Saturday, September 26, 2009

Headlines ...

So, the blog is back—resurrected after an all-too-long hiatus, and for that I apologize. At the beginning of September, I celebrated my birthday in Disney World and then started classes at Columbia the day after I got back. It was a tough transition, for sure—traipsing around the Magic Kingdom with a tiara in hand, to sitting in my History of Journalism course at 9 AM. Oy.

Since then I’ve just been trying to get my bearing. Here are a few headlines about shows I’ve seen, or ones I’m interested in seeing as soon as I get a free moment.

Nemo vs. Mermaid

What vacation wouldn’t be complete without a musical or two? I still need to get my fill of shows, relaxing or not. So, while in Disney, we saw Finding Nemo: The Musical at the Animal Kingdom. All I’ve got to say is that whoever designed the Nemo set did a much better job at creating a visually appealing underwater paradise than the Broadway crew that brought you the iridescently fabulous scenic design in The Little Mermaid. That plastic playground of a set looked as though the local Michael’s might have made a killing off its sale of glitter to the Mermaid creative team. The interesting thing to consider here, though, is that both shows are represented by the mouse. Curious indeed.

Let Me Down Easy

Time to plug a health-related play! No really, I’m quite excited to see Anna Deavere Smith’s one-woman show about our healthcare system. Here’s an interactive website launched by Second Stage Theatre on behalf of Let Me Down Easy. Happy posting!

Opening Night: A Boy and His Soul

A Boy and His Soul opened Thursday night at the Vineyard Theatre. Earlier this week I had the privilege of speaking with Colman Domingo, the writer and performer of this one-man show. His experience of growing up on soul music in Philadelphia inspired Domingo to pen A Boy and His Soul. And as he was grappling with his parents’ ailing health and the burden of selling his childhood home, writing was a way to cope. The show now features music from Aretha, Marvin, and Earth Wind and Fire, as an energetic Domingo plays 11 different characters. I won’t say anymore, but you can read my full story next month in the Philadelphia Inquirer. (It’s my first byline in a major daily!)

Talk-Backs during Oleanna Previews

I got a press release the other day about a “Take A Side: The Oleanna Talk-Back Series,” which will occur after each preview of the Mamet revival. (Previews begin Sept. 29 and run through Oct. 10.) Oleanna concerns the power struggle between a college student and her professor, and will star Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman. I’m not quite sure why I’m excited to see this show … maybe it’s my proximity to the college experience. Or perhaps it’s because I saw two Mamet plays last season (Speed the Plow and American Buffalo), liked one but loathed the other, and now I’m curious to see where I’ll land here. Regardless, the panel for the talk back series will include notable public figures in entertainment, media, law, education and politics. Here’s a list of a few that have been confirmed:
- David Dinkins, former New York City mayor
- Dennis Walcott, NYC Deputy Mayor of Education and Community Development
- Lis Wiehl, FOX news Channel legal analyst
- Mary Schmidt Campbell, Dean of the Tisch School of the Arts
- Kathleen M. McKenna, Legal Partner of Proskauer Rose LLP

Either Judith Kaye, JD (Juris Doctor from Harvard and President of Judith Kaye Training & Consulting) or Cynthia Tornquist (President of Tornquist Productions LLC and former CNN correspondent) will moderate the series.

My guess is that you’ll be able to go on the website and see who’ll be on the panel each night. There’s no news there yet, though.

Bye Bye Birdie: Stamos and Middle School

This one’s just for fun, but I may be going to see Bye Bye Birdie tomorrow because my Mom wants to see John Stamos live, onstage. If my family ends up going, I will be sure to let you know what’s what. The show opens on Oct. 15, so in good taste, I’ll hold my full review until then. In middle school we did Birdie, and I played various ensemble roles: a screaming teen, a Happy Face girl, etc. I remember everyone having a crush on the boy (at the time he was 13!) who played Albert, and as a braces clad 11-year-old I proudly sang “Kids” in a Limited Too bathrobe. Oh, the awkward years …

PHOTO: Colman Domingo in A Boy and His Soul / courtesy of Carol Rosegg

One last thing I’d like to say. A friend of mine from high school, easily the smartest guy I’ve ever known, passed away last weekend after falling from a third floor fire escape in Boston. It’s a phenomenal loss for both those that knew him and the medical community. Babur Khalique was in his third year of the MD/PhD program at Boston University; and I swear to you, this boy had more glial cells than the average bear. (Einstein's brain was rumored to have had more glial cells—or cells which support neurons and aid in communication and integration—than a normal brain.)

Everyday I remember the good times that we shared, how he was always there to listen and laugh. He always wanted me to read Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, but I never found the time. It was only after I had heard the news of his death that I finally got my hands on a copy.

So Babur, wherever you are, I hope you know that I’m reading your favorite play … and that I miss you.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Goodman Getting Back in the Game After Rooms Closes Prematurely

Yesterday afternoon I caught up with a friend of mine, composer and writer Paul Scott Goodman. We met to share stories about our time at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, but we got on few tangents.

I first met Goodman following my internship with New York Musical Theatre Festival when I did a story about his show Alive in the World. Alive in the World is a post 9/11 look at the city, and the show played as a benefit concert for a few nights at the Zipper Factory. (The sad news here is that the Zipper closed earlier this year. The house was made up of scrapped car seats, and you could literally buckle yourself in if you so desired. Such a unique venue now shuttered - it's a shame, really.)

