A Lark In The Ark

Outside the realm of classical music, the combination of viola and cello isn't all that common. Fans of Peter Weir's movie Master and Commander will be familiar with Boccherini's "La Musica Notturna Delle Strade di Madrid Op. 6 No. 30". But the violin-cello combo is by and large a relative rarity in pop culture.So it was a delight to hit The Ark, a cozy acoustic music venue in Ann Arbor Michigan, the other evening and hear the seasoned Scottish folk fiddle virtuoso Alasdair Fraser performing with the young, Californian, Julliard-trained cellist … [Read more...]

The Art Of The Press Release

I'm often asked by performers, producers and directors for advice about how to put together and send out a press release -- what information to include, how long the document should run, whether it should be delivered via email and/or in hard copy format etc.I'm always very happy to answer these questions, as to my mind, too many arts organizations end up creating press releases that are, frankly, less than optimal. The majority of these documents, which I imagine take a great deal of time and effort to produce and distribute, simply end up … [Read more...]

Hitsville USA

One of the best things about spending a couple of hours at the Motown Historical Museum in Detroit, Michigan, are the tour guides. They ask questions of the group. They have a great, deadpan sense of humor. They tell the story of the legendary soul music corporation founded in 1959 in the unassuming two-storey residential building in which the museum is housed with relaxed aplomb, using the personal pronouns "we" and "us" instead of "they" and "them" to create a cozy sense of inclusivity and immediacy. And they talk faster than Michael Jackson … [Read more...]

Lecture As Theatre

I don't have many memories of great teachers from my university years. I might have attended some posh institutions of learning during my time as a graduate and undergraduate including King's College Cambridge, The Central School of Speech and Drama and Harvard. The lessons I remember most vividly come from an earlier period -- my primary and secondary education. I don't recall anything much about hearing the likes of Germaine Greer or David Mamet lecture. But I have powerful recollections of a mind-blowing class about "four dimensional worlds" … [Read more...]

On Making A Graceful Exit

Theatre critics and other performing arts community people often wonder how best to make a graceful exit from a venue when you don't like the show and have to run the gauntlet past the director/performers/producer etc on your way out to the sanctity of the nearest bar.Some people I know simply slip out during the applause so that they don't have to risk confronting the artists. Ungracious cowards. Others adopt the "two block rule", smiling benignly when asked what they thought of the show as they head out the door, and only letting out their … [Read more...]

From Washington DC to Camdeboo

When Marin Theatre Company decided to stage Athol Fugard's 1989 play My Children! My Africa! 11 months ago, Barack Obama's ascent to the U.S. presidency was a faraway prospect, not the dizzying reality that it became yesterday when the former Illinois senator was sworn in as this country's 44th president.Experiencing Fugard's drama about a country on the brink of change just a few hours after having stood with hundreds of people on the Berkeley campus watching the inauguration celebrations on a big screen presented a different angle on the … [Read more...]

Hold the Curtain!

A funny thing happened at The Garage, an underground performance space in San Francisco's SOMA district, on Sunday night: The venue's artistic director, Joe Landini, held the curtain for at least15 minutes minutes while several audience members tried to find parking and even went as far as to call one of them on her cellphone to find out her estimated time of arrival."Everyone say, 'Hi Jessica'," Landini instructed, striding up to the front of the room theatrically with his cellphone pressed to his ear. He was going to milk this one for all it … [Read more...]

Dance With A Sense Of Humor

Contemporary dance / physical theatre has a reputation for taking itself a little too seriously. The performers' appearance and movements might look comical to audience members -- it's hard not to laugh at a dance troupe that walks on stage wearing green, furry leotards and phallic head-dresses and then proceeds to do the moonwalk -- but the artists themselves are, all too often, a frightfully earnest bunch, hellbent on their Important Mission of delivering Great Art.So it's always refreshing to come across dance companies who have a bit of a … [Read more...]

Maestro Carneiro

Many people have been worried about how Berkeley Symphony would fare following the announcement a couple of years ago of Kent Nagano's departure from the post of music director after 30 years of dedicated service.Happily, everyone can now cast their concerns aside, as the orchestra finally reached a decision about who will take the Berkeley Symphony to new heights in the years ahead.The brilliant young Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro has just been hired as the orchestra's new MD and I can't think of a better person to pick up and run with … [Read more...]

Brothers In Arms: Les Yeux Noirs Rock Yoshi’s

Les Yeux Noirs, a six-piece, French Gypsy/Yiddish music band fronted by the virtuostic, fiddle-playing brothers Eric and Olivier Slabiak, have visited San Francisco 12 times to date. I'm ashamed to say that I only got around to experiencing their sound for the first time last night.The band has rightfully built up an enormous local following over the years. Yoshi's Jazz Club in San Francisco, which hosted the musicians, was packed for the 8pm set. A smaller, but equally ardent crowd turned up to hear the band play at 10pm. Utterly entranced, … [Read more...]

The Queen Of Musical Parody

The first I heard of Anna Russell, an Anglo-Canadian stage comedienne who -- somewhat improbably by today's standards -- became famous in the mid-20th century for parodying the world of classical music, was during a singing lesson a few weeks ago. I was trying to think of a good idea for a comic song to perform at an upcoming recital, and Russell's name came up in conversation. My normally laid-back singing teacher started doing an impression of her, straightening her back, pulling in her chin and rambling on about Wagner and bagpipes in a … [Read more...]

Raving About Arts Journalism At Berkeley High

I wasn't necessarily expecting the experience to be fun or easy. When the managing editor of The Jacket, Berkeley High School's twice monthly internal newspaper, invited me to speak about arts journalism in front of a bunch of the publication's student editors and reporters, the invitation came with a warning: She told me that the group had never before had a speaker from the arts journalism world and that I shouldn't expect the students to be very enthusiastic about my visit. The last time I'd been invited to talk about journalism in front of … [Read more...]