March 2007 Archives

The Full Monty

Whitney Smith reviews The Full Monty by American Cabaret Theatre.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Byron Woods says North Carolina University's dramatic arts program needs to upgrade more than just the about-to-close theater--the acting needs an overhaul as well.

Blood Wedding

Dominic Papatola observes a production that ebbs and flows around the emotional linchpin of a powerful actress.

Talley's Folley

Jennifer Smith tells how a real-life married couple performing at Madison Reperatory Theatre bring Lanford Wilson's play to life.

Cardenio

Kati Schardl shares the dramatic detective work done by a professor to reconstruct a play possibly written in a collaboration between William Shakespeare and John Fletcher.

Kati Shardl shares the process of reconstruting a play possibly written by

March 29, 2007 10:46 AM | | Comments (0)

There are as many answers to that question as there are classics themselves. However, a textbook answer is that it has themes that are universal and endure beyond the moment of the play's first staging. Arthur Miller's The Crucible falls into the category, even when it is sometimes pigeonholed into being "about" the Salem Witch Trials or McCarthyism.

Mike Hughes of the Lansing State Journal asked the performers in Lansing Community College's production of the show why it is relevant today--making for an interesting read about a well-known play.

The director of The Crucible is also Artistic Director for the Peppermint Creek Players, a group that also opened Hedwig and the Angry Inch last weekend. It was a show that also had new relevancy for area theater-goers. In recent weeks, Michigan has had a hate crime killing of a gay man, a business that supported the LBGT community forced to close down, and a transsexual professor fired from Spring Arbor College. Perhaps sometimes we could wish that art didn't need to be so relevant.

March 28, 2007 9:36 AM | | Comments (0)

While interviewing the director of an upcoming opera at Michigan State University, we got sidetracked into a conversation about how exciting cultural events are constantly taking place outside of the major cultural centers. Next weekend, MSU is performing the university premiere of a Spanish-language opera, Florencia en el Amazonas.

It's a show that has created a lot of buzz for them within the opera community all around the world. In addition to several performances with preview lectures by the composer, Daniel Catán, they will be webcasting live the April 1 performance. They've also opened up a blog that all cast and crew members were invited to contribute to throughout the process.

Director Melanie Helton has had several conversations with the composer in the weeks leading up to the performance. One of the things that he told her was that the New York Metropolitan Opera already has plans to program this opera in the next couple years--after they find the perfect soprano. Helton pointed out that Lansing audience can leave "with the idea that they've got a little bit of a jump on the Met."

Not that I need to tell the audience of this blog that exciting cultural events are taking place outside of New York.

March 23, 2007 10:55 AM | | Comments (0)

I've been toodling around the Web today, trying to add the arts pages of newspapers around the Inland northwest to my list of bookmarks.

I say, "trying," because I've been thwarted at nearly every stop, and simply saddened at others.

Top story under the catch-all "Entertainment" link at the Idaho Statesman today? This story, about a certain restaurant's cheese steak. Local arts stories -- or, I should say, the one local arts story -- is buried on the page below the AP entertainment wire feed.

Meantime, over at the Spokane Spokesman-Review site, I just find myself plain lost. As best I can tell, their only online arts stories are consigned to the blog entries of their correspondents at their hipster online feed, "7". And most of those entries are little more than calendar listings and such. There's good arts writing there (and I know there's good writing at the Idaho Statesman as well; my old pal Dana Oland is there and she's no slouch!), but it's not just hard to find; it's almost impossible.

The same is true elsewhere -- including at my own paper, the Missoulian, where you'll find some of the arts coverage under the "Entertainer" link (IF you can find the Entertainer in that endless list of section links); and some of it simply in the daily news section. It just depends how it ran in the paper.

I know that there's tons of stuff happening every week in Spokane and Boise -- the biggest cities in this sparsely populated part of the world. I know, anecdotally, that some of it is pretty interesting.

And now I know how frustrating it must be for people outside of our newsrooms to find out what that stuff is.

March 21, 2007 11:00 PM | | Comments (1)

In a recent post at Category305.com, Juan Carlos Rodriguez offers poignant commentary on the soullessness of Miami's Calle Ocho Festival.

Over at the Louisville Eccentric Observer, Elizabeth Kramer catalogs the range of local art inspired by the war in Iraq, and makes a strong case for more of it.

Who would imagine that you'd find 3,000-year old art and a world-class collection of ancient medical texts in the home of a retired doctor in Missoula, Montana? Or that he would be so eloquent in explaining his fascination with art that depicts birth defects? In an installment of the ongoing, multimedia Art at Home series at Missoulian.com, collector Bruce Beckwith talks about his peculiar passion.

Cincinnati residents will soon see a wave of new murals around town, thanks to a $400,000 civic project sponsored by the city, Proctor & Gamble, and UBS Investments.

Studies, studies, and more studies: the Berkshire Economic Development Corporation thinks it has a blueprint for developing local arts tourism; the Rand Corporation has come to the conclusion that Philadelphia could use more centralized coordination of local arts marketing efforts; and Minnesota Citizens for the Arts has pegged the economic impact of artists in the state at $205.2 million dollars.

