Each week in Stage Door I offer theater tips for the weekend, sometimes with a few pieces of theater news.
The Whipping Man opened on Wednesday at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. The show made a big splash at Manhattan Theatre Club in New York last spring with Andre Braugher in the central role of Simon, a dedicated former slave who remains in a ruined mansion in 1865 Richmond in the days just after the Civil War. Caleb, the wounded son of his former master stumbles in (desperately needing some horrendous surgery) and then John, another former slave, a young man raised side by side with Caleb. The slave-owning family was Jewish, and it’s almost time for Passover, which they decide to celebrate. It’s a powerful show about freedom and responsibility with some jaw-dropping plot twists. Director D. Lynn Meyers gets the most from her cast. This one is a must-see. Onstage through Feb. 12.
I spent 12 hours on Thursday absorbing events and
performances of the 2012 World Choir Games. My "day pass" gave me way
too much to write up in detail, but here are some highlights and random
Show Choirs: I spent several morning hours at the Aronoff Center (which was "sold-out" — no empty seats, before 10 a.m.!) watching groups perform in the manner popularized by the TV series Glee. Some followed the familiar model completely — glittering costumes, athletic dance numbers, lots of fist-pumping and high energy. They were fun to watch, but the international filter provided by groups from the Bahamas and Venezuela provided a whole new filter. The 26 members of the Bahama National Youth Choir dispensed with flashy costumes — young men and women wore khaki pants and skirts, topped with navy blue blazers and white shirts. But, boy, could they dance: From "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing" to Michael Jackson's "Beat It." And when they finished (to a standing ovation), the next group, Orfeón Universitario Rafael Montaño from Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, dazzled us with a salsa-inspired Spanish-language set with costume changes for every number — at one point including a dozen women with palm trees atop their heads! About half the numbers utilized wonderful soloists, mature women with incredible voices backed up by the choir in tributes to pop singers from the world of Hispanic music. The group's performance was a riot of color, dancing and joyous outbursts of energy.
Barbershop: This is a first-time category for WCG, a popular choir form in North America that's not practiced much elsewhere. But based on the big crowd for the competition at Music Hall, I'd say that singers of the world might be adopting this happy form of choral performance that involves close harmony, typically by groups that are all male or female. I smiled at a group of 32 from Minnesota, the North Star Boys Choir, and enjoyed the "mature" group of women, the Cincinnati Sound Chorus, who clearly enjoyed their set, opening with "As long as I'm singing my song." Three more choruses in colorful costumes — A Cappella Showcase (from Canada), Greater Harrisburg Sweet Adelines Chorus (from Pennsylvania) and Bay Area Showcase Chorus (from California) were all dazzlingly entertaining.
Friendship Concert: Departing from Music Hall late in the afternoon, I encountered a big crowd in Washington Park surrounding the bandstand. Patiently waiting for the moment to begin was a chorus of kids from Goteborg School in South Africa. The surrounding crowd was dotted with other performers, young African-American girls in maroon choir robes and pale girls from Russia in floaty pastel chiffon dresses with flowers in their hair, looking like escapees from a fantasy bridal party. I was tempted to pass by until the South African choir started to sing: They were elementary aged children who sang with lusty enthusiasm, and I couldn't tear myself away from listening to their rhythmic songs and high spirits. The crowd responded accordingly.
After dinner at Bakersfield on Vine Street, I went on to the day's real highlight, the Cultural Showcase at the Aronoff — another completely full house at the P&G Hall starting at 7:30 p.m. The Venezuelans I'd seen earlier in show choir mode were back doing a program of somewhat less flashy folk music numbers. There was still plenty of energy and costumes, as well as more work from the outstanding soloists. The next group was 65 boys from Kearsney College, a high school in Botha's Hill, South Africa. Half their program was sung in blue-and-white choir robes with a brilliant yellow icon of Africa on the front; this was a powerfully emotional set, full of the rhythms and zest that I've come to expect from South African ensembles. The second portion of their program focused on Zulu folklore and one of its heroes, King Shaka. For this portion the boys dressed in black shirts and pants with cardinal red belts and knee-high rubber boots, like those worn by miners. This set of music was non-stop athleticism, dancing, acrobatics and lusty singing. The audience responded warmly to this off-the-hook segment, and conductor Bernard Krüger told the audience that he loves Americans because they really know how to cheer. The final set of performers were from Istanbul, Turkey, the Bogaziçi Jazz Choir. This was a different kind of folk music from a country about which I don't know much, but watching their earnest, sometimes serious sometimes humorous delivery, I feel that I understand their character more fully. They concluded with several songs in English that warmed the audience even more — earning two standing ovations.
