Monday, November 30, 2009

Black Friday - Miami

I did not head to the malls at 6AM like everyone else in the house. I was only convinced that I was missing a sketch opportunity late in the day by Margaret Nolan via facebook. I had already drawn The Miami Herald presses so I should have been satisfied. But when Terry and Elaine said they were going back for a second round of shopping, I decided to go. I thought I would be battling huge crowds but the mall was relatively quiet. The sound system piped in constant Christmas music like,"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year". I swear that song is haunting me.
When I started to sketch the sun had already started to set. Christmas lights started to light up on palm trees and on topiaries. Some shoppers looked exhausted while teens patrolled chatting on iPhones. Santa had set up shop in an outdoor booth behind me, but I wasn't in a mood to face him just yet. Besides he looked nothing like the Macy's Parade Santa so he must have been an impostor. A mall security guard came over and looked over my shoulder. My stomach muscles tensed. He said "Wow did you do that just now?" Part of me wanted to be a smart-ass, but I just replied "Yes, thanks."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Trees - Core Line up

The night before I did this sketch, I saw the movie, Chorus Line, based on the long running Broadway play. In that show the dancers who are auditioning are asked to reveal intimate, sometime painful details of their life as a performer in order to stay in the show. When I entered the First baptist Church and saw the core group lined up, I instantly was reminded of those scenes where the cast waits in a Chorus Line as the mysterious director sits in the hall with a microphone calling the shots. Here the director, Aradhana, has the group lined up in order to decide if the winter costumes all in blue, gray and white, are working. Actors were asked to bring in whatever they had in those colors from home to save money on costuming costs. Sometimes they were asked to trade items with each other such as scarfs or coats. It was decided that some items would have to be purchased such as blue and white striped shirts. The actors are going to have to dance in these outfits and there was some concern about how hot they will get under the stage lights. When the costuming choices were made, the core group rehearsed the Winter Medley which is an energetic dance number. Joshua, who I believe has never lived in a cold climate didn't have a coat or scarf. The director at one point asked if he could trade his shirt with another actor but then thought better of that idea.
I wandered behind the trees and found that work is still being done to wire them for the show. Jeff has just finished with the computer programming of the lights so the 45 foot high trees should be lighting up soon. Microphones are now mounted to the trees every few tiers. The orchestra pit now stands ready for the music to begin.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving in Miami

Terry and I spent Thanksgiving Day in Miami with Terry's long time friend Elaine. The Macy's Day parade was on TV as preparations were going on in the kitchen. Derrik made a fabulous appetizer with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, goat cheese and olive oil. He is working on that appetizer in the sketch.Terry as usual is fingering her iPhone. The turkey was in the oven being basted in ginger ale. Elaine's sisters showed up as did friends. In all twelve people enjoyed an amazing Thanksgiving feast. The dinner conversations were loud and boisterous. This was in stark contrast to the Thanksgivings of my youth where the only sounds were of knives and forks scrapping on plates. After the feast, Terry and I joined Elaine's daughter Hailey and Rebeka for a walk around the neighborhood. We walked along some beautiful canals and past many Suburban homes which had noisy celebrations still going on.
This morning I suspect I have been deserted as all the women invade the stores for Black Friday deals. Elaine has offered to let me sketch the huge presses for The Miami Herald so I should get an interesting sketch for today .

Friday, November 27, 2009

Libra Party

Every year Kathy and Eric have a Libra party because both their birthdays are on the same day. I work for Kathy at Full Sail helping teach traditional animation to a packed room full of new students every month. Eric's hobby is home brewing and every year he experiments with new flavors of beer for the party. At the far end of this outdoor patio there is a gong and Eric gives it a resounding ring whenever a keg of beer bites the dust. Kathy and Eric also have an outdoor fire pit and they keep that fire burning bright for the duration of the party. I always meet interesting people at this party this year I met a ballet instructor and a fashion designer. Someone showed up with several homemade Didgeridoos and they were fun to try and play. The trick is to keep your lips vibrating but I never figured out how to circle breath to keep the note going indefinitely.
Later in the evening after I had a few beers I decided to try out the Jacuzzi which was fired up and ready to go. I sat on the ledge and removed my shoes and socks then dipped my feet into the soothing bubbles. I had a tall glass beside me and since no one else seemed to want to join me I decided to sketch. So if you have ever wondered what I might draw like when I am drunk, this is it.
The group seated in the foreground are mostly teachers and they talked for some time about students and university politics. I didn't follow the conversation closely I was to busy relaxing with my beer, sketchbook and watercolors.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Michelle Shocked at the Plaza

Michelle Shocked had a concert at the Plaza Theater on Bumby. My wife bought front row seats for the show knowing I would want to sketch. The event did not sell out and after Michelle started singing, Terry moved back a couple of rows because she couldn't stand being right on top of the action. The concert was great. The poster behind Michelle was painted by her artist husband on her wedding day. They are now collaborating on a series of paintings and songs about famous women. He is doing the paintings and she is writing songs for them. She explained that most of these women are so famous that you do not have to hear their last name to know who they are. For instance Georgia ________, Audrey ________, and Vanessa ________. He is working on a painting of Ann Frank right now. I love this collaborative idea and can't wait to hear the music.
When Michelle was called back for an encore, she took out her iPhone and called her husband who she missed and had the audience shout out "Hi Dave!" She then insisted that he tell a story about his youth when he delivered newspapers. He said he was a very reliable newspaper delivery boy. He won an award as the best local newspaper boy in town. But one day a young girl propositioned him before he finished his route. She said if you come over right now you will get "it". He was quite torn but in the end he left the pile of papers on the street corner and went over the girls house. He never did get "it" and when he returned to the street corner, his manager was there and he was fired. Michelle said she instantly fell in love when Dave simply sat behind her at a party and wrapped his arms around her waste.
Michelle said she is tired of divisive politics and I was surprised to find out she doesn't have medical insurance. She stressed that music is an important way to bring people together and build a feeling of community.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Max Howard at the Orlando Film Festival

