Thursday, July 31, 2008

Best Hamlets

As Jude Law (Who’s Who) and David Tennant (Dr. Who) prepare to take their stabs at the melancholy Dane, critic Michael Billington recounts the 10 best Hamlets he’s seen over the past 50 years. In chronological order, they are Michael Redgrave (Stratford, 1958), Innokenty Smoktunovsky (Russian film, 1964), David Warner (Stratford, 1965), Derek Jacobi (Elsinore, 1979), Michael Pennington (Stratford, 1980), Jonathan Pryce (Royal Court, 1980), Stephen Dillane (Gielgud, 1994), Kenneth Branagh (film, 1996), Angela Winkler (Edinburgh, 2000) and Simon Russell Beale (National, 2000). Click here to read why he picked who he picked. Can’t say I’ve seen as many productions as Billington, but I’d like to add one, delete one and second one. Adrian Lester in Peter Brook’s production was amazing, Simon Russell Beale was so bad it made me cringe, and Kenneth Branagh’s RSC uncut version is one of the reasons I’m in theatre.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Havel's Meditation on Art and Power

Check out the Saturday profile in the NYTimes on Vaclav Havel here. It's discusses his semi-autobiographical, King Lear-esque play called Leaving.

And what, if anything, disappoints Mr. Havel about the state of contemporary capitalist culture? “I do not like the ads on the shirts of hockey or football players,” he said. “You’d think Coca-Cola is playing against Pepsi-Cola.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Venice Biennale’s International Theatre Workshop

For the first time, the Venice Biennale’s Theatre section, directed by Maurizio Scaparro, plans its activity over a period of two years and around a single theme, the Mediterranean. The International Theatre Workshop, which will take place in Venice from October 27th to November 27th 2008, develops around the idea of theatre as a “construction site for art”, in which the works of tomorrow may take root and sediment, while offering the young and future artists an opportunity for an educational experience, the communication of knowledge and a direct rapport within a research project.

Many of the workshops scheduled for November, will later flow into the 40th International Theatre Festival –which will be held shortly before Carnival, from February 20th to March 8th 2009– this time in the form of performances that will follow the presentation of some of the development phases during the International Theatre Workshop.

The Workshop and the Festival are inspired by the theme of the Mediterranean, seen as “a complex place of encounters and currents, which implies the movement of peoples, histories and cultures, which underlines the continuous sense of historic transformation and cultural tradition that makes it a place of continuous transition” (I. Chambers). The first part of the project takes place along a journey that begins with our literary and cultural roots to end with the burning realities of the history of our times -from Palestine to Lebanon, from Israel to the Balkans.

The International Theatre Workshop will be distributed across the five great themes that express the many facets of the Mediterranean: Shakespeare’s Sea, Myths Rediscovered, Once upon a Time, The Lingua Franca of the Mediterranean Ports, and Sans papiers.

Selection of candidates will take place by considering the curriculums sent; the artistic director and the curator of each specific workshop will be in charge of the selection process.

Enrollment and attendance to the workshops are entirely free of charge. There will be no payment or fee to attend the workshops. There will be no grants, free accommodation or meal tickets for attendees. Selected candidates will have to get to the place where workshops are held with their own means of transport and at one’s own expense. Learn how to participate here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Slag of All Snacks: The Musical

This summer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, one show in particular will stand out. Not because it has some famous movie star or because it’s a long lost Shakespeare play. It is distinctive in that it isn’t really a show. Well, OK, it is a show, but it might as well be ‘the commercial that never ends’. Get ready, folks, cause Pot Noodle: The Musical is on its way. In most cases, one would think that this was just the catchy, ironical title a fringe show would need to attract attention. Thing is, it’s not meant as a joke. It’s the real deal. The people at Pot Noodle have teamed with advertising agency Mother to create this comic musical aimed at selling dehydrated snacks. End of theatre as well know it? Read more here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Russian Round-Up

John Freedman, editor and critic of the ‘Moscow Times’, reviews the highs and the lows of the 2007-2008 season. As he claims, “Whatever the world has to offer, it found its reflection on stage this year.” Some of the heading he covers are: Best Debut, Best Revival, Best Reclamation Project, The Event, Tiger Changing Stripes, Different Drummer, Missing Action, Gloves Off, Town Eccentric, Most Innovative Director and Best Production. Below is a brief example. Read the full article here.

