Monday, July 29, 2013

SHIDA - An Astonishing One-Woman Off-Broadway Musical Written and Performed by Jeannette Bayardelle

Jeannette Bayardelle as SHIDA


SHIDA!

SHIDA!
                        SHIDA!

WOW!           

            WOW!

                        WOW!



JEANNETTE BAYARDELLE!

            JEANNETTE BAYARDELLE!

                        JEANNETTE BAYARDELLE!

OMG!

            OMG!

                        OMG!




If you are a regular reader of The White Rhino Report, you will notice that this is not the normal way that I begin a review of a play, a book or a concert.  Let me explain my reaction to the Preview performance of “SHIDA” that I attended on Friday evening at Ars Nova on West 54th Street in Hell’s Kitchen.

I attended this performance along with my good friend, Professor Kate McKeown.  We were walking to the subway from the theater, after having spent considerable time after the show with the Director, Andy Sandberg and the one-woman dynamo that is Jeannette Bayardelle.  Prof. Kate said, “Please forgive me if I am not my usual loquacious self right now.  I just need some time and space to process what I experienced just now.”

“SHIDA” is the kind of show that demands reflection.  I spent one of the most impactful evenings of theater I have ever experienced as I watched Ms. Bayardelle transform herself in milliseconds into a half dozen characters all of whom orbit around the eponymous Shida.  Drawing from the deep well of her experience of growing up in the Bronx, Jeanette has written the book, music and lyrics to a show that follows the life arc of  Shida, a young woman who dreams of growing up to become a writer.  Along the way, that dream is deferred and hijacked by sexual abuse, drugs, abortion, dubious girlfriends and boyfriends and an all-consuming sense of hopelessness.  Anchored by the triple rescue rope of her faithful school teacher, her indomitable friend, Jackie and her memories of her nurturing mother, Shida is pulled from the vortex of the downward spiral into which she had fallen.  A new life of faith and hope – and writing – begins to sprout as the story ends.

The songs that Ms. Bayardelle has composed run the gamut from jaunty R&B, Blues, ballad, Hip Hop, jazz, rock and Gospel.  Her musical and vocal flexibility matches her dramatic range, and the result is an emotional roller coaster ride that leaves the audience simultaneously breathless and exhilarated.  Tears, chills, screams of delight, groans of empathy with the pain being portrayed on stage all flowed from the audience to the performer and back again in a loop of electric energy that made it an unforgettable visceral experience for all in attendance.




I have seen reviews of Ms. Bayardelle’s earlier work that describe her as a tour de force.  I cannot improve on that choice of descriptive phrase.  She was transcendent as Miss Celie in Broadway’s “The Color Purple,” and also starred in the Tony Award winning revival of “Hair.”  She is simply phenomenal in “SHIDA” in terms of the depth of the emotion that she conveys in her writing and in her performing.  She can transform from one character to another with the flick of a lock of hair, a wave of the hand, a shift in posture, the addition of a shawl or a of pair of glasses.  She can move seamlessly from a look of ecstasy to a mask of despair.  As the evening progressed, I had a hard time deciding whether to dwell on admiring her technical brilliance, or to let the tidal wave of emotion from the telling of the story simply wash over me and carry me away wherever it may lead.  I ended up washing up on the twin shores of reflection and empathy.

Using simple but stunning lighting effects (Grant Yeager), the stage is transformed from a Bronx stoop, to a classroom, to a playground where Shida jump ropes Double-Dutch with Jackie, to a rehab facility.  The intimate setting of the Ars Nova performance space allowed each audience member to feel as if we were invited to come along on Shida’s very personal and gut-wrenching journey.  This is a story that must be told and must be shared.

Director, Andy Sandberg, is amassing quite a reputation in the theater world.  I first became aware of his excellent work when I reviewed his production of "Operation Epsilon" earlier this year at Central Square Theater.  In addition to his directing work, he has produced a number of award winning shows, including the above-mentioned Broadway revival of "Hair."




The play formally opens on July 31, and will run through August 28 at Ars Nova, 511 West 54th St., NY, NY.  There are super discounted tickets available for $29.50 through August 3.  To access the special discount, go to www.ShidaTheMusical.com and use code: SHIDAGEN.

If you would like a preview of some of the songs that you will hear in the show, go to the link below.
This show needs to have a life beyond this Off-Broadway iteration.  Its future lies partly in our hands.  Audience response will help potential investors and producers decide where and when it should appear a few blocks East on the Great White Way.  Do yourself a favor, and make the journey just beyond 10th Avenue to see “SHIDA” in its current form.  I will quote from my friend, Professor McKeown one more time.  After a few moments of reflection, she mused, “You know, years from now, we will be telling people how we were among the lucky few to be there to see the great Jeannette Bayardelle early in her career as SHIDA!"

You, too, have a chance to be one of the lucky few.  Get on the phone or click on the link below.  A journey to Hell’s Kitchen will be worth taking to join Shida on her journey from the Bronx to the realization of a dream.




Enjoy!


Al



Written and Performed by

JEANNETTE BAYARDELLE

Directed by

ANDY SANDBERG

brdr

JULY 19 – AUGUST 28, 2013

AN ARS NOVA SUMMER FLING ● 511 WEST 54TH STREET




Thursday, July 25, 2013

Veterans in Transition - Continuing the Conversation About Clearing Hurdles



Last week I published an article on some of the obstacles that veterans face in transitioning into the civilian job market.  


