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Friday, November 27, 2009

The Gift of Hope

Well, I hope that those of you who braved the Black Friday shopping found yourself some great deals, and I hope that you saw some fellowship in yourself and the other shoppers this year.
I would like to list one gripe that I have with some of the holiday retailers: Is it really appropriate to call these sales "doorbuster specials" after what happened at a Wal-Mart last year? Just saying.
Okay, now, if you didn't find something for everyone on your list, I would highly suggest that you take a look at the St. Jude Holiday Hope Gift Book. There are lots of very special gifts in a number of different price ranges that just might be the perfect thing for those "hard-to-buy-fors" on your list.
There are some really quality items in this catalog, and 100% of the profit from your purchases will benefit a great organization - an organization that is a very important one to your Big Bad Wolf, too.
Check it out, please.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Send Lawyers, Guns, and Money

The title of this entry is a bit of a stretch, but I didn't want to use Steely Dan's "When Black Friday Comes" because everyone else is already using it - even the squares.
The biggest, baddest, meanest shopping day of the year is right around the corner, and I wanted to get my piece in here, too.
Now, I contemplated a tirade about the evils of rampant consumerism in the name of family and togetherness, but - while that would no doubt have pleased many of the fans of this blog - I have decided against it.
I thought about linking to stories and embedding videos of the violence and inhumanity that occurs among "holiday shoppers" on previous Black Fridays (and even the days following), but, frankly, it turned my stomach a little, and I would not wish that upon you, my little cherubs.
Instead, let me just impart a few rhetorical reminders.
What do the holidays mean to you?
What's your favorite thing about the holidays?
Is your relationship with your significant other predicated on what you can get for one another?
Is your relationship with your children or other members of your family predicated on the same? Do you want it to be?
If a child's sense of self worth depends upon whether or not that child has the same toy or other item that their friends have no later than December 26th, does giving the child that item help them or hurt them?
And a big one to keep in mind through the weekend and through the entire season:
Which is more important: a thing or a person? Even a stranger? Even an inconsiderate or mean stranger? Is that inconsiderate, mean stranger not still a person and not still more important than any electronic device?
I don't want to rain on anyone's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade here. While I am not a big fan of holiday shopping or crowds, I know that some people just love it, and I wouldn't want to take that away from you. (I will most likely be barricaded in my home until Sunday, however.)
I would just ask that you not let your "zeal for the deal" turn you into one of a particular crowd of people lined up for an early morning Black Friday deal outside of a big chain store. Another woman in line collapsed, passed out, and was left to lie there without any assistance at all because no one wanted to lose their place in line. (That's not even the worst story I read.)
Oh, and be nice to the salespeople. Working that day is usually a result of drawing the short straw, and I can pretty much guarantee you that they are not paid enough to put up with all of your drama.
So be patient, be considerate, don't let other people's bad behavior dictate your own, and have a happy Black Friday. Hey, like John Rock said, "Black is beautiful." (Yes, I know he didn't actually use that phrase.)
Here's a little video to occupy your mind when you are standing in one of those long lines (I saw it on the show of my TV girlfriend, The Bonnie Hunt Show):

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Book Was Better

How often have we heard the above phrase regarding the film adaptation of a novel or short story? How many times have we been the ones saying it?
As Twilight: New Moon opens to record attendance this weekend, I expect that this phrase will be uttered quite often:
"The book was better."
This is not meant to take anything away from the director, the screenwriter, the actors, the editors, or anyone involved with the film. This is simply the nature of the written word. The images that can currently be created from them on the screen pale in comparison to the images that the human imagination can conjure. This will likely always be the case.
This makes some of the following statistics from the Jensen Group, Inc. all the more troubling:

~ 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.

~ 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.

~ 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

~ 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

~ 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.
Now, I share these statistics mostly because they find them interesting. Interesting and saddening.
It also inspired me to go grab one of those books off of my to-read shelf, dust it off, and crack open the cover.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Holiday Follow-up: Letters to Santa via Macy's

This is mentioned in the article that I linked to in the last entry, but I really think that this is a cool idea, so I'm going type a little about it myself.
Here's the deal: Macy's is going to donate $1 (up to 1 million dollars) to the Make-A-Wish-Foundation for every letter to Santa dropped off at one of their stores, including all Denver locations (I checked).
Look for the big red mailbox in the store.
The program is called simply "Believe."

