Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Sondheim in a Pandemic

Illustration by Tug Rice.
As probably everyone who reads this blog knows, there was a big ol' online concert Sunday night to celebrate the 90th birthday of Stephen Sondheim. After several false starts and three different YouTube links, we were gifted nearly two and a half hours of impossibly beautiful performances of songs from the Sondheim canon. We wept. We screamed. We asked about Melissa Errico's book of Irish Erotic Art (spoiler: it was a gag cover, and an empty book).

At the end of the night, in talking about Sondheim's work and ethos, host Raul Esparza said, "If you can never get it right, then that also means you can never get it wrong. And if you think about that, it means everything is worth trying."

I rewatched the concert the next day and started trying to build a thread of sequential thoughts relevant to now, keeping to the order of the setlist of the 30+ songs performed (including the overtures for both Follies and Merrily We Roll Along at the top of the evening). Some of this is admittedly a stretch, but, well ... enjoy my FrankenSondheim stream of consciousness pandemicbrain.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W17: Where I Am

This week I feel like I reached the acceptance stage, not of our global tragedy (that's a separate staggering grief), but at least of my current cocooned existence. I wake up around the same time each day, I brush my teeth, wash my face, make my bed, log into work remotely, and I exist. That's enough, for now. I've had people ask/assume that I'm writing a lot, with all this time to myself, and no, I'm not. I'm writing my two blogs, but I haven't written any new plays, stories, essays. If I think of something to write, I will, but I'm also not going to punish myself if I don't produce any brilliance out of all this beyond surviving. Surviving is enough.

In the darker recesses of my soul, it seems callous to me to dream of creating something brilliant out of this needless tragedy, this long moment in time that is killing so many people, and will forever scar those they leave behind. I am not saying it is callous to produce art. God, we need art. We need it desperately. I am so grateful to those who are producing art, and sharing it with us. But part of my current survivor's guilt, at still having a job, at having been sick but fully recovered, is also this whisper in my gut.

So I suppose that's where I'm at right now. I do remain impressed with and grateful to those who are able, not just to function, but to create. This past week Joshua William Gelb and his Theater in Quarantine experimentation finally presented a live performance, and this Wednesday Richard Nelson will present his newest play in The Apple Family series, written for this specific time and circumstance, called What Do We Need to Talk About? Conversations on Zoom. And last night, after an hour of technical difficulties, we got the Sondheim concert we could never have gotten in person, and we melted down online.

My past week's watchlist, and a brief list of theater developments, below the cut:

Monday, April 20, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W16: One Month In, and Counting

As of this past week, most New Yorkers in non-essential jobs have been homebound for a month. I've left my building three times since this began, twice for groceries, once to pick up a prescription.

As the span during which public gatherings (including attending my beloved live theater) are unsafe stretches further and further ahead of us, I'm quietly grateful that the last play I saw was The Inheritance and the last musical Six. At least I said goodbye to the season well, even if we didn't know it was goodbye at the time. Everything else is just quiet worry, grief, and fear.

This past week's watchlist and theater developments below:

Monday, April 13, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W15: Coping Mechanisms

Another hard week for everyone. I don't have a new insight for us this time. I hope those who celebrate had a festive Seder (I participated in a family one via Zoom) and/or a good Easter. I hope those who celebrate, celebrated still in isolation and safety.

Here's my positive thing to report: my brilliant friend Marissa and I had planned to watch the Tim Minchin arena tour production of Jesus Christ Superstar on Andrew Lloyd Webber's site but we forgot about time zones and missed our window (yes, we know it's on Prime to rent) and instead made good use of our time by planning the One True Good Revival of our favorite raccoon musical (it is a trash panda and we love it anyway). Someone please give us lots of money so we can produce it properly.

See below for other actual theater things, including this week's watch list and new developments on the theater landscape.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W14: Filmed Theater, Remote Art

I remember once having a spirited online discussion with a friend about the validity of filmed theater. She feared that people would assume filmed theater was the same as live theater, and that it would 1, not give people the true and wonderful experience of live theater (and therefore make them think theater isn't all that much), and 2, deter people from attending live theater in favor of watching filmed theater from the more affordable movie theater seat, or even sitting at home.

I understand her point. You can only capture so much of a performance when you film it, and for that matter, all you're capturing is one performance. One of theater's greatest virtues is that it is ephemeral. What you see at one performance will never be perfectly repeated. The essence and story, yes (we hope), but it changes. And of course with a filmed performance, the viewer lacks that interpersonal connection that is achieved in live theater: our ability to give back, even in part, a thanks and tribute for the performance given us, be it applause, laughter, or tears.

But I can't dismiss the entire enterprise. My first experience of Into the Woods (and the beginning of my deep affection for the works of Stephen Sondheim) was watching the PBS broadcast of the OBC in my dad's apartment when I was a kid. I didn't fool myself that the video was the be-all end-all of theater, but my goodness what a precious archival document of the original production and those performers. What a boon that gives more than just reading a script or listening to a cast album. We as a theater community have been blessed with many filmed performances of Sondheim's various works (in recent years, due almost entirely to the efforts of Lonny Price, bless him). The video of Into the Woods wasn't live theater, but it was a taste. A sample. A gateway. A chance for those of us without access either to see these productions live or to see quality live theater locally, to see what it could be, what we could do. What we might do.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

For Adam Schlesinger

Yesterday Adam Schlesinger died of complications of coronavirus. I didn't know him personally, though I loved his work. I don't feel right claiming a part of the grief of those who did know him and love him. But I mourn. It's awful, it's unfair, and none of this is okay. Even if you don't recognize his name immediately, I guarantee you've heard and enjoyed a song he wrote.

And this is all I can think of:

"The Dead Poet," by Lord Alfred Douglas

I dreamed of him last night, I saw his face
All radiant and unshadowed of distress,
And as of old, in music measureless,
I heard his golden voice and marked him trace
Under the common thing the hidden grace,
And conjure wonder out of emptyness,
Till mean things put on beauty like a dress
And all the world was an enchanted place.

And then methought outside a fast locked gate
I mourned the loss of unrecorded words,
Forgotten tales and mysteries half said,
Wonders that might have been articulate,
And voiceless thoughts like murdered singing birds.
And so I woke and knew that he was dead.