Wednesday, February 26, 2014

'The Muse' needs help to bring reality to fantasy

     ORLANDO — Matthew Carroll’s inspired passion project “The Muse,” is a short film that’s been under development for three and a half years, and now this determined director is looking for donors to help bring his vision to life.

     “I’m putting my blood, sweat, and tears into this and wrapping everything up in my soul,” said Carroll, who is the writer, producer and director for “The Muse.”

     “The Muse” will follow the story of a young girl named Rose, who searches for answers to help solve her parents financial problems after she hears an argument between them that threatens to divide their family. Being a child, she escapes to a fantasy world to find answers, and discovers a traveling troupe of street performers that work to help her and become inspired by Rose along the way.

     The overall tone of “The Muse” will be a balance of fantasy and reality, happiness and sadness, and how we accept the world for what it is by using joy and positive relationships to cope with harsh truths we encounter.

     This film will also feature the diverse worlds that make up different art forms, with each of the troupe members Rose encounters representing a different creative genre, inspired in part by the Italian comedy style of commedia dell’arte. These characters will expand on the Italian performance style with specific archatypes they will embody such as dance, music, theatre, visual arts, and photography, with their own unique traits and skills used along the film’s journey.

     Carroll finds inspiration as a screenwriter and director from Terry Gilliam, who is known for his visually creative production style on feature films such as “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Brazil,” and “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.” He is looking to build on his character’s development throughout the film, in addition to elements of comedy, visually striking sets, and unique costume and makeup designs.

     This film project is personal for Carroll who based the film’s lead character, Rose, off his long estranged half-sister whom he lost contact with over the years due to deep-seated family issues. Rose’s journey in this film is reflective of struggles Carroll went through in his own life, growing up as a child in Rhode Island with his family facing many financial constraints.

     “The Muse” will be shot on-location at historic parts of Central Florida, and will feature local actors and production members, with the concept that an independent film of this nature should support the local community. Carroll sees film projects like this as the ultimate collaboration between visual and performing artists, and technically skilled individuals working together to create something that benefits everyone involved.

     To ensure this benefit; Carroll, and the production company he co-founded, Ragtag Troupe Productions, is looking to raise $16,750 to cover production costs and allow all cast and crewmembers to be paid for their work. Currently the film has raised $2,060, a little over 12 percent of its total, with an overall deadline to raise the rest of the money needed by April 9.

     “I think I’m going to be selling my car in the next couple of weeks to get some more money in there,” said Carroll.

     Helping Carroll on the production side of this film is Amy Jo Bursley, the other co-founder of Ragtag Troupe Productions and unit production manager for “The Muse.” When asked why people should support independent film projects like this Bursley said, “I think supporting the independent film industry really helps develop artists and gets them to another place. Everyone has to start somewhere, and we all have something that drives us, weather its art, science, or family.”

     Some of the local actors involved with this production include Roger Floyd, Sage Starkey, Candace Doerner, Bill Warriner, Alexander Mrazek, Jennifer Bonner, Anthony LoPrinzi, and the young actress Keely Wilson, who is set to play the part of Rose.

     The current state of production has the final script complete with only changes based on actor feedback left to incorporate. Some makeup testing will start soon for the two cast members that will wear prosthetics on their face, which require molds and sculpting.

     Shooting is scheduled to begin on May 4, and take place during eight days over a two-week period, with a slight break in-between and days for contingency. Carroll plans to spend the rest of May to ensure all the footage is captured and have all post-production finished by the end of summer, and ready for applications and submissions to several film festivals in the fall.

     “Our main purpose is to get this film shown at film festivals,” said Carroll. “We’re looking at some of the bigger ones, because I believe this film will have the quality to be at that level.”

Updated information on “The Muse” can be found by following Ragtag Troupe Production’s Facebook page, and you can support this film project by donating to their GoFundMe page at this link.

By James Tutten

(Above teaser poster image by Shane Wheeler, graphic designer for "The Muse")

Design sketch from pre-production by Boris Ugatechea.
Preliminary artwork for the location of Hank's hut created by Boris Ugartechea.
Prosthetics sketch artwork by Amber Beck, MUA.
Logo for Ragtag Troupe Productions designed by Kristen Wheeler and Shane Wheeler.
Teaser poster for sort film "The Muse" created by graphic designer Shane Wheeler.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Orlando premiere of devious drama 'Terminus'

     ORLANDO — An emotionally gripping and spellbinding performance of Mark O’Rowe’s dark and disturbing play “Terminus,” is currently being presented by DiDonna Productions and the Empty Spaces Theatre Co(llaboration) at the Orlando Shakespeare Center.

     “The actors are involved and the audience is immersed in what they’re doing,” said Mary Beth Spurlock, the play’s director. “The audience is their set and the audience are their props.”

     Spurlock has been living and breathing this play for the last three years, after she first discovered and directed it at the University of South Florida in Tampa. When she finished at USF and moved back to Orlando, local director John DiDonna approached her about bringing this play to life once again.

     Taking place in the modern-day setting of Dublin, Ireland, the story and characters within its world paint far from a pretty picture with the lives they live and interactions they have with others. The primary characters that have seemingly no connection with each other, all experience a living hell at the same time, with their twisted journey eventually being interwoven. This creates an overall message that tragic events in our lives can catch us off-guard and destroy our sense of security.

     Playwright, Mark O’Rowe, has crafted a beautifully complex script that uses a flowing rhyme scheme throughout, broken up into nine alternating monologues. Words from one line to another play-off each other and create a feeling of fantasy that makes the dark subject material more mysterious. Even though the themes can be disturbing, they can also initially be sympathized with, due to their addressing of raw emotions such as depression, anger, and betrayal.

     This performance is also an unconventional take on the play, involving the movement of the actors and their enhanced interaction with theatergoers. Instead of the three actors standing and delivering their lines, they move around the theatre and audience and become physical at times to draw them in.

     Allowing this unique theatre-in-the-round performance style is the location, the small and personable Dr. Phillips Patrons’ Room, which is circular and capped with a tall domed roof. In addition, this location allows voices to bounce off the walls and fill the theatre, and low-placed lights strategically positioned along the perimeter by lighting director Hatem Habashi, allow for shadow play on the walls that make for a haunting effect.

     Stage presence is very important for the three actors in this production because of their need to hold the audience’s attention during each one of their monologues. All three of the performers brilliantly convey all the intense emotion and disturbing subject matter with a mastery of their complex lines of script and additional audience interactions.

     Sarah-lee Dobbs is commanding in her performance, from moments of quiet melancholy to outbursts of intense rage. She uses her singing experience to strengthen her sound, and presents a focused confidence built around her long acting career that originally started in London as a teenager.

     “I’ve done Shakespeare before, but this has to be the hardest thing that I’ve done, because of the lines,” said Dobbs when asked about the difficult script.

     Kelly Kilgore, who graduated from the University of Central Florida with her MFA in Acting, plays the other female character in “Terminus,” shows a wonderful range in her emotions and performance abilities. Those her character has been betrayed by the people she loves her whole life, she soon finds joy in the forum of a lover that will fight for her, despite the fact that he just so happens to be a demon soul working for Satan.

     “You don’t get to do such crazy stuff in a lot of plays that are produced these days,” said Kilgor. “The fact that we’re able to do this wild, exciting, scary, edgy play from Ireland here in Orlando is just awesome.”

     Tommy Liles portrays the third main character in this play and has the darkest role of them all. He sells his soul to the devil in order to sing like an angel, but soon finds that he can only sing when alone and can never share this ability with others. This drives him insane, and the lack of a soul makes him transform into a twisted serial killer.

     “The thing I really like about Empty Spaces is it’s not necessarily about reputation, but about performance,” said Liles. “I was astounded when I got this part.”

     Liles has only acted in high school and college before, making this is first professional acting performance. He masterfully steps up to the challenge and handles himself with a great confidence like any seasoned actor, despite the great venture this play presents with its complicated and lengthy dialog.

     “Terminus” doesn’t contain any singing or dancing, only the purest form of in-your-face drama. Come to this show with an open mind and a love of theater, and you will be transported to places you may find frightening but also are undeniably mesmerizing.

