Thursday, November 22, 2012

Truthful Success: Career Guidance Through Clifford Odets' Golden Boy

This past November, I had the great pleasure of catching Lincoln Center’s 75th anniversary revival of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy directed by Bartlett Sher. In short, this production is a sheer knockout – double pun intended. Mr. Sher, best known for his Lincoln Center productions of The Light in the Piazza and South Pacific, is one of Broadway’s most gifted directors. Much like the National Theatre’s Nicholas Hytner, Sher has shown a masterful directorial hand in nearly every genre from Shakespeare (Cymbeline) to political drama (Blood and Gifts) to musical comedy farce (the under-appreciated Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) and classical opera (Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, among others). With his intelligent interpretations and respectful subtlety, his work is always genuine, emotional, and thought provoking. For fellow directors and students of the theater, his productions are master classes in storytelling, spacing, and fluidity. I have been fortunate enough to catch nearly all of Bart's exquisite New York outings and his latest, Golden Boy, does not disappoint with its stellar cast (one that would have given The Group Theater a run for its money) and its gorgeous sets and costumes by frequent Sher collaborators Michael Yeargan and Catherine Zuber, respectively,

In a recent Lincoln Center blog entry, Sher commented: "It's hard to get people to understand how the play's central young character, Joe Bonaparte, could have felt a pull between the artistic fulfillment of playing the violin and the money-making of being a top boxer." He continues, "Joe's initial dilemma wouldn't occur to them in the same way. Today, money and fame are the primary goals, no question." Sher can rest assure the relevance of Odets' piece is as strong today as when it was first written. Its poignancy will be appreciated, particularly amongst members of Generation Y - many of whom have come of age in this post-9/11 world.   When Golden Boy  first premiered in 1937, the times were not much different than they are today. We were then and are now a country recovering from the greatest economic setbacks known to the generations of the times. The struggle for economic security and the quest for personal glory is one that will live on indefinitely.

In Golden Boy, Joe's father, Mr. Bonaparte (played superbly Tony Shalhoub), wants what all parents ultimately dream for their children: much happiness and success. Mr. Bonaparte is explicit - he wants Joe to find "truthful success" by living an examined life defined by its authenticity. When Mr. Carp (an endearing Jonathan Hadary), the Bonapartes' neighbor,  questions if "a boy can make a living playing this instrument [violin] in our competitive civilization today?" he responds, "I don't expect Joe to be a millionaire. He don't need to be a millionaire. A good life's possible [...] Joe love music. Music is the great cheer-up in the language of all countries."

While today's parents more often than not encourage their children to shelve their dreams for more practical and profitable livelihoods, the spirit of Mr. Bonaparte lives on in today's institutions of higher education, particularly those Jesuit schools like the College of the Holy Cross (where Mr. Sher and I completed our undergraduate degrees) and Boston College. These schools encourage its students to explore their passions and discern personal vocations filled with meaning and reward. Very frequently, these vocations are not the most profitable - especially for those with interests in the arts and social services. As you follow the careers of these graduates, you commonly see the struggling actor shift gears and pursue a career in corporate sales  or the underpaid social justice advocate suddenly decide to join the ranks in law school (I apologize for the stereotypes!). But what is lost when the love and zeal is stifled? Herein lies the true tragedy of Golden Boy.

/content/media/prodphoto1.jpgThroughout the three-act play, we witness pure ambition drive Joe from a wide-eyed (though cockeyed), thoughtful, poetic musician to a hardened fighter with a "wolf inside." Joe is played effectively by Seth Numrich (last seen in the visually stunning and dramatically satisfying War Horse). Numrich makes us empathize with Joe's drive ("I don't like myself, past, present, and future), loathe his pride ("What good is immodesty? I'm a fighter! The whole essence of prizefighting is immodesty!"), yet still fear for his ultimate fall. Numrich shows us Joe's honest struggles between  satisfying his own dreams and fulfilling the love and loyalty he feels toward his family. When Mr. Bonaparte is forced to face the man his son has become, he laments, "Now I know... is'a too late for music...not like you. The men musta be free an' happy for music." Even Lorna Moon (Yvonne Strahovky in a breakout role), the hard-boiled but vulnerable fiance of Joe's manager, regrets what fame and fortune has done to Joe. It  is not until Joe must confront his own destructive potential through the unintentional death of Chocolate Drop in the ring that he realizes how much he has changed from that "kid with the Buster Brown collar and violin case tucked under his arm."

/content/media/prodphoto3.jpgWhen Joe turns his back on his artistry and his family, he destroys a bit of himself and his humanity. Joe confides to Lorna, "With music I'm never alone - Playing music...that's like saying, 'I am man. I belong here." Before meeting his demise, he see's the wisdom in his trainer Tokio's warning: "Joe you're loaded with love. Find something to give it to. Your heart ain't in fighting...your hate is. But a man with hate and nothing else...he's half a man...and half a no man." Without his hands, music, and family, Joe is left a half of man with truthful success a lost dream.

Like Joe Bonaparte, members of Generation Y struggle with remaining true to ourselves and achieving greater lives whether in terms of money, power, or respect. Whatever stage in life you're at, I encourage you to evaluate what you want to achieve in life, but more importantly ask yourself 'why?'  When interviewing prospective MBA students, I would often ask candidates to share their thoughts on these very topics. For example, if I was interviewing a student with a strong interest in corporate finance, I'd frequently ask, "What is it about analyzing Excel spreadsheets all day long that will get you up in the morning?" While there is no right or wrong answer to this question - after all, it is perfectly natural for motivations to vary from person to person - I wanted to ensure that the Boston College student body was comprised of individuals who were conscientious and self-reflective. As Socrates said,  "The unexamined life is not worth living." And as Odets illustrates in this classic American tragedy, much is lost even in circumstances where it appears there is much to be gained.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Biting the Hand that Feeds You: The 1% vs. 99% Onstage

Depression-era audiences rushed to the theater and movie houses seeking escapist entertainment in the form of high comedies and lavish song and dance extravaganzas. Whether through the wit or opulence of a Raphaelson or Coward play or the sheer elegance of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers' pas de deux, audiences of this time decidedly chose to live vicariously through these decadent tales of the very rich. For the most part, these plays and movies were written by "members of the club" who, by birth or marriage,   knew the inner-workings of the upper class. As a result, even those works laced with satire, lampooned the aristocracy with love and fondness and, in the end, upheld status quo.

