Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Book Review: Refractions by Makoto Fujimura

By Lauren Yarger
The age-old debate about whether one is a Christian artist or an artist who is a Christian seems moot as both Christian an artist blend into one in Makoto Fujimura’s collections of thoughts on art, faith and culture in “Refractions” (NavPress 2009).

The visual artist, who served on the National Council on the Arts, offers insights on how art, culture and faith are connected and how they can blend like the colors on one of his beautiful canvases instead of being opposed to one another.

Fujimura uses his artist’s eye to observe beauty not only in art, but in daily life. He’s is at ease seeing its application in dealing with a troubled youth or in sharing a short biblical parable that fits a situation.

“The Creator God has given us creativity and the arts so that we may “name” experiences, just as God commissioned Adam to name the animals in the garden,” Fujimura shares. “In the fallen realities of our days, God continues to affirm our creative responses to the darkened horizon, and by naming the indescribable, we may yet rediscover our hope to endure yet another dark day.”

His recounting of the September 11 attacks in 2001, near his home and studio in New York, are poignant and led to the formation of the TriBeca Temporary, an oasis for collaboration by Ground Zero artists.

Fujimura also looks at some classic art, including DaVinci’s “The Last Supper” and reflects on the interpretations of it by fans of Dan Brown’s novel “The DaVinci Code,” which revolves around a theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene (supposedly represented in DaVinci’s painting) were married and had a child. Fujimura’s interpretation of the real message in that painting is eye-opening and evidence of the artist’s ability to apply his faith naturally both to art and culture.

The book is beautifully laid out including numerous photos of Fujimura’s works. Reading it is like taking a refreshing break from the hustle of every day business and focusing on a beautiful painting of God’s love for us.

You can purchase Refractions here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Looking for Theater Reviews with a Christian Perspective?

Look no further. In fact you've found the only place that offers professional theater reviews with added information from a Christian perspective.

The latest reviews for 33 Variations with Jane Fonda, Rooms a rock romance with Leslie Kritzer and Doug Kreeger, God of Carnage with Jeff Daniels, Marcia Gay Harden, Hope Davis and James Gandolfini and Exit the King (pictured)with Susan Sarandon are at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com.

Next up: Impressionism with Jeremy Irons, Joan Allen and Marsha Mason and the revival of West Side Story.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Training for Students in the Arts

Our friend, actor and writer Rich Swingle, directs the theater program at Indiana's MasterWorks Festival, a four-week classical performing arts training program for Christian students of music, dance and theater ages 16-26 (no, they're not affiliated with us at Masterwork Productions -- we both just have great taste in names.)

Early registration deadline is March 31. Here are some thoughts from Rich on the upcoming festival June 21 to July 19. Visit http://www.masterworksfestival.org for information and to register.

After having so much fun last year setting Tartuffe in the 1960's, John Kirby turned to me at lunch and said, "So what are we doing next?"

We decided to co-direct Thorton Wilder's Our Town, and it couldn't have been a more timely choice. Over 70 years ago the play took people back to a simpler time. How much more do we need that today?

This is the fifth season that I've directed the theatre program of The MasterWorks Festival, an extraordinary time of immersion in the arts through a Christian world view. In addition to theatre, world class artists teach in orchestra, dance, guitar, piano and intensified studies programs from June 15 through July 19.

This will be John's fourth year at MasterWorks. Considered one of the greatest acting coaches in Hollywood, John has worked around the world on films such as Déjà Vu, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Count of Monte Cristo. He coached many great actors on The Word of Promise and was asked back to direct the youth version, Word of Promise Next Generation with Sean Astin and Corbin Bleu leading a host of young stars.

Bev Holloway will return for our final performances. She's been a casting director on 36 major projects, including Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, An American Carol, The Ultimate Gift and eight projects headed for theatres in the next few years. Last year she took one of our students as an intern!

