Thursday, December 3, 2009

Voices of Afghanistan

So I'm sure you've all heard the news that in the coming months, the US will be sending 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan.  I know that this is a part of a plan to build peace and eventually remove our troops in the country, but I think it's important that while we come with guns, that we also come with helping hands.  That is why the work of Artfully Unforgotten is more important than ever! 

Tomorrow (Friday) you can join us at the Best Buy Loft in Tribeca (394 Broadway, 6th Floor) for an evening of art, film, music, food and drink.  Founder Heather Metcalfe, will premiere the film "Voices of Afghanistan" a documentary of women in Afghanistan, and art by Parsons School of Design graduate students will be auctioned.  The event will be a great time, and you'll walk out witha fresh perspective on a country and culture that's greviously misunderstood by much of the American public.

Click here to buy a ticket!

I hope your able to make it, and I look forward to meeting you!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bad Theatre vs. No Theatre

I've always been a huge proponent of getting people in the theatre.  I don't care if it's Broadway or high school theatre, I want YOU in that dark room, because if I can get you in, I can probably talk you into it again.  I've been involved in some baaaaad theatre, and I still love it, so shouldn't everyone?

I had a high school reunion this weekend, and after catching up with some old classmates, I realized something.  I'm the only one working in theatre.  What's more, many (including those previously involved in school plays) don't even go to the theatre.  Huh...

Turns out, a bad theatre experience can really turn people off.  My high school theatre program was no  Interlochen.  However, I was fortunate enough to be involved with an amazing community theatre as well.  When I think back on it, I wouldn't be in the industry today if I hadn't participated in community theatre.  So bad theatre can really be a dangerous thing.

What do you think is worse, exposure to bad theatre, or no exposure to theatre at all?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Introducing The Cast

I had the very wonderful experience of working with Planet Connections Theatre Festivity as an intern this past summer.  PCTF is an eco-friendly theatre festival headed by Glory Bowen that requires all participating shows to do a collection for a charity of their choice.  Then I heard about Michael Roderick, a producer/blogger, who holds workshops and classes for theater professionals for low to no cost.  There's Heather Metcalfe of Artfully Unforgotten, who in the past few years has dedicated herself to raising funds and awareness for vulnerable communities through the arts.  Most recently I caught wind of composer, Seth Bisen-Hersh who holds benefit concerts twice a year for different charities.  (His upcoming Broadway Can! benefits the Bowery Mission, more on that later.)

In just a few months, I've come across all of these amazing individuals and organizations, who have made serious commitments to serving the community.  What does that tell me?  That there must be THOUSANDS of you out there in the arts world who are giving back!  And guess what?  I want to tell people about you!  I think that everyone should know about your hard work.  So it's been in the works for some time, and I promise it ain't pretty, but check out and spread the word. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Special Edition: Today in History

Recognize this picture? Captain Von Trapp (the fictional and the real deal) may be one of the most famous fathers of the 20th Century. The Sound of Music premiered on Broadway November 16, 1959, the movie version came out in March six years later.  So what does this famous father have to do with November 6?  Well, nothing really, except that my Dad was born on November 6, and his love for The Sound of Music was really a catalyst for my love of musicals.  Dad's not particularly musical.  He played some trumpet as a youth, and has a pretty strong 3-4 note range (Mom's the singer in the family), but he has a genuine appreciation for music.  The Sound of Music was my first Rogers and Hammerstein musical, thanks to Dad, and I was hooked.

Theater has become an integral part of my everyday life, because I was exposed to it at a young age.  It doesn't have to be Broadway, but if you can bring a child to the theater, you are creating the audience of the future.  Do you know what else helps? Films and soundtracks of plays and musicals.  Like most families, we couldn't afford to go to a Broadway show every year (we went once when I was 12 to Beauty and the Beast), but we went to regional and community theater often, and rocked out to Les Mis on tape in the car and the Rogers and Hammerstein box set at home.  Because those more affordable options were available, I go to Broadway productions today.

So think about the people that exposed you to theater, thank them, and then go bring your kids (or somebody elses) to a show.  Invest in the soundtrack and play it in the car on your next family vacation.  Go rent Singing in the Rain and watch it with your nephew.  Captian von Trapp sang with his kids.  It's not just about butts in seats, it's about sharing an experience and being present with another generation. 

