Find Your Perfect Match with The Florida Orchestra

TFO public relations manager Kelly Smith takes over our blog this week with some pro tips for finding your perfect concerts in the new orchestra season. The Straz is a proud partner with The Florida Orchestra, who holds many of its concerts here.

Guest blog by Kelly Smith, public relations manager, The Florida Orchestra

Deciding on an orchestra concert is a lot like dating. You’re looking for similar interests, that special something that makes your skin tingle and your heart race. On the morning after, no one wants to wake up disappointed. Since the Straz Center has more than 20 Florida Orchestra concerts to choose from when the season opens in September, here are five insider tips to help you find concerts you’ll love.

Michael Francis conductor, The Florida Orchestra, Mahaffey Theater, March 23, 2019

If you love, love, love Beethoven
This is your happy place, supersized. Not only is Music Director Michael Francis celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, but he’s doing it with rare performances of the Mahler versions of both Beethoven’s Fifth (May 1) and Eroica Symphony (Oct. 11). What does that mean? Often called “Beethoven on steroids,” the Mahler versions are the original symphonies, with a few tweaks, powered by an orchestra much larger than Beethoven could have ever imagined in his day. It’s the Beethoven you know, just bigger, bolder. What’s not to love? Plus TFO will perform Beethoven’s Violin Concerto (Feb. 21), Piano Concerto No. 3 (Jan. 17), and lots more. All part of the Tampa Bay Times Masterworks series.

Maximilian Hornung Photo: Marco Borggreve

If looks matter
This is a visually stunning concert you can see only one weekend in October, only with The Florida Orchestra. That’s when TFO debuts an exclusive art film to tell the story of Strauss’ Don Quixote (Oct. 11), combined with live orchestra and German cello soloist Maximilian Hornung. The film features paintings by local artist Geff Strik, who also illustrated Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night with TFO last season. Michael Francis conducts. Another concert to consider is National Geographic Symphony for Our World (Nov. 2), a full film of breathtaking wildlife scenes with live orchestra.

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If you’re into rock more than classical
Try REVOLUTION: Music of the Beatles – A Symphonic Experience (Oct. 4). If you’re looking for another Beatles tribute show, this isn’t it. This one uses hundreds of rare photos and video, along with top vocalists, to take you through the history of The Beatles as told through their hits, such as “Penny Lane,” “Get Back,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “Hey Jude.” Big bonus: Grammy winner and TFO Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik did all the orchestra arrangements using the original Abbey Road recordings. Part of the Raymond James Pops series.

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If you’re looking for great sax
Go ahead, name one classical orchestra piece that features saxophone. Yeah, not easy. Philip Glass’ lyrical Concerto for Saxophone Quartet is full of surprises, played by the Rascher Saxophone Quartet, who has performed in all the major concert halls throughout Europe. A little secret to watch for: Members of the Rascher ensemble will join the orchestra ranks for Gershwin’s An American in Paris – another rare orchestra piece that includes sax. All part of TFO’s American Masters concert (Feb. 14), which also features Bernstein’s Candide Overture. Stuart Malina conducts.

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If you need your space
With the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this year, TFO is focused on the galaxies like everybody else. A stellar concert that might not be on your radar is Deep Field: A Cosmic Experience (Nov. 8) with Grammy winner and superstar composer/conductor Eric Whitacre. It goes deep into the stars with Whitacre’s symphonic Deep Field, featuring a film of Hubble Telescope images. There’s also Out of this World (Feb. 28), a Raymond James Pops concert with music from Star Trek, E.T., Holst’s The Planets and more. And if date night needs to turn into family time, try TFO’s new full-orchestra, interactive Family Concerts (Oct. 27), which kick off with One Giant Leap, featuring NASA video of the lunar surface and space-themed music, along with the Instrument Petting Zoo for kids to try out instruments.

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Make a date with us
Tickets to all Florida Orchestra concerts are on sale now at FloridaOrchestra.org. Some deals to keep in mind: Compose Your Own tickets are only $25 each when you mix and match three or more Masterworks and Pops concerts. Student and military tickets are $10, available 1 hour before the concert. Kids and teens get in free to all Masterworks concerts with a paying adult with Classical Kids & Teen tickets, available in advance through the TFO Ticket Office.

