Friday, May 30, 2008

It didn't cost a million dollars

Posted by John Stoehr on Fri, May 30, 2008 at 1:56 PM

Nigel Redden, director of Spoleto Festival USA, didn't seem pleased to learn that the biggest buzz of the festival so far has been for Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, a show whose run ended Tuesday.

During a party last night after the opening of The Burial at Thebes, I told Redden that to a person, the people I've talked to about Devil have raved about, with no doubt in their minds about how good it was. Dressed in a dapper blue blazer, khakis, and yellow neck tie, Redden gave me that impish deadpan look.

"That's unfortunate to hear now that it's over," he said. "It didn't cost a million dollars."

He was referring, of course, to the cost of mounting Monkey: Journey to the West, about $1.3 million. Monkey's pricetag, along with other ebbs and flows of financing, put the Spoleto Festival in the red (about $292,000, though it could be more) for the first time in more than a decade.

Monkey was Spoleto's second choice. The festival originally wanted to book The Gate Theatre's staging of Sweeney Todd. But plans fell through at the last minute. To make buzz news sting a bit more, Monkey, which has the longest run of anything else at the festival, is getting mixed reviews. The buzz factor is certainly not on par with Devil.

I don't know what it cost to mount Devil, but the stage crew at the Emmett Robinson Theatre told me that the tech for traditional Indian dancer Shantala Shivalingappa, whose performance consisted of four musicians sitting on a elevated platform and a empty stage, was more complicated than that of Devil.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hanging out with 1927

Posted by John Stoehr on Wed, May 28, 2008 at 4:44 PM

Since Saturday's opening of 1927's Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, I've had occasion to socialize with the London-based theater troupe — animator Paul Barritt, director Suzanne Andrade, actor Esme Appleton, and musician Lillian Henley. I've learned since then that they are not too far removed from their on-stage characters, just more gregarious and willing to go out for drinks.

Though they're not getting run over by trains or being struck by lightening in real life, they do wear a macabre sense of postmodern humor on their sleeves. The Shining and Eraserhead, for instance, are movies they think are hilarious. They love finding the absurd in the really obvious.

More facts from my strictly legit fact-finding missions: If she could get away with it, Andrade would wear her mime make-up all the time. Barritt pined for a seersucker suit but plans to buy a linen one in Singapore (where they are heading next). Appleton loves the white and red stripes from the popcorn boxes at the American Theater. Andrade says that you know where the audience stands when you turn a brownie troupe into a circle of goatmen. And they loved the touching humor and sweet sadness of Happenstance Theater's Low Tide Hotel. After Tuesday night's performance, both companies ate and drank at Basil to carouse and share ideas.

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(Barritt, in profile, Andrade, Appleton, and Henley at Basil Tuesday night after Low Tide Hotel)

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(Barritt, drinking an American lager that to him always tasted more like an ale, and Andrade)

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(Appleton, with wine glass, Andrade, and Henley at the Devil party Monday night)

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(Henley, Andrade, Scott Sedar and Mark Jaster of Happenstance, Appleton after the performance of Low Tide Hotel Tuesday night. Afterward, they all went to Basil down the street from the American)

As serious as a heart attack

Posted by John Stoehr on Wed, May 28, 2008 at 2:46 PM

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Phillip Hyman was hospitalized two days ago after suffering from a heart attack. He's fine now, he said, recovering at MUSC's intensive care unit after surgery to implant stents to relieve what had been 100 percent blockage. Since Monday, he's been under observation, but he should be well enough to leave Thursday, he said.

Hyman is the organizer of Evolution, an art show that's an alternative to Spoleto. It features familiar artist working around the Charleston area, including Wolfkid, Sht!, Kevin Harrison, and James Christopher Hill.

Hyman is known for the recent staging of Metamorphosis, carnival-like event centered on the arts in North Charleston. He's also known for several downtown art shows in which he transformed abandoned buildings into exhibit space. He normally maintains an intense pace, doesn't sleep much, and works tirelessly. He's also working with the I'On Group to promote North Charleston as a hub of creativity.

Despite his illness, Hyman has no plans to slow down. He's too dedicated and serious about homegrown art to drop out of the scene. He told me that he has a family history of heart disorders ("My grandfather had seven heart attacks before he died," Hyman told me). But as long as he maintains a proper diet, as he has been, and follows doctor's order, he should be able to get back to normal.

Much of the work of Evolution is still to be done. If you would like to help, call 345-3670.

Gerry Hemingway likes Greek tragedy

Posted by John Stoehr on Wed, May 28, 2008 at 11:07 AM

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At least we think so. We found him taking pictures outside the Cistern of the stage on which the Nottingham Playhouse will present The Burial at Thebes. What we're certain of is Hemingway's love and devotion to new music. This festival season, much of that new music is by his old friend Anthony Davis.

Gerry Hemingway and Davis, the composer of Amistad, go back a long way. They met when Hemingway was very young, 17, and open to just about any kind of music, however "out" or avant-garde it might be. Which was perfect for Davis, who interests and sensibilities have been far-reaching throughout his entire career, a fact made plain at a Music in Time performance featuring Davis' chamber work.

Hemingway was a featured performer that day and will be a key component in the orchestra for the entire run of Amistad. Among its other densities, Amistad is also incredibly dense metrically and requires the knowledge, skill, and chemistry of a good friend. Hemingway also performs a solo show on June 6.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tim Page covers Spoleto for the Post and Courier

Posted by John Stoehr on Thu, May 22, 2008 at 8:40 AM

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For the intellectuals out there, this is exciting news. Tim Page, the award-winning critic for The Washington Post, is coming to Charleston to cover Spoleto for the Post and Courier.

I've regularly read Page's work and consider him to be a model critic — even-toned, level-headed, hugely informed, and inexorably opinionated. That, and he's a hell of a writer. The way he writes is at least as valuable as what he's writing about. So for me, this is very exciting. I'll be learning a lot from Mr. Page, and I hope everyone who thinks and writes about — and feels something for — the arts will, too.

Page's appointment also signals a change of attitude at the daily newspaper. For the longest time, Spoleto wasn't taken all that seriously. It was considered a festival for the elites, for outsiders, not real Charlestonians, and so on. But now, Page's appointment shows that the festival is being taken seriously — artistically speaking — on a local level that has been missing till now. I hope this continues year after year. Bravo to managing editor Steven Mullins and staff at the P&C.

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