Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tom Bauerle is a Putz

I am not a big fan of talk radio and a good portion of my dislike comes from the brash, shock 'em approach many of these individuals take as they proclaim opinion on contemporary issues.

The constant one-sided, perceived "truth" these individuals spew out makes me cringe as these spin-doctors pounce on the First Amendment without any understanding of the consequences of spreading their negativity and misguided information.

Unfortunately, we live in a 21st century world where even if truth and fact contrast one's opinion that their belief still has substance. The art of compromise went out with the Y2K threat and we now live in a world with loosely connected pockets of shared opinions and an "us versus them" mentality.

Talk show radio hosts use this their advantage as they throw out subject they have opinions about in attempts to rabble-rouse demographic pockets.

I noticed this recently as I was told to catch a segment of WBEN 930's The Tom Bauerle show.

Apparently, Bauerle was on a tangent about the cuts to WNY Cultural agencies and had recently carried on a discussion with someone in the theater community who commented on Bauerle's anti-Cultural position. Bauerle ripped the caller claiming that the Arts should not receive funding and that those who are in that industry are nothing more than hobbyists.

A hobby?

According to Webster's dictionary, a hobby is "a pursuit outside one's regular occupation engaged in especially for relaxation." Based on this definition I will speak for myself and say that being in the Arts is not a hobby. Grant it, there is not much money in it and I have to look to other sources of income to survive, but I treat what I do as a job and get no "pursuit of relaxation" with it.

Now I have mixed views on Cultural budget cuts, but will take offense to someone calling what I do a hobby, so I called the The Tom Bauerle show.

In the ensuing conversation, he maintained those in the Cultural do it as a hobby. I countered to him that some people may feel the same way about on-air radio announcers in an era of online radio services. He disagreed by saying what he was doing "was his job".

"That is the same way some people feel about working in the Arts." I replied to him. "And some people treat use the opportunities in the Arts to help subsidize their income as well."

It did not register with Bauerle.

Neither did my point to him that although some creative passions begin as a hobby and with proper funding for venues, these hobbies can turn into full-time jobs. Much like a college student who takes up radio as a hobby and eventually becomes a talk-show host.

Clearly, Bauerle's opinion is set. What truly disturbed me was the callers responding to his show who were echoing his sentiments on the subject. One caller mocked the theater person by calling him a "Thurston Howell type with leather patches on his elbows,"and Bauerle kept feeding this prejudice by creating an "us versus them" mentality with his callers.

The overall point that Bauerle and his callers missed is that those involved in the Arts are not some toy-soldier painting group of intellectuals. We are folks who are dedicated to pursuing our creative passion. We treat what we do as professionals. We get the greatest satisfaction in doing our best, without any hint of relaxation, with our crafts.

True, there is no money to be made in the Arts, but it does not mean we treat it as a hobby. Most importantly, although some changes need to be made with business models, funding Cultural groups enables them to pay individuals their creative worth. With this, the frequency of paycheck may not reflect a more traditional job, but the concept of getting paid, instead of the work being a labor of Love, qualifies the industry and the creative passion. Eliminating the idea that what Artists do is a hobby.

To say someones passion is a hobby because the work does not generate a good income is ludicrous.

After all, some might believe that being an outspoken, on-air talk-show host for a small AM radio station in a small city with a listenership-demographic comprised of angry white people, technophobes, folks over the age of 60, and ignorant ridge-runners is just a hobby as well.

Right Tom?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Erie County Budget Cuts--In the Heart of Darkness

It has been few interesting months for Erie County cultural groups.

The Evil Erie County Empire swept in and Darth Collins imposed his imperial will on the people of the Creative Class. This overlord proclaimed he was cutting funding and the days of free handouts were over for these groups while those he deemed worthy were saved from his lightsaber cuts to the Erie County budget.

Okay, you get the point.

Anyone involved in the Arts receiving Erie County funding is up in arms to protest this extreme measure and proclaiming that Collins is taking away quality of life and depriving an economic engine of needed resources. The loudest voices are those who have had a longstanding budget dependencies on Erie County funding and now face the daunting task of filling these huge, and potentially crippling, gaps in their own budgets.

