Over the weekend, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati announced its 2009-10 season, and it’s full of works you’ve never heard of but will be glad that D. Lynn Meyers has picked. ETC generally offers premieres of works that have been presented elsewhere, but not locally, and she’s kicking off the season with a powerful piece, Moisés Kaufman’s 33 Variations (Sept. 2-20).
Having wrapped up a very busy first (extended) weekend of FotoFocus activities, I’m humbled by the fact that I only got to a portion of the exhibits and events occurring under the month-long, regional photography festival’s umbrella.
Before it’s over, more than 70 shows and related special events — like this Wednesday’s concert at the Emery Theatre by Bill Frisell/858 Quarter, featuring musical portraits inspired by photographer Mike Disfarmer’s work — will have taken place. I’m wondering if FotoFocus, like the National Park Service, should have a passport that can be stamped at each site of a sponsored activity. (Quite a few exhibits will continue past October – check here for schedules.)
“Umbrella,” by the way, is an apt word to use in one respect. Sideshow, the thoroughly charming outdoor kick-off party that took place Friday night, was bedeviled by rain and cold temperatures. As a result, attendance was small. That was disappointing because the alleys of downtown’s Backstage Theatre District had been turned into a colorful, imaginative, Fellini-esque carnival for the evening, with handmade booths, games of chance and photography opportunities.
A stage with a theatrical backdrop served to host A Hawk and a Hacksaw, a New Mexico duo — Jeremy Barnes on accordion and Heather Trost on violin — whose music had an East European/Middle Eastern flavor and whose musicianship was impeccable. They would have fit well at MidPoint. In fact, the Backstage Theatre District would make a great outdoor venue next year for MidPoint, which, as Mike Breen pointed out, needs a stronger downtown presence.
On Wednesday, I attended the preview opening of Doug and Mike Starn’s Gravity of Light in Holy Cross Church at the Mount Adams Monastery. I had gone a couple weeks earlier for a test, which I described in last week’s Big Picture column, where the noise and flying sparks from the giant carbon arc lamp’s scared me even as the magnitude and, well, gravity of the monumental photographs that its light illuminated astonished me.
On my second visit, with maybe two dozen other guests present, Gravity of Light wasn’t quite as scary — not when you see people using the carbon arc lamp’s brilliant white light to read their smart phone email. Ah, technology! But it’s still a profound exhibit — a major installation that uses photography as an intrinsic part of a created environment – and I can’t imagine that anyone interested in contemporary art or FotoFocus would want to miss it. And afterward, you’ll want to discuss what it means.
Two other exhibits I attended over the weekend were Anthony Luensman’s TAINT at the Weston Art Gallery and Let's Face It: Photographic Portraits by Melvin Grier, Michael Kearns and Michael Wilson at Kennedy Heights Art Center. Luensman is one of our most talented local artists, especially ingenious with installations involving sound and light, but I didn’t get a clear indication of how or why the presence of photography (and video) is supposed to crucially matter in this mixed-media show.
The Kennedy Heights exhibit had some remarkable large-scale black-and-white portraits by all three accomplished local photographers. Grier and Wilson, in their Giclee prints made from film negatives, got remarkable expressiveness their subjects like “Robert” and “Tony” (Grier) and “Thomas” and “Lamayah” (Wilson). Those Wilson photos, and some others, frame the pupils of their subjects’ eyes with a tiny white square, a stunning effect. In several of his large Giclee prints from digital photographs, Kearns achieves clarity of detail so rich (on “Chuck,” which is Wussy’s Chuck Cleaver, and “Andre”) that you could stand there and count every strand of the subjects’ hair. I don’t know who Andre is, but the way he is posed with head slightly upward and a triumphant smile emerging from a mouth that appears to be missing some teeth makes him heroically human. It’s a meaningful show.
On Thursday, I attended the Cincinnati Art Museum’s reception for Herb Ritts: L.A. Style, the Getty Center-organized show of the late photographer’s black-and-white prints. Beautifully installed, this exhibit features Ritts’ fashion and celebrity work, as well as his stylized, erotically charged studies of the nude male and female torso. The show doesn’t so much chart his “progression” from high fashion to high art as it spotlights the connection between fashion and art. It also underscores that the eternal human quest for perfection is about the body as much as the mind. (Kathy Schwartz will have more on this show soon.)
For opening weekend, the art museum’s Chief Curator James Crump — also FotoFocus’ co-chair — brought to town Paul Martineau, the Getty’s curator for the Ritts exhibit, and Charles Churchward, a magazine design and art director who knew Ritts and has written Herb Ritts: The Golden Hour.
Martineau, it turns out, is at work on a major Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit to be presented by the Getty and Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2016. (Getty Research Institute and LACMA recently acquired some 2,000 of his photographs, and the Getty already had acquired the archives of Sam Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe’s collector/lover.)
