Monday, March 29, 2010

On Criticism

Some have at first for Wits, then Poets past,
Turn'd Criticks next, and prov'd plain Fools at last;
Some neither can for Wits nor Criticks pass,
As heavy Mules are neither Horse or Ass.
Those half-learn'd Witlings, num'rous in our Isle,
As half-form'd Insects on the Banks of Nile:
Unfinish'd Things, one knows now what to call,
Their Generation's so equivocal:
To tell 'em, wou'd a hundred Tongues require,
Or one vain Wit's, that might a hundred tire.

- Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Boston Theatre - Too Much "No Comment" for My Taste

Geoff Edgers has an article in the Globe about the special arrangement between Diane Paulus' husband Randy Weiner in relation to the American Repertory Theater:

Weiner’s relationship with Harvard and the ART is unorthodox by the standards of most nonprofits. The university owns the Oberon building and takes in the revenues from it, but Weiner owns the trademark to Oberon and is paid a monthly royalty. To create the club, he drew on his experience as one of the owners of the Box, a hot New York burlesque nightspot that journalists like to describe as “hedonistic.’’


Weiner’s arrangement is controversial enough that the ART’s newly named producer, Diane Borger, wouldn’t comment on Weiner, saying she hadn’t worked at the company long enough. (In fact, Borger’s son-in-law is Simon Hammerstein, one of Weiner’s two partners at the Box.)

Edgers kind of positions the whole thing as a match between the Old Guard and the New Guard over on Brattle Street.

Thom Garvey at the Hub Review isn't buying it (Warning: NSFW on Tom's Post):

Of course Harvard hardly has an ethical reputation to rival Mother Theresa's; still, the situation at the A.R.T. obviously pushes the limits of the plausible deniability that is the university's norm. The claim that The Donkey Show is, in effect, funding "riskier" work at the A.R.T., as A Chorus Line once did for Joe Papp, is debatable, I'd say - but if Harvard wants to go that route, it still pretty much has to move the dancing girls to a commercial venue (as Papp did with his hits) to make the argument hold water. If The Donkey Show were playing on Lansdowne Street (where it belongs), and held its own in the commercial sector, there'd be few arguments against it, even if Weiner and Paulus were throwing a few bucks Harvard's way.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Dueling Critics on Criticism

Steve Almond penned an Op-ed in today's Globe in which he derides the very idea of a music critic:

Am I suggesting that music criticism is a pointless exercise?

Yeah, I guess I am.

In many cases it’s even worse than that. Because critics are, by their very job description, charged with being hypercritical. I certainly was. It was as if my critic credibility depended on my not being fooled into actually enjoying myself.

And to be perfectly honest, I took some perverse pleasure — as a wannabe musician — in having the power to pass judgment over actual musicians.

This dynamic isn’t limited to musical criticism. Indeed, over the past decade much of our “critical’’ cultural has degenerated into a glorified form of punditry, in which critics have forsaken their role as compassionate arbiters for the barbed joys of snark.

The reason this pattern is so striking when it comes to music is because songs are aimed squarely at our hearts. They’re meant to make us dance or weep or laugh.

Joel Brown, who writes music criticism, responds on his blog Hubarts:

If I bought his narrow definition of criticism - "all you can do is deride the pleasure" - then I might agree with him. But Almond says he still writes about music a lot, he just devotes himself to spreading the word about bands he loves. Yeehaw, Steve, you're great, but spreading the word about bands you love is part of being a critic too. I've always tried to adhere to the old maxim - Was it H.G. Wells who said it? Orwell? The Internet is not finding it for me - that our first duty is to praise that which is praiseworthy.

