Thursday, February 26, 2009

Seasons of Love: Corona del Mar H.S. Signs Lease on "Rent"

In the end, it did not take "525,600 minutes" for Corona del Mar's high school principal to approve its production of Rent after receiving the script of the softer school version Jonathan Larson's family has allowed, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Saturday night, Judy Collins appeared at The Coach House, and we came away feeling that her voice had actually strengthened over the years as she nears her 70th birthday. The purity of sound, the enormous range, her continued control as she put herself through some demanding passages and the effortlessness of it all as if she were just sitting in your living room with her guitar casually sharing a few songs. Well, there were more than just a few songs shared on Saturday, as Judy sang for well over 90 minutes without break to a packed house of baby boomers who were astounded when she kicked off the concert with "Both Sides Now," her oldest & biggest hit. "Suzanne" and "Send in the Clowns" and "Open the Door (Song for Judith) (my personal favorite)--also big hits of hers--were included in the program as well as a trio of Jimmy Webb songs and new material of her own. I'd seen her about 25 years ago in a large concert hall, and she continues to have the draw to fill large halls for solo concerts and appearances with symphony orchestras, but experiencing the sound of her one-of-a-kind voice in the intimacy of The Coach House was an unparalleled treat. We stayed up late talking about the concert and I reminded Alison that the Crosby, Stills & Nash song, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" was written about her, so we Googled it and found a YouTube clip of CSN performing it--an exquisite and complex amalgam of melodies commemorating the relationship (and breakup) of Stephen Stills & Judy Collins. By the way, Judy is as beautiful as ever, and still shows off that marvelous mane of hair like an Irish colleen!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Place for Us

You can still count on newspapers like the New York Times to make space for one offbeat story on the front page of Saturday's edition, and this one is irresistible: "Under Broadway, the Subway Hums Bernstein."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Instant Gratification

Heard a "too true" quote today on KPCC-FM during Patt Morrison's show:

"Kids today can't wait for instant gratification. It takes too long."

It was part of the segment on a comic book exhibition, called "Zap! Pow! Bam!" which you can download as a podcast.

Dennis Power Interview Now Posted Here

My interview with the President of Laguna College of Art and Design on KOCE-TV's "Arts & Culture OC" segment on "Real Orange."

Expert Advice for Arts Organizations

There is a reason why arts leaders admire Michael Kaiser so much.

The president of the Kennedy Center is a "turnaround" expert who believes it is not the art nor the marketing that should be cut in times of adversity.

And he's had plenty of experience proving his point.

This Wall Street Journal interview is a must-read.

Monday, February 16, 2009

This Week on KOCE's Arts & Culture OC "Real Orange" Segment... guest will be Dennis Power, President of the Laguna College of Art and Design.

We'll be speaking about how you have to learn to draw before you can paint and sculpt (or design video games), and they are illustrating that point to their illustration students right now with an exhibition (open to the public) that showcases some world renowned illustrations!

You can catch it on Thursday's "Real Orange" broadcast at 6:30 & 11 pm (re-broadcast the next morning at 8 am and the following Monday evening/Tuesday morning). Starting on Thursday, you can also find it posted here, on and on YouTube.

"I did it in order to meet girls"

Once again, we're reminded of the real reason boys try out for the school play--this time in a quote from Scottish playwright David Greig about his latest drama, Road to Damascus.

Save the Economy: Buy a Ticket

"I am not asking my fellow Americans to buy things they do not need. I am asking them to zone in on things they really do enjoy and spread their cash around." So says The Guardian writer Joe Queenan as he catalogs the bargains to be had in theatre tickets these days.

Arts Jobs = Real Jobs

Check out this journalistic summary of how the case was made successfully for the arts being included in the stimulus package.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fire Breathing Theatre

I paid my first visit to Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble last night for a performance of Hurricane in a Glass, the world premiere of a play by Kimberly Del Busto. I was one of 5 in the audience--all right, it WAS Valentine's Day (Alison had to work that night, so I am guiltless).

This drama focuses on an exiled Cuban matriarch in the Alzheimers ward of a nursing home and her daughter and granddaughter. Writing, acting and direction made you really care about these people. Loving attention was obviously given to the production of this play in the tiny performance space above El Curtido, the Salvadorian restaurant that anyone who's ever served on jury duty in downtown Santa Ana has been thrilled to discover. Hurricane in a Glass continues its run through March 7.

