All posts by Matthew Pedersen

MADD conference urges legislative changes

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) recently hosted a conference in Austin, gathering together major supporters with Texas State Legislators to share the findings of an annual report. The report, which focused on the effects that mandatory ignition interlock devices have on drunk drivers, showed the devices stopped nearly 350,000 unlawful attempts to start vehicles nationwide.

“We were meeting to garner support for HB 2089, SB 761, and SB 664, all of which ask for interlock devices to be part of any deferred to judication agreement that a court makes with an offender,” Ron Sylvan, MADD’s Affiliate Executive Director, said. “They would require a six month use of the interlock, and if the offender successfully meets all of the requirements of his or her court order stipulations, then the offense would be wiped from their record.

“We had a tremendous response. We rally our staff across the state. In Texas we have six affiliates, and the staff in those affiliates rally the victims in their authority. We all go down to Austin and start knocking on doors. It’s a long day, but we’re very driven by our mission. We visit every representative and every senator in the state of Texas, and we share our position on these bills and educate those legislators when needed.

“Another important piece of that legislation is if at some point after that the same offender offends again, then the second offense would be treated as a second offense,” Sylvan said. “In other words, it would enhance the offense, unlike current law, which would treat it as a first offense again.

“We know that interlock devices save lives, and we think that these are very strong bills. They are supported by defense attorneys across the state of Texas. We’re very hopeful that these bills will come to fruition and become law,” he said.

Sylvan mentioned some of the support the bills have in the Texas Senate and House of Representatives.

“The three bills mirror themselves,” Sylvan said. “James White is the sponsor of HB 2089. SB 761 is authored and sponsored by Jose Mendez; and SB 664 authored and sponsored by Don Huffines. Over the course of several weeks of conversations with a variety of people, MADD being included, district attorneys across the state, the support behind these bills is big, and we have high hopes for the bills passing.”

Even under the current law, the interlock devices have been responsible for stopping hundreds of thousands of drunk drivers.

“Here in Texas alone over the past ten years, interlocks have stopped 245,000 drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel and driving,” Sylvan said. “The numbers are significantly larger than when you look at the rest of the U.S.

“I think it’s important to focus on the current law, in which a first-time offender, as long as they don’t exceed .15 BAC, can opt for deferred adjudication without an interlock. They might opt to just have their drivers’ license suspended. Data research, time and time ago, show that 50-75 percent of drunk drivers continue to drive on suspended licenses, so it doesn’t really protect the public from those offenders. Thus, the importance of these bills that are being considered right now, would make it mandatory for those offenders to have interlock devices in their cars for a period of six months.”

MADD is focusing most of its support into making the interlock devices mandatory after a drunk driving conviction.

“MADD’s number one legislative priority is to have ignition interlock devices installed for all convicted drunk drivers,” Sylvan said. “Twenty-eight states and Washington DC have all offender ignition interlock laws as we speak. Again, data shows us that they save lives. That is our number one priority. What’s important is that we’re protecting the public from these offenders going out and causing any further harm to the general public.”

Sylvan mentioned a handful of individuals in attendance at the conference who have been directly affected by drunk drivers, including one Texas resident who lost his son to a drunk driver.

“That particular day culminated with a press conference that featured the authors of all three bills, as well as a representative from AAA, one of the local district attorneys, and a victim named Gary Hoff from El Paso who shared with everyone how an offender impacted his life. He happened to have a son named Garrett who was killed by a drunk driver, and he has become a huge advocate for MADD in terms of pushing for stricter drunk driving laws,” he said.

“This is a mission unlike any other. I’ve never seen more committed volunteers associated with any organization as I’ve seen with Mothers Against Drunk Driving,” Sylvan said. “These folks have certainly been touched personally by the issue, and are huge advocates for stricter legislation across the board trying to eliminate this crime. That’s where we want the general public to focus, that these are crimes, they’re preventable crimes, and that the interlock devices are just one step in preventing these crimes from happening a second, third, or fourth time.

“Our hearts go out to the victims of these senseless crimes. It’s really rare to go any day in the Metroplex and not hear something in the news in regards to a drunk driving crash,” he said. “The people who commit these crimes make a decision to get behind the steering wheel of a car and drive in an impaired state of mind, causing huge harm to many, many people in their own communities. We constantly urge the public to get behind us, and to keep reminding our judges, our prosecutors, and our legislators that this can be prevented.”

