Put As Much As You Can Into Your Heads – Nobody Can Take That Away From You

“Every day in life is beautiful. Every day. It’s beautiful.”

Alice Herz-Sommer’s stellar heath at the age of 109 is not the only thing that makes her special. She is the oldest living pianist and Holocaust survivor, and arguably one of the most optimistic people you may ever meet. This touching preview for the upcoming documentary following her life,  “The Lady In Number 6,” shows how music not only saved her life in the camp, but also continues to carry her through each day after the ordeal.

The camp in which she was placed is a terrifying example of the ultimate living-theatre experiment. In 1944, the German leaders created a propaganda film and presented Theresienstadt as a model Jewish settlement to the visiting Red Cross; it was all an elaborate hoax.

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The Germans “beautified” the ghetto, planting gardens and painting houses. Individuals received roles to play and the Nazis staged social and cultural events for the visiting dignitaries. Hints that all was not well included a bruise under the eye of the “mayor” of the “town.”  In the Nazi propaganda film, Theresienstadt was cynically described as a “spa town” where elderly German Jews could “retire” in safety. Once the visit was over, the Germans resumed deportations from Theresienstadt, which did not end until October 1944.

And yet still, shining examples like Alice appear, wielding hope as an impenetrable shield:

“I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times — including my husband, my mother and my beloved son. Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.”

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Playing an Instrument Like It Will Save Your Life

Because, who knows? It just might.

Watch Colin Stetson, a saxophonist known for touring with Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre and Bon Iver, barely pause for a breath as he creates a wonderwall of sound underneath the city.

A reminder that whatever you choose to do, do it wholeheartedly. Because passion like that is infectious. 

What Is Essential Is Invisible To The Eye

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly” – Saint Exupéry

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Deconstructing opera’s mega-material roots is a challenge.
Sharing an opera live with a group of roving wireless-headphone-wearing audience members? Sounds near impossible.
And yet, The Industry ambitiously tackled all this and more through its Invisible Cities project in LA’s Union Station.

Composer and librettist Christopher Cerrone’s adapted a 1972 novel of the same name by Italo Calvino. The story depicts a host of fantastical cities the explorer Marco Polo narrates to Kublai Khan – unreal cities of desire, of memory, of the imagination.

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You check in and trade your license for a pair of headphones before following a drove of listeners into a large room where an orchestra sits, no singers in sight. The overture sounds forth and even before the final notes of this first movement end, individuals exit through the large glass doors to search for the rest of the opera. There’s no traditional stage here. The train station itself houses the characters, and like a living giant that seems to expand and contract as singers reveal themselves from the shadows.

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A man hunched over in a wheelchair, dressed like many of the homeless souls that take shelter in the station, begins to sing. And you realize that the performers are not so much hidden at all. Instead, you did not know what you should have been seeking.

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  A lofty soprano tone sounds from another room. Many turn to rush to find the source of the music and discover a janitor – with a voice of gold.

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You traverse cities of the living, cities of the dead.

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You follow in Polo’s footsteps and happen upon a dance core (seven dancers from LA Dance Project) as they guide and affront the viewer through a collection of miniature vignettes.

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You wander into a hallway – the station’s old ticket lobby – and see no action, just a mist of light fog…

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…Only seconds later to be bombarded by a procession of singers and dancers as the opera’s final scenes culminate around you.

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You notice how each person in the room is now a character in the piece as well. An old man in his own wheelchair is not altogether different from the singer at the start.

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The piece challenges the viewer to realize that the eye creates what it wishes to see. At every new port – there is a promise of hope, discovery, release. But we bring ourselves with us wherever we go, thus in order to find new things, we must truly see with new eyes.

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Gathering Round for One of Shakespeare’s Eeriest Texts

It is known as “The Scottish play,” “Mackers,” “The Scottish business” or “the Glamis comedy.” With a play where so few are willing to utter its name, you would think that it would remain buried under the Bard’s lesser known works. But “Macbeth” is more popular than ever, with adaptations like Sleep No More re-imagining the tale in a 6 story warehouse to Alan Cumming’s recent one-man-show, a decent into madness set in an insane asylum. And still companies are able to find new ways of telling Mac’s universal story of greed and guilt – one of which is CityShakes undeniably unsettling production here in Santa Monica. mac1

Director Brooke Bishop sets the show in the round, emphasizing the show’s ceremonial roots - from the ever-plotting witches to the individuals who ban together to unseat Macbeth from his newly-found power.  The production’s site-specific location, a storage garage behind a stark empty art gallery, also aids in the creation of an ominous air surrounding the text.

