Archive for September, 2011

Content Magazine looking to improve print offering

Content Magazine

Since they started, Content Magazine has been one of the most visually appealing of San Jose’s hyper-local sites, and carried stories on themes ranging from “dirt” to “space”. After about 2 years online as an e-zine with a print-on-demand option, Content is now working on improvements to their print offering, and they’re looking for help through a Kickstarter campaign. Content needs about $5000 dollars to print a run of magazines in a 9×12 uncoated matte format — which magazine founder Daniel Garcia says will reduce the price per copy and improve the paper and print quality.

Donors offering $15 (less than the cost of the current print-on-demand version) will get a print copy of issue 4.0 of Content, along with other perks at higher donation levels. Content 4.0 will focus on “Tech”, including local tech companies, a tech forecast, and even some “tech music”.

As I’m writing this, they’ve gotten pledges reaching just over half of their goal, with 21 days left in the Kickstarter campaign. If you’re interested in helping Content become as well-produced in print as it has been online, you can contribute at the Kickstarter site.

The chalk will fly this Saturday

Julio Jimenez at the 2010 festival

The Luna Park (North 13th Street) Business Association’s annual Chalk Art Festival is coming up this Saturday, and rumor has it the event will be much expanded compared to past years. In addition to art on pavement, the event will feature food and art vendors. Aztec dance troupe Movimiento Cosmico will give their rhythmic and spiritual performance. Live music will be provided by Cuatro con Tres, a band that was very impressive at the Northside’s National Night Out event this year.

The chalk art itself will feature some returning chalk specialists like Wayne & Carol Renshaw and Julio Jimenez; as well as local art scene leader Lacey Bryant, recently featured in Content magazine. Well-known local muralists Paul J. Gonzalez and Katrina Loera are also expected to show their stuff.

I’ve seen my neighbor Katrina Loera and her husband Steve, along with other volunteers, putting in endless effort in the past year to bring this event together. From what I’ve heard from some of the volunteers it looks like it will pay off with a really strong roster of artists and an exciting array of other entertainment at this fun local event.

  • What: Luna Park Chalk Art Festival
  • When: Saturday, Sept 24, 2011. 10-4pm.
  • Where: Backesto Park, 13th and Jackson Streets, San Jose
  • How much: Free

San Jose Mariachi Festival is underway

The annual San Jose Mariachi Festival, branded this year as VivaFest, is an event that can fly under the radar. It rarely causes blocked roads, and the events are spread across multiple venues and two weeks of the calendar. But it is actually a major production and a great opportunity to see some brilliant music and thought-provoking films.

Starting last night, six films, held at the Tech’s Imax dome, present food for thought about Mexican music and Latino culture in the USA. Wednesday night’s film, “Danza Folklorica Escenica” (Mexican Folkloric Dance) looks to be the most directly informative about Mariachi music, and will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers. Saturday’s film, “The Harvest” explores the hard world of immigrant child labor in the United States, and will be preceded by a keynote address by White House official Jose Rico.

The musical highlights are a Friday night concert and Saturday Sunday’s outdoor festival. On Friday night, Spanish Harlem Orchestra will play at the SJSU Events Center with opener Tito Puente, Jr. and a possible special appearance by Los Lobos. Tickets are being sold through Ticketmaster. As an extra tip, visit the website of downtown dinner/dance/margarita club Azucar for a special price deal that just about covers the Ticketmaster convenience fee.

On Saturday Sunday, the outdoor Feria del Mariachi features over a dozen mariachis and folkloric dance groups on two stages. Many of these groups are local, but others will be traveling here from as far away as Texas and Harvard University. Just a few of the groups have preview videos on the VivaFest site. Entrance to the outdoor festival is free.

  • What: San Jose Mexican Heritage and Mariachi Festival
  • When: Sept. 18 – 29, 2011
  • Where: Various sites, including the SJSU Event Center, HP Pavilion, and the Tech
  • How Much: Saturday’s Feria del Mariachi is gratis. Other events priced per event.