Let’s ROCK

Meet classically-trained Philly pop punk rocker Kevin Sitaras, director of the Patel Conservatory’s super popular Rock School.

Rock School at the Patel Conservatory puts together people who want to be in a rock band. The drummer may be a 65-year-old retiree, the guitarist a seventh-grader, the lead singer a recent transplant working her first professional job at a bank in downtown Tampa. The point is, Rock School is for anyone and everyone who wants to rock.

Caught in the Act is thrilled to introduce you to the director, Kevin Sitaras. You can come see Kevin and his Rock School crew shred at the End-of-Summer Music Blowout this Wed., Aug. 7.

Raised by his classically-trained opera singer mother and classic rock drummer dad, Kevin absorbed the best of both worlds, learning Strauss and Slayer, Giacomo Puccini and Getty Lee. He took to music like a duck to water, playing in metal and rock bands, then having dreams fall through like they do on the artist’s road. He walked away from music, but the move didn’t suit him well. Under the strong encouragement of his girlfriend who was tired of living with a musician not playing music, he looked for another band, hitting up the Philadelphia Craigslist until he found a pop-punk band who needed a drummer. Kevin traded a few emails with one of the members, then heard nothing for a year.

“So, a year later, I got another email from him out of nowhere,” Kevin says. “Their drummer wasn’t going to do a tour they were about to go on, so he asked if I’d tour with them. I said, ‘yeah, absolutely.’ I walk into the audition just as their drummer’s walking out. So, it went from ‘you’re going to be the touring drummer to well, it looks like you’re it.’”

Kevin playing guitar with his students during a Rock School Blowout performance at Skipper’s Smokehouse. (Photo: Soho Images)

The band, Rivers Monroe, had picked up some notice on the Philly circuit, landing a manager of some prominence – in the country music scene (he helped break Taylor Swift). Thus, the hard-drumming, happy anarchists found themselves sponsored by NASCAR, gigging at NASCAR tracks throughout the country. “It was so cool to do because I got to meet race car drivers and be on the track while the race was going on, but that’s a lot of fans to play to who don’t like your kind of music,” Kevin laughs. “In a weird way, we fell in love with it, and we did end up getting some fans from the NASCAR tour and our music on a NASCAR video game.”

Rivers Monroe graduated from NASCAR to what Kevin hails as the best diet in the world – the Warped Tour. In 2015, Rivers Monroe joined the two-week hell-on-earth that is dragging your hundreds of pounds of equipment across miles of parking lots to set up during the summer heat, sit out in the summer heat, then play in the summer heat, then break down your equipment and lug it back to the bus for the next town – in the summer heat.

Photo: Soho Images

“It’s physically demanding,” Kevin says about working the Warped Tour. “You’re outside for 16 hours a day in 100-degree heat. You do that for 10 days straight. You have gear, a merch table. You’re pulling your stuff up and down hills. I lost 15 pounds in two and a half weeks. It makes me think back to when I was a kid and would see guys on the Warped Tour. I’d stick around to talk to them and some of them weren’t that nice, but I get it. I’m not saying that’s okay because when fans came up to me I was always like ‘Thanks so much: I slept three hours last night, have a horrible sunburn, I’ve changed my clothes three times and it’s only four o’clock but thank you so much for coming!’ I’m just saying I got why Warped Tour musicians just wanted to get on the air-conditioned bus after their show.”

After a successful run on the Warped Tour with Rivers Monroe, Kevin returned to his passion for songwriting, going solo and meeting some friends along the way. A good pal moved to St. Petersburg, and Kevin, like any sane person, hates winter. The lure of a singer-songwriter life in the land of sunshine led him to this neck of the woods, and a rather unlikely perfect circumstance brought him to the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center.

Kevin with Rock School students during a performance in the Jaeb Courtyard earlier this year. (Photo: Soho Images)

Kevin, who also drives for Uber, picked up a ride one day in 2018 – a certain outgoing raven-haired theater teacher – shortly after he moved to the Tampa Bay area. They struck up a conversation. She mentioned she taught theater for a performing arts school in Tampa; he mentioned he was a musician and had taught at a rock school in Philadelphia. The woman turned out to be the Patel Conservatory’s Sarah Berland. “I told Sarah about working at the rock school in Philly and she was like, ‘oh, yeah, I think we’re looking for a Rock School instructor at The Straz.’ I gave her my email address and said ‘shoot me an email and we’ll talk.’ We went back and forth, she put me in touch with Dr. [Lauren] Murray [head of the music department], and I was hired. I was so happy. The Rock School program here is incredible, so this is a dream opportunity for me.”

