Wednesday December 14th 2011, 9:27 am
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Animation Express 2
Animation Express 2

If you are still searching for the perfect gift idea then check out the National Film Board of Canada’s  brand new Animation Express 2. The 27 films on the DVD include new films by such well known names in animation as Paul Driessen (Oedipe/Oedius), Academy Award Winner Koji Yamamura (les Cordes De Muybridge/Muybridge’s Strings), and Romance, a beautifully romantic saga by Georges Schwizgebel.

Two of the 2011 Academy Awards Short Listed Animations are included on the DVD.  Patrick Doyon’s  Dimanche/Sunday is a magical tale of life seen through a child’s life. It has been 12 years  since Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby garnered the Palme d’ Or and an Academy Award nomination for their beautiful film When Day Breaks.  Their long awaited new film Une Vie Sauvage/Wild Life  has put them on the 2011 Academy Short List.  Their story of the beauty of the 1909 Canadian prairie and the pain of feeling out of place and homesick is my personal favorite of the short listed films.

All this and much more for the price of $21.95 makes this the perfect gift for everyone on your list.  Every one in the animation industry will want Animation Express 2 in their collection.  If the person on your gift list is only familiar with big, block buster animations this is a wonderful way to introduce them to the magical world of creative short animation.

You can also get a special Blu-Ray Edition which contains 6 additional films.

You can read more about Animation Express 2, and order it at the NFB Store:

If you are looking for a lovely book to give I heartily recommend Animasophy – Theoretical Writings on the Animated Film by Estonian animator Ulo Pikkov and  Tobias Wengert’s Animators How Did You Do That?

I have already written extensive reviews of both books  which you can read on my blog at:

The reviews are under the Educational heading.

You can also read more and order Ulo’s book at:

The book also includes a DVD which is worth the 21.92 euro price alone.

To learn more about Animators How Did You Do That and purchase it visit:

Wishing you all an Animated Christmas!

ANIMATORS how did you do that? By Tobias Wengert
Monday September 05th 2011, 11:37 am
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If you have ever watched an animated film and wondered “How did they do that?” then Tobias Wengert’s  ANIMATORS how did they do that? is the book for you.  Wengert has transcribed in print his conversations with twelve diverse members of the Stuttgart, Germany animation community who reveal the secret techniques behind the magical images they create.

Jakob Schuh and Max Lang of Studio Soi reveal how they took The Gruffalo, a well known children’s book, which takes five minutes for a parent to read to their child and turned it into a 27 minute film.  The creators of the picture book, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, gave tips to the directors on hidden elements in the book that could be expanded into additional plot lines.  The book illustrations include references to the squirrel family, so Jacob and Max expanded a story line from those visual references.

The seventeen pages in the book devoted to The Gruffalo cover every aspect of the film’s creation from character and story development to the polystyrene, plaster, silicon, and paint techniques used to construct the complex sets.  The entire process is beautifully illustrated with original character sketches, taking the read from storyboards, preliminary sketches and facial expressions to the finished film.  I have enjoyed watching The Gruffalo many times and these discussions of the production techniques used will increase my enjoyment the next time that I watch it.

Several independent animators explain their motivation to create projects that follow their own rules rather than having to adapt to other peoples requirements.  LebensAder (Lifeline), Angela Steffen’s final year diploma project, was driven by very personal motives.  The simple act of picking up a leaf on the street triggered the start of Angela’s artistic process to understand her father’s cancer diagnosis.  She wanted to bring the beautiful leaf home with her but in turning it over she saw that the other side was covered with eczema as if the tree had cancer.  Using the leaf veins to represent the life line on a hand, the first part of the beautifully hand drawn film depicts life – the healthy side of the leaf.  The second half of the film shows the dark side – sickness.

Concept image from Lebensader
Concept image from Lebensader

Since 1989 Studio Film Bilder has been creating commercially successful projects such as the extremely popular television series Tom & Das Erdbeer Marmelade Brot Mit Hig (TOM)) and The Bunjies. At the same time the studio encourages its multi talented group of animators to create their own original projects which Film Bilder produces.  Anyone who has seen Andreas Hykade’s Love & Theft, the sensitive works of Gil Alkabetz or Phil Mulloy’s provocative films can attest to the many sides of Studio Film Bilder.

At the extreme other end of the spectrum are advertisements created by the VFX Team at Unexpected.  The team produced the Snickers Candy Bar Don’t Stop ad campaign for the Russian market which has proven to be the most successful campaign run by Snickers since the candy was introduced in Russia.

In their interview the team stress how important the initial planning is to them and  they take us behind the scenes to show us how they develop their fantastic robotic characters and bring their commercials in on time within their often limited budgets.  Even if you are not particularly interested in the high tech side of commercial making, the conversation with the guys from VFX makes fascinating reading.

Much of the credit for the rise of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg  as a leader in animation and visual effects goes to the Baden-Wurttemberg Film Academy in Ludwigsburg.  The Academy’s Institute for Animation, Visual Effects, and Digital Postproduction has become one of the world’s most important training establishments.

The school’s alumni boast such distinguished names as Andreas Hykade and Volker Engel.  Andreas’ award winning films such as The Runt and Love & Theft need no introduction.  Volker’s name is familiar to fans of Hollywood Blockbusters.  In 1997 he won the Oscar for best visual effects for Independence Day.

The current roster of the Academy’s teaching staff includes Thomas Meyer-Hermann, head of the renowned Studio Film Bilder, Gil Alkabetz, and Andreas Hykade.  Volker Engle also taught there before moving to Southern California.

Each year the Stuttgart Trickfilm Festival draws the top names in animation to screen their films, give workshops and retrospectives to packed audiences.  Trickfilm Festival has become one of the most important Europe’s most important animation celebrations.   Running concurrent to the festival is the FMX Conference on Animation, Effects, Games and Interactive Media.  FMX has become the foremost European conference on the creation, production, and distribution of digital entertainment.

Even if you are already familiar with the rich trove of talent in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, Tobias Wengert’s ANIMATORS how did you do that? is a fascinating in depth look into the studios and animators with interviews that tell us how they do it in their own words.

The 150 page book is lavishly illustrated with the text on alternate pages in English and German.  This is a book that anyone interested in animation will enjoy and if you have an animator on your holiday gift list this is a perfect present.

To order the book visit:      Also available in German Bookstores

Price:  30 Euros

150 pages                 Fully illustrated       Format  280×10mm                  Hardcover

Text in German and English on alternate pages

ANIMASOPHY by Ulo Pikkov - Theoretical Writings On The Animated Film
Sunday July 31st 2011, 7:53 am
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Estonian animation director and educator Ulo Pikkov has accomplished a remarkable feat in producing a most readable book on animation theory.  For those who do not know about the technical side of animation Animasophy – Theoretical Writings On The Animated Film is a great place to start.  Readers who are already well versed in animation techniques will be reminded about what they already know but don’t always think about.

The first three chapters define animation, outline its history from its beginnings to the present, and analyze the role animation continues to play in modern communication.  The next eight chapters go on to analyze structure, timing, storytelling, sound, characters, and realism as well as the use of space.  Each chapter includes a detailed case study of a specific film by an Estonian animator to illustrate the chapter’s topic.

A discussion of Olga and Priit Parn’s award winning Divers in the Rain illustrates perfectly the concept of the use of space in animation.  Space and spatiality play an important role in this hand drawn film, giving us additional non-spoken information about the characters personalities and emotional states.

Mart Kivi’s 2007 Laika  is an excellent example of a film with a main character that exists beyond the limits of the screen.  Laika is never seen but is constantly present.  All of the action is viewed through the eyes of Laika, the dog who was the first living body to orbit the Earth when the USSR sent her into space in 1957.  The subjective camera of Laika’s eyes suggests the dog’s limited movements.  The action is accompanied by the hound’s huffing and puffing sounds.  As Ulo points out, Laika is still out there orbiting the earth even though her eyes were shut long ago.

Animasophy is full of photos, drawings, and film stills.  A special bonus is a DVD of the eight works that are discussed in detail so that you can follow Pikkov’s train of thought visually as well as in his words.

Along with creating his own films, Ulo has taught at the respected Estonian Academy of Arts since 2006, and the basis of this book was formed in the course of teaching.  The word animasophy was coined by his students from two words, the Latin Anima meaning soul or breath of life and Greek Sophia which means wisdom.

Animasophy –Theoretical writings On The Animated Film should have a place in every animator’s library as well as in the classroom and library of all animation schools.  The DVD is a priceless addition to everyone’s video library.

The book can be ordered at:

The price of the book and DVD is 21,92 Euros

Sunday May 01st 2011, 10:48 am
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Australian animator Darcy Prendergast’s 2009 music video for the All India Radio track Lucky was a true feast for the eyes.  The video used glow stick with long-exposure techniques to create the effect of moving neon.  The first time I saw Lucky I was amazed with the fluid motion and brilliant colors and obviously I wasn’t the only one because the You Tube/Guggenheim judges short listed it in their 2010 video competition.

After six months of work, Darcy has created Rippled for All India Radio’s new album.  For his new video Darcy takes the techniques he invented for his first music video and expands and refines them.  He captured the images in-camera and brought them to life with precise frame by frame attention to detail.

Darcy and his long time best friend Ash Nicholls have launched a new studio OYW (Oh Yeah Wow) which should prove to be a powerhouse in Australian animation, gaming, and design.  OYW not only combines the immense talents of Prendergast and Nicholls but also brings together twenty of Melbourne’s most creative minds under one roof.

You can view all of Darcy’s animations and various movie projects at

Check out OYW’s new website at:

For more details on OYW or better yet to give them some work contact:     or

Wednesday February 09th 2011, 5:31 am
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Anyone who has been at animation festivals in the past year has probably seen Dustin Grella’s moving film Prayer For Peace.  His very personal animation has won numerous awards world wide culminating this past October with the 2010 Walt Disney Animation Studio award for Best Student Film at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Dustin Grella hard at work
Dustin Grella hard at work

Now Dustin has launched a new project called The Animation Hot Line.  During the month of  February,and perhaps even longer if the response is good, Dustin has set up a voice mail service where anyone can leave a message.  He will select messages to animate, trying to do one short strip a day.

The hot line is just not for animators, everyone  is welcome to leave a message but there are a few simple rules.  All messages must be under thirty seconds, preferably around ten or fifteen seconds long.  You can say a few  you overheard.  It can even be a secret that you don’t want anyone to know or something that bothers you.

The message does not have to be in English so callers can speak in their native language.   You can call more than once a day at any hour of the day or night.   All messages will be anonymous unless you leave a name and want to be acknowledged.

Dustin has set up a Skype account under the name:


It is all one word and can be called for free via Skype from anywhere in the world.  That means calls from Europe, Asia, anywhere in the world is toll free.
You can also call the animation hot line number:
212/ 683-2490

Dustin has sat up the site on  at:

So put his number in your speed dial and then check the site regularly to see what Dustin has drawn.

Sunday February 06th 2011, 8:03 am
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I was not familiar with the Hungarian animator, writer, and painter Gyorgy Kovasznai until I met animation historian and curator Brigitta Ivanyi-Bitter.  We sat on the jury of Animator Animation Festival in Poznan, Poland together last year.  She gave me a copy of her beautiful book about Kovasznai’s life and work.  It is based on her three years of research that culminated in the large-scale retrospective of his work at the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest in 2010.  Her book is a companion to the exhibition.

Self portrait
Self portrait

Born in 1934, Kovasznai lived and worked from the late 50’s until his death in 1983, one of the most politically charged periods in modern Hungary.  His films and paintings mirrored the disillusion with the People’s Republic of Hungary and its Soviet imposed policies that ultimately let to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Working at Pannonia Film Studio, the animation arm of the Hungarian Film Corporation, Kovasznai translated the bold images and bright colors of his paintings to the screen in cut outs and collage techniques.  In addition to 26 short films, he completed one feature film, Bubble Bath:  A Musical Special-Effect Film to the Rhythm of a Heart BeatHe was at work on a second feature when he passed away at the age of 40 from Leukemia.

Kovasznai at work
Kovasznai at work

Gyorgy often worked in collaboration with his friend and fellow painter Dezso Korniss.  In 1963 the pair made Monologue using paper cut outs and collage techniques.  Pannonia Studio had difficulty obtaining permission from the government censors to release the film because they did not understand his work; it didn’t fit into the usual boundaries of animation.  To quote art historian Andras Renyi “Kovasznai’s actual aspiration was to animate painting, which involves a completely different type of work than that of an animation artist in general.”  The film was eventually allowed to premier in Budapest where it was well received by the audience.

The pair worked together again on the 1964 experimental animation Young Man Playing the Guitar at the Old Masters Gallery.  This film was the only animation produced by Pannonia Films to be banned during the Socialist regime.

His 1964 Metamorphoses won the Gold Ducat Award at the Mannheim Film Festival.  He gained international recognition when it won the Festival Prize at the Miskolc Short Film Festival, which helped to ease pressure from the censors.

Kovasznai spent much of his life questioning the situation of the proletariat and moral issues about a career as an artist.  He studied painting for two years at the Hungarian Academy of Fine Arts before dropping out.  He later wrote, “I left because I thought the teachers were untalented and the atmosphere was dull.”  His next two years were spent working in coal mines, to avoid compulsory military service.

Returning to Budapest he worked in a shipyard and, subsequently at a Bakelite factory.  During this period he created The Miner series – Paintings that were eventually used in his 1965 film The Joy of LightBased upon his memories of life at the socialist mine works, the sound track for the film was made from his recordings of the words his fellow miners.

Cell from This is Just Fashion, 1976
Cell from This is Just Fashion, 1976

In addition to animation and painting, Kovasznai was a prolific writer, leaving a sizeable literary output.  He wrote ten plays, several short stories and two novels, one of which, Times, was autobiographical.  Traveling in the underground literary and artistic circles he presented his writings at reading events organized secretly in private apartments, worked with illegal theatre groups, and directed his plays in private performances as well as taking part in private gatherings to listen to new classical and popular music from the West, all of which were illegal activities banned by the Soviet regime.

Brigitta Ivanyi-Bitter’s book is a must for anyone interested in Post Modern Art and Animation in Hungary.  The 332 page book is packed full of beautiful full color reproductions of Kovasznai’s paintings and film stills as well as photographs tracing his life from childhood to pictures taken of friends who gathered at the Feszek Artists’ Club for the Kovasznai banquet and commemorative evening in 1992.  The English translation is excellent and makes for a very smooth read.  The foreword written by Lorand Hegyi, one of Europe’s foremost curators and art historians, sets the stage for Brigitta’s analysis of the artist’s life and work.

After reading about Gyorgy’s life and work, the 3 DVD’s included in the book bring it all to life.  Included on the Short Films, 1963-1982 are a selection of works, including Young Man Playing Guitar at the Old Masters Gallery, the 1964 film that was banned by the Hungarian censors, and his last film Reportrait, completed in 1982.  A separate DVD contains the 1980 feature length film Bubble Bath:  A Musical Special-Effects Film to the Rhythm of a Heartbeat.   The third DVD contains the 2010 documentary by artist and director Igor Lazin is a formal analysis of the 1992 anima verite Reportrait by colleagues and contemporaries of Kovasznai.  It also contains a CD ROM with all of the digital reproductions from the book.

Twenty pages of appendices include a chronological biography and detailed filmography.  A complete listing of Gyorgy’s writings is divided into plays, novels, poetry and film scripts for easy cross-referencing.  Also included in this section are essays and studies, published criticisms and published essays.  Brigitta has also included a very detailed bibliography of publications that she used in her research.  For me the alphabetical glossary description of friends and colleagues who appear in the book was extremely useful.

For a firsthand look at Kovasznai’s work visit the English language website: which has a gallery of art work and biographical time line as well as  a section on Gyorgy’s writings  where you can hear an audio recording of his 1959 play in four acts, Conquesting the Mars.

The lovely coffee table sized book is priced at $56.00 USD or 43 Euros >TO ORDER e-mail:  info@kovasznaigyorgy

Wednesday January 12th 2011, 9:09 am
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Mati Kutt receiving his Asta Parim Film Award award
Mati Kutt receiving his Asta Parim Film Award award

Estonian animators are always in the fore front of creativity on the International Animation scene.  New films by Priit Parn, Kasper Jancis, Rao Heidments, Mati Kutt, and Hardi Volmer frequently win top awards at animation festivals worldwide, so the competition for an award at the Estonian Asta Parim Film Awards is very stiff.  The awards honor the best of the best of the country’s film and animation each year.
On 5 January 2011 the Asta Parim lauded the remarkable talents of Mati Kutt with the prestigious Eesti Filmiajakirjanike Uhing (Estonian Film Journalist’s Union Award) for his latest film Taevalaul (Heaven Song).  The statuette was accompanied by a €2000 award.
The 45 minute stop motion film is an ode to all of us who want to fly and described as a “philosophical journey through time and eras, people and their behavior and thoughts. . .” about the human mind, ego, superegos, and id.  Kutt believes that Freud was more a writer than a philosopher. Freud called the brain “the theater where different plays are enacted on several stages and only one scene is enlightened”.  In Taebalaul these plays are shown in the human brain.
In presenting the award to Mati the jury statement called the highly creative and imaginative animation “A film that exceeds the gravitational force of the Surrealists and rises to the heights. . .”  In 2009 while I was attending Animated Nights, Mati took me on a tour of his workshop in the prestigious Nuku Film Studio and I had an opportunity to see his storyboard and some of the characters for the film.  I have been a big fan of his work for quite a while and so I have been looking forward to seeing his latest film.
Taevalaul premiered in Tallinn, Estonia on opening night of the Animated Dreams Animation Festival, 19 November 2010 to an enthusiastic packed house. I am sure that this amazing film will play at festivals this year so we’ll all have a chance to see and enjoy it.

image from Taebalaul
image from Taebalaul

There is a black cloud hovering over the award however, which is the sad news that Nuku Film (Nuku means puppet in Estonian) is in a very dangerous financial state.  The prestigious Nuku Film studio is the home to many extremely talented animators and is a major force in the stop motion and puppet animation world. They have also traditionally given many young animators a chance to hone their craft working with top professionals. Now their funding has been cut by 15% in 2011 and their reserve savings are greatly reduced.   The entire team was forced to take a three week unpaid leave recently.
To add to the financial woes, their spacious studio located in an old factory building which made socks during the Soviet era has been sold and it is feared that the new owner will raise the rent considerably, out of the renowned studio’s reach. Iwasfortunate enough to be at Animated Dreams for the 50th Anniversary of Nuku Films two years ago.  At the cabbage, black bread and vodka studio party in celebration of the mile stone I was fortunate enough to see the larger than life puppets that they had created for one of my favorite animations The Brothers Bearheart directed by Riho Unt along with many of their other sets, puppets and shelves full of awards.  It would be a tragic loss not only to Estonia but to all lovers of high quality animation if Nuku Film Studio was forced to close.

Friday October 01st 2010, 9:17 am
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Australian animator Darcy Prendergast’s music video Lucky has been short listed for an opportunity to screen at the world famous Guggenhein Museum in New York City as part of a new exhibition run in conjunction with YouTube.

Whittled down from 23,000 entries, Lucky is among the 125 films in the running for a spot in the new exhibition.  Already earning 380,000 on-line hits, Darcy’s animated piece was produced in collaboration with the Melbourne band “All India Radio”.

Lucky was created using a long exposure technique where Prendergast and his team drew in the sky with glow sticks or colored torches, similar to writing your name in the sky with sparklers.  One 25 second exposure gives you one image.  The process was repeated hundreds of times to form a sequence.

Lucky has already won awards worldwide.  At home In Australia the film won best animated video at St. Kilda Film Festival and three separate nominations at the ATOM awards.

Until this  film Darcy has been working in claymation.  I have been watching his work ever since his name caught my eye in the credits for Mary & Max and with this move into a totally different he has proved that he is not only a talented young animator but very versatile as well.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Lucky on the big screen you can watch it at:

You can contact Darcy at:

Tuesday August 18th 2009, 2:19 pm
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Melodrama Pictures has announced that the award winning film Mary and Max by the Academy Award winning Australian director Adam Elliot (Harvie Krumpet) will be released on the Sundance Select on-demand platform of Sundance Channel.  Beginning on October 14 Mary and Max will be available on the on-demand platform of major US cable operators including Comcast, Cox and Cablevision.  The film will also have an Academy Award quilifying release in Los Angeles which will make it eligible for this years Academy Awards.

A feature-length claymation animation film, Mary and Max opened the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. With voices by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Eric Bana and Barry Humphries, the film tells the story of a 20-year pen-pal friendship between two very different people: Mary Dinkle, a lonely 8-year-old girl living in the suburbs of Melbourne and Max Horowitz, a 44-year-old Jewish man living an isolated life in New York City. The film is a triumph of emotion, insight and eccentricity – a complete delight.  In May, the film shared the Grand Cristal Best Feature award at the prestigous Annecy Animation Festival with Henry Selick’s  Caroline.

Robert Redford and director Adam Elliot at the premiere of Mary and Max
Robert Redford and director Adam Elliot at the premiere of Mary and Max

Sundance Select will be a platform for documentary and world cinema debuting on  Sundance Select August 26th with Spike Lee’s Passing Strange The Movie which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.  Initially the venue will feature one new film a month on-demand  with plans to increase to 2 offerings a month.

Under the creative direction of Robert Redford, Sundance Channel advertises itself as the television destination for independent-minded viewers seeking something different. Sundance Channel offers audiences a diverse selection of films, documentaries, and original programs, all unedited and commercial free.  Launched in 1996, Sundance Channel is a subsidiary of Rainbow Media Holdings LLC. Sundance Channel operates independently of the non-profit Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival, but shares the overall Sundance mission of encouraging artistic freedom of expression. Sundance Channel’s website address is

You can visit Mary and Max at their website

Sita Sings the Blues Comes to the Big Screen – At Last!
Tuesday April 21st 2009, 5:18 am
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from Sita Sings the Blues
from Sita Sings the Blues

For those of you who have only seen Sita Sings the Blues on your computer or from a DVD you have missed half of the experience.  It really deserves to be seen in all its glory on a big screen with a good sound system to appreciate what a tour de force Nina Paley has accomplished almost singlehandedly.

For those who have never had the opportunity to see that Nina calls “the Greatest Break-up Story Ever Told” this is about to be rectified in some cities.

If you live in the Bay Area you are in for a double treat because you can see a great film while supporting a wonderful neighborhood theatre that still believes in screening independent films and isn’t afraid to program films that other cinema won’t touch because they are not blockbusters.

I’m not going to write about the film’s story line because I (along with many other writers) have already written so many words about it.  If you are unfamiliar with the film and Nina’s long battle to gain the rights to use some of the songs as sung by 1920’s jazz vocalist Annette Hanshaw visit her web site:

The story behind the making of the film is almost as exciting as the animated film itself.

On a personal note, Nik and Nina have collaborated on several films and Nik contributed music for Sita Sings the Blues.  Nik and I also have a very warm spot in our hearts for the Red Vic since we performed there regularly when we lived in San Francisco.  One of the things that I really miss from the Bay Area is the Red Vic’s popcorn.  Take it from me, as a true popcorn aficionado; they have some of the best popcorn that I have even eaten in a theatre!

SITA SINGS the Blues will screen at the Red Vic for 5 days:

May 8th through the 12

Show Times:   7:15, 9:15; also Saturday and Sunday 2:00 and 4:00

Tickets:    Advance tickets available via

Regular admission $9; Tuesday evenings and 2PM Matinee $6,  Seniors (62 and older_ and children (12 and younger)  $6  at all times


1727 Haight Street (between Cole and Shrader)              San Francisco, California  94117

GETTING THERE IS EASY:  The Red Vic is served directly by Muni Routes 7, 33, 37, 43 and 71.  Muni Routes 6 and N Judah come within a few blocks


Columbus, Ohio – April 17 – 23 – Drexel Theater

Chicago, Illinois – May 1 – 7 – Gene Siskel Film Center

Portland, Oregon – May 8, 9, 12-15, 18, 21 and 22 – Van City Theater

Wilmington, Delaware – May 15 – 17 – Theatre N at Nemours

Lake Worth, Florida – May 15 – 21 – Lake Worth Playhouse

Boston, Massachusetts – June 12-14 – Brattle Theater

Notre Dame, Indiana – July 23-25 – DeBartolo Performing Arts Center