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. 

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.

“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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Post-Apocalyptic Pop Culture: What The Simpsons Looks Like Decades Into the Future

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Dr. Strangelove. Atlas Shrugged. The War of the Worlds. 28 Days Later. The post-apocalyptic narrative is not one that’s new to us. In fact, we seem to be fascinated with the “what if”s that humanity might face when forced to start over from scratch.

In Anne Washburn’s new piece Mr. Burns, the playwright takes a lens to what life might look like weeks after a pandemic wipes out most of human civilization…and how the remaining folks choose to remember The Simpsons. The play opens with a group trying to recall exactly what happened on the episode “Cape Feare.” What starts out as a way of passing the time, the shellshocked survivors attempt to make sense of their new fate using the show as a means of connect with a pop-culture world now lost to them.

The play revisits the group seven years later to find that their connection and conversations have evolved into a theatre-troupe-retelling of said Simpsons episode, complete with attempts at commercial breaks. With no electricity and no recent entertainment product in the wake of the disaster, they are forced to recreate their own. Actors buy lines from passersby – attempting to reconstruct a pop culture phenomenon from the fading chambers of strangers’ memories.

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In the final act, 77 years into the future – with the original generation of those that remember the show now gone – the play has transformed into an epic Greek-tragedy style opera, revering the Simpsons family as they try to escape an evil Mr. Burns and his nuclear powers. 

The play’s postulation on what would happen to our culture if forced to move from a strictly electronic and digital one back to one of oral history is an absolutely fascinating one. After all, how many phone numbers do we have committed to memory? Why memorize the names and dates of important cultural moments when they are just a simple Google or Wikipedia search away? Mr. Burns asks us to consider our role in a technological world and how that affects our process storymaking.

Makes you wonder when a Dadaist deconstruction of Toddlers and Tiaras will hit the stage. But until then, Playwrights Horizons has a show to pique the interest of anyone the least bit concerned about the human condition.

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Bite-sized Wisdom: Seneca

Do you go to a theatrical experience for the length of the piece or the quality? A simple question that may sneak up and inform the way you live:

dreamscape

“As it is with a play, so it is with life—what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is.”

- Seneca

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There’s a Fine Line Between Existing and Living

Genderbending Like Nobody’s Business

Was lucky enough to catch one of my favorites, Alan Cumming, in his tour de force performance as every single character in Macbeth.

Set in an insane asylum, we find our haggard, somewhat lucid hero being led into his new cell by two doctors and kicking off the 90 min monologue with “When shall we three meet again?”

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Out of all the characters he embodies, Cumming’s Lady M is absolutely revelatory. Seductive, manipulative, controlled and vicious, he brings new life to Macbeth’s power-hungry wife.

Thankfully, NYT documented a glimpse of this performance in the video below:

Save a Pocket Monster, Change the World

Sarah McLachlan, that angel of the 90s, just filmed a promo for us. It’s for a cause we both care about deeply.

If you can find it in your heart to spare a dollar or two, please join us in our fight.

Pika approved!

Pika approved!

If Sharks Were Men

Would they be nicer to the little fishes?

Enjoy an animated representation of one of Brecht’s most notable satirical fables.

With gems such as:

“If sharks were men, they would, of course, also wage wars against one another, in order to conquer other fish boxes and other little fish.”

and

“If sharks were men, there would, of course, also be art. There would be beautiful pictures, in which the sharks’ teeth would be portrayed in magnificent colors and their jaws as pure pleasure gardens, in which one could romp about splendidly. The theaters at the bottom of the sea would show heroic little fish swimming enthusiastically into the jaws of sharks, and the music would be so beautiful that to the accompaniment of its sounds, the orchestra leading the way, the little fish would stream dreamily into the sharks’ jaws, lulled by the most agreeable thoughts.”

Starting the Experience at the Door: Theatrical Hors D’oeuvres

You walk into a party and the host takes your coat, slings a drink into your hand, introduces you to a few people – makes you feel comfortable, gets you prepared for what the night has in store. Theatrical experiences should be no different. You are already prepared to enter another story for the evening –  best to ignite the senses the minute you walk in the door.

The best example I have seen lately was the interactive wonderworld before a performance of The Nether, a show dealing with the danger and imperceptibility of the digital realm and its communities, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Upon arrival, guests were immediately invited to create their own “avatar,” the ideal virtual version of themselves that would represent them for the evening. There was a pinboard to select your favorite character from a variety of games and online communities. Large glass bowls were set out with titles such “I met someone that I only had ever spoken to online,” and “I have friends that I only know through the internet,” with a bowl of round markers in front that guests could drop into whichever corresponding questions matched their own truths. IMAG1951

Most notably, there was a wall hung with clothesline and a large stack of cards entitled “nobody knows I dream about.” Over the course of the evening, the wall quickly filled with secrets more often left unspoken.

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Each game and activity eased you into the experience of The Nether which asked audiences to consider the ways in which we communicate now and notice how the digital world has swiftly become meshed with our own. It offered a stark warning for the future, and most importantly made us feel welcome as we prepared for an entirely new storytelling experience.