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.

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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.

Stompin’ Around

Everybody, everywhere’s got rhythm.

African juba.
Irish jig.
American tap.
African-American step.
Indian Kathak.
Argentine malambo.

Gumboot, chancleta, Spanish flamenco, Cuban flamenco, trash percussion (think STOMP).

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Tap dancing at the Patel Conservatory. (Photo: Marc Edwards)

From all the varied, colorful corners of our endearing and often baffling human society, rhythm dances emerge, catch on like wildfire and become a common language amongst us. Tribes ensconced in the rainforests and isolated deserts of this great planet stomp their feet on the ground to make an infectious, intricate inlay of beats that form a hey-this-is-us dance communication. There’s Riverdance and fraternity and sorority step shows. As you read this article, somebody in our country clacks out a shuffle-ball-change and another somebody somewhere pounds their shoe sole in time to frog songs or train wheels or the sound of an unlocked shutter knocking the side of the house.

This universal need for stompin’ around, making cool sounds with our feet and having those sounds mean something about who we are is about as utilitarian as you can get when it comes to the performing arts. Humans love to clap our hands and stomp our feet, as you can see in three-year-olds no matter what skin tone, shape, size, economic status or line of longitude that little one occupies. We seem to be born to make percussive dance. We love it. Some of us love it so much we make careers out of it.

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In the United States, the blending of African juba, originally West African sacred gioube dance, and Irish jigs birthed tap but not right away. A uniquely American art form, tap emerged during a three-hundred-year cultural exchange between enslaved Africans and Irish indentured servants who found themselves imperiled in the Caribbean sugarcane fields together under British rule. For a century, the two cultures, each heavy with a musical and dance identity, borrowed steps, rhythms and cadences until they fashioned something extraordinary – a new art form on its way to the American South.

An interesting anecdote to this relationship between Africans and the Irish occurred in New York City on March 17, 1781. The St. Patrick’s Day Rebellion, which led to the burning of British symbols of rule, was led by the free African Caesar and the Irish dance master John Cory.

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Farruquito, “the greatest flamenco dancer of the century” (The New York Times), performs at The Straz on Feb. 13.

Another interesting anecdote is that Irishmen launched the first successful blackface minstrel shows that mixed Irish and African folkloric traditions for the public. Later, an African-American dancer of unsurpassed skill named William Henry Lane trounced the reigning Irish-American minstrel dancer John Diamond to become King of All Dancers. Lane’s loose body on top of exacting percussive technique pulled from clogging and jigging launched the earliest known form of American tap dance.

As ragtime morphed into jazz, so did Lane’s style evolve into a dance somewhat recognizable as tap and jazz dance. Broadway defined syncopated jazz tap with Shuffle Along (1921) although the metal taps had yet to make it to the bottoms of the shoes. Bill “Bojangles” Robinson created a craze with his hoofing and wooden-soled shoes, and “tap dance” started showing up on the list of classes in reputable dance studios. The metal taps appeared in the 1930s, when the form skyrocketed in popularity on stage and in the movies. By the end of the 1940s, American tap dance was a thing, a very important badge of identity that arrived as the result of cross-cultural pollination between Africa and the United Kingdom.

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Like the percussive dance forms that came before, tap dance is essentially a street dance of the people. Now influenced by hip-hop and reflecting an impressive ability for infusions of other cultures like Indian Kathka and bellydancing, tap continues to shape-shift as new dancers and new cultures add sugar and spice to the form. Even tap gets pulled into other percussive dance forms or gets reflected in the heel-steps of flamenco or chancleta dance (a Caribbean dance using wooden flip-flops). As tap’s reigning King of Dance, Savion Glover noted, “They all come from the street – tap, jazz and flamenco. And the streets are always changing. If it comes from the streets, change is the only thing that’s consistent.”

Percussive dance is cool in that way: although humans, in our many corners of this world, make these dances separately, we see ourselves in the stomped-out rhythms of others. As we change, we remain a recognizable rhythm; in our own ways, we become music playing our bodies and the earth as instruments.

