Observations Along the Road

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

Saturday News Chum Stew: Mostly About Food

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 14, 2015 @ 10:21 am PDT

Observation StewIt’s Saturday, and you know what that means: Time to clear all the old and rubbery links out of the bookmarks and cook them up into a tasty stew. So lift up your heads from the I Love 99 debate for a bit, and have a little stew. In fact, looking at the links, this week’s post is quite food-centric:

Here’s one last item, which I won’t put in the bullets because it doesn’t fit the theme: 23 notoriously unrhymable words that have rhymes.

P.S.: We always celebrate π. Can’t we give e a little love as well? All this love of π is just a little irrational to me.

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Thoughts on a Theatre Season: Ahmanson Theatre 2015-2016

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Mar 09, 2015 @ 4:00 pm PDT

userpic=ahmansonThe Ahmanson Theatre has just announced its 2015-2016 season. As I did with the Pantages, Cabrillo, and the Colony, here are my thoughts on the season:

  • Thumbs Down The Sound of Music. September 20 through October 31, 2015. This is the start of a new American tour, but I have really no interest in seeing this again.
  • Thumbs Up The Bridges of Madison County. December 8, 2015, through January 17, 2016. This is a new musical by Jason Robert Brown, and guess what… he will be conducting the entire run!
  • Thumbs Up A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder. March 22 through May 1, 2016. This musical won the Tony for best musical (last year, IIRC), and is a must see.
  • Thumbs Up Titanic: The Musical. May 14 through June 26, 2016. Note that this is not the musical version of the Leonard DiCapro movie that won awards; this is a musical from about the same time (1997) with book by Peter Stone and score by Maury Yeston.  I’ve heard the music, but never seen it.

There is an unnamed fifth production to run at an unspecified date.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los AngelesP.S.: Please remember, if you’re an AEA actor eligible to vote in the upcoming advisory vote on the 99 seat plan, please vote no. The 99 seat plan needs to be changed, but not in the way AEA is proposing. AEA’s proposal is bad for small theatre, bad for actors who are not exclusively live theatre (hint: it will likely lower your unemployment benefits), bad for the local economy, and bad for the audience. Voting YES means you want AEA’s plan as it is proposed; there is no guarantee they will fix it. Voting NO indicates you do not want their specific proposal, you want AEA to sit down with all stakeholders and craft a plan good for all. Visit ilove99.org for more information. Provide financial support to this effort through I Love 99’s Indiegogo page.

Adequate Compensation is in the Eye of the Beholder

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 07, 2015 @ 9:22 am PDT

Pro99 - Vote No Nowuserpic=dramamasksOver the last few weeks, my attention has been caught up in a brewing battle here in Los Angeles: the battle between Equity Actors and their union, AEA. Now I’m not an actor, but I am an audience; as such, I have a stake in this battle (although we audience members are oft forgotten and taken for granted… this is grating on me and I’m starting to think about what I’m going to do on that. More in a subsequent post.) The battle is a nasty one — and one that outsiders won’t understand.

The world of creatives is not the real world. Nowhere is this made clearer than in this battle, where you have the union fighting management for higher wages, and the “employees” fighting the union for the right to earn no salary, just a small stipend. When I present the subject that way, you’re probably thinking the union is on the right side. But you would be wrong, primarily because the creative world is not the normal world.

Consider the life of an actor in Los Angeles. If you are lucky, you earn your living in the TV or movie industry. If you are really lucky, you are acting in front of the camera, likely doing completely unchallenging work such as commercials or sitcoms. If you are ordinarily lucky, you are working behind the camera in an unsung role. If you are typically, you are paying the bills with a non-creative job — working in a traditional job in a traditional workplace. The point is that you are not expecting to earn a living wage on the live theatre stage — there just isn’t the audience in LA to support it.

But there are loads of theatres in LA, you say. Yup, there are. The big ones tend to bring in outside talent, not local actors. The small ones often exist not to make money, but to provide a place for actors to hone and exercise the acting muscle — just like you exercise at the gym. With more use it gets better and stronger.  An interesting aspect to that analogy: you pay the gym to work out; the gym doesn’t pay you.

Actors in 99 seat theatre haven’t been compensated through salary. They have been compensated through the work, and through the connections they have made in the industry. Often those are more valuable than the $300 that might be earned.

Actors Equity (AEA) wants to change that. They want to mandate that most non-profit theatres pay minimum wage to actors, treat them as employees (with all the employee overhead), and have formal contracts with AEA that include compensation to the union for their services. This would increase that cost of theatres already operating on a slim margin, and put many out of business. Yes, a theatre may raise a lot of money. Much of that goes to rent, insurance, equipment rental, operating costs, and outreach to the community. It doesn’t go to salaries — no one is becoming rich on 99 seat theatre.

