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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World’s A Stage: Spotlight on Belarus

Theater was made to push the boundaries, but what happens when your country wants to maintain those artificial limits? One theatre group in Belarus has made a commitment from allowing their home to silence their (powerful) voices.

Belarus Free Theatre is an underground theatre group that operates primarily in secret, holding unofficial rehearsals and free performances in small private apartments, cafes, or wooded areas. Seen as theatrical vigilantes at constant risk of persecution, they constantly change their venues and have no specific theatrical home. Members of the theatre have been attacked by the police and held for their participation in the Belarus Free Theatre activities. The stage director and other associates were fired from their jobs at state-run theatres for their involvement in the movement.

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Being Harold Pinter at the mid-April 2007 conference Artist and Citizen: 50 Years of Performing Pinter, in England

The group was established in March 2005 by human rights activist, playwright and journalist, Nikolai Khalezin, and Natalia Koliada, a theatre producer and Khalezin’s wife. The group’s mission was to resist the overwhelming pressure and censorship of Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenka.

As the only modern theatre force in the country, the government is challenged by Belarus Free Theatre’s commitment to performing uncensored works. All other theatre is state-run, allowing the country to dictate the programming, resulting in a stale version of theatre which cannot appropriately discuss all aspects of contemporary life. The guerilla theatre group pushes for its creative freedom daily, risking their own security for the promise of truth in art.

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Belarus Free Theatre in the short play by Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, one of the 12 featured in ‘Eurepica. Challenge.’

On 22 August 2007, during the Free Theatre’s première of Edward Bond’s theatrical piece Eleven Vests, Belarusian special forces stormed a performance in a private apartment in Minsk, and arrested actors, directors, and audience members. The founder, Khalezin, has now unfortunately become accustomed to these surprises, stating that the police would regularly burst into performances with machine guns in order to demonstrate power. At this point he does not fear for himself, but does notice that it is taking its toll on those who have never been arrested before. He’s afraid that these brave audience members won’t come back. Regardless of the pressure, the show resumed the next day in one of the private houses outside of Minsk. Police took video of the event from the forest.

The next few years were moderately less tumultuous but on December 19, 2010, fifty thousand citizens took to the streets to protest what they believed to be the rigged election of Alexander Lukashenko. More than a thousand of those were beaten and arrested, including Artistic Director Natalia Koliada, along with other artistic figures.  At the Belarus Embassy in London, Ian McKellen and a number of leaders from the artistic community protested the arrests, bringing international attention to the issue. Natalia Koliada was released, while Nikolai Khalezin went into hiding, where he remains.

The turmoil  has been worth it for those in the ensemble, almost all of whom have served time behind bars. Notable playwrights (Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter, Václav Havel, and Arthur Kopit) have supported the Free Theatre, with Pinter himself  so impressed by their biographical work [Being Harold Pinter] that he gave the troupe rights to perform any of his plays for free. 


Image Sources: 1, 2

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.

Travelogues: Cross-Country Traveling Through Good Ol’ Americana

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 Lisa about her exploration from Alabama up to the frozen north via car.

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What inspired your cross country travels? How did you select the destinations you knew you had to see?

The cross country trip (Alabama to Montana) came up due to my former fiance being reassigned to Montana for his next 3 years in the Air Force. The destinations kind of just happened, depending on how tired we were, what time it was and how the weather was (we were driving in December with a cat and dog).

What was your favorite stop of the expedition? Why did this one stand out for you?

My favorite destinations were: Mount Rushmore, mostly because it’s amazing and we had fun there. We took goofy pictures. The second would be Sturgis, South Dakota. The people there were so amazingly kind and helpful. One woman even offered us a room in her home and gave my ex his food for free since he is in the service.

Most ridiculous thing that happened on your trip?

Here’s the ridiculousness: we got to Missouri and got stuck in an ice storm. We sat in one spot on the highway for three hours (seriously. We watched all of Green Zone on his Droid).

Was there any point on the trip when you had to rethink your original plan? 

Needless to say, sitting that long, you get antsy and eventually…you “gotta go”. Since there was ice all over and we were literally in the middle of the highway-cum-parking-lot, there wasn’t anywhere to go. My ex wound up using a Vitamin Water bottle and I used the dog’s water bowl! You do what you gotta do on the road!

If you would pick three words to describe the trip, what would they be?

Eye-opening, fun and unforgettable!

What do you do when hit with a case of wanderlust?

I start looking at magazines, blogs and other websites when wanderlust hits.

Where’s next on your travel itinerary?

Next trip is a road trip a few hours away for a half marathon I’m running, then the “big trip” is volunteering at Yosemite for 5 days in September!

All photos courtesy of Lisa. Thanks!

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.

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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).

Two Destined Hearts Bound By the Same Idea

“The unrelenting constancy of love and hope
Can rescue and restore you from any scope.”

