2008-10-03 / Columnists

School Scope

Hooked on RTC
Commentary By Norman Scott

Norman Scott
This is my second year taping the shows at the Rockaway Theatre Company. And I'm totally hooked. I go around singing (not a pretty sight) songs from "Annie" and "Oliver." I break out in Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover." And get funny looks from my wife.

When I took Frank Caiati's acting class at the RTC earlier this year with people like Susan Corning, whose amazing performance in the lead role of M'Lynn in "Steel Magnolias" blew me away, I wanted to comfort her for the loss of her daughter Shelby.

You mean Susan you really aren't from a small town in Louisiana? Nancy Sturgis' Main Line accent as Tracy Lord in "Philadelphia Story" convinced me she was really Katharine Hepburn. I'm startled when I see Kate behind the counter at the RTC selling soda.

Ok. So, I tend to dally in the world of fiction and do get confused at times. I'm truly amazed at actors and how they can create an entire world and just walk right out of it and go back to being regular people.

The current "Rockaway Café" salute to Paul Simon meets all the increasingly high standards being set by the RTC.

The mix of ages of the participants, many from our local community, makes the RTC one interesting place to hang out. Rehearsals are as fascinating as the shows themselves and I look for excuses to go hang out there. Research for the video, you know. I always feel like a third wheel. Everyone is so busy.

A group of 10 kids practicing their dance steps in the parking lot. Musicians in the lobby working on arrangements. Activities on various parts of the stage and backstage. Technicians doing sound and lights. The incredible tech supervisor Tony Homsey building sets and doing stuff I can't even comprehend. Parents with kids in the play cleaning the bathroom.

Oh, there's Frank Caiati, an enormously talented actor (find anyone, anywhere who is more comfortable and natural on a stage) walking around with a paintbrush. "I love to paint," he says while washing out a brush. It is all so ORGANIZED. The anarchist in me gets queasy.

But it works so well. I mean, where else do you find people from 6 to 60(+) hanging out and digging each other? I think it is the teaching that goes on at RTC. Teaching that goes way beyond "the show" or "the performance." It is no accident.

Producer Susan Jasper and Artistic Director John Gilleece were veteran teachers in the NYC public schools. Michael Wotypka who co-directs with Peggy Page, one of the RTC's founders, still teaches at Leon Goldstein HS. (Michael and I are on the same side in the UFT political jungle.) I stop by on a Saturday and there's Peggy Page running a theater workshop for teens and young kids.

Frank Caiati recently graduated from Brooklyn College with guess what? A teaching degree. So, Frank teaches acting to old farts like me and to 10-year-olds.

Give Frank a pied pipe and watch the kids follow him. Anywhere. RTC is so much about teaching. People seem to pour their lives into the place. It shows. Not only at the performances, but every single day.

The wonderful kids whom we watch turn into teens, then into young adults right before our eyes. "The RTC has given my daughter so much poise and confidence," one parent told me. And they just love to hang out at the RTC, where the theater has become a second home. Is there a better place for Rockaway kids to go in their spare time?

Oh, and there are still three performances of Rockaway Café this weekend. Famed DJ Pete Fornatale, who wrote a book on Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends album, will be attending the final performance of the salute to Paul Simon at the Sunday matinee.

Robotics Comes to Rockaway

One of the most satisfying retirement activities has been my work with the FIRST organization that runs robotics tournaments all over the world.

A couple of parents at the Scholars' Academy, seeing my various robotic tee-shirts in Anita Ruderman's Hot Yoga classes (another favorite thing) asked me about the program. One parent came over to my house with her son to check out some of the materials and Scholars' registered a team. I went over there last week as teacher Barrie Donohue held her first team meeting. I showed the kids the Climate Connections materials.

Robots built out of LEGO have two and a half minutes to accomplish up to 18 tasks on an 8 by 4 game board as they solve problems related to global warming. Things like putting up flood barriers, building levees, and raising a house so it doesn't get flooded. I must say that being in front of kids again is still exhilarating.

If Barrie wants my help, I may not be able to stay away. Hmmm. Robotics by day and theater at night. And I'd never have to leave Rockaway. If You Want to Dance, Pay the Fiddler

A perfect quote that can be applied to today's financial situation from an old source.

Boy do we need someone like him today.

"It is an old maxim and a very sound one, that he that dances should always pay the fiddler. Now, sir, in the present case, if any gentlemen, whose money is a burden to them, choose to lead off a dance, I am decidedly opposed to the people's money being used to pay the fiddler … all this to settle a question in which the people have no interest, and about which they care nothing.

These capitalists generally act harmoniously, and in concert, to fleece the people, and now, that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people's money to settle the quarrel." - Abraham Lincoln, January 11, 1837

Speaking of Abe

A couple of weeks ago Howard Schwach, with a "plague on both their houses" editorial on McCain/Obama, talked about how little experience Obama has. I immediately thought of Abe Lincoln and his lack of experience and also his work as a lawyer and the early 19th century version of a community organizer. A week later Norman Silverman wrote this in a letter:

"One hundred and forty years ago another young man came out of Illinois. He had only one two-year term in Congress. He lost his seat after questioning our reasons for the Mexican War. He lost a Senate race to a more experienced politician. He did not fit the image many voters had of an American president. Abraham Lincoln went on to win the presidential election, the Civil War, reunite our divided nation and initiate a period of rapid economic growth. Perhaps another eloquent young man from Illinois can follow in his footsteps."

Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" shows us how someone with little experience but with remarkable character and temperament could become one of the great leaders in history. I still think a lot of the criticisms of Obama disguise queasiness about electing a black man for president. An awful lot of people still use the "Obama is a Muslim" excuse no matter how much that is debunked. Up to 20 percent of white people won't reveal to pollsters their true intentions when it comes to black candidates, the so-called Bradley effect. Obama would have to lead by close to 20 points to win. Certainly by 10.

More and more pundits are saying this openly. Obama has been accused of being too cool and dispassionate while McCain has been viewed as hot headed. I don't know about you, but I know whose hand I want on the nuclear trigger. Ask tough questions about the bailout

Is the current financial crisis just an updated version of weapons of mass destruction? Are we being railroaded into believing there's a phony crisis to force the public to pony up to rescue the wrong people? Did Goldman Sachs have $20 billion invested in AIG that would be saved by the bailout? Remember that is where Henry Paulson comes from. Supposedly, Goldman Sachs execs actually sat in on talks to design the bailout.

Let's skip the middleman on Wall Street and go right to Main Street. Bail out the American worker who provides the fuel for the economy by creating New Deal style WPA jobs for all the things this country needs so desperately, including hiring scads of teachers and creating enough space to reduce class size in urban schools.

And the most important issue? Will some of the hundreds of banks on Beach 116 Street close so we can get some more food places to open up?

Norm blogs daily (read all the goodies on the bailout) at http://ed notesonline.blogspot.com/. Talk to him at normsco@gmail.com.

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