One of my foundation’s beneficiaries, SPARC (School Of Performing Arts in the Richmond Community) recently produced and directed LIVE ART, a 20-week educational program for students with and without special needs, culminating in a major public concert featuring children of all abilities and prominent Virginia musicians. I was an artistic adviser and appeared live with the ensemble at the final performance held in June, 2012 at Richmond’s beautiful Carpenter Theater.
For those who attended, it was a show they’ll not soon forget.
Standing in the wings that evening awaiting my cues, I saw my life barely changed from when I was their age. It has always been my greatest joy to be onstage, in costume, a part of something bigger than I, for the simple act of entertaining, educating or inspiring others. I bowed to my inner child that night, for never growing up or burning out.
SPARC was my introduction to improvisation and performance 30 years ago. If I could credit a handful of people who turned on my light, I’d name them. LIVE ART carries the torch as an all-inclusive program, highlighting talent of every variety, giving many their first chance to shine onstage. Bravo to SPARC for continuing to transform lives, onstage and off.
Check out the Live Art Kickstarter Video and if inspired, send them your ray of sunshine to help reach their goal of releasing a documentary of the inaugural LIVE ART program. I feel the film will educate and enlighten other families and communities in creating projects of a similar compassionate nature.
Please share with as many as you can. Thank you,
He could handle anything. And he was my granddad.
I was in the 9th grade when he passed away. One of my fondest memories was trimming his beard with an electric razor as life after stroke made the ordinary chore somewhat challenging to perform on his own. His skin was loose yet firm, rough but fuzzy, and the popular razor I’d seen in television commercials ran over his stubble as swiftly as our lawn mower; which, uniformly, I took pride in operating. Cutting the grass is a Mraz’s inheritance, and my Dad, brother and I honored it, and still do.
I barbered my granddad in his favorite chair, poised in the corner of the living room where he could keep one foot propped up on the wood stove and the other out in front of the kitchen door where he could trip me up. He had a quiet sense of humor. We called him Papa Razz. He called me Dick.
He kept his eyes closed mostly, rolling his head up and back like a cat having his chin scratched, grinning as such. Infancy had become his body and mind and at 14 I was the adult. Or at least, I felt like I was, entrusted with the care of a well lived man who retained his 1930′s hairstyle and spectacles all the way into the 1990′s.
He created the name Frank D Fixer when a soda company appeared at the door of he and my grandma offering to hang an advertisement over his shop, built adjacent to their house. He didn’t over think it. His name is Frank. And he fixes things. Easy enough. The sign hung for decades, maybe even a full decade after his departure, and only came down when my grandmother’s roof was slain by a tree during a heavy summer storm. Residents of Hanover, Mechanicsville and Tappahannock referred to Papa’s sign as a landmark. In our rural Virginia town it was common to hear things like, “Go 2 miles past Frank D Fixer and turn left.”
With him I’d take out the dinner scraps and toss them into the compost pile and then stand back and watch him burn trash in a barrel. The years he spent welding in the dark shop was before my time and in my time I was too young to apprentice anyway. I preferred climbing trees, picking blackberries and racing go-karts. In the backyard he grew long rows of tomatoes, squash, melon and okra, which my grandmother boiled into something unrecognizable, which was most certainly my least favorite food of that era. Luckily my brother lost control of the go-kart one day and plowed over all the okra, cleaning the plates in advance for everyone.
Papa passed taking a nap in his favorite chair. The same chair I trimmed his beard days earlier. Just a gentle nod of the head into that sweet daytime catnap bliss he went. Lucky man.
Today I’m nearly half the age he was when his accomplished life came to a close. I’m cutting my teeth on a house and building a shop of my own, preparing to raise a family. My Dad, now retired, still cuts the family’s grass with glee. Being the son and grandson of those men has a lot to do with my success. Knowing how hard they worked for their families gives me the strength and encouragement I need to do the same. Plus, the kind of work they did is a constant reminder that the work I do is really play.
As for the the Fixer signs, they remain in storage until my sister and I find time to restore them and decide on new locations to hang them. I’d like to put one over the garage of the studio at the farm in San Diego, overlooking and inspiring the next few generations of Mraz’s that may come up there; Oh, the seeds we’ll sow, the lawns we mow and the okra we’ll grow.
…I will grow you a garden of Eden. And I will bless our family with the gifts my granddad handed me. How wonderful that will be.
It’s unfortunate our government continues to approve oil drilling in the arctic. Our planet has but only so many resources to share and someday billions of earthlings may be left standing on a bare planet wondering where it all went? But, I get it. The US still continues to use more oil than any other nation in the world therefore the demand calls for more supply. I don’t blame the man I voted for 4 years ago.
Despite the oil drilling, mountaintop removal for coal, fracking for natural gas, and building of more nuclear power plants, the Obama administration has put more money into green technologies than any other president in US history. It takes a long time to turn a battleship around, and that process has already begun with Obama at the helm.
