Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Art Students Building Houses During Spring Break

January 31, 2011

Idyllwild Arts faculty Karen and Chris help out with the ongoing bake sale to raise money for Habitat for Humanity

By Marcia E. Gawecki

During Spring Break this year, honor students from Idyllwild Arts won’t be basking on the beaches, but building houses for migrant farm workers.

This co-ed group of about 10 students who attend this high school arts boarding school are giving up their coveted one week spring break (from March 20 to March 27) to build houses for Habitat for Humanity in Oxnard, California, where there is a large population of migrant farm workers.

Habitat for Humanity was chosen because it is unrivaled in its organizational structure and specializes in dealing with students who are new to volunteerism.

“In a culture of Facebook and fast food, it is far too easy to loose touch with those in need in world around us,” said Chris Wegemer, a Physics teacher at Idyllwild Arts and one of the three chaperones. “We will experience California from a perspective that we have never seen before, exposing us to poverty and injustice right on our doorstep.”

He added that it is a great way for the students to address controversial immigrant and migrant worker issues. This is not the first time that Idyllwild Arts and migrant farm workers have crossed paths.

For years, the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program, along with the Monterey County Office of Education (MCOE), have been providing scholarships to migrant worker’s kids from California. Idyllwild Arts picks up the classes, room and board, while MCOE picks up the students’ flights and guardianship, said Diane Dennis, the registrar at Idyllwild Arts.

“In working together, we can cause change here and now, with our own two hands,” Chris added.

Arts students buy and preview the bake sale after an all-school meeting

Over the past two weeks, the students hosted a bake sale on campus. There were cookies, brownies, pound cake and trail mixes made by students and faculty alike. Nothing was priced, but all donations went into a cardboard box in the shape of a house.

So far, they’ve raised $600, which is only a fraction of their $3,300 goal. However, other fundraising events are  planned, including a “coffee house” style concert on campus to raise awareness for Habitat for Humanity.

The high goal comes from the need for each of the 10 students to bring a $145 donation fee. The fee goes to supplies for the houses, which covers everything from drywall to electrical sockets to plumbing.

Chris said that the students do not need practical carpentry experience, only a willingness to help.

“They are an amazing group of kids,” said Chris. “All of them have done some kind of service work in the past, and they’re eager to use their hands and get dirty to help others.”

The students and other two chaperones, including Daniel Grey and Phil Dunbridge, will live at a community center where they will sleep in sleeping bags.

Chris has told the students how such volunteer experiences can be life changing, how it builds character, forms lasting bonds, and creates a deeper sense of empathy for all those in need.

For more information on the Habitat for Humanity honors project, call Chris at (951) 659-2171.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

‘Cryptozoology,’ a Myriad of Mythical Creatures

January 28, 2011

Chloe's "Cryptozoology" painting of what looks like a dying alien in a yellow pool

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Throughout history, people have been fascinated by mythical beasts,  including the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, unicorns, fairies, dragons, griffins, and the like. Hollywood has joined on the bandwagon recently, with “Iron Man,” “Avatar” and “Tron.” And all of the creatures from the bar scene of “Star Wars” would fit into this definition.

Chloe's sculpture looked like broken angel's wings with a crab leg extension

Idyllwild has its own mythical creature, called the Idyllbeast, who is hairy and looks like Bigfoot, but not as scary. Maybe more like Chewbacca. Only that the Idyllbeast hosts his own web site, and his own storefront, The Idyllbeast Research Center, on North Circle Drive in Idyllwild.

With all of these mythical beasts in mind, the Idyllwild Arts Visual Arts Department presented its student theme show, “Cryptozoology,” with a Jan. 14 opening at the Parks Exhibition Center on campus. The show ends today, Jan. 28.

“Cryptozoology” is a made up word that refers to animals which are legendary or otherwise nonexistent by mainstream biology.  For their pieces, the students needed to rely on their imagination because these beasts couldn’t be drawn from observation.

Alake's traditional unicorn was sitting down like a human

The 35 pieces in the “Cryptozoology” student art show, includes paintings, sculptures, drawings and mixed media pieces. Their young, fertile imaginations didn’t disappoint the viewers. Some stuck to the traditional lions, tigers and bears hybrids, while others made up their own combinations. One artist even debunked the Santa Claus myth.

Some standout pieces include a sculpture by Chloe, a senior from Korea. The four foot sculpture, laid upon a white pedestal, looks like broken angels wings. The feathers are longer than any birds with a purple and blue glaze.

