Next Big Thing: Evan Tyrone Martin

The young Chicago-based singer-actor appears in the Jaeb Theater for his acclaimed holiday concert—and guess what? His mom lives in Tampa and will be at every show. If you want to be there, you better get tickets soon because they’re hotter than chestnuts in an open fire right now.

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The Straz Center often has artists at the cusp of breaking out in their careers, like the time we hosted Jon Batiste and Stay Human (who?) only months before they landed their gig as Stephen Colbert’s house band (oh, them!). We have another of those acts lined up for a Christmas show as part of our cabaret series—Evan Tyrone Martin, whose show An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas strikes a perfect holiday harmony of golden-age nostalgia and youthful earnestness.

We caught up with Evan on the phone just a few days before the show started its holiday tour, which lands in the Jaeb this Thursday for five performances through the weekend.

The show originated last year, playing to packed audiences in St. Louis. The success of the show encouraged the producers to put Evan on the road the subsequent holiday season, and here we are.

“This is the first opportunity that I’ve had to tour with something that is my own, that actually features me,” says Evan, whose extensive performance career in Chicago included everyone from Jesus to King Triton. “Producers Michael and Angela Ingersoll had been looking for a new kind of show for Artists Lounge Live. Because they do so many iconic singers, they had been thinking about Nat King Cole for a little while. And they were kind of nervous about trying to find someone who could take on that particular catalog. It’s a very specific voice. It’s one that everybody holds near and dear. If you meet someone, they know about Nat King Cole and are probably a fan. If you hear a bad version of ‘The Christmas Song’ … it kind of angers you, you know?”

Evan, however, had an ace up his sleeve about landing the gig even though he himself didn’t know he was being considered to take on Nat King Cole for Artists Lounge Live. “They [the Ingersolls] called me and said, “We heard that you sound a little like Nat King Cole. Are you familiar with his catalog?” And I just about fell out of my chair because I grew up listening to Nat King Cole. He was one of my grandmother’s favorite artists.” Evan, who’d come to the Ingersoll’s attention by way of a music director who worked with him and the Ingersolls for separate projects, submitted a clip of “Smile” and was on contract by the end of the evening.

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Evan performing in HAIR. (Photo: Brett A. Beiner)

Although—as you’ll see at the show—Evan not only sounds like Nat King Cole, he also looks like Nat King Cole. An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas is not about Evan impersonating the great singer, however. The show is Evan taking us through a musical memoir of sorts, balancing Cole’s songs with his own family stories. “My goal was to hearken back to him as much as possible in the way that I present his music, the way that I sound, the way that I move, so that people felt as though they were at one of his concerts,” Evan says. “Throughout the concert, they could not only get to know a little bit more about him through me talking about his life, but they could get to know a little bit more about me because our trajectories, as far as music and performance, are kind of similar. We kind of had similar upbringings.”

Evan’s grandmother passed away while he was in high school, so she never got to see her grandson step into the legacy of her favorite singer. For Evan, though, performing the songs of someone so important to the greater Martin family helps him stay connected to his grandmother and others. “[Performing this show] brings me a little bit of joy to be able to hearken back. Both of my grandmothers taught me so much about music and all of it. And, my dad, who I actually recently lost this year,” he says “I’m able to hearken back and pay tribute to all of those people who taught me so much about performance. And they were non-professional performers, for the most part. But, I’m able to tie them into the show that would have meant so much to all of us and weave them into the fabric of the show. It means so much to me. I get to sing a song to and for my grandmother every time we do the show.”

“There’s something that changes in a singer’s voice and presence when there’s such an emotional connection to the music,” Evan says. “You can love a song, but when you feel as though you are literally connected to a song, that takes it to an entire different level in your performance and in the way that people feel it. I think that the fact that I can feel my family with me on stage and can dedicate certain songs to them specifically, I think that makes the connection just that much deeper and richer for both myself and the audience.”

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Evan’s mother, herself a singer and Tampanian, plans to be at each of the five shows. “She’s putting together a cabaret show, knee-deep working on it now. She joined a couple bands in Tampa but moved to Alabama to take care of some family. [She’s back in Tampa now] so she really does just want to get back into seeing what’s possible. I’m excited to have her in the audience and maybe, maybe I can convince her to get up on stage one of those times,” he laughs.

