Theater at the ‘Y’
In a town notorious for its shortage of viable theater space, it looks like help is coming from an unlikely source — the Y. Specifically, the Cambridge Family YMCA at 820 Mass Ave across from City Hall. On Wednesday, December 18, the Y hosted a grand reopening of the new theater space, Durrell Hall, which had been closed for more than 20 years. With its horseshoe balcony and 350-seat capacity, Durrell Hall could be the mid-size theater of which producers are always in desperate need.
Where has Durrell Hall been all this time? The back stage was walled off and used as a women’s bathroom and changing room. The auditorium, a part of architect H.H. Richardson’s original 1897 structure, had been undefined rec-room space, the balcony closed. When Jeff Seifert came to the Y as president and CEO two years ago, he took one look at the room and said, according to one aide, "What a dopey use of this space." Board member John T. O’Connor put down $50,000 to get the project started, and the Y brought in contractors as well as a team of volunteers — including students from City Year and MIT — to scrub, paint, tear out the balcony projection booth, paint, and hang curtains. The auditorium now features a 12-foot-deep stage with a 20-foot proscenium, with room for a 12-foot extension. Antique-style brass chandeliers light the hall.
At the reopening, with a live jazz band on stage and a buffet for about 100 celebrants, a bit of the theater’s old glory was revived. Seifert, Cambridge mayor Michael Sullivan, and comedian Jimmy Tingle (who is credited with a large part in organizing the restoration) all made remarks from the stage, and Tingle even performed a few minutes of his current show, Jimmy Tingle in the Promised Land. And Seifert gave special thanks to O’Connor, who died at the age of 46 of a heart attack while playing basketball at the Y in November 2001.
Seifert, a career nonprofit organizer for groups like Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, came to the Y to help spearhead an overall $25 million renovation. After the official ribbon-cutting Wednesday night, Seifert told us that he hopes the space will attract all manner of cabaret, chamber music, independent film, poetry readings, and theater. "I want to spend a year doing every crazy thing and see what works," he told us. A Bronx native, Seifert said he grew up going to New York’s legendary 92nd Street Y, where on different occasions he saw sitar master Ravi Shankar and poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and he hopes the new theater will give the Cambridge Y a reach beyond the usual basketball, volleyball, and swimming. He’s already had initial discussions with American Repertory Theatre artistic director Robert Woodruff, as well as with representatives of the Lenox-based Shakespeare & Company, and the Massachusetts Festival for the Arts. The Y will rent the space to arts groups, but Seifert is more interested in reciprocal arrangements, where theater groups can involve the Y’s membership in educational outreach programs. "A lot of our kids have never met anyone who’s directed a play or written a play," he said. During his New York youth, he added, "I saw all my Shakespeare in the park."
Among those attending the event was Will McMillan, director of the Cambridge Center for the Arts. "It’s a paradigm shift," remarked McMillan, "Instead of destroying an old theater, this one’s being brought back to life."
McMillan, it turns out, is one of the folks who could end up singing cabaret in the space. PR director of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (CCAE), he’s also a founding member of the Boston Association of Cabaret Artists (BACA). But back to his day job: the CCAE is continuing to teach folks how to become cabaret performers. On January 4 and 5, singer/arranger, vocal coach, and producer John O’Neil will conduct master classes. These are not beginning singing lessons: active participants are required to have completed one year of voice study or the equivalent and will have a chance to perform for the class. O’Neil will guide students on choosing material, key selection, microphone technique, and other basics. Places for participating students are already filled, but there’s still room for auditors. Tuition is $75 for the two-day course, or $50 for BACA members. Then, on January 24, O’Neil’s accompanist, Brian Patton, hosts an open-mike cabaret. Sign-up begins at 7:30, singing at 8. It’s $7, or $5 for BACA members. Call (617) 547-6789, ext. 1 for more info about CCAE events, or you can visit www.ccae.org.
Love that Stomp!