“Very nice,” said Rob Rutherford, head of the Art Department at Idyllwild Arts. He was inspecting the pieces for the first time before a Master Class on Comics.

At closer inspection, Chloe’s wings also showcased an extension, that looked like a crab leg. What does that mean? Was there a metamorphesis going on from aviary to crustration or visa versa?

Li-An's watercolor boldly debunked the Santa Claus myth

Across the way, was another Cryptozoology piece by Chloe. The bright painting featured what looked like a dying alien in a pool of yellow. What happened? There are no title cards as indications, but one can only guess that the image reflects the artist’s feelings at the time. As a senior, Chloe may be feeling separate, or alien, from her classmates as she faces final exams, college applications and finalizing her portfolio. It could be any number of things, but the benefit is that these art students have an outlet in visual art.

Another standout piece is a ceramic unicorn by Alake, another senior. Instead of showing the unicorn upright and proud, as shown throughout history, Alake has hit sitting down, much like a human would. The general look to the unicorn is not distant  or scary at all, but one you might see on a merry-go-round.

Delaney's painting depicted the moment of discovery

Hidden in the corner of the Parks gallery was a murky watercolor that might’ve been passed over at first glance. But this one, by Li-An, a senior, was worth contemplating over. It depicted an extremely thin, bald man sitting at a vanity, looking into the mirror.

In the mirror’s reflection, you don’t see a bald man, but a full-sized, furry reindeer with antlers (no, it wasn’t Rudolph). And draped around his waist is a red Santa’s suit–with an attached mask!

So, Li-An is debunking the myth of Santa! Not only is Santa not fat and jolly or even real, but he’s not even human!

Another student delved into the murky waters of mythical creatures by documenting the moment before the beast transformation. In Delaney’s painting of a surprised young man looking into the mirror. Instead of happiness at his first chest hair, this teen was appalled to see a growth inside his chest cavity. The growth looked like the concentric rings of a tree stump. The colors she chose were not garish, but more patriotic, red, white, blue and and gray. And there were many layers of them, which begged to be touched.

Dean's large painting showcased an eagle/plane and a man/tree

Other students in the “Cryptozoology” show showcased hybrids that were made up of animals and machine parts.

Ho Jin, a 9th grader from Korea, featured a triptych of three pen-and-ink drawings that he drew freehand (without any preliminary sketches). The first was a dragon/griffin, which used images of an urban landscape, including a city bus and cars at its feet.

The second drawing featured the Statue of Liberty in the space between the large cat’s eyes, and its ears were comprised of rockets and fighter planes.

In the last one, Ho-Jin inserted himself into the picture. He is taking a picture of a bird on a limb, while the top of his head is split to show a large egg.

The painting that caused the most controversy was one done by Dean, which depicted a nude man with a tree limb for an arm. Resting on his limb is an oversized eagle/plane hybrid. In the deep background is a carefree kid surfing a fine wave.

“He’s an awesome artist,” exclaimed Ignacio, who lives near Dean. “He pays close attention to detail.”

A wolf-lion hybrid by Anna, a sophomore

Ignacio said that Dean debated whether or not to put in the genitals, but did so at the end.

“He thought it was important,” Ignacio said.

As far as most people know, it’s OK for students to paint nude paintings. After all, they offer nude models as part of their regular drawing classes. When asked about Dean’s nude painting, Rob Rutherford didn’t answer, but said he was rushed for time. Biology teacher Will Waddell said that nudity in student artwork goes in cycles.

“The art students will do a lot of nude paintings, and then the school will crack down for awhile, and then they slowly crop up again,” Will said.

Helen, a mother and artist, said that she wasn’t opposed to nude paintings in a student show.

Nudes are the best way to study human anatomy, she said.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Audience Tears Flowed for ‘Eurydice’

January 24, 2011

(from L) Nelms McKalvain and Howard Shangraw and friend converse after the show.

By Marcia E. Gawecki

At the final bow, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Some of the audience members were loudly blowing their noses. One woman clasped her had over her mouth to keep from sobbing.

“Really? People were crying? I couldn’t tell,” said Juwan, who played Orpheus, after the show.

However, you could tell that he was impressed. Any time a high school theater cast brings an audience to tears is an accomplishment.

The final show of “Eurydice,” a modern take on the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, by Sarah Ruhl, was held on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m at Idyllwild Arts Academy.

“I think it was our best show,” said Juwan, after striking the set. “Everything seemed to gel together.”

You didn’t have to know anything about Greek mythology to appreciate and understand the play. It’s been done hundreds, if not thousands, of times. But Sarah Ruhl made it more interesting and palatable.

