Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Building Up STEAM

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue May 19, 2015 @ 8:53 pm PDT

userpic=mad-scientistToday was that one day a year when I take off from work and go help the emerging generation by serving as a judge at the California State Science Fair. This year, yet again, I was the judge for the Junior (6-8 grade) Math and Software Panel. A few observations:

  • For the first year in a long time: not a single project calculating π, and not a single “Monty Hall Problem”. We still, though, got two projects related to sports.
  • Perhaps mirroring society, we’re getting more and more projects where the emphasis is on the software, not the math.
  • Perhaps mirroring society yet again, we’re getting more and more software projects where the students role is integrating pre-existing pieces, as opposed to developing code from scratch.
  • So what were the hot trends this year: use of Arduino boards, Lego Mindstorm, and programming in Python, Java, and Excel.
  • This year I was much more annoyed by the crowding and interruptions of the interviews, and how the special category judges always seem to be talking to the person I needed to talk to next. Boos to the ScienCenter person who interrupted an interview to tell me I couldn’t sit my closed, sealed iced-tea on the table; I had to balance it with everything else I was carrying.

A few comments on the projects themselves:

What else did we have this year? Someone building an elevator in Minecraft. Two projects trying to program video games for the blind. Two projects dealing with autonomous cars (one navigating the maze, the other merging). One attempting to do text compression and storing the frequency library in the cloud. A fellow who programmed a calculator and got it into the Google store.  Those were the ones that stuck in my mind.

In any case, quite an interesting day. Always fun.

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Where Beauty Is To Be Found

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon May 18, 2015 @ 8:47 pm PDT

Violet (Kelrik Productions)userpic=theatre_musicalsWhen I find a composer I like, I tend to explore other shows they have done. This is especially true with some of the newer composers, such as Jeanine Tesori, composer of Thoroughly Modern Millie and Shrek: The Musical (and of the current hit, Fun Home, on Broadway). Back in 2008, one of the shows of Tesori’s I explored was her 1998 Off-Broadway show, Violet. I found that I really liked the music as well as the message. It was revived last year via Encores, but failed to find footing on Broadway (although it was notable for Sutton Foster doing the role without makeup). However, there really hadn’t been any productions that were in reasonable driving distance. That is… until last week. Kelrik Productions, a production company out of San Luis Obispo that has recently started doing shows at the Monroe Forum Theatre at the El Portal (they got rave reviews for their recent Sweeny Todd), has just opened a three-week run of a production of Violet. We saw it last night, and it was just spectacular. It you want a really moving musical, with a great message and wonderful performances, get down to the El Portal before this closes. Violet is well worth it.

Violet (Music by the aforementioned Jeanine Tesori, lyrics and book by Brian Crawley, based on “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by Doris Betts) tells the story of Violet Karl of Spruce Pine, NC in 1964. When Violet was 12, an accident with her father and an axe left her with a large facial scar, from cheek to nose. Ever since, she has been teased and grown to accept her ugliness. Keeping her going was a faith healer in Tulsa OK. Now 25, Violet has raised enough money to take Greyhound to Tulsa to be healed. Going through Tennessee, she meets two Army soliders: a black sergeant named Grady “Flick” Fliggins, and a young white corporal named Monty. Both take an interest in Violet. While overnighting in Memphis in a hotel that accommodates blacks, they go out to party and Monty ends up sleeping with Violet (although Violet told Flick she had left the door unlatched).  When they arrive at Fort Smith AR, the Monty indicates he will come back Saturday to meet her bus after she’s done in Tulsa. She continues on to Tulsa where she meets the healer… and you can likely predict what happens there. I won’t spoil the details of the end of the story, but you can read them on the Wiki page for the musical. Throughout the show, there are regular flashbacks to young Violet and her father showing their relationship and how she reacted to the scar and the absence of her mother. PS: I also found a wonderful scene breakdown.