The actors want to change the current 99 seat plan, but not this way. They want to work with producers, other creatives, and equity to create a realistic plan that will work, and is likely tiered. A plan that will permit 99-seaters to grow and become equity houses; one that does not impose by fiat.

What’s troublesome is the union tactics. There is intense misreprentation going on. The union says a yes vote is one for a proposal that can be changed, but they have also said the yes is just on this proposal as written. Further, the union has indicated privately that if this passes, they intend to bring the minimum wage fight to New York. The actors are for change, but not this change, and are urging other actors to vote “no”.

Why do I care? I’m an audience member. I can’t vote. I don’t run a theater.

I do, however, buy tickets. I do, however, enjoy the wide variety of shows in Los Angeles. I do, however, enjoy the theatre on the edge that is created here. I do, however, enjoy being able to see both Equity and future Equity actors on stage. I do, however, enjoy being able to critique and provide constructive criticism to them to make them better. I might lose all of that if this passes.

If you are an audience member like me, let your actors know you support them. If they are AEA, educate them and encourage them to vote this proposal down. Write Equity and let them know you don’t approve of their tactics, and that if they continue their tactics, you will be perfectly willing to support, attend, and encourage non-Equity productions in Southern California. Let them know the only party that this action will hurt is AEA — they will lose public support, they will lose members, and people will learn that non-Equity actors can be just as talented as Equity actors. Let them know that Southern California audiences support those who make and act in our 99-seat houses.

And a second helping of the same…

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 07, 2015 @ 8:48 am PDT

Observation StewWe have so much news chum stew for you this week we couldn’t fit it all in a single bowl. So here’s a second tasty helping:

  • Subways in the Water. Those of you who know Los Angeles history probably remember the pictures of the Red Cars being dumped in the ocean. New York has done the same thing, but for good purpose. The subway cars are being transformed into a new coral reef. I often wonder what archeologists of future generations — possibly non-human — will make of things like this. What stories will they invent of civilizations living underwater that just left their subway cars. Then again, I wonder similar things about the archeogists who will find a collection of human bones at the bottom of the Indian Ocean together with the remains of MH370. What stories they will tell.
  • Giving It Away. I have a wife that is a crafter. Is there a support group for us? Here are two articles of interest to those whose spouses or loved ones are yarn crafters: they address seven charities, and then an additional nine charities, that are looking for the output from yarn crafters.
  • It’s Always Christmas Time for Visa. Recently, it was announced that Costco was terminating their relationship with Amex in 2016. They just announced the replacement: a new agreement with Citibank for a Costco-branded Citibank Visa. It looks like there will be similar perks, and that the Amex accounts will be transferred to the new card. It should be an interesting transition.
  • Microsoft Free for Students. If you’re a student, this article is of interest. Microsoft wants you to have a free subscription to Office 365 for as long as you are a student (after that, you pay). What is more interesting here is the model, not the product. We are moving away from the days when you bought your software product. We’re moving to the antivirus model, with an annual license fee. Much more lucrative, and much harder to get away from. Then again, one can always use the free LibreOffice or OpenOffice.
  • Music in the Cloud. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m an iPod Classic person. I’m coming up on 36,000 songs in my iPod. I’ve heard of a 40,000 song limit, but I’m more inclined to believe it is space-based, not song count. But in the cloud, there are song count limits. That’s one reason I’ve never used iTunes Match. They have a 25,000 song limit and no way to increase it. That’s useless for me — I’d want to be able to store more songs in the cloud than I can store on my device. So I was intrigued when I learned that Google Play has a 50,000 song limit. Of course, that would still involve uploading gigs of music to Google Play, and then having to deal with data use to stream it. I think I’ll stick with my iPod until I find a non-streaming solution.
  • Another One Bites the Dust. We’re going to Vegas in April — which will permit us with one last visit to the Riviera. Alas, the Riv is closing in May, and coming down by the summer to be replaced with an extension of the convention center. This doesn’t leave much of 1950’s Vegas on the strip — all that is left are the two-story wings at the Tropicana, and they aren’t going to be long for this world. Most of the original hotels are gone in both name and building; the only one that is left has none of the original buildings. We’ve still got a bit of 1960s Vegas around, from the Circus Circus tents to the core of the International (now Westgate), but the mob era is truly dead.
  • Will He Come Back? News reports surfaced this week that Ed Snowden was willing to come back to the US if he could have a fair and impartial trial. He thinks the espionage act is outdated. What he doesn’t realize is that he can’t avoid the fact that he broke the law, even if there was a positive benefit. Look at the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial” (remember “Inherit the Wind”). Gil Cates was found guilty, and rightfully so, of breaking the law of the time — even though he was speaking the truth. Snowden may have exposed abuses of the government, but that doesn’t absolve him of the fact that he broke the law by releasing classified information into the open, and that he endangered the lives of operatives and increased the risk to this country (even while alerting the country to other risks). This is an example of how you can be both wrong and right at the same time.
  • Boardgaming in Berkeley. A year or so back, I participated in the kickstarter that helped open Game Haus, a boardgaming cafe in Glendale. I don’t get over there as often as I like — primarily because their parking is horrible — but it is a great idea. So great, in fact, that a boardgaming cafe is opening in Berkeley. It should be open by late summer.
  • But Is It Better? For as long as I’ve been working in El Segundo, the 405 has been under construction. Here’s one last article, which posits that the 405 congestion relief project that just completed has been a bust. As someone who commutes the 405 daily, I’m of more of a mixed opinion — and I don’t think all the results are in yet. Note that I’m talking of perspectives of my commute window — about 6am in the morning, about 4pm in the evening. I think things are a little better in the evening, simply because I don’t see the 405 backing up as far as it did before. Before the project, the 405 was regularly backed up to LaTijera. Now it doesn’t start slowing down until National. What is worse, however, is congestion across the valley floor — which used to be wide open. I blame this more on the completion of the HOV lanes on the 5 and the construction around the 5/405 interchange. Southbound has gotten worse for some reason, and I haven’t figured that one out yet. Good thing I’m sleeping for that drive.

