Photos: 2014 Underground Music Showcase

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Photos from Day 2 of the 2014 Denver Post Underground Music Showcase, July 25, 2014. To see the full photo gallery, click here.

Photos by UMS co-founder John Moore, now Senior Arts Journalist for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Find more of his work at  MyDenverCenter.Org

The UMS is Denver’s premier indie festival, now in its 14th year. Yesterday, The Denver Post said, “The Undergound Music Showcase has become the juggernaut of indie music in the West.” While national acts like Blonde Redhead and Real Estate are  welcome, The UMS is a non-profit endeavor known  for its focus on local bands and for  benefiting the local community.  This year’s UMS will showcase 400 performances at more than 20 venues along South Broadway over four days.

The music continues Saturday and Sunday from noon through 2 a.m.. Single-day passes  still available for $35 per day. Go to TheUMS.Com, or buy a pass at the box office on the corner of Broadway and Archer Streets.

 

Denver Post profile: TV host Eden Lane opens up about her life and challenges

Last week, Eden Lane participated in a community-wide staged reading of Oscar-winner Dustin Lance Black’s play “8,” hosted by the Denver Center Theatre Company and featuring a cast of both professional actors and local celebrities. The play chronicles the historic constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 8, which would have eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry. (Photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen, provided by the Denver Center)

 

By John Moore

Oct. 21, 2012

Colorado Public Television’s Eden Lane is believed to be the first transgender journalist on mainstream TV anywhere in the United States. “But I don’t think of being transgender as any part of my identity, any more than I do that I am left-handed,” she said.

But “the Eden Lane story represents the potential for a wonderfully better world,” fellow TV producer Tom Biddle says. “It helps us to understand humanity better in a way that is unavailable to most people.”

Read my full profile on Eden Lane here. It ran in today’s Denver Post.

Two ex-theater critics, sitting around having coffee

Former theater writer Mark Collins has gone from critical to presidential in square product theatre’s “44 Plays for 44 Presidents.”

 

By John Moore

Oct. 19, 2012

For 10 years, Mark Collins was one of the leading critical voices in the Denver/Boulder theater community, combining a compassionate eye for the art of making theater with an opinion backed by a master’s degree. As a freelance contributor to the Boulder Daily Camera, Collins was always understated and well-informed.

In April, Collins wrote one of his most memorable essays, one explaining the transformative experience he had returning to the stage after a 15-year absence. He appeared in a friend’s play in Virginia, which inspired his thoughts on reconnecting with that strange alchemy that first attracted all of us to the stage.

The experience was so profound that a few months later, Collins did something extraordinary: He walked way from the Camera to pursue acting here in Colorado on a regular basis. He started with an appearance in Theatre Company of Lafayette’s new-play festival,  “Comic Con con Comedy.”

Tonight (Oct. 19), Collins opens the ensemble-driven political comedy “44 Plays for 44 Presidents” for the lower-cased square product theatre company at the Dairy Center in Boulder. This rapid-fire biographical survey of each of the 44 men who have been president so far is described as a comic antidote to all the campaign negativity that hangs over the nation like a brown cloud.

As a contemporary of Collins’ who also recently – some would say inexplicably – walked away from my job as a theater critic, I was eager to talk with Collins and compare notes about “crossing over.” Just as some believe in an afterlife that will be as varied as heaven, hell and the Elysian Fields, I suspect we, too, have crossed over into very different critical afterlives.

But for this Wednesday afternoon, we both found ourselves at Ozo’s – me on my way to Boulder’s Dinner Theatre to see “Avenue Q,” he on his way to his final dress rehearsal. As someone who spends about as much time in a coffee shop as an altar boy at a bris, I order a hot Earl Gray (or is that Grey?). Collins, who earned his BFA in acting at the University of Colorado and his MFA from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, is already halfway through his Yerba Mate when I arrive — late, conveniently blaming my tardiness on the nonexistent traffic on Highway 36. (How is he gonna know?)

Collins: I am not totally comfortable yet being on the other side of the tape recorder.

Moore: That’s funny, because I feel soooo comfortable right now. … Let’s start by you telling me about performing in Virginia.

Collins: I was asked by a friend I went to grad school with. She’s a playwright, director, actor and producer.

Moore: What was the play?

Collins: Something she wrote called “Sarah and the Dinosaur.”

Moore: For you to say yes, you had to have been at the perfect place in your life when you got that call.

Collins: It was the perfect call at the perfect time. If she had called six months earlier, or really anytime over the past 10 years, I would have said no because of my responsibilities here.

Moore: How old is your son?

