Monday, December 31, 2007

REV: Best Stuff from 2007

The best of years, the best of years
Well, it was great year from this vantage point, with a lot of small films put out, an Emmy nomination, no hospital stays (!), getting to see loads of great friends, putting on three critically loved plays, and a bunch of other stuff i'm ont remembering right now.

During the year i got to see some great shows as well, and many fine, fine films (seems like a much better year overall than usual), and there's some stuff i really wanted to see an dhaven't yet that will be up for awards. Regardless, i'm going to take this time to talk about the best things i saw this year (meaning of course that, if you trust my judgment, these are things i'd recommend you checking out). So here, grouped into some kind of categories are the things i liked, with some occasional criticisms and remarks on the things i didn't (which quite frankly are few since i generally know ahead of time what i'm getting into).

So let's start with the best films i saw this year, including catching up with a few things from last year that i didn't manage to see before year's end. I'm putting these in alphabetical order for lack of a better way to organize - i did label the films i saw in one of three general rankings. Those are "brilliant" movies that are so good that even if there were quibbles here and there, the film was so strong in story, character and production value that i consider them films for the ages, ones i will immediately purchase on dvd, and will watch over and over hopefully with friends who haven't seen them. The next, more middling group, is labelled one of two ways -- "fine" which are flicks that are not great across the board but do a good job in story, characterization and production. And then there is "flawed" which are movies that are excellent in two of the three areas, but severely flawed in one so as to be distracting from the storytelling, which after all is what the art is about. In any case, i'll still buy the dvds of many films in this category, and recommend them as well. The final group is "stinks" which are movies so flawed or so unequivocally flat as to not be worth another watch. Finally, you'll see that most of my "brilliant" movies are dramatic. For a comedy or animation to achieve this level in my book they have to transcend their comedy or animation. In fact, even though i really liked some animation this year, i have trouble believing any animated film should be anything but perfect since you're not working with live actors.

I might use here to note also the films i haven;t seen but really want to so that my "picks" below can be measured against what i haven't seen: Atonement, Sweeny Todd, American Gangster, I'm Not There, Into the Wild, There Will Be Blood, Transformers.

So onward --
Disturbia (flawed) this film had a lot going for it, but spent way too much time unfortunately trying too hard to scare you, and being so self-conscious about it took all the scare out of it. Take a mulligan.

The Shooter (flawed) i have gone back and forth about this film being brilliant or flawed. Ultimately i'm going to say flawed, but probably not for a very strong reason. Because i had seen the trailer before the film came out i knew exactly what the plotline was, and i think that spoiled it. It should be a lesson in toning down trailers. I can't make out know when i would have become suspicious had i not known in advance. If the suspense lasted a while then i think the movie would tsand up better, but i don;t know now, and the studio is who ruined it.

Freedom Writers (fine) this is a nice pick-me-up film, based on a true story, that essentially has nothing wrong with it. But i guess we need to be figuring out that there are an awful lot of hard-working, speaking-truth-to-power, inspirational teachers in this country. What we need are some stories of significantly flawed teachers still managing to bring out the humanity in their students. Unfortunately this boilerplate American success story sells well, draws tears, and will be shown in classrooms until the next knockoff rolls around. Folks contemplating making this kind of movie would do well to watch British versions of the story like The History Boys.

Becoming Jane (fine) is best for showcasing some outstanding young talent. And as Austen stories are rather fine, so this Shakespeare in Love for the feminist oeuvre mines the material well. It doesn;t sit totally well for me more because there is suddenly so much Austen around. Someone might have done well to hold off a few years.

Flags of Our Fathers (brilliant) worth every minute, this historipic takes a well-deserved look at some of the not-so-perfectness of World War II which is perhaps the most glossed over war ever. It has been promoted so well that it has the feel of one long party knocking back Fascism. Those who endured know better, of course. I grew up in its shadow in a family with some military background, and it generally wasn't spoken of. Many years later i got hold of a box of letters from my grandparents back and forth to my uncles, half of whom were in the South Pacific -- and it's all fear and scarred minds and lost hopes. Nice to see some of that portrayed well.

Ratatouille (fine, probably as close as i'll get to brilliant this year for an animated film) what a fine film, loads of fun overall, though it drags on occasion. Again though, with a great story in hand, how could you not be perfect. Seems silly maybe, to not mark it brilliant, but to me it's just not the same as working with actors to produce art. Sorry.

300 (flawed) okay of these pseudo-animated films, probably the best. I just have to say that it was so jingoistic, so junior-high boyis, that i felt slimy. It's a shame too, since a good story could have been had, and frankly the art work was simply phenomenal. Compared to the fatally flawed Beowulf though it was energizing.

Beowulf (stinks) okay this was the opposite of 300 for me -- there was the possibility of dragging a great story out of this, but it didn;t happen, instead we got some of the most stilted, ridiculously formulated sentences ever written out of a literary masterpiece. But mostly, for me, the animation so so hideous that i laughed the whole time. It's a freaking cartoon and we spent a good part of the movie's climactic fight scene watching an onscure cartoon masking of animated genitalia. Sheesh, if two-dimensional junk is that unshowable, then find a way to show us action that doesn;t make us point at the silliness of hiding it. I lost the story completely about a third of the way through for the distraction of plastic faces and poor art choices. Unbelievable after all the hype.

The Devil Wears Prada (brilliant) i guess all i really want to say is that any chick flick that keeps me this enthralled, laughing this much, remembering lines for a week, and wanting to see again, has to be brillinat.

Breach (brilliant) another show i like because it has two fine actors, who haven't yet gotten the acclaim they deserve -- Chris Cooper and Ryan Philippe -- doing beautiful work. In addition, i love stories where you think you know what's going to happen next, and it does just enough to throw you off the next time. Whatever, you label that kind of thing -- thriller, suspense, i don;t know -- it works extremely well here. I've watched this thing three times already, and i always find nuances i missed before.

