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Ray Didinger on “Tommy and Me”

This week in North Philly Notes,  Ray Didinger, author of One Last Read and The New Eagles Encyclopedia, recounts bringing his play Tommy and Mebased on his life, to life on stage.

I didn’t know it was possible to have an experience that is both exhilarating and painful. But that’s what I was feeling Sunday night as Tommy and Me, my first—and probably last—stage play had its final performance at the Fringe Arts theatre.

It was exhilarating because the sellout crowd sent the play off with a standing ovation and afterwards people stayed around to say how much they enjoyed it. The story flashes back to the 1950s and ’60s and the career of Eagles great Tommy McDonald and dozens of people came up to me to relate their own memories of Franklin Field. Some still carried the ticket stubs in their wallets. Three bucks for a seat in the end zone. Yes, it was a long time ago.

TommyandMe SetThe painful part was walking back into the empty theatre and seeing the crew dismantle the set. During the two-week run from August 3 through 14, I virtually lived in that theatre. It became my world and each night when the lights went down and the actors took the stage, I was transported back to my boyhood when I was the freckle-faced fan who wanted nothing more than to carry Tommy McDonald’s helmet as he walked to the practice field. It brought a lump to my throat every night. But on Sunday, seeing it stripped down and silent, reminded me it was, indeed, over.

I knew this night was coming. I knew there would be that moment when I had to let go and Tommy and Me would become a memory, but it did not lessen the sense of loss. We sat at the bar for a long time—the cast, the crew, the whole Theatre Exile team—and talked about the play and how it grew into something larger than we first imagined. All 12 performances were sell outs and each show ended with a standing ovation that seemed to grow louder each night. Tom Teti, the veteran actor who played Tommy McDonald, said, “This was a rare one.” The others at the bar nodded in agreement.

Picture_r688x459Once we left the theatre that night we would be going in different directions. Joe Canuso, the director, is going back to work on Rizzo, the play he successful staged last year and is reviving at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in September. Matt Pfeiffer, the actor who played me as an adult, is headed to Naples, Florida, to direct a play. Ned Pryce, the actor who played the young Tommy McDonald, is already in rehearsal for a role with the Iron Age Theatre. Tom Teti is rejoining the team at People’s Light and Theatre in Malvern. Simon Kiley, who played the 10-year-old me, is getting ready to start sixth grade at Girard Academic Music Program. I would return to talking about the Eagles on WIP Sports Radio and Comcast Sports Net.

The New Eagles Encyclopedia_smBut for a little while longer, we were sharing the bond that was Tommy and Me, the play I wrote about my boyhood hero and our unlikely 40-year journey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had never written a play before and when I started I wasn’t at all sure it would ever be produced. But thanks to Joe Canuso, who believed in the project, and Bruce Graham, the superb Philadelphia playwright who helped in its development, we were able to bring Tommy and Me to life. To sit in the theatre each evening and hear the audience laugh, sometimes cry, boo any reference to the Dallas Cowboys and ultimately applaud at the final curtain was a thrill unlike anything I had experienced before. I know I’ll never forget it.

Each night ended with the cast returning to the stage to answer questions from the audience. The very first night, a woman stood up and said: “I’m not an Eagles fan. I don’t even like sports…” I thought, “Where is this going?” Then she said, “But this story really touched me.” Several theatre critics [reviews below] made the same point: it isn’t a football story. It is a story about a boy, his hero and dreams coming true. It is a story I always wanted to tell and that’s why on Sunday night it was hard to let go.

Read the DC Metro‘s review. 

Read the Broad Street Review‘s review

Read Philly.com‘s review

Read NewsWork‘s review

Read Philadelphia Magazine‘s review 

 

 

Public Security: The Most Important Theme in Rio de Janeiro

In his second Olympic-themed blog entry, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, addresses the theme of public security in Rio during the Games.

Two term Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, who has easily been the most interviewed and quoted public authority for the Rio Olympic games, has said more than once that public security is the most important theme in Rio de Janeiro. For Olympics organizers, a main question always has been will public security forces be able to control Rio de Janeiro’s rising street crime and newly emboldened gangs. A much less publicized question—How can anti-Olympics protesters be repressed without violating their human rights?—has already been answered: It can’t be done. The protesters demonstrate against what they view as public money misused on the Olympics because it is needed much more for health, education and various social programs. There are also protesters—some doubtlessly the same individuals—fighting against the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. They see impeachment now entering its final phase as a coup d’etat by her political party opponents against Brazilian social democracy. Not discussed at all in politically charged Brazil is the fear of sabotage by opponents of the Olympics or the government—such as setting fires in Olympic installations. All of the above are the various public security fears that must haunt an authority such as Minister of Justice Alexander de Moraes. Focused on Brazilian behavior which is what he knows best, Moraes has played down the possibility of foreign ISIL inspired terrorist attacks.

