Observations Along the Road

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

An Open Letter to Enci (or) How to Make the Lemon Less Bitter

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jun 15, 2016 @ 7:30 am PDT

userpic=fountain-penOver on the closed #pro99 group on Facebook, in a discussion about Bitter Lemons, Enci Box (the publisher of Bitter Lemons) wrote: “I do want to make things right and I do want to raise awareness to this issue. Truly do! I’d love to meet with you all for coffee, tea, at a theatre space where we can discuss this and other issues.” Given that meeting for coffee/tea can be difficult for me given other commitments, and because this has been rambling around my head, I’d like to offer these specific suggestions on how to restore the reputation of Bitter Lemons via my blog instead:

  1. Address the relationship with Colin. Although Colin has been fired as editor-in-chief, he is still an owner of the site. That elephant needs to be addressed, clarifying whether that has been severed and the extent to which Colin has any editorial influence — or influence at all — on the site. The baby elephant should also be addressed: What to do with Jason.
  2. Righten the Editorial Ship. Appoint two editors-in-chief who are respected by the community, and require that all articles that are posted be approved by one of them. There are two editors so that if one writes an article, the other must approve it.
  3. Sensitivity Training. To ensure that the editors and writers truly understand why this issue created the firestorm that it did, there should be mandatory sensitivity / sexual harrassment awareness training for all staff and writers. We’ve had such training at my place of employ, and it does truly make one aware of how little things can be very significant.
  4. Suspend the Pay-For-Play Reviews. The notion of paid reviews hurts the integrity of the Bitter Lemons site, and is a continual thorn in its reputation. They should be ended as of the end of Fringe; no more should be accepted for review. Bitter Lemons may be able to do reviews in the future, but any approach should be accepted by the community and free of any taint of conflict of interest.
  5. Formal Apology. There should be a formal apology from Bitter Lemons, although there are some that will not believe it (there should also be apologies from Colin/Jason, but I do not believe people would accept them).
  6. Address the Issue Head On. There should be an effort by Bitter Lemons, as an organization, to address the issue the right way. My suggestion along those lines might be for Bitter Lemons to host a series of forums to discuss the prevalence of such abuse and harassment in Southern California’s theatre community, and to develop community driven ways to eliminate the abuse and provide awareness of the abusers. Additionally, I’d suggest providing a space on Bitter Lemons for people to report such incidents, potentially anonymously, for investigation. Lastly, I suggestion posting a clear statement of editorial principles that guide Bitter Lemons, to include 0% tolerance for harassment and abuse, a pledge to avoid all conflict of interest, and a clear statement that the mission of Bitter Lemons is to bring together and improve the Southern California theatre community and improve its visibility to the public.

Lastly, for those articles that have been published, both the original article and received comments should remain.

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The Tension of Speech

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jun 14, 2016 @ 5:22 pm PDT

userpic=soapboxHere are two situations for you to think about:

  • Arts Integrity Fires Bitter Lemons: «LA Bitter Lemons, an outspoken Los Angeles theatre site which Arts Integrity’s director challenged over its pay for review strategy about a year ago, has posted a short piece by editor Colin Mitchell which seems, in essence, to “blame the victims” of Profiles for not speaking up sooner. Read it if you must, but given this manner of engaging with a serious problem at one theatre that, unfortunately, is likely happening at other theatres and in the arts at large, Arts Integrity believes Bitter Lemons has gone from bitter to vile, and will no longer give further consideration to writing that appears on the site again.» [Note that since Colin Mitchell’s piece has been posted, Colin has been fired as Editor-in-Chief by Publisher Enci Box, who has apparently assumed editorial function; Colin still seems to be part owner of the site, as no statement has been made to the contrary.]
  • Donald Trump Revokes Press Credentials from the Washington Post. «Donald Trump announced on Facebook yesterday that he would rescind The Washington Post’s press credentials. Reporters from the paper will no longer be able to cover his campaign events in person.» Essentially, the Washington Post has been barred from Trump events because they made comments pointing out where Trumps statements were in error or had unsubstantiated accusations.

In the first situation, the community wants to tar-and-feather an entire site because its editor said something very controversial. You see few speaking up for the site’s right to publish, and even fewer (if any) speaking up for the clown that made the offensive statement. In the second, you have people up in arms about the revocation of the “press credentials”, arguing that the paper should be able to say what it wants. As for me, I see hypocrisy if one is acceptable and the other isn’t. (In case you can’t figure it out, I don’t like either)

Now, I’m not defending at all what Colin said. But I do defend his right to say it. Just as the ACLU was right in defending Nazis when they wanted to march. A hazard of our rights to have free speech in this country is that sometimes there is uncomfortable and painful speech we have to hear. About the only good thing about such speech, indeed, is that it is out in the open and you can identify who is saying it. That same freedom of speech permits those who think the speaker is wrong to pummel them for it, to point out the errors of their ways, in hopes that reason will prevail and they will learn and change (of course, we tend not to accept that change when we see it, but that’s a different rant — just consider, if Colin were to apologize today, and indicate that the comments had made him see the error of his ways — would the community accept it?).

