Cultural Collaborations Make for Exciting Week

By Megan McDonald April 5, 2012

Mark Zeisler and JD Taylor in Red.

I need a spring break!

I’m worn out, but happily so, from attending six jam-packed days of cultural events and parties, many of which involved exciting collaborations between local arts organizations.

For example, the Asolo Rep and the Ringling Museum of Art are partnering to present Red, the crackling, stimulating  drama about painter Mark Rothko that opened Friday in the museum’s Historic Asolo Theater.

At a pre-performance dinner, Michael Edwards, the Asolo’s producing artistic director, noted proudly that this is the first production of the Tony Award-winning play anywhere to involve a collaboration with an art museum.

Edwards said the partnership is “a perfect marriage of our missions,” and he praised Ringling Executive Director Steven High and Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Matthew McLendon for their commitment to the project.  Their expertise has “revealed elements of the play that we otherwise would not have seen,” Edwards said.

As part of the collaboration, by the way, McLendon has curated a complementary exhibition, Luminosity, inspired by Rothko’s obsession with light.

The opening-night dinner and performance attracted an enthusiastic  number of museum and Asolo supporters, all of whom leapt to their feet to give actors Mark Ziesler and JD Taylor a prolonged standing ovation as the thrilling show ended.

Greenfield Prize-winner, Hermitage Artist Retreat resident and Sarasota Magazine cover star Sanford Biggers.

Big Week for the Hermitage

Talk about collaboration: the Hermitage Artist Retreat was presenting programs  all over town in a week that culminated with its Greenfield Prize Celebration Dinner  on Sunday.

Last Thursday, Codex, a provocative  exhibition by 2010 Greenfield Prize winner Sanford Biggers, opened at the Ringling Museum. The next day, at the Ringling College of Art and Design, the engaging, charismatic Biggers presented a multi-media lecture about his outside-the-box career.

On Sunday afternoon, the Hermitage and the Greenfield Foundation held a free symposium at Holley Hall that focused on breaking  the boundaries between art and music. The panelists included Joseph Melillo, the executive producer of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The Sunday night dinner, at Michael’s on East, attracted leaders of virtually every arts organization in town.  They heard a keynote speech by Robert Spano, the music director of the Atlanta Symphony, and were treated to a performance by pianist and composer Vijay Iyer, who later accepted his 2012 Greenfield Prize.

The prize includes a $30,000 stipend, and will allow Iyer to spend up to six weeks at the Manasota Key artist colony creating new work.  “The award will make a tremendous difference in my life in the coming year,” Iyer said. “It enables me to focus less on career and more on art and community…”

In the past few years, more than 100 visual artists, writers, composers  and playwrights have nurtured their creativity in the handsomely restored old-Florida cottages on the Hermitage’s waterfront campus. At the dinner, Executive Director Bruce Rodgers gave an update about what some Hermitage alumni are doing now. And it turns out their works are being seen and heard everywhere from Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera House to the concert halls of Europe.

It was nice to be reminded what a profound affect the Hermitage is having as an incubator of new and exciting art.

Van Wezel Unveils Broadway Season

If  everybody loved Broadway as much as Seth Rudetsky, the Van Wezel’s 2012-13 Broadway series would sell out in a few hours.

Rudetsky, a pianist, actor, author and host of a popular Broadway-obsessed radio show, was the hyperactive and hilarious host of the Van Wezel’s Broadway Series announcement party on Monday. He shared his encyclopedic knowledge of the most arcane Broadway trivia, introduced film clips and played “Name That Tune” with audience members.  Kudos to the Van Wezel for putting such a creative spin on the boring  announcement press conference.

The season is a blend of recent Broadway shows like The Addams Family Catch Me If You Can and Hair, as well as a 25th anniversary production of Les Miserables  and return engagements of A Chorus Line and Chicago.  For the full lineup, go to

On Stage Party

I raced from the Van Wezel to the Asolo for the last in the theater’s series of Starry Night’s parties. Most of these intimate events are held in patrons’ homes. But this elegant dinner was served on the Asolo mainstage (a much more cozy space than it appears from the audience).  Before dinner, guests were entertained  by interactive skits performed by FSU/Asolo Conservatory students dressed as characters from this season’s shows.

Katie Cunningham  had me grab a director’s bullhorn as we entered the world of the Hollywood comedy Once in a Lifetime. Portraying elocution teacher Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady,  Brendan Ragan was hilarious as he tried to guess where his guests were from. Luckily, nobody tried to recreate the famous vomiting scene from God of Carnage.

For more arts and entertainment updates, follow Charlie Huisking on Twitter @CharlieHuisking.

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