In the lead up to the Olympic games, public security preparations were usually discussed as numbers of police and of funding them. Taking the lead in providing security is the state of Rio with more than 30,000 police available for Olympic duties. However, for most of 2016, the state of Rio has been broke. On June 17, 81 year old vice-governor and economist Francisco Dornelles—acting in the place of Governor Luis Fernando Pezão then undergoing treatment for lymphoma—rattled Olympic organizers when he declared that Rio de Janeiro was in a “state of public calamity.” It was the first time in Brazilian history this designation had been used to describe anything other than a natural disaster. An immediate effect was the return of 50,000 Olympic event tickets. Dornelles also took experts in public administration by surprise. They questioned whether a “state of public calamity” could be applied to a fiscal collapse. But the wily acting governor, a veteran of 30 years of political combat in Rio de Janeiro, got what he wanted. He activated an immediate transfer of 2.9 billion reais, about 900 million dollars at the current exchange rate, from the federal government to Rio de Janeiro. The money was to help strengthen public security at a time when state police forces more and more appeared not up to the job protecting the people of Rio, the athletes, and the half million tourists expected for the Olympics. The transfer meant police and other public service professionals including teachers and health workers could expect to receive their salaries. One or more local gangs took notice and responded by hijacking a truck transporting containers just arrived from Europe. The containers carried the equipment of two German TV networks for transmitting the Olympic games. The truck was later abandoned. The containers had not been opened, and the valuable equipment was untouched and safe. But the gangsters served notice that they had interests of their own. Following this show of strength, some arrangement might be expected whereby organized crime groups will play a part in keeping Rio de Janeiro safe during the Olympics. Retail and wholesale drug trafficking no doubt continues with little interference. Brazil ranks second on the list of countries in consumption of cocaine, and Rio de Janeiro is a major port for the export of cocaine to Africa and Europe.

The police began to receive back salaries dating to May. Still, on July 4, the civil police staged an event at Rio’s international airport when they received passengers with  “Welcome to Hell” English language banners, and with stuffed figures of dead, bloodied police spread on a terminal floor. The message: Police would not die for Rio if they were not being paid. An exasperated Eduardo Paes viewed the spectacle as yet one more public relations disaster. He went on CNN and in an English-language interview pronounced Rio’s public security “Horrible.” He blamed the police, and the Rio state government. He insisted the city government of Rio had nothing to do with public security which is a state responsibility. But he also knew help was on the way. The next day Mayor Paes welcomed the arrival of federal armed forces, federal police, and soldiers of the National Security Force. Together with state police, they are now conspicuously present in order to discourage crime, and reassure visitors that Rio de Janeiro is a safe haven. Accordingly, 51,000 members of security forces have been deployed in metropolitan Rio. 22,000 members of the armed forces and federal police are assigned to protect the Olympic installations, the routes and public transportation taking people to and from the games, and the Tom Jobim international airport. With security apparently well in hand, a much subdued Paes declared on July 5th that the Olympics would surely be a tremendous success and leave a positive legacy for the city of Rio.

Layout 1This optimism lasted a little over two weeks. The evening of July 21 brought news that police were arresting 13 homegrown ISIS inspired would-be terrorists. All were self-indoctrinated converts to Islam. They communicated with each other via social media. Calling themselves “Defenders of Sharia,” they pledged allegiance to ISIS as virtual acts on the internet. One suspect was said to have tried to buy weapons in Paraguay.   Minister of Justice Moraes said the individuals were clearly amateurs, and in the early stage of planning something.

The arrests and revelations clearly added to public uneasiness in Rio de Janeiro, and mobilized authorities. Would Brazilian security forces be up to the job of thwarting one or more terrorist attacks? There was skepticism as can well be imagined. But people soon learned that the project of thwarting had become internationalized. Other countries, including the United States, France, Israel and Russia with their more experienced intelligence services were present for the Olympics and working with Brazilians which brought reassurance. Intelligence and other security agents—no doubt feeling their backs to the wall after all the recent terrorist attacks in different countries—seem absolutely determined to stop terrorists at the Olympics, be they a Brazilian home grown variety, or foreigners infiltrated into Olympic crowds and groups of tourists. It’s them against us. In this spirit of providing safety, wherever crowds of people gather in Rio, there are substantial numbers of well-armed police or other security forces reinforced by plainclothes agents.

