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Saturday, September 27, 2008
Upper Darby, PA 
 
The whole world in one week: New section with some of the most thought-provoking articles from around the world 
 
As editor of News Around the World, which appears every Thursday evening since August, 2005, I read a wide range of articles from many different countries, including The New York Times, the English edition of Der Spiegel in Germany, and Haaretz in Israel.  I also find helpful websites like BBC News, World Press, and Truthout.org to present articles which the main press in the United States does not always carry.  In addition, friends of mine, both here and abroad, send me articles from small or local news outlets and thought-provoking or entertaining stories which could be classified as "Internet wisdom."  
 
News Around the World also contains health items, historical references, humor, and the occasional illustration.  To read some of these most challenging articles, click here.  


Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Montreal, Canada 
 
Copernic: The Mother of all search engines 
 
About two years ago, I translated into English excerpts of some of my father’s 2000 pages of letters that he had written from Occupied France to my mother during WWII.  I then compiled the most relevant parts of those documents as part of the Metronome Ticking docudrama.  Faced with the task of finding the German originals for a German version of this play, I found that neither the Google Desktop Search nor Microsoft Windows Indexing did an adequate job. 

However, as soon as I had downloaded Copernic, the “mother of all search engines”—free or charge from download.com—I found everything I was searching for within seconds, without even having to scroll down as this software is so user friendly that it took me immediately to the relevant file and the relevant section with the keyword highlighted.  Copernicus himself, no doubt, would have been delighted about this modern brain child from Copernic, Inc. in Montreal, another international city where both French and English co-exist, just as Copernicus connects German and Polish culture and history. 

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543) was the first astronomer to formulate a scientifically based heliocentric cosmology that displaced the Earth from the center of the universe. His epochal book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), is often regarded as the starting point of modern astronomy and the defining epiphany that began the Scientific Revolution.  His work stimulated further scientific investigations and became a landmark in the history of modern science that is known as the Copernican Revolution” (Wikipedia).

Copernic is a desktop search utility for the Microsoft Windows family of operating systems. It allows the user to instantly find a wide variety of items including documents, pictures, music, videos, e-mails, contacts, browser bookmark favourites, and entries in the Internet browser history on the computer, external drives, and network shares.  After installation, Copernic creates an initial index, a process which can take up to several hours depending on the number of items to be indexed, but this is a one-time event. As items are added, changed or removed from a user's computer, Copernic Desktop Search makes incremental changes in the background using idle system resources.
 
The image at top left shows the Copernican universe with the image of Copernicus superimposed.  At bottom left, The astronomer Copernicus: Conversation with God, a painting by Jan Matejko (1838-93).
Friday, September 19, 2008
Media, PA 
 
Y'all people Jewish, ain' you?: Driving Miss Daisy toward the US elections at the Hedgerow Theatre 
 
No subject gets discussed more often and more vehemently around the world than the sharp decline of the American economy and the upcoming election between a Democratic African-American presidential candidate and his white Republican opponent.  I do not know many plays that made me think of these hard and challenging times as much as Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry—a writer who intimately knows not only the Jewish world, but the tension and underlying racial currents in the United States—the only American playwright who won three of the most prestigious American awards for dramatic writing: the Academy Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the Tony Award.  The Hedgerow Theatre in Media—the first resident repertory theatre in the country—could not have chosen a better play to bring together Jewish people, African-Americans, and whites to laugh, to cry, and to talk about perceptions we may have of each other.  
 
Temple University’s Peter Reynolds directed Driving Miss Daisy at the beautiful Hedgerow Theatre with great sensitivity, so much so that the audience at the opening night gave a standing ovation to the superb cast of the amazing Nancy Boykin as Miss Daisy Werthan, the powerful and nuanced Harum Ulmer, Jr., who played her black driver Hoke Coleburn, and the strong and handsome Andy Joos, who played Daisy’s son Boolie Werthan, a businessman in the South, and Cathie Miglionico’s, who designed the costumes, Zoran Kovcic, who created a beautiful and very functional stage setting, illuminated by the perfect lighting design of Maria Shaplin, all of which enhanced this very intimate play. [. . .]
 
As a college professor who conducts a weekly workshop on “News Around the World” at Martins Run, America’s oldest Jewish retirement home, I asked myself, “and who is going to drive the many Miss Daisies and the many Hoke Coleburns of our own time to the election booth on November 4th?”  To read the full text of this review, click here, or see the article on the Philadelphia Jewish Voice website.  
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil AJT Conference 2008 Detroit

Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada 
 
Vienna, Detroit, Jerusalem: Thought-provoking Jewish Theatre Conferences on Three Continents 
 
"While driving from Philadelphia to Michigan, I found it difficult to imagine a conference that could match last year's spectacular International Theatre Conference in Vienna, Austria.  However, the Association for Jewish Theatre (AJT) and the Jewish Ensemble Theatre’s (JET) Artistic Director Evelyn Orbach ensured that this year’s conference in Detroit brought together some of the best Jewish and pro-Jewish theatre professionals and board members from the US and Canada, and from as far as Berlin, Sao Paulo, and Tel Aviv, who conducted many engaging workshops, eye-opening performances, challenging seminars, and one enlightening discussion after another.  Because of the diversity and caliber of their work, I witnessed a range of outstanding performances and a depth of discussion that at times challenged me deeply."   
 
Click here for the full version of my article which was published in the Fall 2008 issue of the magazine of the Association for Jewish Theatre, reviewing the 2008 conference at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre in Detroit.  The photo at left—"See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"—shows (from L to R): Susan Lodish, Philadelphia; Laura Zam, Washington, D.C.; and Leslie Marko, Sao Paolo, Brazil.


Sunday, September 14, 2008 
Media, PA 
 
Traveling around the world at the “Fair Trade” Live Concert: Teaching foreign languages and songs to children and teens 
 
Media, PA, America's first "Fair Trade Town," sponsored a street fair which attracted large numbers of visitors not only to buy healthy or beautiful products from overseas that were certified as "fair trade," but also featured performances by Media Theatre artists with a "My Fair Lady Tableau" and a concert by the famous African Children's Choir, which literally brought down the main square in Media.  The large choir is made up of children between the age of seven and eleven who come from poor villages in Africa.  Many of the kids grew up as orphans in camps.  After musical training, they tour the world for an entire year.  I have seen photographs of the Queen of England and these young singers beaming at each other, the choir members entertaining famous entertainers, and even the American President hugging them at the White House.  In the past, former members of the choir became teachers, physicians, engineers, etc., and contributed to life in their countries back in Africa.
 
I observed a number of people in the "fair trade" audience crying when they sang, and was deeply moved when perhaps an hour later, I saw all of these African children, now wearing khaki trousers and shirts, walk by in pairs, holding hands as they crossed the street.  I stepped into the middle of State Street and applauded them, and quite a few of the children broke loose, ran up to me and hugged me.  It was at that moment that I was fighting tears. For a photo of the African Children's Choir performing in Media, see the image at left. 
 
Earlier that afternoon, I conducted a workshop sponsored by DCCC and the Media Theatre for children and teenagers on speaking and singing in foreign languages.  I distributed a handout that I had created, which contained many links on the Internet where young people could learn languages free of charge and practice the most common phrases in French, Spanish, German, Italian, etc.  We then sang "Frere Jacques" in multiple languages, including Indonesian—with dancers from the Indonesian Cultural Club (see photo at bottom left)—and also in Kiswahili.  Suddenly, I spotted a former DCCC student of mine, a native speaker of Africa's most widely spoken mother tongue, and invited him and his children to join me, and, together, we sang the international round in Kiswahili and several other languageswith one of the TV cameras rolling.  For a copy of the handout that includes the links to learning foreign languages free of charge, click here.  
Friday, September 12, 2008 
Media Theatre, Media, PA
 
From "Bly me!" to "By George, she's got it!": Coaching the cast of My Fair Lady in Cockney and upper-class English 
 
A few years ago, Jesse Cline, Artistic Director of the Media Theatre, invited me to coach the cast of Camelot.  I will never forget spending hours with King Arthur at the Media Starbucks, helping actor and singer Michael Deleget make his English sound truly royal.  After the Media’s very successful production, Jesse Cline asked me to conduct another workshop, this time for the cast of My Fair Lady

We spent an hour at the theatre’s “Crystal Room,” and I challenged the actors to introduce themselves while staying in character: speaking with
either a clipped, upper-class British fashion, or with an in-your-face Cockney accent.  I then gave an overview of the historical background of the Greek myth of Pygmalion—the sculptor who falls in love with his own creation, so much so that he even marries the marble sculpture—via George Bernard Shaw’s same-titled play which could not be performed in England because the famous actress, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, had a car accident.  Shaw immediately translated his Pygmalion into German, which then saw its world premiere at the Hofburg Theater in Vienna in 1913, before making it onto the stage in London the following year. 

To create a better understanding of the intimate link between class-consciousness and use of language in the United Kingdom, I gave some personal examples of how I got corrected by members of the ruling class when I lived in London.  For example, when I used the word "dessert," I was told, "Darling, don't be so vulgar, only the middle classes talk like that!  Don't you know, we call it 'pudding'!"
—comments that made the American actors chuckle at the affectations of some members of the British upper class. 
 
