Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Outtakes: Moe Angelos Unplugged on "Continuous City," Nov. 18-22 at BAM Next Wave Festival

In Continuous City, the techno-fabulous new show by the Builders Association, actor Moe Angelos portrays a nanny who vblogs hilarious personal stories about her daily life, while taking care of a young girl whose father is a globe-trotting businessman whom she misses terribly.

I have loved following Moe Angelos in both the Builders shows and the Five Lesbian Brothers. In fact, when the Builders and the U.K.-based motiroti presented Alladeen at the BAM Next Wave Festival some years back, Moe actually wrote an article for me about what it is like to be a performer in Builders shows. It was a terrific personal account, as sassy and downhome funny as Moe herself is.

While I was writing "Electronic Campfires," my American Theatre magazine cover story about the Builders Association for its December edition, I had an opportunity to interview Moe more about the Builders in general, rather than specifically about her own work in the show. At the time we spoke, Moe was in San Francisco where she was vblogged for the show's Yerba Buena for the Arts premiere. I had just seen the company's presentation at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis, where Moe blogged about meeting a farmer who talked to her about corn.

Heres' a scrumptious bite of undiluted Moe Angelos corn:

RANDY GENER: Why have you remained working with the Builders all these years?
MOE ANGELOS: I enjoy the challenge of creating theater pieces while simultaneously exploring the process for creating those works. The Builders are making theatre and making methods and practices and in that one small corner of my life, I am an overachiever. Plus, the kind of theater that The Builders end up producing is very different from a more traditional, text-driven narrative. How to tell a story without literally "telling" it is pretty interesting territory.

RANDY: One feedback I have read or heard say the Builders shows are not critical enough or not dialectical enough as narratives. I remember a Times review of "Super Vision" that stated the themes in the show have been explored before in other genres (George Orwell was cited) and were not investigated deep enough. Is this a fair criticism? Is narrative a weakness in Builders shows?
MOE: Oh boy! The "weak narrative" argument surfaces. I would say that the work is trying to offer our audiences live, immersive theatricalized worlds which explore what it's like to live in our Digital Age, where issues like identity and boundaries and distance are in a state of flux. Story is the way audiences are used to entering into the world presented on stage and I'd say that Marianne is trying to open another entrance into those created worlds. Yes, others like Mr. Orwell have explored this territory, but I think Marianne's goal is to get at what it feels like to live in our current world, which is now not so Brave nor New (to steal from Huxley) rather than to warn of its pitfalls. That genie is out of the bottle at this point and living with the genie among us is what I'd say it's about.

RANDY: Can you share some thoughts about other Builders founders like Dan Dobson or Peter Flaherty?
MOE: Both these gents are fantastic collaborators who are willing to give their creative talents to the greater common good of show business above and beyond the various duties that call them incessantly. It is not always an easy business, as there is much trial and error involved and steely nerves are needed, for instance, to jettison something that you have just spent hours, if not days working on in service to the show's clarity. The many many iterations that constitute the Builders' process requires both flexibility and stamina over the long haul. The Ironman Triathletes of the process, they along with the video team (Ed, Josh, Austin), the tech director Neal and our lighting associate Laura go to heroic lengths to make the magic happen. I guess we are all on some level, a quirky bunch who derive some deep satisfaction from solving the artistic problems Marianne proposes in unconventional ways.

RANDY: In what ways has Marianne grown as a director?
MOE: I'd say that Marianne has not been that interested in telling stories in conventional ways and this can result in the "narrative deficit" discussions around the work (see above). I have to hand it to her that she has listened to those criticisms and I feel has really endeavored to use narrative in a more conventional way in this show. It is not always an easy fit for her, but she has tried to do it differently this time out by working with Harry as the writer, who is much more of a narrative-Builder, capital B and small b. The artistic scope of her vision has enlarged, and she is more ambitious about the stage pictures she wants to present, always going for greater richness and depth as her personal eye develops over time. She always wants to make a simpler show and it never turns out that way!

Continuous City
The Builders Association

Directed by Marianne Weems

Conceived by:
Marianne Weems, Director
Harry Sinclair, Writer
James Gibbs, Dramaturg
Sound Design and original music composition by Dan Dobson
Video Design by Peter Flaherty
Lighting by Jennifer Tipton
Set Design by James Gibbs, Stewart Laing, and Neal Wilkinson

BAM Harvey Theater (651 Fulton St)
Nov 18—22 at 7:30pm
Tickets: $20, 30, 45, 55718.636.4100 or BAM.org

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shrek, a musical for green people of color

Funny thing about the Broadway Theatre (1681 Broadway @ 53rd St), where the new Shrek The Musical began preview performances Nov. 8. For a long time, it was Broadway's multicultural destination. If you got a musical with non-white people in it, mount it at the Broadway Theatre.

Here are examples of shows that went up there in the past 10-20 years: Miss Saigon, in which mostly Filipino Americans and some British actors performed as Vietnamese in a helicopter-heavy show about the Vietnam War; Bombay Dreams, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in the manner of Bollywood films; The Color Purple, in which an Alice Walker novel about slavery in the South was transformed into an Oprah-produced spectacular. Briefly, the Broadway theatre advertised another culturally themed show, Mambo Kings, based on the Oscar Hujelos novel, but which ultimately did not make it.