More Holiday Ideas

There is a great article on right now on the subject of charitable gift-giving during the holidays that I hope you all will read.
Here are a couple of the very easy suggestions for your shopping dollars to reach out and help others:, a Yahoo-powered search engine will donate to a charity you select for every search you perform using their search. You don't have to spend a dime extra to help a good cause.
GoodSearch has also created a shopping page called GoodShop that finds stores willing to donate a portion of your purchase dollars, again, toward a cause that you select. So, gifts that you were going to buy anyway can now go toward helping out your favorite charities. Easy.
Still trying to come up with gift ideas for those hard-to-buy-fors on your list? Well, swing by the Starlight Children's Foundation's Online Store and take a look at the gifts there that benefit this incredible organization.
The article has many more suggestions, so do check it out.
I'm sure that I'll keep coming up with some more suggestions myself, so keep checking back in here, too.
That is when I'm not "undermining the entire Denver theatre community." Hee hee. People are funny.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Loathing: The Saga Continues

As promised here is the follow-up to yesterday's tale and Reason #2 that there is too much theatre in Denver.

One year later: Meet Gladys. Gladys has just moved into our fair city. Gladys loves theatre, so she immediately opens her laptop at the neighborhood coffeehouse in search of info on the local theatre scene.
What's this? Somebody's doing the cute but overdone "Vishnuspell," someone else is doing the tired old chesnut "The Preschool Dilemma." And two, yes, two theatres are both doing versions of the insipid but popular "I Don't Think That's My Meatball."
Gladys is appalled. Have they no culture in this town? Is it all just the mind-numbing cotton candy theatre fare in this town.
Have they never heard of the wonderful classic works of Renaissance-era scribe Horace Pantaloni?
Gladys is resolved. She will start her own theatre company devoted to the works of Pantaloni. She will bring culture to this town.

Six months later: Meet Barney. Barney loves to go see theatre. It's more expensive than movies or cable or internet porn, but there is something magical about the live experience. Barney opens up his paper to see what's playing in town.
Oh, look, they've extended the run of "Vishnuspell" again. He's seen it three times, but it is just so charming. Why, just this morning he was humming the showstopping "Walking Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm-in Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm With You." Hmm, someone's doing "I Don't Think That's My Meatball" again.  He did just see that  six months ago at both of the theatres that were doing it, but it is just so funny.  He ruined at least one pair of pants.  Oh, and this version is supposed to be different and risky. They've double-cast the meatball? Wow!
Hey, what's this? Oh, a new theatre group: Hoity-Toity Theatre Company presents Pantaloni's classic romantic drama, "Why Must You Lick That?" Closing weekend.
Ooooh. Pantaloni. Barney read Pantaloni in boarding school. He is known as the uncle of playwrighting. They call him "The Poet."Ooooh. The Poet.
Barney is intrigued. But Barney is reticent. Pantaloni can be difficult to understand. He's never seen Pantaloni performed except for that DVD of Kenneth Branagh in "Pantaloni's The Lancing of the Boil."
Barney is not comfortable with the unfamiliar. He recalls the unfortunate and confusing experience of watching "The Fungus Chronicles" at Myron'sATool Theatre a year ago. The image of the strange little man with the lantern still haunts him.
Still, Barney is intrigued. He would like to see Pantaloni, to expand his horizons, to become a little more cultured.
Well, maybe next time. Perhaps some weekend when "Vishnuspell" or "I Don't Think That's My Meatball" aren't playing somewhere else in town.
Meanwhile, across town Gladys sits in her empty theatre.
"Why has no one come to see my Pantaloni," she moans. Over two weekends, she's sold only fourteen tickets - three of them to the same weird little man carrying a lantern.
Perhaps Hoity-Toity Theatre was not well thought out. Perhaps she did not market well enough.
Ridiculous. Pantaloni requires no marketing.
Perhaps it is time to close Hoity-Toity Theatre. But how will Gladys know that she is a valid artist if she has no theatre of her own?
No, it is time for a new approach. Aha! Hoity-Toity Theatre presents "I Don't Think That's My Meatball."
Yes! But wait, would that not make Hoity-Toity a redundancy, an unnecessary draw upon the limited public funds for the arts?
Don't be silly. Of course not! Gladys will present "I Don't Think That's My Meatball" in a groundbreaking new fashion: she will double cast the meatball. Eureka!

