Thursday, March 23, 2017

Throwback Thursday! When Viola Davis and I shared a Newspaper page.

A little Blast from the past-- I guess this is a Throwback Thursday!

I was going through some old publicity articles and happened on this RIC Alumni Magazine from 2001.

I had saved it because I was just doing a set of workshops as the Clown Laureate of Greenbelt Maryland, and got featured in the Alumni Magazine (I have a graduate degree from RIC/Trinity Rep Conservatory, which is now the Brown/Trinity Rep Consortium. )

While the article is, of course, interesting, and I'm glad to have it,  I was more struck of course by the article that shares space on my page, about now Academy Award winner Viola Davis, who is above the fold, but doesn't have a photo on the front page.

I'm hoping those weren't my glory days, but for a brief moment, I was on par with Viola Davis!

What a difference 15 years makes! If this were being done now, I would be a tiny footnote, and Viola would be both pages!

And you can see that even back then, Viola was working hard, appearing on Broadway, doing television, and even when she was at RIC in 1988 she used her solo show as a fundraiser for the very good program Upward Bound, which is still going strong.

(Also of interest is a photo of Hilary Clinton on the back page, who met with the RIC Women's Gymnastic team in 2001.  And on the front page,  Nehassaiu Degannes, representing for African American History Month, who I worked with many years later on (I think) The Manton Avenue Project, and is also a graduate of Trinity Rep (although I think she went when it was the Consortium-- I'm a little older than she is)
Click Photo to view Larger - or get the whole PDF

Click Photo to view Larger - or get the whole PDF

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

REVIEW: Circus 1903 in Chicago

We attended opening night of Circus 1903 last night, as it made its debut here in Chicago.  It was a fantastic evening at the circus, and well worth seeing. You will enjoy yourself immensely.

The show is a collaboration between the producers of The Illusionists (which played last month in the same theatre) and the puppeteers of the  London West End sensation War Horse.  

The show brings us back in time to 1903, the glory years of the circus.  While we don't actually travel back in time, the costumes, sets, and performers all do a great job of reminding us of that time when television didn't exist, when radio didn't exist, and when all the factories and schools would shut down when the circus came to town.

David Willamson as ringmaster Willy Whipsnade
The acts in the show are sensational.  David Williamson, who plays the ringmaster, does a great job of moving the show along.  He plays his character somewhere in the middle of corny idealist and sharp con-man.  He introduces all of the acts, plays with the audience, and most importantly sets the scene.  Williamson is an accomplished magician, and although the tricks he does are all things you've seen before, he does them expertly, and most importantly his interaction with the audience is sharp, real, and funny.  He is also a fine actor.  Towards the beginning of the show, he has a simple monologue about the wonder of the circus that is simple and yet sensational.  I really believed him, and given the text, it would have been easy not to.

Senayet Asefa Amare
The circus acts themselves are all pretty great.  I was particularly taken with the Italian foot jugglers the Fratelli Rossi, who perform with a kind of speed and precision that is breath-taking to see.  At one point one of the brothers does a double flip from his brother's feet, they reset, and they do it again!  Astonishing!

Another great act was the contortionist Senayet Asefa Amare. She is perhaps the finest contortionist I have ever seen, doing a variety of tricks with ease and confidence.  There's one piece where her lower body rotates around her upper body, which is fairly still.  She bills herself as The Elastic Dislocationist, and I believe it.

A third very wonderful act was the juggler Francois Boire, who is a French club juggler.  As is typical of European flash jugglers, he was very fast and precise, but he was able to perform 7 clubs!  He also did a lot of incredible speed juggling, including a trick where he rotated the clubs sideways so that they were parallel to the ground instead of perpendicular.  I've seen that trick before, but not with the kind of speed and virtuosity that he displayed.

Mexican tightwire act finale Los Lopez
The rest of the acts were very good as well, including a remarkable teeterboard act, a puppet elephant and its baby that occupied a slow and very beautiful part of the show, an artistic cycling act that was well done, an aerialist, and the finale was a Mexican tightwire act.  Strangely, the program mentions three acts that weren't in the show that we saw-- I am not sure if they had problems getting visas, as they all seemed to be foreign acts, including what looked to be a terrific rolla bolla act, a clown act, a knife throwing act, and a Russian cradle act.

