Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Abolitionist drama on ’YSO

For armchair historians and Civil War scholars, 2009 is a banner year. The year marks the bicentennial birthday of Abraham Lincoln and the 150th anniversary of abolitionist John Brown’s raid on a federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. National parks and historical sites in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia have organized events such as dramatic reenactments, tours, and symposiums through the end of the year to commemorate the raid, considered to be the spark that ignited the Civil War.

Here in Ohio, playwright Kay Reimers has taken her stage play, Sacred Fire, based on historical accounts of the wealthy and influential supporters of John Brown, and turned it into a radio drama. The one-hour drama will air on WYSO (FM 91.3) on Thursday, Oct. 22 (11 p.m.); Friday, Oct. 23 (7 p.m.); and Sunday, Oct. 25 (11 a.m. and 11 p.m.).

In the play, each of Brown’s key backers must wrestle with his or her own conscience as the far-reaching repercussions of their financial support slowly come to light. In Reimers’ trademark treatment of an historical drama, she asks the audience to wrestle with their conscience as well, posing the question, “Would you support a terrorist if the cause was just?”

“Theatre can be a very effective tool for teaching history,” said local actor Howard Shook in a recent interview with Living History Theatre members who staged the play at the Antioch Theatre in October 2007. Some of the tactics Brown employs to end slavery and punish ― even murder ― slavery supporters don’t sit well with Brown’s backers. That is, with the exception of Unitarian pastor, Rev. Thomas Higginson, played by Shook.

“Thomas Higginson would stand in the street and say, ‘Yes, I did. I gave money to John Brown,’ because he was very passionate about his beliefs,” Shook explained. So passionate that, according to the play, fellow supporters are forced to consider undermining Higginson in order to keep from being implicated in the treason charges brought against Brown and face possible execution themselves.

Just how far would John Brown’s supporters go to support their cause?

Jonathan Platt, who plays the role of Robert E. Lee, appreciates the re-evaluation of Brown that has taken place in recent history.

“In recent years, he’s reemerged as a more noble figure,” said Platt, referring to the “saint-or-madman?” debate that follows John Brown to this day and appears throughout the quad-state symposiums. “John Brown basically started the first white uprising of slavery and in that way, was way ahead of the time.”

In addition to the task of drawing parallels between historical and modern-day events, Living History Theatre members also had to bring history to life on radio after having brought it to life on stage.

“You’re standing there in front of a microphone and you can’t move and walk around,” said Shook, describing the difficulty of keeping his mouth directly in front of the microphone at all times while still maintaining a connection with the other actors.

“For me it was interesting learning how to convey everything with just my voice,” said Miriam Eckenrode whose character, Julia Ward Howe, is married to Samuel Gridley Howe, played by Doug Hinkley. Eckenrode appreciates the way in which Reimers portrays female characters who are strong, intelligent, and educated. “Julia could speak very directly and very honestly with her husband and he respected her opinion. Even though women were not considered equal yet, Kay writes the female characters with a lot of consideration for the relationship that they have with their husbands.”

Sectional rehearsals and scenes recorded out of sequence that would have driven another theatre company mad, were made conveniently possible with an all-local cast, playwright, and director. Director Dan Davis charted out each scene, then coordinated rehearsals for the relevant actors since only a few could fit in the recording studio at one time. During recordings, Reimers would stand at the window outside the WYSO studio, and watch history unfold.

“Dramas were once the mainstay of radio, but they mostly have disappeared,” said Reimers, recalling the winding path her play took to get from stage to studio. “When I looked for other [radio dramas] to read, I found almost nothing out there. I give a great deal of credit to the staff at WYSO for being willing to experiment. I feel that [Morning Edition Host] Jerry Kenney and [General Manager] Neenah Ellis, my co-producers, and I held hands, closed our eyes, and jumped into the deep end of the pool together.”

Reimers doesn’t need the upcoming WYSO broadcast of Sacred Fire to signal a closure to this effort. She’s already moved on to her next production, which will focus on the women’s suffrage movement of the 1920’s.

“For the actor, the ultimate validation is the applause from the audience,” said Reimers. “But for the writer, it’s seeing the work actually living. It’s no longer in your head, it’s no longer on a page. Writers tend to be shy people, we can get a little overwhelmed by applause and getting noticed. But to hear it in the recording studio ― that’s all the applause I need.”

