Hometown Hero Goes National – Geographic, That Is.

Tampa Bay area photographer Carlton Ward, Jr. advocates for wild Florida. His powerful images of our own miraculous wildernesses and passionate education about saving what’s left landed him a slot as a speaker for National Geographic LIVE! He kicks off his road speaker career right here in Ferguson Hall on Tues., Feb. 26 with Wild Florida: Hidden in Plain Sight.

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Carlton testing a camera at Babcock Ranch State Preserve. (Photo from Instagram: @carltonward)

As we type, Carlton is collaborating with The Nature Conservancy, setting up his signature remote camera traps for panthers somewhere in the vicinity of Labelle, FL. Last week, we caught up with Carlton on his lunch break to talk about his work and his upcoming engagement at The Straz.

Caught in the Act: We want to start with the story of how you ended up giving this talk at The Straz. Last year when National Geographic LIVE! speaker Cristina Mittermeier was here, you were in the audience. And you guys went out to dinner afterwards with Sarah Gecan, our Nat Geo marketer. She was so taken by your passion for Florida wildlife and conservation in general that when the opening came up this season, she was the one who said, “Get Carlton.”

Carlton Ward, Jr.: That’s awesome. That’s very cool. Yeah, this is my first Nat Geo Live talk on the road. I did one at National Geographic headquarters last March, which was when the people from the Nat Geo Live program saw my presentation there. That’s when we started talking about putting me on the schedule for late 2019-2020. Then this cancellation came up [on The Straz season], so I’m getting to do my first on-the-road talk at home.

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The Aucilla River spreads out into the Gulf in an area known as the Forgotten Coast. (Photo from Instagram: @carltonward)

CITA: And we are pumped. The show is selling like hotcakes, Carlton. You are really well-loved. You probably know that, especially from the success of the Florida Wildlife Corridor films. People have been really enthusiastic about the fact that you’re on the season this year.

CW, Jr: Oh, that’s super cool. Yeah, it’s a hometown audience and we’ve had such good media following from WUSF and other things on the topics I work on, so that helps. The reason I do what I do is to raise the awareness for the wildlife and the land conservation that we need to do to sustain it, in Florida.

CITA: Environmental issues can be thorny topics in Florida because Florida’s boom was a development boom. So, it’s ingrained in the cultural psychology that we’ve got to build, we’ve got to develop, we have to keep growing.

CW, Jr: Yes. I focus on animals like the Florida panther and the Florida black bear because they utilize large landscapes and they show us the land that we need to protect. Not just for them, but for all the other wildlife and for ourselves. We’re losing more than 100,000 acres of wildlife habitat every year to development, and we need to accelerate the pace of land conservation to balance that out if we want to have viable wildlife habitat in the future.

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A young male Florida panther who triggered a camera trap. (Photo from Instagram: @carltonward)

CW, Jr: Florida cannot sustain the human population that’s projected to be here over the next 50 years unless we get smarter and do things differently. The same land that is the path of the panther is also the headwaters of the Everglades and the headwaters of the St. Johns River and the water supply for most of Florida’s population. So, steering development away from these last corridors of green land is in our self-interest, as people who are aspiring to live here and have any quality of life in this state.

We have to start building up and not out. We can continue to develop, and we can continue to accommodate the population growth, but we’re going to have to do slightly higher density development, building closer to our urban cores, and not doing the hundreds of thousands of acres of tract homes every year that will end up undoing all the conservation progress from the past 50 years.

The cool thing is we still have this opportunity in Florida where—because of our agricultural corridor and the fact that we still have millions of acres of ranches and timber lands and farms and groves—we still have a chance to sustain a connected green corridor that we wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for that agriculture.

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Seventy miles west of Key West, the lighthouse at Loggerhead Key marks the tip of a Marine Protected Area where the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico meet. (Photo from Instagram: @carltonward)

CITA: That’s something that you try to do, in your photojournalism and with the work you do for Florida Wildlife Corridor, is building relationships between all the different types of people who have interest in the undeveloped lands. Correct?

