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Friday, February 26, 2010

Rare Gypsy Footage

One of the reasons I love the internet: one of my favorite performers in one of my favorite shows. I'm not sure who unearthed this, but I'm certainly enjoying it.
Hope you do, too.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

For a Friend

Happy Birthday, Greg. I hope they have the internet where you are, brother.

Monday, February 22, 2010

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Nokia?

While I must say that I find it astounding that people still don't seem to think the "Please Silence Your Cellphones" messages apply to them, it does continue to be a problem.
As a director (and perhaps a bit of a control freak), I like to render the entire experience of the audience from the time that they sit in their seats to the time that they head out to their cars. This includes pre-show, intermission, and post-show music that I choose with the diligence of a love-struck freshman making a mix tape for the head cheerleader. I do not like having to interrupt that with a pre-show announcement about something that people should already know by now. (And experience has shown that it isn't even all that effective, anyway.)
This New York Times article addresses the conundrum of the pre-show cellphone/general etiquette announcement, but leaves the question up for debate.
So, let me ask you this, my little cherubs:
What do you think we should do?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

NTC Coming to an End

The Denver arts community is still reeling from the surprising news today that the Denver Center for the Performing Arts will be phasing out its National Theatre Conservatory over the next two years as a budgetary concern. Current students will be permitted to finish the three-year program, but no new students will be admitted. Many hopefuls to the program (among them local favorite Regan Linton) were looking forward to their callback in March, which now will not happen.
John Moore covers the story in greater depth here.
Having recently re-read David Mamet's thoughts on the acting profession in True and False, I find that I am of mixed emotions about the matter (though I am unambiguously disappointed for my friend Regan).
If I'm not mistaken, this will leave Colorado without an MFA program in theatre. Will this be a blow to the Denver theatre community or a kick in the pants to the higher education institutions around the state?
Perhaps both.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Life in Plastic, It's Fantastic!

Or not.
In an era where some of the most popular movies are either completely or just mostly computer animation, many great acting performances are heard rather than seen. I don't know if there is anything really wrong with this, but then again I don't know that there isn't, either. It's one of my "ponderables."
I'm on the fence about it; just as I am on the fence about whether elaborate, motorized sets make for better musicals. It doesn't seem to me that they do, but I cannot deny that they can enhance the experience almost as often as they detract from it.
But what about the motorized ingenue?
That thud you just heard was me falling off the fence.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Too Much Wolf for Just One Blog

You may have noticed from the increased post count of late that I have taken a renewed interest in this blog and the accompanying Twitter account.
Well, my enthusiasm for this blog has now spilled over into a brand new blog, this one devoted to my love of movies: A Petrified Fountain of Thought launched on February 9th, and I've already got a few entries there. If you like movies, too, or are just interested in finding out about the movies I like, please drop by and give it a look.
So far, the blog entries have been devoted to one movie at a time, but I also plan to spark off a few discussions about other aspects of film "buffdom."
I will, of course, continue to write regularly here, and the surprisingly popular new feature "Movies for Theatre Geeks" will remain here as well, I just decided that I wanted to share a bit more about my love of movies of all kinds, and a second blog seemed the way to do that.
So come check it out, and, as always, please feel free to chime in.
(Bonus points for knowing the origin of the blog title, and bonus bonus points for identifying my handle: kidtwist73.)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Picture Me a Balcony


Happy Valentine's Day, everybody.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jingle All the Way

Anyone who reads this blog regularly has borne witness to at at least one of my periodic railings against cell phones interrupting live theatre (and other aspects of human coexistence.) Upon reading the comments that follow Ben Brantley's recent cell phone confession in the New York Times, it turns out that the Big Bad Wolf is something of a pussycat by comparison. While there is a tiny minority of empathy, the overwhelming reaction is absolutely unsympathetic, and suggested punishments for the various cell phone offenses range from fines to public head-shaving to something from the Ch'ing dynasty involving bamboo. Bottom line: people don't want your ringtones or text screens interfering with their entertainment experience. Take it to heart.
While I don't see the need for fines (or worse), I would like to chime in (pun intended) with those who say, if what's outside the theater is of such pressing importance that you cannot be apart from your phone for three hours, perhaps you should be there rather than at the theater. (I would also like to add that this includes movies.)
Check out the article and the comments. It's a fun read.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Footprint of Footlights

