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Monday, February 28, 2011

Monday Motivator 2: Lost Days

I have always wondered how people who were born on February 29th celebrate their birthdays three out of  every four years. Do they celebrate on the 28th of February or the first of March? If I ever run into personal development guru Anthony Robbins, I'll have to ask him.

Monday Motivator: Procrastinate Later

I was going to put up this Howcast video about overcoming procrastination earlier today, but, well, you know.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Superhero Sunday 2: Spiro Agnew, Eat Your Heart Out

We still have to wait a few months for the big budget feature Captain America: The First Avenger, so in the meantime, enjoy this YouTube video by a fellow calling calling himself fake Stan Lee at Stan's Soapbox combining the old Jimmy Buffett Captain America song with footage from the 60's cartoon.

Sunday Superhero: Vroom-a-Zoom-Zoom

Before Optimus Prime of the Transformers and before KITT of Knight Rider, there was another vehicular superhero racing to preserve justice and freedom: Speed Buggy.
Voiced by Mel Blanc, Speed Buggy was one of the many Scooby-Doo clones that Hanna Barbera released in the 1970s to capitalize on the popularity of those meddling kids and their dumb dog.
The Speed Buggy team consisted of three teens: Mark (the token leading man-type), Debbie (the token hottie), and Tinker (who looked like Shaggy but sounded like Gomer Pyle), the team mechanic. Speed Buggy and company were usually on their way to some race somewhere, but stopped on the way to uncover a mystery or thwart a spy ring.
Speed Buggy, unlike his canine counterpart in Scooby-Doo was usually eager to jump into the fray and utilize his special gadgetry to save the day.

Interesting note about Mark: he was one of the few Native American cartoon characters, but was not colored as such until the Speed Buggy team joined the Mystery Machine gang for a Scooby-Doo movie years later.
This is the sort of thing that Sacheen Littlefeather was talking about, dudes.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Save the World Saturday: My Brother's Cause

Yes, Mom did
always like him
best, too.
I had a long conversation with my younger brother Damon this morning. Damon lives near where we grew up in Durango, Colorado, and, until recently, he has existed outside of the internet world for the most part. Well, he's got a computer now, and he will soon be hooked into the internet full-time. Today I was urging him to start a blog. In addition to being the better-looking one, the smarter one, and the funnier one, Damon is also the one of us who has a seemingly unlimited knowledge about dogs and dog behavior. I learn something that I didn't know every time that I speak to him, and I think that his experiences and insights would make for a fascinating blog for dog lovers and animal lovers in general, so I hope that I am able to convince him to do it.
I know that it would give him an opportunity to tell you about some of his favorite dog organizations as well, like Annie's Orphans in Durango that he was telling me about today.
Annie's is a no-kill shelter that relies heavily upon donations to stay in operation.

So please support Annie's Orphans and I'll keep you posted about my success in getting my brother to start a blog.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Film Buff: Oscar-Shmoscar

I used to get excited about the Oscars. I tried to see all of the films nominated for best film and best director, at least, and as many of the other categories as I could manage.
Anymore, though, there are several factors that have made the Oscars less exciting for me over the years.
First, there are so many more movies released every year that it's difficult to catch them all, and I like to watch the shows nominated as well as those that weren't, just in case I don't agree. I find that when I'm watching the Oscars and I haven't seen 2 of the five (and now ten) eligible movies, it's difficult for me to really root for my favorite.
Second, I often don't agree. I like great cinematic effects as much as the next person (okay, maybe slightly less than the next person), but if the story-telling has holes as a result, then it's less than a great movie, in my opinion. James Cameron is not one of my favorite directors for this very reason.
Third, somewhat related to the previous two points, the movies that tend to be nominated are the movies that have had the most elaborate media campaigns for both the public and the academy voters. There's just something that feels a bit smarmy about the whole process to me anymore.
Finally, sometimes (not always, but sometimes) it feels to me even like a movie was made to win an Oscar rather than to tell a story. Obviously, a good film can do both, but sometimes it feels to me like the former took priority over the latter. There may not be much I can do about this apart from not participate - even as a spectator - in the process.
So, I won't bother with watching the Oscars this year. I didn't watch last year, either. What I might do instead is watch one of my favorite films that was never nominated for a single Oscar, the Cohen brothers' deftly-executed Blood Simple from 1984.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Theatre Thursday: Hey, Pachuco!

