Friday, December 28, 2007
Today's the day that we start moving the show into StageLeft .... Chris and Heath (scenic designer) will be meeting Kevin or John there tonight at 6pm and will start constructing the set. Meanwhile, Holly (assistant director) and I will conduct rehearsal at our place with the actors ... it may or may not be an annoying line through where we stop actors, correct their lines, make them write down what needs correcting and carry laboriously on through the end ... it may be a normal run-through ... it has yet to be decided.
Tomorrow, Holly and I will run around town collecting final props and costumes. Tom (Rodolpho) will get his hair dyed blond. Chris and Heath will continue building. Julie (lighting designer) will join the festivities around 3pm and will start hanging her lights. What's very cool this time around is that we're able to move into StageLeft a little bit earlier because of the holidays - no one's doing anything and the space is available for us to start making it our temporary home.
Sunday - more building, painting, adding the furniture. Julie will set her light design into the computer. We'll add the film in ... Heath works for a company that provided video conferencing capabilities and he has editing software on his computer that will help make Ed's HD look incredible on stage. The actors will join us in the evening and we'll figure out their exits, entrances, scenes with the film, etc.
Then ... Monday - Wednesday - Final Dress Rehearsals with added food, costumes, makeup, full lights, full furniture, the works.
Thursday night - we open. The opening night show is almost sold out, which is very cool. Our Saturday, January 19th show is also sold out, so reserve or buy your tickets now!
A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller, presented by The GreyZelda Theatre Group
StageLeft Theatre - 3408 N. Sheffield Chicago, IL
January 3-February 2, 2008 (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays)
Tickets - $20.00
Call 773-427-1935 or visit www.greyzelda.com to purchase tickets online.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The show opens January 3rd. For tickets and more information, please visit www.greyzelda.com or call 773-427-1935.
Director: Chris Riter
Filmmaker: Ed French
Original Music: Robert Filippo and Kristen Strezo
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I Like ...
Current mood: excited
I like this time in the rehearsal process.
I like the time where the scenes start getting sewn together. Lines are learned and the word, "Line!" gets called more and more infrequently. I like getting costumes together and making prop lists and seeing what we have and what we need to get. Seeing if we can use our own resources or ask our actors and crews if they have things like phonographs or pencil skirts or hitting stores like Lost Eras or antique markets in Allen, MI. I like talking about having actors dye their hair but not their eyebrows. Please dye the hair first than we'll talk about the eyebrows. I like final rehearsals and knowing that things are getting done on the east coast. Knowing that soon the music will be added, the film will be added, the set will take shape and the light will give illumination.
I like inviting the press and other appropriate figures to the show. I like giving hundreds of the oversized posters to Meg from Streetflyers, knowing that she's going to paint several neighborhoods with them, saving us oodles of time. I like telling people about our progress. I like the process. I like this time.
Friday, December 07, 2007
Yeah .... about that ....
Here's another one for you ... just say "yes" to Intuition. And Michigan.
"Intuition is the most important component of the creative process. Intuition is perfect. My intuition is perfect. Your intuition is perfect. All intuition is perfect. Spontaneous right thought and automatic right and appropriate action become manifest through the apparatus of intuition. The intuition is the uncluttered avenue by which perfection makes itself available to human perception. Intuition is the path by which perfect Universe travels into individual human experience. It is the most efficient mechanism by which 'absolute' becomes expressed in the 'relative.'
It is generally agreed that the work of the human brain falls into two major classifications. Under the term 'critical brain' we will include aspects of thought such as rationality, judgment, decision-making, analytical process, exactitude, self-discipline, value, standards, selection, memory, willpower, logic, and discretion. Some psychologists have postulated that these characteristics are housed in the 'left brain.'
Under the term 'intuitive brain' we will include characteristics such as emotion, hunches, flights of fancy, imagination, sensory experience, parapsychological experience, instinct, genius, inspired ideas, dreams, daydreams, aspirations, humor, caprice, playfulness, artistic sensitivity, and illogical responses. These are the aspects that some contemporary psychologists group together as representing the action of the 'right brain.' The intuitive brain is like an oversized retarded child playing with a bauble and mumbling incoherent phrases. It acts like a baby, it wants its own way in everything, it requires perpetual attention, it unreliable and completely unreasonable. But within that moronic child lives the brilliant composer of dreams. Dreams are arrangements of poetically perfect, preciously interlocking, self-referential symbols. There is a quality of perfect creation in a dream. That perfect poetic creativity is the work of the little genius, or the 'little professor,' sitting in the intuitive brain. In other words, the intuitive brain is the home of the amorphic moron who is selfish, moody, and irresponsible, but who, on certain occasions, is inspired with flashes of brilliance and unassailably right thought, flawlessly appropriate action, and sublime clarity of vision. Intuition is capable of inspiring one with instant truth, with absolute and perfect clarity. It is ironic that intuition, the source of inspiration and genius, should spend most of its time behaving 'like a slob.'
Now, critical brain usually attempts to discipline the intuitive brain. Critical brain decides to give up cigarettes and chocolates. Critical brain resolves to do the right thing. Being logical and decisive, it is always trying to persuade intuitive brain to 'behave'. Intuitive brain has bad manners. Intuitive brain laughs in church. It is a common misbelief in Western thought that left brain can achieve everything, especially when it is able to tyrannize right brain. But in the creative process, we seek to encourage the intuitive brain. We have to make friends with intuition. We have to let intuition know that it will be trusted at every moment, and that whenever intuition feeds us something, we are going to respect it and use it no matter what our critical faculties think.
Now, a director gives this message to the actor: 'I will use your creative thoughts no matter what they are. Any thoughts that you give me I will use.' Intuition, the moronic child, hears the message. The wayward right brain will send down some insolent and inappropriate idea just to test the director - to prove the director is a liar. The director patiently uses the idea no matter how clumsy and coarse it may seem. Now, when the actor's intuition realizes that his coarse suggestion has actually been put to use, the intuition mutters, 'I can't believe he used that moronic idea. I'll send him down a worse one and see what he makes of that!' The director unquestioningly uses the second idea that the actor's intuitive process delivers, thus sending the message back to intuition, 'You have suggested two ideas and both ideas have been used.' The intuition falls into careful reflection, mumbling, 'What is this? A game? A trick? Or could there be a pattern here?' When the director uses the third suggestion of the actor's intuition without modifying, questioning, or quibbling, the intuition locks into a very important realization. This realization will significantly affect the work of the director in relation to the actor's creative intuition."
