Monday, August 24, 2009

A Dying Breed? Au contraire. Theatre audiences live.

After a theatre student told me he was going to see Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway for just $20 --with Gina Gershon as Rose and John Stamos as Albert-- I began to rethink some basic assumptions about older theatre audiences, and if young people attend theatre, or have an interest in the stage. Behind the scenes, directors and producers have been shaking their heads and wringing their hands about a dying audience. But I don't believe it. Here's why: young people have great opportunities to see theatre, and are introduced to the experience with school groups, or take advantage of great discounts. They catch the live theatre bug, but into their late twenties, thirties and forties, these young people become adults who are raising young families, caring for older parents, juggling careers, dealing with financial burdens. This demographic doesn't have time for entertainment! And it is far easier to schedule a last minute movie for $20 than it is to get tickets to a quality theatre production for much more money. I am convinced that these same people begin their return to theatre as their responsibilities ease and their wallets expand, and the demographic is admittedly an older one-- 45+? I do not think live theatre audiences will die. If we keep opportunities for youth available, they will feel the power of live theatre; we will raise another generation of performing arts supporters. And they will return, when their schedules and wallets allow, sometime in the distant future.

I also wondered what students prices for theatre are North of Boston productions? First off, those $20 tickets on Broadway are from, and they're for shows at Roundabout, and the discount applies up to age 35!!!

On the North Shore, your theatre options include Salem Theatre Company, Gloucester Stage, Merrimac Rep, The Actors' Studio of Newburyport at the Firehouse, Marblehead Little Theatre, and Summer Theatre at Salem, the professional troupe in residency summers at Salem State. Who am I missing? I know there are more.

Of course the colleges (Endicott, Gordon, Salem State College) have student productions, often directed by faculty, and these seem to be your best bet for a cheap ticket, and title choices tend to be more interesting than the blockbuster basics of for-profit theatres.

Student tickets at Endicott are a general price: $10.
At Gordon, pay what you can on mid-week nights! And $7 on Fri and Sat.
Salem State College theatre tickets are $10 for students.
All colleges are free for their own students with IDs.

Newburyport Firehouse appears to have the cheapest student prices, with shows ranging from $10-$15, followed by Summer Theatre at Salem's $15 admission, and Stoneham Theatre at $20. Merrimac Rep didn't list a student price, only a range from $26-$31, and students at Gloucester Stage will pay $32 to see a performance.

Long live the theatre, and take a young person to a live performance the next time you go!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Newburyport Walks the Walk

This I know for sure: where there is art, there's cheese. Oh come now, you know it's true! Maybe it's the philistine side of my arts administrator persona, but I know that even the hardiest of arts supporters sometimes needs a little wine and cheese to be enticed to take in an art gallery exhibit. So this Saturday, take advantage and browse more than thirteen open studios throughout the Newburyport ArtWalk. See new works and works in progress, New England themes, encaustic and mixed media, a juried show, jewelry and crafts. Cheese your way from gallery to gallery, starting and ending wherever you wish. You can even catch a pedicab if all your light refreshments start to leave you feeling...heavy.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Arnould Gallery is the essence of Marblehead

A little summer break from the blog, and it's clear that the arts North of Boston have not taken any break. It's been a feast to satisfy the art-starved! There was Summer Theatre at Salem's magnficent productions for their 15th season, Artists' Row in Salem is hopping, Salem Theatre Company presented Steve Martin's The Underpants, which is the best play title out there, isn't it? Saturdays in Derby Square have been filled with the sounds of Salem Jazz & Soul Fest series.

Marblehead celebrates summer every year with the Summer Jazz Fest, and an arts festival that leaves out no corner of the little coastal town. I was in Marblehead yesterday, adoring Washington street, from overflowing window boxes to black eyed susans popping through fence slats, to a strawberry scone at Foodies Feast (an artform worth mentioning!!). Across the street, I stopped in to the Arnould Gallery, where Gene Arnould, the founder of the Jazz Festival, runs an art gallery/frame shop that is simply the essence of Marblehead.

Gorgeous oils, humorous watercolors, unique collages, all of the art in the Arnould shares a common theme: New England coastal living, particularly in Marblehead. You'll recognize scenes from Redd's Pond, the lighthouse at Chandler Covey, Abbott Hall towering over the rest of the twon's landscape of Georgian homes in scenes for every season. And his artists are exquisite. I combed over each piece for nearly an hour, as though I were in a Marblehead history museum, choosing which piece of history to make mine. You have to be born and bred in Marblehead to call yourself a 'Header, but if you want to claim a piece of this heavenly spot, artwork from the Arnould is where to begin. Cheers to Gene for keeping the arts alive in downtown Marblehead!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ovation for Obamas on Broadway

Ok, so the NEA doesn't exactly have the funding it deserves, but I can't help but say thanks to the President and the First Lady for reminding the nation that live theatre is a great option for date night. And, thanks also for reminding us that Broadway doesn't necessarily mean Cats. They saw an August Wilson play.

