Category Archives: Commentary

AVIGNON FESTIVAL SHINES SPOTLIGHT ON ACTORS WITH DISABILITIES ·

(from France24 )

The Avignon Festival is back after 2020’s Covid-19 hiatus. France’s biggest performing arts festival sees thousands of actors, dancers and musicians from around the world perform to audiences in the southern French city for three weeks every summer. FRANCE 24’s Julie Dungelhoeff and Claire Paccalin met a group of actors with learning disabilities whose play “Bouger les Lignes, histoires de cartes” (Pushing boundaries, stories about maps) has been selected as part of Avignon’s official “in” section.

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (122) ·

The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

Our art is not eternal, but it is the most inescapable of all arts so far as our contemporaries are concerned. What strength there is in it! Its action is created not by one man, but simultaneously by a group of actors, artists, stage directors, and musicians; not by one art, but simultaneously by many most diverse arts, music, drama, painting, declamation, dancing. This theatrical action is received not by one man, but simultaneously by a crowd of human beings which develops a mass emotion that sharpens the moments of receptivity. (MLIA)

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELDS (SV REVIEW PICK, IRELAND) ·

(Mary Coll’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 7/8; Photo: Kathy Rose O’Brien stars as Vera in In the Middle of the Fields.)

★★★★

West Wall Walkway, Kilmallock

Timing is everything and what better time to explore the themes of isolation, grief and loss than after a period of collective trauma such as we have all experienced in this recent pandemic.

Being back in a theatre again felt both poignant and a little surreal, especially as the theatre was an open-sided tent in a field in Kilmallock, Co Limerick, but it was a perfectly apposite setting, with a soft summer breeze blowing and horses grazing happily nearby.

This exquisite world premiere staging of writer Mary Lavin’s 1967 short story by director Joan Sheehy and Geoff Gould’s Blood In The Alley Theatre Company finds its feet with calm assurance in the shadow of the #MeToo movement, confronting as it does timeless questions about what is appropriate behaviour and who holds the power in any situation between a man and a woman. Vera (Kathy Rose O’Brien) is a young widow with small children living alone on a farm, she needs some help with the land and perhaps with more than that, which is what brings her married neighbour Bartley Crossen (Seamus Moran) to her door on the recommendation of trusted farm hand Ned (Mark O’Regan). There is a gentle undercurrent between O’Brien and Moran by day, he is the contractor and she owns the land but the temperature changes and the ground shifts when he calls to her farmhouse in the dark of night and everything that is then said or unsaid between them has a deeply unsettling tension.

(Read more)

PHYLLIS WHEELER SHINES A LIGHT ON HER TEEN NOVEL: ‘THE LONG SHADOW,’ FROM ELK LAKE PUBLISHING, INC. (INTERVIEW) ·

In her second interview for Stage Voices, Phyllis Wheeler talks race in America, during three different time periods; stranger danger and comfort zones; and walking a mile–in someone else’s shoes.

Author Phyllis Wheeler tells stories that encourage us to step outside our comfort zones. She’s done it—she and her husband spent twenty years raising their family in a black neighborhood in segregated St. Louis. She’s been a journalist, an engineer, and a homeschooling mom. Now she’s thrilled to be following her dream of becoming an author for young people. Find out more and get a free short story at phylliswheeler.com .

View The Long Shadow on Amazon

Visit Elk Lake Publishing, Inc.  

 

Photo by Arpit Mehta

Without giving too much away, tell us about your novel.

The Long Shadow is a racial reconciliation novel featuring time travel. Fourteen-year-old Richie, from white suburbia, thinks it is a good idea to run away from his guardian – until he finds himself whisked back 50 years, fighting to survive a freak storm, afraid to accept help from a black man.

As Morris mentors him in woodsman skills, a friendship develops. Richie wants to repay his life-debt to Morris and embarks on another trip in time, to 1923 in Missouri.  Can he prevent the lynching of Morris’s grandfather?

Why do you think The Long Shadow stands out in the youth market?

