Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Times-Dispatch: "This is as I like it."

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

A rollicking version of 'As You Like It'
Saturday, Mar 29, 2008 - 12:08 AM

It was when Adam Mincks went to put on the tulle skirt that things went over the top.

Shakespeare's "As You Like It" depends on gender switching (the heroine, Rosalind, disguises herself as a man), and Richmond Shakespeare often depends on a tiny cast to portray multiple characters without regard to their sex.

But this five-actor "As You Like It" includes enough gender-bending to spin your head around.

It's the tale of Orlando, who falls in love with Rosalind just before she's banished from her uncle's court. She and her cousin Celia flee in disguise to the forest of Arden, where Rosalind's father is in exile.

There they meet various rustics, the clown Touchstone and the sentimental Jacques, as well as Orlando, who escapes to the forest when he learns that his brother is planning to kill him.

Everyone falls in love in the forest, and all ends well (but that's another play).

In this version, the comedy is amplified by quick changes of role that result in, for instance, bearded Patrick Bromley playing a country maiden and Julia Rigby as a lovelorn shepherd.

In Rebecca Cairns' endlessly versatile and lovely costumes, they add a cap here and a wreath there to mark the characters, with the actors' skills making the transformations magical.

As is the company's frequent practice -- at least for its indoor season -- costume pieces are hung in plain sight, so that when Mincks, hilarious here in numerous roles, goes for that skirt, we know that something even more delicious is coming.

Director Andrew Hamm (who is onstage as accompanist) has infused the production with physicality and music, his trademarks.

There's so much roughhousing that a fight choreographer (actor Frank Creasy) and a fight choreography consultant (David White) were needed to plan the action.

And Hamm has provided pleasant melodies so his cast can sing as appropriate. With nonstop energy and an approach to language that is colloquial and deceptively relaxed, Hamm has created a rollicking version of this classic.

Every actor is superb, especially considering the demands of their many roles. Rigby has less flashy parts such as Celia and Silvius, but she is charming. Bromley is romantic as the lovelorn Orlando and ridiculous as the silly goatherd Audrey.

Sunny LaRose is a marvelous Rosalind, brave and emotional and admirable, even when disguised as Ganymede. Creasy is a marvel as he morphs from aged servant Adam to wrestler Charles to emotional Jacques. Creasy is an actor who is always fully committed.

Mincks has a breakthrough performance here as he achieves perfection in a fistful of roles -- Oliver, the cruel brother who has a change of heart; the foppish courtier LeBeau; the dignified Duke Senior; the clown Touchstone; and the tulle-skirted Phoebe.

Mincks changes accents and attitudes with seeming ease; he even appears to change height. This is as I like it.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

The Northern Kings Rule.

What could possibly be better than four metal frontmen from Finland combining to form a symphonic metal supergroup to record an album of '80s covers?

I know for my part that I've been waiting for years to find out what a band featuring Marco Hietala from Nightwish, Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica, JP Leppäluoto from Charon and J Ahola from Teräsbetoni would sound like.

Check out the Northern Kings' MySpace page.

I can't wait for this album to be available in the US.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

All-Robot Baseball Team

No, Voltron isn't actually a robot, and that's the wrong Optimus Prime, but this is a great article.

For the record, here's the proper Optimus Prime:

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Richmond Shakespeare's April Workshop

"Auditioning for Musical Theatre"
with Scott Wichmann
Tuesday, April 8, 2008, 7:00-9:30 PM
$20 / $10

Richmond Shakespeare is delighted to welcome local star Scott Wichmann to our training faculty for this month's workshop.

It has been said that characters who reach a point of crisis in plays either fight, dance or sing: same impulse, different result. All originate from a breakdown of our ability to communicate in any conventional way. It’s not enough to just sing beautifully at your audition; you need to be able to really inhabit the lyrics from a personal angle. It is less about the flowery sounds we make and more about the underlying motivation to sing in the first place. This is a class about turning “songs” into the “monologues” they already are.

