Entertainment, Culture and More

A Conversation With Pete Pryor, Associate Artistic Director of People’s Light and Director of the People’s Light production of ‘Moon Over Buffalo’

By Steven Brodsky

Pete Pryor is an audience favorite. He’s been the Associate Artistic Director of People’s Light since 2010 and has won critical and audience acclaim for his work as an actor, director, and playwright. He is a Lunt-Fontanne Fellow, an Independence Fellowship Artist, and the recipient of four Barrymore Awards. Ken Ludwig’s comedy “Moon Over Buffalo” is being staged at People’s Light. The play will run from July 19-August 13, 2017. Pete is at the directorial helm. I like Pete and his work, and appreciate that he’s finding the time to visit here with our readers during the busy rehearsal period for “Moon Over Buffalo.”

 

Tell us about your early experiences with theatre as an audience member.

My mother took me to a production of “Peter and the Wolf” when I was around 5 years old. I don’t remember this, but she tells me that I was very engaged and was shouting directions at the stage during the performance.

What was most appealing to you about theatre then?

The rehearsal process, the creativity of the group, and imagining the lives of others.

Has this changed for you over the years?

No, not really. What has developed and is still in a work in process for me, is the problem-solving quotient of the process.  Theatre is a collaborative art form. It is difficult sometimes for me to greet each new challenge as an opportunity but as the director it is up to me to create a space in which new opportunities can be realized.

Please talk about a few roles that were especially enjoyable and fulfilling to perform.

Most recently, Richard III. It was the second time I had a chance to play Richard and the first time for People’s Light to produce that Shakespeare. That production was topically prescient inasmuch that it imagined Richard as a self-absorbed megalomaniac who destroyed anything that got in his way of becoming king.

Are there particular roles you’d be most interested in being cast for? 

I don’t have those anymore. I am just happy to be working and feel blessed to be surrounded by people who work in this field.

“Moon Over Buffalo” is set in 1953 and depicts a fictional touring repertory theatre company. Have you ever done repertory theatre?

Nope. People’s Light has a company of actors and you get to work with each other a lot and we get to know each other really well. But that is as close as I have gotten to Rep.

How important is your acting experience in directing plays?

I hope that it allows me to have the patience to realize how difficult is to execute and not asking anyone to do what I couldn’t accomplish myself.

Among theatre professionals, what aspects of “Moon Over Buffalo” might have the most resonance? 

Aging Out. Becoming underutilized and underappreciated because of growing older. That, and the desire to be validated.

What are some of the main challenges in directing “Moon Over Buffalo”?

I am in tech now, so I will refrain from making any statements that confirm or deny any difficulties. Currently working on embracing new opportunities.

Audience reaction is an important aspect of this play. Unlike many of television’s situation comedies, no laugh track is needed for this play. How much fun is the audience-actors feedback loop going to be for the actors?

The audience is the final character. The crowd is the last piece of information for the production. With an audience, you will know immediately if a comedy is working. A tragedy is a little more forgiving that way.

As a director, how do you ensure that the actors will have optimal comedic timing?

I know everyone in the show. I consider them all my friends. They are very funny people. I don’t have to ensure that.

What do you most appreciate about the script for “Moon Over Buffalo”?

The script is tight. The dialogue moves and feels relevant to today even though it is set in the ’50s. I also appreciate his (Ken Ludwig’s) care for theatre. His tribute to theatre stalwarts like the Fabulous Lunts, who were, at a time, America’s leading acting couple, is ultimately a love letter to old troopers everywhere.

What kinds of comments from attendees of the People’s Light production of the play are you most looking forward to receiving? 

Hilarious! Incredible! I am going to buy tickets for my friends!

 

Further information about the People’s Light production of “Moon Over Buffalo” is at: www.peopleslight.org.

Posted July 16, 2017

Leading Biologists’ First – Time Experiences With Field Guides

By Steven Brodsky

We all have indelible memories of positive first-time experiences. If you are enamored of the natural world, there’s a good possibility that some of yours are connected with your early use of field guides. Looking over The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds Pocket Guide Series (recently released and published in collaboration with Waterford Press and the Cornell Lab Publishing Group), memories arose of my childhood and adolescent engagement with field guides. Field guides supercharged my interest in nature and the awe that I have for it. They increased my knowledge about animals I saw or hoped to observe.
My curiosity and enjoyment grew, when using them in the field and while thumbing their pages at home. — I’m grateful for the early exposure. Wondering about the first encounters of others with field guides, I posed some questions to some of the world’s leading biologists.

