About This Blog

I really like theatre, and I like writing and talking about it.

This blog is mostly about my relationship with theatre, the moments that make me fall in love with this art form, and the times when we don't always get along.

I'll be writing about things that I like, that I think are good and interesting and want to share. I will probably also write about things that I don't quite get, or think are wierd. I may also write about things that aren't theatre, strictly speaking, because it's my blog and I can.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Making The Nerds Nervous

If I'm going to provide commentary on theatre, I'd be remiss at this point in not discussing the most controversial theatrical event of the year, Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark. I'm both a theatre nerd and a comic book-reading, Dungeons & Dragons playing nerd (no joke, I have a weekly game). This show is one that everyone's talking about in both my theatre circles and my regular nerd circle, and dubiously in both cases.

While there's been a lot of buzz about the exciting production team, including music by U2's Bono and The Edge, with direction by Julie Taymor, most of the Spider-man fans I know are wondering, "why?" There have already been the three popular and successful Sam Raimi films in recent years (although they did go a bit off the rails near the end), and now the reboot starring Andrew Garfield, so this isn't a story that's begging for a fresh adaptation.

There's also a concern about lack or reverence for the source material. For example this article in the New York Post references a new villain called "Swiss Miss", who apparently is supposed to resemble a Swiss Army knife, despite sharing the name with a brand of hot cocoa. Spider-man already has a great villain pool to choose from, many of whom will appear in the show, including Carnage, Swarm, and The Green Goblin. Why so many?

The danger level of the show is also a major point of concern. A lot of the buzz about the show lately has been the various injuries incurred by the cast while performing stunts. One performer broke both wrists, and, though I can't confirm it, I've heard rumors that potential ensemble members have left auditions for the show after seeing how risky the choreography is, wary of potentially career-ending injuries.

I located a video with rehearsal footage from the show, which you can check out on their facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=121115394618089

Ok, so this is what we're looking at: the wirework and fight choreography looks really cool. This issue is if it can be done safely--if appropriate precautions are taken, nothing in theatre should actually be dangerous, but we all know accidents do happen. No matter how impressive, the spectacular stunts aren't worth it if the performers are inherently at risk by doing them.

The creators of the show took a long time to start rolling out images and music from the show, keeping the public's speculation firmly focused on how expensive the show is, the numerous delays, and cast injuries and technical problems. If they can take care of those problems, they could have a great looking show, but I fear they may disappoint those looking for some substance with their style--and comic book fans may be left out in the cold altogether.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Opera That Made Me Yell At My Television

It was a drizzly Saturday afternoon earlier this fall. I was snuggled up with my cat, a snack and some knitting (I sound like an old lady, don't I? I'm 27. I swear), and settled in to watch The Metrpolitan Opera's production of "Hamlet", which they had previously broadcast live in HD, and was running on TV. I'm a fan of Simon Keenlyside, who was playing the title role, and was really looking forward to watching it.

Before long, my roommates started hearing the following exclamations coming from my room:

"What are you doing?"
"That's not what happens!"
"What? WHAT? WHAT??!!!"

Considering my drama education, it's safe to say I'm pretty familiar with Shakespeare's Hamlet, and to quote star Simon Keenlyside in his between-acts interview with Renee Fleming, "it's Hamlet, it's just not Shakespeare's Hamlet". Now, I wasn't expecting them to follow the original to the letter, obviously to translate it between mediums you need to streamline the story and simplify it to its core themes. I'd say what Ambroise Thomas's opera does is pluck subtext from some scenes, stick it onto others, and also grossly rearrange the show.

The change that bothers me the most (if you don't want to know what's different, stop reading here) is the relationships of Polonius and Ophelie (here, in the French) to Hamlet. Polonius barely appears until halfway through the show, at which point he's revealed to be a co-conspirator. Hamlet discovers this, and becomes the reason he rejects Ophelie--because her father helped kill his. She loses her mind and kills herself, then, not because of the torment of her father being murdered by her beloved, but simply because her would-be fiance turned her down. This makes her a weaker, much less complex creature; but very much of-the-time, as this was first performend in 1868. But come on, if I went nuts and killed myself every time a man let me down...I would be dead by now.

