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Friday, September 30, 2011

Harvey's Oral History: Flora the Elephant

Michael J. Anderson (featured) and Flora in Endangered Species, Martha Clarke, 1990. Photo: Martha Swope

Surely Harvey Lichtenstein has many a tale about the numerous leading ladies who have trod BAM's boards. But probably few have been as voluptuous, wrinkled, or grey as Flora.

Harvey tells the story of housing Flora, a nine-year-old African elephant, in the parking lot across the street from the BAM Majestic (now Harvey) Theater. Flora appeared in Endangered Species, directed by Martha Clarke, which opened the 1990 Next Wave Festival.

Harvey-EndangeredSpecies-1 by BAMorg

The complete Harvey Lichtenstein Oral History, featuring John Rockwell interviewing Harvey, is available at the BAM Hamm Archives.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Free Ticket+ Thursdays: The Cries and Whispers Edition

Photo: Cries and Whispers by Jan Versweyveld
There's no such thing as a free lunch.
But there is such a thing as free BAM tickets—tickets which, when combined with appropriate amounts of peanut butter, could conceivably be eaten for lunch. 

It's time for Free Ticket+ Thursdays again! Enter the contest on Facebook by answering a simple question for your chance to win free BAM stuff.

This week's prize: Tickets to Toneelgroep Amsterdam's Cries and Whispers + BAM Cinema Club membership

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Free Event: Melvin van Peebles at BAMcafé Live

By Robert Wood

Photo: Melvin Van Peebles by Brayden Olsen

"I do what I want to do," Melvin Van Peebles recently told The New York Times. If the image you get from that is of Van Peebles buffing his nails in a hammock while listening to Otis Redding's "I've Got Dreams to Remember" on repeat, you're way off. It's not that Melvin doesn't like to lie in hammocks; it's that, with all the other things he likes to do (and therefore does), he doesn't have much time to do so.

In rough chronological order: lit major, postal worker, air force bombardier, portrait painter, cable car operator, short film director, children's book author, Ph.D candidate in astronomy, actor, street performer, dancer, producer, singer, novelist.

And that was all before releasing the film that made him famous: 1971's subversive Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (about which Melvin said “I’m the Rosa Parks of modern black cinema,” referring to someone else who did what she wanted to do).

Broadway producer and stock broker quickly followed.

Photo by Bill Bryant
There's also composer. Van Peebles didn't know how to write or read music, but he did, as he says, know how to count. So he numbered the keys on the piano, plunked out melodies, wrote down the corresponding numbers, and there you have it: Melvin the composer.

It's the latter who’s coming to BAMcafé Live this Saturday night to kick off the All-Stars series, part of BAM’s ongoing 150th-anniversary celebrations. We couldn’t be more excited. In the 70s, along with several of his own albums, Van Peebles wrote the music Earth, Wind, and Fire played on the soundtrack to the original Sweet Sweetback film. And he wrote more music for post-funk improv group Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber to play when he took a stage version of Sweetback to Paris. Supplement Burnt Sugar with a few more personnel, add a layer of Melvin’s own inimitably grizzled, political, say-what-I-want-to-say spoken word, and you have his group, Laxative.Why Laxative? Because, according to Melvin, “they make shit happen.”

Here’s Laxative and Van Peebles at a release party for the Black Rock Coalition:

Melvin van Peebles with Laxative

Also, don't miss these extensive interviews with Melvin as part of the NVLP Oral History Archive.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Old Things: Brooklyn Bullfighter Sidney Franklin

Thanks to a generous grant from the Leon Levy Foundation, the BAM Hamm Archives started acquiring BAM-related materials, and it's a blast because the diversity of materials out there is mind blowing. For 150 years, BAM has been the kind of place where Gertrude Stein would appear the same week as Winnie the Pooh...

BAM members ticket, Wed, Nov 21, 1934
I’ll be honest—at first I was a little apprehensive about launching into acquisitions. We already have over 3000 linear feet of a largely hidden, mostly uncatalogued collection. On the other hand, we lost many treasures in the 1903 fire and the 1977 flood.