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TAP DOGS, coming to The Straz March 29-31.

Feet Beat @ The Straz
Try tap for the first time or return to the form if you’ve been away for a minute. Our Adult Tap classes meet Tuesday at 6 p.m. and Thursday at 6:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. The lovable, super-talented Susan Downey teaches all three classes. To take in a percussive performance, get tickets to Farruquito, the greatest flamenco dancer in the world for Feb. 13 in Ferguson Hall and TAP DOGS in Morsani Hall March 29-31.

A Bill By Any Other Name Would Not Smell As Sweet

The Stratfordians. The Oxfordians. Baconians and Marlovians. What sounds like the breakout of Illuminati frat houses is actually something a lot stranger. These sects war over a secret at the root of possibly the greatest cover-up in literary history: that William Shakespeare was, in fact, not the great author William Shakespeare and the aristocracy of the time knew.

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Artwork by Gregory Newcomb for Jobsite Theater.

The genius poet who penned the definitive catalogue of Great Theatre and whose turns of phrase cycle through everyday parlance (“it’s Greek to me,” “love is blind,” “forever and a day”) may have been several men. Or, maybe, just one man: Christopher Marlowe, the famed Doctor Faustus playwright who allegedly died in a tavern after a squabble over the bill pitched him on the business end of a dagger.

This confounding “authorship question,” as it’s known, dates to the 1800s when Delia Bacon, an American woman ironically unrelated to Sir Francis Bacon, argued convincingly that the philosopher was the true author behind Shakespeare’s works. Baconians, ergo, side with Delia that Sir Francis is the real genius behind the folios and sonnets. Delia’s blasphemy on the subject of authorship attracted another great blasphemer of the time, Mark Twain. He gathered the thread of Sir Francis Bacon as the real writer as a lark, something else to poke fun at, until the evidence against William Shakespeare, a farm boy with a grammar school education, seemed to suggest that Delia wasn’t another cockamamie American out to discredit the motherland. In his book Is Shakespeare Dead?, Twain ultimately concludes he can’t prove who wrote the works of Shakespeare, but he is “quite composedly and contentedly sure that Shakespeare didn’t.”

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Portrait of Francis Bacon by Paul van Somer I, 1617.

These allegations against The Bard – the man of the age who dominated the cultural landscape and determined the standards of the Western world’s artistic achievements – would not stand. Stratfordians, those who believe William Shakespeare was the genius of Stratford-upon-Avon, sounded a volley shot, decrying the Baconians as American snobs barking on with no convincing evidence. But there was nothing the Stratfordians could do to heal the damage to Shakespeare’s reputation. The authorship question raised too many other puzzling issues.

How did a rural child with no formal education create such astounding works of classical references and symbolism? Why do no records exist of a Shakespeare from Stratford being paid to write (there are records of other paid writers)? In the death record, Shakespeare from Stratford is noted as a “gent,” not a “playwright” or “poet.” Even his death went unnoticed. In his cunning and often eye-rolling attempts to throw petrol on the ever-smoldering coals of who-really-wrote-Shakespeare, filmmaker Michael Rubbo for PBS’s FRONTLINE series took to the lanes of England to interrogate experts from all factions.

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Portrait of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. This 17th century work by an unknown artist is thought to be based on a lost work of 1575.

According to Rubbo’s documentary Much Ado About Something, the Oxfordians answer the riddles by arguing that the Earl of Oxford – a poet and playwright – hired the Stratford actor William Shakespeare to be the public face of his work. As an aristocrat, the kind who would have a refined, classical education and first-hand understanding of the nuances of social and political machinations, the Earl couldn’t tarnish his social standing by rolling around in the common muck of public theater. Shakespeare would have made the perfect front. However, Oxford died before Macbeth and The Tempest, so he definitely wasn’t the only author if he was any “Shakespeare” at all.

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A portrait, supposedly of Christopher Marlowe, by an unknown artist in 1585.