We're pleased to have our first MasterWorks Theatre alum return as a master class instructor: Kohli (Hessler) Calhoun will be working with us as a dialect coach. She's been teaching for New York University's drama department, The Stella Adler Studio and The Lee Strasberg Institute.

Mac Nelson, who has performed alongside Hollywood legends such as Jerry Lewis and Liz Taylor will be joining us shortly after the launch of his newest book Memoirs of a Hollywood Adventure.

Harvey Johnson, artistic director of Doma Productions will return, as will Patricia Mauceri (One Life to Live) and Susan Somerville Brown (CATS on Broadway), who will come from directing her third production of the year.

I have a deep sense that this will be a very special year for the theatre department at MasterWorks, as we deepen relationships built over the years and welcome newcomers to this very special process of exploring our gifts the Lord has given us with Him at the center.

Soli Deo Glori,
Rich Swingle

Ministry to Artists in the City

Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York has a variety of ministries to support and encourage artists in the city.
Tonight, the Musical Theatre Singers Forum invites all musical theatre singers and actors to "Industry Night," at the Redeemer offices, 1359 Broadway 4th Floor. Spend a couple of hours together with some fine folks from the Musical Theatre industry, and ask questions of a panel of professionals. More info.

On Monday, the presentation "Legal Issues Artists Face" will offer information about contracts, copyrights, and other ways you need to protect yourself legally.

"The Journey," a Lenten meditation will be held 7 pm Friday, April 3 at the Redeemer offices, 1359 Broadway 4th Floor. The bi-annual Artists Collaboratives (during Advent and Lent of each year) allows Redeemer's artists to explore and express their faith through creativity and community.

For information on these and other upcoming programs, contact arts@redeemer.com or (212)808-4460 x1344.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This Broadway Show is Rated X?

By Lauren Yarger
It's been exciting to offer reviews of Broadway and NY theater with an added Christian perspective and I've been thrilled to see how God is using them to help you find out about which shows might be the best for you to see while in the city or when they come to your town at your local theater.

I get emails a lot from folks happy to be able to find a professional review, just as they would from any other member of the Drama Desk or Outer Critics Circle, discussing the merits of the show itself, that also offers added information about language, sexual and religious content in the show. This added Christian perspective is something you can't find in any other review source about theater. (Read all of our reviews at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com.)

I get emails every week from people seeking advice about which shows might be most appropriate to see with their children, family members, non Christian friends, etc.
Recently, a few folks have requested more detailed information in our "Christians might also like to know" section. "Sexual Activity" might be listed, but what does that mean, exactly?

One person suggested I assign some sort of rating to shows, like movies and television attach a G, PG or R rating to give content warnings. Those kind of ratings don't always help, though, because a movie containing a certain curse word and one depicting full sexual inercourse might both be assigned an R rating. That sex scene might be acceptable for some if it is between a married couple. Others might opt out if it depicts an adulterous affair. For others, it would be a moviebreaker regardless because they don't wish to watch any movies containing nudity. So in a way, all Broadway shows would get an X rating from me -- X for unknown, because what's right and appropriate for me to see might not be for you and vice versa.

The purpose of the reviews is not to tell you what you should or shouldn't see, but to give you information so that you can make an informed choice about what to see. And please do see theater. God uses it amazingly!

One family may decide not to see a show because of sinful content. Another family, reaching out to a neighbor struggling in that very same area of content, might attend the show as a way to start a conversation about the situation. The first family is not wrong for choosing a different show and the second is not wrong for attending. As in every choice we make, each of us needs to be guided by the Spirit and to seek what God would have us do for His purpose.

If a show includes a "Mature" advisory we always note that. Where The Broadway League has included an age recommendation for shows containing a Mature advisory, we list that too, but like with everything else, these ratings are arbitrary. What's appropriate for your 12 year old might not be for mine. Each family will have to decide what's right for them in their situation.