Monday, November 26, 2007
He wrote one of those blogs today that just makes me want to cheer, run around my apartment like a spazz one or two times screaming "Fuck All!" and, well, quote him on our blog. Whenever it comes down to the homegrown, DIY mentality ... I get very excited because I feel that brand of theatre makes very fascinating stuff. You can watch your ginormos like "Phantom of the Opera" until the cows come home (which I'm seeing on Friday for the umpteenth time, I must admit - it's my early birthday present from Chris ... I'm like a pig to slaughter sometimes for the big musicals, but POTO was the show that made me want to do theatre in the first place) or you can sit and watch something a little more dangerous, a little more fresh, a little more fleeting and feel just as energized if not more because you're watching something that is being put on for very little, but the heart size and the commitment is so much more .... I love our storefront Chicago scene, as you well know ... I know that we might rehearse in our apartment, our basement, our backyard, what have you (and I really hope our actors don't mind - we have a very spacious and comfortable apartment which we decided to use because of those very reasons when we were considering whether or not to keep our rehearsal space) ... but I know that our actors' talent and everyone's professionalism are just as great as any other show ... we just don't have the bottom dollar sometimes, but .... we'll try to prove to you otherwise to the best of our ability. Anyway ....
Good stuff, Don.
Here are some more pictures from our filming of A View from the Bridge for those who might not want to join myspace just to see pictures (ahem, ahem Tom Gordon, ahem ahem.)
Monday, November 12, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Dave Goss (Marco) joined us yesterday to film additional scenes at a Catholic church in the Pilson area. It was beautiful and I think the scenes will look great. I wasn't able to take any pictures in the church, unfortunately, but everything has been captured on film, so we'll have that to chronicle our efforts.
I think you'll enjoy the end results, my friends. I'm so proud of the work that's been accomplished thus far ... after we finish up today, Ed will fly back to Brooklyn, start the editing process and we'll go from there. Hopefully, we can give you a sneak preview online.
I'll try to post some pictures of the work that will be done today, if I get a chance. (Edited 11/12/07 - Added Pictures - Please check out www.myspace.com/greyzelda for more pictures.)
Sunday, October 28, 2007
We also saw Magda, the Vampiric Barmaid, The Silver Lining, Gay-des (instead of Hades - heh heh heh!), a Mardi Gras party guest from Eyes Wide Shut, Disco Stu/Indiana Jones/Levon, Crazy Cat Lady and many more.
Brian Vander Ark played. Pryce played. Dave Lykins played. Dave McCaul's band-that-I-can't-quite-remember-the-name-of played and, between you and me and that tree over there, they're going to be really sumthin'. When they get their confirmed name, watch out!!!!
Apples were bobbed for. Kegs were tapped. Wine and Jim Beam were guzzled. Photographs and artwork were silently bidded on. Costumes were judged by a highly secret panel. Money was made for our upcoming season.
Thank you, everyone. We'll do it again.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Without freedom, no art; art lives only on the restraints it imposes on itself, and dies of all others.
Art is magic delivered from the lie of being truth.
The task of art today is to bring chaos into order.
Every work of art is an uncommitted crime.
Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.
Great art picks up where nature ends.
The artist one day falls through a hole in the brambles, and from that moment he is following the dark rapids of an underground river which may sometimes flow so near to the surface that the laughing picnic parties are heard above.
Progressive art can assist people to learn not only about the objective forces at work in the society in which they live, but also about the intensely social character of their interior lives. Ultimately, it can propel people toward social emancipation.
The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.
True art is characterized by an irresistible urge in the creative artist.
Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Rationalism is the enemy of art, though necessary as a basis for architecture.
Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible. I think it's in my basement... let me go upstairs and check.
M. C. Escher
To make us feel small in the right way is a function of art; men can only make us feel small in the wrong way.
E. M. Forster
Art is a step from what is obvious and well-known toward what is arcane and concealed.
The artist alone sees spirits. But after he has told of their appearing to him, everybody sees them.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.
Vincent Van Gogh
The highest art is always the most religious, and the greatest artist is always a devout person.
You study, you learn, but you guard the original naivete. It has to be within you, as desire for drink is within the drunkard or love is within the lover.
I have been no more than a medium, as it were.
An artist is always alone - if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness.
We have art in order not to die of the truth.
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don't write, because our culture has no use for it.
You've gotta be original, because if you're like someone else, what do they need you for?
The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.
Art is parasitic on life, just as criticism is parasitic on art.
Harry S. Truman
An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need to have but that he - for some reason - thinks it would be a good idea to give them.
I'm afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.
No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.
All art is quite useless.
A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament.
Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.
I am an artist... I am here to live out loud.
Brian Vander Ark, lead singer of the Verve Pipe, will be playing at our abode starting at 7pm which we're incredibly excited about! He's going to donate $2.00 of every cd he sells to GreyZelda. He's a hell of a guy. Excellent performer. You're going to love his set. He's playing for an hour and I got to suggest a couple of my favorite tunes. Rock.
Pryce and Dave Lykins, two excellent local performers and friends of GreyZelda (Dave's going to be playing Alfieri in a View from the Bridge), will be playing later in the evening followed by the debut of Dave McCaul's (as in Lisa Wilson and Dave McCaul - both wild and crazy cats) new glam band - well, maybe it isn't a debut, but it'll be a first time at our house.
We'll have silent auctions for artwork donated by our graphic designer Sarah Stec and Steven T. Wirth. Photography donated by Michigander Chris Williams. A kick ass t-shirt designed by Morgan Manasa of Babes with Blades.
There will be apples that will need to be bobbed for, candy, creepies and crawlies. Games. Dance parties. Fog machines. And, of course, booze. Booze of many colors. It'll be grand and we can't wait to see you dressed in your death-defying best!
And .... there's going to be a full moon ... perfect for a Howlin' Hallowin' Halloween party!
Suggested donation is $20.00 or donate what you can.
GreyZelda's a-hostin -
Our season we're toastin'
Location: The GreyZelda Abode - 4725 N. Kilpatrick Ave. First Floor Chicago
When: October 26th, 2007 - 6:30pm until whenever the last ghoul howls.
And, if you don't come, you might have this guy knockin' on your door:
Thursday, October 18, 2007
To quote Anne Bogart:
One of the main reasons I'm attracted to the world of theatre is the mystery ... the feeling of what's next. I'm in a relationship with the art form that I don't want to leave because it's always exciting me, it keeps answers from me, it flirts with me, it delights me, it destroys me ... it has an energy and a power that can not be trifled with. It doesn't talk too much and when it's getting too heady, I often shut it out because I'm finding it's becoming dull and tedious. I choose to go too shows that keep me quiet afterwards because the experience was so personal, I feel it will cheapen my memory if I burden it down with words.
Here's another quote from the essay that I really like:
As I mentioned a couple of blogs ago, sometimes I need to shut the computer off and reestablish my relationship with my favorite subject, theatre. I don't like the distractions of long-winded blogs trying to pick apart what I like to consider mysterious and exotic. If I wanted to be a scientist where I just had to prove hypotheses over and over again, I would have gone into that field ... but I like the in-between places, the moments that quicken my heart, the moments that warm my brain with images and sensory experiences.
