Leotard, Check. Make-Up Kit, Check. Valve Oil? Check.

The Patel Conservatory Gears Up for Another School Year

There’s no such thing as summer break for the faculty and staff of the Straz Center’s Patel Conservatory. We spend the summer months steeped in a camps, classes, workshops, performances and pre-professional productions like this year’s impressive mounting of an almost full-scale Les Miserables. So, we have just enough time to clean the mirrors and sweep the floors before we welcome our next season’s spate of students when the official school year starts Monday, Aug. 29.

While other school years start with a backpack full of composition notebooks, the Conservatory school year starts with small duffel bags stuffed with leotards, hairpins, dance shoes, make-up kits, music, reeds, valve oil and water bottles. No matter what class you’re taking, everybody needs a reusable water bottle. Our students also need plenty of traditional school supplies: paper for notes, pencils and three-ring binders.

In case any of our incoming students forgot what they’ll need for dance, theater or music class, we asked the tireless faculty to let us publish the must-haves for your first day of school.

So, scan these handy checklists to make sure you’re prepared for another exciting year of friends, rehearsals, creative challenges and unforgettable moments.

 

DANCE

  • Dance bag
  • Appropriate dance attire*
  • Appropriate dance footwear*
  • Personal hairbrush and hair spray (boys and girls)
  • Personal bobby pins, hair net (to match your hair color), hair ties (girls)
  • Performance make-up (refer to handbook for make-up suggestions)
  • Water bottle

*See your specific class information sheet

dance shoe collage

Did you sign up for ballet? Or tap? How about jazz? Maybe Flamenco? There’s a shoe for that.

dance - bobby pins

You can never have too many bobby pins. Ever.

dance - makeup

Our handbook has lots of helpful hair and make-up suggestions to get you show-ready.

 

THEATER AND MUSICAL THEATER

  • Performer bag (small duffel or backpack)
  • Pencil w/eraser
  • Folder or binder for sheet music & script storage
  • Highlighter
  • Scrap paper for notes
  • School appropriate movement/gym clothes
  • Jazz shoes or sneakers
  • Water bottle (healthy snack for classes/rehearsals longer than 2 hrs.)
  • Recording device (phone or tablet)
  • Personal hairbrush/comb & hair ties
  • Make-up kit for productions
theater_highlight 2_crawford long

A highlighter will make marking your script much easier.

theater - movement clothes

Make sure you are dressed ready to move.

theater - make up

Bring your make-up kit for dress rehearsals and performances.

 

MUSIC

  • Black, 3 ring binder (preferably with a matte finish that does not reflect light on stage)
  • Pencils (many!)
  • Water bottle, especially for singers
  • Extra paper for notes
  • Extra reeds for woodwind players
  • Valve oil for brass players
  • Rosin for string players
  • New set of strings
  • Scale and arpeggio sheets
  • Method books
  • Make sure your concert attire is clean and ready to go
Music - binder_crawford long

A black, 3-ring binder keeps all of your sheet music neat and tear-free.

music - Strings, rosin, pencil

Extra strings, rosin and a pencil are very important to have in your string instrument case.

music - method books, scale and arpeggio sheet, practice sheet

The one day you don’t have your book is the one day your teacher will ask you to take it out and use it in class.

For life-long learners in the adult classes, you can find similar information on the Straz Center website.

If the notion of arpeggio sheets, jazz shoes or two hour rehearsals get you as excited as it does us, know that it’s never too late to sign up for Patel Conservatory classes for yourself or your family and friends. View classes and register here.

back cover

 

 

 

Talking With Yu Ho-Jin, The Manipulator

This week, we are pulling a little sleight-of-hand by sharing this “Behind the Persona” feature from the Straz Center’s INSIDE magazine featuring Yu Ho-Jin, The Manipulator, from The Illusionists, which returns to Tampa Sept. 23.

YuHo-Jin-Smoke

How did you get started in the business?
I got into magic at the age of nine after witnessing a magician doing a stage card manipulation act. Eventually my parents, who were opposed to me performing magic, became my greatest supporters when they realized the passion I had for it. Soon I began to receive awards at various magic competitions. When I was 19, I won the Grand Prix award in the stage magic division at the International Federation of Magic Societies’ 2012 World Championship of Magic in Blackpool, England. This gave me the opportunity to perform around the world.

What’s always in your refrigerator?
There is always Korean food in my refrigerator. I love ice cream; I am huge big fan of it. Also eggs and ham. And not in the refrigerator, but in the kitchen, there are bananas.

What is your worst quality?
Hmm … hard to say (laughs). Well, I love to cook but am not very good at it. So I eat bananas.

What music is on your playlist?
Classical music played on the piano is a passion of mine. It inspires me. While I’m a fan of most music, hip-hop gets me moving.

What’s your favorite place to vacation?
Natural wonders make me very happy. Of course, the best place for vacation is anywhere my family and friends can join me. Someday I hope to show my family Florida.

What are your thoughts about our great state of Florida?
Miami is one of the places where I want to stay for a long vacation with my family. Florida has unique natural landscapes and a beautiful coastline. I can’t wait to enjoy Florida!

Read any good books lately?
I used to devour self-help books about self-management, leadership and communication skills but these days, I look for a good novel for an escape.

Ginger or Mary Ann?
Well, I like both, but if I have to choose only one, Mary Ann.

