I live in a house where opera scores are often seen tossed about the house waiting to be studied.  I am grateful to the national regional opera circuit for effectively helping to pay my mortgage each month by employing my wife in satisfying work as a stage director. Opera, I appreciate you.

But can someone explain to me why it is acceptable in opera circles to come away from a performance that you have seen sung in your native language and say, “Well, that was pretty good, I got about 70% of what they said.”

I have seen a couple of operas recently performed in my native language (English, though you probably wouldn’t guess it from some of the drivel I write, of course), and I have come away really feeling a distance because I struggle to understand lyrics that are being sung.  I’m not going to presume that this is the case with all opera that has been written in my native language because I can’t speak from a huge place of authority. As I stated earlier, I appreciate opera, but that doesn’t qualify me as an expert.

I think it’s important, however, to explain what my relationship with opera is, because I think I am very important to the future of opera.  I assume I am exactly the type of person that opera companies struggling for new audiences want; a guy who can actually imagine a day in the not so distant future when leisure time and more disposal income is a real part of my life.  Now is the time to turn me on to the magic of opera so I can chose to spend my money on that rather than silly old plays by Shakespeare or something when I’m free to make more choices about what I do with my unplanned time.

I’ve had discussions with my wife who works in the opera field about this dilemma—I don’t understand what the singers are saying when I’m watching an opera performed in the language I speak.  She is very good at explaining to me that it is often difficult for a singer to create the sound they need to create in the music and pronounce words crisply and clearly.  Surely a sound point, but I’m still stymied.

What should the expectation for an audience be when they are watching a performance of any art form that uses the native language of the audience in any manner as part of the performance?  Should a clear expression of language be an essential element of that performance?  Having worked in theatre myself for the bulk of my professional life, I know that language and movement are somewhat equal partners in the execution of a play or musical theatre piece.  I believe that the perfect marriage of elements in a theatre piece is when movement supports language and an audience hears the words being said as well as the words in between the lines (often the most important words of all).

But opera, at least the ones I’ve taken in recently and through my past experiences as an audience member, doesn’t seem to put a premium on the clarity of language in performance.  The sacrifice of language in performance can be attributed to the technical demands of the voice, but is that a short-sighted stick in the ground imposed by the creators of opera?  I read and hear about opera companies struggling for new audiences.  Isn’t a good way to appeal to new audiences to speak to them in ways that they feel, hear and understand?  As a lover of language myself, I put a high value on a well-crafted phrase.  Marry that with a tune and I should be a sucker for it.  But opera continues to leave me feeling cold.

I appreciate you opera, but I want to care more.  Why should I let a thing like not understanding words be a thing I can overlook? Explain it to me…and remember, I’m a little dense and like to hear all the words so sing it clear as you can, okay?  

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.  


If a bear does his business 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.

What’s more soul crushing:

Dave and Carole (and the other guy they have on there show…sorry, Istill don’t know his name)

saying they think opera is boring, or

Ira Glass saying that he isn’t moved by Shakespeare


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.

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.

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 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 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. 

A lesson in collective bargaining from Carmela Suozzi, age 4

It is 10:30pm on Thursday, February 17th as I write this. My wife and two of my closest friends have gotten in our car and driven to Madison, WI to join thousands of others at the State Capitol to lend their voice to the ongoing protest against Governor Scott Walker's bill to limit union bargaining rights. There is a very large part of me that wishes I was standing beside them right now, actively participating in this civil act of dissent. But, I am a father. And a responsible one. Someone had to stay home with the girls.

Getting a sitter on short notice wasn't such an option. And I will admit that the coming day for me is one that requires a certain type of sharpness. So, a 3am roadtrip home from Madison didn't seem prudent. And, yes, the kiddos need a little adult supervision in case the roof falls in or something (it's happened in our house, that's why I'm sensitive to being a protective dad).

I do not have the night wind in my face, I am not bolstered by State Street energy and the shared snacks of throngs of citizens fighting to be heard and fighting for those who can't fight for themselves. I do, however, have a lesson in collective bargaining from Carmela Suozzi, age 4, that gives me pause on some of my own internal frustrations and makes me realize that in our current climate of partisan struggles that activism (and really, just being active) is such a great alternative to reactivism.