Trend of the Year: The retreat of the contemporary playwright. What happened? New writing and new writers have been one of the biggest engines of theatrical innovation for most of this decade. This year there was not only a noticeable drop in new plays produced but, gulp, not one of those staged stood out in a positive way. Could this be an aberration? Could younger writers be taking the easy way out and merely imitating the innovators of the last decade? Have all but a handful of theaters lost the spirit for gambling on the unknown? Could "new drama" be old hat? It's something to keep an eye on when the new season fires up in the fall.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

International Physical Theatre Laboratory

October 19-27, 2008 - Bovec, Slovenia

Physical training is the core of the Lab program. Participants will explore physicality as the key to form, style, atmosphere and emotional palette in contemporary performance. The process includes intensive practical training, lectures and discussion club. The Lab is open to performers from different countries and backgrounds inspired by Physical Theater as a bold, vibrant and multidimensional approach to contemporary theatre performance.

Actors of physical, dramatic, dance and musical theatres, circus performers, dancers, choreographers and directors.

Candidates should send a CV (resume) and a brief letter of motivation to stating the title, dates and place of the event.

The Lab will take place in the beautiful Bovec town located in the heart of the Julian Alps. During the Lab, hotel accommodation (eight nights) and meals are provided for participants. For more details, click here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Paris: The New Cultural Backwater?

Catherine Field, of the ‘New Zealand Herald’, writes a fascinating article about how Paris is quickly becoming the newest creative backwater. One hundred years ago, Paris was the center of all that was culture: Picasso, Rodin, Matisse, Proust, Debussy, Ravel, Monet, Berson, Bernhardt, Diaghilev, Cocteau, Pound, Braque, Wharton and James. But now...

Today, to France's worry, Paris is no longer the place to be. To the rest of the world, the city - for all its beauty - has become a backwater in many cultural areas. Its temples to the arts - the Pompidou Centre, the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay, the Opera, the Comedie Francaise and so on - are indeed filled. But the worshippers these days are consumers, not creators. They are mainly foreign tourists who come to see the eternal Mona Lisa, post-modern American artists, the French Impressionists and Moliere. The city chemistry that produced rawness, dynamism, change and challenge seems absent.”

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Beckett Back at Lincoln Center

The missionary wing of the Holy Church of Samuel Beckett, otherwise known as Dublin’s Gate Theatre, has again arrived in New York to spread the gospel. Back at Lincoln Center after its 1996 marathon, Michael Colgan brings three works not originally written for the stage. The first is a television piece entitled‘Eh Joe’ starring Liam Neeson, the second is a novella entitled ‘First Love’ starring Ralph Fiennes, and the third is an abridgement of three novels called ‘I’ll Go On’ starring Barry McGovern. Check out a detailed article from the NYTimes here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Social Networking Charity Cases

Here’s an article from the WSJ about how a number of charities are utilizing online social networking sites to reshape the way they raise funds. As is well known, people are 100 times more likely to donate money to a cause when the appeal is made by family or friends rather than by an anonymous solicitation, and the web is fast becoming the place that people find easier to pass along information and make contact. It is now just as easy to donate online as it is to buy something on amazon or ebay. Though still in its early stages, overall online giving – which currently represents 2% to 3% of giving in the U.S. – is increasing by some 50% per year. Will it ultimately increase overall donations? That has yet to be seen.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Call for West Africa Project Proposals

The Regional Fund for the Promotion of Cooperation and Cultural Exchange in West Africa is calling for a project proposal for the following activities:

• cross cutting or multidisciplinary activities: this domain involves development of multidisciplinary professional organisations, training on cultural related jobs, the development of multidisciplinary cultural centres, and the promotion of cultural tourism
• applied and visual arts
• music and theatre
• literature
• cultural heritage
• films (production/distribution of documentary films related to arts and West African Culture)

The guidelines in French, English and Portuguese are available on the following web site .

