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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Fonzie Comes to Richmond

Joins actress Marlee Matlin for Virginia Home benefit.

Posted By on Wed, Apr 8, 2015 at 2:30 PM

Henry Winkler as the Fonz and Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham in "Happy Days." We wanted the publicity photo of the Fonz jumping a shark on water skis, but alas . . . no go.
  • Henry Winkler as the Fonz and Ron Howard as Richie Cunningham in "Happy Days." We wanted the publicity photo of the Fonz jumping a shark on water skis, but alas . . . no go.

Aaayyy, the Fonz is in town.

Actor, director and producer Henry Winkler, best known for his portrayal of Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli on "Happy Days" and Marlee Matlin, the only deaf actress to ever win a best actress Oscar, are coming to the Virginia Home (1101 Hampton Street) on Thursday, April 9, from 3 to 4 p.m.

There, residents will present them with donations to their respective causes -- for Winkler, the Motion Picture and Television Fund, and for Matlin, KODAWest, which serves hearing children with parents who are deaf.

The actors will be guest speakers for Stories of Courage and Grace, a fundraising event to be held at the Jefferson Hotel later that evening to benefit the Virginia Home. The event itself is sold-out, so as Fonzie is wont to say, "sit on it" or something.

However if someone from Style ends up at the event, we'll be sure to let you know if anything crazy happens. Or if the "Jumping the Shark" episode is analyzed in detail.

Update: Marlee Matlin tweeted a photo of the pair eating in Richmond at Mamma Zu's. No confirmation of whether Winkler smacked or kicked the jukebox when he came in.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

RVA Foo Fighters Show Up For Webby

Organizers must take down Ellen Degeneres first.

Posted By on Tue, Apr 7, 2015 at 7:50 PM

Dave Grohl performs with the Foo Fighters at the first major crowdfunded concert at the National in Richmond, Va. The effort has been nominated for a 2015 Webby Award. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Dave Grohl performs with the Foo Fighters at the first major crowdfunded concert at the National in Richmond, Va. The effort has been nominated for a 2015 Webby Award.

The organizers behind last September's crowdfunded Foo Fighters concert at the National have been nominated for a 2015 Webby, hailed as the "Oscars of the Internet" by the New York Times.

The four Richmond friends -- Andrew Goldin, Lucas Krost, Brig White, and John McAdorey -- are up for a People's Choice Award against "The Ellen Degeneres Show," the famous Oscar selfie, NachoVison, and an anti-racism campaign, #weareallmonkeys. You can vote here.

"It's amazing. We were just trying to get our favorite band into town. And that success, and the way it all happened so organically with the community, will always be the best part," says Goldin. "Rocking out with everyone who believed, knowing we all made it happen was really something special though, not gonna lie. All the extra stuff like this is still a ton of fun."

The Webby Awards, traditionally held in New York, have been criticized for charging nominees to enter and attend, but Goldin isn't worried about it. He's not even sure they'd attend.

"Haha. No idea. I don't think they pay for us to go out there or anything. Would be nice though. I'd love to if I can swing it. Maybe I'll crowdfund for the money. Kidding, of course."

Monday, April 6, 2015

Fantasy Picks

Now that Shaka Smart has moved on, who should replace him?

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2015 at 2:00 PM

Shaka Smart emcees President Obama’s 2012 rally at the Siegel Center. The school is now looking for his replacement after Smart caught a private plane to Texas. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Shaka Smart emcees President Obama’s 2012 rally at the Siegel Center. The school is now looking for his replacement after Smart caught a private plane to Texas.

Having reached the pinnacle of Richmond fame when his wife became the Christmas mother, there really was nowhere for Coach Shaka Smart to go but down.

That’s a joke, people: I’m just trying to make the pain go away.

Already there’s been talk about Virginia Commonwealth University looking to hire former assistants of the Great One to coach the team. One would think the school would try to make a big splash with Smart’s replacement, if only to keep its top-notch recruits and hopefully earn new ones.

This all may be too late: But for their use, I thought I might throw some blind, full-court heaves into the fray. You’ve got to think outside the box. That’s what our dear leader Shaka Smart taught us. Amen.

Potential Candidates:

Bobby Knight --Bring the General out of retirement. Let him throw some chairs around, see if we don’t make “SportsCenter.”

Anthony Grant --The former Rams coach from the pre-Smart era just got canned from Alabama for not making the tourney enough. But his conference record wasn’t so bad. And his Hollywood-star looks made one of my co-workers relate a comment from his wife: “She said, 'He makes me want to take my shirt off.’” Imagine what that does to opponents.

Spike Lee --The director of “Do the Right Thing” should follow his own advice and prove that he didn’t like the Rams just because its coach’s name sounds like one of his none-too-subtle characters. Plus he’s got to be sick of watching the Knicks lose. Stick with a winning program, Spike.

Gene Hackman --Sure, he only played a coach in that “Hoosiers” movie, but how cool would it be to see him come out and measure the height of the rim at the Siegel Center? Plus I’m sure we could find at least one local drunk who could play the assistant, Dennis Hopper role. (Just not the crazy, naked, high on peyote and cocaine, gun-firing-era Hopper).

