I’m Sensing A Fence…

Today I learned that my daughter had no water at school. I should be more specific: she had no running water. Evidently, over the weekend, vandels broke into the school and stole copper piping. They’ve done this before, which is why all the air conditioning the school had couldn’t be used.

This rash of copper thefts is getting ridiculous. I’ve heard reports of thieves stealing copper from street lights, traffic signals, and (as we saw at Nobel), schools. It endangers public safety; it endangers out children’s safety, and it costs tax dollars to replace — much more than just the value of the metal.

Unfortunately, I think it is just a symptom of the larger economic malaise. It is the same reason why your catalytic converter is more valuable now than your car radio. I just wish I knew the answer.


Cow Patty! Not!

Last night, we saw the opening night production of “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales” at Nobel Middle School. To begin with, I must disclose that my daughter was in the production, so there is a *little* bias :-).

For those not familiar with production, “Stinky Cheese Man” is based on the book by Jon Scieszka & Lane Smith, and was adapted for the stage by John Glore, who graciously granted Nobel Middle School exclusive non-profit rights in Southern California (it was recently presented commercially in the area). It is a collection of well known fairy tales, with various twists on them. The best known of the stories in the bunch is probably the version of “The Three Little Pigs”, from the wolf’s point of view. Other stories included in the collection are Chicken Licken, The Princess and the Bowling Ball, Ugly Duckling, Frog Prince, Little Red, Jack’s Story, Cinderella, Tortoise and the Hair, and The Stinky Cheese Man. South Coast Rep described the play as follows:

The extremely cockeyed—and enormously popular—children’s book is even more fun when the fairy tales take on lives of their own and go berserk right on stage! Characters burst into song. Rumpelstitskin turns up in Cinderella’s story. Jack sends the Giant back up the beanstalk (which he hasn’t even planted yet). Chickens can’t wait for their cues. The audience can’t wait to applaud—and you’ll never want it to end!

Especially for a middle school production, the quality was excellent. Lines were said clearly and distinctly, and with appropriate emotion, and the kids seemed to be really into their characters. Costuming was simple but quite good: all but one of the actors wore colorful T-shirts with their character’s name printed on them (even the extras wore shirts that said “Extra”). The sets were constructed by the art classes and were quite good. Lighting had some trouble in the beginning but that got resolved later in the program. Not one kid appeared to forget their lines, although a few rushed them out without waiting for the audience to quiet down. The use of the outside script was good, and led to a very entertaining production (extremely funny at times).

I’m not going to list all the kids in the program, because there are *lots* of them and all are under 15. Suffice it to say they were all excellent. Particular standouts were Jack/Narrator (Jon B.), Cow Patty Kid (Jessica L.), Chicken Licken (Camille M.), Big Bad Wolf (Quest Z.), the Giant (Daniel B.), and I must not forget the Evil Step Mother (nsshere). But in reality, all were quite good.

The production continues tonight at 7:00pm and tomorrow (Saturday) at 5:00pm. I hope that some of the staff of the Performing Arts Magnet at Van Nuys HS show up for one of these productions — this would be a wonderful feeder program for their magnet.

And with that, our 2007 theatre year comes to an end, unless I schedule something last minute over Winter Break. I hope you enjoy reading these reviews as much as I enjoy writing them. I do encourage everyone to go to live theatre — it is an incomperable experience. Our theatre starts up again on 1/5/08 at 2:00pm, when we’re squeezing in a production (between a Bat Mitzvah service and a Bat Mitzvah reception [no, not nsshere’s]) of “The Color Purple” at the Ahmanson Theatre, followed on 1/12 by “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.


High Schools and Fleas

Last night, we went to Van Nuys High School to see the Van Nuys Performing Arts Magnet perform the play “A Flea In Her Ear.” We went primarily because nsshere is about to graduate middle school, and thus we have to make our choice regarding application to a magnet school. At the top of our list for magnets is the Van Nuys Performing Arts Magnet, which (a) has the highest AP exam pass rate in LAUSD for the second consecutive year, (b) allows its students to take classes in the co-located Mathematics and Medical magnets, and (c) has an excellent performing arts program. The family had visited the Granada Hills HS M/S/T magnet earlier in the day, and had come away unimpressed (which was disappointing as Granada Hills is our residential school fallback). We already know that although Granada Hills has reasonable test scores, their theatre and performing arts program just isn’t in the same league as VNHS.

So, we went to the show last night, courtesy of comped tickets from the magnet advisor. Their facility is beautiful. The school was originally built in the 1910 timeframe, and after various earthquakes, the auditorium has been rebuilt as a professional theatre, with a full thrust stage, numerous lighting bridges, full sound system and sound mixer boards, and comfortable seating. Combine this with elaborate sets, including staircases and rotating turntables, all constructed by the students… and right away there was “tech envy”.

