Friday, July 30, 2010

Buy Local?

Chris Jones, writing in the Chicago Tribune, looks at the different approaches to finding artistic leadership at theater companies in Chicago:

When Dennis Zacek, the artistic director of the Victory Gardens Theater, announced his retirement this month, he did not take the usual tack of demurring as to who should be his successor. In several candid interviews, Zacek said his associate artistic director, Sandy Shinner, should immediately ascend to the top artistic job. Shinner has worked in the Chicago theater for more than 30 years — Zacek asserted that that was a key qualification for the job. Yet the chairman of the Victory Gardens board, Jeff Rappin, insisted that due diligence required the theater to conduct a national search for Zacek's replacement. There were howls of dissatisfaction from many of those associated with the theater.

Meanwhile, the board chairman of the Next Theatre has come out in favor of hiring locally. As the Evanston-based theater moves to find a replacement for its short-lived artistic director Jason Southerland, who came from a Boston theater, Judy Kemp said the directors plan to look only in the Chicago area for Southerland's successor. Southerland was fired after a scandal involving his not securing the rights to the play “Return to Haifa.” Next was burned — almost fatally — by an out-of-town hire. It has circled its wagons. And it doesn't plan to take that chance twice.

Indeed, many of the recent out-of-town hires in the Chicago theater have proven problematic, at least in terms of the city's culture.

In Boston we have had several changes at the top spots over the last few years. Most of them have come from out of town. Trinity Rep, The Huntington Theatre Company, American Repertory Theater and New Repertory Theatre all went outside the Boston/New England area for replacements. It has become pretty standard operating procedure here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Partly Cloudy with Some Triple Deckahs


There is a lot of Sherlock Holmes onstage lately. In London there is The Secret of Sherlock Holmes and right here in the Hub is a stage version of The Hound of the Baskervilles at the Central Square Theater.

With all this stage activity, I realized that I have never actually read A.C. Doyle's famous works - apart from several of the short stories in collections such as Dorothy Sayers' The Omnibus of Crime.

So I picked up the 1000 plus page Bantam Classics edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes Novels and Stories, Vol 1. I am having a great time reading it and I am already about halfway through.

Holmes is such a fascinating character, mostly because of what I DON'T know about him. I have been making note of, and then collecting some of the great detective's observations or quotes.

"There is a strong family resemblance about misdeeds, and if you have all the details of a thousand at your finger ends, it is odd if you can't unravel the thousand and first." -Sherlock Holmes - A Study in Scarlet

It takes a little doing getting through the first couple of novels that introduced Holmes and Watson. A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four both take strange detours about two thirds into them. Scarlet suddenly moves from London to Salt Lake City, Utah and Four moves from a heart-pounding chase on the Thames to a narrative about an uprising in India. Both these diversions are interesting and gripping tales of their own, and provide backstory for the crimes facing Holmes. However, they also seem a little superfluous. While Doyle may have wanted to imbue the stories with more exotic flourishes, reading the stories now, I find Doyle's foggy London to be exotic enough.

Doyle's powers seemed to heighten when he was writing the collected stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. More focused and urgent, these shorter tales are a little addictive.

For summer reading, you may want to pack this bargain Bantam Classics book in your beach bag. It's quite a bargain at almost $7.00.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Critics Versus Advertising Dollars?

The Baltimore Sun's classical music critic, Tim Smith comments on the ongoing trial of Cleveland music critic Don Rosenberg versus his employer The Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Rosenberg was allegedly removed from his beat because the Cleveland Orchestra complained that he was too rough on them - their music director, in particular.

Here is some of Smith's take:

For the last few decades, newspapers all over the country have been devaluing criticism. calling for more feature stories, trend pieces, news briefs, etc., and less actual critical thinking. Even before the Internet and the blogosphere it spawned, where anyone can take on the appearance of a critic, the place of the independent reviewer with actual credentials of education, experience and a clearly defined artistic value system has been on shaky ground in many papers.

I think some of this may have factored into what happened in Cleveland. If editors get the idea that critics are just glorified consumer reporters – you can trust this concert; don’t waste your money on that one – then what difference does it matter what "product" they cover? And if a “manufacturer” (especially one who buys ads in the paper) doesn’t like what the critic is saying, heck, just move him off the beat.

Likewise, music organizations have increasingly picked up on this notion that a critic is primarily a marketing tool, not a judge of artistic quality. My colleagues and I have heard all too often the line: “We need help selling tickets. Can’t you do a story?”

