Friday, June 29, 2012

Movie talent site designers dream BIG

My fourth-grade teacher used to tell us, "From tiny acorns, giant oaks do grow." (As the shortest boy in the class, I took that to mean I would someday be a basketball player. Ah, well.)

Made For Film ( is indeed a small project at the moment. But if people take advantage of it, this site could metaphorically touch the sky.

The brand-new site offers free memberships for the next three weeks at the gold level (the highest of three, the others being silver and bronze). John Foutz, a director-writer-editor-cinematographer from Locust, and Vanelle, an actress-producer who often works with him, started Made for Film as a way to connect talent with production companies. (Nathan Dennis is the site's codemaster.)

Other folks have explored this idea, of course. Various publications and sites catalog talent in cities or regions. The Internet Movie Data Base has a pay site where you get access to agents or representatives for cast and crew members. But Made For Film intends to cut out the middle man: You'll get direct access to people you might hire or people who might hire you. And if the site takes off the way Foutz and Vanelle hope it will, it would never have geographic boundaries.

I suppose this is the spot for full disclosure. I once appeared in a music video they shot at Pewter Rose, or my hand did: I gripped a glass of whiskey, while singer Mark Lassiter entertained drinkers in a bar. (I did get to swallow the whiskey.) But there's no profit for me in their site; I just like the idea of it.

The simplest membership level is bronze, which will always be free. You can view people's profiles, inventory, services and social network links. At the silver level, you can view videos, print PDF files from the site and get contact information for people you see there. The gold level lets you post pictures, bio, personal details and a contact link for yourself, and it also gives you a private e-mail account through the site.

Made For Film categorizes jobs as pre-production, production, post-production and video gaming, with sub-categories ranging from seamstresses and stitchers to horse-drawn vehicles. (Because it's electronic, it can add categories as needed.) It even has a "self-help team" section that links users with the likes of yoga/Pilates trainer Cindy Brewer and fashion designer Luis Machicao.

Right now, the acorn has barely begun to take root. The first people to sign up have been friends and co-workers of the founders, such as Greensboro director-producer Dexter Goad and Charlotte casting director-writer Eden Taralynn Marcelle. Maybe the free memberships will put extra leaves on this plant, and it will really begin to flourish.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Teenage girls in trouble -- a theme that never gets old

New York theaters offer nothing on Sunday nights these days except “Newsies” and “Cirque de Soleil,” so I blew $20 on a new play I’d never heard of: “Slowgirl,” in previews for its premiere at LCT3, a black-box venue in Lincoln Center. It was about a well-intentioned teenaged girl whose most impulsive act brings tragic consequences.

The next night, I went to see American Ballet Theatre’s “Romeo and Juliet.” And what was it about? A well-intentioned teenage girl whose most impulsive act brings tragic consequences.

The ballet was done on the grandest scale: Kenneth MacMillan’s thrilling choreography, a full orchestra playing Prokofiev’s incisive music, ABT’s huge corps filling the stage for duels and banquets, principals David Hallberg and Natalia Osipova poised to become one of the leading couples in world dance. Overall, a night for the memory book.

Greg Pierce’s play had one small set and two characters: an expatriate businessman (multiple Tony nominee Ċ½eljko Ivanek) and the niece who shows up on his property near a Costa Rican village, hoping to recuperate from a terrible event in the States. (She’s played by Sarah Steele, a name worth remembering.) Also, in its quiet way, an event that will stick in my memory.

MacMilllan and Osipova made us see Juliet as a giddy, half-formed adult, literally throwing herself at the bemused Romeo – a spectacular move for the lissome Osipova and dignified Hallberg – with no idea what the results might be for their fighting families.

Pierce and Steele made us see Becky as a fundamentally decent girl unaware of the ways her behavior affects others. Insensitivity, usually a minor offense rectified by an honest apology, leads to a terrible mistake she can’t take back. (With luck, a Charlotte theater company will tackle this 100-minute drama, and you’ll find out what that is.)

The coincidence of timing and the younger protagonist’s age reminded me of the old saying that there are only 8, 10, 12 (you pick a number) different plots available to artists, and those have been recycled over the 5,300 years we’ve been writing stuff down.

That’s untrue, unless you reduce ideas to the lowest common denominator. But however many plots there are, artists can wring infinite variations from them, and the best of those never get stale. Teenage girls have changed in countless ways over the last two millennia, but any work that opens their hearts to us will always hit home.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Need theater bargains? Start shopping now!

While we're living through a recession, it's easier to think short-term about the arts. If you're carefully juggling paychecks, you may be more likely to commit to one play at a time, rather than an entire slate by one theater company.

And that could be a mistake, especially for the 2012-13 season: I'm more excited about the upcoming year than I have been since coming back to the theater beat four summers ago.