That post has generated some interesting dialogue, and I would like to keep the dialogue going by sharing some observations made to me by a veteran on the West Coast who reached out after reading last week's article.  This individual had also been in the military, subsequently attended graduate school at a top Ivy League policy program, and most-recently worked in foreign policy for a little over five years. 

"I moved out to Seattle, where my wife had a great career opportunity and where we had lived once already (and enjoyed it immensely).  I was open to a change in career and geography, and aimed to move from government to either the corporate or non-profit sectors.  I've worked in a wide number of roles (e.g. strategy, analysis, staffing, people management, program management, operations management) across a number of organizations and cultures.  In other words, I’d switched jobs a number of times and succeeded; I’d transitioned careers once (out of the military) smoothly.  I knew this transition would be more challenging – I was trying to change industries, networks, and geographies, all at once.  But it has been harder than expected.  Despite a number of interviews, I’m still looking after 7 months.

Here are a few observations from the job hunt and broader career transition, both for those in a transition or those who may be approaching one:

1) Develop a ‘translation pitch.’  In applying to a job, you are trying to be the solution to a company’s business problem.  Your challenge is to make a persuasive value proposition, meanwhile mitigating any perception of risk or uncertainty as a candidate.  Companies are generally looking for the candidate that will best perform in day 1, and not based on their growth potential 1 or 3-5 years from now.  Accordingly, focus on your qualifications to do the job they are hiring for, versus your ability to do the job or growth potential beyond that job (unless they are the one focusing on these things).  ‘Potential’ can be a euphemism for ‘not qualified.’  Developing an elevator pitch is important for networking; it helps people understand what direction to point you in.  However, for job interviews, a good ‘translation pitch’ will allow you to clearly and succinctly communicate how your prior experience directly translates to the job at hand and allows you to hit the ground running on day 1.

2) It's increasingly a hard skills world – prepare for it.  Pedigree and past performance are necessary, but not sufficient to landing a job.  Jobs are becoming more and more narrowly and technically defined, whereas military experience provides broad, experiential building blocks.  It is not so much the lack of familiarity with veterans that is the challenge, it’s this mismatch between hiring for hard (versus soft) skills that is the real challenge to overcome.  Don’t assume that others will find leadership and management skills as valuable or important as you do; don’t necessarily lead with leadership.  Remember, in a knowledge or creative economy, many/most of the jobs do not involve direct people management.  For those who have not yet transitioned, professional certifications, fluency with a variety of software programs (especially data-oriented analysis), or industry-specific experience can all help.  These can enable you to lead with specific qualifications and hard skills, vice your general ability. 

3)  A transition is in many ways a non-linear endeavor and thus can be frustrating to task-oriented individuals.  Much will be out of your control:  interview processes will take longer than expected (months); in all likelihood, so will the transition. As a minimum baseline, expect the transition to take six months.  If you find something before then, be happy.  If it is taking longer than that, don’t despair.  Go to every interview (informational or otherwise); you never know where a conversation could lead.  Looking back, you will probably never have been able to diagram out (in foresight) how you ended up getting your job. 

For example, one job for which I interviewed developed like this. 
·         A colleague from my old work place referred me to a professional contact in my new city.
·         He referred me to a broader networking community / event.
·         At that event, I met a new contact.
·         That person then introduced me to yet another new contact.
·         That person then provided a reference and introduction to someone at a company.
·         That person was aware of a suitable job they were advertising and was also able to provide an internal reference as part of my application. 

The internal reference was the key to then starting the interview process.  Referrals are critical and, at many places, you cannot get your foot in the door without one.


In the end, it only takes one job offer.  Remind yourself of this if you get frustrated or lose confidence.   Remind yourself that you are not simply changing jobs, you are transitioning careers – a complex change wrought with emotional and psychological challenges.  And so, above all, stay positive and persistent and open."

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I am grateful to this veteran for sharing his reflections on his job search experience.  I encourage you to keep this conversation going by commenting directly here in The White Rhino Report, or by e-mailing me with your comments or vignettes.

And if you know of a company in the Seattle area that could use someone with the kind of thoughtful and seasoned skill set that my guest contributor has demonstrated above, please let me know and I will be happy to make the introduction.

Al

Mini-review of "Out of Order" by Sandra Day O'Connor


Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman ever appointed to sit as an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.  She served with distinction from 1981 until her retirement from the bench in 2006.  In her retirement, she has reflected on her own personal history with the court, and on the broader scope of the history of the Court since its authorization in the Constitution.  In this book, "Out of Order," she offers readers a wonderful assortment of anecdotes, vignettes and reflections on key moments in the history of the court.

The book is organized simply with a different theme for each of the dozen chapters.  "Looming Large" follows the fascinating dance over the decades between the Court and the President for supremacy.  "The Call to Serve" chronicles the process and history of judicial appointments by Presidents and  the role of the Senate in Advise and Consent.  "Itinerant Justices" discusses the long practice of Supreme Court Justices also riding the circuit to cover federal court across the nation.

Justice O'Connors writing style is clear, concise, engaging and . .. judicious.  I learned much in this book that I had been unaware of in terms of the history and the personalities of those who have been elevated to the Highest Court in the Land.  This book is a nice addition to the shelf of books that illuminate the judiciary branch of our federal government.

