For over 25 years, a giant pine tree that was rooted at the apartment complex next door loomed over the back half of my townhouse. It also sprawled over a large portion of the common area behind my building. That tree was monstrous. In addition to a constant flow of pine needles and twigs covering my roof year around, it dropped pine cones onto my roof that sometimes startled me out of a sound sleep. Many of those pine cones would eventually either roll off the roof onto the patio or fall there directly from the tree. That tree threatened to drop limbs which could make stormy nights especially daunting. Fortunately when limbs did fall on occasion, they fell into our common area, and our HOA would eventually have them cut up and hauled away. A few months ago, the apartment complex next door brought in a tree service to cut down that tree and turn it into mulch. It had been sick and posed a danger to people at both the apartments and our townhouse development. Continue reading
Commentary & Pubs
My magical, musical journey: Part 9 – For the love of music
Music can be all-encompassing whether making music or just listening to it. It can be healing. It can be invigorating. It can also stimulate the brain in ways that nothing else can. Music encourages artistic and emotional connection and expression. And unfortunately in our profit-centered world, it can also be far too expensive. In July of 2019, I wrote a piece exploring some of the differences between those playing to live and those who lived to play for the sheer love of it, though in both cases my essay focused on the performance aspects and the range of compensation musicians received for their services.
I’ve written about the recent demise of two local theater companies. I had worked for both companies in the past, and they each served the community in numerous ways. Between the ongoing risks associated with the prevalence of COVID-19 reducing audiences, escalating facility costs, and legislation in California forcing performing arts organizations to treat any paid person as an employee with all of the overhead costs that entails, it’s become increasingly difficult to keep small theater groups and community music ensembles afloat. It’s also made accessing those that are still functioning far more cost prohibitive for many audience members. Continue reading
Niceness should matter
A few weeks ago, I wrote an essay about needing more cooperation and less competition. I still stand by that as a means to improve society and human quality of life overall. After more thought, I’ve begun to wonder if perhaps humankind is experiencing a negative aspect of evolution and as a result is breeding for greed, aggression, and other negative traits because they achieve more evolutionary success in the short term. Yuval Noah Harari posits in his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind that to be an evolutionary success, an organism needs to create as many copies of itself as possible. Seeing the changes that society has incurred over the last several decades, it appears that for a variety of reasons, people have gotten meaner toward one another. We need look no further than the ultra-extremism in today’s GOP and its supporters. Their devotion to the morbidly rich, their love affair with guns, and their ongoing efforts to strip away the rights of everyone who isn’t a rich, straight, white Christian male to have any say at all in society has pitted everyone against one another for a smaller and smaller piece of the pie. They want to achieve a complete destruction of democracy through violence and domination. They keep talking of revolution while freely displaying weapons of war. Continue reading
A day for the history books: a former president has been indicted
30 March 2023 was a day that will loom large in our nation’s history. Given all that has transpired, it had to happen eventually, but only after extensive investigation. While we cannot know for sure, it’s likely that we’ll see more such days as the continuing investigations complete. Donald J. Trump, a former president of the United States of America, has been indicted. We don’t yet know the specific charges. Those will be unsealed in due time when he is arraigned.