Why buy in bulk? Getting discounted season packages saves you considerable dough. More importantly, you're likelier to take chances on plays you might have skipped: You've already paid for the tickets, so you're more willing to experiment. (And theaters are happy because they get more money up front for operating expenses.)

We've already written about the Broadway Lights season from Blumenthal Arts, which opens Nov. 6 with the tour of the revamped "Jekyll & Hyde." (Go to to refresh your memory.)

But three locally based companies also offer discounts on their seasons and plenty of reasons to take them.

Actor's Theatre of Charlotte starts in September and November with two recent Tony-winners, Yasmina Reza's ferocious "God of Carnage" (about two supposedly civilized couples trying to discuss their kids' disagreements) and "Red," John Logan's drama about Mark Rothko's attempt to paint one last huge masterpiece on commission. But lesser-known titles intrigue, too: Matthew Lopez' "The Whipping Man" follows a Jewish Confederate soldier home after the war, where he encounters rubble and two former slaves, and William Missouri Downs' darkly comic "The Exit Interview" has a college professor trying to leave campus during a masked gunman's rampage.

You'll save up to 39 percent by buying a flex pass that gives you six tickets, which can be doled out over six mainstage shows or used all at once. They're $84 for preview nights and $150 for regular performances (or $144 for ages 62 and over). You can find details at

Theatre Charlotte continues to widen its scope in its 85th season, which begins with "Fiddler on the Roof" the day after the Democrats leave town. (That'll be Sept. 7.) "In the Heat of the Night" and "The Foreigner" offer familiar touches of drama and laughter, but the last two plays are button-pushers: Edward Albee's wrenching "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and the jauntily profane musical "Avenue Q," in which puppets do and say things never heard on "Sesame Street."

The company offers flex plans for six, 10 or 12 tickets, ranging in price from $120 to $216, as well as a Star Season Ticket Plan that gets you into five mainstage shows for $100 ($90 if you're 62 or older). You'll find full information at

Meanwhile, Children's Theatre of Charlotte gets a jump on everybody with its season of mainstage productions, Tarradiddle Players offerings and imported shows. (The latter range from "Psshh" by PlayPlay Theatre, which kicks things off for the under-4 set Aug. 14, to Grey Seal Puppets' new offering: "Barker Bill's Wagtime Revue" on March 23-24.) The traditional big musical this year is "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" in October; I'm looking forward more to two others, "The Secret Garden" (featuring Lucy Simon's haunting score) in January and a hip-hop version of Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage" -- you read that right -- in March.

Children's Theatre has a simpler discount plan: If you purchase tickets to three or more productions at once, you'll get $3 off every ticket before Sept. 1 and $2 off every ticket thereafter. You'll find a complete roster of shows at

You might also set by money for companies that sell only single tickets, such as Carolina Actors Studio Theatre ("Lombardi," "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo"), Queen City Theatre Company ("Bent," "Kiss of the Spider Woman") or On Q Productions ("The Social Networth," "Ruined"). If you buy some season packages now, the savings will pay for a few more single seats down the road.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The theater that said "No!" to the feds

Exactly 75 years ago tomorrow, one of the most remarkable events in American theater history took place. Producer John Houseman and director Orson Welles were working on "The Cradle Will Rock," a Broadway musical by Marc Blitzstein, and previews were set to begin on June 16, 1937. The show had been funded by the Works Progress Administration, one of FDR's job-building projects during The Depression, but the WPA decided four days before its opening to reorganize all arts projects and postpone every opening until July 1.

The official reason was budget cuts, but many people felt "Cradle" rocked too many established boats. The hero was a union organizer named Larry Foreman. He was opposed by Mr. Mister, a factory owner who controlled virtually everything in Steeltown -- including a tame newspaper editor, minister, and university president -- and who didn't intend to share power. (Subtle, it ain't. Musically effective, it is. Patti LuPone and Houseman's Acting Company made a fine recording in 1983, with a spoken introduction by Houseman.)

The three creators refused to acknowledge the order to stop and wouldn't announce the postponement. They found a theater and a piano themselves literally moments before the curtain was supposed to go up on the 16th; the audience that had gather outside the Maxine Elliott Theatre traipsed 21 blocks north to the larger Venice Theatre, where Houseman and Welles invited people in off the street for free to fill extra seats. But the musicians' union refused to play unless Houseman could pay their full salaries, which he couldn't. And Actors Equity Association refused to let actors go onstage without permission from the original producer, the federal government. (Yes, a show extolling the value of unions was being undermined by two unions.)

Blitzstein agreed to play and sing the whole score at the piano. When he began the opening number, a plaintive song for the streetwalker Moll, actress Olive Stanton stood up in the audience to deliver her lines. She had found a loophole: It was legal to perform if she wasn't onstage. Other cast members joined in, and the night finished in triumph. The actors got a two-week leave of absence from the WPA, a private backer came on board, and the show kept going. It eventually opened on Broadway in 1938 and ran for 108 performances. (It has been revived three times in New York and once in London.)

