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Posts Tagged ‘theater’

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Photo: Dmitry Kostyukov for the New York Times.
The cast of “Cabaret Under the Balconies,” kept away from their theater by Covid-19, performs at a safe distance for nursing home residents in France.

What hath Zoom wrought? Despite its glitches, Zoom has solved a lot of problems in the coronavirus era and has even introduced new ideas for future activities. Yesterday, for example, one brother and I watched another brother give a lecture on immunology research to a conference — a thing we could never before have imagined doing. Although we hardly understood a word, we both found the experience of watching our kid brother explain obscure transformations of molecules — and gracefully answer all sorts of technical questions — completely delightful.

In today’s story, a theater group in France tapped Zoom to conduct remote rehearsals before performing in front of a live audience.

Laura Cappelle reports at the New York Times, “When circumstances close theaters’ doors, you can count on some performers to find a window to open. Last week in [a] city in eastern France, the residents and staff of a nursing home watched from a safe distance — some from windows and balconies — as five actors appeared in the building’s courtyard in front of a makeshift red curtain. ‘It feels like it’s been such a long time,’ they sang, in a cover of Joe Dassin’s wistful chanson ‘Salut.’ ‘Far from home, I’ve been thinking about you.’

“ ‘Cabaret Under the Balconies’ [was] the first professional theater performance in France since lockdown was imposed on March 17. …

“The relief of the cast was palpable as they performed at the facility, the Ehpad Bois de Menuse. … The 45-minute show was designed to respect social distancing among the cast members as well as between them and the audience, Bréban explained in an introduction.

“Except for one real-life couple, who were allowed to kiss, none of the performers touched. … Bréban, who also performed in the show, capitalized on the actors’ individual strengths, from Antonin Maurel’s clownish energy to Cléo Sénia’s burlesque background.

“Their approach appeared to resonate with the audience, limited to 40 people. (The show was performed twice so that most of the 90 residents could see it.) Many of them were in wheelchairs, yet could be seen nodding or tapping their feet to the beat. In the courtyard, one woman got up, swung her arms and danced with a masked worker from the home. Another teared up as Léa Lopez, a young performer with a lush voice, sang ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’

“Valérie Gonthier, a nursing assistant who stayed by the woman’s side as she cried, said in an interview afterward that music often stirred up emotions for residents who experienced memory loss. The Ehpad has a choir, but French nursing homes don’t typically have the funds to bring in professional performances; Gonthier couldn’t remember anything like last week’s show in the 26 years she has been with the institution. …

“Nicolas Royer, the theater’s director since January, said he disagreed with many French arts administrators who had interpreted government regulations to mean that performances were impossible. He didn’t furlough any employees, instead asking the costume department to make surgical-style masks, welcoming doctors from a nearby hospital in the theater’s guest apartments and hosting training sessions for city workers dealing with the crisis.

“In April, Royer got a call from Bréban, an experienced actress and emerging director who was going stir crazy in her Paris home: She told Royer she was down for anything he dreamed up. …

“The cast of ‘Cabaret Under the Balconies’ rehearsed over Zoom for seven days and, after the relaxing of lockdown in France in May, met in Chalon-sur-Saône for one week of in-person rehearsals — with strict rules. Bréban booked cast members with no health conditions. Daily temperature checks and frequent use of sanitizing gel were mandated, and everyone was offered a coronavirus test.

“By far the most onerous directive for the performers was to maintain a distance from one another of roughly one meter at all times. … ‘We were confident that we were within labor regulations, with an audience that was already confined and highly protected,’ Royer said. …

“The last time I went to the theater, two and a half months ago, Isabelle Huppert headlined Ivo van Hove’s staging of ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ For all the star appeal of that night at the Théâtre de l’Odéon, ‘Cabaret Under the Balconies’ was the more memorable event — a sincere attempt to go back to basics, in the right place, at the right time.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Tiny Theatre
Rachel Burttram Powers and Brendan Powers, actors married to each other, created a theater in their closet for these self-distancing times.

Sandra’s dear departed mother had the best recipe for boredom: Go clean out a closet. Sandra cleaned out a lot of closets as a kid, and now as an adult, she is never bored because she knows how to find something more interesting to do.

When I was a kid, I was one to play in the closet rather than clean it and had many tea parties with Carole, accompanied by flashlights, cinnamon toast, and dolls.

Today’s story is about two actors, married and stuck at home in the pandemic, who did both: They cleaned out a closet and then played in it.

Sarah Tietje-Mietz reports at American Theatre, “The stage lights glow like dozens of small stars while the countdown to curtain plays over the intercom. … The actors come together, separated by mere inches, so close that their knees bump and their shoulders touch, so close that they have to lean back to even look at each other.

“The stage is a 4-by-4 closet, lit by a string of Christmas lights. … The audience is all online. Welcome to Tiny_Theatre.

‘I think there’s a need for humans to connect, maybe more than ever,’ said actor and Tiny_Theatre co-founder Rachel Burttram Powers. ‘Toni Morrison says that it’s the artist’s job to create in a time of crisis, you know? We created this out of necessity.’

