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Taylor Mac Preps for 24-Hour Singing Marathon
KQED Arts

January 25, 2016

Taylor Mac in A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: 1776-1806 as part of Curran: Under Construction (Photo: Jim Norrena)
The term “pop music” is a 20th century invention -- it originated in England in the 1950s to describe the rock and roll frenzy that was sweeping the nation. One of the many inspired things about the first part of New York drag artist Taylor Mac’s lunatic-brilliant A 24-Decade History of Popular Music is how it reminds us that pop music in this country is actually much older than that. Another, is a sense that the greatest hits of the 1770s and 1780s -- the tunes that rocked the taverns and bawdy houses of our fledgling republic back in the days when England was pretty unpopular and a mohawk was a member of a native American tribe rather than a way to wear your hair -- could easily go viral today.
Mac is training for a 24-hour marathon performance of his A 24-Decade History of Popular Music in New York later this year, in which he will devote an hour of stage time to each decade from 1776 to the present day. For now, he’s getting into shape for this feat by undertaking just the first two parts -- or six decades / six hours worth of songs -- in San Francisco as part of the Curran Theatre’s Under Construction series of experimental performance. I caught the first three decades (1776 - 1806) on opening night and can’t wait to go back for Part Two (1806 - 1836) in a few days.
In his show, we first encounter Mac when he appears high above the stage on a balcony above the Curran's orchestra section. Wearing an elaborate hooped dress fashioned from brightly-colored foil ribbons and a voluminous wig that makes him look like Marie Antoinette had an accident in a Mexican bodega, the artist begins an epic journey through 240 years of U.S. musical history that’s as timeless as it is prescient.
That’s in part because of music director and pianist Matt Ray’s creative song arrangements, which make crusty old tunes like “Yankee Doodle” and “Amazing Grace” sound like like they were written just in time for this year’s Grammys. The performances carry it too: Although the show is currently in workshop mode, with Mac, Ray and the band still ironing out a few wonky transitions, the team manages to breathe new life into both well-known and obscure 18th century ditties. And it's Mac’s mercurial tenor that anchors the experience: the drag queen’s voice is as colorful as his flamboyant sense of style. There’s crushed velvet and feathers in Mac’s mellifluous ballad singing and 8-inch spiked heels in his drinking song belt.
Taylor Mac in A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: 1776-1806 as part of Curran: Under Construction
Taylor Mac in A 24-Decade History of Popular Music: 1776-1806 as part of Curran: Under Construction (Photo: Jim Norrena)
It isn’t just the music that makes three hours of sitting on an uncomfortable plastic chair on a rickety riser breeze by, or Mac’s eye-popping wardrobe. (In addition to the gaudy get-up mentioned above, there’s an “architectural” dress involving a pair of enormous doric columns, each with a plastic doll’s head dangling from the bottom, and another costume topped with an amazing wig made of wine bottle corks and sheaths of barley.) The thematic through-line connecting the musical numbers also helps to take A 24-Decade History of Popular Music beyond regular drag cabaret.
Mac underpins each decade of the musical journey with commentaries on broad social issues, which he spices with liberal amounts of scathing humor and personal anecdote. The first decade roughly and comically charts the founding principles of post-Revolutionary U.S.. In the second decade, Mac takes a piquant look at women’s lib. Part Three is all about booze, where the ripe innuendos of raucous drinking songs like “Nine Inch Will Please a Lady” clash against the stiff, bonneted warblings of a scandalized Temperance Choir (a small guest ensemble of classically-trained singers.) By the time we reach the end of the show, the do-gooder choristers get their comeuppance, pelted in a hailstorm of ping-pong balls. In addition to having fun with a piece of political history, the gambit neatly plays out a more contemporary stand-off between the scrappy, underground world of drag performance and the straight-laced mores of today's arts establishment. Here, the political becomes personal, as Mac himself has been faced with negotiating these two worlds in his own career.
The socio-political content at times feels a little strained, like when Mac spins a long feminist diatribe out of a mopey little ditty about a young woman fretting about why her beau hasn’t come home from the fair. But Mac’s ability to work the crowd, in particular his obsessive, sweetly overbearing use of audience participation, mitigates this shortcoming. He makes this otherwise sprawling historical project feel intimate and personal.
Mac’s insistence on bringing the crowd into the proceedings might seem tiresome and gimmicky to some -- one person complained to me about being pulled into a conga line and forced to wear a pair of fairy wings. But overdoing it, going over-the-top, “carrying on for just a bit too long,” as Mac himself puts it, is part of his stage technique. It’s there to make a broader point about just how topsy-turvy the world is. And like an old song that’s so familiar that it’s stuck in all of our heads, we’re all in this thing together, like it or not.
Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music runs through Saturday, Jan. 30 at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. Details here