 Williamson did a couple of magic acts to fill in those spots-- his bullwhip act was so so, but his Rocky Racoon act (which is a 20 dollar spring puppet) was wonderfully performed and got a great response from the crowd.  He brought up 4 kids from the audience, and they had a fantastic time, and he knew how to play them for maximum response.

There were some lighting problems on the night we saw the show-- about  half of the bows for the individual acts were done without light.  Not sure if the follow spot operator called in sick, or they weren't able to set the lights due to their fast turnaround.  I am sure they will be working on that tomorrow.

All in all it was a wonderful show.  You should see it while it's here in Chicago, and if you can't see it in Chicago, they are going to be all over the United States for the next 6 months.  Click here to see if they will be in your area.

The performers take their final bows.
Some video of the acts in the show (provided by Broadway in Chicago.)
Some of the performers seen here didn't make it to the opening night.
I am not sure if they will be in the rest of the performances, or if they
had problems getting visas.

Wednesday, March 22 – 7:30PM
Thursday, March 23 – 7:30PM
Friday, March 24 – 7:30PM
Saturday, March 25 – 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Sunday, March 26 – 2:00PM & 7:30PM


Individual tickets for CIRCUS 1903 –The Golden Age of Circus at the Oriental Theatre range from $16- $80 with premium seats available for all performances.  Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000, all Ticketmaster retail locations and online at

When last I looked HotTix did have tickets available for some of the performances as well.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Gluten Free Expo is Back!

Last year, our family attended the Gluten Free Allergy Friendly Expo and had a great time. We're planning on going again!

This year  GFAF is coming back to Schaumburg Saturday April 22 and Sunday April 23, and it's going to be just as busy and even better than last year.  BUY TICKETS NOW.
Photo courtesy of GFAF Expo website.
GFAF is the largest expo of Gluten Free and Allergy Free foods in the country, and Chicago is now one of 7 cities they visit on an annual basis. This is their tenth year coming to Chicago!

While at GFAF, you can meet over 100 exhibitors, test gluten free samples, purchase all kinds of items at a discount,  meet other people who have similar food restrictions, and find out more about eating Gluten-free and allergy free.

Photo courtesy of GFAF Expo website.

What do you get with your Expo Ticket?

  • Entry into the vendor fair with over 100 brands 
  • Valuable coupons at the vendor booths 
  • Samples from the vendors are considered to be gluten free. 
  • Discounted products available for purchase 
  • Informative classes related to the gluten free and allergen-friendly lifestyle 
  • Free reusable bag to carry your goodies 
  • Meet your favorite vendors, authors and bloggers

Photo courtesy of GFAF Expo website.

In addition to dozens of food  and lifestyle vendors and plenty of samples to go around, the GFAF will be having some classes and seminars available. All are taught by either doctors or experts who will be able to impart their wisdom on you.  Classes are included as part of your ticket!

10:30-11:30 “Food Allergy and Gluten Sensitivity Testing: Conventional and Alternative Methods”

12:00-1:00 "Gluten, gluten-free, what's it all about?"

1:30-2:30 "Tips, Tools and Tricks for Gluten Free and Allergy Friendly Travel Around the World"

3:00-4:00  "5 Steps to Healing Your Inflammation"

10:30-11:30 "Not Just Gluten Free ... Make It Low Carb!"

12:00-1:00  "Gluten: The Gut, Brain & Skin Connection"

1:30-2:30 "Rediscovering the Art & Science of Nourishing"

See the full schedule and info about presenters here:


WHEN: April 22 & 23, 2017
10:00-4:00 pm on Saturday the 22nd
10:00-3:00 pm on Sunday the 23rd

WHERE: Schaumburg Convention Center
1551 Thoreau Drive North  Schaumburg, IL 60173
Click HERE for directions.
Free Parking!

Note: If the Convention Center parking lot is full when you arrive, there is additional free parking in the lots of the adjacent office buildings.