In the U.S., the last 8 years have yielded many unprecedented events, some of which are undoubtedly criminal activities directed by the former president. His personal criminal past may well go back long before he entered politics, but because the investigations are ongoing, we can’t know the full content of what has been discovered surrounding those activities just yet. Now they are starting to land squarely in the courts with him as the focus of attention in criminal rather than just civil matters. This is a big change. In the case of the former president, this is all of his own making, and now he’s being held accountable, something he likely never believed could ever happen to him. While someone’s misfortune is not a cause for celebration, it’s a little hard not to view the events of 30 March 2023 with a bit of pride that we are still a nation of laws that apply to everyone, even former presidents. Continue reading
Less competition, more cooperation
In the U.S., it seems like everything is turned into a competition. Our economic system, capitalism, is based on competition, at least in theory. Schools are usually based on some kind of competition for grades. We’re trained from early childhood to compete. To win. We’re often told by society that if we don’t win, there’s something wrong with us. Rather than striving to improve our skills for the personal satisfaction of doing something well, the goal is instead to be better than somebody else. Sports permeate society reinforcing a mindset of striving to beat the other guy rather than focusing on helping one another hone our skills. Continue reading
Gramps and me
With all of the turmoil in today’s world between the vile political battles between the forces of democracy and authoritarianism, the constant stream of crises in the news on an hourly basis, and the displacement of millions of people due to crime, war, and the ravages of climate change, it’s sometimes instructive to think of times when the immediate future didn’t seem so dire. We have made tremendous progress over the last century, but with that progress comes some extreme pushback by those not ready or able to accept change. When I get overwhelmed by the bad news that just doesn’t stop, I think back to my childhood. I wouldn’t want to go back to that time again or live under the restrictions of childhood, but I am comforted by pleasant childhood memories and the love that my family shared. Continue reading
You can’t run a theater on a shoestring anymore
After hearing about the Tabard era coming to an end, I thought back on some of the community theaters that used to thrive in years past. One such community group was The Shoestring Theatre Company, later renamed Shoestring Family Theatre. Shoestring was a little different than most theaters. It hearkened back to what community theater was in a bygone era. The Andrews family was the driving force behind Shoestring, and they got the whole community involved.
Shoestring spent most of its tenure affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of Los Gatos (PCLG) serving not only their congregation, but the local community in the area. Unlike so many groups, Shoestring took all comers. Everyone came to audition, and the Andrews family (who served as producers, directors, and choreographers in addition to being in the shows) would then cast the productions based on those auditions. They used to double cast their shows for a good part of their history giving as many people a chance to shine as possible. Their productions were all family friendly and infinitely expandable to allow for large ensembles and audiences of all ages. Their shows included Seussical, Cinderella, Annie, The Wizard of Oz, and whole host of others that were equally applicable. They ended up with performers with a wide range of talents and experience, and every year, they made it all work. The other truly unique aspect of their shows was that their casts were intergenerational with children and adults working together on every show.
Everyone could participate, and for most of their tenure, there was no cost barrier to attend or perform in Shoestring shows. In fact, for most of their existence, Shoestring didn’t even have tickets. People could just show up for performances, and there was also no participation fee for the performers. There was an expectation that the performers (or their families) would provide some sweat equity in their productions by pitching in with things like set building, painting, child wrangling, providing goodies for the green room and/or the snack tables during intermission at performances, etc., but the group thrived on donations and grants from a very appreciative community.
While Shoestring was at PCLG, they performed on a small stage in the social hall. They also used live orchestras, including musicians from the church’s congregation and others from around the community. I had a connection to Shoestring early on, not through the church, but as a music director for a few summers, and for that, I owe them a debt of gratitude. As I wrote in Part 5 of my Magical Musical Journey my first time as the director for a pit orchestra was a production of Seussical that came about because of a fluke of timing. A musical director for whom I’d played numerous times got himself in a bit of a scheduling pickle and ended up handing me the baton and his orchestra in which I was supposed to play. My first action was replacing myself in that orchestra, and then learning everything I needed to know about directing as quickly as possible. I talked a bit about the uniqueness of the theater group in that earlier essay, but what I left out was that the group was The Shoestring Theatre Company of PCLG.
After Seussical, I continued serving as their orchestral music director for three subsequent shows including Cinderella, Children of Eden, and Once Upon a Mattress, all of which turned out well and played to very appreciative full houses. That church social hall wasn’t a luxurious theater setting. It was more a multipurpose room, but in the midst of the shows with theater lighting and music in the air, audiences were swept into the stories unfolding on stage.
