Friday, March 9, 2012

The Speakeasies of Theatre.

I recently had the pleasure of partaking in an interesting evening  Yes, theatre.  We'll call it that, though that doesn't seem to cover the full scope.  I attended a small theatre collective/think-tank, EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR's (EPBB) new production of THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HEDDA GABLER by Jeff Whitty (the bookwriter from AVENUE Q) and directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar.

It had actors, some set, some costumes, props, and witty dialogue.  But so do a lot of plays.

What this play had that set it apart from all the others, was atmosphere.  No, it wasn't in a gorgeous theatre or a huge arts complex that touts a Barnes & Noble.  It was in a loft apartment in midtown Manhattan, off the beaten path of the glitz and glean of Broadway shows.

You first must hear about EPBB's show - generally thru the grapevine (as the best speakeasies operate, mind you), and then must RSVP as though going to a select party.  On the night of, you find yourself at an apartment complex of sorts amongst gas stations and warehouses.  You are greeted at the gate by a member of the collective, who checks to see if you are on the list, and then you are sent to the next door, up a flight of stairs.  You knock on the door.  And enter.

All they are missing is a password.

The team at EPBB provide each guest with a glass of wine as you watch this new work being performed and are served a delicious vegan stew with beer bread as the night's meal at intermission.  There is a $10-20 suggested donation (very reasonable considering a full-length play and meal was provided, and you can bring wine/dessert to share if you would like for the post-show party).

Like any good speakeasy up to 'snuff (or Jack Daniels), EPBB not only provides the above, but also the conversations and merriment of a real good party.  I chatted with the couple next to me, finding neutral ground, then I met the doorman and discussed his future plans, but best of all was meeting the actors as they mingled during intermission.   The environment made the whole experience more like a bunch of friends getting together to have a party - and oh yeah, let's throw in a play.

And I mean that in the best way possible, the show was a high caliber production, but what really shined was the atmosphere.

Somehow, amidst the media frenzy, the social media overload, and the advertisement excess, EPBB managed to get back to what theatre is really about: a communal experience completely unique and never reproducible.

Sure, you could go on another night, but will you have the same experience?  No.  But that is the brilliance of it.

Best of all, in a city where everyone seems to know everything, EPBB manages to make New Yorkers (and out of towners, too) feel like they are truly part of the in-crowd, the cool kids, the in-the-know, and an exclusive group -  like a speakeasy of sorts.

-You are interested in alternative models for theatre.
-You want an intimate, interactive experience.
-You want the in-crowd feeling at the theatre.
-You want a great show and meal on a budget.

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Check out EPBB's website HERE!

Monday, February 27, 2012

2012 Oscars: Looking Back, Not Forward.

As I began Oscar weekend, I spoke with a friend (Lily Atonio) about her thoughts on the Academy Awards approaching.  She noticed a very interesting similarity: All the best picture nominees have some aspect of nostalgia built into them.  Period pieces like WAR HORSE, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, THE HELP, MONEYBALL THE TREE OF LIFE, and of course the period piece devoted to the love of classic hollywood cinema, THE ARTIST.  All these films paid tribute to eras that define us today.  And films like THE DESCENDANTS, EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, and HUGO all lean on the nostalgia factor of families that are lost.


Well I suppose that has to do with the still-bad economic times and the wishing for better days of eras passed.

With nostalgia as the key theme for the best picture nominees, I suppose it makes sense that the Academy Awards themselves fit this theme.  But is that really for the best?

The awards show started off with host Billy Crystal (who is returning to the Oscars for the ninth time) infusing himself in all the best picture nominee's promo spots.  And so the nostalgia begins.  Within the evening there were at least four separate non-award segments that dealt with nostalgia.  They are as follows:

1) The Initial Retrospective: This is to be expected.  A fast-cutting montage of major landmark films implies that tonight's winners will enter the garden, pass gilded gate into Oscar history.  The films included were: Titanic, Forrest Gump, Jaws, Star Wars, Apollo 13, Indiana Jones, The Godfather, Avatar, The Princess Bride, The Hangover (WHAT??), Twilight (DOUBLE WHAT????).  This was to be expected and reminds us all of the passion behind these films that have touched us.  Most importantly, it reminds us the importance of the Academy Awards to our culture and our lives.