Edward James Olmos turns 64 today. While he is known best for his television roles on Miami Vice and the re-vamped Battlestar Galactica as well as his role as Jaime Escalante in the film Stand and Deliver, Olmos's big break came on the stage.
Luis Valdez's Zoot Suit was based upon the zoot suit riots of the 1940s and featured Olmos in the role of the narrator, El Pachuco. The play ran off-Broadway an on in the late 70s and was made into a film, again with Olmos as El Pachuco in 1981.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Olmos.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wildlife Wednesday: The Last Lions

Mixing two of my favorite things today: films and animals. Check out the trailer for the new documentary from National Geographic.

It opens in Denver on March 11th, but it is playing in select cities now. Check to see when it's playing in your city.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: You Will Be Assimilated

Today is Jeri Ryan's birthday, and, while most people know what a beautiful actress she is, not everyone knows what a beautiful singer she is as well. Here is a clip from what looks like a TV show or TV movie of Ms. Ryan belting out the standard, "Amazing Grace." (I'm not sure what the show is. If you know, chime in.)

Happy Birthday, Jeri!
Today is also the birthday of Frederic Chopin, the famous 19th-century composer and virtuoso pianist. Here is a modern virtuoso, Li Yundi, playing one of Chopin's best-known and most-beloved compositions, Nocturne Op.9 No. 2.

Finally, I would be remiss on the tunes-oriented day of my blog if I didn't also point out that today is also the birthday of Broadway diva Lea Salonga, who is known best for Miss Saigon. Here, for fun, is what appears to be her original audition or callback for the musical.

How cool is that?
Happy Tuesday, gang.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Short break

I know I missed The Sunday Superhero again. I'm having a few technical issues. I'll be back here in a couple of days, and, as usual, I'll get us all caught up again.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Save the World Saturday: Standing Tall

I mentioned the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation on my other blog, but I'm not sure that everyone has found their way over their yet, and I'm really impressed by what this organization is able to accomplish for people all over the world every day. On my Hero Worship blog, I posted a video that gives a pretty good overview of what POF does, so here I want to share with you the story of Tuyet.

So, did the bit with her jumping rope at the end get to you, too? Pretty amazing stuff that the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation does, and, yes, of course you can help.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Friday Film Buff: A Good Bad Guy

I'm sure many of you have seen the 1999 movie Payback starring Mel Gibson. It's a favorite of mine. It's based upon the novel The Hunter by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake), and it's not the first film adaptation of that novel.
Since tomorrow is Lee Marvin's birthday, it seems appropriate to share with you one of my favorite lesser-known films, and one that Marvin had an active hand in bringing to film. Marvin selected John Boorman to direct Point Blank (1967), the first adaptation of the Stark novel with Marvin himself as the man known only as Carter. (In the book, the character is called "Parker." In the Mel Gibson film he is "Porter."
Betrayed by his best friend and wife, shot and left for dead, Carter is the kind of man who - if you're going to double-cross him, you really want to double-check that he's actually dead. Carter fights his way back from the brink of death and then fights his way through the entire criminal syndicate called "The Organization."
It's a striking film, which you expect from John Boorman, and it's a compelling story. One of the taglines from the later Payback was "Get ready to root for the bad guy," and that's fitting in this version as well. Carter isn't a nice guy, but - in the seedy underworld of San Francisco - he's the guy we want to see win.
Also starring the ever under-appreciated John Vernon (in his first major role), Angie Dickinson, Keenan Wynn, and Carroll O'Connor, Point Blank is a beautifully ugly film, and it set the stage for the gritty crime dramas of the 1970s and beyond. (Steven Soderbergh is a big fan of this film, too.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Theatre Thursday: Biddy Biddy Bum