“From Dusk till Dawn” series writer inspires students

The University of Texas at Arlington’s film department presented a lecture featuring screenwriter and producer Marcel Rodriguez. Among Rodriguez’s most famous writings are films such as Shark Boy and Lava Girl, Machete Kills, and the ongoing TV series From Dusk Till Dawn.

“The first skill you need is storytelling ability,” Rodriguez said. “That’s different than writing. It means you’re able to understand how story works and all the elements of that. Writing is the second skill that you need, which is actually writing words on paper, printing, organizing, underlining, bolding, generally making things clear to people, and expressing yourself well through language. The third skill is learning how to deal with people, which I think is important, because it’s a business that requires a lot of collaboration.”

“Classes sometimes get very centered on projects,” said Daniel Garcia, a Peruvian filmmaker and professor of film at UTA. “It gets disconnected from what’s going on outside. In screenwriting in particular, an industry that doesn’t have a lot of local connections, it’s important to have screenwriters, to have filmmakers, to have all kinds of people from the outside explain things that aren’t explained in class.

While the films Shark Boy and Lava Girl and Machete Kills may seem radically different, Rodriguez talked about their similarities and how writing action is a skill that can be applied across genres.

“The kids’ stuff was just what I was told to work on at the time, but it was always a part of me,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know if I would’ve done that if I hadn’t been asked to do it, but it’s really all in the same soup. I mean, action is just another skillset that I had. Shark Boy and Lava Girl is, frankly, an action show. It’s really the same genre as Machete Kills, but it’s just got kids in it, so they’re really not that far apart.”

Latin American characters and themes are featured heavily in Rodriguez’ work, and the filmmaker admitted that the current political landscape reflects in some of his past projects.

“I’m not really tapped into the Latino professionals, but I do know people are going to be writing about it,” Rodriguez said. “If you remember Machete Kills, they had a wall already built in that movie. I wrote about that as a joke, because I didn’t think it would ever happen. I thought it might happen, but it was really a sci-fi version of our universe. Now they’re going to build it, so it’s kind of funny that I already wrote it.”

Rodriguez has worked across film and TV and takes on the challenge of transitioning between mediums.

“The hardest part of the whole process was realizing that I was now having to perform at a professional level in a medium that I didn’t understand,” Rodriguez said. “I wasn’t a TV man, I wrote features. The idea of being asked to write on a TV show, at the speed that I was asked to, seemed terrifying at the time when I went in until I realized that this process was there to support you as a writer. I was going to make up for the things I didn’t know, and then you get through it, because it’s not just you writing, it’s you and six other people. After that, anything else that came my way, I knew I could do it because that was so hard.”

Rodriguez’ most recent project has been as a staff writer for the TV series adaptation of From Dusk till Dawn, which is based upon the 1996 horror/action film of the same name. Learning as much as one can about the genre and figuring out what hasn’t been done, he said, is important to being an original storyteller.

“Like any other industry, any other profession, it is the process,” he said. “If you became a historian, you would read all the history that you were able and decide what history had not been told. It’s the same in horror.

“The truth is, everything I’m saying sounds very intellectual, but if someone asked me how to write a horror screenplay, I would ask them what they are scared of. Then, everything comes from that question. What are you afraid of? What really, truly makes human beings afraid? That’s the purpose of horror, to explore the idea of what makes us afraid. Secondly, what is true evil to you? That’s the second question. If you can answer those two questions you’ll write forever.”

North Lake immigration panel educates, reassures community

In response to developing national immigration reforms, North Lake College held a Spanish language panel on Thursday, March 9 to help educate residents on recent policy changes.

Esther Canales, translator of the college’s District Outreach department who helped organize the event, spoke on the importance of hosting an immigration panel.

“There’s obviously a need for information,” Canales said. “We’ve been getting phone calls from students and community members about immigration, especially because some of our students want answers, they want to feel safe and protected. That’s why we put this together and we’re trying to do one of these at each of our campuses.”

Abraham Trujillo, a student at North Lake College, attended the panel after starting to feel doubts about his own status.

“I wanted to see what exactly they were going to say about immigration,” Trujillo said. “Everything that’s going on in the country right now, some people might have doubts. I was one of those people, having doubts about my status here. I’m a student, and I was wondering how all this would be affecting me. How would I know that I could be safe? That’s what brought me down.”

Henry Olabode, another student at the college, talked about the fear that many within the community are currently experiencing.

“I’m an actual legal resident here, I was born here,” Olabode said. “My parents are from Nigeria, they’re also citizens. But, at the same time, I feel for those who are in this position. Now, with this person as president, it’s very challenging for a lot of people. Everyone is just on their toes, in a sense, on what could happen to them.”