Oh, and speaking of death, Polonius doesn't even die! And Hamlet doesn't duel Laertes in the final scene, he kills him in a fight right before Ophelie's funeral, when he doesn't know she's dead yet. And then the ghost shows up at the end to help Hamlet kill Claudius.

There were a few touches I liked--like when Hamlet is waiting on the roof with Bernardo and Horatio, you can hear the sounds of the wedding party going on in the background, and they look at Hamlet as if to say "Sorry, dude." They also include a love duet for Hamlet and Ophelie at the beginning, which is nice because in Shakespeare's play you never actually see them together as a couple before things start going awry (I also like the fact that soprano Marlis Peterson's skirt was so floofy, they both had to smoosh it down so that Keenlyside could lie in her lap).

There's also a great scene for Hamlet at the banquet after the Players put on their show where he actually comes out and accuses Claudius of murder (which did bother me, because that messes up so much of Hamlet's character. He has so many scenes in the play about his self-loathing and lack of courage because he is unwilling or afraid to accuse Claudius openly!), but no one believes him becuase he's drunk, and then he climbs on the table and pours the blood red wine all over himself (see below):

Simon Keenlyside/The Metropolitan Opera

Speaking of which, Simon Keenlyside's performance was completely terrific. He has a gorgeous voice (I will admit a weakness for baritones-I love that full, rich sound), he's very handsome, and has a down-to-earth, likeable stage presence. And then there's his great acting choices; in moments of fury, he's smashing the furniture with rage, and then and in his frustration at Claudius digs little holes in the wall with his knife.

Simon Keenlyside/The Metropolitan Opera

Obviously, I'm not very impressed with the translation of the work from play to opera. I'm irritated by the changes to the plot, and the music didn't really linger with me.  However, the overall production elements were quite good. Hamlet is a great part, and Keenlyside performed the heck out of it--the only drawback may have been that he is so interesting to watch, I felt like the air went out of the show when he wasn't on stage.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Missed The Point Much?

Today I was reading the LA Weekly's Theatre Review pages, and I stumbled upon a review of a production of Into The Woods. I'm not going to discuss the review of the production itself, although the company has apparently made some bold and unusual concept decisions, instead my concern is the following comment on Into The Woods itself:

"The good show would be kid-friendly if it didn't clock in at close to three hours, somewhat tortured by the almost superfluous (though psychologically darker) sluggish Act 2."

Part of this is true; if you wanted to do a short & sweet family musical, just perform the first act, and eliminate the final line, "to be continued." It stands on it's own just fine. But it seems to me that this critic has missed the entire point of the second act of the show! As I already discussed in a previous article, the second act takes the neatly wrapped up fairy tale endings of the first act, and shows that "Happily Ever After" does not come with out it's consequences, and the story does not end when the prince marries his princess. It's also not that good for kids, because they spend much of the time arguing, and half the cast dies.

The second act of Into The Woods, while deftly written, is not exactly subtle. And, frankly, it worries me that a critic for a fairly major Los Angeles publication just doesn't seem to undertand an entire half or a fairly mainstream show.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Rocky Horror Show (Not The Film, But The Show)

On Sunday night, I went to see these guys perform The Rocky Horror Show. As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been going to see the midnight screenings since I was pretty young; I actually realized recently that I haven't been since I was in high school- so ten years (?!?blurgh!) So I've never actually seen a production of Rocky Horror where the film wasn't being projected by the actors.

I honestly hadn't given much thought to the audience interaction before I got to the theater--I was out with friends that morning, I was meeting people at a restaurant, blah, blah, it never crossed my mind. Then, as my friends and I squeezed into the tiny theater, I noticed the girls in fishnets and lamé sitting behind us discussing their rice and slices of toast. My friend sitting next to me agreed that, while the throwing of stuff is expected at the midnight screenings, also the actors are only pantomiming and lip-synching- I would not want someone throwing playing cards at me while I am trying to sing full-voice.