Hat Tip Wendy Rosenfield

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sunset Arch - Somerville Library

A City's Acting Employment Slide.. By the Numbers

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune highlights how the recession is affecting performing artists.

The article has quotes from several actors:

"I've never seen it this bad," said veteran actor Mark Bradley, who has been performing in the Twin Cities for decades and is currently appearing in "The Emperor's New Clothes" at the Old Log Theater. "The market for industrial films and corporate videos is bad. Commercial work is way down. All the things that we generally do to cobble together a living has been affected, so it's harder to live the same middle-class dream as other Americans."

Bradley offered himself as an example. In 1998, he earned about $72,000 through acting -- 36 percent from theater roles, 62 percent from commercials and industrial films and 2 percent from other things such as print modeling jobs. Ten years later, that income had collapsed. Of the $28,000 he took home in 2008, 45 percent came from theater, 53 percent from commercials and industrials, and 2 percent other.

He would not divulge his 2009 acting income because, he said, it was now so low "it's embarrassing."

Grown Men Weeping ... Miller's Power?

Ben Brantley sends in a dispatch from his London trip in which he takes in the new Howard Davies production of Arthur Miller's All My Sons.

At the end of his entry, he makes an observation that calls to mind what many reported seeing during the original production of Miller's Death of a Salesman:

Just before the curtain came down, the air was rent by the loudest, most convulsive sobs I have ever heard from within a theater audience. When I looked behind me, I saw a business-suited man the size of a linebacker, his head buried in his hands, being comforted by a petite blonde woman. My date for the show, who is as much in love with theater as I am, said of the sobbing giant, “That’s rather heartening, isn’t it?” I knew what she meant.

The Huntington Theatre Company produced an excellent All My Sons last season - the play still has an enormous power.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Moving Forward on Madoff

From the New York Times:

The original play, with the Wiesel character, was supposed to be performed at a theater in Washington, until that production was scuttled in May under pressure from Mr. Wiesel. Stageworks/Hudson is now producing the revised work, in which “Wiesel” has been replaced by a new character, a Holocaust survivor and poet named Solomon Galkin.


The Wiesel character in the earlier script was no passing contrivance. Ms. Margolin said she had seen the character as an ideal dramatic device, a name that would instantly connote moral authority. The central scene of the original play was an imagined conversation in which Wiesel pleaded with Madoff to invest his money. It also included a sexually tinged memory of Wiesel’s time in a concentration camp, as well as readings from the Talmud and meditations on repentance.

Wiesel spent much of the play cajoling and counseling Madoff, building up to a climactic moment in which the treacherous investor considered confessing his deceit to his wise and kindly companion.

The replacement character, Galkin, is described in the script as “80 years old, Holocaust survivor, poet, translator, treasurer of his synagogue.” But much of the original Wiesel dialogue has been retained and given to him, including the concentration camp memory and several provocative passages about morality and forgiveness.

For those who would like some context original, you can check out some posts at Isaac Butler's blog Parabasis, ( here, here and here) where the playwright and Theatre J people entered the comments.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Pear Lime

Pear Lime, originally uploaded by arthennessey.

Boston Theater - Friday Roundup


Company One opens their evening of short plays based on twisted fairy tales. Grimm opens tonight at the Roberts Theater in The Boston Center for the Arts. Some of Boston's best playwrights have contributed. (Raymond Ramirez and Becca Lewis in Photo.)

The Gascon's invade Chelsea as Apollinaire presents their annual summer bilingual production. This year it is Cyrano De Bergerac playing in O'Malley Park across the Mystic River.

Bring something to throw on the grill for another outdoor offering. Gabriel Kuttner produced and stars in Fully Committed at the Christian Herter Park in Brighton. The show is directed by Steve Barkhimer and opens tonight.

Harold Hill has come to Waltham with his 76 Trombones for the Reagle Players' production of The Music Man.

The Vagabond Theater group is in the Black Box Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts for One Weekend Only with the premiere of a play called Burning The Barn.


The fighter keeps punching away at the Boston Playwrights Theatre. Gurnet Theater Project presents Cherry Smoke.

Gypsy continues up at the North Shore Music Theater.

Out in Stoneham you can still catch Always, Patsy Kline.

Zero Arrow keeps the night life going at The Donkey Show.