Collins: He is 18. He’s going to Pomona College in Claremont, Calif.

Moore: The ethics of being a critic dictate that you would have to leave your job in order to perform again, at least locally. How hard was it to give all that up, especially after the name you had made for yourself here in the Boulder/Denver theater community over the past decade?

Collins: I didn’t think of it in those terms. In fact, I am always surprised when somebody says that I made a name for myself. Frankly — and this is terrible of me to say — but mostly what I was thinking was, “Can I make up the money that I was making reviewing theater in some other way?” I don’t know if I can.

Moore: You paint houses, right?

Collins: Yeah. And I have been busy lately.

Moore: When did you start at the Camera?

Collins: In May 2002. So I did it for 10 years and a few months.

Moore: How do you describe the experience of moving to the other side of the aisle?

Collins: It felt like coming home. But I do feel older. It’s been interesting after all this time now being seen as someone who is middle-aged.

Moore: How old you are?

Collins: I’m 49.

Moore: So what are your artistic ambitions for yourself now?

Collins: I want to work with good people on good material.

Moore: What are you going to miss the most about being a reviewer for this community?

Collins: So far, I haven’t missed it at all. But there is a pleasure in being analytical about a performance. There is a pleasure in seeing a show and trying to figure out what the heck I am going to write about. That, I may miss — at some point.

Moore: Do you miss the other types of theater-writing more, like advances and profiles?

Collins: Absolutely. My favorite part of the job was writing feature stories, and being able to engage with the people who make theater. Since I’ve gone back to acting, I’ve realized that it’s different engaging with other actors in a show you are working on together, because then they are all typically focused on problem-solving. Whereas when you are writing a story about them, they kind of open up with you, and get a little more philosophical. I will miss that the most — and I kind of already do.

Moore: Do you feel any sort of guilt for walking away? Because I feel that every day.

Collins: No, because the powers-that-be at the Camera are still committed to covering theater with (my replacement) Liza Williams. And I am still freelancing for the Camera. I’m just not writing about theater.

Moore: We’re in the exact same boat. I am freelancing for The Denver Post, but the rules are the same — anything but theater.

Collins: I am also keeping the theater listings updated on our web site.

Moore: That’s hilarious, because so am I for The Post. But only because I know that if I stop, there is no one left there to do them, and they would just go away.

Collins: Exactly.

Moore: Now that you have “crossed over,” what have you learned about the way people who make theater look at reviews?

Collins: I have purposely not engaged in that kind of conversation. It takes so much to be an actor — that’s where my focus has to be. But I would say there are probably some misperceptions about what actually goes into being a theater reviewer at the Daily Camera.

Moore: I spent a lot of time recently embedded with the making of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” for my long-form video project, and I recused myself from reviewing it or judging it for the Henry Awards, because whenever you spend a lot of time with people like that, of course you start to care for them. It’s also one of my favorite musicals. I really want it to succeed. So when opening night finally happened, it was great to just be there — and be relieved of the responsibility of being “the critic.” When I was later asked, “What do you think the reviews are going to say?” — I really didn’t have the faintest idea how it was going to be received. And that was kind of thrilling. Have you found that to be true with the shows you have acted in so far? Or do you know exactly what works and what doesn’t even better because you are living in it?

Collins: Oh, God, no. When I was in Virginia, my friend would say, “So what do you think, Mr. Theatre Critic?” and I really didn’t have a sense of how the whole show was doing. I was so focused on the things I was doing.

Moore: So does that make you develop a greater sense of empathy for the people in the creative community who are putting their whole hearts and bank accounts into these shows? They know all the trials and tribulations they have had to overcome, but we, as reviewers, are not generally supposed to know those things going in.

Collins: I have been reminded of the massive amount of work and collaboration that goes into putting on a play, absolutely. I feel like I always had empathy, but the further away you are from it, maybe some of that gets dulled a little bit. On top of that, the majority of theater done in this area is not by professionals, so they are working all day, and when they come in, they are already tired from working. And yet — here they are, putting it together. It’s really amazing.

Moore: But when your primary responsibility as a critic is to the readers of your newspaper, do you think that your empathy has ever compromised your reviews, when readers are counting on you to tell them whether, bottom line, it’s worth their $28 to go and see this play?

Collins: As a critic, my responsibility was to the readers first, for sure. But I think when it comes to empathy and understanding what it takes to put on a show – and I am sure I failed at this at times – that would come into play by my not taking any personal shots at people, or saying gratuitous things that were not necessary.

Moore: You were not the kind of guy to do that anyway.

