Observations Along the Road

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

Chum for a Sunday Afternoon: Drums, Drives, Drugs, Dust, Dresses and More

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 15, 2016 @ 3:08 pm PDT

Observation StewI’ve been on travel for my daughter’s graduation, and so I haven’t had a lot of time to write about the articles I’ve seen. I’ve got two themed collections of chum that I’ll write up after last night’s theatre review (not sure when I’ll post them). But first, here’s the stuff that wouldn’t theme, but that caught my eye:

  • Bang. Bang. Bang. Anyone who has attended Drum Corps, or likely even seen a band will recognize this name: Remo. The news in recent weeks included an obituary of the man behind the name: Remo Belli, who invented the synthetic drum head. Before Remo, drums were animal skins, highly variable. As the obituary notes: “Belli was a young professional drummer in the 1950s, backing singer Anita O’Day and others, when he grew frustrated with the limitations of animal-skin drumheads, which could wilt or expand depending on the weather. In 1957, he and his collaborators perfected and began marketing one of the first artificial drumheads made of a resilient polyester film manufactured under various brand names, including Mylar, made by DuPont. He dubbed that first product the Weather King, a signal that it was durable no matter the atmospheric conditions of the gig, unlike finicky cow-skin drums.” Since then, his product has become the standard.
  • Long Commute. This article caught my eye because it deals with Las Vegas and teachers. Specifically, there is a group of teachers who live in Las Vegas, and commute daily to teach in the small community of Baker, at the gateway to Death Valley. Why? Pay, of course. The starting salary for teachers in Baker is $44,000. In Las Vegas it’s $34,000, though it will be $40,000 next year after a new contract takes effect. At the same time teacher shortages are ravaging America’s cities, however, rural schools have arguably been hit hardest. Teacher turnover is high, and many small towns are finding it hard to attract teachers. While many are attracted to Baker because of the pay, they stay because the work is satisfying, the way teaching should be but often isn’t in large urban school districts. Class sizes are extremely small: compared with the 30-50 in the large school districts, we’re talking 4-10.
  • Hacking the Brain for Fun… and to Relieve Pain. In our life, pain is a constant. My wife deals with arthritis; I deal with migraines. What do you think we would do for a good solution for the pain? Here’s an intriguing direction: A group is playing with a non-chemical solution that involves hacking the Vagus nerve. The vagus nerve starts in the brainstem, just behind the ears. It travels down each side of the neck, across the chest and down through the abdomen. ‘Vagus’ is Latin for ‘wandering’ and indeed this bundle of nerve fibres roves through the body, networking the brain with the stomach and digestive tract, the lungs, heart, spleen, intestines, liver and kidneys, not to mention a range of other nerves that are involved in speech, eye contact, facial expressions and even your ability to tune in to other people’s voices. It is made of thousands and thousands of fibres and 80 per cent of them are sensory, meaning that the vagus nerve reports back to your brain what is going on in your organs. Research shows that a high vagal tone (strength of your vagus response) makes your body better at regulating blood glucose levels, reducing the likelihood of diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease. Low vagal tone, however, has been associated with chronic inflammation. Said inflammation has been connected with arthritis and migraines. This article talks about using an implant to stimulate the vagus nerve to reduce pain. Fascinating.
  • Pain and Empathy. Chemical painkillers  can be insidious. For example, we all believe Tylenol (acetaminophen, paracetamol in the UK) is safe; safer than aspirin or other NSAIDs. But there have been numerous reports that even the slight overdose can cause serious liver damage, and slight overdoses are easy because it is in so many products because it is believed to be safe. Here’s another danger from Tylenol: In research published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, scientists from the National Institutes of Health and Ohio State University describe the results of two experiments they conducted involving more than 200 college students. Their conclusion: Acetaminophen, the most common drug ingredient in the United States, can reduce a person’s capacity to empathize with another person’s pain, whether that pain is physical or emotional. In fact, I’m on it right now (just took two Excedrin). Ask me if I care ;-).
  • It’s a Gas — Porter Ranch Causes . One group I do emphasize with are all the folks in Porter Ranch, the community next to where we leave. Not only did they have to deal with the Aliso Canyon gas leak for numerous months, being relocated and such, but they are still having problems even after the leak was sealed. They have now figured out why. Los Angeles County Public Health Department officials say its test of dust in Porter Ranch homes turned up the presence of metals, including barium, that could have caused the kinds of health symptoms some residents have reported experiencing even after the big gas leak was plugged. County officials said there appeared to be  a pattern — or fingerprint — of metals to which all of the homes were exposed. Those metals were barium, vanadium, manganese, lead, strontium and aluminum. The county health official said the barium was in the form of a salt known as barium sulfate, which is not radioactive. It was found at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility, which is in the Santa Susana Mountains directly north of Porter Ranch homes. Barium sulfate is added to the fluids that are used in the course of oil well drilling. As I said when the leak first started, this is going to be a clusterf*ck of tremendous proportions — unfortunately, one that will affect our synagogue and many friends and neighbors.
  • Taking Offense at Everything. There are more folks these days that are just finding any hint of skin or sex offensive. We’ve all seen the bathroom wars, where a subgroup of men either believe that men will just choose to dress as a lady to go into a ladies restroom to attack women, or that some woman dressed as a man will go into the mens room and see their shortcomings. Here’s another one: a female weather reporter wearing a beautiful black beaded dress on-air was handed a grey cardigan because some viewers complained they could see her bare arms. This didn’t happen in some backwater area either — this was in Los Angeles folks. Geez, get a life folks. If something offends you, change the channel. If you can’t control your urges, that’s your problem. ETA: Then again, perhaps it was all a joke. Perhaps. ETA#2: Yes, it was a joke.
  • Cell Phones and Theatres. Here’s a very nice piece on Broadway vs. Cell Phones. It explains why they are such a problem. First, taking pictures is making copies of a copyrighted design (yes, the show and all the design elements are copyrighted, and represents significant artistic work). Second, the light these devices emit can distract the performers on the stage, and can distract and disturb other audience members. Thirdly, if they  make noise, the noise can do the same: distract and endanger performers, and disturb the audience. Power them off, or silence them and put them in airplane mode. Why the latter? The signals sometimes interfere with wireless microphones.
  • Replacing Ikea. In Burbank, California, Ikea is moving down the street to an even larger facility. So what is going to happen to the existing facility? What will happen to the dying mall next to it. A report this week gave the answer. Crown Realty is proposing to build a six-story, mixed-use project with 765 apartments and about 40,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level of the current Ikea space. They also envision converting the site into a community gathering area where an outdoor ice rink could be built and a farmers market could be held. As for the neighboring mall, one of the major proposed changes will be redesigning the entryway at San Fernando and Magnolia boulevards. A section of the second-floor roof will be removed to create an open-space feel and an escalator will be installed to allow pedestrians to get to the upper level from the street. Other amenities — such as the food court, children’s play area and elevators — will be moved around to create a better flow and atmosphere in the mall.
  • Yiddish in Poland. Lastly, in honor of my daughter’s graduation, here is a map of the Hebrew and Yiddish language frequency in Poland based on the Polish Census of 1931. Those of you who know her will understand.

