Monday, March 30, 2009

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

As unlikely as it sounds, a white, male, emeritus professor of law at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, named Alexander McCall Smith, has created one of the most enduring black, African, female characters in all of contemporary popular fiction: Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, which is the title of the first in his series of 10 books written over the last decade that feature her mostly low-key and utterly charming escapades as a "traditionally-built" gumshoe traipsing around her native Botswana in her beat-up van.
I've read the first nine of them and am awaiting the arrival of the tenth, but was in trepidation over the debut of the film (a TV mini-series, really) last night on HBO: I had such fixed images in my mind's eye about how these characters looked and acted, and I feared the actors would never live up to them. Well, credit the late director Anthony Minghella and executive producer, the late Sydney Pollack, for getting it right. And what a treat that they also captured on film broad panoramas as well as street-level views of life in this vibrant and proud nation, where Smith lived and taught.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Capitol Idea! Senator Lou Correa's Call for Artists

Senator Lou Correa is currently accepting entries from artists residing in the 34th Senate District who are interested in having their original art displayed at the upcoming California Contemporary Art Collection 2009-2010 Art Exhibit at the State Capitol. Only one artist and art piece will be selected to represent the 34th Senate District on exhibit and in the exhibit catalogue. The artist must agree to loan the art to the exhibit for approximately 18 months. The deadline for submissions is April 17. Send name, address, phone, email, title of art, type of art, description of the art, brief biography of artist, and photo (no larger than 8 x 10) of the artwork to be considered to Senator Lou Correa, 2323 N. Broadway, Rm. 245, Santa Ana CA 92706. Only ORIGINAL art is acceptable in most media (e.g. oil paintings, works on paper, weavings, wall hangings, sculpture). Size should not exceed 3 feet by 5 feet. No posters or prints.
Click here for a map of the 34th Senate District.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Arts a Priority Says OC Superintendent of Schools Bill Habermehl

Orange County Superintendent of Schools, Bill Habermehl, has announced his candidacy for re-election, and his e-mail placed the arts as a high priority:

"Further, we must not overlook the arts. Our partnership with the Orange County Performing Arts Center and Arts Orange County allows enriching experiences for tens of thousands of students every year. The Alternative Education Program at the Orange County Department of Education and the Orange County Performing Arts Center, through an ongoing relationship, present "Summer at the Center." Alternative Education students gain an exposure and appreciation of the arts through the unique experience. The arts are essential for the creative nature of our students and will enhance their effectiveness in the 21st century workforce."

Small NEA Increase in Obama Administration Budget Proposal

Today we received the first report on President Obama's plans for the 2010 NEA appropriation, and it's a disappointment: a $6 million increase, according to The New York Times. Further, the President has apparently still not made any progress in selecting a new Chair of the NEA--the federal government's top arts post. Yes...he has a lot on his plate, but this small increase still does not restore NEA funding to its peak in 1992, when the "arts wars" began. Hopefully, Congress will boost that number as the budget process moves forward--after all, they came to the rescue with $50 million in the stimulus package and a $10 million increase for 2009.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

National Public Radio's Ascendance: Boon to the Arts?

The Washington Post reports that, unlike most media outlets these days, NPR is showing strong audience growth. While it's natural to think of NPR as primarily a news source, it devotes a remarkable amount of time to features on the arts, interviews with artists, and even some artistic programming. Whether its audience growth is due to people seeking news & information (especially in an exciting election year like 2008) or a harmonic convergence of like-minded people discovering a place for diverse and intelligent programming, the additional exposure to what the arts offer America is welcome. (NPR stations locally include KPCC-FM 89.3 which features mostly news & information including the NPR flagship programs "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition" as well as weekend entertainment programs; KCRW-FM 89.9 which carries NPR's "ATC" and "ME" also, but devotes much of its programming to new music through original programs like "Morning Becomes Eclectic;" and KPBS-FM in San Diego, also carrying "ATC" and "ME" but maintaining a classical music format. Of course, with streaming today, you can tap in directly to as well.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Across the Orange Curtain for "3 Redneck Tenors"

Admittedly, since I've been on the job (7 months already!), I've devoted my entire focus to attending Orange County arts events and, especially, to visiting those I was not already familiar with. No treks to New York or LA or London, I vowed, until I've thoroughly explored OC's offerings.

Until last night. But at least I did have a good excuse.

My friend Craig Bohmler was "in town" with his show "3 Redneck Tenors," and invited me to see him and the show at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. La Mirada is barely across the Orange Curtain and, frankly, has long enjoyed a substantial if not dominant audience of OC theatregoers, so I have to say that I don't exactly feel the burden of guilt for having strayed.

