Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Another white guy doesn't like an art form...and why we shouldn't shut down the nation

NPR host.  Sex symbol to women I admire.
Shakespeare hater.  
Question:  If a bear shits in the woods is it worse than the free-range chicken you’re raising in your backyard drinking your last bottle of sauvignon blanc?

If you can throw in on that one, perhaps you can take a stab at this one.


It seems to be the golden age of radio hosts talking and tweeting things that would never secure their spot on the National Arts Cheerleading team.

To bring you up to speed…Ira Glass (“This American Life” host, and fellow white guy with big glasses) went to a performance of KING LEAR over the weekend and tweeted that he thought maybe Shakespeare sucks.  He liked John Lithgow who played Lear, but that doesn’t really count—who doesn’t like John Lithgow?

What an interesting dilemma.  It’s like Elizabeth Warren just said, “I don’t like puppies!” and moments later, Rand Paul says, “I don’t like fluffy puppies!”  Who do you call an idiot on this one—the one you always think is an idiot, or the one you never think is an idiot?

Sometimes you get slapped in both cheeks. Dave and Carole talking smack about opera and the arts was a slap that caused a lot of us to gnash our teeth and find solace in the comfort of NPR and a broadcast plan that doesn’t involve hourly airing of Springsteen’s sell out period.  Ira Glass getting down on Shakespeare qualifies as the slap a lot of people who claim to read The New Yorker from cover to cover every week never saw coming.

I’m not going to defend opera or Shakespeare…I live in a house where my 11-year-old willingly watched a 6-hour German opera, and my 8-year-old has seen more live productions of Shakespeare than I did by the time I could buy beer.  You know where I swing.

What does this all mean, really?  Ira Glass doesn’t like Shakespeare—it ain’t the end of the world.  Dave and Carole don’t like opera—opera will live.  It’s hard to be indignant over public figures having opinions over something they don’t hang their shingle on when they themselves aren’t really being indignant. 

Now if I find out Ira Glass doesn’t like cheeseburgers…that’s a whole other story.




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I knew there was a reason I didn't take this thing down--and it's called DAVE AND CAROLE

Carole and Dave...Dave and Carole...where's the other guy?

Here’s the thing…a lot of people don’t like to go to the opera.

It’s true.  It’s sad.  Opera is great.  So is ballet.  So is theatre.  So is dance.

But so are cheeseburgers, and if I were a betting man, I would bet the over on the over-under that cheeseburgers are more of a sure bet for universal appeal than any of the aforementioned art forms that are absolutely inherently better for you.

I had the occasion to listen to Dave and Carole’s Boring Wisconsin podcast, and though I don’t agree with Carole’s experience of going to the unnamed opera company (she didn’t like it…maybe you are not surprised), I’d like to point out that I don’t like going to Packer’s games.  There, throw stones.

I’m a stormy-weather writer when it comes to poking the arts dragon, I will admit it.  Anyone who doesn’t like what I am about to write can I fairly call me insignificant for not continuing to lend a voice to the artistic plight in Milwaukee over the past few years.  I’ve thrown in when things have gotten heated, when things have gotten contentious, and the artistic juices have been ramped up.  I freely and openly take all tomatoes thrown my way for saying that Dave and Carole and that other guy they have on their show (sorry, I forget his name, but maybe I’d recall it if there were things he said I cared about) are really nothing to concern ourselves with in terms of artistic promotion.

Have we asked Dave and Carole to be the Milwaukee arbiters of taste and culture?  Did I miss their appointments as cultural czars to the city?  Have I also somehow been unaware of the copious amounts of advertising dollars poured into their station by local arts groups?

I think what stirs us all up…and trust me, it deeply stirs me having recently been reminded of the complete and utter awesomeness of the arts with a blessed opportunity to temporarily rejoin the ranks of the merry theatre makers as a stage director…is that not everyone likes what we do.  That’s hard to take.  It was also hard to take the fact that not every girl I asked on a date in my teens and 20s said “Yes!”  Eventually, however, I found a great woman who is perfect for me because she pushes me to be better, knows how to argue with me, and won’t let me ever rest on my laurels.  It aint’ easy, but it’s always worth it, and if we acknowledge that Dave and Carole and that other guy have just cock-blocked the fine arts community, maybe its time to look for someone with a better ass.

