Thursday, May 10, 2012

Trash Can Thursday!

Last week's trash can came from the Caribbean Beach Resort.  I stayed there this past January for Marathon weekend for the first time since 1990 when the resort first opened.  That's obviously a long time past and I am sure the resort has gone through quite a number of refurbishments, but it definitely is a lot nicer these days.  I was a particular fan of the hammocks on the beach, particularly after running a half-marathon!

Here's the trash can for this week.  Can you place it?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Happy Birthday J.M Barrie!

In honor of what would have been Sir James Matthew Barrie's 162nd birthday had he managed to spend his days in his own Neverland and not grow up, I am going to take a moment to advise you all to fly, don't run or walk to go see Peter and the Star Catcher. While I was never particularly impressed with the book, the stage adaptation, which I have now seen both at New York Theatre Workshop and on Broadway, is a theatrical experience that does Barrie proud.  And hey! It's even Disney related.  Though not advertised as such, Disney Theatrical does have a credit in the program, and the novel was a Disney published piece.   We shall not however speak of the Disney movie, which to be fair I've seen only a small handful of times as I never liked it, being a 1960 Mary Martin musical fan all the way.

Peter and the Star Catcher is a celebration of theatrical craft.  The night I saw it last week on Broadway, it was clear that you really have to love theater to appreciate this play.  There was a pair of old ladies behind me who clearly did not understand what makes this play so very special and they were quite vocal in their dislike.   It's helpful to know the conventions of the original Peter Pan as they play with them a lot.  I am particularly fond of the end of the second act where the Boy Who Will Be Peter mimics a moment from the original play and uses his shirt as a sail.  I love the parallels between the Nana in this play and the dog Nana in the original play.  The commitment of the cast to the staging and the physicality they use makes me really wish that there was a Tony award for an overall ensemble.  I could pick out individuals for praise, but I can't imagine the show without anyone of the people in the cast.  The musical opening of the second act in particular I could watch many times over and still find new things to appreciate as each cast member brings something unique.  The play is hysterically funny, if you like comedy along the lines of Monty Python.  There's everything from body odor jokes to jokes about Ayn Rand.  Overall, though, it is the simplicity of belief in the theater that makes this play shine, something that is at the heart of Barrie's Peter Pan as well.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Trash Can Thursday

Here's the full photo of last time's trash can:
Did you guess Boardwalk?  The full photo makes it obvious of course!  The resort in the background is the Beach Club though.

Here's the photo for this week:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Someone has too much time on their hands...or they are just awesome.

Someone has created the majority of Disney World in Mine Craft. This is rather incredible.  You can find all the images here in way better detail. Apparently the rides even work.   I am mightily impressed, oh person who has played more Mine Craft than I will every be able to even if I did not have to work or finish writing a graduate thesis.

I so want to play with this. Someday.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Trash Can Thursday

The trash can of two weeks ago can be found at the main pool area at Saratoga Springs.  While on this last trip in January I spent a half an hour walking around Saratoga Springs.  I stayed on that property back in the days when it was the Disney Institute, a far cry from its current theming.   If it weren't so far away from everything and so spread out I would actually really enjoy staying here.

I'm changing Trash Can Thursdays to an every other week feature for the moment, so here's the photo from this week.  Can you identify the location?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Leap of Faith

I'm going to take a step away from Disney theme parks, please bear with me. 

I went to the theater last night to see one of the early previews of Leap of Faith.  There’s a lot I could criticize about the book of the show itself, and even some praise, but it was the actual theater going experience of the show that I want to write about.  .  I cannot claim to have ever been to one of the “revivals” portrayed on stage, something which probably comes as no surprise to those of you who know me, so my only experience with mega preaching is of flipping through the channels and encountering the televangelist types and moving on quickly.   I should also mention that I’ve never even seen the movie on which this musical is based. 

Entering the St. James last night was one of the most awkward experiences I have had getting into the theater.  I realize it was an early preview, but let’s face it, the actual entry process into the theater and the scanning of tickets is basically the same for every show they do, so why the confused mob of people all trying to cram into a single door at ten minutes to curtain? 

But let’s leave that aside and move on to the experience of being seated and then encouraged to “interact” with cast members placed in all levels of the theater as though they were ordinary members of the audience.  It seems almost every new show (see Once, which does it better) is now determined to spill out from the stage and have a preshow.  This one also included a live video feed that played on four screens, two on each side of the house. 

