No, this blog isn’t moving. I’m moving back to Chicago. (And not to Lincoln Park this time.)

So, while I’m packing and moving, here are two videos to enjoy. The first video is from the band Cobra Starship, whom I saw in May with my sister. The second video explains why I once did a fist pump and shouted “We’re fuckin’ AFSCME” as I passed the AFSCME offices in Cedar Falls while biking to the library. (Language in second video NSFW.)


Three years ago, I was the light and sound board operator for a production of the stage version of Footloose and my mom was in charge of the follow spot crew. One day, she typed up the follow spot plot and schedule and showed it to my sister and I. (She was on the follow spot crew.) We looked at it and pointed out that it said Flashdance Spotlight Schedule and Flashdance Spotlight Cues. My mom corrected the error and commented that they’re both movies from the ’80s that had dancing as a key plot point.

As it turns out, there is an actual stage version of Flashdance. It opens on the West End this September.

You guys, my mom wanted to do it three years ago.

(Also, do the Brits seem to have an affinity for transforming movies into musicals? Just asking.)

(h/t Gil Varod.)

Do Critics Matter Today?

There’s recently been some discussion and complaining after John Simon remarked that bloggers are “the vermin of this society.” After attempting to write a post, I found that the best way I could discuss this was through a comic. As a result, I drew the following comic. Please remember: I don’t draw comics or cartoons, so this is a first for me.

I present, “Do Critics Matter Today?: A Cartoon”

Do Critics Matter Today? Page 1

"Do Critics Matter Today?" Page 2

(Click to enlarge)

Not the Big Evil Corporations

By now, you are probably sick of this Chase Community Giving thing. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s currently being done on Facebook where non-profits try to get you, the Facebook user, to vote for their non-profit to receive at least $20,000. The annoying thing about this if you are Facebook friends with people that are ensemble or staff members at a theater or are a “Fan” of a theater company, particularly in Chicago, is that you end up getting your wall spammed with pleas for votes.

I will be honest, I have voted for some theater companies to receive money. However, the theater companies I voted for I would give money to and they did make a good case as to why I should vote for them other than, “Hey, we did [show x] last season and it was awesome.” I even donated money to one theater, Strawdog Theatre, long before I voted for them.

And there are problems with this approach to funding. By asking on Facebook “walls” for votes and sending messages, you can eventually alienate potential artists and patrons because someone like me might be a “fan” of several theater companies competing for this. Some have suggested that by just asking for a vote you’re not actually making a connection with the audience. (Kris Vire wrote a piece for last week’s Time Out Chicago about the pros and cons of the Chase Community Giving.)

You need money to do theater and grants help provide that money. But is it worth participating in the social media equivalent of a student council election to get that grant? I can’t deny that $20,000 is a lot of money and sometimes you wouldn’t get that with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, for example. But with a grant proposal from an arts council or from the NEA, you have to write grant submissions and try to prove to those overseeing the grant awards that your theater deserves the money. Ultimately it is up to a theater company to decide if it is worth their time to participate in this.

But while there are the theater artists that look at the Chase Community Giving as a possible nuisance to audiences, there are others that are upset because Chase is a BIG EVIL CORPORATION! (I also realize that the blog I linked to no one should be shocked by the writer making those remarks.)

First of all, everyone that is virulently opposed to this really needs to be quiet or calm down because I keep hearing about theaters trash talking those participating in the program, even referring to those theaters as “whoring” themselves out. If you have a problem with this, which a lot of artists do, including myself, that’s fine. But bashing other theater companies is not cool and when you do that, my respect for you as a an artist and/or a theater administrator significantly decreases.

Now that is out of the way, I would like to get to the main point. I realize that Eastern Iowa theater and Chicago theater are vastly different things, but in Eastern Iowa, it is not that uncommon for a production to be sponsored by a corporation with local ties. The first play I was in, Nate the Great, was sponsored by John Deere, who has plants in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. Still Life With Iris was sponsored by Quaker, who has a plant in Cedar Rapids not far from the Iowa Theatre Building. I believe a production of The Music Man I worked on was sponsored by Wells Fargo and while it might not have major offices in that area, it still seemed appropriate that Wells Fargo would sponsor that show. Target, who has two distribution centers in Cedar Falls, has sponsored quite a few productions at the Waterloo Community Playhouse and Black Hawk Children’s Theatre. Sometimes local businesses are at least one of the producers for a play. Hansen’s Dairy in Hudson, which produces dairy products from the family cows—and operates my favorite ice cream shop in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area, Moo Roo—sponsors productions at the Cedar Falls Community Theatre, where one of the Hansens has performed in productions.

As a result of doing theater in Eastern Iowa for 7 years, I used to think that in order to do a play you had to have a company sponsoring the show. Does this mean that the sponsors were awkwardly worked into the play? No. They’re usually acknowledged in the curtain speech and on the posters. Sometimes at the Waterloo Community Playhouse, the sponsors will have tables set up in the lobby to let patrons know more about what they do.

And you know what? The theater companies in Iowa work really hard to get these companies to sponsor their shows. I know from first-hand experience that Danny Katz, who works for WCP, tries very hard to get sponsors and it’s actually pretty incredible to know how hard he tries.

