FlyOver: March 2007 Archives
The Full Monty
Whitney Smith reviews The Full Monty byÂ 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.
Dominic Papatola observes a production that ebbs and flows around the emotional linchpin of a powerful actress.
Jennifer Smith tells how a real-life married couple performing at Madison Reperatory Theatre bring Lanford Wilson's play to life.
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
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.
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.Â Perhaps sometimes we could wish that art didn't need to be so relevant.
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.
Dreams & Blue Eyes
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.
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
Cats Still Worth Seeing
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.
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 whoÂ 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.
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.
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.
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)
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
(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)
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.
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.