Monday, October 27, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
Martin E. Segal Theatre Center, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Proshanksy Auditorium, 365 Fifth Ave. at 34th St.
For More Information Click HERE.
Bag Lady, Struck Dumb (Video excerpt with Joseph Chaikin), The Tibetan Book of the Dead and Mila, a new musical
Reception and book signing to follow
Jean-Claude van Itallie was born in Brussels in 1936, emigrated to America with his family in 1940, graduated Harvard in 1958, and was a central force in the explosive New York off-Broadway theater movement of the sixties.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
A plot description: "A woman's ex-husband appears at her door after an absence of 20 years, suffering from brain damage. A veteran of a modern war, he doesn't know who he is and she doesn't know who he's become. While they wait together for his return to himself, she reads him The Odyssey, and in the journey of that book, she finds a way into her former husband's memory and the terror and trauma of war."
Performance Histories is a new collection of writings by Bonnie Marranca, co-founder of the Obie Award-winning PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, which she continues to edit. The essays and interviews in this volume cover a wide range of current issues such as performance and ethics, art as spiritual practice, the theatre of food, and avant-garde legacies in theatre and visual art performance. There is also extended commentary on Wallace Shawn, Maria Irene Fornes, The Wooster Group, and Robert Wilson and Gertrude Stein. Also featured are the author’s interviews with Susan Sontag, Robert Jay Lifton, and Peter Sellars.
Performance Histories is the author’s third collection of critical writings. Her volume entitled Theatrewritings received the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism. Reviewing the book in the New York Times, Mel Gussow wrote: “In a critical field that is itself burdened with special interests, she is a free spirit.” The playwright Mac Wellman stated of her Ecologies of Theatre “she has articulated a whole new landscape. “ Edited volumes include: Plays for the End of the Century, American Dreams: The Imagination of Sam Shepard, and The Theatre of Images, one of the seminal books of contemporary theatre. The author’s writings have been translated into fifteen languages. Performance Histories is her fourteenth book.
Bonnie Marranca is a Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright Senior Scholar who has taught and lectured in many universities here and abroad, including Columbia University, Princeton University, New York University, Duke University, the University of California-San Diego, Free University (Berlin), and Institute for Theatre (Barcelona). She is Professor of Theatre at The New School/Eugene Lang College.
Published by PAJ Publications
Distributed by Theatre Communications Group (www.tcg.org)
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
At a formal ceremony in Tokyo this past Oct. 15, the kabuki legend Sakata Tojuro was honored with a Praemium Imperiale international arts award. The prestigious prize, which comes with 15 million yen (about $150,000), also went to Zubin Mehta, former music director of the New York Philharmonic, painter Richard Hamilton, sculptors Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, and the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.
Presented and sponsored by His Imperial Highness Prince Hitachi, honorary patron of the Japan Art Association, the Praemium Imperiale award considers itself the Nobel for the arts, since it is annually handed out to individuals who have shown extraordinary achievement in the fields of painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and theatre/film, all categories not covered by the Nobel Prizes.
Candidates for the Praemium Imperiale awards are nominated by a distinguished panel of International Advisors and selected by the Japan Art Association. The American advisor is William H. Luers, president of the United Nations Association who, eight years ago, succeeded David Rockefeller, Jr. (who now serves as an honorary advisor). Other honorary advisors are Jacques Chirac, David Rockefeller, Helmut Schmidt, and Richard von Weizsäcker.
In other words, the Praemium Imperiale is a big deal.