Zodiac (brilliant) all you have to do here is read my writeup on Breach, only substitue Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Juno (brilliant) i like quirky movies that portray life as i know it. Juno does that. It's about not-everyday-kids who get in tight fixes the same as everyday-kids. And it's about kids having to solve their own problems sometimes. And it's about adults being dorkier than the dorkiest junior high kid you can remember -- about adults who seem to work their very hardest to not be who they are. So that's life as i know it -- and this film is a tone poem on that very wavelength. I'll be giving these away for gifts forever. There is one giant flaw i need to mention, if only because it follows a theme for me, and that is the outfront, in-your-face product placement of SunnyD. I used to drink SunnyD. Not anymore. I boycott companies that breach my trust -- and making a wonderful movie into a two-hour advertisement breaches my trust. It was a constant distraction. I like to think that if companies figure out that their tactics are costing them customers, then maybe they'll regain a bit of class. One of my contenders for best movie of 2007.

No Country for Old Men (brilliant) i'm not a fan of violence, though i certainly watch and see plenty of it. And i'm an on-again, off-again fan of Cormac McCarthy (see books below). So i went with some trepidation to see this movie, which i knew i would have to see, there would be no missing it. Wow. One of my contenders for best movie of 2007.

Hairspray (brilliant) not a fan of musicals, but this was fantastic (and much better in my opinion than the original). Travolta was roll-on-the-ground funny. Everyone was wonderful. The music was just contagious. I went back a second time and took friends. And will again.

i did not finish these reviews but wanted to post the materials i had . . .

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ENV: The Year in Returning Birds

From BirdLife International

The Mauritius Parakeet was not the only bird to benefit from a captive breeding and reintroduction programme in 2007. Twenty seven Rimatara Lorikeets Vini kuhlii were released on the island of Atiu in the Cook Islands after an absence of almost two centuries, using money raised at the 2006 British Birdfair. And Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand) announced that the Stitchbirds (or hihi) Notiomystis cincta which were returned to the mainland earlier this year, after an absence of more than a century, have hatched chicks.

A 3,000-strong flock of Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius has been discovered in Turkey – the largest seen for more than 100 years. The birds were found in the Ceylanpınar district of south-eastern Turkey after a satellite tag was fitted to one of the birds migrating from breeding grounds in Kazakhstan earlier this year. The finding represents another significant rise in fortune for the Critically Endangered bird: five years ago, as few as 400 Sociable Lapwing were thought to exist globally.

BirdLife Canadian co-Partner, Bird Studies Canada, expressed delight at news that a pair of Kirtland’s Warbler Dendroica kirtlandii have bred in Canada for the first time in over 60 years. Further south in the Americas, a string of recent sightings of Recurve-billed Bushbird Clytoctantes alixii in Venezuela and Colombia have found this species to be more widespread than previously thought.

The only recorded breeding population of Basra Reed-warbler Acrocephalus griseldis outside Iraq came back to Israel for a second year. Meanwhile ornithologists across the world celebrated the news that a wetland bird that has eluded scientists ever since its discovery in India in 1867 has been rediscovered. The Large-billed Reed-warbler Acrocephalus orinus was found and ringed (banded) at a wastewater treatment centre near Bangkok, Thailand; while coincidentally, six months later, another Large-billed Reed-warbler specimen was discovered in the collection of the Natural History Museum at Tring, in a drawer of Blyth’s Reed-warblers (Acrocephalus dumetorum) collected from a different part of India to the original specimen.

Five years after the search began, a survey team tracked down the wintering grounds of Aquatic Warbler Acrocephalus paludicola, in Senegal. Work can begin to ensure that the wintering area gets the same level of protection as the breeding grounds of Europe’s rarest songbird.

A team from the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) established the first confirmed nesting of a pair of Wreathed Hornbills Aceros undulatus in the Temengor section of the Belum-Temengor Forest Complex, Malaysia. Belum-Temengor is the only place where all ten hornbill species occurring in Malaysia can be found together. But while the Belum state park has been gazetted, the Temengor Forest Reserve remains unprotected.

South-East Asia’s only known Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris breeding colony was discovered in Cambodia, highlighting Cambodia’s role as a stronghold for Asia’s plummeting vulture populations. Vultures were once common in parts of South and South-East Asia but in recent years population have declined sharply, some estimates suggesting by as much as 99.9% for some species, due to the veterinary use of the drug Diclofenac. As the year drew to a close, Birdlife’s Africa Partnership were horrified to discover that Diclofenac has been licensed for use in Tanzania, and perhaps other African countries. Some lessons have yet to be learnt.

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Friday, December 28, 2007

ENV: I and the Bird #65

Every ardent adherent of the avian observation lifestyle learns at one point or another that you just can't go birding every day. Sometimes weather is an issue; extremes of heat or cold, wind or rain, fog or sun can put a damper on outdoor activity. Sometimes life gets in the way and demands of family, work, or ( gasp) other interests prohibit a nice walk in the woods or a trip to the local mudhole. Sometimes, particularly during the height of summer or the depth of winter, interesting birds just aren't there.

Fortunately, birders have developed tools and strategies to get through the tough birdless times. This is why we have blogs!

Once upon a time, though, there were no bird blogs, no I and the Bird . Back in those days, concerns that we now refer to as "Old Media" filled the public's clamoring hunger for birding articles, stories, and photographs with their own primitive works. These publications, called "magazines", were printed on paper (created from wood pulp!) and distributed via quadruped, steamboat, or motorcar to newsstands and homes. Anyone who's actually handled one of these "magazines" can attest to their quaint charm and impressive portability.

Joking! I kid because I love. Despite the prevalence of online media, birding magazines seem to be thriving and are probably more popular than ever. The list of birding and nature blogs I read seems to be growing on a weekly basis, but I still love to pick up a good magazine on the subject. Greater convergence of these different types of publications in the future is inevitable, though even the current level of overlap would probably surprise many people. After all, the similarities between these styles of media are pronounced. I and the Bird, with its biweekly collection of birding articles, stories, and photographs, could be described as an online magazine, which is why we're so fortunate to have a professional editor at the helm for this edition!

