Interview with a Playwright and teacher: John T. Dalessandro

(Ricardo Ben-Safed ) As soon as I met John D’Alessandro at the weekly Coffee Club, I wanted to interview him. He’s a retired High School English and Drama teacher who also went to Merton College, Oxford and earned a PhD. and has an interesting creative history. So I decided to interview him.  Here are the results of the interview.

 

“John, What do you think got you started in theater productions?  How old were you when your interest was first piqued?”

 

 (John D’Alessandro )  “Since my mother was a business woman, running beauty shoppes, she occupied her five children, including my brother and I in various lessons to keep us busy and out of trouble. Rita has to study accordion, Jeanette, the Hawaiin guitar, Antoinette, drums.  My brother and I  were forced into dancing school, whether we liked like it or not, taking lessons sometimes three times a week from the age of 4.
We danced for all charity organizations who were having meetings or banquets, and in the early 1930 were in a few vaudeville shows.  Our picture is still displayed in an old vaudeville theatre in Oaklyn, N.J.,  The Ritz. My mother did play the piano and my father played the guitar for our family orchestra (brother and I were the singers).  Our dancing teacher was a pretty good, we never realized that he was gay.”
(Ric) “I enjoyed reading  the anecdotes you wrote about in your book ” It tolls for thee, Mr. D”. There is a charm in reading about the young High School adventures of people who later became celebrities.  What did you learn about Producing that might have helped you as a High School Teacher?”
(John) “There are some stories in the original book about students in my musicals: notably Bye,Bye Birdie,  Good News, Oliver etc. I would always tell my casts no to be inspired to go into acting, but a few did anyway, including Bruce Willis and Michael Landon who were successful, but many more who got nowhere.  Of course, being in a high school musical is an unforgettable experience for high school seniors and the subsequently all became fans of and attended productions of Broadway musicals. This was the best teaching effect and result.”
(Ric) “When do you think your interest in musical theater got started? Did you have dance or voice lessons when you were young?  Do you think you are organized  to produce from afar, or did you direct the productions more from impulse?”
(John).  “When I was a high school senior, we wanted  to give a Broadway musical but we didn’t have money for royalties. Consequently, a class mate and I wrote a musical called  “A Latin in Manhattan”, I directed it as a student and it  was pretty good.  When I went to Temple U. in my junior and senior years, although I was in the business school, I was dance captain for two musicals given by the famous Pop Randall (theater names after him.) At those shows everything backstage was chaos. so when I did my own musicals I developed a system of completely organizing the cast and all the committees, so that it would all operate smoothly without my being back stage.”
(Ric). “Did you have a role model to be a Producer?  How did you develop those skills if not?”
(John) “I guess it was in my third year in my third school, that I got a chance to direct a play.  The school had never done a musical before, but I decided to give “Good News”,  copying most of the stuff from the movie. There were 90 Seniors students. The choral work was very hard to do.  I really didn’t know what I was doing, but I did “Bye Bye Birdie” for my second musical and found out for myself how to do it.”
(Ric) ” So would you say that your methods evolved along with your interests?
(John) “My methods were picked up by several high school  in South Jersey, and also by about three cast members who became teacher-directors in the own high school jobs.”
(Ric) “I imagine if was a trick to keep a balance between your job as an English teacher and developing the musical theater group at the High School?  Did you have to fine tune your own skills?”
(John)  “When picking a high school musical, you have to keep a ear out for good singers in the school choir or glee club.  I never pre-cast but I usually knew who would be trying out for the lead roles. Although a few times, such as with “High Button Shoes“, a great lead came out of the woodwork. Of course, I had seen the show or movie of the musicals;  sometimes, as with West Side Story I was in theatre in the dark scribbling notes on the choreography of Jerome Robins etc. Costumes was never an obstacle because in all cases but one, I rented costumes from Brooks Van in New York. I always had the good fortune of having a great music director who never argued with me.”
(Ric) ” Would the School District give you a budget to work with?  How did you fund this musical theater.
Did the School Districts leave you on your own , and just paid the bills without questions?”
(John)  “In the adult productions, such as with the Haddonfield Chorale or the Camden County Musicrafters, the group usually had no money, and that meant I would have to be producer, director, choreographer, and also public relations director. In adult groups there were always people with college experience, so you would get a dentist who would be a great Music Man.  None of my productions every made much money but they did break even.”
(Ric)  “What was your best musical and the worse to produce? What production was the easiest…. ? What effect did they have on you?”
(John)  “Of all the 21 productions I directed and choreographed, I found “High Button Shoes” to be the most difficult. Besides 105 in the cast, 300 costumes, much scenery, three horses, a gorilla, a model T car and so much else. Fortunately I had a student teacher take over my English classes, but the task was monumental and I lost 30 lbs. The easiest was West Side Story with the Penn Players. Because the 32 boys and 32 girls wanted to do it. Penn students are very smart and they would call their own rehearsals without me. They were easy to teach. Although I could have used get-up costumes I had all the costumes, including beautiful suits and gowns, made for me by Brooks Van Han in New York.”
(Ric)  “How hard do you work to get High Schoolers interested in going into the Theater.  Comment if you would on inherited skills and ‘learned’ ones.”
(John)  “I try very hard to dissuade students, especially cast members, from thinking about studying theatre arts. But some defy all the odds and do it anyway. Some go to N.Y.C but usually end up working in a restaurant and working as a bartender. If any of these ever get anywhere, it is mostly luck. In the present time, they shouldn’t try unless they are really, really good looking.  Directors don’t care about resume’s but the will take a good singer who is really good looking.”
(Ric)  “Did you inspire yourself to become a Playwright? “
(John)  “Of course, my play   “Raiding Poppa” has been sent to many producers in New York City. There was one production of it in Daytona Beach and some companies did readings.  It is almost a fantasy of mine and I wrote it mostly in tribute to my mother, who was a great suffragette, and to my grandfather, who although he was a bootlegger, was a great man.”
(Ric)  ” What important proverb or wisdom did you learn from your experiences and publishing a book of memoirs?”
(John) “The first book was one great vanity trip, signing books, making guest appearances etc.  At my age, if I complete the second book, do I really need another vanity trip.?”

