Thursday, February 04, 2016

Three Interesting Things

1. This interview with Heidi Heilig might make it clear why I'm excited about her debut book (pirates and Hawaii). 
2. Buzzfeed looks into the story behind the cranky park bench dedication.
3. A chat with a Hong Kong bookseller who stocks titles banned in mainland China. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

Disproportionate Analogies

So, given the weather last week, I checked the status of my cross-state bus a few times before heading out on Monday.  Originally they said all Monday schedules as normal.  Then it said, some cancelled, but mine appeared to still be on the normal list.  So, I showed up, and...there were a lot of people waiting for the same bus, some ticketed, some hoping for the best because they had been trying to get back earlier and been stymied. And we stood there.  And the time of the buss arrival came and went and we stood there.  And the bus after ours came and went.  And I finally tried calling.  (The schedule continued to indicate our bus was supposed to be on time even though that was no longer temporally possible.) And finally, one of the bus line employees indicated it was coming in ten minutes.  And it arrived and, with the snow and the standbys people crowded up and while we had all tried to be cheery and happy waiting, there was a moment where, I had a seat and I could tell the driver was already talking to the people in the group after me, and I still couldn't get past to get my bag on so I could board.  And I pushed passed someone to get my bag on, and then when I realized the guy in front of me was still pulling up his ticket on his phone, I stepped around him and boarded.  And I felt so mean.  It was the same bus.  With the number of standbys, no one was getting a row to themselves anyway.  But, you know what, I didn't really hurt anyone.  I boarded.  And, I kind of had a point.  I did have a ticket that allowed me the joy of boarding first.
I mention this because when stuff comes spilling out publicly, there's often a big pushback.  I know so-and-so.  They are super nice.  They didn't mean to hurt anyone.  And, well, all of that may be true.  People can be nice and not mean to hurt anyone and still do so. But, make sure you understand who you are telling to be nice and why.  If I said something racist, or ran over someone's toes with my suitcase, I could still be a nice person who harmed someone else.  It is not a binary situation.  And if I say, I'm sorry I ran over your toes, but all this discussing of it really isn't helping, well, I am definitely being the jerk then.  Because as the person harmed, the harmed person gets to decide to speak out.  Can things get blown out of proportion?  Sure.  But me saying, shush up about your pain doesn't solve anything. 
And so, the discussion about how hard one reviewer is finding it to read diverse books (like pretty much any), well, if people started mentioning that her attempts to boost romance have come at the expense in some ways of recognizing LGBTQ+ romances, or diverse romance, or that by continuing to treat them as the special snowflake or vegetables of romance  - as in the things you read to be able to get back to talking about what you really wanted to talk about - then yeah, telling people to stop being mean isn't helping.  Saying you did something harmful isn't mean.  And telling people to shush doesn't make you nice. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Broadway Con Recap - Day 3

The cast recording panel was fascinating.  They discussed that a cast album has competing needs that you have to find a balance for – it needs to satisfy the nostalgia for those who have seen the show, be comprehensible to those who have not seen it, and provide a historical record of sorts for future revivals.

There's also the competing demands because cast albums can often help drive ticket sales, but the piece is often still being reworked through previews and sometimes beyond, so you don't want to do that before it's solid and get people attached to something that changed, but if the show doesn't last long, then the money for the album is hard to get.

There was talk of live recordings and that they are often more expensive, because additional people are part of a live show who wouldn't be part of a recording, and that the recordings have specific pay scale rules that often drive how long you can have everyone there. 

The Obsessed Live panel featured the cast of upcoming show "Disaster".  Faith Prince had apparently been offered Audrey in "Little Shop of Horrors" but couldn't get out of another contract to do it.  She said when "Little Shop" took off people were worried she would freak out, and she was fine, she figured, this was someone else's time and her time would come.  Seth Rodetsky asked her if that was her twenty years later response or if she'd always felt that way, and she said the name Faith wasn't a misnomer.  They did perform "Suddenly Seymour" for us though.

Rodetsky had great stories for each cast member, and then they did a little bit from the show that sounded wonderful.

