Thursday, January 27, 2011

World Cafe Live will "Light Up The Queen"

Rob and Chris Buccini, Mayor Baker's best friends, have stated that the rehabilitation of The Queen Theatre at 5th & Market Street is their most important project ever. For two gentlemen who have radically transformed Wilmington's cityscape, who have multiple hotel properties in VA and MA and a presence in China, that's quite a quote.
In addition to what The Queen will offer to Delawareans, it's location is strategic as well – dead center in the middle of Market, linking the hub of the city to the Riverfront.
“Lighting up The Queen” is scheduled for April I. Having The Queen a satellite of Philly's popular World Cafe Live was crucial to the venture. Here's some background.
In 1998 music lover and lawyer Hal Real approached WXPN/88.5, U of Penn Radio Station. He was a huge fan of DJ David Dye's widely acclaimed World Cafe show, an eclectic blend of new music, live performances and interviews featuring local and national acts. The show was broadcast over 200 stations nationwide.
Real wanted to “radically change the landscape for contemporary artists and audiences”. His idea was to create World Cafe Live, a for profit venue for grownups that was the physical extension of the experience World Cafe listeners had in their homes.
Six years and $15 million later, World Cafe Live's concert and dining opened near the Penn campus. The radio station moved in the same building.
World Cafe Live employs 80 people, mounts about 550 shows annually showcasing 1200 artists. Meanwhile, on the non-profit radio side, XPN has grown exponentially, employing 25 people, embracing 25,000 dues paying members and 300,000 loyal regional listeners. It gains adherents by the very physical presence of the venue.
The two partners are under the same roof sharing a common passion for music but they operate independently. XPN licenses the World Cafe Live name to Real Entertainment for an annual fee.
This unique and innovative for-profit/nonprofit partnership has been so successful it has been dubbed the model for future relationships between public broadcasters and private enterprise.
I am not sure who sought out whom for The Queen, but having World Cafe Live installed here creates instant market credibility with both XPN's member base and the international music community. Thousands of Delawareans listen to XPN daily.
With the licensing money from the Hal Real, XPN has been able to extend their brand. They can offer higher quality, bigger bands and more bands. Musicians play at World Cafe Live and are interviewed on the station. That's convenience. Additionally, XPN is adding new affiliates; Dallas, LA and Milwaukee just this year.
For the consumer, how two separate entities with two disparate missions work together is irrelevant. The fact is they do...quite successfully. The commonality of purpose is born in their passion for music. Together they have created this tres cool 'clubhouse' for the music, the arts and the general community.
The Non-COMM Convention, a major event for the music industry, will be hosted by The Queen this year. Real had attended the conference for a decade and then acquired the rights. It is now wholly owned by WXPN. The timing was perfect for this year. Wilmington will be host to many important personages in the industry and some major music names; an energizing send off for the facility.
The Buccini brothers hope that The Queen will be the rock thrown in the pond; that The Queen will become the center of Wilmington's creative universe and the ripple effect will be felt by us all.
For the acts this year visit

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 and other ruminations

In the early weeks of January, Aisle Say has little to do but thirst for the second part of the theatre season. His idle mind causes him to ruminate on a veritable devils' playground of national issues.
My editor may arch his eyebrow over this diversion below, but I suggest that arts columnists – who witness the ills of society play-acted on stage - have world perspectives. One might say that, but then again, one might be stretching the argument. In any case, I pontificate on two ingrained problems in America, certainly neither one original with me:

1. Flat Tax Income Tax: A statement from a national taxpayer advocate multiplied the IRS' own estimates of how much time individuals and businesses spend complying with the code. 6 million hours annually. That's the equivalent of 3 million workers toiling full time for a year. This adds to US productivity?
2.Congressional Term Limits: Of the 27 Amendments to the Constitution, seven took 1 year or less to become the law of the land. Why? The people demanded it. They were fed up. There is a grass roots movement afoot for Congressional Term Limits: 12 years max! Either two 6 year Senate terms and six 2 year House terms. The Congressman has no tenure and no pension. No self-voted pay raises. Current Congress health care plan is abolished. They pay like everyone else.(There's a concept!) Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. One would consider this amendment would greatly reduce the inflammatory posturing and vitriol of the past 4 years.

