Technology disruption: The revolution happened while we weren’t looking

Did you ever stop to think how the internet and the world-wide web changed our lives without our noticing it? If you’re a Millennial, you didn’t notice it because it was always there. Smartphones, texts, snapchat, all that. For older generations, an earthquake of technology happened in the late 1990s and 2000s. We love it and most of us wouldn’t give it up for anything. And that’s because as consumers, we love everything new and shiny.

But for businesses—of all kinds—the internet/web revolution came as some kind of surprise and upset many business models. Look at what happened to newspapers, book publishing, telecommunications, music, movies, television, retailing, real estate and other industries that weren’t paying attention until their business models imploded.

newspapers (1)

Sunday detritus.

Newspapers still haven’t recovered from the revolution in their business model. Most of them ignored the web for the first few years, hoping it would be a novelty and go away. It’s really only in this decade that newspapers have figured out that they have to change the way they do business. Some newspapers and magazines are relatively successful, using a pay wall and retaining digital subscribers. Many are floundering, laying off staff, cutting back publishing frequency. Only the older generations read newspapers at all, so newspapers will die eventually.

The news revolution has affected TV and radio too, although not so drastically yet.

News outlets now are being advised on how to make money in other ways, through memberships, events and beating ad blockers.


Soon to be considered “vintage.”

Book publishing also is still floundering, figuring out how to manage and make money from e-books. Amazon, the giant that started this revolution, eventually will get so big that it will fail too and be replaced by something that a 10-year-old kid in Schenectady is dreaming up now. (I think I owe an HT to someone for that kid-in-Schenectady idea, but I don’t remember who.)

The music industry (and TV and films to a lesser extent) also are suffering from the internet notion that all content should be free and available on our terms. CDs aren’t selling much, even though vinyl is making a retro comeback. We want to listen to music on something we carry around, even if the sound quality is poor. And we want to watch TV and movies on our terms, not when the network or theater happens to schedule them.


Some of my retro music.

Artists, writers and photographers are impacted by this content-should-be-free phenomenon. If no one wants to pay for content, then the publishers of content don’t want to pay for content creation. So, goodbye freelance businesses.

This internet/web revolution didn’t just happen overnight. Decades of technological development went into this phenomenon, but businesses were caught off guard. Even though most of them had some kind of computer or IT departments, the message of the coming revolution wasn’t acknowledged, or passed on. (Another factor in the revolution was the microchip, which enabled the miniaturization of our devices. It was introduced in 1959 but no one was paying attention to that either.)

The revolution happened while everyone was looking the other way.

  • The modem was invented in 1958 at Bell Labs and the router (an Interface Message Processor) in 1967.
  • In 1972, a guy named Ray Tomlinson invented email—a way to send messages across a network. It was his idea to use the “@” sign as the email standard address: user@host.
  • In 1974, Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler led the team at SRI International’s Network Information Center. Among other things, they created the Host Naming Registry and the primary domain names we use today: .com, .gov, .edu, .org, .net, .mil.
  • In 1974, Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn coined the term “internet.”
  • Most importantly, In 1977, Lawrence Landweber created the Computer Science Network, a network for US university and industrial computer research groups. By 1984, more than 180 university, industry and government computer science departments were participating in CSNET.

In the middle 1980s, I was working on my first Mac at home but it wasn’t connected to anything. At work, no computer because the Wang word-processing machines were only for secretaries. My son was a graduate student finishing his PhD in economics and talked about getting “email” from his advisers. “Email,” I said. “What’s that?”

Then in 1989, when AOL started its first online service, I got email too. It was that pitifully slow telephone dialup access, but it was still a thrill to hear “You’ve got mail!”

  • Finally (and skipping over many key technological advances), in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web and Robert Cailliau developed the first web browser for the Macintosh operating system. This is when business should have started paying attention and figuring out how their companies could take advantage of this new web thing.
  • And all this happened years after the US Defense Department invented ARPA in 1958 and ASCii in 1963 so that machines from different makers could talk to each other. ARPAnet, the actual network, was initiated in 1966.

