Saturday, July 07, 2012

Good Theater and Great Food

In our annual attempt to determine whether it is possible to see too much theater, I am scheduled to see eight plays over four days this trip to Ashland. As I write this, I've made it through six, and although all have been good, nothing has really knocked my socks off as have at least some plays in recent years.

Thursday we tried to go to Morning Glory for brunch, but they said the wait time was over an hour, so we hiked across town and got a relatively quick table at Brothers' instead. The family got reacquainted with the cheese blintzes, and I had a more-than-passable chorizo and eggs and one of their signature scones.

Thus fortified, we headed off to see Romeo and Juliet. Very interesting setting of the play, in Alta California in the 1840s. I thought that worked quite well. Solid performances throughout. We took our daughter, who is 11, to see it. Though it was pretty intense, she liked it. We hadn't originally planned to take her, but got the opportunity when we found extra tickets available for that show and also for another play later in the trip that had been sold out. Anyway, good, solid Shakespeare.

Our friends arrived to spend the rest of the week/end with us, and we had dinner reservations at Smithfield's, a meat-centric restaurant that opened since our last visit last year. Oh, boy, was that a treat! Hanger steaks, pork chops, duck confit cassoulet, all excellent. In fact, we liked it so well that we canceled our reservation elsewhere for Friday to do another meal at Smithfield's, as well as booking Saturday brunch. I have to say, this is the best food I've found in Ashland, truly outstanding.

In the evening we all went to see "As You Like It" in the outdoor theater. That was really good. Again, nothing particularly spectacular, but a good introduction for our friends. We went to the Preface before the show, and got some good insights for things to look for.

Friday began with pastries from a local bakery, followed by the daily stroll to town, but early for a backstage tour. Although parts were repetitive from previous tours, we got a new perspective from a younger actor on the moving part of the tour. Definitely a good time.

We dropped the kids off at the Science Works hands-on museum, which they enjoyed, while the adults saw "Troilus and Cressida" in the small indoor theater. Terrific performances, though I have to say the material is far from Shakespeare's best. The play is ultimately pretty unsatisfying. Not a criticism of the performance or the staging, which was all very good. But the text pretty much leaves one hanging. One big plus was the part of Thersites, a tiny character in the Illiad, blown up here and performed in a kind of Dennis Hopper-ish, over the top performance by Michael Elich.

Then the Preface for the evening's performance of "Henry V," followed by a second dinner at Smithfield's.

Henry V completes the three-year, three-play sequence following the growth and maturation of Prince Hal and his pals in the two parts of Henry IV. John Tufts continues to amaze me in the role. He has obviously worked very hard at it, and gives a wonderful, nuanced performance. The preface was really good and helpful, too, helping to tease out the issues of lineage and claims to the throne of both England and France, among other things. So far, I'd say this is the highlight of the trip for me, being both an excellent standalone performance and the culmination of the three-year odyssey.

Now then, off to brunch! And more theater!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Independence Day and Theater!

We decided to squeeze our annual trip to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival into the Independence Day holiday season, so we'll get four days of theater with only two days off work. We drove up last night after work, and had a quick, easy drive.

This morning we learned that the house where we're staying is practically at the starting spot for the Ashland Independence Day parade, so we headed out to watch that. It was great fun, in a small town celebration sort of way. Pretty much the whole town seemed to be out. By the end, since we were about halfway to the Shakespeare Festival, we just walked the rest of the way into town, grabbed a quick lunch at one of the booths serving food (tasty gyros), and then split up for the afternoon, with me going to watch "Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella" with my mother-in-law, and the rest of the family checking out the rest of the celebration in Lithia Park.

The play was about as strange as the title implies. They are literally performing (most of) three plays simultaneously on the same stage. The point is that they have some similarities of both structure and theme, but truly, I think it's a bit of a reach. There are some very clever moments and some good performances, so it was a worthwhile afternoon.

For dinner we had hoped to go to Caldera Tap House, but they had closed for the holiday. So we checked out the Standing Stone Brewing Company instead. We had tried it a few years ago and weren't that impressed with either the beer or the food, but this visit was better. The beer was still just OK, but the food was quite good. The key was letting the server list their extensive specials for the day, which included a fish burrito, a crab cake salad, a local bison burger, and a filet mignon. We had the burrito and the burger, and were quite pleased.

Evening we again split up. I went with my daughter to see "Animal Crackers," which she found quite delightful (and which I enjoyed a lot, too). My wife and her mother went to see "The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa," which I will see later this trip (Saturday, I think) while they see Animal Crackers.

It was a fun first day, and we managed to get more exercise than we usually get here. Never even took the car out at all. Good stuff.

