Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

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

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Onion on President Obama and comics

Obama Disappointed Cabinet Failed To Understand His Reference To 'Savage Sword Of Conan' #24

January 27, 2009

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama expressed frustration Wednesday after members of his cabinet failed to recognize his allusion to the 24th issue of the comic series Savage Sword Of Conan during their first major meeting together.

Enlarge Image Obama

The 44th president settles into the Oval Office.

Obama, whose upcoming challenges include organizing a massive effort to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, was reportedly unprepared for the confused silence he received upon suggesting that his cabinet "team up with Taurus of Nemedia" to secure the necessary funding from Congress.

"If my inner circle of advisers can't even communicate about the most basic issues, how are we going to tackle the massive problems our nation faces?" Obama said during a press conference. "When I tell my cabinet that getting bipartisan support is exactly like the time Conan got Taurus to help him steal Yara's jewel, they need to understand what I mean."

After receiving no reaction from the assembled reporters, Obama added, "Because a giant spider is protecting this chamber full of precious jewels, just like Congress is protecting its…. God, how are you people not seeing this?"

Enlarge Image Doubles

The commander in chief's "doubles."

Obama, an avid collector of Conan The Barbarian and Spider-Man comic books since he was a child, was referencing the 1977 story "The Tower Of The Elephant," written by Roy Thomas. According to administration sources, no one in Obama's cabinet was familiar with the magazine-sized comic, though Labor Secretary Hilda Solis claimed to have once seen Conan the Destroyer.

Aides also confirmed that Obama has refused to lend his copy of issue #24 to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, fearing the former Republican congressman will carelessly bend or rip the pages. The commander in chief is reportedly intent on keeping the comics in pristine condition for their eventual inclusion in his presidential library.

"How am I supposed to effectively lead this nation when [attorney general nominee Eric] Holder has to stop the meeting and ask what the story of Taurus using the black lotus powder to kill the five guard lions has to do with increasing broadband Internet connections nationwide?" Obama said while vigorously rubbing his temples.

Added the president, "For the love of Crom, am I the only one here who wants to keep the U.S. technologically competitive?"

Administration officials said the incident has caused the president to question whether his staff has ever understood any of his Conan references. One such instance he is reportedly reexamining occurred after his loss in the New Hampshire primary, when Obama rallied his staff by reminding them, "There is always a way, if the desire be coupled with courage."

Although campaign workers smiled and nodded at the time, Obama has begun to seriously doubt that any of them connected the inspiring quotation to the story line in which a Kothian rogue informs Conan that it is impossible to climb to the top of the Elephant Tower because the sides are more slippery than glass

While Obama has not scheduled another meeting with his cabinet this week—a respite the president hopes they will use to brush up on the 235-issue Savage Sword series—he is expected to meet with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on Friday to discuss Afghanistan. A holdover from the Bush administration, Gates told reporters he may have gotten off on the wrong foot with the new president, citing an occasion when Obama asked him what he knew about 1984's Secret Wars, a 12-issue limited Marvel release. Gates then handed a visibly confused Obama 1,400 classified pages on covert CIA operations in El Salvador.

Later, the defense secretary attempted to find common ground with Obama by making casual references to the comic book Spawn. But the 44th president reportedly brushed him off with an abrupt laugh, saying, "no one in [his] administration likes Spawn."

Minutes from the first cabinet meeting indicate it lasted just under 35 minutes, coming to a standstill during a discussion of minimizing public waste. When Energy Secretary Steven Chu failed to understand the president's instructions to "be like the barbarian wielding his steel to cleave flesh from bone," Vice President Joe Biden attempted to clarify the president's thoughts.

"I think what the president is trying to say here is that this is just like the time when Barney had to put Fish on restricted duty because of his health exam results," said Biden, a longtime fan of the late-'70s police sitcom Barney Miller. "It's pretty straightforward when you look at it like that."

When asked by the press corps if this week's hiccup has caused him to rethink any of his appointments, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton interrupted the president to assert that she and her colleagues have already begun educating themselves about comic books, and will soon be "an invincible team of Supermen and Wonder Women working to save America."

"Wonder Woman? That's not even Marvel," Obama responded before storming out of the press room. "Who are you people?"

link here


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Promises, promises...

