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On the Erie County cultural funding debate

This morning on WECK 1230, Loraine O'Donnell interviewed a number of people on the Western New York cultural scene about Erie County Executive Chris Collins' recent decision to cut funding for 33 local cultural groups (including myself).

Listen to the interviews here.

--Colin Dabkowski

Goodbye Tony; Farewell Arthur

Tony Curtis is the only movie star--male or female--who ever called me "darling" through an entire interview.

Yes, the entire interview. And yes, it was more than a little disconcerting.

I had a long talk with Curtis on the phone in 1993 before he came to Buffalo to read from "Tony Curtis: The Autobiography "in 1993 as part of the Jewish Book Fair. "Darling" notwithstanding, he couldn't have been more likable, even though he did leave me with the thought that, yes, Hollywood people are often very different from the rest of us.

I had an even longer telephone interview with Arthur Penn eight years earlier on the occasion of the release of "Target", one of the negligible and unmemorable films from his final period.

Both Curtis and Penn died well into their 80's this week. They were remarkable figures entirely different but united sometimes by the world's frequent reluctance to recognize how very good and important they were. Here are some excerpts from both interviews:

TONY CURTIS

On the idea that his stardom was so excessive that he''d been an "underrated" actor his whole life: "In the history of an actor, if you can count on one hand--or even half of one hand--memorable pictures, that's a lot. I've done about 20. I've never understood what this underrated bull---- is about. In no way, shape or form have I lived an underrated life as an actor. I've had the most wonderful parts in some outstanding films from 'Trapeze' all the down to 'Kings Go Forth' up to 'Some Like It Hot' around the corner to 'The Great Race' down to 'The Vikings' and then up to 'The Defiant Ones.' It's that not easy to accumulate films that are of high quality because of the people you work with, the director you work with, the producer, the person who wrote the script, the amount of money the studio spends on it. And there's no way of judging something before." (Great Curtis performances unmentioned in the above Tour De Tony onscreen: in "The Outsider" directed by Delbert Mann in 1961 and as Albert de Salvo in "The Boston Strangler" by Richard Fleischer in 1968, two of the least typical and most impressive performances in his life.)

On the stages of his life and how old age looked to him: "The living experience is the living experience. You cannot use anybody's else's places as your measuring sticks, those are only little nuggets in life. The sky is blue when you're 2 or 22 or 82. The last breath you take, if it's during the daytime, there will be clouds in the sky...Listen I'm happily married, I've got a beautiful wife and we're on our honeymoon, so I've got nothing to complain about. I take care of myself...I've got the most wonderful stimulating life. I'm 68 years old. I'm on my feet all day long. I run around. I have wonderful friends and wonderful living experiences. And I'm recognized all over the world by people who treat with much love and admiratiion. With all this there's nothing I can find that's demeaning or depressing...
"I'm tellng you, I'm lucky to be me. when I was a kid, I wanted to be Tony Curtis and that's exactly who I am."

ARTHUR PENN

On the enormous influence of his films and people who've lifted from them outright (the slow motion violence in "Bonnie and Clyde" became, for instance, a thematic device in Peckinpah's "Wild Bunch"): "Mostly I'm flattered by it. I've certainly done my share of it with Kurosawa and Welles when I could."

His least favorite film, as of 1985. " The Chase'. But that's probably an act of vanity. I didn't edit it and it looks alien to me."

On the commercial failure of one of his best films "Night Moves": "In a way, it's kind of a dark yarn, perhaps a bit too somber. What happened to it was that the studio didn't like the film. They didn't even want to release it...I think, though, had it had proper distribution, it could have been another Bonnie and Clyde."

On no longer being the 40-something director who changed the film-making world with "Bonnie and Clyde": "Lillian Hellman once said to me once that the only charge you can't defend yourself against is being old-fashioned."

--Jeff Simon   

Thursday Theater Roundup

In the wake of the seriously unsettling and hotly criticized news that Erie County Executive Chris Collins plans to slash funding to every single theater (and many other local cultural groups) in the county, now might be a good time to survey the landscape of worthy theatrical productions happening across the city.

