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.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bike champ bikes back to childhood

To some, turning 60 means it's time to take life at a leisurely pace. To Richard Simons, it signaled something more like the shot from a starter’s gun.

Time to go very, very fast.

“I never raced a bicycle before I was 60,” said the national and world masters cycling champion in his bike helmet and championship jersey, demonstrating one of his brakeless, gearless racing bikes.

An all-around athlete since he was young, Simons left competitive sports at the age of 50 after sustaining a number of injuries. He had always enjoyed cycling as a recreational sport but it wasn’t until he turned 60 that he considered the idea of competitive racing.

In the spring of ’94, at a friend’s suggestion, Simons — who was living in Oak Park, Ill., with his wife Louise — participated in a local cycling event featuring three races for three distances: 1 mile, 5 miles, and 10 miles. Much to Simons’ surprise, he won all three.

A week later he competed in the regional masters 10k race in the 60-64 age division. Although Simons lost, his time was only a few seconds behind the national champion. Invigorated by his showing, Simons started training for his next goal: the Illinois state championship in September ’94. He won his division, making him eligible to compete in the National Senior Games in Texas eight months later, where he took home two golds and two silvers.

Simons’ primary focus for the past eight years has been the 500 meters or 2,000 meters meaning races that last from approximately 40 seconds to under three minutes. “It’s like a sprinter in track,” he explained. “I’m a ‘miler’ or ‘100-yard-dash’ as opposed to a marathon.” In the last 14 years, Simons has won two world championships, eight Pan American Games championships, and 14 national championships.

The interview with the 74-year-old champ took place in his new home in Yellow Springs not far from Springfield, where he was born. Simons spent a great deal of time as a youth in YS, attracted to the Shakespeare plays put on by Antioch College in the ’50s and ’60s. He played in the Springfield Symphony and Antioch Orchestra, attended Ohio State University, directed the Antioch Chorus, and taught music at YS public schools from 1960 to 1964. He also taught music at Antioch College from ’67-’71. “One of the reasons I’m back here,” he said, referring to last year’s move, “is because I love Yellow Springs and I know so many people here. As far as I’m concerned, I’m home.”

While Simons continued to train and set records for his age group, Louise was sitting on the sidelines, quietly entering a competition of her own.

“Louise submitted my name to the Olympic committee for consideration to carry the Olympic torch for the 1996 Games,” said Simons, proudly showing off the commemorative torch, which hangs on a wall in their home.

“I wrote that even though he was 62 years old, he could keep up the pace,” said Louise. Overtaking competitors with her heartfelt prose and appeal to select her husband to represent the senior population, Louise came in with an impressive ranking of her own: out of 4,000 cycling applicants, only 400 were selected to carry the torch.

A total of 10,000 participants carried the flame across 42 states in 100 days for the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay prior to the games in Atlanta, Ga. “Some of the [legs of the race] were by people who were running, some by people with disabilities, but mostly it was athletes of distinction in one field or another,” said Simons.

A truck with the official flame followed relay participants throughout the 15,000-mile trek to ensure that the flame never went out. “Part of the time you’re holding the torch in the middle of a crowd and everybody wants a photo,” he said. “They all want to hold it, but that wasn’t permitted.”

The lit torch, made to withstand winds up to 80 mph, fit in a rack behind the rider on a specially designed bike. But what really impressed Simons was the motorcycle escort. “I loved that,” he said, recalling the thrill of a lifetime. “They were professional drivers from Tour de France so they knew how to handle crowds. They rode in a wedge in front of me.” The wedge created a draft that allowed Simons to cruise at a nice clip he never could have achieved before — 42 mph. “That was pure fun,” he laughed. “Helicopters overhead and highway patrol — I didn’t have to worry about anything. They weren’t going to let anything happen to the torch!”

Simons’ leg of the race began in West Lafayette, Ind., where he received the flame from a Special Olympics runner. “You could see him running down the road, the crowd celebrating,” he explained. Lighting his torch from the runner’s torch, Simons then biked 29 miles towards Indianapolis and passed the flame off to the next participant — another cyclist. “When it arrived in Atlanta in the stadium, the final person to light the fire was Mohammad Ali.”

After winning the 500 meters and 2,000 meters in the 70+ division in last year’s national championship, he continues to keep his eye on the next big race.

“It’s a hoot to come into this sport at age 60,” said Simons who competes in spite of five angioplasties, two cardiac arrhythmia surgeries, a pacemaker, and a total knee replacement. To hear his goal “to be the fastest person my age ever to ride a bicycle” one can easily imagine the young boy with Olympic dreams and a fondness for Shakespeare biking through Yellow Springs.

“I’ve been cycling all my life,” said Simons. “As a child I had this feeling of such freedom on a bike. If I wanted to go someplace, I didn’t have to ask somebody to take me. I could go anywhere, I could do anything.”

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

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

Author speaks candidly on the courage to write

Author Ralph Keyes’ advice to aspiring writers is direct and no-nonsense:

“If you want to make a living in the usual sense of the word, don’t expect to do it from your writing,” he said in a recent interview. “You might as well become a professional gambler. It’s comparable.”

Keyes will speak on the highs and lows of life as a writer when he gives a free talk at Epic Book Shop & Mermaid Café on Saturday, Dec. 6, at 5 p.m. For more information, visit or call 767-7997.

With 14 published books behind him (and a 15th due in April), Keyes cautioned writers who dream of financial success and literary acclaim to consider their motives carefully.

“I’ve been writing [books] since 1970,” he said. “It’s a meager living unless you have a string of best sellers. Your prospects of making an adequate living are slim and none. If I had it to do over again I would find some other way to make a living and then write on the side. It’s just not a very lucrative thing to do unless you happen to hit some commercial success.” And commercial success, he added, is not a reliable indicator of one’s ability.

How does Keyes’ audience respond to him bursting their best-selling, book-writing balloon?

“College students hate it when I talk to them this way,” he admitted. “Their reaction is ‘Well, sez you! We’ll just see what happens once I’m out there.’ My response is, ‘Go for it. Prove me wrong. I hope you do. I’m just trying to be realistic in telling you what your odds are.’”

Keyes did not grow up dreaming of one day becoming a successful writer — a background that he feels saved him from being psychologically crushed by the industry. “If I send something out and it gets rejected, it hurts,” he admitted, “but the dream isn’t shattered because I didn’t have a dream in the first place. If it had turned out that I couldn’t be a writer, I would have found something else to do and enjoyed that.”

Keyes is equally grounded and realistic when discussing his celebrity-studded list of radio and tv interviews over the past thirty years. Appearances on Oprah, The Today Show, The Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson), and 20/20 along with NPR interviews with Robert Siegel, Noah Adams, and Terry Gross only feed his ambivalence about the media.

“On the one hand,” he said, “you know you need that kind of media attention to make people aware of your book. The most frustrating thing in the world is to write a book — and this has happened to me — and have it get so little publicity that nobody even knows you wrote the book. On the other hand, you don’t want to confuse the media attention with what you actually do. I want to be judged on the quality of my writing not the quality of my banter with Johnny Carson or Oprah Winfrey.”

Using himself as an example of what can go wrong, Keyes explained what happened when he pursued a deeply personal idea.

“I’m half Jewish,” he said, “and I wanted to write a book about it. I spent a lot of time researching it and writing up a detailed proposal. My agent sent the proposal out. One editor said, ‘I wished I’d gotten this a month ago because I just signed up this book.’” Keyes reached up and pulled out a book from a crowded bookshelf called The Half-Jewish Book. By somebody else.

“It happens all the time,” he said. “I hate to tell you how many unrealized projects there are. How many months and years of my life I’ve spent pursuing a subject that didn’t pan out. I learned a lot about my Jewish heritage by researching that one. I wanted to write a book on the underground railroad. I spent the better part of a year studying that topic. I learned a tremendous amount about race, about slavery. I’m just so grateful that I learned that even if I didn’t get to write the book.”

Early in his career, something happened to Keyes that few writers get to experience. His second book, Is There Life After High School?, was made into a Broadway musical.

“It was fascinating,” Keyes recalled, watching his material metamorphose into an entirely different medium. “I love what [the playwright and composer] did. They ‘got it’. The score especially is outstanding.” Twenty-five years later, the play is still being produced all over the world. “It was just recently produced in London, England,” he said. “There was a production in Marion, Ohio, and at Wright State. It’s been produced in Australia. Everybody can relate to it. Everybody went to high school.”

In 1992, he did his first book on misquotations — Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations. The Quote Verifier came out in 2005. I Love It When You Talk Retro will be out April ’09. ‘Retro talk,’ Keyes explained, is phrases like ‘double whammy,’ ‘98-pound weakling,’ ‘hoochie coochie’ — “anything that grows out of our past that may not be clear to younger people.” His 16th book, due out in 2010, is called Euphemania: How We Got from ‘Gosh Darn’ to ‘Collateral Damage’ and explores “the role euphemisms play in our social discourse.”

His book, The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear still sells steadily after 13 years and has become the go-to book for aspiring writers.

“My follow-up to The Courage to Write is called The Writer’s Book of Hope,” said the author, explaining that although he is realistic with his audience about the publishing industry, his focus is on nurturing the writing process. His message of hope acknowledges the revolutionary power of the internet.

“The internet has provided wonderful opportunities to publish in the broadest sense of the word,” said Keyes, brightly. “You don’t have to wait for some editor in New York to give you his or her blessing. You can just post your stuff tomorrow on a blog or a website. I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be a writer so long as you don’t assume you’re going to make a living at it.”

A long-time board member of the Antioch Writer’s Workshop, Keyes will teach a class in personal essay and memoir at the workshop next summer.

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

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

Starflower Foods is a natural fit

Irish Oatmeal Sprouted Wholegrain Cereal. Free-range chicken broth. Vegan Cherry Chocolate Bumble Bars. Prickly Pear Organic Energy Drink. Walnut oil. Flaxseed oil. Essential oils. Unfiltered. Biodegradable. Hypoallergenic. Chemical-free. Additive-free. Gluten-free.

Product labels like these along with the news that Starflower Natural Foods is open for business will be gentle on the ears of local health food fans. Located at 142 Dayton Street, the store will host their Grand Opening celebration this Friday-Sunday, Nov. 28-30. Celebration hours will be: Friday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Call (937) 767-1888 for more information.

New store owner and manager Marnie Neumann has been in the health food business off and on for 20 years. “I know what it takes to make a good health food store,” she said as she prepared the shelves that will feature a fresh new stock of vitamins and supplements. “I eat this way. I take the remedies myself. I’ve been practicing homeopathy and taking herbs and supplements since my work in health food began. It keeps the doctor away. I really believe in it.”

Neumann, who has lived in Yellow Springs since 1989, previously worked at Springs Natural Foods (at the same location) and before that at the Organic Grocery (now home to Main Squeeze). “I actually helped to open [Springs Natural Foods],” she said, “so I know what’s involved. I know the customers and I’m familiar with the community.” In August, when she found out the owner was selling the store, Neumann, who had been store manager since 2005, heard destiny’s call. “I felt like I was the perfect person to do the job,” she said.

In addition to her local experience, Neumann’s background also includes bulk food manager for a health food store in Seattle. “I’ve always had an interest in natural remedies,” she explained. “I’m a big fan of simple, practical cures.” Her vision for the store is a bright, cheery space, fully stocked with natural foods, organic foods, homeopathic remedies, supplements and herbs, bulk foods, cleaning supplies, and health and beauty products. With a commitment to special requests and new stock arriving daily, she’s enjoying the chance to try out all the ideas she’s collected over the years. “Now that I’m owner,” she said, “I have the buying power to implement the changes I’ve always wanted to see.”

Neumann doesn’t mind the hard work that comes from starting her own business, which she sees as an investment in the community. Mindful of the gamble of taking on a new store venture during financially troubled times, she remains optimistic and grateful to the previous owner for giving her the opportunity to create her very own fruit juice-sweetened, non-toxic, additive-free dream store.

“It just seems like a natural fit for me.”

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

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

Local sculptor goes from army men to army memorial

Casual observers of miniature wargaming often make the mistake of dismissing the recreational activity as simply “playing with toy soldiers.” To overlook the complex strategizing and chess-like maneuvers involved as one player tries to overtake an opponent’s army is to miss the hobby’s major appeal. Bolstered by an international following that attends weekly meet-ups and yearly conventions, wargaming enthusiasts take the ribbing all in stride. They know the mental calisthenics needed to absorb the voluminous rulebooks or memorize their opponent’s military tactics. While some gamers are attracted to galactic warfare between two science fiction armies, others enjoy the educational aspect of recreating an historically accurate Battle of Hastings or Spanish-American War.

Just the game-playing preparation alone draws the fan who spends less time in battle and more time painting the miniature figures and constructing the necessary terrain. How-to books and videos are available to those gamers who aren’t satisfied with just a tabletop grid or board that folds up like a Monopoly game. Serious gamers will spend serious hours creating elaborate, realistic-looking terrain to simulate a jungle, desert, or bombed out village (complete with smoldering tanks).

Yellow Springs Sculptor Behrle Hubbuch III can relate.

“My brother and I used to collect miniatures,” said Hubbuch during a recent interview in his art studio. “They’re super detailed and we would paint them up and have an army. The little people or monsters or spaceships or vehicles in a war game are what I sculpt.”

The sport has grown considerably since it began in the late 19th century. Some modern-day wargamers recall fond memories of playing Risk and Stratego. Measuring tape (to measure the distance armies are allowed to advance), dice, and taking turns are all part of the play. Elaborate rules determine when a gun, arrow, tank, or magic spell can be “fired” and a point system keeps either side from having an unfair advantage.

The sport has also created a side industry as evidenced by the stop-action animated videos available on YouTube. With playful movie titles like “Saving Plastic Ryan” or “The Battle For My Room,” it’s difficult to object to the pastime’s political incorrectness when “war” consists of plastic green army men battling Fisher Price civilians on the carpet in somebody’s livingroom.

“I built many plastic model kits as a child mainly focusing on WWII planes,” explained Hubbuch. With a father who was a dentist and oral surgeon in the United States Air Force, Hubbuch’s family moved from base to base, eventually ending up at Wright Patterson. He started drawing at an early age. “My interest in model building led me to sculpting,” he explained. “I started with ceramics then moved to casting metals. My father taught me casting since it’s an integral part of dentistry.”

The small scale castings led Hubbuch to study sculpture and jewelry-smithing in college. In addition to sculpting wargaming miniatures (his niche being sci-fi/fantasy), he also works at Johnson’s Fine Jewelry in Xenia doing custom jewelry design and repair work.

Hubbuch’s background proved fitting when he was commissioned last year to create the Glenview Freedom Memorial for Gallery Park in Glenview, Ill. — a life-size sculpture that would pay tribute to the U.S. military’s past, present, and future.

The dramatic change in scale from miniature to life-size did not present a problem to Hubbuch who regularly sculpts finely detailed figures in a range of sizes from ¾ of an inch to 12 inches tall.

“It’s just a question of measuring and scaling things up,” he said. “That aspect wasn’t all that difficult to wrap my brain around.”

Before immersing himself in the challenge of sculpting the life-sized figures, Hubbuch got together with Glenview committee members to discuss what they envisioned for the memorial. Committee members were comprised of the family and friends of two Glenview residents who had been killed in combat in Iraq. Together they decided on the look of the finished piece, which features a child and a soldier together.

Another element of the bronze sculpture was the recreation of a makeshift “Field Memorial” that the military uses to recognize a soldier killed in action: a rifle with a bayonet stuck vertically into a pile of sandbags, a pair of boots alongside the rifle, a helmet placed atop the rifle, and the soldier’s dog tags hanging off the rifle’s grip.

The most challenging aspect for Hubbuch ended up being what the figures represent. “I had a long time to think while I was sculpting it,” he said.

While the dedication speeches at the sculpture’s unveiling last month on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks focused on duty and honor, Hubbuch couldn’t help but see the figures in a different light. Having spent every day with the piece during the 14-month process, to him the figures represented sorrow and loss. An added emotional hook came from the fact that the model used for the soldier was his younger brother, Sgt. John Austin Hubbuch, who is currently stationed in Virginia and who served in Iraq.

“[The memorial] is two figures who are obviously devastated by the loss of a loved one — a comrade in the case of the soldier and a family member in the case of the child,” said Hubbuch. “They’re not celebrating war, they’re unhappy about the inevitable result of war: people get killed.”

Back home in Yellow Springs and back to his life crafting custom jewelry and fantasy figures, there hasn’t been much of a chance for Hubbuch to see the response to his sculpture — that is, except for dedication day.

“It gave me a chance to stand back and watch people,” he said, describing how some of the attendees at the ceremony cried as they moved closer to the sculpture to get a better look. “That’s what I was after,” he admitted. “I want people to weep.”

At the end of the playful YouTube video, “Army Men: Battle for the Piano,” a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer reads: “No Army men were hurt during the production of this video.”

If only real war was that innocent.

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

Susan Gartner is a freelance writer and photographer for the

Politics and popcorn mix at Little Art

In politics, timing can be everything: the right person with the right skills for the right job. This is also true for the independent documentary filmmaker.

“In 2004, I was working at the polls in South Florida as an Election Protection volunteer,” said Dorothy Fadiman during a recent phone interview from her home in Menlo Park, Calif.

“As we were being trained we were told that, in the early voting, people would try to vote for Kerry and [the electronic voting machine] would switch to Bush. Then we were told not to tell anybody, because knowing that might discourage them from voting.”

The same complaint continued throughout the day. Fadiman didn’t know if this odd occurrence was limited to just the precinct where she was working — until the next day when she got on the plane to go home.

“A number of us came from California and worked in parts of South Florida and everybody had similar stories,” she continued. “I decided at that point, the day after the election, to do a film about this phenomenon of vote switching. Even if it was only happening in South Florida, it was worth documenting.”

After hearing reports of voting machine irregularities happening all across the country, the Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated filmmaker decided she would start filming in Youngstown, Ohio, where vote switching had also been the norm for voting day.

“They never pulled the machines out of service, even though this problem was being reported all day,” said Fadiman. “No mainstream paper in the country has ever reported this story. So I decided to make a movie.”

Fadiman’s 20th documentary — “Stealing America: Vote by Vote” — will play at the Little Art Theatre in a special screening on Sunday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m. Proceeds from the suggested donation of $5-10 will go to Miami County Neighbors for Change, a local grassroots activism group whose mission is to organize for long-term election reform.

Interest in the movie — and the subject — has gradually gained momentum over the course of filming. “When I first began to talk about this,” said Fadiman, “we were just a handful of people across the country. There weren’t really any organizations actively committed to this issue of election theft. There were just the beginnings of what has now grown into a nationwide movement for election reform.”

The response to her film has been surprising — and affirming.

“After a screening, the first reaction is a kind of sad gratitude because deep down, people actually do want to know the truth,” said Fadiman. “It’s difficult to completely ignore or deny what seem to be ‘glitches’ have actually changed election results. Then a lot of repressed anger comes out with the realization that these election results may not be accurate. And then there’s a feeling of ‘What can I do?’”

To address that question, Fadiman and her film team spent months compiling information for the “take action” section of her website,

“In my opinion, the only truly safe, secure way to vote is hand-counted paper ballots in the precinct, on the night of the election, with bipartisan observers. If any of those things are missing in this process, you have the potential for trouble.” Fadiman has an absentee ballot. “I’m going to vote on paper and then hand-deliver it to the poll where I’m to vote.”

“Stealing America: Vote by Vote” will be free to view and download at the website beginning Oct. 21. It will also air on the YS public access station, Channel 5, on Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 2, 6, 10 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 26 at 2, 10 a.m., 2, 6, 10 p.m. Future station air dates will be posted in the YS News.

For voting information, please contact Greene County Board of Elections at (937) 562-7470.

Like Fadiman, film director and Cleveland native Jason Zone Fisher recognized an opportunity to put his filmmaking skills to good use but he’ll be the first to admit his motivation was not exactly high-minded.

“My film partner and co-director, John Intrater, and I were good friends in college,” said Zone Fisher over the phone on a break in his hectic travel schedule. The two friends graduated on May 14, 2006, from Syracuse University and started filming five days later. “We decided to make the film really because we wanted to avoid getting a real job after school,” he laughed. “We thought we’d film some stuff and that’d be the end. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.”

A pre-release screening of their documentary film, “Swing State,” will be shown Saturday, Oct. 25, at 4 p.m. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. Ticket sales benefit the Greene County Democratic Party. A minimum donation of $20 per admission is requested. Advanced tickets are available through the Democratic Party office in Xenia, 87 East Main Street, (937) 372-6003. Zone Fisher will be in attendance as well as his father, Ohio Lt. Governor Lee Fisher.

From the day they started filming, Zone Fisher, Intrater, and co-director Spencer Young had a feeling that Ohio would play a pivotal role in the 2008 election just as it had in 2004. “We thought it’d be good to have a film come out [during the 2008 election] that focuses on the importance of the state of Ohio,” said Zone Fisher.

In light of the film’s casual beginnings, and much to the filmmakers’ astonishment, the film was picked up for distribution and will be released on Election Day, Nov. 4. It has been playing at pre-screenings and film festivals across the country since March, beginning with a premiere at the Cleveland Film Festival.

“Over 600 people showed up to the film on opening night and gave it a standing ovation,” said Zone Fisher. “It set a record for the largest Q&A session in the 32-year history of the Cleveland Film Festival. From San Francisco to Florida, all over the country — not just in Ohio — people have really connected to it.”

“This video has two major aspects that are important,” said Jerry Sutton, who first saw the film at the Democratic National Convention in August where he was a first-time delegate and who organized the screening at the Little Art Theatre. “One, it shows the criticality of Ohio to the ’08 presidential race and two, it shows the impact of engaging in a major campaign and what that impact is on the family and the individual in the center of the fight.”

The film is an intimate look at candidate Lee Fisher’s family during the 1998 and 2006 Ohio Governor’s race. “It’s about the side of politics you don’t usually get to see unless you’ve lived in a political family,” said the Lt. Governor’s eldest and only son.

Understandably, the Fisher family was “a nervous wreck” on opening night. “They had seen rough cuts and different versions of the film,” said Zone Fisher, “but they had not seen the final product until it was up on the big screen in front of 600 people.” His family was overwhelmed by the positive reaction from the audience. “That made them feel a lot better,” he added. “They realized people really get it and appreciate it.”

Local filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert were consultants on the film.

“What the film offers that most documentaries can’t is the humor and quirkiness inside a campaign,” explained Bognar, who enjoyed seeing major political figures relaxing and joking with one another. Bognar felt the filmmaker had a definite advantage not only due to his “insider access” but also because of his age during the filming.

“He comes off as a kid,” said Bognar of Zone Fisher who was 14 during the 1998 campaign, “and so people let their guard down more. Some of these elected officials felt comfortable with him in a way they probably wouldn’t have if another documentary crew was following the story.”

“Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican,” said Zone Fisher, “the film teaches a valuable lesson that politicians are humans, too, and they have families who don’t necessarily sign up for a life in politics.” Zone Fisher hopes his film will show people how much time, devotion, and sacrifice is put into running for political office. “The least we should do is pay attention, have an opinion, and vote.”

DVDs of the film are available online at and pre-orders will be taken at the screening.

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

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

Reduce, reuse, Freecycle in village

In the battle against clutter, Yellow Springs residents turn to According to their website, Freecycle Network is “a grassroots and nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and thus keeping good stuff out of landfills.” With almost 6 million members worldwide, Freecycle users go to the designated website for their town to view items being sought or given away.

Wrapping paper, body spray, jogging stroller, bales of hay
Running shorts, baby gate, “Barely used,” “Works great!”

“The stuff is certainly garage sale-worthy,” said Freecycle member Eric Clark, “but maybe you don’t have enough to have a garage sale. Or you might be someone like me who just doesn’t have the time or wherewithal to advertise, put up signs, push away early arrivals, haggle all day, then clean up. If I have something I no longer want, I’m too much of a Socialist to put a price tag on it. If you can get some use out of it, you can have it.”

Pressure cooker, infant clothes, pillowcases, soaker hose
“Moving out,” “Don’t have room,” “We’re going to have a baby soon”

“The best thing I ever read was a post for 50 frozen mice,” said Barbara Lenschmidt, moderator for the Yellow Springs and Springfield Freecycle websites. Once she got over her initial shock, Lenschmidt remembered the [Glen Helen] Raptor Center. “I called them and asked, ‘Could you use 50 frozen mice?’ and they said, ‘Oh, yes! We’ve got all these birds to feed and that’s what they eat!’”

Tomato cages, rawhide sticks, canvas bags, old bricks
Pine chips, prom gown, “Never used,” “Leaving town”

In addition to her website moderator duties, which include making sure Freecycle’s rules are being followed and assisting new members with questions, Lenschmidt also compiles relevant recycling information and makes it available to members.

“One lady tried to give away frozen breast milk,” Lenschmidt recalled. Due to public health concerns, Lenschmidt regrettably had to withdraw the request but through her research she came upon a suitable solution. “It turns out,” she said, “there’s a slew of organizations that help mothers interface with each other.” This and other information, including a list of local thrift stores, is available on the YS Freecycle site.

“We are not a charity,” she said. “We’re simply a way to circumvent the landfill problem by interfacing people with things they don’t want anymore with people who could use them.”

Bar stools, bubble wrap, bird bath, animal trap
“Instructions lost,” “Has a chip,” “Still a lot of life in it”

The Freecycle Network prides itself on keeping 300 tons of garbage out of landfills every day.

“I’ve gotten rid of the most remarkably unwant-able things!” laughed Lenschmidt. “I do a lot of gardening and I had a whole pile of stakes that termites had eaten off at the bottom. Somebody wanted them. I have yet to find anything that I can’t get rid of.”

Strait jacket, life jacket, denim jacket size four
Briefcase, microwave, water fountain, shower door
Dollhouse, window fan, wire fencing, blender, sand
“Can’t sell,” “Can’t store,” “Can’t use anymore”

“One of the things I appreciate about using [Freecycle] is the efficiency of it,” said Freecycle devotee Laurie Dreamspinner. “I don’t have to go somewhere and hang out for hours trying to unload the unwanted items.”

When the Yellow Springs Freecycle group was first formed four years ago, Dreamspinner was in a lucky locale — her home.

“It was myself and another woman who were the original moderators and we all lived at Laurie’s at the time,” said Amanda Turner. “We had all just learned about Freecycle and we thought, ‘This is what we do every day!’” Dreamspinner and her housemates were already avid practitioners of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” and particularly enthusiastic about the online organization because, as Turner pointed out, “then the stuff didn’t sit around in Laurie’s livingroom so long!”

“Metal pot missing handle,” “Gently used Christmas candle”
Breast pump, whisk broom, broken toaster, “Don’t have room”

Members appreciate the Freecycle Network not only for its environmental conscientiousness but also for the organic way in which the virtual community exists. “It’s really important that people understand it has to be a balance between people willing to give and people willing to receive,” explained Dreamspinner. If the balance shifts too much in either direction, the concept falls apart. Another appealing aspect is that members are free to choose how they want to make the transaction. “For example, you don’t have to make the exchange at your house,” she said. “You can work out a neutral place to hand something over.” The Freecycle giver sets the terms — who, what, when, and where. “It can accommodate people’s desire for anonymity or safety or whatever.”

Toddler clothes, trampoline, furnace filter, magazines
Canning jars, cherry pits, “Needs repair,” “Doesn’t fit”

Moderator Lenschmidt has some advice for newcomers to help them get the most from the site. Politeness and follow-through are at the top of the list. “Usually members will give a sentence as to why they are interested in the item and what they’re going to do with it,” she said.

“What’s important is that people be respectful of the contract that they make with each other,” explained Dreamspinner. “Because of the culture that we live in, money somehow makes things more important. This is a way to get away from that.” On Freecycle, money never changes hands. “This is a way we can make a contract with each other for everybody’s betterment,” she added, and for the betterment of the planet.

“Twice a year I change out all my pillows,” said Clark, who owns the Springs Motel. “What do you do with 36 pillows twice a year? I put them on Freecycle. In the past three years I’ve been a member, I’ve kept 216 pillows out of the landfill.”

Desk, crib, crayons, cradle, “Can’t take with us,” “Missing ladle”
“A little worn,” “A little rust,” “Cracked lid,” “Collecting dust”
“Missing dial,” “Good for scrap,” “Still in box,” “The rest intact”
“Outgrown,” “Like new,” “Have an extra,” Lucky you!

To become a Freecycle member, go to Membership is free, rhyming not required.

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

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

Departamento de policia, se habla espanol

What qualities should a person possess who is considering a career in law enforcement? Good mediation skills? The ability to relate to all different kinds of people? A desire to make a positive impact on their community?

Andrew Gault, Yellow Springs Police Department’s newest recruit, thinks integrity is the most important trait. “What you do when no one else is around,” explained Gault, “the standards you hold yourself to on and off-duty.”

Born and raised in Yellow Springs, Gault had public servant aspirations in his genes. His mother, Amy Harper, was editor of the YS News for 10 years and his father, Larry Gault, is vice president of operations for Greene Memorial Hospital. As part of his studies at Wright State, Gault was particularly impressed with a course in police procedures. So impressed, in fact, he changed his major to Organizational Leadership and graduated one quarter early in order to attend the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy at Sinclair Community College. He graduated from the Academy on May 14th and began his job as a YS police officer on July 31st.

“I loved growing up here,” said Gault, who was drawn to the career because of his interest in community relations and a strong sense of giving back to the town he loves. “I grew up knowing the [police] chief and other officers in the department. I looked up to them. [The YS Police Department] is a good place to come into.”

The Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies and is considered to be one of the best law enforcement training institutions in the country. The commission regulates the 550-hour basic training curriculum for prospective law enforcement officers at numerous campuses throughout Ohio. The curriculum consists of more than 100 subjects including criminal investigation, human relations, cultural diversity, animal cruelty, defensive tactics, and the use of firearms.

As a newly-minted recruit, Gault looks to the other officers in the department for his continued training. “Everyone has something to bring to the table that will make me a better officer,” he said. “They’re strengthening what I’ve learned from the academy, teaching me departmental policy and procedures, and how to do my job the way they want it done.”

But Gault brings something to the table as well — a skill that makes him a rare commodity in law enforcement agencies not only in Greene County but throughout Ohio.

Gault is bilingual.

“He’s more bilingual than me!” jokes Gault’s training officer Naomi Penrod, who was born in Puerto Rico.

“Since the Spanish-speaking communities are growing in Springfield, Fairborn, Dayton and Xenia,” explained Gault, “being bilingual is very helpful.”

“Since I’ve been here,” said Penrod, “I’ve had people call and [request the services of] a bilingual officer.” Both officers appreciate the town of Yellow Springs — and the YSPD — for being ahead of the curve in terms of anticipating needs for law enforcement personnel and the people they serve. Having two bilingual officers in one police department is extremely rare and saves the department from having to contract out these services.

Penrod is a rare commodity herself as the department’s lone female police officer. A 2005 graduate of OPOTA through Clark State, she is currently celebrating her one-year anniversary with the YSPD.

Gault is the first in his family to choose a career in law enforcement. Penrod’s father was a correctional officer for many years in southeastern Ohio and three other family members worked for the NYPD including an uncle who was chief of homicide. Her first career was in nursing, working for eight years first at Children’s Hospital and then Grant Hospital in Columbus. After having a child and staying home for a few years, she took a job at the Fairborn Police Department as a dispatcher in 2004.

“People don’t realize what an important job that is,” explained Penrod. “The officers’ lives are in the dispatcher’s hands. The dispatcher gets all the information the officer needs to make going out on the call as safe as possible.” According to Penrod, a lot of people start out in law enforcement as dispatchers. They want to help people and make a difference in their community but they also want to stay safe behind the bullet-proof glass. Once they get into the dispatcher’s chair, however, and see what a difference they can make, they will often get “the law enforcement itch.”

“That’s what happened to me,” she said.

Penrod, who lives in Fairborn, continues to keep her dispatch and jail credentials up-to-date and still works part-time at the Fairborn Police Department. This full circle of service provides a background that is beneficial for Penrod, the new recruits she trains, the department on the whole, and — ultimately — the Yellow Springs community.

“Right now, [YSPD] has got a younger, very thriving group of officers,” said Penrod. “There are a group of us constantly going to trainings. We’re very fortunate to have that here in YS. We can take that training and train other agencies.”

Both Gault and Penrod appreciate the opportunities that have been given to them through Police Chief Grote. “He’s really opened a lot of doors for us,” said Gault.

“If you make a mistake,” explained Penrod, “he’s the kind of chief who will say, ‘Okay, let’s see where your mistake is, let’s learn from it, let’s teach you a better way.’ I feel very fortunate to have Chief Grote as our leader.”

Officers Gault and Penrod acknowledge the personal accountability that comes with the job. “We not only represent ourselves but we represent Yellow Springs and most important, we represent our chief at all times, and to the best of our ability,” said Penrod. “Our conduct on duty is just as important as off-duty.”

For more information about the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy, contact (937) 328-6050 (at Clark State) or (937) 512-2270 (at Sinclair).

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

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

A flood of information is playwright’s inspiration

Songwriters and stand-up comics, columnists and choreographers — they all have a unique way in which they summon the creative process. For local playwright Kay Reimers, she does the heavy lifting in her sleep.

“We’ll be sleeping and all of a sudden, I’ll hear her say, ‘Oh, get the children!’ or ‘Look out there’s a dead horse flowing down the river!’ and then she’ll go back to sleep,” said Reimers’ husband, Gary. “The next thing I know, she’s writing it down on paper.”

Fans of Reimers’ work won’t care how she invokes the muse. They’ll only care that there’s another production ready for public consumption.

The End of Emerald Street will air on WYSO, 91.5 FM, from 9 to 11 p.m. on Thursday, September 25.

After spending ten years playwriting in Los Angeles, Reimers has been on a local playwriting roll since July 2003 when she contributed to the Antioch Area Theatre production of The Peculiarly Salubrious…History of a Natural Spring and the Community that Grew Up Around It as part of the village’s bicentennial.

In 2006, she produced All Blood Runs Red, at the Schuster Center’s Mathile Theatre in Dayton. The play focused on the life of Eugene Bullard, the first black military pilot in history.

Her next play, Sacred Fire, was performed at the Antioch Area Theatre in 2007. This time her focus was the wealthy and influential supporters of abolitionist John Brown. After its run, she was approached by Jerry Kenney, WYSO’s Morning Edition Host and News Director, to do the play as a radio drama. The conversation-heavy script easily lent itself to a stageless performance and the cast enjoyed the experience. Afterwards, Kenney told Reimers about his wish to revive radio drama.

For those who read the words “radio drama” and instantly envision a Garrison Keillor-type set-up on a stage with cast members huddled around a microphone in front of a live audience with a sound man manipulating props and creating voice effects to simulate slamming doors and rushing water, Reimers can relate.

“That’s what I envisioned at first,” the Keillor fan admitted. “I really wanted to do it live but nobody else wanted to and I’m not the one performing it!” she laughed.

Even without the live audience or stage, a pre-recorded radio drama has its share of challenges.

“With a theatre performance you have the actual physical performance space,” explained Reimers. “Doing a radio drama is a lot more nebulous. One or two people might come into the studio and do their lines. Then the next day, maybe three more people go in and do their lines and then it all gets spliced together.”

With a cast of 20 and scenes being recorded out of sequence days or weeks apart, a radio drama can be a challenge for the actors’ momentum and the play’s continuity.

“You have to have a sense of drive and urgency if you’re going to hold the audience’s attention,” explained the play’s director, Dan Davis, who plays four different roles. “In a traditional space production, you can pace yourself and earn a dramatic pause. You can’t take that chance in radio drama. A pause would have everything come to a screeching halt.”

Reimers’ husband, another actor in the play, saw an eerie similarity between the Dayton flood and other more internationally-known water tragedies. “It’s a lot like the Titanic which happened a year later,” he said. “I think there was a bit of cockiness about the Titanic — an ‘Oh, it can’t happen here,’ kind of thing. In comparison with [Hurricane] Katrina and the levees, it’s really very contemporary. There’s a scene where one of the houses is going by the streets of Dayton like a ship.”

Another actor felt a connection even closer to home.

“I grew up in Kettering, Ohio,” said Doug Hinkley, who plays John H. Patterson in the play, founder of NCR (National Cash Register Company), a longtime Dayton employer. “In Kettering, on Patterson Road,” explained Hinkley, “there is a statue of Patterson sitting on a horse.” As a child, Hinkley played in the park where the statue still stands. “John Patterson is actually the hero of the Dayton flood. He and his employees were responsible for saving a lot of people.”

Hinkley has an even deeper connection to the script. “My grandparents had just moved to Dayton shortly before the flood,” he said. “I remember them talking about it being this horrible, horrible thing.”

A great deal of documentation exists about the flood, including books, photos, and personal letters, which Reimers used to flesh out her characters. “I tend to do a lot of research and let it settle in my head,” she said. “Then I create the characters that would fit into the research.”

Having served as director for two of Reimers’ productions, Davis values the way she works with the actors to craft a believable script.

“Kay wants the actors to feel comfortable with their lines,” Davis explained. “She says, ‘If these words aren’t comfortable for you, go ahead and change them until they are.’ I don’t think you’ll find a writer like that anywhere. It’s sort of an ego-free zone. Even as a director, I’m not comfortable in the position of director. I like to think of myself as ‘monitor of the rumpus room.’”

To add to the spirit of the event, the YS public library will present “Old-Time Radio Night” on Thursday, October 2, at 6 p.m. and will feature an encore presentation of the recording.

“Our family didn’t have a tv until I was at least 5,” said Radio Night coordinator, Carolion. “I have good memories of sitting around and listening to the radio together. For the library’s Radio Night, some of the actors will be present and library patrons will have the pleasure of hearing their neighbors act on radio. They’ll also get in on some of the stories from behind-the-scenes.”

In Garrison Keillor’s mythical town of Lake Wobegon, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” The strong, good-looking, and above-average are all invited to bring bag suppers and handwork such as knitting, needlepoint, whittling, jigsaw puzzle, or sketchpad.

And BYO rocker.

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

CCC attracts certified teachers and eager volunteers

Speaking as their new marketing director, Ben Green’s enthusiasm for the early education center is infectious.

“I love the Community Children’s Center,” said Green on his cell phone while heading for New Jersey to enjoy the Labor Day weekend with his family. “It’s my favorite place. It’s like a second home.”

Green, who has been involved with CCC almost his entire life, is particularly impressed with the teaching staff. “We have some new teachers and they’re awesome! Like how they treat the kids like adults. They don’t talk to the kids like they’re babies. And [preschool teacher] Miss Forest — she has the IQ of a genius. She’s like so cool! She treats the kids like they’re mature, then they actually rise to the challenge and become mature.”

Green is not really the new marketing director for CCC although as soon as he’s old enough to drive a car and vote the board of trustees might consider hiring him for the position. He was first enrolled in CCC’s early learning program when he was two years old and participated in their summer program up until last year. He is now a 7th grader at McKinney Middle School. Mindful of the community service hours needed to fulfill his graduation requirements, when school let out this past June, Green knew exactly what he wanted to do.

“Ben wanted to volunteer last year but he was only 11 and you have to be 12,” explained CCC’s executive director, Marlin Newell. “So he came this year and he did everything. He did filing in the office for me, he worked in a variety of classrooms, he was just everywhere.”

“The teachers are not allowed to leave the classrooms while they have kids so I was the ‘go-fetch-things’ person,” said Green, who is twelve-and-a-half. “I’m not old enough to be in the classroom with the kids by myself.”

In the preschool program where he spent most of his time, Green was sometimes called upon to resolve the children’s fights. “[One of the kids] would take away a toy or pinch somebody,” he explained, “and everybody was screaming and I just would calm them down and resolve the problem by distracting them. They’d quickly respond and totally forget what they were getting into a fight about.” On one occasion, Green used a tape recorder to entertain his charges — recording them singing and then playing the tape back.

His first year as a CCC volunteer was not only fun but personally rewarding. “It definitely taught me a little more about taking responsibility for myself and being mature,” said Green. “Working with children, you feel like you have to step up, like this is somebody else’s child, this is somebody who’s going to grow up and do some great things. You have to feel like you’re protecting them from harm.”

CCC staff works hard to provide a safe, loving, and nurturing environment with enriching activities for all the children. “We have children who come in at 18 months and we address all the developmental domains for them,” said Newell, stressing that her teachers facilitate daily, age-appropriate activities that build cognitive, physical, social, and emotional skills for all the children from the very beginning.

In 2006, CCC in collaboration with the Greene County Education Center, received a three-year Early Learning Initiative (ELI) grant through the Ohio Department of Education. The grant specifically focuses on preparing preschool children for kindergarten. The ELI program is income-based and provides free preschool education and extended care for children age three until kindergarten. In order to be eligible for the grant, fifty percent of the teachers must have at least an associate’s degree in early childhood education.

“At this point in time,” said Newell, “all of my teachers, with the exception of my school-age teacher, have a minimum of an associate’s degree to a master’s in early education. We’re really trying to change our image from a daycare center — where people think they just drop their kids off and the teachers sit around and watch the children play—to an early learning center.” CCC teachers have the training and the education “and we’re providing more training to them all the time,” she said.

In addition to Green, two other McKinney students did community service at CCC this summer — Daniel Collett, 14, and Cory Thompson, 13.

“Daniel stopped in last summer and said he’d really like to volunteer with [preschool teacher] Miss Marcia,” said Newell. “He volunteered Monday through Wednesday, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Then he asked if he could come back this summer and volunteer again.” Thompson came every day as well, getting his community service hours in the toddler classroom. “The kids adored all three of them,” said Newell, “hanging on them, wanting to go everywhere with them.”

“I’ve been very close with these young men and so has Marlin,” said preschool teacher Marcia Greer, who has been with CCC for twelve years. “To see them grow into these fine young men that have donated their time is quite rewarding and heart-warming.”

Green would like to encourage other students — middle school and high school — to consider volunteering at CCC. “We could always use more help and it’s just such a fun experience to be working with all these kids and all the teachers,” he said. He’s quick, however, to warn off potential riff-raff. “You really have to be mature for this job. It’s not for people who are goofing off. ”

Green’s advice for future volunteers is to be patient with themselves and the children. “It’s not exactly easy but you get the hang of it after you’re there for a couple of days,” he said reassuringly. “The first time I was there, the kids would cry if I would say ‘hello’ or something because they don’t adjust very quickly. But by the end of the day, they would start giving me hugs.”

Spaces are still available for the ELI program. For enrollment information, call 767-7236 or visit CCC’s website at

Originally published in the Yellow Springs News.

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