Archive for April, 2007

Honest Audience - Dishonest System

Monday, April 30th, 2007

Daisey Attack
This week the performance community rallied around a hurt friend, and the film community mourned the passing of one of their most influential members. Far be it from me to rain on anyone’s parade of outrage and honors. Yet, there is a strange connection between what happened at Mike Daisey’s performance and the death of Jack Valenti. In one instance, an audience is taken to task for being honest, and in the other a vast commercial enterprise is given a free ride for being dishonest.

As covered in our fest news throughout the week, Mike Daisey’s performance at ART (American Repertory Theatre) was interrupted by a mass exit of an audience group; one of them stopped by the stage to pour water on Mike’s script.

A caveat: I am a big fan of Mike Daisey and ART. He is one of the funniest and most insightful writer-performers, today. If you haven’t seen him perform, do. If you want a taste of his work and approach, check out the podcast interview on our site. Moreover, ART is one of the truly great theatres. Throughout its history, they have presented some of the most significant and remarkable productions not only in America, but often in the world. If you are ever near Cambridge, MA, you must go to this theatre.

At his performance a high school group become increasingly uncomfortable by the language used in the performance (or was it the image of Mike having sex with Paris Hilton?). Although the theatre maintains that it informed the group’s leader of the nature and tone of the performance, they decided to leave en masse during the performance because of their surprise at what was taking place. They identified themselves as a Christian youth group on a school trip to the theatre (even though they came from a public high school — oops on that separation of Church and State). As they were leaving, one of the adults with the group came on stage and poured Mike’s glass of water onto his script. (Want to see it? Check this out.)

The water pour (a “script baptism” to cleanse the sins?) in a moment: first, what is with the wounded cry of the arts community against these I-believe-simple-minded-never-saying-let-alone-hearing-the-word-”fuck”-Christians who marched out of the theatre? They paid their money. They did not ask for it back. All they did was to get up and leave. Clearly, they decided there were better ways to spend their time — having already spent their money. As they were leaving, Daisey stood up and asked that they explain themselves. He was in the light on the stage; they were in the aisles and lobby.

Don’t you think that they were under no obligation to explain themselves? Don’t they have a perfectly legitimate right to get up and leave if they think the performance is not for them? Why ridicule them or make fun of them because they didn’t — in that moment — provide an explanation? Can’t an audience express its own point of view — by leaving — without being ostracized for their choice, i.e. statement? Don’t we want to give the same rights to an artist? Simply put, this audience group provided an honest reaction to what was taking place.

As for the baptism of the script: Is it really worth the ensuing outrage? Although silly, it is a rather tame response, especially in light of the format of the evening. Daisey claims that this action ruined his copy of the script. (Only one copy? Monks in the Middle Ages I get; today?) This same week off-off-Broadway has the return of the legendary Living Theatre who have resurrected, literally and metaphorically, a production of The Brig — an incredibly powerful experience of the inhuman nature and ethos of the military. In the good old days, audiences would rip off their clothes and join Le Living onstage; or the cops would storm the stage and arrest them. How far have we come when pouring a small glass water becomes the defining act of today’s audience rebellion?

The flip side of honesty is bowing down to the accomplishments of lobbyist Jack Valenti. Valenti had been the leader of the Motion Picture Association of America. Thirty eight years ago, Valenti established the Classification and Rating Administration. The original goal, in 1968, was to create a system that would prevent local communities from developing their own approach to showing “appropriate” films. (Remember, the times were a-changing in the sixties — after all, that’s when the Le Living was having so much fun onstage.) In reality, the ratings system created a control of the few for the kinds of movies we see. Without a doubt this sytem favors the big studios. If a movie doesn’t have the clout and insider connections it suffers; if a movie gets an “X” rating, newspapers won’t take its advertisements, and the theatres - the distribution market of the studios - won’t take the films.

Take a look at This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Kirby Dick’s 2006 documentary about this secretive and, at times, thoroughly silly anonymous board of supposedly good-taste judges. In the end, the ratings system gives easy ratings to films with incredible amounts of blood and gore, and cracks down on films with any mutual — i.e. normal — sex.

What Jack Valenti has taught my children:

  • Making violence is good for you; Making love is not.
  • Blood is ok for you; Semen is not.
  • Seeing bodies blown apart is good for you; Seeing bodies naked is not.
  • It’s good to see bullets, weapons, and power tools go into a body; It’s bad to see a man entering a woman (let alone power tools).
  • Seeing a woman being carved up is good for you; Seeing a woman in ecstasy is not.
  • A woman’s breasts are good for you to see as often as possible; A woman’s vagina must never be seen.
  • It is good to see a fully clothed man make love to a naked woman; It is bad to see a man naked under any circumstance.
  • It is good to see Halloween Part 27 and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 335 and Grindhouse I; Whatever you do keep away from Bertolucci and Passolini and Godard.

Not exactly news that Hollywood creates a way to enforce big bucks investment over outsider art. The legacy of Valenti’s system, though, is more pernicious and dishonest. It is not about the stated goal of helping the community make informed choices. He did a good job for what he was meant to do: maximize profit for the big studios. End of story; end of accomplishment.