“Tiny_Theatre is the passion project of Rachel and her husband/co-founder, Brendan Powers, as a response to the shuttering of all theatres in the wake of COVID-19. The couple perform from the guest room of their Fort Myers, Fla., home three times a week — Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays — on Facebook Live. …

“Rachel and Brendan have established a network of playwrights to tap into for their newest project. Some writers have even reached out directly with suggestions of work. Rights for the plays have all been granted gratis to the couple. …

“In early March, Rachel and Brendan were in the final dress rehearsal for Florida Rep’s production of Lucas Hnath’s A Doll’s House, Part 2. The theatre closed its door the next day. Though the couple’s turn as Nora and Torvald was recorded and streamed online, the two found themselves suddenly faced with an abundance of time and artistic energy.

“ ‘We were sort of in that mindset as performers,’ Rachel said. ‘We were ready to go eight shows a week. Suddenly it was like a needle pulled off the record.’

“Added Brendan, ‘A couple days in, once we knew we were canceling the show, I could see Rachel — I can tell when she’s thinking of something.’ …

“Back to Rachel: ‘I started cleaning out a back closet because I thought, “What would happen if you made a theatre at home?” We knew everyone was self-isolating. We both have a passion for new plays, and we have a lot of playwright friends who are very well established, and I just thought, “Let me just send an email to see if people would be game to play with us.” ‘ …

“There is evident respect in the way they communicate, not just as a married couple but as professionals in their field. Playwright Arlene Hutton acknowledges this interplay as creating an environment akin to a mini-repertory company in Tiny_Theatre. Hutton was already familiar with the couple, having worked with Brendan when he starred in her work, Running, and seen Rachel in Florida Rep’s production of Audrey Cefaly’s Alabaster. … ‘They’re not trying to make it more than it is, you know?’ …

“On March 21, Tiny_Theatre debuted with scenes from Cefaly’s Maytag Virgin. This inaugural performance was also the couple’s first Facebook Live experience. (Brendan did not even have a Facebook account at the time.) Their setup was a smartphone, a broken tripod, and a paint stirrer, all literally held together with duct tape. …

“The technical system has since been upgraded, which they credit to the community that has bloomed around Tiny_Theatre. Friends, family, followers, and even strangers have sent gift cards (resulting in a new iPad) as well as printer paper and toner (for printing and notating scripts). …

“There’s a goofiness and levity to these two, a palpable happiness for the work they are doing. Silliness aside, the two have dedicated years to honing their craft onstage. In such close proximity, their acting is distilled to their voices, the acuity in their facial expressions, the gentle placement of a hand, through which they transport their viewers beyond the confines of their closet.

“ ‘That’s been tricky,’ Brendan said of the lack of mobility. ‘As we read a scene — you’re an actor, you start to feel it, and then you get put in that situation where you can’t storytell physically or only very, very minimally.’ …

“It was this challenge that attracted Nathan Christopher, who found out about Tiny_Theatre through the Playwright Submission Binge online community and became enamored with the project after just one viewing. The Powerses accepted Christopher’s submission of his recent play A Man Walks Into a Bar, performing it on April 6, as well as Clairvoyant, which came from an open call they put out that asked writers to create short works inspired by a single photo they provided as a prompt.”

Read more here.

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Photo: Slung Low
The Slung Low theater group sorting out food parcels at their headquarters in Leeds, England.

Many companies and nonprofits around the world have been stepping up to meet new needs during the lockdown. This story is about an innovative UK theater delivering food to the hungry.

Ian Youngs reports at the BBC, “When you’re suddenly tasked with co-ordinating emergency food parcel deliveries to vulnerable local people during a pandemic, the ability to think creatively comes in useful. As artistic director of one of the UK’s most innovative theatre companies, Alan Lane is used to coming up with imaginative solutions.

“But they normally involve finding ways to stage epic community theatre shows, not making sure hundreds of people have the food and medicines they need in a lockdown.

” ‘Today we find ourselves with a Transit van full of crisps,’ he says on the phone from Leeds. … Yesterday we didn’t have any vegetables. And tomorrow we’re not going to have any eggs. So constantly I’m on the phone doing deals.

‘The other day, I swapped a load of tote bags that I got from the university for some face masks, which I split in half and swapped the other half for a lot of cream. …

“Six weeks ago, Lane and his company Slung Low were asked by Leeds City Council to co-ordinate the community response in Holbeck and Beeston, meaning any requests for help from the 10,000 households in the area have been passed to them.

“They are mainly from people needing food, but prescriptions need dropping off too, and they are often asked to just phone lonely people for a chat.

“Lane is in charge of around 90 volunteers, including some from the region’s other arts organisations — from Opera North and Yorkshire Sculpture Park to theatre company Red Ladder. …

“Managing them is not the only new role Lane has taken on during the pandemic. When not scrounging and delivering food, he has become a game show host, and a very entertaining one at that — appearing online every fortnight from Slung Low’s HQ to keep locals’ spirits up. …

“On top of that, he has launched an open-air art gallery, posting residents’ lockdown pictures on lampposts. And Slung Low has just made a short film — shot before coronavirus rewrote Lane’s job description — which went online on Friday.

” ‘We didn’t know this at the time, but having a short film to release at the moment is much better than having a play,’ he says.

“Except — he will be taking an enforced break from all that frenetic activity for a while. [A Covid-19 test] came back negative, but he has symptoms so is isolating and recovering. Others have stepped in to ensure Slung Low’s work goes on. …

“The connection with the local community is what sets Slung Low apart from other theatre companies and means it can adapt to doing things like delivering food during a crisis, Lane says.

“Other venues have been busy putting their shows online and continuing their education and outreach activities digitally, but Lane thinks they could be doing more with their facilities.