Last year, the prize in the theatre/film category was awarded to the great Ellen Stewart. The indomitable founder of La MaMa E.T.C., Ellen was twice honored--first in Paris, where the winners were announced, and the second time in Tokyo, where the actual ceremony takes place. Past laureates have included Leonard Bernstein, Ingmar Bergman, Willem de Kooning, Frank Gehry, Akira Kurosawa, Robert Rauschenberg, Jean-Luc Godard, Rem Koolhaas, Mstislav Rostropovich, Christo a
nd Jeanne-Claude, Norman Foster and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
It is intriguing that not many people know about the Imperiale prize. The first time I got to know about it was in 2002, when I was invited to a special luncheon at the Japan Society to honor the late playwright Arthur Miller who won the prize in 2001. The award that went to Miller was quite unusual because for the first time, the ceremonyu took place in New York City (as opposed to Tokyo).
It was perhaps the first and only time that the Imperiale was awarded not in Tokyo or Paris. Because of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Miller could not fly to Paris. And then his late wife, Inge Morath, suddenly took ill, which kept Miller away in October. Morath later died.
At that memorable ceremony, Miller said, "When the cannons have stopped firing, and the great victories of finance are reduced to surmise and are long forgotten, it is the art of the people that will confront future generations. The arts can do more to sustain the peace than all rhe wars, the armaments and the threats and the warnings of the politicians."
Incidentally, Sakata Tojuro is a master at both onnagata female roles and tachiyaku males roles, particularly in the works of Chikamatsu (1653-1724). His real name is Hirotaro Hayashi. For many years he was known as Nakamura Ganjiro III and then as Nakamura Senjaky. In recognition of his achievement as a major kabuki actor, Ganjiro was eventually given the name Sakata Tojuro IV. He is the fourth person to take on this moniker since the first Sakata (1647-1709), one of the actors whom Chikamatsu had considered his muse.
Monday, October 20, 2008
David Mamet’s American Buffalo marks the Broadway debuts of Cedric the Entertainer and Haley Joel Osment. But for Leguizamo, one of the stage's most important actors. Using his signature rapid-style dialogue, Mamet regales us with a heist comedy about three small-time crooks conspiring to steal a rare coin from a neighborhood collector.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
The left wing of the Industrial Palace in Prague has burned down. This past October 16, the ceiling of the left wing fell down. The right wing and the central hall did not catch fire. But there is a possibility that these two spaces were also damaged because of the steel construction that held the entire palace together.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
AN IMPORTANT CAVEAT: This blog does not endorse any U.S. presidential candidate. It simply wants to investigate the arts and culture policies of the candidates in this year's election.
RANDY: Does the Boston Tea Party have an arts and culture policy?
TOM KNAPP: I find the idea of an "arts and culture policy" bone-chilling. The Third Reich and the Soviet Union were the kinds of countries that believe art and culture should be subject to government policy.
RANDY: What is the position of the Boston Tea Party in regard to the future of National Endowment for the Arts?
KNAPP: The primary purpose of the National Endowment for the Arts is to give conservatives a hook to hang their moral outrage on. It's absurd to hold that the NEA exercises any considerable positive influence on American arts. The 39 theatres comprising Manhattan's Broadway theatre district grossed ten times NEA's annual budget inticket sales last year. One single Sotheby's auction of a painting brought in three times the NEA's annual budget in bids. To put it bluntly, the art community itself could do what the NEA does, and ten times as much of it, by establishing a trust into whicha few of the industry's bigger players throw a fraction of a percentof the money they make. The NEA isn't about art, it's about politics. And the bottom line is this: It's not your responsibility to subsidize my tastes in art, nor is it my responsibility to subsidize your tastesin art. It's just not government's job to make that happen.
RANDY: Have you gone to see a play or musical recently?
KNAPP: Both. Here in St. Louis, I am more than happy to pay market price for tickets to Circus Flora, a show at the Fox or the Muny, etc., if that's what I want to see (and it often is).
RANDY: Have you ever helped improve the life of theatre artists in any way?
KNAPP: Every check I've written for a ticket has been cashed. Presumably some of that money found its way into the artists' pockets.
Never heard of him? That because he is not a Democrat or Republican but a member of the New American Independent Party.
