Five Questions for F. Murray Abraham

By Arthur Smith   |   Monday, July 25, 2011
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Abraham comes to Boston as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, opening Tuesday, March 29 at Arts Emerson’s Cutler Majestic Theatre as part of ArtsEmerson’s season.The Oscar-winner talks with WGBH ArtSceNE curator Kara Millerabout staying in shape, listening to Stravinsky, and eating lobster in Boston.
Q:This is an interesting time to be in a play about making loans and charging interest. Do you see The Merchant of Venicehaving particular resonance now?
A: Yes, I really do–on a couple of levels. I think that it examines the idea of justice, and it particularly speaks to our time, as there doesn't appear to be any regard for the other–which doesn't ever seem to change.
I feel very strongly about what has been happening–and helpless too. The political system feels geared towards the wealthy. In the play, Shylock represents something bigger than Jews in the world. He represents anyone who has been oppressed: blacks, Irish, Chinese, Palestinians, many groups.
Q: What is the challenge in engaging with art that is more than 400 years old?
A: That's what makes our production [from New York’s Theatre for a New Audience] so exciting. It's perfectly clear. I'm hoping people will drop down and see it because I think they'll be blown away. It was a big success in New York City and [England’s] Stratford-upon-Avon. Sold out in both venues. I can't wait to get to rehearsal– we're really rediscovering the piece.
When people see the show, I would like them to drop us a note or a line. The play might be life-changing. I really mean it.
Q: Do directors approach Shakespeare differently than they did when you first started acting?
A: I think so. The conceptual director has become very prominent. In some ways, that's unfortunate. They have sacrificed communication through the actor for a concept. Our director [Darko Tresnjak] is different. But I do think that some directors now think of actors as something to be moved around–I don't work with them again.
Q: When you're not acting, what kind of art do you indulge in? And what do you look forward to doing in Boston?
A: I really love art. My closest friend is a painter, and we visit museums at least once a week. Stravinsky is my favorite composer–I can't imagine a world without music. I'm also very defensive about Salieri and his music, and Mozart, who I listen to a lot, is a constant surprise. [Abraham won the Best Actor Oscar for portraying Salieri in the 1984 movie Amadeus.]
In Boston, I intend to take a look at some of the best places to get lobster. Also, I have friends in Cambridge. I did King Lear there one time, and it was the first place I encountered three 24-hour bookstores. I was really impressed. I will probably also teach a master class or two.
Q: How tough is it to do eight performances a week in a theatre production?
A: It's what I've been doing all my life. My work is to stay in shape–I am my instrument. I'm 71, and I don't think I've been in better shape. I thought I'd be dead at 60. I once did a show where I performed 16 times a week, but I don't think anyone in history has ever loved acting as much as I do. Maybe as much, but not more.

A New Movie: Starring You.

By Arthur Smith   |   Monday, July 25, 2011
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From our partners at NPR,

Director Kevin MacDonald embarked on a new project last year to capture a snapshot of everyday life all around the world.

YouTube users from over 192 countries uploaded more than 4,500 hours of video to his channel, all of it shot on a single day: July 24, 2010.

MacDonald and his team, which included directors Ridley and Tony Scott, took that footage and made it into a 90-minute documentary called, aptly, Life in A Day.

"We were looking for stories which resonated, or more than that, served as a metaphor for something bigger in life," McDonald told weekends on All Things Cohsidered host Guy Raz.

One of those resonant moments came from a Japanese father and son going through their morning routine. In between brushing his teeth and watching TV, the young boy says good morning to a shrine to his deceased mother.

"It's a masterful piece of filmmaking, maybe unintentionally," MacDonald tells Raz, "but it highlights what I'd call the aesthetic of amateurism. There's a beauty in the home-video style."

MacDonald says watching the film is a philosophical experience, and can change how one sees the world.

"It made me realize that cultural differences, which are the things we're mostly preoccupied by, those things are actually the superficialities of life," he says. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Edward Gorey: Suitably Sinister at the Athenaeum

By Kara Miller   |   Monday, July 25, 2011
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Boston—WGBH Contributor Kara Miller gets charmed and a little bit spooked by “Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey,” a show of the late illustrator’s original drawings on display at the Boston Athenaeum through June 4.

When I was little, my mother would say that "A is for apple, B is for bear." Artist Edward Gorey, apparently, taught the alphabet somewhat differently.
His 1963 book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies: Or, After the Outing, explains that "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears." At my house, by contrast, the bears leaned more towards Teddy than grizzly.
But Gorey's lovely, dark drawings -- carefully inked with his signature fine lines -- motor right through the alphabet, heaping calamities on one unfortunate child after the other: "U is for Una who slipped down a drain. V is for Victor squashed under a train."
Gashlycrumbis one of more than 180 original Gorey drawings on display at the Athenaeum, in a show organized by the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA and already presented there, in San Antonio, and Orlando.
Gorey’s works are an alternate universe, but one definitely at home in the exhibit hall: massive columns and purple walls form a backdrop for the delicate drawings, with their drolly sinister content: animals who show up for dinner parties, men wearing bowlers and long Victorian skirts, and titles like The Fatal Lozenge andThe Blue Aspic.
What the viewer learns is that Gorey’s vision -- familiar to many from his designs for the WGBH/PBS series MasterpieceMystery!-- was long in the making. After an auspicious start as a child artist and a stint in the military, Gorey arrived at Harvard and began tucking his letters home to his mother in Chicago into intricately-painted envelopes. Beautiful, but also macabre: one features a man about to be strangled.
Staring out from their display cases in the Athenaeum, these rare Harvard envelopes -- like so much in Gorey's 100 books, stage designs, and illustrations--immerses brilliance in darkness.
"Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey," Through June 4, 2011, Boston Athenaeum, 10-1/2 Beacon Street, Boston, MA. Admission $5. More information, including hours, at

From The Gashlycrumb Tinies, by Edward Gorey. © 2011 The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, part of the Athenaeum exhibit up through June 4.

