Thursday, September 30, 2010


Classic Rabbit Tale in Highland

Hard Road Theatre Productions, in association with the Highland Arts Council and sponsored by First Mid-Illinois Bank & Trust, is presenting “Harvey” at the Highland Elementary auditorium, 1800 Lindenthal Street, October 1, 2, 8 and 9 at 7:30pm and October 3 at 2pm. Mary Chase’s fanciful tale of a delightfully eccentric man and his tall white rabbit friend was first produced on Broadway in 1943 but is best remembered as a Jimmy Stewart movie in 1950. The story revolves around Veta Simmons’ effort to have her brother, Elwood P. Dowd, committed to the Chumley Rest Home and hopefully rid the family of the shame he and the “imaginary” rabbit Harvey have brought. Comic complications arise when the rest home staff attempts to determine who should be committed. The distinguished Dr. William R. Chumley soon finds himself under Harvey’s spell.

The cast includes Tom Varner (Sorento) as Elwood P. Dowd; Sheila Riggs (Highland) as Veta Simmons; Hank Crider (Highland) as Dr. Chumley; Mitch England (Highland) as Dr. Sanderson; Gentry Herlitz (Staunton) as Nurse Kelly; Tinah Edwards (Collinsville) as Myrtle Simmons; Tim Albaugh (Collinsville) as Judge Gaffney; John Taylor (Highland) as Wilson; Linda Collman (Greenville) as Mrs. Chumley; Mary Knebel (Pierron) as Mrs. Chauvenet; Hugh Gallagher (Edwardsville) as Lofgren; and Myra Juenger (Collinsville) as Miss Johnson. John Goldsmith of Greenville is the director.

Tickets are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $6 for children and can be reserved in advanced by calling (618) 654-7748. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.

Hard Road Theatre Productions is a non-profit theatre organization committed to providing the larger Highland area with high-quality, affordable, live productions. For more information about Harvey , Hard Road Theatre, or further ticket information, visit the Hard Road website at

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why Don't American Boys Read?

Why don't boys read? According to Thomas Spence of the Wall Street Journal, "The appearance of the boy-girl literacy gap happens to coincide with the proliferation of video games and other electronic forms of entertainment over the last decade or two. Boys spend far more time "plugged in" than girls do."

Many in the educational establishment have tried to answer the question and, thereby, solve the problem by the wrong method: by deciding to "meet them where they are. For elementary- and middle-school boys, that means books that exploit love of bodily functions and gross-out humor.”

Spence explains why this is wrong and provides a solution to the problem. Read the whole article here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The SESAME STREET Controversy or How Elmo Destroyed SESAME STREET

Sesame Street is in the midst of a controversy right now. Some footage of singer Katy Perry singing a cleaned-up version of her song "Hot N Cold" with Elmo was released before the episode aired. A lot of parents saw the footage and complained, basically, that there was too much of Perry's cleavage showing. Sesame Street has now decided to pull the segment altogether. This has raised some controversy because in recent years the show has parodied such adult cable shows as True Blood and Mad Men and people didn't really complain about that. I don't think there were as many complaints about those shows for two reasons.

The first is that many parents of younger children don't really know what True Blood or Mad Men are. Those shows are cable shows and a lot of people with children don't have much time to devote to tv, especially shows that appear on premium cable networks (you have to pay more money each month to get AMC and even more for HBO). I know that those shows are available on DVD and members of those shows have graced numerous magazine covers, appeared on countless talk shows, and have multitudes of websites devoted to their characters. Still, unless you're an entertainment junkie or work in the industry, if you're a parent you really don't have much time for such drivel. You're too busy going to work, raising your kids, and taking care of your home. The shows you watch are probably mostly animated cartoons and educational shows. The magazines you read, if any, are more likely to be Good Parenting instead of Entertainment Weekly. The websites you visit are probably have lots of info about child-rearing and basic medical advice, not fan websites. You just don't have time so when you see a segment on Sesame Street called "True Mud" that's about a grouch who wants mud for a mud bath, you probably think, "That's kind of lame. I don't remember Oscar ever taking a mud bath. That wasn't a very good segment." You then never think anything of it. Now, if you happened to be an entertainment junkie or worked in the business, then when you see such a segment you would probably think it was clever, but risque for Sesame Street. Except, if you're a woman who watches one of those shows.