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Silicon Valley Ballet Makes History with Cuban ‘Giselle’
KQED Arts

October 14, 2015

A rehearsal for Silicon Valley Ballet's production of 'Giselle'
(Photo: Chloe Veltman/KQED)
The following story aired on KQED's Morning Edition on October14, 2015. To access the audio version, please click here

Loipa Araujo is an exacting ballet coach. She has to be: the great Cuban National Ballet star has less than a month to teach the members of Silicon Valley Ballet how to dance Giselle — the Cuban way. “Some of them have done another version of Giselle,” Araujo says of the beloved classical ballet during a break in their downtown San Jose rehearsal space. “They have to completely forget that and be open to this new Giselle.”

Relations between the U.S. and Cuba have improved of late. And now Silicon Valley Ballet is doing its part to help move the reconciliation along. The company is unveiling a legendary Cuban version of Giselle. The ballet tells the tragic tale of a peasant girl who goes mad and dies of a broken heart after being betrayed by her lover — an audience favorite since it was first performed in the 1840s. 

The Cuban National Ballet is particularly associated with Giselle because of the unique drama and flawless technique of the company’s co-founder, Alicia Alonso, who danced the title role to great acclaim with the Ballet Theatre in New York (known these days as American Ballet Theatre) back in the 1940s. The young Cuban prodigy caused a sensation when she stepped in at the last minute for an injured Alicia Markova during the 1941-42 season. “One thing that was extraordinary about her version was the mad scene,” says Toba Singer, a Berkeley based dance scholar who frequently writes about Cuban ballet. “Alicia Alonso really gave her own interpretation to it and it was marvelous.” 

The ballet star returned home to Cuba in 1948 to found the institution that would eventually become the Cuban National Ballet. At 93, Alonso still tours with her company, and her version of Giselle is a hallmark of the company’s repertoire. “I’ve seen many, many other versions of Giselle, and I do think our Cuban version, the version of Alicia, has this very clear dramatic line,” Araujo says. “All the characters are very well defined.”

The dancers of Silicon Valley Ballet are also working intensively with Araujo and her team of dance coaches from Havana on technical specifics particular to the Cuban version. They pay close attention to seemingly tiny details, like keeping their arms rounded rather than straight in one key scene in the second act. “In this version, every single thing you do, even how you bow or how you look at somebody, has a meaning,” says principal dancer Ommi Pipit-Suksun, who is one of the dancers charged with bringing the challenging principal character to life on stage in Silicon Valley Ballet’s production. “It’s not just an empty gesture. It has a lot of nuances; many layers and not just steps.” 

Despite paying close attention to the nuances of this Cuban Giselle, Pipit-Suksun isn’t interested in slavishly imitating Alonso. This ballerina intends to make the role of Giselle her own. Silicon Valley “Copying somebody is never a good thing,” Pipit-Suksun says. “That emotion has to be real. It has to come from you. They can guide you — you should do this and that — but ultimately it’s up to you.” 

This landmark collaboration represents a big comeback for Silicon Valley Ballet, which came close to shutting down this past spring. The company was already in a deep financial hole when its present artistic director, international-acclaimed ballet star and Cuban native Jose Manuel Carreno came on board in 2013. “We’ve been through rough patches,” Carreno says.

Carreno and his community leapt into action earlier this year. The company rebranded itself from Ballet San Jose to Silicon Valley Ballet and set about fundraising. The company scored $640,000 during the first 10 days of its fundraising campaign, and has so far raised nearly $3 million of its $3.5 million goal. This includes a $50,000 grant to stage Giselle from the Knight Foundation. “We’re stepping up, the company is moving, is getting better, we’re working on it,” Carreno says. “It’s exciting.”