Dr. Murray, who gave Kevin full license to shape the program from his scope and expertise, is more than happy to welcome her newest staff member aboard. “Kevin is pleasure to work with and has made a huge impact on our program,” she says. “He’s a terrific teacher, he genuinely cares about making a difference and his rock school students made amazing progress in such a short time. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.”

To study with Kevin Sitaras and experience the face-melting joy of living to rock, go to patelconservatory.org and search under music classes.

Of Tangled Webs and Putting the Work in Network: Information Technology Superhero Sam Luis

This interview, a bonus in our series on non-performing jobs in the performing arts, features one of your friendly neighborhood performing arts center IT guys, Sam Luis.

Maybe you think it’s all tights, pancake makeup and “take it one more time from the top” over here, but the Straz Center relies on massive amounts of technology to run our organization and run our shows. That’s right—even Morsani and Ferguson stages have network connectivity now so shows can digitally control their sets, lighting and sound. We’ve got internets, intranets, emails everywhere from New York to Dubai, apps, snaps, hashtags, servers and an organizational text messaging alert system so we get the latest info on emergencies that affect The Straz. Although tech might be far from folks’ minds when they think about the performing arts, we are linked, synched, wi-fied and wired over every square foot of this joint. That’s why you’ll see our IT team literally running from one part of the campus to the next—they have that much to take care of in and around The Straz. They’ve got a big job to do here, and we’d like to introduce you to one of them.

Meet Sam Luis.

At rare moments, Sam can be found at his desk working on various tasks from networking and building Wifi to data security.

Caught in the Act: All right, Sam. Get us started with your path to IT, and if you will, explain what IT is.

Sam Luis: Sure. I think when you say “IT,” in general, people think it’s a guy fixing your computer.

CITA: Yes, that’s exactly what we think it is.

SL: There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes things that IT does, though. We make sure that our data’s secure. We also pull together reports in certain data for the business to make decisions, we present that in a consumable fashion.

CITA: What does that mean exactly? Can you give a specific example?

SL: Sure. A person in the organization might say, “Hey, I really want to visualize ticket purchases, but we don’t really know where they’re coming from or how we’re getting these tickets sold.” That’s where my other counterparts on my team, they go through the data and massage the data to make it more presentable. In other words, we analyze the hard data, then say, “Okay, this zip code has a lot of people coming to Show X, but this zip code has a lot of people coming to Speaker Y.” So on and so forth. That kind of visualization is what IT does. We facilitate practical interpretations of hard data the computer captures.

CITA: That makes a lot more sense.

SL: Then, how I started my career … Actually, I was fortunate enough, back when I was in middle school, that I won the magnet school lottery here in Hillsborough County.

CITA: Cool!

SL: It was a program where you would get diverted into a technology school. It’s now called Ferrell Middle Magnet School so that’s where I came from. It used to be called Middleton Middle Magnet School for Technology. We were completely immersed in technology from middle school, and it was a very early pilot program. That’s where I started, then I just kept on going and going and going in the field. Technology has always been my passion. I loved computers before I won the lottery, but that just kind of set me on my track to IT.

CITA: But this happened at a time when technology wasn’t quite as prevalent as it is as a career path today.

SL: A hundred percent. Then, when I went to the magnet school, there was a lot of, “Oh, it’s a fun little tool to play with. You should learn typing in case you want to type in a typewriter,” kind of attitudes. We were right on the cusp of the birth of the internet, so I actually got to witness that progression from having to dial in to get internet service to now. It just amazes me every day. So, yeah, I grew up with the birth of the internet.

CITA: Then what happened? Did you graduate and go to USF? Did you stick around here?

SL: I didn’t think conventional college was the right way for me. I went to a technical school. I went to ITT Tech. They’re defunct now, but I think education is what you make out of it. ITT really helped me base my overall technology standards, to learn about all the different technologies.

Sam is often called to troubleshoot connectivity issues in different areas of the building. This small closet houses audio and video connections for several of the halls and his most valuable tool in places like this is his flashlight.