Shoestring eventually had to move out of their church location and spent two years affiliated with the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center (JCC) where a number of their performers were affiliated. Finally, they moved out into the commercial world and performed for four summers before the pandemic lockdowns at the Historic Hoover Theater in San Jose. They reopened with a production of SpongeBob in the summer of 2022, but for the last stretch without sponsorship from either PCLG or the JCC, they had to start charging a small participation fee for minors along with nominal ticket prices to help cover their facility fees and show licensing, but they still kept those costs far lower than most other local community theater groups to ensure that cost wasn’t a barrier either for their participants or for their audiences.
Unfortunately in the current pandemic, AB5 environment in California, Shoestring had to close their doors this month. They resisted raising either their ticket prices or their participation fees to equal many of the other groups that have stayed afloat because they strongly believed that the arts should be available to everyone, no matter their economic status. They had been focused on the arts through community volunteer efforts as a labor of love. Even just paying their musicians had become more costly because of AB5 forcing performing arts groups to treat them as employees rather than paying small stipends in appreciation. Many other community theater companies have increased their ticket prices significantly. Audiences have been smaller as many patrons have been slow to return to crowded venues due to the pandemic, and at the same time, material and facility costs have increased.
Shoestring will be missed, but they spent over a quarter of a century serving the local community in a way few groups do in today’s challenging economic environment. With their take all comers policy, their performing artists ranged from professional performers to those who had never seen a stage before they started rehearsals. Shoestring served to introduce a lot of people to all sides of theater who might not otherwise have had that opportunity in the past. Several of their alumni have gone on to careers in the arts all because one or more of those gentle summer shows captured their hearts and minds and gave them a taste of the magic of theater early on.
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The end of the Tabard era is nigh
The Tabard Theatre Company has often been known as the little theatre that could. For its first seven years, it was a vagabond company, performing in various spaces and growing a dedicated patron base. Under the guidance of founding artistic director Cathy Spielberger Cassetta, the little company took on a wide variety of projects, often doing shows that weren’t available elsewhere. It was a wholesome company seeking to bring a different kind of theater to the community compared to the hundreds of other theater groups in the area. Eventually, the company settled into a unique space in San Jose known as Theatre on San Pedro Square. Tabard was the managing and resident theater company in the space although they didn’t officially change the name of the venue to Tabard Theatre until 2018. As the managing company, they not only put on their own productions, they hosted numerous guest concerts and shows in that space as well as various private events. Tabard also ran a summer youth theater program each year.
A unique aspect of Tabard Theatre is that for each of its productions, it partnered with a non-profit that shared in the revenue. The non-profit partners were generally chosen based on some thematic connection to the particular show, and these partnerships served the greater community beyond just bringing the arts forward.
In 2020, there were many changes for Tabard. After founding the company and serving as its executive artistic director for the first 19 years of Tabard’s existence, Cathy Spielberger Cassetta handed the reins to Jonathan Rhys Williams for its 20th season which began in July 2020, and we all know what else happened that year. Williams brought innovative ideas to Tabard to help the company continue to bring the arts to its audiences, albeit remotely for some time due to the pandemic restrictions. The 2020-2021 season held a full slate of productions, continuing Tabard’s history of tackling high-quality, thought provoking theater. In 2021 when the company could return to more traditional live audiences, they didn’t abandon their remote broadcasts, they often incorporated both options to give their audiences greater flexibility. I reviewed their production of Shylock remotely that summer and was pleased not only with the show itself, but with the quality of the remote presentation even though their live audience had returned, albeit in smaller numbers than before the pandemic.
The last three years have been especially challenging, not just because of the pandemic, but also because of the challenges from California’s legislative changes. One piece of legislation has been the bane of community based arts groups since January 2020 when AB5 took effect. Although that bill was aimed at the gig economy and employers like Uber and Lyft, one side effect was that community arts groups that used to provide small stipends to their mostly volunteer support had to pay at least minimum wage to every paid person, and they had to treat them as employees of the companies. This added a huge amount of overhead to arts groups that were already struggling to survive in a very high cost area.
The combination of AB5, the pandemic reducing the patron base for all live performances, and the rising rates of pretty much everything finally was too much for the little theater that could, and Tabard announced that they will be closing their doors on 2 April 2023.