We also want to give a heads up without having to go into details about exactly what words are being said or describing who is touching whom where, etc. While wanting to serve our readers, I won't become some sort of "Christian theater inquisition," counting the number of times God's name is taken in vain, or implying that some sins are worse than others or that a show has no merit because it contains a depiction of situations the world embraces.

I'm not some sort of "Christian critic" (like you can find for the movies) who judges shows looking for Christian or non-Christian content. I'm simply a theater lover and a professional critic who can can draw on my experience and training to discuss the good and bad points about a show. I also am a Christian who can list some areas of content that our readers want to know about before deciding whether or not to see a show. (I also hear from non-Christians who read the reviews and find the content areas listed helpful as well. Others just disregard them if they aren't concerned about these content areas.)

With that in mind, I have put together this key of content our readers want to know about in as much detail as possible. If you have any other suggestions, I'd be happy to hear them. Email me at masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Key (and keep in mind that we are not implying that if any of these elements occur that we're saying you shouldn't see the show! That's your decision.):
God's name taken in vain-- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them
Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.
Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used
Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed
Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them
Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action
Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts
Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well
Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list wuld include "sexual activity" as well.
Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted
Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well
Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.
Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.
Copyright 2009 Lauren Yarger http://christianperformers.blogspot.com

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thoughts for the Journey

Some great thoughts about the journey from our friend Dr. Synesio Lyra, Jr., a minister and seminary professor in Florida.

Check out his blog "To Fill a Little Space" by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Is God Really My Friend?

Retreats have been a part of my journey with God for as long as I have known Him, because for me, no matter how much time I spend each week in prayer, bible study church services or serving Him through the arts, the deepest times of learning about God and who He really is come when I set aside time to meet with Him, uninterrupted, away from distractions.

In my latest retreat, I enjoyed some rest, did some writing and discovered a lot about what I really believe about God and His role as a friend in my life. Now, don't misunderstand, I wasn't having a crisis of faith, but sometimes without realizing it, I allow human behavior to define God's character.

I've been devastated by several people whom I considered close friends over the years and those experiences cloud my perception of God as a friend. That probably sounds silly, but just put it in your own context. If your father on earth was uncaring or abusive, for example, it's probably more difficult for you to make a leap to understanding God as a loving Father who never would hurt you. If your spouse has been unfaithful, it probably isn't easy for you to trust Jesus as the bridegroom of the church. Or if someone calling himself a Christian has behaved in an unloving, unkind or hypocritical way, you probably think God is the same.

So on my latest retreat, God challenged me to think through whether I was limiting our friendship because I was defining His friendship in earthly terms. In truth, I was. My concept of God as a friend needed to grow and break free from the weeds of bad experiences that were choking it out. I asked Him to define our friendship in His own words from scripture. You know, He's really amazing.

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'

Gee, that sounds like someone in my corner.

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."

Jesus doesn't hold back anything for His own gain. He doesn't use me for His own advantage and He gave up everything for me.

"Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!"

Thank you God, for putting a new face on friendship for me. Yours!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

April Fool's Concert Features Balladeer

"Historical Balladeer” Linda Russell will offer a performance to guide the audience on an eclectic journey through 200 years of American history in an Episcopal Actors' Guild concert 7 pm Wednesday, April 1 at Guild Hall, 1 E. 29th St., NY

The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 brought a new era of prosperity to New York, and along with it, a flourishing of the arts. Russell, who has been featured on Prairie Home Companion, looks at the musical and theatrical life of this city as revealed in popular song and historical anecdote.

Playing hammered and mountain dulcimers, pennywhistle, limberjack and guitar, she recreates the spirit of mid-19th century New York.

A $10 donation is suggested. Refreshments will be served.

Guild events support its fund used to aid actors in need. For more information, click here.

Event Supports Threads Theatre Company's Upcoming Season

"On The Fray," an evening of performances to celebrate and support Threads Theatre Company's upcoming theater season in New York City. Productions planned include Twilight by Monica Flory and Babette’s Feast by Rose Courtney and Abbie Killeen.