Nearly a century later, with the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements making national headlines, the  "1%" still graces our stages, but are being portrayed with very different brushstrokes. This time around, playwrights are not elevating the have-nots to lives of leisure (a least for a couple hours), but instead, are aiming to bring the haves down a notch or two. Not since mustached villain Ford Sterling charged toward a distressed Mabel Normand in Mack Sennett's Barney Oldfield's Race for a Life, has American audiences seen a more accepted public enemy than the fiscally well-to-do. In an era where CEOs are making 231 times the average worker's pay, this select demographic becomes an easy target for today's contemporary playwrights and screenwriters. In fact, recent villains that have graced the boards have included Joseph Pulitzer (Newsies), Jeffrey Skilling (Enron), and Bernie Madoff (Imagining Madoff). Cosmopolitan theater-goers would be hard pressed these days to find a regional theater that isn't producing at least one new or contemporary work where the tension-filled relations between  the 1% and 99% doesn't fill  the stage. Boston audiences have to look no further than the Huntington Theatre's Southie-based Good People and the American Repertory Theatre's Marie Antoinette.

Soulless on Stage

Good People's protagonist Margie (tackled by spitfire Johanna Day) has recently lost her job at a Southie neighborhood dollar store due to habitual tardiness caused from accommodating her disabled, adult-aged daughter's babysitter's unreliable schedule. Can a girl catch a break? As bleak as a life behind the a dollar store register sounds, at least Margie has escaped being employed by the Gillette factory where every other dead-end Sally is stuck. Upon hearing that her high school sweetheart, Mike Dillon (a rather dull Michael Laurence), is once again local, she decides to hit her "lace-curtain Irish" old flame up for a job. Now a reproductive endocrinologist (don't bother asking Margie what that is), Mike has distanced himself from the old neighborhood and its blue-collared residents having moved to the affluent suburbs of Chestnut Hill.  Speaking in an obnoxious Bryn Mawr-ish accent, Mike does not intend to go out of his way to help Margie get back on her feet. Nor is Mike willing to entertain the possibility that Margie's daughter may, in fact, be his own as such a revelation could threaten the "comfortable" lifestyle he has built for his wife, Kate (Rachael Holmes), and their daughter.

One interesting question that Good People poses is whether or not success is a product of luck or hard-work. Taking a page from Sophocles, Margie believes Mike's accomplishments are essentially a product of luck - or fate, if you will. After all, unlike Mike, Margie never had parents who "watched from the window." Mike, on the other hand, has no empathy for Margie's state as he proclaims, "It's not my fault you can't find a job." Mike believes hard work, and hard work alone, has made him what he is today. While Mike's childhood may not have exactly been the Upton Sinclair-esque upbringing he makes it out to be, the fortunes of an attentive and loving family does give one certain advantages in life independent of the socio-economic background one is born into. And in Margie's case, one should not underestimate the power of personal accountability to overcome the perceived impotence of the disenfranchised.  Free-will vs. fate may be as old as the nature vs. nurture debate - but in all cases the truth is not as black and white as each character defends it to be.

Playwrights are often given two points of advice when brainstorming ideas for new plays: write about your greatest fear or write about what you know. Lindsay-Abaire tackled the former when he wrote about the loss of one's child in the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Rabbit Hole. As someone who grew up in Southie, it appears, at least on the surface, that Lindsay-Abaire was ready to tackle the latter suggestion in his latest Broadway outing. Interesting enough, he decides to keep the focus on Margie - the Southie gal who can't seem to move past the deck of cards she's been dealt. Assuredly, he would have been more equipped to tell a Southie story from the perspective of someone who has risen above it all but is forced to face the ghosts of his past (Hello Ibsen!). After all, Lindsay-Abaire was educated at Milton Academy (alma mater of the Kennedy boys - yes, those Kennedys) on scholarship prior to attending Saint Lawrence College and gaining notoriety as a playwright. Not surprisingly, some of the plays most amusing moments come from Lindsay-Abaire's intimate knowledge of the quirks (push presents) and dysfunctions (marriage counseling) of this upper-middle class world.  Perhaps, if he was telling this story more from his own perspective, success would be portrayed with more sensitivity, gratefulness, and nuance - characteristics that are decidedly missing from Dr. Mike and I would hope belong to the playwright and others like him.

In Marie Antoinette, playwright David Adjmi and director Rebecca Taichman give the court of Versailles the royal treatment with sets of gold, pastel gowns, and macaroons aplenty. Much like Sofia Coppola's visually stunning biopic of the same name, the ART's production uses a modern pop soundtrack full of energy and angst. Adjmi and Taichman go a bit further in this post-modern production with their Queen bearing a closer resemblance to Lady Gaga than French royalty. At the heart of the court lies the title character who remains out-of-touch in every sense of the word. Not only does the Queen dismiss the threat of revolution ("I hear of talk of Revolution, but not around here [Versailles]," she can't even remember her husband's birthday. Marie's disregard goes not without warning as she is repeatedly told that she should be careful, "the people are angry. They're hungry. They're overtaxed." Sounds familiar, no? Even Louis XVI,  the child-like and overwhelmed monarch played superbly by Steven Rattazzi, is fed up with her extravagant spending ("Why do you [Marie] bother speaking to me, just send me  [Louis] an invoice."). While her husband criticizes her ("You never think of anything but your own amusements"), her subjects disgrace her ("To them I'm just some bitch from Austria who gives everyone a blow job.") Even when her life is in danger and her personal jewels are being confiscated, all Marie can think about is who will draw her baths in her post-Versailles existence. In her defense, Marie proclaims, "I didn't know the value of money. I was a Queen." Though the play was originally written during the Bush administration, the creative team obviously wants audiences to draw parallels between the French aristocracy and America's 1% as well as the 18th century revolutionaries and our 99% Occupy Wall Street-ers. In case these parallels were not obvious enough for you, the French peasants spoke with American Southern accents indicative of our rural poor. It's never a good sign when your production relies so heavily on forced relevance.

