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Monday, August 31, 2009

Twitterpated for Danielle Ate the Sandwich

In an attempt to gain more Twitter followers (and the hollow but desirable sense of pseudo-validation that accompanies said quantity), I have decided to start a weekly schedule of events to break up the monotony of my constant tweets about my cat and her general disdain for me.
Spiritual Sunday: I will share a lesson in enlightenment from someone who enjoys a slightly higher state of awareness than the average Joe. (No offense, Joe.)
Music Monday: I share some tunes and possibly video from a local (or not so local) artist that I think will present a treat for your ears.
Teach Me Tuesday: Those little life lessons that are oh so useful. I started this little experiment last week with a video on how to tie a bow-tie.
Weird and Wild Wednesday: Stuff I find that is weird, wild, or both. Kind of a twisted show-and-tell. (Or, if you went to kindergarten where I did, regular show-and-tell.)
Thankful Thursday: A thing or things for which I am grateful.
FACE Friday: You'll see.
Save-the-World Saturday: A cause I think deserves your attention.
That's seven, right? Okay. I should be be able to keep up, I might skip a day here and there or put Wednesday and Thursday up both on Wednesday if I'm going to, say, have a life on Thursday. (It could happen.)

Now, these will just be happening on Twitter (badwolf1013) for the most part. The One Big Bad Wolf blog will go on as it always has.
However, I may decide that something I find worth tweeting about deserves your attention here on the blog as well.
Today, for example, I want to share my Music Monday selection with you all here.
Danielle Ate the Sandwich is a very pretty, very talented, very funny gal with a ukulele who has achieved some local and YouTube notoriety, but deserves more in my personal opinion.
Here's her site (DanielleAteTheSandwich.com) and here's a couple of my favorite homemade videos:
Another Day
Rich Girl (Hall and Oates Cover)
Afterwards (No ukulele but maybe my favorite.)
Born In the Wrong Body REPEAL PROP 8!!!!!!!
By the way, that's Danielle you hear on the theme song to KDVR Fox 31's "Everyday with Libby & Natalie" TV talk show.
I hope you enjoy Danielle Ate the Sandwich as much as I do, and follow me on Twitter if you just can't get enough Big Bad Wolf.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reminiscing: The Audition Story

One of my more popular blog entries and a story that I am often asked to share at parties is my rather unfortunate audition in 2006 for Town Hall Arts Center's production of 1776.
As there are a number of auditions coming up in town over the next week or so, it seemed an appropriate time to share the horrific story once again.
Rest assured, I do not plan to make a habit out of blog re-runs, lest this become like a later episode of The Golden Girls where Blanche, Rose, Sophia, and Dorothy sit at the kitchen table eating cheesecake and reminiscing through flashbacks of previous episodes. (God, I loved that show!)
Enjoy my misery, piglets:

So do I get the part?

