Sunday, December 30, 2007
And that wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t come home Thursday to my wife holding a small mangled plastic doo-dad that indicated that the dishwasher was also broken. Friday night my monthly poker game – in which I had never lost more than $30 before – delivered me a $70 spanking. Should I have been surprised?
Saturday morning, as my lovely wife and I prepared to have 15 members of my extended family over for brunch, I turned the key in my car ignition and was treated to silence. No clicks, no revving hum, no nothing. Hello dead battery. After all the relations had arrived, my wife tried to extract an ornery piece of ice from our freezer and pulled out a not-so-small plastic doo-dad attached to the icemaker instead. Well, at least it isn’t summer time…
On Christmas Eve we hadn’t been in my mother’s house more than an hour before we heard screams from the stairs. My sister’s dog had tried to bite my son’s ear off. The EMTs were surprisingly good-natured for the night before Christmas. We finally left the emergency room just before midnight, my son sporting a nasty 16-stitches worth of a wound in his left ear.
As if my body had announced surrender, I woke up Christmas morning with an epic sinus headache and persistent juicy cough. As soon as all the gifts had been opened and Christmas breakfast consumed, I hit the bed for nearly a full 24-hour nap. It wouldn’t be until Friday that I could take an unfettered breath.
So it’s been a rough 10 days or so. And it’s not over yet. But through it all, I have to say I’m very grateful. My son’s injury could have been much worse and, at 4 years old, he is incredibly resilient and has quickly resumed pestering his older brother. I’ve thrown off my illness pretty well and I have a wonderfully supportive wife who allowed me to check out for a full day. Things can be repaired or replaced. I’m lucky I have $70 to blow in a stupid game.
The New Year presents many exciting potentialities. My surprising eldest son has been cast in “Peter Pan” so the exciting, occasionally overwhelming logistical challenge of his new career will continue for at least several more months (see, this IS a theater blog…) An awesome family trip for spring break is already deep in the planning stages. I have a decent shot at having my first scholarly article published.
I hope you too, dear reader, are poised on the edge of an exciting New Year full of promise. Thank you for checking in on my sometimes semi-coherent ramblings, for your comments, and for your support of – or participation in – the Richmond theater scene. Take care.
Friday, December 28, 2007
So here are the questions:
Do you think that the Richmond Theater Scene has grown, shrunk, or stagnated in the last five years and why do you think that?
How do you think Richmond Theater compares to other cities that are similar in size?
Like Baltimore for example.
What do you think is the potential for development?
Can anyone tell me when Theater Virginia closed?
It is best to include your name and theater related title in order for me to quote you. I do not promise to quote anyone but I reserve the right to quote you if you respond and it adds to the validity of the story.
Even if I don't use any of this material it should turn out to be an interesting discussion.
An aside: The Art Cheerleaders will be performing at Sycamore Rouge on New Years Eve in Slash Coleman's Burlesque Show. Hope to see some of you there.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
I did check the location of Santa Claus at www.noradsanta.org before I logged on. Just making sure I don't screw things up by being awake ya know. It might interest you to know that at this hour Santa is somewhere in Montana. According to NORAD he is three quarters of the way through the US and headed for Central and South America to finish up his annual work of delivering toys to good girls and boys all over the world. Perhaps already thinking about that hot toddy in the hot tub after a long nights work. Of course the entire Santa thing disturbs me. I mean what is OK about a strange man essentially breaking into our homes to leave stuff? Shouldn't we be a little wary about this?
Folks in Australia are getting to be more wary of Santa. I heard on the radio earlier this season that Santas in Australian malls were being asked to say "HaHaHa" rather than "HoHoHo" because "Ho" was considered to be degrading to women. In some places, probably California, there is a movement to return Santa to his original skinny self (aka pre Samual Clement poem) citing obesity to be unhealthy and a poor example to children. Why all of a sudden all these problems? Is it our culture of fear as theorized by Michael More in his film 911?
Who knows? But really when you think about it Santa Claus is seriously politically incorrect: A Strange looking old fat guy with a red nose who smokes a pipe and wears winter clothes even in hot climates. This is a profile for a pedophile if there ever was one. Then to go even further he hangs out with kids- encourages them to sit on his lap! and we promote this as a culture?
How scary is Santa these days? Let's break it down:
He is old: Ok- those of us who are over 40 may be encouraged by Santa's longevity but the truth is that someone that old can't really have great judgement. In our youth oriented culture Santa is pretty scary.
Fat: It is a bad example for kids especially in countries in which childhood and adult obesity are the number one health problems.
White Male: could this be more politically incorrect? Look to the current presidential hopeful race to see how five minutes ago it is to be a white guy in the thinking people's camp.
Smokes: This is the epitome of poor health choices. Why would I invite someone into my home who is going to pollute it with pipe smoke? Do I really want my children to admire someone with this habit?
Red nose: Santa usually sits in a warm mall all day. His nose is not red from the cold so it must be a sign of advance alcoholism. That would also explain the protruding gut and the psycho happy attitude.
Kids on lap: If you saw or are familiar with The 8: Reindeer Monologues you already know about this one. As a parent, this is especially disturbing. I can't believe that mothers coax, bribe and threaten their children to get on Santa's lap. In this age of rampant pedophilia, what are they thinking? When my mother-in-law took my daughter (expressly against my instruction) to visit Santa at the age of two and got upset because she refused to get on Santa's lap I pulled my daughter aside and congratulated her. I felt that I could not send the message of not talking to strangers or being seduced by candy 364 days a year and then make her forget it for one day in front of a camera no less. I was proud that she followed my instructions despite the pressure from another adult. It is sad though, that this is the way the world has become.
Winter clothes even in warm weather: If you have ever worked in retail you know that people wearing big winter coats in warm weather are profiled as shop-lifters.
All those clothes give them a place to hide stuff.
Giving stuff away for free: We have all been told that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Is Santa just dumping the stolen goods at out houses? Let's face it, is there truly a factory on earth that could make enough toys and goodies to fill stockings of every child on the planet?
So all in all Santa is a pretty suspicious character and after this blog I am sure to get ashes a switches or lumps of air polluting coal in my stocking next year. But at Santa's age and the way the media moves he will probably forget all about it by next Christmas. And anyway this blog has worked its magic on me this morning - I am going back to sleep because you know that there are at least two people in my house who will be up in a couple of hours to see what is in their stockings.
Take care everybody. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
There are some people who need to be recognized for the major contributions they have made to my new life. The first is Carol Piersol of the Firehouse Theatre Project. Carol was kind enough to ask me to produce "Austin's Bridge" which got me back into the game that gets my blood flowing- theater. Although I had little (if nothing) to do with the artistic side of the show, being involved in AB connected me with the art form and the people who led me to the next step. It was the promotion of that show that introduced me to Brandon Reynolds at STYLE who graciously gave me a chance to write theater reviews. Through the support of Jason Roop, Laurie Rogers, Scott Bass and very much Brandon Reynolds I have begun carving out a career as a freelance writer with a focus on the arts. Affiliation with STYLE instigated a friendship with Dave T. who honored me with an invitation to write on this wonderful blog where I have met and learned from so many fantastic theater people. I have literally become an Art Cheerleader and thanks to the local media am receiving recognition of the mission to encourage folks to support the arts. Special thanks to Justin Lowenhagen for putting me on the literary map and sending a letter to the editor at STYLE about my review of "The 8". I respect your opinion and enjoyed learning your perspective of the performance. I am still amazed that people actually read what I write let alone have a strong enough reaction to want to respond in writing. I am deeply grateful to you all.
So far it has been a great ride. I have grown so much. The blog is helping me to understand how to experience other viewpoints and hopefully to better express myself.
Thank you all for reading and especially for commenting. There have been some lively discussions in 2007. I believe this blog and the action on it is truly helping to increase the awareness of the theater scene in Richmond. Now all we need is a theater "Mash up" of our own. Dave?
