Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Good Night, Mr. Donut

I have a new illustrated children's book:

https://www.amazon.com/Good-Night-Donut-Stephen-Groak/dp/1977251730/ref=sr_1_1?crid=293OMYW8OTK3P&keywords=goodnight+mr+donut+stephen+groak&qid=1656606802&s=digital-text&sprefix=good+night+mr+donut+stephen+groak%2Cdigital-text%2C129&sr=1-1

What's it about?

Girl meets dog. Well, nervous girl meets curly-tailed dog.

Any context?

Every child deserves a best mate!

And you're inviting your blog readers who have purchased a copy of "Good Night, Mr. Donut" to submit a review that you'll publish here.

Yes, including 1-5 Kiwis. For their efforts, I will send them a free signed copy of one my other three books.

How do thet get in touch?

https://stephenjgroak.com/contact/


Reader Reviews:

Goodnight Mr. Donut is a sweet tale about the friendship between a young girl and her emotional support puppy. This book does not shy away from the grueling anxieties of a young person: moving to a new city, the first day of school, making new friends. The author treats Ellie’s fears with genuine care, humor, and rhyme that makes you want to follow along. Ellie is able to face life’s challenges knowing Mr. Donut is by her side. Ellie’s connection with Mr. Donut prompted my daughter to think of when our dog (Buddy) greets her when she comes home from school. The lovable Mr. Donut character will help your young person feel giggly, at ease, and loved right before going to sleep.


I rate this story five kiwis Did I mention it takes place in New Zealand?


Paula A. Saint Louis, MO

Monday, June 13, 2022

Margarita Carmen Cansino

Rita.

What comes to mind when you hear that name?

Whenever I hear "Rita," my mind automatically defaults to a "lovely" meter maid Sir Paul sang about on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. And quite frankly, I would be happy to be the third wheel (with extended pinkie) at any tea party they enjoyed.

Many an afternoon, after school was over for the day at Kelston Boys' High School, my fingers would skip through used records in Henderson, West Auckland, in search of her and the album she appeared in.

Margarita. 

What comes to mind when you hear that name?

A drink.

Margarita Carmen Cansino?

Nah, mate—nothing.

You've heard of her: Rita Hayworth.

Oh!!!

Indulge me in some context…

In my apartment complex, there lives a twenty-something young woman who is the spitting image of Rita Hayworth—the hairstyle, hair colour, dresses, forlorn look in her eyes. When we pass each other on the grounds and no one else is around, I wonder if I am in some 1940s time loop. I half expect to see Glenn Ford, her co-star in Gilda, to be in the laundry room attending to his wash.

One day after perfunctory introductory niceties, we had the following exchange:

Do you know you look and dress like Rita Hayworth?

Yeah.

Do you know who she was?

Yeah. An actress.

Have you seen any of her movies?

No, just clips on social media.

In 2022, what draws you to dress and present yourself as she did?

Because I like her fashion better than modern fashion.

How did you discover her?

Instagram.

I am not surprised that this Gen-Z young woman accessed Rita Hayworth through social media. In her heyday as "The" Hollywood "Love Goddess," she was partially accessed on a poster, being the number one pinup model for GIs during World War II. In 1946, her image also appeared on an atomic bomb tested in the Bikini Atoll.

In the multiverse platforms of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube—you only have seconds to make an impression. Rita Hayworth made sixty-one films in a career spanning nearly forty years. Who has time to watch all those films? (I will let you do the math.) Although for me personally, Gilda was worth my one-hour, fifty-minute entertainment investment. 

As a writer, I am always interested in backstory, so naturally the thought came to mind: How did Margarita Carmen Cansino become Rita Hayworth? One lives on in the public consciousness; the other is long gone from the worldly stage. For Fox Film Corporation she was billed as Rita Carmen. After Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures suggested that the name sounded too Spanish, Rita’s first husband, Edward Judson, had it changed to Rita Hayworth.

