Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Karma & creativity

Our presentation last night of author and educator Peter Clothier at Fullerton's Muckenthaler Center drew a small but enthusiastic group of creative people eager to hear Peter's thoughts on "persistence." (His new book is Persist: In Praise of the Creative Spirit in a World Gone Mad with Commerce)

They were treated to a lot more than that.

After reading a short written piece, he spoke extemporaneously about his life as a writer and how he seemed to lose his way for a number of years, distracted by all the things that usually induce artists to lose focus.

How he regained mastery over his artistic self was a story well worth hearing--and instructive to those of us who wish we could be true to our aesthetic aspirations.

If you missed it, don't fret: we're presenting him again next week (Thursday, May 6, 7 pm) at Casa Romantica in San Clemente, and admission is free.

You can read a bit about Peter's own thoughts about last night's gig on his blog.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

California's nonprofit arts revenues = California's convenience store revenues

"Last week, I was in California, and I learned that nonprofit arts organizations there have annual revenues of $2.4 billion, which is roughly equivalent to the revenues of California's convenience stores. That is significant," said a smiling Landesman. "But arts workers make more than Slurpees, they make places." The arts, Landesman said, help "change the ethos of a town or community. They enliven it, they activate the public life."

--Rocco Landesman, Chair, National Endowment for the Arts

(March 27, 2010, The Washington Post)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

One artist's wry twist: FUNDING THE ARTS

I've known dancer and choreographer Felice Lesser since high school in Connecticut, and by the early 1970s she had already founded her own contemporary dance company in New York. The Felice Lesser Dance Theater has managed to survive all these years, continuing to present brief seasons in Manhattan and to tour occasionally, and the work I've seen has always been interesting.

Felice is presenting her latest work, entitled Funding the Arts, at the Baryshnikov Art Center in New York in mid-May. According to the official description, it's about:

"a few rogue ex-C.I.A. agents (and their K.G.B. counterparts, now bound in a common venture), who overthrow governments around the world, rob their treasuries, and use the booty to fund their first love -- their ballet company.
But when they return to the United States in the post 9/11 world, they find they
are totally unprepared for the realities of running a non-profit arts organization. Out of money, they look for a way to keep the company afloat, while trying to bring down their arch-enemy, and save the world (not to mention dance as an art form), while an apathetic public stays home and surfs the internet."

Gotta love that!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"Will opera ever come back to OC?"

This is a terrific overview of the situation by OC Register music critic Tim Mangan.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Are you the "odd man out"?

Insightful, clever and fun article in the NY Times about finding yourself in the audience at an event you hate--while everyone else loves it.

It certainly happens to everyone at some point. My favorites:

- Attending CATS on Broadway with a friend and theatre colleague, both of us feeling there was no "there, there," and drowning amidst the ecstasy of hundreds of CATS-lovers.

- Presenting August Wilson's MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM in its original production, a brilliant piece of theatre, compelling, visceral and impossible not to be moved by--only to find my audiences totally lukewarm to the experience.

Feel free to comment with you own "odd man out" experience here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Front page news: "Addams Family" musical

These days, it's rare enough to find much to read in the dwindling arts sections of America's daily newspapers--even in the estimable New York Times--but today that paper ran a story on the front page of the main news section (albeit "below the fold") about the great success of The Addams Family musical on Broadway despite uniformly bad reviews.

It was almost like the Times could not believe their own critic had failed to kill the show with his venomous review, so that made it "front page news."

The Times story says that the show has already sold more than $6 million in tickets, and that only the combination of an already well-known name-brand like The Addams Family and a brand-name Broadway musical theatre star like Nathan Lane (they give scant mention to co-star Bebe Neuwirth) meant that this show could puncture the conventional wisdom of The Great White Way.

