On the status of revivals appearing in contemporary American theater.

March 21, 2008

I have been pondering lately the situation of Revival Theater here in America and more specifically on Broadway. I myself have spent time working for a not-for-profit theater company that focused on revivals and have grown up with the idea that such endeavors are beneficial for the cultural growth of our community. I still believe in that today but I would like to consider with such an idea the reality of the amount of revive-able theater there is. So thinking about these two aspects, first the benefits of having older shows revived and second the amount of shows we can revive, I have come to consider the process in choosing what to revive when. This process is not something I’ve put much thought to in the past. When Cabaret opened a few years back I thought it was phenomenal. I loved it to the extent that I saw it five times before it closed. Never once though did I think about why Roundabout was putting it on now. What had compelled them to pick this production for this date? Perhaps they themselves didn’t have an answer for that but I find that hard to believe.

 

So I started there, thinking about these various aspects of revival culture and have begun to formulate some conclusions, obviously these conclusions are based around examples, recent ones that I had the good fortune to see last week. In the two examples I pondered the question of how one should pick what production to revive when.

 

Let me start with the bad case, South Pacific which is currently in preview at Lincoln Center in New York. The show is a classic work of theater and this current production stars Kelli O’Hara a contemporary master of theatrical performance. And yet I cite this as a bad case of theatrical revival. My parents, who I saw the show with, will cite the stage direction as the primary reason for disappointment. I agree with them but I found yet another problem. For me I felt that what I had seen was in essence and in form, a rerun. The idea disturbed me, have we forced theater into such a commercial atmosphere that what is being produced now is only the garbage we know was once successful? WHERE IS THE RISK! If I wanted to see the South Pacific from the 50s I would have rented the movie!

 

Now let me back up for a second here and clarify a few things. I do not mean to say that the show should have been altered to be set in a modern time, no that is not the essence of reviving a show. Rather the script needs to be looked at, the morals of the story evaluated and the director and crew need to ask themselves what their vision is. That is fundamental with reviving, a new vision, a new interpretation, a new show. If a director cannot discover some new vision in the work he is charged with reviving, than perhaps he should not be reviving it. Ultimately what I am suggesting is that revivals are not revivals but are productions of their own, that’s why we award the best a Tony each year. These are unique creative works that are both tied to the original as well as the contemporary culture to which they are presented.

 

This brings me to the second show, a show I believe greatly reflects the continued trends in our culture over how to deal with art and industry. Sunday in the Park with George, a wonderful Sondheim production which is currently being revived at Studio 54 by the Roundabout Theatre Company. Now first I am aware that this production is much more modern in its original than South Pacific and therefore lends itself better to being revised. However the themes of the original show are not all that is inspiring and encouraging about the current revival. This particular production utilized technology in a truly enhancing way. This new approach allowed for the production itself to do what the music and action already have mastered, create. When revived again, I can promise you that this show will not look like it does for the way in which this director has envisioned the story is unique, it is not a shadow of yesteryear as seen in South Pacific.

 

With that being said I’ll end with my opinion and hope it fosters a discussion. Revivals are unique, they are neither new productions nor reruns of old productions, they are a hybrid, a truly unique formula for producing a show that needs to be treated accordingly. In that treatment of such works the question of why must be easily answered by the audience. It is vision and relevance that pick the shows for revision, not original popularity. I love revivals, I love how they can connect today with yesterday by both honoring the history of theater while adding to it. In this respect South Pacific does not add to the culture of theater, it only mimics it. But seeing how it has already received much attention I may be wrong in how America wants to use the idea of revivals. Perhaps all we really want is mimicry. After all thousands perhaps millions more flock to museums than galleries, are we really so tied up in glorifying our past that we forget we have a present?

 

That is all,

Huysmans


On the power of imagination

February 18, 2008

After a long day at the library, something I am looking forward not to saying in the near future, I have come to realize or rather remember as it is something I have realized many times in my short life that there is a growing list of artistic expressions (I use as general a term as possible to emphasize the idea that there is no medium in particular by which this idea is communicated) that when interacted with (this list pertains only to me but I believe each of us has our own list) creates such a euphoric response like nothing else. Now what exactly do I mean by this, well I’ll tell yo through an anecdotal example.