Then Caroline Rhea interviewed the three leads from "Something Rotten!".  There were jokes (as you might expect when Rhea is involved) but she asked them about meeting presidents.  Brian D'Arcy mentioned that he had met Hillary Rodham Clinton way back when and then she and Bill had come to see "Something Rotten!" when it was in previews, and his wife had seen her standing alone in the green room so went over and introduced herself and told her about their prior meeting.  So, when D'Arcy came out he said, oh we've met before, and Clinton said, yes, it was back when you were just dating your now wife, and now you guys have a teenager and he was so thrilled, and then later discovered his wife had prepped Clinton. 

John Cariani said he had some guy on the street say, hey, great job and tell Brian that was great too, and he said thanks and the guy drove off and someone else watching said he looked confused, did he know who that was?  It was Nathan Lane.  D'Arcy was apparently surprised to hear this story. 

The creative team from "Waitress" came to talk about that process.  Diane Paulus and Sara Bareilles had not seen the movie, but it had come up in a discussion at ART as one of the properties that could be adapted and she watched it and thought, yes.  Jessie Nelson did know it, and in fact knew the family. She did say it was a learning curve, realizing that writing a musical meant a lot of the things from the script would get cut to become a song, since the processing happens in the songs.  As the panel wrapped up, some fans chanted, "Sing!" and Bareilles said, oh alright, and played one of the songs. 

Then there was a panel with snippets from upcoming shows, so they brought out a few folks, did some setup, sang a song and swapped in the next group.  There was "Tuck Everlasting", "Nerds", "Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812" (including a taped message from Josh Groban), and "Found". 

And then there was the goodbye.  Some of the lovely characters from the opening returned to discuss how wonderful things had been.  There was some singing.  And a singalong.  And another singalong.  And that was it. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Broadway Con Day 2 Recap

I want to digress ever so slightly from programming to say that I met a woman who loved theater, but had gotten married to a controlling dude who did not share this love and also wouldn't give her money to go.  So she found a group of reviewers, who let her start reviewing plays so she would get press tickets to shows for free.  And that was a start of her reclaiming her life for herself.

Anyway, we started off the morning with Broadway Feud.  Jenn Colella hosted and made it clear that she was firmly in favor of a Richard Dawson-esque kissy kissy form of hosting.  There was a mix of con participants and Broadway actors on each team and let me tell you, the con folks were not playing.  Elizabeth, who said she was a kidlit editor by day, answered each question in song.  There were also some controversial answers, as always happens when you survey a hundred people.  The contestants shared some special skills, barking, talking with their mouths closed, and Jonathan Groff displayed an ability to manipulate the bones in his back in a way I had not seen before.

The "Fiddler on the Roof" panel talked a lot about the history and tradition (Tradition!) in the play.  Michael C. Bernardi's dad was in "Fiddler" and so his mom had pulled out the boots his dad had worn in the show for him to wear.  He had to take them to a cobbler since the sizing needed adjustment and when he came back the cobbler asked him about them, and he explained.  The cobbler said that his dad had done the shoes for "Fiddler".  The whole cast felt very connected to the show, it was a thing they had all done parts of growing up.  And they also mentioned that the idea of people being forced to leave their homes and make a new life in a new place had a lot of relevance to today.

Then there was the "Fun Home" panel.  Lisa Kron talked about how it's one thing to turn something else into a painting or a sculpture, but when you're creating theater, you're creating a shared experience. Emily Skeggs said the story was full of people talking around the truth, not saying what they really want to say, which was a really fascinating thing to dig into as an actor. 

Kron said with Bruce, he wasn't necessarily likable, you meet him yelling at the kids about stuff, but that it was clear that he loved beauty and beautiful things so much, that as an audience you got it.  You understood what motivated him.  She also said with theater, it takes years to get a production going, so you can't plan to hit a cultural moment.  But, "Fun Home" was fortunate to hit at a point where the audience felt it was well-timed, that this was the time for a story about a women struggling her sexual identity and recognizing that this was something her father had been struggling with too. 

Judy Kuhn said a lot of people would say to her, my dad isn't gay, but this is just like my family.  Or I'm not a lesbian, but this is just like my family.  Kron mentioned people saying to her that it was bigger than a lesbian story and that she got what they meant so didn't tell them it was actually just the right size for a lesbian story. 

Michael Cerveris talked about the controversy when College of Charleston had gotten pushback for putting the novel on their syllabus, and that going down there to perform near the university had reminded him that theater changing people's lives wasn't just a thing we say, it was a true thing.