FTT Recap: BAM In Five Words or Less

Leslie pondered how it was that BAM could be both majestic
and also smell of wood. Gigi screens at BAMcinématek
on Sun, Oct 30 as part of its Vincente Minnelli retrospective.
Photo courtesy of Photofest
Last week for Free Ticket+ Thursdays on Facebook, we asked you to describe BAM in five words or less. Here’s a recap of some choice answers:

BAM was a body for Michael…
“nerve center of Brooklyn culture”

and for Andreas as well:
“where the art breathes”

But for Katherine, it was a diamond:
“cultural oasis, hidden behind Target”

Dante, clinging to purgatory, offered…
“film culture's last hope”

and Aristotle aka Suzanne alliterated: “cutting-edge, classy catharsis”

Silvie waxed metaphoric...
“creative community glue”

and Francine, too:
“inventive joy”

Then there was Kyona—unaware that we don’t do funerals—who said: 
“the rest from life[s] battle”

(Don’t go towards the light, Kyona…)

Nicole, a schizophrenic foodie, wrote…
“crunchy, bubbly, punchy fusion, local”

Whereas a more olfactory-oriented Natalia offered:
“majestic. and smells like wood”

Liz made the alphabet work overtime…
“BAMazing : )”

But Rebecca reveled as it blew a gasket: 

Free Ticket+ Thursdays happens every week on Facebook.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Weekend Brecht

Bertolt Brecht 
From Brecht's A Short Organum for the Theatre:
"Our representations [on the stage] must take second place to what is represented, men's life together in society; and the pleasure felt when the rules emerging from this life in society are treated as imperfect and provisional. In this way the theatre leaves its spectators productively disposed even after the spectacle is over. Let us hope that their theater may allow them to enjoy as entertainment that terrible and never-ending labour which should ensure their maintenance, together with the terror of their unceasing transformation. Let them here produce their own lives in the simplest way; for the simplest way of living is an art." (Translated by John Willett)
Brecht's The Threepenny Operadirected by Robert Wilson, is at BAM Oct 4—8.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Free Ticket+ Thursdays: The Robert Wilson Edition

The Threepenny Opera runs from Oct 4—8 at BAM. Photo by Lesley Leslie-Spinks
Don't be a drag. Go gracefully to this week's installment of Free Ticket+ Thursdays on Facebook for your chance to win BAM stuff.

This week's prize:
Tickets to Robert Wilson's really-close-to-being-sold-out production of The Threepenny Opera + a Friends of BAM membership

Note: we really mean really close to being sold out! Why not enter Free Ticket+ Thursdays and let fate decide if it's meant to be?

Ad Preview: BAM And Then It Hits You

Roxann, actor and Bed Stuy resident. Original performance photo by Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos
We've all had it happen. Not necessarily in the middle of 7th Avenue. And not necessarily involving chalk-chested Japanese Butoh dancers. But we’ve all had a BAM or other cultural moment come home to roost in the unlikeliest of places. You always think they've been put to bed with that beer after the show, but no; the good ones—and the bad ones, so bad they're good—always find a way back in.

That's the idea behind our upcoming ad campaign, revealed here in a special sneak preview for the BAM blog faithful. (The unfaithful can see them in a few weeks in the subway and at Atlantic Terminal.) As you can tell, the ads are based around actual surveillance photographs taken of bonafide BAM audience members, fans, and employees at the very moment they are seized by their irrepressible BAM memories. We think that they provide unambiguous evidence that BAM moments can happen anywhere, and to any of us at any time. Crosswalks, baseball fields, subway cars—the ghosts of BAM past don’t discriminate.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BAM Atys Opening Gala

The Atys Opening Gala on Sunday, September 18th, followed the matinee performance of Jean Baptiste Lully's French Baroque opera, Atys, and marked the very beginning of BAM's 150th anniversary season!

Please click below for more details and photos of the evening. In addition, be sure to look out for more information on BAM's 2011 Next Wave Gala on December 6th, following a production of Krapp's Last Tape with two-time Oscar nominee John Hurt!

