Monday, December 21, 2009

NEA Awards Grants to Six Berkshire Cultural Organizations

The grants were announced by new NEA chair, Rocco Landesman.

Both the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) have completed a new round of funding. The NEA has selected six organizations in the Berkshires, while the NEH looked, but came up empty.

As might be expected, large, well known Berkshire based organizations like Tanglewood, Jacob's Pillow and The Clark Art Institute were among those blessed, and so was the feisty Barrington Stage Company - for its Musical Theatre Lab project. It runs each summer under the watchful eye of composer William Finn (he of Spelling Bee fame).

But two smaller, literary organizations were also selected, the Orion Society based in Great Barrington, and the Tupelo Press, recently arrived in North Adams and headquartered at the Eclipse Mill. While the Berkshires have long been home to visual and performing artists, the tradition of literary lights living here is also well established, going back to Herman Melville whose home in Pittsfield was named Arrowhead and Nathaniel Hawthorne who had a small cottage in Lenox.

The NEA grants were made under the Access to Artistic Excellence program and chosen from more than 1,600 applications. Access grants "support the creation and presentation of work in the disciplines of dance, design, folk and traditional arts, literature, media arts, museums, music, musical theater, opera, presenting, theater, and visual arts."

Here is a summary of the six grants made in the Berkshires:

The workshopped Calvin Berger is typical of the Musical Theatre Lab's best work. Top left to right - Michael Perreca (Other Stages Producer), Justin Paul (Musical Director) and Stephen Terrell (Director and Choreographer); Bottom row l-r: The Cast of Calvin Berger - Aaron Tveit, Elizabeth Lundberg, David Perlman and Gillian Goldberg. Photo by Charlie Siedenburg.

Barrington Stage Company Inc.
Pittsfield, MA. 
 CATEGORY: Access to Artistic Excellence   FIELD/DISCIPLINE: Musical Theater
. To support the Musical Theatre Lab. The program provides emerging composers, lyricists, and book writers the opportunity to develop new works of musical theater in a supportive environment with an experienced management team.

In talking to Artistic Director Julianne Boyd about the Musical Theatre Lab, she noted that quite a few musicals and performers got their start there. The 2007 musical Burnt Part Boys gets produced in New York this Spring. And in Summer 2010, Nikos Tsakalakos and Janet Allard musical Pool Boy (first workshopped by BSC last summer) will get a fully staged production.

Earlier, the musical workshop of Calvin Berger brought Aaron Tveit to the public's attention, and he "got his equity card through that show," she noted. Tveit has since gone on to become much in demand in American musical theatre, being featured in Next to Normal which went from Arena Stage to Broadway, and assuming the Leonardo DiCaprio role in the new musical Catch Me If You Can which is in preparation for Broadway.

Each summer, the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket becomes the world's center of contemporary dance.

Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, Inc., 
Becket, MA. 
CATEGORY: Access to Artistic Excellence   FIELD/DISCIPLINE: Dance
. To support residencies and performances of dance companies. The project will include a Creative Development Residency, presentation of national and international dance companies, and audience engagement and educational programs.

The BSO's Contemporary Music program takes place at Tanglewood in Lenox/Stockbridge. Ozawa Hall is the concert hall used for these concerts, and it too opens to their glorious lawn.

Boston Symphony Orchestra, Inc. (on behalf of Tanglewood Music Center)
 Boston, MA. 
 CATEGORY: Access to Artistic Excellence.   FIELD/DISCIPLINE: Music. 
To support the Festival of Contemporary Music at the Tanglewood Music Center. The 70th anniversary festival will honor the resident composers who have led composition activities for the festival over the past seven decades.

Orion Magazine is at the junction of art, science, politics and the environment. It serves as an intellectual, spiritual and discussion center for the conservation movement.

Orion Society
, Great Barrington, MA. 
CATEGORY: Access to Artistic Excellence   FIELD/DISCIPLINE: Literature. 
To support feature-length pieces of literary prose in Orion magazine. A bi-monthly literary and visual arts journal devoted to exploring the relationship between people and the natural world, the magazine currently has 20,000 subscribers.

The Clark Art Institute may be battling over expansion with their NIMBY neighbors in Williamstown, but its role as the steward for the world's greatest art has never been challenged.

Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute, 
Williamstown, MA. 
 CATEGORY: Access to Artistic Excellence   FIELD/DISCIPLINE: Museum. 
To support the exhibition Picasso/Degas, with accompanying catalogue and education programs. The exhibition is being organized in association with the Museu Picasso in Barcelona.

Tupelo Press publishes innovative, unpredictable and visceral poetry by authors such as the young luminary Larissa Szporluk's. Her Embryos and Idiots is sly, seductive and spare.

Tupelo Press, Inc.
, North Adams, MA
. $25,000
 CATEGORY: Access to Artistic Excellence.   FIELD/DISCIPLINE: Literature
. To support the publication and promotion of new collections of poetry and international literature. Proposed authors include Gary Soto, Ellen Doré Watson, Michael Chitwood, Megan Snyder-Camp, Rebecca Dunham, and Stacey Waite.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

First online critic admitted to New York Drama Critics Circle

There are many websites, digital magazines and blogs that cover the arts today, and many professional critics find themselves online as the world of print continues to shrink. Alas, there has been a problem in that many of those left in the print media have been resistant to giving credibility to their online counterparts. Until this week.

