I know, I know: most people have already shared their “best of 2012″ lists and moved on. What can I say? Sometimes I like to linger.
Before I talk about the shows that impressed me and/or affected me most in 2012, I’d like to make note of a few other things that were unique to this past year for me:
In 2012 I was paid money to write theatre reviews for the first time in my life.
It wasn’t enough to pay my mortgage or anything but it was a heady experience nonetheless. Current Publishing (Current in Carmel, Current in Westfield, etc.) paid me to see and review six shows in 2012. They sent me checks to cash and I will include this income on my tax return, just like people that do this sort of thing for a living.
In addition to the money, writing for Current brought new readers to my blog, Indy Theatre Habit, which I also appreciate.
I had to write “tight” (less than 400 words per review) and not blink when my submissions were heavily edited beyond that, leaving out information I thought was important. On the other hand, sometimes the Current editors made my reviews look much better than I ever could have on my own.
For a number of reasons, I am grateful for this 2012 experience.
In 2012 I stopped accepting media passes for Indy Theatre Habit.
When I first started writing publicly about theatre back in 2007 on Indiana Auditions, getting media passes was another kind of high. Like being paid, it made me feel that people were taking my writing seriously. When I switched to Indy Theatre Habit in 2008, I continued to insist that theatres give me free tickets, as a symbol more than anything else. I loved that so many theatres wanted to.
I never promised to write promotional pieces (or “positive reviews” or whatever you want to call them) because I thought that what I cared about was promoting theatre-going in general rather than individual shows. However, the day that a PR professional asked me to “pimp” his show, I began to wake up.
Nothing against “pimps” that behave responsibility and effectively on behalf of whatever they’re pimping but I realized that I don’t actually care about convincing anyone to do anything. What I care about is writing about live theatre in order to deepen my relationship to the shows, and to maybe include other people in that relationship, if they’re willing and interested.
I’m not explaining this very well but anyway, I stopped accepting media passes in 2012 because it was the right thing for me to do at the time. I don’t plan to accept media passes in the future, either. That’s just me. I do still accept publicity photos and other help from theatres to make my blog more interesting, so if you know the story of the dog and the wolf…I’ve not gone completely wolf. I’ve just changed my dog-to-wolf mix a little.
Anyway, I still very much appreciate every theatre that gave me free tickets in 2007-2011. You weren’t doing it to help me with my personal growth, but it did, and I thank you.
In 2012 I began adding a copyright notice at the end of each of my posts because too many people were copying my reviews and using them without saying where they got them. My posts were automatically copyrighted even before I started declaring they were, but I hope the little circled C at the end of each one will make this more obvious.
I don’t mind if a theatre uses an excerpt from one of my posts to help promote their show, as long as they give me credit for writing it and/or, even better, link to the original post so that people can read the whole thing and learn more about my blog. I also don’t mind if people share my posts on social media such as Facebook or Twitter, as long as my name and the name of my blog stay on them.
What was annoying was that I kept finding my whole reviews on other people’s websites or timelines or whatever without any indication of who had written them, as if they were nothing more than anonymous comments on Yelp or something.
Some of the people that cut-and-pasted my work without giving me credit will never understand why it upset me, but I’m not going to get into any more fights about it. Unfortunately, much worse things happen sometimes.
In 2012, my theatre habit made me think about “shots fired” in new ways (part one):
In July, someone shot several people in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. To say that this upset me would be an understatement, and my heart goes out to everyone that was affected by that event. That weekend I thought about just staying home, but then I decided no, I wasn’t going to let the fact that there are crazy people in the world, nor the fact that there is a lot we can’t control or predict, make me afraid to go see a show.
I went to a show that touring magician Jared Sherlock was giving at the Tarkington Theatre in Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts to benefit a friend that had been injured in an accident. Jared no longer lives in Indiana, but he still has friends and family here and I enjoyed his work when he appeared in the Indy Fringe Festival a few years ago.
During the 2012 show, for one of his magic tricks, Jared brought out a gun and a thick piece of bullet-proof glass. Jared asked for a volunteer from the audience. He said it had to be someone that was older than 18 and who had a lot of experience shooting firearms – e.g., a police officer, or a member of the military, or a hunter.
I was surprised and a tad appalled that Jared had kept this particular trick in the show that day given the national attention being given to the shooting in Aurora, but I was completely shocked when more than half of the adults in the large audience in Carmel raised their hands.
