Category Archives: Art

Art of the possible- Astro Boy and the God of Comics at Sacred Fools

Courtesy: Sacred Fools Theatre

21 July 2015 Update: Astro Boy has extended through 8 August

It’s a marvel that the current West Coast Premiere at The Fools takes on so many issues so successfully in the space of seventy minutes.  On its surface, ‘Astro Boy and the God of Comics’ is a retrosynthetic look at Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka, legendary within a circle, but poorly known outside of it.  Natsu Onoda Power has crafted twelve tight vignettes starting with a cartoon character flying off to save the world and working backward to the early years of the man who created him. The steps in between make us ask where exactly the lines between culture and sub-culture, high art and pop art, and science and society are drawn – pun intended.  Director Jaime Robledo and an exceptional cast and crew pull it off much like they did with ‘When Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ a couple of years ago.

This is a tech-heavy show blending live performers, puppets, projections, and real-time art.   It is all required – this artist’s life can’t be told without his creations and those creations have to move.  Tezuka came from a happy childhood, lived through World War II, and watched his art take off into commerce thereafter.  His success in comics fueled an animation empire that generated the beloved Astro Boy cartoon but that ultimately couldn’t sustain itself.

The preshow visuals  warmup the neophyte, hinting at why the man was and is such a big deal.  Small projectors discreetly hidden in the light grid shine on two gauzy screens and the back wall as needed.   It’s ‘Dry Cleaning’ quality work with the added complexities of a large cast living in this half-real, half-animated world.    Matt Richter and Anthony Backman transform a small physical space into a city, a world, a solar-system with tricks of perspective, light, and shadow all without being overtly clever about it.

In an evening of tech done right, it’s live art that vaults ‘Astro Boy’ into tour-de-force.  Performers in Los Angeles are adept at some combination of acting, dancing, singing, and backstage work.  Art Director Aviva Pressman has her ensemble drawing the scenery  in jaw-dropping synch with the rest of the business.    It’s no gimmick, its not mere doodling, and must have presented substantial headscratching in casting.   The actors draw characters and scenery in pens, ink, and charcoal onto large tearaway sheets on the back wall.  The choreography is mesmerizing especially in the Guernica-for-Hiroshima roughly halfway through the work.   Each sheet is ripped down at the end of a scene, crumpled, and hauled off stage.  It’s a damn shame – they’d make fine auction pieces for a theatre in the midst of a capital campaign.  West Liang and Heather Schmidt nimbly represent Tezuka and Astro Boy although the short span of the play doesn’t and can’t fully explore their Gepetto Pinocchio relationship.  There are allusions to Clarke, Dick, and Asimov as the rights, roles, and responsibilities of superhumans bump up against the anxieties of their human creators.   Liang and Schmidt manage to imbue their re-enactions of cartoon scenes with surprising tenderness.  Among the uniformly excellent ensemble, Megumi Kabe stands out with a wistful portrayal, in Japanese, of Tezuka’s utterly loyal but shamefully neglected wife.

Graphic novels, anime, manga –  call them what you will.  At their best, they can take us into worlds orthogonal to more common forms of storytelling.  This intersection of cartoon and stage beautifully serves both and is a tribute to the art of possibilities and the possibilities of art.  Time is running out.  Don’t miss it.

鉄腕アトム日本ゴーゴープロモ!(Astro Boy Japanese Go Go Promo!)

