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heart-and-music

Join two of Philadelphia’s favorite daughters, Jean Brooks and Debra Leigh Scott, for their new show, “Love Sucks. Let’s Sing!”, a cabaret song cycle about the beautiful, the poignant, the funny and the just plain awful aspects of love.

Jean Brooks (www.jeanbrooks.net), is a multi-faceted artist whose many talents have been seen in theatre, film, and television. “My favorite theater role was Vivian Bearing in “Wit”,” Jean says. “The complexity of the character and the honesty of the play made it a great challenge. I’d happily shave my head again if given an opportunity to reprise the role.” Her preferred acting medium, however, is film, where her favorite role was playing a drug dealer named Chico Slime! She had a small role as a ghost in “Sixth Sense”, with one of Philadelphia’s most famous filmmakers, M. Night Shyamalan. This was her first major motion picture and the experience helped her finally understand why movies cost so many millions to produce.

Jean started singing at the age of three when her mother stood her on a piano bench so the people could see her. So singing in a cabaret is rather a natural progression! She has performed as a cabaret artist over the years on a variety of stages, and considers the “here and now” to be the best. “I think it takes maturity and experience to sing cabaret. These songs have to have been lived. They can’t be just sung.”

In addition to her work in the arts, Jean has designed a program called Retire To Life®, aimed at helping Boomers rediscover lost passions in order to create vibrant and exciting lives in retirement. “I developed this workshop as the result of a conversation I had with a former college roommate who told me she was afraid to retire because she didn’t know what she was going to do with her time! I always knew I would go back into the arts fulltime, and wanted to be able to help others find an equally exciting path.”

Debra Leigh Scott (www.debraleighscott.com), is a writer, playwright, educator and documentary filmmaker who has recently returned to singing after years of art-making off-stage. Her short story collection, Other Likely Stories, was published by Sowilo Press in 2010. She has a few collections of short stories in progress as well as several novels in the works, including her first YA novel about her own Mayflower ancestor, Elizabeth Tilley. Her plays have been performed at The New Light Festival, the Shubin AprilFest, and the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Her documentary, ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed. In America, is in post-production. Clips can be viewed at 2255films.com, and portions will be screened at this year’s Left Forum, on Saturday, May 21, at the John Jay College in NYC. “I’ve never stopped singing – but for years it’s been at home, behind closed doors. I have returned to singing publicly only in the last few years,” Debra Leigh said. “since performance and travel are difficult when raising a family.” Her family grown, she’s been able to turn her attention back to theatre, and to her own performance work. Before her marriage and family, she toured with Eastern Jam, a jazz/rock fusion band, as their lead singer. “Even after I had the freedom to do it again, I was a little fearful – it had been so long! It took a little bit of time, and the encouragement of good friends, for me to get back to a microphone. I had become used to being behind the scenes – to writing and directing.”

Jean and Debra Leigh met years ago at a cabaret workshop, with long-time Philadelphia and New York cabaret professional, Doug Anderson. They have worked together since on a variety of theatrical projects, including several of Debra’s own plays, in which Jean had leading roles.

“As we got to know each other better and better, we were stunned at the many ways our lives paralleled each other. Jean was, literally, a farmer’s daughter from Nebraska, and I was the typical child of the suburban East Coast. But our experiences, especially in marriage and love were shockingly similar.” So, they started brainstorming, and collecting some of their favorite music, to create a story cycle which eventually became their two-woman show. “The title was the easiest part,” Debra Leigh said.

“Love Sucks. Let’s Sing,” is a wry look at the many experiences of romance and love, exploring the beautiful, the poignant, the funny, and the just plain awful aspects of it all.

“I love the theme of the show,” Jean said, “because I feel that it is a familiar story to so many people; they can relate to the ups and downs of relationships. At the same time, it’s very personal to us; it gives folks a look into our souls.”

Jean and Debra Leigh plan to open the show with a few performances in their hometown of Philadelphia, and then to begin traveling the many cabaret festivals around the U.S. The venue for their first two shows is L’Etage Cabaret, a very popular nightclub spot in the Queen Village area of Center City Philadelphia, which has become something of a hot spot for cabaret in the last few years. After that, the plan is to launch the show by touring the various cabaret festivals through the U.S.

Jean said, “My hope for the show is that is reaches a wide audience, and that people will realize that regardless of their individual stories, we all have pretty much traveled the same rocky road of love.”