Where this authorship question gets a bit DaVinci Code happens in the Marlovian camp. Marlovians assert that poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe faked his own death in the tavern to escape torture by the British court’s gestapo-esque Star Chamber. The Star Chamber specialized in medieval torture techniques against anyone cited for sedition or heresy. Marlowe was both seditious and heretical. More than that, he was a spy for the Queen, and his benefactor happened to be the Queen’s spy master. A network of connections supplied a real dead body to be “Marlowe” while the writer was secreted away to Italy. There, Marlowe wrote in exile, his manuscripts smuggled into London to be copied over so no one would recognize the penmanship. A player and business partner of the theatrical company, someone named William Shakespeare, took the manuscripts public. To keep Marlowe alive, everyone kept their mouths shut and let the thing play itself out. The case for Marlowe carries a lot of weight except no one has yet to produce undeniable proof Marlowe lived after the alleged killing in the tavern.

And that’s a pretty big hole in the plot.

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Stratfordians contend that without definitive proof to close the case, Marlovians continue to weave unnecessary myths and legends about the man from Stratford who should get his due without aspersions thrown upon his accomplishments. The Shakespeare/Marlowe debate led to the creation of the Hoffman Prize by late writer Calvin Hoffman, whose bestselling book The Murder of the Man Who Was Shakespeare launched the modern case for Christopher Marlowe as the real author of works credited to William.

The prize, totaling one-half of the Hoffman’s substantial trust fund, goes to any scholar who offers “incontrovertible proof” that Marlowe was the real Shakespeare.

So far, no scholar has yet to proffer the definitive evidence.

Whether you be Baconian, Stratfordian, Marlovian or Oxfordian, you are welcome to Jobsite Theater’s productions of Shakespearian works. Othello is on stage now – Feb. 9 and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) [revised] runs March 13 – April 7 in the Shimberg Playhouse. For more of The Bard, catch the Tampa Bay Symphony performing Brush Up Your Shakespeare Feb. 24 in Ferguson Hall.

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You Know This Wise Guy

Chazz Palminteri took a moment of his childhood and parlayed it into the cultural phenomenon known as A Bronx Tale. We’ve seen him in The Usual Suspects, Bullets Over Broadway, Analyze This and as a cop, mobster or some form of tough guy in a ton of other film and TV roles. We caught up with Chazz on the phone in December to interview him for the “Behind the Persona” feature of INSIDE magazine and talk about the musical adaptation of A Bronx Tale coming to The Straz Jan. 29. [Note: Chazz isn’t in the musical but he did write the book and DeNiro directed.] During the conversation, we uncovered what he thinks is the greatest acting work he’s ever done—which happens to be a little film that not many people know about. And, shockingly, it’s not A Bronx Tale.

We published the whole interview on Act2, our official podcast, this week, and we’d love for you to hear the wealth of stories Chazz brought to the conversation.

For this blog, though, we’re going rogue. We’re going first person.

Chazz Palminteri in A Bronx Tale on Broadway. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Hello, Strazzers. Marlowe Moore here, the senior writer for The Straz and normally the anonymous voice of this blog on behalf of our favorite performing arts center. I decided to step out from the fourth wall on this occasion because my conversation with Chazz revealed the kind of tales and insights that performing arts nerds like myself die a thousand deaths to know.

With Chazz, I died two thousand deaths—first, when he shared the anecdote about the time Arthur Miller (Death of Salesman, The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, husband of Marilyn Monroe and my personal writing hero) gave him writing advice; second, when he disclosed that he believes his greatest acting work was his role as the father in Dito Montiel’s shattering and extraordinary film, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.

Chazz in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.

In 2014, I met Dito Montiel at the Sanibel Island Writers’ Conference, which, by the way, happens to be one of the dopest writing conferences in the country. I went, not because I am dope but because I am frugal. SIWC is also in the sweet spot budget-wise for nonprofit mavens like myself. If you’re a writer, a dope person or frugal, you should check it out.

