Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Special—And Artistic!—Events

Last week was a busy one for local arts supporters, with fundraising events for two venerable Madison groups taking place on opposite ends of the city.

Monday brought the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s fifteenth annual Concert on the Green. Hosted by the Madison Symphony Orchestra League, the event raises money for the MSO’s in-school music programs, youth concerts, concerto competitions and outreach programs in the community.

And it’s a beautiful event! Concert on the Green begins with a cocktail party on the lawn in front of Bishops Bay Country Club clubhouse in Middleton. After about an hour of mingling, guests move toward the lake and into an enormous white tent with gold chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.

Inside the tent, we ate dinner and took in a concert featuring works by Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Neilsen and Strauss performed by members of the MSO and conducted by James Smith, director of orchestras at the UW School of Music. Throughout the program, Smith stressed how fortunate the city of Madison is to have such a talented symphony orchestra.

A highlight of the concert was a guest performance by Benjamin Seeger, a Madison Memorial senior who was one of the winners of the 2009 Bolz Young Artist Competition. It was a pleasure to watch this young musician and wonder where his talent and passion might lead him.

Later in the week, Thursday marked Tandem Press’ sixteenth annual Wine Auction & Dinner, an event that funds graduate student fellowships at Tandem.

Director Paula Panczenko says the event has been held at various locations throughout Madison over the years, but decided to make a repeat visit to the Promega campus in Fitchburg.

The event had a decidedly fun, creative feel—which started from the moment guests stepped onto the campus and were greeted by brightly costumed, stilt-wearing members of Cycropia, the local aerial dance troupe.

Inside, auction-goers perused wine and items up for bid, checked out recent artwork made at Tandem, and enjoyed a gourmet buffet from Lombardino’s and excellent wine, particularly a Ramey chardonnay.

Then the auction action started. It was entertaining to watch auctioneer Daniel Donahoe of Teira Wines in California lead the crowd through items ranging from magnums of wine to concert tickets to a trip to California’s wine country. And it was exciting when someone near my table participated in a bidding war.

I would happily attend Tandem’s Wine Auction and the MSO’s Concert on the Green next year. And you should consider doing the same next June! For more information on these events, visit the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Tandem Press.

Photos of Concert on the Green are by Amy Lynn Schereck and photos of the Wine Auction & Dinner are by Anette Hansen.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

July Artist: Art of Surprise

If you associate batik with wild-printed scarves and skirts sold at street markets, you have been missing out on the wonderful applications this art form offers.

My recommendation is to immediately check out Mary Fiore’s colorful, diverse and beautiful batik paintings.

Fiore has been working in batik for over twenty years, and a collection of her work is on display during the month of July at Absolutely Art. She recently took some time out from the intense process of batik-making to talk about how she got into the medium, her process, her inspirations and more.

How did you become a batik artist? What is it about batik that interests you?

Becoming a batik artist wasn’t planned. It had its beginnings in the chaos of taking twenty credits while trying to finish an art degree at Tulsa University before a planned move back to Arizona when I was a young mother. “Crafts” was on the list of requirements, and having never done a batik before, I chose that as one of my crafts requirements. I immediately fell in love with the process, which can be controlled but which has an element of the unexpected and requires flexibility. Once the hot wax is painted onto the fabric, it’s a done deal. There is no going back, no correcting—there is only the opportunity to take that accidental drip and incorporate it into the finished product, a kind of “I meant to do that.” Mostly, I love it because of the end result—when the entire piece is nearly covered with wax, removing it in the final step is an “unveiling” of sorts, and can result in a great sense of satisfaction (or sometimes in a great disappointment), but it’s always a learning process and a little bit of a surprise. I like that.

Tell me about your process for creating a work.

Batik is a resist form that is created on fabric with hot wax and dyes. The initial step is the subject matter, the thought of a beautiful scene, a place, a face. I use photos I have taken, usually with the batik in mind. From that photo, I sketch the drawing onto a piece of paper, heavily outlining it with a marking pen, then lay the cotton fabric over it and trace the lines of the design.

The fabric is then stretched taut onto a working wood frame (my first ones were stretched over the top of a cardboard box), and hot wax (a mixture of paraffin and beeswax) is painted directly onto the fabric, beginning with the lightest color and working to the darkest. All areas to remain white are waxed first. The fabric is then removed from the frame and dipped into the first dyebath (the lightest color) with additives that allow the dyes to adhere to and permanently bond with the fabric. The piece is then allowed to dry, and the entire process is repeated (stretching it over the frame and painting hot wax over the areas to remain the color that was just dyed). The process requires planning and a knowledge of color, for the dyes are overdyed with one another (yellow overdyed with red produces orange, then overdyed with blue produces brown). This process is continued until the dipping of the final and darkest color.