March 21, 2007 8:18 AM | | Comments (0)

So much of a review is spent on exposition, it occurs to me now that I've covered a recital by acclaimed pianist Ivan Moravec without filing a review for the print version the next day. I took a digital camera with me instead. I thought I was going to take a few snaps, but then realized I could do so much more. So during the intermission (this recital was last night), I decided to capture some of the recital and post it to my blog. I don't know if I was doing something I shouldn't have. I didn't ask for permission. And then I asked three different people to give me their thoughts on the performance. I think I might be on to something far more interesting than a print-only review. Instead of spending so much time of exposition, I can devote time to analysis, interpretation and commentary -- the things beyond the news, as Mitchell Stephens pointed out in his homerun article for the Columbia Journal Review last month. One of the people I interviewed was a 13-year-old pianist named Sharon Mays. She gave me her perspective. This approach might be just the thing for engaging the music and the community at the same time.

Here's the post:

I ran into Sharon Mays at the Ivan Moravec recital tonight. Her father does all the recording for the Savannah Music Festival, which will later be heard on Georgia Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio throughout the year. Sharon, a 13-year-old pianist, just won the Georgia Music Educators Association's piano competition for 8th graders in December. Given her prestige, I thought it would interesting to have Sharon blog with me later in the week to give us her perspective on what's happening at the Telfair Academy, where all the chamber music is taking place. She hasn't committed yet, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I also asked her to tell me what she thought of Moravec's recital and what she expects to hear in upcoming classical concerts (she gets to go to all of them thanks to Dad). For Sharon, Moravec had "a great dymanic range."

March 20, 2007 10:20 AM | | Comments (0)

I wanted to add this clip of a local theater troupe, because I could. Technology is wonderful. Seriously, this is a case in which young actors newly graduated from an art school taking the risk of creating theater that's challenging and sometimes downright weird. And it's working. High schoolers are being drawn to the theater. High schoolers! Something is right.

March 19, 2007 10:14 PM | | Comments (0)

Dreams & Blue Eyes

Byron Woods of The Indy captures the emotions of two separate performances in his reviews of Midsummer Night's Dream and The Bluest Eye.

Putting Classical Literature on Stage

Sherry Deatrick reviews a recent production of The Scarlet Pimpernel for the Louisville Eccentric Observer. "Given the rather restricted space (the MeX is the smallest of the Kentucky Center's venues), the cast manages to be quite kinetic and keep the proceedings action-packed. You won't miss a beat in this intimate setting. The only distraction was the cheesy synthesizer playing over the loudspeaker to accompany the actors' singing. At times, the music was louder than the vocalists, and I'd much rather hear them."

She also reviewed adaptations of Chaim Potok's The Chosen and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Inheriting Talent

This week, Darcie Flansburg reviewed David Auburn's Proof, ""Proof" is a testament to the struggle of genius and the burden of good genes, and Crafton Hills College's production presented the story with strength and conviction." and See How They Run.

Spread too Thin

Michael Howley questions in the Montgomery Advertiser whether Ghost of a Chance would have been better had the director had more technical assistance.

Artful Constriction

In very few words, Marty Hughley gets at the heart of a production of Mix Up. Equally beautiful is his review of the dance concert Stories of Us.

Cats Still Worth Seeing

Kyle Minor reviews a non-Equity performance of Cats that is filled with energy and strong performances. He also liked Man of La Mancha.

Review Roundup for Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival opened four plays, which Richard Moeschal compares in the second part of a round-up.

That gets us partway through the list of fellows. More soon.

March 16, 2007 7:17 AM | | Comments (0)

When theaters do biographical plays, then arts coverage can also be a history lesson. For history lovers, this is a good thing.

March 15, 2007 2:51 PM | | Comments (0)

Critics and arts journalists are quick to hold artists responsible for the work they produce. They have an equal responsibility to hold governing boards of artistic organizations responsible for their management decisions, especially when non-profit boards have such immense control over what is done.

Lansing's professional resident theater, BoarsHead, recently laid off three employees (their education director, their general manager, and their carpenter) and changed a show mid-season to one with fewer actors after their board demanded they cut $150,000 to $200,000 in expenses. They were forced to do this despite the fact that they've been playing critically successful shows to full houses. Their budget had taken a short-fall due to the death of a donor and the reduction in state monies.

The president of their board, Larry Meyer, is a businessman who is the president of the Michigan Retailers Association. He appears to have little understanding of how an arts organization is distinct from a commercial business. In the coverage of these layoffs, I kept waiting for Meyer to be asked why, if BoarsHead is to be run like just another business, anyone should donate money to them? We wouldn't donate money to Wal-Mart so that they could increase market share. By showing a lack of commitment to the season and to artists, the board sends the message that money is more important than the art they create--which makes future donors less likely to give.

Also, why lay off the education director who has been bringing in grant moneys far in excess of his salary or the managing director who saves the theater money by hosting actors at her home and who has wide connections in the community?