To see An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas starring Evan Tyrone Martin (and maybe his mom), get your tickets for any seats still available this weekend.

 

 

Jane Lynch Launches Holiday Performance Season @Straz

The merry, mighty and mighty merry Jane Lynch (Glee, Hollywood Game Night) saunters into the Jaeb Theater this weekend for a retro-Christmas cabaret concert featuring her pals Kate Flannery (Meredith on The Office) and the dashing Tim Davis. Caught in the Act caught up with Jane on the phone recently to get the buzz about her show A Swingin’ Little Christmas.

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Tim Davis, Jane Lynch and Kate Flannery star in A Swingin’ Little Christmas.

Caught in the Act: Hi, Jane. We can’t wait for you to get down here to Tampa.

Jane Lynch: Me too! I’m so thrilled. Can’t wait.

CITA: We can’t wait either and you’re gonna be in the best space, too. Wait until you to see the cabaret space that we have. You’re gonna love it.

JL: Great!

CITA: Let’s talk about you growing up and then we’ll head into the A Swingin’ Little Christmas show which we’re so excited about. So, at what point in your life did you figure out that you were funny?

JL: It wasn’t like a startling revelation, and it wasn’t something that I would proudly say, “I’m funny.” But I love to laugh. I have spent my life finding the funny in any situation—it’s never too soon for me. And although I might not say it publicly, inside I’ll always have a joke about something, just horrible. Ironically, that puts it in a place … you can have a good belly laugh. It’s a gift I was born with. My family is the exact same way. We are always miming things for the irony and not gut laughs, a lot of it is always smirky kind of laughs—like little funny laughs. But that’s kind of where I come from and I am on a relentless search for the funny in a situation. It’s a very, very satisfying path.

Jane and her sister. (Photos from Instagram: @janelynchofficial)

CITA: You had two siblings, right? You grew up south of Chicago … did you have an older sister and a younger brother?

JL: Yes.

CITA: What were the three of you like growing up? Were you cutting up? Were you giving your parents all kinds of fits? Were you testing out material?

JL: Well my brother and I had very much the same sense of humor—he’s two years younger than I am. My sister was a little apart from that … she could laugh but she was driven, from almost the moment she was born, to leave our family and start her own. She loves kids. She loves … you know, she’s a stellar teacher. But my brother and I certainly shared a lot of laughs growing up. We watched television together, we would re-enact scenes and, yeah, we loved it.

My parents loved to sing. My parents were really funny, too, but they loved to sit around the kitchen table after dinner and sing. I would join them after a while. My sister would roll her eyes and go to bed and my brother too. But I loved doing that.

CITA: Did they play instruments? Did somebody play the piano or you would just sit around and sing songs?

JL: No, it was all a capella. We loved musicals, and my father was a great harmonizer and my mother loved to sing. They knew all the songs from the musicals—all the songs from their day, which would was in the late 40’s, early 50’s. That’s how I fell in love with that music, like Glenn Miller and we wouldn’t sing that of course because that’s instrumental, but Bing Crosby and Perry Como. Rosemary Clooney. My mother could sound and looked a lot like Rosemary Clooney. Yeah, so we had a great musical education growing up. I didn’t know it was an education, I just knew it was really great music, and I got to sing it with them. But nobody’s musical. My brother plays the piano. But it’s not like we were pulling out our instruments like the Partridge Family or anything like that.

Jane’s family at Christmas. (Photos from Instagram: @janelynchofficial)

JL: Sometimes we’d put on a record and sing with the record but when we were at the kitchen table and my parents had a couple of whiskey’s in them, then we would be singing together. It was so much fun.

CITA: We love that story. So, alright, when you guys had your Christmas holiday, did you have albums that you would listen to as a family?

JL: Yes. In fact, we listened to the same stuff Christmas after Christmas, and they were usually compilations like … Firestone used to put out a compilation every year of pop singers doing Christmas songs and choirs as well. So, you’d have a combination of Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, Rosemary Clooney and then some choir that did some beautiful devotional hymn. Every once in a while, I’ll hear one of those cuts on the radio for Christmas music and it just brings me back.

