Live Performers Now Streaming Shows, from their Homes to Yours: Neil Young, Coldplay, Broadway Stars, Metropolitan Operas & More

You've always read books in the comfort of your own home. Though it may not be the full cinematic experience, you can also watch films there, in a pinch. Now that such a pinch has come, in the form of coronavirus pandemic-related quarantines and other forms of isolation, few art forms must be feeling it more than live music and theatre. Though we've all watched recorded performances now and again, we know full well that nothing can quite replicate the felt energy of the live experience. Until we can get out and enjoy it once and again, a variety of performers and venues — from rock stars and Broadway luminaries to independent theatre companies and the Metropolitan Opera — have stepped up to provide as much as they can of it online.

"The live music industry has seen an unprecedented fallout in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak," writes Consequence of Sound's Lake Schatz. "Highly anticipated tours from Foo Fighters, Billie Eilish, Thom Yorke, and Elton John have all been postponed, and major festivals such as Coachella and South By Southwest have had to drastically change their plans last minute."




In response, "artists are turning to livestreaming to stay in touch with their fans. Neil Young, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard, and John Legend are streaming intimate concerts live from their very own homes." Young's "Fireside Sessions" launched on the Neil Young Archives site last Monday.

That same day Martin, leader of Coldplay, "streamed a mini concert on Monday as part of Instagram’s 'Together, at Home' virtual series" (which will continue next week with John Legend). Even more ambitiously, Gibbard has a daily streaming series set to launch next Tuesday on YouTube and Facebook. "Aptly titled 'Live From Home,' the daily live sessions will see the indie rocker take requests and even possibly duet with special guests," writes Schatz. (You can view Gibbard's first Live from Home session at the top of the post.)

"Additionally, punk rockers Jeff Rosenstock and AJJ are both scheduled to perform a special concert that will be livestreamed on Specialist Subject’s Instagram Stories. That event goes down Tuesday afternoon beginning 7:45 p.m. ET." Putting the show on by any technological means available is, we can surely agree, very much the punk-rock way. And even apart from broadcasting concerts online, from home or elsewhere, "acts like Deafheaven are releasing live albums (sans any audience)." Deafhaven, if you don't know them, are a post-metal band out of San Francisco; on the other end of the musical spectrum, country star Keith Urban streamed a live concert on Instagram from his basement this past Tuesday.

Over at the Theatre Development Fund (TDF), Raven Snook rounds up a variety of New York theatre institutions now streaming online. These include 92nd Street Y (whose performance archive we've previously featured here on Open Culture); BroadwayWorld, which has come up with "daily Living Room Concerts, a series of one-song performances recorded by Broadway stars in their respective homes"; The Metropolitan Opera, whose nightly streaming of "previously recorded presentations" we mentioned earlier this week.

Other participants in this push include The Actors Fund, with its new "daily performance/talk show Stars in the House" in which "Broadway luminaries will sing and chat from their homes," and the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, which "kicks off its Folksbiene LIVE!: An Online Celebration of Yiddish Culture" this week, all streamed free on its Facebook page. And be sure to visit the site of New York non-profit arts presenter and producer The Tank, whose new CyberTank series live streams a "weekly, remote, multidisciplinary arts gathering" every Tuesday. Whatever your preferred variety of live performance, you're sure to be covered until you can get back out to the theatre, the club, the opera houses, or wherever you enjoy your live culture of choice.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Actor Margaret Colin (VEEP, Independence Day) Joins Pretty Much Pop #28 to Take On the Trope of the Alpha Female

What's the deal with images of powerful women in media? The trope of the tough-as-nails boss-lady who may or may not have a heart of gold has evolved a lot over the years, but it's difficult to portray such a character unobjectionably, probably due to those all-too-familiar double standards about wanting women in authority (or, say, running for office) to be assertive but not astringent.

Margaret was the female lead in major films including Independence Day and The Devil's Own, is a mainstay on Broadway, and has appeared on TV in many roles including the mother of the Gossip Girl and as an unscrupulous newscaster on the final seasons of VEEP. Her height and voice have made her a good fit for dominant-lady roles, and she leads Mark, Erica, and Brian through a quick, instructive tour through her work with male directors (e.g. in a pre-Murphy-Brown Dianne English sit-com), playing the lead in three Lifetime Network movies, on Broadway as Jackie, and opposite Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, Melanie Griffith, Michael Shannon, Wallace Shawn, and others.

