Audio Description

Ever see headsets at the theater and wonder what they're for? Instead of a low- or no-sighted patron having to rely on their companion to tell them what's going on onstage, trained describers watch the show live from a special booth and briefly state what they see. It's an art called Audio Description (that I've previously written about), and it's a way for people with low or no vision to enjoy theatrical events.

About six months ago the Straz Center for the Performing Arts (formerly Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center) received a grant to bring in a seasoned trainer to teach a handful of locals all about Audio Description. Though AD does not yet have an official certification
process, many people are working towards one and professional standards have been in place for years - such as not talking over the actor's lines, using six words or less, etc.

I was among the first class to be schooled, trained on Fiddler on the Roof and Stomp. Although Stomp had no lines to step on, it presented another challenge: which actions do you describe when there are so many?

Luckily, I was well prepared. For my audition, my husband had recommended that I practice the "Make 'Em Laugh" scene from Singing in the Rain. Overwhelmed at first, I think I did pretty well.

Describing is more than showing up the day of the performance to do the play-by-play. We watch the show at least once to take notes on anything seen on stage, from the lights and sets and costumes to the eye color of the actors. These "preshow notes" are then read 30 minutes before curtain time and again during intermission, so it's important for those who come to a show for AD to be in their seats early.

Below is the description I gave for the Queen of Hearts in the current production of "Wonderland."
Karen Mason plays Mrs. Everheart and the Queen of Hearts. Both characters are the same age, 40 years old, 5’2 tall, with brassy red hair. The Queen of Hearts wears her hair in a braid that loops above her head in the shape of a heart. In the middle of her head is a small platinum heart-shaped crown. She has bangs on her forehead, pale, snowy skin and thin lips painted bright red. She wears oversized light gray pointy glasses with round lenses. Her asymetrical V-neck knee length dress is black and white and styled after a Queen of Hearts playing card, with a large letter “Q” on each thigh and various sized hearts and other symbols all over the bodice. On the left side of her chest she wears a hand-shaped brooch that’s holding a fake black and white flower that extends from her dress. The shoulders have full frilly white ruffles the size of extra large bouquets, lined with black trim. A smaller, similar bouquet is on her navel like a belt. Below it, on the right side, the dress fans out like a spiral staircase and spills down the back of her legs to her ankles into a stiff train. She wears elbow-length gloves on each hand, one white, one black, and a thick black and white striped choker around her neck. On her legs she wears transparent black hosiery and tall black platform heels on her feet, with red hearts on the toe.

Though all the senses can be aroused at the theater, thanks to Audio Description nothing has to be left out for anyone who can't actually see the show.

The next AD show at the Straz is South Pacific on January 16th.


Fifty-Two Friends

For Josh Sullivan, 2009 isn't just the end of a decade, it's the end of a year-long adventure called Fifty-Two Friends. The Saginaw, MI native (and one of my dear friends) moved to St. Pete about 10 years ago, but hasn't done much traveling since. Last year Josh decided he "needed to get out and do something for a change," so he took an idea - to see the country and inspire himself into doing more of his art - on the road. With the help of friends and social networking sites, he planned to stay in a new town with a new or old (or a soon-to-be) friend for each week of the year. Here's some of his art, and a Q&A we did recently via email (edited for space/time).

Q: What was it like to carry your life around in a back pack for a year?

A: I left with about five bags that were filled with three weeks worth of clothes, tons of art supplies, paper for ‘zines, and a bunch of other random things. Along the way, I’ve sent a batch of packages back to St. Pete to keep my backpacks as light as possible.

It isn’t the worst thing to be living out of a couple bags for the majority of the trip but I can’t wait until I can start wearing some different clothes. My shoes fell apart at one point and I had to glue them back together.

Q: What was the hardest thing about traveling?

A: I had two trips that were 1,400 miles each, which translated into roughly 34-hour bus rides. For 27 of the weeks, I rode to the next city by bus and was probably on around 60 different buses. I arrived by train for two of the weeks and then the rest of the trip I was able to get to the next city because of gracious friends of mine who were willing to help out.

It wasn’t so bad going by bus, though, because I was getting to see some of the most random spots in the country. I always looked at everything, no matter how cumbersome or nerve-racking, as part of the adventure. This really helped me gain some incredible patience. For certain other places, I didn’t want to leave because I was enjoying my stay so much or I wanted to spend more time with my friends and a week just wasn’t enough.

I honestly thought traveling would be a lot harder than it was. If I could pull off half of the trip without any money, then I can just imagine how far I’d be able to go if I saved up for a while.