What’s the greatest thing since sliced bread?
There are too many choices! To me, the Internet and computer, hands down. Without the ability to search, download music, play games and send emails, I cannot imagine what we would do with our lives.

What’s your “guilty pleasure” television show?
I usually don’t watch television. When I travel and I am feeling lonely, I will watch a Korean mini-series.

Who or what inspires you?
I respect my friends, like the other performers who work with me in The Illusionist shows. Theyinspire me in every moment. Also, I respect David Copperfield and the way he has made his own magical world.

What do you consider your greatest successes – personally and professionally?
Personally, of course, I love my mother, father, sisters. Without my family, what does my life mean? Professionally, I want to create more mystery and wonder using my magical inspiration and share my magical creations with people around the world.

If you hadn’t chosen a career as an illusionist, what other career path do you think you’d have followed?
Well right now, this is my dream and it works. I just concentrate on my present.

 

manipulator

Witness the Strength of Street Knowledge – A Day Talking Race, Culture and Percussion with Conga Legend Gumbi Ortiz

gumbi at conga drums_smile

Gumbi Ortiz playing the conga drums in his studio in Gulfport, FL.

I. The Lesson, Part 1

“Don’t be scared! You’re tip-toeing like you’re nervous.”

We were nervous.

There we were, in Gumbi Ortiz’s private recording studio in Gulfport, FL, getting an impromptu conga lesson—and Gumbi Ortiz is, after all, one of the greatest percussionists alive.

We don’t play drums.

“Put the tips of your hands here . . . palm, tip, tip palm tip. Like that. Now we’re gonna add the boom boom part, and it’ll make all the sense in the world. Don’t rush it.”

But we wanted to rush it. We wanted to break off and triple-double-quadruple speed through the sickest of the African fusion rhythms we’d been hearing from him for the greater part of the last three hours. But we couldn’t. Because we were not good. Our skill level matched toy-monkey-with-snare-drum.

Palm tip, TIP PALM -TIP.

Palmtip TIP PALM-TIP!

Gumbi laughed. “You’re getting ahead of yourselves. Everybody wants to run before they can walk. Good. Don’t f[..]k it up!”

“Look, we’re waiting for the boom boom!” we said. “Where’s the boom boom?”

“There’s no boom boom yet. Wait for the boom boom! Go—palm tip, slap tip, palm tip. Good. Keep doing that.”

We got into time: palm tip, slap tip, palm tip. Then we got there: BOOM BOOM.

Palm tip, slap tip, palm tip, BOOM BOOM.  Palm tip, slap tip, palm tip BOOM BOOM.

“Keep going,” Gumbi said, getting up from his conga and moving to the piano. “Keep going with the boom boom. Don’t mess it up,” he warned, a grin on his face, like he knew we were going to mess it up. But—he didn’t care because we were playing together, and that’s all that matters. We were palm tipping and boom booming, smiling like fools, when he pounded a handful of Cuban piano riffs and suddenly, in some parallel universe of supreme awesomeness, we were jamming with Gumbi Ortiz.

Listen to a clip from our jam session here:

 

II. One Question, One Hour

Most people know Gumbi as the superstar percussionist in jazz-rock guitar hero Al Di Meola’s band, where he’s been on the roster for 30-plus years. Born in the South Bronx in the 1950’s to Caribbean parents, Gumbi relocated to this part of Florida in 1979 with his family. He settled in St. Petersburg, where he’s been ever since, though he travels 250,000 miles a year touring and working on the kinds of cool projects that rich and famous musicians get to work on. (Stay tuned for his upcoming travel-food show with former student DJ Ravidrums.)

Now in his 60’s, Ortiz remains a kid from the Bronx—rough-hewn, street smart, scarred and with a terrific sense of humor—but able to swing in and out of different accents, dialects and histories with the ease of a completely politically incorrect person enculturated to the world. He’s a consummate storyteller, a sublimely entertaining mix of profane Bronx prophet, stand-up comic, armchair historian and African griot.

guiro

This beaded gourd sitting next to Gumbi’s computer is called a “shekere” (African, pronounced shake-a-ray) or a “guiro” (Cuban).

Gumbi is, in a strictly Cuban sense, a rumbero, Cuban-Spanish for a percussionist or dancer although the connotation is much deeper, much more indicative of someone carrying the spiritual and historical mantle of the complicated, contradictory nature of black and brown people in the Caribbean. To be a rumbero is to be a master of rhythm yet also its vehicle, to embody the identity of the violent, incendiary, other-worldly, beautiful amalgam of the colonial collision that created Afro-Caribbean culture—and to speak the language of God.

He learned to drum as a child for Lucumi sacred ceremonies in the South Bronx, so we started with what we thought was a simple question: why don’t we see Afro-Cuban sacred culture in Tampa as visible as it is in L.A. or New York?

Except, if you know anything about Afro-Cuban sacred culture, Santeria or Lucumi, both drum-and-dance African ancient spiritual systems grossly misrepresented by Hollywood, you know it is never a simple question.

“I eat rice and beans, and I play my drums,” Gumbi said, settling onto a stool by his iPad Pro and miniature electric grand piano. Dim lamps lit his studio, a cramped room stuffed full of drums, guitars, music stands, headphones, chairs and endless snakes of cables and cords.

gumbi at ipad

“I stick to myself and that’s all I do. I’m my own little sphere of information: my parents, Africa, Cuba, Europe, Spain, all that lives in me. I am self-contained culture. I’ve been all over the world a million times. I love it all. Look, I never wanted to be an ambassador of something. I’m not that. I’m representing survival, you know what I mean? I’m the guy who survived.” He pulled up his jeans to reveal the gunshot scar on his kneecap.