CW, Jr: Yes. I mean, … it’s just the conservation priorities seem to get lost. And it’s not because Floridians don’t want land protection. It’s because the specific needs for that land protection are kind of “out of sight, out of mind.” For example, we have amazing natural areas, but we don’t have something like the Rocky Mountains where you can sit in a city like Denver and know that you have an important wild space that is the source of all your water and your clean air and your food. With Florida being so flat, we don’t see it. We don’t recognize the Green Swamp north of Tampa as the headwaters of five rivers and the water supply for most of the Tampa Bay area. Because it’s only 100 feet elevation higher than Tampa. It’s hidden in plain sight.

So that is a theme. I think if people see and understand these areas, through pictures, through maps, it will lead to policies and decisions that help preserve them.

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A great blue heron in Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. (Photo from Instagram: @carltonward)

CITA: You’ve been involved in wild Florida your whole life. You’re a multi-generational Floridian. Would you consider yourself just a country boy? Would you put yourself in that category?

CW, Jr: No.

CITA: Can you talk a little bit about that?

CW, Jr: I have a pretty good set of redneck skills, but I grew up in the suburbs of Clearwater. I grew up on the coast with a family ranch and family heritage in the heartlands. So, I kind of had one foot in each world my whole life. I think that’s why I’m as motivated as I am. Because if you grow up in Tampa or Clearwater, you’ll end up caring about the water in the bay, but you don’t end up knowing about the Green Swamp or the Peace River. Or, if you grow up in Arcadia or Wauchula, you may or may not see the pace that the houses are exploding out of Orlando and Tampa and Bradenton and moving towards you and threatening the land around you. Being in both of those worlds, I think, helped me have the perspective I have now.

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4G Ranch, in Pasco County, is the site of an innovative partnership where wetlands are filtering reclaimed urban water and recharging the underground aquifer at a rate of 5 million gallons per day. (Photo from Instagram: @carltonward)

CITA: In all your work, what have you discovered that is the most inspiring for people who are unfamiliar with Florida’s environment? What inspires people most to get involved or get interested or learn more?

CW, Jr: I find that … with my photo lapse of bears and panthers, people don’t know those animals exist in Florida. And that’s a starting point, [for people to realize] that Florida still has wild enough places to support large, wide-ranging wildlife. I really get a lot of comments on my Instagram feed and other places, where people had no idea that these things exist in Florida. It’s also true when I photograph and publish pictures of Florida cattle ranches. People don’t know that we have that type of land and those type of people who are so deeply connected to the land. The Seminole tribe also. People think about the Hard Rock Café maybe, but don’t know that we have Native Americans, an unconquered tribe of Native Americans, living in The Everglades. Still.

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Ten Thousand Islands in Everglades National Park, which is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. (Photo from Instagram: @carltonward)

CITA: If we can play devil’s advocate for a second … let’s say we want to come down to Florida and retire, so we’re interested in golf and shopping and having a leisurely life. We don’t care about the panther or the black bear. How do you explain to people why a wildlife corridor would matter?

CW, Jr: On one hand, I’d say to those people we are not separate from nature. We are buffered from nature by our technologies. But, if the environment can’t support wildlife, it ultimately may be missing some things to support us. Another one kind of common element is water. The strongest argument for why we need to care about these wild places is the water and the quality of life for people. It just so happens that water is the common ground that sustains wildlife and sustains working agriculture. It also sustains rural culture and heritage. Just look to last summer to the red tides and the algae blooms. We’re seeing at a large scale exactly how our coastal way of life is negatively impacted because we’re not taking care of interior Florida the way we need to. Everything in Florida’s connected.

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A Florida black bear near Big Cypress National Preserve. (Photo from Instagram: @carltonward)

CITA: We really are so excited about your talk here. We feel pretty privileged that we’ll be your kickoff venue for what’s probably going to become a very illustrious speaking career with Nat Geo.

CW, Jr: Okay. I really appreciate it. I’ll be seeing you soon.

Don’t miss Carlton Ward, Jr. for National Geographic LIVE! Tues., Feb. 26 at 7 p.m.

I Wanna Baptize You

And other Valentine’s Day sentiments from Broadway songbooks

Broadway boasts a canon of funny romantic songs, some thinly veiled innuendos (see title of this blog, a lyric from “Baptize Me” in The Book of Mormon) and others outrageously explicit (“You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want” from Avenue Q).