Watch this video on YouTube.
JUNE 20 – JULY 25, AUGUST 8, 2015
Sacred Fools Theatre Company
Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm
Sundays @ 7pm
660 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90004
(310) 281-8337 or Buy Tickets Online

Heather Schmidt as Astro Boy
West Liang as Osamu Tezuka

Zach Brown, Megumi Kabe, Anthony Li, Mandi Moss, Jaime Puckett & Marz Richards

Erin Sanzo as Astro Boy
Scot Shamblin  as Osamu Tezuka

Gregory Guy Gorden , Lisa Anne Nicolai, & Aviva Pressman

Lead Producer / Technical Supervisor – Brian W. Wallis
Live Art Director – Aviva Pressman
Assistant Director – Rebecca Larsen
Associate Producer (Design/Tech) – Shaunessy Quinn
Associate Producer (Casting/Outreach) – Seamus Sullivan
Marketing Coordinator – Carrie Keranen
Stage Manager – Heatherlynn Gonzalez
Assistant Stage Manager – Suze Campagna
Scenic Design – DeAnne Millais
Lighting Design – Matt Richter
Costume Design – Linda Muggeridge
Prop Design – Brandon Clark
Puppet Design – Natsu Onoda Power
Sound Design – Jaime Robledo
Original Music – Ryan Johnson
Stunt/Fight Choreography – Mike Mahaffey
Suzuki Trainer – Joe Fria
Projection Video Design – Anthony Backman
Projection Animation Design – Jim Pierce
Animation Painter – Danielle Heitmuller
Stage Crew – Bo Powell & Alyson Schultz
Production Intern – Sophie Pietrkowski
Performance PhotographyJessica Sherman Photography
Key Art – Christopher Komuro



Thrown together – Tadeusz at ESMoA

Image courtesy El Segundo Museum of Art

Not all collaborations are created equal. Some time ago, the jewel-box art museum in El Segundo teamed with the Getty and noted graffiti artists to compare and contrast ostensibly street art with medieval illuminated manuscripts. ‘Scratch’ was an audacious reach across centuries, comprehensive in its choices, and convincing thanks to its subtle yet driving focus on context.

‘Studio,’ ESMoA’s just-opened collaboration with LACMA suffers greatly in comparison. It’s a retrospective of the late Norbert Tadeusz (1940-2011) with twenty-seven paintings from moderate to large adorning the walls and leaving a lot of whitespace for all that. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the art but nothing especially right about it, either.  All fall short of the promised monumental scale. Tadeusz seemed to like bold colors, moderate perspective, gymnastics, and cats. The works on offer are all about his studio, hence the title. A couple almost pull you in. Almost.

The website says he was important(tm) and that he studied and associated with other important(tm) people. It might even be true but the evidence and context woven so well together in ‘Scratch’ is startlingly absent here. Captions are limited to a webpage per piece with a thumbnail, size and material data, and ‘Q&ART’ a question designed to solicit comments.  The viewer can see these on two iPads or on his or her smartphone at  Even a linked Wikipedia article on the artist is in German.  Asking audiences to engage with the art is fine but it doesn’t relieve the gallery of its obligations in the matter.

The catalog has an unconvincing introduction from LACMA’s unremarkable Michael Govan and mostly shows photographs of the artworks with a few other images and an interview with Tadeusz’s wife. Whitespace again rules the day. It’s as if ESMoA had to meet its opening date and did what it could with time and money available. The artist deserves better.

Experience 17: STUDIO – June 7 until September 27, 2015
208 Main Street
El Segundo, CA 90245
Phone: 424 277 1020

Fri – 10am-5pm
Sat – 10am-5pm
Sun – 10am-5pm
Mon – Thur – appt. only


The hard problem of science in theatre – A British perspective

Making science theatrical without short-sheeting either has proven a tough proposition. Playwrights have tried to portray scientists and/or their underlying ideas to varying degrees of success. Scientists have tried writing plays with approximately equal results.

‘Arcadia’ stands alone as serving both sides equally well. Excluding the slogs through tedious characters mattress-surfing, Stoppard finds a delicate balance where science and story reinforce each other. By contrast, Frayn’s overpraised ‘Copenhagen’ made little impression when it came to LA in 2001. Among LA’s homegrown productions, the first half of Nancy Keystone‘s ‘Apollo, Part 1’ insightfully captured the contradictory, chaotic workings of the technical enterprise. Given the smarts in both cultures, it is surprising that the bridge between them is so rickety.

