Ashland: Photos

Posted: October 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

Here are a few photos of our time in Ashland…

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Ashland: Day Three

Posted: October 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

Once again, day three brought much learning and opportunity that are the bedrock of the annual trip to Ashland. The students had the opportunity to go “behind the scenes”, get in their respective groups and begin brainstorming for their Elizabethan Productions, do a little souvenir shopping, and, finally, end a phenomenal week of theater by seeing a spectacular musical and dramatic performance.

We began the day by getting a backstage tour of all three theaters in Ashland (the Thomas, the Bowmer, and the Elizabethan). They had the opportunity to learn about the vivid and fascinating history of the “largest rotating repertory company in the U.S.”, as well as get backstage in all three theaters. It was an opportunity to see things from the other side, and it gave them an appreciation of how much actually goes on behind the scenes. They were also taught the differences between the three theaters, their potential seating/lighting/staging configurations, and how and why they all came into existence.

The tours took us all the way to lunch, which was extended today so that they could have the opportunity to explore the unique shops in downtown Ashland and buy some souvenirs. Books, trinkets, horse head masks, T-shirts/sweatshirts, stickers, and gifts for the family were proudly displayed once we came back together “at the bricks”. At this point, ice cream was in order to compile an enjoyable early afternoon.

After lunch, shopping, and ice cream, we headed back to the hotel, and took time to begin brainstorming for their Elizabethan Productions. Each group randomly drew their plot (Ascension/Descension, Rescue, Rivalry, and Revenge were the plots chosen, respectively), as well as drawing what type of paranormal entity they would have (the choices were: none, ghost, witch, apparition, disembodied voice, and doppelgänger). They were also informed that, in each production, the weather must affect the plot in some fashion, they must have a symbolic object, and there must be some sort of fight scene (they will receive Stage Combat training within the next month). Once their selections were made, they moved into their perspective groups and began the brainstorming process. Listening to them discuss their initial ideas leads me to believe that this is going to be an exciting season of performances. They are passionate about crafting good stories (one of the main themes we encountered this week in Ashland), and their resolve to make their productions great from the very beginning is exciting.

We ended our day by attending our last production, “Into The Woods”, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. It has been purported that this has been the hardest ticket to come by this season at OSF, and, after having the opportunity to witness the spectacle, it became obviously apparent as to why that has been the case. OSF has a reputation for taking the standards and breathing new life into them, and this show is a perfect example of their creative team doing not only that, but much more. A perfect cast, brilliant musical performances (including an on stage mini orchestra of performers that was comprised mainly of middle and high school musicians), intense drama, out-of-this-world effect programming; all of which was performed in the context of the uplifting message that is the heart of “Into The Woods” made this production an amazing end to a superlative week of performances. Great art, at its purest form, challenges how we view the world and how we try to make sense of it all, and this show challenged every viewer in the audience. All of the performers, in concert with the original writers and designers of the show, took the production to a new level, moving the viewers through the gamut of emotions from beginning to end. It was a fitting bookend to an amazing week that our students will never forget, but will build upon as they create their own performances to dazzle their audiences. In a word, “Into The Woods” can be described as such: stellar. It will be amazing to see what our students take away from this wonderful week, and I personally look forward to getting to work come Monday.

Thank you, Oregon Shakespeare Festival. You have enriched the lives of all of us who have had the blessed opportunity to revel in your excellence.

Ashland: Day Two

Posted: October 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

Today was a packed-to-the gills day, full of exploration, fun, and lots of stellar theater. The student’s schedule was full from early in the morning to late at night (Richard III was over three hours, with the first part lasting one hundred minutes), but the amount of excellence they encountered made it all worthwhile.

The day began with a Drama Workshop, which was put on by actors and actresses who are currently employed by OSF. The focus of the two-hour workshop was centered around Aristotle’s Six Elements of a Play (Plot, Character, Theme, Language, Rhythm, and Spectacle), and, as always, it was awesome to see how well spoken, introspective, and prepared our students were to answer the questions put forth to them by the instructors. They participated in activities designed to teach and enhance their understanding of each point, and did a great job of being “bold and brave” in their acting efforts. Pictures of their activities are coming soon.