Joe Perez arrived late to the panel, dressed as Medium Allison, which was just amazing.

I took a quick break as the snow and wind had picked up in earnest.  I ran across the street to the coffee shop and got some tea and some food for lunch and dinner.  (The hotel quick bites were getting overrun and the lines (and the prices) were something I wanted to minimize my contact with, although certainly, the iced tea in hand was better than none.)

This turned out to be well-timed since not too long after that they decided the roads were being shut down in NYC at 2:30, which meant, no cars, no taxis, and since they didn't want to encourage people to be outside for any reason, no Broadway.

(I felt very grateful I had decided to stay in the site hotel, although the underground subway lines did stay running.)

I was discussing the cancelling of Broadway with a fellow con goer, who generously offered up an extra pass to the Susan Blackwell signing.  I got in line and then realized, I had spilled water in my bag that morning and had emptied out my Playbills and other extraneous paper, and um, what was I going to have her sign.  A generous con-goer behind me gave me a piece of paper from her notebook.  So basically, the kindness of fellow con-goers was amazing.

I then followed Susan Blackwell to the Funny Girls panel which also featured Ann Harada and Lesli Margherita. Harada grew up in Kaneohe (chee-hoo!) and had no idea that there were so many other theater geeks out there.  Blackwell has always had corporate jobs alongside her creative ones, and really likes using all the parts of her brain.  Margherita did shows with the cows growing up. 

They talked about Carol Burnett and "The Muppets" all being big early influences, and, as it turned out, since Harada worked on "Avenue Q" good training.

They were asked about issues being seen as funny since they were female and they pivoted the question and talked about the biggest thing was pushing in to get to do you, or what you could be, and that part of that was figuring out your place, and part of that was accepting that being a different age, or shape, or race, than people might have thought they were looking for was all tied up with gender, it was getting them to accept your whole package.

The choreography panel talked about how theater was different than competition, you had to not only be able to do a move, but do it eight times a week.  Competition teams could go all out for an hour and rest for six days.  Christopher Gattelli said that the "Newsies" cast had included amazing moves, but that was because he had dancers who had amazing things already in their repertoire. They also talked about how different directors would look for a different level of collaboration. 

Then there was fan karaoke, and I confess, I had concerns, but these folks were amazing.  Amazing. 

Next up in the revamped blizzard programming were some quick chats. They started with board member Anthony Rapp (who, you know, was in "Rent" and stuff too).  Lesli Margherita told a hilarious tale (tail) that is probably not nearly as funny in written form.  But essentially, she was in a Disney show as Esmeralda but desperately wanted to be Ariel, because Ariel had the sparkly tail.  And then one day Ariel got sick last minute and they had to use her as the sub but the dresser was freaking out, because, as the dresser said, they were sea shells, not D shells.  So, they put her in the outfit, and yes, the sea shells, were a bit more revealing on her. But she sang "Part of That World" and when she got to the lyric, "what's that word?" a drunk frat bro yelled, "Tits!"  You might recall that lyric occurs a few times, and drunk frat bro did that each time (sometimes saying, "Boobs!").  And well, that was the only time she got to play Ariel. My memory falls down at this point I know they also talked to Andrew Keenan-Bolger from "Newsies" and someone else I have a lovely picture of and they were wonderful.)

Then a group gathered to discuss the process being the opening number.

Then they did a thing, that I confess sounds a little ridiculous, and maybe it was the snow fumes, but it ended up being fun.  As you might expect, with flights cancelled, and travel mostly halted, a number of planned guests could not make it.  So, they put couches on the stage, and Anthony Rapp, Melissa Anelli, Blake Ross, and some other folks began video chatting and calling folks who had missed out on the fun.  Darren Criss, Idina Menzel (flights cancelled also meant Anthony's flight back to join the "If/Then" cast had been cancelled), Norm Lewis, Betty Buckley, Laura Benanti (who mentioned her song about being a theater kid), Audra McDonald, Ana Gasteyer, Harvey Fierstein, Lena Hall (who conferenced in Stephen Trask), Patti Lupone (who had some thoughts about London casts and American casts and the rules about such things), Joel Grey, Shaneice Williams, and Jeremy Jordan. Jeremy Jordan was on video so we also got to see his dog,

After that was cabaret night, which, due to snow was Krysta Rodriguez, and some intrepid musicians.  She has an amazing voice and did the song from "In the Heights" and was thrilled when the audience supplied the ensemble vocals. (She actually tweeted it to Lin Manuel Miranda.) It was wonderful and crazy and fun, and overwhelmingly, so many of the actors throughout the day were so thrilled to see this many people who loved theater this much. They all mentioned how they were kids who loved theater, so it was great to see that the upcoming generation had it well in hand.