But Giselle isn’t only a turning point for the dance company. As one of the first major cultural collaborations between the U.S. and Cuba in more than half a century, the production is politically significant.

For many years, the U.S. government would not grant visas to Cuban dancers. “It’s a historic moment for American audiences,” says Singer. “This means we can have access. This is their finest work and we’re going to have a chance to see it.”

It’s been very risky for most Cuban artists, like Silicon Valley Ballet principal dancer Maykel Solas, to pursue careers in the U.S. Solas has been with the company for 10 years. In his early days in this country, he was worried about how the Cuban authorities would treat his family. “I stopped talking with my mum for months,” Solas says. “I was afraid they would say something to my mum or to my family.”

With Cuba and the U.S. on friendlier terms — the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet both performed at the International Ballet Festival in Havana in 2010 — the possibility of heightened cultural exchange between the U.S. and Cuba in the coming years is a tantalizing prospect for ballet professionals and fans of the art form from both nations.

Silicon Valley Ballet plans to participate in the aforementioned festival next fall. “If we have good relationships, everybody can go back and forwards,” Solas says. “Everybody can learn from everybody.”

Yet visas remain hard to come by. It’s been a long and arduous process for Silicon Valley Ballet to procure the necessary paperwork to enable the Cuban coaches to join the company in San Jose for this production of Giselle. Although diplomatic relations are currently in the process of being restored between the U.S. and Cuba, it will be quite some time before artists can move freely between the two countries.

Silicon Valley Ballet’s production of Giselle runs Oct. 16-18, 2015 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets and more information, visit siliconvalleyballet.org. 

Jose Manuel Carreno appeared as a guest on KQED Forum on Oct. 8, together with Silicon Valley Ballet board chair Millicent Powers. Listen to their interview with host Michael Krasny here.

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Oregon Shakespeare Festival 2015: What to See, How to Eat, Where to Stay
KQED Arts

August 14, 2015


The internationally-renowned, 80-year-old Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) isn’t really a festival in the traditional sense of the word. Like a Renaissance tragedy, it's epically long -- running this year from Feb. 27 to Nov. 1. And it doesn’t only focus on the works of William Shakespeare, as classics by other writers, musicals and new dramas complement the Bard's titles.

Despite the misnomer, the high quality of OSF's theatrical offerings and the bucolic nature of its surroundings draw playgoers from all over world each year, including many from the Bay Area. (Nearly a quarter of the audience comes from San Francisco and its surroundings, according to OSF data.) Add to this the fact that Ashland, Oregon is among very few places in the world where you can get a discount at the local frozen yogurt shop simply by waving a theater ticket at the cash register, or have an in-depth conversation with a stranger in a bar about lighting design or the size of a lead actor's codpiece, and you've got a compelling case to make the five-and-a-half-hour drive north.

It's a gorgeous drive -- and easy to do too, if you take a pit-stop in Chico for gas and a more leisurely break in Shasta City. Grab a cup of coffee and a muffin or wrap from Wassayak's ("Yak's") coffee house and wander along the main drag under the gaze of Mount Shasta, which looms at over 14,000 feet above sea level.

Flying is also an option. Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport is 16 miles outside Ashland. Or if you prefer to travel more like Cleopatra or King Henry V, you can find a spot to park your private jet at Ashland Municipal Airport.

Ashland is a tourist city, fueled by people who hike, bike and raft by day and eat out at restaurants and see shows at night. As such, the little town offers dozens of places to stay at all budget levels. But book early. Ashland's Airbandb options were full up a few weeks before I made my trip. I ended up at the quirky 1940s Manor Motel on the north side of town, a 10-minute walk from the OSF's trio of theaters. A suite with cute period fixtures and an endearingly ramshackle private garden ran me $145 a night. If you feel like splashing out, check in at the well-appointed and centrally-located Ashland Springs Hotel, built in 1925. (Rooms there cost up to $269.) At the other end of the spectrum, there's The Ashland Hostel, where if you plan far enough ahead, you can score a bunk bed in a dorm for only $28. It's handily close to the theaters for families, singles and groups. And the price is right, given that tickets to see plays at the festival range from $30 to $120.

