Sunday, February 28, 2016

Jim Henson Collection...Fun For All Ages

If you watched Sesame Street as a kid, are a fan of the Star Wars movies, or enjoy any of the holiday classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, chances are you too are a puppetry fan! 

On the off chance you've not been to the Center for Puppetry Arts since before mid-November 2015, and especially if you've never been, well, ♫ it's time to start the's time to light the lights ♫'s time to go see the Center for Puppetry Arts' new and expanded Jim Henson Collection!

Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts
Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts

This post is about the Jim Henson Collection, part of the new Worlds of Puppetry Museum. I'll write about the new Museum's magnificent Global Collection another day. In the meantime, let's talk Muppets, Fraggles and The Dark Crystal, to name only a few highlights in the Museum!

Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts
Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts

You will be greeted by Jim Henson himself upon entering the Jim Henson Collection side of the Worlds of Puppetry Museum, along with personalities from throughout the decades. 

There is LOTS to see here...some of it interactive, all of it fun! Be prepared for a lovely, laugh-filled stroll down memory lane while discovering the fascinating career of one whose creativity and intellect brought to the world great learning, loving and laughter.  

Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts
Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts

The Jim Henson Collection side of the Museum features gallery after gallery, one of them being Jim's office, which contains loads of memorabilia that you too would showcase in your office. 

Among the artifacts is a giant, illuminated moose head! Actually having seen a live moose up-close-and-personal in wild of Wyoming (I didn't know at the time that they sometimes charge), I can tell you that this head is probably life-size.

There's also a gallery featuring an interactive creature shop (some of the drawers pull out to reveal even more puppetry artifacts). There's a mock-up television studio, too, and throughout the Museum there are video clips of some of everyone's favorites, from Sam and Friends to The Muppet Show and lots more!

Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts
Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts

We're so fortunate to have the Center for Puppetry Arts here in Atlanta. We're also fortunate to have so many awesome opportunities to meet celebrities. In fact, I got to see Carol Spinney, the puppeteer who portrayed Big Bird all those years I watched him on Sesame Street. That was one of those experiences--seeing Spinney at Dragon Con--you never even fathom would happen, but that you'll cherish always.

Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts
Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts

I love that Jim Henson's land of make-believe was so close to real life. Take for example Bert & Ernie, one of Henson's classic contrasting personality duos, and how cooperation, even in the face of being totally different people, could often produce wonderful results. As a kid, I wasn't at all grumpy, so I identified with the more enthusiastic Ernie. 

Can you believe that Bert & Ernie debuted on Sesame Street the same year we landed on the Moon? We've seen a LOT of puppets since 1969, but these two will remain favorites forever!

Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts
Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts

Notice how close this display is to the floor? When you see that little "blue elephant" (seen in the upper right hand corner in the above photo), it's an indicator that that particular display is specially made for the Museum's visiting youngsters, for those as height-challenged as Kermit himself. 

That blue elephant can be found throughout the museum...your youngster will probably see them before you do, though!

Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts
Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts

I have such fond memories of Fraggle Rock! I would rush home from school to make sure to catch the whole episode. What a fun show that, unbeknownst to me when I was a kid, demonstrates the greatness that is possible when acceptance of differences is embraced. I just thought I was watching a fun show, but today I'm grateful it kept my moral compass pointed in the right direction.

Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts
Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts

I'm embarrassed to admit that before visiting The Jim Henson Collection in the new Worlds of Puppetry Museum, I had never seen The Dark Crystal, a Jim Henson film. Fortunately for me, when I left the Museum I stopped by the gift shop (of course I did!) and they had a copy which I immediately scooped up and watched not too long after arriving home. 

What a great movie!

Jen from The Dark Crystal | Center for Puppetry Arts
Jen from The Dark Crystal | Center for Puppetry Arts

When you stop by the life-size Jen display, be sure to read about the Yoda connection. Yes, yes...there were forces going on behind the scene that connect Jen and Yoda. I'll leave it to say that Gary Kurtz, George Lucas and Jim Henson were all involved.

The Center for Puppetry Arts also offers a film series. Remaining in the 2016-2016 season is a screening of "Labyrinth", starring the late David Bowie. The first three screenings of this film have already sold out, but a fourth screening was recently added. But hurry if you want to see it...I'm certain it too will sell out.

Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts
Jim Henson Collection | Center for Puppetry Arts

When you're planning your visit to the Center for Puppetry Arts, be sure to explore their website and calendar for a multitude of things to do beyond the Museum. They offer a Create-A-Puppet Workshop, there are stage performances, guided tours (including a special one on just The Jim Henson collection) and a regular film series!

