Thursday, December 30, 2010

Celebrating Donn B. Murphy's Career in Video

Last October, Georgetown theatre alumni from across the decades gathered on the Hilltop to celebrate the more-than-half-century-long career of Dr. Donn B. Murphy, who celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year and is now retiring after some 35 years as president of the National Theatre in Washington.

Dr. Murphy not only taught theatre at Georgetown beginning in 1955, he was theatre at Georgetown.

When I arrived at Georgetown as a freshman in 1977, Dr. Murphy was no longer artistic director and faculty advisor to Mask & Bauble, but his influence was felt strongly in Poulton Hall and wherever Georgetown students decided to mount a performance.  Having heard all the terrific stories told about him as a teacher, I now regret not taking a theatre class as an undergraduate.

What sparked this blog post today was an article about Dr. Murphy in Wednesday's Washington Post by Jane Horwitz, which begins:
Donn B. Murphy is a man of the theater in every sense. As the National Theatre's president and executive director since the early 1980s, he has hobnobbed with such stars as Helen Hayes and Cherry Jones. Katharine Hepburn offered to paint the National's ceiling, he says.

Murphy also taught theater to five decades of Georgetown University students before retiring in 1999. Two alumni, director Jack Hofsiss and playwright John Guare, went on to win Tony Awards. At the end of the month, Murphy, who turned 80 in July, will step down from his posts at the National, though he'll remain on the theater's board.
Horwitz goes on to note:
Former students celebrated his birthday with a weekend of tributes at Georgetown in October, including panel discussions looking back his teaching career.

The tributes, viewable on YouTube, show a common thread: Murphy encouraged students to try the impossible. "Astonish me," he would say when they worried that they'd taken on too big a challenge. How to create a battering ram for a play at the last minute? Just hold three students up horizontally, and make them the battering ram.
Her mention of the videos on YouTube made me realize that, although I was behind the camera that day and posted the videos on a dedicated YouTube channel ("DBMat80video") a few weeks later, I hadn't written anything about the weekend here, nor had I posted a link to the videos or embedded them in an easy-to-find place.

Now I will.

There were three panel discussions during the afternoon of October 23. Those are currently on YouTube in several segments. That evening saw an entertaining series of tributes to Dr. Murphy, which included musical selections from various "Calliopes" -- the original, student-written musicals -- from over the years (including Senior Prom, discussed in Horwitz's article in the Post). The videos from the evening remain to be edited (my fault entirely) and will be posted on YouTube soon.

The panel discussions, which are about three hours long altogether, are very much an oral history of theatre at Georgetown since 1955.  

The first panel features several Georgetown alumni who have made a career in the performing arts: Louis Scheeder of New York University's Tisch School for the Arts moderated the panel, which included director Joe Banno; New York-based actress Victoria Bundonis; scenic designer Tony Cisek, Chicago-based director/producer Chris D'Amico; Tony Award-winning director Jack Hofsiss; Gus Kaikkonen, artistic director of the Peterborough Players; and Robert McNamara, cofounder of the Scena Theatre in Washington. This panel has four segments.

Panel I, Part 1

Panel I, Part 2:

Panel I, Part 3

Panel I, Part 4:

The second panel, also divided into four segments, features several Georgetown alumni who have become playwrights and writers, or who have participated in the Donn B. Murphy One-Acts Festival. It is moderated by Karen Berman and Susan Lynskey.

Participants are: Gus Kaikkonen, artistic director of the Peterborough Players; journalist and non-fiction author Robert Sabbag; children's and young adult novelist Rachel Vail; playwright Paul Notice; Georgetown senior and playwright Miranda Rose Hall; and playwright Jerry Mayer.

Panel II, Part 1:

Panel II, Part 2:

Panel II, Part 3:

Panel II, Part 4

The third panel ran a little longer than the others and consequently is divided into six segments.

It focuses on Calliope, for the better part of two decades Georgetown's tradition of creating and producing original musical theatre. Introduced by Lynne McKay, it is moderated by Donn B. Murphy and Donna Scheeder.