Olabode views education and solidarity as the key to remaining strong within a diverse city.

“I was very fortunate, for me and my brother, to be born here. Other people in the DFW Area, I know that this metroplex is very diverse,” he said. All colors, creeds, nationalities, and things like that. We can’t give up, we have to keep up the good fight against the powers that be, because if one person is feeling as though they are oppressed, then we need to change that. We need to be able to fight back with common sense and education.”

Immigration Attorney and panelist Jiroko Lopez stressed that educating people is exactly why she decided to get involved with the event.

“I think, as cheesy as it sounds, that knowledge is power,” Lopez said. “A lot of people don’t realize that they have certain rights, so whether you’re a resident, a citizen, or undocumented, the constitution guarantees certain rights. People should know about those rights and use them.”

There’s been some executive orders, and there’s been some memorandums issued, and there’s just been a lot of confusion and fear,” she said. “There’s a lot of fears that there have been raids all over Dallas, and that’s just not true. There has been what is called the ‘warrant round up,’ which every county does all the time. Dallas County wants people to pay their traffic tickets, so they go after people at their home, or wherever it is, and arrest them, because they haven’t paid their tickets and they have a warrant for their arrest.”

Lopez also shared her advice to residents who may need to travel outside the country during these uncertain times.

“A lot of people who are residents are afraid that they’re going to be forced to sign what is called an I-407,” she said. “The I-407 is relinquishing your residence, so only a judge can take away residence, or you can take your own residence away. During the Travel Ban, people at the airport at DFW, for example, were being forced to sign the I-407. People need to understand that you don’t need to sign that, and you will not be detained for not signing it. If, for example, they do have an issue with your residence, you will be issued at your home a notice to appear, which is placing you into deportation proceedings.”

While dismissing the idea of large scale raids across Dallas, Lopez did say that ICE officers have been active within Texas.

“These raids haven’t been happening,” Lopez said. “What’s happening right now, and things can always change, what we’ve seen locally is ICE officers going after people who already have deportation orders, which are arrest warrants, or people with heavy criminal history. That is happening, and it has happened under the Obama Administration as well.”

Jon Timpf, Captain of the Community Services Division of the Irving Police Department and a panelist alongside Lopez, helped dispel rumors involving local law enforcement.

“Frequently, news about the police department is spread through social media and word of mouth, and, often times, it’s not right, it’s erroneous,” Timpf said. “I’m always willing to come out on days when we have these situations, where I can come out and I can give the truth about what the city’s policies are, what the police department’s policies are, and what we’re doing.”

Captain Timpf emphasized that action is not taken based on someone’s legal status within the country.

“The misconception is, as far as the Police Department is concerned, that we function as an arm of federal immigration, which is not true,” he said. “We only do what most other cities do. When someone gets to the jail, we submit their fingerprints, and sometimes a federal agency, or any agency, is interested in that person.”

The law enforcement official also shared his advice on how to avoid coming into conflict with the police if you are worried about your own legal status.

“I would give them the same advice I gave when the event was going on,” Captain Timpf said. “As far as the Irving Police Department is concerned, if you just don’t do anything that will get you to the jail, you have nothing to worry about. As for people’s status, that’s not really for the Police Department to determine, that’s what the lawyers and federal agencies are for. As far as we’re concerned, we’re not interested in whether or not someone is legal or illegal, we are more interested in making our community safe.” 

University of Dallas looks back with retrospective alumni art exhibit

The University of Dallas aids scholars and artists to find meaning and fulfillment through higher education. After five decades of artistic excellence, the school organized a massive exhibit to showcase art from both present students and those who studied at the school at its inception.

Nancy Israel, guest curator for the exhibit, discussed how it represents the artistic accomplishments of UD Alumni since the Braniff Graduate School’s founding.

“Since this is the 15th anniversary of the Braniff Graduate School, we put together this incredible exhibition,” Israel said. “We asked quite a few alumni to participate, and we have 44 artists whose work represents from the first graduating class to the current graduating MFA class. It’s an entire span of the art department.”

Christina Haley, a curator who worked with Nancy on the exhibit, spoke about the logistics of bringing so many different artists together.

“That was a fantastic process Nancy started with one of the other graduate researchers here,” Haley said. “It was a matter of going through records and getting samples of current work, so Nancy could be able to have a look at it and select it. Then the process was finding people, we were on the Internet, calling up galleries, and all sorts of connections have been made. It’s been great, because a lot of the alumni haven’t connected with people in a long time, so it’s a big anniversary reunion element happening as well.”

