Thursday, December 28, 2006
As a side note, today was also the day that another Democrat threw his hat into the presidential fray. Former VP candidate John Edwards took time off from building his three million dollar mansion to travel to a still flood ravaged New Orleans neighborhood and christen his campaign with an "Eliminate Poverty" program. Even with sleeves rolled up and shovel in hand, there was an air of irony about the moment that several news organizations were quick to pounce on.
For the drama buffs out there you must check out the mock review of a second grade production of Peter Schaffer's EQUUS that appeared in last January's issue of The Onion. This item was sent to me by a former student who currently heads my old Theatre Department. He played the Lead Horse in my own production of Equus many moons ago.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Some Christmas days seem to resemble zoos at feeding time, but ours was about as peaceful as it could get. From the lightness of our morning buttermilk pancakes to the crystal clear sounds of Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols an aura of calm descended over the house. David spruced up our computer and introduced me to Flickr and U-Tube. He also dragged the expresso machine out and brewed us up a lovely cuppa in the late afternoon. As I write this the ham is in the oven and aromas of roasting Weir's apples, along with sweet potatos and cranberries, are floating up the stairs to the study.
Along with the Queen and the Pope we yearn for peace out there. We cling to the hope that "somehow, some way, some day" the hate that seems to well so strong in the killing fields of Darfur and Iraq, and Afganistan can be melted. Miracles may not be possible but it would be a start if a few more folks could accept differences without feeling the need to crush them.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
December 19th is a pretty cool day. It marks the latest day we have still had a fresh tomato from our garden. It was a bit wizened but still tasted better than the red croquet balls being offered at Econo Foods. But the best part of the 19th is that forty seven years ago on this day my wife and I were married. You want to talk about sympatico. We began the morning by discovering that we had bought each other the very same card. Luckily we hadn't bought each other the same gifts. An afternoon at the Smith Creek Pottery a week ago had produced a magnificent bowl for Jan and a lovely little olive oil jar for me. The day was spent baking and frosting Christmas cookies, then to the college library Christmas Party, and then home to make some more cookies. The mind meld continued on into the afternoon when Jan said she'd like a Cape Codder for our pre-dinner drink. I had been thinking the very same thing and had even put a jug of cranberry juice in the refrigerator earlier in the day. Spooooooky! There are an awful lot of bad things in this world, but our marriage is not one of them. We wish you as much joy as we have known and of course Peace!
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Let’s push on to the news from our town—the community that most people don’t leave because the roads out are too bad. Speaking of roads: IDOT stands for the Illinois Department of Transportation. Last year IDOT installed at over $250,000 each a series of electronic signs on Interstate 80 to provide information for motorists. Last week during our first major snowfall of the season I 80 turned into an icy mess of jackknifed semis and blocked lanes that stranded hundreds of people. Did IDOT use the new signs to warn folks of the danger ahead? “No”, said a spokesman, “the signs were installed only for Amber Alerts.” Now here’s a question for all of our readers. “Can you tell me where to put the extra “I” in IDOT?”
Jim and Jan have continued to enjoy the fruits of retirement. Jan still keeps the Warren County Library Board, the AAUW Art Presenter Program, and the women of AAUW on target while also managing to coach some student teachers for Monmouth College. Jim retires from the governing board of the Buchanan Center for the Arts at the end of the year and just last month got a special award from the Center for his long time service.
He will now devote more time to a new “unpaid” job titled Director of Advocacy for the Illinois Theatre Association. Both of us would like to spend more time attempting to improve our golf scores, but we have come to the sad realization that for folks of our age practice does not even make better much less perfect.
Since we have too many shampoos, pastes, and emollients to fit into one plastic baggie, we decided to forego major travels this past year. We did sneak in a trip to London last spring to lay some ground work for the 3rd edition of London Theatre Walks (http://londontheatrewalks.com), but the rest of the journeys were stateside. We spent some time in Arizona with my cousin, traveled to Cedar Rapids and Minnesota for family outings, and also made a lovely trip with friends to see some Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the Madison, WI area. The most recent journey was a Thanksgiving outing to see my sister and her husband’s new retirement home in South Carolina. While there we visited the Biltmore Estate, Brattonsville Pioneer Village, and did a quick traverse through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you feel the need for a travelogue with additional commentary look at http://stirringthepudding.blogspot.com
On the children and grandchildren front we can also report reasonably clear sailing. David continues as a computer guru and continues to devote equal time to music. He was featured in an article in the Grinnell College Alumni magazine and his music web site http://howwastheshow.com won an award from the Minnesota Music Academy as Best Online Music Media resource in the Twin Cities.