Dates and Times for the Show: Friday, June 10, 2016 and Friday, July 22, 2016. Both shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Doors open at 7:00.
L’Etage Cabaret is located at 624 S. 6th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Tickets for both Philadelphia performances can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets, at the link: LoveSucksLetsSing.brownpapertickets.com

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Please join us on Sunday, November 29, from 5:30 to 7:30 in the Rigger Room of Cavanaugh’s Head House Pub in Society Hill, 421 S. 2nd Street, to celebrate the publication of our first two Eludia Award Winners. Both authors will be present for reading, discussion and book signing. We’ll also welcome the very talented young musician, Monique Canniere, who will be performing for us and talking about her work in the music community.

Tree Riesener, our first Eludia winner, is a very popular — dare I say beloved — writer and poet from Bryn Mawr. She has long been a well-loved reader on the poetry circuit, and will be reading from her winning story collection Sleepers Awake. 

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Christine Whittemore, our second Eludia Award winner, will be here all the way from the UK — Gloucestershire, England to be exact — where she has received quite a bit of popular attention already – giving readings and signings in a variety of book stores, festivals and gatherings. Christine is also a poet and an essayist as well as a writer of fiction. She will be reading from her novel, Inscription.

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Monique Canniere is a singer, violinist, guitarist — a multi-talented musician who has performed in a variety of venues locally, including the Ethical Society, the Ardmore Music Hall, the Tin Angel….and the “Concert Atop the Crypts” at the famous Laurel Hill Cemetery! She has also appeared at Kimmel Center, Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, World Cafe Live, the Trocadero, the Liacouris Center with Kanye West. Monique released her first solo album project, “Preachin’ to the Choir,” in June 2015.

We’ll be gathering at Cavanaugh’s Head House Pub, which was originally The Dickens’ Inn, owned by a relative of Charles Dickens, and an absolutely wonderful and charming place in Society Hill, Philadelphia. Cavanaugh’s has been a wonderful host to our arts events and our writers’ workshops now for several years, and we are ever-grateful to them!

Please join us for a lovely evening of good literature, good music and great company! The event is free and open to the public. All are welcome!

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Hidden River Arts will host a Live Arts Event on Sunday, July 26 at 2 p.m. at Cavanaugh’s Head House Tavern, 421 South 2nd Street in Philadelphia. We will be celebrating the wrap-up of our summer writers’ workshop, and our workshop members will be offering some readings of their work. We’ll also be celebrating the work of our first Eludia Award winner, Tree Riesener, who will be reading a bit from her winning collection of short stories, Sleepers Awake, which is forthcoming on our Sowilo Press imprint.

We’ll also be having some live music — more details on that as they are available!

We’ve had some wonderful live arts events both at Cavanaugh’s and at other venues around the city. Terrific readings and wonderful musicians, like Rosa Diaz at Live & Lit, or Alex Kruchoski and Zeke Francis, or Teresa McCann. It’s always a joyous event, with a focus on celebrating art and artists.

This event is free and open to the public. Come, and bring friends!

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Please join us at our biggest-ever celebration at Hidden River Arts’ 20th anniversary. Tickets are available here.

Twenty years ago, I used a portion of a writing award I won for my own fiction and established an arts organization dedicated helping other writers. The mission, from the very first day, is summed up in our motto: “Dedicated to Serving the Unserved Artist”. We’re committed to finding, supporting and celebrating those outsider artists because there are so many creative people deserving of more recognition and help.

I named the organization Hidden River, after the Schuylkill River, which flows through the Philadelphia region of Pennsylvania, which is my home. “Schuylkill” is Dutch for “Hidden River”. It seemed to perfectly describe our mission, which is to search out and support the hidden creative talent all around us – to celebrate that living, vital, powerful creative force that is the river of talent flowing among us. To support the artists.

This year, Hidden River Arts is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Over those years, we’ve grown steadily. We’ve expanded to become an inter-disciplinary arts organization. What began with one yearly fiction competition, grew to include a yearly full-length playwrighting competition, residency programs, educational outreach, live arts events, gallery events, performances, a first-book competition for women over the age of 40, even production activities. We’ve run a robust internship program, and have watched many of our wonderful interns go on to jobs in publishing, theatre, performance. They’ve established their own literary journals, run their own arts companies, written their own books, taught their own workshops. We now have an independent small press, with several imprints, so that we can offer the possibility of publication to deserving writers struggling for recognition and support. There are other goals and hopes for even more growth as Hidden River moves into its next phase.

