Friday, January 4, 2013


     Just like Santa-the holidays are now my "Busy Season". Having been on the road all over Western New York performing "Charles Dickens Presents: A Christmas Carol" from Salamanca to Warsaw- and lots of stops in between-here are a few notes about some of the places and people I encountered this year.
     Alexander Craig-my fifth grade teacher at Philip Sheridan bought me a drink after my show at the Ismailia Shrine Center. I remember that he was a fantastic teacher-and I'm so glad we have stayed in touch over the years. I will never forget the day JFK was shot-Mr. Craig getting the call in the classroom and then having to share the news with the class.

     It was a special treat to do the show at Niagara University Theatre-great venue-top notch staff and my friend John Smeathers (a real actor from the U.K. who plays Scrooge in the annual Alleyway production) came to see the show! I think he liked it! John's been doing the Alley Production for 15 years-this year he retired-so they will be looking for a NEW Scrooge for next year!  John will be a tough act to follow!

     Mr. Dickens visited Theatre 101 a sweet little spot in Mount Morris-right near one of my many alma maters-(SUNY Geneso) and made a return engagement to Roycroft Pavilion in East Aurora.  My first visit there was more than 40 years ago when I went to see my High School chorus teacher Ron Swick perform in "Death Of A Salesman".  BTW-Ron is a top notch actor having appeared in HUNDREDS of local productions and he still does shows with Mary Kate O'Connell & Company!

     Springville Center For The Arts invited me back for the fifth year in a row-we had a sell out crowd.  It's incredible what they have done with that building that was once an abandoned church and has been transformed into a thriving community arts center.  The transformation will continue now that they have secured some very large grants-congratulations SCA!!

Just like Santa-Charles Dickens will take a rest until next year...but tell your friends he's taking bookings NOW for 2013!!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Jerry Starr

He was my favorite teacher ever.
I've said many times over the years that Jerry Starr is the ONLY reason that I was able make it through high school (okay-barely) and end up with a dual career of Broadcasting & Theatre.

He will be remembered not just by me, but the hundreds-probably thousands of lives he touched in the years that he spent at Kenmore West High School as an English, Drama & Speech teacher and the director of dozens of Musicals & Plays.

We celebrated Jerry's life and our shared memories a few weeks ago when the auditorium was officially renamed "Starr Auditorium".  It was a wonderful event with family, friends and former students on hand to share in the special occasion.

Video from the event is on line (in 10 parts) -some great stories from former students...check it out!
Dedication Of "Starr Auditorium"

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Back in November my wife surprised me with what may be the COOLEST birthday present EVER! A Kindle Fire.

Admittedly, I was one of those "I'll never do Kindle because; I like the SMELL of books, the TACTILE experience of turning pages and the self satisfaction of FILLING book shelves with MY BOOKS!!!" But not anymore.

Yea. I still LOVE books-I still buy books and read books and I hope my new friend the Kindle will never completely replace my relationship with books. That said, as much as I love, love, love my books-a BOOK won't show you a MOVIE, let you SURF the web, check your EMAIL or set you up to play WORD FEUD with your Mother-in-law in Cincinnati.

And speaking of WORD FEUD-It's variation on a theme and like all the Scrabble Rip Offs on line in smart phones etc.- it's addicting! Ask Alec Baldwin. Doh!

My Mom got me hooked on scrabble when I was a kid. I think I was 13. She would beat my Dad, my great Aunt and all other takers
99% of the time.

Mom LOVED her Scrabble, and she LOVED to win. If you were stuck for a word she'd say "let me see your letters" and sure enough-she'd pull out some high scoring word for yea, sometimes Mom was actually playing herself. AND SHE WOULD STILL WIN!

Here's some WORD gaming advice: If you want to learn how to play a game-then play with someone who KICKS YOUR BUTT ALL THE TIME! Ha!

I learned a lot from my Mother about playing that crazy word game-all of those sneaky 2 letter words & how to snag the MOST points out of the J, the Q and the Z!! and how it's NOT so much WHAT word you play, but WHERE you play it!!

I loved playing Scrabble with my Mom. Even though I seldom won (even with her help). It brings back happy, warm & wonderful memories sitting around our kitchen table.

Before we had the SUPER DUPER Scrabble board with the "little plastic lock in tracks and spinning base"-we used the cheapo cardboard version. Turn that sucker the wrong way or too fast and you'd spend most of the game trying to remember where all the letters went.