CITA: You ended up at the Straz Center. How?

SL: It was very interesting. I was working at ITT as a support technician. The HR lady over there knew the HR person that was over here. I was looking to spread my wings. In IT, we move a lot, but I’m not that way. I like to stay where I’m at, so I was with ITT for about four or five years and they started mentioning, “Hey, there’s a position coming up at the Straz Center.”

I was like, what technology at the Straz Center? Four or five computers? It’s a performing arts center. They don’t have computers. Then I got interviewed, and I realized there was a lot of technology needs that just weren’t up-to-date. That excited me. It was a challenge. “Oh, I could really optimize this and change this and do this …” Fortunately, I was hired.

CITA: Mm-hmm (affirmative). When did you get to the Straz?

SL: I’ve been here seven years. I had a little hiatus for about a year between that so I was here, I think, 2013, I believe? I was here for about a year, I left for about a year, and then I came back and I’ve been here ever since.

CITA: That’s awesome. Let’s go back to something that you said, “It’s a performing arts center and they don’t have computers.’ That seems like a common belief about performing arts centers, that they’re not tech-savvy, but we cannot live without technology.

SL: A hundred percent. Five hundred percent.

CITA: It’s our ticket sales. It’s our communication tool. Our entire internal operations.

SL: Our lighting control system. I mean, just everything for the organization. It’s really amazing because I interview people for my team, and one of applicants’ top questions is ‘What technology do you guys have here?’ They think it’s just a couple of computers for the admin assistants and that’s it. Then, when we do the tour, and I show them all the controls and all the systems that we manage and maintain and secure, they’re like, ‘Wow. I would have never thought there’s that much technology behind a performing arts center.’

The IT Department has spare parts and wires on hand at all times so they can answer and fix almost any emergency.

CITA: In ticket sales alone, the importance of data security is paramount. People don’t know how far ahead of the game you guys have to be all the time. Then, our new stage floors had to be tech-ready because so many shows now rely on connectivity and technology.

SL: Correct. A lot of shows come in and they’ll require dedicated internet for their shows for automations. If that isn’t there, the show is not going to run because a lot of the automations are controlled, actually, from their headquarters in New York or Chicago. It’s a good feeling for a lot of the touring shows to not have to worry about running over wi-fi, which can be unreliable, because we have a dedicated internet network just for them.

CITA: What keeps you here versus heading to San Francisco or somewhere where people more readily associate big tech and big money?

SL: I think it’s the culture, right? Not-for-profit and the performing arts—it’s a very amazing culture. During my little hiatus when I was gone for a year, I went to a big health care firm, and I felt like just another cog in the wheel. You just kind of missed that personality and the lightness of people, just the atmosphere at The Straz. It’s a totally different animal when a show’s on. When there’s a show in you can just feel that energy of the show, and in the for-profit world you don’t have that. That’s why I like it here. I like my peers. I like working here. I like the atmosphere.

CITA: Now that you’ve been here for about seven years, do you feel compelled to get on the stage? Do you feel the itch to be a star?

SL: Unless I want to wake every dog in the neighborhood with my singing, no way. I’m more of a logical thinker. That’s just my brain. I’ve been to plenty of performances here. I’ve actually talked to my wife about, later in my years, once the kids are out of the house, picking up guitar or something like that, you know, we offer classes here. It’s crossed my mind but, I don’t know, I feel like I don’t the right mind for it. [laughs]

Sam’s tool bag is filled with everything from networking cables and scissors to screwdrivers and his flashlight.

CITA: Just so everybody is aware, you are really, really super busy as part of the IT team at the Straz.

SL: Correct.

CITA: This isn’t like you’re just sitting at your desk waiting for a call.

SL: No, I’m not playing Maytag repairman here. No, no. I have three guys underneath me. We’re in charge of support, infrastructure and security, so anything’s that’s plugged into the network, we manage. Any security issues, we manage. And then, just supporting day-to-day, “My computer broke, I need a new keyboard, emails,” All that stuff, we work on.

I think we ran a report last year, and we averaged about 10 to 12 work orders a day between the team. People go, oh, well that’s only 12. Well, one work order might take two or three hours. If you put that into context, we’re pretty busy. That’s not even including projects.

CITA: When you multiply it out over 365 days a year, then it really starts to add up.