I recently had an audition experience that I thought would be worth sharing simply for entertainment value.
Preferring to direct, it's been a while since I've been to an audition on the other side of the table. Recently, however, I heard that Littleton Town Hall Arts Center was holding auditions for one of my favorite musicals, 1776. I decided that I would dust off the old vocal chords and give it a shot. I went to a vocal coach, hired out a rehearsal session with an accompanist, picked out a favorite monologue, and basically "got my act together" for the audition.
On the day of auditions, I was feeling pretty confident. My voice was in pretty good shape, song and monologue were memorized thoroughly, and I was relaxed.
When my name was called, I strode confidently into the audition room, introduced myself, went over my music with the lovely and talented Amanda Farnsworth (music director for the show and accompanist for the audition), walked to the little yellow "X" that marked the audition spot, and turned around to face the auditing table.
Now, on that 70's TV show, "Wonder Woman," when Lynda Carter turned around a half-dozen or so times she would turn into a butt-kicking Amazon Princess. Evidently, I should have kept turning, because my half-turn transformed me into a blithering idiot.
I really think that I felt the room shift, and for a moment, I didn't know where I was. The director said, "Give me just a moment" as he scribbled something down.
I said, "Take your time," because I honestly couldn't figure out how I'd gotten into this room. After a moment, I became very aware of the fact that the very pretty girl at the piano was looking at me. I smiled. She smiled back. Then I realized that everyone was looking at me. I smiled, and the director said, "Whenever you're ready."
Ready? Ready for what? Why do they keep looking at me? That girl at the piano is really cute. Piano? Music? Sing! Sing, you idiot! You're in an audition!
Amanda nodded at me. I nodded back. Then she started to play. Oh nuts! What's my song? What's my song?
Miraculously, I remembered the first word of the song just as it came time to sing it. And when I say sing, I do so because I cannot accurately describe the sound that actually came out of my mouth on that first note. It is a sound that I recall hearing only once before in my childhood on a Mutual of Omaha wildlife special. I don't recall what creature made the terrible sound, but I do recall that Marlon Perkins looked scared, very scared. By the second note, my voice had become almost human again, and I proceeded, mildly shaken, into the rest of the song. I was almost to full vocal power by about the tenth bar, and I thought, we may pull this one out yet, when inexplicably, the next word of the song disappeared from my brain. I stopped, and, for some reason, grabbed my throat. (Did I think that I had swallowed the word?)
At that moment, I remembered a quote from Winston Churchill: "When you're going through hell, keep going."
I backed up a couple of bars and got a "running start" at the missing word, thinking, it's in my brain somewhere. It'll find it's way out.
Nope. I stopped again. Evidently, the word had been frightened away by the horrible screeching animal that had appeared at the beginning of the song.
(The word, by the way, was exception'ly. Not exceptionally. Exception'ly. Frackin' Lerner and Lowe.)
I backed up again and took another run at it. When I got to the offending (and absent) word, I mumbled like it was a secret (it certainly was to me) and finished the song. Then, partly as a release and partly just because the whole thing had been so comical, I started to laugh. Amanda then started to laugh. Then the rest of the panel started to laugh. Whether the correct preposition was with or at, I may never know, but it gave me a second to regroup.
Then I began my monologue: one of my favorite pieces by Oscar Wilde.
I got about five seconds in when suddenly, the missing word -- exception'ly -- jumped back into my head like a wayward croquet ball. Relieved as I was at finally remembering the word, I became painfully aware of the fact that, with its re-entry, it had knocked the rest of my monologue right out of my head.
Now what?
Well, knowing the basic theme and story of the monologue, as well as Oscar Wilde's fondness for alliteration, I decided to fake my way through until the monologue came back to me. I don't think it ever did. I started out alright, but as I became increasingly aware of the fact that the monologue was seemingly gone for good, both my concentration and my British accent deteriorated. The panel was then subjected to an oddly-gesticulated amalgamation of Long John Silver in an Irish Spring commercial. As I forged through, unable to understand my own ramblings over the loud hum of Oscar Wilde spinning in his grave at 400 rpms, I thought I heard the voice of Winston Churchill saying to me, "Dude! Let it go!"
I somehow managed to find a stopping point in my tirade/audition, and then smiled and left the room. (I don't know if I stopped to open the door or just kept walking.) Not my best work.
Luckily, the folks at Town Hall are fond of me, and even offered to write in the part of a shrieking, sheep-herding pirate, just for me. I graciously declined as I felt that it would diminish the integrity of the show.
Now, I've had bad auditions before (though never this bad), but I am pleased that I was able to find the humor in this one. Laughing at this experience has proven a far more effective way of dealing with a bad audition than my usual coping strategy. (Sitting alone in the dark listening to Laura Branigan albums.)

There you have it, folks. So, to you veteran and novice actors trying to calm your butterflies before your upcoming auditions, rest easy in the knowledge that, short of accidentally setting yourself, the director, and the accompanist on fire, you can not possibly screw up your audition worse than I did.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Burning the Ground I Break from the Crowd

I've been poring over the comments, messages, e-mails, etc. that I've been receiving over the last few days regarding the future of the blog. I even got a few phone calls and one person made a point of catching me out at the the PHAMALy concert.
Okay. The blog will continue.
Whether I'm facilitating a change or not, I still don't know, but it's obvious to me now (where it really wasn't before) that I'm making an impact.
If my motivations aren't really clear to everyone, then I guess I can live with that.
Somebody (I think it was Randy) called me the "voice" of Denver theatre. A couple of others called me its "watchdog." The one I liked most was "the Denver community theatre's conscience," but I think all of those titles are just a bit too lofty for someone like me.
I don't know what I am, really, but I'm here. Still.
And I'm watching.
And I'm not afraid to tell you what I see.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Will the Wolf Survive?

