Thursday, June 6, 2013

Denver in 2020 - a Renaissance City

In thinking about my own vision for Denver’s cultural, artistic and creative future, I realized that what I ‘imagined’ was Denver as a renaissance city. Not renaissance in the sense of being reborn but renaissance in the sense of the elements that symbolized the Renaissance age: a diversity of creative endeavors in the arts, language, architecture, sciences and math.

Developments in these individual endeavors became synergistically interrelated. The invention of the Guttenberg Press, for instance furthered learning and progressive development in a wide variety of other fields. Some of the great artists of the times also pursued knowledge and development of mathematics and science.

When I think of Denver culturally, artistically and creatively in 2020, I think of Denver as a home to not only painters, musicians, writers, filmmakers, ballets, orchestras, theatres etc. but also of persons, organizations and companies creatively developing new technologies; new ways of thinking; ways to improve the human condition. I imagine Denver as a place where arts, culture and creativity positively stimulate every segment and enterprise in our city in all its diversity.

So as I seek to hear from our city in its diversity, I am also seeking to hear from app developers, video-game developers, the entrepreneurial community, creative thinkers in every endeavor.

I imagine Denver in 2020 as a true Renaissance City populated with Renaissance Men and Women.

We need your imagination

Yesterday saw a very productive work session with those of us involved in developing Denver’s new cultural plan: Imagine Denver 2020. As is often the case, we sought answers to questions, which then prompted even more questions. The process entailed a lively and enlightening discussion. It was good.

What we are striving to do is develop the key elements of a plan that will guide Denver’s artistic, cultural and creative life and environment to the year 2020. Imagine Denver 2020 means imagine what this city could and should look like at the end of this decade and create the road map to get us there.

Part of this work has been posing questions to as wide a variety of people as possible. Not just artists or those involved in the arts and culture but the public at large. This is a diverse city and diverse voices must be heard as this plan is developed. I see the future through my own eyes, but I want and need to know what others see through their eyes; how do others of differing backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, and cultural influences see Denver and its artistic, cultural and creative future; how do they see its present?

I also want to know how others - others who may not think of themselves as caring about or knowledgeable about ‘culture’ or even intimidated by the word – do see Denver’s artistic, cultural and creative present and future.

So, we are reaching out. We want to hear from you, all of you; Denver in all its diversity. We have had a great response to our online survey, and that can still be taken, however we have other means to hear your voices and communicate with you regarding this endeavor. Do you have a group we could come and speak with? Is there information we can share with you or your group? Are you just an individual who wants to know more and would like share your thoughts about this? Follow up with me here, or go to the website:

Friday, May 10, 2013

Alan Cummings as Lady Macbeth and Female Hamlets – role reversal in Shakespeare

Alan Cummings is currently playing Lady Macbeth on Broadway – actually he is playing all the characters. Cummings’ plays a lone patient housed in a clinical room deep within a dark psychiatric unit. He relives the Macbeth story playing each character himself as a closed circuit television camera watches.

Wild, right?


However, the gender reversal part (a man as Lady Macbeth) in Shakespeare is nothing new. Of course in Shakespeare’s time female roles (his and others) were never played by women but by boys. As time went on, though, women on stage became acceptable and female roles were actually played by females. Then the gender reversal took on a new twist. Women playing the male roles.

Hamlet is considered one of the great roles, not just in Shakespeare but in all drama. So it is not surprising that women as well as men would want to play the Prince. And they have and not just in the modern era.

Sarah Siddons, the great British (she was actually born in Wales) actress of the 18th Century played all the great Shakespearean women – she was particularly noted for her Lady Macbeths – but also played Hamlet 200 years ago. To my knowledge she is the first woman to do so in a public performance. (Unless you are a student of theatre history, you may not be familiar with Siddons, but if you are a film buff, you will be. The opening scene of the wonderful All About Eve, is the presentation to Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington of the Sarah Siddons Award.)

