Saturday, March 27, 2010

Message to arts organizations in this financial milieu: “Do not cut programming! Do not cut marketing!” This is the clarion call from none other than Michael Kaiser, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a man who has been engaged in a long history of both.
Kaiser has embarked on a national tour for “Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative”, where he addresses the challenges facing non-profit performing arts organizations through such areas as fundraising, building more effective Boards of Trustees, budgeting and marketing.
Last week was 'Delaware Day”. Through the efforts of Paul Weagraff, ED of the DE Division of the Arts, a formidable crowd of statewide arts advocates assembled at the baby grand. To a man/woman, we are all feeling the pressures and looking for insights, collaborations use of social networking and guerrilla ideas
to let us continue down this yellow brick road toward both artistic achievement and black ink.
This is an emergency. We are in Code Red. Let's not quibble. To quote our Favorite Son: “This is a big blankity blank deal.”
The initiative, created by Kaiser, provides free and confidential planning assistance in areas pertinent to maintaining a vital organization in a troubled economy. Presently the program is working with near 500 organizations in 40 states. More than 120 experienced US arts leaders volunteer their time to serve as mentors to groups in need.
The performing arts (for those troglodytes who wish to cut funding) add $300 billion to the economy annually. 70% of foreign tourists are 'cultural tourists'. If you are more concerned with where Michael Vick or Don McNabb plays in the fall (with their vainglorious salaries) consider this: more tickets are sold to arts events than sporting events.
Are there quick fixes? Not unless leaders get creative real fast. Here are some excerpts from Kaiser's inspiring conversation with his audience, some of whom journeyed from Kent and Sussex County:
1.Raising ticket prices in NOT the short term answer. It disenfranchises a whole group of people who heretofore were passionate about your product but now can not afford the price.
2.Program to serve the WHOLE community
3.Think collaboratively with other non-profits and find a common ground. For example, 1st State Ballet Theatre staging Prokofiev's “Peter and the Wolf” with Delaware Symphony; Hagley Museum staging a Living History musical on the du Pont family; Nemours opening itself up to anything community related.
4.Keep Face Book and Twitter updated daily. Change the content. The viral networking will aid in reaching both younger and new ticket buyers.
5.Build 'drama' in your programming, as opposed to creating expensive new projects.
6.Create a 5 Year Plan. This for a few reasons. It gives you time to work through the process and it also excites your staff and your donors for what is to come.
7.Take Risks. Surprise your audience. Dream.
8.Create trans formative marketing. Do something strange.

EVITA at New Candlelight Dinner Theatre

Having experienced every one of New Candlelight's productions for the past 2 years or so, there is one constant: every trace of talent, every infinitesimal of artistic knowhow, every scintilla of stagecraft is employed by this merry band of troupers to please the audience. As Ethel Merman chimed, “Can You Ask For Anything More?” Aisle!
While there have been regulars through the years, NCT continues to showcase new and exciting performers from the region. Theatre Manager Paul Goodman, for example, is part of the male ensemble but has both directed and starred in previous productions. Paul Weagraff, whose day job is Director of the Delaware Division of the Arts, has had simply too much fun in the maddening variety of roles he's entertained.
Weagraff (Juan Peron) plays second fiddle to the manipulative Eva and wisely enables her to play her 'cult' card in his fascist regime. He has a lovely tenor voice which shines in “She's A Diamond”.
But it is the new faces that star in show. Che Guervara (Jeffrey Higgins) is making his debut at NCT with a resounding, full bodied and piercing tenor. Some of Webber / Rice's tunes are melodic some disharmonic. A gaggle of my favorite Broadway tunes are in this show. Higgins does a beautiful rendition of “High Flying Adored”, (I heard Mandy Patinkin in that number. Pantinkin originated that role on Broadway.)
Aisle Say has always wondered about the character of Che. While Eva Peron's life is certainly one for the ages, having seen the show several times I wonder how the authors embraced this Cuban guerrilla in a tale set in Argentina?
(Eva) Molly Tower, has impressive credentials in theatre education. Her's is a difficult role in many levels. What Tower lacks in the ability to move on stage she more than makes up for in her voice. I did not count her octave range but it is lengthly. On opening night she was a bit stiff in the first act. However, in the second act Aisle Say began to believe in her. In “Eva's Last Broadcast”, where she succumbs to cancer, Tower is both poignant and evocative.
Alexis DeDonato is quickly becoming Aisle Say's favorite dancer at NCT. She has shown great skill in previous productions and now has been given the opportunity, as Peron's mistress, to sing “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”
DeDonato's tango with choreographer Dann Dunn was damn distinguished!
Evita's distinctive choreography is as memorable as its music. Dunn continues to excel in drawing out the best of what he is given. “Peron's Latest Flame”, the iconic soldier scene, took inestimable time to practice. The audience loved them in their colorful outfits and sunglasses.
Dear sister Liz and I were served at our table by Chad Parsons, one of the soldiers and his joy at being in the production beamed from his face.
In the past I have applauded the staging of Director / Lighting Designer Chris Alberts. With this show he went above and beyond the call. His staging; the bits of play happening behind the main characters; the look and feel of the crowd scenes during both Juan and Eva's exhortations; the smoky, hazy environment; all this created illusions on a very small stage that captivated the audience.
Dear readers, NCT is the best entertainment value in town!