Enjoy!

Al

Gloucester Stage Company Repackages "North Shore Fish" by Israel Horovitz

Inspector Shimma ( Therese Plaehn) inspects the product at North Shore Fish 
as the girls on the line and Porker (Thomas Phillip O'Neill) look on.
Photo by Gary Ng

Gloucester Stage Company continues to reach out to the community that spawned it.  In its latest production, the theater revisits a play originally written in the 1980's by founding Artistic Director and acclaimed playwright Israel Horovitz.  The troubles that plague Gloucester's fishing industry today began  to raise their head several decades ago, and Horovitz tackled those issues in writing "North Shore Fish." A small and struggling fish processing plant - smaller than Gorton's - is fighting for its life. It has fallen so low that it has been relegated  to repackaging fish that have already been processed elsewhere.  Within the broad arc of the play's action, the women who work the line are fighting with each other, with their randy male supervisor, and with the economic forces that threaten to strip them of their livelihood and their dignity.

The play and its themes are as a relevant to Cape Ann - and beyond - today as they were when it was written in 1986 and received a Pulitzer Prize nomination.  Like the author Studs Terkel in his classic book "Working," Horovitz manages to cut to the quick with his incisive examination of the hour-by-hour and day-to-day life of the working class women and men of "North Shore Fish."  The dialogue among the characters is spot on, and reminds me eerily of the conversations I listened to with fascination when I was a young lab technician surrounded by a sea of women lab techs at Gloucester's Addison Gilbert Hospital.  Technologies may change like the tide, but human nature remains moored pretty much where it has always been.  We still struggle with issues of failed marriages, tension-filled parent-child relationships, petty jealousies and infidelities, financial brinkmanship, living pay check to pay check, and dashed dreams.

Under the skillful direction of Robert Walsh, the cast is superb in creating the feel of a dysfunctional family of working class laborers who support each other as best they can in the midst of squabbling and sometimes physical fisticuffs.  The Gloucester accents are flawless - not any easy feat to accomplish.  This ensemble interprets Horovitz's brilliant script in a way that presents each character as believable and sympathetic with no hint of denigrating stereotyping.  As an audience member, I found myself caring about the fate of each character - even the less likable ones.  That speaks to good writing and good acting.

Let's take a look at the cast.

Alfred "Porker" Martino is portrayed perfectly by Thomas Phillip O'Neill as the underachieving and good-hearted janitor at North Shore Fish.  The play opens with him symbolically mopping the plant floor. Porker spends much of the rest of the play trying to "mop up" other people's messes - both ecological and relational.  

Florence Rizzo is played with great gusto by Aimee Doherty.  Rizzo is a second generation employee of the firm that has just laid off her mother.  Her sense of betrayal and impending disaster is palpable in her speech and in the way she carries herself.  She is also sleeping with the married supervisor, Salvatore, and carrying his child.  Complications ensue!

Arlyne Flynn (Nancy E. Carroll) is the Earth Mother of the place, having sat at the production line through good times and bad.  In her hairnet and her constant badgering of Salvatore to stop his sewer mouth from swearing, she glistens with hard-earned dignity.  She seems as if she just arrived on the bus from "down Riverdale" to put in one more shift at the factory that has been her life and has also stolen much of her life.  Carroll's character is the spiritual center of the shop and of the show.  She is simply magnificent in this role.

Ruthie Flynn (Brianne Beatrice) is Arlyne's daughter - another generation of indentured servitude.  She is ten months pregnant, and tempted to fire her OB/GYN, Dr. Benoit, for getting the due date wrong!  Her pregnancy finally ends when she gives birth at the factory, symbolizing many things.  Among the symbols is the implication that even at the moment when we learn the factory has been sold and will be converted to a fitness center, life goes on, and a new generation comes along to continue the climb up the treadmill! Another symbol of Beatrice's bravura performance as Ruthie is that each of the workers at North Shore Fish is engaged in a long and exhausting struggle and the long-awaited reward refuses to be born.

Salvatore "Sally" Morella (Lowell Byers) is the supervisor, struggling to keep business coming in the door, struggling to keep his "girls" in line and struggling to keep in check his amorous attraction for anyone wearing a hairnet.  Byers is skillful in depicting a deeply conflicted man - locked into a forced marriage when he got his girlfriend pregnant when he was only seventeen.  He is simultaneously charming - with a Cheshire Cat grin - and pathetic as the unfaithful husband who can't keep his pants zipped up for five minutes.

Josie Evangelista (Marianna Armitstead) has never met a cannoli she did not love, and is grieving over the fact that her husband has walked out on her because she is so fat.  This is a tough roll to play without crossing the line into "camp," but Armitstead pulls it off smoothly.  I cared about Josie and whether she would sneak another Snickers bar before continuing her work on the line.  Her hunger runs deep - a craving for love and meaning in her life.

Maureen Vega (Erin Brehm) and Marlena Vega (Esme Allen) are cousins.  Maureen is introducing Marlena to the routine of working the line so that her cousin can be her temporary replacement when  Maureen takes a much needed vacation to the exotic shores of Connecticut.  The introduction of a new worker when Rizzo's mother has been laid off creates tension that grows throughout the show. Ms. Allen in her portrayal of Marlena raises gum chewing to an art form and firmly establishes her character through a marathon session of working her jaw.  Ms. Brehm is equally convincing as someone whose world is so narrow that the prospect of an escape to a neighboring New England state holds the same promise that a world cruise might for someone with broader aspirations.