Here’s a lengthy all-sides-included panel discussion on the topic jointly sponsored by the Royal Society and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

A dramatic experiment: science on stage

Watch this video on YouTube.

Artists crunching numbers – MFA walkout at USC

Via Arts Journal and Hyperallergic: A full complement of this year’s MFA students have elected to leave USC’s school for such things.

Entire First-Year MFA Class Drops Out in Protest at the University of Southern California

by Matt Stromberg

LOS ANGELES — Citing “the University’s unethical treatment of its students,” the entire class of first year MFA students at USC’s Roski School of Art has decided to leave the school, according to a statement they released today. The seven students listed a number of grievances leading to their decision, beginning with a significant decrease to the generous tuition subsidization that they had expected before their acceptance to the program. They also criticized the school’s administration that “did not value the Program’s faculty structure, pedagogy or standing in the arts community.” As a result, they say, the Program Director left in December 2014, followed by the resignation of tenured professor Frances Stark.

It’s a great read of a highly principled stand.  It’s even moreso because given the financial analysis that the affected students have presented on top of their educational concerns and arguments.   Here’s to the artists using the tools of the MBAs to turn the tables on them.

Another part of the forest – the Cremona sound

Ten years ago this month I went on a three week vacation to Northern Italy. I was looking forward to the art, food, and performance of which I’d heard so much.

It was mostly a lackluster, overpriced failure on all fronts from Milan to Venice to Florence to Rome.

With one exception. I spent two days in Cremona between the Milan and Venice stops. I studied violin eons ago and had an interest in the construction of the things. Somewhere I still have a copy of Alberto Bachmann’s Encyclopedia of the Violin.

That little town had the wonderful Museo Civico ala Ponzone in addition to the better-known Stradivarius museum, walkable streets, and slightly less surly people. The museum, since supplanted by the Museo del Violino, displayed the materials and hand tools used to create the instruments that fetch an oligarch’s ransom these days. The docent was eager to talk and I was eager to listen but I spoke no Italian and she no English. “Che peccato! Che peccato!” she said and indeed it was a pity.

Aside: I saw a community chestnut roast being setup one morning and planned to attend. Later on I saw the banner announcing sponsorship by Lega Nord and thought better of it.

Now, Cremona is in the news all of a sudden. 60 Minutes featured the violins and NPR talks about sustainable farming of the forest from which the Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivari got their stock.

Building Arts Audiences – Round 8,529,252

Art mirrors society to the extent that a small group of artists do very well and leave the rest to fight for scraps. But, the art wonkery industry is doing all right for itself. Foundations love funding meta discussions and conferences and now the Wallace Foundation is is having a go at it (via The sneaky sponsored post somehow made it past Adblock.
Building Audiences to Help Great Arts Organizations Thrive

There’s a panel distinguished panel talking about engagement, partnerships, and why building new audience matters.  I suppose it isn’t obvious that lack of audience, let alone a paying one, would make life for the 99.9% of painters, musicians, sculptors, and playwrights even that much worse. The Foundation, naturally, has a Knowledge Center with a death-grip on the obvious.

Delving deeper, we find:

Our searchable database contains the names and locations of grantees going back some 20 years, and the size and purpose of their grants. You may search by organization name, topic, state or a combination of all three. We suggest filling out at least one field to narrow down your search, because the database is large and can yield thousands of results.

The Foundation may want to drop a few cents into its own web development. Its grantee search engine needs work – Select a state, search, and then try to see pages beyond the first – the settings change and irrelevant results pop up. Judging from the Annual Reports, the real mission is to use disadvantaged children as test subjects and take the data forward to justify more grants managers. They also don’t seem to have gotten the message about Big Data. Their database, whatever its size, is small compared to storage and processing power available these days.

I can’t stand musicals but this tolerable clip from The Music Man is appropriate.