Presented generously by Ronald P. Stanton and The Delancey Foundation, this colorful recreation of the original 1987 Opéra Comique production of Atys returned to BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House for the second time since 1989! Conducted by William Christie and directed by Jean-Marie Villégier, Atys featured the choral and orchestral genius of Les Arts Florissants, as well as several fabulous vocalists, including Ed Lyon, Anna Reinhold, and Emmanuelle de Negri.

Gala attendees on Sunday had the opportunity view the sensationalset and costumes and listen to beautiful music, after which they were also invited to two champagne intermissions in the Dorothy W. Levitt Lobby and a post-performance dinner in the Lepercq Space with excellent hors d'oeuvres and dinner prepared by BAM's caterer Great Performances and with dazzling event decor, provided by Fleurs Bella. In attendance at the gala dinner were the gala chairs, Joe Stern and Nora Ann Wallace and Jack Nussbaum, as well as members of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, representatives from the Comité Régional de Tourisme de Normandie, William Christie and other members of the company! After the delicious French-inspired meal, guests were given a complete wine set to take home with them, courtesy of American Express.

Guests of American Express enjoying the wine and food at the Atys Opening Gala with their table centerpiece by Fleur Bella.
William Christie, musical director of Atys, and Ronald P. Stanton, giving remarks during the gala meal.

Joseph V. Melillo, BAM's executive producer, with Judy and Alan Fishman.
Beth Rudin DeWoody and guests following the performance of Atys.
All photos by Elena Olivo.

FTT Recap: The Best Things That Come With Age

The unanimous favorite: cheese  
For our inaugural Free Ticket+ Thursdays contest on Facebook (a pox on your house if you haven’t entered yet), we mused that BAM is older than the Statue of Liberty, West Virginia, and basketball before asking you to tell us some of the good things that come with age. Here’s a recap of some choice answers:

Paul confessed…
“an excuse for being overly surly”

and Matt, taking a cue from Paul, admitted…
“comfort expelling gas in public”

Michael said what we were all thinking…
“[Age] is the dimension that gives an image its depth and tangible feel of space. Age can be explored, manipulated, referenced, but never replicated. It is a dimension beyond the visual, only felt but not seen and certainly not replicable.”

But Annmarie, Vincent, and Alli beat around the bush…

Francine—always the student—offered…
“Understanding good theater!”

While poor Frank, himself a student of the sexes, bemoaned…
“I don't know what comes with old age but my wife thinks Alan Rickman is aged to perfection.”

Nikol said…
"concert T-shirts"

And Lucy—contributing her own image no less—noted…
“You can wear really insane glasses all the time without looking like a tool”

And we'd be remiss not to end with Stephen, Sage from the East: 
“In a word: wabi-sabi. Beauty defined by the marks of existence and change. Basically, BAM could not be as wonderful as BAM is today without enduring its history, and it will not be the same BAM as tomorrow's.”

Free Ticket+ Thursdays happens every Thursday on Facebook.

Swag Bag: Soup for 'Drella (featuring Andy Warhol, John Cale, and Lou Reed)

This week, we introduce the first installment of Swag Bag, highlighting unusual ephemera from the BAM Hamm Archives. First up: soup, both powdered and canned, created for the Andy Warhol-inspired Songs for 'Drella: A Fiction.

That's Andy Warhol on the label.

In 1989, two years after Warhol's death, John Cale and Lou Reed, founding members of the 60's band the Velvet Underground, were co-comissioned by BAM to create Songs for 'Drella, a requiem for Andy Warhol. The title, Songs for 'Drella, comes from a Factory-era nickname for Warhol, who produced the band's first album. Warhol had also engaged the Velvet Underground to perform at screenings of his movies, and as part of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, the psychedelic multimedia touring show he designed.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

BAMcafé Live All-Stars

Photo: Melvin Van Peebles, courtesy of the artist
Melvin is coming...

"Play It As It Lays," Melvin Van Peebles with Laxative

Saturday, October 1 at 9pm

Stay tuned.