CITA: Yes. We had Johnny Mathis and Doris Day. One note of Johnny Mathis and we go right back.

JL: Yep, I hear you. Yeah, that’s good Christmas music.

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CITA: Now we have a lot of audience here in Tampa for you, and they’ll know you mostly as Sue Sylvester from Glee. Which won’t make them different from many of your other audiences probably, but there’s a big jump from Sue Sylvester to Jane Lynch in A Swingin’ Little Christmas. So, can you just help us make this mental leap so that nobody shows up thinking it’s Sue Sylvester’s Swingin’ Little Christmas?

JL: Oh, I think they’ll adjust pretty quickly. I don’t think there’s much of an attitude adjustment. But let me tell you, though. You know Kate Flannery who was Meredith—the drunk in The Office?

CITA: Yes.

JL: She’s my very good friend, and we’ve been singing together on and off for decades. We’ve been doing sketch comedies together, and every time we would do a sketch comedy show—which was almost every night when we were coming up—we would do a song. We harmonize very well together and we have a lot of fun together. So, I enlisted here to sing with me. As soon as The Office ended, Glee ended around the same time, and I said, “Let’s hit the road.” So, we hit the road with this wonderful five-piece band and the Christmas album came out of that collaboration. The Christmas show came out of that as well.

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So it’s basically A Swingin’ Little Christmas which is the album. You can get it on Amazon or iTunes. And also we’ll be selling them at the show… we’ll sign them for you. And we’re doing all of that music and it’s the late 50’s- you’re gonna love this. The late 50’s, early 60’s. Some of it’s full orchestra on the album of course; we’re only traveling with a quintet and the rest of it is a five-piece jazz stuff. We got like a Dave Brubeck [style] “Three Kings of Orient.” We’ve got a Louis Prima King Wenceslas song, so we’re all over the place. It’ll remind you of the Christmas albums you grew up with—a lot of those arrangements.

It’s going to ring true to where most of the Christmas music that endures, are songs recorded in the late 50’s or early 60’s—the Rosemary Clooney’s and the Bing Crosby’s and the Perry Como’s. We’re very much in that ilk.

CITA: Oh, we cannot wait. How much fun is this show for you, really?

JL: It’s the best! You know, we haven’t done the show since Christmas last year and we just love it. Kate and I have our shenanigans together. She’s very much a wild card and spontaneous. I’m very precise and a little bit anal retentive. It really works well within a comedy. And Tim is like our Lyle Waggoner- I don’t know if you’ll remember the Carol Burnett show? If you remember Lyle Waggoner, he was the very handsome guy who just stood there and laughed at the ladies and he’s got an amazing voice. He was the vocal arranger on Glee, so all of our songs were vocally arranged by him with some real tight three part harmonies.

CITA: Yes. Okay, so if we have not communicated how excited we are about this show, let us just reiterate. Kate Flannery is hysterical. How did you all meet each other? Were you Second City players together?

JL: Yeah. We met at the Audience Theater, which is this crazy theater that’s still around, that does wild kind of rebellious improv shows. We met doing the Real Life Brady Bunch where we did actual episodes of the Brady Bunch dressed up like the characters and it became kind of a cult hit. We traveled all over the country with it. We ended up at the Village Gate in New York for about four or five months. We bonded there and then we went onto L.A. When we all got to L.A., we did sketch comedy shows and we were going to have a theater for a month so we put together a crazy little improv-based show. Kate and I would usually do a song almost every show. So, we’ve known each other… we’ve been swimming in the same pond for probably 30 years.

CITA: That’s fantastic. Maybe this isn’t going to make any sense to you, but you and Kate are sometimes so funny we can’t laugh. You both say things in a way that’s so funny, we can’t even laugh at it. Like ninja humor. And you both have that. We can’t imagine you both onstage at the same time.

JL: Thank you. I think you’re gonna love it.