Catherine Shimma (Therese Plaehn) rounds out the cast of characters.  As the government inspector for the plant, she is mostly sequestered in her office/laboratory, often observing the shenanigans that are going on among the workers on the plant floor.  In a sense, it is a reverse fishbowl effect.  She is inside the fishbowl of the office observing the migratory patterns of the school of fish swimming in their ocean of boredom, bickering and fish packing.

Horovitz has one of the characters talk about a book she is reading in an effort to better herself.  She describes the process by which fish eggs are fertilized - free floating in the ocean as the sperm is injected. This image becomes a metaphor for the fish plant workers and other denizens of Cape Ann.  In fact, when they learn that the male fish never stick around to see their offspring be hatched or to help raise them, one of the "girls" quips, "Sounds like most of the fathers in Gloucester!"

Horovitz clearly cares deeply enough about the plight of the fish workers to craft this moving play. Gloucester Stage Company clearly cares enough about the struggles of its community to mount this third "repackaged" production of "North Shore Fish."  The director and actors clearly care enough about the subject matter and about their craft to present sympathetic and utterly believable characters in a well told story.  The audience that I was part of clearly was moved at the plight of these hard scrabble characters.  So, it should be clear that you should plan to move yourself to East Gloucester between now and August 4th to experience this drama for yourself.

Enjoy!

Al
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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

New England Premiere of "How We Got On" Presented by Company One at the Boston Center for the Arts


I would like to tell you about my Rap and Hip Hop-infused introduction to Idris Goodwin's play "How We Got On," but first, let me share a brief tale of synchronicity.

After attending the Press Opening for Company One's New England Premiere of "How We Got On," my head was full of Rap rhythms and Hip Hop beats.  I went home and fell asleep listening to an update on WEEI of the Red Sox loss to the Yankees, then drifted off to a fitful sleep on one of the hottest nights of the year.  When I awoke at 6:00 the next morning the radio was still  droning in the background. WEEI was broadcasting its weekly Sunday morning segment of Commonwealth Journal, hosted by UMASS Boston Professor Rachel Rubin.  Her guest was "SLAM Poetry" winner - poet and film maker Saul Williams.  When I realized that Professor Rubin and Mr. Williams were discussing spoken word poetry, rap and hip hop as art forms, I was fully awake and alert.  Two quotations from that radio broadcast resonated with me from the previous evening of being exposed to Idris Goodwin's largely autobiographical tale of coming of age in suburban Detroit.  Mr. Williams described rap as "a new style of skateboarding for the tongue."  What amazing imagery!  It described perfectly what I had seen and heard the night before on stage at Boston Center for the Arts during the soul-stirring performance of "How We Got On."  And then Ms. Rubin completed the loop between her radio program and last night's performance when she recounted to Mr. Williams how she often dismissed her class at the end of a lecture: "Go home and spend the weekend learning to like something you are not supposed to like!"  In this pithy phrase, Ms. Rubin summed up what I had just experienced - my own weekend of learning to like something I am not supposed to like.

My recent journey towards better understanding and appreciating Rap and Hip Hop began a few weeks ago with the SpeakEasy production of "In the Heights," which uses Latino rap as the foundation for its story telling.  Prior to attending that show, my view of Rap and Hip Hop were pretty typical of most white guys of my generation.  I grew up on Rock and Roll and R and B and still love these genres today.  Rap seemed like so much noise and angry ranting and totally lacking in artistry or nuance.  As I watched the protagonists in "How We Got On," begin to experiment with Rap and Hip Hop as part of their journey of self-understanding and self-expression, the pieces began to fall into place for me, and I found myself clapping and weaving in sympathy with their raps and with their individual journeys.

Mr. Goodwin has written a very simple and very moving tale of three teenagers of color living in the suburbs in the Hills above Detroit in 1988 and coming to grips with their relationships with their families, with their compatriots in the city, with one another, with their emerging self-images and with their attempts at self-expression.  Julian (Jared Brown), Luann (Cloteal Horne) and Hank (Kadahj Bennett) make an interesting triangle of cooperation and competition.  Sitting above the action is The Selector (Miranda Craigwell) a DJ who functions both as Greek Chorus commenting on the action taking place in the lives of the protagonists, and also giving voice to the fears and admonitions of the respective parents.  The role of Selector is beautifully written, and flawlessly performed by Ms. Craigwell.  She does not miss a beat in moving the action forward - or at times causing the action to repeat in scratched out loops of sounds or dialogue to reinforce a point.  Her use of her manicured hands to demonstrate "attitude" is magical, and her voicing of the strained "Bourgie" concerns and mannerisms of the upwardly mobile parents is spot on!

Each of the three actors portraying the nascent rappers brings a special  magic to the role.  Bennett as Hank comes across as the book-smart and linguistically sophisticated leg of the triangle, but his stage presence in the "Battle of the Bands" leaves more than a little something to be desired.  His over-sized glasses scream "Nerd," and help to establish his character.  Brown as Julian comes across initially as brash and full of bravura, but with little substance from which to draw in writing his own raps.  So Julian and Hank team up as a writing and performing duo.  The two actors are perfect as they play off of one another - alternating between confidence, doubt, assurance and despair.  Adding spice to this sauce is Ms. Horne as Luann, a female rapper who wants to break into the closed boys' world of rap.  The complex relationships that emerge among the three young artists drive the rest of the story.