We then had the opportunity to see “The Cocoanuts”, which is based on the 1929 Marx Brother’s movie of the same name. We often discuss how “magical” the arts can be, and today, during the performance of “The Cocoanuts”, the kids got to see and experience this magic firsthand.

The play, in and of itself, was stellar from beginning to end. The cast has been working together as the Marx Brothers for the past three years, and it shows. Impeccable comedic timing, brilliant additions to the original dialogue and action, and an understanding of their characters and their respective affectations that can only come with time. Beginning to end, the comedy and wit cascaded over the audience in waves, leaving us all laughing so hard that we had tears in our eyes.

The real magic occurred towards the end of the production, when a few audience members decided that they wanted to verbally participate and heckle the actors during an “auction” scene. It was during this time that our students got to see the pros at their best, as they not only handled the hecklers, but took it a step further and turned the tables on them (ask your children for details; you’ll get a better feel for what happened form a verbal description). When it was all said and done, we ended up being treated to approximately fifteen minutes worth of comedic brilliance that was not in the script, as the actors ad libbed their way through a ten minute detour of the show, which the kept referring back to for the rest of the production. We all had the opportunity to see the “best of the best” work their magic, and it was a phenomenal experience that none of us will soon forget. The entire audience rewarded the performers with a roaring standing ovation before the show went to black. Simply put, it was stellar.

After attending a Prologue to help create some clarity in regard to the “Wars of the Roses”, we headed to the outdoor venue known as the Elizabethan Theater to see Richard III. While Shakespeare’s Histories can be daunting, the students approached the production with an open mind, as well as a desire to enjoy it (which they, for the most part, did). Their enjoyment was due in large part to the performance of Dan Donohue as Richard, who played the role both darkly and sarcastically, providing a relief from the usual tension, as his sarcasm allowed the audience to laugh at his delivery now and again. However, sarcasm or not, the material of the play is dark, and it is a lot to take in over the course of the performance. In addition, Richard III is L-O-N-G, even by Shakespearian/Elizabethan standards, and it is composed mostly of dialogue, not action. However, based on their morning Workshop (and discussions we had prior to attending the performance), the students knew to listen to how language was used and delivered in the dialogue, which was enhanced in this performance by one of the characters performing his role in American Sign Language, complete with an interpreter. In the end, the students enjoyed it, and the production created many great discussions on the way back to the hotel. We will debrief all of the performances tomorrow morning.

While there can be some missteps in the OSF productions, we have been lucky to have seen three very different, extremely well done productions thus far (and, we get to see “Into The Woods” tomorrow to wrap it all up, and it is the hottest ticket in town this season). Additionally, the students will get time in the afternoon to begin brainstorming for their Elizabethan Productions, and I cannot wait to see what they come up with in this inspiring setting we have immersed ourselves in this week.

Today was long and busy, but worth the early morning and late night that we encountered, as the lessons learned will pay dividends in so many different ways and settings for the rest of the year. Our time in Ashland is already a success, and we still have time to see how far we can take it.

Day one of Ashland 2014 is in the books, and it was highly enjoyable and successful.

After a smooth and efficient morning at the school, we departed for Ashland, Oregon to attend the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). We stopped for lunch at the iconic Nancy’s Airport Cafe in Willows, California. Since this stop has become an annual event en route to Ashland, the staff at Nancy’s was expecting us, and were ready for our forty hungry students. With a traditional All American menu, there was something to fit everyone’s taste, and their “world-famous” pies were enjoyed by many.

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Back on the bus, we continued on to Ashland. Along the way, the kids read books, made friendship bracelets, played cards, conversed and didn’t watch a single movie. Instead, they enjoyed each other’s company, as well as the beautiful scenery as we moved into the mountains.

Arriving in Ashland, we did a quick check in and prepared to go for dinner and the evening performance. The Stratford is a lovely place to stay, and captures the essence of the trip, with the hallways full of Shakespeare quotes and pictures, as well as OSF poster from years past.

