I’m Tweeting too

April 12, 2009

After some initial hesitation, I’ve happily gobbled up the Twitter cool-aid. You can follow me at twitter.com/laurapalotie, should you feel so inclined.

In the meantime, I encourage you to check out the following NYT pieces about the way in which this recession is eating into nonprofit arts initiatives. Juilliard’s scholarship-driven arts program for gifted but underprivileged children was recently nixed (see the story here), while renowned nonprofit theaters are struggling to meet their fundraising goals (story available here).

And they say that the arts thrive in tough times….

As the economy falters, there has been much discussion about its impact on the arts. And although slight dips are seen here and there (golden child ‘Wicked’ was down four percent earlier this year, for example), it appears that Broadway is alive and well, yesterday’s New York Times reported. But as the article states, not the same can be said for Off-Broadway, as finding necessary backers for a show becomes more challenging.

I have no doubt that my friends in the Off-and Off-Off Broadway communities will scratch their heads as the $31 million Spider-Man-musical stomps to Broadway in early 2010.

For Rising Phoenix Repertory, commissioning most of its projects for the dimly lit back room of an East Village restaurant doesn’t just present an opportunity to cut down on production costs. During the past three years, the understated intensity of the Seventh Street Small Stage at Jimmy’s No. 43 has come to define the work of this Off-Off Broadway company. The group’s latest effort, a monologue play by frequent Rising Phoenix collaborator Crystal Skillman, plays into the intimacy of this space in all the right ways, juxtaposing the realism of its setting and characters to explore the inherent absurdity of the human mind.

Running about 60 minutes, ‘Nobody’ features monologues from six characters who have all shown up at the same restaurant on a given day. While some relationships and connections within the group are revealed, there are no direct exchanges; in fact, the six remain almost completely stationary throughout the work, staring, preoccupied, into space. The subject of dreams shows up in each narrative, as these characters revisit the demons of their past relationships in the confines of their nightly visions.

The train-of thought flow of Skillman’s language finds a comfortable home inside the charged monotone of her characters’ voices, and there are moments in which ‘Nobody’ sounds like a spoken-word poem. That her words demand true concentration from an audience further speaks to the necessity of this tiny, unstaged space. It’s not often that a theatergoer has the opportunity to observe, from just a few feet away, as an actor tears into the subconscious of a character. It’s not an experience one is likely to forget.

‘Nobody’ plays tonight and tomorrow at 6pm. For more information, see http://www.risingphoenixrep.org.

Announcing my return…

February 25, 2009

My contract at Inc.com (and my time as a blogger for Fastcompany.com) came to an end as 2008 wrapped, and I’m now back to posting my insights on New York’s cultural life here. As always, I welcome and appreciate your readership.

This Thursday, I’ll be heading to Jimmy’s No. 43 to check out the newest offering from one of my favorite local theater companies, Rising Phoenix Repertory. The group commissions most of its performances for this Lower East Side basement restaurant, and this work, authored by Crystal Skillman, is no exception.

Go to Rising Phoenix’s web site for more information on the show. I’ll be posting my thoughts on ‘Nobody’ here on Friday.

I recently posted this piece on my blog on Fastcompany.com.

That the New York indie theater scene is drawing forced breaths and the gap between Broadway and off is more pronounced than ever is no news to arts-inclined locals. Sure, performers and writers are still everywhere, but Manhattan’s astronomical rents are quickly molding its culture from gritty bohemia to hipster chic. Actors continue to flock to the city that historically belongs to them, and collective frustration builds. Besides an endless audition circuit and off-hours unpaid readings, a performer’s most viable option is to partake in a theater festival or find a self-made audience online.

Title of Show, a meta-musical that will open on Broadway on July 17, found a fan base through both avenues. And it couldn’t be more fitting that the show, written by its cast members Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, is about the thing itself: Writing a musical, against the pervasive forces of self-doubt, and submitting it to a theater festival.

After a successful run at the New York Musical Theater Fest in 2004 and Off-Broadway’s Vineyard Theater in 2006, Title of Show has recently connected with a fresh following through eight ‘webisodes’ on its home page. In the spirit of the musical, these YouTube videos document its cast’s efforts to get a Broadway contract. To date, the viewership of each episode ranges from 6,000 to over 17,000.

The idea for this method of self-promotion, writer/cast member Jeff Bowen says, sparked from the cast’s shared antsiness about the future of their creation. A move from Off-Broadway to on was in the talks, but very much up on the air. “We were at a place where we didn’t really know what was going on with the show,” Bowen says, ” and we thought, is there a way that we can set this ball in motion without having to wait for anybody to make a decision for us? So we just came up with the idea to go on Youtube, for the fans who had been asking what was going on.”

The first episode sparked a multitude of fan emails, in which viewers wondered if a Broadway stint was truly a reality.

“We didn’t know; we knew as much as we were telling our viewers,” Bowen says.

As the cast added episodes, its fan base began to include viewers who didn’t know of the musical but had caught on to the web series. Fan letters continued to drop in larger and larger volumes, and the show’s soundtrack sales peaked. The large-scale interest, Bowen says, woke producers up to the show’s marketability.