” ‘There are a lot of vans currently sat in the car parks of arts organisations because they couldn’t quite work out the insurance to get them doing food bank work,’ he says. … ‘We spend a lot of time talking about what we’re for at Slung Low. What we’re for is not putting on a show for people to pay for tickets.

” ‘[Putting on a show is] something we do quite a bit, and something that we can be quite good at on a good day. But it’s not what we’re for. And therefore, when you can’t do that, it doesn’t mean we stop.’ ” More at the BBC, here.

Although people in the arts may not be uniquely compassionate, they’re often among the first to demonstrate sensitivity to the needs of others. Still, gold stars for a city council that thought of asking for the theater’s help!

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Humorous online show from Philadelphia: Thursdays at 6 pm, here.

Many of us have been bingeing on the new online offerings for education, entertainment, or simply communicating.

But not everyone has time to check things out. In the beginning, I was sending lots of online links meant for kids. But as John pointed out, two working parents teaching themselves to home-school might not have the bandwidth even to click and see if the links were actually cool.

They are definitely busy. I’ve been busy, but I do have time to try links for my own entertainment and to pass along a few to friends.

As I mentioned yesterday, a took an online seminar on TikTok. It was presented by First Draft, an organization that offers resources for journalists and has a focus on spotting and countering fake news. The webinar was way above my level, but it got me interested in learning more about TikTok. I do like social media.

Meanwhile, in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, theater-going is pretty much shut down. But I saw a very good 20-minute play by David Mamet and his actress wife Rebecca Pidgeon at the Great Barrington Public Theater site “Bear Tales: Six Feet Together,” here. The play is about the famed, hard-drinking journalist Dorothy Kilgallen (1913-1965) and promotes a theory about the Lindbergh baby that was completely new to me. For more of Great Barrington Public Theater’s “Bear Tales,” click here.

I moonlighted for many years as a theater reviewer, and I reviewed the Boston Theater Marathon for New York-based TheaterMania.com a number of times. So I was interested to see how scores of 10-minute Theater Marathon plays would be handled in the pandemic. Turns out, the Boston Playwrights Theater decided to Zoom one new play at a time. What is nice is that you can enjoy extra features after watching the play: discussions among the playwright, the actors, the director, and more. Each person is, of course, at home. Catch new plays at noon until May 18, here.

Nancy Greenaway, the poet I know from New Shoreham, alerted me to an online reading organized by Connecticut’s Arts Café Mystic and scheduled for the last day of National Poetry Month. I watched that, too.

There was a lot of variety, and it was kind of fun to see what indoor or outdoor home settings the readers had chosen for a backdrop. Some people read classic favorites from the canon, some read their own poems. I got a kick out of a poem by Stephen Dobyns about an old man who heard his dog suggesting fun things to do that they once used to do. The suggestions seemed to dead-end. Finally the dog suggested that they go back in the house and make a big sandwich. We leave the old man looking in the fridge “for answers.”

Dobyns has been a college professor and a mystery writer as well as a poet. I heard him once in person and got the message that he really didn’t like to mix his poetry side with his novel-writing side, but I sure did love his entertaining Charlie Bradshaw/ Saratoga detective series.

You can listen to the poetry reading here. Click on “In This Together.”

For entertainment on Thursdays at 6 pm, you might like “I Put on Pants for This,” by Philadephia-based comedy troupe 1812 productions. My husband and I found plenty of laughs in the episode about comedians Mae West, Sophie Tucker, and Moms Mabley. Go here here to access the 1812 productions.

For those who like Sondheim’s music — and many people do — there’s a YouTube tribute from an astonishing number of stars, including Sutton Foster, Josh Groban, Jake Gyllenhaal, Patti LuPone, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Audra McDonald, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Randy Rainbow, Meryl Streep, and Raúl Esparza.

The video is more than two hours, though. I watched it in chunks, here. It’s also a fundraiser for ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty).

I’ll wrap up today by mentioning an amazing collection of 175,336 photographs you can access for free at the Library of Congress, here. It’s from the period of the Great Depression (Dorothea Lange, anyone?) and is labeled “Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information.” It’s a beautiful reminder that when artists are out of work, a certain kind of government will pay them to document hard times.

Take Me to the World: Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration

 

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Photo: NTV
Led by a grandmother, an amateur theater group in Turkey is raising awareness about climate change and the lives of rural women.

Wherever you live, whatever age you are, you have the power to do something valuable for the world. A grandmother in rural Turkey understood that from an early age and is making her voice heard.

The BBC garnered this story from NTV, the Turkish television news channel.

Dilay Yalcin and Krassi Twigg reported, “A 62-year-old grandmother from rural Turkey who rose to national fame with her all-women village theatre group is now set to stage a play raising awareness about climate change.

“Ummiye Kocak from the village of Arslankoy in the Mediterranean province of Mersin recently began rehearsals for her new play ‘Mother, the Sky is Pierced!’

“She told Anadolu news agency that she wanted ‘people to realise just how serious it is.’

The climate crisis is ‘not only our problem, it is the world’s problem,’ she says. ‘I am shouting as loud as I can — this world is ours, we need to take good care of it!’

“Ummiye Kocak has written plays for many years, always aiming to change perceptions. Her previous works have tackled issues from poverty and domestic violence to Alzheimer’s Disease. … In 2013 she won an award at a New York festival with a film focusing on the difficulties of women’s lives in a Turkish village. …

“Ummiye Kocak grew up in a conservative rural area, and only got primary education ‘by chance — as each family was required to send one girl to school.