Although American Rep Theater of WNY has never received Erie County funding, ART retained allegiance to those who faced these extreme measures as well as shared in disgust with Collins' arrogance in determining which cultural groups were worthwhile or relevant.

As the cries of protest grew louder and calls for unity echoed throughout, it became apparent that those voices who put themselves in a position to be spokespeople for all were actually acting out of self-preservation with an sense of entitlement based on reputation and establishment.

Indeed, in a recent interview on WECK with an artistic director of a reputed theater company, this individual indicated that those established theater of 20 years were committed to the community whereas some unestablished theaters who "parachute in" or are "hit and run" are not.

I was shocked to hear this comment and, in attempt to gain some clarity, wrote this individual only to get a personal attack detailing my lack of being a team player and "sniping from the sidelines". The overall feel of the response was that I lack the experience and insight to see the bigger picture and that my energies should be spent fighting Collins.

Okay, fair enough to sling this, but the issue of explaining what was meant by "hit and run" theaters was never addressed leaving me the impression that the big picture is if your cultural group lacks reputation or is unestablished, shut up, sit down, and support efforts to save the budgets of those who are established.

So what is this big picture?

There's the big picture of government. This country is in one of the worst economic downturns since the 1930's, New York State is broke and local government budgets are stretched to provide the common amenities to the public. In light of this, the Collins cuts are necessary evils in the name of governing.

The idea that a cultural group should be entitled to have their funding restored means Collins would have to close, for example, a Buffalo General Hospital trauma unit in order to do this. Government 101 says restored funding for cultural programs would mean another program would have money cut or eliminated. What serves the County better? BOCES buses for special needs students or an art gallery?

Everyone has to tighten their belts in this current economic condition. The cultural groups are a small fraction of those who are suffering. Libraries are being closed, county workers are being laid-off and parks are being closed because of Erie County budget cuts. Overall, everyone is forced to adapt to these present conditions, and, most importantly, nobody should have a sense of entitlement in these times.

So when a business colleague calls me and tells me "Your people are laying on County Hall steps and there's a Grim Reaper hovering over them. What's up with that?" I shrug it off. "Nothing. Creative folks being creative."

I do not begrudge anyone who makes the effort to express dissent. There is tremendous value in the Arts community having a united front. What makes protest worthwhile is the result and how it achieves that goal. For example, restaurants have seen a 2% growth in this economy, why not petition Erie County restaurants to sponsor one boutique theater and one smaller art gallery per year? Corporate sponsorship of the arts in below national average in Erie County, so why not organize boycotts of businesses that fail to support the arts?

Not sure if holding up small, harmless signs "Stop Cutting Cultural Funding", or wearing Halloween costumes will get Chris Collins to overturn his budget cuts. If anything, it gives those who are outside the Arts another reason not to take us seriously. If the Cultural groups need to come up with a message, it should be an acknowledgement that not one group is entitled to funding because they have reputation or are established.

To say one Cultural group or another helps improve the way of life in Erie County and therefore is entitled to keep its Erie County funding is arrogant and reflects the same judgemental blindness diplayed by Collins.

Trauma units improve the way of life in Erie County and that, for me, is the "bigger picture".

Matthew LaChiusa is the 2009 winner of the Artvoice Awards Emanuel Fried award for Best Original Play, and is the Eexecutive/Artistic Director for American Repertory Theater of WNY.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Four Seasons and Still Kicking

American Repertory Theater of Western New York is proud to be entering into the fourth season and, as the Executive/Artistic Director for the company, I find this to be an amazing accomplishment.

In December 2007, just before ART became an official 501 C3, this country entered into one of the worst economic collapses since the Great Depression. To compound the lack of fiscal resources were accelerated cuts in Federal and State funding of the Arts as well as limited investments by foundations and individuals.

Additionally, it was becoming increasingly apparent that established Cultural 501 C3's were the main focus of the public and private sector investments. Whatever crumbs left over were to be greedily fought over by the less prominent Cultural entities. Newcomers who lacked the history and reputation were left to find progressive ways of generating income without this support.

In this economic climate, Cultural organizations were placed in a Darwinian contest of strength and weakness with the winners being those with the loudest voice and the biggest reputation. Sadly, being the "most fittest" did not amount to being the best in what was presented on stage.

In this vacuum of quality, ART has been able to survive.

