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Guest Blog: "The Blue Mug" Play Brings Bollywood Actors to TBAAL This Weekend

Guest blogger Nicole LeBlanc is a community volunteer, owner of Mon Voyage Travel and self-described Texas Bollywood Evangelist.

For Art & Seek theater geeks, or those familiar with or just curious about Indian cinema, there’s a play on the boards this weekend featuring some of the most respected actors in the Indian film industry. Its international tour stops in Dallas Saturday night for one performance only at the Naomi Bruton Mainstage Theater of the Black Academy of Arts & Letters, at the Dallas Convention Center Complex.

The Blue Mug is an experimental, semi-improvised theater piece inspired partly by neurologist Oliver Sacks’ book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (great book, if you’ve never read it) and it stars some of the most accomplished, awarded and respected (as opposed to the hammiest or handsomest) actors in Indian cinema, including Konkona Sen Sharma, Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, Rajat Kapoor,  Munish Bhardwaj and Sheeba Chadha.

Sacks’ book narrates his experiences with patients who have lost their memories. In a press teleconference on Wednesday, Blue Mug director Atul Kumar explained that he wanted to explore the concept of memory and how people cope with such a devastating loss, because “memory is a tool for survival”.

At the play’s core is the relationship between a memory loss patient (Ranvir Shorey) and the doctor treating him (Konkona Sen Sharma). These are the only two “characters” in the piece, and their roles did involve a basic script. However, some of the memories depicted in their dialogue were workshopped using Shorey’s own experiences. Woven into this “devised” piece of theater are the other actors, who essentially play themselves and the memories they share with the audience also stem from their own lives. Director Atul Kumar says that with every performance, he can see the audience connect with those same memories through the actors. Ranvir Shorey notes an “unspoken exchange of energy between the audience and the actors”.

Though there’s no script to speak of, there is a fixed structure undergirding the piece. The conversations between doctor Konkona Sen Sharma and patient Ranvir Shorey were nailed down in the early stages of the play’s development. The other actors’ telling and retelling of particular memories night after night is kept fresh by the fact that the telling itself may vary from performance to performance. That sharing of personal experience and memory has led to a unique bond among the cast, who were friends before doing The Blue Mug together, having mostly worked together on various film projects. They all took advantage of a unique creative opportunity when Director Kumar invited them to do the piece at his Company Theater in Mumbai.

Every member of the cast has worked in both film and theater, but Sheeba Chadha cites her extensive theater credits as the most important and meaningful part of her career. Younger actors Shorey and Sen Sharma have done only a few plays each and derive their livelihoods on celluloid. Though cinema remains his first love, Shorey enjoys the experience of acting on stage. Observes Shorey, “Theater allows the actor to spend more time developing and refining a part, and one can grow with the character” in a way that is impossible under the tight time constraints of Indian film shooting schedules. (India makes several times as many movies as Hollywood, and the production timetables can be gruelingly condensed.)

Being able to see those screen stars perform live on stage is bound to be a rare opportunity for anyone interested in Indian film or just in adventurous theater. The piece will be performed in a 50/50 combination of Hindi and English (aka Hinglish) but should be understandable to both Hindi and English speakers. The production has toured across India, and based on critical and audience reaction to those performances, Kumar was approached about taking the play to other cities around the world, particularly in the UK and North America, although they are even bound for Brazil.

They’ll stop for one night only in Dallas and tickets for this adventure start at $10. More details here.

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Art&Seek Q&A: Roger Boykin and Liquid Funk, Booker T. Washington School

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Guest blogger Tina Aguilar teaches humanities and cultural studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.