My followers on Twitter and my friends on Facebook have already heard me muse about the possibility of bringing an end to this blog, and, in spite of a chorus of "why?"s, "don't"s, and "no!"s, it is still very much a possibility.
I consider myself to be an advocate for Denver theatre. That is the main reason that I started this blog. Yes, I devote some space to local eateries, some to my favorite charities, but, really, this blog is about getting butts into seats for theatre. (I have to be honest when I say that I don't know how effective I have been at this.)
However, it has come to my attention over the last few months that I am not always - or even often - seen as an advocate.
When I am greeted at a show after-party by a reader of my blog who wants to know who I'm "going after next," and a friend refers to One Big Bad Wolf as my "bitchy blog," I begin to wonder if my occasional trips to the soapbox are giving people the wrong impression about what I'm trying to do.
This kind of hit home over the last couple of days when a few of my blog readers (knowing of my criticism of Vintage Theatre's decision to expand their 2010 season by about 30%) began sending me links to a couple of unfavorable reviews of Vintage's current production of Dial M for Murder. The links were accompanied by little notes, saying "Thought you might like this." or "You'll get a kick out of this."
In fact, someone closely involved with the production rather facetiously sent me links to both of the reviews with the subject line "Enjoy!"
Sorry, folks. Just because I don't agree with some of Vintage's recent choices doesn't mean I'm looking to see them fail. (Not that a couple of bad reviews constitute failure by any means.)
However, somewhere along the line I must have given you the impression that I would delight in the misfortunes of others in the theatre world with whom I take issue.
Not so. Like I always say, "we're all in this together."
That's why I speak up when I think Vintage is making a decision that I think will hurt them and, more importantly, hurt others in the community struggling for the same audience. That's why I raise my voice when I think that the non-profit theatre system is being misused by people who just want to create a 501c3 to direct a play they've written, or to direct a show they've always wanted to direct, or just put all of their closest friends on stage, or to do their version of a play that's already been done to death, or just because existing companies are monopolizing opportunities by always pulling from the same small pool of directors and actors for all of their productions.
I won't sit idly by while a theatre board that receives public funds keeps hiring themselves to direct the season's shows. No non-profit outside of the theatre realm would ever be allowed to engage in such corrupt behavior, and, if I am truly an advocate for Denver theatre, I won't let such corruption go on without shining a light on it if I can.
Putting caucasian children in bronze make-up, black wigs, and slant-eyed make-up to fill the coffers with a production of The King and I is deplorable behavior - especially in the 21st century. It's called "yellowface," and it's not as cute as you think it is. When the perpetrators of such blatant racism attempt to hide behind phrases like "But it's a classic" or "audiences want it," I feel that, as a proponent of quality theatre in our fair city, I should probably be telling them to blow it out their greedy, culturally-insensitive keisters. ("Amos and Andy" was a popular classic, too, you over-privileged morons.)

But I digress. The question with which I have been wrestling over the last couple of days is:

Can I continue to be a supporter of the wonder that is live theatre while refusing to accept the aforementioned atrocities as simply part-and-parcel of the animal that is community theatre?
Can I still be an advocate while also advocating change? At what point do I move from proponent to opponent - at least in the eyes of my readers?

The answer, as near as I can surmise thus far, is "I don't know."

Feel free to chime in. Frankly, I'm stuck.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Extra, Extra, Pinball Bonanza!

Tonight at La Rumba, 99 W. 9th Avenue in Denver:
Instant Party presents The Who's Tommy: The Rock Opera in concert, a special one-night only benefit for PHAMALy
featuring:
Donna Debreceni on keyboards/vocals
Mitch Jervis on guitars/vocals
Rick Thompson on bass/vocals
Larry Ziehl on drums
Dan Langhoff on vocals
Traci Kern on vocals

Doors open at 5:30 with DJ Tyler “Danger” Jacobson spinning some classic rock from "across the pond" including the music of The Who. Tommy starts at 7 pm.
After the concert, La Rumba transforms to the Lipgloss dance club and your Tommy admission includes the cover charge for Lipgloss.
Tickets are $10 General Admission at the door or $20 VIP seating at the door or in advance at 303-575-0005.
This is an over 21 event. IDs must be presented at the door.

