Of Matzoh Balls, Lawyers and Fringe Theatre Artists

I'm often amazed at the stealthiness and cutthroat efficiency of dead artists' estates. Even the most little-known entertainers seem to have incredibly efficient spy networks working for them beyond the grave and even elementary schools and fringe theatres aren't safe from the eagle eyes of lawyers.In the latest news from the world of cease and desist orders, Matzoball Entertainment LLC of West Hollywood, California, has sent San Francisco's fringey Exit Theatre a letter banning local playwright-performer Sean Owens (pictured in drag, left) … [Read more...]

A Composer of Contrasts

The San Francisco Symphony is at the end of a ten-day celebration of the music of the Tatar-Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina. Last night's concert, which featured the North American premiere of Gubaidulina's Violin Concerto No. 2 ("In Tempus Praesens"), a work dedicated to and performed by soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter, displayed the composer's skill at building tension through the manipulation of opposing forces in her work.The extraordinary 33-minute piece is structured in a single movement. The composer pits Mutter's ethereal solo violin … [Read more...]

A Debate Sparked By Andorra

Yesterday, I posted a blog entry about the inclusion of what seems to be a corporate presentation in the San Francisco Fringe Festival's lineup this September. Ian Woodall, a British, Andorra-based mountaineer and motivational speaker with quite a controversial background, is coming to this year's festival with his presentation The Tao of Everest -- a talk he gives predominantly to executives at companies like Microsoft and Ernst & Young.With its supposedly impartial lottery system for selecting shows, the openness of the fringe format is … [Read more...]

The San Francisco Fringe Festival Goes Corporate?

I don't remember much about my visit to Andorra, the postage stamp-sized, landlocked principality located in the eastern Pyrenees mountains and bordered by Spain and France. My family drove through the place one day when I was a teenager on our way to somewhere else. We stopped for about an hour. There were a lot of stores selling tax-free gold jewelry. And there was snow on the ground. About Andorra I can't recall much else.This September, though, Bay Area theatre audiences have been told that they will get to sample a taste of Andorrean … [Read more...]

Cecilia, You’re Breaking My Heart

Cecilia Bartoli sang so scrumptiously on Sunday afternoon at Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall that she made me cry.It happened in the middle of a Bellini aria, "L'abbandono." The Italian mezzo massaged so much pain and regret into each bittersweet line that I completely lost control of my emotions. I was speechless afterwards. I sat there frozen in my seat and couldn't even clap. I don't think that's ever happened to me at a solo recital before.The interesting thing about Bartoli is that as much as she's a brilliant technician and a gripping actress … [Read more...]

On Revamping A Classic

One commonly held belief about classic productions of classic works for the stage is that after a while, they start to feel like museum pieces. Sets and costumes look mothballed and acting and choreography appear outmoded. The productions might be sacred cows of sorts, but eventually, most artistic directors recognize that if they don't do something to revamp the work, it will start to resemble a carcass.With this in mind, Helgi Tomasson's decision to create a new production of that most hoary of classical ballets, Swan Lake, for San … [Read more...]

Cultural Diplomacy With The Chieftans

The Irish band The Chieftans performed a rollicking concert in in San Francisco last night. As befits a group that's been around since 1962 and has over the decades performed all over the world, collaborated with all kinds of artists from many different musical traditions, put out close to 40 albums and earned six Grammy Awards, The Chieftans have pretty much become cultural diplomats.At Davies Symphony Hall, three of the main band members -- Paddy Moloney (uilleann pipes, tin whistle, button accordion, bodhrán), Matt Molloy (flute, tin … [Read more...]

On Showmanship

In the world of classical music, showmanship is often frowned upon. People tend to think that artists who spend a lot of time working on their presentation are ones who need to make up for less talent on the musical side of things. While it's true that many classical artists and groups these days have gotten good at matching brilliant musicianship with presentation flair, I still attend some concerts where the presentation is so mediocre that it affects my appreciation of the music.Such, sadly, was the case a couple of evenings ago when I went … [Read more...]


When you write a preview piece for a newspaper or magazine about a performance event, you play a kind of guessing game about what the event is going to be like. No two performances are alike, so even if you're familiar with the work being presented, you really have no idea how it will play out and how audiences will respond.With this is mind, it was interesting to attend the west coast premiere on Monday of Philip Glass' Music in Twelve Parts at Davies Symphony Hall. Here's what I wrote up about the concert for this week's issue of SF … [Read more...]

Theatre Killed The Video Star

Every now and again someone in the media writes an article about how advances in digital technologies like motion capture will make real, live actors a thing of the past on screen.This morning, as I read the latest of these, an NPR piece about the latest Brad Pitt vehicle, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, I started to wonder what impact a world free of actors on film would have on the theatre scene.Would it suddenly increase the attention paid to live performance? If people know they won't get "the real Brad Pitt" (pictured in digital form, … [Read more...]

Captive Audience

Arts organizations and individual artists employ a variety of different techniques for soliciting audience feedback about their work. The most commonly and innocuous method involves giving out audience surveys during a show or at an exhibition or asking people to complete questionnaires online, sometimes in return for entry into a draw for free tickets or a backstage tour or somesuch.On occasion, particularly in a live performance or movie test-screening scenario, groups and artists will ask audiences if they'd like to participate in a … [Read more...]

What Makes A Great PR Manager?

In the first of a series of posts about public relations for the performing arts a couple of weeks ago, I laid out a set of guidelines for writers of press releases. Today, I'd like to devote my attention to discussing what makes an effective performing arts public relations manager from the perspective of an arts journalist.PR is a subtle art, but many of the people who practice it are not subtle people. Those less adept at their job tend to rampage around repeatedly bludgeoning editors and reporters with information. They speak in loud, bland … [Read more...]