Monday, April 06, 2015
For some reason, I decided to just start going through my links over the right side of the page there. These are the links to sites that cover theater in the Boston area and beyond, including a long blogroll of people who primarily write about theater.
As I went through, testing the links one at a time, I learned that many are changed, and some are gone.
I had to remove a lot from the list of sites covering the Boston area.
Many places like the Boston Phoenix and the Providence Phoenix simply don't exist. Timeout Boston doesn't really cover theater anymore, and neither does the Boston Herald or the Boston Metro. Some independent sites that kept up with coverage for quite a while have fallen away, too.
It wasn't really that surprising as arts coverage has been declining for a long time. In fact, it is kind of an evergreen subject in the realm of writing about the arts. Just this week, Howlround had a piece by Jonathan Mandell entitled: "Are Theatre Critics Critical?"
The Los Angeles based theater site Bitter Lemons reported recently on an LA theater writer who has begun to post quick, two-minute "Exit Reviews" on YouTube. The purpose is to give her initial reaction to the show just after she leaves the theater.
While Bitter Lemons is not a fan, they are sympathetic to critic's desire to catch up with the digital revolution.
There is a sadness I feel with all of this.
As coverage has fallen to probably an all-time low, the theater scene in Boston has exploded with talent, new companies and even some new spaces.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
|Ferguson Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch|
Everything is theater, right?
In his book The Necessity of Theater; The Art of Watching and Being Watched, philosopher Paul Woodruff attempts a definition of theater. He arrives at the following:
“Theatre is the art by which human beings make human action worth watching, in a measured time and space.”
Woodruff tests his definition over the course of his volume and he examines this art from the perspective of practitioners and audience.
A lot of words have been written about the evening of November 24th and the press conference held by Ferguson prosecutor Robert McCulloch. While the decision of the grand jury regarding the possible indictment of Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the matter of the shooting of Michael Brown was known to prosecutors earlier in the day, the announcement was scheduled for 8:00PM Central Time.
Apparently, not a lot of notice was given to community members about the release of the information.
Even as it was happening, most of America must have had an uneasy feeling while watching the split screen of McCulloch and the large gathering protesters who were listening as he spent over ten minutes prefacing the decision of the grand jury not to indict Officer Wilson.
Watching it unfold, it would be hard to imagine a soul who was not thinking: “Maybe this was a bad idea to announce this at night?” This particular sentiment was summed up succinctly in this tweet:
Police in August: Please don’t protest at night. Police in November: Let’s announce the decision at 8pm.
— Madeline Marshall (@Maddie_Marshall) November 24, 2014
The official word on the decision from the prosecutor’s office was given as follows:
“We coordinated with law enforcement, gave schools time to get all children home and in a safe location, gave businesses time to make a decision regarding their employees' safety, prepared our statement and then made the announcement. We also had to give media time to set up.”Of course, that last sentence would have been good satire years ago, but today we don’t bat an eye.
The content of the announcement itself has been the subject of speculation by legal analysts, many of whom suggest that McCulloch’s lengthy preamble to the actual release of the grand jury decision was an effort to distance himself from the grand jury process.
In effect, McColluch was casting himself as the simple messenger, sent from the mountain with the envelope containing the answers - loyal to this sacred system, yet, not any more involved in it than anybody else watching CNN.
Indeed, the press conference merely underlined the approach the prosecutor took towards the entire Grand Jury investigation: A posture of neutrality and then a presentation of all the evidence they had mined. As as an offering to the people, all the evidence would be laid at the feet of any who wished to see it. You see, we are no different than he is.
Some legal reporters, such as Jeffrey Toobin, suggest this approach in itself was a case of a prosecutor putting his thumb on the scale:
“McCulloch gave Wilson’s case special treatment. He turned it over to the grand jury, a rarity itself, and then used the investigation as a document dump, an approach that is virtually without precedent in the law of Missouri or anywhere else. Buried underneath every scrap of evidence McCulloch could find, the grand jury threw up its hands and said that a crime could not be proved. This is the opposite of the customary ham-sandwich approach, in which the jurors are explicitly steered to the prosecutor’s preferred conclusion.”McCulloch's goal, according to Toobin and some other analysts, was to create the illusion that a trial had been held.