 

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A Tale of Two Cities 🎩 “The Boy from Oz” @ Landmark Musicals

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat May 14, 2016 @ 11:53 am PDT

The Boy from Oz (Landmark Musicals)userpic=theatre_tickets It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, …

Oh, wrong tale of two cities.

Let me tell you the story of two cities, both staging 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.

In one city, there is an established theatre company going back to 1982, with a large donor pool and a reasonable budget for an intimate theatre. There are significant production resources collected over that time in terms of lights, stagecraft, sound, facilities. There is a large talent pool, and due to the nature of the company and local agreements, multiple AEA actors were allowed (on top of SAG/AFTRA actors). There is a small theatre (under 99 seats) to fill. There is time to plan the show, with the production being announced in August 2015. There is significant publicity, with numerous reviewers and almost daily posts in social media such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as publicity through popular blogs and theatre websites.

In the other city, there is a new company for which this is their second production. There is miniscule budget. There is a historic theatre with no production resources for which this is the first stage musical to be presented. There is a small talent pool with a short time to assemble it, as the rights for the show were approved in January 2016. There are limitations on the use of AEA actors (one AEA guest spot is permitted). There is a large old theatre to fill (399 seats). There is no social media presence, perhaps two reviews, and a small amount of publicity.

Both, however, open the same night, and both have the right to claim West Coast Regional premiere. However, one distinctly operates in the shadow of the other.

Perhaps the quote applies after all: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, …

Guess which production we saw? That’s right: as we believe a weekend is never complete without some form of live performance, we didn’t let a trip to the San Francisco Bay area deter us from theatre, and so last night we were in San Francisco’s Chinatown for the last weekend of Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s production of The Boy from Oz. As for the other city? Landmark’s production inspired us so much we want to do a “compare and contrast”, and have booked tickets to see the much better known Celebration Theatre (FB) production of The Boy from Oz while we are in Hollywood for the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB).

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.

Boy From Oz (Publicity Photos)As I implied at the start of the writeup, the Landmark production had limited production funds. I’ll go into that in more detail when I cover the production aspects — lighting, costumes, sets, etc. But the production was still a great success and a lot of fun primarily due to the talent that director Jon Rosen (FB) assembled. It appears that much of the energy and drive for this production came from Rosen, who is by day a software designer (go Jon 😃), and by night an active theatre force in the SF Bay Area: producing, directing, doing lighting design, and acting. Rosen also serves as Artistic Director for Landmark Musical Theatre, who are developing their first full season of musicals at the Great Star Theatre.

Leading the production was the team’s one AEA guest artist: Dan Seda (FB) as Peter Allen (nee Peter Woolnough). Seda had a wonderful singing voice, and gave a warm and accessible performance. He was quite enjoyable and engaging to watch. His performance took quite a bit of energy, as he was on stage and involved in the action for almost every scene. He was particularly touching in his interactions with both Liza and Greg. I cannot judge how authentic his Australian accent was, but it was somewhere between Hugh Jackman and the guy that does the Outback commercial (but I think closer to Jackson).