Thanks and Happy Birthday Dad!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Amazing Shrinking World!

The older I get, the more I realize how undeniably small the world is.... especially if you work in theatre. 
Monday, in the midst of the never ending scurry that my life has become, I found myself in a hallway at Chelsea Studios face to face with one of my college classmates whom I hadn't seen since graduation.

Me: What are you DOING here?
Friend: I have an audition, I moved here yesterday!

I graduated from a theater program with about 10 other students.  In a city of several million, I can run into one of those 10 people within 24 hours of arrival.  Have you ever noticed that at every industry event you run into the same people over and over and over again?  Ever hear about that actor who was such a pain to work with that he/she never worked again?  Yeahhh.  We've all been there. 

This principal really made me think about the larger interconnectedness we have with theater artists all over the world, and the responsibility we have to challenge and collaborate with one another.  We all share a common language, yet there are millions of different environmental factors that have shaped our perspectives.  That is a recipe for some seriously amazing work.  Let's find new ways to reach out to our global counterparts and make some magic!

Already doing it?  Get your mind out of the gutter, I mean are you collaborating on a global level?  Let me know and I'll post your story!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Great Opportunities this Week!

So I know it's halloween this week and everyone's got lots of parties and haunted houses to go to, but consider supporting a good (theater related) cause this week and attending one of these great events!

Founded by a New York City based actress, "is an organization committed to raising funds for breast cancer awareness, research and eradication. We bring people together for fantastic functions with the underlying purpose of charitable giving."
Their inaugural event, this Wednesday at 6, cosponsored by and Janet Waddell Salon, will involve wine, chocolate, hair, makeup, and skincare consultations, networking and a raffle!

After you get all dolled up and relaxed, head over to Hold for the Laughs where some fabulous comedians will be making you laugh to support Small Pond Musical Theatre Writing Lab from 9:30-11:30.  The Writing Lab was started to help new composers , book writers and lyricists by providing them with a space to work and exposure to the industry.

So get out there this week and support theater people that are making a difference! 

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cultural Diplomacy

There's been a bit of debate on The Huffington post this month regarding cultural diplomacy (one of my favorite concepts), so I thought I'd share it with you and give you my perspective, and hopefully get some responses from you!

The kick-start article here was this one, posted by Micheal Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  His take is that traditional cultural diplomacy, in the form of state supported performing arts groups touring abroad, is not effective.  What he's been working on, since his years at the Kennedy Center, is a new kind of cultural diplomacy, in which arts managers go abroad and teach marketing, fundraising, and other best practices employed here, to their foreign counterparts.

The response blog written by Karen Brooks Hopkins of the Brooklyn Academy of Music argues that sending the managers without the performers/artists is like "sending a cookbook without any food" and further comments that "Americans are always trying to manage everyone and everything."  Her viewpoint is that it's the artists who truly express the underlying humanity that connects us all, and that this element is missing when managers are just teaching best business practices abroad.

I really feel that there is value in both of these approaches.  As someone who's had the opportunity to serve as a cultural ambassador as a performer, I agree with Ms. Brooks Hopkins, that there is an intrinsic value in sharing art with audiences abroad.  As a realist, I understand that funding performing arts tours abroad is prohibitively expensive.  For this reason, I support Michael Kaiser's stance that what is most effective, (and cost effective) right now is to train arts managers abroad.

During college, I performed in an original American Musical for 1,000 people in the oldest theater in Russia.  As a performer the experience was life changing, but I feel that the performance itself had the least impact on the community.  What was most amazing to me were the Master Classes my company took with Russian theater students.  For an entire semester, both groups had worked on two pieces, Chekhov's Three Sisters  and Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie.  As groups we were able to show the work we had done, and exchange our expressions of the same pieces.  Later in the class, we put some of our students in scenes with some of the Russian students.  The synergy was explosive, and it was amazing to watch.  Did I mention the language barrier?  Yea, no one in my class spoke Russian, and no one in their class spoke English.  We were performing and viewing bilingual theater, and it worked! 

Maybe it has to do with being young, but those moments really bonded us in a short time.  As students and performers we held a common bond, and we got together on our own time and interacted without translators.  We understood one another through our art.