Tomorrow we get breakfast instead of a parade, and some friends will be flying up to join us for the remainder of the trip. Somewhere along the way we checked and found there were a few tickets available for one of the shows that had been sold out when we ordered, so we added another play. I think somehow I will end up seeing eight plays in four days. Yow!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Creative Funding for Creative Efforts

A couple of my wonderful, talented friends, Laura Goodin and Houston Dunleavy (whose individual blogs are over in the friends list) are collaborating on a new opera that sounds really cool. It's based on Laura's story called "The Dancing Mice and the Giants of Flanders." And they're trying a creative new way to fund it, using crowd funding. They want to raise $2,000 to stage a concert workshop of the opera, so they've set up a project on Pozible.

If you can help them out, you'll be doing a good thing for the arts as well as supporting a couple of very creative (and nice) individuals.

Thanks for any help you can give!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

One More Daisey Update

I'm going to give this one its own post, mostly because I doubt anyone is taking any notice of the other updates I've been slipping into the original post.

I just read Yet Another Commentary on the Mike Daisey/Apple/Foxconn/NPR controversy. I like this one because it not only gets into the metadiscussion of journalistic ethics and such, but also suggests some ideas about the role of narrative and story in forming public opinion:
But facts are not truth. Facts do not, in and of themselves, have meaning. Facts only add up to something — literally make sense — when they are embedded in some kind of framework or narrative that fits into our cultural identities and ways of seeing the world. That’s how humans are built to learn, going back to the Stone Age. So “telling a greater truth” is a thing of real value, not some theatrical pretense. Helping people understand and contextualize events, work through the meaning and resonance of the facts, is a humanistic endeavor, and in today’s fraught and complex world, there’s never been a greater need for it.

Much of the mainstream media seems to have forsworn that task. But “just the facts” is a pretense. There is no such thing. If the story, the narrative framework, isn’t explicit, it’s implicit. And if it’s implicit, it usually reflects status quo interests. I see no particular nobility in that.

So a lie isn’t OK in service of telling a greater truth. What is OK? How do we value the benefits of storytelling — meaning and resonance — relative to the benefits of precision and rigor? There are endless fuzzy borderline cases, bits of approximation, generalization, interpretation, or poetic license. It’s too easy to say there’s no tension.

He then goes on to discuss the specific issue of climate change, and why change deniers feel more strongly about the matter (he posits that it's because they've been given a coherent story). Since that one is near and dear to my heart, I thought I'd pass it along. I like the notion that storytellers are important.

Theme Park Madness

I think I have recovered from the extended family vacation enough to write about it.

Don't take that the wrong way: It was a great trip. But there was a lot of it. A whole week with the extended family in the Greater Orlando Area. Which means theme parks, mostly. A lot of them. I suppose it was fortunate that it was late winter, so the parks weren't open terribly late and we could actually sleep and recover.

I'd been to Orlando before, but never for recreation, so this was my first chance to experience the plethora of parks available. We managed to hit a different park every day, which was pretty cool. Here's the overview:

Sunday: Universal Studios Florida. I had been to the California version of Universal Studios many years ago, but this seemed much more developed, both thematically and in the overall detail of the attractions. Unfortunately, it was a windy day, so the one big roller coaster was not operating. Most of the rest of the rides are variations on "motion simulators," basically moving seats with immersive movies. I quite liked the Disaster ride, which is set in San Francisco, but the most impressive ride overall was the Simpsons ride. It's long and funny and very true to the show.

Overall I have to say this park appealed more to the older members of the crowd, but everyone had a pretty good time.

Monday: Universal's Islands of Adventure. Quite a variety here, ranging from stuff for the little kids based on comic strip characters and Dr. Seuss stories to adventures like Jurassic Park and the Lost Continent and the thing people really wanted to see, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I was really impressed with the attention to details in all of the areas. We managed to score early-admission tickets, which enabled us to get to Harry Potter first, before the lines got long.

Tuesday: Disney Magic Kingdom park. It's kind of disorienting for a group like ours that's very familiar with Disneyland, because it's similar, but different enough to be a bit confusing. It was a big treat to ride Space Mountain again, and we rode Pirates of the Caribbean several times. Big Thunder Mountain was closed, though. And there's no Matterhorn! On the plus side, they have the old Carousel of Progress ("There's a great big, beautiful tomorrow....") and the Country Bear Jamboree. Good memories.

Wednesday: Break from theme parks for a day. Some of the party went fishing in the flats on the Atlantic coast. The rest of us slept in, then headed over to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge where we had a nice nature walk and went to see some manatees at Haulover Canal. Then off to the beach for a bit and dinner at the famous Dixie Crossroads restaurant in Titusville, where we ate a LOT of shrimp.

Thursday: Disney Animal Kingdom park. This is a fun park, very different from the Magic Kingdom, and at least partly aimed at a wider age spread (i.e., a little older). First thing in the morning we ran to ride Expedition Everest, which is a very good roller coaster. My daughter and I hit that four times in a row before there was any line to speak of. Good stuff! Nice animal exhibits. We had a good, full day here.