A great friend of mine recently visited me over the summer, and she discovered a theatre trade magazine from the 1950s in a trip to an antique store.  Prior to that discovery she had been talking to me about an ongoing discussion she has with another friend of ours in the arts that always centers on “how to fix theatre.”  She kind of smirked as she showed me the magazine copy saying, “You how things used to be so great in the arts back in the day?  It’s all a lie—they complained about all the same shit in this magazine.”

Dave and Carole and that other guy are not really the enemy.  The enemy is revealed in the fact that some of what we do can still be referenced in an antique store.  The real heroes of the arts, those who go into work everyday and believe that everyone should be a supporter, aren’t wrong, I just think they might be sometimes too close to the point that they are missing it. 

We’ll always need to think about new ways to captivate our audiences.  That’s something that causes us to be out of our comfort zone and think in new creative ways.  Innovation is messy and hard.  Perhaps because we who work in the arts either on a regular or time-to-time basis are accustomed to being uncomfortable because of a lack of money, resources and competition from entities that have found great ways of appealing to a greater lowest common denominator audience, it is difficult to feel uncomfortable because someone expresses boredom over our life’s work. 

That all sucks of course, and it is just plain human nature to want to be loved by all.  But I’ve been plenty bored by lots of plays in my life (even ones I’ve directed or acted in), ready to chew my arm off at an opera or dance concert or two, and wanted to stick pins in my eyes at several concerts I’ve seen.  Yet, and I don’t think I’m alone in having those experiences and feeling the way I do, I love all the arts fine, unrefined and raw as they may be. 

Let us also not overlook the fact that Dave, one of the culprits accused in this post, says at about 8:19 in, “I like going to shows, plays, concerts…it depends…”  What more can we ask of anyone?  It does depend, it always should, but at the same time it should never diminish the pride all artists should have in their work. 


Carry on…good work comes from those who never wait.

Monday, September 03, 2012

The return

Tomorrow I turn 42.

42 is one of those birthdays you really need to be reminded about.  Up to a few days ago, I had simply forgotten that it was time to have another birthday.  This is one of the key reasons a fellow has a family...so they can remind you that you'll be getting cake and that you're not getting any younger.

As I reflect upon my 41st year, I can't help but look back on the last 365 days with a bit of ennui.  As I look at this blog, and it's former activity, I know where a lot of that ennui comes from.

I used to write.  I used to follow through on writing.  During my 41st year, I did a lot of talking about how I wanted to write more, but when I think about the past year, I think about a lot of talk without walking the talk.  41 was a year that I chalk up to learning that follow through has not been my strong suit.

I'm taking a small step today because I'd like to get back into the writing habit.  Showoff that I am, I need to talk about that publicly, so if anyone does come across this blog, please look at me and validate my writing existence.

I've set a little challenge for myself this year, and I'm asking anyone within reading distance of Artsy Schmartsy to help me stay honest on this one.  I've vowed to do at least one piece of writing for the next 365 days, and I've chosen the sweetest, most intimate bit of writing I can think of:  the handwritten note.

Looking back at 41 I also realized that too much of 41 was spent with my face in a screen.  Too often I found the excuse, "I'm too busy to write!" getting in my way while I had plenty of time to explore the innermost crevices of Facebook.  Facebook crevices are dirty, I tell you, dirty.  That all changes now (Well, it did on September 1 when I started this actually.)

I chose the handwritten note because it's easy.  No fuss, no muss, and I can do it anywhere on any piece of paper.  I also know that my daughters like getting mail, so for at least two days my writing will make someone happy.

Here's how you can help me with my 365 days writing challenge:  Ask me to write you a note! 

I'm asking you to simply send me an e-mail to jonathanwest@artsyschmartsy.com with your name and address.  I'll then put you down for a note.  I'll warn you now, I'll be asking you to write me back.  Face it, everyone likes to get a note.

42...we're gonna get real. 

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Easter Humbling

When I was a lad, my mother would write limericks that my brother and I had to follow before we found our Easter baskets (a combination of candy and popular presents of the day...I recall a pair of Mork from Ork suspenders one year).

Always wanting to keep up with my mother, I have striven to try to keep the same practice alive for my children.

For this reason alone, I hate my mother.

I hate her because I now know I will never be the writer that she is. Have you ever tried rhyming something with sofa? My mother can do it while I fall absurdly on my face.

