main: August 2009 Archives

Kennedy Center chief Michael Kaiser stopped in Madison earlier this week on his "Arts in Crisis" speaking tour.  (For coverage, see my article for Isthmus, as well as pieces in 77 Square and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel).  Artful Manager blogger Andrew Taylor (director of the UW-Madison's Bolz Center for Arts Administration) moderated the conversation.  For video of Kaiser's Madison appearance, visit WisconsinEye.


While there were many points that could be isolated for further discussion, one crucial theme was the need for arts organization to think big and not play it safe with their programming, despite the dismal economic climate.  "If we all do Phantom of the Opera and Cats, it will be incredibly boring," Kaiser chuckled.


In that vein, I was interested in what an online commenter had to say in response to Lindsay Christians' 77 Square story about the event.  (I encourage you to hop over there and read it, since I don't want to risk breaching online etiquette by re-running the whole thing here.)  This nugget in particular (from the commenter "Woody") leapt out at me:  "Ballet companies have succeeded in teaching their audiences that The Nutcracker is the only ballet in the repertoire and thus that ballet is only meant for kids."


This speaks to a larger issue:  when is something a beloved local tradition and therefore valuable, and when has it become stale?

In Madison, as in countless other cities, you're guaranteed to find at least one Nutcracker each holiday season, as well as a stage version of A Christmas Carol.  You could see this negatively as a tired re-hashing of the same programming each season (though, admittedly, good companies seek ways of freshening up the productions).

On the positive side, you could see this--especially where kids are concerned--as a natural, easy introduction to the world of the performing arts.  One might hope that families that have a good time at Nutcracker or Carol will seek out other performances on the season schedule.


In fact, the 77 Square commenter makes the somewhat contradictory point that Nutcracker winds up subsidizing the rest of a company's season.  So which is it:  Nutcracker drives people away with its mind-numbing repetition, or it's a popular, commercial success that helps companies remain stable enough to offer less familiar fare during the rest of the season?


What's your take?  Is there a place for an annual production of something as a beloved tradition?  Or is that regularity, that "oh-here-it-is-again" quality stultifying?


I come at the arts primarily from a visual-art background, where this issue doesn't crop up in the same way (yes, you have Biennials, Triennials, etc., but you're not literally showing the same art each time).  In the performing arts, do you feel that tradition is in conflict with innovation, or can they co-exist peacefully?

August 27, 2009 2:36 PM |
Pat Conroy's South of Broad is a dud. Which is really, really too bad, too. Fans have been waiting since 1995 for the Lowcountry author to produce a brand-new novel. Here's my review for Atlanta's Creative Loafing.

The title South of Broad, Pat Conroy's first novel in nearly 15 years, refers to the informal name given to a section of Charleston, S.C., almost exclusively inhabited for generations by the city's de facto aristocracy. Living south of Broad is a point of pride for Conroy's hero, Leopold Bloom King. Leo comes from truly common stock. His father is a science teacher; his mom a former nun. Leo, however, sees himself reflected in the neighborhood's gorgeous cityscape. The fact that he's also the ringleader of an audaciously diverse group of friends suggests a kind of redemption for this former seat of the Confederacy. It's a well-intentioned moral that could have been more affecting if South of Broad didn't fall apart at the end.

South of Broad begins with the suicide of Leo's older brother Stephen in the late '60s. The 10-year-old's death nearly destroys Leo. His parents send him to a sanitarium where he experiences psychological horrors only a handful of people might ever understand. Leo manages to befriend other damaged psyches, though, and together they grow up, grow apart, and reunite in an attempt to save one of their own from a dark end. Most of the novel comprises episodes that illustrate and re-illustrate how people of such diverse backgrounds could become lifelong friends. And how friendships like theirs could withstand unfathomable acts of pure evil. Unfortunately, Conroy's band of brothers and sisters proves fairly cumbersome.

[The whole review ...](
August 19, 2009 1:12 PM | | Comments (17)

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