Archive for November, 2010

Honk! Save a Squirrel’s Life

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Cookie, a wounded squirrel, recouped two days in my car before being set free

By Marcia E. Gawecki

In any given month in Idyllwild, CA, hundreds of squirrels run across Highway 243 and side streets and get hit. Locals know to honk their horns, and the squirrels will run back quickly. Their “stop and go” tactics might be able to divert natural predators, but they are no match for fast-moving cars and inattentive drivers.

That being said, squirrels don’t often die after being hit by cars. Barbara Hunt, a local realtor and animal lover, has nursed countless squirrels and birds back to life. She once told me, “Oftentimes, when a squirrel is hit, it’s only stunned, or temporarily dazed, but then the second car comes along and kills it.”

So when I saw the car in front of me, hit a squirrel I was hopeful when I drove by and saw that its head was still up. When squirrels die, they usually lie on their back or sides. Was it still alive?

I quickly pulled over and picked up a small basket from the back seat of my car, and a magazine. When I got to him, he was breathing heavily, but still alive. His back legs looked a little twisted, but otherwise he was OK. So I pushed him a little bit with the magazine to see if he would run off, but he winced in pain.

Just then, a guy drove by and shouted, “Hey! What are you, some kind of nut?!”

By this point, I realized that I was blocking traffic. It was 25 feet from a stop sign on Hwy. 243, so cars were slowing down naturally, but I was standing in the middle of the road. So when a friend of my boyfriend’s, drove up and asked nicely what was going on, I told her my intentions.

“So then get it out of the road,” she said, and I scooped him up without looking. He didn’t fight or try to run away. I think he was still dazed and likely in pain.

Just then, several young hikers walked by, and said that it was really cool at what I was doing, saving the squirrel and all. I was starting to get embarrassed about the whole affair.

I put the squirrel in the basket on the floor of the front seat and drove home about a mile away. He didn’t like the car’s motion, and crawled up under the dashboard. I was nervous that he might jump around or bite me in a panic, so I kept talking to him like I do my cats.

“Don’t worry, baby, everything’s going to be alright,” I cooed.

I left peanuts, water and a wool blanket, and Cookie left a mess

Speaking of cats, I have four of them, and I’m bringing a wounded squirrel home! They would dance on my head all night long if I brought him inside the bathroom.

Jeff, my boyfriend, suggested that I call Barbara Hunt to see if she’d take him off my hands. Her husband, Bud, answered the phone and said that she already had too many animals to take care of.

“So what should I do with the squirrel?” I asked, hoping for a few squirrel tips.

“Take it back to where you got it, and let it go,” Bud said. “Squirrels don’t like to be cooped up inside.”

My heart was racing. It was already dark and a wounded squirrel would be easy prey for a coyote. I decided he needed more time to rest.

“He may not live though the night,” Jeff said. “You’ve got to prepare yourself for that.”

Ever since I was young, I believed that I had a “gift” for saving the world.

His friend, Richard, who retired from the Idyllwild Post Office, gave me lots of peanuts and other squirrel food (His wife works for the U.S. Forest Service). He also told many great stories of how they have nursed bluejays, raccoons and even a bobcat back to health. They didn’t bring the bobcat inside, but brought her a medlee of raw chicken, beef and pork for weeks, until she was well enough to hunt on her own.

The hurt squirrel lived in the state park in Idyllwild

Many people in Idyllwild often go out of their way to help wounded animals. One woman I know has nursed a female coyote back to health, and another guy is nursing two baby raccoons. Seems like everyone in town has at least one story to tell.

“When it eats, then you know it’s OK to send him back,” Richard advised.

I put the peanuts, a bowl of water and a wool blanket inside the car for the squirrel. I cracked a back window for air and went to bed. After all the drama, I was exhausted.

Early the next morning, all four of my cats were sitting on top of my car, saying, “Please hurry! Let the wounded squirrel out!”

The squirrel was chirping and running around the car, but hadn’t eaten anything all night. It knocked over the water bowl and left some droppings.

But I didn’t take him home that day because he hadn’t eaten.

I worked all day, and returned home around 8 p.m. He was sleeping under one of the seats, so I set my alarm for 6 a.m. and prepared to return it to the state park the next day.