It is also perfectly acceptable for a press outlet, such as Bitter Lemons, to fire a columnist if their speech does not fit within what the site considers the bounds of their editorial position (or what their advertisers will accept, more often, alas). Freedom of speech does not mean I have to publish what you say, only that you have the right to publish it somewhere. Presumably, Colin is free to go to WordPress.Com and create a free blog of his own for anyone to read. [That’s what I’ve done, although I’m self-hosting.]

What bothers me more is that people are tarring-and-feathering the Bitter Lemons site just because of Colin, just like Trump is revoking the credentials of the Washington Post because he doesn’t like that reporter. Enci, as Publisher, has removed Colin from his editorial role (and presumably other roles, except perhaps ownership). Enci has stated she wants the site to have a new direction, working with the community. We should be giving her the benefit of the doubt, and helping her to right the ship. Independent of Colin’s missteps, the Lemon has been a good site for the community: aggregating reviews, getting commentary out there, getting news out there, supporting the publicity efforts of the community when the large print media has been pulling away. We can’t — and we shouldn’t — throw away that good because of the bad editor. Let Enci restaff, refocus, and rebuild. Further, let’s help her distance herself from the Colin era so we can make the community stronger.

We need to be very careful here: In the Chicago incident, people were afraid to speak up because of the reaction it would engender. We need to let people know that it is OK to express an opinion that differs with the community, that might be controversial, that might be shining light in an area where the cockroaches scurry. Hell — we’ve seen Colin do just that with some of the unethical producers in this city. That means, sometimes, we will hear an opinion that we don’t like. But that risk must be there, if we are to have the freedom. Freedom exists in a world of tension. We’ve seen that with the tension between the right to be safe and the right to keep information private. There’s a similar tension with the press. We need to be careful, even as we may tune out a specific speaker, that we don’t eliminate their right to say something in the process, or create collateral damage on those who simply were the conduit.

As a PS, for those talking about integrity and bringing up the integrity of accepting money for reviews. I’m an audience member — not in any way connected with the theatre save plunking my money down at the box office, and sharing my opinion afterwards. I work in an industry that hammers the importance of ethics, and the risk of the appearance of unethical behavior into us. We cannot accept anything from a supplier more than a donut.* I have had theatres offer me comp tickets as a reviewer, and I refuse them for that reason. I will pay what I would pay on Goldstar. So with respect to reviewers, as long as they are accepting free tickets, they are as tainted as money directly going through the site to their pocketbooks. You want integrity in reviewers? Create a site where the reviewers are paid through crowdfunding, donations, and subscriptions (in the model of Consumer Reports), and they are assigned to review shows… and to pay for their tickets like any other audience member. Then I’ll believe the integrity of their reviews. Otherwise, just let me know, for each reviewer, what form of bribe they accepted — comp tickets to pay-to-review — and I’ll judge based on their track record whether I agree with their reviews. Oh, and yes I understand it is “tradition”. That doesn’t make it right.
————
*: Link is an example, not the organization I support.

A Programming Challenge: Fringe Scheduling

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jun 14, 2016 @ 11:41 am PDT

userpic=fringeuserpic=toshibaIf you haven’t figured it out yet by reading my blog, we’re in the midst of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), meaning almost 300 shows and events spread over Hollywood and West Hollywood during the month of June. It is impossible to figure out the best way to schedule the shows you want to see in the time you have.

Or is it.

Now I’m not an actor, director, producer, or anything connected with the theatre industry, other than an audience member. I am, however, a computer scientist. I’m a software engineer, and I know how to draw up specifications for problems to be solved. Scheduling the Fringe is a solvable problem: after all, I had kids at the California State Science Fair doing something similar with school assignments.

So here’s my challenge to you: I’m going to lay out the problem as I see it. Can you develop an app or a web page that can solve the problem in a usable fashion? No pay involved other than the glory of the challenge, but I will pass any good results on to the folks at the Fringe to consider next year.

Here’s the problem:

  • You have a database of shows and events. Each show has webpage link, a title, a venue, a ticket price, a running time, and some set of performance times.
  • You have a database of venues, each with a street address (which you can likely use a Google interface to get GPS coordinates and walk time).
  • You have a list of shows and events that someone is interested in, together with what we’ll call an interest level: 0 – no interest to 3 – must see.  This could be an added parameter on the current Favorites list (go to the website, create a user, and then you can save favorites), or it might be entered in some other way.
  • You have a list of times for which the person is available, including some times marked a “meal breaks”. For example, I might be available weekends between 11am and 11pm, with a 1 hour dinner break after 5pm. You get to determine the most user friendly way to specify this.  Perhaps this could interface with Google Calendar?
  • You have a desired dollar amount they want to spend on tickets.

Given these inputs, produce a best fit schedule, that includes as many of the highest priority shows as possible, then as many of the next priority tier down, and so on for priorities 1-3. You need to take into account walking time between venues, or if the distance between venues exceeds the walking time by 15 minutes, driving and parking time (parking can take up to 15 minutes if you aren’t lucky). You need to take into account meal breaks. Allocate 10 minutes before a show to allow time to check in and get seated. Make sure the total cost does not exceed what the user has indicated.

Ideally, this tool might even connect to the ticketing system (including purchasing Fringe buttons) such that once a schedule is set, it can be ticketed. There might be the need to adjust if a show is sold out of tickets. Ideally, whatever it ticketed could then be saved to Google Calendar or whatever the Mac folks use.