This is going to rock!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guid Eats: Argyll

As a direct descendant of famed poet Robert Burns and a member of the Clan Campbell, I tend to prick up my ears at all things Scottish.
So when I saw a tartan-backed ad for the fine gastropub Argyll in Cherry Creek, I made a note to drop in as soon as I could, and drop in I did this past Sunday for a bit of lunch with my mother.
Now I could go on about the friendly waitstaff or the attentive service or even recommend that, if weather permits, you should take advantage of the sunny patio, but I thin I'd best coorie up and tell you about the food.
From their brunch menu (over which I pondered quite a while - so many appetizing choices) I selected the Short Rib Hash: pulled short rib, Gruyere cheese, great northern white beans, potato & carrot hash with two poached eggs. Not your everyday pub food, now is it? That is the distinguishing factor of a gastropub: fine dining within a pub atmosphere (and at a pretty fair bargain as well).
And, did I like it? Well, you know how this works, friends. If I bother to write about it, I must have liked it a lot. In my opinion, Argyll is the stang o the trump.
The portions are large enough that my mother needed me to finish her entree: the award-winning Argyll MacCheese, mini-rigatoni with white cheddar b├ęchamel, Yorkshire bacon, peas, truffled breadcrumbs, with langoustines (very small Norwegian lobsters).
I was fortunate enough to be able to sample two of the fine entrees from their brunch menu, but was left too full for dessert.
Ah, but keep the heid! my little cherubs, I will be going back. I can't wait to try their dinner menu, and I'm planning to save room for dessert the next time. If I enjoy dinner as much as I enjoyed brunch, you just might see me mention it again here.
Until next time, carry this bit of Scottish wisdom with you:
It's guid ti hae yir cog out whan it rains kail.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Too Much Theatre or No?

There is a new article in the Denver Post in which John Moore asks and attempts to answer this very question. I knew that this was in the works because John asked me a week or so ago if I would mind if he used some of my replies on his blog of a few weeks ago in the article.
I didn't know he was going to use my least insightful point, but, hey, I'm just glad that the question is being asked before a larger audience.
Now, I know that nobody likes to hear that there might be too much theatre in Denver. In fact, I encountered somebody last week who said, "I refuse to accept that." However, I think that we need to accept that it is at least a possibility.
I seem to miss as many shows as I see, and I see somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 shows per year. That's more than one per week, and that's a lot to ask of the average theatre-goer.
This blog originated out of the fact that a lot of very good theatre was playing to dismally small audiences in this town. Despite my efforts, as well as the efforts of Becca Fletcher, Gloria Shanstrom, John Moore, and others, that hasn't changed a whole heck of a lot.
Now, I will be the first to say that theatre is a necessary part of any community. I doubt that a single person in last night's sold-out audience for PHAMALy's Man of La Mancha would be able to recount a movie or television program that provided a more moving or transformative experience than witnessing Regan Linton's breathtaking performance as Aldonza. Paragon's incredible production of Harold Pinter's Old Times crawled inside my brain a few nights ago and has yet to release its hold.
Because of this inherent need for theatre, I think of it like feeding the hungry, except that some of these "hungry" don't know yet that they need to be fed. Blogs, reviews, word-of-mouth, and clever advertising help to stir appetites, but not enough to keep up with the massive amounts of food that are being produced. In many cases, the "food" being produced has nothing to do with feeding the hungry, it's more about wanting to show off what great cooks we are.
I'm not an economist, but I don't think being one would help me to believe that creating a surplus of anything helps to stimulate demand. This was the argument posited by the person who "refused to accept" that there could be too much theatre. It just doesn't work that way.
Another argument being made is that companies are producing more theatre to "provide more opportunities" for actors, designers, and directors. If that is so, then why are 8 out of the 16 upcoming shows which include Vintage Theatre's expanded 2010 season being directed by only two directors? As of August 10th, it was reported that there were 180 actors signed up for Vintage Theatre's season auditions for the twelve shows that will be presented in 2010. We will have to wait and see how many of those actors will be provided the "opportunity" to perform on stage, or if we will be seeing the same few faces over and over again as is the trend in a number of other companies. For me, the argument just doesn't hold water.
I don't mean to pick on Vintage. I just happened to have these facts about them before me, and, let's not forget, they did decide to put more "soup on the stove," before any more "hungry" walked in.
To some degree, I will admit that every theatre production is a vanity project. It's the nature of what we do. I'm just worried that vanity may be overtaking reason here, and I'm not sure what it's going to cost all of us in the process. Or rather, what more it's going to cost us.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The King and Eyes