“[The web series] had everything to do with us going to Broadway,” he says. “It definitely worked, it got the producers much more fired up about this new demographic who were coming in and didn’t know anything about the show.”

During the musical’s 2006 run, some critics appreciated its earnestness and sass but found it too much of a theater geek’s inside joke to resonate with the average patron.

What the creators would have said to the critics requires little guessing, “I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than a hundred people’s ninth favorite thing,” Title of Show‘s autobiographical characters sing near the end of the musical.

As another self-made success story of the internet age comes true, the cast may have just done what even their most inspired lyrics didn’t count on: Their creation, in a matter of months, has become a hundred people’s favorite thing.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently blogging on culture and entertainment for Fastcompany.com. In case you haven’t been able to get to the ‘Culture Nuggets’ page, below are some links to my recent posts:

My wrap-up of last week’s American Idol controversy

A Post on Twilight Becomes Night, a documentary on the closing of small shops in New York City

Some comments on United Artists’ gamble with Tom Cruise

Feel free to read and comment.

 

 

Where I’m writing now

April 16, 2008

In case you’ve been wondering about my recent absence, I invite you to visit my new blog on Fastcompany.com, where I’m now reporting and commenting on the arts for a typically business-inclined readership.

Below is the URL:

http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/752238

I’ll of course be periodically checking in here as well to recommend any spirited new voices that I come across here in New York.

Thank you for reading!

 

A gem of a show

February 17, 2008

There are times when writing feels like work, when my lofty aspirations of creating journalism that not just services, but encourages thought, seem exhaustingly far away. Occasionally, however, I’m lucky enough to observe something tangibly fresh and inspiring after one of these moments of doubt. Usually, this something is a creative work–a film, a staged reading, a concert–that reminds me why writing about the arts make me feel like an artist myself. These works need not be groundbreaking, but simply stemming from a passion to create and a drive to make it happen.

Singer-songwriter Dawn Derow’s Feb 12th cabaret show at The Duplex, Shooting My Arrow, was the most recent artistic moment to restore my inspiration.

A graduate of Boston Conservatory, Derow has performed on cruise ships, auditioned around the city, and compiled this assortment of songs to tell her story. Although she mixed in only the occasional original with covers of Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Tracy Chapman and others, Derow lent a personalized spin to all of them. Behind her breathy intonation was a trained instrument, lending her performance a kind of relaxed, confident quality. Her lineup of musicians, including bassist Antar Goodwin and hard-working pianist David Kreppel, was impressive as well. Her backup singer, Lara Janine, was so naturally charismatic in her own right that on certain songs it was downright difficult to not focus on her.

Sure, Derow could have opted for less spoken personal history and instead included a few more original songs in her program, but for a cabaret show, this one was refreshing in its lack of pretentiousness. Derow doesn’t currently have other dates lined up on her web site, but I’m already recommending some of my artist friends to check out her next show. I was inspired for her joy and obvious resilience alone.

Herbie Hancock just took home the Album of the Year Grammy, beating itunes favorites like Amy Winehouse and Kanye West to the honor.As Hancock reached into his jacket pocket for a prewritten speech, he said that this was the first time a jazz album had been given this honor. He then thanked the Academy for thinking outside of the box and added that the Grammy would be a tribute to other historical jazz artists who had been unnoticed by the glitz-and glam ceremony in the past.“This is a new day that proves the impossible can be made possible,” he read. Some news outlets are already calling his win “a steal,” but it seems unlikely that any top-of the charts musicians (even Kanye West) will be gutsy enough to diss the Hancock-Joni Michell-collaboration. 

On Saturday, just about three and a half months past the bebop founder’s 90th birthday, an impressive cross-section of New York’s jazz world gathered to celebrate Thelonious Monk. Watching a jazz band on a ballroom stage is never quite as affecting as seeing the glow of your tabletop candle reflect off the curve of a saxophone just feet away, but the sheer quality and passion of the evening was enough to hold my attention. The bill of artists, some of whom had played with Herbie Hancock and Max Roach or earned titles at the Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition, all appeared equally eager to impress. Carolyn Leonhart’s vocals in How I Wish were soulful enough to send a tingle into one’s stomach, and trumpet players Ambrose Akinmusire and Jean Caze showed off segments of impressive unison. In one of the evening’s most spirited moments, drummer T.S. Monk lent a pop edge to his beats with a confidence reminiscent of his father.

Host Bill Cosby likened the moment when he first heard Monk’s music to other historical ‘where were you’-dates. “Get the piano, I’m going into showbusiness,” he recalled saying to his mother–right after he had finished laughing at one of Monk’s merciless solos. While the memory contained a conscious self-awareness of Cosby’s status as a pop culture icon, it also provided a welcome reminder of Monk’s larger-scale cultural influence. Music aficionados like to prevent that it isn’t true, but his name and legacy still aren’t universally recognized among non-jazz listeners.

One depressing example: I’m yet to find a newspaper review of Saturday’s show.