Friday, July 18, 2014

Next Stage Arts in Putney Wins $370,000 Grant

Posted By on Fri, Jul 18, 2014 at 8:35 PM

Next Stage Arts in Putney - COURTESY OF MARIA BASESCU
  • Courtesy of Maria Basescu
  • Next Stage Arts in Putney

For the past several years, Next Stage Arts in Putney has worked to transform an 1841 church owned by the Putney Historical Society into a state-of-the-art, 180-seat performance space. The nonprofit tapped state, regional and national funding sources and squirreled away about $300,000 toward an $860,000 capital campaign goal for renovations and equipment.

Then, in late June, Next Stage won a $370,000 mega grant from ArtPlace America, a national organization that supports community art projects and creative spaces to the tune of $14.7 million a year, according to its website. That brings Next Stage to less than $200,000 from its goal.

Executive director Maria Basescu called the award "a huge validation." Only 55 applicants received funding in a highly competitive field of 1,270 candidates, Next Stage's grant was one of the biggest awarded. In fact, the organization received $10,000 more than its grant requested, Basescu says. The original grant application had asked for $360,000. But ArtPlace, which tries to foster collaboration between the arts organizations it funds, threw in extra cash that Next Stage can use to visit programs, attend conferences or other resources. 

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Friday, May 16, 2014

Bread & Puppet Winds Down 50th Anniversary Revival Tour

Posted By on Fri, May 16, 2014 at 12:11 PM

A scene in Birdcatcher in Hell - COURTESY OF BREAD AND PUPPET THEATER
  • Courtesy of Bread and Puppet Theater
  • A scene in Birdcatcher in Hell

Bread and Puppet Theater, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, wraps up an indoor revival tour of one of its classic shows, Birdcatcher in Hell, in coming weeks with three final performances in Vermont and one in Montréal.

Birdcatcher is an elaborate pageant, and one of the Glover-based puppet and political theater company's oldest pieces. Founder and artistic leader Peter Schumann created its first incarnation in New York in the mid-1960s with the poet Bob Nichols. The original show featured all-blue masks and puppets that enacted bombardment scenes from Vietnam.

In 1971, while Bread and Puppet was in residence at Goddard College, Schumann resurrected Birdcatcher in response to president Nixon's pardon of the single solider who had been held accountable for the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. That time, Schumann's papier-mâché puppets were blood red, and the show featured an enormous and elaborately designed "King of Hell" puppet.

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Friday, May 9, 2014

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home at Center of South Carolina Controversy

Posted By on Fri, May 9, 2014 at 3:30 PM

  • Courtesy of Elena Seibert
  • Alison Bechdel

In punitively slashing the budgets of their own state colleges, legislators in the South Carolina House of Representatives have unwittingly given late-night comedians a great wealth of new material about narrow-mindedness, blind ideological loyalty and homophobia.

As reported in various media outlets including National Public Radio  the College of Charleston had the audacity to assign to first-year students a book that acknowledges the existence and humanity of people who are not heterosexual. That book, the acclaimed Fun Home by Vermont cartoonist Alison Bechdel  has also been adapted into an award-winning, Pulitzer-nominated off-Broadway musical.

The University of South Carolina Upstate, another school that state legislators deemed worthy of a good, hard spanking, did not assign Fun Home to first-year students, but did assign other works that dare to challenge the state’s centuries-long tradition of upholding heteronormativity.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Vermont Legislature to Proclaim 2015 Year of the Arts

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 6:30 PM

Bread and Puppet Theater
  • Bread and Puppet Theater

Stop the presses! The Vermont Legislature is going to declare 2015 Year of the Arts tomorrow morning — Thursday, May 1, at 9:30 a.m. — and the Vermont Arts Council will be given an unlimited budget!

Imagine the funds that the agency will be able to shower on the state's artists — which, as near as we can tell, is about every third person. So totally awesome, and not a moment too soon, because, perhaps you've heard, artists are starving.

OK, I made up that part about unlimited budget. For a moment I got the VAC confused with the Pentagon. And most of Vermont's artists are probably not starving. (Such as Bread and Puppet, above, chosen as a totally random example of Vermont artiness.)