I, like many of my fellow liberal friends, bemoaned the fact that Scott Walker was probably going to become our next Governor when it became clear last year that he was going to be the Republican candidate. I did not then, nor do I now, believe that Scott Walker is a good leader for the State of Wisconsin. My reason is simple, if not even simple minded. He is a pig-headed, non-compromising, ambition driven, crony loving-son of a preacher man. Other than that, I'm sure he's a nice fellow.

I have long held these beliefs. Going all the way back to 2002 when he came in as Milwaukee County Executive and performed a couple of early stunts to show he was the guy to lead the County, but quickly showed that his lack of real leadership (a leader listens first, and then acts to do the right thing) pinned him as a pig-headed, get the picture.

And, yet, I did so little to prevent the election of Scott Walker to our state's governorship. I didn't call, I didn't write, I didn't do what needed to be done to help prevent the Tsunami of crap that is taking place in our State politics right now. This is my fault, and as we approach elections in the future, and I am outraged by any candidate on the ballot, I will work tirelessly to prevent an election to a post that I don't believe should happen.

At the same time, I had one of those stupid moments in my life today when, in a moment of frustration with my own often ineffectual union (AEA, Actors Equity), I kind of thought it was pointless to do anything because I wasn't so sure about this union thing. I basically became a whiny little weenie. I am not, however, pig-headed. I am simply dim witted, but blessed with three women in my life who constantly help me see that it is never good to be a weenie.

A discussion about my feelings on the state of the state started with my wife today, and I knew I had crossed the line into mouth-breather territory when my bride started a sentence with the words, "You know that's the problem I have with people like you..." That's a killer, and that's one that either makes you angry all day, or makes you think about what the hell is wrong with your own brain.

I chose to consider my brain. My wife was right to challenge me on my weak little irritation with some of the general problems I see with unions (possible obstructions to innovation and creativity, protection for ineffectual workers and organizing principles that sometimes are counter to any real productivity), and make me understand that this whole State Capitol fight is not one about unions, it is about the rights of those without a strong voice to have a powerful collective voice. Hence, our State's history of affording collective bargaining agreements to unions (along with about 30 other states) is really a good thing. It is, I would venture to say, one of the things that makes Wisconsin Wisconsin. Or so it should be.

I pulled myself through the day, eating crow, and being a basic grumpy old man with my co-workers pontificating about how nothing is ever going to get done because no one is going to really do anything--the vague argument is the one you have when you're really angry with yourself for being a douche. I'll say this for myself, though, once I realize I'm being a douche, I can undouche pretty quickly.

It was with that state of mind that I came home tonight, prepared for a night of following the action in Madison as my wife and friends planned their trip to Protest Land, USA. We fielded questions from our 8-year-old daughter Dorothea during dinner, trying to explain the value of civil discourse and effective, controlled protest as the meatballs cleared our plates, and Dorothea prepared for swim class. My wife and Dorothea made tracks to the swim class together right after dinner, Paula actually covering the swim class shift of a co-worker who had been called to a mandatory meeting in the school district she just started working in and hopes to continue working in for some time to come (I believe the mandatory meeting had to do with something having to do with tens of thousands of people in Madison, but that's just a guess.) The deal was, Paula and Dorothea would go to swim class, Paula would dump Dorothea back home, and then it was off to Madison for my crusading wife.

This left 4-year-old Carmela and I with that all too infrequent mano-e-daughtero time. In as much as my youngest daughter is the funniest person I've ever met (and I have met some funny people), I revel in these times. I decided that a lingering approach to bedtime would be a-okay, because it was a special night for our liberal minded household. Mommy was going to stay up way past her bedtime, and we were proud of that because it had great purpose.

As I do in these times, I left it up to Carmela to choose our amusement for the evening. And as she is 4, she tends to choose the same thing time and time again with slight variations. That thing is called "school."

Carmela loves school. Dorothea loves school. We have daughters who just can't get enough of school. This really has everything to do with the extraordinary heroes who made the important decision to become teachers and help parents like me raise confident, free thinking, creative people. School is not drudgery in our house. School is the greatest thing ever.

School can, however, take a little longer to play than you might imagine. There's a rather meticulous set up that goes along with it all. There's many questions. There are other imaginary students. And there's plenty of negotiation.

