Observations Along the Road

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

The Measure of a Community Is How They Treat The Stranger

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Sep 20, 2014 @ 11:56 am PDT

Bat Boy (CSUN)userpic=ucla-csunWhen I told people that I was going to go see “Bat Boy: The Musical“, most thought I was going to see a musical about Batman. After all, there have been musicals about Superman and Spiderman, so a musical about  the caped crusader as a boy isn’t that farfetched. Farfetched, after all, would be a musical drawn from the pages of the Weekly World News, that crusading paper that is more accurate than Fox News, brings you headlines such as “Saturn is a Giant UFO“, “Chicago to be Renamed Obama City“, and, yes, “Bat Boy: Going Mutant“.  But it is just that paper — and in fact, that last story — that was the inspiration for the musical “Bat Boy: The Musical“, drawn from the pages of the Weekly World News, that we saw last night at the CSUN Experimental Theatre.

For those not familiar with the Bat Boy, he was a creation of the Weekly World News — a news source much like the Onion of today, only weirder. Half-man, half-bat, he was discovered in a cave in West Virginia. Constantly hunted by the government, he is regularly captured but escapes. The story first appeared in the pages of the WWN in 1992; by 1997, the Actors Gang had created a musical based on his story. This musical, with story and book by Keythe Farley (FB) and Brian Flemming, and music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe, made it to an off-Broadway production (which was recorded, permitting me to learn about it) and a London production. This fall, Janet Miller (FB) [who has done a great job with Good People Theatre Co (FB) productions of "A Man of No Importance" and "The Fantastiks"] selected “Bat Boy” as a production of the CSUN Theatre Arts Department. I learned about this production when I saw a poster for it while attending the Operaworks Advanced Artist production this summer. Having heard the music (which is great), loving the story (which has a great message), and knowing the quality of the director made this a must see. As soon as the ticket office opened in late August, I purchased my tickets for opening night.

[I'll note an odd coincidence: Last night, I added yet another album to my iPod: the cast album for Heathers: The Musical, which just closed on Broadway. It turns out that Laurence O'Keefe did the music for that show, as well as for the Legally Blonde: The Musical. You'll like the music to Bat Boy, especially the main song ("Hold Me, Bat Boy") which is a definite ear worm.]

Bat Boy: The Musical” takes place in Hope Falls, WV. As the production opens, Rick, Ron, and Ruthie Taylor are exploring some deep caves near the town. In one cavern, they discover the Bay Boy; as Ruthie tries to make friends with it, he bites her on the neck. They kick and capture the Bat Boy and take him to the Sheriff and Ruthie to the hospital. The Sheriff decides to take the Bat Boy to the local veterinarian, who will know what to do with him. The vet, Dr. Thomas Parker, isn’t home so they leave the boy with his wife, Meredith and their daughter, Shelly. Although Meredith wants to take care of the boy and make him part of the family, the daughter wants nothing to do with him. Mom wins out, and slowly starts educating the boy (who is a fast learner). When Dr. Parker comes home, he wants to put the boy down, but Meredith dissuades him from doing so with the promise of sex with her (which hasn’t been happening for a while). Meanwhile, the town is becoming agitated: not only is Ruthie Taylor not getting better, the coal mine has closed, and all of the cattle around the town are getting sicker and thinner. The town, naturally, blames the Bat Boy and believes that killing him will solve all their problems. Back at the Parkers, the Bat Boy (now renamed Edgar) and Shelly are growing closer, and Edgar is learning fast — he already has his high school equvalency diploma. He wants to attend the big revival meeting but the town doesn’t want him to. When Meredith and Shelly take him anyway, he wins the town over. But when Rick Taylor attacks Shelly, Edgar goes crazy and bites Rick. This starts the hunt for the boy, based on some turn of events and resulting in some disclosures which I won’t reveal (as they are spoilers)… but you can find them in the Wiki synopsis.

The story is a good one, and quite time. At its heart, it explores xeonphobia in a funny and touching way. The Bat Boy is the stranger in our midst — an uglier reflection of ourselves. Seemingly uncivilized, yet some can see beyond that to discover the civilized person underneath. Are they human? Are they animals? Do we blame the stranger for our problems, or are our problems often created by our own actions (after all, you can’t feed cows on a coal mine). Take this musical, which was written in 1997, and look at it through 2014. Muslims in our community are the Bat Boys of today — misunderstood aliens, seen by some as civilized members of society, but seen through ill-informed and ignorant eyes as all evils, prone to attack when provoked. I think this musical is much more timely today than when it was first performed.

This production — like many CSUN theatre productions — was excellent (I still have fond memories of an excellent production of Hair many years ago). Director and Choreographer Janet Miller (FB) worked with the students to bring out excellent dramatic performances — you could see that were intensely into each character they played. That’s not to say the production was 100% perfect, but it was very very good. Let’s look at the players.