Monday, March 22, 2010

First State Ballet stages 1st Full Length SWAN LAKE

Pasha Kambalov, co-founder with his wife Kristina and artistic director for 1st State Ballet, was being interviewed by a local arts reporter for the upcoming Swan Lake.

Reporter: “Who did the choreography”?

Pasha: “Well, I did a bit, but the majority was by Petipa.”

Reporter: “Will Mr. Petipa be coming?”

This interchange speaks to the dearth of knowledge by reporters of cultural arts in the state. Due to cutbacks high and low, untrained writers are sent out to cover issues light years from their ken.

If Marius Petipa was to attend Kambalov's passionate and exquisite production on March 26 and 27 at The Grand, it would be international news indeed. The iconic Russian choreographer, 'the father of classical ballet,' has been dead exactly 100 years!

Petipa, inspired in part by Tchaikovsky's music, created 50 enduring ballets which survive in whole today. They include “Sleeping Beauty,” “Giselle,” “Don Quixote" and the classic for the ages, “The Nutcracker.”

The ballets of Marius Petipa were lavish spectacles that could have only been produced in the opulent atmosphere of the Imperial Russian court of Tsar Alexander II, which was at the time the most resplendent in all Europe. The treasury of the Russian emperor — who was at that time the wealthiest person in the world — lavished millions on ballet. Each new theatrical season required that Petipa create a new grand ballet. His duties also called upon him to stage the dance sections for various operas, and to prepare galas and divertissements for court performances, royal nuptials, etc.

Pasha Kambalov himself trained at the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet, home of Petipa's works and Aisle Say considers is infused with the Petipa DNA.

Son Grant and I danced as chorusers in the early origins of 1st State Ballet, now celebrating its 10th year of operation – no easy feat in this economic environment. Grant accompanied me to last year's “The Nutcracker.” Throughout the performance there was a permanent smile on his face as he remembered being a part of the cast nine years prior.

Needing a pulse and a warm body to fill the stage during the ballroom scenes, Pasha and Robert Grenfell, the volunteer 'everyman' for the organization who has been with them through both drought and tsunami, asked me to fill a role. A few months ago I was measured for my costume. “Why so early?” I asked. Grenfell replied that they were being built in St. Petersburg.

At first rehearsal I was greatly impressed by the ten young professionals of the cast and interns. They are fully engaged, mesmerized and dedicated to their art. Whatever Pasha asks them to do, they attack with artistic zeal.

"Swan Lake" is one of the world's most popular ballets and this is Delaware's first full-length performance of the work. More than 40 dancers will appear on stage at The Grand.

1st State performs throughout the state. Regular venues include the Freeman Stage in Selbyville, Delaware Tech in Georgetown, the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts in Dover, the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, the Austrian-American Society's Blue Danube Gala in the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel DuPont and residencies in schools. They collaborate regularly with Opera Delaware, the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and the Grand Opera House.

They have a family-friendly ticket pricing policy with an unmatched 50 percent discount for students 18 and under and have not raised its ticket prices in five years.

Friday, Marcy 26 at 7:00 pm. and Saturday, March 27 at 2:00 pm.
$25.00 to $35.00 with a 50 percent discount for students 18 and under and $5.00 group and senior discounts. 1.800.37.GRAND

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tony Award winner Duncan Sheik at Arden Gild

Consider this musical admixture: a tie dye “dyed in the wool” hippie whose graying ponytail screams of “Gimme a head with hair, long beautiful hair, shining, streaming, gleaming, flaxen, waxen,” teamed with a former opera DJ whose day job is a chemist at the X station.

George Brocklesby and Ron Ozer – with the consent of the gilds of Arden - have teamed over the past three years to bring roots, new age and international stars to the intimate, funky stage at the Gild Hall.