This week I had the opportunity to visit with Dallas funk and jazz icon Roger Boykin and his R&B Ensemble students at the Booker T. Washington School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Some music history: Boykin, along with fellow funk musician Wendell Sneed, organized the South Dallas Pop Festival in the early 1970s. Both are good souls who have mentored many young musicians over the years. Electricity abounds in this creative oasis of the Dallas Arts District with the aura of students, staff, and the streaming echoes of a xylophone and dialogue of theater students in the hallway where I wait. I am greeted by Dena Townsend, Associate Principal, who smiles and reflects how Boykin is “so supportive of our students.” She continues, “I’ll often come in and see what they’re doing. Music has the ability to alter any mood you might be in and they are always doing something different in his class.”

Roger took the time to answer some of my questions about his students and his work.

Tina Aguilar: Can you tell me about your R&B students?

Roger Boykin: The R&B students are primarily music majors, although a couple of them come from the theater cluster. We have 7 vocalists, 1 drummer who also sings, 3 other drummers, one of whom plays vibes also, and one of whom plays bass and guitar also. We have 2 trumpet players (one female), 2 saxophone players, one of whom also plays drums. We have 2 guitar players (one of whom plays drums and piano). There are 2 full-time bass players and a keyboardist. That’s a total of 20 musicians and singers. The class is listed officially as Vocal Ensemble III, but it has always been understood to be the R&B Ensemble. This school year we gave the performing group the name “Liquid Funk.” There was an R&B group by that name in Dallas in the 1970s. We stole their name since they no longer exist. We play mostly music from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. I wanted the group to play “real” R&B from the Golden Age of R&B. I write 95% of the arrangements and they include music by such artists as Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, James Brown, The Ohio Players, The Temptations, Michael Jackson, and other such artists. There are a few of my originals in the book as well.

T. A.: I did see the R&B Ensemble audition results posted on the door. What does that mean for students?

R. B.: We have 12 seniors in the group. After auditions took place we identified band members for next year. Some of the present members will be returning next year. New members have to be broken in. This process usually takes about 6 weeks.

T. A.: How do you decide what pieces to teach and develop each term or quarter?

R. B.: I usually decide on about 90% of the repertoire, based on music that I played in my formative years. The band members sometimes suggest material, which we add, if appropriate.

T. A.: “Fire” by The Ohio Players is a favorite of mine. Can you tell me about the range of songs your students performed during my visit?

R. B.: When you heard us, we were playing funk standards with the exception of “Trouble Sleeping,” a song from 2006 British singer, Corinne Bailey Ray. This piece was added to feature vocalist Ashley Montez, at her request.

T. A.: What are the preparations like for the events or performances that your students participate in during the year?

R. B.: The students like to perform off-campus for community organizations. We get these gigs via phone calls from interested non-profit groups, schools, senior centers and such. They also like to perform at school in front of their fellow students. For the past two years we have performed at Neiman Marcus’s downtown store. Those were particularly enjoyable gigs. Other performances include: Paul Quinn College, the Hilton Anatole Hotel, the House of Blues, the Winspear, and a couple of other off-campus sites.

T. A.: Can you tell me about the upcoming “Taste of the Arts” event and history?

R. B.: “Taste of the Arts” started as an on-campus event featuring students from all four clusters: visual arts, dance, theatre, and music. It usually includes a silent auction and food in the hallways. Works of visual art are viewed throughout the building. In recent years the event was moved off-campus, but returns to campus this year. This gives visitors a chance to see what we do here and where it all happens.

T. A.: What inspires you lately and what is your performance schedule like for the next few months?

R. B.: I am inspired by deadlines and commissions as well as by the many exciting young musicians I encounter almost daily. I have been performing lately at the Dallas Museum of Art, about 15 times last year and 5 times this year. I freelance as well, all over the Metroplex.

Liquid Funk will perform at “Taste of the Arts” at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts on May 14 and the festivities begin at 6:30 p.m. Roger Boykin will be featured on Monday night, May 17, at Brooklyn Jazz Café as part of an inaugural Legends on Monday Nights series. There will be more to come about these vibes.

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Tying Down Some Moby-Dick Details

Inevitably, one of the great points of curiosity about the Dallas Opera’s production of Moby-Dick has always been, how are they going to do it? How are they going to convey life aboard a whaling ship? A ship in an electrical storm? How are they going to depict a whale-boat chase? And does Moby Dick himself make a cameo?

