Conejo Theater for Everyone – Aladdin Jr.

A few weeks back I reviewed the Young Artists Ensemble (YAE) in their production of Aladdin Jr. for Chillin’ in the Conejo. You can see that review HERE. Tonight I went back for the opening night of the same play with some remarkable added cast members from Conejo Theater for Everyone (CTFE).  CTFE is a collaboration between YAE and the Conejo Recreation and Park District’s Therapeutic Recreation Unit where young actors and actresses with disabilities join in the fun. They really did an awesome job together. The nearly sold out opening night crowd was engaged from the opening scene and it added to the fun of the show.

Presiding over the events this evening was Luis U. Tirado as the Sultan of Agrabah. This young man is totally cut out for the throne. His regal repose and firm command were in full effect. Plus, he looked great in the suit! My favorite new player for this production was Shannon Murphy. She played the evil Jafar’s parrot sidekick Iago, and was spot-on with the wisecracks. Rather than wearing a parrot costume as was done in the YAE show, she worked with a larger-than-life parrot puppet that I thought added a fun comedic element. She was really funny. Razoul, the enforcer for the evil Jafar, was also well-played by Brianna “Breezy” Johnson. She has a rather Stentorian delivery, so she barks out orders quite effectively. She has a tough job having to supervise a bumbling staff of evil guards. Joining the troop of guards this evening was Harold “Hoppy” Munz. He has a great scene in the cave where they have imprisoned poor Aladdin. Munz’s timing on his lines adds humor to the scene that was accentuated by how his fellow guards played off him. There was some chemistry here that I really appreciated.

As anyone who has seen this play knows, the singing is really spectacular. The song leaders for the ensemble are the story’s narrators. This evening the narrators included new actresses Miranda Berenstein, Brooke Baldauf, Megan Tresback, and Erin Schleich. They all performed very well and sang their solos with confidence and skill. They are front and center in a number of scenes and all did a fantastic job of setting the scene for the play. The one added cast member that I thought might have had the most fun tonight was Cassie Leas, playing the baker. First, she’s adorable, and her smile could light up the whole theater. She shined in the closing number and I don’t think anyone in the theater missed it. When all the bows were done, the whole cast of the show was treated to a well-deserved standing ovation.

It’s remarkable enough that the Conejo Valley has such fine youth theater opportunities, but the Conejo Theater for Everyone program is really something special. The fine young actors and actresses obviously put their hearts and souls into the production and it showed. As a community, we should all be proud of them. We should also applaud the YAE mentors who “traded places” to help the CTFE performers to hone their craft as they moved into their former roles. Friends, this is Conejo character!

The CTFE production of Aladdin Jr. runs through this weekend, so make your plans to attend right away. Learn more about Conejo Theater for Everyone at their website http://www.yaeonline.com/CTFEInfoPage.htm

Brian Stark – Chillin’ in the Conejo

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Conejo Valley’s Young Artists Ensemble Rocks Aladdin!

“Welcome to Agrabah”…a group of young performers in Arabic garb welcomes you to the fictional Arabian city as you enter the Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks. Once in the theater, you are transported to a market square outside the palace of the Sultan where Aladdin begins his adventures with petty crime, magic lamps, flying carpets, evil schemers, and a lovely princess. With the help of a well-caffeinated genie he learns the pitfalls of dishonesty, the value of being himself, and how to win the heart of a princess.

I really enjoy local theater, and we have some great performance companies in our area. With a stepdaughter involved in local youth productions, my wife and I have been attending a number of performances with these young performers.  I can tell you that they work as hard as any actor or actress out there, spending hours upon hours together perfecting their art and learning the ropes of the theater. The end result is a play that is as well-rehearsed as any local show.

You are all probably familiar with the story of Aladdin, but we recommend that you come see this presentation of the classic tale and enjoy the work of some very talented young artists. First, Aladdin is well cast in Gabriel Vernon C. Nunag. He has a certain poise that lies somewhere between Justin Bieber and Elvis Presley. His outfits help in this area as well (see photo). He can croon with the best of them, and he never gets away from his character’s naive sense of discovery, be it with power, money, or girls. He plays opposite Kate Fruehling as Princess Jasmine. She carries several musical solos with confidence and grace.  I felt most engaged with her work in the “Whole New World” duet with Aladdin. Chemistry. Power.

