Category Archives: Commentary

AGE OF ANTIGONE: SOPHOCLES’S ARRESTING TALE OF THE DEBT WE OWE THE DEAD ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 10/4; In fatal thrall … Christopher Eccleston as Creon and Jodie Whittaker as Antigone in the National theatre’s 2012 production of Antigone. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

 

With three new versions on stage this month, the ancient Greek classic – and its reflections on authority and devotion – remains as compelling as ever

This October sees a rash of productions based on Sophocles’s Antigone. Given that the heroine defies the Theban king, Creon, by burying her dead brother, Polyneices, maybe the collective noun should be “a disruption of Antigones”. Both Merlynn Tong’s version at the Mercury in Colchester, which has a female Creon, and Hollie McNish’s at the Storyhouse in Chester emphasise the play’s modern relevance. But the most radical rewrite appears to be that by Freedom Studios in Bradford. Entitled Aaliyah (After Antigone), it shows two office cleaners challenging authority when they find their brother is being deported to Bangladesh by a recognisably vicious home secretary.

Before culture warriors start fulminating about desecration of a classic, one should point out that Antigone has always been open to adaptation. Jean Anouilh did a famous version, staged in occupied Paris in 1944, in which the heroine became a symbol of the resistance. Brecht’s adaptation, staged in Switzerland in 1948, showed Creon as a Hitlerian tyrant who finally takes Thebes with him down to destruction. And in The Island, memorably performed by John Kani and Winston Ntshona and co-written with Athol Fugard, we saw two prisoners on Robben Island using Sophocles’s play to express their opposition to apartheid. So, far from being theatrical graverobbers, today’s Antigone adapters are in distinguished company.

All that raises an obvious question: why is it that this particular play has acquired such mythic status and encouraged so many rewrites? George Steiner put his finger on it when he wrote: “Antigones proliferate in an age which has known live burial and the obscene refusal of sepulchre to enemies and victims.” Look around any modern warzone and you will find parallels with Sophocles. But this is also a play that raises fundamental questions about the conflict between civil and religious law, political expediency and common humanity. Hegel had a point when he described the play as “a collision between the two highest moral powers”.

Today our sympathy naturally lies with Antigone, the rebel and the martyr. But, in my experience, the play works best when Creon is also seen as a tragic victim: the embodiment of state power who ultimately sacrifices his wife and son to an inflexible principle. And Edmund Wilson raised a fascinating point in an essay in The Wound and the Bow when he suggested there was something pathological in Antigone’s excessive love for her brother.

Wilson seized on a famous passage in which Antigone says she wouldn’t have broken the law for a husband or a son; she’s willing to do it, however, for a brother. However much we admire Antigone, is there not something morbid about her sibling fervour? The best productions I’ve seen transcend moral melodrama – good versus evil – and recognise the play’s endless complexity. Polly Findlay, using Don Taylor’s translation, directed a modern-dress version at the National in 2012. Jodie Whittaker, long before she became Dr Who, was a compelling Antigone: a genuine subversive who believed nothing was more important than the debt we owe to the dead. But Christopher Eccleston, one of her predecessors as the time-travelling doctor, was a charismatic Creon dealing with a state in crisis: less a brutal tyrant than a figure fatally in thrall to the idea that authority is somehow sacrosanct.

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HERODOTUS (ON BBC RADIO 4) ·

(from BBC 4)

HERODOTUS

In Our Time

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Greek writer known as the father of histories, dubbed by his detractors as the father of lies. Herodotus (c484 to 425 BC or later) was raised in Halicarnassus in modern Turkey when it was part of the Persian empire and, in the years after the Persian Wars, set about an inquiry into the deep background to those wars. He also aimed to preserve what he called the great and marvellous deeds of Greeks and non-Greeks, seeking out the best evidence for past events and presenting the range of evidence for readers to assess. Plutarch was to criticise Herodotus for using this to promote the least flattering accounts of his fellow Greeks, hence the ‘father of lies’, but the depth and breadth of his Histories have secured his reputation from his lifetime down to the present day.

