Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ionesco's "Exit the King" to Broadway with Geoffrey Rush, Susan Sarandon

"Exit the King" with Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon starts previews March 7 and opens March 26

Coinciding with the 100th anniversary of Eugène Ionesco's birth his absurdist comedy, Exit the King will arrive on Broadway for a four month run starting next Saturday and play through mid June. And this is not just any production, but the most celebrated staging in memory, from Australia of all places.

The play was originally written by Eugène Ionesco in 1962, and this noteworthy edition is the result of a successful collaboration between two Oz theatre companies. Freshly translated by Geoffrey Rush and director Neil Armfield and premiered at Melbourne's Malthouse Theatre in 2007 it was immediately followed with a Sydney run with Company B. These engagements were critical successes, audience pleasers and sell outs, the trifecta of theatre.

The always charming Rush, who will be making his Broadway debut, gushed: "Taking this theatrical work to the thrilling world of commercial Broadway is an exciting and thrilling treat." He will be reprising his role as the absurd King Berenger. Rush will be joined by fellow Oscar winner Susan Sarandon, as the strong and spiteful Queen Marguerite.

The play's plot line is simple. King Berenger is getting old – 400 years old, to be exact – and his health is failing. His country is failing (his empire is down to six people). His marriage is failing (his first marriage already failed). But his pride has most definitely not failed, and despite being told his time is up, the ancient ruler refuses to get off the stage without a fight.

Photo from the original Australian production.

Having surrendered to the whacked out mind of Ionesco decades ago, this is a play that could easily cause fans like me to open their wallet in order to secure the absolutely best seats possible. However, some research uncovered a wonderful discount offer, and it will save us about 40%.

The performances will take place at the Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street and discounts between now and April 26 (except 3/26) are as low as $45 (regularly 66.50) for rear mezzanine, rows F-G, $55 rows A-E (81.50) and $59.50 for the $111.50 seats at the Wednesday matinee.

Tuesday to Friday Evenings and Saturday and Sunday Matinees the $111.50 seats are discounted to $66.50. The Saturday Evening $116.50 tickets are $69.50.

You can order these tickets through or by phone to 212-947-8844. The code to use is EKTW225. Previews begin March 7 and opening night is March 26.

Exit the King is a distinctive and exciting piece of theatre, and could well start a trend of importing Australian theatre to Broadway in addition to the frequent arrivals from London's West End.

Token $10M increase in NEA, NEH budgets likely

While the stimulus bill that passed February 13 included $50 million in additional funding for the NEA, the amount of federal support for the arts remains dismal. Last year it was $124.4 million, this year it was upped to $144.7 million.

In the Omnibus Bill introduced by the Appropriations Committee of the House, it is slated to increase this coming year by $10 million bringing the NEA and NEH to a whoppng $155 million each, still far less than a dollar a person for the arts. We still spend more on military bands.

Of course, the arts remain one of the favorite whipping boys of the conservative, Republican and Blue Dog Democrats who find much political mileage in singling out controversial art for criticism and censure. While Congressional politician after politician seems to form a never ending lineup of lying, stealing and sexual miscreants, the arts are expected to remain lily white and pure.

Never mind the fact that the arts simply reflect society, and is both beautiful and bad. It's going to be a tough year.

History of NEA appropriations:

2007 $ 124,406,355
2006 $ 124,406,355
2005 $ 121,263,614
2004 $ 120,970,000
2003 $ 115,731,000
2002 $ 115,234,000
2001 $ 104,769,000
2000 $ 97,627,600
1999 $ 97,966,000
1998 $ 98,000,000
1997 $ 99,494,000
1996 $ 99,470,000
1995 $ 162,311,000
1994 $ 170,228,000
1993 $ 174,459,382
1992 $ 175,954,680
1991 $ 174,080,737
1990 $ 171,255,000
1989 $ 169,090,000
1988 $ 167,731,000
1987 $ 165,281,000
1986 $ 158,822,040
1985 $ 163,660,000
1984 $ 162,223,000
1983 $ 143,875,000

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chad Allen's "On the Other Hand, Death" a breakthrough film

The Chad Allen Interview

Actor Chad Allen's career has been on the ascent recently, and we intruded into some of his rare time off to catch up with his activities. Having just arrived home in California after months away, he was in great spirits, playing with his dog and finally getting to enjoy his new house.

