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Norbert Weisser in 'The Kepler Story,' by Nina Wise. (Photo by Toshi Anders Hoo)

News in Brief for October 2013

The end of the Latino International Theater Festival of New York, a 60th-birthday for the Japan Society, a 44-hour epic from America’s most controversial monologuist, and more from October’s round-up of news items.

Fin de Fiesta
NEW YORK CITY: Arts organizations of all sizes have suffered from the economic retraction of the Great Recession years, but perhaps none so sorely as those which Susana Tubert describes as “little-huge.” Indeed, a combination of small resources and big ambitions characterized, and ultimately doomed, the organization Tubert co-founded, the Latino International Theater Festival of New York (LITF/NY), and its annual production, TeatroStageFest, which began in 2007 and had its last hurrah this past April 12–June 30.

“The economy dealt us a bad hand, as it did everyone else,” said Tubert, who recently began a new job as creative director with the Creative Entertainment team at Disneyland Resort. “This is an event that was born big, and the second year it was already walking and running around. It was conceived as a very large-scale event, for better and worse.” Indeed, by the end of its run, LITF/NY was no longer a two-week festival but a year-round presenting organization that not only brought Latin and Iberian-American stage work to the U.S. but took it on the road to Colombia, Argentina and Brazil. It was in the middle of its last year, on the heels of that ambitious tour, that Tubert realized the program was “marvelous but unsustainable. I thought: This has been a magnificent year of programming; let’s stop on a high.”

Among the talent she’s most proud of introducing to the U.S. are the Chilean writer/director Guillermo Calderón (Neva), Argentine auteur Claudio Tolcachir (The Coleman Family’s Omission), Spain’s Teatro La Zaranda (Those Who Last Laugh), and a lauded Colombian/Mexican Hamlet from director Martin Acosta.

And while the festival’s independence from larger institutions may have made it vulnerable, for Tubert, this is also “one aspect that takes some of the edge away. We got to realize our vision, make our vision happen: it was our success and our mistakes, not anyone else’s. We got to write the start of our story and the end of our story.”

TeatroStageFest ends, then, “with difficulty but a sense of real accomplishment. I hope and believe the seeds that we planted will grow and blossom in the U.S.”

Tuner Town
LINCOLN, NEB.: “Broadway musicals are our patrons’ favorite art form,” said Bill Stephan, executive director of the Lied Center for Performing Arts, a 2,192-seat venue at which plays and musicals are a programming staple alongside music and comedy acts. “So why not be part of the creation of a Broadway show?” That was the thinking behind hosting the ASCAP New Musical Theatre Workshop, which the Lied did Sept. 10–12. The ASCAP workshop, previously held in Los Angeles and New York City, set up shop in Nebraska this year to showcase three new musicals with a distinctly heartland setting or feel: Stephanie Salzman and Deborah Brevoort’s Crossing Over, about an Amish youth’s Rumspringa; Allan Harris’s Cross the River, about an escaped Louisiana slave; and Michael McLean’s Threads, about a grandfather who dotes on his granddaughter, particularly her wardrobe.

In workshop samples that were free to the public, the three musicals—selected from around 600 submissions nationwide—were constructively critiqued by such Broadway veterans as performer Karen Morrow and songwriters Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (Elf and The Wedding Singer). Those presentations were held in the venue’s 250-seat black box, while an evening of selections from Sklar and Beguelin’s work, performed by local Nebraska talent, was held on the mainstage of the theatre, located on the campus of the University of Nebraska.

Stephan credited local artist Jim Koudelka with helping to forge the relationship with ASCAP and its director of musical theatre, Michael Kerker. A warm welcome for out-of-town guests came naturally, Stephan said: “People are amazingly friendly here, and Lincoln has been rated one of the happiest cities in the U.S.” Now that’s something to sing about.