As a note, I was not the only fan who intends to remain just a fan there, and I was not the only adult there who hadn't been dragged by kids, but not surprisingly given Mischief Management's other cons, there were a lot of teens, a lot of college kids, a lot of folks in their early twenties. 

After that, exhausted people went to bed. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Broadway Con Day 1 Recap

So, those of you who follow my twitter have already had a taste of what I was up to for the last few days, but I shall attempt to capture it a little more thoroughly here.  I can't even remember where I heard about BroadwayCon, but it was after the first two ticket batches had already sold out.  But I adore Broadway, even if my budget and other competing realities often means I do this through repeated listens to cast albums.  And a con, in New York, with fellow theater geeks, and a chance to breathe the same air as some amazing folks who make theater happen, well, I had to at least try.  And so, when the final ticket batch was released I scooped one up.  And then realized I had to figure out things like time off work and travel and oh, who cares I was going to BroadwayCon!

It was a first time event, and I confess, as much as I love big group events, they can bring out my inner backseat event planner (especially when I'm tired, or hungry, or on day three of soooo much excitement.) So, I had geared myself up.  I know that the people at Mischief Management are not new  to cons, but new con, new space, new people helping, there were bound to be things.  And then it turned out a blizzard was going to hit in the middle of their con.  I'm sure it wasn't easy, and there were bumps, but really, I have very little to complain about.  It was great. 

I arrived early and went to see "Allegiance".  I am still figuring out how best to talk about it. Some of my friends had seen it and they all said it was good, but you didn't leave the theater wanting to sing any of the songs, which I think is fair.  Lea Salonga remains a treasure.  Quite honestly, World War II stories about Asian families are really firmly in my wheelhouse, so I liked it.  It also reminded me a lot of Kristina McMorris' Bridge of Scarlet Leaves.  I cried when they sang "Gaman" and I also thought it did a great job of showing that just because the same thing was happening to the Japanese Americans, they still had differing responses to it. 

So, then there was the con.

I made a friend in line to check in.  We decided that we wanted to check out the Broadway tattoo meetup because we wanted to know what tattoos people had.  But we peeked in and it looked, not social.  Just like a room full of people waiting for someone to start the conversation.  So we went to the solo (aka people at the con without a buddy) meetup.  People, even or especially the solo people had come from all over the country. Some it was their first con ever. 

Then we moved on the to Hamilfans meetup.  (The Hamilfans meetup was at the same time as the Rentheads.  It was a difficult choice.) The Hamilfans quickly exceeded their assigned room, so the organizers opened up a larger room and moved us over.  There was a ridiculous amount of singing.  Lots of people cosplaying as the Schuyler sisters, and a Hamilton.  (Later I spotted a King George.)

The panel with the folks Deaf West production of "Spring Awakening" was packed but great.  They discussed how interesting it was to have a cast with deaf and hearing folks, and a cast member with a wheelchair.  There wasn't an existing ASL translation of "Spring Awakening" so they worked a lot with the cast members and their ASL expert.  Given ASL is more conceptual language, they had many options for translation, and worked through a lot of possibilities to see what worked best with the choreography.

They also said working on this had made them more aware of accessibility issues, whether it was the number of buildings that aren't wheelchair accessible, or that deaf people can't currently spontaneously go to a show and expect that it will be captioned or interpreted. 

The panel on being out in the theater featured folks with a fascinating range of experience.  Ariana Debose has played things like the Main Player in "Pippin" and is now part of the ensemble in "Hamilton" and really likes playing roles that are both masculine and feminine but found that after she did an interview with her girlfriend for "Playbill" she was getting called for a lot more lesbian roles. Fredi Walker-Browne was being called for earth mother type stuff, until she did "Rent" and then suddenly, it was urban lesbians.  Roberta Colindrez said as a Latina, she got called for a lot of hookers and cops.  Maggie Keenan-Bolger talked about the youth theater she had founded and how being outside the traditional broadway structure allowed them to cast differently, to tell different stories.