Q: What was it like not to have a "real job" for a year? Has your art benefited or suffered?

A: It was absolutely incredible. One of my big goals with the trip was to a break away from having a real job but now it’s something I long for extremely at this point. I’m looking forward to finally having a regular paycheck and benefits again. I loved it because many of the days I was able to sleep in, which didn’t happen too often back home, and I was able to go at my own pace.

On the other side of things, I’ve worked harder than I ever have before (even at a real job) because of “Fifty-Two Friends.” There was so much involved with getting the weeks booked and I didn’t have the trip completely booked until just before Week #40. I was going crazy trying to keep up on everything and it really was more than a full-time job. From the inception of me planning to do this, to working on getting the weeks straightened out, to actually doing the trip, and then all of the forthcoming work I have on ‘zines and editing video and possibly working on a book, I will have probably spent around three or four years on this.

Q: What are some of the weird places you've been to on your trip? Most obscure? Your new favorites?

A: Durand, WI was the smallest place I stayed in population-wise at about 1,900 people. My friend I stayed with [in Uvalde, TX] kept saying that he didn’t think I’d like it there since it was a smaller town and I ended up loving it. It was about an hour southwest of San Antonio and about an hour from the border with Mexico. I felt like I was in a whole different place and it was a nice week where I got to relax and get a lot of work done, too.

I really wanted to go see Marquette, MI, which is the largest city in the Upper Peninsula, but still only has about 20,000 people. I grew up in MI but barely scratched the surface of experience anything that was in the U.P. Presque Isle, ME was pretty great because I had wanted to go to Maine and then I had an offer, which happened to be almost at the very top of the state, only ten miles from the Canadian border. I made sure to spend my last day there riding a bike to the border and back just so I could say that I did it.

Almost all of the cities I stayed in were new to me so that provided a clean slate when it came to not really having a clear idea of where I would go when I got there. I’ve ended up at a goat farm in Jim Falls, WI, a bourbon distillery in Versailles, KY, the tops of two mountains at sunset, and a bunch of other locations over this past year. I couldn’t believe so many of my friends were so spread out in the country and that I got to see most of them. I love that I called it “Fifty-Two Friends” because friendship was definitely the main theme of the trip, with seeing old friends and making a lot of new ones, too.

Q: Was there any place you wanted to go to but couldn't make happen?

A: I was trying to get something lined up in Philadelphia, Baltimore, upstate New York, and Montana or Wyoming. I can probably make a list of 52 people who I wasn’t able to stay with but had said I could at some point. A lot of things came up over the year, with people moving or losing their jobs and things weren’t conducive for me coming to stay.

The good thing is that even though I didn’t get to stay in some of the places I wanted to, I got to see most of them so I now have a better idea of what to expect from there when I do end up getting the chance to experience more of it. I didn’t get to see nine states on this trip so I’m thinking of doing a trip at some point where I go and explore those ones. I’d like to see the Grand Canyon or Las Vegas or Mt. Rushmore but I’m glad that I didn’t on this trip because I still have so much more exploring to do in the U.S.

Q: What do you miss about home?

A: I miss my mom, my friends, and my cats. It took traveling all over the country to make me realize that I need to spend more time with everyone back home. I’ve got some of my best friends all within a very small area of each other of St. Pete and it would seem like I’d never go and see them because I thought I always had so much work to do. Besides surprising my mom when I get back, I’m probably going to grab my cats and squeeze the hell out of them. They’re my companions and have been there for me at some of my lowest points. I think about them constantly and I can’t wait to see them.

Now that I’ve been back in Florida for a couple weeks, I realized that I actually have missed the warm, gross weather. I missed palm trees and those crazy lizards who love to lay out on the sidewalks. St. Pete is my favorite city in the state and I can’t wait to get back there. I’m looking forward to watching my DVD’s and listening to my record collection, too.

Q: Any towns you'd be eager to trade in for St Pete?

A: I can honestly say that almost every place that I ended up staying at on the trip, I could see myself living there. I almost didn’t leave New York City and it was my most favorite place on the trip. I had never been there before and I fell in love with it immediately. I loved all of the people and the commotion and everything was new and exciting at every turn. I was only going to be there for two weeks but I was lucky enough to turn that into four weeks after scoring another stay in Brooklyn and also getting an apartment sitting gig in Manhattan. I want to go back there and meet more people and do art that feeds off of the life of the city.