Given the limitations of short-form storytelling in film, maybe some use of stereotypes is just necessary to get the gist of a character out quickly, but actors can load their performances with unseen backstory. We hear about the actor's role in establishing a character vs. the vision of the filmmakers or show-runners. Also, the relative conservatism of film vs. stage vs. TV in granting women creative control, the "feminine voice," why women always apparently have to trip in movies when chased, and more.

A few resources to get you thinking about this topic:

Someone's posted a tape of Carousel featuring Erica and Margaret.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

When Robin Williams & Steve Martin Starred in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot (1988)

Despite the dourest demeanor in literary history and a series of plays and novels set in the bleakest of conditions, there’s no doubt that Samuel Beckett was foremost a comic writer. Indeed, it is because of these things that he remains a singularly great comic writer. The deepest laughs are found, as in that old Mel Brooks quote, in the most absurdly tragic places. In Beckett, however, characters don’t just tell jokes about the wretched exigencies of human life, they fully embody all those qualities; just as the best comic actors do.

It's true that some of Beckett’s characters spend all of their time onstage immobilized, but the playwright was also a great admirer of physical comedy onscreen and drew liberally from the work of his favorite film comedians. Veteran vaudeville comic Bert Lahr, best known as The Wizard of Oz's cowardly lion, starred in the original Broadway production of Waiting for Godot in 1956. “Beckett once wrote a film script for Buster Keaton,” notes theater critic Michael KuchwaraGodot’s central characters, Vladimir and Estragon, evoke one of the most renowned of comedy duos, many of their gestures “obvious derivations from Laurel and Hardy,” as film historian Gerald Mast notes.




It is fitting then—and might meet with the approval of Beckett himself—that Robin Williams and Steve Martin, two of the most riveting physical comedians of the seventies and eighties, should step into the roles of the bumbling, bowler-hatted frenemies of Godot. The production, which took place in October and November 1988 at the 299-seat Mitzi E. Newhous Theater on Broadway, sold out almost immediately. Williams and Martin weren't its only big draw. Mike Nichols directed, and the rest of the cast included F. Murray Abraham as Pozzo, Bill Irwin as Lucky, and Lucas Haas as the absent Godot’s messenger boy.

Sadly, we only have a few clips of the performance, which you can see in the grainy video above, interspersed with interviews with Martin and Irwin. These too will leave you wanting more. “I saw it as a comedy,” says Martin of his reading of the play. What this meant, he says, is that the laughs “must be served, almost first…. The comedy of the play won’t take care of itself unless it’s delivered.” Robin Williams, writes Kuchwara, delivered laughs. “His Estragon is a maniacal creature, verging out of control at times.”

Williams also veered “into some stage antics and line twistings that Beckett never would have dreamed of—giving hilarious imitations of R2D2 and John Wayne, complete with an improvised machine gun.” For his part, Martin had “a tougher assignment playing the subdued, almost straight man Vladimir to Williams’ more flamboyant Estragon.” Martin has always tended to submerge his maniacal comic energy in straighter roles. Here he seems perhaps too restrained.

For reasons that have nothing to do with the play, the tragic heart of these clips is seeing Williams as Estragon. Yet in the final few minutes, trained mime Irwin shows why his Lucky may have been the most inspired piece of casting in the show. We get a taste of his performance as he recites part of Lucky’s monologue.  “Every gesture has been carefully thought out, not only for the comedy, but for the pain that lies underneath the laughs,” Kuchwara says.

Lucky is essentially a slave to Abraham’s domineering Pozzo, who keeps him on a leash. He gives one speech, when his master orders him to “think." But in his verbiage and bearing, he conveys the play’s deepest pathos, in the form of the archetypal tortured clown, who reappears in Alan Moore’s joke about Pagliacci. When Beckett was asked why he named the character Lucky, he replied, with mordant wit, “I suppose he is lucky to have no more expectations….” It is as though, Mel Brooks would say, he had fallen into an open sewer and died

Related Content:

Hear Waiting for Godot, the Acclaimed 1956 Production Starring The Wizard of Oz’s Bert Lahr

Steve Martin & Robin Williams Riff on Math, Physics, Einstein & Picasso in a Smart Comedy Routine

Steve Martin Performs Stand-Up Comedy for Dogs (1973)

Robin Williams Uses His Stand-Up Comedy Genius to Deliver a 1983 Commencement Speech

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

Why Should We Read William Shakespeare? Four Animated Videos Make the Case

Sooner or later, we all encounter the plays of William Shakespeare: whether on the page, the stage, or—maybe most frequently these days—the screen. Over four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare is still very much relevant, not only as the most recognizable name in English literature, but also perhaps as its most famous storyteller, even if we don’t recognize his hand in modern adaptations that barely resemble their originals.