One year later: Meet Hyacinth. Hyacinth has just moved to our fair city. She loves theatre. As she surfs the entertainment page on her laptop, she is appalled. Back by popular demand: "Vishnuspell!" Held over for two more weeks: "I Don't Think That's My Meatball!" A special fundraising event for The Daughters of the American Conflict in Grenada: "The Preschool Dilemma!"
What? Has no one ever heard of the great Pantaloni? . . .
There's no happy ending to this story, either.
I suppose that is the age old question: do you give theatre audiences only what they clamor for, or do you expand their palates, inspiring them to clamor for something different? Well, that's not easy to do as long as somebody, somewhere is always doing "Vishnuspell."
The second question is, if finally no one wants to see your "Pantaloni," is it right to simply change your mission, particularly when there are plenty of others out there with the same mission?
Food for thought.

You may commence hating me again. Oh, you never stopped?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I would rather be loathed for who I am. . .

. . . than loved for who I am not, goes the quote. I got that from Dr. Wayne Dyer, of all people, and while it may not be the most cheerful affirmation, it is a good reminder to me to conduct my life with as much integrity as I can. Integrity and passion.
Something that I am passionate about is the state of Denver-area theatre. Really, I'm passionate about theatre everywhere, and I spend a lot of time thinking about how to bring the live, dramatic experience to audiences whose view of theatre is tainted by a bad community theatre production of "The Odd Couple," so they'd rather just stay at home and see what's on cable.
Over the last few months, and again over the last day or so, I've been the lone voice on one side of a debate that has got a lot of people mad at me. It's not something I aspire toward, but I can live with it.
The difficulty is that I think that people are busier loathing me than listening to me, and, while I don't claim to have all the answers, I really do think I have something valid to say.
The debate is about whether or not there is too much theatre in Denver. My position is "whether." That is, the affirmative.
Now, I actually had someone say to me "I refuse to believe that there can ever be too much theatre." This is an idealistically beautiful idea, but not a very realistic one. This is like saying "there can never be too many butterflies." Okay, we'll now lock you in the hall closet with a million of them and see if your opinion is the same after twenty minutes.
Blind idealism is pretty difficult to debate.
Anyway, John Moore wrote an article about this issue over the summer, so I won't re-hash it here.
Here's the problem as I see it (all the names have been changed to protect the innocent; and the ignorant):
Myron loves theatre. He loves to act. He loves to direct. He loves to sing and dance. Unfortunately for Myron, he keeps losing out on all of the good roles to Kip. Is Kip just that much more talented than Myron? Myron doesn't think so. Myron thinks that Kip just gets the roles because his friend Heidi directs all the shows. Heidi also casts Muffy in all of the female leads because Muffy and Heidi were roommates in college. At least that's what Bertha thinks while she is getting fitted for her lantern bearer #3 costume. Bertha and Myron discuss it and decide to start their own theatre company. Oh, but they don't have any money.
Aha! thinks Myron. We shall become a 501c3!
Oh but a 501c3 must have a board.
"I will be on the board,"says Myron.
"So will I!" says Bertha.
"Me too!" says Dudley.
How did Dudley get in here and why is he carrying that lantern? Never mind, now there are enough for a board.
And thus, "Screw Heidi Theatre" is born!
"What shall be our first show?" says Bertha.
"We will present 'Euthanasia: The Musical'," says Myron.
"Hooray!" says Dudley.
"But didn't Heidi just direct that last season?" asks Bertha.
"We shall do it . . . better!" says Myron.
"Hooray!" says Dudley.
"I shall play Kevorkian," says Myron, "better than Kip ever did."
"I shall play Terri Schiavo," says Bertha, "better than Muffy ever did."
"Hooray!" says Dudley.
"I will also direct," says Myron, "because I'm just that good."
"Hooray!" says Dudley. Dudley. Put down the lantern already.
"We need a chorus," says Bertha.
"We will hold auditions!" says Myron.
"Hooray!" says Dudley. Seriously, Dudley, there's no lantern in this show.
So they hold auditions, and find a wonderful chorus of people who Heidi never cast because they weren't in her tennis club, so they say. Obie, Franco, Sharona, and Penelope are cast, and all of them join the board. "SHT" is really rolling now.
What a successful season they have! They follow their better version of "Euthanasia" with better versions of "The Preschool Dilemma", "Vishnuspell", and "I Don't Think That's My Meatball."
Ha! Take that Heidi, Muffy and Kip!
Meanwhile. . . Obie loves theatre. He loves to direct. But Myron directs everything himself. . . Come on, Dudley, let's get out of here.
Yes, okay. You can bring the lantern.

