Drama Queen: August 2008 Archives

Just a reminder that I'll be Tweeting from the Philadelphia Live Arts Fest for the next two weeks. Last night's events included Israel Horovitz's The Widow's Blind Date--review to appear in tomorrow's Inquirer--and a battle of the official/unofficial festival bars. 

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Official bar: It's low-key, I'll give them that. Video animations by Lars Jan and ambient music by James Sugg (and Turkish food, apparently, though it was gone by 1 a.m.). Unofficial bar: Last night, a cabaret hosted by local arts impresario Scott Johnston, and featuring the band Black Landlord (picture, if you can, Run-DMC with a horn section and hipster backing band), Pig Iron's phenomenally talented Dito van Reigersberg as his alter ego Martha Graham Cracker, and the gals from the Peek-a-Boo Revue (winners of this year's Miss Exotic World "Best Troupe" category) shaking their artsy can-cans. Winner: the unofficial event, hands down, which is kind of fitting considering this whole thing started out as a fringe festival anyway.

The link to my Twitter page was supposed to be in today's paper, but wasn't. Go to www.twitter.com/wendyrosenfield. If you're not currently receiving Tweets from anyone, sign up. It's so easy you'll be embarrassed you waited so long. 

Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.

August 31, 2008 10:58 AM | | Comments (3)
In this year's presidential election, "political theater" is getting a literal spin. And why not? Elections--and their behind-the-scenes machinations--are always events of high drama. But with this race's epic, historic themes it appears the temptation toward artistic license was too much for editors and pundits to resist. 

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Way back in April, Newsday columnist Ellis Henican interviewed me for his radio show about the Clinton-Obama debate, asking for a theater critic's interpretation of the proceedings (I was a Clinton supporter, and thought the Obama camp was hoping to portray her as Lady Macbeth. It seems ultimately, she managed that feat on her own.) 

Now the thespian angle seems to really be catching on. The Wall St. Journal's Andy Jordan posted a bit of video reportage (see below) from the DNC with this title: "Democratic Convention: Nomination as Theater." And though Jordan is more conversant in the language of film than of stage, he puts in a valiant effort to describe the event's mise en scene. 

Today, a piece by playwright Christopher Durang appeared on the New Republic's site, parsing speech by speech, the DNC's dramatic appeal. The best part, to me, of Mr. Durang's endeavor is that it really serves as a reminder to readers and editors everywhere that neither arts journalism nor theater criticism are as easy as they look. Though Durang is a fine playwright (and something of a Philly local, too; he has a home in Bucks County), Walter Kerr, he ain't.

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On Monday, my friend Dominic Papatola, theater critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, will cover the Rebublican National Convention for his paper--a pretty exciting turn of events for a guy more accustomed to the sedate halls of the Guthrie than the Xcel Energy Center's hockey- or RNC-fueled mayhem. I'm hoping his coverage will include more than a few dramatic references, as the Republicans, with their Deus ex Machina--otherwise known as Sarah Palin--and Shavian cast of characters lend themselves particularly well to cynical interpretations of their performance. Not that I'm, you know, biased or anything.

And hey, maybe this shifting of duties will turn out to be a good thing for all those arts critics clinging desperately to their jobs. I turns out our perspective just might be useful after all.

Seen any other examples of political coverage as arts coverage? Send me a link.

Update: Brendan Kiley, an arts writer for Seattle weekly The Stranger, is taking his campaign coverage to a new level--by getting pepper sprayed at protests.

August 30, 2008 10:59 AM | | Comments (2)

I'm still in Colorado, a pretty exciting place to be right now. With all the fuss surrounding the Democratic National Convention, the city of Denver has done an admirable job of highlighting its arts scene. There was a New York Times piece about the city's public sculptures, PHAMALy, a handicapped theater company , performed for free for conventioneers and the public, and last night, Red Rocks Amphitheatre hosted an adult contemporary enviro-love note to Obama featuring Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews.