 

(Ric)  “Well, I hope you don’t talk yourself out of it.  I attended and very much enjoyed your course at Temple University Center City titled  “How to Produce a Broadway Musical”.  I’m going to look forward to your next book as well as the next course at Temple University.  Incidentally I just did a search and discovered that your first book is presently on sale at Amazon.com in England for £ 25.25, but here in the u.s. for $125 to 130 dollars”

 

Posted in Mystics and Magical realism of Philadelphia, Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's

God, Stephen Hawking and M Theory

God, Stephen Hawking and M Theory

I speak my brain on Channel 4 News about the booksellers’ current favourite controversy – Stephen Hawking versus God –Ted

Yesterday, when I should have been writing a paper about data from the Atlas detector at Cern’s Large Hadron Collider, I was taxied across Geneva to talk live on television to Jon Snow about Stephen Hawking‘s apparent sudden conversion to atheism.

 

http://www.theguardian.com/science/life-and-physics/2010/sep/03/god-stephen-hawking-m-theory

Posted in Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

Photo

Posted in Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's

Comparative_Theology Discussion with an atheist and a theologian

My thanks to Lake_Nemi for providing this observations. Stephen Hawkin has appeared on the American TV comedy show: “The Big Bang Theory”…so it is not too unusual for him to show his eccentricity as he is seemingly doing with Hawkins.

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School District Moving Forward With Sale Of William Penn H.S. Building To Temple University

Ric Ben-Safed:

Ah…The Temple University campus just got bigger.

Originally posted on CBS Philly:

By Mike DeNardo

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The School District is once again moving ahead with plans to sell the William Penn High School building to Temple University.

The sale was blocked while a community group challenged it in court. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week – without comment – denied the William Penn Development Corporation’s request for an injunction to stop the sale on grounds the district improperly sped-up the process.

“I am extremely disappointed,” said State Representative Curtis Thomas.

Thomas says he’d like to know the courts’ reasoning. In the meantime, he says the issue is access to a high school in North Philadelphia.

“There needs to be a school to address the academic needs of kids in the area,” he said.

Temple is buying William Penn from the cash-strapped district for $15 million, with plans to build athletic fields and a job-training academy with the Laborers union.

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Posted in Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's

An Unsettling Climate

Ric Ben-Safed:

Let me note this from the article: “Sixteen distinguished scientists signed a 2012 Wall Street Journal article, in which they argued that taking drastic action to “decarbonize” the world’s economy—an effort that would have major effects on economic growth and quality of life, especially in the developing world—was not justified by observable scientific evidence.

