Shakespeare’s Rocking Out

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The brilliant team behind Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson is at it again. Director and bookwriter Alex Timbers and composer Michael Friedman have collaborated again on a modern musical retelling of the Bard’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. From the sound of this track, released yesterday on Shakespeare’s 449th birthday, the show promises to be a contemporary romp and a love letter of sorts to the inimitable writer himself.

It will take this stage this summer as part of the free Shakespearefest that descends upon Central Park’s Delacorte Theater each year. From the Shakespeare in the Park notes on the show: “Romance, revelry and enchanting music ignite in this contemporary yet lovingly faithful musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy. The King and his best buds decide at their five-year college reunion to swear off the joys of women. But when four cute, clever girls from their past show up, they’re forced to reconsider all of that nonsense! Smart, sexy, outrageous, and irreverent, LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST is a madcap celebration of true love and coming of age.”

AreYouaManClick above to listen

Clever Arts Marketing from Around The World: Speaking to an Audience Instead of Talking Down to One

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hertztheatre_manholeHertz Theatre. Decidedly underground.

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critique(This one reminds me a bit of Season 2 of Slings and Arrows)

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teatar-exit-summer-nightsTheatre Exit Summer Nights bus stop posters can be completely seen only during the night.

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

What Are You Afraid of…and Other Tough Questions

See Rock City and Other Destinations is up and running! This show investigates the intersection of expectations and reality, telling human stories across six distinct American landmarks. Posters with central ideas from each of the vignettes below:

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Everything is Connected

Discovered this weekend that this soundtrack makes for the best driving music on long trips around the city. The end credits specifically. Take a listen and let your day transform into something extraordinary.

Artist Check-In: Animator Jessie Greenberg

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We love chatting with artists across the spectrum – writers, visual artists, performers, and more. Everyone has a unique story about why they create and what speaks to them. And we all love a good story.

Welcome this week’s artist, Jessie ‘Velociraptor’ Greenberg, a storyboard artist currently working as a Production Secretary at Disney TV Animation. She lives in Burbank, spends a decent amount of time at Disneyland, and has a roommate who is kind of like a cat.

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When did you realize you had a passion for drawing and illustrating? Were there others in your family that shared a similar interest or was it a skill you mainly fostered independently?

I’ve always been drawing! I think at some point after you’ve been giggling at your doodles on the side of your homework for ages – you finally show your best friends, and it makes them laugh. Suddenly, you’re hooked! That’s how it always seemed to go for me – I wasn’t the best at drawing, but it made me happy, and it made others happy. I have a few family members that are artistic in the fine arts or performing, but no one that specifically worked in animation. We just really loved movies and cartoons, and I basically grabbed onto that idea of bringing laughter and entertainment to people through drawings.

What other animators/illustrators’ work convinced you that this field was one you could definitely see yourself getting into in the future?

My friend Sarah Mensinga was the first person I talked to that had a style I loved and looked up to, but she was also one of the first industry people to tell me I could do it. Later on, storyboard artist & writer Aliki Theofilopoulous Grafft and I sort of adopted each other in a mentor/mentee relationship, and she’s the first person that really gave me a chance. She looks at my work and knows exactly what I need to work on, but she’s also an amazing person to collaborate with, and an amazing person to look up to. She’s the one that proved to me – you can be a woman, be a force of awesome in the animation industry, and still have a family. These ladies, as well as many others, both artistically & personally convinced me this is the field I need to be in.

How do you describe your animation style?

I’d say my biggest animation style influence is from the movie ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’, which derived from a lot of UPA styled cartoons (for example: the 1950 short ‘Gerald McBoing-Boing’). I also picked up style influence from the video game ‘Psychonauts’, as well as various 90s & 00s cartoon shows and plenty of Disney films as well. I try to be as versatile as possible, but I really love expressive stylized characters and playing around with their shapes.

What are your favorite things to draw? Why do they speak to you?

I love drawing people interacting, and I especially love drawing funny story moments! I’m hoping that people will connect to the story moment or the character, whether it be for a funny or emotional connection. Sometimes it’s simply a character struggling to open a jar, sometimes it’s a personal emotional story, and sometimes it’s just my roommate and I watching TV and saying stupid things.

