RSS

Tag Archives: Celebrity

Still Dreaming After All These Years

Getty Images

Fifty years is a long time; a very long time. A 50th anniversary is always worthy of commemoration, and naturally occurs within the framework of modernity. Fifty years ago, on an oppressively hot humid day on August 28th, 1963, hundreds of thousands of people marched for freedom and jobs in an event twenty years in the making. They came on buses, trains and on foot; slept wherever they could or perhaps not at all. They marched through the nation’s capital, towards the mall, not knowing what to expect or how things might end. It was a dangerous time for protestors and in Washington D.C.; imprisonment, beatings and even killings were (and continued) to occur. But they came in their finest, marching and standing in that unrelenting heat all day long.

Fifty years later, in 2013, it took days of events to commemorate all that occurred on that one day. A week’s worth of marches, demonstrations, speeches, and festivities culminated in an all-day rally on August 28th, 2013. Over five hours a schedule of military minute precision brought performers and speakers to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Early on the crowd (which stretched from monument to monument) was led by Andrew Young in; Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Stayed On Freedom. This set a communal tone for a crowd diverse in age, background and agenda. Another sing-along that either conjured strong memories or made one think of one’s parents, was Peter and Paul singing Blowin’ In The Wind. Anyone familiar with Peter (in particular, but also,) Paul and the late Mary won’t be surprised to learn that Trayvon Martin’s parents stood with the performers. Many who took the stage were living remembrances of the 1963 March. Representative John Lewis (the youngest speaker in 1963) invoked sentiments repeatedly echoed on the steps; “The scars and stains of racism still remain deeply embedded in American society, whether it is stop and frisk in New York or injustice in Trayvon Martin case in Florida, the mass incarceration of millions of Americans, immigrants hiding in fear in the shadow of our society, unemployment, homelessness, poverty, hunger or the renewed struggle for voting rights. So I say to each of us today, we must never, ever give up. We must, ever give in. We must keep the faith and keep our eyes on the prize.”

Two of Dr. King’s children spoke, but it was Christine King Farris, King’s older sister who surprised and moved the crowd. She referred to herself as perhaps not the oldest person present but certainly the only one who had known Dr. King since he was in diapers. She hadn’t been able to attend 50 years prior, due to a bad flu, but had watched her brother on television and knew something magical had happened. She spoke eloquently, powerfully and personally and the crowd felt they had been invited into the circle. Reverend Bernice King, clearly inheriting her father’s gift for oration, was inspiring; “We are still chained by economic disparities, class inequalities and conditions of poverty for many of God’s children in this nation and around the world. If we are going to continue the struggle for freedom and create true community, then we will have to be relentless in exposing, confronting and ridding ourselves of the mindset of pride, and greed, and selfishness, and hate, and lust, and fear, and idleness, and lack of purpose and lack of love as my brother said for our neighbor.” She ended her remarks at precisely 3:00 PM for the ringing of the bell. The bell, the crowd learned, was salvaged from the Birmingham Baptist Church, a reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that led us to this day.

The most remarkable aspect of the day’s programming was that of having three United States Presidents on the agenda. Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama were greeted like rock stars and did not disappoint. They paid homage to the work of Dr. King and the strides of the movement, but as one would expect from world leaders, they also carefully criticized complacency, or worse; backsliding. It is a difficult conundrum, complacency. While it is natural to be reactionary to policies and actions that are blatantly racist, it is challenging to keep the fire burning day to day. When we are no longer daily confronted with signs of “Whites Only” or bus and school segregation, our shoulders lower and we breathe easier. But, as the speakers reminded us throughout the day, there is so much left to do. Poverty, incarceration, immigration, voting rights and equality are very current issues. Progress has been made, but we are nowhere near the finish line.

It is so tempting to lose our focus, to give into distraction. In fifty years we’ve evolved into a nation of perpetual distraction and extroversion. Where the 1963 March was an open and accessible event, the 2013 event was constrained and produced for the media. Enormous television camera towers blocked the view for all but the “ticketed” attendees (an oddity juxtaposed to a day celebrating equality.) Celebrities with no obvious connection to the movement spoke and sang (or lip synched) for the cameras. Two dance groups (in very photogenic costume) performed, an odd artistic choice for any rally with limited views. The singers (except for Peter and Paul) sang gospel music, even though international (and even national) folk singers still abound today. But the 2013 event was packaged for viewers back home. That isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different. As were the 20-somethings playing candy crush during the speakers, and the thousands of selfie pics being taken throughout the day. But amongst all that noise were young, middle-aged and 1963 alumni, riveted and moved. Heads bowed and bobbed, hands waved in solidarity and to this attendee it looked like hope.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 29, 2013 in Cultural Critique

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The (T.V.) Guide Of Casting

Betty

It’s late July and the first whispers of Broadway’s 2013-2014 season can be heard. Unlike a sighting of back-to-school displays, this prematurity is welcome. Even if one loves the summer and is ensconced in a villa or beach hideaway, paradise can get a bit tedious. And if you’re of the school that there is never enough sand, seafood and sangria it’s nice to think of how you will assuage yourself once the leaves turn. And let’s face it, anticipation is more than half the fun.