Is it me or does Broadway seem a little less fearful of taking on the heavy hitter playwrights these days? We know how tempting it is to produce Guys and Dolls when we've had enough of Guys and Dolls... so thanks Broadway for being fearless in a fearful time. It seems to me that people are spending money on what they value-- and quality theatre is on that list. And the Obamas reminded us that compelling theatre can be a sexy night out. So as women purchase Michelle's J Crew clothes and work out their arms, let's hope that our lovers come home with theatre tickets for date night... and maybe, just maybe the President's trip to Broadway will remind him of the value of the arts. For now, the commercial was a good one!

Friday, May 29, 2009

How to Defend the Arts during Economic Crisis

It doesn't really matter what kind of economic state the country is in. Whether we're basking in the benefits of a dot com bubble or we're swimming against the tide of a tidal wave of economic loss, the cliche is that of the penniless poet, right? The starving artist? And the same may be true of arts organizations, or at least, that's the way we talk to one another as we see the organizations of our fellow artistic friends falter and close. So how do we talk to those who do not innately understand the value of the arts in order to protect the arts? It makes me think of Politicians are from Venus, Artists are from Mars. The newest defense-- a solid and logical one-- has its benefits, and only a few concerns.

Tying the arts to the economy is an eye-opener for those who are committed to the bottom line as the ultimate qualifier for success. When the owner of Prince of Pizza on Route 1 explains that hundreds of school children stop at Prince after morning matinees at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, and now, without NSMT, pizza would stand to lose profits... well, all of a sudden the arts make "cents." The phrase "dinner and theatre" is one of economic stimulus. And beyond the audience, theatres purchase textiles, lumber, lights, microphones, print and marketing, and on and on. And with regional organizations popping up to promote and foster the Creative Economy, suddenly Mars and Venus are speaking a common language.

But will we forget our language of origin? We still have an important message to convey, while we forage for what we need to survive. The arts are not a luxury, not an indulgence, not extra. Arts are the sustenance of our souls. It is the place where humans connect: emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, holistically. Music, theatre, dance, art, writing-- these endeavors challenge us to define our human existence, and to find connections across cultures, and within the individual. It does all that, and pays for the pizza.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Virtuoso Ukelele? Yup.

Ahhh, this is the kind of arts programming that makes me tick. And I think it's the freshness of program that audiences come out for. Jake Shimabukaru has been at the Firehouse in Newburyport before, so he's developed a cult following here just like anywhere. He impresses his audience with fingers on strings that can play anything. And play anything is what he does: jazz, blues, funk, classical, bluegrass, folk, flamenco, and rock. Jake’s mission is to show everyone that the ukulele is capable of so much more than only the traditional Hawaiian music many associate it. It makes an audience laugh, smile, shake heads, drop jaws, and applaud because they feel compelled to, not because they should.

Jake has performed with Diana Krall, Bobby McFerrin, John Hiatt, Victor Wooten, Les Paul, Stephen Bishop, John Craven, Hot Buttered Rum, Honolulu Symphony, Mista D of Nashville’s MuzikMafia, and more.

Run to get tickets in advance for this! June 24 at 7 & 9 pm.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rockport Chamber Music Festival

What is it about this coastal town that has drawn painters, sculptors, jewelry makers to its North of Boston nook? It is storybook picturesque, and when you add the boutiques and studios of so many types of artists, there's plenty of stim for the creative mind (and purse, of course). Then! Add some music to the mix-- not just any music, but perhaps the premiere chamber music festival in the country, now in its 28th season. The Rockport Chamber Music Festival is a biggie, so when you plan that day trip to Rockport, plan on purchasing a ticket to one of these amazing performances. This knock-out concert series under the leadership of Artistic Director and pianist David Deveau features classical to contemporary performances by internationally acclaimed musicians and ensembles. The Festival programs, noted for musical breadth, depth, and range, draw capacity audiences each season at the Rockport Art Association. You can take it in as a member of the audience, attend lectures, and there are family programs to bring the kiddos.