After years of debate, the New York Drama Critics Circle has admitted Theatre Mania's critic and commentator David Finkle to full membership and participation. I learned of the precedent in Adam Feldman's Time Out New York column.

David Finkle

"Everyone agreed that Finkle was qualified; but several members, particularly those who had been in the Circle for a long time, were reluctant to start down what they worried would be a slippery slope into the blogosphere. And because admission to the Circle requires a daunting two-thirds vote of the entire membership, their concerns carried the day.

But times have changed, and so has the Circle.

So it is my pleasure to announce that in our meeting last week, the Circle voted to accept Finkle for membership, making him the first critic in the group’s history to have been accepted primarily for his online work. (Two previous members had stayed on in the Circle after moving from print to the Net: Ken Mandelbaum of InTheatre, who moved to, and John Simon of New York, who switched to Bloomberg News.)"

Read more: TimeOut NY

David Finkle is a New York-based writer who concentrates on the arts. He's currently the chief drama critic for and writes regularly on music for The Village Voice and Back Stage. He's contributed to many publications, including The New York Times, The New York Post, The Nation, The New Yorker, New York, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and American Theatre. Finkle's blog is part of the regular Huffington Post entertainment offerings.

In the Berkshires, where the print media is dominated by the crusty Berkshire Eagle and North Adams Transcript, many of the old school arts administrators (who tend to think in terms of branding instead of audience development) still defer to them even though the times are a changin'.

For example, yesterday an announcement of the retirement of Nicholas Martin from Williamstown Theatre Festival was given to the print media which exploited it in a rather unfortunate manner. Those of us who write online - and there are quite a few of us - were sidelined. Of course, when there are tickets to be sold, we count. Eventually more of the communications experts at the cultural organizations will include us in the breaking news, but for now, there sometimes seems to be benign neglect.

Elyse Sommer

In terms of the New York Critics, it seems obvious that Elyse Sommer, publisher and chief critic of Curtain Up should be considered next. She already is a member of the Drama Desk of the Outer Critic's Circle.

Some old timers believe granting credibility to internet reviewers is a dangerous and slippery slope. They are right up to a point. Not every online writer is a worthy candidate. But, as all can see, the nose of the camel is already under their tent, competing for space. And the readers are continuing to change their loyalties.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Holiday Inflation Hits Nutcrackers, 12 Days of Christmas

The New York City Ballet's Nutcracker is spectacular. Here an army of toy soldiers foil the Chubby Mouse King.

Neither Nutcrackers nor tickets for The Nutcracker come cheap these days. It can cost $1.59 a minute to watch the New York City Ballet's Nutcracker from their "Sweet Seats" which cost $215 each for the 2 hour and 15 minute show which includes an intermission.

This chubby "Mouse King" Nutcracker is on sale by the Pacific Northwest Ballet for $82.00 With rabbit fur hair and ears, it is handmade in Germany, probably by Dr. Drosselmeyer himself.

This life sized Nutcracker is sold out, even at $700.00

12 Days of Christmas Inflation is running about 2%.

While you might be able to get some nutcrackers cheap this year, the cost of buying all the gifts in the song "The 12 Days of Christmas" is higher.

To buy everything in the song this year, from a partridge in a pear tree to 12 drummers drumming, would cost $21,456.66, up $385.46 from last year.

Two items that saw the sharpest price rises: five golden rings and three French hens.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

NEA Webcast on How Art Works in the US Economy

The National Endowment for the Arts Presents
a Live Webcast of its
Cultural Workforce Forum on
Friday, November 20, 2009

Debate has raged for decades on how art and culture contributes to America's economy. Some of us, myself included, think the emphasis on the economic impact of the arts misses its real role in society, but that is an argument for another day.

In our WalMart economy, run by the bean counters, everything of importance is reduced to a commodity in the United States, and that is just the way it is. Once again we go through the exercise of being forced to consider the arts from an economic standpoint, despite the fact that the same arguments can be made by the Army, the makers of SUV's and even the chemicals that go into Twinkies.

So it comes as no surprise that the National Endowment for the Arts has scheduled a conference that is all about the arts and the economy. One can only hope that something new, something compelling might be dredged up. Failing that, perhaps the organizers can get Congress to listen. Maybe we would be better off simply hiring lobbyists. Still, one can hope for that breakthrough moment at the conference.

Though that is unlikely as no real artists will take part in the discussion.

"You can't expect the government to give money to artists. Our trillions are needed to support the bankers, GM executives, mortgage derivative scam artists and fraudulent insurance company executives."

From the NEA press announcement, we find that on Friday, November 20, 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) will present a live webcast on of a forum about America's artists and other cultural workers who are part of this country's real economy. Academics, foundation professionals, and service organization representatives will come together to discuss improving the collection and reporting of statistics about arts and cultural workers, and to develop future research agendas and approaches.