Collins: I don’t think I was, in general, but I could go back and find times where I probably did.

Moore: But being tough is not the same thing as being discourteous.

Collins: Right. But I can remember reviews where I have later thought, “I could have said that a little differently, and gotten the same point across.” Because if I were an actor and read that about me, it would have been unnecessarily hurtful. It was beyond just saying, “This is not working.”

Moore: You know where I learned that lesson? Of all people, It was from (former Boulder’s Dinner Theatre owner) Ross Haley.

Collins: Oh yeah?

Moore: I was very, very new to reviewing, but I was determined from the beginning to try to get at least one smile out of the readers in every review I wrote. It was a way of saying, “You know, we should not all take this theater business so, so terribly seriously all the time.” I never thought that was going to be at someone’s expense, but you sometimes have to learn these lessons the hard way. And hopefully, only once. So for me, there was this dark comedy at the Nomad Theatre called “Jake’s Women.” It was basically Neil Simon reflecting on all the important women in his life. So there was this one actor on the stage, and it was like her elbows were glued to her rib cage. And she was kind of waving these outstretched arms throughout the whole thing. And the other thing was that she would never look right at the guy she was talking to. Instead she was always looking above him, like way up and into the rafters. It was distracting. I kept wondering, “What is it up there in the ceiling that she finds so fascinating?” So I thought I was being really clever when I wrote in the review, “I kept expecting somebody to toss down a baby from the burning building.” I made myself laugh when I wrote that. But it was crazy Ross Haley who called me on it, and he wasn’t even from the Nomad Theatre. But he totally blacklisted me for it. He said, “You are no longer welcome at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre.” I was blown away. I asked him, “Why? I’ve written nothing but glowing reviews for you so far.” And he said, “If you are capable of that kind of cruelty, I don’t even want to give you the  opportunity to be that cruel to one of my people.” And at the time, I was sort of seen as the nice guy on the theater beat. But it was a valuable lesson because I had not thought for two seconds about what it must have been like to be that poor woman who had to open up the paper and read what I had written about her and the burning baby. I decided right there that I didn’t want to be that guy. So, never again. I’m not going to skip saying something that needs to be said, but I am going to write it in a way that is not going to make a person never want to leave the house again.

Collins: Yeah. I remember writing something many years ago about Gary Culig, who is obviously very talented, in “Waiting for Godot” at the Bug Theatre. That was one of those I wish I could have taken back. Everything was just so loud. I probably wasn’t being gratuitous, but I think what I said was, “Every vocal choice is either soft — or foghorn loud.”  And when that came out, somebody said to me, “Geez, Mark …”

Moore: But those are our “Come to Jesus” moments.

Collins. Yeah.

Moore: You kind of have to go through those things a few times before you truly realize the power that your words have on people.

Collins: I can tell you the review I got as a student actor at CU more than 25 years ago. I can tell you down to the sentence what they wrote about me, which is kind of ridiculous. So, yeah, I get the sensitivity.

Moore: I had an experience like that when I was reviewing theater right out of college for the Littleton Independent. We covered the Loretto Heights productions, and the college students I was reviewing there were both my friends and contemporaries. They generally did excellent work. But I lost a friendship over what I thought was a very innocuous remark, and it pained me for years. Now something like 12 years go by and I run into this person, and sure enough, she could still quote these really benign words that had hurt her so badly. I thought, “Man, I don’t want anyone committing a single synapse to something I wrote when I was 21 years old. I’m not worth it.” It still freaks me out a bit. I’m sure there is part of you that is glad to be rid of that, too.

Collins: I don’t miss it. The funny thing for me was Kathryn Bernheimer reviewed me in the Camera when I was in “The Actor’s Nightmare.” I played George, and it was only the second show I had ever done. Her review said, “Mark Collins was OK, but I preferred Kevin Hart’s performance last month at the ‘blah blah blah’ theater in Denver.” And then she wrote two more sentences about how great Kevin Hart was in the other show.

Moore: So did you develop a chip on your shoulder for Kevin Hart? Did you make him pay?

Collins: There is a funny end to this story: First of all, in retrospect, which I only gained a couple of years later, I probably would have totally agreed with her. But the funny thing is, Kevin Hart and I became brothers-in-law three or four years later.

Moore: In real life?

Collins: In real life, yeah. He married my wife’s sister. So we joked about that a lot.

Moore: Isn’t that interesting? Because that points out one of the many dangers of being a theater critic in a place like Denver/Boulder as opposed to New York — Here, you just might end up being the brother-in-law of someone you review.

Collins: Yep.