Max Howard gave a talk at the Orlando Film Festival held at the Plaza Cinema downtown about the marketing potential to be found in independent animated films. Max was running the Disney Feature Animation Studio when I was hired there more than a decade ago. He helped found and build the Florida Studio. he left the studio shortly after I started to work on the Disney Films. I remember him as a straight shooter so I couldn't resist going to hear what he had to say. It turns out that many other former Disney artists living in Orlando had the same idea.

Max began by showing clips from many of the animated films he helped create some of them being films I had worked on. He began with a history lesson in the finances behind many of those films. In terms of traditional hand drawn films Disney earned 80% of the market share and other studios divided up only 20% of the market share. This showed that back in the 80s the Disney name carried clout. If you look at computer animated films however, Disney - Pixar earned just 55% of the marked share while other studios share 45% of the market. This means that computer films are judged not just by a company name but by story. Animation has proven to be very profitable compared to live action films.

After the talk the former Disney folks went to Urban Flats for some food and drink. There I got to catch up with some old friends. When Max was asked if he remembered everyone, he said "Well there seems to have been some squash and stretch over the years. The shapes seem to have changed."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The 3 Puppeteers

It turns out that Jack, one of the 3 puppeteers from Pinocchio's Puppet Theater in the Altamonte Mall, had written a comment on my blog that he had been at a number of events that I had sketched, but he was always on the opposite side of the room and so he wasn't in any of those sketches. In the first sketch of the puppeteers I didn't sketch Jack because he was the furthers away and he might have been out of view because he was working the curtains or getting a puppet. April told me about how disappointed Jack would be so I had to do another sketch to be sure I caught Jack. He is usually on the platform at stage left so I walked backstage to draw on that side.
Jack is the puppeteer who worked Frosty. Frosty has the amazing ability to separate all his body parts during his dance number. In the sketch Frosty is off in the wings at stage left watching the dancing reindeer's who do a lively can can number.
The final show is a bit over an hour long but with fits and starts the rehearsal was well over 4 hours. Much of this is because the lighting had to be figured out for each number. Endurance, patience and a playful spirit seem to be the attributes needed to be a good puppeteer. The cast affectionately referred to April as stumpy which implies that long arms are also a plus. She got to perform as the acrobatic monkey which is one of the more challenging and fun puppets to work. She can swing through the air with the greatest of ease and she is able to flip up and sit on the cross bar.
Space backstage is very cramped. Sometimes the puppeteers have to crawl under the platforms in order to untangle puppets or work the back stage curtains. It is easy for a puppeteer to bump their head on all the exposed beams. April who works the MC of the show had him stand and look up at the huge puppeteers looming above him. he made a comment as if this were the first time he had realized that they were there. It was quite funny.
The true magic comes from hearing the reactions from the children. The puppeteers can hear the audience response and they feed off of that energy. April was saying that the last audience was screaming for more of the dancing panda. She also wrote me that in a recent performance of Holly's Follies the arms fell off of several characters. The children screams not in horror but delight.
One of the final acts was set to the music of "Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year". I had heard this music over and over again at the Trees rehearsals. It seems the most wonderful time of the year is fast approaching. Brace yourself. Santa's Holly Follies runs through November 29th check the website for show times.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Twistee Treat

Twistee Treat at 1500 Maguire Road near Colonial does a hopping business every night I drive by. I got a Banana Sundae hear on the night I went to Parkin Lot Picking and it was delicious. The place reminds me of the Dairy Queen my little league baseball team used to go to when we won a game.
This evening I had gone out to Winter Garden to sketch a dress rehearsal for "Crimes of the Heart". Unfortunately the doors to the theater were locked. I called the director and producer of the show with my cell phone, and with no response I left. It was on the drive home from the theater that I once again saw the Twistee Treat and I felt a nostalgic desire to sketch it. The flag is at half mast because of a shooting that occurred downtown the other day. A former employee of Reynolds Smith and Hills named Jason Rodiguez walked into the offices and he just started shooting people. Five people were injured and one died. It is hard to understand such extreme and pointless anger.
As I was sketching the director finally did call me back but I was now committed to this sketch. I had perched myself on a small parking lot island and twice large SUVs parked in a spot which blocked the billboard signage that I was using as light to see by. When one of them pulled away the driver leaned out the window and shouted at me "Weirdo!!" The folks out her on the west side sure know how to support the arts. I am proud to be a bit weird, and Orlando could use more eccentricity.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Trees - Oh Holy Night

