No. 36 • 2021-06-11

Subscribe to Newsletter

So, where do we go from here? (A new podcast!)

Last newsletter, I teased some big news for this summer…

It goes without saying that the past 15 months have been… unprecedented. We’ve all had to adapt to a new and evolving set of constraints, and many have had to endure and persevere through significant changes to their work, social lives, and creative experiences. But we have also developed new skills and discovered new ways of doing things; things we previously didn’t think possible. As we begin to return to more traditional, in-person activities, how can we take what we’ve learned during the pandemic and create, collaborate, and just do things better?

To explore this topic, I’m teaming up with Melinda Steffy, Founder & Principal of Concentric Strategy, which brings creative problem solving to organizational strategy & communications. She previously served as Executive Director of music education nonprofit LiveConnections, which she guided for 8 years from start-up through its merger with music venue World Cafe Live. Melinda’s 18-year career in the nonprofit sector has been deeply shaped by her perspective as a visual artist and musician.

Together, we’re launching a new conversation series So, where do we go from here? As co-hosts, we’ll talk to members of Philadelphia’s creative community (broadly defined) about what they’ve learned and what changes are informing their efforts moving forward. We’ll connect with authors, performers, educators, industry and government leaders, and more. By sharing experiences and ideas for the future, we seek to highlight pathways and opportunities to find creative solutions for the many challenges we still face, individually and collectively.

Our chats will be 45-minute Zoom conversations, open to all for live streaming and Q&A. After each live session, we will post lightly edited recordings as a podcast for those who aren’t able to join live or just want to listen on their own time. We plan to group these conversations into “Series”, the first of which will launch in July.

As a sneak preview, we’re hosting an “open dress rehearsal” on June 17 at 12:15pm for our live conversation with our mutual friend, David Bradley. David brings decades of experience as a producer, theater director, writer, and arts educator to his work. Throughout his career he has specialized in boundary-crossing artistic collaborations which frequently explore civic and community themes. He’s a long-time member of the resident ensemble at People’s Light, where his more than 30 productions as director include The Diary of Anne FrankOf Mice And MenYoung Lady from Rwanda, and The Giver. David is a co-founder of LiveConnections and been a producer on all of LiveConnections’ collaborative albums with Philadelphia schools. He teaches at Arcadia University and is a graduate of Yale University.

We are aiming for fun and informative conversations that we hope will resonate with many of us in Philadelphia as we emerge from pandemic constraints. More amazing guests are lined up for July, which we’ll announce in a few weeks, and we look forward to some great discussions. We invite you to join us in kicking off this new adventure next week!

Register here (free) for our sneak preview conversation (via Zoom) and check out our podcast webpage for more information.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • Broadway’s Back [The Tonight Show] I don’t usually like these kinds of musical parody collages, but this one is so earnest and captures the excitement of returning to live theater!
  • First 8 Minutes [In the Heights] In case you didn’t hear, the film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony Award-winning musical premiered this week, directed by Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians). Here’s the first 8 minutes of the movie!
  • We Got Time [The Crossing] This looks amazing… A new piece by Matana Roberts honoring Breonna Taylor, presented as a linear work, which the audience walks through, safe and social-distanced, at The Woodlands in West Philadelphia. Here’s a more detailed description by Peter Crimmins from WHYY Arts. (June 11-13)
  • AI Song Contest 2021 [Wallifornia MusicTech & Deepmusic.ai] 38 teams from across the world have been collaborating with AI to create new songs. Check out some really interesting creations, and vote for your favorites to determine the winner (vote by July 1).
  • Whole New Worlds [A Cappella Science] Again, I generally dislike song parodies (changing the words to existing songs), but you have to admire the incredible effort put into this virtual a cappella medley, a mashup of astronomy and songs from Aladdin. This is from 2017, but I’m now following this channel!

What I’m creating…

There have been quite a few music announcements recently from AppleAmazon, and Spotify, specifically service enhancements like “Lossless”, “HD” or “HiFi” audio and new “Spatial Audio” content. I posted several Twitter threads commenting on these new features:

No. 9 • 2020-07-01

Subscribe to Newsletter

Hamilton! (what else?)

