Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Passionate performance of classic American story

     An emotionally charged rendition from a noticeably tight-nit group of actors gave a passionate performance of the American classic, “A Raisin in the Sun.” Word of the talented ensemble is spreading fast, and the limited seats at the Black Box Theater are selling out even faster.

     The play’s director John DiDonna is very pleased with the high praise and the large numbers in attendance, and the play’s opening week sell out persormances. “I feel very good about the entire production, and I feel great about the audience response,”said DiDonna.

     The relatively small Black Box Theater is an ideal setting for this intimate play, which takes place in only one location. It features a cross-sectional view of an extended African-American family living in a cramped and rundown apartment in the 1950s.

     As the audience members enter, classic jazz and swing music from the era floats into their ears, and they find themselves becoming acquainted with everything located within the single room encompassing one family's epicenter.

      The room comes to life as the play begins, with the family slowly waking up to start their day, and the smell of cooked eggs and running water set the sounds and smells of the typical morning.

     Time is spent in the beginning detailing and introducing the characters with the hopes, goals and motivations they each hold in their own unique ways.

     “The play kept me engaged and at the edge of my seat emotionally. You want them to have a chance to advance in life,” said audience member Felichia Chivaughn. “Walter is going through so much, and you feel sorry for him and understand his pain.”

     The most climactic moments of this production revolve around the conflicted protagonist Walter Lee Younger, played by Valencia and University of Florida alumni Parris Baker. Many audience members were visibly moved during his key scenes of the play. Walter fights to define himself as a man and provide a better life for his family.

     “It’s very easy to label somebody a bad guy and not have sympathy towards them,” said Baker. “So to hear that people feel compassion towards Walter, and are able to give him the benefit of the doubt makes me very happy.”

     Also in attendance on opening night were Baker’s father and mother, both of whom were emotionally moved by the commanding performance of their son. “It’s a powerful story,” said Karl Baker. “You see the dreams shattered, and all you’re left with is your pride at the end of the day.”

     Dealing with several complicated issues compounds the tension in the overcrowded household. Walter’s wife Ruth Younger, played by Cherise James, soon finds that she is pregnant with another child. She contemplates getting an abortion because she is already dealing with tensions over money, her husband’s radical behavior and her youngest son Travis having to sleep on the living room sofa.

     “It’s such a powerful subject to talk about,” said James. “There are still families today that have to get rid of their children simply because they can’t afford to take care of them.”

     The era in which this play is set also addresses several issues of sexism and double standards toward women. Topics of religious practicality, equality standards and more are all conveyed by Beneatha Younger, played by Valencia theater student Marshay Weaver. She does a phenomenal job with the complex subject matter and is a natural in this production, marking her first acting performance on stage.

     “In that time --back in the 1950s -- it was unheard-of for someone like Beneatha to come in and say you can do what ever you want to do,” said Weaver.

     Though all the cast members have their shining moments over the duration of the play, the role of Lena Younger, played by seasoned actress Avis-Marie Barnes, is spell-bounding. She is the mother and primary nurturer that struggles to hold this chaotic family together.

     “There is nothing that really matters in anyone’s life if you don’t really love somebody,” said Barnes. She is driven right to the edge near the end of the play, and has to fight to contain her emotional outpouring.

     This story, written by Lorraine Hansberry, is considered a cannon of classic American drama. The intense emotions and hard issues faced are just as powerful today as they were more than 50 years ago.

     Most of the performances are selling out for this unique and limited production. The final run will be Feb. 22 through Feb. 25 at the Black Box Theater on Valencia’s East campus located at 701 North Econlockhatchee Trail in Orlando.

     It’s recommended that tickets be purchased online in advance to ensure seating for this highly anticipated production at the theaters official ticket web site: https://www.vendini.com/ticket-software.html?t=tix&e=f5fab8a826ec8f2913e7bfc4522c9f87

By James Tutten  

(Published: Feb, 22. 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 16.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Valencia alumni Parris Baker plays the conflicted Walter Lee Younger.

Emotions run high in the cramped Younger household.