The set by Janie E. Howland is a series of boxes filled with mixed tape cartridges that are back-lit - a wonderful visual reminder that this is a story not only about coming of age but of making and recording art.  The boxes or blocks also serve as metaphors for the attempt by each character to break out of boxes of expectation that have been set for them.  The blocks may also signify the city blocks that separate them in their suburban cocoon from the very different life on the streets of Detroit.

The production is craftily helmed by Summer L. Williams as Director. She elicits from each member of the cast a performance worth remembering.  Audience response was enthusiastic, with much clapping along in rhythm to the raps.  The audience was quite diverse, and it was clear from the universal response that this play and its message is able to transcend categories of race, age, gender or socio-economic background.

This production will play through August 17.  Whether or not you are a fan of Rap or Hip Hop, I encourage you to see this excellent show.  You may end up "learning to like something you are not supposed to like!" 

Enjoy!

Al

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HOW WE GOT ON
A New England Premiere by Idris Goodwin
Directed by Summer L. Williams
July 19 – August 17, 2013
BCA Plaza Theatre

It’s 1988: Hank, Julian and Luann have each finally found the beats and dubs that make the suburbs bearable, but they need each other more than they know. Rap battles and poetry in parking lots lead to dreams of something more, as a DJ takes us to the flipside, loops us into the remix, and breaks it down. Spoken word poet and hip-hop playwright Idris Goodwin MC’s a theatrical coming-of-age mix tape about how we become the people we’re meant to be, flowing and rhyming our way to adulthood.

Full Price: $20-$38
Students w/ ID:
$15 Presale, $10 Rush
Pay-What-You-Can Performances ($6 min):


BOSTON CENTER FOR THE ARTS
Plaza Theatre
539 Tremont Street
South End, Boston, MA
GET DIRECTIONS TO VENUE »

Box Office:
 Phone: 617.933.8600
Web: www.BostonTheatreScene.com
Walk-up: Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts,
527 Tremont St.
OR Boston University Theatre Box Office,
264 Huntington Ave.
Group Discounts Available Upon Request:

Company One website

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Review of "The Last Train to Zona Verde" by Paul Theroux


Africa has shaped much of Paul Theroux's life, writing career and world view.  Railroads have also always been held a fascination for Theroux.  So, it is fitting, then, that as he nears the end of the track that is his life and his life's work, he should return to his beloved Africa and travel by train and foot and other assorted means of transportation.  In this book, he chronicles his journey from Capetown, South Africa  to the seldom visited outpost of Angola.

The book is full of descriptions that are vivid and unforgettable.  It is also filled with Theroux's reflections on how he has observed changed in Africa. During his sojourn through Namibia, he makes an acerbic observation about the pervasiveness of rap music on the continent of Africa today: "Rap is the howl of the underclass, the music of menace, of hostility, of aggression.  Intentionally offensive, much of the language is so obscene that it is unplayable on radio stations. . . . [The idle and unemployed youth of Africa]Now they had the music to match it [their alienation].  They had the words, too, and could say with Caliban in 'The Tempest, 'You taught me language, and my profit on't/Is I know how to curse.'" (Page 121)

In a chapter entitled "Among the Real People," the author distills the quintessence of his message.  He is visiting the storied Bushmen of the Kalahari desert.  Often idealized as "the noble savage," as in the film "The Gods Must Be Crazy," the reality of their existence is more bleak.  For the benefit of tourists who are willing to pay to see the illusion, "Bush Walks" are organized to show the simple and primitive life style, in much the way that actors portray Colonial life in Williamsburg,Virginia or Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts.  Yet Theroux lingers long enough to see the real underbelly of life in the bush with its disease,  starvation and despair.

The overall impression that Theroux leaveshis readers with is one of discouragement that this continent he has come to love is in deep trouble and in need of massive reform.  The corruption that he documents from the highest to the lowest levels of communal life is a fatal flaw that, unless reversed, threatens to hold Africa in its clutches for the foreseeable future.

This is not just a travelogue; it is a testament and a philosophical treatise worthy to be read and heeded.

Al

Mini-Review of "The Burgess Boys" by Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Elizabeth Strout


I loved everything about this book.  Elizabeth Strout has concocted a story of family ties of loyalty stretched to the breaking point.  She follows up her Pulitzer Prize winning performance on "Olive Kitteridge" with another stunning deep dive into the complexities of human behavior and interaction.

Jim and Bob Burgess, the eponymous "Burgess Boys"  have been largely estranged since the death of their father.  The disappearance of their nephew forces them to choose to work together to find and rescue him - bringing into sharp contrast the two brother divergent views of the world.  This is a deeply human and deeply moving tale.

This is a great summer read.

Enjoy!

Al

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Assassins" Presented by F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company at Arsenal Center for the Arts Black Box



"Assassins"
is one of Stephen Sondheim's most complex and difficult musicals to present - for a variety of reasons.  The subject matter - the assassinations of U.S. Presidents - is fraught with emotional content and baggage, and must be handled delicately.  Sondheim and book writer, John Weidman, handle the material with satire and a light-heartedness that audience members could find off-putting unless the director and cast are able to set a tone the walks a tightrope between irreverence of the one extreme and bathos on the other extreme.  F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company is to be commended for its current production, under the Direction of Joey Demita and the Musical Direction of Steven Bergman.  This production, set in the Black Box at the Arsenal Center for the Arts hits many right notes, and in only a few instances falls short of hitting the target, if I can borrow a metaphor from the theme of the show.