It quickly became apparrent that throwing stuff was a very bad idea; In the first scene, during "Dammit Janet", the girls behind us hucked a handful of rice at the actors, and one of the phantoms (as the ensemble members are known) looked distinctly displeased. My friends and I started worrying about the actors slipping on the hard, smooth grains, and then we discovered part of their blocking included kneeling on the floor. Have you ever had to kneel on rice? Go ahead and try it. I'll wait here.

At the end of the scene, the aforementioned phantom grabbed a handful of the rice and snarkily threw it back. I really liked that performer, actually--he had great body language, and was hilariously bug-eyed and deadpan. In fact, that same phantom interjected most of the audience responses during the show. I quickly realized that it's been so long since I saw the show that I've forgotten most of the stuff to yell, however I also realized that I didnt' want to. Seeing live performers is very different than watching a film that's been running for 35 years- it's a singular moment in time that can never be repeated. And the show was so inventive, with great performances and engaging original  direction and choreography, I didn't even want to yell things out, because I was too interested in seeing what the performers would do next.

There are two notable exceptions- we yelled out "say it!" during the line "antici......pation!" in  "Sweet Transvestite". Also, the theater was far too small for us to stand up, but we did quietly Time Warp in our seats.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Tempest

A couple of years ago, I designed a production of The Tempest for the theatre company I work with, and therefore I've had an opportunity to become extremely familiar with it. So when I found out that Julie Taymor would be directing a film version of it, I was intrigued; I know that not everyone loves her work, but I'm a big fan. I've really enjoyed her films (Titus, Frida, and Across the Universe), and I've also seen The Lion King and the production of The Magic Flute that she did for the Metropolitan Opera. I don't always love every choice she makes, but the important thing is that she's always doing something interesting.

I still haven't decided how I feel about a female Prospero (Prospera, in this case). I love Helen Mirren and think she can do anything she wants, but I feel like the dynamic between Prospero and Miranda is very specific to the father/daughter relationship, however Prospera is both father and mother to Miranda, so maybe it will work; I'll reserve judgement until I see the film.

Anyway, I stumbled across some production images today, and I wanted to share something interesting I noticed about the costumes. Of course they're beautiful, having been designed by Sandy Powell, one of my idols (she won the Oscar last year for The Young Victoria, and also designed Shakespeare in Love, Interview with the Vampire, and Velvet Goldmine, one of my favorites)

So take a close look a these stills of David Strathairn and Chris Cooper (good cast, eh?)

See the details on those doublets? They look completely period-appropriate, yes?

THOSE ARE ZIPPERS!! Tres contemporary and chic, eh? There is a crazy zipper trend going on right now (which I actually feel is a bit overdone) where you're seeing a lot of exposed zippers on the backs of dresses and skirts, and blouses adorned with zipper rosettes. But this is the best use of them I've seen in garment detailing. The give the doublets an edgy, textured look, but it's really subtle. I bet most people watching the film in theaters won't even notice.
And do you see that belt holding David Strathairn's cloak? I have that belt! It's from H&M!

This film is coming out in December; I hope as the release date comes closer that Sandy Powell will do some interviews about her concepts, because there's some really interesting choices being made here, and I'd love to know what inspired her.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On The Fear of Audience Participation

My roommate recently shared this article with me: http://www.theonion.com/articles/oh-no-performers-coming-into-audience,2685/

Which I responded to with this: http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/07/theater-talkback-from-seat-to-stage/#more-133519

As a performer, I like to stay firmly nestled behind the fourth wall. I've certainly done my fair share of audience-participation performance, especially in children's theatre, and it's very risky. Kids will grab the show and run off with it if you let them. Adults often feel uncomfortable, and won't give you much of a response at all.

As a theatregoer I'm not really a fan of audience participation, especially when it's unexpected. I don't want to have to be "on" when I'm unprepared. I feel obligated to entertain the rest of the audience, and I'm afraid I'll never come up with a clever enough reponse, but there's also a little voice inside me that wants to tell the performers "it's ok, I get it! I'm one of you!"

And then there's the moments when you have no idea whether the performers actually want you to respond or not. I was thinking of this while watching a performance of The Magic Flute, in the scene where Papageno decides to kill himself if no one will offer their love, and counts to three, then waits for a response. What would he do if someone actually said something? Not a lot of room for improv in opera, the scores are kind of set in stone.

