Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Tandy Beal is one of the most enduring treasures of Santa Cruz County. An internationally recognized dancer, choreographer, and teacher who has performed on four continents, she's like our own personal Cirque de Soleil; her productions offer a feast of dance, music, comedy, drama, and soaring imagination.

Her ongoing work-in-progress, Here After Here played to packed houses at Cabrillo's Crocker Theater last fall. I loved it, and I'm delighted to report that the ensemble show is coming back to the Crocker next weekend, Sept 9, 10 and 11.

Subtitled "A self-guided tour of eternity," it's a wry, intriguing, poignant, never depressing, often hilarious inquiry into the idea of death and what may or may not come after. It's a multi-media affair with 25 performers live onstage, three screens of film and video projections, and a propulsive, haunting, finely nuanced original musical score by Jon Scoville, Beal's longtime accomplice and partner in creative rapture. There are moments of eloquent pondering throughout, but this thoughtful, probing show is never mournful. Rather, it celebrates the adventure of life, this grand stage on which every single one of us is called upon to perform without a net. (Read more)

Click here for ticket info.

New this year is a full slate of extracuricular events and workshops on life and beyond, held in conjunction with the Here After Here performances, from a televised interview with Tandy and Bruce Lee on the the new community arts program, "Art In the Loop," running all month on Community TV, to end-of-life workshops around town, to post-show Q&A sessions with Ann Pomper of Hospice, and Rev. Deborah L. Johnson of Inner Light Ministries.

Here are all the details.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


You say there's an unseasonable chill in the air? My suggestion is to grab a loved one and a bottle of something fortifying and hie thee off to Shakespeare Santa Cruz for a bracing late-summer evening (or matinee) of live theater. SSC's 30th Anniversary season continues for one more week, with all three of its excellent productions playing in repertory from tonight through this Sunday (August 28).

I highly recommend Danny Scheie's hilarious reboot of The Comedy of Errors for the indoor Mainstage—8 intrepid performers, 20 speaking parts, and a gazillion laughs. I also had a blast at Art Manke's dynamic production of The Three Musketeers outside in the Festival Glen, impressive in its fidelity to the breadth of the original Dumas novel, and rousing good fun.

Meanwhile, I finally caught up with the third SSC production, Henry IV: Part 1. Like all Shakespeare's history plays, this one is a bit troublesome to modern audiences who may not be well-versed in the arcanae of 15th Century English politics. But Scott Wentworth's smart and often innovative production keeps viewers informed and entertained.

Wentworth has the bright idea to start with a little backstory in a montage of key scenes from Richard II (the previous play in Shakespeare's history cycle, about the previous monarch), which is slyly introduced, TV series-style, as "Previously, in Richard II..." It doesn't really sort out the plot all that effectively, but at least we get a visual program to help identify the players in the drama to come.

And the players are the thing in this drama. While the usual suspects (here, principally the rebellious Welsh) jockey for power around old King Henry IV, the king's wastrel son, Prince Hal (Erik Heger) is haunting the brothels and taverns of Cheapside with the rascally old reprobate, Sir John Falstaff (Richard Ziman), his mentor in sin. This is the first appearance of Falstaff in Shakespeare's ouvre, and Ziman (above) plays him with plenty of swaggering bonhomie, crisp diction, and an acute sense of how to make every laugh count. And while unafraid to show "Plump Jack" in all his cowardice and greed, Ziman's delivery of the speech on "honor" is as persuasive as it is drily comic.

Heger plays Prince Hal like a charismatic rock star on holiday. He's wise to the way Falstaff is playing him (in hopes of currying favors from the future king), and lets us know right up front it's all part of his plan to spring back into his father's good graces when the old king, and their enemies, least expect it. But in the meantime, he's enjoying himself hugely, among the fawning tarts and whoremongers of Cheapside, particularly in a very funny scene when Hal and Falstaff take turns enacting the part of Hal's disapproving father. (In his spare time, Heger even plays the harp in one of the lovely musical interludes Wentworth weaves into the drama.)