I started with Keith Bildstein. Keith is the Sarkis Acopian Director of Conservation Science at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. He has directed the training of Hawk Mountain’s international trainees and has overseen its programs and research in conservation science since 1992. I learned that Keith was 20 when he got copies of A Field Guide To The Birds: Eastern Land and Water Birds by Roger Tory Peterson, and Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification (a Golden guide) by Chandler S. Robbins, Bertel Bruun, and Herbert S. Zim.
The occasion was Keith’s enrollment in an undergraduate course on birds at Muhlenberg College. Keith said, “The books introduced me to a whole new world. A world that was full of birds, many of which I was unaware of.” You can imagine how fascinated he must have been with the guides at that time (and their range maps!). Keith said, “Understanding what limits bird populations is my passion and my profession. It is what I do and what I always have wanted to do.”

Keith went on to say: “I found the ‘same-page’ distribution maps in the Robbins guide to be particularly useful. Field guides are the backbones of effective bird study. First-class guides such as the Peterson and Robbins guides allow the uninitiated to quickly acquaint themselves with the region’s bird life. The lack of a useful field guide can turn potentially profitable field experiences into a nightmarish guessing game. The Peterson and Robbins guides helped introduce me to the world of birds, and I am happy for that.”

Twan Leenders, President of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, was asked similar questions. Twan is a biologist from The Netherlands. He specializes in animal ecology and conservation management and has researched birds, mammals and plants in the field. Twan is especially interested in amphibians, reptiles and tropical rainforest ecology. He is a former researcher at Yale University’s Peabody Museum and has participated in many international expeditions. Twan is the author of two books on the wildlife of Costa Rica; his new field guide on the amphibians of Costa Rica was recently released. Twan is involved in ongoing research on endangered amphibian populations in Costa Rica and Panama.
As a photographer and wildlife artist, Twan’s images have appeared in his and other books, as well in publications of the National Geographic Society, Dorling Kindersley, and elsewhere.

Twan said: “I was probably 15 or 16 when I acquired my first field guide, but grew up in a household with all sorts of field guides on the shelves, throughout the house. I had been taking out guidebooks from the local library since I was about 6.” Twan’s two first field guides were Trions Vogelgids by James Ferguson-Lees and Ian Willis, and Roger Tory Peterson’s Vogelgids – the Dutch language version of Roger Tory Peterson’s Birds of Great Britain and Europe. How did he use them? “First off, I wanted to identify the birds that lived in the woods around my house, but I also loved to try to draw birds using field guide images as models.”
How did the Peterson guide affect him at the time? “I had the most wonderful time as a kid, admiring the beautiful images and trying to draw birds like Roger Tory Peterson did (I never got even remotely close!). I eventually ended up studying biology in college and have worked as a conservation biologist throughout much of my professional career. I still have these field guides and carry them with me every time I travel back to The Netherlands (I live in the U.S. now). It is a powerful experience to sneak off for a few hours here and there during family visits to go birding, with the book that inspired me to become a naturalist/biologist.”
How has the guide been influential or impactful in Twan’s life?
“I am now President of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, tasked to continue Dr. Peterson’s important work to connect people with nature. Knowing that his amazing art and writing inspired me to become more observant and appreciative of the living world around us, helps me be a better steward of his legacy. In addition, the notion that I was inspired by a field guide half a planet away from my current life and career, to me is indicative of the power of nature study. It knows no boundaries and very much mirrors the lives of migratory birds, which span half the globe and enrich people’s lives wherever they go.”

Amanda Rodewald is the Garvin Professor of Ornithology and Director of Conservation Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and in its Department of Natural Resources. She is a fellow of the American Ornithologists’ Union and has published over 110 scientific papers and more than 50 articles for broad audiences, as well as several book chapters on ecology and conservation. Amanda was 20 when she first acquired a field guide. It was a Golden Guide. How did she use it? “First in the field as part of my ornithology class at the University of Montana where I was majoring in wildlife biology. After that, I used it when birdwatching for fun. I made notes in the guide about birds I had seen; it functioned as my life list of sorts.”

