Thursday, April 23, 2009

Political musings

Haven't been motivated to do any political blogging lately. After the huge dramas of the 2008 year elections, a number of bloggers just stopped blogging, Or have scaled way back in output. I know I have been unable to summon the energy for it. After years of outrage and constant shock and horror emanating from the Bush regime's actions, it feels good to not tune in to every damn talk show on MSNBC. Haven't watched the Daily Show or Colbert in months.

Even my Google Reader has been neglected. Piles of posts to catch up on all my favorite blogs. Summer approaches. I want to think about the garden and the new puppy, not torture and Republican posturing. But the morning radio manages to keep me updated on the latest political goings on.

Obama's got a lot of work ahead of him. Too bad he's really not the socialist the right wing parrots proclaim he is. They use that word -- socialist -- to mask their fear of equal health care for all. In their world, it is mandatory that every fetus must proceed to birth, but after that, it's every person for him or herself. Oh too bad you got cancer and could no longer work so no more affordable health care for you. I ask myself why I live in a country where people are forced to go into massive debt and lose their homes because of medical bills.

I might as well ask why I live in a country where government officials think it is OK to waterboard someone 183 times. The release of the torture memos brings images to mind of Condi Rice sitting at her desk with a pile of documents detailing the parameters for "legal" torture. She was all into it, as were Rummy, Cheney and the rest of Bush's handler's. Not pleasant to think about as we go through the annual Holocaust remembrances.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dog Training Classes - the nonviolent way

Redhorse asked for it, so here it is -- a recommendation for dog training in the greater Akron area.

We are fortunate to have living in Akron, Terry Cranendonk, a co-author (with Paul Owens and Norma Eckroate) of The Puppy Whisperer, a wonderful book to help you through the first year of your pup's training. Please be advised that this book and its predecessor, The Dog Whisperer, have nothing to do with a certain television program featuring the negative and often cruel tactics of one Cesar Millan. Millan's way of training is out of date, based on old assumptions of the human must be the pack leader. The latest research clearly shows us that wolf packs in the wild are far more collaborative than earlier studies showed. The alpha male and female roles are primarily for procreation and very severe survival situations. There is no need to terrorize your dog to assert your authority. Certainly choke or prong collars, electric collars, and pinning your dog to the ground are not humane training choices.

I bought The Puppy Whisperer and have been devouring its wisdom and practicing the lessons with Hamlet. I am proud to share that he can now "sit," lie down, touch my hand with his nose on the command "come", and respond immediately to his new name. We are working on "go to your den." This training is all about positive reinforcements and classical conditioning. It is based upon how dogs actually learn.

So I'm all about positive training techniques (with students as well as dogs!), which is where Terry comes in. He trained and worked with the original dog whisperer, Paul Owens, whose methods were presented in his book and various videos. He's available for private training and he holds puppy and basic dog training classes in Hudson as part of the Hudson Community and Education Program. Here's a description of his classes, with contact info:

Basic Dog Training
Instructor: Terence Cranendonk
Taught by local trainer Terence Cranendonk, co- author of the national best-seller, “The Puppy Whisperer,”
this course helps you teach your dog the basic behaviors he or she will need to be a well-mannered member of the household. Behaviors covered include, but are not limited to: sit, down, stay, come when called,
and heel. The class uses all non-violent, reward-based training. Please bring your dog on a flat collar (no pinch or choke collars) and six foot nylon or leather leash ( no flexi-leads.) Also bring plenty of soft treats and vaccination records to first class.
Fee: $ 75
#879 5 Wed. 6:45 p.m. - 7:45 p.m. 4/15 - 5/13
#882 5 Wed. 6:45 p.m. - 7:45 p.m. 6/10 - 7/8
Evamere Multi-Purpose Room
Contact for more information.
7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. HHS B102
Puppy Play and Learn
Instructor: Terence Cranendonk
Taught by local trainer Terence Cranendonk, coauthor of the national best-seller, “The Puppy Whisperer,” this course is an introduction to basic skills for puppies under five months old. The emphasis of the class is on socialization with other dogs and people, learning how to sit politely for greeting, stay still for grooming and handling, play nicely, share food and toys and come when called. Puppies must have their first set of vaccinations by the first day of class. No training prerequisite. Students should bring puppies on a six foot leash (no flex-leads please) and flat buckle collar, along with vaccination records and a large supply of soft treats.
Fee: $75
# 881 5 Wednesdays 7:45 p.m. - 8:45 p.m. 4/15 - 5/13

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Meet the new pup!