 

A Heapin’ Pot of…

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Mar 07, 2015 @ 8:15 am PDT

Observation StewNo, I’m not talking about the proposal from AEA. Rather, over the last two weeks I’ve accumulated a lot of links, none of which I can coherently theme. So we’re going to do a “refrigerator soup” of links. Let’s dig in…

  • Doing Right in Alabama. Alabama has been in the news of late, both for the anniversary of what happened in Selma, and for the actions of the Supreme Court of Alabama with respect to Gay Marriage. Gay Marriage is one of the fronts of today’s civil rights battles, and yet again in Alabama a synagogue is leading the way. Here’s an interesting story about a Reform synagogue in Alabama that opened its doors to any gay marriage when the courthouses refused, and when the churches refused.
  • What is Blue? We’ve all heard about a certain dress that has been in the news. The debate has been about color, and color is an interesting thing. We talk about colors (and sounds) as if they are fixed things, when in reality they are just perceptions — there is no guarantee that what I think of as “green” is the same thing you think of as “green”. What is even more interesting is how language shapes color. Here’s an interesting article on that: We didn’t have “blue” until modern times. The notion is that we didn’t have a word for “blue” until recently, and without the word, it wasn’t perceived as a distinct color at all. Don’t believe me? What color is light in the UV range? Can you name the different shades of UV light? Does something exist if you can’t name it?
  • CSI:Cyber? Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down? A new show premiered last week: CSI:Cyber. I watched it, and I wasn’t that impressed. I never got into CSI:NY or CSI:Miami — they were overly focused on style, and lost the focus on story and substance. I felt the same way with CSI:Cyber — all style, and the substance was technically wrong. I prefer Scorpion if I want a technical non-realistic procedural. But who am I to talk? Here is what 10 other real cybersecurity experts think about CSI:Cyber.
  • What We Don’t Know, Gwyneth Paltrow. For all we think we know about the body, we really don’t know anything. We all know what we think of as bodily organs, without realizing that our skin is an organ, our blood is essentially an organ, and our vascular system is an organ. We worried about germs and tried to become sterile, and are the worse off for it because of our microbiomes (which probably have a greater role in obesity than we realized). Here’s an interesting article on another organ: the fascia. Gwyneth Paltrow brought this to our attention, and although she got the science wrong, she got the concept right — and this yet another organ we missed, and one that may be resposible for a lot of our chronic pains.
  • New Treatment for Migraines. I’m a migraine sufferer. When I’m dealing with a sequence of migraines, I’ll grab at anything. Last time I was in a sequence, I noticed this article about a new migraine treatment under study — image-guided, intranasal sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) blocks. I’ve always thought there was a connection to the sinuses. Quite interesting, and potentially promising.
  • Printing Yiddish. My daughter is a Yiddish scholar; as a result, articles about Yiddish catch my eye. Here’s an interesting article about a dying breed: a yiddish printer who still uses hot lead. This printer rescues old Yiddish letterpresses and uses them to print Yiddish books. You’re probably thinking that printing is printing. But Yiddish printing is more complex: “For the Forverts, and other Yiddish printers, the challenge was to set up the type right to left from a machine designed to go the other way. They did this by tricking out the keyboards and producing fonts that had notches in the right side rather than the left, which was standard. This was effective, but meant that no normal linotype could use them. So, during the drastic linotype cull of the 1970s, Yiddish fonts were the first victims because they were unusable in almost any machine that remained alive.”
  • Saving the Skymall. One last pair of articles for this serving. We’ve talked about saving the printers for a dying language. How about a dying catalog. Here are two articles on Skymall. The first looks at the company that made all of those offbeat products that the catalog made famous. These are the folks that came up with the garden Yeti. Design Toscano releases 300 to 400 items a year, a huge portion of which are designed from scratch by the company’s creative director. One of their main outlets was the Skymall, which is going away. But is it? It looks like Skymall is coming back. ScottVest, a former SkyMall advertiser, has plans to resurrect the company, but with a different business model. “We’re going to include items in the magazine that people actually want to buy”. What a novel concept?!? Of course, we all know that wasn’t the reason Skymall really died.  It was obsolecence of the catalog model. Or was it corporate raiders. In any case, it doesn’t appear to be selling things people didn’t want to buy.