Thursday, July 17, 2008

UK Actors: Too Much Study, Not Enough Work?

On the eve of the Conference of Drama Schools’ annual actor showcase, Lyn Gardner of the UK 'Guardian' detects some rifts in drama education. Gardner asks, “how well prepared are these young actors to succeed in a profession in which 80% earn less than £10,000 a year, and is three years at drama school still the best way to enter that profession? It's a question worth asking when it increasingly seems that the entirely untrained can just stroll up for an audition and get a shot at stardom in a reality casting TV show.”

Interviewed was Jonathan Holloway, a director for over 25 years who had experience of the higher education system when he was head of performing arts at Middlesex University. He says "There is now a real tension about the way actors are being trained, because the industry has entered a new era. Actors can't just act any more. If they want to work they have to be entrepreneurial: they have to make work, build companies and find spaces for that work. The graduates from universities are good at this. They are able to make context for the work, not just work itself."

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Re-Constructing Asian-ness(es) in the Global Age

The International Federation for Theatre Research is currently holding their annual conference at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, South Korea. "The IFTR conference aims to examine, learn, and bring to discussion how different theatre traditions of East and West come to play for, against, amongst each other to transform and re-create their respective new ones, ultimately in order to enrich and reinforce Theatre as an important cultural asset of the global community." Internationalist Eyad Houssami is there presenting his paper on contemporary theatre from Beirut. See the website here.

Other topics of discussion include:
1. Constructions and Imaginative Representation of Asian-ness in World Performance.
2. Religion and Theatre: influences of religions in Asia such as Shamanism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. on theatre.
3. New media and Theatre: impact and uses of new technology on Asian traditional theatre and theatre education.
4. Adaptation and Appropriation: local Asian adaptations of international theatre influences including Shakespeare, Brecht, Chekhov, etc.
5. Cultural Translation: ideologies of the West such as modernism, Marxism, feminism, etc. as translated and historically practiced in Asian cultural contexts and their representations in theatre.
6. Asian and Transnational Women’s Issues in Performance.
7. Spatial Issues in Performance.
8. Corporeality and Representation in Performance.
9. Festivals as sites of performance.
10. Concepts of Asian-ness in Cyberspace.

Brantley in London

NY Times theatre critic and resident Anglophile, Ben Brantley, recounts some of the recent shows he saw on his yearly trip to London. Thankfully, this article covers much of the new work being presented opposed to the majority of West End rubbish. He covers Harper Regan, In My Name, The Pitmen Painters and Relocated.

As Brantley says, “Blockbuster musicals and brand-name star power were largely what made last year a record breaker in West End theater attendance. But what this New Yorker abroad has found most revitalizing has been lower-profile productions that insist that the theater still has an active role in the national conversation here.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Edinburgh: Athens of the North

English actress and comedian Lucy Porter, a 17 year veteran of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, offers some very helpful and humorous advice about attending (and surviving) that crazy month in Scotland. Read the full commentary here.

"Late nights and boozing are a key part of the Edinburgh experience for many performers and audiences. It always makes me chuckle when you hear American tourists alight at Waverley station and ask, 'Say, where can I get a drink?' The question is, where can you not get a drink? Possibly the only venue in Edinburgh that doesn't serve alcohol is the Temperance society, but even they are probably running some kind of hooch racket on the quiet. I've now lived in Edinburgh for 17 months in total. I've decided that, technically, this makes me about one-thirtieth Scottish - I just hope that thirtieth isn't the part that includes my liver. As a proud Scot, I would urge anyone to head to Edinburgh this August - just don't forget to pack an umbrella and a bikini."

Monday, July 14, 2008

D.C. – The New American Theater Center?

