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Seven-Sentence Reviews: The Beaux’ Stratagem – Stratford Shakespeare Festival 2014

August 8, 2014

++++

Previous productions I’ve attended: 0

2014 Publicity Images - THE BEAUX’ STRATAGEMOne might doubt that a 1707 provincial farce promoting legally accessible divorce in England would have much to offer a 21st century audience; but the 2014 Stratford production breathes delightful life into The Beaux’ Stratagem’s period plot-lines and characters.

Mike Shara and Colm Feore play penniless beaux scheming to win the affections and purses of country heiresses played by Bethany Jillard and Lucy Peacock. Notwithstanding some anachronistic phrases, the strong cast makes the dialogue reasonably understandable without any foreknowledge of the play.

Several supporting characters are marvelous—Martha Henry is terrific as Lady Bountiful, a doddering precursor to medicinal herbalists of today. Gordon Miller snaps up more than his share of laughs as the jittery manservant, Scrub. I’ve not previously seen Evan Buliung play so flamboyant a comic role as Count Bellair, a French prisoner of war with a, well, outrageous accent.

Antoni Cimolino’s joyful production also includes entertainment during the scene changes—extras sing short William Boyce-inspired tunes by Berthold Carrière.

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Like Riding a Bike

June 5, 2014

People like to say that one never forgets how to ride a bike.

People lie.

Skipping the back story, I was invited to go bike riding this past Sunday. I liked the idea. Indianapolis has a rapidly growing bike culture that I have yet to participate in.

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Two recent phenomena in town made the evening bike ride appealing. First is the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. This network of downtown pedestrian and bike paths connects various shopping, dining, and cultural destinations. The second is the Indiana Pacers Bikeshare program. One can rent a bike from any of several stations downtown, ride it locally, and return it to any of the other stations.

As it happened, the bike ride plans fell through. But I wanted to try out the bikeshare anyway, just to see if I could make it work. So I put on my exercise clothes, drove myself downtown, parked my car, and walked to a bikeshare station. The program must be off to a good start, there was only one bike available.

I passed the intelligence test of the computer that rented the bike to me. I pulled it off the station with great satisfaction.

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Only then did it occur to me that I was standing in a public place with a bicycle. I haven’t ridden a bike since I learned to drive a car. That was four presidencies ago.I straddled it like a pro. I could stand there holding it all day. I successfully adjusted the seat for my height.I seemed to recall that I was supposed to start by pushing the pedal and lifting myself off the ground, simultaneously. More easily remembered than done.I did not, as you may suspect, fall on my face. Or any other body part for that matter. I rolled the bike in a small arc before I hopped off again and thought, How the hell did I think I was going to do this with other people?

I thanked my stars that I was alone. I made a toddler-esque loop around a parking lot, pumping my arms like mad and locking my knees. Somehow that seemed backwards.

My pride wouldn’t let me stay in the parking lot. As luck would have it, I found a straight, underused section of bike trail adjacent to the interstate. I made a few laps back and forth to tame my flailing limbs. With that warm up, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and ventured onto the Cultural Trail amid the pedestrians, vehicles and other targets.

I enjoyed exploring downtown without my car. One misses so many details by driving — plants, sounds, houses, stores and entire streets wash by. I found art installations, balcony gardens and lots of other bikers. I discovered that the Cultural Trail runs down a quaint alley underneath the raunchy gift shop attached to a gay bar. Who knew?

I might apologize to you for my long break from blogging. I’m actually still in the midst of my other projects. But I’d like to get back to writing. It’s cathartic for me, even if it’s a chore for you. In rereading some of my older posts, I found I can be rather depressing. I do apologize for that.

I suppose blogging counts among the things that are as memorable as riding a bike. But I always have trouble making time to write. Judging from my wobbly sea-legs after gracelessly dismounting the bike, I not sure how soon I’ll get back to either riding or writing.

 

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Productivity

February 11, 2013

As I mentioned, I’ve been busy with things other than writing since 2012.  I wanted to report that I have some results you can all visit online.

One word of warning.  You’ll find work attributed to Douglas Walker rather than Craig Stevenson.  Well, one of us is an alias.  If you don’t know which one, I’m not telling.

The first is the Mass Setting I wrote.  It’s online at ChristTheKingMass.com.  I’m planning to upload the sheet music as PDF files that other musicians can download if they would like.  I’ll get there at some point.

The other project is at HewToons.com.  In a previous post, I mentioned my inability to simply have a hobby.  Every time I try a hobby I transmute it into an attempt to start a second career.  So I’m at it again, this time with a comic strip.  As with most things in life, one doesn’t realize how difficult something is until one tries it.  It seems relatively simple to outline a few frames, write some jokes and draw some simple people.  Only after I started into the project did I discover the billions of nuances that come with the territory.

Please feel free to enjoy some of my non-Rubicon efforts, if you like.  I appreciate your interest and time.

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Seven Sentence Reviews: Les Misérables, The Movie Musical

February 10, 2013

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Number of times I saw it in the movie theater: 3

Number of times I have seen the stage show: 10

Number of times I’ve read the unabridged novel: 1

The translation of Les Misérables the musical from stage to screen retained roughly seventy percent of the theatrical material and made tweaks and additions to bring the film closer to the novel. The film clearly intended to inspire tears rather than goosebumps and was a complete success on that front.