Yes, there is negotiation. There is bargaining. There is discussion about how to best make our school in the middle of our living room the finest school it can be. There is back and forth communication and consideration about cause and effect actions such as, "If Carmela gets to do 2 more math problems with student Daddy, then Carmela will immediately go to bed." We give. We take. We compromise.

It struck me as I climbed the stairs with a four-year-old on my back who had agreed to give up the benefits of screaming loudly for a piggyback ride, that collective bargaining makes people feel like they have some skin in the game, they have a leg or two to stand on. The 4-year-olds (especially the girls) should maybe be teaching us all a few more lessons about how to get things done.

All this is to say that in this whole discussion I believe we still must all acknowledge that there are real problems in this state, real financial issues that are going to require all men and women to give of themselves. No one is immune from this. Not teachers, not nurses, not even firefighters and police who right now look more immune that most. Taking away the sense of dignity and respect and making unduly harsh movements on stepping towards the ultimate break up of organized labor relations in our state as we know it does not a willing electorate make, however. Compassion and honor are gained when compassion and honor is given. Take it from the 4-year-old.

I don't purport to know what will come of the next few days, and I wonder if Republican Senators are going to waver as the working people they represent start to demand that their elected officials honor the most Wisconsin of Wisconsin traditions of our great state. What I do know, however, is that I will do whatever I need to do to work on any recall vote for our current governor (sorry, we have to wait a full year for that to become possible, although Alberta Darling is completely eligible for a recall movement and she seems deserving of one these days) as that comes available and tirelessly help to prevent these types of situations to take root in the future. I want my 4-year-old daughter to keep playing school not because it's fun, but because it's the best kind of hero worship there is.

The Passion of The Failure

I’ve been thinking about failure a lot today.  Then I’ve been embracing it.  Giving it a big hug, and really, really appreciating big, messy failure.  All because of a 61-year-old lesbian in a Speedo.

This morning I woke up when my alarm blared at 4:59.  I always set my alarm one minute before 5am for some reason that I probably need to look into deeper during some enforced period of self-reflection involving smaller amounts of dairy in my diet and greater amounts of staring at a blank spot on the wall to really “live in the moment.”  As I do everyone morning, I stumbled down the stairs of my modest home and instinctively, as a modern digitally addicted adult does, hit the keyboard of my computer to break it’s black screen sleep.

I started scanning the news, thinking about whether or not to plunk down a couple of bucks for the daily Groupon, making sure all the e-mails I firmly wanted to ignore were systematically unhighlighted, and then I saw it.  Massive failure.  Diana Nyad was out of the water.

If you don’t live with a woman who masquerades that she is going on vacation really just so she can swim across a Great Lake then you might not really know Diana Nyad the way I know Diana Nyad.  Diana Nyad at the age of 60 was damned if age was going to lick her and shunned the idea of taking up golf and instead decided that swimming through shark infested waters without a literal or figurative net from Cuba to Florida was the thing to do.  She had distinguished herself in the past by doing things like swimming around Manhattan and stroking her arms through the sea for a full day, so a 103 mile swim wasn’t totally out of reach.

But when I heard about this feat from my wife, whose hero worship of Diana Nyad made me think she might leave me for a Speedo clad broad with impressive delts, I thought that the old lady was nuts.  Wacko.  Bonkers in the head.

And yet, this morning when I saw the news item pop up on my computer screen announcing the Diana Nyad had stopped her swim sometime during the night 29 hours into her trip to Florida I really almost cried.  Boy, had she failed.

I considered walking back up the stairs to my bedroom to wake my wife to tell her the news.  She had done the same for me when my idol Frank Sinatra had died (though she called me at 3am from Japan, somehow picking up the news before I had).  I sat taking the whole moment in and realized that this was going to be one of those intensely personal moments I needed to spend alone.  There was a noticeable deficit of dairy at that particular moment, and some real touchy-feeling staring at a spot on the wall going down, I can assure you.

Failure is something that has dogged me at many times in my life.  I’ve tried and failed at more things than I care to admit.  Many former girlfriends could attest to a series of failures.  A failed business is something I have as an interesting little conversation piece on my resume.  I cannot cook rice.  I am a complete failure at that simple cooking skill.  I am a guy who knows failure.