One day prior to the McCain-Obama debate, McEnulty debated with Brad Lyttle of the U.S. Pacifist Party, Charles Jay of the Boston Tea Party, Gloria LaRiva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Darrell Castle of the Constitution Party, and Brian Moore of the Socialist Party. The debate of the alternative candidates took place at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.
AN IMPORTANT CAVEAT: Other than making certain that independent or alternative people are offered the right to speak, this blog makes no endorsement of any political party in the U.S. But since arts and culture has been pretty much the lowest in the totem pole of priorities and issues in the current presidential debate, I did take the time to investigate the views of all the presidential candidates.
The Obama people pointed me to the official position created by the Obama National Arts Policy Committee. The McCain people never replied to my emails. A few third-party candidates did respond, and Frank McEnulty, a self-described "regular guy" with "two daughter" did reply to my questions.
RANDY: Do you have an arts and culture policy or program?
FRANK McENULTY: No, I do not have an official policy or program at this time. However, I do believe that a vibrant arts scene is a very important part of any nation's well-being. I personally participate in the arts as a wood worker and wood turner. Wood-turning I find particularly artistic because I am able to allow the wood to somewhat dictate what it becomes as I turn it on the lathe.
RANDY: What is your position in regard to the future of National Endowment for the Arts?
McENULTY: I believe the National Endowment for the Arts is a very important part of what the federal government should be doing and an excellent example of what the federal government should be involved with on a national basis. In this age of continuing cutbacks throughout the nation of funding for arts programs, it is very important that the NEA continue to provide their very important funding support to state and local arts programs.
RANDY: Have you gone to see a theatre play or musical? What was the last theatre show that you saw? Did you like it enough to want to come back?
McENULTY: I thoroughly enjoy live theatre although it has been some time since I have been to a play or musical. With 2 teenage daughters who are heavily involved in both school and club sports my available time for other things is truly limited. The last live play I saw was last December, and it was called, "The History Boys." I will always avail myself of opportunities to go to live theatre.
RANDY: Have you ever helped improve the life of theatre artists in any way?
McENULTY: Only by going to their plays and promoting good things that I saw to those I know. In addition, companies I have run have in the past have owned three different concert venues, and we always went out of our way to make sure the talent had the easiest time they could hope for performing at our facilities.
RANDY: In an interview elsewhere, Koffi, you acknowledged that Sony Labou Tansi was your "mentor." Was Tansi truly a mentor who was a real-life friend? Or was he just an inspiration? There is a difference, you know, and sometimes they are blurred.
KOFFI: First of all, I would like to specify that although I belong to the same ethnic group as Houphouët-Boigny, I feel no clemency for him; I was even censored during his rule. But today, I think he is the best thing that has ever happened to Ivory Coast. Although the Ivory Coast, unlike most African countries, had no mining resources to speak of, he managed to turn it into a promising place by opening its territory, then underpopulated and lacking qualified executives, to the arms and brains of other countries. In addition, Houphouët-Boigny’s dictatorship—it was a dictatorship—was less overtly bloody than the ones we still see today in Africa. It was a dictatorship we could describe as “soft,” in the sense that it was based on the corruption of souls, not on the corruption of bodies.
What follows is the first of three outtakes from a conversation I had with Koffi Kwahulé for a special section, "Africa Writes Back," which I curated, edited and wrote for the November issue of American Theatre magazine.
KOFFI: Despite a strained relationship since the Ivorian political crisis, the French's role is still prominent. For example, in all of francophone Africa and even Portuguese-speaking Africa, without the French Cultural Centers and the Alliances Françaises, there would be practically no viable cultural centers. Most festivals are sponsored by France. As for the Ivory Coast, for a few years already, this influence has become relative. Since Ivory Coast seems comparatively more wealthy than its neighbors, cultural programs are redirected toward other countries.
RANDY: Can you elaborate on the nature of this Ivorian political crisis?