As I mentioned before I spent today in the library reading some French and writing about Native Americans, interesting stuff I’ll admit but still there were many other places I would have rather been. Regardless this story is not about those other places.  I had my Ipod with me and was listening to an album, one specific album or rather soundtrack in particular. The soundtrack to Hook. A film that embodies both the early 90s and my childhood for me. And this happy thought as Williams would say in the movie did come from just that. The simple melody that played through my magnetically enhanced earphones blinded my vision from the dreary scene that was the library on a Sunday afternoon to that of home (New York) and toys, and a sense of imagination that one tries desperately to hold onto in life but only knows so purely as a child.

I was there again in that movie, believing in fairies and trying to fly. And though I have no specific memory with Hook (I don’t even remember seeing it in theaters though I am sure that I did) it brought a smile to my face. It made me happy. I didn’t need to explain it or understand it, it just made me smile and ultimately dance a little, perhaps throw a crow in there, I mean who really knows. The point is this. That list that holds that power should both never be written down or forgotten. Its active existence in our memories is what gives it its power.

I paused in the middle of writing this post to sit down and watch the movie. I smiled again.

Huysmans


Politically art that drives me

February 6, 2008

Song & video by Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas.
Inspired by Barack Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ speech.

This inspires. I don’t mean to bring politics into my blog, well no, I do, but I bring this also as a work of art. Yes, you can call it propaganda and to many it probably is. But I believe it, I remember the speech, I’ll remember where I was when it was given (New York City) and I will look to it and this video when needing courage and hope in that better tomorrow for this country. I support Barack Obama!

Thank you Dipdive for giving this to the people.

YES WE CAN!

(I had to find it on youtube to be able to host it here. Does anyone know how to embed on wordpress from the original site, dipdive.com, so I don’t have to find it on youtube?)

Ps. what is of relative value to this blog is the artistic merit of such a video. Is this art? Is this just propaganda? Or better yet is it just an advertisement, and therefore should not even qualify to be art as its “purpose” is not artistic. But is that so true and furthermore who defines an “artistic” purpose. In looking at this (and I know it is very hard for me to separate my own political bias from it, so I do understand that that is in this next statement) I believe it is art. It is raw emotion, harnessed by the creators and yes it does support a politician but it also supports so much more. I see real heart in this and would argue that the emotional energy used to create and give this project to the world places it squarely in the realm of art, perhaps a subgenre of political art, but art none the less.

Happy Super Tuesday everyone!

Huysmans


what is cloverfield? (spoiler)

January 23, 2008

I feel it is now time to address this cinematic disaster officially and publicly. Let me start from the beginning. As most movie goers who followed in anticipation the viral campaign that lead up to January 18th, 2008, or as I used to call the film: 1/18/08, I first saw it at Transformers opening day (great film by the way).

Cloverfield had a very enticing teaser trailer.

In this teaser they revealed nothing in regards to the plot, scenario, or even the name. A very clever ploy putting it in front of one of the most anticipated films from the summer. So as to be expected the internet community came together to solve the puzzle that was the untitled J.J. Abrams project.

Now I’ll be honest somewhere down the line I did lose interest in the film, probably as the semester started and I had other things to focus on other than anticipating this film but still I did happen to attend the midnight showing here in St. Louis. Going into the film I had this idea that it was Blair Witch (which I never saw) combined with Godzilla, but actually good. Well it was that last part that was mostly not true. The premise is that combination however, we are given the entire story through the lens of a hand-held camera that conveniently is turned on only at the good parts, so we skip all that boring walking around and figuring out what to do stuff that one would normally focus on in such a crisis situation. But what we are most lucky for is that they actually decided to bring the camera with them, I mean could you imagine how bad this movie would be if they just left the camera behind, or if the first character to die was the one with the camera, I mean man are they lucky that he happened to die in the last scene.

Anyway it was a disappointment and why, you ask? Because it was exactly what you would expect from the trailer except in the movie you actually see the monster.

But let me list some pros first.

Pros:

They don’t waste time explaining where this creature comes from, I like that.

