Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009-10 season at Spokane Civic Theatre

Main Stage:
Fiddler on the Roof, Sept. 25-Oct. 25
Chess (in concert), Oct. 30-31
A Tuna Christmas and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Nov. 20-Dec. 20
Chicago, Jan. 15-Feb. 7, 2010
Steel Magnolias, Feb. 26-March 21
Escanaba in Da Moonlight, by Jeff Daniels, April 9-25
Annie Get Your Gun, May 21-June 20

Studio Theater:
String of Pearls, by Michele Lowe, Oct. 23-Nov. 15
Sylvia, Jan. 29-Feb. 21, 2010
The Spitfire Grill, March 17-April 11
Lips Together, Teeth Apart, April 30-May 23


Blue Door moving

The improv comedians of the Blue Door Theatre will perform at their Garland Avenue location for the last time on Feb. 14. The troupe's not going out of business — it will continue to perform after moving to another location. Details are pending.

[ photo: Frank Tano, Blue Door's artistic director ]

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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Love Never Dies

... and apparently, neither do profitable musicals.
Lord Webber will reportedly open his sequel -- *Phantom: Love Never Dies* -- in three cities on three continents late in 2009.
Bobo made a mistake of omission in his October salivation over *Phantom* by not including a review.
So here's what I really think: Lovely melodies and (by theatrical standards, at least) great special effects. (And those two things are not to be sneezed at: ALW can write a tune, and the live, in-theater experience is impressive.)
But as Aristotle said, plot and character, blah, blah ... and that's where *Phantom* falls apart. Of the three main characters, two are flat and uninteresting, and the title guy is simply creepy. I mean, he's a stalker.
The plot's silly, and the Charles Hart/Richard Stilgoe lyrics frequently just make your eyes roll.
So do we REALLY need Phantom to show up 10 years later ... at Coney Island?
Well, that's where the freaks went ...

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Monday, December 29, 2008

The advantage of smallness: a New Year's wish

I've been reading Alex Ross's *The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century,* which blends political and cultural history with a history of classical music (and some jazz). Ross is the music critic for *The New Yorker.* His book is well-written and has a great companion Website where you can listen to lots of musical snippets.
Anyway, early in the chapter on the lonely Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, Ross quotes Czech novelist Milan Kundera (*The Unbearable Lightness of Being*) in a way that I think could be applied by analogy to our small theater community in Spokane:

In his 1993 essay collection *Testaments Betrayed,* Milan Kundera anatomizes the more peripheral of the European cultures, taking his native Czechoslovakia as a specimen. "The small nations form 'another Europe,'" the novelist writes. "An observer can be fascinated by the often astonishing intensity of their cultural life. This is the advantage of smallness: the wealth in cultural events is on a 'human scale': everyone can encompass that wealth." Kundera warns, however, that the familial feeling can turn tense and constricting at a moment's notice. "Within that warm intimacy," he says, "each envies each, everyone watches everyone."

Everyone can encompass our wealth: When I lived in L.A., there was tons of theater, but you couldn't possibly fight traffic on the San Diego Freeway to see it all. You lived in continual frustration: Culture, culture, everywhere, and only a few drops that you could drink. (It's a movie town, anyway.)
But here -- with our cute little miniature "downtown" and our handful of cultural offerings -- man, there may not be as much (by comparison with a megalopolis) but it's accessible, it's on a human scale. It's not so overwhelming that you can't make a point of going to see this show and that one and the next: the advantage of smallness. (Just look at the long list in "Upcoming in Spokane-area theater.")
Kundera's line about everyone (in a smaller-scale cultural environment) watching each other, pointlessly envying each other ... I think we know about THAT all too well.

So, a New Year's hope: that we would all re-affirm our desire to make good theater, to support one another, to bolster what's good and be forgiving about what's not.

And perhaps a New Year's resolution too: Bobo has half a mind (that's all you've ever had, you poser) to go over his theater reviews of the past year (I wouldn't wish rereading your reviews on my worst enemy) to select the lines he'd like back (you'll find a lot of 'em) -- that he'd like to rephrase or simply got wrong (that'll keep you busy).

Jack Bannon says, point out the good stuff, be gentle with the bad. In nearly every production, there's some of each.

Let's foster the advantages of smallness that we have and stop reinforcing the disadvantages.

[ photo: Milan Kundera ]

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Moses and the well-made play

In the WSJ, Terry Teachout's year-end review of New York and regional theater mentions many nuggets, but two in particular to remember: Itamar Moses and well-made plays like *The Pleasure of His Company.*

Teachout calls Moses, 31, "the best young playwright of 2008" and mentions three of his plays. (Bobo's enthusiastic about *Bach at Leipzig,* though it's the least produceable of the three.)

Meanwhile, the link to the San Diego Old Globe production mentions a half-dozen classic plays that would be do-able around here.

[ photo: Itamar Moses, from ]

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Musical

Surf on over to the 5-minute movies that were entered in the 48-Hour Film Festival and click on "Design2Pictures" for Troy Nickerson, Tom Heppler and the gang from Spokane Civic Theatre doing a hilarious sendup of musicals, blood and guts, and "insightful" directors and actors.
Bobo hasn't watched 'em all yet, but this is clearly the best he's seen so far ...

The finalists for the People’s Choice Award at this year’s 48-Hour Film Festival will be shown during First Night Spokane on Wednesday, Dec. 31, at 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 pm in the City Council Chambers at Spokane City Hall, Spokane Falls Blvd. and Post St. Visit

Also, completely random note, but run don't walk to see *Slumdog Millionaire* -- also spectacular.

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Dale Wasserman, 94

The man who adapted *One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and who wrote the book for *Man of La Mancha* died last week.
Eartha Kitt, too -- a lot of stage luminaries dying lately. As for Wasserman, the *New York Times* obit relates how cantankerous he was; how he lived as a hobo; and relates a great anecdote about how W.H. Auden miunderstood the ending of *La Mancha.*

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Harold Pinter, 78

Goldberg and McCann finally got Stanley -- at least if Meg's pro-non-conformity line at the end of *The Birthday Party* was, as Harold Pinter himself claimed, the most important he ever wrote. ("Stan, don't let them tell you what to do!") Pinter died on Christmas Eve.