If you’re a lover of (what I call) main stage Broadway and swoon at all things Llyod Weber, there’s almost always something to look forward. It’s also almost a sure bet that revival lovers will be happy. But what’s more of a gamble, and therefore a bit exciting, is news of new works, fabulous directors or stellar stage performers. Both camps of theatregoers; main stage and not-so-main stage often experience FOMO (fear of missing out) in extreme form. The line for the cronut is nothing compared to the virtual line for an “insert celebrity name here” show, jukebox musical, or made from TV, or film show. Nothing creates buzz like buzz, and most main stage shows have a marketing machine to beat the band. A quieter, no more attractive frenzy occurs over the not-so-main stage offerings as well. The bragging rights are comparable as well. In brownstones, penthouses and rent control classic sixes, you can hear any of the following; “Cumming’s Macbeth? We saw it before it went to Broadway. Of course Patti was great in Gypsy, but the Encores! production was quite different. You wanna see flying? You MUST see Peter and the Starcatcher.” (Somewhere in apartments we couldn’t afford or dare to enter there are similar conversations of theatre so obscure & avant-garde that knowing their titles is as good as seeing them.)

John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Defiance), James Lapine (Sunday In The Park With George, Into The Woods), Doug Hughes (Inherit The Wind, Mauritius, A Man For All Seasons) will be collaborating in various configurations at The Manhattan Theatre Club. These names are guaranteed to perk the imagination of any theatre lover. The Manhattan Theatre Club often achieves a delicate balance of risk and sure thing. They produce new work and attract stellar performers. The new work is often very good and the performers are often well cast. (Hardly minor points!) It’s not surprising then that the casting for Mr. Shanley’s new play evoked in me a Scooby-Doo type response. The new work will star Brian O’Byrne (Doubt, Defiance, The Beauty Queen of Leenane) and Debra Messing (television star). Now there are plenty of accomplished stage actors who found fame in sitcoms, but (according to her resume) Ms. Messing doesn’t seem to be one of them. Acting on camera is an entirely different endeavor than acting on stage. (You can test this at home by pulling up the one live show of Will & Grace. While it is still edited it is raw enough to discern where each actor’s comfort zone lies.) This is not to suggest that people can’t surprise us in the most delightful way. I love nothing more than hearing the voice in my head shout; “Crikey, would you look at that! He/she is GOOD!” And (for the right price) I’m willing to give any performer (within reason) the benefit of the doubt. But this casting does have me wondering.

I would love to be a fly (or a less disgusting insect) on the wall during the creative meetings. I’d also love to eavesdrop on the editorial meetings in which celebrity opinion pieces are chosen over journalism. What can I say; I love to witness verbal jousting! I’m absolutely certain (she says while adjusting her rose colored glasses) that at least one person pipes up in these meetings; “Do we really need to go the celebrity route?” before being pelted with cronuts.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 20, 2013 in Media/Marketing, Theatre

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

All The World’s A Stage

Playhouse-90-Requiem-for-a-Heavyweight

20th Century Fox has created a Broadway division to produce film-to-stage productions. This is newsworthy as they are the last movie studio to do so. It isn’t that Fox has shied from the stage; the ill-fated 9-5 musical was a Fox picture. But they have not had an in-house formal process for repackaging movies into stage productions. Now this type of news is likely to send a certain demographic into a bit of a crise (say; the kind of person who uses the word “crise” or “picture” instead of “movie”.) But if we slowly dismantle and examine the conceit, we may not have to draw the curtains and take to our beds.

First off, having a film-to-stage production division is not synonymous with big-box theme park type productions. It is also does not mean that dramas or even comedies will necessarily be turned into chirpy musicals. (I know, I know, you’re making your “Let’s start with The Color Purple” list right now, but hear me out.) 20th Century Fox plans to have 9-12 projects slated to jumpstart this initiative. They’ve indicated that these productions are not necessarily Broadway bound. This disclosure increases the odds that regional theatre will occur and to do so there will have to be smaller productions. Regional theatre is always welcome.

