Cool Things

Thursday, July 26, 2018

For Your Consideration: Tell the 2018 Ostrander Judges Who to Nominate

Posted By on Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 2:39 PM

The Ostrander Awards are scheduled to go off Sunday, August 26th. The judges have not yet convened, and it's only a matter of days now before the haggling begins over who gets nominated for one of Memphis' coveted theater awards, and who goes home with the plaque. In other words, if there was ever a time to make your feelings known as to who you think they should choose, now would be the time to make some noise. I'm suggesting not that any of our upstanding judges could ever be swayed by outside influence. But it sure can't hurt and might even be fun to try.

What I'm proposing is that theater fans post their own "for your consideration" suggestions in comments here, or on the social media platform of your choosing. You can make it text only, or — if you're feeling creative — make Academy Awards-style "for your consideration" ads and share them around. My only request is, if you make ads, either email a copy to me or tag me when you post it. If we get enough I'll create a second post with the best homemade ads out there.

For my sample I picked John Maness because that guy could easily be nominated in a couple of categories, and absolutely deserves a play prize this year.

Have fun and stay tuned to Intermission Impossible for Ostrander updates including nominees, interviews with honorees, and this year's installment of WHO GOT ROBBED?!?!

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Prime Cuts: A Pulitzer finalist, and an Orwell fable

Posted By on Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 9:52 AM

Looking for something interesting this weekend? Whoever you are, the Memphis theater community's probably got something for you. 

Cloud9's a relatively new company still getting its legs. That sets up Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime — a significant regional premiere — as a probable coming of age story. This Pulitzer finalist is near-future science fiction about a time when artificial intelligences can be programmed to serve as companions for the elderly, even taking on the look and characteristics of lost loved ones. It would easily be the most smartly-written thing on stage this week if Voices of the South hadn't staged a narrative adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm, or if Theatre Memphis' wonderful production of Falsettos had been produced at some other time. As it happens, there's a lot of smart work to choose from. Choose well!

And there's always the ballet.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Rapid Response: Resisting with the Up in Arms Dance Collective

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 2:35 PM

"Resist." It's a word we're hearing a lot these days. Many people are resisting. Many things are being resisted. This weekend members of the Up in Arms Collective are taking their, "broken, angry, hopeful, confused, empathetic,truthful, playful, and devilish hearts... and making art." So says dancer, choreographer Louisa  Koeppel, inviting Memphis to join the, "MOVEment." And also to help raise funds for Planned Parenthood, the Mid South Peace and Justice, and the ACLU. RESPONSE at Crosstown Arts March 3-5 at 7PM

Dancer Rebecca Rose Cochran takes it further, describing the RESPONSE show as, "A reaction to our current political landscape. This show was born out of grief. Out of shock. Out of anger. Out of an urge to 'get to work.'

"We had a desire to respond," she says. "And RESPOND we shall."

20 Memphis dance artists are performing in rotation at Crosstown Arts this weekend. There's a different lineup every night.

Here are some rehearsal shots.

The lineup
Sheri Bancroft, Jennifer Hall, Erin D.H. Williams - Fri/Sat
Bethany Bak - Fri/Sat
Travis Bradley - Sat/Sun
Burton Bridges - Sat/Sun
Rebecca Cochran - Fri/Sun
Emily Hefley - Fri/Sat
Louisa Koeppel - Fri/Sat
Sarah Ledbetter - Fri/Sat
Kristen Lucas - Sat/Sun
Jill Guyton Nee - Fri/Sun
Wayne Smith - Fri/Sun
Lauren Stallings - Fri/Sun

Films by N'seeka Macpherson and Robin Sanders will be shown all evenings. For additional information, here's the Facebook invite.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Opera Memphis Stages a Pop Culture Classic

How many times has the "Modern Major General" song been sung on TV and the Silver Screen? A zillion?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2017 at 4:44 PM

Opera Memphis’ general director/nerd-in-chief Ned Canty compares Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance to Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch. “It’s a direct descendent from the pirates," he says. "You take this very fearsome group of people and make them kind of ineffectual and cuddly. These pirates never attack anybody weaker than they are, and they never attack an orphan. So everybody says they’re an orphan and the pirates never make any money."