Tomorrow when my family gathers for Easter dinner, my mom will read my tawdry rambings and pat me on the back applauding my efforts. It's easy to do when you know that you are the master and that you will forever be untouched on the Easter limerick front.

If you have any doubt of my failings, I humble myself (prostrate, if you will) with the following (remember, it's like a scavenger hunt):

Wake up, wake up, and scratch your head

No lounging about all day in bed

Some furry scamp with a poufy bottom

Forces you to use your noggin’

No worries there, you gals are smarties

Your knowledge deserves many parties

But cheering comes when you figure out

How clues like these won’t make you pout

Read along and you will find

A treasure that will blow your mind

Journey on, look for an egg

It’s right beside a red chair’s leg.


That’s it you’re all done with the test

Lay down now you can take a rest.

Nah, I’m just joshing you a little bit

The next clue will make you have a snit.

The paper with the new information

Is in Sammy and Sally’s changing station.


Easy, yeah, I know that one was lame

But now it’s getting hard, this game

So far you’ve been totally relaxed

It seems in your favor all has been stacked

Put on a coat, pull on your shoes

You’re gonna need to search for outdoor news.


Extra, extra, please read the fine print!

You girls need to find another hint.

Perhaps there’s more than just one, confess I will

If I made it too easy, there’d be no thrill

Go back from whence you came again

Look where you may find a pen.


You’re probably feeling very cool

I hear you both excel at school

If you’re feeling like you have some hunch

Then look where one might pack a lunch.


I can’t fool you two, try as I might

In a battle of wits, you’d win that fight

You deserve your reward at this early hour

You’ve done good, now hit the shower.


Again you’ve done it, you’ve won the day

I knew there’d be no other way.

If this little search has got you stressed

Please realize how much you are blessed.

Your love and kind hearts mean so much

You give many smiles to those you touch

Share and love each day of the year

And together you shall have no fear.

You both can help others feel as they should

By always being kind, true and good.

Next year I’ll be back with more things to share

Of my coming riddles I say one thing: BEWARE!


Hippity hop to you both,

E. Bunny

Easter Reflection, The Restart

Five years ago, my life changed pretty dramatically when I decided to stop being such a jerk and start giving my life a little moral center. For me that meant becoming Catholic. I've questioned that decision everyday since as all my moral guides in the process said I would, but still I have the root of something to believe in (forgiveness and love are pretty good things I think) when I even consider doing the dumb things I used to do when I was fairly much of a dumb ass jerk.

I'm not gonna get into the messy details of what it was I used to do the made me such a bone head right now. Don't worry, though, I'm actually working a book now about some of that, and you'll hopefully someday be able to pay good money to learn about all the dirty things I've done.

But Easter has been a pretty reflective time for me ever since I ate the wafer and drank the wine five years ago. More than anything, it's a time to reflect on what has been and what may be.

I've not written a lot on this blog in the past months because I frankly I felt I had run out of things to say. There were dramas in Milwaukee relating to the theatre world that had seemed to have muted, the world was seeming to right itself in terms of the economy improving and the possibility of health reform happening, and I had the inclination to learn how to play the ukulele, Rex Winsome had decided to move to Philadelphia. Everything seemed to be getting into its proper place.

But, I have to admit, I kind of miss the action, and as I've been at rest, I've realized there are still things that are driving me nuts. Things I hope to have a dialogue with you all online.

So, I've been plotting a couple of things. And for those of you how have known me from my days as the Artistic Director of Bialystock & Bloom, here's a little teaser: BIALYSTOCK & BLOOM RETURNS SOON! (Kind of, with a new name, but the same 'tude, and a different approach, so I'm actually sort of lying to you, but I can seek forgiveness for that because as you all now know I'm Catholic)

The good Catholics out there will know (or the bad ones like me) that the time after the day we search for colored eggs and cram our mouths with jelly beans and ham is actually called The Easter Season. It's that time in the liturgical sense when everyone who had gone through that whole drama with the Jesus kid looked around and said, "Holy shit. Now what?"

That's what the Easter Season means for me this year.

"Holy shit."--I have an idea.

"Now what?"--I hope you can join me on the next big ride.