But best of all is J. Todd Adams as Hal's cousin, Harry Percy, or "Hotspur," who gets so ticked off at the old king's abuses that he joins the Welsh rebels. Adams is such a one-man dynamo, he commands attention every time he's onstage —even if he's only lurking in the shadows, looking on (although this live wire is not content to be an observer for long). Not only does Adams manage a lubricious North Country accent throughout, his aggressive, and yet wryly witty Hotspur is the spark that make the whole production go. He's a warrior on a mission; even his relationship with his wife (a feisty Katie MacNichol) is a lusty battlefield campaign between evenly-matched competitors.

Adams has been a Festival favorite since 2009, when he played a splendidly acrobatic Puck in Richard E. T. White's vivacious production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. (He had me at Puck's first careless backflip off the stage.) This season, he's also playing the romantic Aramis in Three Musketeers (which shares the same cast and the same outdoor set in the Glen with Henry IV), and it's enormous fun to see him playing two such opposite roles.

In fact, that's always been one of the great treats of SSC; watching company members double up to play diverse parts in two productions each season. Ziman juggles both Falstaff and the scheming, formidable Cardinal Richelieu in Musketeers. Allen Gilmore, Musketeers' noble Athos, rocks out as a pimp-like cutpurse, Poins, and the raging rebel Scot, Douglas, in Henry IV; MacNichol also plays the crafty villainess, Milady de Winter, in Musketeers. As the titular king Henry IV, V Craig Heidenreich is a bit more dyspeptic than kingly, but he plays villain Rochefort with silky, purring menace in Musketeers.

(And once again, B. Modern's costumes are a delight, from the faux-medieval black leather tunics and discreet chain mail accessories of the warrior men, to the tavern tarts' time-traveling dishabille. (Modern says she conjured "five centuries' worth of underwear" for her tarts.) To go backstage with Modern and Comedy designer Brandin Barón for a behind-the-scenes look at this year's SSC costume challenges, click here.)

Wentworth himself is best known to SSC audiences as an actor; he played Bottom in Dream and Brutus in Julius Caesar in the 2009 season. A s a director, he makes some intriguing choices in Henry IV: Part 1. Music is paramount, particularly some gorgeous vocal solos by Sepideh Moafi as both the wife of a Welsh rebel, and leader of a chorus of robed women whose rich, soulful chanting is offered up in counterpoint to the martial male action of the play. Owen Glendower, leader of the Welsh rebels, is played by Phil Hubbard as a robed mage and mystic, his court a half-fey, otherworldly stronghold full of eerie music and lilting Welsh dialogue. And when the climactic battle comes, Wentworth borrows a trick from the movies and stages it in slo-mo; it pays off—the effect is far more elegiac than the expected sword-clanking melee.

So forget about the confusing politics and soak up Henry IV: Part 1 for its entertaining performances and vivid stagecraft. (Tickets available here.) Remember, this is the last week!

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Want to get in the mood for Laurie King's new Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes novel, The Pirate King? Here's the new trailer for the book recently posted on Laurie's site, full of atmosphere, wry wit, and of course, pirates!

Btw, how hysterical is it that movie-style trailers are now made to sell books? It's totally appropriate in this case; Laurie's book is about the silent movie industry, and this trailer incorporates plenty of vintage B&W pirate movie footage to provide the necessary action. (Even in trailer form, the point of a moving picture is to move.)

So long as you have a plot dripping with intrigue, an irresistible character or setting, or some other hook that can be effectively exploited, visualized, and sold in a 2-minute trailer, you're good to go in the brave new world of book promotion.

Meanwhile, not only authors and other creative artists, but their characters and/or subjects are now required to have a blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. It's one thing to discover a FB presence for historical figures like William Shakespeare, King Henry VIII, or the Plantagenet Edward II (who has an active Wall full of pics and comments, even though he's been dead since 1327). But fictional characters are swarming all over social media like bees on Holmes's hives.