There is not a happy ending to this story.

Now, was Heidi really that "nepotistic"in her casting? Maybe she was, maybe she wasn't. Were Kip and Muffy really that overrated? Maybe. Maybe not.
And, yes, it's a slight oversimplification of things, but it still accurately reflects a philosophy that I think is problematic.

Reason #1 for too much theatre in Denver: People doing good (more or less) theatre for bad reasons.

I'll write about reason #2 later.

Book Recommendation: Managing a Nonprofit in the 21st Century

I missed October's book selection, so I will do two for November. The second will be in a week or so, and the first I was just talking about in an online discussion among some friends.
Managing a Nonprofit in the 21st Century by Thomas Wolf is, in my opinion, an effective introduction to the world of nonprofits. Since most theatre companies are nonprofits, I think this is an excellent manual for anyone who has started or is thinking about starting a nonprofit, who is serving on a nonprofit board, or who works or volunteers in a nonprofit organization.
This is a very accessible read and offers plenty of specific examples of the right and wrong way to construct a board, manage finances, and utilize volunteers.

It also gets into board ethics without being particularly preachy. Rather than focusing on whether something is right or wrong, Wolf demonstrates how self-interested and unethical actions can negatively impact the effectiveness of the board.
Now, I called this book a manual, not a bible, but it presents a strong, logical framework for a healthy nonprofit. That doesn't mean you can't deviate from the standards that are set forth in this book (standards that seem to be more or less universally agreed upon among those in the know). It just means that if you do, you'd better have a darn good reason for it.
Case in point: I think that Mr. Wolf's examples of mission statements are just a little bit wordy. I believe (and others I've read would agree with me) that a mission statement should be simple enough that any member of the organization, from a board member to a weekend volunteer should be able to remember it and recite it when asked, "So what is this organization?"
This, however, is a pretty minor quibble, and I think that the book is largely a very useful tool. In my opinion, every nonprofit board should read the chapter on boards, at the very least.
Now, don't look for any theatre-specific instruction here. This is a general guidebook, but that doesn't mean that any of it should really be discarded as inapplicable to theatre groups.
In fact, I think that where most theatre companies fail is shortly after the point that they lose sight of their mission and how they are serving the community. I expect that this book would be a major wake-up call to most of the theatre groups in town.
Which is why I'm recommending it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bless the Beasts and Children: Ethan and the ASPCA

I was reading the fall issue of ASPCA Action the other day. It's the quarterly publication of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and it comes to me in the mail, but it can also be downloaded from the ASPCA site here. In fact, click here to download the fall issue as a pdf file.
It's a great little magazine with information for pet owners and lots of both heartbreaking and heartwarming stories about the plight and rescue of homeless or abused pets in America.
Anyway, I was reading this article on page 9 about a little boy named Ethan St. Amant who, after seeing an ASPCA television commercial about abused and abandoned animals in shelters decided to help in whatever way he could.
Well, Ethan's eighth birthday was coming up, so he asked that friends and family give to the ASPCA instead of buying him birthday gifts. The kid took a pass on Transformers, video games, baseball gloves, and Yu-Gi-Oh, so that shelter animals could have food, medicines, etc, and he wasn't even eight years old yet!
Ethan set up a birthday page over at ASPCA Ambassadors, and, as of the publication of the fall issue, Ethan had raised $555 for the ASPCA!
Here's what Ethan had to say about his choice to forego toys for his birthday:
"I just wanted to save the animals. I helped to save some dogs."
I have been thinking about Ethan a lot over the last couple days, particularly when I see one of the nearly identical TV commercials that Wal-Mart and Toys R Us are running now, in which kids are rattling off an insanely long wish list of toys they want for Christmas.
It's nice to know that there are kids out there like Ethan St. Amant, who recognize that life is more about giving than getting.
Good for you, Ethan. (And a big "well done" to Ethan's parents.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Other Side of PHAMALy

