Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sean Jones -Dana School of Music Alumnus

I don't know exactly why Sean Jones popped into my mind this morning but he did. I was drinking my coffee as usual and reading the daily blogs - and there he was playing in my mind's eye. I went in search of a video to share with you. I hope you enjoy it. The first time I met Sean Jones was when he played at a bookstore that I co-owned. He blew me away. Some of you may know the bookstore because Chris Barzack, another local talent made it famous in his book One for Sorrow If you've never been there I highly recommend the experience. The name of the store is Dorian Books. The store is located on Youngstown's northside on Elm Street. When you go make sure you tell Jack that I sent you. Anyway, when I first heard Sean I think he must have been about nineteen or twenty years old. Since then he has traveled far and wide playing awesome music. Occasionally, he has dropped in at various clubs in town, usually around the holidays, but I haven't heard tell of him being around lately, except this morning in my head, so hit the button to demand that he make a visit home. (see side bar).

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Oakland Center for the Arts - The Colored Museum

Friday Night several of my friends and I went to the Oakland Center for the Arts in downtown Youngstown to see the play, "The Colored Museum". Let me say this, there is humor and satire and then there is "The Colored Museum". The satire in this play is brilliant! It will make you laugh, and then five minutes later have you crying because of sadness of it all. It is nothing short of an emotional roller coaster ride. The author of this play is George C Wolfe. Mr. Wolfe is not a timid writer; he manages to convey the unthinkable with great wit and humor. The play was written in 1985 during the post-Vietnam War era. It is comprised of eleven vignettes which are actually a series of eleven live exhibits in the Colored Museum. The director of the play is Johnny Herbert. This is his directing debut at the Oakland. He has brought together an amazing cast and creates magic on the Oakland stage.

The play begins with a vignette called "Git on Board" in which Carla Gipson in her role as Miss Pat, the stewardess, welcomes and advises slaves/passengers on the Celebrity Slave Ship how to effectively fasten their shackles. She gives us a preview of the trip in terms of slavery and the results of slavery, i.e. the modern African American. Carla Gipson as a perky stewardess delivered a punch of shock satire that caused immediate suspension of disbelief in the audience and prepared us all for an incredible visit to the Colored Museum. When the plane landed Miss Pat advised that all baggage left on board will be trashed. This statement is the thread that stitches the play together, as the play is really about the burdens and the baggage of pain, anger and struggle that are the legacy of slavery. “All baggage left on board will be trashed."

Each scene examines the desire of African American people to escape centuries of suffering that have been a continuous source of baggage. Throughout the play, the audience often doesn't know whether to laugh or cry, and often the result is both. The performances by Samantha Daisher first as Normal Jean and then as Topsy brought tears to my eyes, but for different reasons. The heart strings are pulled taut with tension in Daisher's performance as an abused young woman named Normal Jean who struggles with not feeling special; and then in her performance as Topsy she evokes a tear for the sheer beauty of her pride and celebration of self. Samantha Daisher is new to the Youngstown community; I hope to see her in many more performances.

In this play, the author embraces all sides of identity conflict. Kim Akins-Vocks gave a hilarious performance in the vignette called "The Hairpiece.”. This vignette exposes the private, personal thoughts we all have when we attempt to create our persona and confronts the painful issue of self image. In her portrayal of a conflicted woman, Kim Akins-Vocks has us laughing at her, and ultimately ourselves, when she runs screaming from the room in attempts to discard two unwanted personas.

Kenneth Brown took on several characters in the play and brought authenticity to each. His swift and total transformation into character shows Kenneth Brown to be a gifted performer. Brandon Martin a regular on the stage at the Oakland once again provided a wonderful performance. In addition to his acting skills, he is a talented dancer. He is well known for his performance in both The Exonerated and Lucasville, and should not be missed here in "The Colored Museum" as he performs the dark role of a "Soldier with a Secret". Roz Chapman's performance as Aunt Ethel in "Cookin' with Aunt Ethel" will have you moving to the music. She is a veteran performer and brings tremendous dramatic skill to the stage in her performance as mama in "The Last Mama-on-the-Couch Play."