There were three primary women in Allen’s life: Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, and his mother, Marion Woolnough. Judy Garland was portrayed by Connie Champagne (FB), a well-known Garland impersonator who was one of the first performers cast. The program noted the New York times described her Garland portrayal as “a subtle masterpiece of parody and homage”. I would tend to agree with that: she eerily captured Garland’s persona and voice, with an oddly frozen look that worked well for Garland in the latter days of her life. What I found odd was that she didn’t lift that personal during the curtain call, when you would customarily see a smile. Evidently, she deeply immerses herself in her character. She did a great job in “All I Wanted Was The Dream”, as well as in “Only an Older Woman” and “Quiet Please,There’s a Lady On Stage.” As Liza Minnelli, Kat Robichaud (FB) captured the basic look of Minnelli well, and had the dance moves (especially in the Fosse-style number) down well. She needed a pinch more kookiness in Minnelli’s early days, but overall it was a great portray. Robichaud also did a great job of capturing Minnelli’s singing style, especially in “She Loves the Music.” Lastly, as Allen’s mother Marion Woolnough (pronounced “Wilna”), Amy Meyers (FB) did a spectacular job with a very touching portrayal… plus knockout singing on “Don’t Cry Out Loud”.

In the latter part of Allen’s life, the principle characters were Allen’s lover Greg Connell (played by Ivan Hardin (FB)), and Allen’s agent Dee Anthony (Keith T. Nielsen (FB), who also played Garland’s husband, Mark Herron). Hardin was wonderful, with a strong stage presence and a very engaging way about him. He also had a truly spectacular singing voice, which he demonstrated in “I Honestly Love You”. Men’s looks don’t normally catch my eye, but he had a look that made you see why Allen fell for him. Nielsen was also a surprise, who had a bit more of the Jerry Ohrbach vibe. He also had a strong singing voice.

One other non-ensemble member is worthy of special note: Dylan Palmer (who plays Young Peter Allen, alternating with Daniel Kaukonen). Palmer, for his age, was a remarkable singer and dancer, and interacted well with Seda’s Allen. He was just a delight to watch.

Rounding out the smaller roles and the ensemble positions were: Davin Coffey/FB [Ensemble]; Lisa Darter (FB) [Ensemble / Dance Captain]; Brian FitzMaurice (FB) [Dick Woolnough]; Janine Hartmann (FB) [Ensemble]; AeJay Mitchell (FB) [Trick, Ensemble]; Jery Rosas [Chris Bell]; Garrick Sather (FB) [Ensemble]; Joella Wolnik (FB) [Ensemble]; and Bessie Zolno (FB) [Ensemble].  Of these performers, a few comments. Wolnik had a spectacular singing voice — there were occasions when you could distinguish it from the rest of the ensemble and it was just a delight. Harmann was quite fun to watch on the stage with both her movement and dancing, although I’m not quite sure about the blue sparkly lipstick in the last number. Lastly, it is important for all the ensemble to remember to have fun out there. In the final number I could see the obvious fun that they were having, but there some of the numbers where they were seemingly concentrating more on getting the smiles right and the moves right. Remember to have fun out there.

The production was choreographed by Kimberly Krol (FB). The dancing was good, but some of the ensemble numbers could have used a touch more precision to give them a bit more oomphf. However, overall, the look and (to use a DCI term) general-effect were well-served by the choreography. Music was provided by an on-stage 5 piece orchestra under the music direction of Tammy Hall (FB). Hall was not there at our show; on the keyboards and leading the orchestra was Grace Renaud/FB. Rounding out the orchestra were Keith Leung/FB (Reeds); Aaron Priskorn (FB) (Trumpet); Ben Brown/FB (Bass), and Daria Johnson (FB) (Drums/Percussion).

Moving to the production side of things: remember how I said the production had high talent. This high talent compensated for a low production budget and facility limitations. The set design, from what were were told by the director (who designed it), was under $1000. There was a large (artificial) piano, a multi-tier musical base, and a chaise/banquette (moved up from the audience), together with some projections that were the sole mechanism of establishing place.  This is understandable given the budget, but the show would really benefit from stronger sets and better projections. Richard Gutierrez/FB‘s costume design (assisted by Myriah Gross (FB) (Costumer) and Rhonda Coles (Wardrobe Supervisor)) was similarly low-budget, but creatively appropriate within that budget. No credit is provided for hair and makeup — which generally worked well, although the wigs at times could use  a little better seating. The lighting design of Colin Johnson was similarly hampered: the Great Star Theatre only had lights on the side of the stage, no proper spot booth, no uplights and minimal proscenium lights. It reminded me of the early days of Nobel Middle School. Still, they did the best with what they had. The theatre space (Great Star Theatre) similarly hampered the sound design of Lisa Lash. The performers were all adequately amplified, but the hard-surface nature of the space (walls are undampered cinderblock, and there are limited speakers) resulted in a muffled sound. Rounding out the production credits are:  Richard Gutierrez/FB [Production Manager]; Liz Matos (FB) [Stage Manager]; Jon Rosen (FB) [Projection Design]; Lou Fischer [Photography]; Shaina Elster [House Manager]; and Danny Williams [Marketing].

