Hamilton: Melody and Narrative

Just in time for Independence Day, I was able to see the musical about America’s founding fathers. I finally got to be in “the room where it happens” last weekend! Yes, I got to see the Broadway hit Hamilton.

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What is Artistic Quality? On Dog Art, One Minute Plays, and The Musical of a Generation

 

Rent was a huge component of what got me interested in adaptation. La Boheme turned 90’s Aids Crisis, how did Jonathan Larson, musical wizard, create this masterpiece?!? That sincerely spoke to me when I was in high-school, full of angsty and artistic dreams.

But there are moments of the story that can come across as heavy-handed or cliche. It’s not perfect. A 1996 reviewer for the New York Times states it well as “one forgives the show’s intermittent lapses into awkwardness or cliche because of its overwhelming emotional sincerity.”

This staging of RENT at Theo Oubique had a stunning balance of pluck and intimacy. It was an incredible set for the performance and the artists made the audience feel as if they were another member of the circle of friends.
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This staging made the elements that are still relevant today shine.  Continue reading

Inside, Outside

I scanned my book shelf looking for something that was a classic and had some artistic depth. I ended up pulling out Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”…

Good news friends, I’m starting a new page to stage project! I’m adapting classic literature into musical pieces. There is more that can be explored in the relationship between music and writing than just song lyrics. I intend to replicate moods, tones, structures, characters of great works of literature through music alone.

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BUT in my process of digging up research for exploring music related to “A Doll’s House,” Continue reading

Seeing Eye to iPhone

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Before Turkey Day, I went to another Thursday event at the Harris Theater, Mix at Six featuring Lucky Plush Productions.

The Mix at Six structure is interesting. Affordable, short performances on a weeknight so people can attend after work at 6pm. They build enthusiasm for the artist’s other full length performances at the Harris Theater.

A social event for young, hip artistic types that otherwise don’t have plans on a Thursday. It’s a smart move to increase audience awareness, but are there some flaws? But what about people who don’t work in the loop? Is the concept popular?

Seats were general admission, which would make it easy to invite friends at the last minute with tickets only $10 at the door. But, everyone at the performance fit on the orchestra level. Considering there are 3 balconies, it certainly wasn’t a full house.

I’m in full support of low ticket cost and promoting theatrical events to make them more accessible to the community. Mix at Six is an excellent test case to see what this type of series could do for a community. I think much smaller scale cities would see brilliant results from this type of program with not a lot of competition for a Thursday night slot. I’m curious to see what it looks like as the series continues.

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Lucky Plush Productions seemed to be a great fit for the evening as well. I’ve wanted to see them perform for a while and admire their mission to create “work that is richly complex while also being broadly accessible.” It’s a challenge to strike that balance, which makes the troop especially intriguing in my mind.

Their work has a delightful fusions of dance with theatrical, comedic story arcs. I was impressed with the honesty of the performance.

Especially the second number, struck me as an inventively realistic critique of reality tv. A part that really stuck with me was one of the performers dancing with her phone between her ear and her shoulder all while carrying on a conversation.

We are drawn to watching one another in “real” form on tv and on stage. This is essential to performing arts, but also eery with technology observing our every move. Even the first piece “The Queue” set in an airport also had awareness of being watched as inherently important.

Lucky Plush reminds us that the performing arts are about being watched. And in our world full of technology, it’s trickier to define what it means to watch or be a consumer of performing arts. And they do so with an affable sense of humor mixed with a critical eye to deliver very entertaining work.

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I’m a fan of this Lucky Plush clip from “Punk Yankees” in 2012    Watch it!

The pervasiveness of technology is used a lot as a theme these days. We are both drawn in and creeped out by all that the capability of the technology we use everyday. Especially for the arts, artists can use technology to help create/stage their work (youtube, garageband, vine etc.), but art can’t be done without humans at all. Different from the work of engineers, artists can’t be replaced by computers because their work is inherently humanistic. And that’s the important part.

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I drew on this theme of technology and the ever watching eye. I recreated the iphone with signature background as a pencil drawing. We spend so much time staring at our phones like little zombies. I thought, what if the phone looked back at us? (…besides from the obviously creepy “periscope”-esque camera functions). So I added a subtle face in the stars peering back at the viewer.-

How much art is around us everyday that we don’t really see? How much art could there be around us if we were just looking in the right ways?