Life without a canine companion is no fun, so welcome the new Village Green puppy. His name is Hamlet and he's 12 weeks old. I traveled to Coshocton to pick up this Sheltie yesterday.

When I was a kid and living in the former wilds of Medina County, I had Collies for companions. We roamed the fields and woods together. I loved the Collie temperament as well as it's beautiful stance, majestic shape and long hair. Now that I'm an urban dweller, I decided to go for a smaller version. I realize there are distinct differences between Shelties and Collies and look forward to gaining more understanding of this diminutive herding dog.

I was fortunate to find a reputable breeder who was offering this pup on a pet contract. He is going to be too big for showing in the ring or breeding. (The standard is from 13" to 16" in height at the withers.)

I did consider getting a rescue dog, but I've been looking for quite some time now and didn't find any puppies. It's mostly senior or rescued from puppy mill types. Having lost my two senior dogs in the past couple of years, I wasn't emotionally ready to take in another senior dog. And as for puppy mill survivors, those poor creatures need round the clock care in order to combat all the behavior consequences developed under horrifying conditions.

There are pups on Petfinder offered up as "part Sheltie." About 17 years ago, I took in one such pup who had glorious Sheltie markings but grew up to be a giant-sized Beagle with all the Beagle habits and none of the Sheltie's! I loved him very much, but learned the lesson that if you want a specific type of dog, it's best to know exactly who their parents were!

Here's Hamlet in his new indoor pen. He's a blue merle in color, and quite the theatrical personality! So his nickname will be Hammy! He came crate trained and beautifully socialized, running right to me as I entered his Coshocton living room. He immediately gave me a bunch of puppy kisses and I was in completely enamored! He rode without any crying to his new home in the back of the smart car, observing the rolling hills of Amish country as we drove back up to Akron on Route 93. I'm enrolling him in puppy classes and look forward to lots of fun training time over the summer. Yesterday, we worked on "sit" and he got it in a matter of minutes! First thing this morning, I asked him to sit and he did so without hesitation -- quite the intelligent pup!

So Hamlet the pup and Ophelia the cat are in the beginning stages of sorting out their relationship. Ophelia has lived with dogs before, but in the past two months has been top animal around here. Hamlet just wants to have fun, but she is alternately fascinated and extremely upset. Hmm, sounds just like a certain play by William Shakespeare! Notice Ophelia giving a coy head twist while rubbing against Hamlet's pen:

Monday, April 13, 2009

From Ohio to NY and back again in my smart car

My trip to NY and NYC over spring break was everything I hoped for. Saved a bundle by driving my smart car there and back. Averaged 47 mpg and spent 60 bucks on gas for the entire trip of over 1100 miles. That made it possible to splurge on excellent theatre tickets and enjoy time with friends in upstate NY as well as in the city.

The trip provided just about every type of driving experience imaginable -- I really got to know my smart car and bond with it! We drove through the mountains in high winds, rain and flurries, as well as through balmy and sunny weather. I highly recommend taking a trip on the Grand Army of the Republic Highway. The views are stunning and the small forgotten cities and villages along the way are a delight to behold.

ON this entire journey, I only saw two other smart cars. One amazingly, appeared in my rear view mirror along a stretch of route 6. The other was in NYC, and bore the name of a business. Got lots of looks and comments along the way. The best was in Manhattan, where a traffic cop stopped me and came over to my window. She asked about the mileage and went on and on about how great that is, then waved me on. The worst encounter was on the way home, when a crazy old trucker appeared out of nowhere at a rest stop. He started in on my "tonka toy" of a car, finding great delight in putting it down with no basis in fact. I tried to give him a smart brochure to quiet him, but that only got him going more. Why do certain men seem threatened by a cute little micro car?

I drove up to Albany and then down along the Hudson and into Manhattan. Truly the smart is meant for urban driving. I never thought I'd want to drive in NYC, but in the smart, it was really fun and parking spots were there for the taking.

Here's a photo album of scenic views along the journey. A charming diner on the Grand Army of the Republic Hwy, otherwise known as Route 6. Stopped here for a grilled cheese with pickles.