Jeffrey Vaughn, a professional artist and University of Dallas alumni featured in the exhibit, mentioned why he chose to come to the show in person.

“To meet up with the professors, old friends, and other artists that might be in the show, and to just celebrate the 50th year anniversary of the graduate program,” Vaughn said. “The experience I had here as a student was incredibly rewarding. It was really the start of my professional career, studying with Dan Hammett, and many of the other teachers teaching here.

“I saw it mostly as an opportunity to reconnect and see old friends. I was also really curious about the other artists to see what the rest of the artwork looked like. I’m not familiar with most of the other artists. I was only here for the brief period of time when I was studying. This covers a fifty year span, so I thought it would be interesting.”

“My daughter also got her BFA here a couple years ago, and I have another older daughter who got a degree in education here, so we’re pretty well connected with the University of Dallas,” he said.

Vaughn also talked about his own work within the exhibit, and how it relates back to the style he has been exploring through his other pieces.

“It’s a painting based on a photograph,” he said. “I work from photographs, and I go through a selection process in choosing photographs I think will make a good painting, because there’s a certain amount of interpretation that takes place. I work within a photorealistic style to try and keep it painterly and imbue an interesting surface as well. I’ve been exhibiting ever since I was a student here. I started exhibiting in galleries in Dallas and continued to exhibit in St. Louis, New York, and Chicago. Fortunately, there’s been enough interest in my work to where I can keep busy with it.”

In a time when the National Endowment for the Arts is being threatened with a total loss of federal funding, many are being convinced that art is frivolous to society and should not be pursued professionally. Vaughn shared his thoughts on why he feels the visual arts are important for the spirit of a country.

“I think art is important, because it kind of defines the soul of a culture, and it’s kind of the underlying spirituality so to speak of the culture as expressed through the artist,” Vaughn said. “I think it’s important for art to be supported and pushed and made visible. There are so many ways to do it, but I think it’s important for art to be featured and made available for the culture.

Vaughn offered some advice to young artists who were hoping to pursue art through higher education.

“Be determined, don’t give up on it,” he said. “If you’re excited about it, if it’s your inspiration, then stay with it. There are so many ways you can find employment within the art world, so you can have the time to do your art work and have the means to continue working. I think studying in school is a good way to get a foothold, to get a response to your work, some appreciation and help with your work. It’s a place where you don’t have to worry about selling it so much, but a place where you can work with other artists and the professors to find your means of expression.”

Vaughn values his time at the University of Dallas.

“I think it was a valuable experience, and I’ll always revere it,” Vaughn said. “I think this was where I got the first really professional support for my work. The community here was so supportive and strong. Dallas at that time, 30 years ago, was growing, it was booming, and it’s continued to grow. I’m just very fortunate to be a part of it back then. It was fun to be here.”

The exhibit is open to the public in the Beatrice M. Haggerty Gallery at the University of Texas and runs until April 29.

Annual Trash Off brings out Irving’s community spirit

Hundreds of volunteers participated in the annual Keep Texas Beautiful, Don’t Mess with Texas Trash Off/Great American Cleanup in Trinity View Park on Saturday morning, April 8. The event, organized by Keep Irving Beautiful, brought together local residents, faith groups, and activists who worked to keep the park clean. Trinity View Park is an important environmental location where trash can easily move from the grounds into the Trinity River and then into other areas of Texas.

“We had a lot of work, planning, and organizing for this cleanup,” Rick Hose, Keep Irving Beautiful coordinator, said. “It’s a project that we’ve been doing for several years now. All members of the community have been invited to come out and participate. We have various faith groups here, folks from Verizon, several Girl Scout Troops, and the Young Men’s Service League. It’s a good cross-section of our community that has come out today.

“I think it really shows the Irving spirit, that volunteer spirit we have,” he said. “This is just the volunteers in our organization. There are all sorts of projects and events going on throughout the city that demonstrate the Irving volunteer spirit. It’s nice, I love seeing them come out.”

Hose also mentioned Keep Irving Beautiful’s continued efforts to keep the Trinity River clean.

“One of our passions is the M-fork of the Trinity River,” Hose said. “Our goal is to stop litter from reaching that river, because once it reaches that river it can go all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. A lot people don’t realize that the M-fork of the Trinity River provides water for about 9 million Texans. It’s a vital, important waterway.