Jared chose a tall father who said his experience with guns came from shooting skeet. He fired Jared’s paintball gun carefully and hit the demonstration target cleanly. Then he shot equally calmly and carefully at Jared behind the glass, as instructed. The bullet “went through” the glass, thanks to Jared’s magic, and Jared “caught” it in his teeth. We all applauded because it was a great trick, but I was shaking. I sat in my car thinking about that show for a long time after it ended.
I do not for a minute believe that if the Aurora shooter had come into our theatre with his guns blazing and all of those people that raised their hands had been carrying handguns of their own to defend themselves that only the criminal would have gotten hurt. I didn’t believe then, and I still do not believe now, that “more guns” is the answer to anything.
However, Jared and his audience gave me a lot to think about in terms of the variety there is among gun owners and the fact that guns themselves are not inherently evil.
In 2012, my theatre habit made me think about “shots fired” in new ways (part two):
In December, someone went into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, and shot several people, including several children, to death. To say that this upset me would be an understatement, and my heart goes out to everyone that was affected by that event. I still have no way to make sense of it. There probably is no way to make sense of it. I appreciate the efforts of all that are trying to figure out ways to make sure something like that never happens again. I will keep working on that, too, in whatever way I can.
One of the ways is…
Well, I tried to explain this to my friend Mark when we got together this past weekend and it sounded stupid to me, but I still feel led to do it, so I want to try again to explain why:
In partial response to the shootings of 2012, in 2013 I am taking a class on improv comedy. I have zero interest in becoming an improv performer but I am intrigued by what I’ve heard from others about how improv training improved their ability to handle stressful situations in their everyday lives.
I’ll back up and say first that I took some very useful workshops on mindfulness and meditation in 2010 and 2011. “Breathing with curiosity and compassionate acceptance of what is” is now part of my life journey, a practice for me along with my writing practice. It’s something I’ll never be perfect at, and that’s okay. Practicing is what’s important.
I want to add improv’s “Yes, and” rule to what I practice, not in order to laugh at tragedy or to ward off tragedy or even to heal from tragedy through laughing, although I do believe that laughter is healing. I want to incorporate improv’s “Yes, and” rule into my daily life as a way of remembering that “Yes,” there is anguish in the world “and” we can keep going in meaningful ways even so.
Hmm. Maybe I’ll get better at explaining why I’m taking an improv class as I go along. Or not, and that’s okay, too.
Now, about the best shows I saw in 2012…
The Best of 2012
Out of the 80+ shows that I saw in 2012, here are the three (really seven) shows that impressed me the most in terms of their artistry, listed in random order, with casting and other details if I still have them:
1) A tie between two shows by Acting Up Productions:
- “Two Rooms,” written by Lee Blessing, directed by R. Brian Noffke, presented at Theatre on the Square. This intense show left me wrung out and weeping. It was about a man (played by Sam Fain) who was being held hostage in a foreign country, and his wife back home (played by LisaMarie Smith) who was emulating his hostage life as best she could in order to feel solidarity with him. Scot Greenwell played a journalist that wanted the woman to go public with her story. Beverly Roche played an uncaring State Department official. The show was well paced, the lighting enhanced the action (I’m sorry, I don’t remember who designed the lighting!) and all four actors were superb.
- “A Steady Rain,” written by Keith Huff, directed by Scot Greenwell, presented at the Wheeler Arts Center. I wrote about this show at the time: http://www.indytheatrehabit.com/2012/04/03/review-a-steady-rain-acting-up-productions/
2) A tie between three shows at the 2012 Indy Fringe Festival:
- “Creatures of the Night” – written by Bennett Ayres for Prairie Ditch Productions. This two-hander starred Scot Greenwell and Robert Neal as fussy friends and werewolf scientists. I wrote a little about this show at the time: http://www.indytheatrehabit.com/2012/08/24/reviews-of-16-shows-from-the-2012-indy-fringe-festival/
- “BOT” – a robot opera conceived, written and directed by Ben Asaykwee and performed with love by him and his talented followers at Q Artistry. I wrote a little about this show at the time: http://www.indytheatrehabit.com/2012/08/24/reviews-of-16-shows-from-the-2012-indy-fringe-festival/
- “After Paul McCartney” – a solo show written by Indiana resident David Hoppe that starred Rob Johansen. It was one of the last shows I saw at the 2012 Indy Fringe Festival. I wasn’t able to write about it at the time, but I have thought of it many times since. I admire both the rich, literary quality of the story’s words and the wacky profundity of its plot. (It’s about two friends that go on a sort of pilgrimage to thank and maybe help one of their musical heroes.) I also admire Rob Johansen’s ability to cleanly portray the story’s numerous and frequently-changing characters with precision and wit. His “instrument” (what actors call their face and body, I think) has a fluidity that is magical and he has a master’s control over it. It was a treat to watch and listen to him in this show.