Kate and Jane. (Photos from Instagram: @janelynchofficial)

CITA: Yeah, there’s no doubt in my mind. So, you talk about Carol Burnett who I know is a huge hero, heroine to you, and you all got to perform together on Glee. One of our favorite recent things that Carol has done is when she went on Jimmy Fallon and she was teaching him her tricks for how she wouldn’t crack. And she would bite her knuckle so hard that the pain would help her keep from cracking.

JL: [laughing] Understood.

CITA: We were thinking about you and all the films that you’ve been in and how funny you are and all of these hysterical people that you have been in shows with, and how do you… how do you not crack? And when you’re on a stage with Kate, how are y’all not cracking each other up all the time?

JL: Well when I am tempted to crack up I just start saying the Hail Mary, internally. “Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee…” I just do the Hail Mary really fast, so I can get my focus on something else.

CITA: Are you good at keeping it straight?

JL: I am pretty good at it. I will give myself that. But you know, sometimes, you just can’t help it with Kate. And also, I do … I’ll crack up right in her face sometimes. I mean, it’s that kind of show. I’m allowed.

Listen to part of Jane’s interview on our podcast, Act2.

See Jane crack up in A Swingin’ Little Christmas in the Jaeb Theater this weekend, Dec. 8 and 9.

Superstar Tiler Peck Shines as Our Sugar Plum Fairy

Huge news for dance fans: the one and only Tiler Peck bourrés into Next Generation Ballet’s Nutcracker this holiday season with partner Tyler Angle as her Cavalier.

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Tiler Peck in George Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas De Deux. (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

One of the many benefits of having a retired New York City Ballet principal dancer as the artistic director of our pre-professional ballet company is the talent he lands for our annual Nutcracker. Last year, Philip Neal treated us to Sara Mearns and Patricia Delgado alternately performing the role of Sugar Plum Fairy. This holiday season, he offers the gift of a performance by Tiler Peck, dancer extraordinaire, who is arguably at the height of her phenomenal career. Peck started dancing at two years old in her mother’s California studio. Under private tutelage of former Bolshoi and NYCB dancers between the ages of 7-12, Peck’s rigorous classical training led to a spot in the School of American Ballet, the official school of NYCB. She started an apprenticeship with NYCB in 2004, earning promotions within the company until she attained the highest rank of principal dancer in 2009.

Caught in the Act caught up with Tiler via email to talk about dance and her upcoming performance in the role of Sugar Plum Fairy for Next Generation Ballet’s Nutcracker, Dec. 21-23.

Caught in the Act: Tell us a little bit about how long you’ve known Philip Neal and what it was like working together at NYCB. Was there any sort of “defining moment” where you knew you and Philip would always stay connected professionally?

Tiler Peck: Philip was a principal dancer when I joined the company 14 years ago at the age of 15. He was always extremely professional, and I was aware that many of the men looked up to him as a role model. He made it a point to make the younger dancers feel welcome and was always kind to me. I remember feeling very honored to be picked to dance Who Cares? in his retirement, not with him, but as a tribute to him – to showcase the wide range and variety of roles he danced during his wonderful career with NYCB.

CITA: You’re a superstar in the dance world, with Broadway credits (On the Town, The Music Man) and the Kennedy Center’s show Little Dancer, plus a slew of viral videos including the classical ballet/hip hop mashup you did with Lil Buck and Prime Tyme at Vail International Dance Festival. Because of your versatility and visibility, you’re a real role model to a lot of young dancers who get to see a principal ballerina pretty much do what she wants versus stay in the classical rep. What are you learning along your career path that you’d love to share about a dance career with young dancers who are watching you?

TP: I have learned that I owe so much to the versatility of my training. I grew up in Bakersfield, Calif. taking jazz, lyrical, contemporary, tap, hip hop, among others and I think every style has influenced and helped me become the ballerina I am today. I think it is important to be well rounded as a dancer because it opens many more doors and opportunities. So, I would tell younger dancers to always stay curious and have a willingness to want to learn multiple styles as I think it only helps one grow as an artist.

CITA: You also have film credits – two standouts being your role as “Beth Farmer” in the Sparkle Motion dance sequence in cult classic Donnie Darko and in the peerless 2010 dance film NY EXPORT: OPUS JAZZ. Do you have a preference between dancing for film or live performance? In what ways do you have to alter your performance for film, and how to you keep performing “for the first time” take after take after take? Any upcoming film performances we can anticipate?

