ANPF board member knows his Pulitzers

As of July 1, James “Jim” Risser and his fellow Ashland New Plays Festival board members are accepting new plays for ANPF’s 2019 Fall Festival. Risser, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner in National Reporting, served as director of the John S. Knight Fellowships for Professional Journalists and Director of the Graduate Program in Journalism at Stanford University, and on the Pulitzer Prize Board for 10 years in the 1990s. He also played a key role in the selection of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer-winning play “Angels in America.”

EH: What newspaper articles brought you the Pulitzer Prize?

JR: You could call it investigative reporting: stories that exposed corruption in the U.S. grain exporting industry, where people were paying bribes to federal inspectors. As a result, Congress changed the grain inspection laws. Some people went to prison. Some companies paid fines.

The second prize was for a series of articles explaining the kinds of environmental damage that agriculture does: Things like soil erosion, overuse of chemicals, and depletion of water supplies. A lot of land that shouldn’t be plowed or farmed was being used because of the pressure to produce products. Modern agriculture is a great industry but it can sometimes have a huge impact on the environment.

EH: What happened as a result of those articles?

JR: There were Congressional hearings. They passed some new regulations about what lands could be farmed or not farmed. Continue reading ANPF board member knows his Pulitzers

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The Britt — A beautiful experience in a community atmosphere

Teddy Abrams, music director of the Britt Orchestra and a world renowned composer, pianist and clarinetist, will conduct The Britt Orchestra this season (July 25 to Aug. 11) in Jacksonville. This is the second of a two-part column. The first was published on May 26.

EH: How does music influence politics?

TA: It’s one of those questions of whether art imitates life or vice versa. You look at eras of American history and you see remarkable relationships between history and music, or politics and music — even beyond that, sociology and music. The defining characteristics of a lot of cultures are in fact their music making and their cultural output – those are binding elements.

Music is a way of conveying essential information, a way of defining identity. Especially in America, where our music comes from so many different places. We’ve often used it in ways to help us sort out our identities — and we see that over and over.

Jazz is one of the great examples of a music that is built on many different influences. But it’s this ultimately defining African-American music that could only exist (here), given the political circumstances of America. And that continues to this day.

Music is both political and apolitical. The protest songs of the Vietnam era probably had as much influence on people’s thinking about politics as anything. You had these bands and singer-songwriters with massive reach, and trust that they built, and people really listened to what they were saying, in a way that they may have ignored listening to other activists or speakers or politicians. Somebody could listen to a Bob Dylan song or Beatles song with a very specific message, but if they didn’t speak the language, they could still appreciate the music making. Continue reading The Britt — A beautiful experience in a community atmosphere

Britt commission turns out to be about homelessness

Teddy Abrams, music director of the Britt Orchestra, has been has been conducting orchestras since he was 10. Now in his early 30s, Abrams conducts the Britt Orchestra in Jacksonville, is music director of The Louisville Orchestra, and has appeared with prominent orchestras around the world. I met with Abrams and Mark Knippel, Britt’s director of artistic operations, as they were planning their coming season.

MK: There’s been quite an exciting development. The piece that we commissioned turned out to be much longer and more intense than we thought it would be.

TA: It’s a 50-minute giant song cycle, with back-up singers, and all kinds of interesting instruments. It’s a piece about homelessness: It’s a significant issue in Southern Oregon. Gabriel Kahane’s “emergency shelter intake form” is almost musical journalism; he spent time with the homeless population. Continue reading Britt commission turns out to be about homelessness

Dear Working Actor, What’s the path to acting success?

Jackie Apodaca, a professor of theater at Southern Oregon University, has co-written the book “Answers from ‘The Working Actor’” with actor Michael Kostroff (best known for his five seasons on HBO’s ”The Wire”). Taken from the actor’s trade paper “Backstage,” the book gives a fascinating picture of the complex and confusing world of the acting profession.

