Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Drawing In Space

Public art fans, listen up! The opening of "Drawing In Space: The Peninsula Project" begins at 6 p.m. today on the Sarasota bay front in front of Star Pointer.

Many of you have probably driven by the towering sculpture of red sticks there created by John Henry. His Peninsula Project involves one of his large, colorful sculptures in seven Florida cities. For more information, go to http://www.peninsulaproject.com/drawinginspace/exhibition/.

Fuzion Dance Artists will present a show during the opening reception on the bay front. Then the festivities will move to a gallery at 20 Lemon Ave. where Henry will meet and greet with guests.

The event is sponsored by Sarasota Season of Sculpture, Ringling College of Art and Design, Pineapple Square and WQ Magazine. For more information or to RSVP, e-mail Brenda@seasonofsculputre.com.

The exhibit will remain up through March 30.

- January Holmes

Monday, December 15, 2008

FST announces new Stage III season

Florida Studio Theatre recently announced its 2009 season for its edgy Stage III venue.

It begins with Edward Albee's "Occupant," a story about celebrated Jewish-American sculptor Louise Nevelson and her art. The show runs Jan. 14-31.

Next is Y York's comedy". . . And L.A. is Burning." This play, which runs March 4-19, is set during 1992 when four policemen are on trial for the beating of Rodney King. It focuses on several American's view of race relations in modern society.

Then there's David Harrower's production of "Blackbird," which won the 2007 Olivier Award for Best New Play. The story revolves around two former lovers who had an illicit affair years ago. When they recently cross paths, their past comes back to haunt them. The show runs April 22-May 7.

Note: These shows include strong language and situations. Tickets are $19-$32. Subscriptions are available for all three shows from $39-$52.

Also, last season's hit "Always . . . Patsy Cline" will return to FST's Gompertz Theatre for a limited engagement Feb. 17-28. Tickets are $29-$32. For more information, call 366-9000 or at www.floridastudiotheatre.org.

- January Holmes

Friday, December 12, 2008

Weekend roundup

There's so much going on this weekend that it's hard to mention it all. Highlights include tonight's Boat Parade - a must see - along the Manatee River in downtown Bradenton at 6:30; Saturday's Breakfast with Santa at Ringling at 9 a.m., the Winter Wonderland Family Street Festival from 5-9 p.m. in downtown Bradenton and the Dance Theatre of Bradenton's "Nutcracker" at Manatee Community College.

And so much more ... But I wanted to mention something we haven't had a chance to write about: American Stage Theatre Company's "Proof/This/Steel/Lion," presented by the theater's youth ensemble. Granted, it's not Christmas-y, but it isn't your typical play either. It's snippets from the award-winning plays of "Proof," "Burn This," "Steel Magnolias" and "The Lion in the Winter."

Come see these hard working teens put out their best stuff. Tickets are only $5 (cash only). Performances will be noon on Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday.

The theater is at 211 Third St. S, Saint Petersburg. For more information, call (727) 823-1600, ext. 201.

- January Holmes

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Willy Wonka candy bars bring big prizes

Mary and Peter Ruscoe with cast of "Willy Wonka"
Debbie Crowe with artistic director Rick Kerby

So if you haven't seen "Willy Wonka" at the Manatee Players, you should. Even if it's just to get one of their delicious Willy Wonka candy bars, which are on sale in the Manatee Players' lobby for $5. Like in the musical, you could be a golden ticket winner as there are a couple of Golden Tickets still floating around in a few of the bars. Each golden ticket has a special prize attached to it.

Three of the five tickets have already been claimed, with two recent winners Debbie Crowe and Mary and Peter Rusco. Crowe, manager of Bradenton's Shake Pit, won a candy gift basket, Mattison's Riverside gift certificates and free admission to the South Florida Museum. The Ruscoes won a candy gift basket, Mattison's Riverside gift certificates and tickets to see Drumline at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.

So that means there's two tickets left - at least, as of yesterday afternoon. Those tickets are connected to Disney World tickets and being a bat boy or girl at a Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training game.

- January Holmes

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Inexpensive Christmas decor tips

Read today's story in the Herald about "Decking the Halls More Cautiously"? Decorating your home with Christmas cheer can be tough if you're on a budget. But for those who must decorate, especially to have your home spiffy for those holiday parties and get-togethers, here are a few tips from home decorating expert Sandy Sandler. She sent an e-mail to us recently about ways to decorate while saving money.

Tips include:

* Make a gingerbread house. Gingerbread houses are perfect edible decorations.

* Cinnamon sticks are a wonderful “green” way to add holiday fragrance to your home. Hang with ribbon or place them in bowls.

* Visit your local farm stand and purchase pumpkins, gourds, and poinsettias. Shake a little gold glitter on both the vegetables and the plants and place around your home. Gold glitter is a really easy trick to give everything a fresh rich look.

* Fill a tall narrow glass vase with brightly colored Christmas balls. Set the vase near a window where the colored balls can create wonderful multi-colored prisms throughout the room.

* Make a pine cone wreath for your front door. Gather pine cones from your yard attach them to a wire wreath. Add a colorful bow.

* Fill canning jars with colorful candy and attach a bow or ornament on the front of the jar. Place them around your home.

* Instead of purchasing a large Christmas tree, purchase a few tabletop trees to decorate the house. Your home will be filled with a nice pine fragrance and each room’s tree can have a special theme or color scheme. Large trees are very expensive while the little tabletop trees are usually inexpensive and very easy to decorate.

Happy decorating!

P.S. You can also get ideas from the Crosley Estate's Festival of Trees. Today's the last day of the event. Check it out from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

- January Holmes

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cookies top list for favorite holiday food

Remember our blog on the top foods consumed for Thanksgiving? Well, researchers at The NPD Group have a new chart out, tracking Americans favorite snack foods during the Christmas season.

The list includes all of our favorite holiday treats like nuts (which ranked No. 4), brownies (No. 12), chocolate candy (No. 3) and cookies (No. 1). Other favorites includes cheese, fudge and muffins.

Fruit cake - which is loved by only four people in the country, including my mom (this is just my estimate of course) - made the bottom of the list. The only thing I couldn't understand was how vegetables came in as No. 2. There was no specification on what kind of veggies people were consuming either. So, since this is snack food we are talking about here, I'm assuming it's the party trays of carrots and celery with ranch dressing dip, which are very delicious.

You can refer to these items for your Christmas party planning or holiday gift ideas. People never seem to turn down free food over the holidays, unless it's a fruit cake. But even then you could just re-gift it.

- January Holmes

Monday, December 8, 2008

American Craft Show awards

Organizers of the 16th annual American Craft Show, held over the weekend, announced its picks for the Award of Excellence. The award is given for recognition of creativity and quality of the artists' works.

Only four were honored out of the 175 juried artists. They are:

Robert J. Farrell of Venice, Fla., a designer of sterling silver jewelry and “tabletop objects of heirloom quality," who won the award for both his work and the design of his display booth.

Susan Gott, a Tampa-based artist, who is well known for her sculptural glass installations.

Marcia Phillips of Goshen, Mass., who specializes in handwoven clothing.

Pat Pruitt of Paguate, N.M., a jewelry designer participating in the Sarasota American Craft Show for the first time.

- January Holmes

Thursday, December 4, 2008

'Dark Knight' fans unite

Okay, I'll admit that driving to Tampa to pick up the newest DVD release of Batman's "The Dark Knight" is extreme, but next Monday night one Blockbuster store there is making it worth the while for fanatics of the film.

While Blockbuster stores throughout the Tampa area (we haven't heard anything about the Bradenton area yet) are staying open late in anticipation of being swamped by costumers, the store on 614 S. Howard Avenue has plans of being party central for the event. There will be costume contests, games, prizes and giveaways at the location. Plus, a few local radio stations will be on site.

According to Blockbuster, "The Dark Knight," which stars the late Heath Ledger as the Joker, is the highest grossing movie of 2008 worldwide.

So if you're up for the drive, don't miss this free event. The fun begins at 8 p.m. Monday and lasts until 1 a.m. Tuesday. Let us know if you know of any local Blockbusters in the Bradenton area having any "Dark Knight" related events so we can post it on the blog.

- January Holmes

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ringling rings in the season

The John and Mable Ringling Museum kicks off the Christmas season with its Holiday Splendor event from 6-9 p.m. tomorrow (Dec. 4) on the Ringling grounds. Get an eye-full of holiday decorations and live entertainment provided by Manatee and Sarasota county schools.

Holiday Splendor benefits the area "Toys for Tots" program headed by the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Admission to the event is $10 or one unwrapped toy.

Food and drinks will also be on sale.

Don't forget to mark your calendars for Ringling's Breakfast with Santa at 9 a.m. on Dec. 13. During breakfast, Santa will greet guests and give each child a special gift (that gift will brought by the parents who attend with their child and will be given to Santa).

Tickets to the breakfast are $20 for adults, $12.50 for ages 3-12 and $5 for age 2 and under. Seating is limited. For more information, call 359-5700, ext. 5705

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Trade 'Idol Live' for Mannheim

You've probably heard by now that the Idol Mania Live tour, which was to kick off in Sarasota this weekend, has been postponed. We hope to give you details of new tour dates in the new year.

In the meantime, though it's not American Idol, you can partake in the holiday cheer at Universal Orlando Resort with the electric Grammy Award-winning Christmas music of Mannheim Steamroller. The group recently performed at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, and will be performing two shows at Universal Studios at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. this Saturday (Dec. 6). During the event, Mannheim Steamroller will perform favorite hits and music from their new album Christmasville.

After Saturday, the Christmas celebrations continue at Universal through New Year's Day with performances of "Grinchmas," a spin on "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," and Macy's Holiday Parade.

Remember, Florida residents can get special deals on tickets this holiday season. For more information on discounts and the holiday events at Universal, visit www.universalorlando.com/holidays.