For now, build the databases as you see fit. If you need, I can talk to the Fringe folks and get you information on the JSON/XML API to interface with their site.  Ideally, this should be something usable by folks used to normal websites (i.e., not a complicated interface).

I think this is a solvable problem, and might actually be a good assignment for a class as an example of a real world problem. Feel free to post questions here, and either I’ll answer them based on my experience, or I’ll pass them to the Fringe for resolution.

OK, Go….

A Future Nobel Effort? | “Titus Andronicus Jr.” @ HFF16

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Jun 13, 2016 @ 7:34 pm PDT

Titus Andronicus Jr (Hollywood Fringe)userpic=fringeNow, I know middle school theatre, and I’ve grown spoiled by good middle school theatre. My daughter was at Nobel Middle School (FB) when their drama program was reborn about 10  years ago, and we’ve seen a large number of excellent productions since then. So, when I heard that Dawson Middle School from Las Vegas was doing a Fringe show, I just had to go. Then I heard they were doing Shakespeare. That cemented it. It was a must see.

So last night, I went into the Black Box theatre at Sacred Fools (FB) to see the show. There was the usual cheesy set. They could really take a lesson from Nobel, believe you me. Then the drama instructor, Mr. Benjamin, gets up to introduce the play:

This year, Ms. Pennington, our school principal, asked if I would direct the Spring Play. And although I’ve never directed a play before, I’ve heard the commentary track on the Pulp Fiction DVD like a thousand times, so I figured it shouldn’t be too hard, right?

And since kids needs to be nourished by studying the classics, I chose William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. I mean, it was his first play, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to put on.

Anyhow, we’ve had auditions and the cast is pretty good. They’re learning their lines and helping out with the set.

He then introduces the leads, and notes about one of them:

This is Noa. Noa plays Tamora.

Coincidentally my wife’s name is Tamra. Yeah…you probably know her. She makes herself pretty well known everywhere she goes….

We then come to realize that he is in the middle of a massive breakup, and this instructor is being a little passive aggressive… OK, sometimes really aggressive, about his wife.  And the show begins….

Being serious for a moment: What you see above is the setup for Titus Andronicus Jr., a comedic play really being done by middle school students from various schools in the Las Vegas area, and funded by a GoFundMe to come to the Hollywood Fringe. The description in the Fringe catalog said: “After a divorce leaves him suffering a nervous breakdown, a teacher at the posh Dawson Middle School receives the final insult when he is tasked with directing the school’s spring play. Reeling from his personal collapse, Mr. Benjamin chooses to lead the kids in Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy: Titus Andronicus.”

This show, written by Troy Heard (FB), was invited to be part of the Organic and Homegrown Playwrights Festival (FB) at UNLV where it was presented as a staged reading in March 2016. The World Premiere staging was at the Onyx Theatre (FB) during May 2016. The Onyx is one of the small professional theatres — I don’t know its size, but think of a Sacred-Fool-ish to something perhaps larger — in Las Vegas. Yes, Vegas has a theatre scene beyond what is done on the Strip (although I do recommend Evil Dead: The Musical (FB) on the Strip). The GoFundMe provided the funds to bring the show to HFF, although it wasn’t good enough to get them into the opening night party.

Reading the Fringe schedule I found the description of the show, and put it on my short list of shows to see because it just sounded so warped. It lived up to my expections. If you read the intro (which I grabbed from their GoFundMe), you know the setup: mentally distraught teacher is having to do the spring show: a group of middle schoolers of varying talents putting on a version of Titus Andronicus. Yes, they do the Shakespeare, blood, gore, guts and all, modulo some trigger warnings. As the show goes on, the drama teacher Mr. Benjamin gets drawn into the action more and more, partially because the fellow playing Aaron has a tremendous case of stage fright. Combine this with alcohol, and you get the picture. I don’t want to spoil the end or the middle, but let’s just say that this play lives up to its name, with perhaps a little Lord of the Flies thrown in.

Given the nature of this show, it is difficult to assess. Watching the show, I began to wonder why I always approach Shakespeare from a warped direction. Moonlighting‘s “Atomic Shakespeare” was my intro to  The Taming of the Shrew. The Four Clowns Presents Hamlet was my introduction to the Prince of Denmark (if it wasn’t the Lion King). Bard Fiction was my introduction to that Shakespeare classic Pulp Fiction. This was my first exposure to Titus. Looking at the wikipedia pages today, I see they got the story mostly correct, although it was a little hard to follow. The drama teacher might have been part of that.

Essentially, the kids got Titus right — or at least what you might expect a middle school production to do. The descent into madness that was the Junior version was also well done — it drew you into the descent and was hilarious in its bloody incongruities and defying of expectations of what a kid show was.

As Mr. Benjamin, Thomas Chrastka (who happens to be the Sound Designer of Evil Dead) captures the descent and desparation of a drama teacher quite well. I know drama teachers like that. As for the kids, it is harder to judge because not only are they kids, but they are playing kids doing Shakespeare. At that, they were all remarkable. The kid cast consisted of Ken Haley (Titus Andronicus), Gary Easton/FB (Saturninus), Noa Agatstein/FB (Tamora), Joshua Smithline (Marcus), Joelie Mountain (Lavinia), Maxwell Claydon (Aaron), Cash Freeman (Bassianus / Quintus / Messenger), Ashlee Grubbs (Mutius / Demetrius), and Will Haley (Lucius / Chiron). They were all very funny — I particularly liked Agatstein’s Tamora, Mountain’s Lavinia (especially after losing her hands), Haley’s Titus, Claydon’s Aaron, and watching Easton come on and off stage with Saturninus’ walk was hilarious.