I arrived late to a Trees rehearsal on Sunday after a sketching assignment for Orlando Home and Leisure. As I walked in the worship center, "Oh Holy Night" was playing and the core company was on stage with their arms raised in reverence towards Mary and Joseph who were perched on top of a monolithic stage platform which had been erected on stage. Since I last saw this stage set piece, it had been painted black. The core group slowly lowered their arms which had an amazing dramatic effect with the music playing. Later a choreographer said she got goose bumps at this moment.
Then the actors approached each other as if discussing the wonders of what they had just witnessed. Aradhana the director got on the stage to show them how to push or exaggerate the action so it would play to the back of the worship center. She approached an actor with so much energy and enthusiasm, that the actor, caught off guard, had to take a step back. She wanted everyone to act with conviction and certainty. The point made in a humerus way is certain to never be forgotten by the cast.
So many things go on simultaneously in this show and yet the emotional focus is never lost. For instance during a number when the core group is dancing on the stage, a large group of teenagers is lined up along the edges of the worship center and they swing to the beat. During another dance number the choreographer shouted out "This is about Jesus, so I want major smiles!" Sometimes surprised when I see a number I had seen rehearsed before. As an artist I am always trying to catch quick isolated moments while the bulk of the show rolls forward. I always feel I am trying to catch up to the action.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Walking Impossible

Orlando had been named the worst city for pedestrians in cities of at least a million residents according to a report issued by Transportation of America called Dangerous by Design. To focus attention on this problem, Brian Feldman plans to walk across the 12 most dangerous intersection in Orlando.
When I arrived at the corner of West Colonial Drive and Pine Hills Road, Brian was at a crossroads, literally. I could see his bright yellow reflective vest from a block away, and as I approached Brian was on his iPhone and walking away from the intersection. When he saw me, he started walking towards me. We spoke and he was considering giving up the project which would involve his walking across this intersection 51 times which is the number of people who had been hit at the intersection in the past two years, 5 people died crossing the intersection. He plans to walk across 12 other intersections over the next week. The number of people hit in the intersections culminates on December 1st with 110 people hit at the corner of Silver Star Road and North Pine Hills Road, with 11 people killed.
By the time I arrived, Brian had already walked the four corners of this intersection 12 times and now he was considering scaling back the project. He said, "This is what happens when you don't have a girlfriend. She might have talked me out of this, or at least talked me into a more scaled back performance." I told him I thought it was a fantastic concept but it is certainly very dangerous. He said to me, "I need a mask, I didn't consider all the fumes." I explained that a medical mask really wouldn't cut back on the fumes. Then again, they wear masks in Japan. Maybe I was wrong. Does anyone have a mask to lend Brian? He had to make a call. He walked over to the intersection and started talking on his iPhone. Then without another word he started to walk the intersection again. I began to sketch.
There was a near collision between 2 cars at one point and there was the periodic honking of annoyed drivers in a rush to get somewhere. Brian noticed several cars that ran the red lights. One recreational vehicle took a sharp turn onto Colonial and a huge forearm sized chunk of metal flew off of it onto the street. As he crossed the street on foot Brian paused at the center median thinking he would remove the metal object from the road. Before he could however, a truck ran the object over sending it flying into the air as so much shrapnel. Another car ran it over and it flew to the far side of the road with a loud clang. A frail emaciated woman came strolling across the road ignoring the signals and I was sure she would get hit but she survived.
I began this sketch by drawing Brian on his iPhone and later I decided to draw him out crossing the intersection as well. Some driver on the far side of the road started yelling at me, "Hey!! Hey!" I looked at him and waited for him to yell something intelligent, but no intelligent comment was forthcoming. I lost interest and continued to sketch. When I finished, Brian told me he had crossed the intersections four corners 30 times. He is twittering his experiences and shooting photos on his iPhone. This is without a doubt the most dangerous project Brian has ever attempted. He needs some intervention. Someone please go out there and talk him out of this performance. It is far too dangerous.
P.S. A short video was made about the project.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Orlando City Council Meeting

Entering City Hall as a citizen is much like entering an airport. I dressed in my Sunday best to blend in. I had to put all my metal items in a dish and send my bag through a metal detector. I stepped through a metal detector arch and was cleared. I was issued a yellow badge and sent up to the second floor. The council chamber was half full. Mayor Buddy Dyer wandered in and when he was seated, a TV producer gave him a cue to begin by raising 5 fingers then 4, 3, 2, 1 with the final point the mayor began to address the TV camera.
Chaplin Regan Vandegriff from First Baptist church offered a lengthy invocation. This was followed by a pledge of Allegiance to the flag and then everyone sat down to get to business. One of the first items on the agenda was a proclamation by the Mayor that October 31st to November 7th would be the "Week of the Family". Yawn.
A representative from the Phantom of the Opera approached the podium and he outlined a "Phantom Fixes the Fountain" campaign. As he said, "Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." Five dollars from each ticket sale will go towards fixing the Lake Eola Fountain. The fountain was disabled several months ago when a bolt of lightning hit it.The city with all its financial woes hasn't the money to fix it. Suddenly Wes Miller dressed as the Phantom entered the chamber and began singing a song in his rich baritone voice about how the phantom would fix the fountain. The chamber erupted in applause. The Phantom challenged other arts groups to match his generosity. Should you want to see the Phantom of the Opera, running from January 20th to February 14th, call 1 800 982-2787 to get tickets!
Later a concert organizer approached the podium with a plan to host a rock concert in the Lake Eola Band shell on October 31s. All the money raised would go to fix the fountain. All his plans were in place and all he needed now was a permit. The council was in agreement that his generous offer was appreciated. Patty Sheehan however wanted to talk him out of serving any food or drinks at the event. She implied that he would have a better chance of getting a permit if he didn't serve food or drinks. In order to expedite the permit process he grudgingly agreed. Tony Ortiz then chimed in and said the Council should do everything in its power to help this fund raising cause including allowing food and drink. I hope this organizer has jumped through all the necessary hoops as he tries to help the City Beautiful.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Young Democrats