Now, the Broadway Theatre has moved on to another color of people: green people.
This special interest group presumably remains underserved, despite the existence of the musical Wicked, which won a Tony award for best musical for extolling the goodness in the hearts of green people.
Advertising itself with the banner "Bringing Ugly Back!," Shrek even opened a social network site called Shrekster to seal the deal.

Written by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori, the musical stars Brian d'Arcy James as Shrek, Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona, Christopher Sieber as Lord Farquaad, Daniel Breaker as Donkey and John Tartaglia as Pinocchio. It is an entirely new musical based on the story and characters from William Steig’s book Shrek!, as well as the DreamWorks Animation film Shrek. Jason Moore, who staged the Tony–winning best musical Avenue Q, is the director.

SHREK THE MUSICAL is DreamWorks Animation’s first venture in legitimate theater. The production was initiated when Sam Mendes, a big fan of the first Shrek film, suggested the idea of creating a musical to DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg around the time the second film was in production. The musical is being produced by DreamWorks Theatricals (Bill Damaschke, President) and Neal Street Productions, Ltd (principals Sam Mendes and Caro Newling).

Tickets for SHREK THE MUSICAL are available by calling Telecharge.com at (212) 239-6200, (800) 432-7250 outside the NY metro area, online at Telecharge.com, or in person at The Broadway Theatre box office (1681 Broadway @ 53rd St). Group sales are available by contacting Telecharge Group Sales at 212-239-6262, or 800-432-7780.

To see interviews with the cast and creative team of SHREK THE MUSICAL click the link below: http://www.shrekthemusical.com/videos.html

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Night: Obama Vs. McCain on Arts Policy

Since today's election will decide the successor of the National Endowment for the Arts, it remains an open question whether a bill currently in the House of Representatives will pass and give the NEA a $15.3-million increase for fiscal 2009. So which candidates support the arts?

Many artists have gotten behind Democratic candidate Illinois Senator Barack Obama and his running mate from Delaware, Joe Biden.

The Obama for America National Arts Policy Committee, chaired by American Film Institute founder George Stevens Jr. and Broadway producer Margo Lion, has advised Obama on his extensive arts platform, available at www.barackobama.com.

The site says Obama would offer support for increased funding for the NEA and for amending the Internal Revenue Service code to allow artists to take full deductions (at fair market value, rather than cost of materials) on works donated to a museum or nonprofit.

No matter how impressive-looking, Obama’s policy paper is only an official position. Based on his actual record, posted on Arts Action Fund (see www.artsactionfund.org/pdf/artsvote/Obamaarts1.pdf), the Illinois senator has a history of supporting chamber music events, public-school arts-enrichment programs, poetry workshops and student outreach—but there is no mention of his active support of theatrical institutions, individual theatre artists or the NEA.

What about Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain? A steadfast critic of earmarks, congressional funds directed to special programs, McCain has not helped to direct federal funds to arts organizations in Arizona. In a Chicago Tribune article, Robert Booker, head of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, said McCain “is not a positive supporter of the arts nationally or in Arizona.” Kevin Moore, managing director of Arizona Theatre Company, adds that McCain gave ATC “a small donation” in 1998.

On his campaign website, McCain does not spell out an official policy on the arts, arts funding or arts education. The only way to assess McCain’s position is to divine the tea leaves from the very few public remarks he’s given. McCain has opposed federal funding for the NEA on the basis of “the obscene and inappropriate projects this organization has supported with tax dollars.” Instead he favors “block grants of federal funds to the states for arts education and artistic endeavors pursued by state and local authorities, while assuring that federal tax dollars are not spent on obscene or offensive material.

This past October, McCain team, however, did issue an arts-related statement in a Salt Lake Tribune article. His team said: "John McCain believes that arts education can play a vital role fostering creativity and expression. He is a strong believer in empowering local school districts to establish priorities based on the needs of local schools and school districts. Schools receiving federal funds for education must be held accountable for providing a quality education in basic subjects critical to ensuring students are prepared to compete and succeed in the global economy. Where these local priorities allow, he believes investing in arts education can play a role in nurturing the creativity of expression so vital to the health of our cultural life and providing a means of creative expression for young people."

Having used her line-item veto power to chop nearly a quarter-billion dollars from the state’s budget, Alaskan governor Sarah Palin—the Republican vice presidential candidate who has received nearly as much ink as the president-of-the-U.S. contenders—has not endeared herself to Juneau arts groups. “To my knowledge, Palin has not yet attended a show at Perseverance Theatre,” says its interim managing director, Merry Ellefson. “Sarah vetoed the Perseverance’s capital request that our legislators endorsed. It was for $25,000 for improving our dimmer system.”

Palin also vetoed this year a $100,000 funding request to assist with renovations for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, a former National Guard armory that the city is converting into an arts center, confirmed Nancy DeCherney, the council’s leader.