Arts Features & Reviews

A Modern “Poe Man” at Orlando Fringe

I love fringe festivals. They’re such a great way to take chances on new art and artists, and I devote time every year to coverage of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. I didn’t get to attend as much as I wanted to at Orlando Fringe this year, but here are my thoughts on what I did see.  

You choose a one-man Poe show at a Fringe Festival, your odds are 50/50 at best.

PoeMan_2017_450

Devennie has a series of images for his show, and this is my second favorite.

I’m glad I caught Poe Man by Joe Devennie: I admittedly entered the show a bit snobbish and left with a firm appreciation of Poe’s lasting effect on the American psyche.

 

I think of Poe, I think early America: rough, young yet still slightly tinged with a British sound. That’s why I’m glad Devennie begins with “The Telltale Heart”. His no-frills approach to the language eases you into his way of telling this story, his Poe — closer to the cool High School English teacher than a muggy idea of Poe drowning in its own importance and expectations.

Devennie draws his “Telltale Heart” narrator straight from the headlines of “He was such a nice, normal boy. I had no idea he could do this sort of thing” [19th century spoilers: he murders a housemate because the old man’s eye puts him off.] We are at least five minutes into his telling before Devennie even raises his voice or shows any signs beyond normalcy. You could be asking him where the nearest bathroom is before he slips into the first sign that something is not quite right.

It’s a great way to present this story, and one that feels all too real in the American of today.

Hop-Frog

I don’t recall ever reading this one. A dwarf, forced into slavery as a court jester (and often the subject of ridicule as well), takes a well planned, maniacal revenge on the King who causes his and his only friend pain.

Devennie uses his well-honed storytelling chops to great effect. I found myself wishing we were actually around a campfire, hearing his words illuminated by chance with fire. Also, love this story! Any show that makes me want to crack open that thick hardcover of The Collected Works of Poe I’ve had for two years has earned its ticket price.

Poe’s description of the slow toll that abuse and bullying takes on a person’s psyche also feels too relevant and real in today’s world.

The Raven

Devennie started The Raven strong, with an old Southern “let me tell you a story on my front porch but I’ve had a few too many” vibe. It was well done and Devennie certainly more than did it justice. The character, however, didn’t reveal anything new about the story. I almost wish he had never left his “porch chair,” and told the whole tale from there. Even though it didn’t add up, ending a Poe adventure on “Nevermore” is never a poor choice.

His last show is an hour after I am publishing this, but he is an Orlando Fringe regular, so keep him on your radar for next year. 

 

PoeManSuperman

This is my favorite image for his show. 

 

Why TYA Should Join the Dark Side (of Fairy Tales)

Let’s delve into a pretty common denominator in the world of theater for young audiences (TYA): fairy tales. There is no end to internet lists “revealing” or “discovering” the dark origins of fairy tales, yet it is so surprising that, once upon a time, we actually told children scary stories? Shocking!

Many of the original versions of fairy tales were told to help children and adults confront the very real dangers of their times. Hansel and Gretel is an excellent example and very likely the most well known: it’s famine and hunger that motivate the mother or stepmother (depending on the version) to convince her husband to abandon his children in the woods. Most stage productions hide that part of the tale. It is fear of the darkness inherent in the stories that can cause playwrights to move too far in the other, more saccharine direction, leading to meaningless takes on fairy tales that now feel like the norm. When we remove fear from a fairy tale — or any story — we remove its connection to our lives, and that dumbing down affects theater audiences for a lifetime. Without true connections to our own feelings, fears and joys, why bother attending?

Read more at The Clyde Fitch Report

Read Part 1: Why do Theaters Dumb Down TYA (Theater for Young Audiences)?

Caleb Foote and Angela Giarratana in “Hansel & Gretel Bluegrass” (Photo: Cooper Bates)

Why Do Theaters Dumb Down TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences)?

“We want to do children’s theater that doesn’t suck.”

That was Debbie Devine and Jay McAdam’s answer when I asked how 24th ST Theatre’s shows were different from their local competition. I laughed and understood. I was just starting as their marketing director and not a parent myself, but I certainly knew the horror stories of wide-eyed “children’s theater” talking down to their audiences.

And so I set about convincing progressive Los Angeles parents that a show about death, or one with a scene about getting your period, or a one-woman King Lear, were exactly the shows they should bring their kids to see.

Read more on The Clyde Fitch Report.

This is the first column in a year-long series investigating Theatre for Young Audiences. Click the Talking TYA tag for more.

Hard Fantasy vs Soft Fantasy for Children

Patrick Rothfuss profile

Patrick Rothfuss image was taken from this interview.

In Talks at Google with Patrick Rothfuss, he answers a question dear to my heart. I usually discuss it in relation to children’s theatre, but it holds. They’re smarter than you think.

Audience Question: How hard is it to make hard fantasy versus soft fantasy for children?

