Brooklyn Academy of Music Puts Online 70,000 Objects Documenting the History of the Performing Arts: Download Playbills, Posters & More

Yesterday the sad news broke that The Village Voice will discontinue its print edition. Co-founded by Norman Mailer in 1955 and providing New Yorkers with savvy music writing, raunchy advice columns, juicy exposés, reviews, entertainment listings, apartments, jobs, band members, terrible roommates, and pretty much anything else one might desire every week for over half a century, the paper will be missed. Though it won’t disappear online, the loss of the street-level copy in its comfortingly familiar red plastic box marks the abrupt end of an era. Those of us inclined to mourn its passing can take some solace in the fact that so many of the city’s key cultural institutions still persist.

Prominent among them, Brooklyn’s Academy of Music, or BAM, has been at it since 1861, when it began as the home of the Philharmonic Society of Brooklyn. It has inhabited its present Beaux Arts building in Fort Greene since 1908. In its 150 years as a performance space for opera, classical, avant-garde theater, dance, and music, and film, BAM has amassed quite a collection of memorabilia. This year, on its century-and-a-half anniversary, it has made 70,000 of those artifacts available to the public in its Leon Levy Digital Archive. Like future issues of the Voice, you cannot hold these in your hand, unless you happen to be one of the museum’s curators. But “researchers—or anyone else interested,” writes The New York Times, “can create personalized collections based on specific artists, companies or eras.”

The history represented here is vast and deep, by a young country’s standards. “Every presidential candidate made campaign stops there before there was television,” says former BAM president Karen Brooks Hopkins. “Mary Todd Lincoln was in the audience during the opening week of festivities. Then you have [Rudolph] Nuryev making his first performance in the West just after he defects, [Martha] Graham performing her last performance on stage….” These landmark moments notwithstanding, BAM has earned a reputation as a home for avant-garde performance art, and the collection certainly reflects that dimension among the 40,000 artists represented.

We have further up the postcard Keith Haring designed for a 1984 Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane piece called Secret Pastures (Haring also designed the sets). We have the poster above for a 1981 performance of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha, his opera based on the life of Gandhi. And below, a poster for the 1983 world premier of Laurie Anderson’s United States: Parts I-IV. These objects come from BAM’s Next Wave Festival collection, which contains many thousands of photographs, playbills, and posters from the space’s more experimental side, many, though not all of them, downloadable.

Between the Civil War memorabilia and modernist documents, you’ll find all sorts of fascinating ephemera: photos of a very young Meryl Streep and Christopher Lloyd in a 1977 production of Happy End at the Chelsea Theater during a BAM Spring Series, or of an older Patrick Stewart in a 2008 Macbeth. Just below, we have a charming playing card featuring the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Peter Jay Sharp building in 1909, the year after it was built. It’s an imposing structure that seems like it might last forever, though much of the vibrant creative work featured year after year at BAM may someday also move entirely into digital spaces. Enter the complete BAM digital archive here.

via The New York Times/Hyperallergic

Related Content:

The Theater Dictionary: A Free Video Guide to Theatre Lingo

A Minimal Glimpse of Philip Glass

Google Gives You a 360° View of the Performing Arts, From the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Paris Opera Ballet

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Franz Kafka’s Unfinished Novel, The Castle, Gets Turned Into an Album by Czech Musicians: Watch a Music Video for the Song, “The Grave”

If, for some unfathomable reason, author Franz Kafka should emerge from his grave to direct a music video, the result would most certainly resemble the one for "The Grave" by The Kafka Band, above.

The air of futility and social foreboding…

The chilly broken landscape, rendered in black and white…

Bikinis and bling…

(Kidding! Overcoats and haggard expressions.)

"The Grave" was directed by animator, Noro Holder, but the lyrics are credited to Kafka, drawn directly from his unfinished novel, The Castle. As the band’s name might imply, this is no fickle flirtation with the author’s sensibilities.