Yes, it's our weekly Thursday Theatre Roundup -- which, if Collins has his way, may be looking a lot slimmer come next fall. (But, given the unassailable momentum of the local arts community and its manifold survivalistic instincts, probably not.) Below, we list the local productions our reviewers have flagged as their faves:

"The Pride," through Oct. 9 in the Buffalo United Artists Theatre. From the review: "...one of Campbell’s many skills as a playwright is seamlessly weaving together the characters in a way that drives his point thoroughly home. His writing, though it sometimes leans too heavily on one or another melodramatic formula, is at once utterly believable and infused with a sweet and rhythmic poetry that puts one in mind of Tony Kushner." --Colin Dabkowski

"Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill," through Oct. 10 in the Paul Robeson Theatre. From the review: "Joyce Carolyn tells Billie [Holiday's] story on stage at the Paul Robeson Theatre in Lanie Robertson’s biographical revue, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” She does so carefully, and with respect for the material of this household name. Where many resort to impersonation, Carolyn gives her interpretation of that raspy, caged voice. Occasionally a note or trill sneaks in the fragility of Holiday’s vibrato, but never without musical merit and hardly in abundance... The same cannot be said for Robertson's script." --Ben Siegel

Irish Classical 


Brian Mysliwy and Patrick Moltane in the Irish Classical Theatre Company's production of "The Cant." Photo by Bill Wippert / Buffalo News.

"The Cant," EXTENDED THROUGH OCT. 8 in the Andrews Theatre in an Irish Classical Theatre Company production. From the review: "...a well-plotted thriller that gets to the heart of the Irish Traveller’s intrinsic sorrow, their abuse at the hands of the powerful and the survivalistic instincts that keep them forever on the run." --Colin Dabkowski

"Trace," through Oct. 10 in the Adam Mickiewicz Dramatic Circle in a Torn Space Theater production. From the review: "Like [Dan Shanahan's] previous pieces, the consumerist critique “Stivale” and the horrifying quasi-mystery 'AREA,' the piece occupies a fertile realm somewhere between visual art and performance. It includes the odd piece of pointed dialogue ('I have come to accept in these hours the rules of efficient terror,' one character says), but more often derives its haunting and visceral power from the indelible and thoroughly unsettling images it creates." --Colin Dabkowski

"Ruined," through Oct. 10 in TheatreLoft in a Ujima Theatre Company production. From the review: "Inspired in part by Bertolt Brecht’s 'Mother Courage and Her Children,' Nottage’s play is an exploration of the way in which men’s battles, as its characters demonstrate with unsettling clarity, play out on the bodies of women. Though the pulsating poetry of Nottage’s writing spins off on rare occasions into the realm of melodrama, the play manages to sustain a near-constant tone of realism and tension that kidnaps our attention and doesn’t let go until long after the final word of dialogue is spoken." --Colin Dabkowski

Road less traveled play 01

Natalie Mack, Matt Witten, Kelly Meg Brennan and Luke Wager in Road Less Traveled Productions' "The Couple Next Door." Photo by Robert Kirkham / Buffalo News.

"The Couple Next Door," through Oct. 3 in the Road Less Traveled Theater. From the review: "'The Couple Next Door' is the winner of the Emanuel Fried New Play Workshop. Playwright Hoke can write: dialogue flows naturally, real people saying real things, albeit sex-crazed f-bombs. Abrupt ending aside, the story has verve, it lives and breathes. Stellar ensemble work by actors Brennan, Wager, Witten and Mack, each having their say, difficult roles all, cast chemistry very evident." --Ted Hadley

"Mookie Cranks a Tater," through Oct. 2 in the Alleyway Theatre. From the review: "Palka has written a very funny play, situationally and every other way. Stay alert for wry and wacky comments on a variety of subjects, sex and sexuality, of course, but also politics, pretense, our weaknesses and fears and what Palka calls the 'discoveries of the human condition.' Be prepared to laugh it up." --Ted Hadley

And, of course, the Shaw Festival goes on, through the beginning of November, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Check out our listing of recommended Shaw Fest shows here.

