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    Modern Rendition of Cymbeline to Premier this April at NYC’s Historic Theatre 80 St. Marks

    Director/Producer Alexis Confer and Art for Progress Founder Frank Jackson are proud to announce their upcoming production of Cymbeline at Theatre 80 St. Marks this spring. This production will use the classic language of Shakespeare, but approach the Bard’s “fairytale” with a modern lens. The audience will be transported to a world floating between the blurred morality and frenetic energy of a Vegas-like kingdom and the stark, colorful beauty of the American Southwest.

    In order to bring a fresh, nuanced and uniquely comedic performance to the stage, the company is intentionally made up a variety of performance backgrounds from musicians to stand up comedians, from classically trained Shakespearean actors, to improvisers. Led by Confer’s direction, the tight-knit cast has done several Shakespearean shows together in 2015-2016 – Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream produced by OFFLINE Productions and Much Ado About Nothing produced by Art for Progress.

    Most importantly, the goal of the show is to create a great live performance experience while raising awareness and funds for arts education. All profits from the show will go to Art for Progress’s programs for children and young adults – helping to empower NYC’s young artists.

    Art for Progress’ Arts Education Community provides under-served youth with dynamic artistic programming that promotes reflection and self-expression. By connecting youth with working artists, their communities and each other, we hope to transform the way they see themselves and the world around them.

    Show Details

    Dates: April 27th – May 14th

    Location: Theatre 80 St. Marks, New York, NY

    Prices: $20 – $45

    Show Dates:  Thursday, April 27th – 8 pm, Friday, April 28th – 8 pm, Thursday, May 4th – 8 pm,Friday, May 5th – 8 pm, Saturday, May 6th – 7 pm, Sunday, May 7th – 7 pm, Thursday, May 11th –8pm,   Friday, May 12th – 8 pm, Saturday, May 13th – 7 pm,   Sunday, May 14th – 7 pm

    Purchase Tickets

  • lee-helen morgan

    The second film from Swedish director Kasper Collin, I Called Him Morgan is an evocative, beautifully filmed documentary of a remarkable life cut short and a remarkably fertile period in New York City’s jazz scene. In February 1972, acclaimed 33-year-old trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot to death by his common-law wife Helen in an East Village club. The murder shocked all who knew the couple, including Morgan’s fans and fellow musicians, many of whom tried to make sense of the tragedy afterwards.

    Using interviews; gorgeous, iconic, black and white still photos; archival film clips, and moody reenactments—all underscored by a fabulous soundtrack—Collin constructs compelling portraits of both Lee Morgan and his common-law wife Helen, making their way in New York City’s hopping jazz scene from the late 1950s through the early ’70s. The story slowly builds up to that fateful night, providing details that many have apparently pondered for years. In doing so, Collin gives us a glimpse of the great talent possessed by Morgan, along with poignant memories of the people who nurtured and appreciated it. With its potent music, atmospheric footage of vintage NYC and artfully abstract recreations, the film also gives us a palpable sense of time and place.

    Photo: Francis Wolff, Mosaic

    Photo: Francis Wolff, Mosaic

    Collin’s main resource is an interview that Helen gave to radio host and jazz scholar Larry Reni Thomas in 1996, a month before she passed away. This fortuitous conversation came about when Thomas was teaching adult education at a Wilmington, N.C., high school and she happened to be one of his students. The tape, shown being played on an old cassette player, has a scratchy, otherworldly sound, rendering Helen’s raw testimony all the more haunting.

    We hear her story alternated with Lee’s, the latter mainly provided by musicians like one-time bandmate (Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers) and friend Wayne Shorter, who remembers first seeing teenage Lee playing with Dizzy Gillespie in the late 1950s. Very young and very talented, the Philadelphia-born Morgan is recalled as dapper and confident. We also hear excerpts from an interview that Lee himself gave in the early 1970s, in which he sounds as sharp and cool as his music.

    Insightful interviews are provided by various bandmates and other luminaries in the scene, including Jymie Merritt, Bennie Maupin, Albert “Tootie” Heath, and Billy Harper, who chart the rise of Morgan’s career in New York, followed by his descent into heroin abuse and subsequent career collapse. Helen is recalled as a fixture in their circle, a strong presence (and great cook) who would provide meals to musicians in her 53rd Street apartment. Originally from rural North Carolina, she had escaped the privations of the farm, first moving to Wilmington where she had children while still in her teens, then to New York City when her first husband died. Her son, Al Harrison—only 13 years her junior—tells of first meeting his mother when he was 21, among other recollections.

    Photo: Ben van Meerendonk

    Photo: Ben van Meerendonk

    It was Helen who took the fallen Morgan under her maternal wing, sending him to rehab, acting as manager and getting him club dates, and generally taking care of everything. As one acquaintance notes, “She had almost adopted a child.” (The film’s title refers to the fact that Helen didn’t like or use her husband’s first name.)

    We also meet Lee’s friend Judith Johnson, with whom he quickly developed a strong bond. As Lee spent more time with her, sometimes neglecting to come home at night, Helen became resentful of being relegated to Lee’s “main woman,” a role she had no intention of fulfilling, as she tells Thomas frankly. Neither woman was supposed to be at Slug’s Club where Lee was performing on that snowstorm-plagued night in February, a fact that makes the resulting tragedy seem all the more random and senseless.

    I Called Him Morgan is clearly a labor of love for Collin, whose 2006 documentary My Name Is Albert Ayler was similarly enlightening and evocative. Those who already revere Morgan will undoubtedly find the film fascinating; those who might not be familiar with the artist will probably be inspired to seek out his music.

