Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Travelogue: London!

We have had an action packed couple of days in London, part of our great European adventure.  We've got four more days here, and from here we go to Barcelona for 3 weeks while my wife is teaching there at a new business school!)

Our bags.  Over 200 lbs of luggage for 3 people!
Packing the morning we were to leave was a little eventful, as the suitcase we bought for our son for this flight (brand new, never used) broke its zipper as we tried to close it.  So much for planning.  We fortunately had a suitcase in reserve and managed to fit everything in.  We are gone for four weeks, so we have a lot of stuff.  The weight limit on international is 23 kilos, and our bags weighed in at 23, 23, and 21.9.  (23 kilos is about 51 lbs!)

Our flight was relatively uneventful, the boy slept, my wife tried to sleep, and I watched Logan.  It was good, but pretty violent.  Glad the boy slept through it!

Having a smartphone provided by your foreign hotel is Handy!
Selfie in front of Big Ben
Big Ben through the London Eye.  The old and the new!
We got in early in the morning and sailed through customs/passport control, and then decided to take the Tube to our hotel in Lambeth North.  It worked well, except as mentioned above, we have lots of luggage, and the Tube isn't exactly handicapped accessible.  I ended up lugging all of our luggage up lots of stairs.

Our hotel is great- we are staying at the Marlin Waterloo. It has a pretty central location steps from a train station, walking distance to Westminster Bridge, the London Eye, Aquarium etc, has air conditioning, free wifi, and we got here there was a little cellphone in our room for us to take. It has wifi, free local calls, and is very Handy. In fact, that's the name of it. A great innovation in today's technological world.

I haven't been to London since 1995, although I lived here one summer in 1985 going to acting school.  It's changed quite a bit, even as all the historical elements have stayed in place.  I love how we are traveling, although I wish we'd brought less stuff...  One of the things I remarked to my wife is that if I were choosing the itinerary alone, or if she were choosing the itinerary alone, we would do things very differently.  But it's a great mix of all of our interests!

We've just been her two days, but have done quite a lot in a short amount of time. After getting to the room and taking a nap to clear our heads, we walked around our neighborhood area-- walked up and over Westminster Bridge over by Westminster Abbey, passing Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, over towards Parliament, 10 Downing Street, walked the edge of St. James Park (the Pelican area) and up into Picadilly Circus area, ate dinner, at a little steak joint and then walked into Leicester Square and bought discount tickets for The Play That Goes Wrong for Wed.   After a sojourn in Leicester Square's Lego store and a couple of other stores (Hello, Kingdom of Sweets) we then bought Oyster cards and tubed back to the hotel for a well deserved sleep.

Weirdly this does not get one into
 the Ministry of Magic.  (Nor is it a TARDIS)
Today we got up a little late, picked up one of those ON/OFF tourist buses (included in our London Pass that we bought online) got off at London Bridge, walked over there, and around the new South Bank building the Shard, saw the HMS Belfast museum, ate lunch at a cute Japanese takeway restaurant called Ito (made by the guys from Pret).

After that we walked up through Tower Bridge (but decided not to do the tower or the bridge exhibition) The tower is tomorrow. We then went to Kings Cross station to see Platform 9 3/4 (totally mobbed) and looked at St. Pancras station, (we leave from there on Saturday).  We also walked into the Youtube creator store, and saw the outside of the Youtube creator space (if you have 10K or more subscribers, it's a free service you can use!)  and then we ended up eating dinner at a great fish place in Borough Market with my wife's cousins.   I had the fish and chips and the sticky toffee pudding and two local beers.

Tomorrow it's Tower of London in the morning, followed by hanging around with some friends from college in the afternoon, and the play in the evening.

Thursday we are going to Hampton Court Palace for a picnic with more cousins, followed by dinner with yet more cousins. (My wife has a lot of cousins in London!)

Friday we are at liberty, but will do more sightseeing, I'm sure, including a cruise up the river Thames.  Got any suggestions?

Saturday morning we are up bright and early to drop our stuff off at St. Pancras station, but then double back to get on the bus to take the Harry Potter studio tour. (Yes, we are travelling with a nine year old!)

And then we take the overnight train to Barcelona by the way of Toulouse.  A whole 'nother set of adventures!  Can't wait!

The statue of Chaplin in Leicester Square.  (Chaplin is the guy in the middle, in case its hard to tell!)

London Bridge is not falling down.  (But it wouldn't matter, this is the Tower Bridge!)

The highlight for him so far-- visiting Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station!

Family photo of us in the  Lego Tube, we are squished in between a Beefeater and Shakespeare.
Yep, that sums up London alright!