“Who shot you?” we asked.

“Who cares? Look, I got cut in the throat, here.” He showed the pale line across his neck. “So, everything I do needs to be real. You don’t think and play the way I do if you don’t go through that. Falling on the floor and getting up again is what makes you strong.”

guitar

A peek around Gumbi’s studio.

Above all, Gumbi is Gumbi: rollicking, high energy, high volume, crackling with an intoxicating life force unique to people who trade in vibrations. Interviewing him feels like popping amphetamines before jumping on a runaway train. He gesticulates, circumnavigates, re-enacts stories while voicing different characters, exclaims, whispers, stands up, sits down, and you don’t get a word in edge-wise. Just when you think I don’t even know what we’re talking about anymore, he brings it back to the point.

Then, you realize you were never lost in the conversation, you were just taking the long way ‘round:

“Look,” he said. “Us, this new experiment, America, we are trying to get it right but it’s not right. We think we got it right, but we don’t. It started off on the wrong foot, that’s why we’re here. I’m a product of the wrong foot. Spanish conquistadors, slavery, Columbus, the lost remnants of the Roman empire, Queen Isabella . . . you have to know this history. The Europeans, why did they have to look for a new way to get to India? So what happens, Mehmed the Conqueror has this country called Turkey. Everybody goes through the Bosphorus. Marco Polo, everybody. So, Constantine blah blah blah, Constantinople, says “This is a Christian city!,” and Mehmed is like “No! We’re a Muslim city.” Years ago! He takes it, closed that shit off. Now nobody can get from Europe to Asia. . . .  Queen Isabella said “hey, I need somebody to find the new route,” so the story goes. She finds Cristobal Colon, that’s what we call him, who says we can get there, but we have to go this way, whatever. He gets there, he thinks he’s in India, he doesn’t even know where the hell he’s at. But, the people were pretty, the food was lush, hence the holocaust that ensued.  In no time, by the beginning of 1500’s, there were already millions of Africans in the Caribbean. Forget about America. That wasn’t thought of, it was still nothing. We [Afro-Caribbeans] were the experiment! We were the mulatto culture, the mixed culture, we invented that Africa and Europe mix! So, you know, out of that mix comes this music and this culture, because the mix didn’t work [in the USA]. It hasn’t worked here, and it’s never going to work here in America. You know why? When you get the mix of English Europeans and Africans, it don’t work good. It’s like you put a bulldog with another kind of dog, it comes out like this.”

Gumbi distorted his face and contorted his arms.

“It works to make human beings, but it doesn’t work culturally. Cold [climate] people don’t understand hot [climate] people. It’s a different mentality. The Saxons are like “make something of yourself!” But it’s like “what if I want to be a stump? Who cares?” This is the problem we have now. The English at the time had Manifest Destiny, said that the Bible and Jesus said that the new world was made for England and the English way. Everything else was wrong. Slavery was a part of that Manifest Destiny. They were like [to black people], “hey hey hey hey hey, if it wasn’t for us, you’d still be eating zebra! So, come on, give me a hug!” That’s what they say: We taught you how to read, how to write, what more do you want from us?”

Gumbi inched his stool closer. “We’re too scared to say it doesn’t work because to say Manifest Destiny didn’t work is to say Manifest Destiny was a lie, that the whole thing we believe [as Americans] isn’t true. To admit that is to admit human frailty. That’s rough. So what we have in Cuban culture, we learn to live with our contradictions. When we play our drums in the santero ceremony, the deity will come down, and you channel that energy. It could be male or female, so in the 40’s and 50’s, people said it was a gay religion. People said that! Chango [deity of justice, drums and thunder] comes down sometimes as a man, sometimes as a woman. Half tribal, half Muslim. Used to be a man, now singing as a woman. Hello, contradictions! We live it. Here you have to be uniform, these American absolutes. Right/wrong. That’s what gets people clamoring for real freedom: I get they’re screaming for cultural freedom, not money. That’s why [Afro-Cuban sacred culture] is not seen. It doesn’t want to be, right? Americans are hung up on good, bad, evil . . . but there’s a vague line about that. It’s deep! This isn’t a jam session on Treasure Island. It’s Africa. What we’re doing is trying to understand nature and show respect to nature at the same time. Life gives life,” he said. “Life gives life. Ancient people, primitive people do things differently. When you’re making your inya or baba [becoming a priestess or high priest], you have to go to Nigeria. Tell Americans about going to Nigeria! They have this weird concept of Africa or anything African. Forget about black—Pakistanis are black. This is AFRICA. So, it’s complicated. You have to trust people to understand it [the religion] and not go crazy, you understand?”

Yes. We got there, the long way ‘round. “So, how does that come out when you play?” we asked.

“It doesn’t. It’s just who I am.” Gumbi jumped up and sat at one of the four congas in his set. “So what happens is, when I sit down,” he pattered out a set of beats, “I feel every African that died come right through my hand. You have to live this [culture] or you’re never gonna get it. Learn to live with the contradiction of it all. We had to survive. It’s a culture of survival, we had to make friends with the culture of our captivity from 400 years ago, and something beautiful happened from something ugly.”