3) A tie between two shows at the Phoenix Theatre:
- “August: Osage County,” written by Tracy Letts and directed by Bryan Fonseca at the Phoenix Theatre. I wrote about this hurricane-like show at the time: http://www.indytheatrehabit.com/2012/03/03/august-osage-county-phoenix-theatre-review/
- “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson,” music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, book by Alex Timbers, directed by Bryan Fonseca at the Phoenix Theatre. It starred Eric Olson in the title role and in the ensemble: Phillip Armstrong, Thomas Cardwell, Abigail Gillan, Scot Greenwell, Andrea Heiden, Danny Kingston, Peter Scharbrough, Lincoln Slentz, Phebe Taylor, Arianne Villareal, Claire Wilcher, and Rex Wolfley. I started to write about this historical-political-satirical musical at the time but never finished because there was just so much to relish. I saw it seven times and each time found something new to love, either in the script itself or in the Phoenix’s production of it. I also loved that in spite of its hilarious irreverence , it made me want to become a better American.
Which brings me to my list of the Theatre-Related Experiences That Had the Most Impact on Me Personally in 2012. They may or may not have completely impressed me artistically (many did) but I’m particularly glad I saw them for one reason or another aside from their artistic merit. Here they are, briefly and in random order:
- “Legally Blonde” (music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, book by Heather Hatch, directed by Douglas E. Stark at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre) was a show I went to on a whim one night in the middle of a bad week when I had had a very bad day. Very bad. This fluffy but charming show, presented in B&B’s predictable and therefore comforting atmosphere, and starring lovely Maggie Taylor as the irrepressible main character, Elle Woods, was just what I needed that night. It was theatre as medicine.
- “Nevermore,” music by Matt Conner, book by Grace Barnes, lyrics adapted from the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, directed by R. Brian Noffke and music directed by Paige Scott, presented by Acting Up Productions at Theatre on the Square. This haunting musical starred Paul Nicely as Edgar Allan Poe and gave me a lot to think about in terms of Poe’s relationships with various women: his mother (played by Meaghan Sands), his childhood sweetheart (Chelsea Anderson), his teenaged cousin-bride (Abigail Wright), her mother (Leah DeWalt), and various prostitutes (all played by Arianne Villareal.) Linda Rowand designed the gorgeous period costumes. I enjoyed this show on its own, but I loved being able to see this show after having seen Q Artistry’s “Cabaret Poe” – also about Edgar Allen Poe, also a musical, but a very different approach – in 2010.
- Madonna’s Half-Time Show at the Super Bowl. 2012 was the first time for the Super Bowl to be in Indianapolis. I didn’t care at all about the football game itself and just the thought of the crush of the crowd at the specially-erected Village downtown gave me a panic attack, but I loved hearing from several local performers that they had been selected to do the half-time show with Madonna. She may be the most narcissistic woman on the planet, but she is also hugely creative, a cultural icon and, from what I heard, a gracious professional in person. I watched the video of the nationally-televised half-time show the next day on YouTube and admired her ability to do all that athletic dancing in high heels at her (my!) age. And the whole thing was just so fun!
- “Sweeney Todd” by Opera Notre Dame. I wrote about my opera road trip with my dear friend Chris here: http://www.indytheatrehabit.com/2012/05/06/review-sweeney-todd-by-opera-notre-dame/. The personal and the artistic blended in many exhilarating ways for me that weekend.
- “Next Fall” written by Geoffrey Nauffs and directed by Chuck Goad at the Phoenix Theatre. I saw this funny, moving show twice and am still thinking about what it had to say to me: “Don’t wait until next fall to be your authentic self, whatever that means. On the other hand, you can’t demand that someone else be authentic in the way you think they should be, and you can’t be authentic on someone else’s behalf, so stop trying to take on other people’s stuff, Hopie. Work on your own stuff. Now.”
- “Cabaret” (based on a book by Christopher Isherwood with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, directed here by Bob Harbin) presented by Bobdirex at the Athanaeum – specifically, Claire Wilcher in the role of Sally Bowles. More than one reviewer mentioned that Claire was an “unconventional” choice, whatever that means, and then went on to praise her. I loved her work in this role, period. She was beautiful, sexy, magnetic, vulnerable, mesmerizing…everything that Sally is supposed to be, but with Claire’s own stamp on the role, not to mention her gorgeous singing voice, making it fresher and even more powerful. Seeing Claire nail this role in spite of some people’s doubts about her appropriateness for it made me re-think some of the limits I’ve put on myself, too. Both times I saw this show I left the theatre feeling glad and inspired.