This past spring I did another piece on Rooms, Goodman’s two-person musical that played at New World Stages. Its run ended in May, and a cynical (“yet hopeful”) Goodman feels that producers may have pulled the plug prematurely. The coming-of-age romance about two kids from Scotland, he says, needed the summer to really build an audience. Hey, if Toxic Avenger managed to cultivate its following in these lazy, hazy days, why not Rooms? I am quick to remind him, though, that one of Bon Jovi’s founding members is attached to the former. (Smells like another Spidey scheme to me.)

What’s more, Goodman’s still sore about the New York Times giving him the runaround. The paper sent a third string critic to the press preview, and then the review came out three days after the show’s opening and was stuck on P.6. Meanwhile, Rooms had garnered great press during its out of town tryout in Washington D.C. and was nominated for five Helen Hayes Awards. Goodman believes that the New York incarnation really could have benefited from an Isherwood byline.

I play devil’s advocate by arguing that the power of a Times critic just isn’t what it used to be. And he later agrees, saying that there’s just too many “wankers” writing anything they want all over their self-indulgent blogs. (Dum, da, dum, dum …)

So, Goodman’s got good reason to be grouchy because his first Off-Broadway venture didn’t recoup its initial investment. But he’s incredulous that a royalty’s paycheck from a 60-second TV slot was more in his pocket than the chunk of change he made off Rooms. (This is yet another staggering example that no one goes into this business to make money.) Royal Pains used his song “Waiting”—the only recorded track from Alive in the World—and just like that, Goodman’s music was on the small screen.

But Goodman prefers live audiences, and he was pleased to have a following up at the O’Neill. His Easterhouse was a part of the National Cabaret and Performance Conference last month. And earlier in June, Goodman had been an artist in residence. While he doesn’t seem to think the place is as magical as I do, he agrees that it’s a summer camp for theater professionals and appreciates the tranquility the O’Neill has to offer. After living in the city for the past 25 years, a sandy beach and a patch of grass look mighty fine every now and again.

I walk with Goodman on his way to the synagogue as he discusses his daughter starting the University of Michigan and plans for a restaging of his show, Bright Lights, Big City. He tells me if he were a wealthy man, he would start a foundation that would pay certain individuals not to go into musical theater.

Smiling impishly, he says that it’s the only award people wouldn’t be itching to receive.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

We're All in This Together ... Newsroom, or Not.

Gawker features a little blurb that brings more bad news for young print journalists. A survey issued by the Associated Press Managing Editors said that layoffs and buyouts in the newspaper industry were particularly common for the 18-35 age group. That’s me! (*Sad face.*)

It doesn’t help that J-School keeps sending me reminders to read this article in the Village Voice. Even if you elect not to peruse its content, the headline says it all: “You Just Graduated From Journalism School. What Were You Thinking?” And that’s supposed to assure me that I made the smart choice in choosing Columbia?

We all know that the industry is transitioning, but what to exactly? No one knows. Living in the murky unknown, we seem almost immobilized by the possibility of change. What’s more, no one has come up with a viable business model for online media. (Hint: Advertising is not the answer.)

I can’t speak on behalf of other journalists, but for me, one of the most frightening things about the switch to digital media is the dissolution of the newsroom. As far as theater criticism is concerned, long gone are the days you see critics running down aisles during curtain call, hopping into a cab to rush back to the office, and pumping out copy in under two hours. (For a wonderful account, however, read the opening of Frank Rich’s “Exit the Critic.”) Now, we have the luxury of time, but also that of space. We can sleep on our thoughts about a show and then point and click our review to print. In many cases, we serve as our own copy editors.

Most of my reviews for Columbia Spectator were written somewhere between the hours of 1 and 4 AM as I was lounging on throw pillows and gulping down vitamin water. The following morning, I would make some quick edits before attaching the document in an e-mail and sending it off to our alias.

It’s no secret then that working from home takes an incredible amount of self discipline and there’s no shortage of distractions. (Before I sat down to write this post, I took a spin around town and caught up on an episode of Mad Men. Two hours of solid procrastination right there.) But with a deadline we eventually move past the fear of starting on an assignment. What we actually lose when working remotely is that essential element of human interaction.

We’re a social species, so I do believe that we’re doing ourselves a disservice by getting our daily fill of conversation on gchat instead of at the water cooler. But the internet is all-encompassing, allowing us to ignore those tips from time management disciplinarians. And let’s be real here, who actually sets aside specific slots in their day to respond to e-mails?

But new research shows that perhaps we should be more wary. A recent study found that the average worker’s IQ dropped by 10 points if she was constantly plugged into her laptop and other electronic devices that go beep in the night. I was also particularly fascinated by one scientist’s comment about how the brain responds to digital stimuli. John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, says that the brain elicits “a dopamine squirt” every time we use a device like our BlackBerry or iPhone. (Dopamine is a neurotransmitter similar to adrenaline that facilitates cognition, attention, and learning among other things.) If this dopamine release phenomenon is true, then at some level we have a neurological addiction to these gadgets—an acquired ADD, Ratey claims.

While this scientific evidence explores what’s happening in our brains when we use these devices, it doesn’t make any specific conjectures about how our office environments affect our frequency of use. But to a certain degree, by working at home, all we’ve got are these mediums through which to communicate. We miss out on that requisite office socializing, and direct face-to-face contact is eliminated. Plus, feng shui tells me it’s bad when your desk becomes your bed.

One day I do hope to get paid to work in the company of other journalists. Newsroom, or not. Call me a cockeyed optimist, but maybe what this industry really needs is a dose of camaraderie. We may not know what direction we’re heading, but we’re all in the same boat. I’d just like to know who I’m with.