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What can be said through animation that can’t be said through words or text?

In animation and film in general, you can get so much across without a single word, and as a result, every age and culture can understand it. You begin to notice the things that tie humanity together without language barriers, and whether it’s meant to be serious or funny, it’s beautiful to see people connect like that.

How do the people you work with inspire and motivate you?

Every studio I’ve worked for has been full of the nicest and most supportive people! Many of them have been working in animation for decades and on so many projects I have loved over the years. Their stories are inspiring, and watching their work come alive in front of my eyes teaches me so much more than I could ever hope for. They are all wonderfully encouraging, and that really motivates me to keep moving forward with my own personal projects.

What project [personal or otherwise] are you excited to be working on currently?

I am working on a short film called ‘Pickles!’, I’m the lead artist for an iPhone game, and I’m regularly working on my storyboard portfolio!

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What’s the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part about working in story is actually the best part of working in story – every project has new challenges, new characters, new worlds, and that can be a lot to balance. It’s exciting though, I love when I get a chance to work with others and discuss potential ways to problem solve. When you have a great team of people together – people that will offer suggestions you may never have thought of previously, and people that will also listen to your ideas and find a way to find some fun compromise – it’s the best feeling in the world!

What advice would you offer someone who wants to pursue a career in animation?

Always carry a sketchbook, remain positive every step of the way (even when things aren’t going the way you planned), always let everyone know what you’re passionate about, don’t be afraid of approaching people you admire, and above all – in everything you do, be genuine and polite.

I would also suggest going to events like the CTN Expo in Burbank, where there’s so much opportunity for making new friends, showing your work, and learning from the pros. There’s also some wonderful and supportive communities online – through twitter or tumblr – where you can chat with all these amazing artistic folks and get some great advice. :)

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Thanks Jessie! To check out more of Jessie’s work, pop on over to her site and say hello.

Artist Check-In: Theatre Director Doug Oliphant

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We love chatting with artists across the spectrum – writers, visual artists, performers, and more. Everyone has a unique story about why they create and what speaks to them. And we all love a good story.

Welcome this week’s artist, Doug Oliphant, an LA-based theatre director, movement director and fight choreographer who serves as Artistic Director for Drive Theatre Company.  He’s directed full productions of 44 Plays for 44 PresidentsBluenose, his original show There is Truth, Love is Real, Christopher Durang’s Betty’s Summer Vacation, as well as music videos for 44 Plays for 44 Presidents co-author Karen Weinberg and alt. rock band Sleep Well.  At the Kennedy Center, he was awarded the 2009 regional and national SDC Directing Fellowship Award for his achievements in the American College Theatre Festival.  Doug received his BFA in Theatre at Central Connecticut State University, studied theatre at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Theater Institute and the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy (Russia).

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What was the impetus for the great move out west? What was intriguing about the LA theatre scene vs. that of the East Coast?

There were many reasons that prompted my great move out west.  Growing up, I would travel with my family in CT to visit my family in Gilroy/San Jose, CA every other year, and California always had this vacationland/dream-like aura about it.  And of course, when you live in CT, there’s no real difference in your head between SoCal and NorCal (I’m much wiser now).  So there was the childhood dream-fulfilling about moving out here going into the decision.  But another major factor was the group of friends I had already out here.  While I was in college, I took a trip one summer and spent four days in San Francisco and four days in LA to just hang out in both cities, see theatre in both, and as best as I could, evaluate which city I’d rather live in/make a living in.  I LOVE San Francisco, but after my four days in LA where I spent a good amount of time on the beach, amazed by the endless stretches of sand (people in CT fight dirty just to get a good spot at the beach), the dedicated bike trails along the beach, the playground-for-adults at Santa Monica Beach, etc…  Plus, I was staying with an actor friend of mine, who I could watch leaving for an audition and hear his stories about his career thus far…that was inspiring to me.  I liked the vibe. I liked the fact that things were more laid-back, and that I–as the very intense/focused person I am when I’m working on something–could excel with my driving work-ethic.  Add to the list the beautiful hikes I took while there, the pet-friendly environments, and the fact that it was on the opposite side of the country as where I grew up and LA was looking pretty appealing.  Though I do love NY, I think we’re better off just as friends.  I liked the idea of LA having a smaller, underground theatre community that I could integrate into, making myself a bigger fish in a smaller pond while still having that pond be filled with amazing talent with which I could collaborate.