To this day, I cannot listen to someone from England without subconsciously ranking that person’s use of language, noticing everything from the dropping of sounds at the beginning and ending of words by quite a few members of the working class, to the very subtle Oxford stutter and the softer use of language by only 2 to 5% of the population in England who can still be identified by their very articulate “Received Pronunciation.”  By contrast, when I listen to an American speaker, I mainly hear content and a possible regional dialect, but I rarely perceive any sociolect which might denote level of education or class status.

The very talented cast of My Fair Lady then practiced both upper-class and Cockney English and did such a great job that we roared with laughter.  For example, one actor introduced herself as “a bit of a gossip,” while others greeted me with a friendly, “’ello, Profeffor ‘enry!”  I knew right then and there that they already had done a great deal of work beforehand, and with a bit of fine-tuning during the workshop and the rehearsals which follow, will do a spectacular job showing pronounced class distinctions through the use of English on the Media stage. 

My three-page handout provides not only vivid examples from the Cockney dictionary and phrases from "How to speak proper: Victorian English," but also features links to short videos by famous actors, including Ronnie Barker, Richard Burton, Michael Caine, John Cleese, Ronnie Corbett, Rupert Everett, John Gielgud, Audrey Hepburn, Glenda Jackson, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole, Brad Pitt, Charlie Rose, Maggie Smith, and Kenneth Williams.  I even included
Queen Elizabeth II's official Christmas Broadcast of 1957 to the nation and the Commonwealth.  The list of links also contains international actors who are spoofing British English, like Catherine Tate, Joyce Greenfell, Monty Python, Rowan Atkins, Yannis Pappas, a parody of the American Amy Walker doing British accents by Israeli actor Erez Asherov, and a skit mocking class-consciousness with Cleese, Barker, and Corbett.  G.B. Shaw most likely would have enjoyed watching these videos.  For a copy of the handout with all the links, click here.  
 
At top left, "Pygmalion and the Image: The Soul Attains" by pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones.  At lower left, the November, 1916 front page of Everybody's Magazine, featuring Pygmalion.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Upper Darby, PA, and wherever you are in the world 
 
Proud dad of a one-year old: Statistical birthday party for this website 
 
Thank you for having supported this website which is now celebrating its first birthday.  Quite a few of you, both in the US and overseas, have sent most supportive and encouraging comments.  I am grateful to all of you.  

In ancient Roman mythology, the god Saturnus (see animation on left), from which the planet takes its name, was the god of harvest and strength, an appropriate name for the saint of this website which harvests information from the fields of education, the arts, especially theatre, and a wide range of experiences in the US and overseas.  

The image of Newton’s cradle (at left) reminds me of the unknown velocities that start with the initial condition of the tabula rasa—the blank page, or in modern times, the blank computer screen—to a website where I learn a great deal from others, and together with my own thoughts and experiences, generate new ideas and share them with you, the reader.  Just as the law of impacts between bodies—first demonstrated by the 17th C. French physicist Abbé Mariotte and acknowledged by Newton in his Principia Mathematica—so this website can generate a process of action-reaction, sending ideas back and forth that can mutually impact the creative process on a daily basis between readers and writers.

It’s against this background that it gives me great joy to share with you that this very young, one-year website is now moving into a new phase with some of the following innovations: a new, separate faculty webpage at DCCC, graphic animations, more theatre reviews, samples of scenes from my own plays being performed, the first video for All About Jewish Theatre which now appears on YouTube and Google Video, a slideshow, and four new archives to make it easier for you to find information: Theatre, Educational, Workshops, and Personal.  In addition to nine languages, readers in the Netherlands and the Russian-speaking world will soon be able to access the information available on this website, with more machine translations, as I can find them.  

Since I installed StatCounter on my webpage, I could trace the rapidly growing traffic from around the world to my website and discover which pages brought in the most readers.  StatCounter currently has more than 1.5 million users and tracks more than 9 billion page views per month across its network of 2.2 million Web sites, signing up 1,500 new members per day.  That explains why Alexa Internet Web Search currently lists StatCounter as the 34th-most-visited site in the U.S., ahead of household names like Adobe, Dell, and Wal-Mart, and Internet fixtures such as CNET Networks, Ask.com, and Expedia.

I wanted to find out how my one-year-old website would fare internationally, and the Alexa web ranking service showed that over the past three months, I had a 72% increase in the “percent of global Internet users who visit this site,” and a traffic rank of 9,436,662.  Considering the over 176 million registered websites tabulated by Netcraft Web Server Survey as of August, 2008, it seems that my website has grown rapidly—not bad for a one-year old.  If you wish to know the ranking of any website that you access, including this one, simply download, free of charge, the Alexa widget.  
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
The Adrienne Theatre, Philadelphia, PA 
 
Elizabethan Theatre 2008: Bringing Romeo and Juliet back to life through Mauckingbird's innovative production of Joe Calarco's Shakespeare's R&J  
 
When seeing Shakespeare’s plays, audiences in the non-English speaking world tend to have the advantage of understanding every word because they are watching the Bard’s work performed in translations that give instant access to the stories, images, and even his language, without having to plow through obscure Elizabethan expressions and puns.  In Germany, I grew up watching Shakespeare at the Wuppertaler Bühnen, in performances based on the Romantic-era translations by Schlegel and Tieck of the 1820’s.  Years later, seeing the original Shakespeare performed in England came as a shock to me.  Even though I knew the plot very well, I struggled to understand the lines being spoken while seeing Romeo and Juliet in London.  
 
Since that time, I have seen more Shakespeare productions than that of any other playwright, especially in Britain and the US.  Quite a few of the directors tried innovative approaches to give viewers access to a language that is considered archaic and needs almost as much of a study as learning a foreign language.  In spite of these often very original approaches by contemporary theatre professionals, I still have observed people in the audience nodding off and only responding when strong physical gestures or unusual props accompanied the spoken lines.  I sometimes get a sense that Shakespeare's works have been placed in a mausoleum with velvet curtains, his dramas displayed as famous corpses that have been embalmed and decorated according to the whims of modern funeral directors who try to bring the dead back to life.  The audience is often expected to sit in silence and admire the master of English drama and passively accept the legacy of the greatest writer of the English language, but without seeing Shakespeare really come alive.  
 
Sitting at the Adrienne Theatre during the Mauckingbird production of Joe Calarco’s Shakespeare’s R&J, mesmerized by Maria Shaplin's lighting design which transformed the stage into a magic world, I felt as if I had morphed into Alice in Wonderland’s older brother who had fallen into a rabbit hole and saw a Shakespeare as I had never seen before.  To read the complete review, click here.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Hedgerow Theatre, Media, PA 
 
You just won an arts lottery and have two choices:
Go to London for 3 days and see 1 Cooney play, or get 6 great shows each season for 9 years at the Hedgerow Theatre
 
You just won in an arts lottery and have a choice: Either (1) winning a cheap, three day deal on Priceline, going from Philadelphia to London on American Airlines and staying at the Holland Court Hotel for three nights and getting one ticket to a Ray Cooney show (Tom, Dick, and Harry at the Duke of York theatre in London’s West End) for a total of $1160, or (2) winning a subscription to the Hedgerow Theatre in Media with six shows of your choice each year for the next nine years with at least one Ray Cooney show per summer where you can laugh your head off, won’t get aggressively searched by airline security, and don’t have to wait in line for many hours.   Which of the two prizes would you accept? 

Those of us who enjoy British drawing-room comedy, especially entertaining farces by Ray Cooney like There Goes the Bride (which he co-wrote with John Chapman) would definitely prefer to spend a delightful evening at the Hedgerow Theatre, an equity house and America’s oldest continuously operating repertory theatre.  Zoran Kovcic’s stage design turned the old grist mill into an elegant scene out of the Wedgewood Studios, with different shades of blue, matched by Cathie Miglionico’s exquisitely designed costumes,  and directed with Penny Reed’s trademark élan that combines elegance and humor.  Ms. Reed knows how to tickle one’s funny bones through a wide palette of nuanced movements, gestures, and facial expressions by the actors—above all Anthony Marsala as Timothy Westerby, who could be described as a mixture of an elegant jester and a bungling chameleon, a perfect match for his straight-laced wife, the exquisitely beautiful Sonja Robson, and her mother, the always engaging Susan Wefel, whose every movement, every facial expression, and every word brought out howls of laughter from the audience. 

As someone who teaches international accents for students at the Media Theatre, I was particularly intrigued by the way a cast member reached out to Australia to find a language coach via CraigslistJim Fryer—who played Mr. Babcock, the Australian father-in-law—shared the process of finding a vocal coach who would help him acquire an Australian accent.  He posted a notice on Craig's List/Sydney under "Talent," entitled: “Yank needs to hear Aussie accent (Philadelphia, PA).”  He proposed sending his lines from the script, and having the Australian actor record it as a WAV file, compensating him with a $30 gift certificate.  Fryer received the following reply from a drama student in Sydney: “G'day, I'm a 24 year old male with an interest in acting/comedy. I could read these lines for you mate.  I currently am at uni and we are in our exam period, but I could have something to you when that finishes. Cheers, James Brechney.