Harvey's Oral History: Peter Brook's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Peter Brook/
Royal Shakespeare Company, 1971.  
Photo: David Farrell
"By the end of the performance...I mean...I was in tears"

Former BAM President Harvey Lichtenstein on Peter Brook's A Midsummer Night's Dream

In our last post, we told the story of globe-trotting director Peter Brook's 1973 trip to Africa to study acting techniques before putting on "The Conference of the Birds" at BAM. As a little appendix to that story, have a listen to former BAM President Harvey Lichtenstein sharing his memories of an earlier Peter Brook triumph: Brook's game-changing Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, at BAM in 1971:

The complete Harvey Lichtenstein Oral History, featuring John Rockwell interviewing Harvey, is available at the BAM Hamm Archives.

Friday, September 16, 2011

This Week in BAM History: Peter Brook, Barbra Streisand, and Africa

Peter Brook and son in Africa, 1973. 
Photo: Mary Ellen Mark from Lee Gross, Inc.
“Forgive the namedropping. But as we talked, Babs asked me about the director Peter Brook and his half-crazed journey through the Sahara Desert and Central West Africa. She was hoping to see one of the Brook productions at the Brooklyn Academy of Music—so what did it all mean?”

—Theater Critic John Heilpern on a conversation with Barbra Streisand about Peter Brook

On September 10th, 1973, director Peter Brook, along with about 30 members of his International Centre for Theatre Research (including Helen Mirren) landed at BAM. For Brook — who would go on to inaugurate BAM's Majestic Theater (later, the Harvey) with his epic production of The Mahabarata—it was the last stop of a three-year-long attempt to answer one question: “What are the common stories, [...] the shared outlines of story and character with which an international group of actors could work?”

In pursuit of an answer, Brook and members of the Centre (which included at various points Jerzy Grotowski and poet Ted Hughes) crossed three continents. After forming in Paris in 1970 and sojourning to Persepolis in order to study nonverbal acting techniques, in 1973 they looped across the Sahara in Land Rovers, playing in cities and small villages between Algeria, Mali, and Nigeria.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Free Ticket+ Thursdays: The Minnelli Edition

If only the Free Ticket+ Thursdays prize were a trip to the 1904 
World's Fair... Photo: Meet Me In St. Louis, courtesy of
"What's that you say, BAM?! You're doing that really swell ticket giveaway again?!"

That's right, Judy Garland. Every Thursday for the next 16 months.

Visit Free Ticket+ Thursdays on Facebook and answer our question for a chance to win BAM stuff. The winner will be selected at random and contacted next week, when we'll do it all again.

This week's prize: Tickets to 10 Vicente Minnelli films of your choice for you and a guest + a BAM Cinema Club membership

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Early Music, New Sound (or, Why Atys Will Sound Awesome)

It doesn't take much to be seduced by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants. Play this for a five-year old, a Greenwich financier, and a jaded teenager alike and dare them all not to feel at least a little French Baroque wind in their hair.

 William Christie: French Baroque Jedi.  
What's a bit more difficult to appreciate is how different―gloriously different―that sound is relative to what came before it. While Christie's innovations have largely been with specifically French music―unearthing rarely-performed works like Atys, restoring the place of classical French declamation in singing and whatnot―he's also a member of a more general club of early music reformers whose stripped-down approach to the music now largely dominates the scene.

This wasn't always the case. As recently as a few decades ago, it was still somewhat easy to find 100-piece orchestras (that's big) sawing their way through baroque works on decidedly non-baroque instruments, imbuing them with the kind of sweaty-browed romantic pathos fit for razing Valhalla itself. A classic example is Leopold Stokowski's famously elephantine transcription of Bach's D-minor toccata. Suddenly, Bach is Richard Wagner, returning the ring to the Rhine:

Leopold Stokowski, transcription of Bach Toccata & Fugue in D-minor, BWV 565

This example is a little unfair, since it's a transcription and not a faithful attempt at the original. But it still symbolizes the general impulse that early music reformers like Christie helped to displace: a preference for the big and bloated at the expense of the stylistic delicacies of the original scores.