- January Holmes

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bayshore High showcases shoes as art




Now that we've had a chance to enjoy the holiday and reflect on the many things we are thankful for this season - be it friends, family, job, etc. - it's time to jump back into the swing of things and see what's going on locally in the art and entertainment world.

This week, beginning Wednesday, will be a fundraiser exhibit given by the students of Bayshore High School and will include works by former student Tyrell Waiters who has been featured in the Herald several times for his colorful works. The exhibit, held at John Carl Spa and Salon, is called Best Foot Forward, Shoes as Objects D'Art where regular shoes will be transformed into funky and whimsical pieces of art. Themes include Christmas, Mardi Gras, Film Festival, games and more.

The spa, which has been known to feature special art work, is at 1345 Second St, Sarasota. An opening reception will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Proceeds will benefit the Bayshore High Visual Arts Department.

For more information, call 330-8000.

- January Holmes

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Things to do this holiday weekend

Happy early Thanksgiving! By now, you've probably planned your menu for tomorrow's Turkey Day fest. But have you figured out what you're going to do for the weekend?

For those early bird shoppers, when the clocks turn mid-night for Black Friday, one place to be is Ellenton's Prime Outlets for the Midnight Madness Pajama Jam. The first 500 shoppers to stop by Guest Services wearing their pjs will get a gift bag filled with a pair of brand new pajamas and other treats. Visitors are encouraged to take advantage of the extra discounts many of the stores are offering. The event lasts until 8 a.m. Friday. For more information, go to www.primeoutlets.com.

And while you're out shopping, don't forget those less fortunate this holiday season, especially the children. If you can, pick up a toy and donate it to the Manatee Players toy drive. The theater troupe is collecting toys and gifts for the area's abused and neglected children and teens to benefit Manatee Children's Services. New, unwrapped toys can be delivered to the theater at 102 Old Main St. in downtown Bradenton.

If you rather stay at home and watch football, but want to keep the kids busy for a little while, download snowflakes from www.sarasotaballet.org for its Snowflake Coloring Contest. Those with the most artistic snowflake in each of the four age groups (ages 3-5; 6-8; 9-12 and 13-adults) will each win four tickets to the Sarasota Ballet's holiday program of the snow-filled "Les Patineurs" and "The Two Pigeons." To find out more, check out the ballet's Web site.

Lastly, if you're not a shopper, football fan or coloring fanatic but are looking for something entertaining to do for the holiday weekend, check out tomorrow's Weekend section for lots of movies, theater, music and performing arts ideas.

- January Holmes

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving isn't just about turkey

With Turkey day just around the corner, you could imagine my surprise when I read a report from the NPD Group on eating trends that only 30 percent of American households are planning to make a turkey this year.

Thirty percent.

I wondered if there was an epidemic going on, like a turkey shortage or something. Or that people were deciding to turn to ham this year or worse, Spam. But then I read on: Eighty-two percent plan on eating turkey, though, they weren't planning on making it themselves. Apparently, the reason that turkey making is so low is that most people are going to eat Thanksgiving dinner at someone else's home. NPD reports that two households will be the guest of another this Thursday. Though I'm not going to be "home" for Turkey Day, I'm still spending it with family. Last year, I was the guest of friends, and we had plenty of turkey to go around.

Harry Balzer, who writes the annual "Eating Patterns in America" and is vice president of NPD, said the numbers goes to show that people don't necessarily turn to food for comfort during this hectic and anxiety-filled season, they turn to other people instead.

I agree. They turn to other people with food. Eating is more fun that way.

NPD also tallied the top food items that will be devoured at tables across the country, the No. 1 pick - no surprise - was turkey. The rest:

2. Potatoes
3. Vegetables
4. Pie
5. Stuffing (I'm surprised this isn't higher on the list. Stuffing would have been #2 for me, mac and cheese #3 and a cake for #4, but that's just me.)
6. Fruit
7. Rolls
8. Salads
9. Bread
10. Sandwiches

Balzer stated in his report that with someone else preparing a Thanksgiving meal for you, "you've got to be thankful. But remember that just because you didn't prepare the meal, doesn't mean you get away with not cleaning up."

But I get away with it when it's my aunt's house.

- January Holmes

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bello is Circus Sarasota's newest star



Missed last week's daredevil stunt reavealing the newest member of next season's Circus Sarasota? The stunt, held in Five Points Park in Sarasota, involved the quick ascent up a 92ft sway pole that amazed the crowd, according to Jennifer Mitchell, marketing coordinator of Circus Sarasota. It featured none other than the engertic Bello Nock. Nock, an international clown superstar, has been called "America's Best Clown" by Time magazine.

Circus Sarasota members are very excited to have Bello be a part of their 2009 circus shows, which begin Jan. 30 and continues through Feb. 22 near Ed Smith Stadium at 1500 Stringfield Ave., Sarasota. You'll hear more about Bello through our coverage on the event next year.

In the meantime, tickets are sale now at http://www.circussarasota.org/ or by calling 355-9805. Those who purchase tickets in advance save $5 per ticket.

- January Holmes

Friday, November 21, 2008

Free theater events this weekend

This weekend, the FSU/Asolo Conservatory will offer a heaping helping of theater for its popular Late Night series. All shows are free and open to the public on a first come, first served basis.

The events are as follows:

Saturday, November 22, 2008 @ 11PM
Presented in the Allen Studio on the second floor of the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.

Drunk Enough to Say I Love You by Caryl Churchill
Directed by Anne Towns

A groundbreaking new play by one of theater's preeminent voices, Caryl Churchill, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? is a dark political comedy that puts a new spin on the term special relationship by using a male affair as a metaphor for the tortured submissiveness of Britain to America on foreign policy.

Sunday, Nov 23, 2008 at 8pm
Presented outside the FSU Center for the Performing Arts to the right of the main entrance, by the east wheelchair ramp and under the trees.

TRASH ANTHEM by Dan Dietz
Directed by Candace O'Neil Cihocki

Featuring: Jason Peck (Boots) and Bethany Weise (Woman)

What if the man you loved had another kind of man inside? In the deep woods south, a woman buries her lover after a shotgun blast tears him to pieces. Now all that's left are his boots…and her desire. Is it strong enough to summon up the dead to wrestle with the living? And if so, what will she do once she's got him back? It’s the story of a tangled-up kind of love.

Sunday, Nov 23, 2008 (after the 8pm performance of Trash Anthem)
To be presented in the Jane B. Cook Theatre within the FSU Center.

Feeding the Moon fish by Barbara Wiechmann
Directed by Candace O'Neil Cihocki

Featuring: Elisabeth Ahrens (Moon fish), Heather Kelly (Moon fish), Randolph Paulsen (Martin), and Michelle Trachtenberg (Eden).

The bonds of love we form during our early years shape how we perceive the world and define for us what it is to love. But what happens if your only role models are so blinded by love or the loss of it that you can only bear tragic witness? With equally dreary pasts, Martin and Eden are searching for a basic human connection they can’t find within themselves. Within their current realities, real or self created; they find complete acceptance and the ability to coexist while providing exactly what the other was missing…unconditional love.

Monday November 24, 2008 @ 4 PM
Presented on the grounds of the Ringling Museum, in the Millennium Tree Trail.

THE ZOO STORY by Edward Albee
Directed by Joel Waag
Featuring: Brent Bateman (Peter) and Kevin O'Callaghan (Jerry)

Albee’s first play, celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, is as relevant today as it was in 1958. It’s the story of a chance meeting between two men, Peter and Jerry, on a Sunday afternoon in Central Park. Peter, a disenfranchised member of the middle class, is sitting on a park bench reading when he is approached by Jerry, a man distinctly outside of Peter's world. Over the course of the next forty-five minutes the two men attempt to forge a connection in a world that shuns honesty and communion. Intended for adult audiences due to language and adult subject matter. Run time is 60 minutes.

"Unfinished Spaces" Sunday


If you missed last week's "Unfinished Spaces" Chamber Music Concert, don't fret. There's three more Sunday evening concerts planned for the series, which will be in the new Manatee Players Performing Arts Center that's under construction.

It's amazing how rich and pleasant the acoustics are in the building. I had a chance to sit in on a rehearsal and I couldn't believe my ears.

This Sunday's (Nov. 23) intimate concert at 6 p.m. will feature Cheryl Losey on the harp, Dorothy Wu on flute, Keith Carrick on the marimba and JT Posadas on the Viola. Six musical works will be presented. There also will be an intermission.
Tickets are $30 to the event, but if you purchase rush tickets an hour before the show you can get them for $11 each based on availability. If you're a student, you can get in free.

Tidbits on the quartet
Losey: She's noted as one of the nation's top young award-winning harpists.

Wu: Co-producer of "Unfinished Spaces," Wu will be quite busy this season performing in New York, Milan, Berlin, Lucerne, Madrid, Sarasota and Kauai. She also will be on a fall tour with the Verbier Festival Orchestra.

Carrick: He's in his second season with the Sarasota Orchestra as a principal percussionist.

Posadas: Performs with the Sarasota Orchestra and will spend this season performing with the Naples Philharmonic.

Since the building is literally unfinished, attendees are encouraged to bring cushions to sit on the mezzanine tiers.

- January Holmes

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Film Festival headed towards "Reel Changes"

The Sarasota Film Festival had its first big event of the season last night at Sarasota Michael's on East giving a taste of what to expect from next year's festival, which is slated for March 27-April 5.

The 11th annual festival should prove interesting as we see how organizers will run the popular event without Jody Kielbasa, who served as executive director of the festival for the last 10 years, and in a budget crunch that has cut their annual festival spending in half.

So it's fitting that next year's theme for the 10-day event is "Reel Changes." Expect to see many of the same parties, events and star-studded celebrities, but there will be several new things in the mix too. One such thing is the establishment of the Florida Film Consortium, a special year-round program geared towards aspiring film makers that will give them access to film professionals in a national and international scope. This has been a long-time goal of the festival that has finally come to fruition. University of Tampa professor and film producer Tom Garrett has been named the festival's new director of educational programs and special initiatives. Garrett will be working closely with the new program.