Instructor Scott Wichmann has appeared in approximately 67% of all plays produced in Richmond over the past several years, including acclaimed appearances in I Am My Own Wife, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Scapino, Moonlight and Magnolias, Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop, The Taming of the Shrew, and upcoming productions of Guys and Dolls and Richard III. We like Scott.

We are offering a two-tiered enrollment for this workshop: a $20 participant fee, open to a maximum of eight students who will work with Scott and the accompanist directly, and a $10 auditor fee, open to an unlimited number of students who wish to observe the class. Participants should bring sheet music in the correct key to several pieces they are prepared to work on.

The class is open to high school age and up. Participants should, as always, bring a bottle of water and be prepared to move. Email or call him at 804-232-4000 for more information or to make a reservation.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Richmond Shakespeare's Spring Acting Class

"Building Characters"
with Andrew Hamm

Mondays, March 31 - May 5, 7:00-9:30 PM
at Second Presbyterian Church (5 N. 5th Street)

“Don’t let anyone tell you to go from the inside out – or the outside in. It’s a circle.”
–Joseph Chaikin

Modern actor training is largely focused on the “inside-out” approach pioneered by Stanislavski, but that’s not the only way to find a character. Sometimes an “outside-in” technique is needed to add distinctive details, and external choices can even be an actor’s primary means of character development.

This class is designed for experienced actors in search of tools for making character choices. We will focus on several techniques of physical and vocal acting designed to build unique and unforgettable performances without requiring that you re-experience personal tragedies to feel like you’ve done good work. Each class session will be a self-contained unit focusing on a specific topic in physical-vocal acting, including Alba Emoting, character voice and body, qualities of movement, and image-building. You may be surprised along the way at how much the external acting choices affect the internal.

Instructor Andrew Hamm has been building characters for longer than he cares to admit at VCU, Off-Off-Broadway, and now as director of Richmond Shakespeare’s Training Department.

Spaces are limited. Call 232-4000 to make your reservation today!

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ten Albums

Jill Bari's blog is on fire with "Ten Favorite Movies List" hysteria. I thought I'd stir the pot a bit by turning the subject sideways, listing my ten favorite albums, and asking readers to do the same. No rules except your rules.

I've updated this list to include some descriptions because everybody else has and I should have in the first place.

In alphabetical order:

Bruce Cockburn - Dart to the Heart. Some of Cockburn's most beautiful songwriting and acoustic guitar playing highlights this collection of love songs. This album consistently makes me cry and smile, often simultaneously. It also has the gorgeous "Closer to the Light," a tribute to Mark Heard written after his passing.

Dream Theater - Octavarium. I could have also listed Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, but this album is a bit better concentrated. Chunk, groove, brains, and soaring majesty in equal doses. One of the greatest prog-rock albums of all time. Worth it just for the orchestra coming back in for the climax.

Peter Gabriel - Security. Seriously, Gabriel's Sgt. Pepper. This is the album that made me start taking music seriously. A sonic masterpiece indeed, one of the first all-digital recordings. "San Jacinto" demolishes me.

Genesis - Selling England by the Pound. The purest example of early Genesis, from Gabriel's a capella intro through the mournful, unsettling reprise at the end. Foxtrot is also great, but there's storytelling in the instrumental passages of "Dancing with the Moonlit Knight," "Firth of Fifth," and "Cinema Show" that I've never heard before or since.

Mark Heard - Dry Bones Dance. This is an album that I love more every time I hear it. Zydeco, dixieland, folk, country, and rock influence create a sonic songwriting gumbo matched only in its brilliance by Heard's lyrics. "Mercy of the Flame" is probably my favorite song in the world right now.

Joe Jackson - Heaven and Hell. How to choose one Jackson album? You pick the one that's most unique and least likely to ever be duplicated. This one is a neoclassical techno-orchestral song cycle based on the Seven Deadly Sins, featuring Suzanne Vega (lust), Brad Roberts (sloth), Jane Siberry (envy), Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg (the devil as violin), and the usual cast of Jackson's genius collaborators. It was even performed as a musical by the Boston Conservatory last year. I'd like to point out that they stole my Night and Day idea, highlighting the importance of some theatre in Richmond helping me produce it professionally as soon as possible.