Over analyzing is a major drag and turnoff sometimes.
Keep me in suspense. Keep me in the dark. Keep me asking what's next. Surprise me.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Just crack that book up ... and read.
I can spend hours with that darn red, worn dictionary book of mine.
Words that you always thought you knew the meaning of, you don't.
Words you didn't know exist, do.
And then there are the dirty words you run into accidentally ... gotta love those. Takes you back to sixth grade. One of my friends, Avery Scoville, read the whole thing in fifth grade. It was the talk of the school yard. If you always had a nose in books. Which I did.
Go crack something up and look up a word you've always wondered about ... go on.
Friday, October 12, 2007
He was awarded the Drama Desk Vernon Rice Award in 1959 for his production of Chekhov's Ivanov and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1965 for his production of Molière's Tartuffe, starring Michael O'Sullivan and Rene Auberjonois. He was also a noted director of operas.
Ball founded the American Conservatory Theatre in Pittsburgh in 1965. This was a company of up to 30 full-time paid actors who studied all disciplines of the theatre arts during the day and performed at night. Ball had a falling out with ACT's financial benefactors in Pittsburgh and took the company on the road. His 1966 productions of Albee's Tiny Alice, Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author, and others at the Stanford University Summer Festival led a group of financiers to offer his company a home in San Francisco, which had recently lost The Actor's Workshop to New York's Lincoln Center.
In its first season, Ball's ACT produced twenty-seven full length plays in two theatres over the course of seven months. Some actors would do one role in the early part of a play at the Geary Theatre then run two blocks up the hill to the Marines Memorial to appear in the last part of another. Ball's 1972 production of Cyrano de Bergerac and his 1976 production of The Taming of the Shrew were televised nationally on PBS. In 1979, ACT received the Tony Award for excellence in regional theatre.
Ball was often provocative. His interpretation of Albee's Tiny Alice brought threat of a lawsuit from the playwright, who tried to withhold the performance rights only to discover that they had never been granted in the first place. Some observers thought that Ball's operatic production (with an added aside condemning the Vietnam war) may have solved some problems inherent in the text.
Ball was the author of the 1984 book, A Sense of Direction: Some Observations on the Art of Directing.A Sense of Direction. If you're a director and haven't read this book ... get thee to a bookstore or amazon.com immediately. It's GreyZelda's Bible and Chris and I swear by it. All directing scenarios are different and you gotta be able to adjust in the moment with your actors, crew and production, but it's an amazing centering tool to touch upon if you're looking for a little guidance.
William Ball on Art:
"The most important characteristic of a work of art is unity ... If it lacks unity, it does not qualify as a work of art. Unity means harmony among the component parts; and the greater the harmony among the component parts, the greater the unity and the greater the art. ...
The second characteristic of a work of art is that it reveals Universe. Show business does not have to reveal Universe. It is not required and not expected. Night club entertainment is not expected to reveal Universe. Vaudeville is not expected to reveal Universe. Theatre or drama is expected to reveal Universe.
A third thing that art does is awaken the Spirit. Commerce is not expected to awaken Spirit and neither is show business. By awakening the Spirit, we mean that somewhere during the course of the performance, the spectator experiences "The Great Aha!" A light goes on within him and the self is illuminated, awakened, enlightened, elevated, and changed. Usually the moment of awakening is very short, and it is an unconscious moment. One is sometimes aware that it took place after it has happened, but while it is happening, one is unaware.
There is something else that the work of art in the theatre is expected to have that show business and television entertainment are not necessarily expected tot have. That has to do with the revelation of the beauty of humankind. That beauty, concealed somewhere within the drama, takes many forms, and the revelation takes many forms, but one may witness and share the author's vision - his admiration, awe, and wonder at the beauty - through a work of art. When it is not art, it lacks a sense of beauty of humankind. These are generalizations, but I do want to separate the discussion of art from show business and entertainment so that no one is misled."
People in the blog world go round and round on the subject of what makes good theatre and what audiences are looking for. I certainly think William Ball had a major clue and while I love reading the active thinking and conversations of my peers, sometimes I like to just switch of the computer, sit in silence and read the book that always seems to get me through most of my questions. Then, I switch that computer back on, read what my friends and fellow theatre creators have to say, and it reaffirms what I've just read most of the time.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
List 5 things that certain people (who are not deserving of being your friend anyway) may consider to be "totally lame," but you are, despite the possible stigma, totally proud of. Own it. Tag 5 others:
1. I can't smile without Barry Manilow. I can't laugh and I can't sing. I've been listening to Barry since I was five and know 3/4 of his repertoire. He puts out albums like a madman and, what with his covers of great hits from the 60's and 70's and his Labor Day albums, I can't keep up. I have had dreams of creating "Manilow! The Musical!" for quite some time now and dream of wearing yellow feathers in my hair.
2. I have a purple glow in the dark retainer with sparkles that I still wear. Got it in eighth grade.
3. I love and can tell you the back histories of most ABC soaps minus Passions.
4. I can sing to you the entirety of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, so if you've got six hours or so, you've got a date with destiny!
5. Even if you're my husband ... if you fall down unexpectedly or get hit in the face with something unexpected or trip or fall off your bike or anything that could get yourself on America's Funniest Home Videos, I will laugh at you so hard that I, too, will fall down and weep with joy at your situation. I'm sorry, but there's nothing to be done.
I now tag: The Olde Gentleman, Lisa Wilson, Pryce, Jay Raskolnikov and Kristen Strezo.
Friday, September 21, 2007
"Make a list of five strengths that you possess as a writer/artist. It's not really bragging, it's an honest assessment (forced upon you by this darn meme). Please resist the urge to enumerate your weaknesses, or even mention them in contrast to each strong point you list. Tag four other writers or artists whom you'd like to see share their strengths."
1. I motivate my team and do my damndest to make everyone feel involved and a major part of the creation process.
2. I'm a Dynamo worker, according to monster.com. So, in a quick nutshell, that work mentality means I've got a lot of energy, I'm adventurous, I like to take risks. I like to lead and I don't expect others to keep up with me. I like to push the envelope. What's nice is ... Chris took this same test and he came out as a Dynamo, as well, so double the energy means double the fun. Which keeps us going and going and going and ...
3. I consider myself a life-long learner. Sometimes I'm right and sometimes I'm wrong, but I always want to learn from my experiences either way. I tend to shed my skin every six months and am constantly evolving ... I hope to continue my metamorphosis until I drop dead and then I'd like to start again, please. I like to ask questions and look at the world with a sense of wonder which helps me find the beauty in a lot of different types of things.
4. I believe in GreyZelda and the people who have worked with us. I'm loyal to a fault and will fight like a Mama Bear for what we're trying to do, if need be. It might leave me with sand in my eyes or egg on my face (and I always learn from my actions - see above), but if I feel that our beliefs (and that often means our fellow artists and their beliefs as well) are being fucked with, it makes me none too happy and I'll be a warrior for my theatre company and those in it.