For more information about the sesquicentennial anniversary, go to

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.

Science fun: Kaboom to be heard in library

Theatre performers who cater to a family audience understand the challenge of creating a show that will appeal to a broad range of ages and sensibilities.

“I wanted to create a show that children loved but that parents would also enjoy,” said David Epley of his new science comedy act featuring his alter-ego, Doktor Kaboom. “I wanted to be able to put jokes in that parents would get and that kids wouldn’t even know were jokes.”

On March 28 at 1 p.m., Doktor Kaboom will bring his playful look at scientific exploration to the Yellow Springs Library. The public is invited.

Epley was interviewed over the phone earlier this month while on the road in Deerfield Beach, Fla., finishing up a five-week run as Doktor Kaboom at the Florida Renaissance Festival. Festival-fans might not recognize him without the mud he’s typically wearing when performing in Theatre in the Ground, the mud-friendly act that has taken him and two partners around the Renaissance festival circuit for the past 20 years. In 2007, he began the transition from Mudde guy to “a German Mr. Wizard with a rock star flair.”

“The only place I’m doing the Mudde Show anymore is Ohio [Renaissance Festival] and this will be my last year doing it,” Epley explained.

Although he enjoyed the opportunity to play in the mud all these years, when Epley turned 40 in 2006, he decided it was time to clean up his act. Now a solo performer after sharing the stage for almost two decades, he admits there are pros and cons to both.

“I loved working with my partners but I’m totally loving being on my own.”

In addition to the festival circuit, Doktor Kaboom is appearing at performance art centers, summer camps, schools, and libraries across the country. The act will be also be a part of Victoria Theatre’s Young At Heart Family Series in January.

Striking a balance and staying within appropriate boundaries with regards to humor, taste, prior scientific knowledge, and attention span is not new to him. His background in Theatre in the Ground ― incorporating improvisation with a loosely-scripted act in front of a large and diverse crowd that changes every hour ― has been the perfect training for his new career. He has learned not only how to read an audience but also how to read the person who books him.

“You get a real initial take talking to the person who hired you because they’re the one who is going to be the most concerned if something goes wrong. You get a feel for them, the audience, and the space. Sometimes I even ask, ‘Where’s the line [of acceptable humor]? How far do you want me to go?’ They can give me a pretty good read.” Epley’s audience isn’t only a part of the show, they help to shape the performance.

“Their responses, their reactions tell me where I can go with a show.”

Audience members need not be apprehensive about volunteering to assist. Doktor Kaboom makes his assistants feel at ease immediately, feeding them specific instructions and continually cueing the audience for support and appreciation, making sure participants are laughed with, not at.

His 45-to-60 minute grade-appropriate shows are available for elementary, middle, and high school performances and fit state and federally mandated curriculum standards. Teachers can even request a topic, tailor-made to their specific needs.

“I came up with the idea of doing a science show because I grew up studying science. I went to a special high school for science kids [North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics]. We had our own electron microscope on campus, our own observatory. We had a Minivac mainframe computer with campus-wide internet before the internet. It was a magnificent experience.”

After he became an actor, he always wondered “if the two passions would combine somehow.”

Bookings started out slow at first, filling in his Renaissance festival schedule during the off-season. But just like one of Doktor Kaboom’s mysterious chemical concoctions, this experiment has surpassed his initial calculations.

“It’s taken off. It’s taken over my whole life. I’ve got shows booked in Long Island, upstate New York, northern Ohio, Iowa, and Texas.” Epley’s agent is currently working out the details for a performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Like the tagline reads on his website (, “Nothing Says Science Like KABOOM!”

Now that he’s washed off the mud and dusted off his safety goggles (“Science is dangerous!” he proclaims to his audience in a clipped and commanding German accent. “We must always practice safe science!”), Epley is pleased to be performing in his home town.

Last January, just as he was headed to Manhattan to showcase the act in an off-Broadway theatre, Epley stopped in at Tom’s Market to buy snacks for the trip. As he headed out to the parking lot, nervous about the showcase and how an audience of performance art center booking agents would receive the act, he passed three girls that he guessed might have been sixth graders.

“They whispered to each other and then one of them said, ‘Doktor Kaboom! You rock, dude!’” Their spontaneous and enthusiastic support lifted his spirits for the entire drive to New York.

“It’s just a joy for me to perform,” said Epley. “Things just keep falling into place. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.

"Taking Root" has roots in Yellow Springs

Timing is everything. From the right person at the right time who can inspire a national movement to the careful editing of compelling footage in a documentary about that movement, timing is a powerful catalyst.

The documentary, Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, is a tribute to timing on many levels. A special preview screening will be presented at the Little Art Theatre, Saturday, March 21, at 4 p.m. Admission is free.

“The filmmakers [Vermont residents Lisa Merton and Alan Dater] started on this movie about six years ago,” said local film editor Jim Klein, one of four editors who worked on the film. “They were working on it because they care about the environment and international politics and all the things Wangari Maathai is involved in. They went to Kenya to work on the film with very little money. Nobody else had any interest in this subject whatsoever.”

That all changed when Maathai, a member of the Kikuyu, Kenya’s most economically successful ethnic group, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.

“All of a sudden,” Klein explained, “there were thousands of crews from all over the world that wanted to make films about her.” Maathai refused them all. According to Klein, she recognized that the film team from Vermont understood and valued the work she was doing before she received the prestigious award. Maathai agreed to do other interviews only after the Merton/Dater film was completed.

With the stakes significantly higher, the filmmakers turned to their long-time friend, the “film doctor.”

“Most films I’ve worked on, I haven’t really worked on from the beginning,” said Klein. “People get into trouble and they come to me.”

Since its premiere last year, Taking Root has been winning awards in documentary film festivals around the world. The film traces Africa’s problems back to colonial practices and post-colonial corruption that resulted in widespread deforestation, soil erosion, and other forms of environmental degradation.

In the film, Maathai describes her childhood in Kenya and her early relationship to what was then a fertile earth. After being chosen in 1960 as one of 600 Kenyan students to go to college in the U.S., she returned six years later to see the beloved creek from her childhood dried up, denuded forests, and malnourished villagers. What began in 1976 with the simple idea to encourage women to plant trees gradually developed into a broad-based, grassroots organization that fought against corruption, greed, and outdated social conventions. The Green Belt Movement, founded by Maathai, is now a source of ethnic pride, an expression of women’s rights, and a symbol of self-sufficiency.

“I was totally entranced by Wangari Maathai,” said Klein. “I think she’s a great role model and heroine of our times. Here was this woman who had amazing environmental expertise, who learned to be a community organizer and motivate and activate thousands, maybe millions, of people in Kenya.” Klein was also moved by Maathai’s courage, “her ability to put her life on the line again and again,” and the timely connection to Yellow Springs’ own greenbelt preservation efforts.

“The same sorts of battles are being fought here in Yellow Springs, whether it’s over toxic waste burning at the cement plant or saving Whitehall Farm,” said Klein. “Right now it’s the issue of budgeting enough village funds for greenbelt preservation. What Wangari is talking about is that real democracy and real community and a real sense of culture comes out of a respect for the land and work to preserve that land. I think this is very much a Yellow Springs film.”

An independent filmmaker since 1969, Klein’s first three films were in collaboration with another local filmmaker ― Julia Reichert. The two met at Antioch College.

“While in college, Julia and I made Growing Up Female,” said Klein. “It was her senior project and the first film of the feminist movement.” The film also marked the beginning of a long-time partnership, both personally and professionally, and the founding of New Day Films, the premiere, member-owned distribution cooperative for social issue media by independent filmmakers. The two continue to collaborate on films as well as co-teach film and video production at Wright State University.

According to Klein, the Miami Valley is fertile ground for the filmmaking industry. In addition to the large number of local independent filmmakers, Wright State’s film production program, and the support of the Little Art Theatre to showcase local work, Central State University also plays a key role in bringing socially responsible films to Yellow Springs.

Independent Television Service (ITVS) and The Black Oak Project at CSU are sponsoring the preview screening of Taking Root before its national broadcast on the PBS series “Independent Lens” beginning in April. According to Deborah E. Stokes, associate professor of English and founder and director of The Black Oak Project, the group receives half a dozen films each year from ITVS to preview and selects the ones that best address African-American concerns to present to neighboring communities and universities. The collaboration showcases films that specifically foster community activism.

As it happens, not only does it take a community to enact social change, it takes a community to edit a film.

“That’s why you have screenings,” said Klein of the film editor’s need to constantly review and reevaluate their work with “fresh eyes.” Throughout the typical filmmaking process, test screenings with an audience of 6 to 60 people will be conducted with the film director and editor present.

“There’s a chemistry that happens, an ESP. Along with audience feedback, I truly believe there is communication that goes on that we don’t scientifically understand and yet everybody that’s worked in this business absolutely agrees. It’s one of the great devices for seeing clearly through other people’s eyes.”

When Klein is editing a project in a public space, people will often stop by to chat and inquire about his progress. The simple act of watching a short scene together will immediately alert him to six or seven areas that need to be tweaked.

“I’ll ask them, ‘You wanna see a little bit?’ and they think I’m being the nicest guy in the world. But actually,” he said with a grin, “I’m robbing their souls!”

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.

Shelbert Smith and T-ball honored

It’s probably just as well that the James A. McKee Association’s Founders Award for Distinguished Community Service was awarded posthumously to L. Shelbert Smith at the group’s annual ceremony on January 14th.

“He would have been a little embarrassed to receive the award,” admitted his son, Lynn, who accepted it on his father’s behalf. “It’s one of those things where he wasn’t about the award. He wasn’t doing things to be seen, he was doing things from the heart.”

“In fact, he didn’t want a funeral service when he passed because he didn’t want a lot of speeches made,” said Frances Smith of her husband who died on September 29, 2008.

Each year the James A. McKee Association (formerly known as the Men’s Group) puts out a call for nominations from the community to recognize a group or individual for extraordinary service to the community.

In her nomination letter, Rachel McKinley cited all the many ways in which Shelbert was invested in the town. “He was on the board of the [Community] Children’s Center. I’d be picking up my kids and I’d see Shelbert there filling in for a teacher, playing with the toddlers. He was on the school board levy committee and he’d always call to ask if he could put a sign in my yard to vote for the levy.”

In addition to his 32 years as a chemistry professor at Central State University, Shelbert was also a board member of Friends Care Center and Greene Inc., board member and president of the YS Senior Center, and charter member of the James A. McKee Association.

“We don’t usually give an award to anyone within our own organization,” said JAM member Ron Schmidt, explaining that the posthumous award seemed appropriate in light of the nominee’s lifetime of service to the community, “especially to the school system.”

“He tutored at the high school from the time he retired which was in 1991,” said Frances. “Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday he was at the high school. In fact, he was scheduled to be at the high school to help a student at 11:30 on the morning that he suffered a stroke. He didn’t recover from that stroke.”

Polo Chaikwang remembers the kindness and playfulness of the man who tutored him in math for several months last year when he was a junior at Yellow Springs High School.

“He really understood kids and he understood the learning process,” said Chaikwang, now a senior, who wrote a letter to the YS News shortly after Shelbert’s death, expressing appreciation for his teacher and friend. Chaikwang described his tutor as calm, collected, and confident about what he was teaching.

“He could naturally produce this kind of comfortable learning environment. There were always a couple of different tutors in the room and he would make jokes with them and crack me up. Everyone got along with him.”

The second Distinguished Community Service Award went to the Perry League, Yellow Springs’ T-ball program for kids, ages 2 to 9, which has been in existence for 38 years.

When he inherited the coordinator role 24 years ago, Jimmy Chesire explained in a recent interview, the basic philosophy was already there.

“It’s not competitive,” he emphasized, “it’s for girls and boys, and it’s open to all races, colors, and creeds.”

For those who have not yet witnessed its unadulterated charm, the Perry League is very different from traditional T-ball programs that are run more like a miniature Little League.

“[In traditional T-ball], the children will wear real uniforms, they’ll keep score, the kids will get three outs and switch sides,” explained Chesire. “My experience is that if you do that kind of structured stuff, a lot of children will have their feelings hurt on a regular basis. I think that’s just ridiculous and a waste of time. So we don’t do any of that.”

Whether Chesire is dispensing Scooby-Doo band-aids to microscopic injuries, sitting in a muddy outfield in mid-play making mud pies and mud angels with other mud-loving moppets, instructing volunteers to learn — and liberally use — each child’s name, or poetically summarizing the evening’s sweetness for the YS News, it’s clear to everyone in the ballpark that the “T” in T-ball stands for Tenderness.

“My approach is to be as loving, as tender, and as silly as possible,” he said.