"The Grave" is actually part of a ten-song album inspired by The Castle. (Stream it on Spotify below.) As bandmate, author Jaroslav Rudiš, observed:

Kafka is often deemed as a dark author, yet we strive to challenge this cliché. The novel possesses plenty of black and absurd humour, which we reflected in some of our compositions.

The album led to a collaboration with Germany’s Theater Bremen on a theatrical adaptation that featured the music played live.

The moody woodcut-inspired visuals seen above come from a graphic novel adaptation of The Castle illustrated by Rudiš’ bandmate, Jaromír 99, in collaboration with David Zane Mairowitz, an American playwright who previously tackled Kafka’s The Trial

At the point where another group might decide to take a detour into sunnier territory---a pop romp through the oeuvre of Milan Kundera perhaps---the Kafka Band is doubling down on another coproduction with Theater Bremen, an adaptation of Kafka’s novel Amerika (or The Man Who Disappeared), slated to open this fall.

The Grave

I’m dreaming of

Being with you

Without interruption

On earth

There is no space

For our love

Not in the village

Not anywhere else.

Deep in the earth / around us only death / the living won’t find us.

I’m imagining a grave

Deep and tight

We hold each other

My face next to yours

Yours next to mine

Nobody will ever see us

On earth there is no space

For our love.

Deep in the earth / around us only death / the living won’t find us.

Watch the video for "Arrival," another track inspired by The Castle, with drawings by Jaromír 99 here.

Related Content:

Metamorfosis: Franz Kafka’s Best-Known Short Story Gets Adapted Into a Tim Burtonesque Spanish Short Film

Four Franz Kafka Animations: Enjoy Creative Animated Shorts from Poland, Japan, Russia & Canada

Franz Kafka’s Existential Parable “Before the Law” Gets Brought to Life in a Striking, Modern Animation

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and theater maker, soon to be appearing in a clown adaptation of Faust, inspired by the current administration and opening in New York City this June. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Every Poem in Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal” Set to Music, Illustrated and Performed Live

Charles Baudelaire must be a joyful corpse indeed. His work has succeeded as few others’ have, to be so passionately alive 150 years after his death.

Theater Oobleck, a Chicago artistic collective dedicated to creating original affordable theatrical works, has spent the last eleven years assembling Baudelaire in a Box, a cantastoria cycle based on Les Fleurs du Mal.

Why?

Because he would be so irritated. Because he might be charmed

There is a touch of vaudeville and cabaret in Baudelaire. He tended to go big or go home. Home to his mother.

Because he invented the term “modernity” and even now no one quite knows what it means. Because he wrote a poetry of immersion perfectly suited to the transience and Now-ness of song and of the Ever-Moving scroll. Because we never had a proper goth phase. Sex and death! For all these reasons, and for the true one that remains just out of our grasp.

Each new installment features a line-up of musicians performing live adaptations of another 10 to 15 poems, as artist Dave Buchen’s painted illustrations slowly spool past on hand-turned “crankies.”

The resulting “proto music videos” are voluptuously intimate affairs, with plenty of time to reflect upon the original texts’ explicit sexuality, the gorgeous urban decay that so preoccupied one of Romantic poetry’s naughtiest boys.

The instruments and musical palate---klezmer, alt-country, antifolk---are befitting of the interpreters’ well honed downtown sensibilities. The lyrics are drunk on their dark imagery.

The entire project makes for the sort of extravagantly eccentric night out that might lead a young poet to lean close to his blind date, mid-show, to whisper “Wouldn’t it be agreeable to take a bath with me?” No word on whether that line worked for the poéte maudit, who reportedly issued such an invitation to a friend mid-sentence.

This August, Theater Oobleck intends to observe the sesquicentennial of Baudelaire’s death in grand style with a marathon performance of the complete Baudelaire in a Box, a three-day effort involving 50 artists and over 130 poems.

