Some people yearn for sunshine this time of year and find their way to a beach to recharge their batteries. Theater fans who are impatient for the annual Cincinnati Fringe Festival, which doesn’t roll around until June, were reminded this past weekend of the kind of creativity that makes those two weeks in early summer so stimulating. Thanks to the drama program at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), theater fans were offered a jolt of onstage vitality that just might be enough to sustain us for a few months. It was a festival called Transmigration.
Jan Leno bores me, I dig Jimmy Kimmel and I think Conan is the king of late night (even before he takes over Leno's show in the very near future). David Letterman is the Jack Benny and Johnny Carson of our times, all rolled into one.
Last night, Letterman showed his class, his legendary status and his sense of history by having Bill Hicks' mother on and then playing the legendary Hicks' appearance he originally censored some 16 years ago. Hicks had a career-making appearance on Letterman's show, and it was "banned," as Letterman said last night, by himself. Hicks, disappointed by what had happened, died soon after the show's non-airing.
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.”
In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Carnegie Center in Covington has been producing some ambitious theater and following a course that others haven’t tried: It’s called collaboration. Joshua Steele, the managing director of theater for the arts center in a one-time Carnegie Library, has amplified his results by working with other arts institutions in the region — especially, but not limited to, the fine theater programs at area universities. Steele will announce his 2012-2013 this week, and it’s evident that he’s continuing this commendable course working with Dayton’s Human Race Theatre Company for the first time and building on a productive relationship with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. He’s also engaged some top-notch freelance talent to ensure that productions will be memorable.
Steele, who previously co-founded the meteoric New Stage Collective with his friend Alan Patrick Kenny, is bringing the remarkable director back to town for his first return since NSC closed in April 2010. Kenny, who has been earning an M.F.A. in California and staging theater on the West Coast, will direct the regional premiere of the musical Xanadu (Aug. 11-26, 2012). This campy, tongue-in-cheek show, based on the 1980 move that featured Olivia Newton-John, is right up Kenny’s inventive alley, and should be a refreshing dash of onstage energy at summer’s end. (Auditions for this show will take place on May 22, 7-10 p.m. at the Carnegie. Actors interested in auditioning should contact Adrianne Eby, email@example.com)
The Human Race collaboration will be next. The Dayton
company, which performs regularly at the Loft Theater in that city’s downtown,
is premiering a new play by Michael Slade, Under a Red Moon, in late October.
The production will then move to the Carnegie for a three-weekend run (Nov.
2-18, 2012). Set in 1949, it’s a taut psychological thriller telling the story
of John George Haigh, Britain’s infamous “Acid Bath Killer.”
For the third consecutive year, Steele has lined up a joint, in-concert presentation of a well known musical with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. After successful outings with the CCO for Carousel and The King and I, the late January 2013 production will be Camelot, the story of chivalry and the love triangle of King Arthur, Queen Guenevere and the knight Sir Lancelot. The lush Lerner and Loewe score will be conducted by the CCO’s music director Mischa Santora onstage with musicians from the orchestra.
Steele wraps up his four-production season with Jason Robert
Brown’s powerful musical Parade (April 5-21, 2013), staged by
local director-choreographer team Ed Cohen and Dee Anne Bryll, who will be
joined by music director Steve Goers (currently appearing in the Carnegie’s
production of Pump Boys & Dinettes).
Set in Atlanta in 1913, it’s about the intolerance and misunderstanding
swirling around the trial of a Jewish factory manager accused of murdering a
young girl in his employ. Cohen and Bryll staged an excellent community theater
production of the show with Footlighters Inc. in 2007, winning that season’s
outstanding community theater award. They also staged the Huck Finn musical Big River for the Carnegie with great
results in 2010.
It’s a great line-up, and I suspect audiences will be lining up in Covington for these productions.
Sure signs of springtime in Cincinnati: The Reds are playing (and
winning), trees in Over-the-Rhine are covered with white blossoms — and
Know Theatre has announced the lineup for the upcoming Cincinnati Fringe
Festival. 2013 is a significant year for the Fringe: It's marking the 10th anniversary of the annual celebration of weird creativity. Last
evening a big crowd gathered at Know Theatre's Jackson Street facility
to hear what's in store for the May 28-June 8 festival.