The plaudits flowed in, along with the Nobel three years ago. The *New York Times* obit is here.

Johann Hari at *The Huffington Post* has a contrary view. He criticizes Pinter's plays for being reductible to cliches (which is silly, like asserting that *Othello* says that jealousy is bad, and nothing more)-- but he also points out Pinter's anti-Americanism.

I deeply respected and admired Pinter's work, but he's not the sort of playwright you can cuddle up with, you know?

Bobo saw Pinter himself in *Old Times* in L.A. in the mid-'80s, with Ursula Andress; considered stopping by the stage door; chickened out.
Wouldn't have known what to say. Wouldn't have been sure where to put the pauses.

[ photo: ]


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Self-improvement through improv

Blue Door Theatre and its improv comedy don't get no respect. (Bobo knows, my bad.)
So, a reminder:
This Friday, Dec. 26, at 8 pm is your last chance to catch "Season's Greetings," an improvisational comedy show in which audience members bring in their old Christmas cards and the improv artists make fun of them. (The cards, not the audience members.)

Saturday nights at 9 pm bring the "not suitable for all ages" shows known as "Safari Saturdays" (tickets only $7!).

Friday shows coming in 2009 include "Choose to Lose" (Fridays in January, Jan. 2-30), a combination game show and improv romp; and "It's a Date" (Fridays, Feb. 6-27), a kind of spoof of what happened just off-camera during filming of *The Dating Game.* (Tickets for Friday night shows are $9; $7, children, students and seniors.)


Meryl Streep in rehearsal

It'll be awhile until it comes out on DVD -- and it'll never appear on a big screen in Spokane, but John Walter's documentary about the Central Park production of Brecht's *Mother Courage and Her Children* apparently provides footage of La Streep working her way toward a characterization (and Tony Kushner on a bicycle, too). It's called "Theater of War."

[ photo:, with Kushner interview ]

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Upcoming out-of-town theater

... with "out of town" defined as outside the distribution area of The Inlander (which extends from Sandpoint south to Moscow/Pullman and from Medical Lake east to Kellogg/Wallace)

in Yakima,
Movin’ Out, Jan. 9-10
The Pajama Game, Feb 13-14
The Drowsy Chaperone, April 17-18 (three performances -- anybody up for a Drowsy Chaperone road trip?)

[ image: ]
You Can’t Take It With You, through Jan 3
The Road to Mecca, by Athol Fugard, Jan 15-Feb 14
(schoolteacher and preacher help their friend, a reclusive elderly artist in South Africa, to plan her future; this replaces the Rep’s production of Waiting for Godot)
Betrayal, Feb 19-March 22
The Seafarer, Feb 26-March 28
Wishful Drinking, April 2-May 3 (performed by Carrie Fisher and directed by Tony Taccone)
Breakin’ Hearts and Takin’ Names, April 9-May 10

Portland Center Stage
A Christmas Carol, through Dec. 28
Apollo, Jan 13-Feb 8
How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, Jan 27-March 22
The Importance of Being Earnest, Feb 24-March 22
Crazy Enough, March 31-June 7
Frost/Nixon, April 14-May 10
Grey Gardens, May 26-June 21

2009 season at
The Year of Magical Thinking
Crime and Punishment
A Thousand Clowns, by Herb Gardner
The American Cycle II (second series of five American plays) in Portland
The Seafarer, Jan. 6-Feb. 15
String of Pearls by Michele Lowe
Distracted by Lisa Loomer
Three Sisters, May 5-June 14

Whitman College, Walla Walla
Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, adapted from the novel by Gina B. Nahai by Cynthia Croot, March 5-8
(Iranian Jewish framily moves from Teheran to L.A. and encounters an angel)
Medea’s Children, April 8-12
(Swedish playwrights investigate the effects of divorce on kids by using ancient Greek myth)
She Loves Me, the 1963 Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick musical about two penpals in Budapest, 1930
(based on Miklos Laszlo’s 1930s play, Parfumerie, which was also the basis of the 1998 movie, You’ve Got Mail) (Seattle)
Moby Dick, or, The Whale, Feb 10-March 8
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, April 14-May 9
Night Flight, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, June 4-14 (EWU Theater, Cheney)
Never the Sinner, by John Logan, March 4-8
(about Leopold and Loeb)
Three Days of Rain, by Richard Greenberg, dir. Sara Goff, May 13-17, Olympia
Sins of the Mother, by Israel Horovitz, Jan 22-Feb 14
(boy returns to his hometown fishing village, then a mystery; with Horovtiz in residence before it goes to New York)
The Elephant Man, by Bernard Pomerance, March 19-April 11
The American Pilot by David Grieg, April 30-May 23
(He crashes and is captured by rebels; what to do with him?)
Bat Boy: The Musical, June 18-July 18
Mating Dance of the Werewolf, by Mark Stein, Aug. 20-Sept. 12
As You Like It, Oct. 1-24
End Days by Deborah Zoe Laufer, Jan 30-Feb 22
(16-year-old Rachel has a Jesus freak mom, a Jewish neighbor who’s fixated on Elvis and her -- and the Apocalypse is coming on Wednesday)
Of Mice and Men, March 20-April l2
A Wedding Story, by Bryony Lavery, May 15-June 7
(Evelyn’s happily married to Peter, but she has Alzheimer’s,. and their daughter falls in love with another woman at a wedding reception), Seattle
Gee’s Bend, by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder, Jan 30-Feb 28
(quilting in Alabama; regional premiere)
Tuesdays with Morrie, March 27-April 25
Around the World in 80 Days, adapted by Mark Brown; May 22-June 20
Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming, by Connie Ray, Alan Bailey and Mike Craver, July 10-Aug. 15
(now it’s after World War II and the Sanders family is still testifyin’ at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church)
Enchanted April, adapted by Matthew Barber from the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, Sept. 25-Oct. 24
(four British women vacation in Italy in 1922)