The Sarasota Film Festival is now accepting film submissions for next year as well. Tom Hall, director of programming, hinted in a press release that the 2009 event will feature another multi-faceted schedule of films. He's already received numerous submissions. Look for new programming changes too, he said.

- January Holmes

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

'Blue Leaves' at Players Theatre

Sarasota's Players Theatre is gearing up for a short run of "The House of Blue Leaves," which opens 8 p.m. tomorrow (Nov. 20) and continues through Sunday.

The Tony Award-winning play is a dark comedy with nuns, a Vietnam-bound GI, a political bombing and zookeeper and his schizophrenic wife. It is set in 1965 when Pope Paul VI made an appearance in New York City. Tickets are $15 adults, $12 students.

The Players is offering a special two-for-one deal on tickets, which makes for an affordable night out. For more information, call 365-2494 or visit www.theplayers.org.

- January Holmes

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Give a child a home by attending concert event

Your favorite local entertainers are gathering for a great cause this weekend - to give a child a home.

The event, held 7 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 23) at Southeast High School, is called Lifesong for Haiti, which will benefit the adoption of a Haitian child to Wendy Brown James, a local actress. Kelly Woodland, who will be directing the concert, gave me a ring last week with details. Money raised from the event will help James with extra adoption fees through the Haitian government and will also benefit the Rivers of Hope Orphanage in Haiti.

Lifesong for Haiti will feature popular Broadway songs focusing on family, relationships and children sung by area actors that include James, Steve and Diane Dawson, Heather Kopp, Denny Miller, Rick Kerby, Garrett Brown, Tahlia Byers and many others.

Tickets are $10. Southeast High is at 1200 37th Ave. E., Bradenton.

For more information, call 722-1104 or e-mail wendyjames8@yahoo.com

- January Holmes

Monday, November 17, 2008

Asolo's "Barnum" also on display at Ringling Museum



With the excitement that the Asolo Repertory Theatre's musical production "Barnum" has brought, be sure to check out the special exhibition of "Barnum: Bally and The Big Top" at the Tibbals Learning Center of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.

The exhibit features all you ever wanted to know about P.T. Barnum and his world-renown entertainment endeavors - including who he branded as the oldest woman in the world and smallest fellow in the world with his never ending humbugs - through a showcase of historic posters, photographs and rare documents. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 daily.

Also, check out Thursday's Weekend section in the Bradenton Herald for a review of the musical.

(photo provided by Asolo Repertory)

- January Holmes

Friday, November 14, 2008

Local filmmaker makes big splash

Local film producer Ryan Bodie of Studio 26 Productions, Inc. has much to be thankful for. The young entrepreneur recently won the Best Film award for his film project, "Click Clack Jack: A Rail Legend" at the ninth annual WYSIWYG Festival in California - otherwise known as the Christian What You See Is What You Get Film Festival. We're told the festival is different from others because the audience votes on the films instead of a panel of festival judges.

"Click Clack Jack" is a wholesome family film with a Christian twist. It takes place in the 1870s, centering on an endearing railroad engineer named Jack. When a greedy land baron tries to swallow the town, Jack uses his wisdom to save everyone.

The film also has been screened at several other national film festivals, including the Florida Media Market film festival held last month. It will be screened in December at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival, a bi-coastal festival held in New York and Los Angeles.

To learn more about the film or to watch clips, visit www.clickclackjack.com.

- January Holmes

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Daredevil stunt will lure attention

Circus mania is definitely in the air. First with the Asolo musical production of "Barnum," which will open this weekend at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, and now with Circus Sarasota, who is planning a special treat for circus fans.

Tuesday (Nov. 18), Circus Sarasota will reveal a new act for its upcoming 2009 season in grand circus style. We hear he or she is a big circus superstar. The first superstar in the circus' 11 year history.

At 9:30 a.m. in Selby Five Points Park in Sarasota, which is across from the Selby Library, Circus Sarasota's newest act will be revealed in a daredevil stunt that is sure to be the talk of the town, though, we have no idea what the stunt will be. It's a big surprise.

Circus Sarasota is the area's non-profit arts organization that not only provides wonderful circus entertainment, but has special community outreach programs. Its new season will begin Jan. 30, 2009.

Tuesday's event is free to the public. Other Circus Sarasota stars will be on hand for autographs and photos. Don't miss it!

- January Holmes

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Can you create 10 minutes of magic?

The concept of timed plays - like one-minute play festivals or 10-minute play festivals - remind me of those timed math tests they make you take in the second grade, where you're only allotted so much time to get as many multiplication, division, addition or subtraction problems completed. I was usually pretty good at it, though they were awfully nerve-wracking.

Except when it comes to plays, you have to set up interesting characters and a plot all within a matter of minutes. I've written short stories before, but have never tackled plays. It's amazing how brilliant some people are at presenting great staged works with all the major elements in such a short period of time.

For those adventurous playwrights and others who are up to the challenge, here's a chance to submit short plays: Theatre Odyessey's 10-minute play festival, which will be held March 27-29 and April 3-5, 2009 at the historic Crocker Memorial Church. Organizers are now accepting submissions. Works will be selected in early January. Those who are chosen must commit to attending the April 5, 2009 production and awards ceremony. Deadline for submissions is Dec. 31.

For this contest, playwrights should submit three anonymous copies of their works with a cover letter that includes contact information. Writers should also be full time or part time residents of the Florida Gulf coast region.

Send scripts to: Theatre Odyssey, 5370 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Suite 209, Longboat Key, FL 34228.

For more information and guidelines, email theatreodyessey@gmail.com or visit www.theatreodyssey.org.

- January Holmes

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Update on Perlman tickets

Those interested in snagging free tickets to the upcoming Perlman Music Program Winter Residency should get up bright and early this Saturday and head to the University of South Florida Sarasota/Manatee campus.

There will be 15,000 free tickets given away to the outdoor concerts, making it a great entertainment opportunity for families on a tight budget. Limit is six tickets per person. Concerts will be held under a tent on the campus of USF Sarasota/Manatee.

Events include:
Sun Dec 21, 7 PM Works-in-Progress Recital

Mon Dec 22, 7 PM Orchestra Rehearsal

Tues Dec 23, 11 AM Cello Masterclass
7 PM Works-in-Progress Recital (North Port Performing Arts Center)

Wed Dec 24, 5 PM Orchestra Rehearsal

Fri Dec 26, 11 AM Viola Masterclass
7 PM Orchestra Rehearsal

Sat Dec 27, 7 PM Works-in-Progress Recital

Sun Dec 28, 5 PM Chorus Rehearsal
7 PM Orchestra Rehearsal

Mon Dec 29, 5 PM Chorus Rehearsal
7 PM Works-in-Progress Recital

Tues Dec 30, 5 PM Chorus Rehearsal
7 PM Orchestra Rehearsal

Wed Dec 31, 6 PM Works-in-Progress Recital

Fri Jan 2, 5 PM Chorus Rehearsal
7 PM Orchestra Rehearsal

Saturday, Jan 3, 7 PM Celebration Concert (Sarasota Opera House,Tickets: $65, $30)

Ticket pickup begins 9 a.m. Saturday (Nov. 15) at the USF Sarastoa/Manatee Rotunda at 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Other hours are 1-6 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. Nov. 18-21 and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 22.

Parking passes and a complete schedule of public events can be found at www.perlmanmusicprogramsarasota.org.

- January Holmes

Friday, November 7, 2008

Political project to inspire youth

Though middle school and most high school students didn't get the chance to vote in the recent election, they can still make their political voices heard through a video competition via C-SPAN. The cable network is seeking creative multi-media talents for its fifth annual StudentCam video documentary competition.

The contest is open to those in grades sixth through 12th. Requirements are simple - produce a five to eight minute documentary on the topic "A message to the new president: What is the most urgent issue for the new president to address after taking office, and why?"

I'd throw a few ideas out, but the jest of this is to get the kids to do some research to discover the issues, then find a savvy way to present it. It would be interesting to hear their perspectives. Many of them will come of age to vote in the next presidential election, so I'm sure they'll have some great insight. Never underestimate youth.

The deadline for the contest is 5 p.m. Jan. 20, 2009, Inauguration Day. Winners will be announced March 10. Up for grabs is $50,000 in prizes, which includes 75 student awards and 11 teacher awards. The contest also is open to international students. The best out of the international category will win one $500 prize. Videos have to be original student works, but teachers can offer guidance and critique. The documentaries will be judged by a panel of C-SPAN representatives.

For more info and to upload videos entries, visit www.studentcam.org.

- January Holmes

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Free Perlman event tickets available soon

The world-renown Perlman Music Program's Winter Residency will return for a fifth year to the Sarasota/Bradenton area next month, allowing many of you to take advantage of the wonderful free concerts offered by some of the world's most talented young musicians.

Two weeks chock full of Perlman music events will take place Dec. 21-Jan. 3, including orchestra and chorus rehearsals, works-in-progress student recitals and master classes that lead to the big Celebration Concert. The finale, held at the Sarasota Opera House, features the internationally-known violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman. Tickets are $30 and $65.

The free events will be held outdoors in a performance tent at the University of South Florida/Manatee campus at 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, but you'll still need a ticket to get in. Free tickets will be available to the public beginning 9 a.m. Nov. 15 at the USF Sarasota Manate Rotunda. As a special incentive, those who purchase tickets to the Jan. 3 Celebration Concert will receive six free event tickets to USF by mail as a thank you for your support. Those interested in the offer can call 366-8450.

If picking up free tickets at USF, print or clip a Perlman/Sarasota ad to use as a parking permit on campus.

For more information on the Perlman program, schedule of events and other information, call 955-4942 or visit www.perlmanmusicprogramsarasota.org.