A few concerts and their production of the Tony Award winning musical, Once remain on the calendar which comes to an abrupt end when Once closes and strikes its set. The show runs 10 March – 2 April 2023 and will be Tabard’s swan song presented at 29 N. San Pedro St, Ste 200, San Jose, CA 95110. For tickets, see: https://tabardtheatre.org/, call 408-679-2330, or email: email@example.com.
It’s sad to see the company go after so many vibrant years. I had the good fortune to play in the instrumental ensembles for four Tabard productions including The Story of My Life in 2011, The Tin Pan Alley Rag in 2012, Love, Laughter, and Linguini in 2014, and finally Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the Crown Jewel in 2019. All of the orchestras or bands for these productions were small combos or chamber groups that were much more intimate and integral to the shows than a more typical pit orchestra.
In The Story of My Life, the cast and orchestra together numbered five including two actors and the three piece chamber trio. For that show, the trio was often described as the third character in the story, and we were visible on stage behind a mostly transparent, beige scrim.
The Tin Pan Alley Rag had a relatively large cast, along with three actors who also had to play some very challenging piano music on stage. One of my favorite memories from this show was the big production number late in the second act when two of the actors and our instrumental quartet were all playing together in a lively spectacle.
Our little quartet wasn’t visible to the audience as we were sequestered in a tight upstage space behind a dark scrim, but the cast knew we were there, and the audience certainly heard us.
The third show was a little different. Our ensemble was again a quartet, but this time we were part of the show and fully visible upstage of the action. The music was fun to play, and the story was a bit quirky.
For Sherlock Holmes, we were another chamber quartet, very classical this time with piano, violin (of course they had to have a violin for Sherlock Holmes), clarinet, and cello. We were stashed in the apex of the upstage corner behind the set. We were completely invisible to the audience, but this time there was a path in front us, and a few chairs facing us where various cast members would often congregate between scenes as they awaited their next entrance. As such, we had a built-in audience backstage for that one.
Beyond playing in these shows, A Good Reed Review reviewed numerous Tabard productions over the years.
One other thing that was unique about the Tabard performance space was that the dressing rooms were two floors below the stage in the basement of the building. There was no green room as there is in most other theaters. Because of that, once an act began, the performers couldn’t leave. They’d be visible to the audience if they did, so they had to find little cubby holes behind the set when they weren’t on stage.
The Tabard Theatre Company will be missed by audiences, artists, and the community at large, but those of us who have been touched by this company over the years will cherish our memories of those special experiences.
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Social media post controversy – listening vs. reading
Over time I have learned a few things about social media posts.
First, a surprising number of people consume the stuff I write for which I am appreciative.
Second, even something I consider innocuous or even trivial can become controversial depending on the consumer’s interpretation.
Third, it’s important to take a step back and not necessarily engage at face value. A person’s response may not necessarily be directly related to what I wrote or intended but could be a response to something my writing triggered in them or to an unstated connection they made. They experienced what they experienced. They could be reacting to that with my writing acting as a catalyst for them. No matter the reason, discussion is fine, but attacks are not.
Fourth, the way language is used today, meanings seem somewhat fluid despite what the dictionary may have recorded. This unfortunately goes back to an experiment I ran at work several years ago regarding that elusive concept of “common knowledge.” Common knowledge in this case extends to the meaning of various words or terms which may not be as universal as I thought. This makes communication much more challenging and sometimes frustrating. Continue reading
Thoughts on a foggy morning
One recent morning, things seemed a little foggy. Literally foggy. Though not a common occurrence, a thick ground fog engulfed the region. While it burned off by late morning, the early daylight hours were murky. On a morning like that it was easy to get somewhat philosophical and also a little nostalgic. I thought back to my college days in California’s central valley where the tule fog season runs from 1 November – 31 March effectively encompassing the greater winter season along with a smattering of late fall and early spring. Though this recent Silicon Valley version wasn’t as dramatic as those in my bygone days, it reminded me of the times I used to enjoy walking in the mist in the early mornings. Continue reading