 

California Highway Headlines for February 2015

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Mar 03, 2015 @ 5:48 pm PDT

userpic=roadgeekingIf you’re reading this post, one of two thoughts are going through your mind. You might be thinking, “Wait a minute‽ I thought this was a blog about theatre.” If that’s you, calm down. I talk about many things in the blog — not just theatre — but I’m going add something just for you at the end. Alternatively, you might be thinking “About damn time. This is a site about highways, and we’ve had precious little highway stuff.” To you, I would agree. A lot of that is due to the changing budgets — we’re seeing less funds for roads, and the nature of work funded today tends not to be the work that reaches the threshhold for the highway pages. February has been a quiet month. So let’s go through what few headlines I have, and then I want to alert you to an issue of interest to everyone — and I’ll connect both highways and theatres! I promise!

  • Caltrans Making Case To Implode Part Of Old Bay Bridge. Part of the old Bay Bridge may be brought down with explosives. Caltrans says the explosives would be used to remove a large concrete pillar from the old eastern span.
  • Richmond-San Rafael Bridge closer to getting new lane, bike path. An extra lane of traffic and a new bike path are a vote, and about three years, away from coming to an increasingly congested bay crossing — the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. A committee of the Bay Area Toll Authority approved $4.65 million in funding Wednesday to complete the design of a new eastbound lane and a bike and pedestrian lane in both directions. The full board is expected to approve the plan when it meets Feb. 25.
  • Say Goodbye to Those Pretty Lights on the Bay Bridge . If you notice a pall cast over San Francisco next month, it’s because it will be literally darker here after the famous Bay Lights are turned off — for now. Known for its luminosity and picture-perfect profile, the brilliant display, which consists of 25,000 LED white lights running 1.8 miles across the western span of the Bay Bridge, was installed in 2013, making it the world’s largest LED light sculpture.
  • The Story of the Cahuenga Pass. The story of Cahuenga Pass is featured on the cover of this 1949 issue of California Highways.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los AngelesTheatre and highways: a lovely pair. From the Road Theatre Company in North Hollywood to the Route 66 Theatre in Chicago; from classic stories about the road such as “The Grapes of Wrath” (which takes place along Route 66 and off Route 99) to more modern parodies such as “CHiP: The Musical” (which played the Falcon — itself near Route 134 — a few years ago). Here in Los Angeles there are loads of small theatres directly on or near streets that used to be state highways: From REP East, on former Route 126; the large cluster of theatres along Lankersheim Blvd (the former state route that became Route 170); the Odyssey Theatre complex along former Route 7 (what become I-405) in West LA; to the theatre district along Santa Monica Blvd (former Route 2 and US 66) in Hollywood. These are all 99 seat and under theatres, and they are theatres whose existence is threatened by a proposal from AEA. This proposal would require these theatres to pay their actors minimum wage for rehearsals and performances, raising their costs overnight at least 10 fold — or more, depending on the number of AEA actors. On the surface, the union is doing this to protect “the dignity of actors” (even though the actors in Los Angeles do not want it); underneath, the real reason may be buried in the small print: if the theatre treats the actor as employee and there is an AEA contract, the AEA gets paid its fees first (whereas it gets little now). The larger community — from actors to producers to stage managers to creatives to audiences are saying, collectively, “Change is needed, but not this change.” We want to rework how intimate theatre is done, but not with this heavy handed solution forced from non-Californians. Learn more about the controversy at the I Love 99 website, and follow their Facebook group and Twitter feed.  If you are an AEA member, vote “No” (and tell your friends). If you are not, spread the word.

