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Kavinoky Theatre snags a series of grants

The cast of the Kavinoky Theatre's 2009 production of "The Farnsworth Invention." Photo by Robert Kirkham / The Buffalo News.

Last week, the Kavinoky Theatre (currently running a remount of its popular 2005 production of "Always... Patsy Cline") announced that it had received a series of three recent grants from local and national foundations.

Grant-hunting has long been a normal way of life for small theaters and arts groups like the Kavinoky, which draw their income from a wide range of public and private sources, but it's rare that so many come in at once. It's a good sign for the Kav, whose managing director, Joseph Demerly, noted that one of the grants, a $10,000 unrestricted gift from the Shubert Foundation, had previously gone to the now-defunct Studio Arena Theatre.

The theater also received an $8,000 grant from the local George C. and Elizabeth G. Smith Foundation, as well as a $10,000 grant earlier this year from the Lorinda McAndrew Voelke Foundation of New Jersey. The grants are unrestricted, Demerly said, and will be used for general operating support.

--Colin Dabkowski


Comedian Paula Poundstone to perform in Jamestown

Comedian Paula Poundstone will perform at 8 p.m. Aug. 6 in the Reg Lenna Civic Center (116 E. 3rd St., Jamestown).

Tickets are $15-$30 and are available through the box office or online at

For more information, call 484-7070.

New views of Nancy Rubins' new Albright-Knox sculpture

Yesterday, News photographer Harry Scull spent quite a while capturing Nancy Rubns' explosive new sculpture outside the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Just two of those excellent photos made it into the paper today -- one on the front page and one on the picture page -- so here are a few more angles:

Albright Art

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Is it a novel, a TV series, or a "polyphonic narrative"?

This past week we learned that Booker Prize winning novelist Salman Rushdie now considers the cable television drama series his primary (if not preferred) medium for "widely communicating ideas and stories."  The author of "Midnight's Children" (1981), "The Satanic Verses" (1988), and "Shalimar the Clown" (2005), who visited  Buffalo's Kleinhans Music Hall in April of 2010 to deliver a BABEL Series lecture, told an interviewer from the Sunday Observer, "I'm in this position where, for the first time in my writing life, I don't have a novel on the go, but I have a movie [Director Director Deepa Mehta version of 'Midnight's Children'] and a memoir and a TV series."

While promoting his upcoming Showtime cable TV science-fiction series "The Next People," Rushdie cited David Simon's "The Wire," David Chase's "The Sopranos," Aaron Sorkin's "The West Wing," and Matthew Weiner's "Mad Men" as examples of storytelling that employed the long arc of narrative development that is closer to what novelists do than the compression and visual dramatization of narrative that feature film-makers employ.

"It's like the best of both worlds," Rushdie told The Observer. "You can work in movie style productions, but have proper control."  Rushdie's US agents also suggested that he would have more creative influence over a cable TV series with "an almost feature-film budget" than he would over a feature-film script with almost any director. "They said to me that what I should really think about is a TV series, because what has happened in America is that the quality – or the writing quality – of movies has gone down the plughole," he added.

Rushdie is not the only writer with a trophy case full of major literary awards who is considering the cable television series as a platform for their work.  In April, fiction writer Jennifer Egan  reportedly closed a deal with HBO to adapt her 2011 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award winning "A Visit From the Goon Squad" (Alfred A. Knopf) into a dramatic series.

While not an avowedly "experimental" novel, Egan's book does employ over dozen central and peripheral narrators telling a series of "entangled stories" that move back and forth in time focusing on the lives of two principal characters--a male record producer and his younger female assistant--through five decades of personal and societal change that becomes something of a mediation on how we experience time itself (one of her models was Proust's "In Search of Lost Time") using a form Egan sometimes refers to as "polyphonic narrative."

This past Sunday, Egan was a featured guest on the Wisconsin Public Radio series "To the Best of Our Knowledge" in a program exploring non-linear approaches to storytelling called Novel Novels. Among the highlights of interviewer Steve Paulson's 17-minute discussion with Egan are her explanation of how familiarity with the genre of the 1970s rock concept album--she mentions David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" and The Who's "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia"-- helped her shape a collage-type narrative in which widely disparate pieces contribute to some larger sense of a non-sequential theme or movement quite apart from the individual voices and stories.

Her decision to write one character's story in the form of a transliterated PowerPoint presentation is one of the most talked about innovations of the book, but in this interview Egan discusses how the mock-professional formalism of the piece paradoxically serves a vehicle for strong emotional content she might otherwise have difficulty conveying in a way that was not stylized or sentimental.

As she elaborates, the ostensible subject of the character's somewhat obsessive PowerPoint presentation is the function of pauses in rock 'n' roll songs.  The method of its presentation involves establishing a counterpoint between discrete moments of individualized anecdotal experience and the pauses during which we process that information.  That now-familiar method of organizing information mirrors the book's structure and makes us acutely aware of the passage of time, not merely as a "theme" of the book, but also as a fundamental condition of the process of our reading it.