“People don’t realize how trash can affect our waterways. If that bag of trash gets into the waterways, it affects our aquatic life, the fish, the snakes, all the things that depend upon the waterway. Then, even on the ground level, if the bag doesn’t reach the water, you have the wildlife out in the park that suffer. You have squirrels, birds, all types of wildlife. My hopes are people wouldn’t litter anymore, and maybe come out and join us to help pick up the litter from other people. It’s a small fraction of us that’s picking up for the rest of us,” he said.

A number of volunteers made this year’s event successful.

“We had over 300 volunteers preregister,” Hose said. “At last count, we’re in the 250 to 300 range. That’s a great turnout for this event. Our event in September attracted 620 something people last year. It’s really a good showing of how our community comes out and participates, people coming out to spend four or five hours helping their community.

“We want everyone to know today how much Keep Irving Beautiful and the City of Irving appreciates everyone coming out. We love it when people from other communities come and join us here in Irving,” he said.

Volunteers Raymond and Barbara Vick believe that even before getting involved in cleanup initiatives, everyone needs to be doing their part daily and avoid littering.

“If you eat something or drink something, keep it in your car until you get home so you can trash it,” Barbara said.

“It was a volunteer opportunity that our church group put in front of us, and we thought we would head over and give a hand,” Raymond said. “In a public park, especially around the river line, there’s going to be trash. Whatever we can do to help out and keep it looking nice, we’re happy to do.

“Don’t wait for the opportunity to just knock on your door,” he said. “The opportunities are there. If you want to get involved, there are ways to do it. Don’t wait for someone to knock on your door and ask for your help. If you want to do it, be proactive about it.”

Family in need receives car

The National Auto Body Council brought together four North Texas families on Thursday, April 6 at the Texas Star Golf Course in Euless to present each with a completely refurbished car. The vehicles were given away during ceremony at the conclusion of a golf tournament.

“This is our Second Annual, Regional Golf Fundraiser in Dallas,” Domenic Brusco, Chairman of the National Auto Body Council, said. “We put this event on to raise money for the National Auto Body Council so that we can support our programs, one of which is the Recycled Rides program that we offer our members.

“A body shop member contacts us and tells us that they would like to give away a car to a family in need,” he said. “We contact either an insurance company, a rental car company, or a salvage company, and get vehicles that could be repaired within a certain criteria. We find the suppliers to donate parts, donate paints and anything in terms of parts or supplies to get the car in safe and workable conditions. Then we do these giftings at events like this.

“The amount of cars we have given away since the program’s inception is over a thousand, probably in the neighborhood of 1,500 to date. That’s just for the people who receive the cars. If you want to talk about the number of lives we’ve changed, it goes on for generations.

“There isn’t a better feeling in the world to give back and help people who are trying to get back on their feet and trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. This is an opportunity for people in our industry to give back how good the industry has been to us,” he said.

One of the lucky recipients was Barbara and John Troxell, an Irving couple with three children who received a 2015 Nissan Altima, donated by State Farm and refurbished by Service King Euless. The Troxells were put forward by the Family Promise of Irving.

“Family Promise has really been a huge blessing for my family,” Barbara said. “It gave us that stepping stone we were looking for. Neither one of us had any family to fall on when we had our bump in the road. All we needed was a pebble just to step on. Family Promise was that pebble for us, and it has really helped us build that foundation for our family, helping us move on.

“Not only is the car we’re receiving a huge thing, but in two weeks we sign a lease for our own house,” she said. “We are graduating out of Family Promise. We’ve had blessing after blessing, it’s overwhelming, but easily the best feeling we’ve ever had.”

David Estrada, a case manager with Family Promise of Irving, attended the event with the Troxells.

“Family Promise is a faith based non-profit that helps families in a housing crisis,” Estrada said. “We provide short term emergency housing to families that are able to and willing to work, find housing, and save money.

“This family has been real superstars in our program. They have found work, two good full time jobs, increased their budgeting skills, saved money, opened up bank accounts, and really have just achieved every goal that they set out to do.

“I am just so glad that people can hear about Family Promise of Irving, because we serve so many needy families,” he said. “We partner with a number of churches within Irving that actually provide the housing inside their churches. Just to have those partners and having them be able to partner with us is a huge privilege. I hope that more people will find out about Family Promise of Irving.”

Young golfers compete in Volunteers of America Texas Shootout

The Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) continued its tradition of offering exemptions in its professional tournament to amateur female golfers playing at the high school and college levels. The Volunteers of America Texas Shootout provides these young athletes the exciting opportunity to play alongside their idols in the actual LPGA tournament with the two lowest scoring participants from each category earning the exemptions.