Ann Hathaway’s honest and vulnerable performance of I Dreamed a Dream is the best chance the film has of becoming iconic in either live theater or cinematic realms. The film had many highlights, including A Heart Full of Love (which I traditionally disdain), Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, and an unsung but tear-jerking moment between the rigid policeman Javert and street urchin Gavroche.

Among the singing talents on display, Russel Crowe’s was the furthest off the mark—so much so that Javert’s impact on the plot seemed diminished, despite revamped and riveting orchestrations behind his signature song, Stars.

I saw Les Misérables in the movie theater three times because I wanted to remember it on the big screen and hear it in surround sound. I didn’t go see it four times because frequent close up shots and understated singing provoked an offhanded, but ultimately damning remark: the film does not beg to be seen in a movie theater—a television will capture its scope just as well.

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What I Did on Summer Vacation

September 3, 2012

I’ve been on a hiatus, obviously.

I’m still crossing my Rubicon.  I’ve just been writing other things lately.

I was informally commissioned last year to compose a Mass for my parish.  If you’re not Catholic (i.e. headed for hell) “composing a Mass” means that I set some of the weekly Mass prayers to music.  Theoretically, that music coordinates together as a suite.

I enjoy composing music—creating new melodies and playing them with ad libbed accompaniment for myself.  I’ll play in a stream of consciousness, or toy around with melodies or harmonies I’ve already written.  Adding constraints to the process—existing lyrics that must be incorporated or limits on singable ranges—somehow paradoxically makes the process easier for me.  An English writing analogy might be limiting a post to one hundred words, or writing a short story without using the letter “T.”  I’m more engaged when solving a complex problem than I am writing with no constraints at all.

Notating music, on the other hand, is a royal pain in the patooty.  I’m glad I was writing Rubicon before I started notating my Mass.  Blog posting has made me practice editing, adjusting layouts and polishing my output for public consumption.  In writing, the author strives to lead the reader to an idea through words, punctuation and paragraphs.  In music notation, the composer attempts to recreate his performance through another performer by handing him or her a sheet of paper.  Music notation, for me, has a lot more room for error than just writing words.  As an amateur hack musician, I don’t know exactly what I’ve written until I play it.  And I often don’t play what I’ve written, I play what’s in my head.

So I’ve been writing, rewriting, printing drafts and red-lining all summer long.  The project is almost complete.  My blog photographer Michelle Codarmaz-Booth created a fantastic cover for me.  When the Mass is finished, I plan to offer it for free online.  I’ve tried sending music to publishers before.  My submissions had no result, other than pummeling my frail ego. Like most industries—writing, art, engineering, etc.—music publishing is not about talent or ability. It’s about who you know and nearly limitless perseverance.

When the Mass is finished, I’m still going to be busy in musician mode. I’m playing for a cousin’s wedding in October.  I generally play weddings for our family.  I’m very opinionated about it.  But that’s another blog post.  After that I have yet another mixed media project that will limit my blogging output.

So, although I’m not producing many blog posts, I should have some nearly tangible alternatives to show you soon.

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Thinkering

September 3, 2012

Thinkering

verb (present participle of thinker)

1. To mull over, obsess over and otherwise daydream about [an idea], while (a) making changes, additions, adaptations, etc. to the idea and (b) never making any concrete or retrievable record of the object of one’s thinkering.

Example: I’ve been thinkering about a new landscape plan for my front yard.

Coined by Craig Stevenson, 2012, with Cecilia Audubon as his witness.

I wanted to claim this word before anyone else tries to.  It’s going to become all the rage.  Then it will get overused.  Beauty pageant contestants, most notably, will substitute it improperly in place of “thinking” or “tinkering” and English lexicographers will have something else causing them to pull their hair out.

“Thinkering” is basically tinkering with an idea.  It’s something more than a daydream—the idea is changing and developing.  One forms plans about how one might accomplish the idea in reality.  But it has yet to reach any form of reality—it’s not on a to-do list, it hasn’t been written on a piece of paper or typed into a computer.  Once the idea starts to be documented, then one is no longer thinkering—one is thinking.

I was talking with Cec and intended to say, “I’ve been tinkering with an idea.”  But the word came out “thinkering” instead.  And there you have it.

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Seven Sentence Reviews: Les Misérables, 25th Anniversary Production

April 15, 2012

+++½

National Tour, Indianapolis, April 10, 2011

Previous productions I’ve seen: 9

The 25th Anniversary Production of Les Misérables is truly a revival—with reinvented sets, costumes and staging.  Galloping tempos and liberal editing (mostly verses and lines that casual Les Mis audiences won’t notice) cut the original running time by 40 minutes.

Some good changes included a hand-grab (one certainly can’t call it a shake) that leads Javert to remember Valjean, new antics for the Thenardiers, and a dynamic and versatile stage with projected backdrops inspired by Victor Hugo’s paintings.

Bad changes were the relocation Gavroche’s climactic barricade scene off-stage (?!?) due to the new set, an absence of chairs and tables during Empty Chairs at Empty Tables and an awkward exit for the pivotal silver candlesticks during the finalé.

The rapid-fire tempos bothered me in two particular instances—the instrumental reprise of Bring Him Home with Stars after the barricades fell and the finalé reprise of Do You Hear the People Sing—both felt entirely too rushed.  But the heart of Les Misérables, the characters’ intimate solos, remained largely intact.

Ultimately, I’m glad Les Mis has been revived and reinvigorated for a new generation to enact and enjoy, but I’m not glad to see and hear 40 minutes less of my favorite musical.

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