Sunday, August 20, 2017

Planning a Season

I am back at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, this time with the new Executive Director, Joel Aalberts.  Actually, he is not that new having started a year ago tomorrow.  He comes to Santa Fe having been Director at the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts since 2013.  He also served in other Midwestern theatres, as a performer as well.

He had several concepts not tried before at the Lensic.  One was that the season’s program should be ready to be announced in May for the following August though May of the next year. This would allow his audience to plan, and most importantly buy tickets in advance.  Personally, we have already booked tickets through next April.  Here is Joel with his family at the announcement of the coming season.


An important goal for any theater is not to lose money on a season.  If you are a theatergoer, beyond Broadway or the Las Vegas strip, you are always told that tickets only fund a percentage of any year.  They cannot cover the tens of thousands it costs to book the entertainment plus supply the additional lights, other tech and musical instruments that might be needed through tickets alone.  The care and feeding of the headliner for the evening is also vital to the reputation of the theater and staff in the industry.

Joel with Actress Rita Moreno
Joel with Jazz Singer Dianne Reeves

The Lensic, being a converted 1930’s Movie Palace in a small town, has 821 seats.  I asked Joel whether we could have a particular political satirist whom I like and I think would do well in multi-cultural Santa Fe.  Joel said he would like to have him as well, but that he would probably not be interested in playing to an 800 seat theater when there were 2,000 plus seat auditoriums in Los Vegas or even where Joel worked previously in Kentucky.  When planning a season you have to be realistic as to whom might play the house.


If the Lensic would charge $10 for a family event, that would bring in only $8,210, which would not cover costs.  If you bring in a star the costs can come to $50,000 or  even much more. If all seats cost the same you might have to charge $100 per seat and you would lose much of your audience. Currently the most expensive seat in the house is $79 for a few shows and prices go down substantially from there.  In fact, the less than ideal seats at the Lensic are usually priced in the neighborhood of $25.

Joel with Nancy Zeckendorf, founding director, at the Lensic

Practically speaking when planning a season you need to know as much as you can about your patrons.  Joel’s first season he had a very short time to do this, but he could look at past seasons and see which events sold out and which had less than perfect attendance.

Last year there was only a week between his start date and one of the arts conferences he attends every year.  There are three in the United States: one is the Western Arts Alliance Conference which he goes to at the end of August, one in the mid-west and one on the East Coast.  These conferences try to focus, as much as possible, on the arts that appeal to that part of the country.  The theatre directors are pitched from morning ‘till night by the agencies trying to book their programs and talent. 

Once the actual season begins Joel can get direct responses by seeing not only how the house fills but also by comments made to him by members of the audience.  He attends many events in the house and is very open to the public’s comments, which surprised me since everyone has an opinion!

Agencies continue to pitch via email all year long and Joel will try to find an opening in the schedule if he thinks a particular act will appeal.  Two such sell outs this season were Trombone Shorty and Chris Botti neither of whom I had ever heard of.  Trombone Shorty, as his name implies, plays trombone and has a band.  Having played at the Lensic, he is going on a European tour this fall.  Chris Botti is a Grammy-winning trumpeter.  My point being that Joel has to know a lot of different parts of the entertainment industry and learns more all the time, including the tastes of his audience.  Here, like New York, you have great ethnic and age diversity.

Every theatre Director will have personal goals and one of Joel’s is to offer a diverse choice every year to expose people, not just to the same success as last year, but variations on a theme.  I have written a couple of times on Taiko drummer groups; each was different, so our experience was varied and our horizons broadened.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Steve Jobs Redux

Even before we had seen the new Steve Jobs opera called “(R)evolution of Steve Jobs” my wife suggested that I should write about it. My reaction was, “Why should I?” I thought it would be very contemporary atonal music, which I usually hate and, even though I was definitely curious, I had just written about Jobs a couple of weeks ago.

Seeing the opera, however, I was totally bowled over. It has wonderful music, sometimes amusing and sometimes gut-wrenching lyrics and is produced in not only an original manner, but one that works perfectly!  From me it gets 5 stars!! 

The music is by Mason Bates and the libretto is by Mark Campbell.  It was co-commissioned with Seattle Opera and San Francisco Opera.  This is no surprise since Jobs lived and worked in the area.  The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music joined them as co-producers.  The world premier was right here at the Santa Fe Opera.

The conductor on the night we went was Michael Christie.  As was written by John Stege in our local weekly magazine, The Santa Fe Reporter, “Bate’s score works just fine on several levels.  Forget the fearsome, distant electronic days… Bates offers and performs a kinder, gentler use of electronica that works right along with his multi-hued and often brilliant orchestral patterns.”