These days, conductors are more likely to save their effusive outpourings of romantic subjectivity for guys with beards rather than powdered wigs. Go into a record store looking for those Bach transcriptions and you'll quickly find yourself in the historical section. So what replaced it? In a nutshell, history. Christie and crew researched, resulting in the use of period instruments (instruments built or emulating those built during the time when the music was written), pared-down ensembles, and an obsessive attention to the nuances of historical performance practices like declamation (the relationship between musical and linguistic accents) and ornamentation.

We could get into the minutiae of all of these things, from the use of gut strings (lamb intestines; think of that while you're soaking up Atys) to the more selective use of vibrato, to the arcane details of how ornamentation is supposed to be married to the consonants of the French language. But I'd rather you not jump off a bridge. It's best to just listen.

Here's a clip from the Shall-Remain-Nameless European Philharmonic:

Jean-Philippe Rameau, Zoroastre, Act 3, Scene 3

Molasses, anyone?

Now Christie and Les Arts Florissants:

The same, performed by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants

That's what rejuvenated French Baroque music sounds like.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Just Announced: Beyond This Place

It isn't everyday that a documentary filmmaker has the guts to turn the camera on himself, much less on, say, his fraught relationship with his perpetually stoned, freedom-fetishizing, absentee father. But we get nothing less in the award-winning documentary Beyond This Place, director Kaleo La Belle's engrossing chronicle of his own attempts to make amends with his dad, forget it all, and move on.

Luckily, BAM just got the green light to screen the film in the Opera House on October 30 as part of our 150th anniversary celebrations. We couldn't be more excited. Take a look at the trailer here:

So why are we screening it in the roomy opera house instead of closer to the popcorn in BAM Rose Cinemas? Because it will definitely sell out, and we want to make sure there's plenty of room for all that want to see it. Why will it sell out? Because, along with the buzz surrounding the film in general, two very special guests—one of them an already-seasoned, particularly doe-eyed BAM artist—will be on hand to provide a live soundtrack. Unfortunately, the guests' names are locked inside of a secret vault located half a mile under Lafayette Avenue. They also might or might not be mentioned at 1:38 into the trailer above...

Beyond This Place goes on sale tomorrow (September 14) to BAM members and Monday (September 19) to the general public. As I said, it will definitely sell out, so if you want to absolutely guarantee your seat, become a BAM member and beat the rush for tickets.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Free Ticket+ Thursdays starts today

Thursday: long a mere bump in the road to Friday. All but forgotten in the third phrase of the "Happy Days" theme song. A stranger to itself.

Until now... Free Ticket+ Thursdays has begun!

Join us on Facebook and answer our question for your chance to score a bountry of prizes. The winner will be selected at random and contacted next Thursday, Sep 15, when we'll have a new question and another chance for you to win.

This week's prize: Two season tickets to the Next Wave Festival, plus a Friends of BAM membership.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

This Week in BAM History: "The Great Flood" of 1977

Labor Day, 1977—At 6am, a 30-inch water main broke on Ashland Place, sending thousands of gallons of water into BAM. It flooded the stages and orchestra seats of the two main theaters—the Carey Playhouse and the Opera House. Two boilers were submerged, and a 15,000 gallon oil tank was overturned, spilling its contents. Outside, more than 100 feet of pavement on Ashland Place caved in. It took hours to get the water main shut down and by mid-morning, the water was over 50 feet deep.

The Carey Playhouse (now BAM Rose Cinemas) underwater

Introducing the Richard B. Fisher Building

A rendering of the BAM Richard B. Fisher Building, designed by
H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture and opening in the
Fall of 2012
Before you can do anything with theater, film, music, dance, and the like, you have to have a place to put them. What’s great is when those places come with compelling stories of their own. That’s typically been the case with BAM, whose buildings have historically had a flair for the dramatic.