Was art produced along the way? Sure. Good intentions don’t make good art, just as bad intentions don’t necessarily make a profit.

Still, Valenti’s system was a dishonest sell to help us decide what to see. His system helped favor, and therefore define, American films as more often than not crude, violent, loud, crass, and inhuman.

Do you know the old joke: How can you tell when someone in Hollywood is lying? Their lips move.

At least, Daisey’s audience was honest.

- Bill Reichblum

Interview: Ian Koebner

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Photo: Ian KoebnerBorn in the Bronx, and currently living in Western Massachusetts, Ian Koebner is a poet, zen practitioner and strong supporter of simplicity. He is the Founding Director of Sacred Slam, a not-for-profit organization committed to challenging misconceptions through the arts. Since 2002, Sacred Slam has been organizing events and trainings to peacefully resolve conflict, and promote respect for diversity through the arts and education. Currently, Ian is working with interfaith youth in South Africa, Northern Ireland, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and the United States to create works of art based on their personal experiences with ‘war’ and ‘peace.’
Ian talks with us about the origins of Sacred Slam, past and current projects, and how to become involved in their work.

 Interview: Ian Koebner [9:21m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Read Before You Hit

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Email Photo
Photo by Dr. Antonio Comia — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

There are two things that we all like to do, do with some frequency, and (especially these days) can see them done whenever we want. Yet, no one has ever told us (at least in print) the right way to do them: sex and email.

Now, at least for email, there is a really good guide.

David Shipley and Will Schwalbe have written SEND: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home. Shipley, who is the deputy editorial page editor and Op-Ed page editor of The New York Times, and Schwalbe, who is senior vice president and editor in chief of Hyperion Books, have created an easy, informative, and clear manifesto for email’s best practices.

Are you wondering if you need to have this book as a handy reference? Simple start: how well do you know the proper uses of: Subject line, To, CC, Reply All, Bcc, EOM, flags, fonts, sign-offs, signings, exclamation points, abbreviations, and when to mimic a lawyer by adding disclaimers? Or, perhaps more importantly, you want that really, really helpful and good to know topic: how to avoid the email that can land you in jail. (Remember the great email sent by an A.H. Robbins’ employee to a colleague about the side effects of the company’s fen-phen diet medication: “Do I have to look forward to spending my waning years writing checks to fat people worried about a silly lung problem?” Most helpful in that civil suit.)

There are sections on writing the perfect email, how to apologize via email, reasons to love email, when not to email, the eight deadly sins of email (seven plus one for technology), and the big moments in email history (from Queen Elizabeth as first head of state to send an electronic message, to John Paul II as first pope to send an email apology, to Britney’s husband-dumping via a BlackBerry message.)

By the way, do you want to know the way to say “@” across 33 languages?

I made a small contribution to the book: in addition to being a close friend of Will’s, my pet peeve is the need to avoid the subject line that never ends — Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: When replying pay attention to the subject line.

This is a book that will make sure your work goes better, and that you get a good night’s sleep. If you read it, and make sure your email circle does the same, no longer will you lose sleep thinking:

    1. Did I really send that?
    2. Did she really mean to respond in that way?
    3. Is that person really such a jerk?
    4. Did I just destroy my ______________? (Insert: art, work, friendship, love, life).

Go ahead, now you can hit Send.

- Bill Reichblum

O Canada: A New Low in Crass Commerce

Monday, April 16th, 2007

CSI - Manitoba Museum
Photo by Sam Posnick — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Of course it is more fun, and enlightening, to celebrate accomplishments in the field. However, every now and again, why not a smile from hearing about a new low — otherwise known as, “how could they possibly do that?”

This week’s smug story comes from Canada, courtesy of the company Alliance Atlantis Communications. The company manages 13 Canadian channels, including the History Television channel. Alliance is also the international distributor of the US television series, CSI. The issue is not dear Brutus in the stars, but in themselves.

Alliance has been running the CSI:NY series on their own History Channel. This troubled the executive director of the Writers Guild of Canada, Maureen Parker, who questioned how the government could allow Alliance to apparently violate the channel’s license for the specific category of historical content.

How is the company to justify its programming decision? Obviously, it is not about ratings, popularity, or revenue. No, it’s about education, commentary, and service to the nation. According to the company, CSI “offers viewers a critically acclaimed look at forensic policing in post-9/11 New York City.” Oh.

Wait, it gets worse.

The company also stated that CSI:NY qualifies as a series appropriate for the History Channel because it is “set in a city that became synonymous with one of history’s most significant and notorious events, 9/11.”

I just knew the show had to be a tool for improving the understanding or our world, and building a better one at the same time.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission does not agree. In a remarkable step toward clarity - in and of itself a novelty for a government commission - the Commission replied: “The mere fact that the drama is set in a city which was victim to a significant historical event is not sufficient justification for broadcasting the program on a service that is mandated to be devoted to history programs.”