Moore: That’s weird.

Collins: Yeah.

Moore: I don’t miss that. I am glad to be relieved of the pressure of knowing that if you do your job and you are honest to your visceral response to the art, somebody might get hurt — no matter how hard you try to avoid it.

Collins: I think your experience is so different from mine because of the visibility of The Post vs. the Camera. I didn’t get much feedback.

Moore: You were — you just maybe weren’t hearing it directly. And I mean that in a good way. People talked about your reviews. You were the guy with the MFA. You were the guy who had the academic credentials to be doing what you were doing — whereas, I was the dumb-ass sports writer.

Collins: I never came across anybody who didn’t have ultimate respect for you.

Moore: Oh Mark, the emails I could show you. Especially in the early years. It’s scarring, hah.

Collins: Well…

Moore: So, forget that. Let’s ask the big questions. Like, what do you think of the state of local theater criticism in the Denver/Boulder area right now?

Collins: You would think that’s something I would have an opinion on, wouldn’t you?

Moore: I would, and I’ll tell you mine. I think recently there has been an upsurge in a willingness to be tough, but I have to say I saw an awful lot of free passes in the first six months of this year. I would be reading all these reviews, thinking, “I am soooo glad I don’t have to do this anymore, because I would have had to have been much tougher.” Do you think theater criticism in this day and age is a healthy art form?

Collins: It’s changing. The fact that anybody can go online now and start a blog and get their comps and write about a show —

Moore: Is that a good thing or bad thing?

Collins: It’s a mixed bag. It’s good for the theaters to get the publicity, but for the readers? I don’t know.

Moore: When Liza Williams took your place, did you have any advice for her?

Collins: She was great about reaching out, and I really appreciated that. I just said, “You have to write for the readers. You have to be honest. Be careful not to be gratuitous.” And she’s not that way. I can tell that already.

Moore: Let’s take a moment to talk about your play, “44 Plays for 44 Presidents.” What’s this all about?

Collins: It’s literally 44 short plays, each ranging from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, about each of the presidents. Now, nobody is trying to imitate the presidents. It an ensemble piece, which is really fun. There are five actors, and the range is wild. There is some straight musical theater. There is a scene where three of us come on, and all we do is eat bread. It’s about (Millard) Fillmore, who I guess was very boring, and the writer could not find anything interesting to do, so we just state facts and eat bread. Hopefully it will be funny. It was funny last night when we finally got bread. In the Kennedy piece, no one plays Kennedy. The president’s coat is simply draped over the TV, and that’s a comment on the fact that Kennedy was the first media president.

Moore: What’s your favorite part?

Collins: William Howard Taft. I get to wear a fat suit and be fed applesauce and spit it and throw a tantrum.

Moore: This is why you left the Boulder Daily Camera.

Collins: Yeah. I get to spit applesauce at another actor.

Moore: What’s funny about that is that, as a theater critic, I used to do that all the time. … So how many roles do you play?

Collins: There are about 150 roles, and we each play probably 30 to 35.

Moore: I am kind of encouraged and shocked at how much political theater is being offered in Colorado this month, especially because any theater that attempted to be political in the fall of 2008 tanked. How is this going to be different?

Collins: It would not be right for me to say it’s not political, but it’s just a whole bunch of fun. It has the feel of an improv comedy show, and nobody comes off unscathed, except for maybe George Washington. … Actually, Richard Nixon comes off pretty good, too.

Moore: I’ll be curious to see how you pull that off.

Collins: Michelle McHugh Moore plays him, and she’s great.

Moore: So how much fun are you having?

Collins: I am having a blast. I don’t miss the theater reviewing at all. I am really enjoying making theater much more.

Moore: Do you feel like a burden has been lifted?

Collins: Not so much a burden as I would say … this just fits me better.

Moore: We’ll have to circle back around with you in a few weeks and ask how it feels to be reviewed by your old paper.

Collins: I’m not going to read the review.

Moore: You’re not?

Collins: Hell, no. I am smarter than that.

Moore: Are you sure you’re not going to be one of these actors who says they never read the review … but secretly they do?

Collins: Probably. But for right now, I am going to say that I am not going to read the review. … Unless I get a sense on Facebook that it’s positive — then I will read it.

Moore: That’s not a bad way to do it.

“44 Plays for 44 Presidents”: Ticket information

The cast of “44 Plays for 44 Presidents,” from left: Chanel Karimkhani, Bradley Spann, Ali Janes-Paulsen, Mark Collins and Michelle McHugh Moore.