With

Tom Harrison
Professor of Ancient History at the University of St Andrews

Esther Eidinow
Professor of Ancient History at the University of Bristol

And

Paul Cartledge
A. G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, University of Cambridge

Producer: Simon Tillotson

(view on BBC 4)

VÁCLAV HAVEL, DISSIDENT PLAYWRIGHT TURNED STATESMAN, BORN 85 YEARS AGO ·

(from Radio Prague, 10/3/2021; Photo: Václav Havel|Photo: Filip Jandourek, Czech Radio.)

Born into a prominent wealthy family, Václav Havel came of age after the Communist coup of 1948, when to be “bourgeois” was to be part of a despised social class. As a young man, his criticism of the regime and status as a “dissident playwright” would soon land him in prison.

From those dark prison cells, Havel also gained prominence in international politics. He moved from a sort of private asylum at his country house in Hrádeček to the most important presidential and royal palaces in the world. The once-banned author saw his plays and essays published by the world’s most influential publishing house. Such was the life of Václav Havel. We will commemorate the 85th anniversary of his birth on 5 October 2021.

Few people have lived a more varied life than did Václav Havel. He was born into a privileged Prague family. What could have been good fortune soon turned to a burden. After the Communists came to power, inappropriate (i.e., “bourgeois”) origins became a major obstacle.

All his attempts to study the humanities at university were unsuccessful: without the recommendation of the local Communist Party branch, it was impossible. He was eventually accepted to the Czech Technical University, where he studied economics. It was also a small miracle at that time (1955). He was not admitted to the Academy of Performing Arts (AMU) until 1962; for distance learning, which was considered less valuable.

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10 RUSSIAN OPERAS BEING STAGED AROUND THE WORLD IN THE NEW 2021–22 SEASON ·

Damir Yusupov/The Bolshoi Theater

(Valeria Paikova’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the headlines, 10/21/2021.)

Russia gave the world not only ‘Crime and Punishment’ and ‘War and Peace’, but also some larger-than-life operas, as well. Don’t miss a chance to see them in the new season!

1. ‘Boris Godunov’ at the Metropolitan Opera (New York City, United States)

In terms of the depth and subtlety of psychological analysis, Modest Mussorgsky could definitely rival Fyodor Dostoevsky or Leo Tolstoy.

In ‘Boris Godunov’, he proved himself not only as a great composer and librettist, but also as a visionary far ahead of his time. Mussorgsky broke new ground in that he actually chose to highlight the dramatic conflict between the tsar and the people in this historical operatic blockbuster. The Russian composer went as far as to actually give the people the lead role in ‘Boris Godunov’. 

The Metropolitan Opera aptly describes Mussorgsky’s masterpiece as “a pillar of the Russian repertoire”, noting that the performance has been staged in its original 1869 version. Stephen Wadsworth’s production, with German bass René Pape as the title character in Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’, depicts the “hope and suffering of the Russian people as well as the tsar himself”.

2. ‘The Queen of Spades’ at La Scala (Milan, Italy)

Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s grim tale of passion and greed is widely considered the pinnacle of his artistic achievement. With the libretto composed by Tchaikovsky’s brother, Modest, the masterwork is based on Alexander Pushkin’s mystical short story, ‘The Queen of Spades’.

It has it all: passion, obsession, fear and fire. 

The opera is set in 18th century St. Petersburg and revolves around an unfortunate young man named Herman, who is obsessed with gambling. Herman also seems to be in love with the charming Lisa, whose grandmother, an old Countess, knows the secret of the “three winning cards”. Herman takes his obsession with gambling too far and things quickly go off the rails. 

Staged by Matthias Hartmann, ‘The Queen of Spades’ stars mesmerizing Russian mezzo-soprano Olga Borodina as the Countess and Russian tenor Najmiddin Mavlyanov as Herman.