Keep up the good work.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Well, in the meantime, I've added a few new links. Finally got a link to the TD's "Swingtime Canteen" review, only a month or so after it first appeared. Also stumbled across Janine Serresseque's blog and greatly enjoyed her recounting of the grumpy Cabaret patron. I'll also be keeping tabs on the interesting activities in the burgeoning career of Jase Smith via his web site.
Finally, I hope you'll check out next week's Style for my year-end theater wrap-up. It may lead to some spirited discussion...
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Still, the MashUps are a little irreverent and moderately hip -- who knows, maybe they could help make theater a draw for those wacky kids out there...
Sunday, December 16, 2007
But Andrew Hamm's recent posting on the new RichShakes blog brought it to the fore for me again. That, plus the fact that my lovely son informed me that I am now the company scapegoat at "A Christmas Story" because Style hasn't published a review of the show yet, even though Mary B was at opening night. So somehow, since I hold so much sway at Style (HA!), I'm now being held responsible.
I have many reactions here. One is that I'm happy that among the things my son is getting from his theater experience is an expanded vocabulary; 'scapegoat' isn't a word that comes up in casual conversation around our house. (Also, for any "Xmas Story" people out there reading, I know that this is all in good fun -- RCoop told me that Eric Evans used to be the scapegoat so I am proud to wear the mantle shed from such a noble head...)
The other is to feel defensive on behalf of Style and (in reference to Mr. Hamm's post) any other media outlet that has chosen not to review a show. There are dozens of factors that an editor and publisher have to balance and that determine what shows up in print and what doesn't: number of ad pages, timing of publication, perception of urgency, availability of art, etc. My lovely wife used to be an editor and it could be pretty tortuous at times for her to make cuts one way or another -- not unlike a director having to cast a show and turn down many worthy auditioners.
But on the other hand, I have been oftentimes befuddled and not infrequently angered at the coverage theater receives here, from all the possible outlets. It's ridiculous to have to wade through the obituaries to get to the RTD's theater reviews that seem to never appear in the Flair section anymore where things like movie and music reviews appear. And it's annoying that Style's theater reviews often don't get published until the week the show is closing. And as far as the other alt-media in town, well, theater might as well not exist.
But on the third hand, I have my own little part in this drama and haven't always done all I could do. When I first started reviewing, I wrote more than 50 reviews a year -- I saw a show a week on average! With previews and occasional features, there was usually something theater-related in every single Style issue. Now I see maybe a show a month and it's not even the Arts editor's fault; I just don't have the space in my life to do it. And there have been times that I've rolled my eyes (at least) and downright balked (at most) when I've been asked to, for instance, review "A Christmas Carol" for the 5th time. There are shows I like that I haven't seen twice -- I'm not going to get too excited at my 7th "Anything Goes." As much as I feel sorry some times that Daniel Neman has to review stuff like "Gigli" and "Blade: Trinity," a movie reviewer generally doesn't have to watch anything he doesn't like twice.
I think there is a chicken-egg deal with theater and the media: theater doesn't get much coverage because there's a perception that it's not that popular and it doesn't get any more popular because the media doesn't let people know what's out there (or they put out the wrong stuff -- y'all see the TD's listing of plays from about a month ago in Friday's paper?) From what I hear anecdotally, the media had a great deal to do with the growth of the theater scenes in Chicago and Seattle. Some reviewers yelled loud enough until the audience started noticing -- and then they actually showed up at the shows. So what's the story in Richmond where there is a pretty darn lively professional theater scene, at least two very well respected college theater programs, and you can't even get the papers to review all of the professional mainstage shows?
Like I said, I could talk this issue around in circles and I'm not sure where to go from here. Andrew has expressed his frustration and I think it is a fair point. Anyone else want to chime in?
Friday, December 14, 2007
In a previous post Dave T. mentioned the February Coffee and Conversation for February at the Barksdale and I responded that I had not been invited to participate on the panel. Please know that I have been invited and so has Dave (check your email from Chase, Dave- I thought it was a promo). So please come on February 12th at 9:30am to the Barksdale at Willow Lawn for Coffee and Conversation where I will look forward to your intelligent questions regarding the role of the critic. Hope you can be there too, Dave - your charm will certainly be needed to balance out my snarkiness.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
And speaking of expats, here's a link to a clip from Eliza Skinner's show "Eliza Skinner is: Shameless" that I saw during my trip to NYC. It's high-calibre humor people; don't watch while drinking anything...
Also, I'm sure you've seen articles from Celia Wren in the Times-Dispatch; most recently, her reviews of "Plaid Tidings" at the Mill and "Moonlight and Magnolias" at the Barksdale (I'd link to them but the RTD archives want to charge me money to do that...). I've been trying to pick up American Theatre magazine more often (yeah, I know, they have subscriptions but I don't read the magazines I already subscribe to...) and have noticed articles from her in there as well, like this recent "Theatre Facts" piece. So this makes me curious and I do some Googling and now I wonder -- am I the last person in town to know that we've got a Harvard educated, former ATM managing editor working right here in sleepy little Richmond? I just find that fascinating.
And to bring that little tidbit together with the recent discussion about DC-area theaters, did anyone see this article over the summer about the nude Macbeth? I hadn't. Celia has an interesting and very erudite quote in the midst of it. Thoughts?
Monday, December 10, 2007
-- The Holiday Cabaret is going on tonight and tomorrow night at 7:30.
-- Tomorrow’s “Coffee and Conversation” is "Behind the Scenes of Moonlight and Magnolias." Now, since M&M is a behind the scenes look at “Gone with the Wind” is the C&C event like Behind the Scenes Squared? Or maybe Behind the Scenes Once-Removed?
-- I’ll also note in passing that February’s C&C session is a panel dubbed “Critically Speaking” where you will be able to “Go inside the minds of some of Richmond’s most intriguing theatre critics.” I have apparently not been deemed intriguing enough to participate – how about you Mary? – but I was thinking that I should plan to go and write a critique of it. And then I was wondering, would that make me a critic once-removed? Or would I be some kind of meta-critic? And then I thought I should stop thinking arcane thoughts about the future and get back to work…
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Two comments will not leave my head and they must be addressed:
The first is from Andrew Hamm who wrote:
"The idea that theatre is only legitimate or significant if thousands of dollars are spent on tech drives me nuts".
Good for you Andrew, it should drive us all nuts. That idea certainly drives me nuts. Nowhere in my statements did I say that one needs to spend lots of money on anything to produce good, interesting, and/or thought provoking theatre. But I cannot stand by and have it implied that actors are the center of the theatrical universe. Theatre is a collaborative effort. Everyone does their part regardless of how many or few elements are part of the show. When each person does their job well then a good production comes forth. I have seen bad actors rise up to good under wonderful direction. I have seen great actors put in awful performances due to bad direction or a script that just won't work no matter what you do with it. I have witnessed poor tech quality that gummed up otherwise great shows to the point of no redemption.
Certainly you are correct that there is lots of big budget schlock out there - anything by Andrew Loyd Webber for example from "Cats" on. One of the WORST shows I ever had to sit through was the touring show of "Phantom" at the Kennedy Center Opera House. If I had had to pay for the tickets I would have demanded my money back. It, like most of Webber's stuff, is all about the wonderful effects. I can appreciate a good set as much as anyone since good set building put food on our table and paid our bills for five years but I would have preferred to have a twenty minute demonstration of the set and lights and a costume parade rather than have to endure that repetitive music and totally lame script. Sorry for the tangent there...
The point is that good or bad theater can happen on any stage or venue but it is about the harmony of the collaboration.
The second comment I can't get out of my head:
Rick said "I saw more bad theatre at the Shakespeare Theatre than just about any other theatre in the country."
Really? I am curious as to your definition of "bad theatre".