“I’m glad that it was set in the 21st century,” said one student.

Brooke, a senior who played “Eurydice,” brought Nelms, a piano teacher at Idyllwild Arts, to tears. He stood out in the courtyard with huge tears rolling down his face. Everyone around him smiled. It was rare to see such open emotion from a middle-aged man.

“Brooke just broke my heart,” Nelms said.

Brooke was the happy-go-lucky pretty thing that was in love with Juwan. As a musician, he listened to the “beat of a different drummer.” She loved words, and he loved music. Somewhere in between, they connected.

“There was a lot of kissing going on at the beginning,” exclaimed Juwan’s mom, who came all the way from Kansas, to surprise him.

“I’m glad that Juwan finally got a lead role,” another student said.

Juwan played the heartbroken Orpheus

Juwan played Orpheus, the heartbroken bride groom, to the hilt. He sent music, and wrote letters, to the Underworld, and delivered them via worms. He told his bride of his dreams, in which her hair was made out of faucets. It only made everyone cry harder.

“Please come back!” he begged.

In one of his scenes, he’s talking to a telephone operator. He’s trying to connect to Eurydice in the Underworld. The operator on the other end is confused and exasperated.

“This is a special case,” Juwan tells her. “She’s dead.”

How can he connect to a dead woman? The audience cries harder. Somehow they’ve been there before. Asking an operator for help beyond reason.

When Juwan first saw Sarah Ruhl’s play, he thought it was a kind of dumb. Then he listened to Howard, and drew from his own experiences of heartache, to play a believable role.

Brooke (as Eurydice) might have broken Nelms’ heart with her letters home.

“Don’t try and find me again,” Brooke wrote after they flubbed up the voyage back. She called out his name and he looked back, so that was it.

“I’m sorry,” she wrote to Orpheus. “I was afraid. But don’t come looking for me again.”

In her open letter to her husband’s next wife, Brooke demonstrated her emotional range.

“Be sure and feed him often, because he forgets to eat,” she recited out loud. “And be sure and notice that he blushes pink when you kiss him. If you kiss his forehead, I will thank you for it.”

What woman would want her husband to be happy with another woman? Eurydice had matured while underground.

Everyone expected Joe Spano to steal the show. After all, how can high school theater students measure up to a professional actor with an Emmy nod and many successful shows under his belt?

Stones Dylan and Angela pose for pictures after the show

“He was great, but he didn’t steal the show,” said some theater students.

It wasn’t a slight. What Joe Spano did was elevate “Eurydice” to the next level. Everyone stepped up their game. Because they already had it in them.

Brooke, Juwan, Jake, and the Stones were just as good as Joe. And that’s the way it should be.

He was fun to watch, no doubt. Especially when his daughter was adjusting to being dead. He built her a makeshift room out of string that he tied to umbrella handles hanging from the ceiling.

“That was the saddest part,” said Chris, a music major who saw the show on Friday night.

For others, Joe’s saddest moment was when Eurydice left to follow Orpheus home and said, “With her gone, it’ll be like a second death to me.”

Jake, who played an “Interesting Man,” (who must’ve said “interesting 100 times) was really just a letch, who lured Eurydice to her death.

By the way, Brooke’s slow-motion fall was eerie, but effective. Kudos to Howard Shangraw, the director, and the set designers for making it happen with lights and poles.

I’m not sure why Ruhl created the Lord of the Underworld (also played by Jake) as a pre-teen, but it took away some of his bite. Running around on a trike with oversized shoes and a lit-up umbrella hat was entertaining, but typically, I like my demons older. His youth made it hard to take him seriously.

But, in the end, little Lord Fontleroy on the trike, had the final say.

“I just got chills all over,” said Chris Pennock, an Idyllwild actor best known for his “Dark Shadows” days.

His wife was the one who covered her mouth to keep from sobbing.

“It was so amazing,” she said, wiping away her tears.

Joe Spano (partially obstructed) and his daughter, Liana, a stone, talk with audience members after the show

Outside, Idyllwild residents took pictures Joe Spano and the other actors. It was nice having a celebrity amongst them.

“We grew up watching Joe Spano on ‘Hill Street Blues,”” one resident said. “It was nice to see him live on stage today.”

Spano, who played Eurydice’s father, and his real-life daughter, Liana, played a stone that guarded the Underworld.

“This was the best experience,” said Milan, who was Spano’s understudy. “He improved my acting performance by a mile.”