In previous posts and in the Spark-e! newsletter, I've commented on the abundance of storefront theatre in Orange County.

There has been some attrition, like the loss of the respected Alternative Repertory Theatre several years ago after about 15 years which was attributed in part by some to its move from its original location to the Santa Ana Artists Village, the disappearance of the long-standing Fullerton-based Vanguard Theatre, which closed up shop within the past four years, and the promising Orange Curtain Theatre in San Juan Capistrano which just seems to have stopped producing without any big announcement.

Of course, the splitting of Rude Guerilla into two companies, compounded by the loss of their current space, makes me concerned about their future, particularly since Dave Barton, whose new spinoff group has been named Monkey Wrench Collective, is considering locations outside of Orange County, too.

And why have Hunger Artists and STAGES Theatre storied theatres in Fullerton, each produced The Shape of Things within weeks of one another? I love the play and directed its West Coast Premiere at Laguna Playhouse--but does this back-to-back situation help or hinder the stability of these companies? Perhaps their representatives can answer in comments to this post.

Maverick Theatre made a successful move to Fullerton after its auspicious beginnings in The Block at Orange, so Fullerton seems like a hospitable place for theatre. (Previously, Hunger Artists had moved there from early digs in Santa Ana.) A gay company, Theatre Out, and a burlesque (!) troupe, OC Underground Burlesque Company, perform at the Hunger Artists space, and boosters of the city's theatre offerings have formed a Fullerton Theatre League.

The Chance Theatre--the largest of all of these companies, and Orange County's only true "mid-sized budget" theatre (i.e. between the shoestring storefronts and multi-million dollar budget theatres, like SCR and Laguna Playhouse)--has developed a loyal base of attendance and support in a storefront on La Palma Avenue in Anaheim Hills and produces a very busy schedule of plays.

Storefront theatre has an image of being cutting edge, but most of these companies offer a wide range of plays and musicals, so depending upon your taste, you're bound to find something worthwhile on their schedules. Consider it a New Year's Resolution for you and your friends to pay a visit to each one in 2009!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dramatic Finale for the Arts in Stimulus Votes

Until late last night, it remained unclear whether the tiny portion of the federal stimulus package wending its way through Congress that was designated to shore up job losses afflicting arts institutions around the nation would survive the final cut.

It was high drama from the beginning: the "audacity of hope" that led Americans for the Arts on what most of us veterans of past arts funding battles thought was a Quixotic quest; the surprise that the House version of the stimulus package actually included $50 million (with an "m," folks) for the National Endowment for the Arts, the beleaguered federal arts agency that receives less funding than US military bands (I love Sousa, but let's be fair); the disappointment (though not exactly surprise) when "Okie" Coburn managed to get the Senate to accept his amendment to prohibit the arts from receiving any stimulus money (categorizing them with "casinos"); the irony when we learned that his daughter is an opera singer with an upcoming appearance at the LA Opera; the shocking discovery that he was aided and abetted by Democratic Senators in the two largest culture industry states (Feinstein-CA; Schumer-NY); the assumption by many (myself included) that it would never be restored in the House-Senate Conference; the long silence on details afterwards; the rumors that NEA funding was back in the bill; the waiting with bated breath during the final House vote; and the late-night return from his mother's funeral of the last Senator needed to vote approval of the package. It awaits President Obama's signature now, a sure thing we're told.

This marks the most significant victory for the arts on the federal level, perhaps, since the NEA was established over 40 years ago. It still does not bring NEA funding to the level at which it would now be with funding adjustments tied to inflation over the years, largely due to its decimation and near elimination during the 1990s (thanks to Jesse Helms and others). But it is a much-needed shot-in-the-arm and it sends a message that America is a civilized nation, proud of its heritage and eager to preserve it, and cognizant of the essential role of creativity in all that we pursue.

A Rude Awakening

Last night's US Premiere of Dennis Kelly's LOVE AND MONEY was Dave Barton's directorial swan song at the 11 year old Rude Guerilla Theatre Company in Santa Ana. One more production is slated before the company disbands and splits into two new companies--neither of which will remain in its present location.

The RGTC website has a video clip from the play. It runs through mid-March.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Research Results: Experiences more satisfying than things

If you're debating whether to buy something or go out and do something, new research concludes you'll find more happiness in the latter. This was reported by Ira Flatow on tonight's "Science Friday" on NPR.