Sitting on the Edge is Going Nowhere

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 01, 2015 @ 1:44 pm PDT

The Road to Appomattox (Colony Theatre)userpic=colonyThe last two weekends have been busy with theatre in Beautiful Downtown Burbank: starting with Inside Out” at the GTC last weekend, the beautiful Closer Than Ever” at Hollywood Piano yesterday afternoon, and concluding with “The Road to Appomattox” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) last night. The contrast between these three productions is interesting, and shows the value of subscribing to a venue in addition to buying tickets. Closer Than Ever was a revival; something I’d see before in 1992 — I knew the company producing it, and wanted to see it again. Inside Out came from producers I know and from writers I know — both known quantities, reducing my risk of a bad show. The Road to Appomattox, however, wasn’t my choice. I chose to subscribe to the Colony, and trust their artistic director to bring me shows I might not have seen. Colony does this well — almost every show is a premier in some way — LA, West Coast, or National. That means there is the risk I might not like it. Usually, I do.

Alas, last night I ended up a bit more on the lukewarm side. Let me describe the show first, and then I’ll tell you why I had that feeling.

The Road to Appomattox (written by Catherine Bush) is a time jumping show. There are two story threads. The first concerns General Robert E. Lee in the week before his surrender to U.S. Grant in April 1865. He is on the trail with his aide-de-camp, Col. Walter Taylor moving from Richmond to Appomattox. During this trip he is increasingly faced with defeat of the troops around him, until he must come to an ultimate decision: surrender, or move to unethical guerrilla fighting. He repeatedly gets and sends dispatches to President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, and to other officers, through Captain Russell. The parallel story takes place in the present day. Steve “Beau” Weeks and his wife, Dr. Jenny Weeks, are on a historical tour of the Appomattox trail. “Beau” has recently discovered his great great grandfather’s civil war cap and haversack, and a note in code. He is trying to find more about his heroic relative (in his eyes), and has numerous interactions with Chip, an expert in Civil War history who can decode the note. When the note is decoded it pushes Beau over the edge, and it (combined with events in his life) push him to a similar decision as Lee had to face, at the very same place.

As you can see, time is a central concern of this show. Time is also a central problem of the show. Walking out of the show, my wife and I felt that the show was both too slow and too fast. It was too slow in that at points the story seemed to take forever to get out and move forward. It was too fast in the scene changes, where the people from one time were bumping into the other characters in their rush to get on and off. On the drive home, we discussed the show some more and realized that the problems wasn’t too fast or two slow, the problem was whether it was white with gold stripes, or blue with black stripes. Wait, that’s not right. Oh, the problem was whether there was too little story and if they timed it right there would be nothing there, or whether there was too much story.

What we concluded was that the answer was — just like the dress — that both were correct. The story and drama of Lee’s retreat from Richmond to Appomattox would make a great play — there’s loads of character growth, drama, and bathos. Similar, the story of the Weeks and the dilemma they face in their marriage, and how they sort through it and move beyond it, would make a great play — again, there’s loads of character growth, drama, and bathos. The problem is that — in the urge to take the parallel nature of these stories and beat us over the head with it by combining them — they made an final version of the story that looks tasty but is ultimately a little less nutritious and filling than desired. That doesn’t mean the story is bad or badly performed — you just end up wishing there was more substance and that the chef hadn’t attempted just quite that fusion.

I’ll note that some of this might be the problem of the director, Brian Shnipper (FB). The director is in charge of the timing of the play, and so had the responsibility to catch and work on these problems. I noted before the problems created during the scene changes where the people from the present day would almost bump into the people from 1865 and vice verse. This should have been fixed during rehearsal; similarly, he should have caught where the story advancement was dragging and worked to correct it.

Luckily for the Colony, the weak story is offset, as usual, by strong performances. In the 1865 tier we had Bjørn Johnson (FB) as General Robert E. Lee, Shaun Anthony (FB) as Colonel Water Taylor, and Tyler Pierce (FB) as Captain Russell. Johnson gave a very strong performance as Lee — you could see him wrestling with the problems that command brings, and being weighted down by it. You could also see his divided loyalties — Lee was a US Army officer before he joined the CSA — and he joined not because he believed in secession, but because he would not take up arms against Virginia. Anthony provided a good counterbalance to Johnson’s Lee, illustrating how the war affected those around the upper officer echelon. More on Pierce in a minute…