5. I'm multifaceted and will help where I'm needed. I'm happy pulling curtains open and doing box office. I'm happy doing a walk on role. I'm happy directing. I'm happy putting up flyers. I'm happy to market and make the squeaky wheel phone calls and emails. I'm just happy to help in the world of theatre.
So, here's who I'm tagging: Lisa Wilson, Kristen Strezo, Dave Goss and Paula Pryce.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Photo by Michael Brownlee
We saw Soiree Dada: Blinde Esel Hopse, put on by WNEP Theater last night, starring lots of Dadas I know and Dadas I didn't know, but now do. The show was directed by Don Hall, the blog king of Chicago.
From WNEP's site, written by DH:
"The big question asked by interested parties is "What can we expect?"
Expect theater-in-the-round stirred up to resemble both the midway of Coney Island and The Island of Dr. Moreau. Expect to be a participant in the action. Expect that six people get wine. Expect that ten people get snacks. Six people get baby food. No one will get messy and your clothes are safe. Expect to dance and sing.
Expect an unexpectedly fun and erratic evening of anti-Art, nonsense poetry with a dash of vaudeville, some clowning, a bit of improvisation, a teaspoon of chaos, and served on a plate of Old Tyme Meeting Hall Politicking.
If you've seen Soireé DADAs in the past, this is like that on steroids and floating in the Macy's Christmas Parade. If you've never seen a Soireé DADA, it's time.TICKETS CAN BE PURCHASED AT www.dcatheater.org "
So, knowing what I could expect ... did all that happen?
When we entered the Dadas were milling around inviting the audience to games to determine where we would sit ... barking and selling their environments to us a la Coney Island. Chris is a hard sell and wanted to go to all the different stations ... I'm easy and got taken in by DADA Nip (see photo above - I sat in the seat that Dada Grizzle is firmly held in to) and got to experience baby food for the first time since being a wee thing - green beans and apple sauce. I preferred the apple sauce. The green beans needed salt. I think it would be funny to hear a tot say, "Hey, Ma - could ya pass the salt? These beans ain't cuttin' it for me." Anyway - Chris ended up with rowdy, randy DADA Rusty Cluster.
Photos by Michael Brownlee
There was a French Side and a German side. I liked those Frenchies. Chris enjoyed those Germans.
I shan't ruin your future experience of seeing the show by telling you this, that and the other thing, but do know this ....
We didn't get anything on our clothes. We felt safe. We felt engaged. We felt amused. We didn't feel bored (there you go, Don). We felt mischievous. We felt like cackling. We felt enchanted. We felt like we were a part of the action. We felt appreciated. We felt allegiance towards the Dada we sat with. We felt French. We felt German. We felt American. We felt encouraged. Mon Dieu, there was something almost familial in the atmosphere!
I danced and sang with Nip. I almost got wine, but then the show started, so c'est la vie. I even oinked.
If you haven't seen a Dada show, it is most definitely your time. Run! Skip! Roll, if you have to! But, for the love of bees, get to this show.
Friday, September 07, 2007
Fall Theater Preview: The Storefront Next Door
The “Chicago theater season” is as anachronistic as our Columbia House Record Club membership. August was simply a lull before the crush of Fall openings coming to major institutions and their well-funded houses, who'll receive sufficient ink and column inches in the daily and weekly papers. We’re turning an eye to those less heralded venues doubling as rental space, educational resource, and meeting locale. None of these theaters are named after deep-pocketed donors, but that shouldn’t diminish their interesting work.
66 E Randolph Street
Through Gallery 37’s Storefront Theater, DCA brings smaller, off-Loop companies (and their reasonably priced tickets) to a prime Loop location. The Storefront’s season is already underway with War, a pub comedy by Roddy Doyle (he of The Commitments and A Star Named Henry fame) presented by Seanachi Theatre Company. That Anglophilic feeling resumes over the holidays with Lord Butterscotch and the Curse of the Darkwater Phantom, a world premiere penned by three acclaimed locals, Lisa Dillman, Rebecca Gilman and Brett Neveu.
eta Creative Arts
7558 S South Chicago Avenue
Artistic Director Abena Joan Brown first introduced us to eta at a downtown event where she presented the organization’s impressive community engagement and slate of productions and implored us to “get your ass down to the south side.” Looks like we’ll be bringing our skinny rear to either or both of eta’s most intriguing shows, each with a familiar sounding premise. The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae reads a little like that Woody Allen film where the actor leaps out of the movie screen. Only this time, two TV caricatures are pulled out of the screen and onto the witness stand. Playwright Karani Marcia Leslie, who has written for Cosby and is the only black female editor at CBS, has a uniquely qualified perspective on this issue. This Far By Faith, a gospel musical “about a minister, his job and his R & B artist son” sounds like a more sincere Trapped in the Closet.
3408 N Sheffield Ave
Lakeviewers, you’ve probably passed this unassuming rail front storefront a thousand times without realizing it houses a company tackling issues larger than Zambrano’s latest contract, including war, abusive relationships, and government surveillance. Two multimedia shows commandeer the modest space next year: Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge, a Grey Zelda production, and the U.S. premiere of Tim Carlson’s Omniscience, produced by Stage Left.*
4210 N Lincoln Ave
Corn Productions doesn’t produce the best or most sophisticated work in town. In fact, we are eager to forget their long-running late night show and try not to discuss it in polite company. But production quality aside, Corn-sters (Cornheads?) always seem to be having fun on that oddly configured stage… even when we’re not. Their 16th season includes two intriguing, and rather adult, world premieres: The Horror (October 5 – November 3), a meta-examination of what makes us scream and The Lesser Assassins (April 18 – May 17), a musical comedy riff on a Sondheim classic. Also renting the space is Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, currently presenting the Sedaris sibs’ The Book of Liz through September 30 and bringing back Snubfest, a haven for rejected comics, in January.
*I added the bold to the article. Storefront theatre rocks and it's encouraging to see such a nice write up about the interesting discoveries a theatregoer can find at some of the smaller, eclectic locales. I'm happy that we were included with Stage Left, a theatre that we've loved renting from. They produce great, thought-provoking theatre and they've been super cool cats to work with.
Monday, September 03, 2007
Mark your calendars ... GreyZelda's having a Halloween fund-raiser on Friday, October 26th. Costumes are highly recommended as you'll be entering an abode of eeriness.
We'll be having an extremely special guest join us ... Brian Vander Ark, the lead singer of the Verve Pipe will be performing for an hour and it will totally be way too cool. He's an incredible singer/songwriter who has been very successful with his solo career since the Verve Pipe slowed down ... for more info on Brian please check out www.brianvanderark.com. (I've been a fan of Brian's and the Verve Pipe's for years now and am elated that he'll be performing in our house. Way too stinkin' cool.)