 

Cast: Michelle McHugh Moore, Chanel Karimkhani, Bradley Spann, Ali Janes-Paulsen and Mark Collins.

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays through Nov. 3

Where: At the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder

Info: 303-442-0234 or square product’s home page

KDVR apologizes for borrowed photo flap

For the record, this photo of Melissa Benoist and Patric Case that aired without permission on KDVR last week was taken by Denver Post photographer Kathryn Scott Osler. This was taken with my iPhone … without permission from anybody.

 

By John Moore

Sept. 17, 2012

It’s hard out there for a journalist in the internet age, when anyone can steal your work in a second using cut-and-paste, a screen-grab, a right-click or even an iPhone (see above). If you are a freelance photographer, forget being adequately paid for your work. Most would settle for simply getting credit for it. (But make no mistake – they deserve to be paid for it.)

A minor incident in the local media last week is a telling example of both the continuing erosion of newsroom resources in mainstream journalism today, and just how little control journalists have anymore over the content they own once it hits the internet.

Short story: The local Fox affiliate KDVR-31 lifted three photos from this blog without permission or offering credit to the photographers. It was a blatant example of short-cutting. I called them on it, and that did not meet with a friendly response.

“We don’t need a lecture about journalistic ethics from you,” emailed vice-president of news Ed Kosowski.

Ouch. My first reaction was, “ … Perhaps you do.”

This was not going to go well.

But actually, it did, and, after an exchange of further information, Kosowski issued a kind  apology.

Longer story: I wrote this feature story for The Denver Post on Sept. 9 about Littleton’s Melissa Benoist joining the cast of Fox TV’s “Glee.”  As an added feature, I posted photos to my blog here at culturewest.org of Melissa growing up performing on Colorado stages. Some of these photos were long-forgotten publicity photos I collected over the years as The Denver Post’s theater critic. Others were Denver Post staff photos from story assignments I filed during that time. I credited the photos.

Right after Benoist’s debut episode on “Glee” aired Thursday, KDVR teased an interview with the hometown girl by entertainment reporter Chris Parente. I was soon irked for two reasons: First, I saw screen-grabs of my blog – uncredited – showing photos of Melissa performing in two shows for Town Hall Arts Center in 2006-07. And, more troubling, a staff photo owned by The Denver Post showing Benoist performing in the rainy parking lot outside the Country Dinner Playhouse just hours after the landmark theater barn was chained and padlocked in 2007. (The Post photographer was Kathryn Scott Osler). The second thing was that Parente incorrectly stated in his report that Benoist wowed the crowds as Evita in the production. She was 16 then – she played Peron’s mistress. It was an honest, if sloppy mistake, but speaking of uncredited work – that credit belonged to Joanie Brosseau.

Here’s what you need to know about copyright, according to the Professional Photographers of America:

  • Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, photographs are protected by copyright from the moment of creation. You don’t have to license them, register or claim them. You can, but you don’t have to. It’s yours, as much as the “Mona Lisa” belonged to da Vinci.
  • Unless you have permission from the photographer (or whoever he/she gives ownership to), you can’t copy, distribute, publicly display or create derivative works from photographs. That means no scanning and sending them to others. No putting them online. No “right-click, save-image-as” button-pushing.

Clearly, KDVR had no right to use that Denver Post photo by simply lifting it from a third party. But the other two were publicity photos, and that’s murkier territory. They show Benoist in “Footloose” and “Cinderella,” photos that were publicly issued by Town Hall back in 2006 and 2007. While Town Hall would have been thrilled to have KDVR care enough to air those photos (then or now), they would not be readily available to anyone today who wasn’t compiling them as they went along. Not even on a Google search. We call such pictures  “archival photos.” To get them, KDVR would have had to ask for them.

The ethical route would have been to acquire them – and seek permission to use them – from the organizations that owned them. Instead, they took a short cut.

And, after some reconsideration, Kosowski agreed. Here’s the email he sent this morning:

John,
Appreciate the additional information. We’ve done some back-tracking here to find out what happened and how this fell through the cracks. Another reporter, Hema Mullur, had been working on the story and she obtained those photos from your blog. She wasn’t able to finish the story (we were going back and forth with the father for an interview) before leaving for vacation, and she passed the information/photos/links/video to Chris Parente.

In that handover, Hema should either called or emailed you for permission/courtesy or told Chris to do that. In the future, we’ll be more careful and will make sure we ask for permission and credit any third-party source.

I apologize for the oversight and I’m glad you brought it to our attention.

Ed.

A classy and appropriate response.