When did you decide that making theatre was going to be your life? What led you to this decision?

I knew that making theatre was going to be my life in March, 2011.  That was when I was 100% sure–when I specifically decided that I want to pursue a theatre directing career as my primary career goal, and that all other interests and talents would fall into secondary categories around it.  For the first year or so I lived in LA (Aug. 2009 – Dec. 2010), I was trying to actively pursue every one of my interests and advance a career in each of them.  Those pursuits included acting in theatre, film, tv, commercials, performing utility stunts and parkour in the entertainment industry, directing theatre, film, music videos, choreographing and performing fights, and movement through all mediums.  And it was exhausting.  By the time March 2011 rolled around, I took a great trip to the beach (so glad I moved to this city!), sat on a bench overlooking the water and wrote out all my thoughts on what was most important to me.  That’s when I really came to terms with my passion for directing theatre, and after that point it felt like a giant weight had lifted off my shoulders, and I started making visible progress now that I set just one direction to head in.  Clarity in one’s life, like when you’re telling a story, is soo important.

Tell us a bit about your time with the Eugene O’Neill Center’s National Theatre Institute. How was your time there formative to what you do now?

If it wasn’t for my tendency to always try to do more than I’m capable of, my time at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Theater Institute would have been the deciding factor in my devotion to a life in making theatre.  I attended the program the second semester of my junior year in college, and entered the program confident that I was going to be a professional actor for the rest of my life.  Before going there, I had never directed (I thought that was for old people who were either failed actors or had serious Type-A personalities) and never knew that any actor movement beyond traditional dance techniques existed.  The program consists of 14 weeks, where students from colleges across the country come to the O’Neill’s campus, a simple, multi-building farm-turned-theater center.  During those 14 weeks, you work 7 days a week, starting at 7:30am with a warm up and ending your final class at 10pm, before then working on homework.  Two of those weeks are spend abroad, and I went to St. Petersburg, Russia where my classmates and I studied at the St. Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy.  There’s never any time for anything, so you’re always under extreme pressure.  You’re constantly creating, as an actor, director, designer or playwright.  You don’t have time to think, let alone sleep, and your only support system are the other students, so you’re taking a whole additional class on collaboration.  The system inevitably makes you experience some of your highest highs and lowest lows in theatre, perhaps even in your life.  I’ll never forget one scene I was acting in, from a classical play called The Rover, which one of my closest friends from NTI was directing and I wanted so badly to give him a great performance.  But I’m horrible at memorizing classical text, and you’re only given 3 days to prepare for each scene presentation, and come the day of the performance, I still couldn’t get my lines to stick, and the more I was aware of it, the less I remembered.  Right before the performance, one of the O’Neill staff members came as the audience was filing in the room, and she had a camcorder!  I asked if she was going to film it, and she said, “Yes, we want to start documenting all the work you guys put up!”  I was so mortified…and we performed the scene, and I was horrendous, I forgot all the lines I was having trouble with, I was never even close to “in-character” and was never so disappointed in myself for letting my co-actors, director, and entire class down.  Just one of many, many vivid, life-changing memories during my time there.  On a more positive note, on one of the last days of the semester, all the teachers gather in a room to give individual reviews on each student.  It was a day dreaded by most, where teachers no longer have to be kind and encouraging to you, but would speak the cold truth of how they felt you did that semester and where they see you excelling in the future.  I went in not sure what would be said, and was surprised to hear among many other positive things that every one of my teachers felt I’d make an excellent director.  “Keep directing” was the message they all spoke at one point or another, and it was largely from the confidence I got from them that I did exactly that.

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You were selected as the national winner of the SDC Directing Award in 2009. What was the process like applying for the theatre festival associated with the award and how did that experience shape the way you approach theatrical directing?