Russian tenor Najmiddin Mavlyanov

In the new season, Tchaikovsky’s grandest opera will be conducted by Maestro Valery Gergiev.

3. ‘Sadko’ at the Bolshoi Theater (Moscow, Russia)

‘Sadko’ is, by far and large, Russia’s musical answer to Homer’s ‘Odysseus’. All modesty aside, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov gave his work quite an unusual genre definition – an epic opera.

'Sadko' at the Bolshoi Theater

Indeed, the prolific composer created a musical score of epic proportions, which requires an exceptional cast of performers and a nontrivial solution to setting the blockbuster opera. In ‘Sadko’, dramatic mass scenes alternate with heartfelt lyrical episodes, characterized by the exquisite beauty of the melodies. The opera focuses on Sadko, a young musician who dreams about incredible adventures and overseas travel. Sadko decries wealthy merchants for boasting and bluster, but the wandering artist will have to put his words into action after the fateful with the Tsar of the Sea. Charismatic tenor Najmiddin Mavlyanov, who has performed at the Royal Opera and the Metropolitan Opera, nails it as Sadko in the trailblazing production staged by Dmitri Tcherniakov.

4. ‘Eugene Onegin’ at the Vienna State Opera (Vienna, Austria)

Tchaikovsky was a true original, who never followed the crowd. So, instead of a story boasting “tsars, tsarinas, uprisings, battles and marches”. Tchaikovsky said he needed an intimate human drama with universal appeal. With the inner world of the characters in mind, Tchaikovsky created his signature “lyrical scenes in three acts”, featuring an ideal combination of pathos, drama and dignity.

‘Eugene Onegin’, based on Pushkin’s famous novel in verse, focuses on a young and sentimental woman, Tatiana Larina, who naively declares her love to a self-centered man. Eugene Onegin, who is cold as a fish, rejects Tatiana’s love and continues to live his life to the full. When he realizes that he might have missed the love of his life, it’s already too late. 

Andre Schuen as Onegin and Nicole Car as Tatyana.

Cutting-edge director and set designer Dmitri Tcherniakov creates an atmosphere of dramatic movement at the Vienna State Opera, with baritone Andre Schuen’s Onegin and Nicole Car’s Tatyana sharing charisma on stage.

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***** ‘DRACULA: THE UNTOLD STORY’ REVIEW – A WILD GOTHIC THRILL RIDE ·

(Nick Ahad’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/30; Photo:  Hi-tech horror … Riana Duce as Mina Harker. Photograph: Ed Waring.)

Leeds Playhouse
For a tale of the undead, Imitating the Dog’s inventive blend of live theatre and tech is bursting with life

Having tackled zombies in its most recent production, Night of the Living Dead – Remix, the Leeds company Imitating the Dog now takes on Dracula. The smart money would be on Frankenstein next to complete a diabolical trilogy.

For a show about the undead, this is bursting with life: theatre as intensely popular culture, with influences from movies such as Sin City, graphic novels including Watchmen and Constantine, and a sensibility heavily redolent of the Cumberbatch Sherlock.

The company, made up of co-artistic directors Andrew Quick, Pete Brooks and Simon Wainwright, has always pushed the boundaries of technology and theatre. Here the blend of live performance and digital is perfect. In their version of Night of the Living Dead, the balance was out of whack, the tech getting in the way of the show. In Dracula: The Untold Story, a co-production with Leeds Playhouse, equilibrium is achieved.

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IRINA BROOK’S STAGE OBSESSION: ‘IT’S BEEN 50 YEARS – THEATRE, THEATRE, THEATRE!’ ·

(Andrew Dickson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/28; Photo: The sunshine that blasts away the shadows… Irina Brook, director. Photograph: Amanda Lane.)