At the NEA Institute, Ben Cameron talked about a society's need for the gift economy and the market economy to be in balance. Commercial businesses compose the market economy while artists, clergy, and teacher compose the gift economy. The two can't successfully be run the same.

When a board suddenly demands that a theater organization in the midst of a successful season change shows and staffing, there must be a reason more compelling than budget projections not hitting where expected. Nor is it healthy to have a board president whose response to creative suggestions is to threaten to shut the theater down if they refuse to comply with his draconian demands.

Unlike commercial businesses, theater and the arts are supposed to be the vehicle that invigorates the soul in our society. Their success is perilous if their fate is placed into the hands of businesspeople whose understanding of the bottom line eclipses their commitment to the arts.

March 15, 2007 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)

I'll be covering the Savannah Music Festival from March 15-April 1. So it's unlikely that I'll have a chance to post something every day as I have been. However, I will try. In the meantime, please check out my blog for the Savannah Morning News, where I am an arts reporter. You can find it here. It's called Artful Talk, and perhaps I'll simulcast, so to speak, and post comments on Artful Talk to Art.Rox. I'll let you know what I decide. In the meantime, my colleague Bridgette Redman, from Lansing, will continue posting thought-provoking entries. Until April . . .

March 15, 2007 1:01 AM | | Comments (0)

One of the elements that struck me in the story about the Seattle art critic gone awry were these statements:

In December, she said, the paper asked him to choose between curating art exhibitions and acting as a reviewer because of the potential for a conflict of interest, and he chose curating. "Books, that's the thing for me now," Kangas confirmed, reflecting a career shaped not by the monogamy and security of staff jobs, but by the constant shifting of priorities and loyalties necessitated by contract work.

With more newspapers outsourcing the majority of arts coverage to stringers, the question of loyalty becomes an intricate one. It's certainly one that I've stopped and asked myself. When I left my newspaper staff job nearly 15 years ago, one of the biggest joys was that I was now free to participate to a greater degree in the arts community. When I returned to the newspaper as a freelance critic and columnist, it was with different priorities and loyalties.

Yes, I am loyal to my newspaper and want to see it succeed. However, a higher priority is to see the arts community thrive. Most of the time, those loyalties complement each other. High quality arts coverage is good for the newspaper and good for the arts community. The more I strive to write better reviews and stories, the more both will benefit.

However, my commitment to arts journalism transcends any single source that I write for. As my newspaper cuts its budget for arts coverage, I do whatever I can to offer creative alternatives. In the mean time, I expand what I write elsewhere, even if that means creating competing news sources. Some of that is simply the life of a freelancer, but most of it is that the commitment to arts journalism isn't just about what is best for the newspaper. It's about what is best for the community in which I live.

In many of the issues that art.rox is exploring, I believe we'll find shades of differences in how freelancers and staffers respond to different issues. It will certainly make for an enriching discussion.

March 14, 2007 9:16 AM | | Comments (0)

Seems the rest of the industry is finally catching up to us. USA Today reports that competition to "own" a niche in the journalism marketplace is forcing some reporters, like ABC's Bob Woodruff, take up a cause. Some feel this is a healthy sign of journalism's future. Others worry.

The "social journalism" that made Oprah Winfrey an international fairy godmother is the new rage in network and cable news, and it's expanding to other media. Increasingly, journalists and talk-show hosts want to "own" a niche issue or problem, find ways to solve it and be associated with making this world a better place, as Winfrey has done with obesity, literacy and, most recently, education by founding a girls school in South Africa.

Experts say the competitive landscape, the need to be different and to keep eyeballs returning, is driving this trend, along with a genuine desire from some anchors and reporters to do good.

In the process, some are becoming famous. And they're allowing news organizations to break away from the pack, as old and new media fight for viewers and readers, says Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

"News outlets have found they can create more momentum and more identity by creating franchise brands around issues or around a point of view," he says.

(Thanks to Peter Johnson of USA Today)

March 14, 2007 6:06 AM | | Comments (0)

Many people take dim view of news media
A report points to 'shrinking ambitions' in news organizations but not a fade toward irrelevancy.

"The news media face a challenging, uncertain future as the public's confidence in them continues to slip, according to a sweeping study to be released today.

"News organizations have entered a 'new era of shrinking ambitions,' according to the report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a Washington-based research group. 'In a sense, all news organizations are becoming more niche players, basing their appeal less on how they cover the news and more on what they cover.'

"Yet media outlets have not adequately thought through this transition, said Tom Rosenstiel, the project's director.

"'If this means simply doing less, the public will suffer," he added. "News organizations have to become smarter and more authoritative in certain areas, even as they pull back in others. And I suspect that means more than just being more local.'"

(Thanks to Hal Boedeker, TV critic for the Orlando Sentinel)

March 13, 2007 6:06 AM | | Comments (0)

No doubt many Art.Rox readers are already familiar with this tip page from the Poynter Institute's website featuring helpful comments on how reporters and editors can take small steps to improve arts journalism.

