Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stuffed & Unstrung at Irvine Barclay

You just can't resist splitting a gut when you watch Jim Henson's puppets behaving badly (and, in this case, "naughtily"). Henson Alternative has put together an adults-only improv show using decades-old Henson puppets. It's now playing at The Barclay through January 2. Patrick Bristow, the well-known comedic actor seen on many a TV sitcom, serves as emcee and pulls suggestions from the audience for the puppeteer/actors to use as material for each short sketch. It's great to be able to see both the puppets and the puppeteers--while at the same time improvising their sketches. One of the biggest laughs of the evening (and there were too many to count) was when the lower row of teeth of one particularly goofy looking puppet came loose. The actors never skipped a beat in taking advantage of the opportunity to incorporate it into their sketch.

Monday, December 20, 2010

FCLO Tickets Being Honored at Area Theatres

FCLO Music Theatre (formerly Fullerton Civic Light Opera), which announced it would likely be forced to close its doors in January, has updated its website and says that four area theatres have agreed to honor FCLO tickets for their shows.

Right Brain Initiative

Was just introduced to this terrific video on arts education from The Right Brain Initiative in Portland, Oregon, when I attended WESTAF's convening of state arts agency leadership last week. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

OCHSA cuts ribbon on new theater

Five months after announcing that it was acquring Michael Harrah's OC Pavilion in downtown Santa Ana, the OC High School of the Arts offered its opening production there last weekend.

The former bank building was converted to a Vegas-style show room, presenting some name acts plus rentals to the new 3D Theatricals, a professional company presenting plays and musicals.

Now, it's a dedicated facility for the public high school, located nearby, which has not had its own theatre for curricular purposes and public performances.

And 3D Theatricals is now without a home, but actively negotiating with a number of area venues & producing companies to join forces.

OCHSA (disclosure: I serve on its Community Partners Advisory Board) is well-regarded for its academic programs (the same state-mandated curriculum as every other public high school) and its arts conservatories (the quality of which is bolstered by some heavy-hitters on its foundation board who give and raise substantial sums to support it).

Among its notable success stories is Susan Egan, the Tony-nominated star of Disney's Beauty and the Beast on Broadway.

Break a leg!

Artis Omnipotensis: The Power of the Museum Director

Over the past several days, two very striking examples of major museum directors striking works of art from public view have hit the headlines.
It's deja vu all over again!

What do these two men fear will happen? Are the works in question truly "dangerous"--i.e. in "artspeak": do these art-dukes risk losing funding for their museums by keeping them on view?

There is no question that some art is "too hot to handle" for "institutional" art museums, but savvy leaders usually pre-censor their exhibitions. In the case of the National Portrait Gallery and LA's Museum of Contemporary Art, these took place after the fact. The Andy Warhol Foundation has threatened to withdraw its funding for the Smithsonian, which operates the National Portrait Gallery, and in LA, everyone who was skeptical of turning MOCA over to art dealer Jeffrey Deitch is saying "I told you so."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hidden Places

The title of the current Huntington Beach Art Center show has the unintended effect of reminding us that this little gem of a gallery is just not as well known as it should be.

It only recently--finally!--got its own website (though it still has its information page on the site for the City of Huntington Beach, which owns and operates it).

Its capable leadership Kate Hoffman and curator Darlene DeAngelo are struggling mightily to maintain a high quality program amidst city funding cutbacks.

When the gallery was first created, it gained notoriety (and not a little push back from the City) for its provocative programming. Now, 20 years later (about), it has not backed off from presenting artists with an edge--even if it discreetly avoids anything that might bring down the wrath of the elected officials who approve its budget.

The current show is a case in point.

The work of three artists with distinctly different viewpoints on nature have been cleverly grouped into an exhibition that melds Cathy Cooper's abstract mixed media sculptures with Daniel du Plessis' lacquered-over fantasias (pictured above) and Leslie Yagar's installation of butterflies. All of these works have the capacity to delight AND to disturb, proving that HBAC has lost none of its desire to be about real art.

The show continues through December 18.

Show-biz transformation for San Juan's tree-lighting

Admittedly, it's been several years since we made our way down to the Christmas tree lighting ceremonies here in "O little town of" San Juan Capistrano. Back then, it was a modest affair.

No more!

The stage was set for a glitzy musical theatre entertainment by Kids Next Door from the so-called "Musical Theatre University" a branch of one of Laguna Beach's community theatres. Front & center were some fairly talented young people (less so in the rear of the group), and while select numbers were pretty sophisticated, there didn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to the order of the numbers.