 

III.  Gumbisms

Gumbi represents survival, the mix of cultures that created the extraordinary rhythms of music and dance that melted together on the Caribbean islands into a new, distinct, spiritual and powerful culture. This colonial alchemy, in Gumbi’s philosophy, provides a rather large lens into the social history of race relations and humanity. The profit of learning to live with contradictions, he told us time and again, is important now, in this terrible year for racial violence in America.

“I tell my Black American friends, you were born tribal, they made you believe in Jesus, kicked your ass, not one hundred years later, you’re in church like ‘Oh, Jesus! Lord!’ This is what I love about Santeria. We give it the face, the stories, that come from the jungle. But that’s so we can understand something we don’t understand. That’s all it is,” he said. “I think the Bible is the same way, but here they take it literally. That’s a problem. In America, [immigrants] can pretend to forget who they are. But Black people can’t do that. You know why? Because they’re black. Their skin color don’t let them. ‘Hi, I’m American!.’ ‘No, you’re black FIRST. That means you were a slave.’ They put you down three notches so you can’t stay equal-equal. People say to me ‘why are you always talking about that skin color, you could pass for kinda white.’ I say, ‘No, I can’t.’ It’s a funny thing. A sad thing. But we live with that contradiction. Black people came with all the advantages spiritually. But they lose the advantages with money and education. They start not feeling useful. I’m saddened by what I see in the world, but I get it. People have to get mad. These things [interpersonal violence] don’t happen in a vacuum.”

drum set

Drum set in Gumbi’s studio.

Gumbi’s name, bestowed on him by Harvey, a classmate at Nokomis Elementary, happened after the family moved from the South Bronx to Long Island, when Gumbi’s dad was relocated for his job building O-rings for the Apollo space crafts. (“We didn’t come here to be stupid. In 1969, we watched the lunar landing and were so happy because we knew my dad’s O-rings were somewhere on that rocket.”) Gumbi’s birth name, Gamaliel, proved too difficult to pronounce for his new neighborhood, and Harvey christened him “Gumby! Like the cartoon character!”

“But, when I came home, and my friends would call me up, my mom would be like ‘Goombi? Who the hell is Goombi?’ She couldn’t make the face you have to make to say Gumby. So, I became Gumbi [pronounced GOOM-bee]. Gumbi is a cultural translation.”

Much like the man himself.  He became one of the first Cuban musicians to incorporate Black gospel riffs into Cuban music (“This collision of African cultures! Even though I didn’t believe in the dogma, I loved the energy of the church. I couldn’t go to a black church without crying!”) which he demonstrated on his electric baby grand piano, marching out an exquisite blend of Sunday-revival chord progressions and salsa beats.

“There’s this one thing, this driving thing,” he told us, musing about common spiritual threads across the church, Moroccan gnawa music, Indian mystical chants and James Brown. “It’s all . . . this thing like your heart. This one note everybody is looking for. Once you find it you’ll live forever because you’ve found the vibration that works. Even if you die tomorrow. You heart does this thing with melody, plays this rhythm, and when you focus on it, you either love it or you get scared of it! This is a reminder that you’re alive. This consciousness is a beautiful thing. We have a sense of who we are with that note.”

conga drums_close up

Conga drums in Gumbi’s studio.

 

IV: The Lesson, Part 2

In three hours with Gumbi, we’d learned the secret of Cuban culture (“it’s about erect penises”), the location of santero ceremonies in Tampa (“all over, but it’s really Afro-Cuban, and it’s going to stay that way, you know what I mean”), his own personal secret (“I’m speaking as a fortunate man, so I may be a little full of shit”), the secret to making it in America (“I created my own life, but I’m never gonna tell you that bootstrap shit. I got here by standing on the shoulders of the people before me. So, you gotta find your own shoulders to stand on—and don’t forget you’re standing on them. And don’t hurt them when you’re standing on them!”), and the real reason why people don’t like Donald Trump (“he hasn’t lived through shit”) and his nickname for Al Di Meola (“The Queen of England”).

Oh, and we also learned the secret of the universe:

Life gives life. BOOM BOOM.

Okay, Ladies, Now Let’s Get in Formation

tendu a la second_Michelle Revels

Former Next Generation Ballet Trainees. (Photo: Michelle Revels)

Ballet conjures images of tutus, tights, impossible-looking turns on tips of toes and gravity-defying mid-air leaps. If you’ve never taken a ballet class or had a little ballet beginner, then you may not realize those tricky combinations of flicks, kicks, twists, tippy-toe steps, glides, bends and hops emerge from a seriously old set of schematics precise and infallible enough to impress the most demanding engineer.

And those schematics depend on five simple foot positions.

“The ballet positions not only create a foundation for technique but are crucial for the linking of movement, so ballet appears seamless,” says Philip Neal, Dance Department Chair and Artistic Director of Next Generation Ballet.

Poster, New York City Ballet, 19601980

When skill at European court dances (ballet de cour) became so popular in the 1500s, instructors needed a technique. The court dances relied on the dancer being nimble, with the hip rotators turned so the feet shifted from face-forward to out-to-the-side. With feet and toes pointed outward and the hips rotated, dancers had a greater, more controlled, more fluid range of motion. They created, with this simple adjustment of hips and feet, something quite titillating: possibility for moving and moving across floors.