Notice that most have to do with how to change the way people think and talk about the arts, and the words used when people are talking about the arts, such as "culture" and "pop." I think the discussion is helpful in two ways: It points to the future and it points out some of the old-fashioned thinking we face in newsroom in the Outback. So in case you did miss (it's from 2003), here it is again.

The participants were: Diane Bacha, assistant managing editor of arts and entertainment at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Steven Winn, art and culture critic of the San Francisco Chronicle; and Christopher Blank, performing arts writer for the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Highlights
Bacha: "In most newsrooms, the word 'art' scares people. Let's face it, it just does not have enough Y chromosomes for the average newsroom crowd. It is seen as a nice but non-essential part of the daily news report. The word 'culture' is not far behind, but it's OK if you put the word 'pop' in front of it. 'Culture' is elitist. 'Pop' is fizzy and fun and it means you are OK if you watch a lot of TV. We can talk about why it has gotten that way, and what we've done to contribute to this perception. But let's not. Let's talk instead about how old-fashioned this point of view is, and how we can grab a lot of attention with arts and culture stories if we pay enough attention."

Winn: "The risk of depth is tunnel vision. Over the years, I felt a kind of creeping alienation. No one but a critic attends the theater 150 times a year. I was becoming, gradually and inexorably, self referential. I wrote about theater in terms of other theater, because that was what I was living. Real people, which is to say readers, experience the arts in an altogether different way. They go to movies, read books, visit art museums, go to work and the beach as well as the theater, argue about politics, listen to the radio, watch television, fall in love, love (or despise) ballet. I wanted to write about that, about the way that the arts and the world we live in every day are woven together in intricate, overlapping ways. I wanted to write critically and analytically about those things without being dutybound to review, rank, and finely calibrate my responses to a series of stage productions."

Blank: "1. Try fanaticism for a change. ... Sports writers want you to feel that every game is earth-shatteringly IMPORTANT. I feel this way about the arts in my community. I'm not saying we should treat the subject matter with a velvet glove or go easy on a bad play. But there's a subtle difference in a review that calls a bad show an affront to all art and a review that chalks it up as a loss for the team."

2. "Expand the repertoire. ... Performing arts writers -- me included -- easily get bogged down in a routine of reviewing and previewing traditional art forms. However, more people are experiencing a wide variety of arts that pass under the radar, such as through church concerts or at sporting events. ... Find stories that tell people, 'Hey, you may not know it, but the thing you've been watching is art.'"

3. Speak the gospel, hear the gospel. Being receptive to feedback and open to change is essential. Arts reporters should adapt to the tastes of the community, not the other way around. ... For arts groups, constant shapeshifting is a crucial means for survival. Applying it to arts coverage isn't far behind."

March 12, 2007 6:06 AM | | Comments (0)

Critical ethics?
A Seattle art critic accused of trading reviews for art: An ethics lesson for all of us, and a sign of a greater need for transparency, accountability and trust -- even from critics.

"In the last 20 years, daily-newspaper editors have lost interest in critical reviews, asking writers for more trend pieces, profiles, and investigative reports. Last year, when [Matthew] Kangas wrote 20 reviews of regional exhibitions in the Seattle Times, the staff art critic Sheila Farr wrote only five, according to the paper's online archives--she wrote other kinds of stories, such as a three-day series about Dale Chihuly, which she worked on with another reporter and a team of researchers. Given this disparity, Kangas can be seen as a friend to the art community in Seattle.

"The emphasis on reporting instead of criticism, or in addition to criticism, has dragged critics into the same spotlight reporters work under, where lapses of judgment are firing offenses. Today, being embedded is looked at with suspicion, and being detached is more in vogue. Each position certainly has its merits. But the industry is still struggling to combine the two approaches in a way that keeps critics passionate, engaged, and knowledgeable, without allowing their biases to be, or to appear to be, personal or financial.
(Thanks to Jen Graves of the Seattle Stranger)

March 9, 2007 8:42 AM | | Comments (0)

Throughout the NEA Institute, we constantly heard how theater is an ecosystem, not a hierarchy.

I'm coming to believe the same of newspapers, especially when it comes to arts coverage. In Lansing for the past week and a half, arts coverage has focused on the murder of Robert Busby, a beloved artist, businessman, and community leader. His memorial service this past Tuesday drew more than 1,100 people on a cold afternoon in the middle of a workday.

The coverage of the events from the finding of his body to his memorial was truly outstanding. At the daily paper, there were numerous stories (more than 35 in a 7-day period) written from several different departments--feature stories, crime, entertainment, columnists, and the editorial page. There were videos posted on the Website and several mid-day updates each day. Nearly every single story had reader response to it. In letters to the editor, readers described the coverage as giving them solace.

Most importantly, the coverage focused on Busby himself, with only minimal coverage being given to his killer. Instead, the newspaper covered his death, the impact he had on the community, and what his loss is going to mean to Old Town, to jazz musicians, to visual artists, and to theaters. The coverage showed a deep understanding of the community and why this quiet man who was rarely in the headlines before his death meant so much to so many people.