As a result of this, if I was going to start a theater company in Eastern Iowa, I realized that I would have to court companies to try to donate money or sponsor a show. Does that mean I’m “whoring” myself out to corporate America or to even small businesses? No. It means that I’m trying to keep my theater company running. And most corporations and businesses want to do philanthropic acts. In essence, Chase Community Giving is philanthropy, even though the mechanics of the act are a bit debatable.

But as far as I know (and most of my knowledge comes from talking to Katz), these theater companies don’t just send out a Facebook message. They’re out there, meeting with businesses or at events in their city to try to get more audience members to at the very least see their shows.

Ultimately that is what theaters need to do: they need to make a face-to-face connection to get money or donations or an audience. Facebook is not a cure-all for our problems as non-profit theaters.

Quick Thoughts On the Emmys

This is also called: For Some Reason, Monica Cares More About the Emmys than the Tonys This Year.

First of all, Glee received 19 nominations and Mad Men received 17. The surprising thing is that Glee is apparently a comedy and the only reason I can come up with is because at the Golden Globes musicals and comedies are grouped together.

And while I wasn’t expecting David Tennant to get a nomination for either Doctor Who or Hamlet because I didn’t think BBC America would campaign for an award, I would like to know why Bryan Batt isn’t nominated for his role as Salvatore Romano on Mad Men. Still, January Jones, Elizabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks, Jon Hamm, Jon Slattery, and Robert Morse were all nominated.

It was also nice to see Modern Family get quite a few nominations. The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien received a nomination for Outstanding Variety, Comedy or Music Series. And the best part of the remake of The Prisoner got a nomination. (I’m referring to Ian McKellen’s performance.)

Oh, yeah, and this was nominated for Outstanding Commercial:

The Emmys actually did pretty well this year.

Some Thoughts on “The Last Airbender”

Francis Guinan isn't in this picture.Disclosure: I love the Nickelodean series and watched the whole series while I was in St. Louis for six weeks because I spent those six weeks cooking, working on a play and watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and both parts of Kill Bill.

I will also point out that I saw the movie in 2D rather than 3D because the movie theater in Cedar Falls did not show it in 3D.

The Last Airbender isn’t an awful film. I’ve seen awful films and The Last Airbender is much better than a movie I turned off 30 minutes into the film. The Last Airbender just isn’t very good and suffers from a huge problem of condensing an entire season into a 103-minute film. Some of the explanations as to key concepts come off as seeming awkward or forced as a result.

The film centers around the plot of the first season of the acclaimed Nickelodean show, which takes place in a fantasy world divided up into the Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, Water Tribes and Air Nomads. Certain members of those realms are able to bend the elements, meaning that they have the ability to control the elements native to their land. Only one person per generation, the Avatar, can master all four of these elements. At the start of the film, a war led by the Fire Nation is raging and the Avatar went missing 100 years prior to the action of the film. While out hunting, Southern Water Tribe members Katara (Nikola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone) discover a boy trapped in an ice bubble. They later discover that he is Aang (Noah Ringer), the Avatar and the last airbender. Aang must learn how to master the elements of water, earth and fire before he can bring peace to the world. However, Fire Nation Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) is out to capture Aang to restore his honor, traveling with his calm-mannered uncle, General Iroh (Shaun Toub), as they race against Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi).

That is, in a nutshell, the plot of the first season without giving away any spoilers. If you’re familiar with the series, you’ll notice that there are a lot of events absent from the film and that most of the time is spent on a siege on the Northern Water Tribe.

But many of the events in the first season that are absent the film can do without. What the film lacks is emotional depth from many of the actors. Peltz and Rathbone give incredibly flat performances and usually seem to react on command. For a majority of the film, Ringer lacks emotion seen a very carefree and fun loving character in the series. The only real depth and, well, acting, seen from the actors is seen in Patel, Toub and Francis Guinan’s performances. (Guinan plays Master Pakku, a water bender) While Patel and Toub have been given characters that aren’t written very well, both of those actors give their characters depth, giving the audience a clue as to why the characters are motivated to do what they do.

Guinan’s character doesn’t play a major role in the series or in the film. He essentially shows up and teaches Aang how to do a better job water bending and kicks butt during an epic battle. And yet it is one of the more memorable performances because it’s clear that he put thought into what his character was saying.

Although a problem I had watching the film was being familiar with Mandvi from watching The Daily Show and he delivers his lines like he does on The Daily Show. As a result, I kept expecting him to say something like, “That’s right, Jon, they’re going to the Northern Water Tribe.”

There are also problems with the fact that pronunciations of names are changed and the fact that for some reason, in a tribe that looks similar to the Inuits, Sokka, Katara and their grandmother are Caucasians. This apparently is a trait that only exists in their family since they stand out in the scenes with the rest of the tribe.

While there are some neat things about the film, such as the detail on the Northern Water Tribe’s stronghold, the film simply can’t compare to the TV series, which is out on DVD and available on Netflix Instant Viewing. If you absolutely must see the movie in theaters, I recommend seeing it in 2D. But I still advise you to watch the series.