As I stared at that wall I began to very quickly have a love affair with failure.  Diana Nyad’s monumental failure had led me to this contra-victorious moment.  She had left it all on the mat, and despite the fact that she had made it less than half way towards her goal, she had spent 29 hours swimming though an ocean.  During that time period I had eaten a bowl of pasta changed my Netflix plan and struggled to find a clean pair of underwear in the clothes basket.  She may have failed, but I think she really won.

So for anyone who wishes to trash Diana Nyad, I am prepared to give you a knuckle sandwich.  That broad has balls.

What have we learned today?

First, I look great in a dress.

That's me as Edna in HAIRSPRAY with the marvelous kids of Pius XI High School.  I am so grateful that they hired an Equity Union Thug Actor like me to play along in their super talented playground.

That's one thing you can all say you learned today.  Congratulations.  Knowledge is good.

Another thing you learned today is that if you somehow misplace 14,000 votes in a contentious election during a historic period in your state's history it's best to say, "Ooops!  Sorry!"

Chalk that up to another lesson learned.

Along those lines it's best to make that missing vote mistake in a county that favors the person who benefits from the late discovery of your mix up because you're in an elected position so that means you might get some heat when you go on television to apologize but you'll still have a job the next morning because the good people of your community elected you into your position and so you will be around for a while more at least.

Lesson numero sixteen or seventeen (I've lost track) is that the fact that the Federal government very possibly might be shut down in 24 hours is not the lead story in your community when those 14,000 votes pop up out of the blue.

That's an important lesson, indeed.  Oh, and another bit of learning in the air is that some people love Planned Parnethood and other people don't and sometimes that is enough to possibly shut down the Federal government.

Perhaps the most important lesson of the day, however, is to always take a sweater with you when you leave home during April in Wisconsin.  It might be the only thing that we all can agree upon.  That and the fact that I am a sweet piece of ass as a lady.

Modern Romance

Here is the view from my bedroom.  Hot, right?

This is the eve of the Spring election in Wisconsin and my wife and I have decided to head to the sack for the night.  With our laptops, of course.

Isn't my bride a hottie?  That's her behind the laptop...I'm sure you can see her, right?

It's true that in my house over the past few months, things have gotten really steamy.  Hot.  Turgid.

We've become political junkies, and the picture of our boudoir is one that has become fairly regular.  Hot.  Let me repeat, hot. (Laptops really do get warm.)

I'm contemplative now as I watch our new County Executive Chris Abele give his victory speech.  I am considering something that Chris told me time and time again as he advised me as a former Board member and major contributor to my late great theatre company Bialystock & Bloom:  UNDER PROMISE AND OVER DELIVER (I might not have listened as soundly as I should have or it might not have been a former, okay).  I wish anyone who chooses to become a public servant (and that's what I think Chris has just officially become tonight) a great deal of good vibes.  Speaking as a public person to our public servants we all have put our faith in to lead, I hope all our winners tonight do that UNDER PROMISE AND OVER DELIVER kind of thing in a big way.  Dazzle me with surprises.

Also, I think it is important to acknowledge that our new County Executive has really well made suits and will look great shaking Lee Holloway's hand.

As for the hottness in my bedroom, there is a lot of clicking and clacking going on.  I just got to scratch my wife's back, so that's kind of cool, but the discovery of Twitter from my better half has ratcheted up the romance in ways I had never considered when we tied the knot.  160 characters at a time, of course.

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.

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.

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'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.)

Milwaukee Arts Board Funding...shut it down.

Yep. I think the Milwaukee Arts Board should be shut down, squashed, decimated, totally drained of funds.

No, I'm not looking to be marked as that guy who never wants to work in the Milwaukee arts scene again. I'm trying to point out some radical alternatives.

To fight for an already marginalized fund so that it can remain marginalized and the pitiful little pot that it is seems like a waste of energy to me at this point.

The people who are making this fight right now are exclusively artists. Granted, I was not at the public hearing last night at City Hall, and I applaud my fellow Milwaukee artists who were there. But, and I know 99% of the artistic community is going to disagree with me on this, I believe we are fighting the wrong fight on this Milwaukee Arts Board issue.