“Eurydice” played to packed houses on Friday and Saturday nights, Jan. 21 and 22. The Sunday, Jan. 23rd audience stood on their feet to show their appreciation. On Apella Drive, the road out, past the parking lot, a few women were walking home. What a testament to the show! Without a car, they arrived on foot rather than miss the show.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Joe Spano Stars in Idyllwild Arts Show on Sunday, Too

January 23, 2011

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“Hill Street Blues” and “NCIS” star Joe Spano will also star in the final performance of “Eurydice,” by the Idyllwild Arts Theater Department, on Sunday, Jan. 23 at 2 p.m. It’s a correction to the earlier report (on Idyllwild Me blog post dated Jan. 20) that the understudies would take over that performance. Theirs was held on Saturday, Jan 22 at 2 p.m.

Today, at 2 p.m., will be the final performance of “Eurydice,” Idyllwild Arts production of the Greek tragedy about Eurydice and Orpheus in the Underworld. Spano starred as Eurydice’s father to packed houses on Friday and Saturday nights.

Milan, a senior Theater major, credits Spano for adding professionalism to the show. It is the first time this crew has worked alongside a well-known actor.

“His choices onstage has given everyone involved with the show a huge acting lesson,” Milan said. “And him being in the show has absolutely effected the quality and professionalism of the show.”

He said that Spano had also taught him to slow down and take his time with each scene.

Brooke, another senior who plays the lead, Eurydice, admitted to being timid around Spano at first.

“I had never worked with a professional actor before, let alone one as famous as Joe Spano,” Brooke said. “But he treated me like an equal.”

Both Brooke and Milan had not seen Spano during his “Hill Street Blues” hey days, but their aunts and uncles gave them an earfull.

“My aunt just loves Joe Spano, and thought he was terrific in ‘Hill Street Blues,” Brooke said.

Milan also researched the shows online.

Juwan plays Orpheus in today's final performance of "Eurydice"

Although the father role may have been missing in other versions of “Eurydice,” Sarah Ruhl’s take is different. She focuses more on the circle of life.

“The father is the second, if not first most important role in the play,” said Milan, who has watched Spano rehearse for weeks. “Without the father, it would not be the same story. He goes through many obstacles, such as memory loss, but had the courage to let his daughter go.”

The set of the play is also top notch with a rain shower encased in an elevator. It’s the work of guest set designer Steve Hudson-Mairet, head of the Theater Department at Marquette University, and Todd Carpenter, the technical director at Idyllwild Arts (see “Help with Eurydice Set,” Idyllwild Me post, dated Jan. 14).

The final performance of “Eurydice,” starring Joe Spano as the father, Brooke as Eurydice, Juwan as Orpheus, Jake as the lord of the Underworld, and Liana (Joe Spano’s daughter), as a stone, will be held today, Sunday, Jan. 23 at 2 p.m.

The show is free and open to the public. The IAF Theater is located inside the Bowman Building on the Idyllwild Arts Campus, located at the end of Tollgate. For more information, call (951) 659-2171 or visit

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Joe Spano to Star in High School Play

January 20, 2011

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Joe Spano will appear in a high school play this weekend.

This Emmy-nominated actor, best known for his role as Lt. Henry Goldblume in the popular TV series, “Hill Street Blues,” is not playing a detective, an agent, or even an astronaut this time, but something closer to home.

He’s playing a father.

“Having daughters of his own must’ve effected the way that he created his character,” said Milan, an Idyllwild Arts theater student, who plays Spano’s understudy in “Eurydice.”

Sarah Ruhl has taken the classic Greek myth about Eurydice and Orpheus of the Underworld, and changed it to emphasize the circle of life. Ruhl’s take is both entertaining and provocative.

Wait a minute! Eurydice had a father?

According to Milan, the father is the second, if not the most important role in the play.

“Without him, it would not be the same story,” Milan explained. “He goes through many obstacles, such as memory lapses and seperation from his daughter. And has the courage to let her go knowing that it’s the right thing to do.”

With Joe Spano playing the father, you get a better image of a ‘father’ than if a student were playing the role, Milan adds. However, Milan will have a chance to perform, along with the other understudies, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 22.

For the past several weeks, Milan has watched Joe Spano rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

“He has a great, positive attitude and a strong presence onstage,” Milan said. “Him being here has absolutely effected the quality and professionalism of the show.”

Brooke, as Eurydice, admitted to being pretty timid at first.

“I had never worked with a professional actor before, let alone a famous one like Joe Spano,” Brooke said. “But he has treated me like an equal.”