Tomorrow is the birthday of Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, better known by his pen name of Sholem Aleichem, whose stories would form the basis of one of the world's most beloved musicals: Fiddler On the Roof.
Here's the most celebrated man to play Tevye, the originator of the role on Broadway, the inimitable Zero Mostel performing his unforgettable rendition of "If I Were A Rich Man."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wildlife Wednesday: What's Wrong with Cream of Mushroom?

I continue to be angered, saddened, and ashamed by human decadence in regard to the animal world. I've written before about the barbaric practice of killing rhinoceros for their horns - decimating their population to critical numbers - all in the interest of creating an aphrodisiac  - the potency of which is wholly fictional.
Well, there is a similarly atrocious practice occurring in our oceans. Sharks are captured, their tails and fins are cut off - often while they are still alive - and they are thrown back into the ocean. If they are not killed by the savagery inflicted upon them by the fisherman, they soon bleed to death or drown due to their inability to swim.
And what is the purpose of this ghastly practice that is moving Hammerheads and other sharks further along the endangered list?
Soup. Really expensive soup.

I don't know about you, but this infuriates me. Maybe sharkfin soup tastes really good, I don't know, but, if this brutal treatment of the creatures means I'll never get to try it, I really can live with that.
You can read more about this - and how you can help to end this practice - on the Defenders of Wildlife blog.
I know that sometimes sharks get a bad rap, but the reality is that there are only about 60 shark attacks on humans every year all over the world. (Given the above practice, I think that a higher number would be certainly justified.) Very, very few of those attacks are fatal.
The fact is that sharks are at the top of the food chain in the oceans (excluding humans, who it now seems will eat just about anything). Nature requires a delicate balance, and removing the top predator throws that balance out of whack. So, even if you don't happen to agree with me that sharks are marvelous, beautiful animals (that I am perfectly content to admire from a distance), the practice of shark-finning has a significant negative impact on the oceanic eco-system.
And, again, folks, this for soup.
I think I'm going to go ahead and stop writing now since my head hurts from banging it against my desk.
Here, watch this shark video:

Isn't that a cool video? There's more like it on the BlueWorldTV YouTube page.
Also, be sure to check out the Defenders of Wildlife blog.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: Don't Wanna Fall in Love With a Midnight Blue Monster in the Mirror

On me, this look would have
been an accident waiting
to happen.
I remember how extreme we all thought Jane Child's look was back in 1990 when the Canadian pop star's "Don't Wanna Fall in Love" blew up on the U.S. charts. That nose chain would've been downright tame at this year's Grammy ceremonies. For Ms. Child's birthday today, let's go back and take a look at the hit that made her famous.

From the lesser-known
thriller Attack of the Sweater.
Another musical birthday today belongs to the lovely Melissa Manchester. Most prominent in the 70s and early 80s, her heartfelt vocal interpretations remain absolutely timeless. Ms. Manchester also dabbled a bit as an actress in movies and television. (She played Blossom's mom, remember?) One of my favorite songs of hers is the soulful "Midnight Blue." (Give the video a few seconds. The music doesn't start until about 00:19.)

. . . and that, boys and
girls, is what's called
a "commodity market."
Finally, it was brought to my attention by my friend and fellow blogger Jenn Zuko (of that today is Grover Appreciation Day, so, to show my appreciation of my favorite Sesame Street character, here is the original "Monster In the Mirror" music video. This is the one without the celebrity cameos, and - with full appreciation to celebrities who give their time to the CTW - I just like it better. (2:06 always slays me.)