Fryer reports that he received a file a week later with both a heavy and a light authentic Aussie accent.  The seasoned American actor even cited the young Aussie actor as his vocal coach in the program.   Who knows: as part of this intercontinental theatre collaboration among actors, we might see more actors around the world contact each other via Craigslist—to the benefit of theatergoers at the Hedgerow or any other theatre where local actors need to switch into a foreign accent. 

The Hedgerow Theatre frequently presents plays where the audience knows that they will be entertained, but on this day, the Artistic Director Penny Reed and her husband, the multi-talented Zoran Kovcic, appeared on stage and surprised the audience even more when they shared that this evening they were celebrating their 27th wedding anniversary.  The audience applauded with great enthusiasm, now ready to watch There Goes the Bride.  I just talked to the Artistic Director at the Hedgerow Theatre, and she very much liked the idea that people could take out a subscription for nine years at today’s price, provided you contact her ASAP—a real bargain compared to the rapidly rising prices in the airline industry, not to mention the hotel costs.  In short, you get the better deal by far at the Hedgerow Theatre in Media. 
 
At top left, you can see Sonja Robson as Ursula Westerby, Caryn Miller as Judy Westerby, and Jim Fryer as Charles Babcock. 
At bottom left, Susan Wefel as Daphne Drimmond, Anthony Marsala as Tim Westerby, and Sonja Robson.    
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Upper Darby, PA and Tel Aviv, Israel 
 
Launched on Google Video and YouTube: My informational film, commissioned by AAJT
All About Jewish Theatre, the world's largest secular synagogue and open University 
 
I’m delighted about the launching of my video entitled, All About Jewish Theatre, the world’s largest secular synagogue and open university.  Last year, Moti Sandak, the Director of the International Institute of Jewish and Israeli Culture in Tel Aviv, and Chief Editor of AAJT, commissioned me to produce a personal video for a fundraiser.  Since that time, I have updated the script and integrated many new historical images and graphics to encourage viewers worldwide to use the AAJT’s rapidly growing website for Jewish theatre arts.  The new video is now available on YouTube, Google Video, and will soon appear on the AAJT website as well.  

I enjoyed writing the script, especially as it brought back my many years of teaching film and TV script writing in Chicago and Santa Fe, NM.  Working with videographer Aaron Schumann of Philadelphia on October 28, 2007 (see Theatre Archive) only enhanced the experience of producing this video.  However, as the first version had to be produced under tremendous time constraints, I promised Moti Sandak a rewritten and enhanced version.  

Little did I know that dozens and dozens of rewrites were necessary, let alone finding photographs that matched the text 100%.  At times, it took up to three hours to google just one image.  However, with perseverance and a bit of serendipity, all the images came together, and Aaron very patiently presented one new version after another, based on my many edit requests.  Finally, I went to visit him in his new studio, and found that sitting next to an editor with two large screens in front of us seems to be a lot easier than having to type out and describe in detail the minutest of changes where often split seconds count so that text and image become one unit that seamlessly blend in with the next scene.  

I hope that this final version will bring in many more viewers.  I consider AAJT the leading source of research and theatre news in the world, a very important website which provides comprehensive coverage of Jewish Theatre worldwide.  The AAJT website receives more than 150,000 readers per week from over 100 countries, a number that I hope my informational video can help grow even larger.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Beijing, China, via satellite from 8:00 PM to midnight 
 
The greatest international show on earth, minus Tibet: Opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics  
 
After many months of often daily reports about the oppression of minorities in the People's Republic of China, especially Tibetans who are deprived of living their own culture, and who have been brutally suppressed by the Chinese government for years, the opening ceremonies of the XXIX Olympiad were advertised as "the greatest show on earth."  
 
As I do not watch television anymore, I lucked out when my neighbors invited me to watch the international spectacle at their home.  Even though I have seen extraordinary performances around the world by some of the best theatres, Cirque du Soleil, and other creative groups that try to reach the audience in new ways, nothing compared to the creativity and precision of the thousands of artists at work at the Bird's Nest, the main stadium in Beijing where the opening ceremonies took place.  I was particularly moved by the photographs of children from around the world that were projected onto large screens and by the Chinese flag bearer—the 7’6” tall Chinese basketball player Yao Ming—who walked side by side with Lin Hao, the nine-year-old earthquake survivor who freed himself from the rubble of his school before returning to rescue two of his classmates.  Later, the Chinese giant took the little boy in his arm like a father would carry his child, and the cameras would not let go of that very human image.
 
While I was very happy to see all these references to humanity and togetherness, to the Olympic spirit of fairness and peace, I could not help but think of the brutal oppression of the people of Tibet.  Nobody around the world was allowed to enter China if they had participated in pro-Tibetan demonstrations, and no one in the very large audience carried any flag of Tibet, as Chinese security forces saw to it that the image of harmony would not be disturbed.  When I saw Chinese soldiers goose-stepping for quite some time while first carrying the Chinese flag and then the Olympic flag, I was eerily reminded of the images of the Olympics in 1936, where another minority was brutally suppressed: No German-Jewish athletes were allowed to participate and the police made sure that nobody would demonstrate in the presence of Hitler and the world press.  
 
I left my neighbor's house filled with a strange mixture of joy and excitement about the wonders that Chinese artists had created, in awe of their art, in awe of their discipline, and the joy in the faces of 1000’s of athletes from around the world who marched into the arena with their countries flag before the gigantic Olympic flame was ignited.  However, I also thought of the absent children, the absent sportspeople from Tibet and other parts of China—in short, I felt elated and depowered, aware that for millions of Chinese, the opening ceremonies represented the power of their country and its potential, but I feared that the majority of Chinese are probably unaware of the pain that many other people were experiencing when watching the start of the Olympic Games—not only in Tibet.     

Friday, August 8, 2008
Tyme Gallery, Haverford, PA 
 
"Inner Essence": 11th Annual juried exhibition at the Tyme Gallery 
 
As I was teaching another workshop on International languages and English with foreign accents at the Media Theatre, wearing my Indian kurta and an old vest from Kashmir, several people at the juried exhibition at the Tyme Gallery thought that I was an artist and asked me which of the artworks I had painted.  I had to disappoint them, telling them that I can't paint.  Rather, I paint on the computer through my website.  As always at the Tyme Gallery, one can meet the most interesting people all year round, especially on the second Friday of each month when gallery owner Edna M. Davis, a good friend of mine, presents a new theme, attracting often dramatically different crowds of people each month, depending on the subject matter or genre. I do not know of any gallery owner in Philadelphia who welcomes people personally and introduces  artists to gallery visitors as charmingly and with as much graciousness as Edna. 
 
This year's entries came from New York, New Jersey, Delaware and from all over Pennsylvania.  The first prize of this year's juried exhibition went to Joe Watt's oil painting "Into the Light."  Dennis Goldsborough won second place with his watercolor about a plant, called "Preacher," and third prize went to Harris J. Sklar for his photograph about a grandfather and his grandson in Brooklyn, “The Smile Tells It All,” with an honorable mention to Don Nicholson of Bryn Mawr for his oil, titled, “Spring Morning." 
Friday, August 8, 2008
Media Theatre, Media, PA from 9:30 AM to Noon
 
From Flamenco and greetings around the world to "Flossing with Shakespeare: International languages and dialects":
Two workshops for groups of Media Theatre summer camp students 
 
Every year, the Media Theatre invites me to conduct workshops on international languages in dialects, where the children not only learn how to sing a song in German, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Italian, and Kiswahili, but they also learn to speak English with a working class British accent, an upper class British accent, and English with a German and French accent.  Perhaps even more importantly, the children, aged 6 to 10 and 11 to 16, learn about other cultures and learn the importance of respecting others in their difference—for me, one of the most exciting moments when I hear children greeting each other with "Salaam" one moment and "Shalom" the next.  
 
This year, in addition to role playing scenes that I have written for these workshops, I showed short videos that created resting points for an otherwise very entertaining, high-energy program.  For the younger kids, I showed a video of Christopher Reeve on the Muppet Show which presents a very entertaining version of the famous soliloquy "To be or not to be."  Afterwards, I asked them how many of them had never flossed their teeth.  Several students raised their hands, and I shared with them that according to the research, one can live seven years longer on average if one flosses their teeth twice a day.  I then distributed floss for everyone except for those kids wearing braces, and we all recited part of Hamlet's soliloquy while flossing our teeth, much to everyone's amusement, and the children with braces learnt to act as if they were flossing their teeth. 
 
For the older students, I showed humorous videos, and the one that brought out the most laughter was a satire on the use of foreign languages in the workplace: Catherine Tate pretending to be a translator who speaks some of the world's foreign languages, when in reality, she doesn't speak any of them, but carries it through convincingly nonetheless.  As an assignment, I asked the children to show my four page handout to their parents and to use the various web links I had provided to further their language skills.  I also asked the older group to speak with a foreign accent for a few days with their friends to get into the pattern.  At the end, all the children came and shook hands, saying goodbye in any language of their choice, with the Australian "G'day" being one of the favorites. 
 