One thing that Milan learned from Spano is patience.

“He has taught me to take my time!” Milan exclaimed. “Lots of actors think they need to rush scenes or moments of the show. Joe has taught me the importance of taking my time and not rush anything.”

Another actor who has likely learned a lot from Spano is his daughter, Liana, who plays one of the three talking stones.

“Joe and Liana have a great relationship,” Milan said. “It’s very clear to see.”

However, onstage the two are all business.

“During rehearsal, you rarely ever see them talk,” Milan said. “Both are focused and ready to work.”

So why is Joe Spano acting in a high school play this weekend? Because his daughter asked him to? Or because Howard Shangraw, his old reperatory acting buddy, who heads up the IA Theater Department, begged? No one really knows for sure, but its likely, after a successful TV and movie career, Joe Spano is doing what he wants.

But for Milan, Brooke and the other teenage actors, the experience has been priceless.

“Eurydice” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 21 & 22, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 23. The understudy performance will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan.22. All shows are free and open to the public. They’re held at the IAF Theater (inside the Bowman building) on the Idyllwild Arts Campus (at the end of Tollgate Road) in Idyllwild. For more information, call (951) 659-2171, or visit

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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‘Seven Deadly Sins’ Student Dance Grant

January 17, 2011

(from L) Ariann & Sorelle performing "Out of My Mind"

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“Out of My Mind, Back in Five Minutes,” was the title of Ariann’s choreographed dance piece at Idyllwild Arts Academy last year.

It could have been stated by any one of her fellow classmates after an ACT, SAT or TOEFL test. Yet, this clever title showcased young inmates dancing at an insane aslyum. While Ariann and the others danced, in torn straight jackets to techno music, an oversized duck ran around them.

The show was a hit, especially with the young ones.

“Every time Bonnie Carpenter’s son sees me, and he’s three years old, he shouts, ‘Duck!'” Ariann said. “No one has forgotten that show.”

Ariann got a grant to choreograph her own show

Maybe because the subject matter, insanity, ties neatly into common feelings at this arts boarding school where only the best young artists, actors, singers, musicians and dancers are accepted. They carry a full schedule, have night rehearsals and classes on weekends. Yet, it pays off when they get accepted to the top colleges in the country.

“I knew then that I wanted to be a choreographer,” Ariann said, after her “Out of My Mind” piece.

Now, just after three intense days of working with choreographer Chad Hall, who taught a Master Class at Idyllwild Arts, Ariann was exhausted, but happy.

She was looking forward to choreographing her own show.

leva as an insane person

She received a grant from the Transatlantic Arts Consortium (which is a collaboration between CalArts, The Dartington Hall Trust and Idyllwild Arts Academy) to perform dances to the ‘Seven Deadly Sins.’ It’s the second one-man show of its kind at the school since Cyndi choreographed ‘SiJi,’ (which means ‘Four Seasons’) about Chinese dance in 2010 (see blog post, ‘SiJi: A Night of Chinese Dance,’ from May 20,2010).

Ariann said that she asked the Transatlantic Arts Consortium for $5,000, but received half. But she’s happy and will work within that budget. Most of the grant money will go towards creating costumes, props and original music.

The  “Seven Deadly Sins” include pride, greed, envy, lust, sloth, anger and gluttony, and Ariann will portray them in nine different numbers. One of them will have as many as 20 dancers.

“I’m ready for the challenge,” Ariann said.

Bonnie Carpenter's son remembers the large duck

For the past few months, she’s been working with her friend, Axel, from Mexico, who is creating the original music for her ‘Deadly Sins’ performance.

“They (the grant people) told me to work with musicians at the school,” Ariann said. “But it’s too late. I’ve already begun working with Axel, and his music is great.”

Axel’s techo music is comprised of a guitar, drum and bass, Ariann explained. The beats are strong and fast, and they’re easy to dance to. But Axel also mixes this music with words.

This jibberish-and-music combo came out of a miscue from her “Out of My Mind, Back in Five Minutes” dance piece.

“Halfway through the piece, the music stopped. A nightmare for any choreographer,” Ariann recalled. “But the dancers didn’t stop. One-by-one, they each started talking jibberish. They saved the show, and no one in the audience was the wiser.”

Now, Ariann and Axel think the combination will work well for her ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ show.

A lot of the dances are forming in her head now, but she needs to get them down on paper. In the past, she performs the dances by herself until she worked them out.

“I get a lot of energy from the other dancers,” Ariann said. “I cannot wait until it all comes together!”