She grew up in an artistic dynasty and was once rejected for a part by her dad. Now the director is turning her life into an epic new project. She reflects on Chekhov, Shakespeare and Iggy Pop

What are memories? Stories we tell ourselves? Do they occupy neatly filed compartments in the brain? Perhaps – as Cicero and others argued – memory is a sort of palace or theatre: an atmospheric space filled with objects pregnant with meaning, or a realist stage set on which figures are forever materialising and disappearing.

Inside a swaggering 18th-century palazzo in Palermo, Irina Brook is trying to find answers to these questions – at least some of them. The project is entitled The House of Us. Three years in the planning and writing, the first piece she has created from scratch, it is a melange of autobiographical installations, photographs, video, music and theatrical performance. The audience will wander through it all, trespassers in Brook’s memory.

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RUSSIAN BALLET THROUGH THE EYES OF NINA ALOVERT (PHOTOS) ·

(Alexandra Guzeva’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 9/25.)
An Emmy-winning Russian-born photographer shows her view of the
magnificent world of Russian dance and its most renowned artists.

Nina Alovert (b. 1935) started her photography career in the Kirov Theater, today called the Mariinsky Theater, and which is St. Petersburg’s and Russia’s most famous ballet venue. Nina emigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s, but she kept taking pictures of Russian dancers while they were on tour abroad. She was a photographer for the Emmy-winning TV movie, Wolf Trap Presents The Kirov: Swan Lake (1986). 

Nina has also been trying to build bridges between Russian and American culture, and was also celebrated with several international ballet prizes for her humanitarian mission. Meanwhile, her photos can be found in leading American ballet books, and she has also published several solo albums that feature leading Russian ballet stars from Mikhail Baryshnikov to Nikolay Tsiskaridze. Let’s take a look at some of her brilliant photos..

Natalia Makarova in La Bayadère by the American Ballet Company, 1980

Mikhail Baryshnikov in El Penitente by Martha Graham Dance Company, 1988

Andris Liepa in Boston, 1988

TONY AWARDS 2021: ‘MOULIN ROUGE!’ ‘THE INHERITANCE,’ ‘A SOLDIER’S PLAY’ BIG WINNERS IN EMOTIONAL SHOW ·

(Brent Lang’s article appeared in Variety 9/26; Photo courtesy of Matthew Murphy.)

‘Slave Play’ Shut Out Despite Record Number of Nominations.

“Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” a stage adaptation of the poplar movie, dominated an unorthodox and highly emotional 74th Annual Tony Awards on Sunday, winning ten prizes, including the statue for best musical (full winner’s list here). Matthew Lopez’s “The Inheritance,” a sprawling epic about the AIDS crisis, won four statues and was honored as best play, while Charles Fuller’s “A Soldier’s Play,” a murder mystery that unspools during segregation, was named the best revival of a play.

In a stunning upset, Jeremy O. Harris’ “Slave Play,” a provocative look at racism, gender and sexuality that was embraced by critics and received 12 nominations, a record for a non-musical, was entirely shut out. Among the other major awards-winners, “A Christmas Carol” earned five prizes, all of them in technical categories.

The four-hour event unspooled on both broadcast television and the Paramount Plus streaming platform. It served as both a commemoration of the best of Broadway and a salute to the return of live theater after 18 months of COVID-19 shutdowns. In fact, many of the shows that were nominated closed more than a year ago. “Slave Play,” for instance, played its final performance on January 19, 2020 at a time when much of the world was just waking up to the threat posed by the novel coronavirus.

The second part of the evening, the one that unspooled on CBS, was billed as “The Tony Awards Present: Broadway’s Back!” and featured performances from the likes of “Freestyle Love Supreme,” “David Byrne’s American Utopia,” “Moulin Rouge!” and “Jagged Little Pill.” Leslie Odom, Jr. hosted the concert portion of the night while Audra McDonald emceed the earlier ceremony, a marathon affair in which more than 20 statues were handed out, along with performances by the likes of Jennifer Holliday, belting “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls” and Matthew Morrison and Marissa Jaret Winokur singing “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from “Hairspray.”