SL: Oh, yeah. Yes.

CITA: All right, Sam, so what else do you want to tell our readers about your job here and what if they’re interested in joining you guys in IT? Do you have interns?

SL: We do. We actually have an intern position coming up. I don’t know the exact scope of the work, but I know that we are going to be hiring or getting an intern. In regards to joining the team, I know we’re potentially growing as the center grows, so definitely check the HR website. It’s a good, family team. We all pitch in together, and you don’t often find that in IT. I think that’s one of the other reasons I stick around is we’re all a team, where in bigger organizations, you’re just doing your own thing. I like that, the departure from the normal IT experience.

Called away from his desk yet again, Sam heads backstage for his next IT adventure.

If you want to intern with the Straz Center Information Technology department or explore career possibilities, visit our “Careers” page.

Let’s Get in Transformation

The Americans with Disabilities Act turns 29 on Friday. We’re celebrating with a free concert in Maestro’s Restaurant featuring incredibly talented local artists of mixed abilities. Let’s meet a few.

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On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law acknowledging the right of access and inclusion for people with disabilities. That monumental, historic demonstration of America’s commitment to equality turns 29 years old this Friday, and we are rolling out the red carpet with our friends from the Mayor’s Alliance for Persons with Disabilities and the Hillsborough County Alliance for Citizens with Disabilities to throw a party.

Part One: Let the Shameful Walls of Exclusion Finally Come Tumbling Down

In his public remarks that day, President Bush exhorted the world’s governments and directed American citizens to “let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

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President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act on the White House South Lawn on July 26, 1990.

After a brutal history of cloaking disabilities in shame and ostracism, America made a pioneering effort with the ADA to bring citizens with disabilities into the fold both socially and economically. It was supremely successful, driving business and leading to social improvements that benefitted everyone. Today, we have large print, automatic sliding doors, access ramps and beeping crosswalks thanks to the ADA. The notion of “disabilities” is being eclipsed by the understanding of “different abilities.”

Many years ago, as leadership at The Straz searched for ways to expand our own efforts at inclusion, we held a community round table to ensure we were doing our best to make the performing arts accessible for all. We made some great friends and partners during this process, one of whom is Brenda Clark, the project director and employment services coordinator for the Florida Center for Inclusive Communities at the University of South Florida.

If you come to the get-together Friday (the first part of the celebration is at the John F. Germany Library across the street starting at 3:30 p.m.), there’s no doubt you’ll see Brenda. Enthusiastic, excited about ways to implement inclusion and accessibility and a lot of fun to be around, Brenda worked with the Straz Center’s Acting Director of Community Engagement Alice Santana to hold the first-ever performing arts component of the annual ADA celebration.

Part Two: TRANSFORMATIONS: Building a World of Access and Inclusion

This year, the annual ADA anniversary celebration, titled TRANSFORMATIONS: Building a World of Access and Inclusion, takes place in two parts at two locations—The John F. Germany Library and the Straz Center—and features artists from Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

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“Our event is also partnered with Arts for All, which is a statewide visual arts competition,” says Brenda. “We’ll announce the awards with a first, second and third prize. The John F. Germany Library offered to host a gallery of the visual art. We thought, ‘This is so great! Let’s see what else we can do.’ It was my wildest dream to showcase our local pool of performing artists, and I wanted the performing arts involved so badly. When we met Alice, everything started falling into place. The Straz is so professional. It’s real. It’s not something that someone is doing as a handout. So, at the concert at The Straz, we’ll have a dance troupe. We have singers. We have a classical pianist. The Straz is providing an accessible stage, lighting, sound and Fred Johnson will emcee. We’re just super, super, super exited about it. I may be more excited than anyone.”

The celebration concert at The Straz starts around 6 p.m. We have a full roster of performers including drummers, spoken word and sign language performance artists. We thought we’d introduce you to a few to give you a taste of the awesomeness that will be this Friday night event. The entire 29th anniversary celebration of the ADA is called TRANSFORMATIONS: Building a World of Access and Inclusion and is entirely free. All are welcomed and encouraged to attend.