I have been debating with myself for a while about just how to broach this subject that has been troubling me for a while now. One, I wasn't sure that others will find it as troubling as I do, and, two, I didn't quite know how to raise the issue without it looking like I am pointing a finger. Then again, maybe a little bit of finger-pointing is called for in this case.
I asked around. I did a couple of informal internet surveys. I did a bit of background research.
All of these things have ultimately led me to the conclusion that broaching this subject is not only okay, but necessary as well.
First, a little background about me. I grew up on and around the Southern Ute Reservation in southern Colorado. Many of my friends were full-blood Southern Ute. Some were Navajo, Apache, or Hopi. Some were Latino or Caucasian, but most were mutts like me.
I can remember sitting on the floor of a friend's house whose family was full-blood Ute. It was a Saturday morning and we were watching cartoons followed by an old western. At one point in a cartoon, Bugs Bunny found himself confronted by some cartoon "injuns." My friend's grandmother came in and told us to change the channel. Midway through the western, in which the Native Americans were all played by anything but, she told us to turn off the T.V. and go outside. That was my first real wake-up call to the idea of Native American stereotyping and what I later heard called "redface."
I still cringe when I see a production of Peter Pan and it comes to the Tiger Lily scenes. I tell myself that it was a different, more naive time when J.M. Barrie wrote that character and a still somewhat innocent time when Comden, Green and company brought it to the Broadway stage. It still feels wrong.
Jumping ahead to 2009, I find myself with a similar shudder when I see that two local, well-respected companies will be producing The King and I as part of their seasons.
Since the city of Denver's ethnic make-up is only 3% Asian/Pacific Islander (very, very few of whom pop up at auditions around town), I assume that the casting of these shows will go along the same lines as the 1951 Broadway production (58 years ago), and Caucasian actors will play the role in bronze make-up with slanted eye-liner, referred to among the Asian community as "yellowface." (This is also the name of a very thought-provoking play written by David Henry Hwang, if you're interested.)
One of the individuals of Asian descent whom I encountered on-line responded to the news this way: "it is the Asian equivalent of 'black-face'!! I find it unacceptable, horribly offensive and degrading to all parties involved!! I suggest that if they can't find enough Asian actors then start protesting until they put a different play on!"
Now, I'm not presenting that opinion to spark protest. I just think it's an opinion worthy of note.
Some of the responses from non-Asians pointed out that Mary and Joseph are often portrayed by non-Jewish actors in Christmas pageants. Others pointed out the same about Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Or can a Korean play a Japanese character, or do you have to find someone who's Japanese? Valid points all.
However, I remember watching an interview with George Takei on Turner Classic Movies a year or so ago in which he said (and I'll have to paraphrase here), if something "grotesque" must occur for you to portray another ethnicity, then there's something wrong. He was referring to Caucasian actors appearing in "yellowface" in the movies.
Someone else posed the question back to me if I thought that the King and I "should just never be performed then?"
My answer is, unless it can be portrayed by Asian performers, probably not. I know it's a favorite musical, but so is Porgy and Bess. Why don't we see two productions of that show in a season in Denver (or even one)? The African American population is almost double the Asian/Pacific Islander population in Denver, so why not?
The answer is that few theatre companies in town (if any) could count on enough African American performers to turn out. I highly doubt, too, that when they came up short, they'd be obtuse enough to say, "Well, break out the shoe polish." There would be riots.
I doubt that there will be any riots over Caucasian children putting on black wigs and drawing slanted eyes on their faces to play the King of Siam's children, but the lack of rioting or protest doesn't make it right, either. I'm also really not thrilled about the message it sends to those young actors.
I guess it comes down to whether or not you think "yellowface" is as inappropriate as "blackface." Well, what I've found is that it depends on who you ask, but I give a little more weight to the answers provided by Asians. (That answer was overwhelmingly,"Of course it is.")
Now, I'm not saying that the play selection committees of these two organizations deliberately selected a show so they could project racist stereotypes. That's ridiculous. I think that, like many of the Caucasian people to whom I've spoken, it just never occurred to them.
Sometimes I think America goes a little too crazy with all of the political-correctness. I don't know that Miley Cyrus really owed the entire Asian community an apology for pulling at the sides of her eyes mugging for a snapshot, but others felt she did. I wasn't terribly offended by Jessica Simpson's recent exclamation that she wasn't "an Indian-giver." However, others were. I do think in both cases, a "hey, that's kind of insensitive" nudge might have been called for, but that's about it.
However, I look the way that I do. I have never had to personally deal with the kind of racism that my childhood friends have or that I'm sure my grandmother must have. I may not be qualified to tell the groups who were offended by these instances whether or not they have a right to be offended or to what degree.
When it comes to putting kids in "yellowface" to stage a somewhat out-dated musical, though, I don't have any problem seeing where there's something wrong there.
You may disagree.
I hope that I'm wrong about the casting, and that these companies will find enough Asian actors to perform the roles without having to turn it into a highly inappropriate Halloween costume party, but I just don't know if that can be done.
I'm not saying that these companies should cancel their productions. I know one doesn't have much time, if it hasn't opened already.
I'm just saying that future play selection committees might want to dig just a little bit deeper when it comes to what's appropriate entertainment for their community and what isn't.
Of course, audiences are not free from responsibility here, either. Theatre companies (particularly in this economy) sort of have to give us what we ask for and what we will pay for, so we all need to think about for which kinds of representations we are willing to do both.
Of course, that's just my opinion. Well, not just mine, but I'll take the heat for it. I just feel it needed to be said.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Happiness Is a Blueberry Donut