The production was directed by Troy Heard (FB), with music provided by Mr. Benjamin… I mean Thomas Chrastka. The sets were by Mr. Benamin’s third period (in reality, the production design was by Troy Heard (FB)), the lights were by Mr. Jenkins shop class (in reality, Cory Covell/FB and Coral Benedetti/FB), with sound design by Sam Murphy/FB. Costumes were by Maxwell’s mom, Mrs. Claydon. Cassidy Bonifacio/FB was the assistant stage manager.

There are two more performances of Titus Andronicus Jr. at the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) [June 17 @ 5pm, June 18 @ 8pm], and you should really go see it. Tickets are available off of the show’s Fringe page. Be prepared for trigger warnings, blood, violence, and adult themes. This is not your typical middle school production.

As a PS: I fear this is what will happen at Nobel now that its founders have moved on: Fanny to run the performing arts magnet at Van Nuys HS, and Jean to do Drama and English at the Porter Ranch Community School.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts 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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  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: Ah, June. Wonderful June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe/June schedule is as follows (for shows in the past, ✍ indicates writeup is in progress; ✒ indicates writeup is complete and links to the writeup):

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and … currently nothing for the weekend. As of right now, August is completely open. One weekend has a bar mitzvah, and there are a few holds for show, but nothing is booked. Late August may see us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. 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 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

Let’s Hear It For The Boys 🎩 “The Boy from Oz” @ Celebration

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 12, 2016 @ 5:14 pm PDT

The Boy from Oz (Celebration Theatre)userpic=theatre_musicals

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, …

That’s the opening of Dicken’s The Tale of Two Cities… and an opening I’ve used before. This time, let’s call this The Tale of Two Boys. Both Boys, as it happens, are from Oz. They happen to be from two different cities. They both happen to be excellent, each in its own way. And there, my friends, is the real tale.

Back in May, we had two theatres, one in Los Angeles, and one in San Francisco, both staging what was essentially the West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz, a musical based on the life of Peter Allen, with music and lyrics by Peter Allen*, and book by Martin Sherman and Nick Enright (Additional music and lyrics by Adrienne Anderson, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Barry, Michael Callen, Christopher Cross, David Foster, Tom Keane, Marsha Malamet, Dean Pitchford, and Carole Bayer Sager). I say “essentially”, because they opened a day apart, about the time it would take to drive from one theatre to the other during rush hour.

We had originally been planning to go to see Celebration Theatre (FB) version of The Boy from Oz in LA, which I had learned about back at the beginning of the year. But then I was scheduling a trip to the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation, and what pops up but another version of The Boy from Oz: this one from  Landmark Musical Theatre (FB). So we scheduled that and released our informal hold date for Oz in LA. Then we saw (a) the production in San Francisco, and (b) the rave reviews that Celebration was getting, and we decided to compare and contrast. On paper, the presenting companies and productions  were very different. Landmark was a new company (their 2nd musical), in a large theatre (399 seats) that hadn’t hosted a musical before, with minuscule budget, weak lighting and sound infrastructure, and a Bay Area acting pool.  Celebration, on the other hand, was an established company with loads of musical experience, in a much smaller theatre (55 seats) with better infrastructure, the very talented Los Angeles acting pool, and a strong publicity machine.

You know what? As I said before, both productions were excellent. Each had their own unique strengths and their own weaknesses, and neither had weaknesses that reached the level of significant problems.

Here’s the synopsis of the show I wrote less than a month ago:

If you are unfamiliar with The Boy from Oz, that’s not a surprise. The musical opened in Australia in 1998, and moved to Broadway in 2004, where it won a Tony for an actor you might have heard of: Hugh Jackman (FB). However, the show never went on tour, and the regional producing rights in America were not released until this year. So the show has faded from popular memory, much like the subject of the show, Peter Allen.  The show itself is a jukebox musical, using the songs of Peter Allen to tell the life-story of Peter Allen. This is a story that starts in the outback of Australia in Tenterfield, New South Wales. It includes Allen’s stint as part of the  It includes both Judy Garland, the mentor who discovered Allen in Hong Kong and for whom Allen was a protégé, and Liza Minnelli (FB), Garland’s daughter whom Allen married shortly after her success in Flora the Red Menace. It is a story of the birth of gay awareness, as Allen realizes he is homosexual during the marriage, and the birth of the gay movement including the Stonewall Riots that occurred shortly after Garland’s death. It is the story of Allen going out as a solo act, and hitting his peak popularity in the 1980s. And it is the story of AIDS, with the death of Allen’s lover, Greg Connell, from AIDS, followed by the death of Allen himself. It is a celebration of the life of Peter Allen.

The show features many of Allen’s better known songs, including “When I Get My Name In Lights”, “The Best That You Can Do”, “Continental American”, “She Loves to Hear the Music”, “Bi-Coastal”, “Everything Old is New Again”, “I Honestly Love You”, “I Still Call Australia Home”, “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, and “I Go to Rio”. You’ll know the songs, even if you don’t know Allen.