Before that semester at NTI, I had never directed.  After, I directed several scenes, a 1-act staged reading, and received support from the entire faculty to keep directing–and of course, I really wanted to and was thrilled by this new-found passion.  So first thing I did after I finished NTI was return to my school (Central Connecticut State University) and spoke to my adviser about what I could do to direct as much as possible in my last year before graduation.  Among other things, she gave me permission to direct a one-act play in the fall semester.  So I set out to find a play to direct, and ended up talking to a friend of mine who also had permission to direct a one-act.  We flipped through a bunch of different plays together, before he came up with an idea where if we find a full-length we like, we could each direct one act in a two-act play.  He pulled out Betty’s Summer Vacation by Christopher Durang and pitched it to me.  Before this, as we were both actors in the school’s BFA Acting program, we were encouraged to act in each other’s play.  So in looking at Betty’s, we decided I could play a character that only appears in the second act, he could play a character that dies before the end of the first act, and we could each direct the act we don’t appear in!  We pitched the idea to my adviser, got approval, and put up the show in the lobby of our theatre department in September 2008.  The faculty of our theatre department loved it and told us they would pay to enter the production into the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival and nominated my friend and I for directing.  With that nomination, you were then eligible to submit yourself for the regional festival directing competition, which involved you writing a cover letter on why you’re interested in competing in the festival, your resume of past work, and two letters of recommendation.  So I submitted and was one of three total who were accepted in a record-breaking year of submissions.  Those accepted then had to prepare a scene.  A selection committee at the Kennedy Center chose five different plays and a specific scene–or multiple scenes–from that play, and the competing director had to choose one, cast it with actors from their school, rehearse at their school and then take the scene up to the festival to be performed in front of a panel of judges.  We also had to keep a director’s notebook, noting specifics about the story, character arcs, scenic elements, time period, etc. and logging our progress, reflecting back on each rehearsal.  I chose Quake, by Melanie Marnich and after much rehearsal, brought the scene to the festival and had it performed/judged.  I, and the two other directors competing adjusted our scenes and presented them one last time in an open-to-the-public presentation.  Then at the end-of-week ACTF awards ceremony, I was announced the winner (horray)!

So then after winning the regional festival, you head to Washington D.C. for a week and the Kennedy Center and where you compete with the winning directors (there were 9 of us) from around the country.  This time, we were asked to prepare two things.  One was assigned by Ming Cho Lee, a quite legendary scenic designer who asked us to present a portrait gallery of the characters in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale.  A portrait gallery in this context asks you to look through photographs of people, via magazines, the internet, etc. and find people who seem to best portray each character.  The other assignment was to give a 3-minute pitch on how you’d direct the opening scene (with the 3 witches) of Macbeth.  This was assigned by SDC member John Dillon, and in my pitch I set the world in 2009 (the year, then) or perhaps the slightly distant future in Afghanistan/America, where right before the play, Osama Bin Laden was be killed by Macbeth, and Macbeth was then deemed a national hero.  The three witches were representatives of the press who were planning on planting false ideas of fame into his head in hopes of his corruption…all for the best news story.  This would make the witches, in fact, not magical, but real people, and Macbeth’s downfall truly tragic, as he never wished for all the fame that came upon him for loyally serving his country.  Besides that, I took workshops with a variety of other artists in the industry and was given a great window into the professional world of theatre.  At the awards ceremony at the end of the week, I was announced the winner and received $1000 from the SDC, associate membership into the union, and fellowships at the O’Neill’s National Playwrights Conference and the Kennedy Center in the summer.  The O’Neill fellowship was obviously so great as I just was there as a student, now returning on fellowship from the Kennedy Center for directing…which I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for the O’Neill.  Needless to say, that place has a very special place in my heart.

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How did your company Drive Theatre come about? Who did you collaborate with to make it a reality?