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We then headed out for a quick dinner at another annual stop, The Great American Pizza Company. They, too, were ready for our arrival, and had our pizzas ready shortly after we walked in. Every place that we stopped today, our students received compliments and praise for their manners, behavior, and attitude. It is always great to see them shine when they are out and about, and the praise given to them was genuine and well deserved.

Finally, we were off to do what we came here to do: See some theater. We began with a prologue for The Tempest, in which working actors from OSF get up and do a half an hour lecture on what to look for and expect in the show. They are always articulate, well spoken, and extremely well versed, and those attributes come through loud and clear in their presentations. When that was over, we crossed the street to the Bowmer Theatre to see the 2014 OSF production of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. The magical and fantastical show (Shakespeare’s last that we attribute to him individually) was staged well, lighted wonderfully, and had a strong cast from top to bottom. They utilized lots of great effects, and their costuming and use of makeup was fantastic (and already began to inspire our students as they prepare to create their Elizabethan Productions). All in all, it was the perfect show to begin our journey.

Ashland 2014

Posted: September 29, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Here are the shows we will be seeing this year while we are in Ashland:

https://osfashland.org/en/productions/2014-plays/the-tempest.aspx

https://osfashland.org/en/productions/2014-plays/the-cocoanuts.aspx

https://osfashland.org/productions/2014-plays/richard-iii.aspx

https://osfashland.org/productions/2014-plays/into-the-woods.aspx

In addition, we will attend prologues to three of the productions, a Drama Workshop (taught by OSF actors and actresses), and a Backstage Tour of all three theaters. We will also spend time working in our Elizabethan Productions groups.

Is Technology Destroying The Arts?

Posted: September 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

Despite all of the ways that technology has enhanced our modern lives, there is an unforeseen possibility that creeps closer to reality with each passing day, and it needs to be addressed:

Is technology destroying the arts?

Now, there is a multitude of ways in which technology has been beneficial to artists. For instance, the very existence of the internet allows artists of all disciplines to have the potential for world wide exposure, allowing them to increase their audience in ways that used to be unthinkable. Musicians can purchase an Apple computer and have access to a high end recording studio (which is what GarageBand is, if one knows what to do with it) without having to pay the exorbitant studio costs or purchase additional recording gear, as they come standard in the program. Film makers can access an instant, world wide audience by uploading their movies to YouTube. Photographers have a variety of electronic tools to assist with their craft, as well as the ability to host their gallery online. Even novelists have the option to self publish, which has been made much easier with the advent of the internet age.

When looked at objectively, one can see that there are many examples of how modern technology has been beneficial to artists specifically and the arts in general; however, as with everything, there is another side to the equation. It’s a side that is not generally being considered or engaged as part of the national discussion. What if all of our technological advancements are actually detrimental to the arts in general? What if, in spite of the apparent value, technology is eroding the expertise and discipline required to pursue a career in an artistic discipline? What if, when the day comes that everything is completely digitized, we find ourselves in a world in which what was traditionally considered art no longer exists?

Impossible? Not at all. That day may be closer than we think.

We are now not far removed from a time in which we see the end of the existence of physical media (CD’s, DVD’s, Video Games, et al) in favor of digital downloads and distribution. This process has already begun with music purchases via iTunes and other online stores, and can also be seen in streaming opportunities such as Netflix. It just doesn’t make sense for companies to pay for packaging, shipping, and a cut of the profit to the host store, when they can make available for download or stream the product from their own site. Thus, digital distribution instead of physical distribution is the inevitable future. As consumers, this is a positive development, as the means by which we obtain our product is easier than it ever has been before. Select the product, click to purchase, download, and enjoy your music/movie/book/game. While there are many positives for both the manufacturer of content and the consumer, this new system of distribution has had, what I would presume, an unintended outcome:

It has made content cheaper, which makes it disposable, and ultimately lowers the quality level of the product.