Wubba Wubba Wubba Wubba Woo Woo Woo, Cherubs. Happy Tuesday.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monday Motivator: Love Story

The origin of Valentine's Day is pretty murky. It seems to originate with two (or three) saints named Valentine, but there aren't really any romantic aspects to their stories. A couple of legends have surfaced that have a romantic flair to them, but there is little to corroborate their validity.
Now it seems to be a very commercial holiday propagated by the greeting card, candy, flower jewelry industries and rooted in self-doubt and guilt. (Yes, I'm such a romantic. I know.)
However, I did read a love story today that I thought was worth sharing from the website. (What can I say? I get around.) I think it's worth a read. Even a cynical grouch like me was moved by the story of Niki and Mark, and I can't think of a better motivator for a Valentine's Day Monday.
Picture credit: The Enquirer/Ernest Coleman

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Superhero Sunday: Believe It or Not

Look at what's happened to me-ee. . .
I can't believe it myself.
Suddenly, I'm up on top of the world.
Should've been somebody e-e-e-e-lse. . .
Are you singing along yet? Then you know what today's subject is, don't you?
I recently returned to the magic of my youth by re-watching all of the episodes of The Greatest American Hero television show from the 80s. It was my favorite television show for the two to two-and-a-half years that it aired.
For those needing a reminder, The Greatest American Hero followed the adventures of liberal school teacher Ralph Hinckley, (William Katt) chosen to wear a super-powered costume given to him by a mysterious alien species and partnered with conservative FBI agent Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp) to save the world. The only other person who knows about the suit is Ralph's attorney/girlfriend Pamela Davidson (Connie Selleca, my first crush). Oh, and Ralph lost the instruction booklet on how the suit works. Let the hijinks ensue.
I was seven when the series first aired, so I was most drawn to the bright red suit, the flying, the throwing of bad guys into the air, and Connie Selleca. (I was seven, not a eunuch.)
Watching it now, I realize that there was a hidden meaning to the title The Greatest American Hero. Ralph worked as a special education teacher at the high school and he struggled to get through to his class of outcasts (Michael Paré and Faye Grant, among others) to help them turn their lives around. He was an idealist and an all-around decent guy, which is probably why he was chosen to wear the suit. Bill Maxwell represented the other side of America. A bit rough around the edges, Bill was a Korean War veteran and had committed his life to catching bad guys and bringing them to justice. Through the series, we find that Bill's got a pretty big heart himself.
Seeing the episodes again some 30 years later, I find that I am now more drawn to Ralph's struggles of trying to save the world and his corner of the world at the same time, Robert Culp's complex characterization of Bill Maxwell, and Connie Selleca. (Some things are not meant to change.)
When series creator Stephen J. Cannell was first approached by ABC to create a "superhero show" he wasn't sure how to go about it. He decided that the most interesting story was about the man rather than the powers, so he decided that the powers should exist only in the suit. After the series was up and running, he fought with the top brass at the network who wanted to tell more traditional superhero stories: stopping nuclear missiles, fighting alien creatures, etc. Sometimes Cannell lost the battles, and a few of those types of stories made it through.
I suppose when I was a kid, those were my favorite stories, because there was more flying and more super-powered stuff, but now my favorites are the stories where Ralph explores the ramifications of wearing the suit and where having the ability to fly and crash through walls can't solve every problem.
The cast most enjoyed those stories as well, and not just because William Katt hated the suit. (He really hated the suit.) Katt and company definitely understood that The Greatest American Hero wasn't really about the super-suit, and I now understand that, too.
In fact, it's that element of the show that holds up the best three decades later. The effects are still pretty good even today, and they were downright breath-taking in 1981. The performances are top-notch from the leads and the chemistry is undeniable - especially between Katt and Selleca. Weaker aspects of the show are some of those network-driven "monster" episodes. (Katt has theorized that these episodes were ultimately the downfall of the show.) Also, some of the episodes are almost inexplicably very poorly edited and directed. A lot of footage - particularly the flying sequences - are re-used extensively in the first couple of seasons, but I don't suppose that anybody ever anticipated that people would someday be able to watch episodes back-to-back that had originally aired weeks apart.
The show was cancelled in 1983, and, in 1986, a mini-pilot, The Greatest American Heroine, was filmed in which Ralph passes the suit on to a young woman. It was an intriguing idea, and Mary Ellen Stuart looked pretty incredible in the costume, but it just didn't have the magic of the original. Stuart's Holly Hathaway was thrilled to have the suit, whereas Ralph Hinckley had always seen it as a burden and a responsibility.
There was talk of a movie a few years ago, but nothing seems to have materialized. Perhaps that's for the best. I worry that new writers and producers will focus more on the campiness of the costume than the
story of a man who suddenly becomes a superhero.
If you're feeling nostalgic for The Greatest American Hero, I think it's best to just stay with the original series.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Save the World Saturday: Education is Opportunity

