Working, working in New York, New York

January 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Each January, we get a chance to go to New York for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) annual conference. During the week that we are there, the island of Manhattan becomes our performing arts play ground.

ACA’s Marketing Director, Jason Grenn, and I try to take in as many types of entertainment in as many different clubs, theatres, and other performance venues we can find. This year was no different.

Four Broadway shows in three days

Broadway is obviously one of the biggest attractions for us since we bring three shows to Anchorage each season. This year, we saw four incredibly different programs—Mary Poppins, Billy Elliot, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Anything Goes. Two titles (Billy Elliot and Anything Goes) were recent Tony Award-winners. All at some point were movies either as source material (Poppins, Elliot and Priscilla) or made into movies from the musicals (Anything Goes). We saw the gamut of traditional (Anything Goes) to gritty (Billy Elliot) to campy (Priscilla). Each would make a great addition to one of ACA’s future seasons. On a personal note, I enjoyed Anything Goes the most. It was upbeat, fun, and had amazing talent with Joel Grey and Sutton Foster. The title number that ends the first act brought the house down as 30-40 people tap danced for at least five minutes straight.

Clubs and more clubs

APAP affords many opportunities to see musicians in clubs all over the city. One of my favorite places is Joe’s Pub. There we got to see cutting-edge violinist Hahn Bin perform a one of a kind performance art piece. Another new favorite was the very tiny Rockwood music hall, where we got to see Nellie McKay perform. The place was standing room only with Nellie at the piano playing her unique songs. We also got to hit City-Winery to see Jesse Cook amaze the crowd with his skill on the guitar. After he finished, the Slide Brothers hit the stage and played the most incredible blues on slide guitars. We concluded the week of club hopping with a trip to the Village Vanguard to see the 16-piece Vanguard Jazz Orchestra perform.

Buffet of Choices

The conference happens in the Hilton Hotel on Sixth Avenue. During the conference, literally 100’s artists are lined up to perform over the course of the four days of the conference. We spent one night walking from room to room catching shorter showcases. We saw

-Matt Andersen, an amazing blues guitarist
-The great grandson of Django Reinhardt, who will be performing with a group called “In the Footsteps of Django”
-Break of Reality, a trio of cellists and a percussionist
-Plus numerous other singers, soloists, and other performers.

While Anchorage doesn’t have the array of theatres, clubs, and bars of New York, we look carefully at all these artists and try to find the very best to bring to Anchorage. It’s fun and we enjoy every minute, but make no mistake—it’s hard work! We enjoy it, and we do it for you. You may very well see some of the performers described above in a coming ACA season.

– ACA Executive Director, Jason Hodges

A swingin’ Christmas!

December 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

The last few holiday seasons, we’ve been lucky at ACA to be able to bring to Anchorage such diverse, festive shows like Eileen Ivers “Irish Christmas” and Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Creole Christmas. When creating the current season, we wanted to stick with diverse, fun holiday shows that are uncommon to Anchorage. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy seemed to fit that mold perfectly. Truth be told, we were a little shocked about how quickly the show sold. Getting two tickets together was almost impossible as far back as October!

What makes the group so popular? Well, you can expect to hear the band that many consider the modern standard bearer of swing music rework yuletide classics like “Blue Christmas,” “Jingle Bells” and “We Three Kings” into rollicking Big Band extravaganzas. They will also throw in a few new songs of their own — “Zat You Santa Claus” and “Rock-A-Billy Christmas” from their holiday recording “Everything You Want for Christmas.” The tunes are cool enough to keep a snowman from melting, while “Mr. Heatmiser” (from the ’70s-era Claymation television special “The Year Without Santa Claus”) sizzles with hepcat heat.

Formed in Los Angeles in 1992, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy quickly built a following by playing regularly on the local lounge circuit to Gen-Xers enamored with the kitschy charm of the cocktail nation.

In the mid-’90s, the Los Angeles septet first gained mainstream popularity and kicked off the swing revival with their breakthrough appearance in the film “Swingers.” They began touring ferociously, delivering killer shows night after night that included Rat Pack lingo and zoot suit flair. The chemistry between the band members, like the success that soon followed, was evident.

Carrying on in the tradition of the legendary big bands and orchestras like the Glen Miller Orchestra, Benny Goodman, and the Count Basie Big Band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy performs hundreds of concerts each year.

Their energetic performances sell out shows to enthusiastic audiences of all ages in cities around the world. As committed to their music as the swing era lifestyle, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy is not only known for their impeccable performances, but for their classic suit and fedora styling and gentlemanly demeanor. Their fans span generations, filling concert halls around the country for shows that transport audiences back to a more wholesome, optimistic time. Now wonder the show is sold out!

What type of holiday shows would you like to see in the future?

– ACA Marketing Director, Jason Grenn

Through the eyes of a child

November 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

What’s it like to be a dancer on the stage for The Nutcracker? We asked two cast members to write about their experience; a first year cast member (baby mouse) and from a Nutcracker veteran (flower).

