Archive for July, 2008

Radical Opera

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Metropolitan Opera

Photo by Nicole Marti — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Here’s some great news: someone has a vision for the future of opera. Here’s better news: two people have a vision for the future of opera. Here’s the best news: two distinct visions of opera’s future are about to compete against each other in the same city.

Welcome to Round I of the traditionally conservative Metropolitan Opera against the traditionally common New York City Opera — except, thankfully, their traditional roles are no longer relevant.

“When I took over, the Met was on a declining slope toward extermination.” So said Peter Gelb, defining both the obstacle and the clear goal of his new position to lead the Met. Determined to attract new audiences, especially young audiences, to America’s most prestigious opera house, Gelb opened up dress rehearsals for an easy stroll into the theatre, broadcast opening nights outside in Lincoln Center Plaza and Times Square, and hired movie and theatre directors to re-imagine the Met’s standards.

The Met’s biggest drive for new audiences was to present the work “Live in HD!” in movie theatres. As reported in the Economist, 920,000 people in 23 countries have now watched eight Met live broadcasts to their local movie theatres. The average ticket cost has been $22, which has helped to almost pay for the $1.1 million cost of each opera’s broadcast. A team of 60 production crew work the backstage and onstage shots of 15 cameras: Opera like you have never seen it.

The approach is working, at least according to the stats compiled by Shugoll Research: 92% of the HD audiences reported that they were now more likely to go to the Met or another opera house; one in five had not been to a live opera in the past two years; and, 5% had never been to an opera.

Of course, success breeds copying. San Franciso Opera and the Royal Opera House (London) will both start their own HD broadcasting to movie theatres next season, and surely more will follow. What will this do to the Met’s market?

The incoming leader of New York City Opera, Gérard Mortier, believes he knows. Mortier knows a lot.

The former head of the Salzburger Festspiele and the Opéra National de Paris, Mortier is one of the most radical, insightful, and exuberant opera maestros. Before Gelb’s Met transformation, Mortier had done the most to bring in new audiences, and young audiences, to opera with controversial and never-tame productions.

Mortier has been tagged by the New York Times for saying that “art is anything but entertainment, and unrelated to box-office receipts,” a position that might work well in Paris where the government provides 66% of his budget, but appears off base at NYC Opera, where he will be lucky if government resources top 3%.

However, Mortier confronts the Met on precisely the economy of scale. In his keynote at the recent Opera America conference, Mortier stakes out his opposition to the Met’s marketing success.

For Mortier, the cost of reaching new audiences this way is too great, and sends them to the wrong place - the movie house. He is trying to get audiences away from the movie theatres and into the opera theatres. Nothing can, or should, replace the live experience. Straight to the point is the New York City Opera’s new commission of a new opera based on Brokeback Mountain from Charles Wuorinen — how much clearer can you get?

Gelb’s Met, “a vibrant home for the world’s most creative and talented artists working in opera, including singers, conductors, composers” v. Mortier’s future NYC Opera, where “If talking is expression of the mind, singing is expression of the soul.”

One way or other, coming to you live: Two opera houses, both alike in dignity in fair New York City, where we lay our scene…

Where will you be going?

- Bill Reichblum

Arts Presenters: Alan Brown

Monday, July 28th, 2008

Alan BrownAlan Brown is a principal at the consulting firm of WolfBrown. His focus is on cultural participation, the value system surrounding arts experiences, and how to assess and measure engagement.

In this interview he talks with us about how he came to his profession, his recent work with Jennifer Novak on assessing the impact of art, and the common trends that unite cultural institutions around the world.

This interview is part of an ongoing series with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

 Arts Presenters: Alan Brown [11:31m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Lights Out, Theatre

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Theater - Bored

Photo by Piper Falk — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

“Come on … why are we sitting in the dark?”

Alan Ayckbourn, master theatre maker, challenges his colleagues and theatre audiences everywhere to know the answer to that question. If you stumble for an answer, then the actors and director are stumbling, too.