Participants are alumni Bill Bremer, Tim Fischer, John Gore, Jack Hofsiss, and Bryan Williams, and current student Meghan McCormick, as well as members of the audience who shared their own reminiscences, anecdotes, and recollections.

Panel III, Part 1:

Panel III, Part 2:

Panel III, Part 3:

Panel III, Part 4:

Panel III, Part 5

Panel III, Part 6 (Conclusion):

Watch for more videos from the DBM@80 celebration to be posted here -- soon, I hope!

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Announcing the Carnival of Live Theatre

After participating in quite a few blog carnivals over the years and hosting one or two myself, it occurred to me that there was a hole in the blog carnival universe.

There are blog carnivals about books, about money, about politics, about pets, about humor, about taxes, about Christmas, about music.

What I have not been able to find has been a blog carnival about theatre.

I hope to change that with the introduction of "The Carnival of Live Theatre," which, if all goes well, will debut here on Sunday, January 2, 2011.

What will the Carnival of Live Theatre be?  Or do?

I would like it to be a gathering place for bloggers who write theatre criticism, who review plays and musicals, who interview actors and directors and the occasional techie.  If things go well, it will collect blog posts that discuss Broadway and West End productions, regional theatre, college and high school theatre, even community theatre.

The only limitations are that submissions should be about live theatre -- not film or television, as tempting as those other art forms might be -- and that they should not be overtly self-promotional.  (In other words, no press releases, please.)

I have created a page at the Blog Carnival index, where bloggers can find a submission form.  That page is here.

My plan now is to have a monthly carnival, with the deadline on the last Friday of each month and publication on the first Sunday of the month.  (That may change.)

I will host the first Carnival of Live Theatre but I am open to letting other bloggers host subsequent editions.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

DADT in Perspective: Franklin Kameny Looks Back at the Gay Military Ban

Today's long-awaited vote in the U.S. Senate to repeal the policy known colloquially as "Don't Ask Don't Tell" was the culmination of years of effort by gay Americans and their allies who have opposed overt discrimination by the government on the basis of sexual orientation.

The vote was made sweeter by the fact that, in both the House of Representatives earlier this week and the Senate today, the vote was truly bipartisan. In the House, for instance, prominent Republicans such as the ranking member (and incoming chair) of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) voted for repeal, as did Ron Paul of Texas and Jeff Flake of Arizona. In the Senate, the newest GOP member, Mark Kirk of Illinois, joined with Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and several other Republican colleagues to overturn the ban on openly gay soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

Franklin Kameny in Washington on May 5, 2010
For many people, especially those born in the last decade of the 20th century, the idea of ending the ban on openly gay and lesbian Americans serving in the armed forces may seem to be a new one. Even older Americans may not have become aware of the issue any earlier than 1993, when Bill Clinton tried to end the ban but ended up signing the law that made it permanent.

The fact is, not only the ban but attempts to end it go back much farther than the early 1990s.

On May 5, I interviewed Franklin Kameny, one of the pioneers of the modern gay rights movement, at the National Press Club in Washington.

Kameny, who celebrated his 85th birthday on May 21, cautioned, first, that we must “keep in mind” that the gay ban “became statutory law in ’93 [but] has been military policy for very, very, very much longer than that. You can arguably bring it all the way back to 1778 and George Washington.”

Kameny encountered the gay ban for the first time during World War II, when he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

“I personally ran into [the ban] on May 18, 1943, when a few days before my 18th birthday, I enlisted in the Army at the height of World War II,” Kameny said. “They asked; I didn’t tell, even though as a healthy, vigorous teenager there were things to tell. (Not terribly much, it was a different era in all kinds of ways.)”

Kameny added: “I have resented for 67 years that I had to lie in order to serve in a war effort that I strongly supported. I did serve and I saw combat in Europe.”

In 1957, Kameny – a Harvard-educated physicist and astronomer – was fired from his job with the Army Mapping Service because he was gay. He spent the next several decades in temporary jobs because he was unable to get a security clearance to do what he was trained to do. In fact, he said, there were some months when had only 20 cents to spend per day on food. (The story of Kameny's life during this period is told well by historian David K. Johnson in his 2004 book, The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government.)