But I think the thing that makes me most uncomfortable is getting something different from what you expected; like getting Coke when you ordered Dr. Pepper. It just jars you. If I know audience participation will be involved, I can prepare myself emotionally. If I'm anticipating sitting back and observing, I don't like being pulled out of that.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Actual 3D: So real, it's like they're right in front of you!

On my drive home from work today, I spotted a billboard stating:

"This Christmas, See The Nutcracker in 3D!"

It was an ad for this mostly live-action children's film, and as I sat at the traffic light staring at it, I came up with a much better idea:

Why not attend an actual live performance of The Nutcracker? Even if you can't afford to attend New York City Ballet or Boston Ballet, there's likely to be a non-professional company in your area that puts on a lavish, high-quality production. If you do see an amateur company, you can be sure the dancers you're watching are passionate about practicing their craft, because they're definitely not doing it for the paycheck.

So, this holiday season, take off the plastic 3-D glasses and go support your local arts community. See some real live talented human beings performing in front of you.

Shows that knock you on your a$$

When I was about 11 years old, my town's high school put on its first musical in several years. My sister is a bassist and was playing in the orchestra, and a couple of her friends who I knew were in the cast. I think someone may have told me that Into the Woods was about fairytales before I went, but that's all I knew.

I laughed hysterically through the playful first act that shows Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk intersecting in various amusing ways. But then in the second act, something terrible happened. Actions began having consequences, characters started having disagreements; mistakes were made, impasses were reached, and everything did not work out the best for everyone in the end.

I remember clapping through the curtain call, trying to dry my tears and wondering, "What just happened to me?"

I had never done something like this before, but the next night I gathered up my allowance, came back to the theater on my own (sans parents), and I saw the show again.

This will come as no surprise to those who know me, but even as a kid I was drawn to stories that had an element of darkness to them; a twinge of complicated, adult emotions. Especially as an adult, I'm bored by stories about moustache-twirling villians who get their comeuppance, and innocent lovers who end up together in the end because, well, that's how things are supposed to work out.

While working on this article I realized that my other two favorite Sondheim musicals, Company and  Sweeney Todd had the same effect on me. I hate when writers play it safe--do you ever get the feeling that they're afraid to see their characters get hurt?--and in Sweeney Todd the characters pay a HUGE price for their actions. Company very intentionally takes the problems that middle class, middle age Americans attend the theatre to run away from, and throw them back in their (our?) faces.

There's a DVD available of the recent Broadway revivial of Company starring Raul Esparza. The plot largely deals with his character's 35th birthday, and I think it really affected me because most of my friends are in their mid-twenties to late thirties, so it really reflects where we are in our lives right now. And similar to my reaction to Into the Woods, after finishing the DVD, I had to go back and start it again...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

This is sort of old news, but I've always wanted to know...

What made someone see this:

And think "you know what? This should really be a stage show!"

I would love to have just been in the room when that idea was pitched. The results look really cool, though!

This has been around for a few years, but I still can hardly believe it exists at all.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Inevitable Has Happened

I am in a show which opens tomorrow, and I am getting sick.

I don't get sick a lot, though I used to have a head cold seven months out of the year (for which I blame all the mold and terrible venlitation in my high school), but once I got out of there, problem solved.

 But the thing that always gets you sick is going in and out of the cold all day long, and while in Los Angeles it never gets that cold, it is a desert, and it can get pretty chilly at night. And last weekend I was constantly running in and out of doors at the Interactive Pirate adventure, and then I spent a LOT of time walking outside on Halloween night, when it got quite chilly, plus two of my roommates were sick (although I was only aware of one being so at the time, the other one wouldn't admit to needing help if a bear was gnawing on her leg).