- January Holmes

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Play for charity

Help those less fortunate this holiday season, whether it is your fellow man or a furry friend, by attending a special theater performance at 6:30 p.m. Monday (Nov. 10) presented by the talented students from Manatee School of the Arts.

The event is called "Short Stories and all Good," and will be held at the Manatee Players' Riverfront Theatre on 102 Twelfth St. W., Bradenton. From what I'm told, the "fun and heartfelt" short plays are original creations from the students themselves.

The only admission they require is one dry or canned food item per person. It can be people food or pet food. The treats will benefit some of the event sponsors, which include the Manatee Food Bank, Honor Sanctuary Animal Rescue and IAM Wealth Management. The sponsors hope that "Short Stories and all Good" will give families an inexpensive night out while allowing them to help other local families in need at the same time who will be struggling financially this holiday season.

If you're interested in attending the show, please RSVP as seating will be limited. Call 1-800-853-9972 to RSVP. For more information, call the Honor Sanctuary at 302-0933.

- January Holmes

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

WE TV pokes fun with presidental poll

So, what do you get when you take all of the top presidential candidates and their spouses for Election 2008, put them tumbler filled with a thousand woman and start to shake it? You get Women's Entertainment Vote '08's "Purely Entertaining Political Poll."

WE Vote, http://www.wetv.com/we-vote/index.html, is a national grassroots initiative whose mission is to urge women to vote on Election Day. Approximately 1,151 woman were surveyed about a month ago for this special opinion poll, which has a little fun with the presidential candidates.

Poll questions and results included:

Who most needs a makeover?
John McCain at 30 percent. Seems like the Republican party should have shared the wealth of the $150,000 it spent sprucing up Palin. Then again, maybe not. Sarah Palin trails right behind McCain for most in need of a makeover at 19 percent. I don't know. I think she looks presentable enough.

Whose personal style do you like best?
Michelle Obama at 35 percent. People seem to like the J. Crew look on her. But here's what I don't understand, Sarah Palin is right behind her at 31 percent. So maybe she doesn't really need that makeover after all.

Which couple would you like to see in a reality show and follow around the White House?
Sarah and Todd Palin at 46 percent. With talk of hunting, pit bulls with lipstick and hockey moms on the campaign trail, a reality show with the Palins would be the highest rated on TV - ever.

Who would you most like to go dancing with?
Barack Obama at 38 percent. He looks like he's got moves.

Who do you most want to be stuck on a desert island with?
Barack Obama at 31 percent, followed by Sarah Palin at 21 percent. I say instead of me being stuck on a deserted island with either of them, they should be stuck together. Kind of like a "Survivor: The Presidental Race." Whoever gets home alive first wins the presidency!


- January Holmes

Monday, November 3, 2008

Free Improv classes

Calling all aspiring actors who are interested in tapping into their inner improv abilities: Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota is hosting a FREE improv workshop from 6:30-7:45 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 4).

Here are the specifics from FST:

"This FREE workshop will introduce basic Improvisation. Discover the freedom of spontaneity. Sign up for this FREE Improvisation class that is the launching ground to start developing one’s skills as an Improv performer. Learn the fundamentals of Comedy Improvisation using theatre games and scenes. Students are given the opportunity to explore creativity, hone presentation skills, and build self-confidence through teamwork. This class is designed for those who have no previous Improv knowledge and who have not taken classes with FST Improv before."

RSVP's required. For more information, call 366-1350. FST is at 1241 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota.

-January Holmes

Friday, October 31, 2008

'Idol Mania' comes to Sarasota (again)

Believe it or not, it will be just a couple more months before "American Idol" is back on the air again for season eight. But if you simply can't wait that long for an Idol fix, a few Idol folks are cooking up a special event just for you right in Sarasota.

We found out that "Idol Mania Live" is kicking off its brand new national tour at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota Dec. 6, presenting nine top finalists from various seasons of "American Idol." To make things official, Blake Lewis will announce details about the tour around 5:30 p.m. Saturday (tomorrow) on the stage of the Sarasota Blues Fest, we were told by Idol handlers via e-mail.

Here's a run down of who will be at the "Idol Mania Live" kick-off concert:
Blake Lewis - season 6
Diana DeGarmo - season 3
Ricky Smith - season 2
Vonzell Solomon - season 4
Mikalah Gordon - season 4
Melissa McGhee - season 5
Gina Glocksen - season 6
Justin Guarini - season 1
Chikezie Eze - season 7

Gates open at 11 a.m. Dec. 6. There will be face painting, balloons and other surprises for the kids. At noon, there will be karaoke contests and the Idols will perform a few hours later at a soon to be determined time, said Michael Gold of Celebrity Events Group, who is handling the family-friendly tour.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for children ages 10 and under. They go on sale Sunday via Ticketmaster. The official "Idol Mania Live" Web site, http://www.idolmanialive.com, will be launching later on today, Gold said.

For tickets, call Ticketmaster starting Sunday at (813) 287-8844 or visit http://www.ticketmaster.com. This concert, right in our backyard, is one die-hard Idol fans shouldn't miss.

- January Holmes

Thursday, October 30, 2008

MTV looking for young lovebirds

Nowadays, when love is in the air, you can bet there will be a TV camera somewhere capturing every unabashed moment. And if there isn't, now is your chance to make that happen. MTV emailed us yesterday asking to help recruit young engaged couples for the third season of its documentary series "Engaged and Underage."

You can let MTV tell the world your love story on national television - highlighting the engagement, the roller coaster ride of planning the wedding and the wedding day itself.

Interested couples between the ages of 18-22, who plan to get married this year or in January 2009 can fill out a lengthy questionnaire at http://www.mtv.com/content/casting_call/engaged/casting_questionnaire.doc. Be ready to explain why you feel its important to squander your youth by getting married young, if friends or family members want you to wait a few years before you and your dreamboat tie the knot, the biggest issue you have in your relationship and why you feel you'd be prime reality TV material.

Or you can take the easy route and e-mail MTV at engagedandunderage@mtvstaff.com. Tell them when and where you're getting married, why it's important to you and all the other incidentals - like name, phone number, e-mail address and a digital photo of you and your sweetie. In return, they will send you the questionnaire to fill out.

If you get picked, please e-mail me at jholmes@bradenton.com. We'd love to do a story on you and your TV love story!

- January Holmes

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Free food on Election Day

The whole process of voting - the waiting in long lines and breaking a sweat hoping your vote will help propel your candidate to victory - can leave you hungry. So the Chick-fil-A in Creekwood, 5206 73rd Lane E., Bradenton, is giving away free chicken biscuits for breakfast and chicken sandwiches for lunch to voters on Election Day. One per customer. The only catch is that you have to wear your "I Voted" sticker.

A spokesperson for the fast-food restaurant said in a press release that the sandwich give-a-way is an effort to reward "civic-minded" customers for letting their voices be heard during this election season.

Sandwiches will be given out from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Creekwood location only. Too bad they don't offer this during early voting, though. I voted early and received the "I Voted" sticker but I have no idea what I did with it. I hate missing out on free food.

- January Holmes

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Film brings light to immigrant struggles


The Manatee Players will host a screening of "Under the Same Moon," from 2-5 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 1) for National Hispanic Heritage month. The event is free.


I haven't heard of this film before, but I'm told it is full of emotion and humor. It deals with a single mom that has been working in Los Angeles, sending money to the family (her mom and her son) back home in Mexico to provide them a better life. But when her mom dies, her young son, Carlos, tries to reunite with his mother, crossing the border on his own to find her.


Luz Corcuera, program director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee County - one of the sponsors of the screening - said the 2008 film, written by Lighia Villalobos and directed by Patricia Riggen, is about love and emotion rather than immigration and politics. It has been shown in more than 600 theaters in the United States and 350 in Mexico. "Under the Same Moon" has won five Imagen Awards. Villalbos also has been recognized with the Norman Lear Writers Award.

Corcuera said the intention in showing the film is to share the impact of the separation between parents and children in such situations. Other local sponsors of the film screening are the Latino Community Network of Manatee County, Jim Delagado, Esq. Kallins, Little & Delgado, P.A., Tidewell and the Sarasota/Manatee Farmworkers Association.

For more information, call 650-5711. It's rated PG. Light hors d'oeuvres will be served. The theater is at 102 Old Main St., Bradenton.
- January Holmes

Monday, October 27, 2008

Willy Wonka Chocolates bring big prizes



In anticipation of the Manatee Players' upcoming December show "Willy Wonka," the community theater is selling Willy Wonka candy bars - Lindt's milk chocolate, toffee crunch and white chocolate with coconut - for $5 a piece. And just like the story, a few lucky candy buyers may find a golden ticket sticker inside their chocolate bar.

Those who find a golden ticket will win a special prize. Prizes include a theater ticket package to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the Van Wezel and the opportunity to be a bat boy or girl for the Pittsburgh Pirates at a pre-season game.



One golden ticket has already sufaced in the area from Kristi Woodruff. She won a trip to Jungle Gardens, a candy gift basket, two $25 gift certificates to Mattison’s Riverside and a one-night walk-on role in the Manatee Players production of "Willy Wonka" in December. Sounds like a cool deal!



Get your Willy Wonka candy at the Manatee Players' box office and at the concession stand during performances at its Riverfront Theatre location: 102 Old Main St., downtown Bradenton. You may just be a lucky winner too.

Pictured: Manatee Players Managing Artistic Director Rick Kerby and Kristi Woodruff

- January Holmes

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tampa Bay Rays bring back baseball memories

The hottest ticket in town right now isn't to a Broadway show or concert. It's the World Series, which kicks off tomorrow at the Trop between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies. On my birthday of all days.

So as a present I'm hoping the Rays will win the first game just for me.

