Monday, May 31, 2010

Vegan birthday party

I was invited to a birthday party for a co-worker who loves Apple products and who DJs in his spare time. So I made this card.

The inside has the bars that you would see on a sheet of music, with the treble clef on top and the bass clef below. I wrote the birthday greeting on the lines and put "Allegretto" as the instruction. I gave it to him at a vegan cafe where the gathering began.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A silver stream

The first time I heard of Idina Menzel was last week, when our company's receptionist sent out an e-mail saying employees could get 30 percent off tickets to Menzel's upcoming show with the Boston Pops.

Fast foward one week. Eight o'clock tonight found me and my co-worker Rowan in the first row of the first balcony, stage left, practically close enough to smell Keith Lockhart's hair product. But we weren't watching him. How could we? Right next to him was the busty, in-your-face Menzel, rocking the house in a clingy, mermaid-style gown.

Menzel, as I know now, is a star of the Broadway stage. Not a "star" like some of the middling ones that occasionally sing with the Pops, but a real star. I say that not because of her resume ("Rent," "Wicked") but because of her exuberant, warm presence, and because of her powerhouse voice, whose reverbations must have been felt in the fillings of patrons in the nosebleed seats and beyond.

Menzel opened with a fun number ("The Life of the Party"), and then moved to an inspired arrangement of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" with the Police classic "Roxanne."

Of course, she included hits from "Wicked" ("Defying Gravity"), plus "Rent" ("No Day But Today," and an a capella version of "For Good"). She also threw in a song she and her husband wrote for their 8-month-old son. With its charming lyrics ("Did you go somewhere special in your dream? Did you go sailing across a silver stream?"), the swingy tune was a huge crowd-pleaser.

Menzel was good at chit-chat too, telling entertaining stories, including a serious one (about the premature death of "Rent" composer Jonathan Larsen) and a funny one (about her days as a wedding singer, pumping out "Conga" and "Hot Hot Hot"). The latter anecdote led to a gorgeous rendition of "Embraceable You." Menzel's encore was an exquisite "Tomorrow."

Prior to the show, I'd watched one or two YouTubes of Menzel and, to be honest, hadn't been bowled over. Either I'd picked bad ones or just wasn't connecting with the songs. But this evening's show was a major "Wow." Thanks, Idina!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The girl in the ruffled shirt

Recently I became interested in learning more about Jonestown. Rather randomly, at the same time, I was trying to get better at drawing people. So in retrospect it seems only natural that I should have begun a series of portraits of Jonestown victims.

My first was of Deanna Wilkinson, a Peoples Temple member who sang for the rest of the group on the evening of Nov. 17, 1978, the eve of the mass murder-suicides. When I watched the NBC footage of that evening, her vibrant performance really stood out, and I knew right away that I wanted to draw her.

On a second watching of that same footage, I noticed a girl with a brilliant smile. She's shown clapping during Rep. Leo Ryan's remarks. She looks young and perhaps a bit lost — maybe not sure why she's there. She wears a ruffled shirt, and her hair is an enormous bun on the nape of her neck. As with the singer, I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to draw her.

After doing a bit of research, I think that I may have figured out who she was — I am pretty sure she is Judy Houston, a girl who was raised in the church, along with her sister Patricia.
Judy was the second daughter of Bob and Phyllis Houston, both members of Peoples Temple. After Judy's father died, the church sent Judy and Patricia to Jonestown. They entered the settlement in August 1977.

According to the web site Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, Judy lived in Cottage 17, while her sister lived in Cottage 20. Judy's mother stayed behind in California.

Meanwhile, Judy's grandparents and her stepmother, former church member Joyce Shaw Houston, became part of a coalition that raised questions about the church. According to the book "Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People," Judy's grandparents' concern caught the interest of Congressman Leo Ryan — and was one of the factors that prompted his visit to Guyana. Judy's grandmother, Nadyne, and her aunt, Carol Houston Boyd, traveled with the congressman's party to the region, though of the two only Carol was able to enter Jonestown and visit with Judy.

Judy was 14 when she died. According to "Raven," she wanted to be a veterinarian.

Copyright 2009-2010 by Sasha Sark. Please don't reuse without permission.
"West African Dark Blue Cloth" image is displayed courtesy of the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University.