies of the theater that only one man in it can count on steady work--the night watchman."
--Tallulah Bankhead
(Except now most theaters have replaced that person with an alarm system.)

"All the best performers bring to their role something more, something different than what the author put on paper. That's what makes theater live. That's why it persists."
--Stephen Sondheim

"The reason why I hate working in theater is the tedium of memorization. But once that is done, then you feast on this never-ending meal. If you play it correctly, every night is fraught with very high stakes that are difficult to find in everyday life."
--Christopher Meloni

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Secondary School Drama

Oops! I haven't gone to bed yet, so I'm hoping this can still count as Saturday's post.

If you are involved in Lansing-area high school or middle school drama and your school is doing a spring play or musical--please contact me in the next week. I'll also be reaching out to the individual schools, but contact information can change. I'll soon be working on a spring overview article about what all the schools in the area are doing.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Linkety link

I was hoping tonight to write about "The Watch List," an original new work by Eric Dawe that is having its premiere at Riverwalk Theater tonight. Well, actually, I did already write about it in this week's column. But that was a preview. I was going to see the show tonight.

Our car, though, had other ideas. So while Dominic is off at Boy Scout camp for the weekend, Richard and I are stuck at home without transportation (which is not, all things considered, anything to complain about!). It does, though, leave me without a topic for tonight's blog.

Given that, I'm going to share some links that I've been lapse in talking about.

First, remember the press release I shared awhile ago about the critics' panel I participated in? That was an event (in January) that went quite well. I did feel a little out of my league with the high quality of critics represented by my colleagues, but it was an honor and a pleasure to participate. You can listen to the podcasts of the event here--Episodes 7 & 8 (yes, we were a long-winded bunch).

Also, I'm now joining Jim Fordyce every Thursday at 5 p.m. on MIEntertainment radio. It's a streaming station that you can get on your computer, smart phone, or any Internet-capable radio or iPod. Click to listen to the station at TalkLansing.net.

And, of course, you can read my weekly Lansing State Journal columns about a wide variety of performing arts on this page every Thursday.

I also reviewed Icarus Falling's Power Plays by Elaine May and Allan Arkin for Michigan Entertainment.

Did I mention in this blog that I've joined the reviewing team at Encore Michigan? I think I did--in the post where I was talking about "The Smell of the Kill." The next show I'm reviewing for them is Meadowbrook's "Enchanted April." It opens the same weekend that that show opens at Lansing's Riverwalk Theater. I'm looking forward to comparing the two.

That's a wrap for tonight. I'm sure in the next 24 hours I'll manage to think of something else to write about. Stay warm, everyone.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Forming a habit

For the next week, I am going to write a blog entry every day. Even if they are just this short.