I discovered this with a vengeance when I posted a blog about the Disney cartoon feature Tangled last December—in which I riffed on how Disney princesses and their heroes (in this case, Rapunzel and her rascally thief-turned-hero Flynn Rider) have evolved over the decades. Within a couple of months it had more hits on this site than anything else I'd ever posted. I couldn't figure out why until I followed a couple of links backward to their sources and discovered that Flynn Rider, has his own thriving Facebook page, complete with cocky updates from the virtual man himself, and swooning pre-teens (one assumes) writing mash notes on his Wall. Who knew? These days, real-life reality is just another option (and not a very popular one) on the massive virtual smorgasboard.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Most war movies are made for and by men—violent, testosterone jubilees about courage under fire, incredible battlefield heroics, and hard-fought victories. Canadian-born Ukrainian filmmaker Laysa Kondracki takes a different approach in her intense and harrowing drama, The Whistleblower. Not only does she view the process of war from a feminine perspective, she explores the lingering and devastating consequences of warfare on women long after the mission has supposedly been accomplished and the fighting troops have gone home.

The film is based on the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac, a police officer from Nebraska who joined the UN peacekeeping forces in war-ravaged Bosnia in 1999. While there, she uncovered a horrifying sex-trafficking ring involving teenage Balkan girls that her superiors were surprisingly uninterested in doing anything about. Kondracki and her writing partner Ellis Kirwan traveled around Europe for two years, researching the facts and writing the script. The resulting film leaves the viewer breathless with both suspense and outrage.

Playing against type as a de-glamorized, working-class Yank, Rachel Weisz gives us an earnest, perfectly life-sized Kathy whose fierce moral courage both propels and grounds the film. (Read more)

Forget La Tour Eiffel. The back alleys and industrial warehouses of Paris are the backdrop for the electrifying chase thriller, Point Blank, from French action maestro Fred Cavayé. Gilles Lellouche is wonderful as Samuel, a male nurse plunged into a desperate mission to save his pregnant wife (an appealing Elena Anaya), and their unborn child; she's been kidnapped by thugs to force him to spring a notorious criminal (Roschdy Zem) from the hospital.

As he struggles to outwit crooks, cops, and crooked cops, appearances deceive, alliances shift, and tensions mount by the nanosecond. But what I really loved about it is the degree of characterization, unusual for such a breakneck-paced thriller. Lellouche's Samuel is a scruffy average guy, and the playful degree to which he and his spirited Spanish wife are mutually besotted and delighted over their impending child is limned in just a few, deft scenes.

Factor in tensions between rival police detectives and their teams vying to catch the fugitives, a scandalous frame-up, and an incriminating videotape—none of which matters to Samuel as he does whatever he must to save his wife—and voila! 84 of the most turbo-charged minutes you'll spend at the movies all summer.

So hold on to your ratatouille; this is one fierce, wild ride.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Laurie King writes to say that "Pirates are the new Vampires" in pop culture. Does this mean I was 10 years ahead of my time?

This week, my pirate novel, The Witch From the Sea celebrates its tenth anniversary. Back in those pre-Captain Jack Sparrow days, pirate stories were considered strictly kid stuff, or else the province of capital-R Romance novels with brawny, half-naked rogues fondling their flintlocks splashed across the covers.

It must have seemed like a pretty radical idea, a grown-up historical adventure novel with pirates, told from a woman's perspective. My heroine, Tory Lightfoot, twice damned as a woman without family or prospects, and a runaway orphan of mixed white and Native American blood, joins a crew of pirates in 1823 to escape her constricted female life ashore. But I was fortunate enough to find an intrepid small publisher, Beagle Bay Books, who believed in my story and midwifed my novel into existence.

Speaking of covers, this was my original concept sketch for The Witch cover art. Pretty atmospheric, no? The full moon, the pirate vessel, a woman, um, evidently rising up out of the middle of the ocean like Esther Williams in one of those gigantic MGM aquatic musical numbers. Well, think of it as metaphor, just as the pirates in my book function as a metaphor for the freedom Tory craves.

I'm a little superstitious about rendering my character's faces; I don't want to interfere with the reader's imagination. But when I published a chapter out of The Witch as a short story in the pirate fanzine No Quarter Given, I drew this illustration to go with it.

It's a moment of psychological tension, wherein the pirates attempt to coerce information from the crew of a merchant vessel they've captured. That's Tory, on the left, looking apprehensive—until she (and the reader) realize what's really going on in this scene. (Oh, no, I'll never tell—you'll have to read the book!)