I have of late been rather fascinated by the development of LED lighting for the stage. LEDs appear to be as bright while having a longer life with less heat output and less energy use. They are a bit more expensive at the outset (though not so much in the long term when factoring the cost of replacement bulbs in traditional lighting fixtures), and there are still some applications for which LEDs haven't been effectively used. (I haven't seen an LED follow spot yet, but that doesn't mean that there isn't one.) Still, the thought of being able to produce a show with a fraction of the energy use is the kind of forward thinking I can get behind.
So, I've been wondering: What other ways can we make our theaters more green?
For starters, we can share ideas. I just signed up for the Green Theater Iniatiative's newsletter. You might want to as well.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Black Magic Women

I read an interesting article this morning speculating about why there are so few female magicians. I'm not a magician, but I often find myself in magic discussions with my friend Kendall Scot - a truly gifted magician and expert on magical lore. (Apparently, that whole "pledge, turn, prestige" explanation in the movie The Prestige? Total crap.)
According to the article, women only make up about 5 percent of membership in magic clubs and performance, even though women outnumber men in most other realms of performance such as dancing, singing, and acting. Is it because women just aren't as interested in magic? Is it because magic is still an old boys' club? Read the article. It's interesting.
By the way, here's a link to Kendall Scot's website.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Sister Eileen

Time for another installment of "Movies for Theatre Geeks."
Facebook friends and Twitter followers have read my raves about this film before, but there is a lot more to say about My Sister Eileen.
Here's the backstory: Ruth McKenney wrote a series of short stories about the trials and tribulations she and her sister Eileen experienced upon moving from a small town in Ohio to New York City. Ruth aspired to become a writer, while the glamorous Eileen aimed to become a star of the stage.
The stories were published in The New Yorker and eventually became a book in 1938. The book was adapted into a play in 1940 that became a movie in 1942 and was adapted into the Comden and Green musical Wonderful Town in 1953. Wonderful Town was a big success, and Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, wanted to buy the rights to make it into a movie musical. However, he didn't like the cost, so Mr. Cohn's solution was to hire Richard Quine (who also directed), Blake Edwards, Jule Styne and Leo Robin to adapt an all-new musical version of the play. This was cheaper but tricky since the new musical could not be too similar to Wonderful Town. So, the new movie, My Sister Eileen, has its musical numbers at different points in the story than its Broadway counterpart.
I happen to like them both.
My Sister Eileen boasts an impressive cast. Ruth is played by Betty Garrett, a now highly underrated performer who at the time hadn't been seen on film for a few years because of running afoul (unjustly) of the House Un-American Committee. Her beautiful, blonde sister is none other than the stunning Janet Leigh. The rest of the cast is filled out with the likes of Dick York, Tommy Rall, Jack Lemmon, and  a young Bob Fosse who also choreographed all of the very impressive dance numbers.
While there's a lot of great stuff in this movie, I consider it an essential for theatre aficionados because of the Fosse factor. Not only is it a chance to see some of his ingenious choreography, it's also a chance to see the master kick up his heels himself. The dance-off between Bob Fosse and Tommy Rall is not to be missed.
A fun movie, a fun musical, and a couple of giants of Broadway preserved on celluloid make My Sister Eileen a must-see if you want to be considered a full-fledged theatre geek.

Okay, I found this, which is that dance-off between Fosse and Rall and one of the most memorable scenes in the film, and I'm tempted not to include it for fear that you won't then go out and find this movie.
I guess I'll just have to trust you. There's a whole lot more in this movie that's worth seeing.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dollar Dollar Bill Y'all