McCulloch’s opening statements at the conference also contain some subplots or “B-stories”. The media bristled for days at McCulloch’s complaint that, “the most significant challenge encountered in this investigation has been the 24-hour news cycle and its insatiable appetite for something, for anything to talk about, following closely behind with the nonstop rumors on social media.”
It was easy to see the setup. The news crews were already positioned all around Ferguson, solemnly, but anxiously, awaiting the “verdict,” along with the fairly predictable fallout. As the cameras in courthouse rolled on the lone figure of McCulloch at the podium, the cameras on the street sent us live video of the impending heartache or jubilation of the crowd.
Everybody, watchers and players, seemed to be involved in this. McCulloch got his moment in the prime time spotlight and the opportunity to craft a narrative, one in which he is cast as the dutiful public servant. This is, at the least, disingenuous. He is, after all, an elected official, who has run successful election campaigns again and again.
The players are one thing, but I think about the audience to which McCulloch had to imagine he was playing. He was thinking, probably, as most political-minded folks do, of the audience pact that theatergoers have with the performance: deeply engaged, but not actually participating; caring, but not getting too emotional; thinking, but not drifting away in your thoughts; identifying, but avoiding transference.
But this isn’t theater and it isn’t politics. This is justice.
The justice system is ceremonial in some respects and so it can easily be considered a theater of its own. However, the boundaries of performance won’t hold in the theater of justice without arms.
Things got dangerous, very fast. And reporters suddenly were looking a little worried here and there, and even gave away the facade - indicating that they had security details with them.
Even Judge Judy has a bailiff.
Monday, November 24, 2014
|The cast of Peter Snoad's Identity Crisis.|
At Hibernian Hall in Roxbury, a quiet riot is taking place. Peter Snoad’s play Identity Crisis, directed by Jackie Davis, has a diverse audience sending laughter up into the high ceiling of the Hall’s third floor playing space.
Hopefully the play won’t fly under the radar of the Boston theater scene, or the eyes and ears of those who write about it, but that is entirely possible. The playwright doesn’t come with a New York pedigree, the playing space isn’t in a trendy area, and the play itself is that kind of comedy that goes in and out of fashion with theater folk and critics alike.
Identity Crisis is a drawing room comedy or, more appropriately a living room comedy. Who really hangs out in drawing rooms these days? Like many classic comedies and farces it involves a marriage, social conventions, class, a little sex and, oh, Race. The premise is simple and seems like it escaped from the mind of the love child of Alan Ayckbourn and Lydia Diamond.
A layabout neo-hippie, pot grower named Alan is finally getting his act together. He is about to wed into a wealthy, conservative Jewish family. On the eve of the ceremony, the rest of the family takes off to the rehearsal dinner while Alan waits behind for his Best Man - an old college friend from his frat boy days whom he hasn’t seen in person for a little while. When the friend arrives, he is Black. Not in black makeup, he is… a Black man.
His friend explains that he has turned Black, and it is slowly happening to more people around the country, (”It’s accelerated since Obama was elected.”) He has reason to believe it is going to happen to Alan as well. The process can take months or it can happen in just a couple of hours. Alan could wake up Black on his wedding day. He might even start turning Black as he walks down the aisle in front of his conservative in-laws!
The machinations used by the characters to deal with this situation are the maneuvers we know from classic farce and, of course, sitcoms. But what makes watching these tropes and conventions so pleasant is that the characters and the premise allow the playwright to bounce around a multitude of ideas and themes about our “post racial society.” There are some wicked laughs and some groaners, but it is all played lightly, - it doesn’t have the underlying sadness that, say, Ayckbourn brings to his comedies. That isn’t a criticism, it’s more like a distinction.
My thought though, as I watched this living room play, is that this particular type of comedy is perennial because the content can change easily with the times, a fact often left out by critics who occasionally proclaim the form inert or dead.
But it is always alive, because we are part of it. Audiences have watched Earnest and Algernon finagle their way around social conventions in their drawing room, just as they watched Orgon's family try to take off his religious blinders, and watched Felix and Oscar struggle as newly single men in a divorced world.