The league provides a community-building forum that celebrates the children and their families, said veteran volunteer of 15 years, Chris Murphy. “And frankly, if it was all about baseball, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

“There’s a thousand strikes in T-ball,” said Chesire explaining the “no runs, no hits, no outs” diamond doctrine. “I tell the children, ‘You get to swing until you hit it. We can spend all night with you at the plate. Take your time.’ I practice an extreme form of patience and I try to make sure that nobody gets their feelings hurt.”

The nominating letter for the award came from Perry League supporter, Ed Davis. According to Murphy, the letter described how participants look forward to Friday when no one will be yelling at them or telling them they did something wrong (“like what they’re going to experience later!” he added, referring to the competitive and often cut-throat environment of other sports programs). The organizers will often hear from an adult who did not have a positive experience with sports and was turned off at an early age because of it.

“A lot of people would get into sports if there was this kind of acceptance,” said Chesire.

In addition to Tenderness, the “T” in T-ball also stands for Tao.

“There’s an idea in Taoism that there’s a force at work in nature and if we trust that force and get out of the way, it takes care of business,” he said. At the beginning of each season, Chesire will ask for a dozen adults from the stands to help him out. “Six to 10 of those people will come every week, make sure tenderness and lovingness is going on, and make sure kids are allowed to play in the dirt.”

Shelbert Smith’s daughter, Tami, has been one of those people.

“She has great love in her heart and great enthusiasm for the kids,” he said. “She gets out in the dirt and is rooting and cheering and clapping. She’s the perfect T-ball mom.”

This summer will be Chesire’s 25th year and he plans to make it his last. Putting his faith in T-ball Taoism, he is confident that an appropriate replacement will step up to the plate.

“Chances are it will be as loving and sweet as it has been with me and if we’re lucky, even more so.”

Founders Award recipients each receive an engraved plaque, which is on display in the lobby of the John Bryan Community Center.

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.

No country for old menus: 3 businesses partner-up

“We’re in a highly competitive industry that’s changing,” said Little Art Theatre owner, Jenny Cowperthwaite, in a recent interview. “Less people are seeing movies in theatres. It’s not just independent theatres like the Little Art that is experiencing declining attendance. It’s industry-wide.”

Cowperthwaite, who has managed the theatre for 30 years and owned it for the past 11, has kept the Little Art viable as she continues to forecast fickle audience tastes and navigate the tricky terrain of ticket sales and technology. While the movie-making industry worldwide has shifted their reliance on profits from the “front end” of the business (box office ticket and concession sales) to the “back end” (dvd sales and rentals), film distributors are placing increasingly unrealistic demands on the small-town, single-screen theatre’s profitability and programming schedule.

“Operating a movie theatre is very expensive,” said Cowperthwaite, explaining her view from the projection room and the high overhead costs including renting and shipping films, high utility bills, and payroll. “You’ve got to bring in $3,000 a week and the Little Art doesn’t bring in that kind of money.”

And that’s only the half of it.

With the increase in home entertainment options such as dvd rentals from Blockbuster and Netflix, pay-per-view movies on cable, and downloaded movies from the Internet, the decline in movie theatre attendance countrywide has been steady, slow, and painful. Competition for a household’s entertainment dollars — and time — was stiff even before the economy took a nosedive. Factor in a shrinking demographic that still enjoys and can afford the big-screen, communal experience (and can drive at night to get there) and the squeeze becomes even more apparent. Add in weeks of winter weather and the all-too-easy temptation to hunker down at home with a dvd and a bag of microwave popcorn and it’s easy to see why small theatre owners are scrambling — along with their neighbors.

“The Winds can tell when we’re doing well,” said Cowperthwaite. “There’s a connection there.”

“People don’t want to just come to The Winds,” said The Winds Café & Bakery owner, Mary Kay Smith. “They want to come here and go to the movie or come here and go shopping. If all these shops aren’t open or they’re not doing well, then I won’t be doing well either.”

At the time of this interview, Smith was preparing to be interviewed by the Dayton Daily News for an article about restaurants in general and the economic downturn that has been a focus of the National Restaurant Association.

“We’re well aware of the fact we’re a luxury, not a necessity,” said Smith.

Although devoted patrons would argue that point, Smith still keeps her eye on the numbers which reveal an awkward dilemma. While customer counts for the last few years have remained stable, the amount of dollars spent per person is significantly down. “If we have 50 people come in,” she explained, “whether they spend $5 or $50 we still have to staff for that. That’s our reality.”

Over the many years they have known one another, Cowperthwaite and Smith have discussed different ideas and ways to connect their businesses.

“When you have a small business and you do so much of it yourself, you’re doing more than ever just trying to keep things rolling,” said Smith.

The implementation of any good idea, they explained, takes a support team in the background to handle all the details such as marketing and publicity, printing up special tickets, and making sure all employees are up to speed with the new routine. And for both business owners, that team was not in the picture.

That is until last year when, like a scene out of a classic movie western, the Little Art Theatre Advisory Committee rode into town. In actuality, they didn’t ride into town (most members are YS residents) and there was no grand entrance involving horses, chaps, and cowboy hats.

“I picked a few people and asked if they would be willing to help me with the Little Art,” Cowperthwaite admitted.

“We decided we would call one-screen theatres across the country and talk to the owners about what was going on with their theatre and how they were responding [to the changing industry],” said committee member Kipra Heerman. Committee members Jane Baker, Laura Carlson, Macy Reynolds, and Kevin Rose polled villagers as well for suggestions.

The committee’s dedicated efforts culminated in the birth of a notion.

On Sundays, beginning Feb. 15th, participants can purchase a special brunch-and-a-movie ticket at The Winds that will be dated and good for that afternoon or evening’s film. Seating for brunch is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“For $15 you get brunch and a movie,” said Smith. “I think it’s a great idea because Sunday is one of my favorite times to go to the Little Art.”

Film Feast.
Gone With the Fork.
Singin’ In the Ravioli.

A second restaurant will offer a similar discount on Monday evenings. Beginning Monday, Feb. 16th, a dinner-and-a-movie ticket for $20 will be available at the Sunrise Cafe.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” said Sunrise owner, Brian Rainey. “It’s something I’ve had customers mention to me over the years, that we ought to do something with the Little Art like this. I think it’s cool that we actually got around to doing it!”

Sunrise dinner includes soup or salad, entrée, and dessert. “You come into Sunrise and say, ‘I’m here for a dinner and a movie,’” said Rainey. “You have dinner and then go down to the theatre.” Patrons are asked to arrive by 6 p.m.

“On a Monday night at 7 p.m., if you go to Regal Cinema [the multiplex theatre in Beavercreek] it’s going to cost you $10.50 to get into the movies,” explained Heerman. “If you went to a fast food place for dinner and then to a movie, you’re going to be at $20. Here you get a three-course meal and a movie.”

It’s A Wonderful Meal.
There Will Be Food.

For both restaurants, the price does not cover drinks, tax, or gratuity. Carryout orders are welcome.

“In many ways I hope it inspires people to do the same kind of thing and grow the ‘shop locally’ mentality that we need even more so these days,” said Rainey.

As a participant in the recent “Going Local” weekend workshop with economist Michael Shuman, Heerman couldn’t agree more.

“Some of the things at the top of [Shuman’s] ‘buy local’ list were ‘Get your entertainment locally,’ ‘Get your drinking locally,’ and ‘Businesses should come together and figure out how to make it more enticing for local people,’” said Heerman. According to Shuman, she continued, when you buy local, your dollars go farther than just the $15 you paid for brunch and a movie. “[The restaurant owner] uses those dollars to employ local people who use their paycheck to buy local groceries from Tom’s Market.” As a real world application, local photographer Erik Owen was commissioned to print and mount the posters created by Bing Design to publicize the event.

The three business owners’ creative response to a difficult time is a lesson for us all: When life gives you lemons, make lemon-gorgonzola pesto.

“People say to me, ‘I don’t know if I’d want to live in Yellow Springs if The Winds wasn’t there,’” said Smith, “and I always say, ‘I don’t know if I’d want to live in Yellow Springs if the Little Art wasn’t there.’”

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the

Really, really fun and free (really!)

The first Yellow Springs Really Really Free Market (“No money. No barter. No trade.”) took place on Saturday, January 24, from 1-4 p.m., at Emporium Wines and Underdog Café.

“I have a news item,” said RRFM coordinator Vanessa Query as she maneuvered herself away from the fray to locate a chair and collect her thoughts. “People showed up on time.”

Throughout the afternoon, conversation and laughter would spontaneously erupt as a new crowd crowded around the two tables set up for the event. RRFM participants in hats and heavy winter coats jostled and joked with one another as they dropped off and sorted through an ever-changing landscape of donated goods. CDs, plants, puzzles, games, books, bags, vitamins, and “Vanilla Biscuits for Teethers” competed for limited table space while a gradually growing mound of adult and children’s clothing threatened to devour it all.

“The festive energy is fantastic,” said participant and Emporium staffperson Carmen Milano, who had only just read about the event in last week’s issue of the YS News and wasn’t prepared to donate any items. “Such a happy, sharing, discovering event!”

“It’s the perfect mid-winter social occasion,” said Kathy Beverly, who donated candles and a bathroom scale and was taking home a pair of sunglasses and Chinese checkers.

“People keep asking, ‘Is this really free?’” said Query. “Yes, it’s really really free. You don’t have to bring stuff to take stuff, you don’t have to take stuff to bring stuff.”

“It’s a community builder because it brings people face-to-face in a safe space,” explained Milano. In Portland, Ore., where she lived before moving to Yellow Springs, the food co-op she belonged to had what was known as a “free box.” “You could swing by any day of the week to ‘shop’ the free box or to drop off goods,” she said. “However, rarely were there any other people there at the same time. The Really Really Free Market format that Vanessa is presenting is people and relationship driven.”

Query, who is also events coordinator for The Emporium and graphic designer for the YS News, was quick to point out that the idea isn’t hers. “It’s a national movement based on anarchist ideals,” she explained, “but you don’t have to be an anarchist to participate. It’s not about any political ideology. It’s about community first.”

According to Wikipedia, the Really, Really Free Market movement “is a non-hierarchical collective of individuals who form a temporary market based on an alternative gift economy.” The goal is to build community based on “sharing resources, caring for one another and improving the collective lives of all.”

RRFM participants bring food, skills, talents, and unneeded items to an open community space, often a public park or community commons. Local artist and pianist, Benjamin Belew, added to the atmosphere with a lively piano concert.

“The Really Really Free Market gives new meaning to the Yellow Springs values of shopping locally and recycling,” said participant Joan Ackerman. “It’s great to get a cup of coffee and visit with friends at the same time.”

Query is really really thrilled with the Really Really Free Market’s first time effort.

“The event took on a life of its own,” she said in a post-event interview. “I set it up but then it ran itself. One person would come in and leave and then I’d see that person come back with four other people.” She loved the “messy variety of things” and the way participants engaged with their new acquisitions right on the spot: the little boy who immediately starting playing with his “new” miniature billiards table; the voracious readers who spotted a good read and then settled into a couch; the adults who spied the jar of bubbles and playfully got into the act.

At 4 p.m., Query enlisted the help of some friends to move the tables back where they belonged and transport leftover items to the Salvation Army. “I think it’d be great to continue that aspect,” she said. “People coming a little early to set up, a couple of people staying afterwards to help break it down. After all, it’s not my event, it’s everyone’s event.”

In addition to feeling good about the community’s response, Query was even happier with the bounty of her own.

“I got this knife,” she beamed, showing off a shimmery-blue retractable knife. “I’ve been looking for a knife just like this and blue’s my favorite color.”

In the true spirit of community, while Query oversaw the RRFM, colleague Milano borrowed the knife to cut open wine boxes.

Due to the event’s success, Query would like it to become a monthly series. Check out for future dates.

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the News.

Ultimate frisbee freeze play

Despite the low temperatures, on Dec. 17th the Wednesday Night Ultimate Frisbee Pick-up game soldiered on. This loosely organized pick-up game has been continuously occurring in Yellow Springs for over 15 years. The game is played no matter what the weather and is open to anyone regardless of age, gender, or experience level. Play starts at 6 p.m. under the lights at Gaunt Park, and ends at 9 p.m. followed by food, drink, and Trivia at Peach’s Grill. The group also welcomes everyone out for their 14th Annual New Year’s Day game, Thursday, January 1st at 1 p.m., also at Gaunt Park. For more information, contact Tod Tyslan at “It's the perfect cure for a hangover!"

Participants from left, top row: an unidentified participant, Luke Eastman, Chris Powers, Tod Tyslan, Behrle Hubbuch, and unidentified participant
Bottom row, kneeling from left: Steve Betts and unidentified participant

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.