This is the last weekend to catch The Boy From Oz at Landmark Musical Theatre (FB). Tickets are available through Goldstar as well as Brown Paper Tix.

Dining Notes: Before the show, we ate next door at Bund Shanghai Restaurant (Yelp), 640 Jackson Street. In one word: Yum! They were very accommodating of our dietary gotchas.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

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: Tonight we will be seeing The Last 5 Years at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) (FB).  May 21 brings Los Angeles: Now and Then (FB), a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has HOLDs for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and for I Only Have Eyes for You at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre (FB).

That brings us to 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 schedule is as follows:

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 a HOLD for Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB) the last weekend.  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.

Climb Up the Hill

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 13, 2016 @ 7:54 am PDT

userpic=nixonAs I clear out the News Chum, some political news chum. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m settled on being a Hillary supporter. Is she perfect? By no means. In some ways, I feel like PJ O’Roarke (a conservative commentor) on his “ringing” endorsment of Hillary on last week’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me:

“I am endorsing Hillary, and all her lies and all her empty promises,” O’Rourke continued. “It’s the second-worst thing that can happen to this country, but she’s way behind in second place. She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”

Of course, being a Hillary supporter can be dangerous. On my Facebook feeds, I found a wonderful article about that danger. It noted how, if you come out about supporting Hillary, you’ll often be attacked by the rabid Bernie supporters, and be barraged about all sorts of lies about Hillary’s character. What they forget is this: despite all the wishing by Bernie supporters and the various machinations attempted (getting California Republicans to reregister and vote for Bernie; gaming Superdelegates), it is mathematically highly unlikely that Bernie will get the nomination; he is also way behind in the total number of votes against Hillary. The article about the danger of being a Hillary supporter had this great quote:

Hillary is not a perfect candidate. There are many valid criticisms of her, and she has certainly made mistakes in her 30-year political career. I don’t regard her as a pinnacle of political purity. In fact, I disagree with her on several issues. I agree with many people that we need campaign finance reform, and I see the hypocrisy in her calling for campaign finance reform while simultaneously benefiting from the current law. But to me, the presidency encompasses so much more than the mechanics of a campaign, and Hillary Clinton’s approach to policy aligns with my own more closely than any other candidate. I believe she is by far the most qualified candidate in either field to lead this country, and my support for her isn’t all about pragmatism — believe it or not, she inspires me. She has been attacked and knocked down and had her name dragged through the mud by Republicans for decades, and she is still standing, still fighting. I admire her resilience, her capacity for compromise, and her toughness. I support her with joy and without apology.

I’ve heard people question how it’s possible that Clinton is winning the election when you hear so little from her supporters online. One reason your Facebook feed isn’t brimming with glowing pro-Clinton posts is because when you say nice things about Hillary Clinton online, you will face a barrage of ridicule and spite from purer, more “progressive” liberals. If you know you’re undoubtedly going to be taken to task over posting a video clip that inspired you, you may think twice about sharing it. Sometimes I don’t feel like playing defense with multiple people in the comment section who are attacking my integrity. It’s exhausting.

For me — and I’ll emphasize this for me — she is the only candidate out there with deep experience in foreign policy at the national level, deep experience in running an executive department of the federal government and in interacting with other federal departments, deep experience in working with Congress and testifying before Congress. She has seen firsthand what it takes to head national interests, and how to work those through Congress. This is a level of experience that neither Donald, Bernie, or Gary have.

But, you say, the email server incident. Here’s an interesting article on that from the LA Times. The article notes:

Most legal experts, including a number of former federal prosecutors, believe that Clinton faces little risk of being prosecuted for using the private email system to conduct official business when she served as secretary of State.

Using a private email system was not banned at the time, her supporters note, and other senior government officials also have used personal email to transact official business.

[…]

The primary question is whether Clinton or her aides distributed classified material in email systems that fell outside the department’s secure classified system.

Even if prosecutors determine that she did, the chances that she will be found criminally liable are low, experts say. Federal law makes it a crime only if someone knowingly or willfully retains classified information, handles it in a grossly negligent manner or passes it along to someone not entitled to see it.

But, you say, she’s a warmonger? Is she? Read her position on war and peace, where there’s doesn’t be a desire to have war for war’s sake. Read her interview with the LA Times, where she notes:

Clinton:  Well, first, I always believe that military force should be the choice of last resort, not the first choice at all. And I, as secretary of State, advocated for what I call smart power. And part of that was to elevate the role of diplomacy and development  after what had been the eight prior years of much heavier emphasis on military solutions to all of the challenges that we faced.