“That way, he’ll have all day to find its mother and get home,” Jeff said.

We were all quickly becoming squirrel experts.

The next morning, I witnessed him eating the peanuts and tried to get a few pictures, but he moved too quickly, or my camera was too slow.

So I drove to the park. It was a cold, sunny morning, and I had to smile. Growing up, one of my favorite movies was “Born Free.” My heart ached when Elsa was returned to the wild, but nearly starved to death because she didn’t know how to hunt. Although there were no parallels between a lioness and my baby squirrel, I felt a little sad about letting him go.

Actually, I decided he was a she, and called her “Cookie,” for being a “tough cookie” and surviving the car accident.

I opened up all four doors and waited. Cookie didn’t rush out. So I backed off to give her a little room. Well, after about 15 minutes, I was getting cold and a little bored. So I walked up to the back door and told her that I had things to do. As if on key, she jumped up on the back seat and paused for a second. I grabbed my camera and quickly snapped her picture.

Cookie (left of tree) was "Born Free"

Then Cookie took off, down the seat and out the door. She ran about 20 yards and stopped for a moment. I took another picture. Cookie was “Born Free.”

“Be careful!” I shouted, like a sympathetic idiot. “Stay away from the highway!”

As I drove away, I thought about how weird Cookie must feel, spending two nights in a car, and now being back home again. Would she remember me?

Tucker, my supervisor at work, thinks so. He lives next door to Barbara Hunt, and friendly squirrels often come to his door. Once, a bluejay landed in his hand.

I have to admit, I felt pretty good about giving Cookie another chance. I just hope that other motorists do too, and honk when they see squirrels crossing the road in Idyllwild or anywhere they live.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

Jayne Eyre: A Moving Masterpiece

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Bram and Melanie show off their magnetic chemistry in "Jayne Eyre"

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Last weekend’s performance  of “Jayne Eyre,” by the Idyllwild Arts Theater Department, was nothing short of stunning. It looked like a Rembrandt painting set to life. It was dark and moody, yet memorable.

All those who have seen “Jayne Eyre” onscreen or onstage before, know that it’s just downright depressing. Your heart aches for poor Jayne, with no money or station in life, spending years being bullied and starved to death in a repressive school. Her only friend is left to die so terribly young. Yet, in spite of all that, you have to give Jayne credit for her self confidence and self worth.

Melanie and Sasha, best friends for years, play Jayne and little Jayne.

“We’ve been waiting our whole lives for these roles,” Sasha said weeks before the show.

Like many others in “Jayne Eyre,” Sasha played two other roles besides young Jayne, including Blanche, a snobby socialite, and a country girl narrator.

“Playing two roles tests your meddle as an actor,” said Juwan, a theater major, who has played double roles in the past, including “Learned Ladies.” “In effect, you’re doing the work of two people, and you can’t get them mixed up.”

Isaac as the mean headmaster scolds little Jayne, played by Sasha

Sasha said that she was a little worried about mastering her British accents, especially since she had to learn the lower-class cockney accent and the upper class one too. Yet, in the show on Sunday afternoon, her cockney accent was pronounced, and her upper crust had the perfect lilt.

During practice one day, Howard Shangraw, head of the Theater Department, brought it an expert–Amy Sue Fall, a Hollywood linguist.

Bram, who plays Mr. Rochester, the romantic lead, was happy to have her help.

“She helps big name stars like Leonardo Di Caprio,” Bram said.

Amy Sue told Bram to lengthen and shorten his vowel sounds.

“Every word has to be a journey,” she said.

Then Howard told Bram that he needed to work on being more sexy.

“I’m not sure how I’m supposed to do that,” Bram said.

(From L) Ari as Aunt Reed and Sasha as young Jayne square off

Somehow, by showtime, he had mastered the sexy mystique of the elder Mr. Rochester, head of the manor. His low voice was commanding, yet gentle when he bantered with Jayne, the governess (played by Melanie).

“Do you find me attractive, Jayne?” he asked her, as she sat sketching outside.

“No,” she replied, and kept on.

He must’ve found her amusing. Here she was, an impoverished employee, one who relied on him for her entire livelihood, yet she refuses to flatter him!

