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Posts Tagged ‘Drama

“The conquest of learning is achieved through the knowledge of languages”*…

 

“When humanity loses a language, we also lose the potential for greater diversity in art, music, literature, and oral traditions,” says Bogre Udell. “Would Cervantes have written the same stories had he been forced to write in a language other than Spanish? Would the music of Beyoncé be the same in a language other than English?”

Between 1950 and 2010, 230 languages went extinct, according to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. Today, a third of the world’s languages have fewer than 1,000 speakers left. Every two weeks a language dies with its last speaker, 50 to 90 percent of them are predicted to disappear by the next century…

Every two weeks a language dies: Wikitongues wants to save them: “The Race to Save the World’s Disappearing Languages.”

And for a more in depth– and fascinating– discussion of the subject, listen to Mary Kay Magistad‘s conversation with Laura Welcher, the director of the Rosetta Project at The Long Now Foundation: “Why half the world’s languages may disappear in this century.”

* Roger Bacon

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As we contemplate conserving the capacity to converse, we might spare a thought for Archibald MacLeish; he died on this date in 1982.  A poet, dramatist, writer, and lawyer, he is probably best remembered for his poem  “Ars Poetica” and his play JB.  But MacLeish also served, from 1939 to 1944 as Librarian of Congress, where he oversaw the modernization of the institution and helped promote The Library– and libraries, the arts, and culture more generally– in public opinion.  Over his career, he won three Pulitzer Prizes, a Bollingen Prize, a National Book Award, a Tony Award (for JB), was named a Commandeur de la Legion d’honneur, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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“A little more than kin, and less than kind”*…

 

Sarah Boxer explains:

What, another Hamlet? There must be a zillion already: Slang HamletFirst Folio HamletCompressed HamletNo Fear Hamlet. Into this field, I toss Hamlet: Prince of Pigs, a Tragicomic. Why a comic? Because comics and plays are twin arts. Both use visual cues as much as words. Both have abrupt breaks between scenes. And their words are mostly dialogue.

Why a pig? In the name “Hamlet,” I hear little ham, little pig. And the pig pun fits! In Shakespeare’s day, if you wanted to mock the king, you’d put on a pig mask. The “swine-snouted king” was a stock figure of fun.

Once Hamlet’s species was set, I hewed to a one-family, one-species rule for the rest of the cast. Thus Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius, the murderer, “the bloat king,” is a big fat pig. Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, is a pig with lipstick. Ophelia is a cat because cats don’t do well in water. So her father, Polonius, and her brother, Laertes, are cats, too. For minor characters, I followed a one-profession, one-species rule. Gravediggers are dogs because dogs are excellent diggers. The players are mice because their play is “The Mousetrap.” The sentries, including Horatio, are rats because, well, rats look handsome in helmets.

You’ll see that Hamlet: Prince of Pigs has been stripped of all fat. And tragedy minus many words is comedy. A pared-down Hamlet is a funny Hamlet

Sample her work at “Hamlet, My Prince of Pigs“; dive into the full comic here.

* Hamlet (on Claudius); Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2

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As we wonder what’s behind the arras, we might recall that it was on this date in 1975 that The Rocky Horror Picture Show opened on Broadway.  An import from London (where it ran from 1973 to 1980), it bewildered critics and theater-goers in New York, where it ran through only its three previews and 45 performances (despite being nominated for a Tony and for three Drama Desk awards).  Broadway cast members Tim Curry, Meat Loaf, and Richard O’Brien (who also wrote the book and composed the score for the show) went on to star in the film version, released later that same year– which became, of course, one of the most successful cult classics of all-time.

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Written by LW

March 10, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I don’t know what this is, but I can’t stop listening”*…

 

Joe Frank passed away last Monday.  A purveyor of humorous, often surreal, radio monologues and dramas, he began his career in 1977 on WBAI in New York, then moved in 1978 to National Public Radio. producing 18 award-winning dramas for NPR Playhouse (while serving as co-anchor of Weekend Edition).  In 1986 he moved to KCRW in Santa Monica, where he produced a weekly hour-long radio program, Joe Frank: Work In Progress, until 2002 He also wrote stage plays and short stories, and saw several of his radio works used as the bases of films and television programs.

Beloved by a loyal audience, he was never widely known.  Still, his influence has touched mass audiences:  Ira Glass (one of whose first jobs was as a production assistant for Frank) credits Frank as his greatest inspiration for This American Life; TAL contributor David Sedaris modeled his work in material measure on Frank; Prairie Home Companion drew on Frank’s approach; and filmmakers including Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Mann, David Fincher, Ivan Reitman, and Martin Scorsese have worked from stories from Joe Frank’s radio shows.

Hear his extraordinary work on JoeFrank.com (free registration), Last.FM, and Soundcloud, among other repositoroes.