Allow a few past examples to set the mood:

The Offended Moon From Episode 9 of Baudelaire In A Box, "Unquenched." Composed and translated by David Costanza. Emmy Bean: vocal, Ronnie Kuller: accordion, T-Roy Martin trombone, David E. Smith: clarinet, Chris Schoen: vocal, Joey Spilberg: bass.

The Denial of St. Peter Composed, translated and performed by Sad Brad Smith, with Emmy Bean (hand percussion), Ronnie Kuller (accordion), T-Roy Martin (trombone), Chris Schoen (mandolin), and Joey Spilberg (bass).

The Drag Music composed by Ronnie Kuller, to Mickle Maher's translation of "L'Avertisseur" by Charles Baudelaire. Performed by: Emmy Bean (vocal, percussion), Angela James (vocal), Ronnie Kuller (piano, percussion), T-Roy Martin (vocal), Chris Schoen (vocal), David E. Smith (saxophone), and Joey Spilberg (bass).

The Hard(-est) Working Skeleton Music by Amy Warren, Performed by Nora O'Connor, with Addie Horan, Amalea Tshilds, Kate Douglas, James Becker and Ted Day.

The Possessed Written and performed by Jeff Dorchen.

You can listen to and purchase songs from Episodes 7 (the King of Rain) and 9 (Unquenched) on Bandcamp.

Some of the participating musicians have released their own albums featuring tracks of their Baudelaire-based tunes.

Theater Oobleck is raising funds for the upcoming Closed Casket: The Complete, Final, and Absolutely Last Baudelaire in a Box on Kickstarter, with music and prints and originals of Buchen’s work among the premiums at various pledge levels.

All images used with permission of artist Dave Buchen.

Related Content:

Great 19 Century Poems Read in French: Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine & More

Baudelaire, Balzac, Dumas, Delacroix & Hugo Get a Little Baked at Their Hash Club (1844-1849)

Henri Matisse Illustrates Baudelaire’s Censored Poetry Collection, Les Fleurs du Mal

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She will be appearing in a live excerpt from CB Goodman’s How to Kill an Elephant this Friday at Dixon Place in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Sad 7-Foot Tall Clown Sings “Pinball Wizard” in the Style of Johnny Cash, and Other Hits by Roy Orbison, Cheap Trick & More

Readers, are you overcome with the Friday Feels?

Puddles Pity Party, a 6’8” Pierrot from Atlanta, empathizes.

The ‘Sad Clown with the Golden Voice’ has taken to releasing emotionally-freighted covers on select Fridays.

There’s something about a giant sad singing clown that comforts us, let’s us know it’s ok to feel, to show our feelings. It’s a sad and beautiful world, and we’re all in it together, even when we’re totally alone.

So quoth Big Mike Geier, the founder and frontman of the band Kingsized, and the man behind Puddles’ white makeup and rickrack-trimmed clown suit.




Whatever he’s tapped into, it’s real. The New York Times’ Jason Zinnoman, in a slightly skeeved-out think piece on clowns last year, wrote:

What makes him transcend the trope is his vulnerability. When you first see him charging down the aisle, he’s an intimidating figure, but his body is actually not aggressive. It slumps, passively. When he asks for a hug, it looks as if he really needs it. He makes you feel bad for finding him off-putting, and then he belts out a lovely song.

Friday, March 3 found Puddles accompanying himself on a red guitar for “It’s a Heartache,” a hit for Bonnie Tyler and later, Rod Stewart. They both have their strengths, but Puddles is uniquely suited to tap into the heartache of 'standing in the cold rain, feeling like a clown."

A previous Friday Feel, Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” was a fan request. (Yes, he’s still taking them.)

The video for “She’s Gone Again”---previously covered by Don Ho---touches on Puddles’  obsession with actor Kevin Costner.

February 10’s Friday Feel brought new listeners to a younger artist, Brett Dennen. Puddles praised his "Heaven" as “beautiful and thoughtful song,” confessing that he “barely held it together on this one.” Also see Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" down below.