As I said, this is a show with a strong message — and it isn’t about the charade of faith healers (although there is a strong message of the power of belief). At one point, the phrase Act ugly, do ugly, be ugly.” is used. In many ways, this is the underlying metaphor for the show. What you believe about yourself, how you behave, is what makes you ugly or beautiful. At the beginning of the show, Violet sees herself, due to the scar, as ugly. Later on in the show, after she believes she has been healed, you can see the change in her — she now believes she is beautiful and through the stint of that belief, transforms. But it isn’t just Violet. We see the soldiers transform from acting ugly to becoming caring people. We see, in the reactions of others, ugliness reflects. What becomes important is not “Act ugly, do ugly, be ugly” but its counterpoint: “Act beautiful, do beautiful, be beautiful.” It is our beliefs and behaviors that dictate how society sees us. Further, given this is the south in 1964, it is how society behaves — beautiful or ugly — that determines what society is.

As with the Encores revival, this show is best when it is kept simple. Joshua Finkel (FB), the director, kept is simple. There was no complex set; locations were hinted at through a few props and a digital screen implying the location. There was no elaborate makeup — in particular, neither young nor adult Violet had a visible scar. This emphasized that the real scar was inside, and that sometimes a scar inside is both harder and easier to heal. He used the reactions of the other players to create the impression of the scar. This worked very well.

The talent was also top top notch. In the lead female positions were Kristin Towers-Rowles (FB, FB) as adult Violet, and Jaidyn Young (FB) as young Violet. We’ve seen Towers-Rowles before (in Victor/Victoria); she was even better here. Strong singing, strong movement, and strong performance. She made you believe she was a southern girl with a scar solely through behavior alone; it made the transformation remarkable. She was particularly moving in numbers such as “Lay Down Your Head”. Equally strong was Miss Young — whose face kept reminding me of our dear friend Val M. For a 14 year old, she had a remarkable voice and presence, and was just delightful to watch in her various numbers (I particularly enjoyed “Luck of the Draw”, but then again, “Luck of the Draw” is one of my favorite songs).

In the leading male positions were Jahmaul Bakare (FB) as Flick and Michael Spaziani (FB) as Monty. Again, two more spectacular performances — both in acting, singing, and movement. Bakare had a voice that would just make you melt; it was particularly notable in numbers such as “Let It Sing” and “Hard To Say Goodbye”. Spaziani also had a great voice that he showed off in numbers such as “You’re Different”

The remaining named positions and actors were all equally strong. Particularly notable were Jason Chacon (FB) with a touching performance as Violet’s father, and Erika Bowman (FB) was a knockout as the Gospel Singer and Landlady. You’ll fall in love with her performance in “Raise Me Up”. Rounding out the excellent cast were Richard Lewis Warren (FB) (Preacher / Bus Driver), Gail Matthius (FB) (Old Lady / Hotel Singer), Benai Alicia Boyd (FB) (Music Hall Singer / Mabel), Jeremy Saje (FB) (Waiter / Mechanic), and Justin Anthony Long (FB) (Billy Dean / Virgil). With the ensemble, notable numbers include the opening (“On My Way”) and the touching “Who’ll Be the One (If Not Me)”.

The choreography by Stage Manager Samantha Marie/FB made effective use of the limited space in the Forum theatre, particularly in the opening number and in the gospel numbers. Music was under the direction of Joe Lawrence (FB), who also played keyboard on-stage. Joining him were Barrett Wilson/FB on guitar, and in the back, Jason Chacon (FB) providing percussion.

The set design by Erik Austin (FB) [the “rik” in the producing team] was simple but effective, and served to focus attention on the actors. Props were provided by Lester Wilson/FB; I particularly liked the attention to detail in the Greyhound tickets. The lighting design, also by the choreographer Samantha Marie/FB served well to focus attention and create the mood. There was no credit for sound design; I seem to recall some effective sound effects (but perhaps my mind is playing tricks on me). The costumes by Kathleen Forster/FB, for the most part, were good. I only had one quibble (probably because I work with the Air Force, who use the same insignia as the Army): although Grady’s insignia were correct for a Staff Sergent (three chevrons, one rocker), Monty’s were wrong for a Corporal (a CPL is two chevrons; Monty only had one making him a Private E-2). The wigs by Debi Hernandez worked well. Samantha Marie/FB  was the stage manager, assisted by Lainie Pahos/FB. Violet was produced by Kelrik Productions (FB).

