Thursday, June 29, 2006

Have Camera, Will Vlog

The following is the article I submitted to The Davis Enterprise for a Spotlight piece. It was edited slightly, for clarity, but is basically the way I originally wrote it...

"Missbhavens" (who prefers to be known by her internet name) is a labor and delivery nurse who is trying to clean up the home she owns in New Orleans, which was flooded during Katrina. She makes videos where she talks about the bugs which have taken up residence in her home since the hurricane and her feelings of frustration about her job.

Linda McClure, from Palm Springs is retired. She loves golf and her dog Pumpkin and she likes to take videos featuring both.

Ravi Jain, with help from his wife Sonia, conducts interviews with interesting people in his car, as he drives to and from work in the Boston area and posts the interviews to his web site.

In January of 2005, Steve Garfield and his wife Carol started their own "Steve and Carol Show," a "dramady" that ran weekly for a year. Steve has also become a reporter for the popular "Rocketboom," an internet news program, hosted by Amanda Congdon, which provides a daily report on things that are happening in the "vlogosphere."

Not wanting to be left out, I take videos of my SPCA foster puppies, and have a wealth of old home movies my kids made 20 years ago that are getting new life by being posted on the net.

What do we all have in common?

We are all pioneers in the exploding new field of "vlogging."

"Vlogging" is the compressed form of the phrase "video blogging," yet another Lewis Carrollean portmanteau word that typifies Internet jargon. Similarly, a "blog" -- blended from "Web log" -- is like a daily diary that is posted on the Interneet for anybody with a computer and online access to read; a video blog is a norma blog, with video added.

San Francisco’s Schlomo Rabinowitz, one of the organizers of Vloggercon 06, the second annual international vlogging convention, held in San Francisco last week, pointed out that a year and a half ago, there were approximately 100 vloggers on the net--and nobody had heard the term “vlog” before.

A Google search I ran today came up with 6,300,000 entries for the term "vlog.”

Part of the explosion came about because of the creation of sites like Blip.TV or YouTube, video sharing sites which offer free video publishing services to people who have no other way of putting video onto the Internet, and FreeVlog, the brainchild of Michael Verdi and Ryanne Hodson (authors of the newly released “Secrets of Videoblogging”), which gives simple, detailed step-by-step instructions for total neophytes to learn how to create and post their videos.

Vloggercon 06 was attended by nearly 500 people, who came from all over the world. Paul Knight, from Nottingham in England, who was making his first visit to the United States, came only for the weekend, simply to meet his vlogger friends.

Videoblogging is for everyone, of any age. Rainlin, a 7 year old using her mother’s camera, has started her own video blog. Caleb Shickles, a 94 year old retired minister and self-described "Baptist Buddhist," posts weekly videos to his "Hug Nation."

"I’m a creator and an artist," says New York artist, Jan McLaughlin. " To me video blogging is anything I want it to be."

"It’s making something of beauty and sharing it with the world," added Knight.

The two day event reflected a sense of trying to decide where we are and where we are going as a fledgling community. The sessions spanned the level of technology from the very basic to the very technical and showed that while you can get as technical as you want, you really don’t need more than a simple camera that can take videos, a computer, internet access, and a little bit of simple instruction to join the fun.

"A lot of us say that it’s cheap and it’s easy to get into," said Carl Weaver, a teacher from Worcester, Mass. "It is, but only if you’ve already sunk the money into a computer and a camera.

"It’s accessible in the sense that it’s not hard to do. It allows most people to do this relatively easily, and relatively cheaply. It’s still not cheap, but it’s cheaper than it’s ever been before. And it’s getting cheaper.

"That’s a powerful thing."

Kari Peterson, who recently left her long-held position with Davis Community Television and is now working on digital media projects with other community media organizations, including Davis Community Network, was one of the presenters in a panel on public access television. I caught up with her on Sunday morning before her session. She was so excited she was ready to burst.

The day before, she had attended a session on community vlogging and she saw this as an ideal way for Davis residents to come together in a community internet collaboration.

"Public access TV has long been a vehicle for self-expression and self-representation in a medium that is otherwise controlled by commercial and corporate forces," she explained. "Video blogging offers the same thing, but is not encumbered by many of the factors that make television an unlikely medium for the average person.”

Peterson also noted that people’s media consumption habits are changing significantly, making short video blogs more accessible for viewing than longer television shows that have limited airtime.

She questions how best to use this new medium to make a difference in people’s communities.

"It might be used to bring people of like minds together around certain issues,” she said. “Yesterday I sat in meetings about vlogging for political purposes. That resonated with me because we do a lot of that in community media, using the medium to mobilize and educate people, organize them around social issues."

Here's an example: Peace Corps worker Melody Jenkins, in collaboration with world traveler Jon Rawlinson, for example, started a community vlog which brings the world news of Nata, Botswana (described as “nothing more than a dust hole”), where the population is 5,000 and 37% are infected with the AIDS virus.

Through frequent videos, they are making the world aware of the fight in this one tiny corner of Africa.