I'm not the only member of the cast who's ill, but I certainly don't want to aggrivate things, so I'm sitting at my desk with a BLAZING hot cup of lemon tea thinking of ways so not sniffle through all my scenes:

-Mucinex. No other decongestant has worked for me as well as this one (and as I said before, I've had a lot of colds).
-Fisherman's Friends, if I can find a place that sells them. I first encountered these in Germany, but I was afraid of them because the family I stayed with gave them to their horses. Turns out the horses just liked them. They're licorice lozenges, and while that's my least favorite of the standard flavors, I have to admit these things really clear out your passages.
-Gargling with salt water. I HATE doing this. Hate it. But it works. Full glass of warm (not hot) water, and dissolve a table spoon of salt water. Then gargle the whole thing, a mouthful at a time. It will be disgusting and horrible, but if you have a sore throat, you will feel ten times better.
-Vitamins. Take a multi-vitamin every day. That will solve half your problem right there.
-Ginger. I love this for upset stomachs, queasiness (especially because I get motion sick). There's a brand called Gin-gins that makes all kinds of ginger treats, but I particularly like their Traveler's Candies--they come individually wrapped in a convenient little box. Mythbusters tested ginger as a seasickness remedy and found it to be the only thing as effective as dramamine, plus you won't fall asleep.
-Anti-bacterial gel and tissue packs. The best way to not infect your castmates. Disinfect everytimes you sneeze/cough/whatever. Luckily, I'm the only member of this cast without a stage kiss (Unfortunately, I'm also the only cast member without a stage kiss)

So that, plus lots of rest and lots of fluids (which results in lots of bathroom trips) should hopefully keep my sniffle and throat tickle from developing into a full-blown coughing-hacking-gross-dripping-nose cold.

I'm going to go get another glacier-melting cup of lemon tea (and try not to spill it over the entire kitchen this time). Let me know what you do when you get a cold right before a show.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It Grew On Me

Today I found out that Jerry Bock, the composer of Fiddler on the Roof and She Loves Me passed away, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about my relationship with Fiddler.

I was a senior when I found out we were doing it for our high school musical. I was not enthused.

I had seen the movie when I was a kid, and attended a staging at a local family theater (Wheelock?) when I was in middle school, and of course everyone knows "If I Were A Rich Man". But I just did not get the appeal of the show. What was the story arc? It's about a poor milkman with five daughters, three of whom get married to partners he doesn't really approve of, and there's an impending Tsarist threat which never really improves.

Being a senior, I was hoping to get a lead, so I was pretty disappointed to be cast as Fruma Sarah (the  ghost). I only had one scene. Ok, I was also a villager in all the group scenes, but come on...Well, it ended up beind some of the most fun I ever had on stage. The actors playing Tevye and Golda were (and are still) really good friends of mine, so I had a blast terrorizing them. Then I didn't have to stress about my performance for the rest of the show, and I could come out at the curtain call and collect tons of applause. I forgot that the dream sequence is one of the most memorable parts of the show.

But the important thing is that, during the course of rehearsing the show, I came to understand it. I was too young for it when I first saw it, and as a teenager it took living inside it to really get it. While Fiddler is a family show, it's really a show for grown-ups. It's about adult problems and emotions, like realizing your children's paths in life won't be the same as yours, or that you'll probably never achieve financial stability, or that you'll have to leave the home you probably thought you were going to die in.

One more quick note: I recently saw John Williams conduct the Entr'acte from this show at his concert at the Hollywood Bowl. I unfortunately do not have the name of the violin soloist, but she was absolutely entrancing (actually, my friends made fun of me for watching with my elbows on my knees and my chin in my hands). I don't get to much live music, so to hear someone play that well was a real treat.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Is the most exciting new play in New York...a book?

Any of us who went to drama school probably had the following phrases pounded into our heads: "don't play it safe", "take risks", "try something different", etc. However, risk-taking theatre doesn't tend to put butts in seats. Look at the state of Broadway--after Sept. 11, a ton of shows closed, because it suddenly felt inappropriate to have fun. Then two years ago the stock market crashed, and no one could afford to have fun.

Broadway producers are playing it safe, which is why you're seeing so many musical versions of well-known films and jukebox musicals. This way, it's not a risk for audience members to spend so much money on a ticket to a show they may not like, because they're already familiar with the movie or the music.

So, in this climate, would people want to sit in a room for six hours and watch someone read The Great Gatsby from beginning to end?