ART does not depend on celebrity endorsements to justify their works nor lives off the reputation set forth by one's grandparents to support the works. ART survives because of the dedication of presenting a good story with a careful eye on presentation without trendy gimmicks or pretension.

And this approach seems to be working because despite the lack of government funding, deep-pockets for marketing or generations of subscribers, and with several local nominations and an award for theater excellence, ART is still kicking.

Onto our fourth season!

I am excited about our fourth season because we have chosen to salute the Golden Age of American Television.

Before American TV gave itself over to programming for ratings and not quality, this creative engine produced numerous and endearing American cultural icons as well as some of the most creative American writers and filmmakers in our pop-culture history which has directly influenced characters, TV show themes and films of the late 20th and early 21st century.

ART has chosen to do three works that all differ in style but best capture the essences of the Golden Age of American Television.

The first in the season is an stage adaption of the classic, Sci-Fi meets Morality Play, Twilight Zone entitled Twilight Zone Redux. Adapted by Drew McCabe and co-directed by Kristin Bentley, three classic TWZ stories are rendered for theater presentation with careful attention to the pathos of each characters as well as dedication to the writing style that made these TV shows classic.

Second show of the season is a homage piece to Alfred Hitchcock written by Gary Earl Ross entitled Murder Squared. Mr. Ross does a wonderful job capturing the nuance of the famed suspense writer but also the film-noir of early American TV. Honest and compelling, this piece is right out of the script-rooms of NBC.

The last production of the season features the semi-biographic story of Neil Simon's experiences as a junior writer for the TV variety show, Your Show of Shows, featuring the legendary Sid Caesar. Laughter on the 23rd Floor mixes both the sharp wit of Simon with the all-but-accurate characterisations of famed American writers, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and Carl Reiner. Laughter on the 23rd Floor is a comedic, historical insight into American TV during a time when networks began to put ratings over quality.

Overall, this season should be entertaining to say the least. Whether you were able to watch these programs or just a gleam in your grand-father's eyes, this fourth season has something for you.

We'll see you around.

Matthew LaChiusa is the Executive/Artistic Director for American Rep Theater of WNY and is excited to be co-directing with Robert Ball of Ujima Theater with "Murder Squared"

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sports and the Arts

Came across an article in The Buffalo News that highlighted the career of a high-school football coach stepping down as the Lancaster Central School District's Athletic Director.

As the district's AD since 1993, Len Jankiewicz has been active in seeing the makeover of Lancaster Central football-only stadium including new lights, bleachers and a press-box as well as bringing a state-of-the-art, 31,500 square-foot community athletic field house.

Additionally under his watch, Jankiewicz has added 28 sports programs including boys hockey, girls lacrosse and other, according to The Buffalo News, "modified sports for girls."

Although I did not see mention in the article, nor could find specific information in the Lancaster Central School District website, was whether or not Jankiewicz has provided sports programs or extra-curricular activities for district students with special needs; however, he did work with the Board of Education and town of Lancaster to purchase land for practice fields and refurbished tennis courts, including new lights, for the typical district students.

The Buffalo News adds to Janiewicz's accomplishments, "While all these accomplishments can be measured, the list is even longer of things that can't be."


I find this hard to swallow when the district athletic program ranks at nearly top of Western New York with an annual budget of $500,000.

Upon investigating how much budget is directed towards the Dramatic Arts, a Lancaster Central School District representative could not provide an exact amount dedicated towards this program stating that the monies are spread throughout programs servicing 6,000 students throughout 8 schools (5 elementary, 2 high and 1 middle school).

The Lancaster School District 2010-11 budget lists $1.25 million directed towards co-curricular/interscholastic activities, but lack of further details listed on the online budget and an unreturned phone-call from the school district office did not provide information into where the Dramatic Arts fit into the budget.

Listed online for Lancaster High and Middle schools under Activities and Clubs/Teams, indicates portions of the budget provide these schools money for extra-curricular clubs focusing on Dramatic and Performing Arts. Both schools have "Stage Crew" clubs that teach students the fundamentals of stage sound and lighting. The middle school has a "Drama Club" and the high school Activities page lists a "Performing Arts".