The show, “A Flea In Her Ear” is a true old-fashioned sex farce, written by Georges Feydeau. Samuel French summarizes the plot as “Raymonde suspects her husband, Victor Emmanuel, of infidelity and she turns to her best friend, Lucienne, to help her gain proof. They concoct a play-based on a perfumed letter-to trap him at the Hotel Coq d’Or in Montretout. In true Feydeau fashion the plan misfires; the plot is complicated by confused identities, revolving beds, a great many doors and the fact that the stupid hotel porter, Poche, is the exact double of Victor Emmanuel. Period: the early 1900s.” In other words, there are all the classic elements of a farce: mistaken identities, exaggerated actions, lots of craziness, and loads of slamming doors. Farces are the hardest comedies to do, as they do not depend on jokes but on exact and precise timing. You can find a good description of the plot and the characters, as well as an explanation of farces, here.

Van Nuys Performing Arts Magnet did an excellent job with the piece, especially considering that the cast included a fair number of 9th graders. They had the timing and the blocking down pat, and most of the actors did an excellent job of projection. Some were clearly nervous and spoke their lines a little fast; I believe that they will slow down with more experience. More annoying were some sound and static programs that occurred in the second and third acts. But these were technical; the actors did a great job of compensating.

The cast consisted of Timothy Glick (Camille Chandebise), Mikel Bossett (Antoinette Plucheux), Cody Banks (Etienne Plucheux), Aria Pakatchi (Dr. Finache), Kaitlin Walters (Lucienne De Histangua), Julia Rachilewski (Raymonde Chandebise), Dominic Gessel (VIctor Emmanuel Chandebise/Poche), Melvin Galloway III (Romaine Tournel), John Geronilla (Carlos Homenides De Histangua), Rayna Hallett (Eugenie), Paulo Tadle (Augustin Feraillon), Patricia Ponce (Olympe), Celina Pacheco (Baptistin), and Patrick Pavia (Popoy). I was particularly impressed by Ms. Walters, Ms. Rachilewski, Mr. Gessel, and Mr. Geronilla — all of who were excellent, played their parts quite well, and spoke very clearly.

The technical credits are all students as well. Sound was by Brian Bengler and Jayson Hill, lighting by Shaunna Lucas, Michael Bizarro, and John Dizon, and stage management by Brian Monterrosa, Jonathan Rivas, and Mayra Mendoza.

We came away very very impressed with the Van Nuys Magnet. It also helped that we ran into someone we knew in the audience–the mom of a girl that nsshere went to preschool with. The older daughter of the family is in the medical magnet, and gave nothing but glowing reports of the school. Personal recommendations from someone you trust are very important in something like this.

While we’re on the subject of school musicals, I must plug “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales”, which is being performed at Nobel Middle School, at the corner of Lassen and Tampa in Northridge California, on 12/6 @ 7pm, 12/7 @ 7pm, and 12/8 @ 5pm. No set ticket prices; donations at the door.

Our theatre plans? Next up for us is the new musical “Ray Charles Live” at the Pasadena Playhouse on 12/1 @ 8pm (that’s tonight!); followed by a concert by legendary folk musician Tom Paxton at McCabes on 12/2 @ 7:30pm (that’s tomorrow!). Following this is the highly anticipated “The Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales” at Nobel Middle School on 12/6 @ 7pm, 12/7 @ 7pm, and 12/8 @ 5pm — tickets for this donation-supported production are available at the door. On 1/5 at 2:00pm, we’re squeezing in a production (between a Bat Mitzvah service and a Bat Mitzvah reception [no, not nsshere’s]) of “The Color Purple” at the Ahmanson Theatre, followed on 1/12 by “Ain’t Misbehavin’” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.


What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

And now for a slightly more serious post. The Washington Post today had an interesting article on the naming of schools. It appears that (at least in the DC area) the naming of schools after people, especially dead presidents, is out of fashion. Districts would rather name their schools after something slightly less controversial, like neighborhoods or geometric features. Some quotes from the article:

“But over the past decade, even though 12 Northern Virginia high schools have opened to handle one of the fastest-growing populations in the country, not one of them has been named after a person, much less a president or a general. Instead, the various school-naming committees have embraced scenic, geographic or patriotic titles: Battlefield, Colonial Forge, Dominion, Forest Park, Heritage, Mountain View, Riverbend, South County, Stone Bridge, Westfield and two schools named Freedom.

Maryland is still naming high schools after people, but it appears to be out of sync with Virginia and much of the rest of the country. According to a new Manhattan Institute for Policy Research study, impersonal school-naming practices are a national trend. Three researchers found that 45 percent of public schools built in New Jersey before 1948 were named after people, compared with 27 percent of schools built after 1988. Similar patterns were found in Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Ohio and Wisconsin.”