The city budget is a mess. Cuts need to come all around. Many will argue that my suggestion of eliminating the Milwaukee Arts Board fund simply takes arts and culture out of City Hall completely. Guess what folks, outside of Michael Murphy and Nik Kovac there are no great arts advocates in City Hall. Sometimes you really need to burn something down to build it up and make it better, and that's my thought on this whole thing.

If you haven't read the Journal Sentinel's story about the public hearing please follow this link. The basic plot of that tale is that artists showed up in good numbers, but those firefighters (also facing big cuts) were the ones who really made some impact.

I also received a recap and call to arms communication from Christine Harris and The Cultural Alliance today. I took note of this item in the e-mail I received with particular interest:

One avenue we need to pursue better is getting people from other walks of life - particularly businesspeople, or teachers, or students - to speak out. We are in the field, but when people not in the arts directly speak, it makes a much stronger voice. So please think about who else you can bring along in this advocacy. Meanwhile, communicating with the Mayor and your Alderman is a very good idea.

A great idea that jumps out at me in this is to get more people from outside of the arts to speak out for the arts. So, here's my three point plan to start to do that:

  1. Call the Mayor.
  2. Tell him we don't want any Milwaukee Arts Board money.
  3. Tell the Mayor to give whatever would have remained in the Arts Board Fund to the firefighters.

You want to get new allies, you have to sometimes play on their turf. I would like to believe that the world does not function under the quid pro quo philosophy, but the realist in me knows that it does.

If we choose not to accept any money from The City of Milwaukee for Arts Funding, we've actually changed the conversation, and taken control of the future of how we want our city to recognize and support the arts in Milwaukee. And perhaps, a few more firefighters will be attending Gallery Night and the Sunday matinee of SMELL OF THE KILL.

(Please, throw tomatoes at will.)

Arts Funding hoo ha...why I think this discussion is beyond absurd

I have received the following news in a myriad of messages, e-mails, carrier pigeon flybys, rocks through windows, note passed in the hallway between class, and other even more clever means of delivery:
The Mayor's budget proposes to reduce Milwaukee Arts Board funding from last year's $185,000 down to $50,000! We cannot lose this precious city funding for our stellar arts groups.

We need your show of support at the Mayor and Common Council meeting THIS COMING TUESDAY, October 13th 6:30 pm, in Council Chambers at City Hall.

Slug me in the gut for what I'm about to say if you're so inclined, but here goes: WHO CARES!

The City of Milwaukee Arts Board Budget has for years been embarrassingly minuscule. It is time to shovel that fund squarely into the ground and bury it so we can snub our collective noses at city funding and say, "We don't need ya!"

This mental grab for pennies that we in the non-profit arts business live under makes us all prone to histrionics over what is absolutely a hugely punitive and absurd proposed funding cut. Losing 75% of one of the city's smallest budget items is ridiculous beyond measure, but the energy we may all exhibit on this issue might be better spent looking at even greater change.

Here's one of the lessons I've learned about life from THE WIRE (all of life's lessons are in that show, folks, you just need to watch it obsessively like me). If you really want to fix the world, if you really want people to go to plays, attend concerts, and get jobs where they might have the salaries that would make them eligible to write big fat checks for your next art installation, shovel as much money as you can into fixing schools.

You may have heard that the mayor and the governor think the school system needs radical change. "Tru dat" is what I have to say as a Milwaukee area parent who has toured several Milwaukee Public Schools in the search I conducted to choose a safe, inspiring school for my children to attend (a charter school is what I chose, chartered through UW-Milwaukee, not MPS).

I don't advocate taking money away from the arts, and the level of insanity on this proposed cut only highlights how marginalized City Hall has made the arts feel for years and years while tourism is heavily promoted to Milwaukee with the proud boast that we've got a great arts and culture scene here.

This funding dilemma is a call for the entire Milwaukee arts community to finally stop reacting to getting hit in our privates again and again and consider some real activism in terms of putting the cultural plan for our city (when we actually have one) a little higher on the food chain for our local political engine.

I'm forced by the fact that I really like the guy to post this letter from Alderman Michael Murphy:

As you may already know, under Mayor Barrett’s proposed budget for 2010 the Milwaukee Arts Board will lose approximately two thirds of its funds. The Mayor has recommended cutting $110,000 from the 2009 allocation of $160,000. The subsequent result of this action will also be a loss of $25,000 matching grant dollars from the Wisconsin Arts Board.