(Hmmm...looking at this image again, I wonder if it's too late to re-do The Witch as a graphic novel...)

But both of these images are vast improvements over my early attempt to collage together a cover, way back when my novel was titled Blesséd Providence (the name of the pirate ship in the tale). Talk about a bad case of TMI!

Notice how I tried to cram in every plot point: gold doubloons, pirate ship, Tarot cards (they figure in the plot and color Tory's view of the world), a map of the Indies, my protagonist's femaleness. Whew! I'm exhausted just looking at it now!

I'm too embarrassed to show you the very first cover I ever attempted, which also included a volume of Shakespeare and a Harlequin figure, in honor of my second protagonist, Jack, expatriate Englishman, acrobat, and failed Shakespearean actor-turned-pirate.

You can see how the Beagle Bay book cover turned out up there in the menu bar. The artist did a good job overall —I just love that burning ship! But I don't think he quite captured the spirit of Tory and Jack. Here's the detail:

Is it just me, or does Tory look about 12 years old in this image? (In the book, she's 18.) As for Jack, he must by the most neatly barbered buccaneer in the history of piracy. Just call him Metrosexual Jack, the Scourge of the Indies.

Friday, August 12, 2011


The Outside Lands music festival is going on in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park as we speak. Three-day and VIP single-day tickets are still available if you want to see a mind-boggling assortment of indie rock acts: Phish, Arcade Fire, The Shins, The Decembrists, OK Go, John Fogerty, The Arctic Monkeys—and that's not even a fraction of the enormous three-day lineup. Think of a West Coast Woodstock, for established bands and newbies alike (and hopefully without all that mud).

The reason I bring it up is Muse. I'm nuts about this British indie alt-rock band, as you may know if you read my previous column, and I'm delighted to spread the word that Muse will be the headliners Saturday night at Outside Lands. (That's Muse frontman Matt Bellamy over there, on guitar.) With discernible trace elements of Radiohead and Queen, mixed in with some Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, and surf/space guitar, this powerhouse trio puts on a killer of a live show. (Check 'em out on You Tube and see what I mean.)

Art Boy and I went to see them four years ago, on a previous trip to SF. They were already headliners back in Britain, routinely filling places like Wembley Stadium and playing enormous venues like the Glastonbury Festival. But we were lucky enough to see them at the relatively homey Bill Graham Civic, where we thronged with the crowd about 20 feet from the stage. It was just about the most fun I ever had at a live music concert.

Looking back, my only regret is that we caught their live show before they'd produced their exceptional "Resistance" album (a song cycle so insidiously listenable, it played in its entirety on a loop inside my brain for weeks after we first got the CD. Who needs an iPod?) However, they played just about everything else from their previous four albums that night at the Bill Graham, every lick, every harmony and falsetto as deft and textured as the original recordings. Folks heading out to hear them at the Outside Lands fest are in for a big treat.

I couldn't be more thrilled that Muse is finally getting the attention they deserve, not just in the Bay Area, but in the USA as well. And I think it's great that we have James Durbin to thank in part for introducing the band to mainstream Middle America via American Idol. His cover of Muse's "Uprising" (from "Resistance") was a highlight of AI Season 10, and continues to be a big solo for James during the AI summer tour.

(Btw, did you read June Smith's great Sentinel review when James and the AI tour played San Jose last month? Here it is, in case you missed it.)

Thursday, August 11, 2011


This kills me. Santa Cruz's own Laurie R. King has written a pirate novel!

Or, at least, her new novel, "The Pirate King" (due out September 6), places King's brilliant detective series heroine, Mary Russell, and her husband, Sherlock Holmes (no slouch himself when it comes to solving mysteries), behind the scenes in the silent movie industry during the making of a pirate swashbuckler, ca. 1924. Bookshop Santa Cruz will be hosting a reading by King on Tuesday, September 20. In the meantime, check out King's website for details about the 10 weeks of piratical shenanigans and contests she's holding during the run-up to publication day.

One of the contest prizes is a copy of this fabulous faux movie poster being used to advertise Laurie's book. (It's not the book jacket cover, but a separate promo item.) This image is based on a classic Howard Pyle illustration, but the whole concept harks back to the glory days of silent movie posters.