Thomas Fields in his first appearance at the Oakland, served as the narrator of the show, and gave a very intense performance as "The Kid" in the vignette "Symbiosis". I expect that we will be seeing a lot more of him at this venue. Fields also performed as a member of The Company. The Company is comprised of Nikita Jones, and several students from the Youngstown City Schools. Fields is a student from Chaney, as is Samantha Daisher. Tera Lobaugh is a recent graduate of Chaney High School, and Vincent Matos is a sophomore at Youngstown Early College. Together they kept the show upbeat and lively.

I could tell you more; you know how verbose I can be, but I really want you to go see this play! In fact I think that it is essential that you see Lois Thornton as the Lady in Plaid. She will crack you up and have you howling! Lois Thornton is a tremendous gift to our community. Not only is she talented performer but she volunteers her time to Destination Imagination,a nation-wide, community based program, where kids work cooperatively. They take what they know and what they are good at and learn to apply creativity, critical thinking and talent to solve challenges as a team. So come on out and support this tremendous cast of performers. You won't regret it and you too will be telling your friends to fly Celebrity Airlines.

Also, The Star Gallery at the Oakland presents Frederick "The Count" Molton. So make certain that you visit the gallery when you come to see the play. His work is a perfect complement to the show. He is best known for his ability to capture raw emotion as well as produce masterly quality art in a surprisingly short period of time. He loves to do performance pieces. Opening night, he sat to the side of the stage painting and by the end of the performance had completed a remarkable work of art.

Play dates for "The Colored Museum" are February 16,21,22,23 at 8:00 PM and 2/17 at 2:00 PM. The location of the Oakland Theater is 220 West Boardman in downtown Youngstown. Call the theater at (330) 746-0404 for reservations. Don't forget to have dinner at one Youngstown's downtown eateries and drinks at one of the many clubs and bars located there. Make it a night out! I did and as you can see I had such a wonderful time I'm writing about it today.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Cities are't the Problem-They are the Solution

Prior to reading the post below about the WRTA please watch the video of Jaime Lerner from TED. I believe that after watching this video you will understand why the title of today's post is "Cities Aren't the Problem; They are the Solution" and you too will want to sing "The Sustainability Song" by voting yes for the WRTA levy.

As many of you know, there will be a levy on the March 4th ballot to fund WRTA bus service in the region (Youngstown and surrounding suburbs) through a sales tax. If approved, this means that there will be a 0.25% sale tax which would replace two existing property taxes in Youngstown. The property taxes raise 2.5 million dollars a year for the WRTA. The new tax is projected to raise 7.5 million dollars per year and would allow for the reinstatement of weekend and evening buses, more frequent city service and new routes to the suburbs. If this levy is rejected, the results could range from temporary additional cutbacks to the permanent elimination of public transportation in the city.

I support the passage of this levy for several reasons. Many city residents rely on the bus service to get back and forth between their jobs in the suburbs and their homes in the city. I wish I could say that it goes the other way as well and that people in the suburbs use the WRTA to get from home in the suburbs to their jobs in the city, but unfortunately I don't believe that would be an accurate statement.

It never ceases to amaze me, but I have actually heard people articulate that the reason they won't ride the bus is because it is for poor people. What a sad state of affairs that people first of all believe this, and second of all are so worried about being associated in any way with others they perceive to be poor, that they let this influence their decisions. This lack of awareness quite simply blows my mind! It is also indicative of yet another way that classism and racism in this region impact revitalization as well as our ability to be part of a solution rather than the problem. We absolutely must become educated about public transportation and we need to acknowledge our responsibility for the environment.