Asked about any possible financial windfall that might result from the legislature's proclamation, the ever-good-natured Alex Aldrich, ED of the arts council, said simply, "Wouldn't that be nice?" Well, he also said he dreams about waking up one morning and finding the Golden Dome over the Vermont Arts Council. I don't know what he meant by that. Maybe he would melt it down for cash?  Well, a guy can dream.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

I Heard the People Sing at Lyric's 'Les Mis'

Posted By on Mon, Apr 7, 2014 at 8:01 AM

click image Principal cast of Lyric Theatre Company's Les Misérables - COURTESY OF KAREN PIKE PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Courtesy of Karen Pike Photography
  • Principal cast of Lyric Theatre Company's Les Misérables

I've never heard a standing ovation at the Flynn MainStage quite like the one that Lyric Theatre Company's production of Les Misérables got Saturday night. It was long, it was loud, and it started well before the last notes of the reprise of "Do You Hear the People Sing?" had faded. The audience really, really liked this show.

It won't earn me any hipster points (like I ever had any) to say this about Les Mis or a community theater production, but I was blown away, too.

This is a huge project for 40-year-old Lyric, as Xian Chiang-Waren chronicled in our paper last week. The show has 34 named characters and many more in the ensemble. Its action takes place over 17 years in locations all over France, ranging from a shipyard to a provincial town to a Paris sewer. Its plot involves multiple carefully choreographed scenes of onstage violence and death, not to mention allusions to historical conflicts and figures with which few Americans are familiar (why does everybody care so much that General Lamarque is dead?!).

Granted, this was my first time seeing Les Mis onstage. But I think Lyric pulled it off.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Theatre Kavanah Hosts 'Maple Edition' of National Jewish Playwriting Contest

Posted By on Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 12:45 PM

Illustrator Ivan Klipstein's poster design for Theatre Kavanah's "JPP Playwriting Contest — Maple Edition" event - COURTESY OF IVAN KLIPSTEIN
  • Courtesy of Ivan Klipstein
  • Illustrator Ivan Klipstein's poster design for Theatre Kavanah's "JPP Playwriting Contest — Maple Edition" event

Theatre Kavanah, Burlington's Jewish theater company, brings an unusual day of live performances to the area on March 23 at Main Street Landing.

"It's kind of like Jewish theater meets 'American Idol,'" says founder and co-director Wendi Stein.

It also happens to be a semifinals event of the New Jersey/New York City-based Jewish Plays Project s annual playwriting contest. During the two-hour event, attendees will be treated to staged readings of 20-minute excerpts from three plays submitted from around the world and directed by JPP's executive director David Winitsky. Talented Vermont actors — including Karen Lefkoe, Paul Ugalde and many others — will perform the readings, and attendees will vote on a winner. The event (which has been dubbed "the Maple Edition") will also have food, trivia and live music by Brass Balagan.

The three plays to be performed are: God's Honest Truth ("Roberta and Larry have just purchased a miraculous Holocaust Torah for their synagogue. So why does the shul in the next town have one, too?"); Modern Prophet ("Deep in the Minnesota woods, a wayward brother and sister struggle with Elijah and an Angel"); and Clandestino ("When the federal government shut down Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa, they also exploded a fragile, multilingual, multiethnic community.")

The winning play from the Maple Edition will go on to compete at a final event in Brooklyn against the winners from JPP's three other semifinals contests, which have already been held in Chicago, New Jersey and Connecticut.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What's Up With All the Musicals: The Musical!

Posted By on Tue, Mar 11, 2014 at 6:23 PM

The New York cast of 50 Shades! The Musical - COURTESY OF MATTHEW MURPHY
  • Courtesy of Matthew Murphy
  • The New York cast of 50 Shades! The Musical

In the past few years Vermont has seen  Parenting 101: The Musical ("for anyone who's ever been a parent or had a parent') and Menopause: The Musical ("the hilarious celebration of women and The Change"). Last week, we heard from the Barre Opera House that a touring production of Assisted Living: The Musical  this way cometh. Yes, really. Think an eccentric cast of coots at the Pelican Roost. Then, of course, there's Urinetown: The Musical (starting this week at UVM).

And speaking of coming, today the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington exclaimed the triumphant return of 50 Shades! The Musical ("a sexy, hysterical musical romp").

Which of course got us peeps here at Seven Days thinking about our own wacky, LOL romps. Only we don't have time to write musicals, so we just took a few minutes on a busy production day to spew a bunch of titles and tag lines. Naturally, we just have to share. Be warned, though, that some of the following are un-PC and likely to offend ... someone.

Here's a sampling:

Drug Addiction: The Musical — “Shot up with trippy near-death experiences! It’ll leave you wanting more!”

Viagra Monologues: The Musical — "The Centrum Silver set comes clean about getting up — or not!" 