In the 2015 tier we had Brian Ibsen (FB) as Steve “Beau” Weeks, Bridget Flanery (FB) as Dr. Jenny Weeks, and Tyler Pierce (FB) as Dr. Chip Eberhardt, a motorcycle riding civil war historical expert.  Ibsen did an excellent job of protraying a foamer buffy — which was Eberhardt’s term for a Civil War Buff. [I can hear Lincoln saying to US Grant, “You’re quite a civil war buff, aren’t you?”] He clearly portrayed a man obsessed with a subject clearly to distract him from issues he didn’t want to face. Pierce made a good foil: initially as a professor seemingly hitting on his wife and later as a hostage. I’ll note its odd looking back and seeing that Pierce was the male lead — the Reform Jew — in the Colony’s last show, Handle With Care. It shows the quality of that actor. Flanery was caught in the middle, stuck in a role whose primary characteristic was to be exasperated and to silently scream.

Even with a weak story, Colony normally excels with the technical. Alas, here too there were slight problems. The sound design by Dave Mickey (FB) was good and provided wonderful battle effects. Similarly, the lighting by Dave Mickey (FB) conveyed the mood well and made the battle effects pop. However… the scenic design of David Potts was not up to his usual standards. Colony sets are usually sturdy and realistic. This set flexed and creaked, and made you wonder about its safety. My guess is that they were a bit ambituous on the set, and in an attempt to create a single set that was civil war focused, they lost something. The costumes by Dianne K. Graebner (FB) mostly worked — the dual casting of Pierce as a character that wore blue jeans led to the odd juxtaposition of his playing a confederate officer in a dark blue outfit. Ummm, that’s the other side, last I looked. John McElveney (FB) did the props, including an excellent drop desk. Scenic art was by Orlando de la Paz, who has been a busy busy person, having also done the scenic arts for Threepenny OperaLeesa Freed (FB) was the production stage manager. The Colony is under the artistic direction of Barbara Beckley.

The Road to Appomattox” continues at The Colony Theatre (FB) through March 15. Tickets are available through the Colony website; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar and  LA Stage Tix. This show is worth seeing if you’re into Civil War history. For me, although I don’t think this was a waste of time, I enjoyed Closer Than Ever down the street much much more.

Pro99 - Vote No NowIn her artistic director’s note, Barbara Beckley talks about the history of the Colony Theatre and where it is today. She noted how Colony started in 1975 an under 99 seat theatre near Silver Lake, and remained that way for 20 years, growing the subscriber base to over 3,000. She noted that there are so many 99-seat theatres in Los Angeles because “professional theatre actors are members of Actors’ Equity Association, and are not permitted to work in theatre without an Equity contract that establishes wages and benefits. Except where the theatre seats fewer than 100 people, in which case Equity waives the requirement for a contract. There is no pay for rehearsals, a small stipend for performances, and no benefits. Producing theatre is never easy, but those economics make it a lot less hard.”. She went on to note that her dream was for The Colony to be in a theatre large enough to pay its actors actual wages and meaningful benefits. The size of their loyal audience, and the generosity of the City of Burbank in providing them with a 270-seat home, made it possible.

This shows what the current 99 seat theatre approach can bring to Los Angeles County. It can provide the opportunity for small theatres to grow into big theatres. The Colony isn’t the only example; there are other ensembles that have similarly grown in size. The Colony is also an example of the downside: they cannot take real chances on their shows — with the budgets of Colony shows, they cannot afford to have a failure and must go with the safe and comfortable. They must also severely limit the size of the show — only rarely do they produce a show with more than 4-5 players. It is just out of their budget.

99 seat theatre is vital to provide the environment to experiment, the freedom to attempt to grow a subscriber base (something a commercial venue rarely has). It provides the avenue for actors to train and stretch their theatrical muscles. The current AEA proposal, if approved as is, may destroy that by severely restricting the ability of our best non-profit 99 seat houses to use Equity actors. What can you do to stop it? If you are an Equity member, I urge you to study the issue at the iLove 99 website (FB) and hopefully vote “no”. If you are a non-Equity actor, producer, or other creative, I urge you to let your Equity friends know about this, and to educate your professional groups about the issue — and to take a stand. For us audience members, you need to be aware that the 99-seat theatre you love (and can afford) is threatened. Spread the words, and let the actors know you support their working in 99 seat theatre. Let them know you will follow good acting and good performance at whatever venue it is made. As this show points out: sitting on the edge is going nowhere. Read and make a decision, and let your decision be known. #Pro99 #LAThtr #ILove99

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 has no theatre, due to other commitments (the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day). Theatre in March starts the next weekend with  “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. The following weekend will see us back at a music store listening to a performance: this time, it is Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). After that we’re in Vegas for a week — I haven’t yet determined the shows yet, but Menopause the Musical looks quite likely. We may also work in “After the Revolution” at the Chance Theatre (FB). May begins with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Beer for Breakfast” at REP East (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, and also has a hold for “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May currently has a hold for “Fancy Nancy” at the Chance Theatre (FB) and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB).  June is equally crazy, as we’ve got the Hollywood Fringe Festival amongst other things. 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.