I was reading this article about a possible stage workers' strike at the Shaw Festival in Ontario, and it got me to thinking about a blog topic I've been tossing about for a while now:
Who should get paid in community theatre and how much?
I'll admit, it's a sticky problem.
Struggling, start-up theatre companies may not have the funds to pay everyone a decent (or even indecent) wage, so the hierarchy seems to be pay the technicians first, designers second, director third, and performers last. The argument is that actors and directors love what they do so much that they'd do it for nothing. (Hey, I've met plenty of designers and techies who love what they do, too.)
In my opinion, we lost at least one theatre company last year because of an insistence upon paying their performers. While I do somewhat mourn the loss of this theatre company (Denver would have benefitted more from the loss of a dozen or so others before this one), it is perhaps rightly so. If you cannot be fiscally solvent without expecting your performers to work for nothing, then maybe you do not have a sound venture.
Now I can already hear the chorus of "buts" out there (anybody else just flash on Monty Python?), so let me just say that I know, I know, we don't do theatre because it's a sound venture, and, if an actor is willing to work for nothing and a director is willing to work for next-to-nothing, exploiting that fact to make ends meet is sometimes the only way that a theatre can survive. Sometimes what we have to do to survive does not always match up with what's right or fair, but it is something that should at least be strived toward, rather than simply accepting the survival tactics as normal business practice.
You all know where I stand on the number of theatre companies (specifically, the number of redundant theatre companies) we have in Denver already, so I will leave that out of the discussion. (Well, I'll try.)
Let me instead talk about value, and, in so doing, I will speak of my own personal experience.
There is a paradox in theatre wherein the less you are getting paid, the worse you are treated. One of my standard practices as a director is to break my rehearsals down into half-hour increments. Some actors are called at 7pm, but others don't need to be there until 7:30 or 8pm. Other actors can be let go early as well. This does two things: it keeps me on task as a director, and it means as little "sitting around and waiting" time for the actors. This doesn't mean that things don't run over a little bit here and there. That's just going to happen. This way, though, it happens a lot less, and when it does happen, the actors at least know it's not because I don't value their time.
I adopted this practice as a result of being one of those actors who's had to sit through a three-hour rehearsal wondering when or if we were ever going to get to my scene. Generally, those were shows where I was working "for the love of theatre." On shows where I was working for "love" plus a small stipend, I might still have to sit around for a while, but I knew that we were going to get to my scene that night or I at least was going to receive a very sincere and heartfelt apology if we didn't. When the money was particularly good, I found that my time was almost never wasted. It seems like it ought to be the other way around, doesn't it? If you pay me well, you shouldn't have to feel bad that I'm sitting around. If I'm volunteering my time, you should be placing a higher value on it. However, I've not seen it work that way.
As a director, every time I've worked for nothing or next-to-nothing I've regretted it. Often, when a theatre company can't afford to pay their director, they can't afford to pay a props person, so I'd find myself running to second-hand shops and asking for receipts that I was pretty sure would never be reimbursed. I've had to stand in front of my actors two nights before opening night bluffing as best I could about why their costumer (who I'd seen once through the whole pre-production process) wasn't ready with their costumes yet, and since I strive not to throw anyone on my team "under the bus," I was the one standing there with egg on my face. I once had to build a giant Christmas goose out of papier-mâché that was still wet on opening night - not because it was my job - but because if I didn't get it done by me, it wouldn't have been done. (Prior to that, my experience with copious amounts of glue and newspaper had been a piñata for my 7th-grade Spanish class, and I at least got to beat that with a stick when I was done.)
Ironically, it was the times that I was actually paid pretty well that I had the least amount of extra stuff to do. The shows where I was uncompensated actually hurt my credibility because I looked disorganized. Well, I was. I was doing my job and five others. I also got bad-mouthed as being "difficult" for having the audacity to say things like, "We open tomorrow. Where are the FREAKING costumes?"
So, for myself, I have adopted the policy that - with exceptions for very good friends (of which, I purposely do not have many) - I don't work gratis. Do I get a lot of work? No. Will I ever again have to choreograph an entire show in 24 hours because the producer "forgot" to hire a choreographer? Probably not. I have decided what my time, my skill, and my sanity are worth. It's not a cost-prohibitive amount for companies that take themselves seriously, but it lets me continue to love theatre in a way that I was starting not to by working for . . . those other guys.
Is it really about the money? Not really, though it is nice when you can get paid to do what you love. It's really more about the value.
Do I suggest that everyone hold themselves to this standard? Well, actually I do, but I don't expect it.
My hope is that directors will remember to value their actors' time, even if it's not being paid for - especially so, really. My hope is that producers will factor volunteers' time as part of their budget, be they actors, directors, designers, stagehands, or ushers. One rule of thumb that I go by when utilizing volunteers is to calculate how much it would cost to pay someone to do what they're doing. When thought about in those terms, it's hard not to treat volunteers with respect and dignity. I think some nonprofit organizations forget that.
Finally, my hope is that the artists themselves (directors, actors, designers) remember that the value for which they are willing to settle regarding their own time and ability sets a standard not only for themselves but also for everyone else who does what they do.
It is possible to love your art and still expect to be compensated fairly for it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Unsinkable Bismarck