Amy and her husband Todd continue to do the parenting gig while holding down full time jobs. Luckily Iowa, doesn’t seem to be suffering too much from a decline in demand for new homes. Todd, the big builder in the family, continues to build houses, while Amy continues to build the minds of the horde of young’uns that all the new houses seem to be filled with. They are both looking forward to one of those milestones for young parents—the reduction of day care costs when Mikel, 4 ½, goes off to kindergarten in the Fall. TJ, the little builder, will be 11 by the time you get this. He has had a great time this fall making marvelous models of native American houses for his history assignments.
While we are in the Iowa mode, daughter Amy told me about the newest rebate deal. It’s called the 401 Keg Plan and is a real winner. It is convivial, environmentally sound, and a money saver. All you do is buy $1000 worth of beer. After you drink it, you re-cycle the cans in Iowa and get $214 back. It’s a win-win for everything but your liver.
That’s about it for another year. You’ll note that I’ve stayed away from politics and social issues in the thirty-third edition of this letter; they are in the capable hands of our President and Congress. And that’s my last joke for 2006.
We hope your year has been as pleasant and rewarding as ours and that your holidays will see good cheer, good health, and fun family reunions.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Sunday, November 26, 2006
It was a long drive to South Carolina for Thanksgiving, but the excursions on the way and after we arrived made it all worth while. A visit to Brattonvile Pioneer Village gave us some 18th century perspective, while a trip around the Vanderbilt estate called Biltmore moved us along to the world of palatial as seen by one of the most eminent of the 19th century American tycoon families. On the way home we squeezed in a drive through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Blue Ridges were in fine form as a few of the pics that follow will show.
Monday, November 13, 2006
LET'S START WITH A TOAST
TO ALL THE ARTS IN WARREN COUNTY
Guest, Lupe Smith, is greeted by Karen Guillen.
Pam and John are clearly happy to be here.
And it appears to be rolling smoothly.
Quite quite smoothly!
Saturday evening Nov. 11th saw a happy group of folks assemble at the Generations Restaurant in Monmouth, IL for the fourth annual Taste of the Arts--Italian Style. As the accompanying photos show, a good time was had by all and the money raised for our Illinois Arts Council re-granting fund will help a large number of local arts groups continue to service the community. Thanks to all who attended and to all who contributed.
This year's "Spirit of Grace" 2006 Arts Patron of the Year Winner, Jim De Young, (center) along with Mike Difuccia, Buchanan Center Executive Director(left), and John Vellenga(right), current Buchanan Center Board of Directors President.
Next year will be bigger and better.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Bill Bryson writes primarily about travel and language. His homespun philosophy is held together by an engaging personality and a penchant for exploring locations and ferreting out the quirky people who live in them. The quintessential Bryson books for me have been Notes from a Small Island and A walk in the Woods--both of which combine nostalgia and a yearning to protect the environment.
In his newest, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bryson returns to his childhood home in Des Moines, Iowa and recalls his parents and his childhood. It resonates particularly with amusing portraits of his buddies in truancy like the incorrigible beer thief and drunk Stephen Katz, the brilliant explosives expert and con man Doug Willoughby, and the clueless butt of all jokes Milton Milton. They're such recognizable types because most of us had similar buddies in our youth.
The book is ultimately an easy and amusing tour through a now vanished world. If you are over fifty put it on your bedside table for a few memories and a chuckle or two before nodding off. Don't worry about the unspoken other side of this coin illustrated by the story of the two old codgers sitting on the porch. One says to the other "Do ya remember the good old days?" The reply is, "Yup! And they never was!"