There’s the original building on Montague Street, mentioned below, whose spectacular demise in what the Times at the time called a “seething sea of flame” led to the construction of the current Beaux Arts gem on Lafayette. And that once-wayward vaudeville and movie house known as the Majestic Theater (later, the Harvey Theater), all but left to rot until director Peter Brook’s Mahabharata came into town? A book could be written on it alone. Leave it to Sharon to tell these stories, but suffice it to say that BAM’s buildings are as much characters as mere containers. And now we’re adding another.

Scheduled to open in the fall of 2012, the BAM Richard B. Fisher building (depicted above) will be an environmentally-friendly, multi-use community and arts center located right behind the opera house at 321 Ashland Place. That’s the old Salvation Army building location, for all of you Fort Greene originals. Assuming BAM has the “seething seas of flames” out of its system, the script looks good: affordable rehearsal and performance spaces for local artists, culturally diverse programs for families and kids, a professional development arts management program, an intimate 250-seat theater to showcase both up & coming and renowned artists, and a green roof, among other things. I'll be discussing all these things—the green roof, in particular—in future posts, so check back often.

Atys Returns

For the record, BAM frowns upon the absolute monarchy as a tenable form of government. But whatever our grievances with autocrats, it doesn’t mean that, on the occasion of our 150th anniversary, we can’t celebrate with an opera fit for a king. A real king. But more on that in a second.

Jean-Baptiste Lully’s stunning French Baroque jewel Atys (1676) comes to the opera house in just a few days. This isn’t its first visit; the 1989 BAM incarnation provoked such a barrage of superlatives from The New York Times that the paper ran out of adjectives for a week. In 1992, there was another ecstatically-received run.

Photo: Atys, by Pierre Grosbois

The reason was largely conductor William Christie and his nimble period band, Les Arts Florissants. Balanced perfectly between scholarly historian and laissez faire musical poet, Christie is a craftsman of  furious elegance. Ask him to muse over Lully's original manuscripts in the Bibliothèque de l'Opéra de Paris and he will, but then cock an eyebrow when he confesses that the notion of authenticity—a buzzword for early-music types—is "really a rather silly idea." In other words, Christie is refreshingly pragmatic, never pedantic. Attending one of his performances is like being at a refined courtly happening at which everyone knows that everyone else is naked under their clothes. Or imagine an elegant Parisian library in which 17th century treatises come to life and get tipsy together behind the librarian's back. That’s Christie’s sound. Sensuality within studied order. Please go see Atys.

I wish I could tell you to see the Atys gala as well, but I can't; regrettably, it's sold out. But consider that a good thing, since there are 16 months of anniversary celebrations left to go, and it would be a shame to get winded after just the first week. That said, the gala—which features a celebratory dinner with Christie and members of the Atys cast following the Sunday performance—does mark the official beginning of our 150th anniversary celebrations, and suffice it to say that it, too, will be fit for a king.

   Henri Gissey, Louis XIV as Apollo, 1653
Courtesy of Biblioteque Nationale, Paris
So about this king: it’s the “Sun King” king—Louis XIV. Known in its day as “the king’s opera” because of its reputation as Louis’ favorite, Atys had the royal seal of approval several times over. And not because Louis XIV was an easy sell, either; both an avid musician and an obsessive dancer—he earned his “Sun King” nickname after dancing the role of Apollo in a 1651 work by Benserade, and later in Lully’s own Ballet de la Nuit—Louis was hands-on in all matter of courtly arts. No plié—to say nothing of Atys’ flying zephyrs, winged furies, and goddess-piloted chariots—went without scrutiny.  He even required his court servants to study ballet as a symbolic expression of national unity.

We promise we won’t make you do any dancing. But be moved to vigorous applause and we'll love you for it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

BAM Howard Gilman Opera House by William Christie

One of the great impresarios of the 20th century, Harvey Lichtenstein, former president and executive producer of BAM, traveled the globe to listen to people he liked and discover people he didn’t know. We were first introduced when he came to our performance of Lully’s Atys at the Opéra Royal of Versailles; he was absolutely bowled over by the piece and wanted to bring it to BAM. Working with Peter Brook, Pina Bausch, or Robert Wilson, and now taking on a 17th-century French Baroque opera, was risk-taking, but Harvey knew his public and he knew about creating an audience for what he liked. So we met and became friends, and decided to work together. “Look,” Harvey said, “we can’t provide an orchestra, and we don’t have a standing choir. What we can provide is intelligence, creative programming, we can provide an audience, and we can provide a venue.” And that was the beginning of a BAM career for me and for my ensemble, Les Arts Florissants.