Hannah Woodroofe, a friend of mine, who has been instrumental in educating me about the levy issue, has written directions for those of us who aren't familiar with how to ride the bus. I can't thank her enough for doing this as I do believe that often the reason people don't do the right thing is because they don't know how to do the right thing. So here in their entirety are the directions for how to ride the WRTA:

Go to the Federal Station which is located downtown on Federal Plaza. There are bus schedules located on the wall facing the entrance. You can take as many rate schedules as you need. You can also find the routes and time schedules here on line at WRTA. You can pay your fare in cash when you board the bus ($1.25), or buy ticket booklets at the Federal Station. Student and senior citizen fares are .70 and .65 with proper ID. To transfer at Federal Station from one route to another, ask the bus driver for a transfer when you board the first bus (an extra quarter) and then just show it to the second driver. While many of the bus stops in the city aren't clearly marked you can pretty much assume that the bus will let you off on any block along the bus route (the few stops on the route schedule are just time markers, and there are many more stops in between that are not indicated). Drivers are good about picking up and letting off where convenient so long as you let them know from the street or the bus that you'd like them to stop. (All the buses are wheelchair accessible, although not all stops are, especially in the winter). In general, to figure out where to wait for the bus look for the WRTA sign, or sometimes an old sign pole missing the sign along one of the routes.

For those of you concerned about what downtown is like during the day. I happened to find a photo tour of Youngstown on the internet. It is great to see that visitors to our fine city see the beauty that is here.Check out the link for more.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Gross National Happiness

I've been pondering the meaning of wealth and value. In my opinion there is a direct correlation between how you define the words and how happy you feel. I find it troubling that in our culture it is far more acceptable to talk with others about being miserable than it is to admit to contentment or happiness. People will look at you askance if you admit to happiness, as if doing so is profane.

When asked where I live, my response, Youngstown, is often met with a question. It isn't always asked point blank, often it is the raised brow and questioning eyes that ask the question, "How can you be happy living in inner city Youngstown, with its crime, and poverty, not to mention abandoned houses?" When I respond, "Because there is beauty, community, creativity, and challenge here," their doubt is palpable. Yet, I believe it to be true.

I am not blind to the problems or the blight, nor do I want to discount the very real misery caused by the true deprivation of some of our citizens. As Channing Pollack stated, "Happiness is a way station between too much and too little." It is merely, that I believe that beauty and blight can co-exist and where there is action taken to create beauty from blight, there is hope, and where there is hope, there is purpose and meaning and ultimately happiness.

In the U.S. we have fallen prey to what I call happiness propaganda. The pervasive idea, perpetuated by the media, that unless one is engaged in the activity of consumerism, one can't possibly be happy. It goes without saying that in order to be a consumer one must have economic wealth.That requires that the consumer spend an inordinate amount of time accumulating that economic wealth. (i.e. usually doing something they despise for eight hours or more a day). In the United States the word wealth has generally come to mean economic value. However, the word "wealth" actually derives from the English word "weal" which means well-being or welfare. We are very confused here in the United States. As Eduardo Galeano stated, "we confuse being with having". We seldom question the value of our consumption. (Value defined as principals, or standards of human actions; not value defined as estimated worth.) David Wann, in his book, Simple Prosperity, Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle, states, "While we frantically climb the peak toward economic milestones that are always still further up the trail, less time and care are given to things that really matter, family, friends, personal health, environmental vitality, community and cultural traditions."

As of late, there have been numerous studies and books published about happiness. In virtually all of the studies, happiness is found not in consumerism, but in community, creativity and self expression. Happiness is found when one has a sense that life has meaning and purpose. Youngstown provides all of these if you're looking. There is tremendous community here and plenty of opportunity to engage in creativity. Together we are creating a new city. Here we are urban pioneers. Granted we have our problems, but working in collaboration with one another, and using some elbow grease, we can solve those problems. We can in fact, turn our problems into opportunity.

Particularly now, in this time of environmental crisis we need a new definition of happiness, from one of consumption and owning things, to one of simple pleasures, creative freedom, and deep connections. Al Gore has said, "We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization."

In the recently released book, The Geography of Bliss, written by Eric Weiner, the author travels the world over seeking the most contented places. I was intrigued by the philosophy of Bhutan. There, rather than the measuring Gross Domestic Product they measure Gross National Happiness. Gross National Happiness is their highest priority. I support a movement to make that our national priority.