"It is so wonderful to be home again, I can't tell you how much I missed my partner and being able to just fix a snack." Chad, who is openly gay, is in the fourth year of a very happy relationship, and excused himself for a moment to see if his mate (who had received a notice earlier) would actually have to serve on a jury. "Sorry but I was worried. I have a lot of catching up to do. Now that I'm back I don't want to have to share him with twelve strangers," he joked.

Chad Allen hanging out at home.

Chad and his partner, also an actor, live basic, uncomplicated lives, and for all the attention he gets, he far prefers his bicycle and open air to a limousine and the red carpet. Their idea of fun is a hike in the Santa Monica Mountains. "There are some amazing trails up there, and my dog - partly Korean Jindo and partly Akita - just loves it. We both get to release a huge amount of pent up energy."

Of course it is amazing that he has any energy left. Chad is a triple threat actor - meaning he does acting in all its forms - stage, film and tv. On the Other Hand Death, the latest in his series of Donald Strachey Mystery films is due out on DVD February 24. It is the third in a six-part series he is committed to. Allen plays a gay private investigator and the movie co-stars screen legend Margot Kidder (Superman). Directed by Emmy® award nominated Ron Oliver (“Degrassi: The Next Generation,” “Queer as Folk”) On the Other Hand, Death delves into gay hate crimes and the difficulties faced by the LGBT community. So far, four episodes have been filmed in Vancouver, with two more still due. The fourth installment in the franchise is titled Ice Blues is scheduled for release in the fall and co-stars Sherry Miller who was also in Queer as Folk.

Chad Allen stars as detective Donald Stachey in "On the Other Hand Death"

Asked to give a plot synopsis, he said: "It begins with Dorothy (Kidder) and Edith (Gabrielle Rose) sleeping in each other’s arms on the second floor of their long-time farmhouse. Downstairs, a shadowy figure breaks through the glass door. When Edith goes to investigate the noise, she discovers graffiti sprawled across the walls. The hateful message reads “DYKES GO HOME.”

As with all the Strachey films, On the Other Hand, Death premiered on gay cable network here! TV July 25, 2008.

I mentioned that the first two Strachey films seemed more made for tv than his latest, that his character of Donald seems to have evolved and deepened. "When we first started the series, we had a limited amount of time to shoot, and not a lot of time for development. So I am glad you think that my character is becoming more complex." I noted that he has an on-screen lover, too. "I love the relationship between the character Tim played by Sebastian Spence and myself in the series. That too has deepened as the series has matured." The film also has a film noir style, with some shaken, not stirred, James Bond references. It is fun to see the mini-tributes to adventure films scattered throughout the story.

Dorothy (Margot Kidder) and Edith (Gabrielle Rose) are victims of hate crimes in "On the Other Hand Death"

One of the delightful pairings in the film is Strachey's sidekick, Kenny Kwon - played hilariously by Nelson Wong - who finally gets a chance to do some real detective footwork. "You know, that's funny, because his part was deliberately added in to the third film since his role worked so well the last time." Will we see more of him in the future?" I wondered. "Well, episodes five and six have not yet been written, so who knows. I'd love to see him as a recurring character." Me too. The two played off each other very nicely.

Det. Donald Strachey (Chad Allen) gets rough with Larry (Shawn Roberts) in "A Shock to the System"

We talked about the setting for the film, Albany, New York, and whether there had been any discussion about shooting the series there rather than simply using some static "establishing shots" as fill-in. "I would love to see it filmed on location," he enthused, "and we came close once, when the Canadian-US dollar ratio was more favorable." I suggested that with the Berkshires so close, he would be within striking distance of some great hiking and scenery, plus four resident professional theatre companies.

