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.

“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

Image Source, Interview Source

The Fab Four Take on the Bard

Just in case you weren’t sure if the Beatles were iconic enough…Turns out in 1964, they also tried their hand at Shakespeare. Because, why not.

Here they perform the mummer’s play from the second half of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the famous lovers and the wall story.

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:

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.

You Have to Move On/ Il Faut Avancer

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Theatre du Chatelet, renowned Paris institution headed by Jean-Luc Choplin, recently presented Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine’s award-winning and heartbreaking SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. Lucky for those of us that weren’t able to hop on a plane to Paris during its run, the production was filmed and broadcast by Mezzo TV. And now, this new version is available to download for free, albeit for a very limited time.

The original Broadway production of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, directed by James Lapine, starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, was similarly filmed and quickly became a staple in the collector’s canon. For those of you who haven’t seen any of the original cast, or for those that could always use a refresher, enjoy the two duetting on “Move On.”


In this number, Dot appears to her great grandson (that of her lover George Seurat), also named George, who is struggling with his art

Look at what you want,
Not at where you are,
Not at what you’ll be-
Look at all the things you’ve done for me

Article Worth Reading: “Find What You Love and Let it Kill You”

James Rhodes gave up the piano for 10 years, trading it in for the promise of the City and searching for some sort of security. Then decided his dream of becoming a concert pianist trumped all.

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From the Guardian’s recent article:

“What if rather than a book club you joined a writer’s club? Where every week you had to (really had to) bring three pages of your novel, novella, screenplay and read them aloud?
 
What if, rather than paying £70 a month for a gym membership that delights in making you feel fat, guilty and a world away from the man your wife married you bought a few blank canvases and some paints and spent time each day painting your version of “I love you” until you realised that any woman worth keeping would jump you then and there just for that, despite your lack of a six-pack?”

Read on

Image before editing: Alan Cleaver

Singing Boxers and Epic Montages: Bringing Beloved Films to Broadway

Officially announced yesterday: ROCKY’s coming to the Great White Way.

Yes, everyone’s favorite “little boxer that could” is getting his chance to belt it out.

Skeptical? No need. The production got rave reviews over in Germany on its first tryout of the material. Features music from Ahrens and Flaherty (Ragtime, The Glorious Ones, Once on this Island) and what appears to be pretty thrilling direction from Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson). 

How do you think Rocky will fare?

Tis The Season of Gatsby

With Luhrmann’s adaptation about to hit the silver screen, there’s no better time to revisit how others have retold Fitzgerald’s classic American tale. At once a novella about the power of hope and a prophetic story of the end of an era, the The Great Gatsby is still considered one of the best books in the canon of Western literature.

The book exploded off the page in Elevator Repair Service’s marathon retelling. A man in an office sits down, begins reading the book, and 8 hours later (a few intermissions and dinner break included) you emerge from the theatre having utterly steeped yourself in the text. All 180 pages of it.

Take a glimpse of the piece through the eyes of the narrator, Nick Carraway, as Gatsby’s lavish parties transform a dull office setting. The actor who plays Nick, Scott Shepherd, has memorized all 49,000 words of the text.

How to Become a Better Writer, Friend, and Person

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– Get up early, go sit down and write
– Journal without editing yourself
– Find seeds of great ideas in the piles of subconscious ones you’ve just laid out for yourself
– Repeat until it no longer feels like a chore, but a part of your day you anticipate with excitement
– Continue ad infinitum

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– Make time for people that matter to you
– Send a note to let them know you’re thinking about them what big or little life events pop up (“Good luck on that interview!”, “Hope you fly safe!”, “That recipe you gave me is le bomb.”, etc.)
– Show support when good things happen to them, and even more support when the bad sneaks in
– Refuse to let distance be an obstacle. There are a million ways to stay connected nowadays. If Facebook isn’t cutting it for you, agree to start writing each other postcards. No one gets real mail anymore – just think of what a treat it would be to get something worthwhile in the mailbox.
– Continue ad infinitum

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– Stop comparing, stop complaining, stop selling yourself short
-Continue ad infinitum

Image Sources (before editing): Human Writes Performance, Geneva, Jesse757, GuiseppePortale