In the lead position was Skylar Keck/FB as Edgar, the Bat Boy. Keck nailed the dramatic side of the performance, from his movement as the uncivilized Bat Boy to his maturation as the civilized Edgar. In the beginning you see Keck on all fours, running around and screaming gibberish. As the story progresses you see him grow into an Oxford-English speaking young man (BBC language tapes). He was really spectacular to watch. He also moved well during the dance numbers. If he had one drawback, it was that his singing voice was a little off on some of the numbers; I believe that will improve with time and practice. I look forward to seeing him in future professional productions.

In the other lead positions were Aubrie Alexander (FB) as Meredith Parker, Jessica Patterson/FB as Shelly Parker, and Jared Tkocz/FB as Dr. Thomas Parker. All three had strong characterizations of their characters — I was particularly taken by both Alexander and Patterson in their characters. Tkocz had the evil side down well as well. All three were also strong in their singing and dancing numbers.

Much of the remainder of the cast doubled or tripled roles, some going cross-gender. This initially confused me; my wife thought it had to do with the diversity statement in the program. It turns out neither was the case: it appears to be intentional double casting from the original production. In any case, given the multiple casting it is difficult to single out many performances. Some, however, are worthy of special note. I was very taken by Nick Bruno/FB‘s performance as Pan during “Children, Children”. He had a very strong singing voice combined with a winner personality that shone through the character. Bruno also doubled as Bud, one of the ranchers whose cattle were dying. Also strong was Matthew Kesner/FB as Reverend Bill Hightower in the “Joyful Noise” number — again, a strong singing voice combined with good movement and the ability to be humorous worked well. Kesner also doubled as Daisy, a schoolteacher, with a very incongruous look (I’d say you could guess why she was a spinster, but then again, this is West Virginia). Lastly, I liked Benjamin Schwartz/FB‘s portrayal of Sheriff Reynolds. My wife felt that Mrs. Taylor (Logan Allison/FB) deserved an award for overacting, but I think the character was intentionally written that way to play up the nature of the Bat Boy threat. Allison also doubled as Roy, a rancher.  Rounding out the townsfolk and remaining cast were: Steve Brogan/FB (Rick Taylor, spelunker; Mr. Dillon, a rancher); Rachael Johnson/FB (Ron Taylor, spelunker; Maggie, senior Town Council rep); Julia Alix Ober/FB (Ruthie Taylor, spelunker; Ned, a rancher); Sarah Kline/FB (Lorraine, a rancher’s wife; Clem, a townsman); Hyungwood Jang/FB (a doctor, ensemble/townfolk); Jessamyn Arnstein (FB) (a doctor, ensemble/townfolk); Chelsea DiBlasi/FB (Institute Man, ensemble/townsfolk); and Alexander Cody Phaphol/FB (ensemble/townfolk).

The actors were supported by an on-stage band behind the main set. This band consisted of Philip Matthew Park (Musical Director, Keyboard I), Paul Duffy (Keyboard II), Andi Moresi (FB) (Guitar), Dustin Morgan/FB (Bass), and Wayne Hildenbrand/FB (Drums). The band had a great sound quality, and about the only quibble was the reflection of the “Exit” light in the plexiglass surrounding the drummer.

Turning to technical side, where my main quibble with this production lies. Let’s start with the problem, and then move on to what worked. What didn’t work was the sound design by Kenji Kang/FB. When the microphones worked there was an odd echo quality to them; later on in the show there were numerous static and glitch problems. This could just be opening night problems — I see that Kang was a Van Nuys HS graduate, meaning he should have learned from the best (Marque Coy (FB)). Hopefully, they will get things tuned for subsequent productions. In contrast to the sound, the lighting design of Kevin Vasquez/FB worked quite well, creating a mood, illuminating scenic queues, and making good use of moving lights and LED lights. The costume design of Bich Vu worked well and appeared suitably West Virginia-y to me, although my wife had some problems with the footware on some of the actors. The costuming for the Bat Boy was particularly good. The scenic design of Christopher Scott Murillo (FB) was simple but effective, and made good use of the CSUN Experimental theatre black box space. Heidi Dippold was the dialect coach; her work was particularly notable in the Bat Boy’s gibberish and later BBC accent (I can’t speak to WV accents). Shad Willingham (FB) was the Fight Choreographer. Lindsey Martin/FB (as opposed to Lindsay Martens/FB) was the stage manager (yes, I did a double take for a minute).

Bat Boy: The Musical” continues at CSUN (CSUN Theatre Arts Department (FB) through September 28, 2014, with performances today (9/20), tomorrow (9/21), and next weekend (9/24-9/28).  Tickets are available through A.S. CSUN at 818/677-2488. You might be able to get them online through Ticketmaster, but the fees will be less through the phone. Tickets are not available on Goldstar. You’ll have a great time if you go.

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

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  Next weekend brings  “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sat 9/27, and “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB) on Sun 9/29. October currently has two shows (three if you count Yom Kippur on 10/4): “Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married” at the Group Rep (FB) on Sat 10/18 (when Karen is at PIQF), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB) on 10/25. November is back to busy, with “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB) on Sat 11/1, “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on Sun 11/9 (shifting to avoid ACSAC and opening night), a trip out to Orange Empire Railway Museum to see my buddy Thomas on 11/11,  “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB) on Sat 11/15, the Nottingham Festival on Sun 11/16, and “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB) on Sat 11/29. I may also see some theatre when I visit my daughter Erin in Berkeley between 11/20 and 11/26. Right now, I’m looking at The Immigrant at Tabard Theatre (FB) in San Jose, “Harvey” at Palo Alto Players (FB) in Palo Alto, or “Rhinocerous” at the UC Berkeley Theatre Department (FB). As for December, right now I’m just holding one date: “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim on 12/20. 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.

