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Posts Tagged ‘theater

“I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own”*…


Olympic National Park: the stone marking the quietest square inch in the U.S. (stolen by vandals in 2009)

Reaching the quietest square inch of land in the U.S. is literally a walk in the park. Well, a rainforest, to be precise. To find it, you hike along the Hoh River in the heart of Olympic National Park, past bigleaf maples carpeted in spike-mosses and around epiphytic ferns sprouting out of the saturated Northwest soil. Eventually you pass through the split trunk of a Sitka spruce to enter an even muddier, mossier, more verdant nook of the forest. Look to your left and you may notice a tiny red pebble resting on a mossy nurse log, marking 47°51’57.5″N, 123°52’13.3″W. That’s America’s quietest wild place.

The quietest inch isn’t a sound vacuum. It represents a place with a minimum of human-made noise. The discipline of acoustic ecology, which is dedicated to understanding the natural sounds that come through loud and clear when we’re not around, outlines an important distinction between sound and noise. The blip of water droplets from a forest canopy? Sound. The tinny din of Taylor Swift through smartphone speakers? Noise. For example, the inch, as it’s often called, is exposed to flute-like bugling from Roosevelt elk, the Morse-code chirp of the American Dipper, and assertive hooting from the endangered Northern Spotted Owl. The steady rush of the Hoh River rounding the shoulder of Mount Olympus whooshes nearby, and summer snowmelt punctuates the setting with staccato droplets. In spite of the natural sound, dense forest engulfs the inch in a hush that is, at times, below 20 decibels—quieter than most recording studios…

Understand why silence is golden at “Welcome to the Quietest Square Inch in the U.S.“; dive more deeply at “The Unintended Consequences of Noise.”

* Chaim Potok, The Chosen


As we keep it down, we might spare a thought for Oscar Hammerstein; he died on this date in 1919.  As a newly-arrived immigrant to the U.S., Hammerstein worked in a cigar factory, where he discovered ways to automate the rolling process.  He patented his innovation and made a fortune– which he promptly reinvested in his true passions, music and the arts.  Possessed of a sharp sense of design and an equally good acoustical sense, he built and ran theaters and concert halls, becoming one of Americas first great impressarios…  a fact worth honoring, as history tends to overlook “Oscar the First” in favor of his grandson, Oscar Hammerstein II, the gifted librettist/lyricist and partner of Richard Rodgers.

Hammerstein (on left, with cigar) and conductor Cleofonte Campagnini



Written by LW

August 1, 2015 at 1:01 am

“I find it soothing, the thought of a movie theater”*…



Saubine Haubitz and Stefanie Zoche are intrepid photographers of thought-provoking things.  Here, they discuss their series on movie theaters in India…

In three journeys between 2010 and 2013 we have photographed movie theatres from the ‘Thirties to the ‘Seventies in South India. The photos of these buildings give eloquent testimony to the rich cinematic culture of those times. We are particularly interested in the culturally influenced reinterpretation of modern building style apparent in the architectural style, which displays an unusual mixture of Modernism, local architectural elements, a strong use of colour and, in the case of some older cinema halls, of Art Deco…

Many movie theatres in South India are left in their original state. Nonetheless, remodelling into multiplex cinemas is already underway, in particular in major cities, and will result in these buildings’ disappearance as witnesses to their times. The photographs document a part of cinema culture that has already largely vanished in Europe and the USA, and is increasingly being supplanted by commercial interests and technical developments in India, as well.

Take the tour at here.

* Theophilus London


As we lounge in the loge, we might recall that it was on this date in 1915 that Vitagraph released Miss Jekyll and Madame Hyde, a retelling of Stevenson’s famous tale in which Helen Gardner played the lead role(s).  Ms Gardner, whose career consisted mostly of portrayals of strong women (Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, Cleopatra, et al.) was herself a formidable player in the film industry, one of the first actors to form an independent production company (The Helen Gardner Players).

Helen Gardner, c. 1912 (the time of her break-out role, Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair)



Written by LW

June 19, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”*…


If New York, as E.B. White said, is a city that “never quite catches up with itself,” no one may be more aware of it than [Paul] Schweitzer. He is believed to be among the nation’s last typewriter repairmen, and he largely rejects computers, iPhones, laptops, and even credit cards in his workplace. Like a speaker of a vanishing language, he laments the loss of his tribe.