I know, I know, it’s a little way down from Wilde to Simon, but I’m still always amazed at how potently the theater can animate our societal foibles with this genre. In many cases, these living room comedies do a far better job than more stylized and experimental efforts which are celebrated, sometimes deservedly, (sometimes not) for their ambition, regardless of the coherence or thoroughness of their ideas.
Currently on the boards in Boston, there’s another play about an identity crisis from the same genre. Bad Jews at Speakeasy Stage is getting critical praise and entertaining audiences.
So, the living room comedy is dead, long live the living room comedy!
Identity Crisis is at Hibernian Hall until December 7th
Bad Jews is at Speakeasy Stage until November 29th
Monday, July 21, 2014
Funny or Die has announced and put tickets on sale for their second annual summer Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival!
You can visit the official Funny or Die website here.
My wife and I have attended the festival the last two years at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA and we had a fantastic time. However, before we attended, I went on the Facebook page and the official site for a little information because there were some confusing aspects to the event. It was very hard trying to find the answers to these questions.
After the event, I was posting on social media about what a fantastic time we had, and I noticed that there were people posting negative things about the event. I can honestly say that a good portion of these negative posts were the result of people not understanding the event at all before they came.
So, I thought I would post this little guide in case people are curious about or confused about the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival.
A few things I need to make clear:
This article is based on my experience at the 2013 and 2014 Funny or Die Oddball Curiosity and Comedy Festival, which I attended at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA. I am not related to, nor do I have any inside track on how the festival is coordinated. There have been changes from year to year and may be in the future.
I am writing about the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA, which is a large outdoor concert amphitheater venue. Every venue has its own characterstics, rules, layout and logistics. However, perusing the schedule I see that most of the venues on the tour are indeed, very similar outdoor amphitheater stages. They even look very similar when you pull up pictures of them on the web.
So, with those things in mind, here is an article to help you have a great time at the Funny or Die Oddball Festival!
1. Not All the Comedians Listed on the Main Website Are Performing At Every Show
Beside each venue listed on the main website, there is a little button that says "details." Click that button and it will give you the lineup for your city. Many, many people seem to purchase tickets thinking that they will see all of those comedians listed on that big slate.
Also, keep in mind that changes will happen during the tour. A comedian may have to bow out of your show, but another comedian will take their place. As you can see from the lineups, the Funny or Die folks are committed to bringing the best comics to the festival. If somebody has to drop out, they most likely will get a real solid replacement.
2. This Is A Festival Event, Not a Comedy Club Show or a Theatrical Show.
These are massive venues that usually host music festivals and large outdoor summer concerts. This is not a small, intimate evening of comedy, where waitstaff come to your tables and bring you drinks. When you want your beer or nachos, you are heading out to the concession stand just as if you were at a ballgame. And other people will be doing the same thing, so yes, people will be walking around, getting out of their seats and heading to the bathroom during a comic's set. Planes will sometimes fly over and you will hear fire trucks in the distance.
For some reason, this aspect seems to throw many, many people for a loop. Many comedy fans understandably are not used to seeing comics in this setting, but it really is a unique and wonderful way to see these great comics perform. There is nothing like communal laughter, and laughing heartily with thousands of people is an experience that is like none other!
3. Do Not Even Think About Using Your Phone or Camera During the Show
There will be warning signs placed all around the venue: At the entrance, on the doors to the bathroom stalls on the large screens inside the venue. Everywhere. These signs are really hard to miss. And if you have missed them, they announce it constantly between acts and before the show. These signs and audio announcements will tell you they have a zero tolerance policy for cell phone use and recording during the show.
Please take these warnings seriously. And I mean that. Do not even pull out your phone to check the time while a comedian is on stage. You will be ejected. They have staff constantly roaming the aisles and they will remove you immediately. I've seen this happen to people during the show. And guess what, nobody will feel sorry for you, because they have told you 500 times to not do it. In fact, the other audience members will be annoyed at you because you are now causing a disruption while you are removed.
This policy is good news though. You are enjoying the comedy without seeing thousands of glowing screens in front of you.
4. What Time Does It Start? My Tickets Say 5:00PM, But I See Other Places Indicate 7:00PM. Are There Two Shows? Do I need to buy a separate ticket to the see the 7PM show?
This aspect seems to cause the most confusion for people attending the festival, but it's really pretty simple.