Today, I thought I'd talk a little bit about an organization called CAMFED - the Campaign for Education of Women - but then I had a better idea: I'll let Morgan Freeman tell you about them.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Film Buff: A Study in Scarlet

Normally, I like to choose an older film for the Friday Film Buff, but there is a recent entry in the teen-comedy genre that I think deserves a special mention.

Easy A is "inspired by" Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, but that's really about as far as the association goes. More of a loving tribute to the teen comedies of the eighties than to classic literature, this film stands on its own with a witty script and fine comic performances. Warning: if you're one of those people who complains that high schoolers in movies don't talk like real high schoolers, then you may have a gripe with this film. But honestly, have you ever listened to a conversation between two real high school students? I have. Some of my brain cells still haven't recovered.
Emma Stone shines in the lead role of Olive, a young woman going unnoticed through high school who finds a way to get noticed and make a profit, but at no small cost to her identity. The supporting cast includes Alyson Michalka and Amanda Bynes as opposite ends of the moral teen spectrum, Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow, and Malcolm McDowell as members of the school faculty, and Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as Olive's very cool (and very funny) parents, Dill and Rosemary. (Yes, there are a lot of inside jokes in this film. Pay attention.)
I enjoyed it, and, if you missed it in theatres, it's now available on DVD.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Theatre Thursday: Prima Donna

Happy Birthday today to opera legend Leontyne Price, the first African-American to become a leading lady of the stage at the Metropolitan Opera.

Happy Birthday, dear Diva. Happy Birthday to you.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wildlife Wednesday: Animal Lovers

I found this fun quiz that the Bronx Zoo is offering online to find the type of animal you are as a partner. It's really just a lark (no pun intended), so I wouldn't take the results with you to your next couples' counseling session, but it is a fun way to incorporate animal conservation into an otherwise highly commercial holiday.
For added fun, you could take your result and hop on over to the World Wildlife Fund and adopt your animal identifier as a gift for your special someone. (My result was a Nile Crocodile. It's probably best that I'm currently unattached.)
I decided to look into a few other zoos to see what they are doing to capitalize on the holiday. Here, the Denver Zoo is suggesting its own animal adoptions for your loved one as well as their cool wild impressions. Also, kids can download valentine cards featuring some of the Denver Zoo's residents to give away at school.

The St. Louis Zoo is offering an adopt a giraffe Valentine's Day special in honor of their latest newborn reticulated giraffe, Desi, who was born in September.

What's your local zoo doing for Valentine's Day? I'll bet they're doing something. You should check it out.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: Happy Birthday, Robert Klein

I would like to wish a happy birthday to actor and comedian Robert Klein who is 69 today!
Klein is famous for including musical numbers into his comedy shows, and one of his audience favorites is the brilliant (and silly) "I Can't Stop My Leg."

In 1979, Klein was nominated for a Tony for Best Actor in the Carol Bayer Sager/ Marvin Hamlisch musical They're Playing Our Song opposite Lucie Arnaz.

