Friday, October 31, 2008

Cambodia's First Rock Opera

Cambodia's first rock opera will premiere in Phnom Penh next month, a cultural milestone in the Southeast Asian country where performing arts were banned during the brutal Khmer Rouge years. "Where Elephants Weep" is an East-meets-West blend of traditional Cambodian music and Western rock that is modeled after "Romeo and Juliet" and inspired by the Broadway musical "Rent." Organizers said Wednesday the show will open a 10-day run Nov. 28 in a converted movie theater in the capital, Phnom Penh, a year later than its planned debut at the end of 2007.

The show was commissioned by Cambodian Living Arts, a project of the Boston-based nonprofit organization World Education, which seeks to revive traditional Cambodian performing arts and inspire contemporary artistic expression among Cambodians. Charley Todd, a co-president of the CLA's governing board, said the opera had a successful preview last year in Lowell, Mass., which has a sizable community of Cambodian refugees. But producers needed extra time for fine-tuning. It is expected to later tour in other countries, including the United States, South Korea and Singapore.

Arts and entertainment were banned when the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia between 1975-79 and killed some 1.7 million people through starvation, disease, overwork and execution. Execution sites from the time now serve as grim attractions for tourists visiting Cambodia. "Where Elephants Weep" is an operatic take on "Tum Teav," the Cambodian version of "Romeo and Juliet." It tells the story a Cambodian-American who lost his father during the Khmer Rouge era and returns home after Cambodia's civil war to trace his roots. In Phnom Penh, he meets and falls in love with a Cambodian woman who works as a karaoke singer.

The music was composed by the Russian-trained Cambodian maestro Him Sophy. He was inspired by the musical genre of the rock opera "Rent," which he saw twice during a trip to New York City. Cambodian musicians in the performance use electric guitars, electronic drums, keyboards and traditional instruments like buffalo horns, bamboo flutes, gongs and the chapei, a long-neck lute with two nylon strings. After seven years of work, Him Sophy said he expected a celebration - both on stage and in the country.

"It is going to be a big national cultural event," Him Sophy said. "And the entire team is committed to making it happen flawlessly and perfectly."

By Ker Munthit of the Associated Press

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obama and McCain on the Arts

Not surprising, both U.S. candidates have differing view on the arts and government’s role in funding it. Obama is calling for more federal support, while McCain is calling for less. The McCain campaign has released very little language on the subject, but two weeks ago issued this four-sentence statement basically saying it’s up to local entities.

“John McCain believes that arts education can play a vital role fostering creativity and expression. He is a strong believer in empowering local school districts to establish priorities based on the needs of local schools and school districts. Schools receiving federal funds for education must be held accountable for providing a quality education in basic subjects critical to ensuring students are prepared to compete and succeed in the global economy. Where these local priorities allow, he believes investing in arts education can play a role in nurturing the creativity of expression so vital to the health of our cultural life and providing a means of creative expression for young people.”

Obama, on the other hand, has made arts proposals a part of his official party platform. His key points are: Expand Public/Private Partnerships Between Schools and Arts Organizations; Create an Artist Corps; Publicly Champion the Importance of Arts Education; Support Increased Funding for the NEA; Attract Foreign Talent; Provide Health Care to Artists and Ensure Tax Fairness for Artists. You can find his arts policy statement here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

MacIvor Wins Siminovitch Prize

Canadian playwright, Daniel MacIvor, was awarded the 2008 Siminovitch Prize in Theatre. The $100,000 prize has been given out annually since 2001 with a director, designer and playwright winning in successive years.

MacIvor, 46, is a native of Nova Scotia who now lives in Toronto. He is best known for the series of solo shows he produced with Sherrie Johnson for their theatre group da da kamera with plays like House, Here Lies Henry, Monster and Cul-de-Sac.