There was a time when almost every Broadway production took to the roads. (And this was back when there were dozens and dozens of productions on the Great White Way at any given time.) Often the original cast would make the tour. Not only did this give life and exposure to a play and its creative team, it made live theatre accessible. A diverse audience was cultivated and that in turn supported live theatre. More audience equaled more revenue equaled more opportunities for creativity (on the part of producers) and more jobs. Times have changed and the result of those changes is an elitism of Broadway. To get on a Broadway stage a production better be damn sure it will make money. A New York City audience is not enough to ensure a full house. Visitors must buy tickets and buy them at a very high price. If visitors come from lands no longer exposed to Broadway theatre on a seasonal regional basis; a little flash is necessary. A boldface name (e.g., a television star, a reality show contestant, or a recording artist) combined with a known property (e.g., a revival or film-to-stage production) greatly increases the seats sold. Ticket prices have skyrocketed, presumably to sustain the boldface salaries and bells & whistles of a big-box show. This in turn creates a phenomenon known as “consumer grade inflation” (just because I made it up doesn’t mean that it’s not a phenomenon.) Someone who procures tickets for a price of over $100 a piece (and I’m being conservative) is not likely to be all that critical. People aren’t stupid, (stay with me on this) they know when they’re paying more than something is worth. Ask any real estate agent how their clients behave once they’ve outbid other buyers. Take a look at people willing to dine at 5:30 PM or be treated like vermin by a maitre d’. Most likely they’re doing so for the bragging rights, and brags don’t begin with “Wow, was he/she miscast!” or “Lots of noise, little fury.” At $100+ a ticket you are going to enjoy it dammit. And that ladies and gentlemen is how the standing ovation reflex was born.

By bringing professionally produced theatre into the regions we stand to turn the tide just a bit. Arts education has suffered in public schools. It’s been decades since networks televised stage plays. Singing and dancing contests now dot the airwaves, and this should be taken as a sign of interest in the performing arts. It stands to reason that tickets sold by 20th Century Fox will sell. Yes, there’s a chance that X-Men The Musical will be green-lighted. But there’s also a chance that more, shall we say; human stories will be told. The simple act of developing a theatre habit has a ripple effect. People who attend the theatre on a regular basis are more likely to be a discerning audience. Buying tickets for a Broadway show will no longer be synonymous with buying tickets for a tourist attraction. A curious audience with an appetite for adventure will support more creative offerings. Less reliance on celebrity or flying machines means lower ticket prices. A lower ticket prices creates more of an audience. And so on and so on…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Media/Marketing, Theatre

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Step Right Up And See The Show!

tent

Is there anyone so decent as to not enjoy watching the mighty slip and fall? Schadenfreude; it’s not just fun to say! There is nothing shameful in experience just the tiniest thrill when celebrities’ true colors are flown in full view. It’s not that we’ve been campaigning for their demise or even giving it a moment’s thought. It’s just that sooner or later we grow tired of the monsters we’ve created.

A celebrity is nothing more than someone who has orchestrated our interest. They could not exist were it not for our buy-in. Playing a sport well does not make you a celebrity (as anyone who’s played an obscure sport in the Olympics) nor does proficiency in the arts (quick: who’s the ‘2013 Face of Oboists’?) Being a celebrity means we know who you are. That’s all. Sometimes the phenomenon is accidental; say, the result of landing an airplane safely in the Hudson River. But statistically speaking far more celebrities are self-created.

Most of us, even while queuing up to see the latest blockbuster or buying the latest gizmo or gadget, mildly resent being manipulated. We don’t mind it enough to stop buying what’s being sold but on some level it rankles just a tad. Which is why it makes things a bit entertaining when they go awry. Our pleasure is less distasteful due to the fact that these people will rise from the (artfully placed) ashes. Anyone who has come from a blue-collar New Jersey town, or sold sandwiches or window treatments door to door is going to bounce back just fine. These are scrappy and ingenious self-promoters who will not go gently into obscurity. Sure they might put a Kmart contract at risk while in the slammer, but don’t you shed a tear. They will figure out how to get the biggest publicity bang out of the experience. That’s the beauty of celebrity. Who you are and what you can do are immaterial; it’s all about your barker skills. Placing gourds around your home in the fall, adding mayonnaise to every meal or using ‘really good vanilla’ are not unique or even mildly interesting techniques. But describing these endeavors with proper lighting, condescending tone or good-ole girl twang, is a great gimmick. (And you know, it really is best to get a gimmick.)