When the 2011 Pulitzer fiction committee recently hailed Egan's book as "an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed" they were also implicitly making an admission about how rapidly technological change has altered our contemporary ideas about human consciousness, point-of-view, and even our subjective experience of time over the past half century.  They might have added--although they didn't--that fiction and the novel as a genre have struggled to keep pace.

Literature's job, in some sense, is to reflect those changes in human consciousness, even as it reminds us that our mortality is an unalterable fact.  As Egan has made a point of saying, readers who credit her with "reinventing the novel" should take a serious second look at the truly radical narrative innovations of Cervantes, Sterne, Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf.  Still, the widespread praise and acceptance "A Visit From the Goon Squad" has received is an indication that contemporary readers are less resistant to new narrative forms than the mainstream publishing industry has long maintained.

--R.D. Pohl  

Chautauqua Morning Lecture Platform starts June 26

The 2011 Morning Lecture Platform at the Chautauqua Institute begins June 26 and continues through Aug. 26. Following is the schedule and list of confirmed speakers.

Week One: "Global Health and Development as Foreign Policy." Confirmed speakers are Paul Farmer, June 27; Sandra Thurman, June 28; John Hamre, June 29; Helene Gayle and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, June 30.

Week Two: "Applied Ethics: Government and the Search for the Common Good." Confirmed speakers are Jim Leach, July 4; Bill Purcell, July 5; David Gergen, July 6; Theodore Olson, July 7; Michael Sandel, July 8.

Week Three: "American Intelligence: Technology, Espionage, Alliances." Confirmed speakers are Peter Earnest, July 11; Bruce Reidel, July 12; Stella Rimington, July 13; David Ignatius, July 14; R. James Woolsey, July 15.

Week Four: "A Case for the Arts." Confirmed speakers are Rocco Landesman, July 18; Stanley Fish, July 19; Susan Stamberg, July 20; Barbara Smith Conrad, July 21; Robert L. Lynch, July 22.

Week Five: "21st Century Women: The Road to Social and Economic Growth." Confirmed speakers are Adrienne Germain, July 25; Isobel Coleman, July 26; Farhana Qazi, July 27; Hawa Abdi, July 28; Mary Landrieu, July 29.

Week Six: "Iran: From Ancient Persia to Middle East Powder Keg." Confirmed speakers are Robin Wright, Aug. 1; Azar Nafisi, Aug. 2; Nicholas Burns Aug. 3; Farideh Farhi, Aug. 4; Hossein Mousavian, Aug. 5.

Week Seven: "The U.S. Economy: Beyond a Quick Fix." Confirmed speakers are John A. Koskinen, Aug. 8; Bethany McLean, Aug. 10; John M. Stropki, Aug. 11; Fred Bergsten, Aug. 12.

Week Eight: "Sparking a Culture of Creativity and Innovation." Confirmed speakers are Gary Shapiro, Aug. 15; Dev Patnaik, Aug. 16; Col. Casey Haskins, Aug. 17; Joan Abrahamson, Aug. 18; George Kembel, Aug. 19.

Week Nine: "The Path to the Civil War." Confirmed speakers are Gordon Wood, Aug. 22; Clement Price, Aug. 23; Edward Ayers, Aug. 24; Daniel Walker Howe, Aug. 25; Melissa Harris-Perry, Aug. 26.

For more information, visit

Review 'The Jeffs Live' video chat debut

News Arts Editor Jeff Simon and Pop Music Critic Jeff Miers answered questions directly into the camera today in addition to a traditional live chat

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Thursday Theater Roundup

Here's our weekly roundup (Shaw Fest-heavy, as usual for this time of year) of our reviewers' favorite productions:

Greg Howze as Dawud, left, and Xavier Harris as Insidious in rehearsal for Insidious at the Road Less Traveled Theater. Photographed on Monday, July 12, 2010.  Photo by Bill Wippert

"Insidious," through July 10 in the Road Less Traveled Theatre, a repeat performance from the show's 2010 run. From the review: " 'Insidious' manages to investigate bisexuality, addiction and recovery, infidelity and self-delusion, all while sustaining a level of suspense that keeps audience members leaning forward in their seats. Though the play occasionally strikes a moralistic tone -- especially as it applies to the dangers of unsafe sex, an area where a didactic approach is understandable -- it stays largely focused on the heartbreaking plight of its protagonist." --Colin Dabkowski

At the Shaw Festival:

Corrine Koslo as Constance Constantia and Thom Marriott as Hector de la Mare in "Drama at Inish: A Comedy." Photo by David Cooper.