I had no idea who Dito Montiel was, but screenplay writing happens to be my favorite form, and Dito was slated to talk about how he managed to land A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints in Hollywood. I found a seat in the small classroom, then a shaved-head, thick-shouldered New Yorker ambled through the door, taking a small space on the side of the room. “Hey, everybody. I’m Dito,” he said. “I’m not really sure I’m qualified to give this workshop, but here goes.”

Dito and Dwayne Johnson filming Empire State.

Often gazing at his shoes or shifting his eyes toward the doors and windows, Dito unfolded his life story. A kid in Queens. A bad neighborhood. A best friend. An affront by a rival gang member. A baseball bat.

Dito got out. He wrote. He played music. He kept his head down after his boy got a life sentence and found a way to Los Angeles. But he lived with the ghosts. To make peace with them, he doodled a graphic memoir during a day job in an audio lab. He titled it A Picture Guide of Saints.

“This is really good,” a friend told him. “Hey, did I ever tell you I know Robert Downey, Jr? Bob? I think I could get this to him. This is the kind of weird shit he loves.”

The doodles made it to Bob. Bob made it to Dito. They became friends. In 2001, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Dito’s memoir of his friends in Astoria, gets published. In 2006, RDJ—along with Sting and Trudie Styler—produce the film.

“A lot of it was luck,” Dito told us during the workshop. “Bob and I are weird in the same way. It just worked out. I didn’t even know how to write a screenplay. I thought the ‘EXT’ for exterior shot meant ‘exit’ like the character was leaving the scene. I didn’t know. But I wrote the screenplay. I directed it. Things went from there.”

I realized at the end of the workshop that Dito Montiel is, by nature, a shy guy. I don’t believe he meant for the big take-away for screenwriters to be “hope you know a random person who knows Robert Downey, Jr.” Although, I do believe that’s probably honest writing advice. I think he wanted with his whole heart for his story to be known because he had—in his heart—a debt to pay to a friend he loved. In the weird way stories work, it found its way because Dito wouldn’t give up on it.

If you know anything at all about Chazz Palminteri and how Robert DeNiro ended up making A Bronx Tale into a film, you’ll understand why Chazz fell in love with A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.

After the conference, I went home and checked out A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints from the public library. I was expecting the typical Mean Streets tropes, but this movie is different.

In the film, Robert Downey plays the adult Montiel with Shia LaBoeuf playing the younger Montiel in Queens during the flashback sequences. Antonio, Montiel’s best friend who ends up with life in prison, is played by Eric Roberts, whose acting in this film is The Pope of Greenwich Village-level. Just stellar. The young Antonio acting opposite LaBoeuf? Channing Tatum. Tatum, whose performance skills I’d just studied intensely in multiple viewings of Magic Mike and knew from his work in the Step Up franchise, changed my life. The fact that he can take himself to the place he had to go to for A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints makes me even angrier about Jupiter Ascending. Nobody better talk junk to me about Channing Tatum’s acting skills. Nobody. We just need Dito directing every time I guess.

Dito’s foil, his antagonist, his god and his oppressor take the form of his emotionally complex father Monty, played by Chazz. “I’ve done 60 movies,” Chazz told me, “and A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is one of my favorite all-time movies. I think it’s probably my best performance,” Chazz told me.

Hands-down I think it’s Palminteri’s best performance, and I believe his work as Sonny in A Bronx Tale is so sublime his gestures alone should win an Oscar. But what he does as Monty is whatever actors do when they go to that place beyond performing. When Monty enters the scene, my heart races, my blood pressure spikes, I feel so much loss for Dito that I can barely keep my seat.

The film conjures the thing we never talk about when we talk about tough guys, when we glorify their violence in films: that boys get sucked into a world that buries love in anger so thoroughly that, as men, they cannot function for their confusion about how to care for themselves and the people they love. “At the end of the film,” Chazz said, “when my voiceover is talking about, ‘Don’t worry, Dito. Antonio didn’t have anybody [to care for him]…’ Oh. I think about it even now, and I can cry.”