It was the spring of 1989 when we finally brought Atys to BAM. Coming from Europe, where opera houses and civic theaters are generally in the plushest parts of town, when I arrived at BAM it looked as if I had entered a war zone. Here was this incredible building, this great white elephant, surrounded by little more than parking lots. Once inside, of course, it was heaven. First of all, you have a staff that is one of the best in the world, not only the people up top but the people in and around the stage who actually work with you. It’s a truly wonderful team. And the hall itself is brilliant, with marvelous visibility and acoustics, and the people who go to the opera, who want to see things as well as hear things, are virtually guaranteed a visual experience as exciting as the musical experience.

Our Mission

James Thiérrée: Adventurous BAM Artist
Photo: Mario Del Curto
At any anniversary party, a typical scenario might be this: the guests spend their time fawning over the accolades of past and present, leaving the neglected future to pout alone in the corner. Archival exhibits, commemorative books, retrospectives, tributes—all good, but it’s a wonder the future bothers showing up at all.  
The future's time always comes, though, if only as the secret to the past and presents’ success. For example, it would be impossible for BAM to pick what to celebrate from its past and present during its 150th anniversary without implying what it aims to become. A plague of locusts is no longer a plague if you’re really into bugs. That’s why, during these anniversary days, we’ve been thinking as much about our future as anything. The result is a new mission statement—short, simple, and openly disdainful of anti-alliterationists the world over:

To be the home of adventurous artists, audiences, and ideas.

Much more on this to come. 

Free Ticket+ Thursdays

Here in the US, it’s common practice for a birthday honoree to pay for nothing during their celebratory night on the town. That’s as opposed to Europe, where it’s the celebrant themselves that often picks up the collective check. A heretical assault on the Birthday Bill of Rights? Maybe. But it makes sense: “It’s my birthday, and since I wouldn’t be who I am without you, then please: have one on me.”

Throughout our 150th anniversary celebrations, we’ve decided to take the have-one-on-me approach, because as much as we’d like to keep the cake to ourselves, we also know that we’d be nothing without you, our awesome audience.

So what does that mean for you? Free stuff. Lots of it.

Free Ticket+ Thursdays is what we’re calling it, and all the action will happen for the next 16 months on Facebook, beginning this Thursday. It’s simple: visit the facebook page, answer our question of the week, and raise your arms to the sky in preparation to receive the copious BAM bounty. The only catch is that you have to “like” us first, because, let’s be honest: this is our party, after all.

The BAM Timeline

Dating from its first performance at Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights in 1861, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) has grown into a thriving urban arts center that brings international performing arts, media, and film to Brooklyn. After the fire that destroyed the original facility in 1903, BAM reopened at 30 Lafayette in 1908 with a grand gala evening featuring Geraldine Farrar and Enrico Caruso in a Metropolitan Opera production of Gounod’s Faust. In the first half of the 20th Century BAM supported presentations by cultural figures as diverse as William Butler Yeats, Marian Anderson, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose 1940 appearance jammed the Fort Greene streets around BAM with over 6,000 spectators. After World War II, Brooklyn shared the growing problems of other urban centers throughout America, and BAM’s audience and support base declined.

Merce Cunningham and John Cage on Stage at BAM, How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, 1970. Photo: James Klosty
By the time Harvey Lichtenstein was appointed executive director in 1967, the programs and facilities needed rethinking. He quickly set a new course for BAM by focusing on the work of challenging artists who were not being supported elsewhere in the city, such as Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, Jerzy Grotowski, and Robert Wilson. Lichtenstein established the Next Wave Festival in 1983, recognized as the most influential festival of contemporary performing arts in the United States. Under the leadership of President Karen Brooks Hopkins and Executive Producer Joseph V. Melillo, it is recognized internationally as a preeminent, progressive cultural center.