COST: Tickets range from $5-$35 depending on age, cost, and how many days you want to attend. You can get an additional 20% off by using the code "ADVANCE" when purchasing between now and April 21.  BUY TICKETS NOW.

Concessions will be open for beverages and gluten-free salads.

 PLEASE NOTE: The show is not 100% gluten free, or allergy free.  It is in a mixed use environment, and everybody is different.  You know yourself best.  If you can not tolerate certain things, DON'T TRY THEM!

The full Safety speech is available on the GFAF website

Also, please note, I have received free tickets to promote and attend this event.  I am also an affiliate of the Expo, and if you purchase tickets through the above links, I may make an affiliate credit. My thoughts about the event are my own.

Monday, March 20, 2017

In which Cinderella's glass shoe breaks...

My bracket after 2 full rounds. Click to make larger.
Last year, I won my March Madness bracket for the first time, after playing for more than ten years.

This year, my winner got busted in the second round.

Yes, I picked Villanova to go back to back as winners.  Because I am an idiot. Because I believed in Cinderella.  And because I cast myself as the Cinderella.  Even though I am last year's reigning champion.

In my defense, there have been 48 games so far, and I picked 39 of them correctly.  Last year I picked 46 games correctly, and there are still 16 more games to go (so I could theoretically beat my # of picks from last year, and still finish in the bottom.)

And I'm still currently in 2nd place.  But obviously, that won't continue.

This may be the earliest I've ever lost my champion in the 10 years of playing.

As I said last year, I don't pretend to be a college basketball guru.  I'm usually picking teams that were hot 20 years ago.  But I usually manage to do okay. Somehow,  I'm still disappointed that I didn't pull out a miracle out of my... let's just say, for politeness sake, out of thin air.

It's unrealistic, but it's still what makes March Madness so interesting-- all the Cinderella stories.

The possibilities that an under-talented team could somehow gut it out on sheer will and beat much more talented teams 5 times in a row to become a national champion.

This dream is what fuels lottery sales, and television shows, and even American political elections.  I think American's love the story of the underdog.

 Last year I was a Cinderella story, but this year, I'm more like a bad episode of People's Court.

I'm still watching March Madness, but I have much less interest in what's going on now.

How are you doing in your bracket?  Are you living Cinderella's dream?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Hedwig and the boundaries of transgression

 this post contains adult content not typical of the rest of my blog.
If that kind of stuff is offensive to you, you should probably skip the post. 

 There's nothing objectionable per se, but I am discussing transgressive behavior, and I do mention porn.

Scroll down to read.  Thanks!

This is the Broadway program, not
ours, but ours didn't have an image.
We went on a date night recently to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  It was a date night at the lovely Oriental Theater, currently on tour and starring Euan Morton as Hedwig, formerly Hansel, a transsexual singer who has had a botched operation (hence the Angry Inch) which is also the name of his/her band, and is now in a liminal state of being simultaneously man and woman physically as well as emotionally and is stalking his former lover/babysittee as he became a national rock sensation.

I'm sad to report that I didn't like the show very much, although I thought it was well acted and well played.

 Morton prances around the stage with a lot of energy, has some funny one-liners, as does his now husband, Yitzkak, who is played with a very comic sad sack quality by Hannah Corneau.  And the band all does what they do just great.

But the show itself failed in allowing me into the story, and as a result, I was just kind of uninterested in what was going on.  I said to my wife after the show that I felt like I was at a rock concert where I didn't know any of the songs.  There was a lot of energy, but without a connection, it signified nothing.

Some of that has to do with the architecture.  The Oriental Theatre seats 2200 and I was way up in the balcony.  I could imagine feeling more involved in a tiny theatre, where the actor was in front of me, sweating on me, getting me involved, where I could get immersed in the show. Part of that was the overly loud sound, the relentless strobe lights, and the set design, which was great for filling this giant theatre with everything except for true connection.

Some of it has to do with me.  I can't like every play that's out there, and for whatever reason, I didn't connect/care too much about the story.  I'm sure others had a different reaction.  The place was full and people were laughing and cheering at the end. I guess I'm just not a Hedwigian.
Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter in Rocky Horror.
On the way back from the theatre, my wife and I had a great conversation about transgressive musicals.

