Archive for October, 2007

Festival Social Network

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Social Network

Photo by Nic Price — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Starting with Ancient Greece, festivals are the ultimate social network.

The Greek theatre and dance creators came from the community; the community gathered over multiple days; the experience united not only a diverse population, but everyone with the gods.

So, perhaps, it is no surprise that a religious organization, Emergent Village, is taking festival social networking to a new level: help design and create the festival.

Posted this week in Festival News, the organization is seeking input via their blog. Using an online survey, and blog feedback, they solicit input on what kind of works to feature, what kind of festival focus to create (green, creativity, authentic, fun?), where and when to hold the festival gathering, and how to keep you involved.

At a recent conference at Carnegie Mellon University on Technology and the Arts, one presenter was unfortunately dubious about the use of social networking for live performances.

In addition to the macro vacuums of MySpace and Facebook, so many live performances today are using everything from for audience preparation to text messaging at the event to forum postings after the show to create a community of artists and audiences.

The village people are using the social networking possibilities to not only generate a community, but to generate a festival as well.

Definitely the cool award of the week.

- Bill Reichblum

Painting Shakespeare

Monday, October 22nd, 2007


Image by Robert Conley — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Is this the face that launch’d a thousand PhDs,
And stormed the empty theatres of Brook?
Sweet Shakespeare, made so immortal with a test.*

Do we now know, for sure, what Shakespeare looked like?

According to a recent test by Joseph Brabe, a forensic analyst with McCrone Associates (the “world leader in microscopy, microanalysis, materials characterization, and the solving of tough materials problems”), a controversial painting appears in fact to be the only image of Shakespeare created during his lifetime.

Believing the science might be easier than believing the story.

In the late 1500’s, John Sanders joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men as an actor. John also had a talent for painting. In 1603, he got his thirty-nine year-old boss, William Shakespeare, to sit for a portrait. Some time in the next fifty years, someone (Sanders? Sanders’ family member?) added the following inscription to the back of the painting:

Born April 23=1564
Died April 23-1616
Aged 52
This Likeness taken 1603
Age at that time 39 ys

The painting is handed down generation after generation, and travels with a descendant family member as they made their way to Canada. Over the years it sits under grandma’s bed, moves to a closet, hangs on a wall. Occasionally, experts are invited to take a look and offer an opinion.

Today’s descendant, Lloyd Sullivan becomes the most recent family member to put the painting to the test, going high tech — spending years and money to find out if John Sanders’ legacy is worth more than a thousand words.

The word choice seems unlike other Elizabethan inscriptions. The birth date was not well known until sometime later. The image is not close to the Martin Droeshout engraving (1523), nor the bust created by Geraert Janssen which sits at Shakespeare’s grave in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. And, doesn’t the thirty-nine year old Shakespeare look too young here?**

Still, according to our CSI-obsessed culture, the ink used for the inscription is true to Shakespeare’s time.

Stephanie Nolan has been on the trail for some time, long before the most recent tests. Her book asks a good question, “Is this the Face of a Genius?”

Check out all the portraits of Shakespeare. Is there another addition to Brit’s National Portrait Gallery, Searching for Shakespeare?

No doubt the story continues — was there really a Shakespeare who single handedly wrote all these plays, let alone took time to sit for a portrait by one of his bit players?

If so, it’s time to face Shakespeare.

- Bill Reichblum

*   Apologies to Christopher Marlowe.
** The Canadian Conservation Institute holds all rights to the published image of the Shakespeare portrait; apparently, they are not fans of Creative Commons.

Interview: Matt Mitler

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Dzieci Holy FoolsMatt Mitler is the company director for the experimental theatre ensemble Dzieci. With a background in theatre and psychology and group therapy, Mitler sees Dzieci as a synthesis of decades of work and study in the sacred and transformative nature of theatre.

In this podcast Matt talks about the importance of service — partnering with a host of organizations and institutions such as United Cerebral Palsy and the Cabrini Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, and the sometimes circuitous way that people become a part of the Dzieci ensemble.

 Interview: Matt Mitler [13:12m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

HAIR - Long Beautiful - HAIR

Monday, October 15th, 2007


Photo by Elliot Margolies — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Whenever you get cynical, or a bit depressed, and question whether something that takes place on a stage can have an impact on audience for years to come: stop, and let the sunshine in.

This week marks the fortieth anniversary of HAIR: An American Tribal Love-Rock Musical.

Two young experimental theatre artists, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, wrote the play. Through a mutual friend, they were introduced to Galt MacDermot to make their vision complete. MacDermot wrote the music in about three weeks.

They couldn’t get a producer to bite, until they convinced a young ambitious producer, Joseph Papp, to take a chance on a new kind of musical, a new kind of politics, and a new kind of onstage celebration.

Public previews began on October 18, 1967 after a less than smooth rehearsal process. When it opened on October 29th at the Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival it wasn’t just the nudity that caught everyone’s attention — it was the passion, fun and truth.

Honesty in harmony.

When HAIR transferred to Broadway two years later, it was playing along side the musicals “Promises, Promises” (about a a man who finds love in commitment), George M! (about American show biz icon George M. Cohen and his patriotic songs), and 1776 (about the founding of America). Does that give you a sense of how different HAIR was? (HAIR was nominated for Broadway’s Tony Award for Best Musical. 1776 won.)

