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 DorĂ© 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.