I’ve asked this before on Facebook, and only one person read it right and took up me on the challenge: instead of telling me why Hillary is bad, tell me why your candidate is better. Specifically, tell me policy areas where your candidate has a better policy proposal, and compare and contrast it with the opposition with respect to their policy in that area. Tell me the assessment of whether that policy proposal is achievable — both whether it could get through Congress and the cost estimates for the proposal on the Federal Budget — and the impact of those costs. Let’s focus on a positive, policy-based, discussion.

The Future of Music

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 13, 2016 @ 7:25 am PDT

userpic=white-ipodEven though I’m on vacation this week, I’ve still been reading news and collecting articles. One subject that has been popular this week has been Apple, iTunes, Apple Music, and the future. Here are some of the discussions that caught my eye:

  • All About the Benjamins. A number of articles have been circulating about the skyrocketing value for older iPods, such as this article, which notes that the U2 edition of the iPod is now supposedly fetching $90K, but of course only if it was factory-sealed in its box. To us old timers, this sounds like the Cabbage Patch Doll craze of many years ago, or the Beanie Baby craze. iPods are meant to be used: to hold music, to play music, to be the center of your musical life. They are not meant to remained boxed. I have two iPod Classics, each modified to have a 512GB SSD memory instead of the 160GB Hard Disk, and I use them everyday (in fact, I’m using one of them as I write this up: currently playing, “Fireflies” by Vana Mazi from the album Izam Anav).
  • W3C, DRM, EME, and other Acronyms from Hell. Yesterday, on Boing Boing, was an open letter from the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) to W3C (the Web Advisory Council) about their stance on new DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology for the web. They are creating a video DRM standard designed to prevent people from implementing it unless they have permission from the big movie and TV companies, by invoking the notorious Digital Millennium Copyright Act and its international equivalents. Earlier in the week there had been a similar article about how earlier attempts at DRM could have killed iTunes and the iPod. That article noted that “iTunes was able to become a powerhouse in music by allowing Apple customers to legally format-shift their digital music. The fact that the RIAA hated this, said it was (or should be) illegal, and tried to stop them didn’t mean that Apple couldn’t go on.” I’ve been format-shifted music I own for years, and there’s nothing that can stop it (especially if you’re willing to go the old analog route, and actually do analog re-recordings of music). I do analog recording from LPs, CDs, and cassettes; digital ripping of CDs, and purchase music digitally. Back when I was much younger, I even recorded off of AM or FM radio (that’s how we used to “stream” music 🙂 ).  I’m of the belief that people should actually own copies of the music they listen to; if they do, they should have the ability to format-shift their purchase so they can use it.
  • iTunes and Destroying the Will to Collect Music. However, these days, collecting music has gotten much harder. Our interfaces to manage the music doesn’t help — witness how many people complain about iTunes (which is likely still the largest music manager for MP3 players and their brethren).  Here’s one man’s story about how iTunes destroyed his desire to collect music. What with fears about iTunes replacing carefully curated tracks with similar versions on the cloud, to the tendancy of iTunes to lose tracks or delete music, the ability to manage a collection — especially large collections — gets difficult. I can understand the concern. If you’ve visited our house, you know I have a large collection of LPs and CDs (and once upon a time had a very large collection of cassettes recorded from those LPs and CDs). I have just under 38,000 tracks in iTunes, and plan to add more. I recognize how I’ve grown tied to iTunes and its play counts and ratings, as well as how easy it is for iTunes to screw up and lose music.
  • iTunes vs. Apple Music. But the music industry may be trying to screw listeners once again. There are conflicting stories out there about how Apple is going to kill the iTunes store within 2 years; but then again, it may not. The conflict (and the reason for the conflicting reports) is the movement to streaming music (which I view as an insidious plot). Supposedly… Apple wants to get out of the profitable business of “selling” people music through the iTunes store, and replace it with the streaming of music through Apple Music, where you can stream tracks you are leasing (but I put “selling” in quotes, because in someways it was leasing as well, because Apple could delete the trick, or might have DRMed the track). I tend to side with the folks that say Apple isn’t doing this now, simply because it is a profit center. I think the risk of it going away is there, especially if more people move to storage in the cloud and a streaming model. Luckily, I think the artists still want to have the ability to get music in the hands of their fans — be it  through download, CDs, or other means. I have yet to hear rumors that Amazon is getting out of the digital music field — and I always get my music through Amazon if I can as they do not DRM protect their tracks; I subsequently import them into iTunes (which moves them out of Amazon Music’s reach).

So what is the upshot of these articles. I think it is simple. People have always wanted to own the music of the artists they like: be it sheet music in the early days, LP recordings through much of the 20th century, cassette records, and later CDs and digital tracks. With recording technology, they like — and need — the ability to format shift their music to formats of their choosing. They also need the ability to pass their music collections to their children (something that may be difficult to do). We should not be forced to buy new copies of recordings we own every few years, despite what the music companies claim.