At the beginning of the opera a 10 year old boy is given a work table made for him by his father so he will have, “a place to take things apart and put them together again”.  Panels that serve for projections, often of circuit boards, slide back and forth as the characters move along.  Soon a grown Jobs takes the boy’s place.  If you force me to critique anything it is that the plot jumps back and forth in Job’s short life from 1955 to 2011 and it is sometimes difficult to keep track.  Still by the time it is over, you feel you understand the story of his life.  Here is Edward Parks as Steve Jobs and Jonah Sorenson as the young Jobs.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

The opera gets going with an aria or really a song called “Tap, tap, tap” which imitates all of us pressing on the icons on our iPhones.  I believe I forgot to mention how good the entire cast was!  We have heard wonderful voices in the past and sometimes they were good actors as well, but one usually picks them out individually.  In this performance we found all were good in both categories and some excelled.  The chorus is made up of Santa Fe Opera apprentices who in other productions sometimes have been given solo roles.  Opera companies from all over come in the summer to hear then sing and make some choices.  A bit like job interviews at major universities.  Steve Jobs and the Santa Fe Opera Chorus.

Photo Credit; Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

Every story comes from a different point of view: my Missive, “Fearless Genius” dealt with Jobs creativity from the positive perception of the photographer Doug Menuez; the opera has a far more personal and in some ways tragic point of view.  In fact my wife and I were both in tears by the time it was over.  The part of Laurene, Job’s wife, was played by Sasha Cooke, a fabulous mezzo-soprano and actor, though I would prefer actress, because she symbolized the most wonderful strong but sympathetic wife!  Others who stood out were Job’s original partner Steve Wozniak, Garrett Sorenson and Jobs’ Zen Priest, Kobun Otogawa sung by Wei Wu.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

If you want quite contrary thoughts on the same opera we saw, read the New York Times review. It is hard to believe that Zachary Woolfe, the author of this piece, saw the same production. We stayed until the last hand was clapped.  It was at least a five-minute standing ovation with more Bravos, Bravas and Bravis than I have ever heard in Santa Fe.  Mr. Woolfe seems to also believe that people are either all black or all white.  I read the same book he did by Walter Isaacson revealing Steve Jobs as an often insensitive SOB who clearly had another extremely charismatic way of enveloping people and having many totally devoted to him.

Photo Credit: Ken Howard for the Santa Fe Opera

I have gone to an awful lot of opera in my 70 plus years, starting with Aida in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome when I was 11.  I can honestly say I have been bored out of my skull by many operas since.  However, when you see and hear an opera put together so expertly with music, story line and performers at their best, and even an amazing set that cast and stage crew slide through effortlessly, for me it counts as a success and wonderful evening!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Tom Joyce - Sculptor

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t drop out of school at 16 and be a success.  It just depends what you want to do with the rest of your life.  If perchance you decide you would like to forge hot steel for a living you may have a chance.  So it was with Tom Joyce (b.1956-) who picked up his first hammer when he was 14 and by the age of 16 he had made up his mind that was what he wanted to do.  When asked about how he learned, his response is always, “I had a classic black smith’s training.”.  Black smith for me always makes me think of horse-shoes not 3 ton sculptures.  Tom’s work has developed from practical items such as agricultural tools made from worn iron hand-me-downs, to a gate near our home on the old Santa Fe Trail, to major steel sculptures weighing many tons.


Whenever, I am asked about Tom Joyce I immediately say that I met him before he received the half million-dollar MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2003.  Why? So no one thinks it is because of the award we tried to meet him!  Around that time he invited us to breakfast at his home.  It was and is the only time I have been asked to fetch my own eggs from the hen house ... hey, I’m a city kid!


His work has been shown all over the world and can be found in the collections of the Renwick Gallery in Washington D.C., the Minneapolis and Detroit Institutes of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York among others.

There is presently an exhibition of Tom’s work called “Tom Joyce: Everything at Hand” at the Center for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Santa Fe.  It occupies their new sculpture garden as well as the entire museum gallery, and it will be up until the end of the year.  An unusual aspect of CCA that it is on an Armory campus and the building now housing the art gallery is the original Tank Garage -- a good thing for Tom since the floor and even the walls can hold thousands of pounds in weight, which would not work in a normal museum building.  This outdoor sculpture “Aureole VI” which is over 6 feet in diameter weighs 4,407 lbs was created this year surely for this space.