You may take issue with the show's social commentary or Blitzstein's songs, which have the flavor of a collaboration between Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. (I like both elements.) But you have to admire the actors and producers who put their money, reputations and possible economic futures on the line to defy the federal government and produce a work of art in which they deeply believed. How many people would do that today?  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Charlotte, pat your own back

If you watched the Tony Awards Sunday night, you saw "Clybourne Park" win best play. Bruce Norris' stinging drama about two generations of people battling over the integration of a Chicago neighborhood had already won a Pulitzer, so that didn't come as a surprise.

But savvy Charlotte theatergoers know we had it first: Actor's Theatre of Charlotte produced a version of the show that jolted local audiences this season before the Broadway opening. In fact, ATC is on a Tony roll: It will open its 2012-13 slate with "God of Carnage" and "Red," the Tony-winning plays of 2009 and 2010.

The first is Yasmina Reza's four-way slugfest, a comedy about allegedly civilized parents battling over a child's indiscretion; the second is John Logan's drama about Mark Rothko's two-year attempt to produce a masterpiece. (Get details at

In fact, the 2011 Tony-winner is also on the way: Blumenthal Performing Arts' Broadway Lights series will bring "War Horse" next May. And these plays are the tip of the iceberg for a season of more serious dramas all around Charlotte, from Moises Kaufman's "33 Variations" at CAST to Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at Theatre Charlotte.

Since I came back to the theater beat four summers ago, I've wished that producers would put more meat on my plate. I don't know if other playgoers will be as grateful as I am, but I can't wait.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Queen City, indeed

Queen City Theatre Company, which an acquaintance inaccurately calls "the gay group," deals with all kinds of characters, from the agonizing Italian hero and heroine of "Passion" to the heterosexual-political triangle in "Chess." (Or quadrangle, if you throw in the wife of the Russian.)

But when it celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender life with a Queen's Fab Fest -- as it will do June 27-30 -- it provides a slice of that culture wider than any other mainstream group in the Queen City will serve up.

Even before it begins, QCTC will do a single performance of William Finn's "Falsettos" June 23 in McGlohon Theatre at Spirit Square. That show is sort of pansexual: It revolves around a Jewish extended family of a married man and his ex-wife, son, gay lover. psychiatrist and lesbian neighbors. Proceeds from this evening and the Gay Fab Fest benefit Campus Pride, the Charlotte-based national organization working to create a safer college environment for LGBT students.

There follows a bonanza at Duke Energy Theatre: Miss Coco Peru in "There Comes a Time" on June 27; "Out of the Boxx: An Evening with Pandora Boxx" June 28; "Twisted Broadway: A Broadway Cabaret" June 29 and "The Wizard of Oz: A Sing-a-long With Buff Faye" June 30. (If I only had the nerve!) You'll find details and ticket links at

Anyone with pretensions to living in a world-class city (or even a place network newscasters can mention without appending "North Carolina") realizes great cities make space for every type of expression, regardless of ethnicity or race or sexual preference. So whether you're gay or not, you've gotta be glad Queen City represents part of the cultural life of the Queen City.

Friday, June 8, 2012

You move or you die

The 70th birthdays of two iconic performers come up in the next few weeks: Paul McCartney on June 18 and Harrison Ford on July 13. I don't think you could find a more striking contrast between an artist and a star.

Macca continues to write songs, release concept albums, tour, promote causes publicly and generally reinvent himself slightly as he ages. He hasn't clung to the beloved image of the rocker from The Beatles and Wings; he has written classical tone poems and sacred music and new-age stuff. Whether or not it's all from his top shelf as a composer, he keeps trying to grow.

Ford, on the other hand, was quoted in the most recent AARP magazine as having "a strong ambition" to do a fifth movie as Indiana Jones.

I can guess at his motivation: The fourth Jones outing was not only his lone box office hit of the last 12 years but a jaw-dropping embarrassment for himself and all concerned. (Not that you can really embarrass Shia LeBoeuf, who has made three "Transformers" movies.) Ford may wish to atone for it, or he may wish to leap back into the public eye in a big way.

And he does keep working: He's playing significant supporting roles in the upcoming "Ender's Game" and "42" (the Jackie Robinson biopic), but neither of those is likely to break him out of the gruff, laconic mold he established long ago. What happened to the ambitious actor who sandwiched "Blade Runner" between the first two Indiana Jones movies and "Witness," "Working Girl" and "The Mosquito Coast" between the second and third?

Maybe Ford's not getting the best mainstream scripts now, just as McCartney no longer gets radio airplay or big boosts from record companies. Couldn't he make a small indie film or test himself in a play instead? I ask as a fan who hates to see talent atrophy -- and he had it. Maybe he still does.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dark they were, and golden-eyed

Ray Bradbury died Tuesday. So, finally, did a part of my childhood.