Download the BAM Timeline for a full list of BAM's most important moments, from1823 up to 2011.

Performance History: Atys

Atys, William Christie/Les Arts Florissants, 1989. Photo: Michel Szabo

The vocal and instrumental ensemble Les Arts Florissants was founded by William Christie in 1979, nearly three centuries after the creation of the chamber opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier from which it takes its name. Dedicated to the performance of Baroque music on original instruments, Les Arts Florissants has been largely responsible for the resurgence of interest around the world in 17th-century French repertoire as well as in European music of the 17th and 18th centuries more generally. This was repertoire that had, for the most part, been neglected—much of it unearthed from collections in the Bibliothèque nationale de France—but which is now widely performed and admired.

William Christie and Les Arts Florissants made their BAM debut in 1989 with Jean-Baptiste Lully’s enchanting Atys, (click on this link to download the program from the 1989 BAM performance). This 1989 was presented by BAM as part of its premiere season of BAM Opera and the American debut of Atys. Read more about Les Art Florissant and William Christie at BAM here.

Introducing The BAM Hamm Archives

The BAM Hamm Archives document the lives of leaders, thinkers and artists who embody American innovation and reflect social, political and cultural movements in the United States and abroad for the past 150 years. The archives contain approximately 3,000 linear feet of materials from 1857 to the present including newspaper clippings, photographs, scrapbooks, letterpress books, playbills and other promotional material, video, architectural plans, posters, administrative records, production elements, art and other materials that document the history of the institution. We also conduct oral histories such as The Harvey Lichtenstein Oral History Project. BAM is forward-thinking but connected to our past and we will blog about items from our amazing old-timey collections as well as the more contemporary work people are more familiar with. Of course we are open to any one who is interested in our collections.

Fire at the original BAM building on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights
We have lost substantial chunks of our collections twice. Once in 1903 to a fire that destroyed BAM's original building on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights and again in 1977 to a flood. In 1996 a fundraising campaign and an anniversary celebration unearthed Civil War-era documents stored in black garbage bags—not good.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Welcome to BAM 150

By Robert Wood

Sometimes, fires result in good things. The Peter Jay Sharp Building. Photo by Jeffrey Bary

150 years is a long time to spend building something. Visionaries come and go, next waves crest, and taste change, all while something of the original has to remain. There are sometimes even fires to deal with, such as the one that claimed BAM’s original building on Montague Street in 1903. But a little fire, it turns out, is no match for the bigger desire to have a place where Fiona Shaw can finger a gun while buried to her waist in dirt, Pina Bausch’s dancers can slither over rain-pummeled rocks, or Caruso can sing to thousands and still be heard in the last row. Art—along with the desire for it—is stubborn, in other words, and we’ve been happy to provide a place to put it all these years.

BAM's original location on Montague Street in 1861
Over the next 16 months, we’ll be using this blog to look back at all that BAM has built, staged, and screened over the years, as well as what’s in store for the present—namely, our 16-month-long 150th anniversary celebrations, which begin this week. Our fantastic archivist Sharon Lehner will be writing about BAM’s storied days of yore, rummaging through our substantial closets to unearth the kinds of anecdotes, artifacts, and trivia you’d expect from an institution dating from the days of Lincoln. She’ll tell you about all sorts of interesting stuff. Like the infamous 1977 flood. Walt Whitman’s letters discussing Union meetings at BAM during the civil war. Or Isadora Duncan’s mysterious disappearance into the wings after dancing an impromptu funeral march for Sarah Bernhardt. Things like that.

As for the present, we’ll be keeping you up-to-date on all that’s planned for the coming months, like our Free Ticket+ Thursdays giveaways on Facebook, our upcoming book (and beer!) releases, behind-the-scenes looks at our ad campaign, and so much more. Check back often.

More importantly, come celebrate with us.