Which is precisely what I did at the moment Chazz refers to here. For reasons I still struggle to articulate, my natural reaction to the conclusion of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints was to run in the bathroom, shut the door, fall on the floor and bawl. I lived alone at the time, so I had no reason to do any of those things. I could have cried in bed, but I was running from or to something that I needed to experience privately despite the fact that I was already alone; I don’t know. Dito—and Chan, and Bob, and Chazz and Shia—made me look at something so deeply sad about men trying to love in their culture of violence and being oblivious to the fact that they were trying to love at all that stayed with me all this time. There is something about men’s love and the debts they feel towards each other that I don’t understand. Dito’s story cracked some understanding inside of me, and I believe that’s what art is for, why we doodle our ghosts into existence. I consider myself profoundly lucky to have had a few moments to talk about it with someone in the film.

Please see Chazz in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. Then check out the interview with him on the podcast. And see A Bronx Tale the musical. Chazz promised you’ll love it.

Thrilling new Jaeb show asks: What would you do if you only had a Hundred Days with the love of your life?

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Let’s say one morning you hustle into your favorite coffee shop, order your regular, and as you’re dawdling by the pick-up counter, you happen to make eye contact with someone at the high-top in the corner who happened to look up the same time you did. An exchange occurs in that moment: you capture each other, an undeniable knowing that you are supposed to be together passes between you. You brave the unknown; you travel the 8,000 miles across the coffee shop to speak. A conversation leads to a date that leads to a long weekend where you wake up Tuesday to discover yourself in love.

You become that skipping, smiling, whistling, happy happy joy joy supernova of a besotted lump experiencing what it feels like to be the most favored in the universe. Nothing could throw a hitch in your skip.

But news arrives you didn’t expect – a diagnosis, a deployment, something that sets your time together against the clock. You found the love of your life, yes. But, you’ll only have one hundred days with that person.

Three and a half months.

How would you choose to live each and every one of those days? So goes the premise of Abigail and Shaun Bengson’s autobiographical punk-folk-indie-rock-electronica blues show, Hundred Days, which runs in the Jaeb Theater Jan. 15 – March 24.

Hundred Days New York Theatre Workshop

The show, which reveals their love-at-first-sight story and the crazy events that followed, does so through a rock concert structure, almost like a reverse musical.

Hundred Days is a concert that tells a story – a very personal, very extraordinary, very funny story about the make-or-break need to become vulnerable if you want to make love stay.

Professional singer-songwriters, the Bengsons wrote all the songs for show, pulling from their favorite theatrical forms to get Hundred Days exactly where they wanted it to be: leaving audiences wishing the show itself lasted at least as long. The show has been a huge hit in New York and San Diego, where it ran before the Bengsons packed up their guitars and drums and headed to Tampa.

Our INSIDE magazine caught up with Abigail and Shaun during their opening weekend at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego to talk about Hundred Days, family life and their upcoming Florida debut at The Straz.

 

INSIDE MAGAZINE: Tell us a little bit about this show. It’s a departure from the traditional musicals we normally have at The Straz and it’s not a jukebox musical or a concert. What is it?

ABIGAIL AND SHAUN: It’s true that Hundred Days is not your standard musical theater fare. We started out as musicians and moved into the world of writing for theater because of our passion for telling stories and the ability theater has to bring people together for big moments of shared emotional catharsis. So, our music pulls from a wide variety of genres that inspire us, like folk, punk, indie rock, blues and electronica. We also pull from a lot of different theatrical styles when it comes to building the structure and form for the stories we want to tell, including folklore storytelling, documentary, concert and stand-up comedy. Our core collaborators Sarah Gancher, Anne Kauffman and Sonya Tayeh have also been hugely instrumental in creating this new, music-theater hybrid. They helped us push the form and the sound as well as weaving in more traditional theatricality throughout our work. And really, the truth is, even with all of the ways in which we are trying to break the mold, at its core, Hundred Days is a story told through music just like any other piece of musical theater! It’s all in the service of building an emotionally compelling story that we hope will resonate with our audiences.

IM: How “true“ is the “based on a true story” part of Hundred Days?