“You can’t stop the beat of Broadway, the heart of New York City,” McDonald said in her introductory remarks. “I’ve always thought of the Tonys as Broadway’s prom, but tonight it feels like a homecoming.”

The idea that “Broadway’s Back!” might be more wishful than factual. Certain shows have reopened, such as “Hamilton” and “The Lion King,” and other major productions such as “Six” and “The Lehman Trilogy” will welcome audiences in the coming weeks, but the tourism industry, which provides the bulk of ticket sales, is still sluggish. Many producers and insiders believe the recovery will be a gradual one, particularly if Delta and other variants continue to delay the U.S.’s economic rebound. Throughout the evening there were nods to the new pandemic reality, with audience members remaining masked throughout the broadcast.

One winner was virtually assured of victory before the final votes were tallied. “Moulin Rouge’s” Aaron Tveit was the only nominee in the best leading actor in a musical category and managed to triumph over the complete lack of other nominees. There were plenty of surprises and upsets, however. Mary Louise Parker nabbed best leading actress in a play for “The Sound Inside,” besting the heavily favored Joaquina Kalukango (“Slave Play”) and Laura Linney (“My Name Is Lucy Barton”). “The Inheritance’s” Stephen Daldry also nabbed a best director prize, his third, over fierce competition from the likes of Kenny Leon (“A Soldier’s Play”) and Robert O’Hara (“Slave Play”). While Andrew Burnap, who starred as a callous playwright in “The Inheritance,” beat out such major stars as Jake Gyllenhaal (“Sea Wall/A Life”), Tom Hiddleston (“Betrayal”) and Blair Underwood (“A Soldier’s Play”) to win best leading actor in a play. As expected, Adrienne Warren nabbed the best leading actress in a musical prize for her chameleonic performance in the title role of “Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.”

“Moulin Rouge!” earned honors for its director Alex Timbers, as well as for its scenic design, costume, lighting, sound design, and orchestrations. “Jagged Little Pill,” which is inspired by Alanis Morissette’s mega-selling album of the same name, earned two prizes, for Diablo Cody’s book and for Lauren Patten’s supporting performance. The show has been embroiled in a controversy in recent days after two former cast members accused the show’s producers of inflicting harm “to the trans and non-binary community” and alleged that stage management and key creatives were not receptive to concerns about their healthcare.

Patten appeared to acknowledge the furor in her speech. “I believe that the future for the change we need to see on Broadway comes from these kinds of conversations that are full of honesty and empathy and respect for our shared humanity,” she said. “And I am so excited to see the action that comes from them, and to see where that leads our future as theater artists.”

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JOE KINNISON’S IMPROV—THE WRITER AND ANGLER ON HIS NEW HOW-TO BOOK: ‘NEXT-LEVEL BASS FISHING’–FROM SKYHORSE ·

JOE KINNISON is on the hook for our latest interview, talking with SV’s Bob Shuman about getting started in bass fishing, enjoying the peace, beauty, and intellectual challenge of the sport, and sharing insights from the world’s top Bassmaster anglers:  Christiana Bradley, Tyler Carriere, Destin Demarion, Pam Martin-Wells, and Brandon Palaniuk. 

 

Joe Kinnison “sincerely promotes fishing for everyone.” His previous book is Oh’Fish-Al Innsbrook Fishing Guide, on fishing technique tailored to a lake resort community in Eastern Missouri. Joe is an officer in a St. Louis fishing club, and he has several bass tournament wins. He is also a member of the Missouri Writers Guild and the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SOEPA). 

 

What did you hook your first fish with—and what are your first memories of fishing?