“But she says her father was open-minded enough to take all his children to the cinema at a time when no other dad in the village would, sparking her love of drama.

“She says that when she first arrived in the village of Arslankoy as a young bride, she noticed that women there had to do all the work — in the fields as well as in the house. She thought that wasn’t right and told herself: ‘Ummiye, you have to make the voices of these women heard!’

“Her village doesn’t have a stage, so she gathers her performers under a walnut tree in her garden for rehearsals while they do their domestic chores. …

“People in other parts of the country want a piece of the action, issuing invitations on social media for the group to perform locally.

“One woman in Istanbul wrote: ‘I’m proud and honoured on behalf of all women every time I see you, Aunt Ummiye. … I hope all women lead their lives knowing they have this power like you do.’ ”

More at the BBC, here.

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Photo: CNN
A group of service dogs attend a performance of
Billy Elliot: The Musical as part of their training.

Service dogs must learn to go everywhere with their person and be unobtrusive in settings like concert halls and theaters. That’s why trainers are getting creative about giving dogs practice. One place they get performance-attendance training is at the Stratford, Ontario, Festival, where Sandra and Pat’s great niece has been performing the last two summer to great acclaim.

Scottie Andrew explains about the dog training at CNN. “When the cast of a Canadian production of ‘Billy Elliot: The Musical’ took their final bow after a recent show, the audience didn’t make a single sound — not even a woof.

“A polite crowd of about a dozen future service dogs attended an August performance at Ontario’s Stratford Festival as part of their training. While a silent curtain call might disappoint actors, the dogs’ spellbound stillness is a great sign for their future handlers.

“The event was part of a two-year training program by K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs, head trainer Laura MacKenzie told CNN. The future service dogs have toured zoos, subways and crowded fairs to acclimate them to the unfamiliar lights and sounds, rapid movements and bustling crowds they might encounter with their handler, she said.

“At the theater, the dogs are expected to sit under the seat or curl up at their handlers’ feet while their humans enjoy the show, she said.

“They stayed calm and quiet throughout the performance, but a few curious pups peeked their furry heads over the seats to catch a few minutes of the show, she said.

“Ann Swerdfager of the Stratford Festival told CNN that many of the theater’s patrons bring their service dogs to performances, so the company was ‘thrilled’ to host the dogs for training. The non-profit theater company hosts ‘relaxed performances’ designed for audiences sensitive to light, sound and noise — a perfect training ground for service-dog hopefuls.” More here.

Such a well-behaved audience! Nine-yeat-old Sadie Markowitz, recognized as the new Emily Post, would approve. She’s received attention on social media lately with dictums like “never sing along.” It’s just as well that my grandchildren didn’t read that advice before they went to the Lion King in October. They would not have been able to follow it.

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Photo: The Toronto Star
A Canadian theater critic interviewed actors who give 10-minute dramatic performances in people’s cars.

More than five years ago, I wrote about actors creating theater in taxis in Iran and linked to a separate article on taxi performances in New York (check out the post). So that’s just to say there is no new thing under the sun.

Still, people think up creative ideas for their own reasons and don’t necessarily know about similar efforts anywhere else. In today’s example, providing entertainment in cars was devised as a way to bring theater to Toronto suburbs where there are large Asian populations that seldom brave the downtown scene.

Karen Fricker wrote at the Toronto Star about picking up a series of actors in her car who put on 10-minute plays for her as a demonstration.

“[I] picked up three actors who directed me around streets previously unknown to me in downtown Markham and its environs, and who each made me believe in ten short minutes that their situations were really happening.

“I did this as a test driver for fu-GEN Theatre Company’s wildly ambitious show Fearless, which involves micro-performances for individual spectators in their own cars, and a web app which lets the show work, as artistic director David Yee describes it, like ‘Uber in reverse.’

“Fu-GEN is a Toronto-based company dedicated to reflecting Asian-Canadian experiences. This show ‘began as outreach, as a way to engage with the large Asian Canadian community who live in Markham, Richmond Hill, North York, etc., who we know exist, but don’t make it downtown to see our work,’ says Yee. …

“The goal of the project is to give Markhamites something new and curated for them … “Fu-GEN commissioned [writers] to author short scripts that address the themes of fear and fearlessness, and at the same time found a developer, Shawn Li, ‘who works at Microsoft during the day, then builds us a weird little theatre-in-cars app in his off hours,’ says Yee.

“From my user perspective I found the show streamlined and easy to navigate. In order to participate, you need to have a car you are insured to operate. You book online, choosing between a series of timed slots, and are given a link to an online app you can use from a browser on your phone (you don’t have to download anything).

“When the app goes live, photos of the 20 performers appear on a live map along with the titles and authors of their shows and a one-sentence description of the content. Once you confirm your choice of performer, the app guides you to their location — and you know it’s them because they’re wearing a bright yellow backpack (and they know it’s you because you’ve uploaded a photo to your online profile). The performer disappears from the live map during the ride and reappears once you’ve dropped them off. You then start over by clicking on another performer photo. …

“Yee says that safety was one of the core tenets of the project. ‘Every aspect of this experience, from the ground up, has been built with both audience and performer safety in mind. … How eerie is it for a stranger to greet you by your name? It can be comforting or it can be unsettling; all that potential is alive in just having that information at hand. The writers had the choice to use that for whatever purpose is useful to them.’ ”

For me, this experience sounds like fun, but I am also not afraid to go downtown for a show. I really wonder if people who are afraid of something that simple and distancing would pick up a stranger for an in-your-face performance.Would you try it?