Thanks to Zac, I found out there was to be a meeting of the Young Democrats downtown at Ember (42 West Central Boulevard). When I entered the place was bustling with activity. I walked around searching for signs of the Democratic meeting. One area on the opposite side of this bar was roped off for a private gathering but I never saw signs of an organized meeting. I finally decided to sketch the folks who were gathered after work to drink, laugh and talk. With the constant flow of people the sketch was of course a challenge but I did manage to catch the people that most interested me. The people I was sketching probably were Democrats and this social gathering was "the meeting" that I was looking for.
A waitress warned me that the table I was sitting at was reserved but the party wouldn't arrive for another hour so I could sketch till then. With this deadline in the back of my head, I made sure to work fast and get out. I never even had a drink. I am always surprised when no one asks if I would like a drink at a bar.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Case of the Shot Huskies


I was informed about this case of animal cruelty by a friend from facebook. Getting into the Orange County Courthouse involves plenty of time waiting to get through metal detectors. The guard searching my supplies was surprised by my watercolor brushes and he squeezed the handle of one of the brushes and squirted water out over everything. As I was gathering my things he said to me "Your that artist aren't you?" I said "I suppose so" and headed for the elevators.

Christopher Comins who is on the far left in the sketch, stands charged with 2 counts animal cruelty for shooting two Huskies. The shooting was caught on video by a tourist who happened to be on Narcoossee road on the day of the shooting, May 19th 2009. The video has animal rights activists everywhere angered. Comins lawyer has been trying to get the case dismissed arguing that Comins was acting in self defense and he had a right to shoot the dogs who were in a field near some cattle. The dog owner, Chris Butler, was placed on the stand and he said he had shouted out to Comins "Would you please stop shooting my dogs?"
The dogs lived after some expensive medical treatment. Hoochie lost an eye and Raily still has a bullet in him. Under cross examination Chris said the dogs would not hurt a fly. He got choked up as he said "People have always told me they are such beautiful dogs."

The whole point of this pre trial hearing was that Comins lawyer was trying to get the case dismissed since his client had a right to shoot the dogs and he was acting in self defense. For two hours both sides argued their case. Judge Bob Le Blanc, though he seemed to sympathize with the cattleman, decided he could not rule on the case alone and thus this case will go to trial by jury.

As soon as I heard this, I went out in the hallway to make a call. Seated outside was Chris Butler who could not stand to watch the proceedings. He looked tired and worn like he had been crying. I told him the news that the case would be going to trial and then he stood and told me that Comins needs to answer for what he did.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Crimes of the Heart Opening Night

Crimes of the Heart written by Beth Henley won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. I sketched the auditions for the show back in September and now I can see that the casting decisions made were spot on. At the audition I caught quick glimpses of isolated scenes as actresses tried out for the various parts. I was fascinated with how a talented actress could breath new life into each part.
Watching the show at the Winter Garden Theater from start to finish turned out to be an emotional roller coaster. I suddenly cared deeply for this family of 3 sisters reunited by tragedy. The show handled difficult themes of loneliness, grief and family dysfunction. The sisters laughed uncontrollably at one point when faced with the worst of family news. I found myself laughing just as hard to the point of tears. Sometimes laughter is the only way to handle grief.
Between acts music filled the theater. Aradhana Tiwari the director told me "I have waited 5 years to use that song in a show." The song was "Wayfaring Stranger". Its sad mellow tones suited the show perfectly. I had the rare pleasure of sitting with the director and found she was laughing just as loud as anyone in the audience.
Lenny played by Meggin Weaver was high strung, bubbly and painfully apologetic. She seemed to have to apologize for her very existence. She was the sister left behind to care for their ailing Grandfather. Her own life has been put on hold as she struggles to clean up after every family members sloppy lives. She livened up every scene she is in with her comic timing.
Babe played by Britni Leslie gives a new meaning to "I'm having a bad day, a really bad day". Her quirky mannerisms like sprinkling sugar over a heaping spoon full of peanut butter or trying without much success to play saxophone are delightful to watch. Her thick southern accent and lighthearted charms were so authentically endearing.
Meg played by Jennifer Bonner is the black sheep of the three sisters. Her confident swaggering was a perfect compliment to Lenny's shy skittishness. A romantic scene with a now married ex boyfriend named Doc was Hot. She and Doc both knew they shouldn't be attracted but they could not help themselves. Going for a ride to look at the moon in a pickup truck suddenly seemed dangerous and exciting.
Chick Played by Beth Marshal has one of the funniest scenes in the play where she struggles into a tight pair of pantyhose while talking at the kitchen table. This scene got funnier as it went on and I applaud Beth for how far she pushed this character. Now I can not imagine anyone else in that role.
Toward the end of act three as Babe lights the candles on a birthday cake, she says "I'm not so all alone." The warmth of this scene with the three sisters playfully interacting as they laugh off the hardships of life once again left me struggling to see. Crimes is running through November 29th. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM. and Sundays at 2PM. Tickets are $22. This is a show you do not want to miss.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Santa's Holly Follies