I owe my superficial surf of technology history to the Internet Hall of Fame’s internet timeline. Check it out here. There’s also this and this

I decided to write this essay because I felt like venting. How could all these revolutions have happened to industries so important to me (newspapers, books, music, movies) without the industries being aware and preparing for the revolution? Big companies all have prestigious “strategy” officers and departments. What were they thinking about in the 1980s and 1990s? Not much, apparently. Or they were listening to big-name management consultants who probably were talking gobbledygook about customer intelligence, global advantage and supply chain management. I know whereof I speak on that one, because I used to work with those guys.

The theater review I’m working on now is about a fascinating play titled The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence. It’s a time-tripping play full of ideas and technology. At one point, a character says, “we’re at this critical moment in our society when technology is developing more rapidly than our social and political infrastructures can keep up with.”

That is one of the problems.

All the photos above taken by Nancy Bishop in her own home, site of prerevolutionary media and all the other kind too. 

On stage in Chicago: Mini-reviews

Some theater recommendations from my recent reviews and theater adventures in Chicago.

The Tempest at Chicago Shakespeare

CST_TEMPEST_04_Prospero,CalibanYes, you’ve seen this play before but never with such magic and music. Chicago Shakes’ new production features music by the great Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. The music is bluesy and has notes of vaudeville and medicine shows as well as early blues. The production is adapted and directed by Aaron Posner (Stupid Fucking Bird) and Teller of the magic duo Penn and Teller, and the magic is very impressive, including Ariel’s (Nate Dendy) sleight of hand and card tricks and an enchanting levitation scene. When Prospero speaks the famous line, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep,” to his daughter Miranda and her lover Ferdinand, it gains a new poetry in his reading.

See my reviews here and here. The Tempest runs until November 8.

Geneva at Shaw Chicago

GB-Geneva CastShaw Chicago produces “concert readings” of the work of the great GBS. I wouldn’t call them staged readings because they’re not blocked; the actors are at their music stands with script books. But they are costumed, made up and superbly acted by the whole cast. This production is a rarely performed Shaw set in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1939. The premise of the play is that the leaders of Spain, Germany and Italy–the dangerous buffoons who brought you World War II–are called before the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity. The script is witty and surprisingly current. Geneva just closed, but watch for the next Shaw Chicago production. They perform at the Ruth Page Center on Dearborn Street.

See my review here.

Green Day’s American Idiot at The Hypocrites

NSB-American-IdiotCongratulations to the Hypocrites for acquiring the Chicago rights to the production based on the Green Day album about suburban teen angst after 9/11, including, of course, sex, drugs and punk rock. The New York production ran for 400+ performances in 2010-11 and got generally favorable reviews. The Hypocrites’ version is smaller scale but still powerful and uses the pop/punk music to advantage. It’s loud, raucous and fun. Jeanne Newman, one of my Gapers Block colleagues, reviewed the show and her review is here.

American Idiot runs at the Hypocrites’ new home at the Den Theatre on Milwaukee Avenue through October 25. If you don’t own the album, borrow or download it so you can listen to the music before you see the show. You’ll enjoy it more if you already appreciate the music–and Green Day’s lyrics.

August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean at Court Theatre

This late August Wilson play, the tenth in his Century Cycle about his home neighborhood, the Hill District of Pittsburgh, is set in the earliest decade of the 20th century. It resonates with the misery of the African-Americans whose ancestors were slaves or who remembered slavery themselves and the trauma of the Middle Passage, when slaves were transported across the ocean. Goodman Theatre produced this play in its 2002-03 season and I remember having mixed feelings about it then.

This production features very strong acting, especially by Jacqueline Williams as the mystic Aunt Ester and Jerod Haynes as Citizen Barlow, a young man who wants to save himself, “cleanse his soul,” and seems to speak for Wilson. Act one is strong although it runs too long, and in act two, Aunt Ester prepares for a spiritual visit to the City of Bones (see them in the video clip).

Gem of the Ocean runs through October 11 at Court Theatre in Hyde Park.  It has had generally favorable reviews (I didn’t review it).

Photos and video clips courtesy of the theater companies.