The Celebration version, under the direction of Michael A. Shepperd (FB) [assisted by Kyle Cooper (FB)] and choreography of Janet Roston (FB) [assisted by Michael Quiett/FB] had a distinctly stronger staging and spectacular dance. Although Celebration’s space was smaller and had fewer set pieces, they made extremely good use of the pieces they had (more on that in a bit). More significantly, their level of dance was head and shoulders above San Francisco in terms of both design and execution.  San Francisco’s dancing was good, but lacked precision. Here, the dance was spot-on, energetic, precise, and just… wow. The Rockettes scene and the Fosse scene will just blow you away with the dance. I think this was a product of having a much stronger dance talent pool available, and having stronger dance experience working with that crew to design the dance. About my only dance quibble was: where were the taps, especially in the opening number. When we are seeing tap dance, we should be hearing tap dance. As for the staging, well, it oozed sex in a way that only Hollywood and West Hollywood can. San Francisco was tame compared to the sexiness here.

The Boy From Oz - Publicity PhotosThe Celebration production stared Andrew Bongiorno (FB) as Peter Allen. From the very start, I noticed Bongiorno’s charisma with the audience, and my wife commented that he was just giving off a very sexy vibe. Whereas Dan Seda (FB), Landmark’s Peter and their only AEA performer, was good with a wonderful singing voice, and a warm and accessible performance, Bongiorno was just outstanding — strong vocals, strong movement, according to my wife oozing testosterone, flirty, playful, and just everything you would expect Peter Allen to be. Further, unlike Seda, he didn’t have to fake an Aussie accent — he was from Victoria, Australia. No “shrimps on the barbee” here. He did a particularly great job on “Only an Older Woman”.

Another strong performer in the Celebration version was Bess Motta (FB) as Judy Garland. Motta captured Garland’s mannerisms and voice and look with turning the performance into caricature. When I saw the Landmark production with  Connie Champagne (FB) as Garland, something bothered me. The face seemed too stiff, the movement too stylized.  Motta made me realize the difference by being real — by being able to portray both the warmth and the hatred behind Garland. She came across as a real Garland, and her performance made me see the difference between becoming a character vs. impersonating a character.

On the other hand, there was Jessica Pennington (FB)’s Liza Minnelli. Although Pennington gave a very strong performance, with excellent vocals and emoting, she just didn’t become Minnelli (especially in the first act; she had grown a little bit more into the role in the second act). Landmark’s Liza Minnelli, Kat Robichaud (FB), did a stronger job of capturing the basic look of Minnelli well, and had the dance moves (especially in the Fosse-style number) down well. Robichaud also did a great job of capturing Minnelli’s singing style.  Robichaud wasn’t perfect — she needed a pinch more kookiness in Minnelli’s early days. Minnelli is a hard part to cast right and get right. Landmark casted for the young Minnelli — the kooky teenager of Flora the Red Menace and The Sterile Cuckoo. They got that right, but that gave them difficulty in the second act when you need the much older Minnelli who has started to see it all. Celebration cast for the older Minnelli, which made the first act Minnelli completely off the game. So, although both were good, I’ll give the Minnelli point to the Bay Area team.

There’s one other point where I felt the Bay Area was stronger in terms of performance: Allen’s lover Greg Connell (played by Ivan Hardin (FB)). Although Celebration’s Greg, Michael Mittman (FB) gave an excellent performance with strong vocals and emotions, Hardin’s Greg had that magical strong stage presence and a very engaging way about him, with a spectacular singing voice, and looks that were just … I normally don’t say this, but wow.

If you’re keeping score in the lead roles, all the performances were good, but we have two points given to Celebration for spot on strong casting, and two given to Landmark for the same thing.

There was one other significant casting strength for Landmark: their young Peter Allens, who were excellent tap dancers and believably young versions of their older Allen. Yes, they did tap — tap up a storm, as a matter of fact. Celebration went a different direction on casting, choosing the young Michayla Brown. The young Ms. Brown was a talented performer, but wasn’t believably a younger version of their Peter Allen, which impacted the suspension of disbelief. She also, alas, didn’t have taps.

Rounding out some of the named characters were Marcus S. Daniel (FB)’s Chris Allen, Michael Taylor Gray‘s Dee, and Kelly Lester (FB)’s Marion Woolnough.  All gave strong performances, in particular, Lester’s impressive performance in “Don’t Cry Out Loud”.  Landmark’s Maron ( Amy Meyers (FB)) was good, but Lester just had the right note of authenticity in her portrayal. Daniel gave a strong performance as Allen’s “Brother” Chris; although the size difference elminated the belief that they were brothers I’ll note Daniel was a hoot in the Rockette’s number. You’ll just have to see it. Gray’s Dee was suitably grizzled.

Rounding out the cast as other named characters and ensemble members were Nathan Mohebbi (FB) (Mark and others), Erica Hanrahan-Ball (FB) (Karen and others), Chelsea Martin (FB) (Linelle and others), and Shanta’ Marie Robinson (FB) (Shena and others).  It was in the latter three ensemble members — Erica, Chelsea, and Shanta — that Celebration just took this production over the top. Landmark had a larger ensemble with mostly weaker talent (they had one good ensemble member). Celebration’s, although smaller, was supersized in talent and dance. The small size of the Celebration space permitted the audience to hear the voices on these three — all were just great. Strong — perhaps exceptional — singers, sexy dancers, with a charisma that showed they were having fun. Oh, and could they smile. These girls are one of the highlights of the show. About my only comment was that there was a uniformity of dancer builds, but that’s how it was in that period.