Peterson also recognizes that video blogging can be so much more.

For Erin Nealey, a stay at home mom from South Carolina, video blogging started out as being a way to communicate with close friends and family, and to let the grandparents watch the kids grow. Later, as she began to make friends with other vloggers, it became a way to connect with people and share ideas.

Josh Leo a 22 year old from Grand Rapids, Michigan echoes that sentiment. "It’s sharing your life and forming relationships by doing that."

Susan Kitchens is using video blogging to create an oral history project and to help people gather their own family histories.

"Digital storytelling, oral history projects and videoblogging have a lot to offer each other," she explains. "At their best, the best video blogs are about personal storytelling. New advances in capturing oral histories add another dimension to the story."

Richard Hall, from the Missouri Ozarks, looks at it more technically, and in a manner likely to make a casual listener's eyes glaze.

"A traditional thing with video blogs is that they have syndication so that you can use an RSS reader so you can use RSS with enclosures. To me it’s kind of a technical bit to define it technically."

That sort
of response may turn off people who have no idea what "video syndication" is, or what an RSS feed is, but the variety of responses I got to my question about what constitutes a video blog shows how there is something for everyone, and that even those involved in doing it aren’t exactly sure how to define it.

The ideas are limitless.

"It is like the wild west," said Rabinowitz, describing his vision of this pioneering art form. "All of us are just trying to figure out where you make the streets and where you set up a house and that sort of thing. We want to do that now, which is very important, before some professional corporation walks in and buys the block.

"Now is our time. If we did this in a year from now or two years from now we would be walking into this strip mall that we didn’t help create. We might as well create our own town here."

Kari Peterson’s immediate dream is to get together with people of all ages in the Davis Community who are either vlogging or interested in learning more about vlogging. She sees Davis as creating our own subdivision of this wild west town Rabinowitz describes. With its long tradition of oral history, with political activism, and with its openness to new things, she feels that Davis is perhaps the perfect community to design and implement a community video blog, learning as we go along exactly how that can benefit the community at large.

Anyone who would like more information on this project, contact Kari Peterson ( or myself (

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


The Davis Musical Theater Company has closed out its first full season at the new Hoblit Performing Arts Center with a sparkling, energetic production of the classic “Oklahoma!” produced by Jan and Steve Isaacson, Directed and staged by Michael Manley, with musical direction by Steve Isaacson and Choreography by Dian Hoel.

“Oklahoma!,” the first musical collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, who later brought the world the likes of “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “Sound of Music,” changed the face of musical theater history when it debuted in 1943, for telling an emotional story through music, lyrics and dance as had never been before. Based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs, “Oklahoma!” brought something akin to folk art to professional theater and won the Pulitzer prize for drama in 1944.

One dare not look too closely at the “plot” of this musical, for there is little there. At a time where we have come to follow heavy themes like “Les Miserables” or “Evita” or “Titanic,”, the story of a boy and a girl, their friends and a lunch box social is not exactly likely to provoke much psychological introspection.

The story is set in the Oklahoma territory, in 1907, the days just before statehood, and touches ever so lightly on the ongoing feud between farmers and cattlemen, though that definitely takes a back seat to the story of Curly, a cattleman, in love with Laurey, who lives on a farm with her Aunt Eller and the hired man, Jud Fry, the dark character who has his eye on Laurey, while Laurey has her eye on Curly.

Brennen Cull heads a strong cast in the role of Curly while Claire Lawrence is Laurey. Cull and Lawrence are just wonderful together. Both are blessed with strong, clear voices. The sparks fly when they argue, making the chemistry when they are emotionally together believable.

Mary Young is the perfect Aunt Eller, and you just haven’t lived until you’ve seen Young as a gun-totin’ senior citizen.

Jaime Tvrdik gives Jud Fry a sympathetic persona that we don’t often see (Steve Isaacson, doing the role decades ago, had that same touch). Fry is desperately in love with Laurey, but doesn’t know how to treat a woman and frightens her more than anything else.

Lauren Miller is an adorable hormone-charged Ado Annie, who falls in love with any guy who sweet talks her. Miller’s Annie is at the same time coy, flirtatious, and sometimes the stereotypical blonde airhead and she carries it off beautifully.

Hoping to save $50 so he can marry Annie is Will Parker (Brad Bong). Will and Annie are intellectually matched, and Bong gives a strong performance, imbued with a simple innocence, which works because he is as cute as he is talented.

Robert Bugg is Ali Hakim, the peddler whose eye is also set for Annie, though not in quite the same way as the lovestruck Will. Eddie Albert played this role in the 1955 movie and Bugg’s performance is every bit as good.

Dian Hoel and Ryan Adame are “Dream Laurey” and “Dream Curly” in the Act 2 ballet.

The DMTC Orchestra is under the direction of Kate Jansen and is one of the better orchestras I’ve heard since DMTC moved into its new theater.