He excelled at stories about other worlds; the title of this blog entry comes from a wonderful piece about Earthlings who visit Mars and began to change imperceptibly into something non-human. But for me, he has no peer at a different kind of tale: Memories of youth that summon up all the fears, joys and bewilderment encountered before puberty.

Nobody has ever caught so simply and beautifully the sound of new sneakers thudding through wet grass, the scent of a warm dinner drifting through a neighbor's window, the queasiness induced by rumors of a passing killer or the silent smile of a strange tenant at the boarding house down the block. He grew up in Illinois 40 years before I landed in suburban New Jersey. But his boyhood became my boyhood in my memory, and that's an effect only the greatest writers can achieve.

He achieved it over and over: with the hellish carnival of "Something Wicked This Way Comes," the philosophic star-voyaging in "The Martian Chronicles," the sinister oddities of "The October Country." (Novices might begin with those three and work up to "Fahrenheit 451.") I recently thumbed through my anthology of his short stories and found perhaps half a dozen that didn't work for me -- among a hundred.

When Bradbury stepped out of his element, he sometimes floundered. He worked on the script for the underrated but uneven film "Moby Dick" in 1956, butting up against director John Huston and  uncredited writer Norman Corwin. Bradbury's late-life, thriller-mystery combinations don't show his strengths.

Yet he blended fiction and memoir, fantasy and recollection, as well as any writer I've ever known. He could alternate between the moving and the macabre, between compassion and cruelty, and he blended the two in some of his greatest works. Dark those were in tone, and golden-eyed with hope at the same time.

Monday, June 4, 2012

What you missed this weekend...

Unless, of course, you went to Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston:

Composer Philip Glass, stooped and peering through spectacles and looking like the professor he might have become when studying math and philosophy at the University of Chicago, as he took bows after the final performance of his opera "Kepler" (about the German astronomer);

A rivulet of sweat trickling down the jaw of Jennifer Frautschi, a newcomer to the chamber music lineup, as she negotiated the tortuous final movement of Leos Janacek's violin sonata with pianist Stephen Prutsman;

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, sandwiching an electrifying piece about the annunciation of Christ's birth between two dark works -- literally and figuratively -- about human tribalism;

Ukulele phenom Jake Shimabukuro doing a sound check for his outdoor concert at The Cistern, dazzling about two dozen passers-by (me among them) with 20 free minutes of his virtuosity;

Oscar-nominated director Atom Egoyan's multi-media presentation of "Feng Yi Ting," an opera by Guo Wenjing about political machinations between a patriot and the two men she manipulates during the Han dynasty (and the coolest 45 minutes of opera you'll see this spring).

You have one more week to catch the 2012 edition; it closes Sunday night with a concert by Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole. (Get details at I realize most of us head for the beach in  warm weather to give our minds a rest, not open them up. But you'll never see things like these in Charlotte.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The man who put the "f" in art

Today we celebrate the 155th birthday of Joseph Pujol, the extraordinary Frenchman who made a fine living as a professional flatulist. His stage name, Le Petomane, comes from the combination of the French verb "to fart" and the suffix for "maniac." Yes, that's right: He made up to 20,000 francs per show by pooting.

At the height of his popularity (roughly 1890 to 1910), he could recreate cannon fire and earthquakes, render all the sounds from a barnyard full of animals or play "O Sole Mio" and "La Marseillaise" on an ocarina, through a rubber tube inserted -- well, you get the idea. He did this not simply by breaking wind but by "inhaling" air into his derriere and then expelling it again at will, modulating pitch and duration.

Nor was he alone. He had imitators at the time, including Edgar Grootna (who posthumously lent his last name to a 1970s rock band), and has had some since: Mr. Methane paid homage to him on "Britain's Got Talent" a few years back, before unreceptive judges and a stunned audience. But Pujol stood at the pinnacle of his profession. His "nom de boom" endures today: Mel Brooks played Governor Lepetomane in "Blazing Saddles," and Pujol appears as a character in Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge!"

Random thoughts about this astonishing man, whose biography can be found at

1) On some level, this explains why the French love Jerry Lewis.

2) A combination of true uniqueness and self-promotion (plus willingness to endure initial abuse) always pays off in show business. Pujol was still popular when the devastation of World War I forced him into retirement, and he resumed his first career as a baker. But the uniqueness is crucial: Does anyone imagine we'll be talking about Britney Spears or the Kardashians after 27 years?

3) His concerts were attended by high and low: Edward, Prince of Wales and Sigmund Freud were among the celebrities who saw him perform. One of the definitions of a great artist is someone who takes a universal idea or action and shows it to us in a different light. On that scale, Pujol was great indeed.