Eventually, a Parisian choreographer, Pierre Beauchamp, codified “turnout” of the hips and the five basic foot positions to improve strength and flexibility in turnout in the 17th century. Beauchamp’s boss, King Louis XIV, appointed Beauchamp and twelve others to set the artistic standards of classical ballet as we know it today. And did they.

Stormy Sea Studio_5015 Summer Intensive

2015 Next Generation Ballet Summer Intensive dancers in class at the Straz Center. (Photo: Stormy Sea Studio)

Thus, ballet begins—not with 5, 6, 7, 8!—but with first, second, third, fourth and fifth. These five basic positions of the feet on the floor relative to the dancer’s body serve as the building blocks for every subsequent step, combination of steps, phrase, leap and combination of leaps and phrases. Next time you’re at a classical ballet, watch: every movement and pose begins and ends in one of these five steps.

Lest these simple-looking positions—feet together, feet apart, feet apart at a different angle, feet together again—belie their difficulty, first let us talk a little about what a dancer is going for in these basic positions. The trick is interior mastery of muscles and groups of muscles, connection with one’s center of gravity, execution of proper alignment and stance in which the pelvis and shoulder girdle must be in line with invisible vertical, horizontal, saggital (left/right) and frontal (front/back) planes. And, she or he must remember to “hold” the body with these particular but unnoticeable-to-the-audience forces:

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So, when you practice these positions in your class or you see dancers “working through the positions” in warm up or catch a glimpse of these building blocks in your next viewing of Swan Lake, know that there is much more than meets the eye. In fact, simply standing in first position using proper technique engages more than 20 muscles: the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, tensor fascia latae, adductor magnus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, pectineus, adductor gracillis, gluteus maximus, deep six lateral rotators, sartorius, rectus femoris, biceps femorus, quadriceps vastii, spinal extensors and transverse abdominus.

Plus you have to do all this while breathing and keeping a pleasant look on your face.

First position:

Positions-of-feet_1

Balls of the feet turned out completely, heels touch. Dancer attempts to create a straight line, or a 180-degree angle. “At barre, we begin with first position to establish turnout in the hips. It’s important not to force turnout from the knee down but rather at the pelvis,” says Neal. (Photo: The Ballet Companion by Eliza Gaynor Minden)

Second position:

Positions-Of-Feet_Second_July24

Similar to first, but the heels separate by a length of 1 1/2 times the dancer’s foot. “Second position, a wider open stance, helps prepare stability and strength for jumps and larger scale movement,” says Neal. (Photo: The Ballet Companion by Eliza Gaynor Minden)

Third position:

Positions-of-feet_3

Here, one foot is in front with the front foot touching the middle of the back foot. “Third is hardly used anymore, except perhaps in character movement,” says Neal. (Photo: The Ballet Companion by Eliza Gaynor Minden)

 Fourth position:

Positions-of-feet_4

Same as third, but feet are apart by a space of the dancer’s foot-length. Neal says, “It’s crucial as a preparation for turning.” (Photo: The Ballet Companion by Eliza Gaynor Minden)

Fifth position:

Positions-of-feet_5

Both feet touch with the toes of each foot reaching the heels of the other foot. “Fifth is the most valuable position of all, and the hardest to perfect,” says Neal. (Photo: The Ballet Companion by Eliza Gaynor Minden)

Tip from Neal: “I teach that fifth position should be like a Ziploc bag. Each leg is color-coded like a sandwich bag, one leg is yellow, the other is green. In fifth, a tightly closed position, yellow and blue seal to make green, to seal in the freshness of the position! Think of the legs like crossed beams in a structure providing stability to a building.”

 

In any given classical ballet class worth its salt, instructors take dancers through several series of exercises working the feet, legs and hips through these positions. These building blocks define the placement of the feet on the floor and, eventually, define the placement of the dancer in the studio and on the stage. Proper technique from these five positions makes pushing from the floor for leaps and turns possible, and the extensive vocabulary of ballet begins with learning these five simple—but not easy—steps. To get ballet, you’ve got to get in formation.

But Who’s Keeping Score? Film Composer John Williams Wins 2016 AFI Life Achievement Award

Never has a film composer won American Film Institute’s esteemed Life Achievement Award. Until now.

When you live in Florida, you spend a lot of time on boats. At beaches. It’s challenging to float along in the peaceful lull of Gulf tides and not, at some point, hear it.

Dum.
Da dum.
Da dum dum.

The first chilling, paralyzing, swim-ruining notes of Jaws.

JAWS

We feel certain people in water everywhere feel the same, even if that water is a man-made lake in Michigan. You don’t need salt water or sharks, you just have to have seen the movie at some point in your life. Or, at the very least, to have heard the music.

Such is the genius of John Williams, the composer whose first collaboration with then-unknown director Steven Spielberg redefined the suspense thriller, thanks largely to the fact that the real threat in the film isn’t the shark at all — it’s the feeling we get when we hear the music. You can watch the movie without the sound and the effect is meh.

But, listen to the first :38 of the theme song on YouTube and see if you don’t get a little case of the willies.

On June 9, 2016, American Film Institute (AFI) awarded Williams their Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honor for a career in film. This was the first year — out of 44 — the accolade fell around the shoulders of a composer.