Originally posted on Home of the Little-Known Blogger:

City Journal has published an excellent article on AGW hypothesis and downfall of modern science. Those of you who hold science to high standards will find the read unsurprising, but informative. Those of you who think that “man-made global warming” is a real thing because someone told you that “there’s a scientific consensus” (or some such fallacy)… well, you will not find it unsurprising.

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Posted in Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's | 1 Comment

EXCLUSIVE: Crime Down In City Of Brotherly Love

Ric Ben-Safed:

Good news indeed! I also belong to PDAC as a rep from my Co-Op.

Originally posted on CBS Philly:

By Walt Hunter

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There’s good news about crime for the first six months of this year in Philadelphia.

In an exclusive interview with CBS 3’s Walt Hunter, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey revealed crime in every major category was down between January and June 30th.

Specifically, murders – which hit 202 for the same period in 2007 and plunged to 116 in 2013 – dropped again this year by one percent.

Telling Hunter,” even one murder is too many,” the Commissioner says he is “encouraged” by the crime numbers, which first made headlines one year ago and which continue to decline.

After 789 shootings in the first half of 2007 and 525 in the first six months of last year, Ramsey revealed shootings this year are down 7 percent.

Robbery is down 7 percent, burglary 11 percent and rape 15 percent.

Hunter was the first reporter ever given…

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Posted in Quaker City in the 1840's to 1860's

Another Reality Within, (short story)

“Another Reality Within”

by Ricardo Ben-Safed

“WAIT A SECOND!“, a Surgical Intern near the table yelled at another

employee, they were busy in the ER at Kelpius Heart Centre.

“No, The speed of the blood flow is all wrong, and the temperature is too hot. We’re going to boil his brains!”

He shot another glance at the monitor, it flashed back beeping and flashing. A neon light pulsed ominously and blipped a sudden flat line on the monitor. I am the patient, and now (calmly) I am dead. Apparently! Well I was at least technically dead. (I cannot move or get up.)

The irony, I knew, is that this process of dying is a slow process..but doesn’t stop ebbing away until the brain’s electric waves discharge completely becoming weaker and weaker until they stop. I saw the monitor flashing light — “January 12th”. Huh, I’m dying on my birthday?"

The problem of the circuit failure was in HAL’s printed read out indicating a “corrupted text”. The question was the blood temp 99.0 or 80.9 degrees. The light alternating flashing one then the other on the monitor. What was the actual temperature? Did anyone know? I am the patient and I am strangely not feeling anxious or too worried. Are my brains already boiled from the too hot blood? A creeping ominous, moisture was spreading, running, slowly over my body. My nostrils detected a pungent smell. (I hate B.O! )I didn’t know what to make of the smell. Perhaps I WAS already dead and was in putrid decaying.

Looking up I saw a misty shadow, black and grey. Then a loud voice spoke and a flood of random thoughts were drown in my mind. More thoughts, sights, sounds emerged from the dark shadows flooding my mind, and I knew something was very Strange and true. I was not myself, I was different. I just knew it instinctively.

These shadow thoughts grew into a shape or presence like a big bird in my mind. I couldn’t breathe. Maybe I didn’t want to breathe. A different shadow presence moved across my eyes and mind. I am occupied. Now I must re-start my heart and make it beat again. (But I can’t!) The monitor indicated a flat glowing line running across the screen.

The heart was silent and unmoved. So yes, I am dead! I no longer doubt it. Suddenly the monitor flashed a temperature and pressure. It read level at 75.1 degrees. (I was cold!) A chill was rapidly spreading over my body as my core temperature dropped further.

A warm hand began caressing my fingers, touching my hands, rubbing my arms, feet, legs and even my private thigh parts. Hands manipulating my body and visions, images, lighted up in some area of my brain. What. What is happening to me? I don’t know. Warmness spread to my face, I smiled and wondered if my cheeks were glowing.

Then a sudden kind of spasm of energy flowed through me and

over all my body, electrifying me and my nerve cells: –( I orgasm-ed I think!) My limbs twitched involuntarily.

I accepted my status among the newly dead. My heart’s slow beating rhythm had increased and then rapidly collapsed to nothing. Another flat line ran across the screen of the monitor. I had my last heart beat. Some throbbing decreased slowly to small pulses and twitches. I am certainly dead. Yet I experienced a dark cloudy vision in my mind. I heard sounds reverberate and echo in the halls of an abandoned, empty cold storage room. Where did everyone go? Where was I?