9:00 a.m.
Opening Remarks and introductions
Joan Shigekawa, NEA Senior Deputy Chairman and Sunil Iyengar, NEA Director of Research & Analysis

Panel One: What We Know About Artists and How We Know It
NEA Research on Artists in the Workforce
Tom Bradshaw, NEA Research Officer
Artist Labor Markets
Greg Wassall, associate professor, Department of Economics, Northeastern University
Artist Careers
Joan Jeffri, director, Research Center for Arts and Culture, Teachers College, Columbia University
Artist Research: Union Perspectives
David Cohen, executive director, Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO

Panel Two: Putting the Research to Work
Cultural Vitality: Investing in Creativity
Maria Rosario Jackson, senior research associate, The Urban Institute
Artists and the Economic Recession
Judilee Reed, executive director, Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC)
Teaching Artists Research Project
Nick Rabkin, Teaching Artists Research Project, National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago
Strategic National Arts Alumni Project
Steven Tepper, associate director, the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy, Vanderbilt University

Panel Three: Widening the Lens to Capture Other Cultural Workers
Artists in the Greater Cultural Economy
Ann Markusen, Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota
Creative Class: Who's in, Who's out?
Tom Bradshaw, NEA Research Officer
American Community Survey: An Emerging Data Set
Jennifer Day, assistant division chief, Employment Characteristics of the Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, United States Census Bureau

Comments and questions from panel participants

Discussion: Summary and Recommendations for Future Research
Moderated by Sunil Iyengar and Tom Bradshaw
Lead discussants: Holly Sidford, president, Helicon Collaborative and Paul DiMaggio, professor, Department of Sociology, Princeton University


In addition to the above presenters, the following respondents will participate in the NEA Cultural Workforce Forum:

Randy Cohen, vice president of local arts advancement, Americans for the Arts

Deirdre Gaquin, consultant

Angela Han, director of research, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies

Ruby Lerner, president, Creative Capital Foundation

Judilee Reed, executive director, Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC)

Carrie Sandahl, associate professor, Department of Disability and Human Development, University of Illinois at Chicago

Mary Jo Waits, director, Social, Economic & Workforce Programs Division, National Governors Association

An archive of the event will be available on the week following the forum.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Nation of Misled TV Addicts

Television's main purpose is to keep you watching the commercials.

The latest Nielsen statistics are out. The average American household is exposed to 2.75 hours of commercials per day, out of a 8 hours, 21 minutes in front of a television.

That's pretty scary considering that in 1991, the first year Nielson did such a survey, the typical home only spent 1 hour, 50 minutes in front of the boob tube.

This increase in viewing may be due to a tight economy with frugal households trying to save money by not going out. Of course, it is a bit of a false economy since tv was once free, and these days most people pay for tv - still with commercials - through cable or satellite.

These services average $71.00 a month. It is quite a rise from $43.00 in 2005.

TV is a black hole into which billions of dollars are sucked out of the economy for products we could live without.

Young people can not believe that television was actually free in its first few decades of existence, and that the amount of commercials have almost doubled since its inception.

It is the cable channels like AMC with "Mad Men" and FX's "Damages" that are getting the additional eyeballs for content that is surprisingly good compared to the reality and talk shows the networks have increasingly used to fill their time slots.

Interestingly, prime time television growth is flat, while the off peak times is where the audience is growing. This could be because of the increasing number of people who are surviving with part time jobs, or are out of work.

TV depresses brain function and creativity.

The brain waves seen during hypnosis are quite similar to those measured in people watching television. Television advertisers have seized on this effect of television and brain function for their television commercials. When people watch most television programs, they are quite suggestible. Thus a claim made in favor of a specific product, on some level, causes the person watching television to be more apt to believe it.

The net effect of all this television watching has been a seismic shift in how American's view life, work and buy products. It has also changed the way we elect our officials and view the democratic process, most of which has coarsened both public discourse and interpersonal behavior.

Television is a mixed blessing. But that is a story for another day.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thomas Pynchon and Inherent Vice

A fascination with the hot cars of their day.

Writer Thomas Pynchon is fascinating, and not just because we grew up on opposite shores of Long Island. He was a North Shore beat guy, me a South Shore clamdigger a few years younger, but with aspirations. His writing tends towards offbeat themes: oddball names, sophomoric humor, illicit drug use and paranoia.

Pynchon in a rare photo from his younger days.

He was Hunter Thompson before Rolling Stone was a magazine. And he was gonzo before Charles Giuliano coined the word. He holds the same fascination for me as did Jean Shepherd whose storytelling abilities are almost cinematic. The ability to draw word pictures and conjure up mental images is a special gift that not every writer masters. Pynchon does this with a sparing use of words, not volumes of them.

His latest book, released this past summer is Inherent Vice and the video below gives you a good taste of his work. The voice over is allegedly done by the reclusive Pynchon himself.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Incredible Tracey Moffatt is a God

Tracey Moffatt, "Marie Curie, Under the Sign of Scorpio", 2005, archival pigment ink on acid-free rag paper, 17 x 23 inches

Artist. Feminist. Human Being. Her words and work use the artifice of culture and get to the sinew that connects life with death. Spend twenty minutes with her via these videos and you may follow her work for the rest of your life. Tracey Moffatt may be Australian and part aboriginal by birth, but her creative gift belongs to the world.

First, a short interview with her about her latest project at The Brooklyn Museum.

Twenty years ago, she created this short experimental film that is about the relationship between an aboriginal daughter and her white mother. The daughter cares for her mother as she approaches death in a film shot entirely in her own created visual environment. It is easy to see this film as at least partially autobiographical, and yet its wordlessness brings to mind the simplicity of Beckett, the desolate world of Sam Shepherd and even the early experimental films of Kenneth Anger.

