Results tagged “NEA Institute in Theater and Musical Theater” from ARTicles

NEA Fellows.jpg

Don't believe what you read, Romenesko and Roman Holiday notwithstanding. Look carefully at the smiling faces attached to the exhausted bodies above. These are this year's 23 USC Annenberg Fellows of the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater Program. (Plus Sasha and Doug. I, tears in my eyes, had just left the Los Angeles farewell breakfast.) The bad news about the operatic demise of arts journalism somehow had escaped them, and all of us:

"What do you mean? Of course people want to read about theater! Of course we want to write, blog, video, do anything to say why ..."

And the voices diverge, because they come from different geographical and personal places. But after 10 days in their presence -- and I spent every single day of the program with these dogged folks -- I had my caution handed to me on a Salome platter. These journalists worked and talked in an atmosphere of pure optimism. I was floored. How could this be?

I think it's because they possess a blunt faith in the art they go out every day and night to watch and then redact, refine, recreate. I'll tell you, as someone who has felt the same way for decades but was beginning to flag, this is a very welcome tonic. 

Sheer optimism, driven by love of art and effervescent talent. Exactly what we need. 

Just wanted you to know. 

Photo: Captain Freckels

April 25, 2009 11:10 PM |

How sixties a topic. Make it easy to be near you. Speaking from coming off the NEA Arts Journnalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater in Los Angeles (April 14-24) -- a powerful ten-day experience with 23 arts journalists. Fellowship signified that we, journalists, care. Care about artists. First, last, always. We exist because of what human beings make and are capable of making. Thanks to Robert Christgau on one extreme and Irene Borger on the other. Want to taste? Have to wait until September 18 at USC Annenberg School for Communication in Los Angeles, when arts journalism forces will, we hope, gather. Meanwhile, Ken Brecher,executive director of Sundance Institute (until last week; what's up next for Brecher is a major mystery):

April 24, 2009 11:29 PM |

This morning we learned that Christopher Page, theater critic and editor at the East Valley Tribune in Phoenix, Arizona, died. His was a suicide.

Three weeks earlier he had been laid off from his job, which in January of this year had come with a promotion, placing him in charge of online features. Chris was one of the brightest, sharpest, kindest and most outrageous critics to participate as a Fellow in the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater its first year, 2005.

Then he was 23. We called him "our NEA baby." It helped that his overall impression was round. His eyelashes were long. You wanted to hug him on sight. Chris had this effect on all of us. By "us" I mean the 24 other Fellows (who had bonded instantaneously, sustained by wicked senses of humor that live to this day on an active Listserv where sardonic musicals, often inspired by Chris, are jointly created on a fairly regular basis) his writing instructor, Barbara Isenberg, our program coordinator, Rachel Uslan, and myself, director.

Chris is the first and, to date, the last Fellow on any program I have ever run in seven years who missed the bus. He missed the bus. And just like "Home Alone," we didn't realize it until we had arrived at A Noise Within theater in beautiful, downtown Glendale -- and had sat down. I think the uncustomary silence, or the sheer lack of Chris's ebullient presence, alerted us immediately: We had left him behind. Chris was missing!

I jumped into my minivan and performed a rescue. Chris was mortified, and so funny about it. From there on in, and for the rest of eternity, we had a Buddy System for the bus. Chris Page and Chris Blank, his fellow Fellow, called themselves "Blank Page." Apt for critics, and a testament to Page's wit and willingness to accept full blame, when he needn't have. "Our NEA baby" was our responsibility.

Who knows why people kill themselves. There is a readiness here to connect his fatal action with having been laid off. But we can't invent a reality like that. Yet, Chris's death is an additional heavy burden on our arts journalism souls. The worry mounts, and it's tempting to make him emblematic.

Here I am about to launch a new Master's program in arts journalism at USC Annenberg School for Communication. This same day that I learned Chris died, I heard from another teacher at the NEA Institute. She's one of the lucky ones. A full-time theater critic in the Pacific Northwest. But, she's sitting in an arts newsroom that has 12 desks, eight of which are completely empty, unused, and with no expectation of ever being used again. Her colleagues were laid off or took the buyout. Ghost town -- maybe she is not so lucky.

Alan Rich, 83 years old, who has given his life to writing about music was let go by the L.A. Weekly and a week or so ago was told that "No, he would not receive severance pay," as he had been promised. Without a contract, he hasn't a leg to stand on.

But this is a human being. A life. A life dedicated fully and solidly to writing with surest integrity for us.

Today, I heard from a journalist questioning the intelligence of starting an MA program for arts journalists, when there are "no jobs."  Her tone was hurt, pained, frantic, and it gave me pause -- as if I haven't paused enough to question the future myself.

What right does optimism have to exist? My eye is on the artists and the arts. Will they stop? Is art going to stop being made? Will we be able to stop being interested in the arts? Stop loving and obsessing over them not just for artistic reasons, but for moral ones? Can we help writing about them?

