Monthly Archives: September 2010

More Thrills & Glory…


Part Three: A Tale of Two Spaces

To read the latest chapter in my personal history of The Practical Theatre Company, click here.

After you’ve read our ancient history, you can check out video clips of far more recent PTC-style comedy if you click here.

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The Wondrous Watts Towers

I’ve wanted to see the celebrated Watts Towers for a very long time.

Finally, after seeing the urban folk art mosaics of Isaiah Zagar in Philadelphia this year and, shortly after that, reading my friend Sally Nemeth’s blog post on her own visit to the Watts Towers – I was determined to go to Watts and explore this singular work of art for myself. So on Sunday, September 19, 2010, Victoria and I headed south down the 405 freeway, then east on the 105, bound for the Watts Towers.

I remember first becoming aware of the Watts Towers as a kid when I saw them on an episode of Dragnet. At least I had that image of seeing the towers on Dragnet lodged deep in my mind. In doing a little research for this post, I learned that this memory of mine is about 40-years old, as the Watts Towers did in fact appear on a Dragnet ’69 Season 3 episode called “Management Services.” So, it wasn’t just my imagination.

The Watts Towers are Simon Rodia’s imagination. Writ large. Very large.

It took less than an hour to get from my house in Woodland Hills to the tough, working class Watts neighborhood where Italian immigrant Simon Rodia lived and worked – and built his incredible, deeply-personal, monumental masterpiece with his own gnarled hands.

Rodia bought his lot on 107th Street in 1921, and for 34 years, he crafted his elaborate towers all by himself. Rodia didn’t use machines or scaffolding or bolts or welds. He used simple hand tools. Rodia didn’t even work out his complex designs on paper. His wondrous creations of concrete, steel, glass and ceramic odds and ends sprang day-by-day, year-by-year, out of his head.

Simon Rodia once said, “I had it in mind to do something big and I did it.”

Yeah, he sure did.

Somehow, this hard-working immigrant laborer and tile setter, with very little money, managed in his spare time to create an artwork that has become for the humble community of Watts what the grand work of the great Antoni Gaudí is to Barcelona, Spain: a source of artistic and civic pride.

The tallest of Simon Rodia’s towers rises less than an inch shy of 100 feet and contains “the longest slender reinforced concrete column in the world.”

The Watts Towers installation also includes a gazebo that has been used for church services and baptisms by a number of local congregations, three birdbaths, and a ship sculpture based on Marco Polo’s ship.

The outer wall running along 107th Street is fantastically adorned with tiles, seashells, broken pottery, glass bottles and handcrafted designs – which obviously helped to inspire Isaiah Zagar’s work in Philly.

The Watts Towers were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990. Good call. The Towers have taken some hits from earthquakes over the years, but it’s impressive that, despite being located in such a tough neighborhood, they’ve suffered scant damage from vandals. No graffiti mars Simon’s amazing wall – and nobody has dared to tag the Watts Towers.

If you live in Los Angeles, go see the Watts Towers as soon as possible. If you visit Los Angeles, make sure you put Simon Rodia’s masterpiece on your agenda. There’s nothing like it in the world.

It’s hard to believe it took me 20 years since I moved to L.A. to visit them. But, now that I’ve seen the wonders that Simon Rodia wrought, I know I’ll be taking people to see the Watts Towers for many years to come.

Until you get there to see them for yourself, here’s a gallery of photos from our visit…


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My YouTube Channel

It’s hard to believe that YouTube is barely 5 years old.

It should be obvious to anyone with access to electricity that since the debut of YouTube, popular culture has changed dramatically. Whether it’s a dancing cat, a woman getting hit in the face with a watermelon, an Indy band with a homemade music video, or a too-comfortable politician saying something off-color at a fundraising barbecue – YouTube can make the trivial, the talented, and the downright terrible alike nationally known within hours and days.

This revolutionary online video portal was the founded in 2005 by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim – but it was Hurley who studied design at my mother’s alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Chen and Karim were computer science geeks at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or as we use to call it in Chicago, Champaign-Urbana.

YouTube’s early headquarters was housed above a pizzeria and Japanese restaurant in San Mateo, California and the first YouTube video was was uploaded on April 23, 2005. That first video, Me at the zoo, features founder Jawed Karim at the San Diego Zoo. You can still find it on YouTube.

Me at the zoo has scored 3,597,873 views.

Now, even a dinosaur like me is aware of YouTube. In fact, as you’ve seen if you’ve been following this blog since “The Vic & Paul Show” ran in June, I’m gradually getting the hang of how to use YouTube to post video clips and embed video on this blog.

And now I’ve figured out how to create my own YouTube channel. It wasn’t hard. The technology was right at my fingertips. But since nobody uses technical manuals anymore, you’ve just got to stumble around until you figure this stuff out.

My YouTube channel is currently a place where “The Vic & Paul Show” clips live, plus other video treats that will accumulate over time.

You can access Paul’s Channel at:

But if you’re looking for videos of dancing cats, don’t look here. Our noble beast Caliban just isn’t the dancing type.

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A Salute to Walter Cronkite

“And that’s the way it is.”

Those of us who are of a certain age remember the days when there were only three TV networks (and those two weird UHF channels) – and network news was the Big Deal every night. In those years, back when the network evening news was an important daily event, Walter Cronkite was the Big Man Behind the Anchor Desk.

Walter Cronkite, the anchorman of CBS Evening News, was the most trusted man in America. Seriously. He really was. And he deserved our trust. After all, it was Walter Cronkite who went to Vietnam and said, essentially, game over: we’re losing and we should get out. (Can you imagine Wolf Blitzer going out on that limb?)

So, what’s happened to TV news since the days of the legendary Walter Cronkite?

Here’s a musical reflection on the gradual ruin of television news from “The Vic & Paul Show”, written and performed by Paul Barrosse and Victoria Zielinski — with musical director Steve Rashid.

The show was directed by Shelly Goldstein and performed in June 2010 at Push Lounge in Woodland Hills, CA.

This is the final installment of clips from “The Vic & Paul Show” available for free on this blog and on YouTube. The entire show will be available very soon on DVD. If you’re interested in getting a copy of the DVD, let me know by e-mail or via comment to this blog entry.

I’ll send you a copy of the whole show for $5.00 – which should just about cover the cost. (It’s the cheapest, coolest, and funniest Christmas gift ever!) You can send me a check when you get the DVD.

And that’s the way it is…


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Rockme Music Goes Online!

Make the kids jump at CD Baby!

Just in time to fill those 2010 Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanza) stockings — the newest Riffmaster & The Rockme Foundation tunes — and a collection of all-time Rockme classics — are now available online at CD Baby:

Click here to be a part of Digital Rockme-mania…

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“Now, Voyager” Revised

My wife is a huge Bette Davis fan and years ago she introduced me to one of Bette’s best films: Now, Voyager.

Based on the popular romantic novel by Olive Higgins Prouty, Now, Voyager was released in 1942. Mega-star Bette Davis was Oscar-nominated for her performance in the film, which was selected in 2007 by the Library of Congress for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry. Like all the great movies accorded that honor, Now, Voyager was deemed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Now Voyager may be a timeless classic – but there’s one central aspect of the film that has not aged very well: all that smoking.

Of course, until the last 20 years or so, everybody smoked in the movies – and in the 40’s and 50’s, cigarette smoke filled nearly every romantic drama, gangster movie, western and film noir frame. But Now, Voyager made smoking a central character.

In the film’s signature moment, Paul Henreid lights two cigarettes in his mouth at the same time and hands one to Bette. Henreid’s ultra-romantic two-cigarette move was first used ten years earlier in the film, The Rich Are Always With Us – but when Paul Henreid did it in Now, Voyager — it caused a sensation. For years afterward, Henreid couldn’t go anywhere without women begging him to pop two cigarettes in his mouth and fire them up.

Back then — unlike Bette and Paul’s relatively chaste and unrequited lovers — Hollywood and the cigarette companies were in bed together. Check out this fine article for some eye-opening details on this unhealthy alliance, including Bette’s contract with Lucky Strikes – and Paul Henreid’s own radio promotion, using his role in Now, Voyager to flog cigarettes.

68 years later, Now, Voyager’s smoky and sensual signature bit of dramatic business just wouldn’t fly in today’s more health conscious, socially and politically correct Hollywood.

So, while we were working on “The Vic & Paul Show” early this year, we asked ourselves, “What would happen if Now Voyager was re-made in 2010?”

Here’s our answer to that question, performed puff by puff at the Push Lounge in Woodland Hills in June 2010.


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Austen vs. iPhone

“The Vic & Paul Show” photos by Robert Mendel.

It was not all that long ago that men and women in the throes of romance took pen in hand to write long, expressive letters to each other.

Your parents probably wrote love letters to each other. And if you’re anywhere over the age of 35, you and your loved one probably did a lot of letter writing, too.

That’s not necessarily the case today. I imagine that stationery sales are not what they once were. Modern lovers now proclaim their undying devotion via e-mail and text messaging.

Instead of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s immortal prose…

How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach…

…today’s lovers are more likely to text:

do I luv u?

The great romantic novelist Jane Austen, who was born on December 16th, 1775, lived and wrote in a world of quills and ink and letter writing. Her novels celebrate a time when people in love put their thoughts and emotions into words. Lots of words. Pages and pages of words. Relationships in the Age of Austen developed more slowly than today. There was time for reflection and expression. Lots of time. That was then

And now?

The first iPhone was introduced on January 9, 2007 – 190 years after Jane Austen’s death. An amazing technological marvel, the iPhone might also be the final death knell for romantic letter writing.

From what I’ve witnessed, texting is now the universally preferred method of communication between young people with a romantic interest in one another. In fact, they’d rather text than talk on the phone. I have two teenage daughters. Trust me. I’m not making this up.

So, when my wife Victoria and I were writing “The Vic & Paul Show” this year, we thought it would be fun to look back at the slower, more deliberate, literate and reflective expression of passion back in Jane Austen’s day – as opposed to today’s rapid-fire boy-girl TTYL texting.

“The Vic & Paul Show” was performed in June 2010 at Push Lounge in Woodland Hills with musical director Steve Rashid at the piano and directed by Shelly Goldstein.


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