The evening will feature live music by Phoebe Lyng, Samantha Brown and Andy Roda with special guests Hannelies Hartman, Virginia Pike and standup comedian Elaine Williams

Mark the date for 7:30pm Saturday, April 4 upstairs O'Lunney's Pub, 145 West 45 Street, between Broadway and 6th Avenue)
For tickets click here. For information on Threads, click here.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Christians, Church, God in the Spotlight on NY Stages

Christians, church and God suddenly are turning up as main characters in shows on New York stages and for the most part, the treatments are part of a balanced debate on Christian and conservative issues.

Works offering a conservative viewpoint don't exactly abound on Broadway, Off-Broadway or at regional theater across the nation -- a situation explored some months ago in a widely discussed piece in the New York Times (read it here). There are a few reasons for this, I believe.

First, an overwhelming majority of the folks deciding what ends up on stage, writing the shows and music or penning reviews that decide which shows are hits or flops, come from a liberal, non Christian viewpoint. This doesn't mean they're not talented or nice people. They are. It just means that it's unlikely conservative or pro-Christian messages are a priority for them.

Second, Christians walked away from theater (and most everything labeled "arts") years ago because they didn't want to be associated with "worldly" influences. The result, however, was that they gave up a chance to have any influence themselves. It's only in the last 15 years or so that Christians and churches have embraced the arts as something gifted by God and as a tool for outreach (music and the movies have a head start on theater in this regard).

Third, Christians and conservative views aren't always welcome in the theater community. Take the fallout a few months back when Scott Eckern, artistic director of the California Music Theater, supported California's Proposition 8 banning same sex marriages. Eckern, a Morman, made a personal donation, in support of the campaign. Soon the entire theater community nationwide was outraged that anyone working in the theater would be opposed to the rights of gays who work in and support the theater. Actors threatened to boycott the theater; producers refused to allow their shows to take stage there; others threatened the theater with action against its tax exempt status for allowing its artistic director to have political view, even though it was personal and not connected officially to the theater at all. As a result, Eckern resigned.

So you have to wonder whether the theater community really is concerned about the lack of conservative options, as decried in that Times article. That's why the recent addition of three Off-Broadway shows offering a Christian "side" to some issues, without the Christians coming off looking like a bunch of bible-thumping, hateful zealots, is very encouraging.

Avow, by Bill C. Davis at the 45th Street Theatre, is a fairly even-handed look at the issue of gay marriage in the church. Read the review here. The Savannah Disputation by Evan Smith over at Playwright's Horizons, explores the idea of evangelism in a humorous script with terrific performances (that's a preview of the review which will post here tomorrow after the show's official opening tonight.) In addition, The Civilians present a really well done musical, This Beautiful City at the Vineyard Theater, about the efforts to establish Colorado Springs as the "evangelical Capital" of the world and the downfall of some Christian leaders like Ted Haggard (the review for this show should be posted later today at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com.)

All three of these shows are great conversation starters. God's at work on the stages of New York theaters.
-- Lauren Yarger

Daily Inspiration

The Blind Side

Read about the real life mom from "The Blind Side."

Lifeway: http://www.lifeway.com/article/?id=169816

Guideposts: http://www.guideposts.com/story/sandra-bullock-blind-side-football?page=0,1

Read Matt Mungle's review of the movie at http://www.buddyhollywood.com/.

Lauren Yarger, Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

In 2008 she was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater with a Christian perspective for Reflections in the Light (http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/) and is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection. She also is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com

She also reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She formerly was Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp, a national theater web site bsed in New York and a reviewer for American Theater Web.

She also served as Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. and worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra.

She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and The CT Critics Circle.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger lives with her husband in West Granby, CT and has two adult children.

Copyright Notice

All contents copyright © Lauren Yarger 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, contact masterworkproductions@yahoo.com.

Scripture from THE MESSAGE Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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