The Los Angeles premiere of Violet continues at the Monroe Forum Theatre at the El Portal (FB) through Sunday, May 31. It is well worth seeing for the great music and the great story. Tickets are available through OvationTix; discount Goldstar tickets are sold out (you snooze, you lose). Go see it.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Next weekend brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May brings “Entropy” at Theatre of Note (FB) on Saturday, and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. June looks to be exhausting with the bounty that the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) brings (ticketing is now open). June starts with a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), followed by Clybourne Park (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawks on Sunday. The second weekend of June brings Max and Elsa. No Music. No Children. (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and  Wombat Man (HFF) at Underground Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Marry Me a Little (HFF) by Good People Theatre (FB) at the Lillian Theatre (FB) on Sunday. The craziness continues into the third weekend of June, with Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Merely Players (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Sunday (and possibly “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, depending on Hottix availability, although July 4th weekend is more likely). The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and possibly Matilda. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is open, although it might bring “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) (depending on their schedule and Goldstar).  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August may bring “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Evolution of a Relationship

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 17, 2015 @ 1:15 pm PDT

Dinner with Friends (Rep East)userpic=repeastThis August marks my 30th wedding anniversary. As with any relationship, my relationship with my wife has seen its ups and downs, and it has changed and adapted as the years have gone by. Relationships — especially long-term relationships — are like that. Communication is key — both verbal and non-verbal — as well as understanding and humor. With the right skills, relationships can last. Without them… you end up with a story like the one we saw last night at Rep East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall (Santa Clarita): “Dinner with Friends” by Donald Margulies.

Dinner with Friends” tells the story of two couple — Gabe (Jack Impellizzeri (FB)) and Karen (Nancy Lantis (FB)), and Tom (Dennis Hadley (FB)) and Beth (Leslie Connelly (FB)). They have a deeply interwoven relationship: Gabe and Tom have been friends since they first met in college; Karen and Beth have been friends since they worked together at a publishing company. Further, Gabe and Karen brought Tom and Beth together 12 years ago. The two couples, like many couples do, formed an extended family (together with their two children, each). As the play opens, Gabe and Karen are having Beth over for dinner (Tom being unavailable due to a business trip); they are their usual epicurian selves, going over every detail of the food and their recent trip to Italy. Beth breaks down, informing them that she and Tom are splitting up, and describing what lead up to the breakup. After returning home from the evening, Beth is suprised by Tom (whose business trip was cancelled). Tom discovers that Beth told Gabe and Karen about the split, and is pissed that he didn’t get to present his side of the story. So he heads over to Gabe and Karen’s to tell the events as he sees them. As the play goes on, we learn the backstory of the split — as well as the fact that neither side is presenting the events without their particular spin on the story. We also see the effect of the split on Gabe and Karen, who seemingly have a solid marriage built around humor and communication. Gabe and Karen are placed in that unenviable position that happens when a close couple splits: Who do you believe? Who do you side with? Who will remain as friends, and can it be both? What does it say about us as a couple that we didn’t see this coming? It also makes Gabe and Karen subtly question their relationship: perhaps their relationship isn’t quite what they think it is.

It is at this point that Gabe uses the phrase, “The evolution of a relationship”. He believes that relationships change as practical matters take precedence over abandon. This is the real difference between the two couples: Tom and Beth wanted abandon; Gabe and Karen have learned to replace that with the practical. In fact, as the play end, Gabe tries to force the abandon, and it just feels wrong.

To me, studying the evolution of relationships what this play is about. Reading other reviews of the play, I think that’s why this play resonates with so many. In natural language — a language we can all understand —  audience members see their own relationships. Perhaps they are like Tom and Beth — not seeing the signals of things going off the rails, not realizing the reasons they came together may not have been conducive to the long term. Perhaps they are closer to Gabe and Karen, addressing things with humor (and similarly not seeing potential warning signs that might be nothing… or might just be indicative of a much longer fuse cord). The presentation wasn’t earth shattering; it wasn’t grand entertainment. But it also wasn’t contrived — it came across as a slice of real life that reflected natural relationships.