Most everyone who enjoys Denver theatre has heard of PHAMALy, the Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League. For twenty years, PHAMALy has been entertaining Denver audiences with rousing musicals and increasing awareness about people with disabilities.
With VOX PHAMALIA Re-Dux, however, prepare to have your awareness increased wider than ever. Playing a very limited run through November 14 at the Mizel Center, VOX gives us a glimpse into the lives of these performers after the curtain goes down. From laugh-out-loud silly to darkly satirical to heart-wrenchingly real, these performers once again put all of us "able-bodied" theatre folk to shame by unabashedly displaying their inner vulnerabilities for all to see.
Don't expect to leave the theatre with that same "feel-good" spirit that accompanies the summer musical. That's not the point of this show. However, if you want to have a greater appreciation of PHAMALy, then you should really see this production.
Warning: the subject matter is not for the kids and certainly not for anyone who wants to continue to blithely appreciate the "tokenness" of Denver's only all-disabled theatre company.
This is an eye-opener.
And it's selling out fast.

For more on the show, here's John Moore's piece in the Denver Post.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fuzzy Philanthropy. Is It That Time Again Already?

I've been away from the blog for a bit, gang, sorry. I'd tell you why, but it's a long explanation full of all those messy little personal details that are really only important to me. Suffice it to say, John Lennon put it best when he said "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." (I don't know if he said it first, but he set it to music, so I'll give it to him.)
I was able to keep up the Twitter updates for those of you who've been following me there. I hope you're enjoying it as much as I have been. 140 characters is a pretty darn good-sized box to put a thought into most times. Though I shall have to be careful not to again engage the Glenn Beck drones who scour the feeds looking for negative references to their misguided pedagogue and cannot decide amongst themselves on the proper spelling of "LaRouche." (Two hours of my life that I will never get back.)
Anyway, I have noticed (much to my chagrin) that the holiday shopping commercials have begun already. There was one the other night from ebay reminding consumers of the "evils" of handmade gifts. (I guess it really isn't the thought that counts. Oy.)
Now, I will forego my usual tirade about consumerism, the debasing of the holidays by merchants, and the idea that familial love can be measured by the size of one's MasterCard balance.
Instead I will respond to the first of the holiday jingles with the first of my blogs devoted to alternative holiday gifts.
Now, I'm not suggesting that (Frosty forbid) you should refrain from buying your little emos and emettes the newest version of Dance Dance RevoluciĆ³n. Rudolph's little red nose would surely be extinguished if every adolescent in America didn't have a wii stick in their hands by December 26th.
I am simply suggesting that you might still be able to appease the elf gods for those individuals on your list in the "hard-to-buy-for" category while incorporating a bit of altruism as well.
Did Cousin Josie show up to your Halloween party dressed as a blue-footed booby?
Well, she might appreciate it if you skipped the Glamour Shots gift card this year and instead paid a visit to the World Wildlife Fund's Gift Center. There you can buy all kinds of gifts that will support wildlife conservation and even adopt endangered fauna in her name. (Haven't you always wanted a wombat?)
You get to show your cousin that you understand what's close to her heart and maybe, just maybe, somewhere a reindeer gets to graze in peace without fear of a winking ex-governor in a low-flying plane.
And technically you're still buying a gift, so Santa (also known as the Egg Nog Czar) won't have to climb down your chimney and break your fingers. Oh what do you care, you've got great insurance, right?