Know's producing artistic director, shared the news that, building on a
decade of success, the Fringe received a
record number of applicants for 2013, with 70 percent of the
applications coming from brand-new producers. That's one of the best
parts of the Fringe, the fact that a new jolt of energy arrives annually
from performers that haven't been seen locally. Sixty-three percent of the 2013
applications were from out of town, including several from
international producers. There will be 35 productions in all, by 17
local groups and 18 from out of town. There will be 19 plays, seven solo
shows, two dance pieces, two musicals, and five multimedia/variety
Vosmeier said that it was no easy task for the Fringe selection committee to assemble this lineup. The group was made up of theater professionals from Greater Cincinnati: Heather Britt, Michael Haney, Dave Levy, Miranda McGee, D. Lynn Meyers and Torie Wiggins. “The quality of applications continues to get stronger and larger each year," he said. "I'm so happy to have these amazing leaders of the local theatre community as a part of our jury, and we're grateful for their time in deciding the 2013 lineup.”
The official CityBeat Fringe Kick-Off Party takes place Tuesday, May 28, at Know Theatre. This year's event will also be a 10th birthday celebration, with many of the festival's founders in attendance. The evening, which kicks off at 6 p.m., will feature Indie rock group Bethesda and food from a half-dozen local eateries. The evening (suggested donation: $5) is an opportunity to meet Fringe artists, staff, volunteers and other audience members.
full Fringe schedule will be published in CityBeat's May 15 edition,
but you can get some information at the refreshed website: www.cincyfringe.com.
I'm looking forward to return visits by Wonderheads (from Portland,
Ore., who did some amazing work with masks in last year's Grim and Fischer; their new piece is titled LOON), Four Humors Theatre (from Minneapolis, whose always creative troupe will be staging Lolita: A Three Man Show) and Tanya O'Debra (from New York City; whose Radio Star was a much admired work in 2012; this time she's in a two-person piece, Shut UP, Emily Dickinson).
Performance Gallery, based here in Cincinnati and a regular annual
presence every year is staging Mater Facit, "an absurd look at
motherhood, nationalism, war, sex and sacrifice." Tangled Leaves
Theatrical Collective, another Cincinnati-based group popular with local
audiences, will produce Vortex of the Great Unknown.
Of course, the real fun of Fringe is being surprised by new material and performers, and this year's lineup offers plenty of that: Poe and Mathews: A Misadventure in the Middle of Nowhere (Los Angeles); Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity (Bloomington, Ind.); The Bubble and Other Displays of Moral Turpitude (from Cincinnati-based North American New Opera Workshop); The Elephant in My Closet (New York City); and a production of Cincinnati playwright Catie O'Keefe's The Space Between my Head and my Body (by Shark Eat Muffin Theatre Company). I could go on and on — Know's announcement news release is 20 pages! Based on a decade of Fringing, I like to say that the festival is "theater roulette": You never know what's going to happen when you show up for a performance, and serendipity is the only predictable element. That's what makes it fun. I don't want to wish away springtime, but is it May 28 yet?
Quite a few local theaters are opening new productions this week, but if I were to point you to just one for this weekend, it would be Next Fall, a new play by Geoffrey Nauffts, at Ensemble Theatre.
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.
Stephen Schwartz is well known in the world of musical theater as the composer of Wicked, the mega-hit Broadway musical that’s been running since 2003 (more than 3,200 performances to date). But he started his career a long time ago, composing the music for Godspell way back in 1971. At the age of 24, he followed Godspell with another hit, the 1972 musical Pippin (which ran for five years, nearly 2,000 performances). It’s the season opener in a three-weekend run at Covington’s Carnegie Center beginning Friday.
All rooms were jam-packed with people in imaginative costumes, and in the ballroom the DAAP Girls (outfitted for the night as the DAAP Witches) belted out a funky, soulful, garage-rock version of “Ghostbusters” far better than the cutesy original.
Best of all, for those who remember coughing and hacking their way through the old Southgate House, the place was non-smoking for this event and had signs up everywhere to enforce that. If it can keep up the pleasant smoke-free environment, Thompson House might just become the nightclub that counts in Greater Cincinnati. Still not sure if that will make me turn out for the upcoming Dying Fetus/Malignancy concert, but the place is definitely back on my radar.
Carnevil’s turnout also proved that FotoFocus, as an event, was on people’s radar. There had been some questioning of that earlier in the week, after moderate turnouts for two appearances by nationally significant photographers at Cincinnati Art Museum’s Fath Auditorium.
Laurel Nakadate gave the prestigious FotoFocus Lecture there on Oct. 24, presenting a slide show of the past 12 years of her sometimes-eyebrow-raising performative-video and still-photography work.