Chad Allen seen with Jeremy Jordan (r) in The Little Dog Laughed at TheatreWorks in Hartford, CT. Photo by Lanny Nagler Photography

"The closest I have ever gotten is TheatreWorks in Hartford where I was performing The Little Dog Laughed early last year. But to tell the truth, I love going to Vancouver, too."

Chad Allen's current project is the stage play about Tallulah Bankhead, "Looped" which stars Valerie Harper.

The conversation turned to his current stage work in the play Looped in which he co-stars with Valerie Harper as the legendary Tallulah Bankhead. It kept him in Palm Beach during early 2009, and will continue in Washington, DC at Arena Stage in May and June. Arena Stage currently has two of its productions going to Broadway (Next to Normal and 33 variations) , and there is talk of Looped heading to Broadway as well. Chad and I hope to talk about that in a few months when we meet up in DC.

Berkshire note: Looped is directed by Rob Ruggiero (Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn and The Dog Who Talked at TheatreWorks).  Rob is well known here in the Berkshires having worked frequently with Julie Boyd's Barrington Stage Company. Chad clued me in: "I just love working with Rob, he is just a fantastic director. More than that, he's a wonderful person, one who I have come to appreciate as an artist and a friend." Ruggiero often directs at TheatreWorks in Hartford, and we are thinking of adding that innovative company to our regular beat for Berkshire Fine Arts. Ruggiero also has a revival of the musical Camelot in the works, slated for late summer at The Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut.

Chad Allen is a triple threat performer.

Chad Allen has had several careers already, and seems about to make yet another breakthrough. His earliest work on television was when he was 11 on Webster, Our House, My Two Dads and St. Elsewhere. (1985-1990) He stopped acting and went to a real high school, facing plenty of slings and arrows along the way, and surviving. It was perhaps because of this break that he never became consigned to that dreaded lot in life of being a teen idol. His Tiger Beat exposure was all when he was a pre-pubescent star.

Returning to tv, he became well known on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, which kept him busy for six seasons from 1993-97.

In 2001 he appeared in Corpus Christi, Terrence McCNally's story of a gay Texas boy considered by many critics to be a stand-in for Jesus. Chad produced and starred in the Los Angeles premiere of this controversial show.

And so, in the October 9, 2001 issue of The Advocate, Chad came out as a gay man. He also acknowledged past problems with drugs and alcohol.  One of the most impressive things about him is that he has dealt with each issue simply and honestly. This quality also comes through in his acting, there is a Nicholson quality to it. His acting is so honest that his role of Donald Strachey does not come through as an actor's creation, but simply as another extension of an already diverse and interesting career. Chad is Donald and Donald is Chad. The role and the actor have melded into one organic whole. Only the best actors can do that.

Chad Allen in Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

Since that announcement,  his personal development has accelerated,  his acting career blossomed, and his home life greatly enriched with a loving relationship. He is not only known for being out and gay, but also for being Christian and gay. Indeed, he has taken principled stands as part of Soulforce, taking part in a demonstration outside the Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs. One of his most deeply held hopes is a reconciliation between Christians and gays, that the two are not mutually exclusive. To this end, he produced and starred in another film, Save Me, about the ex-gay movement which I wrote about last month. It is a tough film for the two polarized sides of the God-Gay continuum to see, but it attempts to build a bridge of understanding between the two camps. As such, it is a breakthrough film.

Clearly, Chad Allen is no simple actor, but a complicated guy just trying to find and keep his voice, Hollywood machinery be damned. Early in his career some well meaning studio types tried to remake him: "There was a time when it was actually said to me, “You know, we can get you a girlfriend. We can make that happen.” But that's not in me. I can't live a lie."

I commented that he seemed to have survived the transition from the closet to a fully out actor. "It's no big deal," he said, "you just keep doing the same things you always did, only they pay you less for it."

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Randy Harrison Returning to Berkshire Theatre Festival for "Ghosts"

Randy Harrison, who will play Oswald in Ghosts August 11-29, 2009, is seen here in the 2007 Berkshire Theatre Festival production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Kevin Sprague photo.

