Friday, April 30, 2010

We're not so evolved, we humans.

I didn't know what to expect when I met Bo Eason.  I'd heard his one-man play, Runt of the Litter, a fictionalized version of his life as the the driven, younger brother of star NFL quarterback Tony Eason (whom I remember rooting for in the 80's), was intense and graphic, so I imagined he'd need an equally intense pre-show routine/warmup.

And he did.  Just like most actors, he had his vocal and physical exercises, but unlike many actors, he appeared to have absolutely no problem with being interrupted, coming over to shake my hand and cheerfully asking if I'd like to grab a helmet or pads, run on stage, and "hit someone." :) I declined, but with more reluctance than you'd expect from someone who works in the arts. 

Runt of the Litter is intense and graphic.  But it's also incredibly well-written, constructed and performed.  Usually, the kind of glittery-eyed focus that Bo Eason gave us turns me off in its insincerity.  Not so here.  Because you know this guy played, because you can see the scars on his body and the muscles that kept him on his feet when he was leaving it all on the field, and because he's such a good, physically confident actor, it feels real.  Is it horrifying at times?  Yes.  But only because it shows you just how much we, the population who watches sports and feeds the engine of celebrity, demand that level of intensity (insanity?) from our modern-day gladiators.

Which brings me back to the paradox that will keep me thinking long after Bo and his show have moved on.  As the show progresses and Jack/Bo slowly puts on his armor and transforms himself into a Russell-Crowe style warrior, his endearing eagerness and passion are eclipsed by the dark single-minded violence that football allows (requires?) him to summon.  Oh sure, I was properly shocked by the blood and needles and male locker-room talk, but what made the transformation especially hard to watch is that we, the audience, like Jack/Bo.  He seems like a good guy. He charmed us in the beginning with his humor and heart-tugging story of brotherly affection and competition. He shook my hand and chatted with me backstage. And then he shot himself full of drugs, bled all over the stage, and grinned manically as he recalled the sound of his brother's ribs shattering against his helmet. 

How do I reconcile those two opposite extremes?  Maybe by remembering that this is a fictionalized version of his life, that he didn't really hit his brother and send him to the hospital?  Maybe by knowing that after pursuing football success with an arrow's straight and perhaps deadly intensity, Bo Eason is now pursuing (and achieving) artistic success with equal fervor?  Maybe.

Actually, I believe it's by remembering the final moment of the play, when Jack/Bo is left with nothing left to say, unable to stand, unable to look us in the eye.  When he's nothing more than an exhausted warrior who doesn't know what to do with what just happened.  When he's not a football player anymore.  When he's just a person.

I think I've mentioned that I'm one lucky gal to get to see shows like this and call it my job.  I enjoyed the moral quandary and the backstage glimpse at the football world, but in the end, it's just fun to see good, dramatic, thought-provoking theater.  Thanks, Bo Eason.  I can't wait to see the movie.

And PS...go Patriots.   

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The seat of my pants isn't creasing...

...and I finally figured out why.  I must have a steaming hot ass."
-Steve Martin, live at Walton Arts Center.

Steve Martin came to town tonight.  Yeah, that Steve Martin.  The guy is, frankly, sickly talented.  Actor, comedian and...Grammy-winning banjo player?  You betcha.

He played with the Steep Canyon Rangers, a terrific band in their own right, but I've gotta admit the only reason I went was to see Steve on my stage (yes, I know, it's the community's stage, but sometimes, I just wanna be greedy, ok?).  Lest I forget all the great details that made the show so special, here they are in no particular order.

All 6 musicians came out together, and I was surprised that Steve Martin was in a suit.  I expected less formality for a bluegrass/banjo show.  But I like it.  It shows respect.

The first challenge for any touring artist is to get the name of the current town right.  He hesitated a little, but got there eventually.  FFFFFayetteville welcomed him with a rousing cheer, though it wasn't as lively a crowd as I'd have liked.  My peeps in the balcony were NOT the clap-along types, to my chagrin.

Many people were worried that Steve would insist on treating this as a "music" show, and not give us some of his comedy.  Not to worry, folks.  He started off by saying that it was his lifelong dream to play bluegrass in Fayetteville.  And we were off.

The first sense of whimsy we got in the show (one long set, no intermission) was a kids song about being Late for School - I hugely enjoyed that.  Before that, though, Woody, the guitarist for Steep Canyon Rangers, opened his mouth and sang, and wow, I got shivers.  His style is too country for me, but that boy has a voice.

Favorite moment of the show?  It's a tie.  Here's the first.  After joking earlier that the nice thing about traveling with a bass in the band is that you can use it as a fridge, Steve left the stage to give SCR a few songs on their own, but not before asking Charles, the bass player, for a beer.  Charles promptly turned the bass around, removed a panel, and fished out a brew. 

Later, we got a taste of SCR's vocal talents with an amazing acapella piece, after which Steve quipped "if you guys would learn to play your instruments with that song, it'd be amazing."

I'll admit I don't know much about bluegrass songwriting, but it appears Steve Martin is a good writer.  One of my favorite musical moments was a series of three songs before which he asked us to imagine being on a boat in a Monet painting, riding a horse, and running into some Irish dancers.  The transitions between these imaginings were left up to us.  The first piece was my favorite - a soothing (if that's possible with a banjo) tune that indeed felt like I was drifting in a pastel/oil paint world.

2nd favorite moment?  After a fun banjo/fiddle tribute to Steve's dog, Wally, which segued into the full band back on stage playing together, a white lab appeared on stage to the collective "awww" and laughter of the crowd. I still don't know who the dog belonged to, but it was a great moment.