Many people in Brazil and elsewhere no doubt believe that terrorist acts cannot be stopped entirely. The Rio Olympics offer a chance to show otherwise at least for a moment when several billion people around the world are watching the games on TV.  Minister of Justice Moraes has lately declared “minimal” and “approaching zero” the probability of a terrorist attack.

Ready or Not: Rio on the Eve of the Olympics

On the ground in Rio, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, reflects on what life is like as the games begin.

For the months leading up to the 2016 summer Olympics games, media reporting has been largely critical of Rio de Janeiro’s, and by extension Brazil’s ability to complete preparations for the mega sports event. This critical viewpoint was shared even by the Brazilian patrician press with perhaps A Folha de São Paulo taking the lead. A stream of reports from inside and outside Brazil focused on delays and mishaps. As late as July 1st,  The New York Times published an article Brazilian journalist Vanessa Barbara about “Brazil’s Olympic Catastrophe.” The article took us into a world of chaos and uncertainties that seemed an inherent part of preparations for the Rio Olympics. Thomas Bach, the German president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that Brazil was an example of a country that liked to wait until the final hour to complete a big task such as preparations for the Olympics. However, he remained optimistic and sure that the Brazilian hosts would get the job done in time for the opening ceremony August 5.

This was his view just the day after delegations of athletes from several countries, including Brazil itself, refused to occupy their assigned residences saying they were unfit for habitation. They entered apartments where pipes leaked, toilets might not flush, and electric wires were exposed. In fact, only 15 of 31 new high rise apartment buildings in the Olympic Village were ready to receive delegations as of Sunday, July 24 when they opened for occupancy. 630 workers were quickly hired to work around the clock to complete the work by Thursday. This was one more public relations disaster and not to be overcome so quickly. Ministry of Labor inspectors made an unexpected visit. They found that Brazilian labor law was being flouted. Workers had not been hired according to rules of formal sector employment. They were working longer hours than permitted, in one case 23 hours straight, and not enough time was allowed for meals. The Ministry fined the Rio Olympic committee nearly $100,000. Still the work was completed and delegation complaints then turned to praise.

Now in the early 21st century, the port area in downtown Rio is once again a main target of urban renewal. Demolition of an old, dirty elevated freeway, remodeling older buildings and putting up new ones has dramatically changed the area, making it an inviting zone of high interest. For the residents of Rio and visitors, the important lures will be new museums and cultural centers. The Museum of Tomorrow is architecturally the most striking and important structure. Hailed by The Guardian on its inauguration in 2015 as one of the world’s most extraordinary contemporary buildings, it is dedicated to the idea of human and planetary sustainability.

My wife Regina and I decided to see changes in the port area and downtown Rio. We took a ride on the new light rail tramline that circulates between the bus station and the domestic Santos Dumont airport. We could see how in much of the area traversed, the planned renewal has largely been completed and ready to receive tens of thousands tourists who will come to the Olympics. There are Olympics connected projects in the area that are not strictly about sporting events. We got off at the stop on the newly christened Olympic Boulevard where Brazilian graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra is finishing an enormous multicolored mural “We are all one.” The mural celebrates the unity of the human race in five continents, and the search for peace. We wanted to see it, and to see him at work partly because we live in Philadelphia which is a leader in the outdoor mural movement and have become interested in this form of public art. Kobra’s mural is spread over a block long cinderblock wall and occupies about twice as many square feet as the world’s next largest mural. We watched him spray paint areas while standing on a hydraulic lift platform, but there were strong gusts of wind that must have made the work more difficult than usual. He was working from what seemed a color chart. We plan to return to watch again this remarkable work in progress. Kobra is hurrying to complete it by the official opening day of August 5.

We are now in the countdown phase to the opening ceremony—counted in days (now only 3 as this is being written), hours, minutes and seconds. An Olympic media slogan aims for social inclusion “Somos Todos Olímpicos,” or “We are all Olympians,” but a poll published on July 19 showed that 50% of the population was against the 2016 Rio Olympics, 40% in favor, and 10% did not know where they stood. 63% think Brazil will be worse for the Olympics. A certain lack of enthusiasm, even opposition to the games was obviously taken to heart by Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes whose emotional fever chart is always on display. In an interview on August 1st with A Folha de São Paulo. the mayor lamented the fact that Brazilians were in a bad mood due to the hard times (three years of recession),  also the political crisis of impeaching a president, and the endless Operation Carwash investigations of corrupt practices in the highest places of politics and corporate business. He said to the contrary that Brazilians should feel good about the Olympics. Largely by themselves, Brazilians had been able to overcome all the problems and emergencies associated with the games and that similar problems occurred in other summer Olympic games. The IOC was grateful for the way we responded to contingencies, and surprised that Brazilians had such a low opinion of themselves. Paes called it “our complex of being a mongrel people.”As for critical local press reporting, including in A Folha de São Paulo, it had contaminated public opinion when times were so difficult, in effect, turned people against the Olympics. However, looking at Rio de Janeiro’s ongoing urban transformation as spurred by the Olympics, the mayor brightened. He was sure it would be “more profound” than what even had occurred in the famous Barcelona Olympics of 1992 when Barcelona consolidated its reputation as a great cosmopolitan city.