The major characteristic of a batik is the “crackle,” the dark spider web lines that appear throughout the design. That is obtained by bending or “scrunching” the fabric right before the final dyebath and creates cracks in the wax, which allow the dye to penetrate. This can be controlled, depending on the amount of scrunching as well as the kind of wax (paraffin is more brittle and results in more crackle, while a higher level of the more pliable beeswax results in less crackle).

After the final dyebath, the piece is nearly covered in dried wax and difficult to see. The wax is then removed. I iron it between lots and lots of newsprint, which soaks up most of the wax, and then have the piece dry cleaned, which removes all traces of the wax and additives. The piece is then stretched onto a backing, matted and framed.

What (or who) are your artistic inspirations?

I enjoy art of all kinds, but have always loved the work of Andrew Wyeth, both in his incredible talent and in his subject matter. I identify with his observations of life as it is—the beauty of ordinary days, of the places and people that inhabit our world. I especially enjoy doing scenes of life around me—of the people and places I have visited as well as of those that are in my immediate world. Most recently I have done pieces that relate to the Dane County Farmers’ Market or nearby community gardens, as they encompass much of the beauty I see right here—the man selling apples at the market in the fall, the couple choosing flowers for a bouquet, brilliant sunflowers.

What do you want people to get from seeing your work?

I’d like them to come away with a deeper sensitivity to the beauty that surrounds them—the beauty of old faces, of colors and smells, of the comforts of “home.” We tend to think that the interesting things in life are far away, in other cultures and places, when in fact we are surrounded with it right here. I have done commissioned work in the past but mostly enjoy doing a piece and having someone love it enough to choose to have it grace their own home. I have enjoyed other types of art—pen and ink and watercolor—but find myself always returning to batik and the joys it gives me.

Mary Fiore’s artwork is on display July 1–31 at Absolutely Art, 2322 Atwood Ave. For more information, call 249.9100 or visit

Photos are courtesy of Absolutely Art.

IN THE MAGAZINE: The July issue of Madison Magazine comes out tomorrow. Here’s some of the arts content you’ll find within the pages:
• How Madisonians will be brining in old artwork and objects for appraisal on “Antiques Roadshow” this month.
• A look at a new movement arming artists with business skills.
• Meet a printmaker who counts nature as his primary inspiration.
• The poem “My Walking Inspiration” by Jolieth McIntosh.
• Our monthly Overtones section with picks on the can’t-miss performances, concerts and exhibits taking place in July.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Let the Games Begin

If you’ve ever feared that attending a chamber music concert would be dull, you obviously have never taken in a Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society performance!

Indeed, for eighteen years, the group has offered “chamber music with a bang” in its three-week summer festivals that prove year after year that chamber music can be fun and playful, in addition to beautiful and interesting.

Says Jeffrey Sykes, co-artistic director with Stephanie Jutt, “As audience members, we often have a ‘museum mentality’ about classical music. Like many museums, concert programs are often filled with a line-up of masterpieces, and the audience is expected to approach these masterworks with awestruck silence. The museum mentality is a perfect formula for self-seriousness.”

That seriousness must accompany top-notch performances is an idea the BDDS has successfully turned on its head. So it’s fitting that this year’s festival is titled Haydn Seek in honor of the two-hundredth anniversary of the passing of Franz Joseph Haydn, “the greatest musical jokester of all time,” according to the BDDS.

All six programs in the festival—which runs June 12–28—feature a work by Haydn. And to further celebrate his sense of play, the BDDS has named each program after a popular game. Here’s a look at what’s in store:

Week 1, June 12–14, brings about the programs Leapfrog and The Dating Game, and features Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio on violin, Parry Karp on cello, Jutt on flute, Sykes on piano, and Timothy Jones and baritone and narrator.

Leapfrog showcases works by French composers of different generations—thereby “leaping” from one to another—including Haydn, François Couperin, Henri Dutilleux and Maurice Ravel. (June 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton and June 14 at 2:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.)

