Thursday, April 26, 2007

Yale Deans Do About Face on Prop Weapons in Plays

Here's a real "Looney Toon" for you! Last week, in the wake of the VA Tech shootings, administrators at Yale University, decreed that realistic prop weapons would henceforth be banned from university theatrical productions. The reasoning process that permitted this action at one of our supposedly top universities provides no reassurance about the state of modern academia. I suppose it is conceivable that substituting a red plastic revolver for one that looks authentic or a wooden sword for a metal one will somehow keep a maniac from murdering several of his fellow human beings, but in a country in which many citizens fight background checks and even registration of real weapons and are increasingly allowing real ones to be carried concealed on the streets, a move to ban a fake weapon in a play seems ironic at best and nonsensical at the worst. It would seem to me that the Bard had it right when he observed that the actor holds the mirror up to nature not the other way around. Thank God the Yale Deans recovered their senses within a week and rescinded the ban. Unfortunately, theatre producers will apparently still be required to notify audiences if weapons are to be used in a show. In the long run I guess that is better than being required to rewrite Hamlet to climax with a deadly duel of Rock-Paper-Scissors.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Steinbeck Expert Robert DeMott Speaks at the WCPL

De Mott chats after his lecture with John Vellenga, President of the Buchanan Center for the Arts Board of Directors.

De Mott with Jim De Young, OFTA (Old Friends Talk Arts) coordinator and Gary Tomlin, the Executive Director of the Sandburg Days Festival for the Mind.

Dr. Robert De Mott of Ohio University and a noted expert on the work of John Steinbeck gave a lecture on Wed. April 25th at the Warren County Library. He was in the area helping to promote this year's Sandburg Days-Festival for the Mind and the National Endowment for the Arts "Big Read" program, which features Steinbeck's novel, The Grapes of Wrath.

DeMott's talk suggested some ways to both read and interpret Steinbeck's novel and also included some interesting personal stories about how a chance encounter with Steinbeck's widow at an academic conference gave him special access to several important Steinbeck archives.

The lecture was co-sponsored by Old Friends Talk Arts (OFTA) and the Warren County Library Board. Some thirty local residents attended the presentation and also enjoyed the informal reception that followed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Beloit College Honors Eudora Shepherd

Eaton Chapel on the Beloit College campus where the gala concert in honor of Ms. Shepherd took place.

Ms. Shepherd conducts a choral piece she wrote in the 1980's.

My wife lends her voice to the many alums who returned to sing.

Here some old 1959ers share a story or two during the choir rehearsal.

Professor Emeritus Karl Balson, a colleague of Ms. Shepherd for many years, and one of my own favorite undergraduate professors introduced the program.

Ms. Shepherd receives her accolades from Jim and Marjorie Sanger. Mr. Sanger is the current chair of the Beloit College Board of Trustees and he and his wife underwrote the celebration.

It's off to the reception in a hall where all the walls are decorated with intriguing sculptures constructed from the old carved molds from iron castings.

The ice piano was a hit.

Some alums from the fifties enjoy a pleasant reunion.

Eudora Shepherd has taught voice and music at Beloit College for fifty years. This past weekend over one hundred of her past students gathered to pay tribute to her. At a concert in the Eaton Chapel on Saturday afternoon a number of soloists performed a varied program of operatic, musical comedy, and art songs in her honor. For the finale Ms. Shepherd took the podium to conduct a choir of her former students in a performance of an anthem of her own composition.

After the concert a reception was held at a fascinating art museum in the former Beloit Iron Works building. The food and decor was perfect and we made some pleasant re-connections with a number of former staff members (including Dave Mason and his wife) and a small group of 1959 classmates.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Woycezk Scores Big for the Monmouth College Theatre

Despite the proclamations in the program and the protestations of the cast, George Buchner’s dramaturgy and Professor Janeve West’s directing skills trumped Bertolt Brecht’s alienation theories last night at the opening of the Monmouth College Theatre’s production of Woycezk. Right from West’s opening image of the toiling characters pushing a heavy and barely yielding world, with no assistance from a deus ex machina, was there ever any doubt that the audience was going to be on the side of the downtrodden masses. No amount of direct address, placard like scene announcements, inserted songs, or open to view lighting effects were going to deter us from hating the swilling and pontificating minions of the academic/scientific, business, and political worlds and attaching ourselves to good soldier Voyczek and his Marie.

Though written in the 1830’s and then literally lost for some fifty years, the play now seems ripped from the daily headlines. Woyczek begins hearing strange voices and acting unusually. Science can only offer him a curative diet of peas while the rest of society offers up liberal doses of alcohol, phony religious fervor, and chicanery to dull the senses. There is no solace anywhere and Voycezk begins to crumble under the onslaught. With his beloved Marie attracted to another soldier, his aberrations move inexorably toward violent pathology. And like so many others in both real life and fiction, he snaps and takes his revenge--not on those in high places, but on his fellow sufferers. Whether in 19th century Germany, Bagdad, Oklahoma City, or Virginia, it is the innocent who seem to pay when Everyman cracks.