Then there's the food. Some of my favorites from this year's weekend of play-going include breakfast at Brothers' (excellent omelettes and hash browns), ribs and strong hard cider at Home State BBQ, Taj Indian Cuisine's flavorful curries, the river view from the deck and the cheesily-named but tasty Shakespeare-themed cocktails at Oberon's Tavern, coffee and pastries at Mix Bakeshop and Smithfield's for the unmissable bacon beignets.

Now to the plays. This year’s 11 productions include, among others, Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, Much Ado About Nothing and Pericles, Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, a world premiere musical -- Head Over Heels -- by Avenue Q creator Jeff Whitty featuring the songs of 1980s girl punk band The Go-Go's, and Sweat, a new drama by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage. There's also free performances  most nights of the week at OSF's outdoor "Green Stage." I was happy to catch a Chinese dance display one evening, and a local rock band the next before heading into the main venues (OSF has three auditoriums all located right next door to each other) for my ticketed shows.

As for those shows: I didn't adore every single thing I saw during my weekend of theatrical bingeing, but the five mini reviews below indicate that this year's festival is well worth the effort. I only wish I could have stuck around for all the productions I couldn't pack into three days.

A scene from 'Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land.' (Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival)
A scene from 'Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land.' \
(Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival)

Secret Love in Peach Blossom Land

Soon after American-born, Taiwan-based director Stan Lai’s play first appeared in the mid-1980s, the world started paying serious attention to Taiwanese theater. That’s no surprise: The conceit of the plot -- which revolves around dueling theater companies trying to rehearse two very different productions in the wake of a farcical scheduling error which forces them to compete for space -- might be stagey. But as a metaphor for the complexity, chaos and confusion that ensued in the years following Taiwan’s independence from China in 1949, it’s both deeply entertaining and intellectually chewy. In “Secret Love,” one of the plays-within-the-play, young lovers tragically separated by conflict come together in old age to lament and reminisce. Meanwhile, the other play -- a satirical take on a classical Chinese drama “A Chronicle of the Peach Blossom Land” by the eminent 4th century poet Tao Yuanming -- is a comedy involving a cuckolded husband’s journey to a utopian land populated by flowering fruit trees and butterfly-rehabilitating hippies. OSF’s staging, the first professional production of the play in the United States, deftly draws out the parallels between the two theatrical endeavors. Both involve love triangles and a yearning for an ultimately unattainable Shangri-La. The meta-theatrical content is at times a little heavy-handed. But the crunchy combination of slapstick comedy versus quiet emotion and ancient versus modern theatrical forms keeps us thinking long after the harassed stage manager shows up at the end to throw both casts out onto the street.

 Miss Adelaide (Robin Goodrin Nordli) self-diagnoses her situation. Photo by Jenny Graham, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
A scene from 'Guys and Dolls.'
(Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival.)

Guys and Dolls

Guys and Dolls is a product of its time. The brassy 1950 musical based on several stories by Damon Runyon follows an improbable romance between a rapacious gambler and prim salvation army organizer. Throughout, women are relegated to the roles of housewife or whore while men do nothing but tell lies and waste money. Yet just as Nathan Detroit and his low-life cronies can’t help rolling the dice, it’s hard not to fall in love with composer and lyricist Frank Loesser’s bombastic show tunes, like “Luck be a Lady Tonight” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” OSF’s infectious production combines energetic ensemble scenes choreographed by Daniel Pelzig with magnetic solo performances. Among the standouts in the formidable ensemble cast are Jeremy Peter Johnson as huckster-with-a-heart Sky Masterson and Robin Goodrin Nordli’s Adelaide -- a showgirl enduring a 14-year-long courtship that gives her a perpetual sinus infection rather than a lifetime of connubial bliss. Mary Zimmerman adds further smarts to the show: In her program notes, the director says that if there’s one thing that unites all of the characters it’s the desire to “find a home, a haven and familial love.” This vision adds a touch of universal pathos that helps even jaded contemporary audiences to connect with the old-fashioned work.