The Dating Game offers music exploring the games people play in relationships. It opens with a Haydn trio based on the song “Trust not too much,” and continues with variations on Franz Schubert’s song cycle “Die Schöne Müllerin.” This performance also will showcase photographs by Madison photographer Katrin Talbot. (June 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Overture Center and June 14 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.)

Week 2, June 19–21, features Catch Me if You Can and Three Card Monte with Carmit Zori on violin and Randall Hodgkinson on piano, plus Karp, Jutt and Sykes.

Catch Me if You Can highlights works with high-speed musical chases, such as Haydn’s “Gypsy Rondo” piano trio and the “Dumky” trio by Antonín Dvořák. (June 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the River Arts Center in Prairie du Sac and June 21 at 2:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.)

Three Card Monte is named after the card game played by con artists and showcases works for three instruments that are full of tricks and turns of phrase. They include a Haydn trio for flue, cello and piano, Bohuslav Martinu’s jazzy trio for flute, violin and piano, and Felix Mendelssohn’s piano trio in D minor. (June 20 at 7:30 p.m. at Overture Center and June 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.)

Week 3, June 26–28, highlights London Bridge and Pin the Tail on the Donkey, programs featuring Ellen dePasquale and Suzanne Beia on violin, Ara Gregorian on viola, Anthony Ross on cello, and Jutt and Sykes.

London Bridge focuses on works written in Britain, including Haydn’s “London” Symphony, Rebecca Clarke’s sonata for viola and piano, and Edward Elgar’s piano quintet. (June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton and June 28 at 2:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.)

Pin the Tail on the Donkey features works with notable codas—as “coda” is the Italian word for “tail.” It includes “Fountains of Fin,” written this year by Iranian composer Behzad Ranjbaran, as well as Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony and Johannes Brahms’ popular piano quartet in G minor with a finale that has “the most exciting coda in all of chamber music,” according to the BDDS. (June 27 at 7:30 p.m. at Overture Center and June 28 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.)

Executive director Samantha Crownover says audiences should expect “a thrilling evening experiencing the music in a very intimate way” in any of the six programs.

“We hope to give them an emotional journey filled with ups and downs but at the end of it all, leaving a different person than the way they came in,” she says. “Our audience gains a fuller understanding of the composer who wrote the music, the musicians and possibly even themselves. I know, a tall order, but it happens!”

Concerts are held at the Playhouse at Overture Center, the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green, the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton and the River Arts Center in Prairie du Sac. Tickets are $32, $10 students, $84 for three concerts, $108 for four concerts, $130 for five concerts, $150 for six concerts. 258-4141. For more information, visit

Photos courtesy of the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Play Time

The weather might not be showing it just yet but proof that the summer season is upon us is here: American Players Theatre kicks off its season this weekend!

Opening APT’s thirtieth-anniversary season is William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, opening June 6. Then come George Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer on June 12 and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale on June 20.

The rest of the season’s plays are James DeVita’s In Acting Shakespeare (opening July 10), Harold Pinter’s Old Times (July 11), Noël Coward’s Hay Fever (August 8), Shakespeare’s King Henry V (August 15) and Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey (August 27).

Sara Young, APT’s director of communications, was nice enough to take some time out this week to answer questions about this special season and its featured plays.

How did you approach APT’s thirtieth season?

In many ways, we approached it the same way we approach every season. Certainly there are considerations of what plays “fit” together—balance of comedies and dramas, etc. There are also practical considerations such as whether or not they are shows that the audience wants to see (will they sell?). But for APT the most important factor is putting together a team of artists that are passionate about the show they are going to work on. This usually starts with the directors. Brenda DeVita, our associate artistic director, is constantly talking to directors about what shows they were interested in directing—those conversations form the foundation of APT’s season planning.

This season, we’re opening our new two-hundred-seat indoor theater, the Touchstone Theatre. So our season is going from five shows to eight shows. This was a big consideration, of course, in season planning, casting, everything.

How are you planning to mark this milestone?

The grand opening of the Touchstone Theatre and our thirtieth anniversary celebration will be combined into a big event the weekend of July 10–12. The first two Touchstone shows, In Acting Shakespeare and Old Times, will have their press openings on July 10 and 11. On July 12, we’re having a fun event—called “30 Years of Summer”—where we’ll have, food, silent and live auctions, and the Touchstone building dedication. We’re doing an APT version of the old TV show Hollywood Squares where the APT core acting company members will be in the squares and contestants from the audience play. Another highlight of the day will be a music stage featuring APT company members who are also singers. They’ll be accompanied by the General Store Jam Band, a collection of really great musicians from the Spring Green area. The event is from 1–4 p.m. on July 12. Admission is $10 and all proceeds will benefit APT. There are still a few tickets left.