The hoopla over the Rays in the playoffs and their historic first-ever bid in the World Series brought back a lot of memories of me as a kid cheering for my favorite team baseball team ever - the Atlanta Braves. I was in middle school at the time, and I remember staying up in my room with the TV on late into the night to watch the Braves in the playoffs and the World Series games for subsequent seasons. I had to keep the sound on the TV pretty low, cheers to a minimum and my Tomahawk Chop chants silent so that my mom would think I was sleeping instead of staying up late watching the games. But it was still exciting getting all caught up in the drama of it all. The Braves came close to winning it all several times, but just didn't made it all the way until 1995, when they finally won a World Series. By then, though, I wasn't the baseball fanatic I once was. I was too into the high school football scene.

Here's hoping the Rays will win all the first time around.

-January Holmes

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

We're back!

Buzzworthy has been on a summer hiatus. But now that the area's entertainment season is back in full swing, I'll be in full form again writing about local events that are generating lots of buzz in the community. I'll also discuss celebrity and television highlights. Stay tuned every Monday and Wednesday.

- January Holmes

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sarasota Opera season starts early

Opera lovers can look forward to a special treat this fall as the Sarasota Opera collaborates with the Florida West Coast Symphony for the production of "The Barber of Seville," beginning Nov. 7. Having a fall production will be a first for Sarasota Opera, which usually begins its season in the winter.

The Gioacchino Rossini opera is a comic love story where a poor student named Count Almaviva tries to woo a rich maiden he's deeply in love with named Rosina. But the count has competition as someone else intends to marry her, but solely for her money.

Though the Sarasota Opera and the Florida West Coast Symphony have joined forces before, this event is the first full-stage production they have done together. "The Barber of Seville" will be a part of the opera's 50th anniversary season.

Performances are Nov. 7, 9, 12, 14 and 16 at the Sarasota Opera House. Tickets are now on sale as part of a five-opera subscription series. Single tickets go on sale Sept. 1 and will be available from $25 to $115.

For more information, call the Sarasota Opera box office at 366-8450, ext. 1 or visit www.sarasotaopera.org.

— January Holmes

Monday, July 21, 2008

New improv group's name says it all

Lazy Fairy may be considered the lazy man's way of pronouncing the French term laissez faire, which means let it be or leave alone. It's usually a term associated with the concept of free enterprise. But not anymore. "Lazy Fairy" is now the new face of improv in the Sarasota/Bradenton area.

The troupe took to the phrase because it describes acting in its simplest form, said Chris Friday, ring leader of the six-member group, featuring Christine Alexander, Catey Brannan, Tim Beasley, Angel M. Parker and Zan. With the worry that promoting themselves with such French flair may confuse the masses, or themselves, members decided to call the group "Lazy Fairy" since it's easier to say and not nearly so hard to spell, said Chris.

You may have seen members of this acting group around before. A few of them used to be part of a troupe that performed improv musicals three years ago. Others have been a familiar face at Florida Studio Theatre's Improv during the summer. But what makes "Lazy Fairy" different from the "Whose-Line-Is-It-Anyway" brand of improvisation is, well, the improv itself.

The troupe will employ a Chicago-style of improv, where, instead of the audience throwing out an incessant list of suggestions for skits, only one suggestion from the crowd will be used. The idea will support the theme of an entire play, Chris said.

That sounds pretty hard to pull off, I told him. But Chris said the result can be pretty entertaining - hit or miss.

"It's the element of the unknown," he said. "A train wreck could happen. People will come to see (a potential) train wreck."

The troupe also is bringing improv into the work place through a special workshop program called Corporate Detox, which breaks down the elements of improv into team-work building skills on the job.

The troupe already has had several gigs booked in Bradenton and Sarasota. Don't miss their next appearance at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (July 23). Tickets are $12. For more information, call 365-2494. — January Holmes

Monday, July 14, 2008

Miss Universe: Clapping doesn't help when regular people fall

Somewhere, a charm school teacher is cringing at the sight of Miss USA falling flat on her face at the Miss Universe Pageant Sunday.

Consequently, Miss USA — in all her beauty and um, gracefulness — didn't get to take home the intergalactic pageant crown.

Apparently this is the second time in a row that an American beauty queen has bit the dust on the Miss Universe circuit. Just another indicator that we are slipping by the wayside in world — not only as an economic power, but on the beauty pageant front, too. Depressing. But unlike last year, when Rachel Smith fell center stage and got right back up as if nothing happened, this year's Miss USA, Crystle Stewart, fell, got up and clapped.

Not sure what to make of the clapping. Maybe she clapped to show that she wouldn't let a fall get her spirits down. Of course, in the real world, clapping doesn't necessarily work well when one takes a spill. In my former accident-prone childhood, I tripped and fell on occasion — running home from school, running during P.E. classes and running in general. I would slip on bleachers — the death-trap kind you can easily fall through or at least twist your ankle on. I wasn't even safe around escalators. I can't imagine getting up and clapping afterwards. That would just draw more attention.

Of course, the times that I fell, I wasn't wearing high heels and a long evening gown — things that Miss America is suppose to specialize in. That's why she's Miss USA, right? "She's beauty and she's grace. She's Miss United States." OK, so I'm quoting from "Miss Congeniality." Yes, accidents do happen, but to normal people who are not Miss USA. To see a fall two years in a row . . . I thought they train for beauty contests like athletes do for the Olympics. If they don't, they should so they can get that walking gracefully bit down pat. — January Holmes

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Click & Clack drives onto TV screens

America's favorite car therapists, known as Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, will launch their new PBS cartoon — "Click & Clack's As the Wrench Turns" premiering at 8 and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday (July 9).

I've been a fan of Click and Clack's (also known as Tom and Ray Magliozzi) call-in radio show, Car Talk, on National Public Radio for about six years. These witty gurus of car repair often keep me company with their heavy Boston accents, humor-filled car repair tips and those famous "Puzzlers" during my occasional Saturday drives home to Georgia to visit family and friends.

So I had to check out a preview clip of their new cartoon on www.pbs.org/wrenchturns. The clip features the show's soon-to-be aired first half-hour episode with Click and Clack running for president. They campaign with the catchy slogan: "America needs repair." But they end up botching the campaign speeches, promising better car repair instead fixing the country from a political standpoint. I say running on a platform for better car repair nationwide is still a good thing, though. Some mechanics like to take advantage of us, you know. There needs to be a crackdown.

"As the Wrench Turns'" animation, of course, is kid-friendly, but adults can thoroughly enjoy the zany antics these guys get involved in, too. A look at the show's episode guide quickly reveals that. One upcoming episode features Click and Clack voluntarily outsourcing their radio show to India (airs July 9 and Aug. 6). Another has them creating the first-ever pasta-fueled vehicle in an effort to go green (airs July 16).

And before you start thinking a pasta-fueled car is the answer to our real life gas crisis, the seemingly full-proof invention backfires in the cartoon when a war is started over the high demand for generic noodles.

Be sure to tune in! — January Holmes

Monday, June 30, 2008

Eve Ensler play explores women's body types

Over the weekend I saw The Players Theatre's limited run of Eve Ensler's "The Good Body," which made me think about my own struggles with having a "good body." The thought-provoking work was sculpted into a witty play taken directly from the pages of one of the "Vagina Monologues" author's latest books featuring interviews with real-life women.

Not only was the acting wonderful, making these characters all the more real on stage, but the message was strong, too — women, no matter how skinny, normal or unfit they may be — seem obsessed about their bodies. What was interesting were the ones who decided to embrace what others may see as imperfections.

I could relate to Eve's (played by Kelly Walker) perils with her mid-section and wanting to vaporize it. I've been there. It's still there as a matter of fact. Then there were the other characters, offering a range of perspectives: a young woman who embraces her full figure at a fat camp, another woman who has become her plastic surgeon/husband's dream of the perfect woman by constantly going under the knife, a woman who has such a love/hate relationship with her chest that it brings a moment of deep sorrow, an Afghan woman who literally risks her life eating ice cream.

There are some moments in the play that brings out the playwright's saucier side — probably reminiscent of the "Vagina Monologues." But since I haven't seen Ensler's earlier work, I can't compare the two.

I fell in love with the part in the "Good Body," when Eve travels to Africa (she goes all over the world in the play) and meets an African woman who tells her to think of herself as a tree. No two trees look exactly the same, and they aren't suppose to, she tells Eve. But both are still beautiful.

I tucked that poetic metaphor away in my mind to pull out the next time I start comparing myself to the stick-thin women in my favorite magazines and TV shows. Thanks Eve Ensler. — January Holmes

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Unplug and camp out

The National Wildlife Federation is urging families to turn off their TV, stay away from the Wii and keep that iPhone — or any other cell phone device — at bay this Saturday night (June 28). It's time for the fourth annual (electronic-free) Great American Backyard Campout!

I'm wondering if that idea was met by the sound of crickets chirping.

Kids are especially attached to their electronic toys and gadgets these days, which is why the national camp-out-in-your-backyard initiative was started. Apparently children spend an average of 44 hours a week starring at electronic screens, be it the TV, computers, iPod or video games, according to the National Wildlife Federation. By the way, I'm sure the average adult spends way more time starring at their computer screens at work and home.

The group believes this is the first time in America's history that a generation is coming up "disconnected from nature." This can cause children to have a weaker immune system, less appreciation for nature in general and become less creative, the National Wildlife Federation stated. Plus, they miss out on good wholesome fun.

I guess kids don't really camp as much anymore. I went camping once with my fifth grade class at a wildlife preserve. I learned how to put up a tent, make fresh lemonade and roast hotdogs over an open fire. Singing camp songs and listening to scary stories in the moonlight was a blast. The only bad thing about the whole experience, besides the bugs, was participating in some "Survivor"-type activities, which isn't as fun when you're an accident-prone 11-year-old.

But living in Florida, you can't help but commune with nature because it's so beautiful here, whether you're swimming at the beach, fishing in the river or picnicking at the park.