This is the feel good, movie-of-the-week choice.

Barles Charkley--The Chucksta used to drink at Buddy’s and has a connection to VCU through former coach Sonny Smith. And whether he could coach a lick, this would be the greatest sports coup of the year. Can you imagine the post-game conferences? Can. You. Even. Imagine?

Other possible suggestions voted down: Moses Malone, Rosie Soul and the Rock and Roll Cowboys, and Dirt Woman.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Muppet Burlesque

A Q&A with Moxie LaBouche of Blacklist Burlesque.

Posted By on Sun, Apr 5, 2015 at 6:00 PM

Lilly Liqueur gets her Oscar the Grouch on during a former sold-out show at Centerstage. - DAVE PARRISH PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Dave Parrish Photography
  • Lilly Liqueur gets her Oscar the Grouch on during a former sold-out show at Centerstage.

Moxie LaBouche, producer for Blacklist Burlesque, is bringing burlesque back to Firehouse Theater after a two-year absence.

This past weekend saw an encore performance of "The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me...: a Burlesque Tribute to Jim Henson."

LaBouche specializes in a style known as “nerd-lesque” and has produced several sold-out show at Richmond CenterStage, including "The Princess Bride" and "Game of Thrones," both of which will be reprised later this year.

A press release noted that burlesque shows will be a regular part of Firehouse Theatre's schedule beginning this fall.

Style caught up with La Bouche for a quick Q&A.

How did this come about?

I've been producing burlesque for about two years, first with the troupe Those Freaking Weirdos, then solo under the banner Blacklist Burlesque. Jim Henson was one of many ideas in my notebook of potential shows, along with themes like video games, horror movies, animals and food. After the success of the "Game of Thrones: Burlesque is Coming" tour, which we were able to bring back to Richmond for an unprecedented encore, the time just felt right to mount the show whose theme was dearest to my heart.

Can you tell us what 'nerd-lesque' is all about?

Nerd-lesque is a portmanteau of "nerd" and "burlesque" and refers not only to burlesque of nerdy things, like "Star Trek" or Marvel comics, but can be burlesque of any pop culture property, such as "Game of Thrones" or "Princess Bride." It's unknown who said it first, but it was likely the product of simultaneous invention, popping into many people's minds independently. You can also see nerd-lesque locally in show produced by Ellie Quinn, "the duchess of dork."

Who is the main driver of the event?

Being the producer, I suppose that would be me. Burlesque is my creative outlet, though I approach producing as the business it is. As a performer, those few moments you share with the audience make all the weeks of preparation and pre-show stress worthwhile. There is no fourth wall in burlesque, so our performances are more like conversations with the audience than monologues. As a producer, my goals are to put on the most entertaining show possible for the audience, create a fun and supportive professional environment for my cast, and ensure that the local businesses that provide us with financial backing get their money's worth.

What were the biggest challenges?

One of the biggest challenges I ran into in the early stages of assembling this show was a case of great minds thinking alike. Seemingly everyone wanted to be Miss Piggy, Oscar the Grouch or Cookie Monster. That morphed into a struggle to represent as many Henson properties as possible, when we almost had enough Muppet Show submissions to do a show based solely on that.

Did you learn any interesting trivia about the Muppets?

My act is to the song "Mahna Mahna," recreating the routine by Kiki Von Kitsch (now retired) that inspired me to do burlesque in the first place. Oddly enough (or not, if you know my family), that was my parents' song. In researching trivia for our emcee to give during the show, I found out that "Mahna Mahna" wasn't written for Sesame Street, but was in fact originally composed for an adult film produced in Italy. My mother certainly didn't know that at the time.

Any fun stories from the crowd?

We, collectively, made a new friend: a lovely 101-year-old woman named Vera, who was there with her daughter and grand-daughter (illustrating a distinction between burlesque stripping and strip club stripping as well as anything ever could). She used to go to burlesque in New York 70 years ago, so she's seen the "real deal." After the show, her daughter asked if Dante the Inferno and I would take a picture with her, which we jumped at. Her daughter then said, "She's 101 and she's still working." I couldn't believe it; I guessed she must work at the library or volunteer at church or something. Vera said "I sit in a chair, by the door, at the sperm bank and when the men are leaving, I say 'Thank you for coming'." We about died.

So did you find a new appreciation for Jim Henson?

I don't know that this process has given me a "new appreciation" for Henson, but it definitely renewed my appreciation. We were a mutual admiration society of 220+ people that night and you can't help but get swept up in the love. That's the real reward of nerd-lesque, to celebrate the things you love with everyone else.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Saleh's Story

A teenage Iraqi refugee moves to Richmond and makes his stage debut as a suicide bomber in “The Human Terrain.”

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2015 at 1:15 PM

The anthropologist, played by McLean Jesse, tries to understand a young Iraqi suicide bomber, played by Richmonder and Iraqi native, Saleh Ismael.
  • The anthropologist, played by McLean Jesse, tries to understand a young Iraqi suicide bomber, played by Richmonder and Iraqi native, Saleh Ismael.

A 15-year-old Iraqi boy named Kemal stands holding two empty buckets, pleading in Arabic with a group of American soldiers to let him pass. His family is sick, they need water, an American anthropologist translates for the soldiers.

The tension is beginning to diffuse when suddenly the boy drops the pails and holds up a cellphone detonator, crying out “Allahu akbar!” (“God is great!”). The panicked soldiers take aim, ready to unleash a hailstorm of bullets.

Everyday Americans recognize the trajectory of this scene, and those like it, from movies, television shows and even the nightly news. But this drama is taking place onstage before an intimate crowd at HatTheatre during 5th Wall Theatre’s production of the “The Human Terrain.” No spoilers, but the scenario plays out differently than most.

As interesting as the scene may be the young actor who plays Kemal. Saleh Ismael is a 16-year-old Iraqi refugee who fled to Syria during the war and escaped the bloodshed there by moving to America with his family in 2009. This is his first role in a professional production.

“I didn’t do it for the pay, I did it for the fun experience,” Ismael tells me, saying he didn’t have a problem playing a suicide bomber. The play’s message, he says, is that people are not so different from one another. “All of us are growing through rough times,” he says, “but at the end of the day, a lot of us are alike.”

Originally nobody showed up at auditions to play the Iraqi teen. Judy Fiske, who works at Tabernacle Baptist Church, which has a large refugee population, saw a Facebook request by director Carol Piersol for an Iraqi actor and recommended Ismael. He had been studying drama at Glen Allen High School and had even written his own play.

Ismael says that "The Human Terrain," written by Ball State associate professor Jennifer Blackmer and in only its second U.S. staging, offered a different take on Muslims. It’s one, he says, he doesn’t see portrayed in American media images.

“When they show Iraqis here, they always show the crazy people. They don’t show the normal people,” he says. “It would be like [Iraqi television] only showing crazy rednecks from the U.S.”

For the Richmond production, Ismael translated parts of the dialogue into Arabic for the other actors, which is part of the play’s appeal – it doesn’t spoon-feed.

“When [the interrogator] asks him ‘Why did you become martyr’ he says ‘because my father was a martyr,’” Ismael says. “They don’t translate it for the audience. I say it to her in Arabic.”

“He was invaluable in teaching us all the phonetic Iraqi,” adds Piersol, who notes that Ismael nixed the prospect of his character wearing a hockey jersey in Iraq. “And he was very natural as an actor. The connection he had with the character, who is pleading because he is being tortured, was amazing.”

After last Saturday night’s show, Ismael met the playwright, Blackmer, who was in attendance for a Q&A session. “She said that I did great,” he recalls. “That I should keep doing this.”

It was only in the past five years that Ismael learned English, doing so by studying bilingual dictionaries. He then had to help his mom, younger brother and older sister, learn. “I needed to learn it quickly to help them adjust,” he says “But at first, it was really hard.”

Members of his large family escaped the war in Iraq for Syria, living there as it was beginning to slide toward brutal civil war. According to Reuters, more than 210,000 people – more than half of them civilians -- have been killed in that war. In Syria, his family struggled greatly, he says. His father is Sunni and his mother Shiite, which he says makes him simply Muslim.

“I don’t like to think divisively,” he tells me. “We’re all Muslims. We are all Iraqis.”

Ismael had cousins and friends in Iraq killed in American bombing, he says, yet he holds no ill will.

“To be honest, as a kid, I didn’t know what hate was – even if I had been angry,” he says. “I used to watch a lot of movies. I thought America was a dreamland, like when kids talk about Candyland. I had a lot of favorite movies like ‘Home Alone.’ I thought when you come here you will have a lot of fun, have a house of your own. Now I know you have to work hard for this stuff.”

Having moved around and seen so much, Ismael seems to have developed a steely self-reliance mixed with a philosophical curiosity beyond his years.

“When immigrants say they are struggling, I say Americans are struggling too. We are all immigrants. Everyone is struggling. That saying, ‘opportunity knocks once’ is bullshit -- pardon my language. You make that door that opportunity knocks on.”

He does miss his friends back home and is still adapting to the differences between life here and in the Middle East.

“In Syria, people are more open. Here, people are more cautious. It’s like fear mixed with greed,” he says. “But my daily motto is always when you meet someone new, never ever judge him, because he’s going through struggles you know nothing about. Why not just smile? You might make his day.”

For now, Ismael says his family is doing well and that they live near his school in Glen Allen. As far as his own future, he hasn’t really considered an acting career, regardless of Blackmer’s praise. If given the choice, he’d rather be an R&B or pop star, he says. He loves singing in the school choir. “Music is the universal language of the world,” he says, before drifting back into a previous thought.

“If I could, I would sleep on the roof of my house, where all you see are stars and you can dream as far as you can. Nobody can bring you down. If you see a star it might already be dead and all you’re seeing is its shadow. Think of it as not dead, it’s not dead yet. Humans are like stars.”

"The Human Terrain” plays through April 11 at HatTheatre, 1124 Westbriar Drive in Richmond’s West End. Tickets available at 5thwalltheatre.org.

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