I find there is never “nothing to do”

“This is theater as teaching tool, artistic expression and catharsis”

HersOne of my pet peeves – nah, it’s stronger than that, more an irritation – happens when I hear folks from around the Capital District say, “There’s nothing to do around here.”

For instance, last weekend was chock full. On Friday, author L. Lloyd Stewart spoke at my church about his 2013 book The Mysterious Black Migration 1800-1820: The Van Vranken Family and Other Free Families of African Descent in Washington County, New York.

Now mostly rural, Washington County, not far from Albany, is not a place people around here think of as an African-American stronghold. But the growth of free blacks, and slaves – the institution didn’t end in the Empire State until 1827 – was huge.

Saturday night, the Albany High School Theatre Ensemble challenged “gender conformity and misogyny in its… production of a student-written played called HERS: An Explanation of Our Expectations.”

Times Union newspaper critic Steve Barnes wrote: “This is theater as teaching tool, artistic expression and catharsis, for the performers and their audience, and it is often deeply moving to experience.” It was so much so that our daughter went AGAIN on Sunday afternoon.

Instead, I went to Remembering a Life of Words, Art and Music, celebrating the life of Greg Haymes, a/k/a Sarge Blotto a/k/a Will Bill Hayes, et al.: musician, writer, artist and Nippertown founder. I saw a LOT of people I’ve known over the years, such as intellectual property lawyer Paul Rapp, a/k/a drummer F. Lee Harvey Blotto, and photographer/critic David Brickman.

Peter Lesser from The Egg, the venue where the event took place, started things off. Sara Ayers, true love of Greg. was wonderfully gracious. Then Paul Jossman (guitarist Bowtie Blotto) and Bill Polchinski (guitarist/songwriter Broadway Blotto) gave touching and funny tributes to their band mate.

Michael Eck (Ramblin Jug Stompers) was particularly emotional. Local musician Bryan Thomas spoke of Greg’s encouragement. Kirsten Ferguson discussed Greg’s light touch as Nippertown editor. The aforementioned Steve Barnes marveled how Greg could know EVERYTHING about what was happening in the local music scene.

Rosanne Raneri and Steven Clyde sang and played a Jefferson Airplane tune. Then there was proper New Orleans sendoff with The 2nd Line Driveby Jazz Band. A wonderful celebration.

We were so busy that weekend, we didn’t make it to the annual Greek Festival. Monday night, I had three choices of activities, including something promoting the census; I did none of the above.

This is not a complaint, but most of my weekends have been very busy all year. There’s NEVER “nothing to do.” I can tell as my email queue gets longer and my prepared blog post list gets shorter.

A is for Albany High School awards

Albany High School was up for six awards in an event fashioned after Broadway’s Tony Awards®

Hairspray Director Gregory Theodore Marsh, Annabelle Duffy , Theatre Ensemble Director Ward Dales
Back on Saturday, May 19, the family went to Proctors Theatre in Schenectady to attend the 2nd Annual High School Musical Theatre Awards for New York’s Capital Region in partnership with The Broadway League.

Albany High School was up for six awards in an event fashioned after Broadway’s Tony Awards®. The evening celebrated “the achievements of the region’s theatre students from 23 area high schools, highlighting the importance of arts and theatre education.”

The AHS March production of “Hairspray” won for best musical, best technical execution and best choreography execution. Moreover, “Albany High junior Annabelle Duffy won best actress for her portrayal of feisty Tracy Turnblad.”

She received an all expenses paid trip to New York City to receive training from working Broadway professionals. Annabelle and a young man from the area participated in the Jimmy Awards, the national stage in which high school performers across the nation acted and sang, on June 25.

At Proctors, our family applauded wildly for AHS and also my young niece’s high school; one of the supporting characters in their The Music Man was nominated, which somehow meant that the niece got to perform in the energetic opening and closing numbers.

Truth is that some of the Albany High School rooting was a bit of chip on the collective shoulders of the city dwellers. On the standardized tests, the urban schools don’t fare nearly as well as the ones in the suburban districts. But as someone wrote on a Facebook listserv:

“What I do know is my children will have experiences like many others won’t. They are exposed to the world thanks to classmates, teachers, and courses not available in many locations… Remember money talks and those districts with most living in poverty are underfunded and inundated with unfunded state mandates.”

Not incidentally:

Grammy-nominated jazz artist Stefon Harris (Albany High School ’91) was named a recipient of a 2018 Doris Duke Artist Award – “one of the most prestigious arts grants in the country – for his continuing contribution to jazz.

“Harris is one of seven performing artists that will receive $250,000 in flexible funding, along with up to an additional $25,000 to encourage contribution to his retirement account.”

For ABC Wednesday

“Blaq Boi” new play May 3-6, Albany HS

The play is a celebration of black America through the reflections of a diverse Albany High School playwriting team.

The Albany High Theatre Ensemble uses the stage to tackle issues of race and identity in the Promising Playwrights Festival’s upcoming production of “Blaq Boi.”

The four-performance run of the student-written play opens at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 3 with shows at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 4 and 5, and a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, May 6.

Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for students and seniors.

“Blaq Boi” is the story of Treasure, an African-American male. It follows his journey from childhood to adulthood and delves into the myriad challenges black men face growing up and living in America.

“Though the play boldly addresses issues of institutional racism, white privilege, and internalized oppression, it is also a celebration of black America through the reflections of a diverse Albany High School playwriting team,” said Theatre Ensemble Director Ward Dales.

The play was written by students Camille Dobbs, Jacklyn Flynn, Thia Fowler, Sion Hardy, Jaidyn Hires, Xji-Anne Hudson, Zanief Washington and Immanuel Williams, and teacher Gregory Theodore Marsh. Marsh also directs the play.

The play contains strong language and may not be appropriate for very young audiences.

You can learn more from this video or by visiting the Albany School District website.

Our month of theater, or theatre, if you will

“‘Beautiful’ could have easily been nothing more than another cliched jukebox musical gathering together the hits by songwriters of the Brill Building era.”

We go to the theater a fair amount, but the first half of April 2017 was quite the outlier.

Sunday, April 2: The Little Mermaid – Catskill High School (three of us)

One of my nieces was in her fifth production, and the three of us have seen them all. This was her largest role yet, playing Flounder. She was quite good, actually, and I say this not out of familial loyalty.

In general the girls were better singers than the boys. Ariel’s sisters were fine as were Ursula’s assistants. But the hits were Sebastian (Edward Donahue), Ariel (Ade Spencer) and especially Ursula (Anna White).

Thursday, April 6: The Sound of Music – Proctors Theatre, Schenectady (three of us)

Proctors has had Broadway-quality productions for a number of years, and this was no exception. The trick with the musical is that the movie is so imprinted in the brain. My Favorite Thing is sung at the abbey, Do-Re-Mi at the Trapp villa, and The Lonely Goatherd in Maria’s bedroom, when she calms the children freaked out by the thunderstorm.

While the two leads (Charlotte Maltby, Nicholas Rodriguez) are fine, and the children are amazingly good, the largest applause went to Melody Betts as Mother Superior after she sang Climb Ev’ry Mountain.

We bought tickets for next season’s shows, including Fun Home, The Color Purple, Finding Neverland and On Your Feet! (the Gloria Estafan story). Buying a subscription THIS year will mean getting dibs on buying toicxkets for Hamilton in 2018-2019.

(Only somewhat off topic: Alison Bechdel is Vermont’s cartoonist laureate. She created Fun Home.)

Saturday, April 8, 2017: They Built America: The Workers of the Erie Canal – local school (two of us)

This is a Capital Rep show commemorating the 200th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the engineering feat that went from Albany to Buffalo. “Meet the real men, women and children, the politicians, farmers, merchants and laborers who…[built] the Erie Canal.” There are four actors, and three of them, the two men and one of the women, play multiple parts. It was quite good, about an hour long and suitable for children.

The Daughter should have come.

Sunday, April 9: Oliver! – Albany High School (two of us)

This was, aside from some occasional sound problems, extraordinarily good. I was’t familiar with the story, though I sang Consider Yourself in glee club in high school. It’s a dark, sordid, violent tale.

The standout were the terrifying Bill Sykes (Ackazemas Myers), the show-stopping singer Nancy (Williemae Fiddemon), and the shifty Fagen (Raphael Cohen), who had a fun bit with the violinist in the orchestra. Oliver was played by sixth-grader Hassan Laing who was good, but occasionally miked badly.

Saturday, April 15: Beautiful: the Carole King Story – Proctors Theatre, Schenectady (two of us)

I saw this on the calendar months ago and said, Who scheduled this for Holy Week?” It’s only on the Wednesday through Sunday. I have to sing or rehearse or travel the other days. Based on the packed house for this matinee, many folks were in the same boat.

Just from casual conversation with the folks around the Wife and me, it was clear that almost everyone knew the Tapestry album from 1971 but few were familiar with the songwriting of Carole King (the wonderful Julia Knitel) with husband Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin) well before that, competing to get their songs pitched to the right singer or group that might make their songs #1.

As Greg Haymes noted in Nippertown: “‘Beautiful’ could have easily been nothing more than another cliched jukebox musical gathering together the hits by songwriters of the Brill Building era, i.e., ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe’ (Leiber and Stoller) or ‘Leader of the Pack’ (Ellie Greenwich). But thanks to some smart, comic dialogue by Douglas McGrath, deft direction by Marc Bruni and strong, all-around performances by the cast, ‘Beautiful’ is a snappy musical that rises above the level of the usual jukebox musical expectations.

“But it’s not all about King, and the title of the show is something of a misnomer. The secondary couple – portraying the songwriting team of Cynthia Weil (Erika Olson) and Barry Mann (Ben Fankhauser) – and their music is crucial.”

Yes, it wasn’t just a Kingfest, as the early “1650 Broadway Medley” had songs from Neil Sedaka (singer of “Oh, Carol”), Leiber and Stoller, Phil Spector and many others. The Mann/Weil hit You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling was a standout.

But Act 2 belonged to the former Carole Klein. I LOVED this show.