Edit: The Outdoor Feria is Sunday, Sept 25, from noon – 7 pm, on Autumn Street near the Pavilion.

Keep safe, San Jose

Paul Ray Castillo, suspect in the killing of Cindy Nguyen. (SJPD photo)

A little more than a week ago, a neighbor of mine a few blocks away reported in our local email list

Today the unthinkable happened. A guy in a car next to mine (11th & Taylor) pulled a gun and pointed it right in my face. …

It started in my driveway. I was backing out, very slowly, as usual, and I guess he thought I was going to hit him, so he went into road rage; total unprovoked, erratic behavior. He screeched, u-turned at the corner, passed me, then backed up speeding back across the intersection. He caught up with me at Taylor and 11th. That’s when I looked to the side and he pulled the gun. Luckily, I ducked, pulled into the intersection a little and the cross traffic stopped. He took off one way, I took off the other.

Yesterday the body of the presumed carjacking victim Cindy Nguyen was found in a garage near by on 12th Street. The manhunt for suspect Paul Ray Castillo, considered armed and dangerous, is still ongoing in this case.

At another location a few blocks to the east, another neighbor has been reporting drug activity and violence on his block for years, and the police have never felt they had sufficient evidence to act on those reports.

On the other hand, a week ago and 6 blocks west of 12th Street, a suspect was arrested and his stockpile of weapons and explosives was seized and destroyed by the police after he made threats to a neighbor.

I hope I never hear another story like either of the recent ones in my neighborhood, but I’d sure rather hear another 6th Street story than another 12th Street story. If you see someone acting dangerously or threateningly, do report it to the police. Even if there are times when it seems their hands are tied and they can’t act, there are other cases where they can take action that could avert a tragedy.

The Opera Novice(?) returns for Mozart’s Idomeneo

How many operas does one have to see before they’re no longer a novice?  I suppose I’m not in any way a novice now after attending my sixth opera on Saturday night, but I still have no expertise in what I’m talking about.  However, I still think it’s fun, I still love the music and singing, and I still think everyone should give it a try.

Opera San Jose opens their 2011-2012 season with Idomeneo, the Greek almost-tragedy about the King of Crete and a broken promise to Neptune.  It’s about Kings and Gods, Queens and Slaves, Sea Monsters and shirtless Dancers.  Despite how it sounds, however, there is not much action in this particular show.  There is a lot of worry about tragic consequences, but nothing really comes of it, and the entire story somehow ends happily.  But don’t get me wrong, boring it is not.

Cast A: Christopher Bengochea as the king of Crete in Opera San José’s production of Mozart’s Idomeneo. Photo by P. Kirk.

Storyline is secondary in opera, and Opera San Jose never disappoints in the music department. I thought the singing was absolutely beautiful.  The music by Mozart was played to perfection again by the orchestra and led by the great Maestro George Cleve.  It is a long opera (almost four hours) and the music is non-stop.  I cannot imagine being a musician in this orchestra and playing for four hours straight every night!  But these are many of the best musicians in the South Bay, so I happily and gratefully welcome the chance to listen to their work.  The arias are all very emotional, as is the story, and the very talented singers made you feel the emotions behind their words.

The sets were gorgeous, and simpler than usual, on a grand scale.  In fact, parts of these sets were so enormous they had to be constructed in an airplane hangar on Treasure Island.  A few interesting smaller backdrops while the curtain is down give plenty of variety to help hold your attention.  The costumes were the most impressive in this show.  Ancient Crete is not a usual backdrop in opera, and it was a fresh look of sumptuous gold and brocade togas, gowns and, again, shirtless young dancers.  The dancing was another new element in this show.  I noticed no waltzes this time (I could be wrong), but there was a long and exuberant ballet at the end of Act III, and we loved it.

The Cretans rejoice at the heavenly proclamation. Image by Pat Kirk Photography.