My final observation on the evening: It was so satisfying to be in an audience that truly loved what they were witnessing and expressed their joy at the performances with honest reactions. These were some of the most genuine standing ovations I've ever witnessed. I was proud to be in this crowd, and I have to believe that it was a truly memorable experience for the performers.
A final observation: Every choir I've heard from South Africa has deeply moved me. Knowing that nation's history of apartheid and seeing choirs of mixed races reveling in music gave me hope that music can indeed heal the world. That's a great lesson to learn from the World Choir Games.
Jason Bruffy will leave his position as artistic director of Know Theatre of Cincinnati on Sept. 4 to lead the Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC) in Utah.
He became Know's artistic leader in 2004 and oversaw the company's 2006 move from a church basement in Over-the-Rhine to a remodeled, two-story building on Jackson Street in another part of the neighborhood that has become a focal point for Cincinnati's performing arts scene. His departure coincides with that of Know founder, Jay Kalagayan, who announced earlier in the summer his intention to relinquish his responsibilities as the 11-year-old company's development director. Managing Director Eric Vosmeier will be Know's interim leader while a search is conducted for Know's next artistic director.
The Contemporary Arts Center has canceled one of its first shows of the 2009-10 season, Young Country. That group show, in which young artists address issues and symbols of Americana, was scheduled to open Oct. 3 and continue through Jan. 10.
In the heat of a Carolina summer, I’m pleased to be taking in a bit of this year’s American Dance Festival (ADF) in and around Duke University in steamy Durham, N.C. I’m here with another local dance writer (Kathy Valin) for the Israeli Festival portion of ADF to catch performances from two companies: Emanuel Gat Dance and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. 2009 marks ADF’s 76th season, “Where Ballet and Modern Meet.”
Even cheap bastards like you deserve a good scare. Here are a few homebrew haunts we found out about. They’re all free, so check ’em out and enjoy.
16 rooms, a tunnel, cabin and chainsaw killers.
Dusk to 9 p.m. Halloween.
2759 Niagra St., Northgate
Terror on Timberlake
An extensive home haunt with a children's area.
7-10 p.m. Halloween.
300 Timberlake Ave., Erlanger, www.wescareyou.com
Walker Cemetery Yard Haunt
Free yard haunt courtesy of Damien Reaper’s dad, Grey Ghost. (Damien Reaper is a character at the Dent Schoolhouse.)
5-9 p.m. Halloween.
5142 State Route 128, Cleves, 513-353-2556
If you want the real haunted house scare, peruse CityBeat's reviews of 17 area attractions here.
Under the old system, grants of $3,000-$5,000 were awarded to local artists. Now, the Cincinnati Arts Ambassador Fellowship Committee will provide more impactful grants of $6,000 to seven different artists.
The process kicked off at the beginning of the year when artists were invited to submit a letter and resume to City Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan before Jan. 15. The invitation was open to artists of all different disciplines but they had to be residents of Cincinnati throughout the program (July 1, 2012-May 31, 2013).
After more than 100 applications applied, twelve finalists were announced on Tuesday.
“We were blown away at the number of applications,” Todd Wurzbacher, Chair of the Cincinnati Arts Allocation Committee, said in a press release. He presented the list of finalists in Quinlivan’s Strategic Growth Committee today.
The twelve finalists are Jesse Mooney-Bullock, Tatiana Berman, Pam Kravetz, Karen Heyl, Melissa Godoy, Guy Michael Davis, Tonya Matthews, Terri Kern, Casey Riordan Millard, Brad Austin Smith, Rondle West and Nathaniel Chaitkin.
The finalists will be interviewed by the Cincinnati Arts Allocation Committee members, who will then choose the final seven artists to receive awards. The final awards will be given to seven artists on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at 11:30 a.m. on the steps of City Hall.
“I’m excited we have visual artists, musicians, dancers, filmmakers, and even a puppeteer in our finalists,” Quinlivan said in a press release. Quinlivan got council support to create the CAAF program. “More than 125 Cincinnati artists applied for the newly created Arts Ambassador Fellowship, proof that Cincinnati is a strong arts city,” she said.
The Audience Pick, voted by theatergoers, went to Gravesongs (pictured), Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s intern showcase, a piece by local playwright Sarah Underwood written for the five actresses who spent this season at ETC (Rachel Christianson, Emily Eaton, Lauren Shiveley, Rebecca Whatley and Elizabeth L. Worley). It was directed by another ETC intern, Elizabeth Maxwell. The script is about death from the perspective of women in their early twenties.
Students at the Cincinnati Arts & Technology Center (CATC) had a productive summer of paint-slinging as they created a mural of local scenes for display at the bigg’s store in Florence, Ky. The mural is the 10th in a series of 11 murals being painted by the students for the supermarket chain in the Tristate area under the guidance of CATC instructor Mike McGuire.
