Edinburgh Festival Blues

Over the past few Augusts, I've been lamenting the fact that I'm not in Edinburgh, soaking up the Festival. For several years in the early 2000s, I went every year and hurtled around for the month writing reviews and features for a variety of media organizations from The Economist and The Scotsman to the BBC and The San Francisco Bay Guardian.Today, though, I'm not feeling quite so bad about being on the other side of the world. A friend of mine (and former Edinburgh Festival employee) who lives in the city sent me a hilarious email this … [Read more...]

On Being Accosted At The End Of A Play

Every now and again, a director, producer or cast member of a theatre production which I am reviewing will accost me as I'm exiting the theatre after seeing the show to ask me what I thought of it. This is a tricky situation. Even if I enjoyed myself immensely, it's hard to formulate a response instantly. And if I didn't have a great time, it's even harder to say it straight out to someone who's been working so hard to get the show up and running.I suppose the easiest way to nip the issue in the bud is to use the stock answer: "You can read all … [Read more...]

On Asking The Difficult Questions

Most reporters save the hard questions for the end of an interview. The reason for doing so is simple: It's much easier to get an interview subject to open up to an interviewer on a touchy, difficult or otherwise challenging subject once you've gotten to know them a bit and they feel slightly warm towards you, than if you blurt out a question that might potentially cause offense right at the start. If you get off on the wrong foot at the beginning of an interview, you may cause the subject to clam up entirely and be forced to chat about the … [Read more...]

Macbeth’s Curse On Screen

I've seen a lot of films inspired by Shakespeare's plays in my time, but I've never seen one quite like Never Say Macbeth.This new feature length comedy written by Joe Tyler Gold, directed by C. J Prouty and produced by Tammy Caplan, has as its teaser: "The curse of Macbeth ... It brings fire! Death! Boring first dates!"The premise for the film is a fun one: A nerdy Midwestern high school science teacher travels to Los Angeles to attempt to win back his ex-girlfriend who's fled the relationship and her life as a drama teacher with dreams of … [Read more...]

Not the Outside Lands Festival

I've been careful to avoid Golden Gate Park in San Francisco this weekend. A big part of me wanted to hear Radiohead perform at the first ever Outside Lands Festival in the park. But I've never been one for crowds and the thought of spending a minimum of $85 on a ticket and standing in the fog for hours with 160,000 people was a bit of a turnoff.Instead, I spent Sunday wandering around the East Bay, where the comparatively miniscule, vastly more esoteric and largely free Downtown Berkeley MusicFest was taking place all weekend, also in its … [Read more...]

Chartres Bleu

The Di Rosa Preserve in Napa, California, came into being in the 1960s when art collector and journalist Rene di Rosa purchased and transformed 460 acres of dilapidated vineyard into a working vineyard, a home and space for fueling his passion for Northern Californian art. The Preserve, which I visited for the first time last week, houses approximately 2,200 works of art by more than 900 artists on 217 acres. The collection is extraordinary for its breadth and unorthodoxy.The highlight for me on this first, all too brief trip, was Paul Kos' … [Read more...]

Von Johin’s Virtual Reality

The burgeoning relationship between real-world art-making and its virtual-world counterpart is a constant source of fascination to me.Another interesting development happened this week: A musician made cyber history when a record company offered him a contract based on concerts given in cyberspace.Nashville bluesman Von Johin performs weekly gigs in Second Life, one of the leading virtual worlds. He plays each Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST at his own Second Life venue "in the Yudasin Sim," Johin's Blue Note Club, named after his real-life recording … [Read more...]

Jack-Hammering Sprechgesang

A theatre production I caught last week made extensive use of sprechgesang/sprechstimme (German for "spoken song" or "spoken voice") -- a vocal technique that hovers between speaking and singing.The technique was popular in Expressionist musical compositions of the early 20th century. Arnold Schoenberg's use of sprechstimme in Pierrot Lunaire (1912) is one of the most mesmerizing and famous uses of the technique. Alban Berg also used it for his operas Wozzeck and Lulu.But San Francisco playwright-performer Gary Aylesworth's The Ballad of Edgar … [Read more...]

What Is Fringe?

Fringe season is upon us. But does anyone really know what "fringe" means anymore? A new article by the Daily Telegraph's Rupert Christiansen chafes at the idea that the meaning of the word has gotten completely lost.Christiansen waxes lyrical about the "good old days" when the fringe was truly special:"I first went there as a schoolboy some 40 years ago, when the programme consisted of a narrowly conceived menu of high culture - classical concerts, opera and ballet, serious drama - with a late-night cabaret or bonne bouche, plus a Fringe that … [Read more...]

A Bone To Pick With My Fellow Critics

Sometimes I wonder whether a theater critic's deep desire to find and champion great new dramas by hot emerging local dramatists leads him or her to overhype plays that don't deserve tumultuous praise.This issue has been on my mind quite a bit over the last few days in light of a recent theater experience. On Thursday evening, I went to see Bone To Pick, a world premiere by San Francisco playwright Eugenie Chan. The play is currently being produced as part of a three-play soiree of experimental works by The Cutting Ball at the Exit Theatre, … [Read more...]

Asleep On The Job

I recently complained to a theater friend about a stage director that I've had the opportunity of observing at close range in recent months. I hesitate to call the guy a director, really. He spends entire rehearsals with his eyes stuck to the script and barely looks up to see what's going on on stage. His direction basically revolves around saying things to the cast like "just get into a clump" and, with reference to a video recording he showed the ensemble of another company's production of the same work, "do it like on the video."In response … [Read more...]

A Magician Speaks Out

Magic is an artform about which I know practically nothing. I've enjoyed reading about it in novels like Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil, watching movies about it such as The Illusionist and experiencing magic shows on stage or TV, such as those by Penn and Teller and David Blaine.One of the most lively evenings I've ever spent in the company of a magician was when I caught San Francisco performer Christian Cagigal's solo magic show, The Pandora Experiment at The Exit Theatre a while ago. (The latest iteration of the show is currently … [Read more...]