Posts Tagged 'Ojai Art Center'

Bravo!

Saturday I went to the Art Center. On Montgomery just south of Ojai Avenue, the Center has been around many years. The “Art” in Art Center is all-encompassing. Paintings decorate the walls whenever there is a special exhibit. Photographs have their place in the sun once or twice a year. Music fills the vacant space when featured artists ply their wares to those of us who can manage the folding chairs that so often cause my fanny to wish the show was over.

The Art Center also hosts legitimate theater. Musicals, comedies and dramas are staged by volunteers who take their roles seriously, without pay, both behind the scenes and as performers.

It was with some trepidation that I pondered Sheila’s invitation to accompany her and Sid to Bakersfield Mist, the current offering at the Center. While the cast works hard for all plays, some performances are occasionally shaky and leave me with memories that make it harder to give the next offering a fair shake. I go anyway, hoping to find my concerns unwarranted.

Evening performances are challenging…for me, not the performers. A glass of wine with dinner tests my ability to remain upright in my seat. I begin to lose my focus, my lids feel like they weigh five pounds each, and my head slowly begins a downward spiral that culminates in the loss of all my senses. Except for occasional sensory interruptions, I could remain comatose through an entire first act. I dread repeating the event that occurred some years ago when I sat in the front row, fell asleep and then awoke to find the leading man staring directly at me with laser-like precision. I remained rigidly awake and unblinking for the balance of the performance.

So, bursting with low expectations, I went to the Center. And I was rewarded with a delightful, sorrowful play that was one-act, ninety minutes long, without intermission. Periodically testing my bladder content did not ruin the performance. The cast had only two actors, both perfectly suited to their roles.

Ninety minutes shot by. The audience erupted and stood up as one, without the customary survey of the crowd to determine whether a standing ovation was warranted. I admit that I normally feel pushed into the obligatory standing mode without really meaning it. On this occasion, I did not need any prodding. Bravo.

Acting and reacting is not limited to the legitimate theater. The Gables is a retirement facility on the other end of Montgomery in mid-town Ojai. A complex of buildings from the 1950’s, it is walking distance to the Art Center, but miles away in the people it serves and the activities offered to them.

On Friday, the Music Festival brought the Bravo Program to the Gables. Bravo caters to school aged children. In large part, the program fosters an appreciation for music to kids as young as five or six. I have regularly been asked to take photos of these educational activities, which usually occur in Ojai Valley public school classrooms.

On this occasion, the Gables had invited third grade children from two local schools to entertain the seniors in residence. I and my camera arrived in the Gables community meeting room just as the senior participants were taking their chairs. Most were in their 70’s and 80’s, and all were women. Some were in wheelchairs. Others had personal assistants.

About twenty kids were accompanied by two young, inordinately lovely teachers. Bounding into the room with all the energy of eight-year-olds, they took up positions in the space made by the admiring seniors. Laura, the Bravo leader, engaged the children in a few warm-up musical exercises that included songs and a bit of dancing.

Prompted by Laura, the kids then made their way to the seated seniors. Selecting a senior of their choice, each child offered a hand, introduced themselves and engaged the seniors in conversation. A bit cautious at first, the children and the seniors warmed to the occasion. An explosion of smiles filled the room and the sound of both young and old voices merged into a playful crescendo.

Seniors who were able, rose from their seats and assumed what could best be described as a conga line. Along with the children, they began a twisty-turny parade that brought delight to the faces of the marchers as well as to the less able sitters.

I found myself taking photos with abandon. Happiness shone from elderly faces that perhaps have had too few similar opportunities. I hardly knew where to point my camera as the choices were unlimited. Children of that age are unbridled and have sweet faces that demand to be captured in a photo. On this day, these lucky seniors shared those characteristics and the beauty of the moment.

Frowns and any reluctance to participate were not in attendance. Seniors became enthusiastic children willing to learn, while children became aware of their ability to brighten lives that perhaps needed it.

Toward the end of the morning, Laura asked the children if anyone wanted to say something about their trip to the Gables. Half of the eight-year-olds met expectations by freely speaking their mind with uncensored abandon. I liked meeting old people. I think they’re just like us. It was really nice performing for real people. I’m really happy they’re still alive.

The next day I began the usually tedious job of selecting and editing the most promising photos. However, on this occasion I was disappointed when my work ended. Through the marvel of Photoshop I had relived those precious moments when young and old had come together to brighten the other.

Lives had been enriched…mine included.  Bravo.

Loser…

I never should have let Myrna talk me into this.

“Oh come on, Fred.  We need some more pieces for the annual Art Center photo show. You don’t have to do anything special.  Just help us fill the wall space.  You can just dust off some old thing…pretty puhleeze.”

So I did.

And I got beat out of a prize by a photo of a dead goat straddling the running board of an old truck.  Talk about embarrassment.

I went through the same routine that I’ve repeated, without learning anything, for the last decade.  I shlepped to the Art Center on  Friday morning and spent three hours helping hang the fifty or so pieces submitted by people who were, for the most part, younger than my grandchildren.

Standing back with my objectivity brimming over, I was satisfied that I had honestly scanned my competition.  I then silently mused to myself “my photo is the odds-on favorite to take it all.“  The increased number of awards this year only served to bolster my chances.  I was a shoo-in.

I went to bed that night with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head.  I could actually see the crowd elbowing each other for a closer look at my show stopper.  A photo that was perfectly composed, in focus, leading the viewer’s eye to the spot I had designated.  Telling a compelling story about the subjects in the photo as well as providing insight into the mind of the photographer.  God, it was good.

On Saturday, I watched the time pass oh so slowly, anxiously awaiting the start of the Art Center reception.  At the appointed time, Sweetie and I drove to the Center, parked a mile from the door and began a long trek that I can now liken to the Bataan Death March.

We walked through the door and I was instantly drawn to my award-winning photo.  Ok, maybe not first but certainly second.  All right, ok, I’ll settle for an honorable mention.  So where was the award?  Usually it’s pasted to the wall right next to the photo.  Uh, maybe this year it’s real teeny tiny, tucked away unobtrusively, maybe even behind the photo.  Nope.  Not there.  Maybe it fell off.

Like the air being let out of a balloon, my expectations dissipated into the ether.  I was incredulous.  And then I was nauseated.  Then both at the same time.

I thought, ok, so you didn’t make the big time.  The judges must have seen something very special in the dozen photos that beat me out.   Something that I would, as a professional and a right-minded guy, see and understand.  And then I saw the dead goat.

I know you’re saying to yourself “Fred does this every year.  He goes in to the show with great expectations and then whines when he goes home empty-handed.  What a loser.”

Ok, I leave it to you.  Go to the Art Center before July 9.  And tell me if you really like the dead goat.  I’m at your mercy.

I Missed the Photo Show

One of my favorite old movies is Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It was shot in Australia and starred two of my favorite actors, Hugo Weaving and Terrence Stamp (who, by the way, I spied in our own Ojai Community Hospital about a year ago…how thrilling can that be…huh, huh.)

So you can imagine my excitement about six months ago when our daughter bought us tickets to the musical of the same name. Damn, by-golly and doody-face, our tickets turned out to be on the same day as Ojai’s most anticipated, star-spangled event of the year, the Art Center Photo Branch show. But we couldn’t disappoint our only daughter who, in her genetically supercharged anal persona, had asked us twice before purchasing the stratospherically expensive tickets, Dad, are you sure you have nothing else to do that day? So Sweetie and I went to Priscilla with Nancy and missed, some would say, the greatest show in Ojai.

We drove to the Pantages, installed the car in a twenty-dollar, paint blistering, door denting parking lot, and strolled over the names of long-forgotten movie stars embedded in the Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk. We had our purses searched by Pantages ushers for contraband as lethal as an eight ounce water bottle, then reluctantly purchased two four-dollar water bottles, found our seats and huddled together for warmth as the air conditioning was arcticly adjusted to suit the lithe, sweaty bodies of young chorus line dancers performing at the speed of light. We nervously shifted in our seats and held our breath as we awaited the arrival of what was sure to be the two tallest persons within a twenty-mile radius who would likely occupy the presently vacant seats in front of us. That’s show biz.

The first act was filled with ear-shattering disco music that my faux son-in-law insisted was offered up solely in an attempt to enrage his rock and roll deprived musical senses. But then, unless Kevin is in front of his 42″ computer monitor playing gory war games against other maniacs on a magnum opus, water-cooled PC, he’s at best a reluctant participant in the fine arts.

Intermission time and, owing to what I insist was the fault of the icy conditions in the theater, I got in line with three hundred and fifty, shuffling, mostly aging men in the hopes that I might empty my throbbing bladder in one of the six available urinals before the eighteen minute intermission ended, as had been announced by two young female ushers who appeared to have never even heard of a bladder and who undoubtedly rejoiced in watching deteriorating old letches get their just desserts.