Monday, July 17, 2017


Any reader of this blog knows that my family and I are huge fans of Hamilton.  We've each seen it twice (although not all together)  And I've been saying since it started that I couldn't wait for the high school version of this to come out, because to me it seems like a perfect musical for kids to perform in.

 Last week, we got to test the theory when my son attended Hamilton Camp as part of the Dream Big Performing Arts Camps in our Edgewater/Andersonville neighborhood.

As you can imagine, it was an immensely popular camp (we got in off of the wait list)  The class had two sections-- one for kids 6-8 and one for kids 8-12.  I lobbied to get him the older camp, and it was fine.  He was probably the youngest performer there.   There were about 15 kids in the camp, about 75% girls, and most were 11 or 12.

He had a great time at the camp, although each day he came home very very tired, and occasionally very cranky. He got to play Lafayette/ Jefferson, as well as playing in the ensemble.  (Well, he shared the roles/lyrics of Lafayette and Jefferson with other kids) They also did a lot of outdoor playing at the local playground, ate lunch, and drew Hamilton posters.

At the end of the week there was a 25 minute performance of what they'd done during the week.  The program was pretty ambitious-- they did 9 songs, covering most of the action of the show, with judicious cuts and some bowdlerized lyrics.

Three kids played King George
I've taught at multiple camps like this. The challenging part for a teacher/performer is that there is NEVER enough time to put everything together, and there are so many kids at so many different levels, and you've promised a show at the end, and you have to deliver.  The good part is that the parents are for the most part really forgiving (as they should be)  And that the kids mostly come through.

"Virginia my home sweet home let me give you a kiss."
I enjoyed watching him in the performance, although he seemed super nervous the night before and just before the show.  The performances of the kids were mostly varied.  They all had a great time, even when they forgot their lines, messed up their lines, rushed their lines, mumbled their lines,  missed their choreography, the music didn't start on time, or they were off key.  It did remind me that what seems so effortless from Broadway actors (singing and rapping) is in fact very difficult.  And that even when you are rapping, it's important to be on key!

It also reminded me of the BRILLIANCE of Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose words shine even when performed inexpertly.  And the absolute brilliance of a kid when he or she gets something right for even a few seconds, and the performance transcends itself.  That happened 3 or 4 times during this performance and it was wonderful!

Here's a sample of some of the show:  

If you are interested, they are having other camps this summer Aug 14-18, as well as a Wicked camp, a Lion King camp, and a Wizard of Oz camp, not to mention a bunch of other camps that are not musical-based.

Find out more

Monday, July 10, 2017

Ballet Verite July 15 at 4:30 pm (Brooklyn, NY)

My brother runs a ballet company in New York.  It's his passion.  He spends all of his free time, energy, and money on it. It's called Ballet Verite.

Here's an article in NY Press about one of his previous works.

And a great blog feature on his first presentation of Ballet Verite in 2009

(And here's my first listing for that show on one of my old blogs:  http://yonkersarts.blogspot.com/2009/03/ballet-verite.html)

This year he's got a showing of his original choreography this Saturday, July 15 at the Mark Morris Dance Center (3 Lafayette Ave in Brooklyn).  
The afternoon of work is called Shalom v'Shalvo, which in Hebrew means Peace & Harmony.

Performers include some stars and up and coming stars from the NYC Ballet world including Robin Gilbert, Gabrielle Grywalski, Ramona Kelley, Yusaku Komori, Jessica Miller, Izabela Szylinska and Jenny Winton.
The showing is at 4:30 pm, and donations are accepted at the door.

I sadly cannot attend this time, so I'm asking my friends in the area to please attend.  It will be fun!

Please RSVP to attend by emailing rsvp@balletverite.com

Thanks!  The Details are below:


WHAT: Ballet Verite's show Shalom V'Shalvo (Peace & Harmony)

WHEN: Saturday, July 15 2017, 4:30 pm

WHERE: Mark Morris Dance Center
3 Lafayette Ave Brooklyn NY
Duffy Performance Space (5th floor)


COST: Donations accepted at the door.

RSVP:  rsvp@balletverite.com

Monday, June 19, 2017

REVIEW: Tempel Lippizan Show: Great way to spend a Sunday

Photo from the program of the Tempel Lippizans
For the Father's Day holiday, my family and I (wife, son, and mother in law) trekked out to Old Mill Creek, a rural area near Gurnee and about 70 minutes north of Chicago) to see the Tempel Lippizan dressage show.

It was a great show, and a wonderful day trip to take- the perfect way to spend a Sunday.

(DISCLOSURE: We received free tickets to this event in exchange for a possible review.  No money changed hands, and my opinions and ideas are mine alone. My integrity is important to me, and it should be to you too!)


