Tom Strini

Three Things I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You

Sunday with Alverno Presents at the Lynden, Arthur Miller's "Salesman in Beijing," $ for the ballet's Harmony Initiative,

By - Jul 13th, 2012 09:09 pm
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KT Niehoff, artistic director of Lingo Dancetheater.

The Alverno Presents Series has gone its quirky, creative way over the years. The series, at Alverno College, has brought in edgy theater, lots of hip but hard-to-classify music, and numerous dance companies. Some of those dance companies have been obscure, some were known in dance circles, some were famous beyond the small world of modern dance.

In July of 2011, AP’s David Ravel quickly forged a relationship with the newly opened Lynden Sculpture Garden, and the two institutions co-presented Eiko and Koma, legends of Butoh dance, at the garden.

Alverno Presents will again launch its season early with a co-production at Lynden. From 3-6 p.m. Sunday, July 15, Alverno and the Lynden will put on Coming (and Going) Attractions, a sort of outdoor avant-garde variety show.

Roy Staab, an environmental sculptor and one of my favorite artists of any kind, will unveil a new ephemeral, site-specific work that will live in the small pond until the assemblage decays and collapses as planned.

The Seattle-based Lingo Dancetheater, led by KT Niehoff, will be at the garden to perform a work-in-progress preview of a dance the company is developing for the 2013-14 Alverno Presents season. Can you imagine a 21st-century Milwaukee band taking up the music of Stephen (“Old Susannah”) Foster? Well, Juniper Tar did, and Alverno Presents took notice. The band will be at the garden, giving an advance look at the Foster Project concert slated for Feb. 2 at Alverno’s Pitman Theater. Composer-performer Jon Mueller, likewise, will advance of his Death Blues (No Time Like the Present), slated for the South Side campus on Nov. 16.

Quite a line-up for a summer Sunday afternoon. $20 to get in. Be sure to leave the car at the Park and Ride on Brown Deer Road near I43 and take the shuttle bus to the Lynden.

Book Report: In May of last year, I met with Mark Clements to reflect on his first season as artistic director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater and discuss 2011-12. Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, with Clements directing, had closed a couple of weeks before. Clements had directed that relentlessly intense and tautly focused production, which sealed his spectacularly successful first season at the Rep.

Salesman was on both our minds and we talked about it for some time. Clements prepared in part by reading Miller’s Salesman in Beijing, a remarkable 1983 book about staging Death of a Salesman in China just as that nation staggered out of the disastrous Cultural Revolution.

miller-beiging-salesman-clementsThe book is a daily log, with an entry for each day from March 21 through May 7, 1983. It fascinates first as a chronicle of Miller’s efforts, as director/playwright, to communicate the essence of the play and its characters to actors with no grasp of capitalism, American life or the naturalistic acting style the play requires. This part of the book takes on a certain suspense as Miller tries one strategy after another to get to his eager but clueless actors. Will they get it? Will the audience get it?

Miller’s frank accounts of the ups and downs of the process show him to be a great and resourceful director and consummate human engineer. He knows how to get people to want to do what must be done, which is perhaps the most important of all life skills. I learned a lot from this book, and not just about theater.

Clements tabbed many pages in green or violet tape, obviously flagging thoughts that especially applied to his Rep production. Here’s a bit of a “green-tab” quotation: “Why have I pressed them on so quickly? I suppose I feared they would come to the opening unprepared, especially Willy (Loman). (I have advised) two fine American actors in the role who simply ran out of steam somewhere in the first quarter of Act 2, and I didn’t want that to happen with Ying. (It) is a monster role, as exhausting as Hamlet, with so much of it done at a high pitch.

“… I take specific speeches where he is pressing and ease him back. He responds at once… Thus, ‘The boys in?’… which he had colored with resentful disappointment, becomes a simple question without vocal emphasis.”

Now you know what a real director does.


Tom Strini, hard at work at TCD headquarters.

Beyond the theater, Miller and his wife, photographer Inge Morath, spent their time observing street life and meeting with artists of all sorts. His keen vision, eloquent description and thoughtful analysis of encounters personal, political and artistic capture China vividly in a key moment of the country’s modern history. Miller lived wide awake:

“At 7:30 in the morning, stretching my legs in a walk down the sunny hutong around the hotel, I hear wafting from a window the haunting melody of Red River Valley sung in Chinese by a quite lyrical and delicate soprano. I have no idea why this gives me an optimistic lift.”

This little book abounds with such arresting moments. Arthur Miller — what a playwright, what a writer, what a citizen of the world.

Oh, I’m interviewing Mark Clements again next week. I should really return that book.

Congratulations to the Milwaukee Ballet, which won a $100,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant for its Harmony Initiative. This proposal, which partners MBC, the Medical College of Wisconsin and the UWM Peck School of the Arts for a new Downtown dance and fitness/therapy facility, is one of the best arts ideas on the administrative end I’ve seen in this town in a very long time. MBC has been relatively quiet it about; I’m glad to see that the idea is percolating below the surface. By the way, I’m meeting with Dennis Buehler and Michael Pink next week and will ask about the latest on the Harmony Initiative.



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