These screens fascinated me throughout the show as they were used fairly consistently to film Raul Esparza as Jonas Nightingale or members of his “Angels” during the “revival” scenes.  Well, it seemed that was the convention, except for a couple of moments that the video feed seemed to be on for scenes that weren’t part of the “revival” performance.  This may have just been a mistake made in previews, and it was clear this was still an early preview as evidenced by the hold in the second act when the automation on the tent structure on stage failed. It did lead to a convention throughout the show that I found frequently distracting wherein the videographer and the stagehands were constantly on stage filming or setting up and hooking up pieces.  Usually this took place during dance numbers which somewhat covered up that action, but I was consistently distracted by what seemed like far to much work for not enough scenic payout.

Getting back to the screens though, what I found so fascinating was that even I, who attend the theater on a regular basis and love live performance, found myself watching the screen more than the stage.  Some of this was clearly because I was sitting in the mezzanine and due to the lack of rise in the St. James mezzanine and the decision to build out the stage well over what would have been the orchestra pit and I think several rows out into the audience, the sight lines were atrocious.   I totally understand the desire to bring the show closer to the audience, and clearly they were making an attempt to envelope (or shall we say immerse?) the audience in the action, but the whole thing felt, well, fake. On the one hand that’s a good comment on the story line itself, but on the other I was struck by the fact that for a good portion of the show, I felt like I was in an amusement park being asked to “interact” in a way that felt forced.  The entire time that they used the platforms out in the audience just felt like cheap pandering to try to make the audience feel like they were part of the show, without actually really achieving the effect.

Maybe I’m a party pooper about these things or I was in the wrong mood last night, but there’s a time and a place for these things.  If you want me to take your show with any seriousness, asking me to raise my hands up for Jesus and trying to get me excited pre-show with what felt like forced audience warm up just isn’t going to do it.  That said, there was at least half the audience that clearly loved the whole experience.  I’ve never had such vocal seat companions.  The elderly gentleman sitting near me was openly weeping at the end and kept repeating “wow”, loudly. Very loudly.   I’m obviously the wrong demographic though, and I have complete faith that this show is going to tour really well in the Midwest.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Marvel in the Parks

Here's an official photo of the first non merchandise sighting of a Marvel property in the parks.

The AvengeRail!   

I've been wondering for sometime how Disney would begin incorporating Marvel into the parks.  There's been merchandise available for some time featuring various Marvel characters.  Obviously it's going to be an interesting situation given that Universal still has a Marvel Super Hero land in their park. 

I'm way more excited about the Avengers than I was for the last Monorail wrap featuring Tron.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Trash Can Thursday

Trash Can Thursday returns!   This one I found while exploring someplace I had never been before this past January.  Any thoughts?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Theme Parks as a Cultural Center

New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?

This is the question posed by Spring For Music’s blog contest for the best arts blogger challenge.  I don’t write a traditional arts blog and there are many who would consider the idea of Disney theme parks as “art” as something to be sneered upon. However, despite the fact that I live and work in theater in New York City, as could be expected, I’m going to have to make an argument for the center of culture in America being in Orlando, Florida.   When speaking of culture in the arts world, there is often an assumption that culture should imply “high art” and not “pop culture”.  America at its artistic heart has, in my opinion, always had a thriving popular culture and that popular culture has proven its greatest contribution to the world.  I am arguing Orlando as the center of culture in America (though of course similar arguments could be made for the LA/Anaheim area) because American culture is popular culture and the various theme parks of the greater Orlando area embody the popular aspect of our artistic culture.  I see Orlando, and yes, Disney World, as the heart of American culture in part based on the sheer number of people it reaches, but more importantly on the influence that the various theme parks and other Orlando based attractions has on the average person and children on what to expect from the performances that they see later and on. For better or worse, the Orlando area is a top tourist attraction for both Americans and international visitors (even more so than the LA/Anaheim parks).  While many people come to New York and maybe catch a Broadway musical, once a visitor or family is in the Orlando theme parks, they are there for an all inclusive cultural experience, from live performances and rides to themed dining and pyrotechnics.  The end result is that more people have seen Disney’s Hoop De Doo Musical Revue dinner show than have seen almost any Broadway show or tour (except maybe Phantom of the Opera) and certainly more than any off-Broadway performance.

            So what then do the theme parks of Orlando provide culturally? Between the various theme parks it allows two important things, the ability to create one’s own experience and the option of immersive escapism.  So many of the narratives that fuel Disney, Universal, and Sea World are drawn from other sources and remade into something that adds an American cultural twist, whether it be in altering the narrative itself (see all those Disney princess movies) or the more cynical gross commercialization of a narrative (oh wait, there’s those princesses again!).  No matter what, between the shows, rides, and immersive park experience that isolates you from the rest of the world, there is always a happy ending and often a popular theme that provides a universal experience that everyone can latch on to.  It is unsurprising that in building the Harry Potter section of Universal Studios Orlando that the designers went for the kind of experience, already present at Disney, where the entirety of the experience is housed in a fully imagined and detailed space.  Nor is it surprising that as with so many of the properties used by Universal and Disney that aspects of the films it draws from (see for instance that wild ride in Gringott’s Bank) seem to be crying out to become a theme park ride.  It’s also important to mention the element of nostalgia and a type of moral education that is particularly relevant to the experience that these theme parks provide.  From the familiar music, the sense of old-time American patriotism, and the stories we are all familiar with, the experience of going to one of the parks is meant to wrap you in a feel-good moment.  I think this focus on nostalgia and a narrative with a universal center (whether it is about sharing with Winnie the Pooh, dreaming with Cinderella or protecting the animals of the world at the Animal Kingdom) is something that audiences seek in the revivals and new plays that they prefer.  Tapping into a universal idea is something Disney in particular does well, and it allows the visitors to feel like they are a part of the manufactured world around them and thus provide their own sense of reality.

Historically there is a definite argument to be made for the evolution of the kind of theme park that Walt Disney created from the popular performance forms of Vaudeville, Circus and Wild West Shows of the earlier part of the 20th century.  Today though I see influence coming from the opposite direction where shows today aspire toward a more heightened artistic version of the kind of experience offered at Disney World.  I don’t wish to take away anything from the wonderful working playwrights, musicians, etc. of New York who continue to create masterful works, push boundaries and explore new things and provide voices to numerous problems and narratives that need to be told.  However, even taking a quick glance around the Broadway and Off-Broadway world I can see the influence of theme parks.  I regularly hear complaints of the Disneyfication of 42nd St. but Disney theatrical is hardly the culprit.  One need only look at Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark to see the desire for theme park spectacle.  In fact I would argue that shows like the Finding Nemo musical are actually more artistically sound and provide a more coherent narrative than that particular piece.  In a more interesting way I would argue the popularity of a show like Sleep No More is in keeping with the desire that we have developed to control our own experiences.  We seek to be enveloped by the experience, but still maintain the illusion of control in what we are seeing.  This idea of envelopment in a world and detail I think can also be seen more subtly in the ways in which stage design has moved from being self contained behind the proscenium wall to becoming all encompassing as in recent productions of Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson and Follies on Broadway. The theme parks also frequently serve as a training ground for actors, dancers, singers, directors and designers who later go on to perform around the country.

I’m sure if I looked I could find the exact numbers for the families that go to Disney World at least once in their children’s lifetimes, but we probably all know more people in our lives who have gone at some point than haven’t.  I see in looking at the shows around me that there has been a movement since the opening of Disney World in the 1970s towards bigger and more spectacular shows, more experiences that involve the audience (whether sitting on stage, or bringing them into a part of the show) and allow them to feel like they are a part of what is being presented.  Is it the cultural center of America? Well, you can be the judge of that depending on your definition of culture.   I for one though do see it as the heart of American popular culture.  While it may not be the creator of new pieces, the influence on audiences and their expectations has shaped the performance culture they expect.

You can view other people's response to this question from the link at Spring For Music.  You can also vote for your favorite entries there until Thursday the 29th at noon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Whoa, wait, Disney is giving something for free?

Word on the internet is Disney has finally joined the 21st century and there is now complimentary wi-fi available at the lobbies, guest rooms, bus stops and feature pool of each resort.  Crazy!

I presume there will be a matching increase in resort fees. Or a major push for new Disney made apps to be used in the hotels.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Disney as National Theater

One of the original ideas that I wanted to explore with this blog was the idea of Disney theme parks as a kind of national American theater.  I haven't spent much time discussing that here (there's just so many photos of trash cans to post!) but it's definitely been in the back of my mind particularly as I explore what it means to be nationalistic theater and the origins of self-appointed national theaters.  Disney has never to my knowledge claimed that title.  I can only imagine what the response would be if they did. 