First of all, it’s on the topic of our times, racial reconciliation. Many people want to know more. Secondly, it faces a hitherto-taboo topic head-on. That topic is lynching. Our nation’s sad history of lynching and terrorism against Black people has been ignored or avoided in the past, but it’s high time we pulled it out and dealt with it, in my opinion. Thirdly, the book carries an emotional punch that’s unusual in middle grade fiction.

What seems to be important in writing for young readers (ages 10-14)?

  • Young people find role models when they read, so it’s important to have characters in your story readers want to emulate.
  • Personally I think a happy or mostly happy ending is important. Who wants to read a book and get depressed by it?
  • Beyond that, kids are looking for the same story elements as everyone else: relatable characters, strong plots that keep moving, a satisfying resolution.

All ages might notice your ability with structuring the novel, which takes place in three different times.  Why did you think you could make that work–and, for writers, how do you think and work with structure?

I worked with the basic three-act structure for starters, and then added a sub plot that has its own three act structure. I guess I thought I could make it work because I got positive responses from people who read the manuscript.

More details, if you are interested:

There’s a story setup in Act 1, present day. At the beginning of Act 2, Richie embarks on a journey to find independence, running off to the woods.  Richie eventually realizes he has been sent back fifty years somehow. Act 2 contains various setbacks and consequences as Richie, in the woods in 1969, interacts with a person of a different race, Morris, whom he fears. They begin to build a friendship.  Richie urges Morris to return to his family in town, but Morris has fears related to his grandfather’s lynching. And now the sub plot: Richie takes off for 1923 to try to prevent the lynching. That story contains three acts as well. After that sub plot finishes, we return to the main story, coming to resolution in 1969 and then the present day.

What kinds of research did the book involve?

I set the present-day sequences in Webster Groves, Missouri, the St. Louis suburb where I live, so researching that was easy. The 1969 sequences were mostly set in a wooded area of my state where my husband and I have spent a lot of time, near Farmington, Missouri.  And, in 1969, I was 17 years old. I remember it so clearly. So the part I had to research was 1923 in Columbia, Missouri. I dramatized an actual lynching, that of James T. Scott. This took several days of research in libraries in Columbia.

Now, Columbia happens to be the home of a big university: Mizzou, the University of Missouri.  This had two beneficial effects for me:

  • Grad students over the years analyzed the town history, including Jason Jindrich in 2002 researching how Black people lived in Columbia in the 1920s.
  • Mizzou journalism school student journalist Charles Nutter was present at the mob scene and wrote extensive eyewitness reports.

If the lynching had been in a different town, I wouldn’t have had these resources. I chose that lynching to base my story on not because of that, though. It was simply the most recent one in Missouri on record at the time I checked, and I needed a recent one in order to make the time line work.

The Long Shadow has characters of different races.  As a white writer, what are the traps and issues you faced not being limited by only working with your own race? 

Because I’ve had so many Black friends and neighbors, I think I can walk a mile in their shoes, but I really can’t, I have discovered. I learned to lean heavily on feedback from Black people who read my work. They point out where I am off, and I tear things up if needed and fix it. It’s a humbling experience.

As a homeschooling parent, in the past, what kinds of learning materials did you look for–and how would you envision The Long Shadow being used in homeschooling and schools?

When homeschooling, I looked for materials that I could hand my students and they could do on their own. So I am working on a homeschool “unit study” of at least 20 pages that will serve as a literature study, covering some Missouri history and geography, learning to write haiku, and more. I’m going to put it up on my website at PhyllisWheeler.com/the-long-shadow .

For regular schools, I also have some free classroom discussion questions available. This book should generate some deep discussions on the topic of racism.

What is racism? In my mind, it comes from fear. We are all wired for stranger danger. So we all need to be aware of the negative aspects of that and be willing to reach out, reach beyond our comfort zones.

What did you find yourself learning, as you wrote? 