Mat J. Hayes and Alli Miller (FB) were the swings. Marcus S. Daniel (FB) was the dance captain.

The on-stage band at the Celebration was smaller than the Landmark production, but had significantly better sound. I think that is because Celebration used the right instruments. In other words, Landmark had separate reed and trumpet players. Celebration combined the two with one player, but went with a saxophone instead of a trumpet. Celebration also had the string player cover both guitar and bass; Landmark tried to get away with only the bass. The net result: the Celebration had music that just blasted you away and had the full-size Broadway sound. Credit goes to the musical director, Bryan Blaskie (FB), on keyboard, and his musicians: Omar D. Brancato (bass/guitar), Noelle Fabian (saxophone/clarinet), and Stephen Dizon/FB (drums).

Turning now to the creative and production team. The scenic design is one area where there was the starkest differentiation between the two companies, owing to the difference in facilities. Both had limitations — Celebration in terms of a space that was perhaps one-third of Landmarks, with no flyspace; Landmark with a large space in an cavernous hall with concrete walls and musical theatre lighting at the middle-school level. Each made their space work, but in different ways. Landmarks showcase was a large baby grand piano (mostly styrofoam) with large musical note risers, and some projections on the back curtains. Celebration’s scenic design, by Yuri Okahana, was very different. Okahana had an upright piano — perhaps a spinnet. There were some stairs on the side that served as tables and such when needed, but it was mostly the actors front and center that created the impression of where you were. This mostly worked, although I found myself longing at times for Landmark’s projections to give a better idea of where we were in the world — the outback, Hong Kong, New York, etc.  Both worked, but very very different conceptions of their space. Celebration was significantly stronger in terms of sound (design by Eric Snodgrass) and light (design by Derrick McDaniel). Here the significantly stronger facilities and experience paid off handsomely, although Celebration’s space is limited in terms of spotlights, which require a moving mirror system. Landmark could use a real spotlight, although they didn’t have a sufficient light to be able to tightly focus. Another production aspect in which Celebration was significantly stronger was in the costumes of Michael Mullen. Landmark’s costumes were low-budget. Creative, but low-budget. Celebration’s costumes gave no idea of the budget: they were flashy, they were sexy, they were seemingly era-appropriate… on or off, they just worked right and made the characters shinge. Similarly, Bryon Batista‘s wigs and hair just worked right and didn’t appear to be wigs.  Rounding out the production credits were: Michael O’Hara (Properties Design), Jennifer Leigh Sears (Production Stage Manager), and Jillian Mayo (Alternate Stage Manager).

Celebration Theatre (FB)’s The Boy From Oz has been extended into July, and you should get your tickets now (through the Celebration website) before they sell out. I’d mention Goldstar,  but they are already sold out. This is an excellent production from an excellent company, and you should go see it. As for the San Francisco production: we saw the next to last performance, and they have already closed their short run. If you’re in the Bay Area and reading this, you missed your chance. C’mon down to LA and see this great production, and then make a note to support Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s future productions of The Drowsy Chaperone and The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd. As for what is in Celebration’s future: they are about to announce their next season, so stay tuned…

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts 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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  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: Ah, June. Wonderful June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe/June schedule is as follows (for shows in the past, ✍ indicates writeup is in progress; ✒ indicates writeup is complete and links to the writeup):

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and … currently nothing for the weekend. As of right now, August is completely open. One weekend has a bar mitzvah, and there are a few holds for show, but nothing is booked. Late August may see us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. 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 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

He’s More Than Just Bagels | “Einstein” @ HFF16

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jun 12, 2016 @ 1:40 pm PDT

Einstein (Hollywood Fringe)userpic=fringeJust imagine how Albert Einstein might feel if he saw how his image and name was licensed today (yes, that is a link to his licensing site). Do you think he would be happy? In fact, for many people, do they even know all that much about the man? Let’s make it specific: what you you know about Albert Einstein other than e=mc², he had frizzy hair, he was a physicist, and he makes great bagels?

Yesterday, we saw a one-man play as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB) that attempted to address that question. Einstein attempts to delve into that question by exploring a critical period in Einstein’s life: the time while was in Germany waiting confirmation of his general theory of relativity. While waiting, he was being besieged by other physicists claiming his theory of curved space was wrong, and that their theories were correct. He was also dealing with the dissolution of his marriage, and the impact of that on his relationships with his children.

In Einstein, 5th grade theater and solo artist Jack Fry (FB) becomes the young Einstein during this period, as well as portraying other characters in Einstein’s life: various professional colleagues such as David Hilbert and William Wallace Campbell, or Einstein’s son Hans. He also interacts over telephone with Mileva,  his soon to be ex-wife (voice provided by Alexandra Kovacs (FB) – note that her personal website (which comes up on Google) is hacked, and is a lesson to renew your domains). His performance represents, according to the program three years of Fry’s personal research, based on 15,000 documents from Einstein’s files, letters, and records released by Hebrew University in 2007.  Fry took this research and developed it into a script, with additional physics advice from Ron Mallet (FB).