Boise Contemporary Theater,
I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda, by Sonja Linden, Jan 28-Feb 14
(London, 1999: a writing teacher at a refugee center meets Juliette,who’s determined to write a book about her family, who were killed in the Rwandan genocide)

[ image: Dobama Theatre, Cleveland ]

BCT will also present Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl, April 1-18 (Boise)
The Comedy of Errors, June 5-July 24
The Seagull, June 12-July 3
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, July 10-Aug. 28
Twelfth Night, July 31-Aug. 30
A Tuna Christmas, Sept. 4-Oct. 3

Company of Fools, Hailey, Idaho
It’s a Wonderful Life: a live radio play, through Jan. 4
Second City Improv on tour, Jan 15-16;
Souvenir (about Florence Foster Jenkins), Feb 18-March 8

Lord Leebrick Theater Company, Eugene
The Clean House, by Sarah Ruhl, Jan. 9-31
Rabbit Hole, by David Lindsay-Abaire, Feb. 27-March 31
Suicide Weather, by Jeff Whitty (native Oregonian, alum of U of Oregon; Avenue Q and The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler), May 8-31
(Mom fancies she’s a Noel Coward character, but she’s more like Medea; Dad prefers to read about serial killers rather than talk to his own family)

[ image:; Jeff Whitty accepts his Tony for *Avenue Q* ]

OSF in Ashland,
in the Bowmer Theater:
Macbeth, Death and the King’s Horseman, The Music Man, Equivocation and Paradise Lost
New Theatre:
Dead Man’s Cell Phone, The Servant of Two Masters and All’s Well That Ends Well
Elizabethan (outdoor) Stage:
Henry VIII, Don Quixote, Much Ado About Nothing

2008 Broadway review

Ben Brantley reviews the dozen best shows of 2008, complete with audio slide shows. Sarah Kane's bleak and violent outlook can be hard to take, but at least it has migrated over to this side of the Atlantic. (Bobo saw Kane's *Crave* in Salt Lake City, c. 2002.)

A companion look-back article by Charles Isherwood mentions *What's That Smell,* the show that Max Kumangai is in. (See the Nov. 30 post on this blog.)

(photo: Sarah Kane, 1971-99; *Blasted,* full of atrocities in its commentary on domestic violence and the Bosnian War, premiered in 1995)

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

upcoming in Spokane-area theater

Annie, Lake City Playhouse, through Dec. 21
Miracle on 34th Street, Pullman Civic Theater, through Dec. 21
A Reduced Christmas Carol, Interplayers, Dec. 17-21
White Christmas, in concert, NIC, Dec. 19-21

every Friday and Saturday night: improv comedy at Blue Door Theatre
The Cemetery Club, Ignite! Community Theater, Jan. 9-11
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Civic, Jan. 9-25
Fences (readers theater), Interplayers, Jan. 15-19
Little Shop of Horrors, Lake City Playhouse, Jan. 16-31
The Winter's Tale, Gonzaga, Jan. 23-Feb. 1
Cowgirls, Interplayers, Jan. 29-Feb. 14
Raised in Captivity, WSU, Jan. 29-Feb. 7
The Women of Lockerbie, Civic Studio, Jan. 30-Feb. 22
Annie, INB Center, Jan. 31
Alexander, Who's Not ... Not Going To Move! -- SCT, Jan. 31-Feb. 15

Kennedy Center, American College Theater Festival (Region 7), U of Idaho, Feb. 16-19
The Doctor in Spite of Himself, NIC, Feb. 19-28
Frankenstein, SCC Lair, Feb. 20-March 1
The Sunshine Boys, Lake City Playhouse, Feb. 20-March 7
No, No, Nanette — Spokane Civic Theatre, Main Stage, Feb. 20-March 15
Cinderella, Christian Youth Theater Spokane at the Bing, Feb. 20-March 14
The Belle of Amherst, Interplayers, Feb. 26-March 14
The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Feb. 26-28

Othello, SFCC, March 5-15
Museum (by Tina Howe), Whitworth, March 6-14
Bridge to Terabithia, Spokane Children’s Theater at SCC, March 7-22
Much Ado About Nothing, Ignite! Community Theater, March 13-15
Ain’t Misbehavin’, INB Center, March 19-22
Defending the Caveman, the Bing, March 20-21
Godspell, Civic’s Studio Theater, March 20-April 11
Festival of New Works I and II, Kiva Theater, U of Idaho, March 25-April 4
Urinetown, Gonzaga, March 26-April 4
James and the Giant Peach, Lake City Playhouse, March 26-April 5
Waiting for Godot, Interplayers, March 26-April 11

Shakespeare in Hollywood, Civic’s Main Stage, April 3-19
Die Fledermaus, Hartung Theater, U of Idaho, April 16-26
AACTfest Region IX Festival, Coeur d'Alene, April 17-19
American Buffalo, Empyrean, April 23-26
The Graduate (adapted by Terry Johnson), Interplayers, April 23-May 9

One-acts, Gonzaga, May 1-2
Spamalot, INB Center, May 5-10
Sherlock's Last Case, Ignite! Community Theater, May 8-10
Big River, Lake City Playhouse, May 8-23
The Affections of May, Civic’s Studio Theater, May 8-31
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Civic’s Main Stage, May 15-June 14
Heidi, Spokane Children’s Theater at SCC, May 16-31
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Christian Youth Theater Spokane at the Bing, May 22-31
Hole in the Sky, SFCC, May 28-June 7


Monday, December 15, 2008

The *Hairspray* effect

More people are attending musicals.
That's one of the conclusions of today's NEA report on the state of nonprofit theaters.
In the last 16 years, attendance at musicals has increased from 32 million to 37 million.
The audience for non-musical ("straight") plays, however, has declined (also since 1992) from 25 million to 21 million.

This, despite the fact that the number of nonprofit theaters has doubled in that same time.
The conclusion, at least as far as non-musicals go, according to the report? Too many theaters and not enough demand.