Drive Theatre Company came about in October 2011 when I sat down with my friend and fellow young director Tim Koch and expressed my feelings of frustration in not directing enough.  I was concerned that I was spending too much time assistant directing, associate directing, production coordinating, movement or fight choreographing, but not enough time actually in the director’s seat, seeing your vision out from start to finish.  In particular, there was an Ira Glass quote that made its way around Facebook that went like this:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners.  I wish someone had told me.  All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.  But there is this gap.  For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good.  It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.  But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.  And your taste is why your work disappoints you.  A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit.  Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.  We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.  We all go through this.  And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.  Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece.  It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.  And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met.  It’s gonna take a while.  It’s normal to take a while.  You just gotta fight your way through.”  

THAT is why I started Drive Theatre.  Where it will continue from here on out is evolving, as Tim ended up moving to NYC when he got an assistant director job on Broadway, but producing a lot of work remains my personal mission with the company, so that by the time I’m in a position where I’m directing somewhere with a lot more visibility, I won’t fail from lack of experience and have it cost me my career.


44 Plays for 44 Presidents44 Plays for 44 Presidents

What kinds of shows does the company produce? What is it about these kinds of stories that speak to you?

To quote our mission, “Drive Theatre Company produces bold American plays that explore what it means to be an American.”  Now, that doesn’t just mean that we do patriotic plays, but rather we do plays by American playwrights and look to examine different aspects of our culture, what makes us a country, what are our problems, how can we laugh at them, is there hope, etc.  That’s the umbrella we’re operating under for content, but HOW we operate is also in our mission, “We support and encourage our artists in their pursuit of national theatre careers and endeavor to collaborate with like-minded companies in Los Angeles and major cities nationwide.”  44 Plays for 44 Presidents, our first show, was a part of a national festival where over 44 other productions from around the country happened this past election season.  Through the offerings of the festival staff, we were connected through Facebook, Twitter and emails to these other productions, and I personally had contact with people from many of those productions.  As someone looking to further my freelance career through this theatre company, it’s my mission with Drive to never produce a play that stays no larger than the production itself.  That doesn’t mean we only produce when we can be a part of a festival, but it might mean we look forward to doing co-productions with other companies, do some kind of residency in another city, find a play we feel passionately about producing, identify its themes, and find a common pre-existing event, facility, or company that we can team up with to share business and take away something larger than what we have to offer ourselves.  This all comes from my desire to NOT start the next Steppenwolf.  There are a lot of other small theatre companies in LA, and many of them are great, I’d love to work with them!  But I have no need to try to create my own rival company, producing a full season of shows when that’s being done already by so many wonderful LA theatre artists.

Why theatre?  What can theatre do that other art forms cannot?

Theatre is the epitome of storytelling.  If we can all agree that a good story can change the way we do things, the way we live our lives or the way we look at the world, then a good theatre production can do just that, while at the same time bringing people together and connecting with them face-to-face.  The magic of live performance can never be created through film or television.  Other forms of art are so solitary, no other brings people together in the full-communal way theatre does.  And for me as a director, to be able to sit in an audience while actors genuinely connect, revealing deeply personal truths in serious or comedic contexts, and being present with a whole audience that’s being affected by that…it’s just the best.

What are the challenges of running a theatre company?

The challenges of running a theatre company…ha!  There’s many, from the bigger issues of why this theatre company?  Why now?  How are you different?  Why should a donor give you money and not someone else?  To the practical issues of simply how do I raise money?  How can I keep this company sustainable?  Where do I see it going in 5 years?  Who’s a part of this other than me?  What’s the trade-off for them?  What compromises will I have to make to keep everyone happy?  How do I find new plays?  How do I develop an audience and then keep them engaged, coming back for more?  How do I keep people donating?  This rental theatre sucks, what’s a better one?  Why do all rental theatres suck?!  *sigh* the list goes on ;)  That’s why you gotta love it!

Sources of inspiration?

Ira Glass is the biggest one, I’m influenced by a wide array of theatres, artists, nature, MUSIC, successful friends, unsuccessful friends and much more.

Down in the Face of God (movement direction)Down in the Face of God

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue a career in the arts and theatre?