It’s worth reiterating that the theater companies, and their individual photographers, would have been happy to give KDVR those photos for its Benoist story. But newsrooms have fewer resources and less time than ever to get the little things done. And deadlines don’t care about your time and resources. Sometimes corners get cut.

The unfocused world of publicity pictures

This whole subject of theater publicity photos is itself a gray area. Here’s (sort of) how it works:

When a theater company is getting ready to open a play, many take their own publicity pics on whatever borrowed digital camera they can borrow, and the results are generally pretty amateurish. They submit these pictures to the media in the hope that they will be as widely distributed as possible. Even though the official policy at newspapers like The Denver Post is to cite the source of every photo, often there is so little effort put into the quality of these pictures that the companies don’t even submit the photographer’s name for individual credit. In those cases, we will simply say, “Photo provided by Generic Theatre Company.”

Other companies contract with established freelance photographers who, in exchange for a fee that can range from as little as nothing to $500 or more, turn over the photos – and their rights to them – to the theater company. But that does not absolve ethical media outlets from crediting the individuals for their work whenever possible. In Denver, the bigwig photographers include Michael Ensminger (Curious Theatre and others), P. Switzer (Arvada Center) and, until recently, Terry Shapiro (Denver Center Theatre Company).

Freelancers like Brian Miller scramble for every morsel of work they can get working with smaller theater companies that have little-to-no budget to pay for publicity pictures. (If only they realized how essential the quality of production photos is for how they get played on newspaper pages). Miller often works for a flat $75 fee on jobs that average about 30 hours of his time. He also often works for free. The only way to make money in this business, he says, is to shoot weddings. Instead, he shoots theater.

Miller took one of the pictures that KDVR used without permission or credit. For  $2.50 an hour, he figures, a simple credit line from a big-time local TV news channel would have been a nice boost.

In this age of Google image searches, it is becoming harder and harder for the Brian Millers of the world to control where their images pop up around the internet. But remember – creation is copyright. When someone steals your work, Miller said, that’s when it becomes necessary for you to register that copyright and take the offender to court.

Freelance photographers have long used watermarking symbols to force potential copiers of their work to actually purchase an original file. And the internet is now making it possible for photographers to embed invisible copyright information within the data of their online photos. It’s called “Exif.” Use it, and whenever someone copies your photo off the internet, they see who owns it – although that does not prevent them from copying it, regardless. Many large media organizations use new software that disables readers from even getting the option to copy an image when they right-click on it. But that doesn’t stop them from screen-grabs.

Did I mention this is a murky area? Just last week, a local theater company sent out a Denver Post staff photo from a previous staging as its publicity photo for the coming remount. Talk abut confusing.

And you might be worried after reading this that almost any of us with a Facebook page has skirted this copyright law in some way. But Facebook is different. By uploading anything to that site,  the owner gives away the exclusive copyrights to Facebook. It’s a bit of an open season on content.

Violators will always find a way around photographic piracy. But if anyone should understand the complexities and consequences of the issue, it should be mainstream media outlets whose revenues are being siphoned off by new media sources.

The message of the Professional Photographers of America: “Even small levels of infringement—copying a photo without permission—can have a devastating impact on a photographer’s ability to make a living.”

In the end, this is just a reminder about doing the right thing.

Broadway’s Rory O’Malley: On “Book of Mormon,” Turning it Off and Shutting the Closet Door

Rory O’Malley of “The Book of Mormon” Broadway cast

 

By John Moore

Note: The following Q&A comes from an interview I conducted for The Denver Post in May 2011, for a front-page story on Colorado’s kings of pop-culture subversion, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. That was just before “The Book of Mormon” won nine Tony Awards, including best musical. With the Denver launch of the national touring production now just days away, readers might be interested to read more of what the Tony-nominated O’Malley had to say. O’Malley, who remains in the original Broadway cast playing Elder McKinley, is a co-founder of the gay rights activism group Broadway Impact. In “The Book of Mormon,” he sings the tap-dancing showstopper “Turn it Off.” It’s an irresistibly wide-eyed tune, sung in the same chipper vein as the classic toe-tapper “Put on a Happy Face.” It’s about how church leaders might advise a Mormon boy with conflicted sexual feelings: Just turn it off . . . like a light switch. (“Being gay is bad, but lying is worse. So just realize you have a curable curse . . . and turn it off!”) 

Listen to Rory O’Malley sing “Turn it Off”

John Moore: Hi, Rory. I wanted to talk with you about our local boys, “Book of Mormon” writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and how they have redefined pop culture subversion. No matter how hard they have tried to alienate people, it seems everything they’ve touched from TV to film to stage has turned to gold. Bill Maher makes a film about religion … and it polarizes and angers people.  But the “South Park” guys make a Broadway musical about religion … and everybody loves it.