    I Called Him Morgan opens on Friday, March 24, at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

    Marina Zogbi

  • Slothrust at Mercury Lounge

    In some recent discussions with musicians, bands, DJ’s and musical creatives, I made the point that for me, a flat performance is pretty much a worthless one. If you can’t take people on a musical journey than it’s just plain boring. It’s the bands and DJ’s that can cross genres that get my attention.  Case and point, Tell All Your Friends PR  turned us on to the new album from rock trio, Slothrust.  After listening to the album, I decided to do a review for the blog.  I have to admit, sometimes I don’t get past the first track, but “Surf Goth” got my attention.  The idea that they would start the album with an instrumental track was enough  for me, and when the show began on Saturday evening at Mercury Lounge it was the first track they played.

    Let me start by saying, their sound is on-point and very powerful. Particularly for a trio. They have great chemistry on stage, and their fans (including me) are really into them.  Musically, the band members are equally impressive as they effortlessly worked through songs that range from blues to grunge with elements of jazz.

    While Kyle Bann (bassist) had a continuous grin on his face, Leah Wellbaum maintained a certain attitude as drummer Will Gorin fiercely hit the skins as if it was possibly his last opportunity to play this year. Highlights from the new album- “Like a Child Hiding Behind Your Tombstone,” “Mud,” “Sleep Eater,” and “Trial & Error,” which Wellbaum explained she wrote in high school.  From the older material- “7:30am” and “Magnets, Pt. 2.”

    It’s easy to understand why the band appeals to so many people.  Musically, they are highly talented, and smart, catchy lyrics such as “Don’t shake hands with the lonely kids because I hear that shit’s contagious” really grab you.  If you have the chance to see them live, don’t miss out.

    Upcoming Dates: 3/6, Johnny Brenda’s: Philadelphia, PA –  3/7, Black Cat: Washington DC – 3/9, Marble Bar: Detroit, MI – 3/10, Schubas Tavern: Chicago, IL – 3/11, Duck Room: St Louis, MO- 3/12, Tank Room: Kansas City, MO – 3/15, Larimer Lounge: Denver CO – 3/18, High Water Mark Lounge: Portland, OR – 3/20, Sunset Tavern: Seattle, WA – 3/22, Bottom of the Hill: San Fran, CA

  • Courtesy of Film Movement

    Courtesy of Film Movement

    Written and directed by Boo Junfeng (2010’s Sandcastle), Apprentice is a quiet yet gritty drama about a newly hired young prison guard who is “promoted” to working on death row. (It was Singapore’s official entry for the 2017 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.) Unlike other movies of its genre, Apprentice doesn’t go for big, sweeping statements or emotions, but instead shows one man struggling with a soul-wrenching job as he comes to terms with his own family’s past.

    We first meet Aiman (newcomer Fir Rahman) as he’s being interviewed for a position as a guard in a maximum security prison. His stated reason for being there is idealistic: he wants to help people change. Initially, pending a background check, he has limited security clearance, i.e. no access to the “condemned cells.” Scenes of him joking around with prisoners in the yard and helping them with shop equipment indicate that he truly does want to help. He glimpses an older, white-haired man in the cafeteria and there is a wary recognition. This is Chief Rahim (played by the excellent Wan Hanafi Su).

    Courtesy of Film Movement

    Courtesy of Film Movement

    Later, when helping another guard move equipment in the condemned block, Aiman brings himself to the attention of Rahim by volunteering information about where to get a certain type of rope. As the camera casually hovers over an open trap door, we realize that this is where hangings take place. The no-nonsense tone and mundane conversation illustrate the businesslike nature of death here.

    Scenes at the prison alternate with scenes of Aiman’s rundown apartment, which he shares with his older sister. They don’t have a lot of money and she doesn’t like him working at the prison. When Aiman tells her that he’s met “the hangman,” we find out that Rahim executed their father years ago, when Aiman was a baby.

    The chief takes a shine to Aiman and later seeks him out to help fix the scale used to weigh condemned prisoners in order to calculate a quick death. They exchange personal information, including the fact that Aiman had once been a rebellious gang member. He asks pointed questions about the prisoners that Rahim has executed and and later tries to find his father’s files.

    Courtesy of Film Movement

    Courtesy of Film Movement

    When Aiman’s supervisor asks about his family, we learn he was raised by grandparents. He is clearly both haunted by his father’s memory and afraid of being discovered as his son; why exactly does his want to work at the prison? His sister, who is planning to marry her boyfriend and move to Australia, wants Aiman to go with them. Meanwhile Chief Rahim asks Aiman to “learn the ropes” and be his assistant. “We are humane,” he reiterates while instructing Aiman in the specific science of hanging, which is shown very matter of factly, all the more chilling.

    As more details unspool about Aiman’s father and his legacy, we see the rituals surrounding hanging and the toll that it takes on both its perpetrators and prisoners’ families. (Capital punishment in Singapore has not traditionally been reserved for murderers only.) The film becomes increasingly more disturbing as we follow one inmate through the steps leading to his death and aftermath. The conflicted Aiman eventually erupts into an emotional confrontation with the chief, with dramatic results.

    Apprentice is an unusual look into the specifics of capital punishment and death by hanging, as well as a drama about a man who is driven by his own demons to work in such a place. One of the film’s assets is the compassionate way it deals with both the doomed prisoners and guards who grapple with the emotional toil of their jobs. Junfeng has created a quietly powerful film that makes its point without fanfare and is all the stronger for it.

    Apprentice opens on Friday, March 3, at Village East Cinema.

    Marina Zogbi