More musings, more announcements, more fun and games, and more trying to save the world from crummy ideas (well, maybe actually creating a couple of crummy ideas in the face of fighting that fight, too) are to come right here at Artsy Schmartsy. Thanks for sticking with me. I think we've got good stuff to do together real soon.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Making it in right at the wire...

...i me. Said I'd be back in December, and I am a man of my word.

Thanks for a great year. So much to reflect upon, and so many folks who have done extraordinary things this year to help me have a super twelve months.

I hope to share more thoughts in the coming year, and I hope to finally learn to play ukulele.

For now, peace. And let's all try to be a bit more like Ukulele Mike, okay. Here's a taste.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My proposition to graciously walk away from Milwaukee Arts Board Funding...the reactions, and a challenge

Yesterday I posted an entry called Milwaukee Arts Board Funding...shut it down.

Today, I got several reactions to that post. Many of them were on Facebook, and since I know many of you don't read Artsy Schmartsy through Facebook (though you can by becoming an Artsy Schmartsy Fan), I thought I would share some of these thoughts.

And then I'll offer a challenge.

Here's some thoughts:

I do completely agree with taking a bold, active choice that
a) changes public perception on artists' presumed 'sense of entitlement'
b) show a generosity and awareness toward the entire community's needs
c) show solidarity amongst all arts groups

If I was smart enough to come up with a-c, I sure ain't smart enough to discover what it adds up to.

And some more:

I think society is best served when people advocate for things that they sincerely believe should be. Sincerity, in my opinion, is the most effective way to shape public values, and the best strategy for garnering lasting change.

If, given the totality of our city's financial challenges, you honestly believe that funding for the arts should be eliminated in favor of core social services, then I applaud your bravery in suggesting so - particularly on an arts focused blog.

But, candidly, it doesn't feel like that's your point. It seems like you're saying that there should really be significantly more city funding for the arts than there is - and that, if the only option is the small (and, now, decreased) amount that's being offered, then we should just turn it all down. It seems like you're suggesting a petition to eliminate city funding as a strategy to ultimately increase city funding. If that's your point, then it strikes me as disingenuous and (perhaps even more importantly) unlikely to succeed as a strategy.

Many thoughtful and intelligent people believe that any public funding of art is a mistake. And their arguments are not without merit. When I look at totality of the issue, I don't happen to agree with their point of view. But I don't think we do society - or our (my) side of the argument - any service by walking away from the debate. At the risk of being repetitive: if we believe there should be public funding, we should say so; if we believe there shouldn't be public funding, we should say that; if we think the funding is too low, we should say so.

Public policy is complicated enough as it is. Balancing "basic needs" and "higher needs" is complicated enough as it is. The best strategy to achieve what we believe is best for society is to acknowledge that complexity and then make reasoned and persuasive arguments for whatever we truly believe. And then to keep on doing so. Because none of this has ever been easy, and it never will be.

And even some more:

What's with the "our turf, their turf" analogy? Is there a football game planned between the arts community and the firefighters? I wouldn't know who to root for as I support both! I don't have the answer to the City budget problems. I don't have the answer to my own budget problems.

Playing the sacrificial lamb of the budget process IS radical, but is it smart? Not in my opinion.

The arts help to make Milwaukee a world class City...and the City knows that. in fact, Calatrava is the City's logo, The Milwaukee Government's web portal page has a photo of the MSO.

This is not about entitlement Jonathan....it's about a great place to live, a strong economy, a culturally vibrant population.

I reverse it, it IS about entitlement, but not entitlement of recognition that the arts are important, it's entitlement for the tax-paying citizens of this City that they be safe, clean, educated, have the opportunity to make a living, and as part of that living, be culturally enriched.

If I had more time, I would organize these thoughts better. But I'm at work and need to sell tickets as an effort toward keeping my organization healthy.

Smart people say smart things while at smart jobs while on Facebook it seems.

There are also people who think everything I say in my original post is 100% perfect. But why bore you with those, right?

Okay, so, thoughts out on the table. There you go.

Now, here's the challenge:

Any other ideas?

(And I will accept that "keep advocating that the arts are important" is an idea, but I will also confess that I don't think it's a very good one. If we take the Arts Board as a case study, that's exactly what has been done over the past several years. And all the advocacy and working to convince City Hall that the Arts Board needs more money is a good thing has resulted in cuts to the budget year in and year out. Tenacity or insanity? I'm throwing no stones, I'm just saying.)