Her “Seven Deadly Sins” show is set for the spring, after student choreography, she said. No date has been set, but the work continues.

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Help with ‘Eurydice’ Set

January 14, 2011

Even the poster for 'Eurydice' emphasizes water

By Marcia E. Gawecki

With every production, the Idyllwild Arts Theater Department takes it up a notch.

With ‘Eurydice,’ Sarah Ruhl’s modern take on the tragic Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice set in the Underworid, they’ve landed a top-notch actor and set designer.

“We got Joe Spano!” exclaimed Howard Shangraw, head of the Idyllwild Arts Theater Department. “It helps that his daughter, Liana, goes to school here.”

Spano, an Emmy-Award winning actor, is best known for his stand-out characters in the popular TV series, “Hill Street Blues” and “NCIS.” For the ‘Eurydice’ production, Spano plays the father.

Secondly, the ‘Eurydice’ set, which features two live water sources (an enclosed waterfall and a well) is being created by professional set designer. Stephen Hudson-Mairet is a longtime friend of Todd Carpenter, IA lighting and technical director. Steve heads up the theater department at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

He plans to be here 10 days to help Howard and Todd with the set, which is already partially built.

About two months ago, Steve came to the Idyllwild Arts campus to see the student production of “Jayne Eyre.” He wanted to see firsthand what the stage and the IAF theater looked like, and needed to meet with Howard and Todd and get their ideas.

“The IAF Theater is barrel-shaped, like an airplane hanger,” Steve said. “But every theater has it’s challenges. I’ve seen a lot of them and none are perfect.”

After the meeting, he went back to Milwaukee and did his homework.

“Before I even think about drafting a design, I read the play three times,” Steve said. “It gives you ideas that you cannot get anywhere else.”

Juwan, who plays the lead Orpheus, backstage at another event

The second the third read gives him practical ideas about where the actors will stand and step.

For his “Eurydice’ design, he incorporated ideas from Howard and Todd, and came up with a full-color sketch.

“I never leave anything to chance,” Steve said. “Because blue has many shades, and we all need to be on the same page.”

So he attached color swatches to the diagram, which was approved.

“The main part of the stage is framed by an oversized triangle,” Steve said. At the apex, an elevator opens up to a waterfall encased in an elevator.

“The water should rain straight down,” Steve said. “It acts as a barrier into the Underworld.”

Although there are pipes everywhere overhead, he wasn’t sure how the water was going to flow inside the elevator. He had to check it out firsthand.

“I also have to think about what we’re going to do about the water puddling onstage,” Steve said. “And if there would be any long-term water damage underneath the stage.”

These water issues are why Todd and Howard hired a set design professional like Steve. In the past, he has created set designs for massive theater productions like “Hair,” with life-sized 60s cutouts onstage, and “Frog and Toad,” a smaller student production, based on the popular children’s books.

On Thursday afternoon, Jan. 13, Steve was headed to rehearsal, to see the actors in action. And today, he’s going to paint the set along with the students. Among the many challenges will be building an arc and painting a river on the floor.

“In the show, one of the actors rides a tricycle around the stage on an arc,” Steve said. “We’re hoping to make it work for him.”

He wasn’t sure how the arc was going to be built, but was certain that it would work before the ‘Eurydice’ curtain goes up next weekend.

“One of the best things about set design is the collaboration of ideas,” Steve said. “We always come up with something better together.”

Painting a river on the floor was one of the first things he’ll tackle.

Howard Shangraw, head of IA Theater Dept. Courtesy photo.

“It’s going to be ‘river-esque, not raging” Steve said. “Like everything else on the set, it’s a symbol.”

Other symbols include a variety of Asian-style umbrellas that will be suspended from the ceiling. He pulled several from his suitcase to add to Todd’s collection.

“The umbrellas will give Todd something to throw a light on,” Steve said.

During their college days, the two have worked on sets together.

“Todd always takes my ideas and makes them better,” Steve said.

After the final ‘Eurydice’ show, Steve will help the students break down the set. He has no attachments or regrets for a set that he’s been working on for two months.

“I’m used to designing and building sets, and taking them down in six weeks,” Steve said.

His only keepsake is a couple of photos. Most of the set pieces of ‘Eurydice’ will be recycled into other sets.