All those promises about posting a bunch about Amadeus, and almost nothing. Sorry. Memorizing all these lines is kicking my ass.

I am really enjoying this process. The cast is marvelous, and James is just James as always. He encourages my discoveries and energy, and never seems to discourage my furniture-chewing.

Gotta go work on lines. Again.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Thank you, Lee Hanchey.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Henrico art teacher honored for efforts

By Lisa Crutchfield

Published: January 24, 2009

A new building can be a blank canvas for an academic program.

Henrico County's new visual arts building in the Center for the Arts opened this month already embellished -- with a reputation for producing noted works by teachers, students and alumni.

Center director Lee Hanchey, who guided the program and the construction of the facility, says there is much more to come.

Last week, the School Board voted to name the building at Henrico High School for Hanchey, who has guided the center for the past 12 years.

"Lee Hanchey is an exceptionally gifted and dedicated educator, and her efforts have helped students and the center achieve local, regional and statewide recognitions," said Fred Morton IV, superintendent of schools. "Lee's bright personality is contagious, and her love of students and her profession will live on forever."

The arts program began in 1990 with about 30 students; today it has 228 students preparing for careers as visual artists, dancers and actors. Each year, hundreds audition or submit portfolios for admission to the competitive program.

Hanchey lobbied tirelessly for several years to get a visual arts building and was not above a little politicking.

"We used to do an architectural unit for students," she said. "They would draw plans for arts buildings and think about what kind of space they'd need."

"We'd bring School Board members in to judge," she added.

Eventually, the board agreed to fund the 6,975-square-foot building, which features four studios, a gallery and storage. Designed by Moseley Architects and constructed by Haley Builders, the building features large glass windows, skylights and a gallery. It cost $2.58 million.

The rooms were dedicated and named in honor of Morton, former School Board Chairman Lloyd E. Jackson Jr., former Henrico High School Principal William H. Parker, former visual arts teacher Jeffrey Hall and Henrico County Board of Supervisors member Frank J. Thornton.

Hall, who now is chairman of the fine arts department at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School, credits Hanchey as his mentor. "I often ask myself, 'WWLD?' -- or, 'What would Lee do?'" he said.

Classroom studios are large and airy, but Hanchey's favorite part of the building isn't immediately visible. It's a large closet that runs the length of the building. "We finally have storage," she said. "Holy cow! Who'd have ever thought we'd have storage?"

The arts program students said they appreciate the new facility.

"We have this amazing natural lighting," said 10th-grader Allie Ayers. "I absolutely love it."

In a recent Visual Arts II class, Ayers and classmate Ally Wolf were inking in cartoons.

"Before the new building, we were in the theater room," Wolf said. "We sat on the floor because there were no tables."

During the arts program's history, students often worked in makeshift facilities. Before the auditorium was renovated several years ago, the dance and theater students would overheat because the space did not have air conditioning. "We had to ice the kids down backstage," Hanchey said.

The new Lee Hanchey Visual Arts Building is a culmination of Hanchey's career at Henrico -- which also is her alma mater. "I was in the first graduating class in 1965," she said. "I got a great education here."

She holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University. A musician by training, she returned to the school in 1979 as a choral teacher.

"We're lucky to have this space and this program," she said. "Parents tell me that their child found themselves here. Children tell me they've found friends here.

"We cultivate that," she said. "They have a place to explore their capabilities."

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

First images from "Amadeus"

Eric Dobbs and the dazzling Becky Cairns / Annie Hoskins team worked their magic on Tuesday night for Amadeus' initial promotional pictures. Check it out:

Look at the size of Mike's hair! It's like some kind of shrub growing on his head. And wait until you see me in a wig.

Rehearsals are going like lightning. I don't know if I've ever blocked anything so fast; we're almost finished with act one. The cast is just brilliant top-to-bottom, very sharp and quick and simply a pleasure to spend time with, much less act beside. I'm not where I'd like to be, memorization-wise, but then again I never am. After last night's rehearsal I found a quiet seat at Barcode to highlight my key words and eat some pecan-crusted salmon. My waitress was hot. I should ask her out.

I read Amadeus every couple of years, so I'm finding that I already know large chunks of the show very well. It's the new ending, written for the 1999 revival, that is going to give me a hard time.