Rothfuss: There’s an unfortunate tendency among people in general to say, oh, I’ll just write a fantasy novel because you can just make stuff up. And that’s wrong, because that’s not – you can just do a bunch of stuff and magic will make it make sense. You can, but that’s not good writing, it’s not good storytelling, it’s not good craft.

In my opinion, similarly, people, sometimes, in the genre, are like, well, boy, I wish I could write YA because then kids don’t know what a plot hole is, they don’t care about consistent characterization, they’re not gonna call me on the million dragons ecology problem that I’ve created, this is not a sustainable eco-structure. But that, in my opinion, is a really egregious cop-out. Because in the same way that food that we feed our children should be actually held to a higher standard than the food you give to an adult, because an adult can say, blech, this is awful, or they can read the label and go, oh, this has terrible things in it and it’s going to make me sick and give me cancer. A kid can’t. 

And so you owe it to kids to actually put more work into this because it’s harder to write short. It’s harder to write simply [sic]. It’s harder to do a lot of these things, and it’s harder to write cohesive, coherent, internally coherent fantasy. And you shouldn’t go to YA thinking, oh, my, this will be way easier. I can just bang out 30,000 words and then go play World of Warcraft.

No.

I do not approve.

I know that it’s hard, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try for it. That’s my philosophy.”

Two Articles I Wrote on Art as a Parent

I guess being a parent really does affect how I view art. Yesterday two articles I wrote dropped on different publications, Better Lemons and Dwarf+Giant, a blog of The Last Bookstore LA. I didn’t realize until I shared them to Facebook that both show how I view art differently since becoming a parent.

One is how The Cat in the Hat reads like a manual for child molesters. I thought I’d get more pushback on this story, but so far all comments except one appreciate my argument for removing that book from your collection. Thanks to Dwarf+Giant for publishing this one!

The other is the first in a series, What Theaters Need to Know: Courting Families on Better Lemons, a relaunched Los Angeles arts website. Here I detail how small changes and larger ones can go a long way towards making families feel welcome at your programming. Until you’ve had to change your child’s diaper on a nasty restroom floor while other audience members bang on the door during intermission, you really haven’t lived as a parent.

Stay tuned for some more interesting articles from me……

YA Book Review: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

I’m happy to announce that I’m now reviewing books for Dwarf+Giant, A Blog of The Last Bookstore. My focus is on fairy tales, folk tales and mythology – classics and re-tellings. Follow my reading progress on Goodreads.

This review was originally published on October 14, 2016.

Dorothy Must Die isn’t so much a retelling of The Wizard of Oz as a continuation, an elaboration of Oz after Dorothy became a ruthless dictator and turned her companions into henchmen worthy of The Godfather. Amy is the protagonist, swept into a tornado after her alcoholic mother goes to a tornado drinking party and leaves her to fend for herself. Landing her trailer in Oz, she is assumed to be their saviour, her orders being simple: Dorothy Must Die.

I had a hard time getting into Amy, the protagonist. At first I thought it was because we had so little in common (trailer park vs upper middle class, alcoholic mother vs stable nuclear family); then I realized that I felt too close to her experiences being bullied at school. It hurt too much for me to bear with relating to her. In a lot of ways I wish I reacted to bullying more like Amy did.

Once we’re into the Oz part of the story, I flew through Amy’s journey. Struggling with who to believe and having a real stake in who is good vs who is evil is a pretty great hook. No icon of Oz is left standing here, and you get the feeling there is real danger. I didn’t read the summary to the second book, so to me, it was possible that Amy could have been killed before this book was done. That was a pretty great feeling to have as a reader, that anything was really possible and maybe this time, our heroine wouldn’t overcome her training and doubts.

I do wish there was a little more dimension to Dorothy, but I suppose that’s how the original villain (Wicked Witch of the West) is portrayed in the film…and maybe I’ll find the answer I seek in Paige’s prequels.

Marketing Fails & Immersive Ethics

A few weeks ago, I received an ominous text in the middle of the night:

catharsis-text

Needless to say, I was freaked out. Read the full story on No Proscenium to hear how an immersive marketing scheme backfired big time.

Then head on over to Story Forward, a fantastic podcast I just discovered. Noah J. Nelson of No Pro is on a panel discussing the ethics of immersive experiences. Whether you approach it as an audience member or creator, this is a great listen.

If you’re interested in knowing about immersive productions, escape rooms, etc in your area, here’s where to find NoPro. There’s an expansion to other cities in the works:

Email: no_proscenium@outlook.com (send announcements & tips)
Twitter: @noproscenium (look for between issue updates) 
Facebook: No Proscenium Page (Issue Archives for All Regions)
Medium: The No Proscenium Collection (Reviews and Essays)
Podcast: iTunes and RSS 
Patreon: Support the Newsletter and Podcast
New subscriber sign-up: noproscenium.com

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