*Moulin Rouge,* *Hairspray,* *Mamma Mia!* and the *High School Musical* shows have reinvigorated the audience for musicals, especially among the under-30 crowd ... is that a possible explanation?

Bobo has an e-mail out to an NEA spokeswoman requesting some more detail and interpretation.

But the survey doesn't account for the economic downturn since 2005, says the Washington Post.

{photo: the outgoing chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts}

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

*Sweeney* reactions

Startling, funny, haunting. Opens with Toby in straitjacket.
Merritt David Janes remarkably different than he was in *The Wedding Singer* -- lowered voice, often lit from above so that his brow shadowed his lower face. Really only allowed himself to laugh in the Act One ending number, "A Little Priest" (a playful duet with Mrs. Lovett about the taste of lawyer- and politician-flesh, e.g.).
Lots of harsh lighting effects. Much of the singing done presentationally, straight out to the audience.
Sweeney's first entrance involves sitting up inside a coffin, a la Dracula.

Brian Ritter, operations and technical director at the Fox, shared a good analogy during intermission (and he remembers the Spokane Opera productions of *Sweeney* going back to circa 1989 and 1999): You tend to forget that these actors are carrying around musical instruments in the same way that, at a foreign film, you forget after awhile that you're reading subtitles.

In the same way that "Pretty Women" is simultaneously beautiful and creepy (melodically and in context) because it's being sung about the same woman, Johanna, but by her lustful guardian and her righteously indignant father -- similarly, this production gave Mrs. Lovett's comic vision of future domestic bliss with Sweeney, "By the Sea," an extra edge by juxtaposing her delighted imagings with her pulling out of a bucket one repulsive/scary surgical tool after another. (The pleasures that capitalism brings are earned through the sufferings of others.)

What *Sweeney* veterans remember, of course, is the gruesomeness. And so Bobo didn't really believe Carrie Cimma when she went on and on about a) how funny, and b) how loving this production is. But she's right. Anthony loves Johanna, Sweeney loved his wife and daughter, Mrs. Lovett is attracted in her way to Sweeney ... it's an ugly world we live in, but not devoid of passion and compassion. And Cimma herself — sauntering about in her degraded French maid's outfit — provided a lot of the comic (and naughty) bits herself.

"We all deserve to die," sings Sweeney, at his most sardonic, in "Epiphany." For Bobo, that helped explain this production's small white coffin, often carried about as if to emphasize around the time of Johanna's near-death (Sweeney is about to slit his own daughter's throat, when he's interrupted) that even such an innocent soul as she is still someone, like the rest of us, who is a despicable sinner.

For all the crash-cues and shock effects of light and sound, director John Doyle uses the simplest of effects at some junctures: a boom! of light and sound at a victim's death, and then silence, and then all we can hear is ... the slow pouring of blood from out of one bucket and into another.

Sweeney, the "Ballad" tells us, "serves a dark and a vengeful god." But he's also a kind of vengeful Jehovah figure: "Swing your razor wide! / Sweeney, hold it to the skies. / Freely flows the blood of those who moralize."
The Sweeneys of the world may be slightly crazy and inconvenient, but they rid of those who think that they know better than everyone else.

A powerful experience. Sitting in the Fox, it felt as if Spokane was getting some world-class theater. (I know, I know, this is the non-Equity second national tour. But the concept was a Tony-winner.) You just sort of gaped at the talent on display on that stage.

(Photos: from the first national tour of *Sweeney,* and from a 3/3/08 New York Post article on John Doyle)

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CdA Summer Theater's 2009 season

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
The Producers
Dames at Sea
Miss Saigon

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Naturalism is not what theater does best

[photo: Complicite's *A Disappearing Number*]

Carol Rocamora, "McBurney Meets Miller," *American Theatre* magazine, Dec. '08, pp. 32-35 and 87-89:

The current Broadway production of Arthur Miller's *All My Sons* (with John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest, Patrick Wilson and Katie Holmes) runs through Jan. 11 and was directed by Simon McBurney of London's Complicite, a visionary theater company.

(See the Oct. 18 post on this blog for a link to the N.Y. Times' slide show.)

One of Complicite's most highly regarded productions was *Mnemonic,* juxtaposing the 1991 discovery high in the Austrian Alps of a preserved Stone Age man's corpse -- he's known as "Otzi the Iceman" -- and the sleeplessness of a man in a London flat. (Check the video.)

Ben Brantley said that he would never forget this production; Miller himself leaned over to his wife and said, "Only theater can do this."

So what innovations has McBurney used with Miller's 60-year-old *All My Sons*?
Bare stage. Hints of tree, chair, door frame, fences. Actors visible, sitting in the wings. Five added, non-speaking cast members: "The Neighbors." Continual musical underscoring, as in a movie. Video on a cyc: enlarges the context, shows World War II-era factories, planes and people.

See also an interview with Lithgow.

(None of this is intended as a criticism of last year's production at the Civic here in Spokane. Bobo's more interested in how naturalism doesn't necessarily have to be the default setting for the works of Miller or any other playwright.)

(McBurney has parts in *Body of Lies* (with Crowe and DiCaprio) and *The Duchess* (with Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes).
McBurney met Miller in 2001. Miller referred to the carpentry aspect of "play-wright" -- i.e., it's a craft. And of course Miller famously used hammer and nails to construct his own shed for the writing of *Death of a Salesman.*

McBurney claims that Miller's plays suggest that "America, especially in its heartland, refuses to criticize or look at itself, as if that's somehow un-American." (By and large, we distrust thought and introspection. Of course, this may be the flip side of Sarah Palin's implying that city folks and liberals aren't _real_ Americans: Liberals saying that country folks are stupid and lack self-insight. Over-generalizations aren't helpful.)

