*Image: Tullio Francesco DeSantisUntitled ink on paper drawing from an altitude of 33,000 feet082806
Monthly Archives: August 2006
Dear readers,We’ve been away – on the wondrous tropical archipelago that is west of the tip of the Florida peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Hope you’re well. See you soon.Take care,Art
*Some of my most palpable memories of growing up in Berks County are reminiscences of the old Reading Fairgrounds and the old Reading Fair. I recall the boisterous midway – the cacophonous main street of a surrealistic world where carnival sounds intermingled with evocative aromas and a thousand garish lights and sights. Glaring game booths lured my friends and me into trading quarters for opportunities to win toys, trinkets, and live goldfish. We played hard for the possibility of taking home a big copper-plated model horse (the best ones held circular clocks) or an oversize stuffed animal.The whole environment seemed to me to be enormous, overwhelming, phantasmagoric. The fairgrounds also held the highly attended stock car race venue, spectacular rides, farm animals, agriculture displays, and food stands galore. A left turn off the midway would take you down a descending route to exhibitions of exotica – shows of bizarre humans, animal freaks of nature, and death-defying motorcyclists speeding around the inner walls of a cylindrical track. During their circular orbits, these leather-clad antiheroes negated gravity. They staved off cruel crashes and stayed alive only by dint of the centrifugal force of awesome velocity. The nadir of that dusty alternative walkway was the place we only murmured about – the raunchy stages where tipsy men ogled undressed women. Except for the moral absences of these freak shows, we still long for the way it was.After it’s final run in 1978, our dear old Reading Fair was was torn away from us by the rapacious Mall Monster. And many of us have never really accepted that a soulless mall is a worthy replacement for a much loved local landmark, a county-wide meeting place, and the venue for one of the few events that held us together across diverse boundaries of age, class, culture, heritage, and language.Yes, the old Reading Fair is nonpareil in the memories of those of us who are fortunate enough to have been there. Conversely, we who can compare the more recent versions of the fair to the classic ones have judged the new against the old quite harshly. The new Reading Fair in its last couple of incarnations has held no good comparison to recollections of fairs that passed long ago.This year, however, I can sense the classic coming back and exhibiting better family values at that. What is so significant about the 2006 version of the Reading Fair? For one thing dirt car races are back in full force! Even better, “The World’s Largest Demolition Derby,” offers the thrill of smashing, mashing, auto crashes as a spectator sport! What could be better than that? In addition to the traditional rides, agricultural and domestic animal exhibits, rows of food stands, and dirt track events, there are stage shows – wild animal presentations, historical re-enactments of the men, vehicles, and animals that advanced civilization before the age of machines, a wild-west village, and a fine magic show. These events offer a plenitude of experience and they add inestimably to the experience of fairgoers.Sharon and Michael Sandlofer’s Windham Mountain Ranch Great American Frontier & Wildlife Show adds significant experience and meaning to this year’s event. The wild animal show, with bears, mountain lions, and wolves brings viewers closer to the beasts than do most zoos. The environmental message that informs the entire show is important for all to hear. The Sandlofer’s frontier show is absolutely enchanting, and the cowboy-era village is a whole 3-dimensional world where viewers may enter and in which they may participate and interact.Lance Gifford’s Magic Show is another instance of top-notch family entertainment. Both adults and children are mesmerized by uncanny onstage trickery and classic perceptual mystery. Gifford’s recreation of Harry Houdini’s “Metamorphosis Illusion” is a must see.The Reading Fair has always been a popular venue here but it has not always been as great as it was in the past. This year’s 152nd version of the Reading Fair, nestled in its verdant location on County Welfare Road and Hill Top Road evinces a nascent renaissance of the way things used to be. We need more of that today.*images:Windham Mountain Ranch Great American Frontier & Wildlife ShowSlingshot RacingLance Gifford’s Magic Show
I had the good fortune of possessing a set of tickets for the performance of Cats, held August 5 at 3:30 p.m. at the Genesius Theatre in downtown Reading. The theatrical history of this show, composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber and based on a particularly witty cat-savvy text, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot, is well known enough that I do not feel the need to retell it here. The feline characters, as portrayed by Eliot and brought to the stage by Webber, have as much to convey about human psychology as they do about the personalities and behaviors of cats.This performance by the Genesius’ talented cast was so excellent and exhilarating that I hesitate to employ as many superlatives as would be required to do verbal justice to the actual live experience. Suffice to say that it was virtually perfect. And a virtually perfect performance of Cats is an amazing event.“Virtually perfect” applies to all aspects of the Genesius Theatre’s presentation from the spot-on characterizations to the note-perfect execution of the score. The solo and ensemble songs soared upward like flights of freed doves filling the misty theater with expansive aesthetic magic. The multicolor mis-en-scene was veritably alive with rhythmic waves of gymnastic dancers. All this energy was generated within scenography that evoked at once gritty realism, whimsy, dark fantasy, strong emotion, and a sense of the miraculous. Theater is transformative by its very nature. Audiences are transported by sheer sensory overload toward plateaus of peak experience. This is most evident when there are no distracting moments of disorganization, script amnesia, or any of the many theater-specific flaws that can telegraph faulty performance. In those moments disbelief is no longer suspended and we are left with nothing but sympathy and empathy for the cast – if we are kind.Such moments did not exist in this show. What we in the audience were offered was really quite precious. We left the theater with songs in our heads, music in our ears, insights and reflections in our minds, and a plethora of other aesthetic gifts. I do believe I speak for us all in sending a resounding “Thank you all so much!” to everyone associated with this brilliant show.*Genesius Theatre images from Cats.