Rich Mullins - A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band. Again, how to choose one Mullins album? Mainly for the opening-side trilogy of "52:10," "The Color Green," and "Creed," all three of which astonish me every time. Mullins may be the most passionate songwriter I have ever heard, and this is his most passionate and best-produced work.

Sam Phillips - A Boot and a Shoe. So sad, so smart, so obtuse, and so sexy. Sam has a new album coming out this summer, and it's worth counting the days until.

The Who - Quadrophenia. A double-album of teenage angst written with such passion and poetry that it should be issued at the door of every high school. "Love, Reign O'er Me" is simply an irreplaceable song; there is nothing like it.

Yes - Tales from Topographic Oceans. Massive, pretentious, bloated, obscure. Gorgeous. Don't change a note.

My apologies to brilliant albums by Kansas, T-Bone Burnett, Jane Siberry, Pete Townshend, King Crimson, the Beatles, Dan Fogelberg, Cindy Morgan, Charlie Peacock, Tom Waits, Steve Hackett, and so many others who didn't make the list. It was quite exclusive and hard to get into.

What's next, ten favorite plays?


Friday, March 14, 2008

Lost Camera Odyssey

I love my camera.

It's a fairly basic Canon PowerShot A75, it's been outdated for at least four years, but it's mine and it's beautiful. It's taken pictures of rehearsals, workshops, and performances at Richmond Shakes and VCU, it came with me to Santo Domingo, Jackson Hole, Las Vegas, Zion National Park, Pascagoula, and everywhere in between, and it got me out of a tow charge and parking ticket. It has its problems with taking indoor pictures without a flash, but it does the job and I love it.

Three weeks ago, my beloved camera disappeared.

I had just used it to take pictures of Jill Bari's workshop at Richmond Shakes, and was a bit delinquent in getting the pics on the server and blog. A week after the event, I ripped the files to disk at the office and packed up to go home. That was the last time I saw the camera.

I tore my car apart. I looked in every room of Richmond Shakespeare's offices. And I examined seemingly every nook and cranny of our house (which was surprisingly easy; apparently we're in a liminal place between moving-in mess and settled-in clutter). No luck. I decided to just hang back and assume it was going to just pop into view at any moment. Every now and then, I would search the car again, glance around a corner I couldn't remember scanning, or walk around the office once more.

Finally, yesterday I decided it was gone for good. Out running errands in the middle of the day, I shopped a bit at Target, Staples, and finally Ritz Camera, where I spent the same $150 I had spent on the lost camera on a brand-new PowerShot A570. Truth be told, it's a huge upgrade from the A75; the interface is similar but cleaner, the display is twice as large, it's 7.1 megapixels instead of 3.2, and it's just much more camera. I also picked up some new batteries ($12), since eight expensive rechargeable batteries were also lost in the camera case, and a new 2GB SD memory card ($20, on sale at Radio Shack), quadrupling the memory of the lost camera's big clunky cartridge.

I brought my booty back to the office, feeling annoyed about the money I'd had to spend due to my own carelessness, especially coming as it did on the heels of spending $377 on my Firewire interface on Saturday.

However, as soon as I got home and put the new batteries in it and started playing, I was astonished at just how huge of an improvement this new camera was over my old one. It was faster, clearer, easier to use, and just better in every way. Karen got home and I started to show it to her.

Then, suddenly, I simply knew where the old camera was.

I walked up to the landing, reached into the mail basket, moved a few large pieces of mail off the top, and pulled out my old camera, perfect and intact.

Well, now I'm well pissed off.

I don't want my old camera any more; I want the new one. I had moved on; I was not only accepting of the expenditure, I was beginning to see it as a good investment. But I need that $150 much more than I need 7.1 megapixels right now. Senor Mortgage beckons.

