October 30, 2011 A Screaming Good Time
Reviewing small town community and high school theater is more about appreciation and promotion than criticism and finger-pointing, but the fecund state of Raton's local theater scene has brought us to a point where such positive commentary is more often accuracy than generosity. Raton High School's Mask & Wig Club -- young actors in a young club -- this weekend mounted a dramatic production of "Dracula" that was startlingly good.
Almost to show off their youthful energy, for Halloween weekend they mounted a second Saturday night performance at 11 p.m. last night, running the full-length play well into Sunday. (On the other hand, when you accomplish something very good, doesn't it give you a burst of energy?)
Most high school drama clubs mount their shows in the school's auditorium; some have to settle for the school's "cafetorium." In Raton, the venerable 97-year-old Shuler Theater always makes room in its schedule of professional productions for the local community and high school plays, which goes part way toward explaining the town's strong theater scene.
My first impression of this production of Dracula was that there was a lot of screaming. And then there was more screaming. Let's say the young actors really bit into their roles. But then the story settled down and developed into a forceful drama. This was both the first drama and the first full-length play by this young drama club that's only in its second year, founded with the arrival at the school of its director, Cian Hazen, who clearly deserved a great deal of credit for this weekend's success.
But sixteen young actors and a dozen young crew members all threw themselves into this production with relish, and it was obvious that they had a bloody good time.
Several of the roles had as many lines and as much stage time as the lead role of Dracula, but senior James Neary's performance was so demonically commanding and possessed that there was never any doubt that he was the star. With not even the slightest nod to Bela Lugosi, he made the role his own. His Dracula had had 500 years to build such confidence that his smile was both ever-present and chilling. It was impossible not to suspect that the smile also signaled how much fun Neary had with the role.
As the serious doctor Van Helsing, sophomore Nathan Coleman shined in only his second foray on stage, following one appearance in a fifth-grade musical. But after Neary and Coleman, the other juicy performances mostly belonged to the girls.
Senior Etta Briscoe played the captive mad doctor Renfield to the hilt, causing two momentary interruptions to the play when the audience insisted on applauding her. Tegan Thompson again demonstrated that she's a natural actor, immersing herself and emoting convincingly, here in her role as Lucy Westphal.
That leaves two performances to note, tiny roles but hard to wipe from the mind. Ila Medina as Mina Grant had simply too much fun being blood-thirsty, but that was a good thing in this context. Kristina Jansen's part as "Child" was similar, but she provided the play a chilling coda when, after Dracula had received the climactic stake through the heart, Jansen skipped into a cold spotlight front and center: as she went down to drink from yet another victim's still-warm neck, her bloodlust was unsettlingly chilling. In that moment she equaled -- indeed, she replaced -- Neary's Dracula and closed the play on an appropriately frightening note.
Photos, from top, left to right: 1) Tegan Thompson, James Neary, Ila Medina; 2) Nathan Coleman, Etta Briscoe, Lucas Jansen; 3) Coleman, Cole Kuchan, Thompson, Marcus Hodge; 4) Coleman and Neary; 5) Kuchan, Coleman, Neary. As always, click any image to enlarge it.
October 29, 2011 Sending One's Babies Off into the World
My last two blog posts (down below this one) have each resulted in images going off on their own into the world. I received an e-mail this week from an intern at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum on Main Street program asking permission to use my photos of Raton High School students engrossed in the Journey Stories exhibit at Raton Museum.
Danielle Swanson wrote, "Next week MoMS is holding their National Planning Meeting in St. Petersburg, FL. To prepare for the conference I have been putting together a PowerPoint presentation on Journey Stories and all of the states it has traveled to in the past. The presentation will be given to State Humanities Council representatives who attend the conference as a way to provide ideas for local exhibitions and programming in the communities who will host the exhibition in the future. So far the only state I am missing information from is New Mexico, and I was wondering if I could use some of your photographs that were included in your blog post?" It's a great program, so I was happy to say yes.
Meantime, Metales M5 Mexican Brass, the fabulous band I featured October 16, asked permission and has been using several of my images on its Facebook page. In fact, my silhouette of the entire band is now the profile photo, and most of the individual players have also adopted my photos of them as their individual profile pictures. Nine of my photos are prominently featured in the band's US tour photo album, and we're currently exchanging e-mails as they considering licensing another batch of my photos from the same Raton concert. (Trumpeter Alex Freund, on the right above, wrote, "We are always very eager to have good performance photos and yours are by far the best we saw in a looooong time!!!!")
It's fun to watch one's work find its way in the world -- and in our digital age, it sometimes happens quickly!
October 23, 2011 A First Trip to a Museum
The Smithsonian Institution has a remarkable project called Museum on Main Street in which it creates and sends traveling exhibitions around the country to serve small town museums and residents of rural America. Last year the Folsom Museum hosted "New Harmonies," a celebration of America's unique folk musics, including blues, jazz, gospel, bluegrass, and country. Now the Raton Museum is hosting "Journey Stories." Last week, Raton High School students visited the museum with their English classes; true to Museum on Main Street's mission, most of the students -- born and raised in Raton -- had never been inside the museum. In fact, many didn't know there is a Raton Museum.
"Journey Stories" weaves multiple storylines together into a single theme -- the role of movement and transportation in Americans' hearts and histories. The multi-media show traces the many key migrations across American history, and the Raton Museum's own rich storehouses apply the theme specifically to Raton, which galvanized the students' attention. They gathered around century-old photos of Raton, especially aerial street views shot from Goat Hill, which led the students to search for their own streets and current home locations.
A few Raton families trace their arrival in the area back 400 years to the Conquistadores, who continued north and east from Santa Fe, more or less along what would later become the Santa Fe Trail, as they searched for the mythic Seven Cities of Gold.
Far more arrived a century ago in two huge waves of migration: to claim free land under the Homestead Act, and (mostly European immigrants) to work the area's newly-burgeoning coal mines, creating whole new mining towns at nearby locations such as Dawson and Sugarite.
A majority of today's students trace their families' arrivals in Raton back at least a century. Each knows the family story -- how and when Great Great Grandma and Grandpa arrived -- but few have known the local history and the context in which their forebears arrived.
It was exciting to wander around listening as they put the pieces together, applied them to their own stories, and excitedly shared these stories with their friends. They were so transfixed that I was able to take photographs without being noticed.
"Journey Stories" draws richly on music, journals, and literature -- think of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and John Steinbeck's Joad family -- illustrated by fascinating archival photography, all presented with the Smithsonian's top-notch professional skills. The show makes the point that 400 years of history have hard-wired movement and travel into Americans' DNA. The show even includes material on the family vacation.
Museums -- and the arts -- are never self-supporting. 70% of the Smithsonian's funding comes from federal tax dollars, and the Raton Museum doesn't even charge an admission fee so it's completely supported by tax monies and grants. At a time of hue and cry against taxes, the "Journey Stories" exhibition at the Raton Museum serves as a cogent reminder that government is us, and that our tax monies support many services well worth our investment and sacrifice. Watching Raton's teenagers immersed in their first looks at their own histories made a convincing case for that.
October 16, 2011 A Heavy Metal Concert
Wednesday evening marked the opening of this year's concert season presented by Raton Arts & Humanities Council, with the Whited Foundation, at the Shuler Theater. I've learned to trust the bookings, because on paper some of them sound underwhelming and for me they mean spending hours in town after work, then getting home after 10 only to get up at 5 for the commute to work again the next morning. But the shows never disappoint, and so I never miss one.
Metales M5 Mexican Brass consists of two trumpeters, a trombone, a french horn, and a tuba. (See what I mean?) From the moment the opening curtain parted, it was clear that we were in good hands with an entertaining evening ahead. In our first look, the musicians were dressed as British Tories, complete with powdered long-hair wigs. Through the first set, they gradually, and comically, reduced the amount of costuming until they were dressed in contemporary black.
It was easy enough to enjoy on a strictly entertainment level -- boys will be boys, dueling trumpets...and I mean dueling with them as light sabers during the Star Wars segment -- but what quickly became apparent was that these consummate entertainers had long ago mastered their instruments and their music. They played elaborate, sumptuous arrangements so effortlessly that they could perform comedy antics simultaneously with the music. Easy to escape notice was that they never played straightforward songs or melodies, but rather had arranged each piece into constantly shifting and challenging arrangements. It was seriously good music played by virtuosos who never took themselves too seriously.
The group is based in Morelia, Mexico, the urban center of Michoacan, Christina's and my favorite area of Mexico, an area where I've spent a lot of time since first holing up in Patzcuaro in the summer of 1985 to write songs and practice my Spanish. Most of the Metales M5 musicians perform with the Morelia Symphony Orchestra, and some also teach on music faculties.
But their fall tour has them away from home for three months: 55 concerts across the western half of the United States, of which the Raton show was number 26. They were in great form, engaging the audience throughout the show and earning both laughter and strong applause, despite the fact that three of the players knew no English. The stage patter was handled effectively by Alexander Freund, a German who speaks many languages, has been in Morelia for eight years, and has a knack as an entertainer; he was occasionally assisted by trombonist Timothy Dueppen, guesting with the group for this tour but usually based in his native Los Angeles, where he's a busy session player.
As so often happens, the Shuler Theater was only about half full for this touring show. That's a shame. Too many people have worn depressions in their couches across from the TV, forgetting how exciting and moving a night of live entertainment can be. No matter the sacrifice it might require, I've never yet regretted staying out late for a show at the Shuler.
P.S. See "Why Paul McCartney Chose the Electric Bass"
September 30, 2011 RHS Senior Spelling Bee Champions
Raton High School held its annual fall homecoming "Rowdy-O" (or Rowdeo?) this week with raucous shouting and fun & games for all. While I had my eyes fixed on the action to spot good photo opportunities, principal Mike Sparaco and superintendent Dave Willden each spotted and pointed out to me this humorous image, above, which I call "Senior Spelling Bee Champions."
Speaking of Mike Sparaco, and of fun titles, I snuck up behind Mike and got this image, which I call "Tennis Balls Are Now Available in Red." The event was held on Class Colors Day; teachers were assigned the color red. I guess Mike didn't have a red shirt.
He was the grand marshal of today's downtown Raton homecoming parade, honored for being a teacher, and now principal, at Raton High School since 1973. Dang, he must be old!
(He's about the same age I am, and he has a great sense of humor -- the best sense of humor of any boss I've had.)
To this pair of old ears, the event seemed designed to get the kids to scream their throats and lungs out for 90 minutes. Ear plugs would have been welcome. The classes were pitted against each other in humorous events guaranteed to provoke riotous laughter.
Here, freshman Christian Granado has to down a full baby bottle of water while sitting on class president Clair Willden's lap. Christian had to race a tiny tricycle the length of the gym to get to Clair; when he's done, he'll race back.
The senior class won the event. Lucky for them, spelling didn't count in the score.
September 24, 2011 New Mexico Magazine Shake-Ups
No sooner did I finally make a breakthrough with New Mexico Magazine than it started undergoing big shake-ups. With the success of my features on Max Evans and the Brown Ranch, I'd hoped to be embarking on several features per year for the magazine. Instead, a year after finishing my work on those pieces, I've had no new work from New Mexico's premier magazine.
Many people don't realize that the magazine is published by New Mexico's Department of Tourism; nor is it easy to imagine that the popular magazine loses money. With the arrival of the state's newly-elected cost-cutting Republican governor earlier this year, the magazine went under the knife. First the editor was fired and replaced, then this week 40% of the staff was suddenly sent packing without notice: they were ordered to remove their things from the building by the end of the same work day.
I'm among the many who feel that the magazine more than pays its way by promoting the state's people, places, and events and by generating commerce throughout the state, spurring residents and visitors to new travels and experiences...and expenditures. Our northeastern corner of New Mexico, in particular, has returned to neglect, receiving no coverage in the magazine since my features last spring. (Look at the commercial effect of the Brown Ranch feature, here in the Chronicle-News.)
It took me two years of patient persistence to begin getting work from New Mexico Magazine. The associate editor has assured me that she looks forward to working with me again. After a successful beginning, I'm back to patient persistence. But hey, as a freelancer, at least the governor can't kick me out of my office by 5 o'clock.
September 17, 2011 KRTN Leaps from the Airwaves to the Cloud
On Labor Day, Raton's KRTN radio station went online with its website, stepping firmly into the 21st century, although its programming remains proudly old school -- "real radio by (and for) real people."
KRTNRadio.com has been under development since early spring. In late spring, general manager Bill Donati hired my wife Christina Boyce to develop content for the site, giving web developer Lori Chatterley words and images to incorporate into the new site. Christina's been having the time of her life, suddenly finding herself joining me in engaging professionally in writing, photography, and website development. (It's been pretty fun and celebratory around the house.)
Christina has written or edited much of the website's text, and she's taken most of the portraits and other photos for the site, although she asked me to take her official website portrait. (I also provided Marty Mayfield's portrait, two shots below Christina's.)
I'm a long-time fan of KRTN. I spent an entire morning at the studio in 2009 for a Chronicle-News feature, and I've dropped in many times to chat on the popular morning show "This That & the Other."
I know that KRTNRadio.com has taken off in a flash of activity because I'm already getting several referrals daily from the new KRTN site: yes, they've been kind enough to link to my site and I'm already seeing increased traffic from it. (Thanks, KRTN!)
The first thing Christina did, back in May, was to put KRTN on Facebook, and that has joined the station's airwaves, and now the website, as a vital and busy resource for all things Raton. (I've previously referred to KRTN as The Heartbeat of Raton, and that's become even more true this year.)
As Christina continues to develop new web content, she's also increasingly sitting behind the station's microphone, developing her on-air personality as KRisTiNa. It's fun to watch her -- and KRTN -- grow.
P.S. This morning I posted my "Arabian Wind" feature from the September issue of Western Horseman. You won't have to be interested in horses to enjoy the story and photos. Check it out!
September 16, 2011 An Impressive "Coffee Table Magazine"
This week I received a box containing a stack of the August/September issue of Ranch & Reata, with its cover story "Tim Keller: On Telling Stories with a Camera." It looks just as good as I thought it would, based on the online edition.
In a cutting-edge business model, R&R ("The Journal of the American West") offers a free online version where readers can take advantage of direct links to contributors and advertisers. Then it prints a limited run of 1000 copies which it sells for $14.95 each. You know what a coffee table book is; I call this a coffee table magazine. At 9"x11", it's 130 pages total 3/8" thickness, printed on heavy highest-quality glossy paper.
For a featured photographer, this is heaven. The print quality equals or exceeds the best magazine photography I've seen. More than a dozen of my photos are featured one-to-a-page, with an additional two-page spread.
For those wondering how a southern California surfer and skateboarder could grow into a professional ranch photographer, page 72 offers a full-page explanation.
Enjoy the online magazine; then, if you're even a little tempted to spring for the $15 coffee table magazine, I'd say go for it.
September 4, 2011 Bucking Broncos in the Night
The 33rd Annual Raton Rodeo had to be rescheduled from June when fire departments from throughout the west used the rodeo grounds as their command center in fighting Raton's Track Fire. The rodeo finally came around last weekend and I photographed the Friday night show.
I was able to gain access to the contestants' side of the arena for close-up shots of the bull-riding and backstage preparations. (Marty Mayfield did much more the following evening, as he's done for years -- and he's posted his entire portfolio -- check it out.) While the bulls stayed right by my lens, the saddle broncs raced across the arena as fast as they could, giving me telephoto images against the bleachers and far rail.
The horse in this second shot made an impression on me. I was standing by the chute when the stock contractor ran these horses through the chutes and I found myself standing next to this massive horse. He appears to have been matched to a cowboy of similar proportions: between them, I feel an immense power here.
Except for some youth rodeo "play days" at Des Moines, this was my first foray into rodeo photography. It won't be my last. There are great challenges in capturing fast-moving action in the low light of night, and in portraying the drama of rodeo. I'm already looking forward to next June.
Want to see July/August?
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