It is my opinion that the exchange of managers is a wonderful way to collaborate within the constraints of a budget.  I also feel that it leaves room for foreign arts communities to develop and present their own art.  However, I think that whenever possible, the most effective form of cultural diplomacy is when managers and artists from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds work together.  Instead of exporting our performances and importing performances from others, let's hold extended exchange programs where companies can develop together and create a common culture of collaboration.

I should probably start fundraising now.....

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Great Blogs for Theater People

Unfortunately, this post is two days late and I'm at a loss for what to write about, so instead I give you:

Great Blogs for Theater People

President and CEO of Sachs Morgan Studio, Ann Sach's blog Theatrical Intelligence

Theater Manager and Social Media Pro, Jodi Schoenbrun Carter's blog Off-Stage Right

Theater Publicist and Social Media Guru, Rebecca Coleman's blog The Art of the Business 

Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration, Andrew Taylor's blog, The Artful Manager

Producer, Michael Roderick's blog, One Producer in the City

Producer, Ken Davenport's blog, The Producer's Perspective

How did I find these great resources you ask?  Well, originally it was all Google Alerts.  For those of you who aren't familiar, Google Alerts allows you to type in search words and Google will automatically search the world wide web, or the blogosphere, whatever you designate, for the terms and send you email updates.  I find that it's most useful when you use very specific terms in quotations (otherwise you end up with a billion unrelated articles that contained the word theater).  Once you find a blog or article you really like, check to see what blogs the blogger reads, who they follow on twitter, or do a related search.  Pretty soon you'll find a plethora of priceless information at your fingertips!

Happy Blogging!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Socially Conscious Musical

 Showboat 1929

Since the first true American musical play, Showboat, there have been socially conscious themes in musicals.  Showboat dealt with something that was most definitely a relevent issue of the day, miscegenation.  Inter-racial relationships were not commonly accepted in 1927 when the musical premiered, and Showboat put the realities of this on the stage, for better or for worse.

I really feel that this social consciousness is a part of the legacy of the "Great American Musical" as PBS would coin it.  From the original, through the Golden Age, up until today, musicals have been weaving important questions into song and dance routines.  Along with the token, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back formulation, social awareness is an integral part of the history of the musical.

Even Rogers and Hammerstein's works, with their generally lighthearted feel and content often dealt with serious social problems: abandonment, robbery, and suicide (Carousel), race relations and war (South Pacific), cultural differences and human rights (The King and I).

Other productions through the ages addressed our prejudices against our neighbors (West Side Story), the counter culture (Hair), races (Caroline, or Change), and those suffering from AIDS (Rent).  All too often, intellectuals are ready to dismiss the musical as "fluff" and "mindless entertainment", and while Broadway has certainly seen it's share of "fluff", you can't write off the entire form.  It's important for those of us who create and advocate for musical theater to ensure that this legacy of social consciousness carries on into the future.

What's the next step?  Which musicals are out there now that are addressing our issues?  Does Next to Normal fit the bill?  Will the upcoming Enron raise new awareness about the need for Corporate Responsibility?  I'm not suggesting that social consciousness should be the goal of a production, but I do think it's something to consider.  What do you think?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Great Women in the Theater

Amy Adams in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (borrowed from IMDb)

We've come a long way ladies, from the days of the "broadway baby" and the "casting couch".  Back then, a girl had to sleep her way into a position of even minor influence & power in the theater.  No more!

Crain's list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in New York came out today, and among other fabulous women, in all sectors of the economy, was Nina Lannan.  Ms. Lannan is president of Nina Lannan Associates, who among other productions, managed Legally Blond (yay girl-power), and currently manages the hugely successful, Billy Elliot.

In addition to running her own business, Ms. Lannan is the current chair of The Broadway League.  Apparently, "She's the first woman in the trade associations 80-year history to hold that position." (Crain's XXV;38, p 20)

It's about time!  How many of you, in your days of academic and community theater found yourself surrounded by women?  How many auditions have you attended where 90% of those auditioning were women and 90% of those auditing were men?  I know that things have been changing and that more and more women are moving into leadership positions in the theater, but where have we been ladies?

What happened to the 78 women who were in the chorus of the production of The Music Man in my high school?  There were maybe 10 guys in the show, but most of them are still pretty active contributors to the theater community who are headed for leadership positions.  Maybe it's because girls in school productions face much more rejection (78 girls for and handful of roles), than their male counterparts (heck even some male parts went to girls because there weren't enough boys).    