By 1961, however, he began to get involved in the then-fledgling gay rights movement, founding the Washington chapter of the Mattachine Society and setting the stage for pre-Stonewall activism.

One of the first issues he and his colleagues tackled was the military gay ban.

“We picketed against it starting in ’65 both in front of the White House and at the Pentagon, and at the Pentagon again in ’66,” demonstrating, he said, “specifically against the exclusionary policy.”

The issue also came up in 1971, when Kameny was the first openly gay person to run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. (He ran for position of Delegate from the District of Columbia, a slot now filled by Eleanor Holmes Norton.)

“In the course of all that, I was campaigning on two different fronts,” Kameny explained. “One was purely on District issues; if you’re going to run for Congress in the District [of Columbia] you have to be an expert on trash collection and everything else.

“But also,” he continued, he was running “as a gay activist,” so that in the later part of the campaign, he held “a press conference in or near the office of the Secretary of the Army, and I met with him or somebody in his staff ... in connection with the gay ban.”

Two decades later, “in ’93, it became law, which completely changed the politics entirely.”

Now, 17 years after the Clinton-era policy was instituted, the politics have changed again, by 180 degrees.  Bipartisan majorities in both chambers of the national legislature, following the majorities indicated by public-opinion polls among U.S. voters, have decided the anti-gay policy must be rejected.  The Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have both argued in favor of repealing DADT, as the policy has come to be known.  The President has promised to sign the bill.

I am confident that the vast majority of members of our armed services are mature enough to treat this change in personnel policy with integrity and professionalism.  Defenders of DADT have for years shown a poor opinion of enlisted men and women, in particular, asserting that they would be unable to work side-by-side with openly gay comrades because of inchoate prejudice. 

A post-DADT military will prove them wrong, just as the naysayers were proven wrong after President Truman ordered the end to racial segregation in the military.

Credit is due to the many gay and lesbian veterans who worked hard to see this legislation get passed.  Not least of those are the World War II veterans like Frank Kameny who easily could have chosen to do something else with their time besides lobbying Congress.  Today is a great day for America.

(This article is adapted from an earlier piece published on on May 30, 2010.)

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Blog Carnival Round-Up

Several current blog carnivals have mentioned recent posts from here or from my book blog, Book Reviews by Rick Sincere.

The Salty Blogger has posted the "Anything Goes Carnival of Politics" yesterday, mentioning under the heading "From the Right":

Rick Sincere presents Remembering David Nolan posted at Rick Sincere News and Thoughts, saying, “David Nolan, creator of the Nolan Chart (which upends the traditional left/right political spectrum) and cofounder (in 1971) of the Libertarian Party, died suddenly on November 21, two days short of his 67th birthday. In 2010, Nolan challenged incumbent John McCain in the race for the U.S. Senate in Arizona.”
The Skilled Investor hosts the 167th edition of the Carnival of Financial Planning, saying under the heading of "Budgeting and Economics":
Rick Sincere presents Author Interview: Jim Bacon Predicts Economic ‘Boomergeddon’ posted at Book Reviews by Rick Sincere, saying, “In his new book, 'Boomergeddon,' author James Bacon explores the coming federal credit crunch, which will 'precipitate an unbelievable series of events,' starting with 'a massive Keynesian contraction which will probably push the country into a steep recession, if not a depression.'"
The 68th edition of the Baby Boomers Blog Carnival, hosted by Baby Boomers U.S. (The Blog), cites the same article:
Rick Sincere presents Author Interview: Jim Bacon Predicts Economic ‘Boomergeddon’ posted at Book Reviews by Rick Sincere, saying, “The new book, ‘Boomergeddon,’ is ‘addressed to baby boomers,’ says author James Bacon, those who will be retiring through the next 15 years and who ‘haven’t saved enough money for our retirement.’ Boomers will not ‘come close to being able to replicate our lifestyles that we’ve enjoyed until now.’”
Reading, Reading, & Life hosted the 57th Book Review Blog Carnival on November 28, including this mention under the category "Nonfiction":
Rick Sincere presents Revisiting Eva PerĂ³n: A Book Review posted at Book Reviews by Rick Sincere