New York Report #2: Riding with the fishes + the art of history

It was a slightly overcast Friday morning and that didn’t make me unhappy. Down in Battery Park, I could walk along the water without worrying about sunburn. It’s an easy place to reach on the #1 train from midtown. Battery Park is a beautiful place with gardens and monuments and an excellent white tablecloth restaurant as well as snack and drink stands. It’s the place where you can board a boat to take you to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty, but I’ve done those things before.

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I was interested in the new Sea Glass Carousel, which just opened in August. It’s housed in a circular building like a nautilus shell made of glass and steel that’s near the water and a short walk from the MTA station. The carousel is populated with many different types of fiberglass fish—a 14-foot-tall angelfish, a butterflyfish, yellow lionfish, triggerfish and a Siamese fishing fish, among others. 30 fish in all. For $5, you can sit in a fish of your choice and ride for about four minutes.

On another rainy day, I visited two interesting New York museums that I had missed on all my other trips. The Museum of the City of New York is housed in a grand building at 103rd and  Fifth Avenue, built in 1932 as a museum. I was particularly interested in several exhibits there:

Everything Is Design: The Work of Paul Rand, one of American’s pioneer graphic designers. Rand developed dozens of familiar logos and the corporate identity systems that supported them–mainly back in the day when an identity system meant a massive binder of instructions for every conceivable corporate application, from stationery and publications to trucks, signage and uniforms. (Today those guidelines still exist, of course, but not on paper.)

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Folk City: New York and the Folk Music Revival. An expansive exhibit of folk music in New York from pioneers such as Ledbetter and Guthrie to Dylan and famous venues such as Gerdes’ Folk City and Greenwich Village “basket clubs.”

Hip-Hop Revolution: Photographs by three photographers. I had seen Hamilton the night before, so of course I had to pay homage to the hip-hop artists who inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Activist New York. The drama of New York activist groups and issues over the years, from abolition (1830-65) and suffrage (1900-20) to civil rights (1945-64), gay rights (1969-2012) and bicycle lane advocacy (1965-2011). And a fascinating corner about the power of the pen: the Proletarian Literary Movement (1929-41).

The exhibits are all well curated and displayed. The three-story building also has a cafe. And there’s a beguiling door that displays this title: “This is New York’s most exciting stairwell.” And indeed the stair is lined with posters and billboards illustrating the city’s history and culture.

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Over on Central Park West is the New York Historical Society, where I wanted to see the exhibit, Art as Activism. The exhibit asks the question: “How did political messages go viral before the internet?” and answers it in a mesmerizing way, showing 70 posters from the 1930s to the 1970s. They’re all from the Merrill C. Berman collection at the historical society.  The posters are framed and installed like paintings. They tell stories you wouldn’t have learned in your US history classes unless you were using Howard Zinn’s remarkable People’s History of the United States.

All photos by Nancy Bishop except where noted. 


New York Report #1: Hamilton, The Flick and a Tennessee Williams buffet

I spent a few days in New York last week, catching up on theater and museums. I’m mad about New York and love staying in the theater district, this time at the Hotel Edison on 47th, which made a cameo appearance in the film Birdman. I used to travel frequently to NY on business and I would stay at a hotel in midtown where others from my firm stayed. But I prefer to be in the theater district or on the upper west side. Both neighborhoods are convenient for public transit and offer interesting walking.

My primary goal for this trip was to see the play Hamilton, recently opened on Broadway after great success at the Public Theater in the Village. I bought my Hamilton ticket before I had a hotel room.

The three plays I saw are wildly different shows.

NSBJ-hamiltonlogoHamilton, as you’ve probably read, is a hip-hop operetta about our Founding Fathers. It’s dazzling, frenetic and fantastic—with nonstop rap and hip-hop, as well as homages to R&B, Broadway and Gilbert & Sullivan. Hamilton gives audiences a refresher on the early days of our country and insights into the personalities of the founders. It’s at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on 46th, conveniently around the corner from my hotel.

The Flick by Annie Baker is a play about three losers who work in an old movie theater that might be sold and converted to digital projection. This only bothers one of the three. It’s being staged at the Barrow Street Theatre in the Village. This play charmed and confounded me. Its use of time as a dramatic element is both naturalistic and maddening.