Then the arts section front page carried a story by the Times theatre critic Ben Brantley about yesterday's announcement that the Pulitzer Prize for Drama went to the acclaimed musical Next to Normal--a decision made by the Pulitzer board that overrode the recommendations of its selection panel. Brantley pooh-poohs the Pulitzers in drama as having a record of being awarded rarely to anything but mainstream and mediocre works (he should know, he says, because he was on the panel one year). And he cites a history of the Pulitzer board overriding selection panels that have chosen more daring works, so--he says--why should anyone have expected otherwise this year?

The LA Times critic Charles McNulty, apparently--(who was on this year's panel and had a hissy fit over this), and so this story winds up being a bit of an East Coast-Left Coast dig by Brantley against his counterpart.

Oh, and the Times couldn't leave it alone: they also ran a sidebar story quoting unnamed sources from the Pulitzer Prize board that board members went to see Next to Normal in the few days prior to the award announcement--as if there was some "plot" afoot to snatch the prize out of the hands of a more deserving candidate.

Although my own heart rate rose a fraction when reading these stories of "great importance to the arts community," I can only surmise that the vast majority of the world would only have yawned--if they had even noticed the stories to begin with.
And, of course, since most of the world now accesses the paper online, the concept of "front page story" is lost in translation anyway.

Friday, April 9, 2010

"I'm a critic--I'm a blogger--no, a critic--no, a blogger"

Apologies to Faye Dunaway in Chinatown (if that reference wasn't already too strained), but this piece by theatre critic Steven Leigh Morris in the LA Weekly points to the disparity between self-appointed un-edited arts reviewers in the blogosphere vs. the professional journalists. It's really only the tip of the iceberg, but his observations are on the mark.

How best to measure artistic success?

"...would a show be more of a success if it affected a handful of people profoundly, but left the majority nonplussed? Or would it be better if the majority of people seeing it were moderately affected? What if only two people came to see a show, but it changed their lives forever?"

Just a few of the questions posed in this article in UK's The Guardian about what factor determines the success of a play.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The arts have abandoned all risk-taking, says Kennedy Center's Michael Kaiser...

"I have been depressed lately at the lack of spark and creativity I observe from many of our arts organizations. It seems that the leadership--in many cases people like me who have been in the field for twenty years or more--has gotten tired, conservative and frightened. We have become so scared that we won't balance our budgets that we forget that taking risk is a central requisite for arts making. We do not have to succeed every time. But if we never risk, we will never create the important, surprising projects that make people sit up and take notice of our work."
--Michael Kaiser, President, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington DC

But he found some hopeful signs when he visited a New York dance company's youth program. Read about it here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Monkey Wrench Collective Debuts in Grand Guignol Style

There must be something in the water in Fullerton.

The new Monkey Wrench Collective's (MWC) neighboring storefront theatres have all enjoyed success with horror film-influenced productions during the past year (Hunger Artists-Frankenstein in Love; Maverick-Night of the Living Dead, and STAGEStheatre-Borneo Bob).

Now, former Rude Guerrilla Theatre guru Dave Barton decides to launch MWC with a Grand Guignol style production of The Revengers Tragedy, that 1606 English play by Thomas Middleton in which every character except one is done away with by the, ahem, final curtain. (It runs only through April 11.)

Twenty some-odd actors fill the small temporary space in Fullerton's historic brick Ice House, including seasoned veterans and novices, in a production that interprets Middleton's script to be about how absolute power corrupts absolutely--a message Barton wants to be sure we understand applies to our own times as well.

It's an audacious debut for MWC, and I'm particularly interested in seeing their next production, contemporary English dramatist Mark Ravenhill's pool (no water).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Are 2 reviews better than 1?

Today's New York Times featured a contretemps between its theatre critic and dance critic on their assessments of the new Twyla Tharp show on Broadway, Come Fly With Me.

What's so interesting about this is that it validates my belief that art inevitably provokes a wide variety of responses, and that the role of the critic is not that of Consumer Reports!

It reminds me of a famous Koren cartoon in The New Yorker back in the 1970s in which an audience member during a performance taps the critic in front of him and asks "Excuse me, is it good?"