Saturday, March 31, 2012

Google Maps 8 bit for NES

This is simply too funny to pass up:

If you go to GOOGLE maps and hit "quest" in the upper right hand corner, it works!


Support the Artists

There is a lot of conversation these days about "supporting the arts". I think many times this becomes an abstraction that loses real meaning. I prefer the more concrete term of "supporting the artists".

After all, it is artists who create art. Yet many times, artists find themselves at the bottom of the financial totem pole. Artists are a sector of the community who often not only don't make a "living wage", they don't even make minimum wage.

There is a prevailing attitude in America that somehow you are rewarding an artist simply by providing the opportunity to create. To perform. To produce. The catchphrases "it will be great for your portfolio!" or "it will be great exposure!" are used over and over.

Artists on a whole have a great deal invested in their art. Besides years or decades of practicing their craft, there are material and studio costs involved. Graphic artists require top-of-the-line computers and software, tending to start in the $3000 range combined, and going up dramatically. Some programs run as high as $5000.

Videographers require not only high end computers and software, but video cameras as well. One can expect to pay $4,000 on up for a quality camera. Cameras with the ability to synch together for two camera coverage are in the $8000 range on up. Each.

Dancers require constant rehearsal to keep their bodies in shape. Choreographers must constantly study the latests whims of the pop entertainment world in order to keep their work current. Dance required significant studio space with specially designed floors and mirrored walls.

Sculptors require huge studio spaces, welding equipment, wood working equipment, and not only mastering the art of creating form, but must also have an engineering mind to build structurally sound sculptures. Materials from urethanes and silicones to stone and bronze are very expensive.

Set designers, lighting designers, costume designers, and technical directors must not only create an immersive environment from the void, but in addition to their design time and hands on fabrication of their creations, they must also attend rehearsals to see their work in progress, taking notes from directors, hearing concerns of actors, and making sure things look how the designer wants.

In a world where plumbers, electricians, waiters, carpenters, bus drivers, and sales clerks would never be told that simply doing their job should be reward enough without regard to monetary compensation, people somehow don't have a problem telling artists that simply the opportunity to work would somehow be "great" for them. Charities often call upon artists to contribute art for auction to support their charity. The irony is that many artists are more in need of support than the beneficiaries of the charitable organization.

I encourage artists to stand up and simply say "No." I encourage you to visit No!Spec. Value your time. Calculate the number of hours you work, and evaluate that at at LEAST minimum wage. Don't forget overtime. That is... if you work 80 hours in a week on a project, that is 40 hours straight time, and 40 hours overtime. If you are getting say, $600 a week and working 80 hours, you are only making six bucks an hour. Many artists make less.

There is a lot of talk about the "creative economy", and how "the arts" are essential to the growth of communities. It is imperative that artists be treated as essential. Change the language, and reality tends to follow. Support the artists.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Spotlight: Keyport, NJ

I found myself working at a high end prop fabrication in central New Jersey last year. My initial transition was easy, as being from Brooklyn, I have a lot of family up there, and was fortunate to be able to stay with a generous relative for a while until I found a place to stay.

Choosing a place was difficult. It had been 35 years since I lived in Brooklyn, and I wasn't really attuned to busy city life anymore. I knew I didn't want to edge towards Newark, and instead focused on areas that were further south. South Amboy is a cool little town, with the remarkable distinction of once having the world record for most bars and liquor stores per square mile. Freehold was nice and quiet, but a little too far of a drive for comfort. I stumbled upon the little fishing town of Keyport, and almost immediately felt at home. I had found a rare gem in the bustle of Northeastern city life.

The main attraction in Keyport is the Keyport Borough Waterfront Park and Promenade.  From the town's website:

In January 2007, the NJDEP Bureau of Coastal Engineering broke ground on a project to transform the shore protection and public access of the Keyport Borough Waterfront through a partnership of State, County, and Local funding. The bulkhead replacement project included 1,450 linear feet of the American Legion Drive Bulkhead from the Municipal Boat Ramp to the recreation area known as Fireman's Park. The project, while providing vital protection of the Borough's coastal bay front, provides for greatly enhanced, recreational public access to this area. The municipal fishing pier which lies west of the center of the bulkhead project was also rehabilitated through partial funding from the NJ Green Acres Program.