Her film Night Cries: A Rural Tragedy is in two parts.

The Brooklyn Museum has an extensive collection of her work.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Berkshires - Chicago Connection

In seeking out diversions, people fall into predictable patterns. There is a great deal of traffic between Boston, New York and the Berkshires. Tanglewood has its roots in Boston's Symphony Hall, and the Willliamstown Theatre Festival in Manhattan's theater scene. But there are other circuits, too.

Not nearly as well travelled, but still significant is the Chicago-Berkshires loop, bringing players from the Windy City's Goodman Theatre now running the hilarious musical, Animal Crackers, and Steepenwolf (currently running Fake and The House on Mango Street) to the resident companies along Route 7: Berkshire Theatre Festival, Barrington Stage Company, Shakespeare & Company, and Williamstown Theatre Festival.

The only train service in the Berkshires is the Lake Shore Limited which runs between Boston and Chicago, stopping at the Intermodal Center in Pittsfield along the way. And for a limited time, you can save 40% on tickets.

Here's the deal: travel with a friend on the Lake Shore Limited and save 40% on the companion rail fare. Whether you want to travel from Boston, New York, Chicago or anywhere in between, take advantage of this limited-time offer to plan your next trip.

Watch the seasons change from your train window as you travel along the shorelines of the Great Lakes and through the Berkshire mountains. Relax in your spacious seat or grab a bite to eat in the dining car — you'll enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245) or visit Amtrak online.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Etiquette - Non-Theater Carried to an Extreme

I don't think it is theater either.

The Premise: Etiquette is Theater
For this intimate piece of participatory theater, two museum visitors sit across from each other at a small table...

The response from theater critic Gail Burns: No, it's not.
…Etiquette failed to qualify for lack of an audience. I wanted to see a) if there was anything worth watching, b) if there was anything visually provocative that would cause other people in the café to watch, and c) if people actually did watch. The answer was “no” on all counts.

Points to Mass MoCA for trying this, but it is a new form of social networking in which you come in contact with other people in a ultimately meaningless way.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Online Innovations in Spotlight at National Summit on Arts Journalism

Some of the Speakers

Online coverage of arts and culture is continuing to grow and become more important to artists and organizations. That was the conclusion reached at the National Summit on Arts Journalism held today, and streamed live from this blog.

Online there are more than 300,000 blogs like this already in existence, not to mention hundreds of online magazines, multi-media sites and other variations on traditional coverage. The question is what is going to be the economic model. How do the writers get paid. It seems when the discussion turns to the finances, the traditional business model falters. Support seems to moving in the direction of a hybrid taking different parts of existing profit and nonprofit models. For all the individuality that artists and blogs represent, success seems to tied to the ability to scale up any efforts to become attractive to either advertisers or funders.

The presentations by the innovators in this field were wonderful, combining creativity and good reporting with the array of multimedia available to online entrepreneurs today. These examples are available for viewing, as are the roundtable discussions that followed. Topics covered ethics, income and the evolution of arts journalism.

In the digital age, it appears that some arts organizations are already ahead of the critics in technology and in a basic understanding of what the public wants. And that technology savvy ticket buyers want more personal involvement in the arts themselves, just reading objective critical response is too narrowly focused. People want context in their content, and to shape the arts experience to their own lives.

The four hour session was interspersed with sample tweets and online comments from viewers which provided immediate feedback to the hosts of this event, Doug McLennan of Arts Journal and Sasha Anawalt, director of USC Annenberg Arts Journalism Programs.

The entire conference held on October 2, 2009 has been archived and is reachable at Journalism Summit Website

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Watch the National Summit on Arts Journalism from Arts America

This Friday - October 2 from Noon to 4:00 EDT (9AM-1PM PDT) - is the first ever National Summit on Arts Journalism at USC Annenberg in Los Angeles. We're taking part in the presentation of ten projects in arts journalism from around America, and each we think has something to say about the future of how we cover the arts. It will be in the auditorium of the journalism school in front of an audience of 200, but it's primarily conceived of as a virtual online event. Arts America is a participating blog.

Here is a live link that will enable you to watch it live on Friday, October 2 beginning at noon EDT.

Video chat rooms at Ustream

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Marketing a Show Via Twitter - Next to Normal

Beating out Coca Cola, Star Trek, HBO and Sprint, the musical Next to Normal which began at Arena Stage in Washington, DC and moved on to Broadway, won an OMMA award for its Twitter campaign. The Online Media, Marketing and Advertising Awards are for internet creativity. The promotion was recognized by the MediaPost Group which sponsors the awards.

They used tweets to retell the show's plot by having the various characters advance the plot via short 140 character messages. They were taken from the book written by the show's author, Brian Yorkey. The responses by others has brought about the creation of a new song about tweeting, to be debuted at a future date.

During the campaign, the number of people following the show's messages topped out at 750,000 or so.

The Twitter campaign for "Next to Normal," much buzzed-about due to its unusually large number of followers for a Broadway show, has picked up an OMMA (Online Media, Marketing and Advertising) Award for online marketing.