The shootout tournament was held at the Las Colinas Country Club on Wednesday, March 15 as competitors from all across the country and beyond came to participate.

“Back when this tournament came to Texas, they wanted to create a unique aspect to it,” said Kristy Knutt, Tournament Director for the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout. “They decided four of their amateur exemptions into the official event would be through a high school and college shootout. This event has been held annually over the past four years, and we grant exemptions into the tournament. The four top finishers today will actually get to play in the official LPGA event, alongside their role models in the golfing world.”

Knutt spoke about her organization’s relationship with the Las Colinas Country Club, a venue that has traditionally hosted both the Volunteer Shootout and the LPGA Tournament.

“It’s great having a partner that’s, one, willing to take on this event, because we do take over their course,” Knutt said. “Not just during tournament week, but also for ancillary events such as this. Their membership and their staff here have welcomed us with open arms every year that we have been here. They’re an incredible staff, and we’re extremely grateful to have them to work with.”

Mike Sherburne, a volunteer who helps caddy for some of the girls in the tournament, talked about the Volunteers of America Texas Shootout.

“I started caddying sixteen years ago for one of my best clients in banking,” Sherburne said. “His daughter got really good at golf at thirteen. Dads don’t make very good caddies, so I caddied for his daughter since she was thirteen to 26 and went on tour. After college, at 21, she went on tour, and I couldn’t travel with her year round. Then, through that, I started meeting all the young kids’ parents, back and forth. I picked three or four close friends with kids that want some help. Now I just go around the country helping kids.”

Knutt was glad to be able to connect the winning athletes in the qualifier with the professional golfers in the LPGA Tournament.

“It’s great, just being able to connect them to that opportunity and to give them the chance,” Knutt said. “These girls step up and they embrace it. I don’t think I could’ve done it at their age. I know I’m terrified to get out there, and I’m a grown woman. But, these girls are just awe inspiring in how they just embrace the opportunity, play their hearts out, and really make it a competition all around.”

Knutt advises anyone interested in golf to head to the LPGA tournament in April.

“Come out to the event in April,” Knutt said. “Come see what the LPGA is all about, and what the Texas Shootout has to offer. I promise you, once you’re out here and you see the engagement and dedication of the players, you’ll be amazed and you’ll be hooked. I know I was.”

Gina Kim,16, a Chapel Hill High School Student from North Carolina who won second place in the High School Category, shared her advice to young golfers who might want to participate in similar events.

“Definitely have a lot of patience,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people tend to give up on the sport very easily. I just want to tell them to keep practicing and to keep working. The hard work will definitely pay off sooner or later.”

The additional exemption winners include the following:

Eun Jeong Seong, 17, senior, Youngpa Girls High School, Seoul, South Korea

Maddie McCrary (from Wylie, TX), 21, junior, Oklahoma State University

Anne Chen, 15, freshman, Clements High School, Sugar Land, TX.

Calendar Girls premiers on MainStage-Irving

MainStage-Irving continued its 2016-2017 season with the premier of Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls. The play, originally a 2003 British Dramedy film that was adapted for the stage, is yet another selection by MainStage portraying mature subjects such as love, loss, and the risqué. On Friday evening, March 17, the production’s brave narrative and superb acting led to its first audience standing ovation.

The play itself is a comedy centered in the Yorkshire town of Knapeley Village, where a group of middle aged women are preparing for the Women’s International Conference in London. Things take a turn when Annie (played by Sherrie Smalls), one of the women in the group, loses her husband after a long battle with leukemia. Not long after, Annie’s friend Chris (played by Sid Curtis, who has returned to the stage after a 28 year hiatus) comes up with the idea to create a nude calendar with the group, using all the proceeds to benefit leukemia research.

As with past productions, the actors chosen for the various parts hold a uniformity of great skill and talent that have become a hallmark of MainStage-Irving plays. Each role is fleshed out very well, using snappy dialogue and body language to give the characters a sense of uniqueness that breeds believability. Special mentions go out to Sherrie Small and Sid Curtis who play the main roles of Annie and Chris respectively.

Indeed, much of the conflict in the play comes from Annie and Chris’ relationship as they deal with both the positive and negative consequences of their nude calendar. Their individual actions and interactions with each other hold a great deal of subtext that provides their characters with a surprising level of depth, and audiences watch each of them grow as people over the course of the play. This kind of character development is rarely seen in a stage production and is the hallmark of a truly great story.