I think ‘I am ‘the’ shadow or “cloud” in my mind and quietly peer out from the eye sockets to see the outside world. In another room a surgeon was washing up for delicate protocol operation. So were other Anaesthesiologists technicians preparing for an operation. The Heart/Lung mechanical apparatus was already in a “ready status”.

Then I saw a body on a stretcher (me!), I am being wheeled down the hall into a white sheeted sterilized room. I knew what they were going to do to that body, and they would cut deep into my chest and rib bones, and then into the heart itself: ripping open the heart to cut the Aortic valve out, sew in a new animal one, from a pig, and strip veins from the sides of my legs to restitch them as a bypass around my heart.

I heard The Team (or the mind-shadow) talking that this operation would be completed within 4 or 6 hours. I tried to look at my watch, but couldn’t locate my arm. Shortly after that I heard a whirr sound, and the blades sliced into the flesh of my chest, cutting through the chest bones and the rib cage, forcing them apart. The Surgeon moved quickly, his steady hand, with an eye glancing at the monitors, took a

cut, fumbling a bit with his favorite silver plated knife into my body. I just lay there quiet-like a sacrificial animal on an altar. I saw the knife descend into my body.

In an alarmist mode: I felt a sharp chill-like wave sweep over my whole nude body. And something was leaving me, what?, blood, or my consciousness? Soon the carotid artery was breached open with a gaping and bloody hole, a large catheter was clamped onto my neck. Meanwhile the heart machine pumped my body dry and emptied it of its five quarts of oxygenated blood.

The heart and lungs were stilled at last. And I am dead and dry and empty. Are brain cells dying for lack of oxygenated blood?

The nutritious blood is pooling in a container and is being chemically thinned and watered down as it was drained from the body. I am now preserved like a dead sweet pickle. I watched the blood draining, and being sucked and pumped out of me.

Strangely, I feel abandoned. The blood was quickly snaking its way down inside the plastic tubes and disappearing somewhere into a plastic bottle attached to the HAL machine. HAL is more alive than I am. Anxiety and fear are rising in me again.

I am now aware I just invented these thoughts in my mind. HAL is delivering my life force in liquid form and swallowing me into itself. I suddenly remember that computer monster was created by HAL; (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic Computer) and was first energized on January 12th). HAL and I are ONE, born on the

same day. Are we twin monsters? HAL initiated a voice in an emotionless monotone, that crackled through the

speaker in the operating room: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men…THE SHADOW KNOWS.” The Shadow knows which aortic valve is defective. The darkness morphs and I see a man with a sparkling electric body looking into a book and I hear him chanting or singing something, I can’t seem to properly locate him, or myself’, or in the room or on the operating table either.

“Okay, temp up to 93 degrees, pressure and lung expansion and contraction of lungs all regular and normal now” said another Techie or HAL I felt nothing.

Nothing moved in my body. I was still a defenseless cold naked body on a white but bloody cushion.

Two sets of hands slid down both of my feet, legs and thighs, rubbing and massaging me. “Oh,…that feels nice someone whispered in my mind. A wave of emotions and feelings flooded me.

My eyelids were closed, yet were translucent as I could see through them. But no one ever looked into my eyes, they just kept staring away, at my body. I felt naked.

I tried talking or singing something, I wallowed down something hard, my throat stung. Wandering spinning around in my mind and also around the physical room, I saw everything that was going on. But there was a flurry of movement, motion, and voices. It’s hard to make sense of it all. I tried to focus but could not control my mind or even think any logical thoughts. My thoughts seemed to take on an alternate reality but from within my mind and body. I recoiled as I glanced at the bloody body again.

The time was yesterday and I was walking down the streets breathing hard unable to breathe normally. “Or, am I flying? No… I am just walking too fast now.”

I began to feel dizzy even swimming in my mind and a looming darkness that I instinctively dreaded. The attention of everyone was now focused on the naked bloody body/person laying on the white, red streaked sheets.

“Oh right. I could really use my hearing aids now, and they are lying on the tray on the left side of the empty bed…See them? “Yes I do.” And there is my ring with the engraved script “I am my beloved, and my beloved is mine” The room is three floors and a 100 yards away. I am so confused.