Those wanting to take the extra initiative to bond with nature should definitely participate in the Great American Backyard Campout. Check out www.nwf.org/backyardcampout/ to get some great ideas for camping activities and overall tips.

Although the campsite will be in the backyard, be sure to tell the kids to leave all the high-tech gadgets in the house. And that goes for you too! —January Holmes

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tween group Clique Girlz the next big thing?

Yesterday, I realized something quite horrible: I have become completely detached from the "modern" music scene.

Maybe you felt that same way too when "The Today Show" introduced a blonde trio of tween girls who call themselves the Clique Girlz.

"Who?!" you may be wondering. I have never heard of this pop-rock outfit before. Ever. Though they've been around for about four or five years, making their way into the mainstream music industry. But I figured they must be something special since they were on "The Today Show."

I wasn't completely blown away when I heard them sing . I mean the group — made up of sisters Paris and Destinee (a 12- and 13-year-old) and their best friend, Ariel Moore (another 13-year-old) — sounded good when they were hitting all the notes to "Incredible" (their vocals clashed a little at times though). But they're no Miley Cyrus. They sounded like they were rolled out of the Radio Disney/ Nickelodeon tween factory with their cute all-American pop/rock look and sound.

Of course, the Clique Girlz's Myspace page, which boasts 7,523 "friends" and counting, begs to differ:

"One listen and you realize this is no manufactured, teenybopper, bubble-gum group, but a group whose music can appeal to all ages," the site said.

Um, I only agree on them not being a "bubble-gum" group. The rest is up for debate. Though their sound is catchy, vocally they don't stand out from the hundreds of girl bands and solo acts out there trying to be in the spotlight. But apparently, these "Girlz" are being touted as the next big thing. We'll see when their debut album comes out later this summer.

—January Holmes

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Being a pregnant celebrity not easy these days

Sometimes I think celebrities have it rough. And I don't mean the jet-setting around the world, living in multi-million dollar houses and driving fancy cars part. I'm referring to the part where they are constantly being judged in the public eye — the gossip, the rumors, secrets leaking out. It's like reliving high school over and over again.

But that's the price you pay when you're a star — unfortunately. The more private you try to be, the more people think you have something to hide. It also makes the joyous time of having a baby a little cumbersome when the whole world knows about it — or at least thinks they do — and is watching your every move.

Angelina Jolie seemed bent on keeping the news of twins a secret for as long as she could — until "Kung Fu Panda" co-star Jack Black accidentally blurted it out at the Cannes Film Festival.

Then there's Ashlee Simpson's baby. The news leaked out before the wedding vows did. The couple did their best to skirt the issue, to the point of denial, until they successfully got through the first trimester.

That brings us to Clay Aiken, who will be a dad in August. The guy is already been dealing with rumors on his sexuality, to the point that he doesn't bother to confirm or deny anything anymore. People are going to believe what they want, he told the media. Though I think Aiken is a fairly good singer, he creeps me out a little. I think it's his hair more than anything. It keeps getting blonder. News surrounding the 29-year-old's baby is that he artificially inseminated his "best friend," Jaymes Foster Levy, a record producer in her 50s. Both really wanted to be parents, they said. The whole thing is very unconventional, and strange.

The only reason I can kind of sympathize is that I have a friend who married someone older. She just had a baby and they are quite happy. Of course, they had their baby the natural way. While Clayhaters wince over the whole issue, others in the blogsphere seem pretty happy for the guy.

I just hope the kid has a normal life in the celebrity spotlight.

—January Holmes

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Remembering comic strips of yore

Do you long for the things of times' past, like telephone booths, vinyl records and those fried apple pies from McDonald's?

I don't really, I said to myself as I was clicking through a list of the Top 25 Things People Wish Would Return, as complied by AOL's Money writers.

But there is one thing that I do miss. The Far Side comic strip by Gary Larson, which was No. 1 on AOL's list. It was genius, out-of-the-box cartooning.

I stopped reading the comics a while ago when Charlie Brown and the whole "Peanuts" gang was put to rest. Over the years, I've seen a number of my favorite cartoon strips retire. My favorite one of all was "Calvin and Hobbes," about a thrill-seeking young boy and his stuffed tiger. They would go on imaginative adventures to the moon and play hours of Calvinball — the game where you make up the rules as you go along. Reading it was like reliving part of my childhood.

Another strip I dearly miss was "Outland." I always looked forward to reading about Opus the Penguin's plights every Sunday, along with that weird pop-eyed cat, Bill. Was I the only one who thought he looked strange? I was really sad to see "Outland" end.

Speaking of cats, I also enjoyed reading "Garfield," — though I loved the TV cartoon version a lot more. You can still find "Garfield" and "Peanuts" in the Herald along with some of the newer comics that may or may not stand the test of time. Unfortunately, the comic strips of today don't hold my attention like they used to. What are your thoughts on our current comic offerings? — January Holmes

Monday, June 2, 2008

"Indiana Jones" has filmgoer wishing for more

Okay, I'll admit when I heard there was another "Indian Jones" film in the works, I was excited and concerned at the same time.

I was excited because, even though the original trilogy is a little faded in my memory, I thoroughly enjoyed the Indy adventures. I was concerned because — well, do you remember the last time Harrison Ford made a really, really good film? I can answer that — "Air Force One" (1997). I saw that opening night on my birthday. I wasn't completely sure Ford, who used to be one of my all-time favorite actors, could gain all that momentum back from the past that he's seemed to have lost in the last few years.

But that old charisma shined in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." I saw the film this weekend and was pretty pleased even through some of the movie's hokey moments. My friend and I did lament a little over the whole — SPOILER ALERT — alien theme. Why couldn't George Lucas find something else to build a quest on — like a lost city or something archaeological? I have a fear of creatures from outerspace in flying saucers. It's their big eyes that scare me. Really.

Anyway, the film builds you up for the climax but lets you down a little when it's all about aliens and knowledge. I was hoping for masses of gold, a new glorious relic to put in a museum or the cure to cancer. Can't fiction films offer us something like that?

"Indiana Jones" is enjoyable to watch, though. It has me pumped that Ford will hopefully make another good film after this one. My fingers are crossed, but I won't be surprised if I'm disappointed. — January Holmes

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Local band spreads message through music

Shh. Do you hear that sound? It's the sound of silence. A sound that follows the end of the seventh season of "American Idol." No more "Idol" theme music, no more rants from Simon, Paula and Randy and no more cheesy jokes from Ryan Seacrest — at least until next January.

Somewhere, maybe everywhere, there's a collective sigh of relief at that thought.

But before I leave my "Idol" platform, I must say I'm truly glad David Cook won the talent competition. Though I wish both Davids the best.

Still, on my first "American Idol"-free night in months, I couldn't part with the thought of not hearing a musical performance. So I spent an evening hanging out at FYE music store in the DeSoto Square mall to hear a local band play at its CD release party.

The group, called Since October, is a Christian Rock band who — for folks that are familiar with the genre — sound a little like the hard rock band P.O.D., and that's a good sound to have. The band was celebrating its first national CD release under their new label Tooth & Nail Records.

I brought the self-recorded CD about a year ago off itunes. It's music with a message that I really enjoyed, especially "Disaster" and "Beautiful."

At FYE, I met bass player Josh Johnson and drummer Audie Grantham from the four-member group. Audie gave me a quick run down of the band's history. They started as a praise and worship band around 1999 and slowly grew into their own from there, later touring at Christian music festivals across the nation and overseas. A few months ago, the band landed a deal with Tooth & Nail records.

Both Josh and Audie were very pleasant to speak with, and it was interesting watching them and the other band members politely interact with fans young (about age three or four) and old.

I wasn't sure what to expect last night since I had not heard the group live before. I figured this would be a chance for me to see their performing prowess. Since October didn't disappoint, performing "Disaster" and a couple other songs from their new and old albums.

Since their new album includes several tracks from their debut CD, I didn't buy it. But I made sure to download the four new tracks off iTunes. Just goes to show, Bradenton has all kinds of hidden talent.

You can check out more about Since October at www.sinceoctober.com.
— January Holmes

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The battle of the Davids ends tonight

The David vs. David showdown on "American Idol" last night was probably one of the most overdone, tedious episodes of the seventh season.

For one, producers used the hourlong show to over-saturate its audience with a "boxing" motif, which was interesting for all of eight seconds. Really, why can't they just let these guys sing without all the extra commentary? No one really cares what the big-wigs of music think; it's America that will vote for the next Idol — hence the term "American Idol."

The only two songs that really caught my attention during the whole drawn-out thing was David Cook's first song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," by U2 — the performance was pretty good — and David Archuleta's last song, John Lennon's "Imagine," which I found phenomenal.

It's a toss-up on who will win tonight, though. I'm rooting for David C. because he's edgier, the better performer of the two (though his performances of late don't compare to some of his stuff midway through the competition) and probably more marketable. Plus, he doesn't have an overbearing stage dad and he's a raw talent (i.e. hasn't been on other talent shows before, whereas "Archie" has with "Star Search").

Archie's cute. He has those puppy-dog eyes that probably make pre-teens across American swoon, along with a great voice. Though he can sing, he's not much of a "performer" yet. It seems if it were up to Simon Cowell, who kept praising the teen last night, the 17-year-old would already be wearing the Idol crown. But I think he's too young for all that fanfare right now. He needs to find out who he is first, without his father pulling some of his strings.

January Holmes

Thursday, May 15, 2008

'Idol' Syesha has a bright future

I'm a little sad our hometown "American Idol," Syesha Mercado, was sent packing last night.

I'm convinced that whoever would have been in Mercado's top three spot, had it not been her, would have been voted off the show anyway. It seems no one can beat the two David's who are in the final two. Their pre-teen and teenage fans would make sure of that.

Yet Syesha came so close. But she's also come so far.