Composer John Williams

Composer John Williams

Williams, who turned 84 this year, raised most of us, giving us the emotional landscape of the most visible, commercially successful, culturally imprinted films of the past 40 years: Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Superman, the Star Wars franchise, Schindler’s List, the Indiana Jones franchise, Jurassic Park and three Harry Potter films. In sum — there’s a great chance any given working-age person in America can hear the first strains of “Indiana’s Theme,”  “Harry’s Wondrous World” or the “Imperial March” and feel some inscrutable stirring of the soul.

Williams, despite his 50 Oscar® nominations, five Academy Awards®, 22 Grammys® and 21 honorary degrees, still works in relative obscurity, seven days a week, on a 91-year-old Steinway piano. As of right now, he’s booked solid into 2019, when Spielberg’s fifth installment of Indiana Jones is set for release.

An intuitive composer, Williams typically talks with directors to get a sense of the film though sometimes he works from a book or script. He begins to tinker with note motifs — think the 2-note motif of Jaws or the five-notes of Close Encounters — working and re-working the tonality until he feels as if the notes speak the theme. In interviews, Williams describes his work as the “musical grammar” of a film, and these early, simple themes develop into massive forces of character every bit as integral to the success of a film as the human actors. Both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg credit Williams with the success of Star Wars and Indiana Jones because the vitality and connectivity of the music imprinted a generation and bound it to the films.

Composer John Williams with Director Steven Spielberg

Composer John Williams with Director Steven Spielberg

Orchestrations follow the initial note themes, once directors accept where Williams is taking the scenes emotionally. In “spotting sessions,” Williams and the director watch a rough cut of the film, determining where music goes and what the music — like any other character — does in the scene. Eventually, an orchestra performs the music on a scoring stage while a cut of the film rolls on a regulation movie screen so the musicians, Williams, the director and producer can follow the synching of the music to the film. After that, Williams is usually nominated for an Oscar®.

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John Williams takes a bow.

Williams’s innate, operatic ear for transcribing the sensation of human emotion into music creates, from a sensory perspective, a three-dimensional experience of a two-dimensional art form. In fact, we tried to listen to John Williams music to write this blog (a playlist that began with “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), but the music rendered us unable to do anything but conjure a mental mash up of every HP we’d seen (*cough* all of them). The instrument he chose to simulate the flight of an owl is a miniature upright piano of sorts called a celesta, whose sustain pedal blurs the tinkling notes until the listener feels a sense of swirling down, like a bird feather floating to the ground.

Sir Howard Stringer, chair, AFI board of trustees, explained in a press release that “John Williams has written the soundtrack to our lives. Note by note, through chord and chorus, his genius for marrying music with movies has elevated the art form to symphonic levels and inspired generations of audiences to be enriched by the magic of the movies.”

John Williams with the AFI Life Achievement Award

John Williams with the AFI Life Achievement Award

If you missed AFI’s broadcast of AFI LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: A TRIBUTE TO JOHN WILLIAMS, an encore presentation will run on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, at 8 p.m.

You can listen to AFI’s Williams playlist on Spotify at https://open.spotify.com/artist/3dRfiJ2650SZu6GbydcHNb.

Treasure Hunt: The 20-Year Search for the Lost Lines of Tampa’s Cuban Playwrights

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Show at Circulo Cubano.

In the early 1990’s, a young professor in the Department of Modern Languages at Carnegie Mellon University happened to join a walking tour of Ybor City with renowned local history experts, Dr. Gary Mormino and E.J. Salcines, during a small gathering of peers at the University of South Florida.

The tour concluded in the ornate theater at Centro Asturiano, one of the many Ybor City social clubs and mutual aid societies, a relic of the turn-of-the-century heyday of Ybor as a cigar boomtown. As Dr. Mormino launched into his explanation of the Spanish history of the club, E.J. Salcines leaned to the ear of the young professor.

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Joyce Baby Cermeño and Emiliano El Chaval Salcines.

“I grew up in this theater,” he whispered, voice full of nostalgia and mischief. “This was our life.” Under the script of the formal lecture, E.J. Salcines, sotto voce, wove an enchanting picture of growing up in the rich culture of Ybor City, an anomaly in the American South—a thriving, interdependent, multi-immigrant society devoid of racial violence despite the ethic discrimination of the times. He shared colorful anecdotes of music and theater, of seeing Placido Domingo’s parents perform on the very stage of Centro Asturiano.

The young professor, Dr. Kenya Dworkin, whose dissertation concerned the Cuban identity between colonial rule to the first republic, fell under the spell.

“The idea that the Cubans here were continuing the tradition of Cuban-style theater from the island, adapting it and presenting it to the local community fascinated me,” says Dworkin. “But I knew nothing about it.”

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Cast of It Can’t Happen Here rehearsing in 1937.

She returned to Pittsburgh with a new intellectual curiosity on fire: given the importance the Ybor City cigar workers played in Cuban independence, what about Cuban theater of Tampa? The cigar workers organized that, too. What were the plays like? Who was writing them? What did they say about the people, the times?

She needed artifacts, evidence.

Surely, somewhere, someone had a stockpile of manuscripts from this creative outpouring of Cubans in Tampa.

She searched. She found nothing.

Then, Dworkin stumbled upon one other scholar—just one, out of the entire United States—who cared enough to peep into the cultural history of Ybor City, one of the most fascinating social experiments of the American 19th century.