'The Room Nobody Knows' by Niwa Gekidan Penino at the Japan Society. (Photo by Shinsuke Suginou)
‘The Room Nobody Knows’ by Niwa Gekidan Penino at the Japan Society. (Photo by Shinsuke Suginou)

Silver Celebrations
NEW YORK CITY: In Japan, kanreki is a special celebration of reflection and rebirth in honor of one’s 60th birthday. Japan Society will celebrate its kanreki with a variety of international collaborations and performances with both legendary and emerging artists.

In its early years, Japan Society offered glimpses into the traditions of Nippon. Nowadays, however, programming is “immensely more globalized,” says Japan Society’s artistic director, Yoko Shioya. “We not only continue to host outstanding performances at our home venue in New York City and through North American tours, but also initiate dialogue, build exchanges and inspire collaborations among creative forces from Japan, the U.S. and beyond to make innovative visions come to life.”

Celebrations are already underway. Puppeteer Basil Twist’s sliding-screen masterpiece Dogugaeshi recently returned to the venue, where it has played to acclaim in the past, and this month avant-garde musician/composer John Zorn, also celebrating his own kanreki, performs two back-to-back improvised concerts with Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Later this season, director Alec Duffy will turn Yukio Shiba’s play Our Planet into Japan Society’s first ever site-specific sound installation. Also on tap are The Room Nobody Knows by psychiatrist-turned-playwright Kuro Tanino, Shomyo: Buddhist Ritual Chant and Shiro Maeda’s Getting Lost, directed by Dan Safer. It’s a great time to be silver.

What Gives?
NATIONWIDE: Two recent studies about philanthropic giving in the U.S. offer good news for the arts sector. “Giving USA: Annual Report on Philanthropy,” released in June by the National Philanthropic Trust, showed not only that Americans gave an estimated $316.23 billion to charitable causes in 2012—a 3.5-percent increase from 2011—but also that arts and culture was the category of charitable giving with the most growth (7.8 percent, or $14.44 billion).

And a report from Americans for the Arts, the “2013 BCA National Survey of Business Support for the Arts,” also released in June, found that business support for the arts was up 18 percent between 2009 and 2012, counting both cash and non-cash giving. Despite recessionary pressures, Americans, according to NPT CEO Eileen Heisman, “continue to be the most generous people in the world.” In terms of individual giving, Heisman credits “social media and other online resources,” which “have made it easier for donors to give with their head as well as their heart.” Like!

Sharing Seats
NATIONWIDE AND CANADA: If word of mouth is the best form of arts marketing, social media should be a boon to arts organizations, right? A new Facebook application allowing friends to buy theatre seats together without leaving their Facebook account taps into that potential.

Developed in conjunction with the Tessitura Network, JCA (Jacobson Consulting Applications), and seven theatre partners—including Los Angeles’s Center Thea­tre Group, Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, Seattle Repertory Theatre and Canada’s Stratford Festival—the new TN Social Ticketing app allows Facebook users to suggest shows to friends, then find seats together, while still paying separately (as opposed to the familiar drill of one patron snapping a bunch of seats, then waiting for reimbursement and/or fielding cancellations).

Said Jim Royce, director of marketing, communications and sales for CTG, “We’re pretty convinced that tickets will be predominantly sold this way in the future.” He cited the success of the Stratford Festival in using the app both to serve loyal fans and to attract an “unusually high number of first-time buyers.” One of Stratford’s key strategies, which Royce said CTG is duplicating, is to first make tickets available exclusively via Facebook before they go on sale via conventional channels.

A Star-Studded Performance
SAN FRANCISCO: Galileo may get all the glory, but according to playwright Nina Wise, Johannes Kepler was the real mover and shaker of the 17th-century scientific revolution. Wise’s play The Kepler Story bows this month at the Morrison Planetarium in association with Motion Institute and the California Academy of Sciences.

Wise, who is also the artistic director of Motion Institute, was teaching at U.C.–Santa Cruz in 2006 when her fascination for Kepler began. “My colleague Ralph Abraham, who I consider to be one of the great geniuses of our era and who is also a founder of chaos theory, and I would have these long lunches, and every week or so I’d learn more and more about this unfolding Kepler story,” says Wise.

