Saturday, January 29, 2011

How about some tip jars placed strategically to pay for Asheville's bad infrastructure?

Great. Fodor’s Travel guide just listed Asheville as one of the top 21 places to visit before you die. When you click through, Asheville is the first slide, so they might as well be saying Asheville is the #1 spot. Asheville’s been listed as several top this or that, but in telling the world to come visit, someone also needs to tell the world about some of the problems we middle class locals face when the hordes arrive. In fact, I think we need some tip jars strategically placed somewhere, perhaps at the airport, or the Biltmore Estate, asking for help for our road funds. Or, maybe they can be placed downtown right next to the boxes asking for aide to the many homeless in Asheville who can’t afford to buy a home since Asheville has made so many ‘top of’ lists.

The tip jars would read something like this: "Note to visiting tourist: Welcome to Asheville and we are glad you have come to check out our lovely town; it really is quite unique. We know you will have a grand ole’ time here and we love that you want to spend your hard-earned money in our little city. However, we would prefer that you not drive on our roads. They are in bad shape and we don't have money to fix them. Our City Council has decided we have money to fund private development with taxpayer money, but not enough for our infrastructure. A lot of us moved here before you had ever even heard of Asheville and we are not born millionaires and do not have trust fund accounts that enable us to purchase new tires every time we hit a fresh pothole that hasn’t been/and won’t be fixed perhaps for several months. But since we don’t have the proper amount of public transportation to get you around our lovely area, we know you will most likely use a car to travel to several destinations. So, please consider putting just a wee bit of your vacation fund into this jar so that we may fix our roads so that you’ll want to come back for another visit. If our roads don’t get fixed, we locals cannot guarantee that we will be able to keep our road rage in check. Thank you, and have a nice visit to the Asheville area.”

Thursday, January 13, 2011

'When Jekyll Met Hyde' brings several generations of Asheville's actors together in a wild ride of a show(s)

All of Asheville's theatrical community is finally playing together. And it’s about damn time. Actors who did cutting edge shows in the '80s, to newer players who have happily learned good theatre does happen in this town. There's even one actor who worked with the earlier group, and has kept chugging on along the entire time. When Jekyll Met Hyde, opening Jan. 20th at The Magnetic Field, is where the magic takes place. The show is also a world premiere of a script written 23 year ago by Magnetic Theatre Artistic Director Steven Samuels.
John Crutchfield plays Jeykll/Hyde in the '60s version and
The Rev. Doctor Lanyon in the '50s version of When Jekyll Met Hyde

Asheville has been waiting for like 20 years for its River District to pop wide open. And that's just about to happen. It's already alive with artists with crazier than cool studios, funky cafes, and now a theatre/café/bar, featuring only all original performance pieces. The Magnetic Field, down on Depot St., is creating all sorts of buzz. If you don't know that the nightspot was recently featured in a New York Times travel piece, you have not been reading much media lately. And you're certainly not a local theatre freak. Time for you to change that status.

When Jekyll Met Hyde draws on every written, dramatized, and filmed version of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic imaginable, relevant 19th century literary and philosophical classics and features, and an unusual feminist twist and a surprise ending, Samuels explains before a recent tech rehearsal on location.

Samuels was in the right place at the right time and worked at The Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York City from the late ‘70s to the early ‘90s. That group, begun in the mid ‘60s, is credited with breaking “the dominant trends in theatre of naturalistic acting and realistic settings. It employed a very broad acting style, often with surrealistic stage settings and props, frequently making a conscious effort at being shocking or disturbing,” according to Wikipedia. (I can’t believe I just quoted Wikipedia, btw, but it has become a part of our sourcing culture. Besides, Samuels would say that description is essentially correct.)

Samuels points out that he worked with Charles Ludlam in various theatrical ways, both on stage and off. Ludlam was a renowned American actor, director and playwright who either taught or staged productions at New York University, Connecticut College for Women, Yale University, and Carnegie Mellon University. He won fellowships from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts. He won four Obie Awards, He was also instrumental in making the ‘Ridiculous’ theatrical experience a major influence still seen on American stages today.