Rockport Art Association
12 Main Street
Rockport, MA 01966
Phone: 978-546-6604
Start Date: 06/04/2009
End Date: 07/02/2009

Friday, May 15, 2009

new artistic paths

I'm home on a Friday night, despite knowing my many options for culture. But sometimes a night of bad tv and facebook is a culture of a different kind, and satisfying still. Poking through facebook has proven to be productive-- at least for thinking. I've noticed a lot of murmurs about new artistic developments, from new performing arts center proposals to cool interdisciplinary work happening. I'm looking forward to what the future holds for arts events. Why? The needs of the audience have changed. We used to be "butts in seats," but now, we want to have our say-- vote for the American Idol, so to speak. And so arts programming must look beyond butts in seats, and engage us. How will your audience become part of the creative process? How will we engage with our audiences? How can we all participate, from the stage and from our seats? What a great time to turn the model upside down, try something new. Or is it old? Have we come full circle to the ancient Greek experience of the arts?!

I love the idea of taking theatre to the people, instead of begging people to come to the theatre-- performances taking place at a bus stop, in a cafeteria, in line at the grocery store; and poetry walls, where we all add our thoughts and words to some ongoing, collective expression; or kinetic sculptures, in which the observer becomes part of the artwork! We haven't simply sunk to casting our vote; no, we've raised our expectations. Artists have always wanted to express and connect. Finally, the audience is picking up the phone, answering the call, saying something back. Let's listen! Can't wait to see what events will pop up soon with juicy, interactive aspects. What are you planning?

Above: floating sculpture by Ken Reker

Salem plans first Arts Festival

It's hard to imagine that Salem, a city with such creativity, so rich with artisans and performers, has never had an Arts Festival before. But this is the first year for what is bound to become a fantastic tradition-- the Salem Arts Festival, planned by a great group of volunteers with Salem Main Streets, takes place June 5-7 with venues throughout downtown, including Old Town Hall. The schedule looks fantastic, but I'm particularly looking forward to soprano Rebecca Hains presenting a charming set of silly Gilbert & Sullivan arias Friday night at 8 pm. On Saturday at noon, Joey Mirabile, choreographer for Summer Theatre at Salem, offers a sneak-peak of the choreography for Footloose, at Salem State College this summer. And, he'll even teach you the dance steps! The weekend includes interactive art workshops for children, a juried exhibit, folk and jazz performances, ballet, artisan demos in a variety of boutiques across downtown. So much to do!! Check out details on their website, and plan to be in Salem for the festival, and everything else this fantastic city has to offer.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The best arts events you've been to?

Just wondering what has been the best performance/exhibit/presentation in the arts that you've attended North of Boston. (maybe in the last 3 years or so?) My faves have included Summer Theatre at Salem's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum last summer, with Peter Zachari as Pseudolus. (Bryan Kingsley Collins and Brianne Beatrice from Forum pictured above.) I also loved hearing Paula Robeson, perhaps the greatest living flute player today, perform with Symphony by the Sea. Of course, as I said in a previous post, I can't think of a better 4th of July than spending it listening to the Hillyer Festival Orchestra on Derby Wharf, watching fireworks over the silhouette of the Friendship. Oh! The best family event I attended was the Griffen Theatre's Christmas Carol on the Trolley, which took me and my nephews to various locations across Salem from the Crotchet's House to the graveyard of Scrooge's worst nightmare. Fabulous!! Anyways, I'd love to know what was top-notch according to you!

Coming up soon, Machine 475 at Gulu Gulu on Friday May 22, 8PM.
Combining electronic and acoustic rhythms with vocals, guitar, harp, sitar, digeridoo and theremin, Machine 475 are well known in the Salem and North Shore region, and are building quite a following in the Boston area. They have that futurist/retro combo sound, and it works!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Early Choral Music in a Sacred Space

-sigh- What is it about female voices in unison, singing the works of female composers, women in cloister? It feels naked-- even modern-- but the music I'm talking about is from as early as the 8th century. Maybe it's me, but I just find female monastic music mesmerizing. This performance is at the Grace Church on Essex Street in Salem, and the group is Clausura, a Boston group of vocalist and early instrumentalists who are devoted to exposing the works of these cloistered nuns from a long ago age when expressing themselves through music was forbidden. Most of their repertoire is early Italian baroque. And it happens on Mother's Day, MAy 10 at 7:30 pm-- I think I'm taking Mom to this one.

Get a preview and listen to their tracks:

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hillyer Festival Orchestra in Marblehead

Dirk Hillyer is one of those musicians who just oozes musicality. And he oozes natural charm just as easily, a combo that makes for one fantastic pops conductor! The HFO formed in 1998, and has entertained the North Shore area with its perfect combination of light classical, big band, American standards and movie music ever since. You've probably seen them on Derby Wharf as part of the 4th of July celebration in Salem-- my favorite 4th of July experience, anywhere!

Their next performance is at Abbott Hall in Marblehead, a tribute to the Armed Forces with an "Across America" theme. Can you guess the songs from California to Virginia to Tennessee?