Of course, pirates and silent movies are two of my favorite subjects. I especially love the idea that (according to the preview on Laurie's website) the maniacal filmmaker in her book gets involved with real pirates to lend his film authenticity. This makes perfect sense if you know anything about the early days of silent filmmaking. In particular, the superb 13-part video series by Kevin Brownlow, Hollywood, documents the outrageous DIY spirit of intrepid movie pioneers who were making up the rules as they went along. (If the script called for a fistfight on the wings of a biplane, for instance, they sent two actors up in a biplane with a camera strapped on the wing.)

The most famous pirate movie of the silent era is The Black Pirate, starring the inimitable Douglas Fairbanks. By 1926, Fairbanks was such a huge star, he got name-above-the-title billing on the poster art; his buoyant athletic brio was always the soap his movies were selling.

But according to the strict moral code of the era, a pirate couldn't be a hero, so when Fairbanks, the most popular actor in Hollywood, wanted to make a pirate picture, he had to play a disguised nobleman who joins the pirate crew for a "noble" reason—to avenge himself on the scurvy dogs who caused his father's death. Through this device, Fairbanks got to have all the fun of playacting the pirate life without tarnishing his heroic image.

This is an all-Fairbanks production: he wrote the script (under his alias, Elton Thomas) and sketched out every shot before a director even came on board. He revels in plundering every pirate cliche in the canon, from buried treasure to walking the plank. And in one of the most memorable of all silent movie stunts, he climbs out on a yard, plunges his knife into the top of the sail, and slides all the way down to the deck by grasping the handle as the blade slices the sail in two. Yowza! Don't try this at home, kids. (Read more)

Meanwhile, other silent filmmakers were pillaging all the same source material that later became vehicles for Errol Flynn and his swashbuckling brethren in the talkies. The most famous of Flynn's pirate movies is a gritty and rousing adaptation of Rafael Sabaini's Captain Blood, made in 1935. (Arguably, by me, the best pirate movie ever made.) But there was also a lavish silent version, starring one J. Warren Kerrigan, made in 1924.

Only about half an hour of footage from this film exists today. But this cool poster remains. It's unusual for a pirate movie in that it features no ship, no sea, no Bounding Main; it's all about mood and tension. I just love that looming shadow figure. This poster tells you: prepare to be thrilled!

Apparently, this early version of The Sea Hawk (also produced in 1924), stuck far more closely to the original Sabatini novel than the more famous Errol Flynn/MGM version made in 1940. Milton Sills stars as an Elizabethan sea captain framed for a crime and sold into slavery to the Spanish; when Muslim corsairs eventually board his ship and free him, he renounces Christianity and transforms himself into the Algerian pirate, Sakr-el-Bahr—The Hawk of the Sea.

This was obviously a plot point that wouldn't wash in 1940s Hollywood. But this terrific poster conveys all the lush Eastern exoticism of Sabatini's tale.

Robert Louis Stevenson's evergreen pirate classic, Treasure Island, got the silent treatment in 1920, from French-born filmmaker Maurice Tourneur. (Father of Jacques Tourneur, who became a Hollywood film director of note in the '40s.) True to its era, this film featured a female actress in the role of boy-hero Jim Hawkins. More intriguing, the great Lon Chaney was on board as eerie pirate, Blind Pew, who gets innkeeper's son Hawkins involved in the pirate plot. (A couple of stills exist of Chaney in costume for the role, but the film itself is lost.) But this poster doesn't care about the stars; it's selling a rip-roaring, boy's own pirate adventure!

Setting down Russell and Holmes in the midst of all this lively ferment as the movies struggle to invent themselves sounds like a brilliant idea to me. Me timbers are shiverin' already!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


I saw these little guys peeking out of the SPCA Pet of the Week column in the Sentinel last week. The SPCA and Santa Cruz Animal Services remind us that it's now kitten (and puppy) season, with many spirited and adorable furry critters now available for adoption to loving families. I advise you to surf over there right this minute and pick out one or two.

You absolutely won't regret it, and I speak from experience!

