Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Interview with Ricardo J. Negron Almodovar.

Ricardo J. Negron Almodovar liked to go out just about every Saturday night. On the evening of June 12, 2016 he was at a food truck event around 10:30 PM before taking an Uber over to Pulse Nightclub by himself. He got there right before the midnight show. There was a performer from NYC there that night, and she was by the bar. Her act was as Jennifer Lopez, it was all very campy. Kate was the bartender.

Ricardo had just closed out his bar tab when it all started. He thought that the loud bangs might just be a part of the music. Then he saw people fall to the floor. Was there a fight outside, he thought to himself, perhaps the gun fire was outside in the parking lot.  The bar he was at was close to a door to the patio. Before he knew what happened someone was on top of him. Glass was shattering all around him. When he finally got out to the patio, he paused. It was dark outside. He couldn't see the gate. People were crushing into each other since the doorway acted like a funnel. The wood fence was 7 to 8 feet tall and he started trying to kick it down. the person next to him found the gate door and Ricardo fell in the crush of people trying to get out. People ran over him, stepping on him. He lost a shoe in the chaos.

He was worried that the argument might be outside and that there might be somebody shooting there. When he got out, a girl was asking if anyone spoke Spanish just before she was offered a ride. Her friend was also trampled.

Ricardo works for Proyecto Somos Orlando, powered by the Hispanic Federation. In the immediate aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub massacre, the Hispanic Federation, through its Orlando office, joined forces with local Latino-led institutions to create Proyecto Somos Orlando as a campaign to coordinate the city’s Latino social services sector and raise awareness of the need to provide the victims and their families with high-quality culturally-competent assistance. The organization will address the long-term needs for mental health services that are culturally competent and bilingual.

Ricardo travels quite a bit for the job. He has considered leaving Orlando but the job keeps him here. Orlando no longer feels like home. Any time he goes on a date, Pulse always comes up. Pulse always hangs over any relationship. He has made friends with other survivors. They interact just like any friends unless one of them has a breakdown moment. He really didn't want to be in Orlando for the one year. He feels that the entire Pulse building should be brought down. The site could feel like Central Park, whatever become of the site, the families should decide. People who weren't there shouldn't step in and try to make a name for themselves. People who lost love ones should have the primary input.

There have been mornings that Ricardo has had trouble getting up. He has a Pulse tattoo on his arm, it is a rainbow EKG line with a heart interrupting the beat. He has a much bigger tattoo on his right pectoral muscle. He wants people to live and let live. This shouldn't have happened. What the world needs is acceptance, mental health assistance, and gun laws. It all comes down to education. If the younger generation learns acceptance, the world could be a better place.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Wallaby Ranch.

Wallaby Ranch (1805 Deen Still Rd, Davenport, FL 33897) is the first full-time Aerotow Hang Gliding Flight Park in the World. Open seven days a week since 1991. Flying in a hang glider at Wallaby Ranch is exhilarating, but much of the thrill comes from the anticipation and camaraderie even before the wings take to the sky. Air currents are best in the morning, so we were encouraged to get up at the break of dawn. Breakfast and coffee were available at the barn and everyone sat at the picnic tables chatting until the currents were just right. Malcom Jones, who founded Wallaby Ranch, has flown more tandem flights than anyone else in the world. He knows how to read the current and is known for never taking any unnecessary chances.

My flight took off without a hitch, but by the time we got back to the ground, Malcom had decided that the winds had changed making it unsafe for other tandem flights to take off. I got to experience the quiet thrill of soaring and seeing a rainbow encircling the shadow of my wings in the clouds. I was at the ranch to celebrate Pam Schwartz's birthday and unfortunately, she was grounded. She did get to take flight the next day and was equally impressed with the experience.

Most of the fun at the ranch happens on the ground, meeting new people who share a passion for flight. There is a pool that became mission central for much of the afternoon as people relaxed and soaked to stay cool. Pam and I took to the pool almost immediately upon arrival to watch the sunset. Once the sun went down, horse flies and dragon flies buzzed my ears causing me to flail and destroy the peace. In the evening, everyone gathered in the barn for dinner, games and music. We played a rather risque word game that was fun to play with strangers. One player would read a card that set up a situation and then each player had to put in their own card that they felt was the most funny or inappropriate way to finish the thought. You could tell if your card had worked if everyone else laughed at the result. When my card was read each time, I swear you could hear crickets chirping. I didn't win.