Sensational comedy starts Brazilian Film Festival

     The 5th annual Brazilian Film Festival at Valencia College kicked off with a roller coaster ride of comedy, and great numbers of cinema fans turned out thanks to the largest advertising campaign yet.
     “I feel very proud that it’s been so successful,” said Richard Sansone, a professor of Portuguese and English as a Second Language at Valencia and organizer of the event. “It brings together the Brazilian community and gives the community at large a chance to understand Brazilian culture.”
     The first film featured in this year’s multi-day festival was “De Pernas Pro Ar,” which translates into “Head over Heels.” This film, which contained an advisory that viewers be at least 14-years-old, was marketed as a sex comedy.
     The film stars Brazil’s much beloved comedic actress, Ingrid GuimarĂ£es, who plays a determined businesswoman having trouble balancing her personal and professional life.
     She finds herself at a crossroads after her husband leaves due to a lack of attention, and loses her job because of a major mishap at the office. She then finds herself going into business with a former rival in an adult sex shop. Throughout the film there is constant humor from the clumsy and sexually inexperienced protagonist.
     She fights to rebuild her family relationships, all the while dealing with her surprise success in the taboo market she finds herself in. The film has some nudity and skates the line of what is acceptable for young viewers with many occasions of heavily sexually charged situations.
     To say this is a cultural shock to more conservative audience members would be an understatement. It’s apparent that this film would easy be rated R by American standards with a large number of stimulating adult sex devices, scantily clad ladies showing off their goods, and even a few simulated orgasms. There is so much sex throughout this film, that any foul language and excessive nudity would easily bump this film into an NC-17 rating.
     This film was wildly successful in Brazil and is considered highly marketable as a sex comedy that focuses on family issues. Sex in Brazil isn’t viewed so much as pornographic, but instead is approached as getting a full experience out of life. This confronts the cultural difference of American standards of what is tolerable to a family or younger viewers.

     While American audiences are shocked by high sexual content in films, foreign audiences are just as shocked by our accepted level of graphic violence in films..
     “I’ve always wanted to come out to this film festival but couldn’t make it before. I’m real excited to share that connectivity with my Brazilian family,” said student Mariana Brum.
     The rest of the films in this year’s festival are just as diverse, culturally rich and offer much for lovers of foreign films to enjoy. The Oscar nominated documentary “Waste Land” is on the list of films this year, and the festival will end with a world premiere called “Matraga” at West Campus on Feb. 17. This film has not been screened outside of the Rio International Film Festival where it won several awards.
     Students and the general movie going public that came out for this event were treated to not only a free movie, but also live entertainment and free Brazilian delicacies. There was the sweet passion fruit dessert of mousse maracuja, chocolate treats like brigadeiros, different types of the popular coxinha, and much more. All this along with refreshments were provided free to guests by a new Brazilian restaurant near West Campus, called Silva’s Market.
     Word about the festival has been spread through advertisements in local Brazilian businesses, attention grabbing spots in several publications, and even featured on the local Telemundo station. Along with word of mouth and social media, this event has never seen bigger crowds.
     “This is a great event every year and the movies they show are very good,” said SGA president at West Campus, Patrick O’Connor. “Great writing, great actors, comedy is there, and action is there. You really get to see prime examples of another culture.”
     The film ended with an engaging question and answer session between members of the audience and professor Sansone, with special guests Brazilian film producer Elisa Tolomelli and director Mahu De Martino. They spoke in great detail about the film and answered questions about the different cultural standards in Brazil.
     The Brazilian film festival at Valencia College strongly reflects the driving desire of international understanding and cooperation with the world community. It all can start with cultural events like this festival, and the several study abroad programs that Valencia is internationally known for providing to students.

By James Tutten

(Published: Feb. 15, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 14.)

Orlando Magic attack Miami Heat 'beyond the arc'

     The Orlando Magic defeated the top ranked Miami Heat on Feb. 8, by maintaining a consistent performance, balanced teamwork and a record-setting shooting exhibition from the three-point line.

     The pace of the game was set by the Magic from the beginning with three unanswered baskets, giving them a quick lead which they maintained above or near double-digits throughout. However, the ever aggressive Heat did make a comeback, to be only trailing by only three points at the end of the first half.

     “We shot 42 threes tonight and that’s a feat, even for us,” said Stan Van Gundy, Magic head coach.

     Defense played a strong role with the Magic pulling down 48 rebounds, led by Dwight Howard who had 24 boards. Howard scored a team high 24 points, earning his 20th double-double this season.

     “We did a better job coming out in the third quarter,” said Howard. “We kept playing and we got a good win.”

     Another notable performance came from Magic forward Ryan Anderson, who scored 24 points in the first half and helped establish the Magic’s early three point shooting. He also scored a double-double with 11 rebounds, second most in the game after Howard.

     “If someone starts rolling all the attention is going to be on them, you just can’t let them turn it around,” said Anderson.

     The Heat kept close on the Magic’s heels by the steady scoring of all-star Dwyane Wade who lead the game with 33 points. Chris Bosh and Lebron James worked hard to come back but had trouble finding open shots and getting calls that worked to their advantage.

     This untimeliness translated into the Heat looking unbalanced and out of rhythm for a majority of the game. Heat players would slow the game down and use screen moves to try for open shot and lanes to the basket. The Magic would then retaliate with a fast break, and quick maneuvers that led them to score 15 three point shots as a team.

     When asked if he ever thought the Heat would take the lead from the Magic, Jameer Nelson said, “We know they’re a good team and are going to make runs, but we took that punch and delivered ours.”

     Magic had a strong showing in the third quarter and continued to hold on to the lead until the end of the game, when a quick dunk by Howard brought the lead back up to 15 with only 1:53 seconds left in the game. Another score by Nelson after was wildly cheered by local fans and was the nail in the coffin for a distressed Miami Heat team.

     This sold out crowd also was a large draw for some big name celebrities shown on the large screen during the game. Jack Nicholson, Bruce Willis, Justin Bieber, Jay Z and Beyonce, and Kevin Bacon were all seen in the stands. This highly anticipated match-up seemed more like a preview for the All-Star game that will take place in Orlando in a few weeks.

By James Tutten

Andrea Mosby inspires with strong, heartfelt story

     Motivational speaker Andrea Mosby started her speech on Saturday Feb. 4, with a story about being a troubled single mother at the age of 16, and how stress influenced her to lash out at her baby in a fit of depression by dropping him back into his crib because he wouldn't stop crying.

     Mosby was sharing her personal stories to inspire students to find success in college and life. This was all part of the largest student success program at Valencia that provides financial help and assistance to those who qualify.

     The crib incident became a pinnacle moment in Mosby’s life, when she decided to start fixing the personal issues she was facing and become the best mother and person she could be. She went on to find success with a bachelor's degree in Business Administration and a master's degree in Urban and Regional Planning. Her son went on to be greatly successful and is now working for a Fortune 500 company.

     “You can’t go change the world until you’ve changed yourself,” said Mosby. “And I think people need to start with themselves and build out from there.”

     She breaks down her ideas on the personal improvement around the word “DECISIONS.” Each letter in the acronym is a positive characteristic to have: Determination, Energy, Courage, Intuition, Serious, Imagination, Open, Never give up and Success.

     This was a fitting introduction for the true focus of the event; the kick off to a special financial aid program, “Road-map to Success.” After the speech, students were given a detailed synopsis of what this program offers and how completing it will help them graduate.

     “A lot of students do make use of it, but we would like to see more,” said Kathleen Marquis, academic adviser at the west campus.

     Those enrolled in S.L.S. student success classes are eligible to earn points for academic advising, tutoring, being part of a club or organization, going to different skill shops and workshops and volunteering.

     Set points are earned for participation, and if 500 are earned a week before finals, students could receive a $500 award. It’s on a first come first serve basis, but the program has never run out of funds since its inception.

     “I really need this scholarship so I can afford to go to school; it’s the only way I'll be able to graduate,” said Shaun Clevenger, a first semester Valencia student hoping to major in criminal justice technology at UCF.

     After being informed about the road-map program, the event ended with a resource fair informing students about different organizations and opportunities offered at Valencia, including academic centers with details on tutoring, different math centers, the library, and representatives from student groups like SGA and Valencia volunteers.

     The student success convocation was a unique opportunity to inspire, inform, and assist students in finding success in college and life. Many believe programs like this help Valencia College stand out and undoubtedly earn its recent recognition as the top community college in the nation.

By James Tutten

(Published: Feb. 8, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 3.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Andrea Mosby talks with students after her motivational speech.

A resource fair is only part of this convocation for student success.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

An inside look at Valencia's 'A Raisin in the Sun'

Avis-Marie Barnes who plays Mama, comforts the young Travis Younger played by Christopher Redman Jr.
     Preparations are underway for a live production of the classic American play, “A Raisin in the Sun” in the Black Box Theater at Valencia’s East Campus. This play will dive head first into powerfully compelling subject matter, with high emotions from complicated characters.

     The original production was developed by Lorraine Hansberry, inspired by the struggles of her own family, wrote the play and went on to receive four Tony award nominations when it premiered on Broadway in 1960. 

     Along with the Valencia Theater production’s talented cast is guest actor Avis-Marie Barnes who plays the family’s main supporter and nurturer, Mama. She is a seasoned performer who has acted professionally in several movies and television programs.

     “It’s a punch to the gut, and that's what I want,” said John DiDonna, the plays director. “I want it to be a punch in the gut from the time it starts to the time it ends. I don’t want the audience to have a chance to breathe.”

     The story follows the problems of an extended African-American family, living together in a cramped and rundown apartment, dealing with racism, poverty and tragedy during the 1950s. Issues of morality, betrayal and discrimination are sure to strike an emotional cord with those in attendance.

     The focus and momentum of the entire production is controled by Walter Lee Younger, played by drama veteran Parris Baker. He has big dreams, passionate views and the need to find a purpose in his life. He is also under stress at work and home, and when he finally starts to see his dreams come true he is kicked back down by cruel twists of fate.

     “When something is well written like this play you can dive into the words, and when you make the words your own, then the emotion will carry,” said Parris Baker, who plays Walter. This demanding role is strongly defined and personalized by Baker, who was inspired by the original performance of the revered actor Sidney Poitier.

     The rest of the cast has shining moments and conflicting issues that they face and support each other through. Most notably is the supporting role played by the character Mama, whose morally strong spirit perseveres to hold the Younger family together.

     Issues addressed in this play are still related to issues faced today more then 50 years after it was written and premiered on Broadway. Originally it was given mixed reviews for focusing on problems found primarily in the black community, making it hard to relate to for white audiences. The truth is that anyone with a shred of empathy can relate to these universal conflicts of poverty, misjudgement and important decisions about life .

     The youngest character is the troubled son of Walter named Travis Younger, played by 11-year-old Christopher Redman Jr. He witnesses the hardships endured by his family throughout the story, and has to sleep on the living room sofa because he doesn't have his own room.

     “It teaches him to be appreciative of what he has at this day and time,” said Christopher ‘s mother, Alycia Redman. The strong lessons learned by her son about injustice and double standards can also be shared by anyone who watches this production.

     The actors are fine tuning their blocking, the set construction is almost complete, and overall, the production is currently ahead of schedule for opening night. Under the passionate enthusiasm of Director, John DiDonna, the cast and crew are all more than confident that the audience will be treated to a powerfully moving experience.

     Tickets are already being sold for this play with a strong recommendation to purchase ahead of time, because days are already being sold out weeks in advance for the small theater. “A Raisin in the Sun” will run from Feb. 15 - 19, and Feb. 22 - 26. 

     For more information or to order tickets for the show check out the official web site at   https://www.vendini.com/ticket-software.html?t=tix&e=f5fab8a826ec8f2913e7bfc4522c9f87

By James Tutten

(Published: Feb. 8, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 12.)

(All photos by James Tutten)

Parris Baker who plays the conflicted Walter Lee Younger, shares an inspiring moment
with his young son Travis Younger played by 11-year-old Christopher Redman Jr.

Avis-Marie Barnes who plays the strong-willed Mama, holds the small sad house plant
that represents her hopes for a true home for her family with a real garden.

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