Amy Hooper is the editor of the wonderful WildBird magazine as well as the illustrious WildBird on the Fly. Plus, this isn't her first time around the IATB block, as those of you who read her splendid birding festival themed edition of I and the Bird #17 will recall. Nonetheless, I'm sure it took Amy every iota of her awesome managerial, organizational, and creative skills developed as a paid professional in the publishing industry (a skill-set every one of us has wished for the night before publishing a carnival) to push through the holiday hullabaloo to deliver this outstanding I and the Bird #65!

Do you wish that your blog enjoyed the circulation of a major niche magazine? Well, what are you doing about it? If you don't put your blog out there in front of new readers, how do you expect to grow your audience? Fortunately, if you write on topics pertaining to wild birds and birding, we can help. Submit a link to your best blog post on the subject along with a brief summary to me or our next superlative host, John Riutta (john AT bornagainbirdwatcher DOT com) of Born Again Bird Watcher no later than 11:59 PM Pacific Standard Time on Tuesday, January 8, 2008. If you meet our generous standards for inclusion, your work will be included in the January 10 edition of I and the Bird, to be enjoyed by millions, thousands, or at least hundreds of interested readers! John wants to make the first edition of the new year one by which all future editions will be judged. Resolve to be what will surely be a part of bird blogging history!

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

ENV" Circus of the Spineless #28 is posted!

Christopher Taylor has rung up the new year with a gorgeous post for Circus of the Spineless #28 at Catalogue of Organisms. Be sure to check out all the great writing among our contributors, plsu peruse Chris's superb blog, and drop off a comment or two. See you in 2008.

#29 will be at Andrea’s Buzzing About:

send your submissions by January 30, 2008 to araychandler(at)

#30 will be at A D.C. Birding Blog

send your submissions by February 27, 2008 to empidonax(at)

#31 will be at Archaea to Zeaxanthol

send your submissions by March 30, 2008 to jim.lemire(at)

And of course, we’re looking for hosts for April and beyond!

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

COM: Merry Christmas Everyone!

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Monday, December 24, 2007

ENV: Sparring Young Bucks

these two yearling to two-year-old White-tailed Deer bucks were fighting outside my window last week, and i managed to get these few minutes of sparring. i don't know how long they'd been going at it before i noticed them. two things caught my eye -- one how distracted they were by other things, it definitely is not a full on fight. secondly, and perhaps related, is that they constantly look around as though wondering why no one else is watching. pretty funny. then they seem to have enough of it all and the smaller one takes off. the larger of the two stops at the creek for a drink before striding off.

filmed 17 December 2007
TX: Kerr Co., 1 mi N of Ingram, HCYR

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

OBT: Lydia Mendoza

Tejano music pioneer known as "The Lark of the Border" dies at 91
Chronicle, Dec. 22, 2007, 2:06PM

SAN ANTONIO — Lydia Mendoza, a Tejano music pioneer known as "The Lark of the Border," has died. She was 91.

Mendoza, who retired and moved from Houston to San Antonio in 1988 after a series of strokes, died Thursday of natural causes at the Nix Medical Center. She had lived in the nursing home portion of the Chandler Estate for the last three years.

Mendoza, who scored her first big hit "Mal Hombre" in the 1930s, became one of the era's first Mexican American superstars by singing to the poor and downtrodden.

Over time, Mendoza became known as La Alondra de la Frontera (The Lark of the Border), La Cancionera de los Pobres (Songstress of the Poor) and La Gloria de Tejas (The Glory of Texas).

"She was the first and only real voice of Mexican Americans," said Arhoolie Records owner Chris Strachwitz, who co-wrote an autobiography of the Mendoza family for Arte Publico Press. "People always told me that Lydia sang to every class. She sang to the poor, and the wealthy loved her too."

Her memorable musical style earned her a National Medal of the Arts and a National Heritage Award fellowship. She was also asked to sing at Jimmy Carter's inauguration in 1977.

Mendoza recorded more than 200 songs on more than 50 albums, including boleros, rancheras, cumbias and tangos for such labels as RCA, Columbia, Azteca, Peerless, El Zarape and Discos Falcon. In addition to pursuing a solo career, she also enjoyed performing with her family.

"Mal Hombre (Evil Man)," released in 1934 on the Bluebird label, became a hit on both sides of the border and was her signature song. Other hits included "La Valentina" and "Angel de Mis Anhelos."

South Texas Conjunto Association Executive Director Lupe Saenz called Mendoza a trailblazer.

"She set the trend for others, Las Hermanas Cantu, Chelo Silva, Las Rancheritas, and other women who followed Mendoza's lead in the world of Spanish music," he said. "Mendoza will be remembered for her unique style of the 12-string guitar and unique voice and style of singing that set her apart from all others."

Born in Houston, Mendoza learned to sing and play the 12-string guitar before she was 12, and later learned to play violin and mandolin. In 1928, her family landed a recording session at the Blue Bonnet Hotel in San Antonio with the Okeh label, which generated five singles.

In 1999, Mendoza received the National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony in which she shared the stage with Aretha Franklin, producer-director Norman Lear, architect Michael Graves and sculptor George Segal.

Then-President Bill Clinton praised Mendoza's voice and the gift of her songs.

"Lydia learned much from the oral tradition of Mexican music that her mother and grandmother shared with her," Clinton said. "In turn, she shared it with the world, becoming the first rural American woman performer to garner a large following throughout Latin America."

Mendoza, who was the guest of honor at a 2006 tribute concert in San Antonio, was also inducted into the Tejano Music Awards, Tejano Conjunto Festival and Texas Women halls of fame.

Mendoza is survived by her daughter, Yolanda Hernandez. She was preceded in death by two daughters, Lydia Alvarado Davila and Leonor Salazar.

A funeral mass will be held Thursday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

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COM: Fun with casting calls

I get casting calls on a daily basis. Some of them are rather ridiculous, some funny, some represent things you couldn't get away with posting in any other way i don't think . . . Anyway, here's notes from three recent ones:

[CHURCH CONGREGATION EXTRAS] All ages and all ethnicities. I will need people on crutches and people with broken legs. People with wheelchairs, missing limbs etc. All people who would be looking for help. This isn’t how they need to be I just need all sorts of people.