The piece de resistance, wherein the lyrics of Pinball Wizard are sung to the tune of Folsom Prison Blues, is at the top of the page. It’s no great surprise that that one’s gone viral. Puddles is transparent, however, giving credit to the late Gregory Dean Smalley, an Atlanta-based songwriter who died of AIDS in the late 90s:

 Back in 1994 or so, I saw (him) perform this mashup at the Star Community Bar. I was floored. Greg was a force of supernatural proportions and he is missed. Many people have done it prior to me doing it. I guess it was always meant to be.

You can listen to more of Puddles Pity Party on Spotify, or support the artist with a purchase on Google Play or iTunes. Subscribe to his youtube channel to stay abreast of future Friday Feels, or request a song.

via BoingBoing

Related Content:

Watch Stephen Sondheim Teach a Kid How to Sing “Send In the Clowns”

Johnny Cash & Joe Strummer Sing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” (2002)       

Hear Johnny Cash Deliver Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Sinclair Lewis’ Chilling Play, It Can’t Happen Here: A Read-Through by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre

As a number of commentators have noted, it has already happened here in the past---that is, the fervid nativism, immigration bans, and mass deportations, the nationalist, fanatically religious, anti-democratic militancy… many of the characteristics of American authoritarianism, in other words. In the political climate we face today, these strains have come together in some very overt ways, under the leadership of a purportedly charismatic leader who swayed millions of followers with the promise of renewed “greatness.”

The questions that now arise are those once asked by It Can’t Happen Here, the 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis that imagined the election of a charismatic leader who promises greatness, “then quickly becomes a dictator,” writes the American Library Association’s Public Programs Office, “enacting martial law and throwing dissenters into labor camps.” The novel resonated with a public increasingly concerned about rising dictatorships in Europe, as well as the growing power of the presidency at home. “Shortly after it was published,” the ALA notes, “the novel was recreated as a play and opened in 21 cities nationwide on October 27, 1936.”

You can see some still images of an original It Can’t Happen Here production in the video above about the Federal Theater Project. Last year---almost eighty years after the play’s debut and just days before the presidential election---several dozen theaters, universities, and libraries across the country held readings of Lewis' theatrical adaptation. See one such reading at the top of the post, performed on October 24 at the Yolo County Library in Northern California by the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, who at the time also staged a full, two part production of It Can’t Happen Here that was both “thrilling and grim,” as Alexander Nazaryan writes at The New Yorker. (See a trailer below)

The Berkeley Rep’s production significantly rewrote Lewis’ adaptation, which they decided was “terrible.” But the novel itself is not quite a literary masterpiece. “Lewis was never much of an artist,” Nanaryan notes, “but what he lacked in style he made up for with social observation.” While his skills as a close observer of American political tendencies may still be unmatched, the prescience of his novel in imagining the situation we find ourselves in today may have as much to do with Lewis’ abilities as with the recurrence of certain depressing themes in American political life. As Alex Wagner writes at The Atlantic, the mass deportations and raids on immigrant populations that have now increased in cities nationwide saw a chilling precedent in the 1920s and 30s, “a time of economic struggle, racial resentment and increasing xenophobia.”

Then, Herbert Hoover, “promised jobs for Americans—and made good on that promise by slashing immigration by nearly 90 percent” and deporting as many as “1.8 million men, women and children” of Mexican descent or with “a Mexican-sounding name.” As many as sixty percent of those deported were U.S. citizens. We’ve seen in recent months numerous comparisons of our current political situation to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. While these may be warranted in many respects, they may also be superfluous. To understand the origins of racist authoritarianism in America, we need only look back to several moments in our own history, those that Lewis closely observed and satirized in a novel that once again shows us an image of the country that many people have chosen not to see.