I have seen some of the best productions ever at the Shakespeare Theatre. "Cyrano" was amazing with the entire audience in tears. It made the wonderful Barksdale production look like a comedy in comparison - even though Bridgewater and everyone else put in fine performances it just couldn't touch the superior quality of the Shakespeare Theatre version. "Julius Ceaser" was phenomenal with its modern social commentary thrown in with the Rodney King staged references and mix of modern and traditional costumes. In your favor, Rick, I did see a horrible "Othello" in which I left at intermission but for the most part everything I have seen there was top notch. I will admit that I have not been in the last three years but it is difficult to imagine that Michael Kahn has allowed any major dip in quality. I will make a point to see some shows there this season to compare.
Rick also said "Studio is highly overrated". Hmmm. I had a season subscription at Studio last year and thought everything I saw to be at least as good as the best shows I see here in Richmond. Not the top shows I've seen in Richmond (Syringa Tree, I Am My Own Wife, Urinetown, The Full Monty) but definitely the upper level. Perhaps part of my love of DC theatre is the lack of anger I feel when I see a pretty full house with a seemingly socially and racially mixed audience in attendance. Who knows but I am interested in more details in regards to these comments.
Friday, December 07, 2007
I adored "A Christmas Story" and it wasn't just that it was in a theatre with flyspace. Sadly, my formal review was so limited in space that when it comes out it will not even slightly do justice to the show. Tony, as Dave T. has already said was fabulous. He did have a lot of lines, true but he really did create a wonderful character as well. In fact everyone in the show was wonderful. The sets and lighting were lovely with the exception of Ralphie's face looking very yellow at times when he was not in a fantasy sequense (a minor infraction. The costumes were OK too but I was unsure about some of the 1938 authenticity. The movie has always looked too '50s too me so I am wondering if the cosutmer chose to just copy the film's flavor or actually researched the era. Also a knit pic in the face of the great script which is beautifully adapted in a way that pays homage to the film without spitting it right back at you. There are some additions to the story like the expanded relationship between Ralphie and his classmate Esther Jane. I could go on and on about this show and all the fun and great performances but I need to get off my duff and start the morning routine. But do go see the show and take all your friends. And Dave, Cooper is really cute, but you knew that already.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Mary also has a preview of the upcoming XF Dance company show. Also a bit spicy based on some of the pictures. Check it out!
Particularly when Laura Linney is going to be on Broadway again. You have to hand it to the Roundabout -- they are certainly scoring the "event" shows. Claire Danes is closing soon in "Pygmalion" and Kathleen Turner is directing their "Crimes of the Heart" next year. My reaction to Linney in "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" is somewhat similar to Danes in "Pyg:" I absolutely LOVE Linney. For my film class last semester, I did a short paper on "Primal Fear" which was Ed Norton's first big splash in film. But I came away from it with a new appreciation for Linney who does amazing things with a relatively throw-away role.
Anyway, "Liaisons" is a meaty story but it's also not one that compels me to seek it out again and again. Malkovich and Close (and of course Uma!) were great in the movie version but for some reason I tend to remember the role Michelle Pfeiffer played. Anyway, it's mostly a story of mean people doing mean things. It's delicious fun once, but has a tendency to grow stale quickly.
So I MAY have to run up to see Ms. Linney come April. Or maybe something even more interesting will come along...
Monday, December 03, 2007
The ongoing discussion regarding performance spaces and attendance inspired me to give a little update on Richmond Center Stage (RCS). The new Center is predicated on the idea that Richmond’s world class performing arts organizations deserve world class performance spaces which reflect the artists’ remarkable skill and quality.
Performance spaces are a special interest of mine; at a recent conference of the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America, an annual gathering of companies that perform primarily Shakespeare, three artistic directors were charged with talking about the spaces in which they create live theatre: Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. (Lenox, MA), Christopher Gaze of Bard on the Beach (Vancouver, BC) and yours truly tried to qualify what is magical about our theatres and what lures audiences to attend. I spoke about Richmond Shakespeare’s summer Festival venue, Agecroft Hall and indoor space at 2nd Presbyterian, but also about Richmond’s new performing arts center. (Incidentally, Bard on the Beach sold out its entire summer run of four Shakespeare plays: 205 performances and more than 87,000 people.)
My interest goes beyond my profession and Richmond Shakespeare. The spaces in which artists create live performance to me are sacred spaces; they are the crucibles in which we fire the human imagination. We shine light on the very core of our humanity---when we cannot help but laugh, weep, or be lifted out of our seats. In those spaces, elegant or unsophisticated, we ponder the very truths of man’s ultimate dilemma, expanding on an ancient question as old as civilization itself: “Quem Quaertis?” What is it we’re seeking? A literal translation of this liturgical phrase is “whom do you seek?” It was tremendously influential on European medieval dramas, and thereby on the fabric of the Renaissance and on our own theatres today.
Today, theatre still speaks volumes about our very human quest to seek. Theatres reflect what’s happening among the audience and the performers. In short---our theatres represent the very core of ourselves.
And what’s happening in Richmond? Plenty. As you can see from the pictures, there’s plenty happening at the RCS on site right now. Current construction focuses on a new stagehouse for the Carpenter Theatre, including selective demolition within the theatre and adjoining storefronts. It’s work of which the public seems largely unaware; many even seem unaware that the RCS effort has emerged from its toughest challenges and is making enormous leaps forward. Someone recently asked me, “isn’t that whole thing dead in the water?”
Far from it.
The effort to build Richmond Center Stage involves an impressive array of performing arts organizations bonded together in an Alliance for the Arts. It’s an Alliance that still regularly advises the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation. It’s an Alliance remarkable in its unity, and one which shows just how influential artists can be when they work together. It’s an Alliance like Richmond has never seen before. Richmond Shakespeare has played a small role on the board of the Alliance since its inception and in the planning effort of RCS. (We’ve actually been involved as far back as the first MAPS meetings in the late 90’s.) As such we’ve had a front row perspective on the evolution of the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation, which is charged with building Richmond Center Stage.
Today, Richmond Shakespeare is preparing to be a resident of the new Center, and we’re far from alone! At the last meeting of major users of the new arts center two weeks ago, the African American Repertory Company, Richmond Ballet, Richmond Symphony, Richmond Shakespeare and Virginia Opera organizations together continued active planning for the opening of RCS, slated for September of 2009. Also participating in this users’ group (though they couldn’t attend that meeting) is Theatre IV, and by extension Barksdale Theatre. It’s a region-wide effort of large and small performing arts organizations. How realistic is a 2009 opening?
Richmonders wary of pushed-back deadlines should know that the construction companies lose money if they miss the September goal. The photos included here are quite current; they were taken within the last two and a half weeks. If you haven’t driven by in a while—you’ll be surprised. Take a look; the new federal courthouse looks pretty great across the street, too.
So, what spaces will Richmond Center Stage provide to theatre artists?
One age-old space will be restored, returning a beloved space to use, newly renamed the Carpenter Theatre. Next, thanks to a generous gift a great new space will open, the Libby Gottwald Playhouse, a flexible 200-seat intimate theatre which we are working hard to ensure is available to a wide variety of producers, small and smaller organizations alike.
That space was thoroughly and painstakingly designed, with input from theatre practitioners and prospective users incorporated all along the way: it will have performance-hall acoustics, flexible seating, state of the art lighting equipment, and is already the most exciting new space in Richmond theatre since Barksdale’s move to Willow Lawn. Lastly among the performance spaces, RCS will include Rhythm Hall, which will primarily be a space for music but someone will find their creativity ignited by its many configurations and performance possibilities. Can we say Elegba Folklore Society or Richmond Jazz Society, anyone?
Also of significant note are new Educational Outreach spaces. The Genworth BrightLights Education Centertm, a new avenue for existing arts organizations to reach young people to foster learning tied to the arts; the BrightLights programming will exist on-site and reach out to surrounding school districts.