Since last year, composer Jake Heggie and lyricist Gene Scheer have been cagey with details, saying, for the most part, their job was just to give their director, Leonard Foglia, their vision of Melville’s novel as an opera, and let him figure out how to make it work. And Foglia has been far too busy trying to figure all this out to go into any of those details. The opera opens Friday — and some things are still being hashed out, it seems.

Well, the Wall Street Journal has some of the details, saying that “the real star—with apologies to the tenor Ben Heppner’s Captain Ahab—may be the production itself, which Mr. Foglia helped conceive, serving as dramaturge prior to directing.”

Mr. Foglia, who became involved in the production two years ago when he and Messrs. Heggie and Scheer were working on a musical play in Houston, has made it a priority to minimize the distance between audience and action, which he is trying to depict from a seaman’s perspective. His “you are there” approach means rendering certain aspects of the voyage in novel ways. “The sails reach into the wings of the stage because if you’re on the ship, the sail would be right here,” he said, placing his hand in my face. “You couldn’t step back. And that’s why I wanted to get into the whale boats rather than sing about whale boats” …

But we could have figured out much of this: Sails and masts and rigging are going to be major factors. And in interviews this week, Foglia is still playing some cards close to his chest — in particular, the Big Reveal:

As for the title character, the great white whale’s presence on stage is not assured. “I haven’t decided whether it’s more interesting to see or not see,” the director said. “It’s the Alfred Hitchcock rule. You know, the way people swore they saw Janet Leigh getting stabbed in ‘Psycho,’ even though they never did. It’s the thought of something happening that makes it really memorable.”

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Thursday Morning Roundup

10-Year Review: Miguel Harth-Bedoya celebrates his 1oth anniversary with the Fort Worth Symphony this summer.  The Star-Telegram‘s  Andrew Marton reviews his accomplishments and analyzes his impact, including his role in promoting Latin American music.    Fort Worth Weekly’s Kristian Lin spent a week with the maestro and links his style – pragmatic attention to detail -  to the orchestra’s rise in prestige.  Both pieces looked for downsides and found few, considering a decade-long tenure.  The globetrotting conductor doesn’t always receive rave reviews, Marton notes.  Lin cites a personnel issue involving a trumpeter and a union complaint.   A little bonus: here’s Harth-Bedoya talking to Jerome about his “Caminos del Inka” project.

This and That: The Morning News lists  upcoming gigs by  Texas artists….Elaine Liner reviews Uptown’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels…It’s almost Comic Book Day! Where to celebrate.

New Music: Fort Worth’s Herb Levy has been working hard to promote New Music in our area.  This weekend, he pulls together a  a two-day show called Other Texas Music Anthology.  The lineup includes James Talambas (The Theater Fire) and Paul Thomas, FWSO bassist Paul Unger and “chordal-drummer Max Opean, Hentai Improvising Orchestra and many more.  Details here.

Revelations: Much of the political ground Laura Bush covers in her  new memoir Spoken From the Heart feels “carefully prepared and vetted,” says  Michiko Kakutani of the NY Times.  But Bush’s description running a stop sign at 17 and the subsequent accident that killed her good friend is “remarkably raw.”  Bush writes:

“I can never absolve myself of the guilt. And the guilt isn’t simply from Mike dying. The guilt is from all the implications, from the way those few seconds spun out and enfolded so many other lives. The reverberations seem to go on forever, like the ripples from an unsinkable stone.”

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Review: [title of show] at Theatre 3

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Chad Peterson, Marianne Galloway, Tricia Ponsford and Alexander Ross in [title of show]

Theatre 3’s current production is a musical about creating this very musical. Such an idea usually appeals to KERA’s Jerome Weeks. But not this time.

  • The Dallas Morning News review
  • KERA radio review:
  • Expanded online review:

I’m a sucker for what’s called ‘meta.’