"Shouldn't a national theater do intellectual work like the Royal Shakespeare Company or the National Theatre of England?"

"Wait, Disney World or Disney Theatrical's productions?"

"They're so corporate."

"Shouldn't a state theater be funded by the government?"

"But Disney doesn't even do theater!"

"Disney isn't art!"

There are so many things to consider and explore when looking at this topic. 

Is Disney theater? Well certainly parts of the Disney theme parks include theatrical experiences.  Disney's own corporate lingo calls its employees cast members and its staff areas backstage. 

Does Disney make art? I'd argue yes, though not all of it is good by any means. 

Is Disney a national theater of a sort?  Well that's what I hope to explore as I study more about theories of national culture and look at examples of national theaters both state sponsored and not.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Storybook Circus soft opening

Yesterday there was a soft opening for the Storybook Circus section of the new Fantasyland expansion.  You can see some great photos of the details in the new areas over at All Ears.  I'd just like to highlight this photo from them.  I think you can guess why.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sad News

Robert Sherman, one half of the Sherman Brothers who wrote nearly every memorable Disney movie's music for decades passed away yesterday.   Most of the news reports are mentioning his writing "It's a Small World" and the score of Mary Poppins.  While he himself said he'd "driven teenagers crazy in every language" with Small World, I do have fond memories of it as the first ride I ever went on in Disney World.  The Boston Globe has some lovely interview bits in its announcement of his death.   He and his brother really were amazing at writing music that could be appreciated at all age levels.  I leave you with a few personal favorites.

Portabello Road from Bedknobs and Broomsticks
The Aristocats as sung by Maurice Chevalier

The Age of Not Believing from Bedknobs and Broomsticks as sung by Angela Lansbury (I really like Bedknobs and Broomsticks)

 Heffalumps and Woozles from Winnie the Pooh

And lastly, my theme park favorite:
One Little Spark from Journey Into the Imagination

Oh how I miss the original Figment and Dream Catcher!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One More Disney Day!

Happy Leap Day everybody!

Today the Disney Parks are keeping two parks (Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom) open for 24 hours.  You know where I am not? Disney World. Or Disneyland. Sigh.
Since I am not, I instead offer my fantasy day of 24 hours of Magic Kingdom park magic.

The parks opened this morning at 6am, but let's face it, there's no way in reality I'd make it there that early, but for the sake of this fantasy, let's say I did.   Since Thunder Mountain is down for refurbishment (even in my fantasy, alas), I'd actually start by heading for Fantasyland itself.  I think I'd take my first ride on "It's A Small World" just like I did when I was seven, plus there's the added bonus of having it stuck in my head all day!  I'd ride Snow White before it closes for good a few times, Peter Pan before the line forms, Pooh and the teacups.  After a few rides on the carousel, it would definitely be time for a first breakfast.  Since we're talking about 8:30am at this point, I'd head toward Main Street and grab a cinnamon roll. Maybe a chocolate croissant too. I mean, it is my fantasy, so calories don't count right?  I'd love to spend some time on Main Street during the morning since I never do that. I'm assuming that by this point some of the main street vehicles would be running so I'd ride those, I'd do some meet and greets, and then I'd take the train around the world a full lap and then continue on to Frontierland.  I'd grab a fast pass for Splash (it's still too early in the morning to even chance getting soaked) and I'd go on to Adventureland where I'd visit the Tiki Room and Pirates.  I might even snag a daytime ride on Jungle Cruise, which I never do since it's usually more fun at night. 

Now by this point, it's totally time for more food, so I'd go to the Crystal Palace and engage in multiple meal brunch.  Hopefully I'd be seated while breakfast is still out but transitioning to lunch.  That's the best secret for getting the most out of a meal there.  Combine that with a visit from Eeyore and Piglet and you can't go wrong!  After a very filling brunch, I think it'd be time for a trip to see Mickey's Philharmagic.  I'd love to catch the show at the castle as well for the afternoon. 

At this point (let's say it is now 2pm), I have to decide, am I really staying the full 24 hours in the park or do I go back to the room and take a nap?  Since this day may never happen again, I guess it is time for naptime at the Hall of Presidents.  I might even sleep through one show and then watch the second.   I'd step outside and grab a spot for the parade just as it was coming by Liberty Square.  I'd be sure to get a good ice cream cookie sandwich at the same time.  After that it is on to ride Splash Mountain finally, then the Haunted Mansion, and then off to grab some extra evening fastpasses in Fantasyland.   I think this is where I'd spend some late afternoon time trying out the new Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game.  I don't know how long it would take, but after I'd continue on to Tomorrowland, where I'd spend time with my audio-animatronic friends in the Carousel of Progress (also perfect for another nap!).  A spin with Buzz Lightyear follows and then a ride on the TTA.  Hopefully I'd have time to grab a Space Mountain fastpass now too. 

At this point, I imagine it's starting to get dark, and I am starting to be hungry again.  I think I'd grab something fast at Cosmic Ray's and then head to the hub to watch the parade, Magic, the Memories, and You and the fireworks.  I'd totally have popcorn while watching!

Now starts the fun overnight.  I don't normally do a lot of character meet and greets, but since they are going to be out in their pajamas, I think I'd have to go visit with as many as I could find.  I'd enjoy watching the dance party at the castle for a good half an hour, and then I think I'd ride the few things I had fastpasses left for.  Among the things I would be sure to catch is the Frontierland Hoedown.  I also have a suspicion there maybe some extra entertainment out, like maybe the pseudo Rennaisnce Faire style Pirates from the Halloween party. 

I'd grab a light night dinner (say 2am) at the Plaza since I do love their broccoli slaw and a cheesesteak sounds pretty perfect late at night.   I'd stay on Main Street for a bit and then head back to Tomorrowland to ride Space Mountain. 

I don't quite know when sunrise will hit, but I do know that I'm going to watch it from the top of Astro Orbiter.  I rarely ride this ride, but the view is pretty incredible from up there, and some I'd love to get some photos of both the last showing of Magic, the Memories, and You as well as the sun rising above Cinderella's castle. 

Hopefully there would still be some beautiful sunrise colors as I got a last Photopass picture on Main Street as I headed out for a well deserved rest.

Too bad I'm stuck getting lots of work done for school instead!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Flights of Wonder

I first went to Disney's Animal Kingdom the year it opened (1998 for those of you keeping track at home), and while Flights of Wonder was an original show there, I didn't see it until a decade later on a trip in 2008.  Since then I've seen it three or four times with a number of different actors, birds and handlers.   When I did finally see it, I found it more entertaining than I had originally expected.  To be more accurate, I expected nothing could be entertaining enough to sit through in July in the hottest park in Florida.  I'm still not sure I'd sit through it on a truly hot day, though there are fans, but I have been there on each of my last four trips that I was in that park. 

What makes the show interesting is the combination of education and entertainment.  That is always a hard balance to achieve, and I'm not sure that the entertainment portion of the show, featuring a lost tour guide who is afraid of birds overcoming his fears, is really all that exciting.  Some of the campy humor in which the script makes fun of the fact that is a theme park show and pokes fun at the expected outcomes at a Disney attraction (ending in a gift shop, etc.) is amusing.  However,  it's the birds that truly shine.  

Each show they present several dozen birds all doing behaviors that are natural to them.  It's not always the same combination of birds which means that it can be fun to go back.   I'm a particular fan of the little guy who sings "Camptown Races".  Every show I've seen they do bring out the Bald Eagle as a hopeful sign of the success of conservation efforts to up the population.

Just be warned! These birds do fly all over the theater.  There are handlers who come out to catch them as they fly over your head but it does feel like you're going to be dive bombed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Trash Can Thursday

Last week's trash receptacle comes from the bridge between Downtown Disney West Side and Pleasure Island.

How about this week?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Trash Can Thursday

Last week's cans come from Pixar Place in Hollywood Studios.  You can find them across the way from Toy Story Midway Mania.  I picked up the Wii Toy Story Mania game back in December and I think it helped my score on this last trip!

Here is the picture for this week. Hopefully it's a bit more of challenge.  Any thoughts where this might be?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Trash Can Thursday

Two for the price of one!  Make sure you recycle!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Where have I been keeping myself?

Sadly the answer to that question is...not at Disney World. Mostly.  I originally planned to go down to Florida to run the Wine and Dine half marathon but for a number of reasons that trip didn't happen.  Then the semester happened and it was more intense than any that had come before which put a lot of other things on hold, including this blog. 
But then...I did get to go down to run the half marathon in Disney World in January this year, so since I got a whole new batch of photos it is time to resurrect the blog!