Seasoned opera lovers should love this show and the music, and I definitely recommend it.  The audience broke into a spontaneous “Brava!” after one of the arias, and the show received a standing ovation. Opera newbies might want to wait for the next show, as this is a pretty long production and the story moves a little slower than others.  However, it is still perfect for the entire opera experience.  Opera San Jose continues to be one of the only venues in San Jose where the audience is always dressed to the nines and this can be a really fun evening any time of year.  Dress in your best evening wear and make reservations downtown for a great dinner, then head to the very comfortable theater and people-watch other opera patrons dressed in tuxedos and ball gowns.  There is nothing fancier or more fun in San Jose!

For dinner, we recommend Scott’s Seafood for going all out with the fancy, or the more moderately priced Il Forniao which also has delicious food and is right by the California Theatre.

Idomeneo
September 10 – 25
Opera San Jose
California Theatre
345 S. First Street, San Jose
All seats in the Cal Theatre are wonderful

Remembering 9/11

Firefighter*

“None of us will ever forget this day…” – President Bush

That morning I happened to have the TV on. Seeing what was happening in New York I called out to my husband. Together we watched in horror as the second plane hit. The decision was made to take our daughter to school and go to work.

Air traffic had to land thousands of planes and departures were stopped nationwide. As taxi drivers we knew that the many people at San Jose Airport would need transportation back to their homes or to hotels. It was a very busy morning for us. When the sky was quiet and the airport empty we went home.

*In Chico Ca.- To honor the 9/11 firefighters this patriotic goose is wearing a hand crafted costume.
CHICO GOOSE

Suicide Happens. There are places to go for help.

National Suicide Hotline

I attended Opening Night of Spring Awakening on September 7, and after the show my guest and I discussed the themes of suicide portrayed in the story.  One character commits suicide after being kicked out of school, knowing his family was going to reject him and that he had lost any hope of obtaining a higher education or even earning a living.  Another character contemplates suicide after the accidental death of his lover.  My guest and I discussed the issues in the ways that people who would never consider suicide often do…  “There’s no reason for it,” “Things will always get better,” “It’s a silly solution…”

But as I was formulating my show review the next morning, I found out that a woman on the periphery of my friend circle had killed herself the night of the show.  This woman was only tangentially connected to me; I had never met her, I only knew of her.  But it brought home the obvious fact:  Suicide still happens.  For whatever reason, whether we think there was a good enough reason, it doesn’t matter, it still happens.  And it affects a large circle of people who are left in the death’s wake.

My show partner had mentioned the night before that at her university there was on average one student a semester who managed to take their life during finals.  I had had my own struggles with the idea when I suffered from a broken heart as a teen.  And of course bullying in high school, whether because of sexual identity or any sort of “otherness”, has raised awareness of suicide among today’s teens.  But it is just as common in adults.  Suicide ranks as the Number 3 cause of death for ages TEN through 29.  It happens, and it happens more often than we would like to think.

If you need help, or are concerned for someone who might need help, there are several places you can turn to:

Suicide and Crisis Hot Line, 1-855-278-4204 (Toll-free).  A live counselor always answers this Toll-Free hotline 24-hours per day.

What can I do to help someone who may be suicidal?

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  Comprehensive help site

Suicide and Crisis Services:  Santa Clara County, also provides a cost-free drop-in Survivors of Suicide Support Group (SOS) for adults who have lost a loved one to suicide

Hot lines and Warm Lines for Teens

To Write Love On Her Arms Comprehensive site with links to many different help sites, discussions, events, etc.

Spring Awakening: An extraordinary rock music production by the San Jose Rep

Melchior (Jason Hite) struts to the front as the rest of the teens dance in the background. Photo by Kevin Berne.

San Jose Repertory Theatre has opened their 2011-2012 season with a blockbuster of a show, raising the bar in every aspect of theater production.  Spring Awakening, with its provocative content, is the kind of show which should usher in a whole new generation of theater lovers, and its high level of technical and acting talent also proves that there is no need to head north to see a fantastic production when you live in the South Bay.