The party/fundraiser will officially begin at 6:30pm and Brian will start playing an hour set at 7pm, so please make sure you get here earlier instead of later.
We're hoping to have some more musical guests as well as silent auctions of artwork, photography and other fabulous pieces of art.
Please check back here or www.greyzelda.com for further information. You can also contact me with any questions about location details, Brian, Halloween ... whatev.
Rock and roll.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Hi, GreyZelda readers -
It's almost September. Sheesh. I'm feeling a sadness that I can put several fingers on but I won't get into that here ... I normally do those types of writings over at my Lady Crow myspace site and keep this blog for GreyZelda goings ons or thoughts on theatre and sech. If you want to visit me over in myspace land, please feel free. The link is right over there on the left. Rock it.
So ... updating, updating, updating.
We're heading over to Angel Island tomorrow night to sign the contract and put money down for The Skriker which will open in Thursday, April 17th and will run until Saturday, May 10th of 2008. We're looking forward to working with the Mary-Arrchie folks!
On Friday, Chris, me and his parents will be driving to West Virginia and we'll return on Sunday. We'll visit his grandma's grave and see his uncle as well as one of our dearest friends of all time, Matt Hedrick and his family.
Robert has been submitting music ideas to Chris and they're lovely. Robert and Kristen are located in Atlanta, GA, but working long distance really hasn't turned into an issue. The music is lovely. Ed's doing his thing in New York. I'm going to be talking to Sarah Stec soon about brochures and sech.
We have the majority of the cast for A View from the Bridge which is opening in January. Drum roll please!!!!
Eddie - Aris Tompulis
Beatrice - Nicolle Van Dyke
Catherine - Jenny Myers
Alfieria - Dave Lykins
Marco - Dave Goss
Rodolpho - Tom Gordon
Thank you to everyone who helped us during the readings! We're really looking forward to working with this cast and think that the process will be lots o' fun.
We still need to ask some peeps if they would be interested in the parts of Louis, Mike, and the other neighborhood characters. If you or someone you know would like to hang with us at GreyZelda and fill those roles ... primarily male ... please let us know. There'll be some serious "hangin' out" to be done with good people. Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd be interested.
What else, what else ... we need to get some fund raisers organized, so, again, if that's something you'd like to help with, do let us know!
Rock and roll. Enjoy the rest of your summer ... fall's knocking at the door..... this little crow girl loves fall, don't get me wrong, but ... I always miss summer.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
We picked up where we left off last time and continued through The Skriker's opening monologue. I'm giving brief descriptions of what we discussed, but it's by no means complete ... just a little taste.
"Put my hand to the baby and scissors seizures
seize you sizzle. Metal cross cross me out cross
my heartburn sunburn sunbeam in my eyelash your
back. Or garlic lickety split me in two with the
stink bombastic. Or pin prick cockadoodle do you
feel it? But if the baby has no name better nick a
name, better Old Nick than no name, because then
we can have the snap crackle poppet to bake and
brew and broody more babies and leave them an
impossible, a gobbling, a no."
So, amongst other things we discussed how umbilical cords get cut, how faeries HATE iron, rituals to get rid of vampires, pretentious shit, goblins and changelings.
"I've been a hairy here he is changeling changing
chainsaw massacre missive a sieve to carry water
from the well well what's to be done? Brother
brewed beer in an eggshell. I said I'm old old
every so olden dazed but I never see saw marjory
before three two one blast off!"
King Arthur was Queen Maeve's half-brother, by the by. The changeling stock isn't doing too well. The Skriker's too old for this shit, in a nut - or egg - shell.
"Put me on a red hot shovel pushel bushel and a
peck peck peck. Gave me red hot metal in a piping
hot metal in a pie ping pong what a stink. Call the
vicar to exorcise exercise regular sex a size larger
six or seventh heaven and hellcat."
Cooking, creatures, cauldrons. Energy. More changeling rituals.
"Chopped up the hag whole hog higgledy pig in the
middle. Kelpie gallops them into the loch stock
and barrel of fun fair enough and eats them, falls
out of the water into love with a ladylike, his head
in her lap lap lap, her hand in his hairy, there is
sand in it there is and there is sand and shells
shock. Bloody Bones hides in the dark dark dark
we all go into the dark cupboard love all. See
through the slit where he sits on piles of bloody
boney was a warrior and chews whom he likes.
Dollop gollop fullup."
Maybe I'll start making entries about the Underworld creatures featured in the Skriker because they're all very fascinating ... this paragraph starts the introductions and talks about the Hag, the Kelpie and Rawheadbloodybones with a nod to Jenny Greenteeth and the other green women beings. Warriors, soldiers, sacrifices, oral sex, child murderers and cannibals.
"But they're so fair fairy fair enough's as good as a
feast day. Take them by the handle and dance in
the fairy ring a ring ding sweet for a year and a
day date data dated her and never finished the first
reel first real dance in the fairy ring on your finger
and bluebell would wouldn't it. Their friends drag
'em out dragon laying the country waste of time
gentlemen. Listless and pale beyond the pale
moonlight of hear sore her with spirits with spirit
dancing the night away in a mangy no no no come
The Fair Fairy. She's not doing so well. I'll tell you lots more about her later because she's really haunting and fascinating.
Lisa and I meeting again this evening to discuss the next page.
On the View from the Bridge front ... the cast is almost set. We're having people come over on Sunday to read certain scenes. Chris is getting film ideas together to send over to Ed who's located in New York and is helping us on the video end. Heath has some initial set ideas and we're waiting to get the complete presentation. Robert has put some music themes together that are pretty awesome ... we'll announce the cast list as soon as it's complete. Rehearsals will probably begin mid-October, but we're taking care of business behind the scenes as much as possible because adding the film element is a new idea for us.
Oh! and Skriker will be performed in April at Angel Island (Mary-Arrchie's theatre). Exact dates will be announced soon when the contract is completed and signed.
Rock and roll.
Monday, August 06, 2007
I posted the link for quotes about critics because a lot of the quotes made me smile and feel a little bit better about a situation that occured this weekend ... sometimes an artist needs to realize that, yes, the critics are apart of your audience, but you can't allow them to completely reflect your audience. GreyZelda has a couple of critics that seem to wish we would curl up and die (yes, I'm being a bit melodramatic here) ... but, to quote Tori Amos, "Let's not give that one a try." We can't create shows wondering what the critics will say ... we have to create shows that we believe in and, through that belief, hopefully our audiences, including critics, will believe, too.