‘Eurydice’ shows will be held on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 21 & 22, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 23, at 2 p.m. at the IAF Theater on campus. All shows are free and open to the public. For more information, visit

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Idyllwild Whole Body Karate

January 10, 2011

John King of Idyllwild teaches youngsters about staying fit

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Karate shown on TV and on the big screen often  glorifies the fight, and downplays the martial art part. However, there’s a karate instructor in Idyllwild who teaches “whole body karate.” In his classes, students learn to reach their goals and even walk away from fights.

At age 50, John King earned a black belt in Kung Fu San Soo, and continues to study with Master Steven Gregoire. John started learning karate years ago with his family, but keeps it up to stay in shape. For the past eight years, he’s taught beginning and intermediate karate to youngsters and adults in Idyllwild.

“I love to see the smile of confidence on a kid’s face when he’s finally learned something of value,” John said. “Karate is a lifelong journey.”

In his classes, students get some exercise, but also learn discipline, self respect and more about martial arts. In short, it’s not a class for wimpy kids who want to get back at schoolyard bullies.

John's classes had to move out of Strawberry Creek to make room for the library.

“I talk to these kids about how to walk away from fights, if they can,” John said.

He too, was bullied as a child.

“I used to be meek and walked around with my head down all of the time,” John confessed. “But through Kung Fu, I learned to walk with self confidence.”

John also talks to his students about their goals, namely the ones they want to reach within five years. Some the goals they’ve mentioned to him include: getting better in math, learning how to ride a skateboard,  and earning a black belt in karate.

“Earning a black belt was my goal too,” John said. “It’s an achievable one for anyone. I got mine at 50.”

However, the black best test takes about three hours, and it can be exhausting, he said, like running a marathon. He’s run marathons too, including the Long Beach and Las Alamitas Marathons. During the day, John paints houses, and on Friday nights, he sings and plays fiddle for Change Required at the Lumber Mill. But his great love is teaching.

John demonstrates his kicking ability

At first, his middle-aged and older adult students were apprehensive about learning karate.

“They tell me that they’re too old to be kicking their feet in the air,” John said. “But most times, they’re younger than me.”

John’s classes are affordable and are now held at the Spiritual Living Center in Idyllwild. (After 1 1/2 years, he moved from the large studio next to Curves to make room for the Idyllwild Library). The sign-up fee is $40, which includes a uniform. The monthly cost is $65, which averages to about $8 per class, he said. He’s also willing to work with families with financial hardships.

To sign up, call John at (951) 659-3785 or email him at

Cpyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Darwin’s Interior ‘Magic Tree’

January 8, 2011

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Darwin, an Idyllwild sculptor, is not one to shy away from large art projects. His giant cowboy hat, which sets on top of Wooley’s, is testament to that.

Darwin points to a large tree that he built for an Idyllwild toy shop

“C’mon, you’ve got to see my tree,” said Darwin to friends standing outside Higher Grounds.

He lead them around the corner to a toy store. They looked up and gasped, “Wow, that’s beautiful!”

Inside, Darwin had created a life-sized tree with a large trunk and several limbs that stretched across the high ceiling.

“My kids call it, ‘The Magic Tree,'” said Julie Fourroux, one of the owners.

The idea of having an interior tree sprung from a need to do something with an odd corner, Julie said. The toy shop stands in the former location of the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce and the Idyllwild Realty office.

“A wall had been knocked down to create more space,” Julie explained. “But there was this odd corner where the former entryway used to be. We just had to do something about it.”

Her husband Chris suggested that they put in a natural tree trunk called a “wrap,” similar to the posts holding up the porch outside. Then Julie suggested an entire tree, and Darwin, who had been standing there, said that he’d like to build them one.

Looking up, the manzanita limbs and branches are spectacular

For nearly a month, Darwin set up his workshop inside the toy store. He worked half days from a large table, while his manzanita branch collection stayed outside.

“I found the manzanita limbs up in the high country,” Darwin said.

He sanded them down and added clear varnish, showing their natural dark red color. The rest of the tree was constructed from everyday materials, including chicken wire, paper mache, large carpet tubes, paint, and varnish.

Darwin knew, after creating a giant hat for Wooley’s, that sound construction was key. (See ‘Hats Off to an Idyllwild Artist,” an Idyllwild Me  blog post dated March 2, 2010) Because large sculptures like these are only as good as they can last.

Darwin’s Wooley’s hat had to withstand Idyllwild’s extreme weather conditions, such as snow, rain and wind. At least, The Magic Tree was inside the toy shop, and only needed to be securely mounted. However, it stood over 15 feet tall and weighs about 300 pounds.

