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Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

This time of year, people around the world are very concerned about the possibility of things happening above our heads. Maybe it's a jolly fellow in an airborne sleigh, or angels dancing happily on clouds, or a bright star guiding the way to a new hope for mankind.
Maybe it's the hope of falling snowflakes and the dream of a white Christmas.
Maybe the mounting bills of the holiday season have us feeling a little bit like we're in over our heads.
It's amazing to me that, come January, we don't all have cricks in our necks from constantly looking skyward for the previous month-and-a-half.
Now, I have been accused of being a "Scrooge," a "Grinch," and other things around this holiday season because I have been known to get a little jaded about the rampant consumerism, the self-righteous (and often hypocritical) religious posturing, and the glut of really, really bad made-for-cable Christmas movies.
However, I suppose I should let these things go. For some people, this holiday is all about the shopping, and I guess that is their right. And what's religion for if not to periodically wrap oneself in a blanket of myopic fervor. (Though I will confess I get a certain sardonic pleasure out of the blank stares when I mention the Holy Roman Emperor Constantine, Saturnalia, and September 29th.)
And I guess even a bad movie about the spirit of giving and goodwill is better than the usual TV movie-of-the-week fare. (There is no excuse, however, for making two - count 'em two - movies about Steve Guttenberg as Santa Claus.)
Rather than spend any more time talking about what I don't like about this season, I think it's time to talk about what I do like.
I love Christmas carols (in season). I like them best when sung by Dino, Frank, Tony, Mel, Burl or Bing.
I love A Christmas Carol. It's about the only Dickens story I enjoy, and my favorite filmed version is the 1985 George C. Scott masterpiece. (I also really like Scrooged, the updating of the story with Bill Murray.) The story only pops up around the holidays, because of its titular value, but, remember, Scrooge transforms his life for the other 364 days of the year as well. It's a great story about it never being too late to change one's life for the better, and I just love it.
I love Christmas lights and decorations. I love the smell of cinnamon and hot cider, of pine needles and gingerbread. I love "The Night Before Christmas," and have been lauded for my rendition of "The Cajun Night Before Christmas."
Every year, I read the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" letter from the editor from the 1897 New York Sun, in particular, the passages:
"Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence."
And of course, "A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood." 
Santa Claus is the best!  Admittedly, the myth of a magical fellow who gives gifts to good children all over the world can be a bit troublesome for families on a budget and kids with long lists, but the idea of Santa is, well, magical.
The way that kids' faces light up at the sight of Mr. Claus is unlike anything I've ever seen. Yes, some kids get a bit frightened of the big guy, but a good "Santa" knows that you save the loud "Ho Ho Hos" for entrances and exits and to speak softly when the little ones are on his lap. (Yes, I have been known to don the beard and hat. Didn't see that one coming, didja?)
So, this holiday season, whichever holiday is yours, and whether your celebration is devout or more secular, traditional or modern, just remember that the best present to your loved ones is to be . . . present, in body (if you can), mind, and spirit. 
Stress is a matter of choice.
Holidays are meant to be enjoyed.
Tis the season to be jolly.
Happy Holidays, my little cherubs.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Awards and Recognition

It's that time of year again: the Denver Post Ovation nominations are announced, and, invariably, a few of my readers ask me whether there will be Big Bad Wolf awards this year.
The answer, as in previous years, is no.
For one thing, I'm not a critic. I'm an advocate. It's possible to be both, I know, but trust me when I tell you that it's best that I just recommend shows that I think are worthy of your time. When I have been asked for my honest critical analysis of shows in the past -- even shows that I have liked -- no amount of sugarcoating on my part has kept feelings from being hurt. I'm tough. To be fair, of course, I am always the most critical of my own work.
Second, I just haven't seen enough shows this year. I've only seen thirty or so shows so far, which is a bit less than half of what I usually see in a year. However, even in 2007, when I saw nearly ninety shows, I still do not feel that I saw enough productions to fairly single any of them out for superior recognition. No, the Denver Post team can't see every show, either, and I respect that John Moore qualifies the Ovation Awards under this condition. (I highly doubt that anyone associated with the judging process of the Ovations would be so audacious as to equivocate the recognition to the Tony awards as a few CTG members attempted to do with the Henrys this summer.)
Now, does an awarding body have to be totally inclusive in order to offer fair recognition? Well, yes and no. Yes, in that it should be something toward which one strives -- adjusting the parameters of adjudication, etc. This particularly if one chooses to have an inclusive moniker. That the Colorado Theatre Guild awards do not include productions of member companies very far outside of the Denver area is still very much a point of contention with me. Interestingly, the Denver Post awards seem to have a bit more of a statewide reach.
However, in the absence of an inclusive (or at least appropriately named) single awarding body, I think it's good that we have many awards out there : the Henrys, the Marlowes, the Ovations, CCTC, RMTA, etc., etc. to cover as many bases as possible (provided that no one organization lays claim to the title of "Denver equivalent of the Tonys.")
As for me, though, I prefer to leave the trophies to the others. I prefer to give my accolades when they can do the most good: while seats are still available.
Congratulations to all of the Ovation nominees. I didn't see every production listed, but, those that I did see are highly worthy of the recognition received.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Three Years of Huffing and Puffing

On December 14, 2006, on the advice of friends, I took to the web with my rather outspoken opinions and (as described by others) my moderately bizarre sense of humor. (Okay, I added the "moderately.")
Over the last three years, I hope that I have had some effect upon my readers. I know I have made some angry (maybe more than "some"), but I hope, too, that I have posed a few questions that gave pause regarding the present and future state of theatre in Denver. I hope that a few tickets were sold to underrated productions at my recommendation. I hope that a few organizations -- theatrical and otherwise -- have benefitted from my mentioning them here (and, more recently, on Twitter as well.)
I still wonder at times (frequently, to be sure) if I'm actually doing any good. These feelings are compounded every time I have to comb through and delete the many spamming comments here, but I would rather leave commentary unrestricted, so I put up with it.
Someone once told me that you can tell how solid your arguments are by the amount of hate mail you receive. To that end, it would seem that my arguments are quite solid. Someone else told me you can tell how right you are by the degree of invective they contain.
That doesn't necessarily make them any easier to read.
Still, I do what I do because I hope to affect a change, not only in the way that theatre is presented, but in the way that it will grow and adapt in the rapidly changing world of performance art.
So, piglets, I thank you for reading, and I offer you my assurance that I will continue to blow away at the houses of "straw" and "wood" that we may ensure the future of theatre is one of mortar and brick.
For the time being, at least.
Thank you.