Tom is a celebrity artist who has not let it go to his head: he is a very modest guy.
Listening to Tom speak, which he did at the museum the other day, expecting 20 people to show up and ending with about 220.  We learned of his fascination with iron and steel and their unending challenges.


He has worked with forges both in this country and abroad.  He told us that he now pays by the minute to use a large industrial facility so he cannot afford too many mistakes.  Therefore, he works with models in his studio here in Santa Fe making sure that his ideas can work on a very large and heavy scale. He was speaking to us in front of two sculptures “Bloom IV and Bloom V done last year of forged high carbon steel.  The smaller sculpture weighing 15,750 pounds and the larger 26,815 lbs.  These very large pieces are a composite of several smaller pieces of steel.


His huge sculptures come from industrial manufacturing castoffs.  As he says, “It’s a sculpture now, but it’s a store of material, and in my eyes, always tied to it origins.  Its practical nature ensures that it will be used again for another purpose and that most assuredly it will be here long after I’m gone.”  When was the last time that you heard an artist admit that his work might be destroyed to be used for another purpose?  In history it is not unusual for metals to be melted down for better and for worse!  It’s all part of the continuum…  To demonstrate that he believes what he says, he created an installation of light.  The label says, “Untitled (3-D printed tools made and/used by the artist) 2017.  Stereolithography printed clear polycarbonate-like plastic, LED lights, dimensions variable”. The hanging elements are casts of the tools he used to make a living before turning to sculpture.


Some of his multi-ton sculptures actually have the appearance of being squishy.  Take a look at this one called ”Lignifact I” created this year in 4 pieces of forged stainless steel weighing 14,000 pounds.


CCA also has a marvelous film program with two movie theatres which gets top billing on their website so if you go to https://www.ccasantafe.org be sure to click on “Visual Arts” at the top of the page for museum hours and other practical information.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fearless Genius

Can you guess to whom the title refers?  It is someone who can honestly be called a household name, Steve Jobs.  Where would we be today, virtually speaking, without him?   The title actually comes from a book, “Fearless Genius: The Digital Revolution in Silicon Valley, 1985-2000”. It is a selection from the 250,000 photographs taken over those years in Silicon Valley by Doug Menuez. He has given the entire archive to Stanford.



We heard Menuez speak the other night at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe. He is an award winning documentary photographer who has photographed from the North Pole to the Amazon and the Sahara desert, covering subjects from sports to AIDS and famine. He said that when he was looking for some less harrowing experiences he began to focus on Silicon Valley.  He asked Steve Jobs if he could have unfettered access to him and his development of the Next computer, the project he was then working on.  To Menuez’s surprise Jobs said, yes.



In 1985 Jobs was 30 and Menuez was 28, trying to find a meaningful story in his world.  He said, “I wasn’t interested in technology per say, I was — and am — interested in those people who possess this amazing ability to change all of our lives.”  1985 was also a turning point for Jobs:  he had been fired by his former mentor and CEO at Apple, John Sculley and he wanted to move on to a new electronic wonder, the Next computer.

To Menuez surprise he found Jobs “was just loaded with charisma. He was the most inspiring person I ever met. By the time I met Steve, I had photographed presidents and movie stars, and I’d had life-and-death experiences in Africa, and I’d covered homelessness and AIDS, but nothing compared to being with Steve Jobs and listening to him telling what was coming in the future. It was electrifying.”


Over the years “I could walk into his office at any time, go into virtually any meeting — occasionally the engineers would get upset, but Steve would always tell them to let me shoot what I wanted. It was amazing freedom.” According to Menuez, Job’s bad rep came from the fact that he was incredibly demanding of his engineers but most of them liked the challenges.  If he yelled at them he wanted them to fight back and state their reasons for their decisions and if they made their case he was cool with it.

The lecture was part of the events leading up to the Santa Fe Opera world premiere of “The (R)Evolution of Steve Jobs”, composed by Mason Bates with a libretto by Mark Campbell.

At the Patina Gallery of contemporary Jewelry owned by Allison and Ivan Barnett, an exhibition of Menuez’ photographs was up.  They had been introduced to Menuez by Ivy Ross,  the jewelry designer whose work is in 12 International museums, went to Harvard Business school and is currently Vice President, Design and User Experience for Hardware Products at Google and head of Google Glass.

Allison Barnett & Ivy Ross

Ivan got in touch with the Santa Fe Opera since they had cooperated before, and the result was the use of Menuez’ photos for promotion of the new Jobs opera.  Ivan then arranged for the lecture at the Lensic introduced by Ivy Ross who held a question and answer session at the end.