Besides the main lead roles, there were some standout performances from the other cast members. The dynamic duo award from me goes to the Genie, played by Mariah Tobin, and the Magic Carpet played by Allison Zatlin. They are the heroes that never made it to Super status, but seem content to be as helpful as they can, and always with a smile on their faces. Tobin has a big stage presence and her character is all about the show part of the show. Her part is funny and she does the comedy well. Without any actual lines in the play, Zatlin, as the Magic Carpet, says everything she needs to say with an enthusiastic combination of facial expressions, body language, acrobatics, and effervescent charm. Without a word, we know what she was saying. Another standout is the evil Jafar (Kyle Warner). Warner plays a bombastic, yet ultimately dopey, villain with a propensity for self adulation and a gift for interpretive dance. If he did Shakespeare, he could be a great Prince of Aragon. There are few things funnier than a big villain doing soft-shoe, and Warner nails it.

A few random thoughts: For a moment I had this thought that it would be really funny if the Sultan (Cameron Ivan Love) channeled Peter Cook from his famous role as the “Impressive Clergyman” in the Princess Bride. That thought only lasted a second, but it would have been really fun to do that with this role. I guess I can say that since I didn’t actually see the Aladdin movie. Props to Cameron though, a fine Sultan. I also really liked the opening scene for Iago the parrot (Mackenzie Dunton). For me, the squawks are like a cowbell. “I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is MORE COWBELL“. Thanks for making me laugh :).

The remaining cast were all very well rehearsed and played their roles with enthusiasm and skill. The show’s Director, Suzanne Tobin should be proud of the entire group. It really is a great show.

– Brian Stark

Young Artists Ensemble will be performing Aladdin Friday-Sunday through February 15th at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts. Tickets are available at http://www.yaeonline.com/YAETicketsPage.htm or call (805) 381-1246. 

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The Portrait

IMG_1655 IMG_1654I like Brian’s enthusiasm.  It’s infectious.  No…..really……being around a positive soul is good soup.  Brian’s experiences as a Deadhead is who he is.  Deadhead is an angle of him.  If you look at him through a different angle you still get the same results.  What makes Brian interesting is how many angles you can view him from.  Each angle is a piece of a whole.  Sometimes in our frantic lives we look at pieces but not wholes.  For so many of us we never get the chance to see the whole of life.

I’d like to present another angle of Brian.  An angle that takes place before Jerry’s death but after we were undergratuates.  Brian, A.J. and me are low hanging fruit.  It’s upwards of 26 years I’ve known them.  They have been a part of my conscience for over a quarter of a century.  I met them through Alex who was the drummer of their band.  A.J. and me also know each other from a creative writing course.  I showed up at Brian and A.J.’s house to see Alex drum and there was A.J on guitar and Brian on bass.

A.J. had bought a raffle for a charity and won a free portrait. On a sunny Spring Sunday in San Luis Obispo, Brian in tie-die, A.J. in a t-shirt, Whitney (a.k.a the Demon Weed) in the back and me on the left, found ourselves in a motel room having a group portrait taken.  All the details allude me.  How we got there, what we were thinking and feeling.  Brian and A.J. had hair.  Whitney looks mischievous, and I look twelve with Jew hair.  Less then a decade later A.J. produces the portrait at my wedding, and the four of us take another group portrait with me holding the original.  And although there are the noticeable physical differences, we are still the same four with the same shared experiences with the same reasons to smile.

After the picture was taken we walked across the street and sat in a restaurant bar having margaritas and salsa and chips before noon.  We probably laughed about the portrait and we probably drank and we probably did whatever it was we did.

Periodically we reminisce about the original portrait, trying to fill in gaps where most of the details are forgotten.  Brian, in his always effervecent way keeps the memory positive and full of laughter; A.J. tells the story like a journalist, loud and boisterous, and I tend to be an idealist, looking for meaning in the span of time passed between both photos and the time passed now.

The original portrait is on my bookshelf.  The wedding portrait beside it.  And beside that perhaps a third photo documenting the span of at least thirty years.

Keep chillin………….

 

 

 

OK, I’m a Deadhead…

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My name is Brian Stark, and I’m a Deadhead.

Maybe I’m dating myself, or maybe I’m making a confession, but I’m a Deadhead. Although the Grateful Dead as a full band have been gone for a decade, the years I spent immersed in their music and traveling circus will be with me forever. I was a relative latecomer to the party, but from about 1985 through 1995 I was pretty-much plugged into the Dead full-time.