And audience member, who was Lebanese, asked if they had suggestions for how to handle or possibly avoid being typecast as an Arabic girl.  The panel as one, said, oh, it will happen.  They also said figure out what you need to do to pay your bills, what you are willing to put up with, and also figure out where and when are you going to push back.  If a casting director asks you to be more ethnic, or more something, you can live with it, or you can push back.  Figure out what you will do.

Then it was time for the opening ceremonies.  The room was packed to capacity.  (I understand they were simulcasting for the folks who couldn't even get in. 

There was a whole mini-play with Dani, our intrepid heroine, who tried to convince her drama club to put on a BroadwayCon.  There were songs, there were oodles of references.  It was amazing.  I lost track of the people I recognized and I'm sure I missed a ton. 

Ben Vereen walked across the stage and waved.  Ben.  Vereen. 

We went up to the balcony for the panel with the cast of "Hamilton".  Yeah.  That's right.  I breathed the same air as Ben Vereen and Lin Manuel Miranda in the same day. 

LMM (it's cool, I just call him that now) said there were so many fascinating things about Hamilton's life, and for as many things that they did cover, there were so many more that he still kind wished he could have squeezed in.  For example, Hamilton thought it was Monroe who started the rumors about Maria Reynolds and Hamilton was ready to challenge him to a duel and Burr intervened.  Also the tidbit about Burr being Maria Reynolds' divorce lawyer.

Daveed Diggs did a lot of reading about Jefferson (and I assume Lafayette) but found that Jefferson's life had such immense privilege, being carried around as a baby on a pillow by slaves, but that this freed (no pun intended) him up to think about very lofty things, like how best to design a newfangled government. 

Renee Elise Goldsberry was recognized on the subway by someone who only knew her from the BET cypher so assumed she was some kind of rapper, which made her day.

They talked Philippa Soo into beatboxing so the LMM could freestyle a little rap about BroadwayCon.  This is available online.  As a note, the panel was being closed-captioned.  There were screens up on either side of the stage, and one facing the stage.  At one point, a crucial p was dropped from the word rapping, which led to the audience making a noise, which led to the panel looking out to see what we were making noise, and well, it all got back on track, but there is a reference to that in the rap. 

Leslie Odom, Jr. said it's fascinating to take over an existing role, because the prior performers have left something in the theater, it seeps into the wood of the stage and you can feel it as you walk across it.  But that it's also amazing to know that you have started something that other people will come in an do, and they will feel bits of you in what they try to do.

LMM also said he found the fact that we're still debating so many of the same topics today somewhat hopeful, that it meant these issues and arguments were baked into the foundation of our country.

Renee Elise Goldsberry was also asked to comment on that, since she'd been part of the closing cast of "Rent" and they were going to be there later, and she had an adorable moment of awe, touching her chair, wondering which "Rent" cast member would sit in it.

The "Rent" panel included Cynthia O'Neal, who founded Friends In Deed a support group.  Jonathan Larson had told her he wanted to hang out there for a thing he was working on, but she said the workshop was in the middle of winter, and it was the other side of town, and it was snowy, and she almost didn't go, and her husband said go.  So she went, and she cried when she saw the support group scene, and she was so glad she had gone to see this amazing thing.   Walker-Browne had taken another job, but when she got offered "Rent" it was the same time commitment, same money, but a better commute, so she took "Rent". 

Wilson Jermaine Heredia, liked singing and acting, but hadn't really thought of himself as a musical theater person, because the music didn't sound like him.  (They then reminded the young folks, that a rock opera was a newish thing back then.)  But he listened to some sample tracks, and wanted in.

Marlies Yearby is a choreographer and she talked about meeting all these cast members with information in their bodies.  (Choreographers clearly view us very differently.)

Daphne Rubin-Vega was convinced she'd blown the audition.  There was discussion of how Jesse L. Martin kept missing rehearsals because he had a play and they had to drag him down and get him to sit through enough that he was hooked.  Rubin-Vega then pulled out her phone and video chatted Martin, showing him the panel (adorably, he was all, hi everyone, oh this looks so great, Wilson!  Hi, Wilson!) and then the audience.  We then sang happy birthday to him.