Samuels decided to put together When Jekyll Met Hyde in 1988, ten months after Ludlam died, having been diagnosed with AIDS.

“Ludlam was this wonderful cultural recycler. He didn’t believe he had the right to add any new words to the theatrical arena because so much great stuff had already been created. So, he would create these collages of plots … outrageously put together quotes from all these different sources to tell the story of a classic.”

That’s what Samuels did with When Jekyll Met Hyde. For a month, he dived into the original Stevenson classic and learned as much as he could about it. Then he created his own collages from works like Dracula or Frankenstein, to name just a few. But there’s also a lot of Samuels’ own words in this play. He saw that even more as he prepared it for the Magnetic performance:

"There's about as much real Samuels in the dialogue as there is real fruit in Hawaiian Punch: 10%. What I've realized subsequently is that it's probably more like 15%, maybe 20% if you count my translations of Baudelaire as "Samuels.”

And to add just another twist, in homage to Ludlam and the character of the original work, Samuels has written two versions. There’s a ‘50s and a ‘60s version. Both shows have different actors, with the exception of one actor who is in both versions.

Why choose two decades so close together?

“The ‘50s and ‘60s seem and are very close, but they have very distinctive, tremendous extremes,” Samuels said. This difference is reflected through the costumes, music and the actors.

“It’s totally insane,” Samuels said in parting. “Wonderfully. Totally. Insane.”

The Magnetic Field will show both versions simultaneously. Featured in the 1950s version, Mondy Carter, Tracey Johnston-Crum, John Crutchfield, Darren Marshall, and Alphie Hyorth; in the 1960s version, John Crutchfield, Kathryn Temple, Julian Vorus, Steph Anie, and Peter Brezny. For more information,

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Will Asheville's schools' kids all be looking at do-overs because of missed snow days?

This snow has zapped my creative juices. While others are out making snow sculptures that are not your average snowman, or taking beautiful photos to last a lifetime, I'm wishing I could just muster up the energy to mop the kitchen.

I've had my thrills in the snow. Had fun snowball fights, made snow angels with friends and kids, seen ghosts, had mega bake-a-thons that resulted in so much food that some had to be buried out in the snow because there wasn't enough room in the refrigerator. But I have no interest in any of that this storm. So, just what is my problem?

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Zach has now been mostly out of school since the middle of December. Last year. Don't get me wrong; I love my boy. But with a broken ankle, he is limited to what he can do in or out of the house. Our routine is already out of whack. Before the Holiday began, we were hit with small amounts of snow that were just enough to cause the decision makers to close the halls of education. (I'm thinking they might be regretting those earlier decisions right about now. Those puny 1-2 inches were nothing.) Then came the Holiday break, now come and gone. The kids were back in school for a few short days and we all returned to our weekly schedules. Or so we thought. But now ... well most of you know the now. A storm that even hit and shut down Atlanta. So, once again school is out. And it's still out. At this rate, I'm wondering if all the kids will be looking at a do-over just because they missed so many school days because of the snow.

Yeah, that's it. My lack of creativity is definitely not my fault. It's those pesky educational bureaucrats who don't want any of our children harmed by some bus that can't make it up a frozen slope. Yep, it's their fault I'm feeling like a sloth. Well, with that out of the way, I'll just slump back into the couch and see what's good to watch on TV. And, I think Zach and I will play Five Card Draw tomorrow. At least he'll be working on some math.

Monday, January 3, 2011

It's never too late for a John Dowd story and sermon ... even if it is about Christmas and moonshiners

Only my father would start a sermon about Christmas with a story about a well known moonshiner from Eastern Tennessee. Is it too late to post? Nah ... never a bad time for a John Dowd story.

I don't know where he got all of his information for his many stories that accompanied his sermons on Sundays. He wrote them long before the internet came into his life. He was a voracious reader. Even when computers and wireless communication did come along, all he ever did was use it to play Solitaire. And so, here goes ... I have no idea what year he wrote this sermon, but he retired from the pulpit in the early 1990's.