Hanna Miller through facebook had informed me that the Holly's Follies were about to start rehearsing in Pinocchio's Marionette Theater in the Altimonte Mall. I was told to stand in a back hallway of the mall and then call on my cell. Sean Keohane opened the door I was standing near which had no doorknob. I was shocked that all the walls inside were red. We entered the theater and the stage is intricately decorated with red and gold paint. There were tiny chandeliers and small benches for the children. Sean took me back to stage left where there are steps for the puppeteers to climb up 15 feet to a boardwalk. He then took me over to stage right where there was a glass window and all the unused puppets were gathered together waiting to go onstage. We had to move some boxes and Tupperware storage containers so I could sit close and start my sketch.
The sketch shows April and Hanna on the boardwalk manipulating puppets which are on stage behind all the waiting puppets. Jack the third puppeteer is probably on another boardwalk working the curtains. The rehearsal went on for about four hours. Lighting was being worked out by Richard who was sitting out in the theater with a light board on a bench in front of him. The show involves many changes of sets with curtain drops and a huge cast of puppets. Hanna informed me that they don't even have all the puppets yet and there are only a few more days of rehearsals before they start performances.
Several times the performance had to be stopped when puppets got tangled together. One of the kings got his strings tangled in his own crown. When things like this happen the puppet will be forced to move in a strange stilted way but the show must go on. While one puppeteer is working a puppet another might be called on to flick on a black light or drop a new curtain behind the set. It is a complicated process in a tight space and I don't know how they keep it all straight. For hours they bent forward at the waist manipulating the strings. I have no doubt muscles were sore by the end of the night.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trees - Dance Rehearsal

One of the most challenging things I have been sketching lately is the dance rehearsals for the Trees. Here the core group is rehearsing to the Winter Medley. On this evening of rehearsals began on the main stage in the worship center of the First Baptist Church. The stage must have been smaller than anticipated because the dancers looked like they were about to run into each other. After several run throughs the director finally stood up and stopped everything. She said "Sometimes we try things and they just don't work. We should re-think this. Lets take a break from this piece and move onto something else. If we didn't fail sometimes we wouldn't be successful." To keep the rehearsal moving forward it was decided that the dancers would move upstairs to the mirrored dance room and work on the Winter Medley number. The choreographer in charge took the notes in stride and this second half of the rehearsal was lively and fun. At one point Gretchen, one of the dancers, did a dance move that the choreographer really liked and that move was incorporated into the final dance routine. Creative ideas have a way of appearing sometimes as if by accident. The director entered the dance studio after several sections of the dance were polished and refined. She sat on the floor in front and watched the improvements with joy and pleasure.
I wedged myself up against the back wall to keep out of the way while I sketched. During a break several of the actors came over and wanted to see what I was up to. It is a rewarding feeling to be a witness to the hard work that goes into making a huge show like this work. I would sketch every time the dance troupe were being given notes. These relaxed moments between periods of fast action are the windows I need to find a composition and pick out the personalities from the dancers different body types.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Orlando Mounted Police at the Veterans Day Parade

My wife Terry has been volunteering for the Orlando Police Mounted Unit. When there is a parade the volunteers who exercise the horses during the week are put on pooper scooper duty for the parade. They take this job very seriously and this year they bought some outlandish red, white and blue wigs to wear. Terry was thrown from a horse last week and her leg is all black and blue, so her assignment was to drive the police pickup truck that followed the Police Horses. I got to sit in the passenger seat of the truck and sketch the parade while being a part of the festivities. This is the first time I have ever been in a parade! I assume the truck was an extra precaution to protect the horses from automobile traffic approaching from the rear. Whenever we entered an intersection I got to turn on the police trucks blinking blue and red lights. Whooo Hoo!
On the way from the Police Barn to the Parade route on Orange Avenue Downtown, we passed a George W Bush look alike standing in front of an Appliance store in Parramore. This guy was a dead ringer for W. He even had the scrunched up eyes and sort of uncertain way of waving at folks.
When we approached the parade there was tons of loud music pounding from the floats and yet the horses remained calm and collected.
The pooper scoopers were very popular with the crowd watching the parade. They acted with swift reflexes shoveling up the multiple loads almost as they hit the ground. The crowd would cheer when another load went into the bucket.
Hours of preparation went into getting the horses ready for the parade. Hoof black was applied to all the horses hooves and then glitter was stuck to the flax. Stars were spray painted on the horses butts and ribbons and stars were affixed to the tails. When I showed the scoopers my sketch after the parade, Kelly said, "Isn't my butt kind of big?" I explained that I had been drawing horses butts for the past hour and that is why it might appear a bit big. Catherine said "We prepare, prepare prepare the horses, and then BOOM the parade is done."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Parkin Lot Pickin

Every Friday at sunset for the last 20 years pickups and trucks pull into the parking lot behind the Twistee Treat on Maguire Road near Colonial Avenue and they pull down their tailgates and bet out their instruments to play Bluegrass music. Other cars pull into the lot and soon there is a small crowd sitting in lawn chairs enjoying the free music. A man in an electric wheelchair makes his way around to every member of the audience offering free CD's of the previous weeks performances.
Brad introduced me to this local tradition. Terry joined me for a while but she had to rush off to a girls night out at the Barn. I sat in the parking lot with Brad, Darlyn and a poet named Billy Collins and his fiance Suzannah Gilman. Billy was the Poet Laureate of the United States for two years. Billy and Suzannah were a fun couple to hang around with. After listening to the music for a couple of hours, we all went over to Twistee Treat and got some ice cream. That place was doing a brisk business and I splurged on an banana split that was to die for. After listening to the music for a little longer, we all then decided to head over to Winter Garden to a place called the Attic Door which had music and plenty of drinks. The lively discussion about art and literature went on for hours. If you want a taste of real old time Florida, I highly suggest going out to the Twistee Treat parking lot on a Friday night.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Trees - Light Programming