Rory O’Malley: It’s true. Literally everyone from atheists to bishops, both spectrums of people have loved this show.

John Moore: So my question is, how do they keep getting away with it?

Rory O’Malley: Because they are storytellers. At the end of the day, that’s it. They have no agenda. A lot of people come in thinking, “Oh, they are going to get those Mormons. They are going to tear them apart.” That’s not how they write. They write to tell a story, and they are so meticulous about making sure that story is right. If you are telling a good story, you can get away with anything because you’ve earned it. You’ve explained why you’re going down the road that you are going down, and the audience comes with you. That’s what’s different.

John Moore: I am totally with you, especially after having seen “The Book of Mormon.” But at the same time, we are not exactly at a time in human history when we are evolved enough to laugh together at anyone’s religion except (maybe) our own. We still kill people over religion. Even Matt and Trey had death threats over their episodes of ‘South Park’ about Muhammad.

Rory O’Malley: Sure.

John Moore: I saw this stat that said 85 percent of all Americans identify themselves as Christian. And these guys are on a stage saying, “(Bleep) you, God in the ass, mouth and (bleep).” So why is this different? Why do your audiences laugh when they sing, ”(Bleep) you, God in the ass, mouth and (bleep)”? when, if Chris Rock said the same thing on a stage, he’d be getting picketed?

 

Broadway cast of “The Book of Mormon.” Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

 

Rory O’Malley: I think the difference is that they’ve earned it. They have trust in their audience. That first episode of “South Park,” when Cartman, a child, gets an alien anal probe? That was a pretty big deal. People made a really big fuss about it. This was far beyond “The Simpsons,” or the other things that used to be controversial. I remember talking with Josh Gad (the original Elder Cunningham in the Broadway cast) early in the rehearsal process, thinking, “These guys have a license not to be on the cutting edge of comedy, but to be the cutting edge of comedy. They have proven themselves time and time again.  So that’s true. I don’t think just anyone could get on a stage and sing, “(Bleep) you, God in the ass, mouth and (bleep).” Even a lot of talented, funny people could not get away with doing that. But these guys have earned the respect of people who enjoy comedy. They are not just lowbrow people. They do not have an agenda. They have a great story to tell, always.

John Moore: How much does tone have to do with it? Trey grew up doing musicals in a mountain suburb west of Denver. Do you think part of the reason Broadway audiences are embracing what they are doing is because there is such an evident love for the form?

Rory O’Malley: Absolutely. You can’t even control the joy that you feel at the end of the (“Bleep”) song. There is so much joy and respect for the art form, and it is being celebrated on the stage, so you can’t help but be caught up in it. There was a conservative New York Times writer who wrote that, “I found myself just jumping to my feet and celebrating with everyone … but then I went home and after the next couple of days, I started thinking, ‘Well this isn’t really the case, and God should not be taught like this …’ ” And it’s just funny to me because when you are in that theater and you are having that moment, you can let yourself be caught up in the joy of it. That’s what theater is supposed to do. It’s supposed to inspire joy. And I was so sad for this guy who went back to his intellectual prison and tried to turn it into some kind of an agenda. It’s a celebration.

John Moore: Speaking of tone, I think it goes back to your song, “Turn it Off,” which I think is arguably the most celebratory song in the whole show. I saw “The Book of Mormon” right after seeing “The Normal Heart” …

Rory O’Malley: Oh, wow.

John Moore: … and before I brought up “Religulous,” by Bill Maher. Even if you are a Bill Maher acolyte, that’s a film that makes you feel smug and angry, even when you agree with it. You are sort of feeling vindicated by what he is pointing out, but you are also having your anger validated. “The Normal Heart” can’t help but get you incredibly fired up and angry — that’s the playwright’s intent. But then there’s your sweet song in “The Book of Mormon” called “Turn it Off,” and they are almost companion pieces in a weird way, because the song brings out the same kind of societal hypocrisy — in a much more loving way.

Rory O’Malley: Absolutely. I have seen both “Religulous” and “The Normal Heart,” and I think that’s true. It’s funny, especially what you are saying about tone, and getting the same kind of point across, but in a different way. Because to me, as someone who was in the closet, it is the most sad, dark, awful, depressing place to ever be, and a true satire can find the irony in that and make a joyous, amazing tap number out of it, and have it be all that much more funny because of what’s going on onstage. It really is a companion piece. I see what you are saying. It certainly gets to the same kind of points as that movie and that other play, but in a way that probably is a little more palatable. A lot of people are like, “These issues … should that be sung about on a Broadway stage?’ ” And I am like, “There are so many more people who are going to see and understand these problems in Uganda or these horrible things that probably did not see other great works.” So it’s bringing them up to a different kind audience and in a different tone, yeah.