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Well it's gone. I suspect he's not quite sure where it went, but he frittered it down the tubes and the country has little to show for it. Precious little legislation has been passed and even though we have been in Iraq as long as we were engaged in Europe in WWII, there does not appear to be much sign of light at the end of the tunnel.
I don't know if the new bunch can solve all or any of the problems, but it is hard to believe that they can do worse. Let's give them a chance and let's even give our president a chance to work with the new congress and see if some progress can be made.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
It appears that we won't hear any more from the house ethics committee on the Foley affair--until well after the election. SURPRISE! SURPRISE!
Democratic strategist James Carville, when asked about John Kerry's chances for the 2008 presidential nomination, replied "I don't know, but they're sure less than they were last week." Foot in mouth disease knows no party affiliation.
Just finished Bob Woodward's STATE OF DENIAL. If only a quarter of what he describes is true, we still have enough garbage in the government to more than bury the capital dome.
Vote on November 7th!
And throw at least some of the rascals out.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
OFTA says yes and is intent on providing it next Wednesday, November 8th, 2006 at 10:00 AM. As usual we will meet at the Buchanan Center on the square in beautiful downtown Monmouth.
Where does proof come in? Proof by David Auburn is the next Crimson Masque play and the director of Proof is Monmouth College’s new theatre professor, Janeve West. In her program on Wed. Nov. 8th she will tell you a little about her own background and offer a preview to her first Wells Theatre production.
Ms. West has an MFA in Directing/Acting from Texas Tech University and comes to Monmouth from three years as Director of Youth Productions at the Omaha Theater Company for Young People. She has taught Acting, Directing, and Children’s Theatre classes for the Omaha Theater company. Her previous stage productions have been varied and include types and styles that range from Our Town and The Taming of the Shrew to Beauty and the Beast, and Pinocchio the Musical.
Proof opened on Broadway in 2000 but some of you may remember seeing the 2005 film version, which starred Gwyneth Paltrow and Sir Anthony Hopkins. It is a thoughtful drama about a young woman who is haunted by the possibility that she has inherited the mental problems of her recently deceased father as well as his mathematical genius.
Proof is now in rehearsal and will play from November 16-19 at the Wells Theatre on the campus of Monmouth College in Monmouth, IL
I hope you will be able to join us for the last OFTA program of the year. Thanks for your support of our efforts.
Friday, October 27, 2006
DON'T FORGET TO VOTE ON NOVEMBER 7TH. If you go to political meetings ask the candidate's position on arts issues or call candidates' offices and ask for their position on the arts and arts education.
The Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) of Minnesota conducted a study in 2005 to answer the following question: Are there critical ingredients or common themes necessary to building long-term vitality for the arts in smaller communities? The answers to this study, supported by a grant from the Bush Foundation, can be found in a report titled "Thriving Arts: Thriving Small Communities." The 28 page document, which can be downloaded, covers Minnesota communities from 1000 to 6000 in size, but is relevant to larger areas that may encircle major population centers as well. For you big city folks there is reference in the report to work on the "intrinsic value of the arts" done by Columbia College in Chicago. I’m not familiar with this, but you may be. Another interesting element was a sample four year plan for creating a Community Cultural Advocacy Organization. There is also a comprehensive bibliography. To view this report, go to http://www.bushfoundation.org/Publications/MRAC_Report.pdf
One final tidbit. In culling through the Americans for the Arts website, I found a link to a fascinating arts data base. Click on the following site and then choose your own Illinois legislative district. http://www.americansforthearts.org/information_resources/research_information/services/creative_industries/state_legislative_districts/illinois.asp It will take you to a profile that includes information on your own legislator, arts businesses in your district, the number of employees in those businesses, and trend data on arts sectors in general. Cool!
I took a survey on the definition of Arts Advocacy at the fall convention of the Illinois Theatre Association. Thirty attendees completed a questionnaire ranking potential advocacy functions in terms of their relevance and importance to the Illinois Theatre Association. The choices for each function ranged from “this is critical” to “this is not a central concern.”
The tabulation revealed three advocacy functions as most critical for members and perhaps most pressing for the association to support. They were:
1) Lobbying legislators,
2) Developing better working relationships between the educational and professional theatre, and
3) Working to get theatre arts curriculums required by the state.