It didn't hurt that the show's campaign was promoted extensively by Twitter itself to keep new participants involved. The drop out rate at Twitter is very high, at least half, and 30% of its users - according to a recent poll - don't expect it to still be around in a few years. It is all a crap shoot. And as the story below this one indicates, it doesn't stop people from claiming that Twitter is worth a billion dollars. The owners must be tweeting a happy tune.

But I wonder how many tickets this ad campaign sold, and how much the effort actually cost compared to traditional marketing methods.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bursting the Billion Dollar Twitter Bubble

Call it froth, call it sizzle, but don't use more than 140 characters. A billion dollars. That's the value of Twitter according to the esteemed Wall Street Journal, the newspaper of record when it comes to over valuing things from mortgage derivatives to the current story on Twitter's prospects. Wall Street lays another egg. How do you say nineties nonsense?

The investors are valuing Twitter -- which has yet to generate more than a trickle of revenue -- at about $1 billion...The investor group is expected to include mutual-fund giant T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and private-equity firm Insight Venture Partners, which would be new investors to Twitter. Existing Twitter investors, including Spark Capital and Institutional Venture Partners, are also expected to participate in the round, according to the people familiar with the plan.Twitters Value is Set at $1 Billion

We're seen these speculative internet gold rushes before, when IPO's were all the rage in order to monetize some code warrior's sleepless nights of toil creating, say, a website devoted to images of her friend's piercings and tattoos. Of course, theatres, symphonies and other arts presenters have been doing backflips trying to figure out how to get people to tweet short reviews of their productions, not realizing that it is as easy to say "save your money" as it is to encourage friends to "buy a ticket." Besides, the bottom line is it takes more than a few abbreviated words to convince me to attend something. The twitterati have short and shallow attention spans, what with their multi-tasking and everything.

I am a regular visitor to and participant in both Facebook and MySpace (or My Face as my friend Shirley likes to say) and think they are better suited to the future prospects of being adjuncts to arts marketing efforts. Here in the Berkshires just about every cultural group with more than one member is now online, on My Space, and the number of writings on my wall touting this event or that far outnumber those of friends reporting on their baby's diaper condition.

Still, every once in a while somebody posts something really interesting, or novel, and makes it all worthwhile.

But not a billion dollars of worthwhile, no matter what the WSJ says. Let the investors choose their vehicles to ride over their cliffs. Thelma and Louise can do whatever they want to piss away their retirement money. This time let's just not bail them out, ok?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Taxing the History, Arts and Culture of Pennsylvania

A tax on history and the arts.

In an incredibly hostile act by the backward thinking legislators in Pennsylvania, that state's new budget will extend its sales tax to performing-arts programs, museum admissions and other cultural venue tickets, while movies and sports events will be spared.

Taxing the non-profits is clearly the latest move by this group of scoundrels while protecting for-profit businesses. It is another example of how corporate and lobbying interest are making sure nothing impedes their ability to make money. Senate Republicans, who had steadfastly opposed any new taxes, insisted on the tax. They claim some of the funds will go towards support for the arts. Of course, this was a promise, and a murky one at that, since nothing concrete was included in the legislation. Support for arts in Pennsylvania has already been sharply reduced.

Arts administrators and support organizations were caught totally by surprise, and this statement has appeared on the website of the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance:

On Friday evening, Pennsylvania's state legislators announced a budget deal, balanced in part by a 6% sales tax on nonprofit cultural organizations.

The deal, which is expected to pass the full legislature in the next ten days, is expected to raise $100m to balance the budget.

Nonprofit cultural organizations are currently exempt from the sales tax on concert and other entertainment tickets; the proposal would lift this exemption. Other items that would be taxed to generate new revenue include an additional 25 cents per pack on cigarettes, a tax on cigarellos (small cigars), expanded gas-drilling leases on state land.

A proposal has also surfaced to dedicate a portion of the tax revenues in support of organizations affected by the tax; no details about this idea are available at this time.

The tax is likely to have a devastating effect on cultural organizations, many of which have been hit hard by the recession.

The tax on culture came the same day as the Philadelphia Orchestra announced that it was in a financial crisis, and in need of an immediate infusion of $15 million to continue operating. When Pittsburgh imposed a sales tax on tickets many decades ago, that city experienced a collapse of its cultural life as many groups closed, and others moved out, resettling elsewhere. Only in recent years has that tax been reduced, bringing hope to the resident arts organizations, only to face this new hurdle.

Legislators with no sense of basic fairness tax nonprofit tickets and admissions but leave profit making entertainment tickets tax free.

In essence taxes on the arts and culture are taxes on education since that is the purpose that the IRS grants tax exemption status of a 501(c)3.

Tyler Green writes in his Modern Art Notes blog over at Arts Journal that it is all the fault of The Philadelphia Museum. "Why are Pennsylvania institutions facing this now? It's hard to miss the confluence of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's outrageous 'Cezanne and Beyond' ticket fees and this tax proposal. Extortionately high exhibition charges -- the PMA asked a family of four for $88, over $100 with parking -- helped create this problem."

The Philadelphia Museum of Art

He goes on to say "Those fees have done two things: First, they say that the museum (and the arts in general) is a place for mostly the wealthy, so why not soak the rich with a sneaky tax no one else will notice or pay? And secondly, if a museum looks like an opportunistic business and if it acts like a greedy price-gouger, how can it be surprised when a local government wants to treat it the way it's been acting?"