     Showtimes are Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, until Mar. 2. Ticket prices are $20 for general admission, and $15 for students and seniors.
Calling 407-328-9005 can make reservations for cash purchases at the door, and credit card reservation can be made at or by clicking this link.

By James Tutten

(Above photo by Les Jinques Photography and Ryan McKenzie for graphics)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Hubble discovers first detailed motion in galaxy

     Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have accurately calculated the rotational speed of a neighboring galaxy for the first time, by studying the long duration movement of the stars within the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).

     The movement of 22 fields of view containing stars within the LMC was tracked using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 over the span of seven years to determine its movement, and distant light coming from a quasar located within another galaxy provided additional contrast in the background that aided the long-term observations.

     Findings now show that a central portion of the LMC galaxy takes around 250 million years to complete a full rotation. This time-span is similar to the time calculated for our own sun to rotate the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

     This long-duration observational discovery is similar to the one made by Hubble that determined the directional movement of the Andromeda galaxy, and how it’s on a collision course with the Milky Way that will take billions of years to transpire.

     The standard method of determining the movement of galaxies deals with observing the astronomical Doppler Effect, or changes in the electromagnetic spectrum of light and radiation from the stars located within the galaxy. During blueshift, the peaks of electromagnetic waves in the light are closer together showing the direction of the light source is moving towards the observer. In contrast, if the light source is moving away from the observer, the wavelengths are stretched-out or redshifted.

     Astronomers have now been able to combine the Doppler Effect data with this newly acquired long-duration data to create a far more comprehensive computer simulation of the movement of LMC, complete with a fully rendered three-dimensional model.

     Two of the astronomers working with Hubble, Roeland van der Marel of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., and Nitya Kallivayalil of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., reflected on this new discovery in a recent statement released by NASA.

     “The LMC is a very important galaxy because it is very near to our Milky Way,” said van der Marel. “Studying the Milky Way is difficult because you’re studying from the inside, so everything you see is spread all over the sky. It’s all at different distances, and you’re sitting in the middle of it. Studying structure and rotation is much easier if you view a nearby galaxy from the outside.”

     “Studying this nearby galaxy by tracking the stars’ movements gives us a better understanding of the internal structure of disk galaxies,” said Kallivayalil, “Knowing a galaxy’s rotation rate offers insight into how a galaxy formed, and it can be used to calculate its mass.”

     LMC is a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way, and is believed by astronomers to be gravitationally bound to the Milky Way along with its pair galaxy the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). Both the LMC and SMC are visible to the naked eye in Earth’s southern hemisphere, with visual observations of both made since before recorded history. The LMC is around 170,000 light-years away and is 14,000 light-years in diameter, making it 1/8th the size of the Milky Way.

     Both the LMC and SMC galaxies derived their names from the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who cataloged his sighting of them during an expedition in 1519, and is credited with spreading the knowledge of their existence to Western civilization.

     This is just one more revelation for the iconic Hubble Space Telescope, which is one of the most successful space-based telescopes in history.

     The same techniques used with Hubble in this discovery are now planned for studying the SMC to determine its rotational rate and how the two galaxies’ movements are potentially interacting with each other and the Milky Way.

By James Tutten

(Photos provided by NASA and ESA)

(Published at on Feb. 22, 2014.)

Image taken by Hubble of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). (Photo by NASA.)

Hubble Space Telescope being deployed from Discovery's payload bay. (Photo credit NASA)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Boeing’s CST-100 passes development milestones

     The Boeing Company recently announced the completion of more developmental requirements for their Crew Space Transportation 100 (CST-100) spacecraft that includes a software safety test and hardware design review. Passing this phase of testing is considered a milestone for a company that is competing to return flights of astronauts from U.S soil in the coming years.

     Boeing’s current phase of testing is the Critical Design Review (CDR), which included system analysis of their Launch Vehicle Adapter (LVA) that will connect the CST-100 spacecraft to the rocket that will take it into orbit. This CDR testing was performed to establish the flight stability of the LVA in a wind tunnel and verified that Boeing’s design is applicable for production.

(Video produced by NASA)

     CST-100’s initial launch vehicle is a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, which played a role in the second phase in its recent testing. Atlas V rocket’s emergency detection system also passed an evaluation by showing its ability to communicate with the capsule in the event of an emergency.

     “Safety is a key element of the CST-100, from the drawing board to design implementation and beyond,” said John Mulholland, vice president and program manager, Boeing Commercial Programs in a statement released by Boeing. “These tests help to validate that the launch vehicle adapter and emergency detection system are fully functioning and able to ensure a safe launch for our future passengers.”

     More testing is still to come for CST-100 that will include a software review in the spring and a greater comprehensive integrated CDR this summer. The completion of CST-100 CDR phase is vital to ensure time and budget requirements are being met, and to begin the full-scale manufacturing, assembly, and final integration of a flight-ready spacecraft.

     Boeing states that they are on target to meet all of their requirements for their agreement with NASA’s Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program that runs through till August of this year. Continued success with NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program will bring Boeing closer to their goal of supplying manned missions to the International Space Station.

     CCiCap is the third round of NASA’s CCDev program that requires companies that participate to show completed end-to-end designs that include spacecraft, launch service, launch system, and ground and mission operation and recovery. This is part of NASA’s post-shuttle era mission to work with private companies to develop safe, reliable, and cost efficient transportation systems to supply cargo and crew to low-Earth orbit.

     There are three companies currently working towards this goal along with NASA in the CCiCap phase. Sierra Nevada Corporation with the Dream Chaser spacecraft, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) with the Dragon spacecraft, and The Boeing Company with the CST-100 spacecraft.

     Boeing Defense, Space & Security, is the unit of The Boeing Company that is overseeing the Commercial Crew Program spacecraft development. This $33 billion business is one of the largest working in defense, space and security, and has a long track record of aeronautical development for military use.

By James Tutten

(Photos provided by The Boeing Company and ULA)

(Published at on Feb. 17, 2014.)

Boeing’s CST-100 recently concluded a hardware design review and software safety test.  Photo Credit: ULA

Monday, February 3, 2014

Jillian Gizzi shines for 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels'

     Jillian Gizzi is a talented and ambitious actress, who continues to reach for perfection with her current role in the musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” under the direction of Julia Gagne who she gives credit to helping her find focus.

     “Acting is something where it really has to click in your mind in order to understand it, and she helped it click in my mind,” said Gizzi when asked about her first time working with Gagne as a director in 2011.

     Gizzi has wonderfully step into the mind of her current character, a young and seemingly naive Christine Colgate, who has multiple layers entwined within the scams of a pair of con artists, and who is herself a master manipulator throughout the entire process.

     This isn’t learned until the end of the play thanks to Gizzi’s convincing performance and enduring believability.

     “Jillian is wonderful in every way,” said Gagne. “I am so proud of how much she’s grown as an actor in the years I’ve known her.” This is the second time the two have worked together, with their first collaboration in 2011 for the musical production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Valencia College.

     Acting hasn’t always been easy for Gizzi, who openly admitted to struggling on-stage when she first started out. From her very first acting role as Fern for her middle school’s production of “Charlott’s Web,” to later performances in high school, staying in character and enjoying her own performance was always a deep concern.

     Working as a dancer seemed more natural for her but she kept working to improve her stagecraft. With the help and support of her family she went on to study for her BFA in Musical Theatre at Pace University in New York City after graduating high school.

     Continuing her work as an actress after furthering her education, Gizzi reflected on her overall journey by saying, “I’ve done quite a lot of musicals, and performed in a lot of plays recently. My stage fright went away a few years ago completely, so it’s made performing and auditioning a lot easier.”

     When she isn’t acting in theatrical productions Gizzi can be found stepping into her day job as a character performer at Walt Disney World, portraying a catalogue of roles that include Disney’s Queen Elsa, Rapunzel, and others. She has fun and truly enjoys the magical moments she shares with young children, and also looks at the whole experience as improv acting and character work that carries over into her other on-stage performances.

     Lead roles in a musical such as “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” pose a great challenge to most actors that have to balance their performance with acting, singing and dancing skills. Gizzi delivers in all three of these key components and truly shines on stage, especially during her spotlight musical numbers where she displays a sublime singing ability.

     “I have worked with her for about five years and she is the triple threat in theatre,” said musical director Tim Hanes. “She is a great actress and dancer, as well as a fantastic singer.”

     Gizzi’s fellow actors do not hesitate to give her praise when asked about her on-stage abilities.

     "On stage, she's very professional, precise, and she's very demanding of herself and wants to do the role the right way," said David Almeida, a veteran actor who plays Lawrence Jameson in this production of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" with Gizzi. "In many ways she's fearless and really goes for it."

     Helping Gizzi to stay focused on her goals is a few philosophies she has developed over the years. One of the greatest ideas for her is embracing the good and bad during the process of auditioning. She claims to have been turned down a lot over the years, and likes to focus on what she did wrong and how she can do better next time rather than being discouraged.

     If she wasn’t performing as an entertainer, Gizzi would like to she herself as an engineer because of her love of mathematics. She took advanced calculus courses in college even though she didn’t really need them, and loves the challenges in higher math that she equates to the challenges she faces in acting.

     In the future she sees herself continuing acting and hopefully steeping into the film industry. What ever comes next, it's clear that Gizzi will continue to impress as she focuses on her goals of making magic as a performer.

By James Tutten

(All photos by James Tutten)

NASA’s LADEE spacecraft gains historic snapshot

     NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft will continue its successful mission with an announced extension of 28 days in orbit. This follows a first-ever high-bandwidth laser communication which took place from the Moon to the Earth. It also included continued atmospheric analyses, and a tricky snapshot by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), another spacecraft working to further the scientific understanding of our nearest celestial neighbor.

     “The launch vehicle performance and orbit capture burns using LADEE’s onboard engines were extremely accurate, so the spacecraft had significant propellant remaining to enable extra science,” said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in a statement released by NASA. “This extension represents a tremendous increase in the amount of science data returned from the mission.”

(Video produced by NASA's Ames Research Center)

     This extension translates into the eventual end of the spacecraft’s mission to be pushed back to around April 21, allowing for more time for the satellite to study the Moon’s atmosphere. LADEE arrived at the Moon on Oct. 6, 2013, one month after being launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Sept. 6, 2013.

     When LADEE’s mission comes to an end, it will purposely fall to the Moon’s surface. Along the way it will continue to collect data from dust samples and send the information back to Earth, and its impact will hopefully be observed by LRO thanks to a recent encounter helping to increase these odds.

     LADEE’s retrograde orbit runs from east-to-west along the Moon’s equator, while a south-to-north orbit is being performed by LRO. The two spacecraft came within 5.6 miles (9 km) of each other on Jan. 15, as both satellites flew by around 3,600 mph. An image that required precise timing of LADEE in flight was taken by LRO thanks to some ingenuity and a bit of luck.

     With LADEE’s flight path not passing directly underneath LRO, mission commanders had to compensate by having the LRO roll 34 degrees to allow its Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) a 1.35 millisecond window to get a clear shot of LADEE. The image taken by the LROC was slightly distorted, but still provide a one-of-a-kind image that may impact the chances of LRO to get a snapshot of the results of LADEE coming to its final resting place.

     Designed and built by NASA’s Ames Research Center in collaboration with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, LADEE is being used to study the density and composition of the Moon’s faint atmosphere, also known as a surface boundary exosphere. This type of atmosphere turns out to be the most common in our solar system with others existing on Mercury, large asteroids, and other moons orbiting the outer planets. Despite the commonality little is known about them and researching by LADEE at the Moon is believed to help future mission and the understanding of similar solar bodies.

     Science teams working for LADEE are also analyzing atmospheric data collected from the Chang’e 3 landing on Dec. 14, 2013, that also coincided with the Geminid Meteor shower. Analyzing how molecules attach to airborne surface grains during impact events like this may provide more opportunity to decipher the so-called “hopping” of molecules on the lunar surface.

     “The LADEE science team continues to analyze the data from the Chang’e 3 landing, episodic meteoroid showers and repeating variations as the moon goes through its phases. More surprises likely await us,” said, LADEE project scientist Rick Elphic , in a statement released by NASA.

By James Tutten

(Published at on Feb. 3, 2014.)

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