Which brings me to point two. The audiences of shows like True Blood and Mad Men are mostly women
(around 70%). People get very attached to their tv shows. I can remember as a kid my Mom was addicted for awhile to Days of Our Lives. Heck, even my grandma had a soap opera she used to watch all of the time until she forced herself to break that addiction. I've never missed an episode of Survivor. I get it. When you become attached to a particular show, you become protective of it. The majority of the people who watch True Blood are women so if you happen to have a child and are watching Sesame Street when a segment called "True Mud" airs, you're probably going to think, "Oh, how cute. They're parodying True Blood. How clever of Sesame Street." Since you're a fan of the True Blood, you know it's not a show that kids have any business watching and that even a parody of it shouldn't be airing on Sesame Street, but since you're a fan of the show you call it cute and clever.

Katy Perry is a pop singer who appears all over the place. She's doesn't appear for just a few weeks on a premium cable show. She's all on the talk shows, both morning and late night, of all the major networks. Her videos are some of the few that still play on MTV. She's seen on VH-1 and sang a song at the Kid's Choice Awards on Nickleodeon. Her face has been on all kinds of magazines. But, Katy Perry is female and for whatever reason, a lot of females seem threatened by her. So when Katy Perry appears on Sesame Street wearing a dress that female ice-skaters wear, people complain.

Personally, I think it's all a crock. Sesame Street shouldn't be doing parodies of "True Blood" or "Mad Men" and even if she is a pop-singer sensation, Katy Perry shouldn't ever appear on the show. I grew up with the Muppets. Some of my favorite shows of all time were The Muppet Show, Jim Henson's The Storyteller, Fraggle Rock, and Sesame Street. The stuff that appears on Sesame Street now would never have even aired on a children's show. It might have gotten some play on The Muppet Show, but definitely not Sesame Street. Sesame Street was a safe place. Guest stars were actually rare on the show. The cast of characters was relatively small, just a few humans and a handful or two regular Muppets. Oh, and Cookie Monster ate cookies, not fruits and vegetables.

I think that changed whenever Elmo came on the scene. He's extremely annoying and somewhat obnoxious. He's the Barney Fife of the Sesame Street universe. Elmo didn't exist when I watched Sesame Street and I'm convinced the nature of the show changed when he came onto the scene. Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Oscar, Grover, Cookie Monster, and the Count all had to step into the background and let Elmo take the spotlight. And take it he did, Elmo is all over Sesame Street now. Quite frankly, I think Elmo is representative of a great deal that's wrong with education and child-rearing in America. Elmo is allowed to run rampant all over the place. Sure, he's good-natured, polite, and tries to do the right thing, but he keeps popping up in places he shouldn't be. Elmo shouldn't be the center of attention. He shouldn't have his own segment and appear in the majority of the regular Sesame Street segments. He should be contained, disciplined so to speak. Instead, he's pretty much been given free reign, just like a lot of the kids in America today.

Anyway, last year while watching the three-year old son of a good friend of mine, I watched the first episode of Sesame Street that I had seen in over a decade. I was flabbergasted. The show had several regular features, including "Elmo's World", that were basically like mini- episodes. There was very little original animation and there were way too many guest stars (not including the "Elmo's World" actors there were 3 guest stars on the show that day). The quaint, simplistic, educational show of my childhood was gone. It remained in name only. The soul had been sucked away, replaced by a vapid void of hyperactivity and listlessness. And that is why Sesame Street now parodies a show like True Blood.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Joaquin Phoenix Was Acting the Whole Time

Remember about a year and a half ago and Joaquin Phoenix appeared on David Letterman with a scruffy beard and was acting all bizarre. It was shortly after he made the announcement that he was "retiring from acting" and had decided to pursue a career as a hip-hop or rap musician.

As it turns out, it was all faked. It was just one big stunt.

I told you. Joaquin Phoenix was acting the whole time.

I'm not sure why Phoenix wanted to do the gig. His announcement came just two years after his Academy Award-nominated performance in Walk the Line. As for Casey Affleck, he's trying to prove himself more as a filmmaker and the more talented of the Affleck brothers, so I can see why he was interested in the stunt.

So, there you have it.

Why Porn Shops Don't Have Windows

Thanks to Justin Taylor for this. The following is taken from a message from John Piper entitled "Do You See the Glory of God in the Sun?"

Do you know why there are no windows on adult bookstores? Or do you know why there are no windows on certain kinds of nightclubs in the city?

I suppose your answer would be, “Well, because they don’t want people looking in and getting a free sight.”

That’s not the only reason.

You know why? Because they don’t want people looking out at the sky.

You know why? The sky is the enemy of lust.

And I just ask you—you think back on your struggles. The sky is a great power against lust.

Pure, lovely, wholesome, beautiful, powerful, large-hearted things cannot abide the soul of a sexual fantasy at the same time.

I remember as I struggled with these things in my teenaged years and in my college years —I knew how I could fight most effectively in those days. And I’ve developed other strategies over the years that have proved very effective. And one way of fighting was simply to get out of the dark places, get out of the lonely rooms, get out of the boxed-in places, get out of the places where it’s just small me and my mind and what I can do with it, and get out where I am just surrounded by color and beauty and bigness and loveliness.

And I know that when I used to sit in my front yard at 122 Bradley Boulevard with a notepad in my hand a pen and trying to write a poem—at that moment my heart and my body were light years away from the sexual fantasizing I was tempted by again and again in the late-night, quiet, secluded, in-house moments.

There’s something about bigness, there’s something about beauty, that helps battle against the puny, small, cruddy use of the mind to fantasize about sexual things.

And then turn it around: it works this way too. We know from experience that if we give way to sexual fantasies and yield to lusts and dwelling on unwholesome things, our capacities for seeing the sky are cut in half. And then cut in half again. And then cut in half again—until you’re just a little worm on the ground as your language and your mind is nothing but smut. It can happen to anybody!

And so I just commend to you: don’t let that happen. Battle lust—among all the other weapons that you’re given in Scripture—battle it with the upward glance of the magnificent blue and the thunder and the lightning and the sunrises and the sunsets and the glory of God. And say to yourself, “If I give way in this hour to that kind of thinking, I won’t enjoy this, I won’t have a large heart, I won’t have a capacious mind, I won’t be a noble person—I’ll just be an old gutter person.” Preach to yourself like that! And then give yourself over to the ministry of the sky. And let it help you free from lust.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Beginning just before the release of the movie STAR TREK, IDW began publishing Star Trek comics that are notable not only for their artwork and stories, but for their appreciation and adherence to the Star Trek’s universe history. For instance, STAR TREK: COUNTDOWN was the Star Trek story that should have been the next Star Trek movie.

STAR TREK: SPOCK-REFLECTIONS is a supplemental tie-in to the STAR TREK movie. The story follows Spock as he secretly travels from Romulus to Earth and back to Romulus. Along the way, the reader sees flashbacks from Spock’s life illuminating why he is now on Romulus attempting to bring the teachings of the Vulcan philosopher Surak to the Romulans. Though the book is about Spock and his reflections and is a loose tie-in to the movie STAR TREK, the story brings together elements from various other Star Trek movies and wraps them up nicely.