So what’s next? Right now all the design work has been finished and we’re following the process of construction and planning for the opening of Richmond Center Stage. Are you planning for 2009? We are.
Artistic Director, Richmond Shakespeare
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Because I know only sophisticates read this blog, I know that you all know that remembering the lines is really just the beginning for an actor, the barest of foundations upon which they build a performance. But after seeing “A Christmas Story” last night, I couldn’t refrain from a bit of that unsophisticated amazement in regards to Tony Foley’s performance. Stage time for “ACS” is more than 110 minutes and I think Tony probably narrates nearly 100 of them. The sheer volume of verbiage he needs to keep straight in his head is impressive.
But that really is just the beginning for his performance, which is wonderful. Narration is tough. It is all too easy to fall into monotone. There’s little or no interplay between you and another character to help you stay focused or give you cues as to what happens next. You are the engine that drives the production and if you sputter, the whole train falters.
Tony does more than just keep the show chugging along. He infuses his narration with life and wit and animation. He makes his character (Ralph) a real character, not just a removed voice. And it is his performance that makes the show, if you ask me. Everyone else in the cast is excellent but if Tony weren’t extra excellent, the show would not be nearly as good. And just as an additional aside, if the narrator was just some disembodied voice like it is in the movie, the show would have to struggle mightily to be good. The amount of narration in this play is hard to pull off; Tony makes it work.
I have to say that it’s impossible for me to be truly objective about this show since my son is in it. Somewhere in my objective critic brain there's an impression that the show is too long. But every moment that my boy is on stage is pretty transcendent for me so am I going to complain about length? I don’t think so. It’s a good thing others will be reviewing this show. I can imagine some of the criticisms they might have but you won't hear any of them from me. In my analysis, it was pretty darn good. Which is lucky for me since I will have to see it at least 3 more times. Which is also why I’ll probably have more to say about this show before it’s over
It was great to see a whole bunch of theater pals at opening night. I usually bolt shortly after the curtain goes down after most shows. But we T-lines made up for that habit last night by being pretty much the last folks out the door after the cast party. Mr. Miller caught some pictures of both me and my blogmate Mary and posted them on the Barksdale Blog. Check ‘em out if you want to get a look at the faces behind these words.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Afterward, the ongoing discussion of spaces, attendance and aesthetics inspired me to give an update on Richmond Center Stage, which will appear next week.
Richmond Shakespeare is a 23 year-old non-profit organization in the midst of massive change. In just two years, we opened a new downtown space, added new staff, moved our entire offices and added an enormous new education program called Will Power to Youth Richmond, collaborating with the National Endowment for the Arts, the US Department of Justice, Shakespeare Festival/LA and the VA Attorney General’s Office. In those two years (one since the offices move), we have been honored with the Pollak award and grown our fledgling Training department to the point that it will now host such Richmond legends as Scott Wichmann, David Sennett, Jill Bari Steinberg and Daryl Clark Phillips and has already this year brought Jennifer Massey to teach classes. (You can come take one anytime!) London actor David Hall will also teach a class soon, and we recently enjoyed Stephen Williams’ visit, who played Prospero for Richmond Shakespeare; Stephen’s last “Tempest” was as Ariel opposite none other than Sir John Gielgud in 1964 at the Royal National Theatre.
However, I can’t help but think critics like ‘anonymous’ are referring to the staff when they say their objection to us is “organizational.” I wonder if they know that all of the above was accomplished with a staff of only four (4) people. In addition, I’ve also taken a full time teaching position at Maggie Walker Governor’s School. I haven’t made this public until now but I’ve waived my Richmond Shakespeare salary during this entire time so that it can go to our other staff—all in an effort to bring the company to a up to a new level. Is it hard? Exhausting? Do we make mistakes? Of course. But the alternative is to quit, and it’s just not in our nature. It unequivocally isn’t in mine.
You might think I’d be angry at anonymous. Quite the contrary—I invite anyone to come see our offices, give me their two cents about how they think our organization could be improved, in short, to become part of the RS family and phenomenon. Because the above list is just a partial one, and there are hundreds of performances and classes—and thousands of audience members yet to come. If you like our venues, our performance style and our vision for the future, come be a part of it.
In the meantime, it’s my great privilege to again be performing “A Christmas Carol for Two Actors,” which opens tonight. Nightly collections benefit CARITAS, Richmond’s most prominent non-profit homeless sheltering organization. We play inside 2nd Presbyterian Church, just two blocks from Richmond Center Stage, on 5th Street between Franklin and Main. Our patrons enjoy free parking in an attached secure garage, from which they can walk right into the theatre. The chapel at 2nd Pres is almost exactly the dimensions of Shakespeare’s own indoor theatre—which also used to be a chapel. Stop in for dinner first, or dessert after at Penny Lane right across the street—they’re great friends of ours and what could better following a performance of Shakespeare or Dickens?
We’re growing. Come see us evolve.
Artistic Director, Richmond Shakespeare
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Also, I’ll be on stage at the Firehouse tomorrow (Thurs) night. There’s a film called “The Business of Being Born” and I’ll be on a Q&A panel inciting discussion after it. Doors will open at 6 PM for hor d'oeurves, wine, beer and soft drinks and the movie begins promptly at 7 PM. Tickets are $10. As the marketing blurb for the film says, “If you or someone you know is considering having a baby for the first time or considering another pregnancy, this is the movie to see!” As the participant in six home births (four involving my own kids), I guess they think I would have a unique perspective. Come and critique MY performance!
Background first: I was at the gorgeous Cameron Hall (?) at Steward School on a recent Saturday to see my first CYT production ever. It was "Oliver" and quite well done but I kept thinking, "Wow! this theater is so fantastic. It is totally of a caliber that surpasses the professional theater venues available in town. Where do these kids go from here?"
How awful to have a gorgeous well built set, lovely expensive costumes, a beautiful, clean venue, wonderful lighting and sound capabilities, an on site scene shop, a big stage with ample fly space- imagine FLY SPACE in a Richmond theater - and then to go into local Professional theater and not have that. It seems like such a let down.
Yes there is the Empire which is lovely and has fly space and I do not know if you guys have the sound and lighting technology that Steward has or not. But the big acts in town (Swift Creek, Barksdale Willow Lawn, Barksdale Hanover, Firehouse, Triangle) have these tiny claustrophobic spaces. I was shocked and amazed when I went up on stage after "Urinetown" and saw the itty bitty space the actors had to dance on .
It just seems like a let down for these young actors in training to perform in these really nice spaces like the Oates Theater (which I have never acted on even though I went to Collegiate and dated Tony Oates- I guess Dr. Oates donated the money for the theater after being inspired by our fantastic performances on the cafeteria stage - and yes, I am bitter) and Cameron Hall (if I've got that right) at Steward and then offered the chance to perform professionally on these not as wonderful spaces.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
--> Growing a Constituency. There are programs like CYT and smaller theater companies like Chamberlayne Actors Theater that have been able to thrive (from what I can tell) by growing a regular and devoted constituency. This has always been the idea behind having subscribers but it really has to go beyond just getting someone to buy a season of tickets (which people are less and less willing to do given the demands on people's time and the myriad entertainment options out there). I think Barksdale is doing a great job at trying to build a constituency via their blog and their Coffee and Conversations series. You develop an awareness in people so they’re on the lookout for whatever production is coming up and they may be more willing to take a chance at checking out a play they hadn’t heard of before. Unfortunately, the myth seems to have been propagated that this strategy only works for older folks or groups with an already established commonality (Christians, the GLBT community, etc.) I think theaters are still struggling to get at that elusive younger crowd which is more fickle so you can’t always count on traditional methods. And the untraditional ones are risky – are you going to throw resources behind a “singles night” at the theater or a hip-hop night at the theater when there’s no telling whether that’ll amount to anything?