* Ira Glass, recounting his first experience of Joe Frank

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As we lend an ear, we might send tuneful birthday greetings to Huddie William Ledbetter; he was born on this date in 1888.  Better known by his stage name “Lead Belly,” he was  folk and blues musician known for his distinctive vocals, virtuosity on the twelve-string guitar (though he also played the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, and “windjammer” [diatonic accordion]), and the blues standards he wrote and introduced– covered over the years by acts including Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Johnny Rivers (“Midnight Special”), Delaney Davidson, Tom Russell, Lonnie Donegan, Bryan Ferry (“Goodnight, Irene”), the Beach Boys (“Cotton Fields”), Creedence Clearwater Revival (“Midnight Special”, “Cotton Fields”), Elvis Presley, ABBA, Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Harry Belafonte, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the Animals, Jay Farrar, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Dr. John, Ry Cooder, Davy Graham, Maria Muldaur, Rory Block, Grateful Dead, Gene Autry, Odetta, Mungo Jerry, Paul King, Van Morrison, Michelle Shocked, Tom Waits (“Goodnight, Irene”), Scott H. Biram, Rod Stewart, Ernest Tubb, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Spiderbait (“Black Betty”), Blind Willies (“In the Pines”), the White Stripes (“Boll Weevil”), the Fall, Hole, Smog, Old Crow Medicine Show, Meat Loaf, Ministry, Raffi, Rasputina, Rory Gallagher (“Out on the Western Plains”), the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Deer Tick, Hugh Laurie, X, Bill Frisell, Koerner, Ray & Glover, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, Meat Puppets, Mark Lanegan, WZRD (“Where Did You Sleep Last Night”), Keith Richards, Phil Lee (“I Got Stripes”), and Aerosmith (“Line ‘Em”)…

Lead Belly. photo by Alan Lomax

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Written by LW

January 21, 2018 at 1:01 am

“A novelist may lose his readers for a few pages; a playwright never dares lose his audience for a minute”*…

 

Archaeologists working in southeastern China have identified the tomb of Tang Xianzu, a renowned late 16th-century playwright who is often dubbed the country’s Shakespeare.

Known for his defiance of nobles in the Ming dynasty, Tang specialized in exploring the triumph of humanity over hierarchy and authority through works like The Peony Pavilion, which depicted a poor scholar’s love for a noblewoman. In the 55-scene drama, Tang portrays the struggles of a relationship imbued with supernatural power—a young woman is brought back to life by the handsome scholar she had fallen in love with in a dream. The woman’s father, a nobleman, accuses the scholar of being a grave robber (link in Chinese) and has him imprisoned. Fortunately, in a theme that must still resonate today, the scholar is pardoned after securing excellent results in an imperial examination.

Tang died at the age of 66 in 1616, the same year that saw the death of English playwright William Shakespeare…

More at “Archaeologists have found the tomb of China’s Shakespeare.”

* Terence Rattigan

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As we note that Shakespeare might be known as the Tang of England, we might spare a thought for Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev; he died on this date in 1883.  A novelist, short story writer, and playwright, he helped define Russian Realism with his first book, A Sportsman’s Sketches (1852); his 1862 novel Fathers and Sons is regarded as one of the major works of 19th-century fiction.

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Written by LW

September 3, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above / Don’t fence me in”*…

 

All of humanity could fit in a building the size of this red box, though it wouldn’t be very comfortable…

The human urge to own land sometimes borders on the absurd… Do we have too many cities with too few people in them? (Answer: Yes!) But there’s an implicit question embedded in that notion of anti-NIMBY place-making, once posed by Leo Tolstoy: “How much land does a man need?”

Tolstoy’s answer was pretty grim. But leave it to a YouTuber to take that existential literary question literally by asking, “How much land does humanity need?”

That’s the issue enterprising online video-maker Joseph Pisenti explores on his channel, Real Life Lore.

Pisenti ups the ante on the density game by examining two more specific questions in three videos: How large would a city need to be to fit all of humanity, and how big would a building need to be fit every human being?…

More metropolitan musing– and all three of the videos– at “Could the Human Race Fit in a Single City?

* Lyric from the song “Don’t Fence Me In”; music by Cole Porter, lyrics by Porter, adapted from a poem by Robert Fletcher.  Originally written in 1934 for an unproduced film musical (Adios, Argentina), it was recorded a decade later by Roy Rogers, and (almost simultaneously) Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters; later it was covered by Ella Fitzgerald, and many others.

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As we speculate about space, we might spare a thought for Jean-Baptiste Poquelin; he died on this date in 1673.  Better known by his stage name, Molière, he was a respected French actor who became one of the great comedic playwrights in Western literature.  His worldy farces– The Misanthrope, The School for Wives, Tartuffe, The Miser, The Imaginary Invalid, and The Bourgeois Gentleman.–  earned him popular adulation… and the scorn of moralists and the Catholic Church.  At the time of his death, French law forbade the burial of actors in the sacred ground of a cemetery. But Molière’s widow, Armande, asked the King if her spouse could be granted a normal funeral at night.  The King– a fan– agreed, and Molière’s body was buried in the section of a cemetery reserved for unbaptized infants.  (Molière’s remains were later transferred to grand Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, and re-laid to rest near those of La Fontaine.)