Gorgeous brick work in an old building along the Grand Army of the Republic Highway:

Signs of decay along the way. People are still living in this building:

Mr Flash poses under the Lackawanna Railroad bridge:

A visit to Russell Sage College in Troy, NY where I found beautiful architecture:

and a sign commemorating the filming of The Age of Innocence:

and here's a snap of my friend Ron the actor in front of the New York State Theatre Institute's regular performance venue on the Russell Sage campus.

Staying with Dred in Brooklyn, I managed to find a good parking spot. One has to pay attention to the parking signs. There are certain days and times of days when cars have to be moved from one street to another. I visited Mr Flash everyday to make sure he was OK. One day, a man was walking down the street ahead of me, trying every door handle to every car. When he got to Mr Flash I wanted to scream out at him, don't touch it! But I restrained myself and was glad that the doors were locked and that the alarm system was installed and working.

I didn't take many photos in Manhattan. I went there for theatre and music mainly, not sightseeing. However, I did walk past the Swatch store in Times Square and took a photo in acknowledgment of Swatch's involvement in the design of the smart car. Did you know that the name "smart" comes from Swatch + Mercedes + art? I went inside the store and looked at the watches. Very colorful and clever designs, but I would rather spend 125 bucks on a theatre ticket than a watch.

Here's a photo of Dred Scott at the Rockwood Music Hall. You can catch the Dred Scott Trio there every Tuesday night at midnight. Most of the pictures (taken without flash) turned out lousy, but this one has a kind of artsy feel to it:

And finally, if you saw a red and black smart car tooling along the highways and byways of PA or NY last week with the following emblem, then you saw me!

Two avant-garde operas in NYC

I'm not an opera fan, unless speaking of rock operas by the Kinks, however I had the opportunity to see two of the world's premiere experimental theatre companies take on the operatic form while in NYC last week. Here are a few reflections on the avant-garde opera experience.

Astronome, a Night at the Opera at the Ontological Hysteric Theater is now over, but received a great deal of positive attention from the NYT, the Village Voice and even the Wall Street Journal. A collaboration by Richard Foreman and John Zorn, the piece is a visual construct to Zorn's music. Audience members were warned about the intensity of the music they were about to hear and we were all given ear plugs just in case we needed them. A voice over at the beginning gave a very physical almost sensual description of how to insert the plugs into the ears. I chose not to use them -- hell, I'd once made it through a Ramone's concert standing next to a huge stack of amps without evident harm.

The music turned out to be loud but not painful, in fact it was quite good. No warnings were given about the visual content to which we would be exposed. I found it to be more shock-filled than the music. The set was filled with an intensity of props that one began to contemplate before the action began. At one side of the stage was an enormous nose, with bristling black nose hair coming out of the nostrils. Various objects went into the nose at certain points during the piece. Tarot cards were strewn over the floor, and a model of the Hanged Man dangled from above. Scrawled writings in English and Hebrew were chalked on the walls and other surfaces. Opposite the nose on the stage side, was an area divided off by Plexiglas, behind which an actor with a green face and a mohawk created by amazingly tall feathers lurked, occasionally coming out to scream to the music.

Five other actors interacted with the music and the props. There was a man who looked like an Egyptian Pharaoh, and another who wore a fez and a kilt. The costumes were all very bizarre. Most of them wore nose masks and some of them wore veils. Their actions were completely choreographed and not at all improvised. I know this because one of the actors happened to be a former student of mine. His description of the rehearsal process made it clear that what was seen was definitely the work of the director. What was his intent?

From the program: "What my theater offers is the ever changing image of human beings buffeted by forces that invade human life, hinting at the urges inside us all that are hopefully transcended, and may occasionally open doors to provide a brief glimpse of where we might better locate our spiritual selves."

I quite got the "urges" part of the piece and got a great deal of satisfaction watching the actions evolve. I particularly enjoyed the the physical responses one action might set off in the others. Didn't catch any glimpses of where I might locate my spiritual self, but that's par for the course. Didn't really matter -- there was more than enough there to keep me interested and for the most part, fascinated.

