Exit Strategy

These days, when gloom and doom is all about and arts organizations are coping with shrinking budgets, layoffs and reduced seasons, it's always heartening to hear news of growth. A few months ago, Berkeley's Aurora Theatre started to build a new space adjacent to its current auditorium. Now, San Francisco's Fringe performance bastion, The EXIT Theatreplex, is about to add a 49-seat theatre and a classroom/rehearsal studio to its current assets which include the 80-seat EXIT Theatre mainstage, the 49-seat EXIT Stage Left, and the EXIT Café which … [Read more...]

A Festival of Compositions for Conductors

Composers are always being commissioned to write pieces for particular orchestras, opera companies or soloists. Why doesn't someone commission a composer to write a work especially for a particular conductor?I'm not talking about works that feature the conductor as a "soloist" in any overt sort of way, as in John Oswald's Concerto for Conductor and Orchestra or Dieter Schnebel's theatrical piece for solo conductor, Nostalgie (Modelle No. 1.) I mean, a composer writing a work for full symphony orchestra with the particular personality and style … [Read more...]

The Right To Fail

It might seem odd for a theatre critic to say this, but I believe it to be true: Every artist has a right to fail.The system, of course, doesn't support failure. Producers don't want to back flops; audiences don't want to sit through them; and critics snap their pencils in disgust when a work of art doesn't meet their expectations.But failure is important. Without it, artists can't grow and our feeling for the culture around us remains stagnant and quickly becomes predictable.So I have a lot of admiration for producers who invest in artists … [Read more...]

Two Very Different Symphonies

The diversity of the Bay Area can be witnessed in many different ways, from the variety of the cuisine offered in its restaurants to the multitudinous kinds of topography. One less obvious way to explore the radical differences that coexist in this part of the world is to look at the local symphony orchestra scene.To many people, San Francisco Symphony is the only orchestra of note in the Bay Area. But while this organization might be considered world class, it's by no means the only group worth paying attention to, as my concert-going … [Read more...]

Rising and Falling at the Ann Hamilton Tower

The Alexander Valley in Sonoma, California is home to one of the most extraordinary performance venues I have ever encountered in my life. I visited the Ann Hamilton Tower at Oliver Ranch near the small winery-obsessed town of Geyserville yesterday afternoon for a site-specific performance by the Joe Goode Performance Group and the San Francisco Girls Chorus which, though in some ways under-developed, I will never forget.The performance took place in a ten-storey concrete tower purpose-built for performance by the visual artist Ann Hamilton. In … [Read more...]

From Pedagogy to Professionalism

Theatre departments work to attract students by claiming that they will be more easily able to launch professional careers in the theatre if they do an undergraduate or masters degree in theatre at their schools. But it's been my observation that the schools don't generally equip students for the professional world in a very inspiring way. There exists a huge chasm between BA and MA theatre programs and the business of putting on theatrical productions in the real world. Most of the people who studied acting at Harvard's Institute for Advanced … [Read more...]

Euripides al Fresco

One thing I admire about many small performing arts companies in San Francisco is their adventurousness. Whether performing contemporary dance pieces on moving trams stuffed with tourists or doing one-man versions of Hamlet, the best and brightest theatrical up-and-comers often eschew performing the usual plays in the usual settings.After weeks of seeing big splashy shows in gilded theatres, I was happy to find myself picking my way through some back streets downtown to find a park which I'd never been to before and watch Boxcar Theatre's free … [Read more...]

An Observation About Feedback

Looking back over close to three years of blogging, I've been struck by what kinds of blog posts attract the most comments from readers.The posts that seem to compel by far the highest number of responses are the ones where I take an unpopular viewpoint on some element of popular culture. The barrage of feedback (some of it unpublishable!) I've received over the past few days following an entry I wrote about Britain's Got Talent chanteuse Susan Boyle is a case in point. When I wrote in a similarly skeptical vein about the movie Mama Mia! last … [Read more...]

Buy Local, Eat Local, Cast Local

The anti-globalization movement has made inroads into making many of us change the way we shop and feed ourselves. People -- at least those that can afford it -- are trying to buy groceries that are locally grown or even growing the food they eat themselves and eschewing big chain stores for small, neighborhood businesses. Restaurants pride themselves on letting customers know that their beef came from the ranch 20 miles away and their asparagus was brought in fresh this morning from the farmer's market across the street.Theatre has always been … [Read more...]

Not Your Choirmaster’s Vocal Music Show

Traditionally, beyond the realm of pop music broadcasts on commercial radio stations, radio networks in the US have shied away from airing classical vocal music. Very occasionally, classical radio DJs will mix one choral work or operatic aria into a set of instrumental symphonic or chamber music. If a show is devoted entirely to vocal music, it's invariably sacred choral fare played to put The Devout in the mood for church on a Sunday morning.But because sung lyrics demand attention from the listener, and the general sensibility among radio … [Read more...]


When one of the country's top Baroque music orchestras puts on a concert of Handel blockbusters in the most imposing church in town with a live laser display and drum corps outfitted in Georgian military regalia, what's the outcome? Spectacular bordering on tacky, I imagined, when I first read the press release for American Bach Soloists' Fireworks Celebration at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral.The actual event, which I witnessed yesterday evening, was contrastingly a weirdly subdued affair, even though the Cathedral was packed out. I'm in two … [Read more...]