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 2015. Sweat by Lynn Nottage. Directed by Kate Whoriskey. Scenic Design: John Lee Beatty. Costume Design: Jennifer Moeller. Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski. Video and Projections: Jeff Sugg. Sound Design: Michael Bodeen. Photo: Jenny Graham.
A scene from 'Sweat.'
(Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival)

Sweat

Lynn Nottage doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. The playwright’s 2008 drama Ruined unflinchingly tackles the abuse of women during the Congolese civil war. With her new world premiere co-commissioned by OSF and Arena Stage in Washington DC, Nottage stays closer to home. Set in Reading, Pennsylvania, a post-industrial town ranked the poorest in the country by the 2011 census, Sweat follows the misfortunes of a group of residents struggling to survive in a city where the main employer, a steel factory, is cutting costs. Nottage, together with director Kate Whoriskey, conducted interviews with people in Reading to help shape the narrative. Yet despite the extensive background research and the high-stakes drama of the plot, which focuses on the lead up to a serious crime committed by two young men, one white and one black, the play feels as generic as John Lee Beatty’s set design of a neighborhood bar. From the vinyl upholstery on the seats to the sports memorabilia on the walls, this could be in any dive in any depressed North American city. Similarly, Nottage has created symbols rather than characters. Oscar, a young Dominican busboy who hopes to improve his standard of living by getting a job at the factory, seems like a stand-in for so many disenfranchised Latino workers across the land; and Jason, an angry white supremacist whose main goal is to keep his job on the production line is similarly one-dimensional. Despite the play's dramaturgical shortcomings, the cast manages to draw out the humanity in each character. 

A scene from Pericles.
A scene from 'Pericles.'
(Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival)

Pericles

Shakespeare’s romance, Pericles, takes the theatergoer on a fantastical trip. Over the course of five acts that follow the rough and tumble of a prince’s seemingly endless voyage across storm-toss'd seas, the story visits so many different Mediterranean locations that it gives us whiplash. Multiple living characters are mistaken for corpses. And in perhaps the most improbable of the work’s many improbable moments, the title character’s daughter suddenly gets carried off by a bunch of marauding pirates. Theater scholars and companies find the play baffling, so it doesn’t often get produced. Yet for all of its madness, in the right hands, Pericles can be a deeply moving experience. In his staging for OSF, director Joseph Haj rightly rolls with the drama’s many madcap punches. He draws out the play’s tender meditation on the themes of love, loss and reconciliation while mining some scenes -- even one or two that don’t seem all that funny on the page, like Pericles’ courtship of his soon-to-be-wife, Thaisa -- for broad humor. Helmed by the poised yet vulnerable Wayne T. Carr as Pericles, the multi-faceted ensemble cast leads the audience through the drama’s many swings of mood and place with ease. The only thing wearying about this otherwise satisfying dramatic journey, is that the director takes the play’s opening words -- “To sing a song that old was sung” -- a little too literally. Singing rather than speaking lines can have a powerful effect when used sparingly, but overdoing the music undercuts the emotion of the story.

A scene from 'Much Ado About Nothing'
A scene from 'Much Ado About Nothing.'
(Photo: Jenny Graham/Oregon Shakespeare Festival)

Much Ado About Nothing

In Shakespeare’s plays, women who make trouble, like Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, generally end up falling into line. But in Lileana Blain-Cruz’s thoughtful, boundary-pushing production of Much Ado, it’s not Christiana Clark’s overbearing Beatrice who shapes our view of femininity, so much as the performers behind a couple of the stormy comedy’s less prominent characters. As Hero, the “short daughter” of the powerful Governor of Messina, Leonato, Leah Anderson quietly yet passionately displays her displeasure with how she’s treated by the men who surround her and the patriarchal system that seeks to put her in her place as a wealthy, single woman of marriageable age. In one of the OSF’s most innovative casting decisions to date, the wheelchair-based actress Regan Linton brings fire and ire to the role of Don John, who vindictively sets out to destroy the proposed marriage between Hero and the dashing young soldier Claudio. The part is normally played by a man. But in this production, Don John is a female soldier reeling from the effects of post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Linton’s magnetic take on the character gives definition to the shady motives of her character. The combined impact of all this female rebellion is one of utter disruption to the old world order of courtly love and military might. Set designer Scott Bradley evokes this idea in a visually powerful way towards the end of the play, when the hundreds of dangling floral garlands that have been hanging from the ceiling on a trellis of army camouflage netting all at once plummet to the floor. Far from being a fluffy love story, this Much Ado is dark, dense and fresh.