Merrimack Rep Is Doing Something Right

Merrimack Rep today announced that the theater has finished its 5th consecutive season "in the black."

From the Press Release:

With the books now closed on fiscal year 2010, which ended June 30, the company reports that it has finished in the black for the fifth consecutive year and recorded a moderate operating surplus. This surplus has helped the theatre further reduce its mortgage on its Bagshaw Mills office/rehearsal/artist housing facility, and build an operating cash reserve. The challenging economy has impacted MRT, as unrestricted contributed income declined about 24% for the year. The number of theatergoers increased approximately 10% during the same period, however, and the number of season ticket holders increased slightly.

You can read the full release on their blog.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

More on Auditions

Right on the heels of John Kuntz's musing about auditions yesterday, Chicago actor/playwright Josh Rollins types some thoughts on his blog - The Glass Bead.

Josh acted here in Boston for a while, and was, for some of that time, a part of Essayons Theater Company - the company I founded and ran with friends and my wife, Amanda.

He is currently in a successful, extended run of Suicide, Incorporated at The Gift Theater in Chicago. Here he talks about some of the necessary grind of the audition circuit:

The “look-see” is exactly what it sounds like. No lines. No wardrobe suggestions, sometimes, no discernible part. The casting director just wants you to talk into a room so they can take a picture of you. Yep. That’s it. And this process can take anywhere from 5 minutes to two hours of waiting waiting waiting. All to go in. Stand on an x. Look at the camera, and plead with your eyes to “hire me”.

The look see. Yep. Imagine going in for a job interview- sitting in the lobby, and having the boss come out, look you over and say “thanks for coming in”

Yet gigs behind look sees can pay in the thousands of dollars. and so we line up. and we do it. over and over again.

I kinda wonder if it would be inappropriate to just tell the casting agency they already have 4,032 digital pictures of me taken last month, and if they used one of those, it would save us both an hour out of my day.

But I don’t. Because that would take a back bone.

Two days, and two new blogs to add to the blogroll!

When You Can't View the Real Downfall....

This clever young man reenacts the classic Downfall clip - and plays all the parts. He really goes for it.

Check out his channel - he does a pretty good Woody Allen, too.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Friday, July 09, 2010

Boston Theatre - Friday Roundup - In-City Edition

I don't have time to round-up all that is happening in the Berkshires, Cape & Islands and even Vermont.

However, there is still good theater going on in the city and surrounding areas this weekend - and there is even more coming up in the next few weeks.


Gurnet Theatre Project returns to Boston with James McManus's Cherry Smoke (Left: Jackie McCoy and Chris Graham) at the Boston Playwrights Theater.

Up in Beverly, North Shore Music Theater opens Gypsy with Vicki Lewis in the starring role.

Always, Patsy Cline opens at the Stoneham Theatre.

Last Chance (Double Header?)

Richard Dresser's Rounding Third plays its last weekend at Salem Theater Company's new space up in the Witch City.

And another show about our national game, Johnny Baseball, will end its run this Sunday at the American Repertory Theater.

Also, at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, Sophie Tucker: The Last of the Red Hot Mamas sings through the weekend.


Over at Zero Arrow Street, The Donkey Show keeps bumping and grinding through the heat wave

Kevin Spacey and Peter Gallagher in Long Day's Journey

Thursday, July 08, 2010

NSMT Reopens, But New Works Will Have to Wait

The Boston Globe has a short feature about of the reopening of North Shore Music Theatre under the new owner Bill Hanney. North Shore's first show will be Gypsy. (above)

For now, NSMT is looking for proven hits, not gambles:

In the past the company has staged new musicals, including “Memphis’’ (in 2003), which won four Tony Awards this year. Hanney was in the audience at Radio City Music Hall last month when Broadway producer Randy Adams thanked North Shore Music Theatre for making “Memphis’’ possible.

“For me to now own the theater that has a place in Broadway history? I’m loving it,’’ Hanney gushes. “The next day the box office was on fire. Phones were ringing off the hook.’’

But developing new works is, at least for now, off the table. This year’s shows were selected for maximum hit potential, resulting in a lineup that stays in well-trod territory. Hanney, who is also a producer, points out that one clunker can break a whole subscription season. And subscribers are what North Shore Music Theatre needs. Since the company reached out in March to the 2009 season-ticket holders who lost their money when the theater closed, offering them the same seats, nearly 70 percent have renewed their subscriptions.