I can say the same for Chicago and I’ve always been super enamored with it because of the music scene and the art scene. Most of my favorite bands and a lot of my favorite comic artists are from Chicago. I was happy that I got to spend a day riding a bike around and seeing a lot of the places that I had always heard about. Some of my other favorites include: Burlington, VT; Asheville, NC; Lexington, KY; Marquette, MI; and Portland, OR.

Q: Did you succeed in your goal of getting 52 friends/places?

A: I only had to get a hotel once on the whole trip and that was because I wanted to go to Roslyn, WA, where they filmed my favorite show “Northern Exposure”. The closest place the Greyhound stopped to Roslyn was in Ellensburg, about 30 miles east. I got off the bus and didn’t know what to do so I walked across the street to a hotel, which was still two miles outside of town. I did end up meeting some great people there and a new friend ended up taking me to see Roslyn after 14 years of wanting to see it.

I also stayed with some people for more than one week because of particular stays falling through and I had offers from some friends saying they wouldn’t mind having me for longer. With everyone’s roommates and significant others, I ended up staying with around 100 different people. There were a few months at a time where I ended up buying bus tickets for places and not having the stays confirmed. When that happened, sometimes I would get a place lined up only a night or two before I arrived in town and I got to have a great week with a new friend I met on that way, too.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

A: I ran out of money around the halfway point and I thought I would have had to throw in the towel, which I was ok with. I initially thought that I’d only make it two weeks before having to go back to St. Pete. But, people would buy little pieces of art here and there and other people would donate money just so I could continue on with my adventure. I heard from people I hadn’t talked to in years and they would say things such as they just wanted to do whatever they could to help. If anyone ever visits me in St. Pete, it will be a lot of fun showing them around my own backyard. I hope I’ll get to see some of the people who let me stay with them during “Fifty-Two Friends”

I put off doing the ‘zines that were supposed to accompany each week of the trip so I get to spend 2010 working on those and eventually there will be 52 issues chronicling my adventure. I’m really looking forward to doing some new comics in those books and starting to work more autobiographical strips into my repertoire. I’m hoping to continue this adventure on a trip around the world at some point. I have this crazy idea of seeing every country and meeting as many people as possible. I want to hear their stories and experience a part of their lives.

My Aim is True

A year ago I discovered the holidays anew: odd work hours prevented me from going to Florida's East Coast to enjoy it with my family, and I was without a special someone here in Tampa to share all the little things that I love about Christmas. But I found a friend who was recently single, and we decided to spend it together.
Watching cartoons and Francis the Talking Mule.

It wasn't what I would have planned myself, but I was happy. A week later we had a platonic New Year's Eve date, and I think for the first time in my life I wasn't longing for anything I didn't already have. What an empowering feeling...and Ronny and I were married just a few months later.
The traditions we now have are what we make up along the way.

Like our pink palm Christmas tree.

This morning we subbed from Glen Hatchell on 88.5's Monday Morning Show. Our playlist is below, and you can listen to the show online in the archives for the next week.

Dr. John Litanie Des Saints Goin' Back To New Orleans
Youngbloods Grizzly Bear Get Together
Johnny Mercer & Margaret Whiting Baby, It's Cold Outside Mistletoe & Merriment
Roy Zimmerman Jingle Bell Iraq Peacenick
set break
SUGAR PIE DESANTO Soulful Dress Decade Of Chicago Blues
Warren Zevon Searchin' For A Heart Mr. Bad Example
The Beach Boys Little Saint Nick Mistletoe & merriment
Steppin' In It Mr. President Simple Tunes
WMNF News Headlines
Van Dyke Parks Bing Crosby Discover America
Staple Singers Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas
Incredible String Band A Very Cellular Song The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
The Uniques Please Come Home For Christmas Cool Yule
Peggy Lee Winter Wonderland Mistletoe & Merriment
Dean Martin Jingle Bells Mistletoe & Merriment
Trashmen Surfin' Bird
Laurel & Hardy Shine On Harvest Moon Trail Of The Lonesome Pines
Chuck Prophet Leave the Window Open Let Freedom Ring
NPR News Headlines
Bob Dylan Silver Bells Christmas In The Heart
Shorty Long Devil With A Blue Dress On
NANCY APPLE Creole Boy With A Spanish Guitar Shine
The Drifters White Christmas Cool Yule
Toots Hibbert Hard To Handle
Nellie McKay Sentimental Journey Normal as Blueberry Pie
Ike & Tina Turner Merry Christmas, Baby Cool Yule
WMNF News Headlines
Screamin' Jay Hawkins I Love Paris VOODOO JIVE
Ed Byrnes Yulesville Cool Yule
Tommy Ridgley Looped
Ryan Adams Oh My Sweet Carolina Heartbreaker
Lori Karpay Capitol Hill The Poet Lori Ate
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Mystery Man Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
The Rubber Band Last Xmas
The Ronettes I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus A Christmas Gift For You
The Ventures Sleigh Ride Cool Yule
NPR News Headlines
Tim Dawe Little Boy Blue Penrod
Rock Bottom Hank Ballard Stole My Date
Louis Armstrong & The All Stars Christmas Night In Harlem Swingin' Christmas
Robbie Fulks I Push Right Over South Mouth
Tick Tocks Gonna Get You Yet
KT Tunstall Under The Weather Eye To The Telescope
Terry Clarke 1953
WMNF News Headlines
Ray Charles Winter Wonderland Spirit Of Christmas
Taj Mahal Six Days On The Road Giant Step
Ramsay Midwood Hobo Man
Five For Fighting Silent Night