Of the $1.2 million, minus $500,000, one doesn't have to be a detective to assume these clubs, and the other Lancaster high and middle school's 64 non-athletic activities and clubs, receive less than $500,000 annually. The additional monies are further spread among the other district's elementary and high school programs giving some indication into how diluted the allocations become.

Once again, attempts to isolate the money directed towards non-athletic, extra-curricular activities of the Lancaster School district have yielded unreturned phone calls. I am left to assume these numbers are blurred and therefore difficult to account for.

Now the debate over how a school district should prioritize the budget to reflect a more even distribution of money to non-athletic programs, including Arts programs, has been going on for decades. The question at the core of the debate is whether or not a School district should dedicate more funds to extra-curricular programs that only benefit a small group of individuals with athletic talents.

Proponents of athletics programs state that these programs help students build strong work ethics of teamwork and group support as well as promoting physical fitness. Opponents retort that Arts programs build communication skills and benefit a broader range of students including special needs children.

Indeed, there are numerous articles and studies citing the importance of Arts in school districts and the benefits associated with these programs. New Horizons For Learning lists over fifty articles, studies and links with their website page Arts in Education that detail the benefits of Arts in schools.

Both sides have valid points.

Unfortunately in these difficult economic times, school districts are force to make deep budget cuts to their extra-circular programs. Since we live in a culture that favors Sports over Arts, the latter sees drastic cuts while the former, as with the Lancaster School district, with a $500,000 Athletic budget, a new football stadium, new tennis courts and the addition of 28 sports programs, remains relatively intact.

So yes, Buffalo News, in that "while all these accomplishments can be measured, the list is even longer of things that can't be" includes Arts program budgets that are drastically cut or are eliminated.

Just hope that Len Jankiewicz comes out to more theater in his retirement.

Matthew LaChiusa is the Executive/Artistic Director for the American Repertory Theater of WNY who happens to be a complete football junkie but strongly believes there needs to be more balance between Sports and Arts at the high school level.
Below is a video of fellow Fredonia State alumni Lisa Brigantino and her talented sister, Lori as they promote their album "Wonder Wheel". With them is Susan Haefner (another FSU alumni and mega-theater talent) as they preform "I Gotta Find Me Somethin."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The 2010 Buffalo Infringement Festival

On August 1st, the Buffalo Infringement Festival concluded and with closing ceremonies celebrated five years of success.

Curious word "success" when applying it to BIF.

In the beginning, success simply meant nobody got hurt, venues didn't burn down and, with small numbers of producers, there was a decent selection of performances. After five years, organizers are measuring their success by promotion generated from major sources of print and TV media, more venues committing space, ads are being placed in the festival guide, increases in attendance and proposal submissions.

Indeed, all those who contributed their time and energy in some capacity to the continuation of the festival have witnessed this event grow from a puny 98 lb. unknown weakling to a highly sought, muscular summer event. The motto of "Art under the Radar" is now becoming an recognizable shout "Art all-over the Radar Map."

Whether or not one was there from the beginning or came aboard last June, those who have put their time, energy and art into this festival can walk away proud with a measure of success.

I recently spoke with Kurt Schneiderman, Executive/Artistic Director for Subversive Theatre and one of the core founding members of BIF. Kurt had to step down from his numerous BIF responsibilities and dedicate his time to administrative duties Subversive Theatre and the duty in his son's diapers.

He too shared his pride seeing this event grow in size, and yet, seemed pleasantly surprised at the rapid ascension of this festival in the eyes of the community.

When the members huddled in the back room of Nietzsche's on a very cold February five-years ago, none of the organizers expected the festival to reach these heights in such a short amount of time. Founding members such as Ron Ehmke, Scott Kurchak, Lynn Lasota, among others, put their energies into this grass-roots festival expecting nothing more than getting the damn thing on its feet without having a nervous breakdown.

And they did...in both capacities.

Fast-forward five years later and in the sweaty Manny Fried Playhouse with both Kurt and I are shaking our heads in disbelief that the BIF has become a successful summer event. And let me clarify that this amazement isn't based in skepticism that those who took it over lacked the skills to run it but that this bohemian, small-scale artistic event with no creditability, has captured the attention of those who ignored it five-years ago and has given a group of anyones and nobodies hopes of bringing whatever creative thing they do to life.