Theatre 3 is presenting the Texas premiere of [title of show], and it’s very meta. Meta means ‘about itself’ – like meta-fiction is fiction about the writing of fiction. In 2004, two real-life young nobodies named Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell wrote a musical and entered it in the New York Music Theater Festival. Their show was about two young fictional nobodies writing a musical and entering it in the New York Music Theater Festival (along the way, they dragooned two female friends into playing two female friends dragooned into playing themselves). [title of show] went on to a real-life run on Broadway and a (small) passel of nominations and awards — pretty much the narrative path the musical jokingly follows.

Comedian Gary Shandling did meta on his old sitcom, It’s Gary Shandling’s Show. Self-obsessed and neurotic, his character, naturally called Gary Shandling, would eagerly indicate to the audience the obvious TV artifice going on — how his neighbors were actually just visiting guest stars. Or how the next scene was going to take place on that set over there, across the studio, so he’d hop in a golf cart and drive over. All very post-modern and fourth-wall-breaking. It’s Gary Shandling’s Show even had a theme song about being a theme song.

Which is very much like [title of show]’s opening number. This is from the cast recording:

Untitled Opening Number: “It’s the opening song. It doesn’t have a title, no. And it’s not very long. But it’s the starting point of our musical.”

I loved Shandling’s show. I don’t love [title of show], although I wanted to — it even has its own musical director, Terry Dobson, sitting on the set with his keyboard,mostly bored, reading the newspaper between numbers. A nice touch. So I can’t fault the nearly-two-hour musical for being cutely self-referential – because that’s meta. But this is not a show for Broadway lovers or the occasional fan; it’s a show for Broadway obsessives, people who happily swap trivia about forgotten flops like Bring Back Birdie or The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public. One (typically clever and show-offy) number, “Monkeys and Playbills,” even features song lyrics drawn from the titles of shows, which the cast helpfully displays on giant Playbill covers in case anyone’s forgotten The Golden Apple or Oh Kay! or Working.

title of show3So [title of show] recognizes its  limitations. Composer-lyricist Hunter, the more flamboyantly gay one of the creative pair (Chad Peterson), even worries several times that what he’s writing will be just a tiny, insider-y, self-indulgent musical. He wants to write something more significant than that.

But then he and Jeff, (Alex Ross) sing how they’d happily opt for what’s essentially cult status — they want their musical to be “nine people’s favorite show” rather than a hundred people’s ninth favorite show. This sounds like a brave artistic credo — except that it confuses depth with narrowness of commercial appeal.

For instance, [title of show] sprays the occasional obscenity. And Jeff and Hunter and their collaborators, Susan (Marrianne Galloway) and Heidi (Tricia Ponsford) defend retaining the words as the musical goes through hoops and revisions from off-Broadway to on. The writers are determined they’re not going to lose their downtown edge, and the matinee ladies on Broadway have kids who probably use these words all the time, anyway.

But shouting a dozen adult words hardly makes [title of show] ‘adult material’ in the sense of more thoughtful, more profound. It just excludes the ‘family’ audience.  About the most profound ideas the show musters are a device to overcome self doubts (try shouting “Die, Vampire, Die!”) and a depiction of the push and pull that tear at any collaborative team facing success (“Change It, Don’t Change It”). When it comes to human realities, [title of show] makes Glee seem like Eugene O’Neill.

So [title of show] is proudly insular. And, despite its self-awareness and its mild stabs at meaning, it is cheerfully inconsequential. It’s also proudly gay, which complicates things. There’s a sense that downtown = edgy = cult status = post-modern meta = camp = gay.  One gets the impression that exiting the closet means getting trapped in a hall of mirrors and down the rabbit hole. At one point, Hunter realizes that if they’re using their real lives for material for the show, they could just put the conversation they’re having right now — in the show!

“Wait” Jeff replies, ” so everything I say from now on could actually be in our show?”