Is this play a comedy or a drama? It has elements of both; I think it tries to find the comedy in complex dramatic situations. The couple we were with seemed to view it more as a drama; in fact, they wanted more drama and conflict. They also noted the fact that the characters weren’t particularly likeable — there was no one they could empathize with. I didn’t see those problems, but I bring them up because I do think different people will react to this differently.

The performances were uniformly excellent. Under the direction of Brad Sergi (FB) (assisted by Bill Quinn/FB), the chemistry between each couple was amplified in a playful way, and they came off as realistic characters (Sergi and Quinn are the team that did such a great job on last year’s Cat). I really can’t single out any performance — they were just a perfect ensemble.

Technically, the set was simple. Tables, chairs, sofa, bed, not particularly tied to a particular place by design. It worked, proving you don’t always need a fancy design to establish place — often the skill of the actors can create the place through performance. More significant, technically, were the excellent sound effects — including the children and the car chirps. Lighting, like the set, was also simple but served to focus your attention on those portions of the stage that required focus. The technical team consisted of: Mikee Schwinn/FB (Set Design / Stage Hand), Jeffrey Hampton/FB (Stage Manager / Lighting Design), Steven “Nanook” Burkholder/FB (Sound Design), J. T. Centonze (FB) and Vicky Lightner/FB (Additional Stage Managers). Costumes and food props were provided by the cast. Dinner with Friends was produced by Ovington Michael Owston (FB) and  Mikee Schwinn/FB.

I’ll note that the program for this show was skimpier than usual. Upon inquiry, I learned that was because the sponsorship for this show materialized late. This is a demonstration of the fact that ticket sales alone are insufficient to support intimate theatre. Grants help some, but are also insufficient. Shows often depend on corporate and institutional sponsors to underwrite their costs of production; without such underwriters, production is precarious. If you are aware of a business in Santa Clarita or the San Fernando Valley — especially the northern Valley — that wants to support local cultural institutions and promote their business to attendees, contact REP East Playhouse at 661.288.0000.

Dinner With Friends continues at Rep East Playhouse (FB) in Newhall (Santa Clarita) until June 6. Tickets are available through the REP Online Box Office; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: This evening brings “Violet: The Musical” at the Monroe Forum Theatre (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May brings “Entropy” at Theatre of Note (FB) on Saturday, and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. June looks to be exhausting with the bounty that the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) brings (ticketing is now open). June starts with a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), followed by Clybourne Park (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawks on Sunday. The second weekend of June brings Max and Elsa. No Music. No Children. (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and  Wombat Man (HFF) at Underground Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Marry Me a Little (HFF) by Good People Theatre (FB) at the Lillian Theatre (FB) on Sunday. The craziness continues into the third weekend of June, with Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Merely Players (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Sunday (and possibly “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, depending on Hottix availability, although July 4th weekend is more likely). The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and possibly Matilda. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is open, although it might bring “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) (depending on their schedule and Goldstar).  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August may bring “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

 

Saturday Chum Stew: Water, Vegas, Revolts, and Death. A Typical Week.

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat May 16, 2015 @ 12:29 pm PDT

userpic=observationsSaturday, and time to clear out the news links before a busy weekend. Hopefully, you’ll find something of interest in these:

 

Sunday Stew: Women, Stains, Sex, Jazz, Food, Hotness and Bedrooms (A Mother’s Day Mix)

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 10, 2015 @ 1:00 pm PDT

Observation StewSave your mom from the drudgery: here’s some tasty news chum stew to chew on while visiting mom:

 

The Better Half

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 10, 2015 @ 10:54 am PDT

Words by Ira Gershwin (Colony)userpic=colonyWhenever I enter a song into iTunes, it asks me for the composer. The software designer cared more about who wrote the music than who wrote the lyrics. Yet it is often the lyrics that stay with us; the lyrics that tell the story and convey the meaning. The issue isn’t just with iTunes. Often when we think of musical teams, we think about the music and the composition, and not the lyrics and the poetry. The musical we saw last night at The Colony Theatre (FB) — correction, musical play — highlighted that missing half. The production, Words by Ira Gershwin, focused on the lesser known half of the Gershwins: Ira Gershwin. It was a wonderful production that not only had great music, but taught me a lot about someone I had only viewed in juxtaposition to his brother. It is well worth seeing.