Oh wait, I have a 3rd favorite - the atheist song.  Awesome.

The end of the show fell a little flat until the Orange Blossom Blues, which rocked the house.  I'm losing the order of songs already (despite Steve's I-Pad set list which he claims now makes him "too big to fail"), but there was a fiddle feature in there somewhere that absolutely blew the roof off - I think the fiddle player broke all of the strings on his bow.  And the bands encores were great, including the final song - King Tut - that had the audience (finally) on their feet.

What a fun night.  Hard to believe I started the day ankle deep in rain and soaked to the skin at a soggy mess of a Race for the Cure.  But I got great music, a full house, the requisite overpriced t-shirt, and a tasty post-show meal with a friend.

Life really is sweet sometimes.  And I'm not saying that as a marketer for Walton Arts Center.  I'm saying it as me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This one's for you, Dad.

Anyone who blogs knows (or if they don't will likely find out soon enough), that anyone in the world can read what we write out here in the blogosphere.  Including our employers, our staff or our parents.  In truth, there are so many blogs out here that these may be the only people who read most of them.  This is why I have such respect for people who just say whatever they want on their blog, seemingly without regard for who might be reading it.   That takes guts I don't have.

My filter stays on (most of the time).  I mean, let's face it. If I ever took it off, I'd probably wind up friendless and unemployed.

So I have to admit I laughed out loud when I received, via the good-old-fashioned US Postal Service, a note from my dad daring me to post the poem below on my blog.  I laughed louder when I found a second note double daring me to post the well-known "Bulls#1% Bingo".

I can't not take those dares.  Thanks, Dad!

A Prayer for the Stressed

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I cannot accept,
and the wisdom to hide the bodies of those people I had
to kill today because they pissed me off.

And also, help me to be careful of the toes I step on
today as they may be connected to the ass that I may have
to kiss tomorrow.

Help me always give 100% at work:

12% on Monday
23% on Tuesday
40% on Wednesday
20% on Thursday
5% on Friday

And help me to remember...
When I'm having a really bad day,
and it seems that people are trying to piss me off,
that it takes 42 muscles to frown and
only 4 to extend my middle finger and tell them to bite me.


(I've not been able to find an author for this poem) 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Excellence does exist, actually.

Before I begin this entry, I'm going to acknowledge up front that some may see this post as snobbish and/or (gasp!) elitist.  I'm ok with that.   Honestly, if there are enough readers of this blog to even garner such an opinion, I'd be thrilled!

Amid the daily grind, I still find myself pondering the great mysteries of the universe, such as "Why has Survivor survived so long?" or "Why are there so many brands of mustard but only a few brands of ketchup?  (Ok I admit it, that last one isn't mine, but I like it.  Malcolm Gladwell's gonna explain it all in a few pages, I hope).  Or, more relevant to my work; what is good and what is not?  For example - some will say that Riverdance is not good.  But thousands, nay, millions, have come to see it and left happy.  I may say that a depressingly dark theater piece is amazing, while others may say it's total, self-absorbed drivel.  In most cases, it's a matter of opinion.

Opinion aside, though, I believe one of the hardest concepts for an arts community to grasp is that there's a continuum of quality.  Sometimes, (more often than not, actually) you don't need the absolute best to have a wonderful, inspiring time at the theater or a show.  How boring would it be if there were no amateurs, semi-professionals or working professionals out there, learning, achieving, trying new things and always getting better? A healthy arts community has it all - local, regional, national and international artists of all shapes and sizes, performing in coffee shops, on the street, in formal concert halls, on high school stages, etc. 

But once in a while, my job lets me experience that most transient of concepts; true artistic excellence.  How do I know it's happened?  It's when you don't have to explain to someone why what you just saw was amazing.  It just was. 

Tonight, I got to listen to two vocal titans put on a little concert on our stage.  I admit I don't know much about Frederica Von Stade, aka Flicka, and Samuel Ramey, but I do know they sang at the Met and they are the best of the best in the opera world.  This concert showed why.  These singers could whisper a note and it would fill the hall.  They didn't need microphones or costumes or fancy lights.  They needed a great piano artist to accompany them, and they needed their voices.  That's it.  Enough said.  They are masters of their craft, and they were excellent.

I maintain that we need excellence.  It inspires us.  It takes us out of the every day. Sure, it might humble us, but why is that bad? It teaches us that there is always more to do, to learn.  What excellence doesn't do is make us somehow less than we were before.  Far from it.  It says to us: "Look what humans can do.  Look what's possible. Isn't that just incredible?"

I think so.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Forget Christmas.

There is no more spectacular time to be alive than right now, these two precious weeks in early spring.

In New England and Wisconsin, these weeks would be months away.

But here in Ar-kansas, we've got SPRING baby!  And for the first time in a while, I can say without doubt that it feels fantastic to be exactly where I am.

There's something about the eerie mist/glow of new green buds that adds new wavelengths of energy and light into the air.

I leave my apartment in the morning to a few white blossoms on the mystery shrub outside my door, and return later in the day to quadruple the blossoms.  Does anyone know what these are?  I can't seem to find a name for them...

The pear trees are in full bloom.  Azalea bushes have suddenly burst into yellow.  Women's hairsytles have gone windblown because we just can't stand to be inside.

The whole world seems poised to explode with joy that the sun is out, the air is warm, and anything is possible.

I hope so.  I really, really do.