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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“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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Bite-sized Wisdom: Stewart

Remember you choose which direction to walk each day. Pick a path of which you can be proud.

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“It is what you do from now on that will either move our civilization forward a few tiny steps, or else… begin to march us steadily backward.”

-Patrick Stewart

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La Vie En Rose dans La Ville Rose

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Per Tolosa totjorn mai.
Occitan for  “For Toulouse, always more”

Known as the Ville Rose (Pink City), Toulouse is aptly named for the rose-colored bricks that make up the facades of the city’s oldest buildings, even as l’ancien meets with the new.

For me, it was a city with a certain well-understood charm – a getaway for French natives in the North in search of a pause from a more pretentious Paris perhaps, or a badly needed kickstart to the everyday routine from those in the surrounding sleepier southwestern towns.

Modernity sits side by side with history as you stroll from the busy midtown walkways to duck into tiny pink cobblestoned backstreets leading towards the river. Everyone headed perpetually towards the river. The site of “Toulouse Plage” for the month (sand and beach games brought in for August), the riverside makes for a cool antidote to the August heat. I loved the outdoor markets, the streetside booksellers, the waterfront cafes, and quiet confidence of the folks there. No in-your-face-flash required, they understood well what their city has to offer.

Happy Accident

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How could we have known
that time would slow and gasp for air -
we could steal a few moments extra
while her back was turned?

Who was there to warn us
that the space behind our eyes had room for rent -
we would move in uninvited,
never asking the other to leave?

Would we have known
the perfect place if we had found it -
when we already were living
in our favorite version of home?

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Bite-sized Wisdom: Apollinaire

Maybe it’s a little easier than we think…From one of France’s foremost poets and playwrights:

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“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”

Guillaume Apollinaire

Image Source, Kids chasing Father Christmas in London, 1926

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5 Simple Ways to Start Leading the Good Life

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1. Celebrate the ordinary and less than extraordinary. Because you can’t win the Nobel Peace Prize every day of the year. Cheer on the small moments in between the large ones, and you’ll start to notice how those peaks will advance towards you in rapid succession.

2. Get outside when it’s still light out. Summer’s official start date is tomorrow. How are you going to revel in it?

3. Make time for yourself. A whole good amount of it. Come to know yourself better than the tabloids know Justin Bieber’s whereabouts. Treat yourself to that manicure, bask leisurely for an hour doing absolutely nothing, and recharge. No point in running on empty.

4. Sing and dance like no one is watching/like the entire world is watching. These two should be one in the same. It’s often assumed that the scrutiny of many is a negative thing. If you truly approach whatever the task at hand is with gusto, people will notice, take note and maybe get a little bit inspired. Don’t apologize for loving the things that you do.

5. Unplug. From your cell phone, Facebook, from the endless internet to-do list. Go have an adventure. It’ll be there when you come back.

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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.

Hiding Amidst the Others

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Want to grow big and strong? Take a cue from Toronto-based street artist Aidan Glynn, who created these mushrooms and dropped them into a local grocery store.

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Glynn‘s other projects surround the video game world with nods to Pokemon, Donkey Kong, Mario and more:

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Bite-sized Wisdom: Jonson

This contemporary of Billy Shakes knew the importance of surrounding yourself with good company:

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“True happiness consists not in the multitude of friends, but in the worth and choice”
- Ben Jonson

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Bite-sized Wisdom Hammerstein

On Personal Growth

Seven Good Reasons to Stop Whatever You’re Doing and Go for It

When Worlds Collide

Next project on the slates is a musical entitled The Pokemusical – which promises to be a ridiculously fun romp as 90′s nostalgia takes the stage. 

Thrilled to begin telling this story to those that knew and loved the Pokemon craze/those that ask Polka-what?

Looks like we’re not the only ones who are fans of the mash-up. Pokemon Fashion blog PokeXFashion slams the world of high fashion into the slightly more animated one as pocket monsters hide surreptitiously behind models or grab the limelight instead.

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Even more at PokeXFashion

Some Years Ago — Never Mind How Long Precisely, Tilda Swinton Read a Tome

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How many of us can say that they’ve actually got around to reading Melville’s novel, easily considered a treasure of world literature?

Peninsula Arts with Plymouth University have made the daunting task a little easier with their 21st century-friendly project, the Big Read. Readers such as Tilda Swinton and Stephen Fry embellish a chapter of Moby Dick each with their voice and skill. The project also curated 136 artists to create an accompanying illustration for each of the chapters of the book.

No better way to revisit a classic than by bringing it to the arts-hungry culture in such a digestible format.

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Should you need me these next few days, I’ll be diving into these deeper waters.

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