Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"The Globe" issue 4 (article)

Harlan Cohen shares college advice
'The Naked Roommate' author visits Point Park, enlightens students
by Joel Brewton

Harlan Cohen gave a talk at Point Park on issues that new students
tend to deal with in college such as roommates, relationships and 
taking new risks.
Photo by Joel Brewton
Syndicated columnist Harlan Cohen arrived at Point Park University for the fourth consecutive year on Thursday, Sept. 15 to give an enlightening and entertaining lecture on what to expect in the first year of college. A combination of laughter and guitar music rang throughout the George Rowland White auditorium as he shared stories from his own experiences and also probed the audience for questions.

"I tend to be playful," Cohen explained as the audience was split between surprise and chortles after he uttered an expletive in response to an audience member's question.

Cohen is the writer behind the 17-year-old column "Help Me, Harlan!" which can still be read every Sunday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, as well as online. The column seeks to give advice to teenagers and young adults as they deal with the issues that affect many people of their age. These include, but are not limited to, college life, relationships and parenting issues. He has also written five books including the best-seller "The Naked Roommate," which lists over 100 issues that are bound to come up when a student begins his or her college life.

Cohen has lectured at more than 400 college campuses around the country and visits approximately 50 schools each year, usually during the fall seasons when the new students arrive.

"A lot of time people read the book and they say, ‘We want to bring you in to speak'... and I have a great reputation with my shows," Cohen said. "Word of mouth. That's the thing, just word of mouth."

Harlan said each school requires a different talk that he has to cater to specifically depending on the kinds of students at the school. On Thursday, most of the audience comprised residential students, so he sought to focus on the issues of roommates and dating.

For the fourth editon of "The Naked Roommate," Cohen said he plans to have commuter additions.

"For commuters, they really need to create a world of options," Cohen said. "They need to put themselves in rooms so that they can meet people ... If they're not on campus then they're usually in their cars ... You don't meet people in your cars or when you're coming and going."

Cohen said the biggest step that one has to take if he or she wants friendship is to be prepared to take risks.

 "People aren't going to always invite you," he said. "You have to put yourself in those places in which you'd usually be uncomfortable."

This evening was not one of those places, though. Cohen's talk was well received by the audience and signed copies of his book were distributed to some of the participating audience members. McKinley McMillen, a freshman psychology major, described the experience as "fun" and "interesting."

 "I'm usually a really open person," McMillen said in reflection of the numerous questions that Cohen fired at her throughout the evening. "Sometimes I'm not sure if he was joking or not."

"He's funny and he makes really good points," freshman Sara Leonard said. "I'm in theater, so I'm used to awkward situations."

Cohen's upcoming book, "Naked Dating: Five Steps to Finding the Love of your Life," will be released on April 10, 2012. Cohen describes it as "a book that will simplify relationships and change the way you look at finding love, lust or whatever you're looking for. It's a very simple way of approaching relationships that will leave you no excuses for being single if you don't want to be single."

Cohen is currently seeking college-age students to take part in this "Naked Dating" experiment by following the five steps outlined in the book. Those interested should email Cohen at harlan@helpmeharlan.com.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"The Globe" issue 3 (article)

'Wicked' bewitches Pittsburgh
by Joel Brewton

Justin Wirick, 23, of Uniontown is living out his dream as "The Tumbler" in the musical "Wicked," 
now playing in Pittsburgh.
Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
A spark was ignited inside Justin Wirick, 23, of Uniontown when he first saw "Beauty and the Beast" at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh. His dream to perform there one day began and he now has finally been given the opportunity to do so as he travels the country with the national tour of "Wicked" which has returned to Pittsburgh for a four-week run.

"I think the dream part of it is coming to Pittsburgh and actually doing something of this caliber," Wirick said in a phone interview. "[And] to be able to do it in my own backyard where all my friends and family and supporters who saw me work hard… and to be able to share it with them."

"Wicked" stars Anne Brummel (left) and Natalie Daradich as Elphaba and Glinda.
Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Set in the land of Oz in the years before Dorothy and Toto arrived, "Wicked" tells the story of Elphaba, a misunderstood young woman born with green skin who would eventually grow up to become the infamous Wicked Witch of the West. It also tells the story of the girl destined to become Glinda the Good Witch and how the two ladies were actually best friends long ago. Based loosely on the book, it has become an international smash hit since it opened on Broadway in 2003. The Broadway production has won three Tony awards and the national tour took home three awards of its own in 2006 from the Touring Broadway Awards.

Wirick has been performing as "The Tumbler" in "Wicked" for over a year and a half and he says that he never tires of it.

"My life is on the tour," Wirick said. "I have friends scattered all over the United States and I would just consider the tour my home. It also helps that I have a relationship on the tour so that's just absolutely wonderful to share that with somebody."

Wirick's fascination with performing first began with an interest in gymnastics and tumbling. Music was incorporated into his routines when it was recommended to help improve artistry in his dancing. He took part in his high school musicals and also local performances with Little California Theater.

His touring life began when he took part in iL CiRCo's"VIAGGIO," a traveling cirque show based out of San Diego, Calif., and very much like Cirque Du Soleil, which took him to cities around the world.

"I loved that show because it's the perfect combination of gymnastics and dance, which is the epitome of me as an artist," Wirick said.

After that, Wirick took part in a European/Asian tour of "West Side Story" which ran for nine months before he returned to North America and became part of the touring company for "Wicked."

"I grew up going to all the summer dance events at Point Park ever since I was 14 years old so I knew the university, I knew the faculty," Wirick said. "It was kind of always in the cards to come to Point Park … but that didn't happen."

