Movie stars that bring their talents to Broadway

11. September 2014 13:45 by Julie Merar in Theater  //  Tags:   //   Comments ()

America certainly loves its celebrities, and Broadway producers are capitalizing on that fact to get audiences into the theater. It used to be a stigma of stage acting that film and television stars would only resort to it once their 15 minutes of fame were up. However, the current Broadway season is full to the brim with movie stars at the height of their fame lending their presence and talent to a Broadway show. The benefits run both ways - producers have someone they can attract an audience with, while the actors themselves get to practice their stage acting skills, further developing their craft. Here is a look at some of the high-wattage celebrities you will be able to see in New York this season:

Bradley Cooper
Bradley Cooper's career actually started in New York as a student at the Actor's Studio Drama School. It was there that he trained for his Master's of Fine Arts degree while picking up roles in television shows such as Sex and the City and The Beat. For his graduation thesis, he performed the role of John Merrick in Bernard Pomerance's drama The Elephant Man. He is now returning to that role for a production of the play at the Booth Theater. The play chronicle's Merrick's experiences in Victorian England living with a terrible disfigurement. Cooper's recent Academy Award nominations for American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook are sure to help sell plenty of Elephant Man tickets.

Hugh Jackman
Another movie star who has extensive theater credits to his name, Hugh Jackman has starred in Australian productions of both Beauty and the Beast and Sunset Boulevard. These performances would lead to his being cast as the lead in a West End production of Oklahoma! in 1998 and the Broadway production of The Boy from Oz. These days he is better known as Wolverine from the X-Men movie franchise, but he still makes time to return to the New York stage whenever he can. This fall he is starring in The River at the Circle in the Square theater. Not much is known about the new play written by Jez Butterworth, but the story focuses on a man and a woman stranded in a mountain cabin at night.

Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint
The Harry Potter boys will each be starring in their own Broadway productions. Daniel Radcliffe, whose portrayal of Harry Potter shot him to stardom, is currently in a production of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Cort Theatre. Radcliffe's previous Broadway credits include a run as the lead in the latest revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

For Rupert Grint, who played Harry's best friend Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter movies, this will be his Broadway debut. He has been cast in Terrence McNally's comedy It's Only a Play at the Schoenfeld Theatre. That production will have the added star power of high-wattage performers such as Stockard Channing, Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick and Megan Mullally.

If you could cast an iconic Broadway role with any movie star you wanted, who would it be?

Biggest upsets in March Madness history

9. September 2014 09:49 by Julie Merar in Basketball, College Sports  //  Tags:   //   Comments ()

Perhaps one of the greatest things about college basketball is that once the regular season ends, March Madness finds teams and fans alike thrown into a month of unpredictable basketball mayhem. The NCAA Tournament brings over a billion possible outcomes to the table, with 64 of the best teams in college basketball vying for the title of national champions. Perhaps this is why no one to date has predicted a bracket perfectly, because its pretty impossible to fully guess who's going to rise to the occasion and who's going back to the locker room in tears. Of course, the Big Dance does have some methodology. With teams seeded from 1 to 16, every basketball enthusiast and commentator has a system set for predicting upsets and bettering their odds. At the end of the day though, some teams that are considered as good as gone from the get-go come out strong and lead legendary runs over tournament favorites. Here are some of the biggest March Madness upsets of all time:

Indiana vs. Cleveland State, 1986
This first round matchup is still considered one of the biggest upsets in college basketball ever. The Indiana Hoosiers were a No. 3 seed under the coaching of the infamous Bobby Knight, and the Cleveland State Vikings were a No.14 seed that was unknown to the public. Cleveland State thrived on a "Run N' Stun" style of play that encouraged players to play as hard and fast as possible. The Vikings defeated the Hoosiers 83-79, but lost in the next round to a Navy team led by David Robinson.

Oklahoma vs. Kansas, 1988
In 1988, the Oklahoma Sooners were a team to be reckoned with, averaging over 100 points a game and usually winning by a double-digit margin. The Sooners were known for their talented offense and went into the national championship game with a 35-3 record, poised to take on the Kansas Jayhawks for all the marbles. In fact, they had already beat Kansas on two occasions during the regular season. Kansas was an unranked No. 6 seed that no one expected to have a shot against the Sooners, led by future NBA all-star Mookie Blaylock. However, led by Danny Manning, who alone put up 31 points and had 18 rebounds, the Jayhawks won the national championship, pulling off one of the greatest upsets of all time. 

Richmond vs. Syracuse, 1991
In the years leading up to this game, the Richmond Spiders had developed a reputation for upsetting some of the best teams in college basketball. In this case, the No. 15 seed was pitted against No. 2 seeded Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This was the first time in history a No. 2 seed fell to a No. 15 seed, and only one of six times it has ever happened in the history of the tournament. 

Missouri vs. Norfolk State, 2012
The first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament was a huge year for upsets. No.2 seeded Duke lost to Lehigh, but the more notable story occurred early that day between Missouri and Norfolk State. Why was this game more compelling than the one with the perennially favored Blue Devils? Mostly because Missouri could easily have been a No. 1 seed, racking up 30 wins during the regular season. Norfolk State, on the other hand, hadn't beat a major conference school all season and was predicted to lose by 20-plus points. Both teams made more than 50 percent of their shots, but Norfolk State pulled out a two-point victory, ruining brackets across the nation. 

George Mason vs. UConn, 2006
Since this game, the 2006 George Mason Patriots have often been used as an example of a classic bracket buster. The No. 11 seeded team was presented with an extremely difficult route to the Final Four and came out of nowhere. In the first round the Patriots beat a No. 6 seeded Michigan State team by 10 points, then went on to face University of North Carolina. The Patriots beat the Tar Heels and then Witchita State to wind up in an Elite Eight game against the University of Connecticut. UConn was not only a No. 2 seed, but also had a 30-3 record while playing in one of the nation's toughest conferences. Five of the players on this Huskies team would be later selected in NBA draft before the end of the second round. George Mason took out this star-studded UConn team by two points in overtime, sealing their run as one of the most miraculous March Madness teams of all time.

North Carolina State vs. Houston, 1983
North Carolina State was coming off a mediocre season with a No. 6 seed ranking, whereas Houston had a hyper-athletic team, including future NBA great Clyde Drexler. Earlier in the year, Houston had been dubbed "Phi Slama Jama​," putting up as many as 29 dunks in a single game. Going into this national championship game, everyone assumed Houston was walking away with a title. However, North Carolina State managed to slow down the Houston offense, and in one of the most tremendous moments in March Madness history, won the game with an ironic last-second slam dunk.

Behind the scenes at Burning Man

28. August 2014 10:31 by Julie Merar in General  //  Tags:   //   Comments ()

The mantra of the Burning Man festival, "leave no trace," seems a perfect explanation for the celebration's ephemeral deity. In Nevada's Black Rock Desert, a massive wooden effigy of a man is annually constructed and then set ablaze, erupting in flames that can be seen from miles away. The figure usually stands between 50 and 100 feet tall, symbolizing an artistic community that illuminates the barren landscape for a week, only to disappear. The city is erected and submerged every year, a kind of modern day Atlantis that reveals itself on the dried-up lake known as the Playa. The festival attracts everyone from environmental hippies to billionaire tech CEOs, and remarkably proves that those two types of people aren't so different. That's because Burning Man is based on the principles of artistry, self-expression, self-reliance, gifting, civil responsibility and radical inclusion. In this way, Burning Man creates a truly esoteric culture, one that is rebuilt differently from year to year, juxtaposing the ideas of free society and massive organization.

Make no mistake, Burning Man is not an impromptu party. The Burning Man organization plans the festival for months leading up to the event, working with law enforcement as well as the Department of Public Works. It should be no surprise then that there are medical professionals, police officers, federal law enforcement and DPW workers in attendance. This group of participants might confuse some who have only heard the Burning Man legend, but the truth is the festival could not exist without a dichotomy of government-style order and artistic freedom. In fact, the idea of not including these officials, or any person for that matter, goes against the ideology of the entire event. Yes, Burning Man is a unique week-long bacchanalia, but it is also a summit for people of all ilks to build a one-of-a-kind community. Needless to say, Burning Man takes a little preparation.

First consider the measures it takes to create the horseshoe-shaped city that surrounds the festival's namesake. Workers must scope out the desert months in advance to decide the exact location of the structure on the Playa, and then trace out how the community will be built around it. This is no small task, encouraging many DPW workers to rove the streets of the festival asking for beer and food in repayment for all their hard work, which is readily given due to the event's gifting nature. 

Tough conditions
Then take into account the challenges of the landscape. All those attending Burning Man are expected to come prepared for the arid heat and shadeless expanse of dessert. Officials recommend 1.5 gallons of water per day per person to safely stay hydrated in the 100-plus degree heat. Furthermore, the Playa has the ability to appear as an angered goddess, exhibiting unpredictable weather which can bring high winds, lightning and dust storms. These conditions task officials and volunteers with securing port-a-potties, cleaning up burn scars from bonfires on the Playa and ensuring trash does not get blown away in the wind, that way no trace of the festival is left behind. 

A hodgepodge of art
Artists partaking in the event face their own set of unique challenges. Sculptures and artwork must be transported to the Playa and then reconstructed. Artists have to find ways to provide electricity for much of their work, which can vary in size, structure and purpose. These art installations often takes months of planning to build, all to be revealed at the Burning Man festival. Much of the art is interactive, providing unforgettable, esoteric experiences for festivalgoers. Imagine glowing neon trees controlled by cellphones, pyrotechnic sculptures and interactive light shows linked to a participant's heartbeat. These brilliant displays then must be deconstructed at the end of the festival, leaving no trace that the technological wonders ever emblazoned the vacant land.

In more recent years, some critics have ironically cited the downfall of Burning Man due to the influx of elite members of the tech world. What most of these pundits don't seem to realize is that IT pros have been hiding in plain sight at Burning Man since the beginning. Moreover, not including these brilliant minds would take away from the concept of radical inclusivity. Frequent participants in Burning Man include Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are also known as regular Burning Man participants, having in the past donned full-body spandex suits to hide their identities. In many ways these techies make Burning Man possible, rigging up light structures, fixing electrical and tech problems, managing light shows for musical acts, participating in art displays and generally adding to the gifting culture of the event.  

The Burning Man festival is perhaps one of the world's most expansive and remarkable displays of human creation, collaboration and expression. Yet, the key to the existence of the event relies on a devoted following of staff and volunteers working to create order among chaos.

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