"Assassins" requires a strong ensemble cast with no room for weak links, since every assassin or would-be assassin has his or her moment in  the spotlight.  Allow me to highlight the moments that grabbed me, and then to offer some gentle suggestions for calibrating details to enable the actors to hit more bulls' eyes in this coming weekend's performances.

The key assassin in this story is John Wilkes Booth.  Like the other assassins, he transcends time.  The story is set in a kind of limbo that allows assassins from all of American history to interact with one another outside the constraints of chronological time.  Booth serves as a sort of Elder Statesmen to the assassins and would-be assassins.  He is played with distinction by Jim Petty.  He is one stage for much of the time, and anchors the narrative and the ensemble with a fine voice and stage presence. 

Ben Sharton plays John Hinckley, who is paired with Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, played by Katie Preisig.  Their duet, "Unworthy of Your Love," is carried out beautifully.  They each portray their characters believably.  

Sam Byck was a mad man obsessed with the possibility of killing Richard Nixon.  Byck is a tough character to portray, but Patrick Harris plays the role as well as I have seen.  His long and meandering monologues - spoken into a hand held recorder - run the gamut from folksy chatter aimed at Leonard Bernstein to psychotic ravings about Burger King's failure to deliver a satisfactory burger!  Harris is mesmerizing as Byck, and his performance is a tour de force and a highlight of this production.

Ian Flynn also stands out as Charles J. Guiteau, who aspires to be Ambassador to France, and kills the President Garfield when his ambitions are thwarted.  His song, "Ballad of Guiteau,"sung with the Balladeer (Jared Walsh) is demanding both musically and dramatically.  It was presented very convincingly.  Walsh also doubles as Lee Harvey Oswald, and his performance in both roles is solid.

The other assassins and would-be assassins do credible work in rounding out the tale that Weidman and Sondheim aspire to tell: Leon Czolgosz (Ben Gold), Guiseppe Zangara (Ben Oehlkers), Sara Jane Moore (Catherine Lee Christie), and Proprietor (Kelton Washington).

Here are some suggestions for minor tweaking that could improve the overall effect of the performance this coming weekend:
  • The balance between the fine orchestra and the actors was not always right, with the band sometimes overwhelming solo voices, especially when the Proprietor opens the show with "Everybody's Got the Right."  Standing just above the orchestra, his golden trumpet of a voice sounded a bit too muted to project to the back of the house;
  • Walsh could differentiate a bit more between the physicality of the Balladeer and Oswald
  • Preisig is almost too beautiful and put together to be a credible "Squeaky."  Just a bit of frizz in the hair or mad gleam in the eye would help.
  • Christie needs to coordinate the firing of her gun with the off-stage sound effects.  The mismatch was distracting.  "Attention must be paid"!
Overall, I enjoyed the show.  The cast told a good story, made the audience think and feel, and entertained.

Well done.   I encourage you to check out the final weekend of this fascinating and enigmatic show.

Enjoy

Al

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WHEN:
July 12 - July 20
WHERE:
Arsenal Center for the Performing Arts Black Box
321 Arsenal Street
Watertown, Massachusetts


About Assassins: 

ASSASSINS daringly examines success, failure, and the drive for power and celebrity in American society. This dark, alluring carnival is not a celebration of the Assassins' actions, but a surreal peek into their minds. From John Wilkes Booth to Lee Harvey Oswald, writers Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman bend the rules of time and space, taking us on a roller coaster ride in which assassins and would-be assassins from different historical periods meet, interact, and inspire each other all in the name of the American Dream.

Bold, original, and alarmingly funny, ASSASSINS is perhaps the most controversial musical ever written

CAST LIST 
BALLADEER/LEE HARVEY OSWALD - Jared Walsh
PROPRIETER - Kelton Washington
JOHN WILKES BOOTH - Jim Petty
LEON CZOLGOSZ - Ben Gold
JOHN HINCKLEY - Ben Sharton
GUISEPPE ZANGARA -Ben Oehlkers
CHARLES J. GUITEAU - Ian Flynn
LYNETTE "SQUEAKY" FROMME - Katie Preisig
SARA JANE MOORE - Catherine Lee Christie
SAM BYCK - Patrick Harris
EMMA GOLDMAN/ENSEMBLE - Cat Claus
ENSEMBLE - Vanessa Theoharis, Amy Oldenquist, Mike Fay, Ryan Solero and Sam Greene

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Blackstone Blog - Byron Wien Discusses Lessons Learned in His First 80 Years. Pure Gold!!!

My friend, Geoff Yamane, recently sent me the link that I am sharing with you.  The article from the Blackstone Blog is an excerpt from a speech given earlier this year by  Blackstone's Byron Wien.