For one project, she wandered around truck stops and invited truckers to dance with her in their cabs. In another, she traveled across Canada by train and threw her underwear out the window each day, photographing the colorful results. (As far as I know, she did not get arrested for littering.) Someone asked about the inherent danger in some of her early work, which involved putting herself in erotic situations with strange men. “I look back at my early work and fear for my life,” she said. “But I’m really glad I made that work.”
Incidentally, one of her more recent projects — for which
she showed slides — was to photograph herself crying everyday for one year. The
“one year” motif seems to be such a strong one that some curator somewhere
should devote a show to its variations. There’s plenty of material right here.
At Michael Lowe’s Downtown gallery, site of the “Using Photography” FotoFocus
exhibit featuring work by 1970s-era (and beyond) Conceptual Artists, there is
an example of On Kawara’s “I Got Up” series. For 11 years (1968-1979), he sent
friend picture postcards stamped with the time that he arose each day.
And when Todd Pavlisko was in town last week to plan for his “Docent” rifle-firing project that occurred Monday at Cincinnati Art Museum, he said that one piece in his resultant museum show next year will be displaying all the loose change he’s collected in a year. (He will gold-plate the coinage.)
At the other appearance of a photographer at CAM last week, Chief Curator James Crump discussed the future of photography books with Minnesota photographer/publisher Alec Soth and Darius Himes, a gallerist whose Radius Books publishes unusual photography creations.
Some in the audience wished the event would have featured much more of Soth and his fascinating photojournalistic work. He did discuss a current project, in which he and Brad Zellar are photographing election-eve everyday life in Michigan for his LBM Dispatch, which tries to quickly publish and distribute photo essays. (The work will then be displayed at Detroit’s Cranbrook Institute.)
But Himes did express admiration for the strangest Conceptualist book project I’ve heard of in a long time. That would be photographer Mishka Henner’s printed-on-demand Astronomical, twelve 506-page volumes representing, in total, a scale model of the solar system from the sun to Pluto. Many of the pages are blank, representing the great distances between planets in space. Himes did not say if you must order the whole set or just your favorite volume, but you can find out more at here.
I was able to spend some time last week with Barry Andersen, photography professor emeritus at Northern Kentucky University who has been a strong, forceful advocate for the importance of this form as both an artistic medium and a critical societal observer. His own show, the now-concluded Sky, Earth and Sea at Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, served as a satisfying retrospective of thirty years of his work. Especially lovely were his gorgeous aerial-shot” Cloudscapes,” vivid inkjet prints from negative scans.
And as a curator, he put together a superb, sadly also now-concluded, show at NKU called Reporting Back, which surveyed the work of 14 documentary photographers whose thematic interests covered the globe. Each one’s work was presented as a series of photographs, a thematically related suite, to remind us of the journalistic impact of the photo essay. Ashley Gilbertson’s quietly moving “Bedrooms of the Fallen” visited the bedrooms of soldiers slain in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their solemnity was balanced by Jim Dow’s colorful portraits of idiosyncratically appealing, retro-Americana buildings. You can learn more about the show — and be introduced to some fine photographers — here.
FotoFocus has the potential to shine a lens on fine Cincinnati photographers of the past whose reputations could use a revival. One of the best shows to achieve that goal this year was Cincinnati Museum Center’s Photographic Legacy of Paul Briol: 1909-1955, which closes Thursday. Briol’s black-and-white images of the rhythms and architecture of Cincinnati life have a dreamy beauty, partly because he was not adverse to stripping in more dramatic skies and otherwise heightening an image’s dramatic effect.
The populism and humanism in his work are evident — Lewis Hine perhaps was an inspiration. An elderly African-American couple sits while the woman peels a potato; children in what seems to be an aged urban schoolroom pose with their stuffed animals. Those, along with images of the skyline, a roller coaster, Fountain Square, the riverfront, Rabbit Hash, Ky.’s general store, give life to that era’s Cincinnati.
Actually, the photo of his that moved me the most was in a different show, the concluded Images of the Great Depression: A Documentary Portrait of Ohio. It was by far the best thing in that exhibit. His contribution, an extraordinarily composed photo from 1935 called “Waiting for Work,” shows the looming shadows of men against a room’s wall. A sign reads, “Dirty Men Will Not Be Sent Out.” Briol may have arranged this image rather than just observed and captured it, but no matter. It magnificently speaks to the despair and denigration that the Depression brought.