That this museum has so much to offer was a contributing factor of my becoming a member. I've already had great fun using my new favorite membership!

Look for my post on the Center for Puppetry Arts' "Global Collection", part of the new Worlds of Puppetry Museum, in the not too distant future. In the meantime, enjoy this 2008 video featuring one of my all-time favorite muppets...Beaker!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Moving to Atlanta?

If you're moving to Atlanta, recently moved here or are already living here and considering moving to another Atlanta neighborhood, Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide is a book you should read. I had the honor of speaking with author Anne Wainscott-Sargent recently about the book, which she calls her "love letter to Atlanta". 

Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide, By Anne Wainscott-Sargent
Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide, by Anne Wainscott-Sargent

Anne's first visit to Atlanta was during the 1996 Olympic Games, a time of great celebration and transformation for our city. She moved to Atlanta in 1998 and fell in love with it as so many of us have.

The guide features 18 of Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods and six of Metro Atlanta’s established suburban communities. A professional storyteller, Anne interviewed real estate experts, elected officials, journalists and business leaders, as well as new and longtime residents. Among the interviewees is Ryan Gravel, the mastermind behind the booming Atlanta Beltline.

Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide is the seventh book in the "Moving To" series by Voyager Media. One of those seven is about my birth town of St. Petersburg, Florida, and the newest is about my beloved Atlanta, their first guide to a city in Georgia.

Anne Wainscott-Sargent
Anne Wainscott-Sargent

When Anne offered to share an except from Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide, of course I asked for something relative to being a tourist. Enjoy this sample of how well-written and researched this book is...

    Atlanta is a major festival town, with the mild climate and plentiful trees enabling communities to host festivals and events year-round. "What distinguishes Atlanta from other places is its neighborhoods—there's a fierce pride people have intown and outside the Perimeter," said Debbie Michaud, editor-in-chief of Creative Loafing Atlanta, the city's alternative weekly.

    One of the city's most popular events is the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, an arts and crafts gathering held in Piedmont Park each spring, when the native dogwoods are in bloom.

    Atlanta Streets Alive, inspired by the ciclovĂ­a in Bogotá, Colombia, closes city streets to car traffic to allow people to participate in health and community-oriented activities, such as bicycling, strolling, skating, people-watching, tango, yoga, hula hooping, and break dancing.

    Atlanta is home to one of the nation's largest gay pride festivals, Atlanta Pride, as well as what is billed as the world's largest black gay pride celebration, Atlanta Black Pride.

    Given Georgia's growing prominence in filmmaking, it's no surprise the city has been a major center for film festivals for well over a decade. A few notable ones for new residents who love film include:
  • Atlanta Film Festival, an Academy Award qualifying, international film festival held every April that showcases a diverse range of independent films, including genre films such as horror and sci-fi
  • The Atlanta Movie Festival, in its 40th year in 2016 and including not just a festival but year-round advance screenings of indie films for members

    Film Tourism

    The impact of Hollywood on Atlanta's entertainment scene is evident by the rise of film tourism (reported in the Hollywood of the South chapter), as well as the announcement of Avatron Park, the first venue to host "Hunger Games"-themed attractions. It is scheduled to open off Red Top Mountain Road, an hour north of Atlanta, in January 2019.

The official book launch is scheduled for Sunday, February 21, 2016, at Atlanta Movie Tours. I've written about Atlanta Movie Tours many, many times, and I've been on their various tours six times, so I was excited to learn that they're hosting the book launch event. And The Smoke Ring, a fantastic BBQ destination, is catering! I encourage you to check out both of them!

Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide is available now in soft cover and Kindle from Amazon and in local Barnes & Noble stores. It also will soon be available on iTunes. The next scheduled author "Meet & Greet" is Saturday, March 12, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Co. in Roswell, Georgia, just north of Atlanta.

For those of you who love a good "small world" story, here's one for you...

I learned about Anne's book when my friend Tamela was recently visiting from Portland, Oregon. I first met Tamela when she lived here in Atlanta. Tamela, Anne and I were members of the Atlanta chapter of International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) at the same time. When reminiscing about IABC over dinner at Rosa Mexicano in Atlantic Station Tamela told me about Anne's upcoming book launch. "Thank you, Tamela!"

During an IABC event, Anne and I discovered a satellite industry connection. When I lived in Washington, D.C., I worked in the satellite communications industry as a Corporate Communications Manager. Anne has for the last five years written for satellite publications that I read on a regular basis. 

So many connections, such a small world! 

An accomplished writer, Anne also is a fellow blogger. She authors The Writing Well. Please check that out in addition to Anne's new book, Moving to Atlanta: The Un-Tourist Guide...and "Welcome to Atlanta!"