Finn McGlasson – 8 years old

“In the Nutcracker audition, we did all the things our age group could do. We could do the mice and the angels. When I found out I got in the show I was really, really happy. I got in to be a mouse and the dance is really fun. At the first rehearsal I felt sort of scared because the dance is sort of hard and we have to learn our places. I’m the leader of one of the groups. I think it’s going to be fun to be in the Nutcracker and learn a lot of what the dancers do and how the magician does the magic. I think I’ll feel really excited when I get on the stage and dance in front of hundreds of people. I think it will be cool to be backstage. I think I am going to have a lot of fun and I’ll be really excited. I’m really excited right now. I think the show is really good. I was really surprised when I got in.”

Rosie Montgomery-Webb – Flower age 13

“My name is Rosie Montgomery-Webb and this is my 5th year being in the Nutcracker. Being in the Nutcracker had been my dream since I was very small. The first time that I was tall enough to audition, I did. To my surprise, I got the part of a party child in the first act. I have been in the party scene 4 times as a boy and as a girl. Also, I have performed with both Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT) and Eugene Ballet Company (EBC) in the Nutcracker. This year, for my first time, I am a flower in Waltz of the Flowers. I was so excited to have the opportunity to dance right along side with the professionals in the ballet world in a corps de ballet. This has been my dream for quite some time now and to get the part on my first try auditioning for it is spectacular. Now, I have bigger dreams, like to be Clara or Marie, or maybe even the Sugar-Plum Fairy. I am so excited for the performance coming up very soon. I am sure that it will be a fantastic production for everyone like always.”

Nutcracker is an exciting time for our local dancers. From the audition, to rehearsals, from the back stage excitement to the onstage magic; it is a treasured tradition for our dancers and their families. All the hard work pays off this week as our students bring what they’ve learned to the stage with the Eugene Ballet Company. Our spirits are dancing with excitement as the curtain is raised. See you at the Nutcracker!

More than just concerts. A lot more.

November 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Wow, I’m tired. Really. I’m not kidding. Let me tell you why.

A very cool part of my job is getting the artists we bring to Anchorage out into the community. It could be a master class, in-school visit, school performance at the PAC, a private in-home concert, pre-performance talk, an event with another community group or a variety of other activities. This is what we call “outreach.”

I have worked for the Anchorage Concert Association for six years now. Up until last season the average amount of outreach activities in a season has been 21. Last season we decided to experiment and bring up an artist for a full week of residency activities, mostly in the form of in-school visits. This increased the number of outreach activities to 32 for the season. A big jump! But, more importantly was the increased amount of impact in the community and the great responses we got from the residency. We thought, “Wow. This was such an awesome experience. Perhaps next season we should do more of this.”

And we did. We have. We still are.

We just finished doing 38 outreach activities in a span of 43 days. No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Those numbers are right. You can see now why I might be tired. But, it has been a good run and a lot of fun too. In those 43 days we reached almost 7,000 people and did a lot of cool stuff.

• 16 in-school visits
• 2 in-home concerts
• 3 improvisation classes
• a fiddle flash mob
• a school performance at the PAC
• a jazz master class
• a potluck with the Polynesian Association
• performances at AFN and Youth and Elders
• a free event for military families on base
• 5 pre-performance talks
• a private event with Anchorage Youth Symphony
• a guitar master class
• a performance in a wine bar
• an event for our volunteers.

We are not satisfied stopping at 38, more outreach is coming. The season isn’t over until the 80’s rockers sing in May, so keep your eye out for more ACA outreach events in the community. As long as I am awake, I’m planning.

– ACA Education and Outreach Director, Erynn Smith

When serendipity takes over

November 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Probably the most common question I am asked is, “How do you decide what groups to bring to Anchorage?”

The list of factors that go into picking a season is a lot longer than the space in this blog can provide. I do want to address my favorite factor when it comes to programming — serendipity.

Serendipity is defined as: an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.

Serendipity led me to find THE NEW STANDARDS on a cold January night in New York City. I was going to Joe’s Pub to watch the Lascivious Biddies as an agent really wanted me to see the group. As I entered the bar, there was this trio performing. They cracked me up. They had this unusual arrangement of instruments—a stand-up bass, vibraphone, and piano. The style of music was minimal and jazzy, but the song choices they had were more modern and hip. They played current pop hits like Toxic by Britney Spears and R&B classics like The Dark End of the Street. Then they played some Bowie and Lou Reed. Each time a song started I knew I knew the song, but couldn’t always place it immediately. There was always something familiar because the music they played was in fact familiar to me. It was the arrangements for the trio of instruments that I didn’t know. Later, I bought their albums only to find Hey Ya by Outkast and Watching the Detectives by Elvis Costello.

It took me a while, but I finally put it together that the group was creating new standard songs like the standards of the early 20th century. I loved the concept! It was fun, exciting, hip, and something Anchorage needed to see.

