Connecting with Cambodia
NEW YORK CITY: Today, half of all Cambodians are age 25 or younger, as a result of the 1975–79 genocide and subsequent decades of unrest and poverty that decimated the population. It is estimated that as many as 90 percent of Cambodian artists and intellectuals died under the Khmer Rouge. What does all this mean for the country’s arts scene today? According to Phloeun Prim, executive director of the Phnom Penh nonprofit Cambodian Living Arts, it is a time of resurgence: A youthful populace is looking to art and culture for an understanding of the country’s history and their place in it going forward. A vital component of that resurgence is connection with the rest of the world, and Prim’s organization has arranged for that to happen in New York City this month and next, through Season of Cambodia.
The program includes film, visual arts and humanities, along with a spectrum of performing arts both traditional and contemporary. Kicking things off at the Joyce Theater, April 9–14, choreographer/dancer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro and Khmer Arts Ensemble will perform A Bend in the River, featuring a score by Him Sophy and life-sized puppets by sculptor Sopheap Pich. At the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden April 25–28, the Shadow Puppet Troupe of Wat Bo will perform the ancient ceremonial art form of Sbeik Thom, in which puppeteers and dancers manipulate large-scale leather figures against a lit screen to enact a story from the Reamker (Cambodia’s version of the Ramayana). Amrita Performing Arts will visit the Guggenheim April 28 and 29 with Khmer/French choreographer Emmanu?e Phuon’s exploration of the archetypal Monkey character in Cambodian classical masked dance.
In May, the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, whose artistic director is not only a prima donna but a real-life princess, will perform Legend of Apsara Mera at Brooklyn Academy of Music; the troupe previously toured the U.S. in 1971, and again in 1990 as the classical dance repertory was being reconstructed in the aftermath of war. See a full program at www.seasonofcambodia.org.
An App Gets With the Program
ATLANTA: Arts groups are always looking for creative ways to use cutting-edge technology. So when Atlanta-based TV producer and tech innovator Dave Stevens pitched a way to bring “augmented reality” into theatre lobbies—via the ubiquitous mobile devices in patrons’ hands—several Atlanta performance companies quickly got on board.
In fall 2012, Stevens introduced Theatre Plus Network (TPN), a smartphone app that brings images in printed materials to life by linking them directly to a video, music or other multimedia content. Designed exclusively for performing arts organizations, which still rely heavily on printed playbills, TPN offers an enhanced show experience to audience members, as well as an enhanced marketing opportunity for advertisers.
Here’s how it works: Patrons who have the TPN app on their smartphones (a free download from iTunes or Google Play) can point their phones at any image with the TPN icon next to it, and the encoded image triggers enhanced materials to appear on screen—similar to the way a QR code works. With the TPN app, the poster art for a production, for example, could call up a 30-second video trailer or a brief interview with the director, then take patrons directly to the online box office or another page on the organization’s website.
“When you’re looking at the program, it’s nice to have that extra content—something else to see, something else to learn about the show,” says Nan Barnett, outgoing executive director (see page 17) at Actor’s Express, the first company to use TPN. She watches patrons experiment with the app in the lobby, knowing the new technology will carry the message beyond the theatre doors. “Every time a patron shows a friend and introduces someone else to TPN, what they’re really doing is introducing them to Actor’s Express and our marketing for the current show.”
TPN is currently part of the marketing plan for five performing arts organizations in the Atlanta area: Atlanta Opera, Atlanta Symphony, Alliance Theatre, Actor’s Express and the Fox Theatre. For one production, the Fox Theatre had 14 augmented pages in its playbill, including the cover, five advertising pages and four editorial pieces enhanced with unique video content.
Says Stevens, “Within a community, one app can serve many different groups. Patrons download it once, use it at one theatre and then go across town and find they can use it at another theatre as well.” Stevens hopes the TPN app will soon expand to be a mainstay of marketing and audience engagement for organizations across the country. Visit www.facebook.com/theatreplus. —Margot Melcon
All in the Timing
LOUIS, MO.: For the past decade, the team at Stages St. Louis has dreamt of creating new musicals and re-envisioning old works, but lacked the physical space to make that dream a reality. Then, just as the theatre was preparing for its springtime move into its new digs, the Kent Center for Theatre Arts, the St. Louis Regional Arts Commision came through with a $43,000 grant to establish the American Musical Creative division.