[HOMELESS MEN (3)]I need three homeless men preferably 40 to 50 years old. Alcoholic type.

Due to a special look for our film, we are looking for featured background cast who have scars from old wounds, trauma, genetic defects, marks, stains, imperfections, flaws, faults, spots, blotches, discoloration, disfigurements and/or other facial or body deformities.

They need a "fat lady" 300+ pounds (speaking role, SAG pay), contortionists, fire breathers, tattoos of all types, biker types, twins (females ages 30's to 40's), clowns, little people, knife thrower, etc.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

ENV: Submissions for Circus of the Spineless #28

Hey Folks, because Chris has an early deadline, AND we'd like him to enjoy some holiday time too, the submission date for the December issue of Circus of the Spinless is December 22nd -- that's Saturday. Please send him your nominations for your favorite invert posts by then. He expects to post on December 27th.

#28 will be at Catalogue of Organisms

send your submission to gerarus(at)

#29 will be at Andrea’s Buzzing About:

send your submissions by January 30, 2008 to araychandler(at)

#30 will be at A D.C. Birding Blog

send your submissions by February 27, 2008 to empidonax(at)

#31 will be at Archaea to Zeaxanthol

send your submissions by March 30, 2008 to jim.lemire(at)

And of course, we’re looking for hosts for April and beyond!

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Monday, December 17, 2007

COM: Blogarithmic #231

Okay, so i had dibs on Leon Jackson to win X-Factor from the day he auditioned, as everyone who got my vids via email can attest, then i thought that the nervousness was going to kill his chances. It's amazing to see him come through and win it -- glad to see that real talent can win out sometimes. Between Paul Potts winnig Got Talent and this i'm thinking there is something viable about these shows even if the music is not in my realm of liking. And disregarding for now that a number of exce[tional talents got knocked out early by the judges in Talent. Anyway, Leon is a fine voice and i hope he strays toward something a bit heavier than what he's tackling now.

In football only one team i was following remains. Highland Park made it to the state title game and will play Lake Travis, the tam that knocked off Tivy in the sceond round. If you're not at the big dance, the next best thing is having the team that beat you there.

Plano got knocked off this weekend. And so did Copperas Cove, who i wasn't exactly following, but they knocked out McKinney Boyd, who i was. Cove lost in the state title game by four points.

Saw Ryan Wagner in town this week. He's working for his dad. I'm hoping that over the holidays i'll get to see some more folks wandering about town.

Looks like the ITM Thespians are going with Twelfth Night for their one-act competition piece. Auditions are this week.

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ATH: World Club Cup Final

AC Milan 4-2 Boca Juniors

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

OBT: Dan Fogelberg

This lousy parade of good people dying. I suppose Dan is one those names few youngsters will know, but he was an important part of those times for me when we were experimenting with lyricists and writers and musicians. We all have soundtracks to our own lives, and Dan is int here in mine. Good travels dude. And thanks to Mitch for the heads up . . .

Singer Dan Fogelberg dies at age 56
Musician was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer three years ago
The Associated Press, updated 7:04 p.m. CT, Sun., Dec. 16, 2007

NEW YORK - Dan Fogelberg, the singer and songwriter whose hits “Leader of the Band” and “Same Old Lang Syne” helped define the soft-rock era, died Sunday at his home in Maine after battling prostate cancer. He was 56.

His death was announced in a statement released by his family through the firm Scoop Marketing, and it was also posted on the singer’s Web site.

“Dan left us this morning at 6:00 a.m. He fought a brave battle with cancer and died peacefully at home in Maine with his wife Jean at his side,” it read. “His strength, dignity and grace in the face of the daunting challenges of this disease were an inspiration to all who knew him.”

Fogelberg discovered he had advanced prostate cancer in 2004. In a statement then, he thanked fans for their support.

“It is truly overwhelming and humbling to realize how many lives my music has touched so deeply all these years,” he said.

Fogelberg’s music was in the vein of fellow sensitive singer-songwriters James Taylor and Jackson Browne, and was powerful in its simplicity.

He didn’t rely on the volume of his voice to convey his emotions; instead, they came through in the soft, tender delivery and his poignant lyrics. Songs like “Same Old Lang Syne” — in which a man reminisces after meeting an old girlfriend by chance during the holidays — became classics not only because of his performance, but for the engaging story line, as well.

Fogelberg’s heyday was in the 1970s and early 80s, when he scored several platinum and multiplatinum records, fueled by such hits as “The Power of Gold” and “Leader of the Band,” a touching tribute he wrote to his father, a bandleader. Fogelberg put out his first album in 1972.

Among his more popular albums were “Nether Lands,” which included the song “Dancing Shoes,” and “Phoenix,” which had one of his biggest hits, “Longer,” a song about enduring love.

Fogelberg’s songs tended to have a weighty tone, reflecting on emotional issues in a serious way. But in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 1997, he said it did not represent his personality.

“That came from my singles in the early ’80s,” he reflects. “I think it probably really started on the radio. I’m not a dour person in the least. I’m actually kind of a happy person. Music doesn’t really reflect the whole person.

“One of my dearest friends is Jimmy Buffett. From his music, people have this perception that he’s up all the time, and, of course, he’s not. Jimmy has a serious side, too.”

Later in his career, he wrote material that focused on the state of the environment, an issue close to his heart. His last album was 2003’s “Full Circle,” his first album of original material in a decade.

A year later he would receive his cancer diagnosis, forcing him to forgo a planned fall tour. After his diagnosis, he urged others to get tested.

Survivors include his wife, Jean.

Singer-Songwriter Dan Fogelberg Dies

Dan Fogelberg, Easy Rock Singer Whose Hits Included 'Leader of the Band,' Dies of Cancer

By NEKESA MUMBI, The Associated Press, NEW YORK

Dan Fogelberg, whose hits "Leader of the Band" and "Same Old Lang Syne" helped define the soft-rock era in the 1970s, died at his home in Maine after battling prostate cancer.