The Berkshire Theatre Festival just announced their principal casting for Summer 2009, and perhaps the most exciting news is the reunion of actor Randy Harrison with Director Anders Cato and Dramaturg James Leverett. Together they will present a brand new interpretation of one of the towering classics of live theatre, Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts. It will run from August 11-29, 2009 on their main stage in Stockbridge, MA.

This play is so controversial that mass arrests were made on its opening night 120+ years ago. Then it was considered too controversial to perform for decades and gathered dust, or was performed in sanitized versions that betrayed its original outrage at the hypocrisy of family values, then and now.

Anders Cato, who is of Swedish descent, will direct Ibsen's Ghosts.

The plot: Ghosts is a transfixing family drama and a bold attack on fake “family values” that outraged audiences of the late 1800s—and this story of a mother’s love, a father’s sins and a son’s terrible inheritance has only become more powerful with the passing of time. In the course of one day at the Alving’s estate on the fjords of Norway, a respectable family’s history, carefully maintained by the widowed Mrs. Alving, unravels before our eyes into deception and despair.

The late Mr. Alving, revered by the community as a model father and husband, was actually an incorrigible drunken philanderer, and despite his wife’s every effort to protect her son from his influence and shield their family from criticism, the sins of Mr. Alving come home to roost in a chilling series of revelations that chip away at the very foundations of “decent society.”
Randy Harrison as Tom Wingfield in the Guthrie production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Directed by Joe Dowling. Part of the Guthrie Theater 2007 season in Minneapolis. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

As good as he was in Queer as Folk, his many years with that series caused some to typecast him. But Harrison has enormous depth and dedication to his craft, and his on-stage appearances are the best way to appreciate it. His work both with the Berkshire Theatre Festival and elsewhere is daring and adventurous.

In the past four summers in Stockbridge, MA, artistic director Kate Maguire has teamed him with Director Anders Cato and a host of gifted actors to reinterpret and reinvent classic roles in works that often have become musty. This team does not disappoint, they blow away the accumulated dust and bring back the shock and awe that first excited audiences though the use of new translations, fresh approaches and timely updates.
In 2007 Randy Harrison and Director Anders Cato brought fresh life to the classic George Bernard Shaw play, Mrs. Warrens Profession. Kevin Sprague Photo.

Harrison and Cato first employed this fresh approach in the BTF 2007 Mrs. Warren's Profession which was written a century ago by the great George Bernard Shaw. Then, last season, they tackled the near-sacred Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, though this play was only five decades old. One local critic almost had a heart attack at the changes he encountered in their version. Most everyone I know simply loved it and it was a critical success.

Though the rest of the cast has yet to be announced, Ghosts promises to be the most exciting production in the Berkshires for Summer 2009. One of the things that can be depended on is that Randy will take a totally new approach to his role as Oswald the son in Ghosts, as he does for everything he performs. As he commented in my interview with him last summer, "There's so much academic stuff, so much to study and think about it, and I just tried to scrape it all away and start fresh."

Another photo from the Guthrie Theatre Production of Glass Menagerie. T. Charles Erickson picture.

As an actor, Harrison recognizes that choices have to be made when interpreting a role: "It is many layers and it is just simply what it is. You follow the script, and the audience will project what is a personal meaning for them, now they will see it. The problem is that while it is all of those things, you can only pick one to play."

As the actual production nears, perhaps I will be able to chat with Harrison again about his preparations for this part. I know the interview we did last year helped many fans and theatre-goers better appreciate his role in Waiting for Godot.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Goodman's Desire Under the Elms Extended to March 1

The brilliant actor Brian Dennahy is commanding in Desire Under The Elms at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren

Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece, Desire Under the Elms has never been more overtly sensual and provocative as in the hands of the Goodman's Artistic Director Robert Falls. The reviews have been sensational, and demand for tickets so great that the show has been extended to March 1. However, Carla Gugino's schedule does not allow her to stay with the production, so after February 17 her role will be played by her understudy, Amy J. Carle. Gugino departs the production to fulfill press commitments for the releases of her films Watchmen and Race to Witch Mountain, both opening in early March.

Pictured are (l to r) Carla Gugino (Abbie Putnam) and Pablo Schreiber (Eben Cabot). Liz Lauren Photo.

Brian Dennehy has appeared often at the Goodman. (Death of a Salesman, Long Day's Journey Into Night) Pablo Schreiber is another veteran Goodman regular (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Awake and Sing!), as is Boris McGiver (The Wire). Daniel Stewart Sherman rounds out the cast and was recently seen in Broadway's Cyrano de Bergerac.

Pictured in Goodman Theatre's production of Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O'Neill, directed by Robert Falls are (l to r) Pablo Schreiber (Eben Cabot), Brian Dennehy (Ephraim Cabot) and Carla Gugino (Abbie Putnam). Liz Lauren photo

Desire Under the Elms is the centerpiece of the Goodman's landmark theatrical event, "A Global Exploration: Eugene O'Neill in the 21st Century," Desire Under the Elms has been hailed by critics as "enormous, powerful" (Chicago Tribune), "blistering [and] bold" (Chicago Sun-Times). Performances are scheduled through March 1 in the Goodman's 856-seat Albert Ivar Theatre.

For ticket information, visit or call 312.443.3800.

Dennehy and Falls, O'Neill and the Goodman are entwined.

Over the past 20 years at the Goodman, Brian Dennehy has delivered towering performances in four O’Neill works, each directed by Robert Falls. The first collaboration was The Iceman Cometh (1990), the epic portrait of hope and disillusionment with Dennehy starring as hardware salesman and pipedream-buster Theodore “Hickey” Hickman—with a cast that included Hope Davis, Denis O’Hare, Ernest Perry, Jr. and James Cromwell.

The production was named by Time and USA Today one of the 10 best American theater productions of the 1991/1992 season and was subsequently hailed as the highpoint of the 33rd annual Dublin Theatre Festival.
Pictured in Robert Falls' 1996 production of A Touch of the Poet by Eugene O'Neill are Brian Dennehy (Con Melody) and Deanna Dunagan (Deborah Harford). Photo by Eric Y. Exit.

In 1996, Falls and Dennehy returned to O’Neill—this time with the 1936 tale of tragic self-delusion, A Touch of the Poet, featuring Dennehy as the tyrannical Con Melody, Pamela Payton-Wright as his long-suffering wife, and Jenny Bacon as his rebellious daughter.
Pictured in Robert Falls' 2002 production of Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill are Pamela Payton-Wright (Mary Tyrone) and Brian Dennehy (James Tyrone). Photo by Eric Y. Exit.

Six years later in 2002, O’Neill’s masterpiece, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, arrived on the Goodman stage with Dennehy as the vain, selfish patriarch James Tyrone. The Broadway remount of the production two years later—featuring Dennehy, Vanessa Redgrave, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robert Sean Leonard—won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play, with Dennehy and Redgrave each earning the prizes for Best Actor and Actress.
Pictured in Robert Falls' 2004 production of Hughie by Eugene O'Neill is Brian Dennehy (Erie Smith). Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Most recently, in 2004, Falls staged Hughie, the posthumously published one-act, with Dennehy as the big-time talker and small-time gambler Erie Smith—a production for which director and actor reunited at Canada’s Stratford Shakespeare Festival, June 18 – August 31, with a subsequent production at Long Wharf Theatre. Desire Under the Elms marks their fifth collaboration on the works of O’Neill.

Mabou Mines and their Eccentric DollHouse

When I search through theater offerings for new and fresh approaches to familiar old classics, one in a while a gem pops out. This is one of them - you have never seen a DollHouse like this one, everything from cast to scenery is freshly imagined.

Director Lee Breuer turns Ibsen's mythic feminist anthem on its head by turning the equation of power and scale upside down. The male characters are played by very short actors whose heights range from 40 to 53 inches, and the women by actors almost 6 feet tall. Nothing dramatizes Ibsen's patriarchal point more clearly than the image of these little men dominating and commanding women one and a half times their size. And the women dwarf the tiny set.

This production started in New York some time ago, and returns for its final performances from now to March 8, 2009 after playing thirty cities around the world. With their adaptation of A Doll's House, Obie Award Winners Lee Breuer (Best Direction) and Maude Mitchell (Best Actress) transform Ibsen's bourgeois tragedy into high comedy with a deep bite.

You can sample some of the production in the video below:

Playing at St. Ann’s Warehouse located at 38 Water Streeet in the dumbo section of Brooklyn. Their Box Office (718.254.8779) is open Tues-Sat 1PM-7PM for advance telephone purchases and 1PM-three hours before showtime while performances are running.

St. Ann's Warehouse has a Spring Series offer which provides discounts. Included in this package is the equally unusual Disfarmer, about a reclusive Arkansas portrait photographer whose life is replicated by Bunraku style Japanese puppets. Disfarmer employed subtractive lighting techniques that inused his simple earthy images with charm and retinal delight. His life is portrayed as simply as his work.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

US Senate to the Arts: Screw You

Daughter of the Senator, Sarah Coburn sings Lakme, a tale of forbidden love across cultures. Her fundamentalist daddy thinks this is a waste of taxpayer money.

It seems the arts are still one of the segments of American life that can get beaten up by the ignorati. There are a lot of them, too, including in the U.S. Senate which voted 73-24 to keep any form of culture, arts and entertainment out of the stimulus package.

In a slap to the arts, the Senate approved Amendment 309 whose purpose is "To ensure that taxpayer money is not lost on wasteful and non-stimulative projects." It was submitted by Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a fundamentalist neocon and homophobe. That he got so many to agree with him is disappointing to those of us who make a living in the arts.

Portrait of Pork. Because the arts don't have rich lobbyists to woo them, or cushy jobs to retire to, the Senate looks askance on the arts industry.

Arts America is more than a little surprised at some of the Senators who took this opportunity to bash the 5-6 million hard working taxpayers who make their living through the arts. The spirit of Jesse Helms is alive on Capital Hill. A Yea vote is to trash the arts.

Akaka (D-HI), Nay
Alexander (R-TN), Yea
Barrasso (R-WY), Yea
Baucus (D-MT), Yea
Bayh (D-IN), Yea
Begich (D-AK), Yea
Bennet (D-CO), Yea
Bennett (R-UT), Yea
Bingaman (D-NM), Yea
Bond (R-MO), Yea
Boxer (D-CA), Nay
Brown (D-OH), Yea
Brownback (R-KS), Yea
Bunning (R-KY), Yea
Burr (R-NC), Yea
Burris (D-IL), Nay
Byrd (D-WV), Yea
Cantwell (D-WA), Yea
Cardin (D-MD), Yea
Carper (D-DE), Yea
Casey (D-PA), Yea
Chambliss (R-GA), Yea
Coburn (R-OK), Yea
Cochran (R-MS), Yea
Collins (R-ME), Yea
Conrad (D-ND), Yea
Corker (R-TN), Yea
Cornyn (R-TX), Yea
Crapo (R-ID), Yea
DeMint (R-SC), Yea
Dodd (D-CT), Nay
Dorgan (D-ND), Yea
Durbin (D-IL), Nay
Ensign (R-NV), Yea
Enzi (R-WY), Yea
Feingold (D-WI), Yea
Feinstein (D-CA), Yea
Gillibrand (D-NY), Nay
Graham (R-SC), Yea
Grassley (R-IA), Yea
Gregg (R-NH), Not Voting
Hagan (D-NC), Nay
Harkin (D-IA), Nay
Hatch (R-UT), Yea
Hutchison (R-TX), Yea
Inhofe (R-OK), Yea
Inouye (D-HI), Nay
Isakson (R-GA), Yea
Johanns (R-NE), Yea
Johnson (D-SD), Yea
Kaufman (D-DE), Nay
Kennedy (D-MA), Not Voting
Kerry (D-MA), Nay
Klobuchar (D-MN), Yea
Kohl (D-WI), Yea
Kyl (R-AZ), Yea
Landrieu (D-LA), Nay
Lautenberg (D-NJ), Nay
Leahy (D-VT), Nay
Levin (D-MI), Nay
Lieberman (ID-CT), Nay
Lincoln (D-AR), Yea
Lugar (R-IN), Yea
Martinez (R-FL), Yea
McCain (R-AZ), Yea
McCaskill (D-MO), Yea
McConnell (R-KY), Yea
Menendez (D-NJ), Nay
Merkley (D-OR), Yea
Mikulski (D-MD), Yea
Murkowski (R-AK), Yea
Murray (D-WA), Yea
Nelson (D-FL), Yea
Nelson (D-NE), Yea
Pryor (D-AR), Yea
Reed (D-RI), Nay
Reid (D-NV), Nay
Risch (R-ID), Yea
Roberts (R-KS), Yea
Rockefeller (D-WV), Nay
Sanders (I-VT), Nay
Schumer (D-NY), Yea (A true betrayal)
Sessions (R-AL), Yea
Shaheen (D-NH), Nay
Shelby (R-AL), Yea
Snowe (R-ME), Yea
Specter (R-PA), Yea
Stabenow (D-MI), Yea
Tester (D-MT), Yea
Thune (R-SD), Yea
Udall (D-CO), Yea
Udall (D-NM), Yea
Vitter (R-LA), Yea
Voinovich (R-OH), Yea
Warner (D-VA), Yea
Webb (D-VA), Nay
Whitehouse (D-RI), Nay
Wicker (R-MS), Yea
Wyden (D-OR), Yea

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Shakespeare Conference Held in the Berkshires

The Bernstein Theatre was packed with attendees.

Tina Packer from Shakespeare & Company welcomed more than a hundred members of the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America (STAA) to Lenox for a conference on the theme of "Revolutionary Shakespeare". More than five dozen performing companies were represented, from London's Globe Theatre and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to grass roots efforts such as the Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company and the Boston based Actor's Shakespeare Project. Speaking to father and son team of Ben and David Evett, it was clear that this was far more than a reunion of Bard enthusiasts, but a productive meeting of creative minds intent on keeping Shakespeare vital and alive.
Making Shakespeare inclusive was the theme of one session with panelists Alphonse Keasley, Claudia Alick, Alison Carey, Tara Olney, Philip Sneed, Sherrie Young and Patrick Spottiswoode.

Packer commented that the gathering was more like a party than a family reunion: "There were lots of new and exciting people to meet and draw ideas from." Philip C. Sneed, President of the STAA expressed the concern shared by all: "Many of our theatres have been ravaged by the effects of the global economic meltdown, and some of those here have come close to shutting their doors." Shakespeare, too, suffered huge reverses and obstacles in his time, including his theatre burning down, but like the attendees, he picked up the pieces and struggled on.

"Given this," he continued, "we must address the new economic realities. We need to be revolutionaries in how we confront painful choices in the months and years ahead...that Shakespeare will continue to guide and inspire us to the levels of imagination and creativity we need to survive in tough times."

Marcella Trowbridge (ARTFARM: Shakespeare in the Grove) speaks with Patrick Spottiswoode (Shakespeare's Globe, London)

The sessions covered a wide range of topics. The discussion of building new audiences honed in on a little known phenomenon. Most of the Shakespeare companies have educational programs in the schools. I have always thought of them as force-feeding children a diet of difficult language and developing an appreciation for the Bard. Instead, these innovative companies have found creative ways to make Shakespeare relevant to the youngsters lives, and in the process develop them not only as audiences, but also a reservoir of community actors.
Elizabeth Aspenlieder (Shakespeare & Company) chatted with Ben and David Evett (Actor's Shakespeare Project)