“The timing was truly bizarre,” notes the newly appointed associate artistic director Stephen Bourneuf, who will head up the division. “But we’ve got the space, we’ve got the money, so away we go!”
Bourneuf, along with artistic director Michael Hamilton and musical supervisor Lisa Campbell Albert, will spend the first year in research mode, but the long-term goal is to create a hub in St. Louis for the creation of new musical work. As executive director Jack Lane notes, “The majority of the great Broadway musicals of the past two decades were created outside of New York. I look forward to the day when St. Louis will be known as the home of great new American musicals.” To that end, Bourneuf— who has spent his career performing, directing and choreographing around the country—is looking to Connecticut’s Goodspeed Musicals (see below), California’s La Jolla Playhouse and Virginia’s Signature Theatre as models for what the American Musical Creative can become.
The theatre’s new space, in a former Kol Am synagogue, will provide ample rehearsal and reading space, with seven studios, a lounge area and flexible-seating performance hall, as well as better synergy, with administrative, education, rehearsal and community event activities all housed under one roof. Visit www.stagesstlouis.org.
Meeting of the Musical Minds
EAST HADDAM, CONN.: This winter, 35 book writers, composers and lyricists converged on Goodspeed Musicals for the inaugural Johnny Mercer Writers Colony, a four-week intensive retreat that kicked off in January. The recently expanded campus of the Connecticut theatre, currently celebrating its 50th season, hosted such percolating projects as Summerland, longtime creative pair Sean Barry and Jenny Giering’s collaboration with prolific writer/actor/director Laura Eason; Victor Kazan and Kevin Purcell’s third project together, The Mapmaker’s Opera; Giering, Adam Gwon and Laura Harrington’s Alice Bliss; Daniel Maté’s Story of Jo-Beth, which began as a devised work at New York’s CAP21 Conservatory; and an untitled work-in-progress by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman. On hand for consultation were composer/lyricist Jonathan Brielle, who is vice president of the colony’s funder, the Johnny Mercer Foundation; Bob Alwine, associate producer; Donna Lynn Cooper Hilton, Goodspeed line producer; and director Michael Bush, serving as a dramaturg and mentor. The artists had access to Goodspeed’s Scherer Library of Musical Theatre, its music studios, salon evenings with invited guests and—perhaps most important of all—some sheltered time and space to dig into the creative process. Visit www.goodspeed.org.
ONLINE: Let’s say you’re a bass-baritone in need of a comedic ballad for your next audition. Maybe you don’t want to dust off the same old Broadway tune they’ve heard a million times before. Lucky for you, a new resource awaits. Earlier this year, singers and voice teachers David Sisco and Lorene Phillips (also a composer and a conductor, respectively) took music-publishing into their own hands—or, more accurately, put it into the hands of artists—by creating the Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers. The database, accessible with a $50/year subscription, catalogues nearly 400 previously unpublished songs by 150 songwriters, and it’s growing all the time (full disclosure: AT associate editor Rob Weinert-Kendt is among the contributors). The site is searchable by song style and vocal type, and includes composers’ biographies, career news and contact info. Users can stream song samples, review parameters like range and accompaniment difficulty, then order a score directly from its creator (the directory does not take a cut). Additions of youth/teen and duet categories are expected to expand the directory this summer and fall. Interested songwriters may submit scores and recordings of five songs, which are blindly reviewed by a committee of industry professionals. Check it out: www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com.
Build It Bigger
CHICAGO, LOS ANGELES, and WASHINGTON, D.C.: Performing arts organizations in three cities are thinking big: Chicago’s Redmoon Theater has swapped neighborhoods, moving from the West Loop to the Pilsen district. Its new football-field-sized space, in which it hosted a gala in March, provides copious elbow room for the company’s signature large-scale productions and has accordingly been dubbed Spectacle Hall. (Redmoon will also continue its tradition of free outdoor programming around the city.)
In Los Angeles, the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts will open its doors at two venues this fall: the newly constructed 500-seat Goldsmith Theater and the renovated 1933 Beverly Hills Post Office, which will house a smaller stage, classrooms, a café and gift shop. The outdoor space joining the two buildings will include courtyards, terraces and a sculpture garden. The center will present theatre for adults and young audiences, along with music and dance.