His death was announced Sunday in a statement by Anna Loynes of the Solters & Digney public relations agency, and was also posted on the singer's Web site.

"Dan left us this morning at 6:00 a.m. He fought a brave battle with cancer and died peacefully at home in Maine with his wife Jean at his side," it read. "His strength, dignity and grace in the face of the daunting challenges of this disease were an inspiration to all who knew him."

Fogelberg was found in 2004 to have advanced prostate cancer.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

REV: Leon Jackson!

Picking a winner from day one!

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Friday, December 14, 2007

NAT: The Linguists

What looks like a fantastic new film has been accepted at Sundance. Check out The Linguists via this trailer.

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OBT: Floyd Red Crow Westerman

I just got an email that Floyd Red Crow Westerman died yesterday. Will post an obituary as they start appearing.

First one:
S.D. actor Floyd Westerman dies at 71
By Craig Henry,, PUBLISHED: December 14, 2007

Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota musician, actor and activist Floyd Red Crow Westerman passed away early Thursday in a hospital in Los Angeles after an extended illness, family members said. He was 71.

“He was a hell of a man, my brother,” said Christ Westerman. “He had become a sort of ambassador for Native people.”

Westerman, who was born in Veblen, S.D., was an active member of the American Indian Movement. He participated in the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 and was a spokesman for the group’s International Indian Treaty Council.

He attended Northern State College, now Northern State University, in Aberdeen. He has appeared in several movies, including “Dances with Wolves,” “The Doors” and “Hidalgo.”

Westerman won a Native American Music Award earlier this year for his album “A Tribute To Johnny Cash.” He has collaborated and performed with several musicians including Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Jackson Browne and Sting.

“He came from a small village and he went all the way to Hollywood,” Christ Westerman said.

A memorial service is being held today at Westerman’s home in Marina del Rey, Calif., Christ Westerman said. His body will then be escorted back to Sisseton, S.D. A two-day wake service is expected to be held at the Tiospa Zina Tribal School gymnasium this weekend.

Funeral services will be held at St Matthew’s Catholic Cemetery at 10 a.m. Monday in Veblen, S.D.

“He is someone who will be very strongly missed in the Native community,” said Linda Boyd, a family friend and owner of Prairie Star Indian Art Gallery in Sioux Falls.

Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman passes
by: Patti Jo King, Indian Country Today, Posted: December 14, 2007

LOS ANGELES - Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota musician, actor, and activist, passed away at 5 a.m. PST at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after an extended illness. He was 72.

Westerman began his career in music in the 1960s. He went on to appear in dozens of movies, television productions, and documentaries, and participated in grass-roots education and organizing across the nation, becoming one of the most recognizable American Indians of the 20th century.

He was born on the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota, but was orphaned and sent to boarding school at the age of 7. He attended both the Wahpeton and Flandreau boarding schools. While most of the students went home during summer and winter breaks, Floyd and a handful of other students stayed year-round, performing custodial and maintenance duties. It was there he learned to play guitar, and made the acquaintance of another youngster, Dennis Banks. The two boys became lifelong friends.

After a stint in the Marine Corps, Westerman headed for college in Aberdeen, S.D., with his old guitar over his shoulder and a song in his heart. There he attended Northern State College (now Northern State University) majoring in secondary education, art and theater. After graduation he settled in Denver, where he supported himself by playing country music. While in Denver, he made another lifelong friend, Vine Deloria Jr.

In 1969, Westerman produced his first album based on discussions he was having about Indian affairs with Deloria. That album, titled ''Custer Died for Your Sins,'' became the background music of the emerging Red Power Movement.

In the early 1970s, Westerman joined Banks and the American Indian Movement, participating in the occupation of Wounded Knee in South Dakota. Later, as a spokesman with AIM's International Indian Treaty Council, he traveled the world working for social justice for Native people of all nations. His second album, ''The Land is Your Mother,'' released in 1982, reflected his deep concern for the rights of indigenous people everywhere.

He subsequently collaborated and performed with top musicians such as Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bonnie Raitt, Harry Belafonte, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Jackson Browne and Sting, to name just a few.

The album also paved the way for Westerman's foray into acting, and his film career took off in the late 1980s. He began with small bit parts in such TV programs and films as ''MacGyver'' (1988), ''Mask of the Wolf'' (1988), ''Pow Wow Highway'' (1989) and ''Renegades'' (1989). After his stunning performance as ''Ten Bears'' in 1990's ''Dances with Wolves,'' his career soared.

Throughout the ensuing years, he created many memorable characters in films such as ''Son of the Morning Star'' (1991), ''The Doors'' (1991), and ''Clearcut'' (1991). His character, Uncle Ray Firewalker, was so popular, he reappeared in a dozen episodes of the popular TV series ''Walker, Texas Ranger.'' Westerman also made repeat appearances in the 1990s TV series ''Northern Exposure'' and ''Dharma and Greg.''

His last performances on the big screen were as Chief Eagle Horn in ''Hidalgo'' (2004), and as Standing Elk in ''Tillamook Treasure'' (2006).

His third album, ''A Tribute to Johnny Cash,'' received stellar reviews when it was released in 2006, and he was awarded a NAMMY Award for the effort in 2007.

In November, after the passing of his friend Vernon Bellecourt, Westerman reminisced about their lives and work, and outlined what he saw as the most pressing concerns for Indians today.

''In the early days of the movement, Vern and I used to drive across the country in a little blue VW,'' he laughed. ''We would drive and talk our way from Minneapolis to Eagle Butte in one night, and would hole up in some little motel in a redneck town. Vern and Vine and Dennis and I - we never got tired. We saw injustice going on and we wanted to stop it. We all had an unspoken commitment to the struggle.''

Westerman also placed great emphasis on the importance of Indian youth. Having lost his mother at an early age, he was always mindful of the need to be a good role model for future generations.