As I said above, you have to look at this as a festival, not a movie or a theatrical performance.
Your one ticket gets you into everything: the oddities shows, the second stage show and the Mainstage show.
So, here is how you interpret the different times you are seeing.
First, you need to understand the layout and logistics of the festival and venues. I'll use the example of the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA.
There are Main Gates to the venue. This is where you will have your ticket scanned and you will be searched for anything you are not allowed to bring in to the venue.
Once you are inside of the Main Gates, think of the venue as being divided into two sections.
A. The Mainstage. This is the main theater area, an outdoor amphitheater where your ticketed seating and the stage is located.
B. The Concourse. Outside of Mainstage is a large outdoor area with concession and beer stands along with restrooms and souveiner shops. If you want to compare this to a traditional theater, think of this as the lobby, only much larger and outdoors.
5:00PM is the time the Main Gates to the venue will open.
Once you enter the main gates you will be in the Concourse area and there will lots of side show performers and oddities to see, along with different food carts and things. Think of this kind of like attending a fair or carnival, but without rides.
The Second Stage will also be located somewhere on the Concourse. A slate of local comedians will start performing on this stage at about 5:20PM, hosted by Brody Stevens the past two years. This stage is outdoors and there is no seating for this stage. This Second Stage show runs until almost 6:50PM.
Note: The Mainstage area, where your ticketed seat is, will usually not be open right at 5:00PM. The doors to the Mainstage area will open closer to 7PM (In our case around 6:30PM.)
7:00PM is the start of the Mainstage show. These are the big name comedians listed on the website.
In talking to patrons last year, all these details seemed to result in much confusion. I talked to people who arrived at 5PM and got pissed that they had to wait two hours in the Concourse area until 7PM until the Mainstage show started. And then I talked to just as many people who were pissed that they had come for a 7PM start and had completely missed the oddities and the Second Stage show.
5. Find the Second Stage!
To get the most for your comedy dollars, find where the Second Stage is located as soon as you enter the Main Gates. At the Xfinity Center in Mansfield it was tucked off into a picnic area off to the side of the main concourse. Many patrons I talked to later in the night were a little upset that they hadn't taken it in because they didn't even know it was there.
There are really funny local comics performing on this stage. In fact, I saw two of them open for much larger acts later in the year.
6. Even If You Are Only Interested in the Mainstage Acts, Get There Early.
I've already pointed out that these venues are massive outdoor concert halls, which means a lot of patrons, which means a lot of traffic.
If you think you are going to roll up to the venue at 6:45 and stroll in for the 7:00PM start, you are sorely, sorely mistaken. What you will run into is literally thousands of cars trying to do the same thing you are. And you will most likely be parking in a lot a long way from the venue. You will have to walk to the venue and then stand in a physical line with all of the other people trying to do the same thing you are, and you will then maybe take your seat around 8:15 PM (if you're lucky), having missed a bunch of the comics already.
I talked to several patrons last year you had this happen to them.
7. It's a Festival! Avoid the Traffic, Get There Early, Park and Chill Out With Other Comedy Fans.
Your venue's website or Facebook page should let you know when the parking lot officially opens. Usually this will be a couple of hours ahead of the Main Gates opening time. For the Oddball Festival, the gates open at 5:00PM, so shoot to arrive at the parking lot around 4PM, bring some lawn chairs, some soda, some tunes and some sandwiches. Treat it like a concert and hang out with the other fans who will be there early as well.
Notice that I haven't used the word tailgating, even though that seems to be exactly what I am describing. This is because different events, venues, counties and cities each have specific rules about tailgating and/or the consumption of alcohol on their lots.
I doubt many of these venues are against people chilling out with lawn chairs frisbees and snacks, but they might not want grills and beer. So please check with the venue on what is allowed.
Fill up on food and hydrate before you enter the park because.....
8. Concession Prices are Apocalyptic and the Lines Are Long
You are going to be paying about $5.00 for a small bottle of water and about $9-$11 for a beer. Food is expensive as well and it is typical ballpark/carnival food.
You may think this is a "no duh" type of warning, but understand that this is a long evening. You are going to be there for many hours. Bring some extra cash in case you want a soda or a hot dog.
I've been to many outdoor concert venues around the country and I can never understand this, but I've just accepted that the lines are interminable, even to just get a hot dog.