TP: I don’t think there is anything more thrilling than watching or performing live; there is something so exhilarating in live performance that just cannot be matched! Even if I watch a performance from the previous evening on film the next day, it never has the same feeling that it did when I was dancing it. There is definitely something that gets lost when translating live performance to film. Regarding film projects, my documentary was just released in July on Hulu so you should definitely go check out Ballet Now produced by Elisabeth Moss.

CITA: Sugar Plum Fairy is such a traditional, iconic role. How do you make her “yours,” or do you feel like this is a role that makes you “hers”? Will you tell us about the first time you ever performed the role – how old were you, when was it, and how did you feel about stepping into the role the first time professionally?

TP: The Nutcracker has a special place in my heart because it was the first thing I saw the New York City Ballet perform and what made me want to be a ballerina with NYCB. My parents took me to see The Nutcracker at NYCB when I was 11 years old in New York performing in The Music Man on Broadway. I turned to my father and said “Daddy, I am going to dance on that stage someday!” So, to be able to dance a role now that made me want to be a ballerina feels very special. Personally, the holidays are my favorite time of the year, and I just love sharing the stage with children and spreading a little Christmas magic to everyone who sees the ballet.

CITA: We are truly so excited to have you here for our Nutcracker this year. What are you most looking forward to about your trip to Tampa and your work with Philip’s NGB dancers?

TP: I am really looking forward to being reunited with Philip and getting to share the stage with his students. I know that Philip was a huge mentor to my partner Tyler Angle, and Tyler is my favorite person to dance with (in fact, we are known as Tsquared or TNT) so it’s going to one big love fest in Tampa! We cannot wait!

Make Sure Your Tix are Legit

Conventional wisdom holds that if you say something three times you’ll remember it. The safest, most affordable tickets to Straz Center shows come from only one place:
“Strazcenter.org”
“Strazcenter.org”
“Strazcenter.org”

Hamilton

Shoba Narayan, Ta’Rea Campbell and Nyla Sostre in the HAMILTON National Tour. (Photo: Joan Marcus 2018)

With sold-out season ticket packages for the huge Broadway season ahead featuring a four-week run of Hamilton, we’re trying to get you the best information about single tickets before scam artists with fakes find you first.

People, this thing about our upcoming season and ticket buying is serious.

You may hear the thundering approach of a particularly revolutionary Broadway blockbuster.

But – there are hundreds of other people who hear cha-chinging cash registers racking up your credit cards with fake tickets.

Scams everywhere

Those people have already set up websites that look like they sell Hamilton and other Broadway tickets to Straz shows. However, they’re either lying and the tickets aren’t real, or they managed to buy season tickets from us and now they’re going to jack up the prices 500% and illegally sell our tickets to you. Another problem is that those illegal seats are often sold several times. If you don’t buy through us, we usually have no way of knowing whose tickets are legit, and we have no way of helping you get your money back.

So, the best choice you can make is the best choice you’ve always had: buy straight from strazcenter.org or our Ticket Sales Office (813.229.7827). We also invite you to come to the Ticket Sales Office in person so we can meet you and give you good, old-fashioned, face-to-face exceptional customer service. The bottom line is that we need you all to be extra vigilant this year and help us spread the word that 1) tickets are going to be more difficult to come by for all Broadway shows on the regular season because we have so many new season ticket holders and 2) predatory scalper schemes will be on the rise.

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We can learn a lesson from the folks in Los Angeles who posted their Ham tix on Facebook, only to have some very crafty people lift the barcode from the pictures and create counterfeit tickets they then sold online at exorbitant cost. If you don’t buy directly from us, there’s no way to prove the seats are yours if there has been a double sell – even if you believe you bought them fair and square. Trust us, this happens even during seasons when we don’t have the cultural phenomenon of our time, so please stay away from ticket brokers, scalpers or any source other than strazcenter.org or our Ticket Sales Office.