While the main plot of the play is well done, showing strong development in the characters that demonstrates believable changes which mirror people’s individual growth as they undergo adversity, some of the side plots are a bit forgettable. While the actors give a great deal of depth to the side characters, those characters have their own character arcs which muddle the play with unnecessary plot threads. While this could be forgiven since well-crafted side characters can lead to great overall stories, they don’t lead to a strong pay off and, because of this, should have been cut from the play to begin with.

Any review of a MainStage-Irving production would not be complete without commenting on the fantastic effort put into the sets and lighting. The MainStage’s stage crew continue to show a professional level of detail that audiences have come to expect. While the sets were not as complex within this production, having to involve a lot of moving parts for characters to interact with, they still managed to create a realistic backdrop for the actors to work against.

Kenny and Denise Chavez, two local residents who have attended many of MainStage-Irving’s past productions, both stated that they loved the show. Denise enjoyed the play’s bold subject matter.

“I thought it was very brave,” Denise said. “I enjoyed it a lot. I think they did a fantastic job, and I thought it was very tastefully done. I think we’ve got a wonderful community theater here, and that it is definitely of the highest quality. I enjoy the productions tremendously.”

Kenny Chavez felt the actors’ delivery helped espouse a perfect sense of comedic timing.

“It was very entertaining. I laughed out loud,” Kenny said. “Any time you can make someone laugh out loud you’ve done a great job with your production and your timing, because comedy is all about timing.”

All in all, Calendar Girls is a fantastic comedy that is sure to stun audiences, not only for espousing the positive messages of prospering after loss and taking an active role in community activism, but also for the risqué elements it unabashedly presents to the world.

Book lovers pack book festival

Photo: NTTBF17 Middle Grade Keynote with Chris Grabenstein and R.L. Stine (left to right) / Photo Credit: Sung Joon Koo Photography.

If there is an indicator of the size and enthusiasm of the DFW literary community, it would certainly have to be the North Texas Teen Book Festival. Held in the Irving Convention Center March 3 and 4, the two day event saw a guest turn-out comparable to large events such as the Dallas Comic-Con. With story readings, book sale stations, and appearances by some of today’s most popular Children’s and Young Adult authors, the festival proved not only how much Texans love to read, but also how dedicated are the many librarians and volunteers who helped organize the event.

One of the most recognizable authors appearing at the festival was RL Stine, writer of the wildly popular Goosebumps and Fear Street children’s horror series. During one of the panels, Stine talked about what he has been working on recently.

“I’m doing my first comic book series,” Stine said. “It’s sort of a lifelong dream of mine, so I picked the ugliest creature, Man-Thing; he’s hideous, hideous. The first one comes out next week.”

One panel question was for authors to give a fun fact about themselves, and Stine did not disappoint.

“My fun fact? My fun fact is that I murdered three people in Central Park and got away with it. Don’t tell anyone,” he said.

Stine shared some details regarding his popular series Goosebumps and gave a little teaser for fans of his Fear Street books.

“This is the 25th anniversary of Goosebumps,” Stine said. “We’re doing a special series, a new series of Goosebumps books called Goosebumps: Slappy’s World. Slappy, the evil dummy, introduces all the stories. The first one is called Slappy Birthday to You.

“I’m still killing off teenagers in Fear Street. Everyone loves it when you kill teenagers. The newest one is called The Dead Boyfriend. I have to say, there is a Fear Street movie in the works, but I’m not allowed to tell anyone.”

Stine also talked about the possibility of a sequel to the Goosebumps movie, which came out in 2015 and starred Jack Black.

“Another one is being talked about,” he said. “There might be another one. I know a lot of you thought you were going to see Jack Black here today, right? Jack and I are like twins.”

Despite being such a famed children’s author, Stine mentioned that even he has room to improve his writing.

“I would love to be able to describe things. I have no eye for anything, that’s why most of my books are mostly dialogue. I’m giving you a serious answer; I would love to be able to write better descriptions,” Stine said.

Kevin Hinton, a sixth grade English at Robert T. Hill Middle School in the Dallas ISD, attended the festival with some of his students.

“I have a lot of kids who enjoy reading,” Hinton said. “I think it’s a great experience for them to see the authors and actually get to interact with them, because they always interact with the books in different ways but they never get to meet the authors who wrote them. This is a great opportunity for them to do that.

“I already have some students who show interest in writing their own books, writing their own stories. It’s a great way for them to practice their writing. It’s a way for them to share their feelings, so it works on several different levels,” he said.