Speaking of open mikes, how about open trash cans? It turns out that Stomp, that wild and crazy night of percussive theater, is looking for "extremely athletic performers," ages 18 to 35, to audition for its Boston company. On Monday, January 13, beginning at 10 a.m., drummers and percussionists can sign up to audition for the production, which comes to the Stuart Street Playhouse for an extended run beginning February 11. Co-creator/director Luke Cresswell is looking for "drummers who can move and dancers who can drum." Wear hard shoes or boots, no heels or sneakers, "and be prepared to move." Auditions will be held at the Dance Complex, 536 Mass Ave in Central Square, Cambridge. Sign-up begins at 10 a.m. Callbacks could last until January 17, so be prepared to stay the week if you’re coming in from out of town. For more info, call (212) 803-5454.
Also at the Y event was musician and freelance journalist David Wildman, who’s scouting locations for a political protest event called "Not Our Presidents’ Day," which he hopes to stage on Presidents’ Day weekend in February. Its antiwar gist will be part of Wildman’s attempt to "modernize" protest music, using rock as a vehicle for political protest. With his eponymous band, Wildman just released Flag Retirement on the local Indecent Music label. He probably won’t be holding "Not Our Presidents’ Day" at the new Y theater, though, considering the political content of the show. Besides, "It’s too nice."
Worcester Art Museum
The ambitious Worcester Art Museum (WAM) has announced a strong exhibition schedule for the spring. Starting January 26, "Mask or Mirror? A Play of Portraits" will juxtapose masterworks from the museum’s collection — portraits from ancient Egypt and Rome as well as pieces by Goya, Gainsborough, Whistler, and others — alongside edgy contemporary works by Kurt Kauper, Nan Goldin, and Cindy Sherman. From January 18 through April 13, WAM will host "The Harlem Renaissance and Its Legacy," an exhibit of paintings, sculptures, and illustrated books from the legendary creative explosion in Harlem during the 1920 s and ’30s. From February 6 to 9, WAM and the Tower Hill Botanic Garden present joint exhibitions of floral arrangements inspired by the museum’s collection. And from March 1 to May 31, Ambreen Butt presents recent paintings and drawings, as well as work made directly on the walls of the Contemporary Art Gallery, reflecting the tensions between the heritage of her native Pakistan and contemporary American life.
Boston Cyberarts has received two major grants for its 2003 festival — $20,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts and $30,000 from the Boston Foundation. The NEA grant is a first for Cyberarts. It comes under the agency’s Creativity/Multidisciplinary program and will be used to fund several festival events. The Boston Foundation funded the festival’s Community Sites program in 2001. The current grant will be used for institution-building and programs aimed at cultural economic development. The biennial festival, which brings together an international array of multimedia artists with a specific attention to computer and interactive arts, was launched in 1999 with a start-up grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Economic Development program. That program was eliminated in the Cultural Council’s recent 62 percent budget cut. This year’s Boston Cyberarts Festival will take place April 26–May 11. Its highlights will include the North American premiere of composer Tod Machover’s Toy Symphony.
Last chance for Ansel
The extraodinary, never-before-exhibited Ansel Adams show at the Fitchburg Museum of Art closes on January 12. The show, "Adams and O’Keeffe on the Road," chronicles a month-long fall camping trip that photography icon Adams and painting icon Georgia O’Keeffe took through the American Southwest in 1937 with some wealthy art patrons, including David Hunter McAlpin, founder of the photography department at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The 75 casual, small-format, snapshot-type photos that Adams took never became part of his oeuvre, and they’re as far from his usually painstaking methods as you could imagine. At that time, Adams’s most significant work lay ahead of him, but these shots anticipate his later work both in their compositions and choice of locale. What’s more, the casual shots of O’Keeffe are revelatory, and the photos of her and others on the trip convey the camaraderie of artists riding their patron’s ticket on a visual-exploration spree. Exhibition curator Stephen Jareckie will lecture on Ansel Adams and Eliot Porter (whose color nature photography is also on exhibit through January 12) on Sunday, January 5 at 1 p.m. The lecture is free with museum admission. The museum is located on Merriman Parkway in Fitchburg. Call (978) 345-4207.