Hamilton has permeated pop culture, and no other show has done that, at least not off the bat. Theater people were excited about Wicked or The Phantom of the Opera. Everyone’s excited about Hamilton,” says Vice President of Marketing Summer Bohnenkamp. “There’s been a 68% increase in the number of season tickets we’ve sold since last season. That’s exciting for a number of reasons. We’ve never seen a jump like that in the 18 years I’ve been working on Broadway shows. The closest was the first time The Lion King came, which was about a 20% increase. The challenge for people wanting to buy single tickets, though, is that all of the inventory is now very limited. So, if you want to buy a ticket to, say, Hello, Dolly! or A Bronx Tale, there will be limited seats available because we have thousands and thousands of new season ticket holders.”

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If you’re not a season ticket holder and you still want good odds at seats to our shows, the best bet is to become an annual donor to The Straz. By doing so, you get priority access for single tickets, which means you get the chance to buy tickets to most shows before they go on sale to the public. Give our Development Department a call for more information.

“The inventory is still limited, but at least you’ll have early access to that inventory,” says Bohnenkamp. “Buy when the tickets go on sale. I know we’ve been saying ‘don’t wait,’ but we really mean it. We’ve been saying it for a reason, and that’s so you don’t walk away disappointed. We want everyone who wants to see a show here to be able to see that show. This year is going to be a little bit harder. Remember – don’t search for tickets online because the paid ticket broker ads show up first, not the real Straz. Just type in strazcenter.org.”

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In addition to the regular Broadway season, we offer a boutique collection of Broadway encores not on the subscription season. Thus, these shows have many more seats available. If you want to grab dinner and a show without confronting the Hamilton effect, you’ll have some super choices throughout the year. “We’ve got the new tour of Les Mis which is gorgeous, and it will be here for a week,” Bohnenkamp reports. “We’re bringing back Kinky Boots, which everybody loved. We’ve also got Tap Dogs coming back – it’s having an international resurgence so we are really looking forward to presenting it in Tampa after almost 20 years. Then there’s Rock of Ages for an entire week over the summer which will be tons of fun.”

 

Someone Rapping at the Chamber Door

Caught in the Act catches up with Jobsite Theater during rehearsals of their next exciting production, Edgar and Emily.

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Katrina Stevenson and Paul Potenza star in Jobsite Theater’s production of Edgar and Emily. (Photo: Pritchard Photography)

Edgar as in Allan Poe. Emily as in Dickinson.

Yes, the granddaddy of Southern Gothic literature winds up in the bedroom of the emdash enthusiastic belle of Amherst, Emily Dickinson. Confined to this space, made all the more close and macabre thanks to his own gently-used coffin that Poe must tote around as part of his pact for being rescued from death by an otherworldly specter, the two writers square off in a tete-a-tete that is truly a remarkable work of theater.

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Penned by Ohio-based playwright Joseph McDonough, Edgar and Emily is both an American Lit wonk’s fantasy and a nuanced, complex examination of two people famed for their obsession with death. Combining an expletive-free Mamet-esque repartee with elements of slapstick (sight gags galore), unexpected vulnerabilities and moments of old-school horror tactics worthy of Vincent Price, Edgar and Emily accomplishes much in a relatively short script. Expect to be taken on a fun house ride with this offering—there are creepy parts, funny parts, and, of course, a very subtle trip through the hall of mirrors where you see Dickinson and Poe as distorted reflections of the stories we’ve been told about them; you may see yourself reflected therein as well.

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Katrina “Kat” Stevenson plays Emily against Paul Potenza’s Edgar. David Jenkins directs. This trio began working together in Jobsite in 1999, lauded for their record-breaking 2001 production of Dracula. Stevenson, a diminutive, sharp-eyed redhead, taught English for three years and, as Potenza notes admiringly, comes by her poetic delivery naturally. To prepare for the role, she immersed herself in Dickinson’s poems, reading hundreds of them to absorb the language, to glean what she could to deliver what she feels like is an honest portrayal of a giant in American literature about whom very little is known. Potenza traveled to Poe’s home in the Fordham neighborhood of the Bronx via a trip to Yankee Stadium. He stood in the rooms where the bedeviled genius worked and lived, himself absorbing something of the writer’s real life to bring to the role. Jenkins sent him a list of Poe’s physicalities based on accounts of Poe at the time (no such list exists for Dickinson who was famously reclusive), and over the course of rehearsals, Potenza has morphed into the writer who changed our notion of ravens forever.