In Washington, D.C., the Kennedy Center has unveiled a two-year expansion plan designed by Steven Holl Architects that will break ground in 2016—adding an extra 60,000 square feet just south of the current 1.5-million-square-foot campus. The initial design of one of the new pavilions features an outdoor stage floating on the Potomac River. The expansion—the center’s first since it opened in 1971—will also add classrooms and rehearsal rooms. The $100-million plan relies on private funds, half of which have been donated by Kennedy Center chair David M. Rubenstein.
PHOENIX, ARIZ. and NEW YORK CITY: Over the winter, theatres in Arizona and New York encountered rent-related speed bumps.
NYC’s 30-year-old Pearl Theatre Company announced an emergency campaign in February, citing a shortfall in the current season’s budget. At the time a letter was sent to subscribers, $200,000 of the $550,000 gap had been closed. By March 6, about $128,000 more had come in. The company recently moved to the Midtown venue previously occupied by Signature Theatre Company and, as artistic director J.R. Sullivan wrote in his appeal, “There are increased costs associated with operating our new theatre, from the rent to box office personnel, to utilities and production expenses.”
A similar plea was made last season by the Arizona Jewish Theatre, which closed after it could not meet its goal. Now a fellow Phoenix theatre is struggling, but mapping a different route back to solvency: In February, Actors Theatre of Phoenix announced it would be “taking a pause” by canceling the remainder of its 2012–13 season (A Steady Rain and Good People) and redesigning its business model. Arizona Theatre Company and Phoenix Theatre have agreed to welcome ticket-holders for the canceled productions. In a statement to the press, producing artistic director Matthew Wiener noted two expected foundation gifts had failed to materialize, but an underlying problem was ATP’s inability in its home of 20 years, the Herberger Theater Center, to control or create new venue-based revenue streams. The company is in search of a more flexible, lucrative and possibly less traditional rental situation in which to reinvent itself. Wiener and managing director Erica Black are staying on to lead that process. A statement from Wiener and Black on the theatre’s website notes ATP will proceed with its annual fundraiser, Gourmetheatre, on April 7, and promises, “We will be back. Stay tuned.”
Back in NYC, the storied Living Theatre vacated its Clinton Street venue, unable to pay the rent. Judith Malina—who co-founded the company with Julian Beck in 1947—gave up her apartment above the Lower East Side space, which housed the company for more than six years (the longest it has abided in any NYC venue). Malina now lives at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in New Jersey where, says executive producer Brad Burgess, she is creating a piece for fellow residents to perform. The company is searching for a new venue. Visit www.livingtheatre.org.
Women’s History on the Boards
FREDERICK, M.D., and CHICAGO: March is National Women’s History Month—marked by many theatres this year, as usual, by celebrating SWAN (Support Women Artists Now) Day on March 30. But women’s history is alive and well on stages throughout the year. Two examples: Maryland Ensemble Theatre is commemorating its 15th anniversary by remounting its first production, Finally Heard: Feminine Heroes of an Uncivil War, an original show with Civil War–era vignettes co-written by six actresses: Angela D’Ambrosia (also the original director), Sophie Arrick, Meg Coyle-Stanford, Gené Fouché, Rona Mensah and Wanda Schell. Directed by Suzanne Beal, the remount runs April 4–28.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s Theatre Seven is in the midst of commissioning seven short plays celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage in Illinois. The result, Unwilling and Hostile Instruments: 100 Years of Extraordinary Chicago Women, will be staged in August.
A Number on Diversity
NEW YORK CITY: Who do you see onstage most in New York City? Statistically, it’s Caucasian actors, according to the Asian American Performers Action Coalition. The advocacy organization released a report in February called “Ethnic Representation on New York City Stages,” covering the 2011–12 season on Broadway and at 16 not-for-profit theatres in the city.
AAPAC reported the following breakdowns in the not-for-profit sector: Caucasian actors filled 81 percent of all roles, African Americans 12 percent, Latino/Latinas 3 percent, Asian Americans 2 percent and other ethnicities (such as Native American and actors of Middle Eastern descent) were at 2 percent. And only 10 percent of actors of color were cast in non-racially-specific roles.