Sarah Bernhardt also played Hamlet in 1899 London. There have been many others up to our own time including a tremendous performance by Judith Anderson on a national tour and at Carnegie Hall in 1970.

These performances involved the women playing Hamlet as a man. However there are instances in which the character is actually played as if a woman. Scholars have long commented on the male/female nature of Hamlet.

Of course, Shakespeare also wrote female characters that spent most of their time on stage pretending to be boys: As You Like It
and Twelfth Night.

There is a lot of discussion in the theatre today regarding color-blind and gender-blind casting. And indeed we have seen productions of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple with the male roles played by women, as women. There was also a tremendous production of Twelve Angry Women, the all-female version of the classic courtroom drama.

So far, most of the proponents of gender-blind casting have advocated for women being able to play men’s roles. But interestingly, there is a bit of a flap now being raised about some all-male casts of Shakespearean plays. Apparently in some circles the notion of gender-blind casting only goes one way.

But that is a subject for another day.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Imagine Denver 2020, Swallow Hill, Harry Tuft, Denver Folklore Center, Denver Folk Music in the 60s

Last night, I did another Community Forum for the Imagine Denver 2020 cultural plan.

The Forum was at Swallow Hill and being there I couldn’t help but think of Harry Tuft, the Godfather of Denver Folk Music. Swallow Hill Music grew out of the Denver Folklore Center, which Harry started in 1962. Harry and the Denver Folklore Center are still around though the location has changed.

Originally, the Folklore Center was at 17th and Pearl. It was ostensibly a guitar shop but was really a hangout and home away from home for folk musicians of the 60s. I was one and wandered in to the Folklore center in 1967. I remember it being funky, a bit dark and dusty with wood walls – I thought it was perfect. Next door, or maybe a couple doors down (my memory fades, it was, after all nearly 50 years ago) was the Green Spider Coffee House where many musicians who frequented the Folklore Center played. It was a typical 60s coffee house. Long and narrow with candles in bottles, etc. I played there with the string band of which I was part – The New Mobile Strugglers – quaint, huh? We were two guitars (six-string and 12-string) a bass and banjo.

Harry eventually took over the space and expanded it into a concert hall – yes the beginnings of Swallow Hill. Playing in the Hall or hanging out in the Folklore Center you would see the likes of Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Utah Phillips, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Doc Watson, Denver’s own Walt Conley, the list goes on.

Steven Fromholz was there as well. He wrote I’d Have To Be Crazy, which Willie Nelson recorded (you can hear Steven singing back up). I first met Steven at the Irish Pub and Grill, in Pueblo, when he was singing with Dan McCrimmon as Frummox. They recorded an album titled Here To There. There are some great songs on that album including The Man With The Big Hat. In the background of the song is some bar noise, glasses clinking, voices, etc. One of those voices is Harry Tuft.

The Folklore Center eventually moved to south Pearl Street where it remains today.

So, back to the Community Forum: I noted last night that the Folklore Center was and is the kind of creative business that supports arts and culture and which is supported by arts and culture; it represents the synergy that has a positive impact on the community as a whole.

The Imagine Denver 2020 cultural plan needs to reflect how that synergy can occur in a diverse and wide spread way.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Make your voice heard - Make Denver's Cultural and Arts Scene Better - Imagine Denver 2020

For the past year, as a member of Denver's Commission on Cultural Affairs, I have been involved in the creation of a new cultural plan for Denver.

Why you say?

Because it is necessary. The arts contribute so much to the vibrancy and economy of a community and it is so important that those communities foster a healthy arts environment. World class theatre and other performing arts, film/filmmakers, visual art and of course the written word. To that end a road map needs to be created that informs governmental and civic leadership as well as the general public - and artists and creative individuals themselves - what is needed and how to get there.

Denver's last cultural plan was written in 1989. Denver and the world are very different from that time. Today we have creative technologies that didn't exist then. We have smart phones and Facebook and Twitter, and the like. We have also seen a decline in arts education and other elements that support a vibrant arts environment.