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Saturday, January 10, 2009


Every actor has a list: a collection of the roles they most want to play. These are the roles that thrill us, that intrigue us, that challenge us, maybe even the roles that we alone know we could play even though no one else thinks we could pull it off. Sometimes they are the roles that got away, or the roles we watched another great actor perform. When we check the audition notices and see that a local company is producing a play with one of our list roles in it, our hearts beat a little faster and we start to dream. We may even decide that we wouldn't accept another role in the show, simply because the heartbreak of missed opportunity could interfere with our work.

My list is long and eclectic, from the classical to the contemporary, straight plays and musicals. The double-H's: Harold Hill in The Music Man and Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. Both Freddy and Anatoly in Chess, both Jesus and Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar and Che in Evita. Edmund in King Lear and Bolingbroke in Richard II. Dysart in Equus, the Stage Manager in Our Town, Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Alceste in The Misanthrope. Mark in Rent (for which I was called back in New York in 1998, a pure delight). Both Lee and Austin in True West, preferably alternating night-by-night. Father Flote in Red Noses, Lopakhin in The Cherry Orchard, Rakitin in A Month in the Country. I could go on and on. I dream a lot.

I know I will never get to play all, or likely even a fraction of these roles, though I have been able to check a few off my list in recent years: Romeo and Juliet's Mercutio, Julius Caesar's Cassius, and Twelfth Night's Feste. And my jones to perform in Othello, As You Like It, Doctor Faustus, and A Midsummer Night's Dream has been more than satisfied by directing those shows.

It was a thrill to read Scott Wichmann's blog and talk with the man himself last Fall as he tackled one of the roles on his list, Richard III. His tone of voice, in writing and in person, was different in approaching that particular role. He knew it was a dream come true from the start. I can't help but feel like now it's my turn. This winter, one of my greatest theatrical dreams is coming true as Richmond Shakespeare gives me the opportunity not only to play one of the roles on my list, but the one at the very top: Antonio Salieri in Peter Shaffer's Amadeus.

Amadeus has been my favorite contemporary play ever since I read it in high school. The drama, the language, the moral fireworks and the musical passion resonate in my soul like a bell, with Mozart's innocent arrogance and Salieri's unfulfillable envy both reflecting aspects of my own character that I am most ashamed of. Each of the two lead roles is a massive undertaking, with Mozart in many ways so close to home that I could almost play the role simply by memorizing the lines and getting on the stage opening night. (Well, not exactly. I don't talk about poop quite as much as Mozart does.) But it is the towering emptiness of Salieri that intrigues me more than any other character I have ever read.

In the next weeks, I intend to write more on the process of Amadeus than I ever have on a show I've blogged, if for no other reason than so I can look back, read it, and remember how I got to play my dream role.

First of all, my deep thanks to Grant Mudge for giving me the opportunity. It was almost three years ago that I broached the subject of Amadeus with Grant, when I had just come on board as Richmond Shakespeare's Director of Training. My suggestion was twofold: first, that the aesthetic of RS's five-actor format would be intriguing in the context of non-Elizabethan scripts, and second, that Amadeus would make a magnificent contribution to the Acts of Faith Festival.

The five-actor format, Richmond Shakespeare's calling card for over a decade, strips away layers of technical elements with the intention of giving theatre a greater immediacy and audience connection. The goal is to streamline the storytelling by relying on the tools of actor, director, and occasionally musician. It isn't that we don't like sets and lights, or that we denigrate their contribution to theatrical storytelling. We simply choose to focus on the actor's body and voice and the text, and to mine every ounce of potential from their skillful engagement. In Amadeus, we have a play that already relies heavily on actors and costumes (our favorite technical element) to mark the passage of time and change of status while eschewing period-specific scenery and lighting. We also have a play with seven principal characters, making doubling those actors with smaller roles very easy.

Beginning with a cast of seven, Director James Alexander Bond (as seen on Letterman) requested that we expand the cast to nine, allowing Salieri's gossip-gathering Venticelli to exist as two separate characters rather than doubles played by the actors portraying Strack and Van Sweiten. (This is a fairly important addition: it is difficult for the gossip gathereres to overhear characters who they can't share the stage with because they share bodies with them.) This puts Amadeus somewhere between the pocket-sized casts of five actors and the large company (for us) of 2 Henry IV's 16. By contrast, last year's Hamlet and 2007's Richard II had casts of 10. Spring's As You Like It was performed with five actors, Summer's with 16.

