Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Around Noon

Dee Perry and I producing the radio drama
adaptation of"I Hate This" for Around Noon (2005)

This Friday, June 28, 2013 will be the final broadcast of WCPN 90.3 FM's award-winning, northeast Ohio arts and entertainment program, Around Noon. The good news is that Dee Perry and her crew are moving to the 2 PM time slot, Monday through Thursday, with a new program called The Sound of Applause.

I guess this is a thematic melding of WCPN and the PBS station WVIZ and that station's long-running arts show Applause, which has been hosted by Dee since the two stations merged into Ideastream in 2001.

Change can be good. And people can complain. I remember when WCPN made the radical switch from largely jazz programming to mostly news and talk in the mid-1990s, and what a fuss people made at that time. It was forward-thinking, however, and as much as I am sick of talk radio, the NPR programs broadcast on WCPN and locally produced shows like The Sound of Ideas do provide for moderation and common sense discourse which is unavailable elsewhere.

And then there was Around Noon. I remember when I was public relations director at Dobama Theatre, and were were first contacted by the program in early 1997. I mean, they contacted us, looking for stories and interviews, because this was going to be a daily, hour-long radio program about arts and culture in the region. Usually it was me, begging attention from the print media, which even then, with two weekly papers and a full-functioning daily, appeared to regard arts coverage as some kind of charity work.

Cleveland Historian John Vacha and I chat with Dee about "It Can't Happen Here"
October 24, 2011

This was unique, this dedicated arts reporting, and it still is. It is a shame that in order to accommodate the new schedule they must drop their Friday shows (and for Ira Flatow of all people, I can't even listen to him) especially as they fall right before the weekend. But it's a gift, and in today's media climate, the people of greater Cleveland are lucky to have it.

Today is my wife and my fourteenth wedding anniversary (ivory, sweetheart, we'll skip the presents) but on our fifth anniversary (June 26, 2004) we joined 2,700 of our friends in getting naked in the shadow of the Steamship Mather for photo installation artist Spencer Tunick, and we worked with the folks at Around Noon to make an audio diary of the entire event. How cool is that?

Spencer Tunick: The Naked Truth

Best wishes to Dee and to the producers of The Sound of Applause, for many, many more years of excellence in arts reporting.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

International Women's Air & Space Museum

Girls can be astronauts, too!

Were you aware ..? There are many tiny museums tucked away in discreet corners of our great city. I have been aware of the The International Women's Air & Space Museum for some time, but never made the journey. This, perhaps, because though they offer "free admission" you still need to pay $6 to park.

The IWASM is located in Burke Lakefront Airport, and not just some closet at BLK that is only open a few hours a week, the museum stretches more or less the length of the concourse, with displays of important and (unfortunately) in most cases forgotten female aviators dating back to the birth of flight at Kitty Hawk.

Did you know the Wright Brothers had a sister? Katharine Wright (1874-1929) managed many of the important business issues related to her brothers' inventions and patents, and was an early advocate for air travel safety. 

This day I was invited to join Emily Pucell and Renee Schilling as they conducted further investigations of fly-girls. A few weeks ago, the boy and I were at pARTy in Gordon Square where we got to see their new one-act historical fiction comedy about chicks with sticks, Blanche and Louise - With Their Eyes Turned Skyward. They each marveled at how completely awesome most early aviatrixes' names were.

Billie Dove! Mickey Axton! Winifred Spooner! Wally Funk! RIDE, SALLY RIDE!

The gift shop closes at 4:00 PM.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Snowy Day (book)

For the past twelve years, I have been intimately acquainted with the children's book The Snowy Day. This short book, published in 1962 and which won the Coldecott Medal in 1963, is the book we share on the very first day of the Great Lakes Theater School Residency Program. My first day as an actor-teacher I led a class of first graders through the story of a boy who goes out into the world, on his own, on a snowy day, and has the kind of adventures only a little kid can have in the snow.

So I was delighted to discover the Akron Art Museum was presenting The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats. The family stopped in on our way to Athens, and my wife, like a lot of people, was surprised to learn that Ezra Jack Keats was white. Creating the first modern children's story book to feature an African-American child as its protagonist, you might assume the author to be black.

Keats's birth name, Jacob Erza Katz, was born the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. Living in Brooklyn, he was very interested in the beauty of his urban surroundings, and attracted to the other cultures that surrounded him. His first children's book, My Dog Is Lost! (1960) featured a Spanish-speaking boy named Juanito.

He was inspired to create the character of Peter from a photo essay he saw in LIFE Magazine some twenty years earlier, showing a proud and interesting African-American boy, posing in his winter coat. Today the issue-neutral depiction of non-white races is pretty standard. At the time, it raised controversy, which is a pity, but not surprising.