But if we can turn Shakespeare’s plays into other kinds of entertainment that don’t require us to read footnotes or sit flummoxed in the audience while actors make archaic jokes, why should we read Shakespeare at all? He can be profoundly difficult to understand, an issue even his first audiences encountered, since he stuffed his speeches not only with hundreds of loan words, but hundreds of his own coinages as well.




The criticism of Shakespeare’s difficulty goes back to his earliest critics. Seventeenth-century English poet John Dryden declared that the playwright “had undoubtedly a larger soul of poesy than every any of our nation.” In the plays, we find “all arts and sciences, all moral and natural philosophy." And yet, even Dryden could write, in 1664, that Shakespeare's language was “a little obsolete,” and that “in every page [there is] either some solecism of speech, or some notorious flaw in sense.” (These issues are sometimes, but not always, attributable to scribal error.)

“Many of his words,” wrote Dryden, “and more of his phrases, are scarce intelligible. And of those which we understand, some are ungrammatical, others coarse; and his whole style is so pestered with figurative expressions, that it is as affected as it is obscure.” Seems harsh. How could such a writer not only survive but become an almost godlike figure in literary history?

Maybe it’s all that “poesy." Shakespeare is surely one of the most musical writers in the language. Read his speeches to children—they will listen with rapt attention without understanding a single word. It is better that we encounter Shakespeare early on, and learn to hear the music before we’re buffeted by exaggerated ideas about how hard he is to understand.

Written in a time when English was undergoing one of most rapid and radical shifts of any language in history, Shakespeare’s ingenious plays preserve a riot of borrowed, invented, and stolen words, of figures of speech both old- and new-fashioned, and of scholarly and popular ideas traveling through England on their way to and from a globalizing world. The torrents of verse that pour from his characters’ mouths give us the language at its most fluid, dynamic, and demotic, full of unparalleled poetic fugues crammed next to the roughness Dryden disliked.

This is the essence of the modern—of later Shakespearen successors like Samuel Beckett and James Joyce who freely mixed high and low and invented new ways of speaking. Why should we read Shakespeare? I can think of no more persuasive argument than Shakespeare’s language itself, which dazzles even as it confounds, and whose strangeness gives it such enduring appeal. But which plays should we read and why? The TED-Ed videos above from Iseult Gillespie, and below from Brendan Pelsue, make the case for four of Shakespeare greatest works: The Tempest, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth.

Learn new facts about the plays, and why their tragedy and humor, and their copious amounts of murder, still speak to us across the gulf of hundreds of years. But most of all, so too does Shakespeare’s gloriously ornate poetry—even when we can barely understand it.

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The 1,700+ Words Invented by Shakespeare*

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

Kabuki Star Wars: Watch The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi Reinterpreted by Japan’s Most Famous Kabuki Actor

The appeal of Star Wars transcends generation, place, and culture. Anyone can tell by the undiminishing popularity of the ever more frequent expansions of the Star Wars universe more than 40 years after the movie that started it all — and not just in the English-speaking West, but all the world over. The vast franchise has produced "cinematic sequels, TV specials, animated spin-offs, novels, comic books, video games, but it wasn’t until November 28 that there was a Star Wars kabuki play," writes Sora News 24's Casey Baseel. Staged one time only last Friday at Tokyo's Meguro Persimmon Hall, Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords retells the events of recent films The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in Japan's best-known traditional theater form.

To even the hardest-core Star Wars exegete, Kairennosuke may be an unfamiliar name — though not entirely unfamiliar. It turns out to be the Japanese name given to the character of Kylo Ren, the power-hungry nephew of Luke Skywalker portrayed by Adam Driver in The Force AwakensThe Last Jedi, and the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker.




In Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords he's played by Ichikawa Ebizō XI, not just the most popular kabuki actor alive but an avowed Star Wars enthusiast as well. "I like the conflict between the Jedi and the Dark Side of the Force," Baseel quotes Ichikawa as saying. "In kabuki too, there are many stories of good and evil opposing each other, and it’s interesting to see how even good Jedi can be pulled towards the Dark Side by fear and worry."

