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Thank you, ZACH – A note from Board Trustee Tom Terkel

April 15th, 2013 No comments
(L-R) Colleen, Tom and their daughter Taylor Terkel

(L-R) Colleen, Tom and their daughter Taylor Terkel

When my daughter asked me at lunch today what MAD BEAT HIP & GONE is really about, I told her — I don’t really know. I knew it was about the beatnik era and two young guys out on the road searching for something. That was about it. There was a time when I would have been worried.

And so, when we were driving to the theatre and her friend asked the same question, I jumped in to say “I am not real sure, but I have learned to trust Dave Steakley. If he thinks we should see this, he is probably right.” And right he was.

I didn’t realize then as I now do that MAD BEAT HIP & GONE is a metaphor for every generation’s passage from idealistic youth to accommodating middle age and back again to idealistic old age. The play is completely timeless in that regard.

When the play ended, I had similar feelings to what I have experienced so many time: gratitude that I had trusted ZACH. Thought provoking, timeless, and ageless — when do we stop wrestling with the two sides of ourselves — idealism vs. accommodation, settling or seeking? I know I haven’t reconciled the two yet and I bounce back and forth between the two, using my civic commitments to somewhat satisfy the yearning for seeking, but really? That’s not really seeking … Who doesn’t dream about setting out on a road trip without a map, focusing instead on the characters met and the lessons to be learned?

So, instead of providing a window into the lives of others as Dave has so often done in the past, tonight he provided a mirror for me. And, I suspect, everyone in the theatre — young, old, man, woman of all ethnicities — had a similar look inside, for this dilemma is universal. It was a healthy introspection.

It was great to see bright new stars on our stage, and, once more, Michael Raiford’s set was the perfect backdrop to display this piece of art — evocative at times, symbolic at others, literal at still others. He designed a perfect environment to convey the appropriate context at each moment.

So, thank you, ZACH, and please thank playwright and director Steven Dietz. We’ll be discussing this production for days and weeks to come.

- Tom Terkel
ZACH Board Trustee, FourT Realty

For tickets and more show info, please visit http://www.zachtheatre.org/show/mad-beat-hip-gone.

And the Beat Goes On

April 12th, 2013 No comments
Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac

Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
– Jack Kerouac

In his new play Mad Beat Hip & Gone – now in its world premiere on ZACH Theatre’s new Topfer Theatre stage – playwright Steven Dietz explores the Beat Generation and its influence on two small-town young men who have a chance meeting with Beat poet Jack Kerouac and his traveling partner, Neal Cassady.

Today, the term “beatnik” conjures up the stereotype of young men and women dressed in all black, wearing berets while they recite poetry and play the bongos.  But for movement founder Kerouac — who introduced the phrase “Beat Generation” in 1948 to characterize his his social circle of underground, anti-conformist youth gathering in New York at that time — the cultural well-spring had a more religious intention.

Kerouac explained what he meant by “beat” at the Brandeis Forum “Is There A Beat Generation?” in November 1958 at New York’s Hunter College Playhouse, where he appeared with fellow seminar panelists James A. Wechsler, Princeton anthropologist Ashley Montagu and author Kingsley Amis. Reading from a prepared text, Kerouac reflected on his beat beginnings:

It is because I am Beat, that is, I believe in beatitude and that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son to it…who knows, but that the universe is not one vast sea of compassion actually, the veritable holy honey, beneath all this show of personality and cruelty?

The media, of course, ignored the Romantic aspects of the Beat Movement and instead perpetuated the cartoonish versions of Dobie Gillis knockoffs, counter-culture hipsters and “Cool, man, cool” jargon expressed in rhyme set to drum beats.  The term “beatnik” was actually coined by San Francisco columnist Herb Caen by sarcastically punning on the recently launched Russian Sputnik to imply the beatnik’s perceived rejection of red-white-and-blue-blooded all-American ideals.

Jack Kerouac's seminal Beat novel ON THE ROAD

Jack Kerouac's seminal Beat novel ON THE ROAD

To Kerouac, this vision of the Beat Movement portrayed by the mass media only existed as the invention of journalists and entertainers, saying the real Movement was animated more by a vague feeling of cultural and emotional displacement, dissatisfaction, and yearning, than by a specific purpose or program.  In “Aftermath: The Philosophy of the Beat Generation,” Kerouac criticized what he saw as a distortion of his visionary and spiritual ideas:

“The Beat Generation, that was a vision…of a generation of crazy, illuminated hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, bumming and hitchhiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly graceful new way — a vision gleaned from the way we had heard the word “beat” spoken on street corners on Times Square and in the Village, in other cities in the downtown city night of postwar America — beat, meaning down and out but full of intense conviction. We’d even heard old 1910 Daddy Hipsters of the streets speak the word that way, with a melancholy sneer. It never meant juvenile delinquents, it meant characters of a special spirituality who didn’t gang up but were solitary Bartlebies staring out the dead wall window of our civilization…the Beat culture was a state of mind, not a matter of how you dressed or talked or where you lived. In fact, Beat culture was far from monolithic. It was many different, conflicting, shifting states of mind… move beyond the cultural clichés and slogans, to look past the Central Casting costumes, props, and jargon the mass media equated with Beatness, in order to do justice to its spirit.”