Bruce George: A Poet For the Stage

By Bridgit Brown   |   Friday, July 29, 2011
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Bruce George is a legend even though he would rather be recognized as a poet. But he is the reason why the art of performance poetry catapulted to stardom in this decade, and continues to thrive despite the rapidly changing interests of the American television viewership. For instance, Russell Simmons Presents Brave New Voices, a seven-part HBO series that began airing in April 2009 was a spin-off of one of his ideas. This documentary-like program was narrated by Queen Latifah and profiled teenaged poets as they competed for the National Youth Poetry Slam - a BIG deal if you're a teen with something to say, poetically speaking that is.

But Bruce stresses that he had little to do with the diffusely organized trend toward performance poetry these days even though the idea behind the HBO series Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam came from him. True that the movement started gaining new ground in the late 1990s, but there would be no television program featuring the art of performance poetry if Bruce did not come up with the idea, share it with a mentor who then shared it with Russell Simmons, and the rest is his story.

Other accomplishments accomplishments include the recently published collection of writings that he edited called The Bandana Republic: A Literary Anthology By Gang Members and Their Affiliates to a number of gigs from providing content for I-Tunes and I-Pod to a cameo appearance in the Oscar-winning film that starred Denzel Washington – Training Day. Currently he is collaborating with poet/essayist Louis Reyes Rivera on a book-in-progress to be titled Street Smarts: An Anthology of Urban Survival Strategies.

When Bruce is not being the indispensable representative of today’s performance poetry movement or performing his own work on stage, he speaks on behalf of the art form and trains others to perfect their poetic flow through performance.

Just recently, he taught a two-day workshop at Berklee College of Music to students enrolled in the college’s Poetry Jam and Slam course. It was during this time that he spoke to Basic Black Perspectives Now on his part in today’s movement to speak poetically.
Peace and Poetry!

Don West: Black Boston's Photographer

By Bridgit Brown   |   Friday, July 29, 2011
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What makes a picture perfect? Some say it’s the light. Some say it’s the right angle. Some say it’s the subject in the crop of a frame, but Don West, a Boston-based photographer, says it’s the energy that a person, place, or thing emanates that makes him raise his camera to eye level, point it, shoot it, and share it.

He has had many lives prior to taking his current stance behind the camera. In his twenties, he was a professional bass guitarist, then he went on to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, spiritual leader to the Beatles, and founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement of the 1970s.

It was in the early eighties that he began taking photographs for the Bay State Banner, a newspaper servicing Boston’s African descended community. Since then, has captured volumes of photographs which he catalogues by themes: politics, culture, history, sports, music, etc.

The bulk of his massive stock of images are portraits of notable people like South African political activists Nelson and Winnie Mandela, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, Stevie Wonder, Senator Edward Kennedy, Civil Rights activist Angela Davis, and Tito Fuentes (just to name a good few). He also has a collection of photographs that include his walks in Beijing China, and glimpses of a couple entwined in a tango dance Spain. In the fairly recent past, he had the honor of photographing President Barack Obama while on his campaign trail in the North East. Though it was Don’s pipe dream to become the House’s staff photographer, he joked about finally getting to know someone in the White House after all.

On a more serious note, he cites the economy and the advent of the digital revolution as the cause of the deteriorating relationship that now exists between photographers and major corporations. With the laying off of staff photographers to stay abreast in this economy, these individuals now have to compete with other freelancers for the fewer jobs that are already out there.

“Instead of hiring a professional throughout the year to cover everything that they do, which was the case back in the time of roll film photography,” he explained “now they’ve bought their own digital cameras and they do all of the in-between and major events themselves, with their staff and their digital cameras.”

Bold and Courageous

By Jared Bowen   |   Thursday, October 18, 2012
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BOSTON — Through performance, photography and film, consider those who fight for love, for peace and for family. 

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ArtSceNE news and comment

About the Authors
Arthur Smith Arthur Smith
Arthur Smith is the former editor of WGBHArts. Executive producer for digital education at WGBH, Arthur, an amateur pianist and singer, was previously a freelance classical music reviewer for the Washington Post for 9 years. He has also worked at an opera company, and ran the information service and publications programs for OPERA America, the national service organization for the art form.  Since 1991, he has been the program annotator for Vocal Arts DC, a classical song recital series based at Washington's Kennedy Center. 
Kara Miller Kara Miller
As a radio host, Kara Miller has interviewed thinkers from E.J. Dionne to Howard Gardner, Deepak Chopra to Lani Guinier. She is a panelist on WGBH-TV's "Beat the Press," as well as an Assistant Professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Her writing has appeared in The Boston Globe, The National Journal, The Boston Herald, Boston Magazine, and The International Herald Tribune.

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Bridgit Brown Bridgit Brown
Bridgit Brown is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Emerson College ('98). She was a Fulbright Lecturing and Research Scholar in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, and her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Bay State Banner, Color Magazine, Black Perspectives Now, Colorlines of Architecture, Exhale Magazine, Ibbetson Street Magazine, and Somerville Review.
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 


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