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Psst. It’s a Heist. Let’s Sing About It.

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 27, 2014 @ 8:11 pm PDT

Operaworks - The Heistuserpic=ucla-csunTwo or so years ago, we discovered a really interesting program at CSUN. It is called Operaworks, and it’s goal is to make better Opera singers. The advanced artist program, which just concluded, has a slightly different specific goal: to teach opera singers how to “be” on stage. In their training, opera singers are taught to stand and sing in a formalized position. But to be effective in opera, they need to learn how to act — how to move, how to interact with others, how to tell stories with their movements, how to create personas that go beyond the areas. Each year in this program they bring together 30 or so graduate or newly performing singers. They come up with a theme, personas, and then select arias from their repertoires that might fit. They then improvise these areas into a through story, present two performances, and its gone for the year.

Today we saw the second performance. Sorry, you missed it. Try again next year.

This year’s performance was called “The Heist”. It was based on the story of an imaginary crime family called the Mezzos. I certainly won’t be able to tell you the full story, because I simply didn’t catch it all. But let’s try (and note that I’m doing this from memory, and was a bit drowsy from my migraine meds during the first act).

The first act was called “The Family Meeting”. It was essentially a cocktail party where different members of the Mezzo family were interacting. These included Giovanni Mezzo and his wife Holly. After a heist went wrong, Giovanni has gone into hiding. Holly is the mother of Amber Rose, Angela, Annie, Ricardo, and adopted son Angky. Annie lives in the bottle and is a hopeless drunk; AmberRose is the daddy’s girl; Angela is the caretaker of the family; Ricardo is the oldest son, trying to take his father’s place; and Angky, the adopted son who is betrothed to Anastasia, part of the family that killed Giovanni’s father. Also at the party is Rebecca Mezzo-Carminotti, widow of Giacomo Carminotti and younger sister of Holly. Rebecca is the mother of Tara, who on her last job killed a bank teller and is suffering from PTSD. Also at the party is Lauren O’Donnell Mezzo, Ricardo’s wife; Baby, who got caught up in the family; and Mark Markson, the family legal counsel and sometimes pianist. As the party goes on, we move from character to character seeing the interplay; the party concludes with the announcement that there is going to be one last heist.

Arias in Act One were: Adele’s Laughing Song (Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss) [Annie Sherman as Annie Mezzo]; Czàrdàs (Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss) [Rebecca Peterson as Rebecca Mezzo-Carminotti]; O wär ich schon (Fidelio | Ludwig van Beethoven) [Anastasia Malliaras as Anastasia Basso]; The Tower Aria (The Turn of the Screw | Benjamin Britten) [Tara Morrow as Tara Mezzo-Carminotti];  La Promessa (Giacchino Rossini) [Lauren Corcoran as Lauren O'Donnell Mezzo]; Dearest Mama (The Ballad of Baby Doe | Douglas Moore) [Cristina Foster as Baby]; Una Furtiva Lagrima (L’Elisir D’Amore | Gaetano Donizetti) [Ricardo Mota as Ricardo Mezzo]; Steal Me, Sweet Thief (The Old Maid and the Thief | G. Menotti) [Angela De Venuto as Angela Mezzo]; When The Air Sings of Summer (The Old Maid and the Thief | G. Menotti) [Angky Budiardjono as Angky Mezzo]; Don’t Say a Word (Dead Man Walking | Jake Heggie) [Holly Seebach as Holly Mezzo]; and I Go To Him (The Rake’s Progress | Igor Stravinsky) [AmberRose Dische as AmberRose Mezzo]. Mark Robson was at the piano.

The memorable performance in Act One was Annie Sherman as the drunk Annie Mezzo — she was just a delight to watch through the entire act, both as the drunk and how she interacted with others.

Act Two is the actual heist, and takes place at the Bank. The characters we meet here are Erin Desjardins, a student about to graduate from high school and her French cousin, Rachelle Desjardins; Manon Elias, a Kim Kardashian-type at the bank with her boyfriend, commercial real estate giant Andrew Gold. Mary Silverstein, the bank manager and Magdaline Small, the bank teller;  Katherine Sullivan, a high-school English teacher; Noel Strand and Sean Faust, the bank guards; Kelly the bank heist manager and her new robber Crystal; and Karlos Keys, a security guard who enjoys playing piano more. Most of the act is the interaction between the characters. When the heist occurs, the manager is forced to open the silver vault. Katherine organizes the guard and the others to overpower the watchman, and they storm the vault. During the melee, Samantha Mezzo is shot.