So the A570, so new in fact that I hadn't even unsealed the bag with the manual and warranty, so fresh that the screen protector is still on, goes back today before I'm tempted to "lose" my old camera again. The batteries and SD card are not returnable, so I'm out that money for items I don't actually need at all.

Maybe for our anniversary...


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Trouble With Love Songs

I wrote a song last month that I'm exceedingly proud of. It's called "...And Feast Upon Her Eyes," and it's inspired by the experience of doing Measure for Measure.

The chorus, in fact, is lifted directly from a soliloquy about Isabella by Angelo:

What, do I love her
That I desire
To hear her speak again
And feast upon her eyes?

I was telling my wife about it (I'm not even sure she's heard the whole song at this point) and she remarked that everyone would likely think it was a song about her.

I've been thinking about love songs ever since, partly due to this and partly because I'm using a lot of love songs for the current production of As You Like It. In fact, I'm finding myself writing a boatload of love songs over the past several weeks. This is quite unusual for me; I have scores of songs in my catalog but very few of them could be qualified as "love songs," and precisely two of them are about my wife ("A Simple Man" and "You Are Home").

It's actually problematic to be married or in a committed relationship and write love songs, for a couple reasons: 1) Not a lot of great music comes out of being happily in love, as opposed to the brilliance that often arises from conflict, frustration, and unrequited attraction, and 2) Everyone assumes everything you write is about your current significant other. There's a third, universal problem with love songs, as well: 3) It is also assumed that your love song is about a real person or situation in your life.

This last is a particularly baffling issue. Peter Gabriel was able to write "Intruder" without actually breaking into somebody's house; John Lennon wrote "Norwegian Wood" without being an arsonist; none of the Who were deaf, dumb, and blind like Tommy; and Harry Chapin was a bit too young to have the adult son of "Cat's in the Cradle." Yes, I'll concede that most of the greatest art is created from a place of honesty and personal experience. But an artist who can't add a substantial element of pure invention is less a creator and more of a diarist, isn't s/he? Isn't making stuff up most of the fun of being an artist?

Tennessee Williams used to refer to his plays as "emotional autobiography;" the events weren't from his life but his feelings about the relationships in his life fueled the stories. I've held to this theory in my playwriting in particular: the guilt-ridden heartbreaker in The Blizzard of '93 and the son who fears that he and his father have nothing in common in Awake in Pennsylvania. It's much more prevalent in my songwriting, and in my love songs in particular. I have written songs and plays that are inspired by real people and events in my life, but I'm generally not telling, unless it's funny (Michelle Kwan in "Hero") or very important (Steve Irwin in "Unafraid").

Perhaps no kind of writing can be as stream-of-consciousness as lyrics. Often I'll just come up with a turn of phrase, like "Stream of Conscience," which ended up being a song about accepting guilt, or "She Is a Match" (another new song, just finished yesterday), and the rest of the story will flow. "She Is a Match" is a great example; it's got some really specific lyrics (again, more than a little bit inspired by Measure, but taking off quickly in another direction) that certainly bear a scent of reality. It doesn't necessarily follow there's a "she" in the world that correlates with the song; in fact, the first-person voice certainly doesn't have to be me specifically. Of course, there might be a she, and I might be the me; that's the mystery, isn't it? Maybe the real trick is to see if I can write something honest enough that you're fooled into believing it must be autobiographical. And at least some part of it always is, or else I wouldn't care enough about the subject matter to write the thing in the first place.

What may be more important is trying to capture the spirit of the experience of someone who might hear your song or see your play. After all, it's for the audience isn't it? My actual romantic life has, with a couple exceedingly painful exceptions, been quite tame. I dated my high school sweetheart for three years until she dumped me, then I rebounded for a few months with a younger girl with the same kinky hair and same first name. I left my college girlfriend because I met Karen and it was pretty obvious the way that had to go. Everything has, for the most part, been tales of long-term commitment; I never dated around, and I seldom pined for someone I couldn't have. I've had my heart broken a couple times, and I severely broke one myself. In other words, I'd pretty much mined the depths of my ability to write autobiographical songs of heartbreak by age 30.