“There are fewer and fewer of us that do this,” he said. “Years ago, if you looked at the yellow pages, there were six pages of typewriter companies in Manhattan. Now, there’s us.”…

The poignant– and powerful– story of “The Last of the Typewriter Men.”

* Ernest Hemingway


As we tap away, we might send darkly humorous birthday greetings to Samuel Barclay Beckett; he was born on this date in 1906.  A novelist, poet, and theatrical director, Beckett is best remembered as the playwright who created (with Eugéne Ionesco) what Martin Esslin dubbed “The Theater of the Absurd.”  His Modernist masterpieces– Krapp’s Last Tape and Waiting for Godot, for instance had a profound influence on writers like Václav Havel, John Banville, Tom Stoppard, and Harold Pinter.  Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

No mean typist, Beckett turned out typescript for James Joyce (to whom he was an assistant in the 1920s), for the French Resistance during World War II, and of course, for himself.


Written by LW

April 13, 2015 at 1:01 am

“Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising”*…


A ghostsign for Black Cat cigarettes


Ghostsigns are the typically faded remains of advertising that was once painted by hand onto the brickwork of buildings.  In 2006 London resident Sam Roberts began the Ghostsigns Project, collecting the work amateurs and professionals in appreciation of the painted history found on walls around the world.

Philadelphia Belting Company (Lawrence O’Toole)


More at Ghostsigns

* Mark Twain


As we admire ancient advertising, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958 that Archibald MacLeish’s JB premiered at the ANTA Playhouse in New York.  The play, a retelling of the Biblical story of Job in free verse, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony for Best Play and Best Direction (Elia Kazan).



Written by LW

December 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

“I have known uncertainty: a state unknown to the Greeks”*…


Octadrachm, reverse: jugate portrait Ptolemy I and Berenice I, Alexandria, 260–240 BCE

The Ptolemies who ruled Egypt for nearly three centuries, from about 320 to 31 BCE, had a difficult dual part to play: that of Hellenistic monarchs, in the mold of Alexander the Great, and, simultaneously, Egyptian pharaohs. The founding father of their line, Ptolemy I Soter (“Savior”), a Macedonian general in Alexander’s army of conquest, secured rule over Egypt amid the confusion following his king’s death, crowned himself monarch in 306 BCE. But he bequeathed to his heirs—the fourteen other Ptolemies who would succeed him, not to mention several Cleopatras—a difficult demographic and geopolitical position. The Ptolemies’ palace complex, staffed by a European elite, stood in Alexandria, one of the world’s original Green Zones, a Greek-style city founded on a strongly fortified isthmus facing the Mediterranean. To the south, nearly cut off by the vast marshes of Lake Mareotis, lived most of their Egyptian subjects. Some scholars have reckoned the country’s ratio of Egyptians to Greco-Macedonians at ten to one…

Find out how the Greeks did it at “When the Greeks Ruled Egypt.” (Spoiler alert:  it involved respect for and tolerance of Egyptian religious and social beliefs.  Genghis Khan operated in a similar fashion; more modern empires, not so much…)

* Jorge Luis Borges


As we go native, we might spare a thought for Aristophanes; he died on this date in 386 BCE (or so many scholars deduce; the exact date has not been documented).  A poet and dramatist, Aristophanes– whose works are the sole surviving examples of what is known as “Old Comedy”– is widely known as as “the Father of Comedy.”  His eleven surviving plays essentially laid the foundation for satire as we know it, and have a significance that goes beyond this artistic value: Aristophanes acute observations of classical Athens are perhaps as important as historical documents as the writings of Thucydides.  They had impact in their own time, as well.  His powers of ridicule were feared and acknowledged by influential contemporaries; Plato singled out Aristophanes’ play The Clouds as slander that contributed to the trial and subsequent condemning to death of Socrates (although other satirical playwrights had also caricatured the philosopher). His second play, The Babylonians (now lost), was sufficiently scathing to be denounced by the demagogue Cleon as a slander against the Athenian polis.  Aristophanes survived The Peloponnesian War, two oligarchic revolutions, and two democratic restorations– evidence that he was not himself actively involved in politics; rather, an objective “commentator.”  In this, he agreed with Socrates (as “reported” by Plato in The Apology): “he who will fight for the right, if he would live even for a brief space, must have a private station and not a public one.”