You might think that a show about oppressed, sexually repressed teenagers in 19th century Germany might be stuffy and boring.  But pair this storyline with some fantastic rock music and you have incredibly moving tales of lust, love, rape, physical abuse, pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality and suicide.  What does rock music have to do with 19th century German teens?  What does rock music NOT have to do with ANY teens?  Rock music was created to express the pain, frustration, angst and experiences of youth.  It is actually a perfect pairing, and works on every level in this show.  And although the story deals with difficult topics and situations, and will bring tears to your eyes, it also ends with a song that celebrates hope, and love, and living.  It brought an immediate and deserved standing ovation with not many dry eyes in the house.

The girls demand to know the truth about the birds and the bees. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Although the SJ Rep has always brought in great acting talent for their shows, I will admit to some worries about whether they could find such a capable large cast which requires dancing, very talented singers, as well as such a high level of acting… but the Rep went way beyond my expectations.  The singing was on par with any Broadway show I’ve ever seen, and the acting from everyone was superb.  Most notable for me was Eryn Murman as Wendla, capturing our sympathy, emotions and attention from the very first scene to the very end notes.  The entire cast was easily as talented as I’ve ever seen on the Repertory stage, and as a whole represents a great history of Broadway and musical experience.  Every single cast member was extraordinary, including the SJSU students who absolutely held up their end of the talent requirement.

Moritz (Miguel Cervantes) sings about leaving it all behind while Ilse (Zarah Mahler) begs him to come back. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Sonya Tayeh, known from “So You think You can Dance”, was brought in as choreographer for the show, and while I am sure she’s going to help fill theater seats (she certainly made ME excited about the show), the choreography was not what I expected.  Known for her quirky modern dances on the television show, she kept the dancing in the background here, using it only to express the thoughts, feelings and frustrations of the characters, while letting the story shine through.  It is what a choreographer should do in a show like this, and I believe she did it perfectly.  As a side note, she was in the audience on Opening Night and was absolutely gorgeous.

The music of course had a starring role in this show.  The band, as put together by the Rep’s own Dolores Duran-Cefalu, was on stage, played to perfection, and benefited from the best sound direction I’ve heard locally with the possible exception of Opera San Jose [opening Saturday!].  Sitting anywhere in this audience was like sitting in front of any Broadway musical production, and did great justice to Duncan Sheik’s music.

Wendla (Eryn Murman) and Melchior (Jason Hite) try to fight their urges. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Once again, I’m not letting this review go without mentioning that in recent years the San Jose Repertory Theater has gone over and above in set, lighting and media design, and they’ve outdone themselves in this show as well.  And once again I see the names of John Iacovelli and David Lee Cuthbert involved.  If it’s possible to fill a set with emotion, these two can do it, and it’s hard to deny that when they are involved, the set will also have a starring role.

This is a show about teenagers who are dealing with adult themes and problems, just as all teenagers do, while also having little to no control over their lives.  This is the core difficulty of being a teenager.  Although there are mature themes explored on stage (masturbation, nudity, sexual situations and suicide), the show was not as explicit as I had been led to expect – but parents should be aware that it IS a provocative show.  Use your best judgment regarding your own teenager, but anyone 18 and up should head over to the Rep immediately and get a ticket.  Book writer and lyricist Steven Sater was also in the audience on opening night and he looked pleased.  I truly hope we did make him proud, as I know that I am certainly proud of Director Rick Lombardo and our local San Jose Repertory Theatre.  I cannot imagine how Mr. Lombardo plans to top this show, but we have six more shows to look forward to this year.  If there was ever a time to buy season tickets, this IS the year.

Spring Awakening
San Jose Repertory Theatre
September 1 – 25

City of Angels brings murder, mayhem, beautiful women and, most of all, FUN.

Detective Stone

Hillbarn Theatre started their 2011/2012 season off with a bang (3 bangs to be exact), and continued their tradition of choosing an extremely complicated production to produce – and finding a way to nail it.  City of Angels brings a 15 piece live orchestra, a full cast of incredibly talented singer/actors, and an ever-changing set design that must be a nightmare to manage.