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

SPACE! Why It Matters to Your Kids...

SPACE! is a rock concert, a science class and an out-of-this-world fantastical puppet show! The Center for Puppetry Arts has a fantastic array of kids programming, much of it perfectly enjoyable for grown-ups alike! THIS show is part of the Center's 2015-2016 Family Series...and, there's a lot more!

SPACE! | Center for Puppetry Arts | Eema and Ot
SPACE! | Photo: Clay Walker

Ot and Eema, the awesome alien creatures pictured above, serve as hosts on a journey through our solar system...and beyond. Their space travel, including a visit to a flowing green meadow on Earth, is hilarious, musical, entertaining and educational...but don't let that last descriptive get in your way of great fun. Personally, I love it when education and fun meet for a great time!

The mere handful of puppeteers in this show perform the characters that range from our stars Ot and Eema to Issac Newton to three rock stars who regale the greatest majority of our tale in music...rock music! And they do it via puppetry (including hand and rod, and shadow puppets, etc.), animation and projection...and more.

Considering some of our solar system's planets are mostly rock, a rock concert celebrating them is quite a clever rendition. But the gas giants are hardly ignored...except for the beautiful blue one, beyond a mention. Poor thing. 

I have to admit that I was rather concerned when I saw a diagram of nine planets on stage depicting our solar system. Understanding fully the scientific classification of Pluto as a dwarf planet, I was delighted to see Pluto's actual role in our solar system so simply explained, and was surprised to learn of other dwarf planets in our solar system--even as enthusiastic as I am about space, I learned something new! Awesomeness!

So, maybe you wonder why I'm writing about a children's puppet show? The published recommended age range is "4 and up". Obviously I fall on the "up" side of that range, but the kid in me found it as delightful as any youngster. 

Allow me, please, to share a call to that is personally important to me.

Please, please, please...if your child has an interest in space, encourage him or her! Stay with me while I share a few reasons of what their rewards may be.

I've been a science and space enthusiast all my life. As a kid, my Saturday morning cartoons always included Star Trek: The Animated Series. My favorite class in college was Astronomy (the trigonometry and physics were a surprise--I thought we were just going to look at awesome celestial phenomenon--but it was a wonderful learning experience). And my professional life landed me in aerospace for nearly nine years. 

I've stood under the belly of the Space Shuttle Endeavour! That was one of those experiences that will forever be embedded on my memory as a uniquely remarkable experience. 

I also saw Atlantis on her launch pad just days before liftoff. I've toured the White Room where components of the International Space Station were being readied for delivery to space approximately 200 miles above the surface of Earth. And I've met Shuttle Pilot Kevin Chilton (Space Shuttle pilot, now General in the Air Force) and many other astronauts, each encouraging and a role model. 

I've also visited the Baikonur Cosmodrome, where the first human in outer space launched from and where I saw this satellite! One of my greatest outer space memories....meeting Leonard Nimoy--Spock from Star Trek--was a dream come true!

This is all to say that if your child expresses an interest in outer space, science, any of the space sciences and/or aerospace, please encourage their curiosity! You never know where it might take them. I wasn't encouraged, but I wasn't discouraged. I've seen things, met people and been places I only imagined when I was a kid. Imagine your kid becoming an astronaut! 

And, like I said, this is an awesome, entertaining puppet show, too!

SPACE!  is showing at the Center for Puppetry Arts through Thursday, March 10, 2016. And remember to check out the other awesome shows in the Center's 2015-2016 Family Series.

"Thank you!" to BravePR Atlanta for the tickets! As always, opinions expressed in my posts are always my own and not influenced by other entities, ever.

Friday, February 5, 2016

"The Missing Generation"...Poignant and Profound

I had the honor Thursday evening of seeing the Atlanta premiere of Sean Dorsey Dance's "The Missing Generation", a profound dance and narrative performance on a 20-city national tour now playing at 7 Stages Theatre through Sunday, February 7.

[This post may contain content that is sensitive to some, but it addresses, through the art of dance and narrative, a current, real-life threat—the AIDS pandemic.

During the post-performance Q&A, one of the performers, Brian, was wearing a t-shirt peppered with superhero logos. To Sean, each of the performers, and to 7 Stages, I say you're all heroes for bringing to light a topic that many would call overdone, when in fact we're nowhere near done.

The Missing Generation | Sean Dorsey Dance | Photo: Lydia Daniller
The Missing Generation | Sean Dorsey Dance | Photo: Lydia Daniller

Over a two-year period, Dorsey traveled the U.S. to record oral history interviews with longtime survivors of the early AIDS epidemic, hosted community residencies, and conducted extensive archival research...then spent nearly 500 hours reviewing the 75 hours of interviews and transcripts, eventually weaving 17 sections into the now-touring performance. 