And so on. It’s Luigi Pirandello’s Six Campy Characters in Search of An 11 O’Clock Number.

The Theatre 3 production doesn’t really attempt to address these pretzel-logic concerns; it mostly just wants to have fun — until the show dips into its moment of possible-sellout-success angst. Bruce Coleman, the set designer, has colluded with Bruce Coleman, the costume designer, and Bruce Coleman, the director, to signal this fun status through the set’s loud, clashing colors. Ditto for the costumes. Although we’re supposedly in Jeff and Hunter’s funky, Hell’s Kitchen living rooms, all the red, blue, green and yellow signal “Kids Toy Room.”

But one weakness of fun is a similar weakness of meta: It wears out pretty fast unless it’s connected to something more durable than quips about Broadway fetishism. And [title of show] reminded me why it was a good idea Gary Shandling’s sitcom was only 30 minutes long.


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Theatre 3: The Next Season, Announced

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Wednesday evening, Jac Alder, Theatre 3‘s executive producer, announced the company’s 49th season. It comprises a dozen shows, whose productions represent 939 work-weeks for actors, a considerable increase over this season’s 588 weeks. Alder proudly noted that with some 329 performances this season (in both Theatre 3 and Theatre Too), the Quadrangle facility may well be the busiest performing arts venue in North Texas.

As for the ambitious offerings, they include Theatre 3′s contribution to the city-wide Horton Foote Festival next year — in this case, the trio of one–acts, The Roads to Home, that Foote wrote in 1982.  There are also several first-time-local productions of recent Broadway hits — notably, the Tony Award-winning musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations, which concerns the mystery behind 33 versions of a waltz written by Ludwig van Beethoven. There is also the stellar (and difficult) Tom Stoppard comedy, Travesties — which I’ve never seen done in North Texas. Interestingly enough, Stoppard’s original script, plus a deal of related correspondence, is now held in the Humanities Research Center in Austin.

The basement studio space, Theatre Too, will also host new works and area debuts, including Tales from Mount Olympus, a  Bunraku puppet show created by Theatre 3′s resident artist Bruce Coleman, as well as Christoper Durang’s wild political satire, Why Torture is  Wrong and the People Who Love  Them, and Naomi Iizuka’s small-town North Carolina ghost tale, Language of Angels.

A full accounting, below the fold.

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VIDEO: Where Were We – Art is Ageless Exhibit, w/Special Guest Ebby Halliday

C.C. Young Retirement Community is a lovely facility overlooking White Rock Lake. There you will find The Point, The Center for Arts and Education, one of the few freestanding facilities for arts and education within retirement communities in this region.

The Point offers its residents classes and workshops in computer training, art, sculpture, pottery, book discussions, Tai-Chi, yoga, exercise, dance and much more. The center also hosts the annual Art is Ageless Competition and Exhibit, marking its 11th year. Art is Ageless is an intergenerational celebration of creativity showcasing the talents of artists and writers aged 55 and older. It’s a mixed media contest/exhibit ranging from pottery to paintings to needlepoint to poetry.

Art&Seek attended this year’s event and had a glorious time. The staff at The Point and C.C. Young were more than friendly and hospitable. The artwork was inspiring and the participating artists were charming and interesting to get to know.

Mayor Tom Leppert started things off by speaking about the exhibition and all the good things going on at C.C. Young, then went on to introduce the first lady of North Texas real estate, Ebby Halliday. Ms. Halliday, who recently turned 99-years old, was the featured guest speaker. After reading her remarks entitled, Where in the World is Prayer, she invited the audience to stand and join her in singing God Bless America.

Please enjoy the above video that includes some of the participating artists who shared the inspirations behind their pieces.