I found Fry’s portrayal of Einstein’s quite engaging and eccentric.  It wasn’t canned; he had the base material he needed to get out to advance the story, but he also had wonderful moments of interactions with the audience throughout the piece. He popped between the younger and the older Einstein with ease, and was able to assume sufficiently distinct personas for the few other characters he portrayed.

His descriptions of relativity were sufficiently simplified to make concepts such as curved space acceptable to the layperson. In particular, he had some illuminatory graphics (by Walker Schupp and Anthony Denha) that demonstrated well how curved space works to create the illusion of gravity, and how the curvature would be significant in proving Einstein’s theories. Einstein also commented on a number of modern day inventions, and how they all derived from his basic theories.

To what extent this excellent performance was Fry, and to what extent it was the direction of Tom Blomquist (FB) (assisted by Peggy O’Neil (FB)) is difficult for this audience member to determine. Whatever the combination, it worked well to bring out Einstein the man, as opposed to Einstein the caricature we see these days.

The set design, by John Toom (FB), was suitably cluttered for a physicists office, although some of the books were clearly not era appropriate. This was a pretty heavy set design for a fringe show (which have perhaps 10 minutes to load in and out): desks, chairs, loads of books, additional tables, and wall hangings. Toom also did whatever lighting design was possible in the shared Fringe environment. Cody Andersen (FB) was the stage manager, and Matt Sibley/FB was the production assistant. Peggy O’Neil (FB) was the vocal coach.

I should admit that I had another motive in attending this particular show. I’m local arrangements chair for the Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), and I was hoping that lighting would strike twice at the Fringe, as it had last year for The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam.  Alas, I don’t think it did: I was unsure whether this show would be suitably engaging after a conference dinner; further, I’m not sure whether the staging requirements, props, and lighting could be accommodated within the conference budget in a typical hotel conference meeting space dining room. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for other ideas.

But as a Fringe show, this was great: accessible, scientifically engaging, and educational about the life of a historical figure that one probably didn’t know very well. Hell, add hip-hop and this could be Hamilton. Well, perhaps not, but it still was fun.

There are two more performances of Einstein! at Fringe: Friday, June 17th @ 7pm, and Saturday, June 25th @ 9pm. Performances take place at the McCadden Theatre, which is next to the Lex Theatre where The Boy from Oz is enjoying a sold-out run. The theatre is located one block E of Highland, and one block N of Santa Monica. Tickets are available through the Fringe Website, or through the ticketing link off the show’s website. Discount tickets may be available through Goldstar.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts 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 am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the  Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at  The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  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: Ah, June. Wonderful June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe/June schedule is as follows (for shows in the past, ✍ indicates writeup is in progress; ✒ indicates writeup is complete and links to the writeup):

Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the  Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, a HOLD for Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at  Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and … currently nothing for the weekend. As of right now, August is completely open. One weekend has a bar mitzvah, and there are a few holds for show, but nothing is booked. Late August may see us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. 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 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

News Chum for a Busy Weekend

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 11, 2016 @ 8:04 am PDT

userpic=lougrantThis is another busy weekend, so I should probably put this pot of news chum on the stove to simmer. What’s in it? A collection of articles and other items I’ve seen on the web this week that have stuck in my head. Let’s lift the lid and find out what is in this pot:

  • The Ever-Tightening Job Market for Ph.D.s. It is graduation season. This means that metric tonnes of newly minted graduates with Bachelors, Masters, and PhDs are going to be flooding the job market, and in many professions, it will be bad for the PhDs. The linked article talks about a recent report finds that many newly minted Ph.D.s complete school after nearly 10 years of studies with significant debt and without the promise of a job. Yet few people seem to be paying attention to these findings; graduate programs are producing more Ph.D.s than ever before.
  • How Unions and Regulators Made Clothing Tags an Annoying Fact of Life. Clothing tags. Those things at the back of your shirt that annoy you. Did you ever wonder where they came from? Wonder no more.
  • Bookstore down: Mystery and Imagination & Bookfellows in Glendale. Another independent bookstore bites the dust: Mystery and Imagination, which was across the street from another recent closure, Brand Books. Although some independent bookstores are thriving, others are closing… and it is a sad thing. Amazon may be great for music, but it is a pain for discovering new books. It is not just bookstores that are closing: Orphaned CDs, which was around the corner in Northridge, has been put on the market, sold, and moved to Sunland.
  • Offbeat L.A.: A Cherry on Top- Fosters Freeze, the History of California’s Original Soft Serve. I had never realized that Fosters Freeze had originated in Los Angeles, the product of an attempt to bring Dairy Queen to LA. I’ve enjoyed them over the years (particularly, the fudge dip that crunches afterwards). Interesting read.
  • Want to Make America More Inclusive? Start With Stamps. I used to be a stamp collector. I guess I still am, although I haven’t updated the collection in years. Stamp collecting has gone out of favor as a hobby, with the advent of self-adhesive stamps (that don’t soak off), pre-printed postage, and the decline in physical mail. Stamps are interesting, and have always been a reflection of a country in its values. The linked article looks as how America and other countries demonstrate their inclusivity through the images they put on their stamps (and the people that end up collecting them).
  • Pacific Bus Museum in Fremont: showcasing a piece of Bay Area history. I’m into transit history: be it trains, planes, automobiles or buses. I’m a member of a train museum, but I haven’t seen a similar attempt to save buses. Well, until I read this article.
  • Going to Universal Studios Hollywood with food allergies. As a reference for those attending this year’s ACSAC — an article on dining at Universal with allergies. Alas, the picture isn’t the greatest at the present time. Disney still wins hands down in this competition.