When I was in primary school, my parents bought a small farm. The farm was all of the way at the end of a miles long gravel road. A small neighborhood organization took up a collection to maintain the road, along with a well that served water to the community. The well was a short walk up the road from our site, and a roughly two acre, kidney-bean-shaped pond was just downhill from the well on common ground. The pond was difficult to approach. It was surrounded by weeds and generally not well kept. Still, we decided to try fishing in the pond one summer day. After trampling enough weeds to get to the water’s edge, we baited hooks with bobbers and worms and started casting. In what seemed like no time, we were reeling in bass, many of which were good size, at least to a kid. Nearly every cast produced a fish, and I remember getting worn out, more than feeling that we’d caught all we could.

What kind of bait do you use today?

I use artificial baits today, and I change baits depending on the forage of the lake and the season of the year. I have had some of my best fishing days, in terms of volume, fishing a lipless crankbait. A lipless crankbait is a fairly heavy lure which is shaped like a fish. The fishing line ties to about the center of the fish’s back which makes the lure wiggle as it moves. A lipless crankbait can be cast a long distance, and the lure is retrieved at a regular rate. I use the lure to cover flats, which are large, shallow sections of lakes. I have had some of my most prolific fishing days dragging a lipless crankbait up the deep edge of a flat and long distances over the submerged surface of the flat. When the fish bite this moving lure, they tend to bite hard. The long length of fishing line from the long cast gives the hooked fish room run, and surge, and jump.

How has your technique changed over the years—and what crucial insight did you have about it?

When I moved to St. Louis, I started getting together with a small group of anglers. We jokingly called ourselves the Bassin’ Assassins. About once a month, we would travel to a group of ponds on a friend’s farm. We were not a very experienced group, but the ponds were seldom fished. These bass would bite almost anything. I started by throwing an inline spinner, which is really more of a trout lure than a bass lure. The bass bit it anyway. Since the ponds were a forgiving environment for an up-and-coming angler, I started experimenting. What I learned is that I preferred to fish slow, rather than just rip baits along a path and try for a reaction strike. I liked making the bait appear natural and move like a real crayfish or a worm. I later learned that this style of mimicking prey is called finesse fishing. Finesse fishing is the method I most prefer. It is slower, it gives a good feel for the fish, and being able to tempt a fish with what it believes is actual food is rewarding.

Why do you think people give up on fishing—and is there a way to keep them going with the sport?

I have met many people who like catching, but don’t necessarily like fishing. I think most people get excited to have a fish on the line. They get to steer the fish, reel it in, control it, and grab its lip. Although that’s the excitement of the sport, catching does not always happen. Moreover, sometimes when it does happen, the fish do not fight, or they are too small to be challenging. During most fishing trips, there is a period of time when the fish are not biting. Those are the times when most people give up on fishing, finding it boring. Those that stick with the sport seem to be the anglers that start seeking solutions when the fishing is idle. They start changing lures, alternating retrieve cadences, or switching colors. They start to notice changes in water color or wind direction or sun angle. Those that begin to understand the natural elements that impact the catching. These are the ones that keep going with the sport. I think the best way to learn the types of things that matter to fishing success is to spend time on the water with someone who loves fishing, not catching.

You interviewed five professional anglers, affiliated with Bassmaster for this book—were there any commonalities to their experience and stories?  Are most people who fish helpful to the newcomer?

Fishing is a welcoming community, especially to kids. In my experience, anglers are like golfers, in that they are happy to recount the elements that led up to their par, what club, what distance, what line, and so on.  For anglers, it may be what reels and cranks, what location, or what technique. While some anglers protect their secrets, most are quite open in sharing their experiences. As for the professionals, the most common element of their stories is that they each had a mentor. Be it a grandfather, brother, or family friend, each angler had a generous fishing enthusiast take them under their arm and give them experiences on the water. Although fishing is the second most popular outdoor sport, fishing can seem to be a small and not mainstream community. Really, it’s not. You just need to find a friend.

What does a fisherperson do during the off-season?