I am grateful to Roger Ricker and Tim Haney for organizing the theatre camps each summer, and to all the young counselors who make sure that the children are really paying attention and that their voices are being heard, especially Connor Brian and Eric Larsen, both of whom helped me present the various videos.  
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Upper Darby, PA 
 
Horrified and delighted, all at once: From the Gestapo to the latest use of this webpage  
 
I noticed that week after week, the "Responses and Reviews" page to my docudrama Metronome Ticking brought in more guests than almost any other page on this website, and I was puzzled because this play, important as the subject matter of the Holocaust is, could not have reached a worldwide audience in just a few months’ time.  When the many hits from overseas did not stop, I used StatCounter’s tools to conduct a detailed search on the Internet traffic on this site.  To my dismay, I found that during just the last few days, users from countries ideologically as far apart as Canada, Chile, Denmark, Egypt, Finland,Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Mongolia, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia,Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, and even the US had logged onto my website exclusively looking for a photograph of “Gestapo Headquarters.”  I had used that image to illustrate a scene from Metronome Ticking.  It shows Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and the Gestapo, standing next to Ramón Serrano Súñer, the Spanish foreign minister and brother-in-law of General Franco, on his visit to Berlin in the early 1940's.

Out of the hundreds of photos on my website, why did these users want to view a picture of one of the worst architects of the Holocaust, a man responsible for the murder of millions of people, including Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, mentally retarded, Russians, Poles, Communists, and people from many other groups?   I wondered if these visitors to my site were historians, or people fascinated by the
Gestapo for less benign reasons.  After analyzing the source of the site traffic, I found that interest in Himmler, the Gestapo, and the SS apparently is so great that people as far apart culturally as the Islamic Republic of Iran Defence Forum and the Italian popular culture magazine Il Mucchio both took the photo and posted and circulated that image on their forums.

I am concerned that the horror of the Holocaust may be trivialized, and worse, that images of the Third Reich may even lead to a kind of revisionist view of one of the most brutal regimes in the 20th Century.  It’s against this background that I value the work done by organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors Neo-fascist and other anti-democratic movements.  At the same time, I also value the work of the American Civil Liberties Union, which supports anyone who wants to study and express views that may run counter to any prevailing ideologies.  

The picture at left above shows a beautiful visualization of the various routes through a portion of the Internet.  Considering the pathways that users could have taken to get to my website, I hope that they will use any information and images
from this site—including the picture at lower left—in responsible and ethical ways. 
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Media Theatre, Media, PA 
 
Young singers with a great future: DelCo Idol 2008 competition
 
The DelCo Idol contest, modeled after the highly successful American Idol, has become so popular that it’s now running in its third year.  To represent as wide a range of the community as possible, every week a different set of judges supported the two key judges: Jesse Cline, Media Theatre Artistic Director; and Debbie Calton, WMGK Classic Rock 102.9 FM.  For the final, well-known people from the entertainment world and national politics joined the ranks of the judges: Sandy Stefanowicz of Mike Lemon Casting; Jen Boyette, CN8, producer and on-air personality for Comcast Newsmakers; State Representative Tom Killion, R-168; and U.S. Representative Admiral Joe Sestak, D-7.  
 
The audience made me think of the very animated crowds at bullfight arenas in Spain, except that whole groups of people at the Media Theatre, in addition to shouting for their favorite singers, also waved banners and flags.  In some ways the audience became part of the show, often encouraged by the entertaining Jeff Cadorette of Media Real Estate, who emceed the finale of the competition. 

Initially, several hundred young people had applied.  Of those, 40 were selected to actively participate, and each week, several of them were eliminated from the competition, though encouraged to come back the following year.  Finally, only ten candidates, the best young singers in Delaware County, remained, including: Jamie Lee Grady, Hannah Phillips, Sarah Rigle, Gina Santare, and Caitlin Ward, each of whom gave a wonderful performance.  
 
After the first half of the performance, the judges worked feverishly to determine the top five finalists, who were announced with great fanfare after intermission: Steven Calakos, Meredith Kearney, Audra McLaughlin, Kyle McNamara, and Janet McWilliams.  One could literally feel the tension in the audience when chairs were brought up on stage and all five sat down, observing each other in their final effort to grab the top prize.  Given the pressure on the young singers, I was impressed by the strength that each displayed, knowing full well that only one person would win the honor, the $1000, and numerous interviews on radio and TV.  
 
After the last song, the judges again disappeared.  Jesse Cline had asked me to entertain the crowd with the results of a raffle by announcing the prizes, namely, four sets of two tickets to the upcoming Media Theatre production of My Fair Lady.  I took the microphone and a Greek flag, which the Calakos family and fan club had been waving the whole evening.  I told the audience how much I liked Greece and the surrounding countries in Europe, and how generous I thought the Media Theatre was in having donated two tickets to go to Greece, only a week ago.  The crowd seemed to get excited at the idea of winning more tickets to Europe until I shared with them that I had checked and found that last week, the people did win a visit to “Greece,” except it was spelled G-R-E-A-S-E, the musical.  The audience roared with laughter and I told them that this time they would win a trip to England, via My Fair Lady.  To make up for the misunderstanding, I raffled off a one-hour consulting session with me for anyone who would like to write a children's book or work on a film.  
 
And then the moment came when the Emcee announced the winners: Third place, and best male singer, Steven Calakos; second place, Meredith Kearney (bottom left), an extraordinary singer with great dignity; and first prize to the multi-talented Janet McWilliams (top left), who even during her freshman year at Villanova was asked to play leading roles in their musicals.  I had a sense that Janet was truly surprised that she had been chosen as the most promising singer in DelCo, especially as this was her third attempt—proof that perseverance and further training often pay off.  In the end, many people agreed that the Media Theatre had helped talented young people take another step forward in pursuing their musical dreams. 
 
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Upper Darby, PA 
 
Moving forward: Unblocking creative people 
 
When I wore my first baseball cap, I felt very American. Now, wearing a tee shirt advertising my rapidly growing website and especially my consultancy service "Unblocking Creative People," I could not help but smile, as I felt like a walking billboard--America, here we come. Paraphrasing the old English saying "If the mountain will not come to the prophet, the prophet will go to the mountain,"--a phrase that goes back to Chapter 12 of the Essays by Francis Bacon in 1625, and made popular by Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre in 1847--I found that to reach blocked people, one has to let them know that they can move forward in very constructive and creative ways.
 
I have worked with professionals who got stuck for many years, starting in Chicago in the 1980's when I worked with groups and individuals. To enhance my work, I trained at the Oasis Institute in Chicago--the midwestern equivalent of the Esalen Institute in California--where people learned to let go of pretending that everything was all right, and instead learned to identify their needs, for example, writing stories, biographies, or even plays. Some of my clients who took film and TV script writing workshops with me and learned about marketing strategies which they had to apply in front of representatives from the film industry in Chicago and later Santa Fe, NM, led to published books, including The Complete Air Guitar Handbook by Johm McKenna (published by Simon and Schuster's Pocket Books division in 1983), and Irwin Myers recent four-disc set entitled Psychic Smarts: Think Sharper. Work Smarter. Live Better (published by the Wellness Engine). Some professionals were so busy with their work that they hired me to work as their ghostwriter, not only for numerous speeches at professional conventions around the country, but also in rewriting their books.
 
For more information on the range of services I offer, feel free to look at the consulting page of this websitewebsite, especially the page that describes in detail the methods I am using to help people become unblocked and to move forward.  
Sunday, July 27, 2008
New York, NY 
 
From murder and living at the edge of human existence to the healing power of theatre and creativity:
Out of shame, into forgiveness, toward freedom 
 
At the theatre congress of the Association for Jewish Theatre (AJT) which took place in Vienna last year, I saw Brenda Adelman reenact the tragedy in her own life almost as if she were a one woman troupe straight out of Hamlet's famous play-within-a-play scene.  Many people in the audience cried  when they were confronted not only with the horrendous murder of the playwright's mother by her own father—who then married the victim's mother—but by the aftermath: the effect that the murder had on her roller coaster life which followed.  I was so moved by her honesty and willingness to address some of the most intimate aspects of life, not to mention her performance, that I used my review of Brenda Adelman's story in My Brooklyn Hamlet to start the section on tragedy in my article, "Beauty and Terror, Seen Through the Kaleidoscope of Jewish Theatre: International Aspects of the World Congress of Jewish Theatre in Vienna, Austria, March 2007."
 
To my delight, I found that the young woman who had experienced more pain than probably most of her contemporaries had not only found a new center of creativity through her play writing and acting, but she had also found a new convocation as a counselor, with workshops and discs, entitled Forgiving the Unforgivable: The Path to Freedom.
 