I found this cool video on youtube:

Keyport also has a weekly Twilight Concert Series every Saturday night of May and June, sponsored by Espresso Joe's. It is held in the "Mini Park", which is a small paved and tiered plaza overlooking the Promenade. Local acts are booked for this outdoor event. Crowds might be as small as a couple of people, or as large as 40 or 50 or more.

When I was there, I met the folks from Clan Suibhne. "Sui (bh) ne". In gaelic, the "h" silences the consonant preceding it. Thus, the "b" and "h are silent for the gaelic spelling of Sweeney.

Here they are playing inside Espresso Joe's:

One of the great things about evening outdoor sidewalk concerts is that I got to chat with the guys after the event. John invited me to come play with them at Johnny Mac's in Asbury Park (another great town). I had a blast!

Johnny Mac House of Spirits is one of the most thoroughly decked out themed restaurants I've ever been to. And it was all done by the owner. I'm afraid I don't have any good pics of the inside.

Keyport has a lot of bars and restaurants down by the water. Joe Joe at The Uptown was a great host.
Here's a shout out to all the guys... Queen Ken, Johnny Tomato, Sean, Laundry Man, Lemon Head and the rest of the gang.

The Bulkhead was set to re-open this spring and has shows scheduled, so I'm thinking that it was a success!

Update: I hear the Bulkhead should be opening in a week or two.

Giant Ass Puppets

Yes, I have a thing for puppets. And marionettes. Although I do admit to being intimidated by the complexity of marionettes.

As I've mentioned before, I was working for the summer in Shepherdstown, WV as prop shop forman for the Contemporary American Theater Festival. One day, an intelligent young woman working in the costume shop told me about a local venue that was having a event that evening open to the community. It was on private property, and had the unusual name of "The Timberframe Folly".

Timber Frame Construction

I was intrigued immediately, as I have a love for timber frame style construction.
When my wife and I built our home, we hoped to be able to employ timberframing. However, it was a bit out of our price range, and we went with something a little more traditional, although very much inspired by the timber frame idea.

As intrigued as I was over the timber framing, more to my joy was the information that there was going to be a show in a few weeks at The Folly, incorporating 10 foot tall marionettes.

The event that evening was wonderful, featuring hand made arts and crafts, home made stew, and local musicians performing under... the Timberframe Folly.

The folly has its own interesting history, but it was created by Al Thomas, a local timber framer, on the Sanders property. I inquired about the giant marionettes, and was introduced to Bradley Sanders, creator extraordinaire. Bradley showed me the marionette bodies in progress, as well as the enormous radio controlled heads.

Bradley and I shared an amazement at a video we had seen online. Each of us (independently of one another) had enthusiastically showed this video to anyone who would listen. Bradley laughed as I pulled it up and showed it to him, as if he had never seen it. Here it is:

I'll fast forward to my last day at CATF. After completing my contract as prop shop manager, I stopped by the Folly to see if they needed any help on the show, which was coming up in a couple of days. I had rescheduled my departure day to Sunday instead of Friday, so I could see the Saturday night show.
When hearing that I was going to be in town for the show, they asked if I would like to be part of it and help manipulate one of the marionettes. (Each marionette requires 4 people to operate). I jumped at the chance.

Here are videos of Fish Tales, written and performed by the local children at The Timberframe Folly.

Part 1:

Part 2

Spotlight: Martinsburg, West Virginia

In the Summer of 2010, I was the prop shop foreman for the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, WV. I'll have an upcoming post about Shepherdstown and CATF. However, while staying in West Virginia, I visited the town of Martinsburg.

It is my habit, when staying for any length of time in a new area, to explore everything that is practical within a 40 minute drive. Martinsburg is a neat little town. One of the first things that caught my eye were the enormous "artists pallets" placed in front of each of the shops. These featured artwork that was themed to the services the shops provided.

Colin standing by to give you a sense of scale

I have to say, these are just the bee's knees. What a cool, simple idea.

Materials required:
Welded stand

While I was walking down the street, I saw a posting in a window for a puppet show at a place called Wonderment Puppet Theater. I can't resist a puppet show, having designed puppets and taught puppetry, as well as writing and producing my own puppet shows. I was delighted when I went down the street to find this amazing building:

I sat through the $4.50 show with some other kids, and was warmly welcomed by Joe and Jane Santoro and given the "backstage tour". When Jodie and Colin came to Shepherdstown to visit me, I had to bring them there. After the show, we all had a great time singing songs, and I learned "Rattlin' Bog".