The concert is May 16, 7:30 pm. Tickets: 781-631-3515

Sunday, April 26, 2009

John Singer Sargent lecture at the Salem Athenaeum

Ooooo, sign me up for this one. At the end of your work week, kick back with wine and cheese in a gorgeous, historic library, with cherry trees blossoming in the private garden... then pull up a chair to listen to a supreme art historian, Mary Crawfod-Volk, discuss and present a slide show titled: Sargent and Boston: Love at First (and Second!) Sight. Volk has won awards for her engaging lecture style from Harvard Extension Schol.

The Salem Athenauem, a hundreds-year old society, is housed on historic Essex Street in Salem. Its halls have the echos of many prominent members: Edward Augustus Holyoke, physician and a founder of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences,author Nathaniel Hawthorne, mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch, author of the still-used New American Practical Navigator, United States Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, American Impressionist painter Frank W. Benson, and more. Wine and cheese at 7 pm, lecure presentation 7:30 pm. Friday, May 1st.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Shakespeare Open Mic!

Be the star or be the audience-- celebrate the Bard's birthday with an open mic in his honor. Read a scene, a monologue, a sonnet-- whatever you love that Mr. Shakespeare produced. This has become an annual event for the Salem Theatre Company, now in its 6th season and running strong in Salem, MA. And the event is in the Gulu-Gulu Cafe, an artsy spot with a mighty long list of beers, and a slightly European flair to its cafe menu. For me, it's all about the crepes. Happy Birthday, dear William, Happy Birthday to you!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Literary Festival in Newburyport, April 24 & 25

You don't have to convince me to spend a Saturday in Newburyport, amidst cafes, unique boutiques, brick sidewalks, and ocean air. I'll head North up 1A through Wenham, Ipswich, and eventually past the Federal mansions of Newburyport anytime. But if you need extra incentive, the 4th Annual Literary Festival is April 24 & 25. This town is teeming with big time authors: Andre Dubus III, author of The House of Sand and Fog; Keith Ablow, Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson; Frieda Arkin, author of Hedwig and Berti; Elisabeth Brink, author of Save Your Own; and Mark Karlins, Music over Manhattan-- plus Oprah's live-well guru Cheryl Richardson, and the poet/translator Rhina Espaillat.

Check out the whole schedule of events:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Yarrrrrrr. Pirates come ashore in Salem, for a rollicking adventure at the Salem State College Mainstage Theatre that includes a Major General who knows nothing about military strategy, a young man who falls in love with the first woman he's ever seen, a bumbling group of constables who know nothing about capturing pirates, and two stunning surprises that lead everyone to a happy ending. Gilbert & Sullivan fans know that G&S are the Monty Python of Victorian England! No joke is too cheap. April 16-18, 23-26.

Glass Harmonica Performance at the PEM

April 24, 8:00pm-Boston Artists Ensemble performs with Thomas Bloch, the most prominent glass harmonica player in the world! Hear the U.S. Premiere of Sonatina By C.P.E. Bach for Glass Harmonica and Strings at the Peabody Essex Museum.

When you search for Glass Harmonica on Wikipedia, you get a picture of Thomas Bloch! No, seriously.

Concert details @
Wikepedia link @

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sitar anyone?

Wow. Did you take part in any of the fabulous offerings this weekend? Marblehead Little Theatre finished its sold out run of the musical Blood Brothers, and Marblehead and Salem Arts Associations opened the Green Show: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle at the Hooper Mansion in Marblehead.

So what's next?

I'm especially excited about the Percussion and World Music Ensembles performing at Salem State College Recital Hall, Monday, April 13, 7:30 pm. Student music majors perform music written entirely for percussive instruments-- and yet, you'd be surprised how lyrical it still is-- dont forget, marimba, glockenspiel, bells-- these are all part of the percussive world. And then! Sitar players sitting on the floor with Ethnomusicology Professor Peter Kvetko show their stuff. I love it!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sing the Mozart Requiem in Beverly

Nevermind sitting in the audience. For this classical music performance, you are the singer. When do you get the chance to sing with established musicians, fabulous vocal soloists and an orchestra to sing the Mozart Requiem? This is a 19 year tradition for Music Director Robert Littlefield, at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, on Cabot Street in Beverly. The event is free and open to anyone, attending a rehearsal is encouraged but not required. Free, or make a good-will offering of any size. Friday, April 10, 8 pm

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Welcome to Arts North Of Boston

Here it is. One stop shopping. Want to know what's coming up in the arts & culture scene North of Boston? This is your place. I'm excited to tell you about more options than you'll know what to do with!