Spy Minute: After Seven Years, Mainstay is Having Another Party

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Usually, it’s not really news that some local organization is having a party but when it’s the Mainstay the Spy sought to investigate the rumor. Of course, one could easily say that almost every night there’s a party at the locally beloved music venue, but truth be told, they haven’t gathered as a group in years; 2011 to be precise.

Group, in this case, means not only people that attend Mainstay concerts but the dozens of board members, volunteers, and staff that make up the Mainstay family. And that number is so big that they can’t even have it at the Mainstay so Washington College’s Hudson Hall, which offers curbside valet service, it the perfect size for guests and the Conservatory Classic Jazz Band, singer Lena Seikaly and host Tom McHugh.

The funds collected that evening also is a driving force. Once again, the Mainstay wants to provide an educational scholarship for a young promising musician from Kent, Queen Anne’s or Cecil Counties to follow their passion for music when they attend college.

The Spy tracked down Mainstay’s managing director Carol Colgate in downtown Lynch last week to get the lowdown.

 

The Mainstay, Kent County’s Home of Musical Magic
Saturday, July 14, 2018 6:00 to 10:00
Hodson Hall Commons, Washington College 
Tickets can purchased here

 

A Laugh a Minute at “Short Attention Span Theater” at the Garfield Center

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Dan Guidice as Barry and Diane Landskroener as Lois in “Kung Foolery” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

The Garfield Center’s Short Attention Span Theater, or SAST, is an eagerly-awaited feature of Chestertown’s summer arts season.  This year’s SAST – the 14th annual–brings eight 10-minute plays onstage and is a real feast for theater lovers.  As usual, the emphasis is on comedy, and this year’s selection gives some of the area’s best actors plenty of opportunities to get the audience laughing.  This is an evening of pure light-hearted entertainment not to be missed.

David MacGregor’s “Just Desserts,” directed by Diane Landskroener, riffs on a situation almost everyone has experienced – the co-worker who steals everyone else’s food (especially desserts) from the office refrigerator. One worker Joyce (Jennifer Kafka Smith) decides to take things into her own hands, to the consternation of her office mates, played by Zac Ryan, Phebe Wood, and Melissa McGlynn.  Everyone denies being the thief but Joyce has a clever plan to unmask the “pig.”  Zac Ryan, Phebe Wood, and Melissa McGlynn will remind you of all your old officemates as they swing from hot denial to indifference to a chilling desire for revenge followed by sympathy for the thief then back to self-absorption and indifference.  McGlynn’s antics are particularly funny and Phebe Wood is a breath of fresh air as the young, energetic coworker who tries to “understand” the pig and makes you wonder exactly who she is talking about.  A wonderfully absurdist take on the daily office routine.

Jim Landdskroener as Ronald and Brad Chaires as Clarence in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

“All Over But the Shouting,” by local playwright Brent Lewis, takes us to a nursing home where two brothers (Jim Landskroener and Brad Chaires), have been abandoned by the staff which has fled from an impending disaster. Facing apparent doom, the two go over all their old quarrels, then gradually, grudgingly, realize their common bonds. Chaires and Landskroener are both believable and amusing as they hash over every prank, every fight, every perceived slight from the past 70 plus years. A comic delight. Mark Sullivan directs.

Kirby Powell makes his directorial debut with “Misfortune,” by Mark Harvey Levine. A couple in a Chinese restaurant opens their fortune cookies with unexpected results. Who writes a cookie fortune like this? The husband demands a new cookie, then another!  The plot builds as the cookies’ messages become more and more unreal – with a surprise ending I admit I didn’t see coming. Nice jobs by Zac Ryan and Georgia Rickloff as the couple and Beverly Hall Smith as their waitress.

Jim Landskroener directs “Kung Foolery,” by Brett Hursey, which takes the stock situation of an awkward visit by an inlaw to the brink of absurdity and then plunges over. Gretchen Saches plays the loving and patient wife, while Dan Guidice is hilarious as the apparently over-reacting husband. But the payoff arrives with the appearance of Diane Landskroener as the mother of all mother-in-laws! The physical humor in this one is wonderful as Barry leaps about the stage, practicing his “moves” in preparation for the arrival of his dreaded mother-in-law.

“Binged There, Done That” is first up after the intermission, and playwright Ken Preuss takes the audience through the history of a relationship that makes “whirlwind” seem like slow-motion.  The ridiculous time-compression of the relationship is explained by the gimmick that the characters are “binge-watching” their relationship, with all the unlikely twists you might expect from a TV soap opera. Lis Engel, Jennifer Kafka Smith, Bryan Betley, Dan Guidice, Bryan Zachowski and Robbie Spray are all highly amusing as the couple nonchalantly and cheerfully describe their first kiss, first fight, first child.  Robbie Spray capers convincingly as the over-grown child Ron-Jon while Jennifer Kafka-Smith is perfect as the maternal yet coyly flirtatious mother-in-law. Hester Sachse is the director.

Jen Friedman and Brianna Johnson with Xocko (on the arm and hand of Thomas Martinez)  in “The Stand In” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

“The Stand In,” also by Brett Hursey, brings a young actor to an audition for a local theater. Jen Friedman does her usual hilariously over-the-top job as the theater’s ultra-bossy director, while Brianna Johnson plays the increasingly non-plussed actress who finds herself playing second fiddle to Xocko – a sock puppet. As the young actress Mandy at an audition, Johnson is clearly talented, portraying a wide range of emotions from love to anger to grief.   The premise is funny in its own right, and Xocko the puppet (played by Thomas Martinez) definitely hams it up by playing dead, miming vomiting in a bucket, and adding hats to portray different characters. Brad Chaires makes his directorial debut with this delightful spoof on television, Hollywood, and the “thee-ah-tah.”

Theater manager Brian Betley directs “L.A. 8 A.M.,” which shows a brief moment in the lives of two young people as seen by two announcers who know what their future holds. McGlynn and Paul Cambardella act as announcers while Tilly Pelcaar and Kirby Powell play the young couple. Mark Harvey Levine’s script is by a good margin the most serious of this year’s SAST offerings.  The outrageous, campy costumes of the two narrators–flashy fur coats, brightly-colored high heeled shoes, and heavy theatrical make-up–create an almost eerie ambiance and contrast to the ordinary clothes of a young couple getting ready to start their day. This one makes you think – about how we live our everyday lives and how we never know what the future may hold as we casually go through our daily routines.

Lis Engle as Sylvia in “The New Me” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

The evening concludes with local playwright Rich Pauli’s “The New Me,” directed by Melissa McGlynn. A woman tells her husband the scientific fact that after seven years, every cell in a person’s body has changed. Since it is their seventh anniversary, she is a new person who has nothing in common with the woman who married him. Lis Engle is appropriately flamboyant as the woman, and Dan Guidice plays the husband – doing a nice job of tracking his gradual acceptance of the situation – that this is not his wife.  The final dance scene and the “new” wife’s costume change add just the right touch to this comedy.

Under the overall direction of Diane Landskroener and Mark Sullivan, the show runs smoothly, with smooth transitions from one play to the next and enough variety to keep things from settling into a predictable pattern. The simple but effective set — a wall with two doors, varied by different bits of furniture to match the different plays — helps make the necessary scene changes fast and efficient. The clever and often surprisingly appropriate music selections between (and during) the separate shows were chosen by Sullivan with input from the directors. Butch Clark does his usual professional job with the lights — and gets an impromptu bit part during one show. (Wait for it!)

SAST runs through July 8, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Audiences at the evening performance get a bonus – a one-minute play festival directed by Tia Glomb. Immediately before the main performance.

Tickets are $15 for general admission; students’ tickets are $5. For reservations, call the box office at 410-810-2060 or visit Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/short-attention-span-theatre-tickets-41830127036?ref=ebtnebtckt) to buy seats online.

“Binged There, Done That” cast – Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield        Photo by Jane Jewell

Curtain Call for Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jane Jewell

L.A. 8. A.M. – Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield        Photo by Jane Jewell

Jennifer Kafka-Smith as The Mother in “Binged There, Done That” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

Brianna Johnson in “The Stand In” in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield      Photo by Jeff Weber

Lis Engle as Sylvia and Dan Guidice as Edward in Short Attention Span Theater 2018 at the Garfield     Photo by Jeff Weber

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The Avalon and Chesapeake College to Partner on Big Shows at the Todd Center

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The Avalon Foundation and Chesapeake College have announced the beginning of a new partnership designed to bring large-venue music acts to the school’s Rufus M. and Loraine Hall Todd Performing Arts Center (TPAC).

Beginning in the fall, the Avalon will host a series of concerts and events at TPAC. The schedule kicks off with “An Evening with Melissa Etheridge — Yes I Am 25th Anniversary Tour” on Tuesday, October 9. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m., Friday, June 29 at avalonfoundation.org.

“The Avalon Foundation’s team has nearly 60 years of event management experience, deep relationships with artist agencies and a loyal following of music lovers on the Eastern Shore,” Foundation President and CEO Alexander Bond said. “As part of our mission, we are always looking to expand our programming reach and connect more people with easy access to arts programming. TPAC offers a perfect venue for us to do so.”

The 904-seat TPAC expands the Avalon Foundation’s ability to host concerts beyond the historic, 400-seat Avalon Theatre and 60-seat Stoltz Listening Room in Easton.

“From the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to international performance troupes, the Todd Center has long been a cultural hub and important space for bringing larger acts to the region,” Dr. Clifford Coppersmith, Chesapeake College President, said. “Our capacity to host even more shows and events makes this partnership possible and allows our two organizations to combine resources to grow arts audiences, improve arts accessibility and build and connect communities on the Mid Shore.”

Melissa Etheridge has remained one of America’s favorite female singer-songwriters for more than two decades.

Known for her confessional lyrics and raspy smoky vocals, she hit her commercial and artistic stride with her fourth album “Yes I Am” in 1993. The collection featured the massive hits, “I’m the Only One” and “Come to My Window,” a searing song of longing that brought Etheridge her second Grammy® Award for Best Female Rock Performance.

In 1995, Etheridge issued her highest charting album, Your Little Secret, which was distinguished by the hit single, “I Want to Come Over.”

Avalon management plans to announce several additional “big shows” that will be held at TPAC in the coming months. The concerts add to the Avalon’s already robust 160-act annual schedule in Easton.

To stay connected with big show announcements resulting from the Avalon Foundation at Chesapeake College partnership, Bond encourages music lovers to subscribe to the organization’s email list by visiting avalonfoundation.org.

The Avalon Foundation is the largest arts nonprofit on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Also regarded for the nationally renown Plein Air Easton outdoor painting competition, the Foundation’s mission is to foster a strong community on the Eastern Shore by creating accessible, uplifting arts, education, and cultural experiences that appeal to the interests of a diverse population and to ensure the long term viability of the historic Avalon Theatre.

A key component of Chesapeake College’s mission is to be a center for personal enrichment and the arts and to sponsor a broad range of affordable civic activities that reflect the college’s role as a community-learning center.

Shore Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” Comes to Chestertown — This Weekend Only!

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Poster Art Shore Shakespear’s 2018 production “As You Like It”

Shore Shakespeare Company’s Annual free Tour Production of As You Like It by William Shakespeare concludes this weekend with two performances at Chestertown’s Wilmer Park.  The production features original music and lyrics by local composer Gregory Minahan, and is directed by Christian Rogers, assisted by Lindsey Hammer.

This sparkling comedy presents Shakespeare’s send-up of the pastoral genre and an exploration of love in all its passion, illogic, and messiness.  The production features the talents of Christine Kinlock as Rosalind and Zack Schlag as Orlando, along with Madeline Webb, Troy Strootman, Will Robinson, Brian McGunigle, and Howard Mesick.  Filling out the cast are John Feldman, Heather Robuck, Henry Hills, Nita Wieczoreck, Jane and John Terebey, Josh Hansen, Samantha Davis, and Phoebe Kelly, along with a few … special guests.  Costumes are by Barbi Bedell, and stage management by Avra Sullivan.

Christine Kinlock (left) as Ganymede, Zack Schlag as Orlando in Shore Shakespeare’s 2018 production of “As You Like It”    Photo courtesy of Ernest Valeo

 

 

 

 

FREE Tour Performances this weekend at Wilmer Park include two shows, Friday, June 22nd at 7:00 pm, and Sun June 24th at 5:00 pm.  [PLEASE NOTE: Due to a scheduling conflict, there is no performance on Sat June 23rd.]  Complete information and show times are available on the company’s website at www.shoreshakespeare.com or by calling 410-690-3165.  All Tour performances are FREE and open to the public.

Join Shore Shakespeare for an al fresco performance of this delightful comedy. Full of unforgettable characters, sparkling wit, slapstick humor, and eclectic song and dance, As You Like It has it all! Make your plans now to gather with friends and family, bring a picnic and your favorite beverage, and enjoy one of Shakespeare’s most enduring romantic comedies.

Special guest (left), Jullie Yankovich as Audrey, Howard Mesick as Touchstone in Shore Shakespeare’s 2018 production of “As You Like It” Photo courtesy of Ernest Valeo

Be sure to check www.shoreshakespeare.com for weather updates!

William Shakespeare’s
AS YOU LIKE IT
FREE TOUR CONCLUDES THIS WEEKEND!
Music & Lyrics by Gregory Minahan
Directed by Christian Rogers

June 22nd, 7:00 pm
June 24th, 5:00 pm
Wilmer Park
Chestertown, MD

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Mark Your Calendar: Monty Alexander Jazz Festival Set for 9th Year

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Jazz enthusiasts rejoice! The energetic, ever-swingin’ Monty Alexander returns to Easton this Labor Day weekend for his eponymous festival, featuring an exciting lineup that boasts some—
if not the—best jazz musicians in the country.

The Ninth Annual Monty Alexander Jazz Festival will be held Friday, August 31st to Sunday, September 2nd, at the Avalon Theatre.

Dominick Farinacci

The festival kicks off Friday with a favorite, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, who the NY Times calls a “trumpeter of abundant poise”. His most recent Avalon appearance was last November in the theatrical music experience, Modern Warrior Live. The masterpiece wonderfully demonstrated Farinacci’s versatile horn stylings and mix of international rhythms, as well as his mastery of composition and knack for re-imagining familiar songs.

Joining Farinacci is his Modern Warrior Live co-star Shenel Johns. With powerful, yet graceful vocals, Johns is known for her distinctive, eclectic style that sways effortlessly from jazz to R&B to gospel. The duo’s performance, aptly named “Lady Sings the Blues,” will celebrate the music of Dinah Washington, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.

Shenel Johns

Saturday’s packed program begins with a community concert—a free performance that was originally established to provide an introduction to jazz, familiarizing concert-goers with the incredibly diverse and somewhat misunderstood genre.

Harry Allen

This year, the stage will welcome a young musician hastily making a name for himself in the jazz world, pianist Matthew Whitaker. Blind since birth, the 17-year-old was recently named one of seven rising stars for 2018 by USA Today network’s 201 Magazine. Adding to the long list of accolades, Whitaker’s debut album Outta the Box, which was released last year, was named “one of the best debut albums of 2017” by New York City Jazz Record. This show starts at 11 a.m.

Saturday’s matinee show highlights an extraordinary range of American and Brazilian musicians, featuring tenor/alto saxophonist Harry Allen. With more than thirty recordings to his name, Allen has been called the “Frank Sinatra of the tenor Saxophone,” renowned for his inventive tone that’s rooted in tradition.

It’s only appropriate, then, that his 2 p.m. performance be a salute to Stan Getz and the Getz/Gilberto collaboration with Antonino Carlos Jobim, which resulted in an album by the same name—it’s the first jazz album to win the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. The album’s single “The Girl from Ipanema” won the Record of the Year.

Monty Alexander

Later that evening, Monty Alexander takes the stage. Considered one of the top five jazz pianists ever, Alexander’s musical expression combines elements of the blues, gospel, calypso, and reggae. Known for his vibrant personality, magnetic charisma, and breathtaking talent, Alexander’s performance is not to be missed.

Unsurprisingly, tickets for this show continue to sell out faster each year, so heed this warning if you want to see this dynamo in action—and believe us, you do.

Brianna Thomas

Wrapping up the festival weekend on Sunday is Brianna Thomas, whose soulful voice is often likened to Mahalia Jackson—a comparison only accomplished by the most gifted singers. The performance will blend two genres, jazz and gospel—a rather fitting theme for a Sunday afternoon.

The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival is partially underwritten by the Maryland State Arts Council and the Talbot County Arts Council. Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.com or call 410-819-0380.

Pippin at Church Hill Theatre: a Review by Peter Heck

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Cast members – Church Hill Theatre’s production of “Pippin: His Life and Times” Photo by Jane Jewell

Pippin, now playing at Church Hill Theater, is the story of a young prince in his quest to find a meaningful life – a timeless story that resonates as clearly now as it did in its original 1972 Broadway production.

Directed by Sylvia Maloney, the musical deploys a large cast of singers and dancers in a high-energy spectacle that revolves around a troupe of performers who tell Prince Pippin’s story. The music and lyrics are by Stephen Schwartz, with a book by Roger Hirson.

The original Broadway production, partially financed by Motown records, was highly successful, running on Broadway for almost five years.  It opened in October of 1972 and closed, after 1,944 performances, in June of 1977. Most Broadway shows open and close within a year.  More successful ones can run a few years.  At almost five years, Pippin, as of February 2018, is the 34h longest-running show in the entire history of Broadway. That’s pretty impressive.  Directed by the internationally famous director and choreographer Bob Fosse, Pippin won five Tony awards – two for Fosse, as director and choreographer, one for Ben Vereen as leading actor, and for Tony Walton (scenic design) and Jules Fisher (lighting design). It also won four Drama Desk awards – two for Fosse, one for Walton, and one for Patricia Ziprodt (costume design). And unusually enough, a 2013 Broadway revival took another load of awards – including a Tony for Patina Miller in the same role as Vereen – the only time the award has gone to a man and woman actor playing the same role.

Church Hill Theatre’s production of “Pippin: His Life and Times”      Photo by Steve Atkinson

The plot is centered on the title character, Pippin, the son and heir of Emperor Charlemagne, the French ruler who created the Holy Roman Empire by conquering much of western Europe. But beyond the characters’ names, the historical element is largely irrelevant, giving an essentially mythological plot a perfunctory grounding in the world of the Middle Ages. The story sets up a prototypical generational conflict, with the king neglecting his bookish son, and the son rebelling against what he sees as his father’s outmoded,  ways. The entire story is presented as a performance by the strolling players who make up the ensemble – taking the parts of soldiers, peasants, courtiers, and others needed to fill in the subsidiary roles of the play.  It’s an example of the classic technique of  “a play within a play.”

Ater finishing his education at the University of Padua, Prince Pippin visits his father’s court and decides to take his place as a warrior, emulating his younger half-brother Lewis. But he shows no aptitude for strategy or leadership, and after his first battle and discovering that he dislikes killing, he flees to his grandmother’s court. Renouncing the life of a soldier, Pippin turns to a life of leisure and pleasure–wine, women, and song!  But that ultimately proves unfulfilling, too. When the leading player suggests that he rebel against his father’s autocratic ways, he enthusiastically takes on that role – only to learn that overthrowing the government doesn’t necessarily lead to replacing it with something better. The young prince continues to search, eventually coming to a recognition that the road to happiness doesn’t necessarily require extraordinary accomplishments.

Maloney has brought together a cast including both CHT regulars and some young newcomers, particularly in the ensemble where it seems as if half the players are sophomores at Queen Anne’s County High School! The energy of the production gets a definite boost from all the young people on stage.

Leading the “youth brigade” is Mackenzie Campbell, who is outstanding as the Leading Player – a sort of ringmaster who conducts the entire performance. Singing, dancing, or simply standing at one side of the stage, she is a dominant presence. She has a number of credits with the Tred Avon Players and the Avalon Theater, but this is her CHT debut. Hard to believe she is only 17 years old; if she stays active in theater, it’s easy to foresee a bright future for her.

Mark Wiening as Pippin in Church Hill Theatre’s production of “Pippin: His Life and Times” — Photo by Steve Atkinson

Mark Wiening, who has appeared regularly both at CHT and at the Garfield Center, brings a strong singing voice and solid acting chops to the role of Pippin. A good performance in a role that demands a wide range of emotions and no small amount of physical schtick.

The role of Charlemagne is played by Bob Chauncey, who brings an appropriately regal bearing to the part. At the same time, he brings out the character’s comic side as a typically distracted father who has little time to talk to his son or understand his concerns.

Fastrada (Lori Armstrong) encourages her son Lewis (Bryce Sullivan) to show his warlike qualities in Church Hill Theatre’s production of “Pippin: His Life and Times” — Photo by Jane Jewell

 

Lori Armstrong is outstanding as Fastrada, Lewis’s scheming mother. She brings a good singing voice and a deliciously wicked persona to the role. Armstrong is returning to the stage after directing many student productions in her role as a Theater Arts teacher at Kent County Middle School. Let’s hope a taste of the spotlight encourages her to take part in more local productions.

Debra Ebersole is well cast as Berthe. Pippin’s grandmother. Her solo number, “No Time at All,” is one of the highlights of the first act; a nice performance by one of the long-time stalwarts of CHT musical productions.

Debbie Ebersole as Pippin’s grandmother & Mackenzie Campbell as The Leading Player in Church Hill Theatre’s production of “Pippin: His Life and Times”      Photo by Steve Atkinson

Pippin’s love interest, the widow Catherine, is played by Becca Van Aken, another CHT regular. The character is central to the play’s ultimate resolution, and Van Aken gives her a solid reality that makes the prince’s relationship with her seem natural and credible.

Bruce Sullivan a recent Queen Anne’s High School graduate, plays Lewis, Pippin’s half-brother – a more athletic and warlike (and considerably less intellectual) prince. And Cullen Williams, a Queen Anne’s freshman, does a good job as Theo, Catherine’s son.

Fastrada tells Pippin her motto: “Spread a Little Sunshine” — Photo by Steve Atkinson

The costumes are an integral part of this production – kudos to Tina Johnson, Erma Johnson and Liz Clarke for the spectacular look of the players. Interestingly, while most of the other characters are elaborately costumed, Pippin himself is dressed very plainly – a subtle way to emphasize his “Everyman” status, despite his official position as a prince and heir to the throne.

The choreography is also outstanding, thanks to Calvin Moore. Whether it’s a slow-motion battle scene (almost a “soft shoe” performance) or a formal dance at the emperor’s court, the swirl of motion is almost constant, and the cast does it without a misstep.

Despite the participation of Motown Records – several of whose stars recorded songs from the show – Pippin doesn’t feature particularly memorable music. Other than the main character’s signature song, “Corner of the Sky,” most of the songs are vehicles for clever words rather than melodies the audience is likely to find themselves humming the morning after seeing the show. On the whole, the CHT cast does a good job of making the songs work within the context of the play, and the orchestra, led by Ray Remesch, accompanies them in idiomatic style. Remeshch’s smooth work on guitar was notable at several spots in the performance.

Theo and Pippin pray for a duck – Church Hill Theatre’s production of “Pippin: His Life and Times” — Photo by Steve Atkinson

As Maloney notes in her director’s notes, it is easy to see the play as an echo of the doubts and dissatisfactions of the early 1970s, a time of political turmoil and social experimentation. The young prince’s search for meaning in his life is, of course, a quest that almost every generation finds itself embarking on. With its energetic young cast and a sprinkling of canny veterans, the CHT production should have a natural appeal to the young — and to those who remember what it was like to be young at a time when the world seemed full of possibilities and challenges.

Pippin runs through June 24, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students. Reservations are strongly recommended; call the theater at 410-556-6003 or visit www.churchhilltheatre.org to get your advance tickets.

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Mid-Shore Arts: Tara Helen O’Connor and the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival

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Sometimes it’s easy to take for granted some of the most remarkable institutions within one’s community. That is periodically the case with the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival which is now entering its 33rd year of bringing some of the best classical music performers to Talbot County.

Year after year, the Festival spends countless hours to make sure that it has locked in some of the most sought-after musicians and soloists in the world for its annual program for the great benefit of Mid-Shore and the Mid-Atlantic music aficionados.

But given their consistent track record, it sometimes is lost how remarkable the organizers have succeeded in not only ensuring that these world-class performers are present but are encouraged to come back time and time again through the hospitality of local host families and the great beauty of the Eastern Shore itself.

One of those great performers is Tara Helen O’Connor who many critics now consider to be one of the best flutists performing today.

For sixteen years Tara has made the trip from New York City down to Easton not only for the enjoyment of performing in the intimate venues arranged by the Festival but also so she can once again reunite with her host family, in this case, Charlie and Carolyn Thornton, who have become part of Tara’s extended family.

The Spy talked to Tara before her recent performance about her love of her instrument, her approach to performance, and her love of the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. Additional video provided by Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. For more information and ticket sales for the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival please go here

Spy Eye: Obama for President in Chestertown

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In the remaining months of 2008, I was still infrequently commuting between California and a small second home in Chestertown. While I had decided to permanently move back to the Eastern Shore, I was still wrapping up a thirty-year career in the Bay Area and would not be a legal voter in Maryland until the following year.

That was the primary reason I wasn’t entirely up-to-date on the hyperlocal presidential politics of Chestertown. The national drama of having an African-American running for president was compelling enough without the outside chance that Obama might win Kent County that year.

So when I made a trip back that early fall, it was not only the sight of hundreds of Obama lawn signs but what it said about Chestertown and why so many love it so much.

This video is approximately three minutes in length

Mid-Shore Arts: A Chat with Singer Barbara Parker

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Barbara Parker has always been a singer-songwriter, but it wasn’t until thirteen years ago that a friend handed her a mic at a party, and after she sang one of her songs asked, “Why aren’t you doing this for a larger audience?” And so she did, starting with Open Mic Nights at the Garfield, to various gigs, and the recording of her first CD. But it was the collaboration with jazz pianist, Joe Holt to whom she credits her current success.

They met two years ago when Parker would come to see him perform. Even before being officially introduced, she knew she wanted to work with him. “I told him: I want to do another project, and I want you to produce it. Joe builds around my music, and makes my music complete.” Holt interrupts, “My role here is one of support. This is a duo, but it’s a duo with a structure on facilitating what Barbara does.”

Barbara Parker and Joe Holt. Photo by Sherrie von Sternberg

Listening to them finish each other’s sentences, is a clear indication of their relationship. Parker and Holt seem to have the perfect partnership of lyricist and musical arranger, allowing both of them to do what they love while encouraging each other’s talents. “I have limited skills musically, and he’s got endless skills musically,” says Parker. “That’s the gift he gives me. He makes me sound really, really good.” “I can only do that,” he retorts, “if there is something there to begin with. Barbara is a complicated person, as any artist is. There’s both complexity and paradox in her life.”

Nowhere is this complexity more evident than in what she sings about. As with many songwriters, Parker is inspired by what goes on around her. “I love to write when driving. You should see the music that comes with that! Thank God for cell phones. I have currently 159 voice memos all of which are snippets of songs that come to me.”

Some of these snippets become songs, and some of these songs become audience favorites. One is Blackbird, written in homage to Robin Williams. “When I heard he died that morning, I sat down and wrote the song in less than 15 minutes.” Another song, Sanctuary, came to her after a phone call from a friend who was feeling sad. Her Dragon of the Chesapeake is relatable locally (and deals with her bridge phobia).

Explains Holt, “That’s how it works when a songwriter is not ‘formulaic.’ It’s like opening up a spigot.” Parker laughs, “I’m like a bucket that has a hole in it; luckily Joe is there with a pan. I’ll give him a melody, and I’ll give him a lyric, and he’ll say, ‘let’s switch the timing up just a little bit,’ or he’ll say, ‘this should be a tango.’ ”

Her ability to accept various styles and suggestions from Holt is another reason they work so well together. “I’m influenced by so much, and I really have no specific musical preference. I listen to everything from classical to jazz to easy listening to pop to rock to country, and when a song comes to me, in the amazing way that it does—this bolt out of the blue, it can be any of the styles. From my standpoint I’m a storyteller, I’m a singer-songwriter.” Holt agrees, “She’s stylistically diverse. Her songs are as much country and as much pop rock as much tango. All while being accompanied by a jazz pianist!”

Parker is also creatively diverse. Successful as a professional painter, her artwork was selected five years ago by the Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival for use on the Festival’s publicity materials and poster. She is also a photographer and writer. “Creativity is creativity,” she says. “It’s all about relating a message in an emotional kind of way that doesn’t destroy you.”

Asked what her challenge is as a performer, Parker admits she hopes to “keep producing fresh material, that is not like something else I’ve done. I hear it differently in my head, but with my limited musical knowledge, I can’t make it happen. Having Joe as a resource has been such a gift. I am so grateful. Every day I have the opportunity to create something new and how great is that?”

Barbara Parker will be joined by Joe Holt Thursday, June 7th at the Oxford Community Center. Show starts at 7PM and tickets are $15. For more information please go here. For additional show dates, check out her website.

Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.