Seen in Tribeca: The Tribeca Performing Arts Center was definitely the place to be for anyone who works in the world of theatre design or any type of live entertainment or event design the week of June 20th. TPAC was the home of the 2005 Broadway Lighting Master Classes from Monday through Wed.; the Broadway Sound Master Classes from Wednesday through Friday; and the first-ever Broadway Projection Master Classes Thursday and Friday. Wednesday night marked the annual EDDY Awards given out by Entertainment Design magazine and it proved to be a roaring success as usual. Aside from the Broadway design legends Jules Fisher, Wendall K. Harrington, and Abe Jacob—who also served as creative consultants for the classes--also in attendance were Peggy Eisenhauer, John Kilgore, Brian MacDevitt, Don Holder, Andrew Bruce, John Lee Beatty, Heidi Ettinger, David Gallo, and many, many more. Awards were given out to designers, sound products, lighting products, and staging and projection projects.
Attendees were treated to a host of sessions featuring the above-mentioned designers and others, not to mention daily manufacturers showcases that gave students the opportunity to check out the latest gear. Since there were three sets of classes, there were also three sets of showcases featuring manufacturers such as Barco, High End Systems, Vari-Lite, Apollo, Doug Fleenor Design, EAW, Meyer Sound, Altman Lighting, d&b audiotechnik, Martin, ETC, City Theatrical, A.C.T Lighting, Autograph A2D, Lectrosonics, Inc. LCS Audio, Compulite Systems, NEXO, Strand Lighting, Strong Entertainment Lighting, Yamaha, TMB, Selecon, TiMax, Scharff Weisberg, PRG, Riedel Communications, Inc., Thematics, A.C. Lighting, Field Template, Lee Filters, InLight, and 4Wall East.
As if the classes, manufacturers showcases, catered lunches, and cocktail receptions weren’t enough, attendees to the BLMC got the chance to see Don Holder’s incredible lighting design for the Broadway hit Movin’ Out and BSMC were treated to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to observe its magnificent sound design by award-winning designers Andrew Bruce and Simon Baker of Autograph Sound in London. All in all it was a very full week for anyone who was lucky enough to attend what is easily the biggest gathering of legendary theatre designers, not to mention the students who will no doubt be accepting their own Tony Awards for design one day soon!
Seen off-Broadway: Until July 10th, the New Victory Theatre on 42nd Street is hosting Cirque Eloize’s Rain, which has been called a budget-conscious Cirque du Soleil, but that description does not do the show justice. There are no fancy sets, costumes, or array of special effects. There are not half a dozen rigs of moving lights deposited throughout the theatre. There is just a troupe of acrobats who defy physics, not to mention the strength of the human body, on a simple stage. Their feats are amazing and leave the audience gasping time and time again. There is a bit of silliness as the performers mill about like friends after school has let out and that adds to Rain’s simple charms. The lighting by Martin Labrecque sits fairly still (although Nicholas Descoteaux programmed the moving lights) and depends upon the correct placement of a few shafts of stark white light here and there. The lighting’s simplicity is daring considering what similar productions have, but its understatement is appreciated and never steals focus from the talented performers. Meredith Caron’s costumes, like the lighting, are deceptively simple, and startlingly effective. No performers are half-human/half-beast. There are no elaborate headdresses (actually, a couple of the performers become headdresses) or capes or other accoutrements. The focus of the show is simply the amazing talent of the performers. Also, Guillaume Lord's set design was a minmalist's dream, with just a few props here and there, most of which were juggled or balanced upon. With tickets to Rain roughly a quarter of what it cost me to attend Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai on Randall’s Island, this little show that could is an ideal antidote to a fairly dead theatre season…and you can get there on the subway! Now that’s a bargain!