We aren’t seeing it from the point of view of the president or the hero who blows up the alien ship with a nuke at the end with the fat lady. (Though I do love that movie I was happy to see a monster attack from solely the point of view of the everyday person.)

The monster picked my city. (One saving grace to this film was seeing the Time Warner Center and watching them defy gravity and scale one tower to get to the other)

The prerelease hype. scavenging the internet for information was not a boring task.

Last pro: with an uncritical, no expectation attitude this is a fun ride, well that is if you aren’t like my friend and don’t get sick from the shaking, and I mean shaking, camera.

The cons:

So as is expected the dialog is shitty and unrealistic for people who’d really be in this situation. And the only reason I compare it to reality, which is not something I’d typically do with a monster movie, is that I feel that is what they were going for. They were trying to make this as real as possible where from the moment it starts attacking we are seeing the attack from a point of view that scares us because it is supposed to be realistic and close to home. I know that the Guardian has suggested that this film represents America’s coming to terms with 9/11. While I strongly disagree with that I do see the connection, it is very probable that Abrams is looking to profit off our new found fear of sudden chaos. Does this film represent our coming to terms with the lessons from 9/11, that we need to be vigilant against such chaotic abrupt forces? Well I don’t want to engage in a political debate but I don’t see 9/11 that way. I see it much more reflective of a unique situation between America’s perceived involvement in the Middle East and our actual intent. This move has not convinced me that I when throwing parties in my apartment I need to have ready the emergency plan. But then again, I know many people who went out and bought duck tape and plastic to seal themselves in should a chemical attack occur. The problem with this analogy is that it makes the attackers inhuman, and so by doing removing the act from the human realm, something I hear far too much about Nazi Germany. 9/11 was not a monster attack, it was a human attack. That fact cannot be ignored, when it is it allows us to believe it is unavoidable, now don’t mistake me I don’t mean to say that we could have prevented 9/11, perhaps we could have, but that is all together irrelevant now that it has happened. By unavoidable I mean to say that it removes us from thinking about it in human terms, and thus allows us to forgo that crucial step of trying to understand why it occurred. Why did an entire nation rally behind the idea of exterminating an entire culture? This was a human act as is 9/11, as such we need to understand the why, and not brush it off as some sort of crazy fundamentalist action, even if it is just that. That crazy action can occur again, we can commit it, and in fact one could argue that the death toll we have procured in Iraq of Iraqi civilians is equivalent. Like I said I have no interest in getting in a political debate here, the only reason I bring this up is because Cloverfield shouldn’t be a political message.

In all I was expecting more from this film, to me it was all too sudden and frankly their actions were too unrealistic. No New Yorker would seek refuge in the subway as a means to go to the monster and with such explosions occurring due to a monster on the loose would we really be using the Brooklyn Bridge to escape? And WHY did that monster go after them? There are millions of people in New York and yet it singled them out at least twice if not multiple times.

But again this is me being critical, I guess my biggest problem with it was that we knew it was a giant monster right away which to me just seems too fake to accept, I guess I was hoping it wouldn’t be another Godzilla in the end. But like I said without a critical view this was one hell of a ride and I did enjoy the suspense and special effects. I do not believe this to be some sort of analogy for 9/11 as I don’t see my interest in it being increased since the time Godzilla or Independence Day came out.

The ending note is this: When a big monster attacks, don’t take a bridge, the water is swim-able and that is what you should do. If you choose to stay on the island, then don’t go in the subway or in any big buildings that look attractive for knocking down. And what ever you do, do not get bit by one of the little ones.

Huysman out.


The Overwhelming and political art

December 24, 2007

Starting right now I am going to beginning documenting reviews of events, shows, movies, books, and so for that I come across in my artistic travels.

For this first review post (of which the reader must be absolutely aware that I am in no way a reviewer and see this more for me to place ideas and thoughts about this piece as the connect to the greater discussion of the culture of art, but anyway in some fashion this will represent a review) I will comment on a new work off Broadway titled The Overwhelming (no link because today was the last showing, they have already taken down the site) by J. T. Rogers and directed by Max Stafford-Clark. The play is currently running at Roundabout Theatre’s Laura Pels Theatre in midtown New York. But enough about its logistics on to why I liked it.

