Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Final Project Idea

        For my final project I hope to focus on Tyler, the Creator, an American rapper and the alternative hip-hop collective he leads known as Odd Future. Tyler has many critics, who accuse him for portraying graphic violence and homophobia in his lyrics. The purpose of this profile piece is to address the lyrics and the people behind them.

            OF is not a typical hip-hop group, rather than rap about money, hoes, and rims, OFWGKTA's songs are a bizarre mix of grotesque imagery, close friendships and sex. In other words, they talk about exactly what every other teenager in America talks about. 
          What I find most impressive about OFWGKTA is how they are creating an entirely new aesthetic seemingly as they go. At the center of all this innovation is Tyler, who acts as the groups graphic designer, music video director, head of merchandising, and producer. Impressive considering until this year he couldn't get served at a bar.

          I want to rely heavily on the many interviews Tyler has given and make the argument that despite his dirty mouth and 'fuck it all' attitude, there is more to him than just shock value. While Drake might have coined the term 'yolo', Tyler lives it. He is young, rich, and famous, and doesn't ever want to grow up.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Oscars 2013

         The 2013 Academy Awards attracted some of the biggest and brightest stars of the film industry, and in doing so failed to deliver any big surprises. The three and a half our live television event, hosted by “Ted” creator Seth Macfarlane, went more or less to plan. Academy President Hawk Koch said in his speech that this years gathering was to “usher in the future of the movies”, and one can only hope that he's wrong.

        The Oscars are supposed to be a celebration of excellence within the film industry, but from from the red carpet to the end credits the event seemed to be more of the film industry glorifying itself. First-time host Macfarlane failed to make any friends, and made off color jokes and underhanded stabs at nearly everybody in the crowd, as well as those watching at home. 
         When so many entertainers gather in one room the result is usually not entertainment. It wasn't just movie stars either, Adele, Areosmith, Nora Jones, and the great Barbara Streisand were all on the bill. Even Mr. Macfarlane sang a song or two, though not without first creating a social media shit-storm with the low brow show tune “We Saw Your Boobs.” The best musical performance of the night was easily William Ross' orchestra, who played classic film scores, from “Jaws” to several iterations of the classic “Bond Theme”.

         The franchise celebrated it's fiftieth anniversary and won a modest two awards to mark the occasion. One for Best Original Song, the other for Best Sound Editing. This makes sense considering that Adele sounded much better in the movie than she did in her live performance.
The other tribute was to the best musicals of the last decade. Catherine Zeta-Jones gave an exhilarating rendition of “All That Jazz” that put the cast of Les Mis' performances of “Suddenly” and “One Day More” to shame.

         Director Ang Lee beat out favorite Stephen Spielberg for best director, and when it was all said and done “Life of Pi” received a total of four awards. Maybe Tarantino was right is declaring this year as the “year of the writers”, but the ceremonies indicated it as more of a year of the celebrities. The stars were the main attraction, not the films, and the Oscars aren't nearly as much fun watching from home, without the open bar.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Progress" Report

        Last Friday, in the black box theatre of the Fine Arts Building, a sell out crowd was fortunate enough to witness the Senior Play Series production of “Progress”. Billed as an “environmental theatre” piece, written by Kalamazoo College's Imani Sims and Marissa Rossman, the play was more experimental than your typical college production.

        Rather than force the audience to be passive observers, environmental theatre encourages audience participation, to the point where the crowd becomes an important element of the production. Instead of sitting and watching, one must move about the set, broken in to three rooms, up close and personal with the actors and props. This intimate point of view creates a powerful connection between performer and audience.

       “Progress” is set in 1930's Germany, and chronicles the stories of a doctor, his patients, and the consequences of the forced sterilization programs that were in effect. In order to immerse attendees into the world of the play, Swastika's and propaganda posters adorned the walls. While performing all of the dialogue in German might have been a bit of a stretch, the close perspective made language almost irrelevant. From such a close perspective the plot becomes clear through body language and action alone.

       The biggest difference between a piece like “Progress” and a more traditional production is the decisions the audience must make to appreciate the play. In order to follow the story, one must change his perspective, but also account for the other patrons who are trying to do the same thing. The result is everyone seeing a different play, a woman might walk through the middle of a scene to pass through to the next room. Or a man might step on your toes as you jockey for a better viewing angle.

        “Progress” is an emotional and dramatic piece, brought to life in a youthful and exciting style. It is more the form than the script that makes this show such a refreshing theatre going experience. Hopefully this type of theatre gains traction and will be more commonplace in the future.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Evening With the Dudes, but then again, no

         Two roaring fireplaces at either end of the Hoben lounge made for a warm and inviting atmosphere where a great crowd gathered to spend an evening with the Kalamadudes. The audience chattered over hot chocolate and cookies waiting for the show to being. The Dudes donned their classiest attire and opened the performance with Peter Gabriel's “Book of Love”.