"3 Redneck Tenors" is a silly spin on the blockbuster "3 Tenors" extravaganza that starred Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti 19 years ago. But don't be deceived by its vaudevillian trappings: "3 Redneck Tenors" features three enormously talented singers of everything from grand opera to country music to soul to ballads. Their signature piece, which has been seen by millions of TV viewers, is Beethoven's Fifth Symphony sung a cappella--an amazing sight to behold.

The "3 Redneck Tenors" are actually 2 tenors, a baritone and a bass, and the show was conceived by Matthew Lord, who has appeared with major opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York. They are major talents who take their art very seriously while not taking themselves too seriously.

My friend Craig is the music director and arranger of the show and I've had a long association with him. I first discovered his work during a trip to London in 1997 at the famed Donmar Warehouse, which was offering the world premiere of the musical "Enter the Guardsman" that he wrote with lyricist Marion Adler and her husband, Scott Wentworth, who adapted the Ference Molnar play on which it is based. I doggedly pursued getting that show for the Laguna Playhouse, and when I got nowhere with the agent, I tracked down Craig.

At Laguna, I produced his "Gunmetal Blues," also recording its cast album, "Enter the Guardsman" and in our Youth Theatre, "The Quiltmaker's Gift." I also commissioned Craig's latest musical, "All the More to Love," which will have its premiere in Phoenix later this year.

But Craig is a classical musician and composer whose work is performed by symphony orchestras and opera companies everywhere, so it was especially delightful to hear how inventive he was in arranging last night's music.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Forging Ahead

If ever there was an experience that could dispel some people's image of the arts as elitist, it was my visit to the foundry that artist Chris Schulz uses to forge his bronze sculptures. Tucked away on a back street in Santa Ana, various equipment spilled out into its lot. Inside, a fiery furnace opened to reveal crucibles being heated and silicon molds being baked. A crucible was carried over with giant tongs by the foundry owner to a device that heated it further as he tossed in ingots of bronze. Within moments, these were reduced to a molten mass, and I felt like I was looking into the caldera of Mauna Loa. After skimming impurities from the top, the crucible was again lifted and carried over to a mold where it was poured. The mold-makers were in a separate building where they covered artists' clay sculptural pieces with wax, which are then dipped into a silicon-based slip to coat them prior to firing. The wax melts away and the shards of clay are removed prior to pouring the molds. This is a labor-intensive, time-consuming and dangerous process. Remember it the next time anyone talks about namby-pamby aesthetes!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"The Arts need to democratize" -- Eli Broad

Today's Wall Street Journal carries bleak news about arts philanthropy that is no surprise to most of those who are running arts organizations today.

Friday, March 13, 2009

SparkOC's Videos Attract An Audience

800 people have viewed video clips of the weekly "Arts & Culture OC" segments from KOCE-TV's "Real Orange" so far.

My guests have included Michael Butler, director of Laguna Playhouse's "Around the World in 80 Days;" Dean Corey, President & Artistic Director of the Philharmonic Society of OC talking about what makes orchestras different; Karen Moss, Deputy Director of the OC Museum of Art on how contemporary art pushes people's buttons; Terry Dwyer, President of the OC Performing Arts Center on why art matters--especially in times like these; Dennis Power, President of the Laguna College of Art & Design illustrating the importance of illustration; singer & songwriter Kerry Getz, a true-to-life "comeback kid;" young CSUF student Eric Czuleger, a playwright who's going places; and Melanie Rios Glaser, Artistic Director of the St. Joseph Ballet who has led it into the realm of contemporary dance.

Additional segments hosted by Maria Hall-Brown interviewing John David Keller of South Coast Rep and Mindy Stearns interviewing OC High School of the Arts student Nina Herzog are also posted.

All clips are archived and you can access them here and on's KOCE page.

"Arts & Culture OC" airs on Thursdays & Mondays, 6:30 & 11 pm, and Fridays & Tuesdays, 8 am, on KOCE-TV.

Bonte Sees the "Monty" as Half-Full

There must be something in the water in Fullerton that spawns so much interesting theatre there--this time, it's the Maverick Theatre and its production of The Full Monty.

OC Register's theater writer Paul Hodgins, um, bares this story about its cast members.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Angelic voices

Matthew Gray's de Angelis Vocal Ensemble performed the third concert of its fourth season tonight in the Mission San Juan Capistrano Basilica before the three year old three story high blindingly gold and ornate "retablo." About 200 vocal music lovers enjoyed the 75 minute program entitled "Ever Ancient, Ever New," which offered 7 pairs of works: the original Renaissance piece followed by a contemporary composer's reinvention. Reinvention might be too strong a word, as most were homages to the 400 year old religious choral compositions. Indeed, the juxtapositions proved prescient as a few of the older works seemed more innovative than musty. Matt introduced one contrasting pair as having a "deep ravine between them": "When David Heard" by the most prolific English church composer of his time, Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656), followed by Bern H. Herbolsheimer's "David Mourns for Absalom," a profoundly affecting exploration of grief that showcased the talent and versatility of the de Angelis ensemble beyond the more traditional offerings. Indeed, I told Matt afterwards that I thought the group shined particularly in the contemporary pieces in the program (highly accessible works that seem to reflect the composers' ability to build upon the great traditions of choral music), and he beamed: there are several premieres coming up during this season's finale and planned for next season as well.

