Sunday, February 17, 2008

Getting Collaborative Help Even in New York

The job of promoting your book can be a lonely uphill struggle unless you reach out enthusiastically and offer to help others with their projects. Of course, following your own passions make this exchange genuine.


On February 11 and 12, 2008, I went to New York City to see and review In Circles, the revival of the 1967 musical by the late Reverend Al Carmines. The Judson Memorial Church minister set Gertrude Stein’s A Circular Play: A Play in Circles to a wide range of popular musical forms that included blues, ballads, waltz, you name it. The exuberance of Stein’s words and Carmines’ music is a restorative and joyful experience. I have written two essays about the production, which was lovingly and intelligently directed by John Sowle of Kaliyuga Arts. One of these two essays is currently posted on my arts blog The Dressing and the other will appear in my Steiny Road to Operadom column in the March edition of Scene4 Magazine. The play deserves as much promotion as it can get before it closes February 22, 2008.

Noelle McGrath (Mildred/Gertrude Stein)

The In Circle stools spelled out "Ma Jolie," the title of a cubist painting by Pablo Picasso

Robin Manning (Mabel/Alice B. Toklas)

Although I didn’t go to New York with a clear intention for promoting The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas, I knew that just showing up at a play that was based on Gertrude Stein’s work would be beneficial to me. On the morning of February 12, it suddenly occurred to me that if I had a small card of some sort with the title of my book, the name of my Stein opera, a book jacket quote, and the URL of my blog, I would be able to talk to people about my book and leave them with a way to get more information. Of course this isn’t rocket science, but I have a way of promoting everyone else and missing good opportunities for my own projects.

What I was able to do was make a bookmark and get it copied and cut at FedEx Kinko’s. it probably took a total of one hour’s time though I did have to leave the printed page and come back later to retrieve the bookmarks. Here’s what the bookmark said:
The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas
by Karren LaLonde Alenier

includes the libretto Gertrude Stein Invents a Jump Early On
to order, visit

“Karren Alenier’s peripatetic The Steiny Road To Operadom is a must read for any librettist, composer, or opera aficionado in search of an inside look at the creation and performance of a contemporary opera.”

Gordon Ostrowski, 
Director of Opera Studies, 
Manhattan School of Music

I used a brightly colored cardstock so people would notice the bookmark. When I got to the Judson Church, I spoke to someone at the front door to see if there would be a place where I could leave a stack of these bookmarks and he sent me right to the director John Sowle. Sowle kindly said go ahead and leave some on the table where they were selling tickets. He could have said no. After all, I was there to review his production, but I believe he knew from email interactions that I love Stein and my calling, first and always, is poet. After the show, I had an opportunity to talk to cast members and others in the audience.


Among those people in the audience was my San Francisco-based friend Hans Gallas. Hans collects memorabilia related to Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas. He told me that Ted Sod, book writer of 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, might be attending the show if he could break away from other theater business and that Ted had invited him to mount an exhibition of his Stein-Toklas collection in the lobby of Urban Stages’s theater during the production of 27. While I didn’t know that Ted might appear in the audience, I did know about Ted’s invitation to Hans about exhibiting at his show. I had seen it on the Urban Stages website and, in fact, had asked Ted to help me get my book linked there. I have been following the progress of Ted's collaboration with composer Lisa Koch since March 2007 when we shared a speaking engagement about our musical works at the Mercantile Library Center. A few weeks ago, Ted put me in touch with his theater director and made that happen. So the world of Steinian theater this month has been really generous to me and I recommend that you, Dear Reader, go out and see these shows if you are in or can get to New York City.

Left to right: Hans Gallas, Ted Sod, Paul Boesing (William)


While I was in New York, I visited two other theater friends in my quest to get support for a special event book reading and signing. First I met with Frank Hentschker, Director of Programs at
 The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center of 
The CUNY Graduate Center and later with Nancy Rhodes, director of Encompass New Opera Theatre.
While I was waiting for Nancy at a USDA-certified green restaurant called Gusto Grilled Organics, a young man named Ayael gave me a tutorial on what it means to be a green restaurant and how this business, only one month old, was looking to franchise itself.

What I can pass along is that vegan lentil soup was superb and that each night, they make their menu based on what is in the marketplace that day. What brought a smile to my lips was Ayael telling me that he was brought up on all things green in many countries around the world, that he didn’t drive a car so he wouldn’t pollute our planet, and that he had come to Babylon to make a difference. So, of course, I am thinking to myself now how I can channel that idealism into my own quest to make a difference for poetry and contemporary opera. Well, stay tuned, my discussion with Frank and Nancy might have some wider context than just promoting The Steiny Road to Operadom. Like I said, helping others in a larger landscape can mean helping yourself. Maybe this is part of Stein’s offering on circles. What goes around…

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