Thankfully today, entertainers embrace their cultural background. No one would change their name to conceal their <enter a specific racial/cultural group> heritage. Such personal interest has been brilliantly explored by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and his extremely popular PBS TV show Finding Your Roots, where he researches and shares the ancestry of the celebrities who appear. Today, it is gender that is much more fluid and changeable.

Part of the reason the film star image "Rita Hayworth" continues to appear in the public's consciousness is through the homage other artists pay in their own works. Virgin du jour, Madonna (or past jour) mentions her in her 1990 hit song "Vogue," specifically her ability to give "good face." Rita also appears in Stephen King's novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (later adapted as the film The Shawshank Redemption). I will let you read the story to see the reason for the inclusion in the title.

For the flesh-and-blood Rita Hayworth who left this world on May 14, 1987, and whose final resting place is the Catholic Holy Cross Cemetery, in Culver City, California, two events struck a chord with me—one psychosocial; the other medical: firstly James Hill, Rita Hayworth's fifth and final husband, notes in Rita Hayworth: A Memoir, "It's amazing how many successful people grow up without having had a youth. If you take those childhood years and have to spend them doing five shows a day in a shabby place like Caliente [Mexico] with a man you have to pretend is your husband but is really your father, it becomes easy to understand why a person might well have a sad, faraway look in her eyes" (pg. 16).

I attended Daddy/Daughter dances as my daughters grew up, but the roles were respected and propriety maintained.

The second is Alzheimer's disease, a condition Rita Hayworth was diagnosed with in 1980. It robbed her of so much in her later years, and ultimately took her life. Her daughter Princess Yasmin Aga Khan founded the Rita Hayworth Gala to raise money to combat the disease.

Perhaps a donation in memory of this great star.

Rita.

Margarita.

Lovely Margarita.



Additional links:

https://www.thebeatles.com/sgt-peppers-lonely-hearts-club-band-0

https://www.kbhs.school.nz

https://www.tourism.net.nz/region/auckland/auckland---henderson

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038559/

https://www.pbs.org/show/finding-your-roots/

https://youtu.be/GuJQSAiODqI

https://www.amazon.com/Hayworth-Shawshank-Redemption-Different-Seasons/dp/0896214400

http://www.holycrossmortuary.com

https://www.alz.org/events/rita-hayworth-gala-chicago


Saturday, May 14, 2022

Andromeda

Sometimes a review can be one word: listen...with your heart.

Okay, okay—four words.

Additional links:

http://www.weyesblood.com

https://youtu.be/Aki1Xn36eJ8


Weyes Blood: American singer, songwriter, and muscian.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

A Night at the Opera

I recently enjoyed a night at the opera.

The 1935 Marx Brothers classic movie? Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Margaret Dumont are hysterical!

No, Otello.

Don't you mean Othello?

Well, that too.

Really, I thought comedy was their schtick. 

It is—it was. 

Great. There’s not a lot of throwaway one-liners in jealousy—“it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

Huh?

Aeh…

Let’s try this again.

I recently enjoyed my first night at the opera: Otello.

Indulge me in some context…

I was born last century in Auckland, New Zealand, 1960s, so have enjoyed quite a number of earthly orbits around the sun. Yet never in those fifty-something revolutions have I been to an opera.

Why not?

Not sure: I love art, enjoy art, support artists, consider myself an artist (writer/actor), can even spell it without the use of a dictionary—but no operas (one “p,” right?).

As I introspect on the cultural omission, two things come to mind: firstly, we tend to dine at the artistic buffet visited by our parents, mentors, teachers, neighbours, and friends. If any of this group doesn’t list “opera” on the menu, then there is a good chance we will be starved of this essential creative art group.

Secondly, a line from a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song: “teach your children well.” Wherever you feel comfortable on the “artometer,” if possible go beyond your comfort zone and take your sprog to see an opera.

