Recently in Uncategorized Category

Picking up an Instrument Again

It seems to be a growing trend. Community bands are reaching out to adults who haven't played their instruments in years. Whether it is a senior band or one for all ages, adults are rediscovering their love for instrumental music.

(Thanks to John Sinkevics of The Grand Rapids Press)

Ballet as self-help?

If you're not the type to buy self-help books, watch daytime talk shows, or attend support groups, perhaps you'd like to indulge in the self-help genre by attending an original children's ballet. A ballet company in Holland, Michigan (a small Dutch town on the western coast where the annual Tulip Festival is held) is putting on an original ballet based on Max Lucado's book, You Are Special.

(Thanks to Sue Merrell of The Grand Rapids Press)

Can Artists Do Anything About Global Warming?

One of the crucial roles artists play in our society is in giving us a language to talk about important, societal issues. They may not be the experts, but they can capture the emotion and help clarify issues for us. The University of Wisconsin-Madison and the North Lakeland Discovery Center has created a traveling exhibit of 20 artists addressing climate change in Wisconsin and Northern Michigan.

(Thanks to The Daily Press in Ashland, Wisconsin)

Telling a Native American Family's Story

A Native American woman wrote a play based on stories her mother told her of Native Americans whom the government placed into residential schools. A staged reading of it is being directed by her sister and being performed in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It handles pretty intense material.

(Thanks to The Green Bay Press-Gazette)

Collaborative Composing--in Middle School

A grant has brought a composer into the middle school where he is helping seventh graders to compose a symphony which they will soon perform in concert. He had each student compose a three to five note melody for their instrument. ""He names the movements after what the music sounds like," said (band instructor Connie) Root. The four movements are "Brett's Solumn Vow" by Brett Ducharme, "Martha's Dorian Dance" by Martha Muchlinski, "Jake's Lament" by Jake Blair and "Kaitlyn's Canzona" by Kaitlyn Young. Together they make up the composition "Motive Alliance.""

(Thanks to Hudson Star Observer)

Excited about Small-Town Theater

Geri Parlin's column is fun to read because of the genuine excitement about what is happening in the city's theater community. There is also a strong identification with the community and what speaks to its residents. For her, it's the upcoming summer production ofMusic Man, a musical that deals with small-town concerns.

(Thanks to Geri Parlin of La Crosse Tribune)

New Director Gets Creative with Programming

How do you keep attendance up at performing arts venues? The new director of Madison, Wisconsin's Overture Center has searched for several answers that he'll be trying out in the upcoming season. Some of it includes dropping classical performances in favor of others in the community who are doing them as well as changing pricing structures.

(Thanks to Jacob Stockinger of The Capital Times)

It's not easy...

...being a 60-something teenager. Especially not if your family is far more screwed up than you are. This delightful review in a weekly newspaper proves their having fun with theater in Nebraska.

(Thanks to Steve Eskew of The Reader)

Collaborating for Art

"Two of downtown Omaha's independent spirits again are coming together in the name of art. As part of the Bluebarn Theatre's upcoming production of Six Degrees of Separation, the Bemis Center will present, in tandem, a show of contemporary portraiture in the theater's art space called Separate Selves. Bemis Curator and Assistant Director Jeremy Stern brought together regional and international artists for the show; through many approaches they artfully explore the idea of self. Artists are based in New York, Omaha and from countries around the world. The shows open April 19 and offer the perfect opportunity to get a double dose of creativity in one night. "

(Thanks to Sarah Baker of The Reader)

May 17, 2007 1:17 PM |

I tend to follow news of the East Lansing Arts Festival pretty closely. Not only is it one of the city's major events of the year, drawing 70,000 people during the weekend, but I also exhibit at the Michigan State University Arts and Crafts Show that takes place concurrently across the street. In fact, until I became an exhibitor, I had no idea that they were technically two separate shows--nor do most people who come down.

One of the fascinating things about the show (other than that they decided to go electronic for all their applications--a huge convenience for most artists), is that they've created an Emerging Artists Exhibit. For a show that receives 515 applications from around the country and accepts only 225 artists, it can be difficult for young artists to be accepted. The high entry fee can also be a barrier to a prestigious, juried show.

Emerging artists are identified as students currently in an arts program at a university or those who have graduated from one in the past two years. It's a great way to encourage artists to pursue their art in a way that is often considered financially risky.

May 17, 2007 7:11 AM |

The trend for shorter and tighter seems to be everywhere.

I've heard many people complain whenever a show goes over 90 minutes. I've sort of scratched my head over that in the past. If the show is good, I'll gladly sit for three hours--especially since most theaters still have intermissions for longer shows. At the point I've made the effort to come to see a show, I want to be entertained and I'm willing to sit for however long it takes to tell the story (provided the show is compelling).