I don't know why most of the leaders in the commercial theater industry are men, but I congratulate Ms. Nina Lannan for setting the stage for future generations of women.

 Which remarkable theater women (or men) would you like to tip your hat to?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Blurred Lines of Battle

I began this blog with a post about the revival of the National Theatre of Afghanistan.  The inspiring article referenced in this post from UK's The Independent told the story of rebirth in a land battered by years of war and oppression.  Half a world away, everyday is a struggle to survive.

Today, I want to commend those who work in the impoverished and unstable parts of the world, striving to help those most in need.  I recently finished "Three Cups of Tea", a book by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin that chronicles the humanitarian work Mr. Mortenson has done (building schools) in Pakistan and Afghanistan over the past 14 years.  If you haven't read the book, I absolutely recommend it.  I also recommend checking out the Central Asia Institute's website to find out about current work that Mr. Mortenson and his organization are doing.

Humanitarian work, through education and the arts, is absolutely necessary to stabilizing and revitalizing the war torn and impoverished countries of the world.  Education provides opporunity and empowers.  Art gives both the creator and the audience the dignity and human value that is so often lost in war time. This is especially true in the current "war on terror".

Terrorism confounds modern war tactics.  The terrorist does not outfit him/her self  in the uniform of a militant, but blends in with the general population.  This makes it particularly difficult for the counter-terrorist strikes to draw the line between civilian and militant.  Out of the fear and confusion created by the inability to clearly identify the assailant, civilians often fall victim.  I cannot think of anything more destructive to a society.  A particularly haunting example of this blurring of the lines was featured in this Wall Street Journal article today.

Militants planned to attack an oil storage facility in Pakistan by gaining access dressed as women in burqas.  I'm not sure if these men considered the implications of their actions, but regrettably I fear this will further endanger women in an already volatile situation.  Imagine, following this attack, counter-terrorism forces will now fear that every figure in a burqa is a threat.  I desperately hope that this will not be the case, as the consequences of such an attitude will be catastrophic.

My plea is this:
To those fighting terrorism with firearms, please carry out your missions with the utmost care and concern for citizens and humanitarian workers.  Your job is to protect and I admire your valor.
To those who endanger citizens through terrorism, think about the many innocent individuals who will suffer directly and indirectly from your actions.
To governments of the world, work for peace.  Seek solutions that benefit the global community, and encourage your military and citizens to conduct themselves in ways that promote cultural understanding and global well-being.
To humanitarian workers the world over, thank you.  The work you are doing will not only benefit those in distress today, but it will improve the world for future generations.
To the entire world, be good to one another.  If you have the means, give or volunteer.  Peace starts with you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Proving the Economic Importance of the Arts

I found myself reading this article from the Miami Herald and decided I had to mention it.  (To give credit where credit is due, it came my way via Audience Development Specialists on twitter, follow them here

So often, as arts professionals and advocates, we find ourselves discussing the esoteric value of art.  Yes, art is vital to human expression and interaction, and the intangible benefits of the arts are infinite, but what about the economic impact of the arts?

For some arts communities, the positive impact they have on the local economy is obvious (i.e. BROADWAY).  For other communities, and often arts organizations in the nonprofit sector, this is not so obvious.  Enter the Cultural Data Project

This free online tool allows arts and cultural organizations to store their financial information on their site where it can be easily formatted to fit grant applications for a number of participating grantmakers.  (Are you smiling out there grantwriters?? Yes, something to streamline the budget building process for grants)  In addition, the service compiles the financial information of all participating organizations so you can compare how your doing in your budget range (anonymously of course).  The service in and of itself is helpful to grant seekers, grant makers, bookkeeppers, development professionals and managers. 

But why do I really think the Cultural Data Project is important?  Because all of that collected financial information is accessible to researchers who want to prove to governments and funders that the arts are a driving force in local economies and should be treated as such.  By quantifying the needs of the arts world, strategic plans can be developed that allow funds to reach arts organizations in ways that help them best serve their communities both directly and indirectly. 