Guitar and harmonica music set the tone for the rest of the evening and everyone sang along. The feeling of community being among people who fly is intoxicating and I can understand how learning to fly solo can become an obsession. 20 hours of tandem flights are needed before a pilot can fly solo. I heard that it is possible to stay in the air for hours if the winds are just right. My flight was video recorded from start to finish with a Go Pro camera mounted on the wing. It is amazing to relive the experience from the comfort of a couch.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Hairspray at the Dr. Phillis Center for the Performing Arts.

Hairspray is being presented by Encore! Cast Performing Arts at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts (445 S Magnolia Ave, Orlando, Florida 32801) on July 22 and 23rd.  I went to a cue to cue rehearsal in which the cast went over certain numbers to block choreography and check lighting. Singers didn't perform "all out" so this was just a chance to see certain scenes in the broadest sense. Actors were relaxed and joked with each other during the run through. Judging from how much fun they had working with each other, I can say that this is likely to be a very fun show to watch. Two giant hair spray cans flanked the sides of the stage and are rigged to spray out puffs of stage smoke. I want to see the final show just to find out how they are incorporated. The opening number, "Good Morning Baltimore" was rehearsed with the lead singing her heart out and it was stellar. I was a little disappointed that the flasher had some clothes on under his trench coat, but maybe most of the audience will miss that from their angle.

The 1950s are out, and change is in the air! Hairspray, winner of eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical, is a family-friendly musical, piled bouffant-high with laughter, romance and deliriously tuneful songs.

It is 1962 in Baltimore, and the lovable plus-size teen, Tracy Turnblad, has only one desire – to dance on the popular "Corny Collins Show." When her dream comes true, Tracy is transformed from social outcast to sudden star. She must use her newfound power to dethrone the reigning Teen Queen, win the affections of heartthrob, Link Larkin, and integrate a TV network... all without denting her 'do!

Show date: July 22-23, 2017
Show times vary
Tickets start at $20
Walt Disney Theater

Saturday, July 22, 2017

An Interview with Billy Manes at Watermark.

On June 30th Pam Schwartz, Dan Bradfield and I entered the Watermark offices to conduct an oral history with editor-in-chief Billy Manes about the events following the Pulse Nightclub massacre. Billy grew up in Florida and was a bit of a club kid.  He suffered much adversity and sexual abuse in his childhood. At the time, he felt that Florida is a place without history, so you have to make your own history.  In 2005 he ran for mayor, being the first openly gay candidate to do so. He felt he was the best choice to replace the then suspended Mayor Buddy Dyer specifically because he's not a politician.

He met Alan Jordan who was very different than himself and they had a long relationship. "We were very Burt and Taylor in our relationship." said Billy. On Easter Sunday of 2012 Alan shot himself in front of Billy. Alan had HIV but didn't want to admit he was positive. Billy watched his love die in front of him. Alan's family took everything a redneck could need, despite the long relationship, even threatening to take the ring off of Billy's finger. Billy fought them in court and won back some of his possessions. He decided to become more purposeful about these issues. "Trying to save someone else saved me." said Billy. There is a documentary that was filmed entitled " Billy and Alan".

As a senior writer at the Orlando Weekly, Billy found his voice as he made jokes about Tallahassee government policy which is often, "so fucking boring". Billy Manes was hired by the Watermark in 2015. As I sketched, I found the black blinds strangely ominous.

"I only remember 5AM on June 12th." Billy said. He used to work there, when it was Dante's. He was friends with the owners and staff. It wasn't "divey" at all. It was a good place to come together. At 5 AM his husband Anthony Mauss woke up. He told Billy not to look at his phone. Billy of course looked at his phone and was immediately pulled on for an MSNBC interview. Unshaven and uncombed he spoke with Tamron Hall. As he spoke, he realized that he didn't know if his friends were alive who worked at Pulse.

