News and notes: Marc Acito projects triumphant, Gwen Seemel on free culture, etc.

Marc Acito, center, and the cast of "Birds of a Feather"

Today, it’s a little theater news from Marc Acito, some copyright radicalism from Gwen Seemel and a few thoughts about the state and effects of arts journalism.

Playwright Marc Acito, who is now an ex-Portlander I suppose, workshopped his play “Birds of a Feather” at Portland Center Stage’s JAW festival a couple of years ago, and now it has displayed its plumage (are penguins actually plumed?) on a real stage, specifically the Hub Theatre outside Washington, D.C. The Washington Post review was practically birdsong. Appropriately, it was written by Celia Wren. No kidding.

Early in “Birds of a Feather,” actor Matt Dewberry turns up in black-and-white street garb and a ski cap with earflaps, squeezing a stone between his feet. He resembles a dorky schoolchild bundled up for recess, but in the world of Marc Acito’s nimble-witted play, now receiving its world premiere from the Hub Theatre in Fairfax, he is Roy, a wistful gay penguin who’s pretending the rock is an egg. He looks seriously goofy — but you can’t help feeling a tug at your heartstrings.

So it goes with “Birds of a Feather,” an allusive, wisecracking comedy that sounds in summary like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch but turns out to be a smart and sometimes affecting meditation on relationships (gay and straight), conformism and the construction of public identity.

And while we are on Acito News, we should note that another of his creations, a musical version of E.M.Forster’s “A Room With a View,” will premiere at a prestigious address, San Diego’s The Old Globe, in March 2012.

We at Oregon Arts Watch aren’t the only ones interested in the future of arts journalism, not by a long shot. The USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy conducted a panel discussion on the subject at its Washington, D.C., center, featuring such panelists as Pulitzer winner Tim Page and Thomas Huizenga of NPR Music, among many others. Not that we agreed with all of them.

“Arts journalism faces an unclear future as social media takes over, and non-journalists can share their opinions as easily as journalists,” said Thomas Huizenga of NPR Music. “The impact of criticism is lost in the new media. Journalists have now fallen to the bottom of the list.” In other words, Huizenga argues that his clout as an arts journalist is of little value when readers are going to believe their friends and connections regarding an exhibit, performance, or album before they believe a critic.

This isn’t the right spot to conduct that argument, but we do agree with panelist Susan Clampitt, former executive director of WAMU radio in D.C.:

Despite the unknown future of arts journalism, or the entire field of journalism, one thing is certain in this changing media landscape: “It’s not the same as it used to be,” said Clampitt. “Journalists have to redefine what they do on a constant basis.”

Portland painter Gwen Seemel is a long-time copyright radical, meaning that she favor “free culture” and opposes our restrictive copyright laws (which have become increasingly stricter with time). In her usual clear-headed way, she discusses the source of opposition to her thinking on her blog, Face Making.

“Culture isn’t something that can be chopped up into pieces of property.  Taken out of the wider context, every painting, every song, and every piece of anything cultural loses its power and its value—financial or otherwise.”

An update on the Kronish House in Beverly Hills: After the LA Times account of the building’s plight was published, the owners moved its demolition date back to October and the city of Beverly Hills started working on a historic preservation ordinance. So, yes, journalism has its uses.

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