Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Arts on the Cheap"

OC Register music critic Tim Mangan touted the $30 tickets offered by the Pacific Symphony in his blog today, "Arts on the Cheap." In good times, the question of how much price is a barrier to increased attendance at arts events may be debated, but in the current economy it appears that everyone is eager to save a buck--discount retailers are running rings around their traditional counterparts this Christmas shopping season, prompting the latter to the verge of giving away merchandise.

So, who wouldn't be motivated to jump at the chance to attend these concerts at bargain rates?

When Arts Orange County studied local residents' openness to attending the arts nearly three years ago, it may have been a different economic environment, but there was (not so) surprisingly strong interest. Data showed that people felt they lacked a central source for information on what's on, ergo SparkOC.

But that wasn't all...people who engaged in art-making themselves hungered for more opportunities both to practice their passion and to experience the thrill of seeing some real masters of the craft.

As much as the amateurs loved the participatory experience, they revelled in observing the work of those who had devoted their lives and careers to perfecting the art form.

It's that symbiosis that gives great hope to those of us committed to seeing the arts flourish.

So, scoop up those cheap tickets while they last--you'll be amply rewarded.

Until next time...


Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Sincerity is the new Irony"

I laughed out loud when I heard that on today's broadcast of "A Prairie Home Companion," the tongue-in-cheek old time radio variety program of Garrison Keillor on public radio stations.

It was a gag-line in a skit about a non-profit theatre company that had abandoned its aesthetic philosophy called "theatre of the inert" to go commercial, producing absurdities like a razzle-dazzle musical version of "Our Town" and a reinvention of "Cats"--using the royalty-free music by Georg Friedrich Handel instead of the costly Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Coincidentally, I had lunch yesterday with an old theatre friend who asked me if I had ever seen "Slings and Arrows." I had to break it to him that he's a johnny-come-lately to that Canadian three-season comedy series about the inner workings of a non-profit theatre company--it's been all the rage among insiders for a couple of years now, and is rich with irony.

Whether we're really embarking on a new era in which sincerity trumps irony is doubtful, but there's nothing wrong with taking a moment to reminisce about our lost innocence--and I suppose this is the appropriate time of year to do just that.

Until next time...


Monday, December 15, 2008

According to The New York Times, the National Endowment for the Arts is releasing the results of a study today that reports a decline in audiences for plays. It also reports that audiences for musicals have grown. I'm not sure this is such big news...it's been happening since the advent of television, to which many of the best dramatic and comedic writers for the stage are lured by the opportunity to make a living (the old adage about Broadway applies: "you can make a killing, but not a living"). Certainly, on Broadway and London's West End, commercial producers won't consider mounting straight play productions without well-known stars. The emergence of resident professional theatre in the U.S. was largely a reaction to this--as well as the centralization of American theatre in New York. Today's regional theatres remain the bulwark of dramatic art in our nation, and Orange County is at the forefront with South Coast Repertory as one of the leading developers and producers of new plays and Laguna Playhouse offering many premieres each season. Musical theatre thrives here as well with the Playhouse having specialized in small and mid-sized musicals while Fullerton Civic Light Opera mounts the large scale musical theatre classics and the Orange County Performing Arts Center maintains a steady flow of Broadway musical touring productions. So we have lively audiences for both in the O.C., and I'll be talking more about them in future posts. If you're looking for some great theatre, check out our theatre listings on SparkOC.

Until next time...


Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Visions of Sugar Plums"

I think there were no fewer than 5 different productions of "The Nutcracker" by Orange County ballet companies this year--a testament to the enduring popularity of the work. Not having attended a "Nutcracker" performance in many years, I went with my wife Alison last night to see Festival Ballet's offering at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. Tchaikovsky's wonderful pastiche of a musical score takes you around the world and provides a canvas for colorful costumes, a "cast of thousands" (well, actually dozens) and a showcase for four leading dance roles. For many, it's a Christmas tradition they can't imagine living without.

Until next time...


Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Just go see a play"

This morning, Orange County Register theatre critic Paul Hodgins noted the passing of actor Robert Prosky. A few years ago, I had a lovely conversation with him, trying to persuade him to accept a role in a play I was directing at the Laguna Playhouse. At that time, he said he was begging off theatrical roles that would take him far from his D.C. home. In the obituary published by the Associated Press this morning, Prosky's son Stefan urges that, in lieu of flowers, "just go see a play." If you enjoyed Prosky's work, what better way could there be to honor his memory?

Until next time...


Sunday, December 7, 2008


Chance plays an enormous role in our lives.

That thought came to mind when I returned from attending this evening's performance of The Giant and the Pixie at The Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills. It was my first exposure to the work of one of several important alternative theaters in Orange County--others being Rude Guerilla, Hunger Artists, Maverick and STAGES. These are not the only so-called "storefront" theater companies in our community--only the best-known.

But in considering this first post to my new blog as Executive Director of Arts Orange County, I could not help but think of the serendipity that led me to accept this position a mere four months ago.

In 1989, I was asked by Bonnie Hall--then Director of Development at South Coast Repertory--to join a committee she was forming to explore the possibility of establishing an arts council for Orange County. Bonnie pursued her vision and founded Arts Orange County in 1995.

When I learned of Bonnie Hall's decision earlier this year to move on after two decades of leading the charge on creating & directing Orange County's arts council, I hoped they'd find someone good to succeed her. I had no idea that would wind up being me! It's a real privilege to follow in Bonnie's footsteps as leader of an organization that has such a vital role to play in promoting and advocating for the arts in our community.

Arts Orange County is the glue that binds Orange County's arts community together, and I am passionate about its continuing to make a real difference in the lives of our artists, artistic institutions and audiences in the years ahead.

Chance has brought me to lead an organization that I was involved in helping to bring about nearly 20 years ago. And though I've spent most of my 30 year career as a theatre producer and director, few people know that my first job after graduate school was as Executive Director of a county-wide arts council in upstate New York. I guess you could say I've come full circle.

This blog is intended to complement the work Arts Orange County is conducting through its new SparkOC.com website, and future posts will focus primarily on Orange County's cultural landscape. But I couldn't help but get a little personal in my first post, as I'm sure you can understand.

Until next time...