More here.

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Photo: Dezeen magazine
Note the Nebraska storefront lowering itself to become a movie theater.

I don’t know much about Nebraska other than that some friends who grew up there said that New England’s trees and mountains made them feel too closed in, but now I have a reason to think about going there. That’s because I just love the idea behind a new cinema and would like to see how it works.

Sebastian Jordahn writes at Dezeen magazine, “Artist Matthew Mazzotta says the success of The Storefront Theater, which won him Architecture Project of the Year at the inaugural Dezeen Awards, comes down to the way the local community has made use of it.

“The Storefront Theater is a retractable theatre disguised as a shop. It was built to re-invigorate the main street in the town of Lyons, Nebraska, and create a community space for its residents.

“Mazzotta told Dezeen that local community has embraced the structure, using it for a variety of activities. …

“Using two hydraulic cylinders, a false storefront folds over the sidewalk of Lyons’ Main Street and rolls out seating for 100 people. A rollable screen can then be paired with the structure in order to create a public theatre.

” ‘Basically it’s a facade that bends down over main street, bleachers come out, a screen comes in and turns main street into a movie theatre,’ Mazzotta said. … ‘They’ve had events that are anti-bullying, they’ve had movies and concerts. Recently I went to one where a very prominent Egyptian musician came and played. …

” ‘Once I learned that one of the buildings downtown was just a storefront, it had no building behind it, [that’s] when we started taking that as the site.’ …

“The architect’s motivation was to reinvigorate Lyons Main Street, which according to Mazzotta has seen a decline in community life due to economic pressures and globalisation.

” ‘This project came about through investigation with the people. They told me how downtown was the centre of the community life and how that has been destroyed over time by globalisation that has pulled all these businesses away,’ Mazzotta said. …

” ‘Architecture has an enormous power over how we feel about ourselves and how we relate to each other. I think architecture is expanding beyond the envelope and I think it starts to think about who feels welcome in these spaces,’ he added.

“Mazotta’s theatre was also named for Rebirth Project of the Year at the inaugural Dezeen Awards ceremony last year.”

More here.

Video: Dezeen
Note the tractor pulling in the movie screen.

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Photo: Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre
Two French photographers spent years capturing the new uses of old movie theaters, like this one. Now a gym, the building was once famed as the Alhambra Theater of San Francisco.

Sometimes spectacular old buildings simply cannot be returned to their original purpose. Times change. But as I learned from pictures by two French photographers, many people value the old movie theaters and are giving them new life.

Michael Hardy writes at Wired, “Between the 1920s and the 1950s, Hollywood studios built thousands of ornate movie palaces in cities across the United States. Warner Bros., Paramount, RKO, MGM, and others competed to build the biggest and gaudiest cinematic cathedrals to showcase their big-budget blockbusters. In this vertically integrated era of filmmaking, when the major studios tightly controlled the production, distribution, and exhibition of movies, these palaces served as the showrooms in which they displayed their wares. Seating thousands of spectators, the theaters were decorated in a fanciful array of styles, including art deco, art nouveau, and ancient Egyptian.

“In 1948 the US Supreme Court found that such vertical integration violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and ordered the biggest movie studios to divest themselves of their theater chains. The decision spelled the end for the era of the movie palace, as the studios were forced to sell or close their theater holdings. Television and suburbanization — the grand old theaters were mostly located in downtown areas — provided the coup de grâce.

“One of the grandest of the old palaces was Detroit’s United Artists Theatre, a 2,000-seat, Spanish Gothic–style venue that showed movies from 1928 until the 1970s. French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre stumbled across the abandoned theater in 2005 while working on a series about the effects of deindustrialization on the city.

“Stunned by the building’s fading grandeur, Marchand and Meffre began traveling the country, seeking out other abandoned theaters to photograph.

‘The amount of fantasy and detail are amazing in some of the theaters,’ Meffre says. ‘I don’t think we have anything comparable in Europe except for our cathedrals.’ …

“After discovering some tastefully repurposed palaces, such as Brooklyn’s cavernous Paramount Theater—now used as a gymnasium by Long Island University—they expanded the scope of their project. Not all renovations were so sensitive. Marchand and Meffre shot palaces that have been transformed into grocery stores, office buildings, even school bus depots. …

“Because the palaces are so expensive to tear down, many have survived more or less intact, a process the photographer calls ‘preservation by neglect.’ ”

Funny. Here’s to life-saving neglect!

More at Wired, here.

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Photo: All Nippon Airways
In addition to the male Kabuki performers, there’s an onnagata (man in female role) in the in-flight safety video of a Japanese airline.

After seeing one too many airline safety videos about how to buckle a seat belt, passengers tend to tune out. That is, unless the video is really entertaining. Consider this safety video using Kabuki dancers. I know that would make me pay attention.

Andrew Bender wrote about it at Forbes. “Let’s call it like it is: those airline safety presentations have always felt a little like a kabuki dance, no? Now Japan’s largest airline, All Nippon Airways, has taken that literally, with actual kabuki performers in its newest in-flight safety video. I, for one, can’t stop watching it. …

“Supervised by a kabuki performer, the four-minute-plus production opens with an ANA flight attendant wearing a red-and-white striped kabuki mask, before the striped curtain behind her (in the traditional kabuki colors of black, deep-green and the orange-red the Japanese call persimmon) slides to reveal an airplane cabin set.

