Love The Art, Hate The Artist?

Society - particularly American society - loves to demonize or to “other” art and artists.

We deride people who create:

  • Oh, you’re an artist? You’re one of those.”

  • Oh, you’re a writer? I wish I could sit at home all day.”

  • Oh, you’re an actor? You must love starving.”

These are of course specific examples using common ideas and tropes, but these kinds of reactions are common and probably sound familiar to you.

We tell people who want to go into the arts:

  • Why would you to throw your life away?”

  • But you have so much potential!”

  • But there’s no money in the arts!”

Being a creator is clearly seen as being *less than,* but why? Less than what? Why would we consider becoming an artist or writer or performer or designer a path that is throwing your life away or not using your skills and talents?

Well, Capitalism.

But this type of thinking and behavior not only can be unlearned, but it needs to be unlearned. Art and the products of creation are everywhere, but we’ve been conditioned to have a blind spot for most of it, and what we do see we are told to feel contempt for. Let’s just see how pervasive art is, shall we?

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"It's An Old Song" Yet Somehow New

Last night I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Hadestown on Broadway, and there is so much I would like to say about the show and the experience.

Now, when I first began this blog I had promised that one of the things I would occasionally write is theatre reviews. However, I am not a reviewer or critic (well, everyone is a critic, aren’t they?) and I personally do not feel that the world needs another small-time reviewer to muddy the opinionated waters.

So what I am going to do is occasionally write about a show or theatrical experience that moved me, and then try to speak to why. What is it about this show? What in particular was enjoyable or exciting? What was new and/or different?

***This does mean there may be mild Hadestown spoilers today - but since I am including no pictures, video, or music, how spoiled could the experience really be? (Another question for another day?) Plus - well - the Orpheus story has also been around for a couple millennia, sooo… ;-)

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Hey, Old Friend

What is a theatre writer’s best friend and worst enemy?

You might think: Writer’s block? The blank page? Technology? Caffeine? Sleep? Outlines? All good possible answers, but…nope. What applies only to theatre writers and to no other form of writing?

Readings.

DUN DUN DUN! *Insert dramatic zoom here*

But why, Michael? Why are readings both potentially wonderful and oh-so-evil at the same time?

An excellent question.

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You've Got To Be Carefully Taught

One of the most eye-opening tips I’ve ever casually received in my career thus far came while doing a show called My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding. It’s an absolutely delightful, folksy, and heartfelt autobiographical musical written by the Canadian husband-wife writing team (and the kindest people) David Hein and Irene Sankoff - yes, the same people behind the international smash hit: Come From Away.

It was October of 2010 and we had been rehearsing the show at JCC Centerstage in Rochester, NY in a setting where the show was being workshopped with David and Irene as we went through the script. For a new writer like me, this was an incredible experience. The show’s director and a wonderful mentor of mine - Ralph Meranto - told David and Irene after one rehearsal that I was an aspiring musical theatre writer. They immediately showed interest and asked questions. As I said, kindest people ever.

At the end of the conversation, Irene asked, “Do you follow Ken Davenport’s blog? If you don’t, you definitely should. There’s a lot of great information. We read it religiously!”

This one suggestion set me onto a path over the next few years of attempting to acquire and consume every bit of knowledge that I could about writing musical theatre. And that is why this tip was so important.

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"Get Your Education, Don't Forget From Whence You Came"

Lin-Manuel Miranda has often spoken about origins: His own, his family’s, his musicals’, Alexander Hamilton’s, etc. He has written about them in lyrics, including the one above from “Alexander Hamilton” and his well-noted “we were that kid” rap in the 2013 Tony Awards opening number: “Bigger.” It’s a common theme of his interviews, whether he is the interviewee or the interviewer. Clearly Mr. Miranda seems to think our origins are important.

And I agree.

Particularly when it comes to the arts and educating young people. I firmly believe that our experiences and exposures as children have an incredible and lasting impact on how we interact with art for the remainder of our lives. And this includes formal and informal educations, extracurricular activities, time experiencing art with family and friends, exposure to all forms of entertainment, financial abilities, general access, community practices, and much much more. Every experience in life involves art in some way, and every exposure is another puzzle piece in a child’s education.

So how do we best serve young people? What kind of education do they need or should they have? What if some want to pursue the arts and others just want to enjoy them? What about those who have fewer resources available or greatly reduced ability to access art? Where does it all begin?

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