Eight days after his death, the weekly newspaper that used to have its office two doors down from Robert's apartment and gallery came out with its dedication to him. His picture adorned their front cover and I picked it up wondering what more could possibly be written that hadn't already been said. What I found was coverage of a different sort. They printed a lengthy biography of the man, a historical retrospective on his life. They emphasized his role as an artist and patron of the arts.

Yes, the Lansing State Journal and the Pulse are competitors, but in this case, both of them had something valuable to contribute to the biggest and most heart-rending arts story of the year in Lansing. The community would have been worse off without either of them.

March 8, 2007 12:28 PM | | Comments (0)

Art and the Patriot Act collide
"The legal battle with the Department of Justice that artist Steve Kurtz is embroiled in has implications not only for artists but, by extension, for anyone engaged in outside-the-box public discourse that challenges established convention. ... In May 2004, Kurtz's wife died in their Buffalo home. Police who responded to his 911 call noticed scientific materials, including petri dishes, in the house and notified the FBI, who confiscated Kurtz's computer, books and components of CAE projects under the Patriot Act. Analysis showed that his wife died of natural causes, and that the microorganisms impounded were harmless and readily available from biological supply houses. Lacking bioterrorism evidence, the FBI charged Kurtz with mail fraud and wire fraud -- based on his alleged receipt of the bacteria from University of Pittsburgh scientist Robert Ferrell -- and each of them faces a possible 20-year sentence."
(Thanks to Mary Thomas of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

What an individual can mean to a community
The philanthropist, politician and newspaper publisher of the Riverton Ranger in Wyoming, Bob Peck, is honored by educators, state legislators and journalists.
(Thanks to Joan Barron of the Star-Tribune in Casper, Wyoming)

Finding the personalities in a national celebration
"James Nowlan had never played the bagpipes or any other instrument when he joined the Territorial Irish Army, which is similar to the National Guard in the United States. He was 16 when he joined -- not unusual then for a lad from rural Ireland -- and by the time he turned 18, he was skilled enough to play at a wedding or funeral. By age 19, he was good enough to be appointed as pipe major of the Irish Army Pipe Band. Now 76, the Lancaster resident is one of the region's most renowned pipers and is the founder and pipe major of the General Michael Collins Memorial Pipe Band. ... For years, Nowlan has been a star in the annual Lexington St. Patrick's Day parade."
(Thanks to Margaret Buranen of the Lexington Herald-Leader)

New conductor to take orchestra into the future
"Andreas Delfs, conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, will become principal conductor of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra next season. He takes over a program that has been without a permanent conductor since Samuel Wong stepped down two years ago. Delfs will take the podium for half of the Halekulani Masterworks series this fall. Delfs is known for pulling orchestras into the technological present and performing future, for example, by placing the Milwaukee symphony on iTunes."
(Thanks to Burl Burlingame of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin)

March 8, 2007 7:58 AM | | Comments (0)

Readers of Art.Rox may know about this already. Just in case, here's the website for the University of Southern California's new 10-month specialized masters program for mid-career journalists. The Annenberg School is one of the best, so check it out.

March 7, 2007 9:43 AM | | Comments (0)

USA Today launched a newly designed website over the weekend. The overarching aim of the site, according to this report from Editor & Publisher, is to "create a community around the news."

"Using the new features, users can see other news sources directly on the USA Today site; see others readers' reactions to stories; recommend content and comments to each other; interact using comments and in public forums, upload digital photographs to the site; write arts and culture reviews of their own; and interact more with the newspaper's staff."

My newspaper is attempting something similar with its website. So I feel I can contribute at least one constructive comment about this trends in newspapering: This new paradigm of "creating a community around the news" can be good for arts journalists or bad -- to a large degree, it's up to us.

Here's what I mean. Notice the report mentions that readers can "write arts and culture reviews of their own." At a large newspaper like USA Today, where reader demand drives the need for a staffer to writer music and CD reviews, the raison d'etre of the critic is likely unchallenged (we hope, anyway).

However, at a small newspaper, like mine, where arts coverage, especially criticism, is already on the margins, if not marginalized, this new "creating a community around the news" paradigm could ultimately pose some questions. One, for instance, I can easily imagine (in the voice of management): "What are you doing that I can't get for free from our readers?"

This is not to disparage management, mind you.

I actually think this trend can be a sign of positive change, because this newfound interest by the newspaper industry in engaging with readers has been what arts critics have been doing for a long time. Moreover, I think criticism and arts journalism can only improve if we're forced to interact with readers more, to serve as moderators, so to speak, of the arts and culture debate taking place in most cities.

For too long critics have been seen as sitting atop an Ivory Tower. This of course is bosh for most of us. But there are historical grounds for that perception. Perhaps a renewed campaign of engagement can serve two purposes: rebuilding the critic's troubled relationship with his readers and reminding management of the reason for hiring the critic in the first place.