Artists Take Note: Trunk Party

I really didn't know what to expect when I drove into a residential neighborhood in Laguna Niguel last night to attend Orange County sculptor and painter Christopher Schulz's "trunk party," but I'm sure glad I went!

In this mid-sized tract home at the end of a cul-de-sac on a hill, where Chris grew up (his mother Helen came down from Oregon to help greet last night's guests), about 75 people poured in to the foyer and front rooms that were turned into galleries of Chris's paintings and sculpture, photography (Baldemar Fierro), jewelry (Justice Bodan), clothing (UpsideDown Boutique) and high-end crafts and fragrances.

Snacks and desserts were prepared before our eyes by Ritz Carlton executive chef Rob Wilson and two former Cirque du Soleil acrobats performed a duet of extraordinary maneuvers followed later by one's solo aerial performance dubiously suspended from the living room ceiling.

Sanya, proprietor of Art Projekts Gallery on Forest Ave in Laguna Beach was there. She's represented Chris's art for many years. The diverse crowd of young and old, urban chic and hip suburbanite made for a lively atmosphere, with Chris playing emcee.

This was his second event, and he plans another next quarter. It was a great way to showcase his own work (he unveiled his latest sculpture--an artful melange of automotive engine parts including polished exhaust pipes) and the work of friends whose work he admires.

Other artists would do well to consider such a concept as a means of developing interest in their work.


Got to see Eric Czuleger's (pronounced: zoo-legger) play Moonburn at Cal State Fullerton's Hallberg Theatre on Thursday night. You'll remember that I interviewed Eric on KOCE-TV last week (if you didn't see it, click on the video box to your left). His play is an engaging look at a young writer with a troubled childhood who returns to confront his past by visiting his deteriorating mother, also a writer. Both have published fiction that exploits the bone of contention between them, and they debate the ethics of using their writing to exorcize their demons and to air their family's dirty laundry. I was told by Eric after the performance that the cast, director, designers and technical crew were enormously patient with his many changes right up to opening. While the piece continues to evolve, this full production demonstrates that there is an eloquent new dramatic voice at work here in Orange County who could, if he pursues his craft, emerge as a playwright of substance.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Guy's Nights Art

Busy weekend for arts-going, beginning with an exhibition in the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion at Orange Coast College, where we attended the opening of "Seeing the Figure Anew: Selections from the Collection of Darrel & Marsha Anderson." (Full disclosure: Darrel is president of my board at Arts Orange County). Although these paintings & sculptures represent only part of their collection, many remain in storage--particularly since the Andersons in recent years have changed their collecting focus to photography, which was not included at all in this exhibition. At OCC, the works they've acquired over the years include whimsical, quizzical, disturbing and some straightforward interpretations of human figures--a thought-provoking melange well worth seeing in this two year old facility led by Andrea Harris-McGee. It runs through March 20.

From an opening, we went to the closing performances of two theatrical productions, Evita at FCLO Music Theater in Fullerton's Plummer Auditorium and Jesus Hates Me at The Chance in Anaheim Hills.

Believe it or not, I had never seen Evita, but it was my friend Christa Jackson's casting in the title role that drew me out for it. FCLO's production was top notch and I'm totally biased in saying that Christa was terrific (I had brought her in as Patsy Cline opposite Sally Struthers at the Laguna Playhouse about 7 years ago for a long summer run, and she's a powerhouse.) As for Evita, the story is a compelling one and there are a couple of standout songs, but the show is structurally choppy and glued together with far too much recitative (sung narrative & dialogue).

We didn't know what to expect with Jesus Hates Me, but this West Coast Premiere of a new drama by a first-time playwright (but veteran TV writer) proved surprisingly endearing. Its assortment of quirky characters and well-written scenes peppered with punchlines took us on a journey into their forlorn lives and the dilemma of the central figure: can he remain living with his crazy mother or must he forge a new direction for himself in another locale. "Second act problems" is a term of art in the theater--and it applies to so many plays, this one included. But the first act was hugely entertaining, and the production, directed by Chance Theater artistic director Oanh Nguyen, was beautifully executed in their initimate freeway-close space on La Palma Avenue.