 

Uncanny experiences explained

This week in North Philly Notes, Dennis Waskul, author of Ghostly Encounters,  writes about what prompted him to write about his uncanny experience. 

Whether you are a believer or a skeptic one fact is undeniable: people continue to report uncanny experiences with something that they believe is, or might be, a ghost. Those experiences people have, how they interpret them, and the reasons people believe (or disbelieve) are undeniably real regardless of whether one has faith in the existence of ghosts or, equally, faith in contending that ghosts are a fanciful fiction. In short, ghosts exist as a social and cultural phenomenon, the focus of our research, and the socio-cultural reality of ghosts is entirely independent of the ontology of them. Thus, in Ghostly Encounters, Michele and I have maintained an agnostic perspective on those fundamentally unanswerable questions as we spoke to people who believe they have experienced a ghostly presence and visited places alleged to be haunted. Our focus throughout this book is on the experiences people report, how people arrive at the conclusion that they have encountered a ghostly presence, what those ghosts do to and for people, and the consequences thereof.

Ghostly Encounters_smA wise sociologist, Gary Marx, once taught me to know the difference between a scholar and a fundamentalist. As Gary phrased it so succinctly, “the scholar starts with questions, not with answers.” Seen in this light, fundamentalists come in many guises, and only some of them are religious. Hence, as scholars, Michele and I sought to start with questions about the ghosts that people allegedly encounter, the unique ways that people interpret them, how those ghosts function in the lives of people, what those ghosts do to and for people. Starting with questions, instead of answers, is always at least a bit risky, and mainly because one does not know where those questions will lead, nor what experiences they might facilitate. Indeed, from beginning to end Ghostly Encounters was an incredible adventure for both Michele and I as it led us to people and places we never expected, in addition to understandings and surprising experiences that we did not anticipate. In the end, we sought to replicate that unforeseen experience for our readers with intimate and accessible forms of ethnographic writing that bring our readers inside of these lived experiences of ghostly encounters, within a highly unique organizational structure that assures unexpected surprises. While we hope our readers find the book both informative and enjoyable, above all we urge anyone interested to equally know the difference between a scholar and a fundamentalist—and to start with questions, not answers.

A Q&A with the authors of American Dunkirk

This week in North Philly Notes, we sat down with American Dunkirk co-authors James Kendra and Tricia Wachtendorf to talk about their new book on the boat evacuation from Manhattan that took place on 9/11.

Jim, you are a geographer by training, and Tricia, you are a sociologist. But you both also refer to yourselves as “disaster researchers.” What exactly is disaster research?

As social scientists, we are interested in how people, organizations, and communities think about and behave in disaster situations. How do people experience disaster in different ways? What do we perceive as risky, and why? What helps or hinders coordination, be it in preparing, responding, or recovering from disaster? And then it’s often working with other scientists, be it from engineering, atmospheric, or health science, to solve these problems in a more comprehensive way. Disaster research requires that kind of holistic approach. The Disaster Research Center, where we are fortunate to work, is also well known for quick response research. For over 50 years, its researchers have collected information in the immediate aftermath of disasters, information that often is otherwise forgotten or lost. This has led to critical insights that have improved our understanding of disaster events.

American Dunkirk_smThe boat evacuation on 9/11 is a fascinating story. What drew you to looking at this event?  

We had seen the power of improvised activities in our documentation of some other emergency response activities in New York City, such as the re-establishment of the Emergency Operations Center after the original at 7 World Trade Center had been destroyed. During that study, we began to hear about the boat evacuation. The fact that approximately 500,000 people could be evacuated by boat so successfully without any direct plan in place was amazing, but it was also an example – on a larger scale – of the kind of improvisations we had seen and continued to see in other disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina. And those improvisations extended beyond the boat evacuation, to the bus transport of people once they reached the Jersey shore, to setting up dinner cruise vessels to serve as respite centers for Ground Zero responders, to the retired fireboat John J. Harvey being pulled back into service for fire suppression. We quickly realized there was so much to learn. Plus Jim had been a merchant marine officer, so he was attuned to the aspects of maritime culture: such as the professional obligation to “get the job done” and their capacities for making do with limited equipment. We were grateful for the University of Delaware Research Foundation and National Science Foundation funding to support this extensive work. Over the years there have been a few accounts shared about the boat evacuation, but we still are mostly greeted with surprise when people learn about what transpired along the waterfront that day.

