The calendar says it's still summer, but you and I know, we're really on the skids, on our way to autumn.
Last week, I wrote about being dragged out of Stratford, my fingernails clutching at the pavement in a desperate attempt to stay. This week's column is another fingernail scratcher, only this time an effort to hold on to the glow and glory of summer.
It has been our practice for a number of years to devote three columns per year to looking back and evaluating what we have done ourselves. These would be the New Year's column, our anniversary column, which is the final one in March, and the end-of-summer column, when we try to shift our transmission back from the overdrive demanded by the summer to moving forward in plain old "drive."
Summer weather and summer vacation are the perfect opportunities to win young hearts and minds to value the arts. Here a young visitor to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival gets to try on a king's wardrobe in a backstage tour of the Festival.
Readers can probably intuit that when professional performers are coming to our area, not only do their local presenters have publicists who are trying to capture our coverage, the individuals also have their own publicists who are capable of writing, phoning, emailing, and sending recordings, DVDs, and invitations galore. And believe me, those publicists are as easy to tell "no" as is a speeding train, preparing to run one down.
For every artist like Julie Andrews who can't be bothered to talk with us, there is a plethora of eager, passionate, demanding individuals, capable of phoning at all hours of the day and night in the hope of getting our attention.
This year, if I haven't mislaid or misfiled anything, I wrote 29 pieces for the newspaper, between the Bach and Beyond reviews at the Fredonia Opera House in early June, until the closing week of the Chautauqua season last weekend. That is, of course, in addition to all the writing done by other members of the newspapers' staffs.
I count five pieces about events in Jamestown, two about Fredonia, three about the big Canadian arts festivals, and 19 pieces about Chautauqua, including eight general pieces, seven pieces about the Chautauqua Theater Company, and four pieces about Chautauqua Opera.
My big regret, covering several of the past seasons, is the virtual dearth of coverage of the Chautauqua Dance program. Chautauqua has one of the finest summer dance programs in our nation, and I love watching them perform. I'm also totally gob smacked by retired dancer Patricia McBride, whose husband is director of the company, and look forward for months to any opportunity to talk with her. But, I go out before the season begins each year, and give equal opportunities to each of the performing arts programs, with a genuine desire to bring to your attention all the wonderful things being done.
The reaction of the Theater Company is always, "Please do this, and let us arrange for you to meet that person, and wouldn't it be interesting to learn about this unexpected development ..."
The reaction of the Opera Company is always, "Thanks for your interest. We recommend covering this and that."
The folks in Dance just don't call back.
In passing, I'm very fond of the visual arts program at Chautauqua, as well, although I'm not as well-educated about it as I am about the performing arts, and the good folks running the program aren't nearly so event-oriented. Their exhibits are up for many weeks, so there isn't the urgency to get people there on a specific date at a specific time.
It's one of those situations in which, if I had more time to think about what to do when, I could do something better, but in the words of filmmaker Barbara Gordon, I usually spend the summer dancing as fast as I can, and it's never fast enough.
Let's look at summer 2012 and see where the lessons are and what went down:
This year, we wrote a preview column and a concert review of the 90th birthday concert by piano teacher extraordinaire Helga Hulse. Ms. Hulse is unique in all the world, and a worthy subject of any arts coverage.
We did a preview interview and a performance review of comic Paula Poundstone, who was part of the Lucy Festival, in early August. The comic is very funny, in my opinion, and is a joy to talk with when she's not doing her act as well.
Some readers wondered why we didn't do other of the acts who were in town at the time, but coverage of Ms. Poundstone was what the organizers asked for, and we were happy to oblige.
Finally, we did a review of the James Prendergast Library Art Gallery, which displayed the sculpture of Jonathan Craig Chisholm. I find Chisholm one of the most original, creative, and accessible artists I've had the opportunity to review, and I hope you made it down to the library to see his work.
With the State University of New York at Fredonia on summer intermission, and the 1891 Opera House not programming at their usual rate, I was drawn to the north part of the county only for the Bach and Beyond Festival.
I am always impressed and delighted by the performances in that festival, and am always a bit astounded that their attendance isn't larger than it is. I have often said that if Bach and Beyond were held in Salzburg or in Avignon, people from our area would be buying airline tickets to hear what they could hear for a fraction of the cost, just down the street.
My one concern is that early in June is a very awkward time period for a great many people. A large percentage of the audience for classical music is made up of teachers, and in early June, the teachers I know are clinging to their sanity by one last nerve, trying to cope with local final exams, state exams, report cards, graduation ceremonies, awards ceremonies, and the rest of the early June smorgasbord.