Feeling colder. a sudden hot electric flash ran through me, and tickled my nerve endings in my arms and legs. Similar to when I dove into the Ocean at the “Naturists beach” at the seashore totally nude. I see it now. Brr, I feel the cold water too. (What’s that glowing yellow line on the monitor mean?)

With a salty taste in my mouth. I was surprised to be able to taste the salty taste…from inside my heart. My heart is still not moving or twitching.

Swimming between the waves, and the frothy sea foam, I brush past a dauphin.

“Mother said I had to do a ‘show and tell today.” Am I going to be born, wonder what my first thoughts will be.

” Recording, the Doctor’s voice said:”. “Am turning the heart around to view the aortic valve side, inserting camera into vein, slowly! (Monitor this aside to another aide) Checking Positron 3 D projection….there is the calcified valve. It’s closed completely. Valve is encrusted and opens only 20%. Cutting each of the three flaps of the aortic valve lids and pulling the debris carefully out of the heart and circulation system. “Increase suction with filtering now”, the doctor said while inserting new animal valve, and slowly positioning it carefully, stapling it into place.

Aside to Op Room staff he said: "This will take 20 or 30 minutes more. Some leakage, pour another blood unit into the heart-lung machine."

I seem to fade in and out of consciousness, alternately appearing, then

becoming transparent, or translucent, or something, but I was still able to see though my eye lids. And they are closed. Strange I wasn’t wearing my glasses. I’m thinking now, so I’m still here alive.” All my body parts are so still and quiet! But I am unable to move anything.

The patient looked around at his new reality on the table. Everything was all new and glowing yellow. Befuddled, the patient was unable to use logical thoughts effectively. My brain cells seem connected to my eye lashes and decisions were made in a shift of my eyes. It was too fast and confusing.

A squishing sound on his right carotid vein as a large catheter was inserted and pumping a fluid into his neck. He was dry and drank his own blood hungrily. Mmmmmmm.

He tasted something in the blood, flavored with some kind of spice

or herb, oregano and salt I think. I feel the blood was rushing through my veins, and moving all over my body at the same instant. I am being flooded and soaked with red blood. This is too fast. I am like a giant sponge soaking up blood. I struggled to move a tiny finger to signal for it to stop. But I failed.

Wait, now I am seeing seeing the whole trip to this operating room or

swimming pool raft but I am seeing everything backwards, as if the recording is being played back in reverse like on a VCR. Down the halls, making turns, everybody walking backwards and finally to my room. There’s my bed…but its empty. (Of course.)

“Where am I? And I am not sure of what is happening to me.

HAL filed a coded note in my digital chart. It flatly stated that if the patient could learn all he wanted, by deliberately slow down the movement of time with his mind. Shesh, what do computers know about human thinking or time?

Nevertheless I tried, and discovered that I was unable to manoeuvre my brain cells to do anything. I just invented HAL.

Looking up I dreamed words, “What is the Surgeon doing with that buzz saw on my chest. Ouch! Wow…what a gusher! Many sponges were sopping it up a huge amount of spreading blood…quickly. “Oh, wait….who’s blood is in that bag being put in that machine? The blood began to glow yellow at that second, an exactly matched shade of the blood that was spilling out over my chest and trickling

down my groin wetting my testicles and penis. (I felt an erotic twinge as I thought of the image of where the blood was running, smeared over my body.)

Both streams of blood came together and seemed to sparkle like a sunbeam playing on the leaves, as I walked through the woods near my camp site. The ground was camouflaged and spotted with dancing light beams.

Chilled in my bones as I put on my day robe. My night shirt was too thin and short. Why am I walking about half dressed in a Roman tunic?

Slowly my frozen body, melted and thawed itself alive and warmed up to the room temperature. More time passed…I think.

The Doctor said, “I’m going to remove the ventilator, you may speak if you can, but don’t be alarmed if you can’t.” I couldn’t speak, so I used ASL (American Sign Language) with my fingers. I told him everything with my fingers and hand movements. Strangely, the Surgeon didn’t understand my ASL and continued to adjust something.

“Okay…now try again.”

“I can hear you”, I said loudly.

“Good!” he said smiling, turning to the Male Nurses, “okay, take him to his room.”

I was whisked off, while a dozen people followed.

Sleepy and dazed, somehow contented without much fear, I nodded off. I had survived the operation. I think.

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