Experience Kerouac’s culture in Mad Beat Hip & Bone, now playing through April 28th on the Topfer Theatre stage.  For tickets, call (512) 476-0541, x1, or click here for tickets online.

Playwright’s Notes: MAD BEAT HIP & GONE

April 8th, 2013 No comments
Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

In 1949, Jack Kerouac wrote this in a letter to a friend: “Nothing is true but everything is real.” Though he said he was trying to solve Nietzsche’s metaphysics once again, Kerouac might well have been describing On the Road: either the most true-to-life piece of fiction or the most fictionalized personal narrative ever to rule the American zeitgeist. If you read a lot of Kerouac — and despite his relatively short life, there is a lot of Kerouac – you can begin to feel that he is working at you from the inside. That he is the breath and your head is the horn he is playing.

“What is the feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? It’s the too huge world vaulting us, and it’s goodbye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

Kerouac regularly doubles-down on the notion that we both live it and make it up at the same time. In doing so, he captures something fundamental to our brash young United States: the feeling that in a lively, hungry, restless country the only true moment is a goodbye.

Mad Beat Hip & Gone is my attempt to tell not a real story, but a true one. I don’t know if a couple guys named Danny and Rich were in the Cheyenne bar that Kerouac describes early in On the Road, and I don’t know if they followed him to Denver. But I know that young men marry themselves to wanderlust, and that they are forced to come of age through a series of goodbyes: to home, to family, to comfort, to the known, and finally to each other. I also know that youth is when we both live our lives and make up our lives – gloriously, foolishly, relentlessly – arching towards some divine never-future like Dizzy Gillespie seeking the ultimate note.

The young men in this play – like perhaps both Kerouac and America – really have no clue how to grow old. And that seems honest to me. Because as much as we think of our “dreams” as fictions, I have come to believe that saying we have “let our dreams go” or “outgrown them” is a greater fiction still. Our dreams (and that sublime never-future) remain the huge, lively, restless country inside us.

A big country needs a lot of roads. Long roads and vivid stars and some hard bop on the radio. And as we push on through the night to the “next crazy venture,” it is likely the reach of our own headlights we are chasing.

– Steven Dietz
March 18, 2013
Austin, TX

Truman Redux

March 6th, 2013 No comments

It’s the final weekend for TRU starring Jaston Williams as Truman Capote. And it now seems that Truman Capote is everywhere! In fact, Capote will be popping up on Broadway this season.

Tony Award winner Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out) has adapted Capote’s classic novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s into a full-length play, opening March 20th at the Cort Theatre.  Rehearsals began January 28th for the production officially called Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Emilia Clarke (from HBO’s Game of Thrones) stars as “Holly Golightly,” with Cory Michael Smith, of Off-Broadway’s The Whale, co-staring as “Fred,” who is pulled into Holly’s social whirl in 1940s New York City. George Wendt (Broadway’s Hairspray and TV’s Cheers) plays bartender Joe Bell. Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard starred in the famous Blake Edwards film in 1961.

Recently, Vanity Fair uncovered an unpublished chapter of Capote’s infamous novel Answered Prayers, that vicious, gossipy page-turner of the seamy lives of New York’s elite. Serialized in Esquire in 1975, it ostracized Capote from the movers and shakers he had so carefully cultivated and became his personal and professional decline.

Only three chapters were ever published, and none of the remaining chapters, which Capote claimed to have written, has appeared in print.  But while researching for the article “Capote’s Swan Dive” at the New York Public Library, Vanity Fair writer Sam Kashner discovered a six-page manuscript of a chapter titled “Yachts and Things.” Like Answered Prayers, it is unfinished, but it makes for a great read.  See it here at the Vanity Fair website: (URL: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/11/truman-capote-unseen-manuscript-unfinished-novel-answered-prayers#slide=1).

The article “Capote’s Swan Dive” was published in the December issue, and reveals – among other tidbits:

  • Publisher Random House ended up paying $1 million to Capote for the never-delivered manuscript.
  • The finished manuscript is supposedly in an unnamed bank safety deposit box somewhere in California.
  • Ann Woodward, one of the society women who Capote skewered in Answered Prayers, actually committed suicide in disgrace – and her two sons followed suit a few months later.