John Moore: This brings up the question of how we as human beings receive comedy. If it’s George Carlin or Bill Maher, there is that inherent, polarizing factor: You are either with them or against them. But when Matt and Trey do it with a certain level of sweetness, then we as humans just seem to be more open to going along for that ride — as opposed to simply “turning off” the song.

Rory O’Malley: Really, when you are dealing with all of the things that we are dealing with in our show, we have to extend our hand to the audience and say, “Come with us.” If we were screaming and yelling and trying to tear our subject matter into pieces, I don’t think anyone wants to go on that ride for two hours. But by having a tone the way it is, I think people’s hearts are open to at least, “OK, I can go on this ride with them, and it’s not going to be a total negative thing. I have so much respect for all the different kinds of comedy, for the George Carlins and the Bill Mahers of the world. I love that so much. But I do think there is something to be said for a show that brings so many people into it who leave thinking … well, just thinking. I’ve had a lot of people say they have had religious conversations after the show that they’ve never had before because of it. If you slam the door and start saying from the first moment, “This is what we believe, and if you don’t like it, get out,” you aren’t going to get too far with that many people.

John Moore: Isn’t that the ultimate irony: That here is this profane musical that looks to many in middle America as an attack on Mormonism; and yet it is more likely to lead to a calm conversation about these polarizing issues than anything going on in any political forum because this is something we can sit through and laugh at together?

Rory O’Malley: Absolutely. To me, this is such a pro-faith show, and I think that really is what people are going away with. Matt and Trey say this show their “atheist love letter to religion.” I am a person of faith, and I am very skeptical of religion, too. I think that pride is a huge theme in our show. And to me, that pride, when it is entered in with faith, it distorts the faith and hurts it. To me, that is a common problem. It’s really trying to dissect what religion is in our culture. And to separate that pride from the faith, and the stories and the dogma, from what is really important. So, yeah, I think people are a lot more willing to have that conversation when it’s being sung – and when there are tap numbers involved.

John Moore: And who would have thought it would be the guys who brought “South Park” into the world who are facilitating that conversation?

Rory O’Malley: Right?

John Moore: You are from Cleveland, right?

Rory O’Malley: Yep.

John Moore: What impact did these guys have on you growing up?

 

Rory O’Malley: I watched every episode of “South Park,” but that was standard when you were in high school in the mid-to-late ‘90s. That was the coolest thing that ever happened to TV. I was a huge fan. I would say that “Team America” was the funniest movie of the past decade, and I was truly on a one-man campaign for it to win the Pulitzer Prize. It took the temperature of America in 2004 better than anything else. That’s when I realized that these guys have such a great voice and a way of articulating the absurdity of our culture, and I think that’s going to last for generations. I think their satire is important. I know they wouldn’t want me to say that it’s important. But to me, it is, because it makes us laugh at ourselves for how seriously we take ourselves, whether it is religion or politics or anything.

John Moore: I imagine the day a script was handed to you and you realized you were going to be singing that song, “Turn it Off,” you probably felt like you had just won the lottery.

Rory O’Malley: Oh yeah, absolutely. It was literally like, “Keep breathing … Pretend that this is NOT the greatest thing that has ever happened to you in your career.” We’ve done the show about 100 times now, and it’s still such a joy because we know the show, and we know how it got here. And being part of that journey with Matt and Trey and Bobby (Lopez), it’s the greatest creative experience that I will ever be a part of. I’m sure of that.

John Moore: Well, I know Denver is already atwitter about getting to host the launch of the national touring production next year in Matt and Trey’s hometown.

Rory O’Malley: That is so exciting. It’s so perfect.

John Moore: It is perfect. It just seems like a long, long time away.

Rory O’Malley: Yeah. Believe me, I remember saying that about our Broadway opening. It will be there before you know it, and when it gets there, it’s going to be such a big deal. It’s so, so exciting.

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This just in: 

The “Book of Mormon” tour launch will make 24 tickets available for all performances through a daily lottery. For the winners, tickets will cost $25 each.  For the losers, tears are free.

 

Fun with video:

Rory O’Malley takes a field trip with his fellow Broadway cast members to watch the first “Book of Mormon” national tour cast perform. Check out what the Broadway company had to say.