I was happy to see that Brenda had chosen to quote part of my article on her website: "We were taken to the edge of human existence . . . Brenda Adelman's My Brooklyn Hamlet, relived her mother's murder by her father (who then married the victim's sister), a drama that created a classical Greekcatharsis in a modern Brooklyn setting."  On a lighter note, I was intrigued to see that the Ophelia-like victim had become a survivor, a woman stronger than Hamlet, who could never make up his mind: Brenda Adelman, by contrast, could now be considered the libertated Ophelia at the court of Male Chauvinism
Saturday, July 12 to Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Miami Art Museum, Miami, FL 
 
Shadows, Disappearances, and Illusions: Walking into the future at the Miami Art Museum 
 
Just before my return flight to Philadelphia, I went to visit the Miami Art Museum and saw their Shadows, Disappearances and Illusions exhibition.  Some of the artworks there left me cold, but others made me think, for example, COOPER, an artist who had filmed his legs walking into timelessness.  Another artist had an exhibition of green laser beams deep inside a labrynth, however, when I saw a warning not to look directly into the light I only looked at the display from a short distance, not ready to walk into the artwork itself as I wasn't quite sure how safe that experience would have been.  Perhaps one of the most moving experiences for me when visiting museums are those attempts by some artists to reach their audience directly, whether through their paintings, sculptures, and installations, or through texts in which they describe what art means to them and what they hope to achieve in the viewer: "The viewer, thoroughly ensnared in each artist's visual trap, is forced to examine the world with new eyes" (Daria Brit Shapiro). 
 
The catalogue of the exhibition perhaps described the intent best: "Using various tricks of light, perspective and erasure, the artworks in Shadows, Disappearances and Illusions each short-circuit the connection between the eye and the brain. They make us question what it is we are seeing and make us acutely aware of our role as viewers, allowing us to come away from the experience thinking different thoughts and asking different questions. The experience of art becomes not an affirmation of existing values, but a refreshment of the mind, the eye and the spirit that leads us to view the world around us with new eyes. Artists in the exhibition include Elizabeth Cerejido, Joseph Cornell, Magdalena Fernandez, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Mark Handforth, Oscar Muñoz, Maria Martinez-Cañas, Regina Silveira, and Lorna Simpson. Among the exhibition’s highlights [are] specially commissioned installations from several Miami artists, including Tom Scicluna, Matt Schreiber, andWendy Wischer." 
 
At upper left you can see the entrance to the Miami Art Museum; at lower left, Regina Silveira's sculpture "Escada Inexplicavel 2" (Inexplicable Staircase 2), 1999.  For one of the many reviews about this unique exhibition, click here
Saturday, July 12 to Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Miami harbor, Miami, FL 
 
Viewing the homes of the rich, the famous, and the infamous: Island Cruise of Millionaire's Row and Fisher Island, Miami harbor  
 
If the West Coast has Hollywood, the East Coast features an equally large number of spectacular homes of the rich, the famous, and the infamous in Miami's harbor, which offers them instant access to their private yachts, especially on Fisher Island, which is only accessible by boat or helicopter.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Fisher Island had the highest per capita income of any place in the United States in 2000.  Once a one-family island home of the Vanderbilts, and later several other millionaires, today, Fisher Island is occupied by a very exclusive, wealthy, and international community, including tennis players André Agassi and Boris Becker, singer Ricky Martin, actress Julia Roberts, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, and only 462 other residents.  I wonder where their cleaners, maids, and cooks reside. 
 
I took an evening cruise on the Island Queen, and was thrilled to see some of the most beautiful homes that one could possibly imagine, but I was also highly amused by the bilingual staff on the boat who made funny comments about the various celebrities while playing music from their films, TV shows, or albums, including singers Gloria Estefan and Julio Iglesias, basketball player Shaquille O'Neal, and notorious gangster Al CaponeFor example, the theme song from Scarface blared out of loudspeakers when we saw the house where they filmed the Al Pacino classic.
 
We were all highly entertained on the boat by the rapid shift in music and comments which either admired those celebrities or poked fun at them and their foibles.  The most spectacular mansion apparently belonged to a former President of the Pfizer pharmaceutical company, or in the words of the announcer, "the man who gave men the little blue pill."  However, when the announcer told us that this man was not a multi-millionaire, but a multi-billionaire, a young fellow sitting next to me asked his Russian immigrant dad what that meant, and his father told him point blank that we had just seen the home of the man who "pushed Viagra."  I cannot recall what music they chose to represent Viagra, but I'm not too sorry about it because my thoughts wandered off, getting a better understanding of why Americans have to pay more for their medical insurance than any other country in the Western world. 
 
The evening ended with the beautiful downtown Miami skyline at its best, shining, glimmering, and with a cool breeze bringing some relief to an otherwise humid, hot, and oppressive atmosphere in Florida.  Perhaps the one thing I'll remember the most is the comment by the announcer that he had worked on this tour daily for nine years, and one mansion remained dark all these years except for one light in one room.  I had visions of Victorian novels being played out in Biscayne Bay to this very day.  
Saturday, July 12 to Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami, FL 
 
Visiting an American Versailles: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens 
 
On my last visit to Paris,tourists had to wait for many hours before gaining admittance to and being rushed through Versailles, probably the world's most spectacular chateau.  At Vizcaya, the smaller American equivalent of the historic French landmark, we did not have to wait at all, perhaps because many tourists in Florida want more popular entertainment rather than looking at art from Europe, and walking around a little palace built between 1914 and 1922 for the American industrialist James Deering, a man so rich and famous that John Singer Sargent painted a portrait of him.  
 
"Vizcaya, an estate or villa in a North Italian sixteenth-century style on Biscayne Bay in Miami, Florida, was designed for Deering as a winter residence. The estate originally consisted of 180 acres, including the main house, formal gardens, extensive lagoon gardens, and a village that serviced the property. The main house was built between 1914 and 1916, while the construction of the complicated gardens and the village continued into the early 1920s.

Vizcaya is noteworthy for adapting European cultural traditions to Miami's subtropical landscape. The house, for example, combines European marble and Floridian limestone while the Italianate gardens rely on plants capable of thriving in Miami's climate.  Deering used Vizcaya from 1916 to the time of his death in 1925. Deering's advisor in creating the estate was Paul Chalfin, a curator and decorative painter who helped Deering assemble artworks and architectural elements for the project. Chalfin recommended the architect F. Burrall Hoffman to design the house and other buildings on the property. The gardens were designed by the landscape architect Diego Suarez.

The name Vizcaya derives from the Basque province of the same name, which overlooks the Bay of Biscay as Vizcaya overlooks Biscayne Bay. Records indicate that Deering wanted to perpetuate the notion that Vizcaya was a mythical explorer and he favored the caravel (a ship associated with the Age of Exploration) as one of Vizcaya's primary symbols.  A representation of the mythical explorer "Bel Vizcaya" welcomes visitors at the entrance to the property" (source: Wikipedia entry on Vizcaya).  The tour guide did an outstanding job in explaining how the estate came into being, with its thousands of wonders in marble, oil, and silk, collected by an industrialist who surrounded himself with young architects, designers, and landscapers, some of whom apparently did not make a great career in spite of their talents because most people feared financial ruin if they hired designers with the extravagent tastes on the scale of the mansion in Coral Gables.  Looking back at the experience, I have a sense that James Deering and King Ludwig II of Bavaria--who built the famous Neuschwanstein Castle--had a lot in common.  
Everglades, Miami, FL 
 
Hunting for wild animals in the Florida Everglades: Befriending real alligators, with hesitation 
 
The heat and the humidity in Florida hit even some of the most seasoned Floridians.  However, as I had bought a Go Miami! card—saving substantial amounts on local attractions—I was determined to leave the comfort of the air-conditioned Intercontinental Hotel and visit as many of the tourist spots as possible, including the famous Everglades.  Tourists from Germany, Spain, France, and all over the United States boarded an airboat and were given detailed instructions of what to do and what not to do as we were surrounded by thousands of alligators lurking in the waters, all waiting for a juicy meal.  We even were given earplugs because once the boat started to raise through the marshes at a high speed, the noise, even with earplugs, reminded me that many of the pleasurable things in life come with a price.  
 
The boat's driver, a poster boy for leathered skin, entertained us with scary stories but also with delightful moments when he managed to get exotic birds to eat out of his hand.  He was particularly concerned that any one of us might fall out of the boat because he seemed to like driving fast and taking curves in such a way that we created fairly high waves.  This was no Disneyland where everything seems to be under control.  Rather, this was one of the last few parts of Florida that still remains untouched and ultimately controlled by the large reptiles, amphibians, and fish that lurk in the shallow waters beneath the sawgrass and trees that dominate this subtropical landscape.  
 