It's very rare that Delaware hosts both a Grammy and Tony award winner. Duncan Sheik coming to Gild Hall is a big deal. And this is his second visit!

This month, Sheik will play a handful of tour dates along the East Coast, performing songs from his back catalog as well as from his latest musical theater production, "Whisper House," which had its theatrical debut this year at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. The musical features an original score by the composer.

The last time Sheik performed in Arden he paid tribute to Delaware’s own Tony Award winner, Johnny Gallagher. Gallagher starred in Sheik's Tony Award winning “Spring Awakenings” and he sang Johnny's song. “Spring Awakenings” garnered eight Tonies, with Sheik winning for Best Orchestration, Best Musical Score and Best Musical Show Album.

On "Whisper House," which he is fronting, Sheik employs a narrative approach to songwriting, combining elements of the chamber pop that first brought him critical and commercial acclaim. Much like "Spring Awakening," which the New York Times praised as a “deft blend of straight-up rock, folk and melodic pop,” "Whisper House" is just as much a pop record as it is a musical theatre composition. Structured as a melodrama, each of the 10 songs on the album weave together to tell the story of a child’s grief and spinster’s longing as seen through the eyes of the ghosts that haunt the remote, World War II-era Maine lighthouse where they live.

Sheik wrote most of the music during a writing retreat on an island off of Charleston. A native Southerner, he explains, “Charleston has this history of ghost stories, a southern tradition that I kind of grew up with. I reconnected with it in some way and used that to write the lyrics to these songs. Having this narrative was so much more rich and vital, and it was so much more fun to write from the persona of these ghosts, these dead people, and the whimsical malevolence I could articulate through their voices. That felt really good and was very inspiring.”

(Side Note: Another half decent composer found inspiration on the islands off of South Carolina; one George Gershwin, where he lived with the Gullah Negroes in the summer of 1933 to create “Porgy & Bess”)

Friday March 19, 2010 at 8 PM. Tickets are $30 for the general public, $25 for club members. Club membership is only $20 a year and is open to all. Non-member tickets can be purchased on line at /(302) 475-3126.

WVUD Radio Station at U of DE fundraiser

The date was October 19, 1969. I was combing both my hair and my brain in attempts to come up with words so very chock full of pith and profundity, yet oh so parsimonious. University of Delaware President Arthur Trabant was due to meet me in five minutes.
The two of us were to be the first voices on the newest campus organization, Radio Station WHEN. Dr. Trabant and I moved behind the mics and I blurted out “This is WHEN Radio – WHEN is Now....and you ain't heard nothin' yet!” Well, I'm quite sure that Dr. Trabant had heard Al Jolson say the very same words in the first talkie, 1927's “The Jazz Singer,” but he appeared amused nonetheless.
As a junior in Russel Dorm, a roommate of mine, Steve Goldberg, had been given the opportunity to set the foundation for WHEN. Steve, now a Delaware attorney, was a senior and brought me in. I knew as much about radio as I did metaphysics, but the challenge became a great adventure.
The first transmissions came over 'carrier current'; i.e. telephone lines, and was technically spotty and restricted to campus only. Two basketball players from out of state asked me for a rock show. They named their hour “Sex Life of Rox” and audibly introduced the campus to Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Cream and Iron Butterfly.
It was a heady existence. None of us had a clue what we were doing. My first program manager, Bryan Gordon, went on to write and direct for Larry David's “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” My first sports director was Tom Mees, who later went on to become one of the first anchors at ESPN. Within a few years the station became a feeder for professional statewide stations.
A few years later, Pete Booker became GM. He parlayed that experience after graduation into employment at WDEL. Decades later he became its president and now oversees a veritable regional radio conglomerate.
Carrier current is now as obsolete as the abacus I used flunking Math 101. Now, 40-plus years later – and under professional manager Steve Kramarck – WVUD now has approval by the administration to move from 1000 to 6800 watts and to add HD radio to its repertoire (for both 91.3fm and WVUD-2). The big ‘stipulation’ is that the station must raise the necessary funds to make it happen.
WVUD now serves the campus, the city of Newark and provides hands-on training for students interested in the industry. The increase in power will mean that now all of New Castle County can receive the signal.
Kramarck and his staff are planning a Radiothon to fund the last monies needed. Their window of opportunity with the FCC closes this summer, so they only have one shot at this.
The Walkmen, a nationally-renown rock act, has been contracted to perform at The Trabant Center on Friday March 19 @ 7:30pm. Visit Student tickets are $15.00 and General Admission is $20.00.
For further information on the station or connect with GM Steve Kramarck @
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