One of my teachers at Kelston Boys’ High School, Mr. Morgan (a man I adored) did teach me very well. He introduced me to some great works of art on phonograph records (a black, 12-inch polyvinyl chloride disc). He strutted and fretted “his hour upon the [classroom] stage and taught this schoolboy idiot, full of sound and fury” the majestic plays of William Shakespeare:

From Macbeth:To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day…

 

From Julius Caesar: Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.

From Henry VFrom this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother;

But alas, for us, a band of Kelston Boys brothers—no opera, at least not in Mr. Morgan’s English class.

For some, I know, I know, I know, opera is perceived to be only for hoity-toity (three “t”s, right?) geezers with money. 

Rubbish! 

For one night, dry-clean that tuxedo, “rattle your jewelry,” as John Lennon famously quipped at a Royal Variety Performance, knock back a couple of cocktails—stirred or shaken—before or during intermission, and immerse yourself in the experience. 

My wife, her sister, and I did when we recently went to see Otello at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, and we loved it. There is a reason a four-act Italian opera by Giuseppe Verdi to a libretto by Arrigo Boito, first performed at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on the fifth of February 1887, is still being performed 135 years later in Orange County, California: The music, story, and lyrics stir the soul.

My only concern after acquiring the tickets was how well would I access the libretto as it was being sung. My Italian is limited: pizza, Lamborghini, Papa. I could maybe come up with one sentence…Il Papa ha usato la Lamborghini per ottenere la pizza(the Pope used the Lamborghini to get pizza)…but insufficient to appreciate an entire opera. 

And then as I took my seat and glanced upward, an all-encompassing English expression, by way of a famous cartoon character, came to mind:

“D’oh!”

 

There is a thin electronic screen above the stage that provided all the Italian lyrics in English subtitles. 

 

Who knew? Well, I didn’t.

 

Access was granted, and I quickly formulated my personal operatic etiquette: glance up at the screen to get the line, then redirect my eyes to the stage to enjoy the set and stage directions while simultaneously allowing Verdi’s poignant music to wash over me, and be enhanced by the powerful and passionate voices of the opera singers.

 

Molto bene.

 

As I began to relax into my routine, one epiphany washed over me: Opera is a perfect medium for powerful emotions and their employ: love, hatred, loyalty, and betrayal to cite a few. Not sure if one on the great toilet roll debate—up or down—has ever been written.

 

Of course, Otello has one of the most famous characters ever conceived that we love to hate: Iago. Conductor Carl St. Clair and the Pacific Symphony, along with the Pacific Chorale, provided a concomitant companion to the singers, especially Baritone Stephen Powell, who, as Iago, quickly caught my eye and ire. I was soon swept away to the physical and emotional devastation that played out before me.

 

I do recommend attending a theatrical staging of Othello, or seeing one of the many cinematic incarnations of Shakespeare’s play prior to attending Verdi’s operatic transcription.

 

 

And then one day shy of a fortnight and biggity, biggity, Bing—as in Bing Theatre, I was attending my second opera: All The Truths We Cannot See: A Chernobyl Story. This was a co-production between the USC Thornton School of Music and the Sibelius Academy of Uniarts Helsinki.

 

According to Glenda Dawn Goss, the opera’s librettist, this work is “a story about fundamental conflicts of human existence: courage and cowardice, love and hate, past and future, life and death.” Again, a powerful emotional undercurrent that was enhanced by the fact that I saw the opera on Earth Day, and the setting is in Ukraine, which is experiencing right now the scourges of the maniacal political ambitions of a neighbouring president.

 

After the stunning performance, I did cross paths and clink drinks with Adam Kerbel at Rock & Reilly’s. He played Deerheart in the opera. To a background of the pine-tree-tall Finnish cast’s hearty banter (all in their native tongue), Adam gave me his behind-the-curtain takeaway of the operatic art form: “Opera really is about oppositions, and oppositions in the biggest possible sense…everything in opera is huge—absolutely enormous, the music, the singing, the lights, the colours, the characterization, the costumes, the makeup, the room itself is big. And it’s through those elements and the size of the elements that opera begins to speak.” 