Desire is six short plays by six playwrights, drawn from stories by Tennessee Williams. As with other such compilations, not all are entirely successful, but they all demonstrate Williams’ connection to emotion and desire. The title could not be more appropriate. Desire just opened at 59E59, a theater operated by the Actors Company, just south of Columbus Circle.


Hamilton is loaded with historic detail woven into the pulsating beat of hip-hop, rap and other rhythms, and costumed in colonial style. The cast is almost entirely people of color—mostly African-Americans and Hispanics. This is not “blind casting,” where parts are interchangeable between actors of different races. To me, the casting sends a very specific message. The director (Thomas Kail) didn’t avoid casting white actors because white folks don’t have rhythm. In a summer when Black Lives Matter enough to become a hashtag, Hamilton demonstrates the importance of the outsider in our history. The key roles of Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Burr are not white dudes with powdered wigs, but dynamic, charismatic men of color. (By the way, women play several key roles (not the main political roles) and they are in uniform as Colonial soldiers as well as dancers.)

The genius who wrote book, music and lyrics—and stars as Alexander Hamilton—is Lin-Manuel Miranda, an artist of Puerto Rican background and political origins. (His father is a political consultant to New York mayors.) Miranda is a guy who went on a beach vacation to Mexico with his wife, read Ron Chernow’s doorstop biography of Hamilton, and was inspired by his achievements and outsider persona. He decided that the orphan immigrant might be a great subject for theater.

Aaron Burr (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) serves as narrator for the story. Ironic, since he’s the man who kills Hamilton in a duel. In his opening, Burr raps,

How does a bastard
Son of a whore and
A Scotsman
Dropped in
The middle of a forgotten
Spot in
The Caribbean by Providence
In squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

Daveed Diggs plays Jefferson as a boogie-woogie guy, returned from Paris after the Revolutionary War to sing, “What’d I Miss.” One of my favorite scenes is a rap battle during a Cabinet meeting. Washington (Christopher Jackson) passes a mic back and forth between Jefferson and Hamilton as they argue Hamilton’s plan to establish a national bank and assume state debt. At one point, Jefferson raps, “Look, when Britain taxed our tea, we got frisky. Imagine what can happen when you try to tax our whiskey.” And Hamilton replies, “Thomas, that was a real nice declaration. Welcome to the present. We’re running a real nation.” And later, Hamilton raps, “And another thing, Mr. Age of Enlightenment, don’t lecture me about the war, you didn’t fight in it.”

I’m afraid I’m beginning to sound like a fangirl for Hamilton and Mr. Miranda. And I guess I am. I can’t wait to get back to New York and see the play again. And right here and now, I’m predicting that the MacArthur Foundation will award Miranda one of their genius grants. It’s inevitable. He’s making American history come alive for a new generation and illuminating it in a new light for all of us.

Here’s a video of one of the first Hamiltonian appearances by Miranda at the White House in 2009, when he was thinking about a concept album about Hamilton.

Yes, Hamilton really as good as its hype. As Ben Brantley said in the New York Times when he reviewed it for a second time, “this brave new show about America’s founding fathers has been given the kind of worshipful press usually reserved for the appearances of once-in-a-lifetime comets or the births of little royal celebrities.” And it deserves it. And this from a theater writer who has said innumerable times that she hates musicals. But I make exceptions.

The Flick

Nothing much happens in The Flick and whatever happens, happens in silence. It’s odd or brilliant or maybe both. It’s funny and sad and heart-rending. And authentic. The play won a Pulitzer Prize last year for playwright Annie Baker. It runs 3 hours and 10 minutes, a half hour longer than Hamilton, and my first thought was that it could be compressed into a 90-minute one-act. (It can’t.) Its length is due to the long, seemingly directionless conversations by underpaid movie theater workers sweeping up popcorn after the show or hanging out afterwards. A comment by one is followed by a long pause before the other responds. There are long periods of silence when we hear projector noises and a film starts. (Playwrights Horizons, the first theater that staged The Flick, had to deal with subscriber revolt about the play. And when I saw it last week, a noticeable number of seats were empty after intermission.)