In marveling at just how long we’ve been here and at how much we’ve grown, it occurred to me: In all these twenty years, we’ve never once held a fundraiser. Hard to believe, right?

So this year, as we acknowledge this happy anniversary, we’ll be reaching out to the arts community to whom we have been so dedicated, and scheduling some celebrations as well as some fundraisers. We’ll have a local fundraiser in Philadelphia and an online crowd-sourcing fundraiser. We’ve decided to do this because, what also occurred to me is that, with just a bit of help, we could grow our programs bigger and faster, we could bring our workshops, classes and performances to more people, reduce our already-low fees even more. We could travel our programs, build a greater platform for online workshops and classes. The growth that took twenty years could now continue; in fact, we could expand in less time and reach out to support more people. A yearly words and music festival is one of our dreams. A re-established and expanded residency program. More theatrical and film production. More publishing. And always, the core of our mission remains to support the unserved artists among us whose talent and vision make the world a much better place. They are the primordial wellspring from which all of this flows.

So, those who will be in Philadelphia this summer, please join us for our 20th Anniversary celebration and first-ever fundraiser on Sunday, June 7 at 7 p.m. or 9 p.m. It’s going to be a wonderful event. We are gathering at L’Etage, the nightclub above Le Beau Monde, at 624 S. 6th Street, Philadelphia. The evening will include a cabaret performance with (in alphabetical order) Jean Brooks, Leon Carelli, Debra Leigh Scott and Denise Shubin. We’ll also be doing some readings of our award-winners’ work, and perhaps even a bit of reading from some of our many beloved interns! But most of all, it will be a time to gather together with people who love art, music, language and creativity to meet, mingle and celebrate.

To read more about Hidden River programs, please visit our website. To buy tickets for our 20th anniversary event, please click here.

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What is the role of the artist during times of social upheaval and tumult? Elie Wiesel said “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” This is even more true, when it comes to the role of the artist in society. The problems of our society are extensive, and the voices of artists – playwrights, poets, musicians, performers – are essential to raising public awareness and giving voice to the issues, raising the call of dissent.

Founding Director of Hidden River Arts, Debra Leigh Scott, has been invited to give a presentation at The Davinci Art Alliance at 704 Catherine Street, Philadelphia, PA, on Thursday, May 21, from 7 to 9 p.m. where she will discuss the importance of activism in the arts.

Since its founding way back in 1931, the Da Vinci Art Alliance has been a dynamic organization presenting artists and their work, focus on community-based arts, cultural and educational dialogue for artists, individuals and families.

Da Vinci currently has over 140 members and holds exhibitions of members’ and non-members’ artwork as well as special events, workshops, performances, poetry readings, and lectures, and keeps its members informed on community events, news and opportunities. The mission of the non-profit artists-run organization is to support its members and to further community-based arts, cultural, and educational exchanges. I am proud to be offering my presentation there, since I’ve been fortunate to work with the many artists of Da Vinci, and admire the work that they do in supporting artists, the life of art, and the community.

Please join us at the Alliance. For those who are not in Philadelphia, Debra will be developing the program and offering the presentation in an online format – so stay tuned!

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We’re pleased to announce that Hidden River Arts has joined forces with several other women-owned arts organizations: Naked Feet Productions and Angel Pirate Productions, as well as an as-yet un-named organization (as enthusiastic, creative personalities, it is sometimes really hard to settle on just one name for your efforts!) We have several goals: First, to create a vibrant and fertile community of women theatre artists in the Philadelphia region in Pennsylvaia, for the purpose of creating and co-creating theatre. We also want to provide a platform for readings, workshops and other development opportunities for work already in process. Ultimately, we want to co-produce theatre pieces, first in the region, then on the road.

Our second goal is to create a national network of women-run theatre organizations for the purpose of collaboration, providing women artists a network and a national platform.

Finally, the third goal is to create an international network of women-run theatre organizations for the same reasons.

In addition to creating this expansive network for women theatre artists, we are open to partnering with other arts organizations – poetry groups, visual arts groups, music groups – that are women-run.

So, our first act is to now place a call for women playwrights and theatre professionals in the Philadelphia region of PA: “The Bridge” will be a project produced by several arts organizations, including Angel Pirate, Naked Feet Productions and Hidden River Arts, with the goal of gathering a diverse group of women (all ages, all races, all sexual orientations – an “all-in” celebration of women!) for the purpose of creating collaborative theatre pieces. We’ll be scheduling a series of developmental workshops, public readings, and ultimately, a Fringe 2015 production constructed of some of the more developed pieces. Our first gathering will be on Saturday, April 4. Anyone interested in taking part should email debraleighscott@gmail.com for additional information.

