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I’ve been spending a number of days and nights getting to know the stories, efforts and characters that it takes to get Mo’olelo Performing Arts Company’s “How I Got That Story” ready for Opening Night this weekend.
The work to make a play happen, at small theaters like Mo’olelo and giant ones like The Old Globe, is multi-faceted but rarely seen. Consider these details we’ve been exploring:
• Finding the right sounds and voices is key: The two-man play whirls a young reporter through a fictional warzone in “Ambo Land,” a pseudo-Vietnam. One actor plays the reporter, and the other is responsible for 20 different characters. And that’s not all. He also must make all of the sound effects and music to accompany the scenes, per playwright’s instructions — guns, planes and the Rolling Stones included. You can listen to snippets of the sound effects actor Greg Watanabe makes. You can also watch short clips of interviews with him and Brian Bielawski, playing the reporter, about finding the right voices for this play.
• The difference within 24 hours can be huge: The first preview performance was last week, when the actors strived to take all they’d learned in rehearsal and conversations with combat veterans who’d actually been through war, and put it onstage.
In the first performance for an audience, things weren’t going so hot, but 24 hours later, director Seema Sueko was smiling.
For more from our series, visit our Arts: Embedded page.
Elsewhere, KPBS featured an interview with Sueko and the actors to talk about the drama of war reporting, tied to the jarring news of the deaths of a few high-profile journalists covering conflicts worldwide.
And the U-T San Diego highlighted Mo’olelo’s bent for inviting different groups to be part of its productions — in this case, the military community.
“In San Diego we have such a large military and veteran population that (our society) is trying to welcome and reintegrate into civilian life,” Sueko says. “What we sent them to do is so mind-blowing that to just be, ‘Hey, come on back!,’ is a little naive.”
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• The embattled California Center for the Arts, Escondido, is having a series of public meetings next week to talk about the future of the center.
• The Old Globe’s rehearsal rooms are bustling to get ready to produce a brand-new musical, “A Room with a View,” and it’s remarkable to see “the blazingly quick path “Room” has taken from raw concept to major regional-theater production,” reports the U-T’s Jim Hebert:
Now, though, it’s time to find out whether actual audiences will reward the Globe’s faith in (and financial gamble on) the musical — and say “yes,” too.
• I had the chance to go to Sundance Film Festival last month in support of some friends’ film, and one of the best things I saw was a documentary about Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei. He’s maybe best known for designing the Bird’s Nest stadium for the Olympics in China a few years ago, but in the last year, the government has cracked down, arresting him last spring.
Now the artist can’t leave China at the moment. But his art can travel. The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego opened last week an exhibition of his gilded sculptures of 12 animal heads representing the segments of the ancient Chinese zodiac. (The museum was one of the most outspoken U.S. institutions about the artist’s arrest last year, organizing a solidarity sit-in with him last spring.)
The museum is also showing the nine-screen video and film work of a British artist that draws connections between ancient and present Chinese stories, like the deaths in England several years ago of 21 Chinese migrant workers. (CityBeat)
• The clash between the local conservative art community and contemporary art hit a high point in the 1960s, says a curator who’s organized a show at the Oceanside Museum of Art about that period of history of the contemporary art scene here. That curator, Dave Hampton, also organized the show of midcentury craft and design featured in the Mingei Museum’s “Craft Revolution” show.
• The La Jolla Playhouse’s “Car Plays” sparked intrigue and fun for two critics who watched theater unfold in the front seat of a car while they sat in the backseat: The U-T’s Jim Hebert said he may’ve never felt so awkward watching theater but that he “loved just about every mortifying minute of it.” And writing for SanDiego.com, critic Welton Jones lauds the theater’s work to make varied dramatic experiences happen.
Change and Loss
• After a tumultuous first performance for tenor Ben Heppner, the acclaimed singer withdrew from the subsequent three performances of last week’s “Moby-Dick” at San Diego Opera. Tenor Jay Hunter Morris came in to sing the part instead, and was “splendid,” according to U-T San Diego critic Jim Chute’s second review:
With Morris’ command of the stage and the ship, it suddenly made sense why this crew was essentially willing to go to hell for its obsessed captain.
The L.A. Times’ critic Mark Swed had a more “meh” response. He said the cast was strong, the production dazzled, but nothing revolutionary happened:
Heggie’s pleasantly entertaining opera, which continues … on to San Francisco Opera next season, goes down. That’s its problem. Nothing about the world — or Melville — seems any different when it is over. In that sense it is not true to “Moby-Dick” at all.
Chute also left the theater humming the 1950s tune “Tequila.” Anyone else?
• A much-loved local visual artist, Dennis Paul Batt, passed away at the end of last month. He moved to San Diego after seeing an intricately carved stone artwork on the cover of a locally produced journal and became an advocate for the local arts scene. (U-T San Diego)
• The artist behind the desert attraction “Salvation Mountain” is now in an assisted living facility in San Diego, and the L.A. Times’ Tony Perry reports the mountain shows signs of its founder’s absence. Perry interviewed the artist:
Knight still marvels at his journey from obscurity to fame. “It’s amazing how little me got so famous outside California,” he said from his convalescent home earlier this month. “All I did was put ‘God Is Love’ on the side of a mountain and people started loving me.”
Last month, KPBS featured the Salvation Mountain’s plight in photos and video.
• The smooch statue saga continues on the waterfront. The Unified Port of San Diego announced last week the contentious sailor-kissing-nurse statue would stay for a while longer than its planned departure at the end of this month.
From the U-T:
The port’s Public Art Committee voted last year to oppose adding the statue to its collection for esthetic reasons. But the port board indicated earlier this month that it might overrule the committee or find some other way to keep a permanent “kiss” on display.
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