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AT&T PAC Announces Line-Ups for TITAS, Jazz Roots and the Brinker Forum

Normally, we get some sort of heads up when such announcements are coming, but all of a sudden, wham, we just got details on 22 new events coming in the 2010-11 season at the AT&T PAC — everything from TITAS presenting MOMIX (left) and a world-premiere dance commission to a lecture/performance by Al Pacino and Jazz Roots offering an evening of the blues with James Cotton’s band. The Kodo Drummers, the Chieftains, a National Geographic event with Jean-Michel Cousteau, Diane Reeves: Add all these to the previously announced Lexus Broadway Series.

Get out your calendars (and your credit cards). The full release is below the fold.

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Faith on Film at the USA Film Festival

Several films with North Texas ties will show during the USA Film Festival opening today in Dallas. KERA’s Stephen Becker tells the story of how a veteran director and a first-time filmmaker joined forces to make a movie that spoke to each of them.

  • KERA radio story:
  • Click here to read Stephen Becker’s daily picks for the festival.
  • Online version:

The story begins with a sermon Andrew Stevens heard one Sunday at Highland Park United Methodist Church. Paul Rasmussen leads a contemporary ministry program there, and he told the story of the prodigal son.

STEVENS: “And he dovetailed into his years as a basketball coach at Centenary College. And I sort of envisioned the idea as I was sitting there one day daydreaming in church.”

That idea was the genesis of Breaking the Press, a modern-day retelling of that Bible story set in the world of high school basketball.

Stevens knew first hand it’s a long road from script to screen. He’s produced more than 170 movies and knew he couldn’t make this one on his own.

So he asked his friend, Charlie McKinney, for help. He’s a financial planner who attends the same church. Stevens wondered if some of McKinney’s clients might like to invest in the film.

But McKinney had other ideas.

McKINNEY: “I said, ‘Let’s not do it with them, let’s do it with you and me.’ So he put up half the money, I put up half the money.”

The film shot in and around Dallas last summer. McKinney provided many of the basketball players in the film through the Heroes Foundation, a youth sports organization he founded.

In late April, Stevens was still working on the cut of the film that will screen at the USA Film Festival on Saturday. But that version of the film may not be the only one the public eventually sees.

Foreign DVD sales are important for a film’s bottom line. Stevens says that about 65 percent of a film’s revenue comes from overseas. And religious films typically don’t sell as well outside the U.S.

So Stevens may re-edit the film to tone down its Christian references. But he doesn’t view that as selling out.

STEVENS: “Rather than having zero possibility of distribution, does one create a less-evangelical version so that there can be some distribution, still with the same message but maybe not quite so overt as would appeal to an evangelical audience. I don’t think that’s a cop-out.”

McKinney, the money manager, is even more pragmatic.

McKINNEY: “The focus is 100 percent faith-based. But if we can spend $3,000 and make an edit and sell the film overseas and bring in $25,000, we can use that money to make the next faith-based movie. That makes sense to me.”

Which is exactly what the pair plan to do. As Stevens put the finishing touches on Breaking the Press, McKinney was sending around a script he wrote for the next faith-based film they will make together – this time with baseball players.

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Flickr Photo of the Week

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Categorized Under: Uncategorized, Visual Arts

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Congratulations to Bryan Varner, the winner of the Flickr Photo of the Week contest! He follows last week’s winner, Chris Bell of Dallas.

If you would like to participate in the Flickr Photo of the Week contest, all you need to do is upload your photo to to our Flickr group page. It’s fine to submit a photo you took previous to the current week, but we are hoping that the contest will inspire you to go out and shoot something fantastic this week to share with Art&Seek users. If the picture you take involves a facet of the arts, even better. The contest week will run from Monday to Sunday, and the Art&Seek staff will pick a winner on Monday afternoon. We’ll notify the winner through FlickrMail (so be sure to check those inboxes) and ask you to fill out a short survey to tell us a little more about yourself and the photo you took. We’ll post the winners’ photo on Wednesday.

Now here’s a bit more from Bryan Varner.

Tell us about the photo: The photo was taken at a local junkyard in Midlothian, Texas. The camera I used was a Canon 50d , lens 18mm to 200mm

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