Results tagged “arden theatre” from Drama Queen

I know, it's been a long time, and I've missed you too. But it's not like I was just sitting around ignoring theater. In fact, I've been in graduate school working on a paper about classical performance reception theory and Lysistrata. Wanna see it? No? Fine, I wouldn't either.

Here's something I very much want to see: a gift guide for lovers of Philadelphia theater. Broadway bundles abound, and that's great, especially when they benefit fabulous organizations such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

But giving one of these gifts is practically like giving your loved ones a backstage (or green room) pass to street cred, that street being the Avenue of the Arts, of course. Best part? When you've finished snapping up and doling out all the merchandise, your friends and relatives might just take the hint and get you a subscription of your very own for next season.  Even out-of-towners can get in on the action with a few of these, and perhaps sporting/owning some Philly swag might inspire others to get here and check out the theater scene (hint: September = awesome), which is still under the radar enough to have an entrant in the Under the Radar Festival, but appreciated enough on its home turf to make a hot ticket something of a commodity. 


1. Read all about it: The nation's oldest theater, the Walnut Street Theatre, just celebrated its 200th birthday and put out a pretty cool little tome about it. In fact, it's sits prominently placed in my guest bathroom today, and judging by how often I have to straighten things up in there, it sees much leisure-time riffling by visitors. Don't want to play favorites? Try Philadelphia Theaters, a Pictorial Architectural History, which traces all 200 years of our sawdust-coated, gaslit stages. The American Theatre Wing's (ATW) The Play That Changed My Life has both a great premise and a local connection; it includes a chapter by Philadelphia-born Pulitzer-winning playwright Charles Fuller. Finally, if, like me, you're annoyed that ATW cut journalists from its Tony voting ranks this year, then go on and support your local critics--we don't get paid enough anyway. Philadelphia Inquirer critic and University of the Arts professor Toby Zinman wrote Edward Albee last year, and though yeah, I know, it kills you to do something nice for a critic, American Theatre magazine gave it a great review, and they don't care what you think of her. Go on, maybe you'll learn something.

2. Someone still wants A Christmas Carol, right? Otherwise there wouldn't be an entire section in my paper devoted to places you can see it. Rose Valley's Hedgerow Theatre hosts tea parties before performances on the second Sunday of every month, and they don't cost anything extra, which is nice, because even though your kids/grandma might be having the time of their lives, you're probably thinking Hedgerow owes you big. Have a scone and consider the debt paid. Jews, however, generally don't care for Scrooge and his tsouris, so Hedgerow has wisely brought them an offering, and it's better than frankincense: a bus trip to New York to see The Addams Family musical. And no, a bus trip to New York doesn't defeat the whole purpose of Philly theater gifts, because lookit, for some reason Jews always want to take bus trips to New York, no matter what you try to tell them, so at least this way a local theater still gets to make a buck off them.

3. Screw Teams Jacob and Edward. Romance-minded adolescents and teens need to get with Team Romeo. The Arden Theatre offers a full-day Shakespeare workshop--yes, it includes stage combat--for kids in 6th through 12th grades. Philly heartthrob Evan Jonigkeit (he also recently finished a successful run as Dakin in the Arden's production of The History Boys), who just happens to play Romeo in the company's Romeo and Juliet later that afternoon, leads the workshop. Also included? A ticket to the show and all the raw materials for weeks of copious swooning, parries and ripostes at the dog, and sudden cries of "Alack the day!" No teens? That's okay, the Arden's date night package gets you a pair of Romeo and Juliet tickets and a $25 gift certificate to Serrano restaurant, and you can do your own swooning afterward, in private, where it won't annoy anyone.