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Written by LW

February 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Anyone who can only think of one way to spell a word obviously lacks imagination”*…

 

“share-en-shnit-uh,” from the German, meaning “the art of cutting paper into decorative designs”

Last Wednesday,285 participants 15 years old and younger took the stage in National Harbor, Maryland to recite words they’ve probably never used in conversation; the finals were held the following evening.  For the third year in a row, the result was a tie; the title was shared by  Nihar Janga, 11, of Austin, Texas, and Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y., who were declared co-champions after fighting to a draw during 39 rounds of competition.  Jairam’s final word in the competition was “Feldenkrais” (a trademark that refers to a system of aided body movements); Nihar’s, “gesellschaft,” (a type of social relationship).

 “A lot of it is luck, to be totally honest,” says 2006 winner Kerry Close, now a 23-year-old reporter at Money Magazine. “There’s maybe a dozen, maybe more, kids who have a realistic shot of winning,” says Close. “Who actually wins comes down to pretty much who’s asked the right word.”

Ten of the final words from previous Scripps bees, and the reason why spelling them is such a feat: “Why these winning words from US National Spelling bees are so hard to spell.”

* Mark Twain

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As we ask that it be used in a sentence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1593 that poet and playwright (Shakespeare’s nearest rival) Christopher Marlowe was killed in a tavern brawl.  Marlowe reputedly supplemented his income as a spy; in any case, he ran afoul of Queen Elizabeth’s government when, earlier in the month, his roommate, fellow playwright Thomas Kyd, was grilled by authorities.  Kyd insisted that the “heretical” papers found in his room belonged to Marlowe, who was subsequently arrested, but was able to use his connections to arrange bail.  While out Marlowe became involved in a fight– ostensibly over a tavern bill, but believed by many to have been a set-up– and was stabbed to death.

The 1585 portrait discovered at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, in 1953, believed to be of the 21-year-old Christopher Marlowe.  The inscribed motto is “QVOD ME NVTRIT ME DESTRVIT,” “that which nourishes me destroys me.”  Indeed.

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Written by LW

May 30, 2016 at 1:01 am

“What is that unforgettable line?”*…

 

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Samuel Beckett: avant-garde dramatist, brooding Nobel Prize winner, poet, and…gritty television detective?

Sadly, no, but he had the makings of a great one, at least as cut together by playwright Danny Thompson, cofounder of Chicago’s Theater Oobleck.

Some twenty five years after Beckett’s death, Thompson—whose credits include the Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett as Found in a Dustbin in Paris in an Envelope (Partially Burned) Labeled: Never to Be Performed. Never. Ever. Ever! Or I’ll Sue! I’ll Sue From the Grave!!!repurposed Rosa Veim and Daniel Schmid’s footage of the moody genius wandering around 1969 Berlin into the opening credits of a nonexistent, 70s era Quinn Martin police procedural.

The title sequence hits all the right period notes, from the jazzy graphics to the presentation of its supporting cast: Andre the Giant, Jean Paul Sartre, and Jean “Huggy Bear” Cocteau. (Did you know that Beckett drove a young Andre the Giant to school in real life?)

Thompson ups the verisimilitude by copping Pat Williams’ theme for The Streets of San Francisco and naming the imaginary pilot episode after a collection of Beckett’s short stories

More background– and other (real) 70s title sequences for reference, at “Watch the Opening Credits of an Imaginary 70s Cop Show Starring Samuel Beckett.”

* Samuel Beckett

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As we wait for you-know-whom, we might recall that it was on this date in 1983 that the Apollo Theater in Harlem was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1913-14 as Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater, and designed by George Keister in the neo-Classical style, the Apollo fell on hard times in the 20s and limped along until, under new management in the 30s, it became a mecca of the Swing Era.  It featured musical acts including Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Webb, and Count Basie, dance acts such as Bill Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers.  And though the theater concentrated on showcasing African-American acts, it also presented such white performers as Harry James, Woody Herman and Charlie Barnet during the swing era, and, later, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz and Buddy Rich, who was a particular favorite of the Apollo crowd.

The Apollo’s “Amateur Night,” a Monday-night talent contest launched many storied careers, from Ella Fitzgerald and Thelma Carpenter to Jimi Hendrix (who won in 1964).  Others whose careers were hatched or given an early boost at the Apollo include Billie Holiday, Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown & The Famous Flames, King Curtis, Diana Ross &The Supremes, Parliament-Funkadelic, Wilson Pickett, The Miracles, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Rush Brown, Stephanie Mills, Dionne Warwick, Bobby Short, The Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, Mariah Carey, The Isley Brothers, Lauryn Hill, Sarah Vaughan, Jazmine Sullivan, Ne-Yo, and Machine Gun Kelly.

Restored 10 years ago, the venue draws an estimated 1.3 million visitors a year.

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Written by LW

November 17, 2015 at 1:01 am

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