I've certainly done my share of snarking, too. And there have been times when I've gotten angry letters for liking a show that some felt was disappointing. It's all part of the job description, which asks a reviewer to do several things at once, including provide an honest reaction to a show, describe it vividly for those who could not attend, take note of the audience reaction, and yes, offer some sort of artistic scorecard. (Others will add to or subtract from that list.) A review like the one I had in the Globe today can be a keepsake for someone who was there, a goad to someone who wasn't (to get tix the next time McFerrin is in town), or simply an enlightening read for someone not otherwise interested. It's information for music consumers trying to decide where to spend their hard-earned dollars. And maybe, sometimes, it becomes part of the record by which an artist is judged.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Yale Rep Season Announcement

Yale Rep Announces their season for 2010-2011.

Local playwright Kirsten Greenidge has new play in the lineup.

  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle: A Musical Book and Lyrics by Adam Bock and Music and Lyrics by Todd Almond.

  • A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee

  • Bossa Nova by Kirsten Greenidge (World Premiere)

  • The Piano Lesson by August Wilson

  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

  • Autumn Sonata by Ingmar Bergman

Improv Asylum's New Show! - Scott Brown

A great video teaser for Improv Asylum's new musical: You're a Good Man Scott Brown..

You’re a Good Man, Scott Brown from Improv Asylum on Vimeo.

You Tube - Classical Performance of the Day - Mozart

Clarinet Quintet K. 581 1st Movement

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Multimedia Not a Panacea

Bill Marx at the Arts Fuse examines the stagecraft of three recent productions. His jumping off point is the assumption some make that the increased use of video and projection in theater production will somehow make works more relevant:

In fact, given the depressing dependence on multimedia folderol in both “The Book of Grace” by Suzan Lori-Parks and director Daniel Fish’s tricked up production of Clifford Odets’s “Paradise Lost” at the American Repertory Theater, the evidence runs in the opposite direction.

The addition of technology seems to ratchet up a compensatory dramatic hysteria, pumping up a production’s urge to float a bloated Important Message. The sweet modesty of “Stick Fly”’s comic meditation on race and class, presented in a non-videoized but well designed set, comes as a funny, perceptive, and reassuring testament to the values of the provisional, on stage and off.

Current attempts to turn the stage into a giant TV screen seem to be part of an effort to reassure theatergoers that theater can be morphed into a new-fangled CGI movie (or into a disco party, “The Donkey Show,” or into an impressive arts installation, “Sleep No More,” earlier ART productions under the new ‘show ‘em its not just theater’ leadership of Diane Paulus). The mania for the projected image wreaks havoc on the ART’s staging of “Paradise Lost,” an Odets epic that had a debilitating case of The Big Statement when it hit Broadway in 1935.

Monday, March 08, 2010

A Thought After the Oscars?

Barry, over at the Western States Arts Federation blog asks a great question:

Why not televise the National Medal of Arts Ceremony?

It would be a splendid opportunity, I think, to elevate and exalt the arts – and, because the honorees are so varied, it would have the potential of appealing to a wide audience. Past recipients have included such a stellar and representative sampling as: Les Paul, Dolly Parton, Robert Duval, Buddy Guy, Tommy Tune, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Twyla Tharp, Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Yo Yo Ma, Johnny Cash, Itzhak Perlman, I.M. Pei, Saul Bellow, BB King, Ray Charles, Bella Lewitskiy, Cales Oldenberg, Mikhail Baryshnikov, jazz great Benny Carter, Harold Prince, Barbara Streisand, Frank Gehry, Robert Redford, Tito Puente, Maurice Sendak, Wayne Thiebaud, Ray Bradbury, Gregory Peck, Richard Diebenkorn, Gene Kelley, Roy Lichtenstein, Cab Calloway, Paul Taylor, Beverly Sills, Jasper Johns –and such supporters and patrons as the Lila Wallace Readers Digest Fund and the Dayton Hudson Corporate Fund – to name but just a few. How’s that for an “A” list?

Reflected in a window, the Hothouse Flowers appear to serenade beachcombers.

My friend Brad Kelly took this photo

Wednesday, March 03, 2010