When I was a kid, the thing that turned you on to "alternative lifestyles" was Rocky Horror.  It broke the norms of sexual behavior, and as a teen that was what was exciting and forbidden.  It opened up (for me) a whole new exciting world that I knew nothing about.  I think for the era before me, it might have been Hair that did the same.  I think Hedwig was the transgressive musical of the 90's.  And maybe 50 Shades was it during the 2000s?  (Although as far as I know it is not a musical. Which is a transgression in and of itself!)

Anyway, we started talking about what was going to be transgressive now, when transsexualism and BDSM are mainstream, when Burlesque is available just about everywhere, and when all sorts of lascivious pleasures are available to anyone with half a brain and the gumption to say that they are over 18.

And the fact that kids who are watching hardcore porn have a very misleading idea of what sex is, should be, can be, and what their roles are within it.

Not sure what's transgressive now, but from my experience last night, Hedwig wasn't it.

If you've got a pointer to transgressive musicals/media of 2017, please let me know!  (I will not accept urine-soaked video of Donald Trump as an answer!)

Find out more about Hedwig and where it's touring to  HERE

Friday, March 17, 2017

BOOK REPORT: The Carp In the BathTub

We've been subscribing to PJ Library for the last seven years. It's a great service that sends free Jewish books to families every month.  Every month, like a clock, we receive a Jewish book (and once a year a Jewish CD) in the mail.  It's free to sign up. Families with kids ages 6 months through 8 years old with Judaism as part of their lives, are welcome to sign up. PJ Library welcomes all Jewish families, whatever your background, knowledge, or family make-up, or observance may be.

Kids enjoying Jewish books.  Photo via PJ Library Facebook
 A program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and local Jewish councils, it's a way to get Jewish content in front of kids, and to help kids build a Jewish identity.  For some kids its reinforcement of Judaism.  For other kids it might be the only Jewish thing in their life.  For the vast majority (and us) there's an in between.  This is not the only Jewish content he gets, but he gets less than is probably ideal.  Any way you slice it, I'm always glad to see that book in the mail.

I would say that my son likes about a third of the books that come our way, and I like about half. I read all of the books that come our way, and since he started reading on his own, he probably reads half.  If it were up to him, he'd probably read 1/4.  Part of the problem is that the books they select mostly are picture books, or at least heavy on illustration, and he prefers chapter books and larger books. Basically, since he became a realreader, he doesn't like to read books with pictures.

[GOOD NEWS:  In doing research for this article, I discovered that PJ Library is starting a pre-teen component for kids 9-11, where kids select their own books!]

The books they send that I don't like are usually screaming too loudly "I'm a Jewish book.  I'm educational.  Read me, and be filled with Judaism!"  The books I like stand on their own and happen to be about Jewish topics, or present Judaism as a natural part of everyday life, not as something Special with a capital S.

One book that we both agree was great recently came in.  The book is called The Carp In The BathTub by Barb Cohen.
Originally published in 1972, it's a story of a two children living in a tenement apartment building in NY who befriend the fish their mom has purchased to make Gefilte fish for Passover.  The carp needs cleaning, before eating, so the mom is letting it rest in the bathtub for a few days before it meets its grisly doom.  The kids, try to rescue the fish, but it doesn't work out so well for them.

This is the 45th anniversary of this book, and the story has aged pretty well. I'm warning you now, this book has a sad ending for the fish.  But it has a warm and pretty lovely story about community, about family food traditions, about what it was like to live in a tenement, and yes, about Passover.

Our love of this book was made stronger by the song There's "A Carp In The Tub" by Robbie Schaefer. We've been listening to this song for some time, (it's a staple on Kid's Place Live) and seeing where it fit into our tradition/religion was pretty cool. I had actually assumed that the Carp in the Tub was a Chinese tradition that Schaeffer had appropriated,  (I'd read a story about it) so I'm really glad to know that it's part of my tradition as well.