 

Recognizing Harassment

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Jun 11, 2016 @ 7:04 am PDT

userpic=theatre_musicalsI often bring lessons and teachings from my workplace to my hobbies, such as attending theatre and writing up shows. A prime example of this has been our training regarding ethics, which is the clear reason I do not accept comp reviewer tickets. The other days some incidents have come to light regarding another workplace training I have received; incidents that make clear that the theatrical community is in clear need of similar training.

The incidents in question occurred in the non-Equity theatre community in Chicago, and were written up extensively in the Chicago Reader (note that the article behind the link is likely to be triggery to those that have suffered abuse). They concern the Profiles theatre and some of its artistic leadership. It details specific incidents of unwanted sexual and physical advances against actors, in an environment where there were no union protections. The Chicago community is working on a solution; hopefully they will achieve it.

This shitstorm hit the fan, and spread its noxious odor over LA when the editor-in-chief of Bitter Lemons, Colin Mitchell, wrote an op-ed piece essentially saying: they were consenting adults, and they should have taken the personal responsibility to stop it. And the gates were opened, and verily, Colin stepped into it. Deeply.

Let me state the definition of sexual harassment from the EEOC website:

It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.

Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.

Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).

The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.

It is clear from the article that the situation in Chicago was clear sexual harassment. The complicating factor was the nature of non-equity theatre: there was not necessarily an employee-employer relationship. But even that is not required under EEOC rules.

Now, I am not an actor. I’ve never been one. I’ve never worked in that community. I am, as they say, a professional audience. At work, we are regularly required to have harassment training. This is not training on how to harass, ye of little minds. It is training on how to recognize harassment, and how to report it. If there is not such a thing in the theatrical community, there should be. The only thing that should be making actors uncomfortable in the theatre should be the ideas in the script; the work environment must be supportive, not hostile.

In response to Colin’s article, the Hollywood Fringe Festival has issued a statement severing their relationship with Bitter Lemons. While I agree in principle, I’ll just note that Bitter Lemons is more than Colin Mitchell. I believe the ball is now in the courtyard of Bitter Lemons. There needs to be a pubic response to Colin’s behavior, and this needs to be more than statements by Enci Box, the publisher. At minimum, this should be mandatory sexual harassment recognition training for those who work for Bitter Lemons, and perhaps funding such training for the LA Theatrical Community. Perhaps it is providing an ombudsman for the LA Community to report such incidents when Equity is not involved.  Bitter Lemons needs to make clear that Colin was not speaking for Bitter Lemons, and that Bitter Lemons strongly disagrees with the positions that Colin has taken.

There certainly should also be some response involving Colin specifically. At minimum, Colin’s editorial voice should be removed from the site for an identified period of time, certainly until after all those in publicly visible positions have undergone appropriate training. There have simply been far too many instances in the last year where Colin, as the voice of Bitter Lemons has stepped in it. Enci, and perhaps some of the other columnists, must become the voice of Bitter Lemons and demonstrate that Colin’s attitudes are not the attitudes of the organization.

I say this as someone who has gotten to know Colin, and at times, even defended his actions. This time, however, his action has demonstrated that he doesn’t understand the issue. His response has offended the community and hurt the reputation of Bitter Lemons. There must be distance between the man and the website.

Many years ago, at a former employer, we were having ethics training. The instructor said something I will always remember. He said (essentially) “I can’t teach you ethics. You are either ethical or you are not. However, I can teach you the law, and the penalties for violating the law.”

What has happened in Chicago is (to me) clear sexual harassment. It has created a hostile work environment. The appropriate organizations should be legally called to task for the behavior, and there needs to be community enforcement and education that such behavior is not tolerated. We have that in the aerospace industry. There’s no reason it can’t be in the theatrical community. Further, such enforcement and education should not just be in Chicago, but in every community with non-equity theatre. Sexual harassment and hostile workplaces are illegal, be they a traditional industry like aerospace or a non-traditional industry like the theatre.

(As an aside, I’ll note that sexual harassment has no place anywhere. That includes in other volunteer artistic organizations such has historic dance or theatre guilds (there has been an image related to this going around Facebook, part of the Standing Up for Safer Spaces movement), at technical conferences (a large concern in recent years), at non-technical conferences (again, a large concern, especially amongst those clowns who believe that cosplay equals consent), and in the gaming world (cough, Gamergate, cough). Harassment of others is never acceptable. Alas, we have at least one presidential candidate who presents the attitude that harassment of others is acceptable — ridicule, name calling, etc. But that’s the subject of another post)

As for Bitter Lemons, an organization I’ve supported in the past. I hope that they can clearly distance themselves from Colin, and clearly demonstrate that he does not, and in the future will not, speak for them. Only by doing that can they rebuild any relationship with the LA Theatrical Community.