As for the show's Acts of Faith connection, it may be the most explicitly faith-focused show we have ever performed. Our previous festival offerings of The Merchant of Venice, Othello, Doctor Faustus, and Measure for Measure were of course all strongly faith-focused in their ways, from the anti-Semitic/anti-Christian conflicts of Merchant to Desdemona's Christlike forgiveness in Othello to Faustus' infernal setting and Measure's blatantly sinful hypocrisy. But Amadeus tops them all with an antihero who declares war against God for the divine sin of giving His greatest gift to a man deemed by Salieri as unworthy of it.

In the words of Peter Hall, the play's director both in its original incarnation and its 1999 revival, "Amadeus is probably the most successful serious play of the last half century. It has triumphed everywhere." On top of that, the film won a slew of Academy Awards, and featured iconic performances by Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, and of course F. Murray Abraham, whose nose I am not worthy to blow. In addition to Abraham's flawless performance, Salieri has been played by Paul Scofield, Ian McKellan, Brian Bedford and David Suchet just for starters. (The list of famous Mozarts is pretty impressive, too.) Invariably, when people find out we're doing Amadeus, the first question is "Who's playing Salieri?"

"Me," I answer, trying to keep my grin from splitting my face wide open.

I really thought I would feel intimidated or afraid of this, but I don't. I've wanted to play this part since I was 16 years old, and I've been thinking about it for a very long time. I know the show is in the best possible hands with James Bond (as seen on Letterman) directing it, and the cast is anchored by performers I trust completely and look forward to seeing every night (Liz Blake as Constanze, Cynde Liffick as Emperor Joseph), young talent we know we can rely on for energy and ideas (Katie Ford as Strack, David Janosik and Jake Allard as the Venticelli), and newcomers to Richmond Shakespeare whom I can't wait to introduce our audiences to (Jamie Reese as Rosenberg, Joseph Sultani as Van Sweiten, and of course Mike Hamilton as Mozart). With RTCC Award winner Becky Cairns and Annie Hoskins designing the costumes, I have no fears. I've been waiting two decades for this, and the company matches my wildest expectations.

Amadeus opens on the portentious Friday the 13th of February (preview on the 12th), and runs through March 8th. Stay tuned for more gushing blogs.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Announcing the cast of "Amadeus"

Antonio Salieri - Andrew Hamm
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Mike Hamilton
Constanze Weber - Liz Blake
Emperor Joseph II - Cynde Liffick
Count Johann Killian Von Strack - Katie Ford
Count Franz Orsini-Rosenberg - Jamie Reese
Baron Gottfried Van Swieten - Joseph Sultani
Venticelli - Jake Allard and David Janosik

Richmond Shakespeare is proud to announce the cast of our next production, Peter Shaffer's modern masterpiece Amadeus, directed by James Alexander Bond. The company is a mix of veterans and newcomers, continuing our commitment to introducing Richmond's theatre scene to fresh talents and developing the artists we have with challenging pieces and roles.

Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Award nominees Andrew Hamm and Liz Blake share the stage for the fourth time (The Taming of the Shrew, Measure for Measure, and Hamlet previously), alongside longtime Richmond Shakes veteran Cynde Liffick (more shows than we can count). Three actors are making their second appearances for the company: Katie Ford (Hamlet), Jake Allard (As You Like It) and David Janosik (The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr, Abridged). Jamie Reese makes his memorized-role debut for the company, having appeared in December's staged reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Mike Hamilton and Joseph Sultani once again remind us of how powerful an influence VCU's theatre department is on our local culture.

James Alexander Bond (as seen on Letterman) is directing his fifth production for Richmond Shakespeare, having orchestrated some of the most compelling work the company has ever produced: Julius Caesar, Henry IV Part 1, Measure for Measure, and Henry IV Part 2. He will be returning in the summer to direct Henry V, a unique opportunity for a director to tackle the entire Henriad. Costumes for the show will be designed and constructed by RTCC award-winning (As You Like It) designer Rebecca Cairns with Anne Hoskins.

Amadeus, by Peter Shaffer, will be performed by Richmond Shakespeare from February 12 - March 8 as part of the "Acts of Faith" Festival.

Stay tuned for updates and blogs!

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