"Drama at Inish: A Comedy," through Oct 1 in the Court House Theatre. From the review (coming tomorrow): "The production, directed by Jackie Maxwell with an innate understanding of the piece's lighthearted nature and its need for a light touch, is as appealing as the script. Maxwell coaxes phenomenal comic performances from Corrine Koslo and Thom Marriott, the self-besotted actors who take their mission with deadly seriousness. Mary Haney's performance of the put-upon innkeeper Lizzie is a brilliant, frenetic combination of Kristen Wiig and Lily Tomlin transported unawares to the Irish seaside." --Colin Dabkowski

Gray Powell as Brick, Jim Mezon as Big Daddy and Corrine Koslo as Big Mama in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Photo by Emily Cooper.

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," through Oct. 23 in the Royal George Theatre. From the review: "Jim Mezon, the actor who plays Big Daddy, imbues his character with a special mix of nasty, unbridled rage and crazed hope, the two poles between which any production of "Cat" worth its spit violently and relentlessly swing. This production, directed with a passionate sensibility and the odd flicker of restraint by Eda Holmes, allows Williams' characters to lay themselves bare without the interference of a "fresh" interpretation. The play... bastes itself in the sweat of its own melodrama until it cooks into something far greater than the sum of its ingredients." --Colin Dabkowski

Members of the Ensemble in "My Fair Lady." Photo by David Cooper.

"My Fair Lady," through Oct. 30 in the Festival Theatre. From the review: "Molly Smith, director of the Shaw Festival's new production, seems bent on jazzing all this up in ways we've never seen before. Much of it works very well. Benedict Campbell carries the role of the aloof, scholarly, self-centered Higgins with marvelous consistency, striding the stage in well-practiced patterns that still seem spontaneous, and singing with fine projection of both voice and emotions. Opposite him, Deborah Hay makes Eliza's gradual conversion to a faux aristocrat very convincing. She succeeds dramatically, visually and vocally, in both Cockney squalor and upper-crust elegance." --Herman Trotter

Michael Ball as Captain Shotover, Robin Evan Willis as Ellie Dunn and Patricia Hamilton as Nurse Guinness in "Heartbreak House." Photo by David Cooper.

"Heartbreak House," through Oct. 7 in the Festival Theatre. From the review: "In Christopher Newton's engrossing, impeccably staged production, the play's skeleton crew of eccentrics amble around their vaguely nautical environs for three hours and wax poetic on subjects ranging from the use of one's soul to our conflicting desires for pleasure and purpose. No need to get seasick at the prospect of sitting through the show, though. That Shaw's weighty themes remain so captivating across the evening is a testament both to the comic force of his writing and the talents of Newton's cast, who bring characters that might have been stodgy bores in lesser hands to scintillating life." --Colin Dabkowski

Vincent O'Neill on 'Playboy of the Western World'

"Playboy of the Western World," John Millington Synge's masterful comedy is currently playing in the Andrews Theatre in a production of the Irish Classical Theatre Company. Last year, News videographer Joseph Popiolkowski and I sat down with ICTC director Vincent O'Neill to chat about the play. Take a look:

--Colin Dabkowski

Hot summer opera

Trovatore Gearing up for Nickel City Opera's production of Verdi's "Il Trovatore," I found this video of Valerian Ruminski, the NCO chief, singing a scene from Act I  with Opera de Montreal.

Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

This performance is really impressive! Ruminski sells the music. He sings it as if it the most important thing in the world and as if he feels every word. The video is of a concert performance -- but he is in the character. In the moment. In the zone.

I am just thinking this off the top of my head but it seems to me that this aria, this song, whatever you want to call it, sort of sets the stage for the ominous action to come. A lot depends on the intensity a singer brings to it. If you just flip it off as if it's nothing, it makes the story trivial. If you give it musical and psychological depth, it becomes something thrilling.

It also seems to me that the great challenge of "Il Trovatore" is to make it dark and thrilling, not convoluted and ridiculous. "Trovatore" has a twisted plot which makes it an irresistible target for jokes. It was the opera at the center of the Marx Brothers' "A Night At the Opera," which says all you need to know about that.

This cool preview from London's Royal Opera House gives an idea of the opera's melodramatic elements. Wow. It also makes me want to see the show!

You need careful direction for a successful "Il Trovatore." You need great singers and total commitment. Which makes me think: If the rest of Ruminski's team at Nickel City Opera follows his lead, this production should be a good one.

Plan ahead, because summer is a busy time! Nickel City Opera stages "Il Trovatore" at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda at 8 p.m. June 24 and 2:30 p.m. June 26.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman


Meet Shea Hembrey

This TED talk, just posted today, features a wildly imaginative project by artist Shea Hembrey, who "became" 100 different artists in order to produce a piece that lampoons and explores the concept of the international art biennial. Take a look:

--Colin Dabkowski

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