Written in the style of advice to the lovelorn, “Answers” consists of years of words of wisdom given to struggling actors who have written to them, signing off with such names as Frustrated, Beyond Confused, Confused Yet Determined, and Lost in La La Land. They offer solid research and techniques to navigate the ins and outs of such a daunting environment. I chatted with Apodaca over lunch at Greenleaf Restaurant in Ashland.

EH: What is your best advice?

JA: There’s no one answer to any question. The only people you can trust are the people that say they “don’t know.” If they say: “This is what you have to do,” they’re lying. In the book I’m constantly saying, “I think this, but some people say this,” or “Here are the 15 different paths you could take.” I try to frame everything in that mind set. Hopefully if people can take away, “Don’t believe anything anyone tells you. It’s going to be different for you.” That’s probably my best piece of advice. Continue reading Dear Working Actor, What’s the path to acting success?

Suffragettes pioneered techniques used by Gandhi, King

Ashland Contemporary Theatre’s recent production “Pankhurst: Freedom or Death,” directed by Peggy Rubin, is a theatrical tour de force written and performed by Jeannine Grizzard. Set in England in 1913, the play examines the history and issues involved in the women’s fight for the right to vote, finally granted in 1918. Grizzard had researched a speech by Emmeline Pankhurst (a leader in the suffrage movement). She decided to develop the material while attending a Social Artistry Workshop given by Jean Houston and Peggy Rubin. The challenge was: What project can you come up with to change the world?

EH: How did Emmeline Pankhurst make her mark on history?

JG: She created modern media coverage of activism. Technology had advanced to the point where they could take pictures of a protest and have them published in newspapers the next day. Staging events for the media to cover was her introduction to the twentieth century, which paved the way for Gandhi and Martin Luther King, making big demonstrations and relying specifically on the press. Continue reading Suffragettes pioneered techniques used by Gandhi, King

Festivals celebrate collective film watching experience

Ashland Independent Film Festival Artistic and Executive Director Richard Herskowitz has put together a stunning festival, bringing in numerous films, filmmakers, panel discussions, interviews, live performances, gallery exhibitions and interactive events for a four-day run that concludes this evening, April 16. We visited at Bloomsbury Coffee House to discuss his vision of independent filmmaking and festivals.
RH: A film festival is inevitably a potpourri of things. It’s got to reach a lot of different tastes and audiences. I create a kind of a meta film out of a lot of different movies by creating themes and connections between them. At the same time there is scholarship and education involved.
One of the major themes of the festival this year is the importance of classic film — preservation and exhibition. Without the knowledge of classic film, emerging filmmakers lack a foundation. Being exposed to films done in the past makes you realize that there are alternative ways of doing things than films done in the present. I’ve seen filmmakers, inspired by classic films, do things in a different way. The way we do things now has evolved and will transform again in the future.
EH: What separates a good film from a great film?
RH: I don’t make those judgments. My inclination is to see films historically. Films speak to particular moments. I resist objectifying a work of art. I think works of art are historically based. I do believe there are masterpieces. Continue reading Festivals celebrate collective film watching experience

‘There are only two genres of music in the world’

Composer Joby Talbot will be performing his original score for the silent film “The Dying Swan” Saturday, April 14, at the Music Recital Hall at Southern Oregon University as part of the Ashland Independent Film Festival.
Coincidentally, the Royal Ballet’s “The Winter’s Tale” (composed by Talbot) is being shown during the London Live series at the Varsity Theatre in Ashland April 8 and 9.
Talbot’s résumé includes contemporary classical pieces and film and television scores. He composed motion picture scores for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and for the animated film “Sing.” As an arranger, he has worked with numerous contemporary musicians, including Paul McCartney and Tom Jones.
EH: Some of your scores are enormously complicated. How do you get started?
JT: It’s like building a building. You have to have a strong structural architecture. I start with the raw building blocks of pitches and rhythm. When I’ve got the whole piece done like that, then I can stworrying about who plays what, and how they all combine. Continue reading ‘There are only two genres of music in the world’

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