My first attempt to see them live was in 1986 at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. I had tickets ready and had managed to get the day off work, which was a chore. I worked for Adventure 16 in West LA, and since all the employees were going to the shows, you had work within a schedule that would keep the store open somehow. As a newer employee, I only got to go to one show. The day of the show finally came, and that was the day Jerry Garcia went into a diabetic coma and the show was cancelled. I didn’t stop trying though, and I eventually attended about 100 shows in the ensuing years, and collected hundreds of live shows on cassettes (remember cassettes?).

Unless you were there, it’s likely that you wouldn’t understand what the deal was all about. I’ve met hundreds of other Heads over the years and there were as many reasons to get into the scene as there were Deadheads. For me, the band’s lyrics and musical style hooked me quickly. Somehow it seemed that they were always singing just to me. Jerry’s guitar style also has a unique and hypnotizing effect. There was also a subcultural appeal and a feeling that you were part of something bigger than just an audience. I’ll be the first to admit that not every show had the same magic, but it was worth the trip just to see if you could be there when the proverbial sh*t went down. I am still a regular listener. Just yesterday at the office I listened to 3 full shows on the “Archive”. I can still listen to a snippet of a live show and tell you what year it was played, and maybe even the month.

Every Deadhead has their favorite era of the Dead, and has a favorite year. I’m one of those that gravitate to 1977. Specifically, April of 1977. That was the pinnacle of their sound to me. My favorite show is from the Auditorium Theater in Atlanta on April 21, 1977. Other favorite years are 1973, 1970, and 1989 (mainly because I was there). If you want to hear the Grateful Dead for the first time, or get reacquainted, head over to the Archive Site.

My days with the Dead gave me more than entertainment though. Here are some of the things I gathered along the way.

1. When my car leaves me stranded in the middle of nowhere, I never panic. Being stranded is just part of the journey. Once my friends A.J., Tim, and I had a breakdown at a rest stop on the I-5. We were in my dad’s old brown pickup. The place was full of heads on the way to shows at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds…none of which had any mechanical knowledge. We did finally get the motor running after parting with foodstuffs we used to feed hungry heads that tried to help. I remember AJ handing them a box of cereal out the window as we drove off. At another show I dropped the transmission on my old ’65 mustang a few blocks from the Oakland Coliseum. I was with my sister, it was her first show. We had to walk a mile or two through the roughest neighborhood to get to the show and just left the car behind. Today, I can handle any road emergency.

2.  I’m pretty good at not judging other people, and I feel thankful for what I have. I was part of the group I called the college deadheads. We traveled when we could get away and we weren’t living on the road for very long at a time.  Others lived on the road though, and they didn’t have the security we did. But, we all mixed at the shows. I met lots of people with different stories, but we were all brought together by a love of this band. When we were at a show, we were brothers and sisters. We shared and traded what we had even when we weren’t getting the best of the deal. Sometimes life is just about sharing and helping those that we can without the judgement. If you had a “miracle ticket” to share, you could be a saint for a day.

3. Somewhere along the way, I learned about the value of discretion. Not everyone sees deadheads as harmless, and that would include law enforcement personnel. So, sometimes you need to be discreet. I can remember going to shows with my brother and we would bring preppy oxford shirts to the show and leave them in the car. Before leaving the show, we would ditch the tie dye and change shirts so we could plausibly deny being at the show.

4. The human digestive system is amazing. I can’t tell you how many veggie burritos I ate after shows, and I lived to tell about them. One can imagine that these burritos were probably not prepared under the most hygienic conditions. The parking lot scene was always fairly dirty, and I never saw a health inspector at a show.

Are you a Deadhead?
What’s your favorite show or memory?
What’s your favorite year?

Life and Beauty in Small Packages

I was recently gifted a bonsai. Later, after meeting Travis who owns the California Bonsai Studio (https://www.californiabonsai.com), I learned that my bonsai is a maple.

Most of us have owned a bonsai.  Some of us have pulled off to the side of the road to buy a bonsai from a bonsai pimp operating out of a van….a lot like buying a TV from the Gap.  Needless to say, all of the bonsai’s I’ve had never made it. I usually placed it in a niche that I felt needed sprucing up.  I never thought about what the Bonsai wants and needs.

This time I contacted Travis at his bonsai studio.  Besides learning that Bonsai and Banzai are not the same, I learned how to take care of my bonsai…..not to mention a deeper appreciation for it.

Travis is remarkably interesting.  I like to think of him as the James Dean of bonsaing.  As Brian aptly writes in our video, he’s an Artist.