Comedy in lieu of Compassion

Lindsay-Abaire wants us to sympathize with the hardships faced by his down-on-their-luck Southie clan in Good People.  In the second act, while life is handing his heroine, Margie, both set-backs and self-realizations, I was longing for the first acts constant stream of hard-boiled comic one-liners poking fun at their ignorance, 'white trash' taste, and vulgarity. Boston-based actresses, Nancy Carroll (Dottie) and Karen MacDonald (Jean) are exceptionally good. As tacky as their settings and actions are, they are smart enough actresses to play the comedy straight. From competitive Bingo games in the church basement to Dottie peddling her googly-eyed, bunny statuettes, this duo provides earnest comic relief. The greatest comedies of modern times have a layer of melancholy just underneath the surface. Lindsay-Abaire's comic zingers, though funny, are too broad, formulaic and calculated to achieve such layered greatness. Think of a more polished version of the sitcoms My Name is Earl and The Jeff Foxworthy Show. Lindsay-Abaire hasn't quite found the balance between wanting his audience embrace  the raucous community bond between his characters dead-end existences and root for his protagonist to pull herself up from her bootstraps to find a better life for herself and her daughter. In the world of Good People, a lot is lost (at least as illustrated by Mike), in terms of spirit, camaraderie, and decency when a comfortable lifestyle is gained. Lindsay-Abaire would have been far better off to stay the course with the hard-boiled comic structure of the first act instead of launching into the melodramatic stickiness of its second act.

Marie Antionette has major tonal problems. Tone, or the director's and/or playwright's attitude toward the material, is one of the most basic, though essential, elements of drama. In interviews, David Adjmi states that he sees Marie Antoinette as a sympathetic figure. The compassion that Adjmi attempts to impart on Marie comes, unfortunately, far too late in the game. Following a first act characterized by obvious satire, extravagant costumes (three foot powdered wigs) objets (perfumed sheep), questionable silliness, midget servants, and cross dressing comtes gyrating to techno punk, the audiences' distaste for the French royalty's naivete and inaccessibility to the poor man's blight has been solidified. As the tone shifts in the second act following Marie's dissent, the audience is not prepared to journey with the Queen through lectures on Rousseau and moments of self-discovery. Adjmi admits that he did not set out to demonize the wealthy, but instead, to critique the political structures that allow for incompetent leadership and an unjust distribution of wealth. While the second act supports these intentions, audiences can't ignore or forget that the satire of the first act focuses on Marie as an individual and the Versailles she has created. Someone must remind Adjmi that he can't have his cake and eat it too.      

Biting the Hand That Feeds You

Bad dramatics aside, I can't help but be aggravated by the hypocrisy of regional theater companies committed to "thought-provoking" works that portray the wealthy as a monolithic group of selfish capitalists. Flipping through the Huntington's program for Good People, I found nine (over 20% of the program) pages highlighting individuals, corporations, and foundations who have supported the theater, its operating budget, and its educational programming over the past fiscal year. When you walk through the lobby at the ART, the first thing you notice is a mounted honor roll of donors recognizing those individuals and groups who have made leadership contributions to their last campaign. For better or worse, the 1% are the leading supporters of the American theater both as patrons and large benefactors. While Lindsay-Abaire's latest works have commercial appeal due to their crowd-pleasing melodramatic plots of the kitchen-sink variety, I think it would be fair to say that Mr. Adjmi's Marie Antoinette would have never received such a highly visible and ostentatious production without the financial support of the ART's donors (or the 1% as I like to call them) and the ART's  partnership with Harvard University. Note: Harvard's Endowment reached $32 billion in 2011. While I fully support theater that advocates social  and political change in a subtle, intelligent, and entertaining manner, regional theaters must be careful not to bite the hand that feeds them with their two-dimensional portrayal of class contentions. And if your theater is full of individuals who believe, at least on some level, in a just and necessary distribution of wealth through their support of your programming and capital projects, aren't you just preaching to the choir?    

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sustainable Success: Remembering Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J.

This past month hundreds of students, alumni, current and former faculty, and friends of the College of the Holy Cross gathered in St. Joseph's Memorial Chapel to celebrate the life of Rev. John E. Brooks S.J. Father Brooks served as the President of the College from 1970 to 1994 and, until his death, remained a very active and visible member in the community through his work as President Emeritus and the Loyola Professor of the Humanities in the Religious Studies Department. 

Rev. John E. Brooks Photo GalleryFollowing my graduation from the College of the Holy Cross, I served as a staff member in the Development Office at the school. During these two years, I had the great pleasure of delivering three newspapers (The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Telegram & Gazette) to Father Brooks each morning. While Mitch Albom might have had Tuesdays with Morrie, I was fortunate to have five minutes with Father Brooks at the start of each day. Though I had never formally met him as a student, I was certainly aware of his nearly fabled legacy as President. During his presidency, he led the college to coeducation, committed to increasing diversity on campus, and strengthened the finances of the college through balancing the budget and increasing the school's endowment from $6 million to $150 million during his 24 year tenure. Much like how I believe Dorothy must have felt standing before the the great and powerful Oz, my early conversations with Father Brooks were met with much trepidation and delicacy. During those first few weeks, we exchanged pleasantries, commented on the weather ("Had enough of this rain?", recapped the previous night's sporting events ("How 'bout those Celtics?" - now you see how desperate I was!), and shared our weekend  plans. As time passed, our conversations transcended the superficial as I became more inquisitive and Father Brooks enthusiastically opened up to discuss academic politics, share war stories (both literal and figurative), and provide insight into his strategic visions through both retrospect and future hope.       

Long-term Returns

As I reflect on the life and work of Father Brooks, I can't help but draw parallels between the exemplary leadership and forward thinking he exhibited during his presidency and those themes that repeatedly arose during classroom discussion in Professor Bob Radin's Boards & CEOs, a corporate governance seminar  I took during my last semester of business school. In Lorsch and Khurana's Harvard Magazine May/June 2010 article, "The Pay Problem", they wrote:

"For most of the twentieth century, the large public corporation was regarded as both an economic entity and a social institution. Shareholders were but one of several constituencies that stood in relation to the corporation. Corporate decisions were evaluated not only by their specific economic results, but also with an eye toward their moral and political consequence. Today, corporations are typically described in terms of economic and financial consideration alone." 

Unlike many of today's business leaders who act as "relentless, self-interested free agents ready to make tracks out of their companies and sacrifice the long-term for immediate gains," Father Brooks always used a holistic (social, political, and theological) framework when evaluating his presidential decisions. In his homily, Father Earl Markey, S.J. delivered: 

"He [Brooks] began his presidency with the purpose of bringing the College into the 21st century, and making  the College a liberal arts college competitive with the best in the nation. He never wavered from that goal and said, at his retirement, that he honestly never made a decision that he did not think was in the best interests of the College. He said he may not have been right all the time, but he never made a decision that he did not think was in the long-term good of the College."

Rev. John E. Brooks Photo GalleryFather Brook's strategic plan served as the real driver of the College's long-term sustainable success. Many of his decisions were not popular at the time he made them. One can only imagine the resistance and criticism he faced when he decided to spearhead the proactive recruitment of African Americans in the wake of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination, or when under-performing sons of loyal alumni lost admissions slots to top-notch female candidates in the 1970s, or when he became a founding member of the Patriot League (an athletic conference known for its prohibition of athletic scholarships) in spite of protests from die-hard Crusader fans who bled purple and lived for a Holy Cross/Boston College face-off. While some of these controversial decisions may have caused temporary setbacks for the President and the College, each was made through trust in their long-term returns. Flash forward several decades later and the school is a much stronger institution today because of the foresight and the perseverance of John Brooks. 

Moral Obligations

Rev. John E. Brooks Photo Gallery
Prior to his death, Father Brooks sat down with The Today Show to discuss the story of his recruitment of 20 African American students to attend the college during the radical sixties. Of those he hand-picked to join the college community, some of the most notable alumni in the class include (Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Pulitzer Prize Winner author Edward Jones). Fortunately, this story is explored further in Diane Brady's book Fraternity. On this topic, Brooks speaks of how a moral obligation propelled his actions during this pivotal time the College's history. While it has become corporate chic to throw around words like core values and ethics in the boardroom, it would be interesting to see how many executives today have the courage of John Brooks to allow their moral compass to direct their business decisions. The Presidency of Father Brooks is a concrete example of how one can lead morally and justly while still balancing the books. 

Earlier this year, I had the great pleasure of meeting with Warren Buffett. Buffett and Brooks have two very important things in common. Both are men who believe in principled leadership. In his July 2010 letter to Berkshire Directors, Buffett wrote, "We can afford to lose money - even a lot of money. But we can't afford to lose reputation - even a shred of reputation. We must continue to measure every act against not only what is legal but also what we would be happy to have written about us on the front page of a national newspaper in an article written by an unfriendly but intelligent reporter." Like Buffett, Brooks frequently made decisions that weren't popular but were thoughtful, just for society, and meaningful for the evolution of his small liberal arts college in Massachusetts. Secondly, both Warren Buffett and John Brooks shared the same taste in office decor. Both men had a print of Ted Williams' first at-bat with the Boston Red Sox. The photo was taken in April 1939 on Fitton Field at Holy Cross. As a tribute to the late Rev. John E. Brooks, I have recently purchased and framed the same print to proudly display my new office. Hanging on my wall, this photo will serve a reminder of those core values reinforced at the Carroll School of Management and the ethical oath many of us took before embarking on our future careers. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Give My Regards to Broadway: A New Perspective (Part 2)

Back in March, my blog entry Give My Regards to Broadway: A New Perspective examined several of this spring's openings from the perspective of a number cruncher. This season saw a record number of investors backing shows where pennies could be pinched (i.e. relatively small casts, single location sets, casting actor-musicians, etc.) and built-in audiences could help bolster advance tickets sales (i.e. Hollywood stars, film adaptations, etc.). Given the popularity of this entry, I have decided to continue the conversation, but with a new spin. This past May, I took two days off from the pub crawls and booze cruises that typically define "Grad Week" and headed back to New York to catch a few more of this season's latest offerings.

The theme of this month's entry will instead focus on an elementary concept covered in any introduction to finance course: Risk and Reward. The theory states that "return rises with an increase in risk." While you would be hard-pressed to find a Goldman Sachs managing director or Broadway producer (just ask Michael Cohl of Spider-Man) to disagree with this construct as in pertains to ROI for investors, this theory has never been put to the test in relation to audience satisfaction...until now. Following this year's TONY nominations, I took in three additional shows (Nice Work If You Can Get It, One Man, Two Guvnors, and Peter and the Starcatcher) each representative of a varying degree of creative and financial risk for its producers. In short, when put to the test, the Risk-Return Trade-off holds up where the "riskiest" of these three productions yields the most satisfying, entertaining, and thrilling evening at the theater. Below are the results.

LOW RISK: Nice Work If You Can Get It

With a score packed with Gershwin hits, two bona fide stars (one film, one stage), and direction and choreography from the reliable Kathleen Marshall, how could you go wrong? On paper, it looks like a surefire hit. Producers must have thought the odds of lightning striking twice were pretty good - and with such a creative team behind this show - who could blame them? With Kathleen Marshall's other Depression-era musical (the joyous and exuberant Anything Goes) still running strong at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, could Marshall and book writer Joe DiPietro do for Oh, Kay! what 1992's (geez, has it been that long?) Crazy for You did for Girl Crazy?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Susan Stroman and Ken Ludwig can sleep tight tonight knowing that their Crazy for You  remains the far superior Gershwin jukebox musical. You might be wondering, how could a project with such an extensive risk mitigation plan (hit tunes, real stars, and an award winning director/choreographer) disappoint? Ironically, it was a combination of all three (tunes, stars, and director/writer) that ultimately caused this production to fall flat. Here's the lowdown:

The Tunes. "I like a Gershwin tune/How about you?" With the entire Gershwin catalogue at their disposal (minus selections from the current revival of [The Gershwin's] Porgy & Bess), Marshall and DiPietro set out to create a 'new-fashioned' screwball musical comedy based on the 1926 musical Oh, Kay! about a playboy millionaire and his unlikely romance with a rough and tumble female bootlegger. Someone should have warned the writing team that less is more as they decidedly crammed 21 Gershwin tunes into this two and a half hour musical. The result? Many of these songs are as misplaced in this narrative as they have been in some of the most cringe-worthy jukebox musicals (i.e. Mamma Mia, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, etc.) Some of these songs, in fact, stand in direct opposition to established characterizations (i.e. "Fascinating Rhythm's "I long to be the man I used to be"). The songs at their best are blissful (O'Hara's gorgeous interpretation of "But Not for Me" or Broderick's charming crooning of "Do, Do, Do" backed up by a harmonious Varsity letterman trio), while at their worst they slog along leaving audience members either puzzled (O'Hara's entre course "Hanging Around With You" interludes) or embarrassed (Judy Kaye's chandelier swinging ode "Looking for a Boy") Perhaps an out-of-town tryout would have allowed the creative team to fine tune their selections from the Gershwin songbook, tweak the book-to-score ratio, and strengthen the tunes' relationship to the narrative and characters. There's still hope for a revision before the National Tour launches.