Yet, many audiences don't feel that way. I was recently talking to a director who had abridged George Bernard Shaw's play St. Joan. He rightly pointed out that few people today would sit through the three and a half hour version unless you had star-quality actors. Even with celebrity-name actors the longer shows can be a hard sell.

It's a shame, really. When we cut things down to the bare minimum we often sacrifice the subtelty and complexity. We feed into the movement toward a soundbite society that is incapable of layered decision making and limited in its critical thinking.

May 14, 2007 5:06 PM |

American Idol at the high school level

I love having multiple critics inthe same town--it's always interesting to read multiple takes on the same show. While I often find myself in agreement with my fellow critics, I sometimes scratch my head and wonder whether we saw the same show. Such as:Â My take on Music from a Sparkling Planet. My colleague's take on Music from a Sparkling Planet. Surprisingly, the critic from Detroit made it out to the small Lansing suburb and also reviewed it.

May 11, 2007 11:04 AM |

Excellent, excellent post, Jennifer. It really resonates with me. I started to respond in the comments section but realized my comment was getting too long. So I decided to make a post out of it. Perhaps you have started a string of posts, so relevant to our times is the subject.

I have felt for some time that there is an "ageist" mentally at work in arts philanthropy circles. This mentality is also at work in many of the newsrooms we work in or work with.

Case in point is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's recent decision to separate its web product from its print product, the former being a place for breaking news and pop culture-oriented items aimed at a younger generation of readers and the latter being for longer, investigative and narrative pieces aimed at an older, more educated generation.

What's implicit in this calculus is that young people aren't interested in in-depth, investigative and narrative pieces. Why? Because the conventional wisdom says that kids these days are not interested in that kind of stuff. They want pop and glitz and whiz-bang news.

Which is true, no doubt. But I grew up in the Me-Decade, when video killed the radio star. In the 1980s. I watched loads of TV, consumed every middle-market movie you can think of and never read a newspaper until I was in college. Then I discovered a world that was far more complex and varied and colorful and interesting than the surface-level media I had grown up with. There was suddenly a world of ideas in publications like the New York Times, Harper's, the Atlantic Monthly and the New York Review of Books. Even the Buffalo News, the dominant newspaper of my childhood, had a robust critical voice (back then, anyway) that was compelling.

Most of all, there was good writing, stuff you really wanted to read.

I am a fan of YouTube, MySpace, multimedia and so on. But that cannot and will never replace the power of language and the power of ideas and good storytelling. I think its a good thing the AJC is recognizing different audiences with different needs, but I think it also should track its readers as it implements these changes. The notion that only older readers will be interested in its print product is a misconception. A print product that's well-written (and timely, interesting, exhaustively reported etc.) will always be relevant.

There's the rub, however: well-written. As we all know, there are bright spots of good writing in newspapers, some in unexpected places. But there's also a dearth of good writing (to be sure, I include myself in this white-wash statement), and there will only be more of it as reporters and editors are asked to do more and more with fewer resources and less time.

Newspapers need to recognize the value of good writing and good writers as they transform themselves for the future. Magazines like the New Yorker, GQ and Vanity Fair haven't lasted this long because they had great pictures (though that's a large part of it). They have survived because of their commitment to, and willingness to pay for, good writers.

May 8, 2007 9:45 AM |

Michael Phillips, the theater critic for the Chicago Tribune, left a lasting impression on me when he noted during the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Los Angeles three months ago that readers will take the time to read long screeds of text on a blog, but if you took the same amount of text, say 75 inches in newspaper-speak, and put it into print, readers would be overwhelmed by the amount of text presented to them.

It was a salient observation because of its context: a discussion of the thumbs-up/thumbs-down approach to criticism. One concern was that writing such reviews would encourage people to read less, to skip the bulk of the review and just scan for the meat of it.

This is, of course, what all newspaper people have been taught to accept at God-given truth for at least two and a half decades (at least since USA Today began publishing): that readers have short attention spans, that to get them to feel that a newspaper is vital to their everyday lives, we need to get them the information as fast as possible.

Of all the nuances of that mind-set, one stands out from the rest: write shorter.

I am actually an advocate of writing shorter. There is value is writing shorter, tighter, with more pop. But I also believe in questioning received truth and one recent study gives me lots of reason for doing so: the Poynter Institute's recent eye-track study.

According to Editor & Publisher, the study, released in March, found that readers tend to read more than three-quarters of a story when its online, as opposed to in print. When I saw this I immediately thought about Michael Phillips' observation: People naturally read differently when the story is online. Moreover, the study found that people don't like to jump pages in print, again underscoring Phillips' assertion.