The structure of Words by Ira Gershwin is very simple. The author, Joseph Vass, uses the simple approach of having Ira Gershwin (Jake Broder (FB)) tell his story, with the songs being illustrated by a talented crooner (Elijah Rock (FB)) and chanteuse (Angela Teek (FB)). This structure (at least in my memory) reminded me a lot of the wonderful Ain’t Misbehavin’ — a simple structure that illustrated the songs and told the story, without trying to construct an artificial scaffold or being a random jukebox.

The order of presentation was sometimes chronological, and sometimes not. This was perhaps my only quibble with the show. At the end, when Ira related the death of his brother, I was left waiting for the rest of the story. It wasn’t made clear that many of the collaborations discussed in the show — such as those with Kurt Weill, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlin, occured after George‘s death. The brief mention (in passing) of other contributors to the Great American Songbook — in particular, Irving Berlin, George Cohan, and Cole Porter — made me wonder whether there was any interaction between them. It is hard to believe their circles never crossed.

Still, the information presented about Gershwin was often new to me. I enjoyed the observations about lyrics and poetry, and the difficulty of fitting lyrics to established music. I found the observation about how music conveys mood and lyrics convey meaning, and the importance of the two together, to be quite astute. I had never really looked at Ira Gershwin in isolation from his brother, and this production prompted me to go out and pick up some of Gershwin’s collaborations with other composers.

This is one of those productions that I believe could have life beyond the mid-size Los Angeles stage. Given the similar structure to Ain’t Misbehavin’, the past success of musicals exploring other popular composer and lyricist catalogs, and the familiarity of Gershwin’s music… this one might be doable on a larger (read “Broadway”) stage.

The performances in this show were spectacular — both the actors and the musicians. Acting first :-). Broder’s portrayal of Gershwin created the character. He had the look of Ira Gershwin down perfectly. His singing voice was not perfection, but the imperfections made his portrayal of the lyricist even more realistic (you know this to be true if you’ve ever listened to performances of Cy Coleman, Sheldon Harnick, Fred Ebb, and even Irving Berlin. With the exception of Adolph Green, there’s a reason they weren’t on the stage.) You quickly accepted that this bespecticled accented man was a simple lyricist, content to write poetry, fit words to music, and be in the shadow of his more famous younger brother.

Supporting Broder’s Gershwin were Rock and Teek as the crooner and chanteuse, respectively. Neither were particular characters with backstories and such. They were there to sing. But they brought something extra through little interactions with Broder’s Gershwin, each other, and the members of the band that gave them appealing personalities. It was these little touches — which I’ll credit to the director, David Ellenstein, who originated the show at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach — that brought needed warmth to the production. Both Rock and Teek had wonderful voices; Rock’s was recently spotlighted in a concert performance at the Colony (and we saw Teek when she was in Ray Charles Live at the Pasadena Playhouse).

Another “performer” was the onstage band, consisting of Kevin Toney (FB) (Piano/Conductor), Terry Wollman (FB) (Electric and Acoustic Guitar); John B. Williams (Bass), and Greg Webster (Drums). They were spectacular music-wise, and the production provided each of them with a chance for a short solo spot. They also had interactions with the performers, and you clearly got the sense that there was fun on this stage — they liked each other, and they loved the music and the songs. This joyfulness came across to the audience and served to amplify the entire production. Well done.

Rounding out the performance and performance support side: Kevin Toney (FB) also served as music director; with the author, Joseph Vass, as musical arranger (and source for recorded piano performances). There was no specific credit for choreography, so presumably the movement was designed by the director, David Ellenstein. Whoever designed it, it worked well — in particular, Rock’s wonderful and unexpected tap number. Rebecca Eisenberg was the Production Stage Manager.