 

Well stated.

So, reader, wherever you are on this fragile planet, when the opera company comes to your town, what say you?

“Teach your children well!”


Performance Artist Adam Kerbel

Kiwi Slang:

Monday, April 4, 2022

Old Town Music Hall

“Pipe it down!”

 

My sister—my best brother-sister-mate, my southern hemispherical Huckleberry Finn—and I regularly heard this command screamed at us by relatives, teachers, and other grown-ups whenever we got a little too rambunctious at various family, social, or educational events.

 

Then again, sometimes in the right setting, you just have to:

 

“Pipe it up!”

 

Huh?

     

Indulge me in some context…

 

Two thousand, five hundred pipes, two hundred and sixty switches, four keyboards, ten-horsepower Spencer Turbine Orgoblo, pedals and controls, the Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Pipe Organ located within the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, California, is a delight to see and hear.

 

If it were a motorcycle, it would be a hog, for this wonderful instrument has a unique sound and look, and invites sing-along participation. 

 

The day my wife and I attended the theater, Mr. Randy Woltz was the organist in the rider’s seat, guiding the Mighty Wurlitzer through its paces. We as an audience got to heartily belt out “Happy birthday” to one grateful patron, as well as “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” 

 

Mr. Woltz also played organ music to a silent 1920s “Felix the Cat” cartoon, and enthralled us with some Henry Mancini classics, including “Moon River” and “The Pink Panther Theme.”

 

The “old” in Old Town Music Hall denotes an interesting history: the 188-seat theater was originally built in 1921. In the 1960s, musicians Bill Field and Bill Coffman bought the Mighty Wurlitzer from the Fox West Coast Theatre in Long Beach and relocated it to El Segundo. In 1968, the theater opened, and some fifty years later this cultural landmark awaits your patronage.

 

In addition to silent films and classic Hollywood sound movies (we got to enjoy Aussie swashbuckler Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland’s on-screen chemistry in the 1935 film Captain Blood), the Old Town Music Hall offers live concerts from distinguished musicians in ragtime, jazz, and popular music.

 

As a non-profit 501(c)(3), the Old-[fashioned family fun] Town Music Hall is well worth a visit and your support! 

 

It’s second to none.




Additional links:



Places to eat in El Segundo (after the movie):



Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Bubble 'n' Squeak

Bubble ‘n’ Squeak—it’s a book, right? 

Yes!

And a dish? 


Yes.

 

And this web post? 

 

A recipe. 

 

Huh?

   

Indulge me in some context…

 

Way before “A long, long, time ago,” Don McLean’s immortal lyrics, forever imprinted in our collective ’70s song canon—18th-century American colonialists made a dish called “bubble ‘n’ squeak.”

 

Ingredients: 1 cabbage, white onions, fatty slice of beef, salt, pepper, vinegar, gravy.

 

1. Prepare the vegetables: chop up a cabbage; chop up white onion(s).

 

I acknowledge and thank my daughter Raewyn for putting me on to Townsends, a company that through an extensive catalogue of merchandise and YouTube videos encourages its audience, patrons, and consumers (myself included) to “live history”—specifically 18th-century colonial American history.

 

2. Place the cabbage in a pot of boiling water until it’s almost cooked.

 

When I was a lad growing up in Auckland, New Zealand, my dad would make a British-inspired version of this recipe on a Sunday morning from the leftovers of the previous evening's roast dinner.

 

3. Cut up a piece of fatty beef. Season with salt and pepper and sear in a skillet containing melted butter.

 

A glaring absence in the colonial recipe from the concoction my father prepared is mashed potatoes.

 

4. Strain cabbage and simmer with beef and onions.

 

Now that I lived in “these United States of America,” I was intrigued and motivated to try an American version of this beloved and simple meal.

 

5. Add/stir in vinegar and gravy.

 

Historical documents—letters, books, speeches, constitutions, recipes—do offer some restraint from the churning effects of time. However, often the meaning of words change: gravy in colonial America was the juices and drippings from meat being roasted in front of a fire.