In the audience at the very first performance was a young Czech director, Milos Forman, who would years later, create a new version of HAIR that is as remarkable a film as the production is on stage.

So, let’s take a moment to mark a great anniversary and the “age of aquarius.”

Go get a tribe together, make a protest clear, break a few (theatrical) rules, tell our story, have fun — and definitely sing.

Honesty in harmony.

- Bill Reichblum

Interview: Susan Rankus

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Photo: Susan RankusSusan Rankus is the Artistic Director for International shows at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. Susan is also an actor, and was awarded the 2001/2002 Dorothy Haas Acting Apprenticeship at the Walnut Street Theatre. She produced and performed Renaissance at the 2007 Midtown festival, and will be producing and starring in a film titled Previous Tenants.

In this podcast Susan talks about the process of attracting and facilitating non-U.S. companies’ participation in the festival, and why keeping things simple is a good strategy.

 Interview: Susan Rankus [8:40m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Do You Like Puzzles? Play the Art of Stasi Game

Monday, October 8th, 2007


Photo by Adam Lederer — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Who would have thought that the Stasi could create so much fun?

In one of the more artful uses of technology, an ingenious computer program is putting together what Stasi tore apart.

As the German Democratic Republic was collapsing in 1989, staff at the East Germany’s State Security Service (Stasi) was busy destroying the Normannenstrasse headquarter’s most precious jewels — documents. They began to shred the papers, but then the shredders broke down from overuse. Next they tried drowning the papers, but the plumbing became overwhelmed. Finally, they did what any of us would do: they began to tear up each paper by hand.

Now, approximately 600 million scraps of paper, some only a few millimeters long, represent 45 million A4 pages. The shreds were recovered from the building in the 16,250 bags the Stasi staff had crammed full.

According to Bertram Nickolay, Head of the Department of Security and Testing Technologies at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology in Berlin, if one were to organize matching up the shreds by hand it would take thirty people anywhere from 600 to 800 years to piece together each and every document.

His company has designed the pattern-matching technology to scan, sort, and complete each puzzle. Using sixteen computers, the process takes each bag as a group and then identifies each scrap based on the size, shape, and color of the paper, the type of ink, the texture of the writing, typed or handwritten, and if handwritten the style of the writer. Pages can range from eight to thirty pieces. Nickolay’s team has also made sure that the computer program is learning from experience as the pieces are not always a perfect fit from the tearing by hand. Already, two years into the task 400 bags are in the bag, as it were.

You can petition the BStU (Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic) to find out if there is a document on you. They documented not only their own citizens, but many travelers - fellow or not.

Should we send a thank you note to the former Stasi staff for helping to move our technology forward?

Think about how this process could be used to reassemble other artifacts of the world’s cultures.

Another take away: in a world where it appears rather easy to intercept/reveal electronic communications, maybe the handwritten piece of paper is the most private method of communicating.

All you need is pen and paper. (Burn bag not included.)

- Bill Reichblum

ProCons Rescue Us from Culture

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Photo by Michael Hanscom — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

A Fest News story of the week covered a debate held at Yale University to examine the pros and cons of government support for the arts.

One has to believe that the cons are making more money from the lecture circuit on this issue than the pros are for making art.

As reported by the students’ Yale Daily News, the Yale Political Union sponsored the debate on the ties between government (i.e. tax payer dollars) and the arts (i.e. the cool people?). The advocate for leading the government as far away as possible from a role in cultural development, promotion, and integration into society was David Boaz of the Cato Institute.

The Cato Institute is its own kind of cultural phenomenon: a not-for-profit Washington, D.C. organization devoted to the “traditional principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets and peace.” Cato has approximately ninety-five full-time employees, seventy associated scholars, twenty fellows, in addition to the white-shirt-red-tie interns. Of course, Cato does not accept government funding. The institute relies on contributions from foundations and individuals. So if you give your money to the Cato Institute the government will give you a deduction from your federal taxes for benefitting the Institute. As Joseph Heller would say, Go figure.

I wonder if the Yale supporters of Boaz’s position feel the same about the government providing financial resources to their university for research and for fellow students to be able to go to Yale through loans. Do they have a twinge of jealousy for those governments that provide their citizens with complete access to higher education? Apparently not.

Boaz’s point of view is that the U.S. separates religion from government and that religion is equivalent to, if not the same as, culture. Really?

Isn’t there a difference between a private choice of spirituality and a national identity?

After all, this was the same week in which the U.S. Congress held hearings, From Imus to Industry at public expense on rap lyrics. Yes, the United States government is addressing the real problems for the nation, and its international relations. This is a perfect election year issue for conservatives and conservative wanna-bees-to-get-elected, call them professional conservatives, or “procons.”

The Boazs of the world can’t have it both ways: if you want the marketplace to be the sole determinant of the national identity then you can’t complain when the marketplace works — that is, the marketplace’s dominant culture is the kind that makes the most money.

How noble: the arts, education, and health care should be about individual revenue and not national investment.

At this very same time, M. Sarkozy is thinking of giving free access to the nation’s museums.

Memo to the ProCons: Maybe there is value to government.

- Bill Reichblum