'He came to us. Luke 1:26-38.'

"In the the late 1800s in the eastern part of Tennessee, there was a famous moonshiner known as Big Haley. The woman's real name was Mahala Mullins, but since she weighed somewhere around 500 pounds, 'Big Haley' was not an inappropriate name.

"Big Haley and her sons ran a reliable operation. They were renowned for the quality of their product. They didn't dilute their moonshine and were known to deal honestly. That fact, coupled with the problems of arresting a mountain clan, caused local government officials pretty much to leave them alone. However, a newly-elected sheriff did once attempt to arrest Mahala and make a name for himself. The judge who signed the arrest warrant just smiled and told the sheriff to be sure to bring her in.

"The sheriff and his deputies had no trouble finding Mahala's cabin. He knocked on the cabin door, entered, and informed Mahala she was under arrest. What he discovered, though, was Mahala was bigger than the cabin's doorway. After some futile effort, he decided not to arrest her after all. When the judge later asked the sheriff about Mahala, the officer complained that, 'She's catchable, but not fetchable.'

"There are some things in life that are like that. They may be catchable but in the vernacular of the mountains, they are not fetchable. Suppose you and I had never heard about Jesus Christ, but we wanted to know about God? How would we do it? It's a problem. We could look at nature to draw our conclusions, but nature presents a mixed bag. Certainly there is the abundance of soil, the faithfulness of the seasons, not to mention the breath-taking beauty and amazing complexity of all that lives and moves and has its being. But there is also cruelty in nature and destruction and terror. Is that what God is like? I hope not.

"We could turn to sacred literature. All the world's great religions seek to describe God in high, exalted writings, but they were written by human beings - people like you and me. They may have been religious geniuses, but how can we know that their testimony is true? The little girl sits in the corner drawing a picture of God. 'But no one knows how God looks,' someone says to her. 'They will when I've finished,' she proclaims. Who's to say she is wrong? Her guess is as good as anyone else's, if all we have to go on is human intuition.

"Truly God is neither catchable nor fetchable. Can clay describe its potter? Can fish do justice to the one who changes the water in their aquarium? How can tiny human brains that cannot understand electricity or produce a cure for the common cold ever hope to comprehend the wonder of the eternal Creator God? We cannot. Fortunately, we do not have to. Why? Because He has come to us. As folks in business would say, that is the bottom line when it comes to Christmas. God has come to us!!!

HE CAME TO A HUMBLE MAIDEN IN AN OBSCURE VILLAGE NAMED NAZARETH. Not to the philosophers or the Caesars or to the mighty warlords, but to a humble maiden. How extraordinary. No wonder the cynical people of this world reject such talk as nonsense. The way God came to us tells us the nature of God......"

My father was saying we can find God everywhere ... even in an 'unfetchable but catchable' moonshiner.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010: Hope the door kicked you in the ass on your way out

Resolutions. Resolutions. Resolutions. That’s all I’ve heard for the last week. Are you going to go on a diet? Are you going to exercise more? Are you going to somehow make life less stressful? Are you going to be more patient with your spouse, children, or some other often bothersome relative, neighbor or friend? And on, and on, and on … ad nauseum.

No. Absolutely not. No resolutions for me. Just the word makes me feel like I’m being set up for some kind of failure. Like I need more of that in my life for  2011. 2010 was difficult enough for me. Eyeball issues dominated my life, and not with the most wonderful expected outcomes.

But, it’s 2011 and things are looking better and brighter (pun intended). For 2011, I’m going to wake up each morning, thank the good Lord for the roof over my family’s head, the food in our bellies, the health problems we do not have and the money we do have that keeps us safe, warm and fed. For each other. And for my friends and their uniqueness.

And then? I’ll go to bed with the same thankfulness and realize that each day I made a step forward. Tiny steps, perhaps, on some days. Larger ones at other times and everything in between. But all creative steps. Leading to opportunities I’ve been chasing for years.

So, I end with this note to 2010: Hope the door kicked you in the ass on your way out, because you certainly kicked mine. But, hey I’m still here. And you’re what? Outta here.