There are a couple of intermissions during the Mainstage show, don't for a second think that you will be able to procure your pizza and beer during the intermission. If you really want something, leave to get it while an act is onstage. You'll still wait, but it will be much more civilized.
9. Know Your Venue's Cooler and Water Policy
Outdoor concert venues know that part of the fun is treating it like an outdoor event and most will allow you to bring in a small, soft cooler. Once again, SMALL and SOFT. The venue will have very specific guidelines on this, look them up. These are great to put a few sandwiches, some fruit and snacks into.
The Xfinity Center in Mansfield allowed this in 2013. The only food item I purchased during the festival was a large soft drink. (And yes, I waited in a long line for it.) However, in 2014 NO FOOD OR BEVERAGE INCLUDING WATER was allowed in.
Some venues will also allow you to bring in one regular-sized bottle of water that is unopened. Check with your venue to see what the policy is on this. Don't assume. If the rules don't allow it, they'll make you toss the bottles at the Main Gate.
10. You Really Get Your Money's Worth - But It's A Late Night
This is especially important for anybody who is arranging for a babysitter. Last year, our show ended at just about 11:00PM. That is when Dave Chapelle finished his set.
When I read other people posting reviews and talking about the event online, I saw that this was pretty consistent through all of the dates.
So, if you are hiring a babysitter or having a relative take care of the tykes, don't have the expectation that you are going to be home at 10 or 11. You most likely will get home well after midnight, since you will have to get out of the parking lot with the thousands of other people leaving at the same time.
11. How Does the Mainstage Line-Up Work, When Are Certain Comedians Performing and for How Long?
This seems to be the number one question on the Oddball Facebook page, (aside from people asking why a certain comedian is not on the slate for their particular city.)
The actual order of performers will be up to the festival. I will tell you how the lineup worked for us in Mansfield, MA the last two years:
Dave Chapelle and Flight of the Conchords were the headline acts. Then there were four other well-known comedians like Al Madrigal, Hannibal Burris and Kristen Schall.
7:15PM Comedian Jeff Ross took the stage and did a little introduction and some comedy. He was the host for the evening. He introduced each of the comedians and they would come out and do about 20 minutes each. This portion of the show lasted until about 8:30PM.
8:50PM-9:50PM Headliner #1 Flight of the Conchords took to the stage. They performed for about an hour or so.
9:50-10:00PM BRIEF INTERMISSION
10:00PM - 11:00PM Headliner #2 Dave Chapelle performed. He performed for just about one whole hour. I think I remember he ended the set at almost exactly 10:59PM.
7:00PM Brody Stevens took the stage and hosted the following comedians:
7:05PM Brent Morin
7:20PM Jerrod Carmichael
7:35PM Chris D'Elias
7:50PM Hannibal Burress
8:45PM Sarah Silverman
9:10PM Dave Attell
9:30PM Amy Shumer
9:55PM Louis C.K.
Louis C.K. finished at about 10:40PM and then the night is over.
As you can see, the flow of the evening is very different from year to year. This year it was very fast and furious. You are seeing a lot of big names, but not for long sets.
12. The Cheaper Your Seats, the Farther Away You Will Be, And I Mean Really Far
I know this seems like common sense, but, as I have said, these are large venues. If you opt for lawn seating, or the cheap seats, the comedians will look really small on the stage.
But don't worry, these venues are equipped with very large jumobtron video screens and excellent amplification. You'll see and hear your favorite comedians from every angle. Bring a small pair of binoculars if you want to get an up-close glimpse of them.
13. Lawn Seating is General Admission and Full of Different Types of Characters
We sat on the lawn one year and had a great time. But we prepared beforehand. Here are some things to know if your venue has lawn seating.
a. Lawn seating is the cheapest, but it is really far from the actual stage.
b. Most venues DO NOT allow you to bring chairs for the lawn seating. So bring a blanket to spread out on.
c. Lawn seating is almost always general admission, so you don't own any particular real estate. If you have a good spot, just realize that as the show fills up, people will start to really crowd the area you have staked out for yourself. Just chill out and accept it.
d. Scope out your neighbors while you are waiting for the show to begin. If they are assholes and annoying before the show starts, they are not going to quit once the show does start. Move away from these jerks or you will regret it. Don't wait until after it gets dark to try and find another place to settle down.