To anyone who would like to pursue a career in arts or theatre–DO IT!  I heard far too many times from guest speakers in school, “If you can do anything else [other than theatre], do it” and it’s the worst bit of advice I’ve ever heard.  For the love of life, do it.  Too many people live life with regrets, all the what-ifs and if-onlys…and that’s the worst.  Say you want to start a theatre company but have no idea how to fund-raise…give it a shot anyway!  If it means something to you, do the research!  Talk to people!  If you want to give acting a shot in the industry, but you’re not sure if the crazy auditioning and getting shut down all the time lifestyle is for you, take a year of your life to do exactly that as best as you can, and if by the end of that year you’re miserable, not sure of who you are anymore, what you believe in, if there’s any hope left in this world, then stop!  Don’t do it anymore!  Do something else, and rest easy knowing that you did it and learned it wasn’t for you, rather than staying safe by never trying and always wishing you had.  One of my close friends from Connecticut set out to be an actor, graduated with his theatre degree, went to NYC and joined a bunch of improv troupes.  Worked a bit in film, joined SAG, and after a few years, realized he wasn’t happy, and loved his girlfriend a lot more than he loved the business, so he left NYC, proposed to his girlfriend, they got married, have a kid, a dog and a house in CT and are completely happy.  He went for it, realized he loved something else more, and changed paths, no regrets.  He inspires me.

Thanks Doug!

“America” Means Different Things to Different People

“I always liked the idea that America is a big facade. We are all insects crawling across on the shiny hood of a Cadillac. We’re all looking at the wrapping. But we won’t tear the wrapping to see what lies beneath.”
-Tom Waits

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Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Letting the Heart Have Its Say

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The mind delights in lofty pursuits -
Tête-a-têtes in bilingual prose
And dissections of unsatisfying denouements -
Just to prove it can.

But when words grow weary
And wits tire of the unending race,
May you learn to sing of your longing.

For the soul rejoices in hearing its song,
Strains of melody painting delicate truths,
All heart affirmed, all opposition abandoned
With no chance to be mistaken.

Image Source

Travelogues: The Charm and Craziness of Coney Island

As part of preparations for See Rock City and Other Destinations, a musical travelogue about people’s stories at various American destinations, we’re talking to real folks about their travel experiences around the U.S. Giving people a taste of others’ authentic, fun, and hard-to-believe stories one interview at a time.

Today, we’re talking to nouveau-Brooklynite Abigail’s visits to the age-old wonderland of Coney Island.

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I’m Abigail. I’m a graduate student in creative writing and book publicist, and I moved from Wisconsin to Brooklyn in 2009 after taking a two-month trip around the country on Greyhound buses. I love travel and languages, and I studied in Spain and Japan as an undergrad. So far, the highlight of my travels has probably been learning how to ride an elephant in Chiang Mai, Thailand, then lying on the ground as it walked over me.

What inspired your move from Wisconsin to Brooklyn?

Brooklyn felt like where I needed to be. To quote Calvin & Hobbes, “They say the secret of success is being at the right place at the right time. But since you never know when the right time is going to be, I figure the trick is to find the right place, and wait around.”

 What was your first experience with Coney Island?

My first trip to Coney Island was with a few close friends who had all moved to the city after graduation. I loved seeing the glimpses of olden-day carnival Coney Island, and the experience of walking along the boardwalk eating a corn dog from Nathan’s. We spent the day taking turns lying on the beach and braving the water, which was still freezing because it was so early in the summer.

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 How did your trips there change over time? 

I think it’s more accurate to say that the feeling I get from visiting Coney Island and putting my feet in the ocean has stayed constant — even though the past few years of my life have involved a lot of flux. Since I’m from the Midwest, I wasn’t used to living close to an ocean — and in most of New York City, it’s strangely easy to forget how close you are to the water. I recently moved further south into Brooklyn to Bath Beach — just a few subway stops away from Coney Island — so I’m hoping I’ll begin to feel even more like it’s “mine” now that I can get there in less than 15 minutes on a bus or train.

 Strangest thing you ever saw at Coney?

I’m not sure if I could pick just one. Every year, Coney Island hosts the Mermaid Parade, which typically involves a lot of glitter and naked people. So, basically like liberal arts college. I’m kidding. There are so many amazing costumes: mermaids with octopus pasties, transformers, giant birds, circus performers on unicycles. I recommend Google-imaging “Mermaid Parade” if you’re not at work.