The student acting ensemble gives their hearts to multiple roles and it is hard to single out anyone other than to say that they are playing together with style and youthful energy. Doing double duty as lead actor and scene designer, senior Greg Malek caught the downward spiral of a soul heading for hell impressively. Stephanie Haas as Marie shared the single most impressive scene with Malek as her murder was replayed time and time again under the canopy of a filmy and amorphous puppet. It brought to my mind the conclusion of the film of Ambrose Bierce’s Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge when the heroine runs time after time toward her love just before the hangman’s rope tightens. Other expressionistic moments see the cast mimicking in unison various military or scientific movements in the background.

The set by Greg Malek is lit with perfection by Professor Doug Rankin, the music is just about perfect, and magnificent stage pictures are the order of the day. Voycezk plays again on Friday, April 20 at 7:30 PM and Saturday, April 21st at 2:00 PM at the Wells Theatre on the Monmouth College Campus. Call 309-457-2104 for more information. It will give you plenty to think about.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nationally Known Steinbeck Scholar to Appear

The Warren County Public Library and OFTA (Old Friends Talk Arts) present A Public Lecture by Nationally known Steinbeck Scholar Dr. Robert DeMott “On the Reading and Writing of The Grapes of Wrath” Wednesday, April 25, 2007 1:30 PM Warren County Public Library Free Admission and Refreshments Dr. De Mott is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Ohio University. He has written a number of books and articles on John Steinbeck and just last year won the Steinbeck Center’s Trustees Award. He was nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Historical Documentary category for his work on the Learning Channel’s “Grapes of Wrath.” He edited and provided the introduction for the definitive Viking/Penguin 1989 edition of The Grapes of Wrath, which has never been out of print. Don’t have a copy of this classic and want to read it or re-read it before the lecture? The WCPL has three copies plus an audio and a video version. The college library has at least one copy, an audio and a video. Or go to

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Town and Country Arts Show opens at the Buchanan Center for the Arts

What a crowd!

Look ma! That's mine!

Do you suppose that one will win a prize?

The judges make a point with one of the parents.

The 39th annual Town and Country Art Show opened at the Buchanan Center for the Arts in Monmouth, IL on April 14th. It will run in the main gallery until May 12th. On display are over 700 Children's Art works by grades Kindergarten through High School. The gallery was crowded with kids and their parents on opening day as the pictures above show.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

OFTA Features Baritone Lionel Marcoux at Buchanan Center for the Arts

The Wednesday morning OFTA(Old Friends Talk Arts) presentation at the Buchanan Center for the Arts on April 11th featured a delightful program of "Broadway Melodies" from several Rogers and Hammerstein musicals sung by Quad City Baritone Lionel Marcoux. Some forty "old friends" gathered in the gallery at the arts center located on the square in downtown Monmouth, IL and enjoyed morning treats and coffee along with the strains of such old favorites as "Some Enchanted Evening" and "You'll Never Walk Alone." Marcoux was accompanied by Monmouth pianist Julia Andrews.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Weekend That Wouldn't Quit!

Busy! Busy! Our weekend was spent chatting amiably with good friends, re-meeting a cousin and his family that we had not seen in six years, partaking of delicious ethnic food, and seeing two plays, a symphony concert, and some fine pictures at the Art Institute. It's hard to find a better combination of activities this side of fine arts heaven.

The friends were old colleagues who retired to a Chicago apartment and were gracious enough to invite us to spend a few days with them. The cousin and his family had made a trip back to Cedar Rapids from the Northwest and we were lucky to be able to find a few hours to re-acquaint ourselves at my daughter's home. Inbetween, a pleasant train trip to Chicago reigned supreme. The Vollard show at the Art Institute was impressive and full of dynamite 19th century masterpieces. The Mahler first anchored by the young South American conductor Dudamel, who has just been appointed the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, had people leaping out of their chairs in acclaim. Our first dramatic interlude took us to the Gorilla Tango Theatre where a production of Nick Ryan's Deviled Eggs was directed by a former student of mine. In the cast were three other former students. They are young and struggling to make a name for themselves in a business that is tougher than nails. My hope is that they will be another Steppenwolf some day. On Sunday we traveled to the world of the "already made it" theatre practicioners. At the Goodman Theatre we saw a moving show by David Lindsay-Abair titled Rabbit Hole. It is far more traditional in style and theme that some of Lindsay-Abair's earlier work like Fuddy Mears, but provided a tender and thoughtful discussion of the grieving process.

The food was Mexican on Friday night and Greek on Sunday. And in the free times there was plenty of browsing at Borders and shopping along the Miracle Mile. All told couldn't have been better. Well, it might have been warmer.