--> Challenging plays. One of the coolest things about seeing “Spring Awakening” in NYC was that the majority of the audience was younger, the first time I’d seen such a thing since “Rent.” But hey, it was a rock-n-roll show all about sex! There are other shows like this but nobody is willing to put them up. I still mourn the fact that Rick St. Peter left town because for a while there (before he got old and respectable and had kids of his own) he was putting together shows like “suburbia” and “Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop” that had a chance of intriguing a younger crowd (and even adventurous older folks). I also think producers have to shift their thinking a bit: The generation that matured in the 60s – remember free love and rampant drug use and everything? – is now entering their 60s. I think a grown-up these days is willing to see a show where they say “fuck” unlike the bro-ha-ha that such a show would engender years ago. Are we just going to do “Anything Goes” and “Guys and Dolls” forever? I guess you have to do them occasionally because those are the shows that sell out – there wasn’t a ticket to be found for “Anything Goes” a couple of summers ago – but how about something that shocks the system a little?
--> Venue. Richmond continues to have a venue problem. I know that the reason some people are wary of places like the Firehouse is because it’s not a big fancy theater like the National. The fanciest place we have in town is the Empire but that’s still in scary downtown, hard-to-park ville in the mind of most Richmonders -- Theater IV’s valet parking and positive marketing notwithstanding. From what I hear, some of the schools with nice theaters – Collegiate and Steward for instance – have rental rates that are prohibitive which is too bad because Theatre IV used to do shows at the Oates Theater at Collegiate and they were great. The downtown arts center debacle was supposed to solve that venue problem to some extent. It remains to be seen whether whatever comes out of it will.
No disrespect to anonymous but I don’t really get the appeal of going to DC at all. I used to live there and even when I could bike to a theater, transportation was a hassle. I’ve probably seen 8 professional theater productions in DC and half of them were great and the other half were…eh.
In general, I agree with everything robinitaface said and there’s no way Richmond could become DC for any number of reasons. But I spend more time than I have in years on Richmond’s two big campuses (UofR and VCU) and there are kids looking for things to do and a fair amount of disposable income at both places. That’s where the potential for the future is, I think.
I’ve got more thoughts but work is calling me. More soon…
Sunday, November 25, 2007
My beautiful boy was visiting this week and so I am behind on everything due to my wanting to spend time with him and other family members not to mention that my husband has taken one for the Kennedy Center Honors scenic team and broken his leg in two places. A peice of giant scenery fell on him in the line of duty. NO kidding, a huge piece of scenery fell right on him and now he is on crutches during one of his busiest times of the year. So I am thankful that it was not worse and that I did not cancel his health insurance at his request in September.
Congratulations to the gang at Barksdale on the opening of "Moonlight and Magnolia" last Friday night. Aside: Frank it is OK for you to say "hi" to me if you see me at the theater especially when I am working- I noticed you said it was OK for Dave to say "Hey" to you at Starbucks or Barnes and Noble and that you and your lovely wife were in attendance at Willow Lawn. You may read about my opinion of the show in the fabulous STYLE WEEKLY whenever that slow talkin' tall Texan editor decides to put it in. What I wanted to comment about in this post is how upset I get when I go to the theater in Richmond and see so many empty seats in these teeny theaters.
Where is the theater going population here?
Allow me to begin this querry with a description of a typical theater audience in DC...Imagine a theater that is virtually full with only a couple of random empty seats. The audience population consists of people in all manner of dress from jeans to ubiquitous artist black to tweedy professor to chic diplomat and preppy/yuppy - lots of cool angular shaped glasses. All races are represented. Ages vary from a smattering of high school and college aged kids to very old people with the majority in their thirties, fourties and fifties. Even at matinees. Granted, I have been to shows both day and night that were not full or even well attended. But that usually only happens at smaller theaters or community productions. Usually, at Studio, Source, and Wolly Mammoth where I go most frequently, there are pretty full houses.
When I go to the theater in Richmond it is quite different. It seems like there are hardly ever sold out shows. A show as potentially interesting as "Austin's Bridge" or as absolutely fabulous as "Urinetown" should be packed every show. Even on opening nights I have seen partly full houses. When I go to Barksdale I feel like a kid in the sense most of my fellow theater goers are older - or at least look older than me. Rarely are audiences mixed in terms of race as far as I can tell.
I am truly thankful for the people that do attend local theater. Thank you all for your support. But where are the bodies who should be filling the empty seats? And/or how do we get them there?
Appologies- no time for spell check. Must get to yoga.
Looking forward to your comments.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
The new friends I’ve made thanks to this blog, most of whom are remarkably literate and respectful.
That I live in a town with a thriving theater scene populated by some seriously talented folks. This critic gig would seriously suck otherwise.
That I made it to New York before the strike. And that I’m not dependent on Broadway or Hollywood for my livelihood. Bless you, strikers, and good luck.
That I’ve only gained 5 pounds over the past 3 months and not 10. Moderation resumes Nov. 23rd.
That people who read this blog don’t complain incessantly that I’m always three weeks behind on updating the links on the side of this page. I’ll get to it, honest.
That the people associated with “A Christmas Story” are consummate professionals who seem to still have a soft spot for my poor exhausted son after almost three weeks of rehearsal. You all are making his first professional theater experience an amazing one. I hope you are not spoiling him for the future…
That this old body of mine – though creaking ever more persistently – still gets me around to everywhere I need to go and generally responds to whatever it is asked to do. And that my hair is falling out at just an alarming rate, not a completely shocking one.
That I live in a country where I can disagree with people (including my aforementioned lovely family and friends) about politics, religion, theater, sports, and ethnic food and do not have to fear being placed in a gulag as a result.
And most of all, for my still-stunning-after-all-these-years wife with whom I’ve built a life that -- while not always perfect -- is still much better than I deserve.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
I have so much to be thankful for this year and I adore the chance to be thankful for it officially day after tomorrow. I am thankful for all the normal things most of us have in this Land of Plenty called the US Of A like a home with decent furniture, the freedom to vote, travel, and express my opiniions, Target, etc. But personally, this year I am grateful to my new career as a writer.
I am so happy (though still financially strapped) and thankful to Brandon Reynolds and Jason Roop who gave me a chance at STYLE and have been wonderfully supportive of everything I do. Dave T. for inviting me to do this blog which has all been fun and educational, and for the opportunity to meet some of the wonderful people who make the theater scene operate around here. Dave is right in acknowledging in his blog all of the good folks who dedicate their time to stage-managing, wrangling kids, etc. Theater is a collaborative effort and each person must do their part to make it work - no matter how small that part may seem - like running props- it is still critical to the success of a show. So, thanks everyone for the great job you do to provide the best shows you can to the Richmond community.
Now for the theater report: I saw four plays in seven days and it was great. It all began last Sunday in DC at Woolly Mammoth with "Current Nobody" a modern adaptation of "The Odessey" in which the woman leaves on the adventure and leaves the man to raise the baby and fend off "suitors". It was a great production and a fun twist on a classic story. I totally recommend it if you can make it up to see it.
Second play: "The 8:Reindeer Monologues" : you already know I enjoyed the darkness of it and nearly all of the performances. Review to follow in STYLE sometime soon. It sounds like many of you will go see it and you should.
Third Play: I endured CYT's "Oliver" on Saturday afternoon because they were kind enough to send tickets and my daughter wanted to see it. I say "endured" because I do not care for the show - the set, costumes, props, and most of the kids were wonderful- I just think "Oliver" is one of those musicals that unless you are in it it is like being at a party where everyone is having a great time and you are merely observing rather than participating. It's old school score feels outdated to me or maybe just tired. And of course I want to kill Nancy myself for being such a co-dependant idiot. But there were several lovely performances and my daughter enjoyed it so there you go.