After a leisurely sleep in and breakfast, we all took showers, and got on the road.

 The GPS told us to take the highway, but we decided to go straight up Sheridan Road.  I am so glad we did!  It's a much more beautiful drive than the highway, as you hug the lake for a good portion of the way, and get to see all of the beautiful houses and mansions in Evanston, Wilmette, Kenilworth, and Winnetka.

We drove right by the beautiful Bahai Temple in Wilmette, and that will be another of our day trips I'm sure.

The 13 million dollar house with a private beach.
Up on Sheridan road, the houses become mansions and estates, one more opulent after another.
(If you have a spare 13 million, there's a house with a private beach, a swimming pool, a detached coach house, and 8 bathrooms available.  Of course, the property taxes are over $100K a year. )

 Maybe that should be our third daytrip?

We arrived around 12:35 pm, perfect timing for the 1 pm performance.

There is a small tent for a gift shop/cafe, with burgers and brats and some other snacks available.


The Tempel Lippizans started when  Chicago steel magnate Tempel Smith visited Austria in the late 1950s.  He and his wife visited the Spanish riding school, and fell in love with the Lippizan horses featured there.  The Lippizaners had been bred in Vienna for classical riding and art since the seventeenth century.  During World War II, they were in danger of being eviscerated as casualties of war, but General Patton and his men worked to save the breed.  (This story was made into a 1963 Disney film Miracle of the White Stallions. Buy on Amazon)

When Tempel Smith,  saw these horses, he and his wife decided to bring them to the United States.  By the early 1970's he and his wife had built up their herd to over 450 horses.  In 1982, the first public performances started at their training and breeding facility.

The mission of the Tempel Lipizzans is to promote classical dressage and the Lipizzan breed in the United States through a careful breeding and training program.  This is the 35th year of public exhibitions, and the current owners, Linda Smith Buonanno and Martha Smith Simpson received the Officer's Cross, Grand Decoration of Honor for Service to the Republic of Austria in 1993, for their "careful management of a cultural institution with such close ties to Austria".


This is a rare dark Lippizan horse.
1 in 400 do not become white.
Mare with foal.  Lippizan horses are dark at birth, but gradually
become white as they age.

Horses pulling a carriage in perfect alignment.  Driving
a team of horses like this is a lost art.

The performances show the development of the horses from young stallions all the way up to the Quadrille: A Ballet for Four Stallions and their riders.  All of the performances/demonstrations are set to classical music.  There is even one exhibition showing horses pulling a cart, as apparently, that is something that the Lippizans are well known for.  There are also some aerial jumps and two leg maneuvers.

This horse can jump!  A classic Lippizan trick.

The performances are quite beautiful and stately.  The horses are amazing.  Unlike another horse show we recently reviewed (Cavalia's Odysseo ) this show is not about entertaining and thrilling the audience as much as it is about displaying the amazing precision that both horse and rider need in order to perform these complex cadences and maneuvers.

The show succeeds on its own terms admirably.  It is not without its risks, however-- one of the riders was thrown during the performance that we saw.  She was able to walk it off, and they paused the exhibition to let the horse take a few moments to gain his composure and they continued on.

The show is narrated before each exhibition with a brief informational paragraph or two about each exhibition.  There are 8 different styles shown, including Olympic Dressage, The Long Rein,  Aerial moves (Courbette, Capriole, and Levade) and the aforementioned Quadrille.

At the end of the performance, the audience is invited into the stable to meet the stars and there are even some photo opportunities.

Our day was absolutely beautiful in the mid 80's with a nice breeze.  The stands are shaded, although they do advise to bring sunscreen.

In the case of rain, they have an indoor performance area as well.


The performance season began this past weekend, and will continue on through September on select Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. Tickets are $27 for adults if purchased online, with a $5 discount for veterans and a $17 rate for kids 4-14.   You can also occasionally find discounted tickets online via Goldstar and other outlets.

 Tempel Farms is located at 17000 Wadsworth Rd in Old Mill Creek, IL.

 For more information, visit http://www.tempelfarms.com/plan-your-visit.html.

My son and I pose with one of the stars of the show after the exhibition.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Happy Father's Day!

Want to wish you all a very happy Father's day!

My son gave me a very nice Father's Day Card. It's a nesting card, with 5 different panels, that are supposed to be all about me. Clearly done at school, but fun.  A few days ago he was asking me about my favorite movie, my favorite color, and my favorite foods, so I kind of thought this might be where this was heading.

Still it paints a strange picture of me as a bird-hating, bird killing Diet coke drinking clown/fiend of indeterminate weight who desires a moped, eats pizza all the time, has high brow taste in movies, wants to win the lottery, and lets his son speedskate and go to camp.