After the excursion into the uncontrolled wild habitat, we were treated to a highly entertaining show by Tom Batchelor, a bearded gamekeeper and wildlife educator who managed to get many women and girls running and screaming, trying to escape, by merely mentioning that he was now going to show us some live snakes.  As it turned out, there were no snakes; rather, he showed us various other animals, including a baby alligator--and for two dollars a pop we could have our photograph taken with the reptile.  Mercifully, he placed a band around the sharp-teethed snout of the young alligator, and a good time was had by all.  Afterwards, we sat outside a little trading post with highly inflated prices for drinks, food, and souvenirs, but with two stuffed alligators that one could photograph to one's heart's content.  Overall, I greatly enjoyed the tour and would recommend it to anyone who is sick and tired of the plastic approach to life at Disneyland.  
Gable Stage at the Biltmore, Coral Gables, FL 
 
Contrasts: Irish suffering, swearing, and coming into one's own at one of America's most historic grand hotels
 
I have attended theatres that ranged from open stages in a meadow via intimate settings like the Hedgerow Theatre at a grist mill, all the way to spectacular houses like the Royal Opera in Covent Garden, London, but I have never seen a theatre that is situated in a wing of a grand old hotel, in this case, the famous Biltmore Hotel, built in 1926.  It served as a hospital during World War II and as a VA Hospital and campus of the University of Miami medical school until 1968.  Since 1987, the hotel has opened its door to some of the wealthiest guests in the world, despite some reports that this hotel is "haunted," a claim that apparently did not go unnoticed by Joseph Adler, director of the GableStage at the Biltmore, when he chose Shining City by Conor McPherson as part of the theatre's summer offering and with its haunting, surprising end.  
 
The characters in Shining City live in a world all of their own, rather than in regular homes: Ricky Waugh, as the therapist Ian, resides in a makeshift office which he has to abandon because he does not earn enough money to keep a place with a spectacular view of Dublin, created by set designer Tim Connelly, with lighting by Jeff Quinn, which made me almost believe that I saw Dublin in front of me.  The client, Gregg Weiner, also had no proper place, not even within himself, as he moved from a man haunted by strange experiences with his dead wife, who kept visiting him unexpectedly, all the way to a man who shifted from a poor, self-neglected look to a well-dressed man who had come to terms with his life, in contrast to the therapist, whose relationship with his fiancee (Deborah Sherman), consisted of her screaming at him at a high pitch almost from the very beginning of the play and driving him away from her and into the arms of a married, working-class hustler who spends most of his time in parks picking up married men.  John Bixler played a heterosexual male earning his money as a blue-collar gigolo for men so convincingly and seriously, and without cheap, campy behaviors, just the suffering of everyone put on display—a perfect example of an experienced artistic director and a thoughtful actor working together to show an abyss of lives lived in fragments.  His performance, and that Weiner, the most convincing Irishman on stage, would get my nomination for an award immediately. 
 
Joseph Adler, a director's director in the best sense of the word, is so dedicated to his theatre that he gave the longest curtain speech I have ever witnessed: 20 minutes of talking about his new production of John Patrick Shanley's Defiance, about a US Marine Corps base in 1971 in which one black and one white officer clash over race, women, and the high cost of doing the right thing.  Going by the response of the audience, I had a sense that the Artistic Director is a very popular man who has the courage to call a military spade a military spade, irrespective of any criticism that this Carbonell and Clio award-winning theatre and film director undoubtedly will get for sticking his neck out in a predominantly Republican state.    
 
Founded in 1979, the Florida Shakespeare Theatre (now known as GableStage), has grown to become a major cultural institution of South Florida.  GableStage has won critical acclaim for its artistic excellence and has been recognized through numerous Carbonell Awards.  GableStage's year-round programming includes main stage productions, among which are recent contemporary plays and educational theatre programs that include Shakespeare and the Classics, that have reached over one million public school students in Miami-Dade County.  The 37 year-old Conor McPherson ranks among Ireland's most famous living playwrights, even though his addiction to alcohol almost killed him.  However, his brush with death brought him back to the stage, with his characters swearing like drunken sailors in many of his plays, but done so convincingly that the audience seemed to become part of life in Eire
 
The location of the GableStage at the famous Biltmore in Coral Gables, one of America's wealthiest residential districts, was not designed for pedestrians and people without cars, and apparently, regular public transportation may be too vulgar for people in this part of the world.  I found myself asking for a ride, but everyone was driving south while I had to go north, until John Manzelli, Associate Artistic Director of The Naked Stage, and Assistant Professor of Drama at Barry University and his wife very kindly gave me a ride all the way back to my hotel.  We discussed theatre and teaching, and I learned that John will play one of the leads in GableStage's upcoming production of Defiance.  I liked the GableStage theatre so much that I would be happy to return at any time.
Seaquarium, Miami, FL 
 
Swimming with dolphins and riding a killer whale: Getting splashed at the Seaquarium in Miami
 
I was intrigued by the many different, unusual fish and sea creatures that I saw at the Seaquarium in Miami, right next to the Oceanographic Institute at the University of Miami, but nothing captured my attention as much as the training of three dolphins and one huge killer whale by two young women and one young man.  They had reached such a high level of communication with these magnificent marine mammals that they did exactly what we were told via the loudspeaker of what would happen next: jumping high into the air, swimming fast as if they were competing at the Olympics, or allowing one of the trainers to hang on and sail through the waters with one of the young women as if she was a water nymph.  Best of all, the young trainer who managed not only to get a gigantic killer whale to jump out of the water and leap so high that most people in the audience got splashed, but she even managed to stand on top of its nose and be driven around the aquarium as if she were a trick riding princess in a circus. . 
 
I asked one of the young guards about the training methods and he shrugged his shoulders and said that it was a mystery to him, too.  However, thanks to this website, I learned that developing trust is one of the most important elements in creating the extraordinary interactions between human beings and one of the largest mammals on earth: "The first step that trainers use at Sea World to train killer whales, dolphins, sea lions, and other animals is to "build trust" with the animals.   Strange as it may seem, a multi-ton killer whale is much like a little lap dog or a small human child in one sense--a killer whale "doesn't care how much you know, he wants to know how much you care." It's true--Sea World trainers get MUCH better cooperation from their animals during the training process if they actually LOVE these animals! The killer whales seem to KNOW when they're loved---and respond accordingly."  I left the Seaquarium not just entertained and in awe, but humbled by the closeness of two dramatically different species of animals: killer whales and humans.  
Intercontinental Hotel, Miami, FL 
 
Vacation, vacation: View of Miami harbor from the top of one of the best hotels in Florida
 
Because of my work committment, I have not had a vacation in quite some time, and when I discovered that the incredibly expensive Intercontinental Hotel in Miami was available for a great price—including a flight with American Airlines—via Priceline, one of the best travel search engines, I packed my bags and went to Florida.  The Intercontinental Miami soars 34 storeys from the heart of the city centre, offering a spectacular view of Miami harbor.  Situated in the centre of the business district, the hotel lies close to the communities of South Beach, Miami Beach and Coral Gables, and attractions such as Bayside Marketplace, Miami Seaquarium and Vizcaya Museum & Gardens.
 
I could not have picked a better time to go had I been a connoisseur of heat waves and humidity.  Mercifully, I can say at least a few words in Spanish, as many people in Miami only spoke Espanol.  However, the hotel was beautifully air-conditioned and even served a most lavish breakfast in my room on one day, where a waiter rolled in a expandable round table with white linen cloth, silver and crystal, and offered Southern omelets and a wide range of breads and cakes, orange juice, and hot chocolate.  Best of all: the lobby, where one could meet fascinating people from around the world.  
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY 
 
A German revolution in opera at the Armory on Park Avenue:
The Lincoln Center's American premiere of the RuhrTriennale’s production of Zimmermannn’s Die Soldaten 
 
Classical Voice, the Destination for Serious Music Lovers, an opera magazine in California, just published my review of the American premiere of the RuhrTriennale's—a German opera company in Bochum—production in New York City.  To read the full review, click here; to browse through the opening paragraphs, read below.  
 
The Lincoln Center Festival celebrated the Fourth of July not with fireworks, but with a very serious connection to revolutionary times: the extraordinary German production of Bernd Zimmermannn’s opera Die Soldaten (The Soldiers) at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City.  Just as the American Colonists broke away from old rules that no longer worked, Zimmermann based his opera on Jakob Lenz’s revolutionary play of the same title, written in 1776, the year of the American Declaration of Independence.
 
Similarly, just as King George was outraged by the new Americans, so Johann Joachim Eschenburg, one of Lenz’s critics in the middle of the 18th century, called him a boy that needs to be punched in the nose until he learns his place.  Eschenburg and many others clearly could not cope with a new playwright who was violating old established rules of drama and used language that polite society frowned upon.
 
Rather than having a play where the audience could follow the action in a logical and chronological order, and showing the life of the privileged with virtues and vices distributed in predictable ways, Lenz does none of the above.  Instead, the 25-year-old Lenz created one of the first modern German plays that violated the Aristotelian laws of time, place, and action, and also broke old established rules of etiquette by pitting characters that lacked standing in an aristocratic world against members of the ruling class. 
 
More importantly, Die Soldaten, both the original play as well as the use of the text in Zimmermann’s opera, reflect powerfully Lenz’s many scenes which shift back and forth in time and space, heralding in modern cinematic approaches to writing, and ultimately, opera. 
 