Fourth Play: Saturday night found me at my favorite theater in town, The Firehouse, for "Spinning Into Butter". It was every bit what I had hoped for and a whole lot funnier. All of the actors performed their parts very well. I especially enjoyed Bob Albertia's performance- he was just dead on with his bow tie and mannerisms. But really everyone was wonderful. My only complaint about the show was the costumes. Usually I whine about the sets at Firehouse but Ed Slipeck's set design was beautiful and finally something worthy of the high level of acting related to that venue. But back to the costumes...Dear Lisa, Vermont is cold. It gets cold at the end of August and stays cold until the middle of May. Why was the lead character in sandals and flimsey skirts with tiny thin little seaters through the entire show? My toes were freezing just thinking about how cold her feet should feel. No one was dressed for Vermont in the entire show- not that it ruined it or anything it just didn't fit and made the play imperfect.
Looking forward to "Moonlight and Magnolia" Friday night after some fabulous turkey on Thursday and of course the original black and white version of "Miracle on 34th Street".
Friday, November 16, 2007
Oh, and do check out the "Marmaduke explained" site that Andrew links to. I almost peed my pants -- from laughing, not age-related incontinence as my smart-ass daughter might assert...
Speaking of that production (smooth segue), one of the actresses in the SPARC show was Ali Thibodeau who is the big sister of Michael who is in the upcoming “A Christmas Story” at Theatre IV. Though I have admired her performances from afar in the past, it was my pleasure to meet her the other day and to find out some exciting news: she’s in the running for the national tour of “Spring Awakening.” She’s already been through 4 auditions and so is one of the final contenders. I’d love to write an inspiring “local girl makes it big” story (it is all about me, after all) so I’m rooting for Ali and I hope all of you out in the blogosphere will be as well.
So here’s one of my insights from my renewed “insider” perspective on the local theater scene – but I’m afraid it falls under the “annoying love fest” category. When I go to a show, I seldom really read the program cover to cover, skimming through many of the bios and mostly overlooking the names other than the lead actors and principle techies. What I have forgotten is how vital and generally awesome all the people behind all those often-overlooked other names are. This won’t be any big revelation to you folks in the biz already but it’s something I think us regular folks forget. After my son got cast in “A Christmas Story,” the main contact we’ve had is with folks like production manager Ginnie Willard and stage manager Ariel Osborne. And while the director may be the guy behind the steering wheel, it’s people like Ginnie and Ariel who keep the production purring along without crashing into a tree. Or who help out parents who are trying to juggle 47 things in addition to getting their child to rehearsal on time.
So my respect goes out to you behind the scenes folks – the prop runners (that was my job!), the lighting board operators, the house managers, the assistant costumers, etc. etc. It is unlikely that I’ll ever have the space or the occasion to recognize an outstanding effort by a stage manager in a published review. But let me say here that I have been reminded over the past couple of weeks how important you all are to a successful production and, while you might not see it in print, I hope you know you are appreciated.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Anyway- sorry for the soapbox action. I saw the Christmas season Holiday opener (as Dave so aptly put it), "The 8: Reindeer Monologues" at Fielden's last night. I enjoyed it but Warning: This show goes from irreverently funny to dark dark dark. Not "Santaland Diaries" dark. Really dark. I had a conversation with Ross Aitkin following the performance and we chatted about alternative ways to go with the material and he said he searched for them but found that it definitely needed to go into the very thick very scary forest of emotion that it does. I am now itching to see other productions of it just to see what other treatments other companies come up with if at all. I will also chat with my friend, Beth Warren, who originated one of the roles when she was acting in Chicago to get her take on it.
Look for the review in an upcoming STYLE issue. It is a good little production and everyone should go see it. Jase Smith and Suzanne Ankrum are wonderful at creating not one but two characters each in the show.
I also had an interesting conversation with actor,Chris Hester after the show. Turns out he is a devoted fan of this blog- THANK YOU, CHRIS! and he is producing a musical showcase slated for Firehouse in March. He promised to keep us posted.
Buckle your seat belts everyone and prepare for the Holiday ride. Look for a good theater question in my next blog.
See you at the theater!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
But more to the point, I hope you check out Mary’s review of “A Lesson Before Dying.” And you might also be interested in the piece by Mary’s boss and mine, Brandon Reynolds, who is a member of one of a "48 Film Project" team that has been going gangbusters. Scottie Wichmann gets a quick and somewhat obscure mention in the article. If you’re out there, Mr. W., would you care to elaborate?
Tonight marks the official beginning of the holiday theater season with the opening of “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues” by Richmond Triangle Players. One way or another, I’m getting out to see this show because I loved their last darker holiday offering, “The Santaland Diaries,” and any show that features Santa Claus and suspected sexual abuse is worthy of attention in my book.
My son has been toiling away in rehearsals for “A Christmas Story” and it’s been very interesting to be just a tad – a very little tad -- on the inside of the biz again. I’ll try to post some of my thoughts from in there soon.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
So I forgot to mention that one of the kicks of “Spring Awakening” for me was seeing Stephen Spinella -- who plays all of the adult male characters – onstage. He’s an actor that I had only seen on “24” in the past – a show I was somewhat of a slavish fan of at one point – and he played a kind of slimy, bureaucratic bad guy on the show. In “Awakening” he mostly plays a nasty, abusive bad guy, so really not that different. But he sings!
I also said all of the “Awakening” performances were great. I had forgotten that a swing actor was playing (for those of you who know the show) the more aggressive gay character. He has a big solo late in the show and, sorry to say, but this guy was pretty dreadful: off-tune and, when he had to go falsetto at one point, cringe-inducing. Kind of surprising to see on Broadway but it also was a nice reminder – theater is rarely perfect anywhere.
Day two in New York started with a whole lot of nothing. Sleeping in. Ahhh. When we finally went out, we walked all over the city, shopping for friends, for ourselves, and for our kids. I always see something new and surprising when I go up there. Ducking inside a Manhattan drug store for some allergy medicine provided something that was somewhat mundane but no less eye-widening: did you know they now make condoms with built-in vibrators? I stared at the display for a full minute before I really believed it. And there were two varieties: regular and extra-intense! Jeez, if I was a teenager these days I think I would truly lose my mind.
Anyway, the show for the night was “Jump!” – an off-Broadway diversion that I read about when it was in previews. It has since become famous after Brangelina and their kids attended the opening night performance. It’s a show performed by a North Korean martial arts / acrobatics crew and so we decided to make it kind of theme night, going out to Korean barbeque for dinner. Have you ever eaten authentic Korean food? It’s wild. For the barbeque, you sit at a table with a grill built into the center of the table. The entrees are all very meat intensive (ox-tongue!) and, if you order enough of it, they grill it right on the table. They also lay out a series of 12 different side dishes at the beginning of the meal, including kim-chi and fish balls (get your mind out of the gutter!) and seaweed and bok-choi and yummy barbeque sauce and sprouts and then big lettuce leaves and you roll all of it up in the lettuce and munch it on up. Yum! We got a beef dish that was exquisite and then also a “hot bowl” which is a noodle dish with veggies and spices and stuff all layered in a deep crockery bowl. They make a big production of coming out and mixing the hot bowl for you which you could just as easily do yourself but it’s cool for them to do it for you. I’m not really great at describing tastes (need your help, Muffin Face!) but it was all amazing and not like Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese either. It was it’s own thing and just delicious.
The show was also unique but really was more like circus than theater. The very lose plot involves a whole family of martial artists with a hard-driving grandfather that makes them all train all the time. A suitor for the young girl of the family is introduced and he turns out to be kind of a nerd who turns into a martial arts superhero when you take his glasses off. The second half of the show is dominated by the madness that ensues when a pair of would-be robbers – kind of a martial arts Laurel and Hardy -- break into the family’s house. The acrobatics are all amazing and much of the show is pretty hilarious. But as it drags on toward 90 minutes without interruption, the lack of a real plot or any significant character development starts to take its toll. It’s too bad really. The physical aspect of the show almost carries it and if only a real playwright spent some time turning the comic pratfalls into a real plot, the show would be more satisfying. The cast seemed to be waiting for a standing ovation at the show’s end but I can imagine it doesn’t get that many of them. It’s a show you appreciate rather than love.