Cut to 2012 and my Kindle Fire! After downloading a little Word Feud app. , I was in business. No board, no letters to fuss with, NO KEEPING SCORE!!! my little Kindle buddy does all the work. And you can play with opponents ANYWHERE in the world! How cool is that???

Okay, here's the catch. Say I make a blockbuster opening move and score 30 points. Now I wait, and wait...and wait and who knows when Sue in Cincinnati is going to make her move? Is she sitting there thinking? strategizing? getting ready to make a big move any minute? OR is she in the car on the way to the grocery store? Who knows?

When you play face to face you can make little grunting noises to indicate your impatience. That's impossible to do long distance. And so the typical Word Feud game can last
THREE OR FOUR DAYS! Boring!!! My extremely short attention span does not find that entertaining.

Then Miracle of miracles!!! I discovered a feature on WF that allows me to invite a TOTAL STRANGER to play. There is no "stranger danger" either because everyone is anonymous. Cool.

I've resorted to "Stranger Word Feud" a few times while waiting for one of my relatives to get around to making a move. Those games always seem to fly along at a really nice pace. You can actually finish a round in ONE DAY! It's practically FUN!!

Yesterday my Kindle randomly picked a stranger named Doug0003#. After 3 moves-Doug0003# had 48 points and I had 107.

As all loyal word game addicts know-especially if you have ever been beaten by Sue in can be up by a hundred points one minute and then suffer a humiliating loss the next-SERIOUSLY!

Apparently Doug0003# looked at the score and decided he wanted to bail. Ten minutes into the game and a message flashes on my screen that says: "you have won against Doug0003#" and I thought-"I have? How did I do that?"

Word Feud has a "forfeit feature". Forfeit? Huh? the thought has never occurred to me. Give-up? You gotta be kidding me. No matter how many times you LOSE a true Scrabble Lover NEVER GIVES UP!! EVER!!!-NEVER!!!

So that was kind of weird that Doug0003# waved the white flag...
WIMPED out...pulled a big chicken move...but hey-that's his prerogative right? Of course QUITTING was not enough for my "Stranger Gamer"-he also left me a message. Did I forget to mention-messaging is another one of the dandy features of Word Feud on Kindle?

The message Doug0003# sent me said: "F**K old people and their Scrabble".

and I thought "No wonder they call it WORD FEUD!"

Look at that Mom. See what you got me into?

BTW Doug0003#-THAT word, played on a triple word score is worth 39 points!!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

You Gotta Have Friends!

Not long ago I couldn’t tell you the difference between Face book and a recipe for Coq au vin. After signing up and struggling with it for awhile-I was rescued by my FRIEND SELINA KAYE. She steered me through the ins and outs of our generation's HOTTEST Social Networking TOOL and sent me on my way.

That was then. This is NOW! These days I just put the forecast on my FACE BOOK page. That’s about it. Occasionally I’ll post info about my latest outside project or SHARE a funny or meaningful tidbit. My brother DAVE RANDALL is my FRIEND. He writes some really FUNNY stuff. When he does I like to share it with MY OTHER FRIENDS.

Sometimes I'll argue with my friend and CO-WORKER GINGER GEOFFERY about which is better..."Twitter" or "FaceBook" -probably a stupid argument that no one will ever win. The nearest I can figure out-Twitter is for people who are "pithy". Face Book accommodates people who are "wordy" and blogging is for people who need analysis but can't afford it.

BRIDGET BLYTHE, MY FRIEND and former morning show co-host, is a social networking queen. She can twitter, face book, text, read news copy and write the noon news cast all at the same time. So we started soliciting friends on the air in a little friendly competition, to see who could get the most. It was the NEVER ENDING CONTEST with no prizes and no declared winner.

As the weeks went by we acquired dozens, then hundreds and eventually THOUSANDS of “Friends”. It was great fun for a while. Some of our “friends” were fans-that was VERY cool. Some of our “friends” were (and still are) TOTAL STRANGERS. Some of our “friends” turned out to be stalkers. Yech. “Hey it’s All fun & games until somebody starts STALKING you.”

When Bridget moved on to a new job , I was left with several THOUSAND NEW “friends”. Fortunately most of my Face book friends are low maintenance. You don’t have to call them and ask about the family. You never have to hang out with them, buy them lunch or give them rides anywhere. In fact you really don’t even ever have to talk to them. All that seems very weird, especially since we are supposed to be friends.

