Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Date with Elizabeth Aspenlieder

With New Year's Eve you get a hangover but with Elizabeth Aspenlieder you get laughs. (All photos by Kevin Sprague.)

(My review of Bad Dates is now available at Berkshire Fine Arts. I recommend it highly.)

The Wall Street Journal called her "One of the funniest actresses on the East Coast," causing her career course to change. As one of the regular company members at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, she spends her summers playing drama and tragedy as well as comedy. But with 2007's Rough Crossing, and this past summer's The Ladies Man, she has honed her gift for making audiences laugh.

Shortly she will assume the identity of Haley Walker, a brassy divorced mom with a teenage daughter, her new starring role in the one-woman tour-de-farce, "Bad Dates."

Aspenlieder makes it feel like Haley is sharing her innermost secrets just with you.

Scheduled for a winter long run from January 9 to March 8, Aspenlieder will have the task of keeping things light and funny during a sometimes dark and dreary season. Written by the immensely gifted Theresa Rebeck, Bad Dates is a sharp-tongued, ironic look at what multi-tasking women have to cope with today.

How do you survive as a single mother and working mom while searching for elusive romance in a devious world? How do you pick shoes to wear from a collection of more than 600? How do you know if you've gone over that invisible line?

It is from the familiarity of these situations that much comedy can be extracted, and watching a recent rehearsal, it is amazing what Haley's daily diary of dilemmas discloses.

Under the firm hand of director Adrianne Krstansky, Haley is always in motion, fussing with her appearance, and fulminating about her latest mishap. Although alone on stage, Haley is constantly monitoring the reaction of her guests. "The audience is having a two way conversation with her the whole time," Krstansky notes, "and is brought into her life in a very personal way."

What David Mamet does for na'er do wells and petty con-men, Rebeck does for the women who date them. "Is sex that much more fun for men than women, that they'd do it with just anyone? That would be one conclusion. The other would be that maybe men don't have enough to think about."

How many pairs of shoes?

You can preview this show by visiting its website and a video blog that Aspenlieder has created for us to enjoy. There is also a "Bad Date Story Contest" in which you are invited to share your horror stories. The first entry is hilarious.

One final note. If you are a Berkshire resident you can get some pretty serious discounts on tickets at Shakespeare & Company, too, many performances are 40% off regular prices. In this case you will pay $21.60 for previews and $28.80 for the rest of the performances.

And here's tip to the guys: if you think this is a show for women, and pass it up, you lose. There is more valuable information about getting dates, and getting, um, results, than you can imagine. Be smart. Go. It will be a good date...for both of you.

Shakespeare Theatre Companies Plan Revolutionary Conference

Revolutionary Shakespeare is the theme

Shakespearians are a sturdy and traditional lot, so the prospect of snow squalls, frosty temperatures and a recalcitrant economy won't deter them from making the trek to Lenox, Massachusetts for the 2009 annual conference of the Shakespeare Theatre Association of America (STAA). Scheduled for January 29 through 31, the Berkshire's resident Shakespeare & Company hosts this prestigious conference in their newly created Performing Arts Center. You can find conference information here.

The theme will be Revolutionary Shakespeare exploring how the Bard was an agent of change then, and now. Upwards of 200 participants are expected, representing the 100+ theatre organizations in the United States, Canada and United Kingdom that make up the STAA. Among the throng will be members of Shakespeare's Globe (Stratford-Upon-Avon, England) and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (Ontario, Canada).

Most sessions will take place in the newly completed Performing Arts Center on campus. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

The avalanche of out-of-town visitors to the Berkshires in the dead of winter is made worthwhile by several days of world class programming. Participants will also have the opportunity to explore local sites, getting a taste for the culture and cuisine that define the Berkshires. Many local places of lodging are offering special rates to STAA conferees, including The Cornell Inn, Cranwell Resort and Spa, Devonfield Inn Bed & Breakfast, Gateways Inn, Hampton Terrace Bed & Breakfast, Harbour House Inn, Inn at Stockbridge, Kemble Inn, Quality Inn, The Red Lion Inn, The Rookwood Inn, Stonover Farm, The Village Inn and Walker House.

The Cranwell Resort is particularly inviting this time of year with skiing nearby.

There may be a recession and economic uncertainty out there, but “just imagine a hundred Shakespeare Companies brainstorming, celebrating, creating national initiatives,” says Founder and Artistic Director Tina Packer. “The work that Shakespeare & Company does in training and education has relevance to all the Shakespeare work in this country," adds Packer as she races to break the record for the longest run-on sentence, (takes breath) "and it is very thrilling to have the opportunity to invite them to participate in what we have spent 30 years developing and pioneering, and to learn what they are doing,  to come together in a two day work-a-thon and a three day conference to understand the relevance Shakespeare has in our community and across the U.S. as a whole.”

Never Dull. Talking about Shakespeare and the Language that Shaped a World. Kevin Sprague photo.

This is the first time Shakespeare & Company will host this annual conference, which is the central purpose of STAA, the professional alliance that provides a forum for the artistic and managerial leadership of theatres focused on producing the work of Shakespeare. Past conferences have been hosted by Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare’s Globe (Stratford-upon-Avon & London, England); Stratford Shakespeare Festival (Ontario, Canada); Folger Shakespeare Theatre (Washington, D.C.), Bard on the Beach (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Ashland, Oregon).

