Results tagged “American Repertory Theater” from ARTicles

PrometheusPHOTO.jpgMaybe it's true of all botched vacations: There can be a silver lining. To paraphrase Dorothy, sometimes when you're looking for your heart's desire, you may not have to go any further than your own backyard. Which is a good thing because that's how far I got when I had to abandon plans to spend spring break in Chile visiting my brother and reporting on the arts. I ended up staying in the Boston area where the arts chops are pretty sharp these days. And yeah, it's true: I didn't have to go more than four T stops to find my heart's desire.

1. Prometheus Bound directed by Diane Paulus at American Repertory Theater's Club Oberon in Cambridge.

Do you like your revolutions Greek style? Diane Paulus does. Her decision to focus American Repertory Theater's season on classics - as in Aeschylus and Sophocles (add her touring Broadway revival of Hair which, coincidentally, stops in Boston this month) - has turned out to be prescient given the headlines in Africa and the Middle East. Prometheus is another example of Paulus' gift for musical spectacle with gender-social-political-choreographic (did I leave anything out?) commentary glinting from a disco ball. For a show in which the protagonist is chained to a rock for most of the story, there's a lot going on here. There's no escaping the action whether you're with the groundlings - the throngs of fist-pumping youths on the center floor - or seated off to the side in a banquette where a trio of hauntingly pale chorus angels in combat boots might nudge you aside to use your table for a scene. Paulus had a dream team in script and lyrics writer Steven Sater (Spring Awakening) and composer Serj Tankian (System of a Down). The storyline may feel Greek to our ears because of the volume, but the production is rousing - and features the usual lineup of hyper talented performers who seem to give their souls to Paulus' vision of Outsiders Are Powerful. Thank you, Prometheus, for the bright ideas. We have some people in Wisconsin who would have found you very inspiring.

2. The Sun Also Rises by Elevator Repair Service at Arts Emerson's Paramount Theater.

After last year's Gatz, which ranks in the Top Ten Performances I've seen in three decades of theater going, I hoped Elevator Repair Service wasn't going to be a one-trick pony. It isn't. Select14_sm.jpgDirector John Collins has three important talents: He understands pacing - and isn't afraid to take it slow. He understands humor - and isn't afraid to combine the nuance of the aforementioned pacing with the nonsense of stagecraft. And he loves literature enough to know that a book is one thing and a stage play is quite another and that the two are related but not pathologically. If anything, Collins is a master of the remix. Purists may have walked away saying, "This isn't Hemingway!" Fine. That is fine. But I walked away wondering if I got the cultural wink in the Ferrante & Teicher poster on the wall - and not caring much for the answer because, well, it seemed very Hemingway not to overwork a symbol. In the end - and Collins crafts one of the

March 23, 2011 12:31 PM |
Rob Orchard.jpg

Rob Orchard stood on the stage of Boston's historic Paramount Theatre last week to announce the inaugural season of ArtsEmerson, a new initiative that will see him programming four venues -- three in the newly renovated Paramount complex and also the Cutler Majestic Theatre, all under the Emerson College umbrella. Last year, Orchard made a quieter announcement: that he was leaving his post as executive director of Harvard's American Repertory Theater in Cambridge after 30 years. He was retiring. I had visions of Orchard out on a sailboat off the coast of Maine basking in a career well done and a wind effortlessly ridden. But Boston had another plan for Orchard. Organizers at the Paramount, one of the last great movie palaces of the 1930s, took him on a tour of the $92 million renovation of the complex -- a 590-seat theater, a flexible black-box theater that can hold up to 150 seats, and a 170-seat screening room. That was the end of the sailboat fantasy. Orchard is now Emerson's executive director for the arts, and the lineup for the four spaces is a combination of new works, international groups and, eventually, a film series. Boston is experiencing an exciting stage in its arts identity, and ArtsEmerson is the newest cultural activation that combines academic mission with civic duty and a broad artistic vision. "This was not a career move on my part," Orchard told me. "There's something liberating about having a job you don't view as a stepping stone to something else. You can give yourself to it entirely." What follows is an edited version of the rest of our conversation.