In his recent Unfair and Unbalanced comedy special, Klein again relied upon music to convey some advice to newly-elected President Barack Obama. (Mildly not safe for work)

Good advice, Mr. Klein, thanks and Happy Birthday, sir.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Monday Motivator: Naaaa Naaa Naa Na Na Na Na

My funny friend Jeff Chacon of the Rodents of Unusual Size comedy troupe shared this with me this morning, and I thought it was a perfect for the Monday Motivator.
Many thanks to the "love all this" blog for flow-charting the Beatles's classic, Hey Jude.
Happy Monday, cherubs!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Superhero Sunday: Gridiron Heroes

Nice paradox. Not.
Will there be nudity?
In 1986, the then editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics launched The New Universe, a separate continuity of stories outside of the regular Marvel Universe. No magic (sorry, Dr. Strange), no aliens (tough break, Silver Surfer), no gods (bummer, Thor) and no supertechnology (meaning Iron Man in that universe would just be some guy with an iron.) A whole new series of heroes was created - the idea being superhero stories in a more grounded reality. Verisimilitude was the operative word. (Actually, "realistic" was probably the operative word, because "verisimilitude" is not easy to say over and over. Fun, but not easy.)
Little Billy Romanowski
suddenly gets an idea . . . 
It was actually a pretty good idea in retrospect, but it didn't go over terribly well. This could have been because, at the last moment, the Marvel corporate bosses cut Shooter's budget, so his original plan to use established artists had to be replaced by lesser-known names. It might also have been because thirteen-year-old comic book readers - like yours truly - just, weren't interested.
Yep. He's wrestling a white lion.
One of the first titles to be canceled was also, ironically, the most traditional of the superhero books. Kickers, Inc. followed the adventures of a unique detective agency made up of former football players. The leader of the group, Jack Magniconte, also the only member of the team to have superpowers, went by the name of Mr. Magnificent. Kickers, Inc. investigated paranormal mysteries - something that the New Universe had in abundance as a result of the mysterious "white event" (also the source of Mr. Magnificent's powers).
As I said, in 1986 I had no interest in the New Universe, and today what little interest I have only barely extends to the short-lived superhero team of Kickers, Inc., but it is the day of the Superbowl (I'm told), so why not feature a team of super football players?

Actually, I'm a little embarrassed now.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Save the World Saturday: Heart of the Matter

February is American Heart Month, no doubt chosen by the American Heart Association, for February's association with Valentine's Day. I am a firm believer that, before we can save the world, we must make sure we are in sufficient health to do so, and - like so many other things - that starts with the heart.
The AHA website has many ways that you can take better care of your heart. There are sections on managing stress, eating better, and more. Give it a look.
And for fun, here's a blast from the past PSA from the American Heart Association featuring one of America's favorite heart transplant recipients, the Tin Woodsman:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Friday Film Buff: Romance On the Road

The romantic comedy is one of those Hollywood creatures that we all love to hate. It tends to follow a specific formula, so it's predictable. You pretty much know how the film is going to end by looking at the movie poster. It's usually an opportunity for the studio to showcase the flavor or flavors-of-the-moment - generally actors who are gaining some notoriety in a television drama or who sparkled in a supporting role in another major film. Soap stars will often appear in mindless television romantic comedies in an effort to break out of daytime drama. I'll just say it, most romantic comedies are awful.
However, when they're good, they're very good. I'm thinking of films like When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping, Murphy's Romance, The Shop Around the Corner and its modern re-make You've Got Mail.
Today's Friday Film Buff selection is, in my opinion, the romantic comedy that set the stage for all romantic comedies to follow - both the good and the bad.

