The fanfare has passed. TV cameras have been packed away and the crowd has exited the U of M's Big Red theater. Bob Hetherington, the Chair of the department of theater and dance plops down on the front row after making a huge announcement. In February, 2012, the U of M's theater and music department will join together to produce Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera. It's a part of the university's centennial celebration. Hetherington is giddy. He looks like he might float away. He says he was asked to dream big. And that's about as big as it gets.
There had been some early discussion about reviving Hair, Hetherington says. Memphis State staged the first non-professional production of America's tribal love rock musical in 1970 and it caused quite a stir. But he didn't think it was right. Why celebrate a galvanizing moment of years past when you can create a new one? Right? Very few non-professional theaters have been granted the rights to produce Phantom, and whether you love or hate it, there's no denying that Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical retelling of the classic horror story is the biggest thing that ever happened to musical theater.
The U of M is launching a new program for students studying musical theater and Hetherington sees the University's centennial as the perfect opportunity to do something special.
"I'm doing Phantom of the Opera in a theater that doesn't have any traps in it," He sighs as reality sets in and the excitement mounts. "It's going to be interesting."
Phantom of the Opera opens on February 16, 2012. "Only eight performances," Hetherington says impishly. Tickets go on sale in November, 2011.
The happy hour event has been arranged to help promote a survey that goes live on Wednesday, November 10 at ArtSpaceMemphis.org. The first step of the ArtSpace process, Hayes says, is to determine the size, depth, and unique needs of the city’s creative community. I asked Kerry if he'd answer three questions about the survey and the event but he's such a good answerer only two were necessary.
Intermission Impossible: So why is this little shindig so important?
Kerry Hayes: Wednesday’s event at Playhouse is just an excuse to invite a bunch of artists and creatives to come together, have a drink, talk to the folks from ArtSpace who will be in town that day, and (most importantly) take the online survey then and there. Anybody who has a vocational or avocational interest in the arts should take the survey — full-time or part-time painters, musicians, sculptors, writers, performers, choreographers, printmakers, photographers, filmmakers, etc are all welcome and encouraged to make their voice heard. If ArtSpace sees we have a robust and thriving arts community, the project they end up doing here will be that much more awesome.
Intermission Impossible: Awesome. Now for the wonky stuff. Our cultural institutions are really quite an economic engine. Can you give us some sense of what this engine means to the economy and how it might be optimized?
Kerry Hayes: Dense concentrations of artists have tremendously powerful restorative effects on neighborhoods. We can see this in our Cooper-Young and South Main arts districts, where artists have been responsible for stabilizing and increasing property values, inviting more local businesses and economic development, and renovating properties and homes that would be otherwise blighted. The new MCA Nesin Graduate Center is one of the more high profile examples of this. We’re starting to see some of that arts-driven rejuvenation in areas like Broad Avenue, Crosstown, and Soulsville. The City of Memphis is committed to doing a better job of supporting our creative class in any way we can. Simply put, artists make cities great, and a city with such a rich creative heritage like ours deserves assets and opportunities like these. Working with a nationally-regarded organization like ArtSpace to provide more affordable live/work space for artists who need it is something big that we hope will keep creative people living and working here.
How much do you know about Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet? If you know enough you might be able to win some great prizes including a trip to New York City for Broadway shows and gourmet meals. The trivia contest will be held on November 9th at a fundraising dinner for the Tennessee Shakespeare Company at The Brushmark restaurant in the Brooks Museum of Art.
When: Thursday, November 11, with music starting at 6:00 pm
Tickets include: three-course dinner prepared by Brushmark Chef Wally Joe and
entry into The Brooks Museum to view the galleries prior to dinner.
$40 per person
Click here for tickets, or call TSC at 759-0604
It's been 25-years since the McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College took on what has to be the most ambitious theater project Memphis has ever seen: Nicholas Nickleby, all 8-hours of it. The cast was a beautifully-stitched quilt of students from both Rhodes and the U of M working shoulder to shoulder with faculty members and community actors. Few would argue that, some gifted holdouts excepted, the 37-member cast brought together the best and brightest of Memphis' performing arts community circa 1985. On Saturday, November 6th 21-members of the original cast gathered at the McCoy Theatre to celebrate the epic undertaking.
The first toast was given by Barry Fuller, the show's primary director and his recollections of NickNick's opening moments evoked more than a few nostalgic tears.
Gail Black, a veteran performer returning to the stage in this season's production of A Christmas Story after a 15-year hiatus, describes the show's atypical opening, and the memory of a standing ovation that swept through the theater before the first words were ever spoken:
The actors milled through the audience, conversing with audience members for about 10 minutes before curtain. Then, on cue, we all made our way into our positions on stage for the opening tableau. The audience did not just applaud, they were on their feet, cheering, applauding, before we had said a word. They knew what it had taken to get the show on its feet. We were moved then, and we were all moved when Barry reminded us.
Toasts were also made to cast members who have died, a who's who of great Memphis educators and performers: Walter Smith, Tony Lee Garner, Scott Maitlin, Stephen Lebovitz, Mark Lee Stephens who was killed by a drunk driver while the show was still in rehearsals, and Jim Ostrander, who lent his name to the Memphis theater awards.
Deborah Harrison Van Ness remembers some of Ostrander's off stage antics.
Some of my fondest memories are of trying to hold it together in the wings while being cracked up by Jim who was whispering his lines to me a la Bob Dylan's "Positively Fourth Street... My every entrance was made trying to choke back snickers."
Black describes the reunion as a casual, warm, revisiting with friends to remember an event that many of the cast members acknowledge as a defining experience, unmatched in their theatrical life. "You could really feel the love that went into it," Black says. "And it still existed."
"The University is celebrating its 100 birthday in 2012 and we have been asked to plan something big," Hetherington says. "Took me several months to negotiate this but I think we have a project that fits the bill." Theatre and Music students are invited to hear all about it.
Color me intrigued.
I'm trying out a new feature today called The Big Red Curtain. It's a chance for actors and directors to get in front of the camera and talk about the things in a show that interest them most. In this first installment Leslie Reddick talks about her very funny production of Tartuffe at the Hattiloo Theatre.