Except for the bird-killing part, he's kind of got me down!

I decided to do this now for my dad, for when I was 8. (that would be Father's Day 1972, which happens to be the first "Official Father's Day" in April of that year when Nixon signed Public Law 92-278 in April.  ) The day was Sunday June 18, 1972, just like this year!

Here's mine about my dad at that time:  (along with my son's answers for reference)


NAME: Alan
AGE:  34 (He turned 35 Aug 1, 1972)
HEIGHT: 6'1"

FOOD: Chinese food
DRINK: Gingerale
MOVIE: The Sting
SPORTS: Watching Baseball
CHORE: Going to work

I know you want to travel and play bridge.  I know you want to go to Disneyworld.  I know you want me to work with my head and not my hands.  I know you want me to mow the lawn.

I know you don't like insects.  I know you want to have a dog.  I know you don't want to mow the lawn. I know you don't like to argue with Mom.


1. You are really smart and good at math.
2. You play games with me.
3. You like to tell funny jokes
4. You share your candy with me.
5. You are very generous to other people.

I Love you, Dad!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Fatherhood is a two way street: #thanksBaby

Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad and Pampers for this promotion.  All thoughts and stories are my own.

As I did last year, I am happy to celebrate Father's Day as an ambassador for the Pampers: #thanksbaby campaign.

Pampers wants  to remind dads everywhere that fatherhood is a two-way street.  This is a great message and it tracks strongly with my own experience.

As our babies turn into toddlers and our toddlers turn into children and our children turn into young adults, they are learning and growing from us, and SIMULTANEOUSLY  we are learning and growing from them.

I may have told this story before but it bears repeating.

Me and my newborn son! 
I am a late to life father- I was 44 when my son was born.

I had a whole bunch of fears when my son was born.  I knew that my work as a touring performer and clown was going to have to radically change, that I was going to be the primary caregiver for my child.  I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about that.  I had been making my living as an artist for over 20 years and I didn't know if I was going to be capable (or want to do something else)  

I was also really scared that I wouldn't be up to the task of caring for an infant: of feeding it properly, of changing its dirty diapers (#thanksPampers!  You were a total lifesaver on that one!), of stopping him or her from crying or soothing them to sleep.

A caricature done of us at the Hudson River Museum
My biggest fear was that at the end of the day I wouldn't be happy- that the change in my life that I was going to get as a father/dad wouldn't make me happier than I was as a relatively successful artist.

I spent my life as an artist avoiding responsibilities in order to be happy.  I didn't have any plants so that I could tour at a moment's notice.  I lived in an apartment that I could literally shut up for three months without having to worry about anything going wrong.  (Well not too much)

But it turns out that I was up to all of those challenges and more.  Not only that, but adding responsibilities to my life made me happier-- something that was completely counterintuitive to me.

I can confidently say that I have never been happier as a person since I became a dad.  And my happiness continues to grow as he gets older.  It's the gift that keeps on giving!

When my son was a baby I learned from him to sleep whenever there was an opportunity, to relish moments of play, to get down on the floor and look up from his perspective.

I definitely didn't throw away my shot. (and neither did he!)
When my son was a toddler I re-learned how to wonder at the world, to answer the question why multiple times, and to get deliriously happy when there are small gains:  First words, first steps, first poop in the toilet.

My son is 8 now, and the diapering days are long past me (although I am sad to say that occasionally I do need to remind him to wipe better.) Hey it happens to everyone. But at least I don't have to wipe him anymore!)

I am still learning and growing from him.  He's introducing me to his favorite books (Ranger's Apprentice and the Indian In the Cupboard) and we're discussing the crazy plotting that is Star Wars, and the intricacies of Hamilton rap/rhymes. (with a stern admonition that some words may only be sung!)

 Earlier this year we worked on his first science fair project together, and we have even geeked out over fidget spinners.  I've been coaching his basketball team and he's getting better as a player, even as I get better as a coach.

I can't wait for the next phase!


When a baby is born, a dad is born. This Father’s Day, Pampers is encouraging dads to give thanks to their kids for making them feel special, and to recognize how babies (and children) help the dad to grow along the journey of fatherhood.

Please join them by tweeting or instagramming how your baby changed your life with the hashtag #ThanksBaby.

Here's a great video from Pampers to remind us dads to thank our kids for making us dads
Happy Fathers Day from me! (and from Pampers!)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pivot Arts Festival 2017/ Review of Ubu The King

Pivot Arts Festival is a celebration of innovative performances in theater, dance, music, puppetry, site-specific works, and spoken word.  The festival takes place in Edgewater, Uptown, and Rogers Park, and sees as very important the collaboration between artists, communities, and businesses.