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4. You may have noticed that I think Pig Iron Theatre Company is pretty dope. Chances are, you do too, but even if you don't, there's no denying their steampunk-ish, Edward Gorey-esque, line-drawn, Trey Lyford-designed logo looks great. It's compelling on a t-shirt or tote bag without being too obvious, but recognizable enough to elicit appreciative nods when you're trolling the Piazza for hipster camaraderie. Best of all, they're both so cheap that if you stuff the bag with the t-shirt and toss in a copy of the company's indie-pop Lucia Joyce Cabaret CD, you will reap all the benefits of being cool and generous even if you're neither.
UPDATE: Apparently Sens. John McCain (You remember him, right? Old guy, has a thing for crazy backwoods ladies?) and Tom Coburn think Pig Iron is JUST LIKE SHAKESPEARE! Sort of, anyway. Like, because they both drain the public coffers (See items #25 and #26). But I guess that's even more reason to buy their stuff; get 'em off the dole and into your hearts.

4. Relive the glory days when every crappy play that didn't make it to Broadway met its maker right here, and a couple of decent ones lived to see another day. Yiddish theater's mammeleh Molly Picon in How to Be a Jewish Mother? Nah, never heard of it. Orson Welles' "Around the World," with music by Cole Porter? Why haven't I heard of it? Today, there are 38 Playbills available on EBay from these lost treasures. Tomorrow there might be more. Wait until the 7th day of Chanukah or the night before Christmas, and who knows? You might never learn how to be a Jewish mother. Not that that seemed to bother anyone who watched Ms. Picon when she was doing the teaching.

5. Go back to where it all began. Philly owes much of its theatrical genetic code to the Barrymore family (insert your own comment about our alcoholic actors here), as evidenced by our naming the city's theater awards ceremony after them. This item might not do much to enhance the family's reputation, but it sure would make a swell gift for someone. 

If all else fails, go to the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, get a few gift certificates, and let your friends/lovers/family to pick their own damn show. Just make sure they take you.

December 1, 2009 2:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Just got this comment from Arden Theatre Artistic Director Terry Nolen:

"Thanks for the entries about the ATCA conference. Good to hear what is
going on nationally. Surprised to read that Chris Rawson is now a
freelancer. Has that changed the amount of coverage in the
Post-Gazette? Perhaps the ATCA website should include links to
critics' blogs. I read Chris Jones and John Moore's blogs--useful to
stay connected to the work in their communities and their perspective
on the national scene. Curious to know what other critics have blogs."

And though I hope Nolen doesn't mind that I'm using it as the basis for this post American Theatre Critics Association wrap-up post, I'm glad he asked. 

First things first, yes, as I mentioned in an earlier post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette critic Chris Rawson is indeed a freelancer now, having taken a buyout from the paper, which really should come as no surprise to anyone watching the decline of... everything. During a panel on the changing face of theater criticism, he said the Post-Gazette now uses four theater critics, all freelance. It doesn't seem to have changed the paper's coverage, but he would know more about the intricacies of that issue than I do.

As for ATCA's website including links to member blogs, well, funny thing. I was drafted onto a committee headed by ATCA's webmistress Gwen Orel, whose sole purpose is to improve that site. The big plan is to provide both public and private content, but yes, links to member work online, including blogs, Twitter feeds, whatever, will be available to the public, and we realize, the sooner the better. Ideas are welcome, and as soon as the pixels of progress start moving, you'll be among the first to hear.

But posting blog links is really only the portal to a much wider conversation. If most theater critics are bloggers, well, does that make most theater bloggers eligible to be critics? Way back when I first joined the organization and attended my first conference--as a freelancer (albeit the only theater critic) for Philadelphia Weekly--so lowly a thing was I, I barely made conversation with most of the daily news staffers who populated ATCA's member rolls.

Now? Of roughly 50 member critics attending the Sarasota conference, when Rawson asked, "Who in this room is a full-time staff reviewer?" one lonely hand went up. And mind you, that hand, belonging to the Miami Herald's Christine Dolen (the other Drama Queen) wasn't raised very far above her head. After all, who knows what will be happening at her newspaper this time next year? (That count doesn't include the conference's unflappable organizer, Sarasota Herald-Tribune's Jay Handelman, who was no doubt busy organizing at the time.)