As posted this week in KArts’ Culture News, Ayckbourn is as quick to write a play as he is to note that there is a lot of bad theatre out in the world. Having written twice as many plays as Shakespeare, and counting, Ayckbourn has a simple formula: “If you are going to ask people to be stuck in the dark you’ve got to surprise them.”

Of course, creating a genuine night of theatre is not, nor has it ever been, easy. Still, a theatre asks for a commitment of time and money and needs to be aware that this request becomes a demand once the lights go out.

A recent trip to the theatre encountered a production so pretentious and ponderous that even the director was seen dozing off — in the middle of the first act. If he was so bored, imagine what his audience felt — specially after paying a significant sum of money.

This is another of the keys to Ayckbourn’s very own theatre: keep ticket prices low.

At the sleeping director’s theatre, the actors were flailing (literally and metaphorically) at one of the theatre’s classics, with little apparent understanding of their roles or the driving engine of the play. However, what really stuck in the craw was all the money spent on the set design, a representation of a home in the countryside. The theatre appeared to use unreasonably expensive materials for the most elegant, richly apportioned house possible to insist we take their work seriously. Too bad, then, that the written play is about three characters who are desperate to get out of a run-down, isolated, and confining home. Ooops. Only surprise was that someone in the audience didn’t yell out, “why in god’s name do you want to leave!”

This led to another violation of Ayckbourn’s rules, or at least learned lessons: create an event for the present, not for posterity.

The sleeping director’s theatre will look great when the production photos are taken and then hung in the theatre’s hallway, printed in a theatre magazine, and shown in his portfolio. Unfortunately, for his audience, theatre takes place in the present, not the past.

Theatre is like fruit: when it goes bad, it is really rotten; but, when it is fresh and ripe, it can be the most nutritious and wondrous experience.

This is what compels us to sit in the dark.

- Bill Reichblum

Arts Presenters: Marianne Weems

Monday, July 21st, 2008

Marianne WeemsMarianne Weems is artistic director and co-founder of the performance and media ensemble The Builders Association. She is also on the board of Art Matters, a private arts foundation, and co-edited the book Art Matters: How the Culture Wars Changed America.

In this podcast we talk with her about the subject matter of much of her work: technology, surveillance and globalization.

This interview is part of an ongoing series with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

 Marianne Weems Interview [10:39m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Silly Dance, World Peace

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Matt Harding

Photo by James Everett — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

A jester’s dance makes a gesture for world peace.

Matt Harding creates a silly dance step, travels around the world, and invites others to join him in front of a camera. It is so simple, so direct, and so much fun, one can’t help but smile at the result: Watch the Video.

Courtesy of Stride Gum, Matt was able to spend his time traveling (surely one of the best gigs one could have) and make the video over the course of a year.

Posted a month ago, Matt’s video has been seen over six million times — that’s six million moments of enjoyment passed around the world, and counting. Set to great music by Garry Schyman, as Matt moves from one place to another one can’t help but feel better about our world. Everyone in the video is moving, smiling, and laughing.

People across cultures and across continents share in one of our most admirable traits: the willingness to act foolishly.

It is hard to think about war, when you are dancing like a fool. It’s also hard to take life so seriously, when you are having so much fun.

A new goal: each day, take a few moments to create a fool’s dance. This might not solve all our time’s horrors and injustices, but at least it’s fun, and a start.

Change the world, one silly dance at a time.

- Bill Reichblum

Arts Presenters: Mario Garcia Durham

Monday, July 14th, 2008

Mario Garcia DurhamMario Garcia Durham is the Director of Presenting and Multidisciplinary Programs at the National Endowment for the Arts. Prior to coming to the NEA, he was the founder and executive director of Yerba Buena Arts & Events in San Francisco, California, and Performing Arts Curator for the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

In this podcast he talks with us about his transition from a presenter based in San Francisco to a representative for a federal agency, the differences between the NEA and European ministries of culture, and the democratic process at work.

This interview is part of an ongoing series with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

 Arts Presenters: Mario Garcia Durham [12:42m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Sex Pistols, Killer Guns

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Photos by Sheldon Wood and Richard Lemarchand — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

A family values test: For the development and enlightenment of youth, is it better to be a fan of the Sex Pistols or the U.S. Army?