March 7, 2007 9:32 AM | | Comments (1)

Something more than stand-up
The one-man show "The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron?" manages to reach beyond the superficiality of stand-up with its storytelling. It's a show that riffs on female logic and macho instincts.
(Thanks to Michael Morain of the Des Moines Register)

Quick writing
Also from Des Moines, a group has formed the 711 Theater Project, an endeavor in which playwrights have seven days to write and produce an 11-minute play. It's part of a trend where more and more groups are holding what amounts to speedwrighting contests.
(Thanks again to Michael Morain of the Des Moines Register)

She swashes buckles with the best of them
It's not surprising that the Society of American Fight Directors has given a woman status as a Fight Master. What is surprising is that it took them until 2006 and they have only one.
(Thanks to Jackie Demaline of the Cincinnati Enquirer)

Fringe depends on where you are
When discussing the Fringe Festival in Cincinnati, the artistic director shows that he understands cultural relativism, "We are the fringe of Cincinnati arts. That's our definition. It's different for every city."
(Thanks to Jackie Demaline of the Cincinnati Enquirer)

Fairies and food fights
Kalamazoo artists plan to make mischief with a performance that combines fairy tales and food fights. The artists? The Ballet Arts Ensemble and the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. They've definitely found a way to present something different to draw new audiences.
(Thanks to Nicolas Stephenson of Kalamazoo Gazette)

March 6, 2007 10:53 AM | | Comments (0)

A concept that never really got fleshed out, but that has no less left an impression on me from the 2005 NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music was that of ethnography.

Why not, as a critic of classical music, write not about the concert but the people attending the concert? Why not democratize the experience, diversify the voices of assessment and enrich the chatter?

That's what Jeffrey Day did the other day when he wrote this article for The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C.

Day, the arts writer for the newspaper, demontrates a kind of cultural journalism that I'm currently obsessed with -- in which the dominant paradigm is inquiry, not evaluation, though it may be an inquiry that leads to evaluation.

By asking what's important to people about the arts, the cultural journalist is far better able to know how to relate what is critical to his readers.

A more sophisticated form of Day's article might be inviting three or four distinct personalities to a play or art exhibit, taking them to coffee and recording a discussion of the experience for print, audio or webcast.

The critic in this case acts more as moderator than critic, but isn't our goal in telling people what we think to shape and influence discussion? Like a moderator?

March 6, 2007 1:31 AM | | Comments (0)

Anna Nicole isn't alone
"A lawyer for James Brown's partner says an agreement has been reached over obtaining DNA samples from the late soul singer's body. Brown's trustees wanted DNA samples to help sort out several paternity claims made against the singer since he died two months ago."
(Thanks to The State, the daily of Columbia, S.C.)

Remembering a local legend
"[Lewis Anderson] Muse was black, the rest of the Tides were white. Although he appeared with the Tides only a few times -- never on television -- Muse was a popular entertainer who sang, played the ukulele, danced and told tall tales for two generations of fans of all colors. His mix of blues, country and pop standards made him a radio and festival favorite for six decades. This year marks the 25th anniversary of his death, but his voice and music can still be heard on CD and on the Internet."
(Thanks to Ralph Berrier Jr. of the Roanoke Times)

The (literally) crumbling state of arts education
"The Cleveland School of the Arts needs help from Halle Berry, Paul Newman and, especially, you. After all, the kids there are among the best and most talented attending the city's public schools. I can't think of a reason anyone would deny them firstrate classrooms and performance spaces. Every morning, some 630 students journey from every corner of the city to enter a 97-year-old building that is falling down around them. Literally. It's one of the worst school buildings in the region."
(Thanks to Sam Fulwood, columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Work by former columnist for altweekly made into major play
"'Your Negro Tour Guide,' the one-woman play adapted from the personal archives of University of Cincinnati professor and former CityBeat columnist, Kathy Y. Wilson, is scheduled to be performed Monday night at Playhouse in the Park. The play is adapted from her anthology, 'Your Negro Tour Guide: Truths in Black and White,' a collection of columns tackling the issues of race, class and gender in and beyond Cincinnati."
(Thanks to Ryan McLendon of the University of Cincinnati student newspaper The News Record)

March 5, 2007 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)

At the NEA Arts Journalism Institute, we kept hearing how the future for critics is brighter than we think. Given the masses of information people are forced to consume everyday, someone has to sort it all out, make sense it all, discern what's important. In others, use his or her analytical powers to provide greater meaning beyond the news.

That's just the kind of thing Mitchell Stephens talked about in his latest piece for the Columbia Journalism Review.

A historian of American journalism at New York University, Stephens addresses the threat to traditional newsgathering posed by emerging technologies by suggesting a strategy that we can do even now: by giving readers more than just the news.

As Stephens writes:

"The extra value our quality news organizations can and must regularly add is analysis: thoughtful, incisive attempts to divine the significance of events -- insights, not just information [my bold]. What is required -- if journalism is to move beyond selling cheap, widely available, staler-than-your-muffin news -- is, to choose a not very journalistic-sounding word, wisdom.

"Here's more historical precedent: In the days when dailies monopolized breaking news, slower journals -- weeklies like The Nation, The New Republic, Time -- stepped back from breaking news and sold smart analysis. Now it is the dailies, and even the evening news shows, that are slow. Now it is time for them to take that step back."