What's Big and Red and Gives Christmas Cheer?

If you spend any amount of time going north on Florida Avenue in Tampa for the last three months of the year, you know it's not Santa, but the ginormous Metropolitan Ministries holiday center tent. Since I've never been inside, I decided to see it for myself. Community relations manager Ana Mendez was my guide.

On Friday, December 11th, the holiday center opens for business. Pre-registered families already qualified for services will get to "shop" for two toys per child and groceries from the huge Metro Market, a makeshift grocery store located in the tent. With the help of dedicated volunteers, 1000 families will enter the tent daily until Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, more volunteers (who began signing up for these coveted spots back in September) will feed Christmas dinner to those who would otherwise have gone without.

Ana Mendez with volunteer Kit Carson

"We've got serving down to a science. We feed 100 families every 15 minutes."

In addition to the folks who visit the holiday center for assistance, Metro Ministries provides 47 community partners toys and holiday food. These days, there is always a need for food donations, and the most urgent need for toys is for teenaged boys and girls.
MP3 players, makeup, or "anything you'd buy for yourself or a friend," is what Ana tells youth interested in holding gift drives for their less fortunate peers.

"This is Barbie central," Ana said when we entered the part of the tent designated as a toy store. The shelves were labeled for age and gender. Toys overflowed the girls and boys pre-teen and infant sections, but were barren when it came to the 12-17 year olds.

Last year 26,000 people in Tampa Bay were served by Metropolitan Ministries and their partners.
This year, the number is projected to be 29,000. The need is great, but the volunteer requests keep coming in, too. And while Christmas Day is pretty much booked up (there may still be a need for traffic managers to guide vehicles and families in and out of the tent), the need continues year round.


Can't Get This on Corporate Radio

I spent the weekend with lots of friends and friendly acquaintances: my forthcoming birthday brought a few people over for brunch, followed by a couple of neighborhood Christmas parties. Then this morning Ronny, Bev and I sat in for Jennifer Hollowell on the ND Hour, oh favorite-est of shows of mine on WMNF.

We only had a days' notice to throw the show together, but Ronny burned some excellent Christmas and do-gooder tunes off the old iMac. On the way into the radio station, driving up Florida Ave., we listened to the CD of music. Just before Chip Taylor's "Michael's Song" started, we passed through downtown. I noticed some homeless folks still sitting in doorways, their overnight resting places and haven from last nights' cold.

Nothing to me is more disheartening than wanting to help but not knowing how. Then the Chip Taylor song came on, perfect timing, as we passed the crowd gathered around the Salvation Army building, then Metropolitan Ministries.

"Michael's Song" was going to be the last song of our show today, suddenly more important to me than even playing John Lennon (He died on the 8th, my birthday...what stupid irony.), but our burned CD skipped 10 seconds into the Taylor song, so it barely got over the air. I thought I'd share this awesome song and story with the blogosphere instead.

Here's the rest of the playlist:

Artist Track Album/CD
Huey "Piano" Smith & the Clowns Silent Night Cool Yule
Frank Turner Photosynthesis Love Ire and Song
Nancy Apple Creole Boy With A Spanish Guitar Shine
Bazza I'll Be Home For Christmas Christmas News
Amazing Rhythm Aces King Of The Cowboys Stacked Deck
Emmylou Harris Sweetheart Of The Rodeo Songbird
Johnny Cash Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream Live At Madison Square Garden
Bob Dylan Here Comes Santa Claus Christmas In The Heart
Beau Brummels You Tell Me Why Beau Brummels
benny joy I Never Want To See You Again Love Zone
John Lennon Happy Xmas New York City
Butch Hancock If You Were a Bluebird Eats Away The Night
Audrey Auld Pub With No Beer Australia