It is also, like that other Oktoberfest (which actually occurs in September), fun. No, it doesn’t have the World’s Largest Chicken Dance, but it may have come up with something even better in Contained: Gateway Arts Festival, which opened last Saturday and continues with limited hours through Nov. 3.
It was produced by the Requiem Project, which is managing and hoping to restore Over-the-Rhine’s Emery Theatre (where there is a Mike Disfarmer photo exhibit that I blogged about last week). Saturday’s opening was hampered by cold weather that kept attendance small on the grounds of Grammer’s in Over-the-Rhine. (Grammer’s is a place that’s probably seen quite a few Oktoberfests in its day.) But the weather didn’t dampen the creative imagination that went into the event.
Using 11 trailer-size steel shipping containers as gallery walls, artists displayed their photography and video-based work, some interactive, as visitors wandered in and out. The standards were quite high and one project — David Rosenthal’s “Everything at Home Depot (Series)’’ — struck me as outstanding.
Installed in vertical pieces on fiberboard along the interior sides of the container, the color heat-transfer prints set out to do what the title suggests. In this environment — with the container’s metal sides, the wood floor and glaring fluorescent lights – the whole project looked just right — a melding of the artistic and the industrial, the soulful and the soulless. If this is part of a larger series (as the title suggests), it deserves to be seen in total. But one hopes future showings will get an environment as cool as this.
In a corner of the grounds, behind one crate and out of direct view, a band played suitably spacey music. After awhile, musicians moved atop a crate to play music with a pronounced electronic component. Meanwhile, video projections were displayed high off the building’s sides — you could see the images when approaching the site and it was really exciting.
The whole festival, itself, worked as an art installation. It will be open again this Friday from 6-10 p.m. (it’s ideal at dark), 2-5 p.m. Saturday and Nov. 3 by appointment at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s definitely worth a visit, even if not that easy to get to.
Another show you need to see — partly because of its excellence and partly because it’s in a space rarely open to the public — is the Using Photography exhibit at downtown’s Michael Lowe Gallery. He is a private dealer, so it’s a treat to see his elegant, uncluttered two-floor gallery open to the public. Drawing on his own collection, he’s put together a show that works as both top-notch fine-art photography and as a historical exhibition.
In this case, the history that the show addresses is that of the conceptual/performance art world of the 1970s. Pivotal names in international contemporary art’s development are represented here — Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci, Gerhard Richter, Michael Kelly, Ed Ruscha, Gilbert and George and many more.
With the richness of work represented, and it way it stretches our definition of photography and time-based art, it’s one of FotoFocus’ best shows. To just pick one piece, I was especially moved by Christian Boltanski’s five touched-up photographs comprising 1974’s “Anniversaire,” or “The Birthday.” I am used to the French artist’s solemn, sobering, heart-rending installations that use photography to remember the Holocaust. They are so strong you wonder if they must drain the artist of all joie de vivre. Yet here he is happy in this work, and the meaning of that happiness is revelatory if you know his history. Even if you don’t, it’s a generous and warm piece.
This show originally was going to be open just briefly, but Lowe has agreed to stay open noon-4 p.m. weekdays through the end of the month. His gallery is at 905 Vine St. Plan a downtown lunch trip around it.
Meanwhile, only up through this Thursday is Photogenus at the Reed Gallery inside University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture & Planning. Put together by Jordan Tate, DAAP photography professor, and gallery director Aaron Cowan, this looks at how today’s international artists use photography in a digital age.
It’s a nice companion to Lowe’s show, as one chronicles breakthroughs from the 1970s (some of which we’re still trying to understand) and one shows how today’s international artists are using photography to make new breakthroughs. Much of it is quite out-there and left me quizzical about individual work’s obscure intent and technique. But some were very striking, like Anthony Lepore’s pairing of a photo (an archival ink print) of a salt field with a piece of carpet of roughly the same color.
I had written earlier about how eager I was to see Nancy Rexroth’s photographs at downtown’s YWCA Women’s Art Gallery as part of FotoFocus. The show consists of previously unprinted images from her influential Iowa project of the early 1970s — she used a toy camera to capture fleeting glimpses of everyday life in rural Ohio.
There was always the chance the black-and-white work had
been left unprinted for a reason all these decades, but I’m happy to report
it’s an excellent, evocative show — underscoring just how strong a body of work
Iowa is. Besides the ghostly “Clara
in the Closet, Carpenter, OH,” previously published in CityBeat, I also loved
“House Vibration, Dayton, OH, 1976,” in which the blurry focus produces an
unsteady image that makes one think an earthquake is occurring. It’s a great
metaphor for the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of life. This show will be up
through Jan. 10 — Rexroth shares the space with Judi Parks and Jane Alden