The story unfolds at a slower pace than many other Star Trek stories, but that fits because the focus is on the character of Spock and not plot. There doesn’t have to be great battles, large explosions, or massive firefights. Instead, the events unravel one at a time, at the end revealing a glimmer of what has made Spock who he is.

Like STAR TREK: COUNTDOWN, STAR TREK: SPOCK-REFLECTIONS contains some beautiful illustrations. The layouts done by David Messina, find a nice balance between a classical Star Trek style and the new sleek and flashy Star Trek look. It’s a nice combination of old and new.

Star Trek fans will probably enjoy STAR TREK: SPOCK-REFLECTIONS as well as anyone who has an interest in Spock.

Book Review: FINDING OZ

Once upon a time I was cast in a production of THE WIZARD OF OZ and began doing some research not only into Oz, but into the man who created that world, L. Frank Baum. One of the books I read as part of my research was FINDING OZ.

The book is flows smoothly and is rather easy to read. The premise of the book is that many of the characters, events, and places in THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ were inspired by people, events, and places from Baum’s own life. FINDING OZ attempts to illustrate just what all those people, events, and places were. The book begins with Baum’s familial background and his birth and follows his life until just after the major success of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ.

Though the story moves along very smoothly and is filled with facts, as a biography the book isn’t very good. FINDING OZ is filled with suppositions. For instance, when discussing a time when Baum went to meet his future wife, Maud Gage, the author makes all kinds of suppositions from the probabilities of the things they would have worn, to how Baum would have arrived, to what songs were sung, to how long Baum spent at the house, etc. I realize these suppositions were included to keep the book smoothly flowing. However, they aren’t factual and I felt that they took away more than they added.

I also didn’t like how the author tried to find a real-life reason for all of the major events, places, and characters in Oz. As Baum clearly points out in his own introduction to THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, the story is supposed to be an American fairy tale. It’s not a parable or an allegory. We do know that there are certain things that did inspire Baum’s tale, for instance his niece Dorothy who died at an early age, the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and Baum’s experiences selling china (the Dainty Chinaland chapter in THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ all makes sense now). However, not everything in the novel was inspired by something else. Sometimes a story is just a story, and I often felt while reading FINDING OZ that the author forgot that.

The book also ends rather abruptly. It spends a great deal of time on Baum’s life leading up to the publication of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, but very little time on the events of his life after that. Baum wrote many other books and though none were as successful as the first Oz book, he was one of the most famous and successful authors of his time. He went back to the Oz books because the public demanded them. If people, places, and events in THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ were so closely based upon real-life, were the people, places, and events of the sequels also based upon real things? The author never comes near that question and FINDING OZ basically ends after the success of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ.

That’s not to say FINDING OZ is a terrible book because it’s not. The book is entertaining and is occasionally informative. For instance, the author makes it clear that Baum did not base THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ upon Populist politics of the day as several historians and theorists have suggested in the past. In fact, Baum was a staunch lifelong Republican. The book also gives a great deal of insight into Matilda Gage and her relationship with her son-in-law.

FINDING OZ was a mixed-bag for me. The structure flows as smooth as a novel, but the major faults of the book kept me from enjoying it as much as I have similar-themed works of non-fiction.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Crazy Love--Chapter 7; Faith

Luke Warm Christians?

Is there such a thing as a luke warm Christian? I've heard a couple of handfuls of sermons about luke warm Christianity during my life. Those sermons usually disturbed me because most of the time the speakers talked about how not to be a "luke warm Christian". The problem I had is that there is no such thing in the Bible. You're either a Christian or you're not. There is no in between. Why deceive people into believing they can be something that doesn't exist?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

"Mother Goose and Grimm" and THE WIZARD OF OZ

Media Consumed: August 2010

Books Read

*Problem Identified and You’re Probably Not Part of the Solution Scott Adams

Stephen King Goes to the Movies Stephen King

The Dumbest Generation Mark Baurlein

*The Storm in the Barn Matt Phelan

+Frankenstein Mary Shelley

Cliffs Notes on Shelley’s Frankenstein Jeff Coghill

Stuff Christians Like Jonathan Acuff

#, + Harvey

* = denotes book of comic strips or graphic novel

+ = denotes a work previously read

# = denotes a play

I found The Dumbest Generation to be highly informative. It provides the best statistical and data available illustrating that children’s increased use of the Internet, cell phones, etc. are actually causing the majority of the youth in America to become less intelligent.

I started re-reading Frankenstein two years ago when I was teaching it. I never finished re-reading the last chapter until now.

Stuff Christians Like is both funny and thought-provoking. It laughs about things contemporary Christians tend to do, while at the same time using satire to raise important issues.

Harvey is a great play and I read it in preparation for the production I’m acting in and producing.

Movies Watched for the First Time

Who Done It?

The Other Guys

Astro Boy

Who Done It? is another Abbot and Costello picture. I remember seeing part of it years ago on tv. It’s a funny murder-mystery story.

The Other Guys is Will Ferrell’s best movie in years and is hilarious. Ferrell doesn’t get to do the typical things he usually does and is more restrained. Mark Wahlberg is actually the funny man in the pic with Ferrell being the straight man.

Astro Boy was an enjoyable animated feature. It didn’t have a message or moral, but was just a colorful piece of high-tech animated fluff.

Media Consumed: July 2010

Books Read

The New Yorker: On the Money Ed. Robert Mankoff

1,001 Facts That Will Scare the S#*t Out of You Cary McNeil

*The Wizard of Oz Graphic Novel Adapt. Michael Cavallaro

Finding Oz Evan I. Schwartz

* = denotes a graphic novel

July was kind of a slow month, reading-wise for me. I was in the midst of a musical and spent a large part of my free time (especially during the last two weeks) on the show. Of the four books, the only one I can give a solid recommendation for is 1,001 Facts That Will Scare the S#*t Out of You. The book is filled with facts about all kinds of things. If it doesn’t kill you, it truly will make you stronger.

Movies Watched for the First Time


Despicable Me

500 Days of Summer

The Lonely Guy

*Hold That Ghost


Pardon My Sarong

*The Dreamer of Oz

Tenure was in interesting little film. It’s not a full-fledged comedy and the drama isn’t as serious as one might think. It doesn’t fit definitely into one type of genre. I tend to like movies like that.

Despicable Me was a complete joy. Steve Carrell’s voice is unrecognizable and the Minions are adorable.

I liked the way 500 Days of Summer was told, but I hated the story.

I watched several Abbott and Costello films the past couple months in preparation for my role as Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Hold That Ghost is one of the duo’s earliest best. Pardon My Sarong wasn’t quite as funny, but it’s still has plenty of classic Abbot and Costello humor.

Inception is a great movie that’s ruined by an indecisive conclusion (Chris Nolan should have had some balls and made a choice one way or the other). It’s by no means the best movie of the year (Toy Story 3 is that), but it does break some ground effects-wise.

Lastly, The Dreamer of Oz is a made-for-tv movie starring John Ritter. I saw the film when it first aired on television. It was on the The Wizard of Oz DVD I own so I watched it again in some final preparation for the show.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

"Pearls Before Swine" Tribute to Charlie Brown

STAR WARS Prequels Parody

Thanks to Jack Hager for leading me to this Star Wars tribute/Queen parody.


Saturday, September 04, 2010

After the Lion Got His Courage

--From Parade magazine Sun., Aug. 8, 2010


I’ve always been a fan of game shows. The best game shows aren’t just entertaining, but include an element of education, whether through trivia, word games, or musical memory. I’ve auditioned for several game shows, but have never been selected as a contestant. I also enjoy watching episodes of old game shows. The best ones are still entertaining today. Some of the best game shows ever to air on American television are reviewed in TV's Greatest Game Shows.

The book begins with a preface by the author where he discusses his love for game shows and his experiences on trying to get on JEOPARDY! and WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? An introduction follows that gives a short history of U.S. game shows.

Each of the games reviewed begin with a snapshot of the show’s main credits: the dates the series aired, the network the show aired on, the hosts of the show, the series creators, the show’s producers, and the show’s director. If a show was revived or aired on a different network, that information follows the credit info about the original show in the same format. Following the credit info, there is a short synopsis about the show. Depending on the popularity or impact of a game show, the synopsis is as short as a paragraph or as long as several pages. Usually some bits of trivia or lines from the show are included. There’s also a section discussing some of the most famous of game show hosts. Shows included in the book range from AMERICAN GLADIATORS to JEOPARDY! to MATCH GAME to PASSWORD to WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE to I’VE GOT A SECRET.

The book is really easy to read. Like the best game shows, I found it both entertaining and informative. TV's Greatest Game Shows makes a great reference guide about game shows as well as a nice gift for anyone who enjoys game shows.

The Death of Western Philosophy

--from The Wild and Twisted World of Rubes by Leigh Rubin

Friday, September 03, 2010

Winnie the Pooh in an "Argyle Sweater"

--from 50% Wool 50% Asinine by Scott Hillburn


A few months ago, a good friend sent me a copy of CRAZY LOVE. It's a book I had been wanting to purchase myself, but never had, yet. I read the introduction about a month ago, but because of a show I was involved with, I never got any farther than that. I continued reading the book last week and have finished the first chapter.

I know I've just read the first chapter, but the book is a great book and one I highly recommend. It's encouraged me about the way I've tried to live my life, while at the same time challenged me to live even deeper. The overall message of the book is one that is relevant to both people who are "new" Christians and those who have been believers most their lives. I think believers around the world can take something away from the book, but it's clearly aimed at American Christians.

As a way to increase interaction, Francis Chan made several videos to accompany the book. These videos are free, short, and can be found online not only at the website for the book, but on YouTube, too. Here and there, as I'm reading through the book, I'll post one of the videos. The one below goes with Chapter 1. It raises some good questions. Tell me what you think.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Lincoln Family in "The Argyle Sweater"

--From 50% Wool 50% Asinine by Scott Hillburn

Children's Book Review: A DELUGE OF DOGS

In the world of children’s publishing, one of the easiest books to write and publish is the alphabet book. Alphabet books are supposed to be designed to help children learn the alphabet by having a line or lyric about each letter. Take, for example the classic, “A is for apple, B is for ball, C is for cat, etc.” I’m not a very big fan of alphabet books. The majority of them tend to be trite and drivel that really don’t attempt to contribute to expanding a young person’s (or a person learning English) knowledge of the English language. On the other hand, there are some alphabet books that though they don’t contain any great word play, they are filled with gorgeous illustrations that are works of art. It is rare that one comes across and alphabet book that tries something different, has great illustrations, and is fun to read for both kids and adults. A DELUGE OF DOGS is such a book.

The book takes the concept of the alphabet book and ties it together with dogs. Kids love dogs and many adults do, too. However, the author takes the concept one step further by using some entertaining wordplay through the use of alliteration, assonance, and rhyme. There are 26 different dogs in the book, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. The words that the author uses with the names are unusual and great for expanding one’s vocabulary. A few examples include “A is for Astro aglow in a tree”, “Q is for Quentin quenching his thirst”, and “X is for Xerxes exhorting a yak.”

Accompanying the H.C. Fargot’s text are the vibrant illustrations by Wrolf Bronesby. Not only are the illustrations works of art in themselves, but they give the words an added layer of meaning. For instance “M is for Murphy making ends meet” we see the dog Murphy sniffing the rear end of another puppy and in “R is for Riley realizing the wurst” we see a dog named Riley running down the street with a link of sausages in his mouth.

Alphabet books are a dime for a dozen, but A DELUGE OF DOGS is a superior alphabet book that both children and adults will enjoy reading and looking through.