14. Prepare for The Elements
Three things to remember about the Oddball Comedy Festival:
1.) The venue is outdoors.
2.) The event is performed rain or shine.
3.) It takes place over many hours.
I've already explained how the gates open at 5PM and the last comedian finishes at 11PM, right?
Well, think about that for a second. That is six hours! Not only that, but it is six hours going from daylight into dusk, then into evening, and then full on into night. The temperature can change quite a bit during that time, so I would consult the weather report and bring some layers accordingly.
One year, we were slathering on sunscreen at 5PM and then throwing on our light fleeces and cuddling up under a blanket at 9PM. There were definitely some other audience members who were under-dressed for the evening temperatures and they were shivering quite a bit by the end.
At these venues there is an overhang that will protect most of the higher-priced ticket buyers from rain, but if you are on the lawn, or in uncovered seating, you really need to bring some rain gear if there is any significant chance of precipitation. My suggestion is to purchase a really good poncho rather than just a raincoat. A quality poncho will keep you really dry, but you won't feel like you are getting rained on.
Remember, even if your seat is technically under the overhang, yet close to the edge, if there is wind and rain blowing in a certain direction you may find yourself getting just as wet as the uncovered audience members.
DON'T BOTHER WITH AN UMBRELLA. They will take it away at the Main Gate, and even if you somehow do get it in, and you try to use in the Main theater area they will confiscate it, but not before the audience members behind you start yelling at you because they can't see.
Be strategic packing your clothing and gear. Venues have specific bag and cooler policies. Some don't allow backpacks, so you might be carrying your fleece or rain poncho in hand. A good solution is cargo shorts with big side pockets that you can slide a folded poncho into. If your venue allows a soft cooler, these usually have an extra pocket or two you can make use of.
15. Understand The Parking Situation
This is not like going to a movie theater, or a local comedy club or even a regional theater to see a Broadway touring show.
This is more like attending an arena concert or a professional sporting event. For instance, the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA is 12,000 capacity. To give you a comparison: a large theater that would have a comedian like Louis CK usually has a capacity of somewhere around 1,000.
Lots of people means lots and lots of cars. There are usually acres of parking lots at these venues. You will not choose where you park, you will be directed by parking lot attendants.
Here are some things to remember:
a.)The later you arrive, the further away you will be parked from the venue.
b.) Like anything in life, the closer you get to the start time, the more traffic there will be.
c.) You will arrive during daylight, but return to your car at night. Make note of where you are parked.
d.) Everybody will be leaving at the same time. There will be a lot of traffic leaving the lots and a long wait to get out. If it is imperative that you be home early, then leave the show early. That is all there is to it.
e.) Make sure you have a full tank of gas, because it could take like an hour or more to get out of the parking lot. I'm serious. It could possibly take that long.
16. Get the Premiere Parking. For the Love of God, Get the Premiere Parking!
Some venues offer some type of preferred, VIP, or Premiere parking option. This is usually purchased in addition to your ticket. For example, at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, MA it is called Premiere Parking and it is an extra $40.00. You can purchase Premiere Parking no matter where your tickets in the venue are. These premium parking offers usually allow you a dedicated lane entering the venue parking lots along with a lot closer to the venue.
Most importantly, Premiere Parking offers you a dedicated exit lane when you are leaving at the end of the night. This is worth the $40.00 alone.
Note: There are still a lot of people leaving the Premiere lot, so you will still have a short wait, but it will be nothing compared to the hellish snarl of traffic leaving the regular lots.
Contact your venue to find out if there is premiere parking available for purchase and get it today!
17. Have Fun!
The Oddball Fest really is a great time, and it is unique in that you get to see a ton of comedy with a lot of fellow comedy lovers.
I hope this answers some people's questions about the event.
Once again: This is based on my and other's experiences at the 2013 and 2014 Oddball Festivals, along with my experiences going to outdoor concerts and festivals.
Lineups may change and shuffle around. I would highly recommend liking the Oddball Festival's official Facebook page, as they tend to keep you updated somewhat on last minutes replacements or schedule changes.
Always check with your venue for their specific regulations, rules and policies.