 

Living Post Modern

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Can you imagine living in Whoville? Or what about Mayberry? If I had my druthers I’d live in The Shire; small but beautiful, idyllic and fruitful.  Safe.  I live in Thousand Oaks. And in Thousand Oaks I live in a neighborhood. And in this neighborhood I live in a house. And like all environs a house is an influence as much as it is a reflection.  This is similar to Plato’s theory of forms in which every form has its ideal of which it strives to be.

When I began looking for a new home, a new form, I started with my ideals.   As George Harrison succinctly and beautiful advises us, “All Things Must Pass,” so the house in which my wife and I made a family had passed.  It was now time to get along.  I was challenged, fascinated, discouraged, and even at times frightened.  Along the way I found myself asking why anyone with any sense of practicality, let alone sensibility, would have carpet in the bathroom?

On a Saturday, at the end of a tether, by happenstance my wife comes across an add in the The Acorn for an open house the following day.  So weary of seeing another granite countertop accompanied by stainless steel appliances and the coveted hardwood floors and vaulted ceilings, I rallied the troops and off we went to schlepp through another house.  Oh, look a Thermadore.  Over the course of months I was forced to imagine myself living in countless homes in countless neighborhoods with countless neighbors in countless scenarios.  I could be the man of the house with the “entertainers dream backyard,” or the proud owner of a “three car garage,” or I can have an en suite the size of a Roman bath.  Because, honestly, as Americans, and deservedly proud at that, we make everything absurd.  Tofu is good for us so lets put it into everything.  This type of behavior is reminiscent of Kierkegaard’s “Faith by virtue of the absurd.”  As a transgression, when are we going to start teaching that Abraham’s will to commit filicide is bad moral judgment because its murder, regardless of God’s will?  Can you imagine how different our fate would be today if Abraham said no?  Perhaps it would have been the first of many no’s that we should be saying.

On a sweltering day we go to the open house.  Now mind you that we are doing this by rote, so everyone should understand their roles.  But I still turn to the rug-rats sitting behind me and remind them to behave.  “Just don’t do it.  Because I said so.  This is not our house.  No Mark, you can’t take a dump in their bathroom.  Don’t touch anything.  Oh for the love of Cleopatra, just stay in the car.  I’ll be right back.”

We walk through the house.  As a family.  With two kids under ten who seem to know more than me.  While the kids helped themselves to the complementary fruit medley, I had the singular opportunity to wonder through the home.  Debbie acted as a go between touring the house and watching the kids.  I look at Debbie and repeat verbatim what a college friend’s father said to him the first time he saw the dorm room: “At least you don’t shit on the floor.” All in jest of course.  Over the years I have become accustomed to saying that because it seems so absurd to me that that was the first thing a father said to his son as he sent him off to college.

I’ve now had just over a year to take in the scope and breath of our move.  Undoubtedly we bought the house.  Thanks to the divine intervention of fate, my wife found it. An Eichler. A what? For most it’s those homes with the funky facade.  You know?  There is a sign on the corner of Lynn and Calle Manzanas that reads, “Eichler Homes.”  Still No?  Imagine yourself settling deep into a plastic sofa, with a martini in hand, and a cigarette between your lips, spending a leisurely evening spinning Sinatra records.

Here are some of my jumbled thoughts about Eichler living: geometric mid century modern love affair.  Symbiotic relationship. Post and beam construction.  Glass.  Windex.  Lots of natural sunlight.  Terrazzo floors, radiant heating, flat roofs, redwood ceilings, luan walls, tiny garage. The Jetsons.  Atomic age. Eames.  Frank Loyd Wright.  Simplicity.  Blurred boundaries between inside and outside. Transparent.  I Love Lucy.  Fungi Shui.  Cold.  Drafty.  Hot.  Creaky.  Leaky.  Intimate.

Eichler homes are architecturally and therefore historically significant.  Joseph Eichler’s planned neighborhoods were for everyone.  Unfortunately there aren’t many of them so his dream remains allusive to most.  Some will argue that his design was too esoteric to appeal to the average aesthetic.  To this day I firmly believe that home building has made no compelling advances beyond boxy rooms, narrow hallways, unnatural lighting, conflicting architectural styles, and the all too prominent garage that seems to be the focal point of the home’s front (being that for most the car is the single most coveted gizmo besides the television, and since the advent and proliferation of both our homes have since been designed to make them the centerpiece of domesticity).  And what’s the deal with postmodernists that insists on the combination of discordant styles and ornamentation that is flagrantly non-functional? A sponge painted salmon colored Corinthian column!  Really?  I’m bewildered and dumbfounded that new home construction ignores the practicality of such Eichler elements as natural light, open floor plans and above all, a genuine understanding of how to utilize space that promotes peace and harmony.