The off-season for professional fishing may not be what you think, the off-season is actually in the fall. Professional tours start as early as February, and the season ends in July. While that is the professional ranks, I make the point in my book that I am far from a professional caliber angler. For me, the off season is what you might expect, winter. I live in the Midwest, and I am not a big fan of cold. Some of my peers travel to Arkansas each year to fish for trout in the Ozark mountain streams. Personally, I like the heartiness and the fight of bass, so I stick with that type of fishing. I give my boat a good cleaning about Thanksgiving time, and I park it until the Easter season. I spend the winter reading and writing.

Please discuss the issue of releasing fish after they are caught. Why would or wouldn’t you do this—is it ever required?

Choosing to either keep or release a bass is a thorny issue, and there are passionate opinions on both sides. Large and smallmouth bass are not good eating fish. They are edible, but they would not be a first choice among diners. As such, keeping these fish for food is not the norm. For most of my fishing tenure, catch-and-release has been the preferred method. Recently, however, lake management views have been changing. Bass tend to be the apex predators in most lakes. With few adversaries, the fish tend to overpopulate. When a bass population gets too large, sufficient food is not present to support all of those fish. The fish tend to grow to approximately the same size and compete for what nourishment is available. These fish tend to thin. The industry calls such fish stunted. The bulk of the fish population of a lake can be unhealthy, starving. Some of the new thinking is that small bass should be removed from lakes and rivers to try to prevent the stunting problem. With small bass being particularly hard to prepare as food, the question becomes what to do with them. Dead fish are better used for garden fertilizer or even left on the bank to feed birds and raccoons. Some animal rights people believe that culling small fish is inhumane. Other animal rights people believe that starving a population of fish is inhumane. There are good arguments on both sides. I am a believer that catch-and-keep is the best policy.

What is fish body language and how does knowing about it help when fishing?

Even experienced anglers generally do not know that largemouth bass can change color. The fish have the ability to express the green and black pigments in their skin, or they can mask those pigments. It would not be unusual to catch really green-looking bass on one trip, and then catch really white-looking bass on another trip on the same lake. Coloration depends on how deep the bass are swimming and how much vegetation is in the water. Bass express their pigments when they are in the weeds. The green shades make them harder to find. The suppress their pigments when they are in deep or open water. More whiteness makes them harder to see by other fish looking from the bottom toward the surface. The pigment provides information to the angler. If you reel in a white-ish bass, it does not mean the animal is unhealthy. Instead, it means the animal came from a deep, suspended position to bite the lure. In that way, the coloration of the bass tells you at what depth the fish are feeding. This is valuable information for the angler.

How would this book have been written if you worked on it ten years ago—what has changed in the field?

I do not think this book could have been written a decade ago. Like many pursuits, fishing has undergone tremendous technological change in the last ten years. In that period of time, the industry has developed high resolution sonar equipment, invisible fishing lines, and previously unheard of lure presentations like umbrella rigs. Due to the improvements in the technology, most anglers have been focused on trying new gear. The new gear has been effective in improving catch rates, especially for offshore fish. As the technology has been assimilated, in my experience, questions remained unanswered. For example, if we both have all of the greatest gear, what makes an angler on the Bassmaster Elite tour different from me? In looking for that explanation, it became clear to me that soft skills separate anglers who already possess the latest technology. It really comes back to the human elements to determine success. Mentorship is a factor. It is also sensory skills, creativity, and organization that make the true difference.

What do you discuss in the book that isn’t typically covered in fishing books?

This may sound mundane, but one of the things that I discuss is how to get on the water. Some of the nation’s best fishing lakes are overwhelmingly large. It can be a difficult problem just to get started, and no one tells you that perspective. I point readers to where to launch their boat, where to get a guide, where to stay overnight, and where to grab dinner. Such practical things are often omitted in fishing books. Beyond the practical, few other fishing books will inform readers about things like sensory training and improvisation techniques.

How long does it take, on average, for someone to feel confident in fishing?