I am clearly opposed to such a cut; the largest reduction in any department. This proposal would result in a total loss of almost 75% of the board’s funds. I thus encourage you to attend the Joint Public Hearing being held by the Common Council and the Mayor on Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 6:00 PM in the Common Council Chambers, Third Floor, City Hall, 200 E Wells Street, to share your concerns. As many factors are taken into consideration when determining the next year’s budget, it is important that the Common Council hear your voices in opposition to the Mayor’s budget.

I look forward to seeing you at the hearing to support art in the City of Milwaukee. If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to call me at 286-3763.


Michael J. Murphy
Alderman, 10th District

I'm not encouraging you to not weigh in on this matter, and Michael Murphy is one of the smarter allies to have on your side (please, please, please run for Mayor!) but I'm also suggesting that if any level of this funding is restored, it is in no way a victory. The time is now to think bigger than restoring a six figure cut to an already tragic little arts funding pool and work on the real problem of getting more of our city's own population to believe in and support the arts. Our theaters and galleries are not full on a consistent basis. When that happens, you better believe there will be some more powerful allies on the side of arts and culture in Milwaukee that know how to get attention in the Mayor's office. Until then, we are all just trying to drain the ocean with a straw.

Windfall stuff

Yes, Mark Clements has great hair, but we will have to wait to see how he combs it. So, this weekend, this might deserve your attention.

Truth be told, I know nothing about this other than Windfall Theatre is doing it, it's a play I haven't heard of before, and I like that Windfall Theatre does plays that I haven't heard of before.

Check out their website for specs and stuff.

SPRING AWAKENING confused and horny will I feel?

Okay, tonight I see SPRING AWAKENING.

I'll see girls like this one...

Dudes on top of girls like this...

And much jumping as far as I can tell. See, girls jumping...

Boys and girls jumping...

Dolphins and cows jumping...

Okay, the dolphin and cow are not in SPRING AWAKENING, but isn't that cool?

The question is, "Am I going to be more confused and horny going in, or less?"

And will I be ready to talk about sex with my seven-year-old and three-year-old or will a good hand off to my wife on that one be in order?

Stay tuned...

Mark Clements likes musicals and so do I!

You've heard about this from other sources, right? Mark Clements is the new Artistic Director of Milwaukee Rep! (Exclamation points are necessary with the announcement of new hired or newly fired Artistic Directors in Milwaukee, I've come to learn.)

Here is Mark Clements:

No, that's not Joe Hanreddy with a couple of extra inches of hair and a leather jacket (nice, Mark Clements, nice), but they could play brothers in some television sitcom about Artistic Directors of regional theater companies kind of like Slings and Arrows (which would never get made in the United States, so we'll simply have to dream about that at this point.)

There's also a video available of Mark Clements speaking. Here that is:

Here's a few things I can tell about Mark Clements right now:

  1. Mark Clements wants to give 100% (he says that in the video)
  2. Mark Clements really likes this place (he also says that in the video)
  3. Mark Clements knows how to ride a Harley (he does not say that in the video, but I did read it in a press release and I tend to believe those things)
  4. Mark Clements has great hair (Have you seen the video? Mark Clements DOES have great hair.)
But the big thing that I have learned about Mark Clements in the 37 seconds it took me to Google his name and find his website at, is that MARK CLEMENTS LOVES MUSICALS!


Okay, slow down Jonathan, I need to get to know Mark Clements and his fabulous hair and musical theatre tastes, but I'm fairly interested in the fact that everywhere Mark Clements goes musical theatre follows.


Could the future of Milwaukee theatre being getting a little bit more of a back beat with Mark Clements coming in to helm Milwaukee Rep? Time will only tell, but for now Mark Clements must finish directing OLIVER! in Philly before we all start to find out what Mark Clements is going to do as the Artistic Director of Wisconsin's biggest theatre company.

Welcome aboard Mark Clements. I suggest Groom for Men on St. Paul for all your haircut needs. I'm told they'll give you a beer with your trim. Mark Clements looks like he might enjoy himself a beer or two.