Monday, December 22, 2014

NMAJH and Martha Graham Cracker Explore Jewish Music Together

She pronounces it “Namaaajjh,” like a French perfume, but’s it’s really the National Museum of American Jewish History (initials NMAJH), and she is Martha Graham Cracker, local performance artist who, as artist in residence, created and performed a cabaret based on her encounters with the museum exhibits.

For a few nights this week, the fifth floor exhibit space of NMAJH was transformed into Martha’s cabaret. Scattered on table tops were items from her personal collection—rubber bands, a sausage, an oversized powder puff. Many are used or explained during the performance as Martha brings us into her skewed world in which she had encounters with famous Jewish composers through history, particularly Leonard Bernstein, with whom she had “a limited engagement.”

Starting last year the museum created an artist in residence program, OPEN for Interpretation, inviting local cutting-edge artists to, as Martha’s collaborator and Musical Director Andrew Nelson put it, “run amok in the museum.” The intention was to give visitors a new way of looking at the exhibits. After all, museum exhibits are static, it’s what the visitor brings to them that makes an impact. 

“Our goal was to invite creative thinkers into the museum to produce creative work,” says Emily August, Director of Public Programs. “The artists’ job is to find something that resonates with them in the Museum and bring it to life for our visitors in new and perhaps unexpected ways through their unique artistic lens. The content is inherently Jewish, although the artists may not be.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

The (Curious Case of the Watson Intelligence): Do We All Need a Watson in Our Lives?

Who do you think of when you think of Watson? Sherlock Holmes’ faithful companion and publicist, the computer (named for Thomas J. Watson, Sr., who ran IBM from 1914-1956) that beat Jeopardy’s biggest winners in 2011, or Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant, the man who received the first ever phone call.
Whichever it is, they are all present, along with a modern robot and a charming young man both also named Watson, in Madeleine George’s play, The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence, that just finished its run at the Azuka Theatre. In a time-bending script that requires each of the actors to play multiple roles across the last century or so, Watson, played in all his guises by Griffin Stanton-Ameisen, is the force that ties them all together.
When Edison, from a darkened doorway, repeatedly calls out “Watson, come here, I want to see you”—or was it, as that Watson insisted, “Watson, come here, I want you”?—is he, perhaps, expressing a need we all have to have someone, something, at our beck and call. Eliza (Corinna Burns), a modern entrepreneur, who has left her husband and her job and is starting her own company called Digital Fist, has created her own Watson, a charming barefoot robot who rarely looks at her but says just what she wants him to. Phrases like, “I just want to give you what you want.” And who wouldn't want to hear that?