Last week, Caught in the Act joined David, Kat and Paul at the top of rehearsal to chat about the play and bringing these literary figures to life. To hear them talk about the play, their process and the challenges and surprises along the way, listen to Rapping at the Chamber Door on our podcast, Act2.

Edgar and Emily opens Oct. 12 in the Shimberg Playhouse with previews Oct. 10 and 11.

The Can Do Man

Mural artist Eric Hornsby, known as esh, has put his work on The Cube in the Jaeb Courtyard for a few years. Now he gathers some of the area’s premier mural artists to open a brand new Art on the Walk exhibit during our Open House Party on Oct. 6.

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Eric “esh” Hornsby in action. (Art/photos: Eric Hornsby)

Caught in the Act recently sat down with aerosol artist (a.k.a. medium of choice is spray paint) and friend of The Straz Eric Hornsby to find out more details about his story, his artistic process and the upcoming Art on the Walk exhibit that features him and other great Tampa-area mural artists Eddie Rivera, zeros, the Capco crew and reda3sb. Together, they’re installing panels of mural art inspired by people and places of Tampa during our annual free festival, the Open House Party, on Oct. 6.

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Woman with gharial (Art/photo: Eric Hornsby)

Eric’s roots in Florida go deep, starting when his family moved to Thonotosassa from the northeast after his grandfather, a retired New York police officer, bought a mobile home park in that rural area of Hillsborough County. “I have to give a lot of props to my Uncle Joe who passed away two, three years ago,” Eric says. “He had a canoe, and we didn’t even have to ask, we’d just borrow it. Literally walk five miles with the thing on our back to the lake and paddle out. I was a nature lover from the go. Living like Huckleberry Finn out there for real. We made homemade bows and arrows; we’d just camp out and cook anything we shot. We ate all that stuff. I used to swim from Sargent’s Park to Morris Bridge, that part of the Hillsborough River, for the adventure of it. Alligator-infested water,” he laughs.

Eric’s upbringing in the Florida woods led to his first career in the wilderness, first as a canoe guide, then as a park ranger, then to his job as an on-site land manager for Hillsborough County’s conservation department. Wild as he was in this career, he kept returning to his first love: art. Mostly self-taught by emulating manga, cartoon styles and comic books, Eric’s artistic style, a mash up of those styles with lurid nature symbolism, evolved. He wanted to be a professional artist, and the time came for him to put up or shut up.

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Mystery of the disco melon ball (Art/photos: Eric Hornsby)

“I read a book by Tim Ferris. Somewhere he says, ‘if you’re not doing the things you love …” essentially meaning if you’re not choosing the life you want, you’re living a false life. I was like, ‘I can’t live a false life!’ It really hit me hard, so I started moving from point A to point B, reading a lot of books to motivate me to do what I wanted to do,” says Eric. He dropped down to part time and focused on becoming a professional artist.

“Eat, Sleep, Hustle,” or esh for short, emerged.

To hear Eric speak more in-depth about his transformation and about when you can meet him and the other artists at The Straz, plug into Act2, the Straz Center’s official podcast. Our interview with Eric goes live on Thursday, 9/27/18. During the interview, we discuss his work outside of The Cube, including the paintings and murals pictured above.

We’ve included a few favorites from The Cube that you may remember below.

Cube_Threepenny Opera_Pirate Jenny

The Threepenny Opera-inspired art by Eric Hornsby.

Cube_Wicked

Wicked-inspired art by Eric Hornsby.

Cube_Rent

RENT-inspired art by Eric Hornsby.

Cube_Curious Incident

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime-inspired art by Eric Hornsby.

Come meet Eric at our Open House Party with the other mural artists (samples of their art pictured below) and remember to catch his interview on Act2.

Sample_zeroes

Art on the Walk exhibit artist: 20-year street art veteran, zeros.