No matter!

By my count, there were at least 3,000 people gathered in Town Square Park for the event, and most were delighted to get a "Broadway" show leading up to the very anticlimactic moment when a wimpy Santa dragged in by an overly gregarious Mrs. Claus finally switches on the tree.

Ho ho ho!

Will bodice-ripping art disappear?

Today's New York Times story about the migration of romance novels to the e-book world and how it saves readers from the embarrassment of being caught in public with a bodice-ripper in hand made me wonder what will become of the artists struggling to make a living as creators of the "mullets and the man chests," as blogger Sarah Wendell puts it in the article. It pains me greatly to think that e-books might be putting artists out of work!

Not your father's Christmas concert

There was a palpable puzzlement at the hour-long de Angelis Vocal Ensemble "Annual Holiday Concert" when the nearly full audience Basilica in San Juan Capistrano came to the realization that only two of the selections were familiar Christmas "tunes." Well, probably not for the die-hards who know full well what to expect when this taut a cappella sixteen member singing group performs: the programs usually containe undiscovered gems, premieres of new works, and old texts (sacred and secular) freshly cast into new music or new arrangements. That is really what makes de Angelis a standout in Orange County's crowded choral music scene, and the fact that they do it so well is a testament to its artistic director Matthew Gray, whose gently instructive, light, brief introductions of each piece make the Basilica feel like you're in his living room. Smartly taking advantage of the opportunity to address the crowd about supporting the ensemble, its volunteer managing director Lesa Truxaw keeps it short and heartfelt--no doubt, one of the reasons why the de Angelis donor list seems to be growing along with its ticket-buying audiences. Pacific Chorale's leadership was there on Sunday, too, to hear the concert: music director John Alexander and president Kelly Ruggirello--another sign that this six year old vocal organization is attracting serious attention. They will be back in March.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Will another theatre bite the dust?

The past month has not been a good one for OC's theatre scene: 30 year old Curtain Call Dinner Theatre called it quits and now FCLO Music Theatre (aka Fullerton Civic Light Opera) has announced that, barring a miracle, it will shut its doors at the end of the year, stranding subscribers to the rest of its 40th season. (See Paul Hodgins' article in the OC Register.)

Too bad these arts institutions aren't "too big to fail" and eligible for a government bailout.

FCLO is Orange County's third largest budget professional producing theatre company. Its founders, Griff and Jan Duncan, have lovingly produced many fine stagings of musical theatre's standard repertoire, with an occasional new(ish) musical thrown in. By design, they focused on subscriptions and ticket sales, so they lack a sizable, generous donor base that typically provides some balance when the occasional show misses its box office target or a recession affects subscriptions. Without that philanthropic support, they have been at the mercy of the lagging economy, and are crying uncle.

I hope they are able to find a way to keep it going.

However, as a longtime theatre producer myself, I must say that the landscape has changed greatly since FCLO and Curtain Call were founded. The heyday of civic light operas and dinner theatres across the US has been over for some time. Few dinner theatres continue to operate anywhere these days and whether they go by the civic light opera name, few musical theatre-only producing organizations around the nation remain.

Neither trend should be construed as signalling the end of musical theatre in America--but the access to Broadway touring productions (greatly increased with the advent of the "jukebox" musical over the past decade) and the shift in resident nonprofit professional theatre programming from classics and new works to more musical theatre (usually not homegrown, but rather co-produced with several other similar companies) have contributed to changes that most dinner theatres & CLOs have found difficult to overcome.

There is no segment of the performing arts, however, that hasn't suffered from the societal changes of the Internet era. We have limitless leisure time possibilities for entertainment and enrichment timed precisely to our whims and schedules through DVR/TiVo and Inernet streaming. For most people, something has to be very special and different to get them off their couches to drive to a theatre for a performance. CLOs and dinner theatres, which largely specialize in the "tried and true" (which some folks love, but others find "stale"), have seen their audiences die out and been unable to replace them.

Yet having local theatre companies where young and emerging professional talent can cut their teeth is an important part of the overall ecology of the performing arts in any community--and many fine performers trod the boards at Fullerton CLO and Curtain Call over the years to appreciative audiences.

Whether a renewed philanthropic effort in Fullerton can salvage its CLO's future remains to be seen. The City of Fullerton has apparently already determined that Fullerton CLO is not their problem.