So I guess to punish one big arts institution with questionable pricing policies, all the small and mid-sized operations have to deal with this new tax. And do their best to have it reversed.

The arts are an asset to a state, but clearly not in retrograde and destructive Pennsylvania. Like everyone else, the arts are suffering from the recession with a decline in contributions and tougher ticket sales, Now they now are also being asked to make up for the hit to the economy (brought about by Wall Street and the banks) by short-sighted Pennsylvania politicians.

Let's hope the voters of the Commonwealth let their legislators know that this is a very bad idea and should be dropped.

Monday, September 14, 2009

William and Margaret Gibson Remembered at Shakespeare & Company

Playwright William Gibson honored.

From Jeremy Goodwin comes news that friends and fans of the late playwright, novelist and poet William Gibson, and psychotherapist and author Margaret Gibson, gathered yesterday to remember them. There was an intimate celebration of the Gibsons’ lives at Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, co-produced by S&Co. and the Berkshire Theatre Festival. A group of artists long associated with both S&Co. and BTF gathered to perform scenes from Mr. Gibson’s plays, as well as to read from Mrs. Gibson’s writings.

Tina Packer and Dennis Krausnick

Tina Packer, S&Co.’s Founding Artistic Director, recalled meeting the Gibsons shortly after founding S&Co., and described Mrs. Gibson’s impact as an early member of S&Co.’s Board of Trustees. Kate Maguire, BTF’s Artistic Director, shared stories about Mr. Gibson’s time as BTF’s Artistic Director, and his deep and long-running working relationship with the festival.

Berkshire Theatre Festival Artistic Director Kate Maguire

Maguire and Packer were joined by fellow actors Jonathan Epstein, Eric Hill, Dennis Krausnick (S&Co. Director of Training), and Annette Miller. Miller opened the program with a performance of a scene from Gibson’s Golda’s Balcony. This was followed by reminiscences about the Gibsons and readings from Mr. Gibson’s Jonah’s Dream, American Primitive, A Cry of Players, and The Miracle Worker. Eric Tucker directed the program and read aloud from Mrs. Gibson’s work. After the hour-long program, the invited crowd of about fifty adjourned for a reception, slideshow, and further discussion about their old friends.

Jonathan Epstein

According to Broadway World, Gibson's most famous play is The Miracle Worker (1959), the story of Helen Keller's childhood education, which won him the Tony Award for Best Play. His other works include Dinny and the Witches (1948, revised 1961), in which a jazz musician incurs the wrath of three Shakespearean witches by blowing a riff which stops time; the Tony Award-nominated Two for the Seesaw (1958), a recounting of which production appeared the following year in Gibson's nonfiction book The Seesaw Log; the book for the musical version of Clifford Odets's Golden Boy (1964), which earned him yet another Tony nomination; A Mass for the Dead (1968), an autobiographical family chronicle; A Cry of Players (1968), a speculative account of the life of young William Shakespeare; Goodly Creatures (1980), about Puritan dissident Anne Hutchinson; Monday After the Miracle (1982), a continuation of the Keller story; and Golda (1977), a work about the late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, which in its revised version Golda's Balcony (2003) set a record as the longest-running one-woman play in Broadway history on January 2, 2005.

Eric Tucker and Eric Hill

In 1954 he published a novel, The Cobweb, set at a psychiatric hospital resembling the Menninger Clinic. In 1955, the novel was adapted as a movie by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Gibson married Margaret Brenman-Gibson, a psychotherapist and biographer of Odets, in 1940. She died in 2004.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Delightful Peter Pan at Berkshire Theatre Festival

Miranda Hope Shea and Victoria Aldam in Peter Pan.

Berkshire Theatre Festival continues its family programming season with Peter Pan, a musical based on the play by Sir James M. Barrie. The show, which is directed by E. Gray Simons III and Travis Daly, opened on the BTF Main Stage on September 4th.

While not open for formal review, I have to pass along my personal recommendation, having seen it. The production is a real crowd pleaser, well rehearsed and utterly charming. How so many children can appear on stage in the blink of an eye and then flow off again is truly amazing.

This popular children’s story follows the tale of Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, and the Darling children as they journey through Neverland, all the while evading the evil Captain Hook. This is the fourth year of BTF’s community-wide theatre productions. Children from all thirteen school districts are represented in the program.

Ralph Petillo as Captain Hook and the Pirate Chorus in Peter Pan.

Peter Pan runs on the Main Stage until September 13, Friday through Saturday at 7:30pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Box Office at (413) 298-5576 or online. Proceeds benefit the BTF PLAYS!, Berkshire Theatre Festival's Year- Round Education Program.

The cast features over 150 actors composed entirely from the Berkshire County community. Miranda Hope Shea will be playing the title role, opposite Victoria Aldam, who will be playing Wendy. Miranda returns to the BTF Main Stage following her successful debut in Oliver! She has been in the previous BTF productions of A Christmas Carol and was seen most recently as young Edward Einstein in The Einstein Project on the Main Stage. She is joined by her sister Fiona Shea, who is making her BTF debut in the role of Jane Darling. Victoria Flower returns to BTF in the role of Slightly, one of the Lost Boys. She has been in all of the community productions BTF has done and has been seen in A Christmas Carol and Coastal Disturbances.

