Friday, June 26, 2015

Local TV Ads

One thing we've talked about in regards to Lo Speziale is the fact that the apothecary in the show is a big news junkie, so the team has been kicking some ideas around on how to show this throughout the opera. TV leads to talk of ads, of course, which in Breaking Bad terms leads to a "Better Call Saul" ad. If you're not familiar with the show, here's what I'm talking about: 

Hilarious right? And of course everyone in America recognizes this as the parody of the local business ad that routinely runs in their area. In my hometown this was the ad that everyone recognizes: 

It doesn't get any better than Becky Queen of Carpet. I remember one year at Halloween we ran into some kids dressed up as Becky and Wanda out trick or treating. They scored massive amounts of candy. 

In college it was this ad: 

Downer downer downer! Where you always get a free onion! (I've never understood that.) 

In the comments section post YOUR hometown TV ad! You might just win something... 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Fact of Fiction: Creative liberties?

PBS interviewed playwright David Auburn and asked about creating a story based on real people. Here's what Mr. Auburn had to say:

How did you try to strike a balance between the portrayal of real-life figures with a true history…and the demands of creating your own character for a play?

David Auburn: Navigating the line between being true to broad historical facts and working on a character was one of the challenges. I think the story is historically compelling…other people can say how it feels to them when looking at the history. I think people can come away from this play with a pretty accurate portrayal of the situation at the time.

The relationship with the Russian man [who is part of a blackmail scheme] is speculative. That’s probably the biggest liberty I take. [Editor’s note: Alsop was blackmailed over his closeted homosexuality, but the Russian man in the play is a fictional character.] Alsop’s marriage did dissolve but that all did happen later in the `70s. I moved it back earlier to try to draw some contrasts. His daughter in the play is a composite of a number of stepchildren he had.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fact or Fiction: How was this created?

PBS ran a great interview with playwright David Auburn when The Columnist opened on Broadway in 2012. Here's what David himself said about the inception and creation of The Columnist.

Art Beat: Why did you decide to write a play about Joseph Alsop?

David Auburn: It’s sort of a long process. It partially began about eight or 10 years ago when I realized I didn’t know anything about the Vietnam War and set about the process of trying to learn about it. I read a number of histories. And the Alsop name kept popping up in footnotes. On the theory that sometimes the minor characters in the quarters of history are the most interesting characters. I read how influential and famous they (Joe and his brother, Stewart) were at the time to the world of journalism and foreign affairs – especially Joe. And it interested me how forgotten he was now. And I asked myself: How does someone go from being so central and so essential to the political dialogue to almost being forgotten? I wanted to get at what a magnetic and flamboyant and complicated person he was, how mercurial he was, how polarizing he was as an individual.

I imagine that one of the tough challenges about writing this play is that he often seems like a very tough man to like. He’s arrogant, he can be a bully, he comes off as a hawk on Vietnam who sticks his head in the sand.

David Auburn: It was one of the compelling things about him. One of the things that I read about Joe is that people had a great attachment to him despite all of the things you mentioned. I’m not really all that interested in writing about characters you like. I’m trying to put interesting characters on stage in a way that shows all their complexity. Writing about someone whose views are so different from your own and showing the complexity of that person can be difficult but it’s a challenge I like.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Fact or Fiction: Alsop and the KGB

We've had a number of people ask about the KGB aspect of the story. That piece is mostly true. From a piece from the Sydney Morning Herald:

On April 1, 1957, CIA director Allen Dulles wrote a "SECRET EYES ONLY" memo to Hoover, enclosing a nine-page confession by Alsop, Washington socialite and conservative journalist, detailing that he was homosexual and that, consequently, eight weeks earlier he had been framed by the KGB in Moscow when men burst into a hotel room, catching him in "the act" with a young Russian "pleasant-mannered fellow". This was not an April Fool's day joke, this was the hard-core side of the Cold War. So sensitive was the matter it took 42 years for the confession to become unclassified. Alsop initially became suicidal when caught by the Russians, who tried, but failed according to Alsop, to get him to change sides. He was helped by US ambassador Charles Bohlen in Moscow (himself subject to rumours of homosexuality and an appointment opposed by McCarthy). Initially, Hoover and Dulles accepted Alsop's abject mea culpa and self-described "folly". A memo to Hoover marked "top secret" indicates Dulles was still suspicious: "I am not at all satisfied with the subject's evaluation of his own situation or his refusal to co-operate more fully in the interview." 
Nevertheless only six years later, Alsop is recorded in tapes three days after John F. Kennedy's assassination strongly urging, in a subtle blend of insistence and grovelling, that Johnson set up a blue ribbon commission that would "carry unchallengeable convictions".

The transcript of that LBJ phone call has been released and you can read it in its entirety here.  From this it sounds like Joe Alsop was basically the guy behind the Warren Commission. Who knew?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fact or Fiction: JFK's Inauguration Night

One thing we've been asked a few times by folks who've seen The Columnist is - did President John F. Kennedy really come to the Alsop house on inauguration night? 

The answer, reportedly, is yes. Here's what a piece from the Washington Post says:

The president stayed about 90 minutes, enjoyed champagne and some terrapin soup, and perhaps -- according to several memoirs of the time -- a brief liaison with one of the young women present that night. The details and guest list of the party have been muddied by decades of revisionist spinning. But this was Alsop's triumph: an acknowledgment by the president on this, of all nights, that Alsop and the liberal elite who gathered in these historic old houses mattered. 
"The long, festive night and the Kennedy visit reflected for Joe the transformation of Washington," writes Robert Merry in "Taking on the World," a biography of Alsop and his brother, Stewart. "There was a new spirit in the city, a political and social ferment, as well as the prospect of imaginative leadership in the executive branch. Georgetown was once again fashionable."

Kennedy's inaugural address is routinely mentioned as one of the best in American history. Not only was it the first presidential inaugural address televised in color, but it stands as one of the most memorable and oft quoted speeches in America history. In case you missed it the first time, here's a great recording of it:

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
—John F. Kennedy, inauguration address, January 1961.