''We have recently lost two of our greatest, most articulate leaders: Vine and Vernon. It's so sad, but we have to move on. We must have faith that strong, new leaders will rise up - they may come from a variety of directions. They may come in the form of journalists, activists, scholars or tribal leaders. Our young people must take the lead and so we have to set good examples for them to follow. It's our responsibility to be sure they are informed and inspired through knowledge of their culture and history. We have to do all we can to help them learn to love themselves and Indian people.''

As news of his passing spread throughout the Indian community, many of his closest friends were eager to express their sadness and sense of loss.

''I've known Floyd for over 60 years,'' Banks said. ''We have been fast friends since we were young kids together in boarding school, and we have grown closer as we have grown older. My heart is full of sadness. He was the greatest cultural ambassador that Indian America ever had - a real national treasure.''

''He stood for tradition, values, spirituality, perseverance, and justice, '' said Lionel Bordeaux, president of Sinte Gleska University, who has known Westerman since their college days. ''Floyd was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at Sinte Gleska's 2007 commencement exercises. We planned to bestow an honorary degree on him at the ceremony, but he fell ill and was unable to attend. He didn't forget the young people, however. He sent a message to the students, congratulating them on their achievements and urging them to continue their good work.

''We are all much stronger today because Floyd walked this earth with us. Now he has joined the band of spiritual warriors. We are sad, but we celebrate his life and all that he stood for.''

In recent weeks, Lakota spiritual leader and longtime friend Leonard Crow Dog traveled to Westerman's home in Los Angeles, where he conducted a ceremony on his behalf.

Darrell Standing Elk, another close friend who attended the ceremony, said, ''Floyd was such a good man. He couldn't stand injustice, and he never condemned anyone. He just wanted to help wherever and whenever he could. It was hard to see him the way he was - in pain and all - but he's in a far better place now, with his mother and family and all those who have gone before him.''

''We will greatly miss our beloved friend and relative,'' said Michael Selvage Sr., chairman of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Sioux Tribe. ''In this life he demonstrated true Dakota values through the medium of film, music and art. He was truly a wonderful role model for our young people.''

As Jake Thompson, Sisseton-Wahpeton vice chairman, recalled, ''When I came home from Vietnam in 1971, I walked in the door of my mother's house, and she had 'Custer Died for Your Sins' playing on the record player. He was from this tribe, but he was a man of the world. He took a position and stood his ground - a real pathfinder. He was loved by all.''

A private memorial service will be held for his extended family and many friends at Westerman's home in Marina del Rey, Calif., after which he will be escorted back to Sisseton, S.D. There, a two-day wake and memorial service will be held at the Tiospa Zina Tribal School gymnasium. The service, during which many dignitaries and personal friends will share stories and fond memories, will be open to the public.

Interment will follow at St Matthew's Catholic Cemetery in Veblen, S.D., where he will be laid to rest beside his beloved mother.

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COM: I and the Bird #64

From Mike Bergin at 10,000Birds

Once every four years, this nation and quite possibly a nervous world turns its eyes to Iowa. That politically fraught period is now upon us as both Democratic and Republican candidates vie for attention in the Iowa Caucus, traditionally the first major electoral event of the nominating process for President of the United States. Lest we forget about the attributes that make the Hawkeye State worthy of attention even in non-primary years, let's take this opportunity to admire the Iowa state bird, the American Goldfinch.

The American Goldfinch, Carduelis tristis, is a beautiful little bird, even smaller than your average sparrow. Although drab in winter, males spend much of the year resplendent in bright lemon-yellow plumage set off by black and white wings, cap, and tail. Females and immature males are more of a olive-yellow.

American Goldfinches are quite common throughout the U.S. These "wild canaries" are no strangers to backyard bird feeders, but they are also easy to spot in forests, fields, and wetlands. Goldfinch are gregarious, gathering in small groups or large flocks. They are also mostly monogamous. Their notable flight pattern, with its dips and rises, has been likened to a roller coaster.

Of course, Iowa is not the only state proud of its yellow-bird population. The American Goldfinch is also the state bird of New Jersey and Washington, although the latter state sometimes refers to it as the Willow Goldfinch. Fortunately, Iowa has other things going for it such as the residency of Moe of Iowa Voice. Moe's got more on his mind than which candidate's coffee klatch to attend this weekend; usually, his keen eye (and lens) is fixed on some compelling natural phenomenon or critter. In keeping with the spirit of the current American news cycle, please enjoy Moe's highly insightful Iowa Caucuses Edition of I and the Bird #64.

While politics is up there with the multitude of topics on which people might disagree, there's no debate about how phenomenal I and the Bird has been in 2007. Join us in ending this year in style as Amy Hooper, one of the birding industry's finest professional editors takes the helm of IATB #65. In light of the coming holiday festivities, we've decided to push the deadline for the 12/27 edition up a bit, so send a link to your most fantastic recent blog post on birding or wild birds to me or Amy (ahooper AT bowtieinc DOT com) by Thursday, December 20!

Now is also the time to reserve your hosting slot for 2008, particularly if you haven't hosted IATB before.

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REV: Stunning Cross-Cultural Dance

Mind-boggling and hilarious at the same time, a group of Yolngu boys from an island off NWT Australia do an interpretation of Zorba the Greek. Read the documentation on the page at YouTube. Besides the Yolngu/Greek mashup i think there's some Soulja Boy in there too.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

ATH: National Team 1983

History: Team America, 1983
By Ian Plenderleith, US National Team Players Association, 12/12/2007 8:00 AM

WASHINGTON DC (December 12, 2007) USSoccerPlayers -- Team America experimented with the unusual concept of a National Team playing in its country’s domestic league. The joint venture between the US Soccer Federation and the North American Soccer League -- aimed at developing a credible US National Team in a league dominated by foreigners, and at presenting a decent US team at the 1984 LA Olympics -- lasted for just one season.

What had been the brainchild of NASL President Howard Samuels was based here in Washington DC for the NASL’s penultimate season, in 1983, two years after the Diplomats had played their last game at RFK Stadium. The team’s owner was Robert Lifton, who pulled out at the end of the year when low gates couldn’t cover the running costs.