KOFFI: Since 1999 and the horrifying concept of Ivoirité, there has been a coup followed by a civil war that has split the country in two: the North half controlled by the Rebels and the South half controlled by the Loyalists (government). It's this whole period that is referred to as "the Ivorian Crisis." But fortunately for a few months now, this crisis has started to look like it might be ending and the country is considering having elections in February 2009 at the latest.
Monday, October 13, 2008
I speak here as someone who has never been to Belarus. The 30-minute distance of my place of residence, a youth hostel called Raketa, from the centre of Minsk, where the performances took place, proved dispiriting to me. This made it impossible for me to seek out the theatres and churches of Minsk in a way that was independent of the other jury members. Their professions make it possible for them to return to Minsk. For me, this felt like a once-in-a-lifetime shot.
The festival's main winner was a Russian student production of "Cyrano," in which Cyrano's famous monologue, which Steve Martin transformed into a stand-up comic routine in the film "Roxanne." No one particularly thought the actor who played Roxanne gave a performance that was special, and yet the show won the hearts of the public anyway (in a tally of the audience's vote). Its professional qualities, heavy use of multimedia and large cast swayed most jury members; in the first tally, it garnered the most nominations and therefore took home a special prize. I thought it touristic and schlocky, with qualities that would fit right in a Broadway show.
My sentimental favorite was "Jakob," the Dutch entry about a young man who is seduced by her older teacher. I thought the best production was the Estonian production of Sarah Kane's "4.48 Psychosis."
One highlight of my stay in Belarus (from a professional standpoint) was visiting Sergei, the new artistic director of the Maxim Gorky National Russian Theatre. We were introduced by the playwright and screenwriter Andrei Kureichik. Sergei was an amazing force, a frank talker and a shot of fresh vibrance in a long-standing theatrical institution whose previous artistic leader retired only last year after almost three decades of stewardship.
I wish I had time to meet the folks behind the Belarussian National Theatre.
Few buildings in Minsk survived the wars. Among the ones that did survive were Orthodox and Catholic churches. Many older buildings had been recently restored to their pre-war state. Others were built from scratch in the same styles and on the original sites. (In this latter respect, the restoration of Minsk resembles how the older palaces of Seoul were returned back to their original glory. The only difference is that Minsk is not marred by the crowded skyscrapers and riots of neon billboards in South Korea.)
The Belarussian State University occupies a gray behemoth swathe of the centre, located on Sovetskaya street, a long stone's throw away from the popular landmark status of Lenin in front of the House of Government. In the evening, the building is very difficult to traverse from one end to the other; I got tired walking across the plaza in front of it, as I tried to reach the older part of Minsk. It did not help that the gates of the park were closed, so I couldn't cut through, as I was able to in the day time.
The BSU campus encompasses several nearby buildings. The rector's office is located at a red-brick structure across the garden. The Lyceum is about a 15 to 20 minute walk away.
Lenin stands tall in Ploshad Nezavisimosti. Erected across the wide avenue from the BSU colossus, Lenin has overlooked Independence Square since 1933. The seven metre high monument is by Aleksander Grube who designed the first public statue of Lenin in the USSR, which was erected in the Belarusian town of Krasnopole in 1922.
Minsk is a gorgeous city. Especially in the center, close to the presidential building which doubles as the leader's residence, the avenues are clean and wide and safe and grand-looking. The restored pre-war buildings echo the styles of older architectures (Classical, Baroque and Gothic), and they harmoniously hum with the park zones and the gargantuan concrete Soviet-style structures.
I found Minsk at night to be peaceful. It is walkable, if you have the leisurely time to do so and good walking shoes (I did). Otherwise, it will daunt you. As you go walk out the centre, the sameness of the Soviet-style buildings stretch out into infinity. If you head the other direction (to the older areas of the city, called upper Minsk), the sights are livelier, more eclectic and drop-dead charming.