Here are just a few of our fave irreverent, hilarious or otherwise atypical little ditties from Broadway about love and romance in honor of Valentine’s Day this Thursday.

We Choo-Choo-Choose You.
Love,
The Straz

“The Song That Goes Like This” – Spamalot
Hahahaha … we can hardly type about this song without chuckling. This spot-on parody of the formulaic Big Love Song Number in boy-meets-girl musicals is an embarrassingly explanatory duet about said Big Love Song Number. “Once in every show/There comes a song like this … A sentimental song/ … We’ll over-act like hell/This is the song that goes like this.” Spamalot is Monty Python’s musical adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so it’s comedy gold from the kings of parody.

“Changing My Major” – Fun Home
For everyone who caught this Tony-winning family drama at The Straz last season, you may remember this guffaw-inducing show-stopper from a sexually-revolutionized college-age protagonist. After meeting and falling for Joan, Alison allows their relationship to go to the next level. The following morning, she’s dizzy with the awakening of her womanhood. She does the only natural thing in a musical, which is to burst into song about her new love. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, last night!/I got so excited/I was too enthusiastic/Thank you for not laughing/Well, you laughed a little bit …” Alison makes the most important proclamation of any college freshman: she’s changing her major. To Joan. With a minor in kissing Joan.

“I Really Like Him” – Man of La Mancha
In our humble opinion, the most endearing aspect of this Don Quixote adaptation is the loyal, lovable sidekick Sancho Panza. And, as sidekick songs go, this number captures the inexplicable commitment of someone who hitched his wagon to a starry-eyed fool. Some Broadway buffs argue that Sancho is romantically in love with Quixote and this song reflects that devotion; others argue that “I Really Like Him” is about accepting the simple fact of unconditional love—it is what it is. No matter the interpretation, we all agree that “I Really Like Him” is sweet and absurd, very much like the Man of La Mancha himself. “Why do you follow him?” Aldonza asks Sancho. “Because,” he sings in replay, “I really like him/I don’t have a very good reason/Since I’ve been with him, cuckoo-nuts have been in season/…You can barbecue my nose, make a giblet of my toes/…Still I yell to the sky though I can’t tell you why/I like him.” If that’s love, it seems totally legit.

“Model Behavior” – Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown
Originally performed on Broadway by Tony-winner Laura Benanti (who was also here in a solo cabaret show last season, ICYMI), this Spanish-flamenco-salsa-inspired allegro features Candela (Benanti) leaving a series of increasingly panicked messages for her friend Pepa. The new boyfriend Candela picked up at a club and moved into her apartment may not be the squeaky-clean Romeo she wanted him to be. “But this one really is a mess. I think I’m gonna freak.” The song escalates as Candela’s frustration with Pepa never picking up the phone transfers to a memory of their friendship: “I know you say I’m an alarmist, but I’m not/Remember there’s that time I thought I saw a spider/But you said “nah, it’s a raisin,’ but it suddenly started moving and it crawled over and bit me on my toe/So if you’re gonna stand and judge me that’s how much you know/It’s a good thing I didn’t eat it.” The song is hysterically funny, revealing Candela’s mild paranoia about picking the wrong kinds of men and her need for her best friend, an underlying love story buried in the comedy of her predicament.

Living to Write their Stories

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By now, Hamilton’s meteoric rise from Broadway musical to cultural phenomenon fills many-a-page from magazine articles to blog posts to Instagram accounts. Its singular effect was solidified last year as the Kennedy Center decided to award the musical an unheard-of special Honors for being such a groundbreaking work of art.

What remains unfathomable – even more unfathomable than the runaway success of a based-on-a-true-story hip-hop musical set during American Colonialism – is that Hamilton achieved unprecedented fame and glory with so many fans who have never, to this day, actually seen the show.