I suppose that most of the performing artists are academics as well, and since the colleges tend to let out for the summer several weeks ahead of the public schools in New York state, the early June date for the festival catches them between regular teaching and summer school, or before leaving on sabbatical trips. Still, I do think that timing is one reason participation isn't as great as it should be.
We always write a pre-season look at a coming Chautauqua season, which includes my personal choices of what I would see there, given an opportunity. Every year, I bluntly confess that different people have different tastes, and my selections aren't necessarily what would most be enjoyed by someone else. Yet, each year some folks feel the need to let me know that my picks aren't theirs. And, that's OK.
We wrote three pieces about performances outside the Chautauqua program. There was a preview interview of the performing quartet Good Pennyworths, which took place at Fletcher Hall just before the 2012 season began, and there was a review of their performance once it had taken place.
There was a review of the trio of short plays by David Zinman which was presented under the sponsorship of the Friends of Chautauqua Theater, also in Fletcher Hall, during the last weekend of the season.
I would have delighted to have written about the performance of "Die Rosenkavalier," which was done by the vocal music department, but it just wouldn't cram itself into my available schedule.
On the lecture platform, I covered the presentations by television creator Norman Lear and by stage and film star Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Hamilton. Those were fun. Even more fun was the individual interview granted by Lear. The long and difficult work which went into not being spoken with by Ms. Andrews and Ms. Hamilton was the subject of a column in early July, which necessarily filled a hole left by their lack of remarks.
The remaining general Chautauqua column was a pair of interviews with young musicians who had been chosen to perform on the "From the Top" radio program, which was recorded in the Amphitheater in mid-July. The giftedness, hard work and dedication of the young students of all the arts at Chautauqua is astounding, and I did my very best to let our readers know as much of it as I could this year.
This year was the first in which the artistic directorship of the Chautauqua Theater Company was entirely in the hands of Vivienne Benesch. She has been sharing the duties with Ethan McSweeny, but his burgeoning career, taking him all across North America, has forced him to drop back slightly to the position as resident director.
The company is blessed in many ways by Ms. Benesch. Not only is she an award-winning actor, a skilled director and an inspired educator, but among her talents is an inspired sense of public relations. I always look forward to my pre-season conference with her, when I tell her I have nine columns to fill during the Chautauqua season and ask how I can best serve her company with them.
She always just bubbles with ideas which make the column more readable, more useful to the company and more delightful for the readers. It's often difficult to convince artists that they know what is going on in their programs and I don't yet, so I need them to share with me what works. I always leave her office thinking that I could easily dedicate all nine columns to theater at Chautauqua, but it wouldn't make for fair or balanced coverage in any sense of the term.
This year, we reviewed all five of their productions. We did a preview of the first production of "The Philadelphia Story," which included interviews with the three principal actors.
We did an interview with playwright Kate Fodor, one of the most talented and respected writers in our country today, who wrote the delightful new play "Fifty Ways," which was the first play ever commissioned by the CTC, and coupled it with an interview with McSweeny, who directed the new play.
Finally, we shared six hours in the life of one of the young conservatory actors who study at Chautauqua each year, and ran it as a preview of the final production of the year: Shakespeare's "As You Like It." Both artistically and as entertainment, it was a great season.
Switching from five plays to only two operas, we delighted in reviewing both "Lucia di Lammermoor" and "Manon Lescaut" at Chautauqua Opera. We also did interviews with the conductor and four principal singers in the latter, and then, which I found especially interesting, interviews with six of the members of the Young Artists Program of Chautauqua Opera.
Believe me, that program is one of the most respected training programs for people with dreams of being professional singers in all the world, diminished only somewhat as the performing opportunities extended to its members have dropped from the seven productions per year which Chautauqua once offered, to only two per season.
Chautauqua is always a hotbed of rumors, and the rumors have been flying that opera lovers can hope for better at Chautauqua -not better quality, because that was very good indeed - but better opportunities to see and hear and delight.
Each summer, we try to write one column which gives contact information, driving directions, and all the information which it takes to visit the Shaw Festival, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, in Stratford, Ontario.
We then try to visit each of the festivals at least once, and to share with you what we saw there.
This year we were lucky to enjoy six productions at each of the festivals.
It wouldn't be good or reasonable for our sports department not to write about the Super Bowl and the World Series, and it wouldn't be reasonable for an arts column not to deal with the opportunities to enjoy the finest theater in the world, only a short drive from our area.
They're both still operating, through October, so if you haven't been to see them, I hope you'll find a way to go. It will be well worth your while.