Turning to technical side: The scenic design by David Potts was very simple: a comfy chair, a light and table, a step-up area for the band, and a backdrop for projections. Simple, but it worked. The sound design by Drew Dalzell (FB) did what it was supposed to do: convey the sound well, although the directionality of the recorded piano had you turning your head to figure out why it was behind you. Similarly, the lighting by Jared A. Sayeg (FB) conveyed the mood well, although the color transitions of the scrollers were clearly noticeable and slightly distracting. The costume design by Dianne K. Graebner (FB) worked reasonably well, although my wife found some of Teek’s costumes to be overly clingy when they would have looked better looser. Properties and set dressing were by John McElveney (FB). Scenic art was by Orlando de la Paz. Amy Lieberman was the casting director. The Colony is under the artistic direction of Barbara Beckley.

Words by Ira Gershwin” has been extended for one week; it now ends on May 24. You can purchase tickets through the Colony Website, or by calling the theatre at (818) 558-7000. Discount tickets through Goldstar are currently sold out;  only full price tickets are available through LA Stage Tix. The show is well worth seeing.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los Angeles I Love 99 Notes. The Colony Theatre is one of those success stories: A 99 seat theatre that was able to grow into a contract house that pays AEA rates to AEA actors. It took a strong subscriber base and support from the City of Burbank to do this. Before the show, I spoke to Barbara Beckley about the current battle. We both agreed that Los Angeles audiences, trained by discounters such as Goldstar, will not pay for intimate theatre at rates that would permit the wages AEA wants. We also discussed the importance of bringing in all stakeholders (including audiences) and how do we draw younger audiences to the theatre and turn them into subscribers. Los Angeles needs a solution that works for Los Angeles. Los Angeles needs a solution that actually builds an audience that will financially support AEA contracts, and a solution that builds shows that are able to move on from the intimate theatre incubators to contract shows. We need to work together to find the solution, not impose one from above that doesn’t fit.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Later today, we’re off to see a movie: It’s Mother’s Day, and my wife wants to see the Jim Parson’s animated movie “Home”. Next weekend brings “Dinner with Friends” at REP East (FB), and may also bring “Violet: The Musical” at the Monroe Forum Theatre (FB) (I’m just waiting for them to show up on Goldstar). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, a visit to the Hollywood Bowl, and “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May brings “Entropy” at Theatre of Note (FB) on Saturday, and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) on Sunday. June looks to be exhausting with the bounty that the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) brings (ticketing is now open). June starts with a matinee of the movie Grease at The Colony Theatre (FB), followed by Clybourne Park (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and a trip out to see the Lancaster Jethawks on Sunday. The second weekend of June brings Max and Elsa. No Music. No Children. (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and  Wombat Man (HFF) at Underground Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Marry Me a Little (HFF) by Good People Theatre (FB) at the Lillian Theatre (FB) on Sunday. The craziness continues into the third weekend of June, with Nigerian Spam Scam Scam (HFF) at Theatre Asylum (FB) and Merely Players (HFF) at the Lounge Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and Uncle Impossible’s Funtime Variety & Ice Cream Social, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Sunday (and possibly “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) in the afternoon, depending on Hottix availability, although July 4th weekend is more likely). The Fringe craziness ends with Medium Size Me, (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Thursday 6/25 and Might As Well Live: Stories By Dorothy Parker (HFF) at the Complex Theatres (FB) on Saturday. June ends with our annual drum corps show in Riverside on Sunday. July begins with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and possibly Matilda. July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is open, although it might bring “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) (depending on their schedule and Goldstar).  July 25th brings “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB), with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August may bring “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB), the summer Mus-ique show, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB). After that we’ll need a vacation! As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

Figuring the Factors

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 10, 2015 @ 8:18 am PDT

userpic=theatre_ticketsThis morning, as I was getting ready to write up last night’s show at the Colony, my mind was swirling about mathematics and theatre. I was thinking about tiers and when shows could go to contract; about discussions I had had with Barbera Beckley before the show about audiences and what they could and would pay. I was thinking about the whole AEA kerfuffle, and I’ve realized that we may have it wrong — and a lot of this is because we keep trying to build things on dependent factors without data. Before I could tackle my writeup, I had to get this out of my head.