One hopes 2014’s FotoFocus will find room to spotlight a few other Cincinnati photographers of the past who could use rediscovery — perhaps Nelson Ronsheim or George Rosenthal. Or, if you have ideas, send them along to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the Nov. 14 Big Picture column in CityBeat, I’ll address some suggestions for how we can keep the momentum going now that the interest level for photography has been raised.
Despite the 100-plus heat on Friday evening, on my way to a
World Choir Games concert at Over-the-Rhine's School for Creative and
Performing Arts (SCPA) I took an extra half-hour to wander through the
renovated Washington Park, which officially opened earlier in the day.
What an incredible scene! Hundreds of operagoers were streaming through
the park on their way to see Porgy and Bess at Music Hall, while
kids from the neighborhood — young and old, I must add — were playing in
the people-friendly fountain. Everyone was strolling around admiring
the views and the colorful "OTR Flags," another festive element of the
On from there to SCPA's Corbett Theater for another sold-out "Celebration Concert." This one used the theme "Voices of Gold," because each of the three choirs have won multiple honors in past World Choir Games and other choral competitions. SCPA seemed like the perfect setting, since each group was made up of youthful performers: Zvonky Praha is a school group from a school in Prague in the Czech Republic and some of its singers were obviously elementary school age kids; SKH Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School were high schoolers; and the Mansfield University Concert Choir was a mixed choir of young adults from the university in Pennsylvania. It's fascinating to observe the differing personalities of the choirs, here a product of age but also of directors with very different styles of leading the singing.
Zvonky Praha begain with its 19-member chamber component, separately named "Abbellimento," all high school age girls clad in black pants and shirts, with scarlet sashes, some worn as belts, others as scarves and one as a head band. Their female voices were reedy but strong for their program, virtually all sung in Czech, so I can't tell you much of what the music was about. But I can say it was delivered with passion and clarity, accompanied in most cases by a blonde-haired pianist who played with expressive emotion. Several numbers were enhanced by one of the singers picking up a clarinet and offering soulful punctuation. When the balance of the choir came on to join Abbellimento, the numbers were roughly doubled, but again almost all girls wearing red choir capes. (There were two young boys, but I suspect their voices had not yet changed, and the feminine quality of the singing did not change.) Director Jamila Noveknová kept the ensemble in tight control, but for several final numbers had some soloists step forward, including one of the younger performers with a gorgeous soprano voice. Their final number, a choral replication of bells, was especially memorable.
Lam Woo's director, Siu Mei Lee, is a petite, beautiful woman with shining, black hair. She conducted with the expressive grace of a ballerina, using large gestures and physical movement to inspire her very focused choristers. This was a big group, roughly 80 singers, wearing school uniforms: The boys had white shirts with a school emblem and ties while girls wore knee-length pale blue dresses with white "sailor" collars and white knee socks. This group were serious in their demeanor, totally focused on their animated director. Their wide ranging program encompassed works by Mendelssohn as well as Asian composers; their concluding number, "Zum Gali," was a rhythmic traditional number from Israel that swung between soft and loud passages and up and down energy, but with a beautiful fading elevation of tone as its conclusion. The intense singers maintained their demeanor as the audience gave them a standing ovation, but when a little boy entered from the wings to hand a bouquet to Siu Mei Lee, the entire chorus burst into applause. Their affection for her was evident.
Peggy Dettwiler is clearly a veteran conductor (she teaches the craft to others at Mansfield University) and her work with her more mature singers was the most satisfying component of the evening. A balanced choir of about 60, the men wore traditional tuxedoes and black ties, while the women were attired in floor-length gowns all cut the same way. (The women also wore identical sparkling necklaces and earrings.) According to the introductions made for this group, their repertoire is generally drawn from religious works, but that did not mean it was a lot of the same thing: They offered a beautiful piece with German lyrics and music by Mendelssohn, followed by a solemn, stately song by Stephen Paulus, "The Old Church." Next was a traditional Gospel number, "Hold On!," delivered with relaxed energy. For a traditional Appalachian hymn, "Every Night When the Sun Goes Down," the group formed an unorthodox circle around Dettwiler, who conducted the entire program without music from a small, square platform about six-inches in height. That meant that some had their backs to the audience, but at one key moment, they turned toward us, which elevated not only their volume but the intensity of their heartfelt performance. Their finale, "Pal-so seong," was a humorous number in which various solo singers burst into giggles, hoots and chortles, culminating in gales of laughter — a truly unusual piece. The group's encore, an infectious "Alleluia," had them file up the aisles at Corbett Theater, surrounding the audience with joyous song. It was a perfect conclusion to the varied program.