Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"Summer Reading Guide" compiled by Angie Fiedler

This article is from the May 2012 issue of KC Stage

Ah, summer. It's the time of year to sit back on the beach (or the Midwest equivalent) and enjoy the sun and sand with a good book. Back in October 2010, we compiled a fall reading guide of books for people involved in the performing arts that are more for studying. This time, I sent out a request for lighter reading: books you'd want to read while you're laying on that proverbial beach, just having a good time, that just happen to relate to the performing arts in some way. All these books will be linked to where you can buy them in the online article, as well as being listed on our Amazon store. Enjoy your summer!

The Inner Voice: The Making of a Singer by Renée Fleming, published 2004 by Penguin Group.
- Celia Gannon

Whether you are a singer of any style or simply a fan of the vocal instrument, Renée Fleming's charming and direct autobiography reveals what it took to create one of the most celebrated voices in the world today. Part biography and part textbook, this read is a must for aspiring singers. Ms. Fleming provides valuable vocal technique insight and instruction, while sharing a glimpse behind the curtain of her international career. Not just for opera fans, The Inner Voice offers a "unique and privileged look at the making of a singer.

Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical by Stacy Wolf, published 2011 by Oxford University Press.
- Chris McCoy, currently a PhD candidate at the University of California at Davis

This decade-by-decade study of musical theatre from a feminist/woman-centered approach is both informative and enjoyable. It provides just enough scholarly evidence to make you feel that you are learning while exploring the canon of musical theatre history in a really enjoyable format. I guarantee after reading this book, you'll never look at Wicked, Sweet Charity, A Chorus Line, or Phantom of the Opera the same way.

Ever After: The Last Years of Musical Theatre and Beyond by Barry Singer, published 2004 by Applause Books.
- Chris McCoy, currently a PhD candidate at the University of California at Davis

This expose of musical theatre begins in the late 1970s and extends through 2003. Delivered in short, pithy chapters on specific works, the book reads like a collection of opening night reviews with salient criticism about the state of musical theatre in the 20th - 21st centuries. All of the chapters are easily palatable while offering interesting observations on the contributions of works that you might have dismissed as merely popular entertainment. The short chapters make for great beach-side reading as it is easy to pick up and complete a chapter in under an hour.

The Shakespeare Guide to Italy: Retracing the Bard's Unknown Travels by Richard Paul Roe, published 2011 by New York: Harper Perennial.
- Thomas Canfield, with the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival/UMKC

Using Shakespeare's plays as a literary travel guide, Richard Paul Roe spent over twenty years on a quest to identify the real geographical locations mentioned in all ten of the bard's plays set in Medieval or Renaissance Italy. This groundbreaking book documents his journey on the ground and chronicles his surprising results. Assisted on his travels by maps, landmarks, historical records, and sketches, Roe was able to convincingly pinpoint many of the exact settings used or mentioned in the plays. He argues that such legendary sites as Shylock's penthouse from The Merchant of Venice, the Duke's Oak from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Prospero's island from The Tempest are actual places.

While Roe's work reflects meticulous scholarship of the highest order, this is a lively and enjoyable read that includes more than 150 photographs and illustrations. Because The Shakespeare Guide to Italy uses concrete details to support Roe's central hypothesis that the writer of the plays must have actually travelled on the continent, it is the most significant recent contribution to the Shakespeare authorship debate.

P.S. Your Cat is Dead, by James Kirkwood, published 1972 by Stein and Day.
- Angie Fiedler

Both a book and a play, the basic plot is about Jimmy Zoole, an actor in New York City at a turning point in his life. At 38, he hasn't quite 'made it', and is starting to realize he may never make it. His relationship with his girlfriend Kate is on the decline through both of their faults, but partly because he plays everything very safe - and Kate is tired of the struggle of getting him to take the chances an actor (and person) needs to do occasionally in order to grow. His loft has been robbed twice in a row, one of which resulted in the theft of his one and only copy of the novel he was writing in an attempt to see if he was capable of doing something other than acting. And finally, his cat, Bobby Seale, is at the vet, ill. (And, of course, is actually dead before we even hear about him.)

Both versions are quick reads, and some of the best lines are in both, including the best insult ever: "May your orgasms turn to stone!" And both versions made me relate as both a writer and as someone who's had the occasional venture into theatre. The story is engaging, the characters are believable and relatable, and it goes to show that it's okay, maybe even healthy, to question your place in this world, and that when bad things happen, you just have to keep plugging away. After all, as Jimmy's friend Pete says, "Life is nothing but a bunch of revue sketches. The birth sketch, the first-day-at-school sketch, the discovering-what-your-dong-is-for sketch, the marriage one, and so on. Some are bombs, some are so-so, a few are perfect, but when they're played out - forget them. On to the next. And remember, like revue sketches, the bad ones always end."

How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater by Mark Acito, published 2004 by Broadway Books.
- Angie Fiedler

I was only halfway through the book, and already knew it was going to be added to my 'I want it, I want it' list of books, movies, and music that I would buy when money will fall out of the sky and I'm no longer burdened by the beast of bills.

This humorous coming-of-age story takes place in 1983, and is about 17 year old Edward Zanni who is a young Italian American born in Hoboken, New Jersey who wants to attend Juilliard. Unfortunately for him, his father is against it, and so he and his friends turn to various schemes to, well, pay for college.

It's a quick, easy read (I read it in three days) - and the type of book I don't want to put down (in fact, I stayed up later than I had intended one night to read a couple more chapters). Maybe because I'm a theatre person; maybe because I, like Eddie, have a quirky relationship with a Buddha figure (don't ask); and maybe, just maybe, because I relate to the fear of having people not understand the drive to be an artistic person (in whatever field), and be told to do something 'sensible' instead. If you like theatre, amusing 'creative vandalism', this should definitely be on your 'to-read' list.

Have a recommendation yourself? E-mail afiedler@kcstage.com with a short paragraph or two as to why you recommend the book. Please include your name and the book's title, author, published date, and publisher.

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