Opening Doors to Intimate Transcendency

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Mar 01, 2015 @ 12:07 pm PDT

Closer Than Ever (Good People Theatre)userpic=theatre_ticketsIf I was to tell you that I attended a wonderful live music performance yesterday at a venue tucked away inside a music store… you probably would be thinking I attended yet another folk music concert at McCabes or Boulevard Music.  But there was nary a guitar or banjo in sight; in fact, I doubt the instruments in this room could be hung on the walls, or easily grabbed and taken out with you as you exited in an emergency. That’s because this was a special show being held in a special place — the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in Burbank (produced in partnership with Hollywood Piano (FB). This new location of Hollywood Piano has a recital room, and this room was hosting the show… and providing a wonderful 9½ foot Mason & Hamlin grand piano for accompaniment. More on that in a minute.

Closer Than Ever” is an interesting show. It is not a musical in the traditional sense — there is no story, there are no particular characters. It is really a revue of gorgeous songs written by Richard Maltby Jr. (lyrics) and David Shire (music) (FB) — many written for relationship shows and then cut. We last saw the musical back in 1992 — long before I started doing these writeups — at the Pasadena Playhouse. I have vague memories of that show: four performers on a stage in the distance, and some set of musicians on stage.

This performance had two key differences. The first is a double difference: resonance. When I saw the show for the first time, back in 1992, I was 32 with no children. In 2015, I’m 55 with a daughter in college. The songs — which sing of relationships and middle age problems and marriage and divorce and love and loss — resonate quite differently with me. Back in 1992, my favorite song was Miss Byrd, about the hidden sexual nature of the people around you. That’s a 32 year old talking — sex on the brain. In 2015 my favorite songs are different. The resonance hits more with songs like “The March of Time”, and lines that talk about being parent to your parents. The second resonance difference is a real resonance. C’mon, have you ever heard a 9½ foot Mason & Hamlin (FB) grand piano? That thing is beautiful and deep and … oh, indescribably trasnscendent. I had never thought before about how the size and shape of a piano affects the sound (or looked closely at the stringing — can you  tell I’m an engineer yet?). This was a performance instrument — a concert grand. When you look at the size of the soundboard, you realize there is a richness in the notes and in the sound that you just cannot get with your typical electronic keyboard or upright piano. Sitting up front, as we were, it was a delight.

The second difference is the difference between a venue like the Pasadena Playhouse and an intimate theatre. This was a small venue, and we were right up there with the performers. We could watch their faces, we could scrutinize their movement and even their breathing. We could watch their eyes, their expressions, their nuances. These weren’t distant actors on a stage; they were real people telling us their stories. Of course, it didn’t hurt that these were good actors, believably reacting to these songs, enjoying these songs, living and breathing these songs. This ability to be “up close” is one thing that makes intimate theatre special. As I noted with Avenue Q at REP earlier in the year, the closeness provides that different focus that makes the experience of the story extremely different than what you would get from seeing the exact same show, with the exact same performers, in a larger venue such as the Playhouse, the Pantages, or the Ahmanson. Intimate theatre — especially intimate theatre as we have it here in Los Angeles — is too special to lose. More on that later.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I think this production — which was produced, directed, had musical staging by Janet Miller (FB) — was spectacular. It was amazing to watch the actors up close; it was amazing to watch the musicians up close; it was amazing to watch the interaction between all the parties…. and that piano. As I’ve noted before, I had trouble telling how much of this was direction from Miller, and how much of it was from the actors and musicians — but you know what? It doesn’t make a difference. It was seamless, reflecting the fact that this production was a collaboration between the artists. That love of the material from all parties comes across unspeakably to the audience and adds to the magic.