2) The Stars Talk Retrospective: This was definitely interesting though unexpected.  Again, another moment where the academy plays on the idea of of nostalgia.  The stars are interviewed and answer questions like, "What makes a great film?" and, "What was the first film you saw?"  These are interesting tidbits and we all know that actors can talk about their art for ever (and therefore SOMETHING good will come of of the interviews) but was it heavy handed?  Did we really need to go back a second time to hear more?  Is this why we care about the Oscars?   I do not know the answers to these questions, but I do wonder if anyone asked them at the round table discussion when this idea came up.  Again, nostalgia for the win.

3) The Wizard of Oz Focus Group Retrospective:  Again, the Academy rests on the films of the past to provide entertainment for the present.  I completely agree that THE WIZARD OF OZ is a phenomenal film and that focus groups are hilarious.  However, again we sat through ANOTHER nostalgia-driven segment.  Is this relevant?  Did they feel the current films are not up to snuff of the past greats so they had to rely on the tried-and-true?  Are they just trying to advertise these films to get a younger audience to see them again or for the first time?  Again, who knows.

4) The Cirque du Soleil Retrospective: It's sorta funny.  Here they are presenting a filmed version of a  stage-performance to indicate the importance of the film and cinema experience.  Don't get me wrong, Cirque du Soleil does amazing work that is creative, innovative, and jaw-dropping.  This was an interesting add to the show, I agree.  But, is this the best way to show the experience of sitting in a theatre?  Should it have been filmed better (ie more cameras, closer views, and overall better editing/flow?).  When you think of presenting the experience of watching a film, do you think acrobatics?  It was a stunning spectacle.  But that is what it was, a spectacle.  Purely for entertainment for sure.  And not a way to describe the cinematic experience.  Though I do think it was a welcome addition to the otherwise dreary nostalgia segments.  Overall, good job, Cirque. But I would have loved to see their interpretation of the best picture nominees as they always seem to work best with story.

Lastly, Billy Crystal himself was laden with nostalgia for the whole evening.  With quips like, "I prefer the big screen," as he denounces mobile phone movie watching, " ipad."  Here he is looking down on mobile devices and alternative ways to watch movies.  What he doesn't elude to is the fact that this the is the future of film.  And he should get on board so he doesn't get left behind.  Considering the fact that film has stuck with us for so long (the first Oscars were in 1929), is very impressive.  But it's a adapt or die sort of world we live in.  And film is no exception.  So, Billy, if you want a job in the future, you'd best get on board with alternative platforms for viewing.

And the second comment Billy made about the shifts in the industry was his comment about how back in the day films were "actually made on film."  This another dig at the changing times of the industry.  And yes, I do understand the reluctance to change to digital (film is more beautiful, more dynamic, and more lush).  But the great thing about digital is that it is the great equalizer (hello and welcome to the You Tube generation).  We all have access to filmmaking tools and all can be the next Scorsese.  But, Billy needs to understand that this is not the great demise of film, but rather the great horizon of a new enterprise.  Because just like Billy himself said, "Nothing takes the sting out of these tough economic times like watching a bunch of millionaires giving golden statues to each other" - Hollywood is made and paid for by Hollywood.  Yes, the shift from film to digital will be difficult but will make the film 
industry much more viable for the long haul.  

Finally, anyone really surprised to hear THE ARTIST win best picture with all this nostalgia going on?  I mean it is the king of all nostalgia films as it writes a love letter to Hollywood.

Bill Crystal as Host: Great singing/dancing, but lacked scope as he played only on the nostalgia theme.
The winners: expected, but satisfying. 


Check out Ryan Seacrest and The Dictator Here!  (hilarious antics!)

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Bird Flew The Coop! ...And Now It's Back.

Alright, birdies.  It seems I flew the coop for awhile there.

Some major life changes occurred:

1) I migrated from sunny LA to cold NYC.
2) I got into an early-bird-catches-the-worm sort of master's program for producing at Columbia University.

But now I am back, my hatchlings.  And better than ever.

First post?  Stay tuned for some reaction to the Oscars this Sunday.  And then it will be a catch-up on all the Bway shows I've seen here in NYC.

You don't want to miss this.

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