A&S: It is embarrassingly true! We really did have our first date, then three weeks later, we were hitched. Something about the moment of our falling for each other shattered any illusions of youthful invulnerability we had, made us realize the pain of placing so much of our hearts into such a fragile vessel. Some details and events are changed in the show in order to fit it all into 90 minutes, but any change that we made was designed so that the show would better convey what it felt like to go through that time – the joys and the terrors that we felt. There is a scene in the show that is an actual transcription of a conversation we had. It’s in there in all its glory and its humiliation.

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Photo from Instagram: @hundreddaysny

IM: You all spend a lot of time together. What’s your secret to staying a happy, healthy and productive family?

A&S: Yes, we do spend a whole lot of time together. We’ve actually really worked for many years to be able to build a life in which we could be together as much as we can possibly be. It is truly the blessing and the joy of life that we get to. This is the exact opposite of how we’ve handled pretty much every other relationship in our lives. We’re both huge introverts and usually need a great deal of personal space. But, it’s just not like that with each other. There is certainly a lot that we needed to figure out in terms of combining and balancing family and work and it’s a daily practice to try and get it right. Finding that balance has become even more true since the birth of our son two years ago. We really thought we were already operating at full capacity, but, man, we can’t believe how many plates we have to spin at once trying to keep the art going and raise our boy in a way we feel good about. If there is any secret at all, it’s being as open and honest with each other as we can, trying always to talk things through, really working to try and hear and support each other. That can be easier said than done, but it really does come down to that for us.

IM: Share some of your musical influences and mentors … how do you create the Bengson “sound“ in this show?

A&S: We grew up listening to all sorts of music and we hope that it comes through when you listen to our tunes. We’ve been writing this show for more than a decade, and you can hear a lot of the different styles of music that we’ve been writing and listening to from over that time. The core of our music is really all about folk, both American folk music as well as from places all over. We grew up listening to a lot of ‘60’s folkies like Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Odetta and Ewan MacColl. There’s a lot of music being made right now that inspires us a lot too that draws on that folk tradition – Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsom, Sharon Van Etten. We also really love it when that folk sound meets punk music (The Pogues, Gogol Bordello, Flogging Molly). We are also huge fans of big vocalists and singers from Motown, soul, and Latin music like Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Caetano Veloso. The newest elements that we have loved playing with is using big heavy electronic beats and playing with interesting electronic sounds and textures like The Flaming Lips, Björk, Kanye, James Blake. Everyone onstage in Hundred Days plays an instrument and sings, so this blend of acoustic and electronic elements with a big choral sound is what this show is about for us.

IM: Hundred Days is the kind of show that really touches the heart. Do you often have audience members sharing stories with you? Would you mind sharing one or two touching moments you’ve had with fans?

A&S: We have heard a lot of sweet stories from people! Our favorite thing is getting to hear stories from both the brand-new young couples in the house as well as from couples who have been together 50-60 years. There was one older couple in their 80s who were sitting beside our associate director, Caitlin Sullivan, and she couldn’t honestly tell what they were thinking about the show. But, as they were leaving, she heard the woman say, “That is exactly what it felt like to be young and in love. That is just what I remember.” That really meant a lot to us.

IM: What do you hope audiences will get out of this show?

A&S: In many ways, these are frightening and confusing times we are living through. We find that it’s easy to get beaten down, to numb yourself out, to give up. This show is about the power of fear and the ease with which it can prevent us from living. This show is our way of continuing to challenge ourselves to love and to live and to not give in even when the stakes feel insurmountable. And also – we hope everyone will enjoy the awesome music and hilarious jokes.

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In the studio recording the cast album. Photo from Instagram: @hundreddaysny.

A Note to Fans from Abigail and Shaun:
If anyone is curious to hear the music before the show, we just released the official cast album. You can find it on iTunes, Spotify, wherever you go for your music. We worked hard on it, and we are proud to get it out there and share it with folks. We are so honored to get to be coming to Tampa, to be welcomed into this theater and this community. We are looking forward to meeting all of you!