Illustration from a bust found near Tusculum (likely altogether imaginary, as Aristophanes was reportedly bald)



Written by LW

November 11, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Demographics is destiny”*…


… or not.  One can decide for oneself by consulting ZIP Lookup

How much can where you live say about who you are? According to a new interactive map by geographic information firm Esri, a whole hell of a lot. Esri’s “Tapestry Segmentation” database mines socioeconomic and demographic data to create a picture of who lives in each ZIP code–i.e., what marketers assume about you based on your particular neighborhood or city. Using Tapestry‘s 67 neighborhood classifications for socioeconomic and demographic characteristics–complete with cutesy names like “American Dreamers,” “Front Porches,” “High Rise Renters,” and “Diners and Miners”–Esri has created an interactive map of the U.S. called ZIP Lookup that lets you dig deep into the stereotypical lives of residents of your ZIP code, along with their average and income, and the neighborhood’s density…

Read more at “What Your ZIP Code Says About You,” then find out what to expect as you trick-or-treat this evening.

* Arthur Kemp


As we disagree with Arthur (on this, as on so many fronts), we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that The World We Live In (The Insect Comedy) opened in New York.  Written by Karel Čapek (who had two years earlier coined the word “robot” in his play R.U.R.) and his brother Josef, the play features a tramp/narrator who falls asleep in the woods and dreams of observing a range of insects whose lifestyles and morals stand in for various human characteristics– the flighty, vain butterfly; the obsequious, self-serving dung beetle; the ants, whose increasingly mechanized behavior leads to a militaristic society; et al.– an allegorical account of life in post-World War I Czechoslovakia.



Written by LW

October 31, 2014 at 1:01 am

Writing with scissors…


Over at the New York Review of Books, Christopher Benfey has a fascinating– and illuminating– review of Ellen Gruber Garvey’s Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance, in which the author makes the case that scrapbooks—which everyone seems to have kept during the nineteenth century—“are the direct ancestors of our digital information management.”

There are examples of politically-focused compendia (Garvey’s primary interest), but also wonderful tastes of more artistic applications:  Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman… and Mark Twain:

Mark Twain was perhaps the king of American scrapbook culture. According to the OED, he was the first writer to use “scrapbook” as a verb, writing in 1881 about the origins of his book A Tramp Abroad, “I scrap-booked these reports during several months.” Prolific in inventing ways to lose money, especially in his attempts to predict how books would be published in the future (not, he found to his chagrin, with type fashioned from clay), Twain successfully marketed his own patented design for a more efficient scrapbook, outfitted with no-muss adhesive pages and an index awaiting entries. Twain’s scrapbook can be seen as the ancestor of the lavish “Keeping Memories Alive” scrapbook industry today, with its glitter and fluff and hobby stores…

Twain’s loose and baggy non-fiction books Roughing It, The Innocents Abroad, and A Tramp Abroad were assembled from his own carefully maintained travel scrapbooks, and retain some of the pleasingly serendipitous and fragmented feel of life on the road.

Still, as Twain’s buddy William Dean Howells noted, “anyone may compose a scrapbook, and offer it to the public with nothing like Mark Twain’s good-fortune. Everything seems to depend upon the nature of the scraps, after all.”

Readers can find the whole story (before they hop over to Pinterest) at “Scrapbook Nation.”


As we reach for the paste, we might recall that it was on this date in 1750 that the first professional theatrical production of a Shakespeare play– an “altered” version of Richard III— was mounted in New York City at its first formal performance space, The Theater on Nassau Street.  Sitting just east of Broadway, it was a two-story wooden hall with a capacity of about 280.  Actor-managers Walter Murray and Thomas Kean set up shop there, and opened with the Bard.  But their repertory also included the first documented performance of a musical in New York — John Gay’s The Beggars Opera, which they premiered on December 3rd of that same year.

The site of the theater in 2004




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