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MATT WEIHMULLER, jazz musician

“I will be presenting my ensemble as a jazz quartet, comprised of myself on saxophone, along with a rhythm section which includes, piano, bass, and drums. We will perform music that is representative of traditional straight-ahead jazz. We’ll also play my own modern interpretation of the genre in an original composition titled “Dots On a Page.” It means so much to me to be able to share this musical composition because I get to present it to an audience which the piece was intended for, and this is the ultimate goal of any performer.

I wrote the song “Dots On a Page” as a tribute to learning braille music. As a visually impaired musician, it has always been my goal to continue to champion the cause of braille literacy. Braille is made of a six-dot system, so it seemed appropriate to name my composition “Dots On a Page.” Performing music is freedom to me because playing jazz, which is an improvisational artform, means that there are no barriers for creativity. I hope I can inspire others through performing music to have the same outlook I try to have each day, to be able to turn any disadvantage they may have into an advantage through their disability.”

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STEPHANIE SLAGLE, singer

“I will be presenting two of my favorite musical theatre songs for my performance: “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” from The Phantom of the Opera and “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady.

This performance is special to me for many reasons. The Straz Center itself is special to me; I have many beautiful memories of seeing shows at The Straz, and I’ve performed here for an All State conference in the concert choir and participated in a couple of Patel Conservatory’s summer classes. Being here to help celebrate the ADA 29th Anniversary is amazing! The ADA is so important because it gives opportunity and support to people who need it. When I give my performance, I want it to be representative of the amazing things the whole community can do for people—those with disabilities and those that have helped them grow to success beyond their wildest dreams.”

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JOHNATHAN DAVIS, pianist/vocalist

“Johnathan is so grateful for the opportunity to perform at The Straz! Although he is autistic and blind since birth, he has developed his talent and loves to share his gift. His joy in life is making people happy. He does this through his music. Johnathan is an accomplished pianist/vocalist and will hopefully touch the hearts of our guests at this special event.” –Cheryl Worsham, Spokesperson for Johnathan Davis

Make it a Double: Bartenders Extraordinaire Diane Jones and Suzanne Rubin

This interview, the second in a two-part series on non-performing jobs in the performing arts, features two of our extraordinary bartenders: Diane Jones and Suzanne Rubin.

If you’ve been coming to The Straz for a few seasons, chances are you’ve found yourself face-to-face with the Straz Center’s dynamic duo of drink slingers hustling and jiving behind one of the bartending stations. This double act of mix mistresses is well-loved by our guests, so if you haven’t met them yet, seek out their station next time you’re here for a show. With 22 years of service to The Straz between them, they know a lot about what it takes to make guests happy (and it’s not the booze!—though that helps) and how to succeed and have fun in the service industry. We caught up with them to talk shop, which was, of course, a lot of fun.

Meet Diane Jones and Suzanne Rubin.

Diane Jones (left) and Suzanne Rubin (right) working at the bar in Morsani Lobby.

Caught in the Act: This series is about “non-performing jobs in the performing arts,” but would you argue that you are performing as a bartender? Do you feel like you’re a sister act?

Diane Jones: Every guest that walks up to our bar comes to The Straz expecting a show and an experience. That experience should start at the door and all staff, in whatever capacity, should continue that excitement. We just happen to take the guest experience and guest take-away very seriously. It is important to us to engage our guests in the theater ambience, and well, we really really really put in the effort … [laughs]. We certainly are a “sister act” of sorts. I introduce us to every guest I can and invite them back to our bar for a second beverage during the remainder of walkup or a pre-order for intermission—and a little more of The Diane and Suzanne Show. We’ve worked on many bars together for a long time, so we have the schtick and the moves down!

Suzanne Rubin: We definitely have to be “on” and in a good mood to make our guests feel welcome. As for the sister act, we complement each other well. Diane is more outgoing, and I am good with the set up and function of the bar.

CITA: How did you get involved with The Straz, and how long have you been around? What keeps you here?

SR: This is my 13th season. I applied here after a friend and ex co-worker told me about it. I stay because it’s a nice, pleasant, civilized atmosphere.

DJ: I came onboard from a suggestion that I’d love it by Suzanne. This is my ninth season. I started in the coffee bar for a couple seasons, then moved to bartending. I love being involved with the arts and creating experiences for the guests. If folks have fun, they come back … for more drinks and future shows. It’s our contribution to The Straz to perform in such a way that they want to.