There are a lot of critics that I've had the pleasure to meet here in Chicago that I really admire: Jack Helbig, Mary Shen Barnidge and Kris Vire and the Timeout Chicago gang and most of the Reader's critics top my list of reviews that I always enjoy reading. My favorite experiences have been when a critic will come before or after the show and talk with us about what they just saw, for good and for bad .... it creates a two-sided conversation that has really been informative and helpful to our endeavours. And, I like meeting people in our audience, point blank. We like it when critics come just because ... we know they're extremely busy but like seeing them when they're not there for their respective publications. It's nice to see them. Unfortunately, I've run into some negative situations with reviewers because, for example, they've come to see our shows, came and left without a word, published their review (either through a respected publication or their own blog) and then got really mad when I either responded to them via email about their review (yeah, I've got a mouth - I sure as heck won't deny it) or went through their review online with the Lady Crow tongue-in-cheek. I believe in what I say and what I put my (or Lady Crow's) name to - and I'm not saying I'm the sweetest corn on the cob, by any means. The situation this weekend involved the fact that I was accused of writing someting I didn't (and I was so not looking for something like this, but what can a girl do sometimes?). I'm looking at the whole thing with a positive spin and believe that it's as resolved as it's going to be. On the learning front, it exposed a fact that I was unaware of ... there are people who read everything you write online even if it's no longer available on the internet and was taken care of through private correspondence and a reached understanding. Never forget this fact, fellow bloggers and artists. You must stand by your word and art. By all means, don't hush up your voice in fear of having it used against you. For God's sake, please don't do that. Just know ... if that's something that bothers you, be careful what you say.
Big Brother or Sister may come and get you someday.
In the meantime, I'm really looking to focus on our upcoming season and hope that there won't be any further skermishes that I can or can't take credit for on public forums. I like to join the discussions on the other theatre blogs, but please know, readers, that if the comment's not from GreyZelda, RebeccaZ, RZ, Lady Crow, or bz then it ain't my stink. I don't like being anonymous nor do I like being falsely accused of being an anonymous coward. It's the theatre person in me, I guess. And, to all you, to quote Don Hall, "anonymous fuckwads" out there ... put your name to what you write, please. You're making other people look bad.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
We started the initial meeting by watching the old video of my 1998 production performed at Michigan State University ... there were many things we laughed about ... for example, she thought I was kidding when I said I used Studio 54 as an inspiration, but when the party struck up in the Underworld midway through the play and the disco music started blaring and the disco ball started sparkling, she realized that, yes, indeed I went for a Studio 54 theme ... ah ... college. I was really into (and still am) the subject of "glamour" which a faerieworld creature can put on and off so blending 70's party culture with the dionysian splendour of the Skriker's cast of characters seemed perfect to me ... plus you had the drug culture, rampant sex and fabulous polyester clothing.
There were a few things from my initial blocking that I may end up exploring more, but a lot of it will be sparkling and brand new with the new cast. GreyZelda really likes its actors and we try to cast people that will really bring a sense of originality and exploration to the process, so there's going to be tons of room to play and create scenes around the performer's individual talents.
Lisa also brought over a ton of Faerie books ... oodles of Froud, history and stories ...
We started going through the Srikers's first monologue and broke down its meaning. We only got as far as the first page because there's so much in there and we loved spending as much time on a single word and idea as we wanted to ... there's so much time to explore, at this point, that we're taking full advantage of it. We first discussed the initial feelings and images from the line then we started researching and coming up with historical backing and logical conclusions. Right and left brain conversations.
"Heard her boast beast a roast beef eater, daughter
could spin span spick and spun the lowest form of
wheat straw into gold, raw into roar, golden lion
and lyonesse under the sea, dungeonesse under the
castle for bad mad sad adders and takers away.
Never marry a king size well beloved. Chop chip
pan chap finger chirrup chirrup cheer up off with
you're making no headway. Weeps seeps deeps her
pretty puffy cream cake hole in the heart operation.
Sees a little blackjack thingalingo with a long long
tale awinding. May day, she cries, may pole axed
me to help her. So I spin the sheaves shoves
shivers into golden guild and geld and if she can't
guessing game and safety match my name then I'll
take her no mistake no mister no missed her no
mist no miss no me no. Is it William Gwylliam
Guillaume? It is John Jack the ladder in your
stocking is it Joke? Is it Alexander Sandro Andrew
Drewsteignton? Mephistopheles Toffeenose
Tiffany's Timpany Timothy Mossycoat? No
't ain't, says I, no tainted meat me after the show
me what you've got. Then pointing her finger says
Tom tit tot! Tomtom tiny tot blue tit tit! Out of her
pinkle lippety loppety, out of her mouthtrap, out
came my secreted garden flower of my youth and
beauty and the beast is six six six o'clock in the
morning becomes electric stormy petrel bomb.
Shriek! shrink! shuck off to a shack, sick, soak,
seek a sleep slope slap of the dark to shelter skelter
away, a wail a whirl a world away.
Slit slat slut. That bitch a botch an itch in my
shoulder blood. Bitch botch itch. Slat itch slit
botch. Itch slut bitch slit."
I'm not going to share all the discoveries publicly, but just know that in that bit of loveliness there's talk of Arthur and Guinnevere and a country below the sea, betrayal, cranky Rumplestiltskin, vaginas, castration, newborn and dead babies, the antichrist, hospital terrors and a healthy dose of types of food and what you can do with said food. So much fun to play with, my friends.
When we were done, Lisa said, "Was that as good for you as it was for me?"
And I said, "Totally, dudarina."
She and I are going to meet weekly until we feel absolutely satisfied with everything ... what's wonderful about this type of language is that we can think one way on one day and then wake up the next day and have a brand new discovery and idea. It's the type of stuff that we can totally geek out on and have way too much fun putting our heads in books and studying.
If you'd like to contribute any thoughts on the language and the play, please feel free ... I'll take everything into my discussions with Lisa and we'll add it to this amazing time of learning and, for me, relearning ... I've taken so much time away from the script ... it's been almost ten years ... that talking with Lisa has provided tons of new insight.
(Posted by Rebecca Zellar)
Friday, July 20, 2007
I'll be arriving at Wrigley Field next Friday and will audition at 10am. I'm excited just to get a chance to do this.
I registered a couple of weeks ago and, in a limited amount of words, had to describe why I felt I was the Ultimate Cubs Fan. I didn't have a lot of room to write but I touched upon the fact that I think Ronnie and Pat are amazing radio announcers. Pat's a poet and is able to paint the action for the listeners' imagination. I mentioned that I've been cheering on the Cubs since I was a wee thing. Mentioned that I like leading people with enthusiasm and that I have a theatre company here in town.
According to the website at http://www.cubs.com:
"The winner will be the individual who complies with the Official Rules and, in the opinion of Cubs, displays the best combination of creativity, talent, singing ability, loyalty to the Cubs, passion for the team and for "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," leadership skill and who embodies the spirit of being a Cubs fan. Semi-finalists will be chosen based on these criteria and on the quality of the essay submitted with their application. Public voting on semi-finalists and finalists will be conducted online. ...All performances will be videotaped and the best ones will be posted and voted on by the fans here at cubs.com."