Here are a few of the 24-carat nuggets:

Blackstone's Byron Wien Discusses Lessons Learned in His First 80 Years

  1. Concentrate on finding a big idea that will make an impact on the people you want to influence.
  2. Network intensely.
  3. When you meet someone new, treat that person as a friend. 
  4. Read all the time.
  5. Get enough sleep.
  6. Evolve
  7. Travel extensively
  8. When meeting someone new, try to find out what formative experience occurred in their lives before they were seventeen. 
  9. 9 - 20 Etc.
Please take the time to read the entire article linked below.  In the full piece, he expands on each point and offers several more.  Reading these pearls of wisdom was encouraging and challenging.  I find that I already practice some of them, and need to work on the ones where I am weakest.

Enjoy!

Al

Blackstone Blog - Byron Wien-discusses-lessons-learned-in-his-first-80-years

This Fiddler Is In Tune - Review of "Fiddler on the Roof" by the Reagle Music Theatre


I approach every production of "Fiddler on the Roof" with trepidation, wondering how I will react as an audience member.  "Fiddler" is one of my favorite shows.  I have seen the show dozens of times, including seeing the iconic Tevye performances of Zero Mostel, Hershel Bernadi and Topol.  I have high expectations whenever I return to this favorite story, originally told by Sholem Aleichem.  The show is also a favorite of many musical theater aficionados, so it is often performed as a beloved "old chestnut."   So, as I made my way to Waltham last weekend to see the Reagle Music Theatre Company's production, my excitement at seeing this old friend one more time was mixed with a dollop of anxiety about how well the Reagle team  would handle this classic.  I need not have worried.  The show is a delight, and Friday night's audience was mesmerized.

The auditorium of Waltham High School was transformed into the little village of Anatevka with a beautifully painted Ukrainian birch forest on the curtain, and then by a clever set, designed by Steve Gilliam.  Director, Kirby Ward, has assembled a huge cast made up of a combination of veterans of the stage and relative newcomers.  They are an enthusiastic and lively corps.  Any production of "Fiddler" rises or falls with the actor who portrays Tevye.  As the Good Book says, "Tevye is the glue that holds the show together."  Local TV veteran Scott Wahle is the headliner here.  In the first few moments, I found myself wishing for a more "ethnic" Tevye," but as the story developed, so did my level of comfort and enjoyment of Wahle's performance.  His rendition of "If I Were A Rich Man" was on target, and his elegiac lament "Chaveleh" was deeply moving, sung as he sat slouched upon the "home base" on his milk wagon.

Several other elements of this production stood out for me.  The song, "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" was a highlight, as Tevye's three daughters bemoaned their potential fates at the hands of the matchmaker, Yente.  Zeitel (Nora Fox), Hodel (Gillian Mariner Gordon) and Chava (Alexa Lebersfeld) sang and danced together beautifully and comically in this number.  A visual and musical highlight of the evening was the gorgeous tableau depicting five families lighting their Sabbath candles while singing "Sabbath Prayer."  It was magical.

Each of the three sons-in-law was well cast.  Motel the Tailor (Peter Mill) brought the right mix of humility and aspiration, and did justice to Motel's musical moment in the sun, "Miracle of Miracles."  Perchik (Daniel Forest Sullivan) was appropriately scholarly and reservedly celebratory in his duet with Hodel, "Now I Have Everything." And Fyedka (Matt Phillipps) struck the right notes of conflict between his role as a young soldier enacting anti-Semitic edicts and simultaneously loving his Jewish wife, Chava, and her people.

Another highlight - visually, dramatically and musically - is the song "Far From the Home I Love."  Hodel is about to leave Anatevka to join her exiled Perchik in Siberia.  She does not know when or if she will ever see her family again, and her farewell song to Tevye is deeply moving.  Gordon's approach to this song and to this scene made it work as well as it did.

Golde, Tevye's wife (Donna Sorbello) is played as a lovable shrew.  Sorbello and Wahle were terrific in their duet, "Do You Love Me?"

The well choreographed dancing (Susan M. Chebookjian) and fine ensemble singing rounded out the production and ensured that it would be an enjoyable evening spent in the theater and in Anatevka.

This production runs for one more weekend, with a special Free Friday Performance on the 19th.  Check the Reagle website for details.

Reagle Music Theatre


Monday, July 15, 2013

Obstacles Our Veterans Face In Transitioning Into the Post-Military Job Market: A Case Study


In my Executive Search practice, White Rhino Partners, I am often asked by my client companies to find leaders and managers with very specific skill sets.  It turns out that in many cases, some of the best candidates I am able to present to my client companies have honed their leadership skills which serving in the military - either as junior officers or more senior field grade and flag officers.  As a result of this niche area of specialization, I spend a great deal of time with very talented and gifted candidates who are in the process of transitioning from a career of military service to a new career in the business world.  Some make this transition directly; others do it by way of business school or some other graduate level program.

For many of these men and women, the transition is fraught with frustration and disappointment.  A short while ago, I spent time catching up with a combat veteran who has recently completed an MBA from a top-ranked business school.  He is still looking for the right fit as his first post-military job.  In our recent meeting, he was very transparent and honest in sharing his frustrations, and he has consented to allow me to share with readers of The White Rhino Report some of his recent experiences in his job search.

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Several weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with a relatively senior human resources professional at a major defense contractor.  As a veteran engaged in a post-military (and post-graduate school) job search I went into the conversation with some confidence—I understood the product and the customers that this firm was trying to reach.  My record is a good one, and I recently graduated from one of the better business schools in the world.  I had reached out to senior executives at the firm who shared some elements of my background and they put me in touch with this recruiter.  While right now the hiring environment in the defense industry isn’t the best, I had hopes that perhaps there’d be a fit somewhere in the organization.