Christopher Rawson, theatre critic since 1983 for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, recaps his experience at the recent American Theatre Critics Association gathering in Washington D.C. He give substance to the claim that D.C. is now third in the nation for professional theatre (over San Francisco and Minneapolis) and is quickly on the heals of overtaking Chicago. He give a very good summary of the major players in the Capital district. Check it out here. A personal favorite of mine is the Studio Theatre, run by Joy Zinoman, which produces a number of international works. A stand-out was a production of Vassily Sigarev’s Black Milk back in 2005.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Germany's Wanderlust

Wanderlust is the urge to travel and broaden one’s horizons. The German Federal Cultural Foundation is committed to fulfilling this dream for municipal and state theatres in Germany which would like to establish a partnership with a foreign theatre.

Wanderlust is an application-based fund that finances theatre partnership and exchange for two to three seasons. In the first year, the theatres could exchange artistic personnel. In the second, they might choose to host a guest production from their partner theatre. And in the third year, the theatres could organize a co-production to be performed at both locations. The partner theatres are free to organize the details of their working arrangement themselves according to their interests and capacities. The goal is to involve as many members of each theatre in the cooperative venture as possible. The fund also provides the option of continuing an existing partnership in the case that both partner theatres begin a new project.

Project applications are selected by the Executive Board of the Federal Cultural Foundation based on the recommendations of an independent jury.The Federal Cultural Foundation can award a maximum of 150 000 EUR per partnership. The applying theatre or third-party sponsors must finance at least 25 % of the entire cost of the project. The fund runs for five years, within which time theatres have two opportunities to apply for funding. Application forms are available here and can be submitted online.

15 October 2008 1st submission deadline
January 2009 1st jury session for partnerships starting in the 2009/2010 season
15 October 2009 2nd submission deadline
January 2010 2nd jury session for partnerships starting in the 2010/2011 season

Contact: Anita Kerzmann,
German Federal Cultural Foundation
Franckeplatz 106110 Halle/ Saale
Tel. +49 345/ 2997 161 / Fax. +49 345/ 2997 333

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Art of Surprise

Below you will find an excerpt of a lecture by Steve Vineburg, which was originally delivered on September 18, 2006, as part of the "Last Lecture" series hosted at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. Professor Vineburg is a noted theatre and film critic. Click here for the full lecture.

"The art I love most dearly emerges from an acknowledgement that we’re none of us pure of either mind or heart. It’s the art of mixed tones—buffoonery mixed with regret, as in Mozart’s Figaro; comic absurdity mixed with heartache, as in Chekhov’s stories; salvation that appears improbably out of despair, as in Shakespeare’s King Lear, or when all hope is lost, as in The Winter’s Tale.

Yeats said that art is forgiveness for sin. I think what he meant was that art has to be generous. It’s always easy for us to look down from a great height on the characters in a work of fiction or a movie or a play and pass judgment on them—especially since most of the fiction we read and the plays we attend and, God knows, the movies we see give us points for doing just that. But just as “the rarer action is / In virtue than in vengeance,” to quote Prospero in The Tempest, so it’s more difficult, more challenging and far more rewarding to see the humanity in a character who commits the kind of offenses that we may hope we wouldn’t commit but in truth know ourselves to be fully capable of. If we embrace these characters—Mary Tyrone in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, whose addiction to morphine puts her out of the emotional reach of her husband and her sons, or Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, whose terror of death drives her into the arms of teenage boys (“The opposite is desire. So how could you wonder? How could you possibly wonder?”)—we embrace them wholeheartedly, with a kind of moral depth that allows us to transcend the conventional and the small-minded."

Friday, July 11, 2008

European Cultural Foundation Project Grant

Artistic project grants for organizations and individual artists

General: This funding line supports outstanding artistic projects which show vision in illuminating the issues of diversity in Europe. Projects will be assessed specifically on their artistic quality. Artistic uniqueness and European relevance are the main selection criteria.