Okay, Editors, now back to my day job....Thankfully! A preview of the upcoming months of local groups
1.New Candelight Theatre is staging two shows never before produced in the state. “Cats” runs from 28 Jan to 20 March. Producing Artistic Director Chris Alberts, who designs lights, should be lit up with this challenge. “The Full Monty”, opening 8 April, centers on four down and out steel workers from Buffalo NY who are desperate for cash. They turn to stripping to earn an income. The show is rated R for language and nudity. No one under 17 even allowed. That's a long way from the recent “Suessical”. 302.475.2313
2.The Resident Ensemble Players (REP) of the U of D open 2011 with the Tennessee Williams' classic, “The Glass Menagerie”. Two of my favorite REP actors, Carine Montbertrand and Michael Gotch are lead characters. Both play 'distracted', 'obsessed', 'unhinged','psychotic' so exceedingly well. (The 'why' of it will be left for a future column.) Following in quick succession is “All The King's Men” on 17 Feb. This is the compelling drama of The Kingfish, Mississippi's Huey Long. Long was a power broker and supreme wheeler dealer in the LBJ matrix. Vietnam brought LBJ to his knees. With Long it was greed and hubris – the middle name of most politicians. His fall from grace was both extraordinary and tragic. I would imagine that Sandy Robbins chose this show to engage the audience with thoughts of current political shenanigans. 302.831.2204
3.Wilmington Drama League. Choreographer Jody Anderson returns for “Five Guys Named Moe” opening 21 Jan. The difficult to watch but absorbing “The Elephant Man' opens 18 March. The cast has not been publicized but for the lead character, here is an opportunity for a tour de force. 302.764.1172
4.Delaware Theatre Company opens with “Lucy” on 19 Jan. Vivian, a brilliant scientist, is called to take care of her estranged daughter, 13 year old Lucy. The child is autistic. One would think mother/daughter dynamics are played out and perhaps some answers and insights about this dreadful and challenging condition. 302.594.1100
5.Best of Broadway Productions. Join my newly revamped singing Ensemble at Bella Vita at The Cavalier's Country Club. Four outrageously talented singers and Broadway tunes. A grand and sumptuous buffet from former 3 Bakers chef John Obykhan. 17 Feb at 11:30am and 18 Feb . at 8pm. 302.731.5600

Friday, January 7, 2011

DE Theatre Co paddling upstream

There are few First Staters who have on their theatrical resume being part of the opening night audience of Delaware Theatre Company 32 years ago. Aisle Say was there.
The venue was a converted firehouse. The visionary producer/director was Cleveland Morris. Within a short period Morris had convinced various influential arts advocates to create Wilmington's first professional theatre at the Riverfront, a hodgepodge of scarred and abandoned buildings left over from WWII ship building days.
Morris' brand of 'pioneering' was of the Major John Wesley Powell mold. In 1869 Powell , a one-armed Civil War veteran embarked with ten men and four wooden boats through the unchartered depths of The Grand Canyon. Their 1000 mile trip would take 3 months and only 5 men survived. The journey changed the face of the West. There are analogies to Cleveland Morris' accomplishments.
While not a season subscriber, I witnessed many of the productions in the ensuing decades. The opportunities with The Community News and Aisle Say has required I chat about most of their offerings in the last three years.
Presently they are through two of the five productions for this season.
I have come to the conclusion: Why? Why do they exist in their present form and what are they accomplishing.
The stated mission is to provide theatre of the highest quality in Delaware and enrich the vitality of the area through artistic programming, education and community service. All good and noble. With all but the first they meet these standards.
After the messy public firing of Artistic Director Anne Marie Cammarado, the managing staff at the theatre had to reconfigure this season. They brought back 'Sylvia' by A.R.Gurney. It was promoted as an 'audience favorite'. More likely it fit the financial pre-conditions listed below. On the opening night I was in attendance and counted the audience at 50%. Seats were less than half at 'Around the World in 80 Days' two months later.
I may be wrong, but I can't believe that their next show, 'Lucy', that no one has heard of is going to have queues reaching to Harry's Riverfront. The subject matter involves a mother who now must take care of her estranged autistic daughter.
Certainly not every production must be reminiscent of “I Love Lucy”, but most people wish to simply be entertained, case closed. Aisle Say does not believe our market is that sizable to embrace such a subject with respectable attendance numbers.
Next up comes Noel Coward's 'Blithe Spirit', not at his wittiest. (See 'Private Lives' for that). DTC promotion material states that 'Blithe Spirit' is British humor at its wittiest. (See Oscar Wilde for that).
The overriding issue I imagine is money. A few times during his adventure Major Powell was caught in a 'whirlpool'; a depression of the water surging around the boat keeping it swirling and swirling around in a endless circle. The only way out is to get pulled out by a rescuer on land. DTC does not have a Tatiana Copeland at the ready to throw a lifeline.
The fiscal constraints mean their choices must follow these requisites: small cast, bargain basement royalties, unit set, lean costuming and no high tech production values.
I wish no one to lose their job. In fact, DTC's various outreach programs for kids, including “Totally Awesome Kids” is just that, totally awesome and essential. Leader Charlie Conway has created a rich legacy in the community.
Here is Aisle Say's suggestion for 2011. Reach out to Sandy Robbins, Producing Artistic Director of the U of D REP Ensemble. This production company is far and away the greatest professional theatre in the state. (If any readers of my reviews on the REP know, I gush over them like Danny over Sandy in “Grease'.) They are heavily subsidized by the university. Their ticket prices are $10.00 less than DTC and the productions are many times every theatrical aspect.
I saw Robbins at 'Sylvia'. In fact, the REP had an ad in the program. Begin conversations to have The REP aid in various artistic decisions; even interning. The venue could even become a UD satellite. All jobs could be saved and everyone in the community benefits. I will send this column to Robbins and see what he thinks. DTC has done great stuff. In this economy, Aisle Say does not see them being rescued from their dizzying whirlpool on their own.