If Minsk were a person, it would be a dark-haired, handsome but passive-bodied man. Dressed in a suit, he is sipping a cup of cappuccino at the News Cafe, not far from the president's residence. He's got a sophisticated style. His face is hopeful and unmoving.
You can't take a photo of the president's residence in Minsk. It is forbidden. But it is not illegal.
When I approached his residence with my camera, the guards who patrolled all four sides of the building shooed me away. I tried to take photos of the residence from behind a metal fence in the park across the street, but I was spotted by a guard, and he looked at me with such anger in his eyes that it freaked out my interpreter who advised that we walk briskly away. He was afraid that the guard would cross the street and run after us.
Located in the heart of Minsk, Lukashenko's residence is at the intersection of the streets named after Marx, Engels, Komsomol (the youth wing of the Communist party) and Kirov (a senior Communist Party member and comrade of Stalin's, who was murdered on the latter's orders). It is supposed to be the most closely guarded place in the country, since all the roads leading to the area are said to be sealed off to vehicular traffic. True, there was no traffic nearby the residence, but cars did occasionally stop at nearby streets, and a few did cruise by visibly.
Unlike the White House, which is separated from the public by a huge park and garden area, Lukashenko's residence sits right on the streets. A sidewalk separates it from the streets. It is quite possible to walk on the sidewalk. I managed to take a few photos while hiding behind the column of a theatre building located from across the street. Okay, so I was a little obsessed, but I wasn't Michael Moore-obsessed.
A little bit of a reality check is important to state here. Visitors in Minsk ought to know, a Belarusian friend told me, that security matters are very important. After all, my friend said, with the residence's proximity to the streets, it would be easy for someone to plan an attack on the residence using the disguise of being a tourist.
In another conversation, Andrei (an esteemed playwright) told me that Belarusians are fighting to hold on to their language. Russia's influence is immense and dominates the scene. There is perhaps a quarter of Belarusians who would like their country to become part of the European Union.
About half would like the country to return to the Russian fold.
The rest are generally confused about their identity in the world.
And that quid pro quo between Belarus and Westerners is reflected on the streets. There simply aren't many Western visitors here, much less from the U.S. The usual visitors from Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and other Eastern European countries where Russian is spoken as a language. Almost everyone I met at the places of business (restaurants, shopping stores, the subway, and so forth) don't speak English. At least in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, signs in Cyrillic letters are accompanied by their Latin translation. Bilingual signs pretty much end after the airport. In Minsk, everything is in Cyrillic. If you want to know what's inside the big buildings, you literally have to open the door or look through the windows. In the evening, the streets of Minsk are largely bare and empty. Except for several bars or nightclubs, where lots of people congregate, most Belarusian streets are wide and empty. No Westerners, much less Americans, stroll by.
Jean-Marc Larrue, the Quebecois man who heads the jury of our theatre festival, has been invited to Minsk several times. He says, "Nobody comes to Minsk without a special reason."
Thursday, October 9, 2008
There are two images of Belarus.
There is the Belarus that the outside world knows. And there is the Belarus that the outside world doesn't know.
In a way, you have to be here to see it for yourself. Because the image of an autocratic police state can be at odds with daily life here.
If you talk to the residents, they will say, Everything is doing fine. Life here is good. They are not aware, for example, of how they are viewed in the world outside of Eastern Europe.
And yet even with the gray beauty that is Minsk and the contented calm that pervades life here, there are, in fact, some instances when you will encounter how the culture of the Soviet era has indeed permeated Belarusians completely. On my first night, for example, Putin and his entourage drove by the same highway as the car I was in. He was going the other way. He was leaving Minsk, after a series of meetings, while I had just arrived and gotten off the plane.
But then how does one add into this picture the stories told by the Belarus Free Theatre, such as the email I posted above? How do these stories complicate the picture?