Mr. and Mrs. Darling are being portrayed by Ralph Petillo and Kathy Jo Grover, both of whom are returning to the BTF stage. Petillo will also being playing the part of Hook for this production. Petillo played the part of Fagin in the BTF production of Oliver! and most recently finished directing the successful BTF Unicorn production of Candide. Grover was also seen in last year’s production of Oliver! as the Undertaker’s Wife. Rider, Tyler, and Cooper Stanton are making a family return to the BTF stage. They have previously been seen in a variety of shows including Coastal Disturbances, Waiting for Godot, and A Christmas Carol.

The Lost Boys in Peter Pan.

This year’s production of Peter Pan also features a number of returning designers and artistic staff members. Carlton Maaia II is the musical director for the show and has worked on all the BTF community shows including Oliver! and The Wizard of Oz. He also worked as musical director for the BTF Unicorn production of I Do! I Do!

Rachel Plaine is returning as the choreographer for the show. She just finished a year as a BTF Artist-In-Residence, working with local schools in the BTF PLAYS! program and was the choreographer for Oliver! Keating Helfrich, who is currently the BTF Costume Shop Supervisor, is the costume designer for the show. She worked previously as costume designer for Oliver!

New to the BTF community productions are Chesapeake Westveer and Jaime Davidson, working as scenic designer and lighting designer, respectively. Chesapeake Westveer is also the BTF Props Master and recently completed the scenic design for Faith Healer. Jaime Davidson is the PR and Marketing Director for BTF and also did the lighting design for Candide.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bill Finn Weekend at Barrington Stage Company

William Finn has been nominated or won Tony's for his Falsettos and 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, as well as numerous Drama Desk nominations and awards.

If it's Labor Day Weekend, it means it's time for Bill Finn, a composer of many award winning Broadway shows to put his pen down and direct the spotlight to the young, up and coming writers of music and lyrics whom he has been mentoring. With Finn there are always pleasant surprises that we are fortunate enough to share. As busy as he is, Finn found a few minutes to bring us up to date.

"The process of getting established is difficult," says Finn, so "we introduce the new voices first to the Berkshires, and then the world." Turns out Finn has a special twist up his sleeve for this weekend, too. Something beyond the annual rendition of Songs by Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists you probably don’t know but should... which plays Friday, September 4 and Saturday, September 5. He has surprises slated for that show of course.

But as the announcer in the infomercial says, But wait! There's more!

A second event has been added on BSC's Stage 2 where Finn's Musical Theatre Lab, now in its fourth season, will present a reading of a new musical, Memory Is The Mother Of All Wisdom by Zachary Elder and Sara Cooper. Performances will take place at BSC’s Stage 2 space, 36 Linden Street , Pittsfield , on Saturday, September 5 at 4pm and Sunday, September 6 at 7:00pm. The show stars Catherine Cox and Leslie Kritzer, with direction by Joe Calarco.

Finn has put aside his current work on the score for Little Miss Sunshine for these end of summer shows. (The musical version of this classic will be directed by James Lapine and is destined for Broadway.) Though we won't hear any music by Finn, he promises a night to remember. Finn takes the stage to tell the stories behind the music, how it begins as an idea and takes shape.

"It's a really interesting look into the creative process," says Finn, people always enjoy a look behind the curtain. "You're constantly amazed at how talented some of these young people are." Finn is more like a coach than a teacher, and loves working with the evolving composers and lyricists. "Besides, seeing them before they are known names, and trying to pick out the ones who are going to succeed is always fun," he adds.

Most of what happens on stage is unique, surprising, and collaborative, with the creative hand of BSC Artistic Director Julianne Boyd guiding it all. Things are tinkered with right up to the last minute. All the work is fresh and new, though if you are a musical theatre addict you probably have heard one or two of the songs at earlier Theatre Lab events. Finn narrates this fresh, fun introduction to new voices in musical theatre.

(LtoR) Singers Sally Wilfert, Nikki Renee Daniels, Pearl Sun

Directed by Julianne Boyd, this is a Labor Day weekend celebration of extraordinary new songs. Finn shares with the audience what makes a good lyric, why some work and others don’t – you’ll feel as if you’re in a master class in songwriting taught by the master himself. Matt Castle serves as musical director.

Songs by Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists you probably don’t know but should… features the talents of Nikki Renee Daniels (Les Miserables), Frank Galgano (Naked Boys Singing), Doug Kreeger (BSC’s The Human Comedy and off-B’way’s ROOMS: A Rock Romance, Howie Michael Smith (Avenue Q), Pearl Sun (Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas), and Sally Wilfert (BSC’s Spelling Bee and Off-B’way's Make Me A Song).

(L to R) Singers Frank Galgano, Doug Kreeger, Howie Michael Smith

The composers and lyricists represented are Becca Anderson, Will Aronson, Sara Cooper, Eric Day, William Finn, Kat Harris, Yui Kitamura, Hannah Kohl, Dimitri Landrain, Dan Marshall, Bill Nelson, Yea Bin Diana Oh, Sean Patterson, Eric Price, Frank Terry, Joel Waggoner, and Chris Widney.

The songs of Eric Price and Kat Harris will be included.

Meanwhile, on Stage 2, Memory Is The Mother Of All Wisdom (MITMOAW) is a two-person comic tragedy about the troubled relationship of a woman who has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and her estranged daughter who moves back home to Brighton Beach to take care of her.