Hip and Hipster: The Musical — "An unemployed twentysomething rocker moves in with his elderly dad, who's fallen and can't get up. Or get down!" 

Potty Training The Musical — "Pooh-pooh-pee-do!"

Driver's Ed: The Musical - "White-knuckle excitement set to your favorite road tunes!"

Heady Topper: The Musical — "Tickets on sale at select locations nobody will tell you about" 

Vermont Health Connect: the Musical — "Spend two hours at the edge of your seat, only to be disconnected" 

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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

NSA Exposé Play Opens at Johnson State College

Posted By on Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 1:56 PM

When Eric Hill talks about the 2013 revelations by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden about the National Security Agency’s global spying apparatus, he quotes fictional TV news anchor Howard Beale from the film Network: “I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!”

  • Poster courtesy of Seeing Redd Productions
Little wonder that Hill, a Vermont-born theatrical artist and playwright, named his production company, Seeing Redd. As he puts it, “If I don’t upset the audience on some fundamental level, I have failed.”

On Thursday evening, March 6, Hill showcases Exposé in the NSA, a one-act play he wrote and directed about what goes on behind closed doors, shady corporate dealings, black-op missions and “how far the largest military on earth will go to cover its tracks and ‘take care’ of a threat.”

Hill explains via email that his stand-alone play, part of a larger theatrical work, examines the concept of “personhood” via the (as yet) fictional secret abduction, torture and elimination of the two greatest threats to U.S. homeland security: Edward Snowden and Julian Assange — portrayed by Vermont-based actors Thomas Hunt and Lauren Chapman, respectively.

Hill is a 2012 graduate of Johnson State College, where Exposé in the NSA will be performed; the free show starts at 7 p.m. in the Dibden Center for the Arts. He’s written, published, produced and directed three other plays, a full-length musical, and a theatrical adaptation of Jane Yolen's novel The Devil's Arithmetic.

Hill says that he started Seeing Redd Productions in 2012, the same year he graduated JSC, because “the more I worked in local and community theaters, the more I realized [that] their hands were tied in terms of creativity. They operate in fear of upsetting their audience, out of fear of empty seats, and ultimately the fear of money. So they pander to sensibilities, play it safe and stop taking chances.”

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Montréal en Lumière Festival Beckons, All Week Long

Posted By on Sun, Feb 23, 2014 at 3:08 PM

  • Courtesy of Montreal en Lumiere
  • Air France Ferris wheel

I had intended to drive northward today for a taste of the mega-event called Montréal en Lumière  But, dommage, both of my traveling companions begged off. And since I didn't want to go alone, this is what I am missing. A gigantic Ferris wheel, right in the middle of St. Catherine Street. 

I have an inexplicable love of Ferris wheels. The one pictured here, courtesy of Air France, only looks this way at night, of course. But day or night, what a great view from its top! Well, maybe later this week.

Montréal en Lumière offers way more than a colorful carnival ride, to be sure. There's also something called an "interactive urban super-slide," and scattered around the Place des Festivals are promised "wow" moments from various special effects, including a "cube" that uses lasers, smoke and lighting to produce "multidimensional" hallucinations. Or something like that. I'm wowed just thinking about it. Three-story projections and other light-related stimuli justify the festival's name — and these are all part of the free outdoor site.

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Don't Miss: Ellis Jacobson Closes LNT's Winterfest with Original One-Man Show

Posted By on Fri, Feb 21, 2014 at 1:27 PM

Ellis Jacobson in Adapted From Samuel Beckett - NEIL DAVIS
  • Neil Davis
  • Ellis Jacobson in Adapted From Samuel Beckett

Lost Nation Theater's ninth annual Winterfest closes this weekend with Adapted From Samuel Beckett, a one-man show written and performed by Bread & Puppet alumnus Ellis Jacobson.

Jacobson doesn't want to give too much away, but he told Seven Days earlier this month that the show would include clowns, flashing lights, lots of movement and no puppets or masks. And, no, you don't need to have a threadbare copy of Waiting for Godot on your bookshelf to enjoy Jacobson's play.

“You wouldn’t know it from the title, but it’s a comedy,” he says. “And even though it’s about Samuel Beckett, a person can go in there not knowing who he is and still enjoy the show … It both ridicules and reveres Beckett, almost simultaneously.”

Founding artistic director of LNT Kim Bent, a longtime acquaintance of Jacobson's, offers that the play was born from his “deep love” of the Irish-born playwright.

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