I learned a lot about the sordid history of the treatment of Black people in Missouri. I was shocked to discover that after emancipation their settlements were sometimes relegated to edges of creeks, which flooded, and without proper sewers, so the water was contaminated.  This happened both in Columbia and in the St. Louis suburb where I live. Even in the nicer Black neighborhoods, there was no paving or street lights.

I also did some introspection about my feelings on the subject of race and racism. That was an eye opener too.

Because of its setting, are you finding Missouri is becoming key to your sales?  To what extent do you think this is a national or international book and why?

Local Missourians seem very interested in a racial reconciliation book, and it’s selling well here. But it’s also doing well online. I believe the book speaks to anyone who has experienced a segregated environment. That’s a lot of people! It’s not just a kids’ book. I am finding that adults are reading the book and recommending it to each other. The reconciliation theme can speak into our divided culture.

How do you think your personal experience prepared you to write this novel?

I lived as a child in Jim Crow Mississippi. There were laws about segregation. There were whites-only bathrooms and water fountains. The schools were separate. The only time I saw Black people was in a store—and in my home. My mother hired a maid to clean our house once a week. The maid lived in a row of shacks just a stone’s throw from our middle class house in a subdivision. Those shacks must have had no plumbing and just some kind of stove for heat. They were primitive. The contrast was so great in my young eyes.

As I grew up I lived in many places. In St. Louis I got married, and we decided to raise our family in a Black neighborhood. We had some wonderful, welcoming neighbors who showed us the warm heart of the Black community, which most white people in St. Louis never see.

View The Long Shadow on Amazon

More about The Long Shadow:

Part survival story, part exploration of racial justice in America, part journey of self-discovery, and wholly engaging and memorable. A well done and powerful story. It is certainly stuck in my head.—Joe Corbett, school librarian, St. Louis

I loved this book. I could not stop reading it once I had begun. It is a delightful story, as well as a very painful one, told very well without a wasted word. I gladly recommend it to anyone. —Jerram Barrs, professor at Covenant Theological Seminary and author of Echoes of Eden: Reflections on Christianity, Literature, and the Arts

I’ve read this book and enjoyed the characters in the story. I like the friendship that blossomed in the story and how the story came full circle in the end. It was a good history lesson without being offensive to anyone.—LaShaunda Hoffman, sensitivity reader and author

Searching for a new favorite book? Look no further than The Long Shadow by Phyllis Wheeler. Richie grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until the very end.—Elsie G, age 13.

Aunt Trudy never wanted kids. Now that she’s Richie’s guardian, she makes his life miserable. Richie just wants to escape, so he seeks refuge in the deep Missouri woods he loves so much.

Suddenly it’s not summer, but late fall. How did that happen? Did the trucker who just gave him a ride somehow whisk him back fifty years in time?

The woods aren’t for Richie the haven they used to be. After a freak storm, he finds himself at the mercy of Morris, a mysterious black man who also calls the woods home. Is Morris a savior? Or someone to fear?

 

STOREFRONTS TURNED STAGES FOR ‘SEVEN DEADLY SINS’ ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/23; via Pam Green.)

One afternoon in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, a small crowd gathered around a storefront window, where a neon-lit pole dancer in purple platform stilettos performed an engaging routine. Seeing the silent spectacle, the passersby stopped. Some took out their camera phones.

They had no way of knowing whether it was a rehearsal of a little play called “Lust” or that soon the dancer would be performing it nine times a night. On the sidewalk, director Moises Kaufmann sat in a bistro chair, surrounded by members of his Tectonic Theater Project. Through his headset he heard what pedestrians couldn’t: pulsing music and narrated views of the character.

Across the street, other empty storefronts in flashy establishments—a grave site, a Dominatrix’s dungeon—were also set for plays, one about greed, the other about anger. And that open storage container is standing on the curb? This would become the stage for a piece about jealousy. There would be wide windows in an unused space two blocks away in the cracks on gluttony, pride and sloth.