The Siminovitch Prize is divided in two; $75,000 goes to the lead artist and $25,000 to people the artist chooses to share in the award. MacIvor has selected as his protégé co-winners Daniel Arnold and Medina Hahn, two writer-performers he met last year in Vancouver.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Non-Profit Theatre Execs Make Big Bucks

Just when you thought the only fat cats getting bonuses this year were on Wall Street, think again. The boards of certain NY theater companies feel that there are some bigwigs who deserve some perks in addition to their already extraordinary salaries. Case in point, Todd Haimes, AD of the Roundabout Theatre Company, was rewarded with a guaranteed $3.2 million bonus, on top of his $480,000 salary, if he stays on board until 2018. Lynne Meadow and Barry Grove at Manhattan Theatre Club each earn around $485,000 a year, up 84% since 1998. Andre Bishop and Bernard Gersten at Lincoln Center pull in around $430,000. Joe Dowling of the Guthrie earned $682,229, plus a one time bonus of $100K tied to their new complex. Oskar Eustis at the Public seems to be the only poor house boy, only making $277, 568, down 2% from last year. And here I am, losing my job in two weeks, wondering where the rent is coming from. Maybe one of these fortunate souls can spare a dime. See the full Bloomberg article here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Simon McBurney on 'Watching Theatre'

“The only reality of the theater exists in the mind of the audience. That audience looks collectively at what is going on on the stage and collectively imagines that this is real. ... But what is more fundamental is the notion that when everybody laughs together or, last night, when I heard people around me collectively sobbing, at that moment we are bound together not by our bodies sitting in the theater but by a collective imagination. At that moment we understand the lie that what we think is only our own, that our internal lives are only our own. At that point our collective imaginations become one imagination and my internal life becomes the same as your internal life, which is what Aristotle understood when he analyzed tragedy. It’s a collective act in which we collectively understand something about being a community together. The moment we understand that, feel it, we feel a kind of responsibility in which we must collectively help and take responsibility for each other. That is part of the definition of our humanity and, if you like, if it’s not a contradiction in terms, our animal humanity.”

New York Times; Sunday 26 October 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

Malkovich Directs In Mexico

John Malkovich will direct a Spanish-language version of Zach Helm’s play, The Good Canary in Mexico. Malkovich previously directed a French version in Paris. El Buen Canario will play ten-weeks at Teatro de Los Insurgentes in Mexico City beginning Nov. 26. Mexican actor Diego Luna will head the cast. Luna is best known for the films "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and "The Terminal”. Luna will be joined onstage by Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Bruno Bichir, Irene Azuela and Yuriria del Valle. According to the press release, El Buen Canario "follows a frustrated writer struggling with his wife's addiction to amphetamines." Zach Helm also wrote the screenplay for "Stranger Than Fiction."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ontroerend Goed's Devriendt Interviewed

Brian Logan of ‘The Guardian’ interviews Alexander Devriendt, founder and director of Ghent-based Ontroerend Goed, a company best known for messing with the relationship between audience and cast, fiction and reality. Their latest show, Once And For All We're Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen, was created and performed by 13 Belgian schoolchildren aged 14 to 18. The show was a huge hit in Edinburgh this year and is now arriving in London. Read the full article here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mellon Foundation Give $10M to Playwriting Orgs

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation recently awarded nearly $10 million to U.S. playwriting organizations and theaters in the hopes of getting more fresh voices before an audience. The recent grants are a result of a three-year study into the particular problems new plays encounter.

It turns out that developing plays is not the problem. Producing them is. New playwrights often get stuck in “workshop hell,” as Diane E. Ragsdale, the foundation’s program officer for theater and dance, put it. Supporting playwrights directly and creating long-term residencies at theaters were among the recommendations that emerged.

Recipients include Lark Play Development Center, New Dramatists, Sundance Institute Theater Program and the Playwrights’ Center. Three-Legged Dog, a nonprofit media and theater group in New York City, also received a grant. Read the full NYTimes article here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Comédie Française Attempts MC 93 Takeover

A battle is brewing in Paris. In one corner, the 328-year-old Comédie Française, and in the other, the cutting edge theatre company, MC 93. The stakes are dominance of the Parisian suburbs, and, of course, money. The Comédie Française receives more than £20m a year from the state, with another £6m from other sources. MC 93 gets most of its smaller financial needs from the local region. Who will be victorious? Read the ‘Observer’ article here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Our New Social Networking Site for World Theatre