Divided into four acts and fifteen scenes, the opera’s plot weaves together the stories of Marie (Claudia Barainsky), a beautiful young woman, and her sister Charlotte (Claudia Mahnke); a doting yet ambiguous father, Wesener (Johann Tilli), a general goods merchant who supplied the military; and Marie’s fiancé Stolzius (Claudio Otelli)—Latinized German for “the proud one”—a man with upright principles which ultimately lead to death and destruction when he discovers that his fiancée has been courted and then physically abused and turned into a whore by the aristocratic officers of the army.  Interwoven into the play are the powerful interactions between Marie’s grandmother (Hanna Schwarz), the mother (Kathryn Harries) of Stolzius, and the Countess (Helen Field), whose son is one of those involved in Marie’s seduction.  Unable to change his own life, let alone the social structures and constraints of the time, Stolzius kills one of the main perpetrators and himself. 
 
The Artistic Director of this challenging work, British-born David Pountney describes the essence of the play: “The Soldiers [ . . . ] do not represent war and anything that goes with it, but they represent an exclusively male privileged group with a various, highly developed class structure, especially vis-à-vis women.  Women in those days were either virgins, whores, or mothers.  There were no gray zones.” 
 
At top left, one of the soldiers dancing on a chair (photo by Ursula Kaufmann); at bottom left, a dance with officers wearing swine masks soon turned into a violent orgy (photo by Clärchen und Hermann Baus).  For many more photographs of this extraordinary production of the Lincoln Center Festival, click here.  
Robert Smythe
Aaron Cromie
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Mum Puppet Theatre, Philadelphia, PA 
 
The puppet master is dead, long live Robert Smythe: The closing of Mum, Philadelphia's only professional puppet theatre
 
"Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi!" (The King is dead.  Long live the King!) was first uttered in 1422 after the death of France's King Charles VI to announce the coronation of his successor, a phrase that is still used in Britain whenever one ruler departs and makes way for a new monarch.  I was reminded of this linguistic tradition when I heard the sad news of the demise of Mum, Philadelphia's only full-time puppet theatre.  
 
Twenty-three years ago, Mum Puppettheatre had set out to "make art that moves, creating theatre beyond the scope of human actors, often without words, [integrating] the plastic, visual and performing arts by creating stunning, emotionally compelling and breathtakingly beautiful theatre, using puppets, masks and the human body [ . . . ] to collaborate with artists of all disciplines and backgrounds to explore the interdisciplinary nature of puppetry, [to] expand and engage the imaginations of people of all ages, independent of language or culture, on stage, on tour and in the classroom."  Mum managed successfully to translate its mission into compelling productions that enchanted or challenged audiences of all ages and yielded much financial support and numerous accolades from many different organizations, including 13 Barrymore Awards.  
 
As a Barrymore Judge for five years, I saw quite a few productions at Mum, each of which presented new worlds in the nooks and crannies inhabited by puppets of all sizes.  One of  the most extraordinary productions of any play that I have seen in Philadelphia took place at Mum: Peter Shaffer's Equus, directed by William Roudebush, with choreography by Robert Smythe and music by Aaron Cromie.  Like my fellow Barrymore Judges, I was so delighted that I wrote one of my first reviews, written from the perspective and in the language of horses: "the music and the sound of fury pulled at the audience as if we were pulling out their guts.  Imploring them to hear our pain, the pain of the youngest creature in the stable, a scrawny young boy (Tobias Segal)  [ . . . ] We hit hard in our production of Equus.  Right into the overweight belly of satisfaction and normalcy.  [ . . . ]  We inhaled with the pride and awareness that we were all part of one of the rare moments in theatre when all the arts come together.  When there is an ensemble spirit creating the sound and fury of existence." 
 
Alas, that ensemble spirit, which worked so well for many years at the artistic level apparently broke down recently.  The Philadelphia Inquirer's Wendy Rosenfield reported a number of factors that led to the theatre's demise, including a sharp increase in rent, and a "changing philanthropic gestalt"—as Smythe referenced the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, and other organizations that he said "no longer give grants based on artistic merit, but on good management practices—they're giving management funds, not project funds."  All the staff members of the theatre were let go, and the board disbanded.  As was the tradition at Mum to give the audience "a chance to look behind the scenes" and hold the puppets after each performance, for the very last act of the house, Philadelphians were invited to explore the building and buy anything they wanted: from clothing and backdrops to puppets, props, and posters from past productions.  
 
I felt very sad in seeing one of my favorite theatres being dismantled, but when I discovered a heap of little bodies on a shelf from Mum's production of The Puppet Master of Lodz, all dressed in concentration camp outfits and wearing a yellow Star of David on their uniform, I scooped all of them up in my arms, wanting to rescue them.  At that moment, a fellow with a black top hat came by and helped me to store them gently in an old box.  He also assisted me to pack carefully all the remaining masks I bought that afternoon.  The mysterious helper turned out to be the multi-talented Aaron Cromie, whose music, masks, and acting had given me great joy over the course of time. 
 
Deep down, I did not want to leave, and so I returned to the theatre, where I discovered a huge basement. Sitting there all by itself was an elegant gentleman puppet wearing tails and white gloves, but no head.  Again, I wanted to rescue a piece of Mum Puppet history so I asked Robert Smythe whether he had a head for this large puppet.  He smiled and said, "This is a bib puppet" and immediately tied the two strings of the jacket's lapel behind his neck, and grabbing the two metal sticks of the puppet, he gave a final farewell performance: "Hello Henrik, I'm so glad you came, thank you for your support."  The puppet then applauded with its little hands and said "everything helps" before taking a final bow.  I saw this scene with a laughing and a crying eye: sad that one of the most beloved small theatres in Philadelphia had come to an end, but happy because the 48-year-old puppet master seemed relieved and ready for a well-earned vacation and life change. 
 
Robert told me that he will spend the summer conducting workshops at two theatre conferences—the O'Neill Puppetry Conference in Connecticut, and another in August at the Ko Festival of Performance in Massachusetts—before starting a two-year playwrighting fellowship at Temple University in the fall.  Yes, the old puppet master is dead.  Long live Robert Smythe.  May his artistic reign continue and bring forth many new kingdoms.  
 
Photo 1: Robert Smythe with one of his puppets.  2: Aaron Cromie wearing one of his masks.  3: Tobias Segal, playing in Mum's The Puppet Master of Lodz.  4: The photo of a doll having its eyes covered--created by Shawn Barber and included in his solo exhibition "Somber Beginnings" at the former Lineage Gallery in Philadelphia--reminded me of the end of Mum Puppettheatre.  While some Philadelphians of all ages may shed more than a tear or two, I have a sense that each and every one of the artists who made Mum a cultural center will continue to contribute to this city's theatre scene in one way or another. 
 
A big thank you to everyone, and if you ever need the masks and the puppets back for an encore, get in touch with me.  In the meantime, I shall take good care of the puppets, the masks, and the memories of a unique treasure chest of theatre arts.   

Saturday, June 28, 2008
A Media Theatre production at the Wilma Theatre, Philadelphia, PA 
 
The tragicomedy of only listening to one's inner voice: Two theatres creating a most extraordinary Souvenir
 
Beethoven lost his hearing and went completely deaf; yet, he composed some of the world's greatest music.  Philadelphia socialite Florence Foster Jenkins (1868–1944) was born tone-deaf, unable to discriminate between different musical notes or reproduce them accurately with her voice.  However, she loved classical music and wanted to share the best arias of "Mr. Verdi" and "Mr. Mozart," first with her friends, and later with an ever-growing number of people.  Her fameor notoriety—not only filled Carnegie Hall during WWII, but over 2000 people were left standing outside, unable to get tickets for an event that sold out quicker than any other concert in that venue's history.
 
She apparently did not realize that the reason for her success was not the beauty of her voice or the elegance of her many outfits—a new one for each song—but her missing and mangling every single note by between a quarter or a half a tone, mistakes which had the audiences shrieking with laughter and sometimes running out of the hall.  She interpreted the handkerchiefs held in front of the spectators' faces as proof that she had moved them to tears, not realizing that they were instead covering their mouths, gaping open with laughter.  
 
Stephen Temperley wrote the book and original lyrics and music for Souvenir, one of the most unusual musicals I have ever seen as it demands that a highly trained singer hit the wrong notes for an entire evening—a tremendous vocal and artistic feat.  The Media Theatre's production, directed with great care and a fine eye for detail by Jesse Cline, became an instant success because of the combination of talents: a great Broadway singer, Tony-nominated and Barrymore-Award winning Ann Crumb; Cline, one of the best artistic directors for musical theatre in the Philadelphia area; the over-the-top costumes of Maggie Baker-Atkins; and the superb lighting by Troy Martin-O'Shia that created two different psychological spaces on the stage: an elegant supper club in New York at the famous Ritz-Carlton, where Mrs. Jenkins felt most in her element, and a darker space on the left-hand side for the asides by the pianist who shared some of his innermost worries and concerns about the ever-more popular singer who was becoming famous for the wrong reasons.  As Wendy Rosenfield, author of the entertaining "Drama Queen" blog and one of the drama critics for the Philadelphia Inquirer aptly put it, "All this effort is conducted in the service of the show's subject, Madame Flo, wartime society songbird. Jenkins' legendary coloratura soprano made her a bird of a rather peculiar feather. She took on some of opera's most complex arias and defeated every one with her customary tone-, pitch-, and rhythm-deaf squeaks and squawks." 
 