Who can apply? Cultural organizations AND individual artists
Deadline for applications: 1 September 2008
Average grant: €30 000 - €60 000

I. The Application Process
-For your first application, you do not have to fill in an application form. We simply ask you to present us your project in a written format (English, max. of 2 pages, around 1000 words), no attachments needed at this stage; of course, it helps when you say something about who might be involved, where and when it might be taking place, why this project is relevant. But as you only have limited space, stick to what is most important, and focus on what you are actually going to do.

-After the deadline, we will start reading all the project descriptions
-Within a few weeks, we will invite those applicants whose projects we found most interesting to write a more extensive project application. This will include all necessary technical details about dates, budget, exact activities, context, etc. These applicants will have 4 weeks to submit the complete applications
-The full project application will then be finally assessed by the Grants team and its advisers

For full guidelines, click here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Barba’s Odin Opens It Up With ‘Medea’

For those familiar (or not) with Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret in Denmark, there is a great article in the NYTimes about this summer’s production of The Marriage of Medea. I had a chance to see his Mythos at LaMaMa a few years ago and was blown away.

“The performances that followed — a hip-hop-flavored song-and-dance sequence, a visiting Polish group’s a cappella rendering of a Georgian funeral song, a Balinese dance solo, and a love-song duet in Chinese and Portuguese between a Nanguan opera singer and a Brazilian percussionist — were the kinds of intercultural exchange that Mr. Barba and his group have been practicing for almost half a century.”

“This summer Mr. Barba, who usually directs only his own actors and master practitioners of disciplines from Japanese Noh to classical Indian dance, invited an additional group of 33 performers from 23 countries to spend four weeks at his theater in this small town in western Jutland. Starting at 7 a.m. each day the performers took part in strenuous physical workouts drawn from Japanese and Latin American traditions.”

Read the full article here.

London: Best Year Ever

London's theatres enjoyed their most successful year on record in 2007, with attendances exceeding 13 million for the first time. The Society of London Theatre's annual report said that box office takings last year rose to almost £470m, but the number of plays opening was down by a third on the previous year. The report said two-thirds of tickets sold were for musicals. According to SOLT's annual report, residents of Greater London purchased about one third of London theatre tickets last year. Theatre-goers from the rest of the UK bought another third, with the remainder snapped up by visitors from overseas. The Society of London Theatre represents the producers, theatre owners and managers of the major commercial and grant-aided theatres in London. The trade association has been collating box office data since 1980.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Dramatic Disturbance

Mark Ravenhill, UK playwright and chair of the 2008 forum for young European playwrights, recounts his recent experience of nearly getting arrested in a suburban German park. Read a brief excerpt below and the full commentary here.

"I've decided to keep the meetings simple. Each playwright - the majority of them are under 30 - has already had a play produced in their own country. For our sessions, these have been translated into English, which we use as a lingua franca. We discuss not only the plays, but also the wider issues of playwriting, politics and art in each dramatist's country. Although we're all talking in a careful, hesitant manner that we quickly dub "conference English", our 10 days of discussions prove incredibly exciting. It's striking how different the cultural traditions and expectations of each country are."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Clowns Sue Over Copycats

Yuri and Dmitri Kuklachev are a father-son clown team who run a circus called the Moscow Cats Theater. They have been training cats since 1977 and have toured over 80 countries. Last year, Yuri and Dmitri toured the US…except, they didn’t.

Apparently, the clowns were imposters who stole the real Russians’ names, clothes and hairstyles. Now the Kuklachevs are pissed and have filed a suit in NY against the imposters, their US promoter (Mark Gelfman) and every theater where the imposters performed. The clowns are suing for “federal and common-law trademark infringement, false endorsement, unfair competition, false designation of origin, dilution of a famous trademark, and violations of anti-cybersquatting law, rights of publicity and privacy, fraud, conversion, prima facie tort and unjust enrichment.” The Russian clowns are currently seeking $10 million in damages. Read more here.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sarah Kane's 'Blasted' at Soho Rep

