Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mark Nadler: A Cabaret about Cabaret

What makes a Cabaret a Cabaret? Is it drinks and music, or is it spending time with a performer who invites you into his world? Mark Nadler tells us a story about his world and the dark past of cabaret in Weimar Germany. 

The word cabaret  conjures up for me a dark room with people crowded around uncomfortably small tables only half listening to a singer who tries to hold their attention while waiters serve and diners drink and dine. Some of my favorite singers are strongly associated with the smell of smoke and the clink of glasses in a dimly lit space with poor ventilation. The word also brings to mind the dark, daring world of the film Cabaret where a struggling young singer tries to survive in a Germany fast being taken over by the Nazis. 

What happens when the two experiences combine, the intimate setting around food and drink, and an audience watching a performance from the distance of a stage? That was the challenge facing Mark Nadler in his recent show I’m A Stranger Here Myself at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia—how to make the audience sitting in a large theater space feel that they are a part of the show as well as observers of it—and with no food or drink to distract or engage us.

What draws us into the cabaret or nightclub instead of a traditional show is precisely that intimacy. We want a nice dinner out with friends and don’t want to have to go to the theater afterwards, or we want to hear a particular singer, or the club is known for the kind of musicians who perform there, and we’ll go no matter what.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Kun Yang Lin / Dancers. Be / Longing: Light / Shadow

Photo by Bill Herbert
With so many dance troupes, both local and touring, appearing in the Philadelphia area, what sets Kun Yang Lin/Dancers apart is their emphasis on humanity and connection to the audience.  

Before there is the dance, there is the sound. Entering the theater, one is instantly enveloped by the sound of waves. There is no way to escape, it fills the room, chattering subsides, and we are lulled into silence.

A questionnaire on bright red paper challenges us to identify who we think we are. Not just our professions, but all the labels we and others have placed on us – cat lover, poet, Eagles fan, philosopher. We toss it off with a laugh, but it lingers. Who do I think I am? Who is this me that has come to watch the dance?

Arsenic and Old Lace: Farce Still Works

Jane Ridley, Laurent Giroux, Mary Martello and Dan Olmstead
Photo by 
J. Urdaneta Photography
Death isn't really funny, but when the good guys succeed and the bad ones get their just desserts, who minds a corpse or twelve in the basement, when we have so many worse skeletons in the closet.

Sometimes going to the theater can be just plain fun. That’s how I felt about the Walnut Street Theatre's production of Arsenic and Old Lace. A lot of familiar Philadelphia actors (Mary Martello and Jane Ridley as the Brewster sisters, Ben Dibble as Teddy Brewster, Damon Bonetti and Jennie Eisenhower as Mortimer Brewster and Elaine Harper, Peter Schmitz in two character roles)—I’ve only been here a little over a year and most were already familiar to me, along with a well-crafted script, resulted in a delightful farce—and I’m not one who uses adjectives like that lightly.

As the two elderly Brewster sisters, Martello and Ridley were alternately batty and serious, competent and absurd. In my quest to find satisfying roles for mature performers—more on that at another time—it’s nice to see that material does exist for them in which they are not distraught, alcoholic, or verging on dementia—although some may question the sanity of these two ladies, it’s more their thought processes that are in question, not their ability to think.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

TED Comes to Philadelphia

I've always wanted to go to a TED Conference but didn't know it was possible. Then a little blurb in the local paper said TED was coming to Philadelphia (TEDxPhiladelphia 2014: The New Workshop of the World, March 28, 2014 at Temple Performing Arts Center). I was one of the first to sign up, and over a thousand more people quickly followed. And there we were, in Temple University’s Performing Arts Center, hunkered down with water and snacks for a day of talks about Philadelphia, its history and its possibilities.

For those who haven’t encountered one of TED’s short video talks (usually less than 18 minutes), TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, is a non-profit organization that organizes conferences around the world on topics that have to do with the technology, entertainment and design, as well as education, business, global issues and more. Local spin-offs, referred to as TEDx, cover topics of interest to local communities or centered around a particular issue.