In the middle were five additional functions (There was a tie for fifth):
4) Developing audiences for live theatre,
5) Attracting more foundation support for theatre,
5) Improving arts and theatre pedagogy,
6) Improving training or certification standards for theatre instructors, and
7) Organizing a speaker’s bureau for advocacy issues.
The three functions that seemed of least concern to the members of ITA were:
8) Organizing voter registration,
9) Providing assessment information for theatre instructors, and
10) Providing more financial aid for arts students.
( A “not a central concern” ranking does not imply unimportance for an issue; it may merely suggest that the issue may not seem as important for the ITA to pursue.)
It is heartening to observe that one of our central mission statements (Encouraging a closer understanding and communication between Community, Educational, and Professional Theatre) ranks strongly in this survey. On the other hand, it is interesting to observe that political lobbying by name is not included in our mission statement and yet appears from the membership point of view to be the most important function for the organization. This may be an item worth some discussion.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
"I never met a fireplug I didn't like."
As for the football. This pickup game on the lawn during the parade produced better results than the one that began at 1:30.
The Foresters unfortunately cut us down to size. Along with the Cubs we shall wait for next year!
Happy Fall from all the folks in Monmouth, IL
If you are interested in New York Theatre and have not already subscribed to Allan Bird's new free service, you should head to http://www.newyorktheatreguide.com and sign up right away.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
JOIN IN HELPING SUPPORT THE ARTS IN OUR COMMUNITY.
ATTEND THE TASTE OF THE ARTS ITALIAN STYLE!
The Buchanan Center for the Arts must raise funds each year to help match our grant from the Illinois Arts Council. The Center in return grants over $5000 every year to arts organizations and educational entities in Warren County. Your special donation or attendance at the Italian Taste of the Arts will mean a lot to the following organizations because they have received funding support from the Buchanan Center in the past.
The AAUW Art Presenter Program, The Maple Leaf Community Concert Series, The Buchanan Chorus, The Monmouth Civic Orchestra, Orchestra, the Public and Parochial schools in our area, the Old Friends Talk Arts program, the Ecumenical Singers, The Monmouth College Theatre, and the Strom Center.
When is it? Saturday night November 11th from 6:30-9:00 PM
Where is it? Generations Restaurant at the Monmouth Country Club
How much is it? $30.00 per person BCA members $35.00 per person for- non BCA members. Half of your cost is tax deductible.
Event includes: Cocktail hour with starters, Tasting of Italian Wines throughout the evening, Served Chicken, Beef, or Vegetarian Entrée, Dessert, lots of door prizes and silent auction items.
HOW DO YOU GET TICKETS? e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me how many tickets you want. I’ll contact you with the details on how to pay and how to select your dinner choices.
If you would like to make a tax deductible donation in lieu of or in addition to attending the dinner, simply write a check payable to the Buchanan Center for the Arts and mail it to the Buchanan Center for the Arts 64 Public Sq. Monmouth, IL 61462.
Might I add that if you are not currently a member of the Buchanan Center for the Arts, now is the time to save $10.00 right off the top on the cost of two Taste of the Arts tickets. A Family membership purchased now for the 2007 year will cost you $50.00. A single membership is $25.00 and we will give you the member discount for the 2006 dinner. Plus you will be eligible for the member discount for the 2007 dinner as well.
What a deal!
Closer to home, the Monmouth College Theatre's production of Tennessee Williams' STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE opens next Thursday evening October 26th and runs through Sunday, October 29th. Order tickets by calling 309-457-2104 or e-mail email@example.com
The production is directed and designed by Prof. Doug Rankin.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
I am normally not a gossip columnist, but as I saw the very first production of Equus (from the stage for 30 or 50 pence as I recall) I thought some history might be in order. It was at the Old Vic, when it was still the home of the National Theatre, way back in 1973 and Peter Firth played Alan Strang in the John Dexter directed production. It blew me away, not so much for the nude scene (which I believe was Dexter's addition and not called for in Schaffer's original script) but for the actors who played the horses with their sculpted heads, high hoof like boots, and magnificent body movements.