My dad turned me on to the beautiful simplicity of the blueberry donut when I was a kid, and, while I may occasionally venture toward something chocolate-covered or jelly-filled, I eventually pick up one (or two) of these cakey treats. I think that they even count as part of the fruit group. Well, that's what I choose to believe.
The one that I am enjoying this morning is from my favorite little donut shop in town: Walton Donuts.
I'm not the only one who thinks so. Walton Donuts was ranked #1 in a Simpson's-inspired readers poll in the Denver Post a couple of years ago. (I don't know if anyone's conducted one since, but I don't see Walton losing any ground if they did.)
Now, it's not just the great donuts that draws me to Walton Donuts, though that would certainly be enough. They are also family owned and operated. Take note: despite the potential loss of church-going donut buyers, Walton Donuts thus far remains closed on Sundays. That is their family's day. I think that's kinda nice, don't you?
Now, if you're still not sold, I'd just like to add that Walton Donuts recently became a purveyor of Colorado's own Peaberry Coffee - the whole family is now barista-trained.
A bear claw and an espresso - now there's a rush to get you through rush hour.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Guilty Pleasures

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." — Ferris Bueller

I first heard about the passing of John Hughes today in a "tweet." It's the same way that I heard about Michael Jackson. It's funny to think about how far we've come since the eighties. I imagine a Breakfast Club of detentionees nowadays would remain isolated from one another if left alone in the library -- still linked to their respective cliques via small, easy-to-hide mobile devices.
The "groundbreaking" soul-baring discussion among the brain, the athlete, the princess, the criminal, and the basket-case might never have occurred. We might never have seen how we are truly one and the same.
That is what John Hughes movies did. Apart from entertaining us and giving us some of the most quotable lines ever ("Could you describe the ruckus, sir?"), the John Hughes movie (and its many copycats) leveled the playing field.
Amid the slapstick and wisecracks and occasional gross-out humor (tame by today's standards), John Hughes showed us the humanity that existed under all of the other crap. In a world where we constantly try to define ourselves by how we are not like this person or that person, Hughes manages -- usually in the last fifteen minutes of the movie -- to say, "Guess again."
Most John Hughes films usually end up on a movie buff's "guilty pleasure" list, but, if we look past the iconic clothing and pop music -- always there for a reason -- these are really some of the best stories to have made it to film. What adversity teaches us about ourselves and our place in the world is a central theme of Home Alone, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, National Lampoon's Vacation, and Sixteen Candles.
As a stage director, I am always looking for the "heart" of the story I'm telling, whether it's a silly spoof, heavy drama, light musical, or something else entirely. I learned this from, of all places, Uncle Buck. While we all may remember from that movie things like "the mole scene", or "the clown scene", or "the golf club scene", what makes that movie a favorite among millions (whether we admit it or not) is its heart.
Spielberg brought us aliens, Scorsese brought us gangsters, but John Hughes brought us something that was ever more fantastic for us to see on-screen. He brought us ourselves.
Thank you, Mr. Hughes.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