For those of you who visit our blog frequently or are here for the first time, we would like to extend a special, limited-time offer to join The Internationalists Global Theatre Network. It works as our own social networking site (ala facebook or myspace). As our mission is to create a more open, sustainable and interactive global theatrical community, this is a major step in achieving our goals. In addition to pertinent information about the world of theatre, this is also a place where you can create your own profile, meet & chat with other artists, post discussions, pose questions and create special topic groups. In order to receive an invitation, you must send us your email address at and put in the subject line, ‘Online Network: Blog’. You will then receive an invitation which will get you started. We look forward to having you join us at

-The Internationalists

Sunday, October 19, 2008

International Visegrad Fund

The International Visegrad Fund supports projects in the fields of cultural cooperation, scientific exchange and research, education, exchanges between young people, cross-border cooperation and promotion of tourism. It is open to projects thematically related to Visegrad cooperation (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic & Slovakia).

The maximum contribution of the Fund allocated to each Small Grant project is up to EUR 4,000. The financial contribution of the Fund cannot exceed 50% of the total project costs including the in-kind contribution of the applicant, or in-kind contributions of other co-financing subjects. The maximum time frame of the proposed budget is 6 months, even if the project is envisaged to last longer.

When considering funding, the Fund will prefer those projects that will involve partners (co-organizers) from all V4 countries (with the exception of the Cross-border projects). The Fund will not support projects in which less than three of the V4 countries are involved, except for projects within the cross-border cooperation. (Within the cross-border cooperation, partners from 2 V4 countries are sufficient.) The Fund may also fund projects proposed by (or implemented in cooperation with) an entity outside of V4 countries, provided that such projects are in compliance with the objectives of the Fund. Applicants from non-Visegrad countries can apply for Small Grants under the same conditions, but the project must be thematically related to Visegrad cooperation.

Annual budget: EUR 512,000
Deadlines: 1 March, 1 June, 1 September and 1 December.
Applications for the Small Grants must be submitted through the on-line application system.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Iraq: War in the Streets, War in the Wings

Wonderful article about the Iraqi National Theatre's first production to be performed after sunset since the 2003 US-led invasion. Click here for the the full LA Times article.

"Bring the King, Bring Him" opened a few days ago, hours after a car bomb shook the National Theater, crumpling the dressing room ceiling and bruising Zahra Beden, Munathar's wife, and another actress in the play. Munathar, who also stars as the king, worried that the attack would keep audiences away. But the crowds keep coming, braving the city's frequent explosions and horizon of curling smoke.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Mark Ravenhill on Directing in Armenia

by Mark Ravenhill, 'The Guardian'
More than a decade ago, the statue of Lenin was removed from Republic Square, the heart of the city of Yerevan. Now the square is dominated by a massive water feature. This eye-catching, if rather kitsch, landmark in the new capitalist Armenia spits out great plumes of water in time with the blasts of popular classical music booming out of concealed speakers. The Armenian people have moved on from their Soviet past. The new cafe society of young couples parading in their Italian clothes is more reminiscent of Milan than Minsk. But there is one legacy of the Soviet past that Yerevan has held on to. The city, with more than 1 million inhabitants, has a tremendous appetite for theatre: there are no fewer than 12 working companies, and an audience that's enthusiastic for all kinds of performance. During the Soviet era, the challenge for Moscow was to balance the introduction of Russian ideas and language with a respect for local culture. Drama was an excellent tool: both Russian and Armenian theatre was supported and promoted by the Soviet state. And the Armenians have preserved this theatrical legacy.

I'm in Yerevan to direct a translation of one of my Shoot/Get Treasure/Repeat plays, a 20-minute work called Paradise Lost. I have an impressive Armenian cast. Part of the Soviet legacy is the high standard of actor training. The quality of the acting is astonishing. So, too, is the loyalty countries such as Slovenia, Georgia and Lithuania still show to a Russian idea of theatre: large ensemble companies, actors working together for a lifetime, lengthy rehearsal periods, visionary directors. While all around them everything is being privatised, actors and audiences have held on to a form of theatre that, by the logic of market forces, should have disappeared long ago.