Collins cuts and Beyond/In

COLLINS

County Executive Chris Collins. Buffalo News file photo.

Today, the cultural community of Western New York awoke to some of the worst news it's seen in years. County Executive Chris Collins announced that he would cut cultural funding completely for 31 small and mid-sized arts organizations in his 2011 budget. For some background, read Matt Spina's story here and look for my column, which will appear in Sunday's Spotlight section.

One point that needs to be made right off the bat about Collins' move has to do with Beyond/In Western New York, the mammoth international art exhibition which kicked off last weekend. This is a project that grew out of a collaboration among small, medium and large cultural organizations across Western New York, and which has already drawn large number of cultural tourists to the area and promises to continue doing so throughout its three-month run.

It was a genuinely democratic project that Collins supported with county dollars. (UPDATE: That money, which Collins said he had pledged in a June interview, was not provided. Collins spokesperson Grant Loomis said that the county money was contingent on Beyond/In Western New York organizers getting funding from the City of Buffalo, which the organization was not able to secure.) But it would never have been imaginable, much less possible, without county funding for small and mid-size galleries like Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, El Museo Gallery, Buffalo Arts Studio, Squeaky Wheel and many other groups that use vital county dollars to leverage and pull in support from outside funding sources.

To many, this smacks just ever so slightly of hypocrisy, and seems to be yet another example of how Western New York politicians find innovative ways to shoot themselves in the foot and stunt the region's potential growth. As Hallwalls curator John Massier put it in a Facebook status update:

"Last Friday, I stood on the observation deck at City Hall and heard the Mayor make the point that there were NO HOTEL ROOMS available for the coming weekend, as a result of the Beyond/In WNY 2010 project, clear evidence of the value of cultural activityy. Five days after the Mayor gave us two thumbs up, the County Executive has given us the finger."

--Colin Dabkowski

Rochester to host Black Mountain North Symposium

The influence of Black Mountain College upon the experimental arts tradition in upstate New York will be the focus of the Black Mountain North Symposium, a three-day conference and festival of the arts in Rochester from Friday through Oct.3rd. 

The symposium, sponsored by Rochester Institute of Technology and two venerable Rochester-based arts organizations -- Writers and Books and the Visual Studies Workshop -- will focus on the legacy of the experimental, interdisciplinary liberal arts college located in the Southern Appalachians of western North Carolina from its founding in 1933 to its demise in 1957. Of particular interest will be the period from 1951 to 1956 when the seminal poet/thinker Charles Olson, later of the University at Buffalo, was the rector of Black Mountain College and Robert Creeley, who would later also become a central figure in American poetry and the co-founder of the UB Poetics Program, taught at the college and became editor of The Black Mountain Review.

 

It is also one of several conferences coinciding with the centenary celebration of the birth of Charles Olson, the next of which will be Olson at the Century: A Symposium to be held Oct. 14 to Oct. 16 in Buffalo as sponsored by the UB Poetics Program.


The Rochester symposium will feature poetry and visual arts panels focusing on the work of the key figures associated with the college -- such luminaries as Buckmaster Fuller, Robert Duncan, Franz Kline, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Joel Oppenheimer, and Robert Rauschenberg as well as the composer John Cage and dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham -- along with readings and several interdisciplinary performances. 

 

Among the featured speakers and performers at the symposium are legendary poet/musician/activist Ed Sanders, Penelope Creeley, Buffalo State College-based poet-scholar David Landrey, Albert Glover, Black Mountain historian Mary Emma Harris, Black Mountain College alumni Martha Rittenhouse Treichler, Basil King, and Martha King.

 

Also scheduled to present papers, participate in panel discussions, or read from their work are such current or former members of the Buffalo area literary community as Stephen Baraban, Michael Boughn, Barbara Cass Clarke, Geoffrey Gatza, Kaplan Harris, Michael Kelleher, Margaret Konkol, Mary Richert, and the conference organizer, RIT professor John Roche.

 

You can view the updated program of the  Black Mountain North Symposium events and their locations as well as learn more about the participants and performers in the symposium, the history of Black Mountain College, and its numerous ties to the artistic and cultural legacy of our region at Black Mountain North .org.