Which brings me back to the original question: why the sudden flux of love songs? I blame Shakespeare. Measure for Measure was a pretty hot show, and As You Like It is absurdly romantic, with four couples getting married at the end. I guess I'm just feeling amorous about love in general.

Of course, everything I just wrote could be a pack of lies, as well... ;^)

If you love love, then love loves you, too. --Bruce Cockburn.


Monday, March 10, 2008

I Don't Want to Live on the Moon

Well I'd [C]like to [C/B]visit the [Am]moon
on a [F]rocket ship [G]high in the [C]air
Yes I'd [C]like to [C/B]visit the [Am]moon
but I [F]don't think I'd [G]like to live [C]there
Though I'd [F]like to look [F/E]down at the [Dm7]earth from [C]above
I would [F]miss all the [F/E]places and [Dm7]people I [C]love
So al[F]though I might [C]like it for [G]one after[Am]noon
I [F]don't want to [G]live on the [C]moon

I'd like to [C]travel [C/B]under the [Am]sea
I could [F]meet all the [G]fish every[C]where
Yes I'd [C]travel [C/B]under the [Am]sea
but I [F]don't think I'd [G]like to live [C]there
I might [F]stay for a [F/E]day there if [Dm7]I had my [C]wish
But there's [F]not much to [F/E]do when your [Dm7]friends are all [C]fish
And an [F]oyster and [C]clam aren't [G]real fami[Am]ly
So I [F]don't want to [G]live in the [C]sea

I'd like to [F]visit the [C]jungle hear the [G]lions [C]roar
[F]Go back in [F/E]time and meet a [G]dino[C]saur
There's so [F]many strange [C]places [G]I'd like to [Am]be
But [F]none of them [G]permanent[C]ly

So if [C]I should [C/B]visit the [Am]moon
well I'll [F]dance on a [G]moonbeam and [C]then
I will [C]make a [C/B]wish on a [Am]star
and I'll [F]wish I was [G]home once a[C]gain
Though I'd [F]like to look [F/E]down at the [Dm7]earth from a[C]bove
I would [F]miss all the [F/E]places and [Dm7]people I [C]love
So al[F]though I may [C]go I'll be [G]coming home [Am]soon
Cuz I [F]don't want to [G]live on the [C]moon
No I [F]don't... want to [G]live... on the [C]moon [C/B] [Am] [F] [G] [C]

(I can't take credit for the chord chart, but it's very likely that I'll play this song next time I do a gig.)

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Music Video: "Emily Ann" by GUM!

Look how cute I was with hair! Behold my unrequited love for a character played by my wife!

The band, GUM!, features Patrick Hamm and Peter Hamm on guitars, Philip Hamm on bass, and Chris Renzi on drums. Their album, Chew, was loaded with ahead-of-their-time computer goodies; games, video, behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, and other stupidity.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Five Albums I've Been Listening To

The cast of As You Like It and I have been talking about (and singing) 80s love songs at rehearsal. What is it about love songs from that decade, as opposed to the years since, that makes them seem more comfortable? My theory is that the rise of alternative and grunge music circa 1990 did something funny to love songs. After REM and Nirvana, you couldn't have love without misery, loss, and irony (real irony, not the Alanis Morrissette kind). The 80s were really the last era where unapologetically goofy love songs were shamelessly prevalent.

This realization has a lot to do with why I have tons of 80s music on my Juke playlist right now.

It's been a while since I've written this theme; so long, in fact, that I'm not at all certain I can count to five any more.