The thematic resonances between kabuki and Star Wars should come as no surprise, given all Star Wars creator George Lucas has said about the series' grounding in elements of universal myth. Lucas also actively drew from works of Japanese art, including, as previously featured here on Open Culture, the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa. And so in Kairennosuke and the Three Shining Swords, which you can watch on Youtube and follow along in Baseel's play-by-play description in English, we have the kind of elaborate cultural reinterpretation — bringing different eras of Western and Japanese art together in one strangely coherent mixture — in which modern Japan has long excelled. No matter what country they hail from, Star Wars fans can appreciate the highly stylized adventures of Kairennosuke, Hanzo, Reino, Sunokaku, Ruku and Reian — and of course, R2-D2 and C-3PO.

via Neatorama

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The Cast of Avengers: Endgame Rendered in Traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e Style

High School Kids Stage Alien: The Play and You Can Now Watch It Online

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 Cinemaand the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch Life-Affirming Performances from David Byrne’s New Broadway Musical American Utopia

It’s time, writes Kim Stanley Robinson in his essay “Dystopia Now,” to put aside the dystopias. We know the future (and the present) can look bleak. "It’s old news now,” and “perhaps it’s self-indulgence to stay stuck in that place any more.” Of course, David Byrne has never been a dystopian artist. Even his catchy deconstructions of the banality of modern life, in “This Must Be the Place,” for example—or Love Lies Here, his disco musical about Imelda Marcos—are filled with empathetic poignancy and an earnest desire to rehumanize contemporary culture.

Still his oblique take on things has always seemed too skewed to call utopian. Lately, however, Byrne has become unambiguously sunny in his outlook, and not in any kind of starry-eyed Pollyannish way. His web project Reasons to Be Cheerful backs up its optimistic title with incisive longform investigative journalism.




His latest stage project, the musical American Utopia, which he performs with a cast of dancers and musicians from around the world, announces its intentions on the sleeves of the matching monochromatic suits its cast wears.

Barefoot and holding their instruments, Byrne and his backup singers, musicians, and dancers march on the “Road to Nowhere” with smiles hinting it might actually lead to someplace good, They perform this song (see them on Jimmy Fallon at the top), and a couple dozen more from Talking Heads and Byrne solo albums, especially last year’s American Utopia. In the course of the show, Byrne “lets his moralist outrage explode” yet “balances it with levity,” writes Stacey Anderson at Pitchfork. “There is a political engine to this performance… with a clearly humming progressive core… but Byrne’s goal is to urge kinder consideration of how we process the stressors of modernity.”

The musical doesn’t simply urge, it enacts, and proclaims, in spoken interludes, the story of an individual who opens up to the wider world. “Here’s a guy who’s basically in his head at the beginning,” Byrne told Rolling Stone. “And then by the end of the show he’s a very different person in a very different place.” The road to utopia, Byrne suggests, takes us toward community and out of isolation. American Utopia’s minimalist production communicates this idea with plenty of polished musicianship—especially from its six drummers working as one—but also a rigorous lack of spectacle. “I think audiences appreciate when nobody’s trying to fool them,” says Byrne.

See several performances from American Utopia, the musical, above, from The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night with Stephen Colbert, and the Hudson Theatre, where it’s currently running. The musical debuted in England last June, causing NME to exclaim it may “just be the best live show of all time.” Its Broadway run has received similar acclaim. Below, see a trailer for the show arriving just in time, The Fader announces in a blurb, to “fight your cynicism.”

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David Byrne Creates a Playlist of Eclectic Music for the Holidays: Stream It Free Online

David Byrne Launches Reasons to Be Cheerful, an Online Magazine Featuring Articles by Byrne, Brian Eno & More

David Byrne Curates a Playlist of Great Protest Songs Written Over the Past 60 Years: Stream Them Online

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

Improv Comedy (Live and Otherwise) Examined on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #20

 

What role does improv comedy play in popular culture? It shows up in the work of certain film directors (like Christopher Guest, Adam McKay, and Robert Altman) and has surfaced in some of the TV work of Larry David, Robin Williams, et al. But only in the rare case of a show like Whose Line Is It Anyway? is the presence of improvisation obvious. So is this art form doomed to live on the fringes of entertainment? Is it maybe of more apparent benefit to its practitioners than to audiences?

Mark, Erica, and Brian are joined by Tim Sniffen, announcer on the popular Hello From the Magic Tavern podcast, and a member of the Improvised Shakespeare Company and Baby Wants Candy (improvised musicals). He’s also written for Live From Here and other things. We discuss different types of improv, a bit of the history and structure of Second City, improv’s alleged self-help benefits, how improvisation relates to regular acting, writing, podcasting, and other arts, and more.

Here are a few improv productions to check out:

For further reading, check out:

For musical improv, try Nakedly Examined Music #30 with Paul Wertico and David Cain, and also #55 with Don Preston (Zappa’s keyboardist) whom Mark quoted in this discussion.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

 

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