Seen at the Movies: Well he’s done it again. George A. Romero, that is. The man who invented the flesh-eating zombie genre is back and he is the undisputed master to be reckoned with! Land of the Dead is probably the best zombie movie ever made and it even has actors in it you’ve heard of—John Leguizamo, Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper. In this sequel of sequels, the world is now overrun with the cannibalistic undead. The living—if you can call them that—are sequestered away in a city that is cut off from the suburbs by rivers and electrified fences. It was hard to tell which city was featured but it seemed to resemble Pittsburgh. Hopper is the megalomaniacal mogul, Howard Kauffman, who owns Fiddlers Green, the bright shiny tower that is apparently the only building in town with electricity. Of course he’s crooked. Moral: power corrupts. Baker plays Riley, one of Hopper’s employees who goes out into the countryside to get supplies so that Hopper’s tenants can live like, well, normal people. Baker runs astray of Hopper while Cholo (Leguizamo) steals Dead Reckoning, the tank/truck/bus/RV vehicle that he, Baker, and company use to go out on their scavenger hunts. So Baker is drafted out of jail by Hopper to find the vehicle and he takes his buddies—the burnt, mentally challenged Charlie and Slack, the tattooed hooker—and away they go. People die, get eaten, come back to life. You know, the usual zombie fare. The production design by Arvinder Grewal is decidedly apocalyptic with a high-tech edge. Outside of the city’s walls, it is interesting to see were normal life suddenly stopped and the surreal life, as it were, began. The costumes by Alex Kavanagh could have easily been raided from the wardrobe departments of Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier, or Newsradio…then torn to shreds, bloodied, ripped, etc. to outfit the zombies. The actual living are also dressed in the future tense, but not too distant future. DP Miroslaw Baszak did a stellar job of not hiding any of the gore in this darker than dark movie. Seriously, who teaches you the right amount of light for a disemboweling? One warning: this is the absolutely grossest movie I have ever seen, and I mean that in the best way possible!--Mark A. Newman
Even 4th of July weekend there are alternatives to be found to the summer blockbusters colonizing multiplexes like the aliens in War of the Worlds. Speaking of colonies, a more idiosyncratic group than the 4’ tall emperor penguins that populate Luc Jacquet’s visually stunning documentary March of the Penguins is difficult to imagine. Every year, thousands of these aquatic birds leave the well stocked comfort of their ocean feeding grounds to trek scores of miles into the Antarctic interior. There, on a desolate ice field, they pair up, breed, and produce a single egg, which must be zealously guarded from the elements, as must the chick that eventually emerges. Male and female emperors spell each other during this months-long activity, taking turns making the long trip back to the sea to feed after weeks of starvation.
Jacquet’s two directors of photography, Laurent Chalet and Jerome Maison, spent nearly a year in Antarctica recording this activity on 16mm film, with Maison also in charge of capturing sound. Some of the images are extraordinary, including the opening long shot of the penguins shuffling in single file on their journey, looking like monks on an icy pilgrimage, and a painfully intimate view of one penguin parent transferring a delicate egg to the other’s care. The print I saw of March of the Penguins still had the French soundtrack, with distractingly anthropomorphic voices assigned to the subjects; for the American release, this has been replaced with a more traditional documentary narration, spoken by Morgan Freeman.
Pawel Pawlikowski, the Polish-born director of the 2000 British gem Last Resort, has delivered an even more effective film in My Summer of Love, set in small-town West Yorkshire. It tells the story of Mona (Natalie Press) and Tamsin (Emily Blunt), two lonely teenage girls from divergent socioeconomic backgrounds who find companionship, love, and subsequent betrayal with each other one hot summer. (The movie was filmed during England’s blistering 2003 heat wave.) The performances of the two girls, as well as of Paddy Considine, who plays Mona’s ex-con, born-again brother, are remarkable, and the movie has a nearly tactile sensuality. Cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski keeps the viewer very close to the actresses, following their improvisatory lead with his handheld Super 16 camera and zoom lenses. Production designer John Stevenson does an evocative job contrasting Tamsin’s lush country house environment with the apartment above the family bar Mona shares with her brother. The bar has turned into a desolate location since Considine’s character found Jesus and shuttered it, but Mona attempts to enliven her surroundings by creating vivid drawings on the walls of her room. The distinctions between the two characters, whose worlds cross but remain separate, are further elucidated by costume designer Julian Day.--John Calhoun