The Wooster Group continues to present La Didone at St Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn through April 26th, so you can still see this amazing infusion of mid 17th century Italian opera with mid 20th century Italian sci fi movie. As mentioned earlier, I really don't enjoy listening to opera much, but this one grabbed me big time! First of all, the music was much closer to the Renaissance than the typical bombastic opera sounds of the 18th and 19th centuries. And then the young woman singing the part of Dido was amazing. Her name is Hai-Ting Chinn and not only did she sing her heart out, she had incredible stage presence.

Add in the amazing ability of the Wooster Group to recreate live actions from video recordings and you will experience an opera like no other! The movie, Planet of the Vampires, finds two space ships investigating a signal from the planet Aura. Scenes from the movie flicker on video screens placed about the stage. Both casts are dressed in really slick silver space suits and intermingle throughout. A table and desk roll into the action, and one gradually realizes that the rolling furniture mimics the effect of the camera pan shots in the movie clips. Exquisitely timed, the sci fi actors roll into position and pick up the action shown on the video screens. Over on stage left, is a miniature green screen set up where a technician puts on different hand and arm treatments to become interposed hands that appear on the video screens as the actors on stage reach into the video screens to manipulate space ship controls that appear on the screens. Very clever!

The whole endeavor involved a huge amount of collaboration. Along with the actors and technicians, an amazing band consisting of keyboards, theorbo, Baroque guitar, accordion, Tambourine and electric guitar played the haunting score. Most of the actors doubled in both the Dido and Aeneas opera and in the Italian space opera. I've been a fan of the Wooster Group since the 70s (when they were known as the Performance Group), but this one is definitely the best yet. Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte with set design by Ruud van der Akker and costumes by Antonia Belt, this piece is one that will linger long in my visual and aural memory banks.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Absurd theatre is current again in NYC

Final NYC theatre totals:

2 experimental opera pieces
2 plays by my two favorite playwrights.

This post will focus on the plays.

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett was playing at Studio 54 with an all star cast: Nathan Lane as Estragon and Bill Irwin as Vladimir. John Goodman as Pozzo and John Glover as Lucky. The most startling thing about the show was the set. Lots of realistic fake rocks stacked up around a diagonal playing lane. Big theatre, so the void had to be filled with more than a black stage floor with a scrawny tree growing out of it. We were in the mid mezzanine seats, pretty high up. Could not hear every word, alas. This just started in previews, so hopefully they'll get the audio levels up.

Bonus points for anyone who can post a link to the definitive, authoritative pronunciation of "Godot."

Had much better seats for Exit the King at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, a charming place to see a play. Fourth row center for this one, and what a treat it was! An Ionesco classic that I have never seen performed before. This production originated in Australia with Geoffrey Rush as King Berringer in a new translation/adaptation by the director Neil Armfield. and Mr Rush. The set was amazing and inventive, as were the costumes. The royals all had long heavy velvet capes that stretched out at least ten feet that became obstacles and twisted burdens that the actors pulled about the stage with them while the king refused to prepare to make his final exit. The acting was brilliantly physical, the concept and design and direction of it -- everybody involved with this production deserves great applause. Hope it gets a national tour.

More on the operas in the next post.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Dred Scott Trio at the Blue Note

The Dred Scott Trio gave us two astounding sets of music last night at the Blue Note in NYC. I'm very proud to say I've been a fan of Dred's for 20 years and I have always thought of his music as "beyond jazz." He can take any form of music and make it into something uniquely his own. His playing has a physicality about it that results in fingers and keyboard making sounds and patterns of notes you never would expect possible. For me, his music has always been extremely visual. In the early days, I used to take a sketch book along and draw to the music, trying to capture in line and shape the unexpected connections, tones, rhythms and patterns I always "saw" when listening to his music.

When I first met up with Dred, he was part of a trio in Akron known as Third Plane (Dred Scott - keyboards, Wilbur Krebs - bass/guitar, and JoJo Brigandi on drums). They played in a little art bar on South Main called The Bauhaus. Every Wednesday night for a year or so they played original jazz experimenting with avant garde sounds, and also transformed themselves into alternative bands, playing with punk or heavy metal forms. They were such a brilliant thing to have growing there on the dark abandoned streets of downtown Akron at that time. But you know how it goes -- an urban spot is blighted and abandoned, so the only ones who can afford to live there are artists and other dregs of society. The artists succeed in drawing attention to the area, so the developers follow and pretty soon it becomes too pricey for the artists and they all move along.