This was a hate crime and Billy was annoyed at any news organization that would white-wash this fact by playing up the terrorist theories. On that first morning, a mother drove by and she asked if her son was alive. Billy said he would try and find out.

After Pulse, the whole tone, everything changed. Billy suddenly found himself in a whirlwind of interviews by over 7 networks in the days following. Watermark approached the following weeks with a three step program. They did a glossy cover, a story about the psychology behind the attack and stories about the need for gun control. In the barrage of activity, he stopped caring about himself. Watermark was at every event. Billy reflected, "It is still amazing to me. You can say 49, but imagine the moms and families having to deal with probate, the law."

Our oral history interview was just an hour long. We wanted to get together for a second interview to grapple with the intricacies of the weeks following Pulse in more depth. Shortly after this interview Billy Manes said he was "let go" from Watermark on Friday, July 14th. In a Facebook post on the following Sunday Billy shared, "I was effectively let go on Friday and it wasn't easy and it wasn't psychologically easy. I wanted to give Watermark the chance to break the news. Not sure why, but it was fair enough. Best to the future editor and please keep up...the work. I'll figure something new. I always do."

Billy died just after 4 p.m. on Friday, July 21, at the age of 45, surrounded by his husband Anthony Mauss, friends and family at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

The loss is a shock to me. Billy and I were both born on May 22 and he playfully reminded me of this each year via Facebook.  Having lived through so much tragedy, Billy always injected humor into every exchange. He will be deeply missed. He helped to write Orlando's history while joking about the political forces that stifle Orlando's future.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Weekend Top 6 Picks for July 22nd and 23rd.

Saturday July 22, 2017
10 AM to 1 PM - Free. Empowerment Event. Art of Fitness Personal Training and Yoga, 5154 Dr Phillips Blvd, Orlando, Florida 32819. Five speakers offer the tools you need to get the life you want. From miracles to mindset, exercise to meditation, join us as we bring you serious empowerment.

7 PM to 9 PM - Free. Brewery Tour. Orlando Brewing, 1301 Atlanta Ave, Orlando, FL.

10:30 PM to Midnight - Free. Son Flamenco. Ceviche Tapas Orlando, 125 W Church St, Orlando, FL.

Sunday July 23, 2017
10 AM to Noon - Free.  Heartfulness Relaxation and Meditation Class. University, 5200 Vineland Rd, Orlando, FL 32811. The Method of Heartfulness A simple and practical way to experience the heart’s unlimited resources.

10 AM to Noon - Free. Florida Gospel Jam. Fish on Fire, 7937 Daetwyler Drive, Belle Isle, FL. Every 2nd and 4th Sunday.

10 PM to Midnight - Free (but get a coffee!) Comedy Open Mic. Austin's Coffee, 929 W Fairbanks Ave, Winter Park, FL. Come out & laugh, or give it a try yourself.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Blue Spring State Park.

For my birthday, Pam Schwartz got me two fountain pens to draw with.We also decided to take the day off, and go to Blue Spring (2100 W. French Avenue Orange City, FL 32763). She has a kayak and there are also rentals, so we explored the spring and the Saint Johns River. Pam had a waterproof bag to hold any art supplies and phones. We seem to have amazing luck seeing wildlife anytime we explore around Orlando. We kayaked down a tiny tributary that is not very accessible to normal sized boats. The prows of our kayaks split the river grass until the stream once again opened up. Beautiful white flowers were just opening up on Lilly pads.

On a more open stretch, we spotted a river otter swimming back and forth across the stream. He must have been on the hunt for fish and he didn't seem to mind our presence. He swam towards us for a closer look. Large birds were building nests in the brush and I could hear the chicks as we floated by. When we paddled into Blue Spring itself, we came across a manatee that was slowly making her way out towards the open river water. The spring water is much clearer than the river water making the manatee easy to see. She approached Pam's kayak and boop-snooted her boat to say hello. Pam got some amazing photos before the manatee decided to gently swim out to the murky river.