Darwin, the artist, next to The Magic Tree

When Darwin was forming the chicken wire, and before adding the paper mache, Chris mounted some electrical equipment inside. The equipment would be the energy source for the twinkling lights on the branches above.

“The tree is heavily mounted to the wall,” said Julie reassuringly. “It’s not coming down.”

However, to deter teens and children from trying to climb it, they put up a sign.

“So far, everyone’s been respectful,” Julie said.

Teens like it best, Chris added. “They stop at the door, look up and  don’t go any further.

However, the younger ones, look at it briefly and run to the toys, added RJ, the toy store clerk.

To get the texture of the bark on The Magic Tree, Darwin used crumbled up newspaper. Then he added many layers of brown acrylic paint.

“It looked like a chocolate tree,” Darwin said. “I was afraid the kids might peel off the bark and eat it.”

So he toned down the color to a lighter brown, and added lots of glitter, adding to the “magical” feel.

In addition to the twinkling white lights, there are some ornaments, such as birds, hanging from the branches, and little stuffed animals inside the knotholes.

Close up of the manzanita tree branches

“The plan is to add some paper snowflakes, and make it seasonal,” Julie said.

Her mother gave her the idea. She has an inside tree in her home that she decorates with ornaments according to every season, such as Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.

“We plan to add decorations to the tree, and when there’s no holiday, we’ll just add leaves,” Julie said.

Chris said that they’re pleased with the results and Darwin’s professionalism.

“He does great work,” Chris said. “Have you seen his mountain view sign on the top of the coffee house?”

Copyright 2010 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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Digital Art in Idyllwild

January 2, 2011

This digital art piece of Francoise's spans 5 feet wide

By Marcia E. Gawecki

“Digital art is original art,” said Francoise Frigola, an Idyllwild photographer.

She told us about a disagreement that she had with a previous gallery owner, who claimed that digital art was not original art.

“She kept insisting that it was just color copies,” Francoise said in frustration.

Digital art takes the same amount of time and effort that it would take to create a painting, she said. It’s just using a different medium.

Francoise is exploring the limits of digital art, and knows computers inside and out. In fact, she owns a computer business in Idyllwild in which she troubleshoots, fixes, and updates PCs. She even instructs others how to use PhotoShop and other software.

Even though digital art has been around for decades, there is still much confusion about it, Francoise said.


Digital art covers a range of artwork that use digital technology as an essential part of the creative process. Since the 1970s, various names have been used to describe it, such as computer art and multimedia art.

Francoise’s next exhibit, “ODA,” (short for Original Digital Art), will feature several of her recent and past digital art series, will open this Thursday, Jan. 6, at Earth n’ Fire in Idyllwild.

Several of her digital art series will be represented, including ‘Les Chats,” “Hymn to a Forest,” and “Squared Drops,” abstracts made from photographs of water droplets.

Francoise explained how she shot a series of water droplets on a glass plate, and then layered them to get the optimal effect.

“I take many overlapping photographs, and then seam them together, which is not as simple as it looks,” Francoise explained. “I only move the camera one-eighth of an inch at a time. ”

Francoise layered many photos of water droplets to create this digital image

She added that when the light changes, the seaming process of Photoshop gets lost and it doesn’t recognize adjacent images.

“I have to manually place them one-by-one,” she said.

After she prints out her digital images on canvas, she then applies impasto, which is similar to clear paint, which gives it an extra dimension and makes each piece unique.

Some of the pieces in the “ODA” show are smaller, such as “Le Chats,” or the cats, measuring 6 x 8 inches, while others are rather huge, up to five feet wide.

Luckily, Earth N’ Fire has very tall ceilings, and can hold such large images, Francoise said.

Over the years, Francoise’s work in photography, sculptures and digital art reflect her fascination of form, shape and color. Mostly self-taught, Francoise has explored many innovative techniques in darkroom processes, acrylic manipulation, and digital art. She has exhibited internationally.

Many of the photographs on her web site show her keen attention to detail from pine cone patterns to the whiskers on her cats.

Since the first time that Francoise arrived in Idyllwild, it was her dream to photograph the curved branches of the Coulter pine tree, which generally grows in the higher elevations.

Once while hiking, she came upon a dead Coulter pine tree, recently cut down due to the drought.

“It was my dream coming true,” she said. “I was able to get really close to shoot all of the details.”

From her "Hymn to a Forest" series

Everyone is invited to Francoise’s “ODA” opening this Thursday from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Earth N’ Fire, located upstairs in the Fort.

To see more of Francoise’s work, visit

Copyright 2011 Idyllwild Me. All rights reserved.

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