Read the compelling article here: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/12/truman-capote-answered-prayers.  For Truman Capote’s take on the whole affair, see TRU at ZACH Theatre.

It’s the final weekend. Tickets are available online 24/7 and with the box office at (512) 476-0541, x1.

Behind-the-Scenes: 33 VARIATIONS at ZACH Theatre

February 5th, 2013 1 comment

Photos: GOODNIGHT MOON, ZACH Theatre for Youth

January 31st, 2013 No comments

Step into the Great Green Room as GOODNIGHT MOON – one of the most iconic children’s books of all time – is brought to life. In this lively musical, Bunny’s room magically comes alive with stunning puppetry, tap dancing bears, and even a trip through the night sky with a constellation light show. This Theatre for Youth production is perfect for kids ages three and up (and their parents!).

Below are photos from the show by Axel B Photography. Feel free to share these photos, but please credit Axel B Photography wherever they appear.

For tickets and more show info, please visit http://www.zachtheatre.org/show/goodnight-moon-musical.

Photos from 33 VARIATIONS

January 25th, 2013 No comments

Beth Broderick and Anton Nel star in ZACH’s 33 VARIATIONS, now live on stage at ZACH Theatre. Below are photos from ZACH’s production, currently playing in the new Topfer Theatre. Feel free to share these photos, but be sure to credit Kirk Tuck wherever they appear.

Get 33 VARIATIONS tickets at zachtheatre.org or call ZACH’s box office at (512) 476-0541, x1.

A TRU(e) Texas Treasure

January 24th, 2013 1 comment
Jaston Williams in TRU at ZACH Theatre

Jaston Williams in TRU at ZACH Theatre

ZACH Theatre fans know that actor Jaston Williams is an acting treasure.  Now, the Texas Cultural Trust will honor the home-grown thespian, currently starring in the play Tru on ZACH’s Whisenhunt Theatre stage, with the 2013 Texas Medal of the Arts.

Williams will be awarded – along with his Greater Tuna series co-star, Joe Sears – the “Theatre Award” at a gala dinner on March 4th at The Long Center for the Performing Arts.  Other 2013 honorees include  “Desperate Housewives” actor Ricardo Chavira, sculptor James Surls, the Houston Ballet and musician Steve Miller.

Established in 1995, the biennial Texas Medal of Arts Awards honor artists, entertainers and arts patrons who have achieved greatness through their creative talents and support of the arts.  Previous Austin-area honorees have included Ray Benson, ZZ Top, Robert Rodriguez, Austin City Limits, Willie Nelson, and Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long.  For more information, visit www.TXCulturalTrust.org.

Tickets to TRU can be purchased at zachtheatre.org, or by phone at (512) 476-0541, x1.

Truman Capote: The Rise and Fall of a Superstar

January 23rd, 2013 No comments
Truman Capote, photo by Harold Halma

Truman Capote, photo by Harold Halma

When Truman Capote published his landmark “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood in 1966, he was already a celebrated writer and raconteur of more than two decades. But that celebrated work would prove to be his last masterpiece, and his fame became infamy as he spiraled downward through years of alcoholism, drug use and social abandonment.

The tour de force play Tru by Jay Presson Allen – and starring Jaston Williams – finds Capote in his New York City apartment at 870 United Nations Plaza, a social outcast who whiles away the hours comforted by his memories, treasures and an endless supply of pills, vodka and chocolate. The audience is treated to an intimate performance of the desperate final act of a superstar’s life and career.

Born Truman Streckfus Persons, Capote changed his name – through his mother’s second marriage – and his persona to fit what he believed was his destiny: to be famous. His first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms, published in 1948 when Capote was 24 years old, catapulted him to stardom. The controversial novel was made even more salacious by the accompanying dust jacket photo of the young author, which caused as much comment and controversy as the prose inside.

Many people viewed the pose as suggestive, creating a promotional frenzy around Capote. According to Gerald Clarke, who wrote Capote: A Biography (1988), the famous photograph and the uproar is created gave Capote “not only the literary, but also the public personality he had always wanted.” The photo made a huge impression on the then 20-year-old Andy Warhol, who often talked about the picture and wrote fan letters to Capote.

Capote’s success was amplified in the following years with his writings for Broadway and film, the novellas Breakfast at Tiffany’s and A Christmas Memory, and the international bestseller In Cold Blood. He was at the pinnacle of his talent and capitalized on his celebrity by hob-nobbing through the social circles of New York, Hollywood and Europe.