Here's my version of it:

So there you have it. Cool public art and a puppet theater. More on that puppet theater later!

Transmit Dopamine

I thought I would introduce you to the town of Ashland by way of a music video I made which was shot almost entirely in the small town.


My friend Colin has Parkinson's Disease. He was diagnosed over 10 years ago. They always say "diagnosed", because symptoms start long before a diagnosis is ever given. It starts small, with maybe the twitch of a finger...

Colin is a prolific songwriter, and loves to play the guitar. As the disease progressed, he lost the ability to play. But say what you want about technology and modern medicine... we live in an amazing age. Colin had Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery about six years ago. They put a pacemaker in you, and steadily but gently shock your brain... and somehow it overcomes the symptoms of Parkinson's. For some people. To some degree.

Colin has been an amazing success story. He began playing again, and his creativity soared. He wrote a song called "Transmit Dopamine", about dealing with Parkinson's, and a couple of years ago, asked me if I would help him to make a music video of it.

Before I post the video, a few comments about it. The guy at the very beginning is Colin. He had been waking up with bruises all over him, so he set a video recorder to run all night to see if he could figure out what was going on. You'll see him fly out of the bed and hit his head. All while remaining asleep.

The alley, train, bar (Andy's Restaurant), "bus stop" (there is no bus stop in Ashland) are all shot in Ashland. The convenience store (Doswell Express) is in Doswell on Rt. 1. The stockade is in Colonial Williamsburg. That's my wife Jodie and our friend Kate in the car at the end. I'm "the wanderer".

All the faces at the end are folks with Parkinson's. Unfortunately, they are not all still with us today.

The State of the Arts on Main Street USA

I have started this blog to explore ideas about the history and development of "arts" in small town America. I have lived in small towns and big cities. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and found my way to Charlotte, NC when I was 12. Charlotte wasn't anywhere near as booming as it is now, and I have to say that one of the reasons I left is that I didn't particularly like the way it was growing.

My fiancée and I moved to the small town of Ashland, Virginia in 1994, where we rented the top floor of an old Victorian house on the famed railroad tracks. We were married at dusk during the full moon in the back yard, with the ceremony dutifully interrupted by a 100 car freight train. As is the custom in Ashland, we patiently waited for the train to pass before continuing on with the ceremony.

After six years, we built a house out in the country. The postal address is Beaverdam, although Ashland's post office is closer, and Doswell's is even closer.

Ashland bills itself as "The Center of the Universe". If Ashland is the center, Beaverdam, lacking even a single traffic light, is on the other side.

From Charlotte, Gastonia, and Concord, NC;  Richmond, Ashland, Doswell, Williamsburg, Charlottesville, and Arlington, VA; Shepherdstown, WV;  and New York, NY,  I have worked for small community theaters, professional theaters, theme parks, and The Great White Way.

I have worked as a commissioned sculptural artists and designer, and my portfolio includes collaborating with one of the top fountain design/engineering groups in the world. I've worked in film and video, from a music video shot on a consumer video camera I directed and edited myself for a friend's song about Parkinson's Disease, to working on local and national television commercials, independent films, and made for TV movies.

I have an idea or two about what works and what doesn't in regards to developing "arts" in small town America. My plan is to use this blog to explore good ideas as well as bad. To raise warnings to issues I have seen, and to share the excitement of success stories.

I was motivated to get involved locally by an article I had read about the town of Ashland.

"The Ashland Main Street Association (AMSA) presented its third in a series of roundtable discussions to work toward the organization’s aim of revitalizing, renovating, restoring and repurposing the downtown area"

"Dozens of interested residents and business people filled the Ashland Firehouse Theater Feb. 28 to discuss the revitalization of downtown Ashland and the potential for a cultural arts district."

There is a lot of talk going around nationally about the "creative economy", and how arts and culture are a critical part of the success of the revitalization of small communities. I plan to investigate whether this concept is more fact or fiction, and if something that works in one area might be doomed to failure in another.

I hope you enjoy, and contribute your thoughts!