As a kid, my friends were the other kids I played with on Rosemont Avenue-but ONLY until the streetlights went on. In High School my friends were the semi-cool (at least I thought we were) “theatre people” that shared countless hours rehearsing, performing-and oh yea…THOSE cast parties!!

Early on as a waiter at the Crouching Lion or cooking at Pat’s Hot Dog Stand-my friends were the cooks, kitchen workers, bartenders and other servers that we hung out drinking all night with, grabbing breakfast at 4am and saying good-bye to at sunrise.

College friends were the ones I shared my deepest darkest thoughts and most treasured dreams with. Drinking coffee ALL night and believing anything in life could be possible-if only I didn’t have to finish that paper for Sociology.

Back then-I knew most everything about my friends; EVERYTHING… where they lived, what they did for fun, what they were having for dinner that night and where they were going on vacation. You’d see them at church, at boy scout meetings , when you delivered their paper and when you went to the grocery with your Mom.

I still have some friends like that on Face Book. People I actually know and see around and catch up with from time to time. Those friends are like meat loaf-they are “COMFORT friends”. There are people I work with (although I’m scared to friend any of the bosses)-there are some people I used to work with and even people I knew back when I lived on Rosemont 50 years ago. Some of those kids are planning a reunion this Summer-wow-we’ll have a lot of catching up to do!!

I have a LOT of friends on Face book that I’d like to meet like BOB CONRAD. Bob is an PROFESSIONAL puppeteer & FULL time entertainer who lives in New Jersey. He’s 70 years old and has 14 kids. I envy Bob. When I grow up I want to be Just Like Him!!

I have friends I’d like to see more often like Magician MIKE SEEGE. I see him around sometimes, but that guy is BUSY doing magic almost every night of the week somewhere around Western New York. He may be the areas BUSIEST and BEST magician in the region. At least I think he is. I know I could learn some NEW tricks from him!

I’m proud to be friends with Maria Droz and Adam Kreutinger. They are TWO of the coolest young people I know. They seem to be motivated and hard working. They are talented, fun and I think they’re in love! They perform with puppets & magic, Adam makes some of the most unbelievable puppets ever and Maria can sing and dance-you may have seen some of their work if you saw Musicalfare Theatres “Avenue Q” a few weeks ago.

ANN EDWARDS is MY FACEBOOK friend-we co-hosted Western New York’s FIRST morning news show together-for FIVE years starting in 1989. Ann sells houses now-but she’s on face book everyday with wonderful quotes like -"Everyone has talent; what is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads." ~~~ Author, Erica Jong

Now thanks to FaceBook, I have MORE friends than I ever dreamed possible. I’m thinking I need to be more thoughtful toward them. Afterall, isn‘t there a saying that goes-”in order to have a friend you need to be a friend”.? Or…

I could just follow George Washington’s line of thinking. “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.” I’ll have to think about that.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Playing Well With Others

Can I admit it? Okay I will. I haven't been in a play with other actors since 1987 when I directed and performed in a production of "The Sunshine Boys" with my two former High School teachers Jerry Starr & Ron Swick.

That show was a blast and Buffalo's own Diva Mary Kate O'Connell rescued our production by coming in last minute to play the "older nurse". Back then I played the 30-something nephew Ben.

It isn't that I'm's just that performing solo as Mark Twain, Charles Dickens and as myself with Puppets & Magic has been EASIER to schedule. The BIG advantage was being able to rehearse whenever & wherever I could squeeze it in (In the car, in the shower-in the basement-but only when no one is home!)

Working nights for 10 years made it impossible to be in anything with anyone! My schedule now (getting up at 2am-and in bed by 7pm) has made it almost as difficult-but recently I bit the bullet and signed on to do a play with the Springville Center For The Arts. We rehearsed 3 nights a week-from 6:30-8:30pm-with my head hitting the pillow about 10 pm...leaving 4 hours of shut eye. Those 2am wake-up calls the morning have been painful.

The result is a show I'm proud to be a part of. We have four performances under our belts with another four scheduled for this weekend. Yes-I'm in "The Sunshine Boys" again!-but this time out-Doug Bailey took care of the directing duties and I got to play the 70-something Willie Clark.
My partner in crime Rick Manzone takes on the role of Al Lewis. It's a 1972 Neil Simon comedy-and provides tons of BIG laughs. I hope you can see it! Last 4 performances Thurs.-Sunday Oct. 27-30th. Call Springville Center or The Arts for tickets 716-592-9038.