The very clever scene design is the seating area of a grungy old theater, with the projection booth above. We the audience see the play from the perspective of the theater screen.


Avery and Sam in “The Flick.” Image courtesy Barrow Street Theatre.

During act one, I was getting impatient with the lack of plot and direction, to say nothing of the long, however purposeful, pauses. But in act two, I began to see the three as people stuck in dead-end lives who might have a chance at happiness. Or not. Who might see love requited. Or not. Who might do the right thing for a friend. Or not.

Sam is a 30-something who has never done much with his life but yearns to be promoted to projectionist. Rose, the projectionist, is a young woman in shapeless clothes and uncertain sexuality. The character who may in fact have a life ahead of him is Avery, a geeky cinephile with emotional problems. He at least has a family with means and he’ll go back to college.

The Flick is certainly a play for film fans. The debates about the differences between celluloid and digital projection and the cinema six-degrees-of-separation game played by Sam and Avery can really be appreciated by film geeks.

If I were reviewing The Flick, I would be torn between 2, 3 and 4 stars. Did I love it, like it or hate it? I’ll get a chance to decide because Steppenwolf Theatre is staging The Flick next March and I’ll review it. I look forward to seeing it again and talking about it with friends.


NSB-59e59logoTennessee Williams was a prolific writer (kind of like A. Hamilton, who wrote 51 of the 85 Federalist Papers). I’ve seen compilations of his work before. The Hypocrites staged the Tennessee Williams Project last year, with three short plays produced in one of their last productions before they moved from the Chopin Theatre a few blocks north to the Den Theatre. In New Orleans last March, I saw a delightful version of Williams’ Hotel Plays, short plays staged in different rooms of an old French Quarter mansion.

Desire is made up of six plays by six eminent playwrights adapted from Williams’ short stories, some of them merely fragments.

Beth Henley’s play, The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin, follows Williams’ story fairly closely, while John Guare’s You Lied to Me About Centralia takes a different perspective on an old story. Williams transformed “Portrait of a Girl in Glass” into his masterpiece, The Glass Menagerie. Guare’s playlet focuses on the aftermath of the dinner attended by Tom’s friend, Jim, who describes the evening with Amanda, Tom and Laura to his fiancée.

Rebecca Gilman’s play, The Field of Blue Children, set in the present on a college campus, is the story of a sorority girl who is interested in poetry—and a poet. The scenes featuring the sorority sisters are hilarious.

Nine actors play all the roles in the six plays. One actor in particular—Derek Smith—plays three quite different roles superbly.

Desire just opened to mixed reviews. But I thought it was more successful than not. Only one of the plays—Tent Worms by Elizabeth Egloff—was a weak story with a weak ending.

New York Report #2 will describe my other adventures—to a couple of fine and obscure museums and to Battery Park. And maybe food.

August theater reviews: No summer slump in Chicago

August may mean the summer doldrums with nothing happening for Parisians and Berliners, who have to get on a train or drive south to find a beach. We lucky Chicagoans have our own built-in lake and beach, so we don’t have to go away for summer fun. There’s lots going on at the lakefront and in the theaters, both large and storefront. Here are a few theater tips from my last couple of weeks.

Assassination Theater at the Museum of Broadcast Communications

GB-AssassinationTheaterYes, this is a single production titled Assassination Theater: Chicago’s Role in the Crime of the Century, which lays out in excruciating detail how the Chicago Outfit was directly involved in the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy and also that of his brother Robert five years later. (I did wonder whether it was a new theater company to be dedicated solely to assassinations and started making a list of how many productions they could muster before they ran out of murders. It would take years, but no, this is a one-off production.)

Journalist/author Hillel Levin researched and produced this documentary production staged in a theater space at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, 360 N. State St. The ingredients are four actors, three projection screens and a minimum of props and costume changes. The story is dramatic and gripping and if you’re a fan of political conspiracy and love to immerse yourself in historical detail, you will love it. If your theater taste runs to musicals and light comedy, stay away. The show could perhaps have been cut by 15 minutes, but I usually think everything is 15 minutes too long.