I’ve lived in such memorable places as The Somis House, The Dump, The Rio Bravo, The Chocolate Factory, the Albion House two doors down from a crack den.  Now an Eichler.  So who cares?  We should.  Our homes impact us in the profoundest ways imaginable.  As I said earlier, “they are as much an influence as they are a reflection.”  By that I mean our homes influence our mood, our health, our attitude, our actions.  They are also a reflection of their own influence upon us.  We are our environment and what we make of it.  For us to be civilized our homes, our towns, or villages, or metropolises must nurture healthy living.

Besides doing my best thinking in the car and on a solemnly walk with the dog late in the evening (all thoughts being lost before I can write them down), I’ve had enough time to think about the home I live in and its influence.  I’m certainly not the person I was before living in this Eichler, let alone the person I was just a minute ago.  These thoughts are generated from experiences that are translated into actions.  For the most part the Eichler experience has and continues to be impressionable.  I’m at ease here.  I want to go home at night not because I’m anxious to leave work….that I am.  It’s because my family is at home.  The kids that I bought at Costco are at home and that I consistently remind I can return.  My stuff is at home.  The moment I roll up to the driveway there is a powerful feeling of relief because I want to be here.

The Thousand Oaks Eichler Community, otherwise known by my children as “Eichlerville,” is a visional experience.  Each home is a living incarnation of Eichlerness that is uniquely interpreted by its owner. Your eye wonders across its beeline front, clean curves, bright contrasting colors, and its ambiguous doors. There is something very allusive about an Eichler because the outside reveals very little of what’s behind it. Eichler incorporated an atrium as a center court. Imagine a square donut. The front door leads to a private outdoor experience that continues throughout the home.

There’s a mind-boggling amount that has been written about Jospeh Eichler and his homes if you’re interested.

The Thousand Oaks Eichler community, like the incorporation of the city itself, is fifty this year. This year the Eichler community may qualify for California Historical Register. Today, Sunday, the neighborhood celebrates with a block party (several home owners have graciously agreed to open their home to tours).

I encourage us all to preserve what positively defines us. My hat off to post modern living and Eichler whom unknowingly gave us something infinitely more important than just a house. He gave us an experience.

Namaste, Berg.

 

 

Conejo Country…Music that is..

profile picLast year, a study by Country Music Television showed that more than half of all Americans self-identify as country music fans. That is more than any other genre of music, so it’s safe to say that, at least for now, country music is the most popular music in the country. The Conejo Valley, as it would seem, is right in the middle of this action with a number of country bands calling the Conejo Valley home. We even have our own country music festival, the Oak Heart Music Festival. There are 242 days before the next festival though, so in the meantime, you’ll have to seek out some of the local country acts.

Website Reverbnation.com has a local country chart for country music just for Thousand Oaks. The charts are pretty dynamic, so the bands move around. A regular on the top 10 is Thousand Oak’s Sean Callero, currently #1. We can tell you, this kid is the real deal. At 19, he is putting out some very mature music. Check him out at http://www.seancalleromusic.com. In the number 2 spot this week is the Three Rivers Band, a local country cover band that plays current country hits, some classic country, and some southern rock. They just played a free show at the Lakes in Thousand Oaks last weekend following the parade. They claim TO as their hometown even if a few members hail from Simi. Find the Three Rivers Band at www.the3RB.net. In the 3-spot is a newer arrival on the country top ten in TO, South of Ziggy. They hail from Westlake Village. Their sound has a bit of variety ranging from country to blues, to pop (country meets the Beatles?). They play original tunes and are fine musicians. Find them at http://www.reverbnation.com/southofziggy.

All three of these band are from the Conejo Valley and deserve some Conejo County love! Next time you need a country band, give one of these fine bands a call.

Just to prove we aren’t too snobby about our local bands, Chillin will give an honorary Conejo status to Justin Honsinger from Simi Valley. This kid plays very authentic classic country and you owe it to yourself to give him a listen.

Here is a taste of Conejo Country courtesy of the Three Rivers Band – Recorded live in T.O. after the big parade. Their next local show is October 24th at St. Paschal’s Fall Fest in T.O.

Here’s Sean Callero at the Canyon Club

Here’s South of Ziggy

Discover the Conejo Valley with hosts Greg and Brian. We are real live Conejo Valley guys that are exposing the ins and outs of life in the shadow of LA.