To help reduce demand, I power my home with solar energy and drive my tours with renewable biodiesel in the buses and trucks. I also Vote for Obama.
The Obama Vote also supports same-sex marriage, a seemingly small but planet-shifting vote for the greater good of all humanity. It also says you want better student loan options which will make it easier for anyone to get an education and have a life after. And the Obama Vote lets women choose how they treat their own bodies.
Let us also fear not the economy which was hurting when the President stepped into office and is now slowly starting to rise again. The economy is after all a monetary game we play with each other and nations abroad. Money, which is made-up, a complex and digitized system of trust, of which only 3% in the world is actually cash, is unfortunately a means for survival for many, but it does not make the quality of our lives better. Trust me, I’m a millionaire, and one who will happily pay more taxes to level the field. In fact, giving my money away has brought me much more pleasure than in the earning of it.
J. R. R. Tolkien writes, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
I’ve voted democratic since I was 18 and will likely continue to do so. I think this is a great country when we act as a community and pool our strengths. Humanity was meant to work together, move forward and evolve into beings greater than money and material possessions, and this election will help us get there.
Are you in?
Register to Vote.
TreeIsAFourLetterWord Update. Images by Jen Rosenstein.
When I emailed my team earlier this year about planting trees, I was thinking about fresh air. What I never anticipated were the sighs of relief and deep breaths of gratitude I’d experience from communities around the country who’d greatly benefit not only from the trees, but from the attention they’d receive from the project. What began as a simple tree planting mission has, like a tree itself, grown new branches to nurture and support life far beyond my wildest dreams.
Last Saturday, on a hot and sticky day in Hartford Connecticut, with citizens from Frog Hollow, Knox Parks, Billings Forge and all the wonderful volunteers from Reverb and 96.5 TIC, we transformed the campus of Burns School for Latino Studies just in time for it’s reopening this week.
With a little love, sweat, a few tears, and a sweet blister accrued from my shovel, a small group of extraordinary humans cut back weeds and overgrown trees from the face of the school to let light into windows and reveal the building’s beautiful brick facade, while some collected trash, including glass and needles from the school’s neglected back yard. Overall 6 new large Maple trees were planted as well as dozens of perennials to welcome new students and families. Knox Parks, a passionate tree group in Connecticut was so moved by the project, they wish to keep the Burn’s School playground, which still lacks shade, in their plans for more trees in the future.
And if that wasn’t enough, the city mayor stopped by to see what all the excitement was about. He visited the sight inspired to help improve more than just the schoolyard. I left wondering if that would have happened were it not for our effort to plant trees.
The school’s new principal worked alongside all the volunteers all day, filthy with dirt, unaffected by her sweaty brow and t-shirt, grateful for the turnout and all the attention. Usually in this area, I was told, even if there was a crime, they would get little coverage or support. But because we brought our light, cameras, and action, a positive difference was being made that would last well into the school year.
Why is it that so many schools get the short end of the stick?
Is it because we are all so anxious to get out into the world and make something of ourselves? Investing in our own businesses and futures, somewhat forgetting to look back and notice there’s always a generation behind us that counts on us to elevate their future too?
Whatever the case may be, I’m happy our little tree planting mission found it’s way to The Burns School in Frog Hollow and is having a greater effect on the planet and it’s people than just cleaner air. It seems as though we’re also clearing the air for minds to grow, communities to develop and ideas to unfold.
Thanks again to everyone for their hard work and generous energy. Especially to my sidekick Mona Tavakoli, who didn’t mind getting dirty on a show day.
Visit TreeIsAFourLetterWord.Org to learn more about our efforts and ways to contribute.
I used to work at a movie theatre. On a good day I tore tickets and admitted my friends for free. On the lesser days I cleaned the theatres. I didn’t work there long enough to ever see a projection booth, but I did see Batman Returns about a dozen times, and heard Kiss From A Rose about 100, which, in an era before internet, was an awesome way to hear a song for free.
Like all the short-lived jobs on my resume, this one too gave me time to be quiet, work alone and mull over life’s greatest mysteries.
A great puzzle from those days is one I still ponder; that which I call the cinema effect:
It’s when an audience brings in refreshments to a show and then somehow during the course of the feature abandons the snacks as well as all consideration for the environment. Thus, the job of the theatre sweeper-upper remains in demand.
Since working there I have become immune to the cinema effect and always exit a movie with my popcorn bucket, filling it with other discarded cups, buckets and napkins along the way.
These days my friends and I are the ones putting on a show; and a brilliant one I might add, with live music and cinematic landscapes. And just like the movies, we too offer snacks. Here’s a snapshot of our epic concert coming to a city near you.
If you’re planning on joining us this summer, beware of the cinema effect and lets inspire others to leave the environment better than we found it. We’re doing our part backstage and on the road, and we invite you to do your part in the theaters and in the parking lots. We’ve even set out a surplus of recycling bins for you to use to make it easy. Thanks for being an awesome steward of the Earth. You’re going to make a sweeper-upper’s night, and mine.
The after show shot that inspired this blog post: