Wednesday, July 23, 2014

EdFringe Here I Come!

My dog-eared Fringe programme
After months of anticipation, I am finally leaving for Scotland this week-end for my adventure with Wendi at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  We knew from the outset that a visit to EdFringe would require all of the planning of a military operation.  During the course of the three week festival, there will be more than 2500 performances at 250+ venues.  In early June, a 400 page programme (note the British spelling) hit our mailboxes with the schedule of events.  (Actually, that's only the events that are part of the official EdFringe.  There is also a free comedy festival and, I suspect, a lot of other stuff going on at the same time.)  If you think it sounds overwhelming to figure out what to see, you're right.

While the scope of the festival includes theater, comedy, dance, music and spoken word, we are focusing on theater performances. Long before we committed to going to EdFringe, Wendi had figured out that Lyn Gardner, theater critic for the Guardian newspaper, writes an annual article about what she's looking forward to seeing at that year's Festival.  It seemed as good a place to start as any.  So with Gardner's column in hand--which mentioned around 80 shows--we began our plan of attack.

Map showing some of EdFringe venues (in red)
First, we individually went through Gardner's recommendations and developed our own "must see," "would like to see" and "leaves me cold" lists.  Happily, we had a lot of overlap.  Then we wrote each show that we definitely wanted to see down on a little square of paper -- name, venue, dates and times.  From there it was like a shell game as we moved pieces of paper between dates and times to figure out when we could see what.  A significant factor was taking into account how much time it would take to get from one venue to the next.  Each show is 60-80 minutes, and some of them start at odd times like 18:05. It turns out that the two venues where we will be spending the most time are outside the parameters of this map, but our hotel is pretty much smack dab in the center.  Eventually, we ended up booking 24 shows in advance for the six days we're there, and our expectation is that we'll see at least half that many shows again.

Never having heard of any of the theater groups or actors before, I am hoping for at least a 50% hit ratio of shows we really enjoy.  (Wendi was familiar with two shows/actors.)   Here are the descriptions of a few of the shows I'm particularly looking forward to:

Theatre on a Long Thin Wire --"No actors.  No technicians.  No set.  Just you.  And a phone that might ring.  This is the theatre you don't see.  Inspired by an infamous piece of music generated by a single copper wire, this new work by Jack McNamara strips the theatre experience down to a bare room, an audience and a mysterious voice."  I am extremely curious about this show, which was starting to sell out when we booked our tickets three weeks ago.

Klip --  "Award-winning theater from Denmark, combining performance, dance and live music.  An exquisitely orchestrated descent to chaos reducing audiences to both laughter and tears. We enter a strange, tightly choreographed world assembled from randomly generated material.  We then witness this world being violently clipped to pieces in a unique form of live collage."   Again, hard to imagine exactly what this will be like, but I am intrigued.  The words "award winning" (even when I had no idea who had given the award--lol) always caught my attention.

Every Brilliant Thing --  "You're six years old.  Mum's in hospital.  Dad says she's 'done something stupid.'  She finds it hard to be happy.  You start to make a list of everything that's brilliant in the world.  Everything that's worth living for.  1. Ice cream.  2. Water fights. 3. Things with stripes.  4. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out your nose.  5. Rollercoasters.  6.  Me.  A new play about depression and the lengths we will go to for the ones we love.  The show involves members of the audience, making each performance unique." I love the sense of optimism about this play.  I hope, though, that I don't have to be part of the show.

Pioneer -- "Fringe First winners return with the heart-breaking tale of the first human mission to another planet.  Set in the near future, a maverick Dutch space flight director, far from home, contemplates an error which will cost her everything.  An international team is assembled to venture the 52 million miles across our vast solar system.  Using a breath-taking combination of video design and movement, Pioneer takes audiences on a whirlwind journey through a deep sea simulation chamber, nightclubs, mission control and back to a quiet beach looking up at the night sky."  Even though sci-fi isn't my thing, I'm really interested in the multi-media aspect of the show.

Anatomy of the Piano -- "Part piano recital.  Part fantasy lecture.  Will Pickvance returns with his sell-out EdFringe 2013 show of virtuosity, dissection and surreal humor."   Shows that sold out at prior festivals got our attention. And live music is always a plus.

The list goes on and on, but this will give you a sense of what we're in for.  In case you haven't figured this out, the reference to "fringe" is to theater, etc. that pushes the envelope.  Some will be successful.  Some will be confusing.  Some will probably be just plain old bad.  But we're there for the experience, and I know that it will be unforgettable.

I suspect that I won't have time to blog while I'm away, but I do plan to tweet my reactions to shows.  If you're interested in following me, my Twitter handle is Nanettecrist17.   Will report back upon my return!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Intent to Deceive at the Ringling Museum

Ad for the exhibit featuring Girl with A Pearl Earring
by John Myatt (in the style of Vermeer) 
I always love a docent tour.  It's a chance to take in an exhibit while being spoon-fed all sorts of interesting information. Based on the turn-out at the Walk and Talk for the Intent to Deceive exhibit at the Ringling last week, I am not alone.  There were probably 100 people following Maureen Zaremba, director of education, and Chris Jones, assistant curator of exhibitions, around the galleries that featured five of the world's most famous art forgers.  Luckily, I had spent the hour before the Walk and Talk visiting the exhibit, using the time to take a closer look at the show.  (Even if there had only been a handful of people on the docent tour, I knew I wouldn't get to view the exhibit at my own pace.)

I thought I'd share the stories of my two "favorite" forgers from the exhibit:  Han van Meegeren and Mark Landis.

Girl with Blue Bow by
Han van Meegeren
 (in the style of Vermeer)
Han van Meegeren was a Dutch artist who got a bit irritated about the fact that his artwork wasn't making as big of a splash as he felt was warranted.  Sure, he was well-received as a portrait artist, but wasn't he really as good as some of the Dutch masters like, say, Vermeer? Shown here is van Meegeren's first attempt at forging a Vermeer -- Girl with Blue Bow.  To today's art experts, his works could never pass.  (Marlene Dietrich was a popular actress of van Meegeren's day, and apparently many of his subjects bear a striking resemblance.)  Even at the time, some experts had questions about his forged Vermeers because they looked too much like conventional portraits.  But van Meegeren's primary work capitalized on a theory that Vermeer had painted a series of religious paintings early in his career that had never been found.  When "Vermeer" paintings with religious themes began to surface, the market was eager to accept their authenticity.

Van Meegeren in court
Van Meegeren was found out in a very unique manner.  One of his "Vermeers"--Christ and the Adulteress--made its way into the collection of Nazi Field Marshall Hermann Goring.  After the war, Van Meegeren was charged as a traitor for selling a piece of Dutch cultural heritage to the Nazis.  His defense:  "It's a forgery!"  It wasn't a hard call for Van Meegeren, since treason was punishable by death.  The prosecutor was skeptical of this unusual defense.  Van Meegeren was asked to paint a Vermeer for the court, which he willingly did.  He was convicted of forgery and fraud--punishable with a sentence of at least one year--but died before he went to jail.

Untitled by Mark Landis (in the style of Matisse)
Mark Landis was an entirely different character.  Instead of being motivated by greed or ego, it was mental illness that drove him to forge works of art.  Landis was diagnosed at a young age as schizophrenic, and his treatment included art therapy.  He realized that he had some talent and, inspired by both well-known artists like Matisse and lesser known artists like Stanslas Lepine, created some additional works for their portfolios.

Mark Landis in disguise 
Landis didn't try to profit from his forgeries, though.  Instead, he donated them to museums and galleries, often in memory of his parents.  He said, "I gave a picture to a museum in honor of my father which I hoped would please Mother.  Everyone was so nice I got in the habit of donating pictures to museums.  Being treated nicely by people was something I wasn't familiar with, and I liked it very much."  (How sad is that?)  Sometimes Landis dressed up as a priest when he went to offer a work as a donation.  After all, who would suspect a priest of art fraud?  (Technically, Landis didn't engage in fraud since he did not seek any financial gain.)   Be on the look-out for a documentary about Landis entitled "Art and Craft" that will be coming out in September.

"Intent to Deceive" only runs through August 2nd, so make it a priority to get there if your interest has been piqued. Each of the men included has a very different story, and the exhibit does a wonderful job of sharing them (even without the benefit of a docent!)

After the show closes, there will be two Art and a Movie follow-on events that sound like lots of fun.  The first is on August 14th.  Following a discussion by curators and conservators about art authentication, there will be a showing of "Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?," a documentary about a woman who believes she bought a long-lost Pollock painting at a garage sale for $5.00.

The second event is on the topic of traveling with masterpieces and will take place on August 21st.  Art handlers and couriers will talk about what's involved in transporting major works of art.  There will then be a showing of "Bean," a movie about "the bumbling Mr. Bean" bringing a masterpiece to Los Angeles.

Both events are being held at on Thursday nights when admission to the Museum is reduced, so you can expect a big crowd.  Hope to see you there!

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Visit to the Morse Museum

Each November the Visual Arts Center hosts a month-long festival that celebrates an artist or artistic period.  This year's festival is entitled "Sensuality Meets Symmetry:  Art Nouveau to Art Deco."  Local artists will fill one of our galleries with artwork that replicates--or is inspired by--the creations of artists from these periods.  There will be workshops and a party and a bus tour to South Beach to tour the Art Deco district.  It is going to be a lot of fun.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that I am co-chair of this year's Festival, so I am particularly enthusiastic about our events.)

Me, Jennifer and Sue in front of a stained glass window
from Tiffany's Long Island estate (Laurelton Hall)
The Festival typically has an educational component as well, and this year is no exception.   When I was trolling the internet, I came upon the website for The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park, a mere three hours from Punta Gorda.  The Museum houses the world's most comprehensive collection of works by Tiffany, including windows, jewelry, pottery and his chapel interior from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  Whoa!   As I continued to look through the Museum's website, I noticed that Jennifer Perry Thalheimer, Curator and Collections Manager of the Museum, had given a lecture last year entitled "Forms and Themes of Art Nouveau from the Morse Museum."  Bingo!  Jennifer has graciously agreed to come to the Visual Arts Center to give her lecture on November 13th as part of the Festival.  And so my friend Sue Krasny and I decided to go on a reconnaissance mission to the Museum to check out the collection and meet Jennifer before she hits Punta Gorda.

Library Lamp
The Museum's collection is unbelievable in both its scope and its beauty.  As we stepped through the door, we looked to our right and saw the gorgeous window shown above (which we were able to get our picture with only because we were with "the boss").   Then we looked to our left and saw a dozen or more stunning Tiffany lamps on display.   It was a feast for our eyes.

We met Jennifer and she took us on a quick tour of the Art Nouveau room whose objects will be the subject of her lecture.  The room is organized around five themes:  the exotic, nature, line, female form, and metamorphosis.  I have to admit that I was only half-listening to what she was saying because there was so much to take in.  Suffice it to say, though, that there's a lot more to Art Nouveau than its beauty.  There's even a link to the suffragette movement (but I won't divulge the connection here -- come to the lecture to find out about it!)

Chapel interior from 1893 World's Fair
Later Sue and I made our way to the Chapel interior that was the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company's exhibit at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893.  The exhibit was so popular that Tiffany reinstalled the Chapel in his studio in New York City after the World's Fair was over.  In 1898, the Chapel was installed in a different form in the crypt of the then-new Cathedral of St. John the Divine.  There was some controversy around the Chapel that resulted in it falling into disuse and disrepair. In 1916 Tiffany reacquired the Chapel and brought it to his Long Island estate Laurelton Hall.

The Chapel on display in the Museum is all original (with the exception of two benches). When we entered the room, the lights were dim; over time, the room seemed to brighten.  My eyesight not being what it once was, I asked the guard if it was my imagination.  She laughed and said that the lights are on an eight-minute timer to give people the chance to view the chapel in varying levels of brightness.  The lowest lighting level is reflective of how the Chapel was displayed at the World's Fair.   It is an amazing exhibit.

Daffodil Column
We then toured the 12,000 square foot Laurelton Hall wing of the Museum, which opened in 2011.  (While this is sizable, the real Laurelton Hall was a whopping 84-room, 37,000 square feet home built on a 580 acre estate.)   The Daffodil Terrace was particularly inviting with its 11 foot marble columns topped with bouquets of glass daffodils.   The Terrace, which is comprised of more than 600 components, is the Museum's most significant restoration project since the Chapel interior was reassembled.

Other rooms that have been recreated include the dining room, the reception hall and Tiffany's study.  In total, more than 200 items are included in the exhibit, and it gives the viewer a sense of the world in which Tiffany lived.

With that, we were on our way back to Punta Gorda.  It was a wonderful outing, and Sue and I agreed that we can't wait to go back.  Perhaps a visit during the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival in March is in order.  (This annual show boasts over 200 vendors culled from an applicant list five times that number.)   For the time being, I am looking forward to learning more about Art Nouveau and the Museum's collection when Jennifer gives her talk in November.  Consider yourself officially invited to come and join the fun!



Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Arsonist by Sue Miller

Like many readers, I remember Sue Miller as the author of The Good Mother from nearly 30 years ago.  And so I was interested to meet her and pick up her most recent novel at this year's Book Expo.  What I hadn't realized was that Miller has penned several other books whose writing and storytelling I've enjoyed over the years.  In fact, her Lake Shore Limited was one of the first books I blogged about back in 2010.  Perhaps it's the everyday-ness of her name that has made it hard for me to remember.  With The Arsonist, however, Miller has firmly placed herself on my literary radar screen.

The Arsonist tells the story of Frankie, a woman who has spent the last 15 years in Africa working in aid relief.  She has come to her parents' home in New Hampshire for at least a visit and perhaps to stay. The home was the family's summer place when Frankie was growing up, and her parents have made it their full-time residence in their retirement.  As Frankie arrives on the scene, so does an arsonist who's intent on destroying homes belonging to summer people.   

Miller's gift is in her expression of the feelings and motivations of her characters.  They are wholly self-aware and don't shy away from sentiments that are unflattering.  The circumstances in which they find themselves make their introspection seem natural and appropriate rather than mere navel-gazing.

As Frankie returns to life in the United States, she is thrown into a world  of supermarkets and Fourth of July parties in which everything seems easy by comparison to life in Africa.  After making cocktail conversation about  her work in Africa, she tells the reader, "And when she spoke of her work, of the children--of the dying, or even of the rescued--they had trouble listening. 'I don't know how you do it," they'd say, and Frankie thought she could hear in this the wish not to have to listen to any of the details, not to have to imagine it. But after all why should they?  How much had she ever asked to understand what might be difficult in their lives?"  I like the fact that Frankie doesn't become irritated that people don't have the energy--or interest--to spend on the issues that have shaped her existence.  Instead, she recognizes that everybody is absorbed in their own lives, their own worlds, and that she too has failed to extend herself beyond her own passions.  As the story develops, we learn that the people whose difficulties Frankie hasn't taken the time to understand include her family, especially her aging parents.

We share Frankie's life as she struggles to figure out what her next step should be.  While she's found great satisfaction in the work, she realizes that it creates an environment that lends itself to transient relationships. "The work itself was part of what .... ended [relationships].  But it also began them.  The extremity of it, the absorption in it, the fatigue, the high.  The charge that passed among people laboring together in such hard circumstances, such challenging ones.  The wish to take pleasure where you could, the sense that you needed it, that you had somehow earned it.  Most of the people Frankie worked with felt this way.  They joked about it, actually, they used it as a kind of aphrodisiac." Perhaps, though, she's ready for a more lasting connection.  

Along the way, Frankie meets Bud, a political correspondent who chucked it all to buy a small town weekly. Bud is a wonderful character who has a true commitment to the small community in which he is creating a home for himself.  Frankie shares herself and her feelings with Bud.  She acknowledges that she has derived a "sneaky pleasure" from being the cool committed aid relief worker and that she's not sure she wants to give that up.

Bud accepts Frankie's feelings for the honest emotions that they are.  After all, he has his own "sneaky pleasure."  He is a bit excited--from a journalistic perspective--about the fires.  Bud admits to Frankie that, "When I first realized that the fires were likely arson, I was happy."  "Happy? Why?"  "Why not?  I yam what a yam, a newspaper guy, and it's a good story.  I've had other papers picking it up from the AP, the stuff I'm doing right now, and the worse it gets, the longer it lasts, the more that kind of stuff will happen.  If it gets really bad, some prize committee may sit up and take notice."  Again, Miller's characters aren't afraid to talk about feelings one wouldn't typically share with others (assuming they were honest enough to admit them to themselves).

And so it goes throughout the book.  Each of the primary characters--Frankie, Bud and Frankie's mother Sylvia--is at a juncture in his or her life that coincides with--and has some connection to--the fires. And, as is often the case in real life, their stories end and their issues resolve (along with the question of the identity of the arsonist) without being wrapped up in a neat little package.

I love Miller's writing, not only her willingness to acknowledge the complicated emotions of adult life, but also her ability to tell a good story.  Having read her last four novels, I'm looking forward to reading her earlier work.  Perhaps I'll even return to where it all started, with The Good Mother.  So many good authors to read, so little time.




Friday, July 4, 2014

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

I was still under the spell of WorldFest 2014 when I started reading The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.  It took only a few pages for me to realize that I had stumbled upon a literary work whose creativity rivals that of the theatrical productions I had recently enjoyed so much.

Before turning to what makes this book so creative, a word about the story.  The Shock of the Fall is narrated by Matthew, a 20-something man who suffers from schizophrenia.  We learn early on that Matthew's older brother died at a young age.  We also realize that Matthew has not come to terms with his death, despite the fact that ten years have passed. While the story is not told in a linear fashion, by the time we get to the last page, we have a picture of Matthew's life from before his brother Simon died to the current day. Now on to what makes the book so creative....

At its heart, the book is a journal written by our narrator.  Its formatting, which is full of surprises, makes sense in this context.  Sometimes Matthew's words appear in the form of a short poem that is dropped into the middle of a narrative. Take, for instance, when he tells us about the story of Patricia.  The poem itself is compelling, with words that (sadly) many of us can relate to on their face.  Patricia, however, is a patient at a mental institution.  When telling us about Art Group at the institution, Matthew says, "I sat beside Patricia. who must be sixty years old or maybe even older, but wears a blonde wig and pretends that she's twenty."   He then jots down this poem about her.

Occasionally I turned a page and came across a drawing, like this one of a typewriter.   (We later learn that the pictures are taken from Matthew's portfolio.) The typewriter was a present from his grandmother, who gave it to Matthew so he could write his "stories."  Once he received the gift, the font in the book changed to that of an actual typewriter (as you can see here in the list of side effects from the medication that he takes).  Clever and, in this instance, poignant.  Similarly, there are letters and notes replicated in the handwriting of the sender.

Chapter titles are always intended to give the reader a clue about what's coming up.  The titles serve this purpose in The Shock of the Fall as well, but their formatting frequently makes the reader sit up and take notice instead of skipping right over them (as I am wont to do in my eagerness to get on with the story).  
Take, for instance, the chapter entitled "PLEASE STOP READING OVER MY SHOULDER."   Using all caps for a chapter title is not the norm in this book.  Instead, it's intended as an emphasis, much as when we write in all caps in an email in order to MAKE SURE THAT WE HAVE THE RECIPIENT'S ATTENTION. Another chapter is entitled "prodome n. an early symptom that a disease is developing."  And even when the chapter title isn't formatted in a unique way, the names seem more meaningful than in most books.  For instance, the chapter entitled "clock watching" talks about "what it was to be kept on an acute psychiatric ward for day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day etc."  (I left out a few "day after days.")

Author Nathan Filer worked as a nurse on an inpatient psychiatric ward and has been a researcher at the academic unit of psychiatry at the University of Bristol in the UK since 2007.  So he knows the world of which he writes.  And The Shock of the Fall -- in addition to being wildly creative -- is beautifully written.  The story is often heartbreaking, like when Matthew shares something simple such as how the family's seating arrangement while watching TV changed after Simon's death.  ("This was our new family portrait -- the three of us, sitting side by side, staring at the space where Simon used to be.")   You feel the struggle Matthew experiences as he tries to make sense of his world.  ("Sometimes," he says, "the whole world can feel like the small print you find at the bottom of adverts, so everyday stuff like a smile or handshake becomes loaded with conflicting messages.")  But you also feel the love that this family has for one another and their commitment to fight Matthew's disease together.  Ultimately, the reader is left with a sense of hope tinged with sorrow and frustration. It's not a light summer read, but it is a book that will linger with you--for many reasons--long after you finish the last page.

[NOTE:  The Shock of the Fall will not be available under this title until November.  The book was previously published in the UK, though, under the name Where the Moon Isn't and can be found now under that title.]




Saturday, June 28, 2014

Connecting with The Voice's Josh Kaufman

Cake from local celebration of Josh's win
When my editor asked if I would be interested in writing an article for Florida Weekly about Josh Kaufman, this year's winner of "The Voice," I of course said yes.  (Really, when do I ever decline???)  The connection to Charlotte County is a bit tenuous -- he was born in Sarasota and his father lives in North Port -- but the community got behind him as people here do, so a story it would be.

My first call was to my friend Susan Fraley, an avid fan of "The Voice."  Having literally watched about three minutes of the show when I was channel surfing, I needed a primer before I even thought about talking to Josh's father--or Josh--about the competition.  Then I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching performances from the show.  I realized that the three minutes of "The Voice" that I did watch were a performance in the finale by Josh of "Signed, Sealed and Delivered."  (How weird is that?)  And I realized that we were talking some real talent here. 

The Kaufman entourage (sans Josh)
When I spoke with Mark Kaufman, Josh's father, I was struck by the closeness of their family.  Mark and his wife Doris had made several trips out to LA to see live tapings of "The Voice," with a stop in Indianapolis each time to pick up Josh's wife and his three young kids.  There was no way she could negotiate airports and rental cars with the kids--and all the stuff that comes with them--by herself. 

I was also struck by how hard it must have been for Josh and his wife to be separated while he was on the show.  And so I appreciated all the more Josh's willingness to talk with me a few days before he headed out on The Voice Tour.  He was going to be on the road for about six weeks, with plans to see his family only once.  

Josh and family outside
The Voice soundstage
I spent a good 30 minutes on the phone with him, talking about the show and his background and his signature fedora. (The fedora was chosen with the help of a salesclerk in hopes of distinguishing himself from the others.  As he said, "I don't have much fashion sense.  I'm a Mr. Mom who barely has time to pull on a pair of jeans and a teeshirt.")  As we talked, I could hear his kids in the background, and he excused himself once to head off in search of a bandaid for one of the kids' booboos.  He strikes me as a nice guy who has finally gotten his break and is hoping to make the most of it.   I wish him the best.

Here's the article I filed with Florida Weekly:

Josh at the finale -- from The Voice website
Connecting with The Voice’s Josh Kaufman

You have probably heard the expression “six degrees of separation.” The concept is that everyone on the planet is connected through six or fewer relationships. Whether or not you buy into this theory, such a connection surely exists between Charlotte County residents and Josh Kaufman, the latest winner of the reality TV show “The Voice.”   

Josh’s father is Mark Kaufman, a local businessman who owns and operates Mark Kaufman Roofing in North Port. As Josh progressed through “The Voice” competition, their relationship--and the resultant connection with our community--became increasingly known. By the time the finale aired, viewing parties had popped up across Charlotte County to root for Josh, who had become one of our own. 

One more try

Josh playing at the 
Potbelly Sandwich Shop
Fans of “The Voice” are familiar with Josh’s story, which is similar to that of many aspiring musicians. Despite his talent and passion, Josh could not support himself and his family working exclusively as a musician. Before his journey on “The Voice” began, Josh was working in his home town of Indianapolis as a tutor while performing gigs day and night at places like the Potbelly Sandwich Shop. 

When Josh learned that “The Voice” was holding auditions in nearby St. Louis, he decided to give it a shot. At 38 years old, he realized this might be his last chance to fulfill his dream. His choice of song was the aptly named “One More Try” by George Michael. After making the initial cut and surviving a callback, he was selected as one of 120 singers from across the country who went on to Los Angeles.

Luck of the draw

For the viewing audience, “The Voice” begins with the blind auditions. Each “coach” builds a team of 12 singers from the pool of contestants. This season’s coaches were Adam Levine, Shakira, Blake 
Shelton and Usher.

 When a contestant begins his audition, the coaches’ chairs are turned away from the stage. If he is still looking at the back of all four chairs when he sings the last note, he goes home. If, however, a coach likes what he hears and wants the singer on his team, he swivels his chair. If more than one coach “turns his chair,” the contestant chooses whom he wants as his mentor.

Once 48 singers have been selected, the teams are full and the auditions are over. A contestant who hasn’t performed yet might have the best voice of all, but she goes home unheard. The contestants are not told how the week-long audition schedule is determined. They know, however, that those who perform early on have an advantage. Josh’s audition was slated for Day 2. 

Turning their chairs

It’s no surprise that Josh found the process nerve wracking. “It was my first time on the stage, “ Josh said. “There’s a large audience, and the coaches have their backs to you. I felt like every moment was happening individually, like in slow motion. When I finished, though, it had become a blur.”  

Adam Levine was the first coach to “turn his chair,” indicating that he wanted Josh on his team.  “It was a huge relief,” Josh said, “to know that I would be moving on.” Before the song was over, all four coaches had turned to face him. Josh chose “Team Adam” because he felt that Levine/Maroon 5’s crossover work in genres from soul to pop suited his own musical style best. 

From Team Adam to Team Usher

The concept behind “The Voice” is that the celebrity coaches work with their team members to advance their skill and style. But how much interaction actually occurs? “In the early battle rounds,” Josh said, “the coaches decide which singers will compete against one another and what song will be sung without input from the contestants. What you saw on TV was pretty much the full amount of interaction I had with Adam [Levine.]”   

Usher and Josh at the finale -- from The Voice website
In one battle round, Josh was pitted against Delvin Choice in a performance of Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” With evident difficulty, Mr. Levine named Mr. Choice as winner of the round. Moments later, Usher exercised his right to make Josh part of his team by dramatically slamming a button on his chair. Without Usher’s “steal,” that would have been the end of the line for 
 Josh’s dream.

Josh believes that Team Usher was “the right place” for him. As the size of Team Usher shrank, Josh’s interaction with his coach grew. “Usher is quiet,” Josh said, “but serious and focused. His approach made sense to me.” It was an approach that made sense to the viewing public as well, as the audience ultimately chose Josh as the winner. 

Doris and Mark Kaufman
Support of family and Charlotte County friends

Mark and Doris Kaufman were there for Josh throughout the process, traveling to Los Angeles on multiple occasions to watch him perform. They would stop in Indianapolis on the way to pick up Josh’s wife and their three young children.   

The Kaufmans were in the house the night Josh won. Mark says that it was an unreal experience. “We were onstage with confetti streaming all around us.  You can see me on TV hugging Usher and Shakira. It all happened so fast.” 

Charlotte County residents were celebrating Josh’s victory as well. Perhaps the largest viewing party was organized by Marie LeBrosse. “If it were my son performing,” she said, “I’d want to know that my community was supporting him.” 

Ms. LeBrosse also knew about a second connection between Charlotte County and “The Voice.” Her good friend Elsie Yurchuk is a resident of Port Charlotte. Ms. Yurchuk’s son is co-executive producer of the show. Consequently, the viewing parties actually supported the endeavors of two different Charlotte County offspring.

Hold onto your dream

To Mark Kaufman, Josh’s story has a fairy tale quality. “It’s like he’s Cinderella,” he said. “One day he’s doing the musical equivalent of mopping floors and the next he’s a national celebrity appearing on ‘The Tonight Show’ with Jimmy Fallon.” 

To Josh, his victory is a sign that people should hold onto their dreams. Ironically, Josh didn’t even watch “The Voice” before he decided to audition. But he knew an opportunity when he saw one, and he wasn’t afraid to go for it.    

Coming up next

The next installment of Josh’s dream will begin on June 21 when The Voice Tour hits the road.  The tour will appear in several Florida cities and includes a stop in Tampa on June 25. 

After the tour wraps, Josh will be in the studio working on his first album. The plan is for the album to be signed, sealed and delivered to stores well in advance of the holiday shopping season.




 






Monday, June 23, 2014

WorldFest at Venice Theatre, Part 4

Rihards Zalupe and Elina
Gaitjukevica from Latvia
There's no doubt that WorldFest 2014 had some of the most creative and beautiful theater that I've had the pleasure to see.  Case in point:  Poetry Butterfly brought to us by the Latvian Drawing Theater.  I knew going in that the piece incorporated dancing, live music and art, but I had no idea what that would actually translate into.

As the show opened, Elina was sitting on the floor behind a large book that covered her body and face.  Her feet began to dance with the music created by Rihards on his elaborate set-up that included a synthesizer, different types of drums, chimes, a xylophone and probably some other instruments that I missed.  (The music was amazing.)  Soon her arms came to life and then her body as she danced across the floor with a paper butterfly that emerged from her book.

The stage had five panels of differing colors that she began to paint on with a large wand.  The pictures were whimsical -- a book, a girl, a flower.  At one point she painted rain and this umbrella and took shelter under it.  It was so charming.  Then I realized that the paintings were vanishing before our eyes, much like when you shake an etch-a-sketch.  I have absolutely no idea how that worked, but it enabled Elina to re-use the canvases to create more images to advance the story.

After the rain dried up, the sun came out, and she made shadow puppets on a canvas using her hands and the stage light.  Rihards set his synthesizer on the equivalent of autopilot and came out to join the fun.  The butterfly atop the stage began undulating as it flapped its wings.  It was a wonderful performance.

I have to admit to wondering if the afternoon's performances would hold up to the morning of theater that I had seen.  They did.

Actors from the Henan Qu Opera Troupe
The Mouse's Daughter's Wedding from the Henan Qu Opera Troupe was a light-hearted musical performed in Chinese opera style -- in Mandarin.  Any apprehension I had about the language (or, let's face it, opera) was immediately alleviated when four elaborately costumed mice pranced onto the stage in the opening scene.  The audience laughed and immediately got into the story, which was taken from a traditional folk tale.

It was time for the beautiful mouse daughter to marry, and a series of suitors came to call.  The daughter fell in love with one after the other in dramatic fashion, dancing the Argentinian tango with one beau and swooning to a Celine Dion song with another.  Her hopes were dashed in each case, though, when her mother decided that the suitor did not have enough to offer the family.  Eventually, along came a cat bearing gold chains and riches.  The mother was blinded by his wealth, and the wedding was set.  Happily, the cat's dubious character was revealed before vows were exchanged, and the daughter was free to marry the mouse of her dreams.

The performance was funny and charming, the music was great, and the costumes and make-up were extraordinary.  It was a wonderful introduction to Chinese opera.

Members of the Lieder Theater Company
The final show of the Festival was The Servant of Two Masters by Australia's Lieder Theater Company.  Just thinking about the show makes me laugh.   The inspiration was an 18th century Italian comedy in which our "faithful" Truffaldino figures out a way to serve two masters--and earn two salaries--at once. As the program promised, hijinks abound, and the audience was practically rolling in the aisles.

Josh Waters as Truffaldino
Although every actor in this large troupe is comedically gifted, Josh Waters' performance as Truffaldino was truly inspired.  Both his physical humor and his timing were great.  (And I'll never forget the bit with the vegemite sandwich.)  I don't know if Amanda Aitken's's resemblance to comedienne Kathy Griffin was intentionally played up with the pink wig, but I kept coming back to the thought whenever she was onstage.  The Servant of Two Masters was a brilliant note on which to end the Festival. 

All in all, WorldFest 2014 was a fabulous celebration of theater with lots of laughs -- and a few tears -- along the way.  Every day was punctuated with moments that surprised me and made me shake my head in wonder at the creativity and talent of the people onstage.  It was a reminder of why I love live theater so much.

It was announced at the closing ceremonies that Venice Theatre will once again host WorldFest in 2018.  I will be the first one ponied up at the ticket counter when the box office opens.