In the case of Third Plane, they simply outgrew NE Ohio. They were ready for bigger ponds, and so moved out to San Francisco and eventually went their separate ways. Dred played with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, was in Alphabet Soup, a really cool jazz hip hop group, and then moved on to NYC. He pretty much plays all over the world these days. His current trio (Dred - piano, Ben Rubin - acoustic bass, and Tony Mason - drums) can be seen in the clip below. Live last night, they were in top form, playing everything from Dred originals to Black Sabbath and modern spins on California 50s jazz. Guest artist MC Extra Cheese joined in for a couple of raps in both sets.

The Blue Note is a big deal jazz club -- they take it seriously at that club. There are rules: no jackets or coats can hang on the backs of chairs. The lights dim and the announcer lets us know that talking is not appreciated during the music. You can sit at a table for ten bucks or stand at the bar for five. Plus food/drink minimums and tips -- big night out for a Monday. (The weekend acts get $20 for bar tickets and $30 for table seats.)

The audience is serious about listening to jazz, and the place was packed with a very receptive audience. Dred always stretches the limits to places you never expect to be going -- I don't know that the Blue Note had ever experienced anything quite like it. A show to remember!

Monday, April 06, 2009

The continuing adventures...

So far so very good on this spring break adventure. I am absolutely loving my smart car -- have traveled over 400 miles so far and have been achieving excellent mileage. I'm saving the gas receipts and keeping track of the miles so I can give out a final total at trip's end. I will say that driving route 6 through the parks, mountains and charming old towns and villages got me the best mileage yet. At a top speed of 55, going through high winds and some snow flurries, then on into brighter and warmer weather, the smart was shifting for the best mileage and certainly got it. For that stretch of the highway, we managed 334.9 miles on 6.557 gallons of premium (93). That's 51.07 mpg! Wow!

Of course, the true smart enthusiasts will caution that mpgs must be measured over time for a true average. I think the new gps system helped with the mileage. It made me constantly aware of the posted speed limits as I drove into and out of towns and along the way, all the while informing me of my actual speed. I found that I was always working to achieve the posted limit and not go past it. Oddly enough, the only other smart car I have seen along this journey suddenly appeared in my rearview mirror on old route 6.

The car did great through the Endless Mountains (sounds like a place in Middle Earth) and on up to Albany and Troy, where I stopped to stay with my good friend Ron, an actor with New York State Theatre Institute. Then yesterday afternoon, I drove down a beautiful highway on the eastern side of the Hudson to NYC and on to Brooklyn. From totally rural to the most intense urban streets in this country!

Tonight I'm off to see the Dred Scott Trio at the Blue Note. Two shows, one at 8 and one at 10:30 PM. I've been a fan of Dred's music since the good old days of Third Plane at the Bauhaus in Akron. Have been looking forward to this night for weeks now! More later -- gotta go have some great jazz!

Friday, April 03, 2009

On the road

This week's glorious weather vanished as spring break approached. Rain and wind storms -- not my favorite driving conditions, but better than snow and ice. Fortunately, the rain had mostly dissipated by the time I had Mr Flash loaded and ready for the road.

My plan was to leave right after school let out, not wanting to waste a precious second of time off from work. I had most everything packed and ready to go. Had been working on the spring cleaning all week -- both at school and at home. Still, a bit remained so I beat it home and did the final tidying as the coffee heated and the cat watched in amazement as I dashed from top to bottom with loads of laundry and bags of things headed for the recycling bin.

I was on the road by 5:10 pm, and as I approached the expressway I noticed that traffic was jamming up. Time to take an alternate route through the city and catch 76 East beyond the central interchange. Somewhere between Akron and Youngstown, the smart car finally reached one thousand miles. I did feel the wind a bit on the highway, but it wasn't too startling. My old Ford Ranger was even more prone to being pushed about by the wind.

My plan was to get off the highways and head up Route 62 to the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, which stretches across PA from west to east on a more northern and far more scenic route than Interstate 80. Only got as far as Franklin, PA tonight before I decided that a room in a motel would be much more enjoyable than negotiating mountains in the rain and dark of night. The smart is handling the hills and curves with ease. I'm looking forward to better driving conditions tomorrow as I head across PA toward Albany to visit my friend Ron.