Elsewhere, Stephens writes of an American newspaper committed to deploying this strategy: The Times Herald-Record, in Middletown, N.Y.

Stephens continues:

"No one is suggesting that reporters pontificate, spout, hazard a guess, or 'tell' when it is indeed 'too soon to tell.' No one is suggesting that they indulge in unsupported, shoot-from-the-hip tirades.

"'It's not like talk radio,' explains one of the champions of analytic journalism [my bold], Mike Levine, executive editor of the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, New York. But it's not traditional American journalism either.

"Levine, a former columnist, had noticed that the analyses reporters unburdened themselves of in conversations in the newsroom were often much more interesting than what ended up in the paper. Some of that conversation is mere loose talk and speculation, of course. Yet 'walk into any newsroom in America,' Levine says, 'turn the reporters upside down, and a hundred stories will come falling out. They know so much about the communities they cover, but they don't get it in the newspaper.'"

I can't overemphasize the importance of this article to our jobs as arts journalists. If we are to matter in the future, we have to make the case for more analytical journalism. We have to make the case for what Joe Nickell, our co-host here at Art.Rox, calls "critical relativism."

Joe just wrote a piece for the Montana Journalism Review, outlining with brilliant clarity the meaning and significance of this concept. He'll likely post something on the article soon.

March 5, 2007 1:01 AM | | Comments (0)

The editor of the Washington Post, Len Downie, sent a email to his newsroom Wednesday demanding shorter inch-counts. "Writers need to take responsibility for earning every inch of their stories," the memo says. The entire memo is reproduced by the Washingtonian website. Is this smart editing or is this yet another example of the written word aping other forms of media? If it's the latter, why bother? Why would people turn to a newspaper for short writing when they can more easily go elsewhere? Such as Yahoo's use of Reuters and AP in little nuggets of information. Aren't we writing ourselves out a of job? Shouldn't newspaper write longer in order to provide greater, more analytical, understanding?

And last question: Why do news organizations strive to be like their competitors? Shouldn't they be doing everything possible to not be like them? Have we ever heard of branding?

See related post: "Bad Arts Writing: Part 2."

March 2, 2007 9:57 AM | | Comments (1)

In one of the NEA Arts Journalism Insitute sessions, Ben Cameron expounded on how the original vision for theater non-profits is that shows would begin on Broadway and then make their way out to the non-profits. Instead, the opposite has happened. Shows are now being created in regional theaters and then make their way to Broadway, a place where only the safe, money-makers appear.

So it's not too surprising that people who for many years made their careers in New York are heading back to their hometowns. Mark Ruhala, an artist who choreographed some of NEA Chairman Dan Gioia's poetry has returned to his hometown where he is bringing experimental dance and minimalist theater to young people. This weekend they open the critically acclaimed Once On This Island, a musical the town has yet to see.

Earlier this week, the composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty hosted a benefit for Katrina victims and the documentary "After the Storm," a film version about how Katrina survivors produced their musical one year after the hurricane:

After The Storm is a non-profit Film/Theater project designed to bring hope and financial aid to children and young adults of New Orleans. A feature documentary follows a company of young, non-professional actors from New Orleans as they stage a musical play one year after the levees broke and changed their lives. The film will then be used as a springboard to launch a nationwide program encouraging high school drama clubs and community theaters to raise money for the established 501(c)3. All proceeds from both the play and the film will go to After The Storm Foundation.

March 2, 2007 8:05 AM | | Comments (0)

I should preface this by saying that we all make mistakes. Certainly, given the pressures of space and time, we have all at one point or another chosen the road more frequently traveled. And I don't single out the errors of this particular journalist for personal reasons.

However, a review Sunday in the Charleston Post and Courier on a performance by the Charleston Symphony Orchestra exemplifies why I believe reviewing as it is popularly understood to mean has a problematic future in the newsroom.

The review, as it is put into practice here, follows the tenets of journalism: what happened, where did it happen, who did it and was it good. It is a thumbs-up/thumbs-down approach that falls in line with the logic of consumer journalism -- give the reader value by telling the reader what's worth spending money on.

With this ideology in mind, the critic does not provide context, meaning, observation beyond the event, commentary or insight -- all the things that would give reviews a raison d'etre both for those who did not attend the concert and for those who did.

This is the kind of thing that Mitchell Stephens talks about in his brilliant and convincing article in the latest issue of the Columbia Journalism Review.

"The extra value our quality news organizations can and must regularly add is analysis: thoughtful, incisive attempts to divine the significance of events -- insights, not just information [my bold]. What is required -- if journalism is to move beyond selling cheap, widely available, staler-than-your-muffin news -- is, to choose a not very journalistic-sounding word, wisdom.

"Here's more historical precedent: In the days when dailies monopolized breaking news, slower journals -- weeklies like The Nation, The New Republic, Time -- stepped back from breaking news and sold smart analysis. Now it is the dailies, and even the evening news shows, that are slow. Now it is time for them to take that step back."