How did the guide affect Amanda at the time? “Although I knew that there were many species of birds in the U.S., I was impressed by the diversity and beauty of them. I enjoyed keeping track of the birds I’d seen.”
How was that first guide influential or impactful to Amanda? “It opened my eyes to how interesting birds are and shaped, in part, my decision to continue studying birds.”

Wesley Hochachka is a senior research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Wesley told me: “I studied zoology as an undergraduate because I thought that it would be great to find a career where I could spend much of my working time outside enjoying nature and watching birds. Several years, two more university degrees, and three moves across the width of North America later, I’m indoors most of the time and my work is mostly with virtual birds. I help to conduct analyses that we use to extract biological insights from the larger volumes of data collected by citizen scientists through projects coordinated at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Even though I can’t be outside birding all of the time, I still think that I’ve got a great job, because I get to discover new information about birds, and help students and staff to do the same.”

When asked about the age that he first acquired a field guide, Wesley said, “Hmm… I think that I was about 9 or 10, although the action was more ‘discovered’ than ‘acquired,’ because the book had been sitting on a shelf in my parents’ house well before I picked it up and started to look at it.” What was the title of the guide? “The book was The Birds of Alberta (I grew up in central Alberta).”

How did Wesley use The Birds of Alberta?

“I think that I read the entire contents of the book multiple times, browsing through small groups of species at a sitting. The book was short on pictures (it was originally published in 1958), but each bird species filled an entire page with a  distribution map, and text describing the appearance and vocalizations of each species of bird, its life history, and interesting facts about the species. The lack of pictures made the book hard to use while birding, so I largely ended up storing the information in my head for when I was outside watching birds.”
How did the book affect Wesley at the time? “The biggest immediate impact, in retrospect, of having and reading the field guide was to change the way that I wanted to watch birds. I started out wanting to identify and read more about the birds that I had already encountered.
However, finding a book full of species that I had never seen made me want to go out and find these new species, and the information in the book started me on the path of understanding that species have habitat preferences, and migration routes and stopover locations… basically The Birds of Alberta started to teach me to put the birds that I was seeing (and hoping to see!) into the broader context of the environments in which they — and we — live.”
How was The Birds of Alberta influential or impactful to Wesley?
“Longer term, finding and reading my first field guide reinforced my interest in birds and curiosity about how different species of birds live, which ultimately led me here to my job at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.”

Scott Weidensaul is a renowned field researcher and the author of over two dozen books on natural history. He is a highly gifted communicator, a popular lecturer, and an A-list interviewee on national media. His writing has appeared in many major publications, including Audubon and National Wildlife. He has been a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Scott is the author of the Peterson Reference Guide To Owls of North America and the Caribbean. (A prior interview with Scott for this column is accessible via a button on this page.)

What follows is Scott’s response to the questions.:
“Unlike a lot of birders, my first field wasn’t the Peterson guide (though my first book was How to Know the Birds, a kind of primer on how to approach bird identification that Roger Tory Peterson published in the 1940s).
My first bird guide was the so-called Golden Guide, written by Chandler Robbins and illustrated by Arthur Singer, which came out in 1966 as the first real competition to Peterson’s classic. I probably was about 11 or 12 when I got my copy ($3.95 in those days, a few years after it was published), and I don’t recall why I chose that over the Peterson guide — possibly because it included all the birds of North America, and not just the eastern or western regions, as did Peterson’s. Or it may have been that the Golden Guide is what was available, since I don’t have a recollection of buying it.

I used the heck out of it, though. It became tattered, thumb-worn, mud-stained and torn; it fell apart but I stitched it back together with heavy black thread. I scribbled in the margins, made pronunciation notes about unfamiliar names, and checked off my growing life list in the index, with dates and cryptic notations of where I saw each new bird. Flipping through it now, I see that the spring of 1978, when I was 19, was a banner season for me — dozens of new warblers and vireos.
Any field guide, when used, is a portal to a new world. My passion in those days was actually snakes, and my bible was a Peterson series guide to the reptiles and amphibians of eastern North America, so applying myself with the Golden Guide wasn’t as transformative for me as it might have been for others. — I had field guides to wildflowers, shells, insects, fishes and anything else that grew or wriggled. But when I took a college ornithology class, I was pleased (and likely a little smug) to learn that the professor assigned the class to use the Golden Guide for our field trips. I suspect I made a less-than casual show of how hard-used my copy already was.
However, when I finally had a chance to meet Chan Robbins, the lead author, in 1984 at a book-signing, I was a lot more sheepish about the book’s condition. Robbins was, even then, a legend in bird research and conservation — a renowned bird bander, the founder of the North American Breeding Bird Survey, and one of the first scientists who showed that DDT was destroying many of our most beloved birds. Everyone else in line had shiny new copies that the man with the flat-topped buzz cut hair was signing; mine looked as though I’d found it in a dumpster.