In the study’s introduction, AAPAC wrote, “We hope this report will be used to track casting trends now and in the future, will raise awareness of and address inequities where they may exist, and can serve as a measure of how far we as a community have come on this issue.” AAPAC released its first “Ethnic Representation” study in 2012, tallying breakdowns from 2006–07 to 2010–11 (see AT April ’12). For the full report, visit www.aapacnyc.org.
Shaking It Up
ST. LOUIS: Imagine Henry VI (all three parts) presented as an eight-course meal. A group of sketch artists in a park, drawing their way through The Tempest. Julius Caesar distilled into each of the five senses. Twelfth Night danced on steps of the art museum. All of these (and hundreds more) have come to life in Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’s Shake38, an annual program encompassing the Bard’s 38-play canon.
“I wanted to do something to remind our community that Shakespeare isn’t owned by anyone—to demystify the academic approach and get him down to me and you,” says executive director Rick Dildine. “We sent out a call to everyone. The only rule was to make the play happen in any way you see fit.”
The first year of the festival, in 2010, took an “extreme theatre” approach, with a Shakespeare play beginning somewhere in the city every hour, on the hour, for 38 hours, all driving audiences toward Forest Park to culminate in the season premiere of Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’s annual free show. Dildine recalls how he and his dog wandered the city to take in every event, much like a scavenger hunt. “I found myself in parts of city I’d never seen—coffee shops, restaurants, basements, homes, abandoned lots, streets, a cupcake truck.”
Shake38 has since morphed into a week-long event, which this year will take place April 19–23 (wrapping up on the Bard’s birthday). The event has grown so popular that groups now start claiming plays a year in advance.
Also this year, with help from an NEA grant, Shakespeare St. Louis is creating Shake38.com, which will launch in October to document Shakespeare’s canon in all media formats and provide space for collaboration and development.
The Bard on PBS
ONLINE: Whom would you like beside you when taking your next dive into Shakespeare? How about Ethan Hawke, who has said of Macbeth: “When I was younger I was petrified of the play because, to be honest, I thought I might go crazy if I did it”? Or Joely Richardson, of the Redgrave clan, for whom Shakespeare is practically a birthright? Your wish is PBS’s command. Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Trevor Nunn and David Tennant round out the hosting duties in its new “Shakespeare Uncovered” series, melding historical research with artistic exploration to shed new light on the Bard’s plays.
The six nearly hour-long episodes combine commentary from theatre practitioners and scholars with the hosts’ visits to locations that inform the plays’ histories and settings. They also splice in clips from classic stage and screen productions (including unconventional interpretations such as Punchdrunk’s wordless Sleep No More, in the Hawke/Macbeth episode), along with scenes staged especially for the series at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.
“Shakespeare Uncovered” is now available on DVD and can be streamed gratis at www.pbs.org/wnet/shakespeare-uncovered. Check out the online extras, too: character quizzes, infographics on the plots of Hamlet, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, full broadcast versions of plays from the PBS archive and lesson plans for teachers.
LOS ANGELES: New York City’s downtown Rattlestick Playwrights Theater is testing the West Coast waters with a new production of Daniel Talbott’s Slipping in Los Angeles, the theatre’s first producing foray in that city—and if all goes well, it could open up new terrain for Rattlestick.
“I’m intrigued by the idea of Rattlestick being in L.A.,” says artistic director David Van Asselt. “We’re a nation addicted to the screen these days, and because of the amount of television that’s available, there are more opportunities out there for writers, and writing for television has gotten so much better. We already have our own playwrights out there, such as Craig Wright and Sheila Callaghan.”
Talbott, who will direct, has slightly reworked his script for this outing, which again stars Seth Numrich and MacLeod Andrews (the play premiered at Rattlestick in 2009 under Kirsten Kelly’s direction).
“For our first time out, I wanted to do something I knew,” says Van Asselt. “Usually our process is to work on a play for a year or more, but we didn’t have that luxury here.”
He continues, “It makes sense for us to be in L.A. But it’s still an experiment. Maybe it’s working with different theatres. Maybe it’s hunkering down into a home. We’ll see.”
The West Coast production of Slipping runs April 6–May 5 at Elephant Stages’ Lillian Theatre.