Jeff Atkisson sits for hours in a small room behind the main stage programming the lighting that will appear on the trees. He has 12 songs that he needs to program on a miniature model of the trees, and he started off with "Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." He used an audio editing program called DP6 and instead of editing the audio he uses the programs MIDI files to turn the lights on the trees on and off. When he stacks the bars in the program to look like a staircase in the timeline for instance the lights will sweep on diagonally up the tree. First he places what he calls a blind cue on the timeline which sets the color which will happen with the next fade in or sweep. Other effects he mentioned include pops and gleams. When the light programing is finished he can directly transfer everything right over to the full scale trees.
Huge black boxes called dimmer racks stand next to the tree model with hundreds of wires hanging out of them. Apparently one of these boxes had burnt out earlier that day but that problem was resolved by the time I came in to sketch. At one point the tree just would not light and Jeff was climbing all around in the snake pit of wiring. I don't know how he did it but after plugging in and unplugging a number of connections, everything started working again.
He took a quick break from the program sent a text message to the director to double check some notes that might be needed. He suspected the director might want less lighting action on the trees and he programmed the lights accordingly. The director called back and they they discussed the trees lighting briefly. After that conversation Jeff proceeded with quick certainty. He started telling me about the directors style which consists of pictures within pictures with very specific shifts of focus. When I thought back to the War of the Worlds, that directing style became very apparent. I also found out the Trees show has a theme which is "Reflections from the attic". I learn something new about this show every day I come in to do another sketch.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Trees - Set Construction

Jeff Atkisson directed me to the Madd building where I would find Jon Brandt working on the sets for Trees. The building is across the street from the First Baptist Church. When I entered I expected to see a small crowd of carpenters working but this afternoon I just found Jon working alone on the set. He had no idea who I was when I walked into the warehouse but he was welcoming and accepted the idea of me doing a sketch with no hesitation. He is standing on the side of the set that will face the audience. It looks like he is putting in three tiers and there will be steps in front and in back. A large platform will go between the back steps which is for now resting on the floor. The radio was on a talk radio station about how to handle your finances.
I was fascinated by the things to be found in storage in this warehouse. Two huge Gold Academy Awards were perched on an upper level. There were street lamps and a popcorn billboard cut out. The most prevalent item however were the crosses. There were several dozen smaller crosses and then four very large life sized crosses one being made from thick tree trunks. The large tree trunk cross has two railroad spike sized wooden spikes located where the hands would be nailed up.
Jon said he was working alone because his crew had taken off early. He however was committed to work till 5PM which gave me an hour and a half to sketch. I couldn't help but think of the idea that Jesus had been a carpenter so he must have been very familiar with the smell of sawdust and the sound of wood boards being dropped into place.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Trees with Panels

These huge 45 foot high Christmas trees now stand fully assembled and green in the First Baptist Church of Orlando. You might notice that only one panel is missing. This is because it was wired upside down but that will be an easy fix. The two 15 tiered trees were designed by Walt Keller back in 1980. Each will hold 150 Choir members who function as living singing ornaments. Both trees will have to support about 50 thousand pounds of weight when all the singers are lined up inside.
Bill Keller explained that each choir member has initials written on their legs and a yes or no. This leg marking is put in place for the tree rats who are in charge of arranging small wooden boxes which are used to keep all the choir members about 6 feet in height as seen from the audience. The yes or no is an indication as to whether the choir member would like to have their legs massaged since they must stand in one spot for so long. If the choir member snaps his or her fingers a tree rat will climb through the maze of beams and assist them by rubbing their legs. If someone is ticklish then they certainly will have "no" written on their legs. The last thing anyone would want is to have a choir member screaming out in surprise when a tree rat brushes up against their leg.
When the choir isn't the center of attention, it is also possible for a choir member to quietly sit down to take a rest and have a sip of water. The heat generated by all the Christmas lights can be oppressive. It was estimated that there were 111 miles of Christmas tree light wiring attached to the panels. If someone feels faint and has to leave then the choir members surrounding the spot spread out a bit and the audience never notices the difference.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tree Structure nears completion

Jeff Atkisson invited me to climb to the top of the trees if I wanted but I had already started this sketch and I suspect I didn't have the nerve. The trees have 15 tiers and the workers are working on tier 12 at this point. When this structure is complete railings are added to each row and then panels are hung from those railings which have many strands of Christmas tree lights. Jeff explained that there are about 111 miles of Christmas tree lights that are attached to the panels. All the lights were bought new this year along with tons of replacement bulbs. Previously lights were stripped in as strands died out and this resulted in bulbs of very different colors being mixed together over time. Now all the blue bulbs are very much the same color of blue throughout. Derrick Mckenzie was in charge of assembling all 270 of the new panels and getting all that wiring to work. He had the help of about 70 volunteers and it took them over a month to assemble all the panels. All the panels had colored lights arranged exactly the same so when Jeff programs then the lights can be triggered to that the tree become all one color or multiple colors can be lit at once creating stunning effects. Jeff will be able to make the tree for instance light up all green with those lights sweeping upward in a strong diagonal. This really has to be seen to be believed. I have only seen the effect on the small model tree but it is amazing.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Singing Christmas Trees Construction

