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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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nottage-sweat6-otu

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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at_oct18_Ubuntu-Theater-Project_Othello

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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PUBLIC WORKS Musical Adaptation of William Shakespeare's
TWELFTH NIGHT

Conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub 
Music and Lyrics by Shaina Taub
Choreography by Lorin Latarro
Directed by Oskar Eustis and Kwame Kwei-Armah

Featuring Kim Blanck (Femal

Photo: Joan Marcus
From left, Daniel Hall, Lori Brown-Niang, Shaina Taub, and Shuler Hensley in “Twelfth Night” at the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park. Brown-Niang’s peignoir is usually “the first to go” on exceptionally hot nights when the feathers start shedding.

On this second day of fall in Massachusetts, the temperature was only 45 degrees at 6 a.m., when I wrote this. I felt very glad that 2018’s overpowering heat and humidity were past.

I can only imagine what it must have been like for outdoor actors under fierce stage lighting in summer 2018. At American Theatre, there’s a fun article about designing costumes for actors performing in all kinds of weather.

Billy McEntee wrote, “Across the country, as actors and audiences endure rain, heat, and bugs to present and partake of free professional performances of the Bard’s classics, one group of designers has a special challenge: costume designers. …

“ ‘Designing for outdoor environments is challenging yet fascinating,’ said Ying-Jung Chen, the costume designer for Independent Shakespeare Company’s ‘Titus Andronicus’ in Los Angeles. … ‘I’ve learned a lot through each outdoor experience about fabric technology and construction techniques.’ …

“It’s the dry heat that can prove most threatening. Evenings in the summer can stay above 80 degrees in Southern California; couple that with acrobatic performances, bushy wigs, and blaring stage lights, and actors are sure to sweat through even the thinnest of fabrics. …

“But heat invites more than just exhaustion and sweat; it’s also a magnet for bugs, something that Chen had to account for when creating stage blood for her costumes.

” ‘Blood is integral to Titus,’ Chen says. ‘My recipe was successful in past indoor productions. With a corn syrup base, it’s easy to wash out, edible, and realistic. But when doing outdoor performances, the sugar-based corn syrup attracts bugs. Fortunately, the theatre company has years of outdoor performance experience and provided a great recipe that’s washable, edible, and doesn’t allure insects.’ …

“Rain is no stranger to American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisc., though the threat of precipitation doesn’t change the creative process. As costume designer Robert Morgan succinctly puts it: ‘Design first, problem-solve later.’ He’s the costume designer for APT’s ‘As You Like It’ (running through Oct. 7). …

“ ‘Shoes are covered with non-slip dance rubber,’ he says. ‘But evening dew can make our outdoor stage slippery, so at APT we add sand to paint’ to give the stage’s surface extra traction.

“As in L.A., Morgan must also consider sweltering temperatures. This includes having freezer packs on hand for actors to wear beneath their costumes and crafting a ‘heat plan.’ which is ‘meant to accommodate the actors’ well-being on exceptionally hot, muggy nights and matinees under an unforgiving midsummer sun,’ Morgan said. …

“Oppressive heat and humidity are staples of New York summers as well. After a successful first run in 2016, Andrea Hood returned to design costumes for the Public Theater’s current Shakespeare in the Park production, ‘Twelfth Night,’ a Public Works musical adaptation with songs by Shaina Taub. …

“Hood plans not only the intricacies of [the] fabrics but also how costume pieces may adjust with unexpected precipitation. ‘Fuchsia feathers often come loose on [the character] Maria’s peignoir in “Twelfth Night,” ‘ she notes. ‘It isn’t the most practical costume for an outdoor space, so if it’s raining she would likely skip that change altogether. It’s the one piece that would probably not go onstage in the rain.’

“But a light drizzle doesn’t always signal a costume adjustment, or even a cancelled performance. In fact, its effect—combined with stellar acting, of course—can be as spellbinding as any theatrical flourish, more dazzling than any stage magic.

“ ‘Last year it was pouring for the first night of tech for “As You Like It,” ‘ Hood recalled. ‘The actors didn’t get into costume at all.’ Instead they wore street clothes, covered with plastic ponchos. ‘It was wonderful,’ she enthuses. ‘By midnight there were only five actors left running a number over and over again, still managing to smile. I loved being in the audience watching them—the rain didn’t even matter.’ ”

More at American Theatre, here.

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