What we have seen, or who we have seen, rather, has been much more of a public spectacle. In other words, though most of us will never claim to have seen them in Hamilton, the actors themselves launched from the Hamilton springboard into television, movies and other musicals, allowing us HamFans to cozy up with Netflix and say, “That’s King George!” or “Look, there’s Eliza Schuyler Hamilton!” Of course, we never say, “wow, that’s Alexander Hamilton!” since everybody knows and loves the LMM. Here, we look at what Lin-Manuel Miranda and other Hamilton cast members got up to after the big gig.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda
When he’s not busy saving the world, appearing everywhere all the time in his ubiquitous AmEx commercial and making hilarious appearances on Drunk History and talk shows around America, Lin-Manuel Miranda can be found starring in blockbuster Hollywood films (Mary Poppins Returns) or making headlines by reprising his lead role during a run of Hamilton in Puerto Rico. Wherever the winds of awesomeness blow LMM, he remains poised to change our lives forever with either an amazing freestyle rap or some random viral video leaves us breathless, basking in the glow of his infinite talent.

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Photo from Instagram: @moulinrougebdway

Karen Olivo
Raised in Bartow, Fla., Karen Olivo fell in with the LMM crowd during his first Broadway show In the Heights, when she played Vanessa. Olivo, who happened to spend quite some time at The Straz as a Florida State Thespian, won a Tony® as Anita in West Side Story, then entered the Hamilton scene as Angelica Schuyler in the Chicago run of the show. Her newest role is as Satine in the highly-anticipated, Broadway-bound musical version of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!

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Leslie Odom, Jr.
Perhaps you were one of the lucky ones who caught the original Aaron Burr, sir, at The Straz in his solo cabaret show? Leslie Odom, Jr. debuted on Broadway in RENT as a teenager, had his breakout role in Hamilton and now has a successful singing career as well as a motivational book, Failing Up, to inspire young readers. There’s also the oft-played Nationwide TV ad (“Nationwide is on your side”). If you watched Person of Interest or Law and Order: SVU, you saw Odom, Jr. in his pre-Hamilton years. He also had roles on Gilmore Girls, Grey’s Anatomy and The Good Wife as a well as starred alongside Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench in the recent remake of Murder on the Orient Express. Heads-up—Odom, Jr. is slated to start work on an ABC pilot TV show.

REG

Renee Elise Goldsberry
Some HamFans may have recognized the original Angelica Schuyler as Evangeline Williamson on the soap One Life to Live. Renee Elise Goldsberry, who portrayed both characters, also appeared on 43 episodes of Ally McBeal and now performs as a series regular on the Netflix series Altered Carbon. If you caught the end-of-summer movies, Goldsberry appeared in The House with a Clock in its Walls with Cate Blanchett and Jack Black. Goldsberry netted a Tony® for her role in Hamilton.

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Wayne Brady
Fans of Who’s Line is it Anyway? and Let’s Make a Deal who also happen to love Hamilton got their prayers answered when Wayne Brady joined the show as Aaron Burr in the Chicago run. Brady rocked the red thigh-highs as Lola in Kinky Boots a few seasons ago and debuted on Broadway as slippery lawyer Billy Flynn in Chicago.

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Daveed Diggs
Known for his role on Blackish, Daveed Diggs won a Tony® and Grammy® for his Broadway turn as Marquis DeLafayette/Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton. Last year, Diggs released Blindspotting, a film he wrote, directed and produced. Last week, the supernatural horror Velvet Buzzsaw premiered on Netflix, in which he appeared alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Toni Collette.

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Jordan Fisher
Disney Channel favorite and Dancing with the Stars winner Jordan Fisher performed with the magical LMM on the Moana soundtrack after completing his Ham stint in the roles of John Laurens/Philip Hamilton on Broadway. Fisher parlayed his DWTS championship into co-hosting Dancing with the Stars, Jr. alongside Frankie Muniz. Broadway fans were treated to Fisher in Fox’s recent production of RENT Live!

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Jose Rosario, Jr.
Our very own Tampa-born Jose Rosario, Jr. starred as Peter Schuyler/James Reynolds for a year and a half in the Chicago run of Hamilton. He also served as stand-by for Alexander Hamilton, performing the role many times. He headlined the Straz Center’s Broadway Ball last October.

Of course, many other great and talented musical theater actors stepped into the golden breeches and corsets of Hamilton roles, and surely more shall continue to do so. The show is a magnet for exceptional talent, and we are thrilled to present it this season.