You talked to 100 people involved with various aspects of the boat evacuation and response. What were some of the key lessons you drew from your study?

The boat evacuation is one of many heartening moments throughout an otherwise tragic day, and much of that is grounded in the idea of community. In this case, it was the extended harbor community who were able to envision a role for themselves, who were able to draw on their extensive network within that community, who were open to new ideas that seemed to be working in the moment, and who were able to galvanize the latent resources on their boats, along the shoreline, and across the metropolitan area. But it’s not only the harbor community that can do that. As we’ve said elsewhere, successful disaster response involves ordinary people achieving the extraordinary, solving one problem at a time. What an important insight! Any one of us might not be able to do everything, and there are a lot of things we might not do well, but we can usually do something quite well.

Notable was the number of maritime workers who started out without a plan. They said, “We didn’t know what we were going to do.” But the mariners had a strong ethos of rescue they applied, even if it was a land-based emergency. They had technical and environmental knowledge, and experience working on the fly. But we also learned of a bartender who handed out chips and talked with people queuing up for boats on one of the piers. He saw a need: providing comfort in the form of food and conversation, and it was in his wheelhouse as a bartender to notice the need. We all have something in our wheelhouse.911_CGboard

Before 9/11, and to a much greater degree afterward, public officials and policymakers were emphasizing the need for “command and control.” But large-scale disasters are always characterized by emerging and unplanned activities that are better coordinated than controlled. It’s OK to strive to get a sense of the big picture, but we also have to recognize that no one will have that in the midst of an unfolding disaster. Responses that work involve people starting to put together their part of the picture, alongside other formal and informal responders. It’s a community effort, at its heart.

James Kendra is a Professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration and Tricia Wachtendorf is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware. They are the Directors of the Disaster Research Center.  Visit them online at americandunkirk.com.

 

Benny Golson returns to Philadelphia

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Benny Golson in images and interviews. Golson visited his hometown of Philadelphia last week to promote his autobiography, Whisper Notco-authored with Jim Merod.

Benny Golson started his day at 91-FM, WHYY’s Radio Times, where he chatted with host Marty Moss-Coane.
There’s no stoppinGolson RTg BENNY GOLSON. The internationally famous jazz composer, arranger, and saxophonist has recorded over 30 albums, and has composed and arranged music for John Coltrane, Miles Davies, Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones and many others. This year, at the age of 87, he released a new album called “Horizon Ahead.” Golson was born in Philadelphia in 1929 and has played in the bands of Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey. He has composed not only jazz standards, including “Killer Joe” and “Along Came Betty,” but his songs have also appeared in tv shows and films including M*A*S*H and Mission Impossible. Marty talks with Golson about his life, his new autobiography Whisper Not, and what it’s like to be considered an “elder statesman of jazz.”

Benny was also interviewed with Brian Lockman, host of Pennsylvania Cable Network’s PA Books program. The show will air at a future date and be available as a free podcast on iTunes. Benny PCN

During a stop at Temple University’s radio station, WRTI, Benny paused to pose with Art Kane’s 1958 photo, “A Great Day in Harlem.” Golson is one of the last two surviving members of the famous photograph.

Golson Great Day

Golson capped off the day with an appearance at the Free Library of Philadelphia, where he was interviewed by WRTI‘s Jeff Duperon. This video records their conversation.

IMG_0168

Saxophonist and composer Benny Golson learned his instrument and the vocabulary of jazz while still in high school in Philadelphia. Over the course of an illustrious 60-year career, he has recorded more than 30 albums, written well over 300 compositions, and given hundreds of performances around the globe alongside dozens of jazz greats, including Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Earl Bostic, and Art Blakey. “A composer with an unusually brilliant melodic sense” (New York Times), his major contributions to the world of jazz include the standards Killer Joe, Along Came Betty, Whisper Not, and Five Spot After Dark. His new book, Whisper Not, is a collection of anecdotes and photographs that recount the high and low notes of a life dedicated to jazz.

As the night ended, Golson posed with and signed books and records(!) for his adoring fans. 

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