In 2007, Art Boy and I had been cat-free for two years, after losing our wonderful tortoiseshell, Sheena, the Best Kitty Ever, at the ripe old age of 20. (As lovable as any dozen kittens, even in her dotage, she adored people, and was always the star of our annual Oscar parties.) During the intervening time, we traveled, tented the house for termites, put in a new front yard, and Art Boy weaned himself off his asthma inhalers. Still, it felt weird being catless in Cruz for the first time in our marriage.

There are many compelling reasons not to have cats. No grundgy towels all over the furniture. No cat fur clogging up your keyboard, no crunchies underfoot in the kitchen. No furry tails circling the bed like shark fins at five in the morning to remind you it's time to fill the kitty bowl. You can leave things lying around the house (food, doll beads, art projects) without fear of them be eaten or slept on the minute you turn your back. You can sit wherever you want, whenever you want, without having to dislodge 14 pounds of meatloaf with fur (which will immediately crawl right back into your lap and bolt you in place for the next four hours).

Can you tell how much I missed them?

People who don't keep animals don't understand pet lovers. Why burden oneself, they wonder, with some needy living thing that takes so much energy, and whose true temperament may not be apparent until it's too late? But, hey, that's how I feel about plants. Animals, I get. Especially cats. You feed them, you shelter them, you water them daily with tons of affection (which they may or may not appear to return). And in return you get a connection to a wild, natural world beyond petty human affairs, a deliciously pagan bond of instinct and empathy and alliance with an alien, yet simpatico fellow creature. Opening your heart to an animal is like unlocking a valve in your soul that might otherwise remain shut tight, an optimistic act of embracing life, a commitment to the future.

So there I was, back in 2007, reading the paper one day, when I saw them: two sisters, so entwined you couldn't tell whose paws were whose, gazing out with feline aplomb from the "Pet of the Week" box in the Sentinel. Pagan love drums began pounding in my heart: the call of the wild.

Miraculously, both sisters were still available, when I contacted the foster cat mom; most people wanted kittens, she explained, or were unwilling to take both cats. But they were just exactly who we'd been longing for. Bella and Roma, mellow, paint-splashed torties like Sheena, were one year old exactly on the day we brought them home from Animal Services in Watsonville. So they're not kittens any more. Who is?

Four years later, now five years old, Roma and Bella continue to provide us with entertainment value, companionship, and extreme purring. Sure, our friends sometimes call them the "Invisible Kitties," since they tend to dash out the cat door as if the Fiends of Hell were after them whenever anyone walks into the house (including Art Boy and me, half the time), but they make us insanely happy most of the time, whether romping out on the back deck (or sleeping in the succulent pots), or piling on top of us in bed in the morning, purring like maniacs.

Yes, Art Boy has had to start using his inhaler again. But we still wouldn't trade the joy of kitties for anything. They make us a family again.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Art and wine. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

The folks at the First Friday Art Walk think so too. To spice up this month's midsummer edition of the popular event (taking place this Friday, August 5), FFAW joins forces with a slate of some 20 Santa Cruz vintners to present the August Wine Walk, where art patrons will be able to sample local wines at select FFAW venues around town.

Here's how the Wine Walk works. Participants purchase a $20 ticket in advance (online at First Friday Santa Cruz or in person at the Museum of Art and History), to be redeemed on the day of the event for a commemorative wine glass and wristband. Beginning at 4:30 p.m., Friday, ticket holders come to Abbott Square, next to the MAH, to pick up their wine glasses and wristbands, along with a list of participating Wine Walk locations, before heading out on their own personal art and wine adventure. (For Westsiders, a pick-up station for glasses and wristbands will also be set up at the R. Blitzer Gallery in the old Wrigley Building.) Tickets may also be purchased for $25 on the day of the event—while they last—but patrons are encouraged to buy theirs early, and avoid the, er, crush. A portion of ticket proceeds will benefit the MAH.