Joe Jackson - Laughter and Lust. Okay, I'm pretty much always listening to at least one album by Joe Jackson. Fair enough. But hear me out: this 1991 pop masterpiece was beautifully written, carefully recorded, perfectly delivered, and promptly ignored by the record industry because grunge had just arrived and changed everything. This album always breaks my heart a bit to listen to, because it could have and should have been huge. It has some of my favorite Jackson songs, like "The Other Me," "Obvious Song," and "Stranger than Fiction," none of which got jack for radio play. The experience of having this disc tossed overboard by the industry threw Jackson onto a depression that made him quit pop music for the next decade. Our gain, I suppose, since the intimate Night Music, the magnificent Heaven and Hell and the Grammy-winning Symphony #1 were the result. this album is a gem; if you like Jackson's hits from the 70s and 80s you should pick it up somewhere.

Huey Lewis and the News - Greatest Hits. Sure, the production values (listen to that snare drum, for crying out loud) are totally rooted in their source years, but man is this some great songwriting. These songs transcend the limits of their era, not to mention just how squeaky-clean the lyrics are. Come on, The Power of Love" is just a great song by any definition, and the rock-roots orchestrations and inspiration are timeless. On those mornings when you look in the mirror, frown at those wrinkles, and curse those last seven pounds that won't come off, listen to a little Huey Lewis and be thankful that you're over 30. You got to be there when this was pop.

Donald Fagen - The Nightfly. I've been trying to learn a couple of these songs on piano ("New Frontier" in particular), and Fagen just baffles me. The voicings and interval choices end up being so easy once I've got them, but so hard to figure out that it would make me pull my hair out, had I hair. The Nightfly Lacks the bite Walter Becker brings to their Steely Dan collaborations, but it does make your head bob the same way the Dan does, and it's just immaculately produced. How someone as cynical as Fagen can create an album that sounds so sweet and bouncy is a mystery. That object on the table in the cover photo is called a "record player," boys and girls. It's what old people used to listen to music on before iPods. And here's a little secret: sometimes music still sounds better on that antique device than on CD...

Sam Phillips - A Boot and a Shoe. I haven't been able to take this CD out of my car for over two years. The more I listen to Sam Phillips' last two albums, Fan Dance and this one, the more I want to pick up a guitar, find some oddball seventh bar chords, and just strum with my fingers. She has an almost supernatural ability to take a lyric and melody that sound like they're going nowhere, then resolve them in a phrase so perfect you just sigh, "That line couldn't have ended any other way." Sparse arrangements, that incredibly sexy voice, and some of the best lyrics about heartbreak make this collection of postmodern-retro torch songs one of my top five favorite albums of all time. Just go get it. Never heard of Sam Phillips? Doesn't matter. It's worth it just for her voice and Jay Bellerose's bass drum. Turn the subwoofer on and secure the china. Warning: this album may cause you to develop an irresistible urge to write songs.

Steve Hackett - Till We Have Faces. I'm in a big Hackett kick right now, and this 1983 album features some really bold, experimental work married to huge Brazilian drums. Hackett has an odd way of taking a neat musical idea and marrying it to another that completely contradicts it and somehow making it work for twice as long as it has any business working. Case in point, the epic "Matilda Smith-Williams Home for the Aged," an incredibly weird beginning about a strict retirement community that finishes with six minutes of instrumental drums and dramatic guitar melodies. The song doesn't really have enough ideas to justify its length, but I keep listening to it over and over. It's followed by the sexy-as-hell blues ballad "Let Me Count the Ways," as sharp a turn as I've ever heard between two songs on the same album. Till we Have Faces is a must-hear if for no other reason than the instrumental "When You Wish Upon a Star" at the end, with it's singing-saw-synth. Anyone who can explain the structure of this album to me gets a gold star.


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Garfield Minus Garfield

Lizabella and Dave hooked me up with this in the green room at the last performance of Measure for Measure this afternoon. Bella said, "I knew you'd like this, but I think I underestimated how much."

It may be the funniest thing I've ever seen on the web. Certainly my favorite post-Homestar Runner discovery.

Behold the wonder that is Garfield Minus Garfield.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

New "Iron Man" Trailer!

Freaking awesome.

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