Another interesting note in the article: The full time staff has been streamlined from 57 to five.

Photo Credit: CATHERINE WALKER (Louise) and JAN NEUBERGER (Electra) in North Shore Music Theatre's Gypsy Photo by Paul Lyden

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Book Review - In Heaven Everything Is Fine

What do Tommy Lee Jones, Stockard Channing, National Lampoon, John Lithgow, David Lynch, John Belushi, Francis Ford Coppola, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tim Meyers, Punk Rock, Muddy Waters and the USA network all have in common?

The answer is outlined in the sad, but illuminating book In Heaven Everything is Fine, The Unsolved Life of Peter Ivers and the the Lost History of the New Wave Theatre - the subtitle give you a big hint.

The authors, Josh Franz and Charlie Buckholtz, end up surveying the major popular culture waves of the '70s and very early '80s, and they do it through the intimate perspective of this one man's tragically short life. Peter Ivers died in a brutal and needless way, (apparently killed in his bed by a home invader,) at what was believed to be - by just about everybody interviewed - the moment of his own breakthrough into the mainstream of American culture.

This timing results in some difficult detective work for the authors. Ivers had not quite attained enough fame to be extensively documented in the press, so the writers enter the story by talking first hand to people who knew him. This proves to be no problem at all. Mr. Ivers's contacts throughout his life ranged from the Hollywoood elite, to New Wave rockers and fans, and they all seemed eager to talk about his life, his death and his legacy.
Indeed, for a virtual unknown, Peter Ivers must have had a Rolodex that would to be envied by even the most wired Tinsel Town agent. In the books recreation of the morning after the murder, the detectives are looking around Ivers's spare studio apartment, taking in the elaborate wardrobe selections hung around the space. They ask themselves, "Who was this guy?" Almost on cue, VIPs start arriving at the murder scene. Studio big wigs, actors, directors, (Harold Ramis included.) All of them are distraught, devastated, wanting answers. As the BMW's and Mercedes keep pulling up, the cops ask themselves again, "Who WAS this guy?"

Friday, July 02, 2010

A Quick Tour Through Western Drama

A friend and fellow Boston playwright Jon Meyers has written an anthology along with Jennifer Bean.

Western Dramatic Literature; A Micro-Anthology is available for the Kindle at Amazon.

Jon describes it as: "A collection of fifty parodies of well-known plays in the Western Civilization tradition, all of which are summarized, reduced, condensed, and abridged into less than or equal to five lines each (plus stage directions)."

Could be fun summer reading.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Fireworks Through Our Apartment Window

Somerville had their Fireworks tonight. We can see them from our living room window.

This Old Blog

Blog Work

If you are a regular visitor, you may have noticed that there have been a few changes to The Mirror Up To Nature. I have been meaning to update this blog's look for a long time now, but never really had the chunk of time to test and make sure everything would work right.

I also wanted to maintain a clean look - white space - without having to sacrifice some of the widgets and gadgets that could make the blog a little more dynamic. I decided on a third- party template that offered three columns and a nice, white design.

That was about two years ago.

Recently, I have had a little more time on my hands while seeking employment. I was laid off from my day job of eight years - when the economy is like it is now, the employment industry becomes very hard hit. So I finally decided, after I was in my settings last week, to just start going ahead with the redesign.

I tinkered a little bit with the new Template Designer features that Blogger is offering, and I like it, but decided that my third party template has a better look than the limited designs they have available right now.

In process right now is the recreation of my blog lists and links. Fortunately, the gadget for creating a "Blog List" allows the import of feeds directly from your Google Reader! I was able to get most of the weblogs from my old site over into the Theatre Blogs list you see on the right hand column below.

The best feature of the Blog List display is the preview titles and the ability to have them sorted by most recent updates. The only downside is that it only imports the titles of the blogs - on my last site I would list the author's name next to the blog title. If you are a blogger, and you would like to be listed on my blogroll, please let me know in the comments or by e-mail.

I have kept the links to Boston Theatre Critics and News Sites at the top and I have folded in online sites such at Thomas Garvey's The Hub Review and Bill Marx's The Arts Fuse that I previously listed under Blogs.

Right now, I need to find a place to put Organizational Blogs for the Boston area. Many theater companies, especially the smaller ones, are now blogging regularly. and there are also sites like ArtsBoston and Explore Boston Theater. I may set up a separate stand-alone page for this.

Let me know what you think.