- “Death for Sydney Black,” written by Leah Nanoko Winkler and directed by Katelyn Coyne for NoExit Performance at Big Car Service Center. This fable-esque show about vindictive cheerleaders and other young women coming of age was densely packed with references to myths and movie tropes. I enjoyed it all, but what reverberated most deeply in me was a line towards the end said by one of the now-exhausted young women. She pleaded to the other girls something like, “Why don’t we help each other more instead of always hurting each other through competition?” (It was much more eloquent than that, though.) When I heard that line, my 51-year-old joints were aching from sitting on a too-small wooden folding chair, my silvery hair was falling out of its unfashionable clip, and I was very aware of how conventionally unattractive I would appear in my frumpy old sweater if I were placed for comparison next to one of the lithe, young women on the stage. Still…I felt a flash of solidarity with the playwright and all of the other women associated with the show when I heard that line. “Yes!” I thought. “And let’s try harder to support each other across generations, too.” It’s still a hard world for women in a lot of ways, but I left the theatre feeling hopeful about the future, knowing there were these creative, observant, open-minded young women – the playwright, the director, the actors - sharing their gifts in it.
- “Seminar” written by Theresa Rebeck and directed by Dale McFadden at the Phoenix Theatre reverberated in me in terms of my own writing, beyond what I wrote about it here: http://www.indytheatrehabit.com/2012/10/28/theatre-review-seminar-at-the-phoenix/. Maybe I’ll write some more about it some day.
- Irish storyteller Clare Murieann Murphy’s work was completely new to me when Storytelling Arts of Indiana brought her from Ireland to the Indiana History Center in 2012. She is now one of my favorite tellers. I hope to hear her tell more of her stories again some day soon, especially the ancient stories that remind me why our stories are what make us human.
- “The House That Jack Built” by James Still received its world premiere at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. I am proud to report that in spite of a series of obstacles – including a flat tire! – I did make it to one of the final performances, although I did not have time to complete a post about it at the time. The play is about a family coming together for Thanksgiving in Vermont. Some of the members don’t make it, not because of a flat tire but because of bad weather preventing their plane from getting them there. One of the members, we learn eventually, will probably never make it in person again. Everyone else is making their way through dealing with this fact. But one of the many things I loved about this satisfying new play is that it is not “about grieving” or “about family dynamics.” Or not just about that, anyway. It is about the comfort and complexity of civilizations, too, shown through the intimacy of one small group. The play, like a family gathering of thoughtful people, is simultaneously familiar and illuminating. I’m so glad I got to see it.
- And finally, I would like to give a shout to the actor that played the radio operator in the Belfry Theatre’s production of “Titanic: the Musical.” I’m sorry that I can’t record that actor’s name here (maybe someone will share it with me, either in the comments or in an email or Facebook message or something?), but in that huge cast, he moved me to tears in his portrayal of a man who was trying his best at his job, doing his best to communicate to the world that his ship needed help. I am moved to tears again, remembering that “small” role.
Sometimes you don’t know what is going to last in your memories or have a long-term impact of your life. In my year-end post about 2011, I didn’t even mention Civic Theatre’s opening show in their new home at the Tarkington Theatre, but their production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” has come up again and again in conversation since then: “Did you see it?” “Yes! Wasn’t it wonderful?!”
Already I am having second thoughts about this post, too. For example, I didn’t happen to put Three Dollar Bill Comedy’s “Fancy Schmancy…” holiday show on either of my lists above but I’m already hoping they do another holiday show in 2013. Looking over my directory of “Shows I Saw” in 2012, there was a reason I valued every single theatre experience. Thank you, thank you, everyone that does theatre in central Indiana!
You also don’t know for sure what you’ll regret. From 2012 I am sorry now that I didn’t try harder to see Ryan Mullins in the solo show “I Am Peter Pan” devised and directed by Michael Burke at the Indy Fringe Festival, and Jennifer Johansen in Pamela Gien’s solo show “The Syringa Tree” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. I’m sure I missed many other fine 2012 shows that I would have loved if I had been able to get to them.
That’s life, I guess.
One last note: in 2012, Allison L. Carter and Justin Brady started their own performance art review blogs (“Overly Theatrical“ and “Mission Intrigue: Indy,” respectively.) I was, and am, delighted about this.
‘See you at the theatres in 2013!
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and @IndyTheatre on Twitter.
©2013 Hope Baugh