Pivot Arts works year round, producing a monthly series and occasional artistic colloquies, as well as artistic projects, but their raison d'etre is the Pivot Arts Festival, a 10 day multi-disciplinary festival that combines all kinds of performances in all kinds of venues, and includes a community parade.  This year is the fifth year!

I've missed the last couple of Pivot Arts Fests, even though they've been literally under my nose.  I  came pretty close to missing this one as well (and this year they held a parade on my street!  Somehow I missed the parade!  That might be the story of my life!)

From the Rough House Website
I'm happy to report that I didn't miss it.  Last night I saw one of the Pivot offerings,  Rough House Theatre's show Ubu The King.   The show was held at the FLATs Studio on Wilson. (Just west of the Wilson Red Line)  (Flats Studio is a great program which takes unused storefronts and apartments in FLATS buildings and puts art in them!  Find out more here.)

The show itself was great.  True to Ubu's spirit, it was rough hewn and ribald and had some crazy inventive words in it (For those that don't know, Ubu Roi was a play that caused a huge sensation in Paris when it opened in 1896.  The first line is "Merrrdre"  which gets translated as "Shitttrs!"  After the first word was uttered at the world premiere, there was a near riot, and the play had to be stopped for almost 30 minutes.)

Ubu by Rough House Theatre.  photo by Joe Mazza.
The play then proceeds with a whole bunch of scatalogical humor, a rough lampooning of Shakespeare's MacBeth, about a super lazy good for nothing guy (Pere Ubu) who through cowardice, luck, and sheer cruelty becomes the King of Poland, thanks in part to his shrewish wife Mere Ubu.  It's kind of a cruel play about a cruel guy, as written by an overly bright and vicious middle school student about his terrible (and very fat) physics teacher (that's where the play started!)

Alfred Jarry
The author Alfred Jarry is a favorite character of mine.  He was a French surrealist, and he lived the part, carrying around a gun and riding a bicycle through Turn of the Century Paris.  One of my favorite quotes of his is this "One can show one's contempt for the cruelty and stupidity of the Universe by making of one's life a poem of incoherence and absurdity."

Jarry later invented pataphysics (well, he expanded on it) , a kind of mock science/philosophy that some folks have described as "a branch of philosophy or science that examines imaginary phenomena that exist in a world beyond metaphysics; it is the science of imaginary solutions." (Thanks Wikipedia!)

 As Jarry once wrote, expressing some of the bizarre logic of 'pataphysics, "If you let a coin fall and it falls, the next time it is just by an infinite coincidence that it will fall again the same way; hundreds of other coins on other hands will follow this pattern in an infinitely unimaginable fashion."

Ubu the puppet.
Jarry died young of tuberculosis, aggravated by drinking and drug use.  He drank ether and absinthe like it was going out of style!

As you might imagine, Jarry and his craziness his particularly appealed to me when I was a college student, just learning about this guy and this crazy artist filled world of turn of the century Paris.
(I've been in the play Ubu twice!)

This is my favorite translation of Ubu.
The line drawings are great too!
Buy it on Amazon
The Rough House play was performed by a troupe of 5, and they all did a great job of presenting myriad puppet characters.  I loved the style of characters, who were performed Bunraku style, and were roughly hewn stuffed dolls.  The dolls get thrown around, stuffed into killing machines, stabbed, beaten, thrown about some more, and it's great fun.  I also really loved the innovative use of furniture in the show.  The set was framed by three ladders tied together, which held the lighting system, but could also be climbed on.  Two drawer cabinets (chest of drawers) on wheels were also used, and the shelves pulled out to make set pieces, hold puppets, and folded around to use the stage.  It was very well realized!  If you have the chance to see the show, I'd highly recommend it.  Find out more about Rough House here. (Rough House also helps produce the quarterly puppet slam that I have participated in, Nasty Brutish, and Short)

Improv and ice cream will be performed
by Storytown on June 11 at Lickety Split
Sadly, you won't be able to see Ubu at the Festival, because the Rough House run has ended, but there's a lot more going on in the festival, including dance, improv comedy, theatre, spoken word, an arts crawl, and the festival will end next week on June 11 with family friendly improv at our local frozen custard shop Lickety Splits.  Some of the performers include Barrel of Monkeys, the NeoFuturists, Same Planet Performance Project, Ayako Kato and Synapse Arts, and Storytown.

To find out more about the festival, to buy tickets, and to donate so that stuff like this will happen more often, please visit the Pivot Arts website http://www.pivotarts.org