There is a barrier for me to cross: I don't speak any Russian or Armenian, and the cast doesn't have any English. I've been given an interpreter, an enthusiastic - but not exactly fluent - English speaker. And so rehearsals have taken an unusual course. After the briefest of introductions, in which I tried to summarise the play in a single sentence and gave a few key notes for each character, we hit the stage, slowly working through a couple of pages a day. I've found myself standing at the footlights, beating out the tempos for different sections with a book, holding my hand up to indicate the length of pauses, tapping my head to indicate changes of thought or intentions for the characters. I've focused on giving the actors concrete physical moments to play. I've even demonstrated actions - something many British actors would consider an insult to their craft.

The results occasionally look like the kind of coarse acting you can find anywhere in the world. But at other times, this commitment to the physical has produced exciting results that seem more like the theatre I've seen in mainland Europe than the type of work you usually see on British stages.

Some blimpish Brits still insist that theatre from other countries is more physical and visual than ours because they don't have our language, which - so the argument goes - is the richest in the world. I don't buy this. Surely Goethe, Molière and Chekhov couldn't have been inspired to produce the world's greatest plays in impoverished languages? But it is true that British audiences are unusually attuned to the nuances of language: they can smell a hint of irony quicker than theatre-goers anywhere else.

This ear for language is surely the greatest strength, but also the greatest weakness, of the British stage. Perhaps we should think a little less about the words. Here in Armenia, I'm learning to unlock the meaning of a play without understanding a word the actors are saying. It's a fascinating lesson.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Feinstein Wants to Tighten Visa Waiver Program

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that U.S. Homeland Security officals should adopt a more restrictive approach to the visa waiver program rather than expand it. During a recent hearing on Capital Hill, she stated a fear that terrorists are are looking for any loopholes in the system to enter the United States. Below is an excerpt. Click here for the full article.

"Feinstein is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, which heard testimony in September on the “Visa Waiver Program: Mitigating Risks to Ensure Safety of All Americans.” The visa waiver program (VWP) allows citizens in participating countries to enter the United States without obtaining a visa or being interviewed or screened in U.S. embassies and consulates. Bush administration officials are “moving aggressively” to expand the program to include 13 new countries before the end of the year, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) report released in late September. Those prospective new members include Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and South Korea. At present, the VWP allows citizens of 27 nations to enter the United States for business or travel for up to 90 days. Some 13 million foreign citizens took advantage of the program last year, the GAO report states. Expanding the program is warranted in part because the new nations under consideration have had strong economic, political, and military ties with the U.S., say officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Nós do Morro at the Barbican

by Alice O'Keeffe (New Stateman)

From the roof terrace of the Nós do Morro theatre in the Vidigal favela, Rio de Janeiro looks like the sparkling tropical paradise it would be in a perfect world. Ipanema Beach is just visible in the moonlight and the shanty towns stretching up the hills are spangled like Christmas trees with blue and orange street lamps. Inside the hot, airless auditorium the audience is settling in for a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Babies snuffle, teenagers laugh and fidget. People greet one another with easy smiles and handslaps. This is not a rarefied, high-class crowd - it is drawn from a community in one of Rio's many poor and conflict-battered districts.

Community theatre, in this case, does not equal wobbly amateur dramatics. The actors are young and beautiful, the staging slick and inventive. With no sets and the simplest of costumes, Verona is created before us - complete with walls, statues and towers - using the bodies of the performers alone. The romance between Silvia and Valentine, played by Roberta Rodrigues and Thiago Martins, is genuinely funny, human and touching in the hands of this remarkable theatre company. By the end, actors and audience alike are sweating in the sauna-like heat, but the spell of the drama is unbroken until the curtain call.

"When we started over 20 years ago there was no culture of theatre in the favela," Guti Fraga, founder and director of Nós do Morro, tells me over a glass of evilly strong cachaça at an Ipanema restaurant the following afternoon. He is a lean, middle-aged man with a smooth, bald head and an intense but irreverent manner. Having worked as a travelling performer and a journalist, he came to Vidigal in 1980 and, inspired by community theatres he had visited in Brooklyn, New York, started the company.