One of Shakespeare and Company's New Rehearsal Studios. Photo by Kevin Sprague.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Equus on Broadway: Pick of the Week

Daniel Radcliffe rides high in Equus. Carol Rosegg photo.

With only about five weeks left in its run, this is the time to think seriously about seeing the brilliant revival of Equus on Broadway. The play by Peter Shaffer hardly needs stars to succeed in pleasing its audiences. But its top roles have been filled by major actors such as Richard Burton playing the role now filled by the remarkable Tony-winner Richard Griffiths.

Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe on Broadway. Carol Rosegg photo.

That Daniel Radcliffe, star of the popular Harry Potter films, so captivated London and Broadway theatre-goers is no surprise. This is not a shallow teen idol filling an opportunistic role, but rather a serious actor proving his mettle. Equus wins our "Pick of the Week" because it is a great psychological inquisition into the character of a young stable boy who blinded horses, and great theatre that will keep your mind actively involved in the evolution of both the boy's pathology, and that of his equally troubled psychiatrist. As if that was not enough, even more is bared in the famous nude scene, in his relationship with his girlfriend, all while the authorities sort out his crime.

According to the UK's Daily Mail, the nude scene with actress Joanna Christie had many parents objecting that someone who plays a boy wizard in films for children should remain innocent. But Radcliffe clearly wanted to get beyond such type casting, and spent months in the gym pumping up his physique so his love scene would not disappoint.

Daniel Radcliffe and Joanna Christie in the London Production

Of course our pick of this show would not be complete without providing a key to some discounts. This one is particularly good, and there are others around. This may prove particularly useful for weekday performances since it is very deeply discounted at $49.50 for rear mezzanine and $66.50 for orchestra and front mezzanine on Tuesday to Thursday evenings. Click here for tickets. Or check one of the ticket brokers that specialize in discounted tickets. Cheapest for fees is to visit one of the TKTS booths run by the Theatre Development Fund. Finally, you can call "Special Promotions" at 212-947-8844 and mention code EQNYT28.

This riveting tale is one whose images will stick in your memory for a long time. The stylized horses, with heads wrought out of steel and whose actors carefully constructed stances and actions makes them real to the audience is a minor miracle of theatrical trickery, aided and abetted by a magnificent cast and brilliant technical support.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Mad Men series from AMC worth renting via Netflix

The series is on rentable DVD's from Netflix and others.

With all the drinking that will be going on this New Year's Eve, it's a perfect time for you to discover Mad Men which is a bit of a cult series that was made for AMC.  I have been catching up with it thanks to Netflix. I would recommend it at your local video store, but places like Blockbuster and Movie Gallery have such paltry selections, you will end up frustrated.

Mad Men is set in the advertising world of the 1960's, full of never-ending cocktail hours, deceit and lies, worry-free smoking, and ego-stroking ladies men.  Women also led one-dimensional lives, their sins leaning towards anorexia and vanity, and they tend to be as duplicitous as the men. Well, mostly. In this series, nobody is immune to the sins of the era. The naieveté of the times is stunning.

Jon Hamm and January Jones were nominated for Golden Globes, as was the series.

For the second year in a row, Mad Men will be competing for Best Television Series (Drama) and Jon Hamm for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series (Drama) at the Golden Globes. January Jones is also nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series (Drama). Last year, both the series and Hamm delivered wins. The 2009 Golden Globe Awards will take place on Sunday, January 11.

The Mad Men

The Mad Women

My Own Advertising Agency Background

I spent those very years as a copywriter, account executive and media buyer in Boston's advertising world - I worked with Arnold and Company, Quinn and Johnson and did freelance work for the infamous BBDO. I was inspired to my radicalism by the shallowness of the culture, and to my former alcoholic excesses...

...which were encouraged by the acceptance of the practice of drinking at lunch, and having a bottle at the ready on the office credenza.

If you are younger, you may view this series (scheduled for a third season this summer) as fiction or an anachronism. But let me tell you, it was as real and disgusting as portrayed.

As for me, by the late 60's I had moved on to the client side as an advertising manager for Sweetheart Plastics where I helped develop the market for disposable cups, plates and utensils in fast food establishments. Somehow I was even named one of America's top ten Packaging Experts by Plastics World magazine. I still have the clipping. And I still feel the shame.

I have been doing my penance ever since.

One more note on the Mad Men series and the Golden Globe Awards. They missed a couple of nominations.

I think both Christina Hendricks and John Slattery should have been nominated for their memorable work as well.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Spirited Holiday to You!

And you...and you...and you...and even you, Mr, Scrooge!

It's that time of year, and whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Festivus, or Whatever, here's wishing you all the best of the season!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Fragmented Orchestra - John Cage Redux

The Fragmented Orchestra's "neurons"

When you can't compose or play music, this is what you do. You let serendipity do the work for you. Composer John Cage was among the first to do this, and his results still set a high standard of nonsense for others to emulate, follow and perhaps even top.

The Fragmented Orchestra is such an effort. Jane Grant, John Matthias and Nick Ryan have modeled this project on the neurons in the human brain. Of course the brain can make millions of connections and is organized in an incredibly complex way. So the first task of the creators was to dumb down the human brain's functions to that of a gnat, or something even simpler. They have selected 24 sites scattered across the UK and connected them together in an ersatz "neural network". They then capture sonic information at each individual site and use the internet to make the other sites "fire". There is a video demonstration of this on You Tube.