 

--R.D. Pohl

Thursday Theater Roundup

The fall theater season is in full swing at more than a dozen area venues, where productions that opened on Curtain Up! or shortly thereafter will remain on view for the next couple of weeks. Check out our weekly list of productions recommended by our theater reviewers below, and we'll see you at the theater:

"Terra Nova," through Sept. 25 in the William E. Swan Auditorium at Hilbert College in a Buffalo Laboratory Theatre production. From the review: "There is little action and much talk, but the story is compelling, a fascinating retelling of a famed moment in history. Tally takes some liberties but the added pieces seem to fit. It’s a mesmerizing, inspiring tale of purpose and perseverance." --Ted Hadley

Irish Classical 

Brian Mysliwy and Patrick Moltane in the Irish Classical Theatre Company's production of "The Cant." Photo by Bill Wippert / Buffalo News.

"The Cant," through Oct. 3 in the Andrews Theatre in an Irish Classical Theatre Company production. From the review: "...a well-plotted thriller that gets to the heart of the Irish Traveller’s intrinsic sorrow, their abuse at the hands of the powerful and the survivalistic instincts that keep them forever on the run." --Colin Dabkowski

"Trace," through Oct. 10 in the Adam Mickiewicz Dramatic Circle in a Torn Space Theater production. From the review: "Like [Dan Shanahan's] previous pieces, the consumerist critique “Stivale” and the horrifying quasi-mystery 'AREA,' the piece occupies a fertile realm somewhere between visual art and performance. It includes the odd piece of pointed dialogue ('I have come to accept in these hours the rules of efficient terror,' one character says), but more often derives its haunting and visceral power from the indelible and thoroughly unsettling images it creates." --Colin Dabkowski

"Ruined," through Oct. 10 in TheatreLoft in a Ujima Theatre Company production. From the review: "Inspired in part by Bertolt Brecht’s 'Mother Courage and Her Children,' Nottage’s play is an exploration of the way in which men’s battles, as its characters demonstrate with unsettling clarity, play out on the bodies of women. Though the pulsating poetry of Nottage’s writing spins off on rare occasions into the realm of melodrama, the play manages to sustain a near-constant tone of realism and tension that kidnaps our attention and doesn’t let go until long after the final word of dialogue is spoken." --Colin Dabkowski

Road less traveled play 01

Natalie Mack, Matt Witten, Kelly Meg Brennan and Luke Wager in Road Less Traveled Productions' "The Couple Next Door." Photo by Robert Kirkham / Buffalo News.

"The Couple Next Door," through Oct. 3 in the Road Less Traveled Theater. From the review: "'The Couple Next Door' is the winner of the Emanuel Fried New Play Workshop. Playwright Hoke can write: dialogue flows naturally, real people saying real things, albeit sex-crazed f-bombs. Abrupt ending aside, the story has verve, it lives and breathes. Stellar ensemble work by actors Brennan, Wager, Witten and Mack, each having their say, difficult roles all, cast chemistry very evident." --Ted Hadley

"Mookie Cranks a Tater," through Oct. 2 in the Alleyway Theatre. From the review: "Palka has written a very funny play, situationally and every other way. Stay alert for wry and wacky comments on a variety of subjects, sex and sexuality, of course, but also politics, pretense, our weaknesses and fears and what Palka calls the 'discoveries of the human condition.' Be prepared to laugh it up." --Ted Hadley

And, of course, the Shaw Festival goes on, through the beginning of November, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. Check out our listing of recommended Shaw Fest shows here.

 

The life of Oscar Wilde replayed onstage

Leslie Clark, of the Paris-based Dear Conjunction Theatre Company, performs a play based on the life of Oscar Wilde in the University at Buffalo's Center for the Arts.

Earlier this week, as I glanced over the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts website in preparation for tomorrow's Gusto cover story on its upcoming season, I came across a surprising listing for a show about Oscar Wilde that will be performed tonight and Friday in the CFA's Drama Theatre.