Lucky Plush shows the beauty, the humor and the poignancy of real life. When we engage with the world around us, art can be anywhere from an airport to the cell-phone in our pocket. Mark your calendar for their show Trip the Light Fantastic: The Making of SuperStrip at the Harris Theater on March 3!

Roots of Our Ancestors

Is it possible to escape the mistakes of past generations?

Opening night of Steppenwolf’s East of Eden started with a surge of emotional depth.

Can Steppenwolf escape from its past generations?

There’s been a lot of hype for this performance. Steppenwolf has a famed history with adapting Steinbeck novels and East of Eden is adapted by Frank Galati who adapted Grapes of Wrath for the Steppenwolf stage and directed by fellow ensemble member (and actor in Grapes of Wrath) Terry Kinney who also directed Of Mice and Men (acted by Gary Sinise and John Malkovich who went on to play the lead roles in the 1992 movie adaptation). This production emerged from an illustrious lineage.

There is also a beautiful color ad campaign that I know I have seen everywhere from buses, trains, to the side of my facebook page.

A lot of stops were pulled out for this show.

I’ll start by saying the two intermissions were definitely necessary. An emotional tour de force.

The first act started playfully introducing themes of Eden with Francis Guinan connecting with the audience as Sam Hamilton. Genesis underlies the play. We are all descedents of Adam and Eve and worse, Cain. When give the choice to sin, do we follow in the footsteps of our forebearers or can we escape?

Each intermission, we jump ahead years and see the evolution of the Trask family play out. The pain they cause each other tears at the audience and the line between good and evil blurs. With a family history built on pain and deception, how can the Trask brothers avoid the seemingly inescapable

Time will tell if it will live up to the legacy of Steppenwolf’s past Steinbeck classics.

Can America escape from past generations racial segregation?

Race relations (or sometimes lack there of) were touched on effectively in this adaptation. The character Lee was the Trask family’s Chinese-American servant/mentor. Stephen Park made the character dynamic and likeable while delving into the complications of racial diversity in America that resonated with today’s audience. Lee pretends with guests to not speak English and puts on an over-emphasized Chinese cultural front. But he is relaxed and himself when alone with the Trask family. It was a little shocking to see attitudes about race with one Asian character from the guests and then the Trask family and how his character dealt with the world around him. Lee seemed inducted as an honorary (almost adopted) family member, but we saw him as one of pure goodness unwarying amidst  the horrors of the others. One racial slur uttered toward Lee by Kate Arrington’s soulless character Cathy, elicited gasps of shocked horror.

Racial segregation is alive and well today. In fact, as the city of Chicago, we’re #1.

Census Race Dot Map

Census Race Dot Map

East of Eden was set 1900-1918. Which feels like a long time to us, but 100 years. We’ve both come a long way and are still stalled by the sins of the past. The scars of past take time to heal and social practices become embedded in groups. What will happen to the segregation in Chicago neighborhoods? What can we do to share experiences across neighborhood and across race?

Can art escape its own past?

I drew a case study with the image of a tree, the main set piece for East of Eden. The image varies in each frame, each iteration holds onto some of the qualities of the previous, but slightly more faded or distorted. The symbol of tree represents a family tree branching out and also “deeply rooted” beliefs at the foundation. Similarly, race relations are deeply rooted in the neighborhood culture of our neighborhoods in Chicago. But the tree can grow, change and adapt.

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I started in the upper right hand corner, then the upper left I drew with my non-dominant hand, bottom left I drew with my eyes closed and bottom right I drew with the pen in my mouth. These techniques deteriorated the image until it was basically illegible. That was when I thought to add leaves. I created a stamp with a pencil eraser and put on the leaves in each frame. The leaves reinforce that is it is still a tree, but remind us that leafy trees transform throughout their leaves with the seasons. A tree is still a tree, it still has leaves, therefore, it has the ability to change.

Each tree has the power to change itself and to change its species over time. What about our species? In what ways are we actually capable of change?

In art-making, does “stealing” from or referencing other art works count as being original? Is it possible that we could cease creating original art work? Or even perhaps, is it possible to even create a fully new, completely original art work that would be understood by an audience? As I see it, progress evolves. Artistically and socially we must continue to take steps forward, but we can’t do that without having a foot behind; we evolve from the past to make progress for the future.

Go see East of Eden now until Nov. 15!