If you’ve been following this newsletter for any length of time, you know that I’m a fan of Hamilton. This is a big week for all fans, with the filmed performance of the Original Broadway Cast premiering on the Disney+ streaming service this Friday. Just you wait… just you wait!

Why has this show been able to transcend musical theater, attaining cultural prominence even beyond past Broadway megahits (Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Rent, etc.)? Maybe it’s the mashup of styles (hip hop, Brit pop, classic theater torch songs)? Or perhaps the unique reframing of the American Revolution as it relates to our current struggles of immigration, racism, bigotry, and equality? The inspired casting of people of color in the leading roles of our country’s founding fathers and mothers? Or just the story of the ultimate innovation-powered startup: the United States of America? Of course, it’s all of these elements and more.

An additional component relatively new to the arts world is the creative team’s avid use of Twitter (in particular, composer, librettist, and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda) to engage with the show’s ever-growing legion of fans. Not only does this open a window into the creative process and humanize the creators, it’s another avenue to connect the show to the current world and raise awareness and advocate on behalf of issues. It’s hard to imagine Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Webber engaging with the public in such a manner, to explain a lyric or the research behind an historical moment!

Another unique innovation is the Hamilton Education Program(EduHam), an opportunity for students from Title I high schools to see the show (for just $10, “a Hamilton”) andcreate their own raps and performances that they share onstage (!) before they watch the musical. It’s an incredible way of broadening students’ exploration and understanding of American history and its relevance to our very modern challenges. With performances on hold for the COVID-19 outbreak, they recently launched EduHam at Home, a virtual version of the program.

The original plan was to release the film in theaters in 2021, but since live productions aren’t currently running, they made a bold (I think) decision to release the film early on the new Disney+ streaming platform. Cynics will say it’s just a way to make money during the shutdown, but it would have been much easier to wait and release the film in movie theaters to maximize profits (the traditional route of theater > pay per view > streaming). I credit Disney for trying something different to meet this moment.

On top of all this, the original cast just put out a new socially-distanced collaboration with The Roots, playing household instruments. It’s not only a fantastic performance of the show’s hit song “Helpless”, but pushes beyond the standard Zoom grid-style performances that we’ve become accustomed to. Even in isolation, Hamilton continues to innovate.

This is what we should aspire to: a synthesis of creativity, technology, inclusivity, virtuosity, emotion, and profound storytelling that integrates authentic learning. And despite this darkest of years, it helps me remain hopeful and excited for this Independence Day.

(Socially) Distant Creations

  • Thoughts on Racial Injustice Part III [via LinkedIn Live] A lunch conversation (today at 12pm!) with renowned designers John Maeda and Raja Schaar (Drexel Product Design Program Director and IDSA board member).
  • CO VID-88 [Ted Arthur and friends, via Facebook] A beautiful collaborative composition with 20 pianists, with each composing a short segment to add to the end of the video.
  • Lawrence Brownlee discusses race and opera [ABC News] The renowned operatic tenor (and artistic advisor to Opera Philadelphia) highlights the lack of diversity among artistic administrators. Also don’t miss The Sitdown with LB, his show on Facebook Live.
  • Code Blue [Wilma Theater] A new 13-minute digital work shot with the actors’ iPhones. According to director Blanka Ziska, the Wilma’s Artistic Director, the piece is “looking at our current moment of crisis that has been exacerbated by two kinds of viruses: COVID-19 and racism.”
  • C-U Sings Vol. 1: Let It Be [via YouTube] More than 50 musicians in my hometown of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois came together to produce this collaborative version of this Beatles’ classic as a fundraiser for local healthcare services.
  • MKBHD interviews Apple’s Craig Federighi [via YouTube] Preeminent YouTube tech reviewer Marques Brownlee remotely interviews Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering about the company’s recent announcements at this year’s (virtual) Worldwide Developers Conference.

What I’m creating

Wait For It… here’s a work (very much) in progress that I’ll post without further comment.