Learning Wall

The San Francisco Public Schools commission is running a marketing campaign right now. The slogan on posters dotted in bus shelters and elsewhere around town is "The City is Our Classroom." "That's all well and good," I thought as I walked passed a poster on a walk around the neighborhood this morning. "But that doesn't make up for the fact that classrooms, in the conventional use of the word, aren't necessarily doing their job anymore in this city." I was thinking in particular of my recent visit to San Francisco's rundown School of the Arts … [Read more...]

Confessions of an Audio Dolt

It's a wonder that I ever got sent to the US as a technology correspondent for a major British newspaper back in 2000, really. My lack of prowess at -- and genuine interest in -- figuring out the nuts and bolts of everyday applications I use is not something of which I'm proud. But there's only so many things I can pay attention to on any given day, and worrying about which format I transfer audio files to and from my laptop sadly isn't one of them.I was made to feel the full force of my technophobia yesterday afternoon when I went across the … [Read more...]


Articles about how the recession is affecting the arts in San Francisco are commonplace these days. Janos Gereben's October 25 piece in The San Francisco Examiner brought the point home once again.But it's hard, as the article's headline states, to think that "optimism abounds" when you visit a place like the San Francisco School of the Arts High School (SOTA.) I visited the school for the first time the other day for a meeting and was shocked by the state of the buildings. They were more run down than any other school I've ever seen (and I've … [Read more...]

Wild Things

In the middle of the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum's (CJM) exhibition of works by the illustrator and children's book author Maurice Sendak is a picture of one of the scariest looking chickens you ever saw. Painted in kaleidoscope colors with tail feathers more dense and intimidating than the flora of an exotic jungle, legs and claws as thick and gnarled as ancient tree trunks and an imperious look in its eye, the bird couldn't possibly look less benign. You have to take a step away from the wall to remind yourself that you're not … [Read more...]

Terry Riley on the Future of In C

It's a curious and not always desirable thing when an artist becomes so closely identified with one canonical work that the rest of their work gets ignored.On Friday, I had the honor of spending a little while in the company of composer Terry Riley up at his home on the Nevada border. (I didn't file a blog entry on Friday because I was traveling all day; sorry, dear readers, usually I'm much better at letting you know in advance that I'll be out of town.)During the course of conversation over herbal tea on the soft-spoken composer's rustic … [Read more...]

Ukulele Rhapsody

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro has made a name for himself for pushing the ukulele to its aesthetic limits. But is it necessary to push the instrument so far that we don't get to hear the uke at all? Shimabukuro's San Francisco Jazz Festival concert last night at Davies Symphony Hall started off as a bit of a letdown, frankly, primarily because the performer seemed intent on having us forget that he plays the uke at all.The instrument was miked, completely ruining its delicate sound. Thanks to this and long sections of rock-style strumming, … [Read more...]


A question to all you culture writers and artists out there: How do you cope with the guilt of not getting to experience even a fraction of your city's arts offerings? It's an embarrassment of riches.Times are hard. But people are harnessing their creative energies as much as they've ever done. If only I could find a creative solution to the problem of there not being enough days and nights in the week to see all the work being produced. Did I say "all"? If I went out to experience a performance every single evening of the week, caught gallery … [Read more...]

Throw Rotten Veggies at the Actors Night

Sick of boring standing ovations and polite clapping? Wish audiences would show their feelings about a performance in a more visceral way? The San Francisco-based theatre company PianoFight has the answer: Have audiences throw vegetables at the performers at curtain time.PianoFight, which should consider renaming itself "FoodFight", presented its inaugural Throw Rotten Veggies at the Actors Night immediately following a performance of its latest production S.H.I.T. Show Deluxe last Friday night at Studio 250 / Off-Market Theatre. You can find … [Read more...]

Diana Who?

As every understudy knows, it's very difficult stepping into a star's shoes when you know everyone has paid to see someone else in the role -- not you.Diana Damrau is no understudy. The German soprano made Metropolitan Opera history in the 2007-2008 season when she appeared as both Pamina and Queen of the Night during the same run of Mozart's The Magic Flute. This season she will undertake four debuts, as Marie in Donizetti's La fille du régiment at both San Francisco Opera and the Met, the title role in Massenet's Manon at the Vienna State … [Read more...]

It’s Not About Us; It’s About Them?

Had an unusual performance experience yesterday which threw up some thoughts about the nature of the exchange that happens between performers and audiences. I was part of a small group of singers drafted under the auspices of a current member of the University of California at San Francisco medical faculty to perform songs for patients on the wards of the university cancer center. I jumped at the chance to sing with this group because I have been interested for a while in the efficacy of arts programs in hospitals and heard great things about … [Read more...]

Good Grief

Real sorrow is very hard to pull off on stage or screen. I often think that if you want audiences to feel the weight of a character's woes as a screen or playwright, you're usually better off getting them to do something funny, rather than give them a crying scene. It's just really hard to act sadness convincingly. Even if we can see that a character is deeply upset about something, it's a rare actor who can make us actually feel their pain.Abbie Cornish, the young British actress who plays Fanny Brawne in Bright Star, Jane Campion's new movie … [Read more...]

Monday Night Theatre

Perhaps the most interesting detail that came up in last night's Theatre Critics' Panel organized by Theatre Bay Area was the subject of presenting plays on unconventional days. Critics' calendars tend to get very busy as the week moves towards the weekend. Thursday to Sunday nights are the fastest nights to get booked up with shows to see.So one way of potentially increasing the chances of having a critic come and see a show as a producer, is by presenting it on a Monday and/or Tuesday. Intersection for the Arts and a couple of other companies … [Read more...]