Miller says at one point in Rocamora's article that "when people do my plays in America, they are conventional about the staging and frequently the plays are hampered by the heavy hand of naturalism."
Instead, theater should concentrate on what it can do even better than movies: dreamlike, unexpected juxtapositions of images and sounds that are best experience by a live audience in performance and not just as photons dancing on a cinema screen.
The point, as McBurney says, is that the realism shouldn't be onstage, but in the minds of the audience.
Consider: movies didn't kill off theater, any more than photography killed off painting. (Marginalized it by comparision, and made it search for new ways of doing things -- but didn't destroy it.)

McBurney has further comments (p. 88) about acquisitiveness in America (we don't share much; our stuff belongs to US), and about Miller's vague opening stage directions ("on the outskirts of ... of our era") which seek to universalize (and not particularize) the Kellers' tale, and how *All My Sons* is NOT set inside near the kitchen sink but outside, in a garden with a symbolic tree where important moral decisions need to be made (as in Eden).

BOBO's MAIN POINT (thank God, at last): The logistical details of stage minimalism like this are within the budget capacities of local theaters. (Peter Brook's *Empty Space,* and all that.) Audiences AREN'T stupid, and they like to imagine things. It's child-like, this desire. Movies, in contrast, imagine stuff for us, then splatter the space ships and fireballs all over the screen for us — making us enthralled but passive participants. What McBurney (and directors like him) are doing, we could approximate here.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Check your props

No, really, CHECK your props.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

*Sweeney Todd*: interview outtakes

Outtakes ‘n’ Stuff
from the Carrie Cimma (Mrs. Lovett) interview
for the John Doyle production of
Sondheim’s *Sweeney Todd* (at the Fox, Dec. 14-15)
[ preview of the show is the Arts Lead in the Dec. 11 *Pacific Northwest Inlander* ]

Note that the lead image in the Dec. 11 Inlander pictures Merritt David Janes as Sweeney.
Janes played the title role in the first-national-tour production of *The Wedding Singer* that visited Spokane in November 2007.
Back then, Bobo had a fun interview with Janes. Sample exchange:
Could your mullet beat up Adam Sandler’s mullet?
Well, my mullet is from Vermont and his is from New Hampshire. So it’d be an all-New England battle.
Since the *Inlander* archives are all FUBAR, be the first to e-mail and receive your own forwarded copy of that historic interview. (There was even some discussion of Madonna’s having filmed scenes at the Bigfoot.)

But back to Sweeney …
Ben Brantley dropped a great allusion into his Nov. ’05 review of the Doyle-directed Michael Cerveris/Patti LuPone production, calling it
— which of course refers to Peter Weiss’ 1963 play,
*The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade,*
which is much better known by its shortened title, *Marat/Sade* (and which not a single person at Inlander HQ recognized at all).

So all that, and Bobo couldn’t use it.
Bobo has seen a production of *Marat/Sade,* but can’t remember where – it was a college show (nice, big cast), and now I think it must have been at UCLA, c. 1985.
The point of contact is that both productions take place inside insane asylums, with some questioning of who’s running the asylum, who’s actually sane and insane, etc. Buckets of blood, throat-slitting in bathtubs (or in barber chairs), etc.

Cimma, who plays Mrs. Lovett, was also in last year’s touring production of *The Wedding Singer.* Visit the "Sweeney on Tour" site — and click on "Photos" for the best images of this production.

Effect of the Johnny Depp movie of a year ago?
Carrie Cimma: “The movie has helped with name recognition. We opened in September, and a lot of twenty-somethings have come out to see the show because of it.”

Mrs. Lovett even has tweener fans:
“There was this one little girl, 8 or 9 — NOT the recommended age for this show, by the way — and she came to the stage door and her mom said she was really shy. So she leaned over halfway and said, really loud, ‘I want to be HER!’”
“I don’t know how I feel about that,” says Cimma, laughing.

Why Mrs. Lovett’s instrument is the tuba:
“Patti LuPone is the reason that all Lovetts have to play the tuba. In New York, they told her, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ And she said, ‘Absolutely not. I’m not going to be the only one who’s not playing an instrument. Besides, as a matter of fact, I once played the sousaphone in an all-girls marching band.’
“Since that happened, everyone playing this part has to play the tuba.”
Cimma herself played “some brass, a little French horn” in high school.
“It’s the most expensive prop I’ve ever had to work with.”

on how musically talented the actors in this production (the second national tour) are:
Sweeney and the Judge both play the trumpet.
“The original Sweeney played the guitar. In London, Sweeney played the trumpet. Our Sweeney plays both.”

How much of a musical background were the actors expected to have?
“Clearly, we’re meant to act and sing first.
“Our Johanna, aside from being a beautiful singer, is on full scholarship at school. I don’t know what school she goes to, but she’s on full scholarship for both vocal performance and cello.
“Our Beadle has played the piano for 30 years. Our Toby plays four instruments. The judge plays three.”

on acting and playing an instrument:
Playgoers says that they “sort of forget [that each of them is lugging around an instrument] and that they’re drawn into the story.”

Director John Doyle, says Cimma, just finished *Road Show* at the Public with Michael Cerveris and “with a lot of people from *Company* and from *A Catered Affair.*”

How much contact did the cast have with John Doyle?
“Adam John Hunter, who was the assistant director and PSM on Broadway with Doyle, works directly with us.
“J.D., as we call him, stopped by for a couple of days right before we went into tech and talked about the concept.
“Hunter would be sending Doyle photos of costume designs, since of course Doyle had to approve everything.”

Doyle’s first production in England:
“Halfway through the rehearsal period of the first production — this was in a little 219-seat theater, and they were doing it just to try to get some money so they could go on —one day, Doyle said, as they were plodding through, ‘I looked around and said, “Oh, dear, this is actually working.”’”

more on “symbolic” coincidences in the show:
“And it’s funny, lots of things that people think are so clever about this production, came about because of absolute coincidence.
“A lot of the things that people think are funny and so clever, were out of necessity. People ask, ‘Why is Sweeney moving furniture at this one point between scenes?’ Well, because he’s the only person who’s not playing an instrument at that point ...
A lot of the show is open-ended like that, as if we are making up the story as we go along.”

on the buckets of blood:
“What we were told was, when this is set, sometime around 1910, in asylums they would have operating tables, and at each corner there would be a bucket to catch the runoff blood.”

on the stark set:
“We have this big wall with all these knickknacks — bedpans, straps, whatever you’d expect to find in an asylum. An entire wall of bric-a-brac.”