All is not lost, all is not negative. Think of the opportunities. The next time you have a grant to write in which you must most humbly justify the meaning and significance of your work, wouldn’t you like to have Alliance write the grant for you?

- Bill Reichblum

Interview: Hernán Román (English Translation)

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

Photo: Hernan RomanHernán Román is the General Director of the Ushuaia International Festival, and a founding member of Festspiele SRL, producer of this classical music encounter — the southernmost festival in the world, which has been taking place in the city of Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego since 2005. For its 2007 edition the festival will be part of the program of the International Polar Year, as well as of the End of the World art Biennial.

Hernán talked with KadmusArts about the importance of creating a strong brand and image for the festival, and highlighted the participation of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, which is launching the festival on April 11 at the Coliseo Theater in Buenos Aires.

 Interview: Hernán Román (English Translation) [15:09m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Interview: Hernán Román (in Spanish)

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

Photo: Hernan RomanHernán Román es el Director General del Festival Internacional de Ushuaia y fundador de Festspiele SRL, empresa productora de este encuentro de música clásica — el festival más austral del mundo, que se lleva a cabo desde el año 2005 en la ciudad de Ushuaia, Provincia de Tierra del Fuego. Para esta edición 2007 el festival formará parte del programa del Año Polar Internacional, junto con la Bienal del Fin del Mundo.

Hernán nos cuenta sobre la importancia de crear una buena marca e imagen para posicionar el festival, y sobre el programa de esta tercera edición, cuya orquesta base será la Sinfónica de Berlín, que el 11 de abril inaugurará el festival con un concierto en el Teatro Coliseo de Buenos Aires.

 Interview: Hernán Román (in Spanish) [18:18m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Passionate Performance/Performing Passion

Monday, April 9th, 2007

Photo by Brian Tobin — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Culture — religious, national, or artistic — is built from shared stories, mythologies, beliefs, and rituals. The culture is transmitted through the re-telling, or performance, of these ideas and actions.

A village in the Philippines is becoming an international destination for its rather special way of retelling The Passion. Reuters has the video story from the village where, in honor of Good Friday, several villagers volunteer to be crucified.

The event grows each year from its rather unique environment that combines determined religious faith, performance-art festival, and a tourist attraction.

The event has more to it than the intellectual’s study (the book, the program), the audience’s favorite (the show), or the practitioner’s devotion (the service).

Such a combination of the real and surreal, conviction and showmanship, is no stranger to religious services nor to festivals.

This is certainly more fascinating and more enlightening than Madonna’s recent take, or rather, fake. Don’t you think?

- Bill Reichblum

Interview: Stephanie Forryan

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

Photo: Stephanie ForryanStephanie Forryan’s career as a singer-songwriter has taken her from the folk stages of Northampton, Massachusetts to her current home in Berlin. Last year, she won first place in the first Troubadour Acoustic Song Contest. Since then, Stephanie has dedicated most of her time to working on her second album and exploring new directions for her musical compositions.

In this interview for KadmusArts, Stephanie talks about why and how she decided to become a musician. She also shares the stories of her initial breakthrough on the Berlin stage, and her visit to the Dream Festival in Rochester, Massachusetts.

 Interview: Stephanie Forryan [17:08m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Community Culture

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Photo by Mahmood Al-Yousif — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

As we read your posts from around the world about the latest in festival work, artists, and audiences, we are often struck by the clear integration of culture and community. The more you go through KadmusArts, the more one can “hear” the sounds of communities coming to share stories, music, and dance together.

This kind of coming together is surely one of our most ancient and universal rituals. All societies and cultures have created a focal point for some kind of performance: to retell or create anew a group’s culture.

This week in Fest News we highlighted a culture-building initiative taking place online. Elham, a grass roots organization in Bahrain, provides a platform for talent and a forum for energizing creativity. (Bahrain is making its way on to our site, with the Bahrain International Music Festival as its first post.) Recently, Elham hosted an evening devoted to the role bloggers have in developing culture.

The story is playing out in Bahrain, on individual blogs, and via Global Voices. Global Voices’ mission

seeks to amplify, curate and aggregate the global conversation online - with a focus on countries and communities outside the U.S. and Western Europe. We are committed to developing tools, institutions and relationships that will help all voices everywhere to be heard.

In other words, this is a really cool site that you should make a point of checking out on a regular basis — and jump into.

Some of the really interesting approaches to the issue in Bahrain come from the introduction by Hisham Khalifa about the power of the individual and community to create culture outside of, if not in spite of, those in power.

The blogger Nido joins the conversation from a different angle. In looking through the identifiers on Facebook, Nido notes the ever-present self-tag as a moderate.

To Nido’s point, there hasn’t been a lot of revelatory, let alone long-lasting, art that has been created by moderates. Remove the absolute passion, inspired point-of-view, and determination to tell an urgent story and what do you have — certainly, not art.

As culture is the unfolding story of creation, so is the use of the online world to connect and build communities for “hearing” these stories.

Take a moment to absorb this: no matter where you are reading this, you are now part of the community, and the developing story, in Bahrain.

What’s your role?

- Bill Reichblum