 

6. Serve once cooked.

 

Our 21st-century palate is a sophisticated one. Every major city of the world offers cuisine from literally all over the globe. This simple colonial American recipe cannot compete with the international buffet that is our contemporary diet.

 

But it can offer a bubbling and squeaking culinary passage to times gone by.

 

Enjoy!



Additional Links:


https://youtu.be/D5YfuN0AM4k


https://youtu.be/BJE44WX0lf8


https://www.townsends.us

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Tape Face

Silence is golden. It’s also funny. Very funny. “The funniest show in Las Vegas.” 

 

Huh?

 

Indulge me in some context…

 

When I was living in Auckland, whenever I would eat out, I could always spot American diners. Actually “hear” any American feasters may be more apropos: they were always loud, ready to engage the world, and they always exuded confidence.

     

We had an expression for such overseas visitors: loudmouthed Yanks.

     

Not the most polite term, I do admit, but one applied (at least in my case) from envy, and an unconscious desire to have a voice…a unique creative voice.

     

Ironically, this past Saturday (February 5, 2022), in an American location, I observed silent Kiwi prop comic, busker, clown, and mime Sam Wills speak volumes. 

     

A loudmouthed Kiwi? 

     

Hardly. He has black duct tape over his mouth, and is the star of the Tape Face show currently playing in Harrah’s Las Vegas.

     

For Christmas Past, I let Santa and his familial agents know that at the top of my wish list was a desire to see the Tape Face act. I had followed Tape Face on social media, seen the America’s Got Talent 2016 videos, and wanted to experience the silent treatment en vivo. After making the Nice List and receiving two TF tickets, it was time for a Vegas road trip! 


Post show: The challenge in writing this review is, as the tapeface.tv website states, “simply mentioning any aspect of this diverse show would be a disservice—the less you know, the more you will enjoy this show.”

    

Sure.

     

However, it would be remiss of me not to mention how much of the performance is fuelled by audience participation under the skilled and honed craftsmanship of Tape Face. It’s almost formulaic: a sprinkle of Kiwi ingenuity+household props you’d find in your kitchen, closets, and garage+engaged audience=Perd籀nWhat happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

     

Okay, okay, no need to pack a sad. I will reveal that at the beginning of the performance I saw, as an air of anticipatory excitement surged through the crowd, an announcer did advise the audience of their esprit de corps responsibility, and encouraged those picked by Tape Face to play along and “not be a dick.” 


Fortunately, there were no mean-spirited patrons at the act I attended. I would say everyone, at some unconscious level, wanted to share the stage with Tape Face (projection, yes; you’re next).

     

This collective, “unspoken” desire was realized in a tension-building, race-against-the-clock final skit in which the entire audience did participate with Tape Face.

     

We all left the theatre engaged, enthralled, and entertained!

     

But wait—there’s more—at least for me.

     

For the past week since leaving Las Vegas, several thoughts have been playing in my mind as I reminisce about the show:

     

What was the creative process in which Sam Wills came up with the Tape Face character?

     

Secondly, as an author, one who frequently frolics in the world of make-believe, I’d like to ask Tape Face: “So, mate, what happened? The unkempt hair, the bulging eyes, the duct tape over the mouth? Two thugs jump you backstage? Your parents were old school and believed ‘children should be seen and not heard’? Or are you a punk-rock performer, silently raging against stereotype and conformity?”

    

“No comment.”

     

Outspoken English television personality Simon Cowell did remark in AGT 2016, “But you’re like Mr. Bean, or Charlie Chaplin, so, so recognizable. I like the fact I’ve got no idea who you are, and I never want to know. I like that.”

     

Agreed. 

     

Some things are better left unsaid.




Good Night, Mr. Donut

I have a new illustrated children's book: https://www.amazon.com/Good-Night-Donut-Stephen-Groak/dp/1977251730/ref=sr_1_1?crid=293OMYW8OT...