Capote became a member of the jet set and spent the rest of his life exploiting his friendships and clinging to his diminishing celebrity. His legendary Black and White Ball at New York City’s Plaza Hotel in 1966 was viewed as “the social events of the decade,” and the much-coveted invitations quickly dictated who was socially “in” or “out.”

But creative setbacks and the toll of writing In Cold Blood reduced Capote to a talk-show circuit regular and a lisping caricature of his former self. Digging into such dark territory for his most famous novel had taken a toll on him psychologically and physically, and Capote began drinking more and started taking tranquilizers to soothe his frayed nerves – and his substance abuse problems quickly escalated.

But his Lindsay Lohan moment of social suicide came with the serialized publication in 1976 by Esquire magazine of his gossipy, unfinished novel Answered Prayers. The same society friends that flocked to his Black and White Ball were now being drug through the mud – some under pseudonyms and others by their real names – in thinly-veiled accounts of their own dirty little secrets. The elite turned against him viciously, and his days of celebrity and acceptance were over.

Tru continues through March 10th, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Student Rush Tickets are available for $18 one hour before showtime (with valid ID).

To order tickets, call 512-476-0541 ext. 1, or visit www.zachtheatre.org. ZACH’s full bar in the new Topfer Theatre – featuring signature cocktails and hors d’oeurve boxes – opens one hour prior to showtime and remains open for one hour post-show.

The Mystery of the Diabelli Variations

January 22nd, 2013 No comments
Anton Diabelli, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber

Anton Diabelli, lithograph by Josef Kriehuber

In 1819, the Viennese music publisher Anton Diabelli wrote a simple waltz and sent it to 50 of his composer contemporaries, asking each to contribute a variation. They all agreed, except for one, Ludwig van Beethoven, who dismissed the trifle of a piece – which could have been taken for a beer hall dance – as a “cobbler’s patch.”

But then Beethoven became obsessed with Diabelli’s waltz, and ended up writing 33 different variations that constitute Opus 120, his most ambitious piece for piano. Why he did it is the question that haunts Dr. Katherine Brandt in the award-winning Broadway play 33 Variations by playwright Moisés Kaufman, making its Texas debut at ZACH Theatre.

At the heart of 33 Variations is Beethoven’s eponymous Diabelli Variations. How the lauded work came to exist is not only a driving theme of play, but also a bit of music history legend.

Diabelli was trying to generate publicity for his new firm, Cappi & Diabelli, and came up with the invitation to popular composers living in Austria as a savvy promotional project.  His intention was to publish the theme and variations as a collection – patriotically titled Vaterländischer Künstlerverein, or “Native Society of Artists” – and to use the profits to benefit orphans and widows of the Napoleonic Wars.

The challenge of composing a variation based on the melody was accepted by composers who are mere footnotes today, such as Hieronymus Payer and Ignaz Umlauf, along with heavy hitters that included Schubert, Czerny and the 11-year-old Liszt.  Notably absent, at first, was Beethoven.

According to the composer Anton Schindler, who became Beethoven’s secretary and biographer, Beethoven initially disdained the waltz.  But after looking more carefully, he found it oddly captivating.

Before the year was out, Beethoven had composed 23 wildly diverse variations on the theme.  Then he set it aside, evidently having lost interest, and turned to other projects.

Then in late 1822 and early 1823, Beethoven composed 10 more variations. The result was the Diabelli Variations.  The composer’s approach to the theme was to take some of its smallest elements – the opening turn, the descending fourth and fifth, the repeated notes – and build upon them to create pieces of great imagination, power and subtlety.

Many scholars consider the Diabelli Variations to be Beethoven’s most adventurous work.  The music writer Donald Tovey called it “the greatest set of variations ever written,” and pianist Alfred Brendel has described the work as “the greatest of all piano works.”

The reasons Beethoven changed his mind about Diabelli’s composition are still up for debate.  One legend says that, upon learning that Diabelli would pay a handsome price for a full set of variations from him, Beethoven changed his mind and decided to show how much could be done with such slim materials.  In another version of the legend, Beethoven was so insulted at being asked to work with material he considered beneath him that he wrote 33 variations to demonstrate his prowess.  The real answer is what the play’s protagonist seeks to discover.  And in the process, she discovers much more about her own life.

Performances of 33 Variations continue through February 17th on Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.  To order tickets call 512-476-0541 ext. 1 or visit www.zachtheatre.org.

Student Rush Tickets are available for $18 one hour before showtime (with valid ID). ZACH’s full bar – featuring signature cocktails and hors d’oeurve boxes – opens one hour prior to showtime and remains open for one hour post-show.