Costumes are by Jeanne Henderson, who has created a beautiful rainbow of colors for both the women and for the men. Henderson works so hard at making her costumes authentic, that it is a bit of a puzzlement to know why she puts Laurey in bib overalls in the opening scene. Though Claire Lawrence is cute as a button in them, the effect is jarring, seems contrary to the period, and contrasts negatively with all the frills and lace of her friends, or the utilitarian work skirt of Aunt Eller.

Jennifer Bonomo did the scenic design, including a beautiful rolling hill scene at the back. It is unfortunate that more care was not taken to make sure that the pieces of the wood lined up, as the gaps where the pieces did not meet properly were distracting.

Dannette Vasser, however, has done a beautiful job of lighting, especially the lovely sunrise which opens the show.

The Davis Musical Theater Company has settled into its new home and things are all coming together. This is the first show that didn’t feel “almost, but not quite ready” on opening night. There wasn’t even a crowd in the lobby waiting for the doors to open, 5 minutes before the publicized start of the performance.

With things finally coming together so nicely, it bodes well for an exciting 2006-2007 season.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Dr. Dolittle

Besides being a multi talented choreographer, director and actor who has, over his career won some 9 Tony awards, Tommy Tune, now appearing as Dr. Dolittle in the musical of the same name (a show which he is credited with staging) at the Sacramento Community Center, has the longest legs in show biz. Whether he is towering over the chorus, or draping his legs over the arm of his plush chair as he decides to learn how to “talk with the animals,” you are always aware of those long, long legs (accentuated by the costumer’s [Dona Granata] choice of bold stripes for the actor’s pants.)

“Dr. Dolittle” was originally scheduled for earlier in the season, but had production problems to work out, and so was brought in to close out the Broadway Series for this year. It’s a 90 minute bit of fluff, performed without intermission (so be sure to make a pit stop on the way into the theater), based on the Oscar award winning movie of the same name, starring Rex Harrison in the title role, and based on Hugh Lofting’s “The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle,” a six book set, the first of which was written in 1920.

It is obvious that this show is based on a series of short stories, as there is no real “flow” from beginning to end, with individual scenes that could easily stand alone, and only the flimsiest of plots. It is designed to appeal to children, and children will love the colors, the animals, and the action, but may get bored in the more serious moments – Dolittle’s song of farewell to Sophie the Seal, for example, and his brief almost-romantic scenes with Lady Fairfax (Dee Hoty). Adults may feel that it drags in spots, but will find enough charm to keep the interest alive through to the end--and Tune’s overly long curtain speech about how much he loves Sacramento and how he will be happy to autograph his $20 lithographs on sale in the outer lobby.

Some songs may be familiar – the aforementioned “Talk with the animals,” and “Fabulous Places” (which those who don’t recognize the title will recognize as soon as it begins), others are forgettable and slow the pace, but then along comes “Monkey-Monkey Island Dance,” with enough tap dancing to satisfy any devotee and the show is right back on track again.

The story follows John Dolittle, a physician who realizes that he is not very good with people, but wonderful with animals, so decides to become a veterinarian instead. His “stable” of patients is delightful. Jip, the shaggy dog (operated by Allan Mangaser and Jessica Wu), Polynesia the operatic macaw (Sandi DeGeorge), Toggle, the extremely sway-back, nearsighted horse (David F.M. Vaughn and Erin Webley), and my personal favorite Gub-Gub, the overweight pig (Matthew Crowle). Each of these animals is a puppet of sorts, while Chee-Chee, the monkey is played by costumed 12 year old Aaron Burr, whom Tune described as “America’s best tap dancer” when he discovered him on “Good Morning, America.”

As the show progresses, more animals are added to the mix. Sophie (Elisa Van Duyne and Steven Wenslawski) is a lovesick sea lion, who longs to return to her fiancé, Ernie (Joe Jackson).

And of course there is the famous Pushmi/Pullyu, the coming-or-going llama (Scott Leindecker and Jonathan Richard Sandler) who becomes a circus star under the Ringmaster, Blossom (Joel Blum), who gives an energetic and outstanding performance.

Rounding out the menagerie are the fantastical giant snail, Jean-Pierre (Jonathan Richard Sandler), who speaks only “ancient escargot” and the Giant Lunar Moth (Elisa Van Duyne), who flies Dolittle from Monkey Island back to his town of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh.

There are some nice special effects in the show, such as a perilous shipwreck and, more subtle, a lovely waterfall on Monkey Island (scenery designed by Kenneth Foy).

Adults who have seen Tune throughout his long career may have wished for a bit more dancing (he does most of “Talk to the Animals” sitting in a chair, for example), but he has been dancing across the stage for more than forty years now and seems thrilled to be passing the torch on to young Burr. Their tap-dancing duet in the “Monkey-Monkey Island Dance” was delightful.

Musical Direction is by Michael Biagi, who wears several different hats (literally) throughout the performance.

“Dr. Dolittle” isn’t the best show you’re going to see all year, but it is charming, entertaining, and with all that is going on visually and musically, there is something for just about everyone to like.