Who would of thought someone from our own backyard would become one of the top three contestants on one of the hottest shows around. She's inspired a crop of future Florida "Idol" contenders, that's for sure.

I'm sure Syesha will be scooped up by Broadway, though. I can't imagine her not being on a New York stage, following the path of other "Idol" contestants such as Ruben Studdard, Clay Aiken and Fantasia. Mercado's sister, Xtavia Bailey, believes she'll will go far — whether it's on Broadway or with a record label, she said last night during a brief phone call I had with her after the results show. Bailey's hopeful we'll be hearing more on Syesha's budding and promising career in the future.

On another note, were you just as disappointed that "Idol" producers didn't show any of our scenic shores during the hometown visit segments? Just crowd scenes. They didn't even show her singing the national anthem at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg later on that day. But I did love the part where a woman practically threw her baby in Syesha's arms while trying to get a picture as the singer was being whisked away by her handlers. That's TV at its best.

So now it's down to a David and David showdown. I'm rooting for David Cook, the rocker, to win. He's got more of an edge to him than the "gee-golly" David Archuleta. But whoever wins, both will have a great career (let's hope David A.'s dad doesn't ruin the boy's career with his stage dad high jinks). From last night's hometown segments, both guys already have a good size teenage fan base. And that's what you need to sell hits these days. — January Holmes

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Idol results show

56 million votes will decide if Syesha stays or goes tonight. Looks like members of Idol's top ten is in the crowd.

The trio has choreographed dance moves as they sing. Hmm ... They look and sound pretty good tonight.

I love the Idol Ford commercials. Don't you? Very fun and creative.

Fantasia performs with a lot of energy, spunk and ... red hair! The song's not my favorite, but it's great watching the Broadway star perform.

"Can we start the drama now?" Ryan says. We all know he will keep us hanging until the very last minute of the show.

Hometown visits are shown. David A. is attacked by cheerleaders ... looks like he has A LOT of young girls for fans. He's brought to tears.

Very, very close race, Ryan says. They are showing David A.'s "journey on Idol" now. Don't know if it will be his last night on Idol.

Now, Syesha's turn. "It was amazing," she said of her visit home. Bradenton's on TV. Syesha's holding a baby. She's also brought to tears. She stops by her house to see mom and dad and the family. Great family portrait. She was really excited about the helicopter it seems. She's overwhelmed by all the support and fanfare.

After watching the hometown visit, Simon says Paula was too hard on Syesha last night.

David C. is next. He looks nervous walking on stage. We learn he never planned to audition for Idol. He was just with his brother for support and wound up getting sucked into the Idol machine. The fans flocked to David C. during his hometown visit too.

David A. and David C. are in the top two. Predictable.

Syesha had a good run though. She's made the Bradenton/Sarasota area proud. — January Holmes

Will Syesha survive? Catch our live blog at 9 p.m.

Was Syesha too sexy last night or right on target? Many folks around here believe she was "in the zone," as Randy Jackson would say. In all, though, the top three "American Idol" performers were kind of hit and miss last night.

It may boil down to a David vs. David finale. But some of the judges less-than-stellar comments to Syesha could have bolstered an overwhelming sympathy vote for her. Could it be enough to keep her in the finals? Watch "American Idol" with me tonight at 9 p.m. as I blog live from the Herald's Buzzworthy blog.

— January Holmes

Monday, May 12, 2008

The calm before the Syesha storm

All is quiet on the western front (the west coast of Florida that is) after Syesha Mercado's whirlwind return home last Friday with "American Idol" at her side, filming the hometown visit.

No matter where she went Friday, the "Idol" contender managed to create a buzz, bringing area residents out of the woodwork to see her perform — some who have never watched a lick of "American Idol."

I wonder if those new to the "Idol" phenomenon will watch the show Tuesday night and vote after seeing Syesha perform live here? The "Idol" contestant did manage to seize moments of her visit to encourage the crowd to vote, as if she was on the campaign trail.

Too bad we couldn't vote by phone as many times as we wanted for the presidential election like with "Idol." It would be interesting to see who would win that vote.

Syesha may need a lot more votes this week to beat rocker David Cook or boy wonder David Archuleta. The two David's seem destined for a showdown with each other in the final two.

On a side note, Jason Castro, who was booted off the show last week, seemed all too eager to leave the competition for the trio to duke it out.

Whether Syesha wins or not, though, she seems to just be relishing in the fun of it all, trying not to take everything too seriously. After all, it's not everyday a person finds him or herself in the top three on "American Idol."

Syesha won't let anything dampen her spirits at this point in the competition. Not even bad criticisms from the judges.

While at Booker High School, an administrator asked her questions about being on the show. One question was how she handles the judges' comments and criticisms.

"I listen to it, let it go and move on to the next song," Syesha said.

We wish her the best this week. — January Holmes

Friday, May 9, 2008

Syesha has "Proud Mary" down

She sang it loud and sang it proud.

Syesha performed "Proud Mary" during a mini-concert this afternoon at the Ringling Museum of Art to more than 2,000 fans gathered along the shores of Sarasota Bay.
The hometown girl belted out the Creedence Clearwater Revivial classic, which she performed on this week's episode of the televised talent contest. She also sang "Groove Is In The Heart," by Deee Light.

And she gave her fans the scoop to next week's performance. "Idol" judge Randy Jackson faxed her during the performance -- it's "If I Ain't Got You," by Alicia Keys.

Dreams really do come true

We're in Sarasota now, behind the scenes in Syesha's alma mater, Booker High. Students and teachers alike fawned over one of their most famous alumni - at least for the current 15 minutes.

Teachers spoke of their favorite memories of Mercado, and students presented her with awards and gifts. One student gave her a painting.

Mercardo repaid her fans crowded into the school's auditorium with a singing of "Summertime," by Ella Fitzgerald.

"First off, it's crazy. I remember sitting in this theater and there was speaker and thinking, I'm going to go to Hollywood and do singing and movies and stuff. Now I'm singing," Mercado said. "Dreams really do come true."

Next stop, and this one's open to the public: a concert at the Ringling Museum of Art. But the parking lot is already filled -- try New College of Florida next door.

Competitor David Cook stomping KC

Turns out that Syesha's competitor David Cook is from Blue Springs near Kansas City, and our sister McClatchy newspaper Kansas City Star is following his shenanegans today. If you want to measure up the competition, here’s a link.

Syesha wins their hearts -- again

Syesha Mercado wowed more than 1,000 of her fans in downtown Bradenton this morning.

She sang part of a song --- "Listen," originally recorded by Beyonce --- and invited students from Daughtrey Elementary School, her alma mater, to join her on the stage set up along the downtown riverfront.

"You guys are beautiful," Mercado said. "Thank you for being here."

And the crowd went wild.

She's touring in a black stretch limousine, accompanied by Manatee County Sheriff's deputies.

Mayor Wayne Poston gave her a key to the city, who gushed, "It doesn't open the vault, but it opens our hearts to you."

Just before 11:30 a.m., Mercado got back into her limo for a ride to the AT&T store -- that's what you get when you're a sponsor -- on Cortez Road, esorted again by sheriff's deputies.

_________


Syesha Mercado, American Idol finalist, is mobbed by fans as she leaves after an appearance in downtown Bradenton.--photo by Tiffany Tompkins-Condie/ttompkins@bradenton.com:




Syesha Mercado fans get excited as they wait for the American Idol finalist in downtown Bradenton.--photo by Tiffany Tompkins-Condie/ttompkins@bradenton.com:


Where to see Syesha this afternoon

Syesha's breezing through Bradenton at this writing, having paraded through downtown Bradenton, then on to AT&T on Cortez -- stirring up a lot of fans and even calls that all that commotion was a bank robbery, what with law enforcement and unusual sitings!

Here's the plans for this afternoon:
• 12:30 p.m.: Short parade and visit with students at Booker High School. School visit will be closed to the public. The parade will be on the Orange Avenue side of the school.
• 3:30 p.m.: Concert at the Ca d'Zan Terrace at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road. Parking will be available north of the Ringling Museum at New College of Florida. Mercado will be given a proclamation and perform.
• Between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.: Will be heading to St. Petersburg to sing the national anthem at the Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field.

Syesha is on the Bradenton stage

She's here!

"American Idol" finalist Syesha Mercado has arrived in Bradenton for a mini-party along the downtown waterfront, kicking off a flurry of appearances in the Manatee-Sarasota area for the hometown girl.

Mercado arrived about 11 a.m. in a black stretch limousine, accompanied by Manatee County Sheriff's deputies.

Government officials will be reading proclamations honoring Mercado, who is one of three surviving contestants in the televised talent competition, and Mayor Wayne Poston is set to give her a key to the city. Fans gathered along Barrcarotta Boulevard are hopeful Mercado will also sing them a song.

After the downtown performance, the Manatee County Sheriff's Office will escort her to the AT&T store in the 4700 block of Cortez Road for an appearance. AT&T is a sponsor of the "American Idol" show.

Later today, Mercado will make apperances at Booker High School in Sarasota, her high school alma mater, and at the Ringling Museum of Art, where she is scheduled to perform.
And tonight, she is scheduled to sing the national anthem at the Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field.

Your Bradenton Herald crew will keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Is Paula crazy? Will Syesha survive?

So the word on the street is that "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul needs to be committed — fast — after her blunder last night.

For those of you that missed it, Paula started giving her comments for two of Jason Castro's songs last night.

Poor Paula jumped the gun a bit too early, giving her comments for the second song during the first segment, before the group picked up their mics again to sing their second tune.

Yes, it was a bad night for the seemingly flustered Paula. Conspiracy theorists believe her blunder proves the show is scripted. I don't really think so. But scripted or no, it just proves that Paula can be somewhat incompetent. That, or she was so bored by Jason's performance of "Forever in Blue Jeans" — which was so lackluster — she thought he was singing two songs in one.

If that's the case, I can easily sympathize with the former pop star.