Smartly constructed with a cast of seven, perhaps the most compelling aspect of the production is the use of suggestion. Swords have bases, but no blades. Children tinker with toys offstage, but are never seen. These powerful “absences” both underline the swift decline of Macbeth’s sanity (particularly in his “Is this a dagger” soliloquy), and make Macduff’s loss all the more heartbreaking. It also featured some truly thrilling cast-made auditory soundscapes that could have highlighted other earlier moments as well.

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A ceremony that shouldn’t be missed, this Macbeth breathes life into the age-old text with its crafty ways.

To see it: “Macbeth” plays Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm through Nov. 22, and Saturdays Nov. 9 and 16 at 8PM, at 1454 Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90401. For more information, visit www.CityShakes.org.

Lizzie’s Back

The team behind the raucous rock retelling of Lizzie Borden released their concept album this month. Few things will prepare you for October thrills and chills as well as this CD.

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Based on the most notorious “unsolved” murder case of the 1800s, this Cheslik-DeMeyer, Hewitt and Maner tuner is currently getting a treatment in Houston’s TUTS Underground season.

The album’s powerhouse voices and catchy belt-along-numbers are made only more delightful by some thoughtful sound editing that infuses tense moments with an extra dose of terror. A terrific adrenaline-infused ride from start to finish.

For a taste of the show for those not familiar, check out the clip below:

 

Reasons why this montage from last year’s Cleveland production might rock your world a little:

Lizzie ________ Borden. Who knew that the real life Borden had such intense daddy-issues?

Look at what they’re wearing. Uptight Victorian dresses devolve into Versace-inspired rock wear. Leather, lace and tulle give this 19th century retelling a vicious bite.

Look ma! No Men. They effectively tell the entire story employing only female characters – Lizzie Borden, her sister Emma, the housemaid and the girl-next-door/maybe-secret-lover.

You will never think of hairspray cans in the same way again. Brilliant take on Borden burning up an old dress, one of the pieces of potential evidence.

Four ladies fierce screlting their faces off. Enough said.

Want It More Than You Fear It

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Because there will always be one to fifty excuses to find.

Because your mind will rummage around and dig these up, presenting them to you with urgency.

Because you may forget, if only for a moment, that this new pile of worries are a gift from an anxious visitor who didn’t know exactly what to get you – so opted for this, and hoped you’d enjoy something to think about versus nothing.

Because you never liked stagnation anyway.

Because there will be days when your fear will masquerade as sensibility, never removing the mask to reveal its tiny, unsubstantial frame.

Because the voice of your deepest desires speaks in dulcet tones, quiet murmurs that could be drowned out by the cries of a doubtful side of you.

Because you will remember that acknowledging this concern always silences it, like a mother finally attending to a child.

Because you deserve to come alive, to set yourself ablaze with wonder, and never stop seeking.

Because there’s solid ground on the other side, no matter how many obstacles stand in the way.

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“Cabaret” in Putin’s antigay Russia

A production of the musical Cabaret is set to roll into Seattle shortly complete with a fascinating setting – that of modern-day Russia.

The Tony Award winning show is a favorite for those willing to explore the shadows of a culture butting heads with a political wave. Though the musical’s original setting takes place in Berlin as the Nazis are rising to power, this production’s concept of setting the action in Putin’s current regime seems somehow apropos.  This production will feature an all-male cast and will combine theatre, drag, and short clips of actual vigilantes and neo-Nazis to comment, agitprop-style, on the tumultuous cultural climate there. 

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The Artistic Director of Arts on the Waterfront, the company producing this version, posits about the upcoming show:

“The whole point of the show is to draw connections between the beginning stages of the Holocaust in 1930s Germany and the current situation in Russia, with Putin’s antigay laws and the killing and torture of gay youth by the Russian neo-Nazis. But, to tell this story well, we need to completely seduce the audience in the first half of the play into thinking that this Cabaret is the most fabulous place they have ever seen, so we plan on striking a careful balance between modern Russian imagery and the musical’s German roots.

So many actual lines used by emcees in Berlin in the 1930s fit so nicely into our retelling. A great line from Werner Fink, who was emcee of Die Katakombe in Berlin, which we have incorporated into our show, is: “Yesterday we were closed, today we are open, if we are too open tomorrow we’ll be closed again the next day.” In our Cabaret, it’s said by our Emcee while he tears down the rainbow flag which, up until then, had been hanging with the Russian flag proudly across the room from it.

Another example of great pieces actually used by the emcees of 1930s Berlin is a song that we have given to Fräulein Schneider to the tune of Carmen‘s “Habanera.” The lyrics, by Friedrich Hollaender, a Jewish emcee of the time, originally went:

If it’s raining or if it’s hailing,
If there’s lightning, if it’s wet,
If it’s dark or if there’s thunder
If you freeze or if you sweat,
If it’s warm or if it’s cloudy,
If it thaws, if there’s a breeze,
If it drizzles, if it sizzles,
If you cough or if you sneeze:
It’s all the fault of all those Jews.
The Jews are all at fault for that.