An Incompleat Education

I dropped in on The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) party last night along with fellow blogger, college professor, and ninja Jenn Zuko (of Daily Cross-Swords).
I know that I can always count on this show for a lot of laughs -- even when performed (as it often is) by the three "funniest" guys in a local community theatre.
I knew that the Colorado Shakespeare Festival would easily surpass that expectation having already seen Geoff Kent, Matt Mueller, and Stephen Weitz in other CSF shows this summer. Jenn said that she wanted to write "dueling blogs" on the show, so I went into the theatre with my blog topic already in mind:
How The Compleat Works is a great way to introduce the uninitiated or fearful to the work of Shakespeare. Not bad, right?
It was fitting, too, because, while the concept of 3 guys attempting to perform 37 plays in one evening is a grand spoof, we are also treated to a great affection for the words and characters. Amid the raucous laughter, the "what a piece of work is man" monologue sneaks up on us and stuns. Kinda like a ninja, right Jenn?
And these guys do it so well. There is a trick to a show like this, and that is to make it seem unrehearsed and spontaneous, and it's not easy. The best I've ever seen at it is a man by the name of Bob Moore, but Kent, Mueller, and Weitz are pretty darn good at it, too.
With audience participation a big part of this production, there is no shortage of genuine spontaneity, either.
However, my original blog plan de-railed as I enjoyed the show in the context of the rest of the summer offerings at CSF.
I kept thinking, if you think Geoff Kent is charming here, you should really see him as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing (which closes August 7th, so hurry!). The man's charisma really should receive separate billing. As Matt Mueller juggles multiple roles in the trio's Hamlet parody, I found myself recalling how adroitly he handled the bizarre duality of Proteus in CSF's cleverly-staged production of the complicated Two Gentlemen of Verona (ends August 9th, folks!). On the subject of Hamlet, Stephen Weitz's interpretation of the Danish Prince is one of the better I've seen (if not the best) and Philip Sneed's brilliant production (also ends August 9th) is fodder for much of the humor in Compleat's spoof.
So, essentially, I found a flaw in my original concept. You see, the best production for the uninitiated or fearful of Shakespeare is. . . Shakespeare. Shakespeare done well to be precise, and I saw a lot of Shakespeare done well this summer at the CSF.
So, yes, go see The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). It's funny as hell. You'll laugh your butt off, but just don't let that be your only exposure to Shakespeare this summer, especially when there are at least three great productions worth seeing as well.
Photo by Casey A. Cass for CU Communications.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Littleton High School: Please Educate Me

Dear Littleton High School:

I consider myself a knowledgeable man. I read. I watch the Discovery Channel. I have always thought of myself as a reasonably intelligent fellow. Show me how to do something seventeen, eighteen times, and I've got it.
However, I am shattered to find that I am not as smart as I thought.
It has been brought to my attention recently that you, Littleton High School, have decided not to continue to rent your facility to Magic Moments, Inc., the arts organization that has for twenty-six years (a great many of those in your facility) been a creative outlet for, a financial contributor to, and a great celebrator of the disabled community here in the Denver area.
As I understand it, the creative minds behind the years of wonderful Magical Moments musical productions are now also having to devote a lot of that creativity toward locating a new facility that can manage their large, highly inclusive casts -- many of whom have very specific accessibility needs. As far as I'm aware, they are still looking.
I'm afraid that you may just have to keep me after class on this subject, because I'll tell you this: as hard as I try, I just can't seem to make the math add up.
Now, before you slap my hand with the ruler and make me sit in the corner with the dunce cap on my head, let me just walk through my steps, so we can see where I went awry.
Magic Moments has been renting your theatre facility for the better part of two decades; putting on shows that entertain, inspire, and educate; providing opportunities for individuals with physical and developmental abilities to be involved and frequently showcased in the performing arts; playing to full houses of enthusiastic and appreciative audience; all the while raising much-needed funds to support the disabled community of the greater Denver area.
During this time, Littleton High School has also had a thriving and much-respected performing arts program that certainly does not appear to have been too greatly hampered by the sharing of the space with Magic Moments.
This part I get. A+B =C, where C is a small community of artists working harmoniously together for the greater good.
However, I do not understand this new equation wherein by adding "X", Magic Moments is subtracted from the whole.
There are a number of possible solutions for "X," but I'm not sure that I like any of them very much.
For example, "X" could equal your not thinking that Magic Moments puts on a very good show. Surely you don't think that. Boasting performers and artists of such talent as Lucy Roucis, Leonard Barrett, Regan Linton, Michelle Merz-Hutchison, Anita Boland, and many others, Magic Moments has been the hottest ticket in town every spring since I've lived in Denver.
"X" could also equal the position that Magic Moments isn't very important. Again, though, that doesn't fit, because even a dunce like me can see that Magic Moments has an enormous impact in the lives of its performers, its audience, and the recipients of the funds that they raise every year.
There are other possibilities for "X" that seem to include things like greed or inconvenience or prejudice, but they aren't even worth mentioning. It couldn't possibly be any of those, now, could it?
In fact, the only solution for "X" that seems to make any sense at all seems highly implausible. Can it be that you have found an even better use for your facility? Is it truly possible that you, Littleton High School, are embarking upon a project so grand, so broad, so inclusive, and so philanthropic that it will make the contribution of Magic Moments to this community every year seem utterly meager? Well, that certainly sounds exciting. I, for one, cannot wait to see what you have to present in March of 2010. I'm almost giddy.
Still, the difficulty that I have had in arriving at the solution to this little story problem suggests to me that perhaps I need some extra help. Perhaps the creation of a remedial course is in order for people like me who just don't get it. I promise to take very good notes.
In fact, I think that there may be many in this community who could benefit from such a course. I think that there are a great many people who may need some help in following your logic on this. I will encourage them to contact you to get signed up for this enlightening little seminar.
I just hope that we can find a facility large enough to support it.