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Off-season photos of Coney look like a deserted wonderworld. Have you ever visited when no other tourists were around?

I have! I remember one unseasonably warm day in early March a few years back, and I decided it would be fun to go out to Coney Island by myself and take a walk along the beach, and maybe go for a swim. I got there and immediately realized that I had totally misjudged how cold it would be with the wind, but because I didn’t want to feel like I’d made the trip for nothing, I sat on the beach and read, even though it was freezing. There were maybe two other people on the beach, and it felt almost post-apocalyptic.

Do you think America will always have nostalgia for its beachside communities (Coney, Atlantic City, etc.)?

America loves nostalgia. I don’t think it’s necessarily specific for beach communities, though I think there is something special about places that simultaneously encompass two different worlds (one for the people that live there, and one for the tourists). The coast is also a place where fun and danger can easily meet, so maybe there’s a glamour factor in that, too.

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How does Coney Island play into the modern day notion of New York? (Escapism, a much needed retreat, danger zone, etc.)

I think it’s a place where there’s tremendous tension between the old and the new. This is true for a lot of New York, but it seems especially palpable on Coney Island.

Any other fascinating finds in NY that you would recommend folks visit if they’re near the city?

My favorite thing to recommend to visitors is the Staten Island Ferry. It’s free, you get to be on a boat, and you get a great view of the Statue of Liberty. My biggest recommendation, though, is to spend some time people-watching. New York has the best people-watching in the world.

coney sunset

All photos courtesy of Abigail. Thanks!

Join Along for the Road Trip

“Americans have always been eager for travel, that being how they got to the New World in the first place.”
- Otto Friedrich

Thrilled to be working on See Rock City and Other Destinations, a musical travelogue that tells the stories of folks across the U. S. of A. This show is made up of a set of short vignettes, small American plays that attempt to answer the questions of what are we seeking and what holds us back from realizing the things we want. It’s told through story songs and feels akin to a particularly good episode of This American Life on NPR.

Today we’ve started our Meet Rock City series to allow folks to meet the cast and wanted to share the fun with all y’all.

MeetRockCity(click to visit)

These folks are an incredibly talented bunch that are telling these honest stories in some inspiring ways. And while the show keeps up the pace with its humor, the takeaway seems to make us question our basic anxieties or fears – of connecting, of missing out, of seeking, of believing or no longer being able to believe.

Welcome to the journey. Glad to have you along for the ride.

In With the Old, Out Comes the New

As we’ve discussed before, creativity comes with a great deal of getting inspired, borrowing, and sometimes straight out stealing.

But who is to say that a derivative work cannot be equally as satisfying as the original? As long as the pieces are different enough, is it fair to say a certain one is better?

Take for instance the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera  The Mikado. The composers set the opera in Japan, far away from Britain, allowing them to satirize British politics more freely by disguising them as foreign notions.

Opera Australia’s 2011 production of The Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan.

In 1939, the classic was adapted into a new piece entitled The Hot Mikado and performed with an all African-American cast. Primed with a lot more sass and a lot more swing, The Hot Mikado became a hit that is still performed to this day.

Now it’s been over 70 years since the original piece was given a facelift. Thus, theatres are still looking for ways to update the show and help it feel as novel and sexy as it was when The Hot Mikado first took the stage.

This recent production does just this by updating the 1940s American setting to a modern one that tips its hat to the original Mikado, complete with the “three little maids” in anime-style schoolgirl outfits. Up to you to decide which version you prefer – but I’d say there’s definitely room for both in the world of live performance.


Watermill Theatre’s production of The Hot Mikado in 2009

Do You Hear the People Sing? Why the Whole World Is Listening Now

In lieu of offering a full fledged review of the recent movie, I would like to offer this trip around the world with 17 Valjeans from international productions. Because if nothing else, well-done movie musicals offer exposure to the medium. And there’s nothing like getting another person addicted to a show that took over the musical world for the better part of two decades.

There’s a reason why the show has clout – just listen to the ending (4:44).