I had brought along my snorkel and mask and we decided to hike upstream to the source of the spring. The water is a constant 73 degrees year round. The stream is surprisingly strong. It is hard to imagine that much water gushing up from a single hole in the ground. 102 million US gallons (390,000 m3) of water flow out of Blue Spring into the St. Johns River every day. At the large watering hole at Blue Springs source, we found a large rock to sit on and I got out my new fountain pen to try out. Unknown to me, the ink was not waterproof, so when I added watercolor to the sketch, the ink bleed into each color I applied. Flesh tones quickly turned black. Rather than fight the new media, I just let it be and applied very light washes. Back at the studio later, I replaced the ink with Noodler's ink, which is waterproof, and now the pen is in constant use every day.

Swimming over the Blue Spring itself is amazing. You have to kick hard to go against the stream. I dove down to a tree trunk which had fallen over the stream below the water's surface. Water pressure in my ears kept me from going down any further, but I could see scuba divers down below me exploring the depths. I much prefer exploring above the water where pen lines and washes can capture any scene in some form or another.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Quickies at the Orlando International Fringe Festival.

Quickies was a series of four short plays presented at the Orlando International Fringe Festival at Breakthrough Theater ( 421 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park). Written by Tracy Jane Smith, the opening “Sex and a Story,” was about how how Scheherazade, meant to serve as a sex slave, kept her head through cunning, despite the fact that she could be beheaded if she displeased the prince.

In “Meet the Pets,” a boy brings his girlfriend home to his apartment for the first time.On the couch, his cat, Mr. Cuddles (Ryan Roberson) clearly owns the place, acting like British royalty. His self satisfaction is hilarious and a great contrast to the the dog who bounds around the scene with unlimited joy and enthusiasm. Daisy, the golden retriever, loves the new girl while Mr. Cuddles treats her with disdain.

In "Welcome to Intercourse" two female students find themselves stranded in Amish Country when the car engine gives out. They meet two young Amish men and despite their differences, things heat up. The final show, "Buried" is about a distraught young woman who wanders the stage with a shovel. her idea of eternal love involved digging a hole.

As a fan of Tracy Jane Smith's sensual dark humor, I hope to catch a sketch of "Jim Reaper, A Play about Life Death and other Comedies."  After twenty years of marriage, recent divorcee Blanche flirts with an oddly irresistible man named Jim at a party, while insurance-adjuster Bob tries to avoid him at all costs. Knowledgeable party-goer Doris identifies Jim as THE Jim Reaper, and the fates of his respective guests are revealed in a card game. A score of dark metaphors comes to life in this fun personification of death as a reasonable, friendly guy just doing his job.

Performances at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Santos Dantin Theater (812 E Rollins St, Orlando, Florida 32803). 
July 28, 29, & 30
August 4, 5, & 6
Saturdays at 8 pm
Sundays at 3 pm

Tickets are $18 general admission, $15 for seniors 55+, students and military with ID. Tickets may be purchased online at OrlandoAtPlay.com or at the PRT box office at point of sale. Cash and credit card accepted; no checks please. For seating reservations only, please contact (407) 761-2683.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Guinness Presented True Sound Live at Rogue Pub.

An impromptu road trip to South Carolina ended at Rogue Pub (3076 Curry Ford Rd, Orlando, Florida 32806). True Sound is a music project based in the greater Orlando area. Drawing upon various musical influences, they have developed a unique, polished sound. The lighting in the pub was set up on the dart boards rather than the band, so the performers were dark silhouettes against the bright wall. I did what I could with the low light setting. Hayley Rose, and Ben Wozniak performed covers and several of Ben's original songs. One original was about experiencing a German park and the song was fun and lively. Another song was about settling into routines rather than seizing each day.

Ben had just been on a whirlwind road trip with his uncle John Naughton, Pam Schwartz and myself. We went as far north as Charleston on the 4 day trip, seeking out historical sites and coffee shops all along the way. In Savannah we went to the fabulous Mrs. Wilkes restaurant which serves the food Thanksgiving style in bowls that are passed around large tables that seat multiple guests family style. There were over 20 different dishes served along with fried chicken, meat loaf, collared greens, macaroni and cheese and a wide variety of vegetables. It was definitely the highlight of the trip, but we also found other restaurants that were true gems.