So how to evaluate applicants without qualifying ATCA into extinction? One of the reasons New York Post theater columnist Michael Riedel was chosen to address the group (aside, of course, from his mad skills) was that his voice--insiderish, gossipy, brash--is now the rule rather than the exception in online theater coverage. But is he a critic? Well, no. And yet he writes about theater full-time, at a moment when most critics are unable to do so. 

What gives a theater writer credibility these days? Money? Insight? We theater writers would love to know.
May 5, 2009 8:19 AM | | Comments (0)
mickey-mouse-arrest_791131c.jpgThis week I'm macking on: Vacation! I'll be out of town from tomorrow until after the new year, so don't expect to see any posts until then. However, I do plan to take in some Florida theater. Strangely enough, just like last time I went away, when Sarasota's Florida Studio Theatre hosted a Philly show--James Sugg and Aaron Posner's A Murder, A Mystery and A Marriage--this time FST is producing Michael Hollinger's Opus, an Arden Theatre baby. So if I can't resist, maybe I'll sneak away to a computer for a quickie review or something (I'll probably need the alone time anyway). And also, I'll be in Disneyworld for a couple of days, which should, I don't know, be really freaky, and then up to Savannah, Georgia. If anyone has theater recommendations along that route, please send them to me. Any time I'm on vacation and have a legit excuse to get a babysitter is a good time.

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This week I'm hating on: Finite print space for reviews. I reviewed 1812 Productions' Cherry Bomb, a new, full-length musical about the Cherry Sisters--a family act widely considered "the worst act in vaudeville" for today's Philadelphia Inquirer. (p.s., the link takes you to a piece written by WFMU mad genius Irwin Chusid, whose compilation album and companion book Songs in the Key of Z are the definitive primers on outsider music.) I managed to do an okay job, I guess, in a mightily compressed way, of conveying what the show was about, giving some history and throwing forth my likes and dislikes. But I sure could have used some room to stretch out.

Some productions make every syllable of their 420-470 alloted review words into a Sisyphean torment. (Spoiler Alert: ever read a review whose plot synopsis is way longer than the reviewer's analysis? A sure sign it was one of those shows.) Because sometimes, you see a conventional and adequate but unexceptional production of a frequently produced show--in keeping with the spirit of the season, let's say A Christmas Carol. Well, what is there to discuss? It was good, everyone knows the story, and I don't know, I guess you could complain or champion the tradition of mounting it every season. The end.

But in the case of Cherry Bomb and all its incidentals--the rising local talents among the cast and creators, its subject matter, its historical importance, the sisters' place in the pantheon of outsider music, the show's dramatic context, its sociopolitical elements, its conceptual strengths and faults, its music, direction, script, lyrics, none of which have been reviewed before--well, that's where a nice, flexible website would really come in handy. 

Considering all the time invested in the show's development, the grant money involved, and the sheer enormity of producing ambitious new work now, when the city's economy is imploding (Let's just ignore the rest of the world's imploding economies, shall we? ), it is almost a disservice to give Cherry Bomb such a cursory review. And that didn't used to be the case. For example, take Frank Rich's 1993 review of the Broadway premier of Angels in America, which clocks in at a well-padded 1443 words, not including the cast box. Ben Brantley's review for the current revival of American Buffalo is shorter by almost a third at 960 words. My word count at the Inquirer has shrunk by 100 or so words just since 2006. 

Considering the disappearing ranks of paid critics these days, I guess a cursory review is better than none at all. At the same time, with these halfway useful, halfway explored ideas, is print media, in its efforts to remain afloat in its current, tangible, deliverable form and refusal to adapt to an online model, subsequently hastening our demise? I guess we'll know soon enough.

December 19, 2008 8:33 AM | | Comments (3)
It's been a hell of a long week both personally and professionally, so I apologize to my regular and faithful readers for not posting more. I'll try to hit you back next week. 