CITA: What are your funniest tending-bar-at-The-Straz stories (that we can print)?

DJ: Since we always bar tend together, I’ll combine them. A few situations stand out as pretty funny. One time a gentleman accidentally handed us his medical marijuana card as his ID. Another lady tried to use her library card for payment. She kept swiping and swiping and wailing there had to be money there. One older guy insisted we card him and then accidentally flashed his AARP card. That one had everyone in line laughing and joking with him. AND IT WAS HIS BIRTHDAY!

CITA: How did you become a bartender? What are your fave aspects of the job and what are your fave drinks to mix?

DJ: I got involved with bartending during a stint at a catering company. I enjoy the witty repartee with guests and handcrafting beverages (especially martinis, cosmos and manhattans) that folks will feel good paying for and come back when they’re ready for another. It’s a fun atmosphere to meet a variety of folks with an even bigger variety of interests. There’s so much going on at The Straz. There is something for everyone, and the excitement keeps me coming back each season.

SR: I started helping out friends who worked in the industry when they were extra busy at events like Gasparilla and Guavaween. I stay because I like meeting new people, seeing events and being part of fun stuff like Broadway, concerts and yearly events. My favorite drinks to make at The Straz are margaritas, manhattans and sangria from scratch.

CITA: It may surprise some of our readers to know we have a huge Food and Beverage staff, we have to with as many patrons as we have. What’s your advice about how to get hired and be the best at the job?

SR: Interested and prospective candidates for any position in Food and Beverage should go online to strazcenter.org and fill out an application. This alerts Human Resources. The steps to joining our team all start online, and the possibilities are endless!

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If you’re interested in applying to be part of the Straz Center Food and Beverage team, visit the online job openings here.

Oh, Say Can You Sing

Dear “The Star-Spangled Banner,” why are you so hard to sing? WHY.

This time last year, we brought you the exciting story behind our national anthem but we didn’t go into the technical aspects of performing the song. Which, as a performing arts center, we should.

So, as we all celebrate America’s independence this Thursday, let’s start the week by discussing why this precious symbol of the American spirit is so unforgivingly difficult to sing.

We’re certain you remember from our blog last year that “The Star-Spangled Banner,” originally titled “The Defence of Fort M’Henry,” was penned by Francis Scott Key at the precise moment that American independence from Britain seemed won. Washington, DC, had fallen, but if the Americans could defeat the redcoats at Fort McHenry, we would tip the balance of the struggle for freedom in our favor. Mr. Key had a well-known British drinking song, popular at the gentlemen’s clubs, in mind as he wrote the lyrics. We did win; in the morning, our flag was still there. Key took up the pen and memorialized the unlikely victory.

The tune, rousing and particularly suited for boisterous belting there in the middle, lended itself to the feeling of the moment. We’ll mention again that Key’s song was never intended to be our national anthem; it was merely written to capture the history-making, nail-biting drama of an independence that almost wasn’t. “The Star-Spangled Banner” (so coined in November 1814) officially became the national anthem in 1931 mostly because the song paired so well with major sporting events to unify the crowd in glorious feeling. Ergo, now we have the anthem performed prior to most sporting events.

There are some questionable renditions, like Fergie’s lambasted jazz-riff-skeedley-dee version before the NBA All-Star game:

And there are some well-executed, hair-raising deliveries, like Jack Black’s no-frills interpretation before the WNBA L.A. Sparks game:

So, let’s talk about what makes “The Star-Spangled Banner” such a tough song to nail—or, not even nail but just get through.

First, this ditty spans an octave and a fifth, so, thirteen notes. Already, the SSB has wiped out anyone with normal vocal abilities from being able to sing it and not sound like a minivan backing over a set of bagpipes.

Second, the tune makes “leaps” up and down, meaning that your voice has to jump from one note to a step and a half above or below—or more. That’s not natural or intuitive. Or easy. Music writer Scott McCormick explained it clearly in his 2018 article on how to sing the anthem: “Leaps are harder to sing than steps. The first seven notes of the national anthem are all leaps … The passage ‘dawn’s early light’ is especially challenging for it features a downward leap of a sixth – from Bb (‘dawn’s’) to D (‘ear-‘) and the ‘-ly’ part of ‘early’ is sung on an E natural.” So, that’s a huge leap. People, including the writers of this article, often fail to stick the landing, wobbling on the tone of “dawn’s” and hoping for the best as they launch to “early light.”