During the Q and A Menuez mentioned some of his concerns and, for me, there were a couple of eye openers.  One was that 75% of the engineers in this country are immigrants.   Menuez also pointed out the contrast between Ross Perot’s infusion of 20 million into the Next computer and the current impatience of venture capitalists who don’t want to wait 5 or 6 years for their profits, but just 2.  This is enough time for a new app, not a technological revolution.

Menuez concluded with what still echoes in my mind Jobs’ quote, “NEVER GIVE UP - EVER”.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Change

Change is probably one of the most difficult phenomenon we have to deal with as human beings.  Whether we are changing doctors or jobs we go in with fear and trepidation.  The most upsetting I ever heard was when the wife of a friend of mine died very young and I said “I hope she did not have to suffer too long”, the instant unthinking reply was, “Not long enough”.  It sounded so callous until I realized it was said out of such a sense of grief and that my friend was unprepared for this incredible loss.  As Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein says “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”


If we think about it, we usually see the warning signs and either prepare for them or not.  I recently had an experience that was both shocking and a relief at the same time.  I had worked at a foundation for several years.  Though I was a volunteer, I was there full time.  I probably invested more of myself than I should have in the functioning of the organization.  When it became clear that under current circumstances I could not stay on, I went into a serious funk.  I worried, of course, was I not needed? Had I not contributed? Was I a failure?  All perfectly normal reactions… now what?

I only had to reach back to the 6th century B.C. to find the answer, Lao Tzu, the Chinese Philosopher (604-531 BC) said, “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” 


Years ago I saw a psychologist with my wife.  She was about to take a job that was going to have her traveling much of the time and not be home.  The psychologist said, “most of my patients I have to teach how to live together; you two I have to teach how to live apart.”  She gave me an assignment, “by next week I want you to think about all the advantages of not having your wife around”.  At first I thought it was ridiculous and I could never come up with a list.  Sure enough within a week my list was not short!

Cartoon by Andrew Grossman)

I went at my current situation in the same way and decided I needed a small office away from home, just a place I could go and work during the day, giving myself a routine just as my Missives have been an excellent discipline.  This would be the first time in my life that I would have a space totally my own with no one else present to assist in any sense, business wise or administratively.  Eventually, I found I was kind of proud of that!

Looking for a space helped to occupy my mind and when I finally found a space I realized I no longer missed what I had before.  I no longer felt I had to be somewhere at a certain time nor that I had to rush my lunch to get back.  To my delightful surprise, it was a liberating experience.


Ending with what might be an unusual reference from an art dealer better acquainted with Old Masters, Any Warhol in his The Philosophy of Andy Warhol  “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Looking Fondly on the Past

An exhibition called “Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest”  is at the History Museum of New Mexico.  It covers the “Summer of Love” 1967 through the 70’s in the southwest by which time the counterculture had already been active on the coasts for some time.  The final moments of the latter were probably with the ousting of Nixon and the end of the Vietnam war 1974-1975.

Meredith Davidson is curator of the 19th and 20th century southwest collection.   She did the exhibition together with Jack Loeffler, the renowned, historian, author, musician, activist and a member of the southwest counterculture movement.  They cooperated both on curating of the show and gathering the articles for the book accompanying the exhibition.   Loeffler wrote a number of the essays and in the final one called “Ebb Tide” he write, “Through the ages, countercultures have been marked by a refusal of governance from on high, a hatred of bureaucracy, a profound strain of anarchism, a thread of pragmatism.”   In an article in El Palacio, the magazine for the State Museums of New Mexico, Ms. Davidson adds, “… back to the land lifestyle …” was also important.

Jack Loeffler at the Gallup Indian Ceremonial, 1971
(SOURCE: Museum Of New Mexico Press)


From the press release: “Curators, Meredith Davidson and Jack Loeffler, tell the story of cultural revolution through first person audio from over 50 interviews with those who lived through the era. Documentary photography and artifacts help reinforce the role that individual actions take in shaping the course of history. So many of the social and political issues of the day still resonate and the museum will invite visitors to share their own stories in an audio feedback booth.”

Ms. Davidson’s expertise is in oral history,  so naturally there is a great deal of material well communicated by voice. Alan Ginsberg’s reading of his poem, “Howl” which he wrote already in the mid-fifties,  comes at the beginning of the show. It is fascinating since it prefigures the entire counterculture movement. Unfortunately, there is a lot of sound bleed so it is difficult for my old ears to be able to distinguish where the sound is coming from or understand what I am listening to.