NY’s Soho Rep will produce the American premiere this fall of Sarah Kane’s Blasted, which was first seen at the Royal Court in 1995. Artistic Director Sarah Benson will direct the season opener, beginning October 2, with a cast that includes Marin Ireland, Reed Birney and Louis Cancelmi. It’s a wonder that it’s taken this long for Blasted to make it over to the States, as Ms. Kane’s work is widely produced around the world (if anyone recalls the French production of 4:48 Psychosis with Isabelle Huppert), but that seems to be the rule rather than the exception when it comes to new international work. I’m glad someone’s finally picked it up for production.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Charades Reveals Universal Sentence Structure

Susan Goldin-Meadow, a linguistic psychologist at the University of Chicago, and her colleagues asked 40 native speakers of Chinese, Turkish, English and Spanish to mime scenarios shown on a computer screen using only their hands and body. They discovered, to their surprise, that regardless of the order used in their native spoken language, most of the volunteers communicated with a subject-object-verb construction (opposed to the traditional, western ‘subject-verb-object’). Goldin-Meadow argues that this kind of sentence syntax might therefore be etched into our brains. Languages that veer away from this form, such as English, must have been influenced by cultural forces. Read more here.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Money + Education = Greater Arts Attendance

According a recent study conducted by Statistics Canada, the more money one makes and the more education one has, the more likely that person is to go to plays or concerts. The report suggests that the type of job a person had influences their choice to attend cultural events.

Those whose parents had advanced education, such as a university degree, were much more likely than those whose parents with lower education to attend most cultural activities. Mom's education had more of an impact than did dad's schooling, according to the report.

For those in a romantic relationship, their partner's education had an even greater effect than their mother's schooling on their likelihood of participating in cultural activities. But factor in a kid or two and the time they spent going out declined, the study found.

Statistics Canada researchers based their report on data from the 2005 General Social Survey which contains details on how nearly 10,000 Canadians aged 15 and over spend their time.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Frame Shifting

According to researchers David Luna, of Baruch College, and Torsten Ringberg and Laura Peracchio, of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, bilingual people may unconsciously change their personalities when they switch languages. The study found that Hispanic women who actively speak in both English and Spanish interpreted the same events differently, depending on which language they were using. They found that the women classified themselves and others as more assertive when they spoke Spanish than when they spoke English. It is known that people in general can switch between different ways of interpreting events and feelings – a phenomenon known as frame shifting, but the researchers say their work shows that bilingual people that are active in two different cultures do it more readily, and that language is the trigger.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Putting Art Back in the Arts

While chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (1998-2001), Bill Ivey dreamed up an unofficial Cultural Bill of Rights, which he fleshes out in his book Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights . Now director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University, Ivey argues that arts policy has long targeted two issues, arts education and increasing funding for nonprofit organizations, that aim to “bring more fine art to the American people” without encouraging more people to actually create. Here he answers some questions from the Utne Reader talked about why we’re making less art and what public policy’s got to do with it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Heath Ledger Theatre?

The arts community of Perth, Australia is up in arms about the announcement by Premier Alan Carpenter that he will name the new performing arts center in Northbridge after Hollywood film actor Heath Ledger.

Many have attacked the decision because of the Perth-born actor’s personal life and lack of theatre work as reasons why the center should get a different name.

West Australian Academy of Performing Arts program director Andrew Lewis criticized the move, saying the WA government had engaged in a cynical marketing exercise. "People in the industry don't feel that they were consulted," he said. But he stressed that this did not detract from the fact that Ledger was a great actor.

"I certainly would love to honour Heath because I think he was an extraordinary man and a great talent, one of the best exports that we have ever had," Mr Lewis said. "And he is well known, which will hopefully bring people to the theatre."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Spoleto Goes Gallic

Opening weekend at the Italian Spoleto festival this past weekend had a heavy dose of the French, both old (La Seconde Surprise de l’Amour) and new (Perthus). And lest we forget everyone’s favorite Frenchman (or at least honorary European), Robert Wilson, bringing some much needed international luster to the event. Here's a link.