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This 1814 copy of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was the first printed edition to combine the words and sheet music. Currently this is one of only ten copies known to exist, and is housed in the Library of Congress.

Third, the lyrics are a vine-like construction of 19th century locution that, let’s face it, we’re all friends here, most of us memorized by sound and never thought about too deeply. It’s pretty easy to fumble along lines like “what so proudly we hailed … at the mumble mumble last gleaming” in a gigantic group but seriously try singing the whole thing by yourself at full volume in the shower with complete confidence. It’s tricky, people. For example, did you know that the last two lines don’t state the flag is there—they ask the question ‘did the flag survive the night? Is it still waving?’—and, in our national anthem, we don’t provide the answer. We just end there. Oh say—does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The song answers the question in the next stanza, which we don’t sing, and most performers phrase the closing couplet as though it is a statement (it does yet wave!) and not a question, since we know it’s rhetorical anyway—the flag was gallantly streaming, as history notes.

The point is, the wording is akin to fancy footwork on top of all the vocal leaping and stepping around a 13-note range. That, friends, is why the SSB is so difficult to pull off gracefully.

Here, let Christina Aguilera show you:

In defense of popular singers everywhere whose SSB fails go viral, please remember that they’re often singing with no monitor, no musicians and with a 1.5 second delay—which is an outrageously disorienting echo-effect.

To this end, we have a few tips about how to hone your own execution of our beloved national anthem, the main one being start really low so you can get to the big, high notes without blowing a gasket. We’ve taken the liberty (pun intended) to print the lyrics below in case you’d like to test your own close reading of the text. For us, we always sing in a group—safety in numbers, as they say.

Happy Independence Day, America!

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The Star-Spangled Banner
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

SEQUINS!

Like peanut butter to jelly, like Siegfried to Roy, what would the performing arts be without sequins?

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If the performing arts were a country, the flag undoubtedly would be made of gaff tape and sequins. What material would befit the banner of our happy little nation-state more? When we think about a few American performing arts icons – 1) Marilyn Monroe 2) Diana Ross 3) Liberace and 4) Elvis, we think sequin 1) red dress, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes 2) 8 out of 10 costume changes 3) everything and 4) capes and jumpsuits.

This perfect plastic paillette adds shimmer, glamour, depth and a failsafe wow factor to all sorts of costumes. This spring, sequins trended in everyday wear, adorning t-shirts, shoes, belts … proletariat fashion hasn’t seen this much day-to-day glam since the ‘70s. Let’s face it. Everybody loves a sequin.

But from whence came this glittering gimcrack, this decorative doo-dad?

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Leonardo da Vinci’s sketch, circa 1480-1482.

The sequin seems to have emerged from the world’s cultures’ collective subconscious, as examples of sparkly disks sewn to clothes and accessories appeared in King Tut’s tomb, 2500 B.C. India, and in parts of ancient Asia. The notion of attaching coins to clothes for status caught on almost everywhere, and lo and behold, Leonardo da Vinci invented a sequin-making machine that, like his airplane, only made it to the sketch phase. However, it bears repeating: da Vinci sketched a sequin-making machine. The man who gave us Mona Lisa and The Last Supper also dreamed of full-scale sequin production.

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Metal sequins lasted until the 1920s, which meant all those flapper dresses were a heck of a lot heavier than they looked. Later that decade, the world discovered the many uses of gelatin, one of which happened to be pressing it into sheets and punching out hundreds of lightweight, easy-to-color sequins. However, gelatin dissolves and melts, a problematic fact of life for these vegan-unfriendly decorations. Another method of back-plating acetate (clear plastic) with silver emerged thanks to Kodak and the ingenuity of a New York spangle-maker named Herbert Lieberman, who later, naturally, relocated his sequin-production operation to Florida. The acetate proved too brittle – unless, as Lieberman discovered, it was coated on both sides with Mylar.

Voila! Lieberman invented modern-day sequins that could withstand a round in the washing machine. Today, we use vinyl plastic sequins which are cheaper and more durable but not as sparkly as their acetate, divine-light-channeling counterparts. The next stage in sequin evolution will hopefully be for a glorious dot of high-reflective power that biodegrades. Stay tuned.