I’ve thought about that in the LA district. Although there are a fair number of schools in the LAUSD named after dead presidents, not all are accounted for. In LAUSD there is: Cleveland, Garfield, Harding (now University), Grant, Jefferson, Kennedy, Lincoln, Monroe, Roosevelt, Taft, Washington, and Wilson (note that “West Adams” doesn’t count, as that’s geographical)… and for non-presidents, Phineas Banning, Miguel Conteras, Susan Miller Dorsey, Franklin, John C. Fremont, Alexander Hamilton, David Starr Jordan, Alain Leroy Locke, Manual Arts, John Marshall, John H. Francis, Helen Bernstein, Esteban Torres, Einstein, Patton, Wooden, Whitman, Thoreau, Rodia, and Ellington.

Why are named schools important? The article answers this: “School names can shape values by providing educators with a teaching opportunity”

As a side note: You can’t have all presidents, as some names are repeats: Adams, Harrison, Roosevelt, Bush, Arthur, Johnson.

So, what names are in your district? Do you cover all possible presidents? Where is Millard Filmore High School? William Henry Harrison High? Andrew Johnson High? Rutherford B. Hayes High?


Because I Knew You, I Have Been Changed For Good

Friends, let me tell you a story. In the past, I’ve written about how teachers have influenced me in my life. Tonight, I’m writing about how two teachers, Jean Martellaro and Fanny Arana, are influencing over 85 kids for good.

Tonight, I just got back from the second performance of “The Wizard of Oz and Then Some” at Nobel Middle School in Northridge, California (Note: there are two more performances of this show on Saturday: 2 PM and 6:30 PM). Wow! What these teachers have guided this group of over 85 remarkable young adults to do. I can guarantee that these two teachers are influencing these kids lives in a way that will benefit them positively for the rest of their lives. And that’s a good thing.

The play is an amalgam of the Harold Arlen “The Wizard of Oz”, with a few songs from Charlie Small’s “The Wiz” and Stephen Schwartz’ “Wicked” thrown in… and a few more surprises. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the basic story, so I won’t repeat it here. The kids did it wonderfully. As there were 85 kids in the production, I’m not going to list them all (nor am I listing last names), but I do need to note some particular standouts in the cast. Starring as Dorothy was Shelby W., who along with Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Savannah L.), and Talulah the Good Witch of the South (Joy T.), were remarkable singers and young actors. Also as standouts in the cast were Nolan M. as Toto (who stole every scene he was in) and Melanie T. as Elphaba (who stole every scene she was an… and projected quite well). I was also impressed with Kenny C. as Biff the Narrator, who had a great speaking voice; the other narrators were John A., Hessica S. and Danielle W.. Rounding out the principles in the cast were Trevor C. as the Scarecrow, Nora F. as the Tinsman, Bobby L. as the Cowardly Lion, and Giovanni F. as the Wizard of Oz. Of these, I was particularly impressed with Nora F., who had a good singing voice and a delightful smile. Bobby L., as the Lion, had the right comic chops, but (perhaps intentionally) couldn’t quite do the songs. Amanda C. as Ozwina also did a good job. A special mention goes to our own nsshere, who played Olive Green as well as being the head costume mistress and wrangler for the entire cast. This was a big job, and she has received incredible complements on her work. The rest of the cast members all did great jobs, but didn’t have specific performances to highlight.

Big kudos, however, go to the teachers behind all of this. They revitalized the drama program at this school. From nothing they arranged a first production, and now this… which was better than many local and community theatre productions I’ve seen. The skills these kids learn here: from public speaking to time management to teamwork…. will serve these kids well the rest of their lives in whatever career they are in. Additionally, I know it will instill a love of live theatre, which is a great thing.

Could things be improved? Yes. Some of the kids need to focus a bit more on projection, so you could hear them more clearly. That will come with time. On some of the songs, the breaths need to be timed a bit better — again, that’s a practice issue, and we’re dealing with 7th and 8th grade non-professionals here, so it didn’t bother me that much. The facility needs a better sound system and raked seating — but this is a public school, so we need bond funds to fix that :-). There were a few cases where I noted some miscues, but I’m sure that will be fixed in tomorrow’s performances. For what they had, they did great! [Updated 6/2 to add: The sound was better at the Saturday 2pm performance, and everyone could be heard great.]

What’s next for us. Well, we’ll be back at the 2 PM performance tomorrow :-). Alas, we’ll miss the last performance of this, as we’ll be at “The Constant Wife” at The Pasadena Playhouse. Following that is “Side Show” at UCLA Theatre Arts on 6/9 @ 8pm; “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” through Broadway/LA on 6/16 @ 2pm. We’re on vacation the end of June in Nashville, and when we return, it is “Jersey Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre on 7/15 @ 7:30pm; “Can-Can” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 7/28 at 8:00pm; “Beauty and the Beast” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 8/4 @ 2:00pm, and the DCI 2007 World Championship Finals in Pasadena on 8/11 @ 5:00pm . I’ve also ordered season tickets for the Ahmanson, as discussed here, and there’s likely to be a Hollywood Bowl show in there somewhere.