Team America was supposed to represent the best that the US had to offer, and allow them the time to gel as a team, as well as creating fan interest in homegrown players. However, it was hamstrung by the fact that key players such as the New York Cosmos’ striker Ricky Davis opted to stay with what they correctly surmised was the stronger team.

The rest is here.

Very cool . . .

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

COM: Vista Christmas Special

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REV: Holy Smokes . . .

All i can say is you gotta see this . . .

YouTube kid star sings

More . . .

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Monday, December 10, 2007

MSC: Justin Bieber

Going back to the time of auditions for The Extra Mile i've been keeping track of this kid Justin Bieber. He's another one that's obviously going places. He has a huge heart and big talent. This new video is a great example of both, as he records a new song for a Food Bank benefit CD.

You can find more videos of Justin by searching on YouTube or accessing the milkriverfilm channel and searching favorites there.

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COM: Kerrville Christmas in the Park

Clifton Fifer put on his umpteenth annual Christmas in the park on Saturday. As usual it continues to expand with several hundred people coming through and enjoying a taste of Christmas from various places throughout the world at booths desgined and hosted by students from Peterson Middle School and Tivy High School. Here's a few glimpses. (Click on the pics for a high-res version).

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

REV: High School Musical

Okay, this is hard. People who know me know my general hatred for musicals. Odd since i'm so deep into theatre, and have a background in music, and teach both. Perhaps even more absurd since i wrote and am preparing to produce a musical of my own . . .

So, i'm confessing here a guilty pleasure in liking High School Musical. Ever since it appeared i've been itching to see it performed live, maybe even put it on. It's just one of those things, like people secretly playing the cello. I'm not real sure why it has me fired up, but i know i like that it has such a positive message without being overly sappy, and that it has such catchy tunes, and that it is constant-action-based -- and likely for one more good reason, the opposite of why i hate most musicals -- it actually has a story and the songs serve the story, not vice versa. It helps that it's inward-looking, that it's a musical about making a musical, still . . . it does so successfully. And finally, it has a whole generation of kids suddenly enthralled with theatre and music, and well . . . musicals. And that is nothing but good. But it's a piece of this very generation, and to not do it now risks its passing from the pantheon of cool.

So, i've been talking it up, trying to get some someone locally to produce it. Finally, someone did, Bandera Middle Schools -- with Sandy Jennings at the helm -- and i heard The Point may be taking a stab at it too.

So, kudos to Sandy and Dan and all for getting this off the ground. They had outstanding help apparently from a walk-in producer who happened to be able to supply both a complete set and a ton of enthusiasm. That would be Cal Collins Productions.

The show itself was outstanding, not only from the standpoint of a bunch of junior highers putting it on, but from the standpoint too of simply putting on a great show.

All the performers were good -- standouts in my mind were the sibling Evans pair -- Reannah Wyatt as Sharpay, who certainly had the look and the attitude down, and was superb in delivering her lines, and Travis Stewart as Ryan, who i thought the best actor onstage -- he could move, dance, act and sing (at least once he got past a little nervousness early on) and was clearly a center of attention while on stage. The central pair, Braxton Clouse as Troy Bolton and Makyla Jo Mann as Gabriella Montez, were also excellent, in voice and delivery and both have shining stage presence, and also i noted two others as fine actors -- the hilarious Nick Leeper as Jack Scott, and Justin Lema as Zeke Baylor; but everyone -- from the bubbly cheerleaders to the skate crew, to the brains, to the hoopsters, were wonderful. Congrats to everyone on a fine, fine show.

If i have any quibble, it's that there were very serious problems with the sound -- from garbled mikes, to too loud, to not nearly loud enough, to cell phone interference -- it was a veritable mismixed sonic mess which unfortunately strongly detracted from the fine work of the kids. I don't know from whence all the issues emanated, but something ought to be done to solve that before they stage anything else in that theatre.

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REV: Rhinoceros

Well, i made a run to Austin Friday to see the Transit Theatre Troupe's production of Rhinoceros on a dorm square at St. Edward's University. While not strictly a student group, it's no surprise that a wonderful Ionesco could be presented at St. Ed's where theatre has something of a thriving and dynamic presence for a Texas school. I've blogged before about wonderful things seen there, and this is no exception, even if it's my first taste of Transit's work.

Of course, i knew someone in the play, the lovely Annie Bond, who adroitly tackled Daisy, the last of the finally-succumbing holdouts in this WWII allegory. It's rare enough to see Ionesco anywhere these days, rarer yet to see it performed well. Led by the exceptional work of the final three characters -- Annie, Patrick Byers as Dutard, and someone i can't identify as Berenger -- the crew put on a sprightly piece, launching the absurdity of the piece into something of a tailgate party -- all waiting, drinking, misanthroping, and stretching the limits of logic, while waiting for the running of the bulls. There was so much self-satisfied humor among the actors that it was hard not to maintain a constant smile. The constant cross-chatter simply added to the division of attention as we traveled from one silliness to another.

I had to go back and do some reading to remember the actual allegorical reasoning -- not quite what i picked out from the play itself, but to remind anyway that the Rhinos represent the surge of Nazism and Fascism through a complacent Europe, while folks argued the merits of a one-horned or two-horned attacker. What i can't find anywhere in the various online cliff notes and diatribes is what i found to be an ultimate irony -- that the single apathetic character is the one that remains the sole representative of individualism (ostensibly the US, who sat back and watched, but finally had to step in and retrieve independence for the swallowed nations of Europe).

In any case, Annie was delightful as the naive and a bit combative Daisy (which i take to be Britain). She reminds me a little of our Lilian Beaudoin in that i see her as such a dignified and elegant character, that when she steps outside that rope she becomes such a different character that i lose track of who she is (which i define as marks of the finest actors). The blustery, and ultimately rash in defiance Dutard was a perfect match for Patrick Byers, come to find out also from Wimberley (but why am i surprised). He was so convincing in his faux suavity that i could hardly not laugh just seeing him enter the scene.

The guy who played Berenger was also a seamless match for Berenger, coming across perfectly nonchalant about the goings-on before evolving into a paranoid as the metamorphoses occurred in front of him (literally, in the case of his drinking bud Jean).