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How to Overcome Stage Fright: Psychotherapy, Pills and Practice
KQED's The California Report

June 19, 2015

The following story aired on KQED's The California Report on June 19, 2015. To access the audio version, please click here

To read the version posted by NPR, go here.

In the past, if Sara Solovitch tripped up while playing the piano, she would get flustered and stop. Especially in front of an audience.

“I felt like I had to correct everything and each note had to be perfect,” the Santa Cruz-based author and pianist recently said after playing the French composer Claude Debussy’s lyrical piano piece Reflections on the Water. She’d breezed through a few bum notes as if no one were listening. “One of the things I’ve really worked on has been continuing to play.”

For the past three years, Solovitch has been coming regularly to San Jose International airport to play the beat-up Hamilton baby grand located in the Terminal B baggage claim area. “Here, I’m not worried about people’s judgment and evaluation,” Solovitch said. “People aren’t listening and that’s kind of a godsend to me.”

Alongside doing yoga and taking anti-anxiety meds, Solovitch’s impromptu airport recitals are part of her push to overcome stage fright — a phobia that has plagued the musician since she was a little girl.

And now she’s written a book on the subject — Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright.

Solovitch loves the piano. But she’s so scared of playing the instrument in public that even practicing at home when her family is around regularly unsettles her. “My hands turn wet with sweat and they’ll slip and slide,” Solovitch said. “My feet tremble so that I have a hard time controlling the pedal. I feel my heart beating really uncontrollably. And then there’s just this kind of like pounding in my head.” 

Solovitch is an amateur musician. But even the most seasoned performers struggle with stage fright. 

Berkeley standup comedian W Kamau Bell has hosted his own cable TV series and has appeared on popular podcasts like WTF with Marc Maron. Yet despite Bell’s impressive chops and widespread renown, the comic still suffers from performance anxiety on a regular basis.

And it makes no difference if he’s in front of a national television audience or a small crowd at a bar; he says his mind scrambles and his mouth goes dry. “I’ve often said that if there’s a way to email the crowd the jokes and still get the same feeling from performing live I would just as soon do that,” Bell said.

It’s not just performers who deal with this issue.

San Francisco Jungian psychiatrist John Beebe, who has dealt with performance anxiety in his own career and treats people who suffer from it, thinks stage fright is universal.

“When we can’t live up to the image we’d like to project we just feel within ourselves that we fail terribly,” Beebe said.

But Beebe believes people can overcome stage fright if they face it head on. Repetition is key. “I think some of us have learned that the only way to master anything is to practice and do it,” Beebe said.

A steady diet of playing to passersby at San Jose Airport has helped Sara Solovitch vanquish her stage fright. “You have to practice performing as much as you practice practise,” Solovitch said.

Her practice seems to have paid off: Solovitch is actually looking forward to her next gig. She’ll be performing at the public library in Santa Cruz in August. “I used to talk to myself the way one doesn’t talk to their dog: You know, ‘you’re stupid, you’re an idiot, how could you make that mistake?’” Solovitch said. “And now as I approach a performance, instead of saying ‘I’m nervous,’ I say to myself ‘I’m excited.’”

Sara Solovitch’s new book, Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright comes out this week from Bloomsbury Publishing.

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This week from CPR’s Arts Bureau: Cultural tax up north, SXSW and more
Colorado Public Radio

March 13, 2015

Wheelchair Sports Camp plays at the Colorado Music Party at SXSW 2014
(Photo: Dave Fender)

Check out his week's in-depth coverage of the Colorado culture scene from CPR's Arts Bureau here:
Arts happenings around Colorado this weekend:
Coverage from CPR's arts bureau is now also available as a weekly podcast via iTunes and the NPR podcast directory.

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This week from CPR’s Arts Bureau: New jazz club, navigating Denver using poetry and more
Colorado Public Radio

March 6, 2015

Outside Nocturne, Denver's new jazz club (Photo: Corey Jones)

Check out this week's in-depth coverage of the Colorado culture scene from CPR's Arts Bureau here.