Rick Says: "Digging through my archives, I came across this review essay I wrote in 1997, coincident to the release of the film version of Evita. It discusses two biographies of Eva Peron, which both remain in print."
Finally, children's book author and illustrator Wendy Wax hosted the November Carnival of Children's Literature and notes:
At Rick Sincere's News and Thoughts, Rick Sincere reminds us that it's the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee's 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Independent film maker Mary McDonagh Murphy has written a companion book, Scout, Atticus and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird, to go with her new documentary. Mary believes that teachers assign To Kill a Mockingbird to their classes year after year because of the indelible characters, social message, and race and class issues.
If other carnival citations roll in, I'll be listing them here later.

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The Subversive Power of John Lennon

Five years ago in this space, I posted my own recollections of learning about the murder of John Lennon on December 8, 1980.

Today the New York Times printed the memories of readers, some of whom were much younger than I was and who remember much more about their parents' reaction to the news than their own.

Two of the readers' responses to the Times query jumped out at me as particularly pertinent.

"Andrea" remembers:

We learned about John’s death in then Communist Czechoslovakia by way of Radio Luxembourg. I was 9, and I remember my parents, especially my mom, being sad. Soon after, students started painting a particular wall in Prague’s old town with images of John Lennon and his message of peace. The authorities did not like it and painted the “Lennon wall,” as everyone knew it, over. It was always renewed within hours.
And this, from "busilak":
I was in a detention cell south Manila; my captors broke the news. The violence abated as everyone took in the loss of part of their life. Then the radio began churning out Beatles songs. I was 21 then, thinking that my future was over. … The songs permeated my dreams, gave consolation in my despair. Thirty years later, I am now part of the government I rebelled against, still struggling to find solutions to my people’s problems.
How are these mini-memoirs relevant today?

The Guardian reported yesterday that one of the things learned from the Wikileaks "Cablegate" revelations of U.S. diplomatic cables that portrayals of American popular culture seen on television in Saudi Arabia are an effective brake against jihadism and extremist elements in Saudi culture.

This should come as no surprise, since we know from Cold War experience (see "Andrea," above) that East Germans who watched West German TV and Estonians who captured Finnish TV and radio through their rooftop antennae had independent sources of news, information, and entertainment that served as a counterbalance to Soviet propaganda and gave them hope for a better day, which eventually came after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.  American books were passed around as samizdat, and -- as Vaclav Havel and Tom Stoppard have attested -- vinyl recordings of American rock-and-roll music were circulated as treasures in Russia and the Eastern European serf-states of Moscow.

What American diplomats in Jeddah learned is an important lesson. Here, in part, is what the Guardian says:
Satellite broadcasts of the US TV shows Desperate Housewives and Late Show With David Letterman are doing more to persuade Saudi youth to reject violent jihad than hundreds of millions of dollars of US government propaganda, informants have told the American embassy in Jeddah.

Broadcast uncensored and with Arabic subtitles alongside sitcoms such as Friends on Saudi Arabia's MBC 4 channel, the shows are being allowed as part of the kingdom's "war of ideas" against extremist elements. According to a secret cable titled "David Letterman: Agent of Influence", they have been proving more effective than Washington's main propaganda tool, the US-funded al-Hurra TV news channel....

Diplomats said they believed the allure of actors such as Eva Longoria, Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer meant commercial TV had a far greater impact than al-Hurra which, according to one report, has cost US taxpayers up to $500m (£316m).

"It's still all about the war of ideas here, and the American programming on MBC and Rotana [a channel part-owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation] is winning over ordinary Saudis in a way that al-Hurra and other US propaganda never could," two Saudi media executives told a US official in a meeting at a Jeddah branch of Starbucks. "Saudis are now very interested in the outside world and everybody wants to study in the US if they can. They are fascinated by US culture in a way they never were before," the May 2009 cable says.
We now know the principle. The practical question is, how do we deploy Harry Potter, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Glee as potent weapons against terrorist jihad?

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