Dr. Nicolás Kanellos, Brown Foundation Professor for Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston, was directing a major national research project: Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Heritage of the United States. He had one reference in his book.

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Martí-Maceo Theater circular, 1940.

Dworkin eventually learned through E.J. Salcines that the New Deal Works Project Administration funded one Spanish-speaking theater company through the Federal Theater Project, and that company came from Cubans and Spaniards in Tampa/Ybor City and performed at Centro Asturiano.

“Then I discovered from looking into this group that at the Library of Congress there was a small collection called the Fernando Mesa Collection. In the Mesa collection, I found several photographs and paraphernalia. Mesa was a Tampa native and very involved. He had a collection, so I thought he was dead,” says Dworkin.

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The Centro Asturiano made history in 1936 when the WPA Federal Theater Project opened to the public under Manuel Aparicio, noted actor and director.

On summer break from the university, Dworkin traveled to Tampa on the trail of the missing manuscripts and in search of anyone who could fill in the gaping holes on the subject. She remembered visiting the offices of La Gaceta, the oldest family-owned, minority-owned newspaper in the country, on her tour with Gary Mormino, so she stopped in. Unannounced.

“The editor ended up being very charming, but at the time he gave me that ‘go away little girl, you’re bothering me’ attitude. Put his feet up on the desk. I thought, oh my gosh, this isn’t going to go anywhere,” says Dworkin. “Then I mentioned I was in Washington at the Fernando Mesa collection. All the sudden his eyes opened, he put his feet down, and calls out to his secretary, says ‘Call Fernando Mesa, someone wants to talk to him.’ So—to my shock—Fernando Mesa was alive.”

Dworkin’s sincere fascination on the subject of their plays and theater works led Mesa and Salcines to trust her enough to let her into the real world of Tampa’s Cubans. She was allowed into the men-only cantina at Centro Asturiano to hear the tales of Ybor’s golden age of cigar workers and their social contributions as actors, singers, dancer and playwrights.

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She found herself the lone female in the Saturday Cuban/Spanish coffee klatch and the Sunday Sicilian coffee klatch. “I was one of the boys,” she says, “and in time they would say anything in front of me.” Eventually, she met the wiliest rooster of them all, the local legend Salvador Toledo, who was the most prolific of all the Ybor cigar worker playwrights and a great comic actor. After coming around for years and immersing herself in the community, Dworkin found herself with a proposition to become a permanent part of the family. Toledo, at 88 years old and a widower, offered her a marriage proposal, which she respectfully declined.

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Salvador Toledo and his fumas.

“I felt more at home there [in Tampa] than anywhere on earth except maybe New York. I fell in love with the people who were resilient. Inspirational. By the time I started hanging out at the cantina, I was already obsessed. I was truly fascinated by their stories, and no one had paid attention to them except Nicolás.”

From 1995-2008, Dworkin gathered evidence. She collected hours and hours of video and audio interviews, photos, whatever she could get her hands on. In an unmarked folder at USF, Dworkin finally discovered what she’d been after: manuscripts of the plays. Despite what she knew after the hours of interviews—that there had to have been hundreds and hundreds of plays—the folder contained a mere seven scripts. “It was a disappointing yield,” she says.

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A page from the script of Familia Tinguillo, 1947.

During the years, Dworkin found other plays tucked away in suitcases or stashed as afterthoughts in homes in West Tampa and Ybor. Her book took shape, the names of people and their creative contributions to the soul of their American life inked into the pages of history.  But where were the rest of the manuscripts?

Dworkin’s big break came when word arrived that a trove of artifacts from the Cubans was in the Circulo Cubano, the Cubans’ mutual aid society and social club. But before she could mine the archives, another scholar intercepted the works, retained them at his house and withheld access to certain people working on Cuban identity—especially in regards to race and class. Dworkin and her book, stymied by professional rivalries, sat idle for 10 long years.

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The audience at a show in the Circulo Cubano (Cuban Club), 1942.

Patience proved her virtue. The professor eventually bequeathed the stash of Cuban cultural artifacts to USF’s Special Collections. Finally, Dworkin was able to see what he’d been hiding. “I found out he’d turned in the theater material to USF,” she says. “I was in Tampa last August and September [2015], and that’s when I found the major stash. But, I’ve been unable to finish my book for 20 years.”

Dworkin found 47 physical plays in the USF stash which she says “is very incomplete” due to the appearance of a register book listing an additional 81 plays by Tampa Cuban playwrights. The sheer volume of their work—mostly slapstick comedies mixed with social commentary, explorations of their new American identities, racism and their perspectives of salient issues like the atomic bomb and the plight of black Cubans in Havana—speaks to the surfeit of Cuban creativity in Tampa and the cultural need to express and share in their artistic talents.

“At the time, there was no art person to archive what they were doing. They didn’t see the value the way I do, looking from a historical perspective. The plays were lowbrow, farce . . . something ‘the workers’ did. The performances were ephemeral, many scripts were handwritten. Making plays was part of their everyday life. Little did they know how valuable it would be later,” she says.

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First pages of the script of Un blackout en Ybor City.

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First pages of the script of Un blackout en Ybor City.

 

But the value, in time, rose to the surface. Years ago, Dworkin came to Tampa to give an intimate talk at USF about her research, to read letters penned by Tampa Cuban and Spanish actors to Roosevelt to not disband the Federal Theater Project. She pulled her favorite letter from the bunch and read it. From the silent crowd, a man stood and said, “That was me. I wrote that letter.”