The final day of the road trip was a marathon sprint to be sure Ben made it to his gig at Rogue Pub. I ordered a Hefferweissen, Pam had some sour passion fruit Schnoodlepip and John had a chocolate stout that was delicious. After the band's first set, Guinness offered beers on the house, so I nursed Guinness as I completed the sketch. We had vacationed hard and I was exhausted by the end of the evening. The beers further relaxed me. Ben's brother, Josh Wozniak, joined the group for the last set, doing percussion by banging a wooden box (a cajón) he sat on. This was a fun evening and a fun way to cap off an amazing trip.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Wedding Wire Mixer.

Pam Schwartz and I went to Highland Manor, (604 East Main Street, Apopka, FL) for a Wedding Wire Mix and Mingle. The Manor is a gorgeous little spot right at the intersection of Semoran and 441.  Huge old live oaks line the drive to the property and the Victorian mansion overlooks a quiet lake. I have been doing wedding sketches the last year, and the ad on Wedding Wire has received interest from prospective brides and grooms.

Cara Goldsborough, on the events team at wire, travels the  country to do these networking events. The Wedding Wire education guru, Allen Berg who was the main speaker, gave a sales pitch speaking about reaching the client, engaging and converting them to the sale, etc. Wedding Wire has 1.5 million social media followers, 87 million visits in 2015 and a 585% increase in mobile app downloads last year alone. The main point of wedding wire is connecting vendors with the people looking for them. There are 36,987 searches in Orlando on Wedding Wire in a month. Most couples plan to spend $14,000 and end up spending $22,000 in Orlando on their special day. Most people don't know what to ask when contacting vendors so they ask about cost, which is the least productive way to begin a new business transaction from either side.

Alan advised on a pricing structure for work and told a story of a photographer who created a pricing structure that included high end package and within a week a couple had ordered that high end package. No one had ever paid that much for his services before. That got me thinking.

The food at the mixer was average with tiny sandwiches on a stick, chicken strips on a stick and plenty of butterfly shaped crackers with cheese. If this was a wedding reception caterer, I would be less than impressed. The room I sketched filled up, got loud and boisterous for about half an hour and then we were all called away to the main power point presentation. Honestly some of the tips were quite helpful as I learn how to grow my events sketch business. What I offer is unique, and I just need to connect with the right clients.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Wekiva Paint Out.

At the end of February and the first week of March, 29 artists created plein air paintings at the Wekiva Island Paint Out. I went on the evening of a night paint out to watch the artists at work. Wekiva Island (1014 Miami Springs Dr, Longwood, FL 32779), has a a bar called the Tooting Otter. A band was setting up as I arrived inside the bar,  and I decided this was a perfect sketch opportunity. Plein air painter Barbara set up her easel between the bar stool I was sitting on and the stage. I sketched the room as she got the easel in place. Since she predominated the scene I included her in the sketch.

Barbara focused on a close up painting of the performers. A game of Jenga was stacked up on the table in front of Barbara. In Jenga, you have to remove a wooden block from the stack, without letting the entire structure fall down. The fiddling and guitar music added to the festive evening. Barbara was a bit distracted. I stopped sketching after the first set and I think she got more work done during the performer's second set.

I later learned that she was a bit uncomfortable with my being at the bar and sketching. She had the strange notion that I was copying her painting. I really didn't pay attention to her work in progress. My back was against the bar, so there was no opportunity to back away from her work in progress. We joked about the difficulty of working in a tight space and parted ways on decent terms. I later saw her finished painting in the wet gallery where it hung with all the other paintings completed at the paint out.

My favorite work in the wet gallery was by Elizabeth St. Hilaire who does collages instead of plein air paintings. Her pieces were mostly of palm trees executed with colorful strips of paper. seeing all the variety of work created on the one week was in itself exciting. Outside artists were doing nocturnes of the riverfront. One artist had Christmas lights wrapped all around his easel which acted as his working lights. That was a sketch opportunity, and perhaps Ill catch him at work next year.