It was still on my to do list in 1979 when it was released for amateur production and I jumpted at the chance to direct it at Monmouth College (Illinois not New Jersey). It was, I believe, the very first amateur production in the state of Illinois. Joel Nadel played Dysart and Doug Rankin (now ace designer and a professor of theatre at Monmouth) played the lead horse. Doug designed and welded the heads and shoes for the show and one of the heads and a set of the high shoes were still in the prop room a few years ago.
We wish Mr. Radcliffe well wand and all. (Sorry!)
Friday, October 13, 2006
Aesthetic relativism is no more inescapable than moral relativism. If you argue that there is no moral underpinning upon which to favor one action over another, you are taking a moral position. Amorality expresses a belief about the nature of the world and your position in it. Whether in art or morality, I would argue that there is no such thing as not having an opinion as not having an opinion is an opinion.
Relativism in art, morality, behavior, and politics has been encouraged in recent years by its adherents tarring anyone who attempts to stake out differences with the dirty label--"elitist". If you press for gradations of quality or ethical superiority of one position over another, you are anti-democratic, treasonous, arrogant, intolerant, racist, or worse.
The paradox here is that if you follow the path of relativism, you would seem to be required to attack any sort of education, improvement, or differenciation that might move the human race toward something better than a lowest perceived common denominator. And by doing that you make a fascinating declaration of your own superior and elite status. You would like to make absolutely sure that no future generation will be as advanced, as capable, as well educated, and as moral as you.
Thanks, but no thanks from someone who still will insist that Bill is over Joan on the quality scale.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
The day began with tours of the Ford Oriental and Cadilac Palace theatres and the spacious home of Bob Schramn's Broadway Costumes. A picnic lunch on Navy Pier was followed by a visit with Chris Henderson, Chicago Shakespeare's Executive Director. He covered the history of this remarkable theatre and gave us a complete tour of the building. I discovered that his parents had attended Monmouth College.
After that we treked on down to the old Biograph Theatre--the Chicago movie house and "Untouchable " landmark where John Dillenger was gunned down in the 1930's. It has been remodeled to a several million dollar tune for the use of the Victory Garden's Theatre. The artistic director, Dennis Zacek, has been in his post encouraging local playwrights for thirty years and we were met at the door by his wife, Marcie McVay, the managing director. This ebullient and obviously glowing woman met us with proud smiles and shepherded us through the new (it will open its first production next week) building from the trap room to a closet in the lighting booth where a remarkable plaster statue from the old theatre lies in dark repose. Still under construction are two gorgeous upstairs spaces with massive palladian windows opening out onto the busy streetscape below. One is to become a main stage rehearsal room and the other will be a small theatre space. Sometimes good things do happen to deserving people and the Biograph restoration and refurbishment is a magnificent tribute to a long and deep commitment to Chicago Theatre.
Our final stop before dinner was at the warehouse and showroom for Chicago Spotlight. I never knew there were so many different kinds of tape. We left with bulging goodie bags of catalogs and gel samples and headed for deep dish Chicago Pizza at Geno's. No finer in the land and it forced a time-out on the low-colesterol diet.
And then it was back to the Cadillac Palace where a preview performance of "The Pirate Queen" was waiting for us. This pre-broadway tryout of the Les Mis author's latest effort has the advantage of Frank Galati direction, which means that the show looks gorgeous. The costumes, especially the gowns of Elizabeth I, are spectacular, the stage compositions are dynamic, and the lighting literally sparkles. Unfortunately the narrative line lacks both clarity and tension and the music is recycled Les Mis with synthesized bagpipes and an Irish whistle for ethnic ambiance. Tis a work in progress as they say and clearly a lot more needs to be done before it hits the Big Apple.
The Sunday convention of ITA at the Metropolis Arts Centre in Arlington Heights didn't move around as much as the Saturday hopscotch of Chicago theatre sites, but it was equally stimulating.
Rives Collins, chair of Northwestern University's theatre department, got us off to a rousing start. He used his love for "the Bean" in Milennium Park to illustrate his hope that we would be able to "raise our gaze" and "see our blind spots" as we interacted with "robust civility" throughout the day.