Hope you are doing well. We are as usually running like crazy... I send you what just happened in Minsk. It could be interesting for the American Theatre. It is connected to the new project that we do. American playwright, director Aaron Landsman participate in it as a playwright and the American actress performs in it. Let me know if you need more details on the project itself. Best, Natalia
DETENTION OF THE AMERICAN AND AUSTRALIAN ACTRESSES IN THE BELARUSIAN AIRPORT
Europe - posted by FREE THEATRE on 06.10.08
Stephanie Pan, American actress and singer, and Esther Mugambi, Australian actress, came to Minsk on October 5 by invitation of the Belarus Free Theatre. During a week they were to rehearse the Free Theatre’s and Lund-2014 productions in the course of the “Eurepica” project that is done in cooperation with the municipality of Lund and ECF. However, after their arrival in Belarus they were held up at the airport “Minsk-2”.
Belarusian customs officers informed the actresses that they are on the list of individuals who are not permitted to enter the country and their visa applications were rejected. The actresses, who flew to Minsk from Amsterdam, Have never visited Belarus before. The staff of the Minsk airport didn’t explain the reason for prohibition to enter the country referring to the fact that “this is confidential information of the Belarusian Ministry of foreign affairs”. Belarusian customs officers informed Stephanie Pan and Esther Mugambi that they would be able to fly back home only at their own expense. The girls had return tickets for the flight Minsk-Prague-Amsterdam only for October 12.
The actresses were accommodated in the airport in the prison-type rooms, so-called rooms for the detained travellers. Their freedom was limited, they were locked up. For example, in order to go to the restroom the actresses had to knock on the door and ask to be accompanied. In total, there are 8 rooms of this type in the airport of Minsk. In the rooms next door to the actresses’ citizens of Bangladesh, Azerbaijan and Iraq were kept. Both actresses speak only English and communication with the airport staff appeared to be a problem. The Free Theatre directors Natalia Koliada and Nikolai Khalezin had to specially return to Minsk, from the airport which is located 30 km away from the capital, to buy food and water for the actresses, as all the cafes at the airport had already been closed.
Today Stephanie Pan and Esther Mugambi stayed at the airport until 16:00 and then finally managed to fly back to Amsterdam through Prague.
According to Nikolai Khalezin, the Belarus Free Theatre’s creative director, representatives of the Belarusian government came to the airport to negotiate with the Czech air company about the deportation of the American and Australian actresses. They finally managed to fly out to Amsterdam through Prague after 20 hours of custody within the walls of the Minsk airport. The actresses flew out of Minsk at the expense of the Czech airlines as a result of agreement between the Czech air company and pressure of representatives of the Belarusian authorities.
“We are very sorry that the two prominent actresses’ acquaintance with Belarus ended with the impressions of a day’s stay on the neutral line and the following deportation. Unfortunately, we will have to work on the Eurepica project only abroad. When yesterday we finally had a chance to talk to them through a glass window, they said: 'You were right, Belarus now is really the main challenge for Europe'. All the day we couldn’t help the feeling of a bad perestrojka-type movie, where the airport staff doesn’t speak English, customs officers are not capable of providing at least some kind of food supply to the detainees and none of the governmental structures is able to make any decision... The situations such as this can only cause one feeling – the feeling of shame for your own country” said Nikolai Khalezin in his interview to the Charter’97 press centre.
Nikolai Khalezin reminded that it was not the first case when foreigners are allowed to enter Belarus upon invitation of the Free Theatre. Last year 8 foreign actors who were to participate in a joint project with the Belarussians were refused visas by the Belarusian embassy in the Netherlands. Among them were the curators of the international school of arts DasArts who were detained in Minsk at the Free Theatre’s performance on August 22. That day special forces broke into the house where performance was going and arrested several dozens of actors and spectators, including the theatre’s guests from France and the Netherlands.
Natalia A. Koliada, General Director and Co-Founder of the Belarus Free Theatre
Nikolai N. Khalezin, Art Director and Co-Founder of the Belarus Free Theatre