Given the estimated time it takes to empty the bladder of one old prostate challenged senior, I felt I could afford to day-dream about the Art Center Photo show. Even with my eyes closed, I simply would be pushed along in the Bataan Death March line, held erect by those octogenarians who surrounded me, until I would awake to the dulcet sounds of flushing. And so I day-dreamed.

I found a Montgomery Street parking space with my name painted on it directly in front of the Art Center, then floated through the pearly gated front door and held my breath as I anticipated the picture perfect awards that would surely be heaped upon me while I was being regaled with plaudits normally reserved for the likes of Ansel Adams, Alfred Eisenstaedt or Annie Liebovitz.

All eyes turned in my direction, the crowd hushed, parted like the Red Sea, and in a rising crescendo, broke into thunderous applause. Our master of ceremonies, Roger, asked for silence, reviewed my glorious fifteen minute biography and handed me the winner’s check. I immediately endorsed it and gifted it to the Art Center so that they could retire the mortgage, refinish the doors, get the cobwebs off the ceiling and install much-needed, blazingly lit, neon sign directions to the rest rooms.

I nodded my head in acknowledgement of everyone’s gratitude, waved my hand to the assembled, and floated slowly over to the fabulous, mouth-watering repast laid on a table covered with the nectar of the gods. There to greet me was Myrna. She had outdone herself by assembling all of my favorite dishes including chitlins con carne with bone marrow dressing, displayed magnificently as only Myrna can do. I ate my fill, sat on the plush cushions of the somehow magically re-upholstered couch, digested my food and…

I woke up at the seventeen minute mark, unceremoniously nudged into semi-consciousness by the old guy behind me. Are you gonna pee or what? he said with more than a touch of annoyance. So I did. And I found my way back, not to the Art Center but to the second act of Priscilla. It was good, but maybe not as good as winning an award at the photo show. Certainly not as good as sharing years of good times with wonderful people like Roger, Myrna and the rest of those dedicated folks who made the show work.

Oh, and I didn’t win a photo prize at the show. But I will donate some money to the Art Center so folks like me can find the rest rooms without a roadmap.

Priscilla

Ojai Art Center Photo Show…a Fairy Story

Myrna asked me to write something wry and humorous about the Ojai Art Center Photo Show.  But first, here’s a fairy story.

There was this guy who hadn’t won a prize or honorable mention three shows running.  His spirits were down around his shoes when he entered two more soon-to-be-forgotten masterpieces in what was, in his mind, the 2012 version of Les Miserables.

As usual he participated in the hanging of the show and got more depressed as he carefully placed over fifty photos more wonderful than his on the Art Center walls.  He briefly considered hanging them somewhat askew to dampen their appeal to the viewers.  But he knew that Commander Conrad would be sure to spot and correct the sloppiness.  So why bother.  He finished his work, looked upon the magnificence that graced the walls, packed his bag, accepted the inevitable and went home.

For thirty-six hours, a period of low-level anxiety liberally mixed with creeping depression hovered over his head just like that of the forlorn character Joe Btfsplk in the Li’l Abner comic strip (you youngsters can Google it.) But he was determined that in spite of the upcoming fourth year rejection he would stride into the Art Center on the day of judgment, smile, congratulate the winners and keep his negative comments to himself.  All the while cursing the judges and wishing he had never submitted photos or had claimed that they had been eaten by the dog.

He entered the Art Center on Sunday.  Smiles abounded.  People were having a wonderful time. He tried his best to participate, ho, ho, ho.  Honorable mention tags floated before his eyes.  But not for his photos.  Sweet Nan came up to him and planted a kiss on his cheek.  “Aren’t you excited?”  His mind ran faster.  Why should he be excited?  Maybe if there had been a fire and destroyed the show.  But no, Myrna and the other kind ladies had created a beautiful banquet table, Ojai’s Yes Party Girls were doing wonders keeping things humming and not a charred photo could be seen.

Myrna ran up to him.  All bright and bubbly.  “See, I told you this was your year.  And about time.”

If you want to finish the story, you’ll just have to skip on down to the Art Center between now and July 4.  While you’re there, you can also decide which of the photos you want on your wall.  Be sure to take a close look at the nearly naked lovely lady looking into the mirror.  But better hurry.  Some other guy is bound to take her home.

Dolly Is Alive and Well

About ten years ago Sweetie and I journeyed to New York and spent a few days walking, eating and generally marvelling at the vibrancy of that great city.  One of the highlights included a trip to a theater whose name escapes me to see Carol Channing in Hello Dolly.  In one of those roles right up there with Marlon’s Stanley Kowalski, Carol entertained us with her vibrancy and wit…even though her frailty required the assistance of several cast members as she wheeled about the stage.

When we see a play at the Ojai Art Center or Ventura’s Rubicon, I am tempted to compare the lead actor with the one who made the role famous.  The poor shlep who was condemned to play Kowlaski for three hours at the Rubicon a few years ago comes to mind.  It was a painful evening for him and for us.

So, with some trepidation, Sweetie, Bert, Yoram and I bought our tickets and plunked ourselves about six rows from the Art Center stage waiting for Hello Dolly to make an entrance.  I’ve often found that some plays and movies are best anticipated with the worst in mind.  Whatever you get that’s worth savoring is all the more appreciated.

As it turned out, my trepidation and bah-humbug expectations were totally without merit.  I found myself smiling and tapping my toes during the entire performance.  I abandoned my usual habit of counting the number of songs left until I could mercifully depart the premises.  I was sorry when it ended.  I wanted more.

Our local physician, Jim Halverson as Cornelius, had a steep hill to climb.  Following in the footsteps of Michael Crawford who played the role in the movie…and then famously as the Phantom of the Opera…was no simple task.  Bravo Jim.  The versatile and always welcome Buddy Wilds, as Horace Vandergelder, was the right blend of curmudgeon and loveable dodo.  And the rest of cast seemed well-suited to their roles as they happily sang and danced their way through the evening with nary a sign of fatigue.

And then there was Dolly.  Oh god, I thought, please don’t let me think about Carol Channing.  Don’t make this painful.  And she didn’t.  From the moment Jaye Hersh walked down the aisle, looking at each of us like she knew us intimately, I knew we were in for a treat.  She was, this evening, Dolly.  She looked like Dolly should look.  She sounded like Dolly should sound.  She made us smile, feel warm and want to sing with her.  When she wasn’t on the stage, we missed her.

As with most community theaters, I find it best to award degree-of-difficulty points to the performances.  After all, these folks are volunteers, the staging normally falls well short of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the music is no Philharmonic and the, well, you know.  No special handicap points were required this evening.  We were at the Dorothy Chandler.  And we loved every minute of it.

Bummer, lost again

Darn it.  I lost again.  Did great work on three stunning photographs and didn’t even merit an honorable mention.  Spent hours at the Old Mill renovation in Santa Paula risking life and limb to get the National Geographic award of the year and all I get is chopped liver.  Where will it end?

The Ojai Art Center Photography Branch hung another standout show at the Art Center this weekend.  Thirty photographers qualified fifty photos in the Branch’s annual show Visions of Change.  Well the only thing that didn’t change was my winning nothing, nada, zilch.

I blame Greg Cooper and Attasalina Dews, the two judges who crowned the winners.  Yeah sure, I know that Greg currently teaches full time at Brooks Institute School of Visual Journalism in Ventura.  And Atta has established herself as a successful wedding and portrait photographer.  But I ask you, shouldn’t they have accepted the gratuity I offered in return for a first place ribbon?  Ingrates.

But enough about me.  Roger Conrad did another class job of curating the show.  And that’s on top of his uncanny ability to herd the Photo Committee members into line over a six month period as they argued about the show’s theme, the color of the table cloths, and the font style for the announcements.  Weighty stuff.

Myrna Cambianica was largely responsible for the goodie table at the Sunday reception.  In addition to the yummies, Myrna’s ecology mania guided her selection of biodegradeables, including the wine cups which had to be emptied within ninety seconds or they would stain your shoes.  Three separate recyclable containers were provided, prompting long lines to form as guests attempted to select the proper bin for their garbage.  Wrong choices resulted in expulsion from the reception.

Food kept appearing as if by magic.  Erin O’Loughlin and Genevieve Woods were stellar representatives of YES.  The Youth Employment Services, a non-profit group of Ojai students, can be proud of the way these young ladies kept the guests’ tummies full and the tables spotless.

The show runs through July 8 unless all of the photos are sold before then.  But have no fear, I’m sure we can find replacements.  So hurry on down to the Art Center.  You can easily identify my photos.  They don’t have any ribbons.

Loser


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