So we are creating that road map, that cultural plan that will take us into the next decade. It is called Imagine Denver 2020.

But regardless of the efforts of those of us who have been working on this for over a year, it will not be successful, or useful, if many others are not involved. Make your voice heard. We need to hear from everyone, every neighborhood, every person who cares about Denver and the arts and creativity; we need to hear from those concerned about economic development and how the arts contribute to that.

There are many ways to be involved and to contribute and the easiest is to simply take the survey regarding Denver and its arts and cultural present and future. Go to the website and take the survey. It is easy and doesn't take very long. It is critical that we hear from as diverse a population as possible - we need to hear from you.

Okay, I am off my soap box. Just go to the website and take the survey.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Day - How about a Movie?

Ahh, St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone becomes a little more Irish. My friend, Italian-American Ted Calantino, who owned and operated the Irish Pub in Pueblo, Colorado, adopted the moniker, Ted O’Calantino. So, yes, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by those Irish or not.

Of course, much of the celebration involves Pubs and drinking, in addition to pipe bands and step dancing.

But here’s a thought, in addition to whatever else you may do to celebrate, watch an Irish movie. There is no shortage of good ones to choose from. Here are some suggestions:

"The Quiet Man"

This is one of those films that I will watch over and over again. If it is on TCM, you can count on the fact that I will turn it on. John Ford, John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ward Bond as a fly-fishing priest and the rest of the Ford Acting Company. John Wayne as Sean Thornton, a boxer with a past relocates to Ireland and falls for O’Hara as Mary Kate Daneher. The marriage is complicated because of Mary Kate’s dowry and her intransigent brother, played by Victor McGlaglen. The Irish scenery is great and there is that horse race and the running fist fight between Wayne and McGlaglen.

"In the Name of the Father"

Daniel Day-Lewis shows up twice on this list. Before he was Lincoln, this amazing actor played Gerry Conlon in this real-life story about the Belfast man wrongly imprisoned for the 1974 IRA bombing of a pub in England. A number of films on this list focus on ‘the troubles’ or the early fight for Irish independence. The film also features the late Pete Postlethwaite.

"Shadow Dancer"

This terrific film is the newest one on the list (2012). I saw it at the Denver Film Festival last November, and in fact it really only had film festival exposure in the US (though it is available on Blu-Ray). This riveting thriller, too deals with ‘the troubles’. Andrea Riseborough as Colette McVeigh plays an IRA sympathizer forced to become an informant for British MI5. Clive Owen is the MI5 agent who may be falling in love with McVeigh.

"The Commitments"

A group of down-and-out Dubliners form a band. Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) has dreams of creating the ultimate soul group, and succeeds in bringing together a bunch of talented, eclectic characters. But eventually personalities clash, and the survival of the band is threatened. This adaptation of the Roddy Doyle novel featured a relatively unknown cast at the time, but was welcomed with critical acclaim and a successful box office run.

"My Left Foot"

It really isn’t all Daniel Day-Lewis all the time on this list, nonetheless, here he is again. Another true story and character for him as an Irishman who overcomes his disability to become an amazing painter, poet and writer. The film documents the extraordinary life of Christy Brown, a working class Irishman born with crippling cerebral palsy. With the encouragement of his mother, played by Brenda Fricker, Christy learns to write and draw with his only functional limb - his left foot. Both Day-Lewis and Fricker won Academy Awards for their roles.