The owners of the soon-to-open Nocturne nightclub, located in Denver's River North neighborhood, hope its presence will inspire a resurgence of jazz music in a city once known as the "Harlem of the West." As the club prepares to open its doors, CPR arts reporter Corey H. Jones examined the cyclical nature of the Denver's jazz scene.

From the smoke-filled music joints of Five Points to the swanky hotels of mountain towns, jazz has long been an important part of Colorado's musical landscape. KBCO morning host Bret Saunders spoke with Colorado Matters' Ryan Warner about the state's jazz legacy.

A University of Colorado Boulder graduate student and poet has come up with an unusual way to navigate the streets, parks and buildings of Denver -- using poetry. CPR arts editor Chloe Veltman met up with Aaron Angello to learn about his Denver Poetry Map app.

The CU Art Museum in Boulder will be the only Colorado stop on the first-ever national touring exhibition of Shakespeare's First Folio, the original collected edition of the Bard's plays. CPR's Stephanie Wolf talked with the museum about the other events and larger exhibition that will coincide with the Folio's stay and commemorate the 400-year anniversary of the playwright's death. 

Colorado is home to hundreds of hot springs. Former Rocky Mountain News reporter Deborah Frazier profiles 44 of them in the third edition of her book, "Colorado's Hot Springs." Frazier shares the stories she unearthed while researching the guidebook, as well as six remote spots she calls "wild" springs.

Longmont banjo player Jayme Stone collaborated with 14 other musicians to put a spin on folk songs for a new album. CPR's Ryan Warner spoke with Stone about his sampling of the extensive roots music collection of folklorist Alan Lomax.

The two-day music festival "Gentleman of the Road Tour" could bring as many as 35,000 visitors to Colorado when it makes a stop in Salida in August. While some are excited for the event, others say the small town doesn't have the infrastructure to support the crowds.

Boulder a cappella group Ars Nova Singers will look skyward this weekend, as it presents four concerts at Boulder's Fiske Planetarium. CPR Classical dives deeper into the programming, which features the music of Arvo Part, Meredith Monk and Philip Glass, accompanied by massive visual elements.

Colorado musicians Chris Daniels and Freddi Gowdy have joined forces and mixed influences for their new album, "Funky to the Bone." The two sat down with CPR's Ryan Warner to talk about the ups and downs of band life and the funky flashback that fueled their latest tunes.

Arts happenings around Colorado this weekend: CPR’s Arts Bureau spotlights this weekend’s Colorado cultural happenings, including a groundbreaking vocal ensemble, a classic Edward Albee play and more.

Coverage from CPR's arts bureau is now also available as a weekly podcast via iTunes and the NPR podcast directory.

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With a poetry map, a new way to navigate Denver
Colorado Public Radio

Denver Poetry Map creator Aaron Angello in Cheesman Park, Denver


To read and listen to the full story, click here.

Aaron Angello first noticed the powerful relation between poetry and place around five years ago while working on his doctorate in English literature at the University of Colorado Boulder. “We read Charles Olsen’s “Maximus,” poems which take place in Gloucester, and Lorraine Niedecker’s “Paeon to Place” -- all these poems which are specifically tied to location,” Angello says of a class he took which examined the relationship between poetry and place.

That lead Angello to create the Denver Poetry Map, a map that enlivens Denver with poems inspired by specific locations around the city.

“My initial impulse was, 'How I can I get some of these incredibly talented poets to write poems that are somehow associated with very specific places?'” Angello says. “So that you could actually go to that place, read the poem and have some sort of experience of the relationship between the poem itself and the space.”

It's all part of Angello's doctoral research on the intersection between digital technology and the humanities. The digital side only took him a few days. He built the site last November, using Google Maps. Then, he reached out to the Front Range poetry community for contributions to populate the map.

Some poets were initially confused about the assignment, thinking they had to write verses about a specific place. But Angello says he welcomes more nuanced connections between poems and locations.

“I’m interested in the more abstract connections to place that a poem can have -- what in a place might inspire something in a poem?” Angello says.

The Denver Poetry Map currently has nearly 50 locations on it and Angello plans to keep adding new poems as they come in from contributors.

“I want more and more people to read the poetry that’s written in and about Denver,” Angello says. “I hope that it keeps going, growing and filling up with poems.”

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