But will we bring the kids to it next time we’re in New York? Oh yeah.
The show was over pretty early and so we wandered down into SoHo. Eliza had told us she was in ANOTHER off-Broadway joint at 11pm Saturday night, a show down at a venue called – and this is important – “Here.” Now Eliza didn’t know the address of the place but assured us that it was a pretty popular place and we could ask just about anyone in SoHo where it was and they could tell us. I asked her incredulously, “so when I ask people where ‘Here’ is and they look at me funny, what am I supposed to do?” She retorted that I should look back at them funnier, “that’s how New York works.” Hmmm. So we stroll along through the Village into SoHo and start asking a couple people, “Have you ever heard of ‘Here?’” or telling them “We’re trying to get to ‘Here.’” We even went by a little comedy club where a guy was working a mic on the street and we became a bit of an impromptu Abbott and Costello routine: “You’re looking for where” “No, ‘Here.’” “But you’re already here!” At this point I’m thinking Eliza purposely set us up for this as a bit of living performance art.
But after two phone calls to information and several more blocks of wandering, we make it to ‘Here’ (because, if you can make it to ‘Here,’ you can make it to Anywhere. It is New York, New York, after all…) It’s a somewhat less divey-looking place and actually has a little reception area with a guy behind a counter. We ask him if we’re on the list for the 11 o’clock show and he looks at us like we’re stoned (which I was kind of wishing I was at that point). We could pay for the tickets – which were only 1/10th of what “Awakening” cost, after all -- but after all that wandering, a nice hot chocolate and a warm bed were sounding pretty good. So we passed on the fourth show of the weekend but you know, sometimes three’s a charm.
Thanks for wading through this New York Odyssey with me. Now it’s back to the grind…and all of those Christmas shows opening any day now!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Now about the theater experience. A little background:
My husband's family live under the charming illusion that because I do not have a job in which I go to an office from nine to five and make $150,000 plus a year to support their darling son/grandson/nephew, that I must sit on my fanny, eat bon bon's and watch Jerry Springer and Soap Operas all day. In their eyes I am valuable only as the mother of their next generation and when I stopped producing related off-spring they decided that they were pretty much done with any effort on my part. My husband's aunt had no idea that I ever had anything to do with theater much less write about it. So upon learning that I am, among other things, a theater critic, she became overwhelmed with the idea that I must see a show while in town. More information necessary to fully understand this situation is that my darling husband's family and I do not share the same taste so when she chose "Tuna Vegas" over some more meaty and interesting plays I was a little disappointed. But she INSISTED despite my pleas to beg off. So on Sunday night we drove into town and saw "Tuna Vegas" at the gorgeous historical Paramount Theater. The Paramount is like a western version of the Empire. It is about the same age and a similar style except that its interior features dessert colors like burnt orange and sage green mixed in with the gold leafed accents an lots of dark red Texas roses. The play was good if not my taste. I missed some of the jokes because they were insider Texas jokes but the characters were humorous and well- developed. If you are not familiar with the "Tuna" plays: These two actors came up with this idea to write a play about the third smallest town in Texas with two actors and a dozen or so different characters. They started this concept 22 years ago and have been performing the "Tuna" plays all over the world ever since. Apparently "Tuna Vegas" is better if you have seen the other plays and are familiar with the reappearing characters. As I said, they were funny but I got very antsy. These guys are getting a little slow on the costume changes so there was some kind of dead time throughout. What was really impressive though was the pantomime. They use no props. All card playing, cig smoking, coffee making etc was pantomime. These guys were so smooth at one point I found myself surprised at the realization that one of the actors was not really holding a glass of water that they had just "poured".
So that was my Texas live theater experience. I did get some nice boots too.
Now that the NEA Arts Journalism Institute application is safely sent to LA, may we open the discussion of "What is the State of American Theater"? I said in my essay that I feel that American Theater is as relevant in our culture as ever. That I am optimistic about it's future because as an art form it is due for a resurgence. I see this resurgence in popularity coming from our youth. I know it sounds crazy. The idea that these media savvy and oriented kids are going to get into live theater but think about it. Observation 1: There are oodles of theater training programs for youth these days. We have about a dozen right here in Richmond (I am writing a story about this but it is slow coming due to the volume of information and the lack of a deadline). Kids and parents can choose private programs all year long or no-fee or low-fee programs from Henley Street (free) or the Department of Rec and Parks (Pine Camp has a good one for a low fee). There are programs like Will Power to Youth that has been in LA for 14 years and piloted in Richmond last summer (go to www.styleweekly.com, arts and culture, then search for past articles). National programs like the NEA's Shakespeare in America from which companies like the Staunton Shakespeare Theater receive grants to involve young people in Shakespeare plays. The end result will be supporters of live theater. Theory: With all of the non-human involvement of electronic media, these kids will crave the spontaneity and reality of live theater as they get older. The pendulum of popularity swings.
Okay, that is the beginning of my thoughts. Have at it.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
One of the best things about that feeling is it allows the more petty annoyances of life to fall to the side. Our flight has a one-hour delay? Big deal! I’m in an airport, reading quietly and calmly, and there are no children around. What could be so wrong?
So the first night in New York we are hoping we can sneak in a viewing of Eliza Skinner’s one-woman show, “Eliza Skinner is: Shameless!” before running off to “Spring Awakening.” As luck and logistics would have it, her show is at 7pm, lasts just 30 minutes, and it’s a straight shot up 8th Avenue to the Eugene O’Neill for “Spring.” We have just enough time to check into our hotel, check out our room, call down to get our room switched (twin beds??? Sorry, that’s not going to work), unload our stuff in our new room, and change for the show. We go looking for a quick bite – hoping for Thai food in the neighborhood. As we walk the 15 blocks to the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater, our standards fall to “anything ethnic,” and when we finally get to 8th Avenue, we settle for a local Mexican joint that’s actually pretty good. The UCB Theatre is conveniently located underneath the largest grocery store I’ve ever seen in Manhattan which comes in handy when it’s decided we must have M&M’s before the show. The theater is also everything you’d expect from an off-off-B’Way locale – that is, a bit seedy – but we’re excited to see Eliza and sure enough, as soon as she steps out on stage, the surroundings disappear (well, all except for the G*&$^%#& column that obstructs my view occasionally…)
Eliza’s show is a series of short scenes illuminating three very different but all desperate characters: a mom determined to be her daughter’s best pal, a newly 30 suburbanite lusting after a 14 year-old, and a loose party girl whose boyfriend just broke up with her. She absolutely owns these characters: each one is deeply flawed but her performance is polished like a diamond. And the scenes are gut-bustingly hilarious, filled with truly memorable moments. One of my favorites was when she inadvertently slices her hand while preparing a bagel for a friend and, after bleeding profusely a minute, realizes she should go to the emergency room but not before asking, “Did you still want that?” Her party girl could easily be a Saturday night live character, and not one of the stupid ones either, but a good one like the Church Lady or any of Mike Myers ones. In a show that packs a load of laughs into 30 minutes, my only quibble would be an ending that just goes on a little too long.
It was 7:35 but still we hung around for a few minutes hoping to catch a word with Eliza but eventually just had to bolt. We grad a cab going up 8th Avenue that ends up crawling along at about a block a minute. After 10 blocks, we lose the cab and end up trotting the last 10 blocks to the theater. Mezzanine seats, third row center – nice view but OH MY GOD can the people behind us talk ANY LOUDER? It’s like they’re trying to project well enough to be heard on stage. Anyway, the lights come up and it’s “Spring Awakening.”