Huffs and Puffs,

The Big Bad Wolf

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Man of La Mancha Video

I followed Leonard Barrett around backstage Friday night before and during his performance as Cervantes/Don Quixote in PHAMALy's Man of La Mancha to get a look at the process for his extensive make-up designed by Todd Debrecini and applied by Kamala Madden.
Here's the video.
(I had to speed thing up a bit because it's a lengthy process, and some of the high-speed effects didn't compress as well as I'd have liked. Still, you get the idea. Plus: Leonard sings!)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Without Question or Pause

I was fortunate enough to be able to lurk in the shadows of Friday night's performance of PHAMALy's Man of La Mancha. It isn't what you think, I'm working on a little something for the blog, and I needed to be unobtrusive. (Though never doubt that I might be lurking in the shadows at any moment.)
I do love that show. I often feel such a kinship with Don Quixote de La Mancha. I have often been accused of tilting at windmills myself (as recently as last week). My causes are many.
Also, to see more in a person or a thing than anyone realized was there before is the kind of madness I can get behind. I have done that often enough, and I have been both adored and reviled for it - sometimes within minutes of one another and by the same person. I am I, Don Quixote, and perhaps I always will be.
If you want to read a review of the show, I recommend Juliet Wittman's in Westword, though I did spy John Moore in the audience so his may be forthcoming as well. Do read John's article on PHAMALy regular Leonard Barrett and his battle with MS, if you get a chance. It is a moving story.
I have heard a number of people exclaim that Man of La Mancha is PHAMALy's best show ever. I'm not sure I agree with that -- not because it wasn't very, very good, because it was -- but rather because PHAMALy has had so many amazing productions that I find it difficult to qualify one as being "the best."
Leonard Barrett as the title character is, well, Leonard Barrett. I am loathe to find words to describe what this man brings to the stage, so I propose that "Leonard Barrett" be sufficient description from now on. Perhaps, even, it can find its way into everyday life:
"Hey, that blueberry pie with ice cream sure looks good."
"Oh, yes, it is totally Leonard Barrett!"
Regan Linton as the fiery Aldonza brings to the role every bit of talent and creation that earned her a best actress award from the Colorado Theatre Guild. I'm lost for words to describe her performance as well, but perhaps it is for the best, since I am incapable of any objectivity where Regan is concerned. I am not alone in this affliction. To call this woman "remarkable" would be a gross understatement.
PHAMALy is arguably Denver's favorite theatre company and refuses to rest on its laurels or settle in as a "token" group, which they could easily do, and no one would fault them for it.
I am always in awe of these performers, for many of whom singing, dancing, even moving is only done with great personal effort and no small amount of peril.
I was reminded backstage of how being able to catch oneself from falling when tripping over something in the dark is an ability that I and many others take for granted.
The word "inspiring" has been robbed of its meaning by the countless reality shows who use it in meaningless platitudes.
I would like to take that meaning back now, thank you.
PHAMALy is inspiring.