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Archive for the ‘Performances’ Category

We’re in Columbia, SC, and staying at our usual place, the Riverside Inn. Talk about a throwback. Stay here and you’re instantly transported back to the motels you used to go to with your parents in the 50’s and 60’s. Straight shower rods — can you believe it?

Still, we like it. It’s modest (of course), clean, cheap, peaceful, AAA-approved and friendly. One of the clerks went to high school with some of my Callison cousins. You can walk to campus over the Broad River bridge or hike a trail along the river. I couldn’t find a vintage postcard of the Riverside and they don’t even appear to have a website, but here’s a nice one from Guy Clinch’s photostream of old motel cards on Flickr. It’s the Bon-Air motel in Allendale, SC, from about 1970, so same vintage.

We’re here to see our son John in the University of South Carolina opera’s production of Mr. Scrooge. It’s a small piece, about 35 minutes long. Composer Samuel O. Douglas is on the faculty at the USC School of Music. It was composed in the 1970’s and was featured on a national PBS broadcast at the time.

Opera at USC is presenting it with another 1-act of very different tone, Miss Havisham’s Wedding Day by Dominick Argento, as a Dickens double bill. John was great as Marley, who is of course a ghost. An interesting challenge to sing with linen winding sheets wrapped around your head. I had never thought of this before, but apparently the purpose of such things was to keep the jaw attached to the skull after burial. Have a nice day.

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Our son John the opera singer sent us three recordings he made recently at the University of South Carolina. I think they’re the best he’s ever recorded.

They are:

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Last week I attended a demonstration of the presentation style PechaKucha (alternatively Pecha Kucha, or just PK). Named for the Japanese term for “chit-chat,” it was developed in Japan as a way of combating the familiar phenomenon of “death by PowerPoint.” Based on one exposure – eh, maybe.

In theory it couldn’t be simpler: 20 x 20, or 20 slides, 20 seconds each, 6 minutes 40 seconds precisely. That’s it. You can see the correspondence with the Japanese esthetic of haiku, to take one example: 3 lines, 17 syllables. The idea is to strip content from the tyranny of bullet points and pare it down to its essence. Not surprisingly, since it was developed by artists and architects, the focus is on images, not text.

PechaKucha is pronounced pe-chak-cha, by the way. Since its beginning in February 2003, PK has spread virally to cities around the world; here in Cincinnati there have been three instances of PechaKucha Night (r) — yes, that’s a registered trademark — in the past year. The emphasis on night is a further reflection of its social/artistic origins, and the distance between PK on the one hand and business and academic presentations on the other. Not that the latter couldn’t use a little shaking up — but I’m not sure PK is it.

To be fair, the presentations I saw did not appear for the most part to have been produced from the ground up in this style; they looked more like conventional presentations re-worked to fit PK. The biggest problem I saw is that the form in essence demands not a single presentation but a series of 20 micro-presentations. Because presenters needed to view their screens to keep the timing right, there was not much eye contact with their audiences. Quite often the comments on individual slides went long, but ones that were too short were even more problematic.

I know from my radio experience that one of its indispensable skills is the ability to match vocal content to a precise length in a hide-the-artifice way. Doing that 20 times in a row is an enormous task. Comments of 18 or 22 seconds — even comments of 19 or 21 seconds — don’t quite get it. And if it’s not done right, the technique calls attention to itself in a bad way: the audience pays less attention to the presentation because they’re wondering if the speaker will make it. Over and over again.

I hope to attend a PK night in Cincinnati and see how artists and architects do it. I’d love to be proved wrong, but I suspect that the power of this form is not going to transfer very well to more formal settings, where innovative concepts like those from TED.com may be better bets (or Garr Reynolds’ approach in Presentation Zen, also inspired by Japanese models).

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Ohio Light Opera

Our son John the vocal performance major had good news this week. He was offered a Young Artist Scholarship to the Ohio Light Opera at the College of Wooster in Wooster, OH. It’s a summer festival of Gilbert & Sullivan, light operas and operettas, and some Broadway. He’ll get a scholarship, room and board, small roles in Kismet and Gypsy, and be in the chorus for 4 others. He’ll be up there from late May through early August. He’s very excited.

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ByeByeBirdieI enjoy the musical Bye-Bye Birdie. For one thing, I’ll always be a fan of Dick Van Dyke, star of the greatest TV sitcom ever. He had the lead role on Broadway and was in the 60’s movie.

But I don’t get the current fascination with the show. High school and amateur groups all over are doing it. Songs from it are on TV commercials. There are plans to put it on Broadway this fall and release a new movie version in 2011. I mean, “Put on a Happy Face,”, “Kids!” and the other songs are lots of fun. But why has this bit of 60’s fluff — yes, I said fluff — hit the zeitgeist bullseye?

I’m not complaining. Our son John has the lead in Cincinnati’s East Side Players production this summer. I’m just curious.

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George & Emily

George & Emily

On April 24, 2009, Jenny and I attended a University of South Carolina opera production of Ned Rorem’s Our Town, based on Thornton Wilder’s classic play. We enjoyed it, especially the small part our son played in it (“Man in the Audience”). :-). The New York Times praised it when it premiered in 2006, but Opera News was not so kind in 2008, and even Rorem’s own web site doesn’t seem to bother much with it. (more…)

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Here’s a link to a video of John Callison singing Oh, What a Beautiful Morning from his high school musical Oklahoma! in March, 2006.

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