Think about it: in the music industry, when Compact Discs were introduced, they came with a price tag that averaged at around eighteen dollars an album. The only means one had to know what they were getting was via radio airplay, and artists and their labels would always ensure that their strongest material made it to that medium so that people would feel secure in making their purchase. Unless the music was released from a singer/group I trusted to release quality content, I had a “three song rule” in which I had to like three of the singles released to radio from a specific album before I would purchase it, and I wasn’t alone in this practice. Therefore, record labels had to carefully sign their acts, make sure the content was top quality, and develop them over a period of years to get them to the status level in which people would purchase their product on the day of its release, regardless of whether or not they had heard more than one of the songs from the album. This simply isn’t the case any longer. Rarely do we see artists who are coming out today have any sort of longevity in the industry, and it’s because the industry isn’t about the craft; it’s about what’s selling right now, and what’s selling right now is songs that are produced by non-songwriters, music performed by non-musicians, and a product that is best described as entertainment, because it certainly doesn’t resemble what we have long considered to be the art and craft of music. For this, we can blame the advancement in technology.

To play an instrument or sing at the highest level requires years of discipline and practice, as well as a commitment to obtaining mastery in a difficult medium. One does not simply wake up one morning knowing how to play the guitar well enough to get up in front of an audience and perform. But because of the advancements in technology, one does not need to know how to play an instrument in order to produce sound. One just needs to have access to a sound/loop library, purchase said library, and then proceed to drag and drop loops into a recording program on their computer. The only “musical” requirement to do this is an understanding of how songs are constructed, which, because of the proliferation of popular music, we all comprehend to a certain degree. Today, one doesn’t need to be able to sing, either. Just throw on auto tune, and digitize your lack of ability away. Practice is not required, discipline is not required, and musicianship is not required, and it has led to our present situation, whereby musicians have been replaced by entertainers and style trumps substance.

The movie industry is in a similar position. Distribution of a completed film use to require multiple prints, as they had to be sent to each movie house that chose to run it. Because of the exorbitant costs to produce a movie, studios had to carefully choose which movies they would produce, because if the movie bombed, it could be devastating to the future of the producer, director, and studio. Like the music industry, studios were more apt to work with and develop directors who were superior at their craft, as that would ensure a loyal following for all parties involved. They also had to create a product that had compelling stories and interesting characters, as special effects were much more complex to execute and were used sparingly.

But with the advancement in technology, movies have slowly but surely morphed from well designed stories and character studies into exercises in visual gymnastics, which is made possible by the ability to easily create special effects with a computer. Consequently, much of what makes up the top grossing lists is short on plot, dialogue, and character development, and long on chase scenes, explosions, long, drawn out battle scenes, and lowest common denominator plots, all thanks to the advancements in technology.

Technology has made it possible for anyone to make art with programs that replace the act of creation and performance regardless of training or ability. While some would argue this a positive, the end result counteracts such an argument and stands as proof positive that access does not equate ability. Just because our devices allow us to take pictures, capture film, generate musical tones, and make digital art does not make us a photographer, director, musician, or artist. Each of those disciplines require years of practice to achieve mastery. Just because we have programs that allow us to manipulate ones and zeroes into what then appear to be artistic renderings (but are nothing more that digital compositions) does not mean that we get to wear the mantle of artist.

To put it in perspective, we would never grant the title of “Doctor” to someone who happens to have Web M.D. on their device and uses it to diagnose a rash, nor would we grant the title of “Lawyer” to someone because they have the digital version of Black’s Law Dictionary and are able to look up the definition of “in pari delicto”. No, we all are aware that to become a doctor or lawyer requires years of dedication, schooling, training, and practice. Those who fulfill those requirements deserve the title.

In addition, those who put in the years of dedication, schooling, training, and practice in the arts deserve the same recognition and respect. If we ever arrive at that point, we may find ourselves in the position whereby our technology is viewed as a means, and not the end, to our artistic endeavors.

And maybe then, technology will not be destroying the arts, but rather, enhancing them in the hands of people who have the skill and expertise to do so.