In the meantime, this week I'm macking on: Philadelphia's steadily growing reputation as a hotspot for new play development. If you missed it, this New York Times feature hardly has enough room to mention all the opportunities available to playwrights here. It mentions many of our best beloved artists as well, people whose names--based on their steady and consistent output alone--certainly deserve to be circulating on the national stage, and on national stages. Bruce Graham, Michael Hollinger, Jennifer Childs, Geoff Sobelle, all outstanding Philly playwrights, and only a fraction of the total. In addition, so many of our established houses are dedicated to incorporating new work that just about every major company and some of the minors include at least one piece making in its world debut on a local stage.

This unique environment is thrilling for critics as well. I'm happy to review The Music Man or Chazz Palminteri's touring production of A Bronx Tale, as I did this week (click either to see the reviews), because they're known entities and easy writeups. But nothing will quite put you on your game and make you contend with the weight of your words like reviewing a brand new production. At that point, it's all you, baby, and you stand or fall on your own merits. As a critic, all you can do is hope that you're not the writer history remembers as the one who almost sunk our next Beckett. It's an exciting and terrifying environment in which to write, and one that probably comes closest to mimicking the opening night excitement and terror felt by those whom we critique. The way I figure it, that's only fair, and it ought to be a more frequent part of every critic's experience, though far too often, it's only a tiny portion.

This week I'm hating on: The way life keeps getting in the way of my theatergoing. I had to cut a deal with my husband last month: no more going to shows that I'm not reviewing and no more features. Of course, I've worked out a complex system of justifications to get around that, like: no more than two shows a week, and if I go to more than that it's only because I'm reviewing three or so that week, but if I don't have any reviews, then only two. And I'll only do features if my editor asks me. Or if I have a really great idea.

No, my husband's not a total a*hole. He's actually a really great guy who never shied away from a dirty diaper, helps coach our son's soccer team, and takes our daughter to horse shows even though he's really, really allergic to horses. It's just that the theater critic's schedule (out at night and writing every weekend) is not conducive to family life, at least not if you take either theater or family seriously. I'm guessing that's why there are so few mothers of young children in this gig, and it's certainly why I took a five year sabbatical from the job after our second child was born. Also, with the news industry being the way it is, and most critic spots going freelance and paying a pittance, this isn't the job of a primary breadwinner, and yet its importance and the necessity of being an expert on the topic of what's going on in theater in your town if you're writing about theater in your town hasn't lessened any. I don't know the answer, but I can certainly take up your time bitching about it here. Thanks. I feel better already.
November 14, 2008 11:36 AM | | Comments (2)
My most recent review, Delaware Theatre Company's Master Harold... And the Boys, got me thinking. It seems like there's a burst of African-American issues-related shows in Philly this season--Driving Miss Daisy, Gee's Bend (which, if anyone cares, I thought had a really clunky script but some excellent acting by Kala Moses Baxter and one of my new favorites on the scene, Kes Khemnu), Sizwe Bansi Is Dead, Resurrection, Day of the Picnic--just about every major theater has one show in its season with this theme.*

I suppose part of the reason for the change is that everyone's capitalizing on the election, but really, it started with a recent thrust of nontraditional casting before Obama became the clear presidential candidate and has just sort of snowballed. And while this mass shift in programming focus is certainly long overdue and welcome, well, it begs the real question: why can't Philadelphia, a city whose population is 45% African American, support a dedicated professional African American theater? Since Walter Dallas' departure and Freedom Repertory Theatre's demise (and that's a whole 'nother long story) no one has stepped in to fill the void, and I'm going to guess it's not because Philadelphians are okay with leaving the issue of inclusion to the whims of the city's various white artistic directors, or catching the random touring urban theater production. 

Mind you, I'm not knocking the efforts at diversity being made by any of these other companies. I think it's great for the city and even better for expanding everyone's audience base. But honestly, what is going on here, and why? 


*By the way Philly folks, I'm omitting InterAct from inclusion and discussion on this post, as their commitment to programming diversity has been part of their mission since the company's inception.


