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Saturday, April 27, 2013


Pictured Kurt Beattie and Tim Gouran
Photo: (c) LaRae Lobdell
Laughter, no matter how genuine, can also feel like whistling in the dark when theatrical comedy looks too much like possible reality. I had a hunch I would enjoy the world premiere of Katie Forgette’s play Assisted Living—a Mainstage Production in The Falls Theatre at ACT, April 19-May 12—and oh how I did. I laughed hard and often, like everyone around me. But I think my own laughter hid an emotion felt by many others in the audience: foreboding.
I loved this play and I highly recommend it. I consider the writing brilliant and the acting superb.  But it didn’t take long to understand why the theater’s press release said Assisted Living “ ... takes a darkly comical look at America’s current health care system and where it could be headed.” The story is set in a future version of our nation that we hope we’ll never see, after the collapse of the health care system and the demise of Medicare. With so many baby boomers now old and ill, and space at a premium, prisons have been emptied and their inmates sent to Pakistan, so prison buildings can be used as elder care institutions under the Senior Provision Act, a.k.a “SPA.”
MITZI GRABS Laura Kenny Tim Gouran
Photo: Alan Alabastro
Even if you have a healthy appreciation for the “gallows humor” secretly shared among people who work in law enforcement or medicine, you might not be prepared for the opening scene. It’s nighttime in a prison-turned-assisted living facility. A young orderly named Kevin, prone to horseplay and singing to himself, steers a loaded gurney into a darkened lobby, pulls back a rug, lifts a hidden hatch cover, and dumps a corpse down a chute. That is, of course, after removing the dead woman’s bracelet. He yells to an unseen person below, “Stiff. Incoming!”

Get used to it. In what we hope is only a side-splitting farce, the now elderly baby boomers end up in government-run nursing homes, with all their assets sold at government-run auctions in order to pay for every single item needed for their government-run care, even bags for bodily fluids. No mooching off Uncle Sam in SPA Facility No. 273! In an ultra-conservative society, it’s downright unpatriotic to ask for any help from your fellow citizens who pay taxes.
And those people who ever ate junk food, gained weight, smoked, drank, or did anything else in their lives that possibly led to their chronic health problems (or, in other words, were human) are considered immoral, unpatriotic leaches on society, and disposable, for the good of the taxpayers. In order to save money, this place even has a robot named “Hal” for a night nurse. We never see him, but the idea of this inhuman machine patrolling the darkened halls felt frightening and creepy to me, as did the ever present hypodermic needle gun, ready to over medicate anyone who did not comply.
Pictured Tim Gouran and Jeff Steitzer
Photo: (c) LaRae Lobdell
When new resident Joe Taylor (played by ACT’s Artistic Director Kurt Beattie) moves into No. 273, it isn’t because he had squandered his God-given former good health. He’d been mugged, resulting in a fall that broke his hip, causing him to be hospitalized more than once, ill with pneumonia, etc. etc. No matter. To the bitter, unsmiling, accusatory and hysterically funny Nurse Claudia (Julie Briskman), these inmate-residents are all the same: worthless—and unworthy of respect, dignity, or compassion. As a member of a generation that expected entitlements, but didn’t get, she now resents the baby boomers and her anger is palpable.

Deeply disturbed by what he finds in his new environment, Taylor tries to lift the spirits of his fellow residents. He had been an actor, and when he discovers other former actors in his midst, he convinces them to read plays and give a holiday performance for families and fellow residents. Those other actors are—Beatrice “Judy” Hart (Marianne Owen, Beattie’s real-life wife) and Wally Carmichael (Jeff Steitzer), the later from whom Nurse Claudia withholds hearing aid batteries.  Another member of their troupe, a former nurse named Mitzi Kramer (Laura Kenny) copes with her circumstances (and incontinence) by caring for others and maintaining her cheerfulness. With some cooperation from the orderly Kevin (Tim Gouran) they secretly rehearse. 
TWINKIE Julie Briskman Jeff Steitzer
Photo: Alan Alabastro
Nurse Claudia is outraged at the idea of this uprising, which upsets her tightly ordered world. She dominates through her strict schedule of too much quiet time and too little visiting time, and she controls through fear, medical sedation, and the constant threat of banishment to the first floor, from which people never return. But rest assured; good, at least temporarily, triumphs over evil, and the plot takes a satisfying twist at the end.
All through the drama, razor-sharp humor, combined with moments of poignancy and tenderness kept me 100% engaged. But having already read a shocking article in the play’s program—filled with statistics about how aging baby boomers will impact the health care system—that projected scenario weighed on my mind even as I laughed. And I knew too much about a real assisted living facility, where both my father and mother-in-law once lived.

TRIUMPH Tim Gouran Jeff Steitzer Laura Kenny Marianne Owen Kurt Beattie
Photo: Alan Alabastro

Whether you laugh your head off or feel a little shiver down your spin (or most likely both) you will recognize three important things:

1.) ACT has done it again, giving us the highest quality theater experience, a feast of talent.

2.) Writer Katie Forgette (whose husband, the acclaimed actor R. Hamilton Wright, directed the play) is a genius. I can’t wait to see what she will create next.

3.) Art matters. If anyone ever needed an example of how art examines issues in our society and makes us think, this is it.

Don’t let the disturbing parts keep you from enjoying the outrageous humor this play offers. Your own mind will scare you more than anything you’ll see here. For many of us in the audience, perhaps the creepiest thing of all is realizing the baby boomer generation is now the oldest surviving one, in this not-too-distant fictional future. The show opens with the Beattle’s song “Help” and closes with Bob Dylan’s “Times They Are a Changin,” and the juxtaposition of my generation’s music with images of the nation’s oldest citizens felt like a shock.

Go see this play. And take an ultra-conservative politician with you. Please.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013


The music’s beat feels irresistible and contagious. Wearing everything from elegant vintage clothing to jeans, couples enliven the dance floor with restless enthusiasm as they pick up the pulse and easily translate it into the Lindy Hop’s acrobatic steps, spins, leaps and slides, all of which seem impossible to onlookers. Even those on the sidelines get caught up in the rhythm, wanting to move, wanting to be part of this living, surging entity of energy. The scene is Camp Jitterbug, Seattle’s annual Memorial Day Weekend gathering of swing dancers.

This year’s event takes place May 24–27 in various dance venues in a three-block radius on Capitol Hill. Attendees can take classes taught by 25 of the world’s best instructors, offered as six different skill level tracks. This spectacular weekend begins at 7 p.m on Friday with a performance extravaganza called The JumpSession Show, held at Benaroya Hall, followed by dances and workshops non-stop Saturday through Monday. (See a complete schedule here.)

If you’re interested in attending, but you think Memorial Day weekend sounds a long way off, be aware that classes fill up quickly. Many of the registration package options are already SOLD OUT. I recently interviewed Tonya Morris, the producer of Camp Jitterbug and the Jump SessionShow, and I am delighted to share her insights and tempting details here:

GLN: Please give me some background on Camp Jitterbug.

Morris: This is actually Camp Jitterbug’s fourteenth year. I fly in between 20 and 30 of the top dancers from around the world, as well as some of the top musicians in swing and jazz. There’s nothing quite like it, so it’s a really valuable asset to the community, an outlet for us (meaning those in the Lindy Hop dance community) to be able to educate and show the general public what this dance is, how important it is as a part of American history, and how fun it is in general. And it’s to try to keep this dance from the late ‘20s and 30s and into the ‘40s alive and kicking, now, in 2013. This has become a passion.

The event takes over the whole weekend. We have a pretty exciting kickoff to the event. I would say the highpoint is the Jump Session show. This year we’re flying in Meschiya Lake and her Little Bighorns, her whole band out of New Orleans. She was actually voted Best Performer in New Orleans. She’s the featured band on the stage at the Jump Session show.

GLN: Can you tell me more about the show?
Morris: Because we have all of this talent here all in one weekend, eight years ago I decided to start doing a show. Why not utilize this talent and give them a stage to show off and perform and show off their talent, besides just coming here to teach? So it started out in a little room in the Knights of Columbus Hall on Capitol Hill with a hundred folding chairs. It’s grown into an event where 1,000 - 1,500 people that show up at the large hall at Benaroya where the Seattle Symphony plays. It’s become a full theatrical production with hired directors and script writers.

And from what I know in the Lindy Hop community, it’s the largest and most professionally done show that features Lindy Hop, in the world. We have a mix of about maybe half dancers, half general public that comes to this. The main thing that the general public can definitely go to is the Jump Session show, because this is something where you’re sitting and watching.

GLN: What I remember s the whole auditorium gasping at the moves those dancers made.