City of Angels is a complicated tale itself, revolving around a film noir detective story which is simultaneously being written by a screenwriter back in 1940’s Hollywood.  There are film characters, “real life” characters, and actors playing the film characters.  There are revisions done by the screenwriter (shown by actors reversing their actions and speech and replaying the scene), most of the cast playing at least two characters in the show, and many film characters based on the “real life” characters.  In short, don’t have too many drinks before seeing this show.

Should you see the show? YES! It is SO MUCH FUN.  Writers, detectives, scantily clad beautiful women, mobsters/goons, lecherous Hollywood producers, bed hopping, murder… what more could you ask?

Alaura, Femme Fatale

The cast is so incredible as a whole that I found it impossible to single anyone out.  Each member has their own moment to shine and they all do it well.  The singing is top notch with some far from simple melodies.  Although the sound was a bit off in the beginning, it got taken care of quickly and was superb overall.

The promo pictures we’re given to share don’t do the show justice, and if I could sum up the show in one word it would be FUN.  I would say it’s fine for teenagers up, with many short scenes of playful frolicking (and really, who hasn’t come home to find a beautiful, half naked, strange woman in their bed??).  And with a total time of 3 hours, I’d suggest coffee before the show and during intermission.  But it’s three hours of complete enjoyment.  Don’t miss Hillbarn’s latest successful attempt to WOW its audience.

City of Angels
September 1 – 25
Hillbarn Theatre
1285 East Hillsdale Blvd.
Foster City
650-349-6411

Screenwriter Stine wrestles with lovers, producers and his own characters.

There is something wrong when you’re rooting for the French while watching Henry V

I attended the Shady Shakespeare production of Henry V last night with Dr. Adrienne Eastwood, SJSU Associate Professor of English literature.  I love to have her as my guest for Shakespeare plays as she helps bring a deeper insight into the productions.  Last night however, I didn’t need anyone to confirm that this show was just not up to par.

Shady Shakespeare Theatre Company usually puts on great shows.  They play at a very nice outdoor theater in Saratoga, their prices are fantastic, and we usually empty our purses into the hats at the end of the shows because we’re so impressed with the talent and have so much fun.  One bad show isn’t going to turn me off Shady Shakes, and since Henry V ends tonight, I want to focus on the positives we experienced, which were many.

Doll Piccotto. Photo by Lance Huntley.

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Doll Piccotto, as “Chorus”, arguably carried the show.  Director Larry Barrott made a great choice in having her sit at a desk at center stage so that she was always in the middle of the action. Barrott actually had a great vision for the play; a single poor casting choice is all it took to suck the life out of the show.  As for Piccotto, I have seen her in other Shakespeare plays and she rewards every time.  There’s no doubt she’ll have a successful theatre career.

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Stephen Maddox. Photo by Lance Huntley.

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Stephen Maddox, as the King of France, was perfect as a much more interesting king than Henry V was in this production.  Actually, all the French characters were so well done it was hard to not take France’s side in this show.  Also notable was the actor who played Dauphin — either the character was somehow omitted from the cast list or the playbill was too confusing for me to find him, but he was fantastic.

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Evan Kraemer. Photo by Lance Huntley.

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Evan Kraemer, as Boy, stole the show in every scene he was in.  Many of the lesser characters were actually very interesting and charismatic in the show.  Unfortunately, it only takes one miscast in a big part to bring the show down to dud status.  I look forward to seeing Kraemer on stage in future shows.

 

Henry V ends tonight so I’d like to direct you to a different Shady Shakes production that plays through September 4th, and is likely to please the whole family.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream is always a crowd pleaser, and to make it even more family friendly, kids 17 and under get in FREE with a paid adult.  So get out this weekend and enjoy a great Shakespeare play with your family!

Tickets range in price from $10.00 to $15.00, but with only around 150 seats in the theater, ALL are good seats.

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Henry V
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shady Shakespeare Theatre Company
Sanborn-Skyline County Park
16055 Sanborn Road, Saratoga

William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth urge you to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  (Dolls available at concessions, $15 each)

William Shakespeare & Queen Elizabeth did not enjoy Henry V

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