This reading will be added to our list, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

Related Content:

How to Recognize a Dystopia: Watch an Animated Introduction to Dystopian Fiction

George Orwell’s Final Warning: Don’t Let This Nightmare Situation Happen. It Depends on You!

Philosopher Richard Rorty Chillingly Predicts the Results of the 2016 Election … Back in 1998

900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Kurt Vonnegut Gives a Sermon on the Foolishness of Nuclear Arms: It’s Timely Again (Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1982)

Image by Daniele Prati, via Flickr Commons

Many writers recoil at the notion of discussing where they get their ideas, but Kurt Vonnegut spoke on the subject willingly. "I get my ideas from dreams," he announced early in one speech, adding, "the wildest dream I have had so far is about The New Yorker magazine." In this dream, "the magazine has published a three-part essay by Jonathan Schell which proves that life on Earth is about to end. I am supposed to go to the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, where all the people are waiting, and say something wonderful — right before a hydrogen bomb is dropped on the Empire State Building."

It stands to reason that a such a vivid, frightening, and somehow funny scenario would unfold in the unconscious mind of a man who wrote such vivid, frightening, and somehow funny novels. (Vonnegut's own interpretation? "I consider myself an important writer, and I think The New Yorker should be ashamed that it has never published me.") As it happens, he did deliver these words in a cathedral, namely New York City's Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the spring of 1982.

This was just months after Schell's three-part essay "The Fate of the Earth" (all three parts of it still available online) really ran in The New Yorker, and Cold War fears about the probability of a hydrogen bomb really dropping on America ran high. Vonnegut's speech was one of a series of Sunday sermons the Cathedral had lined up on the subject of nuclear disarmament, assembling the rest of the roster from military, scientific, and activist fields. The author of Cat's CradleSlaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast of Champions---fresh off a trip to the Galapagos Islands with the St. John the Divine's Bishop Paul Moore---presumably represented the realm of letters.

"At the time, NYPR Archives Director Andy Lanset covered the Vonnegut sermon as a volunteer for the WNYC News Department," wrote WNYC's William Rodney Allen in 2014 on the rediscovery and posting of Lanset's recording. (The same public radio station, incidentally, would fifteen or so years later commission Vonnegut for a series of reports from the afterlife.) Now we can not only read but also hear Vonnegut, in his own voice, trying to imagine aloud a series of "fates worse than death." Why? Not simply to indulge his famous sense of gallows humor, but in order to put the nuclear threat, and the anxieties it generated, into the proper context.

"I am sure you are sick and tired of hearing how all living things sizzle and pop inside a radioactive fireball," Vonnegut says, going on to assure his audience that "scientists, for all their creativity, will never discover a method for making people deader than dead. So if some of you are worried about being hydrogen-bombed, you are merely fearing death. There is nothing new in that. If there weren't any hydrogen bombs, death would still be after you."

In any event, despite having shuffled through several candidates ("Life without petroleum?"), Vonnegut can come up with no fate believably worse than death besides crucifixion. But given that non-crucified human beings nearly always and everywhere prefer life to death, perhaps "we might pray to be rescued from our inventiveness" which gave us the ability to destroy all life on Earth. But "the inventiveness which we so regret now may also be giving us, along with the rockets and warheads, the means to achieve what has hitherto been an impossibility, the unity of mankind."

Vonnegut sees this promise mainly in television, whose terribly realistic sounds and images ensure that "the people of every industrialized nation are nauseated by war by the time they are ten years old." A veteran of the Second World War, he himself remembers a very different time, back when "it used to be necessary for a young soldier to get into fighting before he became disillusioned about war," back when "it was unusual for an American, or a person of any nationality, for that matter, to know much about foreigners."

Even before the 1980s, "thanks to modern communications, we have seen sights and heard sounds from virtually every square mile of the land mass on this planet," and so "know for certain that there are no potential human enemies anywhere who are anything but human beings almost exactly like ourselves. They need food. How amazing. They love their children. How amazing. They obey their leaders. How amazing. They think like their neighbors. How amazing."

