COMING SOON! A SPECIAL RETIREMENT TONIGHT, PLUS THE TEXTURES OF GALLERY NIGHT . . .

STAY TUNED!

Rocman “Roc” Whitesell retires from The Pfister Hotel tonight at 10:00 pm after 18 years of service as Concierge.  I got a chance to talk to him a few hours before he hung up his uniform.  Roc affirmed in my a belief in and celebration of ignorance–there is so much that we don’t know about so much . . . and that’s pretty cool.  I’ll be inviting Hotel associates and blog readers to share their favorite stories about Roc!

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Gallery Night last Friday in the Pop-Up Gallery and the Rouge Ballroom taught me about textures:

How atmospheric textures can affect a photograph of the Grand Tetons, or how printing in black and white versus color can lead to striking differences–thanks to insight offered by Coalition of Photographic Arts (CoPA) founding member Tom Federbar during the opening of his exhibit Yosemite & the Tetons.

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How printing a photograph on a different surface, such as Sunset Metallic Photo Paper or Brushed Aluminum or Breathing Color Elegant Velvet Fine Art Paper (all Prime Digital Media products), can change the way a photograph appears and is perceived.

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And how the musical textures of an electronically-amplified cello and the dramatic swish of snare drum brushes can affect what an artist such as Pamela M. Anderson, our Artist-in-Residence, sees and feels–and how that can translate to a blank canvas.

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All in all, to bridge the gap between the evening’s art and my life, I was reminded to attend to the “textures” in my own life–those I’ve been given, those others create for me, and those I create myself–and how they transform how I present myself to the world, how I am perceived, how I affect and effect.

Stay tuned for my full reflection on these stories!

 

 

Synergy: Performance, Art, & Service (Parts I & II)

Synergy.  I know it when I see it, or hear it, or feel it.  But when it does, sometimes it takes me a few days to make sense of it.  That’s why I’m only just publishing this synergy between three positive events that I attended last Wednesday and Thursday.  There are great things happening in Milwaukee!

PART I.

On Wednesday, my friend Christine and I attended a packed Pabst house for a special live presentation of Precious Lives, presented by WUWM 89.7, Milwaukee Public Radio, and 371 Productions.  Precious Lives is a two-year, 100-part radio and podcast series that explores the effects of gun violence in the lives of young people in Milwaukee.  Produced by Brad Lichtenstein, directed by Michelle Lopez-Rios, with music composed by Kiran Vee, the live show featured personal narratives from thirteen “actors,” including young people and community leaders.  Stories of ordinary lives disrupted by gun violence, stories of extraordinary people working for change.  All an invitation, a calling, to do our part.  

Precious Lives cast and crew.

By the end of the show, the entire crowd–representing every demographic in Milwaukee–was on its feet, clapping and rapping for change, committing itself to making a collective difference.  I could repeat the stories here about what it’s like losing a loved one, about what it’s like remembering the last words that someone ever uttered to you, about the girl who wants to be a global “teddy bear” and just love everyone.  But the Precious Lives website is so thoroughly and thoughtfully produced, I’d only be reiterating what’s already been said and heard.  So please visit it at PreciousLivesProject.org (follow the link above) and find out how you can be the change you want to see in the world.*

Needless to say, I left with a renewed intention to determine my part.  

* Also, follow Precious Lives on Twitter @_preciouslives_, #preciouslives, #findingamerica; on Facebook @ preciouslivesradioproject; and on Instagram @ preciouslivesproject.

PART II.

After the show, we headed to The Pfister’s Pop-Up Gallery to take in the Origin8 exhibit of abstract art from eight local artists, including our very own Artist-in-Residence and exhibit curator Pamela M. Anderson.   Truthfully, it was a shock stepping out of the elevated Pabst rap and into the white walls of The Pfister gallery with soft music in the background.  How could I reconcile what I had just heard–the lives of people damaged by gun violence–with the calming essence of these paintings, sculptures, and quilts?  I sought, eagerly and intentionally, for some connection between the artistic expression of grief and hope and the artistic representations in the gallery.

(l-r) Heidi Parkes, Rita Maria, Nina Ghanbarzadeh, Ann Baer, Pamela M. Anderson, Nirmal Raja, Leah Schreiber Johnson, Melissa Dorn Richards. Photo credit: Sara Risley

So I studied Pamela’s huge urban and natural landscapes, Nirmal Raja’s painted saris, Heidi Parkes’ quilts, Nina Ghanbarzadeh’s intricate, mesmerizingly lacy lines, Ann Baer’s primary colored salad forks and massage rollers, Rita Maria’s spiritual crows, Leah Schreiber Johnson’s ominous but hopeful monotypes, and Melissa Dorn Richards’ brilliant, outlined gestures of color pointing toward the sky.  I looked for symbolic connections between the Precious Lives voices and the paint and pen and shapes and threads.  Here’s what I found, then created from their fragments of their art and words:

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The words on this little collage are like lessons of peace and connection for Milwaukee:

Anderson claims the natural and urban world as her “sanctuary” and “vessel,” created from “intimate encounters with [her] daily life.”  Marie intuits crows as “messengers” that help her “awaken to [her] authentic self,” “stay in touch with [her] true self,” and recognize her “soul’s purpose.”  Lesson: Be open and close to your world.  Appreciate the sacred nature of everything around you.  Let your world connect you with yourself and others.  The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.

Baer brings new life to discarded daily objects, creating whimsical towers and multi-dimensional wall sculptures–she calls them “totems”–that remind me of colorful horseshoe crabs or shiny insect exoskeletons.  Richards looks for the “humanness of non-human objects, always looking for that awkward gesture or irregular line,” then produces paintings with heavy outlines and vivid colors to celebrate that humanness.  Lesson: Recognize the beauty and humanity of those who are “discarded,” “awkward,” or “irregular.”  Then do something about it: claim, reclaim, create, construct, celebrate them.  And do it all with color.

Raja meditates upon the “possibilities and choices that lead a person to the present moment . . . the ripple effect of our actions,” describing her palimpsestic prints as a process of “accretion,” or a gradual build-up of layers.  Ghanbarzadeh also layers, but with hundreds of circular traces or cross-hatches to hypnotic effect, and in other work not displayed at the gallery attempts in her artwork “to find a more universal language” by “deconstruct[ing] written language into curves, lines, and dots.”  Lesson: Don’t forget your past and what got you to the present.  As you move into your future, build upon the layers you’ve already created.  Cover the layers you don’t want people to see; they won’t disappear, they’re under there, but you can build yourself up the way you want to be seen.

Parkes “continues a family tradition” of quilting passed down from her maternal grandmother, integrating into one quilt various views from the ground looking up and from the sky looking down.  And while Parkes builds and connects, Johnson produces monotypes of “crumbled landscapes” that represent the “destructive construction of cultural transformation” in places like Wuhan, China, which inspired some of her work in the gallery.  Lesson: Don’t ignore the “crumbled landscapes” in your life and in the lives of others.  And when you recognize them, stitch them back together again, preferably in a new pattern, a new design, a new form.  See things from different perspectives: look up if you normally look down, look down if you’re always looking up.

At least that’s what I saw when I visited the Origin8 exhibit, which runs through July 18th.  I left the gallery, just like I had left the Precious Lives performance, with a renewed sense of hope, which would be strengthened the following day at the Jewish Family Services Luncheon of Champions in the Hotel’s Grand Ballroom.

Read PART III, about the Jewish values of tzedaka (צדקה “charity”), chesed (חֶ֫סֶד “loving kindness”), and tikkun olam (תיקון עולם “repairing the world”), in my next post!

 

An Introduction: Prequel No. 2

Here is the second of my two “prequels” to my first official post as Pfister Narrator, in which I will formally introduce myself and give thanks to those who have come before me.  This prequel is also adapted from a sample blog post I submitted to the selection committee.  “Window Seat” is inspired by a Saturday afternoon conversation I had with the new Pfister Artist-in-Residence Pamela Anderson.

Spring had finally arrived–at least for a few days–but instead of doing a long run in the 70-degree sun, I decided to wander into the Pfister to uncover a story.  Luckily, the sun followed me into the lobby and down the hall to Pamela’s studio.  Eager to meet my potential colleague, I was greeted both by geometric splashes of primary colors (can shapes be both geometric and splashes?) and by the kind, soft-spoken artist.  

Our conversation delighted and incited (insighted?) me, so I reimagined her spoken words in the form of a written letter addressed to me, from her, two weeks prior, just before she began her one-year residency at the Pfister.  For me, the art of letter writing is a dying art form, and since we talked so much about painterly and writerly voice, I wanted to hear her in a different way, from one of her favorite spots in the world: the window seat of an airplane.

Now that I know that I will indeed be working closely with her in the next twelve months, I look forward to writing her back.

April 1, 2016

Dear Dominic,

I’m writing this from 28,000 feet.  Soon, I will touch down on the hotel’s carpeted runway and disembark in my new studio-for-a-year.  I haven’t met you yet, but I sense your imminent arrival at my doorway.  From the window seat–a must-have when I travel–I am snapping photos real and imaginary.  Right now, the sun guides the plane, a Catalan yellow sun the way Miró reimagined it (we’re actually over Lake Michigan right now, but my mind has traveled to Catalonia before).  The clouds are high, muting the sky in a pastel blue that Diebenkorn would have appreciated (I’ve traveled to the west coast with him before).  I’ve been around the world with painters past and present, Dominic, but would you believe that I’m only beginning to map my own voice now?

You will ask in a couple of weeks, “Did you not have a voice before?”  Did you lose it?  Can a painter, like a writer, have a voice?  Don’t we all have one?  

I certainly had a voice before.  I’ve been mapping it all my life, just as you have been mapping yours, the contours of your inscape, the swirls of your unique fingerprint–that’s what voice is.  Not necessarily something that can be heard or seen.  It’s always inside us, but it’s about developing it.  There’s so much in our world that we have access to visually, that for me, as a painter, finding that fingerprint has been difficult.  It’s difficult for all of us, because we have this sense that it’s all been done before.  You must feel the same as a writer.

Of course, I’ve been informed by–you can’t help it and there’s nothing wrong with it–the fluid landscapes of Diebenkorn and the geometrical, splashy fantasies of Miró, but I’ve remade myself so many times, all on my own.  I didn’t go to school for art, but I did look and study on my own, collecting images and preferences from so many sources.  And I played as a child, all the time.  That was a key to my talent.  If it was a brightly colored block or brick, or Lincoln Logs, or anything you could build with, I was creating something.  I guess you could say I had a natural talent for seeing how things fit together and how they could fit together in new ways.  But at some point in my life, perhaps after getting really good at painting floral scenes, I determined that I needed to be braver with my paintings.

by Pamela Anderson

That’s an interesting word, you will say, to describe art: “bravery.”  It sounds like the stuff of heroes and soldiers and tightrope walkers.  But if we are to transform ourselves and find our voices, then we will have to be brave, a word, I’m guessing you know, that comes from bravo, Italian for “bold and untamed.”  So I’m trying to tap into moments that speak to me from 28,000 feet–I’m looking down now and see that Catalan sun reflect off the lake’s dark surface, creating lines of yellow, crests of white, the plane approaching the shoreline of emerging green fields (we’re south of the airport).  An almost invisible line stretches across my view–the flight of a bird?  An optical illusion?  (To be truthful, I’ve already painted this, but it wasn’t of a Lake Michigan shoreline.  It was something altogether different, intuited in a private conversation I was having with my world.  In any case, I hope you’ll see it when I hang it in my Pfister studio.)

Another painting that will be in my studio when you visit me in a couple of weeks is an aerial landscape (you’re going to notice this right away, I’m thinking–we see with similar eyes): patches of primary colors like children’s blocks and elemental earth, the geometry of agriculture, the interruption of rivers, straight lines that partition (I see straight lines in nature–why?).

These paintings are informed, as I’ve said, by Diebenkorn and Miró and countless other artists, but I’m making them my own . . . I think, I hope.  Sometimes I feel brave, other times not.  You know that I applied for this position three times?  That’s ok, though; I’m glad I didn’t receive the residency those other two times.  I wasn’t ready.  Of course it was validating to be a finalist, but once I validated myself, when I heard my own voice and said, “Hey, that’s me,” that is when I decided to apply one more time.  Maybe that’s what “voice” is: that thing inside you that says/writes/paints/creates itself out of you and says, “Hey, I’m you.”

by Pamela Anderson

The plane is about to touch down.  When you come to visit me, I’ll be wearing gentle black lace and I’ll speak with a soft voice, but you’ll also notice that I speak with large scraping tools, mops, and oversized paint brushes and that my massive paintings don’t have my signature on them.  That’s because I’ve decided to be brave: to let my tools, whatever they may be, guide me and let my paintings reveal my voice.  Many people get upset, in fact, when I don’t sign my paintings on the front.  But I think it’s better when someone can say that they saw one of my paintings from across a room or even a block away and said to themselves “That’s a Pamela.”

That means my voice is being heard.

I wish you all the best as you find yours.  And I look forward to meeting you.

Sincerely,

Pamela

We Are The Sesame Street of All Hotels, People

I am a man of a certain age who is able to proudly claim to have been raised in part through the counting, alphabetizing, and sharing lessons regularly doled out on the standard bearer for all great children’s programming, good old Sesame Street. Even into my forties, I still have bold images of the residents of Sesame Street, the flesh and bones ones as well as the felt and fake-hair ones, playing and working side-by-side.

I found myself thinking hard about what made Sesame Street such a magic place as I enjoyed a recent Pfister event. Our new Artist-in-Residence Pamela Anderson recently kicked off her year in the studio with a sparkling night of art and celebration. One of the highlights of that night was a performance by a group of young artists from The Florentine Opera.

Outside of the obvious talent displayed by these singers as they filled the Pfister’s Rouge salon with soaring melodies, I took note of something else that was special about these performers. They all might have shared the same megawatt capacity for smiling and charm, but the faces that displayed those smiles did not all share the same pigment of skin. I find myself thinking more and more about race in this country as discussions come front and center about how we as a nation can work and play better together now and into the future. That’s why it’s nice to know that right here at home at the Pfister Hotel, the spirit of Sesame Street and all its lessons of inclusion feels alive and potent.

I have made it a habit when I enter the Pfister to look up and see the SALVE motto hovering over the lobby, the hub for all guests as they arrive and start a visit. SALVE, that “all are welcome” ideal, is not just a gilded adornment that floats in the air at the Pfister. You realize it is a real boots-on-the-ground reality as your eyes descend from the heavens and you see that the mix of men and women who make up the life of the hotel as guests, drop-in visitors and associates is as varied, ecletic and diverse a gathering as the mind can conjure. Walking through the Pfister lobby on any given day is sort of like taking a stroll down the best kind of Main Street, USA, one where you only take a moment to think about race and gender because you pinch yourself and say, “Wait a minute…I’m somewhere where I’m not thinking about race and gender.”

That sort of Main Street, USA reminds me a lot of Sesame Street, a place where no one cared what you looked like, where you were from, or how fat your wallet was. I’ve met many spectacular individuals as I’ve enjoyed being part of the fabric of the Pfister, and I realize now that I’m struck by how little time I spent recognizing their differences but instead focused on all our shared similarities. The Pfister’s doors are literally open around the clock to anyone, no matter what step they take in the grand walk of life.

Pamela’s opera singer friends presented a showcase of mixed repertoire to kick off an evening of artistic joy, but I was really swept up by their opener, a German language version of “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Somehow it all seemed so right, a quirky mash up of something that was unexpected but familiar all at the same time. The tune had a “life is good in this place” sort of feel about it as the room filled with cheer. It’s a feeling that I have every time I’m at the Pfister, and one that I fondly carry forward into adulthood with a full heart of acceptance and appreciation that first started to glow in my youth when my some friends from all different walks of life told me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street. I never expected it, but I’m sure happy that I’ve stumbled upon Sesame Street at 424 Wisconsin Avenue in my dear hometown.

I hope you enjoy this musical ditty as much as I did.

Pamela

And now, we turn to Pamela.

It’s Pamela Anderson’s first day as the Pfister’s new Artist-in-Residence. I will endeavor to answer all the questions that come along with Pamela’s name.

No, she does not know David Hasselhoff.

No, she does not tease up a mane of golden blonde hair.

No, she does not run down sandy beaches in her swimsuit saving wayward surfers…well, at least I’m pretty sure she doesn’t.

And, yes, Pamela is a painter who is bold, expressive and the first of her kind for the Pfister. Pamela is the first abstract painter in the Pfister’s roster of artists who have made the ground floor studio their home.

Here are a few other things to know and adore about Pamela.

She’s tough. She’d never talk about it, but health issues have tried to slow her in recent times. Pamela brushes all that off and simply keeps getting back up when she’s knocked down.

She’s persistent. Pamela has such obvious joy over having been selected to be the Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence. She comes to the role after showing that commitment is not defined by overnight success but by what you do in the face of rejection to show that you really want something.

She’s super talented and charming. Her paintings brighten spaces all around town, and now we’re blessed to have them showcased at the Pfister. I’ll give guests wandering into her studio a warning shot…give yourself some time to stop and chat because you’ll find it’s hard to pull yourself away from the great conversation you are bound to have with Pamela.

She’s got great taste. Her studio is going to shine because of her great eye for style. She’s one well-put-together lady, too. When I see her coming, I’m happy to straighten my tie and step up my game.

Pamela and I got to spend some time together chatting about what it means to be an artist in service to the Pfister, and I know she drank deep from the well of knowledge that is our outgoing Artist-in-Residence Todd Mrozinski. Pamela is primed and more than ready to define the next twelve months in her own terms. Watch as she bursts on the scene at the Pfister and takes us all on an artistic journey of thrilling twists and turns. I know I’m tickled with excitement about what’s about to come.

Have a happy day one, Pamela. What a joy it is to have your splashes of color and wit adding new dimensions of life at the Pfister. Make the experience your own in each and every way and everyone will win big.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

Todd

And then there’s Todd.

Today is officially the final day of Todd Mrozinski’s term as the Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence. For me and others around the Pfister, this is the moment when Todd leaves us with one final everlasting shadow. His own.

Todd made his mark during his artistic residency by using the shadows cast from the light at the Pfister to capture the profiles of countless guests, associates and well-wishers with brush and paint. Sounds like a simple proposition, and you may be thinking, “I sort of remember doing something like that in grade school, right?” But you would be wrong. Todd is a magician of sorts, an artist of supreme talent who somehow is able to show more than just a profile with his paintings. I don’t know how he does it, but Todd is able to paint a person’s soul.

Todd has talents I’ll never know. There are the obvious ones with a paintbrush that he wields with devastatingly exciting effect each time he approaches a canvas. There’s also the unerring commitment to his work as I often stood gaping at the volume of what he has been able to create during his time as Artist-in-Residence. I think, however, that the thing the amazes me most about my new friend Todd is a heart bigger than seems capable of being held in one human being’s chest.

Todd doesn’t simply paint people. He loves people and must paint them. It seems like an understatement to say that Todd is a universally beloved man. Around the Pfister, the thing we fortunate ones who have gotten to work with Todd do the first moment we see him approaching is smile and breathe a little easier full of a special sort of feeling. You know that feeling…the one you have when you see your best friend coming towards you. When you see Todd, the world seems right and everything makes sense.

It would be hard to write any tribute to my fellow artistic colleague at the Pfister without also talking about his wife, the dazzling Renee Bebeau. Renee’s pure love of the world and her obvious deep connection to Todd has brought added joy to the Pfister, and everything she seems to touch turns to something golden and full of joy. Renee was Todd’s true partner during his residency, organizing the Pfister’s thrilling Holiday Artists Fair, helping to coordinate the many shows Todd curated over the past year, serving as model for some of Todd’s paintings, and creating her own stunning art side-by-side with her beloved guy.

Todd leaves the Pfister having inspired me as any great artist does. I think of his friendship, the feeling I had every time I saw a new piece of his artwork, and it makes me want to get about the business of dedicating myself even more to my own life’s passion. Todd is the greatest advocate the art world could ever ask for, but more than that, he is one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever known. I will miss him, and I know I’m not alone.

Goodbye Todd. You leave a long and beautiful shadow, my friend. Thanks for all you have given and all you allowed us to take away.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

The First 30 Years

Some couples got it. Ron and Maryann don’t just got it. They define what it means to got it.

I think about marriage every day of my life as a really happily married fellow myself. Some of the things I think about are how satisfying it is to have a life partner and how you never can stop working on making your marriage all it can be. Ron and Maryann have hitting it out of the park as a successful married couple for 30 years. They reminded me that all the stuff I think about marriage is never to be taken for granted, site but also that you gotta always do a little more. You gotta always make time to laugh.

The happy couple is, in fact, laughing as I meet them all refreshed and glowing after a Well Spa visit that Maryann secretly arranged for their 30th Wedding Anniversary. They’re looking over a painting of a teapot in our Pfister Artist-In-Residence Studio, and and Ron is telling Todd Mrozinski that the teapot looks just like the one in a sort of B-movie extravaganza he and his bride came upon when flicking through the channels last week. “It was called ‘The Brass Teapot’ and I’d say, yeah, it was pretty good,” says Ron.

Maryann is quiet and smiles up at her hubby. It looks like a smile she’s practiced a lot. I can just imagine these two snuggled next to each other in recliners or something, store their hands touching as they reach into the bowl of popcorn. The word “lovebirds” comes to mind.

Ron explained to me that he had had some practice with marriage before getting hitched to Maryann some 30 years back. Considering his track record with his first two marriages before he struck gold with Maryann he tells me, “I never thought I’d get to five years, but then you start passing ten, 20, 25, and then all of a sudden you’re at 30. Who knew?”

I’m not convinced that it’s as easy as that to rack up 30 years of marriage, and I ask the couple what’s their trick for being each others ball and chain for three decades and smile like they do as they look upon each other like they’ve just met. They talk of their travels, the joys of being parents and grandparents, and the most important word each of them has learned by being married to one another.

“Yes,” says the couple. “Always say ‘yes’ whenever anyone asks you to do something new.”

Saying “yes” for Ron and Maryann has meant traveling to far off places, having friends in all corners of the world, and opening their eyes to all the possibilities of how to see and tell a story. As avid theatre and concert goers, the couple explain to me that you should take chances and see live performances even when you have no idea what the show is going to be about. I’m always dubious of this kind of thing from years of producing theatre myself, some of it the sort of stuff I’d like to forget I ever put on stage. Ron tells me not to fear.

“No, no. Don’t have regrets about that.” He tells me that one of the most memorable dates he had with Maryann was when they decided to buy tickets to a Vegas style show advertised in a small performance space. They showed up for the performance and waited in the audience until they realized that they were the only two people who had bought tickets.

“It was a little uncomfortable when the show began, it just being Maryann and I in the audience,” said Ron. “But, you know what? It ended up being a real good show.”

Maryann smiles again. Ron looks at her and knows it’s time for them to make tracks for other adventures. Thirty years and all it takes is a wink, a smile and a chuckle or two. If that ain’t love, mister, I don’t know what is.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

Live from The Pfister…Chatter and Paintings and Arias You Want to See

Not that I think there’s a lack of reasons to come to the Pfister on any given day (I mean there’s the glamour, the great service, the lush accommodations, and all), but I’m happy to be giving you some spectacular special reasons to visit 424 E. Wisconsin Ave. in the coming weeks.

This Friday, October 16th is Milwaukee’s Fall Gallery Night and at the Pfister that means one thing: WE’RE DOING TWO THINGS! I’m thrilled to host my first live event as Pfister Narrator when I bring together leaders in the local theatre scene for SHOP TALK, an engaging discussion that gets people in-the-know talking shop. SHOP TALK is a lively hour-long combination of interviews, levity and even some musical flourishes. I’m honored to get the chance to talk with Chad Bauman (Managing Director of Milwaukee Rep), Sherri Williams Pannell (one of the leaders of Milwaukee’s new Bronzeville Arts Ensemble), Suzan Fete (a co-founder of Renaissance Theaterworks), Tom Klubertanz (actor and epically popular theatre educator at Oconomowoc High School), and Dan Schley (local theatre audience member extraordinaire and all around greatest guy ever).

Chad Bauman Vertical
Chad Bauman is smart, classy, and dynamically leads Milwaukee Repertory Theater as Managing Director in partnership with Artistic Director, Mark Clements. You want to hear him speak…trust me.

I’m joined by musical sidekick James Kaplan and livewire announcer and partner-in-crime Jason Economus for an unforgettable evening. We’ll be in the former Roger Stevens space on the first floor and doors open at 6:00pm for a 6:30 show. This is a free-of-charge event, so plan on showing up early to snag a good space close to all the talking of shop. Learn more by visiting the SHOP TALK Facebook Event Page.

SHOP TALK is happening in collaboration with my ever active and pulsing with talent Pfister artistic colleague, Todd Mrozinski, our Artist in Residence, and his Fall Gallery night event. Todd has brought together a superb collection of artists for the PEOPLE show at the Pfister’s new Pop Up Gallery. The show features portraits created by some of the best and brightest local artists, and Todd’s opening on Friday evening will be an event par excellence featuring live music by Mississippi Sawyer and a poetry tour of all the artwork by my outstanding predecessor as in-house writer at the Pfister, Anja Notanja. You can get more details at the PEOPLE show Facebook event page.

The lovely thing about all this is that you can come to SHOP TALK and then take a few steps across the lobby to experience the PEOPLE show. Noshing and a cash bar will add to all the merriment. What a night!

Now that fills up your dance card for Friday night, but what about next Wednesday, October 21st? I know you’re looking for something to do on a school night, and I have the answer—Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Voice Lab.

In the grand tradition of celebrating the arts at the Pfister, I’m delighted to host Milwaukee Opera Theatre for a Voice Lab on Wednesday, October 21st from 7:00-9:00pm at Cafe Rouge.

Voice Lab_MOT
Witness the artistic process up-close at Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Voice Lab on October 21st at Cafe Rouge

What is a Milwaukee Opera Theatre Voice Lab you ask?  Voice Lab has been used by professional artists to prepare for auditions, try out new repertoire, and revisit old, familiar pieces.  Composers have used Voice Lab to assist them in the development of new work.  Voice Lab has been used by avocational singers to continue their practice, and by singers returning to music after a hiatus who want a safe place to try things out.

The artists’ process is revealed for inquisitive onlookers during Voice Lab, and this free-of-charge event is also open to the public.  

And Milwaukee Opera Theatre is a group you should keep your eyes and ears on for invigorating culture and quirks. MOT, as they like to call themselves, considers itself a microbrewery of opera: Small batches, high quality, locally produced.  Their reputation for exciting approaches to classic operatic repertoire and new work has attracted the attention of audiences during their many sold-out performances around Milwaukee.  You can learn more about them at milwaukeeoperatheatre.org.

I mean this when I say this…it will be a delight to see you at the Pfister for these events. It’s thrilling to make these sorts of discussions and events available to the public, and I do so hope you’ll join us for all the fun. See you soon…I’ll be the guy with the bow tie and big happy-as-a-clam grin.

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The Only Problem Is That the Water Cooler Might Be Used to Wash a Brush or Two

How many times have you looked at a piece of art hanging on the wall and said, “My kid can do that?”

And how many times have you taken brush in hand to find out that kids are cute, but making art isn’t for the feint of heart.

It’s with this sense of awe for the process of creation that I come to the continuing confirmation that the people who work for and support the Pfister and its parent Marcus corporation aren’t just pros of the highest degree, they are artists. In the case of a current display of talents in the Pfister’s Pop Up Gallery, this statement is both literal and figurative.

Last Friday the Pop Up Galley was the site of the opening reception of the Art of Marcus Show. This was no display of a group of disgruntled employees acting out their frustrations over a hostile work environment with tortured splashes of oil paint on a dirty cloth calling for overthrow of “the man.” No, indeed, the art on display showed that the concept of “Salve”, the motto of welcome hospitality for all prominently on display as part of the ceiling fresco art in the Pfister Lobby, has warmly wormed its way into the psyches of all the Marcus employees presenting art.

It’s not for nothing that a hotel that has its own Aritst-In-Residence and Narrator puts value on showing off the off hours talents of their staff. I get a kick out of the fact that the same bartender who mixes the world’s best Bloody Mary has an eye for landscapes. And this is no, “My kid could paint that,” kind of show, either. It’s a true celebration of how the people that make it their business to ensure a comfy stay for all our guests stretch their artist souls.

When, as a writer, I think, “Boy, I’m so busy…how can I produce anymore words?” I remember that Kurt Vonnegut sold Saabs from 9 to 5, Harper Lee punched a clock as an airline ticket reservationist, and William S. Burroughs was an exterminator. It’s my reminder to stop whining and sit down with pen in hand and start my real life’s work. Those notable writers didn’t just define themselves by their day jobs and clearly knew that being an artist meant more than dreaming about it—for all of them it meant showing up and simply doing the work.

Having seen the work of the Marcus employees, I will now take inspiration from their efforts and realize that while these hard working stewards could be kicking off their shoes and cracking a cold brew at the end of the day, they have chosen to take off their work clothes and put on that soft shirt that won’t suffer from a splotch of paint. I’m happy that visiting guests get to know our staff as more than champions of comfort and see that there are some real serious artists walking the halls of the Pfister.

I hope you enjoy these images of the Art of Marcus Show, and I hope you’ll stop by soon and experience these delights in person.

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One Night Only in the Lobby Lounge…DeLorenzo and Rivers!

Victor DeLorenzo and I share a few things when it comes to Milwaukee. One of those is history. The other is the Pfister.

Let’s get the history right out of the way, ailment shall we. Many years ago Victor and I first crossed paths when we had both been cast as performers in a play about how one man got swallowed up by the Nazi machine in 1930s Germany. Victor had been cast as the one Jewish character, and I had been cast as a Nazi. We had lovely times together in rehearsal until one day our director announced to the cast that Victor had gone to the doctor for a physical, feinted and broken his ankle in a freak accident. Victor was out, diagnosis I got promoted to his role, and because of his bum ankle I went from Nazi to Jew overnight.

That’s the history, and I was so delighted to see Victor again after many years when he and his musical partner Janet Schiff in the cello and percussion duo Nineteen Thirteen played for a recent art opening at the Pfister’s Pop Up Gallery. All of a sudden we had the Pfister in common, cialis and it felt nice to be in the same place with a man I admire for his many talents.

Then one recent day as I was passing Todd Mrozinksi’s studio at the Pfister I peeked in to see that Victor and Janet were getting their silhouettes traced by our Resident Artist for paintings Todd will include in his collection.

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I stopped in to have a chat with Victor and catch up since I hadn’t had an opportunity to do so prior.

I find more and more that the Pfister is a place for reunion, and when those reconnections happen in the hotel, the folks making contact again after weeks, months or years invariably have their own Pfister tales that they share with each other. It’s as if the walls just draw out the stories, and listen hard enough and you can hear some doozies.

Victor and I did the general catching up that men of our age do. This hurts, that hurts, getting older isn’t so bad. Victor also told me he had some great memories of years gone by at the Pfister with a twinkle in his eye saying, “But you could never write about some of those.”

One tale he did tell me is beautifully quaint. It is so sweet, and surprising from a man who was responsible for forming one of the hardest driving alternative rock ensembles of all time (The Violent Femmes for those of you who need a little refresher).

Victor explained that he grew up in Racine and always dreamed of trips to Milwaukee. But as a boy prior to having his driver’s license, those trips were few and far between. He longed for the freedom that a license allowed him, and had big plans once he could get behind the wheel and follow his own path.

As he dreamed about that new sense of freedom and discovery, he also reveled in the great entertainment of the day, and for Victor the greatest of the great was Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Victor explained that he was a tremendous fan of the former talk show host and would stay up and watch the show each and every night. From time to time Johnny would have a guest host fill in for him, and his favorite of all was the uncompromising Joan Rivers.

The time had come for Victor to test for his driver’s license and as he prepared he made a discovery. Rivers was scheduled to do a series of concerts at The Pfister’s old Crown Room, a classic spot for comedians and musicians. Through the grapevine Victor discovered that Rivers was also set to stay at the Pfister. With the blind resolve and confidence that only youth can bring, Victor made a decision.

“I thought to myself, I am going to get my driver’s license, drive right to the Pfister Hotel, walk in, and meet Joan Rivers.”

The plan seemed fool proof to Victor who couldn’t see any possible obstacles towards success. That’s the beauty of youth—anything seems possible.

Now perhaps because of timing, perhaps because of luck, perhaps because of a combination of lots of random factors, a miracle occurred.

Victor’s plan worked.

I like to call it the Pfister Blessing, sort of the stroke of good things that can and do happen to you once you make a decision to walk through the door. On that day so many years ago Victor climbed into a car with his shiny new driver’s license, drove North from his Racine home to the Pfister, walked in, and moments later met Joan Rivers. He tells me that she was an absolute delight and spent the evening in conversation with him, a moment he will never forget. It certainly couldn’t have played out better for Victor if he had tried, but I did forget to ask him one essential question, something I’ll have to clear up next time we see each other. I gotta wonder whether the former queen of runway commentary had anything to say about teenage Victor DeLorenzo’s haircut. That’s another Pfister story that I for one would love to hear.

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