Arias in Act Two were Laurie’s Song (The Tender Land | Aaron Copland) [Erin White as Erin Desjardins]; O Mio Babbino (Gianni Schicchi | Giacomo Puccini) [Rahel Moore as Manon Elias]; En Fermant Les Yeux (Manon | Jules Massenet) [Andrew Zimmerman as Andrew Gold]; Nun Eilt Herbei (The Merry Wives of Windsor | Otto Nicolai) [Kelly Rubinsohn as Kelly]; Meine Lippen, Sie Küssen (Guiditta | Franz Lehar) [Crystal Kim as Crystal]; Je Suis Encor (Manon | Jules Massenet) [Rachel Rosenberg as Rachelle Desjardins]; Come Now a Roundel (A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Benjamin Britten) [Magdaline Small as Magdaline Small]; The Silver Aria (The Ballad of Baby Doe | Douglas Moore) [Mary Harrod as Mary Silverstein]; Prendi, Per Me (L’Elisir D’Amore | Gaetano Donizetti); and Chacun Le Sait (La Fille Du Régiment | Gaetano Donizetti) [Katherine Sullivan as Katherine Sullivan]. Pianists were Nola Strand and Kelly Horsted.

Notable performances in Act Two were Crystal as the naive thief and Erin White with her opening song. My wife liked the clueless bank manager (Mary Harrod) and Rahel Moore as the golddigger.

Act Three takes place at the hospital afterwards. The characters we meet here include the hospital personnel: Sangeetha Ekambaram the head nurse; Brenna Johnson, an RN; her husband Dr. Joe Johnson; and Eric Zingermann, the intake clerk who dreams of a bigger career on the concert stage. We also meet Sarah Westbrook, a gold-digging bored housewife who has secret assignations with Dr. Joe; Megan, a local hypochondriac; Alice Beurre a new bride and her maid of honor, Beth; Marina, the new clown doctor, and Tascha, whose father was injured picking strawberries. Lastly, there is the aforementioned Samantha Mezzo, who was shot in the heist. This act is mostly the interactions between the characters, concluding with Samantha’s death.

Arias in Act Three were: Ophelia’s Mad Scene (Hamlet | Ambroise Thomas) [Megan Supina as Megan]; O Mon Fernand / Kommit Ein Schlanker (La Favorite | Gaetano Donizetti) / (Der Freischütz | Carl Maria von Weber) [Alice Chung as Alice Beurre / Elizabeth Sterling as Beth]; Je Veux Vivre (Roméo Et Juliette | Charles Gounod) [Sangeetha Ekambaram as Sangeetha Ekambaram]; Pauline’s Aria (Pique Dame | Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky) [Marina Kesler as Marina]; Madamina, Il Catalogo é questo (Don Giovanni | W. A. Mozart) [Brent Hetherington as Dr. Joe Johnson]; Svegliatevi Nei Core [Giulio Cesare | George Frederick Händel) [Tascha Anderson as Tascha]; Ouvre Ton Coeur (Georges Bizet) [Sarah Dudley as Sara Westbrook]; Things Change, Jo (Little Women | Mark Adamo) [Brenna Casey as Brenna Johnson]; and Emily’s Aria (Our Town | Ned Rorem) [Samantha Lax as Samantha Mezzo]. Eric Sedgwick was the pianist.

Notable performances in Act Three were Megan as the hypochondriac. My wife liked Brenna Casey.

Turning to the technical side, umm, well they didn’t say much. Sean Dennehy was the Stage Director, Julia Aks was the Assistant Stage Director, and Ann Baltz as the Artistic Director.

Look for the next Operaworks production in July 2015. You can sign up for their mailing list at http://www.operaworks.org/.

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

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  August starts with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). The following weekend we’ll be in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. August will end with the aforementioned “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB), “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB). November is also shaping up, with dates held for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB), “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB), the Nottingham Festival, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB), “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB), and “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. 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.

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Thanksgiving Left-Over News Chum Stew

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Nov 30, 2013 @ 12:49 pm PDT

Observation StewAh, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Time to sit down to a hearty bowl of Turkey Stew, with nice chucks of news:

  • Smelling The Subway. This is a real interesting article (and quite likely of interest to Andrew Ducker and those in the UK). A fellow who has synaesthesia, a neurological condition which prompts an involuntary reaction to sensory experiences, tastes things that he hears. In particular, place names provoke real tastes and intense cravings for particular foods. Using this knowledge, he has made a “taste map” of the London Underground. For example, to this fellow, Tottenham Court Road provokes a particularly strong taste of a sausage and egg breakfast, whilst nearby Bond Street prompts the less appealing tang of hairspray. Among the flavors that appear on the map are apple pie, bubble and squeak, HP sauce, purple grapes, chicken soup and soft boiled egg. Others include sweets such as love hearts, poppets, soft wine gums and jelly tots. Obscure flavors include coal dust, putrid meat, burnt rubber, wet wool, pencil eraser, fuzzy felt and dried blood.
  • Shel Silverstein. One of my favorite warped authors is Shel Silverstein. His kids stuff is great; his adult stuff is even better. He was also an accomplished songwriter, penning many folk and comedy songs. Here’s an interesting article on the unlikely way he rose to fame. Here’s a hint: Whenever you read his children’s stuff, look for the hidden subversive adult message.
  • I’m Bored. Many of us, I’m sure, get bored. But most of us don’t make it their job to boredom. Luckily, there are researchers that do. Did you know, for example, that there are five types of boredom … one more than researchers expected? (Well, you did if you were bored enough to listen to Wait Wait).  The types of boredom that they expected were: (1) Indifferent boredom, a relaxing and slightly positive type of boredom that “reflected a general indifference to, and withdrawal from, the external world”; (2)Calibrating boredom, the slightly unpleasant state of having wandering thoughts and “a general openness to behaviors aimed at changing the situation”; (3) Searching boredom, the kind that makes you feel restless and leaves you “actively seeking out specific ways of minimizing feelings of boredom”; and (4) Reactant boredom, which is so bad that it prompts sufferers “to leave the boredom-inducing situation and avoid those responsible for this situation (e.g., teachers).” What they discovered was a fifth type of boredom: Apathetic boredom. I’d go on, but I’m sure you’re bored by now.
  • Next on Wait Wait. Do you ever see scientific studies, and go “That’ll be on Wait Wait”. Here’s one for Wait Wait: Sexual frustration decreases lifespan — at least in flies. Specifically, the chemical attractant wafting from a female fruit fly shortened the lifespan of male flies when the femme fatale didn’t deliver on the signal’s promise, according to a new study.
  • Oh, How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning. I’m a morning person. In fact, I often get up just shortly before my alarm goes off. Turns out, there’s a reason why. It’s due to having a very accurate body clock. The body happens to love predictability. Your body is most efficient when there’s a routine to follow. So if you hit the hay the same time each night and awake the same time each morning, your body locks that behavior in.  The implication of this, of course, is that having constantly changing bedtimes and waking times puts stress on your body. That’s one of the reasons that, for me, sleeping me means sleeping until 530am.
  • Good News for Steve Stepanek. Dr. Steve Stepanek is one of the folks I work with regularly at CSUN, as he is head of the Computer Science Liaison Council. The Daily Sundial is reporting that Steve just got elected to the CSU Board of Trustees. That’s great news — they’ve got a great educator, an engineer, and a computer scientist (as well as a train aficionado) as a member.
  • Eating the Brain. One last science related item: Scientists have discovered an overlooked type of brain cell that may be responsible for learning. What it does is prune connections (essentially, eating them) in the brain, permitting new connections (and thus new learning) to be recorded. This could carry important implications for the battle against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, for psychiatric disorders, and for the nagging loss of memory that comes with aging.

 

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What Is It With Opera Singers and Sex?

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 28, 2013 @ 8:31 pm PDT

Operaworks 2013 - Exposureuserpic=dramamasksI’m not normally an opera person. Live theatre – bring it on. Musicals and light opera – I’m right there. But full on opera? I’ve actually never been to one, unless you count Porgy and Bess (Houston Grand Opera back in 1976). That said, last year we found a form of opera that I really like. It is the culmination of the advance session at a training program at CSUN called Operaworks. It is a special performance that is, essentially, an opera mashup. However, it’s not a mashup in the normal sense, nor is it a “stand up and perform” concert either. Let me explain.

Operaworks is a program for advanced performers. These artists already know how to sing — they have bachelors, masters, and even doctorates in music and many have performed professionally. But although they know how to sing, what they don’t know is how to perform: how to act on stage, how to move in a non-operative fashion, how to interact with other characters on stage, and how to do the things that moves the student from being a “singer” to being a “performer”.  This is what they learn in the advanced program. For their culmination, each student in the program selects an aria from whatever opera they want. They then create characters to go with their arias, figure out how they will interact, construct a somewhat coherent storyline (but no real plot), do slight costuming, and perform it.

The resulting “show” is not a traditional show, nor a traditional opera. You have a summary of the characters and a list of the arias, but there is no real story nor point to make. This doesn’t mean there isn’t conflict — there’s lots of conflict and emotion, and you spend your time watching groups of characters interacting. However, it doesn’t have the traditional progression of a single protagonist to achieve a goal against obstacles. To those that know opera (which I don’t), you go to hear the arias and assess how well they are performed. You won’t find that from me. Rather, I listen to the beautiful music and voices and hear the emotion of the characters, and judge how well that fits with the performance from the characters. Every year is unique, and this is something you truly won’t see somewhere else. Operaworks for this year is done, but I strongly suggest you friend them on Facebook or otherwise get on their mailing list, and go to next year’s show.

Let me describe this year’s show and characters. This will be rough, as I’m doing it from memory and the information they provided in the program.  This year’s show was called “Exposure”, and the through-theme appeared to be characters exposing their emotions and inner wants. What did they want? This year, it appears to be love and sex. Hmmm, last year they wanted love and sex as well. I sense a theme for opera singers here. This year’s production also interspersed poetry from Ackerman, Akhmatova, Baudelaire, Cummings, Ded, Dickenson, Donne, Eliot, Erdrich, Gibran, Griswold, Hughes, Hugo, Millay, O’Hara, Oliver, O’Meally, Rilke, Ryan, Silverstein, Supertramp, and Updike.