All of the confidence went right out the window, however, when practically the first words out of the HR executive’s mouth were along the lines of “we can’t hire you, you don’t have any experience.”  As I have approximately eight years of military service, this was surprising to me, so I pushed back some, mentioning what the military-to-civilian transition folks tell you to highlight: leadership, responsibility, technical expertise, and the like.  This recruiter then let me know that my specific military background wasn’t a fit for their organization, and that besides, I had no “corporate” experience.  I admitted that this is indeed true, but I had an internship between my two years of business school, and in-depth coursework that I felt complemented the “soft skills” of my military background.  This HR professional was unswayed.

This was a disappointing turn of events, and I asked if the recruiter would like to end our call, as I wanted to respect his time and the vibe I was picking up didn’t seem entirely positive.  When he didn’t immediately get off the line I didn’t want to waste an opportunity to garner some feedback on my job search process—so asked, in his opinion, was I barking up entirely the wrong tree trying to approach companies like his with a background like mine.  He said,  "Yes, we look for corporate experience," and he had doubts that with my background I’d be able to hit the ground running in his business and immediately start adding value.  Times are tough and they don’t have time to train up novices.  He was very generous with his time and gave some additional specific feedback and offered up some of his connections to help further my job search.

This exchange took me a back—I know times are tough, but I had been confident that at this firm, in this industry, a veteran would have a chance to break in.  Their CEO was a retired (very high ranking) military officer who had come straight out of uniform to the company—my thinking was that if they’re willing to do that for such a position as the CEO, then a lower level business person could follow suit.  This whole experience leads me to question how vets can better position themselves and how companies can better capitalize on talent coming out of the military services.

A good analogy would be an athlete switching sports.  Imagine you’re a very good sprinter, excellent in the 100 meter and 200 meter dash, and that you enjoy the thrill of going fast.  For whatever reason you’re leaving the spring squad.  So you go out to evaluate your options in other sports.  Some options go right out the window—table tennis and Greco-Roman wrestling just wouldn’t be a fit.  Other options are possibilities, but would take a long time to transition—football or rugby would certainly capitalize on your speed, but the coach would have to take a risk and be willing to work with you to develop your skills.  If it worked out, though, you could be a star and bring a lot to the team.

Some coaches would look at your background and see a runner—and immediately suggest becoming a marathoner.  They missed that you were a sprinter, and that it may actually be a more difficult and costly transition to go from the 100 meter dash to marathon than it would be to switch from 100 meter dash to the football field.

Finally, there are options out there that require some measure of creative thinking.  You as an excellent sprinter may also be an excellent bobsledder.  But bobsled is just esoteric enough that you have never had the chance to give it a try, and additionally the coach has to recognize (1) that your talent would add a lot to his team and (2) the transition to bobsled may be a lot less costly than it would at first appear.  In my conversation with the recruiter I was trying to make the case that I would be an asset to his bobsled team—he thought I should go out and start running marathons.

How then to bridge this gap?  I think that first it falls to the candidate to make clear what knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitude they’d bring to the company.  Here all the standard resume and application advice applies—demilitarize the language, draw the connections as clearly as possible, talk to veterans within the organization to see if they have advice on how to make your case.  But that can really only get a candidate half way.


I think there does have to be some effort on the part of the hiring company to see talent for what it is—and this is really, really hard.  The economy and business environment are such that it’s difficult to justify taking risks in hiring.  My point here, though, is that lack of creative thinking when evaluating a potential military hires may present a greater risk than would first appear—the hiring firms are missing out on a significant pool of talent that is there for the taking.


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My candidate makes some very valid points about the dual responsibility of bridging the gulf that often exists between veterans and hiring authorities.  Bridges need to be built with effort on the part of both the candidate and the hiring company.  To use a different analogy, veterans are often manacled by an inability to convey their potential value to an employer on the one hand, and the employer's inability on the other hand to extrapolate from the candidate's military experience and envision him/her solving analogous problems within their enterprise.

Companies need to do a better job of training their people to see the gold that veteran candidates bring to many open positions.  They should do this  - not out of pity or out of a sense of obligation, but because it is a sound business decision to recruit and hire the best and the brightest.  And in many cases, because of their leadership experience under fire, men and women who have served in our military bring a maturity, sense of responsibility, work ethic, solid core values, people skills, communication acumen and cross-cultural sensitivity that are rare commodities in the business world today.  When I asked a client of mine why he has come to value and to hire veterans, he smiled and said plainly: "Because they know how to get shit done!"

So, on the corporate side, what can we do?
  • We can educate ourselves and enter into conversation in response to the kind of honest sharing that my friend offered above.
  • We can learn from and support the many veteran-led organizations that have figured out how to bridge some of these gaps.
  • We can utilize current employees who have served in the military to better educate hiring managers and recruiters about how to properly evaluate candidates who are veterans.


In the coming days and weeks, I will be highlighting in this space many examples of organizations and companies that are leading the way in these efforts.  We need not reinvent the wheel- we just need to get better mileage out of it and a smoother ride. 

Oh, yes.  If you would like to learn more details about the brave veteran who shared his story in this piece, with a view to possibly adding him to your company's leadership team, contact me and I will be glad to pass along his details.  You just make be able to make your bobsled team that much faster!

Al