It Happened One Night has a dashing and rugged leading man with a quick wit in Clark Gable, a beautiful and charming leading lady with a sharp tongue in Claudette Colbert, and a recipe for romance that is still shamelessly copied to this day. A beautiful heiress is traveling incognito from Miami to New York City. An ace reporter has uncovered her identity but agrees to help her get to New York for the promise of an exclusive. They hate each other, but they're stuck together. Let the sparks fly!
This is my favorite from director Frank Capra, and I think it's a terrific "time capsule" of American film. This is before World War II and before Gone With the Wind. The "rules" of film-making were still being written.
One thing that the Zucker brothers and company did to my generation is the heavy "spoofing" of many classic films. I was just talking to a friend  a couple of weeks ago about how it's hard to watch the beach scene in From Here to Eternity without giggling because it's been lampooned so many times. It seems cliché now, even in the movie that bore the cliché!
It Happened One Night does not seem to suffer from this. Even though many of the elements of this film have been turned into clichés in other films, they seem just as fun and fresh today as they were in 1934.
If you're making a Valentine's Day movie-viewing list, make sure this one is on it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Theatre Thursday: What's on the Menu?

Some months ago - perhaps even a year or two - I made some comments on a local theatre blog and drew some analogies on this blog as well about a growing problem in Denver - and possibly national - theatre: nonprofit theatres existing for little more reason than that they just want to, without serving their community in new or quality ways, veering off of their original mission to gain audience, even if other nonprofits already exist in that genre. I made liberal use of the term "vanity project" and suggested that many of these redundant theatre companies were actually drawing audiences away from small companies that really were doing something new and original. I called for a possible "pruning" of unnecessary, vanity-driven projects in the interest of healthy Denver theatre growth.
That did not go over very well.
Well, here we are, several hateful e-mails in my inbox later, and the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, Rocco Landesman has recently gone on record saying pretty much the same thing on the national level, a position that is supported by a recent study by Americans for the Arts.
Landesman has come under fire for his suggestions, much as I did here. I was even accused of hating Denver theatre (albeit by someone who refers to himself publicly as the "farce master" and a "Denver theatre legend" so I wasn't terribly offended), so I would like to make something as clear as I can:
I made my comments in the interest of Denver theatre. I would like to see theatre in our nation de-centralize from Broadway, and, in my opinion, Denver could be a prime candidate for the Southwest theatre hub. (Look if we don't, Phoenix or Santa Fe will take it. Possibly even Salt Lake City.)
Here's the deal, though. We don't need six productions of Grease or I Love You You're Perfect Now Change or Spelling Bee within a few months and a few miles of one another. I know that there are dozens of actors in town who want to play William Barfee, but that's not reason enough to put on dozens of productions. Yes, audiences go to see it, and, yes, they enjoy it, and, yes, some audiences will go to see multiple productions of it within months, but I do not believe that's because they only want to see that show. 
I'll use a restaurant analogy (similar to one I've used before): Some people go to a restaurant and only order the same thing, let's say it's the meatloaf. (I like meatloaf.) Not very adventurous, I know, but some people want to be sure that they're going to get their money's worth (even if the meatloaf is sometimes a little bit under or over cooked.) Unfortunately, what's happening is that the restaurant has all of this other food not used in the favorite entree that is going unused every week - really good food - that is going bad.
Well, there are a couple of things that this restaurant could try. One would be to only offer the meatloaf and items using the same ingredients on its menu. They have to change the name of the restaurant from Phil's Fine Family Dining to Phil's Meatloaf. One option. A business-savvy option. Let's just hope people don't get tired of meatloaf.
Second option: Phil decides one week to tell the wait staff to tell the patrons that the "meatloaf cooker" is out of order and suggest a different menu item. Phil's taking a risk here. It's possible that some people will walk out, but it's also possible that some people will try something different, enjoy it, and even after the meatloaf returns, continue to order alternate items from the menu. A riskier option, but with potentially far better results if your ambition is to run a restaurant with a diverse menu.
Now, let me add a wrinkle: imagine that Phil received a government grant to open a restaurant that offers Chicken Cordon Bleu on its menu. Imagine that Phil received donations from organizations wishing to promote a healthy fish diet on the promise that he would offer smoked salmon as a menu item. Does that change Phil's options? 
Now, before we get too confused with the analogy here, Phil's Restaurant is not a metaphor for a theatre company, it's a metaphor for a theatre community - particularly a theatre community of nonprofit theatre companies. There is a different business model for a nonprofit vs. a for-profit theatre. If you're a for-profit, do whatever you want. Present all of your favorite shows without regard for who else is doing or has recently done them. Fill the seats in whatever way you can. Your bottom line is profit. 
Nonprofits do not - as the name might suggest - eschew profit, but they do have a different or additional bottom line. I've heard that bottom line referred to as "people" and "community," but I think I like to use the term "constituency." What's your constituency as a nonprofit theatre? Well, what's your mission statement? (Do you even remember it?) If your answer is "I'm not sure," well, you have a bad mission statement. If your answer is "everybody," then that's probably not a very good mission statement either. Unless your theatre company provides food, shelter, or air, you can dig a little deeper than "everybody" to define your constituency. Now, if your mission statement is identical to someone down the street from you, then, sadly, one of you is unnecessary. If your mission statement is different, but you're doing the same kinds of shows, then one of you is straying from your mission and that group is unnecessary.
If you're the only game in town, that's different. If I open a nonprofit theatre company in my hometown of Ignacio, Colorado, it doesn't really matter whether I'm committed to doing comedies, dramas, classic shows, or original works. My constituency is geographical rather than based on genre. In a metropolitan area that has dozens upon dozens of theatre companies accessible by car or public transportation within minutes, the geographical distinction isn't enough. 
Now if I were to start a nonprofit theatre company here in Denver (which, surprisingly, I still get asked to do), the question I have to ask myself is: "What will I do that isn't being done by someone else in this community?" If I decide to open a company committed to performing shows of a "gothic" or "Grand Guignol" nature (which I did consider at one point), it is my responsibility to determine whether or not that is already a constituency being served by another nonprofit or nonprofits in my area. I decided that it was (perhaps not always on a year-round basis, but enough), so I determined that it would have been irresponsible of me to draw upon theatre donors, grants, SCFD funds, etc. to start a nonprofit just because I wanted to do so. Now, a for-profit? Well, I have never ruled that out entirely, but that's a riskier venture - as it should be. 
The non-profit system was established to lessen the risk of starting a service-based organization, and, in the case of arts companies, the thought is that should free them to take more risks, not to specialize in meatloaf.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Wildlife Wednesday: Under Dogs