The encounters where Jayne and Mr. Rochester get to know each other, and then later express their intense love for each other, were incredibly romantic. Bram and Melanie had chemistry onstage, even before the big kiss. They made holding hands sexy.

Melanie admitted to being nervous before the show.

“I have to convey some really intense emotions, but I can’t jump around, scream and shout,” she said. “I have to say a lot with just some simple gestures.”

Mrs. Fairfax, played by Ari befriends Jayne, played by Melanie

Yet, Melanie successfully conveyed those intense emotions, against her Aunt Reed (as told to her maid played by Jessie), and toward Mr. Rochester, her greatest love.

Nothing against author Charlotte Bronte, but I found it a little strange that Jayne kept calling Mr. Rochester “Sir,” even when he told her that he wanted to marry her–as an equal partner.  I know it was Victorian times, and she was years his junior, but even when she inherited a load of dough, she kept calling him, “Sir.”

The underlying undertone of their bantering and arguments was the great respect they had for each other. They listened to what each other had to say and didn’t bully to get their way. You just wanted to watch them spar all day long, like two gladiators in a ring or two lions in the wild ready to mate, headstrong yet decidedly weak for each other.

Everyone should be so lucky to find a mate like that.

It could have ended unhappily for Jayne, if her rich uncle hadn’t died. That’s the Hollywood twist in this tale that seems a bit far fetched, Bronte. Jayne ran away because Mr. Rochester was already married to a crazy lady that he stashed in the attic, right?  He’s a liar and a potential bigamist. End of story in Victorian England.

So when Jayne inherits $200 million pounds, she takes off searching for him. Nothing has changed, dearie, except your finances. Guess she was hoping that things might be different, and luckily for her, they were.

Excellent job by Ariana who played the mean Aunt Reed who abandons Jayne and the pleasant Mrs. Fairfax, (Rochester’s housekeeper) who befriends her. Ariana plays the perfect matron without a wrinkle.

First encounter between the leads, Bram and Melanie

Good job by Milan for playing Lord Ingram, Reverand Wood and St. John Rivers. Not only did his costumes change, but his accents and entire demeanor shifted with the titles.

Well done by Isaac in playing the sadistic Mr. Brocklehurst, head of the school, and a mason who gets savagely attacked by the lunatic Mrs. Rochester. These are two meaty roles successfully commanded by a 14-year-old. Alas, some actors are just born “old souls.”

First tears in the play were shed over the death of Helen (played by Tierra), whose real name means “earth.” How wise and confident she was at a tender age. Happy to rid herself of her sorrow on earth. She also pulled off the classie French lassie, ward of Mr. Rochester. Tierra played two young girls close in age, yet their station in life set them worlds apart.

The tweedy and determined John Reed, the attorney, played by Conor, was a welcome sight in the middle and end of the show. For the first time in our lives, we’re rooting for the attorneys.

The “Best British Accent Award” goes to Kendra, a sophomore, who commanded the snobby Lady Ingram with great aplomb. Every British syllable hit dead on. It was a lovely, yet brief song.

Kendra was also one of the best dressed on the set. The color of her satin gown stood out like a rose rising out of a crack in the desert. All night, we were longing for color, yet, we wanted to gag her with that feathered fan!

Of course, credit for all of the morose and fanciful costumes go to Minnie Christine Walters, the show’s talented costume designer. Every costume was superb, from the gray rags of the schoolgirls to the opulant dress of Lady Ingram and Jayne’s wedding dress.

“We didn’t have to do much to them,” said Jacob, a senior specializing in theatrical costumes. “We just had to take them in here and there. All credit goes to Minnie.”

Hats off to Bonnie Carpenter and Todd Carpenter for their outstanding light and scenic designs. Yep, they pulled off the perfect Rembrandt painting. They made the sets moody and dark, yet interesting. Their use of hysterical sound effects were eerie, and kept everyone on the edge of their seats. The lighted curtain panels offered motion without use of video for a ghastly ghostly impression.

It was a splendid show, Jayne Eyre. A moving masterpiece.

Copyright Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved..