As for Streaming Music: Streaming music is demon spawn. It is a reinvention of the radio, but under your control. However, with streaming, you not only pay for the music, you pay for the bandwidth used to deliver it. Further, the streamers can lose the ability to send you the music at any time. Further, it is only good if you have a signal to stream the music. Fight streaming. Purchase your music, record it to a format you can use, and just play from your collection — non-streaming or local (i.e., your house) streaming. Oh, and that iPod Classic you’ve got in your closet — don’t sell it as a Cabbage Patch MP3 Player, and don’t throw it away. Replace the hard disk with SSD, load it up, and use it. You can have your entire music collection with you, and listen to the songs you want.

What We Call Making an Exit 👴 “Endgame” @ CTG + “Carney Magic”

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 08, 2016 @ 6:45 pm PDT

Endgame (Kirk Douglas)userpic=ahmansonIf you attend musicals, there are classic composers and lyricists that you should see. Similarly, if you attend plays, there are seminal playwrights (in addition to Shakespeare). One of these is Samuel Beckett, a 20th century author of a number of absurdist comedies. Currently, the  Center Theatre Group/Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB) is doing one of these plays (Endgame, 1957); it has the added benefit of being directed by one of the few actor/directors left that actually worked with Beckett when he was alive, Alan Mandell (FB). When we discovered that Endgame was on the Kirk Douglas schedule while seeing a show at the Ahmanson, we decided we should take advantage of Hottix and catch it. We were able to get seats, and so after a lovely dinner at Picnic LA (FB), we entered the absurd world of Samuel Becket.

Endgame is hard to describe. It is a four character play. The lead is Hamm (Alan Mandell (FB)), an old man confined to a wheelchair, who is unable to walk and unable to see. Taking care of him is Clov (Barry McGovern), who may be his son (it is unclear). Clov is unable to sit down. Near him, in two ashbins, are Hamm’s elderly parents, Nagg (James Greene) and Nell (Charlotte Rae, at our performance, alternating with Anne Gee Byrd (FB)). They do not have legs. The setting, which Beckett is very particular about (i.e., no interpretations allows) is a small empty space. Left and right back, high up, are two small windows, curtains drawn. At the front right is a door. Hanging near door, its face to wall, a picture. There are the two ashbins, front left, touching each other. Hamm is in the center, in an armchair on castors, initially covered with an old sheet.

The play consists of Clov taking care of Hamm, and Hamm directing Clov to do various things. At points Clov tries to go away, but he rarely succeeds for long, being constantly called back to take care of Hamm. Nagg and Nell interact with each other for a bit, but Nell passes away at some point. Nagg also interacts with Hamm, being requested to listen to a story the Hamm wants to tell after Clov refuses to listen to it. At the end of the play, Clov finally indicates that his leaving. He then stands there, dressed to go, while Hamm continues on believing he has been abandoned.

You can find a more detailed plot summary at SparkNotes. You can actually find the text of the play at the Samuel Beckett website.

One of the questions I had watching this play is: What led Beckett to write this? After all, it is such a strange play, it is difficult to see how the situation and dialog could come to a playwright. But I guess that’s why I’m not a playwright. Beckett wrote this play during an era when Theatre of the Absurd was popular. It was a post WWII-style. According to Wikipedia, Theatre of the Absurd focused largely on the idea of existentialism and expressed what happens when human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down, in fact alerting their audiences to pursue the opposite. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence. It is up to the audience to decide the meaning of the piece.

Endgame Publicity PhotosAs I’m a Professional Audience™ PEND , here are my thoughts on meaning.

The primary thought that kept going through my head while watching the performance was the relationship of my wife to her mother. Her mother is in assisted living right now, dealing with mental deterioration. The resulting relationships of parent to child, caregiver to caregivee, is a lot like the relationship between Clov and Hamm. Hamm is elderly and utterly dependent on Clov to feed him, clothe him, give him medicine, and fulfill his every need. Hamm is also non-sensical, often living in the past, at times petulant and vindictive, not caring about those around him, gruff and bitter, and at other times resigned. If you have ever seen a parent dealing with cognitive impairment or Alzheimers, that is exactly the behavior. Clov, on the other hand, is like any adult child taking care of such a parent. He keeps wanting to leave, wanting to have his own life, but is trapped in the endgame of taking care of his parent because he’s the only one who is able to do so. This game has worn him down so that any love that has been there has been replaced by forced duty, forced obligation. Whatever relationship there once was has been eroded away. At the end of the play, Clov finally decides to be his own man and walk away and take care of himself for one — but never quite makes it out.

So what about Nagg and Nell. I think they were the memories of the parents in the mind of Hamm. Often, for such patients, they are living in a quasi-world where both the past and the present exist in their mind. Clov was required to play along with the artiface, as caregivers often do.

There are some wonderful lines in the production that seem to support my interepretation:

  • Sometimes I wonder if I’m in my right mind. Then it passes over and I’m as lucid as before.
  • Sometimes I wonder if I’m in my right senses. Then it passes off and I’m as intelligent as ever.

I’ve certainly felt that way.