“I have to honor their memory,” Dworkin says. “What they did here is a tremendous value as a window into a community. They lived a curriculum of culture, supported all the other social clubs and their art. They want to be acknowledged for what they did and for the value of the role of theater in this community.”

Dr. Dworkin’s book, tentatively titled Before Latino: How Cuban Theater in Tampa Shaped an American Immigrant Society, will be the first of its kind to document the excitement and value of the performing arts to our Cuban community of Ybor City.

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Dr. Kenya Dworkin

 

If you have artifacts to share with her—programs, photos, manuscripts, anything—or if you are interested in having her tell more stories of her adventures with the colorful characters of Ybor City with your group or organization, please contact Dr. Dworkin at kdworkin@andrew.cmu.edu.

 

Villain, Dragon, The Voice

Former Patel Conservatory student Shalyah Fearing Dreams It and Does It . . . Congratulations on Her Outstanding Performance on The Voice

The Straz Center believes in the vital power of the performing arts to nurture the human spirit. Anyone should be able to cultivate her or his creative gifts and curiosities starting at a young age, regardless of financial situation. So, we have a lot of scholarship money for performing arts training for young people, an open channel of support used by Shalyah and many others to get the classes, teachers and performing opportunities they needed to pursue their dreams. If you are a young person reading this blog or you are a parent of a young person with a desire to pursue acting, dancing or music, please apply for a Patel Conservatory scholarship. We will support you.

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In Disney’s The Little Mermaid—while Ariel captivates and musical crab Sebastian gets the best song—the uncontested scene-stealing force in the story remains the detestable sea witch Ursula. It’s a plum villain role for any musical theater actor: a big role for a big voice.

It comes as no surprise that when the Patel Conservatory produced a student version of the show, 12-year-old vocal powerhouse Shalyah Fearing landed the part. Shalyah is, in reality, humble, funny, down-to-earth and not at all like the jealous, conniving undersea queen she nailed throughout the run of the show. However, Shalyah, like Ursula, possesses a magical voice. But with Shalyah, it’s for keeps.

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Shalyah as Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid JR, 2013. (Photo: Soho Images)

In Shalyah’s last performance in a Patel Conservatory production, she played Dragon in Shrek the Musical, another role requiring a tremendous voice to fill the wings of a tremendous creature.

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Shalyah as Dragon in Shrek The Musical, 2015. (Photo: Soho Images)

Then, it was off to audition for The Voice when she turned 15 and finally met the age requirement.

In a matter of seconds, Christina Aguilera nabbed Shalyah in the blind auditions: America met the young singer for the first time. Since then, we followed Shalyah’s exciting journey on the show to her last performance, a knockout rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come.” She proved this Fearing is fearless as she climbed to the Top 9 before being eliminated in last night’s semi-final results show. A few weeks ago, she returned to the Patel Conservatory for the “Broadway or Bust” class to talk about her experience on The Voice.  We loved having her back during a short break from her hectic schedule.

“It was so cool to see her again after all this success,” says cohort Abby Pfingsten, who starred opposite of Shalyah in A Little Princess and also trains at the Patel Conservatory on scholarship. “The show hasn’t changed her. She’s still funny, still down-to-earth, still one of us. We all hope she wins.”

In fact, we all did. Shalyah has one giant fan club at The Straz, from the admin offices to the rehearsal studios at the conservatory. We champion her and know, regardless of last night’s outcome, Shaylah slays. We have seen her vision, her discipline, her level of self-sacrifice and commitment to her performing arts development—Shalyah studied with many excellent teachers in this area from other schools—and we are thrilled that she chose to use our scholarship support to take classes, hone her craft and create a performing arts family here.

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Shalyah with some former class and cast mates at her recent visit to the Patel Conservatory.

The bigger picture, for us, is about making sure the thousands of young people in and around the Tampa Bay area who know they have performing arts gifts or are curious about what it would be like to take a voice class, a TV acting workshop or attend summer dance camp have financial support to explore the performing arts.

“I would love for everyone to know,” says Vice President of Education and ongoing theater instructor and director Suzanne Livesay, “that they don’t have to let cost be a factor when it comes to performing arts training and education. Sometimes people let the idea that they can’t afford it get in the way of exploring the arts or developing skills they think or know they have. Many people don’t realize that the Straz Center has financial support available to help them try something new or pursue their dreams. Any student who has the desire to learn is eligible.”

The Straz Center awards over $275,000 annually in need and merit-based scholarships. “Students can receive scholarships for almost every one of our classes and camps,” Livesay says. “Much of the funding is based on need, but we also have funds available to students who attend our outreach schools and merit scholarships which we award to especially talented students.”

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In 2013, the Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center chose Shalyah among several other students as representatives for our “Dream It, Do It” campaign. We are so proud of Shalyah for dreaming it and then doing it! (Photos: Rob/Harris, Inc.)

We will continue to cheer for Shalyah as her career moves on and do what we can for young people in the area who also would like to study and perform at the Patel Conservatory. Details and applications are available on our website. We recommend that everyone submit the need-based application so we know there is a need; from there, the scholarship committee reviews applications and offers awards. The deadline for next school year is July 16th.  If you have questions or would like more information, please contact patelconservatory@strazcenter.org.