The Stars. I have never been shy about my desire for contemporary musical theater writers to return to the great tradition of conceiving star-vehicle shows. Following the Golden Age, these song and star vehicle productions were traded in for spectacle (Wicked), epic (Les Miserables), and irony (Urinetown). Nice Work If You Can Get It was Broadway's chance to regain what had been lost. Unfortunately, instead of building a show around their stars, Marshall and DiPietro tried to squeeze their likable leads into roles they just aren't right for. Matthew Broderick last made a splash on Broadway as the nebbish accountant-turned-producer Leo Bloom in the Mel Brooks mega-hit The Producers. Obviously, all the qualities that made him wonderful in this role make him ill-fitted for the thrice married millionaire playboy Jimmy Winters in Nice Work. While he plays to his strengths (his earnest man-child act is often endearing), he lacks the youth, confidence and general song and dance man skills needed to properly pull off this role. Broderick has bitten off a little more than he can chew with the plenitude of production numbers he has been given to carry. Through no lack of trying, Broderick unfortunately comes off as uncomfortable in several of his more featured numbers ("Sweet and Lowdown" and "Nice Work") but thankfully the supportive and beguiling presence of Kelli O'Hara loosens him up in the ebullient pas de deux "S'Wonderful."

Kelli O'Hara, probably best known for her turn as Nellie Forbush in Bart Sher's brilliant revival of South Pacific, is one of Broadway's greatest treasures. Always grounded, her interpretation of songs are eloquently phrased and earnestly performed. She is the type of actress who plays the truth even in the most ridiculous situations and consistently makes smart acting choices keeping her performances fresh and interesting for herself and her audiences. Producers and directors have recently chosen to ignore the beautiful subtlety and delicacy that she has brought to her past characters and have repeatedly cast her in hard-boiled roles (Nice Work's bootlegger Billie Bendix and The Pajama Game's Babe Williams; both directed by Marshall). While Ms. O'Hara is always good (not since Barbara Cook has a more accomplished and winning ingenue graced the stage), when I see her in roles like these I'm left with the uneasy feeling that misbegotten casting does not always allow her to be as great as she can and should be. That said, I have very high hopes for her portrayal of Cathy Whitaker (originated by Julianne Moore in the film) in Far From Heaven at Williamstown this summer. Though not a fan of the movie, I believe O'Hara's sincerity as a performer will be the show's greatest asset.

The Director-Choreographer. Kathleen Marshall is one of the most talented directors and choreographers working on Broadway. It's rare to find someone with such a strong affection for classic Broadway, yet is able to present her work in ways that appeal to mainstream modern audiences. She is at her best, perhaps, when she is mounting major revivals - a talent honed at Encores! earlier in her career. Some might argue that after last season's pitch perfect production of Anything Goes, any follow-up would surely be likely to disappoint in comparison. When compared to her work in Anything Goes, her numbers in Nice Work appear lackluster. Having cast triple-threat Sutton Foster in the lead, Marshall was able to push her choreography in Anything Goes to a level that left audiences wowed, especially the title song act one closer. No luck here, perhaps due to the dancing talent constraints of her lead, Broderick. Much as with the rest of the show, her choreography comes off as safe and as a result unmemorable. There are glimmers of wit (Broderick being shuffled across a line of chorus boys rolling along the ground as he downs a bottle of moonshine) in her choreography, but these moments are few and far between. A choreographer is often only as good as his or her weakest dancer. Bob Fosse knew this and always went through painstaking efforts to only have the best dancers in his shows. Marshall's choreography feels inhibited by the talent she has to work with and as a result falls short of what we've come to expect from her.

The Verdict. Low risk yields small returns. Nice Work felt safe, recycled, and at times ill-conceived in an effort to please the masses.

MEDIUM RISK: One Man, Two Guvnors

One Man, Two Guvnors, adapted from the classic Carlo Goldoni commedia dell'arte work, The Servant of Two Masters, is a British import from The National Theatre. In the past few years, The National Theatre has seen several successful transfers to Broadway including the TONY Award winning productions of The History Boys and War Horse. As such, these mountings have a relatively small, but loyal built-in audience of New Yorkers and savvy theatre-goers expecting high quality, well-acted and well-directed productions from this company. Outside of this audience, The National Theatre and its affiliated commercial producers depend on strong word-of-mouth and award show buzz to build audiences to secure a hit. As a straight play with a relatively unknown star and a setting and humor directed toward audiences from across the pond, this production does come with its fair share of risks. But will it pay off? Let's see how it all plays out.

Straight Play. Non-musicals are always a tough sell, especially during the busy summer tourist season in New York City. One Man, Two Guvnors mitigates its risk by inserting a crowd-pleasing band (The Craze) invoking the spirit of early-sixties British invasion rockers. The Craze plays a high-energy original score by Grant Olding before the show and during scene changes, often with cast members making guest appearances to play or sing along with the group. The gamble appears to have paid off with a rare TONY nomination for Best Original Score and.audience members arriving early to the theater just to experience the pre-show. From an audience perspective, the live onstage band helps viewers feel as if they are getting a little something extra for their money.

Comedies are often an easier sell to tourists. But will this Brighton-set piece play well to an American crowd?

Translating Humor. I am confident in answering the above question with a resounding 'yes!". American audiences can appreciate a good farce and that is exactly what they will get with One Man, Two Guvnors. Nicholas Hytner has staged  possibly the funniest, slickest comic scene I have witnessed where Frances Henshall (James Corden) attempts to serve dinner to his two bosses without giving away his moonlighting charades. Staged with precision and performed with gusto, the low-brow slapstick that is reminiscent of the vaudevillian shtick seen in the acts of the old British music halls should garner a laugh from even the most stoic audience member. I am continually impressed by Hytner's range as a director. Is there a genre he can't succeed in tackling with his adept directorial hand? It is a rare production that manages to combine the discipline and tightness required for farce and the spontaneity that arises through some of its more seemingly improvised scenes. The cast is first-rate particularly Oliver Chris as Stanley Stubbers, a prep school tool who murdered the brother of the love his life, and Tom Edden as Alfie, the decrepit, but dutiful waiter at The Cricketers Arms Pub.

But even with an ensemble of good actors, is a well known star still needed to create a hit?

Star Quality. Watching James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors is like witnessing the birth of a star. An accomplished actor is his own right - Corden was last seen on Broadway (and in the film) in The History Boys as the affable Timms - but he had yet to headline a show on his own. A gifted physical comedian,  Corden is like the love child of the late Chris Farley and the incomparable John Cleese. With Philip Seymour Hoffman being his stiffest competition for this year's Best Actor TONY Award, I will be curious to see if voters value Corden's winning comic performance enough seal a victory with the heaviness of Willy Loman (though superbly played by Hoffman) right behind it.

The Verdict: One Man, Two Guvnors makes for a thoroughly enjoyable evening in the theater. While it won't change lives, it was breezy and entertaining. The risks producers took certainly added to the enjoyment - a fresh, young face as the charismatic lead, a new comedy based on a often forgotten (outside of academia) art form, and a chance for American audiences to see a terrific British production.

HIGH RISK: Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter and the Starcatcher is a total-theater adaptation of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's children's novel Peter and the Starcatchers (note the 's') tracking the tumultuous adventures of the S.S. Neverland and its crew as they face storms, pirates, savages, magic dust, and mermaids. Director Roger Rees (with co-direction by Alex Timbers) borrows from the story theater made popular in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 1981 literary adaptation of the Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby in which Rees starred. After a sold out run and strong reviews at The New York Theater Workshop last summer, Disney decided to remount its production on Broadway. Without spectacle (in the traditional sense) or a strong IP, targeted demographic, or headliner to support advance ticket sales, Disney is banking on the notion that one hell of  a show can sell tickets.

No Spectacle. Rope, fabric, a rolling ladder, a trunk, sticks, a net, etc. That's about all there is. For Broadway standards, it's a minimalist show that depends on its audience having an active imagination and being willing to go along for the ride. Peter is the perfect example of the effectiveness of a narrative structure that embraces its own theatricality. Instead of falling chandeliers, swooping helicopters, and rotating barracks, this show offers ingenious staging, engaging performances, and the most stellar lighting and hand-produced live sound effects to be found on Broadway. Rees and Timbers give you the gift of the bedtime story. Not since the days of your youth, have you been allowed to surrender to the tale, letting the words, fantasy, and spirit wash over you as you fall into a sublime, joyous trance.

No Headliners. The only stars in Peter are in the sky. When Disney green lit Peter's transfer, it was comprised of a relatively unknown ensemble with a few recognizable faces from past Broadway outings. Depending on the strength of the ensemble, this is a a show about storytelling. Rees and Timbers focus all of their resources on guiding this ensemble toward telling a story in an entertaining, innovative, and rollicking manner. As a director myself, I admired the tightness of the ensemble greatly. It was as if they were acting as one single, living, breathing organism. Their focus and energy yielded one of the slickest, most polished ensemble pieces I have seen in a long time. Standout performances include Christian Borle (of Smash fame) with his hilarious scenery chewing turn as Black Stache, the menacing villain of the piece, and Celia Keenan-Bolger playing the type of precocious young heroine that would make Carson McCullers proud. But Borle and Keenan-Bolger are gracious enough performers to take a back seat to support the other members of the cast when their featured bits have passed. The cast as a whole is superb, most notably veteran character actor Arnie Burton as Mrs. Bumbrake, the droll, no-nonsense (though, maybe just a little) nanny on board. Peter is one of the rare, open-ended running shows where the actors are having as much fun as the audience. As the actors engage the crowd and feed off their reactions, you come to the realization that you are being exposed to a very powerful and effective type of theater, one defined by the communal experience.

Targeting an Audience. You begin to wonder if Disney has really defined its audience for this show. Peter would be the ideal show  to introduce kids to theater. But deciding how to sell this show to parents and kids presents another problem. Peter is a straight play without the the support of an indestructible intellectual property behind it. How can it compete with the likes of The Lion King and Mary Poppins (properties with ridiculous awareness amongst elementary school children and older) or Spider-Man and Wicked (wildly popular with the tween and teen set)? Though it is a Peter Pan origin story, its connection to this property isn't very clear in its title or marketing. If you play up the Peter Pan affiliation, do you risk losing the interest of an adult audience? Disney has stumbled upon something special - a show that can charm audiences of all ages. Marketing principles tell you that you can't be all things to all people and must position yourself to a target demographic. With a rare show on its hands that can appeal, at least somewhat, to all audiences, it doesn't appear from their generic marketing campaign that it has done its due diligence in positioning its show toward an intended demographic. Unfortunately, with this tactic, it runs the risk of its marketing appealing to no one at all. The most disheartening part is that the creative merit of this show alone could appeal to everyone if only producers could just fill the seats. NOTE: I was able to get third row center orchestra seats for half price through the Theater Development Fund - not a good sign.

The Verdict: Despite the risks producers are facing, Peter and the Starcatcher was one of the  most entertaining and charming evenings I've spent in the theater. Two hours into the production, I could hear heavy breathing by my ear. As I turned around, I saw an eight year old girl leaning forward, her head on the back of my chair, hanging on to every word of the play. When you manage to keep both a child's and a cynical MBA's attention that long, you know you are doing something right. Theater, at its best, can be transformative.  Even the most hardened individual should leave feeling like a kid again. Now that is the highest compliment that can be paid.

The Wrap-Up

While higher creative risk looks like it is yielding higher returns in terms of critical and audience satisfaction, it is unfortunately not translating into greater box office returns. Below is a summary the box office grosses for the week of June 3.

Of the three productions reviewed in this entry, Nice Work (the safest bet) has the highest revenue, average ticket price, and capacity filled while Peter has the lowest of the group. It would, however, be interesting to look at these numbers in relation to operating costs to see which show yields the highest net profit. It could turn out that the riskier shows, also have the lowest operating costs, and are, in turn, the most profitable. But, alas, these operations costs are not reported. Food for thought, I guess. Until next time.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

INK takes on the Boston Marathon...

This past weekend, the Invest in Kids (INK) co-directors teamed up to run the Boston Marathon in support the Invest in Kids Scholarship Fund. For those readers not familiar with the organization, INK is a tutor/mentorship program sponsored by the Carroll Graduate School of Management. For more information on INK see my previous post: Perpetual Growth: Why Investing in Kids Pays Off

Family, friends, classmates, and professors all came through in helping us raise over $10,000 in support of the Invest in Kids Scholarship Fund. For their generosity, we are immensely grateful. The scholarship fund, started by former INK directors and tutors, is an endowment that supports low-income college bound students who have participated in the Boston College Invest in Kids program and who have continued to be a part of Brookline's Steps to Success program.

And now on to the main event...The Marathon.

First off, I must say that I am in awe of the dedication and stamina put forth by my co-directors, Kim Clark and Michelle Pinnette. Training since last semester, they have run through snow (though not much this winter, thankfully), rain, sleet, and now 87 degree stew to make it through yesterday's marathon. Not even Professor John Gallaugher's exhausting, but rewarding 20 companies-in-five days death march could stop us from training as Michelle and I regularly passed each other this winter break while jogging to and from our hotel toward Stanford on University Avenue in Palo Alto, CA. 
Much credit and praise should be given to Kim and Michelle for running their first marathon.  And thanks to them, they pushed me outside my comfort zone to run my first 10 miles. Here is my story...

I started my run at Mile 16. I joined the pack just as I could see the cocky second-string, front-runners petering out due to over exerting themselves too early in the race. As I managed to keep pace with them up Heartbreak Hill, I fed off of the crowd cheering me on. With very little athletic prowess of my own, I felt like a rock star as I jogged past adoring fans holding signs that said "You [Wait, me? Yes, me!] Inspire Me!" Indeed, running really is the sport for the kid who couldn't make the basketball team. Believe me, I know.

Not long after starting, a Chestnut Hill housewife exclaimed, "You look great. Keep it up!" Of course I looked great, I was only three miles in. Unfortunately, compliments like this stopped for me before hitting Brookline. While running through Newton and Chestnut Hill, residents graciously handed out water and Twizzlers (On the Next Episode of Sh*t Rich People Do) to deflated runners as they crawled up Heartbreak. Regrettably, most of the families allowed their toddlers to hand out the orange slices. I had to respectfully decline - who knows where those toddler hands have been?

It was exhilarating running by Boston College on Marathon Monday. You couldn't help but get a mental and physical boost from the thousands of undergraduates lining the streets cheering you on. At one point, I'm pretty sure I was running next to the Fruit of the Loom characters. Whether it was a hallucination invoked by heat stroke or a demonstration of college brand humor, the absurdity of the moment and the chuckle that followed came at the right time. That said, Mile 21 by Boston College is like the love child of Mardi Gras and the Olympics. 

As I passed each notable landmark - Cleveland Circle, Washington Square, Coolidge Corner, etc. - I was greeted by familiar faces of friends who had come out to support the run. As I joined up with Kim and Michelle at Mile 25, we ran the last stretch in solidarity. A group of our classmates saluted us from the Cactus Club (it was 5 pm somewhere in the world) as we neared the finish line.
I'd liked to think that I didn't make too much of a fool out of myself running in this year's Boston Marathon. But if I did - at least it was for a great cause. I couldn't be prouder of the efforts of our INK Team and those who helped validate and affirm our good work through their support of the Invest in Kids Scholarship Fund.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Give My Regards to Broadway: A New Perspective

This past spring break brought me back to New York City, home to some of the best theater in the world. Those who are closest to me know that when it comes to theater, I have a critical eye and I am not afraid to share my often astute, but not always infallible, observations. Prior to business school, my analyses of those productions I attended frequently focused on actors' performances, tone and style of the production, directorial interpretation, dramatic structure, general aesthetic, etc. But now, carrying almost two years of MBA-level education with me, I sit in a darkened theater with a whole new level of baggage with which to deconstruct the show.

Shortly into the program, I knew that my nearly superhuman powers were developing further. With less than seven weeks of class behind me, in October 2011,  I attended the Boston-area premiere of Lucy Prebble's play ENRON, a modern day morality play set against the events of the recent corporate scandal. As I turned to my friend at intermission expecting to bash the production's pacing and shoddy blocking, he, a very intelligent undergraduate theater and political science major at Boston College, admitted that he was having a hard time following the plot. I then, unaware at the time of my pedagogical path, began to explain this human tragedy in terms of a balance sheet equation. Yes - I know. Who am I? With less than one semester of accounting under my belt, I was describing plot by using terms like assets, liabilities, and accounts payable. While Professor Pete Wilson is proud, I am pretty sure Brooks Atkinson is rolling over in his grave. Alas, I have not been able to view theater the same way since.

Below is a  recap of some the thoughts that crossed my mind as I sat through some of the hottest shows in town during this past week.

GORE VIDAL'S THE BEST MAN: Producers are banking on an all-star cast comprised of theater royalty (Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones), former TV stars (Eric McCormack, John Larroquette, and Candice Bergen), and well liked, current Broadway go-to actors (Kerry Butler, Jefferson Mays, and Michael McKean) to draw in the crowds. This breezy, timely piece may not be very memorable, but its ensemble certainly is. In this case, the money is definitely on the marquee. Though I sat through an early preview, the cast was already beginning to find the rhythms of the banter. Though I had full faith that this ensemble will have a polished political potboiler on its hands come opening night, I sat there with bated breath every time octogenarians Lansbury and Jones rose from a drawing room sofa. Clearly their knees aren't what they used to be which leads me to wonder what additional costs did the producers face when insuring this show?   

DEATH OF A SALESMAN: Commercial producers love to dust off this classic every ten years or so for another Broadway outing. This time around Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman carries those weathered brief cases sullenly across the stage. Yet again, this production is counting on star power to fill the seats. To capture even the teeny-bopper audience, Andrew Garfield (from The Social Network) has been cast as Willy's prodigal son, Biff. Clearly, not as strong an actor as Hoffman (most of Garfield's scenery chewing performance in the second act is caught in his throat), the young heart-throb should help bring in young audience members eager to catch the star in action before he dons the Spider-Man suit later this year in the comic book franchise's latest installment. 

As I prepare for job interviews during my last semester of business school, one quote from Miller's play will ring loudly in my ear:

"The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want."

Here's hoping my interviews end happier than this play!

ONCE: Based on the hit 2006 indie movie of the same name, this adaptation's beautiful contemporary score does justice to its source material. Though a moderate success during its theatrical release and a 2007 Academy Award winner for Best Song ("Falling Slowly"), its base audience is probably too small to truly leverage it into the hit musical stratosphere. As I watched this musical, I applauded producers for taking a chance on this unconventional romantic comedy. I assume this musical made it so far from page to production, not for its effective melodies and heart, but for its relatively low costs (at least by Broadway musical standards). The writers have placed the action of this production in one setting (a Dublin bar), though the scenes are represented across multiple minimalist locations. Actors double as musicians. And characters are capped at thirteen. With steady ticket sales and modest operating costs, this musical could potentially see a long run and a decent return. At this time, positive word of mouth is needed the most!

ONCE also must be commended for its fantastic use of product placement. While flipping through the program, I came across an advertisement (picturing the musical leads) for C.F. Martin & Co. declaring to be the proud sponsors of the ONCE guitars. Given the importance of music and instruments, specifically the guitar, in this production, the product placement not only in the program but in the script came across as the most genuine and organic endorsement I have seen in years.   

VENUS IN FUR: VENUS IN FUR is a sexy, literate new play by David Ives and directed adeptly by Walter Bobbie. A star is born in Nina Arianda's hilarious performance as Vanda, a manipulative and talented young actress who coaxes playwright/director Thomas (played by Hugh Dancy) into letting her audition for him after-hours. Producers must have known they had a hit on their hands with Arianda as this Broadway mounting is the project's third production following two sold-out off-Broadway runs. Setting up shop this last time at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater allows both Arianda (as a Best Actress candidate) and the play to be eligible for the coveted TONY Award come June - an honor restricted to Broadway productions. With likely nominations and awards in its future to fuel ticket sales, a small cast of two (low operating costs), and sunk costs (sets, costumes, etc.) recouped during its off-Broadway iterations, producers are hoping to cash in on this play while word of mouth is positive and Arianda remains the critical darling of Broadway. Unfortunately, with so many new works opening in the next couple weeks, it is most likely that this humble comic production will be lost to audiences in the sea of openings this spring. After all, this play is "so last season."

THE JAZZ AGE: My last stop of the week was at a private industry reading of a new play, THE JAZZ AGE. Focusing its plot on a 'bromance' between F. Scott Fitzgerald (played by Kieran Campion) and Ernest Hemingway (Pablo Schreiber) with Zelda (Hannah Yelland) on board to complicate things. Fully staged productions have promises of dancers, an onstage jazz band to provide musical scoring, and projections. With only three principal actors, cost for future productions look manageable but will certainly increase with the addition of dancers in the ensemble and musicians. Producers beware - doing this era right does not come cheap. While listening to the reading, I tried to adopt the mindset of a commercial Broadway producer. Would this story sell? Though I have a personal affinity for this period and these authors (see my ongoing attempt to adapt Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise into a musical), I do question how much mainstream appeal this literary circle has for today's audiences (::ugh:: tourists with their neon fanny packs and orchestra seats for MAMMA MIA) aside from the whimsical world embodied by Woody Allen's brand of humor in last summer's delightful Midnight in Paris. Once again, it all comes back to that balance sheet. Show me a production that can be mounted well for a modest amount and then I might consider an investment.

In short, it was a very successful and entertaining trip to New York. To my theater friends who think I sold out by going to business school and chastise me for only seeing dollar signs (and not art on the stage) - I leave you with one redeeming thought. Despite a total of five Stephen Schwartz and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals currently playing on Broadway, I escaped the big bad city without seeing a single one. There is some hope!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

East Meets West - Tech Trek 2012

To say that Tech Trek West was one of the highlights of my MBA experience would be an understatement. Twenty-four full-time and part-time MBA students ended their winter break early this year to hop between Seattle, Palo Alto, and San Francisco to visit twenty companies in five days. Exhilarating and exhausting all the same time, this course put us in front of senior level executives, receiving master class level educations at some of the world's most interesting companies. From members of the Fortune 500 list to start-ups and venture capital firms, we certainly felt the pulse of Silicon Valley. 

Learning at Nintendo
While you can read about many of these companies (i.e. Starbucks, Facebook, Amazon, and Zynga) in case studies offered by the Harvard Business Review, there is really nothing like experiencing their cultures head-on. And in case, you're wondering, everything they say about Google's culture is true. Gourmet meals three times a day. Free lattes every 115 feet.  Hair stylists and masseuses at your beckon call. Laundry and dry cleaning services everyday. Ironically, a company like Google, known for its forward thinking and revolutionary technology, has provided its employees with what I essentially like to call the June Cleaver of work experiences. Short of a string of pearls and a "Yes, dear" every once in a while, the 'businessman' hasn't lived this good since he came home to find a Wally and the Beav 'messing around' before dinner. All kidding aside, while West Coast companies certainly know how to care for their employees, it appears to be worth it as these firms are attracting some of the brightest, most creative and entrepreneurial individuals in the field. Now, all they have to do is replace those small bicycles with Segways and you can sign me up tomorrow.

While I could write for days on the knowledge I've obtained through these visits (and believe me when I say that I have to complete the deliverables for this course), I will spare you the pain and include just a few highlights from the trip.

  • Meeting with the Social/Digital Marketing Team at Starbucks Headquarters. Nobody does it better than Starbucks (and they put together a mean gift bag, too). We also were able to test out their blonde roast days before it's official launch.
  • A master class with Phil Schiller, SVP of Worldwide Marketing and BC alum, at Apple, Inc. just days before he launched Apple's education project in New York City.
  • An informative presentation and intimate dinner with Tallwood Capital partner George Pavlov at Nolas in Palo Alto.
  • Getting my inner Michael Chiarello on in Napa at Round Pond and Schramsberg. While the clock said 9 AM California time, it was definitely 5 PM somewhere in the world.
Lastly, I would like to leave you with a few fun photos taken throughout the week. I assure you, the week was not all fun and games - but much of the action that occurred behind closed doors around executive conference tables remains as proprietary as Equinix's undisclosed location.  

Checking out the giant screen at the Experience Music Project in Seattle

Group shot at the EMP
Jamming with Michelle and William at the EMP

Space Needle - Staring back at Martin Crane  (an allusion to "Here's Looking at You", Frasier, Season 1, Episode 5 - check it out!)
Having a beer at a Starbucks?! Say what?

Group photo at Facebook. 'Like it' if you dare.
Suited up for my meeting at Intel. Business casual as usual.