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Thalia Book Club Camp offers up-close interaction with renowned children's book authors and illustrators, book discussions, and book-related field trips around the city. This blog follows the camp's activities.

Busy as a Bee

Published on April 11, 2008

“You haven’t blogged in a while, Isaiah”

“I know. I’ve been busy.”

“People like reading your blog. Thousands of hits. Can’t you find a little time—“

“Okay, okay, but what shall I blog about?”

“Blog about being busy. I’m sure they’ll find it interesting.”

“Well, maybe they will. Okay, here goes:”

Multitasking is the name of the game here at the Artistic Director’s office at Symphony Space. Just as our programs are so varied and diverse, so is a typical day up here in the Second Floor east office overlooking the noisy construction work going on along Broadway in the creation of the new grand entrance to the 96th Street subway station.

No work on any given project is ever not constantly interrupted by telephone calls or e-mails about several other projects or enterprises or necessities or mini-crises, no matter how efficiently my colleagues and I try to organize our meetings, memorandums, work sessions, and that all-too-rare commodity: quiet, private desk time when some thinking and real work can get done.

So it’s a Friday morning, and the top thing on my Artistic Director’s agenda for today is to check in with the writers and performers who will soon start rehearsing for the final Thalia Follies of the season, to take place on Monday evening, May 12th – The Digital Follies – dealing with the digitalization of contemporary life, cell phones, iPods, the internet, texting, match.com and the growing need for powerful muscles of the thumb. I’d better call Martin Sage, my Follies co-writer, and talk about the fact that we didn’t plan on the Democratic nomination battle still raging on in May and we do have to continue to cover this hot topic even though we have already done songs – more than one – about Hillary and Barack and John McCain, but maybe we can do something about how important and significant internet campaign fund-raising has become. Then check in with Musical Director, Lanny Meyers, to see if he’s finished setting to music my lyric about the “Digital Downloading” of music, books, and virtual sex.

But before I can make those calls, here comes Kathy Minton into the office with some Selected Shorts issues that need attention. We’re still short one reader for the May 7 Eudora Welty tribute, so we make some phone calls to some actors or their agents or schedulers. Then there are some details about our forthcoming 17th annual trip to do Shorts at The Getty Center in Los Angeles—here’s my plane ticket to fly out there on April 28, after a busy weekend with the April 26th Dance Sampler marathon and the final ClassicsDeclassified American Symphony Orchestra concert which I MUST attend – it’s Maestro Leon Botstein deconstructing and then conducting the Sibelius Violin Concerto, one of my all-time faves! – and here’s the reservation for my car at the LA airport (or rather Long Beach airport, since we now fly Jet Blue) so that I can drive around L.A. canyons for a few days rehearsing stars for our three programs at the beautiful hilltop Getty Museum on May 2nd, 3rd and 4th, after which we drive back down to Long Beach, return the rental car and get on the red-eye flight, clutching the recordings of our California stories to be folded into next season’s radio series, which starts producing sessions in June, to get back to NYC by dawn on Monday, May 5, to start rehearsals for the Monday, May 12 Digital Follies!

The printed programs for the Getty weekend of detective stories and hard-boiled mysteries are gorgeous pulp-fiction-magazine colors, but we need to proofread the actors’ bios and also make up provocative little blurbs about each story that the Getty Marketing department wants to use in their publicity. Which reminds me, I have to call the nine California readers to schedule their rehearsals with me, and at the same time see if there are any opportunities for lunch or dinner in LA with any of my many west coast friends whom I only get a chance to see once a year on these visits.

Oh, but wait, says Kathy, even before California … we have to take care of a few details about our April 18 reading upstate near Albany of three chapters from Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, part of the NEA’s “Big Read” project that has communities all over the nation studying the book. Here’s the motel reservation, the library people want to take us to dinner after the show, and no, I won’t be returning to NYC the next day with the other actors on the train, because I’ll take advantage of this gig to hop over to my sister’s family near Albany for a Passover Seder.

And oh, Kathy continues, let’s meet later today to talk about story programs for our June booking in Billings, Montana and our July 12 gig in Welfleet on Cape Cod, as well as reviewing the presentation we will make next week at the meeting about NEXT YEAR’S literary season (Did I mention that everyone at Symphony Space, while busy carrying out this year’s demands, is deeply engaged in the detailed planning of the 2008/2009 Season? – How else would we create the beautiful brochure about it that you’ll all receive this summer?)

This session with Kathy, need I say, was also interrupted by a few requests that I sign a stack of thank-you letters to the generous donors who made this year’s Gala fundraiser a success – “And Isaiah, if you can, add a nice little personal note on the letter to people you know.” Oh sure, I can do that. I can sign letters and add little personal notes while at the same time discussing the matters described above.

So I guess I can make those Follies calls now, but no – here are two separate inquiries about projects that people are pitching to Symphony Space, and it’s my job to consider these, respond, discuss whether this idea is something that could fit in with our long-range plans, and explain why it is or isn’t possible to consider this.

So maybe NOW I can make those Follies calls, but here comes my Assistant, Mac Barrett, and our Intern, Allegra Vecchio, and I know what’s on their minds. The three of us constitute the creative team for the 27th annual Bloomsday on Broadway James Joyce marathon which will take place on Monday, June 16th, from 7 pm until the wee hours when Fionnula Flanagan finishes Molly Bloom’s final “yes.” This year, the main focus of four hours of Bloomsday is a reading – for the first time ever – of the complete text of the 17th of the 18 episodes of Ulysses, the “Ithaca” episode in which Mr. Leopold Bloom comes back home, bringing with him the book’s other hero, Stephen Dedalus (Joyce’s own alter ego). This was Joyce’s own favorite episode, written in the form of exactly 307 separate sets of questions and answers. This text will be read by a large number of readers and today we need to refine our master list on an Excel spreadsheet and start calling about a hundred possible actors, big stars, avid Joyceans, and beginners just exploring the book, to see who is definitely planning to be in town on June 16th and will be available to read. The scripts have to be in the mail by mid-May and that time is rapidly approaching.

Oops! It’s almost time for the Performing Arts assessment meeting, at which we’ll go over a number of recent presentations in music, dance, cabaret and family shows, from the point of view of marketing, tech production, ticket sales and overall quality, to see what self-criticism we can each carry out and how we can continue to improve. Can’t miss that.

But now, I must take some time to talk with our Marketing Director about the final big event of this, our 30th Anniversary Season, the May 17th twelve and a half hour musical marathon Wall to Wall Bach, commemorating the original January 7, 1978 Wall to Wall Bach, that started out intending to be a one-day event, but ended up giving birth to Symphony Space! We need a meeting with our publicist to see how we can let the world know about one special feature of the day, which is that members of the public can actually join in the performance of the Bach Magnificat.

Okay, now I’m REALLY gonna make those Follies calls. But first I’ll blog.

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