But on Wednesday, the Denver Coliseum will host a related, and--at least to my tastes--far more exciting event: the Tent State Music Festival to End the War. Joining the festivities are, among others, Denver's Flobots and Wayne Kramer, but headlining are '90s revolution-rockers Rage Against the Machine, and that's where things get interesting.  

Apparently, Rage has a real gripe with the current administration. Yesterday's Denver Post published an editorial by the band's members, which was distributed through Amnesty International. It seems the U.S. government has been using the band's music as part of its sleep deprivation and sensory overload torture campaign. The band says:

As artists and as human beings, it sickens us to know that the U.S. government has been using our music to torment detainees. We are especially appalled by the discovery that there is very little that we, as artists, can do to stop the military and the CIA from turning our music into a weapon. Our songs -- which include human rights themes such as freedom, our beautiful world, and the voice of the voiceless -- are meant to be cries against injustice, not accomplices to dehumanizing and extrajudicial acts.

Hopefully, the secret prisoners in question don't understand English all that well, because if they did, songs like "Bulls on Parade" and "Killing in the Name of" would probably serve more as inspiration for an overthrow of the U.S. government than deterrent. The clear irony here is that a band whose music is so blatantly anti-authoritarian is being used in the most authoritarian circumstance imaginable. And, as singer Zack de la Rocha, guitarist Tom Morello, et al, point out, they've made music to inspire people, not oppress them.

Even more frustrating, the musicians themselves have no recourse in this case. Though Jackson Browne, Abba, John Mellancamp, and even Frankie Valli were able to stop John McCain from using their music during his campaign, Rage is limited to, well, raging against the machine. Though last month Guardian blogger Sean Michaels suggested the military ought to pay royalty fees to the artists on its playlist, I imagine such an arrangement would be throughly repellent to the boys in the band.

I can't embed their Michael Moore-directed video for "Sleep Now in the Fire," but you can still click and enjoy it.  

August 25, 2008 9:42 AM | | Comments (5)

If you've been keeping up with my Twitter stream, you're aware that I'm currently on vacation in Colorado. Earlier in the week my family and I spent a few days in Aspen, bunking at the Little Nell, a slopeside boutique hotel that during our stay also served as host to one of the Aspen Institute events. (Not sure which one--sadly, I wasn't invited to join them.)

On every floor of the Nell, every morning, is an eight-page photocopied version of the Times Digest. Subscribers to the New York Times are already familiar with the Digest, since they receive it daily via e-mail. Also receiving the Digest are:

"...over 50 countries... over 125,000 readers daily on all seven continents and the seven seas. Among the 400 subscribers around the globe are hotels and resorts, corporations and organizations, cruise ships and yachts, and United States Navy ships."

Since my husband's name and e-mail are on our subscription and I always read the hand-delivered version anyway, he never bothered to mention it to me, and until a couple of days ago, I never knew the Digest existed. However, once I saw it, I was immediately outraged. On vacation. In Aspen. Not cool.

It seems that the Times Digest, "designed and edited to provide a balanced selection of The Times's top stories and editorial comment, along with sports, weather, business news and the Times crossword puzzle," doesn't consider arts coverage a part of your balanced daily news intake. I guess that also follows for all those people cruising, yachting, working, playing and serving in the Navy. Again, not cool.

I feel terrible for Jenny, the poor Houston elephant afflicted with panic attacks. I also think the Bolivian witches' market sounds pretty rad in a Ripley's-Believe-It-or-Not kind of way. But are either of these stories more important than, oh, I don't know, Denver's public art and its relationship to this week's Democratic National Convention? Or if that's too Colorado-centric for you, how about Frank Gehry's sudden--and apparently involuntary--departure as architect of Brooklyn's Theater for a New Audience? Because the former made it to the Digest, but not the latter.

I get the inclusion of the business and sports highlights, even the crossword. But I'd just bet those Aspen Institute folks would rather read about Gehry than Jenny, and find it pretty insulting that the nation's paper of record doesn't consider arts news important enough to make the day's "best of" selection.

Of course, I'm basing my outrage on two days' worth of reading, but still. For even one day's worth of news from New York to be completely devoid of cultural coverage, well, that's something I just can't digest.