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Bringing Music Back to Palm Springs High

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Jake sings a funny song while Nelms accompanies him on piano

By Marcia E. Gawecki

For two glorious hours, a select group of Idyllwild Arts students brought music back to the Palm Springs High School. The “Classics in the Schools” event held on Nov.2 was made possible by the Steinway Society of Riverside County, a classical music outreach program that now involves more than 60,000 students, by providing piano instruction, keyboard loans and live performances like this one.

Savannah sings a love song

The “Classics in the Schools” was a half-day of entertainment for these middle and high school students, whose music funding has been drastically cut.  It also was an opportunity for the Idyllwild Arts Academy to promote itself.

“We’re always looking for more students,” said Dr. Nelms McKelvain, from the Idyllwild Arts Music Department, who chaperoned the event.

Ruth from the Steinway Society, introduced the students after the show

“We’ve got a great group of kids from Idyllwild Arts Academy to entertain you this morning,” said Ruth Moir, founder and president of the Steinway Society of Riverside County. “In the future, you will see these professional level artists on television, in the movies, and on Broadway.”

In the audience, was Stan Walden, who was invited to the first show by Ruth. He wrote the music and lyrics of the 1969 Broadway show, “Oh! Calcutta!” Ruth had wanted Stan to see the Idyllwild Arts students perform because he puts on variety shows like this one all over the world, she said.

The 13 Idyllwild Arts students who performed included: Manjie, Anni, Savannah, Juwan, Bohan, Timmy, Ashi, Alejandro, Ariann, Adrianna, Geneva, Jake and Lake. They were from the Jazz, Classical Music, Theater and Dance Departments. Each decided on their own songs, dances and monologues.

Although the students didn’t know Stan was there at the 11 o’clock show, he was impressed with their performance nonetheless. He liked the songs that the jazz combo made up of Alejandro, Ashi and Lake, were playing.

The jazz trio (from L) Lake, Ashi and Alejandro, got to play their own music

“That song is called ‘Round Midnight,'” Stan said, as he listened closely to it, sometimes closing his eyes.

Although the middle and high school students in the audience were listening politely, some of them were fidgeting.

“Jazz is age appropriate for pre-teens,” Stan said. “All kinds of music will reach them.”

He was right. Next up was Geneva, who performed a dance that she had also performed at the Spotlight Award preliminaries the week before.

“You go, girl!” one female student shouted from the audience.

After Geneva, dancers Ariann and Adrianna also performed their Spotlight audition dances.

“I wish I could have performed for Spotlight like I did today,” Ariann said later.

Stan said that Adrianna’s dance was especially good because she also used the middle of her body.

Adrianna performed the same dance she did for her Spotlight audition

“See how she’s also moving from the center?” Stan pointed out. “She’s pretty good.”

Next, came Jake, a musical theater student, who sang a funny song with Nelms and Anni at the piano.

After Jake’s rousing performance, Juwan, a theater student, slowed the tempo a bit. He came out and sat on a stool, and sounded like he was talking directly to the audience.  In fact, it was an over-the-top monologue from a murderer who was going to the electric chair.

Juwan had to change his monologue for the second show

“Have you ever killed anybody?” he asked the audience. “Ever want to?”

The audience reacted with cheers and laughter. Juwan was following his lines, but changed them for the one o’clock show.

“A couple of teachers complained about the killing part,” Juwan said during the break. “So I changed it from killing to love. I think it still worked out OK.”

Savannah sang a love song that wowed the audience. Like Juwan, she had to “wing it” for the show. Instead of a script, hers was a wardrobe malfunction.

“We got there, and she saw the hole in her stocking and said, ‘Oh darn!'” Jake recalled. “So she just added a few more to make it fashionable.”

Nelms had asked all of the students to wear black and white for the show.

“It looks classy,” he said.

When the classical pianists Bohan and Timmy played, some of the handicapped students in the audience were transfixed and transformed.

14-year-old violinist Manjie said that she wasn't nervous

A boy in a wheelchair had sat during most of the show with his head down, looking at his lap. Yet, when Bohan and Timmy played classical songs on the piano, he lifted his head towards the stage and smiled.

“You never know what kinds of music will reach them,” Stan had predicted.