Martineau told me it might travel. Cincinnati would be a perfect venue for it — Crump has made a documentary about Mapplethorpe and Wagstaff, the authoritative Black White + Gray. Is it too early to start a Facebook campaign to bring that Mapplethorpe exhibit to Cincinnati? Any volunteers?
It was reported today that the Ohio Arts Council will be facing a budget reduction of 47 percent, one the largest percentage cuts in the new state budget.
From the OAC web site:
As the state’s budget heads to Governor Strickland’s desk for his signature, Ohio Arts Council staff is diligently working with final budget numbers to calculate fiscal year 2010 grant awards. Because the state arts budget was not finalized until July 10, 2009, grant award announcements will not be available until around July 24.
At the June OAC Board meeting, the Board voted to provisionally approve all grants for one year, instead of two years for some programs, until a special emergency session of the Board can be held in August to determine the best course of action for agency programs and operations.
The final version of the FY2010/2011 budget ($13,188,578 for the biennium) will reduce OAC grants by 38 percent from the final FY2009 budget and 47 percent from the original FY2008/2009 appropriation ($24.9 million). This will have a significant impact on FY2010/2011 grant amounts, although actual percentage reductions will vary by program. Some programs will be put on hiatus. This drastically reduced budget severely limits the ability of the OAC to provide financial assistance to artists, arts organizations, schools and other entities engaged in cultural programming throughout the state.
"Ohio’s cultural sector is critically important to the economic recovery of our state. The OAC will continue to do its best to help support the arts and cultural organizations that are reeling from the effects of the economic downturn,” said OAC Executive Director Julie Henahan. “Even at this dramatically reduced level, OAC funding will help maintain jobs, support education programs and drive tourism in Ohio.”
Headquartered in Columbus, the OAC was founded in 1965 to "foster and encourage the development of the arts and assist the preservation of Ohio's cultural heritage."
For fiscal year 2009, the OAC granted $1,498,651 to Cincinnati-based artists and organizations.
Most of the large arts organizations in Cincinnati received some funding from the OAC for 2009, including Cincinnati Ballet, the Cincinnati Arts Association, Children's Theater of Cincinnati, Contemporary Arts Center, Urban Appalachian Council, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Kennedy Heights Arts Center, Media Bridges, Madcap Productions, Know Theatre of Cincinnati, Women Writing For (a) Change, Taft Museum, Cincinnati Boychoir and many more.
A total of 65 grants were awarded in Cincinnati for 2009. The five largest grants were:
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra: $404,986
Playhouse in the Park: $144,817
Cincinnati Museum Association: $167,512
Cincinnati Opera: $100,142
Cincinnati Ballet: $91,966
To see all the grants awarded in Cincinnati, click here.
To learn more about the Ohio Arts Council, visit www.oac.state.oh.us.
Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, sporting a slightly abbreviated name and a half-painted façade, today announced most of its 2012-2013 season. As usual at ETC, it’s a work in progress: That how things are when you’re on the cutting edge of contemporary theater. But Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers knows how to juggle lots of moving parts, and that includes a nod to another local theater great: She’s engaged Ed Stern, about to retire from his 20-year tenure as artistic director at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, to stage a show that will feature the city’s most respected professional actor, Dale Hodges. Meyers has also designated five shows (the season will have six, one is still to be determined) for her schedule.
Meyers says, “Next season promises to be a selection of smart, contemporary, and compelling theater. The ETC experience is unique and intimate, unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else, along with the excellence you’ve come to expect.” She points out that the season features several strong female voices, too.
In 2007, ETC presented Rabbit Hole by Pulitzer Prize-winner David Lindsay-Abaire. He’ll be back for the theater’s 27th season with a humor-laced drama Good People (Sept. 5-23). The recent script (its Broadway production was a Tony nominee a year ago) explores the struggles, shifting loyalties and unshakeable hopes that come with having next to nothing in America. It focuses on a woman unable to catch a break who flees from urban Boston to the suburbs, where she’s totally out of her element. It’s a look at the haves and the have-nots, the kind of tale that Meyers loves to present to ETC audiences.
Up next will be Ed Stern’s production of Jeffrey Hatcher’s irreverent but poignant comedy Mrs. Mannerly (Oct. 10-28). Dale Hodges will play a demanding etiquette teacher in 1967; she’s bedeviled by a boy trying pulling out all the stops to get a perfect score, an unprecedented feat. The boy’s name Jeffrey Hatcher, so he bears a close resemblance to the playwright. (Amusingly, we are warned that this play about proper behavior contains strong language.)
For the holidays, ETC will reprise one of its family-friendly musicals: Alice in Wonderland (Nov. 28-Dec. 30) by playwright Joseph McDonough and composer-lyricist David Kisor.
Meyers is still angling for the show she’ll present in late January.