"When I came to live here it bothered me to meet so many very talented people with no opportunities," he says. "Nós do Morro started with nothing but a philosophy: to practise real solidarity, irrespective of social class, and to create work of excellence. The quality of the work is the most important thing."

Initially the project was for the people of Vidigal alone, but over the years it has established a reputation across Rio and further afield. "People from the rich areas of the city will now come here to go to the theatre," Fraga says. "They might never have ventured to a district like this before." In 1992 Fraga met Cicely Berry, a coach for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and so began a working relationship that culminated in Nós do Morro coming to Stratford-upon-Avon to appear in the Complete Works season in 2006. The group returns to the UK this October to perform Two Gentlemen at the Barbican.

The really big break for the company came in 1999, when it was approached by the directors Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, who were looking for young actors from the favelas to cast in a feature film. The project went on to become City of God, Brazil's most successful film internationally. The child actors from Nós do Morro created some of the hardest-hitting scenes in its graphic, violent depiction of the evolution of the drug trade in a Rio favela. Their lives also provided its inspiration: the film raised the profile worldwide of the increasingly bloody armed conflict that was swiftly engulfing urban ghettoes such as Vidigal.

"When Nós do Morro started we didn't see guns in the favela," says Fraga. "Now it's normal. I have lost a lot of people very dear to me. It is not something I can talk about." The smile disappears from his animated face, and he looks away. "Many times during rehearsals we have heard gunfights start outside between the police and the drug traffickers. We all have to get down . . . and then we get up and carry on rehearsing. We have become very resistant. It is calm now, thank goodness - until the next incursion."

For the actors of Nós do Morro, the theatre company has provided a much-needed outlet for their creativity as well as an escape route from the tough existence in the favela. For some, it has even paved the way to stardom. Roberta Rodri gues appeared in City of God and subsequently featured in one of Brazil's biggest soap operas. "City of God opened up a new profile for actors in Brazilian drama," she says. "You can now see actors on TV who look like normal people from the favelas. You see a mix of races and social types, where before it was very selective."

Thiago Martins, who also starred in City of God's excellent spin-off television series, City of Men, agrees. "It has made a difference both personally and in a wider sense. I see myself as equal now, intellectually, if not financially," he says. "We are like the representatives of the favelas in the outside world."

Both actors continue to work with Nós do Morro and to live in Vidigal, though Martins has bought his mother a new house in a safer area of the favela. "Before, we were living in what you might call the 'Gaza Strip' of the favela. Our windows were blown out and our water was always going. I thought my mother deserved something better," he says. For Rodrigues, living in Vidigal is "both a choice and a necessity. I don't want to leave my parents and the people I grew up with, or a way of life I respect. "

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Actor's Visa Rejected by Homeland Security

by Phil Gallo (Variety)

The visa application for Austrian actor Martin Niedermair has been rejected by the Dept. of Homeland Security, forcing UCLA Live to cancel the first production of its Intl. Theater Festival. Niedermair was to star in Barrie Kosky’s one-man show "The Tell-Tale Heart," which was scheduled to open Wednesday.

UCLA Live asserted that the labor union Actors’ Equity automatically rejects visiting visas to any actor performing in English, which has happened for every English-speaking production they have imported. The union has long had a role in regulating the number of acting jobs that go to foreign actors in the U.S.

"This physically challenging role was written specifically for Martin Niedermair," David Sefton, UCLA Live’s executive/artistic director, said in a statement. "It is our intention to challenge what we believe to be an unfair decision and reschedule the show later in the season." The seventh edition of the UCLA fest will now open Oct. 14.

Friday, October 3, 2008

If the World Could Vote on the US Election

As a non-partisan organization, The Internationalists don't officially support any candidate for US president in the upcoming election, but as a global entity, we'd like to draw your attention to a site that asks the world who they'd like to see running the show. Thus far over 113,000 people from 178 countries have responded. You can draw your own conclusions as to which way we're leaning.