The festival was packed with crowds of young readers, so much so that some of the most anticipated panels had their doors closed due to rooms being at maximum capacity. Kristin Treviño, Teen Services Librarian at the South Irving Library, highlighted that alongside some of the more popular panels were dozens of other events and activities.

“There were some rooms that didn’t get filled. The ones that were filled were the big rooms with the more popular guests,” Treviño said. “Hopefully next year people will go and explore the other rooms and panels that are still open.

“We are very, very proud of our North Texas reading community, the teachers, librarians, and all the attendees. We’re really proud that it highlighted what we always knew was a rich, engaged reading community. I think having a festival of this magnitude with this kind of attendance was really inspiring,” she said.

Liberal arts’ significance on display at UD panel

With the advent of Kickstarter, Etsy, and Patreon, there has been a marked increase in the number of venues for artists and content makers to share their work with the world and to receive equitable pay. Recognizing this trend, the University of Dallas held “Unbinding Prometheus: The Makers Movement and Sharing Economy”, a panel exploring liberal arts in the entrepreneurial world.

The event, which took place Thursday, Feb. 23, brought together past liberal arts alumni who have found success as entrepreneurs.

“We have an undergraduate college which is focused on continuing the Liberal Arts tradition of Western Civilization,” said Killian Beeler, Alumni Relations Officer for the University of Dallas and one of the organizers of the panel. “What I’ve noticed in the past few years is that education has prepared several of our alumni to do very interesting entrepreneurial work. These three young alumni have started organizations or companies within the maker movement.”

The panel emphasized that skills acquired through an education in the liberal arts can help people succeed and thrive in countless professional fields.

“This education can prepare them to do anything, and to do great things,” Beeler said. “Traditionally, Liberal Arts are made up of humanities, mathematics, and the natural sciences. We have plenty of physicist students who go on to be engineers.

“A well-rounded Liberal Arts education gives you the ability to think independently, to think outside the box, to communicate well, and to adapt in a constantly changing environment. It also helps prepare you to thrive in an economy that is continually having specialized jobs become automated.”

Monica Diodati, founder of Dallas-based Little D Markets, a group that organizes community markets, shared how she struggled to find herself after she graduated.

“I graduated in 2011 with a degree in English,” Diodati said. “After I graduated, I struggled a little bit with what to do. I toyed with the idea of grad school or teaching. I looked for jobs in publishing or writing, and none of those really panned out.

“Strapped for cash, I took the first job I was offered, which was a marketing gig with a commercial real estate company. I was tasked with making the design district, where they owned a lot of warehouses and offices, a more vibrant, livable place to be.

“They [would] pass out flyers, or put big signs outside of buildings, or send out newsletters to brokers in the area. I got bored pretty quickly doing that day in and day out, but in the meantime I was running a blog for the district. I got to interview and speak with a lot of artists and gallery owners in the area, and I noticed that there were a lot of people making things, creating art, but not a lot of affordable space for them to showcase that art.

“So, I put two and two together and asked my boss if I could use some of the empty buildings to put on temporary art shows. I started doing that, and I really liked it. I kind of surprised myself by realizing that those were the kind of things that I wanted to have happen in a neighborhood where I could live and work. I got empowered by that idea, wondering what else I could do to make Dallas more of a place that I really loved,” she said.

Adam Greene, founder of Bibliotheca, which itself began as a Kickstarter project that acquired over $1.4 million dollars, was the only panelist who was not a UD alumni. He highlighted working hard to achieve your goals, but said you also need to take the time to maintain your physical and mental health.

“There’s always a conflict in any business between being efficient and being healthy, living a healthy lifestyle,” Greene said. “I have a family. I have a wife. I have a one-and-a-half-year-old. If I could go back and tell myself something, I would say ‘don’t stress out so much about this, just take a break, go play with your daughter and get some sleep.’ If I could go back and get some of that time back I would, but I can’t. That’s part of the risk you take as a business owner.

“Some of that is my own fault; sometimes you have poor planning or you made a bad estimation, you aren’t sure about things. You think this work has to be done tonight, it can’t be tomorrow; it has to be tonight.

“There are times when you wake up and think there’s nothing but getting to work and making this thing happen. I think that if that’s your first thought in the morning as a business owner, then you need to not work. You need to go for a walk, you need to call someone you trust, you just need to take a deep breath and relax. If you enter the day with that mindset, you’ll leave the day with that mindset, and you’ll be wrung out.”