My review notes that “The story line of Assassination Theater offers persuasive evidence that the JFK autopsy was falsified and the real facts covered up then and in the 1964 Warren Commission report.” The evidence of Mob involvement is not quite as persuasive but I would be willing to give it some study. You can see this show through November 7.

Things You Don’t Say Past Midnight at the Windy City Playhouse

GB-ThingsYSSPM-McClainKenyonThis is a fast-moving, funny, smartly acted and directed sex comedy at the Windy City Playhouse, a new venue in the Irving Park neighborhood that I’ve written about before. Three couples converse and romp about in three bedrooms arrayed across the large playing space. Their interests finally converge and the comedy reaches its apex in a six-way phone call. The play is clever, edgy and a little vulgar but there’s no nudity (in case you were worried or hopeful).

This new theater company is a nonprofit, but had a well-funded startup. The venue is very comfortable with good sightlines, comfy seating and an attractive bar/cafe in its lobby. The company has been bringing in established Chicago actors and directors to stage their productions and the quality is obvious.

Things You Don’t Say runs through October 4. Windy City Playhouse is at 3014 W. Irving Park Rd. Read my review.

The Jacksonian at Profiles Theatre

GB-Jacksonian2-Bowman,IselyThis is one of those plays that I really wanted to like because it has the right ingredients for a fabulous production. Honored playwright: Beth Henley (she won a Pulitzer for Crimes of the Heart and has written many other plays and films). Ingredients: Sex, drugs, murder and a sidedish of politics. Staging: By one of Chicago’s finest Equity storefront theaters. The Jacksonian is set in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1964 and the title is the name of the rather seedy motel where Bill Perch is staying, since both his marriage and his dental practice are in decline. The other characters are the motel bartender and waitress and the dentist’s wife and teenage daughter, who my review describes as “Cassandra in a cocoon.” The scenes flow back and forth from the December “night of the murder” to sexy bar and bedroom scenes.

The storyline is interesting and the play and characters definitely keep your interest. So even though I would say my rating is “somewhat recommended” because the nonlinear progression of scenes is a little incoherent, it’s still a worthwhile 90 minutes of theater. The Jacksonian runs through October 11 at Profiles, 4139 N. Broadway. Read my review.

Kafkapalooza at First Floor Theater 

GB-Kafka-PoseidonFirst Floor Theater’s annual Litfest, made up of eight short plays inspired by the stories of Franz Kafka, had a short run at the Flat Iron Arts Building in Wicker Park, so I’m sorry if you missed it. Sometimes when you see one of these evenings of short plays, a few of them are good and most are forgettable. But all eight of these plays, running 10-15 minutes each with one to five actors each, were interestingly written and well-performed. My review describes my favorite, titled “The Applicant,” drawn from a fragment of a story that Kafka wrote about Poseidon, bored with the paperwork required in his job as god of the seas, and wishing for a vacation.

First Floor Theater says its mission is to stage stories of individuals facing moments of radical change. I was impressed with this effort and look forward to their next outing.

Show Me a Hero on HBO

Speaking of individuals facing radical change, HBO’s current miniseries definitely fits that description. The story is based on actual events that took place in Yonkers, NY, from 1987 to 1994, when the city was trying to implement scattered-site public housing under a court order.

NSBJ-showmeaheroThe “hero” is the young mayor, Nick Wasicsko, played by Oscar Isaac, who’s elected because of his vote against a housing bill but then realizes that the city has to change. There are some great performances by actors such as Bob Balaban as the judge, Alfred Molina as a city councilman passionately opposed to the change, and Catherine Keener as a Yonkers resident bitterly opposed to the new housing that would be in her neighborhood. There are some very ugly but realistic scenes of Yonkers citizens protesting outside city hall and in council chambers. Of course, their arguments are that it’s all about property values and “lifestyle,” not racism. Uh-huh.

The characters are not all politicians and angry residents. Several subplots weave together the stories of public housing residents who will eventually be able to benefit from the new housing.

Isaac really proves his acting chops in this series, following his fine performances in A Most Violent Year and Ex Machina. Of course, I first wrote about him in 2014 when he starred in the Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, which all the critics, including me, raved about. Too bad it bombed at the box office and in awards season. I still think it’s a great film and I recommend it too.