This version of Closer Than You used four singers in addition to the musicians. Some versions use six singers (3 men, 3 women), which makes songs like “Three Friends” a little less odd. The cast here did remarkably — kudos and applause to the singers (Gabriel Kalomas (FB), Sara J. Stuckey (FB), Jessie Withers (FB) and David Zack (FB)) and the musicians (Corey Hirsch (FB) at the piano and Brenton Kossak (FB) on bass). We’ve seen Kalomas before in both Big Fish and in Side Man at the REP, and he was great in songs such as “I’ll Get Up Tomorrow Morning” or “Fandango”. There were a few points where he had this odd earnest look on his face, but just a great person to watch. We’ve also seen Stuckey before — in Big, in an intimate production of Gypsy, and in the NoHo arts production of Dirty Rotten Scoundels. She was great then, and she was great now. She just soared in “Miss Byrd” and “You Wanna Be My Friend” — just spectacular in all numbers. The two other singers were new to us, but were just great. I particularly enjoyed watching the face and movement of Withers, who nailed songs like “The Bear, the Tiger, the Hamster, and the Mole” and “Patterns”. This brings us to David Zack, who had the unfortunate :-) chore of being the third girl in “Three Friends”, and was just great. One could empathize with him in “One of the Good Guys”, and his performance in “What Am I Doin'” was just great.

As I hinted above, the musicians were performers as well (in addition to how well they handled their instruments). Corey Hirsch (FB) did a wonderful and touching (singing) solo on “If I Sing”; and although he didn’t utter a word, Brenton Kossak (FB) just blew everyone away in “Back on Base” — both in how he worked the strings and how he reacted (or didn’t) to Withers’ performance.

Technically, the show was very simple. A piano. A bass. A velvet curtain backdrop. Some stools. A few props. No complicated lighting. The program doesn’t even credit specific individuals for lighting, set, or prop design. The costumes — which were simple and elegant — were designed by  Kathy Gillespie (FB) and Barbara Weisel (FB). I particularly liked Withers’ shawl — it was just beautiful. Music direction was by  Corey Hirsch (FB). Other technical credits:  Kimberly Fox, Marketing Director; Oliver Lan, Graphic Designer; Rebecca Schroeder (FB), Stage Manager.

Closer Than Ever continues at Hollywood Piano until March 15. Simply put: Go see it. Tickets are available through Good People Theatre; discount tickets may be available through Goldstar and LA Stage Tix. Note: During the production, Janet let skip what GPT’s production for the Fringe Festival is going to be: Stephen Sondheim’s Marry Me a Little. We’re in :-).

I Love 99 Seat Theatre. Pro99 - Vote No NowGPT is an example of one of Los Angeles’s many intimate (99 seat and under) theatres. It is also an example of a theatre that might be drastically hurt or changed if a proposal from Actors Equity to establish a new contractual approach for 99 seat theatre in LA comes to pass. This production had to negotiate with Equity regarding the performance space (as it was a new space), and three of the four actors are Equity. Given the ticket sales (it looks like many tickets are half price), I doubt the show could break even if it had to pay minimum wage for 3 hours for each Equity performer per performance (that’s $108 per performance) plus rehearsal costs. There’s massive agreement that the current 99 seat approach with minimal stipends is inadequate, and there’s a strong push for a tiered system based on the budgets of the show and theatre. But to move there, AEA’s proposal must be voted down. As was said in this show, “there is no ‘there’ there” — it won’t take us to a productive place. If you are an Equity member, I urge you to study the issue at the iLove 99 website (FB) and hopefully vote “no”. If you are a non-Equity actor, producer, or other creative, I urge you to let your Equity friends know about this, and to educate your professional groups about the issue — and to take a stand. For us audience members, you need to be aware that the 99-seat theatre you love (and can afford) is threatened. Spread the words, and let the actors know you support their working in 99 seat theatre. Let them know you will follow good acting and good performance at whatever venue it is made. #Pro99 #LAThtr #ILove99

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 has no theatre, due to other commitments (the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7, and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day). Theatre in March starts the next weekend with  “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. The following weekend will see us back at a music store listening to a performance: this time, it is Noel Paul Stookey at McCabes Guitar Shop (FB). After that we’re in Vegas for a week — I haven’t yet determined the shows yet, but Menopause the Musical looks quite likely. We may also work in “After the Revolution” at the Chance Theatre (FB). May begins with “Loopholes: The Musical” at the Hudson Main Stage (FB) on May 2. This is followed by “Words By Ira Gershwin – A Musical Play” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on May 9 (and quite likely a visit to Alice – The Musical at Nobel Middle School).  The weekend of May 16 brings “Beer for Breakfast” at REP East (FB). The weekend of May 23 brings Confirmation services at TAS, and also has a hold for “Love Again“, a new musical by Doug Haverty and Adryan Russ, at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB).  The last weekend of May currently has a hold for “Fancy Nancy” at the Chance Theatre (FB) and “Waterfall“, the new Maltby/Shire musical at the Pasadena Playhouse (FB).  June is equally crazy, as we’ve got the Hollywood Fringe Festival amongst other things. 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.