So, GreyZelda supporters, it looks like you may be called upon to help this gal out. I'll let you know what happens after the audition. My goodness gracious.
Friday, July 13, 2007
The Chicago theatre scene is alive with hundreds of theatres lifting their voices in inspiration, but are we really be heard? Or are the voices getting lost in the noise?
So many start-up companies ... our theatre company started up in the same way ... Chris and I had a vision we shared. He got me, I got him, so we thought, "Hey! Let's start a theatre company because we feel we can do what we do better ourselves then with another group of people who will argue with our vision, therefore our ideas would be sacrificed to another's lesser idea. We work hard and we know we push ourselves hard. " We've had people join us as members who work with us show by show and we're slowly growing, but we share a lot of our collaborators with other theatre companies our size who do similar work as us. Chris and I double our work load because we can't seem to find collaborators who are as passionate as we are at making GreyZelda a successful creation and who only want to focus on our theatre company. I think a lot of our peers have the same problem.
I believe that there are other theatre companies around our size that share the same vision, but we refuse to start a dialogue. I feel the fear just sitting here typing. I want to do it my way. I don't know if I'll like your way. Creativity is such a fragile egg. By starting a dialogue, I'm going to have to speak with someone who might disagree with me. That's scary to an artist. We want to create our warm caves of creative growth. But there are so many caves out there right now and in each of those caves are a handful of collaborators thinking that they know how to do it better than me and maybe they do, maybe they don't. As the Desiderata states there are always those lesser and greater than me. Why do I gag myself from opening myself up to a new possibility? To something bigger and greater than me and mine.
What I'd really like is to be able to have our company absorb with other companies and we could become a SUPER COMPANY. I'm currently working for a company who did just that. I'm talking about my day-job here. They wanted to become bigger so they purchased smaller staffing companies. The company I initially started working for in January has now become something new and all of a sudden, we have new employees and more business opportunities. The company I'm working for now is looking to purchase more small staffing companies in the Chicago market to become bigger and better. Being on the non-profit circuit and dealing with creative egos makes that idea a little tricky. I've started tentative conversations with other theatre companies about this very thing, but it always comes back to the egos and how we can't quite give our initial vision up nor are we willing to compromise. There's a fear. Everyone wants to be in charge. So, we just keep trudging along, competing with each other, and mourning the fact that our audiences aren't bigger, the critics aren't coming, the money's too tight, blah blah blah. We want to build a tribe but have a hard time inviting others or approaching others to see if they'd like us to offer our talents up. Everyone wants to be in the driver's seat.
If we morphed together, like The Blob, say .... who knows what we could accomplish?
But, like weeds, new, teeny-tiny theatre companies keep cropping up in Chicago's fertile creative grounds ... I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but I speak to a lot of peers in the storefront theatre world of Chicago and I think .... we all want the same thing .... why don't we just try working together and pooling our resources like most normal businesses? Why do we all continue to isolate ourselves from each other?
I'd welcome any thoughts on this, blogging friends.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Prepared text of June 17, 2007, Stanford Commencement address by Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts
Thank you, President Hennessy.
It is a great honor to be asked to give the Commencement address at my alma mater. Although I have two degrees from Stanford, I still feel a bit like an interloper on this exquisitely beautiful campus. A person never really escapes his or her childhood.
At heart I'm still a working-class kid—half Italian, half Mexican—from L.A., or more precisely from Hawthorne, a city that most of this audience knows only as the setting of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown—two films that capture the ineffable charm of my hometown.
Today is Father's Day, so I hope you will indulge me for beginning on a personal note. I am the first person in my family ever to attend college, and I owe my education to my father, who sacrificed nearly everything to give his four children the best education possible.
My dad had a fairly hard life. He never spoke English until he went to school. He barely survived a plane crash in World War II. He worked hard, but never had much success, except with his family.
When I was about 12, my dad told me that he hoped I would go to Stanford, a place I had never heard of. For him, Stanford represented every success he had missed yet wanted for his children. He would be proud of me today—no matter how dull my speech.
On the other hand, I may be fortunate that my mother isn't here. It isn't Mother's Day, so I can be honest. I loved her dearly, but she could be a challenge. For example, when she learned I had been nominated to be chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, she phoned and said, "Don't think I'm impressed."
I know that there was a bit of controversy when my name was announced as the graduation speaker. A few students were especially concerned that I lacked celebrity status. It seemed I wasn't famous enough. I couldn't agree more. As I have often told my wife and children, "I'm simply not famous enough."
And that—in a more general and less personal sense—is the subject I want to address today, the fact that we live in a culture that barely acknowledges and rarely celebrates the arts or artists.
There is an experiment I'd love to conduct. I'd like to survey a cross-section of Americans and ask them how many active NBA players, Major League Baseball players, and American Idol finalists they can name.
Then I'd ask them how many living American poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, architects, classical musicians, conductors, and composers they can name.
I'd even like to ask how many living American scientists or social thinkers they can name.
Fifty years ago, I suspect that along with Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Sandy Koufax, most Americans could have named, at the very least, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, Georgia O'Keeffe, Leonard Bernstein, Leontyne Price, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Not to mention scientists and thinkers like Linus Pauling, Jonas Salk, Rachel Carson, Margaret Mead, and especially Dr. Alfred Kinsey.
I don't think that Americans were smarter then, but American culture was. Even the mass media placed a greater emphasis on presenting a broad range of human achievement.
I grew up mostly among immigrants, many of whom never learned to speak English. But at night watching TV variety programs like the Ed Sullivan Show or the Perry Como Music Hall, I saw—along with comedians, popular singers, and movie stars—classical musicians like Jascha Heifetz and Arthur Rubinstein, opera singers like Robert Merrill and Anna Moffo, and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong captivate an audience of millions with their art.
The same was even true of literature. I first encountered Robert Frost, John Steinbeck, Lillian Hellman, and James Baldwin on general interest TV shows. All of these people were famous to the average American—because the culture considered them important.
Today no working-class or immigrant kid would encounter that range of arts and ideas in the popular culture. Almost everything in our national culture, even the news, has been reduced to entertainment, or altogether eliminated.
The loss of recognition for artists, thinkers, and scientists has impoverished our culture in innumerable ways, but let me mention one. When virtually all of a culture's celebrated figures are in sports or entertainment, how few possible role models we offer the young.
There are so many other ways to lead a successful and meaningful life that are not denominated by money or fame. Adult life begins in a child's imagination, and we've relinquished that imagination to the marketplace.
Of course, I'm not forgetting that politicians can also be famous, but it is interesting how our political process grows more like the entertainment industry each year. When a successful guest appearance on the Colbert Report becomes more important than passing legislation, democracy gets scary. No wonder Hollywood considers politics "show business for ugly people."