The huge Singing Christmas Trees are under construction at the First Baptist Church. The structures are 45 feet high and will be used as bleachers for a chorus of 250 singing ornaments when all the work is complete. The steel girders of the structure fit together in an intricate pattern and the planning that goes into the construction is mind boggling. Scaffolding was put up first behind the trees which allows easy access for the workers. The vertical supports had to be wiggled into place by teams of men working in unison. I felt a little uneasy when I was on the stage. While the vertical steel girders were being fit in place they could conceivably fall forward. One worker shouted "If it falls be sure to push it towards the scaffolding."
Bill Keller wanted to see what I was working on. He explained that he and his father had been working on the trees since they were first assembled in 1980. "Building these trees has been something of a family tradition." He said. The trees had been on hiatus for 3 years but today they are back and better than ever. Bill and his father were bought back as consultants. His father can be seen in the sketch sitting on stage.
Jeff Atkisson took me to a back room where he has a miniature 6 foot high version of a tree setup and he is using an audio editing computer program to set up the lighting effects on the trees. This process is inspired and amazing!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Newly Dead Game

Beth Marshall and her husband Chris Foster host an annual Halloween party. We asked if we could bring along two guests from Miami. Beth who is the Producing Artistic Director of the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival warned us that that things might get crazy. There might be nudity and who knows what else. Things did indeed get a bit crazy. Beth and Chris asked any couples to gather in the living room for a game they called The Newly Dead Game. It is exactly like the Newly Wed game seen on TV. One member of each couple had to leave the room while questions were asked which would show how well the couples knew each other. I figured I could play the game and sketch at the same time. I might have been mistaken. When a couple got a question right they were given a piece of candy. At the end of the game the couple with the most candy would be the winner. Our friends from Miami got every answer right with 34 pieces of candy, as did a lesbian couple on the couch. When the dust settled Terry and I only got 3 pieces of candy. People who had just met that night got more answers right. Terry was furious! She shouted, "We have been married longer than anyone here, 18 years, how is it that people who have just been dating for a few months know more about each other than we do?!" I tried to laugh it off and more importantly finish my sketch. Now I knew why it was called the newly dead game, I wasn't sure I would survive the evening. On a positive note we have plenty of room for growth in our relationship.
Later a costume contest was held in the backyard. My wife competed. She got plenty of hoots and applause for her Zorro costume with a black bra but in the end a woman dressed as a cougar won. After the competition, we were all treated to a belly dancing display in the back yard. I watched for a while but then decided I needed a drink and I went inside. Every corner of Beth's home is goth themed. The toilet had a dark Gothic dragon on the lid and photos around the house showed old Daguerreotypes which then converted into zombies. Walls were blood red or cougar patterned. With Halloween now past, the house must be waiting for next years festivities.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Carving Pumpkins

I went to a number of different parties on Halloween day. This sketch is of the back yard of Jared and Lesley Silvia. When I arrived they had just started carving pumpkins. Lesley was still reaching in and grabbing out the guts and seeds. No one was attempting a simple pumpkin face. Andrew Fritta was trying to carve his pumpkin to look like the Death Star from Star Wars. When I started this sketch he was in the foreground sitting at the table gutting his pumpkin. Unfortunately before I sketched him, he decided to carve his pumpkin on the lawn, that is why the center of interest, the table is strangely deserted. The intricate carving involved in the Death Star was mind boggling. Lesley was carving a hang man's pumpkin which is really sinister when lit up.
At the opposite end of the backyard there was an above ground pool. Some people started to gather around it and I wandered over. It was half full and after looking in the greenish murky water for a while I noticed movement. There were tadpoles swimming around everywhere. One guest was scooping them up with a skimmer net. Someone else shouted out "Leave them alone!" I wondered if they all were doomed. How would they get out once they turned into frogs? I am thinking the Silvia's need some water lilies for their new Eco-system.
As the sun started to set I got ready to head to my next destination. The little girls in costume were excited because they were going to trick or treat in two neighborhoods and they expected some sweet pickings. I thanked my hosts and hit the road to get to another Halloween party I needed to sketch.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pinocchio's Marionette Theater

In August of this year Pinocchio's Theater was relocated to this spot on the ground floor of the Altamonte Mall. To celebrate Halloween they hosted a costume party for the kids with performances of Hansel and Gretel throughout the day. Slowly people began to arrive in costumes. My favorite was a father son team where the son was dressed as the young Indiana Jones and the father was the elder Jones. The evil queen from Snow White was selling candied apples and there was a table with apple cider and free cookies. Before the theater opened there was a performance of "Mad Scientist Throws a Party". In this show kids were asked to feel in a box to try and guess what the mad scientist had created. When asked the kids always jumped up excited to volunteer.
The Theater is located right next to a kids play area in the mall and there was constant screaming and shouting as I worked. It took nerves of steel to focus and not get distracted. A woman walked up to me and asked me if I had seem her child. She went into the Theater lobby and started asking others if they had seen a boy. When she came out again I could see the pure fear in her eyes. She began shouting his name frantically. Sean Keohane the theater owner immediately took charge and went to find Mall security. By the time the officers came back the distraught mother had disappeared in her search for her son. Maybe 15 minutes later she came back with her son in her arms. She put her son down and thanked the puppeteers who had offered to help. As she was thanking everyone her son darted off after something that caught his eye. Her reflexes were quicker this time and she caught up with him before he got to far.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Haunted Mardi Gras