I fault no one in the piece, all were well-made parts for fine actors, and i wish i knew each by their names, but along with the absurdity of the play we were left with no way to identify the characters, no programs, something that in a way i quite like. Nevertheless i feel the need to mention one other -- Jon Martin as several characters -- who reminds me much of our Charles Bryant in that he can take a rote character and push it just enough to elicit guffaws without losing either his identity or our sympathy as a real human being. And while i never want to accuse an elegant actor of scene-stealing, Jon is one of those who immediately grabs your attention when he appears onstage. As the steps-sweeeper and the old man, Jon made two wonderful people out of few words.

I'll surely be looking for more opportunities to see these folks work.

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REV: Wiley & the Hairy Man

It's funny that over the course of a week i travel out of town to four shows, and two of them manage to be about old southeastern folktales involving conjurers and the separation of two worlds. This weekend it was Wimberley High School's Dark of the Moon (see below), last weekend it was Lon Morris College's Wiley & the Hairy Man.

After some hairy decision-making on a long trip out of the Hill Country i ended up in Jacksonville last Saturday, which is actually where i'd planned to be all along on Saturday, only i didn't think it would happen for a bunch of coincidentals that i'm not going to waste a long time explaining.

I went to see Lon Morris' production because one of the leads was Mathis Lidiak who recently understudied the lead in my production of The Drawer Boy and this represented my first chance to see him at his new school, in his new found vocation (he was in Fiddler on the Roof earlier in the season, but i couldn't get away for being in a show here).

Turns out it was a double-cast show, and the time i expected to see Mathis on stage was a performance of the other cast. So, what the heck, i watched that one, and then returned to see Mathis' turn.

Excellent shows both. I guess i didn't really know what to expect, and had dropped my expectations somewhat -- what is billed as a children's show, in short format, at a small college . . .

Well, i was stunned. The set was unique -- an in-the-round built on the stage, with overhead lights and cargo net drops that were perfect for eliciting the swampy mood.

Costuming was phenomenal, with the opening characters decked out in camouflage and arrayed so that it was difficult to tell they weren't mannequins.

And the shows -- each cast was blocked uniquely, and each had its own style and mood -- owe much to the vision of Toni Wright, the director, who quite obviously allowed each group to invent its own character. Mathis said that one is known as the Disney version, the other as the Rocky Horror version. And that says something about them, but they each carry the weightiness of the subject well, and well maybe the Disney label is a bit light. But there was a free-flowing bounciness to the first group's show and a foreboding heft to the second.

Mathis was remarkable. For a kid who just discovered a love of theatre some six months ago, who was quiet and tentative this summer, if a perfect reader of lines and plumber of motivations, he has jumped light years. For those who have seen him here, you might first be stunned by his vocal power and range, but secondly, and this was most surprising (and wonderful) to me, the character, Wiley, he portrayed was not Mathis. He completely subsumed the kid we know, and became this wild child of the swamps. He was unrecognizable. And stunning.

In the set of plays were two fantastic Hairy Men, two wonderful Mama's, great dog performances, a whole other Wiley, and the sensational choruses of both groups. I certainly had preferences here and there, but across the board the casts were excellent -- it's easy to see why two groups were cast.

They'll be touring this production in the spring, and i hope they'll pass through here with the show. If so, i'll post.

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COM: Lights

Making room at the Palms Hotel for the baby . . .
UPDATE: I should have noted that this was at the amazing and lovely Trail of Lights at the Emily Ann Theatre in Wimberley. I was too engrossed in everything to have taken more pictures, but wish now that i had.

And driving home from Wimberley through Johnson City . . .

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REV: Dark of the Moon

Friday night after watching Rhinoceros at St. Ed's i zipped down to Wimberley with Louie Bond to watch their fall production -- Dark of the Moon. It was a fantastic show, just as i would expect from that program.

Andy Patoski was mesmerizing as the Witch-boy John -- he's been a real presence on stage for them in the last few years that i've been watching their shows, but this performance has to be his zenith. His witch persona arced beautifully from the longing of the distraught boy not in a world of his choosing to the final wickedness of realizing his place. It was his human John though that was heart-breaking; his ability to portray real love for Barbara Allen while battling the sublimation of his true nature that was so powerfully delivered. I can't wait to see where he, and all the others, end up in their One-Act piece.

There were a lot of standout performances, in fact no distracting ones, but i was much impressed by the singular Bonnie Sturdivant as Barbara Allen. She was stunningly delicate in the role, and has a voice that would melt diamonds. She too had to run a character gamut from the emotionally innocent, if not uninoculated, girl bewitched by the stranger, to the desperate mother of a lost child coming to grips with the true nature of her paramour. Splendidly made.

Chris Bakka's Preacher Haggler was superbly drawn -- a hellfire and damnation strict-taker unless it involved his own weaknesses. It is he who forces John back to the realm of the witches with his command for a sexual exorcism -- a deed that dooms the congregation to a dire provincial lifetime, and Barbara to her foretold death. Chris manages to summon up every contradiction possible in guiding his flock.

Calen Cabler and Erin Lyon were simply beautiful in delivering their Fair and Dark Witches as eagles. They conjured the gracefulness of the latter while performing evilly as the former. Constantly cutting brilliant swatches of color across the drab stage, their ear-splitting cries also fully represented the dichotomy of evil and grace.

Joseph Beavers as Marvin Hudgens was hilarious; Kelsey Wilson and Cameron Allen as Barbara's parents had their roles rightly nailed; Dylan Bakka as the shamed Hank Gudger was sublime in his confessing. . . and I guess i could single out everyone but there were 35+ students impeccably performing on that stage, and i reckon i'm not going that far. I wish i were writing this at a time when i could encourage folks to check it out, but this was the end of it this weekend. Nevertheless, i'd give a constant prod to check out their performances, i've never seen anything but fine, fine work from them.

Here's some pics (you can left-click on them to get hi-res versions, and then right-click and "save image as" to download them):

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