Everything now is entertainment. And the purpose of this omnipresent commercial entertainment is to sell us something. American culture has mostly become one vast infomercial.
I have a reccurring nightmare. I am in Rome visiting the Sistine Chapel. I look up at Michelangelo's incomparable fresco of the "Creation of Man." I see God stretching out his arm to touch the reclining Adam's finger. And then I notice in the other hand Adam is holding a Diet Pepsi.
When was the last time you have seen a featured guest on David Letterman or Jay Leno who isn't trying to sell you something? A new movie, a new TV show, a new book, or a new vote?
Don't get me wrong. I love entertainment, and I love the free market. I have a Stanford MBA and spent 15 years in the food industry. I adore my big-screen TV. The productivity and efficiency of the free market is beyond dispute. It has created a society of unprecedented prosperity.
But we must remember that the marketplace does only one thing—it puts a price on everything.
The role of culture, however, must go beyond economics. It is not focused on the price of things, but on their value. And, above all, culture should tell us what is beyond price, including what does not belong in the marketplace. A culture should also provide some cogent view of the good life beyond mass accumulation. In this respect, our culture is failing us.
There is only one social force in America potentially large and strong enough to counterbalance this profit-driven commercialization of cultural values, our educational system, especially public education. Traditionally, education has been one thing that our nation has agreed cannot be left entirely to the marketplace—but made mandatory and freely available to everyone.
At 56, I am just old enough to remember a time when every public high school in this country had a music program with choir and band, usually a jazz band, too, sometimes even orchestra. And every high school offered a drama program, sometimes with dance instruction. And there were writing opportunities in the school paper and literary magazine, as well as studio art training.
I am sorry to say that these programs are no longer widely available to the new generation of Americans. This once visionary and democratic system has been almost entirely dismantled by well-meaning but myopic school boards, county commissioners, and state officials, with the federal government largely indifferent to the issue. Art became an expendable luxury, and 50 million students have paid the price. Today a child's access to arts education is largely a function of his or her parents' income.
In a time of social progress and economic prosperity, why have we experienced this colossal cultural and political decline? There are several reasons, but I must risk offending many friends and colleagues by saying that surely artists and intellectuals are partly to blame. Most American artists, intellectuals, and academics have lost their ability to converse with the rest of society. We have become wonderfully expert in talking to one another, but we have become almost invisible and inaudible in the general culture.
This mutual estrangement has had enormous cultural, social, and political consequences. America needs its artists and intellectuals, and they need to reestablish their rightful place in the general culture. If we could reopen the conversation between our best minds and the broader public, the results would not only transform society but also artistic and intellectual life.
There is no better place to start this rapprochement than in arts education. How do we explain to the larger society the benefits of this civic investment when they have been convinced that the purpose of arts education is mostly to produce more artists—hardly a compelling argument to either the average taxpayer or financially strapped school board?
We need to create a new national consensus. The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.
This is not happening now in American schools. Even if you forget the larger catastrophe that only 70 percent of American kids now graduate from high school, what are we to make of a public education system whose highest goal seems to be producing minimally competent entry-level workers?
The situation is a cultural and educational disaster, but it also has huge and alarming economic consequences. If the United States is to compete effectively with the rest of the world in the new global marketplace, it is not going to succeed through cheap labor or cheap raw materials, nor even the free flow of capital or a streamlined industrial base. To compete successfully, this country needs continued creativity, ingenuity, and innovation.
It is hard to see those qualities thriving in a nation whose educational system ranks at the bottom of the developed world and has mostly eliminated the arts from the curriculum.
I have seen firsthand the enormous transformative power of the arts—in the lives of individuals, in communities, and even society at large.
Marcus Aurelius believed that the course of wisdom consisted of learning to trade easy pleasures for more complex and challenging ones. I worry about a culture that bit by bit trades off the challenging pleasures of art for the easy comforts of entertainment. And that is exactly what is happening—not just in the media, but in our schools and civic life.
Entertainment promises us a predictable pleasure—humor, thrills, emotional titillation, or even the odd delight of being vicariously terrified. It exploits and manipulates who we are rather than challenges us with a vision of who we might become. A child who spends a month mastering Halo or NBA Live on Xbox has not been awakened and transformed the way that child would be spending the time rehearsing a play or learning to draw.
If you don't believe me, you should read the statistical studies that are now coming out about American civic participation. Our country is dividing into two distinct behavioral groups. One group spends most of its free time sitting at home as passive consumers of electronic entertainment. Even family communication is breaking down as members increasingly spend their time alone, staring at their individual screens.
The other group also uses and enjoys the new technology, but these individuals balance it with a broader range of activities. They go out—to exercise, play sports, volunteer and do charity work at about three times the level of the first group. By every measure they are vastly more active and socially engaged than the first group.
What is the defining difference between passive and active citizens? Curiously, it isn't income, geography, or even education. It depends on whether or not they read for pleasure and participate in the arts. These cultural activities seem to awaken a heightened sense of individual awareness and social responsibility.
Why do these issues matter to you? This is the culture you are about to enter. For the last few years you have had the privilege of being at one of the world's greatest universities—not only studying, but being a part of a community that takes arts and ideas seriously. Even if you spent most of your free time watching Grey's Anatomy, playing Guitar Hero, or Facebooking your friends, those important endeavors were balanced by courses and conversations about literature, politics, technology, and ideas.
Distinguished graduates, your support system is about to end. And you now face the choice of whether you want to be a passive consumer or an active citizen. Do you want to watch the world on a screen or live in it so meaningfully that you change it?
That's no easy task, so don't forget what the arts provide.
Art is an irreplaceable way of understanding and expressing the world—equal to but distinct from scientific and conceptual methods. Art addresses us in the fullness of our being—simultaneously speaking to our intellect, emotions, intuition, imagination, memory, and physical senses. There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as stories, or songs, or images.
Art delights, instructs, consoles. It educates our emotions. And it remembers. As Robert Frost once said about poetry, "It is a way of remembering that which it would impoverish us to forget." Art awakens, enlarges, refines, and restores our humanity. You don't outgrow art. The same work can mean something different at each stage of your life. A good book changes as you change.
My own art is poetry, though my current daily life sometimes makes me forget that. So let me end my remarks with a short poem appropriate to the occasion.
[Part III of Gioia's poem "Autumn Inaugural"]
Praise to the rituals that celebrate change,
old robes worn for new beginnings,
solemn protocol where the mutable soul,
surrounded by ancient experience,
grows young in the imagination's white dress.
Because it is not the rituals we honor
but our trust in what they signify, these rites
that honor us as witnesses—whether to watch
lovers swear loyalty in a careless world or a newborn washed with water and oil.
So praise to innocence—impulsive and evergreen—
and let the old be touched by youth's
wayward astonishment at learning something new,
and dream of a future so fitting and so just
that our desire will bring it into being.
Congratulations to the Class of 2007."