If America is truly wise, Jason — who seems quite lazy on stage lately — will get the boot tonight, keeping Syesha — who continues to show a growing prowess — safe for another week.

Still, it's got to be a scary thought for Syesha to know that the last few weeks have landed her in the bottom vote-getters spotlight. This is getting intense.

Keep your fingers crossed. — January Holmes

Monday, April 28, 2008

Are these "Idols" marketable?

Let me say this politely ... I'm kind of hoping Syesha Mercado doesn't win "American Idol."

Why?

Well, since the winner of "Idol" is given an automatic record deal on the spot, along with the tremendous pressure that follows on making such a deal successful for all parties involved — well, I'm not sure if Syesha can pull that off. She seems to be more vibrant doing Broadway tunes. So I can easily see Broadway knocking on her door, especially since she was studying to be an actress before "Idol" came along and swept her up.

Either way, it would be heart-breaking to watch her win if she can't pull off record sales. Remember Taylor Hicks, last year's "Idol" winner? He was dumped by his record label after bad sales. Tragic.

On watching the show, I'm starting to wonder about the marketability of these folks. Who could pull off the biggest recording success from this crop of five?

My mind immediate races to David Cook. The guy obviously has his own sound and personality, even if it is a little Daughtry-esque. Cook's album would be successful regardless, as long as he has solid lyricists working alongside him.

Then there's the other David, which, when put in the "record deal" light, may seem a little too young for all the fanfare that follows "Idol." But still, he has a sort of Michael Bublé appeal about him.

Brooke may be a hit or miss. There's definitely something there though — a kind of Tori Amos gone soft thing. As long as she doesn't try to dance, and has a good lyricist to reflect her style, she'll shine.

Jason Castro — as odd of a duckling as he is, he has a very unique sound along with a tight fan base it seems since he made through unscathed on "Idol" after a horrendous song choice last week. I think he would do alright with his own album. At least for a little while. — January Holmes

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"American Idol": Syesha shines ... finally

Did you catch Syesha Mercado singing on top of a grand piano last night during "American Idol," belting out a theatrical tune like nobody's business?

Were you just as amazed and stunned and shocked and awed as I was? Her performance may blow my earlier predictions of the Sarasota native being booted off soon out of the water.

If she keeps up the momentum, she could easily wind up in the top three.

Last night's theme was the "Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber," which meant show tunes galore. I wasn't sure what to expect, but Webber's honest and amusing comments kept things lively.

What wasn't lively was Jason Castro's performance of "Memory." The guy, who told America that he's never seen any of Webber's musicals, looked like he was suffering from immense physical pain when he was singing the tune — a tune that Webber couldn't fathom the dread-head Castro singing to begin with.

Next on the unpleasant list was Brooke White with "You Must Love Me." It wasn't her greatest performance. I think she was trying too hard. Then she forgot the lyrics and asked to start the song over before she began to sing it. When you try too hard, you don't come across well. Carly Smithson knows this, or at least has been told this several times. Last night, though, was the first time Carly actually looked like she was letting loose with her "Jesus Christ Superstar" tune. It was great to see her energized for once. Though it was kind of cheesy afterwards when she brought out a T-shirt that said Simon loved her performance (this week).

David Archuleta pulled a sort of David Cook by putting his own contemporary twist on "Think of Me" from "Phantom of the Opera." It was a very pleasant performance. I'm sure he swept the hearts of tweens across American by taking Webber's simple advice of keeping his eyes open during the song.

Speaking of David Cook, he didn't pull any musical twists with "Music of the Night" but the performance still sounded solid with his haunting, rich voice.

So based on last night's performances, it may basically come down to Jason or Brooke saying their good-byes next, with Carly — who has grown ever more slightly annoying each week — joining them for the bottom three.

Good times.

- January Holmes

Monday, April 21, 2008

Sarasota Ballet: Not just men in tights

So I'm not sure how many ballet buffs there truly are in Bradenton.

Sure, people around here like to dance. I've met contemporary dance teachers and musical theater choreographers. I've heard about people who are keen on grovin' to country music, read about ballroom dance enthusiasts and seen those who like to watch any live and/or televised reality dance shows with the stars.

But when it comes to ballet ... well, it seems more people flock to it only when it involves anything to do with "The Nutcracker." And possibly "Swan Lake."

Sugar plum fairies anyone?

But this season, the Sarasota Ballet has been offering ballets that are just as sweet — sometimes even sweeter — than our dear "Nutcracker."

It seems Iain Webb, artistic director of the Sarasota Ballet, is trying to change people's perspective on the "ballet" — from that of men in tights carrying girls in classic pink tutus through the air to that of an evolving, thought-provoking art form that can be modern, edgy and more enticing.

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview the not-so-new artistic director (he's been with the ballet company for a year now) for a story that will run in the Herald's Weekend section on Thursday. He's got a lot of interesting things planned (SPOILER ALERT) that doesn't include "The Nutcracker." But don't worry, in its place will be a delightful dance that still has snow, he said. And ice skating.

So now I'm at the part of this blog where I could go on many different tangents. I could tell you the interesting stories he shared, but I think I'll save that for fodder for next season. Or I could tell you all he has planned for next year — things he hopes will draw a new kind of ballet crowd — but you can read that in Thursday's story.

One of the things I will share though is that Webb isn't shy about straying away from the status quo of the ballets people have become accustomed to around here.

He called it taking a gamble — not just with the ability of the dancers to perform these rarely seen progressive works, but with area audiences ability to digest something fresh and different. As Sarasota audiences seem to love Webb's approach, I wonder if the ballet company's rapid new appeal is felt in Bradenton. — January Holmes

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

'American Idol' guys turn up the 'wow factor'

Now that the Sarasota Film Festival is over — leaving me in a haze from the whirlwind of celebs, parties and films that lit up Sarasota for 10 days — it's time to get back to the matter at hand: "American Idol."

Sarasota's Syesha Mercado is still in the mix, performing as one of the top seven in the competition (though I still feel she won't be able to break into the top five). Last night she sang "Vanishing" for Mariah Carey week. I agreed with Paula that she was wise in picking a song that the audience wouldn't be as familiar with. I thought she did good with it — maybe good enough to keep her safe another week — but the performance didn't wow me.

But the guys had their wow-factor turned up high last night. I was blown away by David Archuleta's rendition of "When You Believe." During David Cook's "Always Be My Baby," I was a little worried because I wasn't sure where he was going with it at first, but then his creativity with the song won me over in the end. He'll reap extra votes by his tearing up on stage after the judges praised his performance.

Jason Castro's "I Don't Want to Cry" was good — it really showed off his great and unique vocal tone.

In the women's realm, I was disappointed by Brooke White's performance of "There's a Hero." It felt rushed and she ventured off-key too many times to overlook.

As for Carly Smithson, cheers to her for finally wearing sleeves! I was beginning to get sick of seeing those tattoos literally EVERY week. Not that I'm against tattoos, but if she were more of a rock 'n' roll darling like former Idol Amanda Overmyer, the look would work better for her. I'm starting to agree with Simon though about her performances, she doesn't really seem to let herself go when she sings. It's like she's always holding something back. She was a little better last night with "Without You," but not by much.

When it comes to Kristy Lee Cook, I honestly didn't pay attention to how she performed. But I remember thinking briefly that she sounded good. Don't know if it was good enough to stay another week.

Based on this week's performances, I think tonight's bottom three may be Brooke, who's never made bottom three (hopefully that won't send her suddenly packing like Michael Johns last week), Carly and, for good measure, Kristy.

- January Holmes

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tucci talks of films and meets a new relative

Yes folks, the Sarasota Film Festival is the place where you can find long lost celebrity relatives.

Well, at least for one lucky gentleman.

Thursday, during the festival's "In Conversation with ... Stanley Tucci" at the Historic Asolo Theater, a man sitting in the front row interrupted moderator David D'arcy — a critic from Screen International — during his talk with Tucci on what attributes it takes to play some of the villainous roles the star has portrayed in the past.

The guy in the audience blurted out that good villains also need to be Italian. The audience laughed, which got the man talking even more to Tucci out of turn. After a couple of minutes, he threw a name out and asked if Tucci knew of the person.

"Yes," said Tucci, a Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning actor. "He's my uncle."

One of the guy's relatives (someone on his mother's side, if not his own mother — I couldn't make out what he said) married Tucci's uncle.

It was really nice to see Tucci — dressed in blue jeans, a light blue shirt and a dark blue dress jacket and loafers — speak to the fellow for a bit after the "In Conversation ..."

Contrary to popular belief, the event wasn't sold out, but most of the seats on the ground floor were filled. I went up on the second level and there were plenty of seats to chose from.

Tucci talked about film favorites such as the 1996 flick "Big Night," the ups and downs of independent movie-making and playing dark roles such as Hitler's officer Adolf Eichmann in the 2001 made-for-TV film "Conspiracy."

Tucci said there was a moment during filming "Conspiracy" when everything caught up with him — filming on site in Germany, surrounded by actors portraying the German army, plotting the extermination of millions of Jews.

"I thought I was going to vomit," he said. "I've never felt that way."

Being an actor, playing such a role called for him to repress his feelings just to get through the scene, he said.

"Because if you felt it, you couldn't have done it," he said.

Tucci also talked of his movie "Blind Date," which will be screened at the film festival 7 p.m. today and 2:45 p.m. Sunday at the Hollywood 20. He also discussed food films, such as his upcoming project "Julie and Julia" where he stars alongside Meryl Streep as Paul and Juila Childs. Sounds like the film is going to be a good one.

Of course, a fan in the audience had to ask him about his time working on 2006 hit film "The Devil Wears Prada" where he played the fashion guru Nigel.

He said he was chosen about three days before the filming began. The crew had auditioned "every other actor" in town for the role before finding him.

His wife said he played the gay-ish, fashion-loving character all too well, he added. — January Holmes