Apparently the answer is "yes", because the entire run of Gatz! by the Elevator Repair Service is completely sold out.

I won't bother summarizing the show myself when someone else can do it better: this is from Charles McGrath's Sept. 28 review in the New York Times:

 "A MAN sits down at a gray metal desk one morning and tries to boot up a computer from the Flintstone age, one with a screen that looks like an old cathode-ray TV set. Nothing happens, so he pulls out a paperback and begins to read aloud. ...Slowly, over half an hour or so, the man in the office (Scott Shepherd) starts to become interested in what he’s reading. Pretty soon he’s doing the voices...And then, miraculously, people who have been silently coming in and out of the office, going about their workaday business, begin to imitate the characters, speaking the lines and even acting them out."

"It’s more a dramatization of the act of reading itself — of what happens when you immerse yourself in a book...This, or something like it, is what happens when you get caught up in a book. You hear it in your head, and it takes over your waking existence a little, so you can’t wait to be done with whatever you’re doing and immerse yourself in the pages again."

Obviously, I am not in New York, and can't see the show myself. But it's really caught my attention because:
a) it's a risky concept that not everyone will be able to get behind
b) it's been glowingly reviewed
c) people can't stop talking about it

In regards to the latter point, I'm seeing articles about this show popping up all over the place. Clearly, this show gets people thinking (and talking). If you scroll down to the "comments" at the bottom of the articles (which I should NEVER do, because they usually just make me angry), you'll find audience members who were bored, or couldn't make it all the way through. That's one of the things I love the most about experimental theatre: sometime the experiments work, and sometimes they don't. Some people think it's stupid, some people think it's awesome.

But the existance of the show itself makes a great point about translating something that was meant to be written in to something that's made to be watched. There's a reason why many beloved books are difficult to successfully turn into plays or films (no film version of The Great Gatsby has ever been very well received)--because there's something to be gained in the reading of them. There's more to a book than dialogue, it's the poetry or rythm of the author's voice, the way he or she describes the character's reactions or thought process. If not done well, that magic all gets lost in the translation from written to visual mediums.

So maybe these Elevator Repair Service guys are on to something: the best way to adapt a beloved work is not to adapt it at all.

For Further Gatz! Reading:
The Boston Globe review from last January
Charles McGrath's New York Times Review
Ben Brantley's New York Times Review

Monday, November 1, 2010


I wanted to commemorate two milestone events that took place this past weekend by sharing some of my favorite video clips.

First the tour of Phantom of the Opera ended here in Los Angeles; it's still running in New York and London, of course, but seeing it one last time here was a big deal for me. Also, I've been talking up this actor who was in a production of Beauty and the Beast I worked on to my friends for years. Brad Little has played The Phantom on Broadway and all over the world; here he is singing "Music of the Night" for a Korean TV program.

Also, I promised a friend I would share this picture from the 9,000th Broadway performance back in September.

Jennifer Hope Wills, John Cudia and Ryan Silverman

Photo by Aubrey Reuben/Playbill.com

The other milestone is the 35th anniversary of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I remember going to a midnight screening and being offered a job with the shadow cast; unfortunately I was only 15 at the time, and not old enough to see the movie by myself (my big sister took me).

At the West Hollywood Halloween Parade, people were honoring Rocky Horror with Time Warp marathons and lackluster cover bands; I prefer to do so by showing of one of my favorite Frank-n-furter performances; I just stumbled upon this clip promoting an Australian production on a local talk show (the hosts play Brad and Janet in this performance), featuring Australian performer iOTA as Dr. Frank.

Das Rheingold- addendum

More later today (Hopefully. Possibly?), but first, a quick addendum to my post on Das Rheingold:

The story of the first 1/2 of the Ring Cycle told through professional wrestling.

NYTimes review here: http://theater.nytimes.com/2010/10/26/theater/reviews/26ring.html?ref=theater

To quote critic Steve Smith,  "..this cheeky adaptation...addresses Wagner’s agenda with remarkable sensitivity and insight".

Sounds fun! Maybe someone in NY who's seen this can let me know how it is.