So what does this say about the industry we're in? Is there a relationship between the rule of thumb dictating that we write short (with less nuance, less context, less attention paid the power of language, less stuff in general) and the fact that newspapers are losing readers?

Moreover, newspapers are getting rid of the very places that you'd expect readers to actually spend time reading. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution just sacked most of its critics, including long-time book review editor Teresa Weaver. The Raleigh News & Observer also axed its book guy, the venerable J. Peder Zane. The San Francisco Chronicle and LA Times shrank their book sections. You can read about some of the changes here in this recent New York Times article.

Michael Connelly, the wonderful mystery writer, wrote in the LA Times that getting rid of book sections (a place where, I might add, the longer writing, say, 800-plus words, has been traditionally tolerated) is a short-term financial solution with long-term detriments: If you get read of reasons for people to spend time reader your product, they will go somewhere else.

"The truth is that the book and newspaper businesses share the same dreadful fear: that people will stop reading. And the fear may be well-founded. Across the country, newspaper circulations are down -- and this is clearly part of the reason for the cuts to book sections. At the same time, the book business increasingly relies on an aging customer base that may not be refueling itself with enough new readers."

Where are they going to go if not to the newspapers? Fake news shows. Yep. As traditional news outlets like newspapers are turning their backs on books, authors are turning to fake news shows to be taken seriously, according to a February Times report by Julie Bosman.

Publishers say that particularly for the last six months, ''The Daily Show'' and its spinoff, ''The Colbert Report,'' which has on similarly wonky authors, like the former White House official David Kuo, have become the most reliable venues for promoting weighty books whose authors would otherwise end up on ''The Early Show'' on CBS looking like they showed up at the wrong party.

Television programs that devote significant attention to serious authors have practically gone the way of the illuminated manuscript, publishers lament. Brian Lamb's long-running ''Booknotes'' program on C-Span was permanently shuttered in 2004. ''The Charlie Rose Show'' doesn't generate as much buzz as it used to or translate into higher sales after an author appearance, some publishers say. And the morning shows seem to prefer a bad Britney to a good book.

So. Is writing shorter driving readers away?

May 4, 2007 9:30 AM |

Art reviews are often compelling not because of the absolute "rightness" of their critique but because they draw out the elements of what makes a show tick.

NEA Fellow Sherry Deatrick and her colleague Rebecca Haithcoat published their summary of the recent Louisville Humana Fest, providing two different perspectives on a variety of shows. It's an approach that sparks interest in many of the offerings while illuminating why one person might hate a show that another loves.

April 12, 2007 10:15 AM |

A review at the Cleveland Plain Dealer had me inspired and almost wishing I had the time to make the five-hour drive to Cleveland to see the performance of St. John Passion as performed by Apollo's Fire.

What's interesting is that this compelling review appears to have been submitted by a reader. It leaves me of a mixed mind because I don't know whether the person writing the review is associated with the company and therefore writing a promotional piece or whether the person was truly an audience member who was so moved that he/she had to share the experience.

Then again, the person who posted it has a Plain Dealer e-mail address--which begs the question why the newspaper would not simply include a byline and make it clear that this was a staff critic or freelancer.

April 6, 2007 9:49 AM |

After spending an hour cruising the sites of various Midwestern newspaper sites, I was starting to think that the only thing happening anywhere was American Idol and Keith Richards snorting his father's ashes--or not snorting them. It's all that was plastered across the arts pages of newspapers large and small and all the articles said basically the same thing.

Now, I realize that Easter weekend is a slow one in the performing arts, but it isn't dead.

So it was with a great deal of relief that I came upon the entertainment page of a newspaper from a small beach town, Grand Haven, Michigan. Yes, they still led with the story of Michigan's American Idol entry and the Keith Richards wire story was included toward the bottom, but for the most part, the page was packed with arts events happening in and around Grand Haven. Sure, the articles are relatively pedestrian and some read like press releases, but at least the coverage is there. That puts them a step ahead of some of their larger siblings in major cities.

April 5, 2007 9:55 AM |

This news item caught my attention in an Ann Arbor newspaper. It talked about the theater students of the University of Michigan was going to be taking a Nilo Cruz play to Prague this summer. However, the two paragraphs are no more than teaser--telling me to hang around for more details.

I have mixed feelings about this. I'm not a regular reader of the Ann Arbor News and am likely to miss the future developments--despite being very interested in learning more details. At the Institute we attended a play by Nilo Cruz, Life is a Dream. I'm now eager to see more of his work--especially some of his work that is not a translation like the Lorca in a Green Dress. Perhaps, though, the teaser is enough that I will keep watching, which is just what the publishers want me to do.

April 3, 2007 7:42 AM |

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