The concept album from the brothers Thomas and Paul Dutton (of band Forgive Durden) just received a staging at Joe’s Pub last week. Their musical Razia’s Shadow was first released in 2008 and after numerous successful tours around the country performing the album, the band wanted to take the piece to the stage. The story of star-crossed lovers fighting for their love in a divided world also explores themes of tolerance, redemption, and the strength of the human spirit. Also of note? The story takes place in a world before murder exists.

This album’s rock journey and spirited message are intriguing enough on their own, but I do hope the project continues to find a new life on stage. The possibilities are endless.

World’s A Stage: Spotlight on Sri Lanka

The theatre scene in Sri Lanka has been long in the making. As a country with roots in Theravada Buddhism, many believed that it was vital to tend toward solitary contemplation versus congregational practices or participation in community life. Thus, theatre arts were hard to come by until the 1950s when a serious scene began to develop. Local theatre has since become a melange of early folk ritual, dance drama, and Western theatre, creating a medium unlike any other.

The most recent hit out of the country is a new musical by Jehan Aloysius entitled ‘Rag’ which grapples with the divisive practice of ragging – a ritual seen by some as an equalizing activity, and by others as worse than bullying and hazing. Ragging is typically enforced by senior students on younger ones and includes forced consumption of alcohol, insects, and/or chemicals, physical exertion to the point of organ failure, and an assortment of humiliating activities meant to break the newcomers upon their arrival.

The show’s creator, director, composer and lead actor, Aloysius, has been developing the show for more than ten years, sparked by his own experiences with ragging at university. When Aloysius first received his university acceptance letter he was filled with dread and hid it from his mother. Four months later she found it, and off to school he went.

During his eventual ragging, he was spared some of the worst practices but he says that his classmates underwent processes worse than what he could have imagined. Some of these events have made their way into the show. While the show circles instances of rape, discrimination, shame and suicide, the writer’s efforts to reveal the darker side of university life ultimately provide for a cathartic experience.

Aloysius sought out a cast who had experienced ragging first-hand and after auditioning 250 people, he assembled his lead cast of 12. The story follows the creator’s character, Joseph, who starts a non-violent anti-ragging movement which runs into opposing forces who say it must be violently resisted. The result is an empowering musical that’s breaking boundaries abroad.

The show’s standing ovations and rapturous praise stand testament to the idea that creative expression continues to be one of the best mediums for processing struggle.
If something goes wrong, make art.

Onward to Glory You Go

Call nothing thy own except thy soul.

Love not what thou art, but only what thou may become.

Do not pursue pleasure, for thou may have the misfortune to overtake it.

Look always forward; in last year’s nest there are no birds this year.

Be just to all men. Be courteous to all women.

Live in the vision of that one for whom great deeds are done

–  Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha

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

What’s So Attractive About the Rise and Fall?

Watching the ebb and flow of real women’s lives have made for some of theatre’s  most surprising success stories. So what is it about their tales that gives us that extra dose of catharsis we crave?

Evita. Follows a young, ambitious, and fame-hungry Argentinean, Eva Peron, on her quest to ascend the ranks of the country’s social and political circles. Seen as a savior by most and a terror by some. Dies at 33. Crazy successful musical.

Anna Nicole: The Opera. Takes a lens to the life of Anna Nicole Smith, the waitress who became a Playboy pin-up and billionaire’s wife, before dying penniless at 39. Features extreme language, drug abuse and sexual content in the style of author Richard Thomas’ explosive and exhibitionist approach to opera.

Amy Winehouse Musical. A musical play based on the singer’s life that  will be performed by the Danish Royal Theatre in 2013. Said to focus on “the enormous pressure a sensationalist public put on a young superstar when her problems began.”Found dead at 27 in her home. Does it have what it takes to make it on stage? Is it still too fresh in people’s minds?

Yes, their lives are inherently theatrical. Eva Peron was an actress-turned-politician.  Anna’s life was a soap opera come to life. Amy’s last few years read like a tragic fairy tale. But what else draws authors to write about them and audiences to come and witness a retelling?

Perhaps, as evidenced by the public’s unending attraction to trash TV (from the early days of Jerry Springer…to more recent staples such as Toddlers in Tiaras), people like to be able to feel better about their lives in comparison to the train wrecks of others.

There is also the “gone too soon” factor, as these ladies left in the peak of their popularity or soon thereafter. This leaves us to wonder “what if” and explore the causes that led to such short lives.

Of course, some individuals’ lives are just inherently interesting. Through strokes of luck or hard work, the bullet points from their lives read like a script rather than an obit. And so onto the stage they go, to get the chance to live again.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3

He’s Walken Here

There are few actors more iconic than Mr. Walken. His acting chops have definitely earned a place in my favorites list. But did you know the son of a gun can sing and dance too?

This clip from the 1981 musical movie Pennies From Heaven lets you watch him strut his stuff…and all in one continuous take!