All the more reason to check out this Wednesday's Spark-e! newsletter for ticket deals.

A Shriver Elected Chair of the California Arts Council

Christopher Knight in the LA Times "rolls his eyes" over this, and I respond with a comment.

The Battle of the Bands

Recently, I was introduced to a Board member of the Pacific Symphony who ardently averred that it's a better orchestra than the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I admired her passion and her support for the PSO, which is indeed a fine ensemble, and pointed out that was one of those months where she might be able to compare them since they'd both be performing in the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

But then I went one better: I asked her if it wouldn't be more accurate and fun if they could be scheduled on the same night in the hall--a veritable "Battle of the Bands". Well, we all had a good laugh over that. (Full disclosure: I worked for two major orchestras briefly during my salad days, and once promoted a jazz-themed pops concert as getting to hear "the biggest of the Big Bands." That didn't go over so well with one of the musicians who wrote a letter to the editor of the daily newspaper excoriating management for having them deviate from an exclusively classical repertoire.)

Well, recently OC Register's classical music critic Tim Mangan pointed out the rankings of orchestras appeared in the UK classical music magazine Gramaphone (I think), so when I came across a blog entry today in the Arts Journal on that subject, I took notice.

The writer questions the methods of ranking:

"What exactly are the standards for such ranking? Intonation? Ensemble? Tonal quality? Blend? Quickness to learn new music? Responsiveness to a range of repertoire and conductors? Adaptability to different hall acoustics on tour? Musicians who smile? Power? Finesse? Passion? Some mix of all of the above? In what proportions?" Read his entire entry here.

As for me, I'm sort of partial to "musicians who smile".

How the Arts Stimulates the OC Economy

The Orange County Business Committee for the Arts' last report on the economic impact of the arts in our community was issued in 2006 (for activity in 2005). Although the data is now four years old, and this year the economy has been taking its toll on the nonprofit culture industry in Orange County, I think it's safe to state that these figures provide a fairly accurate "big picture" view of how important the arts are to the local economy.

Some highlights:

Overall economic impact: $474,000,000

Number of employees: 4,790 (all paid positions, but does not include the many freelance artists who work as independent contractors)

The arts community is the 12th largest non-government employer in Orange County

For more details, visit the OCBCA report online. The report is conducted periodically by the Chapman University A. Gary Anderson Center for Economic Research on behalf of OCBCA.

Bulletin on NEA Funding in the Stimulus Package

The House/Senate Conference has restored to the economic stimulus package the $50 million allocation to the arts through the National Endowment for the Arts that had been removed by the Senate. The language can be read on page 143 of the bill. (a PDF file)

Also, language prohibiting museums and arts centers from receiving any stimulus funding (in Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn's specious amendment lumping them together with casinos that passed last week & raised eyebrows when key Democrats like Dianne Feinstein & Charles Schumer voted to approve it) has been removed.

The bill still requires passage by full House and Senate votes.

Dead Last-Again

Mike Boehm is sort of the roving arts news reporter for the LA Times. Many will remember him from his heyday as its rock music critic, but the high decibel atmosphere eventually took its toll. Though there are some who have criticized him for drawing too much attention to some fact they find less than flattering about themselves or their organization, he usually makes such observations in more gentle and far less cynical ways than many of his colleagues. I have a good sense of this because he's been on my beat for a good decade now.

Today he wrote about the latest non-news about the California Arts Council, and our ranking dead last in per capita funding for the arts among the states.

One thing I will say...I have taken it on as a personal mission to ensure that Orange County gets its fair share of what little money is available.

Only 2 California Arts Council grants were awarded to OC organizations in each of the last two funding years--compared to dozens in LA, SD and SF. The Arts Council apparently noticed my criticism in a recent e-newsletter, and to their credit offered to conduct a grant application workshop here in OC next week for its Artists in Schools Program. So far, we're getting a lot of RSVPs.

If you are interested in attending, it will be held at the Bowers Museum on Tuesday, February 17 at 10 am.