Cool right?  Now I'm not trying to proselytize for the Cultural Data Project.   I'm sure there are lots of other organizations that have taken steps to provide tangible data for use in the battle for the arts in this country, I'm just not familiar with them.  One thing is certain, while the world at large seems to FINALLY be getting the message that the arts are priceless to the human experience, if we're going to survive the recession, and future economic downturns, we have to be able to quantify our worth for the powers that be.

Let me know of other ways your organization or business is proving itself as a valuable investment.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Live Streaming, what does it mean for you?

This one's for you actors.

Recently I included a post that mentioned this super cool thing that The Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theater was launching called LIPLO (live in person, live online, aka selling tickets to see live streaming from a live performance in the comfort of your own home). The idea was to create new forms of revenue, and create an online buzz (read revolution) loud enough to land butts in seats well into the future.

Unfortunately it seems it will not be so this time around. While the theater managed to get rights from the author, and the television network that owns the movie version, they were unable to get results from Actor's Equity and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Sigh.

I know this isn't the first struggle where unions have butted heads with businesses over the history of well unions, but I find it disappointing nonetheless. Here we have a bold new strategy that, if successful, would greatly benefit the entire performing arts community (including the ACTORS and TELEVISION AND RADIO ARTISTS), yet it's caught up in the red tape of bureaucracy. I guess I can't blame them, the unions need to be cautious when opening up their contracts to radical new terms like these, but isn't it time? Hasn't the performing arts world dragged it's heels long enough, resisting moves for progress?

Now you know how I feel about it, what do you think? Will live streaming performances save the performing arts from financial ruin?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Theater in the Park

One of the best things about summer is the plethora of activities that take place in the great outdoors. Everything from yoga classes, to poetry slams, to concerts and Shakespeare can be found in the city's parks.

Shakespeare in the Park is obviously the most iconic and well known of the theaters under the stars, but there are a number of less known theater events found out of doors.

I was pleasantly surprised a few weeks ago when I came across live theater in front of the Old Stone House in Brooklyn. Nothing like a little Hamlet to spice up your evening run. Check out what's going on there tonite!

Another Borough favorite is the Queens Theater in the Park. They recently joined forces with Museum of the Moving Image to present a film series as well. Neat.

Do you have any "in the park" events you'd like to share?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Health Care and Artists

If you haven't been in a coma the past few months, you know that there has been some serious debate about health care reform going on. It seems to me that no matter what I do, I cannot escape the conversation. From my experience with the U.S. health care system (across several states with individual private insurance, employer subsidized insurance, and just plain uninsured) there are more than a few kinks to work out. It's not a perfect system. Is it downright awful? I don't know. From what I've been told by friends from countries with state health insurance, those programs too have a few kinks and are not perfect. Shocking, right? There is no perfect system.
Where does this leave me? As a theater professional, I know that many of us will face underemployment, or employment without benefits through much of our careers. Will a public health care system benefit artists in this country?

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Theater of the future – live from Pittsburgh | off-stage right

Theater of the future – live from Pittsburgh | off-stage right

So I've been following a fabulous blog called Off-Stage Right written by an incredibly smart and insightful theater manager, Jodi Schoenbrun Carter. Clearly, if you are reading this, you've gotten on the social media bandwagon and you realize the potential and imminent influence that it will have on our society. Let's take this post for example.

Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theater created a completely new concept "Live and in person and live and online" in which they are going to broadcast, via the internet, live theater performances. The implications of this are huge. This expands your audience, creates lively discussion, and will revolutionize the casting process, just to name a few.

I found this article on a blog I follow, whose updates come straight to me via iGoogle in my RSS feed. It's not a blog written by some web tech, or even a journalist. It's a blog written by a theater professional. We have taken the power of communication into our own hands. I am passing it on to you, and you may pass it on to someone else. The possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Inspiration in Dark Times

I came across this article last week, and though long, I think it is extremely worthwhile. It covers the opening of the National Theatre of Afghanistan (here forth, NTA). Through a partnership with Den Nationale Scene - the national theatre in Bergen, Norway, the NTA is rebuilding itself amidst the slowly stabilizing world of post- Taliban Kabul.
It is important to remember that in spite of our many cultural differences, we all share the common experiences that can be expressed in the dramatic arts. Rebuilding this theatre community in Kabul will create a much needed outlet for the people of the city, but also a window through which we can see that those that seem so foreign are really not that different from us after all.