Good news from the Southwest: the Mexican Gray Wolf population on a reserve in New Mexico and Arizona has increased from 42 to 50 over the last year! That's almost a 20% increase,and it is the first time that the population has grown in four years.
You can read more about this on the Defenders of Wildlife blog.
Mexican wolves are a smaller subspecies of the Gray Wolf and are native to North America. They are classified as "EW" or "Extinct in the Wild" on the conservation status scale. The Mexican Wolf is also smaller in size - about the size of a German Shepherd (which, yes, is still pretty big.)
Here's a video on the Mexican Wolves in the American Southwest:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tuesday Tunes: John Barry 1933-2011

I know that over the next week, as the media remembers the Great composer John Barry, we're all going to hear   a lot of the themes from the James Bond films, Out of Africa, Dances with Wolves, and Born Free, so I thought I'd pick out some memorable music from some films that received a bit less praise from Oscar and such.
First up, the film Indecent Proposal got a lot of tongues wagging when it was released as it posed the question: "What would you do for a million dollars?" However, beyond the hype, there wasn't much to recommend this movie apart from Barry's moving score.

Now, Howard the Duck is largely hailed as one of the worst comic book movies ever made, and while I do not wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment, I will admit that it . . . could have been better. Unfortunately, amid the tomato-throwing at this film, many missed the wonderful John Barry score.

Disney's The Black Hole turned a profit in 1979 - though perhaps less than its $26 million budget warranted - and it did receive Academy nominations for visual effects and cinematography, but it was rather coolly received by critics. Still, John Barry's soundtrack (the first ever in the world to be digitally recorded) is worthy of note.