October 23, 2008 10:51 AM | | Comments (5)

rocky_steps.jpgThis week I'm macking on: Philadelphia. We're hosting a free Bruce Springsteen concert/rally for Obama on Saturday. Gary Steuer is wrapping up his first week as head of Mayor Michael Nutter's re-opened Office of Arts and Culture and the Creative Economy (that last part was added by the mayor for the office's new incarnation) even as the Wall Street economy proves how much less worthy it is of financial assistance than our artists. In Conflict is featured in this month's issue of American Theatre (I just reviewed the article's author, Krista Apple, here) going strong Off-Broadway and there are murmurs of its potential for a larger house. The 2008 Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, kick off on Monday night. And finally, I'm headed to Sarasota, Florida this weekend--host of the 2009 American Theatre Critics' Association conference--and figured as long as I'm down there, I'd  get a head start on checking out the drama scene. So what's playing at the Florida Studio Theatre? A Murder, A Mystery and A Marriage, with book and lyrics by former Arden Theatre Artistic Director Aaron Posner (the Arden will premiere Posner's new adaptation of Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev later this season) and music by Pig Iron member James Sugg, whose original production The Sea (Tom Waits fans, go on and click. The songs are very Swordfishtrombones, in a good way, and the show stands on its own.) was one of my all-time Fringe Festival favorites. And, oh yeah, didn't I hear something recently about the Phillies? So while visitors might pour on the haterade and call us fat, unfriendly, unstylish, ugly, a crappy vacation destination, dirty, noisy, dangerous and boring (things got worse for us since the last survey), all I have to say is dontcha wish your city was hot like ours?

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This week I'm hating on: Clowns. Specifically the clowns of the San Francisco Clown conservatory, who came up with this idea: a "Naked Clown Calendar" as an MS fundraiser. I know it's for a good cause and maybe you can pay the Judy Finelli Fund to not send you a calendar. Because really, this has to be the worst idea since last week's announcement of American Psycho, the Musical. Ever think about a clown's nipples? A clown's hairy belly? No? Of course not, and you know why? Because it would make you cry, not laugh. Because only John Wayne Gacy's victims had to do that, and they didn't want to. I couldn't upload any of their pictures as they're protected, and, um, they're scary. No need to thank me.

October 2, 2008 8:07 PM | | Comments (5)
Maybe it's reality tv's fault, or maybe it's just artists attempting--as artists are known to do--to impose some meaning on increasingly chaotic surroundings. Either way, there sure is a lot of site-specific work going on these days, and what's more, it's happening outside a fringe fest aegis, where such work is (thankfully) expected. 

Of course, it's summer, so Shakespeare is currently making the rounds in parks across the country, but that's not what I mean. Martin Creed's new work at Tate Britain sends athletes tearing through its halls. Technically, it's not theater, but let's at least tag it as a sort of performance art (or even better, stick it in Elizabeth Zimmer's "time-based" performance category). Improv Everywhere is getting national attention with their random acts of Twitter-triggered performance. Even opera, which around here is limited to one company kept in a tiered and gilded cage, is getting in on the act, with Die Soldaten's extravaganza wheeling its audience around the Armory. 

Here in Philly, that old standby Our Town put on its walking shoes when the Arden Theatre Company kept the first and third acts on its mainstage, but brought the audience across the street into historic Christ Church for the second. And Brat Productions was just awarded $42,000 from the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative to develop a piece for Edgar Allan Poe's birthday bicentennial modeled on haunted houses. 

It's heartening to see funders invest in non-traditional productions that by their very nature haven't a hope of "making it" to other cities. Touring shows make Broadway accessible to the rest of the country, but they're all about re-creating someone else's moment. In situ works create such a feeling of excitement about theater's connection to our lives, and reinforce its standing as an art form. After all, what makes theater so compelling is its transitory nature; once a particular production is gone, only memories and reviews are left behind. Site-specific work allows spectators to claim ownership of a piece in a far more profound way. Certainly, some of my most memorable theatergoing experiences have been stage-less. Hopefully, we're on the cusp of a whole new era of houses taking it outside the house.


July 9, 2008 9:23 PM | | Comments (0)
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