Friday: Epcot. I have kind of mixed feelings on this one. It's meant to be sort of a future-oriented simulated world's fair. Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to make anything futuristic that doesn't get out of date really quickly. I did quite like Spaceship Earth (the big golf-ball thing), and the Energy Adventure was a really interesting ride. Most of the other rides were fairly unimpressive, and the Test Track really didn't do much for me at all.

Saturday we only had part of the day before flying home, so we hit Islands of Adventure again to get a farewell cup of butter beer and enjoy some of the bits we had to rush through before.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Since I've mentioned Mike Daisey and his appearance on NPR, it's only fair that I point out today's development:
The public radio program This American Life on Friday announced it was retracting the entirety of an episode it aired on the reportedly deplorable working conditions at a Chinese factory owned by Apple supplier company Foxconn, because the episode “contained significant fabrications.”

The original episode, “Mr. Daisey Goes To The Apple Factory,” which aired in late January, featured the supposedly firsthand account of American theatrical performer Mike Daisey traveling to Foxconn’s factory in Shenzhen, China.
Pretty stunning stuff. I look forward to hearing more about this.

Daisey has a response on his own blog, too:
I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.
While I'm on the subject, here are a couple of recent articles discussing the notion that Apple could make its spiffy devices either in the U.S. or at least while protecting workers. One is from The Nation, the other from Grist.

I'm pleased that people are at least talking about this stuff now. Too bad it has to be so contentious.

Update: Lengthy piece from The Atlantic discusses how Daisey's behavior has damaged his cause. I have mixed feelings. Certainly the situation is bad enough that the case for change can stand on its own. If Daisey's show were the only source of information on labor abuses in China, it would be far more serious. But plenty of independent investigation has also pointed to the issues. So yeah, it's bad to promote your cause with untrue information, but if anyone dismisses the issue because of that, they are also making a mistake.

Update 2: Tom Tomorrow cites a NYT piece on the controversy today.  They venture into the question of what constitutes journalism, among other things. The discussion gets interestinger and interestinger. Everybody is coming down hard on Daisey, but no one seems quite sure how to treat This American Life.

Update 3: Commentary from an actor who has performed Daisey's show about Steve Jobs and Apple. All interesting, but particularly this:
But let’s get a hold of ourselves. Should we really be discussing “the abuse of the performer-audience relationship” in the same breath as the real, tangible abuse of Chinese factory workers? Shouldn’t This American Life feel just a little bit silly devoting a solid hour, full of probing research and revealing details, to both of these abuses equally?

The brief piece on Marketplace could have been followed up with a footnote on the TAL website, and perhaps an audio insertion at the top of the original piece, and everybody would have been happy.

But to drag Daisey into a studio and grill him for four hours about what he did actually see and what he didn’t– it’s called “burying the lede.” For apparently hell hath no fury like a public-radio storyteller scorned, especially when he’s got the huge, sanctimonious club of “journalistic ethics” at his side.
I'm glad to see all the discussion. This is the first contribution I've seen that seems to grasp some of the larger facts here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Apple's Outrage

Oh, please.

Responding to the New York Times stories, which we itemized and commented on in today’s column, CEO Tim Cook sent out an e-mail to all Apple employees.
“Unfortunately some people are questioning Apple’s values today, and I’d like to address this with you directly,” he says.
“Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us. As you know better than anyone, accusations like these are contrary to our values. It’s not who we are. For the many hundreds of you who are based at our suppliers’ manufacturing sites around the world, or spend long stretches working there away from your families, I know you are as outraged by this as I am.” 
Bringing to mind Captain Renault:

I know they have to put on these pretenses for public consumption, but really, the notion that Apple was somehow unaware of the implications of their manufacturing choices strains credulity to the breaking point. They just hoped we wouldn't notice, while they pocketed the profits.

They'll talk about needing to trim manufacturing costs to keep prices low, but truly, how can you make that argument with a straight face in light of their recent quarterly earnings:
Apple reported a net profit of $13.06 billion, or $13.87 a share.

A naive person like me might suspect that without sacrificing too much of their $13 billion profit, Apple could build iPhones and iPads and MacBooks in better conditions. Heck, they could probably build them in Cupertino and still turn a merely huge profit instead of an outrageous one. Perhaps it's time to Occupy Apple.

Meanwhile, here's the Times expose mentioned. And refer back to my earlier entry about Mike Daisey's monologue on the subject. Mike is all over this stuff, which is very cool. He's making a difference.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mike Daisey on the Radio

Mike Daisey does amazing monologue performances. And now, he's been adapted for the radio on NPR's This American Life. I haven't listened to it yet, but just reading about it makes it sound fascinating. I have seen the original version on stage, called The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, and it was great.

Check out Mike and his work if you can.