Getting confident in fishing can take a while. I cannot really identify a precise timetable, but I would say about five years will not be far off. As with any sport, some people have a natural gift for fishing. They may be particularly aware of nature or unusually observant. These folks usually start fast. For the fast starters as for the rest of us, eventually the angler will have an outing where they catch nothing. A reliable bait does not work or no fish reside in a confident “honey hole.” At these times, whatever confidence the beginning angler has fails. What restores confidence is going back out on the water and trying different lures, different techniques, and different locations until one finds and catches the fish. Having to adapt to different conditions and different quirks is what ultimately makes a successful angler. One would have to have experienced several shut-out situations before becoming assured that success could be achieved under most  fishing conditions.  Personally, going onto a lake knowing that I can effectively fish crankbaits, or spinnerbaits, or soft plastics, or swimbaits is what ultimately gave me confidence. That and being able to consistently out-fish my brother-in-law.

Do you honestly believe that both sensory training and improv training really make a difference to an angler?

Both of these disciplines sound “new agey,” and “fluffy,” as in not tangible. I refer people to a scientific study of a baseball team that employed sensory techniques. The results were measurable. In the book, I tried to translate some of the sensory training ideas to outdoors pursuits. I have tried these sensory exercises, and I believe that they have helped my fishing. My most memorable response to suggestions for sensory training was an angry one. A very experienced angler chastised me for trying to teach people what for him was just being “in the zone.” I guess he had some natural abilities, and he was upset that I was teaching people how to make the best of their lesser gifts. Improv is also a tentative conversation for most anglers. People seem to think that I’m trying to get them to try out for Second City Comedy or something of that ilk. No, I’m trying to provide permission and instill a process for experimentation. Sometimes just knowing it’s okay to cast a jig with a purple streamer or a crankbait with a worm weight ahead of it on the line is acceptable as long as it is purposeful.

You really make the sport sound approachable and fun.  How were you able to do that?

Two teachers in particular had an influence on my life. A high school English teacher was a fiend for economy of language. Second, a college professor once lowered a grade on a paper saying that I turned in ten pages because I did not have time to write eight pages. He wanted editing and economy. I brought those sentiments into my professional life, and I became a big advocate for clarity and simplicity. I believe that writing in that fashion makes most topics approachable.

Fishing can get really complex, and the industry is heavy on jargon. I have heard professional anglers take more than a full minute just to tell you the details of their rod, reel, line, and lure combination. I do not think it needs to be that complicated. One of the things that I really liked about the anglers that I worked with is that they too kept it simple. For example, one only used two lure colors, among the hundreds of choices. If the pros can reduce the options to two, so can weekend anglers.

Finally, fishing is fun. Something about the man versus beast situation is primal. Fishing is a rite of passage. Getting proficient at fishing is really just calling upon skills you use in other areas of your life and channeling them productively into this particular pursuit. Most people have the life skills that enable at least some measure of success at fishing. I am hoping to draw these out of people so that they enjoy the peace, beauty, majesty, and intellectual challenge of the sport as I do.

Thanks so much, Joe, for talking with Stage Voices.

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Photo permissions (from top): Skyhorse; Joe Kinnison; Tyler Carriere 

(c) 2021 by Joe Kinnison (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.

AUSTRALIA: CABARET STARS TURN TO GAMERS AND INFLUENCERS FOR STREAMING TIPS ·

(Stephen A. Russell’s article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 9/20.   Photo: Sydney Morning Herald.)

The word ‘cabaret’ conjures images of intimate, candlelit spaces with audience members huddled together and the performer in amongst it. But for 200+ days, as lockdowns roll on, that’s not been an option. Could the internet fill the void?

With energy as big as her vocals, Tash York was used to dashing between Fringe festivals across the country and hopping overseas for annual appearances in Edinburgh. “To do it as a full-time profession, you need to have audiences everywhere,” she says. “It also means, for the performer, you can do the same show and peddle it around for the entire year.”

(Read more)