Stan was also impressed with Timmy’s confident performance. Two years ago, Timmy had won first place in the classical music category at the Spotlight Music Awards. After his performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, he received a $5,000 dollar scholarship.

The final two performers performed together, Anni on piano, and Manjie on violin.

This was 14-year-old Manjie’s first public performance in the schools. She and Anni said they weren’t nervous, because they knew the music. Manjie had practiced it many times in her native China. Her mother even has it on video on her laptop computer.

Afterwards, Ruth Moir invited the Idyllwild Arts students to come out for one last bow and asked them to recite their names and country or city of origin. The 13 performers came from China, Mexico and various U.S. cities.

Bohan performed a classical piano piece

Before the last set, Juwan had invited the students in the audience to visit the campus or look on the academy’s web site, www.idyllwildarts.org.

For their part, the Palm Springs middle and high school students cheered, clapped, and took pictures, yet were reluctant to leave. The first two arrivals said that the seniors had decorated the auditorium with hundreds of pink, purple white and black balloons. As they left. some of the students grabbed them as mementos.

“We’ll be back next year,” Ruth promised the audience.

Satisfied, Stan stood and congratulated Nelms and Ruth backstage.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved..

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IA Dancers Vie for Spotlight

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

(From L) Kira, Geneva, Sofia, Ariann and Natalia are five of the 7 IA dancers who auditioned for the Spotlight Awards

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“I felt good about this audition,” exclaimed Ariann, one of seven dancers from the Idyllwild Arts Academy who recently auditioned for the 23nd Annual Music Center Spotlight Awards. “No matter what happens, I was really motivated.”

Idyllwild Arts has a longstanding tradition of generating Spotlight winners and semi-finalists. Last year, seven students made it to the semi-finals in the instrumental music, visual art and dance categories. And, two years ago, Timmy, a classical pianist, captured first prize while Samuel, a classical vocalist, won the second prize.

Each year, hundreds of high school students from Southern California apply for the Spotlight awards in one of these six categories: ballet, non-classical dance, classical voice, non-classical voice, classical instrumental, and jazz instrumental. Then, the judges select 15 semifinalists in each category who attend master classes and vie to become one of the two finalists.

For the preliminary round held on Oct. 28 in Riverside, the Idyllwild Arts dancers included Ariann, Adrianna, Geneva, Kira, Marianna, Natalia and Sofia. This was the first time each of them had auditioned for the Spotlight Awards.

(From L) Natalia and Marianna warm up

Ariann was the first to audition from the group before the five judges.

“I went on five minutes after we arrived,” she said. “It was good because I didn’t have time to get nervous.”

The Idyllwild Arts dancers only had two weeks to learn their Spotlight routines and perform them. This audition was in addition to the many dance numbers they’re learning for their upcoming Fall Dance Concert at the IAF Theater on Nov. 17-19.

Marianna, a sophomore from Mexico, rushed into the waiting room lined with mirrors and toe bars.

“Guess what? After my audition, the judges kept me longer and asked me to do some things over for them,” Marianna said.

This was an unusual turn for the judges.

“First, they asked me to extend my legs, and really step into it,” Marianna explained. “Extend my legs? I’m petite! That’s as far as they go!”

“Then they asked me to extend my arms, and said that it was much better,” she added.

Marianna was worried that these comments from the judges weren’t a good sign.

“Why were they asking me to redo my routine?” Marianna asked the others. “I was so nervous!”

Veterans Adrianna and Geneva assured her that any conversation with the judges was a positive thing.

The preliminary Spotlight dance auditions were held in Riverside

“They’re likely to remember you,” Geneva said.

Sofia, a sophomore from Costa Rica, was quietly listening to Marianna. She said that her audition went OK, and that she was glad just to have the experience.

Although the Idyllwild Arts dancers auditioned on Oct. 28, it will be early December before they get the results.

“We’ll be on Christmas break,” Adrianna exclaimed. “Guess we’ll just have to wait until January to find out.”

If they make it past the semifinals, they will then compete at the Gala Performance next spring on  April 30, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. Grand prize finalists, (1st place and runner-up), receive $5,000 and $4,000 in scholarships, while honorable mentions receive $250 in scholarships and semi-finalists receive $100 in scholarships.

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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