Two weeks before Wirick would have begun at Point Park, he had a massive change of plans and decided that he wanted to dance professionally. Giving up a full scholarship to the Conservatory of Performing Arts dance program, he moved to Los Angeles and began his auditions. Wirick received numerous offers from "Wicked" but it continuously conflicted with his other contracts.

"Then this finally came up right at the end of my ‘West Side Story' tour and so, right out of the gun, I was ready to take this and this was my first equity national tour," said Wirick."

Wirick entered the show as a replacement for a former tumbler. His role is described as "the one who does the flips, cartwheels and tricks." He can be spotted in the show as a citizen of the Emerald City during the number "One Short Day" and also as a student at Shiz University.

"When you come in as a replacement, you're learning the show one on one with the dance cast," said Wirick. "I learned the show in about six days and then they have what they call a ‘put in' where they call the whole company in and they go through the show, and you're the only one in your costume… and you really get to know the sense of the stage and the spacing and timing."

The sets takes 2 1/2 days to assemble at each tour venue.
Photo by Joel Brewton
Timing and spacing can be an issue with a touring show. No two stages are alike and this can create subtle changes to a show when it moves from city to city. Wirick's tour of ‘West Side Story' had three different set-ups t they were required to learn based on the size of the stage in question; however, this is not the case with "Wicked." The tour brings everything with them resulting in the staging being exactly the same from city to city.

"We even bring our own floor," said Wirick. "That makes everything so much easier with it being exactly the same. The backstage area does change depending on the city…. and we have a lot of locals that volunteer in each city as hair dressers."

"We can't do the show without the local crews," said David Hansen, the production stage manager for the national tour. "Counting musicians, we have about 45 locals. We count on them for the best restaurants, the best hotels, to know what places are open and to help us enjoy ourselves on our time off. They just become part of the community."

Hassen says the tour has approximately 75 members including all cast and crew members and musicians. Eighty people, including members and locals were present at the Benedum Center on Tuesday, Sept. 6 for the set-up, which Wirick says usually takes two-and-a-half days. Hassen says that the biggest issue that they have, as far getting it ready for opening night, is the nine-foot Oz head prop, which tends to require the most set up time.

The Time Dragon Clock is the most elaborate prop on the tour.Photo by Joel Brewton
The largest prop on the tour, logically, is also the one that takes the longest to assemble. The "Time Dragon Clock" is a massive animatronic dragon which looms ominously over the stage while it moves and breaths smoke. There are two of them on the tour with each dragon alternating cities to give the crew enough time to assemble each one.

The Benedum is allowing Wirick's "dream job" to continue as he makes his debut there with this run.

"I've always wanted to play at the Benedum," said Wirick. "I've seen so many shows there and so that's just going to be a dream come true."

Wirick says that one of the biggest aspects of the tour that allows it to run as it does is the sense of community that is felt among the cast and crew.

"We work together, we eat together, we play together and we cry together," Wirick said. "We see all different sides of each other in different moods and stages of our lives. Some people are getting engaged on tour, some people are getting pregnant on tour and we just see every aspect of everyone's life and we're just one big family."

Anne Brummel as Elphaba.
Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
"Wicked" runs at the Benedum Center until October 2. Discount tickets for the Sept. 21 show, with a special Q-and-A session with the cast following the show, are available in point Park's Student Activities office for $20. Chuck McVay, an usher at the Benedum, says most of the shows are already sold out.

"A show very seldom runs this long," said McVay, who has worked at the theater for 10 years. "The fact that it's sold out has to be some indication that the show is very good."

Mack Mason, 9, of Rennerdale, saw the show for the first time on Thursday, Sept. 8 and he described it as "really cool."

"My favorite person was the [wicked] witch," Mason said. "I really liked the way she was even though she was green."

For those unable to get tickets to the showing on September 21, a nightly lottery is held two and a half hours prior to each performance. The winners of the lottery may purchase up to two orchestra seats for $25 per ticket. The lottery is held at the Theater Square box office on 655 Penn Ave., downtown Pittsburgh.

Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 Anniversary, Flight 93 Memorial (photos)

A young woman (who asked to remain nameless) pauses to reflect on the lives lost on Flight 93. Being of Muslim heritage, her parents refused to attend the anniversary due to fear of alienation.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama pause at the rock to reflect. The boulder marks the spot where Flight 93 went down.
Retired officer, Sam Aroles of Cleveland, takes a photograph of the tokens left behind at the memorial. "I think it's just remarkable how items left behind can touch us all in such a deep way.
The families of the Flight 93 victims were honored at the anniversary while a tolling of the bells was held for each of the lives lost.

Captured on September 11, 2011 using a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT and edited using Adobe Photoshop CS5

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wicked Set-Up (photos)

The hit musical "Wicked" will be playing at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh for four weeks in the fall of 2011. Set-up was on September 6 and the press was given the opportunity to visit the theater and witness the work that goes into bringing the land of Oz to cities around the country.
 The stage was in its raw form while the tour crews teamed up with local crews to assemble the massive set.
 The Time-Dragon Clock is a massive set piece which looms ominously over the audience. This animatronic creature moves, breaths smoke and is controlled by one technicians.
Glinda the Good Witch descends into Oz in a bubble which is assembled from two pieces: The circular rim which the actress stands in and the arm from which the bubble hangs.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Photo Essay (link)

 A really interesting photo essay (not mine) from Yahoo News which documents the sleeping arrangements of people around the world and brings to light the conditions that some are forced into from the poverty of their homelands.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Studio 420 (video)

"Studio 420" is a cable show produced at the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks, Pa. This episode features guests from the Pittsburgh New Works Festival.


Hosted by James Critchfield
Produced by Chris Rolinson and myself