Evan and Chrsitie Miga, DRIP dance groups art directors, hosted a Haunted MardiGras party at their home. When I arrived there was no mistaking the house which had a huge WELCOME sign above the entry lit with a black light. Dry ice mist was billowing out of the entry and I had to duck in behind a blanket to get to the front door. Visibility was zero but through the mist I could just make out some disembodied masks floating in space. The front door had some satanic symbol painted on it with day glow paint. When I entered the home Strobe lights blinded me once again and I wandered narrow corridors framed loosely with black drip clothes. At times the passage was so narrow that I thought I had made a mistake entering and I considered going back out. At the next turn however I found myself in the kitchen where a small group was assembled. A 6 foot high voodoo doll greeted me and then I recognized Christie as a voodoo priestess.
I was dressed as "Jack the Dripper" better known ad Jackson Pollock. My wife arrived later as Zorro and her friend from Miami was dressed as a cat lady. The party eventually moved outside to the back yard where there was a graveyard with a storage shed that resembled a church. A zombie movie was being projected on the back wall of the house and it was hard to ignore. Periodically a zombie would bite open someones throat or feast on their intestines. This movie used buckets of blood. Then the karaoke began and the highlight for me was when Evan the voodoo doll began making up his own lyrics to songs, looking pitiful and lost in his voodoo doll costume. It was a surreal and unexpected moment.
Much later in the evening the DRIP dancers began to arrive and for a short time I stood behind the singers at the karaoke machine offering my off key renditions of the songs being sung. Theater folks sure know how to party! My wife and her friend left early and I followed soon after, but I knew this party had many more hours in it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Macabre Vignettes

At the historic Cameo Theater at 1013 East Colonial Drive, Tamara Marke-Lares set up an astounding, mysterious and strange collection of life sized Marionettes. I went to see Macabre Vignettes on Halloween day to see the "Lights Up" family friendly version of the show. Playful kid friendly puppet shows were going on all day while the sinister large marionettes watched and waited. One puppet show was about trying to find a Pumpkin. It is fun to watch the kids who are totally engrossed in the performances. When the kids realized that the puppet wasn't holding a pumpkin but instead had an orange they stood up and shouted waving their hands. The puppet would insist it looked like a pumpkin but the kids would shout "No. No! That's an Orange!" When the puppet asked for the orange back, a boy hurled it back hitting the puppet. All the kids laughed with delight.
I sat in the evil animatronics lab doing this sketch. One woman walked up to me and said "Oh, I thought you were part of the display." Periodically a puppeteer would go up to one of the giant marionettes and start manipulating the strings. Children were invited to try working the puppets. The walls were covered with dark sinister paintings and scattered about were strange and unexpected sculptures. I suspect this cheerful environment must become a very scary place once the lights go down. This is without a doubt the most creative and exciting Halloween display in town.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Drip at the Art Lounge

I went to the final rehearsal before the opening performance of Drip at Blank Space. Blank Space is an experimental art and coffee house located at 201 East Central Avenue right across the street from the Public Library. Linda Eve Elchack, the choreographer, pulled up in front of the performance space and through the store front windows blue and red lights began to flash. It turns out Linda had been "speeding" going 30 MPH in a 25MPH zone. She was pulled over just inches from where she would have parked. The performers stood by as they waited for the officers to go through the long process of getting the license and registration and issuing a ticket. Sam tried to distract the police by spinning and dancing. It didn't work. Tin Tin who was shirtless from a previous rehearsal was told by Dave that he might want to get a shirt on. All the dancers had on flesh colored tights and Dave felt that Tin Tin showing some nipple might result in trouble with the police. The fact that Tin Tin then put on a shirt is an indication of the type of repressed city Orlando remains.
Lights were being set up and drop clothes were being hung everywhere. The "room" in the sketch was constructed of large sheets of black plastic and one wall of clear plastic. In the center were 2 ladders with a pole duck taped between them. Hanging from the pole was a large paint can. The performance which was filmed by Meriko involved the dancers interacting with the paint bucket which was filled with thin paint which dripped and poured out of the holes punched in the can's bottom. The performance was called "Paint by Rain".
Getting into and out of the room was a challenge all on it's own. The doorway flaps were covered with wet paint from the dancers hands. I wore a white shirt and I was sure it would be covered by the time the evening was over. I ducked back into the furthest corner I could and started to sketch as the performance began. I had to get out of the way as Tin Tin made his way up the ladder and then I resumed sketching. By the time the performance was over, both dancers were covered head to toe in paint. I splattered paint over the page at random often along with the music trying to convey the messy and fun dance. I had no doubt this performance would be a show stopper. You can see DRIP perform every 3rd Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Get tickets at www.ILoveDRIP.com

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Casa Feliz

Casa Feliz at 656 Park Avenue in Winter Park, offers free music in this intimate historic setting. When I stopped in Christine MacPhail was playing the harp.
The setting was peaceful and serene. The young family on the left spoke Spanish to Christine and she responded in kind making me feel like I was visiting a Spanish Hacienda.
Later another young couple with a 10 year old daughter entered and sat in front of me. During a break they approached Christine and they explained that they had asked the harpist to play during their wedding. Christine was overjoyed and remembered them immediately. The couple asked if Christine could play one of the songs from the wedding but the harpist could not remember the tune. She offered to burn a copy of the song when she got home and looked up the sheet music.
As I was leaving someone asked if they could see the sketch I had done. He asked if I was the artist who was on display upstairs. I said no but the question raised my curiosity so I wandered upstairs. The walls were lined with paintings by Don Sontag who painted the men involved in moving Casa Feliz. In 2001 the home was moved to its present site to save it from demolition. Moving the 750 ton home was a major engineering challenge. The renovated structure now functions as a home museum.
This free music series seems to be one of Orlando's best kept secrets. If you want a great way to wind down after a crazy week you should look up the music schedule on the Casa Feliz web site and enjoy this great music series.