As New York begins its hot wax summer, Kaufman and Tectonic Theater are bringing “Seven Deadly Sins” to the streets. A sensual, high-lit evening of short plays performed extensively in storefronts for peripatetic audiences supplied with headphones To hear the dialogue, it began previews on Tuesday, which is part of a restless, exuberant rebirth of live theater — experimental and in the open air.

“The urgency I feel about making these plays is something I haven’t felt in years,” Kaufman said in an interview. “Because we – artists, actors, playwrights – we need it. We have this hunger. But I also deeply believe that audiences share that hunger.”

Possibly best known for Matthew Shepard’s play “The Laramie Project”, Kaufman imported the concept for the show in bulk from Miami Beach, where Miami New Drama’s artistic director Michelle Hausman produced the first version of “Seven Deadly Sins”. staged. .

In the Florida iteration, Kaufman wrote and directed just one piece, “All I Want Is Everything”, about greed. For New York, he is directing an entire 90-minute evening, surrounded by a new crop of playwrights: Ngozi Anyanu (Glut), Thomas Bradshaw (Laziness), MJ Kaufman (Proud), Jeffrey LaHoste (Jealousy). , Ming Pfeffer (anger) and Bess Wohl (lust).

Under the eyes of Tony Award-winning set designer David Rockwell, the show has adapted its aesthetic to neighborhoods, past and present. Once infamous for gritty sex clubs and streets laden with animal blood, the Meatpacking District has grown into a chic backdrop for modeling shoots and home to the High Line and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The plays in “Seven Deadly Sins” tend to be political, in line with the tradition of tectonic. And as warned on the show’s website, some of the material can be disturbing, such as a toxic confrontation between two characters in Pfeiffer’s play. Children under 13 are not allowed.

When Kaufman approached Pfeiffer about the “Seven Deadly Sins”—which she called “the height of Asian hatred” right after the Atlanta shooting that left six women of Asian descent dead—she knew she was about to rage. I would love to write In “Longhorn”, she imagines an encounter between an Asian Dominatrix and her client, a white man.

“The thing that I wanted to achieve with my play is that different people, depending on their identity – their cultural identity, their racial identity, their gender identity – can express their anger in different ways. allowed to express,” Piffer said.

Or in the case of women, she added, not allowed, “because, you know, you’re called crazy or you’re passionate or you’re on your period or whatever the hell.”

Wohl, who wrote the pole-dancing play and is a Tony nominee for “Grand Horizons,” said she chose her sin because “you can’t turn down lust when you’re at the table.” She, too, has used the project to investigate sexual politics and violence as well as the viewfinder element of storefront displays.

“There was something really stimulating to me about creating these little spaces and trapping actors in them and asking them to repeat the action over and over again for different audiences,” she said.

Kaufman’s own play is in the same city block as “Lust” and “Longhorn”. Seeing where it falls into the rhythm of the evening, he decided he needed to reshape his script to what it was in Miami Beach.

“The playwright Moises Kaufmann had to talk to the artistic director Moises Kaufmann,” he said, deadpan, “and the artistic director said to the playwright, ‘I like your play, but all the other plays that are here are very deep and very difficult. You have to make your play comedic.’”

(Read more)

 

STEVEN SPIELBERG’S ‘WEST SIDE STORY’ ADAPTATION IS GOING TO GET HIM CANCELED ·

(John Podhoretz’s article appeared in The New York Post, 6/30; via the Drudge Report.)

For more than four decades, screen mavens have been eagerly awaiting the time when Steven Spielberg would bite the bullet and make a full-blown movie musical. Now he’s done it. It comes out at Christmastime.

And he’s going to be canceled for it.

Yes, sometime around Thanksgiving, Spielberg — whose work over more than half a century now runs the gamut from unprecedented blockbusters and franchises (“Jaws,” “Indiana Jones,” “Jurassic Park”) to painful works about hinge moments in history (“Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan”) — is going to go through the fires of cultural and political hell.

Let me explain.

Two years ago, when he announced he was going into production on “West Side Story,” Hollywood cognoscenti understood Spielberg was swinging for the fences as a potential capstone of his glorious career.