I can't add much to Stephens' article, because it is so comprehensive and so insighful. However, what I will say is that the more we write in the fashion exercised by the Charleston writer, the more we are undermining our own jobs.

That's because thumbs-up/thumbs-down reviews can be done so much better in venues other than newspapers. Yahoo!, for instance. Perhaps Yahoo! can't connect on a local level, but consider how the Wikipedia model seems to be giving the newspaper industry cause to consider the viability of reader-generated reviews.

Why not? All the newsroom staffers are doing is going to concerts and saying who, when, where and if it was good, right? Why pay them a salary and benefits when we can get the same product for free and get readers to buy into publications, which are "no longer in the newspaper business, but in the information business."

Thus Spake Management . . .

March 2, 2007 1:01 AM | | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (1)

Lansing, Michigan is still reeling from the death of aman whom everyone knew even though he was rarely in the headlines. After all, he was an arts patron and coverage is usually given to the performer. Yet articles like this show the difference that one person can make to the arts and cultural life of a community.

I would wish for every community that they could have a General Motors retiree who will inspire so many people and organizations. He made it possible for Lansing to have intimate jazz, black box theater, and visual art exhibits of new artists.

A Lansing State Journal columnist wrote today about the impact Busby had on his son--which was the same impact he had on a lot of people:

Busby's verdict, when it came, was not the gushing approval of a flatterer, but the knowledgeable, perceptive encouragement of a fellow artist, delivered with characteristic Busby understatement.

If my son didn't feel like a real artist before his encounter with Busby, I know he did so afterward. And I know that some day he'll recognize the experience for what it was: a boost upward in his life's trajectory.


Would that all critics could have the same praise said of them at least once in their careers.

And for people who doubt the power that art has in a community, I would invite them to see the reaction that has taken place in this community over the murder of this arts patron: neighboring businesses closed their doors so they could mourn and comfort each other, 250 people turned out for a candlelight vigil with only a few hours notice, the mayor proposed renaming a new bridge in Old Town after Busby, every online article about him has comments, and even non-arts people are mourning his loss.

Art matters. People doing art matters.

March 1, 2007 11:21 AM | | Comments (0)

Is Welser-Most headed home?
"The announcement [last week] that Ioan Holender will step down as head of the Vienna State Opera in 2010 has revved the rumor mill about his successor. The two earliest, and likeliest, names being tossed in the air are Franz Welser-Most, the Austrian music director of the Cleveland Orchestra, and Neil Shicoff, the American tenor who appears often at the Staatsoper, as the opera house is called."
(Thanks to Donald Rosenberg, classical music critic of the Cleveland Plain Dealer)

Norman Rockwell goes to Roanoke
"The Art Museum of Western Virginia took the wraps off a whole bin full of previously undisclosed pictures and paintings Monday, including one by someone almost everyone has heard of: Norman Rockwell. The famed illustrator, who painted hundreds of covers for the Saturday Evening Post, has become increasingly prized by serious art collectors in recent years. The humorous, tables-turning "Framed," which depicts museum portraits gazing at an unsuspecting museum worker, is one of several Rockwell did on museum subjects. It was purchased for the museum, apparently in 2002, by the Horace G. Fralin Charitable Trust. The trust has bought dozens of paintings for the museum in recent years."
(Thanks to Kevin Kittredge, arts reporter for the Roanoke Times and a 2006 fellow of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music)

Critic bemoans samey season of orchestral music in Dallas
"One doesn't want to belabor political correctness, but in a city that's a gateway to and from Latin America, shouldn't the DSO feel a little guilty about not programming a single composer from south of the Rio Grande? And can it really be going a whole season without a single work composed by a woman?"
(Thanks to Scott Cantrell, classical music critic for the Dallas Morning News)

Still no laurels for Chicks in the South
"Yes, the Dixie Chicks got a big publicity boost and a show of support from their peers when they picked up five Grammys this month, but their controversial Bush-bashing remarks in 2003 still leave them on the outs when it comes to radio airplay. It's a kind of perpetual banishment that leaves Chicks fans questioning the consequences of free speech, although at least one fan doesn't place the blame on radio stations. "It's not the radio stations. It's the listeners. If they (stations) play the Dixie Chicks they get all these people who complain. It's just crazy," says veterinary pathologist and Chicks fan Dr. Kelly Boyd. Boyd said the pressure tactics are like a form of domestic terrorism. "They're terrorizing these people for exercising their freedom of speech -- all in the name of patriotism. If you're patriotic, you should be able to say anything you want."
(Thanks to Michael Lollar of the Memphis Commercial Appeal)

Bart Cook, right-hand-man to Jerome Robbins, speaks freely
"Robbins died in 1998, and Cook -- in Houston last week to set The Concert at Houston Ballet -- still bristles when he remembers Robbins' studio methods. 'Many roles were done on me and given to other men, which was not very nice," Cook said. "He was a complicated man. ... He could be explosive and make people cry.'"
(Thanks to Molly Glentzer of the Houston Chronicle)

March 1, 2007 1:01 AM | | Comments (0)

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