Update: It's Friday (Friday!) and still no arts news in the Digest.

 

August 21, 2008 10:08 PM | | Comments (0)

I'm currently on vacation, which means that theoretically I have time to finish a book. Usually my excuse for not finishing a read has something to do with children, but this time it's entirely different. I'm four-fifths of the way through The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan, and I just don't want to let the man die. I had the same problem with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but with that one I savored every page. Here, it's tougher. I know the ending. Tynan is ultimately drowned by emphysema made doubly deadly by an astounding self-destructive streak. 

Early on in the diaries, at around 1973, when he is merely consumed by self-doubt, he does everything in his power not to fulfill his obligations for two book contracts (If someone would only offer me one!), while taking the time to record for posterity his homemade dirty couplets. An example:

As the moon wanes, the mighty Moose/Commits the act of self-abuse.

By the way, this last was written in response to his wife Kathleen's suggestion that they collaborate on a children's book. His talent for undermining himself becomes downright maudlin in the later years, as he willfully hurls himself onto a stone floor during a domestic argument--further damaging his lungs--and pulls off an oxygen mask to smoke in his hospital bed.

However, these pathetic bits are just bookends to a career that soared and dipped as vertiginously as Tynan's own attempts to balance his egotism and self-loathing. It's a really remarkable document of not just a man, but of a moment.

Imagine a time when theater criticism was sexy, smart, ferocious and scandalous. Tynan's boozy, pill-popping, louche, orgiastic orbit is dotted with a constellation of equally fascinating stars, made all the more so by the complexity of their relationships with him. Princess Margaret is a bland but consistent presence at his table. He's constantly sneaking swipes at Laurence Olivier. Warren Beatty (among others) couples with his wife. He basks in Brando's affections, then betrays him for a paycheck. Martin Landau somehow owes him thousands of pounds and refuses to pay up. Then there's all that surreptitious spanking. And, oh yeah, once in a while he attends the theater.

My God, an exciting evening for me is when there's sushi on opening night. And even then I sneak a piece and head directly home, no orgies, no scenes, no sunrise debates. So I'm planning to keep Mr. Tynan alive for just a little while longer, enjoying vicariously the glamour he brought to theater criticism, and the sheer thrill of living at a time when critics didn't just matter, they burned so brightly they occasionally incinerated everything around them. You can almost trace, in Tynan's precipitous downfall, the entire profession's nosedive.

So there the book sits, on page 353. I'm just not yet ready to let it--or him--go away.

 

August 17, 2008 12:06 AM | | Comments (3)
In this Sunday's New York Times "Week in Review" section, Charles Isherwood laments the city's paucity of Shakespeare offerings. I usually agree with Mr. Isherwood wholeheartedly and appreciate his championing of underdog (by which I mean non-revival, non-Disney) Manhattan productions. So it pains me to say this: boo freaking hoo, dude. 

A critic who complains about the lack of Shakespeare in the city that's supposed to be "America's theatrical epicenter" is either depressed by the lack of worthwhile new productions or needs to spend a week or two of quiet contemplation in the hinterlands. Or both. I won't presume to know which state of mind applies here, but I will say that someone needs to agitate for progress on the Broadway stage, not for Shakespeare.

I mean, I understand the satisfaction that comes with good Shakespeare. I've even blogged about it. Here in Philly we have an on-season Shakespeare festival as well as an off-season one. We've got a free Shakespeare in the park, a couple of houses that have been throwing in roughly a Shakespeare-a-year, and a few smaller outfits that produce offbeat versions of the classics. Surely, not all are created equal, but if it's Shakespeare you're looking for, you can reliably find him at any point during the season.

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And yes, Chicago and D.C. have Shakespeare companies, but even though Chicago's gaining steadily on New York's theatrical dominaton, it has neither the resources nor the cachet of Broadway. At least not yet. But if Broadway continues to nurture the same old safe retreads and turn its back on work that actually bolsters this country's theatrical tradition, well, finding a decent Merry Wives of Windsor will be the least of Mr. Isherwood's worries.  