The most successful director of all time remaking a beloved 1961 film that itself won an Academy Award for Best Picture and nine others besides? He would only take such a reputational risk if he saw gold — Oscar gold — at the end of the rainbow.

The eagerness to see what Spielberg could do as the director of a musical arises from a five-minute dance number he included in his notorious flop “1941” back in 1979, in which a sailor evades a beatdown from a soldier in a USO hall by sliding under tables, running up the sides of walls and Lindy-hopping himself to safety.

(Read more)

YALE DRAMA GOES TUITION-FREE WITH $150 MILLION GIFT FROM DAVID GEFFEN ·

(from The New York Times, 6/30; via the Drudge Report.)

The billionaire David Geffen is giving $150 million to Yale School of Drama, allowing one of the nation’s most prestigious programs to stop charging tuition.

The graduate school, which enrolls about 200 students in programs that include acting, design, directing and playwriting, announced the gift on Wednesday, and said it would rename itself the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University.

The gift, Yale said, is the largest in the history of American theater.

The school said that, starting in August, it would eliminate tuition for all returning and future students in its masters, doctoral and certificate programs. Tuition at the school had been $32,800 per year.

The move should remove a barrier to entry for low-income students and those worried about incurring high student debt before entering an often low-paying field.

The drama school is home to the Yale Repertory Theater, and its graduates include Meryl Streep, Lynn Nottage and Lupita Nyong’o.

It will become the second program at Yale to eliminate tuition; in 2005 the Yale School of Music did so. There are a handful of other tuition-free graduate programs around the country, including N.Y.U.’s medical school.

(Read more)

CONSTANT STANISLAVSKI (121) ·

The words and wisdom of Constantin Stanislavski:

It remains unknown why certain places in a play are laughed at by everybody at all performances in one city, while altogether different places in the same play produce the same results in other cities. We did not know why the new spectator did not accept the famous laughing places in a play as such, nor did we know how to change our individual and collective performances in order to reach the seat of his emotions. (MLIA)

 

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN REOPENS BROADWAY ·

(Johnny Oleksinski’s article appeared in the New York Post, 6/27; via the Drudge Report; Photo: Broadway — and The Boss is back: Bruce Springsteen performs during reopening night of “Springsteen on Broadway” for a full-capacity, vaccinated audience at St. James Theatre on June 26, 2021.Taylor Hill/Getty Images.)

The 471-day shutdown of Broadway, the longest in its history, ended Saturday night in a way none of us ever expected  — with Bruce Springsteen.

Leapfrogging the traditional razzle-dazzle musicals like “Hamilton,” “Wicked” and “The Lion King,” which will return on Sept. 14, The Boss kicked off a 30-performance limited engagement of his solo show this weekend at the St. James Theatre.

While the summer stint is sure to help reinvigorate the struggling Times Square neighborhood — which has suffered from crime, homelessness and stagnation during the pandemic — Springsteen never uttered the word “Broadway” once on Saturday, despite his historic role in reopening it.

“It’s great to be here,” Springsteen said to his excited audience, who had to prove they were vaccinated to take their seats and shout “Bruuuuuuuuuce!”

“No masks, sitting next to each other in one room.”

(Read more)

 

KEY UNION AGREES TO HEALTH AND SAFETY RULES FOR BROADWAY TOURS ·

(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/14; via Pam Green; Photo: Shoshana Bean as Elphaba in the musical “Wicked” at the Gershwin Theater in 2005. A tour of the long-running show is scheduled to resume performances in Dallas in early August.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.)

Under the agreement that will pave the way to reopening the shows, touring company members will be required to be fully vaccinated.

Broadway producers and the labor union representing stage actors have reached an agreement on health protocols for touring shows that should allow hundreds of performers to return to work at theaters around the country beginning this summer.

The 17-page agreement says that producers must require all members of the traveling company to be fully vaccinated and mandates free weekly virus tests. Also: “absolutely no interaction” will be permitted between performers and audience members.

(Read more)