Modern communications have, of course, come astonishingly far in the 35 years since Vonnegut's Sunday sermon, but our fears about nuclear annihilation have had a way of resurfacing. In recent months, the American people have even heard talk of a reinvigorated nuclear arms race from their new president, a man whose rise detractors partly blame on modern communication technology — not a lack of it, but an excess.

"The global village that was once the internet has been replaced by digital islands of isolation that are drifting further apart each day," writes Mostafa M. El-Bermawy in a Wired piece on the threat social-media "filter bubbles" pose to democracy. "We need to remind ourselves that there are humans on the other side of the screen who want to be heard and can think and feel like us while at the same time reaching different conclusions." Recent developments would probably disappoint Vonnegut (not that they would surprise him), but he'd surely get a kick, as he always did, out of the irony of it all.

Related Content:

Kurt Vonnegut: Where Do I Get My Ideas From? My Disgust with Civilization

In 1988, Kurt Vonnegut Writes a Letter to People Living in 2088, Giving 7 Pieces of Advice

22-Year-Old P.O.W. Kurt Vonnegut Writes Home from World War II: “I’ll Be Damned If It Was Worth It”

Hear Kurt Vonnegut Visit the Afterlife & Interview Dead Historical Figures: Isaac Newton, Adolf Hitler, Eugene Debs & More (Audio, 1998)

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Incensed Letter to the High School That Burned Slaughterhouse-Five

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Theater Dictionary: A Free Video Guide to Theatre Lingo

It's 11 o'clock. Do you know where your showstoppers are? Or, more to the point, do you know why a musical-comedy writing team seeks to orient its showstopping number at “eleven o’clock”?

The Theater Development Fund’s Theatre Dictionary is an ongoing attempt to define and document theater terms for both the rabble and any budding practitioners who’ve yet to master the lingo.




Each term is accompanied by a loopy slapdash skit. Not all of the performers exhibit the pedigree Veronica J. Kuehn and Nick Kohn of Avenue Q bring to “Eleven O'Clock Number,” above, but casting administrators and ticket booth reps in starring roles lend a homey egalitarianism, such as when students from the Yale School of Drama’s Department of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism are given free license to explore the origins of “vom.”

(This loosey goosey approach also allows for uncredited appearances by other theatrical tropes---the marathon rehearsals where popcorn constitutes lunch and one actor repeatedly complains that his work has been insufficiently acknowledged.)

A “What Does This Word Mean” tab for each term anchors the video silliness, providing historical and anecdotal context. It’s in keeping with the Dictionary’s greater goal of bringing theater to the people, letting everyone play with the toys.

Some of the definitions are practical shorthand…

Others are couched in longtime, possibly archaic theater lore…

I’d exercise caution with some of this lingo. Even though many of these terms are born of practicality, overusing them may cause others to view you as the most obnoxious of self-declared Triple Threats, the kid in the comedy-tragedy mask sweatshirt, prone to belting out the entire soundtrack of CATS at the slightest provocation. (“Thanks, 5!!!”)

Some of these terms have unexpected crossover appeal, most recently Ghost Light, above. Knowing the meaning of the term will help you better appreciate the power of the Ghostlight Project, a post-election coming together of theater artists and audiences in defense and support of vulnerable communities.

You can browse the Theater Dictionary complete glossary here or watch the videos on TDF’s Youtube channel.

The Theater Dictionary’s FAQ contains information on how professional theatre companies and organizations and college-level theatre programs can apply to contribute a video.

Related Content:

100,000+ Wonderful Pieces of Theater Ephemera Digitized by The New York Public Library

Young Orson Welles Directs “Voodoo Macbeth,” the First Shakespeare Production With An All-Black Cast: Footage from 1936

Take a “Breath” and Watch Samuel Beckett’s One-Minute Play

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

More in this category... »
Quantcast