He got us ready for our our Re-Invention Convention Facilitator Steve Barberio. Steve is the current president of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education and he challenged us to define our dreams for the Illinois Theatre Association and perhaps more importantly-- how do we get there? For each of our ideas he wanted us to consider:
1. Who will it serve?
2. In what way will it pursue the vision?
3. How long will it take?
4. How will people be held accountable for executing it?
Later in the afternoon we had a visit from Rebecca Gilman, author of Spinning Into Butter and Boy Meets Girl. We saw a short scene from the latter show and Steve Scott, the director, conducted an informative interview with Gilman. My favorite quote from her was about reviews. She said she doesn't read them because, "The bad ones go to your heart and the good ones go to your head."
We closed the day with a banquet and a fond farewell tribute to our retiring Executive Director of some twenty three years, Wallace Smith. It was a long weekend; we didn't get back from Chicago until after eleven Sunday night, but it was worth every minute.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
An audience of almost fifty, including a group of young people from a local school, were held entranced for over an hour this morning at the Buchanan Center for the Arts on the square in downtown Monmouth, Il.
Ralph Rehbock and his mother were in a hotel in Berlin on the night of November 9, 1938 waiting for transportation out of Germany to the United States. On that evening, now known as “Kristallinacht” or “The Night of Broken Glass” hundreds of Nazis roamed the streets killing dozens of Jews and destroying synagogues, Jewish businesses and Jewish homes. Mr. Rehbock did a masterful job of explaining the rise of Hitler to power in Germany and then told how he and his mother escaped from Germany by rail with the help of an unidentified stranger. He closed by emphasizing that each person has the duty to speak up and do the right thing when they perceive wrong things happening. When too many turn the other way in the face of clear wrongs, tragedies like the Holocaust can easily occur.
Friday, September 29, 2006
If you need some additional narration, here it is.
What do old folks do on a busman's holiday to Madison, Wisconsin? Why they pig out, or should we say "beef out" on sculpture, architecture, and food.
We signed in at the Best Western motel with old friends the Blum's and the Waltershausens and then took a quick lunch at Panera. After a stop at the F.L. Wright designed Unitarian Church, we descended on Madison's State Street (also a great street) for a stroll. The university is at one end and the state capitol at the other end of this bus and bicycle environment. Inbetween are funky shops, bookstores, eateries, and entertainment venues. Adding to the pzazz were a couple of dozen cows on parade. They were Moo-arvelous and a couple of the pics above will give you a bit of their bright contribution to the streetscape.
Strolling brings out the thirst in a body, so we soon felt the need for a few glasses of frosty micro brew. I had a dark October Fest and Jan sampled the Spotten Cow from New Glarus. That led into an Afgan hostelry for a dinner of Lemon Chicken and Lamb with Couscous. Tangy and oh so filling.
Tuesday morning we headed toward Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin East at Spring Green. It was about an hour's drive in the sunny rolling Wisconsin countryside--one of those crisp fall days that would be lovely to cruise about on even if you did not have a destination to reach.
Our tour covered the Hillside School and Taliesin itself and the guide was outstanding. For a taste you can take a peek at the pictures. Lunch was at the Taliesin Visitor Center, which is also a Wright designed building.
After our return to Madison it was back down to State Street where we spent some time at the University of Wisconsin's Chazen Museum of Art. It has a nice small collection of classics and some dynamite moderns in a striking atrium domininated building. (See picture above.)
Dinner was totally into orbit at L'Etoile right next to the Wisconsin state capitol. It is one of the fifty best restaurants in the country according to Gourmet Magazine. A spoon sized cup of truffle soup began the repast. Then came a a tender salad of mixed greens with pecans. My main course was fresh broiled trout with creamy potatos, and a patois of unusual vegetables like kolrabi and spinach. Jan had the roasted pheasant, which was just as elegant. We shared a fresh rasberry iced delight for desert. We washed it down with a smooth white wine from Alsace. T'was pricey and a half, but worth every penny. Did I mention that the cadre of wait staff hovered about like quiet little helicopters whisking dishes on and off at just the right times and attending to our every need. "Quelle service! Ooh La La."
A fitting end to a fine day in the company of some of our best friends in the whole wide world. On Wisconsin!