I'm determined that Orange County groups will no longer leave money on the table!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Night at the Improv: Kei Akagi

You know it's an important event at a university when the Chancellor is in attendance, but UCI's head, Michael Drake, appears more frequently at performances and exhibitions of its Claire Trevor School of the Arts than most of his predecessors.
That's not just a sign that he takes an especially healthy interest in the arts but that UCI has much to be proud of in its arts programs. Tonight was a case in point.
I was invited by Claire Trevor School's acting Dean Alan Terricciano to join him and his wife Lisa for a performance by Kei Akagi and the Tokyo Trio. Akagi holds a UCI Chancellor's Professorship and heads its jazz program.
But he is really best-known as one of the most formidable improvisational jazz pianists in the world. His career associations read like a Who's Who of the jazz world: the last pianist to be part of the legendary Miles Davis's ensemble, appearances, tours and regular gigs with Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, Jean-Luc Ponty, Al Di Meola, Stanley Turrentine and Sadao Watanabe.
For the past seven years, though, he's had his own band, including bass player Tomokazu Sugimoto and an innovative percussionist named Tamaya Honda. Tonight's performance repeats on Friday night at 8 p.m. in UCI's Winifred Smith Hall, a suitably intimate and acoustically fine space.
Don't expect to hear jazz standards (though Akagi performed one in his unique style as an encore): this is original music and each of the 6 pieces on the two set program were lengthy, complex, rhythmically varied and well rehearsed--even though Akagi revealed in brief remarks that he and his musicians rarely stick to the charts. Of course, anyone with that kind of virtuosity can make spontaneous combustion seem facile! His keyboard work was about the best I've ever seen or heard, regardless of genre.

Kerry Getz Interview Video Now Posted Here

To your left, you'll find the video link.

"Arts Jobs Are Real Jobs"

Christopher Knight in the LA Times continues to make the case for the arts being included in the stimulus package. What do you think?

SoCal's Discount Ticket Marketplace

As you know, SparkOC's SparkTIX program promoted weekly through its Spark-e! e-newsletter provides you with great opportunities for Orange County arts events at half-price.

And while we'd prefer you to explore OC's abundantly rich cultural scene, we know there will be times when you want to venture past the Orange Curtain.

This article in yesterday's LA Times talks about discount ticket sites serving the rest of SoCal.

This Valentine's Day: Rent a Poet

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My guest this week on "Arts & Culture OC": KERRY GETZ

Kerry Getz

Starting this week, "Arts & Culture OC" on KOCE-TV's Real Orange, will air on Thursdays at 6:30, repeating at 11 pm and the next morning, Friday, 8 am. It will repeat again the following Mondays, 6:30 & 11 pm; and Tuesday, 8 am.

But you can always find it posted here at Spark-e's Place, on's KOCE page, and the most recent segment will be the Featured Video on the SparkOC home page. And if you prefer, you can go to our page on YouTube.

My guest this week is singer/songwriter KERRY GETZ, long a fixture on the OC folk scene. She'll be appearing at a concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Living Tradition, Anaheim's highly esteemed music series. Kerry appeared there during its first season.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Why did the Senate attack the arts?

Last week, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn successfully pushed through an amendment that went so far as to PROHIBIT any money in the economic stimulus measure from going to any project that is artistic in nature!

We're starting to hear some of the same tactics used to attack the National Endowment for the Arts in the 1990s, when art was characterized as immoral, indecent and inappropriate for government support.

I can think of a lot of things that are far more immoral, indecent and inappropriate for government support that these same Senators are endorsing.

For a well-reasoned argument for arts support, read Robin Bronk's piece in The Huffington Post.

Going for Baroque

Though the annual Baroque Music Festival of Corona del Mar doesn't take place until June, it held its Winter Musicale concert yesterday at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, featuring tenor Jonathan Mack accompanied by Baroque's artistic director Burton Karson on piano in the Schubert song cycle entitled Die Schone Mullerin (The Beautiful Maid of the Mill)--a Romantic, not a Baroque, piece, of course. This appreciation event enjoyed an appreciative audience of loyal supporters who will be back for its concerts at St. Mark, at St. Michael and All Angels, and at the Sherman Library and Gardens.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

It takes an Artists Village

The blustery weather broke just in time for me to make my way over the the Santa Ana Artists Village for two gallery openings last night, but I didn't want to be the first to arrive so I ducked into an interesting looking bar with no name for a drink. Well, it does have a name: Lola Gaspar; just no sign outside. And hipness was evident in its decor, staff, music and food--a watering hole well-suited for this street of contemporary art.

Being the first Saturday of the month, this evening turned out also to be the Santa Ana Art Walk.