The first act (“Asylum/Funeral”) was really two half acts that were not the really closely related. The first act took place in an asylum of some form, in which we meet a number of patients and their doctors. It’s hard to describe the story, so I’ll go through the characters and their arias in the order sung. We first see Kylena (Kylena Parks (FB)), who is being held in the asylum against her will. She’s in a wheelchair, being berated by Dr. Emmanuel (Emmanuel Cruz/FB), the head doctor.  She sings “Willow Song” (The Ballad of Baby Doe, Moore). In parallel to this, Erin A. (Erin Alcorn (FB)), a patient traumatized by an abusive doctor, is expressing sorrow at the plight of fellow patents through the song “Prendi, per me sei libero” (L’Elisir D’Amore, Donizetti). We next meet Roland (Roland Mills (FB)), a psychiatrist at the asylum dealing with sex addiction. He is interacting with Joannah (Joannah Ball (FB)), an exotic dancer trapped in the asylum. She sings “Saper vorrestte” (Un Ball in Maschere, Verdi), while at the same time Rebecca R (Rebecca Richardson (FB)), the head administrator of the asylum, sings “Vilja-Lied” (Die Lustige Witwe, Lehár). At this point, Dr. Emmanuel asserts himself, singing “O Colombina, il tenero fido Arlecchin” (I Pagliacci, Leoncavallo). We next meet Serena (Serena Eduljee (FB)), a former patient who has escaped and returned for revenge. She sings “S’altro che lagrime” (La Clemenza di Tito, Mozart). Lastly, we meet Carami (Carami Hilaire (FB)), who has been forced to seduce clients for money, but wants to meet someone she loves. She sings the last aria in the Asylum half, “Come in quest’ora bruna” (Simon Boccanegra, Verdi). This half ends with all the patients and other doctors killing Dr. Emmanuel.

Some observations on this half. First, as you can see, summarizing the story is difficult. My attention was more focused on just watching the interactions between characters, and the movements and interactions of characters in the background. A few things stand out in my mind. First, all of the performers were exceptional singers (to my untrained ear) and beautiful to watch — both in their facial expressions and their movements. This was true throughout the show. I was also impressed how they worked to stay in character, and appeared to be enjoying acting things out.

The second half of Act One (“Funeral”) took place at Dr. Emmanuel’s funeral, and dealt with all of the weird family interactions and relationship between the survivors (yup, this is opera). It started with his children, Alexandra and Madison, mourning his passing. Elizaveta (Elizaveta Agladze (FB)) enters. Elizveta has one of the better full character descriptions in the show: “Elizaventa is a lame prostitute working for Dr. Emmanuel, while secretly having a love affair with his daughter, Alexandra. Her leg was maimed in an encounter with an especially enthusiastic BDSM client.” [I'm sure this says something about the secret life of opera singers :-) ] She sings “O mio Fernando” (La Favorita, Donizetti), expressing her love for Alexandra. Alexandra (Alexandra Fees/FB) is at the funeral with her husband Philippe (Philippe Pierce (FB)), who is torn between staying with Alexandra and leaving her for her sister, Madison. She sings the aria “Comme autrefois dans la nuit” (Les Pêcheurs de Perles, Bizet) while Phillippe sings “O blonde Cèrés” (Les Troyens, Belioz).  Trying to prevent further problems, Sylvia (Sylvia Baba (FB)), Alexandra’s daughter, is attempting to prevent her aunt Madison from reconnecting with her father. She sings “Tu che di gel sei cinta” (Turandot, Puccini).  Adding to the mess at the funeral is Will (Will Vestal/FB), who has had difficulty with women. He is currently engaged to Madison, but still in love with Natalie (Natalie Dewey/FB) — a rich hieress who turned him down, but now regrets it and is still in love with him.  Will sings “Io già t’amai” (Rodelinda, Händel) to Natalie, and she sings “Mi chiamano Mimì” (La Bohème, Puccini). Aine (Aine Hakamatsuka/FB) uses this to prove to Madison at Will does not love her, singing “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio” (Falstaff, Verdi). At the end, everything does unravel, as Philippe leaves Alexandra for Madison, and Madison (Madison Smith (FB)) sings “Martern aller Arten” (Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Mozart).

The latter half of Act One was much more understandable, given the crazy family dynamics. It was interesting to watch the character interactions, and as always, the voices and faces were just beautiful.