“Kabuki actors stow their elegantly lacquered bamboo boxes in the overhead bins and under the seats (not in the aisles, thank you), fasten seat belts over their elaborate kimono and dutifully turn off electronic devices displaying scenes from classic ukiyo-e woodblock prints on their screens. The same style is used to show how high heels, in this case chunky wooden geta sandals, can tear the evacuation slide.

“In another section, an actor wearing an oversized wig and robe and fearsome makeup tries on the oxygen mask, and a child in the classic pure white face makeup demonstrates the ‘brace for impact’ position. And it’s quite a sight to see an onnagata (male performer in a female role, a longstanding kabuki tradition) perform the life vest demonstration.

“Kabuki theater traces its roots to 1603, the early Edo Period, and is on the UNESCO list of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. Among its unique features are stunning costumes, stylized dialogue and poses (immortalized in ukiyoe woodblock prints, kind of like iconic modern-day movie posters; see 1:38 in the video), a revolving stage and musicians who sit onstage and animate the action with music and narration. Many of the leading performers have family lineage in kabuki going back more than a dozen generations.

“At various times the safety video shows another feature of kabuki, on-stage assistants covered head to toe like ninjas. Called kurogo, they’re typically dressed in black implying that they’re not visible onstage, but in this video they’re instead in ANA’s signature blue and white. …

“ANA’s safety video debuted late last year and went worldwide on flights this January. As a bonus, a behind-the-scenes video of the production plays during deplaning.”

More at Forbes.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A Wan Smolbag Theatre youth show. The Pacific islander drama company is celebrating its 30th year.

Any troupe that corners the market for theatrical productions in a particular geographical area might understandably be inclined to rest on its laurels. Not the one in this Pacific archipelago. It provides many services besides entertainment and even manages to stay humble.

Nick Awde writes at the Stage, “Wan Smolbag Theatre takes its name from ‘one small bag’ in Bislama, the South Pacific nation’s lingua franca. ‘It stems from our idea in the beginning to show that theatre could be made from what you could carry in a small suitcase,’ says artistic director Peter Walker. And for a nation spread across 70 islands, that’s a handy ethic.

“ ‘Obviously, we have to choose between being an “in-out, do a show” kind of group or working with individual communities and islands in a more detailed way over a longer period,’ adds Walker. And so the latter course was duly chosen.

“Walker, who did an East 15 postgraduate course in 1981, started the company in 1989 with partner Jo Dorras. Now, 30 years on, it is the South Pacific’s only full-time theatre group in which all the actors are Pacific Islanders. …

Based in the capital and largest town Port Vila, Wan Smolbag is also the biggest local NGO in Vanuatu. It employs more than 100 people, 40 of whom work in theatre and film, and runs other services, such as clinics, a nutrition centre and youth centres with a thriving hip hop scene. Theatre led to film-making in the mid-1990s, which brought a Pacific-wide audience. …

“For its 30th-anniversary season, Wan Smolbag is producing a play with 60 volunteer actors with some of the main group, all set in the main Port Vila market. Also participating is UK director Laurie Sansom, artistic director of Northern Broadsides, who has already made two visits to run workshops. …

“Meanwhile, there are plans for visits from New Zealand’s the Musical Island Boys and Australia’s Djuki Mala.

“How does training work? ‘Basically by doing. Over the years we’ve had occasional workshops with people from overseas in different performance styles … but the whole year is spent acting in plays from January to July and film from August to November – the dry season,’ says Walker.

“ ‘Some actors have been with the group for more than 20 years and as there are no other professional groups most are loath to leave. … We do take on new actors every three or four years. In recent years they have come through the youth centre drama club, which does a production every year, usually featuring 30 or so young people not in school who perform it for schools around Port Vila.

“ ‘There was no theatre of this kind when we started in 1989. There was an expat amdram group that did musicals or dramatisations of Fawlty Towers episodes, and local church youth groups would put on skits with the devil having all the best lines. To be honest, I’ve never thought of us as anything but a community theatre group who over time have become more professional and skilled.’ ”

More at the Stage, here. And if you are still on Facebook, you can keep up to date at the troupe’s page, here.

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Photo: Omari Daniel
Bees at the Lyric Hammersmith Theater in West London.

The arts are always struggling for funds, so it’s lucky that artistic people are by definition creative. In this story, some creative theater people thought up a way to help the environment while simultaneously raising a little cash for their work. It’s all part of a theater’s broad sustainability plan.

Sian Alexander writes, “As a leading producing theatre and the largest creative hub in west London, the Lyric Hammersmith welcomes around 200,000 people a year to its building, including 30,000 young people at classes and activities. We have nine Young Lyric partners based here, three resident companies, 50 permanent staff and over 500 freelancers each year – all under one roof.

“Our roof is also now a symbol of our long-standing commitment to environmental sustainability. As well as our public roof terrace, a green oasis in the heart of an urban environment, we have a green sedum roof — covered in plants — installed in 2015 during our last major capital redevelopment.