One of my favorite things about Show Me a Hero is that it’s threaded with music by Bruce Springsteen from beginning to end. The mayor is a Springsteen fan and the songs all fit the dramatic action. Last week, in parts 3 and 4, the Springsteen songs were “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” “Brilliant Disguise” and “Secret Garden.” Can’t wait to hear what tonight brings.

Tonight is the third and final part of the six-part production, being shown on three Sunday nights. It will be available on demand if you’re an HBO subscriber and I’m sure it will have another life streaming and on DVD soon.

Images courtesy theater companies and HBO.

Charles Ray sculpture at the Art Institute: Statues that speak to you

The stunning sculpture exhibit currently on display at the Art Institute of Chicago is one of those quiet landmarks that art critics will talk about for years. The difference between this and some of the mass exhibits like Monet or Van Gogh is that you don’t have to sign up for a time slot, pay an extra fee or wade through masses of humanity to glimpse the work. Charles Ray is a major artist and one of our most important contemporary artists and this is your only opportunity to see this exhibit in the U.S. Charles Ray: Sculpture, 1997-2014 is on display in the Modern Wing through October 4.

The works are all fascinating in their attention to detail (car parts, toes and veins). The figurative ones have an eerie sentience, as I said in my review. They are all modeled on or copied from an actual person and it seems that Ray has captured the essence of the person in each work.

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The 19 pieces in the main exhibit (two others are elsewhere in the museum and outside in the South Garden) are simply and elegantly displayed in three galleries. Each figure lives in its own ample space so you can walk around and muse about what it’s saying to you. And I guarantee, some of them will speak to you.

Two of the pieces have controversial backstories. See my review to learn why the Whitney Museum rejected “Huck and Jim” for its new location near the High Line.

(If you think you’ve read about this before, it may be that you saw my Gapers Block review posted on Facebook and Twitter. You can also read my review on All photos by Nancy Bishop, except as noted.)

Potpourri, farrago, mishmash & hot dogs–my pop culture week

Farrago, potpourri, mishmash. Whatever you call a week of variety, that was my last week. A few tidbits and capsule reviews.

Cirque du Soleil: Kurios — Cabinet of Curiosities

The kid (he’s now 17) and I went to opening night at Cirque du Soleil with some friends. The Big Top (or le grand chapiteau) is set up on the United Center parking lot. Cirque du Soleil hasn’t been in Chicago for a few years and the show has been re-created or reimagined for a new audience, as my friend Kim reported when she interviewed the director, Michel Laprise, for Gapers Block. All the amazing acrobatics and gorgeous pageantry and choreography are still there but it’s done with a “steampunk” theme, suggesting late 19th century industrial machines with a whiff of fantasy. The costuming suits the theme and the period too.

Cirque du Soleil's Kurios, Grand Chapiteau by A1 Federation - via Wikimedia Commons

Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios, Grand Chapiteau by A1 Federation – via Wikimedia Commons

We loved the Acro Net, where a giant net stretches across the stage and operates like a trampoline. The performers bounce, dance, jump and leap, sometimes all the way to the tent’s peak. The Rola Bola man balanced on a board, first atop a ball, then several balls and finally a hill of balls and spools–and still he balanced. The Invisible Circus was very clever, with all the lights and contraptions operating as if someone was using them, but not a soul was in sight–except for the circus announcer who described what was taking place. I could go on and on. It’s an amazing show. Whether or not you’ve seen Cirque du Soleil before, try to see this one. And take a kid or a kid at heart.

Hot Dog Festival at the Chicago History Museum

Next day we wandered over to the south end of Lincoln Park for the Chicago History Museum’s Hot Dog Festival. The hot dogs were great; I had a Chicago classic with all the trimmings layered in the proper order*. The kid had a dog plus fries and then went back for a Godzilla dog, which is the equivalent of two or three regular ones. We shared an ice cream because I ran out of dog dollars.


This is a perfect Chicago hot dog. Photo courtesy Vienna Beef.