Heading to the Grand Central Art Center across the pedestrian-only block, I was detoured by a charming young woman with a table and a well-rehearsed pitch for the Western Service Workers Association who handed me a colorful wall calendar filled with labor-celebrating art reminiscent of the WPA.

Once inside the Grand Central, which houses Cal State Fullerton's off-campus gallery, I was greeted by an eclectic show celebrating its 10th anniversary. The remarkable quality of much of the work on exhibit suggests that Fullerton's art department is rich with creativity and skill. (In fact, my recent visit to @Space Gallery in Santa Ana reported on here also featured two Cal State Fullerton graduates.) Even at the early hour I visited, there was quite a crowd exploring the gallery.

OCCCA's "The Art of Imaging" exhibition opening was also well-populated with attendees eager to see how more than a score of different artists seized the opportunity to invent new ways to contextualize x-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, mammograms and MRIs (thanks to some help from Mission Hospital). The Orange County Center for Contemporary Art's executive director Jeffrey Crussell reminded me that they've been around now for nearly 30 years as a successful artists collective. "Success" may be a relative term, but "red dots" were evident on a number of descriptive placards, indicating works that had already been sold, and artist Pamela Grau Twena sold both of her sizable paintings to a single collector last night, including "Considering Flight," seen above.

The crisp-but-not-cold night air walk to my car was invigorating as I marveled at experiencing a small taste of some of Orange County's vibrant contemporary art scene.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Arts Stimulus Needs Your Help NOW!

The arts community is disappointed that the $50 million (with an "m" remember!) for urgent distribution by the National Endowment for the Arts to sustain arts jobs was jettisoned from the Senate version of the economic stimulus package.

I cannot believe that our own Senator Feinstein voted to delete it--or New York's Senator Schumer. Both California and New York are states that benefit greatly from the role of the arts in stimulating innovation and a creative economy.

Americans for the Arts recommends that you write to your Senators.

I remain hopeful that the House/Senate conference to resolve differences in the bills will restore arts funding. At this same Americans for the Arts website, you can follow instructions to advise your members of the House about supporting the arts as part of the stimulus, too.

Friday, February 6, 2009

With a capital "B" that stands for...

Christopher Knight in today's Los Angeles Times asks why the arts community is fighting for $50 million (with an "m") when it should be billion (with a "b"), and why it's far more likely the money will go to keep an obsolete airplane in production at a cost to taxpayers of $650,000 per job.

And though he doesn't mention it, the name that lingers on my own lips is "Blackwater" (and, no, I don't mean the Doobie Brothers song of the 1970s).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Starving Artists

There appear to be some opposing the inclusion of funds for arts jobs in the Congressional stimulus package, as reported in the Boston Globe.

Outgoing National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia, an esteemed poet, successful corporate leader and prominent Republican, decried such opposition, quoting FDR's right-hand man Harry Hopkins' statement about artists when extending them a hand during the Great Depression: "Hell, they've got to eat just like other people."

Gioia went Hopkins one better: "As far as I've heard, nothing has changed about the dietary needs of artists."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Is a new golden age of the arts soon to be born?

While it's premature to speculate on whether the economic stimulus package that's finally agreed upon by Congress and the Obama administration will include an arts jobs program, this is certainly a moment in time to reflect upon our nation's great legacy that emerged from the Federal Arts Project during the Great Depression.

Visual artists produced so many images that remain indelibly brushed upon the canvas of American culture, from Dorothea Lange's haunting photos to the murals of Diego Rivera. In the performing arts, there were the legendary productions of Orson Welles and John Houseman. Every public works project, like Boulder (now Hoover) Dam, seemed to exhibit imagination in its design and incorporate decorative elements that were not simply afterthoughts. Writers reconceived guides to every state that today are considered masterpieces of that genre.

When the Federal government came to the rescue in the dark times of the 1930s, the inclusion of artists not only provided jobs to a chronically underemployed segment of the workforce, but instilled hope among our citizens and bestowed upon future generations a body of work that continues to inspire us.

Is a new golden age of the arts about to be born?

Springsteen: National Poet Laureate?

So many song lyrics are forgettable, but the raw emotional power and intelligent turns-of-phrase on display during yesterday's Super Bowl XLIII half-time performance by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band made a strong case for him being named our National Poet Laureate. Just consider the lyrics to "Born to Run." I rest my case.