Detail from "Peter's Chair" (1967)

It's one thing to look at EJK's picture books and tell that they are created from collage, something else to see the original artwork itself. Most if not all of them were created 1:1 which, surprised me. Some have special instructions in the margins for the printer, e.g.: No side-lighting. If the images were sidelit, that would create shadows from the many layers of paper (see detail above).

Yes, you can see that children's clothes are cut from patterned cloth, but seeing the actual cloth made me think of the artist cutting several different scraps of cloth from the same bolt of fabric to represent the exact same shirt, numerous times. He would use wallpaper to represent, well, wallpaper (again, see above) but cut and paste the wallpaper over itself to put more of the repeating images, like flowers, into this smaller space.

"After breakfast he called to his friend across the hall,
and they went out together into the deep, deep snow."
- from "The Snowy Day"

A rite of passage for male actor-teacher our school residency program is to perform what we like to call The Sweaty Day, where we pantomime all of Peter's activities while wearing a winter coat, knit hat, scarf and gloves. This photo is from a rehearsal in early 2005 where Peter has decided to call on one of the "big girls" across the hall instead.

The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats continues through June 30.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Richard III (reading group)

Last night I was delighted to be the guest at a new play reading program at the Beachwood Public Library. A few months ago Margaret Reardon (who I had only ever met on Facebook before last night) asked if I wouldn't like to stage a night of play reading and if so, which title?

As Great Lakes Theater will be opening their 52nd season with Shakespeare's Richard III, I figured that was a good choice. It's a great play, I am a Shakespeare guy, and though I have seen it once or twice, I have to admit I hadn't actually read it before.

Not that we read the entire thing last night. I found A Fifty-Minute Richard III by Bill Tordoff -- paid for it, secured proper rights, you're welcome -- which, true to its word, is a very short version of Shakespeare's second-longest script. It is a hatchet job, to be sure, the man didn't work very hard to maintain the verse and eliminated some very popular passages, but what are you gonna do? The library closes at 9 PM.

The crowd was larger than either Margaret or I had expected, 34 participants, with ages ranging from the college students to seniors and everyone in-between ... but mostly seniors.

Some were surprised when I announced we would go around the table, reading "round-robin" with people picking up characters as we went around, and then starting again at the beginning of a new scene. One man said he thought there were going to be "actors" present, and I said that was him.

When it became clear that this method meant men would be playing ladyparts (yes, thank you) I said it wouldn't be fair for the women to have to share the three parts available to ladies in this script, and all should have the chance to play Richard. Another said I should play Richard all night, and I said I didn't think that was fair, everyone should have the chance to play Richard!

The best part was, no one balked at reading, and everyone read very well! I tried to toss in as many bits of trivia I could, and make comparisons between this and Shakespeare's later works, but for the most part tried to stay out of the way of the action ... as I said, we needed to be done before the library closed!

Everyone had a good time, especially me, and Margaret has started her play reading series. Good work, everyone!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Winsor McCay: His Life and Art (book)

Zenas Winsor "Silas" McCay (c. 1867? – July 26, 1934) is the greatest comic strip artist of all time.* This I already knew, but I learned a whole lot more from John Canemaker's biography.

Yes, I knew McCay started at the New York Herald and later brought Little Nemo to the New York American, where he changed the name of the strip to In The Land of Wonderful Dreams. What I did not know were the circumstances or why his later dream-like comics were not as noteworthy as the work he did at the Herald.

McCay drew several comics at once for the Herald, including Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, which was like Nemo in that it dealt in dream imagery, but in this version the protagonist of each strip is a different, unnamed adult each week, who have troubled dreams, some of which are grotesque or downright horrifying. One is buried alive, their sleep mistaken for death, another drained of blood by a giant, opportunistic mosquito.

All William Randolf Hearst knew was that Winsor McCay was the preeminent cartoon artist in the America (indeed McCay was -- a star, a name, someone famous in his own time) and so he wanted him for the American. What he did not want were the comic strips. Hearst wanted the greatest comic draftsman to illustrate his worldview and send it across the world. In time he insisted that McCay concentrate solely on editorial cartoons, and paid the spend-thrifty artist enough to get what he wanted.

One other fascinating and not-generally-known aspect of his life and work is what he contributed to animated cartoons. He did not, as some had said and McCay himself often repeated, "create" the animated cartoon, but he was very good at them and pioneered many techniques which brought them from simple curiosities into the realm of serious storytelling.