The Pythons aren't the only comics to crib from G&S. Is there any musical theater song more frequently referenced than Pirates' "Modern Major General?" I've linked to clips from a handful of times it's bubbled up in pop culture — this list can't even scratch the surface.

What notable versions of the Major General's song have been left out? Gotta be a lot.

• "You blew it my child": The great Gilda Radner gets comically tripped up on The Muppet Show. Also — a giant snooty carrot.

• "With the eggs on top": Poor Peter doesn't do much better on Family Guy.

• "Very unattractive flannel.": Pranks take an operatic turn on Home Improvement.

• Babylon 5. Wait for the credits.

•Things get dreamy in the "Peggy & the Pirates" episode of Married... with Children.

• Barney's diction gets better on The Simpsons. In space nobody can hear you burp.

• Searching for that last episode of The Simpsons made me aware of this rendition on Veggie Tales. So, that happened.

• And now for something not completely different, The Pirate Movie: "Not now darling, I'm on!"

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

New Editions: Ibsen, Naughty Shakespeare

Posted By on Wed, Oct 5, 2016 at 4:56 PM


This post is so going viral. I mean, who among us doesn't get crazy excited about new editions of classic plays by authors like William Shakespeare and Henrik Ibsen? 

I've already written a bit about Pelican's new Shakespeare collection. But I feel compelled to jot a few words about Othello and The Taming of the Shrew. Both include the usual essays, with nice, lightly rendered introductions. Breaking a willful wife and training her up right was a popular plot back in Willie's day and Shrew, we're instructed, is part of that mysoginist genre, forever popular, but at odds with modern sensibilities. Othello's intro builds from the Shavian barb inspired by Verdi's Opera Otello. In a spot on analysis George Bernard said Otello wasn't Verdi's most Shakespearian adaptation, so much as Othello was Shakespeare's best Italian Opera. But honestly, I'm not here to type about what's in the books, so much as what's on them. I mean, it's one thing to be bawdy, and quite another to be so on the nose. Or on the... something.

Nice berries Othello. 

I'm not sure what it means to reduce the Moor of Venice to nothing but a head with a stylized penis, but here we are. Now here's Kate the cursed on the cover of Shrew. 
 What are all those little things around her her heartgina? Beads of sweat? Bugs? Just... Ew. 

The scripts are fine, the essays are swell, but from the teeny tiny titles on, I'm just not loving this design.

Is it fair to call Ibsen Norway's Shakespeare? Maybe not. Okay, no. But he was practically as inventive as the Bard when it came to word coinage and that can be a problem for translators. The new Penguin Ibsen collection isn't just a new edition, it's a new set of translations. That's great news because we're talking about an author who worked in a small language and is known primarily by way of translations, not all of which are historically sensitive.

It's probably not so strange, given translation goals, that the publishers continue to use the title A Doll's House even though that's not quite right. In Norway "Doll House" is a distinct word, and one that Ibsen specifically rejected in favor of something closer to "A Home for Dolls," which is less catchy, but bends the title's meaning in a slightly different direction. Beyond this example where the title is too well known to alter, this is exactly the kind of thing the new editions aim to correct. 

In addition to A Doll's House the new collection includes GhostsAn Enemy of the People, and an underrated early work The Pillars of Society. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Munchkin Mayor Justin G. Nelson, Candidate for Most Adorable Duckmaster

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 5:03 PM

Justin G. Nelson welcomes Dorothy. - DANIEL A. SWALEC
  • Daniel A. Swalec
  • Justin G. Nelson welcomes Dorothy.
If you didn't get to see Memphis actor Justin G. Nelson's star turn as a Peabody Duckmaster, good news — there's video. Nelson played the mayor of Munchkinland in the Wizard of Oz national tour that docked at the Orpheum earlier in June. 

The bad news: The show's picked up and moved on. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Don't Be Afraid of Hecklers: Another side of Memphis Comedy

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 2:34 PM

Don't be afraid of Josh McLane. Or do. Your call.
  • Don't be afraid of Josh McLane. Or do. Your call.