Of all the theatres in the area who wanted to produce this extraordinary musical, the Media Theatre secured the rights and staged a wonderful production.  Blanka Zizka came to see it in Media and invited Jesse Cline and his production to stage it at the Wilma Theatre on Broad Street's Avenue of the Arts for a second run.  The performance that I saw had the audience on their feet within seconds after the final curtain for a standing ovation. I then found out in talking to Crumb and Larry Daggett—who played Ms. Jenkins' accompanist Cosme McMoon with both charm and despair—that every single performance, both at the Media and the Wilma Theatre, led to a standing ovation for the pair onstage, and by extension, to everyone involved  in the production team and perhaps even the spirit of the misguided music lover from Pennsylvania who wanted to make the world a better place with her voice.
 
To see original images of Florence Foster Jenkins performing, click here or here.  To actually hear Jenkins mangling her signature "Queen of the Night" aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute, click here.  For a performance of the same aria by Italian soprano Luciana Serra, click here.  I wonder what Mozart and Verdi—or American Idol's caustic Simon Cowell—would have said if they had ever heard Ms. Jenkins shredding their work to pieces, one note at a time.      
Friday, June 27, 2008
Media Theatre, Media, PA from 9:30 AM to Noon
 
Flossing with Shakespeare: Introduction to foreign languages and English accents around the world
 
Do your children or teenagers learn foreign languages like French, German, or Italian?  Do they know how to speak English with many different dialects or regional accents from all over the world?  Can they recite a speech from Hamlet while simultaneously flossing their teeth?  If the answer is "no" to even one of these questions, send your children or teenagers to one or more of the five fun-filled and educational two-week summer camp workshops at the Media Theatre.  However, if your children already can do the above, I'm sure that both the Shakespeare Society and the American Dental Association (ADA) would be delighted. 
 
During each of these summer camp periods, I conduct my new program on international languages and dialects, entitled "Flossing with Shakespeare," which introduces young students to some of the major languages around the world in very practical and humorous ways through a series of skits.  I also teach them the most famous international round—Frere Jacques—which we sing in many different languages.  However, this year, in addition to international greetings and a wide range of language-based activities, the children will also learn how to floss their teeth while reciting part of the famous "To be or not to be" soliloquy from Shakespeare's Hamlet, and they will see a video of Christopher Reeve on the Muppet Show which presents a very entertaining version of that famous soliloquy followed by actor Amy Walker's modern version of "Hamlet flosses."  
 
The older students will then watch videos that will teach them how to say a simple phrase in 21 different accents, covering many parts of the United States, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia, and non-English speaking countries around the globe.  In addition, the workshop participants will become aware of and learn how to speak not only with different dialects, that is, languages from various areas, but also different sociolects, which are the expression of different educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, perhaps best represented by Eliza Doolittle, who started out as a poor working class girl in London's East End and, by the end of My Fair Lady, became a lady in high society.  All these language activities open up whole new worlds for young people, not only geographically and sociologically, but also linguistically, so that later, when the summer students perform at the Media Theatre, they can bring a new awareness and knowledge of life to their end-of-camp farewell performances and enjoy the upcoming production of My Fair Lady even more.  
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The Free Library, Philadelphia, PA 
 
Salman Rushdie, Rudolf Nureyev, and the Ayatollah Khomeini: Dancing with The Enchantress of Florence
 
Salman Rushdie gave a verbal performance—reading from his latest novel The Enchantress of Florence—with an ease and a breath-taking command of language that awed the audience at the Free Library of PhiladelphiaThe Guardian described his new work as "a wonderful tale full of follies and enchantment. East meets west with a clash of cymbals and a burst of fireworks,” and The Enchantress may well be the only work that seeks to rehabilitate Machiavelli because he "wasn't Machiavellian," according to Rushdie who pointed out that he had had never studied as much in preparation for any of his other projects.
 
Rushdie read a scene that showed the clash between the Persian and the Turkish army, where love and deceit, intelligence and stupidity reminded more than one listener of our own time. His reading cascaded so many surprises and twists and turns that the pudgy, 61-year-old Rushdie transformed himself into one of the most elegant linguistic dancers that I've ever seen perform. I was reminded of seeing the slim, young Rudolph Nureyev fly into the air at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden in London many years ago (click here to see a clip). Nureyev, one of the greatest dancers in the world, escaped the Soviet Union and became a superstar in England. Similarly, Salman Rushdie left India for England and had to go into hiding for nine years after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a Fatwa—calling on “all good Muslims to kill Rushdie and his publishers”—because of the content of The Satanic Verses, a bestseller which fundamentalists in the Islamic world considered blasphemous and insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.  Even when Rushdie was knighted by the Queen and became "Sir Salman" in 2007, protests against him flared up in several Muslim strongholds and several prominent leaders threatened to kill him.
 
When I asked Rushdie the question he has probably been asked more than any other question in his life—namely, how safe he felt and whether he was “off the hook”—he responded by making it sound as if there was no danger.  I hope he’s right, even though I am concerned that only a few years ago, several people associated with The Satanic Verses suffered violent attacks as late as 1993, including the Japanese translator of the book, who was stabbed to death in 1991.
 
The library provided a generous amount of time for members of this packed, sold-out crowd to ask questions. Rushdie delighted the audience by answering with a quick-witted brilliance, hilarious imitations of various accents, the occasional use of language that one usually would not hear in polite society, and even recalled from memory full quotations from texts by Ernest Hemingway, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and other writers from around the world whose style he juxtaposed. As someone who has translated a few texts in his life from German into English and vice-versa, I emphasized with Rushdie when he pointed out that his language and the references he uses can bring up different associations in other cultures, so much so that in a French translation of one of his works, the translator replaced a Shakespeare quotation with a reference to Mallarmé, a shift with which Rushdie agreed because he wanted to evoke a certain feeling in the reader, and as he pointed out, "a good translator could create such an effect."
 
Afterwards, I left fairly quickly to ask him to sign my copy of The Satanic Verses. However, I had to walk around several corridors because his fans had already formed a long line that stretched through the library building. While talking to some of the "Rushdies," a young sketch artist who reports for a website that publishes his drawings of famous people told me that he had drawn a picture of me (at left) which he would later upload to the Internet (here).  Finally, I met Rushdie in person, he signed my copy of his book, and the next day, a friend of mine sent me a link to the podcast of the entire evening (click here to listen). As an encore to a night full of twists and surprises, I feel honored that the drawing of me is now sitting next to the one of Salman Rushdie.  May he dance linguistically for many decades to come.
 
At left, the two sketches by Philadelphia-based sketch reporter Aaron Krolikokowski and the top part of the art work displayed on the cover of The Enchantress of Florence.  
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Jewish Ensemble Theatre, Detroit, MI
 
Rescuing forbidden music: Slideshow launched of a new play in the making, centering on Mendelssohn during the Third Reich
 
Listen to the first movement of Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1, music that was forbidden during the Third Reich.  Today I created a slide-show of images and uploaded it on the Internet.  The series of photographs and artwork depict a scene from my new play, Mendelssohn Does Not Live Here Anymorea drama based on historical facts and Third Reich sources.  The play itself interweaves a sophisticated Jewish family, descendants of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, and a young German couple grappling with music forbidden during the Third Reich.  Tying their stories together: a richly decorated chest passed down from the Mendelssohn family, filled with classical German music, including Mendelssohn’s music, auctioned in 1942 after the Rosens get deported to a concentration camp in this heart-wrenching battle of music versus ideology.   To read the script of the scene between the young German couple during WWII, click here

Click here to view the slide-show of the scene that was directed by Rick Stein, featuring Mira Hirsch as Gritt and Ralph Meranto as Alf, and videotaped by David Kahn at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre, Detroit.  Click here for more details of the first reading in Detroit on May 19, 2008.  
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Jewish Ensemble Theatre, Detroit, MI
 
Love of music vs. hateful ideology: Video of a sample scene from Mendelssohn Does Not Live Here Anymore now online 
 
As an academic and playwright who is not an actor, I was amazed to see how within a fairly short period of time one experienced director and two very special actors were able to transform a part of my script into a powerful scene that had its first dramatic reading on the stage of the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (JET), Detroit as part of the Playwright's Forum that features new works from playwrights from around the world.  The scene began with a humorous and erotic passage, while this excerpt shows the change in atmosphere when the young husband discovers that his wife was not only playing music forbidden during the Third Reich, but she had even decorated the walls with music written by a Jewish composer: Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.  
 
Click here to view the video of the scene that was directed by Rick Stein, featuring Mira Hirsch as Gritt and Ralph Meranto as Alf, and videotaped by David Kahn at the Jewish Ensemble Theatre, Detroit.  Click here for more details of the first reading in Detroit on May 19, 2008. 
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