If/Then at the Straz Center in Tampa

I was offered two free tickets to see the Broadway touring production of “If / Then” at the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida so I could tell you about it. All opinions are my own. And I’ll begin with a poem from my childhood…

Whatif

by Shel Silverstein

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pol?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow talle?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell, and then
The nighttime Whatifs strike again!

I always thought the poem above was relatable but exaggerated, until I had a daughter with high anxiety. Whatifs drove her crazy. I think a combination of high intelligence and a vivid imagination allows her to think of many possible outcomes every time she is faced with a decision. She immediately conjures up worst case scenarios. This can help with being prepared for many situations, but imagine applying to college when your brain works overtime trying to sabotage you?! And so we tried talk therapy to help my daughter learn to calm the whatifs. She need to sleep soundly each night. She needed to not have rigid shoulders up to her ears in stress. And early in high school after she met with Dr. Deb for the first time, she left saying, “I wish I had started therapy in fourth grade.”

May is Mental Health Month, with a mission to spread the word that mental health is something everyone should care about, not be scared to talk about. Although I know what it feels like to have my mind racing or feelings of high anticipation, I also know it is not the same thing as true anxiety. Over 21% of adults (42.5 million) are affected by debilitating anxiety each year! Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the tactic I have read up on the most to help my children understand their thinking patterns so they can react differently to the situations that cause them anxiety. It gives them a great toolbox to turn to in times of stress.

For my day-to-day whatifs, what works best is a quiet yoga class and meditative breathing exercises. Although I sometimes wonder whatif, I can use these tools to dispel the mind racing that might have once kept me awake at night. Instead, a like to think of my whatifs as a little healthy daydreaming. What if I had a Master’s Degree? What if one of my daughters loved ballet class instead of sports? And the biggest question of my life – what if I hadn’t contracted colitis during sophomore year of college and come home sick and met that cute guy named Brian – my husband of nearly 20 years?

If/Then is a contemporary Broadway musical about the whatifs that come along with living in New York as an adult today. When you are on your own and making adult decisions that have a domino affect on your future and those around you, it gives you pause to wonder and consider the many possible outcomes.

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When I first heard about “If/Then”, it was often compared to the Broadway musical “Rent”. I don’t like the comparison – mainly because If/Then is much less edgy and deals with a slightly older crowd, maybe 10-15 years after the lives of those in Rent. But LUCKILY Anthony Rapp of the original Rent cast AND the Rent movie cast is touring with If/Then right NOW and you can see/hear him at the Straz Center if you get your tickets this week!

The top three reasons to see If/Then in Tampa this week are Jackie Burns (played Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway), Anthony Rapp (from RENT as mentioned above) and Tamyra Gray (from the first season of American Idol.)

Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt, the writer and composer team of If/Then, literally composed songs for Idina Menzel (Wicked, Frozen). Idina’s first Broadway job was in — Rent! Also in the original cast of Rent was — Anthony Rapp. And now Jackie Burns has followed in Idina’s footsteps twice, playing both Elphaba in Wicked and Elizabeth in If/Then – touting similar dark locks and a belting voice that won’t quit. Notice the serendipity? The interconnectivity? The stuff that makes you wonder if it’s a coincidence or fate? THAT is what If/Then is all about!! Like the line “We somehow find each other in each other’s eyes” from the If/Then song “Ain’t No Man Manhattan.”

There’s minimal dancing in this show. It highlights characters, lives, stories, and voices. It shows how we’re braver with great friends by our sides (or capes on our backs) and that the amazing joys life brings usually make the crap tolerable. It also deals with the delicate balance many women face of pursuing a career head-on or focusing on family, and how both routes bring joy but both force women to learn to live without some desires.

The show started kind of cheesy for me, but the voices kept my attention and the ending roped me in and made me a fan! If/Then is playing May 19th-22nd (mostly evening with 2pm matinees Saturday and Sunday) at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Carol Morsani Hall, Tampa. $40-$95. (813) 229-7827 or strazcenter.org. Upcoming Broadway shows include “Jersey Boys”, “Into the Woods”, “An American in Paris”, “Cabaret”, “Wicked” and much more!

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Beautiful – The Carole King Musical in Tampa

Hurry, guys! “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” is only in Tampa through May 1. This Broadway-touring jukebox musical uses songs written by Carole King through the ’60s and early ’70s as its musical score.

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This might be the Carole King sound you are familiar with, and it’s certainly the sound I grew up with (Thanks, Mom!):

Then, when I was in college I was reintroduced to Carole King as the mind behind the music of “Really Rosie”. A series of books by Maurice Sendak (also author of “Where the Wild Things Are”) were pooled together as song lyrics, and Carole wrote the music. Although this happened when I was a little kid, it was at Barnard College that I auditioned to be in the show. A fellow student was directing, and we were to perform the show in public school auditoriums around Manhattan. I landed the role of Pierre:

When I learned the musical “Beautiful” was coming through Tampa at the Straz Center, I was excited to see it! Before tickets even went on sale, PBS hosted a biographical show about Carole King and re-aired Carole King and James Taylor Live at the Troubadour. It was from these shows that I learned Carole actually started her career as a songwriter in her teens (as did Taylor Swift), and after marrying Gerry Goffin, he primarily wrote the lyrics while she wrote the music. Even their beautiful, feminine ballad “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” had lyrics written by a man!

She is a four-time Grammy Award-winner, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, a 2015 Kennedy Center Honoree and the first woman to be awarded The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. To date, more than 400 of her compositions have been recorded by more than 1,000 artists, resulting in 100 hit singles – even songs for Aretha Franklin and The Beatles. Needless to say, I was honored to be selected as a Tampa Bay Blogger to receive 2 complimentary tickets to the show at the Straz Center in Tampa, Florida, in exchange for my honest review.

“I always had confidence in the fact that when I played music it touched people in some way,” Ms. King says in the PBS special. Similarly, in the musical, a teenage Carole tells her mom that a good song makes her feel “like I have a friend in the room.” And when she paired up with lyricist Goffin, “his words expressed what so many people were feeling but didn’t know how to say.”

And that music with its simple but intelligent lyrics is one great big reason to see this show. There’s a live orchestra, and the cast is singing love – none of that paying for a concert but getting a lip sync show that is huge right now in pop culture!

From the first few bars of the overture opening, I was hooked. I recognized that bit of “I Feel the Earth Move” and got roped in. It’s a song I run to on the treadmill, although admittedly I think I first heard it from Martika. Little by little the audience found themselves bopping along to song after song they probably didn’t even realize was a Carole King masterpiece.

The sets are not flashy, and incredibly they focus on pianos! What a refreshing treat to have a piano in almost every scene, spinning from one end of the stage to another to represent someone else’s home or office.

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But the real reason to see this show are the amazing voices. From the stars to the bit-parts, everyone’s voice will wow you! I saw Abby Mueller as Carole, and you can tell she’s holding in that belting voice throughout the show – but when it comes out full and strong towards the end, you’ll know it – you’ll feel it! I was dancing throughout the bows and encore, and I’m still singing in my head a day later.

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For a bit more Carole King music at home, catch “Carole King: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize In Performance at the White House”, a PBS music special. President and Mrs. Obama hosted the event in honor of singer-songwriter Carole King’s receipt of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The evening included performances by King, as well as by Gloria Estefan, Billy Joel, Jesse McCartney, Emeli Sandé, James Taylor and Trisha Yearwood.

But to see this fabulous show retelling the story behind some of America’s most beloved early pop songs, get to the Straz Center in Tampa through May 1, 2016, in Carol Morsani Hall. It’s a great date night, girls night, Mother’s Day gift, or just for the love of music! The format is like “Jersey Boys” and the songs are pretty much the ’60s wrapped up with a bow and handed to you on a baby grand piano at Carnegie Hall.

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Cobb Luxury Theatre opens in St Pete

When I first moved to St. Petersburg about 18 years ago, there were 2 movie theaters in the vicinity of Tyrone Mall – one in the mall and one across the street from the mall. They both closed at some point, and people on the west side of St. Petersburg were unhappy. They either had to drive south east to downtown and go to movies at Sundial, or east to Pinellas Park to the Park Place cinema.

Cobb movie theatre opens in st pete

Cobb Ribbon Cutting – Hi Mayor Kriseman!

The other day, I was driving with Brian from Tyrone Mall to Total Wine, and we saw a sign for Cobb Theatre. I got a little excited, but I had heard rumors of a Cobb Theatre in that area for over 2 years. This time, however, there was actual construction going on – right in the big empty parking lot on the edge of Tyrone Mall. The same big, empty parking lot where I took both of my girls to drive for the first time right after receiving their driver’s permits!

Now instead of a bunch of parking spaces there is a Buffalo Wild Wings and a Cobb Tyrone Luxury 10. The Tampa Bay Bloggers were invited to a sneak preview of the new theatre, and I attended the ribbon cutting 2 days before it opened. In exchange for a fun night out and 2 goodie bags, I agreed to inform all you guys about the new theatre.

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When you walk in, you’ll see first that there is a kitchen area, bar, and bistro. That’s because there is a full menu, full bar, traditional movie goodies and a party room to eat at while enjoying your time in the theatre. If you want to eat a full meal while watching your movie, they’ll give you a tray that fits in the cupholder of your seat – quite well I might add.

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On the night of the ribbon cutting, I tried beef burritos, fresh made cheese pizza, a Habanero Lime chicken wing, sautéed shrimp soft taco, Acqua Panna bottled water, soft serve make-your-own sundae and a few sips of the refreshing Italian sparkler Lunetta Prosecco.

I didn’t get to try the dynamite shrimp, but I hear they are awesome! I also need to try the flatbread with figs, Caramelized Onions and Brie Cheese!

Me with my sweet potato yummy goodness on my special tray

Me with my sweet potato yummy goodness on my special tray

And just when I thought I tried it all, more desserts came out – Housemade Bread Pudding with White Chocolate Chips & Bailey’s-Cognac Caramel Sauce. These little bites were mushy and sweet! But the best of the best were the sweet potato hushpuppies with Marshmallow Dipping Sauce! They tasted like french toast sticks – with a crisp to the outside and mush in the middle. These are what carried with me into the theatre to eat during the movie. And some may have been dipped in my ice cream. Now, don’t go thinking this was all just for the ribbon cutting. You can enjoy these goodies with your next movie too – plus lots more! Burgers, beer, coffee, raisinets, icees… The full menu is online here.

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IMG_7415When you step into the theatre, the red pleather seats are all reserved, reclining seating. There’s a button to push that leans your seat back and pops out your footrest, and another to bring the seat back to normal. And if you press the button but let go after just a second or two, you can recline it to just your perfect level – it’s not an all-or-nothing recline. Love that! So if you need to adjust mid-movie, you can and your back won’t start to hurt!

I saw “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”, mostly because I wanted to see Israeli actress Gal Gadot portray Wonder Woman. I’ve been asking for a live action Wonder Woman film for years, and someone finally agreed with me! Here’s a timeline from Entertainment Weekly with rough dates of when to expect the next 10 DC movies. Fellow Tampa Bay Blogger Caitlyn stayed and enjoyed the film and cushy seats with me.

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When my kids were little, we used to take advantage of free summer movies for kids. Cobb has a program like this, and their summer schedule is already online here.

Regular Ticket Pricing:
Adult $11.00
Matinee (4 pm and earlier) $8.00
Child (ages 3-12) $7.75
Seniors (60 & older) $8.00
Student/Military (With Valid ID.) $10.00
3D: Add $3.00

I plan to go online with my daughters and reserve seats for the movie Mother’s Day on Mother’s Day.

This place is going to be a great date night location for me and Brian too! Learn more about the Tyrone Cobb location here, or follow them on Facebook here. NOW OPEN!

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Matilda the Musical now at the Straz

loveyourself

I came across this on the internet a few weeks ago. It made me stop and think about self esteem, self awareness, self love, and all those voices in my head telling me when I can and can’t have dessert.

But if you see “Matilda The Musical” at the Straz Center while it’s in Tampa, this is the perfect quote to go along with it. There’s a lot of great singing, dancing, rhyming, lyrics, fanfare, light-up letters — but the story actually has a lot of thoughtful moments about self esteem, self awareness, self love, and all those voices we hear in our heads.

I was given 2 complimentary tickets to Matilda the Musical by the Straz through Tampa Bay Bloggers for the purpose of this review, but all musings are my own.

I don’t think I ever read “Matilda” by Roald Dahl, although I have read many of his books. And I never saw the movie all the way through either. I knew she read a lot and her parents were stupid and mean, but that was about all.

Until…

The hilarity of Matilda the Musical first became known to me when I saw some children singing on their desks to “Revolting Children” on a talk show. It was catchy. I wondered if the show was like “Annie” for today’s generation. (It’s not, it’s a bit darker and more mature.)

Then some boys from school performed “Telly” in a thespians competition. When they won, they came back to campus and performed it at an assembly for their peers. I was there to video record:

The lyrics and innuendos cracked me up! A little googling taught me that Tim Minchin wrote the music and lyrics. Well, no wonder! He had me going from the G-word!

(and if you don’t know who he is or what I mean, you need to stop and watch his eyelinered, sarcastic, piano-playing antics in the song “Prejudice” right now. And give it a minute, you WILL be snorting with laughter. Trust me.)

The author of peacebang.com said in her post about Matilda The Musical, “I don’t know how the writers (Minchin and Dennis Kelly, who wrote the book), director (Matthew Warchus, and I’m bowing down to you, sir), brilliant choreographer Peter Darling, design team, and cast managed to channel the complex, slightly macabre, melancholic and outrageous world of Roald Dahl, but they did.”

So you have serious, bookish Matilda who is berated at home, off to school with the spoiled children of her generation who all think they are entitled miracles, with a bullying headmistress (in drag) who calls them all maggots – and in the meantime she has stories coming to her head about amazing acrobatic feats. The big kids at school are trying to scare the ABCs out of her (in creative and clever ways!), until suddenly Matilda just needs a break!!

And there toward the end of Act 2, she gets one when she starts to “see red” and try some telekinesis in the song “Quiet”, when my favorite lyrics are sung:

Quiet
Like silence, but not really silent.
Just that still sort of quiet.
Like the sound of a page being turned in a book.
Or a pause in a walk in the woods.

11416322_10153285737145923_2855704961281901802_oMy experience with Matilda continued over the pond in June 2015, when my family was planning a trip to London and we wanted to see a show in the West End. We actually went back and forth between “Matilda” and “Wicked”. We knew both would be in Tampa soon, and it seemed “Matilda” would just have more of its intended flavor in London. In the end, we got tickets to both show, but because we waited so long to make our decision, Matilda was nearly sold out. We ended up reserving a private box in the back of the theatre for the the four of us. It had a little wooden door to enter from the back, and was painted the perfect shade of azure blue with gold stripes along the top. We sat back there in a small, intimate theatre, in our small, intimate box with our shoes kicked off and our tongues blue from blue raspberry bon bons recommended by the cashier at Hope and Greenwood candy shoppe. (They started out like gum and ended up evaporating into a texture like cotton candy but full of flavor. Magically Delicious!) and the audience was packed with children. The average age must have been 12. And we were lost in the music and performance from the first notes.

Then… fast forward a few months. I was back at work and we were hosting a talent contest (I work in a school), and a small 5th grade girl auditioned with “Naughty” from Matilda. I literally cried. She did about 2/3 of the song and most of the choreography, and I had to explain to the other adults that the lyrics were about this kid getting back at adults who were abusing her, and that’s why I was crying.

nobody else is gonna put it right for me
nobody but me is gonna change my story
sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty.

This little girl won our talent contest (video here), and went on to perform “Naughty” for the city-wide version of the talent contest. She didn’t win there, but she was one of the few kids on stage and knocked our socks off.

And I thought my connection with this show might end there, until I just saw it this week in Tampa. All those wonderful, clever, slapstick lyrics and stomping, youthful performers came flooding back! It’s got the same choreographer as Billy Elliott. The staging includes climbing on bars, gym equipment and swings. Books and letters light up and swirl around you. It simply transports audiences!

The best way to get a taste of the show is from this medley from the Tony Awards:

(Matilda won 5 Tony Awards and over 45 other awards worldwide.)

Matilda wants to teach others that we each have within ourselves the power to change things that are bad. She wants us to have a sense of justice and fairness. The show “address the horridness of the world with cleverness” was how it was described in this BBC Radio interview.

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My #MatildaStance

When I saw “Matilda The Musical” this week, it was part of the Straz series of Broadway Family Nights. There were jugglers and people on stilts outside before the show interacting with the kids, there was a board with sticky notes to finish the sentence “When I grow up…”, and there was a talk back after the show with 4 of the performers answering questions.

Rush to this slapstick, clever, touching, heartwrenching, powerful show at the Straz now through only Feb 28, 2016. This version stars the #twourtildas, if you want to search online for more about the little leading ladies.

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Fantastic Ekphrastic – Art in St Pete

Last night I attended the last of four showings of Fantastic Ekphrastic, which ran February 19 and 20, 2016, at 5:30pm and 8pm. All proceeds from the event benefitted Keep St. Pete Lit.

(That’s Lit as in literature, not lit as in joints…)12734279_110751565923346004476956133_n

When I got invited to attend the event, I did 2 things before RSVPing. First I looked up the definition of Ekphrastic: a literary description of or a commentary on a visual work of art… Then I looked up a description of the event so I knew what I was getting myself into. I had heard of it when it was up for a Best of the Bay art event award, and knew it had sold out last year and was BELOVED – But I did not know what it WAS.

  • Audiences walk into a space with 16 visual artists’ pieces set up around the perimeter and chairs in the center.
  • Each art piece is interpreted by a local writer who has just seen the artwork for the first time and is compelled to write an accompanying piece – poem, play, short story, etc.
  • These writings are then presented in dramatic readings by captivating local performers.

Brian and I decided we hadn’t had an artsy night out for a while, so put our names down for the final show – Saturday night at 8pm. We started with dinner at Red Mesa Cantina (duck taco, empanada and grilled chicken quesadilla shared), dessert at Swah-Rey, and then headed to Soft Water Studios for Fantastic Ekphrastic. I was already enjoying looking at art just walking to our car and down the street to these local hangouts!

IMG_5916IMG_5920Although guests certainly arrived after us, I probably would have liked to have been there about 15 minutes earlier to view the art up close a bit longer before the readings began. (Which basically means we should have split one of the massive pieces of cake at Swah-Rey instead of ordering one for each of us. Brian’s tummy regretted that later. And to continue this aside, they do offer $1 tasters of the cake in mini-cupcake form and two of those are probably what I could have ordered for myself, but I had been avoiding artificial sugar for a while and wanted to treat myself to a real piece of cake.)

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We peeked at the art, then we took our seats and the real fun began. Pre-written pieces about the art were read aloud by local performers. Everyone also had a ballot, and we were asked to vote on our favorite collaboration.

12747439_10153362180849109_444692525208414989_o“I am in awe of the creative collaboration that makes St. Pete such a wonderful city,” said my friend Maureen McDole in her open remarks. The event is her brainchild. In the past it has been referred to as “a literary moshpit of creativity.”

One thing that was particularly interesting to me was that my favorite painting in the room did not get my vote because it was not my favorite collaboration. It was this painting of the moon:

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It’s “First Moon” by Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse. The writer of the corresponding piece was Matt Jackson. A bit from his piece that I jotted down was, “I tell it of its greatness, but it has no such thoughts of itself.”

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The striking image above, and on all of this year’s marketing for the event, is Saori Murphy’s “Identifiability,” one of the pieces featured in the show. Glòria Muñoz wrote about this piece, and a quote I scribbled down was, “We’re all on the verge of inventing something, aren’t we?”

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Artist Carrie Jadus wrote about her piece above, Doppelganger, (which she also photographed), “This painting is about my own worst enemy. One whom I have (hopefully) engaged in a friendly battle with this time. A beautiful ekphrastic piece was written about this by St Petersburg’s Literary Muse, Maureen McDole.” The quote I scribbled down from her piece was, “Nothing but light.”

12418924_10153362181394109_8200291652924444413_oBrian voted for Bikini Atoll Bombshell: Lance Rodgers, artist / Becca McCoy, actor (pictured) / Sheila Cowley, playwright. My little quip from this was, “I made $250 last week.” She was referencing the military men being so bored they were betting on lizards catching moths. It was the People’s Choice winner of best creative collaboration for the event.

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This piece got my ballot. The painting is “Daddy Wouldn’t Let Me Dance” by Judy Dazzio. The piece read was written by David Warner and performed by 4 people: Eugenie Bondurant, Paul Wilborn, Kylin Brady and Peyton Jones. Kylin Brady performed a few of the pieces throughout the evening, and I just adored her. She had a great presence and incorporated so many senses into her acting, actually moving me to tears. Poking through her Facebook later I see she’s actually a dancer and has tons of funky style. WCW for days…

Another piece she read was written by Sheree Greer and accompanied the painting “Beautiful” by Carolina Cleere (below.)

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That piece played off the premise of “The Best Advice We’d Give Our Younger Selves — In 3 Words.” The girl in the painting would go to yard sales and find ‘treasures’. Among them were a silver mirror with pearl-like handle and a blue-eyed, yellow haired, one-armed doll that smelled like strawberries. What would she tell her younger self? Fuck that doll… no, use the mirror. No. You are beautiful.

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This piece is “Sall & Son” by Cora Marshall. John Pendygraft wrote about it, and nailed the description of the mothers expression, calling her “tired, steadfast, worried, resolute, uncertain and determined.” I see all of that!

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This is “Unfamiliar Landscape” by Sharon Norwood. R. MonaLeza, famous locally for her open mic poetry, wrote of an African-American little girl starting a new, mostly-white school and getting bullied. The note I wrote down does not hold the emotion of the piece, but I liked the alliteration of it. She described the boys on the slide during recess as “shimmying down the shiny metal chute.” Say it out loud. Doesn’t that sound pretty?

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And the quote that I think wrapped up the whole night the best accompanied the piece of art I admired the least. “Miracle Down the Way,” a diptych by Carol Dameron, had a piece written about it by Barbara Riddle. I wrote down the emphatic,

“We live in the lives of others who have seen our work.”

Which is kind of the whole point of having actors read from writers written from visual art. B-I-N-G-O!

Brian and I are on the left

Brian and I are on the left

12771877_10153362180034109_934410147000006888_o 12771622_10153362181364109_6661142112674993412_o 12742638_10153892254362567_7879345507635605342_n 12734279_1107515659260225_3743346004476956133_n The artwork and writing from Fantastic Ekphrastic will be on display at Soft Water Studios until Sunday, March 13th, so you can drop by and check it out!

The event was Directed by Bob Devin Jones with Music and Sound by Matt Cowley. Sponsors included: Beth Morean, Soft Water Studios, Russell Property Group, Sylvia Rusche Insurance Agency, Inc, Creative Loafing Tampa, photoxo, Fisher & Sauls PA, Keep Saint Petersburg Local, The Studio@620, Kathleen McDole, The Hubbard Family, Doyle Wealth Management, The Amsterdam, and Many Happy Return$, Inc.

Keep St. Pete Lit has programs throughout St. Pete including free LitSpace writing classes at Morean Art Center for adults, the curated used book store called Bookspace inside Bloom Art Center and the LitSpace Writer’s Residency at Craftsman House Gallery. They also deliver books to children through the Bluebird Book Bus and host an adult book club at the MFA.

*Disclaimer: I didn’t take any of these photos. I stole them from Facebook. I have no intentions of discrediting someone’s work, rather I hoped to give my readers a sense of the evening the best way possible. Also, my tickets to the event were free because of friends involved with the show, but all opinions are my own and I was not asked to write this post.

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