Lighting setup:
“Our electricians are spectacular. Our crew spends eight hours doing set-up before the show, and six of those hours are for the lighting.”

Isn’t it just a blood-and-guts show?
“I tell people that it’s also a love story — Sweeney’s love for his wife, Mrs. Lovett’s love for Sweeney ...”

Cimma is playing the Angela Lansbury / Patti LuPone / Helena Bonham Carter role:
“I’ve listened to Lansbury’s recordings, but I never saw her. As for Ms. LuPone, I made a point of not watching her. I wanted to approach it with the role fresh in my head. I want to go in with nothing preconceived. So I didn’t find the ‘grand dames’ helpful.”

Favorite moments?
“’Little Pirate’ — it’s the funniest, but then it’s also about eating people.”

about cannibalism on stage:
“Even in the movie, even in the traditional staging, they’d kill someone and the audience is going, “Look at all the fake blood.’”
“But one thing that I actually liked about the movie was when they’d kill people, and all the bodies were dropping down into the pit of the basement, even though a lot of people were turned off by that.
“But in the movie, they could show what they were really doing.
“Our show is more eerie. It’s creepy, very suggestive.”

Doyle’s inspiration for this version of Sweeney involved German cannibalism online:
“Doyle told us about the article that inspired him to do the show: Some people in Germany were volunteering online for cannibalism — they were actually asking to be cooked and eaten, on this German Internet site. And he said that when he saw this article, it was so creepy, and then he knew he had a reason to do this show.”
Related BBC articles:
here and
And Der Spiegel has an interview.
And The Guardian has a graphic account of the night of the murder. It’s like Hannibal Lecter come to life (or, to the table).

on Sondheim’s use of the Dies Irae and leitmotivs:
“Oh, that’s in ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.’ That’s our Greek chorus moment. The ballad is when we drop everything and are just flat-out singing to the audience.” “’Epiphany’ has Johanna singing her song proper, and then a lot of other times, you hear that theme. Johanna also has “Green Finch,” which pops up in other places.”

[She had to think about her own themes.] “In the recitative at the end of Act One —
that comes up again at the end of the show, comes in at the Epiphany and again at the end of the show, little bits of it here and there. And that’s in ‘Pies,’ too.
“It’s in 3/4 time, a kind of waltz thing in ‘Priest’ and in “Pies.’ It’s in the Epiphany at the end of the show.”

Since Cimma is playing Mrs. Lovett, she sees a different emphasis in the show. It’s NOT all about blood and guts:
“Where I’m coming from, my word is ‘love.’
But Lovett’s an opportunist….
“No, she just wants to make money so she and Sweeney can live a better life.
There’s a song in Act Two about leaving for the seaside so she and
Sweeney can live a better life.
[ She disagrees with Hal Prince that the show is about the excesses of capitalism and about the desperation with which some people seek to escape the lowest social classes, while she agrees with Sondheim that the show is about how vengeance can turn into obsession. ]

Favorite moments?
“’Little Priest’ at the end of Act One, and my death — it’s pretty fantastic, so I can really open up and let it roll.”

When it comes to her family, Cimma gets no sympathy;
“My family came to see the show in Hartford,” she says. “And they were, like, ‘You’re so mean. We feel bad for Toby.’”
But what about watching you die, Carrie? How did they react then?
“They said, ‘You deserved it.’ Oh, OK. Thanks, Mom.” [laughs]


Bobo just wants to add that Doyle's *Company* (which he saw on PBS and which had this same "gimmick" of the actors carrying and playing their musical instruments during the performance) was one of the handful of most moving productions that he has ever seen in musical theater. But then that Raul Esparza fellow is so darn cute ...

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*Lockerbie* cast list

*The Women of Lockerbie* by Deborah Brevoort
directed by Sara Edlin-Marlowe
at Spokane Civic Theatre's Studio Theater, Jan. 30-Feb. 22

Kate Vita as Madeline
Kevin Connell as Bill
Brandon Montang as George
Marianne McLaughlin as Olive
Susan Creed as Hattie
Nina Kelly as Woman No. 1
Sara Blythe Smith as Woman No. 2

added Dec. 21:
Today is the 20th anniversary of the terrorist act, which killed 259 people in the air and 11 on the ground.
See also the Wikipedia article on Pan Am Flight 103.

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Five small-cast plays to consider

Terry Teachout in the WSJ offers five suggestions for relatively low-budget productions. He's talking Broadway, but seeing some more David Ives around here would be nice, and Bobo's been waiting for years for a good presentation of the last part of Shaw's *Man and Superman* (which, I think, is basically what "Don Juan in Hell" is). And of course Gonzaga's Brian Russo directed three of his undergraduate actors in the Kenneth Lonergan play last year at Empyrean. Bobo saw *Relatively Speaking,* an early Ayckbourn, at the Edinburgh Festival in 1979 and it was about the funniest thing he's ever seen.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Acting lessons needed

Bobo just spent two days working/playing on the 48-Hour Video Contest that North by Northwest hosts for First Night.
Luke Baumgarten and Tammy Marshall and I got the theme, prop and bit of dialogue on Friday night — and the required rewrite element on Saturday night — requiring a pickup shot early today after a full day on Saturday of shooting.
We turned in our entry eight minutes before the deadline.
Bobo learned a lot about movie-making. He also learned that he hasn't yet learned anywhere near enough about the differences between stage and screen acting. Yikes!
At least it's in the can.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Free Night of Theater 2009

Bobo encourages local theaters to contact Phillip Matthews at to join in this nationwide event -- this year, involving 60,000 tickets for 1,750 performances in 120 cities located in 27 different states. Spokane should add to the list.
Full-page ad in the December *American Theater* magazine; see comments to the previous post.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

arts audiences are too AFRAID

We’re all too afraid of appearing stupid. We go to arts events, but we’re tormented by the nagging fear that someone will scope out how ignorant we are.
Guy Dammann’s article in The Guardian focuses on the snobbery of the classical-music-and-opera crowd (and people's fear about clapping during the intervals between the movements of a symphony), but it applies to many other art forms as well.
(In fact, this is such a good and thought-provoking – if difficult – article that Bobo ended up more or less paraphrasing and excerpting from it as he went along.)