I went to the Denver Zoo yesterday since we were having a sunny and fairly warm February day.
I haven't been in quite a while, but I enjoy the zoo. I always come away having learned something new, and, of course, I just love animals.
Yesterday, I saw something that particularly piqued my interest.
I walked below the sea lion habitat to where it is possible to watch these graceful creatures swim. It is a sight to see these big goofy animals that lumber around on dry land take to the water with grace, agility, and speed.
There was only one sea lion swimming near the observation glass, and I was the only human on my side, so he immediately took notice of me and altered his lap circle to swim past where I was standing. Maybe he was showing off. Maybe he just wanted to get a look at me. Turnabout is fair play, after all.
Almost immediately, I noticed that there was something different about this fellow: his streamlined body came to a point at both ends. He had no back flippers!
After a few more minutes of observing this remarkable creature seemingly unhindered by his disability (and taking the best video I could with my cellphone), I went back upstairs to find out what I could about this sea lion.
What I found out was this: the sea lion's name is Bismarck (as in the battleship that lost its rudder; funny), and he was found as a pup off the coast of Newport Beach, California, malnourished and with no back flippers. Here are some pictures that Daily Pilot reporter Brianna Bailey put up on her blog and an accompanying article.
No one knows what happened to his flippers. The wound had healed over when he was found. Nursed back to health by the Pacific Marine Mammal Center and taken in by the Denver Zoo, Bismarck is now very strong (his front flippers are very muscular to compensate), healthy, and happy, living in the Mile High City. The zoo staff I spoke to were hard-pressed to come up with any challenges that Bismarck hasn't overcome as a result of having no back flippers, except that he has a little bit more (but just a little)  trouble on ice than his habitat mates.
This is another thing that I love about zoos. The old days of animals being captured in the wild and thrown in cages for the viewing public are over. Now the animals that you see are either born in captivity (a practice that is preserving species whose numbers are rapidly dwindling in the wild) or, like Bismarck, rescued and unable to return to the wild.
These animals are ensured a long, happy, well-fed life, and we are ensured the types of experiences that I was able to have yesterday: eye contact with a gorilla, listening to the roar of a female lion up close, watching the hierarchy behavior of a pack of African wild dogs, standing inches away from a deadly king cobra without fear for my life, and seeing a rare (and highly endangered) rhinoceros lay down to take a nap in the warm sun.
As I stood a few feet away from a very large tiger, I was reminded that the human species really only dominates this planet because we were the only ones with any interest in domination.
While zoos may have at one point in our history been on par with carnival exhibitions, they are now centers for conservation and education. Every time I go to the zoo, my eyes are opened just a little bit wider to the plight of species with whom we "share" this planet.
How long has it been since you've had a staring contest with a giraffe? My guess is too long.

By the way, here's some of that video I shot. It's only cell phone quality, but you still get a pretty good idea of what a great swimmer Bismarck is.

You Know It's Good Because It Has a Helicopter

This was a comment I overheard years ago after seeing a touring production of Miss Saigon.
I, myself, was a bit underwhelmed given all of the hype. To me, it was more like a parade of impressive sets. I was given the dual-cassette soundtrack for Christmas later on, but, as I had already dismissed the show, I didn't actually take it out of its case.
Some years later, I came across the cassettes and decided to take them along with me on a long solo road trip.  About a third of the way through the first act, I found myself puzzled. Was this the same musical I had seen live? Was this the show that I had dismissed as overproduced tripe? It couldn't be. This was amazing!
A short time after that, the rights to the show became available to smaller theatre companies, and I had an opportunity to see a production in a theater that couldn't have fit a helicopter in the building, much less on stage, so they didn't try.
Focusing more on the characters and the story rather than the elaborate sets, this production was, in my opinion, head and shoulders above the touring version I had seen years before. This, of course, is likely not true of all shows with highly-produced staging.. The very first musical that I saw on Broadway, Starlight Express, would probably not be much without its roller-skating ensemble and its roller-rink stage. The second musical that I saw on Broadway (on the same day, incidentally; long story), Les Miserables, however, could easily withstand the loss of its turntable stage and motorized barricade. I must admit, though, that these elements certainly did enhance the experience of a thirteen-year-old boy who didn't think he liked musicals. (Yes, your math is correct. I saw the original Broadway cast of Les Miserables. Even longer story. Jealous?)
Tough economic times have led to many broadway theaters taking the "less is more" approach to set design with mixed results, as detailed in this New York Times article.
What's your opinion?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Chew On This

I may be one of the few people who finds this kind of stuff fascinating, but just in case I'm not:
What Shakespeare's audiences snacked on.
And to that end, I'd like to hear from you all on the subject of food and drink being allowed into the theatre during performances. Is it worth the extra clean-up time to make some money at the concession stand? As an audience member, are you more likely to go see a show if you know you can munch on some popcorn during the performance?
What about liquor? Too much trouble or worth the trouble?