I handed Robbins the book, though, and he lit up like a light bulb. ‘Now that’s a book that’s been used!’ he said loudly, as he inscribed a note and signed the title page. ‘That’s a book that’s been loved!’ It’s hard to know who was beaming more — me, taking back my book, or the author.

Chan Robbins died this past March at 98, still active as a biologist almost to the end. His work lives on (as does Wisdom, the female albatross he banded in 1956 that is still raising chicks on Midway Island in the Pacific), and the field guide he signed for me, with all of its dog-ears and mud stains, has pride of place on my shelf next to other, lesser books.”

Posted June 20, 2017

 

 

‘Freddy Fender: Lovin’ Tex-Mex Style’ CD Release

By Steven Brodsky

There was a time when Freddy Fender was regularly heard on country and pop radio stations. Some of his recordings were on the number one positions of the charts in both genres. He was a Grammy Award winner and a well-received guest on national television shows.
Freddy Fender was born Baldemar Huerta, in 1937, in a Texas border town. The son of migrant workers, Freddy experienced the hardships of the itinerant agricultural picking life firsthand.
Freddy was drawn to Tejano and other genres at a young age. At age 10, he performed on KGBT radio in Harlingen, Texas. He sung “Paloma Querida.”
Freddy served in the U.S. Marines for three years. After his discharge, he achieved recognition as a singer of Spanish translations of rock and roll and other songs. Two of his recordings reached the number one spot on the charts in Mexico and South America. In 1960, his release of “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” took off in the U.S. Unfortunately, this national breakthrough was soon tamped down by a prison sentence. He served nearly three years of a five-year sentence in a very tough Louisiana prison for possessing two marijuana joints. His release was followed by a long period of time working various jobs, with music as a part-time endeavor.
While working at a car wash, a record producer heard him singing and recognized his voice. Freddy was handed the producer’s business card. That unlikely encounter resulted in Freddy returning to recording and the launching of his phenomenal music career.
Freddy didn’t have high hopes for an overdubbing of vocals in English and Spanish that he did in 1974. As quoted in the notes for Freddy Fender: Lovin’ Tex-Mex Style, he said in an interview: “I was glad to get it over with, and I thought that would be the last of it.” The song was “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” The song shot to the top of a number of national charts.

Twenty songs are on Freddy Fender: Lovin’ Tex-Mex Style: “Before The Next Teardrop Falls,” “Mathilda,” “Lovin’ Cajun Style,” “What I’d Say,” “Sweet Summer Day,” “Silver Wings,” “Running Back,” “Enter My Heart,” “Going Out With The  Tide,” “Baby, I Want To Love You,” “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights,” “The Rains Came,” “You’ll Lose A Good Thing,” “Almost Persuaded,” “I’m Leaving It Up To You,” “A Man Can Cry,” “Wild Side of Life,” “She’s About A Mover,”  “Crazy Baby,” and “The Girl Who Waits On Tables.” 

Much of Freddy Fender’s life was hardscrabble. Bet you didn’t know that he lived, at one point, in a chicken coop, literally. He performed at some very rough-and-tumble venues before reaching prominence as a recording artist and performer. He was challenged by problems with drugs and alcohol. He encountered and overcame the binds of discrimination. Yet, his music continued to convey an artist’s tender and empathetic heart. This newly released CD is acquainting and reacquainting listeners with the quiver-in-the-voice expressiveness of Freddy Fender.

 

 

Posted 6/14/17

 

 

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Steven Brodsky hosted a radio show for 3 and a half years. The show focused on coverage of entertainment, the arts, and all manner of culture. He is widely known for his many live on air interviews with guests such as: Rodney Crowell, Charlie Louvin, Richie Havens, Eric Whitacre (composer, conductor), Solomon Burke, Janis Ian, Percy Sledge, Billy Joe Shaver, Jack LaLanne, Bruce Morrow (Cousin Brucie), Jett Williams (daughter of Hank Williams), Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, curators, historians, scientists, and newsmakers. He welcomes email at Steven Brodsky.