Because I wasn't able to fit that into tomorrow's preview, I wanted to make a mention of it. The show, "More Lives Than One," is presented by the Dear Conjunction Theatre Company, a bilungual outfit based in Paris. Performer Leslie Clark plays Wilde, and takes audiences on a tour of his sometimes charmed, sometimes tragic life using excerpts from his plays and famous quotations. Here's a review of Clark's performance of the show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

--Colin Dabkowski

Shaw Festival announces 2011 season

Fans of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. have until Nov. 14 -- when the last performance of "Harvey" hits the stage of the Royal George Theatre -- to catch a play from its eclectic 2010 season. But this week, those who've had their fill of Shavian (and not so Shavian) theatre for this year can now start planning for next summer's season, detailed in the Shaw Fest's recently announced 2011 season.

Here's a rundown of what's on tap for next summer:

•Three plays by George Bernard Shaw: "Heartbreak House," "Candida," and, perhaps controversially, "On the Rocks," in which Shaw seems to advocte for the practical application of eugenics.

•"My Fair Lady" by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner, based on Shaw's "Pygmalion." The show was produced earlier this year by MusicalFare Theatre.

•"Maria Severa," an original musical by Shaw vets by Jay Turvey and Paul Sportelli. Their last collaboration was the uneven "Tristan" in 2007.

•"The Admirable Crichton" by "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie

•"Drama at Inish: A Comedy" by Lennox Robinson

•"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" by Tennessee Williams

•"The President" by Ferenc Molnar, produced in 2007 at the Shaw to huge crowds. Read my rave review of the 2007 production here.

•"Topdog/Underdog" by Suszan-Lori Parks and "When the Rain Stops Falling" by Andrew Bovell. These are part of the Shaw's new series of contemporary plays produced in its Studio Theatre.

Read more details about the Shaw's upcoming season in the official press release here.

--Colin Dabkowski

 

73 Poems for 73 Years: James Mason University honors Lucille Clifton

This evening brings yet another high-profile posthumous tribute to Lucille Clifton, the Buffalo area native and National Book Award winning poet, who died on Feb. 13. 

The Furious Flower Poetry Center at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., in conjunction with the Steger Creative Writing Prize Foundation at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va., are presenting "73 Poems for 73 Years: Celebrating the Life of Lucille Clifton" at 7 p.m. tonight in Wilson Hall Auditorium of James Mason University in Harrisburg.

Among the 73 scheduled participants in the program are such luminaries as Elizabeth Alexander, Amiri Baraka, Amini Baraka, Alexia Clifton, Peter Conners, Fred D'Aguiar, Rita Dove, Nikki Giovanni, Michael Glaser, Lucinda Roy, Sonia Sanchez and Kevin Young.

Clifton was the first African-American woman poet to receive the prestigious Ruth Lily Prize for career achievement in American poetry from the Poetry Foundation, and on April 1 was awarded the Frost Centennial Medal posthumously by the Poetry Society of America. The former Poet Laureate of the State of Maryland and three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, Clifton won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2000 for her collection Blessing the Boats: New and Collected Poems 1988-2000, published by the Rochester-based independent publisher BOA Editions.

--R.D. Pohl

On Alissa Nutting's "Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls"

I am boiling inside a kettle with five other people. Our limbs are bound and our intestines and mouths are stuffed with herbs and garlic, but we can still speak. We smell great despite the pain...

When space on earth became very limited, it was declared all people had to host another organism on inside their bodies...

My boyfriend Ginno is a pro bowler. It is not as glamorous as it doesn't sound. I was on the streets for a long time so I took the first chance I got to settle down. Ginno doesn't know I'm really a man, but other than that we're completely honest with one another... 

These sentences are from the opening paragraphs of three of the stories in Alissa Nutting's debut collection, Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, winner of the Sixth Annual Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction as chosen by Ben Marcus. At 8 tonight, she'll join Los Angeles-based poet Will Alexander as featured guests of Just Buffalo Literary Center's season opening BIG NIGHT! event at the Western New York Book Arts Center, 468 Washington St. (near Mohawk). 

Continue reading "On Alissa Nutting's "Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls"" »

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