This blog is fin.
7/14/09 – A few days after I wrote this, I happened to read an editorial by Museums President David Hillenbrand (written one month ago) about the fight to keep arts funding. Though Mr. Hillenbrand easily trumps me with his years of experience and know-how, we’re not so far apart in our thinking.
Often, I think back to a time when my parents had a dream of restoring the Levoy Theatre, an old, decaying vaudeville house in my hometown of Millville, New Jersey, to its former glory. I was young and didn’t understand why. I’d roll my eyes whenever they passed by it saying, “There’s our place,” and talked about maybe passing it along to me one day.
My parents, try as they might, never saw their dream become a reality – at least for them. Perhaps they would be leading the charge today if they had known more about fundraising and grantwriting. Perhaps I could have done something if I were older at that time armed with the knowledge that I have now. In any case, as I’ve grown older and personally invested in the arts, I’ve realized now that what my parents wanted to do was not just for their own or our family’s benefit, but to bring something back to a community that was in decline as the glass factories disappeared.
Fortunately, though my parent’s dream for the community didn’t come true (for them), it has not died as a group of individuals came together 14 years ago to make preserving and restoring the venue a reality. What’s even more important is that my hometown’s main “drag” has now been transformed into an arts district – one that made this once non-believer from afar a believer.
Millville’s story reminds me a lot of Pittsburgh, the city I now call home. Once a thriving city, thanks to the steel industry, it too saw its decline as the work dried up and the factories closed. It was the arts, in my opinion, that have helped to transform the face of Pittsburgh from the place once known as “hell with the lid off” to “America’s Most Livable City.” Many organizations have contributed to this transformation, but the two most prominent cultural institutions that stick out in my mind are The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Carnegie Museums.
This weekend, just hours before the Super Bowl, I got to witness a musical that has been bringing the house down where e’er it goes – “Jersey Boys.”
Mounted on Broadway in 2005, the Tony Award-winning production (Best Musical, Best Actor [John Lloyd Young], Best Featured Actor [Christian Hoff], and Best Lighting Design, 2006) has since expanded to companies across not only the United States, but also the world. The premise is simple: it tells the story of how Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, one of the best-known rock bands of the 1960s, came to be.
In addition to its standing engagements, “Jersey Boys” is now on tour, recently wrapping up a month-long engagement in Pittsburgh. Geared mostly toward an older audience (at least in my humble opinion), it incorporates a phenomenal score, cheeky humor (and colorful language!), colorful costumes and set design, and of course, an insanely talented cast.
As a born-and-bred Jersey girl, this musical reminded me a little of home. Though I’m from the (South) Jersey Shore area and I don’t have the accent and know all of the colloquialisms relative to North Jersey, home is home, right? Even at the age of 25, I knew almost every. single. song featured in the production thanks to growing up in a house that played a lot more of the old school stuff than giving in to the MTV generation.
What made seeing this performance even more special was to watch Graham Fenton transform into Frankie Valli right before my eyes. See, Graham and I went to high school together, sang in Choir and all that jazz. While we weren’t very good friends and I haven’t seen him since we graduated, I always knew that his voice – his talent could take him somewhere.
Every so often, I try to follow his career as we get older and I can truly say that I am not surprised he’s made it to this point, but I am just so thrilled for him all the same. I’m sad that I couldn’t get backstage after the performance to say “hello,” but I’m sure the opportunity to re-connect will come some day. Graham, you are truly amazing, and you have nowhere to go, but up. I tip my glass to you, Jersey Boy.
In addition, I would live to give many thanks to the people who made bringing this production to Pittsburgh possible. As I stated before, we’re very fortunate to have the arts programming that we do. Finally, thanks to the two folks who afforded me the opportunity to go. You know who you are. =)
If you have a chance to check out “Jersey Boys,” I strongly recommend you do so. It will just blow you away.
I might be in want of new ankles for Christmas (see: wearing heeled boots and standing about five hours), but I can say that I was glad to be at the Kids Holiday Crawl hosted by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust today in downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.
I had the pleasure of helping with crafts for Pittsburgh International Children’s Theater, an awesome subsidiary of the Cultural Trust that presents a family series in the city and suburbs and an international children’s festival in May. (OK, so I used to intern/work there, so I might be biased. It really is a great organization, though)! Chief among our activities were a magnifying glass-making activity in advance of “Nate the Great,” coming in January 2009, and temporary tattoos. Oh, David Newell aka Mr. McFeely of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame was also on hand late in the afternoon to sign autographs.*I didn’t snap any photographs so I wouldn’t have to worry about waiver implications or anything.*
It was an opportunity for me to prove to myself once again that while I have two college degrees, I seriously lack in craft-making abilities. I mostly stuck to greeting, cleaning and assisting where I could instead. It was a steady stream all day as we welcomed more than 400 children and their family members to our little outfit on Penn Avenue. The holiday crawl was free and, although geared toward kids, had something for everyone. None of us were able to check out the other locations on the crawl, but it was fun to look at the crafts the families brought with them from their other stops, like homemade musical instruments from Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and spin art from the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.
As I watched the children make their magnifying glasses, I commented that we’re very fortunate to have the arts scene that we do here in Pittsburgh. It’s true that we have some great sports teams here (save the Pirates, apologies to the dozen of you who are still fans), but I’d like to think the arts scene is going to help shape the Pittsburgh of tomorrow.
We’re fortunate to have banner organizations like the Trust that can unite the arts community into a thriving movement, helping to revitalize the downtown area. I’m not a native Burgher, but to my understanding, the downtown area before the Trust’s formation wasn’t the most savory of places. It still has a way to go, as half of the area still packs up with the end of the work day, but if you talk a walk these days you can see that the Trust’s belief and investment in the city is paving the way for other organizations to also make a commitment to a better Pittsburgh.
I’m so proud to have shared in this goal through my own experiences and I hope to continue doing so for years to come.