Kepler’s narrative is a kind of hero’s journey. While he was advancing scientific thought, “his kids died, he had war nipping at his heels and his mother was tried for witchcraft. Yet he never forsook his vision that the universe was made of harmony,” says Wise. In fact, it was en route to his mother’s trial that Kepler experienced one of his great epiphanies: that the universe is harmonious and singing.

Since 2006 the project has had two phases: as a two-hour play with eight actors, and now as a one-man show, performed by Norbert Weisser in a planetarium. “It was a total miracle that the Morrison Planetarium was interested,” says Wise, admitting that while the technology is both very supportive of live performance, it’s still catching up in terms of live cues. “Christopher Hedge is doing our sound design and Zoë Keating is our avant cellist. So as Kepler discovers that the planets move in an elliptical pattern, the sound is also going to literally move elliptically.”

The scientific revolution may have separated science from spirituality, but Wise believes “we must reconnect them if we want to survive as a species. The universe isn’t made of separate bits. It is an interrelated web of being, and until we begin to reconnect the dots, we’re in trouble.” The Kepler Story plays every Sunday in October at 6:30 p.m.

Odyssey Opera's Rose
Odyssey Opera’s Rose

Unknown Operas Rediscovered
BOSTON: Beantown opera buffs can heave a sigh of relief. Though Opera Boston may have closed its doors almost two years ago, Gil Rose, the company’s former artistic director, has a new trick up this conductor’s sleeve.

“Why not open a door when one closes?” Rose asks. Odyssey Opera, a new Boston-based company, has been established to serve the needs of ravenous fans. “Audiences are hungry to hear works they don’t know and experience the full range of what the operatic medium has to offer,” says Rose.

Indeed, Odyssey won’t traffic in standard repertoire but instead will focus on forgotten gems and neglected works by canonical composers, as well as putting forth productions of new works. Both concert operas and staged chamber operas will comprise Odyssey Opera’s seasons.

Rose, who is also artistic director of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and the annual Monadnock Music Festival in New Hampshire, conducted Odyssey Opera’s debut last month, a concert production of Wagner’s Rienzi.

Daisey on the Moon
NEW YORK CITY: “There is an element in me that makes me enjoy zigging while others are zagging,” confessed monologuist Mike Daisey, whose newest piece, All the Faces of the Moon, spans 29 consecutive nights, Sept. 5–Oct. 3, at Joe’s Pub, the cabaret inside the Public Theater. The pieces will also be released via podcast.

Inspired by tales of New York City, and organized around the lunar calendar, by its end the piece will have lasted roughly 44 hours—20 more hours than Daisey’s last durational-theatre stunt, a 24-hour monologue called All the Hours in a Day, which he unveiled at 2011’s Time-Based Art (TBA) Festival in Portland, Ore.

Does this monthlong epic, with its formal ambition and emphasis on myth and mystery, constitute a change-up from the politically oriented, quasi-journalistic work that put Daisey in the limelight in the past few years—most notably 2011’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, an exposé of Apple’s labor practices in China that met with criticism for fabricating and exaggerating some of its documentary details? Yes and no. “It grows out of the local effects of everything that went down in the media,” Daisey conceded, “but it also grows out of wanting to stake out different territory. I’ve wanted to do some work that pulled on and spoke to some poetic qualities that were underserved in some of the other monologues.” Along those lines, each performance showcases a different, Tarot-inspired oil painting by the Russian painter Larissa Tokmakova, and after the final show, Daisey will join the audience for a meal.

Poetry and paintings aside, Daisey admitted that he relished the thought of his Agony-stoked critics facing him down on such vast terrain. He imagined his adversaries thinking, “Oh, he’s back after that scandal, and now we get to judge him. There is something joyful for me about putting up 29 nights of monologues and saying, in effect: How are you going to judge that?”

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