With the success of last year’s presentation of The Lost Fingers, I figured The New Standards would be a great follow up. Like the Fingers using 80s music to make the gypsy-jazz guitar stylings of Django Reinhardt accessible, The New Standards was taking a form, minimalist jazz, and applying it to great music from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and today.

All of which leads us to today, this week and the concert on Saturday with The New Standards. How did we manage to get this great group to Anchorage? It was truly a bit of serendipity.

If you believe in serendipity, the stars aligning, coincidence, fate or anything of the sort, I invite to come to show on Saturday night. So let that feeling in your gut lead you to something you weren’t quite expecting. Who knows; your new favorite band could be performing on the Discovery Theatre stage this weekend!

– ACA Executive Director, Jason Hodges

The sweet improvisation of Sweet Plantain

November 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

The first time I watched Sweet Plantain was in a stairwell in New York City in 2005. Well, not really a stairwell, but more of a small area in between staircases. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the typical setting to watch a string quartet. You could tell the group was nervous. They had been together for a few years, but this was their first time at the Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference. Showcasing yourself at the conference is about first impressions and the setting was creating a less-than-ideal impression. But I sat and listened to four gentlemen play and interact with the handful of us in the audience. I eventually came away with a positive feeling about the group. I thought that with a few more years under their belt, they could become a top notch and stupendous touring group.

Fast forward to 2011. Jason Hodges (ACA Executive Director) and I are again in NYC at the APAP conference. We’ve been asked to check out Sweet Plantain’s showcase by another Alaskan arts presenter. As we walked to the venue, I shared with him my experience the last time I saw them. My anticipation grew as we waited for the group to start their performance. I was looking forward to seeing them again after so many years. I was excited to see their potential growth realized and what, if any, new directions the group had taken to differentiate themselves from other string quartets. During that 40 minute showcase, they didn’t disappoint.

What makes Sweet Plantain such an exciting and unique group is usually made clear during their first song. Even if you aren’t an expert of classical music, you can tell something is different when Sweet Plantain plays. When you pay close attention, you can see that the members will occasionally make intense eye contact. They do so in order to communicate whole improvising. Yes, improvisation can be done in classical music.

“The history of the string quartet has always been one of improvisation,” said cellist David Gotay. “Haydn used the string quartet as a form for motivic development. It’s an ideal vehicle for musical expression. And it has all the musical bases covered – soprano, alto, tenor and bass.” Artfully fusing the Western classical traditions in which they were trained with the hip-hop, jazz improv and Latin rhythms on which they were raised, Sweet Plantain produces a sound unlike any other string ensemble.

“In concert we do 90 percent original compositions and original arrangements,” Gotay said. “I studied at conservative schools, but identified with the music I grew up listening to. I would study and play traditional classical music at school and then listen to the latest from (hip hop band) De La Soul on my Walkman on the way home. We were all like that. So the question is how do we reconcile the training and expressing ourselves? We do it through improvisation.”

I invite you to attend the concert on Friday evening. Will you be able to tell the moments where improvisation and hip hop roots meet a 300 year old composition? Is there room for improvisation in classical music? Why or why not?

– ACA Marketing Director, Jason Grenn

The building of “Fiddler on the Roof”

October 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Fiddler on the Roof” is here! Actually “Fiddler” has been here since October 9th. They are “teching” their show in Anchorage. The last Broadway show to do that was Man of La Mancha in 2006. And even though The Lion King was here for a very long time, their show was not teched here.

So what does it mean to tech a show? It’s the process in which the performers, orchestra, scenic elements, lighting, choreography, costumes and director are all brought together for the first time: Those elements are knit together to form the show that you ,and thousands of other patrons, will see over the next year.

Teching is usually done off Broadway. You could say Anchorage is about as far off Broadway as you can get! The whole design team – director, choreographer, lighting, sound, costume, and musical director are flown to Anchorage along with the cast and crew, approximately 65 people. They get to spend ten extra days in our city, working morning, noon and night, literally, to bring this Broadway show to life. Anchorage will be the first to see their efforts.

Economically, this is a great financial boon for Anchorage. Sixty five people may not sound like it can make much of an impact, but that’s a lot of extra hotel rooms rented and meals at restaurants, during a generally slow tourist time. Our lack of a sales tax is greatly appreciated and lots of shopping happens just for that reason alone 

Behind the scenes, our local technicians get to be a part of a process that is rarely afforded them. They help build, modify and fix props, sets, and costumes for the show. The 19 local crew members will learn this show right along side the technicians that tour with the “Fiddler” company. Our locals will actually help build the base of information that every future group of technicians is provided when Fiddler comes to their town. All of the stage directions; which prop goes where when, what set piece moves onto the stage and when it comes on and goes off; what performer gets changed into their next costume and in what order that person’s clothes are removed and the order the next set of clothes is put on. All this information will be written down from the local crew’s experiences and will become part of the permanent show.

We at the Anchorage Concert Association are thrilled that our city was chosen to host this fundamental Broadway experience. We know it helps keep our downtown vital and the arts alive and well in our community.

– ACA Events Manager, Kathryn Easley

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