There is an admirable effort in this exhibition to show how southwest counterculture  differed from that of the east coast.  Haight-Ashbury in San Franciso which became famous as a hippie capital and cradle of the Gay Rights Movement had its equivalent in the southwest where  Taos, New Mexico was the refuge of the hippies.

A section of the show deals with the best known of the communes, The Hog Farm, started in California. In the mid 60’s they moved to New York and by 1969 they bought land in Llano, New Mexico near Taos, still they agreed to stay and be involved with the Woodstock Music Festival  building fire pits, trails and a free kitchen.  Here is a video by Roberta Price a well known photographer giving a good idea of the concept of the exhibition.  It is called across the great divide and made in 1969.  Music from the story “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell.

One of the catalog essays is by Rina Swentzell, a native of Santa Clara pueblo who became a very close friend when we started to settled in Santa Fe. She wrote about early life and marriage to Ralph Swentzell, an Anglo, and of their time in Taos when they were absorbed in the counterculture life. Even when her husband became a teacher at St. John’s College and they built their own lovely home in Santa Fe, they would rent it out to those coming for the opera season and spend weeks at a time in a VW bus traveling around the country.  That did not change after their three daughters were born.


Peyote, Marijuana, Timothy Leary and LSD were all associated with the counterculture movement of the 60’s and 70’s. Even though Peyote was smoked by the Indians since time immemorial, in 1937 a law was passed against smoking any leaf that could produce a high.


Free love, drugs, back to the land, I regret never having participated in any of these and I have always ascribed it to cowardice!  On the other hand, they have always been fantasies of mine and this exhibition reawakened those fantasies.  I saw others at the show clearly reminiscing about the years of their youth .

I-Witness Culture

May I start out with a couple of generalizations that I will apologize for before hand.   Artistic talent tends to be passed down in Native American families from generation to generation.  As an even larger generalization, Native American artists tend to be more articulate about their art than their Anglo counterparts.  This is borne out by the painter Frank Buffalo Hyde.

My wife, Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, writes a regular column for El Palacio, the magazine of the new Mexico state museums, called “Why This?” and just finished a draft on a sculpture by Doug Hyde, called “Sharing Knowledge”,  that stands in front of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on Santa Fe’s “Museum Hill”.  For her article she needed to measure the piece and since we were there we went into the museum for the exhibition of the paintings of the sculptor’s son, Frank Buffalo Hyde.   In fact, I had seen his work in galleries around town before and admired it.  All the pieces in the exhibition that I have illustrated are on loan from Tansey Contemporary.

Needless to say, much of Frank Buffalo Hyde’s subject matter revolves around the buffalo, but there was a lot else, and this show has little to do with that noble beast.  It is called “I-Witness Culture” and both the images and the text accompanying it left me with a lot to think about it.   In a recent issue of El Palacio the artist writes a brief article in which he thanks the museum for allowing him to co-curate the show, making this an even more personal exhibition and portrait of the artist.

Hyde’s thesis is that we miss viewing reality because there is always a recording device, most often the I-Phone, between the viewer and the subject matter.  He wrote “We don’t witness anything first hand any longer.  Our first reaction to anything that happens in real life is to record it.”  I must admit that I felt a pang of guilt at that moment because as soon as I saw the first painting in the show I photographed it and then its label.  So much easier that copying the label onto a pad and then having to ask the museum department for images which I may or may not receive in time for publication.   I had to admit that Hyde had a point, but, in my defense, I did always look at the image first because I would have to make the editorial decision later of which images would fit the story that I would write.


Hyde painted the picture above called The New New, 2017 as an introduction to his show in order to guide the viewer.  What is reality?  The dancers?  The viewer holding the I-Phone or the image in the phone?   He believes it is the new way of seeing.

Zombie Nation, 2016 is interesting to me since our son, Hunter, an actor and screen-writer has always been into this subject which I am still not sure I understand.  Clearly, however, it has been absorbed into the Native American culture as well.  Maybe it is our fascination with what comes next.


Just the Fax, 2017 seems to sum up the exhibition very nicely.  Before the iPhone and before we could send images by email, there was the fax machine.  I remember very well working on catalogs with our publisher in the early 1990’s when we were in Santa Fe and she was in New York.  Back then we relied on FedEx and the fax.


To end on a point of humor, which I choose to believe the artist meant, I am illustrating his Buffalo Burger Study, 2014 for which I will include the artist’s whole label, “Like Native Americans, the buffalo are often relegated to mythology of America’s past.  They have made a comeback in the last two decades, but only as a low-fat beef alternative”.  Sometimes the most poignant statements are couched in humor.