That’s the primary interpretation that was in my head. The secondary interpretation was more of a joke, but as I thought about it… it made quite a bit of sense: Endgame is a political argument on Facebook. Hamm represents the person posting the initial article and defending it with all sorts of convoluted argument. The argument draws people into a discussion they can never quite leave, and into which they get trapped — until they just decide to walk away. Nell and Nogg, in this case, are side digressions that support the story but go in unexpected directions. The fact that everyone in the discussion is crippled in one way or another is a representation of the fact that nobody on Facebook is playing with a full deck.

But Beckett couldn’t have been talking about Facebook. After all, it didn’t exist in era when the play was written.

In general, the story focuses on the larger issue of dependency, and the dispair that dependency can bring to us. Hamm is dependent on Clov. Clov on Hamm (he has the keys to the larder). Nagg on Hamm. And so far. As we are dependent for longer, we become handicapped by our dependency, and it traps us. The term “Endgame” refers to the chess position where the final set of moves are dictated and cannot be changed. Our dependency traps us into an endgame. How do we escape? Nell makes that clear: she escapes by dying, after she refuses to be dependent on Nagg. At the end, has Clov refused enough to escape? We never find out.

The discussion above is the demonstration of one important take-away about this performance: it was good enough to make people think about a variety of subjects. It provided the ability for the elderly cast (I don’t think there has been a cast this elderly on stage since the last production of 70 Girls 70) to demonstrate their expertise with Beckett — this was a rare chance to see some of the foremost Beckett performers on one stage. It was at points humorous, sad, befuddling,  touching, relevant and irreverent. It was outstanding.

Normally, at this point, I would turn to a discussion about the performances. All were spectacular, and it was difficult to single anyone out. Central to the story were the spot on performances of Alan Mandell (FB) and Barry McGovern. These are foremost interpreters of Beckett; they know how to convey every nuance of the story. Our Nagg (James Greene) and Nell (Charlotte Rae, at our performance, alternating with Anne Gee Byrd (FB)) worked well together; I hesitate to say chemistry, for that implies there is a reaction between the two. I think the overall ensemble was just interesting to watch.  Note that Ned Schmidtke was the understudy for the male roles.

Turning to the production and creative side: The overall production was directed by Alan Mandell (FB), whose experience with Beckett was demonstrated in the overall ensemble and portrayal. John Iacovelli (FB)’s scenic design captured well the bleakness that Beckett intended from the text: a cold-grey stone castle, with two inset grey windows, grey dustbins, dirty dropcloths, grey clothing. A world of despair, with nothing to live for except the life from the characters. Maggie Morgan (FB)’s costume designs were equally bleak: grey, black, and dark-brown bed clothes and suits, adding to the atmosphere. Jared A. Sayeg (FB)’s lighting design was strong, as usual: mostly white lights, often kept dimmer, adding to bleakness. A lack of color. Cricket S. Myers (FB)’s sound design was what a good sound design should be: unnoticeable. The few sound effects that were present worked well. Rounding out the production credits: Susie Walsh (FB) [Production Stage Manager]; John Sloan (FB) (Assistant Director); Brooke Baldwin (FB) [Stage Manager]. Michael Ritchie is the Artistic Director for Center Theatre Group.

One last note: After the performance, there was an audience discussion on the meaning of Endgame. This discussion was led by Isabella Petrini (FB), and was excellent. Isabella also curated the Endgame game in the foyer, and we had the pleasure of talking to her before the show. Isabella’s company, Bae Theatre (FB), has a show at the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB): Matt and Ben. It sounds interesting, and is written by Mindy Kaling. Alas, I have already booked my schedule, and do not have room to fit it in, but figured I would mention it.

Endgame continues through May 22 at the  Center Theatre Group/Kirk Douglas Theatre (FB). Tickets are available through the Center Theatre Group online. Hottix may be available. All offers for Endgame on Goldstar have expired, but tickets are available to the next show at the Kirk Douglas.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

Carney Magic (Colony)userpic=colonyAt the last minute, an opportunity arose for live performance today as well. As you recall, The Colony Theatre (FB) had gone dark due to financial problems, although there was the option for subscribers to potentially attend lease events. One such event was this weekend: Carney Magic, an encore performance of a previous successful lease. Carney Magic is what is purports to be: 90 minutes of sleight of hand magic by magician John Carney (FB).

So, how was the magic? Entertaining. I couldn’t see how it was done, but it was also a relatively straightforward slight of hand show. There was audience participation. There was humor.

I think the larger question for me was: This fellow is entertaining and does corporate shows. Is this a possibility for ACSAC in December? That I haven’t decided yet. I want to see Einstein at the Fringe Festival first.

I will note there was one thing that was sad about the show: seeing the lobby and waiting area at the Colony. Evidently, it is a full-on lease house now, and all the photos of past productions are down. All of the furniture and old props are out, replaced by simple uncomfortable seats. The art gallery is empty of art. The character is gone. I felt like I was identifying a corpse in a hospital, and that was sad. The patient may not be dead yet, but she’s definitely moved out to either Board and Care or Assisted Living, and it was sad. We may, alas, be in the Endgame period for the Colony. And that’s sad.