Consider this as an addendum to this week's cover story about the Memphis Comedy Festival, and the indie comedy scene that birthed it. It's hard to address everything in 3000 words, and I thought it might be fun to include a few sentences about Memphis audiences. I also wanted to share an annotated version of Mitchell Dunnam's fantastic cover for this week's Memphis Flyer. Mitchell plugged a lot of local comedians into a parody of the movie poster for National Lampoon's Animal House, and this is the key to figuring out who they all are.  

Comedian Tommy Oler had barely started his set at RockHouse Live when the heckler started yelling at him. An older gentleman, later identified as one of Elvis' former attorneys, yelled, "You suck!" He wasn't a very good heckler. That and, "You still suck!" was pretty much all the material he had. Oler took it all in stride, suggesting that his comedy might improve while his critic wasn't getting any younger. 

RockHouse Live is cave-like, and committed to darkness. The Wednesday night open mic, hosted by Amanda Walker can sometimes leave audiences wondering if they should laugh or call 9-1-1. "Even the bartenders heckle you," MaryBeth Poppins says. "Like, if you tell a joke about daiting and you aren’t telling it bad enough, they'll correct you. Or jump in with their stories. It can be obnoxious." But, if you're a comedian born, insults can also be inspiring.

Poppins is a very serious (and seriously funny) stand-up hobbyist literally created by the Memphis Comedy Festival. A comedian insulted her, as comedians will, and she thought, "I can be funnier than that guy." Bada-bing, bada-boom. And open mic nights — an important part of the comedy ecosystem — are like a box of chocolates in the wild west. You never know what you're going to get. And what you get can be rowdy. Open mics are places where you can see experienced comics like Rob Love or Harold King working out the kinks in their freshest material back-to-back with newbies, schmucks, and punchbowl turds. It's like Blacksmith Comedy's Benny Elbows says, "At open mics you really start to see how much craft goes into this. When you see somebody out there being funny it's easy to assume they've always been funny. But most of the time that's just not the case." 


Even at open mics, where anything can go down (and often does), heckling's not the worst thing that can happen. Neither is soul-crushing silence, which means people are listening, at least. Memphis audiences seem to enjoy one another's company, and if they think you're no good they'll just talk to the person next to them. Loudly. Unless, that is, Josh McLane's performing.

McLane's a badass drummer who's played in too many bands to mention. He's a part time wrestling announcer who got his loudmouth start as a strip club DJ. He says he doesn't really think of himself as a comedian, but it's not hard to draw straight lines between McLane, Mouth-of-the-South wrestling luminary Jimmy Hart, and the angry, screamier side of Bill Hicks. So punchlines do find their way into his firey political rants. He's also the host of Don't Be Afraid of... Memphis' longest continuously-running stand-up comedy showcase. If there's a ground zero for Memphis comedy's increasingly unified hype strategies, it's probably Don't Be Afraid...".
Paying your dues: Aspiring comic MaryBeth Poppins takes door for the You Look Like a Comedy Show show.
  • Paying your dues: Aspiring comic MaryBeth Poppins takes door for the You Look Like a Comedy Show show.

Like many local comics McLane got his start doing open mic, and has been regular at the P&H since the days when he worked at the bar doing whatever needed to be done. He knows what it's like to come off stage, change out of his comedy suit, and empty ashtrays for customers who were very recently threatening to kick his ass. "That's humbling," he says. But wrestling's in McLane's blood. He knows how to generate heat, and when audiences turn, he's been known to make some risky choices.

One night McLane was performing on stage at the P&H and two women sitting front and center wouldn't stop talking. So he flicked a switchblade: "I haven't been to prison in a long time," he said, brandishing his weapon at a safe distance. "And right now I'm really missing the taste of a dick." The talkers were shocked into silence.

"But they came back every week for a long time and became big friends of Memphis comedy," McLane says. Don't be afraid indeed.

This month's installment of "Don't Be Afraid"  is produced at the Hi-Tone Cafe in conjunction with the Memphis Comedy Festival. 

And now for something completely different...

While working on this package I was smitten by Mitchell Dunnam's comedy posters for showcases like Tuesday Show Comedy and the Black Nerd Power Comedy Hour. They were pop culture parodies with the faces of local, and visiting comics plugged in. So I asked him if he'd create a parody of the Animal House movie poster for this week's cover, and he really outdid himself. Here it is again with a guide to all the comics represented on the cover. 

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