“Last year we teamed up with the local business improvement district, HammersmithLondon, to install three beehives on the roof, now home to 180,000 Buckfast honey bees. They seem to be happy here, and this summer we enjoyed a substantial honey harvest. We sell the honey in our café and at local markets, where it is a great conversation starter about our efforts to go green. …

“Bees have a critical role in food production, as around a third of the food we consume relies on pollination. The bees also help our green roof mature through pollination, and help improve air quality and biodiversity in the local area. …

“We strive to ensure our green values run through all elements of our business. For example, our building has air-source heat pumps and predominantly LED lighting; we send zero waste to landfill, working with First Mile and Scenery Salvage; our energy supply is 100% renewable electricity and green, frack-free gas; our finance and administration teams run on a paperless system; and all new staff and creative teams are given a reusable water bottle on their first day. …

“We are introducing a vegetarian and vegan specials menu in our bar and grill, visiting allotments and trying alternative foods. We are also running a stall at the local food market to engage the public on food packaging, as well as addressing food waste.”

More at Arts Professional, here.

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Photo: Roger Mastroianni
Audiences in depressed regions nationwide identify with characters who lose their jobs in Lynn Nottage’s award-winning play
Sweat.

Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater in New York City, has done a service to struggling communities around the country where his Mobile Unit has performed a play about factory closings.

Although I myself usually like a little something upbeat at the end of a play, I totally get the relief and catharsis of a bleak story that replicates an audience member’s bleak situation. Being heard, being recognized, can be the beginning of moving forward.

Elizabeth Pochoda explains how the show that did one tour of the country and hopes to get funding for more is helping people move beyond the devastation of communitywide job loss.

“Oskar Eustis, the Public’s artistic director, may be best known for commissioning Angels in America,” Pochoda writes, “but his most radical move is a recent one: sending the theater’s Mobile Unit on its recent five-state, 18-city tour through the heartland to perform Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Sweat, a traditional theater piece about race and class in Reading, Pennsylvania, as a metal-tubing plant closes and lives are fractured. Most of the action takes place in a local bar as friends experience the loss of every certainty that work bestows, including that of friendship. …

“The Mobile Unit has done far more than drop in for an evening of theater. Along with community organizations, public libraries, Rotary clubs, humanities councils, and whoever else is interested, it has encouraged lectures, discussion groups, story circles, and art pieces in the weeks before and after staging a free performance of Sweat. …

“I met [Chiara Klein, the Mobile Unit’s national project leader,] in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where Sweat played at the local headquarters of the United Auto Workers, the once-powerful union that ruled the city until American Motors and Daimler-Chrysler closed all but one of their plants in 1988, putting 5,300 people out of work and blighting the cityscape for years to come.

“The union-hall venue might seem too obvious for a play about a city where labor is flat on its back, but Sweat has also played to receptive crowds in Minnesota towns with no history of manufacturing and in places as tiny as Hayward, Wisconsin, a town in the rural north where 150 people, both tribal and non-tribal, were as receptive as the audience in Erie, Pennsylvania. That doesn’t surprise Lynn Nottage, who has visited five of the tour cities; people who feel invisible and unheard, she tells me, whether they are black, white, old, young, rural or urban recognize themselves in her play….

“By performing in high-school gyms, a Masonic temple, a cafeteria, and a food pantry — places that don’t announce the evening as an exclusionary arts event, the Public’s Mobile unit has attracted the people it wants to reach.

“Some 200 of them entered the union hall on October 16 and not all of them were white and over 50. A number of older African Americans and some young people of both races were there as well. The Mobile Unit frames the evening to create an atmosphere of mutual regard and goodwill deliberately at odds with that in the play. …

“There is a stage here, but the players will not use it. Instead, they will perform in a small space hemmed in by our chairs. It works well for the barroom scenes where friendships are frayed and no one has anywhere to turn. We are in on the action. …

“At the play’s end, its uneasy note of hope fades away and the audience is given time to reflect by filling out a questionnaire asking them their ZIP Code, ethnicity, gender, emotional response to the play, its relevance to their community, and even what media outlets they turn to for news. … This interlude may be responsible for the candor of the ensuing conversation led by Klein. …

“An African-American woman described it this way: ‘It’s a feeling of being overpowered. A job goes away, a family has to find its way in a new place; then the drugs.’ A 21-year-old white man said he saw himself in the characters and cried that he too had no future. Several people responded to the decibel level of anger in the play and saw it as emblematic of how quickly everything now turns to shouting.”

Read the article at the Nation, here. The play itself is grim, but with the release of emotions some in the audience may feel strengthened in their efforts to build a future on top of the ruins.

 

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Photo: Colin Mandlin
Ubuntu Theater Project in Oakland, California, is using a pay-as-you-can model to expand their audience. Their production of
Othello, pictured above, was presented in a rug shop.

I have posted about finding unusual venues, like rug shops, for artistic performances (click here) and also about establishing pay-as-you-can models for a range of purposes (for example, the food business). Today’s post is about a California theater company that does both.

Ashley Lee reports at the American Theatre website, “Amid the dense arts scene of California’s Bay Area, Ubuntu Theater Project has proudly distinguished itself with a mission statement of being ‘radically inclusive.’

“Founded in 2012 as a handful of summer theatre festivals, Ubuntu — named after a Zulu proverb that means ‘I am because we are’ — now programs year-round shows at various venues throughout Oakland, Calif., one of America’s most diverse cities. They often stage American classics with predominantly casts of color, a majority of whom are Oakland natives. Though a seat at each performance costs between $15 and $45, the company has regularly drawn a percentage of patrons from low-income communities through pay-as-you-can tickets sold at the door, and has offset those costs with a bucket donation ask after the curtain call.