It will be followed by the regional premiere of Frank Higgins’ Black Pearl Sings! (March 13-31, 2013). I saw a production of this show in Sarasota in 2008, and I’m convinced it’s the kind of play that ETC audiences warm to, similar to this season’s The Whipping Man. It’s set during the Great Depression focusing on a researcher collecting traditional music for the Library of Congress. She finds Pearl Johnson in a Texas prison, a woman with a head and heart full of spiritual songs and a voice to perform them. Black Pearl Sings! is about being a woman in a man’s world, being black in a white world and fighting for one’s soul in a world where anyone can be a commodity.
ETC’s season will end on a familiar and definitely lighter note with another sequel to the best-selling production from 2009, The Marvelous Wonderettes. This time it’s The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns (May 1-19, 2013). We return to 1958 at Springfield High School for graduation and high hopes including a gymnasium full of pop tunes from the era — “River Deep, Mountain High,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Rockin’ Robin.”
Subscriptions are already on sale ($156-$186); you can purchase a FlexPass ($196), which gives you six flexible tickets to use for any show and in any combination. Single tickets for season go on sale to the general public on August 13, 2012.
Cincinnati's visual arts community is rallying around the seriously ill artist Brian Joiner to raise money for his medical expenses. This Friday from 5-10 p.m., a retrospective of his work — everything from note cards to a 30-foot work, featuring subjects like running women, a school of fish and his portraits, florals and landscapes — will be on display at the studio of Mary Barr Rhodes
If circuses haven't been the same for you since realizing that animals don't actually like trainers who crack the whip, go to Cirque du Soleil. CityBeat staffers were among the folks who attended last night's sneak preview of their new show, OVO, at Coney Island. It was amazing: technically impeccable, delightfully entertaining and 100 percent cruelty free!
OVO runs through May 15, and there's a Mother's Day
discount promotion going on now. Click here for details.
This past Saturday (Aug. 15) marked this year’s one-night-only installment of ballet tech cincinnati’s annual Gala of International Dance Stars at the Aronoff Center.
It was a night of connections. Connections are necessary for any performance worth its salt—both with the audience and amongst the performers. But when it comes to dance, connectivity arguably becomes even more central to success and enjoyment.
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 email@example.com. 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
Around noon on Monday, the Cincinnati Playhouse will announcement its 2012-2013 season, the first mapped out by someone other than Producing Artistic Director Ed Stern in 20 years. Blake Robison takes over for the retiring Stern on July 1, so he’s had the daunting task of following in those big (and very successful) footsteps. Stern liked to present work by up-and-coming playwrights, and Robison has the same inclination, although as someone a generation younger than Stern, he has his own connections and ideas. He’s landed a world premiere by one of the most intriguing young playwrights in the United States, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. The show is called Abigail/1702, and we’ll see it early in 2013 (Jan. 19-Feb. 17).
It’s Aguirre-Sacasa’s imaginative exploration of what became of Abigail Williams, the young girl who sets in motion the Salem witch trials portrayed in Arthur Miller’s classic play from 1952, The Crucible. The new work, set a decade after Abigail accused many people of witchcraft, portrays her in her late 20s, struggling to atone for her sins, the ones portrayed in that memorable play — as well as darker ones that live in her heart. As she cares for a young sailor on the brink of death, a stranger from her past finds her and sets her on a quest for redemption.
Robison, who will direct the production, staged another work by Aguirre-Sacasa, his adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that proved to be a bit hit at the Roundhouse Theatre in Maryland, where Robison served as artistic director. “When I found out that I was coming to the Playhouse, one of the first calls I made was to Roberto because I value his voice as an artist so much. I told him, ‘Send me whatever you’re working on right now.’ He sent me this play and I read it. I texted him and said, ‘You wrote an awesome play! I want to do it.’”
Robison admires the writer’s breadth of work: He’s written for Marvel Comics (Marvel Knights, Spider-Man and The Stand), for television (as a staff writer for HBO’s Big Love and the hit Fox series Glee) as well as nearly a dozen plays. “One of the fun things for me as the incoming artistic director,” Robison told me recently, “is to bring new voices to the community and to introduce some writers who I have a wonderful relationship with who haven’t been seen yet in Cincinnati.”
Robison loves Aguirre-Sacasa’s new script. “He has a gift for dialogue, and a highly visual sense to his writing. This play is quite unlike any of his other plays, quite unlike anything I’ve seen onstage before. To go back into our collective consciousness and pluck this famous figure from the dramatic canon and imagine what her life must be like 10 years down the line is a wonderfully creative act.”
Not to mention a great way for Robison to define his own artistic tastes for Cincinnati audiences. Keep an eye on CityBeat’s Arts Blog tomorrow for more news of the Playhouse’s upcoming season.
Since the 2011 Cincinnati Fringe Festival kicked off on June 1, a panel of three dedicated theater experts have been evaluating performances for recognition through the Acclaim Awards. These awards are in the process of being renamed, but for the sake of clarity and brevity, I’m going to call them by their soon-to-be-former name. The panelists are veterans of the Acclaims; neither Jackie Demaline of The Cincinnati Enquirer nor I are members of the panel or involved in this process.