         Like the song says, the book of love is where music comes from, but some of it's really dumb. While A Capella might not be dumb, the appeal is not in the music. The Dudes do a good job of not taking themselves too seriously, which makes them easy to like. They are relaxed and laughing between songs, talking with the audience and amongst themselves.

         An Evening with the Dudes was part college Friday night part high class night out. The venue, the Hoben first floor lounge had poor acoustics but completely fit the theme on the bill. From the elegant arched windows to the elaborate matching trim of the floor and ceiling, one might have confused it with a room from Versailles.

          The Kalamadudes rendition of “Your Song” felt forced and emotional, as did the Bon Iver interlude, in the otherwise relaxed atmosphere. Again the theatrical elements of their performance was the saving grace of a painfully ordinary cover. The crowd, prompted by the Dudes, clapped in time, for the most part, with the music, contributing to the already lively atmosphere.

          Things got better when the Dudes had the opportunity to loosen up with Sugar Ray's “Every Morning”. They seemed much more relaxed and in their element dancing to 90's feel good hits than they did standing awkwardly parroting emotional ballads. The high energy songs compliment their quirky humor and light hearted attitude.

         When they sang the Coldplay hit “Yellow” the performance hit its climax. It was exactly the right song for them to sing. It fit the theme, and more importantly it fit the performers. It sounded natural, fluid and would have been the high note to end on.

         Unfortunately the Dudes chose to give an unrequested encore, which was far less impressive. Things had been getting progressively better until the end where the Dudes dropped the ball. For a night that was supposed to be filled with elegance it couldn’t have ended more awkwardly.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

For Better or Worse

The review of “Sherlock Holmes; The Final Adventure” published in the Western Herald was nearly as predictable as the production itself. John Campbell offers little more than summary and praise to a show that left much less of an impression on myself.

Unfortunately by simply retelling readers what happens he exemplifies the greatest weakness of the show, the script. Watson (Craig Sloan) simply runs about doing exactly what Holmes tells him to, and walks upstage to occasionally narrate. The criminal mastermind Moriarty seems more likely to shoot one of his imbecile henchmen than his corncob pipe-smoking arch rival.

In fairness Campbell does give credit where credit is due; the costumes are great, the sets create elaborate, vast scenes ripe for adventure. The waterfall in the Carpathians where Holmes and Moriarty face-off in an epic final encounter looked spectacular. Mark Wedel's review in the Kalamazoo Gazette rightly notes that while the performance looked fantastic, the sound left much to be desired.
Sherlock (Michael P. Martin) sounded far away and Irene Adler (Marin Heinritz) certainly didn't sound like a world renowned opera singer. The performances were solid, but the acoustic issues were distracting and unnecessary.

Wedel does a better job of pitching the show to readers. He gives fewer boring plot details than Campbell's review, but by being less dynamic, it more accurately describes the show. Even with it's high production value “Sherlock Holmes; The Final Adventure” has flaws in the script that no amount of lighting or acting could mask.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Something for Everyone: The Ten-Minute Play.

        Saturday afternoon proved to be the most exciting showing of the Theatre Kalamazoo! New Play Festival. Five ten-minute plays were read and staged with minimal sets over the course of an hour long production. The ten minute play is the theatrical response to the flash drama audiences have become accustomed to through years of watching television.

         In a theatre there no one has a remote control, no way to fast forward or change the action. The actors read their lines and the audience listens until the curtain, and the same is true for the ten-minute, but in the brevity lies the beauty. 
          Not all plays are created equal, and there's nothing more grueling than trying to survive two hours of a tedious play. In the ten-minute form, all the action is condensed into a few minutes of dramatic tension. The rapid fire succession of the plays keeps the audience's short attention spans satisfied as well as their theatrical inclinations fulfilled.

         It was surprising to see such a variety in the audience, packed like sardines into the black box theatre. It was not your usual company of elderly couples and artsy types dressed in black turtlenecks, but a collection as diverse as the selection of plays. Children sat quietly in between their parents, while students chatted away during intermission. 
         In the opening act of Chekhov's “The Sea Gull” the aged Sorin tells the aspiring playwright Treplev “We can't do without the theatre.” to which he responds “But we need to make it new. Revitalize it, make it new! And if we can't do that, we should just do without it.” 
         The ten-minute play does exactly that. Less emphasis is put on the sets, costumes, and other technical aspects, but in exchange the playwrights have an opportunity to create more compelling and entertaining scripts. By stripping the play down to it's most core elements the Theatre Kalamazoo New Play fest creates a casual atmosphere in which local artists can showcase their talent. 
         It isn't fair to say that television is better than the stage, or to say the opposite. They are different mediums and have their own distinct advantages. The TKNP uses the ten-minute play to combine elements of each to create a revitalized theatre worth watching.