If you like this song, consider buying it on Amazon.  The artist gets his royalty, we get a small cut of the proceeds, and you get a song you like!  Win! Win! Win!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

REVIEWS: Quest & The Year I Didn't Go To School: Danzig Family Edition

This is the last weekend for two great shows with a circus theme:

Quest at The Actor's Gymnasium and The Year I Didn't Go To School This is the last weekend for two great shows with a circus theme:

These shows have a lot in common;
  • They both have a literary component
    (based on books) 
  • They both have circus at the center of them
  • They both end March 19
  • They both feature members of the Danzig family.
  • Oh yes, and they are both great fun and worth seeing!


Quest is an original circus-theater production loosely based on Leo Tolstoy’s short story The Three Questions. The show starts as a kind of wacky game show, where the contestants, answer and ask questions, and then one of the contestants asks three simple (but huge) questions, setting in motion a whirlwind journey filled with circus to find the answers.

Quest is a student work, featuring the very talented teen ensemble of the Actor's Gymnasium, along with a few even younger kids from their training program.  As well, there are some professional circus artists/faculty members in the mix, leading the show as it goes through its various phases.  The hat juggling routine performed by pro Amanda Crockett is phenomenal!

The teens and kids of the show are equally phenomenal, and do a variety of aerial tricks, a juggling routine, play music, and of course, all sorts of acrobatics.  The kids are strong, flexible, and capable.  If you bring a child, prepare for them to ask if they can take class at the Acto's Gym (which is a worthwile endeavor!)

I mentioned the Danzig's above-- Leslie Danzig, who is a local circus/dance director and one of the co-founders of nationally acclaimed company 500 Clown, is the director/author of the piece, and her two children are part of the ensemble.

The show is performed at the Actor's Gymnasium (927 Noyes Street in Evanston) and runs Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays 4:30 pm and 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 pm through March 19.   BUY TICKETS TO QUEST


The Year I Didn't Go To School: A HomeMade Circus is based on the true life adventures of illustrator/author Giselle Potter.  When she was 7 her parents took her out of school and the whole family toured Italy for a year performing on streets, theatres, and at festivals with her Dad's puppet theatre company The Mystic Paper Beasts.

Peruse the book at Amazon.
This was one of my favorite books to read to my son,  especially considering my work as a performer.  I've always had a secret dream to bring my son and wife on a family tour, although no doubt my wife would balk, and my son would probably really like it until all of the audience members showed up!  

 The adventures of Giselle and her sister Chloe make a good and faithful transition to the stage.  They witness the wonder of eating spaghetti with a fried egg on it, getting chased by the police for not having a permit, getting their car stuck between two buildings and having to get some nuns to help push them out, and more.  The show is slightly more educational than the book, and features a couple of nice teachable moments about Italy and ways to cope with sudden change.

The acting in the show is wonderful, including Leslie Danzig (remember her?)'s husband Adrian, also of 500 Clown, who plays the Grandfather (and a number of other characters, including a crothety old Italian gentleman who sips his espresso as he watches the nuns help the family push their truck.)

The family performs their show in The Year I Didn't Go To School.
 Julie Greenberg (of the Midnight Circus) plays Giselle's grandmother, as well as other characters, and each of her and Adrian's characters are drawn deftly.

 There's a further family connection, as her daughter Samantha Jenkins (also of the Midnight Circus) shares the role of Giselle, (and was there the day I saw it).  She was terrific and brought a great tenderness to the role.  Her sister Chloe (and her parents, played by Mathew Yee and Lindsey Whiting, were also great.  Aerial Emery (of the Midnight Circus, and of the National Tour of Pippin) does a terrific Hula Hoop and aerial act, which Samantha also mirrors.

All in all, the show is a wonderful and moving hour of theatre, and is suitable for all ages.

The Year I Didn't Go To School is performed at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St, Chicago.  Shows this weekend are Friday at 10 am, Saturday at 10:30 am, 12:30 pm, and 7 pm, and Sunday at 10:30 am and 12:30 pm.  Running time is 60 minutes. Tickets are $28-$39 each.
To find out more or to purchase tickets, visit