Let the provinces whet their appetites on Shakespeare; it can only benefit New York. When you dine regularly on Kobe beef at home, you're less likely to accept a McDonald's patty when you go out. But you're probably not going to order Kobe again, either. You want something new and mouthwatering, and if you're served the same old Kobe filet, even if it's really good, you'll end up wondering why you didn't just stay home and make it yourself... It's sure a lot cheaper. 

I don't mean to pick on Isherwood. A dedicated Shakespeare company in New York City is not the worst idea ever, it's just misguided. Maybe it wouldn't be such a big deal if he suggested placing it in Brooklyn, or somewhere it had a chance to be more than an exercise in showing off one's Elizabethan chops. And perhaps also, I'm naive. I figure New York is what regional theater aspires to be; but maybe we've already caught up, and the ideal of New York's vanguard status is just vestigial at this point. 


August 10, 2008 6:51 PM | | Comments (0)
twitterbird.jpgJust joined Twitter and though I'm fashionably late to the party, that doesn't make it any less fun. Who wants polite introductions and a table full of appetizers when you can show up to a boozy, smoke-filled room packed to the walls with bodies and crazy talk

My principal interest in the tweet was for Philadelphia Live Arts and Fringe Festival purposes. Initially, I wanted to live blog the fest, but why do that when Twittering is so much more immediate and accessible? It's like the journalistic equivalent of the SmartCar, both timely and frill-free, the shrinking newsroom taken to its logical extreme. So I've voluntarily added one more unpaid activity to my arts coverage. Why? I guess because it seemed like the thing to do. I figure I can use it as a teaser for my actual reviews and blog posts, or to supplement them. But the truth is that if the tech zeitgeist whizzes past your head and you don't grab hold, well, probably nothing will happen, but isn't that that also the problem? 

Anyway, after you've been stuck in Facebook's quicksands for a while, Twitter, which is essentially a glorified status update, seems downright revolutionary in its sheer simplicity. Not only is it embarrassingly easy to join and use, it's pure communication, a haiku-length transmission that forces you to use your word count wisely. Of course there are those Twitterfiction cheaters who've expanded the service's 140-character limit into whole micronovels released two or three sentences at a time. But I think they've got it all wrong. 

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Getting it right are contributors to Twittories, literary versions of the surrealist game Exquisite Corpse. I mean, it's not like they're "getting it right" in the sense that they're creating great literature, but that they saw the thing whizzing past, grabbed it and forced it to veer off course. The beauty of Twitter, particularly for lovers of the arts, is its strict rules and the creative innovations that emerge from within those strictures. 

Then there are the larger sociological implications in the medium, giant-sized extrapolations artists, journalists and ethnologists can all pull from something so very, very small. People complain about Twitter's glorification of the banal, but to them, I once again invoke Death of a Salesman, perhaps the modern theater's greatest glorification of the banal, and say, "Attention must be paid."

Think of Hemingway's shortest novel ever written, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Or Fredric Brown's sci-fi microtale, "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door." It's the tweet in its most sublime form.  

Actual tweets can be equally affecting. Check out the Twitter orphans that pop up when you conduct a search (pick a name, any name). Abandoned blogs just don't fill you with the same sense of wonder. In fact, it's sort of a relief when you find one; so much dreck, so little time. But abandoned Twitter streams are like the caves at Lascaux, cryptic relics of lives briefly revealed, then submerged again in mystery. One entry from a year ago belonged to someone making dinner for their flight test instructor. How ominous, and how compelling. I sure hope they ultimately passed that test, but fear their absence tells a different story. 

So yes, I'll be tweeting my reports from the fringe fest here in Philly in what I expect will be a most traditional manner (at least traditional for Twitter, not so much for journalism). However, I'm really looking forward to the day when I'll have the micro-ironic privilege of tweeting about a Twittered performance. Any takers before the thing whizzes away again?




August 5, 2008 2:52 PM | | Comments (3)
August 5, 2008 2:11 PM | | Comments (1)

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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Drama Queen in August 2008.

Drama Queen: July 2008 is the previous archive.

Drama Queen: September 2008 is the next archive.

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