Once we know how many people are coming, we’ll decide on venue and time. Even if you can’t make April 4 but are interested, please email so we can get you onto our list of wonderful women.

And, of course, in keeping with goals #2 and #3, if you are a woman theatre artist, a theatre arts organization, or any discipline of woman-run arts organization, please get in touch and we’ll begin the conversation, the mailing list and put our “virtual” heads together to decide the next few steps of this venture!

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“What is an artist? A provincial who finds himself somewhere between a physical reality and a metaphysical one…. It’s this in-between that I’m calling a province, this frontier country between the tangible world and the intangible one—which is really the realm of the artist.” — Federico Fellini

Questions about creativity, art, the creative process, the artistic life — however you phrase it, the curiosity is based on one thing: the fact that those who do not experience their own creativity are incapable of understanding those who dwell within theirs.

Fellini is right that the artist lives in a liminal world, between dream and manifestation. But so do we all.  The biggest difference is that the artist recognizes that world of liminality; others aren’t aware of the fact that a part of them lives in that place of dreams all the time.

The best way for anyone to understand creativity is for them to be introduced to their own creative energies.

We live in a world that has systematically devalued and destroyed opportunities to experience our creativity.  Standardized testing, rote teaching, drilling and killing — that is too often how our children are “taught”, and with that kind of numbing out, adults rarely have ever felt their own creative energy.  And to live a life without ever having felt your own creative energy surging through your mind and body — well, that’s not living at all.

Pedagogical theorists are, finally, realizing how under-developed our students are when they are denied time to explore creativity.  But after reading mountains of educational theory on “teaching creativity”, I’ve come to the conclusion that none of them know what they are talking about.  Unless you are an artist, you cannot introduce someone to art.  I saw this in the years when I was a residency artist in the state arts council programs.  I remember one day, walking down the hall of a public school in New Jersey, overhearing a kindergarten teacher giving instruction to the children:

“We’ll be drawing pictures of apples today.  And what colors are apples?  They are red, green, yellow.  There are NO purple apples.  No blue apples.  So, let’s be sure that we use the right colors, everybody!”

I wanted to scream.  I wanted to rush into the room and push her out of the way, and tell the children, “YES there are purple apples!  There are blue apples!  There are polka dot and striped apples!  And where are they?  In your imagination!  So draw whatever kind of apples you can imagine!”

It is impossible for a non-artist to teach creativity.  There, I’ve said it.

So what we need is an avalanche of artists, a flood of artists, entering all levels of the population — interacting with the youngest children and the oldest seniors — inviting them to see their own purple apples, to imagine their flavor, to smell their perfume.

Our society needs its artists now more than ever.  They are the shamans who will lead the way into that liminal province, that is the place where all is possible, pre-manifest and yet real.

So how does one begin to experience their own creativity?  Here’s how:

Go find the artists.   Turn off the TV, the computer and the smart phone.  Surround yourself with live art, if only a little bit, each and every day.  Go to an art museum, listen to all kinds of music (not just the kind you are most used to!), learn about the theatres in your area, and buy tickets — or better yet, go to their preview nights, when audience is often invited to view for free.  Watch live dance performance. Go to poetry and literary readings. Attend open mics in your neighborhood.  Read books – all kinds, but especially literary works and poetry.

Carry a notebook in which you can sketch and write.  Consider taking music or singing lessons.  Try acting.  Draw.  Take a pottery class.  Dance — even if it is only in your living room when nobody is watching.   Invest in some inexpensive art supplies – a sketchbook, some pencils, maybe some water color.  Buy a cheap camera and start taking pictures.  Buy a box or two of those magnetic word poetry kits and play with word combinations on your refrigerator each morning, as you wait for your tea or coffee to be finished.

Buy yourself a copy of THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron and read it.  Do the exercises.  Follow her guidance.

Hang out with artists.  Get to know some of the people in your community who are involved in the arts, and spend time with them.  Get involved with what they do.  Your life will begin to change.  It will widen, and suddenly feel more infused with energy.

YOU will feel more alive.  You’ll realize that artists are all around you, and that the world is filled with creative wonder.  You’ll begin to feel the flow of that creative energy moving  around and through you.  You’ll never need to ask again, “What is creativity?”  You will know for yourself, and it will feel wonderful.

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