Sample_JP Parra and Vanessa Parra

Art on the Walk exhibit artists: Capco mural team, Juan Pablo and Vanessa Parra

Sample_Eddie Rivera

Art on the Walk exhibit artist: Tampa graffiti legend Eddie Rivera

Sample_Reda

Art on the Walk exhibit artist: International artist Reda3sb

Sample_eric hornsby

Art on the Walk exhibit artist: Eric “esh” Hornsby

He Had It Comin’

B&B

Belva Gaertner (L) and Beulah Annan (R)

The true story of the accused but acquitted Chicago beauties who inspired musical legends Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly

The Bob Fosse masterpiece we know and love today as Chicago the musical actually started with two real women and two real murdered men. In Chicago. In the Roaring 20s.

1924 to be exact.

Belva_collage

A headline from the Chicago Tribune on June 6, 1924 (L) and Belva Gaertner sitting with her defense attorney, Thomas D. Nash (R).

In March of that year, Belva Gaertner, a comely cabaret singer, happened to leave a bottle of gin in her parked car. Unfortunately, she also left a dead man and a gun in the car as well. Accused of killing said man—a young car salesman named Walter Law—Belva found herself in the Cook County jail, the subject of newspaper headlines and journalists who voted her “most stylish” in the clink. Decked out in ravishing bell hats, furs and delicately form-fitting dresses, Gaertner endured her trial as one of the two most famous faces of Murderesses Row. (It was really called that.)

Beulah_collage

A headline from the Chicago Tribune on April 4, 1924 (L) and Beulah Annan with lawyer William Scott Stewart on her left and her husband, Al, on her right (R).

The other, 23-year-old Beulah Annan, found herself in Belva’s company on Murderesses Row in April. Called “the prettiest woman ever accused of murder in Chicago,” Annan, in a lapse in judgement, confessed to the murder of her manstress, Harry Kalstedt, later backtracking, stating she and Harry “both reached for the gun” during a quarrel. We bet you’ve figured out which character Beulah becomes in Chicago by now, but if you haven’t, Beulah also came with a faithful and extremely naïve husband who stood by her during the trial despite having found a dead man in his bedroom with his wife.

Naturally, there’s also a lot of booze in the backstories as well as another beautiful woman—innocent of any crime other than being a flagrantly biased journalist. This woman, Maurine Dallas Watkins, worked for the Chicago Tribune covering crime “from a woman’s perspective.” Watkins wrote very descriptive and judgy accounts of Belva and Beulah, then, when all was said and done, she took her ultra-popular crime articles to Yale University to finish studying playwrighting, which she’d abandoned for the Tribune gig. [It’s worth noting that Watkins started her studies at Radcliffe College and was in the same class as Eugene O’Neill.]

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Maurine Watkins, the Chicago Tribune crime reporter who went on to write the play Chicago, circa 1927. (Photo: Florence Vandamm, Vandamm Studio)

At Yale, Watkins turned the stories into a play.

You guessed it: Chicago, starring Velma Kelly—a comely cabaret singer—and Roxie Hart, the gamine beguiler with a dopey, impossibly faithful husband. The show landed a spot on Broadway, ran for 127 performances before closing, then years later fell into the hands of another comely cabaret singer. That woman, Gwen Verdon, happened to be married to Bob Fosse. “Bob,” we imagine her saying, “you gotta make this into a musical. It’s what I want … give in!” [Gwen played the devil Lola in Damn Yankees, so whatever she wants … you know the rest.]

Fosse tried to convince Watkins to give him the rights to the script, but she wouldn’t. Watkins was pretty amazing, which you can read about in this tribute by the Tribune.

When she died, though, her estate granted Fosse and Verdon the rights. Chicago the musical, starring Verdon and Chita Rivera as the most famous Merry Murderesses, was born. Belva and Beulah faded to the corners of Windy City history while Velma and Roxie hot honey ragged their way into musical history.

Catch Chicago when it razzle-dazzles The Straz next week.

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Gwen Verdon as Roxie Hart (L) and Chita Rivera as Velma Kelly (R) in the 1975 Broadway production of Chicago, directed by Bob Fosse.