Can’t we just appreciate a painting, or do we have to go on and on about Neo-Post-Expressionist-Fauvism? Can’t we just enjoy a show without the damn critics telling us what we should or should not like? (Critics shouldn’t be perceived as telling, but it’s my own/their own damn fault if they are.)
People openly admit that they don’t know basic scientific facts or the name of the Secretary of the Interior – so why this fear of being thought ignorant about the arts? Because the arts are supposed to improve us, make us better — as Dammann notes:

"To be sure, art certainly does improve us, in ways more important than many suspect; but it is never less likely to achieve this effect than when self-improvement is mistaken for an improvement in the way we are seen by others."

A rising middle class will latch onto aesthetic appreciation as a marker of how refined one is; it’s a way of escaping the lower classes.
One more problem, though: aesthetic experience is completely subjective.
Of course we doubt ourselves: There’s no right or wrong. If we’re conscientious, we keep going back to the artwork, again and again, checking our perceptions, checking to see if our opinions have changed any. (Too bad that we let others’ opinions infiltrate and infect this process.)
And that’s why studying art has an ethical dimension. It forces us out of ourselves and into engaging someone else’s mind on his or her own terms; it breeds empathy. We have to keep checking back with the artwork. (*King Lear* is a very different work according to whether your age is closer to Cordelia’s, Kent’s or Lear’s.)

Dammann continues:
"But every time the self-doubt at the heart of this encounter turns to fear – every time we worry about mistaking a painting, not understanding a book, or clapping at the wrong moment during a musical performance – these responses too are included in the veneer, taking off the shine and replacing it with a harder, opaque lacquer. Slowly, revered without being respected, the works close up and darken. Audiences become consumers; critics become conservators; museums become mausoleums."

What a sad but accurate commentary on how most people and pop culture regard opera or Shakespeare or the golden era of musical comedy.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

*The Color Purple*: outtakes

In advance of the preview in Thursday’s Inlander, here are some additional notes and comments on the musical version of The Color Purple — and outtakes from Bobo’s interview with Felicia P. Fields — along with a review …

[photo: Felicia P. Fields as Sofia (second from left) in The Color Purple; visit]

Differences from the novel in the movie:
Deleted: scene when Shug was singing and walking down the road to her father’s church
Deleted: scene when Celie tries to kill Mister while shaving him
Added: Celie and Shug become lovers
Changed: for the big reunion at the end, they AREN’T in African garb and speaking in the Olinka language.

(Humorous side note: After the three composers of the musical version had failed to find information on the customs of the Olinka, Alice Walker revealed to them that she had simply made up the tribe.)

Broadway musical ran Dec 05-Feb 08 : 30 previews + 910 performances.
Recouped its $11M investment in one year.
Produced by Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey (who was Sofia in the movie), among others, including the Weinsteins.
Book by Marsha Norman
Music and lyrics by a team of three: Allee Willis (who wrote “September” and “Boogie Wonderland” for Earth, Wind and Fire, and the theme song for Friends; Stephen Bray (who wrote a lot of songs for Madonna); and Brenda Russell

LaChanze as Celie (won Tony).
Felicia P. Fields as Sofia was nominated for a Tony.
The show went one for 11 at the Tonys in ’06.
Jeannette Bayardelle, formerly in the ensemble, played Celie in Los Angeles.

Premiered at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta in summer ’04.
Sept. ‘04 world premiere.
LaChanze and Felicia Fields were with the show even then.

April ‘07, started national tour in Chicago, with Felicia and Jeannette
Chicago was chosen because of Oprah, director Gary Griffin, and Felicia Fields, all of whom are Chicago residents.
Went one for 11 at Tonys: LaChanze, as Celie, was the only winner.

Fields won ‘06 Theater World Award and was nominated for the Drama League award – she mentioned awards “that I had never heard of before” – like the Clarence Derwent Award.

The show is in Costa Mesa Nov. 18-30, then San Diego Dec. 2-7, then here, then Seattle, Portland, Denver, Tulsa, OK City ... all the way to Boston in June ’09.

Felicia Fields on audiences that are attentive but quiet all evening long:
“I don’t wanna wait nearly three hours to find out, ‘Oh, yeah, they were out there, they were listenin’. A lot of times, on my first cross [move across stage], when the drum rolls and I can hear it, I’m thinkin’, “’What are we doin’, paintin’ up here?”
Hell, no! We’re singin’ and dancin’ up here!

Of course, the doubters didn’t think The Color Purple could be turned into a musical. And even a quarter-century ago, when Walker published her novel, the black community bristled at the suggestion that some of its members might be bisexual. Or sadistic.
The men are just monsters. And in ‘85, Spielberg balked at portraying any lesbian love between goddess Shug and ugly duckling Celie.
The musical isn’t graphic, but it also makes clear that Shug likes her love in a couple of different flavors.
Shug Avery comin’ to town!
“They talk about her for about half an hour” before she first enters, Fields says. “You got people talking about her that much, you build up an interest. I always say to the woman playing Shug, ‘I’m comin’ on with some drumstick — you comin’ in on the whole town!”

the title (and first-draft conclusion):
The title phrase becomes clear in the novel (though not in the musical) when Shug says, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. God just wants to be loved.”
The producers would like you to think that it pisses the performers off if you listen to them sing “The Color Purple” and don’t stand up and cheer. This is a musical about love, y’all.

from the promotional video:
Walker, who was skeptical about the musical at first, now says that she wants playgoers to come out and “unshackle themselves” — from them self-doubt that prevents success, from the injustices imposed upon them.

from our interview:
As Fields says, “Musical theater should be an experience. You should be transformed when you leave, been through something that has changed your life.”