Wow – what a cool show. The music was awesome, the performances all great, and the staging pretty nifty as well. “The Bitch of Living” and “Totally Fucked” made me remember the kinetic feeling of discovery that I had the first time I saw “Rent.” But the last several scenes are awfully predictable and overall, the story left a lot to be desired. Sex is such an amazing, enlightening, blessed thing – it’d be great to find a show that celebrates it without making it tragic. And adolescence is such a fantastic time of discovery, of you know, awakening – couldn’t the kids come out on top somehow at the end?
Anyway, it was still a great show and one of the most uplifting things about it was how many young folks were in the audience. We hung out afterwards and talked to some cast members as they were leaving (ok, Holly did, because she’s braver than I) and they were as nice as could be. We wandered back to toward our hotel, stopping into an all-night deli for a nosh. We were sitting at the counter and, as we were deconstructing both “Shameless” and “Spring,” a very friendly, very hyper guy comes up and joins our conversation. Turns out he’s an actor of sorts – does children’s theater and works as a clown (and a bartender) – and gives us his take on the scene. Says “Young Frankenstein” is the best thing on Broadway right now but the best show in the city is some experiential thing that happens all around you and has circus performers and such. Oh well – too bad we’re going to miss that one. After a quick conversation on his cell phone (in Russian!), he’s off and so are we, to our rooms where we’ll have sweet Broadway dreams…
That’s day one. Day two, coming up…someday…soon?
Monday, November 05, 2007
More details to come, specifically my thoughts on the “State of American Theatre,” assuming of course that we're talking about the state of New York.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
I would love your thoughts on defining this question and how you think it should be answered. You - the active theater population- are the front line of this question and your ideas, comments, observations etc are the most valid.
“Dear Campus Community,
I was saddened to learn of a report early Sunday morning that students walking in the University Forest Apartments area around 1:00 a.m.witnessed a young white man wearing "a painted black face, a dreadlock wig, baseball cap, big pink lips, and aviator sunglasses." This example of "blackface"--when people wear black makeup in racist caricatures of African-Americans--represents a painful part of our nation's history and culture. It has no place on this campus.
As I've mentioned to students and parents nearly every time I've had the chance, the University of Richmond offers an opportunity to take intellectual risks, risks that we are only willing to take within the safety of our community. Dressing in blackface breaches that sense of trust. It threatens not just some of our members, but the inclusive community we work to secure every day. As a historian of race in America, I work in my classes and scholarship to understand the powerful destructive undertow of our past. As president, I work with colleagues across campus to ensure that our university becomes a more generous and fair-minded community.
At the University of Richmond, diversity and inclusion stand alongside learning as core institutional values. We all have a role to play in translating those values into meaningful action.”
The email was signed by University president Ed Ayers. I was tempted to reply and suggest he send another email encouraging every student to go see “Spinning into Butter.” Does theater address important issues of the day? I’d say the answer to that is pretty clear.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
And sure, the lead actors are great and all, but I’d like to start out at a possibly unexpected place: Tony Santiago and Matt Polson both deliver fine performances in their somewhat small roles as two very different college students. You usually hope and expect the leads are going to be great but what can really raise a production from good to superb are the supporting players. As Nuyorican student, Patrick, Santiago expertly captures the many moods of his character as he transitions from hopeful to frustrated to outraged. And through it all, his character is consistent and well-grounded – I had a pretty clear sense of who he was in the first scene and each succeeding scene built on that foundation. Truly a great job by a young actor.
Polson has starred in several noticeable roles before – I’ll always remember his hilarious Gaston in Theatre IV’s “Beauty and the Beast.” But he distinguishes himself in “Butter” in just the few scenes he’s in. Most impressive to me was that, when his character discovers an unexpected conviction in himself near the end, he seems just as surprised as we are. It’s a nice turn and Polson pulls it off well.
The characters played by Melissa Johnston Price and Robert Albertia are both a bit cartoonish – they seem more “types” than actual people. But if there are any two actors who can infuse these types with some real humanity, Price and Albertia are the ones. Price does imperious as good as anyone and Albertia’s grandfatherly throw-back has a pretty convincing nasty streak. But where they really shine is in communicating decades worth of a “complicated” relationship between the characters in just a few lines. As portrayed at the Firehouse, these two characters made me think that “Butter” could have been adapted into an excellent television series where we get small pieces of their back-story as it progresses. Are you listening Rebecca Gilman?
Of course, the big two players are Fred Iacovo and Katie McCall as Ross and Sarah. I’ll be honest: for me, McCall is one of those actresses who could do a night reading the phone book and I’d be enraptured. In this production, she completely and thoroughly embodies her character and her honesty is heart-rending. In the abstract, it’s hard to work up much sympathy for a guilt-ridden, closet racist but it’s impossible not to empathize with this character given the depth and feeling McCall projects in her performance. Her performance defies that simple characterization, makes it real and multi-faceted and complicated.
Fred was probably the most entertaining character for me. His character’s naivety in love is a bit ridiculous and contemptible but the hope and will to try that goes along with it proves honorable and praise-worthy in the end. Fred never tries to make Ross too despicable nor does he try to make him too likable. It’s a pleasure to watch a performance that is a bit like a mystery – it keep you guessing and it’s impossible to truly figure it out. Great fun.
The only performance I had a bit of a hard time with was Steve Moore’s as the security guard, Mr. Myers. In my opinion, Moore doesn’t do anything bad, per se, but in contrast to Fred’s character, I couldn’t get a handle on Mr. Myers and I found it frustrating rather than entertaining. If anything, this is a character I wanted to be more of a “type.” This character is a little like one of Shakespeare’s fools – the little guy who is more insightful than any of the smarties in the room. I don’t know exactly what I would have preferred by I guess I can imagine either a mild-mannered bear like Michael Clarke Duncan in this role or a kindly, wise old soul like Ian McKellen (OK, maybe not quite that old).
I had been given some advanced notice that the set was good and it was indeed pretty impressive. Ed Slipek did a great job – an amazingly thorough job – in assembling all the appropriate details that would make up a Dean’s office in a northeastern liberal arts college. Some of my favorite parts were the faux hardwood floor, the abstract and cubist art – intellectual but not too threatening, and the scene out the window. It was a fine set that starts to put Firehouse in the same league as some of the finely-honed beauties that Tom Width puts together down at the Mill.
Mostly, this is a bracingly intelligent play that grapples with real issues in an honest way. I had some quibbles with some aspects of the script and in my post-midnight grumpiness as I was working on wrapping up my review, I might have highlighted those with more vigor that I would have in the light of day. And it’s hard to ignore that, for a play that explores race, it’s also primarily about white folks and their difficulties. But it’s a rare treat to find a show that engages both the mind and the heart so effectively. Thanks Firehouse and director Morrie Piersol for such a great production!
Monday, October 29, 2007
The short of it is: There are only four more days to catch this gem of a show. Theater does not get better than this anywhere gang so pick up those cell phones and pound out those emails. Treat yourselves and everyone you know to some fun, fresh, fantastic theater and make the treck out to Swift Creek to see Urinetown.
See you at the theater,
Mary "does-anyone-else-need-an-insuline-shot-but-I-do-truly-lovelovelove-this-show" Burruss
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Then it was off to Nelson County south of Charlottesville to visit with a whole gaggle of old friends. It’s really beautiful up there – just starting to get into peak “leaf-peeping” season, a little later this year I guess because the cold nights have only just started to kick in. We were right up the road from a relatively new theater, the Earl Hamner, that is currently doing a show about Edgar Allen Poe. There’s also a brand new brew-pub that just opened this past weekend called the Blue Mountain, in addition to the dozen or so wineries in the area. How’s that for a nice weekend getaway?
Until I get my thoughts together on “Butter,” below is a deeper, wiser thought to ruminate on. I’ve been trying to figure out how it fits in with my role as a critic. Haven’t quite got anywhere yet.
If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the world that God has left for you to complete. But if you can only see what is wrong and how ugly it is, then it is you yourself that needs repair.
-RABBI TZVI FREEMAN