Finn describes Memory Is The Mother Of All Wisdom as "Funny and heartbreaking; and moving in many unimaginable ways. This is a story of a mother and daughter trying gamely to hold on to what they remember of each's amazing how painful hilarious can be.”

Directed by Joe Calarco (BSC’s The Burnt Part Boys and The Mysteries of Harris Burdick), with music direction by Vadim Feichtner (Spelling Bee), Memory Is The Mother Of All Wisdom stars Catherine Cox (Footloose, Baby - Drama Desk Award, Oh, Coward!) and Leslie Kritzer (A Catered Affair, Rooms: A Rock Romance, Legally Blonde, Hairspray).

Memory Is The Mother Of All Wisdom was developed at the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, where Elder and Copper met and received their graduate degrees.

Barrington Stage Company’s Musical Theatre Lab fourth annual edition of Songs by Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists you probably don’t know but should… will play Friday, September 4 and Saturday, September 5 at 8pm at Barrington Stage ( 30 Union Street ). Memory Is The Mother Of All Wisdom will take place at BSC’s Stage 2 space, 36 Linden Street , Pittsfield , on Saturday, September 5 at 4pm and Sunday, September 6 at 7:00pm. $15 suggested donation for Stage 2 while the Main Stage Tickets are $35. You can call 413-236-8888, or order online at

Friday, August 28, 2009

Olympia Dukakis On Stage at Shakespeare & Company

Shakespeare & Company welcomes back Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis for a special benefit performance of William Coe Bigelow’s moving drama Leap Year. You can read the story behind this reunion in my revealing interview in Berkshire Fine Arts. This one-time event lights up the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on Monday, August 31 at 7:00pm, followed by a reception with the cast. Artistic Director Tony Simotes directs. Leap Year kicks off S&Co.'s 15th annual Studio Festival of Plays, which hits full stride with seven staged readings of new works at the Bernstein Theatre on Monday, September 7.

Leap Year tells the story of a thirtysomething couple, Rob and Lisa Montgomery, whose second child is born with Down’s Syndrome. The first act takes place in a duplex apartment in Los Angeles, starting the day their son is born, on February 29th, 1988—as the couple, their friends, and family struggle to come to terms with the painful event and the difficult choices they suddenly face. The second act transpires five leap years later, on February 29th, 2008, in the same duplex apartment, when the decisions the Montgomerys have made with regard to their son’s upbringing play out in stark terms. This captivating drama goes straight to the gut; at its center are questions about personal responsibility, parenting, a personal sense of God, and finally, the redemptive quality of love and forgiveness.

The cast also features Berkshire Theatre Festival favorite David Adkins and S&Co. artists Elizabeth Aspenlieder (appearing in Les Liaisons Dangereuses at S&Co. this winter), Jules Findlay, Corinna May (currently appearing in Twelfth Night), Tom O’Keefe (currently appearing in Measure For Measure), Miriam Hyman (currently appearing in The Dreamer Examines His Pillow), Josh Aaron McCabe (appearing in The Hound of the Baskervilles this fall), Diana Prusha, Ryan Winkles (currently appearing in Twelfth Night), Rose Zoltick-Jick, and Simotes.

Olympia Dukakis, to appear at Shakespeare & Company

Reflecting on her return to Lenox, Dukakus said:
"I'm delighted to be working again at Shakespeare & Company, especially under the direction of the extraordinary Tony Simotes, my old friend and one-time student. This is a place where we can explore the deep resonances of Shakespeare's work, as well as the most thought-provoking voices of our own day. There is no better place to bring William Bigelow's exciting new play—and to be helping Shakespeare & Company achieve a Kresge Foundation incentive grant makes it all the more special."

Tony Simotes, Artistic Director of Shakespeare & Comapany

Dukakis’ roots with the S&Co. family reach back to the 1970’s, when she was an acting teacher for founding Company members Simotes, Dennis Krausnick and Kevin G. Coleman at New York University. In 1998, her groundbreaking The Lear Project (later expanded into Queen Lear), directed by Krausnick and featuring Dukakis as Lear and Founding Artistic Director Tina Packer as the Fool, sold out its run at S&Co. She has since co-adapted The Other Side of The Island, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Ticket prices for Leap Year range from $30 to $50, and are available at or from the Box Office, which can be reached at (413) 637-3353. Proceeds will benefit Shakespeare & Company’s ongoing $10 million Capital Campaign and its push to receive an $800,000 incentive grant from The Kresge Foundation. S&Co. has already raised over $8 million toward its total, funds which have gone to the construction of the new Production and Performing Arts Center and Elayne P. Bernstein Theater, plus other much-needed infrastructure improvements and the creation of a small reserve fund. Earlier this year, S&Co. announced receipt of a highly competitive incentive grant from The Kresge Foundation, based on one key condition: once the Company raises an additional $1.2 million in its broad, community-wide appeal, The Kresge Foundation will contribute a stunning $800,000 to successfully complete the Capital Campaign.

The Kresge campaign has gained momentum all summer as patrons, friends and neighbors have come together to support S&Co. and its programming, which has become so interwoven into the community over the Company’s 32 years of groundbreaking performance, transformative education programs, and world class actor training.