As usual, you'll find work by local artists (painting, sculpture, photography, fabric, ceramics, woodworking), in a staggering variety of venues countywide—cafes, beauty salons, banks, shops and boutiques, from the Eastside to the Westside, Louden Nelson Center to Squid Row Alley, Pleasure Point to Davenport. Designated art galleries, like the Santa Cruz Art League, Felix Kulpa, Michaelangelo, Artisans, and the MAH also participate in the festivities. All venues are open to the public from 5 to 9 p.m., and admission to the Art Walk venues, as always, is free. (Read more)

And while you're down there, picking up your commemorative wine glass this First Friday, don't forget to step inside the MAH to see what's new. Incoming director Nina Simon is committed to turning the space into a cultural hub and destination in downtown Santa Cruz. In addition to three new shows on view in the museum's galleries, the MAH is also playing host to the finished, 30-minute pilot episode of "Junk Art Scramble" (playing in one of the ground-floor committee rooms), and to chalk muralist Shirley Lehner-Rhoades, whose Italian Renaissance-inspired Madonna and Child has been chalked onto a 6x8-foot square of the concrete atrium floor. (It will vanish like Brigadoon after Friday, so don't miss it!)

Also new at the MAH are interactive elements designed into each of the gallery exhibits that invite patrons to create their own furniture designs (in the Furniture Design exhibit on the third floor), play the "Name that wood" game in the Santa Cruz Woodworkers show in the Solari Gallery, and share your favorite recipes (and/or your most hated foods) at the "Foodies In Exile" painting exhibit on the first floor.

It's all part of Simon's campaign to remake the MAH into a fun, vibrant community center. Drop in and let her know what you think!

(Above: Heather Young invites you to sample art and wine at Art du Jour (1013 Cedar Street), downtown, at the First Friday Art and Wine Walk.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Fashion icon? Moi? Well, hardly.

(Here's the last known photograph of me looking fashionable, on the way to Second Grade, 1959.)

Nor do I sew, if I can possibly avoid it. Clothes tend to languish in my mending basket through one or two presidential administrations (or until they come back in style; whichever comes first) before I can be bothered to actually mend them. The sewing machine I used all through high school committed suicide decades ago, and I was never quite motivated enough to replace it. When I started making my Weird Sisters fabric art dolls, back in the '90s, I stitched everything by hand. (You can see one over there on my Profile icon: "Infinite Jester.")

So there's no explaining my addiction to Project Runway, but I just love it. I don't care that much about the drama, the divas, the winners and losers. I just love to see how the contestants rise (or don't) to the challenge, week after week. It's not like that art reality show they tried to workshop last year, "The Next Great Artist," or whatever it was; I was hooked on that one too, but that's because I wanted to dash out and try out all those challenges myself. (A classic book cover! A biographical painting! Who could resist?) With Project Runway, I don't have any fantasies that I personally would ever be any good at it; I just want to watch them make cool clothes.

As to this season (so far) I’m pleased to see that "elderly" (57!) Bert won right out of the gate on last Thursday's premiere. Take that, kiddies! He worked for Halston and Bill Blass back in the ‘70s, and it looks like he’s still got some serious garment-construction chops. The challenge was to design some kind of outfit out of whatever the contestant was sleeping in, plus one bed sheet, when Tim Gunn woke them up at 5 am to go to the workroom. I loved how Bert made the sheet into a sophisticated little dress with smart, but not too fussy tailoring details, incorporating a section of his checked boxers into half the bodice. (The skirt could have used a tad more material, but, hey, maybe he got short-sheeted.)

I also like Anya, from Trinidad, who’s only been sewing for 4 months, but she made her silk kimono into a cool bustier over palazzo pants she made from the sheet. What I didn’t get was that kid in the plaid jacket & bow tie (it’s like the first day of kindergarten; I don’t know all their names yet), who took a striped T shirt & shorts & made them into: a striped T-shirt & shorts. Not exactly a Ta-Da moment. All he did was re-dye the yellow/grey stripes (to make them even more boring) & put some weird detailing on the shoulder & on the front of the pants, not unlike some amoebic life form slowly creeping across the model's body. I thought it was almost the ugliest thing on the runway. The judges loved it. Which explains why I will never be a guest judge on PR.

Also, what does it mean that nine out of the 16 contestants chose to dye their white bedsheets some variation of June-Gloom grey for this challenge? They might as well be broadcasting in black-and-white, sheesh!