"Bloody Sunday"

This is a documentary style re-creation of the events of January 30, 1972 - better known as Bloody Sunday. An attempt by Ivan Cooper (James Nesbitt) to organize a peaceful protest in Londonderry, Northern Ireland over the illegal imprisonment of Catholics in Northern Ireland is torn asunder by more hard-line IRA members and the British military. By the end of the day, the military will fire on the protesters and kill 13 people. More of ‘the troubles’

"Odd Man Out"

This film by Carol Reed goes back to the early days of the struggle for Irish independence. It stars James Mason in his star-making role as IRA operative Johnny McQueen. Breaking out of jail, Johnny takes it on the lam, but idealism forces him out of hiding in order to raise money for the IRA cause he believes in so strongly. He decides to rob a bank, but the hold-up goes bad and Johnny is seriously wounded by the police. Staggering through the streets of Belfast, Johnny meets a succession of people who either want to help him or turn him over to the authorities. Johnny finally stumbles into a pub, where he is taken in by a homosexual artist (Robert Newton) who wants Johnny to pose for him in order to capture the desperation in his eyes. Johnny breaks free from the artist and tries to make his way to the waterfront in a final effort to escape ... but the police are slowly closing in

"The Crying Game"

The controversial film that put Irish director/screenwriter Neil Jordan on the map. Set in rural Ireland and bustling London, IRA member Fergus (Stephen Rea) develops a friendship with his captive, Jody (Forest Whittaker),and promises that he will protect Jody’s girlfriend Dil. Fergus cannot execute Jody, as he has been ordered, but Jody is killed nonetheless in a horrible set of coincidences. Fergus then flees to London, where he seeks out Dil. He becomes romantically involved with her. But the plot becomes more complicated. This is a terrific film not only about ‘the troubles’ but about gender, sexuality, race and nationality.

"The Magdalene Sisters"

Away from ‘the troubles’ to a different and disturbing kind of trouble. The Magdalene Sisters is a 2002 film, written and directed by Peter Mullan, about four teenage girls who were sent to Magdalene Asylums (also known as 'Magdalene Laundries'), homes for women who were labeled as "fallen" by their families or society. The homes were maintained by individual religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. The Magdalene Sisters is a bold, shocking and powerful film.

"Ryan’s Daughter"

This David Lean film takes place during World War I against the backdrop of the Irish Nationalist Movement and the recent Easter Uprising in Dublin. The film has all the hallmarks of a Lean film: sweeping vistas, complicated characters and complicated romances. Sarah Miles plays the title character, Rosy Shaughnessy - nee Ryan - who is unhappy in her life, married to the local schoolmaster played by Robert Mitchum. Into this comes a British Army Officer, commanding the nearby Army base. Rosy becomes involved with him and trouble ensues for her and her father.

On a completely different note:

"Darby O’Gill and the Little People"

This Disney film introduced us to Sean Connery in a very unBond-like role. It is typical Disney fare, which means it doesn’t have much depth but it is fun to watch nonetheless.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Maui Vodka, with 2,000 year old water

So yesterday I wrote about aging wine in the ocean. Today it is about vodka made from aged-water from the bottom of the ocean.

When staying in Hawaii some time ago, I discovered Ocean Vodka.

Ocean Vodka is distilled from organic sugar cane grown on the island of Maui. After distillation it is combined with MaHalo Deep Sea Water from the Big Island. The result is an 80 Proof, very pure, organic vodka (it is also wheat and gluten free, for those that care about that sort of thing).

It is the water that makes this most interesting. The water is drawn from 3,000 feet below the ocean surface just off the Kona coast of the Big Island. It is truly aged-water because the water is nearly 2,000 years old.


That’s right. 2,000 years old and not only that but the water started life in the North Atlantic Ocean and then made its way via the ocean currents to the Hawaiian coast.

It takes from 1,200 to 2,000 years for the water to travel from the North Atlantic, through the Arctic currents, under the glaciers of Greenland where it picks up ancient minerals that have leached down from the ice. Then it flows around and back down toward the deep channels of the Pacific.

The water is gently filtered to remove excess sea salts but preserve the minerals. It is then transferred to Maui where in Ocean Vodka’s facility it is further desalinated and mixed with the distilled sugar cane spirits.


Growing sugar cane in Hawaii is a 1500 year tradition, but making Vodka with it is pretty new.

Ocean Vodka is available in Colorado.