Production credits for Carney Magic: Written and manipulated by John Carney (FB). Produced by John Carney (FB) and PFC Entertainment. Additional material by Jim Steinmeyer. Technical coordination by Genetra Tull.

We saw the last performance of this incarnation of Carney Magic.

* 🎭 🎭 🎭 *

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: Next week sees us in the Bay Area for our daughter’s graduation from Berkeley. While there, we are seeing the Landmark Musical Theatre (FB)’s West Coast Regional Premiere of The Boy from Oz (but pay no attention to that production behind the curtain at the Celebration Theatre (FB) — if they start the same day, they are simultaneous premieres and both have equal bragging rights). We will also be seeing The Last 5 Years at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.) (FB).  May 21 brings Los Angeles: Now and Then (FB), a new musical at LA City College (FB) from Bruce Kimmel. The last weekend of May has HOLDs for the MoTAS Outing to the Jethawks, and for I Only Have Eyes for You at the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre (FB).

That brings us to 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 schedule is as follows:

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 a HOLD for Armadillo Necktie at The Group Rep (FB) the last weekend.  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.

CyberChum: Selected Technological Links of Interest

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat May 07, 2016 @ 12:54 pm PDT

userpic=cyborgOver lunch, let’s continue the clearing of the accumulated links. This collection of links all relates to technology in some way:

  • Safe Exchanges. Have you ever purchased something over Craigslist, but then been worried about meeting the other person in a safe place to exchange the items. If so, did you know that many cities have established safe exchange zones, where the exchanges can take place under a security camera in a public place.  You can find the safe exchange location near you by clicking here.
  • Google Keyboard Updates. Google is updating its Android keyboard again. For example, one of the most useful changes is a fine cursor control: just tap and hold on the space bar and you can slide the cursor to where you want it to go. Suggestions are also smarter, as you can touch and drag away one that you don’t like to the trash. This can cut down on those typos that got saved into Google’s memory. There’s a one handed mode, and a 9-key layout for entering numbers.
  • Extending Gmail. Another Google related article: 5 Chrome extensions that enhance Gmail.
  • Cables: Keep or Toss. Here’s a good explanation of all those cables you find around the house. I disagree a bit with his recommendations on what to keep or toss. For example, I’ll keep 30-pin Apple connection cables, but that’s simply because we have 3 iPod Classics in this house. I also would tend to keep VGA, but that’s simply because the ACSAC projectors use VGA. We also still tend to use RCA/Composite cables, but that’s because we haven’t gone to digital TVs.
  • Hacking Airplanes. The aviation industry is waking up to the need for cybersecurity. About damn time.
  • Ransomware. Ransomware is now the biggest cybersecurity threat. It certainly is a large worry for me, especially when I see a lot of disk activity or a file goes missing. Here are some good tips to stop ransomware in its tracks. I particularly like the advice to backup to an external drive that does not remain connected to your system. That’s what I’ve been doing of late.

 

Design Considerations

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 06, 2016 @ 9:24 pm PDT

userpic=clutterContinuing to clear out the accumulated links… Here are three interesting articles all having to do with design. Tomorrow, you’ll get a chum post on computer stuff, followed by some tasty stew:

  • Making Cities Hostile. Cities are increasingly becoming more hostile to the homeless and downtrodden. You see it if you know where to look. As the linked article notes, historically, landowners and city planners have kept sections of the population at bay by incorporating defensive design features into the architecture: spiked fences; barbed wire; a castle moat. In the 21st century, however, overt deterrents like these have given way to subtler features aimed at exerting social control, and keeping unwanted groups out. Hostile architecture, also known as defensive architecture, exists on a spectrum. At one end are the overt design features that are obvious to anyone walking by—like spikes and fences. At the other end, says Petty, are the design elements in which “the hostile function is often embedded under a socially palatable function.” A prime example is street furniture, particularly public benches. Think of all those strips that establish seats: they also make it impossible for someone to sleep there. The article goes into more detail.
  • Bowling Alleys. We all remember the bowling alleys. Greasy coffee shops. Bright lights. Ugly shirts. Bowling leagues. That’s all changing. There is a movement afoot to transform bowling alleys into the-sexy. The renovations have preserved many elements of the classic midcentury designs of these sites, but ultimately left them with a more sleek and modern vibe. Flatscreens and projectors are everywhere, not only displaying goofy animations after a strike or gutterball, but broadcasting sports or TV shows. The lights are dimmed and the lanes are illuminated under a black light that makes the balls and pins glow. It makes for a clubby atmosphere meant to appeal to younger and more casual bowlers.
  • Oakland Tribune Tower. Here’s an interesting article on how the Oakland Tribune tower was repaired and rescued. There are some really vertigo inducing photos in the mix.

 

What is Truth?

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 06, 2016 @ 9:04 pm PDT

userpic=don-martinWhat is truth? How do we tell black from white? Here are a collection of stories where the truth may not be what you read: