Archive for September, 2011

You Don’t Need to Go Anywhere Else to Get Great Live Entertainment, but You Might Need to in Order to Afford It

September 25, 2011

Bill Bullock, Executive Director, River Center

No, you don’t have to go to Atlanta or New York to get first-rate live entertainment anymore. With the River Center, the Springer, the Schwob School of Music and Drama Departments at Columbus State University in full swing, you can get it right here and right now.  And a lot of people are doing just that.  Those who can afford it. And a lot can’t because Columbus is a low-pay, high- unemployment and poverty-rate town.

Bill Bullock,  Executive director of the River Center told Columbus Rotarians that during its just-completed season , the  River Center attracted 99,000 patrons. “Over, 5,000 performers, technicians, ushers, and other participants attended the needs of those patrons. About 3 million dollars was spent in the process.”

Since its opening in 2002, almost a million patrons were entertained, with 50 thousand participants at a cost of over 37 million dollars.

People who  go to plays and concerts and other cultural events also spend money eating out, staying in hotels and doing other things. Bullock says a survey of the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley taken in 2009 shows that annually “local arts and culture groups generate 51 million dollars of revenue and almost 5 million dollars in taxes; spend 21 million dollars directly and leverage another 30 million dollars of expenditures in local businesses; and employ 1500 workers.”

Just look at some of the nationally successful performers and plays and musicals that have graced the stages of the River Center over the past 9 years:

Bill Cosby, Anne Murray, Loretta Lyn, Frankie Valli, Wynton Marsalis, Mannheim Steamroller, BB King, Travis Trit, Lilly Tomlin, The Smothers Brothers, Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, The Russian National Ballet, The Music Man, Camelot, Cats, 42nd Street, Annie, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Rent, Miss Saigon, Chicago, Stomp, David Copperfield, and a live NPR broadcast of A Prarie Home Companion, to  mention a few.

Then, of course, there are those great local performances by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Schwob School of Music concerts featuring the world-class Schwob School of Music Philharmonic Orchestra, Wind Ensemble,  and other groups and individual performers including faculty who have performed with some of the world’s most prestigious music groups.  And the plays and musicals at the Springer compare favorably with the best regional theaters in the country.

At one time Columbus may have been a sleepy Southern cotton mill and Army town with little to offer in the way of first-class live entertainment, but it is certainly not that any more.  It’s definitely still an Army town, one that’s proud of it, but, with one exception, is no longer a cotton mill town.  Virtually all of those jobs were shipped overseas where pay is even lower than in Columbus.

The city is on the Interstate now – kept off for decades by the politically powerful locals afraid of higher wages and retail competition in Atlanta  – and it has a growing and respected public University,  and just about all of the first-rate live entertainment that most of us can afford.  Admittedly, there is a problem in the number of people who can afford it, because the city is notorious for low pay; poverty is a critical problem, and unemployment is higher than the national average, but just below the state average.

Bottom line, yes we do have need for improvement when it comes to the city’s declining middle class and the poor, but when it comes to entertainment, we can compete with just  about any metropolitan area.

The Movie Theater that hasn’t Gone With the Wind

September 19, 2011

When I was working as a reporter and weekend anchor for WAGA-TV in Atlanta in 1968, a new movie theater opened, and since it  had the interesting name of Tara, I wanted to check it out.  But, alas, I never got around to it before I moved to Columbia, SC to work for WIS-TV.  Much to my surprise, that theater, now 43-years-old, is still in operation.  And while in the Atlanta area this past weekend, we went there to see The Guard,  a dark Irish comedy.  Yes, it is funny, though also serious, and I do recommend it, even though I did miss a lot of the dialogue because of the heavy Irish accents.

The theater itself, though, was also a great show for me, especially since I finally got to see it.  I didn’t get to see the original 1200 seat auditorium, because it was converted in the 70s to a four-screen multiplex, and eventually became the art theater that it is now.  But, the outside, and the lobby are the same as they were in 1968.

The lobby celebrates movie history with pictures of the great stars of the 30s and 40s, actors like Humphrey Bogart and Inger Bergman in Casablanca, and, of course, since the theater is named after the Tara plantation in Gone With the Wind, which premiered at Atlanta’s Lowe’s Grand in 1939, Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh are prominently displayed.  When Tara opened in 1968 it was owned by the Lowes chain. In fact, it opened as Lowe’s Tara.  At one time it was owned by United Artists, but now it’s owned by Regal Theaters.

Tara could hold the record for a movie theater that continuously showed movies uninterrupted, since it has done it  for 43 years.  The manager, David Perry, told me it never shut down even during its renovations. He also told me that business is good.

Do I recommend it? If you are a movie buff, one who is into movie history, and enjoy art movies, by all means.  I enjoyed it a lot. At one time the section of Atlanta where it is located got a reputation for being rough, but that’s changed. The area gentrified and is in with the young, hip,  intellectual crowd, which has gentrified a lot of old Atlanta, because they don’t have to fight Interstate traffic to get to work in the downtown area. Also, it puts them close to Atlanta arts, entertainment, and major league sports venues, and to Emory University, Georgia State University, and Georgia Tech.

The Role of Oil in 9-11 and World War II

September 11, 2011

The motivation to control oil is one of the biggest reasons  for war in the world, and it’s been that way from the 1940s until now, and it is even a reason that the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists in hijacked jet airliners.

I’ll explain the 9-11 connection first.  Osama bin Laden wanted Americans out of Saudi Arabia and Islamic countries for religious reasons.  He mistakenly thought he could do that through acts of  terror. Americans are not there for religious reasons. They are there for oil.

Why are we in Iraq?  Not because weapons of mass destruction were found or that 9-11 had anything to do with it, the  two untrue reasons given by the George W. Bush administration. How about the other reason given, turning Iraq and the rest of the Middle East into American style democracies?  Why not just admit to the real reasons: oil and protection of Israel?  Who knows, SUV and Israel-loving Americans might buy those reasons.

If we are really all that interested in spreading democracy, why don’t we put pressure on Saudi Arabia, reputedly one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. Simple. That’s not why we are there. We are there because of oil.

As I said, it goes back to the 1940’s. The  Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor because of oil.  It needed lots of it to militarily spread the Empire of the Rising Sun.  It was getting a lot of it from the United States, and planned to get a lot more by taking Indochina.  Not being happy about the atrocities the Japanese were committing in China and other places, the U.S. not only cut off its oil spigot to Japan, but moved its headquarters for its Pacific fleet from San Diego to Hawaii.  Seeing both of these moves as an American plan to prevent Japan from taking Indochina, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  Big mistake.  An isolationist United States forgot that idea, immediately united and put together the mightiest war machine in history.

Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded North Africa and the Soviet Union for oil,  and other natural resources, in order to fuel his plan to create a massive German empire. The first invasion by  American troops in World War II was in North Africa where it joined the British to push Germany and Italy out of that oil-rich part of the world. The Soviet war machine, heavily supplied by America, and the Russian winter, drove Hitler out of the Soviet Union.

Yes, the  desire for control of oil has gotten millions and millions of people killed.  Everyone knows the solution to this: development and use of other sources of energy, especially renewable sources. Work has started on that, but no where near the effort needed to make it a reality in the near future.  Why?  Change  never comes easily, but change the world must, or the wars will never end. Unfortunately, never-ending wars suit some people.  They have to be defeated at the ballot box.

Remembering Where We Are on Great Days in History

September 10, 2011

No doubt, all of us who remember the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Towers, know exactly where we were when we first learned the news. I was in my cardiologist’s office when I heard a nurse say that someone had just told her that a plane a flown into one of the towers.   I immediately called my late wife Melba and told her she would probably want to turn on the TV to see what was going on. She did.  When I got home, all TV networks and the cable  news channel were live with wall-to-wall coverage.

That’s the way it is with truly unforgettable historical events that happen during our lifetime. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on a sunny Sunday afternoon on December 7th, 1941, dragging us into World War II, the CBS bulletin came over our floor model  Zenith radio.  I don’t think I was actually listening to the radio because at age eleven I wasn’t much interested in The World Today , CBS’s 2:30 Sunday newscast or the live 3:00 broadcast of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, but my father, I remember, almost never missed the symphony.  He would sleep through most of it, but that Sunday he didn’t.  When word swept through our upstairs home at 1109 1/2 5th Avenue in downtown Columbus,  all the talk turned to the attack.

Shortly after the bulletin was aired, I went outside the play on that nice sunny December afternoon . I headed for my buddy Carlton Bussey’s house. I remember basically what I told him.  It was something like this: “This means we are going to war. A lot of people will be killed.”  He agreed.

I was at home having lunch on Celia Drive when the bulletin came on the air that President Kennedy had  been shot.  He had been shot in Dallas, Texas at 1:30 p.m.. EST on November 22, 1963. We weren’t watching the TV, but it was on and we heard the bulletin, went into the den and watched Walter Cronkite tell us what he knew.  My immediate emotion was anger.  I assumed, incorrectly, that it was probably the work of some racist fanatic.  They hated him for his federal enforcement of Southern college desegregation.  Instead it started looking as though he was assassinated by a communist sympathizer since Lee Harvey Oswald had been to both Cuba and the Soviet Union. For a lot of people, including me, who was really behind that assassination is still a mystery. Cuba looked like a prime suspect to me since our CIA reportedly tried to assassinate Castro.   

To be honest  I don’t remember  where I was when President Roosevelt died at Warm Springs on April 12, 1944, probably in class at Columbus Junior High School, because that’s where I was in April of 1944.  I do remember where I was on V-E Day when Germany surrendered. I was a doorman at the Bradley Theater.  It was the only time that I remember that  we actually stopped the showing of a movie. We put a slide on the screen saying we were connecting with WRBL for a news bulletin.  The bulletin announced that  Germany had surrendered unconditionally.  The audience applauded and cheered, and most promptly got up and left the theater.  Mill  whistles started blowing, and car horns blasted away as bumper-t0-bumper cars circled Broadway. There were torn up newspapers all over the sidewalks, which was the closest thing people could get to tossing up confetti.

All of those events were world-changing, including, of course, 9-11.  More on that tomorrow,  9-11’s tenth anniversary.

Article Tells How MCSD is Meeting the Poverty Challenge

September 7, 2011

I thought I’d let you know about an article I just wrote for Columbus and the  Valley magazine that shows how the Muscogee County School District is combatting the school poverty crisis.  It’s called “The Columbus School Poverty Challenge.” The challenge is very real and very large.  When 65 percent of students receive free or reduced price lunches, and 61 percent of the schools have poverty rates of 50 percent or more, the school system faces an enormous challenge in improving student achievement. Studies show that, overall,  poverty-class students do not perform as well in school as middle-class students.  

The system does have a plan in operation, and it relies heavily on the aHa! Process Inc. approach. That program is run by its founder Ruby Payne, who wrote the million-seller book A Framework for Understanding Poverty.  That book was supplied to MCSD teachers and administrators.

In the article retired high school teacher and media specialist Connie Ussery gives us a first-hand look at what it is like for a middle-class teacher to connect with poverty-class children.  And she realized very quickly that if she didn’t connect with  them she would get nowhere. 

I hope you’ll get hold of a copy of the magazine and check this out, because it deals with a very basic crisis that our city, state, and country is facing, and how some educators are coping with this challenge.

The Day the Fun Died

September 1, 2011

It’s hard to imagine Columbus without Sam Rawls. If anyone had stage presence, it was Sam. All he had to do was walk into the room and you knew he was there. But, you knew he wouldn’t just  walk into the room. He would have everyone laughing in no time with his insults of the most prominent people there. You could say that he  was Columbus’ Don Rickles.  Quite  often he was the butt of his own jokes.  He was one of the kidders who could appreciate  return fire.  That is  not always the case with kidders. On some public occasions, I would be the target of his kidding, which pleased me a lot, because it was an honor to be singled out by Sam. I also managed to return the favor a few times.

He is going to be missed by so many people and groups.

He was active at  his church, Trinity Episcopal.

He was a force at the Schwob School of Music, not only contributing funds himself, but raising even more with his birthday parties.  How many people do you know who would throw their own birthday party in a room the size of the Bill Heard Theater at  the River  Center?  There was no admission charge for the entertainment, which could range from a stand-up comedian to a concert pianist, but he would give you the opportunity of contributing to the Schwob School.

This photograph of a young Sam Rawls and the portrait above were both furnished by Jim Cawthorne of Camera1. Jim is also a fellow Rotarian, and Sam's friend, as well as mine.

He was also a big supporter of the Springer Opera House.  That support included not just money, but performing in a number of plays. That’s where Sam and I became friends, acting in Springer plays directed by the  late Charles Jones. Among the plays we were in together were The Crucible and How to Succeed in  Business Without Really Trying.  The Crucible,  a heavy  drama about the Salem witch  trials, was an interesting challenge for both of us, but the most fun was How to Succeed.  It was the one and only time I ever sang on stage.  And, as Bud Frumph, I got a lot of laughs.  I must have done it  pretty well since Sam said, “You were nominated for the wrong part.”   He was referring to the Springer’s version of the Tonys. I had gotten nominated for Best Actor in Death of a Salesman. Turned out he was right. I probably would have won Best Supporting Actor for How to Succeed.  As it turned out I didn’t win Best Actor.

Sam was also one of the main players in the Rotary Club of Columbus.  Not only was he active in serving on different committees, but you could count on him to give everyone a laugh during a lot of the  meetings.

When I did a talk at Rotary premiering my memoir The Newsman, I asked Sam to do the introduction, which he did.  The late S.L. Mullins, fellow Rotarian and student at Jordan Vocational High School, who was also a big  kidder, came up to the head table before  the program started and said, loud enough for Sam to hear, “What did you do, buy some insurance to get him to introduce you?”   I didn’t.

Yes, like hundreds of others, I loved Sam and will  miss him.  And my heart goes out to his family, including his wife of 58 years, Jacquie, and his son Robin Scott Rawls, and his two grandchildren.

No, Columbus won’t be the same without Sam.