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.