A Different Perspective

There's nothing quite like being in a show to teach an arts critic about what it's like to be on the other side of the equation.Other than sitting in the middle of an orchestra or standing in the middle of a choir, it's been years since I last trod the boards. I think I performed in my last play (a terrible Wooster and Jeeves comedy during my undergraduate years) in 1996, and last sang on stage when I was about 14 in the role of -- hem hem -- Peter Pan.Now I find myself having to act, dance and sing -- not to mention cope with three costume … [Read more...]

Should Critics Go To Lunch With Artists?

There's an idealistic belief in some parts of the media world (The New York Times, The New Yorker etc.) that critics should stay away from the people they write about. The grounds for this are simple: If a critic gets too chummy with an artist he or she can no longer maintain an "objective" stance while reviewing that person's work.The media landscape has changed so much over the past decade or so that that only very few media outlets can pretend to keep up this charade. With most newspapers and magazines either doing away with their arts … [Read more...]

The Ideal Arts Blog Post

Is there such a thing as an ideal arts blog post? And if so, what would this star of the spangled Internet firmament look like? Would it read like a diary entry or more like a newspaper or magazine article in terms of tone, reported content and style? Would it seek to offer an opinion or would it rather aim for impartiality? Would it be Talk of the Town-like or more along New Yorker feature lines in length?These questions might seem idiotic, but they are worth thinking about for anyone who's in this game.I bring the matter up because even … [Read more...]

Seeing The Roll-Up Piano In A New Light

I always thought roll-up pianos were a bit of a joke. I'd see pictures of them in those in-flight catalogues on domestic airplanes and wonder if anyone bought them, or if the people who bought them would also be likely to buy a set of foldaway, rubber golf clubs.With its limp-looking plastic keyboard and (I supposed) tinny sound, I couldn't imagine anyone, even a child, finding any practical use for a roll-up piano, besides, perhaps, using it to wrap around a bottle of white wine to keep it cool for a picnic.Recently, though, I changed my mind … [Read more...]

Of Cupids And Clowns

It's easy to fall in love with Summer Shapiro. The 24-year-old, San Francisco-based clown not only conspired to make the entire audience fall at her feet during a solo performance of her show In the Boudoir at The Climate Theater on Saturday night. She also managed to get two random male theatergoers to fight with plastic swords, nunchucks and pistols on stage to win her affections -- without doing much more than taking their hands, whispering a few quiet words to them and looking at them intently in the eyes. And all of this while rampaging … [Read more...]

Speaking Shakespeare

I've been engaged in a lively email discussion over the last few days with Robert Hurwitt, theatre critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, about how actors approach Shakespeare's verse.The debate was sparked by our very different reactions to British thespian (and 22-year Royal Shakespeare Company veteran) Roger Rees' Shakespeare-infused solo show, What You Will.Here's an extract of what I wrote about Rees' way of delivering Shakespeare's verse in my review for SF Weekly (which won't come out till next Wednesday):"Rees has been living with … [Read more...]

Daniel Powter: Secret Government Weapon

It's a bad day when, as an arts and culture commentator, you read a headline like: "Bad Day by Daniel Powter has been the most played song in the UK over the past five years. What is it about this track and others that keep popping up everywhere we go?" and realize that you've neither heard of the song nor the artist in your life.My discomfiture was palpable this morning when I came across the aforementioned BBC headline. Not living in the UK is hardly an excuse for not knowing the song. 'Bad Day' did very well in the U.S., soaring to the top … [Read more...]

Andrew BIrd Meets Jeffrey Brown

A dear old friend of mine in London, Matthew, was browsing about on my blog the other day and read my post about tuning into the terrific London Calling radio show on my way home one dark Tuesday night.In the spirit of discovering new things, Matthew sweetly sent me information about two very different artists whose work is intersecting in an unusual way.The first is Andrew Bird, a singer-songwriter and classically-trained violinist, whose spiraling, whimsical songs get under the listener's skin from the very first hearing. Matthew sent me two … [Read more...]

Why Did Kingsely Amis Have It In For Oboists?

I recently re-read Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim. The novel might be more than half a century old (my copy says that it cost "3'6" on the front, referring to the former British currency). But the book still retains its bite, as musty as it is.I've been especially struck by the way Amis describes oboists, being one myself. He reserves a special place of hatred in his heart for this brand of woodwind player. You can almost taste the smirk on the author's face every time a reference to "Johns", the unfortunate oboe-playing character in the story, crops … [Read more...]

To Move Or Not To Move? That Is The Question

One of the most common things for San Francisco-based actors to do if they've had a modicum of success on local stages and don't have any strong ties to The Bay Area, is to decamp for Los Angeles or New York. I've seen this happen time and time again in recent years.Sometimes, an actor's decision to up sticks makes sense. One actor acquaintance of mine, whom I shall call D, recently left for LA. He decided to make the move after ten years of working as an actor in San Francisco. D had a string of successes to his name. This really strong track … [Read more...]

Lost: One Cornett

Just spent a beautiful evening at The American Bach Soloists' Summerfest. It all began at 6pm with ABS principal violone, contrabass and viola da gamba player, Steven Lehning, giving a lighthearted yet informative lecture on early string instruments. Then there was a delicious picnic supper with music provided by the early music ensemble The Whole Noyse. The evening ended with a (mostly) expertly played concert of string quartets by Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn. (I say mostly because the intonation on the opening number, Beethoven's D … [Read more...]

Site Specificity At SF Fringe

The 17th annual San Francisco Fringe Festival kicks off on September 3. Judging by what I've read about the lineup so far, a notable difference between this year's Festival and its previous incarnations seems to be the plethora of site-specific work.In recent years, the festival has offered one or two site specific shows -- I caught one offering in a cramped hotel bedroom last year; another company staged a show on a traveling bus a couple of years earlier.In addition to hosting 30 shows at the festival's headquarters, The Exit Theatreplex, the … [Read more...]