This continual survival of BIF, like a cockroach that survives a nuclear winter, speaks about the creative spirit that lurks in the dark corners and alleyways of Buffalo's cultural sprawl.

Its a voice that says despite the annihilation of funds for artists, despite the age of iPhones and instant gratification, despite a divided nation full of brats and obese people, creativity will not go away. It will simply wait for the opportunity to be presented in a cramped back-room of an bookstore, a parking lot or in someone's apartment.

So keep it going unheard playwrights, performance artists and newcomer actors because this festival was made for you and the other "nobodies" out there with talent and drive.

Five years from now while you hold up an award for excellence, you will remember that BIF gave you the opportunity to show that art under the radar.

Matthew LaChiusa is Executive/Artistic Director for the American Repertory Theater of WNY and was one of the foot-soldiers for the BIF. Of the two plays originally performed/read for past BIF's, Axeman's Jazz, received an ARTIE nomination for 2007 Emanuel Fried New Play and the other, RED CLAY, won the 2009 ARTIE Emanuel Fried Award for New Play.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Happy Birthday You Tube

When You Tube first made its Internet debut 5 years ago, the founders Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim may not expected the impact this video sharing website would have upon the world.

Indeed, in a world of "just add water" instant information, You Tube has provided more accessibility to the world at large. Live video feeds of cultural revolutions in Iran to an over-weight kid busting moves to a hip-hop tune is now available to both the bored housewife in Idaho and the businessman on Wall Street in a last-stance example of informational Democracy.

The power of You Tube has gone beyond being an information terminal.

Countless of individuals have become celebrities through acts of bravery or the stupidest of human tricks, all which are recorded and submitted on You Tube while numerous causes and movements gain support because of a 30 second video blurb that buzzes the Internet and become viral.

All because of a click of a mouse and a video sharing website. Somewhere in the Halls of Irony Heaven, Andy Warhol is smiling.

But You Tube has had its share of criticisms. Copyright infringement, government censorship, unlawful representation of people and places, illegal obtaining of images are negative parts of this website. All that remains of human intimacy and cultural dogma has now been dragged into public record by the "eye" of the video camera and the need to "broadcast yourself". We have seen our share of idiocy, apathy, criminality, indecency and crudeness all in the name of online attention by some lonely folks with video cameras.

On the other hand, You Tube has provided the world with videos of great human accomplishments and riveting social commentary. The 2009 social revolution in Iran gave us terrifying video of the government crackdown and made us cry as a young revolutionary girl, by the name of Neda, died online for the world to see. This compelling video and many others has introduced uncensored, citizen video journalism into our living-rooms. No small wonder that in 2008 You Tube was awarded the George Foster Peabody Award and cited for being "a 'Speakers' Corner' that both embodies and promotes democracy."

As is the case with our species, a tool in human hands can either be productive or destructive.

For creative folks, You Tube has become a great opportunity to present the world their art. Apart from social networking, You Tube has become one of the most effective marketing tools in the 21st century. The need to spend thousands of dollars in radio or TV time to promote one's wares, has been practically eliminated. All one needs to do is upload their You Tube video on a Blog or Facebook and it could be potentially seen by thousands by one simple click.

One could even go as far as saying You Tube is shaping the way American sees and elects its leaders.

The impact You Tube has on a group promoting a social agenda or an apolitical group to get their message out cannot be overlooked. President Obama mobilized a large group of individuals by You Tube ads whereas the non-partisan, grass-roots organization (and based in Buffalo) I Need a Frickin' Job has seen an increase of over 200,000 hits to their website because of their poignant videos (and the media buzz about an INFJ billboard as Obama drove on the 33 to get into downtown Buffalo). The idea that through You Tube a message can reach folks in a more expedient, broader and colorful way than traditional media means is revolutionizing how campaigns are being managed, agendas are being presented and how non-political groups can galvanize a message by a simple 30 second video.

So, Happy Birthday, You Tube and thanks for five years of providing beautifully profound and socially driving videos, or as Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "Providing a safe home for piano-playing cats, celeb goof-ups, and overzealous lip-synchers since 2005."


Below is a video from the Fat Bat Man series

featured by "I Need a Frickin' Job"

Produced by Scott Baker & Filmmaker Jeff Baker

Featuring John F. Kennedy