Marsha Norman on musicals, in the video:
“There’s a chance in songs to get past the defenses people have.”
(She and Walker won their Pulitzer Prizes on the same day in 1983; Norman, for ‘night, Mother.) (Norman goes on to say, enthusiastically, that songs are the best way to convey the excitement of falling in love and other emotions.)

lyrics used to illustrate call and response:
from the opening number, following “Make a joyful noise” (cut for space):
‘Cause the Lord is walkin’ witcha, talkin’ witcha ...

from the song “Push Da Button” (Shug Avery’s sexually suggestive shimmy-dance in which “kitty,” “button” and “cream” mean exactly what you think they mean):
So when tonight you make your lover
Cry out like a lion roar
Tell the neighbors your new kitty
Found the cream it lookin’ for!
Push da button!

Felicia Fields in the promotional video that came in the press kit, on how call and response is fundamental to the experience of The Color Purple in live theater performance:
“I can’t tell you how many nights, when I sang ‘Hell, No!,’ somebody’s talkin’ back to me, OK?”

Can I get an Amen?
Or at least a white person makin’ some kinda noise?

from our interview:
So Fields has lived through a lot of adversity. Maybe she’s not acting much up there?
“My mother says I’m not,” she says, laughing. “It would be a whole lot worse if I was myself. You’d have to have a lot more material ready, because I would have hit Mister a lot quicker. Even Harpo. And the same with Squeak.
The show wouldn’t have lasted very long.”

the fate of Sophia; “African Homeland” as counterpoint to Sofia’s suffering (cut from the print version):
But even Sofia, brash and self-assertive, is subjected to horrifying injustice in this show before Walker’s narrative allows her to regain a measure of happiness.
In fact, during the second-act sequence set in Africa (where Celie’s beloved sister Nettie has gone to live), the injustice of the (fictional) Olinka tribe being pushed off their homeland by white colonizers parallels and provides a setup for the injustice of Sofia being maimed in body and soul just because she sassed a white woman.

Bobo saw this touring version of The Color Purple in Los Angeles in February. Here’s his review. (It was written for an arts journalism institute, a sort of boot camp for theater critics.) The assignment was to lead with an arresting image, an exact detail from the show. The “Other details …” and “Director Gary Griffin …” paragraphs, together, work in another image that Bobo found memorable. (This was our first assignment — 25 of us at the NEA’s Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater — and the effect of the group-think shows, because everyone was eager to demonstrate their critical acuity by bashing this show.)

Return to Sender

He has lifted the hem of her dress with his riding crop, leered and slobbered at her, appraised her like livestock. But when Mister seizes Nettie — the dastardly villain assaulting poor defenseless innocence — his grasping fingers appear from a doorway in scarlet light, like a jolt from a cheap horror movie.
The Color Purple (at the Ahmanson through March 9) offers vibrant settings, rambunctious choreography and some soaring ballads in the spirit of sisterhood and self-affirmation. But a surrender to the alternating conventions of melodrama and light musical comedy prevents this saga of sexism and abuse, estrangement and loss from being played for the life-and-death stakes it requires. Every poignant moment, it seems, must be followed by a frenetic dance break or a cackling three-woman chorus. Sisters pledge their fidelity and men declare their undying love — which would be fine and dandy if emotions were allowed to register before break-out-into-song moments rushed proceedings along.
As Sofia — the “hell, no!” fat lady played in the movie by Oprah Winfrey, whose imprimatur this production carries — Felicia P. Fields balls up her fists and laughs at authority with such crowd-pleasing gusto that her example, meant to instruct Jeannette Bayardelle’s Celie, may instead overwhelm her appeal. Bayardelle, tasked with acting abused and robotic for much of the evening, belts out the power ballads by its end, leading to the evening’s predictably triumphant end.
Other details are more successful. Broad green leaf fronds against gingham, for example: In a dream sequence that transports Celie to Africa and reunites her, if only in imagination, with her beloved sister, the contrast of sedate American frocks with regal African robes evokes the long journey toward self-affirmation that Celie travels in this trying-too-hard-to-be-inspiring show.
Director Gary Griffin nicely interweaves the two worlds of Celie’s hopeful visions and harsh reality, deploying white-clad African émigrés trudging across the savannah in a tableau that’s broken by forlorn, slump-shouldered Celie pacing toward the audience, at cross-purposes with her ancestral people.
It’s an effective sequence. Too bad that the musical version of The Color Purple is at cross-purposes with its emotional tenor, presenting us with prefabricated emotions instead of embodying Celie’s triumphs.
Marsha Norman’s book hews close to Alice Walker’s novel, but with the burden of translating into melodramatic action what was quiet pathos in Celie’s letters to God.

The songs were inspiring in the moment but not memorable afterwards.

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arts education: a week-long cyber discussion

Mosey over here and sample 16 bloggers (educators, actors, artists, critics, administrators -- even violinist Midori and director Peter Sellars -- talking about how to improve it.
Two good examples: surgeons who are good at videogames perform better at laparoscopy; engineers who take acting classes are better at communicating their ideas.
The arts teach empathy.
One thing that strikes Bobo is that the justification is difficult (Why not let the market decide how popular the arts are? Why NOT regard the arts as expendable electives instead of necessary components in school curricula?) because the payoff takes so long: Take a kid to the theater today; he may spend the next 20 years resenting how you forced him to go; but in his 30s or 40s, he'll come around.

benefit *Christmas Carol* performance on Wed.

Benefits the scholarship fund for the Spokane Civic Theatre Academy
Tickets: $30
Hors d'oeuvres from Maggie's, Wild Sage and Clinkerdagger
Silent auction and Santa too!
(Not to mention a performance of *A Christmas Carol: The Musical*)
Wednesday, Dec. 3, at 7:30 pm
Call: 325-2507

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