I take my cue from the artists. Writing chooses you, you do not choose it. Dancers move. We must move. Actors act. We must take action. Artists paint. We paint with words. Architects build. Let's build arts journalism programs together where there were none.

I see in this time the opportunity to redefine and shape journalism for the better for the arts and culture. Can I guarantee a salary and health benefits and a job as we know jobs to have been? No. But I honestly believe that we can do better than we have done.

One by one by one. And a place to begin is to call for humane action when writers who have given their lives, literally or figuratively, must be let go. Supply a net, counseling, severance, comfort, whatever it takes, but we must not accept the lack of respect.

Speak out. Ask publishers and editors-in-chief to lower the blade, if they must, with awareness that for some critics their work is their lives.

May 28, 2008 3:44 PM |

Sometimes you don't know what's wrong with something until you see what's right.

I feel so depleted trying to defend dance, when really the nature of the beast is that it is dance, which means it has to be felt in order to be done. Even if you subscribe to Balanchine's credo, "Don't feel just do," I would still maintain that the people dancing must have an interior life that illuminates the movement if only for the satisfaction of themselves. Merce Cunningham's dancers report the same -- that as disconnected as movement might seem from narrative or explicit purpose, in fact, there is connection, intellectual and physical, aesthetic and organic. A connection that each dancer creates. That's what sustains the choreography's beauty: the individual.

"A Chorus Line" is precisely about this connection: individual life and its important relationship to the group, the chorus line, the choreographer's idea of "One." 

Last night Broadway's touring production of "A Chorus Line" came to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Nikki Snelson (Cassie) -- what she does on that stage had me thinking, because she is so good. Why is she good? She pushes and interprets just a little beyond what is given to her to do, BUT it's her own world she is in. She not once - not once, I tell you -- made me look at the outside of her body and say, "Oh, what technique. I bet she put in hours on that bod, that line, that mirror reflection." I don't want to be trite here. This is serious business, because dance is, in so many respects, going down the tubes. But, honestly, I did not expect to find such authentic personality through movement at "A Chorus Line."

 Of course, that is what this show is about. Therefore, kudos to director Bob Avian on this production and to the casting agents whom practically every single cast member thanks profusely: Jay Binder and Nicole Vallins. This is a musical about casting and they were letter perfect.

poster.jpgMichael Bennett got it about dancers and musical theater dancers, in particular. The story of Paul -- even if it is not told by the original cast member in this production -- is timeless and painful. He's the boy whose only recourse is to perform as a woman and whose father says, "Just take care of my son," when he leaves for a touring show and that's the first time that Paul has ever heard his father call him "son" -- oh, the pain and the pain and the pain again. Was there a dry eye in the house? Think not. Kevin Santos, who played Paul, was as credible as the original has to have been in my imagination.

Speaking of originals...In the audience last night was the original Maggie (Kay Cole). She lives and works in L.A. and last winter taught my NEA Insititute in Theater and Musical Theatre fellows and blew their collective minds by having them dance and having them recognize what is individual about each of their bodies and selves as expressed in dance (try doing that in a class. It's a tall order and she did it without any prompting. Call it Michael Bennett training in the flesh). But Kay was in the audience last night and seeing "A Chorus Line" with her in the row behind me added something. An extra set of eyes and heart. Her replacement Maggie ( Hollie Howard) was to my mind sensational. She sustained the final notes of "At the Ballet." She had a gorgeous voice and she was willing to be innocent and surprising and non-egotistical. Hard to do in a show like this. 

 But I would argue that "A Chrous Line" puts the ego where the ego is supposed to be. It is about service to the art.

When asked at the end by Zach (Michael Gruber, who also was in the original company and whose line as a dancer sets the bar, by which I mean the line if you traced "a line" around his body at all given times), "What would you do if you couldn't do dance?," the answers and temperature of the them is so exactly like journalists are feeling right now. The dancers respond with how Broadway is dying and how they'll dance until they can't dance no more. Ultimately they wind up singing ""What I did for Love" and I thought to myself, this is just like us. This is arts journalism.

Newspapers are dying. Broadway is dying. Did you honestly get into this business of writing dance criticism or any form of arts journalism for the money?? Did you? Why are you doing it? What are you willing to sacrifice? Could we put up a show about us "A Hedline" and have it be any different than "A Chorus Line"?  All vying and training and for a part in the newsroom. "A Byline"?

Now I ask, has Broadway died? How does information and training  get passed down? Will standards honestly lower as the Internet intercepts us? Should we give up writing? Can we?

I think we are drawn to write about the arts because we love them. Times are different. Not necessarily bad. But they are changing and they are different. When I see Nikki Snelson move with all the fortitude of Patricia McBride and the character of Violette Verdy and the amplitude of Mikhail Baryshnikov, using her energy points, I know dance is not dead. And just as I know that, I also know journalism, arts journalism, is not dead either.

May 23, 2008 4:00 PM |


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