Their voices are no longer relegated to history.

"There is an incredible urgency to undertaking this project now: during my lifetime, we will see the passing of the last generation of people who actually experienced the early years of the AIDS epidemic first-hand," Dorsey says. "We are already rapidly losing our community’s stories. I wanted to capture and share part of this important history and reckon with the loss and grief this generation endured, and to collectively face this history and grieve and heal together."

I invite you to read the excellently crafted review by ArtsATL, which shares many of the details I learned about tonight's performance. If you're not already following ArtsATL on Social Media, I encourage you to...they FULLY cover the Atlanta arts scene! 

The one thing that I would like to add to that review is that this project is not only about the loss of part of an entire generation of gay, transgender and straight people to AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s, I heard it as a call to activism for today's younger generation to continue the fight against the AIDS pandemic. 

Why is that call to activism so important? The CDC (headquartered here in Atlanta) reports that at the end of 2012, an estimated 1.2 million persons aged 13 and older were living with HIV infection in the United States, including 156,300 (12.8%) persons whose infections had not been diagnosed. In 2013, Georgia had the fifth highest number of HIV infection in the nation...That's why that call to activism is so important. 

The final comment from the audience during the post-performance Q&A was from a lady, around my age, who commented she had an epiphany during the performance. She shared that the performance brought a new meaning for her of the once-commonly-seen bumper sticker SILENCE=DEATH. I believe what she was saying is that the performance brought to light, rekindled memories of the early epidemic, that otherwise would have died had Sean not kept them alive.

A particularly emotional moment of the evening for me was meeting Gert McMullin face-to-face, who I wanted to personally offer her a word of gratitude. She was one of the founders of The AIDS Memorial Quilt, and continues to be active with the organization and its contributors. There are several panels from the Quilt on display in the lobby, with podcasts, and the auditorium.

I first saw the Quilt in Piedmont Park decades ago and then in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall in 1996, six years before I moved there. Gert moved from San Francisco to Atlanta when our fine city offered storage space for the all-too-quickly growing Quilt project.

In the lobby before the performance was Dr. L Nyrobi N. Moss of Making A Way Housing, a project that addresses homelessness in Southwest Atlanta. She was there with Empowerment Resource Center and they're offering anonymous, quick-result HIV testing, as well as lots of information about available resources.

There's a LOT of programming accompanied with this four-day run! In addition to what I've already mentioned, there's a Dance Workshop with Sean Dorsey Dance available for the public on Saturday, February 6, from 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. To register for the workshop, email with your full name and contact information. Sean and fellow dancers highly encourage novice dancers to participate! 

ALSO, 7 Stages is hosting a free brunch and "Art of Activism" discussion on Sunday from 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m., sponsored by Babs Midtown and Ansley Wine Merchants. The owner of Babs, Randy Adler, is a personal friend and colleague. I've dined at Babs and it truly is funtastic! Randy has a rather unique vocabulary and "funtastic" is definitely a word he would use and one that I totally agree with. I'm sure you'll enjoy brunch and find the discussion engaging and enlightening!

Sean Dorsey Dance's "The Missing Generation" is playing at 7 Stages Theatre in Little Five Points through Sunday, February 7, 2016.   

About 7 Stages Theatre (which I particularly like about it)
7 Stages Theatre has been bringing local and international emerging artwork of social, political, and spiritual importance to Atlanta audiences since 1979. Artists in performance, music, visual and the spoken arts have found the organization a haven in the support and development of new works and methods of collaboration.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sweeney Todd is Cleaver...I Mean Clever

A vengeful demon barber and a pie lady who's nuttier than a fruitcake...count me in! 

Now showing at Actor's Express through Sunday, February 28, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a musical thriller unlike any other performance art you've probably ever seen!

Sweeney Todd | Actor's Express
Sweeney Todd | Actor's Express

Actor's Express is kicking off the new year with one of the greatest American plays, which is actually set in across the Big Pond, in London. As soon as you set eyes on the stage, you feel you're there! 

Kevin Harry, who I'd seen perform brilliantly in Rent at Actors Express last summer, is convincingly expressive as Sweeney Todd the demon can "feel" his vengeance for having been wrongly imprisoned. When he learns that a crooked judge (Michael Strauss) has taken his daughter as a ward, things get even dicier.   