I’ve seen a number of proposals for tiering, and most are based on show budget. I think — to some degree — that’s wrong. You can’t determine whether you can pay the actors from budget alone. The budget of a three-actor show is very different than a show like Candide with a large ensemble. This got me thinking about what are the independent factors that might go into whether a show had the potential to earn sufficient funds to cover the rent and pay the actors. If you can look at shows and work out the factors from the existing data, you can come up — mathematically — with a good algorithm that might permit adequate tiering. I’ll note that by “pay the actors”, I mean all actors. If you treat any actor as an employee, you need to treat all of them as an employee. Pay rates might differ based on various factors, but some can’t be volunteer and some employees.

So let’s think a bit about common factors and whether they are independent. Here are some that come to my head:

  • Theatre Rental. Independent and Fixed. Your rental cost is based on time, location, and quality of the facility.  Cheap facilities make it easier to pay actors; shows in expensive locations make it harder.
  • Number of Actors. The number of actors in a show has a direct bearing on operating costs. This should capture the total costs that vary based on actors — not only what you pay them, but their costumes, sound, makeup, wigs — things that vary based on more or less actors.
  • Musical or Play? This is the play vs. musical distinction. Musicals have increased operating costs due to musicians; they also tend to have a better draws as audiences tend to go to musicals.
  • New or Old? This is another significant factor in a show. New and unique shows may draw better for audiences looking for something new; on the other hand, they may be more difficult to promote because the show is not as well known.
  • Star Power. I don’t just mean actor-power here. Having a “well-known” somewhere in the credits — be it the director, an actor, the playwright — may draw the audiences in. For example, I can feel confident if I go to a local musical Nick directs that it will be well worth seeing.
  • Creative Cost. This is the fixed creative cost — the budget for the fixed aspects of the show such as set, lighting, and publicity.  This would include both the costs of the creative team (people) as well as the cost of materials (set) and equipment rental (lights). This might be where budget based tiering could come into play.
  • Number of Seats. I was thinking about average ticket price as a factor — but it is dependent. Number of seats is a different factor. It is independent of the show, yet a key determinate of how much you make.

There are two additional factors that come into play: Length of Run and Ticket Price. I’m not yet sure about these and the impact on paying the actors. The length of run is clearly a factor under control of the producer. They help cover the fixed one-time costs, they help a little on fixed recurring costs (such as rental), and they have no effect on salaries (number of performances per week is a better factor on that). Ticket price should be set on cost in order that you can pay the actors appropriately. The problem is that sometime that needed ticket price is more than the audience can bear. This isn’t Broadway where you can name any price. The other factors must be such that the audience will be willing to pay it. We can’t quantify “willingness to pay”, but we can know that anticipated average per-patron income, taking into account comp, discount, promotional, and full price sales based on data, and we can determine that by company and community. We can then determine, based on that number and the factors above, the amount that actors can be paid.

It is important to note the factors that do not appear in the above. Membership companies? Makes no difference. Self-produced? Not a factor in and of itself. Both go to the creative costs, if anything. Budgets also don’t quite come into play fully because they are a product of the factors above. Note that I said “fully” into play. The budget can increase costs — fancier sets, more publicity — but doesn’t always translate into income.

As for what to pay the actors — that’s a can of worm I’m not going to tackle. I do believe that if you treat one actor as an employee you should treat them all — AEA or not — as employees. You can’t mix volunteers and employees in the same job; that’s the law. There’s also a distinction between exempt and non-exempt employees. The discussion to date has been simplistic, thinking actors are non-exempt employees. Non-exempt employees are typically hourly; there are requirements for breaks and lunch hours and overtime and such. Exempt employees — think white-collar professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and yes, computer scientists — have a fixed salary. They have different rules for overtime and breaks and such. I would tend to think actors would be non-exempt, meaning you could have a fixed salary for a fixed task. It is something that should be explored. I do believe there are factors that should go into actor pay once you are beyond the employee / volunteer distinction — that’s where union status, experience, “draw”, and other performance based factors can come into play.

As I’ve written before — I’m just an audience member (and a computer scientist and a mathematician). I can help identify what might be the factors that come into play, but I can’t plug in the numbers. What is clear, however, is that budget is not the sole simplistic factor. Being able to pay the actors at one budget level for a particular play doesn’t mean that for a different play, with different draw and number of actors, that budget will permit the same pay.

