Want to get a big dose of new theater? You’ll want to spend some time in Louisville next March and April, when Actors Theatre of Louisville presents its 33rd consecutive Humana Festival of New American Plays. Productions begin on March 1, 2009, and continue through April 11. The 2009 festival will present six full-length plays, a comic anthology showcasing the Actors Theatre Acting Apprentice Company and three 10-minute plays.
The term "contemporary art" is supposed to have a specific — if changing — meaning. Originally, I first heard of it as a term for defining the seriously ambitious and new art of the post-World War II era, thus differentiating itself from the modern-art era, with its various movements, that preceded it in the earlier part of the 20th century. And by "new," one meant new in ideas, in material, in aesthetics and subject matter (or lack of). Some 60 years on, contemporary art increasingly means art of more recent times, or of artists alive today, or even art of the 21st century. That's legitimate change — evolution. But meanwhile, like such words as "loft" and "jazz," the term also has been co-opted as a cool-word marketing tool. Too often, people call any recent art "contemporary," as if it refers to the date a piece was created rather than the inspiration behind it.
To try to make sense of this, and to give those interested in art the tools to understand that contemporary art is more than just a commercial catchphrase, the Art Academy of Cincinnati has organized an ongoing series, "Making Sense of Contemporary Art," that is free and open to the public. This Sunday (Nov. 23) at 2 p.m., Matt Morris (an art critic for CityBeat) and Jean Feinberg (a critic and former curator) will be discussing the subject at the Academy, 1212 Jackson St. in Over-the-Rhine. Each will speak for roughly a half hour, with room for Q&A and then a reception.
The Fine Arts Fund has released the results of a year-long study intended to start the process of building more collective responsibility in Greater Cincinnati for the arts. Despite the general public’s longstanding support for arts and culture in their communities, charitable giving to and public funding of the arts struggle to keep up with demand nationally and locally — and this study was undertaken to try to “change the conversation” here about the arts as a shared public good and to motivate Cincinnatians to increase support.
So it's almost Thanksgiving and you need to find some good theater before you can begin working on all the preparations for the big meal later next week. My recommendation — Evita at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Aubrey Berg, who has headed the musical theater training program at the University of Cincinnati for 24 years, directs the show about Eva Duarte Peron's rise to fame and power in Argentina and subsequent fall from grace (she died from cancer at 33).
On Monday, Cincinnati Art Museum announced the resignation of James Crump, its chief curator and photography curator. He arrived at the museum in 2008. A press release said he would "pursue independent projects." The press release also included high praise for Crump from Aaron Betsky, museum director:
"We are so grateful for the great work James has done here in Cincinnati. His exhibitions and acquisitions have made us a center for photography, and we look forward to building on his extraordinary achievements."
One of those achievements, the exhibition James Welling: Monograph, just opened Feb. 2. Crump was also a leader in the organization of last year's multi-venue FotoFocus photography festival, and Cincinnati Art Museum sponsored two of its biggest shows — Herb Ritts: L.A. Style and Doug and Mike Starn's Gravity of Light.
The museum said an interim chief curator will be named soon.
Recently, the Italian art-book publisher Damiani launched a new line of Damiani / Crump books. It begins in March with Empire Falling, photographer Elena Dorfman's study of Midwest rock quarries.
The Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park has two stages: The Robert S. Marx Theatre is the mainstage with 626 seats; the Thompson Shelterhouse (which is in fact a one-time park shelter) can accommodate an audience of 225. Both have thrust-style stages surrounded by audience seating on three sides, making the action is close and intimate in both theaters.
On the Marx Stage:
· Fly by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan (Sept. 7-Oct. 5, 2013). The story of World War II’s Tuskegee Airmen is told using live action, video projections and tap dancing. This new work will be directed by Khan, its co-creator.
· Cabaret by John Kander and Fred Ebb (Oct. 19-Nov. 16, 2013). Set in Berlin in the 1930s, and especially in the decadent Kit Kat Club, it’s a musical love story with lots of choreography. Marcia Milgrom Dodge, a Broadway veteran, will direct.
· A Christmas Carol, adapted by Howard Dallin (Nov. 27-Dec. 29, 2013). Michael Evan Haney will direct the holiday show with a cast of 30 for the 21st time.
· Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris (Jan.18-Feb. 16, 2014). This one won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for best play. Inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s classic play, A Raisin in the Sun, the play is explores racial attitudes in a Chicago neighborhood in 1959 and 2009. Artistic Associate Timothy Douglas (who staged the current production of A Trip to Bountiful) is the director.
· Pride and Prejudice, adapted by Joseph Hanreddy and J. R. Sullivan (March 8-April 5, 2014). Robison will direct this lavish, full-scale production of Jane Austen’s classic romance.
· Venus in Fur by David Ives (April 19-May 17, 2014). Maybe you know Ives’ very funny collection of skits, All in the Timing. This is a full-length comedy about a director seeking the right actress who gets more than he bargained for. Artistic Associate KJ Sanchez is staging this one.
On the Shelterhouse Stage:
· Seven Spots on the Sun by Martín Zimmerman (Sept. 28-Oct. 27, 2013). The first of several world premieres for the season, this one is a fable of revenge and redemption set in a Latin American village just after a brutal civil war. Sanchez is directing this one.
· The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company (Nov. 9-Dec. 29, 2013). The same guys who abbreviated Shakespeare, the Bible and American history are at it again, premiering their latest abridgment right here in River City.
· 4000 Miles by Amy Herzog (Feb. 8-March 9, 2014). Robison will stage this tale of a pair of unlikely roommates, a 91-year-old grandmother and her 21-year-old grandson.
· A Delicate Ship by Anna Ziegler (March 22-April 20, 2014). Another world premiere production, this one by an impressive young playwright who offers a humorous and heartbreaking look at love, memory and decisions that change lives. Michael Haney will direct. (Haney, perhaps Cincinnati’s best local director, was the Playhouse’s Associate Artistic Director from 2001 to 2013; starting in the fall, he joins Douglas and Sanchez in a trio of “artistic associates” who each will direct two shows.)
· The North Pool by Rajiv Joseph (May 3-June 1, 2014). Rajiv Joseph’s riveting psychological drama is the story of a transfer student from the Middle East whose life quickly becomes complicated. Douglas is the director.
I recently spent three days in Louisville at the 34th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays. Actors Theatre of Louisville annually assembles a lineup of productions that offers a fascinating cross-section of contemporary American theater.
I found this year’s array to be an especially pleasing collection of works: It included two excellent comedies, a thoughtful drama, two experimental performance pieces from creative ensembles and an inventive piece to showcase interns (and a Louisville hotel/museum showplace). A bill of 10-minute plays was clever and creative, and only a musical play was a disappointment.
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company Artistic Director Brian Isaac Phillips, says, "Secrets can be good and bad." But there's one less secret today, now that he's announced the company's 17th season, eight productions, kicking off in July.
New Stage Collective has announced it's shutting down operations after presenting Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music April 30-May 8. Producing Artistic Director Alan Patrick Kenny says the musical will be staged at Know Theatre of Cincinnati instead of the company's Main Street space.