Also on that day, we’re releasing our first-ever APT CD (called Play On) featuring several APT company members and the General Store Band. It will have both music and spoken word tracks on it. Production costs have been underwritten and all of the artists donated their services, so one-hundred percent of proceeds will benefit APT. We’ll be selling it for $20.

What’s new or different this season?

Certainly the opening of the Touchstone Theatre, which I already discussed, is the biggest thing. But we don’t want anyone to forget the amazing experience of our outdoor theater—that really is the centerpiece of the APT experience.

A couple notes, then, about the shows on the Hill: We’re doing Hay Fever, which marks our first production of a Noël Coward play, and our production of Henry V is a continuation of last year’s Henry IV: The Making of a King (which combined Henry IV, parts I and II). It will have the same director (James Bohnen), the same actor playing Henry (Matt Schwader) and much of the same scenic design.

What is it about each play that made you choose it?

On the Hill:

The Comedy of Errors: Certainly, there’s always going to be a “big” Shakespeare comedy like this one on APT’s schedule each year. But we’re especially excited about Comedy because William Brown, our director, is passionate about this play and has wanted to direct it for a long time. And in addition to being very, very funny, in the end it’s a sweet story of families being reunited.

The Philanderer: APT has had a lot of success with plays by George Bernard Shaw—our audience loves them. This is a Shaw play that’s been in the mix for a while, and we’re really excited to have Ken Albers (who directed Shaw’s Widowers’ Houses last year) to helm this one. Also, Jim DeVita plays the lead. He took last season off and his other two shows this season are in the Touchstone Theatre, so this is the only chance for audiences to see him on the Hill this year.

The Winter’s Tale: This is a beautiful, hopeful play. One of Shakespeare’s later plays (as opposed to Comedy, which was one of his first). This year, it seemed to fit so well into the mix. And again, I hate to sound like a broken record, but David Frank is directing and this is one he’s wanted to direct for many years.

Hay Fever: I talked a little about this above. Like I said, our first Noël Coward and I think our audience is going to love it and I think our company is very well suited to it.

King Henry V: I think I covered this one above as well.

In the Touchstone:

In Acting Shakespeare: This is a one-person play written and performed by Jim DeVita. It’s really his journey of how he went from a kid on Long Island who worked on fishing boats and could barely talk to someone who loves Shakespeare. One of our objectives with the new theater is to give our audience and our company the chance to see something a little unexpected. This is not something that we’d be able to do Up the Hill, so the Touchstone is a great opportunity.

Old Times: This is going to be a completely new experience for APT audiences, but we really believe this show addresses our mission, but in a way we don’t usually have an opportunity to. In fact, it just occurred to me that [associate artistic director] Brenda DeVita wrote something recently about the Touchstone shows that answers this really well—I think I’ll just turn it over to her, so to speak.

From Brenda DeVita:

If indeed, we attend theatre or create theatre in order to express, to explore or try to explain the human condition then we at American Players have the great privilege of doing so through the greatest plays ever written.

Our particular brand of these classics is the very fight itself—of making accessible and expressible what is clearly inexpressible—the fight with bringing to life the metaphor itself. The very best work we do is when we are engaged in that fight—the immense tension that comes from trying to make accessible and poignant incredibly dense and intricate poetry.

A nod to that very purposeful quest is
In Acting Shakespeare.

It is debatable, certainly, but possible that
Long Day’s Journey Into Night is the greatest American play ever written. Its beautiful cruelty—its dense poetry is a perfect extension of what we believe to be classic APT material …

Pinter is the introduction to what more contemporary poets offer us on our quest to uncover certain truths. He uses language to describe the very failure of language to express ourselves. Pinter believed we live between the words we speak … That the meaning is beneath the words … That words are inadequate.

Now that’s exciting to us.

What are your goals for the thirtieth season?

Certainly to introduce our audience to the Touchstone Theatre. On a more practical note, we certainly have a goal to end our thirtieth season in the black (as we have for the past seventeen seasons). We’re very proud of our record of financial health, and it’s going to be a challenge to keep that going in this very rough economic climate. So we hope people come out to enjoy a show or two—or more—this summer.

For more information on American Players Theatre and its thirtieth season, visit

Photo is by Carissa Dixon and courtesy of American Players Theatre.