“But all that wasn’t inclusive — or radical — enough for Ubuntu. So last summer, the theatre adopted a pay-as-you-can subscription model, guaranteeing tickets to its seven shows for a single amount named by the ticketholder. …

“ ‘There was a financial risk — we had no idea what people were gonna pay,’ concedes Simone Finney, the organization’s marketing director. … ‘This is a way to invite someone into a continued conversation, rather than just an affordable experience of one show. It’s not just transactional; it’s saying, “I want to be part of this community.” ‘ …

“It was a huge gamble — and it’s paid off surprisingly well, both in terms of cash flow and feedback. Ubuntu’s subscriber base grew from just 25 devoted patrons to around 300 and counting. … Finney attributes the generosity of their higher-end subscribers to word of mouth, since her marketing budget didn’t suddenly multiply over the past season. ‘We’re trying to do a lot on not a lot,’ she admits.

“Leigh Rondon-Davis, Ubuntu’s executive associate, [says] ‘A lot of the feedback we’ve gotten is, “Thank you, I can finally afford to see theatre.” ‘ …

“As with any first-time initiative, the program had its share of hitches. … Their online ticketing platform, Vendini, doesn’t allow buyers to input their own prices; the current two-step work-around involves making a donation via the Square Cash app, waiting for a manually sent email from Rondon-Davis, and then booking tickets with a coupon code. …

“If their expanded subscriber base returns for next season, the organization hopes to offer shows that reflect their audience even more.

“ ‘Our bread and butter for a while was classics or established works, and humanitarian world premieres of new works,’ says Rondon-Davis. ‘Now, edgier works.’ …

“Adds Finney: ‘People don’t just come to things because they’re free. … You still want to earn people’s time, interest, and enthusiasm.’ …

“While other theatre companies might be hesitant to make this drastic leap, no one needs to jump into the deep end immediately. Instead Finney and Rondon-Davis suggest following in Ubuntu’s footsteps and experimenting with PAYC tickets at the door for each performance. Most important, they suggest, talk to your audiences to identify what their primary challenges are when it comes to seeing theatre. …

“ ‘It’s not always cost — it can be location, the type of work, not having people to go with, not feeling welcome in a theatre space,’ notes Finney. “These are conversations we will continue to have. … This hasn’t made us take a financial hit and has been, in fact, very beneficial to us. I hope that makes more companies consider accessible pricing, not just as a sacrifice you make, but something that could be a viable part in the life of a company.’ ” More.

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Photos: Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD)
Visitors to the Sidewalk Festival enjoy a µTopian Dinner with Hinterlands performers outside the Mobile Homestead.

Kristina and I were discussing the other day all the different kinds of yoga that are popping up. Suzanne’s friend Liz tried goat yoga. Kristina had heard of knitting yoga and laughter yoga.

Similarly, it seems like I’m constantly hearing about new ways of extending the boundaries of theater. In this story from Hyperallergic, sharing food with audiences in person and through Skype is the focus.

As Sarah Rose Sharp writes, artists are practiced “in finding ways to forge interpersonal connections through gesture, metaphor, and performance — or sometimes just by inviting people to dinner.

“ ‘Food is so interesting, because it evokes memory, and it’s a multi-sensory experience,’ said Liza Beilby, in an interview with Hyperallergic during preparations for one in a series of µTopian Dinners, staged by Detroit-based experimental theater ensemble The Hinterlands and co-produced with Poetic Societies, a performance lab fostering cross-cultural and poetic connections. …

“Since 2017, the group has been staging permutations of the µTopian Dinners as a subset of a larger work, The Enemy of My Enemy, a hybrid, digital-live performance project that simultaneously links performers and audiences in the US and so-called ‘enemy’ nations of China, Russia, and Iran. …

“The Hinterlands views the µTopian Dinner projects as a kind of a laboratory to investigate the cultural values that are reinforced through eating, meals, and cooking. [In August], µTopian Dinners took literally to the streets, as the ensemble presented a four-part performance and rotating series of events, during the homegrown and wildly popular Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts. …

“[The group] — as well as their foreign counterparts tuning in from Moscow, Bejing, and Tehran — operated out of the modular traveling unit from Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, which is permanently housed at the [Museum of Contemporary Art], making one of the rare forays into the farther-flung Detroit neighborhoods for which it was expressly designed. …

“Artist and designer Yi Zhou, who runs a studio out of Beijing called Body Memory, met The Hinterlands during her 2016 residency at Popps Packing, and the ensemble has visited her twice over the last two years, touring with their previous show, The Radicalization Process, and other performances.

“ ‘In between the first year that we went and the second year that we went, she and a bunch of friends who are designers and architects started this group called TGIS,’ said Beilby. ‘It’s a Sunday brunch in this little courtyard at the studio of one of the members, and they invite people to come and have brunch, and then there’s a lecture, or talk, or conversation, which are themed.’ During the Sidewalk performance, Hinterlands Skyped into the beginning of the brunch taking place in Bejing. …

“ ‘It’s like translation, in a way. You’re trying to contextualize something for the people where you are, that’s meaningful, and then express something about the people here to another group. … It’s an interesting way to try to bridge two spaces or times or peoples, through sensory experiences that aren’t just talking.’ …

“One could call it a new medium, enabled by the tools of our increasingly interconnected world, or one might consider it the mission of any meal undertaken by people who begin as strangers, and perhaps leave with a better understanding of each other.”

More here.

Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead traveling unit at the Sidewalk Festival for the Performing Arts in Detroit.

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