The only real reason I am choosing to bring it up is, well two reasons. First it played with the form of drama in a rather interesting way. First the characters were not afraid to interrupt each other and all talk at once, there were many dialogue sequences with multiple speakers, thus leaving the audience confused as to who to focus on. I am an audience member who likes to be confused. Second the final sequence of dialogue was interrupted by the speaker’s decision to focus his speech on the audience, not a new trick, but an extremely effective one. He was telling us that we’d forget about it, that we’d go back to our lives. The play itself is about Rwanda and the genocide that occurred; the events in the play coincide with the months leading up to the beginning of the genocide in 1994. There were some very powerful quotes to be taken from this play, among them were the ideas of peace, war, strangers, American involvement in foreign affairs, and so on. Questions that are prevalent today and that last act by the character to turn to the audience made that fact abundantly clear.

The second reason I bring this up is that it is a new work, using a political theme to present a message, a very traditional play in some sense but one that is of our time, and I am curious about that power it currently holds. It received a standing ovation, but did it receive it because of the true genius it portrayed or rather because of its significance for our current situation? What I am really getting it is were we not in a war, and were we not dealing with American involvement in the Middle East, involvement to the extant that it is greatly dividing our country, would this play still get a standing ovation?

Does that answer really matter?

(To be honest the first thought that comes to mind is the fact that this has strayed from being a review, but I like where this is going so forget my review idea for now, this has become an artistic discussion and will be filed under such, now back to the discussion.)

I am curious what people think in regards to the current importance or rather the current message a piece has. Does this work backwards? If an old piece that was considered bad art from yesteryear, today become extremely powerful and poignant, would we reconsider its artistic value?

Just some food for thought while we all prepare to feast on the holidays.

Huysmans


Mr. Magorium’s Imagination

November 20, 2007

I have a couple of extremely developed and elaborate comments to respond to and I promise to get to them soon, I have been busy with the whole finishing assignments before going home for Thanksgiving break but I couldn’t resist comment on a recent film I saw before leaving.

 

Last night I saw Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. A children’s film by all accounts and wonderful in that respect. But I am not bringing it up here for its childish qualities, I am bringing it into this discussion because despite those that see this as “low art” or “light art” or just “entertainment” or even those closer to myself who may be inclined to call this film “art” I was influenced by it and was capable from it to engage in a thoughtful discussion on imagination.

 

I love imagination and I love honoring it and playing with it. I am one of those who believe no one is ever too old to play pretend, and because of that I was really moved by the subtle dialogue and that not so subtle sentiments of this film, perhaps we as a society are too serious; we need to play pretend more.

Free Imagination!


Triumph of the Will

November 13, 2007

Just finished watching this film in its entirety. Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will is probably remembered and will be remembered as the most controversial documentary/propaganda film of all time. I personally am not a big fan of “all time” statements but with this film you never know. I figured since I was watching on a computer and had some time to kill afterwards I’d state my initial reactions here.

First I understand why a class based around identifying and discussing different approach to modernism would include this wor. At the very least it asks many questions about what is art. We’ve already been exposed to the fringes of artistic definition with Duchamp and the Dadas but what this offers is that bridge connecting politics and art. What can be concluded or at least suggested from such a film is that art is not, and never was, a separate category. Art was and is always connected with the world in which it was created, thus the link between the highly politicized Germany and the newly invited modern art medium of film can be better established.

But is it art? here is where Benjamin’s piece, “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” really takes a stance. It isn’t good art, it represents the commercialized consumer art that is trying desperately to recreate the lost aura. We do not need that aura, so don’t feed us it! The aura died and with it an age of art, but not art itself.

Film and now digital electronic art are creating a new meaning, not a new aura but rather a new understanding of art and the role it plays. I believe here is where the idea of art as an interaction plays a large role, in my interaction with this film I did not find art, I found history, propaganda, and some beautifully framed shots. But beauty is by no means art.

So in my opinion, but that opinion only of the moment and subject to change upon my next interaction with this film, is that it is not art but propaganda, a category of objects that like to look like art in order to persuade the masses.