Act Two was titled “Speakeasy Brothel” and had no connection to Act One. I found this act much harder to follow, but much more interesting to watch (likely due to the nature of the characters and their costumes — did I mention that all of the performers were exceedingly beautiful/handsome?). This act basically dealt with brothel owners attempting to control their prostitutes, and dealing with family dynamics. The act started with Beth (Beth Hoselton (FB)), a swinger and performer at the Gatsby Brothel. She is married to Shane, but Shane is in love with Alyssa. Beth opens the act by singing “Chacun le sait” (Le Fille du Régiment, Donizetti). We next meet another performer at the brothel, Danielle (Danielle Lozano (FB)), the seductive bisexual. She sings “Silver Aria” (The Ballad of Baby Doe, Moore). Lastly, we’re introduced to Rainelle (Rainelle Krause (FB)), the “successful narcissistic dominatrix” (although I didn’t see much narcissistic in the performance, and the main dominatrix element was a very tight leather corset — it was amazing how she sang “Ah! non credea mirarti” (La Sonnambula, Bellini) with it on). Into this mix comes Kevin (Kevin Peters (FB)), a pimp without a stable of women. He’s looking for new girls at the Gatsby, but instead finds Erin O. (Erin O’Meally (FB)), a drag queen who only wants acceptance for who she is.  While Kevin sings “È un folle, é un ville affetto” (Alcina, Händel), Erin sings “De qué me sirve” (Los Diamantes de la Corona, Barbieri). Also working at the brothel is Alyssa (Alyssa Marshall (FB)), a bouncer and entertainer, who sings “Deh vieni, non tardar” (Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart), expressing a secret passion for Shane (the husband of Beth, who we met at the opening of the act). Shane (Nicholas “Shane” Tapley/FB) responds by singing “Una furtiva lagrima” (L’Elisir D’Amore, Donizetti). Trying to regain control of her brothel, the madam, Mariya (Mariya Kaganskaya (FB)) sings “Kuma’s Arioso” (The Enchantress, Tchaikovsky).  We then meet some more of the prostitutes at the brothel. First is Amanda (Amanda Workman (FB)), a troubled shy prostitute in love with her cousin’s fiancé, who sings “Einst träumte meiner sel’gen Base” (Der Freischütz, von Weber). There is also Lauren (Lauren Barchi (FB)), who is consumed by drink and abusive relationships. Lauren sings “Piangerò la sorte mia” (Giulio Cesare, Händel). Into this mix is added Barbee (Barbee Monk/FB), a rival brothel owner who wants to steal some prostitutes. She also wants forgiveness from Aaron (Erin Gonzalez), who has come to the brothel to see his sister for advice about a recent breakup. Barbee interacts with Andrea (Andrea Lyons/FB), a prostitute who wants help finding a new job and a new life. While Barbee sings “Quando m’en vo” (La Bohème, Puccini), Andrea sings “O mio babbino caro” (Gianni Schicchi, Puccini). Aaron (Erin G.) then responds to Barbee and his sister, singing “Che farò senza Euridice” (Orfeo ed Euridice, Gluck). Responding to all of this is Rebecca C. (Rebecca Coberly (FB)), who will ruin anyone who will take what is hers. She sings “Donde lieta uscì” (La Bohème, Puccini). Also trying to take away prostitutes is the other bouncer, Philip (Philip Morgan/FB), who sings “Here I stand…” (The Rake’s Progress, Stravinsky). Last in the mix is Laura (Laura Perkett (FB)), a socialite, who wants to apologize to her daughter, and have her come back home. She sings “I go, I go to him” (The Rake’s Progress, Stravinsky).

This act was much more visually interesting, but I found it harder to follow what story there was. Still, the music was so pretty :-).

Turning briefly to the technical… music was provided by Daniel Gledhill and Kelly Horsted in Act One, and Douglas Sumi and Margaret Singer in Act Two. Jennifer Potell was the stage manager. Staging was very simple: a backdrop with a simple supertitle of the basic theme of each aria, and simple lighting. A few props.

OperaWorks is an annual program whose summer program is held at CSUN.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  August starts with Nine at DOMA Theatre Ensemble (FB). That will be followed by “The Apple Tree” at ELATE/Lincoln Stegman]. Otherwise, August is currently completely open due to vacation planning, although we may see a show at the Lawrence Welk Resort in Escondido at the end of the month (depending on price), or at another venue in San Diego. September may bring Sarah Ruhl’s In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play at the Production Company/Secret Rose (FB) and “Blue Man Group” at the Hollywood Bowl. The middle of the month may bring “The Vagina Monologues” at REP East (FB), and the end definitely sees us back at REP East (FB) for “God of Carnage” (September 28). October 5th brings “Breath and Imagination” at the Colony Theatre (FB), as well as the Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) production of “Kiss Me Kate” at the end of the month (October 26). November will start (hopefully) with “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” at Actors Rep of Simi (FB), as well as ARTS’s Nottingham Village (FB) (a one-weekend ren-faire-ish market — tickets are now on sale). November will conclude with “Play It Again Sam” at REP East (FB) at the end of the month (November 23), and “Miracle on S. Division Street” at the Colony Theatre (FB).  The fall should also bring a production of “Carrie – The Musical (FB) by Transfer Theatre, but the specific dates have not been announced. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open as the various theatres start making their 2013/2014 season announcements. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

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University News of Interest

Written By: cahwyguy - Thu May 23, 2013 @ 11:12 am PDT

userpic=calToday’s news chum brings a number of items related to my favorite schools – UC Berkeley and CSUN:

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Alma-Maters

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 17, 2013 @ 5:32 pm PDT

userpic=ucla-csunThis week, UC Berkeley ends its spring semester (and students have to be out of the dorms by 10am the day after finals end). So colleges are on my mind this week. Here are two articles (I really tried to find a third) about our family alma-maters:

  • UCLA. Back when I was at UCLA, one of our favorite underground activities was a hike through the steam tunnels. Usually we would enter through the portal in the basement of Boelter Hall (someone in the Computer Club had a master key), and we would wander through the tunnels, usually up to the underground bridge near Murphy Hall. I bring this up because the Daily Bruin has posted a photographic tour of the tunnels. There weren’t as many pictures as I would like, but it does bring back memories.
  • CSUN/UC Berkeley. I ran across an interesting opinion piece on the website of the Daily Sundial at CSUN. This piece looks at the identity of CSUN, and constrasts it with that of UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara. The conclusion: “CSUN may have a non-existent party scene like UCSB, it may not have diverse student housing cooperatives or the prestige of UC Berkeley. It may have no strong culture to identify with and it might have no definitive identity in the scope of UCs and CSUs other than “that commuter school,” but that’s fine. I wanted an education, and I took what I could get. Being able to drive 30 minutes to school every day from the stability of my mom’s house is exactly what I need. CSUN is the only university that offered me the luxury of not having to turn my world upside down to get a degree. Maybe we lose out on a definitive identity,  but I’m okay with that.”

In closing, I wish all the college graduates out there good luck, and I’d like to reassure those high school graduates that you’ll survive the first year of whatever school you choose.

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News Chum Stew: CSUN, PIs, Words, Brats on Bikes, Wine, and Purim

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Feb 23, 2013 @ 7:00 am PDT

userpic=bicyclingWell, it’s (ummm) Saturday again… time to clear out the miscellaneous accumulated news chum links:

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Teach Your Children Well

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jan 23, 2013 @ 11:33 am PDT

userpic=ucla-csunToday’s lunchtime news chum brings together a collection of articles related to education:

  • The Middle “R”: The Ventura County Star has an interesting article on California’s writing standards: particularly, the standard that requires cursive to be taught. It’s an interesting debate: in this era where “typing”  (or is that “keyboarding”) is a required skill (when I grew up, it was optional), is there a need for two styles of writing: block and cursive? Is block sufficient? In particular, is block sufficient to provide a unique written signature upon which we still depend? As for me, I know my normal writing style is a mix of block and cursive, with a signature that doesn’t match either. But what about you? Do you still use cursive?
  • GPAs above 4.0. When I went to school, back in the dark ages, the best grade you could get was a 4.0; perhaps a 4.2 if you got an A+. Nowadays, AP classes permit even higher grades, and students are going to college with a whole portfolio of AP classes. Universities are fighting back. Here’s an example: Darthmouth has announced they will no longer accept AP credit. The concern is that AP courses do not resemble actual college courses in any way–for one thing, they are “teach to the standard test”.
  • Community Colleges. Community colleges are in trouble; in fact, the community college in San Francisco is on accreditation-watch and may close. So Gov. Brown is trying to rescue the institution (which is vitally important to the middle-and-lower tier HS students — it is a way to get the education HS didn’t provide and get the associates degree — a vital stepping stone to CSU or UC). Brown’s goal is to keep community colleges affordable, keep classes accessible and move students faster through the system to allow them to graduate or transfer to a four-year university at higher rates. His plan is to limit the number of credits students can accumulate, with a cap on state-subsidized classes at 90 units. Students who exceed that to pay the full cost of instruction, about $190 per semester unit versus $46 per unit. He would also change the funding formula to reflect students who complete the class, not students enrolled at the 3rd-week.
  • Online Courses. The Internet (founded, I should note, at my alma-mater UCLA) has revolutionized education. Earlier this week my daughter posted about the distance between two courses, noting that the second course (which was a 700 person Astronomy lecture) had a webcast that the professor was encouraging students to watch instead of attending†. The impact of the Internet is also seen in funding — based on direction from Gov. Brown, the UC Regents are exploring expanding online courses, although they are not sure whether they will make or save any money.  I think online courses can work if done right — in particular, they need the equivalent of face-to-face small sections to encourage student discussion and critical thinking on the topic. These sections could also be online, but if the online course is lecture only, it won’t be successful.
    [†: PS to my daughter if you are reading this: I encourage you to go the lectures anyway. Not only are you likely to meet interesting people outside of your discipline (History ≠ Astronomy), but you are likely to be able to see the board better, and being at the lecture will eliminate distractions.]
  • Paying for College. There were all sorts of things hidden in the fiscal cliff legislation — that probably doesn’t surprise you. Providing goodies to congresscritters (or there constituencies) is a way to get a bill through. I’ve previously mentioned the commuter benefit. Here’s another. The bill extended the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This credit “allows students and their parents to claim up to $2,500 a year for college expenses, (which) benefits 9 million families a year.” It also extended a few more tax deductions and credits until the end of 2013 and gave permanent status for employer-provided education expenses, the Student Loan Interest Deduction and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. I know that these will affect us — both the credit and the interest deduction (we are paying the interest on our daughter’s loans until she graduates). Alas, there may be some cuts to Federal Work Study programs.

Music: I Can Get It For You Wholesale (Original Broadway Cast): “The Sound of Money”

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