Serious art or satire....that is the question. You can decide by visiting their site and playing with it for a while. You can add and delete sites and put together your own compositions.

Having both watched the video presentation and mucked around their website, I say it is a pompous bore. Your opinion may differ. These kind of random artistic experiments are becoming rather commonplace. Recently, right here in rural Western Massachusetts we had another, consisting of various lamps that flashed off and on in interconnected galleries.

"Lumens" used borrowed lamps from residents of the Berkshires.

Called Lumens, it was an installation by artists Ven Voisey, Sean Riley, and Matthew Belanger of Greylock Arts which is discussed here and also here.

The concept was to (re)connect North Adams and Adams. It was housed in two galleries, Greylock Arts in Adams, and the MCLA Gallery 51 Annex in North Adams. Excuse me while I yawn. In the end It held my interest for about six seconds. I guess I just don't get it. It was about as exciting as listening to my Rice Crispies, or that old cliché, watching paint dry. This sort of art is what I call theoretical art. It is more interesting to talk about as a concept than to see.

In the end, Turbulence, the site that records and documents this work is far more interesting than the work itself.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Hairspray closes January 4, 2009

Just a few days left to see this award winning musical with Harvey Fierstein in its full Broadway glory at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street. Lots of half price tickets around too. Check out the TKTS booth.

Broadway welcomes tourists from Ohio with free tickets

Larry says: "go see it!"

After Nancy Coyne hurled her disdain at "tourists from Cleveland" (see previous blog entry) the blockbuster show Chicago the Musical responded. They are not a show that is handled by Coyne's ad agency, so perhaps they were more sensitive to the hurt her remark engendered. They announced that "Chicago Loves Cleveland" and have offered free tickets to the musical to those from Ohio - see details below.

Because of the speed and generosity of the response, we are declaring Chicago our Show of the Week! You don't even have to be from Ohio to find a great ticket deal on it. But first a little about why this is indeed a terrific show to see.

Brenda Braxton has rejoined the cast!

It is one fast paced musical with great songs by tunesmiths John Kander and Fred Ebb, based on the original play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, co-authored and directed by the late Bob Fosse. The choreography is by Ann Reinking and John Lee Beatty did the sets.

It boasts a great cast, which includes the return of Brenda Braxton as Velma, the gorgeous Charlotte d'Amboise as Roxie, Tom Hewitt as Billy Flynn, and Lavon Fisher-Wilson as Matron "Mama" Morton. You can see and hear them in action with the widget just below:

Our Show of the Week!

Ticket Deals

1. Free Tickets for Ohioans.

During the month of January, you can go to the Ambassador Theatre (219 West 49th Street) box office window on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, show a government issued photo ID proving you live in Ohio, and you will get in free that night. Of course, there are a limited number of seats, but how can you beat such a deal.

2. Listen to Cleveland Radio.

Nancy Coyne who started this brouhaha represents 24 Broadway shows, will reportedly be giving away tickets in January and February on Cleveland Radio. I am searching for more details.

3. For Everyone Else, including New Yorkers.

Chicago is running a promotion in which you receive one free ticket with every three you purchase. In addition you will receive a free CD of the show. The promotion code to use is CHDR08. This is limited to sales from now until December 31, 2008 but is valid on most performances through March 20, 2009. Some blackout dates apply. You can take advantage of this at the Ambassador box office (no service charges) or by calling or visiting Telecharge at 212-239-6200 (service charges apply.)

Nancy Coyne to Broadway tourists: "We hate you"

Advertising big shot Nancy Coyne hates tourists from Cleveland.

Oh my. I guess we all put our foot in our mouth once in a while, but Nancy Coyne - as in Serino Coyne Advertising - is going to have to live with her gaffe for some time to come. Her agency is Broadway's biggest, and generally spends 10% of any show's receipts on the ads that promote it. For most Broadway shows, that means $100,000 a week. Not exactly chump change.

So here is what happened. Coyne is a well liked personality in the Broadway community, and often asked, "How's business?" That's exactly what the New York Times did a few days ago, and here is what she replied:

“The last 15 years have been boom years for theater — I always expected the pendulum to swing, and I simply see this as a correction,” said Nancy Coyne, chairwoman of the theater advertising agency Serino Coyne. “The good news is that so many straight plays are now coming in the spring, and I think New Yorkers will come out for them once the tourists go away. We’re horrible snobs. We hate tourists from Cleveland.”

Of course, we think people from Ohio are a whole lot nicer and friendlier than most. In fact, most are a living Chamber of Commerce for the Buckeye state. And don't try to portray the state as a backwater. Just ask any theater that is part of the Cleveland Theater Collective what's going on in the state. There's plenty to choose from.

You know, Nancy, they don't have to go to New York to see great theatre. Just be glad they do!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kids Can See A Christmas Carol Free at Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, MA

A large cast makes A Christmas Carol at the Berkshire Theatre Festival a delight to watch. Kevin Sprague Photo.

Closer to home, the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, MA just announced that they are matching the Disney "Kids Go Free" program with their own promotion for A Christmas Carol.

Charles Dickens' classic tale has never been more vibrant or more joyous than in this year's incarnation at the Unicorn Theatre. And, from now through December 22 you can receive a Free children's ticket for each adult ticket purchased. This means that youngsters can see this annual holiday event for free!

This offer is only available by calling the Berkshire Theatre Festical ticket office at (413) 298-5536 ext 33. Do call ASAP as these tickets are limited. BTF's Unicorn Theatre only has about a hundred seats and everyone is close to the stage. What a great way to see this production up close and personal.

The ghost of Christmas Future at the Berkshire Theatre Festival. Kevin Sprague Photo.

This glorious production runs through December 30, but the offer is only for shows between now and the 22nd.

Updated NYC Ticket News - Discounts for Broadway, Radio City and Disney

Even the Spectacular Radio City Christmas Show is discounting!

The big, expensive New York City shows have all taken a hit with the downturn in the economy, and it is almost as if Broadway is having a clearance sale.

Certainly a number of blockbuster shows - like Hairspray, Gypsy, Grease and Young Frankenstein - have gone discount crazy. Disney too has reacted to the economic times with wisdom and what amounts to a huge price cut for its tickets to their three Broadway shows. Scroll down to check out our story on discounted Broadway tickets in New York, and across the USA which we compiled last weekend.

The Fabulous Disney Promotion

Disney has a "Kids Go Free" promotion which yields one free ticket for a child with each adult ticket you buy. First announced several weeks ago - see our earlier blog entries - it has just been extended for the second time, and this promotion is effective on until the day before Christmas for performances that take place early in 2009. It applies to “The Lion King,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Little Mermaid.”

Now there are a couple of important details. First, the window for buying the tickets is very short. During that period, ticket buyers can receive one free child’s admission (18 and under) with each purchase of a full-priced but this is just for performances between January 6 and March 13. Some dates blocked out, including what is school vacation week. To get these tickets, just go to this special Disney website which has been set up for this promotion.

Last week there were plenty of half price tickets for Mary Poppins and The Little Mermaid at ticket agents and TKTS.

Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular has a 40% Off promotion!

The annual outing of the RCMH holiday show is a wonderful and nostalgic treat for adults and children, and there are significant discounts available - as much as 40% - for the remaining shows through the end of December. All you need is the discount code which is DECNYT. You can call the Ticketmaster Christmas Hotline at 212-307-1000 and get a discount using this code. If you prefer to do this on line use this link.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Discounted Theatre Tickets Plentiful From Broadway to the Boonies

Sometimes you just have to get in line, but more discounts are being offered on the internet.

It's happening all across America, tickets for theatre, music and dance are being discounted more heavily than ever before. If you are in the hinterlands, you may be able to find deals as well. Our survey indicates a growing number of half price and discounted ticket operations springing up everywhere.

If you want to get away, travel to the big cities is being discounted as well, Amtrak just finished its holiday promotion, and Greyhound has just began theirs. The airlines are beginning deep discounting again what with a recession and oil prices dropping like a rock.

The biggest destination of all is New York City, but further down in this blog you will find details on Atlanta, Austin, Boston, the Berkshires, Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, Los angeles, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, DC. If we have missed one, let us know through the comments sections.

Half Price Tickets in New York City

TKTS during its recent construction in Manhattan

I have written before about TKTS, run by the Theatre Development Fund, but I have only mentioned their Times Square location. There are two others as well - in South Street Seaport on the lower East Side and in Downtown Brooklyn in the MetroTech Center. 

The TKTS ticket booths offer same-day discount tickets to Broadway shows, Off-Broadway, and other arts events at up to 50% off their original prices. There is no way of finding out which shows are featured day to day, or even minute to minute, since additional tickets often arrive as show time approaches. The theatres are mostly close by, so if the box office manager thinks the show will be left with unsold seats, TKTS may be called and a messenger dispatched to pick them up.

If ticket lines and seating roulette is not your idea of fun, there is a wonderful site you can visit that enables you to buy show tickets ahead of time, and at deep, deep discounts. You can even choose the seats, though it is always from whatever inventory remains at the time you buy.

This arrangement works best for those who make frequent trips to New York and don't mind paying a membership fee. New York Tix

My personal choices are August: Osage County from the incredible Steppenwolf company - a resident Chicago company, and Slava's Snowshow, a holiday pick. Among the musicals, there is Young Frankenstein, Hairspray and Gypsy. Timing is important since many of these shows will close shortly after Christmas.

Here's some great news for parents! The Disney "Kids Free" promotion which I detailed in an earlier Arts America blog entry has just been extended until December 23. I will work up a new blog entry on that tomorrow.

The basic rule of thumb for buying tickets to live performances is that the earlier you act, the better your seats. On the other hand, if you wait, you can often get the remaining seats at bargain prices.

Here too are some links to shows doing various other promotions.

The Blue Man Group - Use code NYTTW and call 1-800-blueman or go to this page.

Gypsy with Patti LuPone until January 18 - half price which means only $59.50 orchestra and $27 balcony - Use code GYNYT54 at 212-947-8844 or go to this site.

And if you are 40 or under, you can get tickets for events at Carnegie Hall for $20 with a "57 and 7" Membership. Details are here.

Even the super expensive Metropolitan Opera has instituted a $25 Weekend Ticket program which is more like a lottery than a sale, but worth the effort. You could end up with $250 seats at that bargain price. The incredible Met Lottery Deal Each week's entries begin on Mondays at 10:00 am ET.

Never, ever, trust scalpers!

Now on to the other cities.

Half Price Tickets in Atlanta, GA

There are plenty of same day half price tickets in Atlanta, and two places you can get them - the Underground Atlanta Vistitor's Center and Lenox Square Guest Services. You can also buy them online and in advance.

Atlanta's Metro makes it easy to get around too. However, if the word "Peachtree" is in the address, be sure to note exactly which Peachtree, since it seems about half of Atlanta's addresses use the word. There's a world of difference between Peachtree Street, Avenue, Place, Way etc.

Atlanta Performs website

Half Price Tickets in Austin, TX

Austin's Paramount and State Theatres

Austin continues to be an up and coming Texas city with a growing arts community. Certainly there is nothing shabby or second rate about their music scene. But theatre is growing too. Covering most of Central Texas, the Austin Circle of Theatres has established their own full price and discounted ticket venue on line, AusTIX.

Visit Austin, Texas

Half Price Tickets in Berkshires, MA

There are four half price ticket buying locations in the Berkshires

Even in our lightly populated Berkshires, there is so much going on that we have developed three half-price ticketing operations which have offerings ranging from Tanglewood, Jacob's Pillow and Barrington Stage Company to Shakespeare and Company and the Berkshire and Williamstown Theatre Festivals.. The four locations are in Pittsfield, Great Barrington, Adams and Chatham, NY.

This past summer I detailed its operation and hours for Berkshire Fine Arts. You can read it here: Half Price Tickets in the Berkshires article

Half Price Tickets in Boston, MA

The biggest provider of half-price and other discounted tickets in Massachusetts is ARTS/Boston which is still going strong several decades after I helped create this umbrella organizaion. They have two BOSTIX booths with day of performance half-price tickets. Their half price kiosks are located in Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Copley Square. There are also advance on-line discount tickets, and you can find all the details on their website. Bostix has more than 160 participating arts organizations and theatres.

The ARTS Boston website

Half Price Tickets in Chicago, IL

The Hot TIX booth.

In the Windy City it is the Leaague of Chicago Theatres that runs the Hot Tix booth. With more than 190 member theatres, the Hot Tix booth lists discount tickets on line. You can find a link from their home page.

There are two ticket booth locations, 72 E. Randolph and 163 E. Pearson in the Water Works Visitor Center.

League of Chicago Theatres website

Half Price Tickets in Houston, TX

Houston's Hobby Center is designed for musical comedies.

There is a mailing list you can get on, and sporadic online discounts to performances in the Houston area. Not much more. Sad, especially considering the great performing arts groups that are located there. I guess they still believe theatre is only for the elite and well to do, and that the masses can get their music and theatre in church.

Houston Theatre District

Half Price Tickets in Las Vegas, NV

Tix 4 Tonight has grown to six handy locations in Las Vegas.

Tix 4 Tonight is the key to Las Vegas, with six locations, at Fashion Show Mall, Hawaiian Marketplace, Downtown, North Strip, Showcase Mall and Bill's Casino. You have to visit them in person to take advantage of their low prices. However, you can preview many of their attractions on their website.

Even some of the expensive Cirque du Soleil shows have been offered there. They have lots of discounts for other things like golf and restaurants, too.

Tix 4 Tonight website

Half Price Tickets in Los Angeles, CA

The glory of a bygone era.

Los Angeles has always been more of a film town than a stage town, and the rotting corpses of its glorious old theatres is a scandal and a crime against culture. In one section of downtown LA there are more than a dozen magnificent film houses, many of which are suitable for live performances. A new campaign has been mounted to preserve some of them, perhaps to even begin showing films in them again, though it seems a distant dream.

As the film industry seems destined to decline as did vaudeville, radio and legit, the odds seem to be turning. Las Angeles has a growing number of performing arts organizations and as their roots grow deeper, they are beginning to attract larger audiences. Many film actors are taking to the stage in a reversal of trends. We can hope this continues, and the public increasing rejects the superficial commercial-laden offerings of the bloated tv and cable networks. There is something to be said for performances that provoke and enlighten, rather than deaden and treat human beings like idiots.

The LA Stage Alliance has a number of discount programs where you can get helf price and discounted tickets. You can even search by date on their website, a wonderful feature. Their list of offerings is incredible.In fact, I think the marketing seen here is the finest in the country, a model for other cities.

The Los Angeles Stage Alliance website

Half Price Tickets in New Orleans, LA

Tickets are in ample supply

When I spent time there, culture in New Orleans was always more rooted in the Mardi Gras than the performing arts. My but how times have changed. Notwithstanding the devastation of Katrina, music, theatre and dance is very much alive here.

The Arts Council of New Orleans has a great online email ticket offer program called NOLA FunSavers, and has already offered everything from The Nutcracker to Puccini's Il Trittico. You can learn more on their website.

Arts Council of New Orleans

Half Price Tickets in Philadelphia, PA

They have a different way of discounting in Philadephia where the Cultural Alliance has an email program called FunSavers which offers discount tickets in advance. More a political organization than a marketing arm for the arts organizations, it is a start.

You can find out more about it at Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

Half Price Tickets in Pittsburgh, PA

The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council has a small mailing list which receives half price ticket offers. They once had a ticket booth, a drive-in one at that! - but the politics of Allegheny Country doomed it to failure, and even the mail order program is a emaciated ghost of what it could be.

You can get information on it here:

Half Price Tickets in San Diego, CA

San Diego's ARTS Tix

In Southern California it is the San Diego Performing Arts League that runs their ARTS TIX operation. The creation of the League and its former director, Alan Ziter, it took many years for it to establish itself, but it has become a major benefit to area arts organizations.

Once just a shared box office, there are two ticket booths, one downtown near the Horton Center and one in Escondido.

Go to the San Diego Performing Arts League website

Half Price Tickets in San Francisco, CA

The Union Square Ticket Booth in San Francisco has become a landmark.

Tix Bay Area is located in San Francisco's Union Square and offers plentiful discounted tickets, usually at half price.

Theatre Bay Area, which runs the booth, has more than 365 member organizations spread over 11 San Francisco area counties.

Link to the Theatre Bay Area website

Half Price Tickets in Washington, DC

The Ticketplace Booth in Washington, D.C.

The Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington runs Ticket Place, which is located at 407 7th Street NW. They offer both day of and advance discount tickets.

Ticketplace and the Cultural Alliance

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dish Network vs. Subscribers: Dish plays rough

UPDATE: After three days of corporate warfare, it appears the the DISH Network and Young Broadcasting have decided a cease fire was in order, and the eleven stations removed from the DISH lineup have been put back in service.

However for many of us subscribers, a very bad odor remains behind. DISH is unlikely to recover the high opinion some of us once held of them. Watching them act like big bullies to weaker business partners made me uncomfortable. Indeed their excessively brutal business methods shattered their carefully cultivated PR image.

Getting myself involved with DISH was a dumb idea.

The announcement on the WTEN Channel 6 slot on my tuner has something new: Dish Network is continuing to tell one side of the story, trashing WTEN in the process, and asking the Dish subscribers to call a couple of their advertisers and let them know they are unhappy with the station. Dear god, has Dish no scruples? This is more like a battle between the Mafia gangs than a negotiation. What other reason would be to recruit Dish viewers into the nasty game and ask them to call the station's advertisers.

Dish goes further by publishing the phone number of the station manager of WTEN asking their subscribers to harass her with phonecalls while they keep the DISH CEO number well hidden. What a bunch of nasty people.

In any case, shortly after Dish pulled the station off the lineup, and began hurling half truths around in place of the programming, I went to work digging for the other side of the story. And that is in my earlier blog, just below this one in my Arts America lineup. I refuse to deal with half a picture, I wanted all of it.

After coming up with the real issue - less than a penny a day royalty fee to WTEN for each area DISH customer, I wrote DISH and stated my position. Here is that email as I wrote it:

Dear Dish Customer Service:

Just a note that if you drop WTEN  coverage I will leave DISH network. It is the only  station that does a good job on the Northern Berkshires weather and news.

Frankly I would prefer a Massachusetts station, but I doubt you would even consider that - it is too logical.

If  they want a penny a day (you charge  23 cents a day for four local Albany stations) pay them. God knows, with all the noisome commercials you guys  should be paying me to endure them in any case.

This is not an idle threat. I have my Verizon deal with Direct TV sitting in front of me, and I will save money in the long run.

Stop being so greedy. Even if you paid each of the Albany stations a penny a day, you would still be keeping 75% of the amount I pay you. You are not playing fair.

(signed by me)

I waited several days to see if they disputed what I had written, and how they were handling customer feedback. This is the email I just received in response, and it is mostly boilerplate until you get to the last paragraph and they start pushing the disconnection issue.

In my note above you can see I made a conditional statement: "Just a note that if you drop WTEN coverage I will leave DISH network." Their response seems to indicate that they have decided to do just that, but are doing as much damage as possible to WTEN before pulling the plug.

What kind of people have I been giving my business to over the past couple of years? Certainly not very decent ones. If this is their idea of negotiating, no wonder they have such a poor reputation. Imagine, they were once tops in customer service, but not lately. You can see why in this reply to me, which I reprint complete and unedited:

Dear DISH Network Customers,

Effective December 10, 2008, DISH Network’s contract with your ABC affiliate, WTEN, expired and has not been renewed due to the unreasonable contract terms from WTEN’s ownership, Young Broadcasting, Inc. DISH Network has offered WTEN a fair and reasonable increase which it has refused. In the last few years, DISH Network has negotiated for retransmission consent with nearly 1,000 other local TV stations and has reached a fair agreement with all of them. DISH Network will continue to work toward an agreement to restore your ABC programming as soon as possible.
DISH Network remains committed to providing the best programming at the lowest price. The fees DISH Network pays for programming directly impact the price our customers pay, and we are unwilling to subject you to increased costs resulting from excessive and unnecessary license fee demands.

We apologize for any inconvenience and will continue to make every effort to reach an agreement with WTEN. In the meantime, we encourage you to visit www.ABC.com to watch full-length episodes of your favorite shows.

We encourage you to contact WTEN’s General Manager directly and let her know what you think:
·    WTEN General Manager Rene La Spina: 518-433-4290.

For security reasons, we cannot disconnect account via email. However, we have forwarded your request to our disconnection department. A representative will contact you shortly to confirm your disconnection. You also have the option to call 1-800-333-3474 to disconnect through a customer service representative, who will go over disconnection options and final disclosures with you.

Your business is greatly appreciated and we thank you for allowing us to be of assistance to you.  If you have any further questions or concerns, please refer to (link) or reply to this email. 

DISH Network E-Care

I didn't ask to be disconnected, just stated it would be a consequence of their dropping WTEN. Not only did they not answer any of my concerns, but it appears they just want me gone. But it would not be smart of me to be too hasty. There is the fine print in the contract between Dish and me. (They gave very good lawyers, I will give them that!)

Of course, there are some things they have not yet told me. If I cancel, there is no refund for the unused portion of the prepaid service as per their contract. And clearly by telling me to go online to watch ABC there is no concern that they have eliminated an entire network but are still collecting full freight for my subscription.

And to think I once recommended DISH to some neighbors. No more.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dish Network Shuts off Local Stations in Eleven Markets

Here's the dish on the Dish blackout.

Yesterday, Dish customers in the following cities each lost one of their local stations. Here is the list.

Albany, N.Y (ABC affiliate)
Davenport, Iowa (NBC affiliate)
Green Bay, Wis (CBS affiliate)
Knoxville, Tenn (ABC affiliate)
Lafayette, La. (CBS affiliate)
Lansing, Mich (CBS affiliate)
Nashville, Tenn (ABC affiliate)
Rapid City, S.D. (CBS affiliate)
Richmond, Va. (ABC affiliate)
San Francisco (My Network)
Sioux Falls SD (CBS affiliate)

Of course, the Dish flacks are trying to play this as a David vs. Goliath contest, but they are the big bullies on the block. Trying to make sense of the Dish propaganda loop that has replaced the station (in my case WTEN in Albany) is futile. It's all pretend apologies, no real explanation and double talk. Michael McKenna, the robotic "Director of Programming" who delivers this spiel is about as interesting and enlightening as a box of dirt, and as convincing as Sarah Palin. Watch him closely as he says he is "sorry for any inconvenience" this is causing. If there was ever a blander, less sincere apology, it would have to be the greedy Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life." He might as well be commenting on the weather.

All this smoke and mirrors as to what is really going on just makes me crazy. I don't buy their lawyerly non-statements.

You see, The Young Networks which owns the eleven stations in question is asking Dish to pay them (as they pay all their programming sources) an outrageous penny per customer per day for their channels. Considering that the rapacious owners of Dish Network charge their customers, like me, $5.99 a month for the local programming, all seven of the local stations I receive might cost them something like $2.00 a month, so they get to keep the balance of four dollars or so.

And while the negotiations were going on, Young offered Dish to continue broadcasting, but Dish is responsible for the decision to pull the plug, probably as a negotiating gambit, we subscribers be damned.

That is sheer gall and greed, don't you think?

Dish officials claim that Young is asking for "unreasonable" compensation to carry its local channels. By law, a TV provider can not carry a local station without its permission, which has led to numerous disputes between providers and the stations over the last few years.

But here is what WTEN says in response:

WTEN-TV offered a short extension of the contract to allow more time to reach a new agreement with DISH Network. The extension was not accepted by DISH Network. For the past several months our company has attempted to reach a new agreement with DISH Network. Unfortunately, DISH Network has elected not to accept our proposal.

We know that it is important to keep you informed, and therefore, we want you to know the FACTS:

• DISH Network charges you a fee for WTEN-TV. We believe DISH Network should be willing to pay a small, but fair, portion of the fees you pay to DISH Network for the program content we provide to you.
• The fair compensation that we are asking for as part of our contract with DISH Network is about a penny per day per subscriber. We believe that a penny per day per subscriber is a reasonable demand for our award winning news, sports and entertainment programming. It is considerably less than the amount paid by DISH Network to less popular satellite/cable networks.
• DISH Network will likely contend that the increase we are asking in its fee is unreasonable. It is not. We have provided DISH Network with our signal at a very modest rate compared to what DISH Network pays other program services that are less popular.
• We are trying to prevent DISH Network from discriminating against our station.

The Dish Network appears to take their customers for granted, and so instead of explaining the current battle with Young Broadcasting simply, and trusting us with the straight facts, they distort and obfuscate their words in order to either confuse or mislead their paying subscribers. They have succeeded in making me totally mistrust their intentions. Trying to research news reports on this it seems that Dish almost always has "no comment". These are not the actions of a credible operation, but the tactics all to typical of those who want to hide the truth from the public.

So despite all of Dish's protestations, what all of this comes down to is a penny a day per station per subscriber. I suppose Dish expects to pay next to nothing for their programming - which already contains excessive commercials and promotions. I would love if we actually paid something close to what they do plus say a ten percent profit - but no, they turn around and charge us $50-100 a month for the programming they buy at bargain rates.

They keep these sorts of details hush-hush. If you knew what the real numbers were, you would think twice about the fees you pay Dish in turn. There is a reason the owner is a billionaire.

Charlie Ergen wants even more billions and you are going to pay!

And so I have lost the ability to see any ABC programming at all on my Dish setup, Is there analternative? Nope. Tough noogies. There's even a clause in the subscriber's contract that says they can add and delete stations without having to refund a penny. Typical.

Of course, founder and top greedster Charlie Ergen has not considered the customers - who are just pawns in this battle - at all. So there's no ABC, and of course, never a refund without chasing them for it. Good god, give subscribers a rebate automatically? From Dish Network? Get Real! You have to call and end up talking to someone halfway around the world.

One alternative that could be less expensive.

Yes there is Direct TV and with the Verizon offer in front of me, it is looking pretty tempting. Better yet, I may be able to quit commercial cable/satellite completely and just watch everything on the computer.

We are almost there from a technology viewpoint, and there are far less intrusive commercials.

Dish Network reminds me of used car salesmen, who use high pressure tactics. Used car dealers have the worst commercials on television, substituting volume and silliness for logic or a unique selling proposition. Like the stupid promotion Dish created in which a make believe Bill Clinton gave the sales pitch. Utterly tasteless and ineffective. But typical of ads that the inexperienced yokels at Dish might dream up when nobody with expertise is around to do the job. God, do they need a gay person or somebody under 30 on their staff to show them what creativity really is.

That is why their marketing and promotion is as ham handed as their mishandling of the current mess.

Then again, what else could you expect from someone who is one of Americas richest, with a net worth of $7.5 Billion and counting. Perhaps he did not get enough with Bush's tax cuts, and wants to nickel and dime everyone who helped make him rich.

So what to do. Cancel? It would take a lot of cancellations to get their attention. When people leave a content provider like Dish, they find others to replace them. call it "churn". With so few consumer choices, you end up on Dish, Direct TV or at someone like Time Warner.

Choice? Really. Choice? There is no real choice here. Which three card monte dealer do you want to play with. It's all rigged.

With television viewership continuing to decline, we may eventually find the "big three" cable, satellite and broadcast all in trouble, as the customers begin to leave in ever increasing numbers. A decade down the road, they will be like Detroit, hat in hand, looking for yet another handout in Washington. They've had plenty to date, thanks to their lobbyists which managed to get them out from under the regulation of the state and local governments. they are pretty much free to operate as they wish.

Dish has developed a particularly bad case of hubris, and it is getting worse.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Carole Feuerman's Shattered Serena Stumps Sleuths

"The Survival of Serena" was insured, but payment is not assured.

Creating a sculpture like the hyper-realistic The Survival of Serena is a monumental undertaking. Shipped on Continental Airlines to Florida from Italy (the last leg inexplicably by truck) it was destined for the Art Miami exhibition. So it had to be a heart-stopping moment when the packing crate was opened by the shipping agent, and the sculpture, now in pieces, spilled out onto the warehouse floor. Serena was the most famous work yet by Carole Feuerman, America's reigning master of super-realism, and was utterly, completely destroyed and nobody seems to know how, why, when or where. From all appearances, there is a lot of stonewalling going on.

And in the confusing world of insurance, nothing is ever as it seems. An artist insures a piece against damage, and their freight company packs against it as well. And this was no delicate construct - it was wrought from fiberglass impregnated with industrial resins - and had already survived weeks of outdoor display in China, then shipped halfway around the world to Venice for another public airing. How could such a sturdy well-packed artwork come to such a horrible end?

The artist lavished great attention on Serena.

I asked Feuerman about her thoughts on the tragedy.

"As far as packing – It returned in a crate that looked broken and repaired. I can only speculate that Continental Airlines broke the crate and rebuilt it with very thin white wood. The wood was thinner and the piece was not structurally held in place inside the crate. The pieces of the sculpture were scattered and not wrapped and looked like someone broke the crate and rebuilt it improperly. The crate and the sculpture were definitely tampered with. The piece was shattered and in many pieces."

Unfortunately, it is going to take a detective to try to figure out what really happened, since it appears that the culprits did their damage, and then hid it by remaking the crate. From a legal standpoint, that makes it "concealed damage" and gives the insurers and airline a great line of defense.

To understand the issue, here is a quote for an analysis offered by Betsy Dorfman from Fine Art Shipping:

"In the case of the Feuerman sculpture there appears to have been no obvious damage to the exterior of the crate. Upon opening the crate however the sculpture was found to be destroyed beyond repair. In shipping terms this situation is called “concealed damage”. Many types of insurance carry a disclaimer or waiver for concealed damage where the goods have been packed by the shipper and are uninspected by the carrier or insuring agent. If the airline had provided insurance, it likely carried such a waiver and so would not respond to a claim under these circumstances."

It is worth reading Betsy's full explanation, it is a caution to all artists who tend to leave these details to others.

"My sculpture arrived from Italy to the Miami Airport on Continental airlines last week. The shipment originated in New York 2 years ago and has been prominently exhibited in 3 continents. It won this year’s Beijing Biennale and was prominently exhibited in front of the National Museum of China. In 2006 it was exhibited in the Venice Biennale, one of the most prestigious fairs in the world. This year it was scheduled to be exhibited in the front of Art Miami/ Basal fair where more than 50,000 art lovers would have seen it.

It originated in China for the Biennale and was sent to Florence, Italy. The shipper in Florence then sent it on Continental to Miami for the fair. The Jim Kempner gallery from New York City was going to show it prominently outside the fair. It is a monumental twelve foot sculpture that has won awards on three continents and was very valuable. It arrived smashed. Unfortunately, this $350,000 sculpture was insured for only a third of what it was worth. Mr. Malinowski, the customs broker who went to Continental to get the crate into the country feels that there was gross negligence on the part of Continental airlines and that the piece had to have been dropped twelve feet off the plane to be in the condition that it was found in. The airline was uncooperative with him and the authorities had to be called. I am wondering if a folk-lift truck rammed into it, and they repaired it. " - Carole Feuerman

The artist produced three Serenas.

The saddest part of this debacle is, as Feuerman put it: "The airlines, and the Italian shipper are trying to get out of any responsibility to this matter." Stay tuned.

Ultimately the artist might repurpose the damaged pieces. She titled this work "Bubbles III"

Connections: Carole has her own website and is represented by Jim Kempner Fine Art. Both websites show the astounding array of works this wonder artist has created to date.