The discussion was led by Dawn McAndrews from the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis, and included Shakespeare & Company's Director of Education Kevin Coleman, Alison Carey from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Tom Evans from the Actor's Shakespeare Project. Most companies reported that when done right, they have to turn children away who want to be part of these programs. In addition, when they finish their learning encounters, they bring their parents and neighbors into the theatre, many of whom return to see full fledged productions. They have discovered that Shakespeare is not so foreign after all.
Listening intently during the Writing Forum are (l to r) Tina Packer (Shakespeare & Company), Philip Sneed (Colorado Shakespeare Festival and President of STAA) and Alison Carey, (Oregon Shakespeare Festival)

Not content with performing only Shakespeare, virtually every company offers works by other writers. A discussion about how Shakespeare was really a historian of his time took this notion to a new and higher level. It was revealed that several companies are actively working on U.S. History Cycle of original plays. Tina Packer explained how Shakespeare's "History Plays" informed the citizens of Elizabethan times while entertaining them, and how new plays can become the "voice of the people" once again.
The subject of building new audiences for Shakespeare was a very popular break-out session.

Packer used the example of her company reading the Declaration of Independence out loud, and how it has since became an annual event, one of the most popular July 4th weekend events in the Berkshires. "We the people is meant to be read aloud, and speaks directly to each of us about how and why we came to be as a nation," she noted, and "so we have undertaken to commission playwrights to go and speak again to the people, and write what they hear."
Box lunches in the Scene Shop gave everyone a chance to meet and mingle.

Participating in this effort are two other companies, with more to come. The Oregon Shakespeare Company's Alison Carey, who led the discussion revealed that up to 37 new plays would be undertaken over the next nine years. Phillip Sneed from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival noted that some $400,000 has been located for this purpose through grants and services from corporations, foundations and the NEA. He noted that these histories would not be purely academic studies but rather provocative works that entertained. 'Sometimes you have to ignore the facts to tell the story," he added with a smile.
Moderator Dawn McAndrews (Shakespeare Festival St. Louis) led a lively discussion on educating children about Shakespeare.)

'I see this as theatre in service to the citizens," Packer noted. "The question we are asking is just what does it mean to be an American these days? It is a question that the people themselves must answer, and we want to give them that voice."
Ron Nichol (Stratford Shakespeare Festival) catches up with Fred Adams, (Utah Shakespeare Festival)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Two minutes of doubletalk with Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz

Jehuda Reinharz, President of Brandeis University

We weren't able to get much in the way of clarification from the Brandeis University administrators about the closing of the Rose Art Museum, but the Boston Globe's resourceful Tracy Jan broke through. To hear excerpts from her interview with university President Jehuda Reinharz, visit this report.

The interview raises more question than it answers since there is a lot of spinning going on. Reminds me of the way all politicians answer questions. Especially after they have consulted their pr hacks.

Abbott: Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know is on third...

Costello: That's what I want to find out.

Abbott: I say Who's on first, What's on second, I Don't Know's on third.

Costello: Are you the manager?

Abbott: Yes.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Former Brandeis Art Student Details History of Rose Art Museum

Image by Larry Murray

Much has been written about Brandeis and the Rose Art Museum, but it takes a former student who has become an artist and critic himself to make it feel like the tragedy it is. In the style of a New Yorker magazine article with many twists and turns, my colleague at Berkshire Fine Arts, Charles Giuliano does more than simply report on the Rose. He details his very personal history with it, with the artists whose works are in it and the people whose generosity has now been betrayed.

It stands not only as a credible report, but also as a very personal remembrance.

"Brandeis Plunders Its Rose Art Museum"
Read it and weep.

Charles as a student.

"It is ironic that in taking this action, Brandeis University, a paradigm of radical liberal education, has set a precedent that may spread to other hard pressed institutions."

Charles Giuliano today.

"Rush and the Rose staff, whose jobs will be terminated at the end of June, are in the midst of editing a catalog of the collection which will go ahead with publication in September. Instead of a celebration and document as originally intended it will serve as a marketing tool for the sale of works When that happens there will be no curators on site to handle the inventory. Brandeis will have to hire scabs for this task."