So when these celebrities who have cultivated a brand of ‘don’t you wish you were me?” have their underbelly exposed it’s just a tiny bit satisfying. We are not disappointed and distressed as we are when elected officials or society folks show their worst selves. Instead we have just a nanosecond of ‘no, I really don’t wish I were you.’ We still buy the junk they’re selling of course. But for at least a moment we will be aware of the ingredients. And being aware of what we consume, even if it’s only for a moment, is never a bad thing.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on June 22, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Media/Marketing

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We Dress Alike*

triplets

There’s a stark yet strangely beautiful photo essay by Nolan Conway. Identically styled people sit in various MacDonald’s restaurants. At first (second and third) glance it would appear that this is a collection of twin portraits. But the captions prove otherwise. Capturing clusters of indistinguishable people is no doubt the point of a MacDonald’s story. It makes that obvious and the also not so obvious point of; when did everyone start looking alike?

Recently a story about the ‘edgy’ art scene in the newest hippest neighborhood was accompanied by a photo. A cluster of identically clad and groomed under 40s was captioned. But you’d have to be the profiled artist’s mother to pick his knit capped head out of the half-dozen style clones. The men had moppish 80’s hair, the women had asymmetrical 80’s hair. The men were wearing what they considered ironic T-shirts (when did ubiquitous and mundane become synonymous with irony?) The women are in clothes made to appear as if they were accidentally washed on the incorrect cycle. They are faded just so and just a bit worn. And they all are wearing vaguely ethnic scarves and polyester knit hats perched on the top of their heads. Even the manner in which they wear these unattractive utilitarian hats (indoors!) is identical.

The Bobbsey Twin-ness is not reserved for the under 40 crowd of course. If you’ve attended a high school graduation in recent years, and perhaps sat in a back row, you would see a sea of identical heads. Over 40 female hair is almost always long, straight and highlighted (it’s the equivalent of our foremother’s blue rinse.) The clothing style depends on the B.M.I. but almost always includes denim w/ a minimum of 3% lycra. This Doubleminting has always been pervasive among teens of course. It is the holy grail of adolescence to look exactly like everyone else. But what about college? Have you been to college lately? Move-in day is a riot. All the dads are in cargo shorts, untucked shirts & baseball caps; and all the mothers are in capris and generous cleavage (you think it’s easy to see your daughter turn into a grown woman?!) and the freshman are in uniform. The young women are dressed in body-con pieces from head to shin. From shin to toe they are most likely either in an Ugg or wellie (making them look as if they’re standing in a bucket, which is flattering on exactly no one) or if the weather allows, a rubber ‘shoe’ suitable for the beach, pool or hospital. The young men are either in baggy cargo shorts (like father like…) or slim fitting madras shorts. T-shirt (with message/image suited to the corresponding college/university) and unlaced sneakers or shower shoes complete the look. Since when did college students want to look alike? When did they want to follow the lead of their parents in any pursuit, least of all an approach to style? Wait but what of the art students you ask? Well if completing the checklist of body modifying (piercing, tattoos, earlobe stretchers) is a sign of creativity, then we’re good. (Note to medical students on the fence about their specialty; restorative cosmetic surgery – ka-ching!)

So how did it happen? Is it all the result of very cheap clothing in chain stores? Is it that the same ‘look’ is available across the country in a mall or big-box store near you? Is it our celebrity culture that drives style? Could it be that people (consumers, media, merchandisers) turn to celebrities (who turn to a handful of stylists) to create their look? Or is the styling of one’s person just the tip of the iceberg? Is it more that a culture that celebrates sameness is ultimately going to look the same. A culture that applauds and supports genre over niche does not cultivate creativity. Television talent contests award very specific sounds and looks (there is no Gong Show diversity on display anywhere.) Since the Rocky and Godfather days, film sequels are king. Broadway’s percentage of revivals grows every year. Where are the new ideas? How much wonderful writing never sees the light of day? What happened to the novel? Memoirs (which is a lovely sounding word for ‘it happened to me so it must be interesting’) is the genre of choice. Sensation and sequels sell, but what about good writing and great stories? Is there an audience (aka money) for talented novelists, poets, screenwriters and playwrights? We could also shine the light on indistinguishable home design and decor, museums exhibits and performance arts centers. You’d have to have a GPS to know where you are sometimes.

There have always been style trends. People don’t much go for operetta the way they once did. Sonnets went the way of hoop skirts, and you don’t see a lot of domes and columns being erected. But not since perhaps the 1950s have people strived to look and sound so much alike. Perhaps it is merely cyclical and not a harbinger of the demise of creativity. My goal is to outlive the cycle, seek creativity and to do so while wearing what flatters/interests me.

*The Triplet Song (The Bandwagon 1953) by Arthur Schwartz & Howard Dietz

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 4, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Style

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,897 other followers