In addition to great food, there were bands and a speakers stage. We got there early so we could hear Bill Savage, the Northwestern pop culture professor, discourse on “Ketchup: The Condiment of Controversy.” He discussed the nature of hot dogs (“the ultimate democratic street food”) in other locales, concluded that Chicago is rightly considered the hot dog capital of the world, and described how hot dogs and their peculiar Chicago condimentry came to be. He took a poll of his audience. Seventy percent of us agreed that ketchup on a hot dog is an abomination, but ketchup is ok for kids under 10. Bill’s conclusion was Chicago is a great democratic city and Chicagoans are free to do as we please, and if that means ketchup on a hot dog, that’s ok. I respectfully disagree.

* The layers have to be: mustard, neon green relish, chopped onions, tomato wedges, hot sport peppers, dill pickle wedges and finally celery salt.

Two nights at the theater

My two most recent reviews were (1) brilliant satire and (2) a flashy musical. Guess which one I liked best?

The Boy From Oz is the new show by Pride Films & Plays at Stage 773. It’s the story of Australian musician and entertainer Peter Allen, who was married to Liza Minnelli for a while, was a great hit as a cabaret performer, but never was a huge success in the US. At least his music was never a huge success–and since there was nothing melodic or hummable about his music, that made sense. The production is very well done, with some good performances from both the actors and the dance ensemble. Great costumes and choreography. So my review is: It’s a pleasant evening with a lot of talent and energy wasted on boring raw material. See my review here. The play runs through August 30. See it if you like gratuitous singing and dancing.

Katy Carolina Collins as Mash in SFB

Katy Carolina Collins as Mash in SFB

Stupid Fucking Bird is Aaron Posner’s play that kinda/sorta deconstructs Chekhov’s The Seagull. Sideshow Theatre is staging it now at Victory Gardens/ Biograph and you can see it through August 30. You need to see it. The script is witty and the characters are sort of based on Chekhov’s except their angst is contemporary rather than 19th century. It’s a case where A loves B who loves C who loves D who flirts with E who is the lover of F. (I’m quoting my review.) Plus there’s a playwright who wants to invent a new kind of theater and when he succeeds in getting a play produced complains that he will now have to put up with being criticized by perfect strangers in addition to family members. Some nice musical interludes throughout the play with Mash (Masha in Chekhov) on the ukulele.

Movies with musical themes

Madame Marie's booth on the boardwalk, September 2012.

Madame Marie’s booth on the boardwalk, September 2012. Photo by Nancy Bishop.

Baby It’s You is a 1983 film directed by John Sayles. It’s a little indie film about Jill, a Jewish girl with dreams of college and a theater career (played by Rosanna Arquette), and her boyfriend, the Sheik (Vincent Spano), a well-dressed greaser who loves Jill and Sinatra. They are not going to walk off together into the sunset because Jill is not interested in marriage and babies and that’s the only relationship that Sheik can see for them. It’s a good film–I gave it 4 stars out of 5 on Two great things about the film are the music (plenty of Springsteen songs) and the trip that Jill and Sheik make to the Jersey shore. We see how Asbury Park looked 30 years ago when the Casino and the Palace were in much better shape; Madame Marie’s was there too and it still is. She died in 2008 but family members still tell fortunes in her booth on the boardwalk.

CBGB is a movie that I really wanted to like. It’s a 2013 docustory about the iconic punk rock club on the Bowery and its owner, Hilly Kristal (played, incongruously, by Alan Rickman). It was fun to see actors play the great bands that started there, like the Dead Boys, Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, the Ramones and Patti Smith– but the producers ruined the effect by playing polished studio recordings of those bands while the actors lip-synced. The music totally missed the raw, rough edge that it should have had. It’s not a very good movie–unless, of course, you loved the memory of CBGB.

One more thing ….

An exhibit of photos of rock star legends by Chicago photographer Paul Natkin was on display at the Ed Paschke Art Center in Jefferson Park. One Saturday afternoon, he sat surrounded by his photos and talked about his career, shooting some of the greatest musicians of our time, and how photography has changed with the digital revolution. His talk was fascinating and he was kind enough to talk to me later and answer a question about artists’ rights for one of my SCORE clients. Natkin’s work was shown in a more comprehensive exhibit a few years ago at the Chicago Cultural Center. You can check out his website.


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