One of my favorite podcasts is Freakonomics. They emphasize that decisions must be made on hard data. The Los Angeles needs to determine the true independent factors for its productions — at any size theatre. What needs to be determined next is what values of those factors would permit appropriate levels of actor pay? This is what should go into the tiering discussion.

But… but…

The above is a pure mathematical approach. It is what we should pay the actors if we assume we are doing this based solely on profit and income and such. That’s the bean counter in me. But, as I’ve learned from this discussion, many LA actors don’t do this for the money. They do this for the challenge and the experience and the need to feed the soul. These are intangible forms of payment that offset dollars for many (not all; I’m sure there are mercenaries out there). The payment via intangibles is also independent of membership companies — but it does say that a given production has — as an additional factor — some intangible factor that comes into play that captures this. It would relate to the meatiness of the roles, the value of working with a particular creative or actor or company, the “payment to the soul”.

I don’t know how to address this; I don’t believe that I — a 30 year cybersecurity professional — could solve this nut. But I did want to share my musings on all the factors in the hope that someone might be able to piece them together algorithmically, and figure out a way to have that algorithm balance the “soul payment” vs. the “wallet payment” aspects as well.

Thoughts? What do you see as the key independent factors that we are forgetting to discuss?

 

What If You Gave an Election, and Nobody Came?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat May 09, 2015 @ 4:10 pm PDT

userpic=voteA week from Tuesday we may see one of the lowest turnouts in San Fernando Valley history. We have a general municipal election in our portion of the valley, and there is one, that’s right – one, issue on the ballot: A school board election. Further, this is a school board election in a time where the school board isn’t big news. The big school board scandal was the whole kerfuffle about the iPod purchase by Deasy, and Deasy is long gone. Additionally, this is school board … so everyone (like us) who doesn’t have kids in school will think they don’t have a big need to vote. Cut out all the younger kids who haven’t started families yet, and all the older adults whose kids are off in college (and who don’t yet have grandkids).

As I said, low turnout.

But it’s an election, and I do an election post, even though I don’t have kids in school. You can thank me later.

The battle is between Scott Mark Schmerelson and Tamar Galatzan. Let’s get rid of the elephant in the room first. Both are Democrats. [ETA: Got that wrong. Schmerelson is Republican, plus his campaigners are annoying (7 calls over the weekend).] Seriously, Schmerelson is hammering Galatzan on the iPad debacle. Sorry, I don’t blame her. Deasy was pushing them, and none of the school board are technology experts. The notion of providing a tool to students that works the way students work today seems reasonable on the surface. We’re dealing with a generation that is more used to looking things up online, to using ebooks. The problem wasn’t the idea; it was the implementation. Galatzan was just one voice of many, and the situation is in the past.

The battle is between a 12 year board member (Galatzan) and a Spanish teacher turned school administrator (VP at Cleveland High). Teachers Union is behind Schmerelson, likely because he is less supportive of charters and has been a member of the union. I don’t consider Teachers Union support as a factor when I look at this stuff.

Let’s pick a few critical issues: (1) improving arts (theatre) in the schools; (2) increased emphasis on STEAM (and women in STEAM); and (3) college preparedness.

Galatzan’s web page talks about emphasizing the A-G curriculum (UC preparedness) and providing technology in the classroom. She did sponsor resolutions in favor of voluntary funding to restore the arts and to restore funding for honors music programs. She has encouraged robotics.  Couldn’t find much in the way of STEAM. Ballotpedia doesn’t have an issue ranking, but shows loads of endorsements including both major papers. I did find a summary of where they stand on the arts.

Schmerelson has nothing on his website on the subject. In issue ranking, he puts arts as #3 and college readiness as #6. Couldn’t find anything on STEAM.

From what I can see, the two are very similar. Both want reduced class sizes. Both want technology, although they disagree on the source of funding. Both want college prep, although Galatzan makes it a priority. Both support the arts. Both support charters.

I think I’m going to go with the bulk of endorsements, simply because the incumbent should understand the budget issues better.

Conclusion: Galatzan.

OK, convince me otherwise.