But we have:

If it’s raining or if it’s hailing,
If there’s lightning, if it’s wet,
If it’s dark or if there’s thunder
If you freeze or if you sweat,
It’s all the fault of all those gays
The gays are all at fault for that
You ask me why the gays at fault
You just don’t get it, dear, they are at fault…
You disagree, then you’re at fault,
The gays are all at fault for that.

When the audience first hears the tune they go, “Oh, isn’t it funny?” or “Isn’t it sweet that they’re using the tune of that song we know?,” and then you hear the lyrics. So the song tricks you into not knowing whether to laugh and applaud or not.”

A thought-provoking take on the classic which will also soon be returning to Broadway with Alan Cumming in tow.


Alan Cumming in the 1998 Broadway revival of Cabaret

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The Comic Strip City

Angoulême, a city in Southwestern France, dubbed itself the international comic strip city in the early 2000s. The city is mostly known for its Angoulême International Comics Festival and now its namesake is unmistakable as walls all over the city sport huge comic strip displays.

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Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Got No Strings to Hold Them Down

Evolution of the puppet in modern day theatre:

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Sound of Music. 1965.

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Little Shop of Horrors. 1982.

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The Lion King. 1997.

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Avenue Q. 2003. First instance of Human Puppet Nudity on Broadway.

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War Horse. 2007. 3 Puppeteers to each horse.

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Bread and Puppet’s Decapitilized Circus. 2010. They’ve been around since 1962. At the end of every B & P performance, the group shares fresh baked bread with the audience, suggesting that art should be as basic to life as bread.

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The White Snake. 2012 at Berkeley Rep.

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King Kong. Australia 2013. 14 People to operate the King.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Brecht on Anxiety and Lighting a Bomb in the Theatre

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In John Willett’s compendium of some of Brecht’s most important critical writings, the editor helps to outline the theatremaker’s development of his style. Each letter and article allows for a further glimpse into Brecht’s take on Epic Theatre, acting, and the alienation effect for which his works are so renowned.

On anxiety, Brecht aptly points out:

“In his obscure anxiety not to let the audience get away the actor is immediately so steamed up that he makes it seem the most natural thing in the world to insult one’s father. At the same time it can be seen that acting takes a tremendous lot out of him. And a man who strains himself on the stage is bound, if he is any good, to strain all the people sitting in the stalls.” – From Berliner Börsen-Courier, 1926

Around the same time this article was written, Brecht was insisting on a new type of audience engagement in the form of what he called “ ’smokers’ theatre.” The audience would puff on cigars and look on as if taking in a boxing match, therefore developing a more detached and critical outlook than was possible in the ordinary German theatre. Smoking was verboten in theatres at the time.

He posits:

“That in a Shakespearean production one man in the stalls with a cigar could bring about the downfall of Western art. He might as well light a bomb as light his cigar. I would be delighted to see our public allowed to smoke during performances. And I’d be delighted mainly for the actor’s sake. In my view it is quite impossible for the actor to play unnatural cramped and old-theatre to a man smoking in the stalls.” 

Forever pushing the boundaries of what theatre was “allowed to be” at the time, Brecht paved the way for many in the modern day interactive and absurdist theatre realms. Brecht on Theatre is a delight – like sitting down for a rare and illuminating coffee-date with Brecht himself.

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How to Make Every Day Feel Like Saturday Morning

When faced with a question on balancing commercial pressures and creativity integrity, consider that a meditative mind might be the ticket:

“I came from painting. And a painter has none of those worries. A painter paints a painting. No one comes in and says, “You’ve got to change that blue.” It’s a joke to think that a film is going to mean anything if somebody else fiddles with it. If they give you the right to make the film, they owe you the right to make it the way you think it should be — the filmmaker. The filmmaker decides on every single element, every single word, every single sound, every single thing going down that highway through time. Otherwise, it won’t hold together. When there’s even a little hint of pressure coming from someplace else — like deadlines or going overbudget… — this affects the film. And you just want support, support, support… in a perfect world… so that you can really get the thing to be correct.

Now, this doesn’t happen these days — so, “support, support, support” — when you do dive within and experience this pure self — atma — pure consciousness — it’s the home of all the laws of nature. You get more in tune with those and … nature starts supporting you. So you have that feeling, even if they’re breathing down your neck, and there’s pressure here and pressure here, it doesn’t matter — inside … I say, “Every day is like a Saturday morning” — you got a great feeling, and it grows and grows and grows.”

- David Lynch

Everyday

Allow yourself permission to not concern yourself with what others think. Get busy being that version of yourself you want to be.