Sweeney Todd, Cast | Actor's Express
Sweeney Todd, Cast | Actor's Express

From an Actor's Express press release: 
Sweeney Tood, a wronged barber escapes from prison, returning to his native London to exact revenge on the corrupt judge who unjustly imprisoned him and stole his wife and child. When he joins forces with the lonely pie-maker Mrs. Lovett, he sets into motion a tale of lust, murder, revenge and some really twisted meat pie recipes. Sondheim’s electrifying masterpiece explodes off the Actor's Express stage with raw power and some of the best singing you’ll hear in Atlanta all year.
The 1979 Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street won multiple Tony Awards, among them: "Best Musical", "Best Musical Score" (Stephen Sondheim), "Best Performance for a Leading Actor in a Play" (Lou Cariou), and "Best Performance for a Leading Actress in a Play" (Angela Lansbury, who I had the pleasure of meeting in February 2004!). 

I am certain that this brilliant, and beautifully performed musical thriller will be among the top contenders at the next Suzi Bass Awards, the Tony's of Atlanta!

Deborah Bowman in Sweeney Todd | Actor's Express
Deborah Bowman in Sweeney Todd | Actor's Express

There are ample opportunities to fall in love with this play...with its music, with its singing, with its set design and with its characters. I myself fell for Mrs. Lovett, portrayed by the brilliantly talented Deborah Bowman

Among the first songs in the first act, Mrs. Lovett sings "The Worst Pies in London". Although a thriller, it was Mrs. Lovett who had my sides splitting, usually at each revelation of just how insidious a person she is. How is "insidious" funny, you ask? You'll see...if you get tickets before they're sold out! They've sold out quite a few performances already.

Kevin Harry and Deborah Bowman in Sweeney Todd | Actor's Express | Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus
Kevin Harry and Deborah Bowman in Sweeney Todd
Actor's Express | 
Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus

The entire cast earned a standing ovation—and I'm sure they will night after night. I'd also like to give a shout out to the creative team...outstanding job to all of you! 

There is one in particular that, to me, stood out as another star of the show...Shannon Robert, the Scenic Designer. I've not met Shannon and didn't know anything about her, but when I saw the set for Sweeney Todd, I knew the person(s) behind it were of a highly talented caliber.

The set spans the width of the theatre, with the audience seated on the flanks, and a few seats on the stage floor! The set is 360°! It's a wide band that covers the walls AND the ceiling! It's so brilliant that regardless of where a particular scene is taking place—on Fleet Street, in the pie shop, in the judges home—you feel like you're actually there. 

Oh, and speaking of band...the music that accompanies the play is performed live!  

Benjamin Davis and Kelly Chapin Martin | Sweeney Todd | Actor's Express
Benjamin Davis and Kelly Chapin Martin | Sweeney Todd | Actor's Express

Seeing Benjamin Davis (Anthony) perform again—he too was in Rent at Actor's Express last summer—was indeed a treat. His energy is beams, his voice is superb, and he's a bright light in this otherwise dark tale. He's the Prince Charming for the show's damsel in distress. But he's even more than that...he's a hero.

Kelly Chapin Martin and Benjamin | Sweeney Todd | Actor's Express
Kelly Chapin Martin and Benjamin | Sweeney Todd | Actor's Express
Photo by BreeAnne Clowdus

Johanna, gorgeously performed by Kelly Chapin Martin, is so adoringly lovable, your heart goes out to her from the instant she takes the stage. Her innocent life is interrupted by love-at-first-sight and again by forced relocation. Although an avian enthusiast—particularly for finches, linnets, nightingales and blackbirds—her flight doesn't exactly entail a respite in sanctuary.

The first glimpse between Anthony and Johanna is akin to a scene in Romeo & Juliet. It's just as tender and loving, but the rivalry behind the story's families is tortuously twisted and complicated. Their story is as tragedy-filled as our beloved Shakespearean tale. Still, one holds out hope for the lovebirds throughout the play. 

Kevin Harry | Sweeney Todd | Actor's Express
Kevin Harry | Sweeney Todd | Actor's Express

This second half of the show is markedly more fast-paced, so pay attention...there are a lot of twists and turns and slices and surprises and you will not want to miss a single one! Among the surprises...well, I'm not going to spoil it for you, but I will share that there was more than a few that I totally did not see coming! 

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is at Actor's Express through Sunday, February 28. Treat yourself to a slice of dark drama with a sprinkles of humor. A word of advice: shave before you go.

Thank you, Actor's Express for the tickets! As always, the opinions shared on my blog are my own. You might find it of interest that Actor's Express opened in 1988, the year after I first moved to Atlanta, and I was a big fan from the beginning. I was away in DC for a number of years, but I find myself super excited to find myself again in the audience of such magnificently performed shows at Actor's express. Thank you, again!