This may seem like a crazy first question but what is the role of the performing arts in a city?

Whether it's a performing arts center or a facility, it's a crossroads. It's a place for people to get out there and experience great works and to be transported and to be better citizens. How idealistic do you want to get?

Well, how does art make someone a better citizen?

It's a democracy, and part of what art can do is communicate ideas and open up dialogue in a nonthreatening, non-ideological way. I don't think an artist should ever be burdened with the responsibility of changing society. The only thing you can ask artists to do is to tell the truth from their perspective. An audience knows when it's being told the truth -- whether or not it's a truth they want to hear. But they can sense sincerity and that gets the mind thinking in ways that are productive in a culture. Art does play that role of catalyst.

June 8, 2010 4:48 AM |

James Rainey's Los Angeles Times article on tepid press reception of Gustavo Dudamel's first U.S. tour as LA Philharmonic music director reminds me of a scene I'm watching unfold in Cambridge, Mass., where Diane Paulus is completing her first year as artistic director of American Repertory Theater. Both media and popular support of Paulus have been strong, but there's a less documented story on the street. Is she turning A.R.T. into an out-of-town stage for New York actors and other theater workers? Is her work serious or is it, as has been suggested of Dudamel's, a "publicity and fund-raising machine"? 

During her first year, Paulus has produced the biggest ticket-seller of any season at A.R.T. -- "Sleep No More" by England's Punchdrunk theater -- and her revival of "Donkey Show" that has been running nearly a year at A.R.T.'s smaller black-box space has a minor cult status locally. People love the work, or they don't. Critics love the work, or they don't. But the work keeps trucking, just as it does with the other theaters in the Boston area. Paulus' "Best of Both Worlds," a musical adaptation of "A Winter's Tale" staged in an inner-city vernacular, featured outstanding performances by an all-black cast -- a rarity at A.R.T. -- but the show didn't find the same kind of following as "Sleep No More," and the writing didn't cast the same spell for many who did attend. Same for another import, "Paradise Lost," Daniel Fish's update of Clifford Odets' play. Time will tell how Paulus assesses these two productions.

Paulus' newest work, "Johnny Baseball," is a musical about the Red Sox. The show opens June 2, and the local theater community is already noting that the cast is imported from New York -- even as the story is written by Massachusetts native Richard Dresser, stars Boston Conservatory graduate Stephanie Umoh, and features young Erik March, pitcher and infielder for the Newburyport Pioneer League. In previews, theatergoers wore Red Sox outfits and caps, and drank beer during the show. Can Fenway fans be far behind?

May 27, 2010 5:32 AM |

OUR TOWN CAST.jpg"It's a two-hour version with no intermission, and it's very action-packed," said Mr. Burdman, who's directing the play. Audiences will be able to get in on the action to some extent by following the show as it moves around the center. "Wear comfortable shoes," Mr. Burdman said. "We've got seven flights of stairs." NYT 3/5/2010

This New York Times excerpt is from a story about a New York Classical Theater production of "Hamlet" directed by the company's artistic director Stephen Burdman. The show is in rehearsal for its opening in April at the World Financial Center, a sprawling space in Lower Manhattan. But the excerpt also tells us a little something about the increasing power of audience participation in live theater - in its process and performance. It's the age of the video games and reality TV, after all, and we want live theater to be engaging not only of our minds but of our bodies, too. We want to be stakeholders in the narrative. Theatergoers and even passersby who witness a sword fight between two Danes downtown should not be alarmed. It's just art. And on the night of the show, you can fully expect to use those comfortable shoes to "get in on the action."

Live theater is now a performance event for everyone!

In Cambridge, Mass., where I live, American Repertory Theater's artistic director Diane Paulus has put muscle into audience participation. Last year, she re-staged her crowd-inclusive "Donkey Show"; it's now running indefinitely in the theater's annex space where nearly nightly crowds turn out to dance alongside the "Midsummer Night's Dream"-cum-Studio 54 disco cast. One addict apparently has seen the show 30 times. (I've been three times.)

March 11, 2010 7:22 PM |


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