Morris: Yeah! It’s really neat when you hear the responses, especially from the general public, when they don’t know what to expect. For a lot of these people, they’re seeing Lindy Hop for the very first time and they’re just shocked. You don’t see that out in the general public as much. On Dancing with the Stars, you’re seeing ballroom dancing and it’s so different than the dances that we’re displaying here. We’re going to the authentic form of swing dancing, rather than a later ballroom version of it, which is extremely different than the authentic version.

GLN: So what happens after the Jump Session show kickoff?

Morris: After the show, we have an After Party where we utilize the entire stage inside the auditorium at Benaroya, where we have the band playing. Anybody who wants to go up and dance on the stage to the live music can dance there. And then we have DJ music out in the foyer, with a big dance floor in the foyer. So we’re taking over all of Benaroya for a part that goes until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. Included in the After Party, is a drop-in beginner lesson to teach you a few steps to get started on the dance floor that night. Then after that is when Camp Jitterbug starts— the workshop, dancing, and competition portion of the event, the core part of the event that has been going on for 14 years.

GLN: And other dances, in addition to opening night, and the competitions?
Morris: The workshops happen on Saturday, Sunday and Monday all day. And then we have competitions that happen in the evenings. The prelims happen ahead of time and then in the evening dances we have these really spectacular finals that happen where the people that made the finals are competing to the live band that’s playing. It’s pretty amazing to watch and the crowd really gets into it. Then we have the live bands playing.

Those are all happening at Temple de Hirsch. The evening dance will end at midnight and then everybody heads over to after-hours dancing and they dance from 1:00 to 5:00 in the morning, and they dance to live music at this time too. After they’re done dancing at 5 a.m. people come back and they’re ready to take their classes at 11 a.m. It’s pretty crazy.

GLN: Let’s hear a little about the workshops and instructors.

Morris: We have different instructors and performers who come in from all over. We have multiple couples from France. We get couples from Sweden. We have Chester Whitmore. He’s an incredible tapper and Lindy Hopper who studied directly under Fayard Nicholas from the Nicholas Brothers. He worked on the Carol Burnett Show. He choreographed for Madonna. He’s done everything.

And then someone that we’ve tried to get for years is Ryan Francois out of London. He’s going to be featured this year. He worked on the Spike Lee movie, as a choreography and performer in “Malcom X.” He was one of the dancing elves in Polar Express (that they based animation off of). He was the choreography for the dance scene for the movie “Swing Kids,” and he just has a wealth of talent. He’ll be in the show as well. He’s been on all the shows, like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars” and all these things, as a guest performer in Lindy Hop.

We have dancers that we bring in from all over. We even have a dancer we’re flying in from Lithuania to teach. The scope of this is pretty massive.
Masters fly in to learn from these teachers, so it’s not just one level. We have six different levels, but seven different ballrooms that are rented out in a three to five block radius on Capitol Hill. And each of those ballrooms holds a different level of dancer. (see venues here)

GLN: What is available for beginners? And beyond?

Morris: We have a really great beginner track option. People who have never danced a step in their life are coming here to just learn as much as they can in one weekend. And they come out and they’re able to social dance. It is pretty awesome to learn from the best in the world, your first time learning.

With the beginner track, we also do a coaching system. We have a couple from Seattle and they’re fabulous, dancers that are known internationally as well: Daniel Newsome and Gabby Cook. They stay with the beginners throughout the whole process. You have all these well-known teachers who come in to teach, but then they (Newsome and Cook) coach them along the way. So if anybody’s having any problems or issues, Dan and Gabby are there to help them out. The coaching program we have in the beginner track is fabulous and it’s gotten rave reviews from the people who’ve attended it. So that’s a part of the camp where you don’t have to know anything to do it.

Then it goes Intermediate, Intermediate Plus, Advanced, Advanced Plus, all the way up to Masters. People are auditioning to get into those tracks.

GLN: What about the other musicians in addition to Meschiya Lake and her Little Bighorns?  
Morris: The music is a huge part of the dancing too because it really drives the dancers. The music is a very important element of it. That’s why I bring in really fabulous musicians. And the musicians usually change every year. Last year we had Jonathan Stout and this year Casey MacGill will be leading with his orchestra on one of the dances. He’s amazing.

Bands playing throughout the weekend:

Evan Arntzen (British Columbia, Canada) will be a special guest playing in several of the bands during the weekend)

GLN: So would you say this is your biggest event ever?

Morris: I’ve actually had to cap the event. We get about 500 attendees that do the workshops and we’ve had that consistently for years now. (Counting people who just pay to take a single class or attend a dance, but have not registered for the entire weekend, the number grows to near 700.) We just don’t have the capacity to hold more, so we cap it off every year. As far as the show goes, it is always between 1,000 and 1,500 who come, depending on the year. We just don’t know until the show happens.

GLN: So, dear readers, my advice is to REGISTER  HERE AND NOW, so you won’t miss a minute of the fun.

(All photos and video courtest of Tonya Morris.)

Camp Jitterbug dance teachers for 2013
·         Chester Whitmore Los Angeles, CA
·         Ryan Francois London, England
·         Andy Reid & Nina Gilkenson New Orleans, LA & Baltimore, MD
·         Todd Yannacone & Pamela Gaizutyte New Orleans, LA and Vilnius, Lithuania
·         Juan Villafane & Sharon Davis Buenos Aires, Argentina & Melbourne, Australia
·         Patrick Szmidt & Natasha Ouimet  Montreal, Quebec and Paris, France
·         Thomas Blacharz & Alice Mei Montpellier, France
·         Jeremy Otth & Laura Keat Los Angeles, CA
·         Mikey Pedroza & Annie Trudeau Orange County, CA and Montreal, Quebec
·         William Mauvais & Maeva Truntzer Montpellier, France
·         Casey Schneider Seattle, WA
·         Dan Newsome & Gaby Cook Seattle, WA - Beginner Track Coaches
·         Josh Scribner-Tap Instructor Seattle, WA


"I remember the first time I attended the very first Camp Jitterbug. (Which was actually much smaller and called Jitterbug Weekend.) I was a fairly new dancer and had only danced in my home town of Vancouver before. I remember watching the instructors, (Tip and Holly, Minn and Corrina) dance and saying to myself, 'Is this the same thing that I'm doing?!!'

It was a real eye opener and I'll never forget how it inspired me to keep working on my dancing." 13 years later, Camp Jitterbug is still inspiring dancers to keep pushing and improving their fine dancing selves." ~ Joel Schwarz

"Year after year, the Jump Session show takes to the stage at Benaroya. It is chalk-full of some of the best dance talent in the world. It is a must see! I highly recommend it." ~  Tim J Hickey


Tuesday, April 23, 2013


When Seattle homeowner Becky Chan attended the Northwest Green Home Tour in 2012, she found herself taking the first step on an exciting journey, a complete “green” remodel of her own older home. The information she gathered and the contacts she made at last year’s event gave her everything she needed to move forward. One year later, her project is near enough to completion to be is part of the third annual Northwest Green Home Tour taking place on Saturday, April 27, 2013, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“The Green Home Tour planted seeds in my heart about my own project,” Chan told me.“I was inspired by many who were generous in sharing their knowledge in green building. I look forward to sharing my experience with others.” And she already has. You can read the story of Chan’s year-long adventure, and see amazing before-and-after photos, on her blog, Blue View, Green Built.

 This year’s tour showcases 28 sites featuring new construction, remodels and retrofits in the Puget Sound area, all of them using green and sustainable building materials and practices. They are categorized by area:

Central, South, and West Seattle sites
Eastside sites
Bainbridge Island sites

Chan’s house is number N12, located in Seattle’s Greenlake neighborhood, part of the North Seattle tour area.  The original 1980s home was well constructed but not very appealing, with a large garage door facing the street as its dominant feature. You can read more about it and see amazing before and after photos in this blog post written by her architect, Parie Hines of LD Arch Design. This company—whose motto is “Less is more GREEN”—focuses on green additions and remodels, with a mission of “thrifty and thoughtful design for a small planet."

“Although this was an intensive remodel,” Hines told me, “we were able to keep costs down by focusing the budget on the building systemssolar panels, triple pane windows, high efficiency equipment, and SIPs panels—and saving money on finishes.”

The builder was Ted Clifton, of TC Legend Homes. He and his crew also built the “Zero Energy House” in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. In a year’s time, this house produces as much solar energy as it uses. You can read the homeowner’s blog here: Zero-Energy House
The 2013 Northwest Green Home Tour is presented by the Northwest EcoBuilding Guild and Built Green and is presented by Green Home Solutions—Earth Friendly Building Products & Home Store. Interest in green building continues to grow at an exciting pace. According to Built Green Director, Aaron Adelstein, 30 percent of new homes currently being built in King County have a green rating, and in Washington State overall, over 20,000 certified green homes exist.  And every one displays something about its owner, in one way or another.
Concerning Chan’s home, Hines said: “Becky has a funky industrial aesthetic, so we were able to use salvaged and inexpensive materials such as weathered steel, plywood, and concrete in artful and cost effective ways. She is very crafty and an amazing gardener, so I look forward to seeing how she adds her personal touch over time in creating custom light fixtures, landscape elements, and finishes.”

Chan’s dream came true. Maybe there’s a green home in your future too. For more details on every one of the 28 sites and an official tour map, please visit the tour’s website here. You might have a long day, so you’ll be happy to know there are several “Sustainability Stops” in and around the home sites, with refreshments and additional information. Enjoy yourself, and maybe I’ll be writing about your new home at this time next year. If you have a good story, let me know.

All images are courtesy of  LD Arch Design.

Monday, April 22, 2013


Happy Earth Day 2013! What could be a more perfect way to observe the occassion than watching new life come into our world?

Red-tailed hawks live here in the Pacific Northwest, but you probably haven’t had a chance to see their babies up close. Now, thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, you can observe some of their cousins via a webcam on top of a light pole near an athletic field on the Cornell University campus.  
Click here for access to the webcam. (Remember the time difference and that darkness will arrive there sooner.) The video above was taken today, April 22.
Join thousands of people around the country who are watching live. The first egg hatched at about 6 a.m. today with a second chick emerging shortly after. A third will hatch within the next day or two. Don’t miss the action! And what a great opportunity this is to share the joy and wonder of nature with children. I will post additional video as it becomes available.
Enjoy! And please consider making a donation to help keep the cameras going.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Gray whale spyhops in front of a group of admirers on Sandy Pt, Langley, Whidbey Island WA on April 13th. Photo by Jill Hein, Orca Network.
Every spring, a thrilling event occurs in the waters surrounding Whidbey and Camano Islands, in Washington State. People eagerly wait and watch for sightings of resident Gray whales as they return for their annual feeding visit to Saratoga Passage, between the two islands, and to Possession Sound. I've been in touch with Howard Garrett and Susan Berta, co-founders of Orca Network, and I'm excited to share some photos of whales they provided, along with news of an event coming up this next weekend.
Gray whale off Ft. Casey State Park, with two young admirerers - Howard Garrett, Orca Network

Orca Network, uses the motto “Connecting whales and people in the Pacific Northwest.” That is exactly what they hope to do on Saturday, April 20, at the tenth annual Welcome the Whales Festival and Parade in Langley, WA. Sponsored by Orca Network, Homeplace Special Care, and the Langley Chamber of Commerce, this event features a packed schedule of fun and family-friendly activities as well as outstanding educational opportunities for everyone. A Whale Watch cruise aboard the Mystic Sea, planned for Sunday, April 21, is already SOLD OUT.

Gray whale "Patch"'s Fluke - by Jill Hein, Orca Network
Beginning at 11 a.m., children can participate through hands-on displays, making costumes, and more, at the Methodist Church Fellowship Hall (3rd and Anthes St.) followed by a “Critter Parade” at 1:30. The parade ends at the Langley Waterfront Park, where Windwalker Taibi will offer a blessing for the whales and all can enjoy music and celebration.

Gary the Gray whale in the Whale Parade, Orca Network

The afternoon also brings two hours of educational presentations at the same church, between 3 p.m and 5 p.m. Orca Network will offer a program that includes, in addition to an update on North Puget Sound Gray whales, a slide show of whales in San Ignacio Lagoon, Baja, CA, the Gray whales’ southernmost migratory destination and the place where they mate and give birth. Here is some video of whale watchers in the lagoon.

Then Dr. Sue Moore, a biological oceanographer with NOAA/Fisheries Office of Science & Technology, will give a fascinating presentation called “Gray Whales as Sentinels of Climate Change.” For 35 years, she has researched the ecology, bioacoustics and natural history of whales and dolphins.

Aerial shot of Gray whale in Saratoga Passage - Veronica von Allworden, Sky and Sea Photography

These resident whales celebrated at the Welcome the Whales event number only about a dozen. But they are part of the larger number of whales migrating up and down the West Coast each year. Dr. Moore will be speaking about that larger population and how they have been impacted by climate change in the North Pacific and Arctic Seas.

Don’t miss the opportunity to Welcome the Whales as they come home to the Pacific Northwest. If we humans quit caring, that opportunity could one day be gone.  

For more information, contact Orca Network at 1-866-672-2638 or Learn how you can travel to Baja with Orca Network in 2014 here.

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