The connection between these two choices was engaged in stories posted this week on Culture News: an interview with John Lydon and a decision made by a festival.

Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) was one of the founders of the Sex Pistols, the group that helped to create punk music — an honest, raucous, and immediate style of music and performance in the 70s. In only three years, four singles, and one studio album, the Sex Pistols (a.k.a. the “devil’s spawn”) turned the sixties’ rebellion inside out, and still inspires new generations music, fashion, and in the best sense of the words - youthful culture.

In the interview, Lydon stresses that the punk music movement was in fact all about family values: “Family values, unity, spirit, community. All these things they try and steal away from us. That’s punk.”

For Lydon, coming out of a time when hippies took over the music industry and became part of a Los Angeles culture of big money, houses, and stadium tours, punk music was the opposite. Meant to be played in clubs and pubs, the music was direct, wild, and heart-felt, “The songs are as saucy and bawdy as everyone in Britain should always be. They’re full of irony, fun and amusement.”

Lydon has never been shy — about his music, his life, or our world. Watch the transformation from an old interview with Tom Snyder about Public Image Limited, to an interview last year in New York. There’s as much wisdom, as there is fun.

Then there is the culture of the U.S. Army. A “family friendly” summer festival in Wisconsin finally removed the U.S. Army’s “virtual urban warfare game” from its offerings after over 500 had played, and others complained. In the game exhibit, which is part of the army’s fun recruitment tent, kids could step in a Humvee, fire machine guns at (virtual) life-sized people, and get the thrill of the kill. Kids are also given a DVD of the game to take home — get the thrill of the kill sitting on your own windowsill. (You can still catch the U.S. Army’s game on tour throughout America.)

Family values test: punk music v. the U.S. Army.

Compare forum posts in response to the festival decision…

“Bring it to Texas. Shoot, we will pay good money to try that out”
“Sensitive ninnies over there are, well, sissies.”
“What’s next, banning the game where you shoot the metal ducks with a pea shooter? Next the Wisconsin State Fair will ban Cream Puffs because of the double meaning of the word.”
“Since the kids are disallowed from playing soldier by this pack of worthless, gut less, feminized eunuch pussies, I suggest we give them with eggs, spray-paint, and a free ride to Peace Action Wisconsin’s headquarters.”
“The wuzification of America continues… Now we know why the thugs in the Middle-East are coming after us.”
“What a bunch of sniveling little wussies, unfit to bear the label “American.”

…and the lyrics from a couple of Sex Pistols songs:

“God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
Potential H-bomb”

“Don’t ask us to attend ‘cos we’re not all there
Oh don’t pretend ‘cos I don’t care
I don’t believe illusions ‘cos too much is real
So stop your cheap comment ‘cos we know what we feel”

Hey kids, isn’t it better to listen to John Lydon and the Sex Pistols, than to play the U.S. Army game, virtual or real?

- Bill Reichblum

Arts Presenters: Cynthia Hopkins

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Cynthia HopkinsCynthia Hopkins formed the band Gloria Deluxe in 1999. In March of 2008, the band released their most recent album, a recording of songs from the operetta Must Don’t Whip ‘Um. She has composed and performed for theater and film projects, including Big Dance Theater and Transmission Projects.

In this podcast she talks about the impetus for creating work, the task of funding, and how the stars and planets align in different ways for each performance.

This interview is part of an ongoing series with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

Photo by Kirsty Mogensen

 Arts Presenters: Cynthia Hopkins [10:29m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download

Arts Presenters: Arlynn Fishbaugh

Monday, July 7th, 2008

Arlynn FishbaughArlynn Fishbaugh is the executive director of the Montana Arts Council, the agency tasked with developing the creative potential of all Montanans. She has also held positions at the Guthrie Theatre, the Texas Opera Theatre and at the Metropolitan Opera.

In this podcast she talks with us about how MAC has put public value at the forefront of its strategy, how the arts are revitalizing communities and why touring and presenting is so vital to arts councils.

This interview is part of an ongoing series with the Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

 Arts Presenters: Arlynn Fishbaugh [11:26m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download