Whereas someone like Georges Méliès would create fantastic images of non-realistic worlds, McCay aspired to use cartoon animation to document realistic events which could otherwise not be presented to the eye.

In 1918 he released The Sinking of the Lusitania, a photo-realitsic record of what contemporary accounts reported at the time was how the great ship was destroyed and sank. Debates continue as to whether this ship, which was secretly transporting munitions to Great Britain was a legitimate military target. Regardless, this is a surprisingly affective short -- in spite of two goofy fish "seeing" the oncoming torpedo and getting away quick.

It struck me as particularly troubling that this man, who contributed so much with his pen, was overcome with horror at the moment of his death, believing he was experiencing his greatest fear. He had suffered a brain aneurysm, and first felt his right arm -- his drawing arm -- paralyzed. He shouted out to his wife Maude, "It's gone, mother! Gone, gone, gone!" With that he fell to the floor, and died.

One of the more surprising discoveries in this book is an illustration not by McCay but one of his contemporaries and good friends, Ap Adams. The author does not give the rendering a title or an indication of its context, nor does he understand or feel necessary to explain its origin.

New York American cartoon by Apthorp "Ap" Adams
April 26, 1936

Father Time stands over one man as he progresses through his life as crying child, a schoolboy, young man with a handwritten love poem, a soldier, lawyer, old man and complete senescent. These are, of course, the seven ages of man as described by Jacques in Shakespeare's As You Like It.

I will be writing a great deal more about the Seven Ages in the months to come.

*But don't tell Bill Watterson that.

"Adventures In Slumberland, a holiday play of Little Nemo" is available in paperback and eBook.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Emperor's Ears

This year we continued what has become a Father's Day tradition: attending a show at Talespinner Children's Theatre. Their inaugural production, The Tale of the Name of the Tree had just opened last June and while my family offered to just leave me alone for the day (to go running, or go writing, any number of solitary pursuits) I preferred to spend time with my favorite people in the world, my wife and children.

This year they are presenting the Serbian folktale The Emperor's Ears. Last winter I sat in on the annual auditions for the 2013 TCT productions, because I wanted to be able to weigh on on casting for Adventures In Slumberland, which opens November 30. I watched as six sets of actors collaborated very fast to tell this same tale of a young prince born with goat's ears, I saw it reinterpreted six different times.

They were working from a brief synopsis, not the script as presented in this fully-produced version, written by Michael Sepesy (who also wrote Name of the Tree) and so I was excited to learn how it would play in an hour-long version, how Sepesy would put his special, sardonic spin on the language, and what beautiful costumes, dance, song and other tricks were going to be employed to bring the tale to life.

Not only did I have my own, immediate family with me, but I also brought my dad. We were all very delighted with the show, in particular I was so happy with all the actor-teachers in the company -- Andrew, Carrie and Katelyn. I thought Andrew was particularly in his element, unrestrained in his consummate goofiness, especially as big, grumpy, hirsute, fat guy.

Most of my glee, however, was for Cathleen O'Malley, who was so awesome at audition, she's the kind of actor who makes you want to write plays for them. 

It's a challenge, I think, to create a protagonist for a children's work. Many opt to make them bland ciphers, someone whose shoes child can theoretically step into easily ... only what child has no personality? But then, so many modern characters in children's stories and movies are just plain awful, too self-aware to have wonder.

Sepesy drew and O'Malley inhabits a young woman with a serious problem and together they are hilarious and very fun, especially when they have such great supporting characters to work against.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Camp Theater! (2013)

Since 2010, Great Lakes Theater has offered a summer arts camp, Camp Theater! Based at Berea High School, we conduct workshops with kids as young as four years-old, up through seniors in high school.

Since 2010, my daughter has been a camper and I have watched her move from my 6-to-8 year-old session to the bigger kids across the hall who work with Lisa and Tim. I'd say I miss her, but she helps so much in my class that I don't have a chance to!

The boy is attending for the first time. Not his thing, not really. Last fall when the School residency Program came to his school and worked his third grade class, he was that kid, the one who refused to wear a costume, would spin around in circles when everyone else was participating in a scene, and the one who was prime instigator and initiated every boypile.

He is much the same at camp, only not providing any obstruction, just asking everyone with a screen if he can use it. My laptop (no), his mother's Kindle (never again), Tim's iPhone (the man is too kind). Ah, well. We do not all want to be actors, and I respect that.

Next week, however, they will attending different camps -- she for music, he for sport. I will still be in Berea. I will miss driving them there and back, and I will miss their presence in the camp. It may make it easier for me to concentrate on the task at hand ... but that is also true at home, I guess, and I wouldn't have it any other way.