The weather was spectacular. The crowd came prepared to have a good time. It appeared as if the City Park Bandshell Concert for Friday, August 4 would be memorable. It was, I suppose, but for the wrong reasons. The band, such as it was, came billed as an example of “World Music.” That was the first mistake. I anticipated an energetic performance mixing the sounds of traditional and contemporary music from around the world. What I received was a band that played Latin American music and a singer who sang in a few languages.Rather than limit their salability to aficionados of Latin smooth jazz, someone evidently figured an appellation that evoked global and multicultural significance would bring more and more various gigs their way. Too bad. This band named, Siora, predominantly presents Latin Jazz in several traditionally imperialist tongues – that’s it. Singing a song in another language is not what world music is about. So this set was a disappointment from the start. Someone needs to tell this to the band’s publicist.The lead singer was a swinging-to-the-music long-loose-red-dress dark-haired woman. She was an adequate lounge singer with a lackluster presentation of self. Even though she possessed a decent range, semi-operatic vibrato, and a vocal sound that a few fans may have found evocative, she had no idea how to engage an audience..Actually , that was the big problem last night. More than half of the first set consisted of musicians trying to find some interesting notes to attach to songs in which tempo was completely absent. These aurally pointless exercises in noodling around were probably attempts at improvisation. Their aesthetic value depreciated to zero before they arrived at the ears of the audience.How do I know this? It was clear simply by the fact that the crowd displayed a constant din of chatter, milling around, reading newspapers, and paying attention to anything besides what was occurring on stage. This was appallingly evident, especially during the soft slow parts of the set. There were so many soft and slow parts that it was sometimes hard to recall previous notes in players’ solos. The flute guy actually played one note a dozen times in a row, trying out different inflections – sort of like one does in a music lesson. The singer sat around fidgeting with her hair while the band tried to find their way back to the melody after these seemingly endless vapid interludes.A lady right in front of me spent the entire set showing her friend her vacation pictures. They had a grand time gabbing between themselves. And since I completely understood why, I could not hold it against them. It was entirely the band’s fault. When I arrived, the band was warming up. You know – the sort of dabbling around in solo and ensemble notes, tuning instruments, playing snippets of familiar songs. But for the fact that the ostensible start of the show was heralded by an introduction, I would not have been able to distinguish the warm up from the set itself.Oh well, as I mentioned, the weather was wonderful and the crowd was in a good mood. It was a lovely summer evening. It was so lovely that I left at intermission along with many dozens of other music lovers. We took off to have a better time than this by just sitting around at home listening to our iPods.
*As the Keith Haring Exhibition at the Reading Public Museum (through August 6, 2006)will soon be history, here is a list of links to previous entries relating to Keith and me.Here are the links: What Keith and I Held in CommonKeith Haring and Our Quest for Meaning, Part 1The Project in Progress/Keith/Art/MeaningRevisiting what it may mean…The Continuing Saga of Our Very Own Freak FlagKeith, me, and the past 15 yearsAcross the Art DivideUntitled MemoriesThe Haring show: first impressions…About Keith 1Talking with Keith Haring, June 1986, part oneTalking with Keith Haring, June 1986, part twoKeith, himself, and meKeith and usREADING LIES DREAMING*Image: Keith Haring, Bill Jones Dance Poster (detail), 1982Collection: Tullio Francesco DeSantis